Unguilded, p.19

Unguilded, page 19



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  Nimali turned to face the wall. His shadow stretched out along the stone path that ran beside the kitchen window.

  “Ah, that might be it,” Kara said. There, near his shoulder, the mage mist seemed to be tied to another strand. This time when she jabbed, it clung to her. She pulled her hand away, and the mist followed in one long trail. Once it was a foot from Nimali, the mage mist thinned until it was gone.

  “I felt that,” Nimali said. He looked over his shoulder at her. “My head is different. I think I’ve lost my boat. Have you seen my boat?”

  When Nimali finished speaking, he lifted a hand, and green mage mist seeped towards her.

  “Santos, are you all right?” Kara waved her hand, and the mage mist dissipated.

  “Who are you?” Nimali asked. “What have you done with my boat?”

  Abruptly Santos Nimali got up and walked away. Kara edged towards the door into the kitchen, but Santos turned to face her.

  “Listen,” he said. Another wisp of green mage mist spread out from his hand. “They’ll be here soon. We have to hide.”

  Nimali tried to grab her arm, but she shrugged away from him.

  “Come with me!” Santos Nimali, the mad mage, glared at her. Despite the madness in his eyes, he was an imposing figure, one she could easily imagine giving orders to his Journeyman, Valerio Valendi.

  Nimali turned away from her again, muttering to himself, and Kara crept closer to the door. She didn’t feel threatened exactly, but neither did she want to stay and cause him more confusion. With one last glance at him, she slipped through the door and into the kitchen.

  She hurried through the house to the front door, pausing by the basket of food. One sausage, that was all. She’d earned at least that, hadn’t she? Besides, who knew how long the madness would stay with Nimali. The food might spoil in the meantime.

  Oh. She stopped and stared at the basket of food. Maybe that was what the spell was for. Maybe all Valerio Valendi was doing was keeping the food fresh for his former Master. She exited the house and trotted across the yard towards the cabin.

  Is that why Nimali went mad as soon as the spell was removed? Had Valendi’s spell been helping? Had removing it plunged Santos Nimali into madness? Her instincts said no, there was no compassion in Valerio Valendi. He’d sent a spell after her that had killed Mika’s friend, a spell that was supposed to kill her. She had to assume that any spell Valerio Valendi created was harmful.

  The little cabin was empty. Kara dropped her pack on the table and wandered over to the kitchen. She put the sausage on the counter and pumped some water into her mug. She’d go to see Santos tomorrow, and every day after that, until she had rid him of the spells. If that made things worse, well, they both knew the risks. The important thing was that he’d agreed to let her have this cabin. He didn’t have to know about the rest of her little group, at least not right now.

  She grabbed a basket and headed out to the garden. Hopefully she could find a few onions or potatoes they’d missed to add to a stew.

  “I’VE NEVER HAD anything so good in my life,” Mole said. He grabbed a piece of sausage from his bowl and held it up. “It’s meat?” He popped it into his mouth and closed his eyes in bliss.

  “Yes, it’s meat,” Pilo said. “Most likely pork, mixed with spices and garlic. At least that’s how my da used to make it. And the mad mage said we could stay here?”

  Kara nodded. “The cabin is yours. That’s exactly what he said.” She ran her finger around the edge of her bowl, trying to get every last drop of liquid. One sausage didn’t stretch very far for the five of them.

  “Is the fish ready, Vook?” she asked. He’d caught two large bass and was frying them up alongside the mushrooms that Pilo and Sidra had foraged.

  “Here.” He set a plate on the table and sat down. Five arms stretched towards the food.

  Kara pulled her arm in to allow the others to help themselves first. There was plenty—this would be only the second meal since being separated from Mika that she would be able to eat her fill. She leaned back and smiled. They were far better off than they had been at the docks. And with winter and the rainy season coming, this snug cabin would keep them all dry and warm. And safe.

  Chapter fifteen

  DESPITE HER AGREEMENT with Santos, Kara felt too exposed to simply walk in the front door of the manor house. Instead she went in the kitchen and through to the front hallway. The basket of food was gone, which she took to be a good sign.

