The War of Blood and Iron – Chapter 13

“And this is the observatory,” Sorasil said, gesturing to the great stone tower that rose high above them. Ilinnia held onto his hand and leaned back as far as she could, but she couldn’t make out the shape of the structure at the top of the tower. At the last moment, she caught a gleam in the afternoon sun.

“What’s that glint?”

“The enchanters keep special crystals within the Star Chamber. When night falls, they can use them as foci to make the stars appear larger. It is a wondrous sight I have been blessed to see, once before.”

A sudden rush of excitement filled Ilinnia. “Do you think I could see sometime? The stars, I mean.”

“The enchanters are very private about their research. They only allowed me up because I had cured Melekar of a serious illness.” Sorasil gazed up at the tower’s peak. “I do come here often when the enchanters are not using the tower. It is a good place to be alone, to think. Even without the seeing spells, the view of the night sky is… calming.” After a moment he shook himself out of his reverie.

Ilinnia stepped closer to the observatory door. “Do you think we could go up now?”

Sorasil blinked in surprise. “Now? You don’t wish to wait for nightfall?”

“Oh, I’d like to see it then too. I just…” Ilinnia broke off, blushing. “I’ve always loved the views from high places. I got in trouble for climbing the tallest trees quite often as a girl.”

Sorasil chuckled. “By all means, let us ascend.”

The tower appeared to be hollow. The door opened into a vast circular chamber, with a ceiling lost somewhere in the shadows above. Unlit torches were spaced evenly along the walls and a lone rune had been carved upon the center of the floor. Sorasil took Ilinnia by the hand as they stepped onto the sigil, intoning a ritual prayer. She staggered in surprise to find herself in a room enclosed in glass walls, offering a view over the whole of the city.

“By the spirits,” she gasped. The city spread out around them like an intricately wrought model. Beyond Delnoth’s high walls lay a patchwork quilt of tilled fields. Beyond that she saw masses of green—dense forests. A clear stretch of blue—a distant lake. Ilinnia breath left her in a rushing laugh.

“This is only halfway up,” Sorasil said. He laid a hand on her shoulder. “Come.”

She followed him to a set of stairs that climbed past hallways, rooms and offices. Before long, she heard the sound of raised voices. “Someone else must have business in the tower today,” Sorasil said before she could ask. “Strange. Few come here during the day.”

Carpeted halls stretched beyond the landing, and Ilinnia felt drawn by curiosity toward a corner, around which she could see a familiar pair of robed humans.

“Eolar, I hardly have time for this foolishness,” Melekar told the younger enchanter leaning against the far wall.

“It isn’t foolishness,” Eolar retorted, his gaze distant and troubled. “Someone is playing us against ourselves. Of that, I’m certain.”

“Felear confirmed our initial analysis. None of the wards were disturbed. Whatever magic those fiends used to enter, it is of a kind never before encountered.”

“That makes no sense! Undetectable magic does not just spring out of nothingness, Melekar. Our quandary is a far more human one.”

Melekar flung his arms up in exasperation. “Then I pray you, enlighten me! The king demands answers, and to our shame we have none to give.”

Ilinnia knew that she was intruding on a private conversation, but try as she might, she could not free herself from her growing curiosity.

“This cannot be a new kind of magic,” Eolar replied. “There would have been some trace in the vicinity. Remember your first lesson? The ether reacts to everything… unless the magic has been specifically attuned.”

Ilinnia couldn’t see Melekar’s face, but his back seemed to stiffen. “I do not need a former student repeating my own lectures back to me. What are you suggesting?”

Eolar sighed, obviously pained. “The order has been compromised. I spoke to Ramar today. Someone has been rummaging through the storerooms.”

“Are you basing these dark suspicions on the testimony of a drunken quartermaster? Our order has defended Cealia to our last breaths for centuries! To even suggest this—”

“Melekar, you must see reason. I know you despise the idea of a traitor, but it would explain what has been happening. If someone was using one of our runestones they could teleport through the wards at will. It’s a far stronger theory than any crackpot notion of a new form of magic—”

“Enough!” Melekar roared. “I will hear no more of this. The enchanters are my brothers… our brothers. You would do well to remember that.”

Melekar marched toward Ilinnia’s corner, and she froze, suddenly afraid of being discovered. He was nearly upon her when Sorasil tugged on her arm and pulled her back to the stairwell. Melekar turned down the far hall without noticing either of them.

“I think,” Sorasil said slowly, “we should return to the temple, young one. These matters are best left to others.”

The trek back down to the alabaster temple was silent and awkward. The lines in Sorasil’s face deepened as he frowned to himself, obviously disquieted. Worry began tying knots in Ilinnia’s stomach, and only the sight of Dronkhar and Jhellen walking toward the castle brought her some measure of comfort. She broke into a trot and threw her arms about Dronkhar’s neck.

“Easy, lass! Aren’t you supposed to be resting?” He drew back to look at her face and frowned. “What’s the matter?”

Sorasil stepped forward. “Nothing, good sohntar. We were just on our way back—”

Ilinnia shook her head sharply. “It’s all right, Sorasil. Dronkhar can be trusted. We should tell him.”

“Tell me what?” Dronkhar’s thick brows creased, and he looked between the two queferi with growing suspicion.

“There may be a traitor within the palace,” Sorasil explained with reluctance. “We overheard a conversation between two enchanters. By itself it may mean little, but I have also sensed a watchful anxiety from Ceanur. There is a connection.”

Dronkhar and Jhellen shared a look, and Ilinnia felt the knots tighten.

“We have the same suspicions,” Jhellen said grimly. “Several shady deals have been brokered by someone wearing a robe of the enchanters. We were following a lead to the castle. What did your conversation entail?”

Ilinnia relayed everything she could remember from the argument, including Melekar’s violent reaction to Eolar’s theory. Dronkhar frowned when the story was finished. “I say it’s a guilty man who protests that much.”

Glancing at Jhellen, Ilinnia found him staring intently at the ground. Something about his stance indicated a deeper concern. She laid her hand on his good arm. “I can feel your disquiet. What troubles you?”

Jhellen’s face grew tortured. He closed his eyes and released a long sigh. “I can not bring my heart to believe it, but I can not disprove the doubt in my mind. Melekar was one of my father’s closest friends. He’s the one who introduced my parents to each other, by Ceanur. The thought that he could have betrayed us all… it sickens me.

Sorasil gestured toward the castle. “We do not yet have any proof of wrongdoing. We will investigate, and the truth shall be revealed to us all.”