Chapter three – Fine Senses

"Akkarin!" At the sound of his name, the black-robed magician turned and brought an elegant hand up to shade his eyes from the low winter sun that nestled just above the stable buildings. He immediately recognised his friend from the blue robes, and stood waiting as Lorlen approached him from across the gardens, his pace hurried and betraying an uncustomary anxiousness. The dark-haired administrator forced a smile as he neared Akkarin.

"High Lord," Lorlen said sombrely, inclining his head. Akkarin waved his hand irritably.

"Please Lorlen; no-one is watching. There is no need to stand on ceremony." The High Lord turned and continued walking with long strides towards his residence. Lorlen fell into step besides him and glanced up at his friend.

"You were returning from the stables? How is your new mount? Is the king a good judge of equine temperament?" Lorlen enquired. An amused look overcame the administrator's face as he saw the High Lord's mouth tighten into an unhappy line.

"Not so much," Akkarin responded, and he sighed as he recalled the battle he had just fought with the fine, but unruly, steel grey horse. He turned sharply to Lorlen and his dark eyes caught hold of his friend's and he smiled ruefully.

"But keep that to yourself old friend. A gift from the king is not to be refused. I will have to find a way tame her," he said, his smile becoming a grin. "Now," he continued briskly, "are you going to tell me what is worrying you, or do I have to guess?" Akkarin asked, looking intently at his friend.

"How...?" Lorlen began, but stopped and shook his head. Akkarin was his closest friend, and was known to have fine sense, but sometimes it seemed he knew Lorlen's thoughts before he gave voice to them. The administrator frowned and looked down.

"A magician – Fergun- was injured today, at the Purge. A stone was thrown by a vagrant and it broke through the shield and struck Fergun on the side of the head, rendering him unconscious." Loren paused and glanced at the High Lord, but Akkarin looked unperturbed as he gazed steadily ahead, his long fingers laced behind his back.

"Is he well?" he asked, betraying no emotion.

"Yes," Lorlen replied. "A mild concussion. He is resting."

"What a relief," Akkarin responded in a voice laboured with sarcasm, the corners of his mouth twitching and his dark eyes twinkling. Lorlen felt a ripple of laughter try and escape his lips, so he quickly pursed them and continued, his face abruptly darkening as he thought of the consequence of Fergun's injury.

"Unfortunately, a boy was wrongly identified as the perpetrator, and several warriors were... shall we say over-zealous, and all made simultaneous strikes; the poor boy was burnt to a cinder – not very good for public relations," Lorlen said, grimacing. "The real culprit escaped, and only one thing is for certain; whoever it was used magic." He took a breath, "It appears that we have ourselves a rogue in the midst of the Slums."

Lorlen looked expectantly at his friend, but there was no hint of alarm or surprise; the calm and poised mask Akkarin often wore remained in place.

"Not a rogue." The black-robed man stated quietly.

"Not a rogue...? How do you...? " Lorlen asked, nonplussed, then his face became a picture of annoyed astonishment as realisation dawned. "You mean you knew about this?!" he exclaimed. Akkarin turned to his friend and smiled.

"Of course," he said nonchalantly. "I felt the crude use of magic; it almost made me fall off that crazed and unruly excuse for a horse," the High Lord muttered, a scowl now replacing the smile. Lorlen looked at him incredulously.

"What shall we do about it?" The Administrator asked anxiously.

"Well, I can hardly send it back to the king. It was a birth-anniversary gift from my friend, not to mention my ruler." Akkarin answered obtusely.

"Not the damn horse! The rogue!" Lorlen almost shouted in exasperation. Akkarin turned an admonishing glare on him.

"Not a rogue," he said again softly, his face now serious.

"Damn it Akkarin! The Guild is in uproar and you are being deliberately vague and evasive!" Lorlen was becoming increasingly impatient with his friend's, not uncommon, verbal manoeuvrings. Akkarin suddenly threw his head back and gave a short laugh though he sobered quickly.

"I am sorry Lorlen, but you look so over-wrought. Your first real test as Administrator, as some will perceive it, though I know you will deal with it admirably. It was not because you were my friend that I put your name forward for the post," he added emphatically. Despite the reassuring words, Lorlen's mouth pulled downwards in an unhappy line. Akkarin sighed and stopped on the approach to the High Lord's residence which loomed pale and grey ahead. Akkarin looked his friend levelly in the eyes.

