Tales of Chance the Mage

Book One: From Here

Chapter 9 - Ruins at Linnet

The connecting road between Onne and Brad wound back and forth downhill to the lake's edge. Chance learned earlier from Vind's recruits that the lake was called Rayen.

Chance glided just above the road; in the distance, he saw the smooth glisten of the lake. He looked towards foothills beyond a road which ran off toward the base of mountains along the eastern side of the lake.

Round the western side, down from Brad, he could see wooded countryside with a scattering of farms, the land route to Linnet.

He looked down and was a little surprised at the number of people that followed Vind along the road to Brad. Many pulled hand carts while others eased heavier wagons down steep grades.

There seemed to be a great many, but he reflected that the work planned on Linnet island required people to make it happen.

Once Vind was near a gate in Brad's walls, Chance descended to it to join him. The gates were open; there would be no attempt to slow or halt the procession which began to filter into the streets of Brad toward the port.

Chance walked beside Vind with glances back at Rixt and, behind her, Dette. Both women appeared calm but eager. He nodded toward them and received smiles in return.

Vind arranged his men in a row at the docks and then supervised the loading of their gear and horses into wide lake boats. As soon as one was loaded, the men whose equipment was aboard went into it.

There were a large number of boats at the dock waiting to be loaded. Each edged away from docks after receiving cargo and then sailed out into a tranquil lake Rayen.

Chance waited until it was Rixt's turn. He stood beside her as the contents of her wagon were transferred to one boat, the wagon itself was taken on another along with gentle Tess.

He and Rixt joined a number of people who crossed the gangway and stood with them on the deck of a third one. The boat was pushed off; ropes tied to rowing skiffs towed it out. Then it began to sail away from Brad.

Chance inhaled the freshness of being on a large lake. On his left, a chain of mountains met the lake in a jagged line that stretched off to the south. Brad's shoreline filled the right side until it faded as the boat moved farther out. The breeze on the water blew away the smell of fish, the boat's normal occupation.

The mood on board was jolly. Demon mage or not, he had gold. Onne and Brad knew only being poor for so long no one remembered good times.

Suddenly, literally from the sky, a High Mage showed up and began to spew gold coins. The Schools would come for him, none doubted that for a moment. Until then, however, there was money to be made.

Looking back, Chance could see a steady convoy of boats sailing behind them. Ahead, Vind's boat, as well as two more, carried his army.

He reflected that ten men did not constitute much of a force, but it was a beginning. Again, he was grateful that Vind led them; he felt no desire to command anyone. It was not in his nature.

The other passengers quieted and sat by the railing where they snacked on food they brought along. The boat continued in the way of sailing: there was little noise except the passing of water and snap of sail.

The captain invited them to a place on the stern with her and set cushions down for their comfort. Chance used this opportunity to ask questions about the lake and came to see the steerswoman as quite experienced. She was pleased to talk about something she knew well.

Their first sight of Linnet island was a string of sharp rocks that broke the water. The closer the boat came to the island itself, more such and larger rose above the lake surface in a line to the main island. Their approach was along the lake side of the island, giving a slowly passing view of the place they planned to live.

The shoreline facing them was a long bluff, highest on the north end, which gradually sloped to flatter land as they neared the south end. Trees grew densely on the high top and then thinned down-slope from the crest.

Ahead, Chance saw Vind's boats round the bottom of the island and sail out of sight. When his boat did the same, he saw the others were as close to shore as they could be and were now unloading. Boats continued to come round the bend and made mooring as best able.

People and goods were left on the sandy shore then the boats were pushed off to sail back to Brad for another cargo. It was noisy, crowded with crews immediately getting to work. Chance stood to the side for a few moments then cast a gliding spell, calling to Vind he was going to explore.

He rose into the air, higher than treetops, and drifted away from the commotion in a direction up the island. He was moving slowly, casting seeker spells which found no one else.

The western side of the lake consisted of a ridge of hills ranging north south. A marshy area separated Linnet from that upland along the lake shore. Farther up the island, he was alerted to increasing magic. He did not recognize it.

