But we ended up with six people in our party, not five. Two weeks later, while the constable and assistant constable were still making lists of what we needed and pulling boxes out of the storeroom, a lone horseman rode up to the castle at sunset.

I had been out walking, trying to harden my body enough to be ready for a trip of hundreds, indeed thousands of miles. Even the best magic can only do a limited amount to compensate for physical weakness. As I walked I ran through spells in my mind, deciding what magic I should review because it might be useful in a strange land.

It was so cold that the snow squeaked underfoot. I came back to the castle as shadows became deep blue and the sun tinted the western sky crimson.

I paused before the drawbridge, breathing hard and enjoying the view, then noticed a figure emerging from the woods below the castle hill. He had a long sword slung from the saddle, and his horse was lathered in spite of the cold day.

Yurt was so peaceful that normally I would have assumed that it was a friend coming to visit. But thinking about people captured by bandits had made me uneasy enough that I started putting a paralysis spell together, just in case.

Halfway up the hill, the horseman noticed me. He was silhouetted against the sunset so he was only a shape, not a face, but he looked like a young man. He swept off his hat and waved with it. “Hello, Wizard!” he called as though he had known me all his life.

Even when he reached the top of the hill and pulled up next to me, I did not at once recognize him. He had jet-black hair, was dressed in black leather, and had a gold hoop in one ear in the latest fashion for young aristocrats. Were it not for the friendly smile, he would have appeared intimidating as well as strange. And yet there was something oddly familiar about him.

“Hugo!” I cried suddenly as recognition came.

“Glad you remember me,” he said with another smile, swinging down from his horse and wringing my hand. “You didn’t think you’d be able to leave on this trip without me, did you?”

Hugo had been a tall and rather gangly youth, learning knighthood in the royal court, when I first came to Yurt ten years earlier. He had returned home to his family a year or two later, but other than his beard, the earring, and increased musculature he looked very much as I remembered. He was related to the king or the queen in some way, I recalled. He was- He was the queen’s cousin, the son of the man who had disappeared.

“I expect the Old Man is sitting on a warm beach somewhere,” said Hugo, grinning, “surrounded by scantily- clad dancing girls. He said he wanted to go on pilgrimage to contemplate the state of his soul, but I hear the East can be distracting! I can’t approve of course-I’m much too fond of Mother. It’s high time he came home. But in case he’s not all right-” and for a second his cheerful mask cracked a fraction “-I’d better do my best to find him.”

I accompanied him into the castle, thinking that he would make a good addition to our company. As a youth, I remembered, Hugo had had an excellent sense of humor. The chaplain still didn’t, in spite of years of my trying to teach him, and the king had a sweetness of temper that precluded many of my best jokes. I had never know Ascelin well enough to joke with him, and Dominic was out of the question.

These cheerful thoughts reminded me of something much less cheerful. Evrard, lost on the same expedition as Hugo’s father, had also had an excellent sense of humor. And somewhere along the miles of road between here and the Holy Land his bones might be lying, bleached white by the same sun that shone on the azure sea.


Easter came early that year. Patches of snow still lingered in the woods, although buds on the trees gave their branches a slightly fuzzy look against the pale sky. On Easter Monday the last preparations were finally made for our expedition to find the elder Sir Hugo, his wizard Evrard, and the knights who had accompanied them.

All of us had new gray cloaks with scarlet crosses embroidered on the shoulder. Tents, blankets, rope, clothing, food, pots, weapons, armor, maps, shovels, boots, water bottles, and the king’s spare eyeglasses were all organized and packed, so systematically that I wondered if we would dare actually use anything. In the morning, all we would need to do would be to strap the packs onto our horses. The night before leaving, I asked the chaplain to my chambers after dinner for a last glass of wine.

He sat quietly by the fire, long legs stretched out before him. My study was so neat, tidied and straightened in preparation for my absence, that I hardly felt it was mine anymore. I wondered if I should put a magic lock on the door when I left and decided against it. It would open only to my own palm print, and if we didn’t come back the queen might want these chambers for her new wizard.

“It’s strange, Joachim,” I said as I poured out the wine. “I’m ready to go, I’ve been eager to go for more than six weeks, yet now that we’re about to leave I feel a curious reluctance. We’re going off into something so different from our life here in Yurt, so hard to imagine in advance, that it could almost be death. It’s as though I won’t exist after tomorrow.”

He sipped from the glass I handed him and looked at me from deep-set eyes. “‘I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until I drink it new in my father’s kingdom,’” he said. “Is that it?”

That was the problem with having a priest for my best friend in Yurt. He was always saying incomprehensible things. “Maybe,” I answered cautiously.

Then I added, “But it’s a good thing we’re going, because I’m afraid I was on the point of going stale. A lot of wizards these days change posts after eight or ten years, going back to the school to serve as assistants and guest lecturers or moving up to a bigger kingdom that wants an experienced wizard.”

“And are you going to move up then, Daimbert?”

The chaplain was the only person in Yurt who used my name rather than calling me Wizard; but then I was the only one who called him Joachim rather than Father.

“No, of course not. I like life here in Yurt, and, besides, I’m not nearly a skillful enough wizard that a bigger kingdom would want me. And the school is unlikely to consider me a good person to guide the student wizards.”

“I talked to the bishop on the telephone this afternoon,” the chaplain said in an apparent change of subject. “You’ll be pleased to hear that he finally agrees with you, that magic telephones use perfectly innocuous magic and involve no pacts with the devil.”

“And what else did you and the bishop talk about?” I asked, deciding not to comment that the bishop was certainly slow enough to grasp the obvious, especially since it was almost a year since his own provost had had a telephone installed in the cathedral. I wasn’t particularly interested in the bishop, but it was better to talk than to sit in silence, feeling the emptiness of the unknown voyage before us.

“It really has been easier communicating with the cathedral this last year, rather than having to rely on the carrier pigeons,” said Joachim, not answering my question. I wondered if he and the bishop had discussed some spiritual issue or other which they thought was unsuitable for a wizard’s ears.

But after a moment of staring into the fire, Joachim spoke again. “He confirmed that the new chaplain will arrive here within the week. It’s always hard to get one on short notice, but he thought that this young priest would do very well here. I’m sorry I won’t be able to help him settle into his duties.”

The wizards’ school would certainly not send out a substitute wizard to Yurt while I was gone. For one thing, unlike priests who claimed to show each other Christian charity, wizards were well known for fighting all the time, and I would never have allowed it.

“I shall miss Yurt,” added Joachim. His comment didn’t seem to have anything to do with the bishop, but since it fitted in well with my own mood it seemed appropriate.

We sat in silence for a few minutes. The castle was quiet around us. My chambers opened directly onto the main courtyard, but no one came or went on this dark, damp night.

“The bishop once went to the Holy Land himself,” said Joachim as though there had been no pause in the conversation. “It must be over forty years ago, when he was a young priest. He did the pilgrimage thoroughly, too, starting in the great City by the sea and visiting the holy sites there and then stopping at most of the shrines on the way. Last week he sent me the guide book he’d used, with the shrines he visited all marked. It took him over a year

Вы читаете Mage Quest
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату