Tales of Chance the Mage

Book One: From Here

Chapter 11 - South March

The sword smith stood before his furnace; he was holding very still. Chance was beside him and waited patiently. He did not know if this was a ritual or perhaps was a kind of preparation before attempting something intricate.

The smith thoughts about Chance were only partly about this mage's heretic status, plus a declared outlaw. He too lived outcast by the Schools' ruling but worked his trade nonetheless. Thus, Waun was relaxing his muscles and his mind.

He seemed to be ready and indicated bellows saying: "High Mage. I need you to manage air flow to the fire."

He pointed to where Chance was to be then added coal to the base fire already burning. The bellows were not difficult to operate; however, Chance was unsure how much to pump. Waun was exact about that saying he would say when and how strongly.

After standing trance-like for a while longer, Waun abruptly walked over to bins containing ores. He was hesitant picking out the best ones for this task. The spell he was shown in the amber did not specify particular ores.

Waun knew of no one who ever made a sword from five ores before. He never tried to inject magic spells into an ore until now. Chance saw the smith's uncertainty and went to stand beside him; he removed the Opal from his pocket and held it up: "Can you help?"

The glow of color in Chance's palm intimidated Waun who stood aside as the globe drifted toward the bins. It floated just above several and then spoke: "Focus should be in this one. Nimbus in the one beside it."

Waun went to those bins and removed the amount of ore he would need. He waited for the Opal to go on. It drifted above two more but stopped at a third. Speaking again, it said this ore was for a spell called Thicken.

At another, it hovered longer over the contents, then pronounced the ore to have two phases. The smith went to where the stone drifted and sorted through the bin. He held up different samples, and the Opal chose from among them, explaining for Waun that Explode has two manifestations.

He was sure he did not know what that meant but did not ask. The ores were selected, and now Waun began the process of smelting, time for his magic and experience.

Chance was ready at the bellows and followed instructions as closely as he could. He discovered there was work in smithing, even for someone who only pumped air.

The action was simple, at first. Gradually as Chance continued the up and down movement, he began to feel it in his muscles.

Chance did not know if a person could speak to a smith when he was working or if that was not correct behavior. He decided to find out, as much to distract himself from the bellows as to know more about the smith. He asked how Waun came to smithing.

Waun glanced at him and smiled. He knew that the High Mage must know he was not Guild. A piece of the ore looked odd; Waun held it up so that it was caught in fire light: "I learned the nature of metals from my father and grandfather. I learned to make swords from my mother and grandmother. And I have some magic."

Waun looked frankly at Chance, saying what they both knew: "That is not a training the Guild approves of; thus, I am not eligible to promote myself as a Swordsmith here. I make swords anyway - as do my children."

Chance laughed a little and said ruefully: "I think you have been fortunate - to learn as you did. I was put to memorizing spells - in cold schools - and was constantly acclaimed. The opposite of being naturally mentored."

They continued the work companionably through the remainder of the day. Chance watched Waun fold the five ores into one bar and then cool the metal. He tamped down the furnace when told to and then went to where Waun was holding the bar over an anvil.

The smith first studied the lines of ore at their most obvious join. He began to beat the metal; he did that rhythmically and regularly turned the bar side to side as he struck. Neither man noted the passing of the day.

A youth came in with candles as light faded. He also checked the furnace before leaving. Waun continued with what now looked like a sword.

It was still raw, still rough, the blade unfinished, but plainly it was the sword Chance wanted. The Opal remained by Chance's shoulder throughout. It stayed on one side, did not speak and steadily fed magic into the ores the smith worked.

Waun paused when the youth returned with food for them. He told Chance to eat first then he would eat. He wanted the working to continue; Chance was startled to realize Waun wanted him to hold the sword and strike it. He ate then went to stand in the smith's place.

The feel of the tongs was awkward and needed a firm grip to hold the metal rod. The hammer was heavy but finely balanced; its best use was with a swing that brought weight against the metal but did not pound.

Chance struck firmly and, with Waun's instructions spoken between mouthfuls, adjusted the stroke as told. He could sense Opal's magic in the sword; a feeling for the weapon began in his hands and connected deeply in his mind.

