Nathan Theoretically, this is true.
Cullen It is not.
Nathan I say it is.
Cullen I say, in theory, you’re an idiot.
Catherine Turns out, in life, he’s an idiot, too.
Nathan HEY! No one asked you, wench!
Hello, Your Highness. How are you today?
Catherine Oh, please, just Catherine. Nathan and I never put much importance on the whole King and Queen thing. It’s just something we had to do, don’t enjoy much, but sometimes you have to do things you don’t like. Would you care for some tea?
Why, thank you! So why you don’t enjoy being Queen?
Catherine Well, I don’t like to complain, and there are certain privileges that it affords. But it is a lot of work. Nathan and I would have been perfectly happy just living with the others at the Keep and making a life for ourselves there. Still, Rowan needed us, so that’s what we did.
You seem to take it more seriously than Nathan does.
Catherine Oh, I wouldn’t say that. That’s just the way Nathan unloads the stress of the job. It’s like when you’re upset and you say “It doesn’t matter,” when you know perfectly well it does. If Nathan didn’t really take the job to heart, Rowan would not be in the good shape that it is today. He actually does work very hard at it. He complains loudly about it, but he does the job well.
What was life like before Nathan took the throne?
Catherine Well, first of all I had no idea that he was an attainted prince, and nobody ever bothered to enlighten me, least of all him! He just came in one evening, in a foul mood, and when I asked him what was wrong, he told me that our coronation would be scheduled within the week.
That must have come as quite a shock!
Catherine You might say that. Simon and I were raised in a small seaside village. Our father was a fisherman. I was absolutely unprepared for any role within a royal family, much less being the queen. It was hard enough just undergoing the binding with Nathan and coming to terms with life as a mage’s wife.
Nathan has said that he remembers nothing of the binding. What do you remember?
Catherine Almost nothing, as well. It was all very upsetting. You see, I had gone to visit Simon. I wasn’t supposed to – he had been shunned after he’d been maged and joined the Circle. I wasn’t supposed to have anything to do with him anymore. But he’s my twin – that’s like telling me that I’m never to use my left arm again, so I’m to ignore it and never admit that I even have a left arm. Ridiculous!
You must have missed him terribly.
Catherine I did. He kept a little hut deep in the woods near our home, and he would go there from time to time. I always knew when he was there and I’d sneak out after everyone was asleep and go to visit him. Only this one night, Nathan was there with him. Neither Simon nor I knew what would happen, and Nathan didn’t even know that Simon had a sister, much less a magicker twin. I remember bursting in, Simon and Nathan looked surprised, and then Nathan changed and came after me. I was frightened, I ran, I remember him catching me and, really, a moment of intense pain. Then nothing until I woke up with him at the Keep with Simon trying to battle the entire Circle trying to get to me.
Goodness, you must have been terrified!
Catherine I was, and utterly bewildered! Nathan was, too. We kept trying to get away from each other, but we couldn’t. The more we tried, the more it upset him, and he’d pounce on me all over again. After a few days, everything settled down and Cristov and the Council sat us down and explained what had happened and what we needed to do. Nathan and I weren’t very happy about it, and Simon was absolutely enraged about the whole thing. He kept attacking Nathan and trying to beat him up. Cristov kept having to flatten him because Nathan would just hold him off, but he wouldn’t fight back. Eventually Simon came to terms with it, but he never really forgave Nathan.
How long did you live at the Keep before Nathan took the throne?
Catherine Not very long, actually. Andrew, Nathan’s brother, died in his late forties – a thoroughly reprehensible man. Even his subjects hated him. So I guess I’d been with Nathan for about twelve or fifteen years at that point. I knew the King had died and left no heir, but I had no idea of Nathan’s connection with the family.
What were you doing for the fifteen years at the Keep?
Catherine I was helping Cullen at the apothecary, and Cristov gave me charge of an enormous greenhouse where Cullen and I collaborated on curatives. He has some very innovative ideas, and is truly a gifted life mage.
Life mage? I thought he was a healer.
Catherine He is – it’s part of being a life mage. But Cullen doesn’t just heal, he also generates.
Are you saying he creates life?
Catherine Not exactly. There has to be something there to build on. He doesn’t create life, he builds on it, nurtures, transforms it. He can take two different plants and marry them so that their progeny is an entirely new species. Brilliant, brilliant man!
Sounds like you have a lot of respect for Cullen. Are you close friends?
Catherine I don’t mean to imply anything inappropriate or inaccurate. We are friends and colleagues. We’ve worked closely together and celebrated many triumphs and suffered plenty of failures. And Cullen has listened to many bitter complaints and woes about Nathan, but no one else would ever know it. He said as far as he’s concerned, it could all just stay in the greenhouse and fertilize the plants.
That’s very nice of him.
Catherine Well, we don’t work as closely anymore. I do what I can, but realm responsibilities do keep me busy. I’m head of the Charitable Trust, and various other duties. I spend what time I can in the solarium here at Rowan Castle, and overseeing the herb fields. Cullen and I don’t get to work together more than perhaps once or twice a week.
Do you get to spend much time with Simon?
