With a nod of his head, Chance indicated they were to go on. Rain still fell but there was a breaking up of clouds coming from the sea which promised a pause in the storm.
He walked along and Alsen followed. The road returned to the shoreline where Chance pointed out a hill saying he would build his house there. It looked desolate to Alsen, but he did not question anything the mage said.
Nearer the island, Chance was becoming eager to be home, to be with Rixt. The day was ending and the road was harder to pick out as they neared the marsh causeway.
Chance glanced at the sheds where timber was made into wood beams. He also looked beyond to where his barrier held back tribesmen; it appeared to be working.
He left Alsen for a moment and went over to check the spell. To test, he pushed against what to Alsen looked like nothing at all. Whatever Chance was doing, it seemed to satisfy him, and he returned to where Alsen waited. They crossed the completed causeway and saw Vind's preparations.
A man waited under a gate that now spanned the distance between the two towers. He nodded politely when Chance approached and introduced himself. He was Bos from Arlo and Vind's First Sergeant. Chance stopped a moment and admired all the work done.
He saw a barracks set into the hillside beyond the towers and a stable nearby. Bos was pleased with Chance's questions and compliments. Riders stationed at the towers came out to listen and stood proudly by Bos.
Chance looked at them; the towers' garrison stood at ease, each wearing a sash across their coats which was deep red. He remembered Xsel saying red was the color people associated with him. After a short conversation, Chance took Bos to meet Alsen.
The youth sat on his horse nervously as the two came over to him. Chance surprised him by saying: "This man is Alsen from Golis - he has brought you two more horses. Kindly take them to your stables - Alsen has not eaten so will you see him fed and that he has a place in your barracks for the night?"
When Chance was forced to take on Alsen at the Slice Pass inn, they said little to each other on the way to Tupello. In one of the few exchanges between them, Alsen told him he was from Golis.
That interested Chance at the time as that country was in the farthest West, beyond the Barrier mountains that split the land down the middle, north to south.
From Golis to the Maur lands and then to being a carry-all boy on the Slice Pass run seemed quite a journey to Chance. It made him curious about the boy chosen by the Opal for a short while.
Alsen went with Bos, and Chance continued down the trail that looped the southern end of Linnet island. The way was muddy, and water still flowed from the heavy rain that fell and was threatening to begin again.
There was little light now; Chance hurried to reach the settlement as more rain began. He raised Nimbus and sped up.
Chance left the road where a plank walkway began and went along it toward tents. He noted many were suspended from a framework that would be a house when completed. Again, he was impressed that so much construction was in place and seasoning over winter.
* * *
The tent he and Rixt used was dark; Chance did not think to find her there because she was likely at the kitchen tents that he could see set up among other shelters where workers on the island stayed. He entered his tent and looked around. Then he raised a Mage Light and hung the globe from a ceiling pole.
The interior was tidy, Rixt liked things put away when not being used. He smiled thinking of her and then built up the fire in the small hearth before starting tea.
The water in the kettle was almost boiling when Rixt parted the curtains and came in. She stood looking at him, a smile of welcome filling her face.
He went to her; they embraced and stayed together enjoying the much-missed feeling of touching each other. The kettle hissed then began to whistle. They parted and went hand in hand to sit by the fire. Chance removed the kettle and poured tea.
Neither one spoke at first then both did at once. For a reason only lovers could know, that was funny. Each said 'you first' and then laughed again, almost shy in their longing.
Rixt sipped her tea, looking at Chance closely. She frowned and reached to touch his face asking what happened to scar his cheek. Chance moved to sit closer to her and said he was wounded recently. Her frown changed to worry when she heard him mention Mage Death.
Chance assured her he was all right now and then set his cup aside. He put his arm around her, and she too set down her cup. Chance dimmed the Mage Light, and they moved to the bed.
