The Best of the Mage (Page 48 and 49)

TheBestoftheMage_1987_8_028.pdf

Dublin Core

Title

The Best of the Mage (Page 48 and 49)

Subject

Science Fiction

Description

These pages describe the continuation story of The Dwarf That Knew Too Much by Harry Dolan.

Creator

Rizky Suwoto

Source

The Best of the Mage (Number 8, Fall 1987)

Publisher

Colgate University Student Association

Date

Fall 1987

Rights

The Georgia Tech Archives and Records Management Department has made every effort to secure proper permissions for posting items on the web site. In this instance, however, it has either not been possible to identify or contact the current copyright owner. If you have information regarding the copyright owner, please contact us at archives-copyright@library.gatech.edu

Format

paper

Language

English

Type

Science Fiction

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Text

waited silently, caressing his mug. I took a stiff belt of chocolate and began. "The Kirinjis killed him of course. Ever since we defeated them in the War they've wanted revenge, and for years their troops have raided farms and villages in our outlying territories. But a few months ago the raids ceased, and we began to hope for peace and friendly relations. There was talk of renewing trade between our two kingdoms, and some even spoke of an alliance. Last week the new Kirinji ambassador arrived with his retainers and was welcomed into the palace. The king hailed his arrival as the beginning of a new era of cooperation and brotherhood. He was taken in, everyone was taken in. "Only Prince Farris saw through our enemies' clever front. He wanted to double the guard on the royal family and post Elites outside the chambers where the Kirinjis stayed. But the king wouldn't hear of it. He wanted to demonstrate his faith in our new friends and feared to insult them. I remained the sole guardian of the young prince from three hours before midnight until an hour after, when one of my comrades would take over. It was a duty I had performed for most of the child's short life, and his father knew me, trusted me. No Elites were assigned to the ambassador, only a pair of Palace Regulars intended to insure his safety and the safety of his staff. "Such was the state of affairs five nights ago. I was present when the prince's mother kissed him good night, and after she had left I wished him sweet dreams. I remember I called him 'Little Wizard' because only a few days before he had been given his very first instruction in the magical arts. He hoped one day to be a powerful mage, but he was only a boy, a little boy .... " I was not crying: it was just the damned pipe-smoke that drifted into our damned booth and stung my damned eyes. "He was sleeping with the tiny gray and white puppy that he'd gotten for his eighth birthday from the Archmage of Saldari-his magic puppy ....
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"I waited until they were both off to sleep and then took up my position outside the door. The scent of the oil lamps that illuminated the hallway was sweetly familiar. I stood, I paced, I passed the time, somehow, as I always had. I think I may have hummed, but perhaps it was only music in my mind. It was a few minutes past midnight when I noticed that the end of the hall had turned dark. One of the lights around the comer had gone out. I lit a taper from the lamp by the prince's door and went to investigate, drawing my sword without thinking. "When I rounded the comer I saw him: a Kirinji, all swaddled from head to toe in those brown wraps that they wear. Only his eyes were exposed. He swung at me with one of those fancy tripleedged swords. I parried, then let the taper fall and took my weapon in both hands. There was silence for a moment as we circled each other, feinting, looking for openings. He slashed at me again, but I stepped back. At that point everything went dark, and I thought the taper had burned out, but I guess another Kirinji had come up behind me. The last thing I heard was the prince's puppy barlcing." I shook my head slowly and forced the last words out. "I woke up in ihe palace barracks and learned that the Little Wizard was dead. The entire Kirinji delegation had been executed." My mug was empty, but the dwarf pushed his across the table and I accepted it. "One minor point," he said. "You never mentioned how you got that cut." I took a moment to consider that. "I don't remember exactly. One of the Kirinji 's blows must have scored, but I was so charged up during the fight, I guess I didn't feel it." The dwarf nodded, and I lifted his mug in a mock toast. "Here's to the R.E.G., the 'Pretty Guard' they call it-but I'm not pretty anymore." I rubbed my cheek and added softly, "I'll miss the men, though: my comrades, my brothers."
The dwarf leaned back and folded his arms across his chest, contemplating a spot of wax on the tabletop. After a while I stood up and collected our mugs. "Another?" I asked him. "No," he said, rising from his seat to leave. "I have a funeral to attend tomorrow. Will you be going?" "I don't think I'd be welcome." "Mmm. I should like to meet you here afterward." Then he added mysteriously, "I suspect we might have more to discuss." "I'll be here," I said, "faithfully standing guard over a cup of hot chocolate."
Bertrand the Yellow was snoring. Mephistopheles hadn't stirred, hadn't touched his coffee. The crowd was thinning faster than Ace's hair, and I was back at the bar. All that mushy stuff with the dwarf had made me thirsty and put me in a foul mood. Ace didn't help any. "I can't have no Pretty Guard comin' into my place," he said, all in a hush as if there were anyone left sober enough to overhear. "Former Pretty Guard," I snapped back. "And how the hell did you know?" "I got ears." "And they're cute little things too, Ace. One of these days you should have 'em bronzed." "This ain't funny," he spat. "Whatcha been do in', han gin' around here all these months? Spyin' on me?" "You're an arrogant crook, Ace," I said, shaking my head. "Why would they send a Royal Elite to keep an eye on you?" He smirked. "If you don't know, I ain't sayin'. But I still don't get it. Why are you here? Why hang out in a dive like this when you can afford better?" Before I could answer I heard an inhuman shriek. Spinning around, I saw that the candle on Bertie's table had burned down to a nub and ignited Mephistopheles' tail. The cat leapt up, splashing coffee on his master. He made a wild, fiery circuit of the room before dashing out the side exit. In a panic, the yellow wizard
