“While I certainly regret any distress experienced by the young Miss Holder, I fail to see that any fault can be found with the actions of the members of Inheritance guild,” came the cultured voice of Inheritance’s guildmaster. “If anything, Miss Holder’s horse nearly caused my people injuries.”
Veltyen clenched his fists and reminded himself that he would only break the guild’s communication crystal if he lashed out now. Drustan Lethei embodied everything he hated in the Oslethian aristocracy, entitled, condescending, and insincere. Sitting in his overly ornate office, he wore a velvet mage-robe tailored to hide the weight he had gained in late middle age. A heavy gold signet ring adorned his right hand.
Devlin kept his temper and spoke evenly. “I suppose that you are unfamiliar with mage-mounts, given that none of your members have ever managed to be pleasant enough to gain such a partnership, but I assure you that Mindseye knew exactly what she was doing. As for
, Windermere is part of Eterna’s territory now. Your members failed to petition us nor our branch head for permission to enter, and yet you dare claim they did nothing wrong in interrogating Sery in the middle of the street?”
“Now, now, Devlin, permission is only required for working or extended stays. Tristane, Margette, Ciena, and Ivain were just passing through. I assure you, they had no business in such a… humble… place.” Drustan leaned back in his chair, relaxed and smug.
In contrast to her husband, Ariela was coldly furious. “Make all the pathetic excuses you want, Lethei,” she snapped. “If another one of your dogs comes sniffing around Sery again, I will be petitioning the Guild Association to permit duelling between our guilds, and you are the
one I will challenge.”
Drustan attempted to maintain his air of smug superiority, but he could not disguise the way the colour drained from his face. “The Association has not allowed guild disputes to escalate to the level of duelling in decades,” he snapped.
“That is true, Drustan,” answered Devlin. “However, you didn’t study your precedents well enough. The last time duelling was sanctioned, sixty-seven years ago, it was because Lionsguard was harassing Divina in an attempt to poach their Source.”
“I’m sure you recall that shortly thereafter, Lionsguard ceased to exist,” Ariela added sweetly.
Drustan bristled. “If you think that one girl will make your collection of jumped-up peasants a match for my guild of educated mages—”
“Oh, we don’t need Sery’s help,” Ariela cut in. “Just me. Back off, Lethei, before you make me lose my temper. I’m sure you remember what happened the last time.”
Drustan’s face mottled in a combination of fear and rage. “Witch!” he hissed. He slammed his communication crystal down, leaving them with a view of the polished hardwood of his desk.
Foria waited a moment before ending the connection. “Well, that went well.”
“That weasel isn’t just going to leave Sery alone,” Veltyen said, keeping his voice at a reasonable volume with conscious control.
“No,” agreed Ariela, “but Drustan Lethei is first and foremost a coward. He’s been that way since we both trained at Academy Oslethia. He won’t try to approach Sery openly again.”
“So all we have to do is worry about underhanded approaches,” Foria commented drily.
“It’s not as hard as it sounds,” said Devlin. “Sery certainly isn’t one to go on long walks alone. I doubt Inheritance Guild will come sniffing around on guild territory again. A simple escort when she travels to Windermere should be more than adequate.”
“I’ll take her,” said Veltyen. “I’m taking the winter season off anyways.”
“Honestly, any precautions we take will be for Sery’s comfort rather than safety,” Devlin added. “Inheritance members might try to lure her away with promises of wealth and fame, but they wouldn’t kidnap her off the street. Sery’s certainly not interested in anything they have to offer.”
“I don’t want Tristane and his underlings anywhere near her,” Veltyen said grimly. “He as a way of twisting the truth until you doubt which way is up.”
“We’ll make sure she’s not alone outside,” Ariela reassured him.
“I have a question,” Foria interjected. She paused until she had everyone’s attention, then said, “Why isn’t Sery present for this discussion?”
