Often the Answers to Mysteries Are Hidden in the Smallest Things
“You had him…”
“You had him in your house, in your territory, and you let him go?”
“What was I supposed to do? Kidnap him and tie him to my kitchen table?”
“That was going to be your only chance to put a stop to him, James. He’s not going to come back to you.”
“Well, I bloody hope not,” James agreed, nodding patiently at Timothy Lariat, who was getting redder and redder as he blustered. “Having him in my house was a bit harrowing. He thought about attacking me.”
“Thought about it?”
“He reconsidered. Wisely.” James had told Ron that Sam had made as if to attack him during their talk, but that James had convinced him not to bother. Ron wondered exactly what that meant, but James was unhurt, which was all he cared about.
“And next time he decides to attack you,” Timothy said, leaning forward and nearly putting his arm in the soup that Ron had made, “he’ll do it from afar and you won’t have the chance to retaliate!”
James smiled at Timothy. “If you knew me better, you’d know that I don’t retaliate, Timothy. Solomon is dead, and he’s the one we were worried about. Sam is just a scared kid who can’t control his own power.”
“And when he can?” Jezebel Threefinger asked, tapping the table. “He won’t be scared forever. People rarely are.”
“You’d be surprised,” James told her. “I don’t think we should attack him unprovoked. He’s never done anything to us.”
“Yet,” Timothy emphasized. “He hasn’t done anything to us yet. But he will.”
“And even if he doesn’t,” Cassiopeia added, “we can’t just let him have the stone over there at the bottom of the world like that. It doesn’t belong to him.”
“Anymore than ours belongs to me, I know,” James said, and Ron frowned at him. “But we’re not within our rights to take it from him either. Contact the other sorcerers. He might be more willing to work with them than his predecessor.”
“I wonder,” Cameron mused. “When Solomon died.”
“Sam didn’t say,” James told her, watching carefully.
“The reason I wonder is that there was an attack on the northern capital not long ago. An attempt was made to access the mage’s Vault where they keep their stone, by a man possessed by a centipede. A similar attempt was made last year.” Cameron affixed James with a look. “If Solomon ordered that, fine. But if Sam did, then we can’t say he’s harmless. There was a demon attack at the same time—something I have it on good authority Solomon never trafficked in.”
“You think Sam is trying to outdo his father?”
“That’s what boys do, isn’t it?” Cameron asked.
James shrugged. Ron had never tried to outdo his father, though he supposed there’d been a point when he’d been younger when he’d hoped to be a better swordsman than him someday.
“There is also the concern that the queen of Kyaine’s brother-in-law has been abducted by the Sorcerer King,” Obadiah said mournfully. “He has been missing for a good while now and that’s where he was headed.”
“In addition,” Cassiopeia added, thoughtful. “Just recently there was an attack on the man I told you about before, Theodore. The one who was trying to acquire stones. Someone sent killers into his house.”
“Is he alive?”
“Yes, but they were serious, and he said they were after the stones—of which he has two, he’s apparently the one who stole the wizard’s stone. When I asked him, he told me he’s trying to protect them from Solomon, which if that’s true, means there’s a likely candidate for his attacker. And that happened after you summoned us to this meeting.”
“That means there have been attacks on most of the stones recently,” James muttered, sipping at his tea.
“On all of them,” Ron reminded him, though he wasn’t supposed to speak. The witches all looked at him, and he raised his eyebrow at James. “You were attacked too, and they wanted the stone, remember?” His chest buzzed a little in memory.
James looked at Ron for a long moment, but he sighed, a resigned look on his face. “Yes. That’s true.”
“So it seems like Sam is resorting to more direct violence than did his father to get the stones,” Cassiopeia said. “And you don’t think this bears doing something about?”
“You people,” James reminded the table, as Ron bristled at the tone, “were the ones who wanted to get a coalition together with the other magic-practitioners. What’s taking so long? I’m not going to storm his castle on my own.”
“It took the attack to roust the archmage from his stupor,” Cameron said. “But he’s committed now. Incidentally, James, I’ll need you to come visit us in the academy in a few weeks. You need to meet their chosen one.”
“There are some things I think you can teach him.”
James looked at her for a moment, and something seemed to pass between them before James nodded. “Okay. If you insist.”
“I rather do,” Cameron said, expression even. Ron wondered why it was that witches couldn’t ever just say things.
“It would be best,” Obadiah said, “if the academy could serve as the staging ground for the offensive. The wizards down south are already sending an envoy up north as well, and it’s the mages with the best institutional setup, and the ear of the northern king.”
“It would make more sense for the organization to be done down south,” Jezebel said. “The Fury Plateau is part of Kyaine.”
“There’s been some political unrest there lately,” Cassiopeia said, nodding at Obadiah. “And Obadiah is right. It makes the most sense for the academy to organize it. We should be trying to get in touch with the sorcerer clans as well and having them participate.”
“I have a lead on that,” Cameron said, nodding. “Not to worry.”
“What lead?” James asked.
“I’ve befriended a sorcerer, one who already wants to stop Solomon. I’ll get her to contact the other clans, I expect they’ll listen to her.”
James nodded, watching Cameron carefully. “Okay. And as for us, we’ll have to help too.”
“All of us,” Jezebel said, nodding as well. “We can’t sit back and let the others do all the work—not when we’re the ones who started it.”
“Arguably, we should be taking a leadership role in all this,” Timothy said, leaning forward on the table again. “It’s been us saying this all along, and it’s you that Sam came to with this information.”
“It doesn’t matter who’s in charge as long as we knock the Sorcerer King off his throne,” Cassiopeia said to Timothy, gently. “What matters is all of us working together. That’s what we’re going to need to win here, especially if he’s got contracts with demons.”
“Should we draw in this Theodore of yours?” James asked Cassiopeia. Ron was really impressed with how, despite saying the Coven table was a circle of equals, James effortlessly led the conversation in a way that was clear he was in charge. “Assuming he’s telling the truth about being opposed to Solomon—and presumably Sam.”
Cassiopeia made a noise, nodding. “I think it can’t hurt. He’s…not the most pleasant person, Theodore. Not who I’d have chosen to be on our side, that’s for sure. But he’s got a lot of resources. He’s…distracted at the moment, but once he’s recovered I’ll talk to him about joining the party.”
“If he’s serious about protecting the stones, at the very least he should be talked into releasing them into the custody of someone who can actually do it,” Cameron said. “Though the same could be said for the archmage and his stone. I’m not convinced he’s the best person to be sitting on it—he’s hoping to bind it to his chosen one and I don’t think the reasons are entirely altruistic.”
“Impress upon him how dangerous it is,” Timothy suggested. “Surely he doesn’t want to kill the boy by mistake.”
“Surely,” Cameron agreed, in a tone that suggested that was anything but sure. “In any case, I have a handle on him, and on the sorcerers. Let’s focus on getting this little shit off his throne before he kills someone we like?”
James nodded, watching the table as he had been all morning. He was looking for a traitor, Ron knew. Whether he’d found one yet Ron didn’t know, but he was sure James would tell him when he did. “I agree, if you all think that’s best. We can’t let him or the people who work for him hurt anyone else. Speaking of which, let’s talk about my mother.”
The Coven meeting went on all day. Ron stood there behind James all day, supporting him as best he could.