This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Discordant Harmonies 1: A Pitch of the Scale

Asthané assured the guard—it was always a different one who brought him to his palace chambers—he was capable of stumbling to bed on his own. Following a minute’s hovering hesitation, the woman departed, and he watched her go, waiting until she disappeared around a corner. Good. He could relax now.

This Council meeting hadn’t been so bad. Of course, he’d spent most of it sitting outside the chamber while other business was taken care of, but he still had a head which felt like someone had used it for a drum and knotted guts. He wasn’t sure just how much of the fine supper in the room beyond this front door he’d be able to eat, especially cold—he’d learned long ago, most foods eaten while sick with Gift reaction tended to lack flavor if left cold—and he wasn’t inclined to use his Gifts to heat anything up. It might be best to skip supper altogether.

He turned the handle and forced himself to move into the room. Bless the soul of whoever watched over these chambers, they always left the fore chamber well-lit, the gaslights bright. Maybe someone who understood about Mages was monitoring the use of this apartment. Whoever it was, he wanted to thank them. He shuffled in, edged to the side, and shut the door as he leaned against the wall, tipping his head back as he closed his eyes. Bed was just across the way, in the next room, but he needed a break to register he truly was free for the rest of the evening.

“Thané?”

Asthané’s tentatively-spoken nickname made him go cold. Jéesan rarely hesitated over anything. She was forthright and could be blunt if she wanted. When he opened his eyes and tipped his head upright, he found her standing a few paces away, looking worried.

“It’s just standard weariness and hunger on top of Gift reaction.”

Her expression didn’t clear, though she should have been familiar enough with things herself it would have eased her mind. “Something’s happened.”

The cold slithered back up his spine, freezing the bones. If he’d had any clearer mind, he would have seen various scenarios, but his mind latched onto only one thing. “Is it Ophelan?” She was the only one he could imagine Jéesan being sent to tell him about at this time of the night after he’d been at a Council session following weatherworking all afternoon.

“No. It’s Géta.”

“Géta?” There was a shake to his voice when he repeated the musician’s name. When his mentor didn’t go on, he pushed from the wall, some frail reserves of energy coming from somewhere. “What’s happened to him?”

Jéesan’s expression collapsed into one that said she wished she hadn’t had to bring such news to him now. “Someone attacked him. A friend found him in a meditation circle in the gardens. He’s in the infirmary now.”

That was all Asthané needed to hear. Forgetting hunger, weariness, no longer even feeling the pain and discomfort of Gift reaction, he whipped around and threw the door open. He left it that way and trotted down the hall, seeking an exit. A way to the back gardens shared with the High Temple. If Jéesan followed, he didn’t know, and he wasn’t in a mind to care.

Gods, he shouldn’t have left the boy. He should have waited, accompanied Géta back. It had been on his mind every day he’d left the musician behind. But they were supposed to be safe on the Palace grounds. From the farthest reaches of the Weatherfield to all the walls, Géta should have been safe. How could anyone get into Palace grounds to attack anybody? They should have been caught, gotten lost in the gardens or Temple, been caught trespassing and escorted off the grounds by the Palace Guard or Custodians of the Devout.

He found a door and threw it open, not thinking to shut this one either. It set Asthané out in the gardens, and he glanced around, spotted the edifice of the Temple, and headed for it. For once, the twisty paths didn’t annoy him. He was too worried, thinking of all the mistakes he’d made with Géta.

Around to the door into the ground floor hall which led to the watch room—he didn’t remember where any of the other entrances would lead. Through the watch room, left turn past the stairwell room, and into the main corridor which he knew cut through most of the Temple. He’d been to the infirmary here a few times since arriving as a youth, mostly for accidents in martial arts practice—broken bones, slipped blades. Those memories paled beneath his fear, and he pushed the door into the infirmary open and glanced around. Géta wasn’t in the main room, which was an indication his condition was somewhat more serious.

Hopefully not very serious.

Asthané passed into the room, catching a Healer’s attention. The woman rose with an expression of concern, but he spoke before she could ask him if he needed help. “I’m looking for Géta. He’s small, very thin, blond hair. My mentor said he was attacked.”

Enlightenment lit the sresaph Teesar’s face. “Of course. Are you his Mage?”

How to respond to that? “Yes.” Probably best he lay some sort of claim to the boy for now. If things proved false later, he’d deal with it then.

“This way.”

Asthané followed the Healer into a corridor. She stopped at the third door on the left and eyed Asthané. “He’s in pretty bad condition, was unconscious when he was brought in.”

Though he wanted to push into the room, Asthané made himself stay where he stood.

