Chapter 11: Kings and Family


Letter from the Wizard known only as Celeste to her parents. Undated, (c.1570). Held in the Royal Archives of Laociena.

Celeste let out a long breath as she finished writing and placed her quill down. She blew gently on the letter until the ink was completely dry and then picked it up to scan over it again. She leafed through the few pages of the letter. It didn't seem too bad. She neatly folded them and tied a piece of string around to keep them secure. After carefully writing her parent's names, she pushed back to stand up. She kicked crumpled paper out of her way as she left her room.

The school was buzzing with activity. Even during the exams, there hadn't been such palpable energy to the place. Celeste headed to the main building, having to avoid people coming and going with a bewildering variety of things. Tables and benches, bedding, clothing, food and drink. Banners, trumpets, gaslamps, books and ink and papers. After darting under a bench, Celeste made it into the main hall.

Trumpets rang out, announcing the entrance of yet another procession of people. Celeste watched the head of the procession, another king dressed in deep emerald green, approach Tristan to shake hands.

“Hey, up here.”

She looked up to see Sabina whispering to her. Celeste jumped up and crouched into the stonework with the other woman.

“What are you doing up here?” Celeste asked.

“Keeping an eye on who's coming and going. With so many royals coming and going, there's got to be some valuables to get my hands on.”

“Why would they bring valuable stuff all the way up here?”

“I know they've probably not got chests full of gems, but even their outfits are worth enough to buy you a house down below.”

“You’re going to buy a house?”

“Do you recognise him?” Sabina asked, pointing to the current king. He tilted his head back, laughing obnoxiously as he spoke with Tristan.

“Can't say I do. I've not gone over modern kings much in history.”

Sabina held a coin out for Celeste without looking away from the scene below them. Celeste did a double-take as she looked at the face depicted on the coin.

“It doesn't look exactly the same but...”

“Kings like their flattery, I think,” Sabina said quietly. “Something about his jaw I think, it's not quite as precise as the art. I suppose that's only natural. Mind you, his hair is nearly as perfect.”

“This says it was minted by the Royal Laocienan Mint.” Celeste realised. “So that's...”

“That is our beloved king, Octavius the Third. How much do you think his belt is worth?” Sabina said, turning her head with a grin.

“I don't think it's worth your life.” She reached out to place a hand on Sabina's.

“He can't have me executed here, we're on neutral ground. That's why all of those bastards came up here in the first place. I would love to see him embarrassed for once in his pathetic life.”

“And I would like to see you keep out of trouble.” She looked back out across the crowd and saw Tesni approaching from the other side of the hall. She could wait, but she didn't desperately feel like it. Going over to speak to him right now would look a little hypocritical after she'd just told Sabina to keep out of trouble. But who looked up anyway? “I'll see you in a bit,” She said quickly, pecking Sabina on the cheek and jumping away.

Around the edge of the room, there were a number of statues carved into the walls. Celeste felt a little bad as she bounced along them, feeling her boots tap on the stone, but in her weightless state, they would probably be fine. She landed a little louder than she intended, but the room was filled with enough noise to dampen that anyway. She strolled up to Tesni, after taking a few moments to pick him out of the assembled crowd.

“Ah, Celeste, come to pay your respects to your beloved monarch?” He asked with a smile.

“I didn't even know he was arriving today. I just wanted to ask if you could deliver this for me.” She handed him the folded letter.

Tesni inspected it for a few seconds before nodding. “I take it this is for your parents.”

“It is.”

“Can they actually read, or do you need me to read it out to them?”

“You'll probably have to read it to them,” Celeste said, embarrassed. “I wasn't asking you for that reason, though I don't mind you reading the contents. I just thought you were the quickest way to send it to them.”

“I certainly am.” Tesni nodded for a moment before continuing. “You know, I've gotten to know you well enough that I can almost certainly just teleport you back there. I don't want to tell you what to do though.”

“I...” She considered for a moment, shrugging. “I don't know. Can I have some time to think? You won't deliver that right away?”“Of course not.” Tesni slipped the letter into his robes. “Take all the time you need to think about it. Now, I have actual work to attend to.” He gave her a nod before vanishing.

“Of course not.” Tesni slipped the letter into his robes. “Take all the time you need to think about it. Now, I have actual work to attend to.” He gave her a nod before vanishing.

