THE PRICE OF MAGIC


PART TWO: THE CLASSLESS SOCIETY


CHAPTER ELEVEN


     Spring in Vorti ripened into summer. As if in recompense for the paucity of the yield of the previous year's crops, this season's harvests were abundant. The famine that had crushed the people during the winter ended, although the scores of dead could not be recalled to life. Despite the end of rationing and the return of full meals, the growing sentiment against the current ruler did not lessen. For the first time since Kan had taken the throne in 515, nearly seventy years ago, the populace was eager for their king to be deposed.
     Perhaps, if not for Til and his secret legion of supporters, the ill-will toward Sor might have died out with the onset of the warmer weather. But the chancellor had his rabble-rousers continue to stir up rumors - both new and old - that portrayed the king as arrogant and unconcerned about his people. The lack of merchants and traders from Llam, Fels, and Tsab supported the tales of hostility between those cities and Vorti, and Til did his best to foster an atmosphere of worry about the possibility of war.
     Siv and Til continued to meet, the former acting as liaison between the chancellor and his clique of supporters. Til was not yet ready to make a public announcement about his lineage and intentions. When he did that, he wanted to be certain of two things: that the citizens of Vorti would be almost unanimous in their acclaim of him and that Sor's position would be so tenuous that he would have to concentrate all of his efforts upon staying alive. A man fighting for his existence rarely had time to go on the offensive.
     Two nights before Midsummer's Day, the conspirators met in the usual drinking venue, The Wet Spot. Til was in a jubilant mood, since his latest tactic to foment paranoia within the palace had worked. Through a series of counterfeit missives and false eyewitness testimony, he had convinced the king that Vorti's militia was on the verge of rebellion. The truth of the matter was that the army remained firmly behind the king, led as it was by one of Sor's staunchest supporters, a general named Ryf, but Til's influence over His Majesty was such that he had been able to convince Sor that General Ryf was involved in a plot against the Crown.
     "He'll probably be executed within the next week or two, if I know Sor. When he suspects a conspiracy, he acts quickly, and he knows someone close to him is involved in a revolutionary plot. He just doesn't realize that the one person he trusts is the conspirator," said Til with a chuckle.
     Siv didn't find the situation amusing, and wasted no time repeating, for perhaps the dozenth time, his concerns to Til. "If he's so paranoid, it's only a matter of time before he starts wondering about you. You're taking too many chances. Why not get out now, while there's no real danger?"
     "Because it would give Sor too much warning. We're still half-a-season away from being ready to move. If I go underground now, Sor will have enough time to come up with a counterattack plan. Our best chance is to keep him off-balance. I can do that as long as I'm in the position I'm in now. And trust me, he won't become suspicious, at least not until it's too late. I'm the only vocal supporter he's got."
     "You sure he's going to have Ryf executed?" asked Siv, his tremulous voice betraying how unconvincing he'd found his companion's arguments.
     "Sooner or later."
     "The people aren't going to like that. Ryf's a big hero on the streets."
     "If I were Sor, I'd be more concerned about the militia's reaction than that of unarmed citizens. Ryf's the most popular commander this city's had in over a century. His execution will cause a schism between the palace and the city barracks. It's possible that even some of the Royal Corps will defect."
     "Ultimately, it's public opinion that's going to put you on the throne. We have to bleed as much value as we can from this current situation."
     "Of course! And it's going to be your responsibility to churn the peoples' emotions. Use this to get them to hate the king even more. Convince them that starving them wasn't enough - now he wants to disband their military protection. Lie to them - they won't know, and, if they do, they won't care. Start some unsavory rumors, like General Ryf is going to be executed without a trial because he dared speak against some of Sor's recent policies."
     "Sor the tyrant," murmured Siv.
     "Sor the Apath tyrant," corrected Til. "Never let them forget about his powers. Always keep that fear alive, that he could turn on anyone the way he turned on the nobles." After a moment's pause to take a deep draught from his mug, the chancellor added, "Speaking of Apaths, I assume there's nothing more on Wil."
     Siv shook his head. "Since that one rumor proved false, there haven't been further traces. Even if we confined our search to the Halcyon Meadows, our chances of finding him don't look good. Personally, I think he's dead by now."
     "A pity. He could have been an asset. No matter, though. We go on without him."
     "Aye," agreed Siv.
     "Any further information from your king about when his troops will be ready to march?" asked Til. Thus far, King Hwo had not committed to either the number of troops he was willing to put under Til's command or when he would make them available. The chancellor could understand the reticence of Tsab's king. Hwo wouldn't put himself in a position from which he couldn't safely withdraw until victory was assured. So it was up to Til and his small band to erect an unshakeable foundation first.
     "Nothing," said Siv. "In fact, there haven't been any messages in the past week. Communication with Tsab is becoming more difficult, with Sor's new restrictions on couriers entering the city."
     That was another of the king's new laws. All couriers bearing dispatches from Tsab were subject to search and seizure and only five were legally permitted within the city's limits at any one time. Since almost any courier that came to Vorti also visited the other five major cities, this meant that correspondence between Vorti and her neighbors had become limited.
     "Oh," added Siv. "I located the house of that blind woman you were asking about. Meg, I think her name is. It's on a secluded plot of land near the river. She almost never goes outside and rarely has visitors. What do you want with her?"
     Til's lips curled slightly into another of his secretive smiles, "All will be revealed in time. Keep watch on her and let me know if anything unusual transpires. Aside from you, dear Siv, she may be my greatest ally."
     Siv nodded, even though he hadn't understood Til's meaning. How could some hermit be important to the overthrow of a king? Sometimes, the chancellor found great entertainment in weaving unnecessarily complex and convoluted plots, but Siv was unwilling to admit his confusion lest it cause Til to lose faith in him. Better to act as if he understood now, and let comprehension grow as new layers of the plan were peeled away.

