As Emmeline, Typhon, and Renée approached Derrien, a familiar messenger on horseback rode up to them. “Witch de Cerisey, Justicar de Snowmoria, and Mademoiselle du Triel, I bring you a message from the Magus Alix, Wizard’s Tribune of the North,” announced the redcap Giselle Aubrey-Alix.
Emmeline looked at her friends in mild surprise, then nodded to Giselle to continue.
“My Lady would like to follow up with you concerning the postscript of your recent communique. To that end she asks for you to join her at the Duke’s estate. As this is Guild business, she requires that your colleagues do not attend. I believe the Mademoiselle has quite respectable family here in Derrien she no doubt would like to visit and the Justicar no doubt has business of her own to attend. Do you agree to my Lady the magus’ request and the terms of said request?” she asked.
Emmeline nodded. “Of course. ” Turning to Renee and Typhon Ne, she said, “It should be quite safe here. I’ll catch up with both you a bit later and then we can finish that shopping.”
She turned back to Giselle. “I’ll go there now.”
The Estate was visible from Derrien, but several miles west across the ancient Eterian high bridge over the Sereine. Within an hour they had arrived and a pair of guards joined them as they entered. Giselle said, “My Lady awaits you in the rose garden. Please follow me.” The gardens reminded Emmeline of the great gardens of Portreuax and the Centré Isle on Thalassa writ small. They were already green with spring and had their own unique charm. Giselle gestured to the silver-haired Alix walking near one of the garden pools. “Denis here will escort you back when you are ready. Good day my Lady.” she said with a short bow and then Giselle was gone. Denis the guard followed half way to Alix and then gestured for Emmeline to continue. When she was close, Alix spoke up and said, “Witch de Cerisey. You are of good health I take it?”
Emmeline’s wide smile was ever cheerful. “Why yes, thank you Magus Alix. I hope that this spring has treated you well?”
“It has. Now, walk with me. We should discuss your note. How do you know first off who or if the Guild went there? Second, if the Guild did go there so quickly after your groups return, how do you know that simply disappearing is the result of their actions. Lastly, how would you know of any of this as you – nor I – are not privy to the work of the Inner Council.” she asked.
“I don’t know for certain anything at all about the Wizard’s Council, save that they have a monopoly on the most powerful mages in this part of the world, and that I feel certain only the most powerful of mages could get into the tomb at the Hatani Gates now, survive what lies in store, and then seize control of tens of thousands of undead warriors,” Emmeline said. “What I relayed to you is something I heard, only, but given the gravity of the matter I felt it did bear paying attention to.
“Magus Alix, you are the most powerful wizard I can trust by any measure, my closest mage neighbor apart from family. To me, this is so grave that regardless whether what I’ve been told is true or not I must leave for you to decide. But if it is true, and I think part of it is — the scariest part imaginable — then omitting this could only do the most severe harm to my allies. So of course, I would come to you with this, before anyone else.”
Emmeline looked to Alix, hoping she understood.
“Go on,” she said listening.
“As to where I heard it? Well, you might find the source dubious. But I don’t doubt their observation. I only doubt their motive and their conclusions. Two Tyaanites, powerful, the same two that had for all of last year troubled us so, approached us. They had offered a truce between us last month, before the siege at Calder. But a couple weeks ago they managed to track my party down as we were enroute to deal with the night hag that had nearly ended my life at Cerisey, and her sisters.” Emmeline paused, realizing that Alix likely wasn’t aware of that situation. Well, that would be a diversion to discuss later if she wanted.
“Anyway, the point is they wanted to bring me news. First, that apparently now that my group has slaughtered so many Tyaanites, we’ve impressed the heck out of their goddess.” Emmeline sighed and shook her head. “They invited El and I to join them. You can guess about how popular that idea was with Elemix. Nor am I interested. But they did have other things they wanted to share with me. After El got rather upset with them and removed himself from the conversation, they told me that they knew what was in the tomb at the Gates. Had they known it was legions of undead, they would have joined us, not opposed us. My guess is they weren’t lying about that, either. Tyaanites are vehemently pro-nature. Or at least their idea of what nature should be. And that doesn’t include the walking dead. They told me the dead were gone. Someone had broken in and took them. Not destroyed — emtook/em them. They were clearly worried about it. And they are also clearly worried that the Wizards Guild had something to do with it.”
