Envra, an upper level priest and Caretaker of the Seers, bowed to High Priest Devan, his normally cheerful face creased with worry. He handed him a piece of parchment.
Devan read through the Answer Vondra the First Seer had written. His face went cold and hard as he looked up at Envra. He asked, “Have any of the other Seers confirmed it?”
Envra wrung his hands, saying anxiously, “All of them, Devan. All five. There's never been an agreement between all six Seers on a Answer.” He paused, “In fact I've never heard of an unasked for Answer.”
Devan shook his head, telling him, “You're wrong old friend, when there's a Answer, there's always a Question. One of Decord's worshipper's can ask directly and receive an Answer. It's rare, but it has occurred but it never affected more than a few people. The last time it happened was more than two hundred years ago. I’ve read some of the Journals kept by all High Priests. This turned up twice, and I had the archives checked. Acolytes found eight other cases.”
He explaned, “By the time they had reached back a thousand years the records of that era were in such bad shape that I had them stop. That was just after I became High Priest twenty years ago and before you came to Redmarsh from Kernst.” He flicked the parchment with his finger. “However this is not one of them. I asked the Question for my great-nephew eight months ago. Vondra told me at that time that there would be an Answer, but that it wouldn't come for some time.”
Devan sighed and rubbed his tired eyes, before he spoke, “This is going to set off a series of grave events. Keep this quiet for the time being. I'll have to tell Kelwyn and then…” He shrugged, “Well he's discussed several plans with me, depending on what the Answer would turn out to be and when it occurred.”
He got to his feet, standing straight and tall in spite of his more than seventy years. He said to Envra, “I'm going into the Temple to pay my respects. Please have them saddle my horse, and have it ready for me in ten minutes.” Envra bowed and left moving at his usual frantic pace, always as if the world was on the verge of ending. Devan looked down at the parchment and mused, “For a change, perhaps it is.”
The young Duke, ten year old Kelwyn of Redmarsh, was playing a ball game with nineteen other boys of about his age; pages, sons of courtiers and wealthy merchants. He was easy to pick out, not only because he was so small, being a head shorter than the other boys of his age, but for the fluid grace of his movements. The Duke and three other boys landed together on the ground fighting for the ball. With lightning quickness Kelwyn had the ball and was on his feet and heading for the end line at top speed. Those boys on the opposition team who had been only a few yards behind him, were more than ten yards back when Kelwyn reached the line.
Kel set the ball on the ground, turned and bowed to his pursuers, then was buried in a sea of boys. The Duke managed to squirm out of the pile, his small size helping in that respect. The others didn't even notice he was missing: however by that time they didn't care, it had become a free-for-all of wrestling boys, giggling, shrieking and laughing in the joy of being alive and being a boy.
A laughing Kelwyn was about to dive back into the pile, when he spotted his Great-uncle. Taking one look at the serious expression on that white bearded face, his face went blank for a moment, all emotions jerked to a stop, and then his small face became grave and he began to walk toward the man.
About halfway to him, Kel took a wistful look back over his shoulder at the pile of boys, and then straightening his small shoulders and smoothing his thick black hair, he turned his back on childhood.
Kelwyn looked up at his Great-Uncle and, bowing with respect, asked, “You have an Answer.” and it was a statement not a question. The priest nodded reluctantly and handed the ten year old the parchment.
The boy read the brief message. 'A Bluebird sails into Venton carrying plague. From there it will spread and devastate the continent' and two inches further down the parchment four words, capitalized, 'OR IT WILL NOT.'
Kelwyn crushed the parchment in his small hand, and said fiercely, “IT WILL NOT!!!!”
and looked for his favorite bodyguard, Havron, and found him where he
expected, a few yards away. One of the bodyguards who accompanied him
everywhere. Keln took a couple of deep breaths, before he spoke, “Havron,
it's time. Send Tenil to pass the word. I'll go change, and then we'll
meet him and the others outside the Council chamber in about twenty
Kelwyn nodded at the guards as they opened the doors then strode into the Council chamber. The Regent and the Councilors looked up in amazement. Kel said clearly, “I want your resignation, uncle!!”
The man looked astonished, and he started to take a deep breath to blast his nephew. Kelwyn lifted the small crossbow in his hands, the bolt ready to fire. He said fiercely, “One way or the other, uncle, the Regency ends now! I would prefer not to kill you, but if I must, I will do so. With a great deal of sorrow I assure you, but I will do it!!”
Looking at the hard black eyes of his young nephew, Pravon knew that the boy would do exactly as he said, and when the parchment was placed in front of him, he signed it without comment. Kelwyn uncocked the crossbow and said in a conversational tone. “You know you didn't really intend to remain Regent for much longer anyway. You've finished the organization of the Council of Nobles. You were simply waiting for the right time to activate it.”