The working changed now to finishing. Waun scrapped, smoothed and polished while Chance sat at the table. Opal said it was done, and he replaced it in his pocket. He thanked it for helping and was a little amused to hear 'her' voice say sweetly: "You are welcome."

It was late when Waun attached the hilt. He hefted the sword a few times then handed it to Chance, who could sense the magic inside and was eager to hold it. Wuan too was amazed by the sword and watched as Chance took it from him.

Waun was tired but very proud of his work. He made something one-of-a-kind. He judged his work as Chance felt the sword's weight, how it fit his hand. The blade moved as if responding to the mage's thoughts.

The polished metal shone its hardness and strength. Its straightness attested to flexibility and balance. The guard was leather, a matte black, and contrasted with the brightness of the whole sword. Chance flicked it side to side, he swung it.

After that he stood quietly, feeling the sword in his hand then turned toward Waun. His face was flush; he held the weapon out in front of him, point up: "Thank you for this; it is magnificent. What you have made is a true magic sword. It feels like no other could possibly - no words can describe how it suits my hand."

Waun smiled at him. Normally, he was a modest man but now became poetic: "Foremost, befriend this weapon. Explore this sword's - spirit. Match yours to its essence - be of one substance."

Chance wanted to pay Waun but was refused. The swordsmith deferred and replied: "I made the Five Magics Sword - with help from your Opal and amber. That experience is payment in full. Use your sword to your benefit - and ours if it pleases you - High Mage of Linnet."

Waun invited Chance to stay that night, a guest of the smith, and he accepted. The two sat talking into the late hours before saying goodnight. Chance slept in a corner of the smithy, warmed by heat from the furnace.

Even here, he warded the house with spells before letting himself sleep. He rested deeply and the next morning came sooner than he wanted. However, this day he could begin to know his sword, and he was keen.

* * *

Chance left the village after breakfast and walked back toward Onne. He missed no opportunity to practise with his sword. His concentration was such that he was entering Onne when he became aware again of where he was.

He went directly to a leather shop and bought a proper sheath for his new weapon. After settling, he headed for the Mark, his sword swinging with his step as he went. He strode with no attempt to hide his happiness.

At the inn, he found it was busy with men wearing the embroidered coats of messengers. Xsel was in the middle of it all but hailed Chance's return. He glanced at the weapon the High Mage now wore as did all others nearby.

Chance was casual but proud. He sat a moment on the stool that only he used and drank tea. The sword pushed out from under his coat but only the severe hilt was visible.

Xsel figured Chance did something clever and would tell him soon enough. That was all over the High Mage's face. There was no time when they could talk, so Chance finished his tea and went to his room to have a short nap.

He woke again in the late afternoon and went downstairs. Only a few people were in the main room then, and they were busy at a table. As Chance passed them, he overheard talk of routes and loads.

Chance hoped business from messengers compensated the inn for fewer customers because of him. He went to the bar where Xsel was waiting impatiently. The innkeeper poured a cider for Chance and said: "Show me what you are wearing on your hip - this is new?"

With deliberation, Chance drew the sword and laid it on the bar. Xsel whistled his admiration saying he never even heard of anything like it. He asked if Waun made the sword, and Chance nodded. There was no use speaking of Opal's part; it would not matter to Xsel.

Xsel asked if he might lift it and was told he may. With care, he put his hand on the hilt and raised the sword. He commented it was finely balanced and then respectfully handed it back.

Chance re-sheathed the sword and drank tea with contentment. When Xsel left to attend to new customers, he let his mind wander and thought about South March. After he finished the cider, he went to the open space by the stable and practised Sojo, especially postures for sword.

* * *

The comings and goings at the stable did not distract him. Actually, he preferred to exercise surrounded by noise and distractions; it was an approximation of battle situations, except no one was trying to kill anyone.

Svern lectured often on how it was important to be aware of side happenings but not be turned to them. Chance was slapped when his focus wavered during training.

Men arrived while he was there, bringing with them a string of horses. Chance overheard and learned the inn was adding extra horses, because messengers regularly hired in one place and dropped off in another.

