The Boy Who Cried Wolf
Whatever I feel like talking about.
"Most of us never owned slaves and never expect to,
It takes money to buy a slave and we’re most of us poor,
But we won’t lie down and let the North walk over us
About slaves or anything else."
The King sent a boy running for his captain. With luck, this time, …
And either way, at least it would be over.
Anne spoke, surprise in her voice: "You are at peace with Harald?""With Harald and with the Lady Commander. In their debt. You were right; I was wrong."She spoke gravely. "Then if your question has not changed, my answer has."It was some time before they again noticed the two Ladies.
He looked at the girl in astonishment, felt for words to explain. "You don't understand. There is so much to be done, so little power to do it with. A river floods. With enough magery in the hands of a water mage with proper skills, we could divert the water to where it would be harmless. A plague kills hundreds, mothers and fathers"—his voice faltered—"leaving behind orphaned children. Enough power in the hands of a healer could see the plague when it first struck, cure everyone before the sickness spread farther. So much to do, and we are so weak.
"You are young, sheltered. If you had seen … . I cannot make you aid me. But consider the needless deaths and misery that might happen if you do not."
She shook her head. "My mother is a healer; I have seen sickness enough. Men with gaping wounds that she has closed. When you have seized her power to shift a flood, on whose hands will be the blood of those she cannot heal?"
"Think how much we could do with the pooled talent of fifty mages and five hundred, or five thousand, or fifty thousand ordinary people, each adding his trifle of talent to the pool, pouring it through a trained mage. Almost unlimited power to end a plague, to heal even someone at the point of death, to build a road or monument, to do things that no single mage, whatever his talent, could do before.
"So they stop killing off bedbugs for rich innkeepers, or healing sick cattle. You know as well as I do that most mages outside the College aren’t doing anything that really matters—not to mention those inside. With this pooled power, we can do things that do matter.
"If you could get a message to her, asking her to come here and assuring her of safety, would she believe you?"
"Perhaps. Would it be true?"
Another long silence, again ended by the Prince. "No. She sounds an admirable person, and one who might in time prove useful to the Kingdom; I would prefer to do her no harm. But I have obligations to my brother and to the kingdom he rules. If it turns out that the only way of keeping our enemies from learning magery that could be our ruin is to kill a charming young lady, or two, or three, I will do it."
"Then Olver showed up, and what he had been looking for was sitting in the library waiting for him. Olver didn't need powerful spells. What he needed were multiple spells doing the same thing in different ways, using different talents. If you could banish horseflies with a spell of fire and air and get exactly the same result with a spell built only on heat, that meant that in some fashion heat was fire plus air. How the spell was constructed let you figure out just how the air and fire were put together. Olver started with more than forty multiples—two or more spells that did the same thing in different ways. When he was finished he had the science of magic as we now know it—the different basis stars, the central paradox that any one star spans all of magery, and the rest. That was the first big breakthrough in three hundred years, since the Dorayans worked out the basic principles by trial and error."If he had a spell that used warmth he could make one using air and fire, so mages were no longer limited to using only spells that fit their particular talents. Jon is right; the library came first. The theory of magic was built on the library; the College was built on the theory of magic. The talented came here because it was the only place in the world where they could learn not only what worked but why."
"Just what every meadow needs."
"Don't laugh. Silk hangings, tent poles banded with gold. By the time the story spread a bit, every highborn in the Imperial army had gold tent poles and chests full of silver and jewels. Made it easy to raise troops the next time."
"Name Kiron. Speak for Commander, Governor. Know you Valestalk, Tengu?"
"Getting better, but I still speak your language better than you speak mine."
A long pause.
"In the flesh. Got bored with rabbits."
"This is your army?"
Niall shook his head:
"My brother Donal is war leader for Fox Clan at the moment, four hundred clan brothers. Eagle, Bear, half this end of the plains sent someone along for the ride. Some day you try to get a couple thousand Westkin, fourteen clans, all moving in the same direction. Make running the Empire feel like a vacation."
"And you came along to … "
"Just now, to sell some horses. Thought your father might be interested; heard he was a few short. Cavalry mounts. Trained. Even have the right brand."
"How many horses--trained cavalry mounts with the Imperial brand--are you prepared to sell us? Assuming we can agree on a price."
Niall looked at him, considered.
"Sure you want to know?"
"Four thousand. Don't expect you'll want all of them. Give you a good price, though. Market, this end of the plains, not what it used to be."It occurred to Kiron that raising and supplying an army off the resources of a mountain farm presented difficulties to which Harald, being Harald, found his own unique answers. This one had a certain wild logic to it.