* * *

The source of the magic was not from a mage; it came from the ground itself. Chance went lower then landed. He was at the high end of the island on a hilltop that was bare but ringed by trees.

Magic was very concentrated here; he went about the clearing carefully. After testing it, he concluded it was a ruin and retained Earth magic. How it could be so strong was not something apparent. Such was not unusual for a ruin; however, this one was stronger than most.

A peculiar looking mound on the north side of the clearing drew his attention, so he walked over to see more closely. It too smelled of old magic which Chance was not able to identify.

With a small Explode spell, he brushed away the covering growth and uncovered first a long bench shape and then a statue behind that.

With another cast of Explode, three blocks emerged that were set on the bench. A fourth place was empty, and he looked about to see if a piece had fallen away.

He found none so stood back looking at the objects. Reaching into his vest pocket, he removed the Opal and amber. He held them in his hand and extended his arm to point at the stone work, asking: "What is this?"

The Opal glowed and lifted from his palm; it hovered over the objects Chance uncovered then returned to his hand. A voice, not as assertive as usual, spoke with uncertainty: "This place is much older than I am."

That was not useful as Chance already guessed as much. He waited and sensed activity in the amber. The voice of the library came forth. Like Opal's; it sounded unsure: "Histories record places that are older than the history itself. The descriptions include the bench and objects on it. The statue is thought to be a guardian."

Chance needed to know some things about this such as was it a threat to settlement on the island. Neither Opal nor the amber could answer that. In the stillness of the clearing, Chance heard the sound of pages turning.

He waited then heard 'ah ha!'. The amber spoke again now but with more authority: "Three ruins like this are recorded - all in the West. Each has a similar bench - each has a guardian placed behind it. All may have an underground temple."

There was a pause now, and Chance heard more pages turning. Then the amber went on: "There are four places on the bench: Dream, War, Illusion and Meditation - symbolized by expressions carved into a block of stone."

Chance was looking at the empty space, and the Library added: "Meditation is a concept without expression so is always empty."

The Library hesitated then ventured: "The statue - of a guardian - represents the primal power of a Fire Elemental - and is called Kic - or perhaps Kij - maybe Keip. These records are written in an ancient style of Common."

This was legend that Chance never heard of, nor seemingly did Opal know of it. The library was from before Opal was made. Its contents were a collection put together by the mage Nessum, a scholarly mage judging from his books, who lived before Kehdy was founded.

He reasoned it was unknown to Schools, which were founded a hundred years after Nessum lived. Chance studied widely during his years at Kehdy academies; this knowledge was absent. Or at least, it was not taught.

The Opal was sending sensing spells into the ground and now spoke a warning: "There are caverns under this place - a stair leads to them - it is between the bench and the guardian. Be very slow to explore such a place. It is haunted."

Chanced almost laughed at that but held back: haunted? He cast spells downward and soon discovered the caverns Opal spoke of. That required standing at the bench to reach them; a few steps away and he sensed nothing.

His Seeker spells weakened the more he pushed them into the caves. It felt as if his magic was being resisted. He withdrew and walked away to stand in the center of the clearing.

He glided here; he did not walk. Now he circled the clearing and found where a worked surface led off down the island on the marsh side.

He bent to examine it and was surprised to find stone work similar to that which made up the exposed surface of the open ring. Curious, he began walking on it.

It was not unbroken; in some places Chance climbed over rough ground. He continued and realized he was walking in almost a straight line to a place near the middle of where the marsh connected to the island.

As he came nearer the bottom of the path, he smiled seeing a semi-circle, an open area, at the bottom. He guessed it too would be made of whatever this paving was.

The path ended and he stepped out into the arena. A thick covering of shrub grew where soil covered stone, but it was largely clear. On each side, littering the marsh edge, was what he could only describe as a great heap of rocks, one on either side of the arena.

His imagination picked them up, stacked one on and against another, and made a tower. He was amazed: this was once a grand entrance to whatever was on the north summit. That made him look closely at the marsh beyond the arena.

There was a series of higher ground, blocky and sharp cornered, that extended in a straight line to the far side. These were spaced about a man's length apart and covered in vegetation. He guessed it was a causeway and those were footings for spans.

