“ehffTush! Ihshush!” Xavier woke with a stuffy nose to the sight of his Master quickly packing. With a glance to the time, he sighed; it was less than an hour until dawn. His Master gave him a good morning nod as if to make sure to get him out of bed. He felt terrible, chilled to the bone, stuffy with pressure, sore throat, and a strong sneezey feeling in his nose. He took a handkerchief to his nose, rubbing and sniffling.
“Come on, Xavier. You're not a child anymore, don't make me remind you twice. Get up and on your feet.” She snapped and gave him a look.
With a sigh, “I'b getting ub.” He shivered as he crawled out from beneath the blanket. He pulled on his boots, combed his hair, then threw his cloak around his shoulders. Drawing it close, he felt himself warm against the velvet fabric. Perhaps the ride wouldn't be bad after all? “ehhIhhshh! iihhKushh! ehhTishoo!” His hand came out from underneath with his handkerchief, rubbing and holding firm for a few small blows. His nose was starting to feel quite sore from all the attention. If he were back home, he could have scrounged up a concoction to sooth it, but he was far from home and needed to get on the road now.
Master Sayge stood in the doorway, her head cocked to one side. “Xavier, are you ready yet?”
He nodded, grabbing his bag and fastening the cape at the neck and chest. Whether she was in a good mood or not, he could not tell. But it was already abundantly clear that this would be a long day.
“UhhhKishh! ehhffTushh!” he was thrown forward with the sneezes as he bounced in the saddle. The king and army were traveling at a moderate trotting pace, but to post up and down in perfect riding form took more energy and concentration than Xavier had whilst in the middle of a sneeze or two. He sighed and continued to ride alongside his master. They were behind the king's officials on the outside of the line which was four to eight people wide at spots and at least a hundred lines long. Xavier was feeling simply terrible. His nose was running from the cold winter winds, and no matter how many times he cast the warmth spell on his cloak, he still felt the chills.
He looked over to see his Master, sitting noble in her green velvet cloak. Her black curls flowed out from the snow-covered hood in contrast to the pure white of her horse. Her eyes were bright, but alert with purpose. Ten years of training had taught him that look; she was not looking for danger, but busy sensing it, drawing a field. Too busy for him. “Baster Sayge?”
She her eyes turned before her head, which soon followed. “Yes, Xavier? Are you all right?”
She studied him a moment. “You're not all right, are you?”
He paused again.
She pushed him, speaking telepathically. //Xavier, is there something wrong with the king?//
Vigorously he shook his head no. “Oh, do, I cad sedse dothing wrog there.”
//Then what is it?//
He sniffled and shrugged, looking away.
//Is it your cold?// A wave of warmth passed over Xavier as she sensed him. For a moment, she seemed to be debating something inside of herself.
Xavier sniffled again and gave a nod. “I really dod't feel so good…”
Sayge sighed. “Slow your horse.” She, herself, broke out of formation and guided her horse next to Xavier's. When they were stopped, she reached over and put the back of her hand on Xavier's cheek, then his forehead. “Still feeling under the weather, lad?”
“Worse. Ihh… ehhKishh! ehhChoo! uhfftish! Sniff! Sniff!” The handkerchief had already been pulled out and he was busy rubbing at his nose with it.
She nodded and wiggled black-gloved fingers at the reins of the horse. They lengthened at the buckles then floated to her hands. “Dismount and transfer my bags to your horse there. We could do the transfer without your getting down but I'm afraid we are both too fatigued for good senses of balance and coordination.”
With a shiver of discomfort, he obeyed, boots hitting the cold ground off balance so that he almost fell. There wasn't much to move over, but it took a few minutes to tie the knots with numb fingers.
“And tie your horse's reins to my saddle here.”
Xavier puffed breath on his hands to warm them as he tied a tight knot. Then he looked up at his master on her horse, knowing what the next step would be.
“I think it will work better if you sit in front of me. I will have less control of the reins, but I shouldn't need it and I can tell you're too weak to hold on from behind. If you want to sleep, you'll be able to doze off in my arms.” She scooted back in her seat and offered her hand and an empty stirrup.
Xavier took her hand and the bit of strength she offered through it, pulling himself up and onto the horse. At once, Sayge's arms wrapped around him to grip the reins. He slouched, leaning back against her and closing his eyes. It was warm in her arms, and the gentle trot they went at was much more soothing than the proper form and bumps he'd before experienced. They caught up to their original spots in the line, and Sayge took care to hold Xavier in place in front of her. When he sniffled, she said nothing but let his nose do what it needed. When he sneezed, she spoke the words to levitate a handkerchief to his nose for him. When he shivered from fever, she tightened up in sympathy, sending warm vibes of comfort to him. “Thag you, Baster,” he whispered, just before a deep yawn.
She spoke back in a low whisper, her face already close to his ear. “I know it has been hard on you, not feeling well and pulled out of your sick bed. With our job here, it has made it difficult to rest; you must get rest whenever you can, so please, do rest now. I will take care to watch for dangers, and will hold you so that you will be safe. Sleep, my student.”
