Until the breeding spells are perfected, I recommend that the rys be kept ignorant of their powers and trained to look up to native tabre as their superiors. ~ Daykash Fane, 1806 Kwellstan Calendar
The unfamiliar games of tabre acolytes sparring outside the tower distracted Dacian. Prodding his discipline, he tried to focus. Halor expected him to discuss Emjar’s treatise on clairvoyance “Perceiving All” that afternoon, and Dacian had barely reached the middle of it.
Halor honored him by allowing him to study the treasured record that Emjar had written a thousand years ago. Only preservation spells were keeping the book’s delicate binding and thin stone leaves together. Dacian enjoyed a rare privilege to actually touch the book that was on loan from the Atocha for the summer.
Dacian attempted to read again. The fine script was only faintly etched on the brittle stone wafers, and the letters blurred in his vision when another blast of raw magic shook his senses. Leaving the book open on his desk, he went to his window. The panes with their purple triangle designs were open, and a fresh pine breeze carried in the omnipresent chill of the nearby glaciers. Oblivious to the icy peaks, warm sun fell upon a green valley reveling in its furlough from hard winter. Flowering meadows and cold sparkling streams fed Lake Nin amid the primeval pines. Dacian saw the landscape. He smelled it. He heard it. He felt it, all the way from the drip of snow upon the mountainsides to the strained grinding of monstrous stone deep inside Ektren beneath the blue stone mountains.
The Rysamand, he thought lovingly.
Dacian transferred his sight into the farseeing senses of his mind. Perhaps Emjar’s “Perceiving All” could teach him the finer points of clairvoyance, but his natural ability served quite well. Flying through the trees, fragrant with pitch, Dacian spied upon the tabre acolytes.
He saw two teams of three tabre males running among the trees north of the tower. They carried weapons and their eyes blazed with a diamond glow. One of them was sprawled upon the ground. Pine needles clung to his black hair and stuck to his wet lips when he rolled over. A tabre came down an outcropping of rock. Made nimble as a mountain goat with tiny levitation spells, the tabre descended the rock face where small pines grew in stubborn defiance of their poor luck in having sprouted in so hard a place.
The tabre laughed as he jumped onto the ground and trotted to his victim. Gloating, he prodded the tabre with his staff.
“I have bested you,” the victorious tabre said. “You are out.”
But his supremacy ended as quickly as he uttered the words. Spells latched onto him from two sources. He cried out indignantly and sheltered himself from the magical onslaught with a shield spell that encased him in a shimmering bubble of energy.
Two tabre came out from the cover of the trees near the rocky outcropping. They intensified their attack spells as they came closer. The tabre who had been knocked down got to his feet. Although still swaying, he picked up his staff and charged his opponent. The two tabre struggled until the one previously sure of victory was thrown down.
“Nooo!” he shouted angrily, but with the smooth walnut staff of his opponent shoved under his chin, he could not work himself free.
The two tabre who had saved their friend ran up to the struggling duo. While one of them scanned the area warily, the other insisted that the opponent yield. Pinned by physical force and magic, the tabre admitted his defeat with a sour grimace.
Dacian could see the two remaining teammates of the bested tabre. They were creeping around the outcropping of rock. They hid themselves with an interesting spell that apparently cloaked them from their opponents’ perception. Although their spell wanted to deflect Dacian’s senses and make him see nothing more than lichen, rock and trees, he still detected them. He studied the spell, fascinated by the concept. He wondered when the other tabre would detect the cloaked tabre.
The two cloaked tabre rushed forward. They were a blur in Dacian’s mind. Too late the trio of tabre sensed their attackers. Before they could fully turn around, attack spells blazed across their backs and the two cloaked tabre leaped at them. One was struck with a high swinging kick to the head and another tabre suffered a blow from a staff between his shoulder blades. The attack dropped two of the tabre instantly. The third, who was still rattled from his near defeat, raised only a puny shield spell, and the two tabre fell upon him with swift blows. Raising his hands, he crumpled to his knees and cringed beneath the bashing staves of his opponents.
“My team is done,” he cried and covered his head.
The surrender was accepted and the tabre lowered their weapons and grinned happily. One helped his third teammate up while the losing team dusted themselves off and rubbed their sore spots.
