The Dragon’s Wizard

Book 3 of The Dragon Wizard Series

Now grown strong in his wizardry and reunited with his dragon Rufous, Evann must defend his city of Morshton against an invading horde of goblins. To make things worse, the goblins have their own dragon—the legendary Il Devankh, said to be the deadliest one of all time.

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The dragon Rufous reunites with his friend Evann, who is still inexperienced but is now one of the strongest wizards in the world. He is accompanied by his mentor Quinton along with a girl named Solechandra who wants to become a wizard herself in order to help defend their city of Morshton against the goblins, who have their own dragon allies. The most powerful of these is the one Rufous knows only as Il Duvankh, whom he has been searching for since he became the Solon of the dragons.

Returning to Morshton, Evann and his friends see ravens flying toward an ominous cloud advancing toward the city from the north. Elves warn them that the cloud hides a goblin army. All of the wizards take their place atop the city wall facing the oncoming horde, just in time to drive off the first wave of the goblin assault.

At that moment, Il Duvankh rises from where she had been hidden behind the battle mages of the goblins. Rufous stoops on her from the air. But she is older, larger, stronger, and outmaneuvers him and traps him on the ground. Evann comes to his friend’s aid, but the man and the dragon may have finally met a foe they can’t overcome.

Evann sat across the table from Quinton, his fingers loosely interlaced around a small mug that still held most of the beer that had been in it when the tavern girl placed it in front of him. They were back in Quinton’s favorite booth at the back of the Red Boot tavern where they had first met. And much as that first encounter, Quinton’s hat was on the table and the older wizard was playing at placques again.

Evann was angry. The feeling had been growing for most of the day it had been since they left the site of the triple murder. He hadn’t quite reached the stage of full enragement yet, but he wasn’t far short of it, either.

Quinton hadn’t looked up for some time. He was staring at the placques before him, tapping the one in his hand on the table. Evann apparently was able to out-wait the older wizard, because he finally placed his placque in the pattern, and growled, “What?” without looking up.

Evann suppressed a grin at getting the reaction.

“You said yesterday that we’d talk about . . .”

“Stop.” Quinton looked up finally and Evann stopped. His expression was one of great weariness, with a grey hint to his skin and lines running from the corners of his eyes to the corners of his mouth. “I know what I said. And I’ve thought about nothing else since then. But,” Quinton looked around the room, which was empty but for the man at the bar and the tavern girl wiping down a table by the main door, “but I still don’t know what to make of it.”

“Did we see what I thought we saw?” Evann pressed in a heated whisper.

“Aye,” Quinton admitted. “Three dead women, related, grandmother, mother, and child, all murdered, and a goblin glyph painted above them on the wall in their blood.”

“What did that sign mean?” Despite his anger, Evann was almost afraid to hear the answer.

“I don’t know,” Quinton muttered. “The goblins have not been a part of my studies. I may need to change that.”

“Why?”

“Because,” the older wizard said with a sigh, “they seldom have anything to do with people. They have had their quarrels and wars with the elves, dwarves, and even the dragons, but we humans have little they want. An occasional caravan destroyed; an occasional lonely farmstead devastated; an occasional wandering peddler butchered; those happen, but in truth with less frequency than the depredations of human bandits. But this . . . to come into a major city, to take not just random folk but a family, and to place a mark of power in the center of the city . . . that bespeaks intent, and the goblins have never done the like before with humans—not in the old tales, and not in any new word that I’ve heard.”

“A mark of power?” Evann said. That thought broke through his emotion and started his mind working. The thought definitely bothered him.

“Oh, aye, lad, a mark of power.” Quinton lifted his own mug and took a swig of the contents. “It was good that you sent for me so quickly, because if that mark had dried and set, if its full power had been released in Morshton . . . I don’t know what its purpose was, but I doubt that it meant good for our people.”

“So what you did removed it?”

