Chapter no 1

Sword Catcher

I don’t see why I have to get married now,” complained Conor Darash Aurelian, Crown Prince of Castellane, Duke of Marakand (an honorary

title he had inherited from his mother), and Potentate of Sarema (a small, deserted island near Taprobana that had been claimed by Castellane some decades ago when a merchant ship planted the lion flag upon its few feet of shoreline; as far as anyone knew, the flag was still there, leaving Castellane’s claim to the rocky protuberance uncontested).

Kel just smiled. Conor was looking dramatically aggrieved, which did not actually mean he was feeling dramatically aggrieved. Kel knew Conor’s expressions better than he knew his own. Conor might be annoyed about the pressure to get married, or he might be annoyed about the speech the Queen had ordered him to give in Valerian Square today (the reason he and Conor were currently jammed into a carriage with blacked-out windows, boiling hot and squashed between velvet cushions, with Jolivet and Mayesh glaring at them from the opposite seats). Or he might not be annoyed at all, and simply be indulging his flair for the dramatic.

Either way, it wasn’t Kel’s problem. He wasn’t the one trying to talk Conor into a politically advantageous match. In fact, he was against the

whole idea. He was quite comfortable with the way things were, and Conor marrying would upset the balance.

“Then don’t get married,” growled Jolivet. He was dour as ever despite being decked out in full uniform—miles of gold braid, scarlet tunic and trousers, and a helmet so profoundly ceremonial that while he was currently carrying it in his lap, the plumes brushed his chin. Mayesh Bensimon,

beside him, looked like a ragged gray crow by comparison: He wore his plain Counselor’s robes, his curling white hair spilling over the collar. But then, as an Ashkar, he was only permitted to wear blue or gray in public, which vastly limited any potential sartorial splendor. “That cousin of yours

in Detmarch can be King of Castellane, and you can take yourself off to head up the army. Give General Archambault a rest on the border.”

Kel held in a laugh. It was true that when a Castellani royal family had more than one heir, the second was usually trained up to become the leader of the army. If Conor had had a sibling, he could have swapped places with them, though Kel could not imagine Conor doing any such thing, even in theory. He hated insects and dirt, and the army, as far as Kel understood, involved a great deal of both. Besides, he was young—only twenty-three— and had years to get married and produce an heir. Mayesh and Jolivet were just being anxious, like clucking old hens.

Conor raised an eyebrow. “Nonsense,” he said. “I am far too good looking to risk spoiling my looks in battle.”

“Scars can be charming,” Kel noted. “Look at Montfaucon. Always surrounded by adoring courtiers.”

“If only one could be assured one would go off to fight and return only with a dashing cut on the cheek,” said Conor. “The more likely outcome—a pike to the face—is less attractive. Anyway, it’s not as if there’s a war going on now.” Conor always moved his hands expressively when he spoke—a habit Kel had spent years learning and copying. The little bit of light in the carriage glinted off Conor’s rings as he gestured. He was richly dressed, as befitted a prince about to address his people. Third-best crown—a gold circlet etched with wings—fine wool trousers, and tooled-leather jerkin, the leather cut out in small diamond shapes to show the silk and metallic thread of the shirt beneath. It was horrendously hot, which Kel knew since he was wearing the same thing.

“There is no war currently,” said Mayesh. “And consolidating alliances with other countries via marital connection is one way of making sure it

stays that way.” He opened the leather notebook on his lap. Inside were dozens of portraits and sketches done on various kinds of paper, all sent

from hopeful courts and holdings across Dannemore and beyond. “Princess Aimada d’Eon of Sarthe. Twenty years old, speaks six languages, mother was a famous beauty, docile—”

“Docile means dull,” said Conor. He had pulled off one of his rings and was tossing it from hand to hand. It sparked in the dimness of the carriage as it flew, like a colorful firefly. “And what do I care what her mother looks like?”

“Perhaps they are offering two for the price of one,” suggested Kel, and saw Conor smile. There were various aspects to the job of being Sword Catcher that went beyond Kel simply putting himself between the Crown Prince and possible harm. Conor was usually surrounded by people telling him what to do in a fearfully serious manner; Kel felt himself tasked with providing some balance.

Mayesh was not amused. “I believe,” he said, “the suggestion is that the daughter, like her mother the Queen, will one day also be a great beauty.”

“Is she not one now?” Conor took the paper from Mayesh. “Red hair,” he said. “I loathe red hair. Besides. Sarthe.”