“Necromancers,” she said with an obvious distain. “or worse. The Tyaanites can be a discussion for another time. What you do not know is that with the goblin attacks happening up in the North as a final catalyst, we successfully seceded from the Tribunal at Breven. I used a lot of political capital to do this for us. The downside there is that in using that capital, my influence with the Inner Council is minimal at the moment, but we as a Tribunal have influence on the Outer Council, which includes the Tribunes, Deans, and the administration of the Guild. I only attended one meeting so far and not once did your mission come up. I do know that Elemix turned over the Aquila to the Quaestor Simon de Courleon with a full report. How the Tyaanites know is unknown, but what I do know is if the Inner Council, who are the eldest of us, or simply a member of the Inner Council, did take or destroy the undead army, they would have had to had the Aquila to do so without severe loss of life. Assuming Elemix’s report is accurate, and I have no reason to doubt it. That said, if the Tyaanites are worried, then good. Those interlopers should worry.”
“Their tactics are brutish and the loss of life their system inflicts on others is unforgivable,” Emmeline agreed. “Yet despite that they do have an outside point of view that could well be of use to us.” Emmeline raised her hands with a combination of helplessness and exasperation. “But they can’t be trusted, so I really just don’t know about this. Which is why I decided to come to you. I don’t think Elemix would believe a word of what they say, and maybe he’s right. It’s just that I can’t think of anything they have to gain by lying about this particular thing. Much less seeking me out in the middle of nowhere just to tell me that. Well, that and try to recruit Elemix and I.”
“Yes, and I appreciate your trust. Joining the Tyaanites would be tantamount to declaring war on Thalassa if the rumors I’ve heard are true. The results of joining them would be most unfortunate. But you are right that they are concerned. Perhaps they worry the undead will be used by Thalassa, or by anyone as they find such things abhorrent. They may also suspect the sorcerer you released returned, which is a worry of several persons. But, that said, I suspect that Revan had something to do with it,” said Alix.
“They hinted as much as well,” Emmeline said with regard to Revan. “If I hear anything else of relevance about this, I’ll pass it on to you.”
“That is appreciated,” she replied. “Do you wish me to inquire further?”
Emmeline held her hands up and shook her head, smiling. “I gave you what I had. What you decide to do with it is your business.”
She nodded, “That is fair. I will make some inquiries. I have never met Revan, so all I know is rumor.”
Emmeline paused. “I have. I spent a month with it, but Revan remains an enigma to me.”
Alix raised an eyebrow, “An enigma? Revan is the head of the Vexian School which attracts few students and allows even fewer. I believe Revan is very old and gained the position when a number of the schools members and students got involved in a death cult. Revan cleaned house and ‘took up the mask’ as it is said. You spent a month with Reven, what is he or she like?”
“Quiet. Likes underground places. We had a few moments, I guess. Revan supported me, was the deciding vote to not execute me,” Emmeline said a little cryptically. “Revan was fair, even showed me something personal, to help me. But no one knows what Revan is really like.”
“I’m sure the Emeriti, the most ancient members of the Inner Council know. They had to approve the appointment. I do know one elder necromancer Magus Cristophe Vernac, whom I allied with on a mission when I was quite young. He still lives and is in retirement at Faou. He may know more about Revan, perhaps knew them in the past before Revan’s appointment? I could write you a letter of introduction,” she replied.
“Me? Why would…” Emmeline blinked. “Are you wanting me to pursue what the Tyaanites told me?”
“I’m not suggesting that. Only should you wish to know more about Revan and its personal character, gain reassurance so to speak, you could start with Magus Vernac.” she replied. “However, how would anyone, even Revan, transport such a force? Who would benefit and why? You see my young Witch, the Tyaanites have no idea what happened. They are hoping you know or if you don’t that you will be a seed of strife in the Guild trying to find out,” she said.
“Well, if that’s the case, then they failed, because this is as far as I had planned to take things,” Emmeline said with a little laugh.
She was very wary of owing any wizard any favors. That would only embroil her in their games and the taste she’d had of it taught her it was not something she wanted to be entangled with. Maybe Magus Alix’s proposed letter of introduction was not meant to be a hook to drag her into the circle here in the north, but she didn’t want to take the chance. No, if Alix was bothered by this news, and Emmeline was sure she was, then Alix would soon enough find out more. It was in her nature. And Emmeline would be left out of an entangling web of obligations to the Wizards Guild.
