Here’s chapter two of THE WAY INTO CHAOS, my epic fantasy about the sudden collapse of an empire. It’s longer than most of the chapters I write, but like I said: epic fantasy.
Obviously, this is all a big plot to interest you guys in my Kickstarter. By the time you read this, I should have released my completely huge and awesome news about the new stretch goals. Click on through if you missed the announcement.
“Enough!” Doctor Twofin shouted. He rushed at Cazia, and the furious expression on his face froze her with terror. The sharpness of his voice had already disrupted her spell gestures, but he clasped her hands to be sure. “My dear, you don’t need to protect the prince from his own weapons master and bodyguard. Never cast at this man again! Do you understand?” The old teacher’s voice became high and shrill.
Doctor Twofin had the authority to bar Cazia from the Scholar’s Tower and he would do it, too. The idea made her sick. She looked down at her feet and said, in a carefully miserable tone: “I understand. I’m sorry, Tyr Treygar.”
Old Stoneface Treygar stood without replying. He gave her a look full of cool hatred, but she was used to that. Of all the Enemies in the palace, he was one of the most obnoxious.
Lar tried to roll to his feet but got tangled in his robe. He fell onto his knees, prompting Jagia, Pagesh, and Bittler to laugh. For once, Cazia wasn’t in the mood to join in. “Caz, you’re not supposed to kill him after he’s assassinated me,” Lar said. “Mother and father couldn’t have questioned him then. Am I correct, Tyr Treygar?”
Stoneface didn’t answer, so Doctor Twofin answered for him. “That’s correct! Have you been neglecting your other studies to come here, my prince? If you have, I’ll bar you from the library and the practice room.”
Lar was startled. “You can’t bar me from parts of my own palace. I’m the prince!”
Doctor Twofin was highborn, the sixth son of some minor fifth-festival mountain tyr, and he was less intimidated by royalty than most. “You just try me.”
Lar stepped back and raised his hands to placate the old tutor, laughing. “I promise! No threats needed.”
Out of the corner of her eye Cazia saw Stoneface scowl. He probably thought Lar should stand up to his teacher, or threaten him, but he played those games. Cazia turned away to slip out of her robe, but she kept Treygar in her peripheral vision. She’d had a lot of practice keeping an eye on Enemies without seeming to.
Doctor Twofin wagged his finger at them. He was forever wagging that finger. “You have practiced enough for one day already. Remember, do not practice your magic–”
Lar finished the sentence with him. “… unless we are in this room with you. We’ve heard it a thousand times, doctor.”
“You’ll hear it a thousand more, my prince. I won’t have you going hollow under my tutelage. Think of the consequences!”
Cazia thought of the consequences every day: Lar would never become king. Twofin would lose his head. Cazia would lose her fingers like Doctor Whitestalk, if she was lucky, and she almost certainly wouldn’t be. And there was always the damage that hollowed scholars might do.
The prince’s thoughts were on other subjects. He turned to Treygar. “Tell me, my tyr: Is that how you slew Doctor Rexler?”
Stoneface looked directly at Cazia, so she had to turn her back–just for a moment–as she hung her quiver of darts on a peg. Apparently, this Doctor Rexler had something to do with her… or with her father. Treygar said: “Your mother the queen has asked me to accompany you to the festival today, my prince.”
“I hardly think I need a bodyguard to meet the Evening People. From the stories everyone tells, they never offer more than a cutting remark.”
“That’s true,” Treygar said, “nonetheless…”
“Nevertheless she wants me to be sober.”
“She does, my prince. Is it true that you plan to sing a comedy?”
“Yes!” Lar exclaimed, as though he’d been asked this question a hundred times. “But it is not a bawd, I promise you. There are no mighty warriors, no wizards, and no over-enthusiastic lovers, Song knows.”
Pagesh spoke up from the bench against the wall. “The Evening People don’t care for comedies, do they? I thought they liked sad songs.”
Everyone glanced at Stoneface, and Cazia noted how uncomfortable that made him. Interesting. “It’s true,” Doctor Twofin said. “The more they appreciate our performances, the more powerful the spell they give us. The nail-driving Gift they offered after the tenth festival was seen as a rebuke for that event’s emphasis on slapstick and farce.”
A flush of annoyance ran through Cazia. “And yet, look what we’ve made of it.” She gestured toward the darts and hoops on the wall. They’d spent the whole lesson on that spell–well, on the somewhat-altered spell humans had created from it. It wasn’t as useful as the other Gifts, but it was the most fun. How could people call it a rebuke?
