I. Old Friends Meeting
Randal of Doun, a sturdy black-haired youth of about fifteen, pulled up the hood of his dark robe and hurried through the narrow streets of the Woodworkers' District. Here in Cingestoun the afternoons were cool, even though the season was not yet autumn. The River Donchess flowed through the middle of town, and the wind brought damp air off the water.
He paused at the corner and looked quickly up the next street. A man he'd spoken with earlier had told him that Alured Carpenter had a helper named Nicolas. That could only mean one thing: Randal's friend Nick, from the Schola Sorceriathe School of Wizardry in Tarnsbergwas still working here.
In the old days, when Randal had despaired of completing his own apprenticeship, Nick's help and advice had sometimes been the only things that kept him going. But in the middle of Randal's second year, Nick had startled everybody by leaving both he Schola and the practice of wizardry. Nick had traveled north, to Cingestoun, to work in a carpenter's shop.
This street, Carpenters' Lane, was the place. Randal looked into the open front of each shop as he came to it. Then, at last, Randal spotted his frienda young man with a curly brown beard, leather-aproned, with a hammer in his hand and a trickle of sweat rolling down his forehead.
"Nick!" Randal shouted.
The young man looked up. "WhoRandy!" The journeyman carpenter put down his hammer and hurried to the front of the shop. "Come in, come it. I never expected to see you again after I left Tarnsberg, but I should have known someday you'd come walking in the door!"
Nick clasped Randal around the shoulders, nearly squeezing the life out of him with a friendly bear hug. "Let me take a look at you." Nick stepped back, and gave Randal an appraising glance. "And wearing a journeyman's robes, too. So you make it. I knew that no one would ever beat my record as the apprentice wizard who went the longest without becoming a journeyman.
He steered Randal inside the shop and over to a bench. "Sit down and tell me the news. Cingestoun may be a big town, but not much word from the outside world comes through the gates."
Randal sat, accepted the cool drink that Nick offered, and began to tell what he'd seen and heard on the road. "Times are hard," he said. "Crops are failing from one side of Brecelande to the other, and robbers are everywhere."
"Then nothing much has changed since I last left the city," Nick said. "Now, tell me the news from Tarnsberg. Whatever happened to Lys? Is she still playing the lute and singing at the Grinning Gryphon Inn?"
"You can see for yourself," Randal replied. "We've been traveling together, and she's here in Cingestoun, singing at the Green Bough."
Nick's face lit up. "She is? That's wonderful! I have to watch the shop tonight for Alured, but tomorrow, I promise you, I'll stop by and see her again."
Randal smiled. Lys and Nick were his two best friends from his days in Tarnsberg. In fact, aside from his cousin Walter, who'd shared Randal's boyhood at Castle Doun, they were the best friends he had in the world.
"And how is everyone at the Schola?" Nick asked. "Mistress Pullen and all the rest?"
"Well enough," Randal replied. "Pieter's a master now."
"That's good news," said Nick. The former apprentice looked wistful for a moment. "Sometime I wonder what might have happened if I'd stayed . . . but never mind the might-have- beens. Tell me what's become of Master LaergHead of the Regents and running the whole Schola by now, I shouldn't wonder."
Randal looked down, suddenly unable to speak. He flexed his right hand, where a raised scar ran across the palm.
"No," Randal said quietly. "No, Master Laerg doesn't run the Schola."
He looked up, directly into Nick's eyes. "You might as well hear it all," he said. "Master Laerg is dead, and I killed him. With a sword."
"You what?" Nick asked in disbelief. Of all the laws and traditions binding wizards, the rule against using steel for attack or defense was the oldest and most revered.
Randal looked down at his lap. "I didn't have a choice," he said. "Laerg was summoning up demons . . . he wanted to destroy the Schola, and then rule all of Brecelande with the demons' help. He'd promised them a sacrifice, and I was it."
"But to use a sword . . ."
Randal clenched his fist. The scar ached with the movement, as it always dida reminder of the choice he'd made, when he'd cut himself to the bone grasping the blade of Laerg's ceremonial sword.
"I paid for it," Randal said quietly. "The Regents made me give my sworn word not to use magic until I'd gone on a quest for forgiveness to Master Balpesh off in the eastern mountains. But Balpesh let me use magic again, and taught me a few things as well. And since then I've been living as a journeyman in truth, traveling up and down the land and seeking more magic than the Schola could teach me.:
He looked about the carpenter's shop. "But what about you?" he asked Nick. "Do you use any magic at all, now that you've left the Schola?"
Nick shook his head. "I asked the Regents to put a binding spell on me," he said. "There's nothing worse than a half-taught wizard. Better to be an honest carpenter and save myself the temptation."
