Chapter Twelve – Network

Solomon Cozen sat alone in his room, waiting for a call on his iPhone. His room above Cozen’s store had two windows, one that looked out over the main street of Westering and another on the side of the store that looked toward the Wall half a mile away.

The first phone Ash gave Solomon was rectangular and black, with small, raised white buttons and a tiny green screen, all made of a material Solomon learned was called plastic. Ash told Solomon there was nothing magical about this device, and that they were very common on Earth. Although Solomon got some childish amusement from pressing the buttons and hearing the tiny chimes, the phone was far less impressive than a dwarvish pocket watch. It was also more limited in its ability to communicate across long distances than any number of magical alternatives. Still, the fact that it was not magic appealed to Solomon. Ash had explained that portals like the ones used to travel from Earth to Midhbar were carrying the signals, but the phones and the solar-powered charger Ash had provided were items anyone could buy on Earth. Granted, the sleek iPhone made Solomon’s first cell seem like a lump of coal by comparison, but even this amazing touchscreen device was a product of human ingenuity, nothing more. To Solomon, these feats of engineering and commerce were as impressive as magic, only better, because they were available to everyone, not just the elite.

Ash admitted that most of the iPhone’s features were not usable on Midhbar, but he did load a selection of music for Solomon to try. Ash didn’t have to explain the usefulness of the dictionary, the notepad, or the calculator (which Solomon wished he could share with Parkins to balance the ledgers). Solomon knew Giles would be delighted by the photo and video, and would probably appreciate the music more than his father. Knowing Ash would ask his opinion of the music, Solomon had dutifully sampled some of the diverse recordings — Bach, Mozart, Stravinsky, Glass, and others with unlikely names like The Rolling Stones,Crowded House and The Grateful Dead. Solomon did enjoy the sheer wonder of putting in the earbuds and hearing a dozen instruments play in the air around him, but he had always been too busy to cultivate any real appreciation for music. Despite its charms, the phone was ultimately a tool for communication, and although Solomon hoped to see this new Earth and its wonders, he knew there was much to do here in Midhbar first.

The iPhone screen winked to life and the phone buzzed on the wooden surface of Solomon’s writing desk. “Hello, Solomon,” said Ash. “How are our guests?” Solomon cleared his throat and got straight to the point. “They aren’t our guests. At least, not yet.”

A moment of silence. “You were waiting at the gate to greet them?”

“I was there,” Solomon explained, “but, as expected, the Watch approached them first.”

“I see. And where are they now?”

Solomon rubbed his temples. “At the White Hart tavern.”

Ash had never, in any of their conversations, lost his temper or made threats, but Solomon knew when he was disappointed. There would be silence, and then a small metallic click, repeated at regular intervals. Solomon had never met him face to face; he didn’t know if Ash was quietly collecting his thoughts, or silently fuming and waiting until he could speak again without sounding angry. Solomon did know that the number of clicks he heard was proportional to Ash’s disappointment. There were only two clicks, and then he asked, “But you have been in contact with them?”

Solomon breathed a sigh of relief. “Yes, of course. Giles spotted the Lockhearts as they passed the store, then introduced himself once they were away from the Guard and Erik.” Solomon didn’t mention that when he was summoned to the North gate to see what Cyrus brought, he told Giles to approach the Lockhearts as soon as possible and gain their confidence. Instead, his son merely shadowed Edward and Amelia to the Hart, and then on to the North gate, where Solomon was already meeting with Anna and Cyrus. When Solomon saw his son standing, aloof, in the crowd around Cyrus’ wagon, he reminded Giles that his cooperation in recruiting the Lockhearts wasn’t optional.

“And how did it go when Giles talked to them?”

Solomon shrugged. “He warned them about Erik, that he was a dangerous man,” Solomon paused. “But he may have overdone it.”

“Why do you think so?”

Solomon tapped his fingers on his writing desk. “Because no one remembers Erik the Bloody, a mercenary and a killer,” Solomon realized he was raising his voice, and he went on more quietly. “Everyone in Westering, and now the Lockhearts, thinks Erik is a simple innkeeper who minds his own business. And if he has a past he’d rather not discuss,” Solomon scoffed, “well, so do a lot of people in the Wilderlands. Erik fits right in with the other retired outlaws and rogues.”

Ash sounded sympathetic, but he also wanted to divert Solomon before he started talking about how Erik was to blame for his family’s lost fortune. “It was a long time ago, Solomon. Most of the people who knew the truth are long dead, and the others,” Ash sighed, “have too much blood on their own hands to judge him.”

