The old monk sprints across the bailey and into the training hall. It is filled with a score of his aging brethren engaged in martial exercises.
"Master!" he yells, fear in his voice. All the monks stop their practice at the sound of it.
"Yes?" comes the reply. The messenger runs straight through the room to where Xenograg sits. The Darelir is dressed in the same simple tunic and trousers as everyone else present.
"Master, General Grimblade has just been admitted through the outer gate!" A wave of shock and anxiety ripples through the assembled monks. Xenograg visibly tenses for a moment before regaining control. He stands quickly.
"My standing orders regarding General Grimblade remain in force." Xenograg looks straight at Enpej. "Go!" The monk, chief physician of the monastery and to Xenograg personally, quickly bows and then runs from the hall towards the keep tower. His mission is to ensure the escape and survival of Amaltea and the children. Just in case.
"But Master…" begins Ajeh, captain of the guard.
"But nothing, Captain. If Grimblade is here for my life none of you are to hinder him in any way."
"And we are to obey him as the new Master of the Order," finishes Ajeh.
"Those are my wishes for the Order."
"We will now go greet the Emperor's Right Hand. Form ranks!"
"I would speak with you alone, Lord Xenograg," grumbles Grimblade, Commander of the Imperial Bodyguard and the Imperial Army. He is a little shorter and thinner than Xenograg, and has near-ebony leathery skin with grey hair and beard. The whites of Grimblade's eyes and teeth seemed to naturally impart an impression of dangerof a predator on two legs. As always, Grimblade carries his sheathed sword in his left hand. Grimblade loves to kill.
"Of course, Excellency. My men are here in case you wished to inspect them."
"Do you wish me to inspect them?"
"Not if you plan to use your legendary strictness."
"I would have to. I cannot start showing mercy now, can I?"
"Honor Guard, dismissed!" orders Xenograg. The monks return to their various duties. Xenograg gestures in the direction of his office, and attempts to keep his confusion from showing. Self-effacing humor from Grimblade is unheard-of. Any emotion other than antipathy by Grimblade towards Xenograg would be new, let alone humor. Something strange was going on here.
Xenograg leads Grimblade into his underground sanctum. The room is circular. A magic circle is painted in its center while the walls are covered with bookshelves and tables. Grimblade makes a quick visual inspection.
"Is this room warded against scrying?"
"I also want your solemn vow that what we speak of here will never be repeated."
"I so swear."
"I want you to perform a detailed examination of me."
"I am not a physician."
"I need a sorcerer, not a physician. You are the only one alive who can tell me what I need to know." Xenograg ponders that explanation for a moment.
"When can you begin?"
"Now. Let me go tell my aide to reschedule my plans for the day."
"I can wait until later."
"No, it is no trouble. I will return shortly." Xenograg turns back towards the stairs.
"I will prepare myself."
Grimblade is lying on the floor within the magic circle. Xenograg stands over him, hands held over the Largorahr as he scans his subject with his sorcerous talents. The signs of aging on Grimblade's face are an ominous surprise. For the last decade, Xenograg has looked older than his unaging teacherbut no longer. The Darelir begins to understand the reason why Grimblade requires this examination. An hour passes.
With a tired sigh, Xenograg lowers his arms. "I have completed my examination." Grimblade stands up.
"What did you find?"
"That, as you probably already suspect, the Largor enchantment is fading."
"How far has it deteriorated?"
"I do not know what its strength was at its height, but I would guess it is now below half."
"And this is a good day."
"Yes, a few times a week. It is how I recognized the problem."
"The enchantment is breaking down."
"I surmise that your Largor has been fading since Sentridemus died. No one is maintaining it anymore."
"Is there anything you can do?"
"I do not know. I have only some of Sentridemus's library. I have references to the Largor but not the incantation itself."
"Who has it?"
"I do not know. Sentridemus's library was scavenged by many of the teachers of the Imperial School."
"And me." Grimblade grunts and thinks for a long moment of silence.
"How long before the Largor breaks down completely?"
"I do not know."
"Half a year."
"And then I will die?"
"Probably. The Largor has retarded your aging. As it fades, I expect you will rapidly revert to your natural physical age.
"Which is ninety. No one lives this long, naturally."
"The shock of rapid aging will be the death of you, I think."
"That makes me feel better."
"I am sorry, Urgos. You asked for my guess."
"Yes, and you have done your best. Thank you."
"You were one of my teachers. I owe you much." At that, Grimblade looks at Xenograg with appraising eyes.
"Now you are a teacher, to your students here."
"Have you chosen an apprentice?" The question takes Xenograg by surprise.
"You should and soon. You are the last of the original war sorcerers, Xenograg. You have an obligation to pass on the secrets to a chosen disciple." Xenograg's first instinct is to retort ‘why should I?’, but immediately recognizes the emotional, irrational, motivation behind it. He ponders the question anew, more objectively.
"I will consider your words." Grimblade, as always, claims the last word.
"You are not young anymore, either. It is your decision, of course. Thank you again for your time, Highness," and for the first time Grimblade bows to Xenograg with genuine respect and deference. Xenograg bows in return to his old teacher. Perhaps it is never too late.
"Will you be staying for dinner?"