Magicians' Trial, page 1part #1 of Spellsmith & Carver Series
Spellsmith & Carver
H. L. Burke
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Copyright © 2017 H. L. Burke
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Cover Design: Jennifer White
Auric Spellsmith took out the ledger listing the magical orders due that week: pest wards for the local granary, a weather manipulation spell for the Farmers’ Guild, and some fanciful light-display spells a local merchant requested for his wife’s birthday. All basic magic—easy, but a bit dull. Still, with Father abed with yet another headache and Jericho, Auric’s friend and business partner, tied up in wedding preparations, Auric had to grit his teeth and take care of the monotonous day-to-day running of Spellsmith Manor.
He cleared away the clutter of expended quires, magical theory books, and bottles of colored ink his father used for labeling. With this done, he made two stacks, one of paper quires, the other of wooden ones. Everything was in place. Time to buckle down and get to work.
Scratching at his red-gold beard, Auric picked up his stylus, a thin metal rod for inscribing magical symbols, and considered which quire to use. Though he usually preferred to work in wax, the pest wards and weather spells needed staying power. Wood worked best for that, able to travel and absorb a good deal of magical energy. The single-use light spells could be entrusted to paper.
Pulling up a stool, he twirled his stylus between his fingers. It had only been a few months since he left the Academy to come home to the “quiet” country estate. A lot had happened in that time. His father’s health had taken a turn for the worse, and Jericho’s engagement to Auric’s sister, Rill, demanded much of the family’s attention. The household was bursting with visiting relatives, gifts, and extra staff hired for the wedding. The highs and lows of it kept life from getting boring.
Footsteps creaked on the stairs. Auric looked up as Jericho entered the workshop. Like Auric, Jericho Carver was twenty years of age. Unlike Auric, he was tall and rangy with dark hair and eyes. Also unlike Auric, he’d had no training in magic before being recruited as a protégé by Auric’s father, Hedward Spellsmith. Auric had originally been skeptical of his father’s choice to train the carpenter’s nephew, but he’d soon realized Jericho was both sharp-minded and determined. He’d won Hedward’s respect, Rill’s love, and eventually Auric’s friendship.
Jericho sighed and leaned against the table.
“Aren’t you supposed to be tasting cake or picking flowers or some such nonsense?” Auric smirked.
Jericho flinched. “Thankfully, Rill and your mom got tired of my non-committal grunts and excused me from participating further with the wedding plans. Seriously, why does it have to be so complicated? It’s not as if we’ll be more or less married depending on what floral arrangements are in the church.”
“You don’t have to convince me.” Auric slid a wooden quire across the tabletop. The piece of planed alder was paper thin, but sturdy enough to absorb the Fey energy Auric’s spell would channel through it. “When I get married, I’m eloping. None of this fancy wedding business.”
“It makes Rill happy.” Jericho rubbed the back of his neck then swept his dark gaze over the empty workshop, a long room that took up most of the upper floor of the manor’s south wing. Bookshelves filled with magical tomes lined one wall, and Hedward’s cluttered desk stood next to the door to his private study. The whole room smelled of wood shavings from the quires as well as lavender from the scented wax tablets Auric preferred. “Your father isn’t working today?”
“Something about a headache.” Auric fiddled with his stylus. “Happens a lot lately, but he won’t see a doctor about it. It worries me.”
“What happened in the Fey Lands took a lot out of him.” Jericho took the ledger. “Where are we starting?”
“I’ll do the pest wards if you want to handle the weather spells.” The tension between Auric’s shoulders eased. The only thing he hated more than monotonous tasks was monotonous tasks with no one to talk to.
Jericho, however, tended towards silence. He selected a square of alder, drew his own stylus from the pocket of his plain brown workman’s vest, and got to work.
Auric concentrated on the first pest ward. For it to work, he needed to inscribe a barrier symbol, a proximity symbol for the space it would cover, and a time symbol so it wouldn’t activate before it was placed in the granary. The miller needed one for each store room, plus backups for when the energy expended the quire.
Glancing up, Auric eyed Jericho. “So, three days now, huh?”
Jericho nodded, still focused on the quires before him.
The corner of Jericho’s mouth twitched into a mischievous smile. “A bit.”
A ripple of unease cut through Auric, making him regret bringing up the topic. Yes, he loved Jericho like a brother and Rill loved Jericho very much not like a brother, but still, she was only seventeen. The thought of her as a married woman, even married to Auric’s best friend, was hard for him to reconcile with his memories of her as a rosy-cheeked child pretending to hunt fey dragons in the garden.
“Master Auric!” Ferris, the youth they’d hired to help with the extra work, poked his head through the doorway. “Master Auric, there’s a man here to see Master Spellsmith. Should I rouse him?”
“No, escort the visitor into the parlor, and I’ll speak with him.” Auric stuck his stylus into his pocket. “No need to wake Father.”