“Aye, which is why I knew it had power behind it. Of course, it took a mort of my own power out of me to do it. Remind me later to show you the doing of it. It’s not an easy spell to know and learn, and it’s not an easy one to cast, but if these kinds of things are going to be happening, then you’d best know how to deal with them.”

Evann swallowed a mouthful of his own beer. Of the moment, this business of being a wizard was looking to be more grim than fun, and a lot chancier than he’d ever imagined it being. “So what do we do?”

“We?” Quinton’s eyebrows arched.

“We,” Evann said definitely. “I’m here, I’m a wizard, if not a very experienced one yet, and I have friends in Morshton just like you do. If something bad is going to happen, it’s going to have to go through me first.”

Quinton eyed him with the arched look for a moment longer, then a smile slowly formed on his face. “For all that you talk of your Da being a hard man,” he said, “I’d like to meet him and shake his hand. He and your Ma raised up quite a man in you.”

Evann was discomfited by Quinton’s praise. “He is a good man, for all that I felt his hand more than I liked. And it’s not more than what any good soul would do.”

“True enough, lad,” Quinton responded. “But good souls are a little rarer than you might think, at least when it comes to this kind of thing.”

“So what do we do?” Evann returned to his topic.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out for the last day,” Quinton replied. “And I think we have to accelerate your training. You have to become more functional as a wizard—you have to learn how to use all those spells in your head, and a few more beside that I need to show you. And channeling that anger out of you so you can think clearly is not a bad idea, either. And we can’t do that here.”

“Why not?” Evann tried to squash his anger as he gave the older wizard a surprised look.

Quinton leaned forward. “Because you need to be casting spells, Evann, and doing that in the middle of the city is not a good thing to be doing if you don’t want to be attracting attention, especially in your current frame of mind. And even if you don’t care about that, I do.”

Evann thought about that for a moment, then nodded. “All right, I see that. But if we don’t do it here, where do we go?”

“That,” Quinton said just before he finished his mug of beer, “you leave up to me.” He wiped his mouth with his sleeve, and stood. “Come along,” Quinton swept the placques into his hat, just as he had the first time they met. “I have arrangements to make.”

And so it was late the next morning that Evann found himself on the seat of a small cart beside Quinton, watching a sturdy pony pull the cart up to the gate that Evann had entered through when he first came to Morshton. Chander rode in the back with their blanket rolls, several sacks of food, and a couple of water skins and a growler keg of beer.

Evann watched carefully as Quinton guided the pony through the streets leading to the gate, but the older wizard’s hands were sure on the reins, and the pony seemed willing enough, so once they were through the gate, Evann relaxed.

“Where are we going?”

“Away,” Quinton replied, a small smile quirking his lips back and forth.

“I see that, you daft old man. Can you be a bit more specific, and don’t just say ‘Out there’.” Evann waved a hand outward.

Quinton chuckled, echoed by Chander laughing in the back of the cart.

“If you must know, there is a small valley in the hills, about a day’s ride out, where we will be away from everyone and everything, and we can spend a few days instructing you and getting you at least some practice on the casting of spells in a place where you can’t hurt anything except rocks and dead wood.”

“Oh.” Evann thought about that for a moment. “I guess that’s good, but why the rush? Why now?”

Quinton turned a serious face toward Evann. “After what we’ve just gone through, I think the answer to that question should be obvious.”

Evann thought about that for another moment, and nodded. “Right. So can you tell me anything about it now?”

“It’s better that I don’t,” Quinton said. “You need to be still and focused when we start.”

“Right.” Evann was still for a moment. “Know any songs?”

“No,” Quinton said, and then hastily looked over his shoulder at Chander. “And neither do you. I’ve heard you try to sing.”

There was a disgusted blast of air from the back of the cart.

“Know any jokes?” Evann tried again.

“Do you know why the rooster crossed the road?” Chander offered. Both Quinton and Evann groaned at that. “Fine. Be that way.”

“Know any stories?” Evann was starting to get desperate.

“Actually, now that you mention it,” Quinton said, “I might. Let me think for a bit.”

