"Tildi!" Olen's voice shouted. It seemed
to come from everywhere. Tildi looked up.
he's in one of his moods," the housekeeper Liana said, indulgently. "Go on. He's in his
Tildi sprang up and headed for the
stairs, but her master was on the way down. He had on a tall, dark hat, and he swung a cloak around
his shoulders. One of the footmen followed him with a tall staff with a luminous orb on top. "Get
your cloak. Hurry."
Tildi dashed up the long
flight and all but tumbled down them trying to get her cape on while she ran. Samek must have
followed her up at Olen's shout. He stood at the door, in a posture of exaggerated attention, and
waved her out. At the bottom of the grand steps, Olen was swinging into the saddle of a horse whose
coat was the same shade as Silvertree's bark.
"Easy, Sihine. Hurry, child. The Madcloud is
coming this way."
Tildi looked up at the sky
beyond Silvertree's canopy. As the staff had said, it was lightly overcast everywhere but in the
southeast, where a dark blanket gave the light a horrible green
A groom swept her up and placed her on the
back of his saddle. Olen's cloak closed over her. Tildi felt the horse give a mighty leap. She
clung to the wizard's back as Sihine's powerful muscles under her swelled and relaxed, but she
heard no footfalls on cobblestones. She could hear Olen's voice, but any meaning was drowned out by
the flapping of his cloak in her ears and the whistling of the
After an eternity of semi-darkness, the
horse's hooves clattered suddenly on stone. They trotted to a
Can see it properly from here." The
cloak swung aside, and Olen looked down over his shoulder at her. "Did you hear a thing I was
"No, master," Tildi said. She looked at
the landscape. Towers and the tops of evergreen trees protruded above a thin layer of gray mist.
The only shelter they had from the sudden chill winds was a leafless tree behind them. They must be
very high up. Over them the sky was a sickly gray-green, and a wind was stirring the thin grasses
under her feet. "Where are we?"
He slid out of
the saddle and helped her down. "We are on the east side of the river valley above Overhill. This
is wild country, a band of marshes and forests between the city and the farmlands. I am hoping to
intercept the Madcloud and direct it away from
"What is the
"What? Hasn't it ever attacked the
Quarters? It's a lightning storm that travels about of its own accord, often sailing right into the
teeth of prevailing winds. It is a most destructive force. You've never seen
A blinding stroke of white erupted in the
distance. Tildi jumped. Olen counted quietly to himself until a distant crackling boom was heard.
"Still a way off. Good. Give us time to
prepare." He dropped into his lecture mode, and peered at her under his large eyebrows. "Now,
Tildi, you may guess that a wizard receives many requests, among which are pleas from farmers to
change the weather. It's raining too much, it's not raining enough, they want more sunshine, and,
of all things, they want me to put off the sunset in harvest times! Do you know, one of the most
dangerous temptations of power is not to avoid doing wrong, but to do all the things people want
you to. Not only are few paths ahead of you good choices, but not every path you do take is the
right one. That's to be expected. You're fallible. Good judgement will keep you from making
terrible mistakes. You must learn to say no when the time is right. You'll be better off refusing
to take an action if you are not certain of all the potential
Tildi frowned. "How could I know all
"You can't, really. But you should
know as many as are reasonable. In that you may take the advice of others you trust to be as wise
or wiser than yourself."
"Do you see, you have
justified my faith in you," Olen said, with a chuckle. I have met so many who always know best, you
see. Most of them are dead."
blanched. "That would put me right off
"It shouldn't," Olen said, taking her
by the shoulder. "A judicious attempt, guided by wisdom
Look, here comes the cloud. You can
see its rune within it, can't you?"
clouds that she had once she had left the Quarters usually had faint, light-colored sigils
somewhere on their surfaces, changing and shifting just like the clouds themselves, but this was a
violent display of colors at war with itself. It made Tildi feel a little queasy just to look at
it. Lightning shot out of the roiling black mounds in all directions, like an injured cat striking
out at anyone who might try to handle it. Tildi felt a hunger in it. It wanted something badly. But
what could a cloud possibly want?
"The rune is
spinning out of control. This is an entity without purpose. It was set going for no particularly
good reason except that the incredible fool who made it, could," Olen said, with a grim set to his
jaw. "What is it doing here, of all
"Doesn't it just wander, like all
weather?" Tildi asked.