“Want me to take it?” Jericho asked.
Auric shook his head. “I could use the break.”
Jericho snorted. “Yeah, you’ve been doing the same thing for all of fifteen minutes. Must be grueling.”
Auric scowled at Jericho but could only hold it for a second. With a chuckle, he headed down the stairs.
Flowers bloomed in the foyer, a riot of pink, yellow, and blue. A side table overflowed with wrapped packages, wedding gifts from well-wishing but distant relatives who couldn’t be bothered to make the train ride from the Capital to attend the nuptials. The door to the parlor stood ajar.
Auric straightened his gold-embroidered vest and burgundy cravat before entering.
A stork-like man with thinning gray hair stood with his back to the door, staring at the bookshelf. He didn’t move when Auric entered.
“Welcome to Spellsmith Manor,” Auric said. “I’m sorry my father is indisposed right now, but I can assist you.”
The man turned, revealing a narrow, hooked nose and puckered features. His eyes narrowed behind a small pair of tinted-glass spectacles. “You’re Aur
Auric offered his hand. “Yes, and currently partner in my father’s workshop. I’m certain whatever you need from him I can just as easily provide.”
The man continued to gaze coldly at Auric, ignoring his extended hand, and it was all the young man could do to maintain his pleasant expression.
“Are you aware of the recent struggles faced by the Capital denizens, young Spellsmith?” the stranger asked.
Auric returned his arm to his side. He’d kept a close ear to news out of the Capital. The closing of the rifts had lessened the magical power pouring into the human world from the Fey Realms. The shortage had caused an energy crisis—or Auric had caused an energy crisis by creating a magical bulwark that prevented human magicians from opening more rifts. To save the world, of course, but he had done it.
“I’m afraid we don’t get much more than rumors this far from the city.” He managed to keep his voice steady, though he wanted to loosen his collar and gulp for air. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name?”
“Inspector Declan Hovawart of the Magicians’ Congress.” A smile twisted the man’s thin lips. “My fellows have entrusted me with solving the energy crisis—or at least bringing those responsible to justice. We are facing hard times in the Capital. You lived there not so long ago. Do you remember how many day-to-day activities were governed by the judicious use of magic? In towns of negligible population, such as this one, I don’t imagine you have felt the pinch. However, in the city, with hundreds of magicians fighting over the scraps of magical energy, it has been a dreary few months. My colleagues are calling for the head of whoever is responsible.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Auric longed to add that things would’ve been much worse if he hadn’t made his choice. His spell had prevented Fey energy from bursting through the barrier like water from a breached dam, poisoning everything in its path as it displaced breathable air—but to make that statement would admit knowledge and therefore guilt.
“Yes, well, up until a few days ago, my investigation was mainly spent poring over the records of magical energy spikes.” He stepped closer. While not a particularly tall man—Jericho would’ve made him look a dwarf—he still stood a few inches taller than Auric. He now stared down at Auric, gray-green eyes glinting. “Imagine my surprise to find this usually quiet hamlet produced multiple spikes right before the crisis began. Can you tell me why that would be?”
Auric shrugged, ignoring the tightening in his chest. “I’m afraid we don’t have much call for flashy displays of magic in Mountain’s Foot. In fact, my father and I are often left with nothing to do. Perhaps the readings were faulty?”
“Perhaps.” Inspector Hovawart rubbed his thin hands together. “Your father is the official magician for this region of the Republic. That means he must keep logs of all magical anomalies, as required by his contract with the government.”
“My father is quite fastidious.” Auric crossed to the door and held it open. “If you’d like to see his records, I can oblige.” Thankfully, between Auric, Hedward, and Jericho, the records were nicely smoothed over, if not completely fictionalized.
“I would like them sent to my office in the Capital. I don’t have time for that now.” Hovawart whipped a card from his breast pocket and thrust it at Auric.
Auric drew a steadying breath then took the card.
Hovawart leaned closer. “Were you aware, young Spellsmith, that your father writes yearly letters to Congress, protesting the Magician Corps’ use of artificial Fey rifts? He called it a danger to the Republic if not the entire world.”
Auric winced. Of course Father had written letters. He’d never been one to keep his opinions to himself. “You can’t be suggesting my father had anything to do with this.” He did his best to sound indignant. “He’s a simple, small town magician, rarely does anything more elaborate than a weather spell.”
“And yet somehow he’s involved in this, isn’t he?” Hovawart crossed his arms. “You say your father is indisposed? When he recovers, let him know I called. Also, tell him if he confesses and reopens the rifts, he alone will suffer the consequences for his actions. You’re a young man, Spellsmith. Don’t let your father ruin your future as well as his own.” He reached onto the couch where a stovepipe hat had sat unnoticed during the conversation. Placing this squarely upon his head, he nodded. “See that those logs are sent right away. I’ll be expecting them.” He brushed past Auric and out the door.
