A magician in need of redemption. A loyal hero on a quest. And only one bed at the inn.
Once the world’s most legendary sorcerer, Lorre fled the Middle Lands after his own curiosity -- and a misguided transformation spell -- turned him into a dragon and nearly killed a king. He isn’t a dragon anymore, but he is hiding alone on a tropical island, avoiding people, politics, and his own reputation.
But now a hero has found him. And not just any hero. Prince Gareth’s full of patience, intelligence, a kind heart ... and unfairly attractive muscles. And he needs Lorre’s help: his tiny mountain kingdom is under attack from ice magic, and Gareth hopes the world’s last great magician will save his people.
Lorre is done with quests and princes and trying to change the world. But Gareth might tempt him to believe again ... in heroes, in himself, and in magic.
“My name is Gareth,” the young man said, “Prince of the Mountain Marches, if the titles matter to you. King Ardan is my older brother. And we need your help. Desperately.”
Lorre found himself obscurely disappointed by this ordinariness. A request for aid, a desire for quick magical solutions. So small. So earth-bound. Just like all the rest.
He flipped himself back up onto the ledge, getting up. He had spiced wine in the pantry, and a book on the theory of sea-witches, magic-users hidden in the ocean, which no one had ever verified, but which might be possible, down in the deeps.
“The mountain bandits have a mage,” the young man -- Gareth -- told the air. “This year. They’ve always come -- but it’s worse, it’s so much worse -- and the villages need us, and we’ve never had a standing army, we’re a small kingdom and we mostly have a lot of goats -- and they have magic now, and then my uncle betrayed us, and --” He stopped, voice exhausted, defeated. “You’re here. You must be here. Are you listening?”
No, Lorre nearly said. I’ve been an ancient oak, a speaking raven, the bones of the earth. I’ve nearly killed a king and then saved him again, mostly because my former lover asked and I felt generous. I’ve turned myself into a dragon to see whether I could, and I could, though I got lost in the doing of it. I’ve watched rulers come and go, and magic’s still been here, and I’ve still been here. Why should I care about you and your goats?
But he thought suddenly of sunlight on his skin. Of the way he liked sensation, the whisper of silk on his legs or the taste of strawberries.
He thought, the pinprick of it sleeting in like autumn rain: I like goat’s milk cheese. And honey. And pleasure. Little things that this body enjoys. Perhaps Prince Gareth enjoys his goats. And doesn’t want them stolen.
He peeked down again. The prince had sat down, disconsolate, on a large rock. His shoulders slumped.
Lorre considered options. He did not help people, famously so. If he did so once, others would expect it. If he reappeared, he’d disturb the world: a power reemerging. If he took sides in a ridiculous tiny Northern border conflict --
He was actually considering it. He’d spent too long with rocks for company.
Gareth got up. Lorre blinked, startled, and paid attention.
The prince spent some time gathering stones. Setting them out. Making a message on the sand: PLEASE HELP US.
That was also fairly clever. A constant reminder, not as obnoxious as hurling stones at the barrier, but visible.
The day had become afternoon, all gold and green and blue and white, sun and sea and sky and sand. Lorre, sitting on his rock balcony, one leg swinging, listened to the leap of distant dolphins and felt the purr of the world under his hand, resting on stone. The waves coiled and crashed, steady as tides.
Gareth was making a shelter out of branches and fronds, building a small firepit, evidently having decided to settle in. Lorre had had heroes attempt to outwait him before; it never worked.
Gareth, once satisfied with the shelter, added a new rock-message. This one said: I CAN WAIT.
He meant it, too: he pulled out a book, and sat back down on the big sun-warmed rock. After a few minutes he took off his boots, and wiggled toes in hot sand.
Lorre caught himself wanting to laugh. He’d done the exact same thing upon first finding this island: boots off, bare skin, luxuriating in the feel.
And the prince had even brought a book. So well prepared. And so literary. Lorre could count on about three fingers the number of mighty-thewed questing heroes who’d done that.
He rather wanted to know what book it was.
Gareth said, after a few moments, “I see why you like it here, you know.” Once again he sounded utterly at ease with addressing the air, as if they were having a conversation. “I do too. It’s warm, and peaceful, and there’s not a world out there, waiting ... you can be alone. And I expect magicians need to be alone. I feel like I would. I imagine it’s like being a prince, everybody asking you for help, for solutions ...”
Well. Yes. And no. Lorre stopped swinging his leg and leaned in again, halfway up a cliff.
“Or it’s not like that at all. I wouldn’t know. Not being magical. But the problem is ... I am part of the world. I can’t not be. And so are you. You must be.” Gareth glanced around. “It is lovely here. And you haven’t thrown me out yet, like you did with the Prince of Thistlemare, so you are listening.”
“I am not,” Lorre said, half irritated and half fascinated; and then he realized that of course emotions became deed for him half the time, and the prince had definitely heard his voice.