"To start with the
second half of your question, that is a misconception. Weather does not wander. It has many reasons
for going where it does, and doing what it does. If you are so inclined, I will send you one day
for a couple years' apprenticeship in Levrenn with my friend Volek, whose specialty is
weather-witching. But we do not have time for a lesson in that at this moment. We are concerned
with a storm that does not wander, the Madcloud. Many have studied this phenomenon over the
centuries. It seems to go where it is attracted, though no one has yet divined to what. I believe
it to have a tropism for natural power, yet I don't know what could have drawn it here: nothing has
changed in this area in many months. I would have expected it to go toward the volcanoes in the
north, or south if a tidal wave arises." He shook his head. "We have no time to speculate. It will
pass over the city if we do not redirect it."
?" Tildi held up her hand and
closed it the way Olen had done to extinguish the fire demon.
The wizard's curling eyebrows rose high on his
forehead, but he didn't scoff at the question.
"Tildi, a heuren is a mere speck of power. This
cloud is a powerful spell, combined with a force of nature. To destroy it would upset the balance
of nature, to be undone only by a host of wizards, or perhaps one of the Makers. I hope one day it
will simply rain itself out, over the ocean or mountains where it can hurt no one. In the
meanwhile, the best that we can do with it is drive it
"Is it safe?" Tildi asked, as a lightning
strike blasted apart a scrub bush clinging to the mountain. Rocks, dislodged by the bolt, rumbled
downhill. Other rocks were knocked loose. Birds, disturbed by the fall, flew squawking into the
"Safe?" Olen exclaimed. "Of course it is
not safe. A wizard must always do what must be done. There is no choice. Our responsibility is to
undertake the jobs that we can take. Yes, we may be killed by this storm, but what are two lives
against all those in Overhill? You don't strike me as one who shirks a job just because it is
"No, that's true
mused. But turning a storm? "It's taking a great
"All magic is risktaking,
"I don't like to take risks. Well, not
many," she said, after a moment's thought.
took many risks coming here, didn't you? I know something of smallfolk, you see," Olen said,
bending down and putting a hand on her shoulder. "You thought I might not accept you as an
apprentice because you're a girl, isn't that right? But you came anyhow. I honor you for that. It
shows the proper chance-taking character."
Tildi wanted to say that wasn't exactly the way
it had happened, though he was right about his conclusion, and she was so relieved that she didn't
want to throw in the many other facts that had gone into her decision. Still, her conscience
troubled her, and she opened her mouth to confess that it wasn't she who had applied to him for an
apprenticeship in the first place.
Olen snapped out. Tildi closed her mouth. Her private griefs would not concern him. He brandished
his staff at the storm. "Here it comes. Do you have a wand?"
see about getting you a wand. Are you carrying a pen? No? There, draw your knife. You know how to
create wards now. Draw them as large as you can. Picture them filling the sky. You must protect the
city. Keep that in your mind. It will inform your
Tildi pulled her knife out of the sheath
at her belt, but held it up uncertainly. This mere wisp of metal - how could it stave off a force
of nature that was the size of an entire valley? The Madcloud came closer. Red lightning shot from
its underside. Far below them, underneath the mist, Tildi heard shouting and the crackle of flame
as unseen woods caught fire.
boomed. He held out his staff and began to chant. "Fornai chnetech voshad!" The disk touched the
sky and thick silver lines began to flow from it as the wizard swept his arm across, up, down and
back. They formed into a gigantic word-phrase that said 'Protect!" on their side. Tildi knew that
the reverse, the side facing the oncoming storm, said something that approximated the word "Away!"
in the strongest possible archaic terms. Hastily, she began to draw her own
The lines she produced were puny by
comparison, but as she began to picture them guarding the entire city of Overhill, they did grow.
The rune, though seemingly limned on the sky in spider web, spread out until it was at least half
the size of Olen's. She threw every bit of knowledge she had into its formation, as if by force of
her mind alone she could make it powerful.
storm advanced upon them. Its winds whipped at her hair, so that it clawed at the sides of her face
like a wire flail. Tildi slitted her eyes. Olen's beard streamed around him like a wild creature.