While the older wizard was thinking, there was the sound of wings and a flurry of movement as a raven settled onto the back rail of the cart. Evann looked back at it.

Kwourk,” came from the raven. Evann peered closer, and saw the displaced feathers that marked the scar. This was the bird that was beginning to feel like an old friend. He gave a short whistle, and received a “K-k-k-k” in reply.

Chander was still sulking, so Evann turned back to face the direction they were going.

About a half a mile further down the road, the older wizard spoke again. “There is a story they tell about Tholemey the Great in his younger days, long before he became known as ‘the Great’ and was just Tholemey the Younger, after his father, Tholemey the Elder . . .”

And so they passed most of the travel time telling stories. Quinton had quite a store of stories about famous wizards, and when his voice got tired, Evann would pitch in a story about some of his more hilarious mishaps back in the village, or Chander would share something about some of the more uproarious events he’d been a part of in the back streets of Morshton.

It was late afternoon when Quinton drew the donkey to a halt. They’d stopped regularly to rest and feed the donkey as well as themselves. Evann thought at first it was just another stop like that, so he jumped down to stretch his legs. Then Quinton set the brake and climbed down out of the wagon himself. They’d been traveling through light forest and between increasingly tall hills for a good part of the day, and Quinton now pointed to a break in the trees off to the right.

“We’re going up that, and we’ll all need to walk. The donkey will be able to pull the cart, but not with you great lunks in it.”

“How far?” Chander asked looking through the trees.

“Up the hill and down the other side,” Quinton said. “Bit over an hour, maybe; maybe two. So climb down and let’s get it done. Sooner we get started, sooner we get done.”

“If I’d known I was going to have to walk this much, I’d have stayed back in Morshton,” Chander muttered as he clambered down from the back of the cart. The raven took that same moment to take to wing and fly off ahead of them.

Evann smothered a laugh and moved up to take the donkey’s bridle in hand, receiving a good-natured nudge from the donkey in return. “What’s his name?” he asked over his shoulder.

“Her name,” Quinton replied, “and it’s Dancer.”

Evann laughed out loud at that. “All right, Dancer,” he said, stroking the donkey’s muzzle, “follow that bird.” Quinton released the brake from where he stood by the cart, and Evann tugged on the bridle to turn the donkey toward the gap in the trees and the path that he could see.

There wasn’t much conversation as they walked up the hill. Even Evann was a bit unhappy to discover that the climb winded him. The trail wound back and forth going up the side of what appeared now to be a ridge rather than a hill. It wasn’t very long or steep compared to some of the places in the wild he had walked with Rufous, but he hadn’t been doing a lot of walking in the last few weeks, and apparently his legs had gotten soft.

The donkey kept pace beside Evann, leaning into her collar and pulling with a will. Quinton walked along on the other side of the cart, occasionally steadying himself against the side of it. He said nothing, but when Evann looked back to check on him from time to time, the older wizard looked weary. Chander simply trailed along behind the cart. His occasional mutters brought a smile to Evann’s face more than once.

The trail finally reached the top of the ridge. It ran along the crest of it for a distance before finally beginning the descent of the other side. Evann pulled the donkey to a halt and waited for Quinton and Chander to come alongside.

“Quinton, you need to ride. Don’t worry about driving; I’ll lead Dancer down. Chander, you need to ride the brake all the way down.” Evann pointed down the path. “It’s not very steep or very long, but Dancer will need the help to get the cart down.”

It was a mark of how tired Quinton was that he climbed up into the cart without any argument. Even Chander noticed it, judging from the sidelong glances he kept giving the older wizard from where he sat with the brake handle in his hand.

“Ready?” Evann asked. Chander nodded, as he leaned back enough to put some tension on the brake. “Here we go, then.”

Before he stepped out, he called his staff back into his hand. There was no one around to see it happen except Quinton and Chander, who both knew all about it, and he wanted the support it could provide if he misstepped on the way down the other side of the ridge.

