At least the old one knows he's been bespelled.
Trump rolled up another dozen spell webs and threw them at anyone who looked over emotional. "Stop touching each other, damn it! It spreads through touch and you keep contaminating yourselves."
Eventually they did, and lined up to be analyzed. The old gray haired man cursed angrily and added clear thinking and calm down to the web he was throwing.
"All right. Have you all got control of yourselves? You know to not touch anyone until we've tracked down every single person and got this thing off of them?" Beck glared at his line of baffled mages. "Take copies of this and throw it at anyone who looks the least bit off. Witch, come with me, and let's get the witches decontaminated."
They went from house to house, generally having to break down doors, and generally having to do everyone at least twice as they clutched each other or grabbed their children. A few, once unwrapped were able to hold off recontamination and help with the children.
Zenith was sickly and starved, with at least five wraps and some nasty spidery looking things that had Beck cursing again. Once the three witches there seemed better they were pulled out of the house and the house was burned to the ground.
"Get her out of here. Now, before those spiders start laying little spell traps. All of you witches get out of here. Damn all women."
He escorted Zenith himself, watching the spidery things that were hiding deep in her psyche, and nearly shoving her through the Gate. "She's your problem. Don't any of you come back."
Trump stepped through and found the first witches through had roused the town. "Nobody touch anyone." She yelled. "They got some really nasty spell webs on them, partially removed. Somebody get the Sheep Man."
The witches bumbled around until Answer had them all sit down, and she stared at them, and started carefully dismantling the shreds of spells still remaining. The old wizard rode up and dismounted.
"Huh. Now there's a nasty mess."
Trump had been keeping an eye on Zenith and waved him over. "She has these spidery things . . . "
"I see 'em. Huh. Nasty things, they leave little charms around behind them, that'll catch anyone that checks it out." He reached out and made a pinching motion, and pulled one out. He dissected it mentally, showing the sequence of spells that comprised it, and setting up a sequence of disassembly to hit it with. He ran the sequence through Zenith a dozen times, and examined her with a critical eye, leaving nothing private, nothing hidden. "There. Now everyone else." He stood up and stared at her and Trump flushed as he fished through her brain and nodded. "They never got to you. Sheer pig headed stubbornness does have its uses."
Hell chuckled behind her. "Magnificent, isn't she?"
She spun and looked around. All the local gods were in a loose circle around the bespelled witches. "Good to see you weren't going to let that bit of nastiness out."
Gisele was in her middle aged semblance, and rather fat. "Not a chance. What a horrible thing. Only affects magic users. I'll bet it was that thing that got Zenith that started it all."
There was a general nod of agreement from gods and wizards, then Nil started moving the witches, bring them out one-by-one, and rechecking them before letting them go. Once they were gone, he quartered the ground where they had stood.
"I don't think any spiders got out, but being anal never hurts." The wicked old man nodded in satisfaction.
The gods all moved in then. Harry took Zenith's arm and led her away, the others followed.
Nil stepped through the Gate and Dydit frowned at it as the time stretched and he didn't return. The Auld Wulf stalked up and joined him.
Gisele cackled. "You would be the worst one to go through, and you know it." The Goddess of Health and Fertility was back to her crone look, but still fat . . . oh, surely she wasn't pregnant?
"Yeah, but . . . He broke off as Nil stepped out. He smelled rather strongly of smoke.
"Blithering idiots think burning the houses down will stop the spell traps."
Dydit looked him over carefully and nodded approval. The old wizard grinned wickedly, "And what would you have done if I were contaminated, eh?"
"Run like hell," the goat retorted.
"Ah. Wisdom at last."
They all adjourned to the Tavern, which was sitting in its usual spot as if it had never left. The Ash World witches were all working on small bowls of soup.
Mica and Neptunite had a two year old and a baby each, Iron had her three and four year olds. The three teenagers . . . only nineteen people in all. But still the second largest Pyramid, with a full triad of the Dark Crescent.
Rustle was serving, and brought plates around without checking. "Good job, Bully. I can't believe that spell took the Dark Crescents."
Trump smiled smugly, and ate ravenously.
"Nothing like a good fight to whet the appetite, Love?" Hell was practically glowing with pride.
The starving witches were getting bread, now, and plates that looked rather sparsely filled.
Hell nodded. "Got to go slow or they'll get sick. Good grief. I wonder if there is anything we can do about that Arbolia place."
The Sheep Man looked around. "Probably not. Like the Tyrant Wizards of Scoone, they'll have to be taken down by their own people or they'll just be back."
