The first chapters can be found here.


About half-way up the natural spire of rock known as the Blue Tower, facing westward out of the Great Mountain Range, was a balcony. From that balcony, one had a stunning view of the entire valley--aptly named the Bluetower Vale--and beyond the encircling foothills to the world beyond. The weather, surprisingly often, conspired to offer spectacular sunrises and sunsets to anyone fortunate enough to be standing there to see them, and this morning was no exception. It was enough to make a person believe in magic.

Which was only fitting, since the Blue Tower was essentially the capital for those with the Gift.

Standing on the balcony that day, as she did many mornings, was Olanan Ketir. She'd been making a point to greet the sunrise more often, in the last few weeks. Partly, this was because she had so much to do that she needed the extra time. Often, she couldn't have slept longer if she wanted to, her mind a-whirl with anxiety. But mornings like this one helped to settle those anxieties.

It was not just the breathtaking beauty of the vista, itself, although that was inspirational enough. It was the resolve that beauty brought to her that overcame her fears. This, she reaffirmed to herself, must not be permitted to perish.

Every morning, even those few that were not so stunning, she used that view to re-commit herself to the task that had chosen her.

Her staff had already learned to leave her alone, no matter how urgent they felt the morning news might be, until she had gone through this self-appointed ritual. Often, they could barely restrain their impatience, nearly pounced upon her when she came back inside. Today, Hathric was waiting just outside her office door, and he was not just impatient, he was angry. Olanan thought she actually saw the steam curling off the man's bald pate.

"Good morning, Hathric," she offered, as if nothing could possibly be amiss.

With an effort, Hathric recalled himself. "Ketir, good morning. I hope you are well."

"Well enough, Hathric, thank you. I can see you have news. Please, come share it with me."

A beat late--perhaps because he had been wary of waiting in proximity to Hathric's clearly high dudgeon--Olanan's head servant, young Velic, arrived with a tray, containing a teapot and cups, while Velic's assistant for this season, Renan, carried a second tray with breakfast enough for four. As soon as the crisis had begun, the notion of having breakfast before conducting business had evaporated like a fever dream. Now, the staff simply made sure their mistress and her interlocutors were fed while they worked.

The office stood to one side of the grand balcony, and was therefore blessed with the same expansive view, at least, when the shutters were open. Olanan considered that, considered Hathric's state of agitation, and decided that, calming as it was, distraction was not needed just now. She left them closed. She sat, and gestured for him to do the same almost unconsciously, while Velic and Renan set out the tea and their food, then quietly departed.

They were not yet so far gone into crisis mode as to forget to do some justice either to their tea or to at least begin their meal. The first day after things had broken loose, Hathric had tried to launch right into a briefing, and Olanan had brought him up short. She would not be panicked into forgetting entirely to be civilized. She would not! Hathric tried to protest, but he knew her moods well enough, and once they had had a cup of tea each, and at least some of their food, she'd given him a nod that he could begin. That had been the pattern since, and he seemed to actually appreciate it, and not simply be humoring her.

Really, though, he could humor her all he wanted as long as he gave her the space she needed to process things her own way.

"So," he said when she'd given him the nod, "bad news first?"

"Might as well." This was already ritual between them.

"We're starting to get some responses to our summons. Some of those responses are...piquant."

"Do tell!"

"Lord Pelthric lets it be known that our attempt to summon his second daughter is the most arrant fraud ever perpetrated, as no child of his line has ever had the Gift. Of course, he phrased that as something to be inordinately proud of. Shall we tell him what's obvious, or...?"

"I don't think we've quite reached the point where we need to destroy his illusions of his wife's fidelity to bring in an untrained child we've only seen glimmers of Gift in. That said, we might want to send him a more generic reminder of the text and accepted spirit of the statute that enables our summons. Although that begs the question..."

"I was getting to that, but, like we agreed, bad news first, yes?"

Well, that told her what she really needed to know anyway. "Yes, continue."

"The summons sent the County of Southplain was simply returned, unopened, in fact, untouched by its intended recipient, Her Excellency Krovanan. The messenger reports that she took one look at his badge, then at the envelope, and gave him three minutes to turn himself around and head back out her gate before she had her archers make a hedgehog out of him. Krovanan is well trained, and all of her children are strong with the Gift. We need them here."

"And if we forced her to come, unwilling, unconvinced, would she be any help?"

This was an old argument already. "Ketir, I—"

"Yes, I know. We need people, more than the students and staff we keep here. We need talents from all over the kingdom, and possibly beyond it. I know, Hathric. But right now, most people have no idea there's even a whisper of a threat looming, and we couldn't tell them half of what we suspect for fear of interception. Some of these people will come around to us, but not until the signs are much more obvious. It's simply human nature. Krovanan thinks first about her County, where she rules wisely and well. As far as she's concerned, that's what the Gift is best for. It's a tool to be used for what she was actually born to do, not a calling of a different sort. Until she sees the threat to Southplain, we're simply not going to get her to care even if we dragged her here in chains."

She sipped her tea, which was now tepid, and made a face at it, but the gesture had given her a chance to calm down a bit. This argument had been going round and round for years, already, since the very first hints of danger had peeked over the horizon. This, in the end, was why she was Elder and Hathric was her vizier. She understood politics--didn't like them, but understood and could play them. Hathric...well, she felt he could rise to the occasion if ever he would have to, but he preferred the role of administrator to political leader. He either followed rules, or made them. Rules made sense to him. People were...messier.

Hathric did know when to pull back from a fight, though, so maybe she misjudged him. "That's pretty much all the bad news, so far, so I can balance it with two pieces of good news.

"First, Lord Jenselik sends that he should be here as early as tomorrow, along with his younger two children. The elder he leaves as regent, and anyway, that boy, while intelligent, has only a small touch of the Gift." Jenselik was the baron who held the northern third of the Bluetower Vale, and a long standing friend and ally, as well as technically a vassal, of the Tower. His ready acquiescence was as unsurprising as the previous two rejections. "He also reports that he believes he has convinced his cousin Selnan to answer affirmatively if summoned--he apparently anticipated this moment. I can't imagine why..."

Another long-standing argument between them. Hathric would have preferred not to tell even close allies like Jenselik anything of what was going on. Olanan had taken a chance, and let her friend know to make preparations. She chose not to gloat--Hathric could just as easily have been right, and she knew it.

"And...?"

Here, Hathric genuinely smiled. It had a slightly vicious edge to it, which she could not blame him for. "The messenger from the Royal Court arrived late last night. He bears the proclamation fully activating the Statute of 1017, retroactively granting us the authority to issue the summons to any Gifted person."

She answered his smile with one of her own. "Well, then, I think we'll make sure that circulates. In particular, make sure copies go out to Pelthric and Krovanan. Those two can sass me all they like, but I think they'll think again about sassing the Crown."


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