She was startled by a loud trumpeting. Men in green livery came by, shoving her aside. “Watch it!” She shouted as them as they went on, ignoring her. She stewed in anger for a moment before she saw why they were pushing people aside.

King Octavius made his way past her. He was now caught up in conversation with some of his entourage. For a brief moment, as he went by, his eyes locked onto her. His expression changed, ever so slightly, but she wasn't sure what it was that he was thinking of her. Then he moved on.

Destroy him. Don't let him hold himself over you.

She ignored the spirit, but was left feeling slightly dirty as she turned to head the other way.

“I would appreciate if you didn't assault my students,” Tristan called after them before looking down at Celeste. “I am sorry. The kings don't seem to know how to mind their manners around here. Or how to have an interesting conversation.” He laughed, a short, harsh sound. “Maybe it's just because politics bores me to tears.”

“Then why are you letting all these leaders come and stay up here?”

“Because, Celeste, Tripacon is one of the only truly politically neutral places on this side of the continent. Even before my tenure as headmaster, we've always had to remain neutral when we're teaching pupils from across the world. As much as I loathe it, helping out with these negotiations will keep the continent stable for another few decades at least.”

“You say that as though war is inevitable. Surely whatever's going on can just be worked out.”

“You would hope. But, when you've lived as long as me, you become a bit fatalistic. I don't mean to be a downer about this,” Tristan said with a laugh. “Even if whatever they're squabbling about now is resolved, I can't see the continent going much longer without figuring out an excuse to kill each other. The immediate reason is always just an excuse.”

Celeste narrowed her eyes. “I thought you said you weren't interested in politics.”

“Oh, I'm not. Just observations I can't help making after all this time. But maybe I am just old and cynical.”

“How old are you anyway?”

“Only a hundred. Around about. I stopped keeping track a while ago.” He laughed again, before being interrupted by a servant who had scurried over. “I'm very sorry, but duty calls.” He turned to go before looking back at her. “Oh, and tell Sabina to avoid getting into trouble. We can't exactly have her starting another international incident.”

Celeste smiled and nodded to her. She went back over to Sabina who had emerged from her hiding spot. “What did he say?”

“Told you to stop robbing diplomats,” She said with a laugh.

“Well, he should have told me before they started to show up with all their finery,” She said, holding up a heavy pendant on a long chain.

“What is that?”

“I think they call it a pocket watch. Though why you'd always want to know the time, I cannot comprehend.” Sabina popped it open to show the face, before snapping it shut. “I guess you might be able to time things with it,” She said, winking at Celeste.

The woman blushed, shaking her head at Sabina. “Or you could use it to stop being late to things.”

“You're right, I really don't want one. Then I wouldn't have an excuse for being late. But I think I'll keep hold of it for now. It's got to be worth as much as a king's belt.”

“You're so stupid,” Celeste said with a laugh. “I love you.”

“I love you too. Don't worry, I'll pick you up something nice,” She said, putting an arm around Celeste and pulling her in for a kiss.

Classes continued as normal, despite the huge influx of foreign rulers and diplomats taking up so much space. However, most days students were forced to take the higher bridges as the great hall was in use for negotiations. Of course, no one knew what those negotiations were about, exactly. Rumours spread fast, and many claimed to be an authority on it. The truth was, even those students' whose fathers were here as diplomats knew nothing more than the rest of them.

The school was more difficult to get around than normal, but that was something they could get used to. However, when their next break day came, it was far worse. With the great hall in use, there was no way to actually leave the school. Even the young wizards who rarely travelled out on break days found the lack of a choice in the matter stifling.

“Couldn't we just jump down the mountain?” Wolfram suggested. “I mean, Celeste can just make us all go floaty and then-”

“I don't make you go floaty. That's not...That's not how it works,” She said, confused that he didn't seem to have a grasp of her powers after a year studying together.

“Well however it works, we could do it, right?”

“Controlled descent is hard enough when I'm doing it myself. If I did it with all of you there's a good chance I'm going to get one of you killed.”

“We can probably survive a tumble down the mountain,” Wolfram complained.

“Yeah, but do you want to be hospitalised for months afterwards?” Teodor pointed out.

“Might be worth it,” Wolfram grumbled.

Sabina perked up. “Actually, if they're all in the great hall, now is the perfect time to go rifling through some of their stuff.”

“Tristan told you to keep out trouble, Sabina,” Celeste said, resting a hand on her forehead.

