The first tribunal meeting I attended after the war is sometimes called the Unveiling by my students. I know the shock of it is still being felt in the Order, but you must recall, for us, it was decades ago. I remember leaving the regio with my children. I remember the pained looks on the faces of those who had known me during the War. I entered the chamber, having not seen it for thirty of our years.
I’d not taken my longevity potion immediately, but I appeared only about ten years older, physically. There’s a difference though, in the way older magi stand. In the way they hold your eye. Of course, I had a small phalanx of young adults in apprentice robes, and a basket of sigils to hand to them. Literally a basket. It’s become a little tradition of ours here. Callida has even enchanted it.
The Tribunal was about to begin. We did not arrive late, but we made sure that we would not be early. There were only fifty-four Mycetians at the end of the war, and one third of them were in other Tribunals, or otherwise engaged. My master, sister and my nominally older brother were in attendance. We filled in and took a place against a wall, at the back. We still took up a fifth of the space. The Praeco broke with tradition a little, and asked why there were a gaggle of children in the room.
I stepped forward and said “Before a Quaesitor and witnesses, I inform the Tribunal, and through the redcaps the rest of the Order, that these eight are my apprentices, now given their sigils as magi of the Order.” Each of my children took a steel ball from the basket, and then put it back saying “Guard this for me, please, father.” This was a formality. My eldest four had been magicians for twenty of our years, although only Hortensia and Exuvia had lived most of that time in Alethia. Hortensia then said “I am Hortensia of Mycetias, and these four children are my apprentices. Children, get your sigils from your grandfather.” I think this was the bit that caused pandemonium to break out. Exuvia handed a ball to her apprentice, and called out the required words, but even I didn’t hear them.
Callida smashed a gauntleted fist into the wall for silence. Even with repetition, she met with only with only limited success, until the wall threatened to give way and the Quaesitores called all to order. “If you are all finished,” she shouted, “I have the right to speak! This is my apprentice. Her name is Volcana. Her sigil is this ring.” That had not been the name she had intended. I think her temper had the better of her.
Fourteen new magi, unexpected and all at once. The political shock was cushioned a little, because we chose the Transylvanian Tribunal to unveil our numbers. A furious Verditius venting at the attendees did not make them more sanguine. Many Mycetians had been aware, however distantly, that I was running a school. Many of them had dropped off a child to be rapidly tutored in Latin and Magic Theory. Some had taken on apprentices that the redcaps had bought for me, but that had talents I could not incorporate into my training. That being said, at the end of the war, there were only 54 Mycetians left alive. My father’s faction was a minor one before the war, and suddenly it included over a quarter of the House.
The Primus, who was Bartholomaeus at that time, did the numbers and decided that he needed to exert his authority. “Toxophilus. Close you school.”.
My father answered “It is not my school, but I challenge you for it. Rego.” That was, of course, what the Primus had wanted. The Code Duello for our house is that if one loses, one may not challenge the same person again, unless first challenged by that person. Father, as the aggressor, would lose his chance to challenge for leadership, at least against this incumbent.
The duel that followed was disgusting. Each man created a phantasticum that was a giant, flayed human form. The visions ripped pieces from each other, illusory blood spattering everything within the duelling circle. Some magi flinched as gobbets of apparent flesh flew in arcs that seemed likely to strike them, although of course they faded as they left the circle. Finally, the Primus’s creature towered over my father, and beat him down with a huge piece of one of its broken ribs. As neither my brother or sister had their sigils, when Father became unconscious, leadership of our faction fell to me.
I knew I was no threat to the Primus. My Arts had not improved since I founded the school, and I had not been particularly skilled then. My strange knack for dueling might allow me to fight defensively and wear down the, already fatigued, Primus. If I fell, then all of my children had the right to challenge. It would be hard for him to refuse to fight a magus but minutes old, even if he had already fought many others.
Callida and her child conceivably had the right to challenge. They are of a different House, so an alternate might step in, to defend the Primus’s honour against an outsider. I made a hand signal to her that meant “Patience”, which is one of the things we’d learned to signal each other while raising the brood. We also had signs for other useful ideas like “Paralyse that apprentice.” and “Run like the building is about to burn down.” She nodded her assent, but looked unhappy.