"Call a Meet for this afternoon. Question the eye-witnesses publically. Suggest that reparations are made to the deceased boy's family – though I fear nothing we do will assuage the anger of the Slum –dwellers. As for the real perpetrator?" Akkarin shrugged, " organise a search to begin tomorrow; I doubt very much he will be going anywhere far in the near future. There, you see? Nothing too taxing." The High Lord leaned towards Lorlen and grasped his arm. "I have every faith in your ability, and you should not question it either."

Lorlen's face relaxed a little, though a faint line still creased his brow. "Mmmmm, we shall see. One thing I am sure of is that we will have plenty of volunteers for the search; people will not like the idea of a rogue running loose in the Slums." Now it was Akkarin's turn to be exasperated.

"Not a rogue Lorlen! The power I felt was too crude, the strike too rudimentary. I would guess that this was the first time this boy had ever used magic. It may have been as much of a surprise to him as it was to poor Fergun." Akkarin said as he walked towards the door, but Lorlen remained standing on the path, a smug smile transforming his previously anxious features. It was not often that he knew something that his esteemed friend did not.

"Ah, Akkarin?" he called after the High Lord who glanced back over his shoulder, his brows raised in query. "Not a boy", Lorlen stated in quiet triumph, gratified as Akkarin's eyebrows rose even further, finally in a look of surprise.

"Not a boy...?" Akkarin echoed thoughtfully. "A girl then - interesting," he mused.

"Yes, " Lorlen responded. "You do remember the existence of the opposite sex don't you? Or are both of us married to our jobs?" Lorlen smiled wryly before continuing. "Whilst I'm sure this girl, whoever she is, would offer no temptation to you, there are plenty of women waiting to catch your eye, if only you would look in their direction occasionally." Lorlen closed the gap between the two men, the corners of his mouth pulling mischievously. He expected some jibe in return, but a shadow passed over Akkarin's face so quickly that, in the next moment, Lorlen was sure he must have imagined it.

"I do not have to look in their direction Lorlen," Akkarin said, smiling disarmingly. "I get at least two written proposals of marriage a month – most from the families of women I have never met, or, if I have, they were not interesting enough for me to recall." Lorlen opened his mouth to speak but his friend forestalled him with a gesture.

"You think that any of them are actually interested in living what would be, let's face it, the fairly lonely life of the wife of the High Lord? No; their families want power and influence and, I assure you, I am not the person to give it to them." Again Akkarin's expression darkened.

Nor would they want their daughters under my roof, let alone in my bed, if they knew what I am and the danger that may bring to their loved ones. Lorlen's voice broke Akkarin's thoughts.

"Everyone needs companionship Akkarin," the Administrator said, then he broke into a grin, "let alone other things I won't mention. Maybe someone here at the Guild will tempt you one day."

"Maybe," the High Lord offered in quiescence, but as he spoke a face flashed into his mind, unbidden. An olive-skinned face that was marred by a scar running down one smooth cheek. Long, straight, black hair fell heavily around the exotic features, and dark graceful brows framed the deep liquid amber eyes; eyes that were full of a sorrow and pain beyond their years, and eyes that bore another emotion that Akkarin had burned into his memory: love.

The image of the woman was clear and vivid still, but was usually stored in a place in Akkarin's mind that he only accessed when he was alone. That it came unlooked for and suddenly to the forefront of his thoughts, made him catch his breath and step backwards slightly. Quickly, he re-gained his composure and smiled at Lorlen, hoping that his friend had not noticed the lapse in his usual cool demeanor.

"You are hardly one to lecture me Lorlen," he said. "You would sleep on that desk of yours if it were permitted. Now, let Osen know about the plans for the Meet, and then come join me in a glass of Anuren Dark that I have just taken ownership of." Akkarin smiled a grim smile. "I am sure that we will both feel the benefit of it before long; I will be summoned by the king before the day is done, and you will have to face an interrogation from Fergun's outraged supporters." The two men strode towards the High Lord's residence then Akkarin paused.

"Oh, and before I forget, you should have Lord Solend investigate a phenomenon called a 'natural' that will be referenced in the Guild histories." The door opened at the High Lord's lightest touch.

