Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud: Chapter Two

Here’s the second chapter from Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud. If you missed Chapter One, or the introduction to this month-long project with a high school class in Nantes, France, get caught up here.

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Chapter Two
The Fall of King Kendrick

The dining hall erupted with clapping and cheers over the king’s announcement. Owen sat cemented to his chair. What? Had his ears deceived him? He could think of no better birthday gift than this. If his father married Queen Andrea, the king could name Weylin heir. Weylin would make a better king anyway. He had more interest in politics than fighting. If he occupied the throne, Owen would be free to pursue a career with the King’s Sentry. What a great surprise!

When the cheering subsided, Kendrick continued, “This union will not only bring together two broken families, it will meld two of the most powerful lands in Wittatun. The combined forces of our armies would make our lands virtually impenetrable to attack from outside forces, and we would have a strong alliance should the Wizard Rebellion ever rise again.”

At the mention of the Wizards, the hall filled with nervous murmurs mixed with some applause. Numerous feasts have occurred at Innes Castle since the Wizard Rebellion attacked, yet King Kendrick has only mentioned the tragedy once: at the first banquet following the onslaught.

“But I have more than one surprise for you tonight. I also have the business of naming my heir, and now I have a choice to make between my son,” he gestured toward Owen, “and my soon-to-be stepson.” His hand moved in Weylin’s direction.

Owen’s stomach sank when King Kendrick reached for the bread Queen Andrea had pushed away. Of course! The bread had seemed particularly large when it came to the table, but he hadn’t realized its purpose. Now he recognized the affirmation loaf. All legal contracts, according to the Law of the Land, could be bound, or unbound, by breaking an affirmation loaf and sharing it with seven or more witnesses. He glanced around at the attendants leaning on the edges of their seats for the proclamation. This packed dining hall certainly constituted seven or more witnesses.

How could I overlook an affirmation loaf?

For the first time, a prickle of excitement, not dread, tingled up his back for what might come next. His father could name Weylin as his heir. He, Owen , may have the opportunity to try out for the King’s Sentry after all.

The king raised the loaf above his head. “With this loaf, I claim my true heir.” He broke the bread and tore it in two halves. A dusting of crumbs fell and landed on Kendrick’s face. He made a face like he may sneeze, his eyes grew blank, and he gazed absently at the room. “I’d like… I’m going… I…”

King Kendrick stumbled and fell face first into the table. Blood gushed from his nose and smeared the white tablecloth. He crashed to the ground, and the two halves of bread flew from his hands and rolled across the floor.

Owen rushed to him, but Cedric arrived at the king’s limp body first. The sorcerer started mumbling incantations under his breath. His scarred and calloused hands hovered over the lifeless body. The magic cleaned the king’s bloodied face. Cedric stopped speaking, stood, and examined the dining hall from one end to the other. Not appearing to find whom or what he sought, he returned his attention to the king. Owen wanted to tell the magician to stop, to leave his father alone, but the shock of the moment left him paralyzed to do anything but watch and hope his father wouldn’t die.

When Owen regained some of his senses, he stuttered, “Ced-Ced-Cedric, what-what’s wrong?”

Cedric glanced at him through locks of hair that hung in his face, gave a slight shake of his head, and focused on his work.

Owen waited. He still wanted to tell Cedric to stop using magic on his father, but even as much as he hated Cedric, deep down he knew the sorcerer would do nothing to harm the king. Owen slammed his fist into the tiled floor. Pain shot all the way to his elbow, but he didn’t care. He wanted to do something!

At last, Cedric stood. Keeping his hands over the body, he raised them to waist level, said an incantation, and elevated his hands over his head. The lifeless body of King Kendrick rose and hovered chest high. Cedric motioned toward the door, and Kendrick hovered through it.

Cedric took a quick look over his shoulder. “Owen, follow me.”

Cedric walked with his hands outstretched, and King Kendrick’s body floated before him. Magic propelled the king, and they followed the body down one hall after another. When they reached the Keep, Owen sensed someone following. He turned to see an empty corridor and resumed the pursuit of Cedric and his father up the stairs.

At Kendrick’s chamber, Cedric floated the body to the bed and directed it to land with the head resting on the pillows. When Owen entered, Cedric waved a hand at the door. It slammed shut. The magician leaned over the body, mumbling incantations. At times, sparks flew from his hands and encircled the king’s body. Again Owen had the urge to tell him to stay away from his father, but his fear of the unknown outweighed his fear of magic.

