With Temper of Wisdom my tradition of bad luck and worse timing was well under way.
The Warner editor who’d bought both Ultima books left the company while it was being transformed into the “new” Time-Warner publishing house. The new editor assigned to the project envisioned a book line that didn’t “stoop” to publishing media or gaming tie-ins.
Temper of Wisdom was one of the last books that Warner published and though I was never able to prove it, I’ve long suspected that they distributed the book by taking boxes of it up to the top floor of their 5th Avenue building and tossing the contents to the four quarters of the compass. It has been somewhat easier to find in remainder editions, but by then it was too late to save the series.
As a result, the stories of Jordan, Balthan, Althea, Drum, and Darrel (better known as Squirt) came to an unfortunate and rather abrupt end just when I thought they were getting interesting.
“I will count to three, Jordan. Then open your eyes, and look upon the glyph. Name the runes within it as quickly as you can. Now ... one ...”
Annon of Britain whispered two syllables and released a bitter-smelling substance into the air. A shimmering golden coil rose above a rough-hewn table.
Among Annon's five visitors, only Balthan Wanderson watched the magician's hands weaving in the candlelight rather than the emerging glyph. Balthan was himself a magician, a novice of the Second Circle. He could cast an identical In Lor light spell–it was First Circle spellcraft–and he knew how to capture a glyph on parchment–he'd been amanuensis for Annon's counterpart, Felespar of Yew. Not long ago he'd spent the better part of each day doing just that. Annon, Felespar, and other master magicians earned a good living fabricating magic scrolls for ordinary people to buy and use. Balthan had not yet been instructed in the thaumaturgical art of transmuting spells into glyphs; that was not a trick taught to Second Circle novices. Balthan Wanderson was a precocious–some said dangerously precocious–novice. By the time Annon lowered his arms, he knew the thaurnaturgical secret of glyph-making.
". . . Three!"
Jordan's eyes opened; Balthan inverted an hourglass. The dark, musty loft was silent as Jordan stared at the slowly rotating glyph. Annon; Balthan; Balthan's sister, Althea; Jordan's brother, Squirt; and Drumon the Farrier looked between their companion and the magic.
Three weeks had passed since they rescued Balthan from a harpy-guarded cave in the northern wilderness . The first was a week of frustration in Yew where luck and fortune ignored them. The second two were spent on the road between Yew and Britain. With food and steep, Balthan's health had restored itself. But Jordan remained intractably, miserably blind, although not, he insisted, midnight blind. When his eyes were open he saw brilliant, exploding spheres. From time to time these explosions released a frozen image: a clumsy portrait of something that had already happened, something his blind eyes had seen and his memory retained.
AIthea consoled Jordan in his misery. She guided him through the tasks that were suddenly mysterious or impossible, but she couldn't understand why he kept a blindfold knotted tightly over his eyes. Any vision, even exploding spheres or still-life memories, should be better than the midnight blindness Jordan fabricated with the blindfold–until she watched him staring at the glyph.
Jordan's pupils swelled until they consumed the golden-hazel iris. Then they began to pulse each in different, meaningless rhythms. Althea whimpered, and ran away. The sound drew Jordan's attention.
"Watch the glyph!" Annon reprimanded.
Jordan blinked and obeyed.
“C'mon, Jordan. Can't you see it yet?” Squirt's eyes were as wide as his brother's and focused on the glyph, as if they could, together, overcome malingering magic. “Please?”
Annon quashed the boy with a scowl. The glyph shivered. Magic decayed quickly; In Lor light could no longer be kindled from the rippling glyph. Balthan glanced at the sand in the lower bulb and worried that Jordan would not see the runes before the glyph faded completely. He looked at Annon, hoping to read the Councillor's thoughts on his face.
Would Annon blame him for Jordan's affliction? Sleep-starved and hounded by wraith-shadows, he had not been sane when he invoked the potent scrolls he'd taken from Felespar's workroom in his escape. He'd expected to hide behind their magic for years, perhaps centuries; he had certainly not expected the companions of a childhood he routinely denied to come and rescue him. Even if his wraith-shadow persecutors were not bound to Regent Blackthorn, and were not the root cause of Blackthorn's quarrel with the Council of Magicians, it would be unjust for Annon to blame him for something he could not have foreseen. Justice, as Balthan understood it, should bring congratulations. After all, his desperate commingling of light, annihilation, and the negation of time had created an effective defense Annon himself might find useful if Blackthorn's minions got too close.
