Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
“My lord, do you have a moment?”
Lord Rizik looked up from the massive library table where he stood, his palms braced on the glossy wood surface, studying several large parchments spread out in front of him. He was alone, which was a rarity these days. Usually Wen’s mum and Iann were with him or, at the very least, Thomas would be seated at the table, poring over books, making “hmmm” or “ahhh!” noises as he read.
“For you, Wen, always.”
Wen approached the table, but rather than sink into one of the carved arm chairs, he chose to stand, like Lord Rizik.
“Odd to find you alone, my lord.”
“It is, isn’t it? Doesn’t seem to happen often anymore.”
“If you were enjoying the peace and quiet, I could come back later.”
“No, no. It’s fine. Honestly, while quiet is nice on occasion, it also gives me far too much time to dwell on things over which I have little control at the moment.”
Wen suspected the lord was referring to his worry over Lord Hareldson. “I’m sorry, my lord.”
“No, don’t apologize, Wen. I’m sorry,” Lord Rizik continued with a sigh and shake of his head. “Like I said, all the silence makes me far too melancholy. So, please, talk to me. I’m glad for the conversation.”
“I can do that,” Wen offered with a smile. Glancing down at the table, he was able to see more detail of the papers Lord Rizik had been studying. “Looking at maps of the Great Plain?”
“Mmm.” Lord Rizik shifted them around, laying two side-by-side for Wen to see. “Wondering if any of the lands across it might be sympathetic to our plight with the sorcerer.”
“Are you thinking in terms of gathering allies?”
“I think we have to consider it. But the real question is, will any of these outer realms be interested?”
“They do all seem to prefer to have their own governance and aren’t known for playing well with others, so to speak. At least that’s what I’ve always heard,” Wen said.
“As have I. The one thing we have in common with them, however, is that most of them are neither in bed with Byram, nor do they approve of him. I’m considering sending out some envoys to them, to see where they stand and if they’d be willing to come to our aid should we need it. Better to find out sooner rather than later on whom we can depend.”
“True. And as big as Byram’s army has grown, the outer realms would be foolish to think that eventually the sorcerer’s desire for more power won’t reach them.”
“Exactly what I’m hoping they’ll realize, if we can get to them and tell them what we’ve seen. Which Byram’s amassed troops are not going to make easy.” He shook his head in obvious frustration. Then he looked back up at Wen and gave him a half smile. “However, I’m sure a discussion of the outer realms is not what’s brought you up to the library this evening.”
“I don’t mind, my lord. I’m here anytime you need someone to listen to your ideas.”
Lord Rizik settled a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “I know. And I appreciate that. But what’s on your mind, Wen? Unless I’ve completely lost track of time, it’s still a little early for our nightly flight, isn’t it?”
“It is. And you’re right, I did come to see you about a specific matter.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“I wanted to let you know about something that’s been going on, before you’re subjected to too much hearsay about it.”
“Ah. Does this by any chance involve the altercation that occurred in the training courtyard yesterday?”
Wen grimaced. “I see the gossip’s already reached you.”
Lord Rizik smiled, though with the hint of sadness that always seemed to haunt him these days. “Hard to avoid with this many souls living together. But, for what it’s worth, since your mother has taken two extra people into her quarters, she is the source of my information. Though, to be fair, I’m not sure how much of the full story she shared with me. I’m only aware that the brother of the trainee who is now living with her tried to make the trainee leave with him, and Jarrad shut him down a bit…would the term overzealously be accurate?”
“Unfortunately, it would be, yes. But there was a bit more to it than that, my lord.”
“Such as? From what I understand, Wesley did a masterful job of dealing with it—breaking apart the fight, and arranging new accommodations for the sister and her little brother.”
“He did. It was a messy situation and Wes sorted it quickly and efficiently. He told me about it, in detail, after he’d made sure all parties involved were looked after.”
“But…he and I have concerns about the brother. We went to speak with him this morning, after he’d awakened from Lilia’s sleeping herbs. To say he’s…difficult…would be an understatement. You should know that he has a serious aversion to humans.”
“Well, he wouldn’t be the first draegan to feel that way. The draegan race has a genuine reason to distrust humans, given how quickly and easily the humans bought Byram’s lies over the last century. The community Keiran created at the forest camp, and that we’re trying to continue here, with draegans and humans living and working together against a common foe, is fairly new ground. And there are still draegans who aren’t fond of humans, even when they’ve lived among them.”