After a minute spent examining him, the woman went on. “Multiple head wounds, broken ribs, both arms fractured, contusions and abrasions over most of his body, back and front, and he also has Gift reaction, a rather severe case of it—in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so severe before. He hasn’t awoken since he was brought in, and we’re concerned there’s been some deeper damage, possibly to his brain. We won’t know until he wakes up.”

“I need to see him.” Now Asthané was more than ready to push in, and he barely held himself back from it.

“You’re not doing too well yourself.”

“Worry about me later.”

A smile touched her lips for a moment, and she opened the door. He followed her in, walking almost in her shoes, and went right to the side of the bed when she stepped aside. Géta laid pale between the sheets, a dark blanket light over his body. His clothes had apparently been removed because some of his chest was visible, very bruised. Both of the boy’s eyes were bruised and swollen, his lips had been split, and his nose bore clear signs of abuse. There didn’t seem to be much unmarred skin visible, and his hair was still clumped with blood. The Healing spell over him bore the presences of more than one Healer, including the one who’d shown Asthané here.

Asthané gazed at Géta for a few minutes, fists at his sides as he mentally berated the Gods for all They’d done to the boy. Nobody deserved to go through what Géta was going through magically, and now this. What had the boy ever done to deserve this?

There was one person he could speak to in order to see if he could rectify this situation. Not giving the Healer another thought, Asthané left the little private healing chamber and the infirmary. He backtracked to the stairwell and climbed them to the top floor, exiting into a corridor. Everyone who wished to become a Mage endured an interview with the Grand Matriarch, and he remembered not only his interview but the path he’d taken to the office with a clarity he’d sometimes thought torturous, but it was a good thing now.

Éethin didn’t have guards in the corridor outside her door, but there was an antechamber with a Proxy-status Mage secretary and one Custodian. When Asthané entered demanding to speak with the Grand Matriarch at the top of his lungs, the secretary rose, hands beckoning to the guard.

“She’s busy.”

“Don’t try that with me. I know she’s in her office. I want to speak with her now.” He advanced on the secretary, shaking off the Custodian’s attempts at restraining him, not averse to using his anger and posture to intimidate her, and she squeaked and scurried for the office door, apparently forgeeting she could have restrained him magically on her own. While she stuck her head in the door, he completed crossing the office and shoved at it. “Éethin.” It wasn’t in his mind he was accosting the Grand Matriarch. All he was concerned about was taking care of Géta, and that meant seeing justice was done as soon as possible.

The Grand Matriarch sat at her desk, apparently unperturbed by Asthané’s appearance. Of course, she had learned Itai’s Gift and had begun as a sresaph Jalza, so as far as he knew some ghost had told her, or she’d had Visions of him entering like this hours ago. “Let him in, I’ll see him now.”

With patent reluctance the secretary retreated, giving Asthané a glare he paid no attention to before she shut the door; the guard had already retreated. Éethin rose as the door clicked home.

“Am I correct in assuming you’re here about Géta?”

“Yes.”

Éethin came around her desk, indicating the table and chairs before the fireplace. “I’d like you to sit.” It was a flat statement, and Asthané was wise enough to recognize it as a command and obeyed it. She joined him, taking the chair opposite the one he’d perched on, and leaned on the table, fingers weaving as she met his gaze, her expression solemn. “We have a statement from the friend who found him, a young sresaph Vlantil waiting to learn Réshée’s Gift. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough information to be certain these people whom he named are the ones who attacked Géta, and you know the laws of the Temple. We must wait for Géta’s statement.”

“And what if he . . . dies?”

Éethin’s expression hardened. “Then we will see justice done. I will have no compunctions against seeking Jalza’s assistance, but since I’ve received no Visions or Portents, I’m led to believe Géta will survive. Jalza is very thorough, Asthané, and would not let justice go unserved.”

Asthané held her gaze with a glare of his own for a minute, then nodded. She reached out, palm up, and he put his hand in hers, and she patted his fingers.

“You go rest. I’ll tell the Healers to send a messenger to you when Géta wakes.”

He shifted a little, averting his gaze. “I rather told the Healer who took me to him he was my musician.”

“We’ll see about that. Take comfort in Jalza’s Wisdom. He’ll wake up.”

Asthané nodded again, inhaling a deep breath. Éethin smiled at him and rose. Taking it as dismissal, he got up as well and let her urge him to the door.

“Try to get some rest, Thané. You’ll do yourself no favors if you’re too weary to face the day tomorrow.”

He nodded one last time, and Éethin escorted him through the front office to the door. After she put him in the corridor, she patted his shoulder and shut the door. He stood there for a minute, trying to calm himself, but he was still too worried about Géta. Telling himself he’d stay for only a little while, he headed for the infirmary.