The guildmasters exchanged a glance. “Well…” Devlin started, “Sery is…”
“What Sery is,” Foria said, “is an intelligent young woman who’s grown by leaps and bounds since she’s been here. Would you be making plans about the twins without their input if someone were trying to poach them from Eterna? No, and Mari and Tasi are seven months younger than Sery.”
“You’re correct, of course,” said Ariela. “What Devlin was trying to say is that Sery rouses a strong protective instinct in all of us. The twins no doubt would have left those Inheritance troublemakers with singe marks on their pretty clothing.”
“I feel it, you feel it; Veltyen here is struggling not to wrap her in wool and keep her safe in a magically reinforced box,” Foria said with a glance at Veltyen. “That doesn’t change what we should be doing in this situation.”
Veltyen sighed. The idea of keeping Sery safe in an impregnable fortress was indeed appealing. The most tempting part of it was that Sery would agree to it as easily as anything else he had ever suggested. “I’ll go find her,” he said.
Veltyen did not have to look far; Sery was in her usual study room. She looked recovered from the fright earlier that day, her expression serene in a way that soothed him.
She looked up from her book at his entrance and frowned. “Veltyen? Are you okay?” she asked, concerned.
“Ye—” his voice caught, rough with emotion. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Yes.”
Sery approached and Veltyen swept her up in a tight hug. She hesitated for a moment, then wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned her head against his chest.
“I’m okay,” he said a minute later, not releasing his embrace. “I have some… history with Tristane, and the memories are hitting me hard today.”
Sery did not reply except to nod, which made Veltyen smile despite everything. Slowly, the tension drained out of his body. Sery’s scent and her magic surrounded him in warm comfort until he regained his emotional balance.
Veltyen’s smile lingered as he loosened his arms. “Thanks, I needed that. Come on; we’re supposed to head over to discuss safety measures for you regarding Inheritance guild.”
Sery nodded. Taking a step back, she straightened her posture. Her formal bearing reminded Veltyen of what had led him to travel to Windermere in the first place. Glancing at the desk, he did indeed see a copy of
in the pile of study materials.
Deliberately, Veltyen slung his arm around Sery’s shoulders, making it impossible for her to maintain her posture. He steered her down the hall and said, “I realize that I can be stiff and formal sometimes, but I don’t expect or want you to follow suit. I’m not going to tell you not to read that book because it might come in handy when dealing with nobles, but those rules will never apply to you and me, all right?”
Veltyen experienced such a strong surge in magic that he stumbled at the pleasure of it. He was about to ask Sery why she was attempting to transfer magic into his already full
when the surge smoothed out to a very high level of ambient magic. Just passive emission then; she was happy.
Veltyen smiled and bent to kiss the top of Sery’s head. She kept her face turned away from him. Frowning in puzzlement, he gently turned her head and saw the tears in her eyes.
“Hey now, what’s this?” he asked, kneeling down to wipe the tears away.
“I didn’t want to go away from you,” she said in a shaky voice, fresh tears escaping.
Veltyen pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dried her eyes. “Of course not. You’ll always have a home with me, Sery. Always.
“Come on, cheer up, or Foria will smack me for bullying you,” Veltyen teased. He was rewarded with a tremulous, beautiful smile.
Ignoring the way his heart squeezed at the sight, Veltyen stood and continued down the hall with Sery beside him.
“Can I buy you a drink?”
Kiera shot a glance at the stranger beside her. He was overdressed for the simple bar where she was nursing a drink, clearly a nobleborn mage who had decided to slum it for a night. Pretentious lightning bolts of silver zigzagged through his hair.
“Not interested,” she said shortly, draining her mug and standing to move away.
“You’re from Eterna, right? How do you like having a Source around?”
“Not so much? Is that why you’re staying in a town less than a day’s ride from your guild hall? It just so happens that my guild would love to have its own Source. Why don’t we talk about it?”
Slowly, Kiera sat back down.
The stranger smiled. “Excellent. Two of whatever she just had,” he said to the bartender.