Vicar’s Conquest: Chapter One
What is Dragon Shield: Kingdoms the podcast?
Dragon Shield: Kingdoms is a fantasy-story podcast featuring the human and dragon characters of the popular Dragon Shield line of trading card game accessories. You can read along with the audio version or simply enjoy the text alone below! Season one will be ten episodes that will continue through 2020.
Listen to episode one of Dragon Shield: Kingdoms – Vicar’s Conquest here or wherever you download podcasts.
Burn This Letter
Saturion Deshane sat at his father’s desk in the corner of their two-room hut and held a curled, brown envelope in trembling hands. On the back it bore the sigil of the Court Mages of the Democracy of Arcania, two dragon wings split by a wooden wand like the spine of a dragon. It was night. His father slept uncomfortably in the mid-summer heat in their shared room next door. His snoring mingled with the mooing of the cows outside the window driving Saturion mad. He could not spend another day as the son of a farmer in Nirgrend, delivering wheat to the town’s single bread maker, milking the animals, chasing off wolves and other beasts. His mother used to tell him he was destined for greater things.
He had applied to join the Court Mages of the Democracy and if they accepted him, he would be whisked away to magical training and political intrigue in the capital. If they denied him… well, he could not abide that.
He opened the envelope with calloused hands and read the short message by candlelight.
Notice from the Guild of Court Mages, Postmarked from Sylvania, Westmarch
Thank you for your application to join the Court Mages of the Democracy. After careful consideration, we have decided you would be better suited to another profession. Please note that you are encouraged to reapply if and when you prove yourself capable of any but the most menial forms of Dustcraft. You might not waste your time, however, as our seers have peered into the future and foreseen that unlikely.
Good luck in your future endeavors and may your presence always bring joy to those lucky enough to cross your path.
Yours in Peace,
High Mage Valera of Westmarch
Saturion flipped the parchment over and back again. He held it closer to the candle flame, thinking perhaps the true message was hidden behind a fire-revealing spell. That was how the mages of old sent their most important messages, to be read by dragon fire. Dragons no longer flew over the world of Arcania but even if they had, Saturion doubted their fire would reveal anything more as he held it so close to the candle that it caught fire. He let it burn to his fingertips, turning to ash in the nighttime dark.
In Response to the Rejection Notice Sent, One Assumes, By Accident, Postmarked from Nirgrend of the Breadlands
Dear High Mage Valera,
Thank you for taking the time to respond to my application! Wonderful to hear from you directly, as I am sure you would not send a form letter to a mage with as much potential as me. As I am sure you know, it is not cheap nor easy to document the feats of magic required for a remote applicant such as myself. That you have rejected my application must be an additional part of the application process that I did not foresee.
On the off chance that your letter was indeed intended as a rejection, I hold no grudge against you or the committee for your jest. For surely, it is just that: A jest! In poor taste, I must say, but a jest all the same. Do not worry, I am not asking for an apology from your magicalness. A simple letter of recompense and acceptance into the Guild will suffice.
As I wrote in my initial application, I am the most gifted Dustcrafter my village has ever seen. As such, I have been training night and day to perfect my skills in anticipation of acceptance. I recognize that other candidates train for years before applying, but I am a special case, being perhaps the most magically gifted person in the world. In just four months, I have nearly mastered the use of Blue and Copper Dust and assume I would have as easy a time with the other shimmers if only I had access. Your mistaken refusal to grant me entry came as quite a shock given my obvious talent.
In conclusion, I implore you to please reconsider your ill-suited letter and correct your records by the time of my arrival in the capital. Find enclosed a small token of my appreciation, borrowed from the collection plate of the local Gaial worshippers. It is not much, but should be enough to buy you a cup of mead, even in the big city. Consider it a gesture of goodwill and no hard feelings as we enter into what I hope will become a long and prosperous friendship in the service of the Democracy.
Yours in Peace,
Saturion “Tury” Deshane
The response came a few days later and was shorter than the first letter.
Notice From the Secretary of High Mage Valera, Postmarked from Sylvania, Westmarch
Your most recent missive has been received. On behalf of High Mage Valera and the Guild of Court Mages, I can assure you that no mistake has been made. You are, as far as we can tell, talentless in the magical art of Dustcraft.
Please do not reply to this letter.
The Bureaucracy of the Democracy of the West
Saturion responded in kind.
Message from the Road to Sylvania, Postmarked, the Road
Dear Member of the Bureaucracy,
I am coming to Sylvania to discuss this in person. See you soon. Stay classy in what I am sure is your first choice of profession.
Saturion Deshane, Future Member of the Guild of Court Mages
Saturion thought he had seen colors before. He’d seen the greens of the fields and the browns of lumber, the milky purple of the nighttime sky. The blitz-white of lightning. He’d seen orange dyes and red apples, yellow bananas, charred meats. He’d seen the crimson in the fire that consumed the home he was born in and killed his mother. He’d seen the black that remained when she turned to ash. And yet, he had never seen color like that which existed in Sylvania.
