After the few days I took to recover from the occurrences at the Baths, my Lord Astor was summoned by the King.
Sir Astor came into the room I was putting in order, his room, and told me he had been summoned by the King. I looked at my master with a puzzled look. Why was he mentioning this to me?
Sir Astor, as I have said before, needed very few words to convey his thoughts. With one look he gave me, I knew immediately that the King might have heard about me.
I came close to Sir Astor. 'Do not worry - Andril; trust me as you always have done,' he told me softly, passing a gentle hand over my face.
'As always - my Lord; I do,' I answered and we kissed.
The fact that I had the spark had been kept hidden from the people at Court. This was because an untrained magician, known as a 'wilder', was something no one wanted to deal with. However, my Lord Astor had not decided yet to let me go into the Mages' Keep to start my training as a Mage. Possibly, he was afraid to lose me.
It had been his brother Ernell, a magician of high rank, that had said to Astor that I could be a resource in handling Gawain's situation.
I was not too sure how a mere boy from the countryside could be of any use to princes and lords, aside from sharing their bed; but Ernell Lightray was a High Mage and probably knew best. Any time that my Lord Astor and I met him, he would look at me with those mesmerizing eyes and I ended up feeling uneasy. Although, since the night at the Baths, Ernell had not asked again that we meet for sexual encounters. He seemed afraid of me.
I watched Sir Astor exit his rooms and I continued doing my chores till I had to go down to the laundry rooms and take some new linen to change the bed. I packed the old sheets and then made my way through the palace. My stay with Sir Astor at the palace these few months did not allow me to make many friends. Most of the young men my age were soldiers and my duties did not allow me to go anywhere near them. I was at the service of Sir Astor, though, and this allowed me to have a few privileges at the Palace.
This was not to say that I had no friends at all! I had befriended the cook and a few of the kitchen staff. The Chief Cook, a matron called Belinda, had immediately become attached to me and always allowed me to have an apple or two, whenever I came to the kitchens to bring my Lord some food. Then, there was Wiley, a wiry and funny sort of guy, who took care of the stores and who was married to one of the lower butlers; he and I often exchanged some gossip, since he seemed to be informed about everything that happened in the Palace - thanks to his spouse.
Nadine and Samantha ran the laundry and I had also found out they were married and had two children: Billie and Sam. Sam, short for Samantha, was three years old and ran around the laundry room - always getting into trouble by discovering new hiding spots, sending the two mothers into screams of outrage at how impossible she was; while Billie, short for Sibylla - who was ten - liked to sit outside the laundry house and play her pipes with amazing skill. Billie had told me one day that, when she will be older, she would become one of the Bards of Aquileia.
Today, as I neared the laundry house, I heard Billie play her pipes so sweetly that the birds seemed to gather around her and sing with her. The blonde ten year old girl was playing this minor air that was breathtakingly beautiful and for a moment I stopped and listened.
I closed my eyes and listened to the melody, which reminded me of the music I had heard at the Baths not too long ago. Like the child's tune, also that music had been hauntingly beautiful. I forced myself to recall it and then I heard it again. I opened my eyes and the music seemed to flow out of me - haunting and slow. Time seemed to stop and my body seemed weightless. I opened my arms welcoming the music and found that a swarm of butterflies was dancing around me.
The show was impressive. I heard the girl's music go on and I attuned the music I was making to the melody of the girl; suddenly, the two melodies met and the butterflies around me surrounded also the girl who was sitting on a rock - not too far away from me.
Our music grew in intensity, as if by magic, and then birds and small furry animals came out of the bushes to hear our song. All stood enchanted by our incredible music. After a few minutes, we stopped and the music receded within me.
Billie looked at me with her blue eyes and smiled, 'I knew there was a reason I liked you - Master Andril,' the girl said. 'You - too - can call the animals with music.'
I came close to the girl and squatted beside her, 'It seems so, doesn't it?' I said a bit puzzled; 'May I ask you to keep this to ourselves? It will be our little secret.'
Billie nodded and I told her I would try to come by a bit more often so we could call the animals with music again. Billie seemed really happy about that.
When I returned to my Lord's chambers, Sir Astor had not come back yet. I was really puzzled about what was happening at the King's Court, which concerned my future. Suddenly, I heard the music again and for a moment I felt dizzy.
The music did not stop. It was again that hauntingly beautiful tune that wanted to come out. I sat on one of the chairs and held my head. I had a lot to do and I could not spend my time listening to music; my Lord would be back some time soon. Still, the music did not want to go away and I stopped fighting it and suddenly I found myself outside of my own body.
I was scared and confused and not a little sick. Had I died? I could still hear the music and I tried to take control over my emotions. I thought about Sir Astor; suddenly, I was in the Great Hall near him.
I called out his name but he did not hear me. The music sort of receded to the background and I could hear what they were saying.
King Xeron was sitting on his throne. In the great hall, the people present - apart from the king - were: Sir Astor; Ernell, his brother; Duke Aurelius Julii of Merigis, the Prime Chancellor of Abaron: a very distinguished man; Duke Gabor Seczenyi of Serment, the High General of the Holy Abaran Army and also Head of the Order of the Knights of the Wolf: a very imposing man; then, there was Count Savar Patharil of Samsara, Chief Advisor to the King; His Holiness Eamann Daghrail, Pope of Abaron; His Arcaneship Jeron Demirez, Archmage of Abaron and, last but not least, Prince Consort Evert Soulfire of Aquileia.
King Xeron looked very old. Despite of this, he was still quite an imposing figure. The other members of the council were seated on armchairs in front of the king. I appeared to be right next to Sir Astor whose armchair was on the left side of the King's, facing the rest of the people. On the King's right, there was his Consort.
