The next night, I find myself teaching Urchin the most basic form of elementary etiquette in the privacy of my study.
“No, it is not appropriate to compliment a lady on her bust. Or on her rear. If you must make a compliment, commend her for her poise, skills, presence...”
I swear this man could not be any slimier if he tried.
“But what if I, beg your pardon, want to get to know the lady intimately?”
Case in point.
“The only kind of lady willing to know you intimately would give you a discount if you would only shut up.”
Urchin winces, looking a bit crestfallen which in his case gives him the appearance of a drowned rat and about as much charm.
I remind myself of Sinead’s lesson. He used to say that there must always be a carrot no matter how thorny and nailed-covered the stick.
“Listen Urchin, I appreciate how… challenging your life has been up till now and how it might have not been conducive to learning social graces,” I continue.
The Watcher grant me patience.
“You’re a low-born ruffian and it’s not your fault.”
This revelation is welcomed by a confused stare.
“Huh, thanks I guess?” my pupil answers.
“Which is not to say,” I continue with superhuman control, “that you must remain in this sorry state. If things go well, you will never age. You don’t want to remain a shifty, pathetic dreg of humankind for the rest of your existence, do you?”
“I want to be rich! Aw!” he screams as I slap him across the face with my dictionary. Reminder to self: wipe it later.
I grab him by the collar and smash him against a bookshelf.
“Listen to me and listen well because I will not repeat myself. Your appearance, manners, and language are how you are judged by the people you come across, no matter who they are. Those reflect your nature and allow others to assess you before you exchange more than three sentences. It takes hours of interaction to reverse a first impression, and that is why we as vampires need to be at the very top.
“This is our ultimate weapon. Not our strength, speed or even our magic, but our ability to pass as rulers, to divide and conquer before the battle has even started. I have no need of a bottom-dwelling scum who can only snatch petty change out of pockets, do you hear me? You will learn and grow or you will fall.”
Urchin’s eyes, at first filled with terror, switch to contemplation. Gears rusted by idleness rotate in his cavernous head until he licks his lips, seemingly come to a conclusion.
“Appearance. Right, like a gang boss is not a leader because he’s the strongest but because he’s got the swagger.”
Finally, we are getting somewhere.
“Correct. He talks, moves, acts and thinks like a leader and so people follow him.”
Urchin looks far in the distance, then after a while, his attention focuses on me. I would be annoyed at his behavior, were it not for the belief that he is having a breakthrough.
“So…” he asks with hesitation, “do you think I can be a proper leader one day?”
Not a chance in hell.
“Yes, otherwise I wouldn’t be using my precious time training you.”
I think he can become quite useful when it comes to trickery and other unsavory tasks. I doubt that he will ever be a part of polite society. You can take the Urchin out of the street but not the street out of the Urchin.
My musings are interrupted by a knock on the study’s door. After a prompt, Solveig comes in from the main room bearing a message and an air of disapproval.
“The mage Sorrel has come, Milady; he says that there are two message requests for you.”
“Two?” I ask with some measure of surprise. Solveig only nods.
“I will see him shortly. Urchin, we must stop here for tonight. Please work on your Akkad and then meet me in the training room in one hour.”
“Of course, Mistress,” he replies somewhat smoothly. Then he stands up at the same time as I do and bows to me, then to Solveig.
“Then I shall take my leave, Mistress, Miss Solveig, I bid you goodnight.”
I smile in approval and Solveig curtsies reluctantly, an immense improvement from her previous reaction which was a mixture of morbid fascination and fear normally reserved for baboons wearing coveralls.
I follow him into the main room and sit to wait as Sorrel strides in.
“Good evening, Sorrel, please sit. What was that about two messages?”
I hope it is not Merritt with some dire news. I can taste the messenger mage’s stress on his perspiration and heartbeat.
“I bear two messages for you, milady,” the bearded man declares as his deep-set dark eyes search my face for some kind of reaction.
“Let’s hear them.”
“Right, I should probably start with the first request. Loth of Skorrag wishes for a conversation.”
Aha, I understand now what makes the well-dressed man shiver. Communication spells such as these become more intensive the farther the person is. Sorrel will probably leave this room drained of aura, and nursing a spectacular headache.
“You may start when ready,” I declare.
The man nods, girding his metaphorical loins, no doubt. He takes the now familiar crystal sphere from a small bag by his side and starts casting with slow and deliberate care. It takes only a few seconds for the summoning to connect.
