The Orellen Prophecy
There is only one true prophet in the first world. There has only ever been one, and there will only ever be one. Hamila of the Lamp who, from the moment of her birth, saw too much for the comfort of the gods.
They feared that her life might steer the future toward unknown courses. They feared more that her death might be the doorway to an even higher power. So, it was written into the fabric of the first world that Hamila would sleep eternally.
Twenty-seven gods cast the spell upon her. But for love of the mortal, one of them betrayed the others, and by that betrayal, gave Hamila as much of a life as she could safely have.
Every thirty years, the prophet wakes for a single day. She walks among the flowers in her eternal garden, and she feasts on foods sent to her from every great king and powerful practitioner in the world. As night falls, before her eyes close again, she speaks a single prophecy.
The prophecies have differed over the past two thousand years. Sometimes, they are nothing more than agricultural predictions—the kingdom of Teretha will have the best wheat harvest in a decade or a two-headed calf shall be born to a farm in Lemonnale. Other prophecies have predicted the deaths of great leaders or the fall of nations. Often, she predicts the starting or ending of wars.
But every one of Hamila’s prophecies has something in common. They are, without exception, accurate.
No festival charlatan is Hamila of the Lamp. She speaks her single prophecy clearly. She has never in recorded history resorted to obfuscation or even metaphor. And she is never wrong.
A trio of scribes, chosen from among those who worship the sleeping prophet and guard her temple prison, record the message. It is the longstanding policy of the temple that if a prophecy concerns an individual, he or she has the right to hear it spoken before it is shared with the world at large.
The recipients are rarely pleased.
Republic of Laen,
(Five Years before Elph’s Death)
Lord Iven Orellen and his wife Atra had just finished throwing an exceptionally luxurious party. They stood at the front door of their townhouse in Kler, seeing off the last of their guests with the graciousness and generosity they were so well known for.
“Here, Chancellor. Here! Take another bottle of this brandy to warm you. There’s more snow on the way before the week’s out, I’ll wager,” said Lord Orellen, laughing heartily. He slapped the chancellor on the back, tucked a bottle under the man’s plump arm, and steered him out the door into the cold night so smoothly that it appeared to happen in a single motion.
“Miss Halifax,” his wife chirped to a ruddy-faced young dressmaker. “You simply must invite me to your family’s shop before next market day. I’ll bring some of the other ladies of the house with me. We’ve got samples of silks all the way from the Eastern islands! You’ll faint when you see them, darling. The quality is unparalleled.”
The last to go was a priest, so thoroughly into his cups that he had to be carried out by two men in the crisp, pale blue garb of the family’s servants. They tucked him into the Lord’s own carriage and waved him off. His slurred singing could be heard over the sound of the carriage wheels clattering down the cobbled street.
Lord and Lady Orellen stood in the doorway, posed as beautifully as statuary, the elaborate jewelery they wore gleaming in the golden light that spilled from the townhouse. They smiled serenely until the carriage lanterns disappeared from view, then they turned and swept inside.
The youngest of their servants, a girl who’d only just reached her teens, stood in the circular foyer. At Iven’s nod, she dug the toe of her shoe under the expensive burgundy rug, kicking it so aggressively out of the way that her skirt nearly cleared her waist.
Beneath the rug, a small runic diagram had been painted in green. The girl squatted beside it and began to trace her fingers along specific runes, carefully imbuing them with her magic.
“Oh, very good, Celia,” Atra murmured as the runes lit one by one.
Lord Orellen turned to bolt the front door.
A moment later, there was a peculiar ripple in the air. A faint sheen of magic crawled over the walls, the exterior doors, and the windows, before disappearing entirely.
Celia leaped to her feet as soon as it was finished. “Cousin Iven!” she wailed. “Those fuckers ate all the oysters! All of them! I didn't even get to taste one!”
Laughter rang out from all over the house.