Catherine Simon has a suite of rooms here at the Castle. He is a part of the royal family, after all, whether Nathan likes it or not. But he likes to wander a lot, so he comes and goes.
He’s got quite a reputation as a party guy. He seems particularly fond of the Buck and Fowl.
Catherine Oh, that place! I wish they’d never started going there. I think he’s just bored, because he doesn’t have an actual vocation other than wandering in the woods, and he serves as the Circle Greeter. He’s also on the Council of Mages, but I suspect it was only so Nathan and Cristov could keep an eye on him. I’ve tried to get him involved in my charity work, but he’s shown no interest in it. Ah well. A sister can only do so much. I can’t make him over into what he’s not.
Have you ever been to the Buck and Fowl?
Catherine Goodness no! What would people say if it was discovered that the queen spent the wee hours of morning haunting a disreputable, run down pub at the wharf?
Well, I can see your point, but it doesn’t seem to bother Nathan.
Catherine Truly, Nathan doesn’t really like that place. He’ll go around just to spend time with the guys, because that’s where they always like to go. But he hates the food there, and drinking has never been one of his favorite recreational activities. I wish he didn’t because he comes home stinking of the place, but boys will be boys, so what can you do?
True enough. What do you do to have fun?
Catherine I have quite a lot to keep me busy, but I do enjoy...
Nathan Catherine! Are you coming? We’re late already!
Catherine Oh for pity’s sake, Nathan. We’re the guests of honor. They won’t start without us and we’re expected to be a little late. I’m busy! Go away.
Nathan A little late! At this rate it’ll be over before we get there, and you were the one who wanted to do it. I did not put on this straight jacket and ten pound hair ornament for nothing!
Catherine ***sigh*** Exercise a little patience, if you please. I won't be a moment.
Nathan If you don’t come now, I’m going without you. And I’m going to say hello to all your friends. And talk to them.
Catherine Nathan, don’t you dare!
Catherine Oh! My sincere apologies, but I must go. He’ll make a complete buffoon of himself if I let him off his leash. Well, more of a buffoon than usual, anyway.
It was a pleasure talking to you, Catherine.
Catherine And to you, my dear. Good luck with your interviews.
Nathan Yeah! Whatever it is, don’t give it to me! I put up with enough of that nonsense as it is! People coming in, always complaining, never happy! It’s tedious, I tell you. It’s downright tedious! Why don’t they ever consider my feelings? Like I just LOVE hearing about all their woes, laid at my door like I don’t have any of my own? Nobody cares about my worries! No, instead, I’m responsible for whatever is bothering everyone else! Somehow it’s all MY fault! Like I ever asked to be King!!!
Cullen Nathan, ouch! Let me tend to those hoofmarks on your forehead.
Nathan What are you talking about? What hoofmarks?
Arinda Did it kick you very hard when it sailed over your head?
Nathan Oh, very funny! Very droll. I’m splitting my sides laughing.
Catherine I thought it was amusing. You’re such a big crybaby.
Nathan How about you all go play in the street?
Sebastien What is this? Why do you want to talk to me? More to the point, what makes you think I want to talk to you?
Well, we’re just jumping right in there, are we? I thought maybe you’d like to tell your side of things. Tell us about you.
Sebastien Whatever. I generally don’t associate with peasants.
… … … Wow. What makes you think I’m a peasant?
Sebastien Nobility knows.
I’ll bet your mother told you that.
Sebastien What of it? You sayin’ something about my mother?
OK, how about we talk about you instead of sparring with each other?
Sebastien Fine. What?
How long have you been with the Circle?
Sebastien Forty-three years. You’d think I’d have more respect by now.
Most of them have been around for centuries, so forty-three years isn’t all that long, is it?
Sebastien I am of noble blood! I deserve the respect of my station!
Nathan is the King. He doesn’t demand respect.
Sebastien Nathan is a moron! He shouldn’t even be King. If it were up to me, I’d have overthrown him years ago.
Why shouldn’t Nathan be King?
Sebastien I just told you that.
OK, what makes him a moron?
Sebastien He just is! I don’t need to explain my reasoning to you. What do you know, anyway? You're just a peasant.
You live at the Keep, correct? What do you do there?
Sebastien No, I do not live at the Keep! What, are you an idiot? I have my own estate. I did mention I’m of noble blood, didn’t I?
Alech You’ve lived above the stables since you were thrown out of the forge, Sebastien. Quit putting on airs you don’t deserve.
Sebastien !@$* !^&, Alech, you #$%*&^! Mind your own %^$^&* business!
Alech Estate my @$$. He’s the Viscount of the stable yard.
Cristov All right, Alech. That will do.
Alech He burnt down my forge. He’ll get no respect from me.
Cristov Noted. Let’s not interfere, shall we?
So… you burned down the forge. Why’d you do that?
Sebastien Because it was there.
You are a fire mage, though. Why would you burn down the place where you work you magic?
Sebastien I’m not obliged to answer that.
Holy cow, you’re making this difficult.
Cristov The other sparks wouldn’t play nice with him.
Cristov Because he’s not a spark. He’s a fire mage, but not a spark.
So you retaliated by burning down the forge? Isn’t that a bit extreme?
Sebastien I don’t think so. They were insolent.
