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Arden Chapter 16:
Magic

Two hours later Bronwyn closed the book, set it on the bed beside her and stared at the wall opposite. Was that right? And did Sallus really write it? It must be a trick of some kind. She stroked her thoughtful fingertips over the leather and brass cover and tried to organise her thoughts.

She needed to speak to Chester again. A quick glance at the candle clock told her this was not going to happen soon. He was due back well after noon and the flame had only burned down two hours since he left.

Bronwyn hopped off the bed, stretched out the kinks in her muscles from sitting still too long, and called the guard. The only reply she heard was a distant snoring.

“Hey! Guard!” she shouted.

The snoring stopped.

She called again, “Guard!”

A chair scraped on stone, keys jangled and the guard appeared at the end of the corridor. His face was creased with lines where he had fallen asleep on his sleeve.

“What?”

“I need to speak to the Mage, Chester. At once.”

The guard blinked, trying to remember his instructions through a sleepy haze.

“‘s too early. Four hours past noon he said to me.” The guard turned away.

Bronwyn frowned at the clock. If only she had the gift to control time she could speak to Chester. Now she had to wait for the clock to burn down.

Then Bronwyn mentally slapped herself as hard as she could, and focussed her will on the candle.

The sleepy guard didn’t notice the sudden yellow flicker behind him.

“But you’ve been asleep for ages!” said Bronwyn.

The guard turned back and looked at the clock. The flame now hovered just above the four-hour mark, and the base was covered in glistening wax.

The guard grunted. “I’ll send a boy.”

“Thank you,” said Bronwyn, and sat down extremely pleased with her cleverness.

Chester arrived within half an hour carrying two lamps atop a pile of three more books. The guard, still seemingly oblivious to the real time, unlocked the door to the corridor and Chester stepped inside. The door was locked behind him and the guard wandered off, leaving Chester standing outside Bronwyn’s door.

“Well done,” said Chester. “You figured that out faster than I thought.”

“You mean the candle? That was a test?”

“Of a sort, yes. It means I know you want to get out of here.”

“Well of course I want to get out. I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Chester held up a finger and the book pile wobbled in his other hand. “Ah, but you don’t want to wait for Mage justice to set you free. Correct?”

Bronwyn patted history book in her lap. “I wanted to talk to you about this.”

Chester leaned back to make sure the guard was nowhere near them, then dropped the books onto the floor and kicked them out of the way. The lamps he held on to and opened them as he talked. “Tell me.”

“Sallus had a different view of the monarchy when he wrote this. And a different view of power.”

Chester placed the first lamp on the floor by one side of the cell door and began opening the second. “Go on.”

“He says…what are you doing?”

Chester placed the second lamp on the opposite side and stepped back.

“Giving you a way out.”

“I thought you were getting me out because you were my counsel.”

“We don’t have time for that, I think. You have upset a number of people since you arrived with that message. Half the city thinks you are here to bring down the Mages and the other half thinks you are here to betray the rebellion.”

“Sorry, what did you say?”

“I know you have a better question for me than that.”

“Which side are you on?”

“You see? But the real question is, which side are you on?”

“I’m not on a side.”

“Everyone takes a side, Bronwyn, whether they want to or not, whether they know it or not. Two days ago you didn’t even know there was another side. Now you do. The Mages call it a rebellion, the rebels call themselves loyalists. And you have been so far away from everything going on in the last three years you have no idea what to do or who to believe.”

“I believe the Mages. You’re a Mage!”

“Not every Mage wants the Mages is power. Not every loyalist is ungifted.” He nodded at the book in her hands. Tell me what you learned.”

“What, now?”

“Tell me.”

“Uh, Sallus talks about the training the king has to undergo from the time he can read. All the things he has to learn as a prince.”

“Such as?”

“You’re rushing me.”

“Such as?” he repeated.

“Uh, legal and ethical dilemmas, diplomacy, government, the rule of law as example and principle and not inviolate rules. Is that it?”

“And what were you taught as a Mage?”

Bronwyn looked at the book in her hands. “The same thing?”

“Exactly the same thing?”

“Yes,” she said with only a slight hesitation. “And we’re taught about our power and how to use it.”

“The right way to use it?”

“Of course.”

“Because it your gift gives you rights? Because you, by an accident of birth, have a power no-one else can have.”

“Yes?”

Chester grabbed the bars of the cell and hissed through them. “Then how are you any different from a king?”

“It’s completely different!”

“Do you care about your work, Bronwyn? The people you judge and help. The messages you deliver?”

“Of course I do?”

“Why?”