The street out front was dark by now, and shadows filled the corners of the shop. "I have to get back," Randal said. "I was in the university library all day, and Lys will be wondering where I am."
Nick stood up and saw Randal to the door. "Better be careful, Randy. Cingestoun gets rough after dark."
Randal paused on the threshold, his wizard's robes swirling around him, and looked back at his friend.
"Don't worry, Nick. I'll be all right."
Nick shook his head. "This isn't Tarnsberg, remember? A black gown isn't going to keep you out of troublenot when you've got people here who don't know a journeyman wizard from a stable hand."
"I've been a stable hand, too, and I'm not exactly helpless," Randal pointed out. "I sat though Master Issen's lectures on magical self-defense, just like everybody else."
"Of course you did," said Nick. "But as far as some people can see, you're still a half- grown boy, and a shock spell won't do you a bit of good after somebody's hit you over the head from behind with a club."
Randal laughed. "For whatfive copper pennies and a book of spells?"
"For the boots on your feet," Nick told him. "Like you said, times have been bad, and this year isn't' any better. People are looking out for themselves."
"I know," said Randal, his laughter dying. "I told you about some of the things that are happening up around Tattinhamthe robbers and banditsbut I didn't think I'd be seeing it here on the King's Road, right in the middle of Brecelande."
"It's everywhere," said Nick. "So don't get so involved in working out spells in your head that you forget to keep an eye out for trouble."
"I won't," Randal promised his friend. "I'll see you tomorrow, then."
The door of the carpenter's shop swung shut, leaving Randal alone in the dark. He took a firmer grasp on the tall walking staff he carried and turned down the street.
The waning moon shone down on Randal as he made his way through Cingestoun's narrow alleys to the inn where he was staying. In spite of his words to Nicolas, he wasn't particularly worried. Randal still had the strength and quick reflexes developed by his boyhood training as a squire in his uncle's castle of Doun. Although he would never use a sword again, as a journeyman wizard he had other defenses at his command.
His mind still dwelling on days past, he turned down Hornpiper's Street and entered the Green Bough, the inn where he was staying. He paused in the common room, where a clear alto voice came to him over the murmur of the crowd of patrons:
"I wish the wind would never cease
Nor waters in the flood,
'Til all my sons come home to me
In earthly flesh and blood."
He waved to the performer, a slender, black-haired girl dressed in boy's clothing. She sat on a makeshift stage at the other end of the room and played a lute as she sang. She nodded to him, and kept on playing without losing a beat.
Randal took a seat at the back of the room and listened. Lys was a lute-player, singer, and acrobat, a native of Occitania in the far south. She made her own way as best she could with her voice and her lute.
Her song done, she came across the room and took a seat by Randal. "How did your day go?" she asked.
"Fine," he said. "The university here didn't mind a journeyman wizard poking around in their library. I didn't find anything magical in there, but you never know with old books. But guess whatI found Nick! He's doing just fine at a carpenter's shop. He said he'd come by here tomorrow."
Lys smiled. "That's marvelous! If he hadn't loaned me that lute of his when I was starving, I wouldn't be able to earn my living now. I still have to sing one more time tonightwill you stay?"
"No, it's been a long day already. I think I'll go up and turn in early."
"I'll see you in the morning then," she said.
"In the morning," Randal replied, standing up. Leaving the lute-player behind, he headed across the crowded common room toward the stairs.
The innkeeper met him at the foot of the staircase. "A word with you, wizard."
Randal halted, one foot on the bottom step. "If it's about those rats I charmed out of your pantry, I told you a long-term warding spell costs more than just my room and board."
"No," said the innkeeper. "Day by day is fine. They're still gone. But if you could do the same for the fleas and the bedbugs . . ."
"Ten coppers," Randal said automatically.
"Six," the innkeeper replied.
"Eight," said Randal. "Half in advance."
"Done," said the innkeeper. "I'll pay you in the morning."
Randal smiled to himself as he mounted the steep steps to the upstairs hall. Eight copper pennies, and five more in my pocketnot bad. Compared to the riches he'd left behind when he chose to study wizardry instead of becoming a knight, thirteen pennies didn't look like muchbut here in Cingestoun, one penny was more than enough to buy a meal at the Green Bough, and a sleeping space on the floor besides.
His own small use of magic had done him even better, purchasing the luxury of a room upstairs. As he paused with one hand on the latch, he murmured the words of the doorkeeping spell. AN alarm sounded in his mind. Someone had entered his room since the morning, and that someone was still there.
Nick's words of caution came to him. Was there a thief waiting inside? Well, he'll be the one getting the surprise, Randal thought as he prepared a shock spell. Then he opened the door and stepped into the roomonly to come to a sudden halt on the other side of the threshold.