The same Healer who’d met him before greeted him. He didn’t ask permission, but she didn’t stop him when he went to Géta’s room. Now he noticed things he hadn’t seen before. The pale green of the walls, the chair across the room from the bed, the tray cart with medical supplies arranged on it at the foot of the bed. Healing spells still enveloped Géta, and Asthané took comfort from their presence and his sensing of the boy as he pulled the simple chair across the room. After he set it beside the musician, he dropped onto it, suddenly feeling weary and every twinge of pain he’d not felt for the past half hour or so—his body throbbed with it.

But he refused to leave Géta’s side and sat there keeping watch until the sresaph Teesar who’d met him earlier gently woke him. Asthané tried to resist her efforts, but she drew him to his feet and led him to another little private chamber and had him lie down. Still muttering incoherent protests, he did so, wanting to rest for just a minute, and the woman pressed a finger between his brows, putting him to sleep.

Géta walked down the street with Alénil, his friend’s arm caught around his. Alénil told him about a girl his father wanted to introduce him to—a conversation which had become rather common since Alénil turned nine. They wandered the streets while Géta listened to his best friend talk about being nervous and happy-excited over this meeting like he usually was whenever meeting a girl.

Together, they turned a corner, and a swirl of mist rose, taking Alénil away as it surrounded Géta. He halted and looked for his friend, still quite able to feel Alénil’s arm around his.

“Alé?”

The mists rolled back at his word, though they hadn’t been touching him before. Seeing this, Géta began a campaign to gain as much space as he could, shouting wordlessly at the mists or demanding to have his friend back. He rubbed his arm as he did so, but the sensation of having Alénil’s arm around it faded. Oddly, he didn’t feel inclined to anger or frustration, but he wasn’t feeling any other particular emotion either—until the flute played.

He had a flash of memory. It lanced through the mists, making him gasp. The bullies, the attack, his flute. Where was his flute?

“I want my flute!”

The mists reared back again, then broke apart as a sharp high note from the invisible flute cut through them. Within the split, Géta saw a man as thin as himself, face blurred, who wielded magic. A shield surrounded the Mage, shimmering with undershadow. Géta raised his flute—where was his flute?—and played until he hurt, destroying the shield. The undershadow crawled and roiled away from the Mage, leaving him defenseless, and Géta stopped playing. Though he hurt and wanted to lie down and let the pain overwhelm him, he remembered clearly what this Mage had done to him—despite not knowing what this Mage had done to him—and drew his sword. Looking frightened, the Mage drew his own blade. Géta glanced beyond him, saw the people outside of the shield surrounding them at a great distance. He reinforced that shield, because it was in part his Mage’s, and it protected him from Enemy Mage’s people who stood at the other side.

Enemy Mage reached for the undershadow, little tendrils of the Mage’s own essence stretching out. But Géta’s side had created the shield protecting them well beyond Géta’s skill with playing the undershadow away, and that was farther than Enemy Mage could stretch his need for the power.

Pacing slowly, sword low at his side, Géta approached Enemy Mage, who lifted his blade and backed up a few paces. Before Enemy Mage could retreat into range of the undershadow, Géta darted and lunged. Enemy Mage frantically defended himself, uttering a cry. They circled around a bit, Enemy Mage in constant retreat. He wasn’t as practiced as Géta, but he was managing to protect himself.

Angry at Enemy Mage’s success, Géta grew more ferocious. His swings and jabs came more quickly, started getting past Enemy Mage’s defenses. He drew his parrying dagger and employed it, trying to catch Enemy Mage’s sword and angle it out so he could get close to stab Enemy Mage. This time he would kill Enemy Mage. He made a swipe at Enemy Mage’s neck with his sword, but it was knocked away, to the left. Reversing his arm’s movement with a burst of strength despite his pain and lethargy, Géta stepped close. Enemy Mage screamed again, reaching desperately for power as he backed up. Géta followed, whistling now, and Enemy Mage’s arm sagged as he was as affected by Géta’s Gift with magic-nulling as Géta’s own Mage had been when he’d played it away from their vicinity.

Enemy Mage tripped, falling back with a yelp. Géta took the opportunity to twirl Enemy Mage’s blade out of his grip and stepped up close, using the tip of his blade to pierce Enemy Mage’s chain mail vest. Rings parted in the hauberk, and Enemy Mage tried to hit the blade away with a plate-vambraced forearm. Géta whistled softly as he pushed the tip of his sword through skin and bone, sending Enemy Mage’s own life-will away. The light dulled in Enemy Mage’s eyes, and his head hit the ground as his last breath rattled free. Géta sensed Enemy Mage’s heart stop the moment his blade pierced it and continued whistling, sending the undershadow completely out of Enemy Mage’s body.

