The congruent apprentice.., p.1
The Congruent Apprentice (The Congruent Mage Series Book 1), page 1
Table of Contents
The Coombe and the Rhuthro Valley
Orluin and the Lands of the West
Other Books by Dave Schroeder
About the Author
Two wizards dueled in the dark and roiling clouds, exchanging glowing fireballs, bolts of crackling energy, and blasts of sound so solid they struck like giants’ fists. Their combat lit up the night sky brighter and louder than a thousand midsummer fireworks and transformed half the descending rain into sizzling steam before it could reach the ground. Their long, wet robes flapped in the wind, rattling like sails in a hurricane. Cold drops of water pelted their faces, stinging like hail. The battle wasn’t going well for either combatant.
“Give up, Fercha!” shouted Verro, the wizard in green, in a moment of calm between sonic attacks. “I don’t want to kill you.”
The wizard in blue answered with a jagged lightning bolt that disappeared into a circular shield of solidified sound held by her opponent, leaving the air charged with power. Fercha’s short auburn hair stood straight out, making her head look like a dandelion in seed.
Verro shot a trio of glowing fireballs in response. They bounced off a magical shield projected by the wizard in blue, exploding in a shower of green sparks.
The pair traded words instead of spells for their next round of exchanges.
“Surrender!” commanded Verro over the roar of the wind.
“Hah!” shouted Fercha. “Will you surrender to me, Verro? These are the Kingdom of Dâron’s lands, not Tamloch’s. Why are you here?”
“I came here to find something,” Verro replied, “and I did. Now I want to get back to the palace in Riyas without your interference.”
Both wizards were standing on thin glowing disks a yard wide. The disks kept them aloft, but slipped left and right, tossed by shifting currents of air.
“Not until you answer my question!” exclaimed Fercha.
The pair exchanged another attack and riposte, with Fercha shooting a beam of cold sapphire light from something in her right hand and Verro countering it with a beam of emerald light from a green magestone set in a wide gold cuff on his wrist.
The beams turned a harsh, pulsing cyan where they intersected and filled the space nearby with magical potential, like marsh vapors ready to ignite.
The twin streams of interlocked energy bound the two of them together and for a moment the winds went calm, causing their flying disks to stop shifting.
“You can’t win,” said Verro. His wet green robes pressed tight against his tall form and the magical potential surrounding him had frosted the tips of his thick black hair with white.
Fercha finally spoke, biting her words out from the strain of holding her beam.
“The wizard. Makes. The artifact.”
She furrowed her brow in concentration. The sapphire-blue segment of the beam lengthened, getting closer to the wizard in green.
“The artifact. Does not. Make. The wizard,” she continued.
Fercha reached down along the folds of her blue robes with her left hand and found a small, cocked crossbow. In one smooth motion, she raised it and released a barbed quarrel that crossed the distance between the two opponents in half a second and embedded itself in Verro’s right calf, pinning his green robes to his leg.
The injured wizard’s attention faltered and his emerald beam cut off as if struck by an axe.
Fercha’s azure beam moved lower and intersected with Verro’s flying disk, shattering it into dozens of shards and leaving its rider unsupported.
“Blast you!” he said as he fell. “That was my favorite flying disk!”
Before falling more than a dozen feet, Verro raised his golden wrist cuff and sent out a blast of solid sound that caught the bottom front edge of Fercha’s flying disk and flipped it almost vertical. Caught by surprise, Fercha threw her arms up and opened her hands, sending the crossbow and what had been in her right hand sailing away overhead. Her body slid off her flying disk and began to fall.
Moments before the wizards struck the ground, black circles opened beneath them. Fercha and Verro passed through their respective circles and disappeared. The pair of round, dark gateways dematerialized with a pair of soft pops.
Above, a bolt of natural lightning jumped from cloud to cloud, triggering the magical potential in the nearby air and generating a shimmering aurora in red, blue, green and gold. Then the rain abruptly stopped and the clouds moved east.
Below, bats and flying frogs continued their nocturnal search for supper, oblivious to what had landed in the mud nearby.
“Ah, to be young again and wear the holly.”
— Ealdamon’s Epigrams
Eynon leaned down, but his sister still had to stand on her tiptoes to pin the ceremonial holly to his high-peaked cap to mark his wander year. He was tall, thin as a sapling, and awkward, like a pup who hasn’t yet grown to match his feet. His sister Braith kissed his cheek. Eynon hugged her awkwardly and teased her by kissing the tip of her nose. They both laughed.
