The Wizard of Seattle

The Wizard of Seattle by Kay Hooper Page A

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Authors: Kay Hooper
chandeliers were suspended above the table. The remainder of the room was furnished with groups of chairs and small tables and reading lamps scattered about as if to invite intimate conversation, but nothing would ever make that room appear cozy.
    It practically echoed.
    The six men who made up the Council of Elders were seated at the end of the table opposite the door. The judge was at the head; on his right were a senator, a financier, and a diplomat; on his left were a world-famous actor and a scientist. All the men were middle-aged to elderly, with the scientist being the oldest, and all possessed that indefinable look of powerful, successful men. Which they were.
    They were the eldest practicing wizards—hence their name. Though from various parts of the world, they allspoke English so well, their national origins weren’t obvious. Each had been selected for his position on the Council by an ancient process that clearly and precisely determined the necessary qualities of wisdom and leadership, and which allowed absolutely no chance that personal ambition could influence results.
    Though all were powerful men and powerful wizards, only two had achieved the level of Master wizard. That distinction was rare because it meant, by definition, an individual with total mastery over his powers, and that demanded a strength of will so great, few were able to attain it. In actuality, fewer than one-tenth of one percent of all the wizards who had ever lived had been able to reach that stature.
    And even among that exceptional company, Merlin stood out as a unique being, because no wizard in all of history had achieved the level of Master at so young an age.
    Which, at the moment, mattered not one iota. The Council of Elders was grim, individually and collectively, and all they saw before them was a wizard who had broken the law.
    Merlin walked to his end of the table and sat down. He was wary but not unduly nervous; this wasn’t the first time he had been caught in some rebellion—he and the Council seldom saw eye to eye on even minor matters—and he had every expectation of being able to defend himself. He folded his hands on the table and waited, knowing from experience that he could shape his defense only after he had heard whatever they had to say.
    It wasn’t long in coming.
    The judge, his expression dispassionate and his voice flat, said, “Is she a woman of power?”
    “She is.” Hiding Serena’s existence from these men for nine years was one thing, but Merlin wasn’t about to lie to them now. Defiance could be explained and perhaps understood; stupidity was something else entirely. He felt as well as heard the Council’s collective indrawn breath, and realized that each man had hoped he would tell them it wasn’t true.
    The actor, his trained voice particularly effective in the huge room, said, “You know the law. How do you justify breaking it?”
    Merlin’s previous offenses had been relatively minor. This time, as he studied the somber faces at the other end of the long table, he realized there was nothing minor about his latest infraction. And the power of the Council was nothing to underestimate. If the Elders felt his offense warranted it, they could destroy him. So he gave himself a moment to think before answering, and when he spoke, he kept his voice calm and reasonable.
    “It’s a senseless law, and I could find no reason for it. Why should I turn away from the potential Serena represents simply because she’s female?”
    Merlin felt a slight ripple in the room, as if every man present had shuddered inwardly. They were nervous, all of them, tense to the point of being stiff. The reaction baffled him—and yet some part of him
understood
.
    The diplomat, his voice unusually quavery, said, “It’s forbidden to teach any woman. Forbidden for any woman to even
know
about us. You must stop.”
    “Why?” He looked at each of them in turn. “Someone tell me
why
it’s forbidden.”
    “It’s the

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