followed his flaming familiar into the alley. "Aunosphere," I said, responding to Ace's question. "This joint's got atmosphere."
* * *
"Did you know the prince's throat was cut?" the dwarf asked me. He had rushed into Ace's a few moments before, straight from the funeral, carrying something long and narrow bundled up in a cloth. "They told me," I said, nodding. I didn't really care to go into the gory details. "Doesn't that strike you as odd?" I shrugged. "That's the usual way, isn't it?" "Hmmm. Maybe it is and maybe it isn't. I suppose it would depend on who's doing the assassinating. But let me show you what I'm getting at." The dwarf set his bundle on the bar and unwrapped it. "The boy's throat was slashed with this." Laying amidst the folds of cloth, the Kirinji swort sword seemed smaller than I remembered. It's blade was an exaggerated tetrahedron. The three sharp edges came together in a sharper point, and there were gutters on each of the sides to let the blood flow. "This was on display near the young boy's coffin," he said, his eyes narrowing in disgust. "Your people have some curious customs." "How did you get-?" "I pinched it when no one was looking," he said, "naturally." He fingered the cloth; it had a checkered pattern, richly colored in red and turquoise. "This is a sample of my merchandise." He smiled. "You like?" . I ignored him and didn't even ask why he had been peddling his wares at a royal funeral. Heck, I figured the author could never explain that one. "So what's the deal?'' I said, annoyed by the distraction. "The Kirinji bastards used this to slice the kid's throat. . . . " "That's the deal," the dwarf said fiercely. "This little poker
wasn't made for slashing throats. It wasn't made for slashing anything. It's got a keen edge, sure-hell, it's got three of them-but it's a stabbing weapon, designed to make a hole that'll stay open and bleed." "Are you saying this isn't the sword that killed the prince?" "No, I'm sure it is. I didn't say it couldn't be used to cut; I only said it wasn't intended for that. Only someone who wasn't trained with the weapon would use it that way. It's like pinning up a hem with a needle: it works, but that's not what a good tailor uses a needle for-he uses it to sew." "That's an awfully fine distinction." "Yes, but it's a critical one." He pointed a stubby finger at me. "When you were attacked that night did your opponent ever stab at you?" I went through the battle again in my mind. "Maybe once; mostly he swung." "I gathered as much from your account. That's what aroused my suspicion." "But listen," I protested. "What could be easier than slitting a sleeping prince's throat? Would a Kirinji have really bothered to stab it instead?" "He might have, but there's more than one way to kill a man when he's asleep, or laying helpless. A Kirinji usually thrusts up under the ribs and into the heart." The dwarf picked up the sword and demonstrated, skewering a fold of checkered fabric. "Just as neat, just as effective, and he can pat himself on the back for knowing anatomy so well." He replaced the weapon and took up his mug, finishing it off and looking for Ace. The barman was halfway down the bar, pretending to count the money in his cashbox, but I knew he was listening. I swallowed and looked into a pair of gray dwarven eyes, not wanting to ask the next question. "If the Kirinjis didn't kill the boy, who did?" He upended his mug and slapped it down. "The Royal Elite Guard, of course," he answered. "Not the entire Guard; you were
obviously not in on the plot. I would guess that only a few were involved, but I'm sure that Prince Farris arranged it. He may have actually handled the murder himself. As second in line for the kingship, he certainly had an interest in seeing that it was done right." I shifted on my stool, and the dwarf sensed my discomfort. "I realize it is difficult to accept," he said, "but we must consider the facts. In addition to motive Farris had ample opportunity, and the Kirinji made excellent scapegoats. Their clothing and weapons could be easily obtained, and their summary execution after the assassination would never be questioned. Farris probably realized that his actions might lead to war, but Kirinj had been defeated once: it could be defeated again. "The clue that confirms my theory is that scar upon your cheek. You couldn't account for receiving it during your fight because it was inflicted after, while you lay unconscious. Let me explain. Your assailants could not bring themselves to finish you off: you were their comrade. There was a strange loyalty at work on that treacherous night, the kind of loyalty that allows one to kill a prince but not a brother. Still, it was prudent that you should be gotten out of the way. You might have been dismissed in any event, for failing to defend your young charge; but that would have meant an investigation. It was so much easier to trace that simple cut on your cheek; it would disqualify you from the Elite Guard, no inquiry necessary." He paused to catch his breath. "One last thing. Your comrades were rather interested in my investigation at the funeral today. I don't believe they saw me steal this sword- in fact, when I left its disappearance had not yet been detected-but they caught me snooping around the prince's open casket. I had tried to be discreet, but it was necessary that I examine the fatal wound, and the collar of the lad's burial robe was most inconvenient ... well, needless to say, the Guards did not appreciate my curiosity. I think they would
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