"A 'natural'...?" Lorlen queried as they passed through the door and it closed shut behind them.

Later that night, after a long day of endless questions, Akkarin sat at the desk in his study trying to read a correspondence from a well placed 'friend' at the Elyne court. He stared fixedly at the parchment as the words on the page danced before his eyes and he found himself reading the same sentence over and over. He sighed and leaned back in his chair, pinching the bridge of his nose between thumb and finger, then he absently smoothed the unruly strands of long hair that had escaped their bonds. His dark eyes narrowed as he finally accepted that his efforts to the banish the memory that had tugged at the corner of his mind most of the day were in vain. Passing his hands over his face, he closed his eyes and allowed himself to succumb to the irresistible pressure, and let the strange bitter-sweetness of his recollections envelop him.

Akkarin had learnt to discipline himself over the years; allowing himself to freely explore his time as Dakova's slave was not something he indulged in often. Such pondering on his past allowed him to recall the sweetness of his only love, but also led him to drink the inevitable sour cup of truth that came with those memories.

I could not save her from the cruelties of her life, or her death. I failed her, and now I pay the price. Akkarin thought bitterly as he foresaw the nightmares that would surely come tonight. A knock at the door interrupted his reverie and his eyes snapped open.

"Come in," he said as he rose smoothly from the chair and turned to stare out of the window, allowing him time to collect himself. Takan entered the study carrying a tray bearing a flask of dark wine and a single glass.

"It's late Master, " the servant said quietly glancing at the magician. "I thought you might need a drink to help you to bed." Takan did not wait for a response, but laid the tray on the desk and filled the glass with strong, sweet wine. Akkarin remained silently facing the darkness of the night through the window, rubbing his temples with his fingertips. The sachakan hesitated, then picked up the glass and proffered it to Akkarin's back.

"Master?" Takan murmured softly but with a tone of insistence. The High Lord finally turned to face his servant, reaching forwards with downcast eyes and taking the glass.

"Thankyou," Akkarin said, and managed a weak smile that was not reflected in his glittering gaze. Takan tilted his head and regarded the High Lord speculatively.

"I have known you too long to not know when you are brooding – even more than usual," the servant added as he looked at his master expectantly and was gratified to see a ghost of a smile touch his black eyes.

"Yes, you know me well," Akkarin said inclining his head in acquiescence.

"Is it this girl? – the one in the Slums who injured a magician today?" Akkarin was taking a mouthful of wine and did not answer. "Do you think the Ichani has something to do with it?" the servant continued. "She may be bait to draw magicians into the City in greater numbers than would usually be found there; isolating them from the rest of the Guild and making them vulnerable. The Ichani will not attack the Guild yet, but if the Guild comes to them – who knows?" Takan became animated now, gesturing in agitation and betraying emotions that had been pent up all day . "Or maybe she is an infiltrating spy, and the plan is that she will be taken in as a novice, to gather information or attack from within."

Akkarin studied his servant thoughtfully, his eyes bright. "You are clever Takan. One of the Ichani may come up with, and risk such a plan, but I do not think one of their slaves would. Let us hope that the Ichani themselves have not ventured into Kyralia yet." Akkarin sank down into his chair and gestured for Takan to take the seat opposite.

"Will you join me?" The High Lord asked indicating the flask of wine.

"I thought you would never ask," the sachakan said and flashed a grin at his master as he reached into the folds of his tunic and pulled out another glass. Akkarin laughed softly as the servant filled the second glass, then the smile faded.

"To answer your question Takan; no, I do not think that the incident today had anything to do with the Ichani. I felt the sudden flare of magic from the city – it was rudimentary and untrained," he pursed his lips then exhaled. "No; I am guessing that a 'natural' has surfaced in a most surprising quarter."

Akkarin raised his eyebrows before continuing. " Considering how rare they are, it is unusual that one has appeared in a section of the population that does not traditionally produce the strongest magical potential – though I am not as naïve as some who thought that it was literally impossible for a slum- dweller to have latent power. The ignorance of some Guild members worries me," he sighed again. "If they struggle to accept that a slum girl could possibly be a magician, how do I ever convince them that black magic is not inherently evil when the time comes for me to reveal myself? Their prejudices are deeply ingrained from years of complacency and lassitude. "

"Besides," he continued, smiling crookedly, "she is most definitely no sachakan. I have seen a projected image of her; her skin is so pale and her eyes are so dark that she could be nothing other than Kyralian." Akkarin cocked an eyebrow at his servant, "she also looks like a boy of no more than fifteen years, though for her magic to have emerged, she must be older." The magician drew in a deep breath. "No, the only concern I have about our little slum magician is that the king will give me no peace until she is found."

