Veltyen knocked on the guild heads’ office door and opened it. “You asked to see me?”
There were three others in the office: Ariela, Devlin, and someone not from Eterna, a taller man in his fifties.
“Come in, come in,” said Devlin with a wave towards the second guest chair. “Do you know Terry Chandler? He’s the head of Windermere.”
Veltyen nodded. “We’ve never been formally introduced, but I know the face,” he said, shaking Terry’s hand. Windermere was a small town and mage guild just over a day’s ride away from Eterna. Those travelling to and from Eterna often stayed there overnight, but with Magewhisper, Veltyen simply covered that extra distance in the same day’s travel.
“The reason we called you in today is because Windermere has a proposal that has to do with Sery,” said Ariela.
Veltyen glanced sharply at his guildmaster, then Windermere’s, his protective instincts flaring. “What about Sery?”
Terry held up his hands in a placating gesture. “When I came here with my proposal, I had no idea it was a new guild member who was responsible for your guild’s increased activity. I simply came to see if you were interested in binding our guild’s members and facilities into Eterna.”
“Binding?” Veltyen repeated blankly.
“Mr. Chandler is offering to make Windermere a branch location of Eterna,” Ariela explained.
“But… Why?” Veltyen asked. The two guilds had been coexisting for longer than his entire career as a mage, and there had never been any problems that he knew of.
Terry spoke frankly. “To be honest, Windermere is too small. We don’t have a dedicated record-keeper, let alone one as talented as your Foria Kallagan. We’re just a collection of minor local mages who created a guild in order to have our interests represented with the Guild Association. Most of the time, we have to send our local youngsters to Eterna or even farther, simply because we don’t have someone with the appropriate magic to be a mentor.
“We’ve never been hugely profitable. Now that Eterna is accepting and fulfilling local jobs off the information dimension postings before they can even be printed and sent to us, it’s even worse. We still have our long-term contracts and regular customers, so no one is in danger of starving, but it’s reaching the point that we might as well dissolve and have our members go independent.”
“Oh…” Veltyen felt vaguely guilty for Eterna’s negative impact on Windermere, though they had not poached any contracts or done anything underhanded.
“Don’t feel sorry, son,” said Terry in a brisk voice. “It’s right that folks get their requests fulfilled faster, if it’s possible. It’s just that, without our own webmage, it takes at least two days for us to receive and accept jobs. If we had your Foria linking us to the Guild Association, business would get better, fast.”
Veltyen could see the advantage if Windermere gained the services of a talented webmage like Foria. What he did not understand… “So why are you consulting me instead of Foria?”
“In terms of the workload, Foria already handles Windermere’s GA transmissions,” said Devlin. “We won’t make any decisions without her input, of course, but we don’t see any problems on that side.”
“If Windermere did become a branch of Eterna,” Ariela continued seamlessly, “we thought it would be appropriate for Sery to spend a day or two a week there. The reason we’ve been able to take so many extra jobs is because she spends most of her time in the guild hall. If she never went to Windermere, those guild members would not receive the same benefit.”
Veltyen frowned. He understood wanting to treat the future guild members fairly, but this was Sery’s life they were talking about. “I don’t like the idea of her having to constantly travel back and forth. She’s comfortable here. If Eterna and Windermere were an easy day’s journey from each other, they wouldn’t have become separate guilds in the first place.”
“On a mage-bred horse, the journey can be as short as one hour,” Ariela countered. This was only true because Sery could allow a mage-bred horse to sustain a mage-gallop indefinitely.
“I’m not always around,” Veltyen objected.
“You’re not the only one with a mage mount,” Ariela retorted.
“The reason any of us commission a mage-bred partner is because we travel extensively,” Veltyen argued. “There’s no guarantee that even one of us is always around.”
Devlin cut into the impending argument. “There’s no reason Sery can’t get her own mage mount. For most people, there’s no guarantee, but Magewhisper, Manawind, and Diamondfire all adore her,” he said, referring to the other mage-bred horses who lived in Eterna’s stables.
“…That is true.” Whether or not the merge with Windermere went through, Veltyen thought Sery would love having her own equine partner. It would make him feel more secure about her travelling alone, as well; he could not think of any danger that could keep pace with a full mage-gallop.
Ariela looked admiringly at her husband. “I knew I married you for a reason.”