“Quite,” the doctor said in his high, unsteady voice, as though she was missing the point. “However, the stone-breaking spell after the eleventh has made copper and iron commonplace within the empire. Not fifty years ago, the only soldiers with iron cuirasses were generals. Am I correct, Tyr Treygar? Now every soldier but archers wear them.”
“Every soldier but archers and fleet squads,” Treygar droned. “And skirmishers. Also, the iron has been largely replace by Sweeps steel now. But you’re correct, doctor. It made a huge difference at Coldwater Falls.” He shrugged. “According to the reports.”
Doctor Twofin seemed proud of Treygar’s approval for some reason Cazia couldn’t fathom. She’d never even heard of Coldwater Falls before.
“I don’t understand,” Jagia said, looking up at their faces one after another. “I thought the Evening People gave us gifts.”
Pagesh took the little girl’s braid and tickled the bottom of her chin with the end. Pagesh smiled at her; the older girl was always kind and even-tempered, but she only smiled for Jagia. “We just call them that, little one. Gifts. But in truth, it’s more like a speck you toss into a mummer’s wooden bowl after a song. A cheap coin to show your appreciation.”
“I don’t think that’s fair,” Bittler said. He turned his watery gaze on each of them, hoping someone would take his side. “It’s more of a trade, isn’t it? We put on a Festival of art and athletics for them, and they teach us a new spell.”
Pagesh dropped Jagia’s braid and gave Bit an even look. “It’s only a trade if both sides get to negotiate.”
“She’s right,” Lar said. “As usual.” Pagesh bowed her head to the prince. He smirked and nodded back. “For the next ten days we will make every effort to please the Evening People so that they will grant us whatever reward they see fit.”
“But why?” Jagia asked. “Why do they come here at all?”
It was a question Cazia had never thought to ask. She turned to the doctor, waiting for his answer.
“Well, erm, you see,” Doctor Twofin seemed a bit flustered. “The Evening People are a proud people–and potent, too–but they have their limitations. Er…” The old scholar seemed as if he was dancing around a sensitive subject.
“Magic is physical,” Old Stoneface said, and Cazia thought he had never been more worthy of that nickname than when those words were coming from him. “Break rocks, start fires, suppress fires–all of that is a way of magically pitting your will against the mundane world. But a spell can not make you fall in love. Magic can not make a person weep for the enemy he has slain. It can not change a person’s mind, or convince them to take up spears for their homeland, or fill their heads with dreams of glory and wealth in distant lands. Songs, plays, even athletic games, can do all this. To the Evening People, this is a magic in itself. One they have no talent for.”
“Quite,” Doctor Twofin said a little nervously.
Treygar stared intently down at Jagia as though they were the only two people in the room. No honorary title or fancy clothes would ever hide the fact that he was a commoner at heart. “That is everything I know about it, Miss.”
“Doesn’t that make you a kind of scholar, too?” the little girl asked. “Your song was a kind of magic to them, so that should make you a scholar to the evening people, right?”
A tense silence filled the room. Only a nine-year-old girl—and the royal niece—would dare to broach the subject of Stoneface’s horrible song. The old soldier did not betray any loss of temper. He just solemnly shook his head.
“Oh. Well, thank you for answering my question,” Jagia answered politely.
“I am pleased to offer whatever I knowledge I possess to the prince’s cousin.”
Hmph. Cazia was the prince’s cousin, too, but she hadn’t gotten any lessons from the old bully. But then, Jagia’s father had never tried to seize the crown.
Bit opened his mouth as though he wanted to continue debating the point, but closed it again. Either he was especially unwell this morning or he knew the argument was a lost cause. Little Jagia reached over and took his trembling hand gently in hers, and they smiled at each other.
Lar hung his robe on a hook. “Tell me, my tyr, do you think the Evening People would be impressed if I wore the battle helm and spiked shield father gave me?”
Stoneface’s answer was wary and unpleasant. “Shield and helm won’t protect you from the Evening People’s disapproval.”
Cazia didn’t like that punch line, so she supplied another. “And no armor in the world would protect you from your mother’s.”
Even Doctor Twofin laughed at that, but not Stoneface. When Cazia noticed the look he gave her, she felt a little sick. The queen had always been distant but respectful to her; while Treygar wouldn’t personally rush to the throne room to tattle on her, he would probably make sure she heard about the joke somehow.
Cazia bit her lip. No matter how careful she was about the way she spoke in the palace, she was never careful enough.
“I must return to my rooms so Quallis can change my clothes,” Lar said. “Do you mean to accompany me, Tyr Treygar?”
