Unguilded, p.18

Unguilded, page 18



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  “Yes,” Kara agreed. “Although I can’t trust him completely.”

  Vook nodded when she said that, and seemed to relax.

  “I need to find out more about him. How often the madness strikes him, where he goes, and what he does when he’s mad.” She paused and ran her hand through her hair. Did she so badly long to feel safe that she’d put them all at risk here? “But if he does find us, it’s me he wants. And he can’t hurt me, at least not with magic.”

  “That’s how you got us away from the clammers,” Pilo said. “By the tree with the feathers. There was magic there, you said.”

  “Yes,” Kara replied. “I kept the spell away from us. But the clammers couldn’t see it. One tried a spell—she barely even affected the magic under that tree.”

  “Clammers have magic?” Vook asked. “Harb never said.”

  “I don’t think Harb knew,” Kara said. “The women used it on Harb and Lowel, a little.” Her voice turned grim. “And they used it on the collars.”

  Sidra’s hand went to her neck and then quickly dropped down to her side. “That’s why we couldn’t untie them, no matter how hard we tried.”

  “Probably,” Kara said. She got to her feet. “Who’s hungry? There’s a garden out back and some oranges we need to pick before the birds get them.”

  IT WAS LATE afternoon by the time they were finished in the garden.

  Mole had clambered up the orange and apple trees and tossed the fruit down to Sidra and Pilo, while Vook and Kara dug up carrots and potatoes for supper.

  Kara thought longingly of the peppers and grapes she’d seen in the garden behind the manor house. She shook her head—she might as well wish for what they’d left behind at the docks—the manor garden was just as far out of their reach. Besides, they should be grateful for what they did have. It was so much more than she had hoped to find when they’d started the search for a new home.

  Only Kara and Pilo could actually see the cabin. Perhaps Pilo had some Mage blood in her, like the clammers, but no one mentioned the possibility. Kara didn’t want to drive off the mage mist—the spells—that kept the cabin hidden, so they marked a path with stones for the other three. It led them to the corner of the cabin—once they touched it they could make their way to the door.

  When the path was laid out, Vook set off to collect firewood, and soon a small pile was stacked just inside the door.

  They sorted through the furniture in the back room and hauled what they wanted into the main room. A wooden crate tucked under the bed held bedding and some pots, as well as a real kettle. Mole and Sidra had never seen one before, so Vook started a fire in the hearth and settled the kettle near the flames. The kettle’s whistle delighted the younger children, but it reminded Kara of Villa Larona and her father’s house.

  Kara had served tea to her father and Noula every evening, and Noula had never tired of finding fault. The tea was too cold, it had steeped too long, it hadn’t steeped long enough, the milk was sour. Rarely was there a night when Kara didn’t have to do something twice in order to appease her father’s not-quite wife. It would take some time before the whistle of a kettle brought her any sense of comfort, let alone the joy it gave Sidra and Mole.

  They didn’t have any actual tea, of course, but each of them took a mug of steaming water and sat at the table, just like any real family. There were only four chairs so Kara pulled up the small bench. It put her head at Mole’s height, and he laughed. It was such an unusual sound for Mole, though her half-brother Osten had always been giggling at something or other.

  “This is much nicer than the boat,” Sidra said. “It’s clean and there are no drafts.”

  “And there are no clammers,” Mole said. “I hate clammers.”

  “They won’t come this far, will they?” Pilo asked. “If they have magic, they might be able to see the cabin.”

  “They won’t come this far,” Vook replied. “I overheard the women talking. They’re terrified of the mad mage.”

  “They should be,” Kara said. “If Santos Nimali knew they had magic, then Mage Guild might find out.”

  “Would they care?” Pilo asked. “Mage Guild?”

  “Yes.” Kara stared out the window. The afternoon shadows were lengthening as the sun drifted lower in the sky. “When I ran away from the guild, they tried to find me.” She faced the others. “I saw the spell they sent. Later, when I was traveling with Mika, we went to visit an old friend of his. He was dead—covered in that same mage mist—the spell that had been sent after me.”

