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The Well of Strands (Osric's Wand, Book Three), страница 1


The Well of Strands (Osric's Wand, Book Three)

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The Well of Strands (Osric's Wand, Book Three)

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  Table of Contents

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  1 – Chance Encounter

  Osric traced a rough, whorled knot on the top of the bar and stared down into the bottom of an empty mug. The tavern was still fairly empty, but the dinner crowd would arrive soon with the change of guard. A young bard sat in the corner near the hearth tuning a lute, and Leisha was managing to simultaneously serve mead to the early arrivals, decline the advances of a persistent admirer, and flash a flirtatious smile at the bard. It was almost like old times—almost.

  The bard struck up a soothing melody, and Leisha sauntered toward Osric. Without asking if he wanted a third mug of mead, she took the liberty of pouring him a cup of warm rulha. She knew how little he tended to drink, even when he warmed the stool for several hours.

  Osric nodded at her gratefully and wrapped his hands around the steaming mug. He had sought out the Tipsy Tree for its familiar atmosphere, but the friendly faces and old memories weren’t doing much to lift his spirits. His friends had been expressing concern about his sulking demeanor for weeks. Although he adamantly reassured them that he was fine, Osric wasn’t entirely sure if his attitude had more to do with wanting to secure the safety of the human realm or with Bridgett’s leaving.

  Only a few days after her departure, news had come that the leader of the Human Realm, the turgent, had died. The reports indicated that he had been poisoned over a long period, and Osric wasn’t surprised to hear them blame a supposed irua spy who had worked his way up as a chamber servant over the last year. They said the assassin was killed while celebrating over the turgent’s dead body. There was no trial. The most disturbing part of it all, the part that forced Osric’s stomach into a knot, was the fact that Dredek was the newly appointed turgent. Dredek was a Konsult, a close adviser to the turgent, who had initiated the attack on Stanton a few months before and the destruction of the palace during the ratification ceremony the previous summer. The only son of the recently deceased turgent had abdicated the throne to make it available, he had said, for “a man who could lead Archana into the new age.” The whole situation felt very convenient and terribly wrong.

  The nagging despair in his gut threatened to swallow every ounce of self-realization he had managed to gather over the last year, but he knew that he must keep his focus on victory. Yet in spite of his determined effort, he could not gain control of his emotions. He found himself frequently snapping at his companions with an uncharacteristic short temper. His jade-green eyes were empty as he watched the steam rise slowly from his cup. He had let his hair grow unkempt in recent months, and its sandy shades had darkened in the absence of sunlight and grooming.

  He hadn’t let his appearance go by the wayside completely, but the care and attention he used to put into looking the role of a leader was no longer as important to him as it had once been. He looked the part of a worn, tired hunter as he sat at the end of the bar.

  It had been months since Bridgett had vanished, months since the battle to save his home, but it seemed like much longer. Time had done nothing to ease the pain in his heart nor the fear that tinted his every thought.

  Almost in mockery of Osric’s foul mood, the tavern carried on its nightly routine. The room smelled of burning wood, spilled ale, and mediocre roasted meat. Drinks flowed, the music carried on in a lively rhythm, and bodies moved in and out of the Tipsy Tree as if war was not hovering over the city like an ominous thunderstorm. Osric sat, completely absorbed in his own world, blocking out the noise. As Leisha topped off his mug, Osric slid a few coins across the bar and sat sullenly, ignoring the jovial crowd.

  War and a woman were not the only things on his mind, for he could not outrun or defeat the fact that he was still gaining new abilities, even as he sat at the bar. No matter what he did, no matter where he went, his powers kept growing, and he had no idea why. His desire to discover the source of the changes to himself—and now, it seemed, to Kenneth as well—consumed most of his thoughts. His new powers and his knowledge in the book of spoken spells were the only weapons he could think of that could help them stop Dredek. He needed to make progress for this to happen, but his understanding of what was behind the power growth was developing too slowly to be of any help.

  Osric had spent much of his time recently locked away in a small room he had set up in the old Vigile barracks. A small wooden table and stool accompanied him in his makeshift workshop. There, undisturbed, he had spent hours every day examining his wand. First, he attempted to probe deeper with the Wand-Maker’s sight using the increased power that came with each additional gift. Then he tried placing various books behind the wand, hoping that the difference in background colors would provide a contrast that would allow him to see something he might have previously missed. All attempts were met with a frustrating lack of results.

  In the months since they had started recruiting people to their cause, magical breakthroughs had been happening all around him. Some of the brightest minds in the realm were working to decode the wonders of magic, which taught them many things. They learned how communication spells worked and how spoken spells differed from those cast by wands. Osric learned how his different abilities had started to interact in ways he could never have imagined, since each individual had always been limited to one innate ability—one measure of magic.