“No, he didn't, he told you to keep me out of trouble. World of difference. And it's not like you can exactly contain me.”

“I could try,” Celeste said with a wink.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity though. So much wealth together all at once. And none of the usual protections to keep me out.”

If you go with her, you have the best chance possible to keep her out of trouble.

Celeste ruminated on those words. How she would stop Sabina, she couldn't be sure. But there was a good chance she would go with or without Celeste.

You know I'm right. As always. And who knows what we might gain by going through some monarch's private things.

Celeste sighed and nodded. “I'll come with you then. But we're not taking anything! We can just have a look.”

“You're no fun.” Sabina pouted at her before jumping up. “What if I find something that would look really pretty on you?”

“Even then we're not stealing it,” Celeste said flatly, pushing Sabina towards the door.

“What are we supposed to do then?” Wolfram asked as they opened the door.

“I'm sure you two can find something fun to keep yourselves occupied,” Sabina blew them a kiss before they slammed the door shut.

They made their way up a few levels and onto a bridge before Sabina confessed her plan.

“Okay, so you know how you said you didn't want to do a descent with other people?”

“Please don't say what I think you're about to.”

“Look, it's only going to be me. And this is the best way into the tunnels.” She leant out of the window of the bridge, looking down. “There's an easy entrance point on top of the main bridge. But there's guards on the bridge so we'd look very suspicious if we climbed onto the roof. So instead...”

“We drop onto it, I got that.” Celeste sighed as Sabina held out her hand. “Fine, but just this once. And you owe me.”

“I wouldn't even consider not paying you back in kind.”

Celeste took her hand and together they leapt down. They fell a little way, picking up speed before switching into zero gravity. The wind resistance slowed their descent and they landed lightly on the roof. Right away, Sabina broke out into a crouched run and Celeste followed close behind. The panel covering the tunnel came off shockingly easily and the two crawled in.

It had been a long while since Celeste had been in the tunnels. She forgot how stifling the heat and the sense of claustrophobia was. And this time they had further to go to get to the guest rooms. After a couple of minutes, Celeste felt herself panting.

“I think...I need a rest,” She said to Sabina. “It's just, very hot.”

“We're like half-way there. I need to push through.”

Take that tunnel on your left. You will get some air there.

“I'm just going to...Go down here. I'll catch you up,” She said, not sure how she would manage that.

“I'll come back for you,” Sabina promised before crawling on her way.

Celeste followed her spirit's instructions. She was so turned around in here, she hoped the tunnel might lead her outside. Instead, as she pushed back the panel, she found she was looking out over the great hall. She looked around, confused for a moment, before realising she might be visible. She ducked back, using the stone overhang to keep herself hidden as she peered down.

A ring-shaped table had been set out in the centre of the hall. Tristan sat close to the entrance, surveying the squabbling diplomats. Below her, Celeste could make out the green uniform of King Octavius. On the other side of the room, several men in a deep blue uniform were sat. For a moment she thought they were other students, but then recognised the blue as Ofprovian.

Octavius was muttering with advisers either side of him when the Ofprovian spoke up.

“I do not see how it can take so long to discuss a simple matter.” Celeste hated this man's voice. His tone of condescension reminded her of students like Edward. “We are offering you the opportunity to handle the problem yourself. And if you really cannot, if you continue to fail as you have for the past thousand years, then we will handle this issue.”

Octavius sighed heavily. “We have more important matters to deal with, right now. And even if we fail to convert the heretics, that is no business of yours. We are in charge of maintaining our own borders and the people within them. Not you and your emperor.” The king sounded very strange, his accent didn't sound Laocienan at all.

“Oh, but that is, unfortunately, where you are wrong. Emperor Lanius is the ruler of all the kingdoms of Ofprovo. But he is also God's chosen messenger on this mortal plane and thus purging of heretics from the Taoanid lands is his greatest priority.”

“I know that you reside over your own heretics in the east. When are they going to be purged, huh?” Octavius sat back in his chair, reclining almost calmly as he engaged in what appeared to be important debates.

“We are making clear efforts to make conversions happen there. What's more, we have only held power in those lands for less than fifty years. Your bloodline has controlled all of Laociena since the fall of the Taoanids. And in that time, whilst Godliness spread across the rest of the ex-provinces, the heartlands, the ancient land, is filled with heretical peasants who cling to superstitions. In light of your recent abandoning of missionary effort, we have stepped in. If you didn't want us helping you out, you only needed to make some genuine effort to keep your hands clean.”