Evert Soulfire was also an aged man. He sported a cropped beard that made him look slightly satiric but this was purposefully done to illude outsiders. He was the Head of Intelligence in Abaron and quite an intelligent and smart person. He was of an old house native to the lands of Aquileia. If Abaron had successfully expanded, as it had in the last few centuries, it had been because of the Soulfire and Lightray clans who had worked together to keep the kingdom alive and prosperous.
Savar Patharil was an elderly man whose dark skin placed him from the southern provinces, along the coasts of the Inner Sea. Eamann Daghrail, the Pope, was an old man yet his gaze belied great savvy and wisdom and the true power of a Cleric: the power of faith. Next to him was Jeron Demirez - the Archmage. Both were quite wise in each of their fields and, despite being often at odds, now seemed equally worried.
All these impressions hit me as strange. I knew little of these people yet I seemed to understand who and what they were with the greatest of ease. Soon, though, all my wondering was stopped by King Xeron speaking.
'Has a cure for my son been found yet?' he asked.
A few seconds of silence followed; then, 'No - Sire; we have failed to understand the reason why Prince Gawain cannot beget a child,' said the Archmage.
'I fail to understand Your Majesty's concern with Gawain's inability to reproduce - Sire,' said the Pope. 'After all, this, per your laws, does not hinder his ascendancy to the throne; and when the time comes, another prince heir can be chosen, descending from one of his brothers or even from the Soulfire clan,' he added.
The King and his Consort exchanged looks. 'It is time we told you of a secret that must not leave this room,' said the King.
He looked at his consort and motioned for him to continue: 'Many years ago,' Evert Soulfire began, 'a Druidess of Losfaloth came to Aquileia.' At the mention of a Druidess, both the Pope and the Archmage, including Ernell, seemed surprised. The Druids were not native to Abaron but to one of the neighboring kingdoms: the Kingdom of the Enchanted Forest of Losfaloth.
'She brought news from one of the Druidic Oracles in her land,' Evert continued, 'who had prophesied that, when one of the princes of Abaron will fail to beget a child, strife and dark times will fall upon this kingdom. She mentioned a darkness rising in the South of the world and that one will come out of this kingdom to lead it into a great war, which will unite all the Northern Lands under one banner. She also said words that, to this day, we do not understand,' he said. 'She said: 'Never mention this to anyone till the wilder has come to Aquileia.' We do not know who this wilder may be or if he is in town; but we surely cannot keep this hidden any longer. A cure for Gawain must be found or we are all at risk.'
At the mention of the word wilder I saw Ernell look at Astor and I felt my lord grow tense. Something seemed to pass between the two brothers, unnoticed by the others, who were still pondering the meaning of the words of the Oracle. Astor briefly shook his head. I clearly felt his fear.
Ernell's gaze in response seemed disapproving. His blue gaze bored into his older brother but he kept his silence.
'A wilder is a rare thing - Your Majesty,' said the Archmage. 'They do not live long without training. Their magic soon overwhelms them and they go crazy. Few are those that have managed to survive. To my knowledge, there are none alive today.'
'Master, this may be true; unless they were to possess an incredible source of magic within them,' said Ernell, looking at Astor briefly.
'Yes, my dear child,' said the Archmage, laying a hand on his pupil's knee, 'but even so, the stronger his potential, the sooner he will die if not properly trained.'
The Pope, no inept fool, asked Ernell, 'Is there a possibility that you might know of the whereabouts of exactly such a person - who still lives?'
Ernell's face did not betray any emotion and denied any knowledge of it. He again looked at Astor who had visibly become agitated. Ernell's slight smile clearly told his elder brother that he owed him one. Astor took a deep breath and spoke: 'Father, I believe we should call Gawain, Beral and the rest of the family together and discuss sending an envoy to Losfaloth. They may have the answers we seek.'
King Xeron and his Consort exchanged another of their glances and then the King nodded. 'It seems like a good idea - after all,' he said. 'If we cannot come up with a solution - fast; I suppose asking the Druids will not hurt.'
At the suggestion of Astor to call upon the Druids, both the Archmage and the Pope made a slight grimace. Mages and Clerics never really agreed on anything; except on the fact that Druids were no good.
As the King and his Consort rose from their seats, Andril felt the music die completely and he jumped back into his own body. So, he thought, I am going to die if I do not learn to use this power. My lord and I will need to talk about this.
It did not take long for Sir Astor to return to his rooms. Andril was waiting for him with a refreshing drink.
'How did you know I'd be so thirsty?' asked the man.
'My lord should know, by now, I am no simple farm boy,' answered Andril.
Sir Astor nearly choked on his drink; he coughed a bit, accepted a handkerchief from Andril and cleaned his chin. Then, he raised his intense gaze to fix Andril. 'What did you just say?' he asked.
Andril told him that he had heard what had been said in the throne room. He told Astor exactly all that happened that had gotten him there, in the first place. Astor could hardly believe his ears.
'You have to stop using your powers - Andril,' he said. 'They might....'
'Yes, they might kill me - I know,' Andril completed the sentence. 'It might be useful to know how to stop the magic coming over me so suddenly; but it seems I do not control it - as yet.'
'Have you tried resisting it?' Astor asked.
Andril nodded and told his master that, the more he tried not wanting to use it, the stronger the magic became and finally engulfed him. 'Besides,' he told Astor, 'it wakes up only in specific circumstances, like when I am overly excited: when I am with you.'
'That is exactly why I am sending you to Losfaloth with Ernell and I am not coming,' said Astor.