The term Sier is a formal address from a man to his equal or superior in rank. Sier is interchangeable with sir, but not the reverse.
You can address any male as Sier, though Sir might be considered more appropriate to a nobleman.
Sir is used in the military, both army and navy for officers.
Misier is the formal address to an unmarried woman.
My name is Ari Wiken. At the beginning of my tale I was nine years old. I have blond hair and green eyes and was somewhat small for my age. Now to the story.
I held the Scroll of Passage in my hand and watched my father’s body begin to burn. I felt weak from the two days of ritual fasting and the many meals I had missed over the last month. But even more, I felt weak from sorrow and fear.
There wasn’t a lot of sorrow left, I must admit, only acceptance. I had cried many tears over the last month. I loved my father and would miss him. But he had suffered a great deal since he’d been injured and his death had been a relief for him and for me. He had welcomed the death as a release from pain and at the same time knowing he’d be rejoining my mother in Paradise.
I was fearful, because I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. At nine, I was an orphan with no family. Well that’s not strictly true. I have relatives, a lot of them. Unfortunately, they refused to regard me as such. My present plight would leave them unmoved, so I was totally alone and penniless.
I had been able to pay the Healer, Dysan, out of our scanty savings, but he hadn’t tried to hide the fact that my father was too badly injured to survive.
So, I’d known right from the beginning that my father was going to die. The Priests of Ithan perform the funeral service for free but the Scroll of Passage is not. The cost of a Scroll for those of my father’s class, was one gold and much more for the upper classes. Without a Scroll, Paradise would be denied to him; instead, he would need to start the Wheel of Life and Death all over again. He would be reincarnated as a serf, an Untouchable or a slave, the lowest strata of our society.
He would have to endure four lifetimes before he would reach his present status again and could go to Paradise. At least that’s what our religion taught us. Personally, even at nine, I was somewhat skeptical that the afterlife worked in that manner. But my father had been a man of faith and he had never questioned it and believed that’s exactly what would happen.
As I said, I was skeptical, but I simply didn’t feel deeply enough one way or the other to reject the concept completely. If there was even the slightest chance that that was the way the afterlife worked, respect for my father demanded that I needed to buy him a Scroll of Passage.
Thankfully when my father had gotten hurt at the beginning of this month, the rent had been paid. We had enough money to pay the Healer and to pay for the Scroll but not much more. In order to insure that there was enough money, I’d missed many meals and I’d learned what real hunger was like.
I looked down at the Scroll in my trembling fingers. It wasn’t very impressive; it wasn’t even made of parchment. It was just a small piece of the new material they were calling paper and it was obviously a very low grade of that. But it had cost me one gold piece, if I’d had even a copper less, then the Priests wouldn’t have sold it to me. I’d known that fact and the ritual two days of fasting that I’d gone through had been as much a necessity as it was respect for my father. Except for what I needed for the Scroll, the money was all gone.
I stepped closer to the fire, the heat rising as I did so. My fingers were sweaty, so I wiped them off on the cloth of the brief green loincloth that was my only garment and all that an unGuilded boy of my age and class wore. A Guilded boy or a boy of the High Merchant or noble class would wear thigh length breeches and a sleeveless shirt. Boys of lower classes would wear an undyed loincloth, or in fact would wear nothing at all. Children of my class seven or younger also went naked.
I folded the Scroll twice and threw it onto the fire, making sure that it burned up completely. Then I turned my back on the fire, the stench of burned flesh in my nose and walked away. According to our religion, when the Scroll was completely burned, then the soul left the body. Only when there was no Scroll would the body need to be completely burned to release the spirit of the dead.
As I did so, I saw a carriage standing there and I saw a woman looking at the fire, tears on her face. She looked much like my father had and was around the same age, so I assumed she was one of his sisters. Obviously, she had loved him, but at the same time, obviously she hadn’t loved him enough to defy my grandfather’s orders. He had forbidden any contact between his family and my father.
Her eyes fastened on me for a moment and there was recognition, because I looked a lot like my father had done. But following the recognition, a look of disdain appeared on her face and she sat back in the seat turning away from me.
She said to the driver, in a voice that was deliberately said loud enough so that I could hear it, “Take me home, Carth. It’s over. It’s too bad my brother never had any legitimate children to follow him.” It was intended to hurt and it did; yet, at same time I felt amusement. She had never even met me, yet she disliked me enough to deny my existence.
According to the law, both religious and civil, I was completely legitimate, yet my grandfather considered his thoughts and words laws unto themselves. His laws which consigned me to illegitimacy and as Guildmaster of the Searcher’s Guild, he had the power to back his own laws. Which meant I could never become an Apprentice in any Guild as long as he was alive.
He was only in his early sixties, and, from what I had heard, he was hale and hearty and could be expected to live for another twenty or more years. When my father had defied my grandfather by marrying my mother, he had only been a Journeyman in the Searcher’s Guild. The Guildmaster, in other words my grandfather, arranges all tests of Mastery.
My father was a strong willed man, but, at the same time, he was a trusting man. He had no comprehension of how far my grandfather would go to punish him for his defiance. He always regretted that he hadn’t left Galdar when he married my mother, saying that his brothers and sisters would never have made that type of mistake.
At the time, he had just become a Journeyman and hadn’t yet been assigned anywhere. He could have left without permission. But to make sure my father would never be more than a Journeyman, my grandfather assigned him to Galdar. After he did that, the only way my father could leave the city of his birth, was to leave the Guild.
If he had left the Guild, the only way to maintain status, would have been to join the Army or the Navy. However, like my mother, he was a small adult, less than an inch over five feet tall and he was slender and delicate looking. I’ve inherited their size and I'm small and delicate looking as well, but I’m wiry and much stronger than I look. Unfortunately, my father was as delicate as he looked and could never have become a good soldier or sailor.
A Journeyman could not negotiate for his own services, at least here in the city; he wasn’t even allowed to give them away. Every job had to go through the Guildhall and my grandfather, as the Guildmaster, could control how much money my father could make.
We got by, although sometimes it was a near thing, but I had never gone really hungry and he occasionally made enough money so that I could attend school. As a Journeyman my father couldn’t take an Apprentice, not in Galdar, though in a far corner of the Kingdom where there were no Masters, he could have done so. Therefore he couldn’t Apprentice me, but despite that, he always ‘KNEW’ that someday his father would relent. When I had reached my eighth birthday, he had started teaching me what I would need to know.
I had never believed that it would ever happen and as I watched the carriage drive away, it just confirmed it. I turned away from the past and toward my future life, as brief as it might be. I could spend one more night in the familiar surroundings of the only home I had ever known and in the morning, the first day of the new month, I would need to leave it behind me. I would have to leave voluntarily or the landlord would have no hesitation in physically throwing me out onto the street.
My head was swimming a little, and, while it was a hot day, I was much hotter than I should be. I wiped the sweat off of my forehead. My stomach felt queasy as well and I realized that I was sick. I knew that my life as short as it was going to have been was going to be even shorter than I had expected.
Not that it really bothered me that much. A boy of my age had very little chance of surviving on his own. I’d known since I’d heard that father was dying, that death would be my fate in any case and I had accepted it. At least this way I probably wouldn’t starve to death.
Of course, that was a fallacy. I would lose status and life would be very hard but it was quite possible for a child of my age to survive. However I was a victim of my class. To lose status, to those of my class and higher, was in many ways worse than dying. If I’d had time to think about it, I don’t think I would have just given up and died. I was too stubborn for that. However I didn’t have a chance to decide how much I wanted to live.
I was almost home when I saw that ahead of me there was a crowd gathering. At any other time I would have been curious, right now I wanted to avoid crowds. However, at the same time I didn’t have the energy to go back to the last cross street and go around.
I stopped at the edge of the crowd and simply waited for it to disperse. I saw a boy I had known from school. His name was Degan and he was sitting on the wall surrounding the courtyard of the inn.
I asked him, “What’s going on?”
He looked down at me and shaking his head, he told me gloomily, “Someone stole an expensive ring. The owner, a Baron’s wife, is blaming Glena. They’re taking her to jail.”
I knew that Glena was the innkeeper’s thirteen year old daughter. My interest was stirred a bit because I knew her a little and she didn’t seem like the type of person who would steal. And even if I was wrong, she certainly was intelligent enough not to steal something in her father’s inn.
I asked him, “Why doesn’t her father send for a Searcher? He might not be able to find the ring, but he could certainly find out if she’s innocent.”
He shook his head, saying, “My older sister is a friend of Glena’s and she said that a couple of months ago, her father threw out a young man by the name of Phidan. His father is Leanon and he’s a powerful member of the Searcher’s Guild and he retaliated by blackballing Sier Corkrill.”
That meant the man couldn’t get a Searcher to prove his daughter’s innocence. The word of a Baron’s wife would be accepted as truth in that case, which meant Glena would be executed and since she was still a minor child, her father would lose everything.
I rubbed my head, which was starting to ache and I wished I could do something. A lancing pain went through my head as I inadvertently invoked my ability. It shouldn’t have been possible but once the pain subsided a little I realized with astonishment that I knew where the stolen ring was located.
I said with excitement in my voice, “Degan, your father is a magistrate, isn’t he?”
He frowned at me and said, “He can’t do anything.”
I said, emphatically, “He can’t, but I can! I know where the ring is!”
He said, “That’s right, your father is a Searcher, isn’t he?” his small face lighting up with excitement. He pushed himself off the wall and landed beside me, saying with pleasure, “We can go get it! We’ll be heroes!”
I corrected him, “No! We’ll be thieves, or at least that’s what they would think! I’m not a Searcher, not even an Apprentice. If we just showed up with the ring, it’d be us who got the chop, not Glena. We need your father to accompany us to where the ring is located.”
He scowled with annoyance but he knew I was right and said, “Come on!!” and we headed for his house which was back on the cross street, not far from the corner.
Degan’s father stood looking down at me and he had a scowl on his face and his black eyes were hard. He said, “You’d better be right, boy. If not I’ll use my belt on your bottom and you won’t be able to sit down for a while.”
I was pretty indifferent to his threats right then. I was sick and the pain, which had lanced through my head when I had invoked my ability, had remained. Not as bad as it had first been, but still I was having a hard time to remain conscious. Only my inborn stubbornness was keeping me on my feet.
By the time I reached the tarvel tree, my vision was fading in and out. Wearily I raised my arm and pointed up into the branches. I said, “There’s a jinka nest up there. You’ll find the ring inside of it where the bird hid it.”
The world began whirling around me then, the blackness pressing down on me, forcing me into the dark.
I began to wake up and when I began to move, I was sore all over. At the same time, I felt good. I knew that I had been ill and was getting better. I could hear someone moving around and I licked dry lips and croaked out, “Thirsty.” my eyelids cracking open just a touch and I flinched as the daylight hit my eyes and I closed them again real fast.
I heard a female voice answer in a light musical tone, “I’ll get you some water.”
She was back in a few seconds and her arm went behind my back and helped me to sit up. I opened my eyes a little again and this time it wasn’t as bad and I recognized Glena as she held a mug of water to my lips. Slowly I began to drink the water and it tasted like cherry, so it must have had a Healer’s potion in it.
When I was finished, she let me back down onto the pillow, brushed my hair off of my forehead and said, “The Healer said you had pliksa.” That was a common childhood ailment, but it usually just gave you a little fever and a rash. She continued, “You’ve been sick for five days. He said, that since you haven’t been eating right, it was much worse than it normally would have been.”
She bent over and kissed me on the forehead and she took my hand in hers and squeezed gently. She said gratefully, “Thank you for my life, Ari and for that of my father and brothers and sisters. If you hadn’t intervened, I would be dead by now and it would have been very hard for my family to survive.”
“Da says that you have a home here with us for as long as you need one. Now go back to sleep. The next time you wake up, you should be well enough to get up for a little while.”
Content I closed my eyes. I had lost my father, but for some reason the Gods had given me the gift of a new family.
Gendon Corkrill was a hard taskmaster. I may have gotten a new home, but all of his children were expected to do a fair days work, from thirteen year old Glena to the youngest boy, Daisel.
While none of his children went to school, he had a good education and he gave us lessons each day and he was a good teacher.
But, for all of the necessary work that needed to be done, it was a close and loving family and they welcomed me with open arms. Soon I was being bossed around by the two girls, Glena and eleven year old Adran and bossing around the three boys, all of whom were younger than me; eight year old Gerrit, six year old Devar and five year old Daisel. I wasn’t completely comfortable yet, but at the same time it was as if I had always been part of the family.
About two months later, on the 6th of Sen, I became a Seeker, since I was unable to become a Searcher. I was in the kitchen taking a bath before I went to bed. That was because the job I was best at was taking care of the horses and it was smelly work at times.
I stood up and pulling my towel off of the hook, I began to dry myself. Gendon said my name to get my attention, “Ari!” and when I looked up at him he said, “There’s a woman out in the yard, she wants to ask you if you can find her son for her.”
I stopped drying myself with the towel stretched behind my back and looked at him with astonishment, protesting, “You know I can’t do that, Sier. I’m not a member of the Searcher’s Guild and even if I was an Apprentice, I couldn’t do it without permission.”
He smiled at me, black eyes glinting with high humor. He said, “Rules and regulations are important. We do need them, but in this case, it’s foolish to prevent you from Searching for things. A magical talent can’t always be controlled. To deny its use can cause harm to the magic user. Our lawgivers know that, so many years ago they made a law that supersedes all other laws. As long as you take no money, you may use your talent as much as you want.”
“Exceptional craftsmen whose work is far beyond the average in their Guilds are allowed to accept gifts from their customers, which is separate from the fees they get. Craftsmen and those who provide services, whether of a Guild or not, can do the same.”
Looking at the woman who was staring down at me with such hope, I invoked my ability. She was holding a piece of wood that had been carved into the rough shape of a ball by her son. Most Searchers’s needed something, which had been connected to a person, in order to find him.
I realized that I didn’t. She was in the fact the connection that I needed. I felt a shiver go up my spine and I knew that the boy was dead and I was about to make her unhappy.
I turned slowly until I faced the direction, which led to her son. I began to ask the questions that would tell me what had happened. As I got the answers, with tears in my eyes, I began explaining to her what had occurred, “I’m sorry, Mistress but your son is dead. A horse trampled him. The horseman actually took him to the Hospital of Rethes, hoping they could help the boy. Unfortunately he was too badly injured.”
Apprehensively, I turned to look at her and the tears I had expected were there and there was sorrow etched into her face as well. She said gently, “I know you are unhappy to give me such dire news. But I thank you anyway, little one. To have a child die is a nightmare that lasts for a long time.” She sighed in sorrow, “Those of my class sometimes simply disappear. It’s better to know about it than to be left to wonder all your life what might have happened to your child.
She reached out and caressed my head gently and then turned and made her way out of the inn-yard.
She was the first in a long line of people who came to me for help. My talent was that of a Searcher, but, at the same time, it was much more. I could find the intangible, whereas a normal Searcher could only find the tangible.
A normal Searcher could have found out whether Glena was innocent or guilty. His questions to her would have shown that. If he had the ring, he could have found the owner, but unless the owner had other jewelry made from the same gemstone, he could never have found the ring.
Gendon was grinning broadly when he came out into the inn-yard where I was peeling perdans. I knew he had been given another gift and I sighed a little in protest. He rapped me lightly on the head with his knuckles, saying, “I respect your wishes, Ari. I take no commissions from the poor, but it would be foolish not to take them from those who can afford them.”
I nodded ruefully, knowing he was right, but at the same time, I didn’t like it, because it felt wrong to me. He said, “She’s inside. She’s the one dressed tarquin style.”
I got up and went through the kitchen into the dining area. It wasn’t crowded and most of the people I recognized as regulars. Over in the corner was the woman Gendon had mentioned. She was covered from head to foot in lightweight blue outerwear. A woman wearing tarquin like coverings could be of any class and you would see them everywhere in the city.
It was the native garb of some women, but for many others it was a way to travel in public without revealing who you were. Of course, when you were as rich as this one must be, it was hardly a disguise.
She was wearing silk wrappings and that proclaimed that she was a noblewoman or of the High Merchant class. No one else could afford the cost for that much silk cloth.
When I got to her table, I hesitated, not sure what to do and she pointed to a chair and ordered, “Sit!” and I got onto the chair, but I didn’t sit. I knelt on the chair seat, my lower arms on the table. It was a little hard to tell how old she was from just one word, especially since her face was covered by a veil, but it was a young voice and the smoothness of the hand confirmed it.
She said dryly, “You’re expensive, little Ari.”
I nodded, saying, “Sier Gendon took me in after my father died. He charges a commission from those who can afford it. I don’t get any of it. Not because he’s greedy, because he offered to split it with me, but because I don’t want it. My services are actually free, Misier. If you couldn’t afford it, then no commission would be charged.”
She nodded her head, whether in understanding or in disbelief, I didn’t know, nor did I care. I was what I was and I needed no approval from anyone outside of those who had become my second family.
She said, “My name is Wellan Karan, Ari. I went to the Searcher’s Guild and they laughed me out of the building. I’ve heard rumors about you, that you can do things that that they can’t. I want you to find me a husband!!”
My jaw dropped as I stared at her in disbelief, yet before I could blurt out that it was impossible, I felt a stirring in my ability. I realized that I was wrong. I could in fact do what she wanted.
However, I didn’t know whether helping her would be the right thing to do. I asked, “Why should I do that? If you’re of an age to be married, you’re at an age where you can’t be forced to marry someone you don’t want.”
She sighed, shaking her head, telling me, “You’re wrong. If you have the right threat hanging over someone, you can often force them to do what you want. My father is a High Merchant. A year ago he needed a large sum of money and borrowed it from Tolar Aphel. He owns a considerable amount of real estate and he thought that if he needed to he could sell some of it off to pay the debt.”
She explained, “The loan comes due in two weeks and my father began trying to sell off some of the real estate two weeks ago. Tolar is a rich, powerful man and at the same time a dangerous man and he put out the word that nobody was to buy any real estate from my father.”
She told me, with a sigh, “He came to my father and gave him a choice. He would have my hand in marriage, or he would take all of father’s estate when the loan comes due. That’s many times what the loan was originally for, but the law is harsh when it comes to those who default on a loan.”
She waved her hand, saying, “My father loves me and he’s reluctant as you can imagine. But we both are in agreement that it’s better for one member of the family to suffer than all members. We owe an obligation to the rest of the family and those that work for us. We must protect them, whatever our personal feelings.”
I looked into her green eyes and they were steady. She might loathe the man and she probably did, but she would sacrifice herself if needed to protect her family. She deserved my help. I invoked my ability fully, and, when I found the man, I began to ask myself the necessary questions. He was not perhaps the man of her dreams, but certainly, a man she could come to love deeply over time.
I asked her, “Do you have any objection to children?” I grinned, “Your prospective husband has two children. Twins, a boy and a girl, eight years old.”
Her eyes twinkled and she said in an easy tone, amusement in her voice, “I have no objection to children. In fact, I look forward to having children. Of course I didn’t think it would happen quite so quickly.”
I chuckled, telling her, “The man is a widower and the marriage was an arranged marriage. The girl was a childhood friend and while they liked each other, there was never any deep passion involved. He misses her, not as a woman who was his wife, but as he would miss any friend.”
I told her, more seriously, “On the other hand he loves his children passionately and deeply and would do anything for them. But there is no easiness between them, despite the love they have for each other. His wife was always the go-between, a window through which they could see each other. Since she died, the window has gained curtains that are getting thicker and thicker as time passes.”
I grinned again, saying, “He’s someone his friends regard as fearless, but he would tell you different. But his greatest fear is not of a warrior coming at him with a sword. No his greatest fear is of his own children. He needs someone who can stand between him and his children, a barrier yet at the same time a connecting presence.”
I said to her, “He needs someone who can draw back the curtains that have gathered between them and perhaps can open the window and be a bridge between them. That’s your strength. As long as you are able to like each other, that’s a beginning. Over time your personalities are such that a deep abiding love should develop between you.”
Her eyes were wide with astonishment, as she said, “I heard that you can find things that no other Searcher can, but do you see the future as well?”
I shook my head, saying, “No Misier. I’m not a seer. My ability, though more than a Searcher, reacts in the same way. We simply think the question and our talent gives us the answer if our ability is strong enough or it doesn’t if we’re not, it’s as simple as that. A Searcher could never have answered the question that you asked and I was really startled that my talent could.”
I explained, “With training, over time we learn how to ask hundreds of questions in the time it takes to write a few words on a piece of paper. Most of the common questions are asked directly from our subconscious, without our having to think them, others require conscious thought.”
She got out of the sedan chair and looked at the mansion and I could hear the amazement in her voice, as she said, “Count Onlae Fharson. You’re got to be kidding, Ari?”
I giggled and then said, “What makes you think you’re the only one who has problems, Misier Karan?”
She swatted me lightly on the back of the head and I giggled again. She sighed and said, “I guess you’re right, but how do you expect to get in? He’s the King’s cousin and he must get many petitioners in a day.” looking at the two other sedan chairs in front of the Count’s house, their owners trying to persuade the guards to let them in.
I said logically, “Well we’ll have to see if the right questions and answers can do it. I know most guards would take bribes and it’s quite accepted to offer them, but not the Count’s. They’re Fedra and they’d be highly insulted.”
I could see one of the sedan chair owners offer the guard something, obviously a bribe from the way the guard straightened and suddenly became much more menacing. Both visitors backed up hastily. Looking at each other, they shrugged in defeat and headed for their sedan chairs.
Wellan turned to the bearers and said, “You might as well take the chair home, Fallon. I’ll walk home, since I may be a while.”
He nodded his head and then said with a grin, “We were somewhat surprised that you wanted us, Misier. Only your mother uses us on a regular basis and only when her arthritis is bothering her.”
She gave a nod and then she started forward. I put my hand on her arm. When she looked down at me with a question in her eyes, I said, nodding at the two sedan chairs, “Wait for them to get out of sight. There’s no sense making enemies when we don’t need to.” and she nodded in understanding.
A few minutes later, we approached. I said to the guard who had rejected the bribe, “I want to see your Captain.” He grinned nastily and looked at his fellow guard, who gave a snort of amusement. Turning back to me he said, “You don’t want to see the Count?”
I said calmly, “Oh certainly, but I’ll start with the Captain.”
He looked contemptuously at my almost bare body, a brief loincloth my only garment. With a sneer he asked, “What do you intend to offer me. That merchant who was just here offered me two gold pieces.”
I said seriously, “I don’t intend to offer you anything.” Then I reconsidered, “Well, I guess I do. If you get the Captain, I won’t tell Tilma your Spirit Name.”
His eyes widened with alarm and when I moved closer and beckoned with my finger he bent down and I breathed, “Elowist.” in his ear so nobody but him could hear it. He reared back in shock and made a sign to ward off evil.
I said with some amusement, “I have information which I shouldn’t have, perhaps I have information that your Captain and the Count would like to hear.” I shrugged, continuing, “Even if I don’t, it’s not a decision that you’re paid to make. Let the Captain handle it.”
He had regained his composure and simply nodded. He reached over and rang the summoning bell. In a few moments a young pageboy about the same age as I was showed up and the guard asked him to go get the Captain. The boy chirped, “Yes sir.” and disappeared to return a few minutes later with the Captain.
The Captain said, “Please follow me. You impressed Borgun and I trust his judgment.”
I looked up at Borgun and said, “I didn’t do it as a threat, simply to show something of what I can do. I feel that you want Tilma to know. Tell me no and I will forget that your Spirit Name even exists.” I continued in a softer tone of voice, “Say nothing and I will tell her.”
He face had gone blank and I could see no emotions on his face. But he didn’t say no and I nodded.
When we reached his office the Captain looked at me and asked, “What was that all about?’
I said, “I wanted to impress the guard, so I used my talent to find his Spirit Name. All Fedra children have a naming ceremony when they come of age. During that time they receive their adult name which is shared with everyone and a Spirit Name which only the boy or girl hears.”
I explained to him, “It’s not exactly a secret, but at the same time a Fedra male never reveals it until they find the woman they wish to marry. To give your Spirit Name to a woman is in fact a marriage proposal. If a man is too shy to give his name to her directly, he chooses a stand-in who will do it for him.”
“Borgun has been hesitating, perhaps because Tilma isn’t Fedra.” I smiled with approval, “When I revealed that I actually had his Spirit Name, I sensed that he wanted her to know it as well. He’s accepted me as his substitute in this matter.”
He said with amusement in his voice, “Well, what do you know about me that I might not want known?”
I considered it for a moment before saying, “Well your mistress already knows that you’re married, so that won’t work. Your wife is happy with your children and she knows, in spite of your wandering ways, that you always come back to her and she’s satisfied with that.”
I giggled then, saying with amusement, “However, your two mistresses don’t know about each other and it could get complicated for a while if it was revealed.” I heard a murmur of laughter from Misier Karan.
His hand had gone to his dagger and he was stroking the hilt of it and he asked, “Do you intend to try to blackmail me, little boy?” in a silk soft but very scary voice and shivers went up my spine.
I shook my head quickly, my hands sweating at the threat in his voice. I said hurriedly, “No, Sier. I know that the Count is aware of your wife and mistresses. While you don’t want that knowledge made public, simply for your peace of mind, at the same time you don’t really care if it does.”
“As with the guard I’m simply demonstrating that I can know things when I want to. Perhaps I know something that would be to the Count’s benefit.”
I gestured toward the girl, saying, “Misier Karan came to me asking if I could find a husband for her. My talent directed me to the Count. He needs someone before the barrier that is growing between his children and him becomes permanent.”
He looked at me and then at Misier Karan, then he pursed his lips in thought and then nodded, saying, “Very well. Your talent has given you knowledge beyond what you should possess, perhaps Misier Karan is just the wife that the Count will want. Wait here and I’ll find out if he’ll see you.” and he turned and left the office.
Misier Karan looked at me and said, apprehensively, “You were taking a chance, just stating it baldly like that, Ari.”
I shook my head, telling her, “No I wasn’t. Both the Captain and the Count are straight forward people.” I grinned, “The only time the Captain hides anything is when it concerns the women in his life and as I said, that’s for his peace of mind. Trying to get in under false pretences would have been the worst thing we could have done and the Count would have thrown us out.”
“Now he’s going to be intrigued. Approach him in a practical manner. What he needs right now, is someone who can take over his household and his children, so practicality will win the day.”
I was looking forward with interest to seeing my two guests. I knew the girl’s family and while we didn’t move in the same circles, I had always admired Yaran Karan. As a High Merchant, of course, he was out for profit, but he always dealt honorably with his customers, his rivals and the people who worked for him.
Harwon had said the woman was garbed tarquin style, but, when he showed her in, she had discarded the outer wrappings. She was dressed in a pair of blue silk pantaloons and blouse, with decorative and yet at the same time, sensible sandals. The short sword belted around her waist was right and appropriate and she moved with a fluid grace.
She wasn’t beautiful, nor, at first glance, was she eye-catchingly pretty. But a second look revealed a prettiness that would stand the test of time. She would grow old gracefully. The black hair cut short, around her face, was shorter than most women of her class wore and was quite simple, but it suited her and enhanced her features.
She had a small snub nose, huge green eyes and determined lips. Those lips would smile easily and they were smiling now, with amusement at the absurdity of the situation. Unlike most women of her class, she wasn’t covered with jewelry. In fact, she had only one small ring on her hand and it wasn’t even gold, but silver.
I looked at the boy who accompanied her and I was taken aback. Wearing only a brief green loincloth and sandals, he was standing in an almost regal pose and he was completely comfortable being in my presence. That was seldom the case, even with those of the lower nobility.
Looking into his large green eyes, I saw humor and wisdom far beyond his years. This boy would never be surprised by the frailty of human beings. But at the same time, he would never be surprised by the kindness that we could sometimes do.