Loth looks regal in a white ermine robe decorated with patterns of crimson and gold. A peculiar crown of bone sits on his noble brow and gives him an undeniable air of majesty. The impression is somewhat marred by the deep pockets under his reddish eyes and his vulnerable expression. In his hand, he holds a crystal snifter half-filled with amber liquid. He smiles sadly when he sees me but I can tell that it is a genuine one, filled with an intensity of raw emotion I had only seen once before, when I almost died back in the cave. He silently rotates his own orb and the image shifts, first showing walls of naked stone, not bricks mind you, actual smooth stone with very few decorations, then a massive bed next to which I find my gift.
I made it for him back in Marquette and it took me close to two hundred hours of effort to get it just right. The piece consists of four man-sized panels of canvas on wood linked together. On each of the four parts, I painted Agna, Loth’s first love, at differents periods of her life. The rendition had to be absolutely striking and I so thrashed perhaps seven or eight attempts that were not up to my exacting standards.
On the first panel, young Agna stands defiant with her hands on her wide hips, telling the world that it can shove it. Her beautiful brown hair flows wild and free and her face is both strong and very feminine. This was the first time they met.
The second Agna is the one he married, only slightly older with her hair held up in a complex hairdo. Blooming flowers cling to her braids and she stands shyly in a form-fitting white dress. Her smile is so bright and pure, I believe this is what the sun used to feel like before it became my bane.
The third Agna is by far the most daring. She is the one who had given him a few children, the one I had seen naked under him. She stands with her bare back turned to us, her toned shoulder and large buttocks displayed without shame. Her hair now falls freely in a typical post-coital chaos, dotted with silver which in no way detracts her mature beauty. She is slightly turned to the viewer, only enough for us to see a mischievous smile and one ample breast tipped by a slightly darker nipple. With Nami’s, those are the only two nudes I ever painted.
The last Agna is her oldest form. In this one she is elderly and still her smile is here, warm and so very pure. She stands with difficulty on a background of flowers, grass and crags. I can almost smell the mountain air but more importantly, I can see the immense sadness and love in her expression.
She died a few weeks after that.
Of the second and fourth Agna I had caught but glimpses and so they were the hardest to paint, but now that I see it again, I could not be prouder.
The image abruptly turns back to Loth, who starts with a hoarse voice.
“This... has to be the best gift I ever received in my entire damn life. Tyr, Ari, ye…”
Two fat droplets trail down from the edge of his eyes, he makes no effort to wipe them and when next speaks his voice breaks.
“I had forgotten what she looked like! I could not remember! Ye… I cannot express… cannot tell ye. I needed this so much. Thank ye, by Tyr.”
Something warm and unfamiliar fills my chest. I press a hand there, surprised that there is still something moving in those cold depths.
“Ari. Thanks… Just thanks. Know that I owe ya more than I can ever repay. I am so, so very glad that you picked up painting ye know that? Hah! I haven’t left my room in a day. Also had the best wank of my life!”
“It’s true! That ass...” he reminisces with nostalgia, grabbing at the air with a beatific smile.
“Right, sorry. I’ll send ya a letter when I can think again. Just wanted ta express my gratitude in person.”
“I understand my friend. Please take care of yourself and do not succumb to melancholy again, yes?”
“Of course not. I needed a break anyway. Right, come and see me soon, I have so much to show you of the old country.”
I wave as the connection cuts and sit back in my comfortable chair.
This was too short. I would have preferred to talk for hours but alas, Sorrel was already blanching. Torran will inevitably return to Europe. When he does and after I have secured a domain, perhaps I should visit.
I let Sorrel recover for ten minutes. He gulps down some alchemical concoction and I am only too glad to wait in silence as I reminisce about the good times we had together with the Dvergur and Dalton. This period is lost but the memories are bright and I am glad that I got to experience them. Even if Dalton’s death was horrible, I have no regrets. It truly is better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all, for with time, most memories become treasures.
Not the torture thing though, that I would gladly forget.
In short order, Sorrel is ready again and starts a new incantation. This time it is significantly easier and the face I see is quite a surprise.
“Jonathan,” I greet him.
The man who blew up my shed in Marquette and followed it with a vertiginous climb of the ranks of the White Cabal has changed remarkably in the short time I have known him. He still has a short black beard and penetrating dark gaze, but where they made him appear distant and a bit feral, now they grant him the appearance of a veteran commander. He seems poised and stable, as dependable as he is deadly.