  “It killed him?” Vook asked. “Why?”

  “Because he wasn’t just an old man living in the mountains.” Kara went to the kitchen where she’d left her pack and pulled out the journal. “I got this book from his house.” She placed the book on the table and sat back down. “And he had other books, almost thirty. A man doesn’t collect so many books unless he can read.”

  “Only Mage Guild teaches their own to read,” Pilo said. “You think he was Mage Guild, like you.”

  “Yes,” Kara said. “I think that’s why the spell killed him. Mage Guild controls all magic, and those who wield it. If the clammers have magic, Mage Guild will either find and control them, or kill them.” She looked down at her hands. “From what I saw, I doubt they’d be easily controlled.”

  “I’ll tell Mage Guild myself,” Mole said. “I want them all dead!”

  “Mole, don’t say that!” Kara said.

  “Why not? It’s true.” Mole crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her.

  Kara looked into his belligerent face and sighed. Where was the laughing little boy from a few minutes ago?

  “Because that makes you as bad as them,” she said. “Besides, you don’t ever want to meddle in Mage Guild business.” She should take her own advice, she thought. Undoing the spells on Santos Nimali would be meddling in Mage Guild business, wouldn’t it?

  “I don’t want Lowel dead,” Sidra said quietly. “Lowel was always nice to me, before the clammers.”

  “Too late,” Pilo said. “By now both Harb and Lowel are either slaves or dead.”

  “Would they eat them?” Mole asked. “They would have eaten me.”

  “No they wouldn’t have,” Vook said. “They eat food, the same as us.”

  “We may never know their fate,” Kara said. She hoped they still were alive, but Harb had brought this on himself. Thank Gyda she’d been able to get the rest of them out. If she’d come even a couple of hours later, all of the clammers would have been at the docks, and there would have been no chance of rescue.

  “Come on, let’s finish getting that other room sorted out,” Kara said. “I’d like to sleep in a real bed tonight.”

  THE BED WAS crowded with all five of them sprawled in it. Kara didn’t actually get much sleep that first night. Mole, unused to sleeping in such comfort and security, fidgeted. He woke up Kara about every hour so she could confirm that they were still safe. But in a week they were all, even Mole, sleeping soundly.

  Kara kept everyone close to the cabin that first week. The weather had turned, and rain lashed at the windows for three solid days. The stack of wood that was inside the door grew. It took hours for it to dry out enough to burn, but there was such a damp chill in the air that they kept the fire going all day.

  The food in the garden was almost gone. There were still some oranges and apples, but they’d dug up what they could find of the wild vegetables. Vook had made himself a fishing pole and was anxious to find a place to fish, and Pilo wanted to look beyond the cabin’s garden for berries and mushrooms. For Kara, it was time to search out Santos Nimali. If they wanted to stay in the cabin, she’d need to strike a bargain with him.

  “STAY TOGETHER,” KARA said as Vook, Pilo, Sidra, and Mole headed out the door, fishing gear and foraging baskets in hand. “If you go past the dock, you can be seen from the house.”

  “We’ve been doing this a lot longer than you,” Pilo said. “We know what we’re doing.”
r />   “Sorry, of course.” Kara felt so responsible for the little group that she had forgotten that they’d been surviving without her for years. “All right. We’ll meet back here before dark.”

  Once they’d gone, Kara stuffed her filled water skin and two oranges into her pack, alongside Santos Nimali’s book.

  She’d been surprised to read about her mother in the journal. Santos Nimali had been curious about Arabella Fonti. He’d called her an exceptionally promising student from an unknown strain of magical talent. He’d written of the need to explore her origins. He’d also been aware of Kara, though if he’d known her name he hadn’t written it down. The last year of entries in the journal had been just before Kara turned nine—before the years of failed tests—when she’d still held so much promise.

  Kara closed the pack and slung it over her shoulder. And she’d fulfilled that promise, though no one had recognized her magical talent.