I nodded thanks to Harwon and he left and I motioned the strange pair to chairs. The girl sat gracefully and the boy folded his legs under him and sat crosslegged on his chair.
I said to the girl, “I know your family, Misier Karan, though not well. What disaster has befallen you that you need to seek out a marriage?”
She explained the pressure that Tolar Aphel was placing on her father to force her to marry him, frightening merchants from buying her father’s property. She told me, “Of course there are High Merchants who aren’t afraid of Aphel. They aren’t enemies but neither are they friends. They wouldn’t make an enemy of Aphel without good reason. That’s why I asked Ari to find me a husband. I expected it to be someone from a High Merchant’s family and they would expect payment to help us. In that case, in all likelihood marriage would be the coin that they would expect.”
“How much does your father owe?” I asked.
She said seriously, “One thousand gold pieces, My Lord.” It was an enormous sum, yet as she said, it was a fraction of what her father was worth. I stroked my chin thinking and then making a decision, I opened my desk drawer and taking out some papers, I wrote out a bank draft for the sum she had mentioned.
I said to her, “This is a loan. Have your father pay it when he can. I admire your father. He’s an honorable man and the best a High Merchant can be.” I snorted with disgust, “and Tolar Aphel is the worst. It’s a pity I can’t do anything more.”
“I’m intrigued, I must admit and I certainly want to discuss a possible marriage contract with you.” I gestured at the bank draft, “but not with something like that hanging over your head.”
She nodded with approval and her eyes were warm. She said, with respect, “Ari said that I would like you and I do. He didn’t say I would also admire you. You’re a good man, Count Fharan.”
I felt myself flush with heat at her compliment. Clearing my throat and to distract me, I turned my attention to the boy. “Harwon says that you can know things. Are you a Searcher?” I asked.
He sighed and then smiled, saying, “My name is Ari Wiken, My Lord. Of course, you know my grandfather. He’s head of the Searcher’s Guild. My father defied him to marry my mother and my grandfather in effect disowned him and will not recognize either the legitimacy of the marriage or of my birth. Without his approval I can never become a member of a Guild.”
I said, “I could speak to him for you, Ari. I don’t think he would dare to defy me. He could still make your life miserable, but he couldn’t keep you out of the Guild.”
He smiled, but shook his head, saying, “Misier Karan is right. You are a good man, My Lord. But that would be a mistake. I’ve come to realize that I’m not a Searcher, I’m much more. I’m a Seeker. That’s what those with my talent were called at the beginning. As time passed the talent became diluted and much less powerful, but in a way much more accepted. At that point, they changed their name to Searcher and formed the Guild. They formalized the laws regarding training.”
“If I became a member of the Guild, they would try to control me. They would try to shape and limit my ability so that it’s the same as their ability, because they distrust it.”
Ari said earnestly, “I think my ability has developed to the point that it would be impossible, but they would try. As an Apprentice, they would rule how I was allowed to use my power. As has happened in the past, they would end up dismissing me. A dismissed Searcher’s Apprentice can’t use his abilities for any reason. If such a dismissed person did so, he would be breaking the law and an offense can be punishable by a fine, imprisonment or even death.”
Ari shrugged his small shoulders and grinned a little, saying, “It must really piss them off that they can’t do anything about me. As long as I don’t accept payment for my services, they can do nothing to me.”
Misier Karan snorted, “Well your foster father has no objection to gifts, Ari.”
He spread his arms wide and then shrugged, saying with a grin, on his small face, “He’s a merchant. As a member of a High Merchant family, I’m sure that you can understand his motives.”
Ari was right, I did like the Count and more, I respected him. I think he liked me as well. But before we got down to serious negotiations, he decided I should meet his children and I was quite looking forward to it.
When we got to the playroom, we found his son standing in a corner with his hands on top of his head. From the red skin of his bottom that was not covered by his brief loincloth, which children of his age wore within noble homes on informal occasions, he’d obviously just been spanked.
The Count asked in a mild tone of voice, “What’s been happening here?”
The harassed looking nursemaid said, “He’s been a naughty boy, My Lord. He kept hitting Tannyl, so I gave him a spanking.”
The Count said, “Come here, Tarbel.” and the boy turned around and walked toward us his face tearstained and he was still sniffling a little.
When he was standing looking up at his father. The man asked, “Were you hitting your sister?”
The little boy looked down hunching his shoulders and said in an uncertain tone, “Yes, Sir.”
It looked to me that he was going to say something more but looking at his sister, he stopped. She was trying to look like a sweet little girl who would never have done something to deserve being hit.
I said dryly, “Might I intervene, My Lord?” and he looked at me with a relieved look on his face and he gave a nod.
I looked at the nursemaid and asked, “Did Tarbel start it?”
She looked at me with astonishment and said, “Of course he started it, Misier. He’s a boy. Tannyl is a gentle little girl.”
I took a glance at Tannyl and the gentle little girl was scowling at her nursemaid. I said dryly, “I think you have the wrong idea about little girls. My brother is nine months younger than I am, but he’s always been bigger than me. We’ve always been very close. We got into a lot of trouble together and we had lots and lots of fights. I was just as likely to start one as he was.”
I told her, with a grin of amusement, on my face, “As long as we didn’t leave obvious marks, Mama ignored it. I broke his nose in one of them and he gave me a black eye once. When something like that occurred, she spanked both of us, no matter who started it.”
I turned to Tannyl who was looking at me in awe. I asked, “So who started it? You or Tarbel?”
She laughed and admitted, “Me.” She looked at her brother and said, “I’m sorry Tar, I didn’t mean to get you a spanking.”
He shrugged philosophically, telling her, “That’s all right. I just wish you’d stop screaming when I hit you. You never used to do that. You always hit back.”
Tannyl said seriously, “It’s just Millen thinks I should be a proper lady. I like her and I didn’t want to disappoint her.”
I laughed and said, “You’re too young to be a proper lady Tannyl. If you have to be a proper lady, leave it for five or six years, but personally, I have no intention of ever being a proper lady. It sounds so very dull.”
I looked at the nursemaid who was looking at Tannyl uncertainly. When her eyes came back to mine I nodded encouragement. “Don’t despair Millen. They obviously like you. All you have to do is remember that girls are not kind and gentle creatures. They can be as rough and rambunctious as any boy.”
I looked at Tannyl. She might not like what I was going to say, but I thought it was fair. I said considerately, “I really think you should spank Tannyl as well and from now on when they get into that type of trouble, you should spank both of them.”
I asked Tannyl directly, “Do you think that’s fair?”
She sighed obviously not liking the idea but then she grinned, rubbing her bottom a little in apprehension, “I guess so.” She told me.
Tarbel cocked his head to one side and asked, “May we ask who you are, Misier?”
I looked at their father and he had a thoughtful look on his face and he nodded, giving me permission. I told them, “My name is Wellan Karan. Your father and I are negotiating a marriage contract.”
Suddenly both of the children had looks of joy on their face and looking at their father the look on his face was a look of pride. I looked forward to long years together, raising these children and then the ones who would come after them. For I knew somehow that this house would always be crowded with children.
When they started seriously negotiating a marriage contract, I took my leave. They would be busy for awhile. Even if they agreed on everything they discussed, people would still expect them to take their time. At least a full day would be expected and three or four days wasn’t unusual.
Looking up at Borgun, keeping my face bland though I was actually feeling amusement, I asked, “Could you tell me where Tilma works? Of course I could find out on my own, but getting directions from one who knows will make it much easier.”
His face was equally bland, as he gave me directions, then he gave me a wink. I must say that Tilma’s face wasn’t bland when I told her Borgun’s Spirit Name and what it meant. She had tears of joy on her face. She scooped me up and twirled me around half a dozen times before she set me back on my feet giving me a kiss on the forehead. Girls are always kissing you!! Yuch!!!
Trena Larden had gone into labor and eleven year old Adran was there helping the Midwife. She had shown signs of Healing ability and the Midwife was thinking of taking her as an Apprentice. The Midwife had told Sier Larden to get lost. She was irritated at the way he was hanging over her, watching her every move and getting in the way.
Daran, his sixteen year old brother, had taken Tavit in hand and took him off to a tavern where he could wait with some of his friends.
Tavit Larden had a permanent market booth, selling leather goods. The saddles and boots he made, were very good. He was Guilded as a Low Merchant and he was barely into Master Class. With the skill he displayed, he might in time have become a High Merchant.
But he didn’t have time. Adran said that a couple of hours after they left and just after their first child, a boy, had been born, an overwrought Daran had burst into the house saying that Tavit had been killed.
I know that Daran will always regret that he had given the news in that manner. Trena with a scream of anguish managed to fling herself out of bed and was halfway to the door when she collapsed. Like her husband, she didn’t live out the night, orphaning their son, little Darnal.
We heard that part of the story from Adran the next morning. It wasn’t until days later that we got the rest of the story. Daran, a recently promoted Journeyman leather worker, had spent the intervening time on a massive drunk, trying to forget the death of his beloved brother and equally beloved sister-in-law.
When he finally sobered up, he looked much older than sixteen, he was no longer the boy he had been, but a serious adult. He came into our inn to apologize to Sier Gendon for any problems he might have given. Gendon simply clasped him on the shoulder and squeezed gently, sympathy evident.
We were sitting at the table in the inn-yard and I was peeling perdans again. We had three guests, but they had come in by ship and had no horses, so my normal job as a stable boy wasn’t needed right now.
Daran sighed, sorrow evident on his face. He said, “I regret what happened, yet at the same time I know that Trena would not have wanted to live without Tavit. If she had not died in that manner, she would very likely have angered the Gods by taking her own life.”
He sighed again, saying, “At least the baby will be all right. Trena’s parents arrived from Tegra today. I could see their sorrow, yet at the same time I could see their love for the boy. He will be raised in a loving home.”
Gendon asked, “What happened at the inn?”
Daran said ruefully, “It probably would have been a better idea to come here, Sier Corkrill, but I knew his friends from his days as an Apprentice and Journeyman would be at the Inn of the Heavens.” He shook his head in annoyance, “Unfortunately I forgot his enemies would be there as well. Well one enemy really, Bantal Tarron.”
He explained, “There has always been bad blood between them, ever since they were Apprentices. Tavit wasn’t in any mood to take his scathing comments that night. I could see his face getting darker and darker. Then he lost control for a moment and he pushed Bantal hard, knocking him to the ground.”
Daran shook his head, saying, “Bantal got up and there was murder on his face, but he’s a coward and after staring for a few seconds he turned and left the inn. About a half hour later Tavit headed for the latrine out back. Suddenly we heard shouting from out there and we crowded into the back to see what had happened.”
He said heatedly, “Bantal was standing over Tavit on the floor. Bantal was holding his arm, which was bleeding. He said that Tavit had attacked and cut him and he had defended himself.” He shook his head again, “Tavit’s knife was in his hand and there was blood on the blade. It’s hard to believe, but at the same time, the way Tavit was right then, it could have happened that way. When the City Guard investigated, they said it was an obvious case of self-defense.”
Gendon asked, “But you doubt it, don’t you?” and Daran nodded, but with a grimace on his face, spreading his hands in defeat.
I had stopped peeling the perdans and my eyes were burning with anger and outrage. Bantal had just gotten away with murder. Nothing would be done. Nobody had seen it so there was only Bantal’s word and in cases like that it would be taken as the truth.
As I’ve mentioned Searchers could determine guilt or innocence by asking questions, but they would only be hired if someone was actually charged with a crime. In this case if it had happened the way Bantal said, he could have hired them to prove his innocence.
Even if Daran hired them, since the City Guard had said it was self-defense, Bantal wouldn’t have to answer the questions a Searcher would have to ask.
I was still outraged when I went to bed that night and was unable to sleep. Lying on my back in the bed that I shared with Gerrit, hands behind my head staring at the ceiling I could barely see. I wished I could do something. Then I gave a short bark of laughter with annoyance at myself.
I might not be able to use my talent to FIND the answer, but I might and I certainly should try. I closed my eyes and invoked my talent. And I began to ask questions and I was suddenly there. Oh, not really, I was getting the answers and my mind was showing it to me in actual pictures. That was the first time that had ever happened.
Bantal was waiting in the short hallway outside the latrine, dagger in his hand. He had watched Tavit enter and he had moved just outside the doorway. When Tavit came out of the door his knife jerked forward and he stabbed him in the chest. The hallway was empty, but he didn’t really care. His rage was so great that it wouldn’t have mattered to him if the hallway was packed with people.
But when Tavit fell, his rage had dissipated and his fear and cunning had risen to the surface. Leaning over, he had jerked his victim’s dagger out of its sheath, cut himself on the arm and then bending down, he placed it in Tavit’s hand. Then he shouted changing tones figuring there would be too much noise in the barroom to tell that it was only one person. And he was right.
I was disgusted. I knew what he had done, but he would still get away with murder, for no one would believe that I was able to recreate the crime. Nothing would ever be done about it, unless...
I had heard of The Wraith. He or she was the best assassin in Galdar. He was somewhat of a weird assassin. He only accepted commissions to kill those who in his estimation, deserved death. It was even rumored that occasionally he killed people for free, which I found hard to believe.
I wanted justice, but in this case, it was impossible for the law to give it to me, therefore I would accept vengeance. If I could find out how to contact The Wraith and he accepted my commission despite my being unable to pay him I could accept Bantal’s death with a clear conscience.
Having decided Bantal’s fate, with an easy mind I turned over and went to sleep.
Ironically, one of The Wrath’s contact points was at the Inn of the Heavens, where Tavit had been killed. While it had a fancy name, in fact it wasn’t an inn and wasn’t particularly heavenly. It was simply a family eating place during the day and a tavern at night. It wasn’t bad but neither was it high class. The contact point was one of the bartenders. Like me, he didn’t know who The Wraith was, and, like me, he didn’t want to know.
I had been very careful to use my talent to find a contact point and not The Wraith himself. While I didn’t want Bantal to get away with murder, at the same time, I had no intention of putting my life in a lot of danger to punish him.
Boys my age were quite often used as messengers, so my presence wouldn’t be out of place and in fact there were four other boys in the tavern eating. Two, who were wearing shirts and breeches showing they were Guilded, were together and had no adult company.
Two other boys, one about my age and the other a year or so younger, were like me dressed in green loincloths, were eating with a man and a woman. The two boys were obviously brothers and they looked like miniature versions of the man, so I was pretty sure it was a family group.
There were a couple of serving maids at the back and the bartender was behind the bar taking an inventory of the stock. Something he did every day. This was Derwin. He was a large man, perhaps six feet two in height and he had dark hair, beard and moustache, streaked with gray. As he moved around behind the bar, he had an obvious limp.
I stood where he could see me not trying to demand his attention. A real messenger wouldn’t, unless the note was important. He would wait, as I was doing, until he was recognized.
He wrote something on the paper he had and looking at me, he lifted his eyebrows in inquiry. I put the note on the bar and leaning forward, I spoke so that only he could hear me and said, “For The Wraith.” His face didn’t change, but his eyes looked at me with surprise, before he nodded and his face went blank.
Like a normal messenger, my message delivered, I turned and left the room. The note just had my name and the name of the inn on it.
I was grooming a black gelding belonging to one of the guests, when I felt him tense a little, I knew someone was in the stable with me. I didn’t turn around, as a low voice addressed me, “What does a boy of your age want with an assassin? Do you want me to kill your grandfather?” and I realized with a start that he must know me, or at least know of me, to be familiar with my situation.
I stopped grooming the horse and I said, keeping my voice down, as he had done, “No I don’t hate my grandfather, though I hate what he did to my father. In a way, I’m almost grateful to him. If I’d been the usual child, I would be an Apprentice and I probably would never have become what I am now.”
I sighed, saying, “That’s what happened to most of those like me in the past. They became Apprentices and the training which released their talent as Searchers at the same time forever limits it.”
With amusement in his voice he asked, “What type of enemies have you made in your short lifetime that you want them dead?”
I said flatly, “Not my enemies, Sier. You heard about the killing of Tavit Larden?”
There was no longer any amusement in his voice as he said, “Yes. I was not there, but from what I heard, it was ill done. A couple of men I know and respect, are of the feeling that it was a murder. A murder that can never be proved.”
I said in a low but hard voice, “I can’t prove it either, but I know it was murder. My talent told me that Bantal killed Tavit in cold blood giving him no chance to defend himself. He killed Tavit and at the same time, he killed Trena just as if he had used his dagger on her as well.”
He rightly assumed, “So you want me to kill Bantal.” and I nodded. I didn’t hear him approach but suddenly I felt his hand on my bare shoulder and he asked, in a voice, which was a whisper of ice, “You know too much, little Ari. I know your talent is for questions. Are you a danger to me? Would it be safer to kill you or should I leave you alive?”
He was asking himself not me and I hunched my shoulders and said, in a trembling voice, “I’m not a danger. I don’t know who you are and now that my talent knows I could be in danger, it has actually blocked my ability to find out.” I had to be completely honest, even though I was afraid, “I could override the block, but I see no reason to do so, now or in the future.”
He pressed my shoulder a couple of times and then released me and I stood there frozen in fear until the gelding bumped into me. He wanted me to resume grooming him and with hands trembling with relief, I did so knowing The Wraith was gone. I was shivering, but he had left me alive.
I don’t know if The Wraith had believed me or not, of course he would have been quite right not to believe me. I had lied through my teeth. I couldn’t block my ability, but I didn’t know who The Wraith was and had no intention of asking the right questions, because in this case they would be the wrong questions.
At that point, I didn’t know whether The Wraith had actually accepted my commission. He hadn’t said he would do it and it would have been silly for him to ask if I was paying for it. But indeed, he had, or at least I assume he had, since Bantal died two days later in his boarding house taking a tumble down the stairs. It was too much of a coincidence, so I had to assume that he had in fact been pushed not fallen.
I wasn’t joyfully happy about it. By my actions, I had killed a human being. While I didn’t regret what I had done, at the same time there will always be a lingering sadness in my mind whenever I think of Bantal.
Elves tend to ignore the rules when they wanted something. This time they wanted me, so they just took me. They took me through a Travel Gate to their capital Aravis six hundred miles to the north in Sentoria.
A couple hours later after being forcibly bathed and stuffed into fancy new clothing, I was standing in front of their Queen in her private apartment. I was quivering with indignation, but at the same time apprehension.
She stared down at me standing in front of her, with a look of disdain on her face, sitting arrow straight on her chair. She glanced at my kidnapper and asked in Low Elvish, disbelief in her voice, “This is the one that Raima told you about, Samar?”
He answered in Low Elvish as well, saying, respectfully but firmly, “Yes, Your Majesty. I know Raima isn’t a very powerful Seer, but she has always provided us with good information. To try to get a higher ranked Seer could let our enemies know things we don’t want them to know, which is why you rejected it in the first place.”
She looked at me and she said, “It appears that he may be better than he seems. He understands Low Elvish. Don’t you, little one?” and there was no longer disdain on her face, simply a look of interest.
I was still angry, but she was royalty so I bowed to her and said respectfully, “Yes Your Majesty. My mother taught me as her mother taught her.”
“So, it’s very likely that you’re part Elf. Do you understand High Elvish, Ari?” and she spoke several words and I could hear them but I didn’t know what they meant.
Which is what I told her and she nodded and relaxed, saying, “We use Low Elvish eighty percent of the time. In High Elvish, many of the words are much higher pitched than a normal human or dwarf can hear. It means that we can talk in secret, so it’s useful when dealing with those races.”
She had begun to relax when she had found out I was part Elf and she was now sitting lounging comfortably in her chair.
My anger was leaving me. I was curious now, wondering what she wanted me to do. She said, “We have a task for you, Ari Wiken. If you can do even part of it, we will reward you well.”
I shook my head, saying in a firm voice, “No Your Majesty. If I can help you, I’ll do it, but I don’t do it for a reward. I won’t accept payment or gifts.”
The male Elf who was standing beside me gave a grunt of laughter and when I looked at him in surprise, he said, “When I was asking about you, I had heard that, but I didn’t believe it.”
I said, “You should believe what you hear, sometimes it’s even true.” before I turned back to his Queen, asking her, “What would you have me do, Your Majesty? I’m more than a Searcher, but I’m not a Seer. I may be able to tell you what has happened or what is happening, but I can’t tell you about the future.”
She nodded, telling me gravely, “We understand that, Ari, but the past and present is exactly what we’re interest in. In the past year, there have been dozens of attacks up and down the border. Hundreds of people have died so far. The attacks have gone far past provocation and become almost an undeclared war. I won’t allow it to continue!”
She said, with obvious frustration, “I must know who is trying to start a war with me. Is it their King, or someone else? If it’s the King, if I must fight him, I’ll do it in a real war, not this play war which costs innocent lives, seemingly for no purpose. If it’s someone else trying to start a war for their advantage, I need to know it.”
I felt a shiver go up my spine and I felt cold. I’d never had such responsibility on my shoulders before and I didn’t like it at all. Lives, perhaps many lives depended on me. My honor prevented me from accepting gifts, how far would it make me go?
I was in the Royal Library and a sofa had been moved in so that I could be comfortable and at the beginning, it didn’t look like it would force me to go very far. My talent couldn’t answer my questions. Yet, there were indications that it should have been doing so.
I needed something, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I looked at Samar, telling him soberly, “I’m getting an inkling, but no more than that, my talent is blocked by something. I think there is a lot of magic being used to block inquiries. I don’t think the barrier is there because of my ability, but to block Seers and Clairvoyants.”
There was a look of dismay on his face and he looked away from me for a moment, he looking toward the west and Tabana, the other Elven Kingdom.
I felt dismay of my own but not for exactly the same reason. I swallowed hard, but as I had thought, my honor was forcing me to do something that I feared. I said through a tight throat, “There may be something that I can do.”
He looked at me with hope and while the fear was still there, I felt a little easier about the decision I had made. I told him, “I found a sympathetic Priest in the Great Library and he was able to give me access to some old records of Searchers and what came before them, Seekers. There is a potion that might be able to help. It can make a person like me much more sensitive than normal.”
I looked into space for a moment, dreading what was to come. I went over to the desk and picking up a quill pen and dipping it in the ink well, I began to write out the ingredients and proportions on a piece of paper.
I handed it to Samar saying, “It has some slightly unusual ingredients, but nothing that can’t be found with a little searching.”
It took several hours, but Samar and a Healer brought the finished potion into the library. I’d been given a meal, but I hadn’t been very hungry. I looked at the potion bottle, fear on my face. Samar asked, suddenly suspicious, “What does it do?”
I took the potion bottle in my hand and looked up at Samar. I told him soberly, “It increases the sensitivity of Seekers and Searchers, maybe four or five times. Unfortunately, it has one big drawback.” I grimaced looking at Samar. “It’s highly addictive and eventually over eighteen months to two years, one hundred percent fatal.”
I looked at Samar and there was a thoughtful look on face. But he didn’t say no and I knew he wouldn’t. I knew without even using my talent, that if he had my choice, he would have gone ahead with it, as a duty he owed his people.
I didn’t have a duty to HIS people, but my very nature meant I had a duty to all intelligent life. I looked down at the bottle in my hand and I tightened my grip. I said, “There’s a second way. I can take the whole bottle. That will increase my sensitivity even more for a few hours and then it will either kill me, or just as simply it won’t.”
I looked back at the two men. I said fervently, “I have no intention of dying in the horrible fashion that the addiction would lead to.” There were tears running down my cheeks, as I continued, “A possibility of life or a painless death is preferable.”
Samar said gravely, “Not that I want you to risk your life, Ari, but at the same time if taking the potion will get the answers we need, then I must accept your sacrifice.” And I nodded at him. Taking the cap off the potion, I hesitated for a second. I don’t know maybe despite what he had said, I wanted one of them to stop me, though it wasn’t a conscious wish. Raising it to my lips, I drank it down. It had a horrible taste and I shuddered as it made my way down my throat into my stomach.
Grimacing at the aftertaste, I walked over to the desk and made sure that the several pencils were sharp and the paper was ready. Sitting down I simply waited. When I began to feel hot, I invoked my ability. For a while, I thought my sacrifice would be in vain and at that point, I was more afraid of failing than dying.
But finally, after a time, though I don’t know how long it took, my questions began finding answers, as I began finding gaps in the barriers protecting the information I needed. I began writing frantically then, as the information flooded into my mind.
Over the next several hours, I kept getting hotter and hotter as I wrote out several hundred names and the needed information so that the Sentorians would be able to catch them. On the last sheet of paper, I just wrote three names and I knew they were the leaders. Though I didn’t write out any information about them, I knew I was finished because with these people, their names would be enough.
I was even hotter now and I became aware that my clothes and hair were soaked with sweat. Suddenly feeling exhausted, I pushed the papers out of the way. Putting my head down on my arms I let the blackness, which was beckoning invitingly, claim me.
I picked up the papers Ari had been writing on, and, as I looked at the top one, I snarled with rage. Looking at the boy, I felt pity but at the same time thankfulness. I wasn’t sorry that I had brought him here. Even his death would be a small price to pay to prevent a war and these papers would do just that.
I looked at Wilorn and told him, seriously, “See what you can do for the child, old friend. He’s earned all the help we can give him.”
He patted me on the shoulder, telling me soothingly, “Perhaps I can do nothing, Samar, but I will do what I can.”
I nodded my thanks and headed for Queen Caria’s rooms.
She looked up eagerly as I appeared and she nodded at her son and his nursemaid took the five year old by the hand and led him back into the nursery.
She looked at me for a moment and calmness replaced the eagerness in her eyes and she said thoughtfully, “Anger I would understand, Samar, But you’re far more than angry, you’re outraged. Why?”
I took several deep breaths and I was calmer, which wasn’t saying much as I told in a forceful voice, “That’s because our enemy isn’t King Jalern and Tabana, but Duke Morced and others of his faction!!!”
My feeling of outrage was mirrored on her face for a moment. Then relief and gladness appeared and I wondered why. Perceptive as usual, she told me, “Treason is seldom a reason to be happy, but in this case, I’m glad it’s a traitor in our camp rather than Jalern trying to start a war. This we can deal with, Jalern would have been much harder, perhaps impossible.” and I nodded with agreement.
Over the next couple of days, we began gathering in some of the less important members of the conspiracy. The upper level traitors wouldn’t worry about them very much as long as it didn’t lead to them. In fact, we didn’t really care whom it led to. We simply needed to get verification that Ari was right.
Once we had that and found that he was right in all details, we backed off, but began putting people secretly in place. At the end of the sixth day, we struck and never in our history had a rebellion been so completely crushed.
We had gotten not only the rank and file, but, more importantly, we had gotten the ringleaders. No one but their families would mourn their deaths, both because they were traitors, and, just as important, because they had failed.
I stood looking down at the boy who had prevented the rebellion. He looked very small and very pale, though he seemed to be sleeping more easily than he had done over the past several days. I asked Wilorn anxiously,“How is he?”
Wilorn said, “The first couple of days were bad, the fever almost burned him out, after that he went into a coma. Now he simply seems to be asleep. My feeling is that if he wakes up in the next few hours, then he’ll be fine.”
I said to the man who I’d known for almost a century, “You go get some rest, you look almost as bad as he does.”
He gave a half smile, saying, “He deserves all the care that I can give him. He risked his life for us and according to what you have said, he did it with no thought of reward, simply to protect the lives of people he will never know.” and I gave a nod of agreement.
I sat down in the chair he vacated and taking Ari’s small hand in mine, I began to tell him about my life. The life of an Elf who was halfway through his allotted span and I had almost a hundred years of memories to share with him.
I felt his small hand tighten in mine and looking into his face, I saw his eyes were partway open and he was smiling. I gave his hand a squeeze and he squeezed back. He closed his eyes again and went back to sleep and I knew this time it was a natural sleep and I was glad that someone so selfless was going to live.