For half the morning, they had been rushing about the forest, hurling attack spells and trading blows like unruly hooligans. Now they talked as friends, recounting the better moments of the fighting game.
With the game over, Dacian realized how caught up he had been in their competition. Their violent struggles had been thrilling. Dacian wondered what it would feel like to flex his magical powers in such a contest.
He observed the tabre on their walk back to the tower, using their staves now as walking sticks. They continued to chatter about their game. Even from five elti away, Dacian felt their eagerness as they planned another match for the next morning.
The voice of Halor called Dacian’s attention back to his body. His senses whirled, and the jagged treetops veered beneath his farseeing mind. A half dead pine, taller than the others around it, wore an eagle’s nest crown. His mind flew by the lofty platform of sticks, and he noticed two fluffy white eagle chicks before his mind plummeted into the tower.
Dacian turned from the window and dipped his head to his master.
“You are supposed to be studying,” Halor scolded and frowned at the abandoned book on the desk.
“I was, Master,” Dacian responded. “But the fighting of the acolytes from Kahtep seized my interest.”
“Rowdy fools,” Halor muttered. He fidgeted with his collar. “They treat their visit here like a holiday instead of taking their tour of the realm seriously. I should tell Master Darjeir to mind them more closely.”
Halor checked to see where Dacian had left off in the book. His student’s progress was quite insufficient, and he said so. “Dacian, you should not let yourself be distracted. I came up here because I sensed your mind wandering all over,” he said.
Still reluctant, Dacian left the window. He regarded “Perceiving All” with little enthusiasm and said, “Master Halor, I think that I will go join the sports tomorrow.”
Halor stared at him. The presumptiveness of his student was nearly as surprising as his disinterest in his scolding. But, as usual, Halor softened and looked dotingly upon Dacian. Putting a hand on Dacian’s shoulder, he gestured out the window and said, “Dacian, you should not waste your talent on such primitive sports. There are far better things than knocking each other about.”
Dacian looked wistfully at Emjar’s great work. Such studies had always been his passion, but today something new had aroused him.
“Master Halor, the acolytes were using spells that I do not know. Some of them could—”
“Dacian,” Halor cut him off. “You surprise me. You are no brute. Did Daykash Breymer want to see how well you could hit someone with a stick?”
Dacian did not doubt that Halor was a wise and good teacher who gave him many scholarly opportunities, but it now occurred to him that perhaps not everything could be learned from one teacher. Apparently tabre acolytes in other Nufalese schools enjoyed learning more subjects.
Accepting that Halor had no interest in sports and perhaps had never thought to instruct him, Dacian said, “I will get back to my studies, Master Halor.”
Halor smiled, and the curve of his fine lips accentuated the length of his nose. “Of course you will, Dacian,” he said and wagged a finger at Emjar’s book.
Dacian returned to his seat.
“I expect to discuss the first half this evening. No excuses, Dacian,” Halor said.
Dacian nodded and Halor left. Taking a deep breath, Dacian lifted his eyes past the book and looked out the stained glass window again. The urge to observe the tabre acolytes persisted, but he did not dare. Halor was monitoring him.
Dutiful again, Dacian applied himself to the book and sensed Halor move off. Dacian’s annoyance with his master started to pass. Dacian supposed that he did not need Halor’s approval in every matter, and this realization comforted him.
That evening Dacian discussed his reading with Halor. Dacian stood in Halor’s receiving chamber on the second highest level of the tower. The stone bricks of the floor were laid in a great spiral that radiated throughout the round room and Dacian stood at the vortex of the floor bricks while Halor sat in a high-backed chair upholstered in green leather. Halor questioned him on certain points and nodded with approval for some answers and corrected him on others.
As usual, Dacian received more approval from his master than correction. Halor seemed pleased with him again, but the satisfaction that these sessions normally provided Dacian eluded him this time.
“You have done well, Dacian. You are excused,” Halor said.
“Thank you for the instruction, Master,” Dacian said and bowed out of the room.
Standing now on a great balcony that encircled the hollow center of the tower, Dacian could see the rim of the topmost level where Nebakarz priests occasionally met for ceremonies. But, because the Jingten Tower had never been formally declared a Nebakarz temple, ceremonies were infrequent. The stars that he could see through the skylights complemented the glowing crystals set in the walls. The lighting offered a pleasing ambience, and Dacian studied the many spells that had been incorporated into the tower’s construction. He admired them like a gardener notices an impressive flower bed.