Rustle was looking a bit thoughtful, but nodded reluctant agreement. "It's the only one of at least four countries there that has those chained 'god' things. The friendly country has control of the Gate now, so there shouldn't be any more incursions. Nil? Am I right in thinking that those spells were specifically aimed at magic users?"
The Sheep Man nodded. "Wouldn't have triggered for someone normal, maybe not even a natural wizard. It was sucking up energy, power, that the host could tap." He frowned suddenly. "But it got the children too. Subconscious power buildup that we aren't aware of?"
"When did it start?" Trump fretted. "I took the children there for a visit three months ago."
"I'll come check them all," the Sheep Man said.
Hell nodded his appreciation. "I suspect it started slowly, but with such a small population in that World, the subconscious feed back when everyone was bespelled must have been wicked. In a more populated World, the bulwark of uninfected would have calmed things down considerably."
Trump wrinkled her nose. "Yes, but the children and I were in their house for hours. If those traps take a year to start . . . "
Hell snorted. "Let's go find out." He reached for her hand, and offered the other to Nil. They landed in the entry, as usual, and Hell led them all down to the rooms that had been converted into the school and nursery.
The Sheep Man checked every single child, pinched a few spots and pronounced them clean. He was rubbing his temples when he was done. "This has got to be the most powerful collection of children I've ever seen, and I speak as a man who watched twenty-seven children, including Trump and Rustle growing up. They had a few traps that were starting to suck up power. You may find the girls a bit more energetic than usual, now."
Trump tried to turn on the charm, thanking him, and received a cynical look from the old wizard in return.
Hell chuckled. "When you need the most pig headed stubborn witch in the World, or perhaps just for me to walk past someone who's been annoying you, do let me know."
With sixteen children, the rest of the year was busy. The almost-seven-year olds were getting interesting, smart little girls that they were, they loved dressing up, and dancing lessons with either Mom or Dad. In fact they were girls enough to be starting to show a preference for Dad as a partner. Good tastes, the lot of them.
1380 Winter Solstice
The next winter was mild. The snow melted and the grass and flowers erupted early.
The elderly King started spending his days in the sun in the Palace gardens, and died quietly while napping.
The Coronation proceeded on one side of the City Center, in the Council Hall, while across the park, the Palace was open for the viewing and the funeral preparations led the Crowning by a few short days.
Trump and Hell attended the Coronation, of course, and a tediously long ceremony it was.
Hell found it fascinating. "Rufi's the oldest son, but he doesn't inherit?"
On the Speaker's Stage, a glittering gilt and jeweled Spear was ceremoniously bestowed on General Rufi.
"He inherits the Army, dear, although in fact he's been in command for years. See Leano's two son's? Well, four if you're going to be picky . . . The oldest, Prince Fossi Fitzroy, will become the Spear Prince and Rolo will become Crown Prince Rolo. Rolo's two sons will be Heirs Tertiary to the Spear and Crown. You see?"
The Crown finally arrived on Leano's head and the watchers all cheered.
"I've never heard of such a thing. Especially an older bastard inheriting."
"Oh, all the first sons have different mothers. Sturdy, healthy, ones, often General's daughters. After they have a son, they divorce and the Crown Prince marries a noblewoman."
"That's very agricultural of them. Don't the women object?"
"Certainly not! The first Princess gets loads of money and all the young lords want to marry her, because that'll get them a place close to the throne. The Court was scandalized when Rolo went for the Crown; everyone else took it in stride. It's that Collective Subconscious thing, you see? Everyone knew he had a bastard brother. So the old Mage tracked Fossi down. One of Harry's orphans, of course."
"Oh, of course. Where else would a lost bastard prince be found?" His eyes crinkled.
Fossi and Rolo knelt and accepted their secondary positions, and then Staven and Rebo did likewise and were confirmed Heirs Tertiary. They were behaving very well for being nine and six.
It was all accompanied by speeches and swearings and avowings. The Council Hall, usually a spacious room for the thirty-one members, had been opened up to the Entry hall and was still stuffed to the brim. All eighty Land Grant Holders were rumored to be here, today. With their wives, and their adult Heirs. Every adult with a blood or marriage tie to the Royal family was here. Ordinary Lords, mostly from Karista, mostly filthy rich, were tucked into the corners. The various bankers and merchants with enough pull were shoehorned in.
Trump suspected that half of them would rather have been left in peace, at home, but didn't dare not show up to show support for the new crowned king. She was of that camp herself, but Hell had been curious about the whole thing. She smirked a little. She knew perfectly well that he'd thought she gotten it all wrong. Now he was going to have to eat crow.