After they were again one, they lay in each others arms until Chance fell asleep. Rixt stayed awake a while longer, watching him breathe, and then she too relaxed and slept. Chance woke a few times during the night, felt Rixt beside him, and then peacefully slumbered.
Neither was ready to let go of this intimacy the next morning until they enjoyed sex. Even then, it took Rixt getting up and starting tea before Chance reluctantly left the bed to sit beside her.
He wanted to know how she was so asked. She spoke of her work, stressing that others were doing much more. Her face was happy telling him that there were now contracts with over thirty settlers who would come back in spring.
They planned to work the grounds up the shore from Linnet toward the Rayen river. She said some terracing might be needed as the ground was hilly but farms were definitely marked out.
Chance listened closely because settlement around Linnet was important to him. The island would need a population, with a stake in being here and its future.
He felt farms were a sure way to feed Linnet and provide men willing to defend it. He listened as she began to tell what Vind and Dette were doing, but he postponed that conversation saying he wanted to meet with them later this day.
She replied that she needed to check that kitchens were operating, adding that she would pass on his request. She paused at the door to the tent stating she would bring him an ointment for his cheek.
Since she was going to be out, Chance asked if she would request that Bos and Alsen come to his meeting as well. He wanted to know more about the man Vind put in charge of the hirelings. She looked at him oddly when he said Alsen: "The lad who we found in Beerron? He is here too?"
Chance grinned as he replied yes, the one who took her money and left her alone. She gave him a suspicious look but shrugged.
After she went out, Chance sat and heated water to wash himself, enjoying her scent in the room. Shortly afterward, she returned and brought with her a breakfast for him. A meeting was agreed for midday; she asked if that suited him. It did, and he ate hungrily, having only a lunch yesterday.
They sat together the remainder of the morning, and no one disturbed them. The survey crew was breaking up and planned to return to Brad over the next days. Boats were arranged to take them. She was very satisfied overall and spoke of their work.
Grinning, she said they missed him when it came to raising property stones. A mage would have made that easier. He said he wished he was there to help, but he felt his time well spent in Onne.
Chance did not tell her much of his time away, and Rixt did not press him. She was sure he would speak more when he met with the others who were making Linnet habitable.
The time alone was not wasted, and they enjoyed each other again before he was to meet with Vind and Dette. They did not feel at all embarrassed to hold hands as they went to the big tent along the plank walkway.
* * *
There were many people down by the makeshift pier where boats were arriving to carry returning workers back to Brad. The day was still overcast but rain held off. They entered the big tent used for a general dining hall usually.
Going to a portion partitioned off, Chance greeted people who sat arranged along a table. He and Rixt sat at one end. Looking at the group, he noted that Vind sat with Bos and Alsen while Dette brought two men who held papers, neatly bound and labeled.
First, he spoke his admiration for the work already done. He complimented them and was about to go on but Rixt placed her hand on his saying: "We know what we have done - what have you been doing? Stories come even to this island - regular messengers blab all."
Chance paused then began with the fight on the road from Brad to Onne. Mages from the Enclosed quarter in Onne attacked him; he shrugged saying that quarter was deserted now, except for servants. No one interrupted.
He described how he was able to bring down South March and spoke of using his new sword. In response to Vind's obvious interest, he drew it and set it on the table. He let all see it and remark on its quality.
Next he removed the Opal and set it out as well. Those around the table leaned away; the Opal lifted and shone colorfully before drifting back down and settling back on to the table.
Before Chance could say more, Vind spoke asking why was Alsen here? Chance replied as if it was obvious: the Opal favored the youth.
Alsen squirmed when everyone looked at him. The Opal's voice startled them: "Good day Alsen. Are you still afraid of me?"
Alsen nodded that yes he definitely was, and the Opal further surprised those sitting there with a sound of laughter. As it faded, she added: "You should be - smart lad."
Chance withdrew the amber from his vest and placed it near the sword. He explained the stone contained the library of the mage Nessum. The name was known to all; the rampage of Berserker warriors led by that mage was legend. The amber did not speak, and Chance went on.