He walked along the balcony until he reached the levitation shaft and gripped the focused line of energy as easily as a squirrel jumps and seizes a branch. He gave just enough of his weight over to gravity and rode the energy down to the third level that contained the common areas for the Nebakarz residents.
A great sprawling kitchen and dining area arced around half the tower. Pillars separated the kitchen and dining area. Cooking fires, racks of gleaming copper pots and pans, and shelves of food were visible beyond the tables. Chandeliers of glowing crystals hung over the dining tables that were made of hardwood imported from the forests of Nufal. The white light from the crystals lighted the faces of tabre gathered at the tables. A few rys, who were employed at the tower, sat in cliques separate from the iron-skinned Nebakarz acolytes and priests.
Most had finished eating. The rys chef, Exaton, sat at a table with his apron tossed over his shoulder. He looked up from his penarta game when Dacian walked in. He told Dacian some soup was keeping warm on the middle hearth and then he resumed his game with his two friends. He drew in one eyebrow as he concentrated on using his magic to move a cube-shaped piece across the penarta board.
Dacian thanked him but he was not hungry. He had come to see the acolytes from Kahtep. They lounged around their table talking. Their dinner plates and bowls were strewn before them. Dacian approached the table and stood there while the acolytes continued their discussion without looking up.
Eventually one of the tabre looked at Dacian when he realized that the rys was not going to clear the dishes. Dacian recognized him as one of the tabre who had been able to cast a cloaking spell.
Impervious to the tabre’s haughty attitude, Dacian introduced himself.
One of the other acolytes chuckled. “So you are the rys being schooled in Nebakarz ways?” he said.
“Yes,” Dacian said, ignoring the tabre’s disdain. “I would be pleased to acquaint myself with the visitors from Kahtep. I hope that you are finding my homeland interesting.”
The tabre who had initially acknowledged Dacian rose from the table. Leaning close to Dacian’s face, he said, “Yes, this is indeed your homeland.”
“May I join you?” Dacian asked.
Nonplussed, the tabre said nothing, and Dacian took it as an invitation to sit. He stepped into the bench at the table. The tabre slowly returned to his seat, bothered by Dacian’s assertiveness.
Dacian looked around the table. The six tabre stared at him with various degrees of discomfort.
“Your name is Bagdoa,” Dacian said to the tabre on his left. He then named the others at the table. “Athur, Teev, Mithel, Ensel, and Blaysh.”
“How is it you know our names?” Bagdoa asked.
“I have heard you talking,” Dacian said.
“It’s rude to eavesdrop,” Teev complained.
“Is it?” Dacian said, amused to be scolded for such a ridiculous thing. Tabre, rys included, all possessed varying degrees of clairvoyance. Without taking precautions for privacy, a tabre could expect that anyone might be hearing his words and seeing his actions. It was the way of things.
“What do you want?” Bagdoa said impatiently.
Dacian analyzed the feelings of the Kahtep acolytes. Their hostility wounded him.
Why do they think me so low? he thought, but said pleasantly, “I watched your game this afternoon. I am interested to know more about it.”
“What about it?” Bagdoa prompted.
“Everything. May I join you in this game?” Dacian said.
The tabre acolytes relaxed, and they exchanged grins around the table.
Athur spoke. His smile showed off his big bright white teeth. “You lack the training to spar with us in Bozee bouts,” Athur said.
“What know you of my training?” Dacian rejoined.
Teev and Mithel chuckled loudly, but it was their apparent ringleader, Bagdoa, who answered. “It is common knowledge that you study under Master Halor. He is not a teacher of the Bozee.”
“He is a librarian,” snickered Ensel.
Although there was nothing ignoble about being a librarian, the comment still stung Dacian. “I would still join you in a Bozee bout. I learn quickly,” he said.
“He is not on my team,” Blaysh declared and set his hands on the table.
Dacian looked at him sharply. He was becoming riled, and the sensation was strange to him. He had done nothing to provoke these arrogant acolytes, who were barely past their tablinghood.
