Shaken, afraid, but unhurt, Bronwyn slumped onto the wooden bed in the small cell. The guards had escorted her back to the Mage tower on foot while the blue-cloaked Mage rode on horseback. Her protests had been ignored at first, but as she demanded more they had been met with threats of violence, so she stayed quiet.
She was taken to the side of the building, through a heavy door and down some steps into a room with one table. Iron gates barred the other three exits from the room. She was searched and the guard removed her purse, travelling knife and the wooden tube she had tucked into her clothing. This they gave to the Mage, who had not said a word to her since her arrest. He opened it, took one look at the scroll and the wax seal, and simply said “Watch her.” He left with more urgency than he had arrived.
Then the guards had bundled her into the cell and retreated. They took the torches in the wall with them, leaving as her only light a single candle clock on the wall opposite her cell. There seemed to be some quick discussion about the candle, but in the end they left it alone and did not abandon her to darkness. All Bronwyn heard of their discussion was ‘…only a fire Mage.”
“Hello?” she called when she had calmed and recovered a little of herself. No answer came. “Hello? Guards?” she repeated.
“No talking,” came the harsh reply.
“I don’t know what I did. Why am I here?”
“I didn’t break into that house! I didn’t steal anything. Hello? Can you hear me?”
Eventually, cold, alone and afraid, Bronwyn fell asleep.
Four Mages sat in high chairs arranged around a highly polished curved table of a reddish-brown wood Bronwyn did not recognise. The chairs were exaggerated vertically to give the illusion of height. They wore the cloaks of their element, Bronwyn had deduced. One was of the sea, one of the wind, and two of the earth. Two were men, two women. These Mages also wore matching coloured caps with flowing ribbons which were embroidered with the same gold thread she had noticed on the cloaks, although she had no idea what that signified. The early sun shone through the windows behind them directly into her eyes. To a provincial Mage the whole set-up looked faintly ridiculous. To a Guardian of the Peace it was a show of authority. To a scared Bronwyn it was intimidating.
“Your name and title?” said the male Mages in the centre. A scribe sat to her side, just out of sight, ready to scribble down anything important.
“Bronwyn of the Flame, Guardian of the Peace,” she said, before remembering to add ‘”Your grace.”
“State your province.”
“The eastern shore, from the borders of the Dale to Ashdown.”
“Here in Lorin.”
“Why have you returned to Lorin?”
“I had to deliver a message to Sallus.”
“I don’t know. I found it in Ashdown.”
“What is the message?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t open it.”
“How do you know it is for Sallus?”
“I-I don’t. We didn’t know who it was for but it had a royal seal, so we decided to bring it to the council for them to see.”
“Myself and the Marshall of Ashdown.”
“Has anyone else seen the scroll?”
“A few people in Ashdown have.” Bronwyn heard a pen scratching on paper.
“When did you arrive in Lorin?”
“Yesterday, no – two days ago.”
“So why did it take you so long to deliver your message.”
“I couldn’t reach Sallus.”
“We have a postmaster.”
“I thought I should deliver it personally.”
“Because you know the message is important.”
“I didn’t know – I mean I thought it might be.”
“It bore the royal seal. You only thought that it might be important?”
“I…I think so.”
“You don’t know?”
“I just wanted to give it to Sallus.”
Were they not listening, she thought. “Because I thought it was too important to leave to someone else.”
“So you are sure it is an important message?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Because you read it.”
She blinked. “I haven’t read it,” she said.
The Mage brought out the tube, opened it and unrolled the scroll. The seal had been broken.
“I didn’t read it,” she said again.
“You are of the Flame?”
Bronwyn nodded and anticipated some insult or other cutting remark about the value of her gifts.
“A Mage gifted with the Flame could easily melt and form a wax seal such as this.”
“But I didn’t. I didn’t read it!”
“Your education means you would know the royal seals. You apprenticed in the year of the revolution. You had years to learn these details.”
This was bewildering. “But so did everyone else I studied with.”
“But they are not here today, Bronwyn of the Flame. Unless you have some names to share?”
Bronwyn couldn’t hear it but she was sure the pen behind her was poised to record the next thing she said. She shook her head. “I don’t know what you mean. What names?”
“Lydia, of the Dale.”
“I..I don’t know who that is,” she said.
“Morrigan of the Sea?”
“I met someone called Morrigan on the way here. He’s a Mage?”
“Of course you met him. You delivered him this scroll.”
“But..no I didn’t. Why would I do that?”
“Because it is for him.”
“What? I didn’t know that!”
“You admit to travelling from Ashdown, with this scroll for Morrigan, and you admit to meeting him, and we are expected to believe that he has not read it?”
“But..if it was for him why do I still have it? Why didn’t I leave it with him?”
“Obviously because you have to share its contents with your co-conspirators.”
“I don’t know what you mean!”
“Why were you are Sallus house last night.”
“I told you, to deliver the scroll to him.”
“But instead we found you possession of another royal seal.” He placed on the table a bundle of black cloth and unwrapped it. Inside was a wood and brass seal, the same one she saw in the firelight last night she supposed.
“I didn’t take that. I found someone breaking out of the house.”
“No-one breaks out of a house.”
“Leaving it then. I didn’t take it!”
“What were you planning to do with this seal? Forge another message?”
“Why would I, you said a moment ago I could do it with my gifts.”
“Is that an admission?”
“No! It’s not!”
“We found no-one else in the grounds.”
“That’s because he climbed over the wall when you arrived.”
“The guards reported no-one else.”