There was, however, Jordan–whose bulging, pulsing eyes seemed ready to pop from his skull. With undeniably virtuous intentions, Jordan had breached Balthan's defenses and by that act lost everything he cherished: his sword mastery and his Virtue Quest.
As the furrows above Annon's wire-bound spectacles deepened, Balthan made a silent orison: Destiny-bring back Jordan Hawson's sight ... please.
“I see it!” Jordan exalted. “lh-n . . . T-ih-m!” The glyph vanished, so did Jordan's joy. He knew the names of all the common spells. He looked across the table, where he remembered hearing Balthan's voice “Create time–is that possible?”
Balthan didn't answer. He stood beside Annon with the hourglass now. In another few moments Jordan might remember that he'd questioned empty air, not Balthan Wanderson. Years of martial training had hardened Jordan against physical pain; the blindness had made him brittle. His embarrassment would resolve into rage or despair Balthan, could bear the abuse of his foster-brother's rage, it was the other that unnerved him. He held his breath.
In the unnatural silence, Jordan did not need to wait for memory. His face darkened. He pounded the table with his fist. “Hythloth take you all!”
Althea scurried to Jordan's side. “In Lor: Create Light,” she whispered. “The runes were poorly formed. I could hardly read them myself.” She tried to pull his fist away from the table. It might have been the Hawksnest tower for the success she had. “Don't get so angry,” she pleaded. “There's nothing to be gained by anger.”
“There's nothing to be gained anywhere! Nothing!” Jordan surged to his feet. “Damn magicians and all their magic.”
“We'll leave.” Althea put her hands around Jordan's waist to guide him. She touched him freely now that he was less than whole. Less of a threat to her virtue. “You don't need someone telling you what you already know–”
“A moment, my dear lady.” Annon's voice was soft polite, and powerful “I would like to tell Jordan what I've learned–even if he does already know it.”
Althea hid her hands in the frayed sleeves of her gown. Jordan confronted Annon's voice. His eyes no longer pulsed.
“You're not blind, Jordan Hawson. There is nothing wrong with your eyes, nor your mind. Your affliction rises solely from miscast magic. You understand that a healer might leave an arrowhead in the wound rather than cause more harm removing it–?”
“Magic's not like an arrowhead!” Squirt interjected, “Magic's not real, it's just spells. Can't you say something to make it go away?”
Annon shook his head sadly He liked the boy; he liked and pitied all of them. “Once cast, a spell is as real as an arrowhead, Darrel.” Removing his spectacles, the magician massaged the bridge of his nose “Imagine I have wine and water. After I pour the wine into the water, is there any way I can get the wine back again?”
The boy's jaw dropped; Balthan took up the argument for him: “Distill the mixture. The elements will separate–”
“I did not ask how to get water back,” Annon chided. “The merchants of Trinsic might pay you well for your brandy but the wine would remain lost.”
Balthan grimaced. “The question remains: can a spell be withdrawn? and the answer is yes.”
“It's quibbling, I know, but you did not release a spell from the scrolls you filched. I distinguished three by name, and others I could not decipher–”
“Dust-be-gone and stir-the-pot to raise the barrier.” Balthan's pride was evident.
A bemused smile ghosted across Annon's face. “You mixed linear magic with Eighth Circle scrollcraft?” It was replaced by a sterner expression. “A mage who knew what he was doing when he did that, that mage might be Anabarces reborn, but you are merely a fortunate fool and a danger to those around you. You overreach yourself, Balthan Wanderson. You'll lose it all,” the Councillor warned.
Annon opened one of the countless drawers in his sandalwood box–the signature possession of a mage of the Sixth or higher Circle. The contents of the drawer glowed. Balthan could not guess what spell it was, though he could be certain there was nothing in his novice's sack to counter it. He wanted everything magic had to offer and he wanted it badly enough to swallow his pride.
“I was wrong,” he said thickly. “I am a fool I'm sorry I accept your judgment, your pun–”
“Don't plead or apologize,” Jordan interrupted. “It wasn't your fault. I don't blame you for my destiny. You were desperate; you were justified. You told me he could help, so we came. That, and only that, was your mistake. He's no help. He says I'm not blind. He's a fine one to call you a fool. Let's go.”
