Prelude: Fiona ex Miscellanea

Fiona ex Miscellanea, Daughter of Circe, looked at the two letters that had come for her in the past week. One had come the normal way, via the network of Recaps that crisscrossed Europe and (among other duties) delivered missives from one magus or covenant to another. The other had been hand-delivered by an obviously terrified mortal who kept glancing over his shoulder as if he were expecting Death himself to be standing there.

The first was in the noble and artistic script belonging to Apollodorus ex Jerbiton, letting her know that the covenant he was founding in Normandy was ready for occupation and that she should arrive in the spring. The other was in a crude, barely literate hand telling her that she was to leave for the continent as soon as she was able, and to begin the efforts they had discussed to try to "normalize" relations between giants and humans.

She smiled, the crows-feet deepening around her eyes. "Moire. It is almost time for the Council Meeting. I need you to start packing my things, please."

"We're leaving, Maga?" Moire inghean Domnaill asked. The sturdy maidservant looked quite surprised.

"No. I'm leaving. You and your husband will be staying here. I'll be taking a new home on the continent shortly."

Faileas ex Criamon looked around the council table. "There being no further business before the Council," he wheezed.

"Excuse me, Archmagus," Fiona said from her customary place at the foot of the table, "but you forgot to call for new business."

Faileas blinked at the half-giant maga, surprised that she would dare to interrupt her elders. "That is because I would have been told of any new business before the meeting. As I was not told of any, then..."

"Did your apprentice not tell you of my desire to discuss a matter of great import today?" Fiona scowled. "I would like to think that you would have done a better job of impressing upon him the importance of performing his duties...regardless of how beneath him it might seem at the time." She looked him squarely in the eye, maintaining an innocent look on her face.

The other magi of the Council glared at Fiona, fuming at her impertinence. Even Ion the Bjornaer, who had not been seen in her human form outside the laboratory in almost two years but kept to her Heartbeast form of an elk, tossed her head and pawed at the stone floor.

After a long moment, Faileas graced Fiona with a condescending smile. "Very well, journeyman. I take it that you have new business for the Council. By all means, proceed." He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes as Fiona rose to her feet.

"I'm leaving Insula Canaria." Fiona sat back down. Faileas's eyes snapped open and he leaned forward.

"Are you forgetting, journeyman, that when you joined the Covenant, you swore an oath that you would dedicate your life to the covenant?" Although the Criamon did not raise his voice, his icy tones were intended to have greater effect than if he had.

Fiona leaned forward and met his glare. "And I'm quite certain, archmagus, that you are aware that there are numerous Peripheral Rulings throughout the Order, to the effect that attempting to hold a magus in a covenant against his will, to prevent him from leaving, is an unlawful deprivation of the magus's magical power. This matter has yet to be pressed in Loch Leglean. I, for one, would very much prefer that we settle this amicably between us." Fiona's eyes darted quickly to each of the other magi before returning to Faileas. "Lest the Quaesitores discover what other ways the Council has seen fit to deprive its magi, and their apprentices, of their rights under the Oath."

She removed a parchment from her robes and set it on the table, as far from her as she could reach without taking her feet again. "There is my letter of surrender. I have dispatched a similar letter to Whitburh Firthowebba , informing her that I have surrendered my oath of covenant to Insula Canaria, and that I will be leaving the Tribunal directly."

Faileas looked at the letter, whispered softly, and held out his hand as the parchment flew to his grasp. He read it quickly, then looked back down the table at Fiona. "When are you planning to leave?" he finally asked.

"Within the fortnight."

"You'll not be taking anything of ours with you."

Fiona gave Faileas a condescending smile of her own. "The only items that are going with me are those I have purchased or crafted with my own resources. And nothing done at the covenant's command."

"Uilleam," Faileas continued, referring to Fiona's shield grog. "He belongs to us."

"No one under orders of the Covenant will leave with me."

Faileas stared at Fiona. Fiona, in turn, crossed her arms and stared back. The Princeps's eyes, she noticed, had glazed over again, and she wondered how long it would be before his awareness returned to him.

After a few minutes, Drystan ex Merinita cleared his throat. "Fiona, why are you leaving?" he asked in Latin. Of all the magi of Insula Canaria, he alone was not Scottish born and raised, and even today his Latin was still better than his Gaelic. He was still able to participate in the Council meetings, which were customarily conducted in the vulgar.

