L. E. Modesitt, Jr., tells the incredible story of the White Chaos wizard Cerryl: his education in life and love, and his rise to power in the magicians' guild of Fairhaven.
About the Author
Kirby Heyborne is an accomplished actor, musician, and comedian who has received a number of AudioFile Earphones Awards for his audiobook narrations. He has had starring roles in over a dozen features and many short films. Kirby is also a cofounder and director of the Los Angeles-based improv comedy group The Society.
Read an Excerpt
Cerryl shifted his weight He stood in the west corner of the small second-level rampart of the guardhouse before the north gates to the White City of Fairhaven. That was the only corner where the sun touched. His white leather jacket was fastened all the way up to his neck, and even with the heavy shirt and white wool tunic of a full mage underneath, he was cold.
He glanced out at the white granite highway that stretched north and, just beyond where he could see, curved eastward toward Lydiar. As the day had passed, it had warmed enough that his breath no longer formed a white cloud, but the north wind still cut through his white woolen trousers. His eyes went down to the armsmen in red-trimmed white tunics who stamped their boots and walked back and forth in front of the gates, waiting for travelers.
The rumbling of another set of wheelsiron oneson the stone alerted Cerryl, and he looked up and out along the highway to study the approaching vehicle, a high-sided wagon painted cyan and cream, escorted by a full score of lancers in cyan livery, ten preceding and ten following the wagon. Cyan was the color of the Duke of Lydiar.
Cerryl couldn't help but wonder what was being conveyed to Fairhaven with so many lancers: Chests of golds owed for road taxes? Trade goods from the port at Lydiar as some sort of repayment? The ponderous approach of the wagon and the four horses indicated the load was heavy.
Slowly, slowly, die teamster in cyan eased the wagon up to the gates and the White armsmen. The Lydian lancers reined up on each side of the wagon and behind.
Tariffs and goods for Fairhaven. Bound for the Wizards' Square," announced the captain of the Lydians, a squarish black-haired and bearded figure. He extended a scroll to the man in charge Of the inspection and guard detail.
Cerryl took a deep breath and let his order/chaos senses study the wagon. Metalcoins in chests, as he had suspected, although there were but three chests. Under the dark gray canvas were also a dozen small barrels, more like quarter-barrels. Salt perhaps. Most salt came from Lydiar, the closest port, for all that it was two long days or three short ones.
The head gate guard glanced up at Cerryl, his eyes questioning the mage. Two of the lancers behind the Lydian officer followed his eyes. One swallowed as his eyes took in Cenyl's whites.
"That's what the scroll says, ser!" the detail leader called up to Cerryl.
"It's as they say, Diborl," Cerryl answered.
"You may pass," the head guard announced.
The wagon rolled past the guardhouse, and Cerryl listened. Listening was the most interesting part of the duty, at least usually.
"…always have a mage here?"
"Always…Sometimes you see someone get turned to ashes…"
"No…not something to jest at."
Cerryl hadn't had to use chaos fire on any person yet in Ms gate-guard duties, but he'd turned two wagons carrying contrabandone had iron blades hidden under the wagon bedinto ashes and sent fee teamster and his assistant to the road crew, where they'd spend the rest of their lives helping push the Great White Highway through the Westhorns.
The young mage shrugged. He doubted that either man had been the one who had planned the smugglingor would have benefited muchbut he'd seen Fenard and Jellico and grown up in Hrisbarg in the shadow of the played-out mines. He'd been a mill boy, a scrivener's apprentice, and a student mage under the overmage Jeslek. All those experiences had made one thing clear. Strict as the rules of the Guild were, harsh as the punishments could be, and sometimes as unfair as they had been, from what he'd seen the alternatives were worse.
After stamping his white boots again, Cerryl walked across the short porch, four steps, and turned back, hoping that keeping moving would keep him warmer. Sometimes, it did. Most times, if didn't.
He wanted to yawn. He'd thought sewer duty had been tiring, but it hadn't been half so tiring as being a gate guard. At least, in cleaning sewers he'd been able to perfect his control of chaos fire. As a gate mage, mostly he just watched from the tiny rampart on top of the guardhouse just out from die north gate. Also, the sewers were warmer in winter and cooler in summer. The sewers did stink, he reminded himself, sometimes a great deal.
Cerryl glanced down.
Diborl looked up at the young mage. "We've got two here need medallionsa cart and a hauler's wagon."