Akkarin then recalled his meeting with Merin earlier that evening. The shorter, and slightly broader, figure of the king had paced the council chamber of the palace as he had questioned the High Lord about how it was possible for a magician to suddenly appear in the Slums. Being within two years in age of one another, and with the Delvan family historically having influence within the royal household, the two men had grown up together and had remained friends into adulthood. Merin had become king shortly after Akkarin was appointed High Lord, and it was a happy coincidence that pleased the king greatly. Akkarin had managed to quell his friend's unwarranted fears about a Slum uprising, assuring him that 'naturals' were so rare that they had all but been forgotten, and that the Slum dwellers were not about to be transformed into a rogue army.

"What does trouble you then master?" Takan's enquiry brought Akkarin back to the present and the black eyes that met the servant's over the rim of the glass suddenly narrowed in pain.

"Ah," Takan said softly in realisation. He considered the magician, taking in the haunted glaze that had slipped over Akkarin's features. "She would not want you to still feel such sorrow," the sachakan said tentatively. "She knew there was nothing you could have done – they all did," he added emphatically.

Akkarin's jaw clenched and his eyes brimmed with tears. "I was – am – a Guild magician; I know you all must have looked to me with hope when Dakova took me." As the High Lord reached forwards to re-fill his glass, Takan sighed and regarded his friend. Unlike most servants, Takan had a room at his master's residence, and he knew that, even with the distance between their rooms, the tortured moans of Akkarin's nightmares would echo throughout the building and reach his ears tonight. From past experience, the servant also knew that a dark brooding mood would prevail over the High Lord for the next few days.

Akkarin stood suddenly and Takan made to follow suit, but the magician gestured for him to remain seated.

"Do you remember your family Takan? I mean really remember them; their faces, the exact colour of their eyes, the curve of their lips?" Akkarin turned to the window once more, leaning an arm on the frame and staring out into the inky blackness.

"The details blur master, but I remember them clearly in here," the sachakan clutched at the shirt at his breast, "in my heart."

Akkarin leaned his forehead on his arm. "I miss her Takan. Dakova stripped back my polite veneer until I was utterly bared; And yet she loved me. I miss the honesty we had between us." He grimaced. " It couldn't be more different from the life in Imardin that I had been used to." The magician's head drooped a little. "Despite the cruelty of the circumstances, I cherish the simplicity of what we shared." Akkarin brushed at his face with the back of a hand. He took a deep breath.

"But I grow increasingly afraid that I will forget her face. To remember I must think of her often, but to think of her makes me afraid," the black-robed man murmured.

"Afraid of what ?" Takan asked quietly, frowning. Akkarin glanced over his shoulder, and though a faint track of a tear ran down his cheek, his eyes now bore a familiar coldness that made the servant shiver inwardly.

"I am afraid of the nightmares that always follow. I am afraid of the sorrow and guilt such memories bring," then his lips abruptly curled into a humourless smile. "I am afraid to go to sleep tonight," he said in a bleak voice.

Takan tilted his head and smiled awkwardly. "Then don't sleep tonight. I will sit here with you and talk- or listen- as you please; like we used to when Dakova slept. We will not be master and servant tonight, but rather friends," and the sachakan nodded encouragingly.

A look of gratitude washed over Akkarin's face and he wearily slumped back down in his chair and drew a hand over his face. His expression changed hastily, however, and he glanced keenly at Takan. A dark arch of an eyebrow rose speculatively and a genuine smile almost touched his lips.

"Does that mean you will call me by my name for the duration of the evening?" the magician asked hopefully. Takan's gaze slid from Akkarin's and his lips pursed as he considered.

"No - " the servant answered unequivocally, though he suppressed a grin, " – master," he added.

A/N: As always, thanks for reading and thanks for the support and reviews for this fic ( especially my guest reviewers who I can't personally thank). If interest still continues, I'll carry on with this and Sonea should appear at the Guild the chapter after next, and things may get more interesting!