“Magician, can you see for us?”
Mara had sought out her father’s court magician, Peter Scholar. Ambris went with her. They had both been invited to witness Andemyon’s adoption ceremony that evening in the Duke’s apartments, but Mara thought that this was more important.
Peter was startled when the Duke’s children entered the little library on the top floor of the Hall of Record, where generations of court magicians had formed their own collection. This was his favorite private place in all the palace, but he immediately set down his pipe and the book he’d chosen for his evening’s study, and made them welcome as if he received guests in his own chambers.
He was a young man, slight, with a sandy beard and wispy fair hair that he grew long but bound back in an attempt to keep it from his eyes. English by birth, educated at the College of Magic at Uittenberg, he wore the voluminous moss-green robes of a university master, which in fact he was.
“I am no wizard, My Prince, but I can scry as well as any,” Peter responded to Mara’s request. “All human creatures possess a little of the prescient power. You may have heard tales yourself: one among the magicless suddenly feels overwhelming danger for no perceivable reason as he boards a ship. He refuses to sail—and the ship sinks. Another knows the tally of the next toss of dice, or senses that a loved one has died before the news arrives.”
“But you possess more than the occasional accident of extrasensory knowledge,” said Ambris.
Peter nodded. “It is so, My Lord. Mental magicians such as I am possess this ability more consistently than the average mortal. For the magicless, the incidents I have described are remarkable. For the mental magician, they occur daily.”
“Yet you are not considered a true magician by the ranks of wizardry.”
“No, I’m not,” Peter confirmed modestly.
“What’s the difference?” Mara wanted to know.
“You have acquaintance with wizards, My Prince. You see what they may do.” He bowed slightly to Ambris. “The Lady Laurel is a magician of great power and might be a wizard of the highest rank if she chose. Witness her tricks for the amusement of this court—the fairylights, the sparkling orb balanced upon her fingertips. These are mild manifestations of the power she commands. She is a master of light. She casts spells. She has command of the material world.”
“And you do not.”
“My talents are in the psychical realm, My Prince. I command no earth, no fire, no wind nor water, only the essence of the mind. I may know the thoughts of those about me if they do not guard themselves, and I may read something of the character and actions of another if I touch their personal possessions. And, yes, I may glimpse the future, though you must understand that magicians do not value this talent highly.”
“Why not?” Mara would have thought the ability to foresee the future to be extremely useful.
“It is an inexact ability beyond our command to refine. Little may be gained from what we see. Visions are vague. They may carry no import. Or, if they do, their significance is not perceived until after the fact. I can project your fate for you, My Prince, but an astrologer will do the same and may be as accurate.”
“No, I want you. We trust the crafts of magic more than the calculations of fortune-tellers.” Mara glanced back at her brother for confirmation. “I don’t need you to cast my horoscope, Peter. Simply see. Will you?”
“As you wish, My Prince, My Lord Ambris.”
At carnivals, seers used such devices as cards and crystal balls, chants and smoky incense to help them divine the future, but Ambris and Mara were sophisticated enough to know that this was simply a show for the ignorant and superstitious. They didn’t require external signs of the magician’s effort to believe that he worked his craft.
Peter bowed his head and long fingers gently stroked his brow. His pale blue eyes gazed intensely at an undefined spot between himself and the eager Prince, then his sight grew unfocused. Mara felt an electric tingle in the air and she turned to Ambris, smiling in her excitement.
“Peter, what do you see?”
The magician didn’t answer immediately. After a minute or so, he whispered, “A sword, its hilt damaged. The missing gem. The broken sword.” Then, in a more clear voice, he went on: “The city burns. Not Pendaunzel. Tall towers. A fortress. The tower falls. The roof is in flames. The tower crashes through the roof. A broken wall. People push through the gaps.”
“Many cities have walls about them and tall towers,” Mara said. “Is it a Spanish city or Norman?”
“All is confusion. Turmoil.” He paused. “There is a knight, a woman. Order of St. Mykhael. You, My Prince? No. Her shield is dark with mud, perhaps blood. Her device—what is it? Gold. The harp? Oh, `tis Prince Katheryne! She leads the crowd. She shouts, but I cannot hear her words. Her sword is upraised.” Abruptly, Peter looked up. “It is gone. I see nothing more.”
“What may we learn from this vision?” asked Ambris.
“Kat will be in battle,” answered Mara promptly.
“Yes, but is it victory or defeat?” Ambris said. “Is the city ours or theirs? Does Kat defend the ruined wall or has she brought about its fall?” He looked to Peter.
“My Lord, I cannot say.”
“If this vision is true…”
“It is. All visions reveal truly what will come.”
“Where am I in this vision?” Mara wondered suddenly. “Kat is my lieutenant. Surely she would be at my side in battle.”