Queen Caria looked down at me and this time it was in her throne room and she was much more impressive than she had been the first time. She asked me again, “Are you sure that that you won’t change your mind, Ari? We would like to reward you for what you did, for the lives you saved.”
I said, to her, completely sincere, “But you did give me a reward, Your Majesty. You let me prevent a war and save people’s lives. What other reward could I possibly need? For the rest of my life I will go to sleep with the joy that brings. I’ll have a song in my heart, knowing that there are people living who would have died without me.”
She looked deeply into my eyes, piercing right to my soul and she nodded but she smiled and I felt a little apprehensive. She was a Queen after all and was used to getting her own way.
She nodded and said, "Very well, little Ari we won’t give you a reward but if you ever change your mind simply contact me. Doing what you did, however, you may have made enemies in my service and we must protect you with all our resources.”
She smiled and that made me even more apprehensive. She told me, “The safest thing we could do of course, would be to keep you here. But we do not imprison those people who help us and we would never dream of taking away your freedom, even under these circumstances.”
She waved her arm and two members of her Household Guard stepped forward. She said, “I asked for volunteers to protect you and Derack and Turvar came forward. Their main responsibility will be to guard you, but they are both Eldar and after awhile they intend to start a school to pass on their knowledge to other warriors.”
She looked down at me with amusement and I was speechless and I just nodded in shock and that’s how I ended up with two Elven Eldar warriors as bodyguards.
She stood up and coming over to me, she bent and gave me a kiss on the top of the head. Girls, always kissing. She said, “Goodbye, little Ari. I wish you well.” She smiled down at me, “There is an old Elven proverb and perhaps it’s even a curse. It says, ‘May you live in interesting times’. I’m sure that with your talent, you are always going to live in interesting times.”
I was glad to get back to my brief loincloth. Not because the clothes were uncomfortable, but because I was getting back to being me again. Though I knew things had changed. My talent had taken me to a new place and I could never really go back to simply being Ari again.
Glena pounced on me the moment I entered the kitchen, she kissed me and then she gave me a hard shake, glaring at me, saying, “Where have you been? We were worried sick about you. We’ve been searching and searching for days.” and then she burst into tears.
I took her hand in mine and squeezed, saying, “I’m sorry, Glena. It’s just someone wanted to use my stupid talent again. Only she was an Elf and they don’t always ask, they simply take.”
I drew her with me and the other kids and Gendon as they saw me came with us to the common room. At the very back was a table, which we used for our meals. They all showed how upset they had been and there was a very evident gladness on their faces that I was all right.
They listened to my tale with amazement and realizing how close to death I had come, with relief and happiness. I finished with, “I think it’ll be best if we keep quiet about it. Nobody would believe it anyway.”
Gendon looked at me and said with mock outrage, “I suppose you didn’t get anything from your Elven Queen?”
I said ruefully, “No hard cash.” and sighing I said, “But I got them.” and I waved at the two Elven guards. Elven bodyguards are very good at making themselves seem invisible and the others hadn’t even noticed them until I pointed them out.
I thought back to just before we had come back by the Travel Gate. I looked up at them, saying, “You’re probably going to be very bored. I’m a kid and I do mostly kid things. I have chores at the inn and I play with my friends and occasionally I get asked to use my talent to find things.”
Derack looked down at me, amusement in his slightly slanted gray eyes. He said, with a smile on his face, “I am a bodyguard, little one and that is my profession. Most of what I do is boring and that is what I want. If I die of old age, never needing to use the skills I have developed, I will die happy.” and I saw Turvar nod in agreement and I sighed in resignation.
I was stuck with them and I had to make the best of it. However, as I said, they were very good at making themselves seem invisible and I don’t think many people actually realize that I have bodyguards.
Gendon looked down at me, where I was peeling perdans again. I always seemed to be doing that when he came to tell me about a job. When I looked up at him, he said, “There’s a man here from Admal Talgonn. He would like to see you.”
I had first met the Talgonn family at Wellan Karan’s marriage last month. I had been astonished when I had been invited to the wedding ceremony. It appeared she had given me a gift after all. A gift I was delighted to accept, the gift of friendship.
I had been introduced to members of her family on that occasion and her father and mother had thanked me. Among others, I had been introduced to Admal Talgonn and his wife Elgann and their two children. Elgann was Wellan’s cousin. She was twenty years older than Wellan and it was astonishing how alike they look.
They had just returned from Adanal, where they had spent the last five years getting very, very rich.
I brought his servant ale and told him that I would change clothes before going. Wellan had given me a shirt and breeches for the wedding that she had made herself. Well she had done the embroidery herself and certainly that was most of the work that went into the clothing. She took a great deal of delight in sewing, which perhaps was surprising since she had told the Count’s children that she had no intention of ever being a proper lady.
She loved weapons training, yet she was as happy wielding a needle as a sword. The clothes that she had made for me and for her two children to be, were sewn with love and all three of us were delighted to wear them.
As we walked towards Talgonn’s residence, I could feel the presence of my two Elven bodyguards. The streets were crowded as was usual at this time of day. I don’t think the servant even realized that the guards were there, never more than an arms length from me. That is not until we reached our destination, when they came through the door as the servant opened it for me.
He was startled, but, looking at them, he realized what they were and didn’t protest their presence. He simply took us into the formal Guesting Room and went to get his master.
The man didn’t keep us waiting. He and his wife came into the room a couple of minutes later. He was in his early forties, and, while average sized, about five six or five seven, he gave the impression of being much bigger.
His hair was almost completely black, only a little gray showing in a few places. He was clean shaven as many military or former military men tended to be. He had held the rank of General before he retired. He certainly wasn’t handsome; his nose was much too big for that. His eyes appeared gray, but it was hard to determine the exact color and at times, they almost seemed blue.
As I said, he had a enormous beak of a nose and his lips were thin and seemingly clenched tight and his chin jutted forward, gaving him an aggressive air.
His wife, on the other hand, was pretty like Wellan. She was almost as tall as her husband. Her black hair was much longer than Wellan’s and was gathered at the back, almost like a horse tail. It was a style I had seen on Adanal sailors, both women and men alike.
Her eyes, unlike Wellan’s, were blue, but they were equally as large and her nose, like her younger cousin’s, was delicate. Her lips were made to smile and they were smiling now in greeting, though there was somberness in her eyes.
Sier Talgonn said abruptly, “I hear you can find things no other Searcher can!! I want to hire you!!” His words were clipped and used much more forcefully than our language was usually spoken. We tended to speak more softly and hard consonants were often slurred.
People who learned our language late in life, tended to use different, harder tones. Those like him, who had spent time away also tended to use a harsher tone until they became re-accustomed to our language again.
I shook my head, telling them, “You can’t buy my services Sier Talgonn, because they’re not for sale. If I can help you I will.”
His bushy black eyebrows which were almost touching to begin with, got even closer as he frowned and he said, “Patras said your father asked for one gold piece before he would let you talk to me.”
I spread my hands and shrugged, saying, “My father,” and I was getting comfortable with that term, “feels that those who can afford it should pay for my services. If your Patras had come to me directly, it would have cost nothing.”
He gave a bark of laughter; “You can afford to pay two bodyguards on nothing?”
I gave a little grin of amusement, as I said, “I don’t pay them, because they don’t work for me. They were assigned to me and they tell me that their employer is still paying their wages. Perhaps I should be annoyed, but they’re discreet and almost invisible. I’m content with that.”
Elgann entered the conversation at that point and like her husband, her words were clipped and quick spoken, though somewhat softer, as if she was getting re-accustomed to the language much more quickly.
She said, “Wellan told me that you found the Count for her.” and I nodded as she continued, “Admal and I have been married for twenty-two years. Our oldest son was born twenty years ago. Six years ago he was fourteen. Like many teenagers of his age, he was rebellious and there was trouble between him and us.”
She frowned, saying, “He disappeared one night and we searched frantically, but we never found him. We don’t know if he ran away or if he was kidnapped or if he’s dead.” Her hands were clasped tightly together and there was no smile on her face now as she said earnestly, “In a way we hope that he ran away or was kidnapped, because that would mean he’s alive, but at the same time we’re certain he’s dead.”
She sighed with regret and anguish, “We could never have left if we thought he was still alive. We were sure that he would have come back if that had been the case. Your talent gives us a way to find out what his fate was.”
I nodded, remembering the first boy I had searched for and the fact that even though the child was dead, his mother had thanked me. She had told me it was better to know for sure than to wonder for the rest of your life what had really happened.
Elgann’s face was made to smile, but, at the same time, I imagine that she was brought up sharply by unhappy memories. My father was dead, yet at times I was brought up short when I did something. Something, which at one time would have had him convulsed with laughter. It hurt to know he was gone and I would never see him laugh again. Yet, I knew that he was dead and was able to accept it and the hurt was getting less as time passed.
The pain must be much greater for her, for them. Perhaps it would catch her, when she saw one of her children doing something that reminded her of her oldest son. The pain would be bad, yet part of the anguish she would feel, would be because she had no way of putting his memory to rest, to move on as the living should do, when loved ones die.
Even time would bring no relief. How could you ever put a loved one behind you in that situation?
Elgann asked, “Do you need something that belonged to Davan?”
I shook my head, telling her, “No, Mistress. A part of you and a part of your husband is part of all your children. As long as you’re his blood parents, then my connection is the two of you.”
I closed my eyes, invoked my ability and of course I found their other two children first. They were barely twenty feet away, at lessons and seriously annoyed. Though they weren’t why my services were needed, I wondered why and asked myself questions. Of course, when I ask myself questions, I get answers. They were with their tutor and on the verge of active revolt.
Without opening my eyes I said, “You had better speak to your children’s tutor, Mistress. He’s ignoring the fact that they’ve spent the last five years away from here. He’s expecting them to know things about Galan they’ve never learned. When they don’t have the answers he wants, he punishes them. They were eager to learn about their own country. He’s destroying that eagerness and soon any teacher will have trouble with them.”
Ignoring them then, I reached out for their oldest son, Davan. Like Mistress Talgonn, I also hoped he was alive, but the answer wasn’t what we wanted. I said with sadness in my voice, “I am sorry, Mistress but as you expected, he’s dead.” and I heard her catch her breath in sorrow, as I continued, “He’s buried outside the city walls.”
Despite my feelings of heaviness, I smiled and said with admiration, “There were three of them, two of them were servants. The other one, their master, had seen your son on the street and desired him. Unfortunately, his class is such that that he thinks that he can get away with murder. In actual fact he has been proving himself right for the last fifteen years.”
“Your son is only one of many he’s killed over that time period.” I opened my eyes and looked at the two of them standing there with sadness on their faces. “Mourn his death, but take pride in the manner that he died. Half their size, he chose just the right time. He managed to snatch one man’s dagger and he slashed his throat to the bone and he wounded the master, though not seriously. The second servant ran the boy through with his sword and he died quickly.”
Sorrow there was and despite expecting that he was probably dead, it would still last a while. But they would take comfort in the way Davan had died. By fighting and taking an enemy with him, Davan had earned his own Scroll of Passage and his way into the afterlife.
I saw sorrow being replaced by anger on Sier Talgonn face and wasn’t surprised, when his voce stabbed out with rage, “Who killed him?!!!!”
I prudently moved back a couple of yards until my bodyguards protected me before I answered him. “I’m sorry, but I have no intention of telling you, Sier Talgonn.”
His hands clenched tightly and his face went dark, but he made no movement toward me. Mistress Elgann asked me, “Why not, Ari?”
Since I felt he wasn’t going to grab me and try to shake the information out of me, I moved forward again. I gave a sigh, telling them, “You came back to Galan with great wealth. But your family is not an important family, not now. Perhaps in the future you will gain the power you would need to deal with the man responsible for your son’s death.”
I shook my head, saying, “He’s from a very powerful family and there’s nothing that you can do to punish him. The man who actually killed your son is dead. He became a danger to his master and was disposed of. There is no one left alive who knows about your son’s murder, or the deaths of the other boys.”
I shook my head and made a face, as I said, “No one alive at the moment, has the same talent that I have. Seers don’t look at the past, only the present and the future. I’ve never heard of a Clairvoyant being able to see the past, they’re limited to the present.”
I explained, “At the time Searchers could have found the weapon that made the wound that killed your son, if he had been found within two or three days of his death. After that it gets harder and harder to make the connection between wound and weapon and after a week impossible.”
“Trying to take revenge on only my word would destroy you and I have no intention of letting that happen to a friend and relative of Wellan.”
Sier Talgonn said in a tired voice, rage gone from his face only helplessness remaining, “So you’re going to allow him to get away with it?”
I shook my head heatedly, snapping, “I didn’t say that!! As long as he’s alive, he’s a danger to other children!! He’s killed twenty-three children aside from your son,” and I heard them give a sigh of dismay, at the number as I continued, “Five of them in the last year alone.”
I took a deep breath and then said calmly, “I know how to get in touch with an assassin. He’s the best in the city, perhaps in the Kingdom. Of course, there's still a risk. If he fails and gets caught, it’s very likely that he will be forced to talk.”
I told them gravely, “Once in the past The Wraith accepted a commission from me and he did it for free. As important as the family is, my talent says he will require payment this time. And a large payment at that.”
Sier Talgonn started to speak, but Elgann put his hand on his arm to stop him. She said firmly, “We must talk this over. We will be back in a few minutes.” and she led him out of the Guesting Room.
When they returned a half hour later, there was anger on Sier Talgonn’s face, but serenity on Elgann’s and I realized with a bit of amusement that I had been wrong. I had thought she was the one who would have to be convinced.
She took over the talking as well. She said, “While I certainly want the one who killed Davan to be punished, if he’d been the only one, in this situation I would have counseled Admal to do nothing. With other children’s lives taken and possibly more to come in the future, we must do what we think is right. Despite possible danger, we must take his life, not in vengeance, that won't change the past, but to protect possible victims in the future. If hiring an assassin is the only way to do that, then we will do it.”
I nodded, accepting the answer because I felt it was right. I said, “I will send Derack with a message for The Wraith while we go and collect your son.”
She said soberly, “I prefer to wait here for you and for my son’s remains. Now that we have decided how to proceed, will you tell us who killed our son?”
I told her, “It was Wyvel Telandar, Mistress.” and she gaped at me, astonished beyond words. The Telandar family was a High Merchant family, but at the same time, they were much more. By law, nobles were considered to be much higher in rank than a High Merchant. But custom was often more important in our society than law and by custom the Telandar family was the second family of Galan. They were second in importance only to the Royal Family and you crossed them at your peril.
I told her, “His family doesn’t know about his peculiar habits. Even if we were able to convince them of his guilt, my talent can’t tell me what they might do.”
We went by carriage and while the Inn of the Heavens was not on one of the major streets, it did lead to the South Gate, where we needed to exit the city. We slowed down as we went by the Inn and Derack dropped off. We didn’t increase our pace until he caught up with us a few minutes later, having delivered the message.
It was almost park land for five hundred yards outside the city walls. Part of it was farmed, but most of it was cleared land with only a few sparsely wooded areas allowed. They were all quite small. If there were any danger of war, the trees would be cut down. We were in an area where there was a small copse of trees containing half a dozen trees, a couple of hundred yards from the city walls.
I dragged the heel of my sandal along, making a mark in the grass. I said, “This is where the servant was buried.” and I made a second mark that was somewhat shorter.
Putting my heel on the top of the second mark, I made a second mark at right angles. I said, “Dig here. This marks the location of Davan’s skull and he’s buried two and a half feet down.”
Tagal, Admal’s servant and carriage driver, took a shovel and began digging down. When he got close to the depth I had indicated, he slowed, digging more carefully. In a few minutes he looked up at his employer. “I can feel something hard, Sier. I think I’ve found him.”
As indeed he had. Sier Talgonn grabbed a second spade and they uncovered Davan’s bones. Once they were revealed, Sier Talgonn lit the incense burner he had brought along. With the scented smoke blowing over us, he carefully, with respect and love for his son, moved the bones to a carved box he had brought.
When we reached their residence, Mistress Elgann put her hand on the box and stroked its smooth surface. She turned to thank me, and, like most girls, she did it with a kiss.
I had one more thing to do before The Wraith contacted us and I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening using my talent again. I gathered the information The Wraith would need in order to kill Wyvel.
When finished, I had thirty pages of closely spaced information and another ten pages of diagrams. By then I was exhausted and I curled up in my chair and went to sleep.
When I woke up stretching and yawning, I realized someone had given me a shake to wake me. Looking up, I saw Derack and Turvar were standing one on each side of the chair. Derack said in an almost inaudible tone, “We have a visitor, Ari.”
I sat up and then stood up and sweeping the room with my eyes, I saw there was a shadow where there shouldn’t have been one. The Wraith said in a sardonic tone of voice, “I hope you don’t want me to try and kill you, Ari. I don’t think your two friends would let me. But then again, I don’t take impossible tasks.”
I told him gravely, “Well I have a commission for you. It’s a member of the Telandar family and most of them are well guarded. However, the one I want you to kill won’t be that difficult. By his very nature, he’s made himself vulnerable. He doesn’t want guards. Guards would make the life he has chosen to lead much more difficult.”
“The quarters he lives in has a secret passage that leads to a tunnel and that tunnel leads right off of the estate.”
The Wraith’s voice when he next spoke, no longer had any amusement in it, “To kill a member of the Telandar family, easy or not, is dangerous. I have protections against magic. However that doesn’t mean a Mage couldn’t pierce them and the Telandar would use the best and most powerful Mage available.”
I shook my head, saying, “Possibly, but Wyvel is an orinis user. Twice in the past five years, he has taken an overdose. On both occasions, he had a servant in his rooms with him. The man summoned a Healer and Wyvel suffered no ill affects.”
I imagine my face showed my outrage as I continued, “Wyvel is a murderer. He’s killed twenty-four boys between the age of six and sixteen over the last fifteen years. He was always untrusting and he’s gotten much worse in the last few years and he no longer trusts even his personal servants.”
I told him forcefully, “He won’t survive a third overdose, because he no longer allows any servants to sleep in his quarters!! His father, as befits the King’s Chancellor, is a perceptive man and he and other members of the family suspect there is something amiss with the man. He loves his son, despite what he suspects and will grieve when he dies. However, as long as his son’s death appears to be an accident, even if anyone is suspicious, he won’t allow any inquiries to be made.”
Looking at The Wraith, I said, “It will be much harder to kill another member of the Telandar family in the future. I intend to make sure they know that others are aware of the tunnel. The family is a great one, aside from the occasional rogue like Wyvel; they’ve served our country with honor and distinction over the last four centuries. While Wyvel doesn’t deserve our protection, the rest of the Telandar’s do.”
The Wraith started to speak and then stopped for a second before saying, “A man who’s killed so many children deserves death. I will accept the commission, but I must be paid. Killing any member of such an important family is much more dangerous and I won’t attempt it for free.”
I nodded, telling him, “Sier Talgonn has authorized me to offer you two thousand gold pieces. We’ll go fetch it and give you a chance to go over the information that I’ve collected for you.” patting the sheets of paper on the top of the desk.
I said to him, “This has everything that you normally need and it’s organized in the way you use. However, because of my talent, the information is much more far-reaching than you could generally gather. It should tell you everything that you need to know, down to where he keeps the orinis, if you decide to make it look like an overdose.”
We left him there in the library then and went to see Sier and Mistress Talgonn. Like many rich families, their private apartments were separate from the rest of the household. When we got there, we found Mistress Elgann on a comfortable sofa reading to her two sons and Sier Talgonn was doing some work at a small desk.
The boys were dressed for bed, well that’s not quite true; they were undressed for bed. Since we don’t wear bed clothing, they were naked. That isn’t unusual. Nudity is common on our world. In fact, two of my foster brothers’, five year old Daisel and six year old Devar don’t wear any clothing.
Even children of wealthy families would normally go barefooted and wear only a brief loincloth. On formal occasions, or when leaving the estate, boys and girls twelve and under would wear a shirt and breeches and sandals.
In fact, that’s what boys and men of their class would wear all of their lives, though men would also wear a lightweight jacket on important occasions, indicating their status. Girls in or past puberty would wear a blouse and pantaloons with the legs gathered in just below the knee and sandals were the usual footgear.
Like their mother, both boys were slender and had black hair and blue eyes. They looked at me, curious at my presence and the obvious fact that a boy who was only a little older than they were had bodyguards. But they were accustomed to secrets flying all around them and children of High Merchant families knew better than to ask.
Just after we entered the sitting room the clock struck nine and Sier Talgonn said sharply, “Time for bed, boys!!” I saw disappointment on their small faces and I think that if he had not spoken so sharply, they might have begged to stay up a little longer. Standing up they came over and gave their father a kiss and he gave each of them a loving caress.
They headed for a door opposite the one we had entered. Their mother got up to follow them, to tuck them in and probably give them a kiss. Normally I didn’t like being kissed, but in this case, I envied them. A mother’s kiss was different to a girl’s kiss.
Opening a drawer, Sier Talgonn got out a large pouch and I could hear the clink of coins as they rubbed together. Pushing his chair back, Sier Talgonn got up from the desk and walked over to the sofa. Sitting down he motioned me to one of the armchairs opposite and I sat down. Neither Derack nor Turvar would sit when they were on duty. It made a bodyguard too vulnerable.
I explained, “The Wraith is here and he accepted the commission. We should give him about an hour to read and digest the information I gathered, then I’ll return and give him the money.”
Sier Talgonn made a rueful face, saying tentatively, “Elgann is more comfortable with this than I am. As an ex-soldier, I prefer to meet threats head on, which I know for a merchant, isn’t always wise. She runs the information network that successful merchants need to have. On one occasion that I know of, she removed a hoodlum in Charin who threatened us.”
We fell into silence then, yet it wasn’t uncomfortable in the room. He had said what he wanted to say. We had nothing in common. I wasn’t an adult and anything he found interesting would probably have bored me into impolite yawns.
Since I had been taken in by Gendon, I was also of the High Merchant class. But each class had many degrees of difference and some of them overlapped other classes. Gendon Corkrill owned one inn; Sier Talgonn could afford to own a hundred of them or more.
By written law, Gendon was more important than for example a Guilded person would be. Being Guilded was a class of it’s own, but at the same time Apprentices and Journeymen were considered Low Merchants. Some Masters would also be Low Merchants while others would be High Merchants. My grandfather as head of the Searcher's Guild, would be considered to be the equivalent of a lower ranked noble.
Acurn Telandar, who was the head of the Telandar family, though a High Merchant, as Chancellor was in fact considered the equivalent of one of the six hereditary Dukes. He would maintain that status when he retired. Over the last two hundred years, members of the Telandar family had been Chancellor for one hundred and nineteen. At the same time, they held many lesser posts within the government. That’s why they were so important and in fact were second in significance only to the Royal Family.
When Mistress Elgann came back into the room fifteen minutes later, both Sier Talgonn and I stood up in politeness. He took her hand and they sat down, as did I.
She said earnestly, “I've spoken with the boys and their tutor. They told me that despite the fact that they felt they were being treated unfairly, they still like their tutor. I think coming from an adult my opinion counted for more and he said he would try to treat them more fairly.”
“I told the children to tell me if he doesn’t change by the end of the week and I’ll get them another teacher.”
I nodded. While I didn’t want to get someone dismissed, at the same time, if he wasn’t doing his job properly, he deserved losing it. I was just glad she had given him a chance to mend his ways.
She took the opportunity over the next forty-five minutes of waiting time, to get my life story. While I didn’t like talking about myself, her evident interest put me at ease, and, for a change, I didn’t mind it very much.
When the clock struck ten, I thought I had given The Wraith enough time to go over the notes; I got the money from Sier Talgonn and returned to the library with the two Elves.
The Wraith was back in the shadows and when I set the pouch of gold on the desk, he said, “Impressive documents, Ari. Tell me, would you have been as meticulous, if you had found out about the secret passage and tunnel at the beginning?”
I nodded my head, saying seriously, “Of course. I assume you’re going to use them, but what if for some reason you can’t? What if between now and the time you decide to enter, the tunnel has a rock fall blocking it and you were unable to use it. Since I can only question the past and the present, I can’t know what will happen in the future.”
He said with amusement in his voice, “I hope it’s not urgent. With somebody this important, I don’t like to hurry. While your information will certainly shorten the time it takes, I have no intention of taking chances I don’t need to.”
I said gravely, “I don’t imagine there’s any extreme urgency. Sier Talgonn’s son Davan was killed six years ago. But at the same time, don’t take too long about it. Wyvel might decide that the time is right to kill another child.”
“And don’t think he stalks by night. He has killed during the dark, but most of the time, he seeks by day, because children of the age he hunts are more likely to be abroad during the light.”
“Like you, Ari, I don’t want him to take another victim. How recent was his last kill?” he asked.
I sighed and said, “Twenty-four days. But he’s killed five times in the last year. He’s having trouble controlling his urges, not that he really wants to. Sooner or later he’ll make a fatal mistake, but he may kill many more children before that happens.”
I could tell he was impressed by the seriousness of my words. As we left the room to him, I knew that Wyvel’s remaining lifespan could be measured in hours not days and there was a fierce gladness in my heart.
I was a bit troubled by what I had decided to do. I had decided to trust Ari’s notes completely and it felt right, but, at the same time, I was wary. I had never trusted anybody as much as I did this nine year old boy.
As far as I knew, he had never been wrong and unlike most people, I knew how he had gotten his Elven bodyguards. If an Elven Queen could trust his word, why should I doubt it? But at the same time I had never trusted anyone with my life before.
I found the tunnel easily and it was just as easy to get into it. The entrance had obviously been worked on to keep it in good shape. Wyvel’s work I would imagine. Then again, if you had an escape route, it was prudent to keep it in good working order, so someone else might have done it.
I moved along the tunnel quickly, the night sight that I had inherited from my Elven mother making it look like a dusky late afternoon. If I had been outdoors with the moon and stars, it would have appeared no darker than a dark cloudy day. The tunnel was floored with stone blocks and fortunately, there was no standing water, so I wouldn’t have to worry about changing my footgear. Wet sandals would leave tracks.
Finding the secret passage to Wyvel’s apartment was no trouble either and when I reached the end, the way into the house worked easily. The doorway moved with just a firm shove. Once inside the room, which turned out to be a study, I left the door open behind me as my escape route.
There were two doors in the room and according to Ari’s notes, one led to a sitting room and the other to a bedroom. There would be two doors aside from the one to the study. One, like the other study door, led to the sitting room. The other led onto a small cubbyhole leading off the bedroom. It was just big enough for a bed and a washstand and would normally be occupied by a servant. It should be empty since Wyvel no longer trusted any servants.
Putting my ear to the bedroom door, I could hear snoring coming from within the room. Reaching down I checked the hinge and found it to be well oiled. The door opened noiselessly as I let myself into the bedroom.
I checked the cubbyhole first and it was indeed empty, the bed in fact didn’t even have a mattress. I moved to stand above Wyvel and looked down upon the monster who had killed two dozen children. I found him very ordinary looking. A monster should look like a monster, but he simply seemed to be a handsome looking man in his mid to late thirties. Brown hair lightly streaked with gray and like many of his class, he wore a moustache and beard and the hair of those was unmarked by gray.
His nose was pleasant, neither significantly large, nor particularly small and his lips were almost invisible covered by his beard.
I took out the togan needle I had prepared earlier. The needle itself was so sharp that it entered the body almost painlessly and it went into his armpit without disturbing him. The hair would hide the tiny hole, unless someone was suspicious and looked very carefully.
Squeezing the pig’s bladder, I injected the losir into his system and within seconds, I heard the sound of his breathing change from sleep to unconscious as the sleeping drug did its work.
Taking hold of the bedpost I gave it a turn and the top came off, revealing his stash of orinis and two togan needles. Unscrewing the small glass bottle, I took the needle that had been filled with losir. One of his needles was made so it would contain exactly one dose. Two would be an overdose and would be fatal if it wasn’t treated immediately.