"What does it matter, Drystan?" Fiona replied without taking her eyes from Faileas's.

"Because, of all the magi here, it seemed that you and I have the most in common. Not," he hastened to add as Ion lowered her head menacingly, "that I have nothing in common with the others, of course."

Fiona gave the smallest hint of a smile. "I will correspond from my new home. Perhaps I might stumble across something of interest to you in your studies."

The Merinita shrugged. He knew that the Daughter of Circe was unlikely to answer the question, but he still felt it his duty as the oldest of the magi (and thus, the leader of the covenant when Faileas was temporarily incapacitated) to ask. "What do you think of our sodalis's imminent departure?" He looked around at the other Council members.

Ion raised her tail and left her opinion on the floor, intentionally missing the rug that had been enchanted to dispose of such matters.

"What makes you think you can just up and leave the covenant?" Doineann ex Miscellanea asked. "You have duties and obligations here, in case you've forgotten."

"Duties which, if you will check the records, you'll find that I have more than fulfilled."

"That doesn't mean that you'll be able to leave. After all, storms happen. Trees are struck by lightning, fall, and block roads. Rough seas have been known to capsize boats. And it is still deep winter...I wouldn't be surprised if there were still a blizzard or two before the spring thaw."

Fiona looked at the weather witch intently for a moment before returning her attention to the Criamon.

"Subtlety doesn't become you, Doineann. Threaten me all you want, my mind is made up. Besides...killing me, or even delaying me for too long, would most definitely not be in your best interest."

"And you accuse me of making threats?" Doineann muttered. "And what do you mean by that?" Her voice returned to its normal boisterous tone.

Fiona simply ignored her as she continued to gaze at the all-but-absent Criamon. She saw no reason to explain that she had actually given the Redcaps two letters destined for Whitburh Firthowebba: the one she had already told the Counciil about, and one to be delivered in one year's time if the Mercere had not received any word from Fiona. The second letter would, if acted upon properly, prove to be much more damaging to Insula Canaria, since it detailed many of the breaches of the Code that Fiona was aware of, ranging from depriving magi of their magical power by various means, to denying the right to take an apprentice, to the occasional interference with mundanes and molesting the fae. Although she honestly didn't expect the Loch Leglean Quaesitor to act on the information in the letter (as she was notorious for not doing her job unless it furthered her own agenda), Fiona hoped that her mentioning that she had sent another letter to Iudicium, the Quaesitor of Stonehenge Tribunal, might prompt her to make an exception. Of course, Fiona saw no reason to ever let Whitburh know that the second letter was a bluff.

After a couple of awkward minutes, Drystan finally ended the Council meeting, leaving Faileas and Fiona alone in the Chamber. Several more minutes later, when Fiona was starting to wonder if Faileas had actually entered Twilight, he spoke.

"The way is treacherous," he said in a surprisingly clear voice. "Friends betray you, enemies give you comfort, and family is not as they seem." Faileas's eyes then regained their normal luster.

"Speak with Conain," he continued in his normal wheezy voice, as though the last several minutes had not happened. "If we have a cart and an ox to spare, you may purchase one from him." He rose wearily and leaned on the table for support.

"You had potential, Fiona. I hope you do a better job of working to realize that potential in your new home than you have here." He gestured for his staff, which came flying to his hand from where it had been leaning against the wall behind him, and left the chamber without looking back.

Fiona spent the remainder of the day disassembling the delicate laboratory equipment that she had spent half her life gathering. Moire spent the afternoon sorting through Fiona's clothes and other mundane articles, preparing to pack.

At first, Fiona carefully organized and separated the equipment, to make it easier for the covenant to catalog and to distribute amongst the remaining magi (or to any fugure maga who would suffer the misfortune of finding themselves there). After a couple of hours, when Fiona realized how little progress she was making by being diligent, she decided that the important thing was not to damage or break anything, and that the covenant could sort through the equipment at its leisure.

Moire repeatedly asked why Fiona was leaving after all these years, and where she would be going, but was met with silence.

"Will you be having a maid and cook at your new home, then?" Moire asked. "Is that why you'll not be needing me to leave with you?"

"You've been doing a fine job since you took over for your ma, and I would not mind if you came with me. But I can't take you with me."

