Jeric Targonor stalked through the city in a dreadful silence. He moved quickly, and I struggled to keep up. An icy rage emanated heavily from him, wilting away those who stood in his path. Though the hood of his heavy, dark cloak concealed his face, many in the streets still recognized their revered prince. It was hard not to. His brown, shoulder-length hair spilled out from the front of his hood over his finely etched pauldrons, and onto his ornate mail breastplate. A wicked looking axe hung from his belt among a host of small pouches and knives. He clenched his plate-clad fists tightly as he marched deeper into the city.
The townsfolk glanced at Jeric, worry in their faces. His clothes were dirty and his armor stained. He did not look very regal this frigid morning. Then again, Jeric never did. That’s why I admired him. It’s why we all did. He kept to himself for the most part, and none of us really knew much about him. But we did know he was like no other noble in the city, let alone one of royal blood. He drank in taverns amongst urchins and laborers, not hidden away in some elegant dining hall in the keep. People, ordinary people, came to him with problems and he always listened, never turning them away. He had earned the admiration and loyalty of the common man, though it had come at a heavy price.
“Darion,” he said to me as we neared the government sector, his voice controlled and even, “You don’t have to come, you know.”
Had I not been struggling to keep up I would have laughed. “I’m not about to miss this,” I responded, “No way, not after all that has happened.”
He grinned slightly. “Fair enough.”
Jeric was not entirely popular amongst the city’s nobles, especially the royal council. While many privately supported the prince, they dared not admit it, for just as many wished desperately for him to leave the council forever. They viewed him as a brash and tactless miscreant, a vagabond who came and went as he pleased, while ignoring the proper etiquette and procedure.
To be fair, they were mostly right. He had little patience for such matters and were it not for one small nagging detail, I’m sure he would have been happy to oblige their wishes. But, as luck would have it, the heirless king was growing steadily older and planted firmly at the front of the line of succession—was Jeric. Who it worried more, the prince or his enemies, I’ll never know. But every night there were many who prayed that the queen would soon be with child.
We approached a very large, guarded building that sat prominently among many other, smaller government establishments. It was several stories tall and elaborate, stained windows were etched brilliantly into its walls. Neatly carved stone steps lead up a small ways to a grand wooden door that was flanked by two well-armed guards, who stared ahead in statuesque poses. One gave us a rather stern look as we ascended the steps.
Jeric ignored the man and walked coolly toward the door. The guard stepped in front of him at the last moment.
“This building is closed to the public,” he said. There was a hint of disdain in his voice as he eyed our dirty clothes, “You’ll have to leave.”
The prince tilted his head toward the guard, letting his hood fall away slightly. “Are you sure about that?” he asked, allowing a small grin.
The guard’s eyes widened as he saw Jeric’s face. He shrank back, suddenly much smaller. “My lord…,” he stammered as he fumbled to open the door, “Forgive me.”
There was a time, though it shames me to say it, that I was among those people who wished ill of Jeric. Looking back, I can’t say exactly why. We even shared some of the same blood. Jeric’s mother had been a Furth, though only distantly related to me. Maybe it was jealousy, I envied the way the commoners treated him on the city streets. . I envied the power and respect he commanded among the nobles—even from his enemies, who knew better than to confront the prince directly. But most of all, I envied his ability to defy the Sages.
It’s odd that I would find myself jealous of such a thing, I was a member after all, but yet I did. Any other man would have been imprisoned or much worse for such acts. But not Jeric. It was well known that Master Horadus and the prince bitterly despised one another, but even as the head of the Sages Arcane there was little Horadus could openly do, a fact which I’m sure infuriated him all the more while Jeric worked freely outside the confines of the Sages.
The guard meekly pulled the heavy wooden doors open for us. We stepped inside, entering into an elaborately decorated foyer. Vibrantly painted tapestries depicting important events in Thestra’s history hung from the ceiling over the rich marble floor. Detailed paintings and murals lined the walls and two broad staircases spiraled up onto the second level from opposing ends of the room. They were split by a large hallway between them leading deeper into the building.
A robed man descending the wide steps from the second floor gave us a startled look, then turned and rushed back up the stairs and off in some unseen direction. The prince ignored him and began towards the hallway.
Jeric had been a member too once, of the Sages I mean, or at least that’s how the story goes. Nobody really talks about it, so I don’t know how much to believe. He was a mage though, and a powerful one. Jeric was a natural talent. Such people are rare enough as it is, but for one to be born into an important noble family is almost unheard of. I would know, I was one too. Though I hold no illusions of grandeur—my powers are very limited, especially compared to Jeric’s. Still, my family name alone was enough to gain entry into the Sages and advance perhaps much faster than my skills warranted.
