The sheriff led the two strangers out of town, the shorter of the two still protesting. “I know you don’t want our help, Warwick,” he was saying. “But van der Klein is your last, best hope to sort things out before it goes sour. The three of us are the only ones coming to help you. It’s not like the Knights of Stonehenge are going to show up unbidden.”
“That’s fine, Harper,” Warwick replied in a more normal tone. “You just tell your friend there to get back on the train and light out to other parts.”
“I’ll be back if we learn anything about that lighthouse of yours,” Harper replied.
“Just send a note.”
The sheriff watched as the two men approached a third, a tall but thin fellow with a very pale face and hair. They argued for several moments but by that point they were far enough away that their voices didn’t carry to the statue. Neither sheriff nor the three he watched paid any attention to the other two passengers who got off the train.
But Jonathan Riker’s statue noticed. They were young, a man and a woman. They had very similar faces and blonde, curling hair and they moved with determination and purpose, though the man favored his right leg. As they passed the first buildings in town the man paused just long enough to look back and watched Harper and his friends climb on the train. Then they vanished into the heart of the Cove.
Johan van der Klein fiddled with the sides of the small black box that sat between him and his old friend. Roy was gnawing on a roast chicken leg while Proud Elk explained why the sheriff of Riker’s Cove threw them out of town. Every so often Harper would add a bit of context or fill in a detail. Johan thought the most interesting bit was the fact that Sheriff Warwick was a master of candles of revealing. Even among the druids such people were rare.
“Did you ever work out what the first candle he burned was?” Johan asked when the story was done.
“I was assuming it was a single instance of the candles he used in his office,” Roy said.
“Did he light it with the others when he showed you the house?”
Roy thought about it for several seconds. “No, now that you mention it I don’t believe he did. Any reason he wouldn’t? The others were a lot more burned down than the one he greeted me with.”
“Harmon’s Sons don’t have very many records of encounters with druidic magic techniques,” Johan said, pulling one side of his box so it slid an inch out along the grooves it sat in. The dull gleam of a mirror inside it caught the light from the afternoon sun. “Candles in particular are a tricky business to work out. Most druids give form to magic using plants as their medium of choice. They awaken trees that are too small to have minds of their own, they exist symbiotically with plants like the yew or ivy, they burn incense to release power from herbs and the like. Very few mesh directly with magic like you, Roy.”
Roy tossed his chicken bones down on his plate and looked warily around the hotel restaurant they sat in. They weren’t the only guests there but few seemed interested approaching the table where the three sat. There was a ring of empty tables all around them, as if Roy’s hostile attitude and reputation as a bounty hunter and monster killer repelled the peaceful people of Loewenburg. Satisfied he wouldn’t be overheard, Roy asked, “So what about the candles? Do you have a guess as to what they do?”
“Hard to say.” Johan carefully shifted the sides of the lightbox so the mirrors caught the light and focused it so it created the illusion of a flickering flame. “Druidic incenses do many different things and candles are similar in their approach. A lot of powerful magic herbs are toxic on some level and druids build up a resistance to them during their training. However the toxins in some herbs are so concentrated that the dose in normal incense is still too high enough to kill. Other herbs release magic so powerful it’s impossible to control except in the smallest amounts. So druids weave a few threads from the plants into candle wicks. That produces smaller, more manageable doses of magic – or toxins – that make the plants a usable lens to shape the magic.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that,” Roy said. “I knew a Harwick once. He could use a candle to turn to smoke and pass through gaps in walls and the like.”
“That’s not one I’ve heard of before.” Johan continued to tweak the shape of the light from his box to create more and more illusory candles. “Sadly, it doesn’t help us figure out what Warwick’s candles might do. The reasons druids chose candles as a medium for magic are secondary to the actual function of the magic they are creating. The candle is just a way to regulate it safely. There are potentially as many different kinds of magic candles as there are fibrous herbs to put in their wicks. If it wasn’t one of his candles of revealing I can’t guess what it is from what you’ve told me.”
Roy shook his head. “Those revealing candles work very fast and very obviously. Whatever that other candle did it was much more subtle.”
“Were the flames of the revealing candles silent like the one he brought to your first meeting?”
“Couldn’t tell.” Roy sketched the bars of a prison cell with his hands. “Iron in the bars, remember? That tends to dampen out the voices from an open flame unless the fire in question is much larger than the intervening iron. That’s one reason I carried an iron weapon for years. Helped me sleep with a campfire nearby.”
“Well, given the kinds of magic they tended to put in candles we can assume it’s a very powerful working we’ll have to be cautious of.”
Proud Elk studied the flame illusion intently. “It has been many years since I have seen such craft, Silver Glass. It seems much more impressive than a bit of candle wax.”
“Well, the First Son of Harmon was a true genius. But whether he was an equal to the First and Forever King of Avalon is very much an open question and one we’ll likely never see answered. What is certain is they created very different kinds of workings. The magic of light is much more ephemeral than that of the great, growing things of the earth.” Johan collapsed the lightbox down to its base form, closing up the many mirrors and leaving only the black lacquered exterior showing. “I would have liked to see this lighthouse. Changing the bend of space is a very difficult thing to achieve.”
“Ever seen anything like that before?” Roy asked.
“Problem is, like a druid’s candle, it could be any number of things,” Johan mused. “Illusion, actual bending of space or just creating a link between the top of the tower and distant place. But there’s no way to narrow it down without testing things.”