“Yes, the Blood,” Solomon gave a humorless chuckle. “Indeed. And if Erik survives this jaunt to Watson Farm, he’ll come back a hero.”

“Watson Farm. That’s a troublesome situation.”

Solomon turned in his chair and looked out the window at the lengthening afternoon shadows. “So you know what’s been happening there?”

“Yes,” Ash said, “but I didn’t find out in time to stop it.” Solomon heard a different kind of clicking in the background, which Ash said was a writing device called a keyboard. “We need better information, Solomon.”

“I’m sorry. We do the best we can from here.”

“I know you do, Solomon. You’ve been invaluable to our plans. I only mean we need a wider network in the Wilderlands.”

“But what about the shapeshifter? Surely there are advantages to her mobility.”

“Of course, eyes in the sky and all. But Rava,” Ash sighed, “let’s just say she doesn’t have the temperament for extended surveillance.”

Solomon paused, wondering if he was overstepping his bounds. “Does Collum know she’s here?”

“I gather they met earlier today, in fact,” Ash said carefully. “She didn’t say much about it. Not that it matters,” Ash said. “Rava is a bit of a wild card, but definitely an asset.”

“And Collum? And Erik?” Solomon said stiffly. “Are they still assets to you?”

“Solomon, you’ll have to put aside your feelings about Erik a little while longer,” Ash said in a tone of strained patience. “Using some scare tactics to drive the Lockhearts away from him and to us is one thing, but ultimately, we need Erik and Collum. You know as well as I do there’s no one else in the Wilderlands with their skills and experience.” Ash waited, but Solomon didn’t answer.

“I’ll take that as a Yes,” Ash said drily. “Now, I don’t suppose Edward has been to the tower yet?”

“There hasn’t been time, but Giles says he’s very interested, so it shouldn’t be difficult.”

“And Giles can get them inside?”

“He says that he can. It seems Harry entrusted him with a way to get inside, if necessary.”

“The sooner the better, Solomon. I’d like to know what Harry hs been working on. Most of all, we have to know if Edward is going to be useful.”

“And if he isn’t?” Solomon said drily, and Ash chuckled. “Well, let’s just say I have higher hopes for Edward than to play the damsel in distress.” Solomon thought of Giles, and the higher hopes he had secretly nurtured for his son. His mother had no trace of the Gift herself, but it had appeared in her family, and Solomon thought that, for once, the odds might favor them. He had even prayed over it, but, as usual, the Cozens were left to make their own luck. “I expect it won’t be long before Edward comes to us, in fact.”

“Oh?” Ash said with interest. “I thought you said Giles’ threats didn’t work?”

“Edward won’t come to us out of fear,” Solomon explained. “He’ll come willingly, seeking answers. While we were all together at the Hart earlier, I planted some seeds. He’s a curious boy. He wants to see maps of Berila and Midhbar.”

“Yes. Takes after his father,” Ash said, almost to himself. Before Solomon could ask about John Lockheart, Ash said, “Let’s get Edward over to the tower soon, Solomon. I’m afraid our so-called Vampire King’s plans are farther along that we thought.”

~ ~ ~

Giles Cozen was in the back of the store, hanging up a new length of heavy rope to replace the twenty yards he just sold, when he heard voices at the front of the store. Giles peered around a row of stacked barrels until he could see the double doors, open to the warm summer breeze, and there were Amelia and Edward. After what happened at the White Hart, Giles had been afraid they wouldn’t come. His father had not been happy to hear about his fight with Torvald. Solomon was not a violent man. He had never hit Giles, but he didn’t hesitate to show his disappointment, or his anger, at Giles’ failures. “You’ve overplayed your hand twice today, Giles.” Solomon said. “I hope you haven’t cost us all our credibility.” Giles wanted to reply that he hadn’t wanted to do it anyway, which is why he was so bad at it. But Giles swallowed his anger, and his pride, as he knew Solomon did often.

Now the Lockhearts were walking into Cozen’s, and Giles had a chance — if not to succeed, then at least not to make things worse, until his father came downstairs. Solomon told Giles he would be meeting with Ash, which meant he shouldn’t be disturbed. Amelia and Edward were still near the door, looking at leather satchels. They hadn’t seen him yet. The afternoon sun didn’t reach to the back of the store and the lights hung from the high roof beams weren’t on yet, so Giles ducked behind the barrels and thought of something clever to say. He quickly discarded the first greeting that came to him — I can’t believe Torvald let you out on your own. Giles straightened up and walked toward the front, trying to look casual. Amelia spotted Giles when he was halfway to the front, and she didn’t look happy to see him. Giles took a deep breath and kept walking. Edward looked up from a table of glass bottles. His more friendly expression gave Giles some hope.