Alix was very perceptive and Emmeline felt as if the wizard could peer into her soul. She replied, “My young witch you care only about a few things and don’t want competing obligations. I understand that. But I am sure you are curious about the Tyaanites because you trust no one and everyone. You want to believe everyone is true to their word or character, but you are coming to understand that everyone has ulterior motives, even your Baron, you best friend Lady d’Uzec, and even your patron. You see the goodness in everyone. To be honest, that is what I admire about you.”
Emmeline blinked in surprise. “I didn’t think I had any qualities that were particularly admirable to you. So, thank you for that. But I do hope I’m not causing strife within the Wizard’s Guild over this. I don’t mean to. I just wanted someone more capable than me to know what I learned. As for Revan, I am curious. But now, or even the near future, is not the time for me to again leave my people and my Baron, because if I’m going to survive, I need to build a future here. So I’m going home and I’m going to be at his side as much as he will let me.”
Emotions caused Emmeline’s voice to stumble a little when she continued. “He said we would have a year. At least a year for us. So if war calls him away, I’ll be by his side. But I will not leave him just to satisfy my curiosity. It will take a lot more than that to make me leave again.”
“You are in love!” she said, biting her tongue with a slight smile from further comment. She then said, “You must do what your heart tells you. But men of such power take what they want. You must give him everything. He must earn it.”
Inexperienced as she was in matters of love, Emmeline failed to understand. “I’m not sure I know what you mean when you say he must earn it. He has never taken me simply because he wanted to… I think.”
“Of course he wanted to. And wouldn’t call it ‘simply’,” she replied. “But you are not some strumpet he met briefly and then gone; nor are you simply some social-climbing noblewoman wanting babies to secure some line of succession. You are a Witch. That matters. He should respect that, and likely does if the stories concerning his near-death are true. But when has he gone the extra mile for you? Do you think he would?”
Emmeline opened her mouth to answer, but hesitated.
She’d thought the gift of a fief was an example, but she remembered it also came with obligations and a benefit to the baron in that he would now have someone to maintain that for him. He expanded her lands, which she had thought as another gift, but what that meant was she had more responsibilities and needed to enforce the baron’s laws there, likely in places it hadn’t been before. That, too, benefitted the baron more. So then she thought about the Vale. That was really important to her and he’d supported and protected its existence. Was this something he’d done for her, or was it simply a calculated risk, weigher Emmeline’s own ability to forge a source of power and improved defenses for the Baron’s realm?
But there was something he wanted, something more important than fiefs and alliances, wasn’t there?
She looked hopelessly confused and not a little lost when she looked at Magus Alix. “He wants children. We both do. Are you saying I should ask him to first kick stupid, old traditions in the butt and ask him to marry me first?”
“No. He cannot marry you unless he steps down or the marriage is morganatic, meaning any children will be recognized but out of the succession. As his concubine, which you are, you gain all the advantages of the morganatic marriage, without the commitment. I assume he is doing that for your freedom, because the duty of the Baron’s wife versus his mistress is very different. I think he wants a child, a boy preferably, but a child nonetheless. From what the Duke has told me, the death of his first wife and his stillborn son was a wound the never healed. Then the whole Millicent affair and her lost child from the accident. That said, he may weigh having a family more than power. The Duke has long worried about this as both his sons are na’er do wells and the Baron is the likely heir unless the sons are reconciled to the father.” she said.
Adding, “it is politics. I am certain the Baron is quite fond of you. Perhaps in love. I do not know his heart. What you do with him could change the course of events in the Northmarch, however. And that has made you enemies.”
Emmeline paused. “I love him and of course I need a future. But I need him to be the leader in the north. He can’t protect me or our potential children if he leaves his post.” She didn’t elaborate on why she thought that, but instead stated, perhaps strangely, “So I must be elevated instead.
“Magus?” she continued. “Do you still have a little time? I would like to discuss your Tribunal and the Wizard’s Guild. I know my apprenticeship is nearly at an end and so you will need an answer from me. But I have questions, first.”
She replied, “A short time. But to your point, there is elevated and there is elevated. Not all paths go through the archaic ways of feudalism, including yours. So, please ask your questions.”
