Chapter 3 Scene 1

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 10 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Chapter 3: Preparations

“The Great Desert Conflict was largely caused by flawed expansion policies of the first Combined Council. The earlier consolidation of the productive regions in the Fertile Plains was not achieved without resistance or cost. However, the reward for these primarily diplomatic actions justified the losses incurred. In contrast, the Great Desert Conflict was an entirely military action incited by unfettered expansion policies inappropriate to the situation. Diplomatic solutions ultimately prevailed, but only after the failure of several military solutions made the blood cost undeniable.”

Consolidated Histories of the Doormaker Council

The Council Barge nudged gently into the small berth at the trade outpost outside Edgeways. Simon, Bernard, and Gunther stood on the upper deck as the crew made the ship fast. Howard, the Barge’s Captain and resident water mage joined them at the rail, observing as his crew prepared the handful of Guildsmen on the lower deck to disembark.

Simon observed the new arrival sidelong. A light sheen of perspiration beaded his forehead. But he showed no other signs of the energy he must have spent moving the Barge up the canal the many leagues from Doormaker Citadel. Simon could not help but be impressed.

If they had traveled by one of the Major Canals like most of the trade traffic in the Fertile Plains, they could have simply ridden the constantly circulating currents maintained by the Greater Council Water Mages. But on the infrequently traveled Minor Canals, each ship carried its own water mage if they could afford to, or a crew of oarsmen if they couldn’t. Common Water Mages like Howard often hired out for such contracts when they were young and had energy to spare.

Howard had been doing it for many seasonturns, and now was Captain of one of the Council Barges. He had a small crew of oarsmen to augment his own efforts, but his skill was such that he used them only sparingly. He had an uncanny knack for augmenting natural water currents with his gift, saving energy where inexperienced mater mages would waste it by forging their own currents through the Minor Canals. His talent would bear consideration if the Major Canal situation became desperate, Simon thought to himself.

“End of the line gents. The Council gear will be unloaded with the rest of the Guild wagon train.”

Bernard nodded amiably to Howard. “As always, a pleasure riding with you Captain. Will you be waiting here in Edgeways for our return or moving on?”

Howard shook his head. “No, I’ll be taking the crew back down Citadel way. We may take on a passenger or two here. There’s also a shipment of grain we’re scheduled to pick up on our way back.”

Howard paused, and then shook his head before continuing. “Nah, Council will send some ship here when you come back out, but I’m not sure if it will be us. How long will the panel be out, do you reckon?”

Bernard looked a silent query at Simon, who replied after a pause, “The Guilds will want to be back before the winter storms arrive in five or six quints.” He did not add that the three mages might return earlier or later depending on what they found.

Howard nodded briefly, perhaps knowing when not to press for more details. “Well, mayhap I’ll see you on your way back Citadel side. Open Doors to you.”

“And to you, old friend,” replied Bernard. Howard nodded once more then retreated to the lower deck and his Captain’s quarters for a much needed rest.

“They’re unloading your gear now Gunther.” Bernard pointed with his bearded chin. The crew was hoisting three sturdy crates none too gently onto the dock with a crane and tackle. They bore the Greater Council Seal and were marked fragile.

“I should go make sure the Drones don’t get damaged in handling.” Gunther nodded to the two older Mages and scrambled off to the lower deck.

“How is this going to work? I don’t suppose the Desert Tribes or the Guardian Villagers will have aptitude screening centers like we’ve built in the towns of the Fertile Plains, will they?” Bernard looked wryly at Simon.

“No. I don’t suppose they will. Guardian Village is remote, but tightly knit. If we set up a tent at their Harvest Bazaar word will quickly spread. Curiosity will draw the most likely apprentices to us I think. The Desert Tribes, on the other hand, are a fractured collection of nomads more than a unified nation. They won’t know we are coming. Even if they do, we can’t expect for them to gather conveniently in one place for us to administer the tests.”

Bernard snorted humorously. “I see the Greater Council prepared you to expect success!”

“No. They informed me in no uncertain terms that it would not be easy. But they also assured me that you could find a way, where others would see only obstacles.”

“Typical! Find a way my mirror!” Bernard fumed momentarily, then tucked his hands into his sleeves and turned toward the ladder to the lower deck.

He paused at the top rung and tossed a last comment over his shoulder. “Coming Simon? I suppose I’d best go and take a look at these ‘obstacles’ I’m expected to find a way beyond!” With a head shake to the skies, he disappeared down the rungs.

An uncharacteristic flash of mirth lit Simon’s normally reserved countenance. Then, as if coming to a sudden decision, he gave the subtlest of nods and followed after his associate.

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