Chapter One – Sisters and Friends
Mederei and the others are about to begin a new adventure. This one leads them into paths much too close for comfort for Mederei who has to keep her abilities somewhat secret. Just how much will she have to reveal to those around her?
Water hissed on hot rocks and steam wafted around the three women gathered in the baths of the Fire Shadow Mage Guild Hall. Mederei merc Cynwal Gwion leaned against the heated rocks dividing the men's side of the bath from the women's side. Warmth eased into tired bones, caressing sore muscles until all the aches dissipated.
The soft ripples, occasional sighs and scraping of wooden tools in a bowl were the only indications anyone else was with her. Luna, another wizard, murmured something in a half-dead language while her younger sister, Aysel retorted in the same language.
The language's roots were somewhere in the central part of the kingdom of Caergwlân, but no one bothered to use it for the past century or two. It was practical to know as place names maintained their origins, and certain elements within food or weather also retained the words. It was pointless to know more than a handful of the words, but Luna and Aysel's parents had been linguists and passed it onto their four children.
In the distance, a low rumble of thunder indicated that another spring storm approached. May the gods bring rain and not another layer of snow.
“Hello!” Hugh Black, friend to all three, called from the men's side of the pool. “Anyone over there?”
Mederei lifted a solitary eyelid then closed it again. “What do you want?”
“Is Luna there with you?”
“She's here,” Aysel answered. “What is it you want, dragon boy?”
Silence echoed between the two sides. Water sluiced from Mederei's hands. “That was uncalled for even if you are angry with us, Aysel.”
“He's coming for only one reason,” Aysel retorted, pointing her spatula at Mederei. In any other person it would have been a simple act, but in Aysel’s hands it was dangerous. To Hugh, Aysel demanded, “Well?”
“Ramses has a job offer he wants us to take.”
“See? Told you. Another job, and you four barely survived the last one.”
Luna sighed, and moved only so far to look at her younger sister. “If barely surviving is your take on coming home with a completed job, and a handful of injuries ...”
Aysel didn’t give her a chance to argue: “Your back is bruised so bad you cannot lie on it. Mederei came home with a gash on her arm, mostly likely from a dragon’s claw …” She glared at the wall separating her from Hugh.
“You know as well as I do how Hugh gets when he’s hungry, and Mederei was teasing him.” Luna looked at the barely visible scars on Mederei’s arm. “She knew what could happen, and continued to press her luck.”
“You are ignoring and placating me again.”
Luna patted her sister's hand. “I'm the eldest, it's what we do. How much does it pay, Hugh?”
“Plenty, but it's a fun one,” Hugh answered.
“Fun? The last one was supposed to be fun, and look how it turned out.” Aysel swam over to the wall. “She has a huge bruise on her back.” The bruise itself was impossible to see because of the poultice Luna had on her back which worked only in warm water. “And normal medicinal magic doesn't work on us.”
Medicinal magic, other than the cold dispersals, never worked for Luna or her siblings. Aysel was gifted at healing, but much of the spells she had learned rarely worked on her sister or their brothers. Most of what Aysel used were spells Mederei created combined with old-fashioned non-magical healing practices. The house the four siblings rented had the entire attic dedicated to Aysel's medicine and library. Since she charged lower prices for her healing, many of the locals, who didn't want to bother with the certified doctors, came to Aysel first.
“We're supposed to go to the Flatlands,” Hugh was saying. “It's a simple job to shore up some barriers one of the communities has there.”
Shore up barriers? Every community had at least one mage guild. Most of the regions had at least a secondary wizarding school. “The Wido Mage Guild is located in that area, and I believe there’s a wizard college not far from there. Just what sort of barriers need to be shored up, and why can't one of the others handle it?”
Hugh didn’t answer which meant he probably shrugged.
“That means tapestries, doesn't it?' Aysel muttered. She stalked back through the water to her supplies and began cleaning up, splashing the bowl into the water dumping it and repeating. Waves reverberated across the pool, lapping against the stone edges, sizzling against the rocks.
Mederei sat on the edge of the pool and began to towel the water off her body. While it wasn’t exactly a secret that Mederei was one of the Gwion, no one needed to know just what sort of magic she could do. She threw a noise cancelling spell around the area for privacy. “Do I have to weave anything?”
“Good, because that would be illegal, my dear,” Luna retorted.