Cedric rose from the body and sped to the door. “I have to leave to mix a potion. If it doesn’t work, I don’t know what to do. I’ve exhausted my magical knowledge. Don’t let anyone enter this room while I’m away.”

Owen didn’t have a chance to respond before Cedric rushed from the room. He walked to his father’s unconscious body which looked as much dead as asleep. What could have done this? Poison? Magic? Could someone have sent an assassin for the king?

He placed his hand on his father’s neck to feel for a pulse. It took a while, but he found a weak beat. He lost himself in joy. His father still lived!

A cricket chirped in the corner, and an owl hooted in the distance. If he strained his ears, he could hear his father’s slow, shallow breathing.

Yet what was Cedric doing? Making a potion? Now that Owen had regained his senses, he couldn’t understand how he had let the magician do so much. Was it wise to stand aside while the magician poured some concoction down his father’s throat?

But Father trusts him, even these past three years. He must have his reasons for allowing the magician to stay at the castle.

He jumped when a knock at the door startled him from his vigil. Like waking from a dream, he stumbled to the door and opened it. Queen Andrea almost knocked him over as she rushed to the king’s side. She extended a hand toward his head. A spark of electricity shot from his temple to her hand, and she jerked it away and shook it. Cedric must have put a protective spell on the king.

“Will he be all right?” she asked.

Owen shook his head. “I don’t know. Cedric didn’t say. He went to make a potion.”

The queen approached Owen and took his face in her hands. “You unfortunate boy. What a horrible thing to have happen on this most important birthday.” She embraced him in a hug.

“I’m still trying to figure out what happened. He looked fine. He held the bread—”

The door crashed open, and Cedric burst into the room. “What is she doing in here? I told you not to let anyone enter this room!”

“I don’t know,” Owen said. “It’s just Queen Andrea. I didn’t think—”

“That’s obvious,” Cedric said. “It doesn’t matter. I’ve used magic to protect him. No one can harm him now. Please prop his head.”

Queen Andrea released Owen and he raised his father’s head. Cedric took a small vial from his robes. He removed the cork and poured the contents down King Kendrick’s throat.

The three of them stood and watched the king’s motionless body for what seemed like an eternity.

Cedric walked to a window, rested his hand on the sill, and lowered his head. His somber voice did nothing to alleviate Owen’s anxiety. “If it were going to work, it would have by now. That is the most potent potion I know. A terribly powerful spell felled the king.”

Owen realized the truth of what he had started to suspect. “Do you mean magic did this to him?”

Cedric came away from the window and stood next to the bed. “Yes. A magic unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I’m going to have to seek an old acquaintance of mine. If anyone knows what’s happened here, he would. And I’m going to need your help, Owen. It’s likely to be a long journey. Fetch a sword, armor, and a light pack of necessities.”

Owen’s vision turned red, and the surrounding noises muted. The nerve of the magician. He sucked in a deep breath trying to calm himself, but he couldn’t hold his temper at bay. “I’m not going anywhere, you crazy old wizard! And I’m certainly not going with you to search for some other crazy old wizard. In case you didn’t notice, my father’s life is in danger.”

The term “wizard” had taken on a new meaning since the attack of the Wizard Rebellion. Magic users, those not supportive of the Rebellion, considered the term an extremely vulgar profanity. Most non-magical people knew this as well. Owen knew it, but he didn’t care.

Cedric ignored the obscenity. “That’s why you must come. The journey will be dangerous, and it will take my magic, as well as your sword, to reach our destination. I will protect your father with the best spells I know. You needn’t worry about him.”

“We’ve seen the effectiveness of your magic. If you need a sword, take a Sentryman.”

Cedric turned his back on the other two and started arranging the bedclothes. “With the king’s fall, the person responsible for this may try another attack. It will be very important for the Sentry to have all of their numbers here at the castle. You have proven today that you are just as good with a sword as any of them. And this way you can actively help save your father, instead of standing around waiting for someone else to do it.”

This struck a nerve, and Owen relaxed. He always wanted to be in the front line. Here an opportunity presented itself, and he was making excuses to stay within the shelter of the castle. He smiled despite his misgivings.