* * *

     Sor was of the opinion that the public perception of him was in error. Someone with a great deal of influence in the streets was spreading some unsavory tales about how the king had turned against his people and was preparing to wage war upon them as he had upon the nobles more than twenty years ago.
     The truth was that Sor hadn't changed his methods of ruling since that fateful night long ago. He had been as constant as the day and as unfathomable as the night, but never had his policies or his means of executing them altered. Now, however, someone was attempting to show otherwise. Sor could see how many of his recent actions, viewed without understanding of the dynamics underlying them, could be construed to support that view. The king was starting to wonder if he wasn't being manipulated by a more mortal influence than the hand of fate.
     He had tried and executed more than twenty people for treason since the onset of the summer. While the deaths didn't disturb Sor - treachery had to be stamped out wherever it was found - the number was higher than at any corresponding time during his reign. Two years ago, only four people had been accused of treason all year, and one had been acquitted.
     As was his custom, Sor looked near before looking far. Various times over the past two decades, he had considered abolishing his council of advisors. He had never found their suggestions helpful and almost every member of the group seemed more concerned with expanding his own influence than aiding in the smooth running of the city. Tradition - admittedly a poor reason - had restrained Sor from acting against the group. After all, the people liked to think that they had a voice in the king's decisions, and, for centuries, the council had been regarded as their mouthpiece.
     Now, however, there was a chance that one of the men in that group was preaching sedition. Evidence suggested that it was General Ryf, the head of Vorti's military, but Sor was reluctant to accept that. Ryf had been a loyal advisor and, frankly, he was too stupid to lead a double-life or mastermind whatever conspiracy was being woven.      Whoever was behind the sedition was less important in Sor's view than that it was coming from someone on the council. Until now, that body had simply existed, doing nothing harmful or beneficial. Suddenly, it had turned malignant, and, as with all sources of problems, it had to be eliminated.
     The people, of course, would see this as a further sign that their king was losing touch. Even if Sor could not see that himself, his chancellor had made it clear to him when he had broached the subject. But there wasn't a choice. Recognizing how tenuous his grip on power was, the king knew that if he was to continue to rule Vorti, he would have to take the offensive against the nameless conspirators who plotted against him.
     "Your Majesty?" came an inquiring voice.
     Sor's eyes snapped into focus on the little throne room. Standing in front of him was Til.
     "I thought you said there were no audiences today, Til."
     "There aren't, Your Majesty. But a document has come into my possession that I think you should look at."
     Sor extended his hand and took the proffered scroll. It was dated Midsummer's Day - one week ago -and was signed with the unmistakable scrawl of General Ryf, although the handwriting of the body was not his. It was unquestionably treasonous, advocating that the militia make itself ready to respond to the call of a "new king" of Vorti. Presumably that was in reference to the mythical heir in the line of Rel XVI.
     "Where did you get this?" demanded Sor. Of all his advisors, he trusted Til the most, but there were limits to that faith. The possibility that his chancellor might be playing him false had dawned upon the king on more than one occasion. Sometimes Til seemed too submissive.
     "One of Ryf's lieutenants, a man who is still loyal to Your Majesty, passed it to me. Apparently, it's only one of many circulating throughout the militia."
     "This corroborates some of the other evidence you've gathered against the man. Doesn't it seem a little coincidental to you, though? We've been suspicious of Ryf for weeks now, and, suddenly this incriminating missive appears?"
     "Begging Your Majesty's pardon, but Ryf doesn't have the cleverness to orchestrate treason through subtlety."
     "No," agreed Sor. "But you do. Perhaps you could enlighten me as to how you've managed to acquire all of this information against General Ryf."
     Til appeared shocked by the accusation, but he didn't make the protestations of innocence that many lesser men would have. Instead, he answered the question directly. "As Your Majesty was aware when he accepted me for this post, I am well-liked among the populace. They tell me things they might not tell other men. Guards, their tongues loosened by ale, make good conversationalists. If Your Majesty disapproves of my methods, say so and I'll change them."
     Sor was satisfied by the response. "Very well. Then there is no question of Ryf's guilt. See to his execution, Til. Do it as you see fit, but be discreet. You know as well as I how the militia will react to this."
* * *

