"Ask? What's up? Need a lift?" he pulled up beside her.
"Hey Havi. I would _love_ a ride home." She handed up her medical bag, and used the nearest fence to get up behind him. "Why do witches insist on all having their babies all at once? I was just helping Kindly deliver four, because Idea is off with Tromp who's in labor, and Gisele actually went to Ash World for Zenith and Cost."
"The mages let her in?"
"I heard rumors that they fetched her, on account of how Zenith was taking it. And Cost apparently rejected her baby too."
Havi made an indeterminate sound. "I guess I'm not surprised. I've heard all the rumors, and they are flat out nasty."
Ask nodded against his back. "No one is surprised, but really, Zenith is much more . . . emotionally damaged than she ought to be. It makes one wonder what sorts of things that creature was capable of."
"Oh. Now that's a nasty thought. Could a spell of, oh, the emotional impact of all your nightmares, damage a person? Or would a spell have to specifically target the seat of emotions and damage it?"
Ask snorted. "Trust a wizard to have to dissect it and work out how it was done."
"Don't worry, I'm more concerned with undoing it than doing it. And I know better than to experiment."
"Good. Not that you and Rustle ever meant any harm. But her and her purple rabbits! Goodness that was funny."
Havi grinned at the memory. "They were pretty silly. I wonder if she's ever tempted to make a purple horse?" They turned in the front gate of Ask's original homestead. She and the local witches, like everyone else, did most of their farming down on the native flats. The soil was much better, but the view from up here was worth the walk to the fields.
"Well, they certainly are cute." Trump shook her head at her beautiful creamy mares and their variously dunnish colored foals. "But it's really inconvenient to always have to borrow your horses."
Klyn giggled. "And the brown doesn't match your carriage."
Trump snorted. "Alright, it's true. They don't match my carriage. But they are a very handsome foursome, obviously from Ash, so I'd best stop complaining and get dressed."
1379 Winter Solstice
King Rebo didn't attend the Royal Ball. And his one hundred and ninth birthday was celebrated with a small party that truly was small.
"I don't see why they dragged you down here." Trump eyed her arch rival who was petting a hell hound as if she had nothing to fear.
"I suspect it's a generational thing." Rustle said. "Xen and Quicksilver are his oldest son's great grandchildren, and he's got two more from his second son's son, and three on the way, if I didn't double up my counting somehow. Children are a form of immortality, and I guess seeing all these great great grandkids really made it clear that he would live forever, through them."
Trump made doubtful noises and Rustle grinned.
"Maudlin enough to be gag-worthy isn't it? Anyway, Xen and the King hit it off, so we're hanging around for a few weeks." She huffed in irritation. "It wouldn't be so bad if I just didn't have this hideous feeling that Rufi had Plans for the boy. Honestly, I'd hate to see a wizard raised in this poisonous high society."
Trump nodded. "Being out here on the island is so nice. We don't get callers and I only have to put up with their innuendo at parties." She looked around the grounds. "I should hold a garden party, but I don't really have a garden, you know?"
"Yeah." Rustle snorted. "We were raised a bit more practically than that, but I can see where you'll need to reciprocate eventually." She grinned suddenly. "I wonder how much you could do with illusions? Charm a whole bunch of stones to hold illusions of rose bushes?"
"Light charms for torches?" Trump sat up and looked at the bleak winter landscape. "We'd have to have real stone paths and patios, can't have the guests tromping in the mud. Hmm."
"And real benches. Sitting down on illusions is only funny the first time." Rustle managed to keep a straight face. "Was that you that . . . "
"Of course. It would have been funnier if Answer had sat on it, but fooling the Sheep Man was pretty good."
They both sighed, then looked at each other in alarm.
"So . . . how smarmy was I as a kid?" Rustle asked.
"It wasn't so much the smarm as the smugness at doing everything right, and perfect, and always being the Good Girl that the teachers favored. I on the other hand, in case you don't remember, was a swaggering bully."
