"Night Flight" is a short story set in the World of Ethshar, about a wizard sent to rescue a princess. It was first published in Flights of Fantasy, an anthology edited by Mercedes Lackey, published by DAW Books in December 1999, ISBN 0-88677-863-8. The Ethshar series consists so far of fourteen novels and eleven shorter works (with more of both on the way).
"Night Flight" is copyright 1999 by Lawrence Watt Evans.
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
he soldiers were merely supposed to be accompanying him across the courtyard and into the keep, rather than guarding him, but somehow when Deru of the Nimble Fingers considered the possibility of turning around and going home, of refusing the King's invitation, he doubted they would just let him go. Since it would not be in keeping with his dignity as a wizard to be chased down and dragged into the throne room by a bunch of big stupid men in armor, he marched along between two of them, head held high, just as if he wanted to be there.
He wondered why he was wanted. He wasn't aware of having done anything to upset anyone lately, and King Tolthar III of Quonmor had never shown any particular interest in magic heretofore. That was one reason Deru had chosen Quonmor to settle in in the first place -- no one here would expect too much from him.
At least, he hoped no one would. For the six years he had lived in Quonmor no one had.
The doors of the throne room swung open, creaking slightly, and the soldiers on either side stopped on the threshold.
Startled, Deru stopped, as well. For a moment everyone stood where they were; then a man in a red robe who stood just inside the door turned to see what was causing the delay.
He saw the uncertainty on Deru's face and beckoned him forward. "Go on in," he said. "His Majesty is waiting."
"Oh," Deru said. He cleared his throat, lifted his head, and stepped through the doorway.
The throne room was perhaps twice the size of Deru's cottage, but held even less furniture. A trestle, dark with age, was pushed against one wall, with a chair at either end; a red carpet ran from the door to the dais at the far end; and a third chair, apparently the throne, stood upon the dais. That was all, where Deru's home at least boasted a bed, a sink, a few shelves, and a fourth chair.
A plump man of forty or so sat on the throne; a woman, slightly younger, stood at his right. Both were dressed in somewhat worn velvet and fur.
The man in the red robe took a deep breath, then bellowed, "Deru of the Nimble Fingers seeks audience of His Majesty King Tolthar of Quonmor, third of that name, rightful lord of Ethshar!"
Deru flinched away from the sheer volume of sound the man produced, and also from the two blatant untruths in that single announcement. He hadn't come seeking anything, and Tolthar wasn't the rightful lord of anything but Quonmor. Many of the royal houses of the Small Kingdoms had the annoying habit of claiming to be the rightful rulers of all Ethshar, but so far as Deru knew, none of them had any basis for the claim, nor were any in a position to try to assert their supposed authority.
Back in Ethshar of the Spices, where Deru had grown up and served his apprenticeship, nobody believed in a "rightful lord of Ethshar." That particular aberration was peculiar to the Small Kingdoms. Azrad VII was the hereditary overlord, yes, but by sufferance, not by right.
"Audience is granted," the man on the throne said. "Come forward, Deru."
Deru came forward, uncertain just where to stop, and finally slowed to a stop three or four feet from the dais. After a moment's hesitation, he remembered to remove his hat and bow.
The king nodded in acknowledgment, then waved a hand to the man in red.
The heavy doors slammed shut, and Deru heard a bar dropping into place; startled, he glanced over his shoulder.
The man in red was gone, the doors closed. He was alone in here with the king and the woman. He straightened up and looked at the king, hoping he wasn't violating some obscure point of royal protocol.
"Your Majesty sent for me?" he asked.
The king glowered at him, but then the woman shoved the king's shoulder.
"We did," Tolthar admitted. "You are a wizard, are you not?"
"Yes, your Majesty. I served my apprenticeship with Arleketh of Eastwark, and am a member in good standing of the Wizards' Guild."
"You know many spells?"
Deru had encountered this question from Quonmorans before; back in Ethshar it would have been considered rude, and the first time he was asked Deru had been caught completely off-guard by it, but it had been repeated enough that he had become accustomed to it and had a standard answer.
"I know enough to serve my purposes, your Majesty -- more than a score, certainly."
Twenty-two was more than a score, and the fact that none was higher than fourth order as the Guild reckoned wizardry, nor especially difficult even among lesser spells, did not need to be mentioned.
"More than that confounded Gar of Uramor?"
"I couldn't say, your Majesty," Deru said. "I am not familiar with anyone of that name." Uramor was the next kingdom to the west, of course, but Deru had never heard of any wizards there. He hadn't heard of most wizards anywhere; he minded his own business.