The two worked in since for a while longer before Moire excused herself to get their dinner.

"Is there anyone here who would be able to get a cart or two, and animals to pull them?" Fiona asked about half way through their meal.

Moire thought for a moment. "What about Conain mac Diarmait?" She threw out the first name that came to mind, that of the man who had been in charge of buying and selling the covenant's mundane goods for well over a decade.

"Besides him."

"What's wrong with...very well. Someone not Conain." Moire pondered a little longer as she ate.

"I suppose you could talk to William the Conqueror. He might be able to find a good bargain on such short notice. Probably not as good as what Conain could, mind, but he's fair."

"William the Conqueror?" Fiona looks at the maid curiously. "How did he come to be called such a grand name?"

"He fancies himself the ladies' man, always bragging about his conquests. He's a gentleman, though...would never besmirch a lass's reputation by naming names." Moire leaned in conspiratorially. "Truth be told, though, he wouldn't know what to do with a teat if you placed it in his hand," she said with a smile.

The half-giant shook with laughter. "William it is, then. And where would we find such a find, upstanding young man?"

Moire gave the maga directions to William's house, on the road to Inbhir Mhoireastain.

The next day found Fiona and Uilleam the shield grog at William's door. The merchant took a nervous step back when he saw the giantess and her companion, and started to close the door. The grog blocked the door with his foot.

"I've come to talk business with you, William," Fiona said, "and it would be profitable for you. Will you listen to what I have to say or would you keep us and our silver waiting out in the snow?"

"I know who and what you are, Fiona the Sorceress, and I want no silver from you."

Fiona smiled down at him. "Fine. You want no silver from me? What do you say to a trade? What do you want from me in exchange for a couple of wagons and animals to pull them?"

"You're a sorceress; I want no taint of witchcraft on me soul."

Fiona scowled when she noticed William's gaze lingering on her bosom as he licked his lips nervously.

"I hear you're quite popular with the ladies, William, is that right?"

He shrugged. "Well, I don't like to brag, but..."

"What if I were to brew you some potion that would make you a little more popular? Would you consider that a fair trade?"

William looked up. "How many?" The skepticism was more than evident, both on his face and in his voice.

"We need to be on our way in a few days, so I only have time to brew a few draughts. Will that suffice?"

He gave a short, derisive laugh. "Try ten. Each."

"You daft, lad? I'm to leave Scotland within the fortnight! The only way I can do that is if you come with me and I finish the batch on the continent!"

"The continent, eh?" William stroked his chin thoughtfully. "And how were you planning on getting the carts and the horses there by yourself? Would your magic have let you drive two carts at the same time?

"I'll tell you what, Fiona. I'll come with you, drive one of the carts, it two draughts of your 'popularity potion.' Not that I need the help, mind...but you obviously have no idea what you're doing, and I'd hate to see you lose everything because of your inexperience. Give me what you have when we leave, and make the rest as soon as we get where we're going."

Fiona looked at him for a couple of minutes, as she weighed his proposal. On the one hand, she had wanted to make a clean break from Insula Canaria, and bringing along a man from the Loch who she didn't know wasn't what she had in mind. On the other hand, she had been wondering how to get the equipment to Autun without Insula Canaria interfering or sabotaging her escape (or even knowing where she was going, for that matter), and William's idea made more sense than any she had come up with so far.

She finally nodded. "You have a deal, William. I'll send for you when I'm ready to go. Be ready."

She turned to leave, then stopped. "By the way, William," she said over her shoulder. "Don't forget that I'm a sorceress. If you stare at me like that again, I will strike you blind."

Almost a week passed. Fiona's laboratory was almost entirely disassembled and packed, except for the one still that was distilling whisky and the other that was making the potions for William. Fiona kept to her all the time, not dealing with any of the other magi at all.

Moira brought Fiona her dinner, then stood over her table, nervously. "Maga, may I have a word with you?"

"Certainly. What's bothering you?" Fiona wiped her fingers on the napkin and looked Moira in the eye – even sitting down at the table, she was still taller sitting then Moira was standing.

"Seumas and I, we need to come with you."

"No," Fiona said simply. "You can't come with me."

"Well, we can't stay here, Fiona. I've been talking to some of the other maids and...well, the magi are very unhappy about your leaving."