  “Santos?” she called. “Are you here?” She stepped into the hallway of the damaged wing. “Santos Nimali? It’s Kara.”

  “I’m here.” Santos stepped out of a room. In the sunlight that streamed through the windows, the mage mist that swirled around him seemed much less dense.

  She took a few steps towards him. “Do you feel any different?”

  “Kara Fonti, I haven’t felt this good in years.” Santos bowed low to her. “My mind is clearer than it’s ever been during my sane periods.” He smiled. “What do you see?”

  Kara walked around him, studying the mage mist. The spell she’d removed seemed to have been a major one. Loose ends of mist writhed and twisted, no longer anchored.

  “I think I’ve removed a key spell,” she said.

  She waved her hand, and some of the smaller strands curled in on themselves and disappeared.

  “There are a lot of smaller spells, but they no longer seem to have a focus.”

  Santos lifted his arms as Kara continued to walk around him, dispersing more spells. Once the smaller strands were gone, she could see another large, ropy strand twisting around him. She poked a finger into it, and he groaned and doubled over.

  “I felt that,” the Mage said. “My heart felt like I was being squeezed.”

  Alarmed, she backed away. “Could removing a spell kill you?”

  “Yes,” Santos said. “I devised such a spell myself, once. Don’t look at me like that,” he said when she frowned. “I was Mage Guild Primus. I had enemies everywhere. Apparently even in my own home.” He shook his head. “Years ago Valerio Valendi was my Journeyman. I knew he was ambitious, that’s one reason why I chose him, but I never would have expected him to do this to me.” Santos straightened. “But I’ve had a lot of time to think about my failings as both Mage Guild Primus and a man over the past few years—I’m not happy with some of the things I’ve done. So here I am, alone, and the victim of the one man I trusted over all others.”

  “Do you not have any family?”

  “Family,” Santos snarled. “The guilds don’t allow for much allegiance to family, and Mage Guild actively discourages it. They want you completely reliant on the guild.” Santos paused. “But I do have children, out there somewhere. As Primus it was expected that I would pass on my abilities. But they were a duty, not a joy.”

  “And the mother of your children?” Kara asked softly. Bearing children to men such as the Primus, that would have been her fate, her life, if she’d stayed in the guild.

  Santos laughed, a sharp bitter sound. “There was more than one mother. I learned my lesson the hard way.”

  He eyed her, and Kara sensed him sizing her up. He nodded, as if to confirm to himself that she could be trusted with this.

  “I had a love, at one time,” Santos said. “We were going to live here and have a family. We both worked on the house and grounds to make it ready.” He lowered his head. “But she never lived here. My enemies hired an Assassin to kill her, and despite our magical protections, they did. I vowed to never make myself, or anyone I cared for, a target again.”

  “The cabin,” Kara said. “That was for her.”

  Santos set sad eyes on her. “Yes. A small place where the two of us could shut out the rest of the world. The magic that surrounds it is my best work. I was surprised that you found it.”

  “It was the oranges,” she said and smiled. “I could smell them, and I hadn’t eaten for days. I ate my fill, and when I turned around, there it was.”

p; “You need food?” Santos asked abruptly. “Why didn’t you say so?” He brushed past her to the main hallway.

  She followed him around the staircase, through the kitchen and out into the garden.

  “It’s sadly neglected,” Santos said when she caught up to him. “But you’re welcome to anything here.”

  Kara surveyed the overgrown garden. Peppers and grapes and a few misshapen squashes were visible, but there was probably even more she couldn’t see. It was too bad she couldn’t bring Pilo and Sidra over—they were tireless harvesters and better at finding food than she was. They’d had to be to survive so long on their own.

  “Thank you,” Kara said. “I’ll take whatever I can pick. Would you like me to set some of the produce aside for you?”

  “Me?” Santos seemed surprised by her offer. “No, I’ll continue to eat what the guild provides.” He looked over at her. “If you promise to remove any spells. It would look suspicious if all of a sudden my eating habits changed. I don’t want Mage Guild to know you’re here.”

