Artwork by Callum Backstrom
(from Chapter 1: The Politics of Savagery)
Whenever Samuel did manage to get ahold of Owen (which was more difficult than it would have seemed—while Owen constantly sat in the living room and the library, he always appeared deeply engrossed and unresponsive), Owen spoke of Raymond Perrin. Owen’s encounter with him shook the boy, and taught him not only that his magic remained weak but also that his uncle possessed some drop of mercy despite his crimes. Still, Owen knew the man had to pay for all the wrong he had done—including whatever wrong was done to Owen’s father. Thus Owen and Samuel determined to visit Evander and ask for his help in continuing the investigation of Raymond Perrin.
Samuel and Owen walked to the townhouse of the princess herself. The princess! When Owen had found out that Linde was the princess of the Salt Empire he had to punch a pillow and collapse into his bed in awe a few time, slap his face, poke his arms. Owen had rescued a princess. No wonder that he felt comfortable walking over to her house. The fact that the Princess of the Salt Empire had saved his down made him uncomfortable—why?—but also curious as to what could come of it. It was a townhouse just as gorgeous, if not more so, than Raymond Perrin’s. The lush garden flowered even in the misty November chill. A servant answered the door, and after relaying the message to Evander, they were shown into a small den overlooking a neat grass backyard, surrounded by a white fence.
Evander sat sipping a smelly pitch-black liquid. The shadows under his eyes had lessened due to a full week free of battle.
“Now, what can I help you boys with?” he asked. He took a long draught.
Samuel and Owen glanced at one another. Owen inclined his head.
“Well,” Samuel began. “Basically we are still worried about our uncle. That he’s still out and about, and it’s been on our minds that he might do something dangerous to try and take Cadivel back. We don’t know him well, but well enough to know…”
“To know that we wants this town,” Owen said. “That’s why he ran away. To live to take it back.”
Samuel watched Owen. Owen spoke with profound confidence.
“He’s prideful, so I didn’t think he would run. But he did. He wants to take Cadivel back, I’m sure of it.”
Evander nodded. “That’s very insightful,” he said. “Lady Linde, Sir Lemming and I have considered this. We’re afraid of the very same thing. In fact, we’ve sent scouts and soldiers all over the town in search of Raymond Perrin—and to his castle of course—but he’s nowhere to be found. I was going to try and follow-up with sending soldiers to search further afield, but we’re stretched thin until our backup from the Salt Empire arrives—which should be any day now. But not yet.”
“You can’t find him anywhere?” Samuel asked.
“We conducted a thorough search,” Evander said, rubbing his forehead. “But we couldn’t find him.”
Owen frowned and Samuel sighed.
“There is another lead, though,” added Evander, and the brothers perked up.
“What is it?” Owen asked.
“We know where one of his close collaborators is. Leroy Robin. In fact, Sir Lemming, Lady Linde, and myself were about to pay him a visit this afternoon. Would you care to accompany us?”
Leroy Robin, Samuel thought. Lucienne Robin.
“Definitely,” Samuel and Owen said simultaneously.
Evander smiled. “You’ll need to keep silent, and let us three do the work. But since you have such an interest, you can follow.”
“Thank you so much,” Samuel said. “We will. But… I have to know. Why are you here? Why would the Salt Empire protect us?”
Evander smiled and explained how Linde, Lemming and himself gathered an army for protecting Borrigan so they could gain an ally to protect Empire’s future against a destructive King. The information slowly clogged Samuel’s brain: it made sense, but the forces at work were so gargantuan he had difficulty imagining it to be true.
Evander looked at a clock on the wall. “Well, it’s time. Let’s get the others.”
Samuel and Owen bowed and greeted Linde and Russell Lemming as courteously as they could.
“Don’t bow,” Linde said. “It’s nice to see you are doing well.”
Samuel opened his mouth, about to ask why she had engineered this mission to save Cadivel, but the words didn’t come in time. They already were walking down the hall.
Keeping behind the three, Samuel and Owen followed them out of the townhouse and towards the back end of Cadivel. The streets widened and the buildings sunk, losing the characteristic red-brick blue-roof, but also gaining other colors: yellow signs, white tents, deep green trees.
“Leroy Robin was one of Raymond Perrin chief advisers, collaborators, and financers,” Evander explained. “We’ve found out he’s hiding in a warehouse at the edge of town. We think that he and Perrin are still planning something together. Hopefully we’re quick enough to catch him before anything happens.”
Samuel nodded. His stomach fluttered in anticipation. The clouds overhead looked reptilian, swiping scaly claws that feathered into the white that haloed the sun.
The group came upon a low gray building. An arched entrance admitted them into a tiny courtyard facing a windowless wooden door. Lemming paused and allowed the two soldiers to come to the front. Samuel felt restless and kept glancing back at the clouds. They extended their reach even further, threatening to swab away the sun.
Evander stared at the door. He felt something dark inside, a cloud of dense blackness. He could not tell what made him feel this way.
“We need to be careful,” he said. “Go slowly.”
The soldiers nodded, opened the door, and entered. Samuel watched their bodies disappear around the door’s back. Linde entered, then Russell Lemming, followed by Samuel and Owen. Evander came in last and shut the door.
Samuel followed Lemming’s broad back into a wide opening surrounded by wooden crates. A foggy stream of sunlight floated across the interior from a single skylight. Evander, who could barely see a thing, try to listen closely to quiet rustlings, and when he could not focus—could not hear—he realized what was wrong.