“I challenge for the rule of the House.” I said. It seemed that I might as well go for all the marbles, and I wanted to put the idea of a leadership change on the table. There was a non-zero chance that, at the end of a grueling series of battles, Hortensia’s youngest child might come out of this as the Primus. That would not be desirable, and everyone in the room knew it.
I won’t dwell on my defeat. It was a Creo Vim battle. Many of the observers became nauseous. I did not win, but before I yielded I’d struck him several times. The blows were light, but that was hard to know from the phantastica. He was victorious, but did not look well. My brother then challenged. While he was losing, I found my breath and asked my sister to let the children fight him first. Hortensia began to take off her loose accessories, obviously preparing to duel.
Marius Caeruleus was a lieutenant of the Primus’s, but he broke as I’d hoped he would. He walked over to Hortensia, and said “I wish to challenge the Primus. Must I duel you for the right?”
She pretended to consider for a moment, then said “No.”
The Primus did not notice the conversation: certamen is too intense for people to win if they are distractable. You could see the hurt in the Primus’s face when he turned. He expected to face the next child, thinking that this was to be a series of increasingly easy victories that he just needed to struggle through. Instead, his trusted ally stood ready to face him, fresh for battle. Rego? Yes. Mentem? Yes. It was quick.
I walked to the dueling circle and raised my right hand. “What are you orders, commander?” My children quickly followed the gesture. Marius nodded, and then ignored me long enough to suspend the Tribunal meeting until the next day. He commanded all Mycetians to attend him that evening. When my father awoke, I took him to meet our new ruler. He did most of the talking. I just sat near him, my role was to embody the mystery of precisely what I’d been doing for what, our rivals knew, was decades. Toxophilus had an army, and who knew what else, in the school. Crossing him was unwise.
A message arrived from a redcap that a Bonisagus archmaga from the Rhine had granted me the title. Her challenge had to do with developing new teaching methods, but I’d not actually challenged her. I assumed, and confirmed later, that a redcap had contacted her as soon as the school was threatened. She reached out to the Trianomans, and they were readying various sorts of pressure, but that was the one thing she could do in a moment. It was enough.
It would be wrong of me to criticize our leader, but he is a monomanic. His policy, his only policy, is to rebuild our defences. I understand where it springs from. He was a veteran of the Corruption and the Schism. The war of duelists which House Tytalus and Flambeau are fighting in Provencal and Normandy may turn toxic and expand to a true conflict. His decision not to contest the conquered Diedne territories is not from cowardice, but from a calculated conviction that we could not win a three-cornered war over that distance. He decided to sell our interests in the West, save our outpost in Britain, and pull back into a defensive shell. Our treasure is poured out to make that shell thicker and harder. We did not know this when he became Primus.
My school is the best source of troops he has, but he worries that we are an internal enemy. In all honesty, we are, although not in this generation. Our faction won’t hold together. I may retain the sigils of the children who, like me, have chosen to teach, but the others will earn their sigils easily. That doesn’t matter.to me, although it may reassure him.
There are too many of us, and we are too different to the necromancers, for the House to remain the same. We are weaker, yes, but we aren’t secretive, and our magic doesn’t kill us as often. The other Houses favor us, because we don’t claim the dead as our source of power. Eventually, the House will look like us, and the necromancers will be a remnant, or just a handful of interesting techniques practiced by those of us interested in history.
Alethia endures. The redcaps bring children here, and we train them in Latin. The Bonisagus magi swoop in and steal many of them. The have to: Gifted children contain vis and there’s an ominous lack of them in Western Europe. These children grow up and remember us. In time my children, and these children, will found covenants in the empty spaces left by the war, or at the edges of the order.
I sit beneath the pear trees with my grandchildren. I have taken a little time from teaching to bind a familiar: a little ice wyrm descended from the creature which used to den in this regio. She puts her head in my lap, and keeps time moving swiftly. I tell the story of the war, and what came after.