In the Bryrian counter-invasion of Vospia, they hadn’t conquered a single city or won a major battle. Yet it was hard to deny that they’d been victorious. Their losses were relatively minor, and while they certainly couldn’t say that Vospia had heavy casualties that wasn’t the point to begin with. The point was to strike at what they cared about most, and that wasn’t their people and especially not their soldiers. It wasn’t even their wizard. Just the important ones.
Even so, it wasn’t like it was a monumental victory. Lucy knew that many of the Bryrian nobles were disappointed, but she didn’t really care what they thought, except so far as they were able to affect her. Too much for her tastes, but at least they were wary of Bryria’s mages enough to stop at expressing disappointment. The major gains from the war- besides humbling Vospia which was actually significant- was that they had taken over the main border passage. More than half of the magically useful materials they’d taken were being used to retool and fortify the wards on the fortress there.
They would also be making sure that they kept it better staffed with defenders and more importantly mages who could react to enemies. It was strange that Vospia had only a couple mages at the border keep, and their presence elsewhere was also too limited. They’d holed up in Kheles and basically ignored everywhere else. Bryria might have surprised them with their sudden attack, but if they’d sent out wizards with a sizable enough contingent of soldiers they could have probably saved half of the manors and libraries from being plundered. There were no signs that they were in the middle of another war, so it was quite strange. Something had happened in Kheles, but exactly what was unclear.
It was a good thing the fortress needed so much work. It gave Lucy a reason to keep away from politics. Lundgren was fortunately willing to deal with talking to all the stuffy old men and women about why their gains were better than they appeared. Gains and losses were important, and those who financed the soldiers wanted returns on that. Since they hadn’t looted big treasuries, the actual amount of valuables and cash they had was small. The mages also didn’t want to give up the magical materials or books for sale, since that would just mean they had to pay for something they already had. The finances of the individual mages and the group as a whole weren’t exactly grand in scope. Sufficient, but not much more. So they’d probably have to offer services beyond just fortifying the border. Trying to turn Bryria into a magocracy sounded better and better to Lucy, but she knew there weren’t nearly enough mages to manage a revolution alone. More than hundred mages in various stages beginning with apprenticeship wasn’t insignificant but it also wasn’t something that could fight thousands of soldiers. Not if they wanted to have enough people to form a guild afterwards.
Currently, it was unnecessary. If an opportunity like what happened in Dalgare came along, Lucy wouldn’t mind taking it- but starting a war or rebellion just to make things more comfortable didn’t sit right.
Speaking of Dalgare, Lucy would need to find time to communicate with her father. More than just short messages about how things were going. It had been too long since they met in person. If she could manage to get it to be some sort of diplomatic mission, that would be even better. Bryria and Dalgare didn’t have such a good history, but neither of them could afford another war at the current moment. Now was the best possible time- common hatred of Scoubar was a good starting point. Having high ranking mages related to each other was also a benefit- as long as nobody thought their family was trying to take control of everything. They weren’t, of course, but people could be so paranoid.
Speaking of family, Douglas was off on some sort of secret mission. Another one. He hadn’t gone back into Vospia, had he? No, he knew what she was up to and she’d made him promise to tell her if it was anything like that. But the actual details were unclear, though it probably had something to do with those prisoners they had. Lucy was curious, but she wasn’t about to interrupt Douglas with a magical message appearing in front of him when he needed to be discreet.
Waiting was awful. Normally Douglas would have complained to Lucy about it, but that wasn’t practical in Scoubar’s territory. Any magic had to be kept well concealed. Douglas also couldn’t really complain to Cletus, since he was still learning to understand sign and complaining by text was too inefficient. But Cletus filled that with his own complaints anyway. He sort of flopped back and forth between Bryrian and Scoubarran, but Douglas got the main ideas. It was actually an interesting mental exercise.
“I understand they don’t want us at their secret meeting,” Cletus said. “But do they have to be so obvious about spying on us?”
“Yes.” That sign was common enough, and it was basically a formality anyway. Cletus would continue regardless of whether Douglas agreed.