  Osric struggled to comprehend the value of their progress. While he had started to glean much excitement from his situation, he longed to lead a slower existence. He craved silence and sought it out on a regular basis. Yet solitude could not be found at the barracks; he was too well known, too often recognized, and too damned important to the advancement of magical knowledge. Lately, Gus had made a point of giving him that very lecture on a daily basis. Osric stared at his steaming cup of rulha, knowing that he had an earful waiting for him when he returned, knowing that others wanted to study him, and knowing at his core that Gus’s words were correct. Osric hated it, but he knew it was true. Somewhere between the new understanding of magic and the knowledge of how Osric was gaining his powers was the key to unlocking the potential of his abilities, but the demands of his fame were rapidly taking their toll.

  He sat, absorbed in his foul mood and trying to invent reasons for his absence. The tavern was growing busier. Tables began to overflow, but still the stool beside him sat vacant. Osric managed to ignore the revelry around him as he drifted in his thoughts. The fire was stoked higher and the wall sconces were lit, when the sky grew darker and the light from the small windows became too meager to see by.

  Osric glanced up as Leisha took his mug. He was no longer alone at the end of the bar. A very large ursidae had taken up the seat beside him. Surprisingly silent for his mass, he was sipping gently and cheerfully on the brim of a dainty teacup. Osric managed not to laugh in surprise.

  The sight of the creature—covered in thick brown fur with sharp claws and teeth bared in a wide grin, gently savoring the smell and taste of a steaming cup of tea—brought Osric out of his solemn musings. The huge bear looked around with wide-eyed excitement at the rowdy conversations, music, and dancing going on about him. Osric’s attention lingered a bit too long and caught the attention of the newcomer.

  “Oh, I hope I didn’t disturb you. I’ve been anxious to see this place and this was the only free seat. As you can tell, I do demand a fairly large area to get comfortable.”

  Osric cocked his head at the pleasantness in the creature’s low voice. He wasn’t sure how to repl
y to the greeting. The ursidae he had seen in the fire telling in the caves of D’pareth didn’t sound anything like the one sitting next to him. That ursidae was terribly disgruntled, and every intonation, every inflection of his words colored Osric’s impressions of a race he had known for a lifetime. Maybe it was the fact that he had not talked with an ursidae since the vision, or maybe it was merely a side effect of the tainted attitude he had walked into the tavern with, but his mind simply couldn’t process the change. His befuddled expression caught the ursidae’s attention.

  “I guess I must have disturbed you.” The massive bear glanced at the hilt of Osric’s sword with interest as he stood up. “I apologize for the disruption. Please excuse my intrusion.”

  “No, please sit down. I’m sorry. Where are my manners?” Osric called over to Leisha and ordered them both a refill. “What brings you to Stanton?”

  “Well, I’m a merchant of sorts, so business takes me everywhere. But to be honest, I’ve heard some interesting tales about this city recently, and I just couldn’t help but come see it for myself.”

  “I can only imagine what you have heard.”

  “Fascinating stories, truly. Have you been here long? Do you know much about what has happened here this past year?”

  Osric grimaced slightly at the memories of his hometown being attacked, invaded, and nearly destroyed.

  “Yes, actually. I grew up here.” As he said it, Osric wished he could take it back, but the damage was done.

  “Really? Wonderful. Would you mind me asking you a few questions?”

  The idea of facing Gus and his impending scorn held little appeal, so Osric decided a brief conversation would be better than returning to the barracks.

  “Sure. I have a few minutes to spare.”

  “I don’t even know where to begin. Perhaps you could tell me about the palace. I noticed on my way into town that the new construction is nearly finished.”

  The inquiry caused Osric’s mind to flash back to the moments before the explosion. He had been trying to locate the threat that his Portentist ability had alerted him to, but he had been too late. He had survived, thanks to the timely intervention of a unicorn and a great deal of luck, but hundreds had perished in the resulting collapse. Ever since that day, Osric had been chasing down one clue or another in an attempt to seek justice for the attack. He gritted his teeth and attempted to answer the question without succumbing to his emotional turmoil.

  “The attack was sudden and unexpected. It basically leveled the building during the ratification ceremony last year. Very few made it out alive.” A deep, familiar sadness filled Osric’s voice as he struggled with the memories.

  “That’s terrible. And then the Kallegian came?”

  “Yes, but we had some time to rebuild before then. The city was just starting to put itself back together when the turgent’s elite forces showed up.” Osric knew that the Kallegian had been sent as a result of his investigation. He had attempted to thwart Dredek’s plans one time too many, and his city had paid the price. He had only later discovered the truth about the Konsult, but even at the time of the invasion he had suspected that the turgent was merely a puppet under the control of his devious adviser. “You should know that the battle against the Kallegian was not an act of rebellion against the turgent, as it must seem to some from around the realm. They were being misled by their, uh, commander. I don’t think the turgent was behind the orders.”

  “I have heard a few people say that the battle was treason against the realm, but I have heard more people say that there must be something more going on that no one knows about.”

  “Good. I wouldn’t want people thinking that Stanton’s honest citizens are traitors.”

  “No, no, of course not. But I have heard even more exciting news,” the bear leaned in closer and his voice grew soft, “about the overgrown barracks on the west side of town.”

  “Oh? What have you heard?”