Kel paused as Pravon went red with embarrassment and apprehension, and shrugged his small shoulders a little smile of sadness showing on his face. It was reflected in his voice, as he said, “Well, I won't try to stop you. Not when you have seventy percent of the nobility already committed to you. I'm not prepared to start a civil war simply to assure that Redmarsh remains a Duchy. You're trying to turn back the sands of time uncle, and time only flows in one direction. Forward. You will find that the Council won't be very effective, but I won't try to stop you from making the attempt.”
Count Veron said with malice, “What makes you think you could stop us, little boy?”
Kelwyn smiled with genuine amusement. He told the man, “You're from the north, Count, you know the Kayliffe. Before they gave their allegiance to the Duchy three hundred years ago, your ancestors and those of the nobles fought them on an ongoing basis. Fought them and lost, time after time. Today the Kayliffe are considered the best bodyguards and at the same time a small sub-tribe is considered the best assassins in the known world. People don't really know much about the Kayliffe even today, they prefer to keep their affairs to themselves.”
Kel shook his head, saying, “But when my grandfather decided to cement relations between our two peoples, and the leader of the Kayliffe my other grandfather agreed, you didn't think they chose just an ordinary woman to marry my father, did you? Well they didn't, they chose the Ashok, the Anointed One. With her death in childbirth I became the Anointed One.” Count Veron's face blanched with shock and fear at that revelation. As he was the only noble on the Council who was from the far north, the others were puzzled by the Count's reaction.
Veron said stiffly, “The Anointed One is the most important single person to the Kayliffe. Not exactly a religious leader, not exactly a secular leader, but a combination of both. The Ashok is the only person who can declare a Blooding or Holy War. The Kayliffe in a Blooding ignore the common soldiers. They go after the leaders and the members of their families. Do you know why none of the noble families in the north are more than four hundred years old? That's because an Ashok called for a Blooding.”
Kelwyn said in a quiet somber voice, “Count Veron is wrong in his interpretation of a Blooding. In a Holy War normally we only go after the adult and late adolescent male members of a noble family. The war four hundred years ago was different. It was a Full Blooding, which has only been called twice in the Kayliffe's history. That meant all nobles and their families, including woman and children. It included all of those who were descended from the great-grandfather of the noble who headed the noble family at that point.”
He explained, “It was in revenge for the destruction of Jakarn. The only population center larger than a village that the Kayliffe ever had. Unlike the other Kayliffe, the people of Jakarn were dedicated to peace. None of them had more than a few days of training with weapons in their whole lives. More than five thousand men, women and children were slaughtered by the noble families of the north, which is why a Full Blooding was called for.”
Kel said, still in a quiet voice, “I could win a civil war by calling for a Blooding, but I will not start one. Make sure that you don't start one with me or interfere with what I'm going to do. As the Ashok I can call a Blooding which concerns one person up to a Full Blooding which could affect the whole Duchy.”
Kelwyn watched as his uncle followed by the six nobles on the Council strode out of the room without saying anything more, anger on their faces. He walked over to the window and looked down into the courtyard. He said without turning, “Havron, you and Tenil please stay, but the rest of the men are dismissed, except for the guards on the door. Great-Uncle, if you would take a seat?”
“Yes, My Lord.” and Havron jerked his head at the other men who left the chamber, while he and Tenil took up their places behind the head chair, and his uncle took one of the vacated chairs. With a sigh Kel turned around and walked to the head of the table. From inside his shirt he took out the piece of parchment his great-uncle had given him and putting it on the table, he smoothed it out, then looked at the remaining Councilors, who stared back at him with bewilderment.
Kelwyn told them, “As you know the Palace is honey-combed with secret passages, and if anyone knows them at all, I do. Some I shared with friends, most I kept to myself. I like other children, but I also like being on my own. When I disappeared, that's where I would be, of course Havron was always with me. He's been following me for so long that he's become a part of me. Nine months ago I was passing the room off of the Council chamber that the nobles use as their own. I heard them speculating about organizing a new type of government to replace me. Over the next few months it went from speculation to a reality they intend to implement.”
He said with a sigh or regret, “Eight months ago, I asked a question of the Seers through my great-uncle. I was told at the time that an Answer would come but that it would take some time. The Question I asked was whether I would ever become Duke. Today I received this Answer, which only in a sense said whether I would actually become Duke.”
Kelwyn read the Answer out loud, “A Bluebird sails into Venton carrying plague. From there it will spread and devastate the continent,” and emphasizing the remaining words, “OR IT WILL NOT!!!”
He looked back at the remaining Councilors and there was grief on all of their faces. They all had family in Venton. Kel told them, “The Bluebird is the new type of ship designed by Tonne Valen. She's twice as fast as anything ever built before. Evidently progress in this case will cause tragedy.”
Kelwyn said intently and fiercely, “If this was treated as it normally was, Venton would be sealed! Nobody coming out and nobody going in! It's the most economical solution, and my uncle is a typical noble!! It's the solution he would have chosen! What are twenty-five thousand lives compared to that of a whole country!”