     In his quarters that evening, Til became aware of a possibility in the current situation he had not considered before. Having never anticipated being given control over Ryf's execution, he hadn't spent much time examining the alternatives. Now, however, as he reviewed the circumstances, he became aware of the potential for an opportunity - one that might require minimal effort.
     The next morning, in the company of six palace guards, he went into inner Vorti to the small home where Ryf lived alone.
     The mood in the city was subdued. The merchants lining the streets hawked their wares less-than-enthusiastically, their voices kept hushed. Coins changed hands almost furtively, and the buyers quickly melded with the ever-shifting crowd that clogged the roadway. Pedestrians shuffled by listlessly, eyes more often fixed on the street than ahead of them. Til and his guards were given a wide berth and the chancellor was aware of several anxious stares cast in their direction. Vorti was a nervous place.
     At Ryf's house, Til tried the door and found it unbarred. Motioning for the guards to remain outside, he slipped inside without knocking.
     A large man with a fully gray beard and balding head, Ryf was sitting at a circular table whose worn surface exhibited numerous nicks and scratches. Aside from a water barrel and straw-stuffed mattress, the sturdy chair and table were the only pieces of furniture in the room. The three windows - two eastward-facing and one to the north - were so badly grimed over that they admitted little light, so, even in the dawn of a glorious morning, Ryf had a lantern lit. The exit in the back portion of the left wall led into the other room of the two-chamber domicile -presumably the kitchen.
     Ryf was sharpening the blade of a broadsword when Til entered. The big man looked up when he realized he had a visitor, let out a grunt, then put down the blade and honing-stone.
     "To what do I owe this honor?" demanded Ryf in his throaty baritone. Til couldn't detect sarcasm in the tone, and, knowing the man's simple nature, would have been surprised had there been any.
     "I have been ordered here by the king to take you into custody and have you executed," said Til. He waited in silence for the words to register.
     Ryf's weathered features went through the predictable cycle of emotions: shock, disbelief, and horror. "You can't be serious," was the response he eventually managed.
     "I'm in deadly earnest. For reasons which he has refused to disclose to me, the king doubts your loyalty. As you may have noticed of late, his first course of action any time he is uncertain of someone is to have them executed."
     "There is no one more loyal than I!"
     "I am aware of that, and it's for that reason that I have come to discuss this matter rather than having you dragged through the streets in chains, as the king commanded."
     "His Majesty commanded that?" gasped Ryf, his ruddy face going pale. To a soldier, such an act of forced submission was a mortal insult.. Til, of course, was aware of that. It was not difficult to manipulate a man of Ryf's limited intellect.
     Til nodded somberly, then, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial tone, he said, "I do not believe in your guilt."
     "I'm not guilty! I swear it! I've never spoken a treasonous word in my life!"
     "Yet King Sor is certain of your crime."
     "The king is wrong!" thundered Ryf. Then, as if startled by the ferocity of his outburst, he added, "I must speak with him. Clear up this matter."
     "Ryf, you know that won't be possible. Once the king has made a decision, nothing can change it. Going to him would only assure a quick execution. But if you listen to me, there may be a way out."
     "A way? How??"
     "You say you have never spoken treason, but perhaps it is time to begin."
     Ryf stared at the chancellor, a look of incomprehension on his face.
     "Think about it!" urged Til. "Does a man who will consign his most loyal supporters to the executioners deserve to remain in power? If he will do that to his friends, what is he capable of for those thousands in this city he hardly knows? Isn't it time to put a man on the throne who will care about the men and women of Vorti?"
     "He is an Apath!"
     "All the more reason to remove him! A normal man on the throne can do uncounted damage to his people. How much more devastating can an Apath be? Vorti can no longer support Sor's tyranny. Your life will be forfeit unless you agree to break faith with a man who has proven himself unworthy of all the years of service you have given to him. Sor has lost contact with the men and women he is responsible for. We need someone who is real, who can touch, taste, and see the way the common man does."
     "But treason is what I'm being accused of! If I do what you say, I become guilty!"
     "Better to live a criminal than die innocent. Or does life mean so little to you?"
     Ryf looked around his small house. To visitors, it looked spartan and, at times, even squalid, but to him it was home - a home he had spent years building. Many would consider his life a failure. He had no wife, no family, and few friends. But Ryf had always been a loner. He was his own best company, and the thought that it might all end so soon - and so violently - when he had done nothing wrong, was inconceivable. The blood still pumped through his body and his heart was far from ready to stop beating.
     "What do you suggest?" asked Ryf. There was no equivocation in his voice. Once he made a decision, he didn't wonder about alternatives.
     "I can make the king believe you have been executed. I have that power and your death has been placed in my hands. All you have to do is lie low and rally your troops to support the next king. The rightful heir to the throne."
     "Rightful heir? What are you talking about? Sor doesn't have any children. He's refused every woman brought to him."
     "I'm not referring to Sor's lineage. If you recall, a mere seven decades ago, another family held the throne. A man, the last of a long and noble line, was murdered by Kan as he usurped the Crown."
     "Rel?" It was a name from the past, a name out of history. No one alive was old enough to remember the last king of the previous royal family.
     "Rel. A man who was killed in his bed and whose family was put to the sword on that same bloody night. But his killers did not know that all the children of Rel were not within the palace, nor did they all bear the title of prince or princess. A son survived, because his mother was not Rel's wife. And, over time, that son gave birth to a son of his own - the grandson of Rel XVI and the rightful heir to the throne of Vorti. I am that man. I am Rel XVII."
     "You?? You are the grandson of Rel XVI?"
     Til nodded. "I have come to Vorti with the purpose of reclaiming my birthright, and I am not without allies. My question to you is: will you join them, or shall I turn you over to the executioners?"
     "Can you prove what you say? Can you convince the people of it? They might put someone with a legitimate claim to the throne in Sor's place, but that person must be genuine."
     Til smiled faintly. "They shall have their proof. Proof they cannot deny."
     Without hesitation, Ryf rose from his chair and knelt before Til. Taking the chancellor's hand in his own, the general pressed his lips to the other's knuckles. "Your Majesty," he breathed.
     The pact was sealed. Vorti's military was now Til's to command. Sor's defenses had become very tenuous.
* * *

