“Can you hear the silence, friend?
Do you see the echoes of silver?”
Aven was a self-proclaimed sorcerer.
Somehow he circumvented every attempt at bringing him to justice. There were whispers sorcery aided him, as it now kept all from his door in his retirement. He kept to himself in Farinwood. In a society that should drag him to the gallows, he was respected and tolerated.
Aven was instrumental in recruiting Rayne to the Mantle as a boy. The secrecy and adventure appealed to that boy’s nature, and later the scope of knowledge appealed to a maturing mind. Aven was his guide in the early years and a source of knowledge as he grew older.
It was time to tap that fountain once more.
Rayne and McSee left the inn at first light, having formed an unlikely alliance. Julian said not a word beyond supplying the necessary directions to Aven’s home. Superstition or not, he no doubt considered it a safer gamble to say nothing, ask nothing.
He shouted for no one.
The cobbled streets were wet and strewn with storm debris.
The town was graveyard quiet and the light that pierced the cloud cover was a foul and dirty grey. They pressed on around another corner, then another.
All houses were shuttered tight.
Even big McSee was wary and Rayne felt better for having him along.
They passed a tall iron gate, but there was nothing now to reveal it as the site of nocturnal murder.
Ahead was the hanging blue star over a green doorway that marked it as Aven’s home.
They headed to it in relief, uncomfortable with the peculiarity of the streets. Death’s spectre possessed real presence this day.
Rayne rang the small silver bell placed in a recess.
There was no response.
Taranis, thought Rayne, what if he went looking for me in Galilan after what happened here?
He rang the bell again, the sound loud in the silence. Both men flinched.
The unmistakable screech of a bolt sliding back sounded. The door opened a crack. McSee hissed warning and at first Rayne thought the danger was inside, before noticing shapes flitting towards them.
A timid voice said, “Yes?”
Clearing his throat, Rayne asked, “Is this the home of Aven?”
The door cracked wider. Two dark eyes peered from under a furry cap. It was a young woman. “Who are you?”
McSee burst out, “Can we establish that inside, please? Those creatures are too near for comfort.”
“They are children and they dare not come closer,” the young woman said. “Aven isn’t receiving visitors.”
After studying the now stationary figures in the opposite doorway, Rayne said, “Please tell him Rayne is here.”
“Rayne? Of the Mantle? Aven has been expecting you, thought it wiser to stay until you came or he would pass you on a journey that would then have no purpose.”
The door opened wide. The two men glanced at each other as they entered the gloomy interior.
She led them down a dark passage towards a square of light and into a large chamber awash in silvery glows. Tiny silver candles were lit on all surfaces. The chamber was untidy in the haphazard placement of books and various odd objects, but this vanished into the shadows of flickering light. No wonder the dark children did not venture close; they were not merely afraid of the sorcerer inside.
Aven had carefully warded his home.
An old man rose from a frayed armchair, setting a well-thumbed book on the low table before him. He was tall, like Rayne, and almost bald. His few remaining hairs were snow white and he appeared ghostly and insubstantial in the silvery light, as they did too, particularly the young woman who seemed to float in her blue gown.
A smile came. “Rayne, my boy, I have been expecting you.”
His voice was educated and, contrary to expectation, without rancour. He and Rayne had their issues, usually parting for a lengthy period after a reverberating argument. They had not seen each other in two years after just such an event in the Mantle’s archives.
“And I see you have teamed up with our resourceful friend McSee. Good. You are going to need each other. Well met, McSee.”
He came forward to clasp McSee’s big hand. Aven possessed a death grip when he felt like using it and if anything it was McSee who winced. The two men smiled at each other, and the old man moved to Rayne. He gripped at the shoulders uncertainly, the sort of gesture one makes to embrace someone missed, but unsure of reception.
Rayne gazed into Aven’s wise, dark eyes, deeply lined and tired, and put both arms around the old man to hold him close. This man was more of a father to him than his own was, more so when his father died. He grinned as he let go. “I still think you’re an opinionated, stubborn, old …”
“Yes, yes, I know the rest,” Aven interrupted in delight. “Someone ought to teach you manners.”
Rayne laughed, before saying, “I was afraid for you.”
When the rumours started, followed by reports of Infinity sightings near Farinwood, he wanted to come for the old man. When a garbled report of darak mist caused uproar in their ranks, he immediately set out from Galilan.
Aven’s eyes glittered as he studied Rayne. “The children were assailed. It is true horror, but I am fine.” A moment more the two men studied each other. Aven then spoke to McSee. “So, the Society is alert. We can only pray you are able to put theory into practice. You are a good choice, lad; nobody suspects a big man as capable of magic. You will never blend in, but you will certainly get away with much.” He grinned anew. “I bet my boy here gave you a hard time, him being so stubborn.”
McSee shrugged eloquently.
Gesturing to chairs in the corner, Aven warned them not to tread on his candles.
“Are you warding more than the obvious?” Rayne asked.
McSee glanced over and Rayne noted his surprise. McSee did not understand how he knew of a warding; perhaps it would occur to him he and Aven had a long history.
