The cold iron-barred door shut with a clang. Bronwyn sat on the wooden bed and stared blankly through the bars at the candle clock on the shelf opposite her cell.
What had just happened? The Mages had accused her, (her!), of working with a rebellion she knew nothing about! Yes, she knew she garnered little respect as a Mage in her work in the eastern province, but there was nothing she would call hostility. Apart from that incident in Oakfield on the way here, but that was down to Hendrick’s personal ambition, wasn’t it? It wasn’t because Hendrick was secretly a rebel sympathiser and a monarchist, was it?
Bronwyn shook her head in despair and buried her face in her hands. What was going on? What was she supposed to think? And how could she prove she was still with the Mages. They did the right thing for the country and the people. She knew that. She believed that. So why was she the one sitting here?
Bronwyn felt a long way from home, and a long way from anyone she could call a friend. But then there was Ovette. She hadn’t been hostile or demeaning. In fact she shown Bronwyn the same treatment Bronwyn would have showed someone else in her position. Firm, fair, holding to the law, and not invoking any punishments until some guilt had been established.
This cell, distressing though it was, was still part of her orderly passage through the process of the law. As long as she had trust in the Mages, and people like Ovette to act justly, she would get out of here eventually and be able to go back to the east. After all her message had been delivered to Sallus by now, so there was no reason to stay any longer than necessary. Bronwyn took a deep breath and lifted her head from her hands and stared through the cell bars again.
Well, apart from those.
With nothing to do but wait, Bronwyn swung her legs up on to the wooden bed and lay down and closed her eyes.
Less than a minute later voices from the guard room made her open them again. She heard what sounded like challenges and questions and answers, but she couldn’t make out the words. Then she heard the door separating the guard room to her cell corridor squeak open, and the shuffling footsteps of a Mage approaching.
Bronwyn sat up. Maybe the Mages had spoken to Sallus and they were coming to free her! Her heart leapt when she saw the white robe of a Mage of the Wind swish into view, and then it fell again when the figure in front of her turned out to be a young man carrying books piled onto blankets.
“Umm, Bronwyn?” said the man.
“That’s me,” said Bronwyn.
“Ovette sent me to take care of you. She asked me to bring you these blankets to make sure you were not uncomfortable during your stay.”
“And books too?”
“Those are from me.” He fumbled with a key in the lock that he couldn’t see because of the pile he was holding then had trouble getting the key out again. “Umm, would you mind?”
Bronwyn swung her legs to the floor and stood up. She pulled the cell door open and took the key from the lock while the man dumped his pile on the bed then quickly grabbed it to stop it toppling over.
Bronwyn looked at the open door and the corridor beyond and sighed inwardly. She gave back the key. “And you are?”
The man, not much more than a boy really, thought Bronwyn now she could get a better look at him, kept one hand on the books and blanket pile and turned round. “I am Chester of the Wind, a Guardian of the Peace. Ovette has appointed me to be your counsel.”
“Umm, you sound surprised.”
“It’s because of my age, isn’t it?” said Chester with a glum look. “I haven’t been appointed an apprenticeship yet but I am top of my class!”
“No, I’m surprised I need counsel! I thought I just had to wait here until this mess had been sorted out.”
“It’s more than a mess with these charges.”
“What charges! No-one charged me with anything.”
“Of course they did. Why do you think you are here?”
“But they said-“
“They say a lot of things. And then they don’t say some things. You know that.”
“What are you talking about?”
Chester ignored that question and took the books off the bed. “Hold these,” he told her. He unfolded the two blankets and lay one out on the wooden frame and laid the other on top of the first. Then he took the books back from Bronwyn and placed them in the middle of the bed and sat down. He pointed to the space the other side of the books. “Sit please.”
Bronwyn sat with a wary eye on this strange young little man.
“The charges against you are sedition, conspiring with an enemy of the realm and conspiracy to bring down Mage rule.”
The expression on Bronwyn’s face spoke louder than words.
“Wait, two of those are the same thing.”
“You mean sedition and Mage rule? They were but four months ago they added the law about Mage rule.”
“So anyone who challenges the rule of a Mage is guilty of breaking two laws instead of one?”
“But that’s not fair.”
“Oh I know it might not seem fair, but remember the Mages here do an important job. It’s not that they are saying they are twice as important as any other ruler, but the law has to reflect the importance of the government. But you understand this already, don’t you?”
Bronwyn thought back to only a few days before when she had explained laws that benefited Mages in exactly the same tone. The tone that meant this made perfect sense and you were somehow lacking in intelligence if you couldn’t see it.
But now all she could see was how patently unfair the rule was when it favoured Mages above everyone else.
“But why do they think that? How can they? What was in that message?”
“I don’t know for certain. I haven’t read it. But I did learn that it was a message of support from the enemies of the kingdom and a push for everyone to unite against the ruling Mages.”
“What enemies. We are not at war with anyone,” said Bronwyn, and then, because her formerly immovable view on how the world was had started move, added, “Are we?”
“Not against another country, no. Just our own.”
“But the civil war ended.”
“Well it did and it didn’t. You studied the same history as me. A war may end when arms are laid down but it doesn’t mean the desire to keep fighting is any less. The war ended but many people are still not happy with what happened.”
“I know that, believe me. I see them every day. Everyone I know wishes the king had stayed on the throne.”
“Maybe he should have.”
“What?” Bronwyn gasped. “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
“I’m just thinking out loud. Now, shall we start work?”
“I need to listen to your story so I can prepare a statement of defense for your accusers.”
“But I already told them everything.”
“I know,” said Chester. He opened one of the books and inked his quill. “But now you have to tell me.”