“A trap!” gasped Linde.
The soldiers raised their guns and along with Evander and Lemming formed an instinctive circle around Linde, Samuel and Owen caught somewhere in the middle craning their necks, as the sleek heads of rifles came out of the shadows. On the crates and by the doors appeared soldiers, aiming at those in the middle.
“Stay back!” called Evander. He rose his hands and tried to cast a light—nothing. He focused and breathed out and jabbed at the air but nothing came. He then realized that the room was equipped with an anti-magic seal.
They numbered about twenty—too many to fight. Samuel grabbed Owen’s shoulder and remained perfectly still as a slim figure came through the soldiers. He was short with gray hair and wore an expensive suit in the vein of Raymond Perrin. Unlike Perrin, he wore no jewelry, and carried a loose, plain expression in round and earnest eyes.
“Hello, Princess Linde,” Leroy Robin said. “I heard you were in town.”
“Where’s Raymond Perrin?” Linde demanded.
“I do not think you are in the position to ask anything of me,” he said with an imitative Empire accent. “Rather, I might be the one to ask a favor of you.”
“What are you planning?” Russell Lemming barked. “We have this town secure. After the battle, there’s no way you could take it back.”
“In our current state, that assessment is very true,” Robin agreed. “But, this very meeting—which I knew would happening after so clearly leaking my location—lends us an opportunity.”
Evander had his eyes closed, and had his insides tensed like iron. The magic seal was weak. It would break. He focused and breathed in and out. Owen watched him, aware that he was trying to break the seal, but could not figure out how to help. Owen fidgeted under Samuel’s tight grip. Samuel watched Leroy Robin’s smile open and babble.
“I’ll be leaving here, since I know I won’t last much longer. I’m also sure your magician friend might very well be able to cast spells anyways despite our precautionary measures. Thus let us move quickly. Princess Linde, please come with me.”
Three soldiers walked towards her. She drew her blade.
“Put the sword away.”
The guns peered at her face, her gut, her legs. She dropped her sword. The clatter rang about the boxes and dusty air.
“You can’t do this,” growled Lemming “Stay back!”
“We’re not afraid to open fire,” Robin said. “In fact, we might at any moment. I would suggest silence.”
Linde stepped forward. “Where will you take me?” she asked.
“To Raymond Perrin,” Robin responded. “You’re to accompany me there. Come on.”
With Leroy Robin at the head, Linde, with two soldiers at her side and one at her back. They jabbed her with the tips of their guns, making Samuel flinch and General Lemming boil with fury. As they walked to the door, Samuel suddenly remembered Anna’s word and the death of Luci, the death of Lucienne Robin.
“Leroy Robin!” shouted Samuel. “Who is your daughter with white hair?”
He saw the silhouette of Robin pause in the doorframe. Owen saw Evander gasping and gripping his own wrist.
“Where is she?” Samuel yelled. He could see Robin’s figure quake even in the shallow light. “What’s the tower she’s locked in? Who is she?!”
The wooden door shut. Samuel stared at it, wishing the answer to come slipping back through the white cracks.
Evander shuddered as he mounted pressure on the seal. Something had to give.
“Steady!” a voice shouted. It came from somewhere along the circle of soldiers. Samuel swung around searching for it and but steel guns were all that he could see. “Spare the boys but kill the men.”
“Fire in four,” the voice ordered, calm in its dispensing of death “Three. Two.”
Evander gasped and a searing flame snapped out of his body and radiated outward scorching the soldiers. Guns clattered and men began to run. Some still fired but Evander caught the bullets in a thick web and knocked them back. He knocked open a trail out of the flames, a carven path of gray from the red, to the door.
“Let’s go!” he shouted.
Owen took the lead to the door, shivering as angry flame torched inches from both of his shoulders. Samuel bolted behind, eyes wide as the flames arched around his head and still did not reach down to burn him. He passed through the door and left the fire blazing behind.
Samuel and Owen ran out of the courtyard and a few blocks away. They halted and leaned over their knees, as Samuel wiped sweat from his forehead and neck. Lemming came up behind him, and then Evander.
“Is that warehouse going to burn down?” Samuel asked him.
Evander shook his pale head. “I’ve put it out. We’re safe now. I’m sorry for putting you boys through that. That was a bad situation.”
Lemming put a hand on his forehead. “These men are more dangerous than we imagined. Let’s quickly return to the townhouse.”
“This could be worse,” Evander said.
Samuel glanced at him. After all his effort, he did not even seem tired.
“Lady Syrene should be here tomorrow,” Lemming agreed, “and we’ll release the Princess. Perrin’s obviously trying to use her as a hostage to get back support from our enemies in the Empire. We’ll see who’s help arrives first.”
“Samuel, what was that about his daughter?” Evander asked.
Samuel glanced at the brick buildings wallow past. He still felt the heat of the fire simmering on his skin. “I don’t know much more than I said. He has a white-haired daughter, locked in a tower. Is Linde going to be all right?”
“She’ll be just fine,” Lemming said. “We’ll be able to save her very soon. We’ll get men on it right away. You two stay away—don’t get mixed up in this business again.” He glared at Evander.
Evander meekly nodded. As he and Lemming dropped Samuel and Owen off at the Perrin townhouse, he gave Owen a sly wink.