It wasn’t the Sages who had discovered me though, it was Jeric. He offered to teach me to use my power back then, to help me develop and expand it. But being young and foolish I turned him down, thinking him to be a dangerous influence. Soon after, I joined the Sages. Jeric stayed close, and though he frequently disappeared for weeks on end he visited me occasionally to talk about my progress. I will admit, I enjoyed all the attention, but I soon became keenly aware of the unease the prince’s presence was causing around me. Many of the ranking Sages, even old Horadus himself, warned me to beware of Jeric. They claimed his goal was to twist my mind and turn me against the Sages. The irony is certainly not lost on me now.
The hallway ended abruptly and split into opposite directions. Jeric turned right and kept walking, his heavy boots echoing loudly on the hard floor. I heard voices and glanced back over my shoulder just in time to see a door closing at the opposing end of the hall.
We turned off into a side corridor and nearly ran directly into an angry looking robed man walking towards us. A deep frown creased his aged forehead, as he glared down at the pages of a large, withered book. He stopped short and looked up at us, annoyed.
“Why don’t you watch where--,” he trailed off, his eyes widening momentarily at the sight of Jeric. He quickly regained his composure. “You,” he said scowling at the prince. “You think you can just walk in--,” he was cut off again though as Jeric brushed past him and continued down the corridor. The old man sputtered furiously, nearly shaking with rage. I did my best to stifle a laugh as I inched past him, and then quickly caught up with the prince.
“You know,” I said, “It’s a wonder they don’t like you very much here.”
“What?” he said, feigning surprise, “I thought I was being polite.”
I grinned. “I’d hate to see you be rude.”
The narrow corridor opened up into another wide hallway. We were deep in the building now. Jeric seemed to know precisely where he was going as he turned another corner. We found ourselves in another wide hall. Several plain doors lined either side of the passage, which ended at a sturdy wooden door with an intricate carving of a tower atop an open book.
As Jeric and I moved toward the end of the passage, one of the doors near the center of the hallway suddenly opened. Out stepped a tall, dark-haired, middle-aged man. He wore finely stitched crimson robes and a well-kept beard. He noticed us immediately and glared at Jeric, hate in his eyes.
The man opened his mouth to speak but was quickly silenced as Jeric, in one smooth motion, drew the axe from his side and continued past him to the large door at the end of the hall. Jeric tried the handle—locked. He took one quick step back and then brought the axe down forcefully into the heavy wooden frame.
A loud splintering echoed through the passage as Jeric’s blow removed a sizable portion of the door and a deep crack raced through the center of the engraving. Without pausing, he kicked the door in and barged into the room.
Packed bookshelves lined the walls of the chamber. A neatly arranged desk sat on one side of the room with several rolled up parchments on its top. A large comfortable bed occupied the other, with a deep, closed wardrobe at its side. “He’s not here,” Jeric muttered.
The prince turned back toward the hall, and, gripping his axe tightly, stalked toward the dark-haired man staring at us. “You have one chance,” he said calmly to the robed man. “Where is he?”
The man glared at the prince for a moment before answering. “The council chamber,” he said finally.
Jeric cracked a brief smile. “Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?” he replied dryly. The prince looked back to me. “Come on,” he said.
“You’re an even bigger fool than I imagined if you think you can confront Horadus here, Jeric,” the robed man called out after us, “He knows of your presence, he waits for you.”
Jeric glanced back down the hall and gestured casually at the dark haired man, releasing a spell. My jaw nearly dropped as the door behind him suddenly slammed shut violently, knocking the robed man back into his chambers with a heavy thud. The prince gave me a somewhat guilty look.
“All right,” he said as we retraced our way back through the building, “that may have been a little rude.”
Although we encountered several other robed men in the halls as we made our way to the council chamber, Jeric’s demeanor and axe were more than enough to dissuade any sort of confrontation. A few minutes later we stood in a large room on the second story of the building. Light poured in from the large windows along the far wall and onto the fine rug covering the floor. Behind us was a staircase leading back down to the entrance. Directly in front of us were two massive wooden doors. A guard stood in front of them, eyeing us nervously.
As Jeric stared at the doors, his left hand began to pulse slightly with a dull light. I could feel him gathering power from around us. He looked over to me. “Last chance to change your mind,” he said.
I shook my head. I’d come a long way, and I’d been through a lot. There was no way I was going to make it this far only to turn back now. I grinned. “Let’s do it.”