     "General Ryf has been executed, Your Majesty," said Til, pretending to read from an imaginary agenda. "Do you have any special instructions for the disposal of the body?"
     Sitting hunched in his voluminous robes of state of the little throne room's chair, the king looked unwell. Staring unblinking before him, Sor replied, "Burn it with the dead from prison. No special honor is to be given to traitors." He began to shiver, as if cold, although the temperature was pleasant in this part of the palace.
     "Are you all right, Your Majesty?"
     "Tired. And sick. If someone ever offers you the rulership of a city, Til, turn it down. It's a burden that no man should have to bear."
     The chancellor started at the words, wondering how prescient the king was, then relaxed when he realized there had been no hidden meaning in the king's statement.
     "What's next?" asked Sor, still not looking at Til.
     "Perhaps Your Majesty would name a replacement for General Ryf? Given the uncertainty of the situation with Tsab, it would not do for the army to be in flux for long."
     "How are the men taking the death of their commander?"
     "As well as can be expected. Many of them are angry, of course."
     "At me?"
     "Yes. And at Ryf, for betraying them."
     "I wonder if there's anyone left in Vorti who supports me. I remember how it was twenty-five years ago, when I took the throne. They cheered me from the rooftops. And then after I eliminated the nobles, there were parades and celebrations all over. They were proclaiming me the greatest king ever. Now, they want my head. Once, being the ruler of Vorti meant something. Now, it's nothing. Nothing more than a responsibility. But my father laid this duty upon me and nothing will pry it from my fingers. Not as long as I live, anyway."
     Til found Sor's speech disconcerting. It almost seemed as if the king was aware of his plans, and was warning him, or challenging him. But that was impossible. Sor could not know, unless he was a mind-reader.
     "A replacement for Ryf, you said? Promote one of his lieutenants, Chancellor. I'll leave the decision of which one up to you."
     Sor didn't see Til leave, but as soon as the chancellor was gone, he recognized that he was alone. He knew that he was not fit company today. Late yesterday, he had begun to feel the effects of some kind of disease - Rim had assured him it wasn't a poisoning attempt - and it had put him in a strange, morose mood.
     Perhaps he had invested too much faith in Til. Blinded by the man's ability and intelligence, as well as his potential to infuse Sor's reign with a passion and enthusiasm that the king himself did not possess, he had taken the chancellor into his confidence. For that reason, the revelation of betrayal and duplicity, which Sor had been half-expecting anyway, came as a deflating blow. Coupled with the illness, it left him despondent, shaken, and isolated. For the first time in years, he was experiencing the birth pangs of new emotions - unhealthy feelings beginning to well up from the dark part of his soul.
     Til had made such a fundamental mistake, but it was usually the little things that brought down the most complex plans. The chancellor had forgotten to settle matters with the chief executioner. So when Bak had come to the little throne room earlier to discuss another issue and the king had made an inquiry concerning the execution of the general, Sor had learned that not only was Ryf still alive, but he was not even in prison, and no order for his execution had ever come.
     That was evidence enough of high treason, but Sor wasn't willing to press the charge yet. He wanted to know how deeply the treachery ran, and, frankly, he wasn't feeling up to confronting Til at the moment. Even an Apath could be laid low by a fever.
     Nevertheless, as he sat alone in the throne room, waiting for the next sign of his chancellor's betrayal to be revealed, Sor could not shake the echo of his father's voice speaking to him from beyond the grave, warning him as he had done twenty-six years ago. "When you suspect a man of treason, take swift and certain action. You do not know how deep the roots of his sedition are. Act immediately, and the strands of his plot will fray even as the horses rip his limbs from his torso. But if you delay, you may find that in the interim, his base of support will grow so firm that it will no longer be him who needs to fear the executioner, but you."
* * *

