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WolfSinger Publications

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The Seven Exalted Orders
- Deby Fredericks

Arkanost  has Seven Exalted Orders. No more, no less. When a magus goes renegade  in a far-off province, the Mage Lords demand that something be done.

Ryamon is bitter and frustrated. He longs to be a Fire magus; as a Stone  magus, he's miserable. If he can bring the rogue back, he has a chance -  his last chance - to fulfill his dream.

It's a great plan - until he actually meets Valdira.


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Chapter One

“In the name of King Sedlin, let this council come to order.” Sea Lord Chrysen silenced the chamber with a tap of her gavel. “Who has business for the Collegium of Mage Lords?”

Stone Lord Senorith rose from his high seat. “I do.”

Chrysen nodded graciously. “Come forward, brother magus.”

As Senorith made his way to the podium, faint whispers echoed upward into the shadowy dome of Arkanost’s Grand Collegium. Lamps mounted on the curving wall spread a thin layer of smoke through the air. Sitting in the front row, Ryamon blinked against the sting.

They will listen,” he said to himself. “They have to understand.”

He glanced around, seeking to calm his nerves. The dais of white limestone loomed at the center of the chamber. Though polished to a fine sheen, it was shaped in a severe, plain style. The rigid lines were softened only slightly by drapes of silken fabric dyed in the colors of the Seven Exalted Orders. Senorith stood behind a similar podium facing the dais.

“My brother and sister magi,” the Stone Lord began, “I come to speak for my novice, Ryamon of Dalgest.”

Below their banners, the Mage Lords sat in their robes of office. Each held a lacquered staff. One or two of them glanced at Ryamon. He tried to look back steadily. Though he was dressed in gray robes, like any Stone magus, his blood jumped as restlessly as the flames in the lamps. This was what he had been waiting for.

The rest of the chamber held rows of hard benches, where Ryamon squirmed along with the other petitioners. A little farther down the front row, three nobles sat on embroidered pads. A prim-looking older woman was accompanied by a younger man and woman. These were observers from the court of King Sedlin. Their names had been announced when they entered, but Ryamon hadn’t been paying attention. The younger lady fanned herself idly.

Then the Stone Lord’s voice brought his attention back to the dais. “Through no error of his own, this novice has been incorrectly placed within the Order of Stone. It is Fire that calls to his spirit. I ask Akayel, as my brother magus, to accept this novice into the Order of Fire.”

Say yes,” Ryamon begged silently.

Akayel’s eyes narrowed with displeasure. “Is this some sort of joke?” he hissed.

Ryamon’s hands clenched in his lap. He might look like a Stone magus, but it wasn’t his nature to endure in silence. That was exactly the problem.

“Indeed not,” Senorith replied. “This novice has great potential. He has worked hard. Through study of the strictures, through fasting and vigil, and even by smoking the sacred sibban, he has done all a student could do. Such determination would be a credit to my order, if Stone was his natural Element.”

“Enough!” The Fire Lord’s voice sizzled with irritation. “You could waste all day telling me how wonderful your novice is. I still wouldn’t want him.”

Fury and despair exploded within Ryamon. It was all he could do to keep his place, to not cry out in shock. Stone was not his true element—Fire was! He had known it since he was a boy feeding twigs to his mother’s cook fire. The Order of Stone had been only a temporary stop, a chance to learn the most basic techniques. He hadn’t thought the different element would matter. His mentor, Cerdych, had seemed sure of it.

After all his struggles, Ryamon could barely shape bricks. He couldn’t wait to be free from the Order of Stone. How could the Fire Lord reject him?

Up on the dais, Chrysen asked, “Why not? You know he has power.”

Ryamon felt a flicker of hope as she set the gavel on the desk before her. Even the other mage lords thought Akayel was being unfair. Maybe they could talk some sense into him.

“He’s taken no vows.” Klaive, the Storm Lord, glanced a question at Senorith.

“Correct,” Senorith affirmed.

“Doesn’t every order welcome new novices?” Minarik, the Blood Lord, asked mildly.

Being questioned seemed to infuriate Akayel. “Do you think me desperate for followers?” he retorted. “Are my standards so low?”

“I have a different concern.” Salovik, the white-bearded Ice Lord, spoke for the first time. He was calm, like the Stone Lord, but spoke with a cold edge of spite. “If you knew the young man’s power was not right for your Order, why did you take him? You should have sent him on to Akayel. Someone might get the wrong idea, Senorith.”