Jolivet snorted. Before Castellane had gained its independence, it had been the port city of Magna Callatis, a vast Empire now split into the three separate kingdoms of Sarthe, Valderan, and Castellane. Valderan had been its verdant south, and even now contained most of the farms from which Castellane sourced its food. Castellane had been its shipyard and harbor.

And Sarthe had been its capital, containing the once Imperial city of Aquila. It was common knowledge that Sarthe yearned to build the old Empire up again. They longed especially for Castellane’s harbor, for they were landlocked, forced to pay steep fees to Valderan for access to the coast.

“He has a point,” said Jolivet. “Why give Sarthe a foothold here?” “Why, indeed?” Mayesh drew out another sheet of paper. “Here we have

Princess Elsabet Belmany, of Malgasi.”

“Malgasi,” Jolivet said, thoughtfully. “A useful ally. Especially since your father fostered at their Court.”

“They trade richly in spices, fur, and silks, with reserves of arable land that would mean we were no longer dependent on trade with Valderan for

crops,” Mayesh noted, though there was a curious lack of enthusiasm in his voice.

“Arable land,” said Conor. “Never have more romantic words been spoken. So many ballads written about beautiful women with vast tracts of arable land.”

“If that’s what they’re calling it now,” said Kel, and Conor grinned before taking the sheet of parchment from Mayesh.

“You needn’t talk about land as if it’s nothing,” grumbled Jolivet. “In trade we are indeed a great power. But in land, we are only a few square miles of city and marsh.”

“But what square miles they are,” said Kel, peaceably, and Mayesh smiled. Conor held up the piece of parchment he’d snatched to show Kel the portrait of an intense-looking young woman with pale skin and black

hair, her forehead bound with a gold circlet surmounted by a ruby phoenix. Elsabet Belmany.

Kel frowned. “I feel as if I’ve heard her name recently—”

Conor snapped his fingers. “Yes. Some sort of scandal. House Belmany

is highly disliked by the folk of Malgasi; it seems an unpleasant situation to involve oneself in.”

Jolivet made an exasperated noise. “There are anti-monarchists in Castellane as well, Conor—”

Kel scratched at a bit of the black paint on the carriage window as Conor and Mayesh argued about whether House Aurelian was or was not universally beloved. Through the clear spot of glass, Kel could see that they were on the Ruta Magna. The last section of the Great Southwestern Road that ran from Shenzhou to Castellane, the Ruta Magna cut through the

mountains from the Narrow Pass, crossed the city, and ended at the harbor. Kel often wondered what the other end of the Great Road looked like. He knew it dead-ended in Shenzhou’s capital, but did it become the main

thoroughfare of that city, as it had in Castellane, or did it simply fade into a scatter of streets, like a river bleeding into a floodplain?

Conor always told him he was odd for wondering about such things. But Kel dreamed often of the far-flung corners of the world. From their window in Marivent, he could see the harbor and the great ships returning from Sayan and Taprobana, from Kutani and Nyenschantz. Someday, he told himself. Someday, he would find himself aboard one of those tallships, sailing across the raveled blue silk of the ocean. Hopefully with Conor

beside him, though until now Conor’s promise that they would one day travel the world had yet to materialize. Not through any fault of Conor’s, Kel knew; House Aurelian had kept its Prince unusually close.

“Oh, very well,” Mayesh snapped. He showed annoyance rarely; Kel turned with mild surprise to see that the Counselor had taken out a new sheet. “If Malgasi displeases, here we have Prince Floris of Gelstaadt. Young, handsome, will one day control the largest banking empire in the world.”

Conor’s general preference was for women, but it was by no means a rule. If Conor married another man, a woman of good breeding would be chosen to be the Lady Mother who would bear Conor’s child, nurse it, and give it over to the two kings to raise. It had been the situation with Conor’s grandparents—a Prince of Castellane and a Lord of Hanse—and was generally not uncommon in Dannemore. Marriages between two queens

were rarer but not unheard of, either.

“Banking empire?” Conor stuck his hand out. “Let me see.”

Kel looked over the Prince’s shoulder as he perused the sketch. The boy in it, depicted leaning against an alder tree, was good looking, with flax- colored hair and the blue eyes common to Gelstaadt—a tiny country whose liberal banking laws had made it one of the richest in Dannemore.

Conor glanced up. “What do you think, Kel?”