     Because of the bad weather, which consisted of a cold midsummer rainfall being driven almost horizontally by a gale, The Wet Spot was packed, even three hours past midnight. Most of the patrons were drunk and unlikely to take anything said by their fellows seriously if they managed to remember it the next day, but Til and Siv felt self-conscious having to shout at each other to be heard above the din. Nevertheless, given the conditions outside, the prospect of venturing into the streets in search of another meeting location was unappealing.
     "You have some news?" demanded Til.
     Siv nodded, then produced an official document from beneath his cloak. "It's all in here. Full authorization whenever you're ready. Four-hundred men, half of Tsab's active militia. With a forced march, they can be here in less than two days."
     Til unfurled the scroll, noting that it was sealed not by King Hwo but by his chancellor, and perused the contents. He had been hoping for more manpower from Tsab, but, following the twist of events that had given him control of Vorti's militia, he realized that the soldiers from the eastern city might prove superfluous. Nevertheless, any support was welcome, regardless of whether it was necessary or not. Til wasn't clear what would be required to bring down an Apath, and Sor's ambiguous remarks earlier in the day had done nothing but confuse the issue.
     "Are we ready?" asked Siv.
     "Almost. There's one final detail to be attended to, then we can move on Sor."
     "When?"
     "Give me another two days. As soon as I'm sure everyone's in place, we'll send for Tsab's troops. Hopefully, by the time they arrive, they won't be needed."
     "Whatever else happens, make sure Sor is killed. The last thing we need is a vengeance-minded Apath at large."
     "I'll offer a very healthy reward for his head. Enough gold, I imagine, for even the most uncertain of guards to embrace regicide."
     "And now?"
     "Now it's time to let the men and women of Vorti know that their saviour has arrived."
* * *