Iven rolled his eyes at Celia as he began the tedious process of unlatching the gold and sapphire cuffs around his wrists. Beside him, Atra had already started pulling an alarming number of glimmering pins from her dark brown hair.
“Celia, the family will never give you any public position with that kind of language, no matter how gifted you are at shielding magic.”
“I’ve told you I don't want a public position,” said the girl, stomping her foot. “I want to be captain of the fleet in the Eastern sea! Sea captains can call people fuckers all day long if they want.”
“Sea captains can,” Iven agreed. “The captain of our family’s merchant fleet, on the other hand, has to display some decorum. They don’t just boss around sailors. They actually foster trade deals for us.”
One of the men who’d carried out the drunk priest stepped into the foyer. He had a prawn covered in sticky brown sauce in one hand and a hunk of Fairheim cheddar in the other.
“The captain of the merchant fleet also has to be a man,” he said around a mouthful of cheese. He winked at Celia. “Or a woman ugly and clever enough to pass herself off as a man for the long haul. Too many folk in the wide world won’t play the game of coin the way we want them to with a pretty girl. We tried it once before you were born. Ten percent reduction in profit, even though we all know Auntie Fevre is a genius at whatever she puts her hand to.”
A woman in a maid’s uniform appeared behind him, holding a glass of wine. She smiled at Atra and Iven, who were shedding their jewelry and formal layers as fast as they could. “Hey, Lan!” she called over her shoulder. “Bring out the jewel chests. Our pet peacocks have decided to strip their feathers right here in the foyer.”
“You know I find it stressful to wear a king’s ransom on my bosom,” said Atra, turning so that her husband could unlatch her enormous diamond necklace. “I’ll lose this beautiful monstrosity one day, and the Seniors will bill us for it as sure as anything. We’ll be stuck in this role till we’re eighty like Uncle Jones.”
“Jones enjoyed being Lord Orellen, though,” said the woman with the wine. “It’s not the worst job in the family, after all.”
“He enjoyed it because he was no good at it,” said Iven. The man called Lan had appeared with a large, rune-carved jewel chest. Iven took a velvet cloth from it and began carefully wrapping the diamonds. “Done properly this position is an elaborate form of self torture.”
“By the way," he added, "I don’t like the flow of our dealings here in the Republic this year. The economy is in too much of a slump for my tastes. Let’s head on to the manor house in Kashwin a few weeks earlier than we’d planned. One of the cousins there has some…interesting…ideas about rerouting the spice trains, and I’d like to be on hand to see if he’s brilliant or just reckless.”
“You’ll scry it first?” asked Lan, nestling Iven’s sapphire cuffs in beside the necklace.
“Yes, yes,” said Iven, annoyed. “I know how jumpy the Seniors coucil gets if I don't scry every little decision.”
“Well, your luck scrying is the next best thing to being a prophet, little brother.” Lan grinned at him. “You're our very own golden goose.”
“Thank the gods that’s not true,” said Lord Orellen. “They’d never let me retire. Let’s go eat all the leftovers.”
A few minutes later, stripped of their finery and considerably more comfortable, the Lord and Lady sat together on one of the sofas in the house’s oversized great-room while their half-dozen “servants” draped themselves over various other pieces of furniture. Celia perched on the piano bench, leaning back against the keys, working her way through a serving platter full of the sauced prawns.
The detritus of the party was scattered all around them. Crystal glasses half-full of wine and mead rested on every surface. A lady’s scarf had been flung over one of the potted plants. And because it wasn’t acceptable in the Republic to ask guests to remove their shoes before entering a home, snow melt and muddy footprints marred the floor.
Atra stretched her legs in front of her and took large bites out of a buttered roll.
There would almost certainly be an argument in the morning about who should have to clean up the mess. Her husband would be exempt, since he would be leaving first thing to check up on the family’s warehouses and deal with that contract fiasco at the bank.
Tevie would probably beg off as well. Fair enough, since she’d been on her feet for the past two days cooking everything and putting this party together.
Atra glanced over at Celia. Tempting.