A murmur started among the watchers as they realized what Salovik was implying. The Seven Exalted Orders were rigidly separated. Each had its Mysteries, ways of power it kept from the others. Salovik was suggesting Ryamon’s transfer was a scheme to steal secrets from the Order of Fire and pass them back to Senorith.

Despite himself, Ryamon leapt to his feet. “Not so!”

Some of the audience tittered at his reaction. Up on the dais, Murcrys the Shadow Lord, turned to share a sly smile with Klaive.

“He certainly sounds like one of yours, Akayel,” she remarked. The Fire Lord scowled.

“Ice Lord, you go too far!” Chrysen scolded. “There is no reason to question Senorith’s intentions.”

“There never is, until it’s too late,” Salovik answered with a chilly smile.

Meantime, the Stone Lord turned. A somber glance warned Ryamon clearly to sit down and be quiet. His face burned and bitterness flooded his throat, but Ryamon obeyed. He was only a novice. Soon he might not even be that. His only hope was to let his mage lord handle this.

Senorith turned back to his peers. “It saddens me to hear you say this, brother.”

He didn’t sound angry, but his voice reverberated through the walls of the Grand Collegium. Some in the audience glanced around, as if suddenly remembering the building they sat in was made completely of stone.

“I’m sure Salovik meant nothing by it,” Murcrys said softly. Her voice held a hint of steel. Salovik didn’t bother to reply.

“My brother, if your concern is that he’s already touched the element of Stone,” Minarik said, “it shouldn’t be a barrier. Senorith says the Stone does not answer him. And there is precedent from long ago…”

“That time has passed,” Klaive quickly interrupted.

Again tension flared through the audience. Ryamon found himself glancing warily at the three noblemen who represented the king. Each of the Exalted Orders tapped only one element. Nobody was going to offend the throne by suggesting a change.

“We cannot go back to that,” Chrysen agreed.

“Precisely my point.” Akayel’s raised his hand with the appearance of piety, but his lingering irritation showed through. “His spirit is already tainted. It would be a step back to the evils of olden times.”

Ryamon stiffened, swallowing fresh rage at being dismissed as tainted.

“None of us want that,” Murcrys soothed. “I believe Minarik meant to say that just attempting to touch the spirit of Stone shouldn’t interfere if he truly joins with Fire.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Akayel insisted. “I have no need for a novice who’s failed at another Mystery.”

Ryamon couldn’t stand to look at the pack of them, sitting up there and deciding his fate as if he was an animal they could buy and sell.

Senorith seemed to accept defeat, for he patently asked, “Then what should become of a novice who cannot serve my Order?”

“Send him home, if he does not love his element. Or let him work in the kitchens. I don’t care,” Akayel sniffed.

Senorith answered with a curt bow, then walked back to take his place on the dais. Ryamon glared up at the mage lords, his head pounding with rage and despair. They looked like a row of wax puppets, he thought. Not one of them had a living heart.

Murcrys turned her head slightly, a gleam in her dark eyes. With her psychic powers, she might have heard his angry thoughts. Compared to the magnitude of his loss, it hardly seemed to matter. He stared at the fists in his lap.

“If I may,” someone interrupted.

“Of course, Countess,” Salovik said at once.

Ryamon spared a sullen glance to see the older noblewoman had risen. Guilberta, that was her name. Full skirts rustled as she swept over to the lower dais. She wore a stylish gown of black brocade, close fitted in the sleeves and buttoned tightly up the back with a froth of lace at the wrists and neck. Silver hair was pinned up under a dainty black hat. Feathers bobbed as she inclined her head toward the seven magi.

“I am sure his majesty would prefer the novice remain with his order, even if his training has ended,” Guilberta said in a clear, precise tone. “We cannot have half-trained magi wandering the realm. Too many unfortunate accidents might result.”

“Of course, the king’s wishes are of great importance,” Klaive replied. All the mage lords seemed strained, Ryamon thought. They didn’t like the king’s authority any more than he liked their powers.

After an exacting curtsey, Guilberta returned to her companions. The young nobleman rose to greet her. He was also garbed in a fine black suit and gazed up at Guilberta with open admiration. The younger lady hadn’t even stopped fanning herself. Once again, Ryamon swallowed against the sour taste of defeat.