     The house occupied by Meg the Seeress was a tidy cottage located in the midst of a large plot of useless land. Once, this had been one of the most sought-after farms in the whole of Vorti, but a feud between neighbors had led to the salting of the fields and now the once-rich soil was spoiled. It was amazing that Meg had been able to cultivate the small garden of herbs, roots, and vegetables that grew outside her front door. The rest of her land, which had been bestowed upon her as a sign of favor from the Crown, was either barren or choked with brambles and hearty weeds.
     Til took extra care to assure he wasn't followed on his journey here. Although he detected no signs of pursuit - and had no reason to suspect any - he was still edgy. This, after all, was the final step. Now, as he approached the door, he took a moment to scan the terrain behind him. The sun, high overhead, cast short shadows and the fields offered little in the way of concealment. They appeared empty and lifeless.
     He turned back to the cottage to find himself being watched - if "watched" was the proper term for the actions of a blind woman. Silent as the faintest of breezes, Meg had emerged from inside during the brief moment when Til had turned away. She now stood before him, head shaved and expression stern, the scarred sockets which had once contained her eyes fixed unerringly upon the chancellor's face.
     "You are Til, son of Abe and Rua, Chancellor of Vorti, and heir to the line of Rel. Why have you sought me?"
     "May we go inside?" inquired Til. He felt exposed in the open like this.
     Meg shook her head. "There is violence in your heart. You are not welcome here. Why have you come?"
     "You know who I am. You've already acknowledged it. I am the grandson of Rel XVI, the last king of Vorti in the line of Rel."
     "So you are. I repeat, why have you come?"
     "This city is collapsing under the weight of an indifferent king. I recognize that once Sor did great things for Vorti, but he is not the ruler he once was. Things cannot continue as they are now. A new king is needed."
     "And you seek to be that king? Can you not correct these wrongs as chancellor? Is another rebellion necessary so soon after the last?"
     "It isn't the people who make it necessary. It's the king. I never knew Kan - I was born after his death - but everything I've read indicates that he was a fair and just ruler, the kind of man my grandfather was not. But our current king, perhaps because of his magic, has veered away from the path blazed by his father. Sor is no longer fit to be king. I am. I know the people and I understand how to restore equilibrium to Vorti. I already have the confidence of Hwo of Tsab. Trade with that city would resume immediately, which would resolve some of our most pressing problems. I understand what's wrong, because I've seen how much of it has developed.
     "But you are right in saying that the people of Vorti don't want another rebellion this soon. They have no wish to elevate a third ruling family in under a century. With me, that would not happen. Instead of destroying the current regime for something new, they would be returning a once-loved and respected line to the throne. Before the sins of my grandfather and his sire, the Rels had ruled Vorti justly for centuries."
     "So you wish me to publicly proclaim you to be the grandson of Rel XVI, that the people will accept you and support your move against the throne."
     "Yes! Do you doubt they will?"
     "No. They are starving for change. But you are not the right change. Do you think to fool a seer with pretty words? I see into your heart, Til grandson of Rel, and there is much of your late sire's sire in you. You do not seek justice or truth, but your own aggrandizement. You seek the throne not for the good of Vorti, but to satisfy the cravings of your heart."
     "I'm not asking you to endorse me. I'm asking you to speak the truth. Isn't that what your kind are devoted to - the truth."
     "You are the grandson of Rel. That is the truth. I cannot deny it. But I will not conspire with you to topple the rightful king from power."
     "Will you proclaim my identity?"
     "No."
     "Then you betray your own calling. Speaker of the Truth, indeed! You mock the gift that earns you the respect of men!"
     "My gift does not demand that I champion a cause, only that I refrain from falsehood. I will not stand on a platform and shout your heritage for all of Vorti to hear. But if any man asks me, I will tell him honestly of your lineage. Truth is satisfied, even though it may not be your definition of truth. I hold myself to a higher and purer standard than anything you will ever know."
     "Truth is all I ask from you, and that you speak it to those I send to you." Til paused for a moment before asking, "Why do you care so much for Sor's fate?"
     "I came to Vorti to be his subject. He is my king. It is not my choice alone, but one guided by fate, and I do not think your rash actions will change it."
     "Maybe it is for this that fate led you here."
     "Perhaps," conceded Meg with reluctance. "But I doubt that. You are attempting to force fate. Circumstances have not dictated that it is time for a new king, yet you have manipulated events and people to that end. Without your influence, the citizens of this city would still accept Sor's reign. It is not the current ruler of Vorti they rebel against, but your pernicious deeds as his chancellor. You mock fate, the one immutable certainty in life which cannot be mocked."
     "Your words are meaningless. And Sor's reign is finished."
     "If you truly believe that, then you have lost the battle before it has begun."
     Without another word, Meg turned her back on Til and glided into the house. As she shut the door to him, a high, dark cloud slid in front of the sun, plunging the afternoon into a foreboding gray. The chancellor shuddered, as if caught at the focus of some grim omen, then hurriedly made his way back to the center of the city, where he could set into motion the chain of events which would re-mold the power structure of Vorti, fate and the words of a seeress notwithstanding.


© 2005 James Berardinelli

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