Prequel to The Magician
Garrett Pell, Second Sorcerer of the Middle Lands, is just trying to build a school. Unfortunately, he’s also got missing mage-students, disobedient goats, and a Grand Sorcerer who likes to disappear. Not to mention the distracting presence of the attractive local prince, who keeps mysteriously turning up right when Garrett could use a hand.
Prince Alexandre de Berri knows perfectly well that he’s the youngest and least talented of his brothers. But his father, the king, wants to be on good terms with the magicians, and Alex is good at making friends -- so he’s been ordered to do exactly that. But what began as a royal command turns into very real feelings, and all Alex wants is to solve Garrett’s problems.
Alex’s father isn’t happy. Garrett’s school still needs help. And Alex and Garrett will need to make a choice. But, together, they just might be magic.
Magic left him breathless, quickened, alive. He touched the second column in line, brown fingertips over white stone. He’d given birth to it, after a fashion. He wasn’t Lorre. But no one else could be that, certainly no one else currently alive. Garrett, entirely human and not made of half-wild magic, did the best he could. He hoped it’d be enough.
As he followed Jennet past the side arch, where a road -- also half-finished -- would lead down the hill, a lean wry figure detached itself from lounging against the pale curve. “Sorcerer.”
“Unless you’re here to help with the cheese,” Garrett said, “go away. No, wait. Do you know anything about goats?”
“Why would I know anything about goats?” Alexandre de Berri, youngest and prettiest of the King of Averene’s eight grown sons, fell into step beside him. “Why do you need me to know things about goats?”
“I don’t. Need you to. What does your father want?” At his side, Jen made a tiny squeaking sound with regard to this manner of speaking to a prince. Garrett, who’d got to know Alex over the last two months, had no regret.
“I can’t come to see you out of my own personal interest?”
Garrett considered his own grey-streaked brown hair, ink-stained fingers, worn boots, occasional lapses into earth-thick silence, versus the prince’s aristocratic height, velvet coat, smoky amber eyes, amused laugh-lines, ability to make duchesses and mage-apprentices swoon with a glance. “No.”
“What was happening with your cheese?”
“The ice-house melted. Our answer’s still no.”
“Father would like to be on good terms with you. Some donations -- money, artisans, materials -- we could help raise walls, offer tapestries, gold plate --”
“And we’d owe the King of Averene a favor.”
“We’d never ask for anything that wouldn’t benefit our mutual relationship, of course.”
Garrett stopped walking. “The School and the Court don’t have a relationship.”
Alex stopped too. His hair tumbled to his shoulders, fashionable, bedroom-loose, in dark waves. His eyes, beautiful, were amused and -- surprisingly -- tired. “Ah, yes. That would be why you and the Grand Sorcerer chose -- without asking, might I add -- to place your school here. In Averene. With us.”
“We’re not,” Garrett said tightly, “with you. We’re outside the Isle of Averene. Technically the province of Variennes never surrendered its independence.”
“No. Because the baron’s line simply died out. Which is why the land’s ours.”
“Because your father decided it was?”
“The way Lorre did?”
Garrett, though he tried not to, flinched. “I have ice to deal with.”
“And goats. And scrolls. And incomplete windows. And two missing apprentices. And a missing Grand Sorcerer. Please leave before I have to turn you into a hedgehog.”
“Could you? I’d be adorable.”
Garrett began walking again. The prince could just keep up. “Hermitages. Caves. Deep woods. Islands. No hedgehogs allowed.”
Alexandre said nothing for a moment, unusually so for someone who’d never stopped trying to convince Garrett to attend a royal supper, a private audience, a hunt, a play. Their footsteps echoed soft over stone; water rippled in the background. Jennet said, “I’ll go and tell Quen you’re on the way, and see how the drying-out is going --” and whisked out of the tension in the corridor, darting ahead.
Garrett kept walking. Alex, with longer legs, kept up perfectly fine, and stayed quiet.
The sun lay warm against Garrett’s arm, the side of his face. Almost too warm; he shut his eyes for a moment, as heat burned red behind his eyelids.
Shade landed. Cool, darker, less fierce. Garrett opened both eyes: Alex had moved to that side, between him and the sun, height transformed into a shield.
Garrett gave way to pure bafflement, at this unexpected gesture. “Why are you here?”