Devlin patted her hand and spoke to Veltyen. “Is it settled, then? Obviously, Sery will have to agree as well. We wanted to talk to you first because we thought Sery would agree whether or not she liked the idea.”
Veltyen huffed in fond exasperation. “She would. She does like to be helpful. I’ll talk to her about it.”
Ariela sighed exaggeratedly. “Trust you to forget about the business side of things,” she said to Devlin. Turning to Veltyen, she said, “We didn’t discuss a fee before because weren’t scheduling Sery’s time, but we think it would be fair to add ten percent of annual income to the guild fees for every member working locally and have that go to Sery.”
Veltyen’s eyes widened. “Ten percent of annual income? Not the current guild fees?” The current membership dues were only a few hundred Os; this would push them into the thousands, maybe even a million for a craft-mage of Devlin’s calibre.
“This talent is worth a lot more than a few hundred Os a year,” Terry put in. “I could feel the difference in my
just riding into town.”
“Yes, of course,” Veltyen agreed. “I was just surprised by the size of the increase.”
“Anything else I forgot?” asked Devlin.
“Where will Sery actually be staying while she’s in Windermere?” Veltyen asked.
Terry answered, “Our guild hall isn’t nearly as extensive as this one, but we have a small library with desks inside. She can stay in my guest room if she stays overnight. Ariela and Devlin tell me she spends much of her time reading, but if she has other hobbies or lessons, we’ll do our best to accommodate.”
Veltyen nodded. “Well, that’s all I can think of.” He stood. “I’ll let you know if I think of anything else or Sery has any questions.”
“So? What do you think?” Veltyen asked after his explanation.
Veltyen grinned and brushed her hair with his fingers before letting his arm fall back onto the couch in his living room. “Do you have any questions, O quiet one?”
Sery thought for a moment, then shook her head. Eterna was expanding, and she would move around in order to help all the members. The arrangement made sense to her. She had not paid much attention when Veltyen had explained the guild fee restructuring, but she was certain Veltyen would not have agreed to an unfair bargain on her behalf.
“All right, then. All that’s left is for us to arrange for your transportation,” Veltyen continued. His tone was decidedly casual, but something about his posture had Sery perking up in attention.
He smiled at her reaction. “Did you figure it out already?”
Sery shook her head, wondering what had Veltyen so pleased.
“Magewhisper and I won’t always be here to escort you back and forth,” he said in a leading tone.
Sery pushed aside the wistfulness she always felt at Veltyen’s absences in order to focus on his hint. “So… I’ll go by myself?” she ventured.
“Yes and no. Windermere is ten leagues east of Eterna, so travelling back and forth on a weekly basis is unfeasible…
“…Unless you have your own mage mount.”
It took a moment for the words to sink in. “My… own?” Sery echoed blankly. Such a thing was – had been – so outside the realm of possibility that the moment felt surreal.
Veltyen looked concerned at her dazed reaction. “Sery? I thought you’d be happy, but…”
Sery was suddenly overwhelmed by everything Veltyen had done for her.
When he left for his work, Magewhisper left as well, and she missed them both. Having her own friend and companion would be beyond wonderful.
Sery wrapped her arms around Veltyen’s waist and he automatically returned the hug. “Are you all right?” he asked, his voice gentle and reassuring and concerned.
would she be able to repay his kindness. The realization left her drowning and at the same time, perfectly content.
And here she was, making him worried without cause. Sery tried to let him know that she was not upset – or at least, not in the unhappy way. “Thank you.” The words were utterly inadequate, but they would have to do.
“No need to thank me. You have excellent qualifications to match with a mage mount all on your own,” said Veltyen, stroking her hair.
Sery shook her head and did not answer. After a minute, she released him, certain he had better things to do than coddle her all day.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Veltyen asked. “I am getting the strangest pattern of mana particle emission right now.”
Sery did not even blush at the reminder of how closely Veltyen tracked her emotional state. Even she did not fully understand her feelings at the moment, so she doubted anyone else could read anything coherent off of her. She nodded. When Veltyen failed to look convinced, she added, “I’m fine.”
Trying to regain her normal demeanour, Sery asked, “When are we going?”
“I was thinking tomorrow morning, unless you have some other commitment?”
Sery shook her head.
“Tomorrow it is. Pack for about a week; it usually takes a few days to get to know the horses and find a suitable partner. I’ve already cleared it with Devlin for you to miss Foursday with him.”
Sery nodded. She left to pack, still floating in a strange reverie.