"I'm coming down." Cerryl walked to the back of the porch area, where he descended the tiny and narrow circular stone staircase. He came out at die back of the guardroom. From there he entered the medallion room, where a wiry fanner with thinning brown hair stood. Behind him was a hauler in faded gray trousers and shirt.
The farmer had just handed his five coppers across the battered wooden counter to the medallion guard. Behind him, die hauler held a leather pouch, a pouch mat could have held anywhere from several silvers to several golds, depending on the trade and the size of the wagon. That didn't include actual tariffs, either.
"Ser," said the guard to the farmer, "Vykay, there"he pointed to another guard who held a drill, a hammer, and a pouch that Cerryl knew contained soft copper rivets"he and the mage will attach the medallion."
"Just so as I can get going."
"It won't take but a moment," Cerryl assured the man, who looked to be close to the age of Tellis, the scrivener with whom Cerryl had apprenticed before the Guild had found him and made him a student mage.
The cart stood at the back of the guardhouse, a brown mule between the traces. The mule looked at Cerryl, and Cerryl looked back, then at the baskets of potatoes in the rear.
"Medallion should go on the sideboard around here," Vykay positioned the brass plate a handspan below the bottom of the driver's seat. "That be all right?"
"Might catch on stuff in the stable. A mite bit higher'd be better." The farmer nodded. "New wagon. Old one not much better than a stone boat no more."
The guard raised the medallion and glanced at Cerryl.
With quick motions, the guard used a grease stick to mark the wood, then took out the hand drill and began to drill the holes for the rivets.
"Can remember when it was only three coppers," the farmer said to Cerryl. "Before your time, young mage." He offered a wintry smile. "Not be complaining, though. Do no good, and 'sides, I'd rather be using the White highways than those muddy cow paths they call roads."
Cerryl nodded, his eyes straying to the medallion Vykay had laid on the wagon seat-simple enough, just a rectangular plate with the outline of the White Tower stamped on it and the numeral 1, for winter, and the year.
"Just about ready, ser," Vykay announced, straightening, placing the medallion on the sideboard, and slipping the rivets/pins through the holes in the medallion and in the cart sideboard. Then came the offset clamps and two quick blows with the hammer. The guard glanced at Cerryl.
The White mage nodded and concentrated, raising a touch of chaos and infusing the medallion and rivets. He could feel the heat in his forehead, not enough to raise a sweat, but noticeable to him. "There." Cerryl turned to the farmer. "Your cart is allowed on all White highways for another year, ser. I must warn you that if anyone tampers with the medallion, you will need another. And…they could get hurt."
"I'd be knowing that, but I thank you." The farmer offered a brusque nod and took the leads to the mule, flicking them and leading the cart away, walking beside the mule, rather than riding.
Cerryl glanced at the second vehicle-a long and high gray wagon with bronze trim. The painted emblem on the side read: "Kyrest and Fyult, Grain Factors."
The hauler stood by die wagon. "If you could just replace…"
Vykay nodded and looked at Cerryl.
Cerryl extended his senses and bled away the remaining chaos, although there was so little left that no one would have been hurt, even if Vykay had removed the old medallion.
Vykay produced a chisel and, with two quick snaps, removed the old medallion and then replaced it with the new.
Cerryl added the chaos lock, then looked at the guard. "Is that all for now?"
With a smile, Cerryl slipped away and back up to his perch on the second level of the guardhouse. He glanced back northward over the highway, momentarily empty near the gates, though he thought he saw another wagon in the distance making its way through the gray-leaved hills, toward Fairhaven. Because of the alignment of the city, he found it strange that the north gate actually controlled the travelers from Hrisbarg and Lydiar and the far east of Candar. It was also strange, as he reflected upon it, how much straighter the Great White Highway was in Gallos and western Certis than near Fairhaven itselfyet Fairhaven was the home of the Guild and the mages who had labored centuries to build the great highways of eastern Candar.
Stamping his feet again, he walked back and form on the walkway behind the rampart several more times, but his feet remained cold, almost numb.
The bell rang, its clear sound echoing on the rampart, but Cerryl had already stepped forward with the sound of wheels on stone once more.
A farm wagon stood before the guards. Three men in rough browns stood by the wagon. Three and a driver?
"What have you in the wagon?"
