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Friends, foes and long-expected mages.
HAWK WAS STILL thinking about Arien’s words as he finished lunch and jogged over to the mage school. He didn’t think the young mage meant he’d been waiting for him specifically, but that he’d known someone was coming who he could use to escape. At least he hoped he did. Then again Arien had revealed a strange and not always comfortable sense of humour over recent days. The type of humour a young boy might develop if he’d been a slave, then hunted down like a beast after he tried to escape.
It made him wonder. Actually Hawk found himself wondering about Arien a lot, not least because of what he’d said in Mage-Mistress Evariste’s study. Since he’d yet to gather the courage to ask the questions the adults had been so quick to avoid, Hawk was not much wiser, but now he had a new question to think on. What was Arien waiting for this time?
When he arrived at the school there was a gaggle of excited students milling around the entrance hall. Since barely a handful of mages emerged across the whole of Wrystan every year, there were rarely more than twenty mage students in the school at any one time. Which was why they could all fit into the entrance hall with room to spare. Hawk spotted two of his fellow second-years and headed towards them.
Fortitude Valentin was a late starter like Hawk, but his excuse was because he came from so far north he barely lived inside the borders of Wrystan at all. As such it had taken a while for his magic to kick in and then for him to find the right season to travel south in. His mage-beast was a beautiful grey wolfhound, practically the size of a pony. Luckily, Fort was tall so unlike Hawk he was never dwarfed by Tai’s enthusiasm.
As if Hawk had called her name the mage-beast looked up, plumed tail wagging. Crossing the space between them in a bound, Tai’s paws thumped Hawk’s shoulders and sent Cyrus winging upwards in a flurry of scolds. Used to the greeting, Hawk planted his feet and grabbed her legs, pushing her back with a laughing protest as she tried to lick his face.
“No!” he told her firmly. “Blast it, Fort, can’t you control this rabid beast of yours?”
“She must be rabid since she likes you so much.” Grinning, Fort clicked his fingers and Tai trotted meekly over to sit beside him, the picture of a perfect hound. The disgruntled Cyrus returned to Hawk’s shoulder with a glare.
“Nice of you to join us, mage-page.”
Hawk raised his eyebrows at Vance Travers, another year mate, and gave a pointed look around the entrance hall. “Whatever it is that’s supposed to be happening, I clearly haven’t missed it yet. Where are the firsties?” he added, noticing a distinct lack of Sidony.
“Tucked safely away in a theory class upstairs,” Fort said, sending Vance an amused glance, since he was looking putout because Hawk hadn’t asked him what was going on. Which was, of course, why Hawk hadn’t asked.
The second son of Baron Travers of Leine, Vance had an inflated sense of his own importance, made worse by his snooty black cat mage-beast. Leon lay sprawled on a ledge behind his mage, dark blue eyes watching Hawk and Cyrus with disdain. A year younger than Hawk and Fort, Vance loved to show off with his greater knowledge wherever possible, in the same way his mage-beast liked to torment Tai and bait Cyrus.
Hawk was grateful he only had to spend half his day in their company. “Where’s Con?” he asked, noticing the absence of their other year mate.
Resting his shoulders against the wall, Fort shrugged. “Faron sent her to deliver a message to the Healer’s Hall.”
Hawk raised his eyebrows, but since Vance was practically vibrating with the need to tell someone what he knew, he took pity on him. “What’s going on?”
“A new mage is coming,” the boy announced in mysterious tones, dragging it out for all he was worth. “A famous one.” Leon purred smugly behind his mage’s head.
Catching Fort rolling his eyes, Hawk smiled. “Mara’s arrived then?” He gave a satisfied nod. “About time.”
Vance blinked and Leon sneezed. “You knew?”
“Of course.” Hawk’s smile widened as Cyrus nibbled his ear – a rare sign of approval from his mage-beast. “The Mage-Mistress asked Sir Tobias to send someone to fetch her the day we arrived.”
“Why?” The younger boy sensed there was more to the story. “Has it got anything to do with that foreign freak you dragged out of the wilds?”
Hawk’s humour vanished and Cyrus mantled threateningly on his shoulder. “What did you say?” he asked in a quiet, quiet voice.
The entrance hall fell silent. All gazes fixed on Vance as his eyes grew very, very wide, belatedly realising he’d not just stepped over a line, but leapt. “Umm…”
“Go on,” Hawk dared him, soft but deadly. “Say it again.”
Vance swallowed hard and shook his head. “I – I didn’t -”
“But you did,” Hawk pushed relentlessly. “You did say it. And you never say anything you don’t mean, do you, Vance? You think too carefully before each word to ever say anything by accident.” The sparrowhawk on his shoulder let out a menacing hiss.
Leon stood his front paws on his trembling mage’s shoulder and growled, tail lashing.
“Well?” Hawk asked.
“That’s enough, mage-page,” a familiar voice intervened before the mage-beasts started fighting. Mage Faron rested a restraining hand on Hawk’s shoulder, the one Cyrus wasn’t on, his eyes fixed on Vance. “I will deal with this.”
Hawk glanced up at the mild-mannered mage and was relieved to see the cold expression on his normally pleasant features. Faron was just as furious as Hawk, but in a rather better position to see Vance punished.
He relaxed, satisfied that justice would be done. “Yes, sir.”
“When you’re done with him, Faron,” a strident, unfamiliar voice interrupted, “I’d like a word myself.”
A whisper of excited recognition swept around the entrance hall as Hawk turned. He might never have met this small, wiry woman before but, like everyone else, Hawk had seen her portrait in the ballroom. He’d heard the stories and known her name long before any of his own magic had sparked into life.
Lady Amarantha Weaver of Cheene, known more commonly as Mara, the strongest mage in all Wrystan.
Sharp blue eyes looked him over from an equally sharp face and she smiled. “Well, mage-page, don’t keep me waiting. Take me to this new student of mine. I’m curious to meet him.”
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