* * *

The sound of a horn blaring from the south of the island broke the stillness. Another sounded, and Chance glanced down the shoreline southward.

The road that hugged the lake shore was more a marked path than real road. He remembered being told about it, and that it was used by Tinkers. Riders were coming up it now.

When they were close enough to make out, Chance saw that they were about twenty and dressed in clothing unlike any he knew. These were the tribesmen Vind's recruits spoke of, a group who raided the Laat region after harvest.

Chance summoned magic and lifted enough to bound across the swamp following the row of dry mounds. He began to cast as soon as he reached the other side, sending his first shot at the man in front. It was a version of Explode that sent horse and rider off the road into the marsh mud.

That grabbed everyone's attention; Chance now cast a Sparkler spell that shrilled as it arced from him and splattered the horsemen. As each bit struck, it made a barking noise and flashed as it blew apart. Men batted it from them, and horses plunged about, frightened by the explosions.

The front man and his horse struggled out of the marsh, and all galloped away. Chance lifted and glided back to the arena. Vind and his ten were there waiting and saw it all.

Chance forgot about the tribesmen as soon as he reached Vind. He immediately began talking about the footings for a causeway and the likelihood that towers once stood at this entrance to Linnet.

Vind was trying to keep up as Chance walked around and spoke excitedly. The men with him were still in awe after seeing the mage fight and were missing most of what Chance said.

Vind listened and did not see towers nor causeway; however, Chance did. When the chatter stopped, Vind spoke saying if Chance built towers, he would see them manned.

That pleased. Next Vind suggested they return to the activity going on down the island.

* * *

Chance wanted to play with magic and stone but pushed that aside for later. He walked back beside the mounted group and soon was drawn into the construction of a temporary tent city. Instead of towers of rock, he made himself focus his magic on whatever anyone called him to help with.

There was no opportunity to talk about what he discovered this day nor about the gateway arena. Over a thousand people were on the island; they spent the day laying out what was to go where and agreeing the order of things they were to do.

From time to time, someone would say 'that will cost' and then Chance could speak. He always answered positively and, at one point, managed to add in wood and men to build a causeway across the marsh.

That needed explaining, and he stated firmly and straightforwardly that he did not want the island clear-cut. That would not be permitted.

Chance was exact saying thinning was to be decided, where and how much, and timber could come from the lake shore, across a causeway and be almost as handy. Dutifully, contractors included the mage's wishes in their plans.

The next days were spent largely on clearing and laying foundations where buildings were planned. Chance was in constant demand to uproot tree stumps or cut apart slabs of stone so masons could work them.

As well, he was every day at where the causeway would be. Men waded from one footing to the next, clearing off growth and exposing solid blocks set evenly in a row.

A second group of tribesmen approached one day while this was being done, and Chance dispatched them in the same manner as the first group. This bunch was hardier, more determined, and most ended up tossed into the marsh.

The workers were growing accustomed to Chance; they kept on working while the mage drove off raiders. As quickly as a section was ready, a sturdy span was laid down.

By the end of the following day, loggers could cross, and the first span on the island side was modified so it could be withdrawn at night.

Finally, Chance was given permission to raise his towers. He was as a child with blocks. It was a puzzle; a rock only fit with others in one exact way. That required pulling each out of the marsh and cleaning it. Chance kept a space open through this so loggers could haul cut wood to construction.

During this first month, work went on as days shortened; the season moved from summer toward winter. Leaves lost their green and began turning colorful. Chance's towers grew steadily then were done.

Vind came often when they were rising and arrived on the day Chance was to finish. He brought Rixt and Dette along, a rare break from work for them. Indeed, there were now two towers raised, one two storeys and the other three.

Chance played showman and with many flourishes invited them to enter the larger of the two. Vind slowed on entering and looked about. It was a spacious enclosure. The walls were bare; arrow slits marked the side facing marsh. It featured a basin in one wall and a hole where a pipe might have stuck through at one time.