Without thinking about it too much, so that he didn’t change his mind, Giles stopped a few feet away from the Lockhearts and said, “I’m glad you decided to come.” Edward said hello, but Amelia pretended to be interested in putting a cork back into a small bottle. Giles came closer, cleared his throat and waited for some response. When he didn’t get one, for some reason, he decided to apologize. “I wanted to say I’m sorry for what happened with Torvald.”

Edward hung back, waiting for Amelia to steer this conversation. Finally, she frowned and said, “You should be apologizing to Torvald.”

Giles pressed his lips together, muffling the reply he wanted to make, and said, “Well, since he’s not here, I wanted to say I regret you had to see that –,” he searched for some neutral way to describe it, “unseemly incident.”

Amelia shook her head. “I honestly don’t know what you thought you were doing, goading Torvald like that,” Amelia crossed her arms. “but I guess it’s no surprise, considering what you think about his father.”

“It’s not just what I think,” Giles began, but Amelia cut him off.

“Oh, right,” She said, “You and your father.”

As though he were just thinking out loud, Edward said, “So why doesn’t anyone else in town seem to think that “Erik the Bloody,” as he’s also known, is a lunatic and a murderer?” Edward had quoted Giles’ note, shown to them in the back of the wagon, perfectly from memory.

“You don’t know Erik,” Giles said, defensive. “You just got into town today!”

“That’s true,” Edward said, “and it doesn’t take long to see he’s a grouch, but,” Edward shrugged, “he seems like a good guy, basically.”

Giles shook his head. “That’s not the real Erik Magnusson.”

“So who is?” Amelia said hotly. “The one leading the rescue party? I guess that’s not the real Erik, either?”

Giles felt trapped. “Even if he has changed, it doesn’t wipe his slate clean!” He looked at Amelia, then Edward, hoping for some inkling that they might listen to reason. “It’s like I told Torvald — there’s a good reason Erik doesn’t talk about his past.”

Amelia rolled her blue eyes and gave an exasperated sigh, “So what is it, Giles? Why don’t you just tell us why Erik is so horrible?”

From the time Solomon realized who owned the White Hart, he had cautioned Giles not to discuss Erik’s past with anyone. Giles knew that this was even harder for Solomon than for him, but as his father said, “We need Erik on our side, for now. When this business is concluded, he’ll finally be held to account.” Solomon wouldn’t say more than that.

Giles licked his lips and glanced back to the staircase visible through the doorway behind the counter. Now he was afraid that his father would come downstairs any moment and find Giles in yet another argument with the Lockhearts about Erik. “You heard what I said earlier,” he said, almost whispering, although there was no one else in the store at the moment.

“A mercenary and a freebooter, right?” Edward asked, as though he didn’t recall exactly what Giles said.

“What’s a  freebooter, anyway?” Amelia said to her brother.

“It usually means a pirate,” Edward replied, then looked at Giles. “So, how do you know all of these things about Erik? And when exactly did they happen?”

Giles hesitated. He had already said too much, again. The harm Erik had done to the Cozens was a long story, which the Lockhearts wouldn’t believe, and Giles had no way to prove. Exasperated at himself for falling into this trap, Giles put his hands in his thick, dark hair and blurted out, “I can’t explain it right now!”

Amelia shook her head, “Well, that’s convenient. What’s the matter, Giles — can’t you make up something on the spot?” Giles gritted his teeth, but didn’t take the bait. Amelia kept pushing, “What? Nothing to say? Maybe that unseemly incident with Torvald taught you something, after all.”

Giles’ frustration and embarrassment flared into anger. Sometimes, Solomon’s work used to take him into the homes or meeting places of the Almaren elite. Solomon took Giles along as often as possible, to show him what their family had lost and what it stood to regain. Solomon’s clients and their children didn’t know his family’s illustrious past, and they regarded lawyers as tradesmen, one step above bricklayers and tailors. Amelia didn’t dress or talk like the well-born daughters of Almaren, but she was every bit as haughty and dismissive.

