A Candle in the Wind – Chapter One

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Roy watched as Avery snuffed out the candle, licked his fingers and pinched the wick between them. “Can I ask you something you may find inappropriate?”

Avery set the candle on his desk in the Cove’s lockup. “What’s that?”

“What’s the candle’s magic?”

The sheriff gave him a quizzical look. “What makes you think it’s a magic candle?”

“Well for starters, it’s not even dusk yet but you’re walking around with it lit.” Roy leaned against the wall and folded his arms. “The obvious reason for that is because you’re working some kind of druid tricks with it. I can’t be the first person to notice how many of the old knights had ‘wick’ in their names and there’s a strong tie between those names and people who work magic via candles. But the first clue was how quiet it was.”

“Quiet?” Avery settled into his chair and put his boots up on the desk. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’m a dolmen burner, sheriff. Druids called us fireminds but it’s essentially the same thing. One of our gifts? We can hear even the smallest flames whispering the secrets of Primeval Fire.” Roy pointed at the candle. “That is the first thing I’ve heard burn in silence in the last ten years. It’s gotta be magic.”

“A firemind…” Avery drummed his fingers on his arm for a moment. “That does explain a few things.”

“Want to share any of them?”

“No.” The sheriff unbuckled his sword belt and leaned the weapon against the desk. The working space was incredibly clean. At least it wasn’t cluttered with correspondence, wanted posters, souvenirs that hadn’t found a home yet, half used bottles of ink and loose papers. In other words, it wasn’t like Roy’s desk.

That didn’t mean there were no similarities between their desks. Avery reached down to the bottom drawer of the desk, opened it and pulled out a roll of papers which Roy instantly recognized as wanted posters from the local Storm Watch outpost. “What do you know about Nighburg?”

“Just the basic details the Watchers have on hand. He’s dangerous, wanted dead or alive and likely to use powerful magic gained through pacts with various otherworldly forces.” Roy pushed off the wall and approached as close as he could. Rested his arms on the bronze bars between the two, careful to avoid the iron bits. Waved a hand to encompass everything outside his cell. “He shouldn’t be out on that side of things. Want to explain why I’m locked up rather than out there working to get Nighburg in here?”

Avery found a specific poster in his roll and pulled it out. It showed a grim faced man of late middle age with bushy hair, eyebrows and beard that Roy recognized as his quarry. “Eight hundred silver marks dead or alive. A little less than the typical Roy Harper bounty these days, isn’t it? Stories say you got fifteen hundred when you brought in the Blue Mountain Bandits.”

“They were a three man team and I worked with the Packards to do it,” Roy said. “Besides, that’s not the reason why I’m here.”

“The bounty? You’re a firespinner, Harper, you only do this for money. You got a side contract on this guy?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Roy hooked a thumb at the bars of his jail cell. “Seriously, Warwick, what’s this about? Right now it looks like you have a side contract with Nighburh. I can’t imagine a Knight of the Stone Circle, sworn to seek truth, defend the innocent and destroy evil, just signed on with a wanted murder and black magician. What’s going on here?”

“You fought for Columbia and Vulcanus during the war, Harper,” Avery said, heat tinging his voice. “Don’t pretend you understand the first thing about the way the Stone Circle works.”

Roy turned away from the cell door and paced around it once in frustration. His stint in the Regulars during the war was no secret. With all the bad blood the Lakeshire war had engendered between the Provincials and the rest of Columbia this wasn’t even the first time it had been thrown in his face that month. All a part of having a name out in the Western Counties these days. But so far the seven or eight actual Knights of Morainhenge that he’d met had been fair minded and reasonable people, grudges not withstanding. You weren’t let through the Trials and squired if you couldn’t keep personal motives in check to Knightly duties. Perhaps there was an angle he could try there.

Roy completed his trip around the plain, wooden walls of his eight by eight cell and addressed Avery again. “You brought me here on false pretenses,” he said. “Made it sound like you wanted to discuss my bounty then, once you had the home field advantage, you tell me I’m under arrest and make me give up my weapons. I may never have been squired but I know truth is a druid’s first responsibility. It doesn’t feel like you’re upholding it.”

Avery had pulled more things out of his desk while Roy was pacing. A half a dozen candle stubs now sat in front of him. The wanted posters had been pushed to one side of the desk and Avery was carefully clipping the charred ends of the wicks with a pair of scissors. “Not an ideal solution, I admit, but not a lie. I do want to discuss your bounty with you, after all.”

“I thought it was because you wanted to help bring the man in.”

Avery trimmed the final candle stub and put the scissors away. “Understandable but incorrect.” The sheriff leaned back in his chair and gave Roy a searching look. “Do you know all five tenants of Avaloni Chivalry?”

The direction of that question was promising but Roy hoped didn’t have to answer it perfectly. “All my knowledge on the topic is hearsay, you know.” Avery spread his hands in a nonplussed manner. “Just something to keep in mind. As I recall, they were, ‘Seek the truth, defend the innocent, destroy evil and strive ceaselessly after those goals.’”

Roy paused then counted them on his fingers. “Although that’s only four things so I guess that’s not all of them.”