He next described his encounter with Black Snake mages, and Vind's eyes showed disbelief. The Rider of Linnet, as Chance was coming to think of him, asked if that was sure. He was a Black mage and thought them disbanded long ago. Chance assured him that they formed up again.
Chance now gave credit where due. He spoke of his fight with them outside and inside Arlo. Opal helped by killing several; the amber provided the spell needed to open their firing line. His sword overpowered any other because Opal injected magic into it when it was made.
He concluded stating that he was here with them because of the three objects on the table. There was silence while all at the meeting looked where he pointed.
The amber awed them further by speaking: "I am only a library - an assortment of spells and history - but, I hope, useful."
Now Chance came to the reason for this meeting. He described the situation as he knew it. There was an army in a place called Baslaat, the port town by South March.
With them were two bands of Black mages, each led by a senior mage. He guessed that they would eventually sort out their order of precedence and came for him.
He asked his question of them: what do you suggest I do? He added that the recent storm likely slowed them as armies did not like to travel in mud and rain. About Black mages, he could not say. Vind grinned at that.
Before anyone could speak, he added to Vind that he met the Second mage. Vind immediately spoke saying the man was twisted in most ways one could imagine.
Chance nodded saying that was his opinion as well. He thought the Second played word puzzles with him. Vind snorted at that but held his tongue from repeating his warning.
As to what Chance should do, no one seemed willing to offer suggestions. Chance sat waiting patiently giving them a moment to gather their thoughts. He sincerely hoped for ideas because he was undecided.
* * *
Rixt broke the silence and asked if Chance expected the army and mage gangs to come first through Onne and then Brad on their way here.
Chance thought so then added that he destroyed the only ford across the Rayen river. He did not think that would stop them, but it would cost them time and expose them to bowmen.
Winter was coming, and he doubted they wanted to be stuck in a tight place like the river valley. Vind nodded at that and entered the exchange: "We have explored the region along the river - Bos and I - and there are many places for archers to lie in ambush."
Bos spoke now adding bowmen can take a toll of those trying to pass but not stop them. Chance agreed but said he thought a string of snipers could do much harm.
Dette stuck in that having enemies occupying Brad and Onne would cut their supply here on the island. Chance acknowledged that would be a problem. Actually, he wanted to stop them hard and preferred to do that along the Ram river that ran from Arlo down to Baslaat.
A man sitting beside Dette said softly that the country between Baslaat and Onne was open farmland. It was a fine place for head-to-head clashing, preferable to Linnet where there was only the beginnings of defense.
He deferred to Vind saying he meant no insult: the quality was very high among his troops but quantity was lacking.
Chance did not know the man and asked his name. He bowed his head politely and said he was Brandok and worked for Dette.
Chance now looked more closely at him and saw a big man, bald and thickset. He returned Chance's scrutiny openly before saying he was from Supp, in the north-east corner of the Laat Valley, and was a steward on an estate beside the one on which Dette lived.
The talk paused at that point; Chance said as it was now midday, he wished to eat with them before discussing what could be done. That was welcome, and Chance replaced the Opal and amber into his vest pockets before sheathing his sword. He did his best to appear calm, confident.
Rixt rose and went to the kitchen portion of the tent to request a meal. She came back and sat beside Chance saying it would come shortly.
During the meal, Chance asked how many would be remaining on the island over winter. That was Dette's, and she listed groups who were willing. She explained that most of the people who were here till now lived in Brad or Onne. They thought of themselves as seasonal; a few were seeing Linnet as more than quick money.
She thought that would increase in spring, on the basis that Linnet still existed as more than an island. Chance noted her remark and put in that he thought there was reason to think it would. He admitted he was being optimistic.
After plates were cleared following the meal, tea was provided by the staff from the kitchen. The group settled down to discuss what was necessary in context of what was possible.