Jordan took a long step in the wrong direction. Althea led him back to the stool.
The wooden spindles of the hourglass snapped in Balthan's hands. “No, there's more. The magic's inside you, like poison. I can't withdraw it, and neither can Annon, but magic doesn't last forever. It can't. It fades and nothing makes magic fade faster than more magic.” Balthan dared to took at Annon. “When he stared at the glyph, and his eyes pulsed–that was magic against magic, wasn't it?”
Annon dropped a panel over the glowing drawer. Everyone blinked at the sound. Those who could see when they reopened their eyes, saw that the sandalwood box was half its former size.
“Well, wasn't it?” Balthan demanded.
“I've never thought about it–but, yes, probably. Although I should think that Jordan himself, with his will to see the glyph, ground them against each other. Spells do not of themselves oppose each other–or how could you have wrought your barrier?”
Squirt grasped the significance of Annon's words. “Jordie–you can make it go away. You can wear it down until you can see again. All you have to do is try!”
“Is that true?” Jordan looked at Balthan; Balthan looked at Annon.
“Yes, that is true,” Annon poured a wealth of reservations into the words.
“There's more,” Jordan guessed. “It's true, but not true enough. That's magic for you: a thousand ways to slay a man, but only one to bring him back . . . and no one dares to use it.” He did not see Annon's scowl and was not quieted by it.
“Balthan admits he used an An Tym scroll to negate time An Tym is an illusion-the power of time cannot be negated but, as Anabarces meant it to be cast, An Tym surrounds the spellcaster with an anomaly in which time–perceived as movement–stands still. The illusion does not last long but, as I'm sure your swordmasters taught you, a single moment can be the difference between life and death–”
“This illusion's lasted three weeks.”
“Our clever friend has found a way to make An Tym last longer by reducing the anomaly to the size of a dust mote. That is what you did, isn't it?”
Balthan moistened his lips. “Smaller.”
“How much longer?” Jordan demanded.
Annon rephrased his question: “How much smaller?”
Balthan stared at his feet. “I don't know.”
“Anabarces!” Annon gestured at the ceiling. “How can you not know?”
Balthan was saved from further humiliation when Jordan's fist struck the table. “What are you talking about? Answer me, either of you! Am I going to be restored tomorrow? Or am I going to be flash-blind the rest of my life?”
“That seems to be exactly what your foster-brother doesn't know,” Annon said.
“You have to fight it, Jordan.” Balthan found his voice and conviction “It won't last as long as it could, if you fight it tooth and nail.”
Jordan's exploding spheres revealed the magicians as they had been moments ago: confronting each other above the glowing sandalwood box. His self-pity was transformed into fury. “The world would be a better place without your kind,” he snarled as he searched for the blindfold. “None of it this could have happened without magicians. Balthan couldn't make a talisman to lure us on a wild quest. By the Eight, the Three, and the One-All-Around–Annon, you wouldn't be outlawed and hiding, because there'd be no Words of Power for the regent to demand from you. Britannia would be ruled by its peers, not master magicians and strangers from another world.” He uprooted a tuft of hair knotting the blindfold; everyone but him flinched. “No moon gates, no Avatar telling us how to live–”
“That's enough!” Annon clapped his hands. The sound was louder than it should have been, reminding them that magic did exist and the Councillor was among its foremost practitioners “You've every reason to be angry, but no excuse for sedition-not now, not in Britain City, nor anywhere else. Balthan's told you the truth. Put your anger into fighting the magic within you. No one can tell you how long it will take, but it will take longer if you act like a fool. Go home. Your life isn't over–don't throw it away.”
The stool tipped when Jordan stood up. He stumbled over its legs, then kicked it across the loft, narrowly missing Squirt.
“Be careful, you'll hurt yourself,” Althea soothed.
Jordan allowed her to guide him to the ladder.
Annon frowned. There was magic in Britannia, but no clairvoyance. The only sense of the future Annon had was an altogether human foreboding that these five young people had gotten themselves enmeshed in the chaos sweeping the realm in the wake of Lord British's disappearance. For their sakes, he hoped they returned safely to Hawksnest. Belatedly, he noticed they were gaunt as well as travel-weary. Their clothes were not merely stained, but threadbare. “You've chosen to go hungry rather than let Lord Ironhawk know where you are, or what has happened to you,” he concluded aloud. “You're penniless “
“I've got a year's savings in Yanno Goldsmith's vault in Yew,” Balthan snarled. “And when I went in to claim it, he swore I was an imposter. When I proved myself, he threatened to turn me in–”
“Yanno's loyal,” Annon interrupted with unchallengeable certainty. “I told him to keep an eye out for you. You're the one we doubted. You disappeared under suspicious circumstances.”