Alech And that’s why he got kicked out and lives above the stables now. I won’t have him anywhere near my forge.
Sebastien Shut up, Alech! #$%^&*@^% freak!
Alright, that’s enough of the cursing. I understand it hurts to be rejected but…
Sebastien Oh, like I give a $%^& what a bunch of %^&*%*% flamers thinks of me. You know, there will come a day when people will be sorry they ever messed with me. I’m not the only one who’s sick of all this crap!
Really? Just what do you mean by that?
Sebastien Oh, you’d just love to know, wouldn’t you.
Probably not, actually.
Sebastien Yeah, that’s right. You just keep that in mind.
I’m sorry, but are you drunk? Wait a minute! Come back here!
Sebastien That’s right, $%^#*(*&^! You first!
What the heck? What just happened?
Alech Count yourself lucky he’s gone. Open some windows and clear out the smell.
You don’t like him very much, do you?
Alech I wonder where you would have gotten that idea.
Hi Cullen! How are you today.
Cullen I’m well. How are you?
Well, to be honest, I have a little bit of a headache.
Cullen Oh? Have you drunk an appropriate amount of water today?
Well, no, actually. It’s hard to remember to on the weekend.
Cullen I see. Did you get adequate rest last night?
OK, no. Once again… the weekend.
Cullen When was the last time you ate?
Now you mention it, it’s getting close to dinner time.
Cullen ***whacks interviewer in the head***
Hey!!! That hurt! What’d you do that for?
Cullen Because you deserve to have a headache.
Your kind of mean.
Cullen That’s my job.
Cullen Well, it’s not my job to be your friend. You don’t take care of yourself, why should I bother?
Okay, we’re getting way off track here.
Cullen Don’t blame me. It’s your interview.
Fine! Tell me about yourself.
Cullen Such as?
How did you become a healer?
Cullen I was born to it. I’m a High Healer – a magicker whose specific skill is healing. High Healer’s are required to follow the craft.
What if they don’t want to?
Cullen They find no one cares what they want, and they are pressed into it anyway.
Surely no one can make you become a healer if you don’t want to.
Cullen Healer Guilds have their own laws; laws that are harsher and more demanding than the laws of the realm. There have been families who supported their High Healer children in not becoming healers. The guild first harasses them, then runs them out of town.
And this is tolerated?
Cullen I just told you that. Why are you asking me to reiterate it?
Have you eaten recently?
Cullen No, why?
Because you’re cranky! Maybe you should eat something before we continue.
Cullen Let me do my job, and you stick to yours.
So, you wanted to become a healer?
Cullen Hell no! I hated healing! But I was born to a family of healers – the usual kind, not magickers – and they gave me no choice. I was very rebellious, but in the end it was no use.
So why are you still a healer, then?
Cullen The Circle allows me to do whatever I want to do. I found new ways to make it work for me, to try new things. Cristov encouraged me to found a guild at the Keep. I used the opportunity to reform Guild practices. There is no one in my guild that doesn’t want to be there. Healers that don’t want to heal don’t make the best healers. I want only the best and most enthusiastic.
That’s great that you could turn that around to work for you.
Cullen Like there’s anything in my life that I would have any other way.
Well, you do strike me as that type. You rubbed off on Arinda quite a lot, too, huh?
Cullen Arinda holds her own. She’s a good girl. A trifle stubborn, but I think that could be said of the best of us.
I understand that you are married. Tell me about your wife.
Cullen ***impatient sigh*** Gwenn and I hate each other. With passion. We do not get along, despite any effort on my part, so I really prefer to forget that she exists unless I’m forced to.
I thought the laws of the Circle prohibit that – ignoring your wife, I mean.
Cullen That is true, but I’m one of the few exceptions. The laws require us to make every effort to make a life with our wives, support them, help them find a life within the Circle. But Gwenn – she doesn’t want to fit. She doesn’t want me, she doesn’t want this life, she’s happier if we ignore each other. So after a century or two of watching me bang my head against the wall with her, and trying to keep her from gouging my eyes out, Cristov said enough was enough. Leave her alone if that’s what she wanted.
How sad for both of you.
Cullen Hmph! Not really. I prefer my work, anyway, and it’s not as if there isn’t plenty of it.
You also act as the Royal High Healer for the House of Rowan, correct?
Cullen Yes. Although, to be honest, it’s become more of a family than a job. The royal family are good people, and since Arinda came, Nathan’s settled down a lot. He can be pretty prickly when he decides to be.
What? …Well, how did he do that? …I swear to Fiaryn! Didn’t anyone bother tell him not to put his fingers up there? Oh for pity’s sake!
I have to be going. Duty calls.
Thanks for talking with us, Cullen.
Cullen Go eat something! And get a drink of water. And get some sleep, for crying out loud! Willow bark tea if it’s still bothering you tomorrow. And if you don’t do any of the above, don’t come crying to me.
Cullen Not kidding. I’ll slug you in the head at curfew if I have to.
Hello Nathan! How are you today?
Nathan I don’t like interviews.
So, I’ll put down contrary and stubborn as usual.
Nathan If you say so.
So tell me about yourself… other than that you don’t like interviews.