“Stay out of trouble,” Braith whispered, hugging him close.
“I’ll try,” he replied.
He was hoping for adventures, not trouble, but understood the two often came together.
Taking a wander year was a matter of long-established custom in the Kingdom of Dâron, not a practice dictated by royal decree. Eynon remembered what his grandmother had told him when he was small and had asked her why young people went wandering. Her answer was as wise as one of Ealdamon’s epigrams. “Customs count more than crowns,” she’d said. He’d been looking forward to his own wander year ever since.
Eynon hugged his mother and father, but didn’t linger. He’d miss them both. He’d even miss Braith’s freckled face and their mutual sibling squabbles. His years of waiting were over—it was time to toss his arrow. He’d been up before dawn, too excited to sleep. Everyone knew he’d set off in the direction his arrow pointed when it landed.
Some young men and women, when they reached
Eynon wasn’t one to cheat, however. He wasn’t the best-looking lad in Haywall, but he was the best cook and by far the most curious.
All the stories he’d read or heard told him it was best to trust his wander year to chance, so he tossed his arrow high and gave it a twist to set it turning so his future direction would not be predetermined.
When the missile landed, it was pointing east, so that’s the direction Eynon would head. It was as good a course as many and better than most. His pack, cloak and bedroll were already on his back. He wore a quilted jacket, perfect for changeable spring weather, comfortable hemp-cloth pants and sturdy hiking boots.
There was only enough food in his pack for three days—dried meat and twice-baked hardtack he’d made himself, bread and cheese prepared by his mother, and well water stored in a goatskin he’d cured by hand. The pack had been his father’s, given to him last night with a firm handshake, a short tale of how the pack had served the men in his family well for three generations, and manful attempts to hold back tears. His mother and sister had been the ones to weep after dinner the previous evening. He was glad they hadn’t cried again this morning.
“I promise I’ll be back in a year and a day,” said Eynon.
“See that you are,” said Braith, “and bring back a worthy wife.”
Eynon turned away so his sister couldn’t see his face turn red. He adjusted his pack, waved to his family over his shoulder, and set out.
The Coombe was an upland valley encircled by modest mountains. Long and broad, it ran southwest to northeast, eight leagues by three. Eynon had walked much of its length and breadth and knew a great many of its roads, paths and cattle tracks. He was glad his chance-chosen course would soon lead him somewhere new.
Ten minutes and half a mile of uphill walking later, Eynon turned and looked down into Haywall and the bowl of the Coombe. He was at the top of a familiar rise and could see the twisting blue line of the Wentwash, the small stream that flowed through the center of the Coombe in lazy arcs. Thatch-roofed homes for five dozen families clustered on either side of the water, looking like so many heaped up, out of season haystacks.
Well-tended fields beginning to turn green surrounded his village, except upstream where the blossoming fruit trees of communal orchards marched in neat rows farther back toward Wherrel, the village at the Coombe’s northwest gap, near the quarry.
His mother was looking up the hill in his direction, so Eynon waved and watched her wave back—then he turned and continued in the direction his arrow had pointed. He was glad he’d been born in the spring and wasn’t starting his wander year by trudging through snow. Once it rained, he’d be coping with mud, but today was sunny and the ground was firm. Above him, a few fluffy clouds were scudding in front of the sun like wandering sheep. Eynon could see a small flock of darker clouds to the northeast, past the mountains, and hoped it wouldn’t be raining on the other side.
He’d gone to bed early and had heard what sounded like quite a thunderstorm on the east side of the mountains last night, but those sorts of storms usually swept by quickly.
Two hours later, Eynon had made substantial progress. He’d been a similar distance from his home village before, but never so far in this direction. Eynon had passed familiar farmsteads for the first hour, but after that he was in new territory. Pastures, fields and orchards gave way to scrub grass and thickets, then deeper woods blocked most of the light on either side of the cart track he was following. He kept to the rounded center of the path rather than the ruts because he liked the way it gave him an extra few inches of height, improving his view. It was dim and peaceful underneath the canopy of the arching trees, even at mid-morning.
The woods were alive with the sounds of spring. Squirrels were chittering and jumping from branch to branch. He could hear the grunts of a wild boar or sow rooting for mast deep in the woods and smiled at the melodies of the colorful, newly-returned songbirds. Eynon considered whistling along—he was good at whistling, despite his sister’s protests when she was in earshot—but decided it would be wiser to listen quietly and pay attention to his surroundings.
