At nightfall we were called into the courtyard, and the chief Guernicus present had us sit before her. We were surrounded by a crowd of gawkers.
“Are each of you adamant that this continue? This War is irregular, and it is my House’s opinion that our standards should not fall short just because we face the Diedne threat. That being said, there are political realities, and your co-operation makes them less acute.” She was another Justina.
“Yes.” Incendia said. “No apology suffices for what he said about my House.”
I sighed “Oh, come on. They know you want my vis. Prove me wrong. Swear now that you take yourself out of the triage line. Say that if you kill me, my vis goes to someone else.”
“I was the one who received your insult…” she replied, with as much dignity as she could muster.
I turned to the Quaesitor and deliberately spoke over Incendia. “I consider myself the challenged party. I must continue if she must.”
“As the challenged party, do you accept the terms that have been laid out for the combat?” Justina asked.
“Yes.” I answered.
“I need you to recite them before witnesses, so that afterward there can be no claim you were led unknowing to your death.”
“Does she need to recite them too? She’s the one who is going to die.” I needed to goad Incendia harder, so I scratched my back with the tip of the Verditus magus’s talisman. I hoped he wouldn’t get too annoyed by that. They can be so touchy about their artifacts.
Incendia rose to the bait. “Is he allowed that thing?”
Justina answered “Yes. This isn’t a duel. There is no question of fairness, only lawfulness.”
“How many advantages do you want?” I added. I adopted my most mocking tone. “I’ve given away the right to demand you wait for the full moon, so I don’t have time to prepare. I’ve given away the right to choose where you chase me to, so I’ve lost ground advantage. I’ve given away the right to use vis, so I can’t create persistent illusions or punch through your Parma with sheer force. I’ve given away the right to shelter within House Mycetias. My only defenses are illusions, this lovely talisman, and the innate deficiencies of fire magic.”
She scowled and snapped at me “It will be a pleasure to demonstrate the power of fire to you.” I was pleased by that. She was more powerful than me. If she had fought creatively, I’d have lost. I needed her to deliberately choose to fight with a hand tied behind her back, so I kept needling her about how worthless fire magic was. I knew that if she chose fire magic she couldn’t just use her most powerful spells indiscriminately. She needed my Corpus vis, so she needed an intact corpse, or at least a discrete pile of ash. If I could get her just to use fire, then I had some ideas that I could try.
“Your recitation does not suffice.” said the Guernicus. She liked formal phrasings. She felt they gave authority. To me it just gave the whole thing a sad but comic air. No-0ne present thought this was justice, but Wizard Wars aren’t about right and wrong.
I played along, but pitched my tone so that I suggested this was all mere formality, with which I was tired. “At dawn we will be waiting at opposite sites of the nearby woodland. We will each raise the Parma Magica and step within. The war ends at nightfall, when our Parmae need renewal. There will be no second trial of force. To leave the wood before the end of the day, for any reason, will be met with fatal force. Do I have it all?”
“No aid is to be offered by any outside party to either side. Niether side may prepare the field. No vis may be used.” she added.
“I understand. So, just to be clear: if I kill her in the first hour, I need to hang around until sundown?” I said.
“Yes.” said the Guernicus, trying to keep some gravitas.
“So, can I take a book?”
“Yes.” she paused, obviously angry at my levity. “All manner of equipment is permitted.”
“Thank you. Would you please get Incendia to recite the terms now? I wouldn’t want people thinking a lured her to her death.”
I did, of course. That was the whole point of this conversation: to trick her into doing what I needed her to do. She did try to do some clever things. but she went into the battle deliberately limiting herself, and her few creative choices were all within constraints that she could so easily have broken. She could have saved herself at any time. She did not want to. That was the trick.
Afterward I spoke to Scipia and to father. “What’s the word?” I asked.
Scipia said “If she’s borrowed magic items off anyone, no-one has heard about it, she is not wearing them, and they are not in her chamber in the hospital.” Father kept silent. He seemed sad. I was careful not to let him see I’d noticed. Eventually he spoke “She missed one of the rules we’d laid down. There are to be no reprisals until after the war. If she kills you, she is safe from me, while the last Diedne lives.”
I laughed, falsely. “That’s good to know. If I win, it buys me time to head for Constantinople.”
My sister hugged me, which I expected. My father then did this odd thing: he reached out and laid his hand on the top of my head. It felt like a blessing, and a farewell, and he left quickly.
“I won’t see you in the morning.” Scipia said. “I’ll need to seal the wounds in the hospital.”
“Then goodbye, and fret not, for all manner of things may yet be well.” I said. She knew I was being brave, and she pretended to be convinced.