The atmosphere inside the carriage changed subtly. Kel, who had spent the past decade attuning himself to nuances of social interaction, felt it. He was the Sword Catcher, the Prince’s servant. It was not his place to give an opinion, at least not in Jolivet and Mayesh’s view. (It was, perhaps, one of the few things they agreed on.)

Kel was not sure why he should care. All who worked in the Palace were loyal to the Blood Royal, but he was loyal above all other things to Conor. It was the choice he had made long ago, as a small, grubby boy in borrowed clothes, facing the Prince of Castellane. Who had offered him an extraordinary life, and had given him that and more—an extraordinary friendship to go along with it.

“I think,” Kel said, “that either someone has drawn that tree very small, or Floris of Gelstaadt is a giant.”

“Good point,” said Conor. “I hardly want to marry someone who looms over me. How tall is he, Mayesh?”

Mayesh sighed. “Seven feet.”

Conor shuddered. “Mayesh, are you trying to torment me? An unpopular Princess, a giant, and a redhead? Is this your idea of an amusing jest? It is taking years off my life. This may be treason.”

Mayesh held up a new sheet of parchment. “Princess Anjelica of Kutani.”

Conor sat up, finally interested. Kel couldn’t blame him. The painting was of a dark-skinned girl with a cloud of black hair and luminous amber

eyes. A cap of golden mesh set with star-shaped diamonds was her crown, and more gold glimmered at her wrists. She was luminously beautiful.

“Kutani?” said Jolivet, sounding dubious. “Would Castellane be able to afford such a dowry as they would certainly demand?”

Kutani was an island kingdom, a center of the spice trade—cardamom, pepper, saffron, ginger, and cloves: All grew or were traded there, making the kingdom spectacularly rich. According to Joss Falconet, whose House was granted the spice Charter, the island air was scented with cardamom, and the trade winds blew across beaches soft as powder.

“So true,” said Mayesh, setting the paper aside. “Probably not.”

Conor’s eyes flashed. “We are rich enough,” he said. “Give me that back.”

They had turned off the Ruta Magna onto a narrow lane behind the city’s central square, where a plaza was formed by four of the oldest buildings in the city. All were clad in white marble, veined with quartz that glittered in

the sun; all boasted broad steps, columns, and arched porticoes in the style of the bygone Callatian Empire.

Valerian Square had once been the Cuadra Magna, the central hub of the Imperial port city. At each cardinal point stood a massive structure dating from the time of the Empire. To the north, the Tully; its steps were guarded by marble lions, their mouths wide open as if to catch criminals in their jaws. To the west was the Convocat; to the south, the Justicia. To the east,

the Porta Aurea, the triumphal arch erected by Valerian, the first King of Castellane; citizens fondly called it the Gate to Nowhere.

Castellane had something of a confusing relationship with its past. Today marked the yearly anniversary of Castellane’s independence from Magna Callatis. The Castellani had fierce pride in their city-state, feeling it to be

the most superior place in Dannemore. Yet they also prided themselves on their descent from Callatians, and on what they had kept from the time of the Empire: everything from the hypocausts that heated the public baths to the courts and the Council of Twelve. Independent but also tied to the

glories of a domain long past; sometimes Kel thought he was the only one who observed the contradiction.

Kel and the others drew up behind the Convocat, where a hidden

entrance would allow them to pass into the building without being seen. The lane had been closed off to all but royal traffic at both ends. As Kel

swung down from the carriage, he saw a group of small children peer out from the shadows, wide-eyed. They were ragged—barefoot and scrubby, freckled by the sun. He thought of two small boys under a powderbark tree, playing at pirate battles, and flipped a copper coin in their direction. “Present my greetings to the Ragpicker King!” he called.

The smallest of the boys gave a frightened gasp. “They say he’s here today,” he said. “Somewhere in the crowd.”

“As if you’d know what he looked like,” scoffed a girl in a tattered pinafore. “You ain’t never seen him.”

The smaller boy puffed up angrily. “I does know,” he protested. “He goes round all in black, like Gentleman Death come to take your soul, and his

carriage wheels are stained with blood.”

Rolling her eyes, the older girl pulled the boy’s ear decidedly. The boy yelped, and the children vanished back into the shadows, giggling.

Kel chuckled. As a child, he’d thought of the Ragpicker King as the trickster God of pickpockets. Later, he began to understand that the Ragpicker King was a practical, not a mythological figure, however mysterious. He ran smuggling operations of elegance and size, owned gambling hells deep in the Warren, and had his fingers in trade from the harbor to the Great Road. The Palace could do nothing to rid the city of his presence. He was too powerful, and besides, Mayesh said, it was better not to create a vacuum of power at the top of any organization. Unlawful order was, after all, an improvement on lawful chaos.