"Just our packs. We're headed to Junuy's to pick up some grain for the mill in Lavah."
Cerryl frowned. Lavah was on die north side of the Great North Bay, a long ways to go for grain. His senses went down and out to the wagon, and he nodded to himself, marshaling chaos for what would come, knowing it would happen, and wishing vainly that it would not. "There's something in the space beneath the seat. Oils, I'd guess."
The driver grabbed as iron blade from beneath the wagon seat, and the gate guards brought up their shortswords automatically but stepped back.
Cerryl focused chaos on the driver, holding back for a moment, hoping the driver would drop the blade, but the man started to swing it forward.
Whhhsttt! The firebolt spewed over the figure so quickly he did not even scream. The blade clunked dully on the white granite paving stones beside the wagon. White ashes drifted across the charred wagon seat. The other three men did not move as the guards shackled them and led them into the barred holding room to wait for the Patrol wagon. The patrol would hold them until they were sent out on road duty.
Cerryl was glad they hadn't raised weapons. Killing the driver had been bad enough, and he wished the man had not raised the blade, but raising weapons against gate guards or mages was strictly forbidden, and rules were ruleseven for mages.
Two other guards began to inspect the wagon, then pulled open a door.
"Good screeing, ser. Almost a score of scented oilsHamorian, I'd say!" Diborl called up to the young mage.
Cerryl managed a nod. His head ached, throbbed. Myral had warned him about the backlash of using chaos against cold iron, but he'd not had that much choice if he wanted to ensure none of the guards were hurt. Absently, he had to wonder about his ability to sense the oils. No smuggler expected to get caught, and the hidden wagon compartment had been prepared well in advance, perhaps even used before. Did that mean other gate guards were less able, or lazy? Or looked the other way?
He pursed his lips, disliking all of the possibilities and understanding that he knew too little to determine which, if any, might be the most likely answer.
Below, the guards carried the jars of oil, probably glazed with a lead pigment, into the storage room. The confiscated goods were auctioned every eight-day, with the high bidder required to pay the taxes and tariffson top of the final bid. The golds raised went into road building and maintenance, or so Kinowin had told Cerryl.
Even if some smuggling succeeded, Cerryl still didn't understand why people tried to smuggle things past the gatesat least things made of metal. Cerryl knew his senses couldn't always distinguish spices from a wagon's wood or cloth. Leyladin, the blonde gray/Black mage who was the Hall's healer, might have been able to do that, but most White mages couldn't. But even the least talented White mage could sense metal through a cubit of solid wood.
He shook his head, fearing he knew the answer. The Guild kept its secrets, kept them Well, Cerryl still recalled the fugitive who'd been turned to ashes by a Guild mage when Cerryl had been a mill boy for Dylert, watching through a slit in a closed lumber barn door.
As Diborl supervised, another guard brought out the two prisoners on cleanup detail to sweep away the ashes that remained of the wagon. Every morning one of the duty patrols brought out prisoners for cleanup detail, usually men who'd broken the peace somehow, but not enough to warrant road duty.
Cerryl rubbed his forehead, then turned and glanced at the western horizon. The sun was well above the low hills, well above, and the gates didn't close until full dark. Luckily, it was winter, and sunset came earlier. He couldn't imagine how long the duty day must be in the summer, and he wasn't looking forward to it.
The overmage Kinowin had told him that he would do gate duty, on and off, for season or two every year for the first several years he was a full mage, perhaps longerunless the Guild had another need for him. But what other need might the Guild have? Or what other skills could he develop? He definitely had no skills with arms or with the depths of the earth, as did Kinowin and Eliasar and Jeslek. And he wasn't a chaos heater, like Broka. The Guild didn't need mage scriveners, his only real skill.
So he could look forward to two or three years of watching wagons, to see who was trying to avoid paying road duties? Or trying to smuggle iron weapons or fine cloth or spices into the city?
He turned and paced back across the walkway, then returned, hoping the sun would set sooner than was likely. His eyes flickered toward the empty and cold highway, a highway mat would have seemed warmer, much warmer, had Leyladin been anywhere nearer.
Yet even thinking of Leyladin didn't always help. She was a healer, and he was a White mage, and Black and White didn't always work out. Some Whites couldn't even touch Blacks without physical pain for both. He'd held her hands, but that was all. Would that be all?
He paced back across the porch again, almost angrily.
Copyright © 1999 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.