Wen knew the lord was thinking about Jax.
“True, but unlike Jax, who was able to live civilly with humans for years in spite of his dislike of them, Lochlann has been open and loudly vocal about his hatred. The fight between Jarrad and him started not only because of how Lochlann treated his sister, but because Lochlann said several insulting things about the humans who live here, including you, my lord, because you’re half human.”
Lord Rizik sighed. “And let me guess, he implied I wasn’t worthy of being the draegan lord because of it?”
“Something like that.”
“Again, it wouldn’t be the first time, Wen.” His voice dropped to half-pitch and he said, almost under his breath, “Half the time I’m not even sure I’m worthy of the title.”
Wen knew Lord Rizik was confessing this to him in confidence by the quiet anguish in his voice. He started to speak, to reassure him it wasn’t true at all, that he’d never known a braver man or one more deserving. But before he could open his mouth, Lord Rizik continued…
“I know how seriously you take your job of protecting me, but people say a lot of things in the heat of the moment. It doesn’t automatically make them a threat.”
“I know, my lord. But in this case, because Lochlann is so unsettled, because his hatred is open and unapologetic, and because of how physically forceful he was with his sister, Wesley and I made the decision this afternoon to send him away from Kellesborne. I thought you should know about it. Lilia wants to keep him one more night to be sure he’s healed enough—she’s given him some more herbs to sleep. But first thing in the morning he’ll be escorted down the mountain.”
He couldn’t tell Lord Rizik about Wesley’s empathic abilities and how they’d played such an important role in their decision. He just hoped Lord Rizik would be able to understand it based on the surface merits.
The frown on Lord Rizik’s handsome face caused a knot of worry in Wen’s gut. And his words that followed only tightened it. “I hate the idea of sending anyone away, especially knowing what we’ve seen out there, with the sorcerer’s troops building around us.”
“So do I,” Wen said softly, and meaning it. “Believe me, it wasn’t a decision we made lightly. Our only other options were to keep him here and locked up, which wouldn’t have been practical or, for that matter, compassionate, given how troubled he is—his parents were killed only a few months ago by the sorcerer’s men and that event is still clearly distressing him. But continuing to give him open access to the castle seemed unwise considering his volatile temper. We had real concerns about how he treated his sister, and how quickly he flew off the handle with Jarrad. The idea of him potentially harming his family, or anyone else, didn’t inspire our confidence in him. Plus, he doesn’t want to be here. It wasn’t his choice to come here in the first place. He only did because his little brother was sick.”
“It’s all right, Wen. I appreciate you explaining how you arrived at the decision, but it’s not required. You didn’t let me finish my thought… I don’t like the idea of sending anyone back out there, with Byram’s troops crawling over the land. But, I understand. Under the circumstances, it sounds as if having this young man leave is the best choice. I think you already know that, though, or else you would have come to see me before you made the decision to have him leave.”
Wen nodded. But it still gave him a measure of reassurance that the lord agreed his and Wesley’s plan had been the best one in a troubling situation.
“Which begs the question, though…” Lord Rizik said, giving him a pointed look, “with the decision already made, what is it about him leaving that’s still, very obviously, causing you concern?”
Wen leaned a hip against the table and rested a hand on the hilt of his sword out of habit.
“I debated whether or not to trouble you with it. I know your mind is on far more important things right now. But, ultimately, I wanted you to be aware that Lochlann will be out there, angry and feeling betrayed by all humans, though we don’t fully know why.”
He couldn’t outright say Wesley was convinced something else besides his parents’ murders had happened to him without revealing Wesley’s gift, so he quickly had to improvise.
“The level of his anger seems to go beyond grief over his parents, as if he has a much more tangled history. He’s edgy and unpredictable. My fear is that once we’ve sent him on his way, he might try to make trouble on the outside, by stirring anti-human sentiment among the draegans who’ve chosen to live away from Kellesborne.”
Lord Rizik’s expression was thoughtful, yet troubled. “And wouldn’t Byram love to see us splintering ourselves apart, thereby making us less of a threat for him.”
Exactly the same concern Wen had expressed to Wesley.