  “I hear that they are operating in secret, deep under the earth. I hear that thousands of the most intelligent minds have been recruited, and they’ve managed to unravel all of the secrets magic holds.” His voice grew excited as he continued to ramble. “They have been seen flying without the aid of winged creatures, disappearing from one place and appearing on the other side of the world in a moment, and they can put thoughts into a person’s mind without them even knowing they are being manipulated.”

  Osric laughed out loud, wondering how such rumors could have spread so far for a stranger to hear them all.

  “Those are fascinating tales. I’m sorry to tell you that they were invented by creative minds, not witnessed by honest eyes.”

  “Of course they aren’t true. Do you think I am a fool? What I find so fascinating is that someone would think to base such a wild story on the barracks of Stanton. There must be something special about them to inspire such absurdities.”

  “A wise observation.” Osric was glad to hear that not everyone believed what he heard. “What type of trade are you in?”

  “Oh, trinkets mostly. A few magical oddities here and there.” The bear’s gaze drifted again to Osric’s sword. “That’s quite the lovely piece you have there. Where did you get it, if you don’t mind my asking?”

  “The sword was my father’s. A friend of mine did some work on it for me as a gift.”

  “It’s beautiful work. If you ever decide to part with it, I would be very interested in purchasing it.”

  “That won’t happen,” said Osric. “But I will pass on your praise.” Jane was always thrilled to hear that her art was admired.

  “So, what do you do?”

  “Recently, I’ve been doing some teaching.” Osric felt a tinge of guilt that he was deliberately withholding his identity, but it felt refreshing to engage in a genuine conversation without anyone expecting him to solve an impossible puzzle—or worse, address dozens of questions and requests at any given moment.

  “A noble engagement. One who has knowledge and fails to pass it on neglects his obligation to the future.”

  “I hadn’t really thought of it that way.”

  “Sure. I find that acquiring knowledge is the most valuable pursuit. Although, what one does with such knowledge is more a mark of his character than how much he has learned.”

  “I imagine you have learned much of value in your travels. I would like to introduce you to some friends of mine. What’s your name friend?” Osric smiled.

  “Orson.” He offered his paw.

  “It is a pleasure to meet you, Orson. I’m Osric.” They shook hands as the bear’s eyes went wide in recognition. The delicate teacup clattered to the bar, breaking into several pieces as realization took hold.

  2 - A Good Deal

  Osric led the way along the road toward the palace. Orson had recovered his composure quickly, and he readily agreed to go with him. The night was warm and fragrant with summer flowers, and as they walked, Orson commented on the various sights of the city. Ahead, in the distance, they could see the lights of the palace, but Osric turned and led them down a narrow lane into the residential area of Stanton.

  “You looked surprised to hear my name. Have you heard stories about me as well?”

  “Something of the sort. I actually met a friend of yours on my journey here.”

  “Really? Who was that?”

  “A charming fellow named Ero. He was interested in some of my wares. When I told him I was headed here, he told me I should seek you out.”

  “Was there anything in particular that he thought I could do for you?”

  “Actually, I believe he thought you would like to take a look at my inventory.” A hint of hesitation was evident in Orson’s voice, and Osric could sense conflicting emotions of admiration and doubt from the ursidae. He was still learning to discern someone’s feelings with his Empath ability, and he wasn’t sure what Ero might have said to the stranger. “He mentioned that you could probably tell me more about my wares than I already know, but only if I
tell you about how I find them.”

  “If Ero insists, I am sure I would be interested to hear all about it. Though, I don’t want you to feel coerced. If you do share information about your inventory with me, you should only do so willingly.”

  “Thank you, Osric,” he said, emanating a distinct feeling of relief.

  “Why don’t we wait until my companions have joined us.” Osric opened the door to his house and invited Orson inside. No sooner had they sat in the kitchen with refreshments than Kenneth and Gus came through the door.

  “It’s about time you dragged yourself out of that tavern. You know, we could have used your help today, and all you do is sit there drinking all day like a louse.” Gus scampered up onto a kitchen chair, favoring one hind leg, and glared over at Osric. Orson stood, crouching to avoid hitting his head on the ceiling, expectant of introductions. He looked a bit uncomfortable in the small home that Osric had recently thought of as spacious.

  “I apologize for my untimely absence. Gus, this is Orson. Orson, this incorrigible prairie dog is Gus, and this is Kenneth.” Osric waited for the pleasantries to be exchanged before he continued. “Where is Machai?”

  “We had another report of unusual landslides in the hills west of here. He took a unit of Vigiles to go investigate.”

  “Well, if there is anything suspicious behind the activity, Machai will surely discover it.” Osric turned his attention back to the ursidae. “Orson was told to seek me out by Ero.” Gus’s demeanor changed noticeably at the mention of the eagle.

  “Ero sent you here, did he?” asked Gus. “What can we do for you?”

  “That’s just it. I think he wanted me to do something for you, but I don’t know what.” Orson shrugged his massive, furry shoulders.

  “You mentioned that Ero said you should tell us about your work. Let’s start there,” Osric encouraged.

  “Ah, yes. Well, I learned a long time ago that when something is lost it is often forgotten. I use my ability to find things that have been lost. Since they have been forgotten, I find them a new home.”

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