He could see that someone was keeping the cart track clear. Stumps of young trees no more than four fingers thick marked the axe work of some unknown maintainer of the way. Perhaps one of the crofters farther along cut things back as part of their service to the baron. Eynon put his hand on his own small axe at his belt, its weight on his left hip balanced by his knife on the opposite side. He’d done his part to keep the path from Haywall to Brynhill clear where it passed through a similar stretch of forest.
His parents and the people of Haywall were free tenants of the baron in Caercadel with its seven inns. Eynon’s family owed service as well as a share of their crops and stock. For the last three years, Eynon had been old enough to help take their tithe of fruit, grain and vegetables to the castle town. If not for his wander year, he would have been one of the young men driving his village’s offering of sheep and lambs there in a few weeks for the celebration of the spring equinox. Now he’d have to wait until he returned to make another circuit of the inns and sample all seven brews again.
The sun rose higher as Eynon continued. He was climbing in earnest now. The modest mountains surrounding the Coombe didn’t have a natural gap to the east, so Eynon had to get over them the hard way. Thick woods changed to scattered trees, then patches of mountain laurel bushes starting to show their pink and white flowers.
Eynon was ascending a rocky talus slope on switchbacks that resembled the twists and turns of the Wentwash. It was difficult going because the small stone fragments acted almost like water as he tried to plow through them. He would push them out of the way only to have more flow around his feet from uphill, slowing his progress. He began to wish he’d been sensible, like so many other young people in the village, and had tried to influence his arrow’s direction.
When he reached the end of the talus section, Eynon found a wide spot on the trail and stopped to sit on a sunny, flat-topped boulder and swallow a few sips of water. Another half hour of climbing would take him to the top of the mountain and it would be all downhill from there—he’d be outside the Coombe for the first time.
Eynon thought about the words of Ealdamon the Wise in the copy of the sage’s Epigrams he’d borrowed from his uncle. “If you don’t know where you’re going, take joy in the journey.”
He’d been waiting for his sixteenth birthday and the start of his wander year with a joyful anticipation that far exceeded his sister’s eagerness for the arrival of new kittens. It wasn’t a matter of taking joy in his journey, it was a matter of tightly constraining his body’s excitement so he wouldn’t explode before he reached the summit.
He hoped he’d have adventures like the ones described in Robin Oddfellow’s Peregrinations. Eynon had a cousin in Liamston who had a copy and allowed Eynon to borrow it for a month in return for building him a new hen house. Eynon lost count of the number of times he’d read Oddfellow’s traveler’s tale before he’d had to return it.
Circumstances reminded Eynon that adventures weren’t always pleasant, however. He heard a hiss and realized the dangerous part of his journey had already commenced. A mottled brown and gray batsnake had been sunning on the flat rock behind him and Eynon had disturbed its slumber. The snake’s camouflage blended perfectly into the boulder’s surface, so Eynon hadn’t even noticed it was there.
The snake closed its wings with a snap, then lifted its head off the rock and reopened them, waving its wings wildly to make itself look larger than it was. It hissed at him again to make its displeasure clear.
According to the stories he’d heard, the same wasn’t true for dragons. Eynon smiled. Encountering one of them on his wanderings would be quite a tale to tell—if he lived through it.
“Sorry to disturb you,” said Eynon.
The batsnake didn’t answer—they never did—though there were tales of talking dragons. Eynon wondered what he’d ask a dragon if he ever had the chance. He waved goodbye to the batsnake, which ignored Eynon and resumed soaking up sun on top of the boulder.
Half an hour later, Eynon reached the top of the mountain. He could see across the broad valley to the mountains ringing the Coombe to the west and north. Communal fields looked like counting boards, laid out in grids with two out of three fields green and one brown and fallow. The big milking barn near his cottage was the only building still visible in Haywall. He could see the wavy blue line of the Wentwash and the darker green of the woods near Brynhill. Eynon stared for a few moments, taking in the view of his home like a basking batsnake absorbing the sun’s rays. Then he turned his back and started down the other side, leaving the Coombe at last.
It was easier walking downhill. There wasn’t any talus on this side and the woods were thicker once he moved a few hundred yards down from the summit. The trees’ leafy branches kept him cool and shaded. Eynon made good time and even cut across several switchbacks. He was on foot, after all, not guiding a goat cart.
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