64 Chapter 64 Derek
"The mages are all stuck up," complained Joseph to Daniel the next day. Everyone was still recovering from their near-death experience with hunger, but there was a definite improvement to the morale.
"Can you blame them? They're basically treated like gods, just because they can do a little magic." Daniel picked up another grape and savored it slowly. The fruit would be the first to go bad, so they were the first to be eaten. Joseph had the cooks drying as much as they could, so they would have some for later, but he knew the extra sugars and fiber would cause havoc with the digestive systems of everyone in the camps.
"They're discussing this freezing fog as if they don't fully trust the barbarians. I seriously doubt they could come up with a lie that good." Joseph took another small bite of his apple, "And there aren't any girl mages? What do they do with them? Breed them like livestock?"
"Those in power due tend to swing rather far on the chauvinistic side."
"At least we have enough food now, we can trade with the barbarians."
"True, with the arrival of the food, a lot of problems have been solved and everything seems to be back on track," said Daniel with a nod.
"Except the hot springs, did you hear about that?" asked Joseph, turning to the map he had hung on the wall.
"No, what about them?"
"It seems that the water is far too sulfuric."
"What does that mean?"
"It means it smells like rotten eggs."
"Oh, nasty! Is there any fix for it?"
Joseph paused and turned to look at the man sitting across the table from him. This man was well into his later years, with thin grey hair barely managing to cover the top of his head, and here he was asking a seven-year-old boy why the water smelled nasty.
"Actually, it's caused by gas rising to the surface too quickly after bacteria produced it. If I can get fresh air to the bottom of the spring, or if we create pools to allow the smell to dissipate, then I can get the bathhouses built. But none of the fixes are quick and easy. We'll have to put them off for now."
"That's a shame. I was looking forward to a nice hot bath."
"The quarry looks to be coming along, but unless the king wants to send another 600 men, or so, its not going to be producing stone until next year. We need too much stone to wait that long."
"I thought you had men to work in the quarry?" asked Daniel, finally pushing the plate of grapes away.
"I do, but most of them are either still training, or very old and in the process of training. Between the buildings having stone foundations and the roads I want to build, I need a lot of rock. Stella, did any of the mages that arrived have magic in earth spells?"
"Yes, Master Joseph, one did."
"I'll speak with him, then about what all he can do."
"Well, good luck. I'm heading out to check up on things."
"Ate too many grapes, didn't you," chuckled Joseph.
Daniel waved as he laughed and all but ran from the tent. The fruit was already making its presence known.
Stella went with Joseph as he visited the mages. They all noticed him, but they tried to ignore him. The man who was in charge of the mages, Dominic, came to him immediately.
"What would cause you to grace our presence?" he sniffed. His long robes were immaculate, and Joseph could only wonder how long it took him to clean them after the trip up.
"I'm looking for the mage who has earth spells. I believe his name is Derek?"
"And for what purpose would you like to speak to him about?" Dominic looked Joseph up and down, frowning at what he saw.
Joseph knew that his clothes were not clean. They didn't seem as important as some of the other things he had needed to deal with. It was probably a mistake coming here in person, it gave them the appearance of having more power than him. He made a mental note to not make that mistake again.
"I don't believe that concerns you," said Joseph, straightening his posture and smoothing his clothes out. If he was going to have to play politics, he knew he was already behind.
"Ah, but see, the king made me chief over the mages. Everything they do concerns me."
Dominic smiled a greasy nasty smile.
"And what magic can you do?" Joseph tried to throw some condescension into his tone. It was hard to pull off with a child's voice.
"Now see here, boy, you may have been placed into a position of power, but it takes a lot of dedication to be able to do lightening. I've earned my place. You've just been given yours."
Nodding to himself, he looked around the room. They were all wearing robes that screamed to any who chose to look, what they were proficient in. Derek was in the back corner, obviously tucked away out of sight.
"Lucky for me, I don't have to prove myself to anyone than, I suppose. Derek! Come along with me." He went to turn away, then turned back to Dominic. "Don't worry, I won't hurt him, and I'll see to it, that he's back before night fall."
Dominic was so stunned, he stood there silently long enough as Derek all but ran from the room.
As they were leaving the long tent, Joseph could hear him start sputtering, but he pretended not to hear it. Heaven forbid the man raise his voice to be heard. Joseph smiled as they stepped into the sun.
Derek went to say something, but Joseph held a finger up to shush him, then led him away. He wanted to be able to speak to the man in private, away from the annoyance of the chief of mages.
When they reached his tent, he noted that there were already magical ears around the room, trying to pick up on what was said. From the looks of it, there were at least six spies among the mages that had arrived from the capital. This would be an interesting time. After studying the room in silence for a moment, he finally decided there weren't any scrying attempts going on, or magical eyes to watch what was happening.
Holding his finger to his mouth, he picked up a quill and began to write.
"I hear you can cast earth spells," he said, pushing the paper across to him, so he could read what he had written.
'I know you can cast earth spells, but I don't want Dominic to know what we're talking about,' said the note.
Nodding in relief, Derek seemed happy that he would be able to talk without worrying about Dominic.
"I can do a little," he answered out loud, while he scribbled quietly on the paper.
'I get tired fast,' he responded on paper.
Stella started moving furniture around, to hide the noise the quill made as they wrote. The magical hearing spells would still hear them talking, but wouldn't hear the anything else.
"Was the trip tiring? I hadn't noticed any of the mages helping out with anything yet."
'Do you have any recovery spells known?'
"Dominic doesn't like for us to demean ourselves. We are noble and learned mages not to be used for such petty things."
'No, I can barely make a single cobblestone for the road, in a day.'
"That's a pity," said Joseph, looking at the paper. His words applied to both the spoken and unspoken conversations.
'If I promised you that you could reach the advanced level in EARTH, if you followed my instructions, within a year, would you be willing to enter into a magic contract with me? I don't want the others learning my techniques.'
There was silence as Joseph wrote, and as Derek read the words he had written, his eyes went big. He looked up at him in wonder. He was only a child, but there was something in Derek's eyes that didn't care about his age. Was it greed?
"I will have to speak with Dominic about that. I believe the reason the king sent all of you up here, was to help in whatever ways you could, regardless of what those ways are," said Joseph as Derek wrote his response.
"I can't go against Dominic, he's been placed in charge of all of us, by the king himself. If I went against him, it would be treason, just like if I went against the king."
'I'm not sure entering into a magically binging contract with a child where I would be subject to the pain of death if I failed in some aspect, is a very good idea.'
Joseph nodded, taking the paper and quill back.
"I'll have to speak with Dominic again, then. I'm sure we can come to some form of agreement, before I have to contact the king again. Surely there has just been some misunderstandings. I'm certain the king did not intend to send all of these wonderful mages to me, for them to refuse to work just because it is beneath them."
'If you can hit advanced in any rune, you would become stronger than Dominic. You would be a mage noteworthy throughout the entire kingdom. Think about it, and we'll talk more later.'
"I'm sure that is all it is, a misunderstanding," said Derek, nodding at the letter.
Shaking his hand before he left, he made sure he saw Stella flip the paper they were writing on into the fire. There was nothing left but ashes when Derek left.