He looked up at Enemy Mage’s people, knowing the other Mages had seen what he could do, and mist roiled from the shield, as it had that day on the Weatherfield. The undershadow slammed over the image and swept at him. Screaming, Géta tried to run, but there were only more mists, and they closed in around him coming very close as the flute music faded. He screamed again, certain the mists were going to swallow him.

And awoke with a finger pressed to his forehead. Not one of his own. He panted for breath, blinking up at the man who hovered over him.

“What’s your name?”

He licked his lips. “Géta Disphreni.”

“What do you do here?”

He frowned. “I’m a musician for the Mages. They also put me in composition classes.”

The man nodded, and now Géta recognized the red sigil of a sresaph Teesar on the man’s tunic. “Where do you live?”

“In the Édalain Empire. Why are you asking me these questions?”

“Just two more. Can you add two and two?”

“Four.”

“Who is our ruler and what year of her reign is it?”

He huffed a breath. “Empress Yulée Maphéelo, and it’s her seventh year of rule.”

The Healer smiled. “How do you feel?”

“You said two more questions.”

That got him a chuckle. “I did indeed, but I still need to know how you feel.”

He nodded and wiggled carefully a little, testing things. There was quite a bit of pain spread over his body, and his arms were splinted. It hurt a lot to breathe, and there were throbbing knots on top of the Gift reaction headache he had, which reminded him of the dream. Thinking about it seemed to increase the pain.

“I hurt.”

“How badly?”

Géta frowned. “I have nothing to compare it to.” He froze and gasped as something occurred to him. “Where’s my flute?” Concern for it induced him to try and sit up, intending to go look for it. The pain increased, but he ignored it.

The Healer gently grasped his shoulders, now making him aware he was totally naked beneath the covers, and urged him to lie down again. “You’re in no condition to go wandering after your instrument, even if your legs weren’t badly injured. I’m sure it’ll be found. You lie there, and I’ll fetch you some pillows to prop you up. I have a promise from a friend of yours he’ll make a lunchtime visit, and I want to feed you before he arrives.”

So Géta let the Healer prop him up and did his best to consume the soup and biscuits brought for his lunch. The Healer fed him since his arms were pretty much useless, broken as they were, and he had to keep swallowing bile as the soup upset his stomach further. There was no mint tea, but a cup of milk, which he ignored, afraid it would curdle and upset his stomach further.

Because of the dream he’d had before the mists had come, he fully expected the friend who wanted to visit to be Alénil. Those dreams had seemed so real, particularly the one with his best friend. The Healer left him propped up after feeding him, and departed with the promise to send his friend in as soon as he arrived.

Géta wasn’t left alone for long. Udé entered, and he stared, both disappointed and happy. The Mage trainee sat in the chair the sresaph Teesar had vacated.

“I’m glad you woke up.”

“Me, too.” Géta was wry. “How long have I been asleep?”

His first comment garnered a smile, but it fell away upon his question. “Since I found you yesterday afternoon. When you didn’t show up at the dining hall, I hunted you down. Found you unconscious in one of the meditation spots.”

“Did you get my flute?”

“It wasn’t there.”

Géta wilted at his friend’s words, tears coming to his eyes. “What will I do without it?”

“The Temple will get you another.”

“But it wouldn’t be mine. My grandmother got me that flute the year she died!”

Udé reached out, patting the air. “All right. I’ll see what I can do. Maybe the bullies took it.”

“Maybe. Likely. I can’t think of anyone else who would.”

The Mage trainee twisted to look at the clock hung on the wall behind him. “Oh, I have to go. I’ll see you this afternoon, all right?”

Géta nodded, mind still on his flute. Udé gave him a smile he was certain was meant to reassure, then left. Alone, Géta did his best to wiggle down, though it caused pain, and closed his eyes. Maybe he could sleep some more, and thus be relieved of the knowledge of the loss of his flute.

The only reason why Asthané had even shown up for this lunch meeting was because the Healers had told him he couldn’t see Géta until after his day was done. They’d let him sleep until midmorning, then filled him with oatmeal and sausage and sent him on his way with the injunction to take better care of himself. His forced departure from the infirmary had only soured his already bad mood, but he supposed they were right. Life went on, and at least the musician was alive.

But his mind wasn’t on what Zéth was talking about. He’d caught bits, but didn’t truly care. Asthané’s gaze had been focused on his food, and he’d been distractedly cutting minuscule bites from his slice of turkey breast. Though he knew he should, he couldn’t force himself to eat.

“You’re distracted.”

The interruption to the monologue he’d been listening to—about whom Zéth had garnered support for their cause from—made Asthané start. He froze and angled his gaze up to his ex lover without raising his head. The expression on Zéth’s face was somewhere between irritated and concerned.