Nathan … … … *** points to crown with ‘are you stupid’ expression***
Okay, smarty pants, I know you’re the king, and you don’t like it and you hate your crown and all that. Surely there’s more to Nathan than that. Tell me about your life with the Circle of Mages. I understand you have a reputation for having a wicked temper.
Nathan I suppose. The guys are a little rough on me sometimes, and one or two of them know exactly which buttons to push to set off my worst reactions ***cough*** Cullen***cough***.
I understand you and Cullen are very close, though.
Nathan If by close you mean least objectionable person to be in one’s presence, sure. I guess we are.
Cullen Like he’d ever admit it. Sheesh! You’re not too bright, are you?
Cullen, don’t interrupt. You can talk when it’s your turn.
Nathan She’s not too bright, is she?
Cullen Not really.
Alright, beat it, Cullen! Nathan, focus! Circle of Mages. You. Proceed.
Nathan Fine! You don’t have to get grouchy.
Cullen Kind of makes your temper look good-natured by comparison.
Nathan I know, huh!?!
Nathan Well, since you said ‘please’. Cris started it before I even took the throne because he wanted me to be just like everyone else here… not expect special treatment because I was a prince. I never wanted to be treated differently, never complained about it, either. But the other’s picked up on it, like they do, and were ten times harder on me than Cris ever thought of being. When I was pushed onto the throne, it just got worse.
Why did Cris never intervene on your behalf?
Nathan Cris has done enough intervening on my behalf, I think!
Well, that’s a helpful attitude.
Nathan Cris said, and I agree, that it would only make it worse. I’d have been fine with that if he hadn’t added ‘It’ll be good for you’.
Cullen That set off a tantrum like you wouldn’t believe. Sent a whole tree right through the Council Chamber – in one wall, out the other. Cris was furious.
Yeah, I’m not getting rid of you, am I?
Nathan Thanks Cullen. I just LOVE revisiting the top ten worst moments of my life.
Cullen Most people have a top ten, Nath. You have a Top Eighty.
Nathan … … … yeah, well.
Has it really been such a miserable life?
Nathan Oh, I don’t know about that. It’s been long and it's been tough, that's for sure. My father and I did NOT get along.
Cullen Harald was ^&*(%\.
Cullen! If you must be here, at least be respectful!
Nathan My father was a ^&*(%\. Hey, I’m just telling you the truth. He was a horrible man, a wretched king, and difficult as it is to believe, my brother, Andrew, was even worse.
Cullen Fortunately, Andrew wasn’t king for very long.
Nathan Long enough! Andrew died of an… ahem… unmentionable disease, and between him and my father, they left one hell of a mess for me to clean up. Rowan was this close to collapsing. Worked my fingers to the bone pulling this country back from despair, and what thanks do I get for it? Nothing! That’s what!
Cullen! Stop making that awful screeching noise!
Cullen Aw, I’m just playing my violin for His Royal Pain in the…
Nathan Shut up, Cullen! Don’t you have something else to do? See what I mean? Let any one of them have a bad day and they expect me to hold their hand for an hour while they pour out their tale of woe like an old woman! I frown once, and I get lambasted like nobody’s business! I mean, what’s the point of admitting my father was a ^&*(%\ if I don’t get to feel anything about it? I mean really! I’m not the only one with a bad temper. Cullen’s been known to get mad and shove someone’s head in a rain barrel till they’re drowned!
Cullen I have NEVER drowned anyone! Not completely.
Nathan Oh, pardon me! Only mostly. I’m sure that was much more comfortable for them than ‘completely’.
Cullen Well, you can’t drown a mage completely for a start!
Nathan Lucky for them!
Ahem! Do you two mind if we continue?
Nathan By all means. Pray, do continue.
Where were we?
Nathan This is your interview. How should I know?
Cullen She’s not very good at this, is she?
Nathan Not very. It’d be nice if you could focus. I haven’t got ALL day, after all.
Life! Before the Circle! Tell!
Nathan Well, I say! That’s was a bit demanding, don’t you think?
Cullen Bit of a command there, really. I wouldn’t tell her anything until she agrees to be more polite.
Cristov Cullen, you have patients to see to! I suggest you get to it, before I find something else to occupy your time.
Cullen Oh… rrrhrrhgh! Fine!
Thank you, Cristov!
Cristov Not at all. Sometimes you just have to be blunt with Cullen.
Not sure how I could have been much blunter! But thank you very much, just the same! Now Nathan, your childhood, if you please.
Nathan Well, I don’t please. How do you like them apples?
SPILL IT! GAHHHH!!! I’m soaking! Was that really necessary???
Nathan You were being rude.
Cristov Nathan! Don’t make me come down there!
Nathan Fine. It sucked. OK? My dad was a jerk and my brother was an ass! My mother, the only person in my life who cared anything about me, died when I was twelve.
I’m sorry. That must have been hard for you.
Nathan It was. It was very hard. Andrew hated me because he wasn’t a magicker, and in the royal bloodline, a magicker has precedence, even over an older sibling. I would have happily abstained, but my father wouldn’t hear of it. And Andrew took it out on me – baited me, did his best to make me look idiotic. My mother buffered a lot of it, but when she died, I got the worst of it.
