“One of these goblets is half full of a tasteless poison.” The voice crackled, snapped, and rasped. Cale Barnside heard the words close and quiet by his ear, but there was no one next to him. “It’s heavy, so it sinks to the bottom.” Having just sat down, the water goblets were mostly full.
Cale could neither move nor speak. He sat at a private dinner with King Polovonath, the king’s daughter and his good friend, Zawn, across from him next to his footman, Shup. The queen and five sons attended, along with one of the boys’ friends. The king welcomed the guests, including the young girl of seven summers next to Cale.
Cale called the girl Mania to hide her real name and protect her family from extortion or retribution, for she was the only female like her known to exist among the elders.
It’s said the Vine of power exists outside of time, and all women benefit from its power. In fact, they can also bleed the Vine with destructive force, but the creation of life draws so much of it that they do not usually have the ability to draw from it for creative purposes like many men can, and such a divine calculation would by necessity encompass the entire lifetime of the person. At least that’s what the magilogians said. All Cale really knew is that a woman who could use the creative power of the sacred Vine was a rare bird.
Shup and Zawn bantered about their times in Graburg and events there since, not noticing how stiff Cale sat, probably used to him that way when he wasn’t under a curse. King Pulcher lapped up their spirit, laughing as if he watched a comedy troop. In spite of his pickle, Cale barely felt trapped, for he could still touch the Vine, and as long as he could do that, he knew freedom.
Because they were both bonded to the Vine, he could also communicate to Mania through it. Cale united his mind with the Vine’s substance and moved through it, the world appearing to him as a brilliant reflection. The structures of space turned in upon themselves, following invisible tendrils. He found Mania’s bond and spoke to her as they all learned to do in the medium of the Vine’s substance.
—Don’t react to my words, Mania. It’s me, Cale.— The Vine shimmered.
—I know it’s you.— She giggled. —Who else?—
—Does a spell constrict you right now?—
—Constrict me from what?—
—From moving. From Talking. Anything.—
—No. Why would you think so?—
—Listen carefully. I cannot move, and I cannot talk, so I must work through you.— He emanated a wave through the Vine that would convey his seriousness. —We cannot let anyone see that I am working through you.— They had discussed this before, so he didn’t have to add ‘or whoever did this to me will unquestionably recognize what you are, and he will either kill you or steal you away for something worse.’
—Is there a lockheer?— The old tongue’s word for sorcerer.
—There must be. I can’t break his hold on me, but you must help me get rid of the goblets. One of them is filled with poison.—
—You want me to spill them?—
—Do anything you can.— Cale thrummed the Vine with urgency. —But don’t let them see it’s on purpose unless you are completely out of options.—
Not wasting time, she reached out with her linen, fanning Shup’s first course, and knocked his goblet and Zawn’s over. Shup jumped back from the table, saving himself from the deadly onslaught of liquid.
“Watch it, kid.”
“I beg your kindness to a clumsy girl,” she said.
—Nicely done. Help him clean it up and dump the water of a brother or two while you are there.—
—Who does he want to kill?—
—He’s probably after the king, or has some other twisted game in mind, but I can’t say for sure. Keep going.—
Mania lay her linen on the pool of water, then grabbed Shup’s empty goblet and swung it around, feigning a purpose of taking it to the kitchen, but crashing it into the goblet of the youngest, which broke and lost its contents all over the place.
“Young girl!” The king bellowed.
—The king next.—
Before she could follow through, Zawn picked her up like a toddler. “You’re gorgeous, even when you’re such a monkey.” She carried Mania out of the room. “But we mustn’t over-excite the king. Let’s give the boys some peace.”
“But, Lady Pollovonath! Please put me down, I’m seven summers old.” Her voice faded into the outer rooms.
Several goblets remained. The king sipped, and Cale strained to break free of the spell. With no luck, he thought of all the things the power of the Vine might do. He reached out with the Vine’s power and concentrated on each glass. Coaxing the Vine, reaching into it to evoke its power, he conjured a substance that would attach itself to water and directed it into their goblets.
“What is this?” asked Gorsham, the kings eldest.
“Some witchery,” said the king.
All of the glasses turned into mud from bottom to top, except the king’s. His only turned muddy on the top half, and as it turned, it slowly sunk to the bottom, pushing the clear liquid to the top.
“Witchery or treachery.” King Pollovonath looked at Cale. “Elder Barnside, what does this mean?”
Cale stood cold, giving no answer.
“Come, wizard. This is your sphere.”
When he didn’t reply, the king scowled, though it was enough. Kings are very untrusting, and Pollovonath was no exception. He had the servers take everything away and sent for food from the other kitchen on the south side.
The voice rasped next to Cale’s ear again. “Resourceful. But what will you do when you run out of resources?”
The hold upon Cale released, and he was able to excuse himself from the table and search for the sorcerer, but he was unable to sense who it was.
He returned to the table and thanked the king for his hospitality. “My gratitude gives me all the more pain to have to inform you that there is a sorcerer among your people, and we must root him out.”
“I don’t believe you,” the king said.
Cale pointed to the new goblet in front of the man, and it turned to mud through and through.
“It was I who turned all your drinks to mud before. However, your’s did not turn completely to mud, for the power of the Vine did not cling to poison.”
The sons gasped and hooted.
Cale pounded his fist. “You have a sorcerer in your midst, and he tried to kill you.”