William stopped his pigs at the ford. He barely bothered to watch them; he had walked this route every day for the last thirty years and knew it well. So did his pigs.
He leant on the old oak stump and took a puff on his pipe.
He liked the calm, even when it was raining he was alone with his thoughts, his husband wouldn’t bother him about the state of the fence or the fact there was a hole in the corner of one of the huts where the grain was stored. He had a small flask of cider in his pocket and a hunk of bread and cheese in his satchel, but he would save them until he his next resting point. Taking a final puff on his pipe he tapped out the end on the side of the stump, and put it into his pocket and picked up his stick, and started driving his grunting charges across the ford.
He was half way across when the trumpets sounded.
The blast of sound came from nowhere, and William was so shocked he jumped backwards, landing on his arse in the shallow water of the ford. His pigs scattered in all directions. He looked around madly; someone was playing silly buggers. There was nobody else in sight, however.
The trumpets sounded a second time, and then a woman's voice cried out:
“Hear you all! It has be declared by the Summer Enchanter, the Golden Magician, The Lord of Summer Stars, Arch Wizard Meraud of the Summer Realm that there shall be a competition across the Empire! From the start of the Winter Solstice until the start of the Summer Solstice. Who so ever shalt create and perform the arcane projection of the greatest magnitude, no matter which so ever of the realms it shall draw upon, shall be declared fit to bear the title of Champion of Meraud! As befits this honour, they shalt be allowed to carry Meraud’s favoured staff for one year and one day! May this word be spread across the Empire such that all those who have mastered the arts of wizardry shall hear of the Golden Magician's challenge!”
The trumpets blew a third time, but the sound faded away quickly.
A bedraggled William pulled himself up onto the bank. He found himself nose to wet nose with Black Bess, the fat sow. He could tell she was judging him, and he slapped her on the ear as he clambered out of the water. He cast a baleful eye toward the ruins of the stone bridge a little way upstream from the ford, the jagged walls of the Gold Sheaf just about visible through the trees. He would bet five rings to a crown that the the trumpets were something to do with the old abandoned tower and the magicians who had lived there long ago, before they destroyed themselves meddling with star magic.
He pulled out his pipe, discovered the stem had snapped, and swore under his breath before shrugging an setting about calling his pigs together. First things first - he had pigs to move. Then he'd need to head up to the crossroads below the Woldstone, and look up his cousin.This entire thing smacked of the sort of thing the Landskeepers would want to know about.
Across the Empire, the music of golden trumpets has rung out! In each case, the horns sound from the air, and a voice is head proclaiming a message. Also in each case, the trumpets have sounded in the vicinity of locations connected in some way to Summer magic. They seem oddly egalitarian in the places they choose. A chorus over the Semmerstones; a deafening roar in a Sarvosian theatre; an announcement at the Gate of Summer; a deafening blast of brass in an otherwise quiet hall in Hahnmark; a terrifying explosion of sound at a crossroads in Karov; a triumphant resounding thunder in the great hall at the Lyceum.
In each case the message is the same. The eternal Meraud challenges the wizards of the Empire to create and perform arcane projections. Whichever coven perform the ritual of the highest magnitude before the start of the Summer Solstice will be receive a boon.
A boon - specifically "Meraud’s favoured staff to wield for a year and a day." The Wizard of the Summer Realm is known to collect magical staffs, and his mood can be as whimsical as that of any eternal, so it is unknown what this staff will do. It is also possible that the reward may be tied in some way to the realm of the ritual cast, but whatever it is it is bound to be a potent boon, something outside the realm of the average artisan.
It is important to note that the challenge specifies that the projections be performed. While Meraud is as fascinated by theoretical magic as any mortal magician, in this case he has made it clear he will accept only magic that is actually practiced, rather than simply formulated. It seems from the message that he does not seem interested in who created an arcane projection, only in who performed it.
Whatever else occurs, this may also be an opportunity for Imperial magicians to attract the attention of the Summer magician. Although Meraud is tied to the Summer realm and somewhat favours practitioners of that realm's magic, like Sadogua his interests lie in the wider practice of magic regardless of realm. No matter what realm a coven is most adept at using, this is surely a chance to impress - and perhaps gain the patronage of - a powerful magical creature.