Chapter 4

Comet intended visiting Antal at the Infirmary on the pretence of restocking his supplies. He needed more background information on the Dawnstars as a family. He also needed contact with someone who could help him with some of Zeal's more sensitive questions, preferably a female member of The Web.

Breakfast was a silent affair. Zeal and Lore sat at opposite ends of the table and Comet could almost see the atmosphere between them.

"Lore, about my visitors." Zeal began.

"We went though this yesterday. You're not ready." Lore stated.

"What about here? I wouldn't have to go anywhere." Zeal argued.

"I said no." Lore looked evenly at his wife. "There's no one for you to see right now. the Courts and Council are in session."

"Oh I see." Zeal looked very disappointed. "Do we have any friends?"

"I have to go." Lore stood up. "You'll receive visitors when you're ready to. Good day, Zeal."

"Lore! Well ... when will you be back? Is Clash going too?" Zeal asked pathetically.

"I don't know when I'll be back. Clash is busy. I'm sure Comet will keep you company." Lore nodded and left. So much for Antal. There again Comet doubted he could have left his charge in such a miserable mood.

"He's a busy man." Zeal said weakly.

"They both are." Comet included Clash too. Too busy, it seemed, to be concerned about Zeal. "Thank you for not forcing my opinions about your health infront of Lord Dawnstar. That would have put me in a very awkward position. I promised I'd speak to him and I will."

"Oh don't bother, Comet." Zeal sighed sadly. "The more we mention it, the bigger arse he's going to be."

"I'm sure he's just concerned." Comet said vaguely. "Do you want to go into the garden? I'd love to see those tiny water fountains properly."

"You weren't supposed to see those. It's illegal." Zeal muttered.

"I doubt anyone else noticed." Comet smiled and opened the glass doors that lead to the gardens.

"Do you think it's evil?" Zeal asked as they walked down the path.

"I don't know alot about it. It was banned completely when I was born."

"It was banned for women twenty years ago but it didn't stop me." Zeal shrugged and made a tiny two inch high fountain in the pool. "Positively horrendous isn't it?" She said sarcastically.

"Multiply the size of them by a few thousand and they won't look so pretty." Comet sat on the path while Zeal sat by the pool.

"Even on that scale it's not the magic that's evil, Comet. How can it be? They're natural forces. Earth, Air, Fire, Water. Nature can't be good or evil. It's neither."

"True but that doesn't apply to people. Can you imagine one of those fountains the size of Mount Fogg, in the wrong hands?"

"People are flawed, not the magic." Zeal insisted. "Also, it's only when magic is absent that one display is noticeable. When I defeated the Barbarians it was spectacular. The reason it's been remembered for twenty years is because it was noticeable. If the Warrior Mages weren't away in the Northern Territories, then it wouldn't have been noticed at all."

"So you don't think it's open to abuse?" Comet asked.

"No more than anything else. Carrying a sword is open to abuse but just about every man in Entia does that. Another thing, anyone at all can pick up a sword whether they can use it properly or not. Magic's selective. If you're not born with it, you can use it. That's the reason the Queen outlawed it. She was as jealous as buggery." Zeal sniffed.

"Not a royal fan then?" Comet laughed and Zeal smiled.

"I wasn't back then. To me, the Queen was like a spoiled child. She took a gift from us because she couldn't have one like it. Having said that, it looks like she's made a good job of ruling Entia. I know there are poor areas and I know there is crime. Overall though, Entia's been at peace for twenty years. She must be doing something right." Zeal swirled her hand in the pool and made is a deep, azure blue.

"Well I think you deserve most of the credit for that." Comet was surprised at Zeal's ignorance of her own importance. "The main threat was from the Harshlanders and you put them in their place. You prevented a war that would have cost thousands of lives and would have certainly destroyed Entia."

"You make it sound very heroic, Comet." Zeal smiled. "In truth, I never gave Entia a thought. I never gave the Queen a thought, or anyone else except Lore and Clash. I destroyed the Harshlanders for them."

"And the rest of Entia loves you for it." Comet dipped his fingers in the pool just because it was so fascinating.

"Except Lore, the very man I did it for." Zeal hung her head. "He doesn't, Comet. Please don't say words of kindness for my benefit. I don't know why, but he doesn't. As long as he isn't actively repelling me, I'll have to make do with that."

"I don't know why he wouldn't love you." Comet sighed. "I'm out of my depth here, Zeal. I've never been married and I've never witnessed married life of any sort. Maybe it's the age thing? I don't know. His wife is the same age as his son."

"Yes, maybe that's it." Zeal wasn't convinced and Comet wasn't either. "Why aren't you married anyway? Not that you should be, nor is Clash. I was just curious."