* * *
Chance waited until everyone had tea then invited Vind to start them. With a glance at Bos, Vind sat back against his chair and stated that a palisade was mostly in place either side of Chance's towers. The drawbridge was enough to block the last part of the causeway, and there were men to hold it.
Vind nodded at Bos who continued saying that they got volunteers; however, of those, a good number were sent away. To Chance's look of question, Bos added that pay and a horse attracts men who are unreliable.
Bos said he sent a note to Arlo, where he was from, and asked for recruits. He thought that might prove a better source than the layabouts from Onne. Chance could see from Vind's expression that he was aware of his sergeant's bias.
A smile came to his face as Alsen unexpectedly spoke up. With a bow to Vind and Bos, Alsen said that there was a good horse market in Onne. If they agreed, he would buy on their behalf the best he could find.
There was a small problem, he continued, in that Chance destroyed the ford across the Rayen river. However, he thought bringing them by barge over the lake would suffice to get them here.
Dette glanced at Brandok beside her then nodded. She stated with confidence that boats were happy to carry cargo to Linnet; she added they also brought fish which greatly helped with food supply.
Rixt hesitated before joining in the conversation. She said she was a herbalist and was not versed in such things as strategy. That got her a look from Dette who knew exactly how Rixt's mind worked and in what she was knowledgeable. Rixt was unusual in the extent of her education, in relation to her status.
They exchanged knowing grins and then Rixt added: "I cannot say how but agree you must hold off your enemies away from Onne or Brad."
Chance reflected on that and waited for more. Rixt did not slow and continued: "Perhaps you should think of the tribesmen. Their youth likely believe men prove themselves in battle - why they raid."
She paused to see reactions, then said: "They winter at the southern end of the lake. I wonder if they can be safely bought - if they will fight for sure gold instead of cumbersome loot - in that open region Brandok described."
That never occurred to Chance even slightly; he now thought more on the idea. Rixt was done and sat back. She turned to look at Brandok who was sitting beside her.
Dette's officer straightened and relaxed his shoulders before speaking: "The Ram river is an easy place to draw a line."
Before anyone could interrupt, he spoke more: "However, there are several back ways round Arlo that go directly to Onne."
Looking now levelly at Chance, he explained: "I was told you traveled some when you first came. However, there is a standard route that comes along the High Ridge roadway to the tip of the Laat Valley - near Supp. From there, it is possible to come almost straight to Arlo."
Brandok noticed Chance's blank expression and explained: "At the other end of the High Ridge is the Black's monastery and the Push Empire."
He summed his advice: "You have offended the one and the other contends with Schools to rule in Beerron. What I am taking so long to say is do not expect enemies only from the direction of Flas."
Seeing Brandok was done, Dette who was sitting on the other side of him now took her turn. Chance looked at her; she was so different from Rixt.
Dette was shorter, with bright red hair and would be described as pretty by almost any man or woman. She carried herself in a different way too. Chance thought there was something about her that spoke of careful, purposeful rearing.
Dette mused at first; she thought they were very fortunate so far; she left mages to Chance. The Guilds did not try to stop supply to Linnet. As well, she remarked that the influx of gold would unsettle those used to controlling finance in both cities that Linnet depended upon.
She added no doubt they expect to have their cut, and when they do not get it, there might be trouble. It could take the form of harassment of their suppliers and carriers. All live in debt, she stated. It is a fact of life, and some live quite well off other people's debt.
Chance bypassed them, actually ignored them completely. She thought the abandonment of the Enclosed quarter would make them uneasy as they were closely linked to Guilds. She ended by observing that gold has a way of persuading people, even the rich who never seem to feel they have enough of it.
Chance used that moment to tell her about the hall he contracted to maintain. He thought there might be uses for other empty buildings there, once Dette's grip was firmer on gold flows.
