‘As both the High Mage of Great Hidros and as a proud uncle,’ declared Sune, ‘I am honoured to stand before you all to bring these two people together under one roof. May your life together be vibrant and joyful.’
As the bride and groom kissed, the main hall of Hidros erupted in applause. Almost half the city had gathered to celebrate the occasion. Jets of water soared above the teeming crowds, rainbows left hanging in the air, courtesy of the Hidrossi mages.
As the newlyweds greeted well-wishers and loved ones, Scjouraan approached the groom and held out a hand. Instead, the groom wrapped him in a tight embrace.
Scjouraan stood there, stunned. Then, he slowly wrapped a bearlike arm round in return. A smile tugged at the side of his lips. ‘Congratulations, Ulf,’ Scjouraan said.
Edwin’s former boatswain stared up at Scjouraan, beaming with delight.
‘Thank you, sir.’ He gave Scjouraan a quick but respectful salute before returning to the side of his bride, Frida.
As Sune approached the newlyweds, hugging his niece and talking with Ulf with a warm smile on his face, Scjouraan gazed around the festivities. There could be trouble brewing.
There, near one of the bars, were two of his men and a Hidrossi mechanic he’d caught arguing a few days earlier, they stood close together, jabbing fingers and talking in animated tones.
Scjouraan started walking towards the three men to stop their argument before it went out of hand, when he felt a firm hand clasp his shoulder: Sune.
The mage had a mischievous smile. ‘It’s alright, Scjouraan,’ he said. ‘Look again.’
So Scjouraan did.
What he’d mistaken for arguing was actually laughter; the finger jabbing was them pointing at another man unsuccessfully flirting with one of the barmaids.
A light chuckle escaped Sune’s lips. ‘You need to relax, Scjouraan, this is a celebration. Security is your responsibility, yes, but you should join in, have a little fun.’
Scjouraan shook his head. ‘Too much is at stake, Your Eminence, you said so before. This wedding’s the first real way to bring our people together.’ Truth be told, Scjouraan had feared that relations between his men and the Hidrossi would fall through in a matter of weeks.
‘That may be true,’ Sune replied. ‘But we’re also in a far more secure position than we were two years ago. When you first agreed to work with us, to keep Hidros safe, did you ever think we would get so far together?’
‘Not everyone is convinced that our alliance is for the best.’
Sune’s expression darkened. ‘You’re talking about Skarde?’
Scjouraan nodded. ‘As much as you say we’ve achieved, he keeps making messes both of us keep having to clean up.’
Sune made a placating gesture. ‘I have him doing work on the other side of the city today. If you insist on looking for problems to resolve, perhaps you could tend to our guests.’
He motioned towards a small group of Grastellian villagers near the main halls entrance; they seemed completely overwhelmed by the sheer size of Hidros, the crowds of people, the water mages’ powers on display.
After Sune and Scjouraan had discovered how the meteor left Grastell completely isolated from the rest of the world, they had begun making alliances with nearby villages. By the time Ulf and Frida had announced their engagement, some goodwill had emerged between Hidros and Grastell, and the villagers had been invited to join in the festivities. It was a good pretence to propose new trade routes.
As Scjouraan began to approach the villagers, he noticed a commotion behind them. People near the entrance began to make way as a guard ran into the main hall, yelling about a broken pipe in Hidros’ largest food storeroom.
By the time they arrived, all was destroyed. Scjouraan and Sune sloshed through ankle deep water. They found two Hawks lying unconscious, pickaxe between them, surrounded by empty bottles and the sweet aroma of Hidrossi spirits.
As more people began to barge in, cries of outrage and despair spread throughout the city. Even Sune’s usual level-headedness was replaced with fury. He walked over to one of the wasted pirates and slapped him hard across the face. When he didn’t stir, Sune ordered for the men to be locked away until a trial could be organised.
With his men dragged away and the Hidrossi cleared from the flooded room, Scjouraan stood alone, completely motionless. What could he do? Nothing; there was nothing except to take responsibility as their commander and hope that a relationship with the Hidrossi could still be salvaged.