“All in good time, always in such a hurry,” Aven muttered, shaking his head. Upon seeing the young woman standing silent in the doorway to the passage listening, he smacked his forehead. “Where are my manners? Come closer, Averroes. Lads, this is my ward … don’t look so amazed, Rayne. When last have we spoken without fighting? My dear, meet Rayne and McSee.”
Averroes nodded at each man, biting her lip.
“Will you fetch wine?” Aven prompted.
She vanished into the passage, lifting her gown high to avoid extinguishing the nearby candles. Her feet were bare.
Aven lowered into his armchair with Rayne and McSee taking seats facing him. “I knew you would come. I waited here; not seeking you out first, for Averroes hates Galilan. She dislikes stepping out of the front door, to be honest, but particularly hates Galilan.” He held one hand aloft. “Bear with me, please. I needed you to meet her, for she is part of the whole and will be as involved as we must be soon.”
Rayne said, “We need to discuss Infinity, what to do …”
“I know and we will get to that, but listen first. Because I overlooked introducing her does not mean this is unimportant. Averroes has a pertinent past.” The old man possessed a sticky stare.
“Then let me begin. I found Averroes on the streets of Galilan seven years ago …”
Aven broke off when Rayne frowned at the empty doorway.
“She is aware of this; she won’t take offence.” He rubbed his pate. “Galilan is a beautiful city, but unkind to those of no means. She was an orphan and could barely speak. I wondered how she could trust an older man, when probably she was …” Aven paused to swallow, not willing to utter that thought.
Neither Rayne nor McSee said a word.
“She came home with me. I had her see our young Herbmaster. Averroes did not like being examined, but Kylan is a gentle soul who knows how to deal with the skittish, bless him. I named her Averroes, and when she lost her fear, I taught her to read and write. She is highly intelligent, but needed someone to believe … anyhow, that is how she came into my life and she has brightened it immeasurably. I chose to retire from the Mantle soon after - I know you wondered - and applied to the courts to make her my legal ward, but she’s like a daughter … much like you are a son to me.”
“Not a very good one if you could not tell me about her,” Rayne said.
“In truth, the omission lies not with you or me. Averroes insisted no one know of her and I humoured her, hoping with time and confidence the situation would change. But we digress. About four years ago I was involved in a simple enchantment to prevent mildew growing on the northern wall, when she came upon me.”
Aven locked onto Rayne’s gaze.
“She brought forth a golden coin, and how she kept it secret I don’t know, but as to why; she was afraid I would throw her out. She held the coin in one hand, closed her eyes and, to my everlasting astonishment, accompanied me word for word as I recited the enchantment!” Aven’s right hand lifted in a flourish.
McSee listened avidly. Rayne’s eyes narrowed.
Aven continued, warming to his tale. “I asked to see it, but she was so nervous I let the matter rest there. She means more to me than any device. Months passed and one day I deliberately forgot part of an enchantment in her presence and pretended anxiety, and she whipped it out, closed her eyes and did it for me. Clearly, I mean more to her than any device also. I am blessed.”
Aven broke off as Averroes entered bearing a tray laden with three glasses, a bottle of opened white wine and a cup of tea. Obviously the tea was hers, and as obviously she chose to enter when Aven’s tale reached the point it had.
She balanced the tray on the low table and poured the wine. Taking her cup, she left the men to their glasses. McSee fetched a chair and placed it beside his. He now sat between Rayne and Averroes.
“What happened next?” Rayne asked.
“I think Averroes should take it from here.”
Rayne studied the floor. “It matters not who tells it.”
“I know, but it’s her story.”
Averroes’ eyes were big and dark as she spoke.
“Ever since I can remember - and I remember only being alone on the streets of Galilan – I have had the medal. It was my guardian and I trusted it more than any person alive … or dead.”
She stared into the mass of silver candles behind Aven.
“On the morning Aven found me it was hidden in my shoe, the chain had broken.” She smiled sadly, a young, unsure woman recalling a difficult childhood. “After coming to Farinwood I found I no longer needed my protector, that I was loved and safe.” She smiled at Aven. “I knew it was a magical device and was petrified Aven would be angry or disappointed.” She shrugged and focused on McSee. “Valarians have trampled upon magic, it’s such a shame.”
McSee nodded. Rayne remained still, his gaze on Aven. The old man returned the stare without expression.
“When I came upon Aven, the device took over. I didn’t have to hide, for Aven is a sorcerer, but habits ingrained by survival are hard to set aside.”
The stress of memory and the tension of being the centre of attention began to tell. She looked helplessly at the old man, who tore his gaze from Rayne to smile at her.
“I will take it from here.”
There was a protracted silence. McSee frowned and fidgeted. Aven seemed deep in thought.
“Say it, old man,” Rayne snapped.
Aven’s head swivelled to him. “When I took it from her it burned a circle into the palm of my hand.”
McSee jumped up, spilling his chair and setting the candles a-flutter. His face lit with inner fire, confusion appearing to vanish. “Is it what I think it is? It knowing only one master … or mistress,” and he glanced at Averroes, but she was withdrawn and silent, “at a given time and if another touches it, it burns.” He faced Rayne. “My lord, do you know what this means?”