“Obviously it’s conjecture,” Wen said. “Lochlann might disappear, content to live away from humans, and not cause any further problems. That’s what his sister seems to think he’ll do—Wes and I spoke to her about it earlier. But, there’s something about him, my lord. His…obsession, for lack of a better word, with humans is disturbing. It comes up in nearly every sentence out of his mouth. And now that he’s been shunned by his sister, and will be escorted from Kellesborne, I worry that will only make him more obsessed.”
“You indicated he wants to leave anyway.”
“He does. But in spite of that, I can’t quite seem to lay to rest the idea that us banishing him from the draegan’s ancestral home, even if he didn’t want to be here in the first place, will only chafe at his already overpowering anger. A draegan being kicked out of the draegan stronghold while more than half our number here are humans and they remain?”
Lord Rizik slowly nodded. “I see your point. Do you think it’s worth having him tracked when he leaves? Find out where he’s going, what he’s doing?”
“I confess, I considered that. But we just don’t have the manpower. We’ve doubled the guard shifts around the castle, we’ve got several people out scouting, both close and long-range, and I’ve already got a handful of Wesley’s trainees working sentry shifts to fill in. I’m hoping to be able to add a few more over the next week or two, but as of right now, things are tight. Believe me, I would love to track him, I just don’t see any reasonable way to do it without making our perimeter vulnerable. It’s hard to justify taking that risk when we don’t know for sure he’s even a threat.”
Lord Rizik placed two fingers over his lips in thought, tapping them. “What if… Hmm… What if we task someone not in the draeganjhere to follow him?”
“Of a sort. Iann has a young man who run errands for him and generally helps out where he’s needed.”
“You’re talking about Phee?” Wen hadn’t really had any direct dealings with the young human man, but had seen him around. He’d arrived several weeks earlier, right around the time they first got to Kellesborne. He’d worked down at the guard camp some, helping out, but Wen had also seen him in the castle on occasion.
“You know him?” Lord Rizik asked.
“I know of him. He seems kind of…”
“Well, yes, that, but I was actually going to say frail, my lord. At least to be sending him out to follow a potentially dangerous draegan who does not like humans in any way, shape, or form.” Phee was small of stature and slender of build and looked like a hard puff of wind would blow him away.
“From what I understand, he was half starved when some of our scouts found him and brought him in several weeks ago,” Lord Rizik said, “which is no doubt part of why he’s so slight. But I suspect he’s stronger than he appears. He has to be to have survived out there on his own. And he’s proven he’s reliable. He might be exactly the right person to follow this Lochlann because he could do it without drawing attention to himself. You wouldn’t want him to engage with Lochlann anyway, just see where he’s headed and report back, yes?”
“True.” It could work. And then Wen wouldn’t have to tap into the already thin resources of the draeganjhere, which, of course, he would never have done anyway. “I wouldn’t want him to go unless he fully agreed, though.”
“I wouldn’t want that either. You know how I feel about forcing anyone to take a duty they’re not comfortable with. But if you’d like to talk to him, Iann usually knows where he can be found.”
Wen thought about it a moment longer. “All right. It might be worth at least speaking with him.” Though, in truth, he held little hope the young man would be willing to leave the safety of the castle to follow an angry stranger across soldier-infested lands.
“Let’s make that happen then.” Lord Rizik looked over his shoulder at one of the high, narrow windows that graced the curved wall of the tower. “It’s nearly dark now. Why don’t we check in with Iann, then we’ll go ahead and leave a bit early for our nightly flight. You’re here anyway. We might as well. Unless you have other plans or obligations right now?”
“I’m at your service, my lord.”
“Oh, Wen,” Lord Rizik said, with an exaggerated sigh, “when am I ever going to convince you not to say that.”
“That I’m at your service?”
“Don’t play coy. You know what I’m talking about. You must have said it a dozen or more times this evening.”
It was an ongoing conversation between them, and one Wen, so far, hadn’t backed down from. He smiled. “I’ve told you, you’ll have to take it up with my mum. She taught me to be respectful.”
“And yet, she manages to call me by my name and not a title.”
“I believe, my lord, she thinks of you as another of her sons, in which case, titles don’t so much apply. If it makes you feel any better, she doesn’t call me Lieutenant.”
Lord Rizik clapped him on the shoulder and shook his head. “One of these days…”
“Are you always this stubborn?”
“So I’ve been told, my lord.”
“I’ll just bet you have.”