“You’re close, although ‘strive ceaselessly’ is an old way of saying the last one. When I was initiated we were sworn to seek truth, defend innocence, uphold good, destroy evil and pursue the unattainable from first to last.” As he spoke Avery moved his candles until five of them lined the desk in front of him. “The last bit, ‘from first to last,’ means the five tenants are hierarchical. Seeking truth is the most important, pursuing the unattainable the least.”

“Fair enough,” Roy mused. “You can’t defend the innocent until you know who the innocent are. The same is true of good and evil.”

Avery touched the fourth candle in the row. “You’ll notice that the admonition to destroy evil is the final of the four concrete commandments. The last is more a reminder that the goals are never truly reached and you should always work to get a little closer to them, so in order of importance retribution against the wicked is last.”

Roy leaned on the bars of his cell again. “Of course. Those who would destroy evil at the expense of truth, innocence and good will just replace the evils they sought to expel.”

“I’m glad to see you understand.” Avery took the five candle stubs, arranged them in a circle on his desk and added a sixth. Then he struck a match and lit them. As the smoke rose into the air and formed a ring between Roy’s cell and the front wall of the jail. The sheriff said, “These are candles of revealing. Properly used they can pierce many veils and show things normally hidden.”

As promised, as the smoke settled in shape Roy was able to look through the ring and out into the town beyond the wall. He saw the bright adobe walls of the town’s buildings, the bustling docks and white sails on the waters of the Cove. Beyond them, on a rocky promontory that was thrust out into the water, was a weathered but proud lighthouse.

At least, the bottom three quarters of the building looked like a lighthouse. The remaining portion ballooned outwards in a bizarre collection of rooms, stairways and protruding brass devices including a telescope and lightning rod. None of them had walls along the outside. It looked almost as if someone had peeled the outer walls of a castle tower like an orange and stuck the resulting structure on top of the lighthouse. It sat firmly there in defiance of architecture, gravity and logic. The whole surreal thing wavered like some kind of fog or haze surrounded it. Roy was certain he hadn’t seen anything like that when he looked out at the cove on his way into town.

“That explains the bit about consorting with otherworldly forces,” Roy muttered.

“Is it safe to say that you weren’t aware that von Nighburg has fortified his position by setting it outside our world?” Avery asked.

Roy sat down heavily on the bench in his cell. “No, can’t say I was. Surly he has to leave at some point, though, at least to get something to eat.”

“At first he had a servant that went out and bought most of what he needed like food and firewood, so he didn’t have to leave that place at all. I’m not sure how he got in the lighthouse in the first place or connected it to wherever that place is without anyone noticing but he’s there now and he’s only left on two occasions that I know of. Or at least can guess.” The sheriff blew out the candles and dispersed the viewing ring then licked his fingers and began pinching out the wicks. “I didn’t even know he’d come to town until the first bounty hunter arrived on the sky train.”

Roy surmised he wasn’t the first firespinner to come after Nighburg. “How did that hunter track Nighburg if he’d hidden himself so well?”

“Nighburg’s servant was a runaway girl from the mines up in Winchester County. That hunter was following reports of von Nighburg, extrapolated his path across the West and came here. He recognized the girl from the reports and set about locating where exactly von Nighburg was staying. Once he worked it out he approached the town sheriff.” Avery pulled a tin star half melted into slag out of the top drawer on his desk. “This was before I was sheriff. My illustrius predecessor died trying to breach the lighthouse and I was promoted from deputy to sheriff after his failure. Once it was clear we knew he was there, von Nighburg revealed himself, warned us not to irritate him again and blighted the cove, killing every living thing in its waters. We smelled rotting fish for almost a month.”

“What happened to the serving girl? If he relies on her for supplies you could arrest her and flush him out.”

“She stopped coming into town after that. You can probably guess what that means.”

Roy grimaced. Black magic was a catch all term for any kind of magic that involved taking a human life and Nighburg was wanted on over a dozen counts and that was just the ones authorities knew of. So what if he added another just to blight the waters of a small cove in the southwest? “I suppose that would be enough to discourage further attempts to meddle with him.”

“Maybe, although I suspect you’d keep trying and I wasn’t any different.” Avery folded his arms over his chest, the turn of his brow more regretful than accusatory. “I did some research. Recruited a new deputy and a couple of firespinners from the county over. That went even worse than before.”

“Really? You came out of it better off than the last sheriff.”

“Technically I came out the same as last time – I was the only survivor. Von Nighburg collapsed the town’s biggest pier and abducted three kids from their families in retaliation.” Avery shook his head ruefully. “Now those kids do his errands and the town keeps interlopers out.”

Roy was quiet for a long moment, weighing the sheriff’s words. No matter how he examined them the same message came through. Avery Warwick had an obligation to the town and its children and that meant the sheriff wouldn’t let Roy do his job. “So what are my choices, sheriff?”

“You can leave town on the skytrain of your choice. I’ll walk you to the landing and return all your weapons there, no hard feelings. Or you can stay where you are.” Avery shrugged. “Either one is fine with me.”

“Is that so.” Roy mulled it over, considering his options and his own obligations. “Well, I don’t blame you for your choice, sheriff, it’s a mighty hard place to find yourself. The regular L&K train stops here in a day and half, doesn’t it?”

“That’s right.”

“I suppose we’ll just have to be good friends until then.” Roy fished a small, leather bound book out of his jacket pocket. “Now do you have any paper and ink? I have a little writing to do in the mean time.”