The capacity of the togan needle I had used for the losir was much larger than his orinis needles and would take four times the dose. He would be getting at least four times the safe dosage and not even immediate help would save his life.
Orinis wasn’t a physically addictive drug; all you needed was the strength of will to stay away from it. Obviously, Wyvel’s strength of will wasn’t very strong. He had needle tracks along his arm where he’d injected it into his veins. And two of them looked recent. It looked like he had gotten high twice today.
That’s probably how he had overdosed himself in the past. He hadn’t left sufficient time in between doses for the drug to be used up by his body. That would make things easier. People would just assume he’d taken a third dose before the second had time to wear off.
Choosing a place close to the two recent holes, I found a vein and injected the orinis into him. Then I sat down patiently to wait for the orinis to take affect. It didn’t take long before he began to convulse. It wasn’t very loud and I just watched him die with no pity in my heart, just deep satisfaction. This monster would never harm another child.
When the convulsions ceased, I got up and made sure he was no longer breathing and then I left him for the Dark Gatekeeper. As evil as he had been, I imagine he had earned quick passage into the Underworld.
As I mentioned, the Telandar’s were the Second Family in the Kingdom, any death among them, even of such a minor figure as Wyvel, was big news. I heard the rumors and then the reports in the inn, with a song in my heart, knowing no more victims would die at his hands. I had taken on the responsibility that was normally that of the Gods, yet I had no regrets. If they decided to punish me for what I had done, I would accept it happily.
I went to the funeral ceremony held for Davan and I could see that Sier and Mistress Talgonn showed some sadness. Yet it was dwarfed by the relief they felt as their son was sent on his way to Paradise. Neither of them exulted in the death of their son’s murderer, yet there was satisfaction that he had been punished.
The Elves and I were walking home from Davan’s funeral. I shouldn’t just speak of Derack and Turvar as the Elves. They follow me, most of the time without saying anything. So most of the time when I talk about me, I mean them as well. Although I didn’t expect to need them as guards, they were always alert, eyes constantly on the move, assessing possible threats.
We turned a corner onto Begas Way, the street that Corkrill Inn was on and it was just a couple of blocks further. Two boys were grinning down at Gerrit, the Wil brothers, Tenta and Hagan. Tenta was twisting Gerrit’s arm and he was whining with pain. I could see Kellen, the City Guard for this area and he was heading for the boys with the obvious intention of breaking it up.
Funerals, as you can imagine, don’t put me in a good mood. I was already upset and what I saw just kicked me over the edge. I gave a scream of outrage and I ran toward the three boys. Tenta, the younger of the brothers, was thirteen, five feet five inches tall and weighed twice what I did and his brother was a couple of inches bigger.
Hagan gave a grin and started moving toward me to intercept me expecting absolutely no problems. At the last second I sidestepped his reaching arms and as I went by him, I snapped a kick to the back of his leg. His leg buckled and he went down on one knee.
Tenta shoved Gerrit away from him and my brother went to his knees, stopping himself from landing on his face by reaching out with his hand. Tenta, with anger on his face, lurched forward toward me. He was probably expecting me to sidestep him as I had done to his older brother; instead, I went in under his outstretched hands and pumped a hard little fist to his groin.
He gave a shrill scream of protest and started to buckle over. Gathering my feet under me, I caught his left arm with my left hand and my right arm went around his thighs and I surged to my feet taking his weight on my shoulders. Taking a couple of forceful backward steps to build up momentum, I slammed him into the wall of the house behind me and heard the satisfying thump of his head banging into the stone.
Releasing him, I jumped forward and he slid down the wall to lie on the street. Hagan was on his feet by then but hadn’t learned his lesson. He came rushing toward me just as carelessly as he had done the first time.
He was probably expecting me to do the same thing I had done the first time, but he hadn’t counted on my speed. I easily avoided him and I snapped another kick to his leg, only this time it was to the side of the knee, on the leg that had just hit the ground. He screamed in pain and he wouldn’t be walking comfortably for the next few days, but I hadn’t hit the knee joint hard enough to break his leg or tear any tendons.
He began to go down a second time and taking careful aim, my elbow caught him in the base of the skull, He was limp by the time he hit the ground in a heap.
Spining around I saw Tenta starting to push himself to his feet. I took two long jumps and snap a hard little fist to the side of his jaw. I don’t know if he was out cold, but he certainly wasn’t able to protest as his arms collapsed under him and he went face first into the street surface.
Ignoring them then I turned to Gerrit who was back on his feet staring in awe at the two bullies on the ground and swinging his arm a little to shake away the pain. I asked with concern, “Are you all right?”
He had tracks of tears on his dirty face and tears were still falling gently. He nodded his head, gingerly feeling his arm. He hiccupped a couple of times before he said, in a shaky voice, “My arm still works, so I guess so.” He looked down at his knees that were scraped some but weren’t bleeding and then back at the two older boys, asking with wonder in his voice, “Where did you learn to fight like that?”
I shrugged my shoulders and patting him on the shoulder, I said, “I don’t know, it’s just something that I can do. I’m much stronger than I look and I’m way faster than anyone I’ve ever fought.”
I felt a presence and looking up I saw the Elves looking down at me with annoyance on their faces. Then they looked at each other and gave a grin and shook their heads, their faces relaxing.
Kellen had reached us by that time and he stood looking down at the Wil boys. He looked down at me and he said with a grin of amusement, “This isn’t the first time they’ve been involved in bullying someone. They were warned last time that they could end up with a severe whipping.”
He glanced back at them his grin widening, “You’ve already given them a severe whipping. Their father won’t be happy that someone your size beat them, so he’ll carve strips out of their hides. Unless you want to pursue it, I won’t take them before the magistrate.”
I looked at Gerrit. His face was lit up with a smile and he shook his head no. I said to Kellen, “I don’t think Gendon will either. You know where to find them, if he decides to pursue it.”
I put my arm around Gerrit’s bare shoulders and we headed for home. A few minutes later Gerrit was telling everyone what happened with great vigor, a huge smile on his face.
Derack tapped me on the shoulder and I looked up at him, expecting some scolding, but he was looking down at me with mostly approval on his face. But, “Next time think before you leap. You made a major mistake that could have gotten you killed if your enemy had been armed.”
I nodded ruefully, “I know. My yell gave them warning.”
He nodded, telling me, “If you’re aware of your error, you probably won’t repeat it. Your lessons start tomorrow.” and I gave a groan knowing exactly what he meant. They were going to teach me how to fight.
He smiled, saying, “You just took on two boys, both of them a foot and a half taller than you are and both weighing twice what you do. Yet, you beat them easily. I’m aware that they obviously don’t know how to fight, but still you have a talent for fighting and we Elves believe that you should exercise all of your talents to the utmost.”
We were gathered in the inn-yard one afternoon about two weeks later and yes, I was peeling perdans again as usual. The others were getting other foods ready for the cook. Glena was helping me with the perdans.
They were acting a bit strange, almost shy and one thing they are not, is shy. Finally Adran said to Glena, “We voted for you to ask him, but if you don’t, I will.”
Glena blushed and dumbfounded I asked, “What do you want to ask me?”
Glena said in a rush, “Like Adran said. We voted and we want you to find a wife for father. We think four years is long enough to mourn. We know he’s lonely, but he’s worried about what we’ll think.”
She looked with affection at Daisel and caressed his head and she said more calmly, “Adran and I were talking about father’s birthday and trying to think of what to get him. Daisel asked why didn’t we get him a wife for his birthday.”
She grinned, saying with amusement, “We tried to tell him that getting a wife wasn’t quite that easy and he said that you could find one. We got together and voted to ask you.”
Her grin became a smile and she ruffled my hair, before continuing, “We could have included you in the discussion, but I didn’t think you were ready to talk about something like that. We think of you as our brother but you don’t, not quite. You’ve become a member of our family, but you’re a little uneasy and haven’t been able to make the final commitment.”
Her face went solemn, as she said soberly, “If you had been included in this discussion, or these talks you might have said no. A mother would be new to all of us and you’d feel easier and more a part of the family.”
I felt a tightness in my chest as I said, hesitantly, “It’s not that I don’t feel I’m part of your family. It’s just that I’m not sure how to be a brother. You have each other and your mother’s family and you know what having relatives is like. Because my family didn’t want me, I never even knew my cousins.”
Suddenly, as the tears began to well up in my eyes, the tightness left me and I just let them fall down my cheeks, unashamed. For the first time I thought about how much they cared for me and I for them and I knew they had truly become my brothers and sisters.
And, like the real brothers and sisters they had become, they let me recover from the emotional moment I had gone through. Daisel, who had a hard time keeping his mouth shut, began to sing – his second favorite thing to do after talking. He wasn’t an exceptional singer, but he wasn’t bad for a five year old and he could carry a tune. Soon all of them were singing and I left them to it just enjoying it, since any frog can sing better than I.
I just let the familiar songs wash over me and after a time the intense emotions subsided, but not completely. Never completely, not now; there would always be a feeling of joy when I thought about any of them and I was content for that to be true.
Finally, when we began carrying the prepared food into the inn, Glena asked, “Will you do it?”
I nodded, telling her soberly, “I’ll try. But you have to realize that a wife for him may not be out there, or may be so far away, that we would have no way of contacting her.”
After we put the perdans on one of the kitchen benches, she took my arm and gave a squeeze, saying, “I know. I told the others that as well and I think most of them understand. Daisel, as usual, was talking instead of listening, so I don’t know what he thinks.”
I waited for the morning to invoke my talent, but I did it early, lying in bed with my hands behind my head, Gerrit breathing easily next to me.
Invoking my talent, I began asking questions, and, a bit to my surprise, I found the one who could be Gendon’s wife. It was in a village called Spinwater and it was twenty miles from the capital. It was the village Gendon had been born in and he once knew Marta very well, though they hadn’t seen each other since they were ten.
Gendon had been raised in the village by his grandfather after an illness had gone through the village, claiming his parents and his two older sisters.
Ortone Corkrill had owned Corkrill Inn. Childless and getting old, he wanted an heir. He proposed to take the then ten year old Gendon and raise him and the boy would inherit the inn when he died. Gendon’s grandfather Mayon, while sad to see the boy leave, at the same time knew it was the best thing for him. Both because of the opportunity it would give Gendon and because he was old. While hale and hearty, he was beginning to show his age and at seventy years didn’t have many more years left to him.
Gendon had been reluctant, but had no real choice, the adults having decided his fate between them. He missed the simple life of the village, but even more, he had missed Marta. Despite the difference in gender, they had been inseparable their whole lives until that point.
The separation had been a heartrending experience for both of them, but eventually they had both gotten over it, as time healed the wounds, as it must if people are to go on with their lives.
They had both moved on, both marrying the ones they loved and both had lost their spouses; Marta’s husband had died almost ten years before. She grieved for him and had always regretted that she and her husband had never had children.
Gendon’s wife had died in childbirth four years before and the baby, a girl who would have been their sixth child, had also died.
After getting up, I spent a half hour exercising and another hour in lessons from the Elves. They were focusing on hand to hand combat for now. They felt that you should be able to protect yourself with your bare hands before you started to learn how to use weapons.
I took a quick bath and dressed in the shirt and breeches Wellan had given me. After telling Gendon that I’d be gone for a couple of days, I went to see Wellan. I knew that she’d be delighted to help and could provide a carriage to get us to Spinwater.
Only in that one way was I different in Gendon’s eyes from his other children. He knew that my talent would lead me places that his other children wouldn’t need to go.
Wellan asked with interest, “What can I do for you, Ari? You’ve got a brightness in your eyes that tells me you’re plotting some mischief.”
It didn’t take very long to tell the tale, and, as I expected, she was delighted. She scooped me up in her arms and began dancing around the room, much to my surprise.
And of course, wouldn’t you know it, she kissed me before setting me on the sofa and saying happily, “I’ve always wanted to be a matchmaker, Ari.”
Grumbling a little about the kiss, I jumped down to the floor. I could see my bodyguards grinning in amusement. I really wished they worked for me instead of just guarding me; they wouldn’t dare to laugh at me then.
Wellan decided to take the twins with us. It took a couple of hours to get organized, what with carriage, horses and guard detail, but finally we were headed out of the city. Four of us were in the carriage aside from the driver, Tannyl and Tarbel the twins, Derack and I, while Turvar and Wellan were riding, with the eleven guards. A Count’s wife and children don’t travel lightly.
I had only been on a horse a few times at the inn when a rider taking his horse into the stable had put me up on the horse's back. Tannyl and Tarbel had their own ponies, but they weren’t used to long rides.
We didn’t push the pace, there was no urgency. Us three kids had sore bottoms when we reached Spinwater, but it wasn’t too bad. I knew it would have been much worse if we had ridden horses.
The village was too small to have an inn though it had a small tavern, so we set up camp in a copse of trees outside it, next to a stream. We set up the tents we had brought. The rainy season was well over, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t get a cloudburst.
The guards set up cooking fires and several small fires to burn magwan; a pleasant smelling herb that keeps biting insects away. Two of the soldiers began getting ready to cook supper with the enthusiastic help of Tarbel and Tannyn who had never been camping before. They had told me during our journey that when they made the trip to their father’s County, they always stayed at an inn for the night.
Only Wellan and I and of course my bodyguards, went to see Marta Cursome. She lived in the largest of the village houses, the only one that had two stories. Her husband had been the wealthiest man in the village and had left her well off, as the house indicated.
I knocked on the door and in a few minutes it was opened by a pleasant faced woman who looked to be somewhere in her late twenties or early thirties. She was the same age as Gendon, so I knew she was thirty-five. She was a little taller than Wellan at about five feet five inches tall. If she had any gray in her hair, it was hidden by her hair which was blond like mine. Her eyes were a bright blue and went with the hair.
She wasn’t a pretty woman, her hawk shaped nose ruled that out, but she was handsome in a pleasant looking way. And her pale lips, untouched by makeup, were made for smiles. As I was to find out, while she could be serious, she found life fun.
She wasn’t slender like Wellan. I had heard women who had a figure like hers being described as pleasingly plump. Like Wellan, she was dressed in pantaloons and blouse and sandals, though the cloth of hers wasn’t silk, and, like the loincloth I normally wore, the base color was green.
She looked at me but as an adult, she addressed Wellan and perceptively she got the proper response right the first time, “May I help you, My Lady?”
Looking up at Wellan I saw her smile as she said, “Actually I’m just accompanying Ari. He calls himself a Seeker. His magical talent is like that of a Searcher, but much more powerful. He’s looking for a wife for his father and a mother for himself and his siblings.”
Marta looked astonished and asked, “Why would he ever think I would consider someone I don’t know?”
I rushed it out with a grin, “He’s my foster father and his children decided it was time he got married again. Glena and Adran can remember their mother but the three boys are five, seven and eight and really don’t recall the time when their mother was alive.” I admitted, “My mother died when I was six and I can’t really remember much about her either.”
I told her, “His name is Gendon Corkrill and you know him very well, though you haven’t seen him for twenty-five years.” and I saw the startled look in on her face and then her eyes took on an faraway look as she remembered the past. A big grin appeared on her face as she thought about past scrapes she and Gendon had gotten into.
She came back to the present and said briskly, “Well, I don’t know if I want to get remarried, but the idea is intriguing. Why don’t the boy and you and your bodyguards come in, My Lady?”
Wellan gave a grin, saying, “Actually they’re Ari’s. He earned them by doing a service for the Elven Queen of Sentoria. My own guards are with my children at our camp. They’re happy to admit that I’m safe with his bodyguards, or a couple of them would have come with us.”
Marta looked startled, but she recovered quickly as she showed the four of us into the sitting room. When Wellan and I were seated and she understood that the Elves intended to stay on their feet, she came directly to the point. “While I would like to see Gendon, I don’t know if I want to marry him.”
I said peacefully, “That’s a start, Mistress and I didn’t expect anything more. Corkrill Inn is a high class inn.” and looking around, “and I know you can afford it. That’ll allow you to get reacquainted with Gendon and to get acquainted with us kids.”
She looked doubtful, but when we went back to the city the next morning, she was with us. Wellan would never chose her friends based on class and I wasn’t surprised when they became firm friends.
It wasn’t love at first sight when Marta and Gendon met for the first time as adults, but the liking they had for each other in the past came to the fore. They were comfortable with each other right from the beginning.
All of us kids liked her right from the start, and, as she became comfortable with him, she became comfortable with us. But she was hesitant about making that final commitment and her intended stay became longer and longer. After a time she moved into the apartment on the third floor with us, but she was still not willing to share his bed and slept in Glena and Adran’s room.
When we got back to the Count’s estate, I asked to see him. Like Wellan he had become a friend and my request was quickly granted.
I met him in his office and once we entered, he sat back down in his chair and asked, “So Ari, How can I help you?”
I hated lying and what I had to say was on the verge of just that, at least I felt it was and I couldn’t look him the eye. Instead, I stared at the ceiling. I coughed and then in a very formal voice, I said, “It has come to my attention that outsiders are aware of the secret tunnel leading into the Telandar estate and the house. They should be warned before someone takes advantage of the situation.”
I was calmer now and I looked at him, before I continued, “As head of the King’s spy network, I thought you would be the best one to tell him about it.”
His eyes had gone cold and his face hard and he said, “You know too much, Ari!”
While I was uncomfortable, I wasn’t really frightened as I said softly, “What I know will stay with me. I FOUND a spell, which even a non-Mage can use. My mind has been locked against intruders. Aside from a God, no one will ever get anything out of me that I don’t give willingly.”
“Drugs won’t work, torture won’t work and even mind-readers won’t work.” and as he started to speak, I interrupted him, shaking my head, “I could give you the spell, but it would be useless to those who work for you. While my talent does not work in the same way that a Mage’s would, it requires a power that is equal to that of an Adept. An Adept Mage would have long since developed defenses that would be equal or superior to mine.”
“The spell was designed by it’s inventor, in such a way that if ever the barrier is breached, it will collapse taking my life force with it.” With a nod he accepted my statement and his face relaxed.
Despite what had happened, I never thought King Aglan would require my services. I was therefore both surprised and intrigued when I was summoned, not directly, but in secret through Count Fharson. The Count smuggled us into the Palace in a closed carriage and via a courtyard used by the Royal Family, into the King’s private rooms.
And how, may you ask, did I get armed bodyguards into the King’s quarters. Well the commander of the guard knew of my presence and had objected to allowing my bodyguards to keep their weapons. If it had been an audience chamber or the throne room, they wouldn’t have been allowed to keep their weapons without a written decree from the King. That was an ancient law that not even the King could flout. In his quarters, however, he could choose to allow even dangerous objects and he chose to trust me and my guards.
I wasn’t overwhelmed by the experience; after all almost the same thing had happened when I had seen the Elven Queen. At least the Count had asked me, though I don’t really think saying no was an option.
King Aglan was an impressive man in his mid-fifties and though he was probably a little over six feet tall, he seemed much shorter. He was renowned for his extraordinary strength and gave an impression of being almost twice as wide as an ordinary man. He wasn't really, but his shoulders were much wider than anyone else’s I had ever seen.
Like many male members of the Royal Family, he had been an army officer in his youth and was clean shaven. Also, like many of them, his head was shaved and that made the bushy brown eyebrows look strange on that otherwise hairless head.
His eyes were a deep gray and they clearly showed his emotions for all to see. Since he couldn’t hide what he felt, he had turned it into an asset. His face was highly mobile and the very range of the emotions that it showed, could confuse almost as much as an expressionless mask would have done.
His nose was distinguished and prominent, but not huge. His lips were very thick and deep red in color, so deep many women use makeup to match. His chin was firm and all together it was a face that had aged well, showing the power he had wielded for over twenty years as King.
It said that if you were wise, you wouldn’t take liberties with this man, you needed to respect him, or you could be in deep trouble. His clothing, while rich, wasn’t elaborate and the combined greens and blues, which stated his class, were muted in color.
I was glad I was wearing my shirt and breeches instead of my loincloth, as the King looked me up and down carefully and I felt the heat rise in my face, under that considered gaze. Apparently he liked what he saw, for he nodded in approval.
He said, in a deep voice that went with his deep barrel chest, “I’ve discussed you with Onlae.” and I felt somewhat apprehensive, but relaxed as he continued, “That’s not unusual, he’s my spymaster, but at the same time he’s my closest friend and I’m comfortable talking with him. A King needs someone he can confide in. Someone he can trust completely. Every week we set aside two or three hours where we simply talk and we discuss everything.
He made a gesture, saying, “Whether we’re happy or unhappy, if we’re puzzled about something, the things our children do, hilarious or sad. Affairs of state, whether momentous or trivial. You’ve come up on several occasions. He likes you and he trusts your honor, but, at the same time, he’s worried about your ability. He feels that you can know too much.
He nodded decisively, saying, “I agree and while it’s not why I summoned you, since you’re here, I’m going to do something about that.” I was apprehensive again, but at the same time curious, for I felt no menace coming from him.
King Aglan explained, “Onlae told me about the barrier you put up around your mind. That tells me much about you, even if I didn’t know anything else. Your honor forces you to protect the information that you gather.”
He picked up a piece of parchment from his desk, telling me, gravely, “This makes you responsible to me. From now on you have the title of Royal Seeker and you answer to Onlae and through him, to me.” He waved his hand in the air, continuing, “oh not things like finding someone’s son, or a jewel.” he grinned at the Count, “or finding someone a husband or a wife, as important as such events are to the people involved.”
His face became stern and he said severely, “Things that can affect the country must go through Onlae and I.” And he said a second much sharper, “Must!!!”
As with the summons I didn’t really think no was an option. I MUST accept his authority, but I could do so only under my terms. If I couldn’t get it in that way then even though no wasn’t an option I would say no anyway regardless of the cost.
I began slowly and cautiously, “Um. Ah, I MUST,” repeating the word he had used, “Must have the power to go with the title even though I’m just a kid.” I decided to be completely honest. “On two occasions I employed an assassin, to deal with situations that could be settled in no other way.” I saw a surprised look on the King’s face but not on the Count’s. Thinking it through I continued, saying slowly, “If I have the power, then I wouldn’t have needed to use an assassin on the first occasion.”
Taking a deep breath and looking the King in the eye, I said firmly, “However the second time, if I had to do it all over again, I might do exactly the same thing. The first time a man would have gotten away with murder, because I wouldn’t have been believed. The second time even if I have power, because of the situation I might do exactly the same thing.” My feeling is that it was better for all that Wyvel had died the way he had. That way no evil could strike any of the participants.
The King pursed his lips and I shivered as I realized that his eyes were showing approval. He nodded and said quietly, “I’m a little surprised that you have the insight and the ruthlessness to do what you have done, at your age. That’s the one secret that Onlae keeps from me. He’s never told me he’s used assassins. However I held the same position for five years under my father and I know assassination is part of a spymaster’s stock in trade.”
He waved the parchment; “I would never saddle someone with responsibility and not give them the power to carry it out. This doesn’t give you absolute power, but it states that any Provost Marshall or King’s officer in Galan, MUST,” and he grinned, “Must look into anything you bring to them and it puts my authority squarely behind you.”
I nodded, impressed and gladdened. I said with relief, “I’ll be glad to accept the responsibility, Your Majesty and I’m not the last Seeker. They’re born all the time, but their talent is rarely as powerful as mine. With most of them their talent is such that it’s bound by the training that the Searcher’s Guild puts them through. It’s probably just as well, if not bound so strongly by the type of honor I possess,” aware that I was unusual, “they could cause much harm with their talents.”
The King told me, “It’s a well paid position, probably at your age you don’t care very much, but it’s the same status and pay that the Provost Marshall of Galdar gets.”
While he was right that I didn’t really care that much, at the same time I knew that I had just attained rank equal to my grandfather, and, just as important, I brought my family with me. The Provost Marshall of Galdar was considered to be first in the country and all of the provincial Provost Marshal’s answered to him. His status and now mine, was equal to that of a minor noble.
I wouldn’t turn ten years old for another two weeks and I had many years in which to advance in rank. I took pleasure in the fact that I was now equal to my grandfather and even more pleasure in knowing that I would someday be much more. I didn’t hate him, but I didn’t like him either and I knew he would be outraged and I wondered if it would give him a stroke or a heart attack. He was a petty, vindictive man, who thought he had destroyed my chances to advance in life, or even become Guilded.
Then and there in his study I oathed to the King, with Count Fharson and my two bodyguards as witnesses. The oath was an old one and seldom used anymore, but it was still valid. For the time being, Aglan didn’t want people to know about my new position, so only those present would be aware of it.
We were sitting, my bodyguards of course standing. The King nodded to the Count and he began, “We’ve been getting reports coming from the north. There are indications that Prince Callan is back in the country and stirring up rebellion.”
The King said in a unhappy manner, “While Callan and I had a hard time getting along, things came to a head, when I decided to marry for a second time. He disapproved to such an extent that he left the country and I haven’t seen him since.”
He shook his head, saying, “Despite his disapproval of the marriage, he had a straight forward personality and I can’t see him coming back into the country to kindle rebellion. With your help perhaps we can find out if it’s really Callan, and, if it is, why he’s doing it.”
It was a worthy question and probably why he had me smuggled into the Palace and not simply demanded my presence. The first thing any rebel should do was to get spies into the capital. I invoked my talent, looking within the King to find the connections I needed.
After a few minutes, I began telling him what I had found, my questions evoking actual images in my mind. “Your two younger children, a ten year old boy and a nine year old girl, are in the Palace library. Their tutor gave them the task of writing an essay on the Playtun Civil War and they’re reading up on it.”
“Your thirteen year old son is in the training ring, getting instructions from the weapon’s master. He’s been showing off since the lesson began and his teacher is tired of it.” I winced and said, “That musta hurt! He ended up on his backside and he’s going to have some colorful bruises, but he no longer feels like showing off.” and I heard both the King and the Count give murmurs of laughter, echoed by mine.
I said more seriously, “Your heir, Prince Andrell, is having breakfast with his wife and three children. They’re at an army camp about one hundred miles west of the capital. He and his wife are discussing the war games that occurred yesterday. He divided the regiment up, two battalions on two, setting one side to defend and one side to attack. He’s not happy with either side and he’s showing it and his children are minding their manners.”
I gave a grin, saying, “Unfortunately for them, his men have his full attention and they’re going to hate the Prince by the time the day ends, even if it ends in a couple of days.”
The Count said seriously, “He’s a good general. That regiment is the center of his division. They were in the border war we had with Tillen six months ago and the real reason the war only lasted a month and not a lot longer. But they lost a lot of men and Andrell senses an urgency and wants that regiment back up its normal standards before we wind up in another war, another much longer war.”
I gave a nod, continuing to let my mind wander. I hesitated, at first, not certain what I had found, but then I knew what it was. I said, “To the north, in your first wife’s County. The remains of your first born son. He was only few weeks old when he died. His body was cremated and placed in a burial urn as your wife’s people do. All things have an essence that is part of them. When living things die, they lose some of that essence. They lose more when they turn to dust in a grave or if they’re cremated.”
I explained, “If they’ve been cremated and the ashes scattered to the wind as our religion says we should, then there are only small fragments of bone left and that essence disappears almost completely.”
I hesitated for a moment, then said, “Prince Callan’s essence is almost undetectable, not with death, but distance. He’s not in Galan, he’s not even on this continent, but in Adanal.” and I heard a sigh of relief come from the King.
I turned my attention to the north and the center of the rebellion. Magic was being used to hide some of the information I needed. The main barrier was only a barrier, unthinking, unfeeling and it wasn’t perfect. I could see gaps in it. If I pushed hard, I felt it would allow me through, but the gaps were showing me a second barrier. This barrier was almost aware if you could call a thing made of magic aware. It would inform its masters and creators of my presence, if I were rash enough to encounter it.