Bagdoa chuckled. “For once, Blaysh, you are quicker than me. But there will be no teams. I would be happy to let Dacian study the Bozee in a one-on-one bout with me.”
“Excellent,” Dacian declared and looked Bagdoa in the eye. “I would be honored,” he added, employing some sarcasm of his own. Dacian then let his power show in his eyes. Bagdoa flinched ever so slightly.
“Meet us in the forest tomorrow at dawn,” Bagdoa said.
Dacian agreed. He excused himself from the table. The rys kitchen workers were looking at him with surprise, perhaps even respect. Dacian glanced into the eyes of the chef when he walked by his table. Dacian was not sure what he saw there, but his heart was beating with an excitement foreign to him.
Dacian went warily into the forest. Even in the summer, the pre-dawn hours were crisp in the Jingten Valley. The starscape above him was bordered by the tops of the pines, blacker than the dark sky. Each tree around him hummed with a lifeforce that he could feel, but Dacian worked to tune out the natural notes that always sang through his senses. He expected the Kahtepian acolytes who were capable of cloaking themselves to ambush him.
When the dawn whispered the first word of its bright spell, the night was banished. Blackness turned gray and cast the colors of the land in strange shades that were only visible in those short moments before the sun crested the eastern peaks.
Dacian stopped and scanned the area. As he had predicted, cloaked tabre were approaching his position. He spied Bagdoa, Athur, and Ensel all cloaked in their magic that they assumed would conceal them from his senses. Dacian decided to waste no time putting a stop to their tricks. He wanted his chance to spar with Bagdoa in a fair fight and learn properly.
Picking out Bagdoa from the trio of skulkers, Dacian jogged directly toward him. Bagdoa continued to come toward Dacian, moving from tree to tree. Sometimes his cloaking spell did filter him from Dacian’s perception, but Dacian always quickly picked up his lifeforce again.
Close to Bagdoa now, Dacian ducked behind a tree and in his mind watched the tabre creep closer.
“I see you,” Dacian announced into the forest. “I can see all of you.”
The sun was just coming over the mountains and shining mauve light into the valley and glowing pink upon the snowy peaks. Bagdoa froze. The fresh morning light shimmered on the magical forces that enveloped his body. Dacian sensed Bagdoa’s uncertainty.
The tabre did not stop his cloaking spell, so Dacian decided to demonstrate his sincerity. He nudged Bagdoa with his mind and said mentally, “You are not hidden from me.”
Dacian left his hiding spot and continued to the meeting place where Teev, Mithel, and Blaysh waited. Dacian greeted the three tabre who stood leaning on their staves. After a silence that revealed their surprise at Dacian’s arrival, Teev finally spoke a stale good morning.
Pleasant birdsong was filling the forest now, and finches and sparrows were flitting happily about the meadow where Dacian stood with the tabre. Dacian reached out his hand and a white butterfly flew jaggedly and landed in his palm. Dacian studied the insect casually and did not look up as Bagdoa, Athur, and Ensel entered the meadow from separate points.
“Are you ready for your lesson?” Bagdoa said.
With a smile, Dacian bounced the butterfly back into the air. He could see that Bagdoa was no longer so cocksure. Dacian asked if he could borrow someone’s staff.
“You should have brought your own, rys,” Athur said. He walked up to the group and closed the ring of tabre that surrounded Dacian.
Dacian was not immune to the stinging tone, and, for the first time, fear stirred in the pit of his stomach. Bagdoa smiled, and Dacian realized that the acolyte had liked his sudden disquiet.
“Give him your staff, Athur,” Bagdoa commanded. “First level Bozee is fought with staves, and Dacian must have one if he is to learn.”
Dacian accepted the staff from Athur that was grudgingly given. The wooden shaft had been enhanced with spells of strength, and Athur’s magic felt foreign in Dacian’s hands.
“Shall we?” Bagdoa said. He stepped back with one foot, assumed a fighter’s stance, and held his staff defensively.
The other tabre moved back and formed a wide ring at the edges of the meadow. Mimicking Bagdoa, Dacian took up a similar position. He could not tame his pounding heart, and he was not used to his emotions interfering so wildly with his concentration.