The staff popped back into his hand in the form of the spade, with the blade momentarily glowing blue before the staff quenched itself without a prompt from Evann. Once it was settled, he tugged on Dancer’s bridle, and off they went.

Chander kept the right amount of tension on the brake, so they made it down the hill in good order. Once they arrived on reasonably level ground, Evann looked back at Quinton.

The older wizard waved a hand toward the right. “Over on the other side of that coppice of trees,” he called out. Evann nodded, and tugged on Dancer’s bridle again. The donkey followed, if not quite as willingly as earlier. She was obviously getting a bit weary herself.

They bypassed the coppice, to find themselves on the edge of a circular clearing where no trees or saplings were growing. In the center of the clearing were several standing stones. Evann couldn’t see a pattern to their arrangement; they looked more like a handful of gnarled fingers sticking up from the ground than anything else.

“Over there,” Quinton said, pointing to one side where a couple of large cedar trees were growing close together. Evann led the donkey that direction. They stopped beside a blackened rock-ringed fire pit just before the canopy of one of the trees. “K-k-k-k,” they heard from above them. They looked up to see the raven staring down at them.

“Right,” Quinton said. “We’re here. Set the brake and get the cart unloaded, if you would. There’s probably a stack of firewood back under one of these trees.”

The older wizard climbed down from the cart rather stiffly and headed over to perch on a section of downed tree trunk that was near the fire pit. Evann looked at Chander. “You ever camped out like this before?”

Chander grimaced. “What do you think?”

“Right. I have, so work with me to get camp set up, all right?”

Chander shrugged. “Don’t see that I have a choice. What do you want me to do first?”

“See if you can find the firewood stack, and bring some of it back to the fire pit. Then gather up some of the dead leaves and cedar needles to use for tinder and smaller sticks for kindling.”

“I do know how to start a fire,” Chander huffed.

“Then get after it,” Evann grinned.

As Chander headed off for the wood, Evann turned to Quinton. “Curry stuff?”

“Should be a curry brush and a hoof pick in a sack under the seat,” the older wizard replied.

“Hobbles?” Quinton just smiled at him. Evann frowned after a few seconds, then it dawned on him. “Spell? I’m supposed to put a spell on Dancer?”

“That is why we’re here, isn’t it?” Quinton sounded rather pleased with what was going on.

Evann sighed, walked over to face the older wizard, and dropped to the ground, ending up sitting cross-legged before Quinton with his spade across his thighs and his hands on the handle of it. “So tell me. Is this more of the stuff I would have already learned if I’d apprenticed in the normal way?”

Quinton got serious. “Yes. And it’s time for you to learn it now. Past time, actually. Do you remember what you did in Morshton to hide the bodies?”

“I . . . think so.”

“Describe it.”

Evann thought for a moment. “I . . . went to my magic place, opened the Tools cabinet, and took out the ‘Hide’ spell, thought about what I wanted, said ‘Hide’ and tossed it out.” He made a throwing gesture with his hand.

“Ah,” Quinton replied. “About what I thought happened. And really, not bad at all for a first try. You did cast a spell, and you did accomplish what you wanted. Most first attempt apprentices either fail utterly or do something really out of the bounds of what they were attempting to do.”

“What was your first spell?” Chander asked from where he was beginning to lay the wood in the fire pit.

“Well,” Quinton said, “I was hungry, so I tried to create a loaf of bread from a big mushroom.”

“Did it work?” Evann was intrigued.

“Sort of. It looked like a small loaf of bread, but when I broke it open it was filled with black mold spores.”

“Did you try to eat it?” Chander had stopped and was listening intently.

“I said I was hungry. I nibbled at the parts that looked like the crust, but they tasted awful, so I spit them out.” Quinton got an odd look on his face. “I was sick for a week after that. Couldn’t keep anything down, and what little I did swallow came squirting out the other end in short order. My old master was furious with me. He probably would have beat me, if I hadn’t been so sick, and if it wouldn’t have gotten dung on his staff.”