“This is nonsense!” Another man shouted, getting to his feet. “You go on about trying to help, we all know Emperor Lanius is playing at politics under the disguise of faithfulness. The church is supposed to teach loyalty to your earthly king. Your missionaries have been infesting our lands as well and we've listened to the doctrine they preach. Your Emperor does not speak for God. You take his name in vain.”

“I am very sorry that you feel that way.” The Ofprovian sounded so calm. So infuriatingly so. Smug in the confidence of their own religion. “But I am a diplomat, not a bishop. If you would like to discuss theology, I am happy to meet with you privately. Can we focus on the matter at hand?”

“This is the matter at hand though,” Octavius continued. “He is right. You've been going on and on all this time and yet we've not been allowed to discuss how your missionaries insist on preaching in Ofprovian.”

“I am sorry, what did you expect them to speak in? Bastardised Taoanid? This would not have been an issue if you carried out your religious duties yourself.”

How they squabble over such fleeting power. Belief and nations, how short-lived they will all be compared to you and the power I give.

Celeste couldn't deny it seemed like an idiotic thing to squabble over. The Ofprovians wanted to wipe out her people's religion. It was the duty of her king to protect her people, and that was what he was trying to do.

Tristan shifted suddenly, as though he had only just woken up. He glanced up briefly, clearly focusing on Celeste. She recoiled, hoping he hadn't seen her. Then, bizarrely, he winked at her. He slowly stood, coughing.

“Gentlemen, is there really no middle ground you can see? If Laociena needs more missionaries, surely you should be happy to supply them.”

“We are, they have chosen to eject them from-”

“How dare you! We are here for negotiations, not to be belittled by a pathetic wizard. We will have the heretics purged, one way or another.”

“If you're not going to try and be reasonable, then I suggest a break for lunch. Maybe you will all think clearer with a belly full of food.”

Now might be our time to leave.

Celeste nodded and began to crawl back, grabbing the panel to cover the tunnel. Just before the room disappeared from her view, she caught one last glance from Tristan.

She made her way back to the bridge entrance and sat waiting for Sabina. It was all very worrying to hear. The Ofprovians wanted to wipe her religion out, if she had understood what they meant. Missionaries had never been desperately effective, and she couldn't see them peacefully converting many people. But that was just the problem. If they took to more forceful methods, then things could get much worse in the highlands.

She buried her head in her hands. If she returned to her home, she could stay there. She was powerful now. Stronger than many. But not stronger than an army.

How could she return home though? She wasn't one of them anymore. Her shame and her difference burned in her. She felt the scars on her face as though they were fresh. A gust of Wind caught her and she looked up, as though it might have some sign for her. But that was all she needed. She couldn't return. Not anymore. She wasn't the girl who had left, and she wasn't welcome. Tricapon was the place she needed to be. The only place she could continue to get stronger.

The negotiations continued for a few days more. Celeste began to wonder if the school would run out of food feeding everyone there. It was a day before they began to depart that Tristan came to find her and Sabina.

“Your royal highness, Octavius, wishes to speak to you and the other Laocienan wizards,” He explained casually.

“What does he want to speak to us about?” Sabina asked suspiciously.

“I honestly did not bother to ask. Whenever we have a ruler up here, they do like to see what the wizards of their kingdom are like.”

“And if we don't go?”

“I'm certainly not going to punish you in any way. And I haven't told him how many Laocienan wizards we have here. But you had best decide quickly. Not going at all will be safer than turning up late, I am sure. Now, I have actually important matters to attend to.”

“Do you not want to go?” Celeste asked as the headmaster left. “You remember what I told you, he's working to protect us from the Ofprovian's aggression.”

“Why do I not believe that?” Sabina said, rolling her eyes

“I don't know, why don't you?”

“Maybe because he can't even do anything to help those of us in the cities. I was an orphan for years and I didn't get any help from him or his state. Why would we trust him to keep the highlands safe?”

“I don't know, but he's still the king, it's still his duty to protect his people, even if he's not the best at it.” She reached out her hand. “Will you come? Just for me?”

Sabina sighed but took her hand. “Fine, but I'm not expected to enjoy this in any way.”

They went up to one of the training rooms where half a dozen of the older wizards were gathering. There were also several distinctly mundane students. Celeste walked up to one of them.

“Cosma, wasn't it?”