It would be easy to get the others to gang up on the youngest member of their little household. She’d only been with them a few months. It was her first posting, equal parts gift and curse for the rest of them. She was much too young for a proper role, but she was one of the family’s few real prodigies, so she was being hurried along. A shielder, especially one gifted in the casting of privacy barriers, was worth her weight in gold for their business dealings.
Iven's brother Lan wasn’t a shielder, but he was a high ranking mage who had at least made a cursory study of that type of magic. And he was known to be good at guiding the younger practitioners. Celia had been sent here so that she could learn from him and hopefully settle down enough that the Seniors would be comfortable investing in her training.
It wasn't just the expense of hiring a master outside the family…gods knew they could afford to educate whoever they pleased. But to send such a talented young magician off into the world on her own was a risk.
Celia was just valuable enough to be lured away by another line. And she was just wild enough to entertain the notion.
The Orellens weren't the kind of family who could be crossed easily, but they also weren’t as untouchable as others.Theirs was an old and powerful magical line. Like the other powerful families scattered across the continent, they had their own Enclave and a ruling council of Seniors who were all at least low sorcerers in rank.
But the source of the Orellens’ power was somewhat different. Their line had a very dominant tendency toward spatial magic. It was so dominant, in fact, that the majority of blood-related family members had difficulty achieving any meaningful degree of proficiency in other fields.
Spatial magic had limitless potential. Theoretically, once one reached the highest level of mastery, they would be a force beyond any other in this world.
But precious few people had the potential to become a Magus.
At the lower levels, individual spatial magic users were…useless. Especially in combat. It was a time consuming process to manipulate space, even if you were a full sorcerer.
A mage rank spatialist, like Lan, was little more than an efficient mailman without support. He was able to send small objects over short distances on his own, but not much more. So the Orellens were at their best when they were performing group magic, and they had spent the last few centuries leveraging their abilities in that area as best they could.
The other noteworthy lines maintained their positions with sheer magical power. The Orellens, on the other hand, had survived countless conflicts and disasters over the centuries by collecting an oppressive amount of material wealth.
There was a team of Orellen portalists in every major city on the continent. Time was money, portals saved time, and they would sell you one for a hefty price.
They also facilitated the travel of their own merchant empire. The legal head of this empire, in most countries, was Lord Orellen. The title (which had been purchased from the Kingdom of Veirden at some point in the distant past) was not inherited so much as it was thrust upon the most suitable candidate.
When Atra had been adopted into the fourth circle of the Orellen family, she’d hoped to one day be a teacher to children at the Novice stage. A few years later, she’d been strongly encouraged to marry Iven, in hopes that two relatively talented non-spatialists might produce more of the same.
She hadn’t regretted it, but it was inconvenient that Iven’s unusual proficiency with luck magic, of all things, had made him irresistible to the Seniors in search of a new merchant lord. The first ten or so parties Atra had hosted as Lady Orellen had been exciting. The next thousand were just hard work.
Ah well…the upcoming trip to Kashwin was one they could all look forward to. The Kashwinis were a very family-oriented people, and it would be regarded as strange if they showed up without their children. It was a perfect excuse to take them all out of school for a few months and spoil them as much as she could while she had them away from the Enclave.
“Lan, why don’t you invite Merrial and Sun to come with us to Kashwin?” she said, the idea instantly pleasing. Lan’s children were older than hers, already in their late teens, and it would no doubt be difficult to visit with them for any extended stretch in the future. “The weather’s wonderfully mild there in the winter. I'm sure they’d enjoy it. And it would be a nice change to have the whole family together.”
“I was thinking the same,” said Lan. The tall, black-haired man was eating deviled quail eggs by the hearth. “There’s a boy interested in Merrial at the Enclave. She’s a terrible romantic, and so is he. Seems a bit dangerous, the way things are going.”
“Oho!” said Iven, raising his glass. “Is there a wedding in our future?”
Lan shot him a pained look.