Queen Andrea placed a hand on Owen’s shoulder. “Cedric’s right. I’m sure he can protect your father, and I can look after the castle while you’re away. With the announcement of my engagement to the king, the Sentry will respect me as their ruler while the king is incapacitated. I will send a messenger to Deadlock Castle stating my intention to stay here longer than expected.”

Owen considered her words. “Whoever did this may try to attack you as well.”

“Don’t worry about me. Weylin will stay here.”

Owen liked Weylin and thought he’d make a good king, but he questioned his ability to defend anybody. But Cedric and Andrea were right; he had to go on the mission. His shoulders dropped with submission. “Where are we going?”

“You needn’t worry about that now,” Cedric said. “Get your belongings and meet me at the front gate. Let as few people as possible know you are leaving.” He turned to the queen. “Queen Andrea, you will have to leave this room now. I’m going to put a protective seal on the door.”

Cedric’s incantation resonated down the hall as Owen returned to his room. The farther he walked from his father’s chamber, the less the magician’s argument for leaving made sense. How can I leave my father at a time like this? Cedric insists he needs my help, but what worth does a sorcerer’s word hold? Yet Queen Andrea also thinks I should go. She despises magic for her own reasons, so she wouldn’t mislead me.

He supposed he had to go no matter how much he wanted to stay by his father’s side.

And would staying at the castle make him weak? A coward? Cedric’s comment about actively helping his father instead of standing aside while someone else did the work sunk deep. He desired to join the King’s Sentry instead of ruling from a throne so he wouldn’t have to wait while others risked their lives for him. How could he not exert his fullest effort to save his father, even if it meant traveling to the farthest corner of Wittatun?

Once in his room, Owen fastened his dragon-mail armor over a tunic. He spent countless hours listening to his father, with a booming voice full of superiority, recount the story of his ancestor, Frederick, how he defeated the dragon, Kartal, skinned him, and fashioned the dragon-mail armor. The unfamiliar sting of tears burned his eyes as he wondered if he would ever hear his father tell the tale again. He hadn’t cried since his mother died, and he wouldn’t cry now.

He blinked hard and grabbed his two-handed Claymore sword, swung it in his empty room a few times, and then put it aside in favor of the lighter broadsword he had used during the tournament earlier in the day. How long ago the tournament seemed.

Owen considered taking his gauntlets and his buckler but decided attack by beast far outweighed the likelihood of attack by person. He left them behind in favor of light travel.

The castle corridors were completely void of people. Everyone probably still waited in the dining hall to hear word of the king. Owen couldn’t concern himself with them now. Queen Andrea could govern in the king’s absence, and she would inform the people soon enough. Cedric must have ordered her to wait to address the attendants until they had a chance to gain ground on people leaving the hall.

Owen wanted to return to his father’s chamber one last time before leaving, but he pushed the urge aside to buy time. He hoped to beat Cedric to the front gate so he could make a quick trip into Innis Village to tell Yara what had happened. What did it matter that Cedric instructed him to tell no one?

The moon and the flickering glow from the torches along the castle wall provided the only light. Two Sentrymen stood guard at the gate. He thought he had a chance to sneak out when a shadow below one of the torches moved.

“Owen, over here,” Cedric whispered. “I have informed Edward of the events that took place this evening. He’s the only person, besides the queen, needing to know we’ve departed. We have to leave now to stay ahead of the visitors to the castle. Follow me. We’ll climb the barracks and grapple down the wall to avoid the main gate.”

Owen hurried to him. “Will you tell me where we are going now? I’d like to tell Yara we’re leaving. And I had to leave my dying father to accompany you.” He still struggled with the decision to stay by his father’s side, or seek the cure.

“You mustn’t tell anyone where we head. Evil has long ears. And your father isn’t dying. He could live for several months without food or water as I have him now. But you need to understand the significance of what we face. I will tell you what I know as we walk. Some of it you may know, some of it you will not.”

To avoid the Sentrymen at the gate, they climbed the stairs to the ramparts. Owen’s foot caused a tiny corner of stone to crumble and fall to the ground. In the absolute stillness of the night, the sound must have reached the Sentrymen.

