The Sorcerer’s Guardian
Antonia Aquilante © 2020
All Rights Reserved
As afternoon waned into evening, Loriot approached his house on Dove Lane. Weariness dragged at him with each step. He hadn’t slept more than a few minutes in the last few days, and now that the crisis had passed, he felt the fatigue down to his bones. But the lack of sleep was worth it for the good outcome of the situation.
He trudged up the few steps to his front door, its rich blue color recently freshened, and let himself in. The key turned smoothly in the lock, and the magical protections on the house recognized him as belonging, allowing him inside. He shivered, even though he didn’t feel anything as he crossed the threshold; perhaps someone with a Talent would, but he had neither Talent nor any sensitivity to magic.
Inside, the house was quiet. The formal parlor was empty, which was unsurprising as they rarely used it—only when Joceline and Oriana chose to entertain. He wanted more than anything to go up to his bedchamber and collapse into his bed for the next few days, but he couldn’t. Couldn’t even collapse for a few hours without checking on his family. But he knew where at least one of them was likely to be at this time of day.
The sitting room at the back of the house was quiet, too, so quiet he could hear the scratch of his sister’s pen on paper as he stepped into the doorway. Joceline sat at her writing desk, papers spread around her, pen flying across the page. Despite the silence, she didn’t notice him. A good writing day, then. He hated to disturb her, but she’d want to know he was home.
“Story going well?” he asked, keeping his voice quiet so he wouldn’t startle her. He’d learned it was better to have to repeat himself than to scare her when she was absorbed in a world of her own creation.
But he didn’t have to repeat himself today. She glanced up immediately, her gaze hazy and then sharpening. “There you are! I was wondering if you were ever coming home.”
He hadn’t been gone so long—only a couple of days—but he did try not to let a day go by without returning for at least a little while. He stepped farther into the room and sank down into a comfortable chair. “It was unavoidable. You got my notes?”
“Of course. You know I was just teasing.” Joceline narrowed her eyes and studied him with an intensity he could almost feel. “Is everything all right? You look exhausted, and I heard yesterday the guard was searching everyone leaving the city.”
He scrubbed a hand over his face. Sitting had been a mistake. His eyelids wanted to droop; his body wanted to melt into the cushions. “There was a kidnapping.”
“Not Prince Julien?”
“No, no. And it’s fine now,” he reassured her, trying to keep her from coming out of her chair in her alarm at a threat to the heir to Tournai’s throne. “It wasn’t a member of the royal family at all.”
“But you were involved?”
As captain of the royal guard, Loriot normally wouldn’t be directly involved in such a situation. “The baby taken was the daughter of Prince Amory’s friend, Master Tristan. The merchant. Though if what I saw means anything, he’ll likely be a member of the royal family soon.”
“Really?” Joceline leaned forward, her interest of a different kind now. “There’s going to be a marriage? To whom? The princess?”
He shook his head. He didn’t need to tell her what he said should go no further. He didn’t ever tell her anything truly secret, but Loriot didn’t see the harm in a little meaningless court gossip now and then, especially since she wouldn’t spread it. “No. Lord Etan.”
She sat back with a huff. “Well, they really are bucking tradition, aren’t they?”
He let out a short laugh. But what she said wasn’t untrue. Both Tournai’s prince and his cousin, a royal duke, had married men in the last couple of years, and now it seemed Lord Etan, another cousin of Prince Philip’s, would do the same. Loriot couldn’t think of a time when such a thing had happened, as the royal family and nobility tended to marry those who could provide bloodline heirs for their titles—and some families were even more conservative, only marrying women.
“Good for them,” Joceline said. “I hope they’re happy.”
“Now that Tristan’s daughter is back with them, I believe they are.”
Concern flooded back into her pretty face. “You found her? And the person who took her?”
“Yes, with Master Savarin’s help.” He’d gotten over any resentment he might have had that he needed the help of magic long before today and was happy to use any tool he had access to. Savarin, the most powerful sorcerer in Tournai, was not someone whose help should be turned away, and Savarin never withheld it, serving Tournai whenever he was called upon.
“The sorcerer? How did he help?” Joceline sat forward, a gleam in her eyes he recognized well. She wasn’t simply curious; she wanted to know because she might use the information in a story.
He sighed and shook his head. “He used his magic to try to track the kidnappers and then to try to find the baby directly. He pointed us in the right direction, let us know where to search for them.” Loriot didn’t bother mentioning the help they’d received from someone else, a scholar at the university. If he read Savarin right, Savarin would be finding Master Corentin at the university soon and asking him about the magic he used, because it also sounded as if Savarin hadn’t heard of anything like it.
“Let me guess, your new story has a sorcerer character.” He arched an eyebrow at her, his mildly disapproving tone mostly put on. Which she would know, as she was aware how proud he was of her accomplishments.
“I have an idea that would call for one. What’s Master Savarin like?”
“I don’t know him very well.” He tried to think of anything he knew about Savarin beyond the surface. “He’s powerful and arrogant with it.”
She shrugged. “I’d be surprised if he wasn’t. Aren’t all powerful sorcerers arrogant about their power?”