“Ariane. A pleasure to see you again.”
“Likewise. What do you want?” I ask not to be curt but because Sorral is already on the pale side.
“I wish to discuss an agreement that, I believe, will be to both our benefits. Can you meet me at our headquarters in New York? The sooner the better, as it is a time-sensitive request.”
I almost scoff at how ridiculous his request is.
“I do not run to you when called, Jonathan.”
“I know this well, but as I mentioned this is time-sensitive and I am confident that I can make it worth your time.”
“My contact with the House of the Rosenthal assured me that you had control over your House, if I remember the term correctly.”
“Yes. Your point?”
“As of last week I am the White Cabal’s Black Dog, our military commander. As such I am qualified to offer a formal alliance between your House and our organization.”
I question the value of such an alliance.
“Please bear in mind that the White Cabal represents a growing order of more than three thousand practitioners and with a trained combat corps of over two hundred men, half of those being war mages and led by me.”
Oof. When he puts it like that…
“It will not take long, I promise. I merely need you to assist me with our new generation’s final exam. You will not be in any danger whatsoever and your security will be guaranteed by oath, mine and that of the mages under my command.”
I am… intrigued? I also need to wrap this up before Sorrel upchucks on my tea table.
“I will see if my current obligations can be postponed. When you say assist with examinations, what do you have in mind?”
“I need you to scare them out of their mind.”
Oh, this is totally within my field of expertise.
“Very well, I will need direction.”
We wrap up our talk and soon I leave an exhausted communication mage on my couch. There are people I need to see.
“I believe it is a good idea, but you need your own guards,” Torran comments from his desk. I sit on one of the reception room’s couches and grab a pillow to have something between my hands.
“I don’t have men here. Do you think Constantine would rent me his mercenaries?”
“For a price, of course. Salim would be a better bet though, his security forces are not just good, they carry colors that no one, especially a public group like the Cabal, would want to offend.”
“Great idea, I will see how much he asks for a twenty men complement.”
“That would be acceptable.”
I wait in silence for Torran to finish his document. When he is done, I gather my courage to talk.
“I like what we have,” I start.
Sensing the mood, Torran turns and gives me his undivided attention. I like it when he stops everything to listen to me. I feel like the most important person in the world.
“But?” he replies.
“But nothing. I like what we have, full stop. I like you. I don’t want it to stop and yet it will, because I want to rule here and you will have to return to your own domain sooner or later.”
Torran holds his hands on his lap and considers for a moment. When he finally decides to talk, his voice is soft, softer than usual.
“I am your first.”
“You still think of relationships in mortal terms. For them, there is always a next step. Marry, found a house, create a family, raise the children, grow old together. We are denied this. We are denied an end.”
I never considered it like that.
“When the partners are equal in our relationships, allowances must be made,” he continues, “We are designed to be territorial and individualistic and those of us who survive to masterhood elevate those traits to an art. It is natural that at some point, our paths will diverge.”
“What then?” I ask, “Do we just say goodbye and move on? That seems…”
“Too pragmatic?” he answers, as his lips curve upward ever so slightly. “Let me offer another perspective. We are lucky to have no end in sight. Perhaps in a hundred years we will still live and taste all those novelties you are so fond of. Who knows what wonders we will see, free of the ravages of time? The only thing that would prevent us from being together again is you, for I will brave oceans and armies for your favor, my… callipygian beauty.”
I consider this for a moment and realize that he is right and that I am too concerned about the ifs to enjoy the now. I also realize that I have no idea what callipygian means.
“This is all too depressing, and I no longer wish to consider this issue. Instead, I notice that you are not naked.”
“Indeed?” Torran replies with a sly look that shows where this is going.
“Why not?” I ask.
Torran and I leave Boston at the same time. He, to build a weapon and I, to build an alliance. It takes very little effort to convince Sephare to let me go since, as she said, it will take a few weeks to lay the groundwork of her conquest. She just sends me on my way with a smile and instructions to “have some fun, darling.”
I hire an escort from the Rosenthal, seething at the cost. I then remind myself that this is an investment and that they come with their own gear, supplies and training. They are also absolutely loyal which in itself is priceless.
The trip to New York only takes two days moving at great speed. As we travel, the weather takes a turn for the worse and soon the wheels of my carriage are covered in mud. The morose climate even manages to pierce through my guards’ professionalism, and I hear a few heartfelt complaints.