“You’re a piece of work,” he sneered. “You walk into town this morning, not knowing where you are, or how you got here, but after spending a few hours in the company of a barkeep and a doe-eyed simpleton, you’re an expert on everything.

Amelia’s face reddened, and she took a step closer to Giles. He didn’t flinch, but Edward looked nervous, the way he had before Torvald dragged Giles across the bar. “I don’t have to be an expert on everything to know that you’re a liar, Giles Cozen.”

It hadn’t taken Herodotus Greenspun long to figure out that Giles had a quick temper. However, where his father gave advice like If you let someone make you angry, they’ve already mastered you, Harry offered no wise, wizardly counsel. Instead, as part of their lessons in history and rhetoric, he engaged Giles in arguments. He and Harry would each take a role — anyone from Cain and Abel to God and Satan — argue their position, and then reverse their parts. At first it seemed silly, and frustrating, but soon, Giles learned to see the other side of an argument, and use it to his advantage.

Now, Giles faced Amelia as she glared at him and brushed an auburn curl out of her eyes. He took a deep breath. “I can see you’ve already made up your mind about me, and my father, Amelia. But you should think twice before you write us off.”

“Why is that, Giles?” Amelia said, arching one eyebrow.

“Unless there’s something you two aren’t telling, then no one knows exactly how you got to Midhbar,” Giles looked at both of the Lockhearts. “True?”

Edward nodded, and Amelia waited.

“So, it’s safe to assume it was magic,” he said.

Edward adjusted his glasses. “Well, we don’t have a better explanation,” he said.

“Fine,” Amelia muttered. “Get to the point, Giles!”

“The point is that the only person in Westering, or even in the Wilderlands, who could help you is missing.”

“Herodotus Greenspun,” Edward said, almost in a whisper. Giles nodded. “Now, Lords know I hope Harry comes back safely, but if he doesn’t, you’re going to need another wizard.”

Amelia nodded; now she knew where Giles was going. “And I suppose you can help us find one?”

Giles smiled. “I can.” A few minutes ago, he was wishing Solomon would come downstairs — now Giles hoped he didn’t, just yet.

“Where?“ Edward said, visibly excited.

“In Almaren,” Giles said, smiling despite himself.

“The capital?” Amelia asked.

“Yes. All of the greatest wizards in Midhbar go there.”

“Isn’t that a long way from here?” Amelia sounded uncertain.

“Yes, it’s long way,” Giles said, “At least a month’s journey.” Edward and Amelia’s eyes got wide. “But you’ve come to the right place,” he said, spreading his hands toward the racks of tents, blankets, tools, and dried food. “And isn’t it worth it to get back home?” The Lockhearts were both silent for a moment, stunned, then Amelia said, “We’ll do whatever it takes.” She fixed Giles with a fierce look. “But why would you help us?”

“Are you joking? To go back to Almaren!” Giles rubbed his hands. “Edward and Amelia, you have to see the capital before you leave Midhbar,” he said with genuine excitement. “The last war golem in Midhbar guards the main gate at the royal palace.”

Giles paused as Edward looked at Amelia, as if expecting her to say something. “What? I know what a golem is — magical guy made of mud, right?”

Edward gave his sister a high-five, even as she said to herself, I can’t believe I knew that.

“It’s the royal city — of course, Parliament has most of the real power, but the Dowager Queen puts on a great show.” Giles shook his head, at a loss to do Almaren justice. “The shops at River Garden have everything — chocolate, clockwork toys, fireworks. And if you know who to ask, you can even get firebirds, which are forbidden outside the Sultanate, in case you didn’t know. And the Pasha’s ambassador has a djinn who brings ice from the mountains for parties during the summer –” Giles realized he was blathering, and stopped, embarrassed.

“That all sounds great, Giles, but you mentioned someone in Almaren who could help us?”

“Oh, yes,” Giles said, “Emeric, a Wizard Major, lives in Almaren. They say he’s next in line to be Air Wizard when Leos retires.”

“And your father knows him?” Amelia was clearly skeptical.

“My father knows people who know him,” Giles admitted, even while trying to make it sound like a sure thing.

“I have to wonder, Giles, if you and your father are so well connected, what you’re doing out here in Westering,” Amelia said in a chilly tone. “I think I’ve heard enough for today,” she said. “Let’s go, Edward.” Amelia turned and started for the door, just as two men came in and started to look around. Edward obviously wasn’t ready to leave, “But what about the maps? And the candied hazelnuts?” he added, looking at Giles as though this was his cue to bring out some samples.