“Ick.” Evann shook his head.

“Be very careful about trying to magic food or drink,” the older wizard said. “That’s a lot harder to do right than you think, and a little mistake can kill people.”

“Ick.” Evann repeated himself.

“But back to the spell you cast. Let’s look at what you did.

“First, you internalized the spell. Ordinarily that would mean you memorized the spell or at least read through it enough that you had a feel for how it should be executed and delivered. In your case . . .”

“I know,” Evann muttered. “I’m different.”

Quinton shrugged. “Yes, you are. Not your fault, but not something you can ignore, either. So, you found where you had stored the spell you had gotten from the other wizard. Then you visualized what you wanted to happen—you saw it in your mind, right?”

Evann nodded.

“Now comes the tricky part,” the older wizard continued. “This is what almost nobody but wizards understand, and not all of them. When you cast a spell, you are imposing your will on something or someone. You are making a change, and you are powering it with your own soul.”

“With my soul?” Evann was now both confused and alarmed.

“Yes. There’s a lot of power in a soul,” Quinton said. “After all, it keeps your body together and living and moving and breathing. Most people can’t do anything more with their souls than that. Wizards, and the occasional saint, learn to do more. What a wizard does, is he taps the power of his soul and pulls out enough of it to make his spell stick to whatever he aims it at and change it. So what you did was you made your spell stick to the walls and ground and air, and made it change what people could see through the air. And as long as you were there and that spell was connected to you, it worked until you pulled it back in.”

“Huh,” Evann said, thinking back to the cul-de-sac. “So when I pulled on the spell and pulled it back into me . . .”

“You were recovering part of your soul.” Quinton’s expression was somber as he leaned forward, elbows on his knees, hands clasped together. “This is serious, Evann. Always, always, always recover your spells if there’s any way possible. It’s really not a good idea to be losing pieces of your soul, and it’s really really really not a good idea to have pieces of your soul just floating around loose in the world for who knows who or what to pick up. Not to mention the fact that if you lose enough of your soul, you will change, and it won’t be for the better. Remember the stories about Sorodrim the Dark?”

Evann swallowed, and nodded.

“Wizards can go bad for two reasons: either they just aren’t good people to begin with, or they spin off so many spells that they carve up their souls and lose so much of them that even if they were good to begin with, they end up going dark. For every Tholemey the Great, there were three, four, five like Sorodrim the Dark.”

“So why aren’t we seeing these dark wizards on every street corner, then?” Chander chimed in.

“Because after a certain point in their development,” Quinton had a twisted smile on his face, “the dark wizards mostly turn on each other and kill each other off. Those who survive for very long tend to be very nasty wizards indeed. If someone ever figures out a way to make dark wizards unite and work for a common goal, the world will be in serious trouble. But I doubt that will ever happen.”

“One is bad enough,” Evann muttered, remembering the one he’d fought in his home village. “So when I broke the spell threads that Oreton, or whoever he was, had spun out on me, my family, and Rufous, I was actually breaking off pieces of his soul?”

“Right,” Quinton declared. “And because he had loaded so many spells into his staff, when you broke that, you probably shattered most of what was left of it. That’s why he died—and is why a wizard who loses a real wizard’s duel usually dies. Having your soul broken or shattered like that usually makes your body forget how to do simple things, like breathe.”

Evann felt his stomach trying to crawl up his throat. “That . . .”

“Deep slow breaths, boy,” Quinton commanded. “You don’t have time to be sick now.”

Evann followed that instruction, and after a dozen or so of the breaths, he started feeling better.

“So why even cast spells, if it’s so dangerous and can do that to you?”

“Because there’s no other way to do it for wizards.” Quinton set his hands on his knees and sat upright. “And because we can do a lot of good with it. There are times where we have to sever a spell, and leave it in place with a bit of our soul on it and no longer tied to us. It happens. The good news is that if it only happens once in a while, even if you don’t recover it you can regrow what you gave up instead of scarring over. Your soul can regenerate. It’s only when you give up too much too fast that the risks get so strong.”