Balthan ground his lower lip between his teeth. Would anyone ever believe his story that shadowed evil accompanied Blackthorn that fateful night when the regent came to take the Word of Power from Felespar? Balthan recognized Blackthorn's shadows as the wraiths who haunted his dreams. He hadn't mentioned the dreams to Annon and–judging from the edge in the Councillor's voice–that decision had been wise. But wise or not, silence and meekness galled Balthan to the core.
“I told you what happened. Felespar trusted me. Besides-the silver belongs to me.”
Annon raised his hand. “Felespar's a prisoner of the Inquisition; you're not. It raised questions.”
The loft was filled with dazzling light. When everyone recovered, the sandalwood box was opened up like a counting board. Annon extracted and divided a small pile of coins. “I cannot see you all horsed, but coaches still travel the Old Paladin's Road. This should buy an inside seat for your lady, roof passage for the rest of you, and a daily meal at the charterhouses.”
Annon gave the larger division to Balthan who clutched the coins and meant to stash them in the leather pocket beneath his shirt without shaming himself by counting them, but Drum, who'd said nothing at all since they'd arrived, foiled the young magician's plans.
“If the Councillor has no objections, I'll take my share. I've no mind to sit on a coach roof when my feet will serve and I'm indebted to my guild.” He plucked two silver coins off Balthan's palm and was reaching for a third when the magician closed his fist. “I owe one and a half crowns…” the smith muttered.
Jordan reached for Balthan, missing him by an arm's length. “Give him what he needs to settle his debts; we'll walk partway. I thank you for your generosity, Lord Councillor, but we're in no hurry. The more time before I meet my lord father, the better my chances of seeing him–isn't that right?”
All of the coins in Balthan's fist didn't make one gold crown. Jordan was the only one who hadn't seen that, but for his sake no one said anything. Althea led Jordan to the ladder. Squirt hooked his fingers in the comers of his mouth. He made a demon's face at Drum before scampering to the ladder.
The farrier was genuinely puzzled: “My guild debt is one and a half crowns,” he repeated. “Nothing changes that.”
“No, nothing changes that,” Annon agreed mildly.
Feeling vindicated, Drum headed for the ladder, leaving Balthan alone with the Councillor.
“Try to persuade your friends to take the coach–”
“I'm not going. I'm staying here . . . with you.”
Annon closed and reclosed his box, shrinking it and reshaping it until it could be hung from a belthook. “I have no need for an amanuensis. Your place is at Hawksnest.”
“I didn't mean grinding reagents or illuminating scrolls. You're not alone against the Inquisition. Perhaps I was wrong about Yanno–but I know we were spied on in Yew. We hadn't been in Britain City an hour before we were spotted. There's a resistance forming, and you're near its head. I want to join. I saw wraiths with Blackthorn that night, I swear that I did. I can recognize them. I've felt them overhead when miasma blankets the cities with madness. The wraiths are miasma: you didn't know that before. You know you need me; there's no one else who knows what I know.”
“Lord Blackthorn does,” Annon said simply. “Lord British trusted Lord Blackthorn enough to leave him regent. If Lord British could not sniff out corruption in a Companion–If a Companion of Lord British could not resist the corruption, how did you manage it?”
Balthan had no answer. He folded his hands in supplication. “My lord, I need to clear my name. Set guards around me; charm away my will–but give me a chance–”
“If you want to clear your name, do what you're told: go to Hawksnest. Stay out of sight. Stay out of trouble.” He lifted Balthan's chin; their eyes met. “I believe you. I'll be your advocate. Anabarces' restless ghost, Balthan: you say you know what these wraiths can do to a man's will. Try to understand my caution. Patience and obedience will win your cause.”
Balthan stung his sack over his shoulder and pulled a feathered hat down to his eyebrows. “Don't make me wait forever.” It was a plea, not a threat.
“I won't make you wait one moment more than is necessary–no longer than Jordan Hawson waits for his vision to return.”
“If he keeps that damn rag tied over his eyes, he'll never get it back.”