An uncomfortable silence had fallen. After a moment, Sea Lord Chrysen cleared her throat. “Do any of us have other business to bring forward?”

“I do.” Minarik, the Blood Lord, rose to make his way toward the lower dais. He was a slight figure in the crimson robes of his order. Ryamon could hardly see him through the haze of despair over his eyes.

“It grieves me to speak of this shame upon my house,” Minarik said. A sheaf of parchment rustled nervously in his hands. “In the district of Selkest, a novice of Blood has abandoned our order.”

Ryamon listened without caring as the audience started to whisper again. To be a Fire magus had been his life’s dream. How could he give it up and work at menial chores? It was utterly unfair. Ryamon couldn’t succeed as a stone magus, but he wasn’t allowed to leave, either? And the collegium wouldn’t do anything about it. They were sadists, all of them!

“The initiate who was training her reports the novice, Valdira, had always displayed unusual talents. Naturally, she was forbidden to use them.” Minarik raised his voice slightly as the murmuring grew louder. “Initiate Silma directed her to use only the approved techniques—”

“What do you mean, unusual?” Chrysen interrupted.

Again parchment rustled as the Blood Lord turned to a thin volume among his stack. After glancing through it, he said, “Novice Valdira can communicate with animals and plants.”

“Plants?” Klaive repeated. A breeze of humor seemed to blow through the collegium. Even Senorith looked amused.

“Do they have a lot to say?” Murcrys added with a sarcastic smile.

“Regardless,” Salovik said with chilly severity, “such unlawful activity cannot be tolerated. Why did your initiate not report this sooner, Blood Lord?”

“Self-defense, of course,” Murcrys answered before Minarik could. “She would been seen as derelict in her duty. No one would want to admit that.”

“Even though it was true?” Akayel snapped.

Chrysen tapped her gavel lightly. When the chamber was quiet, she asked, “Where do matters stand now?”

“Novice Valdira has run away from Silma’s home in Lornest,” Minarik answered. “For those who have never been there, Selkest is in the southwest of Arkanost, along our border with Costera. It’s an area of mountains and heavy forest. One who knows the area well could hide there for a long time.”

A rogue magus? Ryamon felt his disappointment and frustration coalesce into a searing hatred. He played by the rules, even when it hurt. Look where it got him. But this novice, Valdira, didn’t care about rules. She just did what she wanted. Oh, if he had five minutes with her…!

“She’s gone renegade?” Klaive asked. All humor vanished as the mage lords united in their concern.

“Since we know how his majesty feels about this sort of thing,” Senorith said, with a stoic nod toward Countess Guilberta, “there can be no question of what we must do.”

“Send an inquisitor,” Chrysen said.

“Bring her back to face charges!” Akayel flared.

“If she won’t obey her mage lord, she must be imprisoned,” Salovik said.

“Someone should invite her to speak with us,” Klaive agreed. “I would like to ask her a few questions.”

His gentle, ironic tone made it clear he didn’t mean a polite request. Still, Ryamon seethed. If only he had the power of Fire, he would go to Selkest himself. He would make sure the upstart was punished.

“Then I will direct one of my Blood Masters—” Minarik began, but the Shadow Lord interrupted.

“I have a better idea.” For some reason, Murcrys was looking at Ryamon. The sly look in her eyes cooled his fury by several degrees. “Wasn’t there a young man in the audience who wished to prove his mettle? Let him take up the task. If he succeeds, it should prove his worth. Come, Akayel, what do you say?”

“I have no objection,” Senorith said.

In an instant, Ryamon was on his feet again. “I’ll do it!”

No one tittered this time. Murcrys and the others stared hard at the Fire Lord. Akayel’s shoulders sank slightly with exasperation. Finally he flicked the air in a weary gesture.

“Oh, very well. Let him try. I suppose I might reconsider.”

Relief flooded Ryamon, turning his stiff knees soft enough to wobble. He bowed with a jerk and sat down. The seven mage lords fell to discussing how to phrase their message, but Ryamon stopped listening. Looking up at the Fire Lord’s thin face, it was impossible to tell if he meant what he’d said, but a new purpose burned within Ryamon. He had to go to Selkest. It was a chance —his last chance—to enter the Order of Fire. No matter what, he had to try.

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