These horses were for the South March run as well as the new route to Linnet. Chance ignored men and horses and summoned Focus as the noise grew louder.

He completed the forms about the time the horses were being moved into stalls. He looked over at the group doing that and was jolted to recognize one, a slave. He could not be sure so went over to the stable doors and entered.

Sure enough. The slave pulling horses into stalls was Alsen, the carry-all boy; here stood the person Chance entrusted Rixt's safety to.

Alsen knew it was Chance watching him and became very nervous. The horses sensed that and started to stomp in agitation. He averted his face and hoped the High Mage did not recognize him, but held little hope of that.

When the horses were finally calmed, he walked over to where Chance stood but said nothing. Alsen stopped a short way from Chance and waited to hear how he was going to die.

Chance was leaning against a post, his arms crossed over his chest. His expression was flat, and he spoke first: "Tell me why I found Rixt alone, with no one to protect her."

Alsen raised his head; the slave collar shone dully around his neck. He looked directly at Chance saying: "I took her money, drank half of it, bought a girl with the other half, and woke up on the street with nothing left."

The expression on Chance's face showed no change. He continued to look directly at Alsen and waited to hear the rest.

The youth was resigned but did not show shame nor fear. He went on in a steady voice: "I stole, got into a knife fight, killed a man and was sold for blood fee. I was traded to Flas then here. The innkeeper wanted a slave who knew horses. I do - the one thing I have skill at."

Chance reached out and took hold of Alsen's collar. With minute bits of Explode, he broke it apart and took it off Alsen. He said: "You live because she came to no harm after you left her. Truth has freed you."

He walked away from Alsen who stood stunned by Chance's action; however, the young man did not trust his luck. He turned and entered the stable to resume work he was assigned to do. Chance walked away, back to the inn.

He entered the main room and crossed to the bar, setting the collar on it. Xsel stopped what he was doing and came over to where Chance stood.

Chance was not especially friendly, and Xsel could not think what caused the High Mage to be so cold and why was a broken slave collar on his bar. Chance asked how much was the price of the new stable slave.

Hearing the amount, Chance pulled coins from his pocket and placed them on the bar beside the collar. He asked for tea by the hearth with no one at it and said that the boy was free but worked for the inn, at Xsel's pleasure.

He added that was to be agreed between Xsel and Alsen; it was not his business. Xsel nodded and replied he would send tea in a moment. Chance thanked him, still stuck in being overly polite, and walked over to the hearth.

He moved a chair closer to the fire before sitting comfortably, then magically pulled a table near. When tea arrived, he placed the amber openly on the table and began to read from it.

His mind ran through thoughts about Alsen. He concluded that the lad was good with horses, and that was all and enough about him.

There was no one standing near so Chance spoke to the amber. He was interested in spells used against fortifications and asked the library to show him what related to walls.

He drank his tea and waited while the amber searched through its catalog. At last, several spells began to scroll across the face of the amber. Chance read as an idea formed.

Xsel watched with an apprehension that the High Mage would take his gold back and walk away - because Xsel bought a slave. That seemed too crazy to be what set the man off. He walked over to where Chance was sitting and stood politely until the mage looked up at him.

Carefully, Xsel asked if he offended somehow. Chance shook his head no but added that it was true he disliked slavery, no matter the form it took. He fully knew it was traditional, ritualized and very widespread in the Schools' lands.

That said, Chance sat back and looked directly at Xsel. He stated: "I have followed custom and bought him as is my right as a High Mage. I own him and I free him. You employ him, a freed man, or not as you please."

Confused more than when he began, Xsel pulled over a chair and put it at the table. He sat heavily, sighing as he did so, and said he wished to be clear on this.

He explained he needed a man for the stable and horses. Hiring was beyond their means because a regular outflow affected business profit, already slim. A slave was an everyday transaction and filled a need that came up unexpectedly. It was not personal, said Xsel.

Chance disagreed. He put it plainly; his words carried no soft edges: "Slavery may be common, it may be justified by Schools' law and Guild commerce. I do not care about either. I see a human being, one I know, collared like a kind of domesticated animal and cannot walk away."