Jolivet snapped his fingers. “Come along, Kellian,” he said, and the group of four crossed the deserted street and entered the Convocat. It was dark and cool inside, the marble acting to shield the interior from the heat. Kel found himself walking beside Mayesh as Jolivet strode beside Conor, speaking to him intently.

“That was cleverly done, in the carriage,” admitted Kel. “Show him three candidates he won’t want to marry, then show him one he will and tell him he cannot have her.”

“It is both your task and mine,” Mayesh said, “to know the Prince better than he knows himself.”

“Only you have other tasks, and I have merely the one. You must also know the King and Queen.”

Mayesh made a gesture that seemed to indicate agreement without commitment. “I only offer them counsel. So it has always been.”

This was manifestly untrue, but Kel didn’t feel like arguing. It was better not to delve too deeply into any discussion of the King and Queen, especially when it came to the King. Conor was giving the yearly Speech of Independence today because the Queen would not appear—she loathed

public speaking—and the King could not.

Markus Aurelian, the great scholar, the philosopher-king. His wisdom

was a point of pride in Castellane. He did not appear often in public, it was said, because he was busy with his learning, his great discoveries in the

fields of astronomy and philosophy. Kel knew this was not true, but it was only one among many secrets he kept for House Aurelian.

They had reached the central chamber of the Convocat, where broad marble pillars upheld an arched roof. The mosaic floor, which depicted a map of Dannemore before the breakup of the Empire, had once been colorful. Now it was worn down to a faint shadow by the passage of time and countless feet.

Once, there had been seats here; once, the King had sat in session with

the Charter Families, discussing Law and trade and policy. Kel could dimly recall when this had still been the case, before the King had retreated to the North Tower with his telescopes and astrolabes, his maps of stars, his

sextants and spheres. Before the King had turned his attention to the skies and forgotten the world below them.

But there was no point thinking about that now. Several of the Arrow Squadron were approaching. They gleamed in red and gold, like Jolivet, though they sported considerably fewer tassels and less fringe. The leader, a gray-haired man named Benaset, said grimly, “Legate. Sir. There’s been an incident.”

Benaset explained: A dockworker, found in the crowd with a crossbow strapped to his back. Probably nothing, of course; there was every possibility he was unaware of the Law that forbade going armed to an

appearance of one of the Royal Blood. The Tully would uncover the truth, certainly. In the meantime—

“We will need the Sword Catcher,” said Benaset. “Is he prepared?”

Kel nodded. Tension had spread through his shoulders, tightening his muscles. Stepping in for Conor was not a rare occurrence. It was always a

flip of the coin, as the guards were more than cautious. It was not even the danger he minded, he thought, as he drew his talisman from his pocket and looped it around his neck. (It lay cold against his throat; for reasons he could not guess, the metal never warmed from contact with his skin.) But he had relaxed today. They were nearly at the square; he could hear the crowd. He had let himself assume he would not be needed.

He had been wrong. As quickly as he could, he began to run down the

words of the speech in his mind. I greet you, my people of Castellane, in the name of the Gods. Today

Kel frowned. Today something. Today Castellane was born. No. That wasn’t it.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Conor said, interrupting Kel’s reverie. “One drunken idiot wandering around with a weapon hardly means an assassination attempt—”

“It is necessary, Monseigneur.” Kel knew that flatness in Jolivet’s voice, and knew what it meant. The Legate had the power to restrain the Prince physically, vested in him by the King, if such action was required. “This is why you have a Sword Catcher.”

Conor threw up his hands in disgust as Kel came over to him. They locked eyes; Kel shrugged minutely, as if to say: It doesn’t matter. With a sigh, Conor slipped the crown from his head and held it out to Kel. “Try to look handsome,” he advised. “Don’t disappoint the people.”

“I’ll do my best.” Kel settled the crown on his head. His rings were paste jewels, but the crown—that was real. That belonged to House Aurelian. It seemed to carry a weight beyond the physical heft of bullion. He looked up, blinking: The Arrow Squadron had thrown the doors open wide, flooding

the interior of the Convocat with bright sunlight.

Kel could hear the roar of the crowd, like the rush of the sea.