“Erm…” said Iven. “They’re not close cousins, are they?”
In a family larger than some small towns, it wasn’t strange to marry a cousin. But there were rules about how closely related the two lovebirds could be.
“Your niece isn’t an idiot, Iven,” said Lan. “She’s just a bit warm blooded. He’s a nice enough lad, but I’d like to give both of them time to cool off before one of them loses their head and proposes.”
“Nobody’s going to propose to Merrial without asking you first, Uncle Lan,” said Celia. “Everyone knows you’re scary.”
“I’m not scary,” Lan said startled.
“You are,” Celia assured him, not glancing up from her platter of prawns. “Everyone at school says it.”
He looked horrified. “The children talk about me at school?”
“They all say you’re…” she trailed off for a moment, a frown on her face. Then, she paled. She leaped to her feet, and the platter clattered onto the floor, sauce spattering over the wood.
The adults were up and on the alert in an instant. Atra cast a verbal spell that none of the others recognized. Tevie grabbed a poker from the fireplace. “What is it?” said Lan, looking around the room.
“At the door,” whispered Celia, her fingers clenching in her skirt. “Someone’s at the door. Three people. They’re…they’re setting off the barriers. All of them. Just by standing there.”
“So, it's not some shopkeeper’s wife coming back to pick up her scarf,” said Lan. “Should we answer it or use the emergency gate?”
Everyone turned to Iven.
Why are they all looking at me? But he stood up anyway. “There’s no reason to assume they’re enemies. The family doesn't have any powerful ones I can think of in this city. You all go wait by the gate, just in case, and I’ll talk to them.”
“Iven,” said Atra. “Let Lan go.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I can handle—”
“You’re barefoot and in your under tunic,” said his wife. “And you’ve got crumbs all over you.”
“You’re not looking very much like our noble Lord,” Lan agreed, brushing crumbs off his own servant’s livery. “I’ll handle it.”
The next few minutes were tense. Everyone but Lan stood silently in the hidden closet where the opening runes for the emergency gate had been inscribed on the floor, ready to pour their magic into a floating crystal the size of an ostrich egg.
This was a special kind of gate, of a sort the family never shared with others for any price. Activating it would forcibly pull from the gate that was constantly maintained at the Enclave, overriding all other transportation cycles currently underway and destroying the priceless crystal. They would be home in an instant if Lan shouted a warning.
But instead of a shouted warning, the tall mage returned to them looking so pale and shaken that Atra actually reached out to offer him a steadying hand.
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
“I’m...not sure anything is,” he said, staring at Iven. “They’ll only talk to you, little brother. It’s…well, it’s them. The scribes from the temple of Hamila. They’re only magician rank, but they're wearing so much enchanted armor under their robes they probably wouldn’t notice if they were struck by lightning. That’s what set off the barrier spell.”
“The temple of Hamila!” Cecilia's eyes went round with excitement. “The great prophecy for this generation is about Uncle Iven?!”
“You realize prophecies are bad half the time, right?” snapped Tevie.
“It’s fine,” said Iven, feeling more confused than anything else. “I’ll just…go find out the future, I guess.”
He tried to smile at his wife, but in return, she only stared at him blankly.
Iven had actually spent a lot of time thinking about Hamila a few months ago, back when the arrangements were being made to send the family’s formal awakening gifts to the prophet. She couldn’t be persuaded to prophesy according to anyone’s wishes, but all the great practitioner families sent something, as did the nobility of every country, from kings down to the lowliest baron. Just in case.
The prophet was known to enjoy eating fine foods, so once every thirty years entire wagon trains of foodstuffs made their way to her temple. It was all a bit silly, really, since the woman only woke for a day, and enough food was sent to her to feed an army for a year.
But there was no merchant richer than Lord Orellen, and he represented the one family who could literally obtain anything from anywhere on very short notice. If it was exotic treats the prophet wanted when she woke, he would not be outdone. He and Atra had organized a team of people to put together the family’s offerings.