“Ah.” That made Evann feel a little better. “So it would be kind of like cutting a branch off a tree, and watching a new one grow back where the old one had been?”

“Exactly.” Quinton beamed. “Exactly so. Excellent metaphor. But if you recover your spells, you won’t need to worry about it.”

Evann considered that, and nodded his head. “Right. So what do you want me to do now?”

“I want you to go over to Dancer, put your hand on her head, and think of that binding spell that Oreton used on you. But I want you to think of it as a gentle restriction, something that establishes a fence around her rather than nailing her feet to the ground in one spot. And you’re going to tie it to that cedar tree,” Quinton nodded to the one behind them, “so that she can’t get too far away from it. Don’t cut the spell off from you, though,” the older wizard cautioned, “because you will want to pull it back in when we leave.”

Evann surged to his feet in a single limber movement and walked over to where the donkey stood with her harness still fastened to the cart. He laid his hand on her head. She moved a little, then settled under it. Evann thought through what Quinton had told him. He entered his magic place, found the spell, took it out of the cabinet it was stored in, and thought of it becoming lighter, easier, only barely holding Dancer around the tree. Before he said the word, he looked to his spade.

Right?

There was a feeling of a giggle, and a larger feeling of assent.

Evann gave the mental image of tossing something at Dancer, and willed it to happen. “Down,” he whispered. He felt for a moment like he was pushing something soft, then there was a tone he heard from the spade and a flash of blue light. When his vision cleared, he could see a very faint blue haze that covered a good part of the clearing.

“Good,” Quinton announced. “Excellent. Now look at what you’ve done, so you can understand it.”

Evann placed the butt of the spade handle on the ground, leaning on it while he examined the manifestation of the spell. A thread ran from him to the tree. Another thread ran from the tree to Dancer, and the blue haze marked the limits of how far Dancer could move. He laid a hand on the thread from him to the tree. It felt warm and springy. He said as much to Quinton.

“What would you expect your soul to feel like?” The older wizard gave Evann a sardonic glance. “A rock? A piece of your father’s iron stock?”

The spade sent Evann a sense of a giggle. He chuckled in response to both of them.

Evann moved to the cart and leaned his spade against a wheel while he felt around under the seat for the sack that Quinton had mentioned. Once he found it, he spend the next little while unharnessing Dancer and giving her a quick grooming to get the trail dust off of her. He laughed as she trotted away, kicking her hind feet up a little bit.

“You have good hands,” Quinton remarked.

Evann shrugged. “Farmer Charymann made sure I knew how to properly groom animals. I’ll check her hooves later. He always said that you never knew who or what you might be traveling with, but that it never hurt to know how to care for the animals pulling the wagons.”

“A wise man, your Farmer Charymann.”

Before Quinton could continue, Chander called out from the fire pit. “I’ve got the fire laid. Where’s the flint and steel to light it?”

Evann slapped at his belt, then said, “Must be in the cart. Hang on.”

As he started to turn back to the cart, he heard Quinton say, “Evann.”

Evann looked back over his shoulder to see Quinton’s head slightly tilted, eyebrows raised, and a quirk to his mouth. Understanding flooded into Evann; he stopped for a moment. “Right.” He changed direction to pick up his spade again, then headed toward the fire pit.

“Where’s the flint?” Chander asked.

Evann gave him a big grin. “Don’t need one. I’m a wizard, remember?”

He thrust the blade of the spade into the pile of wood that Chander had built, looked down at it, took the fire lighting spell in his mind’s hand, ran through the words and imagined the beginning of the fire, then whispered the spell—“Liat Ignis”—and pushed a little.

A billow of flame roared up from the fire pit.

“Whoa!” Chander yelled as he sprawled back from where he crouched by the stones and scrabbled backward as fast as he could.

“Evann!” Quinton shouted as he thrust himself to his feet.

But Evann was already in action.

