“The gods be damned!”

Maront leapt from his throne and stormed around the dais. He stopped in front of the wizard, his nose just inches from the other man’s.

“You are afraid! Of failure, perhaps?

“If you will not perform your duty, your sworn oath to fulfill Our commands, then you shall henceforth be banished from Our kingdom forever! Vashti, the Queen, wants a child. We want a child. You, wizard,” the name sounded like an accusation, “tell Us ‘yes, such a request is possible;’ yet each time We ask you to make it so, you refuse!

“You are fortunate that We have but exiled you. Had any other man so provoked Us by refusing Our request, We should not hesitate to have him beheaded or some other befitting punishment. We shall send Our guards to your chambers to escort you from this city within the hour. Make no attempt to resist.”

The King was furious. He turned on his heel and strode from the council chamber, leaving the wizard agape at the foot of the throne. The man had all but asked to be exiled. He had said that such a spell was workable and then categorically refused to even attempt it, claiming conflict with religious convictions.

“My Lord, again I must refuse. The creation of life is not an affair that a mere mortal such as myself should tamper with; it is a matter that should be left to the gods themselves.”

Who had ever heard of a wizard with religious convictions? Preposterous! Were they not all insatiable power-mongers? The wizard’s phrase ‘I must refuse’ resounded again and again in Maront’s ears.

Well then, so be it. If this wizard refused to place a conception spell on his Queen, then he, Maront, would simply have to locate someone who would. And that someone would be handsomely rewarded.

Ki-él is a fool!, he thought. Half of the kingdom could have been his.

Maront, normally a very gracious king, stomped through the halls of his palace like a thundercloud crossing the summer plains. His dark visage warned all that he met not to delay him with trifles; even the usual plethora of greetings were silenced.

Upon reaching his private chambers, Maront called for a page and was answered immediately.

“Yes, my Lord?”

The boy had not entered the room, but stood silently, trembling in the open doorway.

“Go and fetch the Master Scribe, Aron. Tell him to present himself here before the sun has moved one-quarter of a mark. Tell him to bring materials to write with.”

“Yes, my Lord,” the page said as he disappeared. He had backed slowly into the hall, waiting for Maront to slam the door home and was now running full speed through the labyrinthine hallways of the palace. He would definitely have to hurry. The King’s private chambers were on the third flight in the west wing; the librarian’s apartment in the opposite wing on the ground floor.

Maront sat at a table, impatiently waiting for the scribe. He was determined to see that the words for this decree were perfect; in a matter of this grave importance he dare not trust anyone else with the wording, not even Aron. He tried and then rejected phrase after phrase.

At last, just as a slight knock sounded at the door, he was satisfied.

“Come in, Aron,” Maront called from where he was seated. “Come in. Close the door.”

Maront and the scribe had been close friends since childhood, but that was not in evidence today.

Without further preamble, Maront launched into his reason for calling in the Writer of the Royal Decrees.

“Today, I have perhaps the most important message of your life—certainly the most important you have transcribed to this day. Record it exactly as I shall give it. You will be responsible for seeing it through to my desired ends and for presenting the individual described therein to me. Do so successfully and you shall be suitably rewarded.

“This, then, is the message I wish you to copy:

Let it hereby be known in all of Gorian that We, Maront, doth seek a man of Power—the Power of Words. He must be a most proven and learned man. The Task that we require of him is indeed difficult, but not, We have been assured, impossible. He must first be able to relate to Us what this Task is, and then provide us with the Date on which it shall come to pass. Failure in any area will be regarded as Treason. Success in all shall be rewarded above and beyond the imagination of any man.

“Sign it, affix my seal to it and see that it is carried to every village and town throughout the land.”

Weeks went by and Maront began to grow impatient. Almost daily he called for Aron to inquire whether a man had yet been found. Always the answer was the same: “No one yet, my Lord.”

Weeks stretched into months and Maront grew more surly, more impatient, more withdrawn. Matters of state were delegated to mere functionaries or left unattended entirely. The kingdom began to fragment and fray on the fringes.

The historians would record it as two years to the day after the ousting of Ki-él that a stranger appeared at the courtyard’s western gate. The sun had set over an hour ago, and the gates had been closed and barred since.

“Open the gate! I have business with the King!”

“I know not the sound of your voice, stranger,” called the sentry. “Think you that we open our doors to just any vagrant or passerby with demands to see the King? Perhaps that is how things are done where you are from, but that is not our way in the King’s City.

“Begone, you! Spend the night at the inn down the road and come back on the morrow when the gates…”

Those were the last words ever uttered by the guard. His relief would find him strangled and the door to the guardhouse locked from the inside. It would generate numerous stories and rumors, most of them concerning demons or gods.Or, worse yet—magic.

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