That was when Cullen joined the house, isn’t it?
Nathan Yes,Cullen came on as the Royal High Healer. My father hated that he had to have a mage in the role, but the Rowan Healer’s Guild refused to have anything more to do with the House of den Rowan after he had the healer taking care of my mother executed because she died.
Was it the healer’s fault?
Nathan No! She was frail and sick, and if it was anyone’s fault it was my father’s! He always let his fists fly when he was angry, even to my mother. I hated him. A lot. Anyway, Cullen… where is he?
He’s gone. I believe he went back to the hospice.
Nathan Cullen ended up patching me up a lot. Andrew dealt with my father much better than I did. He and I always ended up screaming at each other, and then he’d start pounding me. I always told myself not to lose my temper with him, but… it was as if he demanded the worst of me. I never could master it. Anyway, Cullen gave him his own back quite a few times.
Nathan He’d poison him, just enough to make him sick. Sometimes he’d have “accidents” when Cullen was nearby. Father knew it was him, but he couldn’t do anything about it. He tried to have him fired, only to find you that you can’t fire the Head of the Guild – especially when no other Guild in the world will take you on for any amount of compensation. The court had to have a High Healer and it was Cullen or nobody, end of story.
Did that ease tensions between you and your father?
Nathan No. My father retaliated by forcing me to join the Navy, which actually turned out to be one of the best times of my life. That thoroughly pissed him off.
You did well in the Navy?
Nathan I learned a lot, but it was tough. Really tough! They didn’t want a helpless crybaby of a coddled prince around, so I really had to work hard to prove myself. But I did, and ended up with my own command eventually.
Cullen Only the youngest commander in the history of the Navy!
Nathan Oh, look who’s back.
Mind your manners this time, Cullen, or I’m calling Cristov.
Cullen I’ve said my piece.
Nathan I was only the youngest commander because of my heritage, nothing more. But I did work really hard for the respect of my men. I shouldn’t have, though, because when my father found out, he figured I’d grown up and it was time to take on ‘real’ responsibilities.
So he made you come home?
Nathan Yep. Very shortly after, though, I joined the Circle. Well, he just wasn’t having that, so he attainted me and that was that until they both died and I got pressed into service.
Cullen Um, there’s a whole bunch you left out there, Nathan.
Nathan And it’s going to remain left out, because I’m not talking about it and it’s time for me to get back to… other stuff. So nice talking with you today. Goodbye.
Um… yeah. Nice talking to you, too. Bye…
Hello Arinda. How are you?
Arinda Tolerably well, thank you.
So tell me about yourself. How long have you been with the Circle of Mages.
Arinda Oh,I’m considered a mere infant to the Circle. I’ve been here about six years or so.
Now the book is about your transition into the Circle, so we should probably steer clear of too much about that. Tell me about your life before the Circle.
Arinda Blech. Must we talk about that?
I take it that it wasn’t a happy life?
Arinda No, it wasn’t. Girl magickers live a dreary existence. It’s driven into our heads that we’re not wanted in society. We’re unlucky because we’re thought to attract mages, and the reason we attract mages is because of the binding, so it’s naturally thought of as something unspeakable and shameful, thus, we are unspeakable and shameful. So we’re hidden away lest anyone find out that the family has produced a wretched magicker girl.
But that doesn’t apply to the boys?
Arinda No, not exactly. Magickers are different from the rest of the Kyn. We’re a lot more powerful and, of course, people don’t like that which is different from them. But since the boys don’t attract mages and once they’re trained they’re no longer a menace to anyone, they’re acceptable, whereas girls are not.
That doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Arinda I never said it’s sensible. It’s just the way it is, and the Kyn accept that.
But then how are magickers born to Kyn families?
Arinda Oh, Cullen explained this to me once – let me see if I can remember right. He said that being a magicker is a recessive trait – it can skip generations or hit every time, depending on how strong the trait is. But you have to have it in the family, or your line produces no magickers.
So you could have generations of average Kyn, and then suddenly get a magicker?
Arinda Right, or you could have magickers in generation after generation. He said that those families used to marry only among magickers, keeping the bloodline strong. That practice is relatively outdated, though, and most lines are fairly diluted now. Plus, for some reason, the trait favors males more than females, which is why females are relatively rare.
How rare are they?
Arinda It’s hard to tell because they are so hidden away. They are truly subclass citizens.
And this is how you grew up?
Arinda I… well, I don’t think my parents realized what I was. My nanny kept that secret and terrorized me with what would happen if I ever told anyone. I never questioned it, because I’d been told that, well, I guess from birth.
How did she come to be there? Did your parents engage her?
Arinda I don’t really know that. She was always there.
Your mother never explained?
Arinda My mother and I are not on the best terms. When we talk, we don’t talk about ‘before’.
I see. Well, what sort of education did you get?
Arinda Well, because they didn’t know I was a magicker, my mum insisted on sending me to school, even though Nanny was furious about it. So I got at least a basic education, which is probably more than most other girl magickers get. But it was still nowhere near what I needed, and Nanny refused to let me study or have anything to do with the other kids.
That doesn’t sound like much fun.
