Saturday, June 9, 2012

White Star - Book 2 of The Making of a Mage-King

A hundred and forty-eight mages had survived his coup. Most of them had been the sleepers he had shielded while they slept; a handful had been completely snuffed of their magic. There were also twenty-four non-magical survivors. They were the men who had fought Laon, or at least they would have, when they won through the door. Laon was responsible for an additional nineteen dead men at that door.

Laon had vouched that Sean likely wasn’t interested in taking prisoners, so the survivors were sent home, but home wasn’t an option for some of them. Like the one girl that had spoken to him, all these nearly twenty children either had no families, or their families refused to take them back. Shielded or not, their families and friends feared them. For that matter, Sean was sure the entire town feared them all.

Sean turned to his friends gathered at the table for ideas. All the ideas, few that there were, were unsatisfactory, so he went to talk to the kids.

The innkeeper had housed them in what he called the common room up in the attic. It was a room where guests could buy a bed for the night rather than a whole room. The innkeeper had insisted that their door was locked and guarded, or else they could go somewhere else. Sean had the guard unlock the door, and, followed by Cordan, Larry and Laon, he entered the room.

Sean’s entrance didn’t cause much of a stir. Only a few of the room’s occupants could bring themselves far enough out of their shells to raise their heads and see who had entered. The rest of them were in varying degrees of coil as they wallowed under Sean’s shield and struggled with the sudden lack of guild control.

Nineteen small bodies were here; all of them were dressed in the same plain gray shift the girl yesterday had worn. There had not been enough beds for all of them by half at least, but the room was warm, so they didn’t seem any worse for their confinement. Sean saw that more than one bed held two, three and even four children as they huddled together like lost puppies.

Sean had a guard remove the chamber pot from the corner and stepped farther into the room to sit down on the foot of the nearest cot.

The girl he had talked to yesterday seemed to be one of the few in the room capable of functioning; she might have been the oldest one in the room too. “You didn’t use any magic,” she said, as she watched the guard disappear with the chamber pot.

“I use quite a lot of magic during the normal course of events; I don’t need to use it for the little things too,” said Sean, when he noticed where her eyes had looked.

One of the youngest boys shuddered and started crying. The girl pulled him into her arms. “What are you going to do with us?” she asked, as she rocked the boy.

“What do you want me to do with you?” asked Sean.

She looked around at her companions. “We can’t stay here,” she said simply.

“Why can’t you go home?” asked Sean. “You said your father was afraid of you.”

“Yes, that’s the way it is for some of us. Some of us don’t have any family left. Some of us have the unfortunate memory of destroying our family.” She looked down at the boy in her arms. “Some of us… Our families fear for our safety if we try to stay.” She took a deep breath. “We didn’t have a choice. We couldn’t stop what was happening.”

“I know,” said Sean. “I’m sorry.”

“You could take us with you,” she said hopefully. “You’re a stranger here. You’re not staying – are you?”

Sean was afraid she was going to get to that. The alternative was to turn them into a cluster of street urchins forced to sell their bodies for food, or forced to steal, and if they were ever caught, their fate would be so very much worse than a common thief or whore might expect. Sean toyed with the idea of talking to their families; he might be able to decrease the numbers here by a few, but that still left the rest of them.

He looked at the little boy in the girl’s arms. Had he been instrumental in the destruction of his family? Sean saw a delicate red glow streaked with light blue. Had he been able to fan his flames wherever he wanted? It was likely, yet he hadn’t been able to protect them.

“You’re just kids,” Sean said, agonizing over the dilemma. “How old are you anyway, twelve, and I can’t afford to remove your shields, not yet anyway.”

Tears glittered in her eyes, but Sean could tell by the set of her shoulders that she would take whatever he dished out and cry later.

“We can still work,” said an older boy, as he pulled himself upright on his cot. His voice was horse and strained. “My…” he struggled with himself. “My ma… She used to insist…” Sean watched his jaw clench on a memory that was laced with pain. His face was thin and aged beyond his tender years. He might have been twelve – maybe thirteen.

Sean looked around at them. The youngest, the boy who was crying, looked to be about eight – maybe. He looked at Cordan. More than likely, he would be the one who had to deal with them most of the time.

Cordan shrugged. “We might be able to find them apprenticeships in other cities. We might need other mages too somewhere along the line.”

Sean looked back at the room full of kids. “Okay, we’ll leave in the morning.” He turned back to Cordan. “See to it that they are properly dressed and mounted.” Sean stood up and looked at the two who had spoken. “I have to cover a lot of distance in a very short amount of time and I’ll tell you the same thing I’ve told others who wanted to follow me. If you can’t keep up, I’ll leave you behind.”

“We’ll keep up,” said the boy, as he sat up straighter.

Sean looked at him. “The shields stay.”

“Fine,” he said. Sean didn’t think he was too willing to take up the magic again, not for a while anyway. He’d want it soon enough, earth magic could be very useful if you were used to it.

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