“You are babbling,” Rayne said. Rising, he pressed the big man into the chair Averroes righted for him. “Sit, man, and let me get this straight. Let us not make announcements yet.”
McSee looked up at him, uncertain. “Do you know what it is?”
Rayne inclined his head. “I have a fair idea, but wait, all right?”
Rayne murmured, “You will know soon enough.” He looked at Averroes. “What was Aven’s reaction to the burning?”
“He was astounded, as if it were impossible,” Averroes said as she lifted her head. “Then he was excited, a hundred times more than McSee now.”
“Did he tell you?” Rayne queried of Averroes.
“No, he did not,” Aven snapped out. “Address yourself to me, Rayne, and stop frightening her.”
“Forgive me, Averroes,” Rayne murmured, and shifted his gaze to Aven. “Well?”
“I paid a visit to Galilan to check. Only then was I sure.”
“Ah. How astute.” Rayne glanced back at Averroes. “Did he then tell you?”
She rose, inserted a hand into the neck of her gown, and withdrew the device. It lay on her outstretched palm. Her hand was small and the coin dwarfed it, yet it was not that large.
Perfectly circular and of matt gold that did not draw the light of the chamber and did not reflect either, it was covered in glyphs, the symbols of magic. As a piece of jewellery it was worth a fortune and as a tool of magic it was priceless.
A slim golden chain dangled from Averroes’ slender fingers.
McSee dragged his hands through thick red hair, releasing an explosive breath, but dared nothing further. The object frightened him, there in her hand.
Aven had eyes only for Rayne. “It’s real.”
Averroes said, “This is the Maghdim Medaillon.”
“The Supreme Wisdom,” McSee whispered, awed. Missing since Drasso’s demise and here it was … in her hand, there.
Rayne’s lips drew back. “Have I been a puppet all these years? As far as I know the Maghdim is in a vault in Galilan.”
McSee squawked, but was ignored.
“Why have you said nothing, old man?” Rayne’s right hand ran through his fair hair, forehead to neck in agitation, before he growled, “Let us see then.” His left hand moved. Had he known what was to follow - well, perhaps he would still have acted the way he did. Hindsight was not always corrective.
“A copy exists, you know that,” Aven remarked, watching Rayne.
“What, in Taranis’ name, are you doing?” McSee shouted and pushed from his chair, eyes on that gesturing left hand.
Aven snagged McSee’s sleeve.
Motionless, Averroes watched Rayne.
“Wait, McSee,” Aven whispered.
“Wait?” McSee blurted. “He’s making a warding gesture!”
“No, he is not. He is weaving.”
“Weaving?” McSee screeched, paling markedly.
“The Maghdim Enchantment. Now shut up.”
McSee wrenched free, watching that moving hand. The gestures became complex, unlike anything McSee theorized.
Rayne’s right hand clenched in a bloodless fist at his side … and grey eyes flashed in the silvery light. Those eyes caused McSee to shiver.
Averroes left the clasp of the chain undone when she placed the device on her palm, and now it slithered through her fingers, unravelling with metallic whispers. She twitched. McSee thought the sounds otherworldly.
The chain fell to the floor, and silence returned. It was not soothing.
Freed, the golden coin rose from Averroes’ palm.
Aven’s breath whistled out. Rayne’s right hand unclenched, clenched and unclenched again, and then he lifted it palm up. The device was motionless between outstretched hands. Aven’s breath whistled in, and so did McSee’s.
The Medaillon moved, nudging to rest into the hollow of Rayne’s hand.
Averroes twisted to look at Aven. “You did not tell me everything.”
The Medaillon did not burn Rayne.
McSee’s breath wheezed in and out.
Aven said, “This is the Maghdim Medaillon, Rayne. The one in Galilan is the replica fashioned by Ugarth. I cannot say when the switch was made, but Thane travelled long, perhaps he took the original along as protection, or perhaps he protected it by keeping it with him, I do not know. And who can say how it passed from him to Averroes.”
“You liar! The Mantle had it all along!” Spittle flew as McSee gave vent to growing ire. “Last night you judged me! What game are you playing, you hypocrite? I have never put my knowledge into practice and here you are! You weaved an ancient enchantment effortlessly! Curse you …” and McSee grabbed Rayne by the collar, “… you’re the sorcerer here!”
“Let him go,” Aven said.
When McSee ignored him, he forced a temporary paralysis on the man with a flick of one hand. McSee cried out and stumbled to his chair, arms dangling.
Aven heaved, glaring at McSee. “Stay put, hear? We do not need another volatile temper, and yours will set his off. The man has deep wells of anger. Let it be, and learn from this. Many issues will surface to shock us. We better get used to it.”
“He’s a sorcerer,” McSee said. “He lied.”
“Rayne cannot lie,” Aven said. “He didn’t see fit to tell you. And he is not a simple sorcerer.”
“Stop defending him,” McSee hissed. “A weave? That’s no parlour trick!”
“Rayne is First Rank,” Aven said. “And only he can truly command the Maghdim.”