Alone, Auric collapsed onto the couch with his forehead in his hands. He couldn’t just tear open the rifts again. The spell was designed to make that impossible. Tugging at his hair, he tried to think clearly. They couldn’t prove anything. Even if they openly accused him or his father, it would fall apart at trial … wouldn’t it?
Perhaps Jericho would have some insight. While Auric knew Capital politics better, Jericho had a clear head in crisis, something Auric desperately needed right now. Rising from the couch, he hurried out of the study and up the stairs.
A trilling laugh met his ears when he entered the workshop. Jericho stood, his arms around Rill, his face buried in her flaxen hair. She flushed when her eyes met her brother’s. With a tinny yip, Jaspyr, Rill’s enchanted bronze fox, burst from beneath the table and circled Auric’s feet. His plume-like tail twitched with a constant ticking noise as he sat and gazed up at Auric with glowing eyes.
“Oh, Aurry!” She peeled herself from her fiancé’s arms. “Jerry said you were dealing with some business matter.”
“I thought he was.” Jericho straightened his vest. “What did the visitor want?”
Auric opened and shut his mouth. Rill’s blue eyes shone, so happy. They’d be married in three days. He couldn’t drop this on them now. “Nothing,” he said. “Just village business, no need to worry about it.”
Jericho tilted his head, his keen eyes examining Auric. Auric stood straighter and returned the stare.
Rill took Jericho’s hand. “I have to go. I just came up to tell you I was headed to the village for a final dress fitting, but somehow I got … distracted.”
He broke his stare from Auric to address her. “Sounds good. I’ll see you at dinner.” He bent down and brushed his lips over hers.
Rill practically danced out of the workshop. Jaspyr wagged his tail and followed after, as buoyant as his mistress. Yes, Auric could keep this burden to himself for a little while longer.
“So, village business?” Jericho asked.
“Yes. Speaking of which, we have work to finish.” Auric pulled out his stylus. Hopefully this whole mess would blow over. If it didn’t, he didn’t know what he’d do.
Jericho shifted from foot to foot, his waistcoat and tails restrictive and hot. He glanced in the mirror and quickly pushed his fingers through his hair. The scented oil Auric had loaned him, insisting it would make him look more like the groom and less like an out-of-place butler, had already given up holding his short dark hair in place.
“Would you settle down?” Auric clicked his tongue and passed him a comb. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you didn’t want to marry my sister.”
Jericho did his best to repair his appearance. “Marriage I’m fine with. This wedding seems designed to torture me.” He stepped back, nearly bumping into a baptismal font the local parson had stashed in the antechamber behind the sanctuary. Even standing as far from the mirror as the small space allowed, he had to duck to see his full body. He’d never worn a suit in his life. “I look ridiculous.”
“You realize I dress like that all the time.” Auric frowned.
“I’m not you.” Catching the sharpness of his own tone, Jericho drew a deep breath. “Sorry, Auric. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.” He rubbed his forehead.
Auric raised an eyebrow. “You know, you can back out of this. Yes, Rill would be broken hearted, and I’d hate you for it, but I think I’d hate you more if you marri
“No, it’s not like that. I want this. I want her.” Jericho exhaled. “So much.”
Auric gave an exaggerated grimace. “Don’t talk about my sister like that. At least not in front of me, please. Makes me queasy.”
Jericho chuckled. He stared forward, avoiding his awkward reflection. So many doubts had raced through his mind the night before, not about Rill, but about himself, his ability to make her happy, keep her safe, be a husband … a father. The future loomed like a mountain slope, ominous and impassable and Jericho without so much as a rope to hold onto. “Why in the name of all that is holy did she choose me?” he whispered.
“She loves you.” Auric shrugged. “In all fairness, you’re not a bad choice. I mean, no one is good enough for Rill, but of all the men I’ve met, you’ve come the closest.”
The tightness in Jericho’s chest eased. “Thanks. That means a lot, actually.” He crossed the room and pulled the door open a finger-width. The ancient organ droned an off-key hymn, slow paced, as if the organist were about to drift off to sleep. People in their Sunday best packed the pews. It looked as if all of Mountain’s Foot had shown up. His mother, gray-haired and smiling, sat in the front row with his uncle and younger sister and brother. Beyond that, faces he didn’t know—the Spellsmiths’ out of town relatives. No Rill, of course. He’d caught a glimpse of her on arrival before her mother had whisked her away to primp and prepare.
“She’s happy, you know.” Auric’s voice made him turn from the door. Auric shuffled his feet. “We talked this morning, and she’s bursting with joy. It’s a bit ridiculous, but you did that, so thank you.”
“My pleasure.” Jericho adjusted his pocket square, another thing Auric had insisted he needed.
“No, no, not like—” Auric slapped his forehead. “Seriously, Jericho? Do they not have clothes where you’re from?” He reached up to straighten the bit of cloth, but Jericho pushed him away.
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