"I've never been in a position to support a wife." Comet replied. "I believe such a commitment deserves ones full attention. I'm not in a position to do that." He thought of Brand, and all his savings.

"Your family? You told me your father was no longer here." Zeal said.

"That's right. My brother, mainly. He's sick and he can't work for a living. He's always been sick." Comet smiled sadly.

"I'm sorry to hear that. I didn't know you had a brother, let alone a sick one. I'll speak to Lore and make sure you have all the time off you need. Is he younger than you?"

"He's my twin." Comet said with a touch of pride.

"Really? That's wonderful. It's good that you support him." Zeal smiled.

"I do that naturally." Comet shrugged his shoulders. "He supports me too, in a way. He's far more intelligent than I am. He's read more books than I knew existed and he knows about all the lands, and their people, and their governments. He knows how things work, even though he can't get out there and work things for himself. He's never given up, no matter how tired he gets. Many people in his state would have given up. Lost their spark. Not Brand. As long as he has his spark, then it's my spark too."

"He's your focus in life. We all need a focus because it gives us our own worth." Zeal said.

"If we knew why you'd returned then you'd have your spark too." Comet said.

"You're right. I thought my spark was Lore, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Purpose and need seem to go together and Lore doesn't need me. I'm not sure about Clash. I think Clash feels something for me, but he doesn't actually need me. It's so hard to explain. If either of them were the reason I'm here, I'd know." Zeal frowned at the lawn feeling very frustrated. "This memory stuff is shite."

"Language, Lady Dawnstar." Comet snickered. "If we knew where you'd been, then we'd have a better idea of why you came back."

"Yes I know. Like I said, shite. All I can seem to do is sit here like a lump. I wish I could heal your twin." Zeal said glumly.

"W ... what?" Comet almost fell in the pool. That simply had not occurred to him at all! Even when he knew that Zeal had healed her own body, he just hadn't made a connection. "Heal Brand?"

"It can't be done. I have no pattern of him. I wouldn't know what to restore him too because I've never had a healthy Brand pattern." Zeal tried to explain.

"There never was a healthy Brand pattern." Comet reminded her. "So if you know what a person was like prior to illness or injury, you could restore them?"

"I'm limited to only two of the natural forces. Water and Earth. If the illness or injury could be fixed by manipulation of those two forces, then yes I think so. The other two of Air and Fire are masculine forces. Anyway it's matterless. Brand has no healthy pattern to recall. I shouldn't have even mentioned it. It was thoughtless. I'm sorry." Zeal said sympathetically.

"No. It wasn't thoughtless at all. It was a lovely thought and I thank you. You don't even know Brand yet you cared enough to spare him a thought." Comet was very touched indeed. "That's more than he's ever had from anyone, except me."

"But I can't do anything. I don't deserve thanks." Zeal said in confusion.

"You do. Not all things that are admirable are physical actions." Comet inststed.

"Magic isn't a physical action. It all comes back to that and my damned memory." Zeal sighed.

"You remember thinking about Lore and Clash while you were away. Can you remember telling me that you told the Water about them? That has to mean something. There was water in the place you were." Comet said. "That's a start."

"Yes that's right." Zeal nodded. "But it's different. I know I do some rather eccentric things, but I wouldn't just wander out here and start talking to the pool, or the River Ent ... Zeal ... whatever. It's very frustrating."

"I can imagine so." Comet sympathised. He noticed Clash on his way down the garden path. "Clash is here. Would you like me to leave?"

"Clash!" Zeal waved. "No, Comet. I'd rather you stayed incase I stuff up." she added quietly.

"Mother." Clash sat on the wall with her. "I trust you're well?" He asked, looking at Comet. Comet nodded.

"I thought you were with the Council today?" Zeal smiled. She was very happy to see her son.

"I was and I will be later. They can do without me for a while. Too much babbling makes my ears ring." Clash scowled and looked very much like Lore.

"Are they talking about me?" Zeal asked warily.

"Who else?" Clash shrugged. "I don't think they quite know what to do with you, mother."

"Do with me? Why should they have to do something with me?" Zeal asked in surprise.

"Well you can't expect to be just a normal citizen, can you? There's a twelve foot statue of you in the Square for a start." Clash said.

"But I am a normal citizen. I was before the statue was built too." Zeal was confused.

"Huh?" Clash laughed. "I don't think so. Fifteen thousand Harshland Barbarians? Yes?"

"Defeated by magic which was normal at the time. I was ordinary." Zeal nodded. "I was just saying to Comet, if the Warrior Mages had been here instead of up North, I'd never have been noticed."

"Well yes you would. They were all men." Clash reminded her.

"So I'd have been in jail. Some hero." Zeal rolled her eyes. "Clash, how is this law enforced? How is it monitored these days?"

"By the Guard. Why?" Clash asked warily.

