More Powerful than Magic: Part One
For more about Sir Cyrex, read "Her Majesty's Champions," and for the Orb of Khammar, read, "My Enemy, My King." Enjoy!
“Come on, Father, hurry up!”
King Jazan looked up the dune path at his son Caspar, who was practically dancing with impatience. The desert Ixi’s skinny frame and disproportionately long limbs sometimes made Jazan wonder how he was able to stay upright, let alone move as quickly as he did. Well, I looked like a Lupe pup when I was thirteen, too – I remember being all elbows and hands and feet.
Nightsteed griped, “Boy, you try taking a desert raider’s spear to the leg and we’ll see how fast you run afterwards!”
Jazan sighed. He’d known Nightsteed’s bad leg would end up paining him. After he’d been wounded in a skirmish nine years ago, he’d had to give up what active duties he still carried and retreat to the role of advisor. But when they’d gone out to gather wild palm branches to use as decorations for the festival, Nightsteed had insisted on coming along.
As they topped the dune, Caspar picked up his bundle of palms again. “How many more trips can we make? I could probably go out and get another load from the oasis.”
Jazan shook his head. “You can, Caspar, but Nightsteed can’t.”
Caspar replied, “Well, Mama will still be thrilled with all the palms we’re bringing back – she and Aldie wanted to go crazy with the decorations.” And they continued walking together – Caspar going slower this time. The boy said, head bowed, “Sorry, Nightsteed.”
Nightsteed nodded. “It’s okay, Caspar.”
As they got closer to Qasala, they could see others bringing bundles of palms and bunches of desert flowers back through the fading light of evening. Banners were being hung on the new walls – they’d been completed ten years ago, and reared tall and strong, like the city that Jazan had led into a new age of peace and prosperity.
Had it really been twenty years since the curse had ended? The Old Qasalan runes written on banners at every street corner proclaimed it, but Jazan still had trouble believing it. Sometimes it felt like it had been so long it had to have been another lifetime – and other times it was so near that he could smell the smoke that had accompanied his father in demon-form.
He shook his head to clear it and bring himself back to the present. He noticed Caspar trip and almost fall over a dragging palm – he quickly relieved his son of the bundle. “I’ve got this. Could you give us a light, Caspar?”
The Ixi held out his hand and narrowed his eyes as he focused. But the light-spell was one that he was good at – it came far more easily to him than it did to his father – and it was only seconds before a warm golden light lit their path back to Qasala.
Nightsteed commented, “You’re getting better at that, Caspar. That was fast.”
Jazan smiled as his son beamed with pride. “Thanks, Nightsteed!”
Jazan took care to hail the officials he knew as they walked through the city, along with some of the workers he recognized from the palace, and was acknowledged in return. He stopped to drop their bundle and to place a preservation spell on some of the palms that were going in the city square – dried palms and petals still looked good, but the square was to be fresh and green for the main celebration next week.
Caspar said, “I can’t wait for the festival. Are you excited, Father?”
“Of course, Caspar.” Of course he wasn’t. Everyone was going to try and hail him as a hero for saving the city, when he knew very well how wrong that was. By fighting his father, he had merely evened the balance sheet for failing to stop him earlier. Even celebrating the end of the curse still was a reminder that the curse had existed because Jazan hadn’t gotten to Razul in time, and hadn’t had the power to stop the spell.
He’d failed in his duty to protect Qasala – it was as simple as that.
“Oh, come on, Father, cheer up! It’s all going to be so much fun! And didn’t you say I could help you organize everything?”
Before Jazan could respond, Nightsteed sighed. “Oh, for the days when I was young and actually excited about paperwork.”
Jazan found himself leaning on a column after they’d climbed the steps to the palace gate – Nightsteed wasn’t the only one who wasn’t as young as he used to be. I’m better off than Nightsteed, though. Magic doesn’t dull with age, and I can still give anyone in Qasala a fight with a sword in hand.
The doors were thrown open, and Jazan was hugged tightly by a desert Ixi and a pink Zafara. He embraced them in return. “Good evening, my little princesses. Esmeralda, Neera, how are you?”
Caspar pulled his twin away. “Aldie, we saw a Scamander that was half the size of me! I swear it!”
His oldest daughter’s eyes widened. “Tell me more – I knew that I was going to miss stuff, but Mama made me stay home and mend my skirt!”
Neera crossed her arms – the nine-year-old Zafara was every bit as prim as her sister was adventurous. “If you hadn’t ripped it yourself messing with swords and nonsense, Mama wouldn’t have made you fix it yourself.”
Esmeralda retorted, “Swords are not nonsense – Father, you’re the best swordsman in Qasala, tell her swords aren’t nonsense!”
He patted each girl’s dark-haired head. “Peace, both of you. Neera, if Esmeralda wants to be a warrior princess, that’s her choice – the Qasalans took a thief as a queen, so a warrior princess won’t be much of a stretch for them. Esmeralda, Neera has the right to pick her own path as well.”
Neera's ears perked up slightly. “We were supposed to tell you that Jessa’s in bed already – she was waiting for a bedtime story.”