But perhaps it wasn’t needed, at least for now. They weren’t practiced at what they were doing. In Sentoria they had begun to hide their conspiracy as soon as it began. The conspirators here had barriered the north but they hadn’t barriered the south and they couldn’t barrier the past. I got information to tell the King and Count what was happening and who the imposter was working for.
I opened my eyes. I said, “There’s a magical barrier to the north. I think I could penetrate it I had to. But that may not be wise, since it would reveal my existence. They placed a barrier to the north but not the south and that’s where the rebellion started.”
I told them, “King Findar sent an imposter into the north to stir up the clans. Your sons inherited the titles that normally go with their royal position. Your heir inherited the title Prince of the South when he was sixteen and it’s largely an honorary title. Callan as your second son inherited the title of Prince of the North.”
I shook my head, saying, “While many people regard it as a honorary title as well, it is much more, at least in the eyes of the clans. Three hundred years ago when the last of the Princes of the North died, he had no heirs but he had daughters. Through your wife, Prince Callan is the direct descendant of that Prince.”
“When he went north and was invested with the title the clans swore allegiance to him and he of course swore allegiance to you.”
My mouth was getting a little dry, so opening my eyes I pointed at the jug of water Aglan nodded permission,I got up going over to the King’s desk, I poured some water into a glass. After drinking it, holding the glass in my hands, I stood facing them and grinned with amusement, saying, “I certainly don’t have to tell you about our country or the clans, or our enemies, Sire. If you don’t mind I’ll tell you what I’ve found out, because I need to go through it so that it makes complete sense to me.”
He nodded and said with a grin of his own, “It won’t be the first time I’ve listened to things I already know, little one. It happens all the time in Council sessions.”
I nodded, saying, “Three of the clans don’t accept it. Their leaders say that they want a return to the time when the Prince of the North ruled them.” I added with disgust, “They’re lying, they want no such thing. They have no feelings for those that they lead. They simply want power and if they have to start a civil war to get it, they will do so with absolutely no hesitation.”
I took another drink of water, before continuing, “Findar wasn’t aware of their hostility to Galan, but he sent in a man named Siedel Karough, one of his nobles. The man doesn’t like what he’s doing, but he’s loyal to his King and will do what he’s told to the best of his ability.”
I said seriously, “Of course, as you would expect, he looks much like Prince Callan looks today and he was extremely lucky, which is unfortunate for us. He managed to contact one of the disloyal clan leaders. As he’s using them, they’re now using him, because both of them are after the same thing. A civil war that would devastate our country.”
I told them with irritation, “Seidel thinks it would benefit his King and the clan leaders think it will benefit them. Part of the information I got from the south, the other from the past before the shamen of the disloyal clans set up the magical barrier.”
Both the King and the Count looked angry and depressed and I could hardly blame them. Half of the regular army was made up of men from the clans. Would they keep to their oath, or would they desert in droves?
My next words gave them some hope, “Both of them think your son is dead and on the summer solstice at their annual clan Gathering, their false Prince intends to order them to rebel. If we can get Prince Callan there in time, we can stop him.”
I admitted, “It might not be easy. He’s married and when his father-and-law died in battle, he became military leader of the Amandara. They’re in a trap and he’s sworn an oath to get them free or to die with them. As you are aware, he tends to be inflexible and that rigidity would not allow him to abandon them for any reason, not even to protect our people.”
I explained, “The Amandara he’s with, are the last enclave of their people. Once they ruled all of what is now called Adanal, but when the Adana came into their country, they peacefully gave up the throne and the rulership of the country. The Adana served them well for eight hundred years.”
I said with disgust, wrinkling my nose, “Two hundred years ago the Amandara had dozens of enclaves within Adanal. When the fourth Adana dynasty came into power, there was a drought that had persisted for two years. The Amandaran’s have always been superior farmers and they were experts at conserving and using the water they had to its best advantage. The Royal Family used that to keep them in power. They blamed the drought on the Amandara saying that they were using magic to steal water from the Adana.”
I gave a grin then, not of humor but at the shortcomings of humanity. I stated, “Hungry people tend to put the blame on those who still have food anyway and they began to hate and fear the Amandarans. After two hundred years of persecution, the Amandarans only have one enclave left, though it was always the largest. A County in the southern part of the country which included a small port city called Urdane.”
I shook my head again, saying, “The rulers of Adanal left them alone for the past twenty years, not pushing the persecution. They wanted the enclave to remain. The people by this time are so frightened of the Amandara that their very existence was enough.”
I told them forcefully, “The rulers know that the people of Adanal aren’t aware that it’s the last enclave. Six months ago they decided that the Amandara’s absence would be just as effective as their presence and they sent the army into the enclave to destroy it. The Amandara knew that they could gain nothing by fighting outside the port city, so they withdrew into Urdane.”
“Adanal laid siege to the city and at first tried to overwhelm it by sheer numbers. Four thousand of the remaining Amandara died, but the Adanal army lost four times that number. Now they’re simply sitting back intending to starve the Amandara out.”
I shook my head, my sympathy with the Amandarans. They didn’t deserve what was happening to them. But then again the people of Adanal didn’t either. It was just a few evil people who would hold onto their power with all of their being, uncaring what it did to their people.
The King looked thoughtful, saying, “You said Urdane was a port. Can they escape by sea?”
I shook my head, saying, “No. The Adana have a large navy. They’ve always needed one to deal with pirates. They’ve increased the size of the navy by a dozen galleys over the last twenty years just to deal with increased pirate raids. They now have four dozen large war galleys and one dozen of them are being used to blockade the port.”
I explained, “They’re based in a port city one hundred miles to the north and six are always on patrol just outside the city. At the beginning, there weren’t even enough ships to take all of the Amandara. Since they couldn’t transport all of their people, they had no need of the ships and they intended to let the merchants leave.”
I told them regretfully, “When the merchant ships tried to leave the port, two of the ships were rammed and sunk by the galleys. The others scurried back into port and now they’re just as trapped as the Amandara. With the loss of four thousand of the Amandara, there are now enough ships for all of them. But the galleys make them impossible to use. Even a couple of them could sink all of the much more fragile merchant ships.”
King Aglan looked at the Count, asking, “Is there any way to help Callan and the Amandara?”
I finished the last of the water and put the glass back on the desk and sat down while the Count thought it over. Then he shook his head, saying gloomily, “I don’t see how, Sire. We certainly don’t have the troops to send, even if we could spare them with a possible war looming. The Adana lost sixteen thousand men assaulting Urdane, yet they can still maintain a siege force.”
He thought for a few more minutes and then shook his head again, telling us, “We only maintain four dozen galleys of our own and that’s to counteract Findar’s navy. We could perhaps spare a dozen of them for a time. If the Adana have Clairvoyants watching the sea off their coast as we do, they would probably ignore the pirates for a time and mass their galleys and we’d have to turn back.”
The King sighed with regret, saying, “That’s my thought exactly. Like you, I don’t see any way of helping them.”
I had been thinking about it as well and I said, “I’m a magic user Your Majesty and I tend to think about magic as a possible solution to problems, whereas people who don’t have magic tend not to think about using it. If we can’t use troops or galleys, can magic help?”
They thought about it and they started to answer at the same time and stopped and the King nodded at the Count, who said, “If we could get Mages, their problem becomes time. A galley can’t become becalmed, but at the same time, the rowers don’t have the stamina to row all of the time. To travel three thousand miles in a galley would take four to six weeks.”
“To sail the whole distance with the possibility of being becalmed, could take six weeks or could take three times that. And that doesn’t even consider the time that may need to be spent in Urdane itself. That makes getting Callan to the clan gathering by the summer solstice, very hard and possibly impossible.”
The silence was heavy after that, all of thinking sad thoughts. But then Derack cleared his throat and said, “If I may, Your Majesty.” as we all looked at him in surprise. Bodyguards were normally seen and never heard.
The King, getting over his astonishment, said, “Go ahead.” He grinned but it was a tired grin, “Right now we might even take a suggestion from a Dark God.”
Derack nodded and he smiled, saying, “Elves have much more magic than other races. While those at the top of the magic chain are no more powerful than the other races produce, we have more of them. At the bottom level, our inherent magic is several times higher than other races. That’s why we live two hundred to two hundred and fifty years. That means there is much more magic available for certain things than the other races can produce.”
He said soberly, “Any Mage of sufficient power can produce a Travel Gate, but even one created by the most powerful Mage is limited to a few hundred miles. It’s one way and only lasts for a few minutes. Elves on the other hand use Travel Gates much more extensively than any other race. A Mage simply uses the inherent magic of our race to power the spell that creates the Gate. When thousands of us are powering it, it can even be made permanent.”
He paused for a moment to let us digest that information before continuing, “It’s possible to power a two way Gate from one location, which is how the Gate here in Galdar is powered. The Gate here is at the edge of distance where we can power paired Gates.”
“Paired Gates become impossible to operate at any greater distance. However we routinely use one way Gates for much further distances.” He said with a grin, “Of course that means we have to walk back.” and then he said with straight lipped humor, “Or as in this case, swim back.”
I could see Turvar’s lips twitch with a suppressed smile and I didn’t try to hide mine and looking over at the King and the Count they didn’t try to hide theirs either. Derack continued, “With the power of our people backing the Gate, we even send shipments to Adanal. However even with that type of power, the distance is such that the Gate only lasts for a few minutes. Time enough to send two or three wagon loads of goods and a little to spare.”
The King said dryly, “We’re aware of the Gates, but what makes you think your Queen would allow it? She never allows others to use them, except on occasion to exchange ambassadors.”
Derack gave a grin, saying with amusement, “We are primarily a merchant race, why should we support rivals?” Then he nodded at me, “Our people owe Ari a favor, in fact many of them. This would be a small thing to help redress a little of the balance that we owe him.”
His face became cold then and Elves do it better than any other race and I shivered, as he said frostily, “Besides, we’re well aware of Findar’s ambitions. It would not be prudent to allow him the chance to successfully invade the country on our southern border.”
The King was quiet for several minutes and I could see that he was thinking deeply. After a few minutes he looked at me and said, “I know the main difference between you and a Searcher, Ari, is that you can see the intangible. Can you go a step further can you see the nebulous, the elusive.”
I was puzzled and asked, “How do you mean, Sire? I’m not sure exactly what you want.”
He said slowly, “Can you ask a vague question. Can you ask, ‘Is there magic out there that will help solve this problem?’”
I thought hard about that and almost sub-consciously, I brought my legs up under me, so that I was sitting crosslegged on my chair. I went deeper and deeper into my thoughts until for the first time in my life I knew I was in a trance. Invoking my ability, I asked his question and I got an answer. Yes, there was magic that could resolve this problem, located in the Great Library and I knew exactly where to find it.
I eased myself back out of my trance state and I spiraled back to full consciousness. Opening my eyes I said softly to the King, “My talent is telling me there is a magical way to resolve the problem and it’s in the Great Library.”
“Through a friend who’s a Priest of Canndar, the God of Wisdom, I have access to some of the Library, but he won’t let me into other parts of it.” I gave a giggle, saying, “For instance he won’t let me see any of the sex books.” and becoming more serious, “Nor any of the medical or magical books. And of course none of the precious books.”
“I need your written permission to go into forbidden sections.” I giggled again, “We can even do it secretly. My friend is Escalan, the High Priest and the other Priests are accustomed to seeing me and my bodyguards inside the Library.”
The Count showed no surprise, although the King did, but then again I don’t think there was much that surprised Onlae. I doubted that there was much about me that he didn’t know. The King went to his desk and wrote out the permission I needed and using a candle, he placed a blob of wax on the bottom and impressed his seal to the document.
We were smuggled back out of the Palace the same way we had gotten in and from the Count’s estate I went directly to the Great Library, which aside from being a library and university, was the chief Temple of the God of Wisdom.
If you didn’t know who he was, Escalan didn’t look very important, nor did he appear imposing. He was chubby man in his early forties, barely a couple inches over five feet. He was almost bald, but, unlike the King, it was natural and he still had a fringe of red hair left. Most of the time his eyes were almost closed and he normally appeared to have a sleepy look on his face. When he opened his eyelids wide, he could skewer you with his dark blue piercing eyes and overwhelming intelligence.
He wore the robe of a simple Priest most of the time, but when he dressed in full vestments and let his personality roam free, you forgot his height, forgot everything except that he was an overpowering presence.
He looked at the note from the King and asked dryly, “How did you get involved in affairs of state, Ari?”
I shrugged and making sure that there were no other Priests within hearing distance, said matter-of-factly, “The King had questions he needed answers to and I could give him the answers, or at least some of the answers. One of the questions led me here.” I grinned at him, saying, “I won’t need to see the sex books, but I do need to see the magic books.”
He asked, “Do you know what you’re looking for?”
I nodded and said, “Not exactly what it is, but I do know the exact location of the book I need.”
“Then lead the way.” He told me and he motioned me out the door of his office. I hadn’t seen him for a week and I asked him how his daughter was. She was eight and had fallen out of a tree the day of my last visit.
Escalon said blandly, “Contemplating a life of enforced leisure from her bedroom. She’s deeply disgusted that she's bedridden, for the next two or three weeks according to the Healer. My wife and I on the other hand are contemplating a heaven sent opportunity for some peace and quiet. She gets into more mischief than my other three children combined.”
I giggled. Having met Endira, I could see his point of view. I was only nine and she had tired me out with her antics and I had been glad to get away from the pure chaos that she could cause.
We reached the entrance to the stacks of the Library and he let me take the lead. As we went deeper and deeper into the shelving, it got darker and darker. It was never completely dark, the clear windows in the dome giving plenty of light and even here there were reading rooms with lanterns. They were spelled to prevent them from breaking and starting a fire.
My destination was just off of one such reading room. I heard Escalon start to say something, but I was too intent on my destination to pay much attention. The bookcase that had the book I wanted, towered far above my head, but I didn’t need one of the ladders since it was on the third shelf. With triumph, I pulled the slender volume off of the shelf and turned to look at Escalon.
He had a worried look on his face as he shook his head, “It won’t help you, Ari. It’s a book of the Ancients. It’s a dead language and unlike some dead languages, it’s truly dead, since there is no one alive who can read it.”
With a sagging heart, I opened the book and I could see what he meant. The book wasn’t even in our alphabet. Yet, my talent had directed me here. I invoked it and found it was still directing me here.
I said, hesitantly, “My talent is still telling me this book is the solution.”
He nodded, thinking, then said decisively, “Bring it with you!! We may as well make ourselves comfortable.” We went out to the reading room and sat in the two comfortable armchairs.
After we were seated, he asked, “How exactly does your talent work, Ari?”
I thought about his question and then I came up with a way to explain it, I said, “I’ll tell you what one of the Seekers in the beginning thought, at least its part of what he thought. It’s actually much more complex, but this will give you the basic idea. He felt that all thinking beings have what he referred to as a racial memory. All knowledge attained by any of those beings, is available to all.”
Waving my arm to indicate the Library we were in, I continued, “Like the Library. You limit access to certain things and people need permission to enter it. Most people are like the general Library room where you allow complete access to everyone there. Searchers have permission to go into added rooms, but there is still much they wouldn’t be allowed to see.”
I explained,“The more powerful their talent, the deeper into the stacks they can go. However, by their very training they bind their ability and how deep they can move. Seekers on the other hand aren’t bound by the same limits Searchers place on themselves. We can go much deeper, but at the same time, our talent limits us. The more powerful we are, the more of the Library we can see. Those of my caliber, like the Priests of your order who have access to everything in the Library, we have full access to that racial memory.”
“By using magic some of that information can be hidden even from us, preventing us from accessing it.” He nodded and he looked lost in thought.
He brought his hand up and began stroking his chin and his question seemed to be completely off the track. He asked, “Do you know how mind-speech works.”
I was startled by his seeming change in direction, but knowing how intelligent he was, I answered his question by a shake of my head and a quick, “No!!”
He said thoughtfully, “Mind-speech doesn’t seem to have a language. Those of us who have the ability, seem to hear the words in the language that we know and if someone speaks another language, they hear it in their own language. While it’s a useful ability, most of the population doesn’t have it.”
He folded is hands under his chin, saying, “When it’s necessary for a Mage who has that talent, to actually speak the other language, they can use a spell to acquire the ability. They take it directly out of a mind-speaker’s memory. It’s a far superior way to learn a language. You know the language as only a person brought up in that language normally can ever know it.”
I thought about it. If the Seeker was right and part of my what my talent dealt with was racial memory, then I should be able to do the same as a Mage and learn the language. He took my silence as a yes and he said dryly, “It won’t be a pleasant experience, it gives the recipient a horrendous headache, but as far as I know, such exchange of language has never killed anyone.”
I retorted, “Gee, thanks!!” and he gave a laugh followed by my giggle, then I winced as I thought about the undertaking and the pain I would likely go through. The last of the Ancients, as far as we knew, had died over three thousand years ago.
There were probably those who could speak the language for several hundred years after that, but they would be of no use to me, because they wouldn’t have spoken the language perfectly. Besides, I needed to speak the Ancient’s language in the way that the Mage who had written the book spoke it. I couldn’t use the spell book directly anyway and I would need to teach the words to a Mage. If the inflections were different from that of the Mage who devised them, it could result in the spell not working, or worse, working in a dangerous manner.
The Priests of Canndar didn’t live in the Library/Temple, their homes were grouped around it, but they did have cots and food and drink, for those who were involved in intense research and didn’t want to leave the Library. It was rumored that one scholar had been in the Library for the last twenty years, never going outside of it. I didn’t know if it was true, but I did know it was quite possible.
Escalon had summoned a Healer just in case and I’d had a meal to raise my energy levels. Lying on the cot provided, I let my mind drift and invoking my talent, I felt myself going into the trance state I had discovered in the King’s quarters.
It was unlike anything I had ever tried before. I actually began to see words in my head and someone seemed to speak them out loud and if the word had a visual reference, I saw it. At first, it was maybe a word a second, but it began to speed up to the point that I was no longer aware of the individual words. The speed increased until it seemed to reach a plateau and stayed at the speed for what seemed a long, long time, but, as I discovered later, it was only about two hours in total.
Vaguely I could feel the pain rising, but in my trance state, I was only aware of a bit of it. At long last, my talent let go of me and abruptly I seemed to be the center of a searing fire and then I was catapulted into welcoming darkness.
As I began to rouse, I was aware of the blazing of the fire and I heard someone say through the pounding of my head. “Drink this, Ari.” and I was vaguely aware of someone lifting me to a half sitting position and drinking something cool. From the usual cherry taste, I knew it was a Healer’s potion.
Thankfully, I felt myself sink back into the welcoming darkness.
The next time the light reached for me, the screaming pain in my head had subsided, though it was not completely gone. I opened my eyes and I could see Glena bustling about and I realized that I was in my room at the inn.
I pushed myself cautiously to my elbows and the flame rose a little but didn’t come crashing back. I licked my lips and looking at the nightstand, I saw a mug of water and pushing myself all the way into a crosslegged position, I reached for it and drank it down. I asked Glena, “How long have I been out?”
Glena was looking at me and she said with seeming calmness, “You’ve been unconscious for three days, but the Healer said you weren’t in any danger. You just needed sleep to get rid of the headache.”
She grabbed a handful of my hair and gave a hurting yank before releasing it. She said emphatically, “If Derack hadn’t said that what you were doing was important, I think I’d strangle you right now! We were worried about you!”
I felt my heart rise in pleasure at her words and I didn’t even mind the kiss on the forehead that she gave me before rushing out the door with tears in her eyes.
Adran appeared in the open door and said pointedly, “We could use your help right now, you little scamp. You’ve been lying abed long enough!”
Adran wouldn’t cry like Glena was probably doing. When she was worried, she just started bossing people around, like she was bossing me now. I got up and put on my loincloth and headed for the inn yard and the mountain of vegetables that needed peeling, like the perdans, or shucking, like the peas.
I allowed myself time to recover fully, but after a couple of hours I headed back to the Great Library with the Elves. A few minutes after that I was back in Escalon's office, with the spell book in my hand.
I opened the book to the title page and this time I could read the runes, which said, 'Particulars of a War Spell’
On the next page was an introduction. It said, 'The spells in this book provides a way to fight a war in a non-violent manner. The main spell provides a way to temporarily freeze time in a limited area. There are several variations of the spell to be applied differently.
The other spells are used to create a spell of protection allowing the people who use the main spell the ability to move around inside it.’
The parchment the book was written on, was much thicker than normal and the thin book was even less substantial than it appeared, only containing fourteen double sided pages, including the title page and the introduction page on the back of it.
It was with excitement that I took the book and headed to the Count’s estate. He smuggled Turvar and me back into the Palace in the same manner as the last time. I had sent Derack to Aravis to make my request to use the Gates.
I was holding the oh so important book with trembling hands. My voice was also trembling with excitement as I said to the King and Count Onlae. “The spell in this book freezes time. At the end of the book, the writer said that he regretted the fact that the spell couldn’t be used any more. While it was hard to cast the spell, it was easy to protect against with simple spells that even a Apprentice Mage could cast.”
I told them, “It was abandoned at least three thousand years ago and nobody in our world has ever seen it. I found it and while there is no Seeker of my caliber alive at the moment, there will be in the future. Eventually the knowledge will leak out, but, for the time being, it gives us the advantage in any conflict.”
The King grinned at me, saying, “Onlae told me about what you attempted. From the excitement in your voice, I gathered you succeeded.”
“Beyond my wildest dreams!!” I told them, feeling ecstatic. I couldn’t help it, I felt so good that I spun around half a dozen times in glee and then jumped into the air, not caring when they began laughing at my antics.
After I calmed down, we went over what would be needed. At that point, the King summoned his Chancellor, Acurn Telandar. I was a little apprehensive about meeting the man, but it was drowned by the sheer amount of work that had to be done. Within a week everything was ready.
Derack said it had been easy to get permission from his Queen, but whether it was done as a favor to me, or a political decision I didn’t know, nor did I really care.
We had three enormous wagons with the things we would need. Half a dozen Mages, two Adepts and four Master Class Mages. And yes, I said we, I was determined to go along and the King hadn’t refused my request.
It had been hard to say goodbye to my family last night. The King had forbidden me to tell them what we were doing and I couldn’t even tell them who I was working for. I could only tell them that I would be gone for several months. I think they guessed that it could be dangerous and they were upset, but at the same time, they were determined not to let me see it, but they certainly showed the love they had for me.
With the Mages and the Mages the Amandara already had, if the plan we came up with failed, we could at least blast our way out of the trap the city of Urdane had become.
I almost had second thoughts when I put the chainmail armor that had been cut down for me, into one of the wagons. Aside from the need to coach the Mages in the Ancient spells, the Elves had spent the last week teaching me how to defend myself against weapons. It was a little sooner than they had intended, but they thought it would be a good idea to teach me how to at least dodge an adult’s attacks. They told me to leave the short sword in its sheath, that I wasn’t ready yet and I should leave it there unless I was really desperate.
Why would the King allow a child to go into a situation like that? Well for one thing, Callan had three sons and a daughter, all younger than I was. All of the Amandara children six and older were armed, and, unlike me, they knew how to use the weapons they carried. While they weren’t on the walls, when the Amandara fought their final battle they would be there, the families fighting and dying together.
The older adults, incapable of fighting but still in good condition for their age, would kill all of the younger children and bed-ridden adults and then kill themselves. The Amandara had no intention of dying of starvation. If they had to die, they intended to die together, fighting together.
We moved foward the three huge wagons with their precious loads driven by three of the Mages who had experience driving wagons and then the rest of us, the three other Mages, my two Elven bodyguards and me. Of course they were the real reason the King had let me go along.
I got a big surprise when we got to Aravis. Queen Caria was waiting for us. She came over to me followed by her bodyguards and looked down at me. “Derack has come to know you very well. He said that you would insist on going.”
I tried to explain it to her, “I feel like they’ve become my responsibility. I’m not very religious, but I feel as if the Gods have put me here at just the right time. What we’re doing can save six thousand Amandaran lives and there’s no knowing how many Adana lives it would save. Bringing Prince Callan home can prevent many of my people’s deaths. I need to be there.”
She sighed and said musingly, “Responsibility can do strange things to us at times. I’m sorry it caught you at such a young age. Believe me, it never goes away. Not if you care about people.”
I considered what she had told me and then sighed, telling her, “I don’t think that makes me any less scared, Your Majesty. Thank you anyway.”
She said with a smile, “You’re welcome little one. I bid you good luck.” She bent down and slipped an amulet over my head. “This amulet is from the Temple of Chernish, the God of Luck. Elves as a race tend to believe the Gods reign in the Afterlife and leave us poor mortals to get into and out of our own scrapes. Only on the odd occasion do we catch their attention. However, we don’t reject any extra luck that they might want to send our way.” and wouldn’t you know it she bent down and kissed me again, like the time she had said goodbye. Girls.
It took about an hour for the Elven Mages to get the Travel Gate ready. Before completing the spell, one of them, who was a Clairvoyant, reached out to the port city of Urdane for the market square they had located beforehand. Of course, there hadn’t been any produce for the last six months, so the square was empty.
The head Mage said, “The square is empty at the moment. Their Mages will have time to feel the buildup of power. They’ll be able to tell it’s Elven magic and not their enemies, but they might react first and ask questions later. We won’t be able to complete the Gate if they decide to put up a barrier.”
I asked, “Can’t you contact them to tell them we’re coming?”
And he shook his head, saying, “Like a glass can only accept as much water as there is space for it. Both mind-speech and Clairvoyance only accept so much power, there simply isn’t any additional place to put it. Clairvoyance is just looking and if you’re powerful, enough distance doesn’t seem to matter. Mind-speech is different. You actually need to establish a two-way contact.”
He explained, “Maximum distance for even the most powerful mind-speaker, is about two thousand miles. That means the speakers on both sides need to cooperate. They must know in advance that contact is wanted and know the general direction in which to search and the approximate time the contact might be attempted.”
I felt disappointed; I had thought we were over our difficulties. He rushed to reassure me, “Sooner or later we can get the Gate in. They don’t have the power to resist it for more than a few hours. However if we have to do it that way, your reception might be very warm when you finally get there.”
I shrugged my shoulders and said, “We’ll take what we can get. If we have to get them mad to get there, so be it. We have to be there for them to get mad and that’s the first step in what we need to do.” and he nodded.
Having checked the location, they began to build up the Gate using stored power from their fellow Elves. It began to appear faintly at first and then more firmly with every passing second. When it was fully invoked, it looked like a window of golden light, shimmering in the early morning sun.
It had been decided that I would go through first. A small boy dressed only in a skimpy loincloth didn’t look very threatening. My Elven bodyguards would come through a few seconds later.
When the Elven Mage nodded to me I moved forward walking sedately. Running through the Travel Gate could cause panic and I certainly didn’t want that.
Going through the Gate wasn’t an unpleasant experience, but I had felt something the three times I have been through a Gate. Right now, I was too worried to even notice it. Avaris, the capital of Sentoria, was almost directly north of Galdar. There was no time difference, but the abrupt shift from an early morning to an afternoon one which was shining directly into my eyes, was the first thing I noticed.
It wasn’t logical but for that to happen I had to be facing west, yet the Gate had been facing east. I was puzzled but now wasn’t the time to think about magic and how it worked. Squinting and shading my eyes, I continued moving forward. As expected there were soldiers waiting for us, hands on the hilts of their swords and others who looked like Mages. There was almost perfect silence and my treble voice was clear in the afternoon sun.
“Move back out of the way, there are three wagons behind me.” Of course, I didn’t recognize the words that I was yelling since I said it in Adana. Seeing them look to my rear, I knew it was the Elves, and, when we moved out of the way they, the Mages and soldiers did the same.