"Oh don't worry. I'm not going to off and zap them all. I know from experience that only a wizard can spot dormant magic. That means that either Queen Honor has her own legal mage in her employ, or dormant magic can't be detected." Zeal explained.

"Oh they get to know. You'd be surprised at how many informants come forward if there's an advantage to be gained." Clash said.

"What?" Zeal said in alarm. "So people just accuse each other based on suspicion?"

"They report it discretely if they see it." Clash said vaguely.

"With a good few personal grudges thrown in too, I bet." Zeal said angrily. "Clash that is wrong! You bound to see that? How do they prove it? By the gods it shouldn't even be a crime!"

"Witnesses, confessions. It's in hand, mother. The law works." Clash grimaced.

"My skinny mage arse it does!" Zeal shouted. "I've had dealings with the Guard here and I got three cracked ribs out of it. I can imagine how these confessions come about."

"Calm down, mother, please." Clash sighed.

"Do you think it's wrong? You personally, I mean. Do you think magic is evil?" Zeal was far from calm.

"It can be dangerous." Clash deflected.

"So can an unchained dog. Do you think this is dangerous?" Zeal pointed to the pool, which was it's usual colour and fountain-free. "It's water, Clash. The stuff you're breathing, the flame that lights the lamps, the stone you're sitting on. Are they evil?"

"Of course not." Clash said irritably. "If I held Comet under the water, he'd die. If I covered his mouth to stop the air, he'd die. If I struck him with that stone, he'd die. If I set him alight, he'd die. It can be dangerous."

"That would make you dangerous and you'd quite rightly go to jail. The forces are useable substances, Clash but they cannot act on their own." Zeal snapped.

"I know I was saved by magic before I was born." Clash said. "That is what you're going to say, isn't it?"

"No, actually it isn't, but yes you were. We were farmers, Clash. Obviously your father had an academic job but I didn't. How do you think I grew the crops? The same way as any other farmer in Entia. If they had no magic themselves, they asked a neighbour. How do you think the water supplies were kept clean? How were the swamp flatlands dried out? What kept the smiths' forges running?" Zeal said.

"Magic isn't essential for any of those things." Clash pointed out.

"A loom isn't essential for making cloth and a fruit press isn't essential for making wine. Why do you use a bath-tub? what's wrong with the river?" Zeal argued.

"That same magic can be used to destroy whole populations." Clash said.

"Yes I know. I did that too. So can flames from a tinderbox or an army armed with blades." Zeal argued.

"This is going nowhere." Clash sighed. "Believe it or not, I'm not against you, mother. I have no first hand experience of magic but I'm one of those who can see its benefits. Those benefits get outnumbered by the potential dangers."

"Horsecrap! The potential danger is with the user. It's that person who is the potential criminal, not the instrument he or she uses. You're speaking as an official and that's obvious. You know what I'm going to do?" Zeal looked at Clash.

"Please don't say magic. Despite your experiences and explanations, Entia isn't ready for that after twenty years of fearing it." Clash told her.

"Fear. That's exactly what it is. I'm going to explain how magic works to everyone in Entia. I'm going to explain how magic isn't an independent entity and can't do anything on its own. People aren't stupid. It'll be clear that there's nothing to fear." Zeal stated. "I need your professional advice, Clash. Would that be against the law?"

"So you wouldn't use magic to demonstrate your point, or to illustrate your explanations?" Clash asked uncertainly.

"No. I'm not a trouble maker, or a rebel. I'm the only person in Entia that hasn't lost my understanding of magic. I haven't been subjected to twenty years of fear and ignorance. It's not my intention to go against the Queen's law, I just want everyone to know that it's people who can be irresponsible, not the forces themselves." Zeal explained.

"Technically, no, that wouldn't be illegal. However, it could be seen as rabble-rousing, even if you don't intend it to be. You can't just set up on a street corner and start preaching, mother. The place is in a big enough uproar."

"Yes I understand that." Zeal said gloomily. "This is getting on my pissing nerves. I refuse to just sit here like a bloody toadstool! Umm ... language. Sorry."

"Can I make a suggestion, Duke Dawnstar?" Comet spoke up quietly. "Please excuse me if my notions are foolish or unworkable. I'm thinking about Lady Zeal's health and being isolated and feeling redundant isn't helping her at all."

"Go on." Clash nodded.

"As you rightly said, Lady Zeal can't simply rove about the place like a Gleeman and she is Lady Zeal afterall, not a side-show. It may be better if Lady Zeal spoke as part of a legally endorsed plan of education. If her orations took place in proper venues with structured organisation, then she'd technically be speaking alongside the Courts and Councils, not against them. I don't know if that's viable, it was just an idea. Forgive me if I'm talking rubbish." Comet said to Clash.