Xsel was not feeling like bowing or simply going along with that idealism. He asked if Chance planned to close the slave market in Onne. Was Chance about to declare all slaves free.

Xsel was twice Chance's age and was impatient with the others naivete; he said next: "Once you rule as much as you can hold, you may make any new laws you wish. Until then, I advise you not to defy the ones in place."

In irritation, he observed that Chance better raise a big army in order to hold off all of civilization, which is what customs, Schools and Guilds stand for in everyone's mind.

"Apparently not in our friend Chance's mind," he finished. Chance smiled at Xsel. The man called him a friend, even if while angry.

He leaned in and said to soothe the other: "I plan no kingdom, no hierarchy with me alone at the top. No abolishments. No directives. But I shall stake out and hold, what I am able and what effects me. Xsel my friend, there is nowhere else I can go."

Xsel realized this young, inexperienced man with his foreign face called him his friend. Ruby felt the same hope-filled fondness for Chance as he did. He shrugged and remarked that such talk comes from spatting about a lad, a free man, who worked in the inn's stable.

He stood and replaced the chair where it came from. As he returned to the bar, he said over his shoulder that the inn does not mistreat its staff, free or no.

Chance smiled at him more warmly now and said he knew that, why he stayed here. He went back to reading spells as the day moved lazily on.

* * *

By the time dinner was announced, he was close to the makings of a plan for South March. He ate with Xsel and Ruby at the owner's table and listened to Ruby relate the gossip from round the fountain in the square. She was amusing telling versions of Chance's haughty performance for the Schools mages at the Enclosed quarter.

Toward the end of the meal, Chance said he would be gone most of the next two days and could Ruby put together food for that time.

Ruby assured him she would have such ready whenever he wished to go out. He thanked her then excused himself to go to his room. He wanted to go over his plan in detail and needed both the amber and Opal out for that.

The following day was rainy. Chilly drizzles soaked everything and filled puddles in the square. Chance thought it a good day to be on the road. Traffic would be light as most would wait for the sky to clear before going back to their business.

He left after breakfast and walked out the north gate, under its green-painted arch, and continued along a road in the direction of South March.

The rain bounced off his Nimbus spell, and he lifted slightly higher to keep his boots from the road's worst muck. About half way, he passed the place where he routed a patrol from the army garrison. The countryside was open here; farmed land bare of crops lay in all directions.

As he sped along the road, Chance cast Seeker spells regularly, which showed no one else out but him. At midday, the sky was showing blue and Chance was very near South March.

When he was close enough to see the walls of the complex in the distance, Chance left the main road. He took a smaller path across fields and entered woods on a low bluff from which he could view the land around him.

Choosing one of the taller trees there, he climbed up it to where he could see South March clearly. He then came back down, noting the woods here was thinned almost to none. On the ground again, Chance sat comfortably to eat the lunch Ruby provided him.

He removed the amber and set it out in front of him on the ground. He requested to see a specific spell which rose to display in front of him. He took the Opal next and held it between him and the spell. Again, he read the spell; by now, he was sure of his understanding.

He stood, and the image of the spell drifted upward to in front of his face. Holding the Opal between his forefinger and thumb, he looked through it and read the spell aloud. With a gesture of his hand, he cast at a pasture below the bluff.

Chance watched closely and was pleased when it seemed to heave, first upward then sank down to form a shallow ditch. The spell shook its target as intended. Now to try it against South March which was farther away.

He pulled out his sword to add its magic and held it on his left. The Opal glowed from the palm of his right hand. Pointing the sword at South March, he cast again, this time driving his and Opal's magic through the weapon.

Magic concentrated then shot down the sword and across the open space to land at the base of the wall that faced Chance. As the spell echoed then became quiet, he watched to see if it worked.

He was unsure what the effect would be, until he saw that the wall appeared to waver in the distance. He was too far to see cracks form but could detect when a portion began to sag before slowly crumbling to the ground.