Magic! Unfamiliar magic. The scar on his right palm began to throb. But this magic was strange, like nothing he had known before. Randal called up a small ball of the cold-flame, and looked around the room by its eerie, blue-white glow.
He heard a creaking noise from the bed in the corner. Heart pounding, he spun toward the sound.
"Wizard . . . ."
The faint whisper came from his bed. Randal looked and saw a man lying there, his features drawn and ashen in the cold blue light. Randal forced himself to go over to the cot and grasp the man by the shoulder.
One touch, and the young wizard pulled his hand back. The man lying on the bed word the ragged traces of what once had been a journeyman's robe like Randal's own, now grown soiled and tattered with age. But it wasn't the torn robe that had caused Randal to draw away; it was the sickening, hollow feeling he experienced when his fingers closed on the man's shoulderas if the man was both empty and filled with a sense of power and energy greater than Randal had ever before encountered.
He's dying, Randal thought. Dying of magic.
Randal prepared the most powerful healing spell he knew, one that he'd learned earlier in the summer from master wizard Balpesh. HE fought back a shudder of revulsion at the thought of touching that dead-but-living flesh a second time, and laid his hand on the man's cold, sweating forehead. In a low voice, he murmured the spell of restoration, and felt his own magical energies flowing out into the dying man, helping his weakened lungs to take in the air and his laboring heart to beat.
"Spira." He whispered the spell words again in the Old Tongue, the language that all wizards used to cast their spells and record magical observations. "Spira viveque."
But Randal knew in his heart that the magic wasn't strong enough. Whatever was killing the stranger kept on drawing strengththe more Randal gave to the spell, the more it took form the man he was trying to heal. At last, the young wizard pulled away, defeated.
The attempt had given the man some strength, at least. He raised himself up from the thin mattress and said again, "Wizard. They told me you were a wizard, down below. You have to help me."
"I am trying to help you," said Randal as calmly as he could. What good is knowing how to stop bleeding and lower a fever, against something like this? he wondered. How do you cure a man under a death spell? Balpesh would know.
But Balpesh was a master wizard who'd spent years learning the healer's art, and Randal was only a journeyman. Already, the effects of Randal's spell were starting to fade. With the last of his strength, the stranger brought something out from under the pillow where it had lain hidden: a leather bag closed with a drawstring cord.
"Take this," he said. "Help me."
Randal hesitated. Something about the sackthe way it seemed to press down the man's hand with an unnatural weight, or the way shadows collected in its foldshinted at the presence of powerful magic. What manner of thing is this? he wondered. Magical objects were not accepted carelessly, but he felt drawn toward it just the same.
"Please," said the stranger. "You are a wizard. . .you will know what to do. . . ." His breath came in ragged gasps, and he had to pause before going on. "Dagon wants this . . . he waits at the Rooster and Roundels."
Still, Randal paused. The object in the bag seemed to call to him and repulse him at the same time. Before he could act, the stranger collapsed back onto the pillow and the leather bag fell from his lifeless hand.
Randal stood for a moment in shock. He had seen death before, but never like this, in a man he'd been trying to help. And never death caused by magic.
Worse yet, Randal thought numbly, the man made a request, calling on me as a wizard. As a wizard, I can't refuse.
He picked up the sack. It was lighter than he had expected it would be from the way the stranger had handled it. A cold feeling walked up his spine.
There's powerful magic here indeed, he thought. But not of any kind that I've ever known before.
The wisest course of action, Randal knew, would be to hand over the bag unopened to Dagon, whoever he might bebut curiosity, as they said at the Schola, was always a wizard's greatest vice. And after all, that's why the Schola sends apprentices out to be journeymento learn more about magic.
Carefully, Randal opened the bag and peeled it away from the object it contained: a statue about a foot tall, carved from ivory long since gone golden with age, representing an old woman leaning on a staff.
He held up the carving and looked at it from all angles. It was more than well madethe old woman almost seemed real. Each wrinkle of her face was lovingly rendered. The hand that grasped the staff was knobby and thin. A few strands of hair escaped from under her hood. Looking at it, Randal got the odd sensation that the figure was alive.
He shuddered slightly. The feeling of magic was overwhelming. Fortunately, the statue wasn't his problem. It was Dagon's. All that remained was to find this Dagon and get rid of the unsettling piece of artwork.
This sample chapter comes from CITY BY THE SEA (Circle of Magic #3, Troll Books, 1990) ISBN 0-8167-1831-8 $2.95, reprinted as THE WIZARD'S STATUE ISBN: 0-8167-6938-9 $3.95If you aren't in grade school, and therefore don't get Troll Book Club flyers, you can order this book and others in the series on-line through Amazon.com. You can