Emmeline paused to pull her thoughts together. “First, please let me say you have been nothing but cordial to me. I appreciate this very much and it’s why I will continue to bring any other concerns I think might interest you to you. So please don’t take what I’m going to say as a personal affront. It’s not. At least, I don’t mean it to be. I refer now to the Wizard’s Guild itself in general, not to the individual members like you that I respect.
“I feel like the Wizard’s Guild is an oppressor to me, not an ally. Something that spies on me, critically reviewing every move I make with an unsubtle promise of death for any reason. I am not interested in books — wizards do not possess the information and learning I need.” Emmeline knew Alix would likely be curious about that statement, but she was on a roll. “I lack the ability to ever be proficient with your style of magic. I don’t need wizard rituals. Look what I did to preserve the Baron when he … when he died. Because I use magic I am required to pay the guild when I go on missions for my Baron. Effectively I am taxed — extorted since it is under threat — by this Guild even when I am only doing my duty for my Baron.
“This makes me resentful of the Wizard’s Guild. I don’t want your resources. I don’t trust your fellow wizards enough to have any desire whatsoever to stay at guild towers or use guild transportation benefits. What happens if another wizard decides I should be removed? I worry about that constantly. I know I’m vulnerable.
“What I would really like to be a part of is a society that uses their magic to help people. Heal people. Defend them. Save lives. Make them happy. Give them hope when the days are dark. Baron Roland lets me do this when I am home in Uzec.
“I feel like your Tribunal will be used by some of those who are a part of it to just gain more power for themselves. I have nothing in terms of magic knowledge, potions, scrolls or anything that will make anyone smarter or more powerful or richer. What I fear happening is that there will be just more chains thrown on me, a greater threat to my freedom, and a greater likelihood I’ll be drawn into another wizard’s little ego game and killed.
“Can you tell me this is not the case? Can I afford to say no to joining the Tribunal or will that paint a target on my back? What can I do to get the guild to leave me alone?”
Emmeline took a breath and slowed down. She was afraid it was beginning to sound like a rant. Maybe it was; she hadn’t intended it to be. “Magus Alix, all that bitching about the guild aside, I think your heart is good. I would help you if I can. If we could be friends I’d be your ally, except that I think that would harm your reputation with the other wizards.”
Alix replied.”This will be a long answer.” She gathered her thoughts for a moment and then said, “I think what has happened to you came as much from my failure as anyone’s. I should have taken you in and advised you instead of insisting that Elemix do so. That said, despite what you think of the Guild, it is more inclusive than you think, but unlike myself or your cousin, you were never schooled there. You never had the years of indoctrination and study to understand its true purpose. Yes there are all kinds of wizards who are engaged in a complex dance of power, politics, knowledge, study, and adventure. The Guild provides a framework and ruleset to protect the wizards from each other in a semi-chaotic dance of ambition. It also more importantly exists to protect the people from the tyranny of magic. There have been a few bad eggs, but at the end of the day all the wizards believe in Sidonius’ dream. Those who don’t are weeded out early. That dream imagined wizardry as a method to free up magic in an ordered way, not to constrain it to a blooded few or the servants of evil ambition. We’ve had some successes here. Besides the Guild, there are others such as the Bardic Colleges that are sanctioned users of Wizardry. But the lessons we learned long ago is absolute power corrupts absolutely. Throughout history sorcerers and warlocks and priests of gods both dark and light ruled tyrannically over the humble mortal. The Guild is on a path to control such aberrations, or where we fail, we eliminate and prune. For every few hedge mages who humbly practice their art in obscurity there is a Tuderick Draask, a Marcus Caldanius, or worse. So when a young woman suddenly manifests powers from a long dead demigod, it is noticed. You see no one doubts you. Not a single soul. They doubt your master. The Guild will never leave you alone as long as that doubt exists. The Aarithine also watch you or similar reasons. Their god does not care for rivals that cannot be assimilated. Yet, as long as you are a member of the Guild and a local hero, the Aarithine cannot touch you. Do not for a minute think they are not worried about what you are doing up north.”
She continued, “so, long story short, the Guild protects its own and by doing so also protects the citizens of Thalassa and where we can, the League. Your humble tithe pays for all of that and more from the education of children to the magical defenses of the very castle you defended at Calder Keep. If you think of it merely in terms of what is in it for you, then you are being short-sighted. If there are members of the Guild who are spying on you or monitoring you it is because you resist the Guild and its opportunities. You become a threat. Now, I don’t think you are. By joining the Tribunal, you can gain allies instantly.” she snapped her fingers. “As much as Elemix puts his foot in his mouth pretty much every time I see him, I would defend him and help him within reason, and beyond reason then favor for favor. It is how we work. You could benefit immensely from learning at my side Emmeline.”