In the end, it was truly, horrifyingly excessive. So excessive that people were still talking about it.
The Seniors were very pleased with them.
And now, the scribes who recorded Hamila of the Lamp’s words were here. For him.
Some silly part of him whispered, Maybe they just want to thank you for the hams.
The hams had been particularly good. Made from a certain breed of pig that was fed only a certain kind of nut that was roasted in a certain sacred fire. Probably, the pigs were slaughtered by singing virgins as well, but Iven had gotten tired of listening to the man who sold them…
“Greetings, honored scribes,” he said, stepping into the foyer and bowing to the three men who stood there shoulder to shoulder. They were all reedy, pale fellows. Two of them wore spectacles. They reminded him a little of plants that had been kept indoors for too long, but what could you expect from men who’d literally dedicated their lives to watching someone sleep? “This house welcomes the servants of Sacred Hamila. May her sleep be restful.”
“May her sleep be restful,” the three intoned.
One of them stepped forward. “Lord Iven Orellen,” he said, “we come to fulfill our duty as the scribes of Hamila of the Lamp. We have heard her words. We have inscribed them truly. We will speak them to the ones who fate has chosen. Then, we will speak them to the world. Are you ready to hear the words of Sacred Hamila?”
No. Iven bowed again. “It would be the honor of my life.”
“Then listen with the fullness of your being to the words of Hamila.” The speaker stepped back into line with his fellow scribes, cleared his throat, and as one, they recited the prophecy.
“The ninth-born child of the Lord Orellen can become the greatest Magus in the first world.”
“What?” said Iven
“The ninth-born child of the Lord Orellen can become the greatest Magus in the first world.”
It was a short, to-the-point sort of prophecy. As Hamila was known for. But Iven was having trouble with a few of the words. Ninth-born. Magus. Greatest.
These were not small words. These were…momentous, terrifying, and surely not accurate.
“Could you repeat it one more time?” Iven asked, his pulse throbbing in his ears. He felt truly unwell. Like a man who’d caught sight of a lion in the grass and then lost it in a blink.
“The ninth-born child of the Lord Orellen can become the greatest Magus in the first world.”
Ninth-born. Magus. Greatest.
Oh gods. There it was. The lion.
Iven wanted to shriek like a frightened child. Instead, he let Lord Orellen take over for him. “Thank you so much for sharing the words of Hamila with me. I am honored to have heard them and blessed beyond the dreams of men to have my name fall from her sacred lips.”
Apparently even Lord Orellen could suffer from nerves. He was being downright florid. But the scribes seemed not to think it too much praise for their beloved Hamila.
“Our information tells us that you have seven children,” said the one who seemed to be the main speaker. “Is this correct?”
“Yes,” said Iven. “Seven.”
The man nodded. “Then we will return at the birth of your ninth. The temple has no policy in place for delivering the words of Hamila to an infant, but our high priest believes that at least some attempt should be made to convey her wisdom to the babe before it is shared with the world. Perhaps the gods will grant it understanding.”
“I see,” said Lord Orellen. “May the gods grant us all such understanding.”
“We will hold the prophecy until the child is born. It is difficult, since it may be some years yet. The world does not wait patiently for the words of Hamila. Already, there are those who disrespect our traditions and seek to discover her truths before their due time.”
That’s why they’re wearing so much armor under their robes, Iven realized suddenly. They were scribes, not warrior mages. But entire countries would start to get antsy if the prophecy was delayed for years.
“Please,” said Lord Orellen, thinking quickly, “allow my family to be of service to Hamila. I will have a portal readied for you, so that you may travel safely back to her temple without being troubled.”
And you can stay there. Stay there forever. Never come out. Never breathe a word of that prophecy again.
The scribes bowed to him.
He bowed to the scribes.
Then, he fetched Lan and sent him to find and wake their portalists in the city. An hour later, they were all gathered in the great-room--Iven’s household, seven additional mages and magicians, and the scribes of Hamila.