Jazan nodded. “I’ll talk to both of you soon – I’d better go see her before she falls asleep.” And he headed up into the palace, to the tower where his family lived and the bedroom of his youngest girl.
The little royal Kacheek was sitting up in bed, head drooping slightly, arms wrapped around a soft doll in starry robes. But her eyes brightened immediately when she saw Jazan. “Daddy! Could you tell me a story, please?”
“Of course, Jessamine.” He extinguished all the lamps but the one by her bed, and sat down beside her. “What would you like to hear?”
She began the story. “Once there was a hardy warrior...”
It was one of Jazan’s favorite stories to tell the children. He tucked his little girl’s blankets in around her as he recited, “Once, there was a hardy warrior who fell in love with a beautiful woman. However, her father was the greatest sorcerer in all the land, and, as he cared for his daughter very much, he wanted only the best for her. Thus, he had sworn that he would only allow her to marry someone who possessed something more powerful than his own magic.
“The warrior did not know where he could find something more powerful than the sorcerer, so he embarked on a journey. First, he went to the grand palace of a mighty king, and asked him, ‘What is more powerful than magic?’
“The king replied, ‘Why, wealth and armies such as mine can accomplish things that magic never could!’
“This saddened the warrior, for he commanded only himself, and had few possessions. So he went to the tower of a scholar, who was known far and wise for his wisdom and just dealings, and asked him, ‘What is more powerful than magic?’
“The scholar replied, ‘Learning and study, of course. Without the mind to direct it, magic would be nothing but brute force!’
“But the warrior had spent very little time reading books. He knew of nothing he could bring, and nothing that he had, so in his heartache he started on the long journey back to the sorcerer’s palace to break the sad news to the sorcerer’s daughter.
“For several days, he traveled alongside an old beggar-man. They shared tales of their journeys and their hardships, and friendship grew between them. Recognizing a spirit in many ways similar to himself, he explained his dilemma, and asked, ‘Do you know what is more powerful than magic?’
“The beggar-man laughed. ‘Of course I do!’ And he leaned close and whispered his secret into the warrior’s ear.
“At the end of his quest, the warrior stood once more before the sorcerer. The sorcerer asked, ‘Well? What do you have that is more powerful than my magic?”
“The warrior said, ‘While I have no armies, I have the strength and courage to fight for what I believe in. While I have no book-learning, I know through experience both the greatest and the worst than Neopians can accomplish. While I have no riches, I have seen the sun upon the dunes, the moon upon the sea, the forests of Neopia blooming in the springtime, and our cities and kingdoms that teem with life, and I hold them inside me. I am no king or scholar or sorcerer, but all that I am and all that I have will be used to protect your daughter and cherish her all the days of her life. For all these things are more powerful than magic.’
“The sorcerer recognized the truth in the warrior’s words, and bowed before him. So not only was the warrior able to marry the sorcerer’s daughter, but he was made the sorcerer’s lieutenant, and within all of his lands was second only to him. And at the wedding, an old beggar-man was given a place of honor, for he was the one who first understood what was truly more powerful than magic.”
Jessamine was asleep by the end of the tale. Jazan snuffed the light, brushed a strand of black hair back off her forehead, and left the room. Nabile was waiting for him just outside, smiling up at him. “I love listening to you tell that story.”
Jazan nodded. “It’s an important one for them to hear. How was your day?”
“Quiet without you, Nightsteed, and Caspar here. Aldie and Neera were at each other’s throats again, but what else is new? Now why don’t we get someone to bring us a cup of tea and go sit in the library for a while? No business, no paperwork.”
He smiled. “That sounds perfect.”
That was when someone banged on the door. “King Jazan! King Jazan, Queen Nabile – please, it’s urgent!”
Jazan recognized the voice of one of the apprentice mages who studied at the palace – he opened the door to see her standing there, with Caspar right behind her. He asked, “What’s wrong?”
The apprentice said, “I was minding your scrying ball – Queen Fyora’s trying to contact you! She told me to go fetch you at once!”
Caspar asked, “Can I come too, Father? You’ve said that I need to practice duties like this, and I can help anchor the scrying spell if it needs it so you and the Faerie Queen don’t have to focus on it too much –”
Jazan didn’t really hear his son – he was too worried about what the Faerie Queen might have to say to him. Fyora wouldn’t make this much of a fuss about wishing the Qasalans well during their festival, that much was certain. “Okay, Caspar – Nabile, are you coming?”
Her purple eyes were wide – she was as worried as he was. “Of course, Jazan. Let’s not keep the queen waiting.”
They half-ran down the hall and up the tower where Jazan kept his workroom and his scrying ball – when Jazan threw the door open, the half-real form of Queen Fyora stood there. She nodded her head slightly. “King Jazan, Queen Nabile, Crown Prince Caspar, greetings.”
Behind him, Caspar bowed and Nabile curtseyed. But Jazan wasn’t going to waste any time on pleasantries – not while his stomach was twisting itself into a complicated knot. “Milady, what is it? What’s wrong?”
She sighed heavily. “King Jazan, I bring grave tidings.
“Xandra has escaped.”
To be continued...