He thought that was encouraging so came down from the bluff and began to walk round the hill on which South March sat. He paused along the way and loosed more spells. Sections of the curtain wall shook in turn; from where he stood, he heard cries of alarm.

Chance kept on in this way and was finally standing on the far side from where he started. Dust was rising from fallen stone; he heard men shouting as parapets broke up under their feet.

The fortress covered the seaward end of a mount, which was a long finger of uplift that ended sharply. A river cut through softer ground beyond Chance before continuing down into a wide inlet. For now, he paid no attention to the port side of South March.

Chance now reversed and began to cast against the buildings inside South March, beginning with the Hier compound. Magic flew out from there as it shook, but it was not even aimed. Chance ignored that and continued to shake the halls of Guilds and Schools. By the time he returned to where he began, all of South March was rubble.

It was now late afternoon, and Chance finished completely bringing down South March, single-handedly. Its occupants were bewildered, and those who crawled out of the dump fled for the port. The tide was not favorable for leaving so there was no escape on the ships in harbor.

From where he stood, Chance could see docks along the river below the mound of the garrison; he assumed supply came by sea. The garrison's soldiers and mages were there now, filling the port area. He especially noticed a Man of War in port among the fat, coastal ships.

Chance strode in the direction of the harbor while keeping to the hills lining the southern side of the city. By the time he was above the port, the warship weighed anchor. It was out in the channel and running up sail. He cast at the hull below the water line.

There was no loud noise when the spell impacted; however, the ship appeared to shudder before sinking to its gunwale. It settled at that depth, right in the middle of the ship course. Chance guessed it would be an obstacle to shipping which was what he wanted. It would not block any ship going round, but it would hinder.

* * *

From what he knew of South March, there may have been five hundred men based at the garrison. Chance did not stay to see what they would do. He was satisfied with his work this day and now lifted to return to Onne.

He was unconcerned with pursuit; they would be days at the least trying to grasp what happened. Chance planned to tell the messenger Skor about this first. He thought everyone should know what he did, what he could do.

That might buy time until winter closed down campaigns against him. Next year, well that was another matter, and he did not think too much about it now.

He was back in Onne by near nightfall and glided over the walls directly to the Mark. He landed in the last, slanting rays of sunlight which impressed all who saw it. As he entered the inn, Xsel greeted him and pulled a cider to hand him after he sat on his usual stool.

The innkeeper did not ask Chance about the time he was away, but Chance said things went better than expected. As well, the sword Waun made proved itself. He thanked Xsel again for telling him of the swordsmith.

After he drank the cider, he let himself relax. Gliding took energy, and the spell he cast against South March needed constant infusions of magic. Chance was weary but asked Xsel if the messenger Skor was about. He was not, so Xsel sent a boy from the kitchen to fetch him.

Chance sat quietly with Xsel and considered whether he should have another cider. He thought it would not be wrong and asked Xsel for a refill. Skor came into the inn as he was beginning it and greeted Chance on his way to the bar.

Xsel was ready to hear all about the day, and Ruby came out to stand beside him. Chance waited until Skor was given a drink. All ready, he told the story of bringing down the Master of Beerron's garrison along with the halls of the Schools and Guilds.

The head messenger almost vibrated in his excitement. He excused himself and nearly ran on his way out of the inn. This was news!

Xsel and Ruby seemed thoughtful from their expressions; Chance drank his cider and was curious about their reactions. Ruby remarked that Chance poked the beehive - but good. She left them and returned to her kitchen. Xsel was still chewing over the event and so went to draw his own cider.

The two men were quiet, each deep in his own thoughts. A customer or two came in, and Xsel took care of them before returning to where Chance sat. The growing bond between the two was evident.

Xsel reviewed in his mind how Chance turned their world inside out, upside down. The outcome of today's action was too convoluted for him to untangle. He was uneasy as this day marked a change in the way the world turned.

Chance too felt that he crossed over the line from being seen as a talented, irregular mage to being viewed as a dangerous rebel.

The Guilds and Schools wanted his stone and his head, for heresy and general rudeness, until today. After this day, they would feel threatened. He just made a move in a deadly game, one that he was in without much knowledge of how it was played.

