Chapter 1, Scene 3

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 4 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Far to the southeast, a Council barge was carried smoothly up a Minor Canal from Door Maker Citadel. Simon watched the cultivated fields of the south eastern Fertile Plains roll past, enjoying the easy travel for as long as he could. On the horizon to the west, the stark plains of the Great Desert loomed steadily closer. Sadly, the canal terminated at Edgeways. It was little more than a trade outpost for their nomadic tribes and as far into the heart of their desert as they would allow Council progress to extend.

“A hunting we will go, eh Simon?” Bernard climbed up onto the deck, wiping his beard with one sleeve and holding the half-eaten remains of a juicy peach in his other hand.

Simon smothered his irritation and turned from his contemplation of the horizon. “I’m not sure I know what you mean.” He artfully raised an eyebrow, waiting patiently for the explanation. He reminded himself that Bernard was an air mage after all, and they were known to be a little flighty.

“Simple deduction really. Every seasonturn the Councils and Guilds send out a team of aptitude testers.” Bernard paused to take a bite of his peach and let Simon consider his words. Simon was, after all an earth mage, and they were known to be a bit slow.

“In all my seasons with the Council, they’ve never sent more than one panel out at a time. And they’ve never sent a delegation to the desert tribes or the Barrier Mountains before. You remember anything like that?” Bernard asked the last question with an artfully raised eyebrow of his own, just to show that the earth mage wasn’t the only one who could do it. Then he offered the last few bites of his peach as a peace offering.

“No, I don’t remember a delegation like ours before. What is your point?” Simon took the proffered peach and finished it in a single bite.

“No point really. Just wondering if anyone on your Council told you why we’re searching the hinterlands now in addition to the fertile plains.” Bernard wiped his beard again with his sleeve before turning to rest both hands on the barge railing.

Simon tossed the peach pit over the side and joined Bernard at the rail, staring out toward the approaching desert with a sigh. “According to the Greater Council Order, the Guilds are interested in extending opportunity to those in underprivileged rural communities like Guardian Village.” He snorted. “Extending opportunity my mirror! More likely they scent a new source of apprentice fees!”

Bernard nodded, with a mirthless chuckle. “The Common Council said something similar, adding that while we’re out there we should screen for Door Maker affinity within the mystic desert nomads. The Mage Academy rolls must be very low indeed for them to consider opening their doors like this.”

Simon looked grave. “They are. Fewer every year I’m told, and the ones that do come are weaker. Strong water mages are getting hard to come by. There’s been talk that Common Council Water Mages may eventually have to help keep the Major Canal flows running.”

The color drained from Bernard’s face. “But the constant energy drain from one not of the Scion’s line…” He stared in dumbfound horror at Simon.

Simon raised his hands to forestall objections. “It would kill all but the strongest of them within a year. I know. Common Water Mages would have to take such work in shifts in order to last any reasonable length of time. It’s just talk right now. It is not necessary yet, and with luck never will be. Times are not that bad. Yet.”

Bernard was shaken by the thought. In a few years time Common Water Mages might be draining all of their remaining life force to keep water circulating in the Major Canals that linked the cities of the Fertile Plains. The last time a Common Mage made such a sacrifice had been in the time of the Scion, when the Council was young and the costs of their art were not yet understood. He shook his head, hoping it would never come to that.

Simon dropped his hands back to the railing and sighed. “They have authorized Air Drones for fast communication with the Citadel.”

Simon’s comment woke Bernard from his reverie. “A noteworthy decision, that one. Why do they want to hear about our findings so quickly that they are willing to commit air mages just to carry messages? There can’t be more than a score of air mages alive who are capable of sending Drones into the Great Desert. And to the Barriers beyond! Why there couldn’t be more than a handful. I know it would be beyond my reach. I can only think of one such in the Common Council.”

“Yes, Alessandria could do it, but to expend her life energy on such a task would be wasteful. There are three, or possibly four that I would think capable of it in the Greater Council without such risk.”

Comprehension dawned in Bernard’s craggy face. “I had wondered why young Gunther had joined our party at the Citadel. I take it he is to be our sender?”

Simon nodded once. “You have the right of it. Charlotte accompanies the other team. The High Mage will remain at the Citadel of course, so they will have their own sender always available.”

“The Councils must suspect we will find something more than mage apprentices. What aren’t they telling us Simon?”

“There ways are as inscrutable to me as they are to you.” Simon shrugged his shoulders as he gazed into the distance.

“They fear something we will not be equipped to handle. Or something they will need time to prepare for before we return to the Citadel. But why the subterfuge?” Bernard’s eyebrows drew down as he considered the situation. Suddenly, his head drew up in surprise. “Of course! Why didn’t I realize it sooner?”

Simon could not conceal his curiosity. “Realize what?”

Bernard nodded his head as he presented his carefully deduced conclusions. “The Councils are ever so sly. These new fanatics from the Tribe of the Prophets have them scared. But they don’t want to start a panic. Most people will think this is an aptitude screening team just like any other seasonturn. But they are looking for someone specific, someone critical. They have sent us in search of the Prophet’s Child!”

This time the blood drained from Simon’s face. He wanted to deny it as a fool’s errand even as he feared that Bernard was correct. He looked to the bleak horizon where the Great Desert lay in wait at the feet of the Barrier Mountains and remote Guardian Village.

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