The next floor was reached by a circling stair that also contained arrow slits on one side. At first, Vind was unsure about stairs, but figured a way. Soon he was with the rest in the room above. Arrow slits were fitted there too, but the topmost floor was almost airy in comparison. It offered a view of all the marsh and nearby inland.

The roof was a dome of set stone, arches joined it to the tower's walls. Rixt went to one portal and looked out. She turned to Chance, smiling, and said: "This is wonderful - a lookout can see so much from here."

Vind scooted over to an opening next to where Rixt stood and hauled himself up on to the ledge. He was studying the causeway and remarked there was much that could be done with it.

Dette came over to stand by him and looked out too. She was quiet as she walked around the open room. Chance asked what she thought.

She paused then said to no one especially: "Where is the rest of it?"

Quickly, Dette added that the towers were all that Chance said they were. She admired them. Now with more precise words, she said that Schools mages, Black Order mages and a Push army will come no later than spring. She pointed across the marsh: "And be there"

She stated that holding Linnet would require more than two, separated towers and a drawbridge in a causeway. With a glance at Vind, she was frank: "Vind and his riders are not enough for what comes very soon. Onne and Brad will slam shut their gates or open them fully - either way, expect no help."

Rixt and Dette exchanged a look. This was serious and reflected that they spoke of it before. Rixt turned to Chance and her face softened.

She started slowly: "If you are able to slow them... if you can enlist more soldiers... That is for you and Vind."

He was frowning slightly; he did not like letting go of his enjoyment of raising the towers. Rixt saw that and said: "Much can be done to add to your towers; they are magnificent. If you can just stall - events - until winter, we can be - far more prepared by spring."

Chance was silent a moment; he admitted being so involved in uncovering the towers that he paid little attention to much else. He spoke to all three saying he felt these towers and the causeway were once a grand welcome. He did not think they ever were meant to defend.

About that, he went on to say that the tribes must be stopped from raiding. That was in front of his face all the while he played with magic.

Vind agreed; Chance could not rely much longer on simply knocking back a handful of young warriors out to prove themselves. He added Chance did so reliably, but it was not a good solution ongoing. Eventually, he thought they would break through. Then what?

As well, he suggested Chance should go to Onne. That got him a questioning look, and he explained that Chance put on an impressive display but that kind of strategy needed regular reinforcement. Flatly, he stated that Chance must make allies of the two cities; all supply came from them.

Vind made sense to the others. They were looking at Chance, who was new to following advice but trying to learn the knack of it.

The four left the tower and began to walk back the short way to the settlement. Dette walked beside Vind on Ido but both seemed almost shy with each other. Chance and Rixt followed a little back from the other two. Chance remarked to her that he was using Explode too much.

Still new to his magic, Rixt asked what did he mean. She observed that using a tool that worked well was not bad in itself. He answered that was true but repetition itself was a disadvantage.

Listing, he said it created a pattern that his enemies could expect from him. As well, though Explode could be cast in many variations, it was basically illusion and used to frighten horses.

Rixt felt that the men tossed into the marsh by that magic might not agree. She asked if there were other spells to use against the tribesmen.

Chance nodded in answer adding most were more deadly. He did not want to slaughter tribes warriors without end. That would lead to blood feuds which he wanted to avoid. They walked the last way in silence, except Chance felt he needed to tell her he took no pleasure in killing.

He thought most warriors were ordinary people who ended up in a raid to prove their manhood. He supposed it was expected of them.

Rixt gave him a skeptical look, and he confessed such men would certainly try to kill him if they could but otherwise were just young men with weapons. Rixt thought his views unusual but did not say so.

They arrived at the first of the tents, and Rixt left them to go among the kitchens. If all were working smoothly then she would join them before long.

Dette and Vind entered a large tent in the middle of others, and Chance followed. It was crowded inside with perhaps fifty people eating already. Chance went to the counter and loaded a plate with food. He sat with Vind and Dette but was quiet during the meal. His thoughts were sifting through how he could stop tribesmen in order that he be able to leave for a few days.

Rixt joined them saying all the kitchens were fine, people were being fed and there was enough food on hand. The talk was about the stages of work going on, and Chance drifted further into his thoughts. Rixt noticed but let him be quiet.

