“Sir!” the pageboy cried, panting, as he reached the top of the stairs. “Message for you, sir! From the gates.”
Alt-Mage MacQuarrie took the slip of parchment and glanced down upon it. “That bastard,” he growled, crumpling the message and throwing it against the wall. Then he sighed and picked it up again.
“Vhat is it, d’tharlink?” Mialina asked, worry crossing her features.
Her husband didn’t seem to hear her. “I suppose I had better sort it out,” he grumbled, passing the bewildered page and loping away down the stairs.
“But, Alasd’thair!” she shouted after him. “You need’th to rest!”
“I rested plenty this morning,” he growled over his shoulder. “This is more important, Mia!”
There was a guard awaiting him at the bottom of the steps that led to the top of the wall, shifting nervously from foot to foot. Wordlessly, they trotted up the steps together, the guard’s mail clinking noisily, and along the wall until they were over the gate.
“What do you want?” the Alt-Mage yelled, leaning over the wall, between the battlements.
Dr. Tormod MacInnes stood alone on the road, well in front of the horde, squinting up at him. “You know full weel what I want, y’ald fool!” he roared. “An’ you can leave off with yer prissy Southlands accent; we both know it’s a fake!”
Alasdair MacQuarrie bared his teeth, enraged. “What’s it matter tae you, yeh fat drunkard? What…do…you…want?!”
“Ye’re hidin’ my son in there, MacQuarrie. Bring him ta me, an’ nobody gets hurt.”
“Nobody save Seoc, that is,” the mage snarled. “Nay. I shall nae do it. Nae for you, nae for anybody. I would nae let yeh ha’e him e’en if the gods told me tae do so.” His speech reverted suddenly back into his adopted Murkintsen dialect. “I shan’t let you have him!”
“Even under pain o’ death?”
“I shan’t let you have him,” Alasdair repeated. “Anyhow, why should I fear you? You cannot touch me.”
“Can I no’?” inquired Dr. MacInnes, feigning surprise.
He snapped his fingers, and the mage heard a distinct pop that seemed to have come from within his own head. His face felt strange; he put his hand to his mouth, brought it away, and stared at it uncomprehendingly. His palm was covered in blood. Was his nose bleeding?
Dr. MacInnes laughed heartily. “I canna hurt you, eh?”
Alasdair looked down. The wall beneath his face was wet with a growing stain of red. His eyes stung, and a peculiar pinkish hue crossed his vision. He thought he felt tears rolling down his cheeks, but they were too warm, too sticky. And then he understood.
“You underhanded cur,” he spat through the river of blood cascading down his face.
“Give me the boy,” Dr. MacInnes demanded.
“Perhaps I can convince you. Let me see…what if I tried my bloodletting skills on yer bonny northern wife?”
Alasdair slumped over the battlements, fighting to remain conscious. He heard the jingling of chainmail around him, as well as a chaos of shouting.
“Sir,” barked one of the gate guards, reaching him and pulling him down beneath the battlements, out of sight of the doctor—and newly minted sorcerer—on the road. “Shall we fire upon him?”
He shook his head. “No. Let me up.”
“What say you, brother-in-law?” Dr. MacInnes called from the road.
“I need six hours,” replied the Alt-Mage, pulling himself back into view. “I shall come back to you with my decision then. Agreed?”
“Sounds reasonable,” the sorcerer affirmed, almost amicably. “I’ll expect you back at…” he glanced at his pocket watch. “Two minutes ta midnight. Bring my son or bring yer wife.”