Stoneface’s tone was icy. “I do, my prince.”
“Excellent. If a jar of wine should get too near me, you may throw yourself upon it.”
“Colchua would do that for you,” Pagesh said from the bench. “And kill the jar, too.”
But no one laughed. Stoneface had squelched their mood.
Lar lightly touched Cazia’s shoulder. “Caz, thank you for practicing with me today. Please take Pagesh to her rooms and help her find a dress for the festival that doesn’t have grass stains on it. Bittler, find Col and Timu. They’re probably dueling in the gym and they’re likely to need a dunking before they dress up. And try to eat something.”
Bittler laid a half-starved hand over his belly and nodded.
Treygar opened the practice room door and followed the prince onto the stairs.
As the door swung closed, Cazia felt a chill run down her back. Old Stoneface might have been the prince’s bodyguard and weapons instructor, but he was the king’s man. It was no secret that Lar’s parents were afraid that he might play a prank during the Festival. The Evening People were easily offended, and the Festival itself was a sort of mummery that the entire city of Peradain put on to please them. And Lar… He still had a boy’s impulse to call out hypocrisy when he saw it.
She loved him. Not that she wanted to hold his hand or feel his kiss, no. She was a fifteen-year-old girl, and she had reached the age where she noticed the way many of the palace guards looked in their crisp uniforms. She couldn’t help but notice them.
However, as the daughter of Tyr Freewell, if she got too near, the guards were more likely to spit on the ground between them than offer her a kind word. It simply wasn’t safe to do more than glance at them from afar. Servant girls with debt tattoos on their wrists were more free to talk and laugh with boys than she was.
No, she loved Lar the way she would love a second older brother, a friend, and her prince. She’d been brought to the Palace of Song and Morning as a baby and had grown up along side him. All of his circle, with the exception of little Jagia, were the children of traitors, and the only truly safe place for them was beside the prince. She loved him because he was her better, yet he treated her with kindness and protected her from the worst of the bullying. Someday, when their fathers’ generation had left The Way, her older brother Colchua would be the new Tyr Freewell, and she would be running things inside the Scholars Tower. King Lar Italga would have no subject anywhere in the empire more loyal than her.
Today, she couldn’t help but worry. Would his parents prevent him from singing this song he’d prepared in secret? King Ellifer was a decent sort—for a king—so she didn’t believe he would kill his own son. Not like the Italgas of years ago. Still, the stakes were so high. Maybe he would have Lar locked away?
And who better to arrest the prince than his own bodyguard?
No. Cazia couldn’t leave the prince alone the Stoneface. Not today. She laid her hand on the hidden latch.
Pagesh noticed and recognized immediately what she planned to do. The older girl stood. “Well, it’s time we got ready,” she said, then spilled a quiver of iron spikes onto the wooden floor.
The terrible noise made Doctor Twofin cry out and rush toward her. At the same moment, Cazia pulled on the latch, opening the secret panel, and slipped inside, taking care not to snag her skirts.
The panel closed behind her, blocking out all light. She found the ladder just where it was supposed to be, then started down.
It wasn’t a true ladder–the builders of the Scholars Tower had inserted this secret passage along the stairs, and it had apparently been easier to gouge deep foot and handholds in the stone than attach a real ladder.
She made her way down with confidence, even though it had been months since she’d last used it. When she’d been Jagia’s age, she used to come here just to sit in the dark, away from the petty cruelties of the kitchen staff or the snide challenges of the palace guard. There were few hiding places from her Enemies, and no one even seemed to know it was here.
But when she was thirteen, she’d almost gotten caught slipping out of the lower hatch, and now only used it when she had to.
After descending a while, she came to the stairs. The passage was so narrow she couldn’t turn around easily, but she knew the way. The secret stairs matched the broader public stairs on the other side of the wall, and eventually…
She heard Lar’s voice just on the other side of the wall. Perfect. She stopped to listen and, standing silent in the darkness, she couldn’t help but smile. She loved spying on people. Loved it. The only thing that made her feel more powerful was casting spells.
“Tyr Treygar, I wish you could be kinder to my friends.”
Treygar’s answer was non-committal. “Yes, my prince.”
Cazia had to descend quietly to keep up with them. She heard Lar sigh. “I would command you to smile at them once in a while, but I fear it would shatter your stony face.”
“I am not as fragile as that, my prince.”
She heard their footsteps stop, so she did, too.