“I wouldn’t know. I don’t know any others.” He resolutely pushed his newly acquired knowledge of the royal family’s secret Talent from his mind. He didn’t need Joceline seeing a hint in his expression and trying to badger the information out of him. He would never tell, but life would be easier if he didn’t have to fight Joceline about it.
“All the ones I’ve read about in stories are. Especially the evil ones.”
“Tell me you’re not going to base a character on Master Savarin and make him evil.” Making the most powerful sorcerer in the country an evil character in a book sounded like a horrible idea.
Another shrug. “Powerful sorcerers always seem to be evil characters. Or self-sacrificing ones who save the day.”
Loriot shook his head and heaved himself to his feet. If he didn’t move, he’d end up sleeping right there. “Alain is upstairs?”
“Yes. But wait,” she called after him as he walked toward the door. “You must know something else about Master Savarin.”
“I really don’t.” He didn’t turn.
“Is he handsome?”
Savarin’s image filled his mind—his height and broad shoulders, perfectly carved features, blond hair he thought would be soft under his hands. His stride hitched, but he shook the image away and ignored Joceline calling after him. Perhaps she would forget the idea entirely if he didn’t encourage her.
He doubted it, but he could hope. The idea of Savarin as a character in a book on the shelf of a bookshop made him cringe.
Trudging up the stairs took the last of his energy, but he forced himself to bypass his own bedchamber. He couldn’t go to bed without seeing Alain. Not after so long away, not even if it hadn’t been very long. The door to the room at the back of the house was partially open. He peeked in as he pushed it open the rest of the way. The room was tidy, except for a veritable city built of blocks in the middle of the rug. The nursemaid noticed him first, but Alain wasn’t far behind. He looked up, his bright-green eyes—twins of Loriot’s own—lighting up, and something inside Loriot melted, just as it always did under those eyes.
With ease of long practice, he caught the five-year-old bundle of energy that came flying at him and swung his son up into his arms. He cuddled him close for as long as Alain would allow. As tired as he was, he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. “There’s my boy. I missed you. Show me what you’ve been doing.”
Savarin sank into a chair in his study and reveled in the quiet. He tipped his head to rest against the back of his chair and closed his eyes. Aside from him, only the cook and a maid remained in the house, and they wouldn’t bother him. No one would see him take this moment to himself.
What he needed was sleep. He hadn’t gotten enough since he’d been pulled in to help find the kidnapped baby. The magic use had worn him down, even without lack of sleep, but he hadn’t wanted to be unavailable until the baby was found, in case he was needed again. The baby was home with her father now, unharmed and seemingly no worse for her experience, and the culprits were in Loriot’s hands, as they should be. The captain of the royal guard was more than capable of handling everything from there; Savarin’s part was done.
Just in time for him to lecture at the university.
Which he had done, without showing he was so tired he thought he could feel his bones creaking when he moved, and he wasn’t old enough for his bones to creak. At least it was only a lecture, not a demonstration or work with a student. For either of those, he’d have needed his wits about him.
He’d briefly considered trying to track down Master Corentin while he was at the university, but there would be time to find the visiting scholar when Savarin wasn’t nearly asleep on his feet. The description of the magic Master Corentin had used to narrow down the area to search for the missing child had ignited Savarin’s curiosity. He’d never heard of a spell like the one Master Corentin supposedly used, and he was eager to discuss it with him, to learn what type of Talent Master Corentin had and what kind of training he’d received. And whether it was a spell Savarin would be able to learn and use.
But doing so could wait. Tomorrow. He’d send a note around to Master Corentin tomorrow. For now, he would get the rest he needed.
He pushed himself out of his chair. He’d slept in the chair before—more than once when he’d been too tired or drained to get any farther—but it would never be comfortable or his first choice, if he had one. Savarin climbed the stairs to the next floor and his bedchamber with slow steps, lifting each foot and setting it on the following stair carefully. The thick carpet running along the center of the corridor muffled his slow steps as he made his way toward the back of the large house. At the time he’d bought it, he’d liked the architecture of the house and its conveniences, and yes, how large it was. Larger by far than the home where he’d grown up. Larger, perhaps, than he needed, but he regretted it only when he was too tired to get from one end of the house to the other.
The door to his bedchamber was finally in front of him. Savarin stumbled inside and closed it firmly. No one would disturb him here, unless the house caught fire or Prince Philip summoned him. And the house was spelled against fire and other catastrophes. He’d have to hope for no royal summonses.
He’d have liked a bath, but he didn’t want to wait as long as it would take to fill the large tub in the bathing room—and as tired as he was, he couldn’t use his Talent to hasten it along. Putting aside the idea of bathing until after he had some sleep, and possibly something to eat, Savarin discarded his clothing as he made his way across the room. He left each garment where it fell. He could pick them up when he woke. The maids wouldn’t complain if he left them—they were too wary of him and his Talent to complain about anything he did—but he wouldn’t make extra work for them for no reason.
The large bed with its tall, heavily carved posts and soft mattress beckoned, but he forced himself over to the windows first and tugged the velvet curtains closed, shutting out the late afternoon sunlight. With the room dim, he staggered back to the bed, the last of his energy deserting him the closer he got, and crawled under the covers. He sighed as he stretched out on the silky sheets. His head had barely settled on the pillow before he was asleep.