Arinda It wasn’t. I hated it. The kids made fun of me because they thought I was stupid, and the school teacher… well, I don’t think he actually liked his job. He never really made an effort to help the kids. You either did the work or you didn’t, you learned it or you didn’t. He was never enthusiastic about it at all, the way Jahx is. When I first went to Vespith, I was baffled by that. I couldn’t figure out why Jahx cared whether I learned or not because I’d never had a teacher who did.
He was saying just yesterday what a brilliant student you turned out to be when you’d decided you wanted to learn.
Arinda Oh, I wanted to learn a lot more than he realized for a very long time. I was just terrified to. Nanny had told me that if my teachers thought I was smart, they’d find out that I was a magicker. Which I can see now makes absolutely no sense, but then I had no choice but to believe her. I was always trying to pick up anything I could without anyone noticing. Nanny would have had a stroke if she’d known.
It’s fortunate Jahx found you then.
Arinda The situation was not ideal, but in the end, I agree. I would never have had the opportunities I’ve had if he hadn’t. I would have gone on as I was, eventually probably becoming something like a scullery maid or a nanny to squelch other poor kids. But that’s all a story for another day.
Thank you for talking with us today Arinda!
Arinda My pleasure!
So Jahx, how long have you been with the Circle of Mages?
Jahx Oh, must be nearing four hundred years now.
That’s a very long time.
Jahx I suppose, although I am considered one of the young ones. Anyone under four hundred is considered fairly new to the Circle. Anyone under one hundred is basically a child.
I see. How long have you been a teacher?
Jahx Very nearly as long. I began my training and apprenticeship shortly after joining the Circle. I was a Magicker Master under my father at Grace Academy in Rowan Capital for about ten years before opening the school at Vespith. Since then, we’ve built our magicker’s program into the finest program in Rowan, including Grace Academy’s.
What is a Magicker Master?
Jahx A Magicker Master is a specialized teacher. I had to teach for two years before I took my exam. We teach magickers, but more than that, we basically end up raising them, since they often end up living at the school.
How sad! Why is that?
Jahx Magicker training is intensive. They are quite dangerous until they’ve been fully trained, and their ignorance and inability to control their magick can cause chaos. It’s our job to train them and keep them out of trouble, while teaching them to be responsible with their power and guiding them toward a productive role in society. Most parents are ill-equipped to deal with them. Many families at least keep in touch, but a fair number of parents can’t cope and abandon them at the school, so it falls to us to become their family.
You sound very devoted.
Jahx Oh yes. Teaching is my life, as it was my father’s.
Your father must have been very proud of you.
Jahx Yes, although I think he envisioned me taking over the Headmastership of Grace from him eventually. But he never discouraged me in my endeavors… ever, and he supported my project with Vespith, and did what he could to help me make a success of it. I don’t think I could have done it without him.
Sounds like you had a very good relationship with him. I understand you were adopted.
Jahx Yes, Da Otto and Mum Gretchen adopted me when I was seven. They were great people and great parents. It’s a pity they couldn’t have children of their own. I’m very fortunate they were willing to take me in.
And what was your life like prior to that?
Jahx … … …
Don’t you remember?
Jahx No, not really. It was a very long time ago.
Jahx … … … Not really. Da Otto and Mum Gretchen were the only family I ever knew, and I loved them.
OK. I get the sense you don’t really want to talk about it.
Jahx … … …
And I’d be right. So moving on… what was your transition into the Circle like?
Jahx I’d always known about the Circle and I’d been introduced to them fairly early. I knew Nathan was a mage, and I really always saw myself being one of them. Nathan hated the idea and gave me hell about it, but I just accepted that I’d be part of the Circle eventually. So it really wasn’t much of a shock to me.
What was the hardest part?
Jahx The hardest part was the actual maging process. Coubirigh are not nice! The attack was terrifying and extremely painful, and I honestly felt like death would have been more comfortable afterward. But it didn’t last long and then I was up and about, getting on with my life. Nathan was furious and refused to speak to me, until Cristov appointed him my main advisor through my novitiate. The guys, too, gave me a hard time, but I took it in stride and just kept going.
They give you a hard time about being so good-natured a lot, don’t they?
Jahx They do, but I take that in stride as well. They don’t understand that because I’m an influencer, I feel bad moods a lot more than most people. It’s actually easier for me to be cheerful and good-natured than to be in a foul temper. It’s so contrary to what I am, it’s easier to deal with things good-naturedly than to get angry about them. I believe that’s contrary to what most people experience.
That must give you a unique perspective in teaching.
Jahx It does. I feel I’m better equipped to deal with my students than the other teachers are. Whereas they get impatient and annoyed, I find it easier to remain calm, and to listen to them objectively because their tempers and whimsies and difficulties in learning don’t annoy me. As a result, I think I’m more approachable than many Headmasters and a great number of the teachers. I spend a lot of time counseling the children.
That must make it difficult to perform your Headmaster responsibilities.
Jahx Teaching is my life. It’s what I love. It doesn’t bother me that I spend the lion’s share of my days working at the school. I’m always telling my students, when you do what you love, it isn’t a chore. So it’s important to find out what that is and pursue it.