This is a good thing to learn, Dacian realized. No matter what Bagdoa did to him this morning, he would be better for it.
To his surprise, Bagdoa began to give him a genuine lesson. He demonstrated a half dozen basic attack moves with his staff.
“Center thrust. Back hand. On the spin,” he explained. “Overhead. Ankle sweep. Double strike.” He repeated the moves and then began to methodically strike at Dacian with them but stopped short of hitting him. Bagdoa named the moves again and increased his speed with every demonstration. “Now imagine the countermoves. Do the countermoves,” he instructed and came at Dacian with a real attack.
Dacian blocked awkwardly and caught part of the blow on his knuckles. He stumbled back, gasping at the pain. Bagdoa came again and this time Dacian failed to protect himself at all. Bagdoa schooled him with a painful double strike by cracking each end of his staff across Dacian’s shins.
Dacian cried out and retreated farther.
“Pitiful!” Athur yelled. “You are not worth my stick.”
“Clumsy rys,” Blaysh said. He stood with his arms crossed, as if bored.
“A human could do better!” Mithel declared.
Their jeers rattled Dacian and he suffered more blows to his knees, his elbows, an ear, and finally across his jaw, which dropped him to the ground.
Grinning, Bagdoa relented. “Get up,” he commanded.
Dacian gripped his staff tighter and saw his purple blood oozing from his bashed knuckles and dripping on the lush grass. Shocked by his patheticness, he commanded himself to do better. He had to concentrate. Watching a drop of his blood drip down a blade of grass, he connected to the land beneath him, the land of his birth.
My pain is nothing, he told himself and pushed himself quickly to his feet. He lashed out at Bagdoa and caught him off guard. Dacian hit him on the torso just above his hip. Bagdoa shouted in painful surprise but then laughed as he recovered and deflected Dacian’s next swipe.
“Good. Good,” he said. “We’ll have a bout yet.”
They continued through the morning, trading blows without rest. Dacian began to imagine the countermoves, and he performed them. He blocked. He attacked, and they sparred with increasing speed as Dacian’s ability and confidence swelled.
When their staves were locked after a long flurry of exchanges, Bagdoa took one hand off his staff and cast a spell at Dacian’s face.
“Attack spell,” he said and a flash of white light dazzled Dacian.
Dacian yelled in dismay and Bagdoa hit him hard in his momentary blindness. Dacian buckled over and hugged his belly where he had been hit. Bagdoa struck him across the shoulders and forced him down to the trampled grass and flowers.
“That was not even a real attack spell, Dacian,” Bagdoa said.
The other tabre were laughing. Dacian allowed himself two breaths to renew himself before springing back to his feet. He reminded himself that the fighters had been trading attack spells when he had watched them yesterday. The Bozee was much more than knocking together wooden sticks.
Pushing his sweaty black hair out of his face, Dacian began to unbutton his jacket. He slipped out of the fur-trimmed black brocade jacket and walked it to the edge of the meadow where he hung it on a pine branch. A mountain breeze fluttered across his sleeveless linen tunic and cooled his bare arms.
Returning to face Bagdoa, he gripped his staff anew and said, “Show me an attack spell.”
Bagdoa raised an eyebrow. He thought Dacian foolish but was eager to give the lesson.
Dacian stood patiently, unafraid and ready to learn. He sensed how Bagdoa summoned the spell, and Dacian was gratified when Bagdoa briefly had trouble focusing. Dacian hoped that his confidence unsettled Bagdoa a little.
Bagdoa’s spell exploded with hot fury all over Dacian’s defenseless body. His skin blistered, even beneath his clothes, and his nerves were seared deeply with a pain he had not ever imagined. Even his scream was weakened by the instant agony. Dacian sagged and sweat glistened on his bubbling skin. He delved into an unexplored reservoir of strength and battled the pain.
Aghast, Bagdoa stared at him. He had thrown a heavy attack spell at Dacian, wanting to impress him with his power, but he had not expected that Dacian, ready for the blow, would not protect himself with a shield spell.
Bagdoa lowered his staff. He took a few steps forward but stopped short of offering help. He could see the hot ugly blisters on Dacian’s arms and face, and he was startled by the damage. Bagdoa had not hurt someone so badly before.
“You were supposed to do a shield spell,” Bagdoa whispered.