  Nimali also frequently mentioned Valerio Valendi in his journal. He’d been Nimali’s Journeyman for many years, and the older man had written of him proudly, as if Valendi were his son. But she was almost certain that Valendi had caused the most harm to Nimali—much of the mage mist that twined around him was Valendi’s colour.

  There could be another Mage with the same colour mage mist, it was impossible to think otherwise, but the connection, the personal relationship between Nimali and Valendi, was there. And cursing someone into madness while allowing sane breaks so they knew their plight, knew they would soon go mad again, that seemed terribly personal.

  She could not imagine anything justifying such unbelievable cruelty. It made her more eager to help the mad mage and not just to secure a safe place to live. He’d been wronged, horribly, and she could help.

  She stepped into the tangled garden at the rear of the manor house. The house looked much the same as when she’d last seen it—the roof was blackened and caved in on the far wing, and the curtain was still open in the room where she’d confronted Nimali.

  She skirted the garden bed, ignoring the onions and peppers, until she stood beside the stonework of the house. Nimali claimed he stayed in the destroyed area of the house, but that had been when he was sane. Even he didn’t know what he did when he was mad.

  Kara edged up to a window and peered in. The kitchen was bigger than both rooms of the secret cabin—a huge brick oven with multiple openings made her mouth water at the thought of the hot bread that once had been pulled from it. Marble counters were dull with dust, and a stack of dishes had tipped over and scattered brokenly across the floor. Directly underneath the window she peered through was a basin with two pump handles. The basin looked like it had been dry for a very long time, and she wondered where Santos Nimali got his water. Did he go to the fountain out front? She shivered. If so, then she was lucky he hadn’t found her the night she’d slept under it.

  A few steps past the window was a small wooden door. Only a few chips of blue paint remained, and the wood was warped and rotted in places. The door gave way with a dull squeal, and she quickly entered the room, tugging the door closed.

  She rubbed her eyes against the dust and inspected the large room. Small patches of pale blue mage mist clung to the edges of the doors and windows. A fly buzzed into the mist by a window and disappeared. She looked at the door she’d entered. The blue mist lined the door frame, and she frowned. The spell hadn’t kept her out. Did it keep pests away from the food and supplies? It would be a good use of magic in a kitchen.

  A door that was centered in the wall directly in front of her swung inward onto a short hallway. Two open doorways branched off the hall, and a final closed door seemed to head straight to the front of the house. The first doorway led to a formal dining room. Dusty goblets and plates sat amongst tarnished silverware. Next was a small, sunny room that looked out onto the garden, the compact table and two upholstered chairs obviously meant for more intimate meals.

  She eased open the door at the end of the hall. A row of paintings hung on the wall in front of her. She peered at one, recognizing the fountain at the front of the house. Three, four, five paintings and then the wall ended, and sunlight bathed the floor.

  Kara peered around the corner and into the main hallway of the manor. She was behind the staircase. The front door was directly across from her. She was about to step into the main entranceway when she heard a noise at the door. She ducked around the corner, out of sight. The door opened, and a rush of fresh air swept in.

  “I hate this old place,” a low-pitched male voice said. “And I hate this duty.”

  “You say that every time,” a second man said. “But it’s a great honour to serve the former Mage Primus like this.”

  “We drop a basket off for him. That’s all. We don’t serve him. Gyda, we don’t even see him.”

  “Mage Secundus Valendi’s instructions are to make sure we don’t see him. And if the Mage Secundus takes a personal interest in his former Master then we should too.”

  Something heavy hit the floor.

  “Be careful, you’ll sour the beer.”

  “As if the mad mage would even notice.” Something was dragged across the tiles. “There. Let’s go.”

  The wind swirled in as the door opened again.

  “To think I worked so long and hard to become a Mage, and I end up doing this.” The door slammed shut.

  Kara slid down the wall and sat on the cool, marble floor. The food for Nimali was sent by Valerio Valendi? It was mostly his mage mist swirling about the mad mage. Was he trying to help his former Master? That didn’t fit with the man she’d met in Larona.