"Hmm. I sort of remember being deliberately cute to get my way and extra privileges. But I also remember doing a whole lot that I kept secret. I don't think I was actually as good as I made myself look."
"Really?" Trump sniggered. "Well, I was always honestly in trouble and usually looking for more. I think being away from my family has really helped . . . well, I occasionally do the right thing, just because it needs doing, and not because someone will notice and reward me. It's kind of weird."
Rustle nodded. "And infuriating when someone else gets the credit for it."
Trump nodded agreement.
"Anyway, We've just—meaning I personally did the work—put a corridor between Karista and Ash. I anchored it in the Temple, beside yours. It'll need triggering too. For now we're trying to, umm, limit the number of people who come to Ash."
"What's Harry doing about the Gates? Or is he?"
"He's keeping an eye on them, and the Army is building a new fort ten miles south. The idea was for them to be far enough away to be able to prepare a defense, to keep any attackers out of Karista. So they're also going to build small posts outside each of the gates to inhabited Worlds. The Arrival gate is also being guarded from the other side by the Nice Guys over there."
"So no more goblins and dwarves coming through to rape witches. Good."
"How is Zenith doing? It's been a year, hasn't it?"
"I think she and Cost need to be separated." Trump shook her head angrily. "They're feeding off each other's . . . inability to cope."
Rustle looked surprised, then thoughtful. "Yeah, Cost was just fine until she realized who the baby's father must be. But sheesh. Zenith, well, one wonders if that thing hadn't put some sort of spell on her, witches just don't react to rape like that. I think you and I both know that."
A herd of children thundered past and down the hill. Rustle's two year old grinned at her in passing and pursued the large kids, with the three boys crawling after. Sommer and Hemli strolled after them and checked that the kids were stopping at the sandbox and swings before they scooped up the triplets.
"The oddest thing," Trump scowled. "Is the way they didn't want their older children any more. I took them to them, and they had a rather tepid and uninterested visit. When I volunteered to take them away, they were quite happy."
Rustle frowned. "That's . . . very odd, indeed. I'm not at all sure about that whole Ash World setup. It seems very insular. But then I suppose Rip Crossing does from the outside too."
Trump snorted. "Not likely, the way you lot spend the winter in the hot springs and trade all the time with Ash and Gemstone. You're more like the grown kid who keeps coming home to Mommy. Ash World . . . is isolating itself."
Rustle chuckled. "Coming home to shock Mommy, maybe. Maybe I should be paying more attention to Ash World."
Trump was tapping her fingers. "I have a better excuse, though. I'll see about getting Zenith and Cost to come out and talk to me."
"Would they come for dinner at the Tavern? Or do they associate the Tavern with the attack?"
"Would Harry move the Tavern back again?" Trump tapped harder. "All right. You are in charge of getting Harry to return to Ash, and I am in charge of getting Zenith and Cost out to dinner."
Rustle grinned. "Just pretend they are Havi and me, and bully them mercilessly."
"Right. I'm off for Ash, but how fast can you get to Harry's?"
"Little Miss Perfect knows how to Travel." She grinned and disappeared.
Trump glared at the vacant spot. "Old Gods! If she can do it, I can do it. Somehow." For now though, she stepped through the Corridor to Karista and then turned and walked through the other Corridor to Ash.
Stepping out a few paces, she turned to look. The blank wall of the Grange barn had been painted with circles. She could just barely see through illusions over the corridor entrances; the one gate entrance was a lot brighter and harder to hide. They were sensibly labeled Ash World, Rip Crossing, Gemstone, Crossroads and Karista. Hmm, one could easily go almost anywhere, in a few easy steps. Now though, she turned and walked around the barn. She could see the hole where the Tavern belonged. Should she wait until the Tavern was back, or go fetch her pyramid now?
"Hmph. If Harry isn't back, I'll just take them to Karista and we'll eat there."