Too much! he said to the spade. There was a sense of argument, but he overrode it all, stretching his free hand out.

“Still,” Evann whispered. The fire reduced. “Still,” he repeated, drawing his hand down a little. The fire reduced more. “Still,” he whispered one final time, bringing his hand down to waist level. The fire withdrew into itself, settling down to normal campfire flames dancing over a bed of coals.

Evann took a deep breath, then released it. “Wow,” he said.

“We should keep in mind,” Quinton said in a dry voice from where he stood just behind Evann, “that you appear to have a strong facility with fire spells, and you need to really damp them down when you use them. If we’d done that in Morshton, you might have set half the town on fire. As it is, I think this fine old cedar may have been scorched.”

“Next time warn a fellow,” Chander said as he stood up and dusted off his seat. “Scorched cedar is nothing. I’m not sure I have any eyebrows left.”

Evann sympathized with the wobbly tone he heard in Chander’s voice. Now that it was done, he was more than a bit wobbly himself over what had happened.

Quinton took Evann by the shoulders and turned him around. “Right,” he said after he got a look at Evann’s face. “Enough for now. Go sit down over there until you’re over the shakes. Chander and I will get something ready for supper.”

Evann perched on the log while Chander took a pot down to the stream that ran behind the cedar and returned with water. The pot was soon nestled in the coals with some things that Quinton had dumped out of a waxed paper packet mixed into the liquid. Before long it smelled wonderful, and Evann’s stomach began reminding him how long it had been since he had last fed it.

Chander brought him a bowl of the stew and a piece of trail bread, and settled onto the log beside him. Evann scooted down a bit when Quinton came to join them. The older wizard settled beside him with a sigh.

“Doing better now, lad?”

Evann nodded, mouth full. He didn’t object to ‘lad’ much anymore, having decided that from Quinton’s perspective, most people qualified as ‘lads’.

Quinton took a spoonful of the soup, slurping it to help cool it a little. “Ah, that’s a good batch. We’ll have to tell Granny Cosan about that.”

“Why her?” Evann asked.

“She makes up these packages of dried vegetables and dried meat and herbs that she sells to people going on the road. It makes for a quicker meal than otherwise might be possible, especially for small groups or people traveling in bad weather.”

“It’s good,” Evann said.

Chander voiced a wordless agreement from Evann’s other side.

They all devoted themselves to the meal, and afterward Evann felt sturdy enough again to carry the bowls and the pot to the stream and wash them out.

By the time Evann was back, it was almost full dark. There was only a bit of crimson light from the west where the sun was setting, but the fire in the pit was a beacon as he came back up from the stream bank. He set the empty pot and bowls in the back of the cart and gave Dancer a quick pat and scratch as she nosed up to him.

Just as Evann stepped up to the fire and held his hands out to it, Chander, dropped a few more pieces of the firewood by the fire pit. “That should do for now,” Quinton said. “You two go ahead and get in your blankets. I’ll take the first watch; I need to sit and think for a while.”

The two boys pulled their blanket rolls out of the cart. Evann picked which side of the fire he was going to sleep on, and looked at the surrounding ground with care.

“What are you doing?” Chander muttered from where he was already rolled up in his blankets.

“Looking for serpents,” Evann responded.

“What?” Chander sat bolt upright.

Evann waved him back down. “Long story. I’ll tell you another time.”

Chander slowly laid back down, muttering something Evann was pretty sure he didn’t want to hear. Evann laid his own blankets out and crawled into them. He looked over to where Quinton was lighting his pipe with a twig, which he tossed in the fire when he was done.

“I’ll take second watch.”

Quinton waved a hand to show he heard as he puffed on the pipe to get it going. Evann twisted around and pulled his pack over to prop his head upon as he settled on his side. The last thing he did was lay his spade at his side and place his hand on it. The last thing he saw as he closed his eyes was the red light of the fire flickering across Quinton’s face as he sat on the log and puffed on his pipe.