Fiona nodded. "I'm not surprised. I don't think anyone's ever left Insula Canaria before."

"The other girls think that, since the magi can't do anything to you when you've gone, they're going to take out their anger on me. Now, the girls don't know what their magi have in mind, but Seumas and I don't want to be here to find out. I've got Seumas's and my things ready to go with yours."

Fiona looked at Moire thoughtfully for a couple of minutes. "You can't leave with me," she finally said before holding up a hand to stay Moire's protests.

"I said you'll not be leaving with me. I said nothing about not going with me. If your things get mixed in with mine by mistake when we're loading up the wagons...if you just happen to be standing on the road a couple of miles outside theh covenant grounds...well, there's nothing I can do about that, now, is there?" Fiona let a ghost of a smile ccross her face.

"Oh, thank you, thank you!" Moire gushed. "You have no idea what this means to me!"

"Just so you know, lass: it's not going to be like here. It's going to be a new covenant, not an established one like we have here. And it's on the continent, so they will be speaking a strange language, and doubtless with strange customs. I will be surprised if many of the covenfolk speak Latin."

Moire looked at Fiona, almost defiantly. "It won't be here, though, and I doubt that I'll be mistreated for your actions, there. So I'm still going. And so is Seumas. It'll not be hard for a fine shepherd like him to find a place.

It was only a few days later that Fiona, Moire, and Seumas had all their worldly possessions boxed up and ready to go. The last things to be packed were Fiona's stills and the kettle in which she was brewing potions made from chicory for William. Moire had discussed the reason for William's desire to leave the area on such short notice, even in the company of one such as Fiona: he had recently attempted to seduce the daughter of the covenant's blacksmith, who had in turn threatened to place William's balls between his hammer and his anvil if he ever saw him again. And since (Moire assured her) the blacksmith was not the type to make such threats idly, Fiona felt fairly confident that William would be true to his word on getting Fiona to her new home.

She dispatched Uilleam to fetch William and the wagons, and to bring them back to the covenant that evening so they could start loading them at down and be on their way. Many of the covenfolk watched and whispered amongst themselves as Fiona, William, Seumas, and Uilleam started to load the cart, but only a few lent a hand. In the distance, Fiona caught a fleeting glimpse of the other magi watching, as though ensuring that she was in truth leaving. She even saw Ion watching, her head held high.

They finished loading the carts just before lunch, and Fiona put on a show of making her good-byes. Uilleam, she dismissed with a simple "You've done your job well, lad. Thank you." Moire made a dramatic, teary-eyed scene of hugging Fiona's waist and going on about how much she would miss the maga. Seumas simply nodded before he turned to leave. He motioned for his wife to join him, and the two started off in the direction of the fields.

Fiona went to the kitchen to get herself a hearty lunch, telling the staff, "Surely you don't expect me to set out on an empty stomach, do you?"

It was some time later that Fiona and William gathered up the reins and started down the edge of the loch. Fiona took the lead cart, since she knew where they were going and had a route planned out. Mid-afternoon found Seumas and Moire waiting for them where the road forded a shallow, frozen creek.

Before long, they had to stop when Seumas became too sick to go on. Fiona uncovered her medicine chest and pulled out a sachet of ginger, when she brewed into a tea to help the poor shepherd. She made enough for the next day, and the band had to stop for the night.

When they stopped for a cold lunch just north of Hadrian's Wall, they were approached by an obvious man-at-arms who greeted them with "Angus mac Ossian sends his greetings, Fiona. My name is Ivor MacBride, I am your new bodyguard, sent to watch over and protect you to the best of my ability."

Luckily for Fiona and the others, the clear weather held for all of January, until they reached the English coast. The trip to Dover still took almost a month, though. They stayed at farms almost every night in Scotland in England, as there were no covenants en route, and were able to trade Moire's cooking skills (and, on a couple of occasions, Fiona's medical abilities) for a place to sleep in the barn. A few times, they were too far from the next farm and were forced to camp in the open.

A snowstorm kept them holed up for a few days in the covenant of Requies Aeterna (the first one they had come to since setting out from Insula Canaria), but other than that, the weather held until they reached their destination of Mons Electi about three weeks later. And she only had to turn William into a pig two times the whole way.

Finis (I hope)