He did have a sword and the two stones. The destruction of South March was a display of power and that took one piece, South March itself, off the board. There was some satisfaction in that even if only to Chance.

As well, it added the Master of Beerron to his enemies; because, it was his garrison Chance destroyed, his ship he sank. He figured the Master would not tolerate blatant affront.

If he did not come after Chance in a way meant to obliterate the outlaw, he risked his position. The Schools would not favor him if he did nothing.

These thoughts came into Chance's mind and threatened to swamp him. Xsel saw and held his cup to click against Chance's. He was sympathetic and said as a caution: "You've pissed on their leg now, Chance. They will send everything against you - their assassins, Battle mages and every man who can hold a spear or bow."

Chance agreed but thought preparation against a High Mage gone rogue takes a while and none will want left out of powerful spoils. He said to Xsel it will be a crowded field against him. He added that his hope was winter would postpone a response until spring.

Xsel did not think that likely; the Master could not wait that long. He was blunt: "Onne will not rally to your defense, not even greedy Brad - no men will rush forward to defend you."

That was Chance's assumption already, and he asked if Xsel thought the city would continue to supply Linnet. Xsel laughed: "Too much profit for them not to. They will take your gold up to the very moment the Master of Beerron appears on the horizon - that you may count on."

To a more pragmatic question, Chance asked about winter here. He was told it varies, one day cold, the next mild days. That variance in weather could be useful to Chance, although he did not see how right off.

Anyway, he did not have an army to throw against one coming from Beerron. Xsel became practical and remarked that Onne will probably close its gates to the Master, if he gets this far.

He continued by reporting that there were no Schools mages still in the Enclosed quarter; all were gone, even before Chance brought down South March.

With a smile, he wondered aloud how, or even if, tax collectors would go about their trade this year. If there was no collection, he doubted if Onne would send its tribute to Beerron voluntarily. With care, Xsel inquired whether Chance planned to continue the tax and use it to raise an army.

To Xsel's surprise, Chance was indifferent; he did not need Onne's taxes nor did he wish to conscript an army capable of fighting the Master. Actually, he went on to say, he did not plan to impose any tax at all. Xsel was skeptical but did not say it.

Chance thought a moment and drank more cider then said he thought the roads could do with better maintenance. However, he did not expect taxes to pay for that. It was the duty of whoever was Mage of the region, him in this case, to pay out of his own pocket.

To answer Xsel's confused expression, he said his view was trade prospered all, including Linnet. Thus his opinion was the expense for roads more than paid for itself. Xsel did not see the connection and decided Chance was thoroughly different.

However, the High Mage sitting opposite him at his bar showed himself to be a reasonable man, for the most part and so far as the inn was concerned. That satisfied Xsel sufficiently for him to not think over much on the politics set on fire.

* * *

The two friends drank companionably together and were only interrupted when Alsen came in to report that the stable was done for the night. The open slave collar hung on a peg in the wall behind the bar. Alsen glanced at it but otherwise kept his eyes on Xsel.

The innkeeper regarded the youth standing before the bar and was about to speak when Chance interrupted. He turned to face Alsen and asked if he might like a cider, adding that he would pay.

Xsel smoothly swept that aside saying Alsen worked for the inn and was entitled to a drink after a day in the stable. He filled a mug and placed it on the bar. Alsen looked at it a long moment and then came forward. He thanked Xsel, and Chance for his offer, and began to drink.

Alsen was thirsty and liked well a cider when work was done. Xsel and Chance continued their conversation and indicated Alsen could stay. The youth stood with them but did not sit nor speak in the talk between the man who just freed him and the man who now employed him.

He was trying to grasp what his status was. Any look at the collar was chilling, so he simply remained quiet and drank. When he finished the cider, he stood with the empty mug.

On a reckless impulse, Alsen did speak finally saying he now would accept Chance's invitation to have a cider, if that was still open.

Chance laughed and nodded to Xsel who smiled at them both. Xsel was more at ease and felt that the issue of Alsen's situation that came between him and Chance appeared over. He refilled his new employee's drink.

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