Mederei exited the pool. “Where's Ramses? I'm assuming he has all the information.”
Mederei looked back at Luna. “You coming?”
“Nope; I still have another twenty minutes in here before my prison guard will allow me to leave. Get the details.” Luna popped open an eye. “You'd better talk to your father, you know.”
“First we need to see whose tapestries they are. If they aren't Gwion, it won't matter.”
“And precisely how many other families exist who are known for the magical tapestries, pray tell?” Aysel sneered, her voice growing fainter. “Hmm, oh, right, only the Gwion.”
Tapestries. Mederei sighed as she pulled on her undergarments and strapless tunic. Her family was known for their tapestries, which was why Ramses and Hugh considered the job. The only problem, as Luna pointed out, was the legalities of her weaving a tapestry. Occupations in the kingdom of Caergwlân were accessible only through guilds. While the variances within the guilds could be vast, all aspects therewith were condensed into the guild, and only a handful of guilds were open to women, the mage guilds being the most dominate.
With a flick of her wrist, Mederei pulled the spell around the pull away, ending its ability to cancel out any noise.
When she reached the dry changing room, she pulled on her thick socks and shoes. Though it was early spring, the northern mountains were always much colder than the temperate winters she grew up with in the capital region.
With the additional information concerning tapestries, it was easy to see why Fire Shadow would be requested. After all, when it came to magic and weaving, only one family could manage it. Only one mage guild had a Gwion, unbeknownst to most.
The tapestries protected the Gwion, both the blood and heritage. Within the realms of a building, the tapestries would also protect the inhabitants. Tapestries hung on the walls of the Fire Shadow Guild hall which had been woven in times past by a previous member who was an ancestor to Hugh and his grandfather. Their blood and Mederei's protected the inhabitants of Fire Shadow within the confines of the guild hall.
Truly, the only ones who could destroy the building would be a traitor, but that would most likely not happen. Fire Shadow was family as much as it was a guild. It would be similar to one of the Gwion betraying the Gwion Guild.
“Saw that there was a call out for a tapestry problem,” Guilliam, an iron mage, observed as he lounged outside the entrance to the bath. His hair was dry.
Mederei nodded her head. “Hugh mentioned it.”
“You four going to take it?”
“You interested in it if we don't?”
“I'm not a tapestry weaver.” Guilliam pushed away from the wall. “Now, the question plaguing my mind is this: why is your team interested? Was your mother a Gwion or something? Hugh's aunt is a Gwion, and you two are cousins.”
Mederei ignored his pressing meanders, and walked down the hallway. Hugh's uncle had married Mederei's aunt which had confused everyone around them. It did, however, help hide Mederei's true family history. After all, the Gwion daughters were considered dangerous - not because of what they could do, but the potential of what they could do.
To be a Gwion meant that one was a weaver mage. For the Gwion daughters and their additional word magic - a magic which resembled the wizarding spells - the combination formed the storyteller magic which enabled the Gwion daughters to be limited only by their imaginations.
That was, providing of course, a Gwion daughter could tap into her storyteller magic. Only a handful of the daughters ever could, but it was those who had made history.
Still, tapestries were trouble, and a job requiring a weaver may prove to be even more problematic. The best decision would be to wait until Ramses filled in the missing pieces.
In the guild's common room, the normal noise was a welcome constant. The guild hall was a large four story building and dominated the center of their town. It had been built before the town, but as the town had grown, so had the guild. Two hundred years past, a fire had ravaged the entire town, laying waste to the buildings. Fire Shadow rebuilt itself and the town, this time using stone. The entire town also had a network of water works to prevent fires.
The main hall was large, spacious and opened to the second story where people could watch the guild members or talk in privacy. The first floor had tables scattered around, with booths to the side near the bar, and a large jobs board on the wall near the tables.
At the bar, some of the members waited for food or drinks they ordered. Gramps, as the master of the guild was called by the younger members, sat at the bar talking with the barkeep, Smythe. Gramps also happened to be Hugh's maternal grandfather. They came from the Black clan of demidrakes, dragons who took the form of humans until well into their first century. Gramps was only seventy.
“Mederei,” Gramps called for her to join him. “Come here a moment.” He waited until she had taken a seat beside him on a stool before continuing, “Heard about the latest job. Are you four going to take it?”