“My Tyr Treygar,” the prince said. He genuinely sounded annoyed. “I have lived with these people my entire life, and not one of them was alive when Tyr Freewell and his allies moved against my father. This new generation has been treated with respect by my royal parents, and with kindness by me. Whatever crimes the Witts, the Simblins, the Bendertuks, and the Freewells have committed, my friends are blameless. I would prefer you treat them so.”
“I do, my prince.”
“You do? It seems to me that you are short with them at every opportunity.”
“My prince, if I thought them guilty of crimes like the ones their fathers committed, I would have already struck through their necks, dropped their heads into their families’ holdfasts, and dumped their bodies into the Sweeps for the alligaunts.”
Cazia wasn’t grinning any more, but she was still glad to be there, spying on her best friend and the bully who tutored him at weapons. I know you better than you know me.
“These words do not please me,” Lar said. A king would have said that with anger or would have made it feel like a threat, but Lar sounded sad and helpless. She couldn’t help but feel a familiar twinge of sorrow for him; he was too good a person to have to deal with bullies like Treygar and the world they’d made.
Treygar said: “I have sworn my service to your royal parents: they have my life, my honor, and my duty. So do you, my prince. However, my thoughts and what little wisdom Fury has granted me remain my own. Your cousins might make fine palace playmates, but their families–their names–will call to them. They live here as hostages, not guests. They will not forget that, even if you have. When the time comes for them to choose, you may be sure of their loyalty, but my duty requires me to be watchful.”
“I have not forgotten why they are here. I won’t allow myself to forget.”
“Then remember also that, if I had not slain Doctor Rexler and broken the guard at Pinch Hall, you would not have ventured onto The Great Way, with all its featherbeds and jars of wine, and Colchua Freewell would be prince now.”
For some reason, Lar laughed. “Col would make a much better prince–and king–than I ever will.”
Shocked, Cazia stayed perfectly still while the footsteps receded down the stairs. Did the prince really think her brother would make a better king? Sadness suddenly filled her so full that tears welled in her eyes. Lar should never say such things aloud, especially not to a killer like Tyr Treygar.
Fire and Fury, Lar needed a bodyguard to protect him from himself.
Cazia went down the stair more slowly, not wanting to hear any more and careful that she not be seen crying. Pagesh, Bittler, and Jagia’s footsteps passed and faded. At the bottom of the stair, she slipped through another panel into a disused map room.
It was empty. Perfect. She crept out from behind the shelf of scrolls and walked quietly toward the propped-open door at the entrance. She peered through.
Doctor Whitestalk, sitting at a desk near a window, glanced at her without interest. The scholar had a sparrow laid out before her and cut it open to expose its innards. Cazia watched her pick something out of the body–a tiny organ, obviously–with her thumb and index fingers. Those were the only fingers she had left. She’d gone hollow years ago when she was barely older than Cazia herself, but without her fingers she could no longer cast spells. All she could do was consult with other scholars, when she felt moved to talk.
According to rumor, she’d been a medical scholar before she’d become a wizard and she had used her healing magic to create terrible things. No one would specify what those things had looked like, but Cazia’s imagination ran wild.
A young woman in a pale robe approached Doctor Whitestalk, her posture deferential. Although Doctor Twofin had never explained why, scholars who had gone hollow had a special insight into spells and spellcasting, which they shared with the tower on rare occasions. It was enough to keep them off the gallows, whatever their crimes.
Instead of responding to the young woman’s question, Doctor Whitestalk lifted the bird’s organ to her mouth and touched it to her tongue. Her expression was flat, devoid of any human emotion. Her cheeks were streaked with tears.
I won’t have you going hollow under my tutelage. Think of the consequences!
Shuddering, Cazia stepped through the doorway, only to have someone seize hold of her ear. It was Doctor Winterhill.
“What have I told you,” he said in his dull, blubbery voice, “about creeping about in my map room? I won’t have you smudging my work, you little sneak!”
“The prince gave me permission,” Cazia said, trying to act as though having her ear nearly pulled off the side of her head wasn’t painful at all.
“Bad enough you are permitted in the tower at all,” Winterhill insisted. “No Freewell in all of Kal-Maddum has permission to study the imperial maps. Now get out before I have Twofin ban you.”
He shoved her toward the yard. The other scholars sat glowering at her, so she lowered her head and hurried after Pagesh and the others. Even inside the Scholar’s Tower she had Enemies. For now.
Bittler had already left the girls and headed toward the gym. Cazia watched as he hunched his shoulders and took a circuitous route to avoid a cluster of palace guards.
For all the good it did him. One of the guards threw a pebble at him. They all laughed as Bit winced and clutched at his upper arm.