“Well, I don’t know what you mean about what I could learn, but I know there is a purpose for the Wizard’s Guild. Revan was very careful to drill that into me and I was very thoroughly questioned as to my position on it. I support that. But I was betrayed once by wizards in this guild. If I say yes to you, I can hold you to your word? You will really support me when the guild betrays me again?”
“I cannot promise that. If it is a choice between you and the Guild itself, you will lose because I believe in the Guild and Thalassa. But I understand how hurt you must have felt. You were played, like the viol you carry, all of you were. It seems that your party could have been used by ‘a’ person in the Guild as a vector to destroy ancient sorcerers. However, none of my contacts know anything about it save repeating versions of your own story. Your ‘Ricimer’ has also disappeared. If it was a wizard, then they did this deed without official sanction, or maybe it was by order of the Emeritai, but I doubt that, they would have simply made it your mission. You blame the Guild because this Ricimer told you someone in the Guild did it. Have you considered that maybe, just maybe he was lying to you…again.” she asked.”Think. Who could possibly have gained if your ‘Jon’ was killed or at least injured? Think. Why did Ricimer, an assassin, agree to give up his mission, unless that was part of the mission. Why did he come back and talk to you? Why not Elemix? Lies, more lies, even more lies. That is my job. I see though lies. Someone wanted your John to mistrust the Guild. That is what I see. Someone wants you and even Elemix to do so. Why? Regardless if it is true or another lie, you need allies.”
None of that was anything Emmeline wanted to hear and it showed on her face. “Maybe it’s not complicated,” Emmeline mused.
She studied Alix a moment, trying to understand her. “I don’t mean to say the whole guild is gunning for me or will betray me. But I don’t know who is my enemy. When I said I know the guild will betray me again, I might have been overly general, but I just don’t see anyone caring enough to stand up to a wizard, especially a respected and powerful one on my behalf.”
Emmeline looked away. “Dammit. I sound like a child that’s been beaten by her parents. This isn’t me.” She held a hand to her head.
Who would gain from John’s death? Any wizard that could claim credit for it would surely rise in prestige for “saving” the world from another sorcerer. Why did Ricimer do what he did in the end? Because just maybe he was a human being after all? Emmeline wasn’t sure if Alix was seeing through lies or just trying to scare Emmeline into joining the Tribunal. Who would profit by driving a wedge between herself the guild?
Well, it sounded like the Tyaanites would. But that would mean they had a contact within the guild sympathetic to their cause… and that would answer every question as well.
Emmeline turned back to Alix. “There is one answer that fits all your questions. A wizard sympathetic to the Tyaanite cause would be motivated to orchestrate everything you just said.”
“It is possible,” Alix responded. “It could also be someone who has access to the House of Slience and the ear of a wizard in the Guild without the Wizard knowing or something similar,” in any event, at least on that one mission, someone had an agenda. Do not think that you are necessarily the focus of the agenda.”
“If for a moment you take me out of the equation, how does knowing what you know right now make you feel,” Emmeline wanted to know.
She was still unsure if the idea of being allies meant something different to Alix than it did to her. She wanted it to be a two way street. She knew that being a member of the Tribunal likely meant doing work for them. But if Alix was unwilling to admit some people in this guild were up to something nefarious, Em needed to know now.
“I feel we must always be vigilant of cuckoos in our nest. The best thing to do is to put a case together and deliver it to the Quaestors so they are aware of it. There is another simpler possibility that I hadn’t considered, that we are both right for different reasons.”
Emmeline thought about that and then nodded. “All right. It may be a while before I can officially join your tribunal because I need time to come up with the fee.”
Alix said, “It is not a fee. It is a buy-in. You become a member and partner, though the tribunal itself is simply an administrative division of the Guild, our Tower will be the heart of it.” She smiled, “But the buy-in is something I could cover for you, if you wish, out of my own funds, until you are in a position to even the scales. Would you accept that offfer? No interest attached of course. ”
Emmeline thought about that, the nodded, “Yes, thank you Magus Alix.”
From there, the two began to discuss the details — and plans.