“Because that’s what I was taught. Because it’s right.”

“Who taught you?”

“What?”

“Who taught you to be like that? Your Mage training? Your apprenticeship? Or is that just who you are? You had ten years with your parents before you came here. Who shaped the Bronwyn that arrived here as a child? And who took that child and taught her about power and control and rights? Can’t you see what the Mages are doing as they take power?

“They are trying to restore Arden! To make it better.”

“And then what? Will they leave? Will they turn over the government to someone else? Or are they building a world which needs Mages to rule. A world only Mages will be qualified to govern? Are they building a government which can thrive without them, or one which needs them and no-one else. When the only people to rule are Mages, and Mages are those born with the gifts, how is this different from the monarchy they claimed to despise?”

“Chester, it’s not the same thing! History shows us that the monarchy was not the best way to rule the land.”

“Who’s history? Where did you study everything you learned about history?”

Bronwyn gripped the book in her hands. “Sallus wrote this history book,” she said.

“And then it was removed from the library, along with all the other copies. And copies of any other book which undermined the Mages agenda.”

“But why did Sallus change his mind?”

“That’s a good question, but the answer is power. Power is jealous, Bronwyn. It is easily desired, not easily given up.”

She threw the book on the bed and gripped the bars too. “Then what happens now? Am I going to be sacrificed to this rebellion?”

Chester stepped back from the bars. “I hope not. I want you to save it.”

“Excuse me?”

“Guard! Guard!” shouted Chester.

“What are you doing now?” said Bronwyn.

“Getting you out of here. Unless you can melt iron with your gifts you’re going to need a key.”

“The guard won’t give you a key.”

“Not without a fight, no.”

“You’re going to fight a guard? Just use your gifts.”

“Me? I can’t. I’m a faithful loyal Mage, remember. They can’t know I am against them. You have to fight him. Guard, quickly! She is trying to escape!”

“How?”

Chester looked at the lamps he placed on the ground then stepped aside as the guard approached so Bronwyn could see the candle flame.

“Use your imagination,” said Chester.

The guard stepped into view, sword in hand and checked the cell door. Lamps flickered to life by his feet. The lights caught his attention and he looked down, looked up into the eyes of a Mage of the Flame, and Bronwyn hit him in the face with the history book. He stumbled backward with one hand up to protect his face, tripped, banged his head on the stone wall opposite and lay still.

Chester looked down at the unconscious guard nonplussed. “I thought you were going to do something…you know,” he waved his hands in odd gestures.

“Two little lamps? You didn’t give me much to work with.”

Chester retrieved the keys from the guard’s belt and unlocked the cell door.

“Come on, we don’t have much time.”

“To save the kingdom?”

“To save Morrigan.”

“Morrigan? I thought this was about freeing the land from the Mages. I thought this was about a revolution.”

“Do you want a revolution?”

“No.”

“Do you want to save a life?”

“Of course.”

Chester dragged the guard into the cell and locked the door behind him.

“Then you’re on the right side, for now. Come on.”

They ran back to the guard room and Chester dropped the keys on the table. Here the candle clocks showed the correct time which meant it would be some hours before the duty change.

Chester tugged at Bronwyn’s arm to lead her to the door, but Bronwyn pulled back. “Wait. Tell me what is happening. No more clever speeches.”

“We don’t have time.”

“Find some!”

“Fine. After your meeting this morning soldiers were dispatched to find Morrigan and anyone in Ashdown who came into contact with the message you found.”

“They’re going to arrest him?”

“If he’s lucky. They might just kill him.”

“What? What about Ashdown?”

“That’s just a nowhere village. The Mages won’t care what happens to the people there.”

“But I care!”

“Listen to me! Morrigan is the priority. The party left before noon. They have a head start but you are just one rider. You can overtake them and warn him. He’s vital.”

“Why don’t you have someone who can go?”

“Because everyone already in the city has to maintain their position. The Mages are suspicious. If someone vanished today they would like be identified as a loyalist. But no-one knows what to think of you, so if you escape it takes their gaze from the rest of us.”

“So why do you trust me?”

“Personally, because I think you were too far removed from all of this to pick a side. And your faithfulness to your ideals means you have integrity. Rightly or wrongly, I am gambling on that. I’m just sorry you got caught up in this before we were ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“The time for careful planning is over Bronwyn. You delivered your message to the wrong Mage, and the loyalist have to act now, today. By tonight, this city is going to burn.”

“But won’t the Mages come for you too? They know you’re my counsel. How will you explain how I escaped my cell? she asked.

Chester pulled her to the door again and they raced up the steps. “Magic,” he said.