And do they?
Jahx Not always. I can only do so much for them. They ultimately have to make these decisions on their own. I would be doing them no favors in trying to force them into paths they don’t choose for themselves, even if I think it’s for the better.
It must be heartbreaking to see them going awry and not be able to do anything about it.
Jahx It comes with the territory, I’m afraid. I can counsel and counsel and counsel, but sometimes experience is the only teacher a child will listen to. Until they decide for themselves, we are powerless to do anything but try and be the best influence we can be, and hope it comes out right in the end.
You’ve had more than one difficult student, haven’t you?
Jahx I’ve had plenty.
What about Arinda? You tried to counsel her, didn’t you?
Jahx I… that’s a difficult subject for me to discuss. Arinda was a student at my school, and I’m still absolutely mortified about the whole situation.
But it wasn’t your fault. Surely you see that.
Jahx Fault is not the point. I have different responsibilities outside of the Circle than within. Parents entrust their children to me, they expect me to keep them safe. I failed Arinda. I failed her miserably.
Nathan Oh, good lord! Don’t let him go on and on about that! He’ll nurse it for weeks if you let him!
Jahx Shut up, Nathan! Who asked you?
Nathan, this is Jahx’s time to talk. Please don’t interrupt.
Nathan Fine, but I’d advise you to steer him away from that particular subject. He loves wallowing in his grief over it a little too much.
Noted. Let’s talk about your relationship with her, Jahx.
Jahx I did fail her, no matter what anyone says. It’s the ultimate line that you don’t even approach, much less cross as a teacher.
Nathan You were never her teacher! Knock it off!
Jahx I tried to work with her, but she was one of those cases where it was clear she simply refused to cooperate. In retrospect, we can certainly understand why, but I had no idea at the time or I wouldn’t have been able to get away from her fast enough.
Nathan And, once again, it would have made no difference.
NATHAN, FOR THE LAST TIME! GO AWAY!!!
Nathan I’m going! Sheesh!
Jahx I’ve got to get back to school – I have a class in ten minutes. I will say, however, that once Arinda did make the decision to open herself up to her education, she’s made an incredible impression on everyone. I wish I’d been able to influence her when she was a student here. She truly is an amazing magicker.
She’s immune to your influence, isn’t she? That must have been frustrating for you.
Jahx At first it was, while she was at Vespith. But, in the end, I’m grateful for her immunity. I never feel I have to question her motivations in our relationship. It’s a bit embarrassing, but I actually love it when she gets angry with me. Not that many people in my life are able to shout at me to my face.
Thank you for talking with us today, Jahx!
Jahx My pleasure!
Cristov, since you are so busy, I thought I’d start my interviews with you.
Cristov Why me? I’d think Arinda or Nathan or Jahx would be a better place to start.
Well, everything began with you. You are at the heart of the Circle of Mages.
I think you’re being too modest.
Cristov I don’t.
Why don’t you tell me how the Circle began? You are the founder of the Circle, correct?
Cristov ***sigh*** Sort of… I guess. Actually, the Circle wasn’t founded. It simply came to be. When I was ‘maged’, many, many years ago, there were no other mages. I was the first. A wretched student of mine somehow set the Coubirigh loose – he would keep playing with dark magick, like it was a toy or something. As if nothing bad would ever happen to him, perish the thought! Dafnit! In any case, we never knew how he did it, and he was killed, so…
Cristov Many innocents were attacked and killed that day, so I have a hard time feeling anything for the little brat but annoyance. How many times did I tell him?!?
So you were attacked and survived?
Cristov Yes. Yes, I was. The sickness that comes with maging, it truly makes you long for death. Once that passed, however, it was as if nothing had happened... at first. Then all the strangeness overtakes you, the fits of rage that end with fangs shooting out of your mouth. The enormous power you have no idea how to control, and the overwhelming fear that people will find out about it, for no one likes he who is vastly different, do they?
At first, folks thought I was fortunate. Then there came grumblings, wanting to know why I had survived and no one else. I suppose it was inevitable that they would find out what I'd become and turn on me. They claimed I’d had something to do with it, and I was tried and executed.
Cristov More than once. That’s when I realized how profound the change had been.
That must have horrible!
Cristov Well, it wasn’t fun. I finally escaped to the deep woods. The woods were dangerous, dark and creepy, wild animals and the like - few were brave enough to venture that far in. I really didn’t expect to survive, however, I quickly found that the wildest of animals considered me more intimidating than they were. So I built a hut and settled in to live out my days on my own. That is where Stone Circle Keep stands now.
The Keep began as a single hut? How did it come to be a thriving community?
Cristov One by one. Jasper was the first to arrive. His father was afraid for his safety and had heard of me, so he braved the woods to bring his son out to me and begged me to look after him. Fiaryn knows I tried to turn him away, but… well, in the end, I just couldn’t let the boy face the same torture I had endured. Then another came, and another. Soon, the hut became a home and we had to keep building on to it.
It became a virtual dumping ground for mages nobody wanted. Some had good families who really didn’t want their children in harm’s way, others were driven into the woods by hordes of angry people. It angered me, it truly did. It was wrong to just dispose of people like that.