“Does it matter?” Proud Elk asked. “I did not see much of that man’s town but I did notice that every house and shop with a window had a candle behind the glass. Based on what you’ve said I do not think this can be coincidence.”
Roy nodded. “I saw them at the inn, too. I suspect our good Sheriff Warwick passed them out after von Nighburg came to town. Usually his lot are stingier with magic than that.”
“What about your friends?”
Proud Elk gave Johan a questioning look. “I thought all of us who signed the Pact were accounted for.”
“We are. But I met two travelers from Avalon on the train and learned they were coming to meet Roy as well.” Johan ran a finger along the edge of this lightbox. “They got off at the Cove but the sheriff clearly wasn’t expecting them. The girl seemed to know what was going on somehow.”
“Very sharp ears on that one,” Roy said. From the faint smile he had when he said it, Johan guessed that was all the explanation they were going to get. He’d been tight lipped even as a kid in the Regulars. “Her brother is a fully fledged Knight of the Stone Circle, straight from Stonehenge itself. They’ll stay ahead of Warwick pretty easily. Hopefully they can figure out a few things for us before we get back there.”
“You’ve got a lot of faith in those two,” Johan said. “I suppose it’s yours to give.”
“I was kind of winging it, to be fair, but we got as good an outcome as any of us could hope for,” Roy said. “I was thinking we’d give them a day to look around and then sneak back up on the Cove and whistle for the Fairchilds.”
“A serviceable plan given the circumstances,” Proud Elk said. “There is one question – no, two, that it leaves unanswered.”
Roy quirked an eyebrow and said, “What’s bothering you, Proud Elk?”
“First, we do not know why Heinrich von Nighburg chose this lighthouse building in that man’s village.” The Sanna man ticked off the possibilities on his fingers. “Is it a place of power? Is it the tides and ocean? Was it simply a convenient thing he found?”
“You’re an expert at dousing and the other river magics of the Sanna,” Johan said. “Do you have an opinion?”
“Like you, I would have to go there and examine it to make any kind of guess. That brings me to the second issue. What will we do if breaching the lighthouse requires some kind of talisman or special ritual that we do not know? The sheriff was unable to divine a way in. If we try and fail we will have revealed ourselves to von Nighburg and the sheriff.”
“A moment, gentleman.” Johan turned and motioned for one of the hotel’s waiters.
The man hurried over, smoothing the front of his suit. “Can I help you, sir?”
“Does the hotel have an almanac available?”
“Of course, sir. Would you like to see it?”
“Please.” Johan ignored his friend’s questioning looks.
It took only a moment for the waiter to return with a thick book in hand. He passed it to Johan, who quickly began flipping through it. “Is there anything else?”
“This will only take a moment.” Johan found the entry he wanted and skimmed over it, making a note of the timing of the situation, then handed it back to the waiter. “Thank you, that will be all.”
Once they were alone again he continued, saying, “We can solve the second issue by waiting another day to return to the cove.”
“Why’s that?” Roy asked.
“Low Noon is in two days. It’s a time of portent when the barriers between what’s seen and unseen are very thin and many forms of magic become more powerful. I believe we can create a new entrance to the unseen portion of the lighthouse – or perhaps drag it into our world – with the added power of the lunar eclipse on our side.”
Proud Elk frowned. “I have not heard of this Low Noon before. Lunar means the moon, but the what is eclipse? Why do you name it like you do the highest moment of the day?”
“Is that important?” Johan asked.
“It is a time of portent,” Proud Elk said in disapproval. “Shouldn’t the name have portent as well?”
“A lunar eclipse is when the moon is overshadowed by the earth,” Roy answered. “I believe the Sanna call it inil’anawak? The moon is full then turns dark for several hours.”
The Sanna man nodded. “I suspected as much but I also wish to understand why you’ve chosen this name.”
“Well, as I understand it the name came about because a lunar eclipse is the opposite of High Noon. Night versus day, happening rarely instead of daily, moon and sun.” Roy shrugged. “I don’t know the exact origin of the phrase. You know we’re not as particular about these things in Columbia as you folks are, Proud Elk.”
“On the contrary, Bright Coals, even in this I feel there is much to learn about your people. Now, I have a third question.” He turned to Johan and said, “Given the nature of this time won’t that make your magics difficult to work, Silver Glass? I recall you needed light to work them.”
“Not to worry. It’s been eight years since we went down to Tyson’s Run. I’ve picked up a trick or two that let me work my arts even if there’s no light at all.”
“Then we’ll leave in two days.” Roy got up, straightening the front of his vest with a sharp tug. “Until then we’ll make preparations as needed. I’ll arrange for a boat or skiff, I don’t think the sheriff will expect us by sea. Meet here this evening to check in.”
“Who will pilot the boat?” Johan asked.
“I have stood at the rear of many a canoe,” Proud Elk assured him. “I may need to spend some time outdoors tonight. Look for me tomorrow evening.”
“We may need you for that Proud Elk, although I’m going to be looking for something very specific. I’ve used them before working with Books. It’ll depend on what’s available out here, though, so if I can’t find it we may need your expertise after all. I’ll let you know for sure when you get back.” Roy stood up and gave them a sharp nod. “Get to it boys.”
Johan picked up his lightbox and got to his feet. A house outside of the world as they knew it would be a real challenge. The First Son of Harmon created the lightbox as a versatile and easily transported tool for the working of his arts. But a lot of sacrifices were made to achieve that versatility and portability. For a challenge like von Nighburg he was going to need more mirrors.