Dacian looked around him. The other tabre had tightened the circle, but no one dared come close enough to aid him. On their faces he saw a growing fear of what the consequences of his injury might be. They were all guilty of wanting to hurt him. They might ridicule Halor as a weakling scholar but they did not want to be punished for harming his best student.
But Dacian knew spells greater than their brutish magic.
His eyes glowed fiercely as he organized his magical power and enveloped himself in a healing spell. The clinging pain of the burns dissipated and fresh healthy skin replaced the angry blisters.
When he was finished, he smiled to Bagdoa. “I have learned your spell,” he said and, raising his hand ominously, added, “Teach me a shield spell, Bagdoa.”
The bold acolyte from Kahtep did not hesitate. Having seen Dacian’s amazingly swift and thorough healing magic, he realized the power of his opponent. When Dacian cast his first attack spell, triumphant power flowed from his mind and through his fingertips. Bagdoa staggered within the blaze of blue energy that Dacian sustained as he advanced with his raised staff.
Bagdoa gave ground now, shielding himself with his magic and his staff. Dacian pounded at him with his weapon and repeated attack spells. Although his assault was heavy-handed and artless, he enjoyed watching the tabre, so supercilious at dawn, now learning that he could be hurt as the sun reached its zenith.
Smoke began to rise from the ends of Bagdoa’s staff. Dacian heard the other acolytes yell for the bout to stop. Dacian was not about to stop and pride prevented Bagdoa’s surrender.
Dacian was learning his opponent’s shield spell, and he dismantled its energies a little more with each application of attack magic. One end of Bagdoa’s staff actually caught fire and Dacian struck off the glowing coal and shortened the weapon. He cast another attack spell and bored through the shield magic like a plow cutting through turf.
Bagdoa screamed. Dacian felt his magic burning into the flesh of his opponent, whose lifeforce shuddered from the impact.
Bagdoa fell backward clutching his chest, and Dacian stopped his magic. Bagdoa’s clothing was on fire and his exposed chest was scorched a horrible black and violet. Half of his face was badly burned as well, but he seemed not to know it yet. Teev and Ensel, who were closest to their fallen comrade, rushed forward and smacked out the flames on Bagdoa’s clothes.
Flailing at his friends, Bagdoa screamed on.
The glorious joy of fighting and winning abandoned Dacian, leaving only concern for his victim. He rushed forward, but Bagdoa retreated madly. His feet dug into the turf and he flopped backward, shaking off the hands of his friends. He shrieked for Dacian to stay away from him.
His terror startled Dacian, who had never harmed anyone before. The stink of burned flesh tainted the clean air, and Dacian learned that violence was not a game.
He pushed past Teev and Ensel and, dropping to his knees, grabbed Bagdoa. Immediately Dacian poured his awareness into the tabre’s body. Bagdoa’s struggling became feeble. Dacian felt his heart fluttering in deepening shock.
Dacian’s healing magic quenched the burns and then renewed Bagdoa’s flesh as sod mends a bare spot in a lawn. When it was done, Dacian eased Bagdoa into a comfortable position. His clothes were tattered and blackened, but his skin was whole again and he rested, free of pain.
But fear remained in his dark eyes. Bagdoa set a hand on his chest that had been so grievously charred and he looked as if his body would never entirely be his own again.
Dacian did not know what to say.
The shadows of the other five tabre crisscrossed over Dacian and Bagdoa, and in the shadows, Dacian saw their heads turn. Only then did he hear the approach of riders, one of whom was Halor.
Dacian could feel the wrath of his master already. He stood, brushed off his pants, and walked to the pine tree to retrieve his jacket. He was pulling his arms through the sleeves when Halor and Master Darjeir from Kahtep galloped into the meadow. Their black and red robes flapped around their bodies and matched the dark moods cast upon their faces.
Master Darjeir went to his group of acolytes, and Halor confronted Dacian.
“What are you doing?” Halor demanded. He jumped from the saddle and stalked up to Dacian.
Dacian did not answer. He assumed that Halor had seen all or much of what had happened.
Silence was no defense. Halor hollered into Dacian’s mind. “Raw impudence! What cause have you to disobey me?”