There were six oxen to each wagon, making eighteen in all. The Amandarans couldn’t feed any stock and it was felt prudent to send animals that could provide us with meat. They began to come through less than thirty seconds later and they were fully loaded, perhaps overloaded, but the oxen only had to pull them a total of about two hundred yards.
I turned around to watch them come through. There was a vague outline of the Gate on this side and a little shimmer in the air, but nothing else to show it existed. And a couple of minutes later, with all of the wagons on our side of the Gate, the outline and the shimmer disappeared.
A man headed in our direction and he probably demanded answers, but he was speaking Adana and I couldn’t understand him. While he was whipcord lean, there was a resemblance in the face to King Aglan, so I figured that it was Prince Callan.
I shook my head at him and said in my language, “We’re a Galan party, Your Highness. I was just given enough Adana to tell to move out of the way. Your father sent us to help you.”
He gave a snort of derision and his Galan was like Sier Talgonn’s had been, somewhat harsh and clipped. “A small boy, two Elves and six wagoneers! Some help!!”
I smiled up at him, saying, “You should be appreciative, Your Highness. We’re more help than you had before. Besides, they drove the wagons, but they’re Mages. Two Adepts and four Master Class Mages.”
“And you, what are you, little boy?” he asked sarcastically.
“Responsible, Your Highness.” I said in a firm voice. “My talent got them here and I couldn’t let them come without me.”
Callan started to say something but then simply nodded. He understood responsibility just as the rulers of Adana didn’t. His sense of responsibility both to his wife and children and the Amandarans as a whole, was the reason he was here.
He was a dark man, in looks, in manner and in personality. He had a strong sense of serving the Amandarans, but not of being a leader. Many of them didn’t really like him that much, but he evoked a fierce respect from those who knew him. They would follow him to hell, but they’d complain and argue with him every step of the way.
He didn’t have many close friends, but those he did have, would, like his men, follow him to hell, however, they would do so without complaining. They would know that he was doing the right thing. I would find there was a side effect to that. He couldn’t trust his friends to argue with him when he was wrong, for they had a hard time seeing his errors.
His wife and children loved Callan, but, at the same time, they weren’t blind to his faults as his friends could be. He relied on them to tell him the truth and they had no hesitation in doing so. I think that’s why he had such an easy time accepting me into his counsels. He was accustomed to accepting criticism from his own children and extended it to me.
There were only three of them. Prince Callan, his wife, Desia, who was about the same age as he was and her cousin, a man by the name of Flynar. He was much older, in his late forties at least.
Like Callan, they were dark and they looked much alike. Where he was handsome, she was pretty and perhaps more than just pretty. Unlike most Amandarans they spoke Galan, but it wasn’t why they were there. They were Callan’s Council and the commanders of his troops.
Prince Callan held up the amulet he had gotten out of the wagons. He said, “As far as I can see, aside from these, some nails and some arrows, it mainly seems to be a load of trebuchet balls. It’s not something we need. We have no reluctance in tearing down our buildings to get stone for the trebuchets. The more we destroy, the more the Adana have to rebuild.”
He was looking at me for explanation and I hadn’t expected that. After all, he had eight adults in the room who could tell him what he wanted. But I had admitted I was responsible for the plan, he had accepted that and now he wanted me to explain it.
I tried to get out of it, but looking at the Mages I could see they were finding it amusing, so I got stuck with it. I brought my eyes back to look into Prince Callan’s dark ones and explained, “Everything in the wagons is spelled. The balls have spells on them that freezes time. When the spell is invoked, everything within twenty feet of them is enclosed in a field of no time. Any thing or being in that field bubble will stop abruptly exactly as it is, unmovable, for the duration of the spell. Birds and arrows will hang in the air, ships will stop dead in the sea, a man will stand frozen. It won’t damage or kill anything inside the bubble though; when the spell dissolves, the heart, lung and brain will start up working again exactly as before the spell hit. Any object that hits a bubble will however stop as if hitting a stone wall. The spell, when active, will last for fourteen days.”
I told them, “The balls aren’t solid though they look it. Each ball is made up of hundreds of lead slinger pellets. They’re being held together by a strong Attraction spell. They also have a weaker Repulsion spell on them. Since it’s much weaker, it’s unable to force the lead balls apart. The man who devised the spell said they used bronze, because bronze took to the spell much better than lead. However he said lead was adequate and it was the only thing we could gather together quickly enough.”
I said to them, “You fire the balls and when they are at their full height over the enemy lives, the Attraction spell will be cancelled and the Repulsion spell will cause the balls to fly apart violently. They may kill many of the Adana, but that’s not the main purpose. It’s designed to disperse the balls in as wide a pattern as possible.”
The head Mage, Alcorn said, “The spell was devised by the Ancients and the magic it creates is a strange one to us. Even knowing that the balls are spelled, I find it very hard to detect the magic. That will make it seem like the weapon is simply a somewhat mundane war weapon and one they’ve encountered before.”
He waved his hand toward the enemy lines, saying, “They will undoubtedly fall back and when the bombardment stops for lack of ammunition, they’ll move forward again. At the beginning, they’ll ignore those pellets.” He smiled, sardonically, “After all, they can no longer harm anyone, now can they? That’s when we invoke the spell and their camp will become a sea of frozen time.”
“The lead balls create a field which is fully effective within twenty feet of the center and a further five feet area which is less effective. In the center forty feet, everything is frozen completely for two weeks, on the periphery it changes from slightly slower on the outside to almost as long just outside the center portion.”
The three leaders thought about it for a time and then Flynar shook his head and said, “All well and good but the galleys have always been the main danger. If we could get rid of them, we could just sail away from the army. It might have been difficult doing it under enemy fire but it was certainly possible.”
I took back the tale then, “Yes, we’re aware of that fact. The arrows are to deal with the galleys. The arrowheads are of bronze and as I said bronze is a much better metal to use with the freeze spell. Their effective field is double that of the sling pellets. The main danger to your ships is from being rammed. Get even one arrow into a galley and the galley will tear itself apart.”
Desia noted, “You said the spell must be invoked. We don’t have enough Mages to cover every ship, or even every three ships.”
I nodded, saying, “True, but that’s where the nails come into play. They’re spelled to provide protection. Pound a couple dozen nails into each ship and the spell on the arrowheads can be invoked safely. Within the protection field, the freeze spell won’t work but once it leaves the field, it will become active. Though in fact there is a second spell on the arrowheads. It prevents the freeze spell from becoming active until they hit something solid like flesh, or wood.”
I explained, “The amulets also provide protection, but the field only covers one person. It acts almost like a second skin and flows over your body. Everything that you are wearing will be within the protective field. There are only five hundred of them, but, if necessary, we can send people into the Adana camp.”
Flynar said in a snarl, “We’ll kill every one of them!!!”
Desia shook her head and said in a soft but firm voice, “No. We hate them for what they’ve done to us, but we’ve always known they were a victim of their own rulers. We killed over fifteen thousand of them in the siege and we’ll kill several thousand more on the galleys. If we want vengeance that’s enough.” She gave a fierce look of anger, “However the senior officers and Mages are fair game. They have to know what their rulers are doing, yet they still obey them. They’re not innocent and they deserve death.”
Desia was the Amandaran’s conscience and her statement that there had been enough death meant there HAD been enough death except of course for the officers and Mages.
I was on the walls watching the Amandaran’s get the trebuchets ready and my hands were clasped tightly behind me. Desia said to me, “You’re not as confident as you would like to be, are you, Ari?”
I shook my head, saying tensely, “No I’m not, Mistress. It’s the magic of the Ancient’s, which means it’s very old magic. We tested it using some cows and it did work as it was supposed to.” I gave a little grin, “I imagine the cows are still frozen.”
Then I frowned, as I continued, “We know there are places in the world where magic doesn’t work or doesn’t work like it should. Our magic works here, but does the Ancient magic follow the same rules? Will it work here?” and I waved my arm at the view in front of me.
She put her hand on my bare shoulder and gave a squeeze and I felt a little better. He said, soothingly, “We’ve learned to take things as they come, Ari. We live our lives to the fullest, enjoying today. If tomorrow is the end of our journey in this life, then so be it, but we’ll worry about it when it comes.”
I tensed up even more, as they got ready to fire the trebuchet. The balls had been spelled in small numbers. They had five trebuchets, so we had spelled fifty, ten pound balls at a time and then they had been painted, so that the Mages would know which variation of the cancel spell to use for each lot. Each group of balls had a weak Repulsion spell that would be invoked before the trebuchet was fired. The spell would shove the balls apart.
We stood in the center tower together with the head Mage and watched as the crews loaded ten balls in each trebuchet and prepared for firing. The other five Mages were in charge of a trebuchet each, following the loading and firing, ready to release the spells at exactly the right time.
I heard a bellow from the station immediately to the north of us, “LOADED!!!” then at our station and immediately the station to the south. In a few seconds we heard the second of the confirmations coming from the south, “READY!!!”, then our station and then the one to the north of and then the echo of the northern one.
Flynar was stationed at the northernmost point and he would give the order to fire and then the actual firing would be delayed for ten seconds, eight seconds, six seconds, four seconds and then two seconds because we wanted the first volley in the air as close to the same time as was possible.
We heard the bellow of, “FIRE” and I began to count and at six the counterweight slammed down and the throwing arm flew upward, the net releasing the balls. We could see them being shoved apart by the weak Repulsion spell.
I saw the Mage pointing at them, reaching out for them and when they were above the enemy positions I saw him give a twist of his hand. I saw the balls disappear and I knew they were coming violently apart as the Attraction spell was canceled.
The Adanas had grown complacent. The Amandarans hadn’t used the trebuchets since the first frenzied days of the siege and the Adana positions were much too close.
The men on the trebuchet began working frantically changing its position so that the next ten balls could be sent over a different portion of the camp. In minutes it was in position, the throwing arm pulled down, the net loaded with ten balls and then fired immediately.
I don’t know how many died in the first volley, but we saw them hurriedly evacuating the forward trenches moving into backup positions. We had a thousand balls and over the next several hours, we used all of them. When they separated, a total of one hundred and sixty thousand one ounce lead pellets had rained down on the army positions and encampment.
A couple of hours after the bombardment ended, we saw through the spyglasses the Adana moving back into position. Which of course is what we wanted them to do. The first forward motion was tentative, but in a few hours, it was as if the bombardment had never occurred.
Tomorrow they would begin to clean up the pellets, but not right away. And then they had no time at all as time stopped for them as the Mages invoked the spell of frozen time. Undoubtedly there were some soldiers who hadn’t been caught by the freeze spell, but there wouldn’t be many. The closest encampment where army troops could be summoned from, was a day away.
It would take a day to get there, and, at the soonest, a day back and we only needed a few hours. Sailors and soldiers had been preparing the merchant ships since last night. With both moons, Esar and Evalla, full, last night and for the next several days, there was plenty of light to work with. The first thing they had done was to hammer the precious protective nails into the hulls of the ships.
After that, they had spent the rest of the night and today, refurbishing the rigging and provisioning the ships. They had moved the fixed arbalests to the ships. Each ship now had at least two, mounted on the bow and stern. Each ship also had several lighter arbalests and of course dozens of regular bows and we had spelled arrows for each weapon.
As we moved down from the walls, the gates were opened and those who had been designated to go into the army camp to kill the army officers and the Mages, exited. They had been chosen specifically for the task by Desia. And she had deliberately excluded those who only wanted vengeance.
Over the next few hours, the city was completely abandoned as everyone was evacuated to the ships. They came willingly but reluctantly. Their life was more important than a city, no matter how beloved it was. They accepted that, especially as we planned to leave in the full light of the next day, giving them time to say goodbye to the place they had lived in continually for four thousand years. It also gave them time to pack all the valuables, household goods and tools that could be carried, giving them the means to start a new life.
With anxious and tired eyes, for I had not been able to sleep, I watched the ships begin to weigh anchor. Four of the sailing ships had been chosen to lead and an additional four to act as a rearguard, with two more on each flank. Four of the heavy arbalests had been installed on each of those ships, on the bow and stern and the port and starboard sides. Almost all of the projectile weapons on those ships were light arbalests and heavy crossbows; they had very few regular bows.
That left twenty-five other ships that needed to be guarded like a protective farmer does his chicks. He has to make sure the fox doesn’t get among his chicks, for they are helpless. Not that we were much more dangerous.
The enemy galleys just watched us as we left the harbor and gathered outside the entrance. They certainly knew by now that something had happened in their army camp. But they began to move towards us as we headed out into the Tarnac Ocean, three of them approaching us obliquely on either side.
My heart was in my mouth at that point and looking back at Prince Callan, I could see he was tense but still had a pleased look on his face. We actually wanted all six of them to attack us.
If even one of them got away, then the whole fleet was in danger. Once the full moons ended, on dark nights they could actually pick us off one by one. If we were lucky, we’d stop the galley quickly with a freeze spell, perhaps after losing only one ship, but we didn’t want to lose even one.
The galleys made a big mistake, not that I’m complaining. They must have known about the bombardment and assumed that the trebuchet balls were the only magical weapons that we had. Instead of hanging back cautiously and sending one out as a scout to find out how dangerous we could be, all six of them attacked at virtually the same time.
Normally of course, against a fleet of merchant ships, that was the thing to do. But this course of action cost them dearly. I was focusing on the galley that had chosen us as the biggest and most impressive of the merchantmen so I didn’t see any of the other galleys attack.
It was a fearsome sight. The ugly ramming beak of the Adana navy ship heading for our starboard side sent chills of fear up and down my backbone. I heard Callan give the order to fire and I saw arbalest and crossbow arrows flicking off of the bows towards the enemy galley.
Normally you were trying to hit people and from a dancing ship, even for an expert, they were a hard target to hit at this range. But we didn’t need to hit the people, we only needed to hit the ship.
And we did. How many arrows hit the galley I don’t know, but one was enough. Suddenly the bow just stopped in the water as the freeze spell took effect, but the rest of the galley didn’t. The area beyond the freeze spell began to crumple like a piece of paper. Sixty feet of ship was suddenly occupying forty feet of space and we could see damage all along the length of the galley.
I felt pity, not for the Adana, not for these Adana, they were scum chosen for their willing brutality. They kept the galley slaves in control by fear and a willingness to commit unthinkable acts. The world would be a better place after their deaths.
No, my pity was for the galley slaves. They spent their lives chained to the oars and their life was short and brutal, a year maybe two at the outside. I didn’t like slavery, but I accepted it because I had no choice, but not this type of slavery. We had no way of rescuing the galley slaves and they were in my opinion better off dead. But that didn’t mean I didn’t regret what was and would happen to them.
The bow of the galley was still hanging there in the water and there were men clinging to boards, perhaps they would survive and perhaps they wouldn’t. If they drifted into shore, they would live and if they could swim, the shore wasn’t that far, but a sailor I had once helped, had told me that most sailors couldn’t swim.
I would have thought that it would be sensible and prudent to learn how to swim if you were going to serve on a ship. Now I’d known I was going to end up on a ship and while I’d been busy, I’d taken a few hours to learn how to swim, not that I could swim very well, but it gave me a chance that most of the galley survivors wouldn’t have.
None of the six galleys survived and I only saw what happened to one other. It had started its ramming attack but it had been a bit farther from it’s target than the first galley had been and it tried to sheer away and the spelled arrows struck it on the starboard side.
It was amazing to see the heavy bow and ram, which was outside the bubble, break loose from the frozen starboard side, dragging much of the port side with it, breaking up and sinking fast, leaving the starboard side hanging suspended in the water like a ship’s model. Amazing and yet sad. What a brutal way for a ship and crew to die.
If the Adana’s had managed to get word to the other galleys, they didn’t find us, because we never saw them.
It was a good crossing, with fair wind all the way, no storms and we were never becalmed. It took eight weeks to reach our destination, which was Kesen, a small port city fifty miles to the north of Galdar. We had managed to stay together and all of the ships, except one, completed the journey.
But that ship was never intended to come with us. While the Amandarans on the merchant ships might never return, they didn’t intend to abandon their country completely. One of the ships had been loaded with young men and women, no children and no older adults.
They had all volunteered, but at the same time, they had been chosen because they were atypical Amandaran’s. While some of them had black hair, none of the had the dark hair, eyes and dusky skin so characteristic of their race as a whole. They would be able to blend in with the Adana’s. Perhaps one day the rulers of Adanal would come to rue the day they instigated the persecution against the Amandarans.
The meeting between King Aglan and his son wasn’t very cordial. They were too different to ever be very close, but there was certainly respect between them. On the other hand, when the King’s three younger children and Callan’s children met, the warmth was immediately apparent to all who watched them. It was equally obvious that the King and Desia would become firm friends, since it was easy to tell that they already liked each other.
Later in the day, when the King and Count Onlae met with Callan, Desia and me, the Prince gave a brief smile and even before Aglan spoke, said, “Yes father,” and he looked at me, “Ari told me the reason you sent aid. My wife, my children and I will go.”
King Aglan nodded and said mildly, “It’s not really a place for children.” and he looked at me and sighed, “Unfortunately it’s necessary to send Ari. It must be your decision whether to take your own children.”
Desia reached out and took Callan’s hand in hers and I could see her give it a squeeze. She gave a wry smile, saying, “Callan has his faults and I imagine you’re acquainted with some of them. He isn’t a leader in the way that you’re a leader. He’s too rigid to make a good peacetime ruler, however in the trap we found ourselves in, he was the ideal leader for us.”
Callan smiled, not acknowledging her words but not denying them either. She continued slowly, “But it was a trap we knew we were not going to get out of. So all of us, made the decision that when the food was almost gone we would abandon Urdane and go out and fight. Fight and die together, men, women and children, because we knew that the Adanan’s never spared even the smallest of our babies.”
“The rest of us know that it was a singular experience and now that it’s over, we could go back to what is more normal, with only the adults doing the fighting.”
She looked at her husband and then said, “Callan made the same oath, but he’s different as I said, rigid and that’s not always a good thing. He will never break his word for any reason. He can’t, that’s the way he’s made and to break his word would destroy him.”
“He made an oath that if we all were going to die we would fight and die together. Even though we’re out of the trap that Urdane became, his words bind him even now.”
She spread her arms, shrugging at the futility of trying to change Callan. “I’m comfortable with that. After all, I knew him and his nature before I married him. Our children, though young, are old enough to accept that as well and will willingly go anywhere he leads us.”
Kesen had been chosen as our landing point, because in a sense it was a failing city. The city elders had allowed the harbor to silt up, reducing the area of harbor space drastically. The King was trying to bring it back to life by funding the dredging of the channel and harbor. That had been started two years before and would take another couple of years to complete, but when it was done, Kesen would once more be on it’s way to becoming a wealthy little port city again, especially when they had a sudden influx of cash.
While the Amandarans were refugees, they were wealthy refugees. They hadn’t been surprised when the Adana had attacked; they’d known it was coming, the only thing they didn’t know was exactly when. Most of their wealth was portable and they’d brought it with them. They would make a welcome addition to any community and Kesen was lucky to get them. Of course they wouldn’t get all of them because some of them were farmers, but there was plenty of premium land available nearby for those who could afford it.
They might have some problem with the language, but Galan was the closest thing to a universal language that our world, Serai, had and most well educated people could at least speak some. Amandarans were fiercely educated people; they learned two languages from the time they were born. Adana and Amandaran and many of them spoke three and four languages.
The King couldn’t hide the presence of the Amandaran’s, so he hadn’t tried. All we wanted to do was hide the fact that Prince Callan was their war leader.
The Amandaran language was almost a dead language and even they spoke Adana most of the time, but they always used their language for their personal names. In Amandaran, a double ll was very rare and usually used for names. It was always pronounced as if it was the letter F and if the word started with the consonant C, or K, the letter S was actually substituted for it. So, Callan was always pronounced as Safan.
Only a few Amandarans even knew that Callan was Galan. And only a handful knew that he was a prince and all of those were members of Desia’s family. The King didn’t need to hide the fact that Callan was back in Galan, he only needed to remain quiet about it and it would remain our secret.
We stayed in Kesen for fourteen days, Callan was now in Galan and it was still three months to the summer solstice, which was on the 18th of Sen. It would have been nice to go home and see my family, but the King had decided that I shouldn’t contact them again until I returned for good and the goodbyes I had made, had to do.
We sailed north to the Delhane River delta and then up the river to Clandar, where Count Fharson had arranged for a couple of wagons and suitable merchandise. The river was navigable for another twenty miles to the north-west, but we were going directly west from that point.
From there, we traveled in a small wagon train almost one hundred and fifty miles west, until we reached the first of the clans. Most of us rode, except for the two legitimate merchants and the drivers of the two wagons.
It wasn’t a pleasant experience for the first few days; I was busy learning how to ride as well as actually riding, so my bottom and thighs were much sorer than any of the others. But all of them had to get used to riding all over again, since they had spent six months involved in a siege and then the voyage.
Ignoring the aches we all felt, the Elves began teaching us again, as they had since the second day on the voyage. Fights between the clans were rare, but they did occur and duels were not uncommon. The Prince might need to fight a duel.
He’d been practicing rigorously with his own guards and especially with my Elven bodyguard.
As I mentioned earlier, they’re Eldar which of course isn’t a society of Elves but a society of warriors. As a group, they’re the best warriors on Serai. While Prince Callan wasn’t Eldar, they had taught him enough in the last couple of months that he was able to press them to their limits. They could still win the matches but it was no longer easy for them and he was able to defeat them regularly two times out of five.
Desia wasn’t quite that good, but the six guards had been chosen for their skill with weapons and they were almost as good as the Elves, but not as adept at teaching.
Glendan, Prince Callan’s oldest child, was my normal sparring partner. While I couldn’t match him with a short sword and the use of a shield, I was able to hold my own with him in hand to hand combat and I was progressing much faster than he was in using the fighting knives of the clan. He had been training for five years, since he was four and he was good and everyone was astonished that I could match him in anything, let alone beat him regularly at hand to hand combat.
He was a year younger than me and had had his ninth birthday on the voyage from Adanal to Galan, while I had had my tenth. But he was taller than I was, though I was much stronger. If you remember, Queen Caria figured that since I could hear High Elvish, I must have been part Elf. While I didn’t know if I had inherited any of their other traits, I had inherited some of their strength and stamina, despite my delicate look.
Prince Callan’s other three children, Alanea, the only girl, who was six and Cabin, seven and Halwin, who was eight, were all better than me with sword and shield but I was getting close. And none of them could match Glendan and I with knife or in hand to hand fighting.
Have I mentioned bows and arrows, or slings? Hmm. No I don’t think I’ll mention them, forget I even brought the subject up. Please!!!
We hadn’t been in any rush, so it was ten days before we arrived at Tajen, the chief town of the Wolf Clan and where the headman and his Council lived.
They were aware of the imposter Prince and the fact that he wanted war, but they were a loyal clan and though they would follow him, it would be reluctantly. We needed a clan to sponsor us and the Wolf Clan was the most likely to be willing to help.
The merchant family who normally supplied this clan, had been well compensated to allow us to replace them on this trip. Normally that would mean that we needed to be introduced to the clan before we could deal with them. If we had really been merchants, that would have been simple. But of course, that wasn’t why we were here.
It wasn’t simple recognition that we needed, we needed them to know that Prince Callan was here and needed them to help us. When two clans were dealing with each other, they did so through their representatives. They were chosen according to what was being discussed.
If it was something that concerned the whole clan, then the representative would be the headman. If it was something that only affected a particular part of the clan, perhaps the potters, then the representative would be a potter. The representative did the talking, but they could have as many advisors as they wanted.
Some of the clans were nomadic and others, like the Wolf Clan, were settled. It wasn’t unusual for a nomadic clan to spend time camped with a settled clan. Children were chosen to mediate disputes that happened between those of their age group. If they needed more help, then the children representing the two clans would ask it of the Council.
So, the clans were accustomed to child representatives. Just not in something so important. The clan Council met in the town square every afternoon. Anybody who wanted to ask something of the Council was encouraged to do so. Most of the townsfolk would be there as well, simply to watch.
It was a very simple arrangement, dating back to a time when all of the clans were nomadic. The headman and the four Council members sat cross-legged in front of the headman’s house and petitioners approached them. An awning was set up to give them shade.
All of the clan children up to twelve years of age went naked, but of course when approaching the Council for any reason, out of respect, they would wear some clothing. Depending on their rank within the clan, it might simply be a loincloth, or it might be shirt and breeches.
Which is what I was wearing when I approached the Council, one of several changes of clothes I had been given. We didn’t intend to force ourselves on them. That would be considered impolite and wouldn’t make a good first impression. I waited until half a dozen petitioners had appeared before approaching. I bowed to the headman and to the shaman and then stood up straight, feet apart and my hands clasped behind my back as those who had gone before had done.
I looked straight at the headman and said calmly, “I am Ari Wiken and I am here to be recognized as a representative of one of your people.”
I knew the headman, Patham, was only twenty-two. His Councilors, three men and one woman, were much older, yet he had both their respect and liking. He was slim and looked much younger than twenty-two. If you didn’t know how old he was, he looked to be in his middle teens, perhaps fifteen or sixteen. He had the lack of height, which went with his apparent age and he was slender as well.
His hair was a sun streaked brown, with lighter highlights throughout, much like many of his clansmen. His eyes were gray and they told you that while his body might look young, his mind was fully mature. They were steady on me and I knew that if I was facing him having done something wrong, I would be trembling, not from fear of him, but from the disappointment he would show.
He spoke in a voice that didn’t go with his appearance. It was very deep and unlike others of the clan who spoke with quick sentences, he spoke slowly and there was curiosity in his voice when he asked, “Why did he chose a child?”
I answered him with all of the confidence in my talent that I had gained over the last year, “I am a Seeker and I can prove my ability to know that the one I represent is Prince Callan.” I unclasped my hands and waved towards the west, “Not the one you’ve been hearing about for the last few months. He’s an impostor, an agent of King Findar and he wants a civil war, not to bring back the time when the Prince of the North ruled as he’s saying, but to weaken Galan for his King.”
The shaman spoke then and he was the complete opposite of the headman. Thick and squat and he was so ugly that he was distinguished. Like Patham the headman, his voice was inappropriate, being light and musical. He asked, “You said that you’re a Seeker. What is a Seeker and how can you prove he’s Prince Callan?”
I shook my head, with a grave look on my face I said, “I didn’t say that I could prove he’s Prince Callan. I said I could prove my talent. After that, you must decide whether I’m trustworthy.”
I spread my arms wide, saying, “A Seeker, is what Searchers were in the beginning. Our talent is a Mage talent and many of them have it to some extent. But almost two thousand years ago, five children were born. They shared the ability to find things and they all had at least as much power as Adepts had.”
I explained to them, “Like Searchers they could find things that were tangible such as finding the weapon that matched a wound in those who were murdered. But Seekers can do much more. We can find the intangible and even the ill-defined. Their family name was Arvan and one of them, Stiren Arvan, suggested that all thinking beings added their memories to what he called racial memory. Like a book, Seekers can read that racial memory. Some Seekers are limited to a small number of pages, others, like me, can read the whole book, though some of the pages may be hidden from my vision by magic.”
I reflected, “Unfortunately those first Seekers were unwise in the way the used their talent. They felt that the knowledge they could find should belong to all. They came to the attention of the rulers of that time and frightened by what Seekers could know, they outlawed their power.”
I told them, “Seekers went underground at that point and they had to be careful of who they helped, but they were still available, even though they couldn’t use their abilities openly. One of their descendants became tired of having to hide his abilities.”
I said seriously, “He formed the Searcher’s Guild and his goal was to limit their talent, so they could use the remainder of it openly. Searcher’s now go through training designed to bind part of their abilities while they learn how to use the rest of it.”
“Clairvoyants at that time were rare, but have become more and more common since then. Many people today believe that they can do much more than they are actually able to do. Today a Seeker’s ability would not bring the fear that it once did and will be accepted.”