  Kara nodded her agreement. The last thing she wanted was for the guild to know she was alive, and close by.

  “Good,” Santos said. “Now, if you have my journal in that pack of yours, we might find something useful in it. I wrote all of my most formidable spells in that book.”

  “You did?” Kara was confused. She’d read the journal cover to cover, and she hadn’t come across anything that seemed like a spell, not even once.

  “I’ve hidden them,” Santos said. “With a code only I know. If I can describe the spell that can kill when it’s removed, you may be able to undo it safely.”

  SANTOS WAS STILL hunched over his journal, muttering to himself, when Kara finally left, an old tablecloth heavy with vegetables slung over her shoulder. Magic had kept animals and insects out of the kitchen garden so there was plenty left to harvest. A small squash threatened to fall out of the bundle, and she stuffed it back in. The kitchen also had a good supply of jars she could use to preserve food for the winter. She smiled at the thought of the snug cabin, warm from a steady fire, jars of food stacked high in the cupboard, and the five of them in front of the window watching as a winter storm whipped the waves in the bay.

  She’d need to find some spices and preservatives first though. The kitchen didn’t have the right supplies, and it wasn’t as though Santos could ask Mage Guild. She’d need to make a trip to the market.

  It had been over a year since Vook had last been to the small Shanty Town market. The children had nothing to trade—but Kara did. Two guilders, if she dared, and her mother’s jewelry. In addition to the spices, she hoped to get some clothes, maybe even some shoes, for the others.

  ARABELLA SAT DOWN across from Castio and smiled. They’d just finished a council meeting, and the rest of the members had already left.

  “I trust my kinswoman is working out for you?” she asked. “Her manners might be a bit rough, seeing that she’s from a small villa, but she certainly has all the training you would expect a non-magical Guildswoman to have.”

  “Yes,” Castio replied. “She’s very useful.”

  Though a few years younger than Arabella, Castio had entered his Journeyman training the same year she had. They’d been part of a larger group who studied the archives together, but she’d become a full Mage before him. She’d worked harder than him—harder than everyone—while Castio had spent his free time socializing. At the time she’d felt superior, but he’d become a council member before her—in part due to his social connections.

  “She’s happy,” Arabella said. “With Etta and your children.”

  Castio frowned. “I didn’t realize you were keeping in touch with her,” he said. “After all, she was your husband’s lover for many years.”

  “A man I barely knew,” Arabella replied. Noula had been talking too much. “Who is no longer my husband. Will you and Etta marry?”

  “No,” Castio said. “Just as you and Secundus Valendi are unlikely to marry. Or did he promise you that?”

  “I just dissolved one marriage,” Arabella said. “I have no wish to bind myself to anyone else.”

  “But you are having his child,” Castio said. “Congratulations.”

  “Thank you,” Arabella said. Had he guessed? Perhaps she would have to make her condition known. She had wanted a few more weeks—a little more time to secure her own allies before she become so publicly tied to Valerio. Because despite what she’d told Castio, her pregnancy did bind her to Valerio.

  “I will not spoil your surprise by telling anyone your news,” Castio said. He lowered his voice. “Just as I hope you will not tell anyone about Etta.”

  “Of course not,” Arabella lied. She would tell Valerio about Etta. Castio was wrong if he thought he could bully her. Besides, her own secret made her stronger while his made him weaker.

  “ARE SURE YOU don’t want to come?” Kara asked Pilo.

  “I never liked the market,” Pilo replied. “Too many people in need of a bath.”

  “All right. We’ll be back before dark.” Kara slung her pack over her shoulder and followed Vook down the path.

  “Pilo don’t like the stares,” Vook said softly when she caught up to him. “Because of her scars.”

  “Oh,” Kara replied. “I didn’t think of that. I actually forget about them.”

  “Me too,” Vook agreed. “But Pilo don’t forget them, ever.”