From the moment Andros’s wagon crossed the stone bridge into the city gates, colors of every imaginable shade burst all around him. Jesters twirled in rainbow-colored tights, spitting blue flames. Confetti rained from a live performance down a narrow street with flecks of it getting caught in the main thoroughfare. No two buildings were painted exactly the same. A street of primarily blue buildings might have sky blue, midnight blue, and turquoise, in addition to a hundred other shades. Most buildings were tall and seemed stacked onto one another like toy blocks, haphazard in places where the eras of construction clearly differed. Pearlescent walls ran through the city clustering sections into makeshift districts for shopping and residential quarters. Above all, tall enough almost to scratch the sky, were the sixteen shimmering towers of the Castle of the Bow, the seat of power where the Democracy kept a tenuous but necessary claw clenched around Arcania.
“It’s something, isn’t it?” the balding merchant, Andros, said from the front of the wagon.
They had met at an inn just outside of Nirgrend the afternoon of his departure. He had taken precious little with him from with which to barter, carrying little more than two black traveling cloaks, a change of clothes, his leather sack, and a goat he’d taken from the farm. After a pint of ale, the two agreed to bet on a hand of Barduse cards.
“I win, you take me with you to Sylvania,” Saturion said. “You win, you keep my goat.”
Saturion eked out a victory and Andros took him along. The shared the goat along the road and became fast friends as only the road can forge. Now, as they approached the city, Saturion’s mouth dried.
“I’ve seen prettier,” he said, his eyes telling the truth of the matter: It was even more radiant than he could have imagined.
Andros guffawed. “Of course you have Tury, of course!”
Andros hailed originally from the frigid north but had moved to the south for the warmer weather and better trade in the Sylvania harbor. “Best in the world,” he called it.
Despite telling himself he would march straight to the Court Mage’s tower to demand an audience with High Mage Valera, Tury could not resist Andros’s invitation to grab a drink at his favorite tavern. The ride there would give him time to see more of the city and with its winding alleyways and tall walls, it would be easy to lose oneself among the crowds alone. Better to stick with a friend, especially if that friend had a wagon and knew his way around.
A platinum-haired girl swept outside underneath a beagle-shaped sign that read “The Drunken Bunk.” The establishment, a sunken spot with glass windows, was a fair deal shorter than the surrounding buildings. The buildings were constructed at such angles that the alley between the buildings was shadowy despite the brightness of the day.
“Citrine!” Andros called as they approached “My, you’ve grown.”
The girl glanced up and smiled. “Andros! Mother and I weren’t expecting you for another week yet.”
“Could not wait to return,” he said. “Not with all the craziness going on in the country.”
“Craziness?” Saturion said, his voice cracking. He glanced at Citrine, coughed, and spoke in a voice much deeper than this typical speech. “What is this craziness of which you speak?”
Andros parked the wagon halfway in the alley. “Come. We’ll talk inside.” He gave Bartholomew the horse a carrot, a pet on the neck, and let Citrine lead the way into the dimly lit tavern.
“Mother! Look who I found stalking around outside. An unsavory character if ever there was one!” Citrine called.
“Who then?” a woman with thin hair the color of mud and stick-thin limbs said, appearing from the kitchen behind the bar. She held seven square boxes stacked higher than her full height, delicately balanced one atop the other.
“Let me help you,” Saturion said, rushing to her.
“Stay back,” Portia hissed. “I’ve been carrying our goods to and from this kitchen for two decades without your help and I will continue to do so after each of the patrons currently enjoying our hospitality leaves!”
Her words glued Saturion to the spot. Unsure what to do with his hands, he flexed his fingers, raised them, then dropped them.
“Oh come off it, Portia,” Andros said.
“Andros?” She was taken so far aback that she lost her footing and the boxes came crashing down. Saturion watched the entire thing happen in slow motion. The brown box, second from the top, tumbling, leading to the collapse of the others. Mugs and goblets spilling out of the top, all destined to crash-land. He braced himself for the loud smashing of glass, wishing he could rush in and do something. But he could do nothing but stand still and close his eyes.
The shattering never came. Saturion opened his eyes and saw Citrine holding two of the seven boxes while three more sat harmlessly on the bar. Portia still held the rest.
“What happened?” he said.
“Luck,” Andros said, winking at Saturion. “Just a little Sylvanian luck, isn’t that right ladies?”
Portia went in cursing, flinging every insult Saturion had ever heard and a few he hadn’t at Andros, who simply guffawed and pointed out her reddening cheeks as she poured him an ale. Citrine said nothing as she went to unpacking the boxes and putting the goods away. A few patrons in the back snickered.
“Well then, are you going to introduce your friend?” Portia said, pouring Saturion an ale too.
“This is Saturion,” Andros said, clapping him hard on the back.
“Call me Tury.”
“He’s come to join the Court of Mages! Isn’t that right?”
“Actually, I believe I am already a member. They simply sent me the wrong letter saying that I had been rejected.”
“Good,” Portia said, lip snarled. “You’re better for it.” She glanced at her daughter, who went to refill the goblets of a few customers in the back.
“What do you have against the Guild?” Saturion said.
“Besides their politicking and backstabbing? What good has a magician done for any of us in the last ten years? Twenty?”