“Most likely; Hugh and Ramses are set on it, but due to its nature, they'll defer to my decision.” Mederei nodded to where Hugh and Ramses sat. “I'm just going to talk with them now.”
“How's Luna doing?”
“She still has a bruise, but she's recovering at a normal rate.” Mederei sat down beside him. Smythe, the bartender, set a glass of orange juice in front of her. Sober minds, apparently, were needed for this conversation.
Gramps grunted, lifting his coffee to his mouth. Like all demidrakes, Gramps didn’t age like humans did. Though he was nearly seventy, he didn’t look much over forty, and had only a smattering of wrinkles around his gold-green eyes. He was tall and ruddy like Hugh, but his hair was lighter. Like many older dragons, he was large, as though his body prepared for the expanding body of the dragon form. He wore jeans and a light blue, thin long-sleeved shirt. With the fabric taunt, the same tattoo as Hugh had could be seen on Gramps’ back.
“I heard there were tapestries involved in this job,” Gramps began.
“That's what Hugh indicated, but it doesn't look like I'll have to weave anything.”
Gramps lowered his mug. “Good. We don't need you drawing any unwanted attention.” Officially, Gramps knew nothing of Mederei’s heritage. Unofficially, he was her paternal grandfather’s best friend, and had known the family for a very long time. His son had married a Gwion, after all. If there was anyone who knew how to walk a line without drawing attention, it was Gramps. He had been doing it his entire life, and had mastered the ability to a point few knew exactly what the demidrake knew and didn’t know.
“I know,” Mederei whispered. “I especially don't want unwanted attention.” She sipped her orange juice. “Do you know something about it?”
Gramps sighed, and wrapped his hands around his mug until the faint sight of steam rose from the mug. “They'll probably be Gwion tapestries, but I'm not certain who made them.”
“We're the only ones known for their protective abilities,” Mederei concurred. Since the magic came from the sons and daughters of the Gwion, their tapestry guild was the most popular guild to receive a tapestry from. Nearly all the leading families of the Forty Isles had at least one set of Gwion tapestries somewhere in their building. Even the poorest would have a tapestry in their bedchambers to protect against assassinations.
Gramps looked over at her. “What are the rules considering repairs?”
“Ambiguous at best. Most officials will look the other way concerning the repairs of a tapestry. Some believe that the magic is limited due to the size of the weaving to be repaired.”
“And is it?”
“I’m a mage, Gramps, nothing limits me.” She stared down at her orange juice. “I'll contact Father and ask for permission for repairs. Better to do it beforehand.”
Gramps rose and placed a hand on her shoulder. “I've always found it is was better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.”
Mederei smirked as her guild master walked off, whistling an old tune about bachelors and their buttons. For the generally amicable old man, he was unusually morbid this day. Most likely one of the guildmates had destroyed a town of some sort, and the guild would have to give restitution. There were certain members of the guild who always managed to destroy something. Unfortunately, they happened to be some of the best members of the guild, and therefore were the ones everyone knew.
Better to do a job well with no show than to do a job well with a great amount of show. At least, that's what Cynwal Gwion would have said.
Mederei set her glass down. “Smythe, what's really bothering you?”
Smythe who had been nearby listening, shrugged. “While it sounds as though it's a simple task, I sense something else.” He picked up her glass. “Watch your back, Medi. I think it might be a trap.”
“Coming?” Ramses inquired as he picked up the tray of food he and Hugh had ordered for their table.
Mederei followed Ramses to the table where Hugh sat going through his notes. He had them primarily in his glass which held all sorts of images, notes, photographs and spells. It also acted as the primary means to communicate with others.
“What did Gramps want?”
“He thinks there might be a trap.”
“For whom?” Luna dropped down beside Mederei.
Mederei glanced at Luna.
“Ah,” Luna answered, sliding into the seat across from Hugh. “That person.”
Hugh looked over to Gramps who chatted with one of the older members of the guild who had started with him. “You still want to take it?”
“I need the money,” Ramses said, “but I can't repair tapestries. Besides, we do everything as a team, so we might as well go together.” He nodded his head to the job board. “None of the others over there pay well enough for all four of us.”
Mederei stretched her legs out. “We just need to watch our backs. When do you want to leave?”
“There's a train that leaves at ten,” Luna said, checking the schedule.
“We'll take it,” Mederei decided.