If there was a downside to his clever trick, it would be that the child became steadily more unruly as they proceeded deeper into the capital.
Fueled by a sudden reserve of energy, the young halfling kept slipping out of the mage’s arms at the most inconvenient moment.
Had this been the capital of long ago, this would not have been a problem. The townsfolk would have taken more care upon spotting a child running about in the street. Azul desperately chased down the spry halfling, keeping him out of the path of advancing horses and carts, and away from ledges and other dangers for a small child.
When he finally had secured the boy back in his arms, Azul scolded him.
His crossness was rewarded with a huge outpouring of tears. The mage quickly found a side street to take instead of the main road, away from the pointed stares of other elves.
Azul found himself desperately rocking the boy back and forth in his arms as they made their way under arches and turrets.
As much as Azul tried to interest the child in his surroundings, the boy refused to look up. The child buried his head in the elf’s chest, ruining yet another fine shirt.
The elf sighed at the loss, wondering what to do.
There was little to admire about these shops and homes. The once green buildings were bare of vine and trees that had once clung to them. They stood in cold, sharp contrast to the garden in which the elf and boy had first met.
It had not always been so, or Azul told him. With a sing-song voice, Azul narrated a long story that described the Golden City as it had once been — full of hanging gardens and fairies who tended them. And he told the halfling child it was so beautiful that even the Lady Elisa had been impressed.
That small story quieted the boy’s tears as they passed under a small stone pedestrian bridge from which the current king’s banner was suspended. And the boy pointed up and laughed.
Azul’s eyes took in the lion and unicorn insignia, woven into the purple fabric. For a brief moment, his eyes narrowed, reflecting contempt.
The royal line once had both these warring creatures’ favor. But the lions had long disappeared into the mythos of the old races. And the last of the unicorn halflings that had once graced King Arin’s court eventually drifted away from the city.
While his successor had reflected a deep knowledge of ancient texts and ideas, Vincens had proved his interest was selective. For a while he took care of the unicorns and fairies as his father had.
When he temporarily turned his eye towards the Garden and its lovely princess, many thought he would further his father’s legacy of caring for the weaker and smaller of the magic folk. However, the lure of the sea proved too strong for Vincens and soon he was back rebuilding that summer castle upon the sea.
The innocent creatures were neglected in similar painful fashion as Azul’s grandmother and her litany of fellow wives. They were abandoned for something or someone who was far more alluring than the capital and its treasures.
The mage did not stop to admire the banner even when the child asked him to do. Instead, Azul turned right and followed a long set of stone steps that hugged a stone wall.
Shadows stretched towards them as they began their descent deeper into the city to where neither sun nor fairy would shine.
Conn began to whimper in alarming fashion.
His pretend father paused on the steps and sat down with the boy. He tried reason and bribes but the boy would not stop shivering.
Azul was left with no other choice except to once again sing.
To the untrained ear,the music was like a sad lullaby. But he had risked the use of a strong spell that induced sleep.
With the boy snoring gently against his chest, Azul quickly deliberated what to do next. He could attempt to hire passage on a boat before the guard said too much to the wrong people. But the damage to his reputation might be worse when he returned.
Instead of going towards the docks, the wizard proceeded towards the old part of the capital city. He kept listening for the tell-tale hum that would signal the approach of a flock of fairies.
But nothing came while they made their way towards the huge spire that lay at the center of the old town. Inside that watchtower that stretched to the sky, he’d find the Weird Ones.
There were still many keepers of books and treasures, but none could match these siblings’ compulsive interest in the fates of others. Like the witches of some ancient mythology, the three sages were obsessed with the paths of specific persons who they thought to be somehow marked or cursed to live out tales defined in the worlds’ libraries.
They had become even more reclusive after the passing of the legendary bard, refusing to leave the inner tower for any summons — even one from King Vincens.
Their reasons were never openly discussed in front of Azul, in whom the blood of royals stirred. However, he had overheard news of a falling out with the King for some reason or another. Many in the tower believed that the failure of magic to thrive in the capital was the fault of the current king.
But the seers and mages were among an unhappy minority in the capital. There had not been any threat of war or disease for many years. The capital was prosperous and strong. And so the people did not care for the criticism by the wise ones and turned their backs upon their counsel.
As for the royal family itself, none dared speak out while the matter of succession had yet to be decided.
Azul walked the old capital road, relieved to find at least a flower or two along its side. He was glad to find signs of life here — some sign that the magic in this place was not gone.
But he was worried — for the spring should have brought much more growth. A suspicion planted itself in his mind — an idea that the world’s favor had shifted dramatically during the eclipse and towards the upstart Queen of Swans.
His thoughts were interrupted by a timid greeting. “Good evening, sir!”
In the middle of the path ahead a figure stood in a hooded robe.
Azul studied the simple cut of the white robe. The trim on the robe consisted of one colored line — red, for the study of medicine and healing arts. The one blocking his way was but a child.
“Teacher,” the young boy stammered out when Azul sighed. “You are back so soon.”
Azul blinked slowly while he searched his mind for the novice’s name. He could not remember and smiled brightly, hoping the elf would not mind. “I bring an initiate to the tower,” Azul lied.
“That was what the master said you were doing,” the boy’s eyes brightened, suitably impressed. “He sent me to fetch you. He’s in the upper tower today.”
Azul’s eyes drifted up along the spire towards the tiny windows that looked back upon the city. He winced, knowing full well that it would be a long climb. “Is your master alone?”
“No,” the novice said politely. “His sisters are with him. And they gave me this.” The younger elf held out a long sash of scarlet fabric. “It’s high and your charge might run off the steps.”
They both frowned at that most unpleasant image.
“Very well,” Azul accepted the cloth, more than grateful that Conn was still asleep. The wizard readjusted everything he was carrying in order to secure the child to his back.
When he had concluded his preparations, his young escort lightly ran ahead, intent on leading his elder along the staircase that perversely winded around the tower. Those who took up residence inside had always more interested in the rest of the world or their books than interacting with the denizens of the city below. In all the years the tower had stood, not one effort had been made to protect its only access point from the elements.
Their climb was silent. Neither elf would dare distract themselves with unnecessary conversation while the wind gusted around them and tore at their heels.
The guide’s only words came when they arrived at the top of the stairs. He shouted for the door to be opened.
When it did, it swallowed the novice whole.
Nervously, Azul made sure the child on his back was safely secured and followed.
He stepped into a shadowy room, lit only by the remnants of the sunlight disappearing to the west underneath the sea. Azul’s eyes quickly sought out the “master.” He looked past the mirrored table whose surface reflected the light of the sky above them and found three figures seated across from him.
Two of the three were calmly sipping a cup of tea. Much to the wizard’s irritation, the third was noisily smacking his lips and dropping crumbs all over the floor.
Azul bowed out of habitual politeness. “Good evening Master Isra.”
The wiseman put down his cookie on the table and grinned at the annoyed elf. “Now to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, Azul… or is it now Prince Azurite?” His eyes fell to the child, safely clasped in the elven prince’s arms. “And who have you brought for us to see?”
Vote incentive: Long unpacking of random symbolic elements, notes, and crack doodle of you know who.