She would hear that night what was in his mind, taking his attention. After the meal ended, all stayed for cider and talk filled the tent.

Later that evening when they were in their own tent, Chance and Rixt sat together and drank a cup of Easy Night tea. Rixt prompted him, asking about spells he might use against the raiders. He knew she worried about this so said he would try a barrier. He hoped the amber could help him making that.

He spoke of the walls of Nessum's palace; perhaps the library in the amber knew how that was done. He guessed it was likely several spells used in some proportion.

She asked what kind did he already have and heard of a list of spells, how they fit each other and the effect on those who tried to cross. She was confused but sincerely wished him luck with it. They ended the day in an easy intimately and slept soundly afterward.

* * *

The sounds of people getting up and preparing for another day of work woke them the following dawn. Chance was absorbed by various magic possibilities, so Rixt decided to keep her side of their conversation at breakfast to things he could nod to. She was curious what he would do, but a great amount of work waited for her.

As well, she was coming to believe in him so did not worry. Dette was quiet during the meal, and Chance thought she seemed depressed. Vind was protective of her mood.

Chance left the bustle of the south end of Linnet and went to the towers. He arrived about the same time as engineers and craftsmen. After answering of few questions about the towers, he went across the plank spans to the other shore.

Portions of cut trees lay everywhere on the ground. Sawyers came along the causeway soon after Chance and continued their work from the day before. He walked down the path from them, heading down the lake.

Calculating when he was an arrow's shot from the men working, he paused then went a little farther. He picked a place finally and drew a line across the road. A voice in his mind asked 'now what?'.

Chance removed the Opal and amber from his pocket and set them both on the ground exactly over his line. He waited a few moments, then said: "Library. How did Nessum shield his walls against corruption, how against weapons, how against entrance? What spells did he use?"

The sun topped the mountains on the far side of the lake and light brightened where Chance stood. As he waited, he glanced out on the water beyond the marsh. It was lightening as sunlight crept across it.

Mist that hung over much of the lake now began to thin. Opal's voice broke into the morning stillness and spoke critically: "Eternity will end before he finds the spells - Nessum would never have written down his secrets..."

A softer voice came now, as if approaching from far down a hall. It began: "The information was concealed, in a section I have catalogued, of course - but available. It is three spells using wood, sand and air. Here."

Pages of spells materialized before Chance's eyes, and he read them eagerly. When he said he understood, they vanished. Opal was unabashed: "You do not even know how they will work - alone, much less together!"

He was already weaving, testing, tying one to another: air. He walked to the edge of trees nearby and picked up a branch: wood. Returning, he plunged it into one side of the road: sand. He went for a second and stuck it opposite the first then, with his mind on the pages of spells, cast.

Nothing visible happened. Opal's laugh rang out while the library said nothing. Chance puzzled it a moment then stepped between the sticks.

It was as if he walked into a wall; he could not cross the line between the two poles. Opal stopped laughing and after a moment said 'well done' to the amber.

The library gave more information about the spells from Nessum's tests. Chance listened and probed the barrier. He interrupted to ask did it need renewing and was told no.

Chance searched out sticks and extended his barrier to the water then up through the woods into hills. He noticed it did not weaken.

Thinking that he only wished to stop tribesmen, he asked if the barrier allow animals to pass. The library answered the block affects humans, not animals. Chance was very satisfied and thought it a fine day.

As he walked back down to the road, he heard the sound of horns and was pleased to see a horde of tribesmen riders approaching. His timing was perfect. On the possibility that the library was wrong somehow, he summoned his magic and then stood just past his barrier.

As a precaution, he raised a Nimbus spell and used Thicken. He did not want a lucky arrow shot by someone in the rear to strike him.

He crossed his arms and stood with feet slightly apart. The riders approaching were riding six abreast, with personages, obviously chiefs, in the front. Seeing him standing in the path so resolutely, they slowed then halted.

Chance thought their expressions particularly fierce. Three separated from the line and rode a few steps closer while actually growling at him,

One in the middle shouted something, but Chance did not understand. Another yelled at him, but again it made no sense. A man from the chief's line rode forward and grinned at the three. He said something which drew scowls from the others.