The only distraction occurs when I catch the scent of an interesting quarry, a werewolf on the loose. This one has turned feral and when I do find it, I can have a nice meal. Struck by inspiration, I bring back the corpse and have the slightly alarmed guards tie it up and place it on one of their wagons. Thankfully that werewolf had not fed yet so the body doesn’t stink and should not turn bad before I have put it to use.
“No, there are no others. Yes, I’m sure,” I tell the sergeant, a bald man with an impressive moustache by the name of Bannings.
Finally, we arrive at the meeting point, an inn on the outskirts of the city proper. I expected it to be a den of misfits where I would conduct a shady transaction while hidden under a cloak, my penetrating gaze the only thing visible past the helm of my hood. But alas, it appears that the fiction I brought with me to pass the time set the wrong expectations. The traveler’s rest is clean and well-lit. As soon as we get in, an old gentleman with the face of an experienced accountant stands up in a hurry and comes to greet me. His mage aura is obvious.
“Lady Ariane, it is you isn’t it? Mr. Hopkins described you perfectly.”
“How did he describe me exactly?” I ask with a neutral expression. To my delight, the man immediately squirms and I enjoy a hint of Schadenfreude at his unease.
“Hem, he, hm, he said that you would look like a young girl but come in like a war mage channeling a fireball.”
He got me there.
“To be fair,” the man replies, correctly guessing at my state of mind, “you were the only blonde hair blue-eyed young woman to come in so late in the day.”
I am being comforted by a mage I just met and who is probably younger than me. Ah, well. This is not the bad part. Indeed, the real problem here is how easily Mr. Jonathan Hopkins read me. Am I becoming too predictable?
Am I getting old?
No no no it is fine. I just let my guard down because I was not trying to blend in. Yes. That is the real reason.
I follow the mage outside in silence. He misses a step when he takes in the veritable convoy I am leading as well as their very distinctive white uniforms. Nevertheless, he is quick to recover, and we follow him through small country roads to the edge of the lands of the White Cabal.
We pass by farmlands and animal pens between two stretches of forest. The farms here are not the sorry functional structures I am used to but comfortable homes in the German style, with wood beams visible on the walls and a sharply inclined roof. The land here is tamed and controlled, under the dominion of the same owners for over a century.
At the bend of a road I spot our destination: a long wooden palisade surrounding a tall gate. I can taste mighty enchantments from here. Once more, those are not temporary defenses, but static works embedded into the very earth. It would take more than my claws to tear those open. They are on the scale of what Loth would manage with resources and a bit of time.
The mage, whose name is Potts, turns his horse around and trots back to my carriage.
“We have arrived Milady, allow me to be the first to welcome you to Avalon.”
“I’ll get us through the gate. Mr. Hopkins requests that you do not show yourself as he would like to keep your presence a secret. We will go directly to his estate and he will explain everything. Would that be acceptable?” he asks with just a bit of worry.
I assent, and close the carriage’s curtains. The gate guards wave us in promptly, an indication that we are expected. Avalon itself is an intriguing mix between a town and a military installation. We pass by solid stone barracks, as well as offices and further in, warehouses. There are also inns and restaurants, more often made from wood. Some perpendicular streets are filled with shops ranging from a smithy to bookstores. At this late hour, the people are mostly gathered around a pair of taverns, though the streets themselves are not empty. Patrols walk the deserted squares and empty alleys. I estimate that at the very least two thousand souls live here full-time.
We do not stop and soon reach the outskirts. We ride past a firing range and kennels to more open lands. Spaced cottages fill the place now, each separated by thick lines of trees. We are still inside of the wooden wall which I can sometimes spot in the distance. In short order, we arrive at an unremarkable house where a familiar figure awaits us.
I climb down and greet the worried woman. I remember her from the battle. She was the healer who stood up to me and cried a lot, easily recognizable by her white hair and red eyes. Her name was Sola if I recall correctly. Now that her visage isn’t covered in snot, I can appreciate that she is beautiful in a fragile sort of way.
“Good evening! Oh, you are a bit early. Jon is still at a strategic meeting so we’ll have to wait a bit. He won’t be long.”
I follow her to the door of the cottage and stop at the threshold. Sola returns when she realizes I am not following and looks on with confusion before realizing the issue.
“I am so sorry. Please come in.”
I wordlessly follow her in a cozy, if cramped, entrance. An old maid with a disapproving frown glares silently.