I looked at the Shaman and said, “The clans have always been more willing to accept a Seeker’s ability. It’s one of the abilities that your Shamans often have. You are more than Searchers, yet at the same time you’re not full Seekers, since you can only use that ability on rare instances and it takes a great deal of effort to draw upon it.”
I grinned and waved at the wagons parked at the other end of the square, telling them, “While we aren’t merchants, we didn’t bring gifts to bribe you either. I’m the son of a High Merchant and I have no intention of giving it away.” and I giggled as I saw amusement on their faces.
I continued, “Much of it is ordinary trade goods like you’re used to, however we also brought two looms, to replace the ones that were destroyed in the fire. A first display of what I can know.”
I bowed and turning I went back to the others and sat with them waiting to be summoned again.
Desia put her hands on my shoulders and began to rub the tension out. I closed my eyes and just enjoyed it. I remember my mother doing it to me and Desia had taken me under her wing. She was treating me almost like one of her children.
Not that I would ever be one of them. While we respected each other, like the relationship between Prince Callan and his father, the relationship between the two of us wasn’t very cordial. The only thing that connected Prince Callan and I, was our acceptance of responsibility.
She said in a soft voice, “It looks like you sparked quite a debate, Ari.” and I nodded, opening my eyes and watching the Council as they were involved in intense talk.
I said to her, “They’re probably more concerned with my age than with what I had to say. None of them want a war, yet if the imposter had called for it, they are sworn to obey him. Since they didn’t know he’s a false Prince they would have done so.”
I conceded, “Another representative might have been better. But my ability is important, because I have a way to prove that our Prince Callan is the real Prince Callan, in front of all the clans at the yearly Gather.
It probably took about fifteen minutes to make their decision, but, when they had done so, they became quiet and looked towards where I was sitting. I got up and walked back to my former position in front of them standing with my hands clasped behind my back, my head cocked to the right in a listening position.
Patham said gravely “If we accept you, we will do so despite your age. The Council has decided that despite the importance and at the same time because of the importance,” and he gave a quick grin, at the somewhat confusing reason, before he became serious again. “That we must allow you to prove what you are.”
He continued, “But we’re not sure exactly how to go about it. Do you have any suggestions?”
I nodded my head, unsurprised. Despite what I had said, they didn’t know what Seeker’s were or exactly what I could do. I said, “I need to show that I can find your true thoughts and you need to know that I’m not simply reading your mind.”
“In other words I need to know what you desire and give you an idea of how you might carry on in order to solve your problems. Mind reading could do the first but not the second.”
I paused for a moment staring at all of them one by one, before saying more even more gravely than before. “I’m not a Seer, I can’t see the future. I can know the past and the present. I can find solutions, but I can’t guarantee that they’ll work.”
The headman took a quick look at the Council and they all nodded saying they accepted my suggestion. He said, “All of us seem to be in agreement. You may proceed.”
I gave a grin, they would give me no help, but then again I didn’t need it. I looked at the lone woman on the Council and addressed her by name, “Mistress Regana, I know that your husband, Demla, died soon after your marriage. You had loved each other since childhood and no other man can take his place in your heart. You don’t regret that. What you regret is the fact that you had no children, for you truly love children.”
I paused before continuing, “If this had been a time of trouble, then you might have had orphans to mother, but you make do by taking care of the little ones of your friends. You long for children, but at the same time you know it will never happen.”
I turned toward the west and said more softly, “Perhaps you’re wrong. There is a man heading for the town from the west. He’s a trapper, though not of your people. His wife and partner died as the result of a fall, a week ago.”
I told them, “They had three small children, three, four and five; two boys and the youngest, a girl. He loves them, but they’re too young to accompany him on his trap lines and he can’t leave them alone. Both he and his wife were only children and there is no one back in Clandar to take care of them.”
I said with a grin, “He remembers you and the ease you showed with his children the last time he was here. He wants to ask you to take care of them for a time. But it will only be for a time, for he has no intention of abandoning them. When they are old enough he will want them to rejoin him, so you will have to let them go.”
“The decision is yours. I’m simply giving you warning that it will need to be made.” She took a deep breath and raising her hand to brush a stray lock of her graying blonde hair out of her blue eyes and looking toward the west, she said, “I thank you, Ari. It won’t be an easy decision. I’m glad you give me time to think about it.”
I shook my head, saying, “There’s no reason, to thank me for the extra time. He doesn’t intend to just leave them here and go right back. After he sells his furs, he intends to stay here for at least a month and he won’t accept an answer for at least two weeks.”
I gave her a grin, saying, “However he’s made no other plans, because he doesn’t think he needs to do so,” and I paused for a time to give emphasis, “nor do I.”
She sighed, saying, “You’re probably both right, but still I need to think about it.” and I nodded as I turned to the Shaman, a man of about thirty-five and he had a very evident resemblance to Patham, which was logical since he was the man’s uncle.
I said, “It’s certainly not your heart’s desire, Landon, but you’re looking for an apprentice. There are probably several available throughout the clans. But one of them, Wisel of the Hawk Clan, is much like you were at eleven, a dreamer with his head always in the clouds.”
I grimaced, saying, “His uncle, the Shaman of the Hawk clan, refuses to teach him. Send for him. He will make a difficult student and perhaps an impossible one. But if he’s as much like you as he seems, he will be a rewarding student.”
He looked into my eyes for about twenty seconds and then nodded gravely. I turned to the second man, who was perhaps forty or so and gave a sigh of regret, saying, “I’m afraid nothing can be done for you, Karada, You’re well past your youth and the restlessness you feel is usually the province of youth. Only responsibility to your family and clan are holding you here. But with the type of honor that you have, it will hold you here for the rest of your life.” and he simply nodded, but there was wanderlust in his eyes. At the same time, the feeling of responsibility would force him to stay.
I turned to the last of the Council aside from Patham the headman, by the name of Curan. He looked at me mockingly and said, “What do I want, little boy?”
I grinned at him and cheerfully made an obscene gesture directed at him and the other members of the Council broke out laughing, hearing it coming from the crowd as well. I said thoughtfully, “I can probably help you find the stallion you call The Ghost.” the name bringing the assassin called The Wraith to my mind.
There was no longer any amusement in Curran’s eyes as he leaned forward tensely. I told him, “You’ve wanted him ever since you first saw him five years ago. He only shows up with his herd occasionally and then like a ghost, he disappears. Unlike most horses it seems that he doesn’t stay in his usual haunts, and, as much as you want the horse, at the same time you want to know where he goes.”
I said, “I think you may find him by going through the Broken Hills.” looking directly at him.
He shook his head, saying,“We don’t go into the Broken Hills, it’s haunted.” He looked around at the Council and the crowd and they were nodding in agreement.
I shook my head as well. I told them, “No, not haunted, spelled. Thousands of years ago, a tribe came into this land from the far west. They were running, from a battle that killed many of their people. The shaman was the oldest man left and he was thirty-seven, old for their people and there were five warriors in their middle twenties. All of the other men had stayed behind to face their enemy and allow the rest of the tribe to flee to safety.”
I paused for a moment wishing I had a little water to drink. Since I didn’t, I continued with my tale. “Something led the Shaman to the Broken Hills. He knew there was a place of safety behind it.”
“And he was right. It took them almost six months to find the way through the hills, but when they did, they found a valley, a Hidden Valley.” and I heard a murmur go through the crowd. Even in Galdar, we had heard about the Hidden Valley. It was thought to be a Paradise.
“Their God was a wolf and they were of the Wolf tribe.” and I watched calmly the excitement my revelations were giving. “They were the direct ancestors, not only of your clan, but of all eighteen clans.”
I continued, saying, “They withdrew into the valley at that point, protected from their enemies who followed them. Knowing how curious people tend to be, their Shamans for generation after generation placed protections on the entrance to the valley. That’s why you feel fear and anxiety and why you see ghosts when you go there.”
I told him, “If you have enough courage to get though the spells, you will probably find The Ghost. I won’t guarantee it, but it’s the only place near here where they would be able to find the type of grazing land that they would need and still remain hidden most of the time.”
I turned to the headman, Patham. I said gravely, because the subject was grave, “For three years you’ve wondered who killed your father. He was a much beloved man, who seemed to have no enemies. Yet, he was found with a knife in his neck.
I shook my head, saying somberly, “No one killed him. If you want to place blame, in a sense he was killed by a fish hawk. Your father saw the fish hawk strike, but it didn’t pull a fish out of the water but a knife. The bird had mistaken it for a fish. Realizing its mistake, it dropped the knife. Your father just had time to realize that the bird had killed him, but not time to move out of the way before the knife struck.”
Patham was looking at me mouth open with surprise and the rest of the Council echoed it and I could hear a murmur go through the crowd. Patham recovered quickly and closed his eyes in pain and when he opened it, he shook his head that such an astonishing event had happened, but he didn’t doubt that what I had said was true.
He raised his voice, addressing someone in the crowd. “It appears that the Gods took my father’s life, Elwin. You could find nothing, because there was nothing to find.”
And from the crowd I heard, in a voice tinged with relief, “Thank you, Ari Wiken. I could do nothing to avenge my friend, because I could find no trace. It relieves my mind tremendously to know that there was nothing I could have found.” and I could hear another murmur go through the crowd. A murmur of agreement and the faces of the Council mirrored it.
There was silence for a few minutes before the headman looked up from the ground in front of him at me. He said, “I think you have proved your talent and we can recognize you as the Prince’s representative.” He looked at the Council members and they all gave nods of assent.
I was smiling as I said, “Before I introduce the Prince, perhaps there is a something that I can do for you, Sier Patham. You needed to know how your father died, but it was not your heart’s desire. Perhaps I can serve as your representative and give it to you.”
A fleeting look of dread appeared on his face before it was gone and a look of eagerness and determination replaced it. He nodded and his voice was tight as he said, “You’re right, little Ari, you can. It’s past time.”
He started to get to his feet and I said in a soft voice so that only the Council and Patham could hear me. “She will accept the knife or the cloth, whichever one you choose to offer, but, like you, she would prefer the knife.”
And he nodded and turning he went into his house, returning a few minutes later with a tray and on the tray was a magnificent knife. Much more than a murmur went through the crowd this time as they saw what he was carrying. Knives are used in our wedding ceremonies as well, but they don’t mean the same thing.
I took the tray from him and bowed, not to him but to the north, turning toward the crowd, I held it high and turning I bowed to the east, the west and then the south.
Despite being the headman for three years, Patham was a shy man and he would never dare ask, in case he was refused. Like the Fedra, if a man was too shy to propose marriage, those of the clans would use a representative.
I was feeling bubbly with joy, as I said, “Chesira, I ask you to hear me.”
Turning to the east, I repeated it, “Chesira, I ask you to hear me.”
Turning to the west, I repeated it a second time, “Chesira, I ask you to hear me.”
Turning back to the south, I just held up the tray a little higher and waited. I could hear Patham breathing hard behind me. I heard him give a sigh of relief, as a pretty woman in her late teens, made her way gracefully towards us.
Taking the tray from my hands, she bowed toward the north and then holding the tray high in her hands she said, in an eager tone of voice, “I am Chesira and I hear you and I accept this knife that I am offered.”
She handed the tray back to me, her eyes twinkling with amusement and she winked at me. I stepped back out of her path, she moved forward, and, taking Patham’s hand, she raised it high in the air and a burst of cheering went through the clan.
Marriage is simple among the clans. Simply moving in together is regarded as a marriage. The headman had to be a little more formal. He had to ask his bride to be in a Council session before the members of the clan who were there. Or his representative asked, as I had just done.
However, she had not just accepted a proposal of marriage. By offering the knife, Patham had stated that he wanted her as a full partner, not simply a wife and she had accepted.
Patham escorted her to the place he had been sitting. She sank gracefully to a cross-legged position and he sat beside her. From this day forward as his wife and partner, she would sit in the Council with him or as his representative when he couldn’t be there. Her word was now his word.
Turning, I completed my duties. Walking up to her, I presented to her the tray and she took it and placed it beside her on the ground and nodded to me.
I backed up a few feet and then said wickedly, “Perhaps it would be best to introduce the Prince tomorrow. That will give the newlyweds a chance to get better acquainted.”
Patham was blushing with embarrassment and so was Chesira, as the shaman said with a big grin on his face, “Perhaps that would be best.”
There were no protests, the couple got to their feet, and, with cheers and catcalls from the crowd, went into their house closing the door firmly behind them.
When I returned to our party, Desia bent down and gave me a kiss on the forehead and then standing up straight, said, “You’re a romantic, Ari. That’s sweet.” and I was suddenly blushing as badly as the blushing bride and groom.
The crowd was beginning to break up, the people heading back to their homes, discussing the events that had occurred. We headed for the guest house we had been given.
By accepting me as a representative of the Prince, we had also been recognized as someone who could deal with the clan. As I had told the Council, the goods we had brought were not gifts and the two real merchants in our group began negotiating the next morning.
The Prince’s children and I observed for awhile and then we wandered away seeking something to do. I had discarded my shirt and breeches and, like them, was just wearing my loincloth.
I don’t know if we were drawn out of the town, to where many of the clan’s children were, but we did end up in large copse of trees, where there was a pond and a large grassy area. Many of the children were swimming or running around shrieking and laughing playing games. Our presence brought quiet for a few minutes as we simply looked at each other and then the tension collapsed between us and we were drawn into the group.
As the lunch hour approached, we all began to get hungry and the group broke up to head for their homes and a meal. Some of them would come back in the afternoon, but others had work to do. I have mentioned the Guilds. Though the clans don’t have Guilds, they do recognize their ranking system. The Clans also apprenticed their children, but they did so individually. The age that boys and girls were apprenticed was generally between seven and twelve. Though older wasn’t that unusual, younger was.
Quite often gifted children from nomadic clans would be apprenticed in one of the settled clans and the reverse was true as well. It was less common, but it did happen, that children who didn’t like the settled life, would join one of the nomadic clans.
Even in the more populated regions, where the Guilds did exist, many children outside of the Guilds started to work around the same ages. Many of them worked full days like their parents and their lives were very hard ones. Here in the clans, generally the children worked for part of the afternoon, as potters and weavers and in other trades that were necessary for the clans to survive.
In the nomadic clans a lot of the attention and work was centered around their animals. Even in a settled town, like Tajen, there were a lot of animals around, horses, sheep and cattle. Many of the children were looking after the animals, in farm yards or as herders in neighboring fields.
I heard the sound of a drum when I was on the way back for a meal. I saw the Shaman come out of a building and looking up, I realized that the drumming was coming from the roof.
I asked, “What’s that, Sier Landon?”
He smiled down at me and with a twinkle in his eyes, he asked, “What? You don’t know everything, Ari?”
I grinned and shook my head, telling him, “No Sier. I spent the trip learning many things about the town of Tajen and the people who live here. But I didn’t try to learn everything.” I gave a little frown and then shrugged, “People are a little uncomfortable around me as it is. It’s best not to know everything. Besides, even if it’s possible for someone to learn everything, would it be wise to do so? Could such a person find what he needs, or would it be lost among too many other memories?”
He nodded thoughtfully, saying, “I think you’re right, Ari, though I’m a little surprised that someone so young has the wisdom to realize that.” and he ruffled my hair, as I felt myself go red, at his compliment.
He gestured at the roof, telling me, “We use drums to pass message between towns belonging to one clan and to the other clans. I’m sending for Wisel. If his uncle thinks of him so badly, it’s best to get him here as soon as possible and not wait for the Solstice Gather.”
He saw the worry that sprang to my face and he said soothingly, “Don’t worry, little Ari. I said that the Gods sent me a message about the boy.” he gestured with his hand and said firmly, “If it’s an untruth, then I’m sure the Gods will forgive me. And I’m not really sure that it is an untruth, Ari. Perhaps you’re a messenger of the Gods.”
I just nodded, I didn’t really believe that, but then again I had no way of being sure. He changed the subject, saying, “Jathan came in a couple of hours ago. As you expected, Regana decided to take care of the children.”
I smiled and admitted, “I didn’t tell all of the truth either. As I said, Jathan doesn’t see her as a wife now, not so soon after his wife’s death. However, despite the fact that he’s ten years younger than she is, he does like her. With his wife alive, it would never have become more than liking, but as time passes it could very well become more.”
He said with laughter bubbling in his voice, “You’re a romantic, Ari.” and I nodded and grinned again, though I did get a little red.
I was in front of the Council again, dressed in a different shirt and pair of breeches. I bowed to them and in a formal voice, “I wish to introduce to you, Prince Callan, the Prince of the North. I know the one claiming to be the Prince is is an imposter and I saw King Aglan and Prince Callan meet.”
Prince Callan walked out to where I was standing and he bowed to the Council and then stood up straight standing easily in front of them. They looked him up and down searchingly as he did the same to them.
Finally Patham said, “We do not want war, unlike those to the west, but how do you intend to prevent it?”
Callan gave a grin, saying, “You would think that as the son of the King and the Prince of the North, I’m important in this affair.” He shook his head, continuing, “I’m not and I think it’s quite possible that Ari would have found a way to prevent the war even without me. The site where you hold the Solstice Gather is a hallowed spot, because that’s the chief place where the Ancients worshipped Quallan, Goddess of Justice.”
The Prince gestured to me to explain and I stood up straight and said calmly, “I know how to summon the six Servitors and therefore the Goddess, Quallan. In all memory, the Gods of Light have only showed themselves to us on thirteen occasions that we know about and no other God or Goddess has appeared more than once. Quallan has appeared three times. The last time was during the collapse of the Ancient’s empire.”
I said gravely, “She told those gathered to summon her, that the Gods had made a mistake. By their constant nurturing of the Ancients, they had prevented them from being everything that they could be, which led to the destruction of their empire. That they would never meddle in such a fashion again. That they would meddle only in areas where the Dark Gods were involved to make things equal.”
I made a sour face, saying with annoyance, “The Dark Gods have no hesitation in meddling, therefore the Gods of Light do help us, perhaps more often than we’re aware. I have no idea whether the Dark Gods are involved in this, the races of humanity have no problem causing problems all on their own without any prompting.”
A murmur went through the crowd. A murmur of interest and I expect that the Wolf Clan delegation would be the largest they had ever sent.
Landon nodded and then he smiled, telling me, “She told us then that if the Gods of Light were summoned properly, by a person of virtue, they would appear. You are a person of virtue, little Ari, therefore she will show up. Don’t expect her to do more.”
I was blushing furiously at his compliment and my chest was tight at the same time, but I managed to make myself speak, saying, “That’s all we need from her, Sier Landon. She can’t be summoned by someone guilty of lies and falsehood. Her very appearance will tell your people that I’m telling the truth and that my Prince Callan,” giving a quick bow to him, “is the real Prince Callan.”
I sighed with regret as I said, “That’s the only way that a war can be averted. By going from clan to clan, we could try to prove that Prince Callan is the true Prince. About half the clans have a great deal of interest in the idea of independence. It could very well split the clans right down the middle, some obeying the imposter’s orders because they want to, not really caring whether he’s an imposter or not.”
“A war between the clans could very well weaken Galan in the long run, as much as a larger civil war could do.”
Prince Callan stepped forward, taking over the conversation, saying, “My father is as worried about that as he is about a civil war. It could cause long term unrest. We discussed it intensely and he decided the only way we could defuse the potential long term issues, is to recognize what the clans have always been. A separate political entity within Galan.”
He smiled, saying, “He decided that since I am the Prince of the North, then I should act like it. He intends to create a separate political body, called the Federation of the Clans. When the present problem is over, I will remain in the north and establish a capital here, where I and my heirs after me will reside.”
He had to stop then because he got a roar of approval from the crowd behind him and he smiled. That was why King Aglan was creating the Federation, it already existed, it simply had never been given a name before. The imposter could succeed in his mission because the clans were so loosely bound to the King.
It wasn’t intended that he should rule the clans. He would establish a Council, three members from each of the twelve larger clans and two from each of the six smaller clans. They would do the ruling and he would be the head of the Council and their representative to the crown.
When they had quieted down he turned and addressed them, “This isn’t intended as a bribe, to stave off trouble. The rest of your people will be told at the Solstice gather. AFTER” empathizing the word and then repeating it, “After, we deal with the imposter.” And if anything the cheers he got then were even louder then they had been.
That day we got back to what was now considered our routine, with lots of lessons from the Elves. We attracted attention and then competitors, interested in seeing how good we were.
Prince Callan impressed them, but they were astonished with the ability that Glendan and I showed. We moved with the grace of dancers and blinding speed whether it was an arm take down into the dust and back on our feet, or knife blades snapping together with the clink of steel.
None of the clan children who challenged us, came close to matching our ability, but they took their losses with good grace and laughter when they went down in defeat.
About a week later us kids were swimming. After diving deep into the water and coming up again, I was treading water, when I saw a boy sitting on a horse watching us. The horse moved a little turning sideways and I could see the brand wasn’t in the shape of a wolf’s head, but a stylized hawk. I realized that this must be Wisel.
And he was looking right at me, ignoring all of the other children. I swam to the bank, pulled myself up and walked over to him. Putting my hand on the side of the horse, I looked up at him. He was naked like all of the clan kids of his age and he looked much like I did. He had blond hair, though it was much longer than mine, hanging down his back. His dreamy brown eyes, were large and like his lips were smiling. Below a delicate nose and as I said smiling lips and a boyish chin.
He smile grew bigger as he said, “I thank you. I saw you in my dreams for the last two months, but then suddenly a week ago the dream stopped. When I got the summons, I knew you were responsible.” He bent down and offered his hand in friendship.
Mostly we bow. We only shake hands occasionally and only between close friends. I took his hand, aware that he was the rarest of all magic users. A Seer. And he was offering me a friendship closer than any I had ever had. After a little hesitation, I reached up and took his somewhat larger hand in mine and shook it firmly.
I looked around expecting to see at least one adult with him. At eleven, he would be considered too young to be on his own. He smiled, saying with amusement, “My uncle was furious when the summons came. He forbade me to come. But I don’t answer to him. He is not the head of my family. My father said nothing,” and he grinned, “after all he has to live with the man,” and he giggled, then said, “but he winked at me, leaving the decision to me, as he has always done.”
“I was gone within the hour. Hernen was traveling here and I traveled with him.” He grinned again, “Since I was simply traveling with him, he has no responsibility to make sure I got to the person who made the summons.”
He folded his hands on the horse’s neck and leaned forward a little. He wrinkled his nose and giggled again, “It’s a funny thing, I was talking to Hernen the morning we left and he didn’t mention any journey.”
I laughed with him and he threw his leg over the neck of his horse and slipped to the ground. He towered over me. He was about average size for an eleven year old, but as I mentioned at the beginning, I was slight and delicate looking and at ten I had found that most of the eight year olds of the clan were as tall or taller than me.
We walked in companionable silence as I took him to meet the Shaman.
Landon was a hard taskmaster, but only when he was actually teaching and he didn’t think that Wisel needed to spend all of his time learning. He had plenty of free time, and, over the next few weeks, when we weren’t learning how to fight, we had plenty of time to go riding and we got to be firm friends.
By the way, Curan found his ghost stallion. The Ghost and his herd were in the Hidden Valley, as I had thought. After exploring the valley and seeing that there was nowhere that horses could hide for long, it was decided to put a gate up. It was ten feet tall and no horse was going to be able to jump that.
With the gate in place, they had a ready made corral, though at twenty miles long and ten wide, it was a little larger than normal. Curan had no intention of trying to break The Ghost, he simply wanted him for a stud.
We left for the Solstice Gather on the 8th of Sen and it was intended to be an easy journey. We would only travel about twenty miles a day, thus the one hundred and fifty odd miles would take about eight days. Normally the clan would have started on the journey a couple of days sooner, but we wanted to hide the Prince’s presence as long as we could. With a thousand people making the journey even if someone didn’t break the news deliberately, they might do so accidentally.
When we arrived and we were the last, we moved into the area traditionally used by the Wolf Clan. We set up a more permanent camp than we had done on the trail. We had been traveling in groups of thirty to fifty people, and, though we had been traveling to the same place, we didn’t camp together en route.
That changed at the Gather and the clan people were drawn together into one large group instead of many smaller ones. Aside from the headman’s tent, which was much bigger than any of the others and defined the center of the campsite, all the other tents were of about the same size.
Since tents were one of the things the clans made and exported, they were all somewhat different. Some were very elaborately decorated while others were plain, but most of them were in between the two extremes.
Once the cook fires were set up and supper was being cooked, the rest of us headed for the central Gather place in the hills in back of the camping area. Those of us who weren’t familiar with it, stopped at the entrance to look around with awe.
It was almost as if the Gods had created their own theater. Wisel had shown me written records describing something falling out of the sky, something they called the Hand of the Goddess. The Hand had scooped a circular hole out of the ground. The grassy ground sloped down on all sides, creating natural seating for thousands of people.
Work had clearly been done on the area at the foot of the slopes, because it was gravel rather than grass and just beyond the gravel was a raised platform formed from enormous flat stones. The platform made it look even more like a theater, but I knew that the only theater practiced here, was of a religious and political nature.
On the outside of the platform, on the side away from us and a little way up the hill, there were seven enormous stones. Six were of a bluish gray color and the seventh; the one in the center was of reddish sandstone.
Also on the outside of the platform on the side nearest to us was a second much smaller raised platform, only five feet in diameter and about two feet high. It also was of red sandstone. On this side of the platform there was a small pool where the runoff from the slopes could gather and a small stream flowed from it and out the entrance where we were standing and then down the slope to the river.
That was the farthest that the Prince’s group intended to go, until the actual Solstice ceremony in two days. Until then we intended to stay in the Wolf Clan’s camp, so we headed back there and began helping the cooks prepare supper. And yes, I got to peel perdans, after all I had gotten so good at it.
It was evening and the sun was almost down, however the moon, Esar, was full and already up and would provide moonlight as the ceremony continued far into the night.
Fires had been lit on either side of the platform towards the back, so that they wouldn’t block anyone’s view and several fires had been lit in between the seven large stones in back of the platform.
We were standing facing the platform, Patham and his new wife in the first few rows with the Council and their families. The rest of the representatives of the Wolf Clan were standing behind them in row after row reaching toward the rim.
Prince Callan, Desia and their four children and their guards were right behind the Council, with my Elven guards and me. Landon was the only one of the Council who wasn’t with us, though his wife and two children were. He was up on the platform with the other chief Shaman’s of the clans, all eighteen.
For the next couple of hours it would be like a giant Council session, people approaching the platform for help, or judgment. Only in this instance, it would be things that affected all of the clans or disputes between different clans.
We waited patiently for almost an hour as the clans business was done, disputes settled, judgments made. Then Patham turned to me and said in a quiet voice, “It’s time, little Ari.” and I nodded.
We walked out to the smaller platform and Patham lifted me up and then got up himself. We bowed to the Shamen and then facing the people of the clans, Patham stood behind me with his hands on my shoulders.
He didn’t speak loudly, he didn’t need to, for the resemblance to a theater was even closer than I had imagined. I had been told that the acoustics were perfect and it was possible to hear a whisper used at this place everywhere on the hill.
Patham spoke firmly, confidently, “I am here to sponsor a man of the clans. Ari here is his representative and he will introduce him to you.”
The sun was gone now and there was only moonlight and firelight left but I could see that sea of white faces on the hillside. Taking a deep breath I began to speak firmly, “My name is Ari Wiken and I represent Prince Callan. Not the Prince Callan that the Bear Clan is sponsoring, but my Prince Callan.”
There was silence from most of the people but from the area where the three disloyal clans were sitting, there came shouts of outrage and demands for me to be silent.