“Ugh. Fine. Where do I start?”
“From the beginning. Tell me about the woman you found in Ashdown.”
So Bronwyn told her story again. When she passed through Oakfield in single sentence Chaster stopped her.
“That’s everything that happened there? You didn’t speak to anyone about the scroll? Or where you were going next?”
“Nothing. There were some, well, some issues to resolve before I left, but nothing to do with the scroll.”
“So, no-one in Oakfield could have known about it?”
“No. I was the only person there from Ash….Oh…”
“Someone followed me from Ashdown. The local troublemaker, WIll Fletcher.”
“He knows about the scroll?”
“I don’t think so. He wasn’t there when we found it and no-one would tell him. He would know about the woman we found though.”
“He lives in Ashdown?”
“They will try to find him too,” Chester said.
“If we are lucky.” Another cryptic remark. “I understand soldiers have already been ordered to Ashdown to bring back the woman you found.”
“Look, this is all very simple. If the message was for Morrigan, and I met him, then why do I still have it? That doesn’t make sense unless my story is true.”
Chester leaned back against the wall and stroked the underside of his chin with the feather. “Well yes, on the surface that makes sense.”
“But of course, if you were working as an agent of the monarchists it would make sense for you to bring it to the sympathisers in the west.”
“But I spent two days trying to give it to Sallus. No-one would help me. That’s why I went to his house to find him. I couldn’t keep waiting forever.”
“And then you were found breaking out with the seal.”
“I was found in the garden with the seal because the real thief dropped it when he escaped.”
“That’s not what I was told.”
“What do you mean?”
“When they briefed me they said you were found leaving the house with the seal. There was no-one else.”
“That’s a lie. The thief was over the wall by the time they found me. They carried their torches in front of them so they couldn’t see anything anyway.”
“But they saw you.”
“I wasn’t running.”
“Because you couldn’t escape.”
“Because I wasn’t trying to escape!”
Chester scratched out another note and looked thoughtful. “Bronwyn,” he said after a pause, “Why did they tell me a different story?”
“I don’t know,” she sighed. “It was probably a simple mistake.”
“Perhaps it was at that, ” said Chester. “The rumours spread by the rebels are not going to be true, are they?”
“That the ruling Mages are paranoid and that they have coveted the power of the king for years and are never going to give it up.”
“Mages are not like that”
“Ruling Mages, is the rumour. Not all Mages.”
“It’s still better than being in the hands of a king though.”
“True. True. After all, a king is just a prince with years of statecraft and diplomacy. He is just an all-powerful monarch surrounded by trusted advisers. The Mages abandoned all of that and just listen to themselves.”
“Chester, why did you just make it sound like the king was a good thing?”
“Kings are born to power. They don’t have to do anything to deserve it. They don’t work for it. If you’re the son of a king you become the king. Where is the merit in that?”
“Perhaps you’re right.”
“I know the Mages are not perfect but they never said they would be. But they are better than the alternative. They have to work within the rules and laws they inherited. It takes time but once they can change them all they can act faster.”
“True, true. Once they have undone all the legal precedents of the monarchy they will be free to do what they like.”
“Much like a king.”
“Chester do you know you are the second person I have met in a week who keeps trying to use my own words to trap me. I don’t like it. Why is everyone trying to be so clever all the time?”
“The only clever thing is trying to do the right thing.”
“And that is what the Mages are doing.”
Chester pushed himself off the edge of the bed and gathered his things. “That’s enough for now. I will be back later. I have to lock you in now, of course.”
“I’ve left you something to read there on the bed. It’s about the history of the monarchy. I thought you might enjoy it.”
Bronwyn opened the heavy cover and flicked through some of the pages. “Let me guess, Morrigan wrote this and it will change my mind about everything?”
“Actually no. Sallus wrote that book.” A sudden gust of wind blew down the corridor and caught at Chester’s white robes. The pages of the book rustled and turned in the breeze. Chester smiled. “Sorry, I don’t often get the chance to show off.”
Bronwyn smiled despite herself.
“Start there. Let me know what you think when I come back.”
“When will you be back?”
Chester pointed at the candle clock behind him which had gone out in the wind he had summoned. “Oh.” He fetched a candle from another shelf farther along the corridor but a new flame sprang from the wick before he could reach it.
“I don’t get a chance to show off much either,” said Bronwyn.
“I will be back four hours after noon. The guards will summon me at that time. I would be here sooner but time can only go so fast, you understand.”
“Four hours after noon.”
“Yes, I heard you.”
“Farewell for now then, Bronwyn of the Flame,” said Chester and started to leave. He replaced the spare candle clock where he found it and paused. “You know I didn’t think Mages of the Flame could do that?”
“Light a candle like you just did. I thought you had to be closer to the flames. Maybe you don’t get the respect you deserve.”
“Goodbye, Chester,” said Bronwyn.
When he had gone she sat on the bed and flicked through the pages of the book, but she was looking at the candle. Everything he had said to her had been troubling, but his parting words were the most troubling of all. She had drawn fire to the candle wick without thinking, but Chester was right. She was too far away.
Bronwyn pushed this thought out of her mind and looked down at the book in her lap. She shuffled back on the bed so she could lean against the wall then sat cross-legged and balanced the book between her knees like a makeshift lectern. She didn’t recall seeing the book before, but that was not surprising. Lorin housed over eight hundred books alone, mostly in the hands of the Mages and other civic leaders.
But why would she care about the history of the Monarchy? There was no monarchy anymore. She supposed a book like this would be kept around to help Arden negotiate with other countries who had kings and queens to rule them.
Bronwyn carefully turned through the pages to find the chapter Chester had pointed out to her, and began to read.