Conor held out his hand. Kel grasped it, and Conor pulled him close. This part was ritual, muscle memory. Kel had done it countless times,

though he still felt a faint shiver up his spine as he looked at Conor. As he felt the weight of the gold circlet on his brow.

“I am the Prince’s shield,” he said. “I am his unbreakable armor. I bleed that he might not bleed. I suffer that he might never suffer. I die that he might live forever.”

“But you will not die,” said Conor, releasing his hand. It was what he always said—not part of the ritual, but habit nonetheless.

“Unless Lady Alleyne gets her hands on me,” said Kel. Lady Alleyne had a wealth of ambitions, most of them focused on her only daughter. “She’s still angling for you to marry Antonetta.”

Jolivet scowled. “Enough,” he said. “Mayesh, you will remain with the Prince.”

It was less an order than a question; Mayesh indicated that he would, and Kel joined Jolivet in the long walk to the doors. The noise of the crowd

grew louder and louder still until Kel stepped through the doorway to the covered loggia beyond, all its arches brilliant with white marble. He heard the crowd take an indrawn breath as he moved to stand at the top of the

white cascade of steps that led down to the square, as if they all saw him at once, all breathed in at once.

Kel stood at the top of the Grieving Stairs and looked around the square as they chanted Conor’s name. The crowd spanned wealth and class and occupation: from dock laborers in rough cambric, their children perched on their shoulders to get a better view, to shopkeepers and publicans. Rich

merchants had driven their shining carriages into the square and gathered in groups, dressed in bright colors. On the steps of the High Temple stood the Hierophant, the high priest of Castellane, carrying a staff topped with a milky Sunderglass orb. Kel eyed the old man sideways—it was unusual to see the Hierophant away from the Temple, save for great occasions such as state funerals or the Marriage to the Sea, when the King or Queen of

Castellane would board a boat wreathed in flowers and hurl a golden ring into the ocean, to seal the bond between Aigon and the House of Aurelian.

Closest to the steps sat the Charter Families, atop a dais that had been erected before the lions of the Tully, each family beneath a pennant bearing the sigil of their House: a ship for House Roverge, a wreath for Esteve, a silk moth for Alleyne.

Kel swept one last glance over the crowd, catching sight of a shining black carriage with scarlet wheels. Against it leaned a slender, long-legged figure all in black. He goes round all in black, like Gentleman Death, come to take your soul, and his carriage wheels are stained with blood. Could it be the Ragpicker King, come to see the Prince speak? Kel supposed he

could, if he felt like it. As a child, he’d asked Conor why the Palace didn’t simply arrest the Ragpicker King.

“Because,” Conor had said, looking thoughtful, “he has too much money.”

Enough. Kel knew he was letting his nerves direct his imagination.

Concentrate, he told himself. You are the Prince of Castellane.

He closed his eyes. Against the darkness, he saw blue sea, a ship with

white sails. Heard the sound of waves, and the call of gulls. Here, where the western stars drowned with the turning of the world, he was alone in the quiet, with the horizon beckoning. The ship rocked beneath him, the mast at his back. No one knew this place but him. Not even Conor.

His eyes snapped open. He reached out his hands to the crowd, the thick velvet of his sleeves falling back, the rings gleaming on his fingers. The crown was heavy, a bar of iron across his forehead. He said, “I greet you, my people of Castellane, in the name of the Gods,” his voice amplified by the talisman at his throat. It echoed through the square.

My people . . . Many in the crowd brandished the red-and-gold flag of

Castellane—the ship and the lion. The sea and the Gold Roads. There was a rug worked into the shape of the land of Dannemore in the Palace library.

Conor walked upon it sometimes in bare feet: now in Hind, now along the Gold Roads, now returning to Castellane. So the world was to a prince.

“Today,” Kel said, and the words rose up in him, unbidden but remembered, “is the day of our freedom, the birth of our city-state. Here, among these streets, did the people of Castellane lay down their lives that they might never again kneel to an Emperor, nor bow down at the feet of a foreign power. Here did we become what we are—a shining beacon to all the world, the greatest city in Dannemore, in all the world—”

The crowd roared. The sound was like thunder, like a storm growing closer and closer until it seemed it would shudder the sky apart. In this moment, it did not matter that Kel was not truly their Prince. The cheering lifted him up as if he walked the sky roads like lightning-struck Elemi.

Their excitement seemed to catch along his bones as if his marrow were filled with black powder. He felt it as a fire rising, becoming a blaze within his blood. It was overwhelming, to be so loved—even if the love was not truly directed at him. Even if it was an illusion.