"Rubbish? Rubbish? It is not at all!" Zeal beamed at Comet. "Clash that's a wonderful idea! Yes, that's what I'll do. I must speak to the Queen."

"Can I make a suggestion of my own?" Clash interrupted. "Give it a few days, please mother. The Courts are in turmoil and so are you. Structure and organisation, remember? Maybe you should use the time learning how not to rant and how not to swear."

"Oh pish, Clash." Zeal sniffed. "Yes I will wait. Your father wishes me to wait unil he's satisfied with my health so I respect that."

"I think that would be for the best." Clash nodded. "Shall we go indoors? I'll sneak a pot of tea before I return to the chaos in the Palace."

"I'll go and tell Serai. I'll meet you in the breakfast room." Zeal headed off round the side of the house and Clash and Comet walked up the path towards the glass doors of the breakfast room.

"I'm pleased I have you alone, Comet. What's your honest opinion on her state of mind?" Clash asked and Comet really wished he hadn't.

"Apart from her patchy memory, I think she's fine." Comet replied confidently."Her frustration is because she can't fully recollect details yet."

"She can recall enough to swear like a Harshlander." Clash commented.

"That's inaccurate, sir." Comet said with a smile. "She picked it up in the barracks while she was there."

"Oh I see." Clash rolled his eyes. "This education idea is a good one Comet. She needs to be safely occupied."

"She's feeling rather ignored just now. The whole of Entia is bustling because of Lady Zeal, but Lady Zeal herself is apart from it all." Comet contributed.

"You think my father's decision against visitors was wrong?" Clash asked.

"Absolutely not, sir. It's very understandable. Home visits at first is quite a safe option that Lord Dawnstar would have control over. If Lady Zeal tires, he calls a halt to the visit." Comet said.

"You're quite astute for a Tender." Clash nodded and Comet had to look down at his feet.

"I'm good with people, sir." He answered vaguely, but truthfully.

"That's obvious. You seen to be the main connection for my mother. She's linked to you more than anyone else."

"I'm right here in the building, sir. She knows I'm here constantly, that's all."

"I'm not avoiding her, you know." Clash frowned out of the window.

"Of course not. I wasn't suggesting that." Comet said, although he was strongly hinting at it.

"It's difficult. I've never had a mother, or a mother figure. When she does turn up after twenty years, she's the same age as me." Clash turned to face Comet. "I'm not sure of my feelings. I didn't expect to have any."

"She's your mother, Duke Dawnstar, regardless of her age." Comet said simply. "She's also a very remarkable lady. It would be impossible for you not to have any feelings." He stopped his praise as Zeal came in with the tea tray.

"We do have serving girls, mother." Clash rolled his eyes.

"I remembered something." Zeal said, putting down the tray. "I used to make dandelion tea for Lore so I thought you may like it too, Clash."

"Tea? You made the tea?" Clash said in surprise.

"Well I did other things too." Zeal smiled. "Yes Clash. If your father wanted a pot of tea, I'd go and make it for him. I can also make a mean pan of broth with a sheep's head."

"Ack! No you can not." Clash almost choked on his tea. Comet found this very amusing. He remembered his mother making broth for himself and Brand, and complaining because she couldn't afford a sheep's head to put in it.

"He used to like cheese bread too." Zeal said sadly. "Does he still like it?"

"Mother, don't." Clash sighed. "Twenty years, remember? Maybe you shouldn't cling to that Lore."

"He's the only one I know." Zeal said simply.

"Circumstances change, I mean." Clash said awkwardly.

"I know. I'm not part of them anymore." Zeal tried to smile.

"No it's not that. Everything is so different now. We've gone twenty years without ... without ..."

"Without me?"

"Without the benefit of your input." Clash corrected weakly. "I must be getting back." He stood up.

"Clash? If I'm not to cling to this Lore, what am I to do with him?" Zeal asked.

"I don't know." Clash sighed heavily. "All I'm saying is that a person's outlook at twenty five can't possibly be the same as his views at forty five. Just let him carry on as he is."

"I'm in a position to stop him carrying on as he is?" Zeal asked in surprise.

"Of course you are. You're Zeal Dawnstar." Clash shrugged his shoulders and left the house.

"He's just told me to keep it low and not get in the way of Lore's business." Zeal said to Comet. Comet didn't know what to say. That was the impression he'd got too. "Does that fit in with going along with the idea of my speeches? If I'm talking to folk out there, I won't be questioning Lore." She said angrily.

"It was my idea, Zeal, not Clash's or Lore's. I think it's a good idea and I'll support you in it." Comet deflected.

"It'll be accepted straight away. You'll see." Zeal said flatly.

"You sound paranoid. My motives are to help you. Maybe theirs are too." Comet suggested. "Come on and give me the recipe for this tea. Brand will love it."
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