Scjouraan hadn’t felt this like this in years, not since before Edwin and the Ivory Hawks. If he was going to make amends, he would have to condemn two of his men to death, and even then it wouldn’t be enough. He walked out of the flooded storage room, water splashing with every stride. No matter how he approached this mess, there was no way that he would be able to clean it up.
A scraping sounded behind him; Scjouraan spun round.
A lid was sliding off a food crate. It hit the floor with a loud splash and Skarde’s head emerged from the crate.
Scjouraan marched back into the room, grabbed the man by his collar, wrenched him from the crate, and slammed him against the wall.
‘What have you done?’ His voice was almost a whisper, but he could see Skarde pale.
A smug look was frozen on the man’s rattish face. ‘Opened. Their. Eyes,’ Skarde choked out. Even when afraid, the man still sounded condescending. ‘Now they’ll. Cast you out. Before you. Can backstab us.’
‘Backstab you? Even if that was true, you’d need real proof.’
Scjouraan released Skarde and spun around to see Sune in the entrance.
‘Sune,’ Skarde said between fits of coughing. ‘I can explain.’
But the High Mage shook his head. ‘You can save your explanations for court.’
‘With all the evidence provided, Mage Skarde Pedersen, the Council of Hidros finds you guilty of sabotage and inciting conflict. The sentence for these crimes is death and will be carried out immediately.’
Scjouraan watched as Skarde’s fate was sealed. As guards dragged Skarde from the courtroom, his eyes found Scjouraan’s. All the rat-faced man’s hatred seemed to come through in that one glare. Scjouraan had become used to Skarde’s looks over the last two years. It felt strange knowing that this might be the last time.
‘Despite everything he’s done, I must admit that it’s a shame to see so much potential wasted like this.’ Sune had appeared next to Scjouraan, making scarcely a sound, worn eyes and a sad smile across his face.
‘With all due respect, Your Eminence, I never could understand what you saw in him.’
Sune faced Scjouraan, his posture slowly deflating as he leant over. ‘He showed a natural talent for magic. It is my job to nurture all promising young Hidrossi into capable mages, no matter their flaws. Although, it might not always be enough.’
Scjouraan nodded as Edwin’s face flashed through his mind. ‘Some people are too prideful to accept change.’
‘Scjouraan, I owe you an apology,’ Sune said. ‘I knew something was wrong, your men were too drunk to feasibly destroy that pipe, but I let anger cloud my judgement.’
Scjouraan shook his head. ‘At least you took action, I just stood there.’
The Hidrossi still in the courtroom were beginning to argue about the sentence, some calling it justified, others claiming there were better, more lenient ways to punish Skarde. People began to glance towards the High Mage and Scjouraan. Some eyes seemed filled with anger, others with respect.
‘Is this the right thing to do?’ Scjouraan asked.
Sune shrugged. ‘I am not so sure. But what I do know is when the fate of your people lies in your hands, examples need to be set to keep the rest alive.’
Scjouraan acknowledged the statement with a nod. He recalled Sune’s face when he had discovered Skarde’s treachery. Again, for a split second, the image of a sneering man with a lazy eye seemed to take his place. Keeping people in line to keep them alive, that at least, Scjouraan could understand.
Author: Flynn is a 4th year Creative Writing student with a penchant for fantasy, mystery, and the supernatural. Growing up, Flynn loved reading stories with worlds that he could get lost in for hours, and he hopes that one day he will write stories that others can also get lost in.
Artist: Cyndra Galea (she/they) is in the third year of her Bachelor of Fine Art’s in Creative Writing with a minor in Professional Communications. When not found with her head in a book or three, Cyndra can be found radioactive antique hunting, fixing classic cars with her dad, drawing on her iPad, or writing and editing her manuscript. Cyndra aims to work as a structural editor when she finishes her Masters of Editing and Publishing, but also dreams of releasing novels of their own.
Editors: Bea Warren and Rory Hawkins