“That’s not their job,” Saturion said. “Their job is to—“
“Keep the peace,” Portia and Andros answered in time together.
“Right cocked up job they’ve done with that,” Andros said dryly.
“Disturbing reports,” Portia said, shaking her head.
“What, uh, do you mean?” Saturion said, as a messenger in the off-white colors of the Gaialists arrived at the bar. He gestured to Portia with a letter in hand.
“Rumors of uprisings in the countryside,” Andros said, drinking deeply. “They say a madness is spreading like a disease. The Court of Mages doesn’t know the cause of it.”
“I haven’t heard anything about this,” Saturion said.
“Count yourself lucky,” Andros said. Portia followed the messenger him outside. “Means the madness hasn’t reached your village yet.”
Portia spoke more animatedly with the messenger. She flung her arms and contorted her face. She became hysterical, ripping the message to shreds and throwing it on the man, who stood stoically while she raved. When she was done, he simply reached into his robes and produced a second, matching letter, which he left on the doorstep of the Bunk. Citrine had run outside to comfort her mother and sent the messenger away.
The customers could hear her howling before she came back inside.
“Get out!” she shrieked to the customers. “Out!”
“Should we go?” Saturion asked.
“Aye,” Andros said. “It’s time you were off to your meetin’ anyway, don’t you think?”
“Past time,” Saturion said, drowning his mug and wiping his lip on his sleeve.
On their way out the door, Andros squeezed Citrine’s shoulder paternally and said, “I’ll be back soon.” Citrine nodded and held her mother as they locked the door and went into the kitchen.
“What was that all about?” Saturion said as they climbed into the wagon.
“That Gaialist wore the emblem of the Democratic Military,” Andros said.
“I thought the Gaialists were little more than a cult,” Saturion said. “Snot Robes is what we call them in Nirgrend.”
“They were,” Andros said, pulling off onto the main street. “Until three more of the sixteen governors converted.”
“That makes…” Saturion tried counting on his fingers but lost track.
“Nine,” Andros said. “A majority.”
“I see,” Saturion said, not seeing at all.
“That means everything in Sylvania will soon change,” Andros said. “When a new religion gains power at the highest levels, it can only mean one thing. Persecution for those who do not believe.”
“That can’t be,” Saturion said. “The Court of Mages would never allow it.”
“You think your court that powerful, aye?”
“I do,” Saturion said. “The governors would do well to listen to their advice, as they have since the time of the first King Arkinus.”
“And you’re sure that’s how the inner workings of the Democracy goes?” Andros said with a snort. “Mighty confident of you for a boy from Nirgrend.”
“If you know nothing about me, you should know of my limitless and unfounded confidence,” Saturion replied. “So what do you think the message was?”
“Could only be one thing to get Portia that upset.” Andros paused, as if expecting Saturion to finish the thought for him.
“Yeah, definitely,” Saturion said.
“You have no idea what I mean, do ye?” He rubbed his bald head. “I don’t know the exact contents, but I’d bet my last Pents it had to do with Citrine.”
“Citrine? Why would it have anything to do with Citrine?”
“Don’t know,” Andros said. “Maybe you can find out in your meeting.”
“Right. My meeting. How far are we from the tower anyway?”
They stopped at a stone arch where just beyond the Court Mage’s tower loomed. It was said that Athram Arkinus, the first king of Arcania, raised the Court Mage’s tower by holding in his hands the eight colors of the White and wrapping them like maypole streamers around his dying queen, a gifted Dustcrafter called Lyra. The tower stood as tall as any of the sixteen in the Castle of the Bow but was the only one to have multiple colors in its architecture. Blue, pink, gold, green, silver, and yellow stripes swirled and met at the pointed top with white lines running along the pathway of the stream. As Tury approached, he saw that the tower had a translucent sheen to it that shimmered brilliantly in the high summer sun. The material seemed to be made of Dust itself, creating the illusion of translucence.
“We’re here,” Andros said.
Saturion felt the color drain from his cheeks and his limbs go numb. “Oh. Yes, we are.”
“Want me to take another ride around the block?” Andros asked. “Give you time to recover from that ale?”
“No, no,” Saturion said.
“Don’t forget to ask about Citrine,” Andros said as Saturion climbed off the wagon. “If it comes up.”
“If it comes up,” Saturion said. “Sure.”
“Come back to the Bunk when you’re through,” he said. “You know how to get back?”
“I’m sure I’ll figure it out,” Saturion said.
“Alright then. G’luck and tell the mages to piss off for me, would ya?” He yelled that last part and left Saturion standing underneath the stone arch. Saturion nodded respectfully to the armored guards on raised platforms on either side and collided head first into an invisible barrier underneath the arch.
The guards snorted and laughed as he picked himself up.
“Only Court Mages allowed through without permission, bloke,” said one of the guards.
“But I am a court mage,” Saturion said.
“Then you should have no trouble getting through,” the other guard said, nocking his arrow. The first guard followed suit. “Before our arrows pierce your heart.”
“Shall we give ‘im to the count of three?”
“Why not, then? One!”
Saturion heard the whizz of the arrows fly.