Bird songs aroused Evann in the morning. He cracked open his eyes to see that dawn was well advanced. Then the memories of what had happened after they arrived yesterday popped into his mind, and he jerked up in an almost panic, only to relax when he saw Quinton still sitting on the log, still smoking his pipe, looking as if he hadn’t moved since the evening before.

“I thought you were going to wake me for the second watch,” Evann said as he threw his blankets to one side and rose to his feet.

“I had a lot of thinking to do,” Quinton replied. “I didn’t see any reason to be waking either of the two of you if I wasn’t going to be sleeping anyway.”

Evann rubbed his hair, then scrubbed at his face with his hands. That was followed by a jaw-cracking yawn. “All right,” he said. “What’s to eat?”

Chander turned around from the cart. “Here.”

Evann barely got his hands up in time to catch a bread roll.

“Thanks.”

He munched on it as he wandered over to the stream, where he got a drink after he finished the roll, then plunged his head into the cold water to finish the waking up process.

Evann was still wiping water from his face and hair with his hands when he got back to their little camp site.

“So what were you thinking about that you were up all night?” Evann directed that to Quinton.

The older wizard puffed on his pipe for another few moments before pulling it from his mouth and pointing the stem at Evann.

“You.”

“Me?” That startled Evann. “Why me? Or what about me?”

“How to get you safely trained without getting one of us killed or the surrounding area laid waste.”

Evann started to laugh, then saw that Quinton’s face didn’t have a hint of a smile on it. All of a sudden, the bread that he had eaten was sitting in his stomach like it was so much rock. “What do you mean?” he finally asked.

“I mean, my boy, that you are even more dangerous to work with than I had thought.”

Evann just looked at the older wizard. He didn’t know what to say to that.

Quinton stuck the pipe stem back in his mouth and puffed on it a couple of more times before pulling it out and putting his thumb over the hole to stifle the coal in the dottle. “I can only guess that it’s because you tasted live dragon’s blood, but your power as a wizard exceeds anyone’s that I know of. You received the power all at once, and you seem to have an intuitive grasp on how to do some things with it, which is a good thing, considering the spells you received from Oreton. But you don’t know what you don’t know, and that’s liable to get somebody killed. Last night could have been a disaster. And it would have been my fault.”

“Yours?” Evann was startled by that assertion. “Why yours, if I’m the one with the power?”

Quinton’s face got a little grimmer. “Because I’m the one who agreed to teach you. Because until you learn to control your power, I’m responsible for you.”

“But it’s not your fault I’m the way I am.”

“It’s not about fault,” Quinton said, “it’s about responsibility. Once I agreed to mentor you, you became my responsibility. And that means that anything that goes wrong with you or by you or in your training gets laid at my feet.”

Quinton stood and stared into Evann’s eyes. “Think about it. If you wanted to be a stonewright, and I was the master stonewright you apprenticed with, I’d be responsible for anything and everything you did until you were judged to be a journeyman, and longer if you continued working with me afterward.”

“Well, but if I was working to be a stonewright, I wouldn’t be doing anything dangerous,” Evann protested.

Quinton snorted. “You think not? You’ve never seen the apprentices up on the scaffolds around the city walls or the temples, have you? Hauling stone and mortar up those rickety ladders and platforms, within a finger’s breadth of dropping your load on someone below, or dropping yourself for that matter. And if an apprentice does that, the master is responsible because he put him up there.”

The older wizard leveled a finger at Evann. “I’ll say it again: I’m responsible for you, and yesterday I had you do something that was almost a disaster. Wizardry is risky enough as it is. I’m not going to do that again.

“So here’s how it’s going to be. I’m going to drill you within an inch of your life the next few days. I’m going to run you so hard you’re going to hate me. I’m going to test you and try to break you, because that’s the only way I can make sure that you’re ready. We’re going to try and cram almost ten years of training into less than ten days.”

Quinton placed his hands on his hips.

“Go find your staff, and get ready. You’re going to hate me before this is over.”

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