Owen and Cedric pulled back into the shadows and waited. The closer of the two guards turned his head and looked around. He walked toward the stairs, and Owen held his breath. The soldier searched at his feet and peered up into the darkness. He must have satisfied himself that nothing was askew because he returned to his post without further investigation.

They ascended the rest of the stairs, Owen paying particular attention to step lightly. At the top, Cedric produced a grappling hook from his robes. He fastened it to the brick and lowered the rope. He descended first, followed by Owen.

As they crept through the castle grounds, Cedric quietly continued his explanation, “We have to find an old acquaintance of mine. I studied magic under Argnam, one of the most powerful magicians ever. I began my magical training at the age of twenty and completed my Endeavor by the age of twenty-five.”

Owen had heard of the Endeavor: a task, or series of tasks, put upon a magical apprentice by his or her mentor. By completing the Endeavor, the apprentice would become a fellow of the craft—a true magician.

“My journeys have taken me to the farthest reaches of this land, to parts of the planet you don’t even know exist. I have seen things you probably wouldn’t even believe. Now, it’s important that you understand my seriousness when I say, ‘I have never seen magic like this before.’”

They shuffled their feet descending the dew moistened slope of the hill on which Innes Castle had been erected. The trees of the forest grew larger as they approached, and Owen had no desire to tumble down the hill toward them like a rolling cannonball.

The terrain leveled so they could walk normally, but they still crept softly, keeping their footsteps quieter than the surrounding nocturnal insects.

They reached the ends of the grounds, and Owen’s tense muscles relaxed upon entering the cover of the forest. He cast one last look toward Innes Castle and the village, wishing he could have seen either his father or Yara again.

Even this far from the castle, Cedric kept his voice low. “You must also realize that anyone at the castle could have done this. Therefore I instructed you not to permit anyone into the King’s Chamber. I tried to discover the culprit at the Great Hall. Directly after the attack is when he would have been most vulnerable, but whoever did it kept his actions in check.”

“It had to be the apprentice,” Owen said. “No other sorcerers attended the dinner, besides you.”

“I don’t think so. Talented sorcerers can disguise themselves, and this magic far exceeds the capabilities of an apprentice.”

Owen tried to think of someone else who looked or acted strange. So many people attended the celebration that he had never seen before. He gave up when a wolf howled, followed by several more and the patter of paws. They faded away into silence, indicating the wolves moved away from the two men. Nothing to worry about. They want to avoid us as much as we them.

Cedric finished his story. “During my Endeavor, I met a very powerful magician. A master of the craft, a special ranking only bestowed on a select few. His intelligence far exceeded mine, or even Argnam’s. Master’s have more advanced magic than fellows, and they typically specialize in a particular area or areas. This master specialized in nontraditional magic, along with many other areas of study. He will know what to do if anyone does.”

No wielder of magic impressed Owen, regardless of his or her experience. “Where in Wittatun do we find this so called magical genius?”

“The last I knew he resided in the Land of Fire.”

Owen halted in his tracks. Did the magician really just suggest they stroll into the perils and scorching heat of the accursed land? He shook his head in disgust. “Did you say the Land of Fire?”

Cedric stopped and looked back at Owen, a casual expression gracing his face. “Yes.”

“So we have to cross Death Desert?”

“Indeed, we do.”

Owen could feel rage bubbling at his temples. His vision lost focus, and his voice sounded more like the grunt of a wild boar than a human. “You know I can’t get beyond the outer rim! If the heat doesn’t kill me, the animals will!”

“You can, and will, get through Death Desert,” Cedric’s mustache twitched as he attempted to smile through his mass of facial hair. “But we’ll have to use magic.”

****

Come back tomorrow for the first of fifteen student versions of Chapter Three. And don’t forget to come back for more fun the rest of September!

Student Versions of Chapter Three (All links go live at midnight Central Standard Time on the date in parentheses.)

Group 1 (September 3)
Group 2 (September 4)
Group 3 (September 5)
Group 4 (September 6)
Group 5 (September 7)
Group 6 (September 8)
Group 7 (September 9)
Group 8 (September 10)
Group 9 (September 11)
Group 10 (September 12)
Group 11 (September 13)
Group 12 (September 14)
Group 13 (September 15)
Group 14 (September 16)
Group 15 (September 17)

Let the voting begin! (September 18)

Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud: Chapter Three (September 20)

Voting Closes and Winners Announced! (September 25)

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