“What’s wrong?”

He shook his head, forcing himself to set his knife down and use the fork to eat. There was another puffy pastry confection waiting for dessert, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to eat it today. Some days he could, some days he couldn’t, and some days he didn’t stay long enough to get to dessert. Today felt like a day when he wouldn’t be able to eat it. Just chewing the turkey was making his stomach twist in knots. He swallowed and sipped his wine, wishing for mint tea.

Zéth regarded him for the duration, then gave a sad sigh. “I’m sorry we’re not on terms where you feel you can trust me.”

The main issue he’d been dealing with had been realized. Unable to refute Zéth’s conclusion, Asthané shifted a little, making himself eat more. If he arrived to weatherwork and Jéesan realized he hadn’t eaten, she’d be very upset. When she was very upset, things tended to get tougher, and they were tough enough already.

“Asthané, I won’t betray you again. There’s nothing to hold me back.”

Eyeing Zéth, Asthané wondered how true that was. After a couple minutes, during which Zéth held his gaze, he came to the conclusion it was probably almost completely true. There may be something which would cause Zéth to betray him, but it didn’t exist right now, and it wasn’t likely to raise its head anytime soon. Zéth had what he’d most wanted all those years ago, and, thus far, his actions here had shown he did have some regrets about the choice he’d made when they were youths. Asthané wasn’t sure he should trust his ex lover any, but he somewhat did despite that.

He huffed a breath and sipped his wine. “Someone attacked a musician.”

What?

Asthané nodded in response to the shocked tone of Zéth’s voice. “I was shocked, too, when I got to thinking about it over breakfast this morning. Who would do such a thing? Who would dare? They have to know the consequences, particularly if they’re part of the Palace or Temple in any capacity.”

“Is this your musician?”

Frowning a little, he ate a bit to stall. “Perhaps. I’ve been having him play for me every other day, and Éethin may decide to convince him to become my musician because of that. He hasn’t expressed a desire not to play for me.”

“But you have doubts.” Zéth sipped his wine and picked up his utensils to begin eating again.

“He won’t let me get close.”

Zéth chuckled. “Asthané, you’ve never been one who particularly inspired feelings of closeness.”

For a moment, Asthané frowned, then he nodded his head side to side, somewhat agreeing with that assessment. Things had been different when Siéda had been alive. He’d been able to get closer to people, and though he still had the friends his previous musician had introduced to him, he found himself feeling distant from them, as if Siéda had been the oil which had eased associations with them. He was a little afraid his typical abrasive attitude was alienating them and couldn’t tell if he were misreading the situation. Siéda would have been able to tell him not only that, but also how to work his way back into easy association with them if it were so.

And there was the fact they’d all been Siéda’s friends, and perhaps blamed Asthané for his death. They were too tactful to openly accuse him, but he couldn’t help but wonder if they rather didn’t want him to associate with them any more and just couldn’t bring themselves to say as much for fear of rousing his temper.

“Do you know who attacked him?”

The question broke into his thoughts, and he sucked in a breath and made himself eat some more before replying. “Éethin says Jalza hasn’t given her any indications, but that Géta’s friend who found him had suspects in mind.”

Zéth nodded, attacking his vegetables in a half-attentive way. “If you need help I can provide, I’ll do whatever I can. It may not be much.”

“Thanks.”

“So do you want him to be your new musician?”

Asthané frowned at his food. “I’d like him to be. Now I know what all those others meant when they said wind instruments are the best. The music is unobtrusive, even if the boy can’t play consistently for several hours yet. I’m better able to focus when he is playing, and my power feels stronger.”

He filled his mouth and set to chewing. It was in the top of his mind to go on and tell Zéth about Géta’s struggles with whatever Gifts the Gods had Bestowed, but he hesitated to do so. Healers had mentioned it already. They’d probably tell Éethin, so Asthané knew he could expect an injunction to convince Géta to train as a Mage from her if the boy did end up as his musician. He wasn’t sure he should tell anybody who couldn’t see it for themselves, particularly Zéth, half-certain if Géta found out about such confessions, the boy would flat out refuse to associate with him any more.

“I hope the Grand Matriarch assigns him to you, then.”

Though it was much more a matter of Géta choosing to Serve him, he nodded.

Zéth sipped his wine and refilled his cup, then sat back with a sigh. “So, do you think you can pay better attention to my report on our cause?”

Asthané sat up, shaking his shoulders. “All right, I’ll try to listen better.”

His ex lover chuckled. “Good, because we’ve got less than forty-five minutes before you have to be at the Weatherfield.”

