THE MIRROR OF WORLDS – snippet 8:
An old man who'd been silent till then said, "Mistress, there was swords and a helmet carved on the stone, my gramps told me. And he said more squiggles too. That coulda been writing, couldna it?"
"Your gramps, your gramps!" sneered the original speaker. "Dotty he were, Rebben, and you're dotty too if you think this fine lady's going to take the least note of what you say or your gramps ever said!"
"Dotty am I, Hareth?" said Rebben, his voice rising immediately into something as shrill and harsh as a hawk's scream. "Well, he did say it! And I reckon he said it true, as he always said true. And anyhow, who are you to talk who falls asleep with his face in his porridge most nights if his daughter don't grab him quick, hey?"
"Fellows, don't bump Lady Tenoctris, if you please," Cashel said, moving forward to crowd the old men away without having to touch them. He rotated his quarterstaff, bringing it across at an angle in front of him to make the same point as his words. "If you're going to argue, it'd be good if you went off a ways to do it."
The men scattered like songbirds when a falcon strikes. Hareth and Rebben jumped to the same place, collided, and fell in a tangle with high-pitched cries.
Cashel grimaced and put himself between Tenoctris and the men thrashing nearby. He'd been clumsy and almost caused what he'd been trying to prevent: one of the old fellows bumping Tenoctris into the pool.
That hadn't happened though. Tenoctris walked past with a pert expression, avoiding the men on the ground with the same careless unconcern as she did the muddy patch from the overflow pipe.
"I'm sure this is the place," the old wizard said cheerfully to Cashel, who followed her back to the circle she'd scribed beside the bank. "All I could tell from the spell I worked back in the palace is that the site would become important. I hope I can learn more now that I'm here."
She settled herself cross-legged, facing the figure. She'd written things both inside and outside the circle, but Cashel could no more read the words than Hareth and his friends could've.
Tenoctris raised the bamboo sliver. Before she started calling out the spell she glanced back at Cashel with a wry smile.
"Of course this may not help either," she said. "I'm simply not a powerful wizard, as I've proved many times in the past."
"You've never failed, Tenoctris," Cashel said quietly. "You've always done enough that we're still here. You are and the kingdom is, for all the people who fight evil."
The old wizard's smile changed to something softer, more positive. "Yes," she said. "That's a way to think about it. Thank you, Cashel."
She bent over the circle and began, "Stokter neoter," tapping her wand on the written words of power as she spoke them. "Men menippa menoda."
Cashel looked away. Wizardry didn't bother him, especially when Tenoctris was doing it, but his job was to look out for her. Watching Tenoctris chant would be as silly as watching sheep crop grass instead of keeping an eye out for danger.
And there was always a chance of danger when there was wizardry. Tenoctris said she could see the strands of power that sprang from certain places and twined among themselves. Those powers grew from temples and altars, especially old ones, but they came from graveyards and especially battlefields like this one. More men than Cashel could imagine had died here in blood and terror.
Concentrated power attracted those that wanted power more than anything else, and they weren't all human.
The local men had gathered by the side of the pool, standing tightly together and all watching Cashel and Tenoctris. They seemed angry and afraid, though maybe the moonlight exaggerated their expressions. Cashel smiled at them, hoping he seemed friendly, but he couldn't see that did any good.
Tenoctris droned on. Sometimes Cashel caught a few syllables… morchella barza … but they didn't mean anything to him. The language a wizard spoke was directed of things–demiurges, Tenoctris called them, but that was gobbledygook to Cashel–that controlled the powers that the cosmos turned on.
The bright star in the south continued to rise. The water of the memorial pool was mirror smooth; now it drew the star's reflection into a cold white pathway.
Cashel began to wipe his quarterstaff with the wad of raw wool he carried for the purpose; lanolin in the fibers kept the hickory from cracking and brought out the luster of the polished wood. He'd turned the staff himself from the branch which the farmer who owned the tree had given him as pay for felling it. Cashel'd been little more than a child at the time, but he'd already had a man's strength.
Now that he was a man, he had the strength of Cashel or-Kenset. He smiled at the thought.
Cashel put the wool away and lifted the staff, his hands spread a little more than the width of his shoulders. He set the hickory spinning slowly in front of him, loosening his muscles. When he was ready, he speeded up each time he crossed his arms till the heavy staff hummed as it cut the air.
Still keeping an eye out–he was on watch, after all–Cashel raised the whirling staff overhead. He turned his body under it to face what'd been his back, then forward again. He moved in quick jumps, using the weight of the iron-shod hickory to pull him around.
Cashel saw a bluish twinkle in the center of Tenoctris' figure; wizardlight, brought to life by her chanting the way flint strikes sparks from iron. Cashel felt the hair on the back of his neck rise, also a sign of approaching wizardry.
The old men watched in amazement, but Cashel wasn't doing this to impress them. He grinned again. He'd impressed much more important people than these old codgers, and some of those people'd been trying to kill him at the time.
Ordinarily a little spell of the sort Tenoctris chanted wouldn't have made him tingle as much as this. Was something else…?
Where the star had shone on the pool, there was now a man with a shield and drawn sword. The angles were funny; the fellow wasn't reflected–there wasn't anything but empty sky to reflect. It was like he was standing straight upright instead of being on his back in the water. His leg moved forward and he was standing on the stone curb.
The water didn't ripple. A second man was standing on its surface. Both were naked except for the belt supporting their scabbards. Their skin was black in the moonlight.
The first man stepped forward, raising his sword. Rebben noticed him and shouted.
The black man's sword split Rebben's skull like a melon. As the other old men blatted in terror, the swordsman jumped into the midst of them hacking left and right.
The second figure was stepping out of the pool.