She looked thoughtful about that then remarked that it was something worth exploring. Dette nodded to the man sitting on her other side who now found himself the center of attention.
He said his name was Waylon from Brad. While he could not offer much, he went on to say he was adept at monetary matters. He noted when Chance sent over four sacks of gold nuggets, adding that it was impressive. Chance grinned at him and urged him to continue.
Waylon made an odd statement that triggered an interest in the others. He said gold, and silver, is worked by a mint. Currency made its way to the lake region via a long, stingy route from Beerron.
Should Chance decide, he felt a mine could be opened near Brad; he added goldsmiths were there. It would bind Brad, at least, to Linnet. Chance glanced at Dette and Brandok and guessed Waylon's idea was unexpected.
The man was not given to speaking for so long and now sat back. All looked at Alsen who was sitting beside him. There was a moment of consternation as Alsen realized that he was expected to say something. He did not speak until Chance specifically asked him what he thought.
Alsen was blunt; he said he was a common man who had yet to distinguish himself except by his errors. He glanced at Rixt when he said that, and she gave him a cool smile. Alsen spoke directly at Chance: "There is no loyalty on any street, on any farm, outside family and getting by."
Chance was becoming curious and indicated Alsen was to say more. The former Street Cheat was slow to do so, at first.
It was as if something ignited within Alsen; he sat up straight and spoke his opinion: "Lady Rixt has a good idea about bribing Tribesmen - it might work and worth an effort. My advice is do not draw from locals. I agree Vind's troops are few but the quality is high."
Alsen looked directly at Chance: "Most importantly, do not think the folk will rally to Guilds and Schools on call. Such are hated, and no one will assist them when they come for you."
Alsen was unused to speaking his mind but was too young to hold back: "All the common folk will stand aside and watch to see who is their master - the familiar one they know well or a rogue upstart who is a font of gold."
It was now Bos' turn, and he spoke to another issue: "Alsen shows wisdom beyond his years - and I agree with what people will do. They do not care about Guilds other than they make their living from that organization."
Bos thought of his own town of Arlo and shook his head a moment. He leaned his elbows on the table and turned to each around him: "That said, people, outside of Schools and Guilds largess, are largely timid and concerned only with themselves. Grocers and craftsmen will weigh what happens and slide meekly to the side that wins - a win that must be plain to them - without subtlety or choice."
* * *
Chance saw that Bos was done and that Vind wanted to say more. He recalled that the former Black mage assassin came from a background much different than that of the others.
He looked steadily at Vind who readied to speak. Vind placed his hands on the table, spread his fingers and spoke directly to Chance. He began by saying: "When we fought in Beerron... I am - was - among the best of the Black Mage Order. You are a High Mage. One of us should be dead now - but we live and are allied - both outlaws really."
Chance and Vind looked at each other a long moment; there was more to say: "Happenstance has brought us together - that is no more than simply so. Bos can defend Linnet - I have no doubt about it. Beyond Linnet - that is for me.
"Do not wait here to see what your enemies will do once they have ironed out their petty differences. After what happened to the Black Snake mages, they fear you. Play on that. You have three objects more powerful than they have ever seen. Use them with your magic and spread panic."
Vind stopped speaking and sat silently. He drank from his cup, noticed it was mostly empty and refilled the cup with a fresh amount from the pot on the table.
Chance heard the advice he asked for. He thought a moment then said that he would speak with the tribesmen, and show Waylon where he found gold. Nuggets were on hand to begin minting.
He addressed Brandok saying that he wished to hear later about the High Ridge and Laat Valley. He then requested that Alsen discuss with Xsel about horses. If the innkeeper agreed, he wanted a steady supply of mounts sent to Linnet.
He looked over at Bos and asked that he look for - better recruits - among the farm folk and villages of the Laatine. He guessed not all benefited from Guilds and Schools.
To Dette, he requested that she manage Linnet overall. That surprised her, and he added that he wished Linnet to become a county.