“They wouldn’t have been able to see him, they were carrying torches in a dark garden. They couldn’t have seen past them into the shadows.”
“They saw you.”
“I wasn’t hiding in a bush.”
“You were caught too quickly, you mean.”
“No, I wasn’t escaping from anywhere!”
“Which is why you are here now. Just tell us your relationship to the rebels, Bronwyn of the Flame, and we can bring them to justice and protect the peace of Arden.”
“What? What rebels?”
“Bronwyn,” said the Mage dressed in white, “I am Ovette of the Wind, a Mage of the Truth. Please be very clear in your answer. Are you telling this chamber that you are not aware of the royalist movement throughout Arden.”
“No. What movement?”
“Your province is east of Oakfield, correct?” she said.
Bronwyn nodded. “That’s right.”
“If you will pardon the expression, you must know how far the flames of civil war spread east.”
Bronwyn nodded again. “The last great battle took place west of Oakfield, and they fought for the crown. That was as far as the war spread to the east. Villages east of the great hill, anything on the coast really, was not drawn into it in the same way.”
Ovette exchanged thoughtful looks with the other Mages at the table. “Is it possible this young woman is operating so far east she is outside the sphere of influence of these rumours?” There was a mumble of possible agreements from the others.
One of the Mages said, “But she travels the land. How can she not have heard?”
“I think it is well established by now that the villagers do not often trust a Mage with their secrets. Why would they have confided in her in this of all things?” said Ovette.
“She was found with the message for Morrigan,” said the first Mage.
“And the seal,” said another.
“But I didn’t take the seal,” said Bronwyn.
“But you admit to possessing the scroll. You admit to meeting Morrigan.”
“Yes, but I didn’t tell him about it. I didn’t know it was for him.”
“Of course you did!”
“Peace, please,” said Ovette. “Are we so far gone that we assume one of our own is lying to us? Can we not trust our fellow Mages?”
“We can’t trust Morrigan,” grumbled the other female Mage.
“And who knows how many others,” added the first.
“But Bronwyn here has been working beyond the reach of the monarchists. As much as they are a threat, I don’t think it is likely that they have stretched out their had so far for support. And from a Mage of the Flame so young? What could she offer them?”
Bronwyn felt slighted by this last remark but wisely said nothing. For once maybe her lower status as a Mage of the Flame would be to her advantage. Surely anyone could see that if you were going to recruit Mages to your rebellion you would want them to have more to offer. She let them argue amongst themselves instead.
“Very well, but what does she know of Lydia?” said the first Mage who had begun the questioning.
“I don’t know who that is,” said Bronwyn.
“Did she give you this scroll?”
“I don’t know. We found it on a woman we pulled from the sea. Her boat was damaged and burned. She was wounded.”
“I don’t think so, but she wasn’t conscious when I left Ashdown.”
“So you haven’t spoken to her?”
“No, your grace.”
The pen scratched behind her, and the first Mage nodded at someone she could not see. Ovette placed her hand on his and shook her head at the same person.
“Tell us about Morrigan,” said Ovette. “Where did you meet him, how long did you travel for, where is he going. Anything you can.”
Bronwyn relaxed a little. Ovette was much gentler in her questions than the other Mages. It felt like she really wanted the answers and was not just using Bronwyn as an excuse to throw around accusations.
“We met on the Westway, by the fork of the south road. There’s a lake near there.”
“I know it,” said Ovette with a smile.
“He introduced himself to me, and offered to let me ride on his cart to spare my horse.”
“But you say you didn’t know he was a Mage?”
“No. Never. In fact I thought he didn’t like Mages. He questioned and challenged everything I said.”
“His teaching techniques have not changed then,” sniffed the other female Mage.
“How long did you travel for?” said Ovette.
“The rest of that day, but we made camp at the keep.”
“Keep? There’s no keep in that part of the forest.”
“There was,” said Ovette.
“Rowan’s Keep. Or Rowan’s Folly.”
Ovette leaned forward. “Why did he make camp there?”
“He has a campsite there, and men. They are working in the ruins.”
Ovette leaned back in her chair and exchanged glances with the other Mages.
“Is he digging?”
“I think he means to. Why?”
“When was this?”
Bronwyn thought back. It was only a few days but it seemed so long ago now. “I think he was ready to begin in the morning three days ago. That’s when I left.”
“Three days? How many men did he have?
“Five I think. But some were just passing through camp or delivering supplies. I can’t be sure.”
“How much can five men dig in three days?” said one of the Mages to Ovette.
“A great deal, but there will be roots and stones to overcome. It might not be as much as you fear.”
“Does Sallus know?” said Ovette.
“I will tell him at once,” said the other Mage. He raised a hand and a messenger, no more than a child, ran to him. The Mage whispered something in his ear and the child fled the room. Behind Bronwyn the pen scratched furiously.
The Mages huddled together and whispered among themselves. Bronwyn couldn’t hear what they were saying. Then they separated.
Ovette called over a guard. “Return Bronwyn to her cell please, and see she is fed. We don’t need to see her suffer while we get to the bottom of this. She is a Mage of the Flame, after all.” She smiled at Bronwyn. “It is the best I can do for now,” she said.
“Thank you,” said Bronwyn, grateful to have a friend in the city at last. Then she was led away.
The Mages climbed down from their padded chairs and walked in a line to another door.
“How long?” said Ovette.
“We can have forces ready by noon.”
“See to it. And send three soldiers to Ashdown too. We must speak to this woman from the sea. Now please excuse me. I must speak to Sallus.”