  No, she wouldn’t, just as Kara’d never been able to forget that she had no magic. And poor Pilo’s flaw was right there for everyone to see. The salve Kara made for the girl was helping, but no amount of medicines were going to remove the scars. That would take magic, and a very strong Mage. Like Santos.

  She almost bumped into Vook, who had stopped behind one of the trees that lined the laneway.

  “You’re sure Mage Guild won’t be coming here today?” Vook asked.

  “I’m sure. They only come once a week, and the last time was two days ago.”

  Kara eyed the overgrown lane. It ran straight to the gate, and beyond that was the rest of Old Rillidi Island—and people. More people lived in Shanty Town than in all of Larona. But unlike her home villa, the people who lived here were the least fortunate in all of Rillidi: unguilded with nowhere else to go, the poorest guildsmen and women, whores, thieves, banditos. And her small group had no friends among them.

  A few minutes out past the gate, the green trees and grasses gave way to the burn out. Kara had only seen it at night—in the light of day the devastation looked even worse. Blackened stone chimneys stood amid charred wooden beams and lumps of ash.

  “Do people live near the burn out?” she asked Vook.

  “Some. Most folk are too scared to live this close to the mad mage.” Vook grinned. “And we’ll make sure they stay worried about that. But there are people who’ll live with a threat like that in order to stay safe from their enemies. That’s why Mika brought us so far out.”

  “Mika found you in Shanty Town?”

  “Harb, Lowel, and me,” Vook replied. “Harb was good to me in those days. Kept me alive even though I was too little to be much help.” Vook shook his head. “I still can’t believe he let the clammers into our camp.”

  “Me neither,” Kara said. At one point in time Harb had been good. What had twisted him into the angry, mean-spirited youth she’d met? “Maybe we should try to find out how they’re doing? See if they are alive?”

  “Yeah,” Vook said. “Just because he abandoned us don’t mean we should abandon him and Lowel.”

  “We’ll go before winter,” Kara said. “I promise.” And maybe, just maybe, Santos would help. It meant she’d need to tell him about all of the children, but she was going to do that anyway. He was going to heal Pilo.

  The burn out ended so abruptly that one moment she was beside a charred ruin and a few steps later she was looking at the weathered wood of a dilapidated cottage. It didn’t look lived in, but it had escaped the fire. Another few steps and a dog gr
owled at them from the porch of a small house. A curtain twitched, and a pale face peered out at them.

  When a man and woman passed them, Vook kept his head down and shuffled out of their way. Kara peeked at the basket the woman carried, hoping for a glimpse of what the market offered, but the woman kept it tucked under her arm as though she was afraid someone would take it from her.

  The small road merged with another to create a wider thoroughfare. The houses were larger and set back from the road. Children in ragged clothes and bare feet played in front yards.

  As they made their way east, people joined them on the road. Most were heading to the market with empty sacks and baskets and bottles slung over arms and shoulders, but a few looked like they were off on other, more dangerous business.

  Kara clutched Vook’s shirt as she trailed him through the crowd at the crossroads. She looked around at the dilapidated houses that lined the streets. Harb’s people still lived here—to Kara it looked like a good place to get away from.

  Once past the crowd and eastbound again, Vook steered them down a quiet side street.

  “We can get to the market this way,” he said as he led the way through an alley. “The more honest sellers are away from the main road anyway.”

  Vook helped her climb over the crumbled remains of a wall and into a small square. Water splashed in the large fountain in the centre of the square, and people thronged the edges, all manner of jugs and bottles and skins held out to catch the precious liquid as it spilled over the lip of the basin. As soon as one jug was filled and removed, another was thrust forward to take its place.

  “Is this the only water source on this part of the island?” she asked. How many people relied on this one single fountain? Hundreds at least, maybe thousands, and every single one of them had to come here and fill up their water jugs. She and her small group had the luxury of the cabin with its kitchen pump and ready supply of water. They didn’t even have to go outside.

  “Yeah,” Vook said. “It’s not so crowded at night, but you have to watch out for the banditos. They bring wagons and fill up barrels so they can make beer.”

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