Chapter 10 Scene 3

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 36 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

They split the caravan at the Star Seekers’ winter Gathering. The argument had gone long into the night, but Simon had known how it must end.

In exchange for the chance to move on to Guardian Village, the Guildmasters had agreed to abide the arbitration of the Council on the allocation of any apprentices Simon found at the Gathering of the Prophets. Small risk for them, since none believed the Doormakers would find anything but their own deaths in the high desert. The Guildmasters would take the northward Migration toward Guardian Village.

But that was not the worst of it. Only a Doormaker could administer the aptitude tests. Gunther was too inexperienced to bear such a heavy burden alone. The Guildmasters would walk over him if he showed a moment’s weakness, and the Council could not afford to lose that much control. Simon would also need Gunther with him to send a drone with his report on Ten Falling Stones to the Council. Assuming either of them survived to find it.

The irony was that Jillian had a strong enough elemental affinity to administer the tests, if only she had been trained to do it. Simon was sure of that much. But of course she had not been trained as a Mage. And so Bernard had to accompany the troublesome Guildmasters on their journey, leaving Simon and Gunther to brave the dangers of the high desert.

The test gear was split up between the two wagons, and Gunther left one of the message drones with the senior air mage. Simon keenly felt the time escaping them, so they departed westward with the rising sun still at their backs. Only Bernard had attended their departure. He showed Simon a smile that looked more like a grimace.

“Now I go on alone I suppose. Oh, unless you count the five contentious Guildmasters I have to herd toward a remote mountain village and keep them from killing themselves, me or any innocent bystanders. You at least have Gunther to help you face the deep desert and all its mysteries. I’m not sure which is a worse fate.”

Simon put on a sunny smile that he felt not at all.

“Oh, it’s just a stroll across the desert for us. Across a territory none have ever survived, to find a place none has ever mapped, held by an enemy none have ever defeated. Child’s play, really.”

Bernard chuckled ruefully.

“Well, seen through that door…”

The two men stood for a moment, gazing out across the sands to the west. The lizard team stirred restlessly, waiting for the commands that would drive them forward onto the westward Migration. Simon turned toward Bernard, for what he feared would be the last time.

“Even if we find the Gathering, we may be unable to get a drone all the way to the Citadel. Can Gunther send a message to you as well?”

Bernard pursed his lips, but then shook his head.

“He won’t be able to locate us, I’m afraid. He could send it to Guardian Village perhaps.”

Simon shook his head in frustration.

“Perhaps… but we might lose the drone and its message both if we attempt that. It’s never easy is it?”

Bernard smiled sadly.

“If the Councils had expected easy, would they have sent us?”

“No. Well old friend, if we return from the high desert alive, we will wait for you at Edgeways.”

Bernard frowned, about to say something, but stopping short. He spoke the next statement just a bit louder than necessary.

“And if I manage not to kill all of the Guildmasters myself by the time we get back to Edgeways, may the Scion be praised.”

“I’ll try not to take that personally, Magus Bernard.”

Simon smiled as Jillian stepped out of the long shadow the wagons cast toward the east. He had felt the light tread of her feet through the sand as she approached. Bernard had evidently detected her as well. Simon briefly wondered if he had used some technique known only air mages for that trick.

Bernard turned in mock surprise to the Master Crafter.

“Why Jillian, you shouldn’t sneak up on an old man like that! Having you along to keep the other Guildmasters in check might just make this journey bearable.”

The Guildmaster grinned. Simon was pleased to see some real warmth in her expression. Perhaps the two of them could make a successful mission out of what the Council considered a mere diversion.

“Bernard, you are a flatterer and an old fraud!”

Bernard grumbled.

“I’ll need to be in the days ahead, now won’t I? Good day, Guildmaster. I have some planning to attend to Simon. May the Scion guide your journey home.”

Bernard looked Simon in the eye and gave him a slow, single nod. Simon returned the gesture, swallowing the lump in his throat. Then the air mage turned and walked back toward the waking Gathering, leaving Simon and Jillian to make their own goodbyes.

Jillian stood silently. For once Simon was determined to outwait her. She let the moment stretch out, then swallowed as she looked away toward the west.

“The other Guildmasters think you have been sent to your death. Are they right?”

Simon hesitated, not trusting himself to answer at first.

“Perhaps. Even I don’t know the inner thoughts of the High Mage. But I trust his wisdom. I do what I must.”

Jillian nodded.

“He would be a fool to risk someone of your talents without cause. The members of the High Council are many things, but they are not fools.”

Simon smiled ruefully.

“No.”

Jillian met his eyes again. Held them with her gaze in fact.

“If I requested to accompany you as a Guild representative, could you deny me?”

Coils of ice gripped Simon’s gut at her suggestion.

“As a representative of the Doormaker Council, I could not forbid it.”

“But?”

Simon knew he must answer her unspoken question.

“But on my own behalf, I would beg you not to make this request.”

“On your own behalf? Do your masters allow you to speak on your own behalf now Simon?”

She continued to challenge him with her stare, and Simon could not look away.

“No one has ever returned from the place we seek Jillian. Taking Gunther there is a dark enough weight on my conscience. Don’t ask me to doom you as well. Please.”

“They use you cruelly, and you allow it. Why?”

“Perhaps I have seen the alternatives, and they are worse.”

Jillian’s eyes were bright with unshed tears. She shook her head as if to clear it. Then she looked again out over the haze distorted dunes to the west.

“May your Scion watch over your journey Simon. I fear no one else will.”

As she turned away, Simon heard her whisper.

“I would have been a very poor Doormaker.”

Simon watched her go, murmuring to himself when she was out of earshot.

“No, Jillian. You would have been one of the very best.”

The handler misheard the comment, thinking Simon had addressed him.

“Yes Magus. We are ready to head into the west.”

Simon climbed up onto the bench next to the old tribesman. Gunther rode with the gear in the back of the wagon, constantly checking that it was strapped into place.

“Onward then. Tell me about our destination as we travel.”

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