If he could ignore that, she could, too. Doggedly, she drew the rune over and over, to the north,
then to the south. Each new symbol bonded with the ones on either side, forming a wrought-silver
gate that looked too fragile for the job. Nearer and nearer the cloud came. The winds grew more
fierce. Tildi's clothes were plastered to her body by icy cold rain. She could no longer see what
she was doing, but in her mind's eye she created yet another rune of protection.
Go away! she thought at the Madcloud.
Go somewhere else!
A warm weight dropped
upon her shoulder and squeezed: Olen's hand. His hand on her shoulder gave her confidence. The
lines she drew were suddenly thicker and more confident. The gate in her mind turned to iron, and
began to congeal into a translucent
Abruptly, the wind stopped. Having been
braced against it so long Tildi staggered forward a step. The hand caught her and pulled her back
again. She opened her eyes.
Her wall of runes
was just as she had pictured it, as if it was made out of silvery glass. Just beyond it was a wall
of a deeper silver hue. Against this double protection the Madcloud bumped and pushed as if it was
a ram attempting to push open a gate with its head.
"It's no match for us," Olen said, patting her
on the head. "It cannot pass. Now, to send it elsewhere to cause its
He spread out his arms, the staff
held on high. The silver-gray walls stretched out like taffy until they were wrapped all the way
around the gigantic storm. The Madcloud rumbled menacingly and spewed multicolored lightnings out
of the top, but to no avail. It began to roll away to the
"I think we'll send it all the way to
the sea, don't you?" Olen said.
with awe as the silver curtain receded swiftly across the mist. "Whatever you say,
"Oh, you may make a suggestion, since
you were of such great help. That was very good work! You will be a fine wizard. I think I will
drop a note to Volek when we return home. I will see if he has an opening in the next few years to
teach you weather magic."
"Not too soon," Tildi
pleaded, proud in spite of herself. If this was true magic, she wanted to learn everything
possible. How exhilarating it had been. She had been so frightened, but together they had
a thunderstorm! What would they say back in the Quarters?
Tildi sat before Olen in the great saddle
as the horse bore them down again to Silvertree's front gate. She wasn't sure she prefered being
able to see. Sihine galloped down through the air as easily as if it was trotting down a hillside,
but Tildi always felt as if she was about to tumble over the saddlebow and fall to her death.
"Where do you find a flying horse?" she shouted
over the wind whistling in her face.
doesn't fly," Olen shouted back. "I make the air solid under his feet. He has gotten very good at
running on terrain he cannot see. Much more convenient than trying to stable a pegasus, oh,
Tildi felt a little thrill of excitement
even as she clutched the saddle horn in a tight grip between her small hands. Pegasi, the fabled
winged horses, did exist! They weren't just legends, as the story-telling grannies had insisted.
Tildi could hardly absorb such a notion, on top of the ideas that clouds could move where they
willed, and she, Tildi Summerbee, could wrap up a storm like a parcel. With help, that was.
She had it on the tip of her tongue to ask
where the fabulous pegasi lived the moment they landed, but when they arrived at the gate, a
mud-spattered messenger was waiting for Olen, with an equally bedaubed horse breathing heavily
through flared nostrils. Olen swung off the gray horse's back, and put the reins into the hands of
a groom. The messenger all but stumbled forward and handed the wizard a tightly-bound
"You look exhausted," Olen declared.
"Get inside and let Liana take care of you. Tildi, take him down to
"Yes, Master," Tildi said, automatically,
her question forgotten. The wizard took the steps up toward his study two and three at a time,
breaking open the seals on the scroll as he went. He did not look
Tildi took the man down to the kitchens,
where Liana fluttered and clucked around him, bringing him cold drinks and a big platter of food.
Once he had emptied a huge mug of ale and wolfed down a chunk of cheese the size of his fist he
gave Tildi a curious look.
"Where do you
come from?" the messenger asked. He was a pleasant-looking fellow with very dark skin like the
sailors she had met in The Groaning Table. "Sit with me while I eat, little lass. I'm sorry I can't
return the favor. I may not say anything about my mission, so don't ask
"I won't," Tildi promised. "What do you
want to know?"
"Tell him about storm-warding,"
Liana suggested. "This is a smallfolk, you know. She is the wizard's apprentice. They've just saved
the city, the two of them."
The man beheld her
with such respect that Tildi felt herself blush. "Well, there's a storm called the Madcloud, you
" she began.