“Impressive, do you have magical memory powers then?” The irritating lowlander said.

“What? No, I just wanted to know what you're doing here. I thought he wanted to see the wizards.”

“Oh, he does, but it doesn't hurt one's position to let our king see all of his loyal soldiers.”

“We're not soldiers though. We're wizards. And you're just a student.”

Cosma laughed a little shaking his head. “You really are very stupid. What do you think this school is for?”

She didn't have a chance to ask him anything more as the king arrived. Medals on his chest jingled as he walked. His face was set and resolute. He was flanked by four well-armed men. Sword swung at their hips and they held long wood and metal weapons that rested on their shoulders. Two of them looked ordinary, but Celeste was sure she could see magical alterations on two of their appearances.

“So, you are the fine wizards who will soon be serving our fine nation,” King Octavius said, sweeping his arms out as he surveyed them. Most of them stood to attention, though Sabina slouched, picking at her nails. “I have always meant to visit this fine school, but now I have I wish I could have done so under better circumstances. I'm sure you have heard rumours, so let me settle those and tell you what you need to know.”

He coughed sharply before continuing. “The Ofprovian Empire has been making aggressive moves against our nation, against our people. Now, I have done my very best to reach a peaceful solution, believe me. But they will give up no ground. They see our beautiful nation as theirs for the taking. There is still time, and I think we can agree to some semblance of peace for now, but I do not trust them. And I would advise you not to either. Though it pains my heart greatly to say it, there may be a time when I will ask of you to use your powers to defend our nation. I want you to know that we will always be grateful for the sacrifices you must make for this nation.”

“What about you making some sacrifices?” Sabina said loudly.

“I am sorry, young girl, but it is hardly custom to interrupt a king.”

“Tough,” She said bluntly. “Why do we have to fight for you? If there's a war that's because of your failures. You are supposed to lead.”

Octavius laughed softly. “I guess they don't teach everything I thought they did here. Of course, war is the last thing I or anyone wants for our nation. But it is the nature of the world. Sometimes, our disagreements cannot be worked out through talk. Sometimes the unjust of the world will not listen to words of peace. And when that happens, it is up to the just to defend their nation.”

Next to her, Celeste could hear Cosma snort. He then, to her surprise, began clapping. Soon everyone else was beginning to clap. Celeste found herself caught up in it, leaving only Sabina silent.

The king motioned for them to stop, nodding gratefully. “I hope you know that my love for our nation is the greatest feeling in me. It burns in my soul. I want nothing more than to keep this nation safe. Now, if you might humour me, I was wondering if I could see some of you in action? Get a real feel for what our future defenders can do.”

“We're not your dancing monkeys, you know?” Sabina said.

“I was not asking for entertainment. Simply to know what your capabilities are.”

“As if you have the right.”

Celeste cut in, reaching for Sabina's arm. “With respect, your majesty, we have already been training today. It is best we don't overexert our magic use. I'm sure the others can do this for you still.”

Octavius took a single step toward them, eyeing them both coldly for a moment before nodding. “But of course, it was a request, not a demand. You may do whatever you are comfortable with.”

And so, as the other wizard showed off their abilities, and sycophants like Cosma ingratiated themselves with the king, Celeste and Sabina stayed aside to watch. The king did look very impressed as he watched, his eyes burning with interest.

You should show him what you can do. He is a feeble man, but he holds a form of power. If he sees your capability, he will no doubt hold you in high esteem.

Celeste ignored her spirit. Even as it spoke to her, her mind was elsewhere as she worried about greater matters.

It was only as the delegations were starting to leave in grand processions, that Celeste caught up with Tesni. Or rather, he caught up with her, as usual. She was stood at the back of the hall watching when he approached her.

“Have you been enjoying the grand displays of opulence then, Celeste?” He asked softly.

She had finally gotten used to how he appeared and didn't jump at him. “I don't know. Watching how politics is done doesn't make me feel better about the world.”

“No, it rarely does. Sorry I've taken a while to catch up with you. They've had me doing all sorts that has kept me very busy.”

“I've decided not to go back. Please deliver the letter,” She said simply.

“Oh, I wasn't sure you would have decided already if I'm honest. May I ask why, if you don't mind?”

“If I go there, I don't know that I would be welcome. And I don't know that I could leave again. But I know I have a place here. If things are going to turn for the worst, then here is where I will get as strong as my people need me to be.”