The prophecy had not been spoken a fourth time. It was still rattling around in Iven’s head, as of yet unshared. But everyone knew the matter was serious. The portalists and Celia kept staring at the scribes like they’d just arrived from the moon.
The portal team painted the gate runes right on the floor of the great-room. Not too long after that, the scribes disappeared in a swirl of white light.
Everyone stood there, looking at the place where they had just been, the two magician ranked fellows breathing much harder than the mages.
“Thank you very much for coming on such short notice,” Lord Orellen said to the portalists. “Please return to your homes. I’ll be in touch with you again soon.”
“Sir…?” said one of them.
“If you breathe a word about what happened here tonight, the Seniors will excommunicate you from the family. After you are excommunicated from the family, Lan will come for you.”
Everyone gaped at him. Especially Lan. Iven’s older brother might have been a little scary, but he was no assassin.
“Goodbye,” Lord Orellen said. He glared pointedly at the portalists.
They hurried to obey.
When they were gone, Celia set the privacy barrier back up, protesting only a little when she was sent to her room afterward. Then, the adults gathered around the fireplace.
“Is it bad then?” Lan said gruffly.
“Technically, it’s good,” said Iven, his voice bitter. “Wonderful. Miraculous. The most extraordinary thing ever to happen to the Orellen family in its long history.”
The Seniors would want him to keep it to himself until he could consult with the council. But that sounded like a terrible idea.
So he told them.
Atra’s face, always so expressive, shifted from delight to wonder to the same gradually dawning fear that Iven felt deep in his gut.
Lan scratched his stomach with one hand. “That’s…a lot to take in,” he said. “I’m not much of a politician, but I’m guessing you’re worried about how the other families will react. I’m sure they won’t be too happy, but—”
“Can,” Tevie interrupted. She was gazing into the dying flames in the hearth, her graying copper hair limned in firelight. “You’re sure the prophecy said your future child can be the greatest Magus. Not will? Or shall?”
“I assure you, I’ve remembered the damn thing verbatim. When I die, my ghost will probably still be reciting it.”
He saw Tevie’s shoulder’s shake.
“They’re going to destroy us,” she breathed, lifting a hand to her mouth. “They’ll burn us to ash then dig up the roots.”
“Now hold on,” said Lan. “Let’s not get ahead of—”
“It’s that one word, Lan,” Iven said quietly. “That one word will ruin the whole family. If Hamila had said will, they’d never move against us. A Magus, the greatest Magus, possibly a specialist in spatial magic…. The other families would be at our door the day after hearing it, ready to offer us their sons and daughters on a plate. But..."
“But, can means it’s not certain,” said Tevie. “It means it’s only a possibility that we’ll one day have a power greater than any of them. The possibility of a Magus in the family is only good for us if we can protect it. And we can’t. Not from everyone. They’ll all be out to kill the child from the moment he or she draws breath. Hells…they’ll be out to kill Iven and everyone he might have slept with and every single Orellen young enough to conceivably be his child. Because who’s to say he hasn’t already fathered three dozen kids on various members of the family?”
Lan shook his head, but the grimace on his face said he was beginning to understand.
“And you think, ‘Oh, well, maybe it will end there!’ Once Iven’s dead and all the women he might have possibly slept with and all the children he might have possibly fathered, maybe they’ll let everyone else live in peace. But wait! If Iven’s dead, then who is the new Lord Orellen? What if he has a ninth child?”
Lan looked ill.
“We won’t name a new one of course. We’ll swear not to. We’ll say there is no Lord Orellen from now on. We promise. And they won’t believe us. Because they wouldn’t give up on having a Magus in their line, so why would we? At that point, three or four of the big families will get together and decide, for the good of the world, that we have to be exterminated.”
“We’re fucked,” said Iven. Maybe Celia was onto something. Decorum just didn’t work in every situation.
“We are,” Tevie agreed.
Atra took a deep, shuddering breath. “Iven, I’m pregnant.”