“Hilda, please escort Lady Ariane to the study, would you?” Sola asks politely.
The maid takes in my countenance and the girl’s fearful tone. Her behavior shifts from suspicious to respectful in a heartbeat and I follow her up narrow stairs to a small room on the second floor. There, the homey aspect of the rest of the house is discarded in favor of an almost militaristic installation. Bookshelves filled with well-ordered reports and manuals line the wall, with a single desk set against a large window. Its surface is spotless with the exception of a pile of documents set in a case labelled “to-do.” The only concession to comfort is a set of three chairs centered around a coffee table, currently empty.
“The young mistress will be with you shortly milady, would you like something to drink in the meanwhile?”
“No thank you,” I reply.
The maid departs and I am left alone, so I decide to peruse Jonathan’s collection. Most of the books are treatises of various topics ranging from military to ethics, administration and economy. On a corner, I find a stocky dictionary and decide to check what “callipygian” means. I quickly find the right definition.
Callipygian: having well-shaped buttocks.
Well-played, Torran, well-played indeed.
Soon, Sola knocks and enters the room, searching for me with fearful eyes. Her aura spreads from lack of control, further betraying her nervousness. The scent of wood and old books is washed away by a more neutral one. Now, it just smells clean and crisp. She had already demonstrated that ability back in the cellar where I met her. Most peculiar power.
I could certainly use someone with her ability in Marquette. Ah, to have a room that smells clean. The dream.
“Oh, hm, you are here,” she mumbles with a small voice, “ah, where are my manners. Would you, huh, would you like some tea?”
Her face scrounges with the perfect expression of someone who just realized she placed her foot in her mouth. I simply cannot let this opportunity pass.
“No thank you, I prefer my drinks with a little more… body,” I reply, then show her a smile with a hint of fangs. She swallows nervously. Her fluttering heartbeat and the perfume of fear make her truly appetizing.
That was a nice one. I shall have to tell Nami when we meet again.
“R-right. Jon should be on his way back now. I’ll send him up. Hm. Bye!”
And then she runs away. Jon, huh? I cannot help but notice that it looks like she lives there and I saw a ring on her finger. He is a fast one.
It takes less than ten minutes for the man himself to stop in front of the door. I hear the imperceptible noise of a mechanism and turn to see that a previously hidden spying eye allows him to see in. I wave, and he enters.
“Forgive me. One can never be too cautious.”
To be fair, he is the right amount of cautious. I am the one taking inane risks coming here.
“I do not mind. So, you wanted to talk.”
“Right, talking. Talking, talking, talking.”
The curious man moves to the table and joins me in one of the chairs. He places a mug on the table from whence emerges wafts of tea. He takes a sip before continuing.
“I have done more talking in the past three months than in the past five years combined.”
“The cost of responsibility.”
“Indeed. I have to explain not just the thing but the why of the thing and the how of the thing and I need to acknowledge and thank and compliment and argue. Why can’t everyone think with their head and focus on the goal? Why all the pointless bullshit?”
Ah, that type. Jonathan sees politics and social niceties as a waste of time, a specificity of people whose intelligence far outstrips their social graces. Politics is an inevitability. He will get used to it, eventually. See it as yet another tool in his arsenal.
“Apologies. You did not come here to hear me complain. Let’s talk about the plan.”
“Before that, I have questions,” I interrupt.
He gestures for me to go on while sipping from his mug.
“You were promoted very recently, yes?”
“And this is a city, probably with some sort of council that can remove you from your post at any given moment. Are you not taking a risk, asking me here?”
“On the contrary. I will be honest, I believe your presence will solidify my position and bring me, and us, multiple benefits.”
“Does it now?”
“Yes. I shall explain, since I am the one who asked you here. First, the current generation of war mages is graduating from our courses and there is a major problem. You see, they are exceptional. So good, in fact, that the old timers have already started to call them the golden generation. At least eight of them have the potential to become archmages. They know it, and it makes them cocky. Careless. As things are going now, half will die in their first few missions.”
“I see, and you need me to calm them down.”
“More specifically I need you to terrify the ever-loving shit out of them.”
“Language,” I protest.
“I mean it,” he continues, “they need to face you to understand that they remain humans in a world of old monsters.”
I mull this over. The way I see it, I am training mages to face vampires. I share my sentiment with Jonathan who only scoffs.