Of course, if this Gar was a wizard, he probably did know more spells than Deru; most wizards did. If Deru had known more he might have stayed in Ethshar, instead of coming to the Small Kingdoms where the competition was less.
"Hmph." The king was obviously not happy with this response. "I thought all you wizards knew each other, through this Guild of yours."
"No Gar of Uramor has been active in the Guild in my memory," Deru replied.
"I should have known," Tolthar muttered. "He's an outlaw."
"Not necessarily, your Majesty. Not all members take part in the Guild's ordinary activities." In fact, hardly any did, but saying anything more than necessary about the Guild was not healthy. Deru himself avoided most contact with the Guild.
"Well, he's an outlaw here, certainly!" Tolthar shouted. "He's under sentence of death if he ever sets foot in Quonmor again!"
Deru's brows rose, but he said nothing. Sentencing a wizard to death could raise serious questions with the Guild, whatever the reason, and a king did not do it lightly.
"He's lured away our daughter," the woman said -- the first words Deru had heard her speak.
"Madam?" Deru asked.
"You will address the queen as 'her Majesty,' " Tolthar snapped.
Deru bowed hastily in acknowledgment, feeling foolish for not having realized the woman's identity.
"Somewhat placated, the king growled, "She's right. This wizard has spirited away Princess Kirna. He visited here the day before yesterday, and when he left he kidnapped Princess Kirna and took her with him."
Deru blinked thoughtfully. That was strange; wizards were no more likely to kidnap people than anyone else, and in fact, since the Guild forbade wizards to interfere in any way in royal successions, they were rather less likely to steal princesses. Perhaps this Gar of Uramor was a demon of some sort or another variety of magician claiming to be a wizard.
And assuming that Gar of Uramor really was a wizard, and not a demonologist or some other unpleasant creature, what would he want with a princess?
"May I ask your daughter's age, your Majesty?"
The king glared at him, but Queen Isia replied, "She's fourteen."
Deru looked at Queen Isia appraisingly, then nodded. It was traditional to describe every princess as "beautiful," but assuming that Kirna took after her mother, in this case the description might fit. The queen was somewhat frayed, but still striking.
This Gar might have a use for a beautiful girl, princess or not -- but the Guild rules made a kidnapping unlikely. At least, if he was really a wizard and knew she was a princess.
Deru suspected Kirna had run off, rather than been kidnapped. "And what do you want me to do, your Majesty?" he asked.
"We want you to bring her back!" Tolthar roared. "Before that monster turns her into a toad, or sacrifices her to a demon, or something!"
"You're a wizard," the queen added. "Who else can we send against another wizard?"
"Well, you have an army..." Deru began.
Tolthar snorted. "Not much of one. And Gar's taken her back to Uramor; if we send our army across the border we'll be at war with King Kelder by sundown."
"Could you not ask King Kelder, as a favor to a fellow monarch..."
Again Deru was interrupted before he could complete his sentence. "We aren't telling Kelder anything about this," Tolthar growled. "Why do you think you're alone in here with us, without even our steward listening? You think we want it all over the Small Kingdoms that we can't keep track of Kirna? You think that would look good when we start looking for a husband for her? We want this quiet. We want you to go fetch her back quietly. Don't go throwing lightning bolts around if you can help it. No one knows she's gone, and we want to keep it that way."
Deru nodded. "I understand. And if you will forgive me for mentioning so crass a concern, do you understand that I require payment for my services? Guild rules, you see -- naturally, were it left to me, I would gladly forego payment for the pleasure of seeing a child reunited with her grieving parents..."
"You'll be paid," Tolthar said. "Now, will you stop wasting time and go get her?"
"I'll need certain ingredients from my workshop..."
I had received an invitation to submit a story to a fantasy anthology about birds of prey that Mercedes Lackey was assembling. I immediately knew that:
- I didn't want to do anything involving hawks, because everyone would, and
- I wanted to write an Ethshar story, because it had been much too long since I had.
So after some thought I decided I wanted to write something with an owl in it, from the point of view of the owl's prey, and that immediately suggested someone shrunk down by Riyal's Transformation (which I'd included in lists of wizards' spells for years).
And there it was.
And, I'm pleased to report, it sold to the anthology it was written for.
"Night Flight" was first published in Flights of Fantasy, an anthology edited by Mercedes Lackey, published by DAW Books in December 1999, ISBN 0-88677-863-8.
The story is reprinted in the back of the May 2001 Wildside Press edition of Taking Flight, ISBN 1-58715-288-6, with cover art by Dalmazio Frau . It was chosen to accompany that story because the two are both set in the northern part of the Small Kingdoms and have some thematic similarities.
And it's included in my collection, Tales of Ethshar.