Fireballs Among Friends: Part Two
King Jazan of Qasala had brought his twin desert Ixi children, Caspar and Esmeralda, so far away from Qasala's walls that the city was only a shining speck on the dunes. Caspar panted, "Why are we this far out?"
Jazan reminded them, "Because fire magic is extremely dangerous. It's fire. You could damage buildings and hurt yourselves or, worse, other people. I wanted you to have a chance to practice without such worries."
Esmeralda asked, voice edging into a whine, "Can we start now?"
Jazan looked down at his nine-year-old daughter, briefly having second thoughts as to whether it was really a good idea to teach fire magic to a girl who hadn't even managed to find matching sandals this morning. He looked back at the city as he reminded himself that he'd promised, and out here on the dunes he could shield himself and any other flammable things that happened to come along. "Okay." He'd brought them to a spot where he'd seen an abandoned wagon. "Esmeralda, I know you say that you've figured out how to summon fire on your own. Show me."
She swallowed, golden eyes wide, and held out her hand. Jazan concentrated so he could feel the magic as a small flame appeared in her palm. He asked, "Could you try it with a little less force behind it? Push less? It should still work the same."
Esmeralda tried again, and she smiled. "It worked! And it was easier!"
Jazan nodded. "Remember that. Always use as little energy as you can to achieve what you want to – you'll never regret having saved some power for later."
Caspar said, "I think I got what Aldie did – I can do it, too!" He held out his hand, and his own flame appeared.
Esmeralda jumped, she was so excited. "It feels like mine did! Fizzy!"
Jazan had expected as much – since they were little more than babies, he'd seen that they could experience the others' feelings, or hear the others' thoughts. It was one of the significant powers that came with being a twin mage, and when their powers had manifested he hadn't been even slightly surprised. "I'll let Caspar go first this time, so you can feel how he did it, Esmeralda. Focus." He ripped a rotted spar of wood off the ruined wagon and stuck it in the sand. "Wait until I'm out of the way, and see if you can throw the fire. Picture it as a ball, shape it, and throw it."
Esmeralda said, "So the fire's like one of Jessa's rubber balls she likes to chew on."
Caspar clearly didn't even hear her – he was focused on the fire in his hands, rolling it between his palms like a ball of clay. Jazan didn't need to do that himself, but it wasn't a poor choice of strategy for a beginner. He threw it tentatively – the magic was solid, and his aim was fairly good, and the stake caught fire. He cheered, and Esmeralda hugged him, then called, "My turn! My turn! I want a turn!"
Jazan extinguished the stake with a wave of his hand – there was enough to use it for Esmeralda's next attempt as well. She did the same motion that Caspar had used, but with more power behind it and a bigger sphere. But then his oldest daughter had never done anything by halves. Caspar had apparently been born with both twins' share of caution, and she with none whatsoever. She shaped it, and drew back ready to throw...
And with a spray of sand, someone appeared by magic right between Esmeralda and the target as she threw.
Esmeralda shrieked – Jazan threw his magic out desperately. He could have used a shield, but the first spell that came to mind was a mere misdirection of the fire, using force to bat it away from the idiot. It cleared the top of the intruder's pointed hat by merely inches.
Esmeralda cried, "Oh, I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I didn't hurt you, did I?" Poor girl – her hands were twisted in her black hair, like she did whenever she was upset. Who was this, and what right did she have to frighten his daughter like that?
Their visitor, a tall pink Bori woman, chuckled. "Oh, no, I'm fine. No harm done. What are a few fireballs among friends?"
Jazan said, trying to force the anger out of his voice, "It wouldn't have been your fault anyway, Esmeralda. It would have been the fault of the person who appeared in the middle of the desert instead of keying their spell to the several courtyards in the Qasalan palace set aside for such." He looked at the stranger. "You would be..."
She smiled. "Rasala the Bright, elected First Mage of the Order of the Red Erisim. Good afternoon, King Jazan. Are these the prince and princess?"
The Order of the Red Erisim. Jazan didn't want those meddling pyromaniacs anywhere near his city. He had no need of some First Mage who didn't live in the desert and didn't know his people telling him how he ought to use his power. "And the First Mage of the Order of the Red Erisim was incapable of keying her spell to one of the Palace transport courtyards?"
She shrugged. "I keyed my spell to you. I need to speak to you, Jazan."
He corrected her, "King Jazan."
Esmeralda asked, "Father, isn't the Order of the Red Erisim the arrogant, pyromaniacal nincompoops?"
Caspar cried, "Aldie!" Jazan suppressed his instinct to wince, and decided that he wanted Nightsteed to go over diplomacy with Aldie again.
Rasala frowned, and repeated, "May I speak with you, King Jazan? It's important."