Géta stared at the ceiling, wishing he could block Asthané’s presence out of the edge of his vision. The Mage had been here most of the day, leaving only for lunch, and he wasn’t sure he wanted anybody to hear this information, even the Custodian of the Devout who’d come to question him about the attack. What made it worse was that Asthané had claimed to be the Mage he was assigned to when the Custodian had chased everyone else out, and he hadn’t been able to protest because he couldn’t imagine anybody listening to him about it.

The Custodian had taken the chair and now opened a journal-type book as she produced a pencil and eraser from the pouch at her waist. She didn’t look very much like a guard, though Shélan had explained the Custodians as such. Someone who protected the Priests and Mages. He could have believed the explanation if she’d been wearing some sort of armor, though the sword she wore was somewhat reassuring. Few adults wore weapons around the Temple, even in the martial arts classroom.

“Please describe your attackers.” When she’d entered, the Custodian had explained Udé had already given a report but that she needed Géta’s statement for utmost confidence. She hadn’t exactly promised there’d be positive results, but she’d implied that if he trusted in herself and, through her, the Order of Custodians of the Devout, results would happen.

He blinked up at the ceiling, resisting the urge to glance at Asthané, who paced on the Custodian’s other side. “The lead girl, Teréesi, is maybe a head taller than me, and she’s got brown hair. Average in build. I don’t know the others’ names, but one’s a boy about her height with black hair and a stocky build—he’s kind of ruddy in the face, or has been every time I’ve seen him, and he breathes as if it’s a lot of effort for him to move. The other is a girl, skinnier, but not as skinny as me, with brown hair kept in a braid. She might be a little younger than the others, a little closer to my age, and isn’t much taller than me from what I could tell.”

The Custodian was silent, writing this down. When she finished, she asked him what had happened, and he described coming off the Weatherfield out of sorts, doing his best not to betray he’d been having Gift reaction, and how the one who’d met him had done as Udé did for him whenever they could meet there. She wrote what he remembered of the attack without comment.

“Can you get my flute back?” he asked at the end, now turning his head to look at her despite Asthané’s presence.

She gazed at him as if surprised.

“Get it.” The words came from Asthané. “It’s very important he has his flute.”

“The Temple will get you a new one,” the Custodian said soothingly.

Géta glared at her. “It won’t be the same. It’ll probably be some pathetic piece of carved wood. I had a metal flute. Try and tell me the Temple will pay for one of those.” He couldn’t stop the tears and sniffled, wishing he could move his arms enough to wipe them away.

Asthané bent a little, gripping the woman’s shoulder. “Get his flute. It’s copper, the case yeru wood with his name painted in green on the top in Imperial Script and has copper fittings. I imagine one of the bullies took it and may be keeping it as a trophy.”

The Custodian twisted to look up at the Mage and nodded. “We’ll do our best to recover it, if it’s so important.”

“It’s very important.”

Géta stared at the Mage, mouth a little open. He hadn’t thought Asthané had paid such good attention to his instrument. It didn’t seem reasonable. Why would the Mage even care what it looked like, never mind the appearance of its case and the fact it bore his name? When had Asthané noticed all this about his instrument?

But that seemed to be the end of the Custodian’s interview. She bid farewell and left. Géta stared after her with a scowl, remembering the scornful way she’d spoken of retrieving his flute. “If it’s so important,” as if he’d be anything without his flute.

The Mage reclaimed the chair with a sigh. After spending a minute examining him, Géta found something to say, though it almost hurt to say it.

“Thanks.”

Asthané smiled at him. “I understand how important a musician’s instrument is.” The smile fell away into an expression of concern. “When did the bullying begin?” Back to flat questions, but Géta could still see the concern in Asthané’s expression.

He shifted a little, uncertain how he should feel about the Mage’s concern. “Since the first week I was here.” He huffed a little breath, returning his gaze to the ceiling. “She mocked my sexuality.” After a moment, he returned his gaze to the Mage. “Why would she do that? I thought it was acceptable in most of the Empire.”

The Mage stretched in the chair a little, making it creak a bit. “From what I’ve been able to determine, bullies tend to be rather . . . unimaginative. They pick the most obvious differences to mock because it’s easy.” He gave a twisted smile. “Bullies mocked me because I had a poor Édalain accent when I arrived when I was about your age. It was easy for them, and it gave them a sense of power when I reacted to their mockery by becoming defensive and afraid. The fact I was learning to manipulate earth first was also a point of mockery for them, and they didn’t stop until they either were thrown out of the temple or I stood up to them.”

“It’s standing up to them that made her attack me.”

“You said she said nobody makes her look like an fool.”

He nodded. “I guess I did. Maybe . . . maybe if I’d stood up to her from the first, she wouldn’t have gone on bullying me.”

Asthané shrugged. “It’s impossible to tell. It could have only induced her to attack you much sooner—and she may have been more secure in the action because at the time you didn’t have any real ties to the Temple. Maybe things would have turned out worse.”