She marched through the Ash World Gate, stumbling just a little on the far side. They had an actual guard post now, a wooden cabin with a view of the Gate.
One of redheaded mages, she couldn't tell them apart anymore, they'd grown since she was in school with them, practically fell off his chair.
"Hey, what's your business here?"
Trump looked down her nose at him. "It's quite personal, and I'm quite certain it's none of your business. Good grief, I'm a witch, save the nonsense for turning away gods." She marched right past him. and ignored his feeble threats.
The new village was about five miles down the track. She really should have brought a horse. Ha! The coach. She could have kidnapped Zenith and Cost, locked them in. A cavalcade of horses, well, four, came galloping up the track. She warped light around herself and then started levitating and pressing a trail through the grasses to her left. The reception committee fell for it and veered off the track to intercept absolutely nothing. Pathetic, just pathetic. She walked on. Playing with her press spell looking back. She made it follow one particular horse and glancing back saw a great deal of yelling and circling. She strolled into the village, still invisible and found a bunch of mages at the house where Glorious had first taken Zenith and Cost.
They were on the front porch, half looking out and up the street, and half confronting Glorious.
" . . . want your daughter to stay inside where she will be safe."
Tromp walked around the house to the kitchen door. It had an actual lock on it. Locked. Interesting. She turned and strolled away, which house . . . yes, that one was Catti and Zamms, and Iron and her two kids lived with them, or had been when she had so briefly visited before.
The curtains were twitching, someone was trying to see what was going on. And hear, the window was open.
Trump circled around to the kitchen door again. Again locked. But here she tapped quietly.
A faint shriek was followed by a timid, "Who's there?"
"Tromp. Is that you, Iron?"
The lock clicked and the door flew open. "Quick, get inside before it comes."
Trump slipped inside disturbed to see the girl shaking as she fumbled with the lock.
"What is happening here? The last time I was here, there wasn't a problem."
"It's our nightmares. They come for us now." Iron was rail thin, starvation thin.
"Iron! What has happened here? You look awful!" Trump put out her hands and grabbed the woman's hands. A spell surged across, wrapping fear and belief around her mind for a long moment before she ripped it off and tore it to shreds. She clung to Iron's hands and reached out for that spell. Oh it was wrapped tight! She started to rip at it and made herself stop. No. Analyze it. It had components, like every complex spell it was a net of little spells knitted together for a greater combined effect. And all those little spells had opposites.
There was fear, knitted in with memory, tied to embarrassment, and bound up with panic. There was more, but she could take anger and attach some forgetfulness, throw in some disregard for convention and a very large dose of confidence, and wrap that around Iron and see . . . everything cancel out except a recognition-of-predators-interest, lust and a compel.
Heh. I'll match you with a I-am-dangerous-and-hunting-right-now, contempt and independence.
Iron swayed and her eyes opened wide. "Tromp? What . . . that was a spell. I've been cowering in my house for months, terrified by a spell. How did you take it off?"
Trump gave her the two part spell web and Iron bolted up the narrow stairs. Trump followed, and found her pulling a skinny terrified girl out from under the bed, and wrapping the spell around her. The girl, could she be five? She was awfully small . . . Trump turned and started opening doors. She found the two teenagers hiding in a closet, and wrapped them. Then she went downstairs and wrapped Catti and Zamm, as they shrieked and tried to flee.
The men across the street heard and ran toward the house. Trump stepped out and started throwing her spell web. Damn, she should have made a bunch of copies and had them ready . . .
She spotted old Beck Butcher and hit him with the collection, then stepped back inside and closed the door, locked it as the first man got his shoulder into it. She retreated across the room, rolling up copies of her spell web and when the door burst, she hit every man through the door with it.
Their purpose and momentum kept them moving even as the fear and panic left them. She sucked power from the first three to touch her, then Beck Miller's furious orders started getting through to the mages.
At least the old one knows he's been bespelled.