“Please, no amount of training can make us match your speed. Besides, I am serious about that alliance. Allow me to continue.
“The second benefit is political. Half of the council opposed my ascension to the title of Black Dog after Coolridge resigned even though he designated me as a successor.”
“They question your former affiliation?”
“Not even that, I am just an outsider to them. The old guard is loath to share their power with newcomers. Fortunately, the selection of a new Dog is mostly made by fighters since the Cabal’s creation. Your support will greatly increase my prestige and demonstrate my abilities as a diplomat, a skill that I have not demonstrated yet. My opponents have criticized me for that. At length.”
“Which brings me back to my previous question. Won’t they see me as a monster? It is, after all, what I am.”
“You underestimate the mystique around your kind. You are less seen as something to be fought and more as an inevitability. You, especially, led us through a blockade that would have been the death of us all. My men witnessed your savagery and spread tales of your actions upon their return. Trust me, your presence here will give me a cachet that will solidify my position beyond the council’s ability to damage.”
“What about my well-being? There are probably more than a thousand mages here, and I have twenty guards. A well-coordinated assault could cause my death.”
“In conflicts, mages don’t count. War mages do, and they are all under my command. With that said I took the liberty of having a secret shelter dug a hundred yards from here, its entrance camouflaged by powerful enchantments. You can slumber there.”
“I do not like this, but I will agree if that alliance of yours proves interesting enough.”
“Ah, yes, thank you for the reminder. This is not the third advantage your presence brings me. That one… I would rather tell you after the test since I am not sure it will turn out to be correct. There was something else I wanted to address.”
Jonathan places his cup on the table and leans forward. Our eyes meet, and I notice that he wears a pendant that protects him against my Charm. Like most of those, I could bypass it with time and effort. I will not, because we are negotiating as equals.
“Do you know what New York’s most important feature is?” he continues.
I gesture for him to go on.
“New York is the entry point for most European immigration right now. The reason why the White Cabal has grown so much recently is that we have heavily recruited from the newcomers. This has upset the balance of power within our organization, but it also represents a unique opportunity for us to turn into something new.”
“A national-level mage group.”
“Precisely,” Jonathan continues, “the largest alliance in the world. Power-wise we are far from it, but number-wise we are getting close.
“I have studied the power structure of spellcasters extensively in the past few months. In Europe, the battle mages are mighty and dangerous. They wield spells refined over centuries yet also jealously guarded. The clans, cabals, whatever they call themselves heavily compete for resources and knowledge.
“This secretive and adversarial state of mind made the winners strong, but it also contributed to a fragmented landscape with small entities constantly bickering with each other. We aim to change that here. Sola and I, as well as senior members of the council, are forcing the creation of a vast depository of knowledge that any member of the Cabal could access if they have proved themselves dependable. This is the first step towards normalized, large-scale training.”
“And the creation of a modern society of mages. The vampires may object to the creation of such a powerful organization.”
“You would not be the only ones. Spellcasters with a darker agenda, the Gabrielites and God knows who else will oppose us. That is why I am pushing for an alliance with you.”
“Jonathan, I eat people.”
“You are honorable and can be counted on. We are not here to save the world, we are here to save ourselves.”
“Some members of your organization must want to purge the world of our presence.”
“Yes, and half of their fighting men died in Louisiana last month. We are at a crossroad, and with your help, I will steer the Cabal towards cooperation. The first step of our alliance will be to send a contingent of our more frontier-minded people to Marquette, where they will settle and create a branch of the Cabal. That way, we can start transferring population outside of the compound before it gets saturated and we occupy the place.”
“You are worried that other groups may take over?”
“Not take over Marquette obviously, but yes, we need branches around to prevent others from moving in. Nature, after all, abhors a vacuum.”
“Very well, but I have terms.”
Jonathan picks up his mug and leans back, indicating that I should start.
“You get a territory where you may do whatever you want. You may not expand out of it before consulting with me and you may not enter the area around my nest without permission. You will support my men and me in any operations against my enemies, including other mages seeking my destruction. You will not prevent me from hunting. In return, I will also defend you and leave you to do your own thing on your end.”
“That sounds reasonable,” Jonathan replies, “we’ll write it all down and take an oath. I still need to convince the council and I propose that we try tomorrow after the exam. Would that be agreeable?”
“Yes. Now, let’s talk about the exam. I have prepared a few things…”
Jonathan listens to my plan and for the first time since we met, his grin is wide and genuine.