“Then persuade him to untie it.”
* * *
The loft was silent. The sounds of the young people had completely faded.
“Another false trail. Another false hope.”
The voice came from the rafters. Annon spun around, startled, but not frightened.
“Shamino, my friend… When did you arrive?”
Lean, pale, and ageless, Lord British's Companion and mentor leapt lightly to the floor. “Before your other guests. So, you believe Balthan Wanderson?” The ranger was plainly skeptical.
“I never believed he betrayed Felespar. As for the rest, it tallies with all we've learned these months since Lord British vanished. Blackthorn is possessed; whatever possesses him cannot manifest itself physically, though by Destiny and Virtue, it is trying.”
“Can you believe that overreaching whelp resisted it?”
“I believe he sought, and received, Felespar's help. I suspect Balthan Wanderson will be forever ambitious, arrogant, and overreaching–that barrier he made was sheer genius–but evil? I think not. He's stood in the Flame of Virtue, remember, and survived.”
“Then why send him away?”
“I know he's been tempered in the Flame, but he doesn't. Nothing will strengthen him like a few seasons with the foster-brother his genius blinded.”
“Jordan Hawson? It's too bad-he had promise.”
“Has promise, my friend, Jordan Hawson has promise so long as he doesn't lose heart. Once he's back at Hawksnest and reconciled with his father, he'll come around.” Annon watched Shamino frown. “Tell me–could a Companion be corrupted?”
Shamino's frown deepened. “We're ordinary people, Councillor. That we age so slowly is a quirk, an accident–sometimes a curse. One of us could be very corruptible and very skilled at concealing that corruption. If Blackthorn's embraced manifest evil, we're in for a long ordeal. He's already recruited enough derelict humanity to make an army of Inquisitors.”
“Our Resistance will grow by itself,” Annon–ever the optimist-countered.
“It should. It may. But evil is attractive and uncertainty feeds oppression. I don't think we'll turn Blackthorn's flank. Innocent folk embrace his cause, Annon, they embrace his uncompromising laws. They welcome the Inquisitors.”
“We're lucky, then, that so many live on peerage estates beyond the crown's reach and grasp.”
Shamino shook his head. “By harvest every estate will play the host to Blackthorn's guests, will they or nil they. The largest find themselves harboring one already–including Hawksnest.”
“Ironhawk's a doughty plodder for Virtue. One miscreant Inquisitor won't push him off course.”
“I saw the man they sent: his name is Lohgrin. He worked in the chancellory, before that he came from Verity Isle. He's a piece of work, born to wear black robes.”
The Councillor's shield of optimism slipped. “Lohgrin? I knew a Lohgrin when I was on Verity Isle at the Lyceum. Brilliant in a way. A bit like young Wanderson, but deviant, cruel. He would not be purged of his vices The masters turned him out. That was twenty years ago.” Annon quenched his doubts with one of the Avatar's maxims: “Only Virtue endures.”
Shamino had heard the Avatar speak those confident, reassuring words more than a hundred years earlier Britannia needed no gods because Britannia had Virtue. Evil ravaged, evil destroyed, and evil might shine with a fearsome light, but in the end, evil consumed itself. Only Virtue nurtured, sustained, and endured. The ranger assured himself his faith in the power of Virtue was unshaken; but doubts were finding fertile soil. Hadn't he just told Annon that the Companions were not immune to corruption? Hadn't he known that all along? Lord British's belief in Virtue was pure and adamant; it had created the Avatar. Shamino believed in Lord British's Virtue.
Lord British had vanished without a trace six months ago.
A gloomy pall permeated the loft. The air did truly thicken and turn malignant in Britain City and elsewhere. Miasma, it was called, and it stoked humanity's basest instincts, but this was not miasma
“Still no sign of our Lord British?” the Councillor asked, already knowing the answer.
Shamino shook his head slowly. He had followed Lord British's trail through Spiritwood and into the Maelstrom river caverns until it became unreadable. He tracked through stench and mist to the bottom of a cataract where the trail disappeared on unyielding stone. “All I know for certain is they did not, could not, return the way they went in,” he muttered. “There are other ways out-dozens, maybe hundreds. I'll cover them all, if I have to–”
Annon clapped a comradely arm around the ranger's shoulders. “What else can we do?”
Copyright 1992 by Lynn Abbey and Richard Garriott