Imagining what “worse” could have been wasn’t difficult. Géta swallowed at the thought he could have been more badly injured, even killed—and the possibility the bullies wouldn’t have gotten caught at all if that had happened.

“Don’t worry about it.” A flat command-like statement. Asthané offered another smile; this one didn’t seem to fit his face, which made it impossible for Géta to determine the emotion the Mage wished to convey with it.

Géta gazed at Asthané for a minute, then nodded, turning his head to stare at the ceiling again. Maybe it wasn’t so bad having the Mage in here with him. At least Asthané understood about his flute, and that was more than most people could seem to do. Even his own parents didn’t understand what it meant to him, and his own grandmother had given it to him. They’d been there when she’d presented it, her last gift to him. Only she’d ever understood what music meant to him before. Maybe, though, Asthané did, too, and if the Mage did, was that such a bad thing?

Asthané didn’t say anything else, and Géta had no more questions right now. They existed in silence for a time, and Géta began to think that, possibly, Asthané wasn’t all bad. If he understood about music, there might be more good about him. Géta just wasn’t sure he wanted to risk the pain of finding out if that were so.

Géta regarded his tunic with a frown. He’d been able to dress the rest of the way, but wasn’t sure his sore muscles would allow him to raise his arms above his head. “I’m so glad to be getting out of here.”

Udé, who sat in the chair, chuckled at his grim words. It was lunchtime, so Asthané was absent, which was a bit of a relief; he’d come for breakfast and stayed until he’d had to go to weapons practice. Géta still wasn’t sure how he felt about the Mage, though there hadn’t been any temper flare-ups over the past couple weeks. In fact, Asthané seemed to have been at work in the background, because he’d been bringing reports on the bullies’ disposition. As of two days ago, according to the Mage, fines had been levied upon all three, the cronies had been sent back to their families elsewhere in the city, and Teréesi was back in the Imperial Court with her less-than-pleased parents. Asthané was firm on her parents’ feelings, so Géta had been left to assume the Mage had some sort of Court connection, which made him just a teensy bit curious about Asthané overall.

“It can’t have been that bad.”

He took a deep breath, once again testing his chest. It still hurt to breathe, but not as bad as it had at first, when he’d refused to take deep breaths on his own because of the pain. Those spells which had forced him to inhale deeply had been torture. So had the agonizingly-slow way they’d healed his arms. The whole two-week experience had been a lesson in humiliation he didn’t ever want to repeat.

“They had some training sresaph Teesar working on me, Udé. It was that bad.”

Another chuckle from his friend. Géta shook his head a little and rearranged his tunic in his hands again. Maybe if he turned it inside out and put it on in a kind of upside-down way with the neck hole first?

Someone knocked on the door. He glanced at it as Udé spoke. “Want me to get that?”

“Come in.” He turned to look at his friend and they chuckled at each other.

Udé’s chuckle cut off and became an expression of awe, so Géta followed his gaze. A woman had entered; her short blond hair brushed her shoulders in a bob-cut and her tunic bore Jalza’s white sigil.

“Hi.”

She smiled and held something up in both hands. “Here, I brought you your flute. Asthané was correct. Teréesi was indeed keeping it as a kind of trophy. Sorry it took so long, but we needed to be certain we packed her things properly. Her chamber was a mess.”

Géta forgot his pain, dropping his tunic so he could grab his flute. “Thanks!” He examined the case closely, turning it over and smoothing his hands along the wood, testing the fittings with his fingertips. It seemed unharmed, not a crack or scratch. Completely taken with his flute, he sat down to open the case, and took out each piece to perform a similar inspection.

“I’m glad to see you appreciate receiving it back.” The woman chuckled.

He flushed and looked up at her. “Sorry.”

She came to sit next to him on the bed and patted his arm. “That’s all right. I like to think I have some better understanding of what a musician’s instrument means to the player than most Mages seem to.”

He nodded, taking up the polishing cloth to rub his fingerprints off the copper. The flute was getting tarnished; he needed to give it a proper polishing sometime soon. “My mother’s mother gave it to me three years after I started with a wooden flute. I was six, and it was the last gift she ever gave me.”

“Then I’m very pleased we were able to recover it for you. It’s never pleasant to lose something so meaningful to yourself.” She gripped her knees and took a deep breath. “Now, about Asthané. I know he’s been traipsing about claiming you’re his new musician, but I want to know if that’s what you want.”

He eyed the woman.

She smiled at him. “You do have a choice, Géta. Has no one told you?”

Dropping his gaze to the flute section in his hands, He shook his head. “I thought I had to play for him.”