They weren’t supposed to be doing that anymore but there was little anyone could do to stop them. If Bit complained about the guard–or if Cazia complained about Doctor Winterhill–they would simply lie about what happened, and their superiors would never take the word of a traitor’s child over one of their own. They had all learned that lesson while they were young. As the prince, Lar should have had the authority to put a stop to it, but somehow he didn’t. No one seemed to take him seriously; Cazia still wasn’t sure why.
Things would be awful for a month afterwards–they would find wet linen in their beds, scorching amounts of salt in their food, and grubs in their rooms. It wasn’t worth striking back.
The truth was, the Palace of Song and Morning was very large, but the only safe spaces within it for her were inside the circle of her friends with Lar, or in the practice room with Doctor Twofin. Even her tiny chambers were Enemy territory.
In her room, the fire had been lit and a bowl of bread and salt cheese set beside her bed. The maid–never “her” maid, not considering how often the girl searched through her things for Song knows what–had laid out Cazia’s new green dress with beautiful white swirls at the sleeves and hem. While Cazia washed and changed, the maid returned and laid out a white scarf and a string of tiny blue gems to tie back her hair.
Since trade had opened up through East Ford again, blue had become the current thing, but Cazia thought it would be too showy for a hostage, even though the stones had been a gift from the prince himself. So it was green and white for her, with a white hat made of stiffened linen to protect her face from the rain. The gems she wore hidden underneath. It didn’t matter to her that no one else would see them. In fact, it made her enjoy them more.
It was still early when she hurried to Pagesh’s room. As expected, Pagesh and Jagia were frantic to be ready for the start of the festival. Jagia was all in red and gold–a beautiful combination that made Cazia want to change immediately. Pagesh emerged from her bedchamber in a red-on-white dress embroidered with rose petals that was so unlike her usual mud-stained robes that Cazia actually gasped.
“You both look beautiful,” Cazia said.
Pagesh made a face. “Girl clothes. They always bring out the marriage proposals.”
At nineteen, Pagesh had been fending off suitors for years. She was Tyr Simblin’s only acknowledged child, and King Ellifer wanted Simblin’s heir to marry someone loyal to the empire. Pagesh herself wanted to spend her days in the garden—she had little interest in anything else—but the queen had made it clear that she would soon be returning to the Simblin holdfast, and that she would be bringing a husband along.
Cazia honestly felt sorry for her. Only a year before, Cazia had asked the queen for permission to stay at the palace when Colchua returned to the family holdings. She planned to devote her life to studying in the Scholars Tower, and the Enemies who worked there would have no choice but to accept her. She would make them.
It had been a risky thing to say, she learned later. Queens were trained as scholars–in limited ways, but still–and Cazia’s lineage put her in line for the throne behind Lar, Jagia, her own brother, and Ellifer’s brother and sister.
However Queen Amlian had understood she wasn’t interested in sitting on a throne. She was learning to read, to set things on fire, and to hit targets with her darts. At the end of this Festival, there would be a new Gift to play with; whatever it was, Cazia wanted to be part of it. If the Italgas could give her that, they would have her utmost loyalty even before Lar was crowned.
Pagesh said goodbye to her maid with a kiss and they hurried into the hall. Bittler, Timush and Colchua were already waiting for them. All three looked handsome in the king’s gray and red. Even Bittler, almost.
Col made a fuss over their dresses in his half-mocking way, although of course he was gentlest with little Jagia. To Pagesh, Timush said quietly: “You look wonderful, but I think I prefer you in those muddy field clothes.” She did not smile nor did she look at him. She only stared silently at the floor. For his part, Timu accepted her silence as a kind of distance between them that he did not know how to cross.
On their way to the courtyard, one of the servants contrived to tip over a bucket of dirty water as they passed, but Cazia had been watching for it and hopped out of the way.
“Oh, excuse me, miss!” the girl said, unable to disguise the sneer at the corner of her mouth. “And you in such lovely clothes.”
Cazia and Pagesh both glared at her with enough hatred to kindle a flame, and the girl retreated down the hall.
As they rounded the next corner, Col started joking about the Evening People and Lar’s song. Like everyone around them, they’d talked all their lives about putting on a show or doing some sort of crazy mime at their first festival, but nothing had ever come of it.
Except with Lar. The only one who knew anything about this song of his was Col, and he wouldn’t say a word.
Their boot heels scuffed the pink stone as they hurried through the empty halls.
Cazia Freewell is the co-protagonist and will be the focus of the book cover for THE WAY INTO MAGIC, the second book in the trilogy. Seeing her done well was the whole reason for the completely huge and awesome news I mentioned above.
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