Home > Fireblood (Whispers from Mirrowen #1)(10)

Fireblood (Whispers from Mirrowen #1)(10)
Jeff Wheeler

Annon wandered the city slowly, realizing that he was not making good time to the Paracelsus Tower. When he finally reached it, the doors were locked and no one answered after he pounded with his fist. The tower had a portcullis for a gate; Annon could see a shriveled oak tree in the courtyard beyond. It was dead, the heavy limbs barren of leaves, the bulky branches spiky and thick with clumps of mistletoe. It was a sullen-looking tree, and Annon pitied it. It was strange to find such a mature oak in the middle of the city.

Leaving the tower behind, Annon sought a nearby inn off of the main road and was not as fortunate as he was with the ferryman. He did not have to pay for the lodging as long as he slept in the common room, but he was required to pay for his meal. He did, without complaint, and had an ill night’s sleep on the floor.

During the night, a Preachán ventured too near him, testing to see if he was asleep. Annon heard the other approach and opened his eyes, staring at him coldly. The fellow studied him, wondering if it was worth the bother to rob a Druidecht, and then decided to move on, slipping from person to person for something to steal. Annon’s hands tingled with heat, but he kept a tight rein on his disgust and waited for the passion to subside. In the woods, a spirit would have protected him and frightened the intruder away. He could not wait to leave.

In the morning, Annon vacated the inn and returned to the Paracelsus Tower. The portcullis was open and he passed beneath it warily, staring up at the sharp spikes as he passed. He paused at the oak, running his palm across the husk-like bark. It looked decayed and withered, a sad replica of a once-mighty tree. To the Druidechts, the oak was a sacred tree. Why was it there? How had it come to be in the courtyard? Or had the tower been built around it? There were four simple walls surrounding it, rising up with huge towers in each corner. Which one belonged to his uncle?

“Hold there, friend. State your business.”

A Cruithne guard had been waiting on the inner side of the portcullis, his skin and armor so dark he blended in with the shadows until he spoke. It startled Annon that the tree had distracted him so much.

“I have no business, only matters to discuss with Tyrus. He is expecting me.”

The Cruithne was no taller than Annon, but at least twice as wide. His upper body cast a shadow across Annon. “Your name?”

“Tell him his nephew is here. Thank you.”

Annon tried to calm his nervousness. It had been ten years since they had met. What would Tyrus look like? How would he act around his nephew? What possible reason could he have for sending Reeder to find Annon? There were more questions than answers. Had Tyrus tried to contact him earlier and failed?

The Cruithne lifted a jeweled ring to his mouth and spoke to it in low tones.

“Greetings, Druidecht. Are you lost?” said a voice from behind him.

Annon turned sharply, angry that another person surprised him. It was an older man with well-silvered hair and an elaborately embroidered black tunic. A chained amulet hung from his neck with a green gem fastened to the front that shimmered like glass. He was tall and rose-cheeked. He was an Aeduan, like Annon was. That was how one referred to his race, which was a mix of all the others and lacked the innate magic of the Vaettir, Cruithne, and Preachán.

“No, I am here to see my uncle. Tyrus Paracelsus.”

The older man looked startled. He glanced at the Cruithne guard, who nodded in the affirmative. “Your uncle, you say? Strange indeed. He is in the northeast tower. That one.”

Annon nodded his gratitude and walked toward the stone entryway at the base of the tower. He was greeted by an assistant there who used a mallet to sound a single tone on a metal gong at the base of the stairwell. The sound echoed up the shaft. After a moment, a bell chimed from the blackness above, and the assistant motioned for Annon to ascend the steps.

Sweat beaded on his forehead as he mounted the steps, going higher and higher into the vast tower. There were no windows, but the way was illuminated by little vials of light inserted into the walls. It was the only way to describe them. The vials were glass and were stoppered with little copper footings, sculpted by artisans. Each one illuminated the way to the next and then extinguished after Annon passed, leaving him in a small cone of light as he went. Annon stopped and studied a vial, sensing spirit magic as he had in the city the night before.

When he reached the top of the steps, he confronted a heavy door, gouged with knicks and scratches. In several places, it seemed it had been hacked at with an ax and then sanded down and varnished again. Annon fingered one of the gouges, but as soon as he touched the door, it swung open from within.

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