He thrust his rage down the length of Dacian’s spine. Dacian cringed. He had not expected to evoke such anger from his master. He had only been curious.
“Curious!” Halor railed upon reading his mind. “Your power is not to be twisted in games. You hurt him!”
“I healed him, Master,” Dacian defended.
“Bah! You know not what you have done, fool,” Halor said.
The insult startled Dacian, but he remained convinced of his innocence “If I had known how to properly play at the Bozee. If I had been instructed—”
“Silence!” Halor commanded. “Get back to the tower.”
Halor narrowed his eyes at Dacian and looked down his long nose. Disappointment highlighted his anger, and he shook his head slightly before getting back on his horse.
Halor rode over to the group of Kahtepians. By now Master Darjeir had helped Bagdoa to his feet. His acolytes were gathered close, each offering an explanation for what had happened.
“Master Darjeir,” Halor said. “Is your pupil well?”
Master Darjeir patted Bagdoa affectionately on the shoulder and murmured for him to be quiet. Darjeir answered that his student had been properly healed. When he said this, he glanced at Dacian with a look that bore more suspicion than gratitude.
Halor said, “Good, yet I must admonish you to keep your reckless acolytes away from my special student. You are here to observe not rouse trouble where there is none.”
Ever so slightly, Darjeir bristled at the upbraiding from one of his equals, but he did not argue. He knew he should have watched his acolytes more closely around the rys. In retrospect the whole trip to Jingten was probably ill conceived.
Dacian approached the tabre. They tensed at his presence, and Bagdoa slid half a step back. Dacian regretted the fear he had accidentally inspired.
“Bagdoa, I offer my apology,” Dacian said. “I should have controlled my actions better. I did not know that excitement could be such a hindrance to caution.”
The honestly spoken apology softened Bagdoa’s fear. “I know,” he whispered. “I apologize as well.”
“Enough,” Halor snapped. “Go.”
Hurt by the incomprehensible harshness from his master, Dacian meekly turned away from the tabre. Confused by more things than he realized, Dacian walked back to the tower with Halor glowering down at him from the back of the horse.
When they reached the white gravel lane by the tower, Dacian heard each piece of grit grinding beneath the horse’s shod hooves.
“I am forced to curtail your freedom for this,” Halor announced.
Dacian looked up at his master. The degree of punishment moved him to boldness. “I was only exploring new activities. I think you are overreacting, Master,” he said.
Halor said, “An acolyte does not re-think his master’s decision.”
“I am not a rysling. I deserve my freedom,” Dacian insisted, unintimidated by Halor’s scowl.
The word “deserve” riled Halor, but he bit back his angry response. Calming himself, he dismounted and came around the head of his horse to speak to Dacian on an equal level. He held the bridle and petted the white horse’s soft black face while he spoke. “Dacian, my most prized student, I must make sure that you regret this recklessness. To be a Nebakarz is to learn far more about your power than a normal tabre. But you must be careful. I know you learned this today,” he said, once again the kindly teacher.
Dacian resisted his natural need to accept the soothing tone of his master. “Will Bagdoa be punished?” he demanded. “He hurt me as well, and I had to heal myself. They were not going to help me. I doubt if they could,” he added with sudden arrogance.
Showing exasperation again, Halor told his pupil that it was Master Darjeir’s place to discipline Bagdoa.
Dacian refrained from making another outburst. He remained confused by the episode and needed time to sort out his feelings. He resigned himself to losing his freedom. He expected that Halor would grow lenient with him and restore his privileges in due time.
Halor smiled once he saw that Dacian’s aggressive mood had relented. Gently, Halor reaffirmed the reasoning that had always fostered Dacian’s conformity. “This reprimand will pass, and news of it will not reach Daykash Breymer, at least not from me. Remember to tread carefully in these coming years, Dacian. To be the first rys to enter the Nebakarz priesthood will be a great and good thing, but it will not be an easy thing,” Halor advised. “With my help, you will teach the rest of the Nufalese to respect your fellow rys. You know that you are the one to do this, but it cannot be done without patience and obedience.”
Dacian hung his head and rubbed the purple scabs on his knuckles, realizing that he had not healed all of his hurts yet. “Yes, Master,” he muttered. He knew that it was not right to cause trouble in a peaceful land.