Jazan was strongly tempted to tell her to go transport her pretty little head back wherever she'd come from and leave him to teach his children to incinerate things in peace. But the Order was a powerful organization, not to be dismissed lightly – or even dismissed with great force, as enjoyable as it would be. He ought to be polite to their leader, for the sake of Jerdana in Altador if no one else. "Very well." And, because he wasn't in a good mood and he wasn't about to make this easy, "Walk with us back to the city." He and his children were used to walking over sand. Rasala was not, and she wore the sort of sturdy boots that were completely practical in the Haunted Woods or the Three Kingdoms but hot and uncomfortable in the desert, and the formal dress and cloak she wore were well-made but too thick for desert heat. She wouldn't be quite as arrogant by the time they arrived at the palace. Jazan set off, moderating his pace for the sake of the children's short legs.
Rasala asked, "So what are your names?"
Caspar said, "I'm Caspar, and this is Esmeralda, except everyone calls her Aldie. We've also got sisters named Neera and Jessa, but they're only five and three, so they're back in Qasala with Mama."
Aldie added, "Father was teaching us to set things on fire."
Rasala asked, "Do you have a particular talent with fire magic, Jazan?"
Jazan was certain that she already knew, but he nodded. "Yes. My magic's roots are in fire." Fire and darkness, to be specific, but if she didn't know that, he didn't intend to tell her. He knew how the Order felt about black magic, and he did agree, but he didn't want his children to see this woman treating him like a criminal.
There was no excuse for what he'd done in Sakhmet. He had never even tried to excuse himself, even though Nabile blamed it on the curse poisoning his mind and Amira had long since forgiven and befriended him. But that was sixteen years gone, he was no longer that man, and he didn't wish anyone to treat him like he was. So while darkness in magic was no more inherently evil than a Dark Faerie was, he wasn't going to give her grounds for suspicion. And he wasn't going to tell her that, from the tests he'd done with them, the twins' magic was rooted in fire and light.
They were passing a little ball of fire back and forth as they walked, and he saw the interest in her eyes. He knew what she was about. Oh, she'd make the offer sweetly, too – probably talk about his duties as king, and suggest a tutor from the Order to help ease the burden. And then the Order would have twin mages to shuttle around and use as power sources whenever they had need. He refused to let anyone use his children like that, when they were still far too young to make that choice for themselves. They would not be made into game pieces for the Order.
The walls of Qasala reared up out of the sand, the stone red in the punishing light of the afternoon sun. It seemed Rasala's broad-brimmed hat served her nearly as well as a headdress, but he doubted that it would keep that advantage should the wind pick up. She still looked hot and rumpled, which he took some vindictive satisfaction in. She might have been First Mage of the Order, but he wouldn't allow her to think that made her his superior.
They passed through the gates and entered the city – the people who noticed their king passing them bowed or curtseyed. Jazan smiled and nodded to acknowledge those gestures, as he always did. He knew his own heart, and never for a second believed that he was the heroic leader the people believed him to be – they saw him as the mighty lord who had brought them through the darkness of two cursed centuries and out into the light of the desert day, and he knew too well his own failings. But he wouldn't allow Rasala to see that. He wouldn't allow her to try and make him small, as Fyora did. She was no Fyora.
When they reached the palace, Jazan took a deep breath of cool air and shut his eyes to allow them to adjust to the dimmer light.
He didn't open his eyes – the voice was enough. "Nabile. We've a guest..."
Rasala cut him off and introduced herself. "I am Rasala the Bright, First Mage of the Order of the Red Erisim."
"Good to meet you." Nabile's voice was careful – oh, she knew him, and she knew how he'd feel about this, without him having to say anything.
Esmeralda said, "I almost caught her on fire!"
Rasala corrected, "It was my fault. I transported to meet Jazan directly, and put myself in the path of the fireball she'd made."
Nabile said, "As long as no one got hurt. Jazan, there's a mage here to see you. A Gelert named Seradar who says there's a problem."
Seradar. He'd come to the borderlands a few years back and made a secluded dwelling for himself there after leaving Brightvale... and being kicked out of the Order of the Red Erisim. All he'd asked was to be left in peace, and Jazan had been happy to grant him that. Jazan opened his eyes so he could see what Rasala's reaction was – her dark eyes were wide. "Seradar? Here? Is he involved in the Qasalan Mages' College?"
Jazan shook his head. "He prefers to keep to himself. But he lives in my lands, and as such he has the right to ask my aid – without any further oaths necessary."
Nabile herself looked worried. He smoothed a piece of errant hair back from her face as he asked her, "What did he say is wrong?"
Nabile said, "A spell going wrong. And it seems to have gone rather emphatically wrong – his robes are scorched and he's all bruised up."
Jazan nodded. "I'll see him at once."
Nabile said, "He's in your study. Caspar, Aldie, come with me."
Esmeralda complained, "But we know magic now! We could help Father with the rogue spell! I know we could!"
Caspar grabbed her hand. "Come on, Aldie." He towed her off as she continued to protest.
Rasala said, "I'll come with you, Jazan."
He couldn't think of any reason to tell her no – and perhaps if he brought his first problem to meet his second problem, they'd somehow cancel each other out and leave him to spend a peaceful evening with his family.
But he doubted he was that lucky.
To be continued...