Later, Edward,” Amelia said impatiently, without looking back. Edward frowned and stalled as Amelia kept going through the door.

“Be right with you!” Giles said to the two men as he rushed to intercept Edward. “Sorry,” Edward said, and let out a deep sigh, “I should probably get going, though.”

Giles’ mind raced as he tried to find a way to salvage something from this encounter. “I understand, I just wanted to ask,” he lowered his voice, “Would you like to see Harry’s tower?”

“Well, sure,” Edward said. “You mean, up close?”

Giles leaned closer to Edward. “I mean from the inside.”

Edward gawked. “Are you kidding?”

“No,” Giles said with a grin.

“But he’s gone,” Edward said, “How can you –?”

“He’s my tutor, remember?” Edward nodded. “You just meet me there right after sunset tonight, at nine bells.” Edward looked excited, but hesitant. “Or do you think you won’t be able to get away from your sister?”

That cinched it, Giles could see the determination on Edward’s face. “I’ll be there.” Giles smiled and gave Edward a conspiratorial wink. “You won’t be sorry,” he said, then turned and went to look after his customers.

~ ~ ~

Herodotus Greenspun hadn’t given up hope of escaping. Not yet. But after being imprisoned in this room for the past six days, he had run out of ideas. The door and the shutters were strong, and the room itself was carved out of solid rock, so no conventional means of escape would work. Of course, Harry had tried the non-conventional means, as well. When he realized he had been led into a trap, Harry tried to force open the oak and iron-banded door and the shutters with spellcraft, but they wouldn’t budge. If he could have transformed himself into a swift, Harry would have tried the chimney, even though as he recalled the larger chimneys were covered with metal grates to keep birds out. Beside, it wasn’t an option for Harry. If you were a shapeshifter, then transformation was like changing your socks, but for anyone else, it was fiendishly difficult magic. It was, in fact, one of the skills that separated the Wizards Major from the Minor.

As Harry paced the long room, the sound of his heavy traveling boots was muffled by the large Turkish carpets that covered most of the tiled floor. The last time he had seen Lapis was in this study, on the day the Earth Wizard sent Harry away from Hollow Mountain. The room hadn’t changed — the same tapestries hung on the walls, the books on the shelves looked untouched, the carpets were clean. It seemed a safe bet Lapis hadn’t any visitors since he sent Harry away.

That day was the beginning of the old wizard’s total isolation, first from the outside world, then even from his counterparts, Air and Sea. Harry heard Lapis had missed the last midsummer gathering of the Three. So, he had been surprised to receive a letter from Lapis inviting him to return to Hollow Mountain. After Harry had settled in Westering, he’d hoped every day for word that Lapis had realized his mistake. When none came, Harry’s anger and wounded pride had eventually turned to resignation. He had been a fool to believe a minor magican such as himself could ever become one of the Three. And yet, Lapis must have believed it himself — why else spend three years training Harry? The alternative was too cynical to contemplate, that the Earth Wizard had never thought Harry worthy or capable, and took him as an apprentice to buy time with his colleagues. When Lapis could no longer put off Harry from the final steps needed in his training, he sent him away, with no explanation other than, You’re not ready.

So, when a messenger hawk arrived at his tower two weeks ago, with a packet bearing the seal of the Earth Wizard, Harry’s first response was a rush of anger. The old humiliation washed over him, but was quickly replaced by curiosity. There was no apology, of course, or even an acknowledgment of their falling out, but the tone was as conciliatory he could expect from his old mentor. There are strange events taking shape in the Wilderlands, and I would meet with you to discuss them.

Harry arrived at Hollow Mountain two days later, expecting an awkward meeting, stiff formality, and an invitation to sit and smoke before discussing business. He had not expected a trap. Looking back, Harry realized he should have been on his guard when the major domo didn’t greet him at the entrance. Instead there was Pietro, the old butler, who gave polite, but vague, answers to Harry’s questions while leading him quickly to the first-floor study, where he was told Lapis would meet him shortly. As they passed through the long, silent halls carved out of solid rock by the dwarves for the first Earth Wizard four centuries ago, Harry and Pietro saw no one else, but this wasn’t too unusual. As Lapis had grown more reclusive over the past decade, the staff had shrunk to a half dozen in the kitchen and garden. And so Harry walked into this room, where Pietro closed and locked the doors behind him, and then it was too late. Within a few minutes, Harry realized this room had been made into a prison specifically for him, designed by someone who knew Harry’s strengths and weaknesses.

