For the first time in an omnibus, this duology chronicles the adventures of naturalist Tristram Flattery as he voyages to discover the lost history of magic in a world where reason and science reign.
The Age of Mages is over, and all the secrets of their magical arts are thought to be lost to the world. There are even those who suspect that the last of the great Mages spent their final years scrupulously eradicating all traces of their craft from the pages of history--insuring that their art will never be practiced again.
It is the dawn of a new era: an age of reason, science, and exploration, and Tristam Flattery is one of its most promising young naturalists. But when Tristam is summoned to the royal court of Farrland to try to revitalize a failing species of plant which seems to have mysterious, almost magical, medicinal properties--a plant without which, he is told, the aging king will surely die--he soon realizes that he has been drawn into the heart of a political struggle which spans generations, a conflict which threatens the very foundations of his civilization. And before long, Tristam is caught in the grip of a destiny which will lead him to the ends of the known world--on a voyage of discovery that has more to do with magic than with science....
May 1, 2018
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One The drama unfolding in the field below seemed so improbable that it could have been nothing more than two groups of players preparing a performance— the duel that would bring down the curtain on the first act. “I’ve forgotten my field glass. Hawkins? Can you see what they’re doing?” The driver had been pacing, almost silently, back and forth between his team and the door to the carriage, but he stopped now and shielded his eyes with a callused hand. “It is not yet clear, sir. They remain standing in their separate groups, and no one is stepping forward.” The driver stayed in his place for a few seconds and when it appeared that his employer would have no further questions, at least for a moment, he returned to whispering to the gray mare and gelding. The man who watched shifted on the seat of his carriage and realized he was gripping his cane so tightly that the joints in his fingers had begun to ache. The gestural language of the theater was well known to him, and what he saw transpiring on the field bore the unmistakable signs of unfolding tragedy. Signs he had seen often these past months. The emotions that a pending tragedy engendered were also very familiar: the overwhelming sense of helplessness; the firm knowledge that the small justice of men was of little consequence on the larger stage; and then the growing horror. He gazed out over the field where the curious whispered among themselves, as people did before the curtain rose. Somewhere a physician stood by with his bag of dressings and instruments. The man who had come to witness this renewal of the art of the duel was not one of the idly curious. Unlike most of those who stood about the field, he had fought a duel, though it had been long ago. That was one memory that did not fade. He knew what it felt like to turn away from one’s second and come suddenly to a full understanding that this was no longer the practice floor. These could be the final moments of one’s life. He had hefted a blade to test its balance and felt that second sharp stab of knowledge: what he held in his hand was an implement to end life. He had been fortunate and never killed a man. True gentlemen did not demand another’s life to assuage their pride, for pride was invariably at the center of these affairs—not honor. The man in the carriage had long ago seen past that particular myth. On the field, too far off for him to discern detail, a tall, angular man had removed his frock coat—snow white linen against the green. The Baron Ipsword. Never graceful of movement, the baron appeared puppetlike now, moving jerkily on the stage. And he stayed near to his supporters; too close, in fact. They were all afraid. The forces that had animated this puppet for so many years had fled. The aggressive pride, the jealousy, and outright malice had been replaced by overpowering terror. The baron was not, it appeared, a courageous man—which might have explained why he was so vicious in attacking others. But a quick tongue would not shield him today. Beyond the site of the duel a thin covering of ground-mist still resisted the sun. It hung over the river, obscuring the boles of poplars, like the vapor one would imagine rising from molten gold. A summer morning so still the sky seemed to hold its breath. Then came the quick flick of a horse’s tail and the impatient shaking of harness. The second swordsman could be seen now, stepping away from his fellows. This would be the Viscount Elsworth, as tall as his opponent but athletic and graceful. Even with poor vision, the man who watched could see these qualities. If Ipsword was a puppet, this man was an acrobat, a tumbler—nimble, flexible, and strong. He cut the air three times quickly with his blade, testing the balance of the weapon, and then pivoted, flexing one knee. Satisfied, he strode forward a few paces and stopped, staring expectantly at the party huddled under the elms. A good actor could express a great deal at a distance, even to those sitting at the furthest extremes of a theater, but no actor could ever convey the complexity of emotion that Ipsword displayed as he walked forward to duel; terrified, enraged, sullen, meek, almost ready to beg, prepared to do murder. Only enough pride and arrogance remained to carry him to this place. It was common, the man in the carriage thought, that the actors could not see the signs of impending tragedy. “Poor fool,” the man whispered. “It has almost nothing to do with him.” He shifted again on the seat, the leather squeaking. If he was right in what he guessed, then first-blood would not end this affair. Ipsword might have been carried here by the remains of his pride, but Elsworth was likely concerned with neither pride nor honor. “Pray that I am wrong,” the man who watched said aloud. The two swordsmen saluted with their rapiers and then stepped to the guard position, one so tentatively that it seemed he might break and run. A third man raised aloft a white handkerchief, like a flag of peace . . . and then released it. The man in the carriage thought afterward that he must have blinked, for he did not see the thrust. Only Elsworth bent forward over a flexed knee, poised like a dancer, sliding his blade from the chest of the collapsing baron. “Flames!” the man in the carriage whispered. The viscount stood for a moment, looking at the fallen man, and then he turned and handed his blade to another. His second spoke to him and then went slowly over to the men gathered around the injured baron. He hovered on the edge of this scene for a moment—the faithful gathered around the fallen hero—perhaps he spoke, and then crossed back to the viscount, who stood now with a coat draped about his shoulders. They nodded to each other, like men of business at the end of the day, and then went directly to a large carriage drawn up under the elms. The man watching realized he had raised his hands in horror and half covered his face. He took hold of himself as best he could. “Hawkins?” he said, leaning out to speak to his driver, his voice trembling. “Will you go down?” The driver nodded stiffly and set off, picking his way hurriedly among the brambles down the slope to the open field. The man sat back in his carriage, breathing in short gasps, and then banged his cane hard on the floorboards. He had so hoped that he was wrong. It was only a few moments until a gentle tap sounded on the carriage door. “Hawkins?” “It would appear to be a thrust to the heart, sir.” A pause. A breath roughly drawn. “I think he still lives but can’t continue much longer.” “No, I’m sure he can’t.” The man looked out at the field once again. The retreating carriage. The small group bearing up their dying companion. He could almost see the horror on their faces. None of them had expected this—an accidental injury, perhaps, but not this. “Shall I take you back, sir?” the driver asked quietly. The old man shook his head. “No. We go on. You must have me in Merton by nightfall.”
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