  The house had been quiet for close to an hour before she felt safe enough to creep around the corner.

  A large basket sat beside the door that led to the damaged wing. And it crawled with dark grey mage mist. Kara waved the mist away and peered in.

  The apples and oranges didn’t tempt her, she’d had her fill of those in the last few days, but there was bread and—Gyda, were those sausages? She picked one up and sniffed, smiling at the garlicky odour. She hadn’t had sausages since she’d left home over four months ago. Gently she put it back into the basket.

  “You can have them if you’ll help me.”

  Kara whirled to find Santos Nimali staring at her from the doorway to the undamaged part of the house.

  “I thought you didn’t go into that wing?” she asked as she backed into the opposite hallway.

  “I woke up there,” he said.

  He looked tired and so forlorn that she stopped edging away.

  “I came looking for you,” Kara said. “I want to trade.”

  “You want to trade?” Nimali’s laugh made him seem years younger. “Do you know how to bargain? It’s not a skill taught to Mages.”

  “No, but I traveled with an unguilded trader for a while,” Kara said. “I know how it works.”

  “What do I have that you want?”

  Nimali’s gaze sharpened, and Kara forced herself to keep still.

  “You must know that I’ll give you anything within my power to have your help.”

  “I know,” Kara said. She paused and raised her eyes to his. “There’s a small cabin on the property. I want it.”

  “The cabin,” Nimali said. “You found it.” He turned away, but not before she saw a flash of pain on his face. “It’s very dear to me. Can you do what I want?”

  “Yes,” Kara said. “I can undo the spells. Although I’ll undo the good ones as well as bad. And it might take some time.”

  “Thank you,” Nimali said. His shoulders sagged, and he relaxed. “If you’ll help me, the cabin is yours.”

  He smiled, a little shyly, she thought.

  “It will be good to finally have someone living in the cabin,” he said. “And don’t worry about removing any helpful spells—no one who tried to help me made much progress.”

  “Good.” She moved over to the basket of food. “Because I already removed the spells that Valerio Valendi had placed on
your supplies.”

  “The food was spelled?” Nimali asked. “Are you sure it was Valendi?”

  She nodded. “The mage mist was his colour, and I overheard the Mages who delivered it say that he had sent them.”

  “His colour,” Nimali repeated. “Is that what you see, different colours? How is it you recognize his colour?”

  “Each Mage seems to have their own colour of magic,” Kara said. “Of what I call mage mist. And I’ve met Valerio Valendi. He came to my villa with my mother after I failed to find my magic at sixteen.” She hesitated before she added, “My name is Kara. My mother is Arabella Fonti.”

  “You’re the young Fonti girl? I often wondered about you.”

  “I know,” Kara said. “I read your journal.”

  He glared at her, and she looked away.

  “I needed to know what sort of man you were before I trusted you. I needed to know if I’d be safe with you.”

  “Yes, bad enough I’m mad much of the time,” Nimali said. “I would be even more dangerous if I were mean and corrupt as well.” He looked glanced at the basket of food. “You said you can’t tell if the magic is evil or good,” he said. “Maybe Valendi has been trying to help me all these years?” Nimali shook his head, and the gray-black mage mist twined tighter around him. “I can’t assume that. I can’t assume anything.” He turned back to her. “Except that you can help me. Can we start now?”

  Kara nodded. “I’d prefer to be outside.”

  SANTOS NIMALI LEANED against the kitchen wall and closed his eyes. Kara had been trying to untangle one thread of mage mist, but it kept wriggling away.

  “I feel it tighten around my temple,” Nimali said. “Is that what you see?”

  “Yes,” she replied. “I can make it move, but it refuses to let me cut it or disperse it or whatever it is I do that makes the spell go away.” She poked her hand into the mage mist, and it shrunk away from her. “There must be something keeping it here.” She stared at the strand of mist. “Turn around, please.”

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