“You were not there, My Prince.” Peter’s reply was apologetic. “I didn’t see you.”
“Does that mean I am dead?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps. Perhaps not. Your absence may mean nothing. A vision, even so true, may reveal little of importance. Shall I go on?”
Ambris was willing to have the session end here, but his sister said, “Please, Peter, continue.”
Peter resumed his seeing. “I see a dark-haired maid, not sixteen,” he announced after a moment.
“I have a niece not sixteen,” said Mara. “Mathilde.”
“She is in commoner’s garb.”
“Who is she then? Of what importance will she be to me? Is she my squire?”
“You will meet her one day. Ah, she is gone now!”
Ambris laughed softly. “I begin to see the difficult nature of this seeing. The vision reveals what will be, yet we do not understand what it is we are shown.”
The magician was silent for a long while. The Duke’s children sat patiently, watching as Peter gazed toward events in the years ahead, until Mara could bear to wait no longer.
“Is there more?” she asked.
“I see a great celebration,” Peter replied. “Here, in the Palace. In the old hall. It is a blaze of lights. People are cheering.”
“Victory!” cried Mara.
“I see men in the Emperor’s livery, courtiers I do not recognize. Fair-complected men, Europeans.”
“Kharles’ men? But what are they doing at Pendaunzel? Oh, I know, Peter, you cannot say. But you’ve told me enough. There will be a war, and we shall win. Kat leads a triumphant assault upon a Spanish city. Our cousin the Emperor sends troops to our aid, and we have victory at last!”
“There is little to indicate that any of this tale you tell is true,” Ambris reminded her gently. “The images Magician Peter has seen may reveal another fate entirely.”
But Mara wouldn’t surrender her own interpretation. “You must agree that there will be battles ahead and a celebration?”
“Yes, battles,” Ambris agreed. “But the celebration is apparently for Kharles. Peter hasn’t seen you nor me, nor Father in his visions.” The magician nodded confirmation.
“That doesn’t mean we aren’t there.”
“True, but you mustn’t allow your imagination to make more of the facts than may rightly be interpreted. You have your answer, Mara. War. This summer. Next summer. Ten years hence. Seek no more than that.” Ambris rose from his seat. “Gramercies, Magician, for your services. I shall intrude on your studies no longer.”
Peter smiled. “`Tis no intrusion, My Lord. I’m pleased to be of service to you both, even in so small a thing.”
The Duke’s son and daughter left the Hall of Record together, each lost in private thoughts. Mara was exultant, planning her first assaults. Ambris was more somber.
“Why do you suppose Laurel isn’t the wizard she ought to be?” he asked as they crossed the dark lawns toward the Manor.
“You’d know that better than I,” Mara answered. “I thought she left her magic to marry.”
“I never asked her to. I imagined– I wondered how it would be to wed a wizard of power. Such a woman, so strange and dangerous. She ought to have been one of the great, a rival to her uncle. Yet she left it.”
“Kat says she has the look of the haunted.”
Ambris laughed softly. “Kat and her fancies. `Tis the Irish in her—leprechauns and banshees. Yet she may see something we don’t. Laurel is not as she was when I met her. The girl I met was bold and bright with her magic. Like lightning. She was mysterious too—in New York on some sort of magician’s errand she wouldn’t speak of.”
“They never will speak.”
“There are such things out there beyond mortal understanding,” Ambris said thoughtfully, gazing up at the night sky through the trees. “Perhaps it’s best if we do not know too much. She has changed, Mara. On the day she came to me, she was so badly frightened. What could shake a brave woman down to her soul? Nothing on this earth. She is not the maiden I knew. If she were, she would never have consented to marry me. Oh, I knew that she came to me because she was frightened. I knew that it was not in her best interests to shelter her. I should’ve insisted she return to Wizardes Cliff—but of course I didn’t. How could I? When all you desire is miraculously offered you, you cannot think of the right and wrong in taking it. A man in love is not sensible. I wanted to believe that she stayed here because of me.”
Mara was surprised by this sudden confidence. Until this moment, she had assumed her brother and Laurel were perfectly happy in their marriage. Their match was so dramatic that it spoke of high romance. It disturbed her to think that it wasn’t so.
She slipped an arm about his waist. Ambris briefly rested his cheek against her temple.
“Are there difficulties?” she asked.
“No,” he said. “But I cannot help wondering…. You are her friend, Mara. Do you think she is happy here? Does she regret?”
“She’s never spoken a word of complaint to me,” Mara answered honestly. “She wouldn’t abuse you to your own sister even if she did feel discontented. We hardly speak of such things. I would guess that she loves you, and she loves Tomyas dearly. If she regrets, she keeps it to herself.”
He sighed. “Magicians keep their secrets.”
They went into the Manor.