The center chief finally agreed, and the new man spoke. His Common was without accent, as if learned from Tinkers; he said: "My colleague, chief of the Green Dui, wishes to be told why you are standing in our way. He also wishes you to step aside. First, I want to know who are you."

Chance nodded politely and introduced himself. He said he did not wish for the people of the south to raid the people of the north. The man across the barrier gave him a suspicious look and related Chance's words to the others.

The chiefs began to argue; some were vivid in their exchange and all sounded blunt. Chance did not understand a word but could see they were not a unified group.

The man who came forward last pulled his horse to move to the side. He turned to men dressed similarly to him in the horde and shouted an order. He did not join in the shouting contest.

The remaining chiefs came forward and took part in a decision. Now, the five kicked their horses to a gallop and came at Chance.

He quickly went to one side, not because he was afraid. Horses raced over and past the spot where he stood moments before, but the men slammed into the barrier, stopped cold.

The chief who held back now called out a command for men to come forward and aid the fallen chiefs. One suffered a broken neck and needed no help. After shamans came, he rode forward slowly and stopped just beyond the barrier. He watched as Chance walked back to stand in front of him.

The man smiled, it creased into a confident lift on one side. He said his name was Tzesnos, and he was chief of the Red Dui, at the moment. In his Tinker Common, he asked did Chance intend for the Dui to cease raiding?

The answer was yes. There was a moment while the two men looked eye-to-eye. Chance saw a man older than Vind, closer to Xsel's age. He knew he looked young, even with a full beard.

Tzesnos broke their contact and looked over at the south end of Linnet. With his eyes still that way, he said he supposed that Chance was doing this because he planned to stay

Again, he was told yes. The Red Dui chief made an expression as if having to swallow something unpleasant. He looked back at Chance and said: "We have magic but little other than hunting spells. You are what the travelers call a High Mage, a special one though. Watch your back."

Chance thought that went well and wondered when he did not have to watch his back. He waited as chiefs were placed in several makeshift travoises and saw that already many riders were turning back. Tzesnos reined his horse to return to the mass of riders. His Red Dui waited until he passed then fell in line.

* * *

Chance walked to where loggers were and noted they caught the chief's horses. He asked them to tell Vind about the additions then walked over the bridges to Linnet.

Soon he was packing to leave and glided this time back to the lake road. Rixt was with a survey party ahead somewhere; Chance walked along intending to talk with her before continuing.

He was purposefully not gliding because he wanted to look at this land he declared his. Thoughts about Brad and Onne tried for his attention, but he pushed those away till later.

He looked closely at the land side, seeing trees cut to open space for crops. There was work for loggers and sawyers for a long time to come.

The shoreline wove back and forth, as often exposed rock as soft sand. That became more rough the farther he went.

Past Linnet, small waves lapped at the now mostly rock shore. From almost any point along the road, the view across the expanse of water was subtle: layers of color there were water, mountains, sky.

He recalled some of the lakes in Kehdy but none were the size of lake Rayen, nor did he think them notable. He was lucky that his Holdfast was in a beautiful landscape.

Hearing his name called, he left his enjoyment of scenery and answered, looking round. It was a man from the survey team; he shouted Rixt was just up the hill.

Chance left the road and climbed around fallen trees toward where a group was measuring out a farmstead. Rixt waved seeing him and walked to meet him half way.

He waited by a log and then both sat once she was with him. She spoke even as she adjusted her dress saying that the interest in farmland is keen and asked Chance about the tribes. It was a worry to would-be farmers.

Rixt was at first doubtful that she understood what he next told her. Then she grasped that the tribes were really blocked and was very pleased.

She said it should encourage more families to stake out farms. And that would assure men to man walls, or whatever Vind devised for walls.

Chance said he wanted to be in Brad before evening, so they said their goodbyes. She walked with him back to the road and then hugged him before wishing him luck.

He went on but turned to look back at her before going round a corner. She was still at the shore road and waved. He did not care that he looked foolish. He waved in return then continued on in the direction of Brad.

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