He sniffed again. “Thag you.” It took a few minutes, but soon he was fast asleep once more, his body heavy against hers.
It was hours before the caravan stopped, on signal from messengers who had surveyed the valley. Sayge had ridden up to the edge as well, looking down at the enemy. This would be where they set up encampment, far back enough that they could be hidden against the mountains in the background. Her first duty was to the King and, after she woke Xavier and helped him dismount, she went to him.
This left Xavier to construct the tents and unload their gear. The tents brought by members of the caravan ranged in size. Some were large enough to seat half the army in dining arrangements. While others slept only two or three people at a time. Xavier was to pitch the tent he and his master would share, a simple enough job especially with magical assistance. However, he was also to throw protection spells upon each and every other tent, and aid in their assembly if needed as well. This was certainly easier understood than carried out for the student with a head cold. His fever burned his head and body, making him sweat and shiver as the cold snow fell lightly about. His nose ran constantly behind an almost constantly present handkerchief, lowered only when the incantation called for him to reach both arms toward the top of the tent. Doing so for each tent allowed him the practice needed to control his sneezes on the short term. While he took these duties most seriously, he only wanted to finish as quickly as possible to allow himself to slip under the warmth of his bedroll.
When the last spell on the last tent had been cast, he sent a stronger circle of protection around the encampment, sending light in a brief flash to arc and curve over in a strong, invisible dome. Then he quickly hurried to his tent, marked by his master's flag at the front. His sleeping bag was unrolled and half open, inviting him to sleep without dinner in his belly and without changing for bed. Sleep was much more important. But as he bent down to enter the small tent, he felt a familiar touch rest on his shoulder. He looked up to see his Master's stern face.
“Come, Xavier. There is something I wish you to see. Then I will let you rest for the night.”
Xavier nodded obediently and followed his master through a few steps of forest and up a steep hill to a ridge. It overlooked a flat valley, which was currently filled with a massive army. Flags, tents, horses and carts were spread out in large numbers. Xavier knew it at once as the forces from Carpa, the small island that had recently been in civil rebellion against the kingdom. “I see. A... ahhh... ahhKish! efftsh! Sniff, sniff. Excuses... a codsiderable foe.”
“That they will be, even against what we have brought. But there is more I meant to show you. Look down there towards the purple tent, to the right and make no sudden movement when you do so.”
Thoroughly puzzled, Xavier looked where he had been instructed and his tired eyes came to focus upon a pair of eyes that were staring right back at him. It was nearly impossible not to be startled. His very instincts told him to fall to the ground twitching and grabbing hold of his Master for support. But he managed not to move, holding himself physically in place while his eyes closed themselves as tightly as they could until it hurt. His head felt like it was flying, and his body felt both freezing and melting at the same time. When he opened his eyes, the figure was disappearing into a tent and he was in fact shivering slightly within, making his teeth now chatter. His eyes remained there a moment before making their way to ask his Master what had happened.
“That is Muldred, a man of magic. It is he we must be worried about, not the mass of men and artillery that you see before you. Just as we will back the King, so he will with their leader. But where we are strong in the arts of defense and good protection, he will come with harm and destruction in offence.”
Xavier sniffled and ran his sleeve beneath his runny nose. “I dod't udderstad.”
She put her hand on his shoulder. “I wanted you to see and feel what we are up against. You can learn just as well from evil as you can from good.”
“But, sniff, sniff, he could see be. Sniff, sniff! Why show hib what he is ub agaidst?”
Master Sayge smiled. “Why indeed? Tell me, Xavier, you could feel it when he looked at you, couldn't you? A fierce chill, far more powerful than any the cold winds ave given you and more, yes?”
He nodded. “Aye.”
“Well, lad, by the look in his eyes, he felt it much greater there. He knows now there are two of us, but he can only guess at our powers. But where he could only threaten with an icy look, we managed to send such warmth that his whole body burned.”
“Was it dot said that the world would edd id either fire or ice?”
Sayge smiled again, looking down at her student. So he had retained some of his studies. “Good reading, lad. Yes, both are dangerous extremes. And that is why I have brought you to look upon the ice. You cannot be full without both, and you must come to understand its place and presence.”
Xavier said nothing a while, then nodded. Then, a strong yawn escaped him. He blushed, hardly noticeable from the cold.
Sayge sighed and patted him on the back. “Go back to the tent and sleep. You sound like you need it.”
He nodded, not wanting to protest, and hurried back.
Sayge returned a while later, cold, tired, ready to slide under her own set of blankets. Looking over at her student, she cracked a smile. The poor little boy. He was curled into a ball, covered almost completely by the thick velvet cloak, wrapped tightly around him. His hood was up, and the collar up and over his nose, so the only thing she could see were his closed eyes. And though he was asleep and lightly snoring, he still looked a bit uncomfortable. She pulled a blanket from her own set and wrapped it into a loose ball, then eased it beneath his head.
The young man stirred, then nuzzled into the comfortable pillow. A smile spread across his face and the folds of his cloak fell, draping over his face almost completely.
Assured that he would be warm and content and that the encampment was safe and secure, she found herself asleep in mere moments.