“Very good,” said Conor, when Kel had come back into the Convocat. The crowd, whipped up into a frenzy—in part by the appearance of the Crown Prince, but also, it had to be admitted, by the free alcohol provided by the Palace—was still roaring outside. Tankards were being given out at booths hung with red-and-gold banners as the noble families packed up their

belongings and hurried back to the Hill. Soon enough the patriotic crowd would become a raucous and celebratory mob. “I liked the part about the heart and soul of Castellane being . . . what was it? Ah, yes. The citizens. Extemporaneous?”

“I thought we rehearsed it.” Kel leaned back against a pillar, feeling the cool marble against his back, his neck. He was very hot all over, suddenly, though he had not felt the sun when he’d stood atop the Grieving Stairs.

“People like to be complimented.”

“Are you all right?” Conor, who had been sitting with his back against a pillar, scrambled to his feet. Jolivet and Mayesh were deep in conversation; the Arrow Squadron paced up and down the room, silent as guards always were. Conor usually forgot they were there. “You look . . .”

Kel raised his head. He and Conor were of the same height; Kel was sure somehow Mayesh had made sure of that, as he had made sure that Kel’s eyes, over the years, had turned the color of tarnished silver. “Yes?”

“Nothing. Sunstruck, perhaps. It will do you good to get into the dark.” Conor put a hand on Kel’s shoulder. “Today is a day of celebration. So let us celebrate. Go and change your clothes in the carriage, and we will head to the Caravel.”

“Right.” Kel sighed. As he often did after public appearances as Conor, he felt an exhaustion deep in his bones, as if he had been stretched into a

peculiar position for hours. He wished for nothing more than to return to the Palace and collapse into bed. “Joss Falconet’s party.”

“Why the reluctance?” The corner of Conor’s mouth curled up. “It has been too long since we visited the Temple District.”

The Temple District was a neighborhood of pleasure houses; it had earned its name because most brothels kept a house shrine to Turan, the God of desire. Kel half wished to ask if they could go some other evening, but it was clear Conor was looking forward to the party—and besides, Kel himself had some business in the Caravel quite apart from the usual, and tonight would be as good a time as any to conduct it.

“Nothing,” Kel said. “Only Falconet’s gatherings can be . . . excessive.”

Conor chucked him lightly under the chin. “Excessively enjoyable. I’ve already asked Benaset to bring the horses around. You can ride Asti.”

Beneath the light tone, Conor sounded anxious. He knew Kel didn’t want to go; the offer of Kel’s favorite horse was a bribe. For a brief moment, Kel wondered what would happen if he refused, said he would return to the

Palace with Bensimon and Jolivet. Spent the evening in a dark room with cold blue wine and a map of the western seas.

The answer was: Not much. But Conor would be disappointed, and he would still need someone to accompany him to the Caravel. Conor could not ride out into the world alone, unprotected; he must always be defended. If Kel returned to the Palace, Conor would be assigned a guard from the

Arrow Squadron to watch him, and would be accordingly miserable. And if Conor was miserable, Kel would be miserable. Not because Conor would

take it out on him; he wouldn’t. But the knowledge that he had let Conor down would eat away at him like caustic.

Kel slipped the crown from his head. He held it out to Conor, the gold circlet dangling from his fingers. “Very well,” he said, “but do not forget your crown, Monseigneur, lest they treat you disrespectfully at the Caravel. Unless,” he added, “being treated disrespectfully is what you’re paying for tonight?”

Conor laughed, the anxiety vanishing from his eyes. “Excellent. We will have a memorable evening, I think.” He turned to wave his crown breezily at Bensimon and Jolivet, who gazed at the two young men with matched

expressions of stony disapproval. “We bid you good afternoon, gentlemen,” he said. “Should you wish to find us, we will be in the Temple District, offering the appropriate prayers.”



There has always been magic.

It is a force of nature, like fire, water, and air. Mankind was not born knowing how to use magic, just as they were not born knowing how to create fire. It is said the secrets of magic are whispered of in the higher air, where those who have the ability learn the incantations that, in the right hands, become spells.

We do not know who codified the first spells or committed them to writing.

Such knowledge has been lost. But we do know that every chant or conjuration has always included the One Word, the ineffable name of Power, without which a spell is only empty speech. Without the Word, there is no magic.

Tales of the Sorcerer-Kings, Laocantus Aurus Iovit III

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