Finally, we built a common building with small, sort of, dormitories surrounding it. The dormitories became homes, then we added guilds as we gained enough magickers of different types, and we just kept growing. Before long, we were large enough to need a governing influence, so we developed the Council of Mages to settle disputes.
Strange that it began that way, when the Circle of Mages is so respected now.
Cristov In a manner of speaking, I suppose we are. I think we are seen more as intimidating than respectable.
But doesn’t the Council of Mages administer the Magicker Master’s Exam?
Cristov Yes, we do. That discourages most who would aspire to the position for the wrong reasons and we’re pretty fair at weeding out the rest.
How long has the Circle been administering the exam?
Cristov Only since Nathan acceded the throne. There wasn’t an exam at all prior to that. In fact, it is only since Nathan’s reign began that we were allowed to come out of the woods and start living within society.
Is that why you made him take the throne?
Cristov He likes to bluster about that, but the truth is, I only sped him to a conclusion he would inevitably have drawn himself. Nathan is immensely obstinate, and we simply didn’t have time for him to work it out on his own. He was the only rightful heir, and the only one who could prevent the chaos that would have surely followed his abstention.
So tell me more about you, Cristov?
Cristov There isn’t much to tell. My life revolves around the Circle. That’s all I have time for.
You were a teacher before, right?
Cristov For awhile. Clearly, I wasn’t a very good one, or I might have had better control of my students.
Were your parents teachers, too?
Cristov … … …
I’m sorry. Is that a sore subject?
Cristov I didn’t know my parents. I was very young when they died, and no, I don’t believe they were teachers. I was raised in an orphanage, and was fortunate enough to become a teacher when I left. You know the rest.
Surely there’s more to your life than that?
Cristov Surely, there is. However, it’s not important enough to discuss.
Okay. What are your goals, then?
Cristov My goals are goals for the Circle. Full integration into society, mainly. The ability to co-exist peacefully with non-mages and have the fact that we are mages not matter at all. To have a way for the boys to walk about without needing to know if there are any girl magickers in the area. That would be an enormous relief for all of us. The whole mating/binding process is cumbersome… disruptive, and the women are spiteful and noisy. I don’t mind the boys falling in love and taking wives and whatnot – it’s to be expected. I just wish they had the choice, instead of having these caterwauling females thrust upon them.
That’s a tad harsh, isn’t it?
Cristov No, in fact, it’s not! Like any sensible lad, their usual response to the situation is to want to get away from it. As a result, we have to nag, bully and discipline them to stick with her and make it work until they settle down into a life. It’s hard on the woman, it’s hard on the mage, and it’s devilishly difficult for the Council! I wish there were another way.
Once again, my time is running short, so I’ll have to leave you here.
Thank you for your time Cristov. As always, we appreciate it!
Cristov Not at all.
I think that there is only one quality that is worse than hardness of the heart and that is softness of the head. ~ Theodore Roosevelt
Nathan I’ve known a few who suffer from both.
Cullen Haven’t we all?
Arinda Now boys, it’s not nice to judge. What looks like one thing to you, may be something else entirely.
Cullen Well, the Princess of Hearts and Bunnies weighs in.
Nathan No kidding. Maybe you’d like to go deliver lupines to the poor.
Arinda Lupines? What good are lupines going to do for the poor?
Nathan Well, I don’t know, do I? Maybe they make lupine stew.
Catherine You know, that is an excellent idea. And since you and Cullen have nothing better to do than be smarmy and rude to Arinda, I’ve asked Cristov to let you help me.
Cullen You really are delivering lupines to the poor? I don’t think they’re meant to be eaten. They're a bit poisonous, actually.
Nathan I suppose they could brighten up a dreary room.
Catherine Don’t be ridiculous! You’ll be delivering food baskets to the Harbor District.
Nathan The Harbor District! I’m not going anywhere near the Harbor District!
Catherine I suppose you want Arinda and I to go?
Nathan I don’t want you anywhere near there!
Catherine Well, then, it’s settled.
Nathan Nothing’s settled! I’m not going!
Cristov Oh, yes. I think you are.
Nathan Grrr! Well, I guess it’s a good thing Cullen’s going along. He’ll be able to patch us up when we get knifed.
Catherine Oh, don’t be such a baby. It’s highly unlikely anyone would knife you.
Arinda No. It’s much more probable they’d try to beat you to death with a jack club.
Nathan Oh thanks.
Simon You know, the Clairvoyant Petticoat is down in that neighborhood.
Nathan That’s true. Not a bad pub, that!
Simon Chances are if you take all the baskets and chuck ‘em into the middle of the square, they’ll disappear in three minutes flat. Then we can go to the Petticoat and have some fun.
Nathan We, Simon?
Simon Yeah. Stand me a pint, and I’ll go with.
Catherine Wait just a minute! No!
Cullen Sounds good to me!
Nathan Let’s go!
Catherine Oh, no you don’t! That’s not what you’re supposed to do.
Arinda You’re yelling at air, Catherine. They’re gone.
Catherine Oooh! I swear one day... come with me, Rinda.
Arinda Where are we going?
Catherine We're going lupine picking. Nathan's having stew for dinner.