“I mean just feel them!” Cletus waved his hand. “It’s like they’re barely even trying to hide it at all. I’m not really confident that they can successfully spy on princely activities.”
Douglas had to write down his response for that. “You only recently had to learn to hide and sense hidden magic at more extreme levels. Princes don’t have to hide that they can do magic.”
“I suppose so,” Cletus admitted. “Normally I would prefer being underestimated, but if we’re seriously going to be allies I’d like it if they had sent a better mage to spy on us.”
Douglas shrugged, “Maybe they did.”
Cletus thought for a moment. “A good point. It might not be just one. Though, I can’t imagine too many of my sisters managed to grow up as princes.”
Douglas tilted his head, “Should be easy enough to figure out.”
“Maybe not,” Cletus said. “There aren’t many circumstances to find out. The ceremony…” Cletus shook his head, “Can’t believe we all just let magic get used on us. Anyway, that doesn’t have anything that would reveal us. With such a wide variety of women involved, particular people looking a bit more feminine isn’t that strange. Princes don’t bathe together since being helpless around competition is ill advised. The biggest hurdle would be dealing with the midwives or the caretakers. Though I suppose they would be quite amenable to the cause of women.”
Douglas spread out his hands. Who could say? It was basically conjecture. Faron hadn’t really talked about that subject. He went to look out the window. He thought he felt more mages. If there were a prince coming, their watcher might be revealed. The chance of a prince wasn’t that high, because even with hundreds of them (Douglas hoped their numbers were in the hundreds instead of thousands) if they were randomly distributed they wouldn’t inhabit every city controlled by Scoubar. Even if there were a few in Haron, they probably wouldn’t be wandering this particular place on this particular night. As the feeling became more clear he could just pick out Faron and Sarah in the darkness. Good. It was about time.
It wasn’t long before they came to the room. Their expressions were tired but otherwise not particularly negative. Hopefully that meant good news. When they explained what had happened, Douglas supposed that was the case. He wasn’t sure if he’d expected to be suddenly included in the trust of the inner circle, but merely a desire to keep in contact felt so nothing. They’d traveled all this way, risking their lives, only for vague promises of maybe-cooperation.
Then again, he couldn’t always just go around toppling walls to the ground. Scoubar wasn’t on the decline like Vospia, but instead the continuous wars seemed good for their growth. It helped that they seemed to be winning most of the time. Currently there weren’t soldiers massing in the direction of home, but Douglas was certain that wouldn’t last. While Douglas doubted their internal competition among the princes was overall good for the people or the world, it did mean people were ready for trouble. He had no confidence that he could, say, collapse the royal palace on top of the Mage-King and get away. Or do it at all, really. The temporary wards that had been placed on structures in Bryria were easy enough to overcome, but he’d never managed anything alone and especially not without an army providing a distraction. Douglas had just been more familiar with the Endless Library’s wall defenses, having studied them from the inside every time he passed by.
“So what do we do now?” Cletus asked.
Faron was the one to supply the answer. “The Sisters seem to think we will be most helpful outside of Scoubarran territory for the moment. I doubt we’ll be included in anything important soon. Still, they’d probably be more trusting of us once we’re in a place where it’s harder to reveal them- and where it’s more clear we have no incentive. We should probably speak to…” Faron sighed, “Xavier. In Dalgare.”
Douglas nodded. His father had not killed either of the Scoubarrans while they travelled in the other direction, and he was the best point of connection to Dalgare’s mages. The sisters would also find it quite a bit easier to trust those from Dalgare. Of course, Douglas wasn’t really looking forward to the meeting. His father hadn’t been his normal, friendly self when they’d last met. Even though he was trying to do good, Douglas felt almost like he was betraying his family. He was working with a Scoubarran Prince and even worse, one who had been a mage-hunter. It just showed how pleasant people could be while hiding their darker secrets. Still, this whole mission was intended to set up trust in both directions. So Douglas would continue to trust the Scoubarrans. Just not enough to ever let his shields weaken in front of them.