The headman of the Hawk Clan stood up and said, “Silence. The child is speaking and we always listen before we judge. Besides,” and amusement was evident in his voice, “The boy hasn’t said that the Bear Clan is sponsoring an imposter, he just said that the man wasn’t his Prince Callan.”
There was silence now but it was an uncomfortable silence. I turned away from the people and raising my hands I said in Crymaya, the language that the Ancient’s had spoken, “Shesara, Cinmarden, Ishfahlan, Togara, Zemara, Kinlyden. I summon you, the Servitors of the Goddess, Quallan, to appear before us!!”
I had lied to the Council. I didn’t believe that the Goddess would appear. I had decided in this instance the honorable thing to do was to be dishonorable though the decision had been very hard. The names weren’t names at all but magical words to invoke a spell, placed on the seven stones by Mages pretending to be Priests in the far past.
The stones were simply supposed to start glowing and then images of the Servitors would appear vaguely, replacing the stones.
But from the very beginning, it went wrong. As I watched with wide startled eyes, the stones changed. When they stopped changing, they were vague all right, not vaguely visible but vaguely human and fully visible.
I was frightened now and I was having a hard time stopping myself from wetting my pants and I was covered with sweat. One of the Servitors spoke to me using mind-speech, *You should be frightened, little one. If the Goddess had decided you were being disrespectful or dishonest, you would spend many lives being punished.*
I scrunched up at that and tears were threatening to fall, *But we know you are not being disrespectful or dishonest.* he said soothingly. *You are trying to the best of your ability to prevent death and destruction and if that requires lying, then we agree that it is the honorable thing to do. Use the rest of the ritual, little Ari. In this case it WILL summon the Goddess.*
His mind-voice was so reassuring that most of my fear left me, but not all of it. It hadn’t been my intention, but I had dared call on the Gods and I had been lying. I knew I would remember this moment for the rest of my life; yet I knew that, even knowing what I did now, if I was in a similar situation, I would do exactly the same thing again.
I thought my voice was remarkably steady despite the turmoil inside of me, as I went on with the ritual. As I did so for the first time I was aware of the noise coming from the clans people behind me and to the sides. They were in awe as in fact I was.
Steady but reverent now I completed the ritual, saying in Crymaya, “I ask the Goddess, Quallan to appear before this worthy person,” flinching as I said worthy, “to advise us on how to proceed now and in the future.”
I heard in my mind again, from one of the Servitors, *I know you hate to lie, Ari and that’s probably best, but lives are more important at times than the complete truth. I’m glad you have the wisdom to realize that.*
At that point, the six Servitors raised the trumpets they were holding to their lips and let loose with a heavenly summons. And as the center stone began to glow, the Servitors began fading back into stone.
When she was fully visible she was almost twenty feet tall and she towered over the people of the clans, far more than simple height would allow. There was absolute quiet behind me now. Her voice was soft and musical as she said, “Ari Wiken is indeed a worthy person.” and she smiled at me and I gave a little gulp and I could see her eyes twinkle.
She continued speaking, “That’s not to say that he wouldn’t lie if he felt that it was necessary.” and my heart gave a jump at that, “But for all the help he has given people he has never asked for and more importantly never wanted a reward for what he has done.”
She said seriously, “His Prince Callan is indeed the real Prince Callan and while we seldom meddle in the affairs of humanity, we do require balance between the Gods of Light and the Dark Gods. They have appeared much more often than we have, so I decided to answer the summons on this occasion. The balance comes a little closer to being complete.”
She raised her hand, saying, “My blessings upon all of you.” Falling silent, then she grew brighter and brighter and then winked out, suddenly disappearing. There was an explosion of sound from the clans and as I turned to face Prince Callan, it seemed to go on and on.
Finally, it began to subside and when I could hear myself think again, I said, “I introduce the man I represent, Prince Callan, Prince of the North.” and I gave him a bow, as he made the way to the platform and made a easy leap to join Patham and me.
His guards and mine moved away from the audience and stood in front of the smaller platform facing them.
He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Thank you, Ari.” and turning he faced the clans. Addressing them, he began speaking in a calm authoritative voice, “You gave me your oaths of allegiance when I was invested as Prince of the North. At the same time, the imposter could never have been as effective as he has been without the leaders and shamen of three of the clans.”
“As your liege I call them before me.” It took several minutes but finally we could see the headmen moving forward and three of the Shamen came from behind us standing in front of him.
He looked up at the people of the clans, saying, “By law I have the right to judge them, do you accept that right.”
A short pause and then a huge ‘Yes’, from all of the clans, walloped our ears. There may have been nos there as well, but they were drowned out by the yeses.
He looked down at the six men in front of him, All of them were in their fifties or early sixties. He asked, “Is there any reason that I shouldn’t have you executed?”
I could see in the moonlight that they had scowls on their faces, but they didn’t answer his question. Prince Callan nodded and said, “At least you’re willing to accept the fate that your actions have brought you to. But no, I won’t have you executed. I’ll do something that you consider far worse than death. I’ll strip you of your power and titles.”
He said gravely, “People like you live for power. From this day forth your heirs will take your place and for the Shamen, their chief apprentices will take your place. You wanted power so much that you intended to betray the rest of the clans to get it. I hope you live long lives, knowing that the desire for power you wanted, lost you the respect and power that you already had.”
Callan looked out at the people of the clans. He said solemnly, “I would have no objection to having them executed. However, from what Ari has told me, many of their clansmen and many of you shared their supposed goal as well. You didn’t know that the man claiming to be the Prince of the North was an impostor. What you wanted was a return to the past, where the clans were autonomous and ruled by the Prince of the North.”
He shook his head, telling them, “The past is past and today and tomorrow are what’s important in life. You already have autonomy to a great extent through custom, but it never has been officially recognized.”
“My father intends to put into writing what has always existed through custom. From this day forth the clans will be known as the Federation of the Clans.”
Prince Callan got a roar of approval at that point and it went on and on for several minutes before it began to die down. When he could be heard again he continued as if he hadn’t been interrupted, “As Prince of the North, I don’t intend to rule you. Your Council will rule you; I’m simply going to be the head of that Council.”
He explained, “As head of the Council, I will have more power than the other Council members. My vote will equal six of theirs, but with three Councilors from each of the twelve larger clans and two, from each of the smaller clans I will simply be a little more equal than they will.”
He said emphatically, “The only other power that I will have is that I can refuse to seat a Council member. In that case, his or her clan will have to choose a new one. The rest of the Council will have the same right, but they must have the approval of thirty of the forty-eight Councilors to do the same thing.”
The people of the clans were listening intently and quietly, as Prince Callan told them how they would be ruled for the foreseeable future. So far, there were no indications that they objected to anything he had said; in fact, just the opposite, quiet murmurs of approval were going through the clans.
Callan turned slowly to look at each segment of the audience, before he continued, “Each clan will chose two or three Councilors to represent them, depending on the size of the clan. You will decide how long they will serve, for a minimum of one year and a maximum of three years. That doesn’t mean that they can’t serve many more years than that, but for each period of service, they must be chosen again.”
“To recognize the uniqueness of the Federation of the Clans, the Prince of the North will no longer be chosen from the direct line of Royal succession. From this day forth, my line will provide the Prince of the North and my heirs will hold the title.”
The roar of approval this time sent vibrations of sound though every person there and it seemed to go on and on without end.
Finally the roar began to die down and the Prince waited for silence before continuing, “One last thing before I deal with the impostor Prince. Clandar was once the capital of the Prince of the North, in the days when he actually ruled you. Since then the clans have had no capital, no real center except for this place where you only meet once a year.”
He paused, before saying forcefully, “You need a center, so we intend to build a capital and a new center!! Twenty miles to the east, at the ford in the Wanden River is a good place for a new town. The crown will provide the funds and the clans will provide the labor to build the capital that will be called Taylin, which is the Ancient’s word for center.”
The roar this time was even more intense than the before, but it was too powerful to last for long and eventually subsided.
His voice was much harder now, when he said, “The false Prince and his men will come forward now!!!”
There was no hesitation, no lack of courage, on the part of the false Prince or his guards. As they approached the platform, the real Prince’s bodyguard drew their swords.
When they came to rest the false Prince a few feet in front of his men, Prince Callan said, harshly, “By the laws of the clans, by the laws of Galan, you deserve death. Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
The man closest said, “My name is Siedel Karough. I won’t try to maintain that I’m Prince Callan. With you here, that will be a little hard.” and I saw him give a little grin, before continuing. “I’m King Findar’s liegeman. While I didn’t particularly like what I was doing, my honor required me to obey him and to do my task to the best of my ability.” a pause before he continued, “I have no right to ask, but I will ask you not to hurt my men.”
Callan said, “You are in my power and I would find your death gratifying.” he shook his head, “At the same time your lives are like coins for me to use. To kill you would be to spend your lives unwisely, because I would get nothing back except satisfaction. To send you back to your King will spend your lives much more intelligently.”
“You’ve failed and in the process you’ve awakened the clans to a more important future. Even now we are more united and much stronger and as a consequence Galan is much stronger.”
He drew his hand across his throat; “Perhaps your King will kill you for your failure, perhaps not. Your lives aren’t very important to me. You simply represent a way to get a warning to your King. If he’s astute, he will heed the warning. If he’s unwise, he will continue on the course he’s presently following, to weaken us and then force a war. We lose nothing either way, except for your lives.”
The Prince grinned like a shark; “Of course, as powerful as your family, the Karough’s are, if Findar decides to kill you, that could result in a civil war in your country. You earn us much more by keeping you alive than by making you dead."
“We will place no guards on you here at the Gather, after all, where would you go, except where we want you to go anyway? When the Gather is over, we will escort you south to the border and our guards will leave you there.”
With that, he waved his hand dismissing them bodily and from his mind. He said, “I summon the Chief Apprentices of the disgraced Shamen to take over their duties and join the rest of the Shamen. We have much to celebrate, not least the appearance of the Goddess Quallan.”
Callan was taking a little chance; if the Apprentices decided not to come forward, it could undermine his authority and I could see his face was tense, but it relaxed as we saw the three men approach us. Everything would be well.
We put the Gathering place behind us as we headed back to Tajen, though that’s as far as the Prince and his family intended to go. They would stay there until they were informed that the labor needed to build the town of Taylin had been collected.
The Prince eased back from where he was in the lead with his family and motioned to me. Obediently I moved up next to him. We were isolated now and our conversation would be private.
Callan said to me in a calm voice, “I know you were surprised at what happened, Ari. You didn’t really think that the Goddess would appear.” Well I’ve said the Prince tended to be inflexible, I didn’t say he wasn’t perceptive. “I didn’t question you, because at that point I didn’t want to know. If I had known, I would have needed to forbid you to proceed. My honor would have demanded it.”
I was frightened and my hands were sweating on the reins, as he continued, “Can you be trusted, little Ari?” My heart was in my throat, if I said the wrong thing, he could decide that I was better off dead. His opinion would go a long way with the King, even if he didn’t decide to take matters into his own hands.
My voice was shaky as I said, “I think you can, Your Highness. But to do so, you need to understand me.” I looked at him and he was looking at me intently with his dark eyes. “I respect you and the King and I owe my respect to the other nobles and important people of the Kingdom.”
I shook my head, saying, “But even though I feel I owe respect, doesn’t mean that I would obey any order that you gave me. If I don’t think an order is right, I won’t obey it. I wouldn’t have obeyed the order that Sier Karough was given. Under the circumstances it was given, it was wrong. If it was wartime instead of peacetime, then the order would have been right and I would have accepted it.”
“Galan and the people of Galan are more important to me than you are. As long as your orders benefit the people of Galan, I will obey them. Both you and the King are good people, but I don’t know with your rigid code of honor whether you can accept me and trust me the way I am.”
I thought of the oath that I had given to the King, then I looked back at Prince Callan. I couldn’t read what he was thinking. The fear was still there in my mind, but at the same time acceptance, I couldn’t be anything more than I was. I told him soberly, “In the first few decades after the founding of Galan the usual oath was much different from what it is today. You swore to protect Galan first and only then did you swear to the King. While the oath is very old, it is still considered valid.”
“The oath has the following words in it, ‘I will protect Galan and the people of Galan and I will obey my King, to the best of my abilities.’ That’s the oath that I swore to your father. My honor in that respect is as rigid as yours, I simply understand it in a different manner.”
I looked at him again and I relaxed a little as I saw him nodding. He said, “Very well, Ari, as long as you stick to your code of honor, I can understand what you will do and won’t do. That’ll have to be enough.” and kicking his horse he rejoined his family.
It was time to say goodbye and that was hard to do. Especially between Glendan and I and Wisel and I. Both had become firm friends and I would miss both of them dreadfully, but their home was now here and mine was in the capital.
Despite the sadness at the same time, my heart was singing with joy. I was on my way back to my family and I was thrilled to be going home.
Patham sent a dozen riders to accompany the Elves, the two merchants and me back to Clandar and the journey just seemed to flash by. The voyage to Galdar by ship went even faster.
I felt like running all the way to the inn, but restrained myself somehow. But my heart lifted with joy as I stood on Begas Way, in front of the inn. I turned and looked up at the Elves and from the way they were looking toward the inn; I realized that this had become their home as well, for there were smiles of gladness on their faces.
When we went into the inn, we were almost ignored for the first few minutes. It was swirling with excitement and it took a while to find out why. Marta had just told Gendon that she would marry him.
With a sigh of delight, I took in the news. I was returning to an inn full of happiness and I was glad to be home.
Reports had been sent to the King by the same ship we had been on and later that day, for the first time, I was officially summoned to the Palace.
My family was also summoned to the Palace. ‘To see your son and brother invested with the title of Royal Seeker.’ as the official document stated. Marta, as my prospective mother, was also invited, though separately.
Although Gerrit is eight, he’s almost as big as I am and for this occasion he needed a shirt and breeches instead of the loincloth he normally wears. I had been given several shirts and breeches. I gave him a couple of each and he seemed quite happy to accept them.
I think he was excited by the fact that they were mine and I could see it on his face as he tried them on. He posed for the family with his hands by his sides, a solemn look on his face. Then he bowed and after straightening, he giggled and put his hand over his mouth.
Daisel and Devar at six and seven as I mentioned in our class were considered too young to wear clothing. As they were, they were considered appropriately dressed for any occasion, no matter how important it was.
Girls of our class, once they were old enough to start wearing clothing, were expected to have elaborately decorated clothing for formal occasions. Both Glena and Adran however decided that they needed completely new outfits and Marta and them went shopping. Girls.
As we waited in the audience chamber, I was bubbling with good humor. My grandfather had also been summoned and he was standing about twenty feet from me trying to ignore my presence. As I mentioned at the beginning of the story, I had heard he was hale and hearty. He didn’t look very well at the moment and the occasional looks he sent my way were daggers of dislike.
Looking at it fairly, I realized that I didn’t hate him. He was a mean spirited, petty man and I felt sorry for him more than anything else. I must admit that I was enjoying his discomfort. He was getting a little bit of the punishment he deserved for the way he had treated my parents and me.
The King’s Herald brought the butt of his staff down onto the stone floor, making a ringing sound. He did it twice more and then said, “Stand for the King!!” Not that anyone was actually sitting.
The King swept in followed by his bodyguards. They stood on either side of the throne as he looked over the audience chamber. He looked at me and I could see him smile with approval. Sitting he nodded at the Herald.
The man handed his staff to a pageboy and accepting a scroll from a second boy, he handed it to the King, who opened it and began reading, in a stately voice. “The purpose of today’s audience is to thank Ari Wiken for the services he rendered to the crown and to his country.”
He explained, “Firstly. The magnitude of his talent prompted us to create for him and appoint him to the post of Royal Seeker. We are aware of the estrangement between Ari and his grandfather. Guildmaster Selmann Wiken was summoned to assure him that we still regard the Searcher’s Guild as important as it has been for thousands of years.”
“Yet we also realize that Ari Wiken’s talent is much more than that of a Searcher. We have seen him do things that a Searcher would find impossible to do. We must therefore use his talent in the best interests of Galan. We therefore created a post for him, with pay and status commensurate with that of the Provost Marshall of Galdar. From this day forward he will be known as the Royal Seeker.”
He told us, “Secondly. By use of his talent, Ari Wiken exposed a plot by the Kingdom of Tillen to cause a civil war in Galan. It was intended to weaken us and allow their King, Findar, to conquer Galan. By use of his talent, Ari Wiken helped Prince Callan prevent that plot from succeeding.”
He looked at me benevolently, saying, “What fantastic rewards did Ari Wiken demand or expect in saving our country from war? Nothing. He asked for nothing, expects nothing, wants nothing. However, the very magnitude of his deeds demands that we reward him.”
‘No!!!’ I was shouting in my mind and my hands were clenched tight. I didn’t want anything, but whatever the King wanted to do to reward me, I would have to take.
He told us, “I have therefore created a life title for Ari Wiken. From this day forward he will be known as Baron Seeker and while we will not give him lands, we will provide him with revenue proportionate to his title.”
“So say I, Aglan, King of Galan.”
He allowed the scroll to close and looked at the Herald who had retrieved his staff. The man said, “Approach the Throne, Ari Wiken.”
I did as I was told and when I was at the right distance and I knew how far away I was supposed to be from the Herald, I bowed to my King. My heart was tight in my chest and I appreciated the thanks that he wanted to give me, but I wished he had chosen another way to do it.
King Aglan addressed me in a kindly tone, “We don’t always get what we want, Ari. I know you’re uncomfortable right now. In a way, I’m not rewarding you; I’m telling those that perform services for our country, that they will be rewarded if they do something outstanding. I’m encouraging them and many of us need encouraging.”
I nodded and then I said with resignation, “I understand Your Majesty. I wish you hadn’t done it, but I must accept it.” I managed to grin, “At least you haven’t given me people to rule. I don’t think I could do that.”
The King held out the scroll that gave me my title. He smiled, “Possibly not, Baron Seeker. I thought you would be more comfortable this way.”
He stood up and ruffled my hair and then nodded at the Herald again, who brought his staff down three times to end the audience. He gave me a nod and then he exited followed by his bodyguards.
I looked over at my grandfather and there was no longer any anger on his face, simply speculation. He nodded at me as well and then he also turned and walked to the door. I didn’t particularly like the gleam he had had in his eyes and I knew he wanted to use me.
As the family I loved gathered around me, I was content. I had them and the friends I had gathered over the past year. And my father’s relatives might even accept me. I would just have to be cautious and not let them use me.
|Adana - people who presently rule Adanal|
|Adanal - country on the eastern continent|
|Alanea - Prince Callan’s six year old daughter.|
|Alcorn - Chief Galan Mage.|
|Amandara - People who once ruled Adanal, they peacefully gave up the throne to the Adana people 1000 years ago. In the last two hundred they’ve been persecuted as a deliberate ploy by the Adanal Kings to keep themselves in power.|
|Aphel, Tolar - High Merchant - 65.|
|Aravis - capital of Sentoria|
|Arden, Fain - page in Count Onlae’s household|
|Begas Way - street on which Corkrill Inn is on.|
|Borgun - Fedra guard at Count Onlae’s town house.|
|Broken Hills - rocky cliffs which has the entrance to the Hidden Valley.|
|Cabin - Prince Callan’s seven year old son.|
|Canndar - God of Wisdom, whose temples are libraries and his Priests teachers, though there are many private teachers as well.|
|Carn, Samar - liegeman of the Queen of Sentoria, one of the two Elven Kingdom north of Galan|
|Carth - groom and carriage driver for Ari’s grandfather.|
|Charin - capital of Adanal.|
|Chesira - 18, woman of the Wolf Clan|
|Clan of the Wolf - Clan which Patham heads.|
|Clandar - Small Galan city, two hundred miles north of Galdar. Being forty miles up the Delhane River, which is navigable up to the city and for twenty miles north-west of the city.|
|Corkrill, Adran - daughter of Gendon, 11|
|Corkrill, Daisel - 5 year old son of Gendon.|
|Corkrill, Devar 7 old son of Gendon Corkrill|
|Corkrill, Gerrit - 8 year old son of Gendon Corkrill|
|Corkrill, Glena - innkeeper’s daughter. Thirteen.|
|Corkrill, Mayon - Gendon’s grandfather.|
|Corkrill, Ortone - cousin of Gendon’s. Owned the inn before Gendon.|
|Corsome, Marta - childhood friend of Gendon’s who by the end of the story has agreed to marry him.|
|Crymaya - Ancient’s langugage.|
|Curan - Council member of the Wolf Clan. 35.|
|Dark Underworld - equivalent of hell and is known by both terms.|
|Degan - boy of Ari’s age, father is a magistrate.|
|Delhane River which is navigable up to the city of Clandar and for twenty miles north west of it.|
|Demla - husband of the widowed Regana - female council member of the Wolf Clan.|
|Derack - Elven guard in Queen Caria’s household. One of two guards she assigns to protect Ari.|
|Derwin - The Wraith’s contact point at the Inn of the Heavens.|
|Desia - Prince Callan’s wife|
|Dysan - a Healer|
|Eldar - a warrior sect, producing some of the best warriors on the planet.|
|Elowist - Borgun’s spirit name.|
|Elwin - hunter and tracker of the Wolf Clan.|
|Enda - heaven or paradise|
|Endira - 8 year old daughter of the High Priest of the God of Wisdom|
|Equar, Duke Morced - leader of the conspiracy against Queen Caria|
|Esar - one of the two moons.|
|Escalan - High Priest of the God of Wisdom, Canndar. As such, Chief Librarian.|
|Evalla - second and larger of the two moons|
|Fallon - most important of the sedan chair bearers.|
|Fedra - a nomadic people who provide guards for some important people.|
|Fharson, Count Onlae - cousin of the King. 30|
|Fharson, Tannyl - The count’s eight year old daughter.|
|Fharson, Tarbel - The count’s eight year old son.|
|Flynar - Desia’s cousin|
|Galdar - Capital of the Kingdom of Galan|
|Gatekeepers - Light
Gatekeepers and Dark Gatekeepers.
The Gatekeepers determine whether someone can enter Paradise or the Dark Underworld.
To appear before them you must have a Scroll of Passage or by your actions earned the equivalent.
|Gatekeepers - The Gatekeepers decide who gets directly into Paradise or the Underworld or whether they return to the Wheel of Life and Death.|
|Gendon Corkrill - innkeeper. Black eyes, black hair.|
|Glendan - oldest of Prince Callan’s children. He turned nine on the voyage.|
|Guesting Room - room in a noble or High Merchant house that is used to greet and entertain guests.|
|Halwin - Prince Callan’s 8 year old son.|
|Hand of the Goddess - meteor which had created the crater at which the Gather was held.|
|Harwon - Captain of Guards for Count Onlae Fharson|
|Hospital of Rethes - Rethes, Goddess of Healing. Maintained by her priests.|
|Inn of the Heavens - Galdar Inn.|
|Ithan - God of Death. All funerals performed by his Priests.|
|Jathan - 31 - leaves his three children with Regana|
|jinka bird - loves bright objects|
|Karaba - on the Wolf clan council.|
|Karan Wellan - 17 ½. Marries Count Pharson|
|Karan, Yaran - Wellan’s father, a High Merchant|
|Kellen - City Guard. His area of patrol includes Corkrill Inn.|
|Kesen - small Galan port city fifty miles to the north of Galdar|
|King Aglan - King of Galan|
|King Jalern - King of Tabana|
|Landon - Shaman of the Wolf Clan|
|Larden, Daran - Brother to Tavit Larden. 16|
|Larden, Darnal - orphaned son of Tavit and Trena.|
|Larden, Trena - wife of Tavit Larden 22|
|Leanon - important member of the Searcher’s Guild|
|losir - sleeping drug. Fast acting.|
|magwan - herb that when burned keeps away biting insects.|
|Millen - Tarbel and Tannyl’s nursemaid|
|Misier - Generally
used as a respectful title either to, or about unmarried women not of
the nobility, but also an address to those woman when you don’t know
what their class is. For instance if you know that a woman is the wife
of a Baron you could address her as Baroness.
At the same time, it would be quite correct to address her as Madame, Ma’am, or Mistress. If you didn’t know a woman’s married status you would use Misier.
|Mynan, Asshur - King Aglan’s deceased second wife|
|Orinis - non-addictive drug, an overdose is fatal unless treated immediately.|
|Patham - headman of the Wolf Clan. Twenty-two, the youngest of all the clans headmen.|
|Patras - servant in Admal Talgonn’s household|
|perdan - type of vegetable, similar to Earth’s potato.|
|Phidan - son of Leanon|
|pliksa - childhood ailment, usually not dangerous, but because Ari had been close to starving himself to make sure that he could pay for the Scroll of Passage for his father and physically was quite weak, it could easily have killed him.|
|Prince Andrell - King Aglan’s heir. Thirty-three.|
|Prince Callan - Prince of the North. Third born son of King Agnal. Thirty-two years old|
|Quallan - Goddess of Justice.|
|Queen Caria - Elven Queen of Sentoria.|
|Raima - Elven woman and Seer.|
|Regana - female council member of the Wolf Clan. Forty-three. Widow of Demlar.|
|Rethes - Goddess of Healing|
|Sentoria - Elven Kingdom to the north of Galan|
|Serai - Ari’s world. From an Ancient’s word meaning Globe.|
|Servitors of Quallan - Shesara, Cinmarden, Ishfahlan, Togara, Zemara, Kinlyden.|
|Siedel Karough - posing as Prince Callan to stir up a rebellion in northern Galan. He’s working for King Findar|
|Sier - derivative of sir, but used as a respectful title either to, or about men not of the nobility|
|Spinwater - Village in which Gendon was born and Marta lived|
|Stiren Arvan - one of the first Seekers, two thousand years before present.|
|Tabana - other Elven kingdom|
|Tajen - Chief town of the Wolf Clan.|
|Talgonn, Admal - High Merchant former general in the army. Hires Ari.|
|Talgonn, Davan - murdered son of Admal and Elgann. fourteen at the time.|
|Talgonn, Elgann - Admal Talgonn's, wife and cousin of Wellan|
|Tarnac Ocean - ocean between the continent Galan is on and the one which Adanal is on.|
|Tarquin style - covered head to foot in lightweight wrappings.|
|Tarron, Bantal - killer of Tavit. 25|
|Tavit Larden - Low Merchant Guilded leather worker. 23|
|Taylin - Ancient word for center.|
|Tegra - second city in the kingdom, located 100 miles to the northeast. The major seaport of the kingdom.|
|Telandar, Acurn - head of the Telandar clan and the King’s Chancellor or Prime Minister.|
|Telandar, Wyvel - man responsible for the death of Davan Talgonn.|
|The Wraith - an assassin|
|Tillen - King Findar’s kingdom|
|Tilma - serving maid at an Inn.|
|Togan - needle. Used mainly by Healers. It has a hollow center and a pig’s bladder attached in order to inject drugs into the system.|
|Tunda - port city where the twelve galleys are based|
|Turvar - Elven guard in Queen Caria’s household. One of two guards she assigns to protect Ari.|
|Urdane - Small port city in the last Amandara enclave.|
|Wanden River - river which runs through the clans territory.|
|Wiken, Ari 9 at beginning of story. Blond hair, brown eyes, slight and fragile looking, but is much stronger than he looks.|
|Wiken, Artan - Ari’s Father.|
|Wiken, Selmann - Ari’s grandfather and the Guildmaster of the Searcher’s Guild.|
Wil, Hagan - brothers and bullies.
Tenta is 13 and five ft five in height and Hagan is fourteen and five ft seven in height
|Wilorn - Elven Healer|
|Wisel - potential Shaman for the Wolf Clan though he’s of the Hawk clan.|
324 days per year. 27 hour day. 12 months of 27 days. 3 weeks of 9 days per month. 8748 hours on Serai compared to 8760 days on Earth. Since the year is only 12 hours different from Earth, all ages are exactly the same.
18TH of Sen the day of the summer solstice.