Harry’s stomach growled. He sighed and poured a glass of water from the pitcher. The pantry had been stocked with enough bread, cheese, and nuts to to last three days. Harry managed to make it last four. He didn’t know what would happen when the water ran out, and he hadn’t asked. The Earth Wizard’s first “visit” was on the evening of the first day, when Harry heard his old mentor’s dry, raspy voice in the air all around him. It was a sound transmission spell, very effective and difficult to do over long distances, but Lapis was perfectly capable of a difficult spell, and no doubt he was also very close by. There was no greeting, no explanation, just the question — “What have you been working on in your tower, Harry?”

“Come into the study, and we’ll talk about it,” Harry said with all the congeniality he could muster. No answer from Lapis. The next morning, it was the same question. “Send in a proper breakfast, and I’ll consider answering” Harry boomed at the ceiling. This had gone on every day. Now, Harry assumed Lapis was quite mad. And yet, he either had some idea about the prototype, or it was a complete bluff. Either way, what did Lapis care? He’d made it plain he wasn’t interested in what went on outside his mountain.

Harry checked his pocket watch; it was human-made, not dwarvish, and not magical, but it kept good time. The first five days, Lapis had asked his question between eight and eight-thirty in the morning, but now it was well after nine. Had something changed, or was Lapis simply trying a new tactic? Harry had no sooner snapped his watch shut when he heard, “Good morning, Harry. Do you need anything?”

Harry quickly replied, “Well, it’s a good thing I know a good dehydration spell, or these chamber pots would be a problem,” he quipped, “Otherwise, no complaints.”

A pause. “Are you getting hungry, Harry? You always had quite an appetite.”

“Well, you know, this is a good chance to finally slim down a bit. Been meaning to do it for ages, so thanks for the help.”

A dry, raspy laugh. “You always had a wonderful sense of humor, Herodotus,” Lapis said. “We’ll see what we can do about that.”

Harry didn’t answer, and soon the faint buzz in the air was gone, indicating that Lapis had closed the connection. Harry walked across the room and sat down in a comfortable chair by the fireplace. It was warm enough outside Hollow Mountain, but inside this room, with the shutters sealing out the sunlight, the rock walls were cool, and the werelights that lit the room from their glass sconces gave off no heat. Harry had taken to lighting a small fire to knock the chill off in the mornings and evenings, or sometimes just to cheer himself.

The woodbox was almost empty. Harry wondered what Lapis would do if he started breaking up the furniture, or tearing up books to burn. It might be worth a try. Harry put a few small sticks of kindling onto the andirons and spoke to the morning cinders, which leapt up into a small, cheerful blaze. Harry sat back in the chair, reached into the inner pocket of his cloak, and took out some of the food he’d been saving. It was a bag of candied nuts and raisins Giles had given to him the day before he left Westering.

Harry didn’t quite trust Solomon Cozen to always do the right thing, and Giles was a peculiar boy — he wanted attention, and kept you at a distance at the same time. Giles was smart and had a quick, if sarcastic, wit, but he didn’t have what Solomon wanted the most for his son — the Gift, or the Blood, as it was often called in the Wilderlands. Solomon had asked Harry to evaluate Giles discreetly. Solomon admitted there was no sign of the Gift on his side, at least in recent history, but he obviously hoped Giles might have inherited it from his mother. When Harry had to report what he suspected Solomon already knew, Harry assumed that would be the end of it. Instead, Solomon asked Harry to take on Giles as a student. “He may as well have the benefit of the your more practical knowledge,” he said, with a rather cryptic smile. Solomon paid Harry a generous fee, and he needed the money. Harry had no rich patron, no retainer with a wealthy merchant. He’d spent the years after his apprenticeship in isolation, working as Lapis’ protege at Hollow Mountain. Meanwhile, Harry’s peers traveled and cultivated the relationships that could gain even a Wizard Minor a very comfortable existence. Solomon was from Almaren, and he saw how differently Harry lived than his urban counterparts. That was probably the reason there was always something extra from Cozen’s store along with Harry’s weekly wages — usually something edible, as everyone knew Harry’s fondness for good food.

Harry savored a glazed almond, then some golden raisins. He looked into the fire and considered his options. None of them were good, most were desperate, but he couldn’t wait much longer. Harry would need all the strength he had left to use against his former teacher, one of the three most powerful beings in all of Midhbar.

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