“It’s not a requirement, but I want you to seriously consider allowing his claim to stand.”

Her words made him shiver, and he took a deep breath. “I don’t know. He’s rather harsh. I feel like he doesn’t like me.”

“Asthané does, or he wouldn’t have requested your playing every other day or been here keeping an eye on you since your injury. I will tell you one important thing about him as he is now, Géta. Asthané has a far better comprehension of what music means to you than almost any other Mage, even another who requires it as he does. His last musician taught him that understanding, among other things. He is not as coarse as he was before he met Siéda. Asthané’s friendship with him was a very deep one—everyone who knew them at all could see it. A deep brotherhood. It softened Asthané somewhat. I believe the attitude you’ve been seeing is his reaction to Siéda’s death. It’s never easy to lose a brother, even one who is one in spirit only.”

Géta frowned, trying to figure out how he’d feel if he learned any of his brothers died and ended up deciding he’d feel worse if something happened to Alénil. He loved his brothers, but he’d always been closer to his best friend than to any of his siblings, and he thought Alénil felt the same. “I think I understand. Back home, I have a friend who I was very close to. Even now, if I found out he’d died of something like wasting or winter fever or something, I’d be upset.”

“There’s more.” The woman turned his head so their gazes met. “I’ve heard you’ve been suffering from fits of Gift reaction.”

He pulled back, scowling. “Did Asthané tell you?”

“Among others, primarily the Healers. Géta, you cannot hide from Gifts the Gods choose to Bestow upon you. I’m sure Udé here has done his best to convince you of this.”

He nodded, glancing at Udé, who nodded as well, expression grim.

The woman huffed a little breath. “I ask you to add this to your considerations of whether or not to allow Asthané to claim your companionship: You will be taught how to use your Gifts regardless of whether or not you wish to. We cannot allow them to go unattended-to, and I believe the Gods have been persistent enough over the past several weeks to indicate these Gifts Bestowed upon you won’t be taken away. How and where and with whom you learn these Gifts is up to you. You can stay here and be forced to abandon your flute, because there are no Mages who would comprehend the importance of your instrument and the music you play, or you can go with Asthané out to the border and have some chance of keeping your instrument and music. Only the Gods know, but he may even develop a method to enable you to use your music to cast your spells. Regardless, Asthané will see to it you’re able to keep playing. Then, when you return here to the Capitol, you and I can discuss your progress with your magic and then decide whether or not you must abandon your flute.”

As she spoke, Géta cringed, hugging the open case to his chest. His flute and the music he played with it were the best things about his life. The mere idea he should abandon it when it was one of the few things that could give him unadulterated joy made him want to crawl under the bed with it and hide.

“Put like that, I have little choice if I want to keep my music.”

“All are made equal, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all is fair.” The woman said it lightly, but Géta sensed an underlying hint of steel in her words.

“So you’re bribing me for some reason.”

Patting his knee, she chuckled. “You’re a clever one. Yes, I am. The Empress and I need Asthané back on the Ruphlan-Inskiti border as soon as possible. With his new knowledge of how to manipulate the elements, his presence there is even more important than it was before, and his familiarity with the area and the Situation there are very much needed. I’d prefer to send him out there with you, because he seems to have developed some sort of attachment to your playing, and I sincerely believe he’d be the best you could ever get with regards to the Gifts you need to train. As I said before, no one else would do what he may well do to ensure you’re able to continue playing, and I feel the Gods’ Will in this pairing of you with him and dislike the idea of breaking it.”

With a scowl, he set the case to his lap. One of the pieces of his flute came free and he picked it up with the polishing cloth. “I never asked for the Gods’ Will in my life.”

The woman gave a somber chuckle. “It’s always been there, from the moment of your conception, Géta. There’s no escaping it.”

He shook his head. “Do I have to decide now?”

“I’ll give you a few days to think about it, but not too long.” She patted his knee again. “Until this coming Jalza’s Day. That’s two days. Just tell the Priest on watch what your decision is, and it will be done.”

Frowning, he sighed. “All right.”

She patted his knee one last time. “Very well, I’ll leave you to finish getting dressed.” The woman rose and stepped over to ruffle Udé’s hair. “You continue keeping a good eye on your friend here.”

“Of course, Your Eminence.”

After casting a smile at both of them, the woman departed, pulling the door closed. Géta watched her go, then bowed his head.

“Will you do it? Go with Asthané?”

He glanced at Udé. “I don’t know.”

——

This is the end of Book One, but not the end of the story! To read the next book, find Ashe Elton Parker on Wattpad. The first chapter of Discordant Harmonies 2: Severe Notes should go up on Friday, September First and a new chapter will go up every Friday after.

Series Navigation<< A Pitch of the Scale, Chapter 10