He listed a bank in Brad, finance in Onne and a central hall here for decision making; that was necessary. He suggested that if debt was a tool, they should use it beginning with Brad.
Now he turned to Rixt and observed that she proved she was a herbalist. That was a business in which she was respected.
He felt Linnet could become self-sustaining but having an export crop would provide them a way into the commerce of the region. Herbs were always in demand; Linnet could become a supplier of such goods.
Chance thanked them for speaking openly with him and for what they were doing. He went on saying that he might be away and unable to help them. He was open to advice, anytime from anyone, on what he was doing.
To close, he said he would go to the Dui camp in the morning and asked Vind to come with him, adding he wished the Rider's consent before any deal was agreed.
* * *
He stood and bowed his respect. Rixt pushed out her chair and stood up as well. The two returned to their tent and spent the remainder of the day sitting by it together in the sunshine. Chance made coins and Rixt sorted herbs into jars set out in front of her.
People did not disturb their time but waved as they passed by on the boardwalk. Some came over to say goodbye to Rixt. They worked with her on the survey team and were preparing to board a waiting boat for Brad.
Chance sat and smiled pleasantly while Rixt spoke with each. He continued to make coins which caused all to look closely at what he was doing.
When they were alone, Chance said he wanted to talk with her about when he was wounded. Rixt nodded and began to set out tyings of herbs which she then broke up slowly into bowls. She did not interrupt him once he began.
Chance said he was struck by a sword that a Black Snake mage flung at him. He killed the man but the sword cut Chance's cheek. Rixt looked at the red mark below his eye but did not say anything about it.
Next, he told her a man carried him to a hut and applied the antidote, adding he was too far into the poison to do it himself. He did not say the man was the Abbot of Badi but told her about having strange dreams while he recovered.
He said there were four dreams. He smiled at her saying that she was in the first, which he called Dreams itself. She looked up curiously but he continued, not wanting to say more than that of the first one in which there was a child.
Chance related the next three in more detail. The second was about War, and he described the battle he fought. She frowned and said it must have been very frightening.
He answered that it was. Then, he slipped into one which he called Illusion; it was about gold and people trampling him for it.
Rixt almost smiled but sensed that it too frightened Chance. He seemed to her to pause before speaking of the last dream. He spoke softly saying the fourth was called Meditation by the man caring for him.
He found himself in a cavern with a pool in its center. It drew him, and he walked around it three times before sitting beside the water. He said it was very calm.
Rixt was becoming concerned. Four dreams, walking three times about something? She waited to hear it all. Chance said he put his hands into the water and saw a reflection.
Rixt cocked her head to ask what did he see. Chance grinned and replied he saw only himself. She laughed and added that was enough for her.
She waited a moment longer then asked why he called his dreams as he did. He described the open circle on Linnet at the peak end and the Library's explanations.
He spoke of the bench there which the Library said represented the Four Faces, a mystery cult that Chance knew nothing of. The Faces were similar to the visions he experienced during recovery: Dreams, War, Illusion and Meditation. She ventured that perhaps his memory of that influenced him.
She said she often dreamed, and they were composites of her day or whatever was occupying her mind. Chance agreed that made more sense than anything mystical.
He could not say why he circled the pool three times. She said that is a traditionally magic number. He thought a moment and was satisfied with that view.
At evening, they rejoined the others in the dining tent, where a meal was being served to almost a hundred people inside. Before eating, Chance moved about among the tables, thanking those sitting at each and listening to what their work was on Linnet. He said he was grateful for those who planned to stay over winter.
When the meal was over, Chance and Rixt left saying good night to all. Dette was thick in a conversation with her two officers and only looked up politely when they went by her on the way out. They walked back to their tent and Rixt made tea.
It was night now, and they slept after a lazy time of love making. Chance savored every moment with her and did not think about the days that were coming. Plans rarely worked out, so he avoiding making them in the first place.
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