He said with a growl in his voice, “It's not my solution! Yes, many perhaps most of those people in Venton will die, but starvation normally claims the rest!! I don't know how many people we can save, but we will save all we can!!”
Kel relaxed a bit and sat down. He pointed at one of the men, saying, “You're in charge of the Treasury, Guildmaster Marzon. I don't imagine it's in very good shape at the moment, not for an emergency like this.”
Marzon shook his head numbly, one of his sons, his wife and three children lived in Venton. He said hesitantly, his voice becoming stronger, as he sponke, “We're four months into the fiscal year. Many of the capital expenditures for the year have already been disbursed.” He couldn't resist a smile despite the situation, “Should I translate that, My Lord?”
Kelwyn shook his head, with a sigh, saying, “No I know all the words and what they mean. I had a very good tutor as you know. Unfortunately, as I thought, the Treasury is in lousy shape. The policy of low taxation that my uncle has followed, has allowed the Duchy to prosper, but it left no room for emergencies. We'll need to feed up to thirty-thousand people for six months or more. I need to raise a lot of money.”
He said, “Please send a request to Sandmarsh. That's where the new Council of Nobles plans to have their headquarters. We need men and money. I don't expect to get either. If they did so, they would acknowledge my right to ask for them, thereby in a sense acknowledge that I am the Duke and they answer to me. That's what they're trying to do away with.”
Kel said somberly, “I give you access to my personal Treasury, and to all my properties. While the low taxation rate hasn't provided for emergencies, at least it has provided a middle class that's flush with money. Start with the Palace. Strip it and sell everything that has value. Find jobs for the servants and send the pages and squires and knights home. Ask for loans on the rest of the properties. Tell those who give loans that it's highly unlikely that I'll be able to pay them back, so they will in effect be purchasing the Ducal properties. The only thing not for sale is the Family Crypt, which fortunately is not located in the Palace itself.”
There was complete shock on the faces of the six Councilors though there was a smile of approval on his Great-Uncle's face. Kelwyn was suggesting something that none of the Councilors in their wildest dreams would have ever contemplated. Kelwyn was giving up everything he owned for his people. Nobles simply didn't do that.
Kel ignored their shock and his own sadness over what he intended to do. The Palace was his home, yet he would willingly strip it and sell it in order to serve his people. He continued. “Marzon start buying food immediately. You will pay ten percent above present market value and no more. If you run into any difficulty, tell people I am the Ashok, and exactly what that means. I will send one warning and then I will send death.” His large black eyes were steely with determination.
He pointed to one of the other men, saying, “Delsin, you command the three mounted companies and the militia of Redmarsh. Send orders to the cavalry to head for Venton, as soon as they can move. Tell them from me that if they take more than an hour to get moving, they're in deep trouble. They're to establish a perimeter three miles from Venton, and nobody goes in and nobody comes out until I get there, though I shouldn't be far behind them. I need a couple of hours to prepare.”
Delsin nodded starting to get over his shock and thinking about what would have aspects of a siege, actually a blockade, though in this case the enemy was plague not soldiers.
Kelwyn said with determination, “I want the militia on their way by tomorrow afternoon at the latest. With the moon full they should be able to march most of the night, and I want them at Venton no longer than four days from today. Unlike normal times, they will receive full pay commensurate with the cavalry, and in fact I want both of them paid for a full year. Also organize the families of the militiamen and send them as well as soon as you can. Do the same for any of the cavalry that are from Redmarsh, but I doubt that there will be that many. Most of them come from all over the Duchy.”
Kel paused for a moment before saying, “This isn't a siege in the normal sense. I'm aware that you know that, but we may need even more of the Fire than would be used in a normal siege, so make sure that you bring every bit of the material that you have. Strip Redmarsh's walls. The city hasn't been attacked in over four hundred years, it's unlikely it'll happen in the next few months.”
Kelwyn pointed at his uncle, telling him, “Great-Uncle, if you would please organize the Healers and the priests, by the time they get to Venton they'll be allowed to enter. Healers are protected by their magic and Healer Priests are protected by their God given magic. Both are usually immune to normal illnesses, so they should be safe, but there is no guarantee. Some plagues in the past have taken Healers and priests just as readily as any other person.”
Devan answered Kel with a look of serenity, “That's a risk that Healers and priests who deal with illnesses, always face. If we could not accept that, we would seek out another profession.”
Kelwyn nodded, a genuine smile showed fleetingly on his small face for the first time as he addressed another of the remaining Councilors. “Kurdon, I want the first of the food shipments to arrive no later than one week from tomorrow. Please arrange for the transportation of the militia families as well. Fortunately the rainy season is over, so tents will be adequate, One tent to a family, or two if it's unusually large, and for the bachelors four men to a tent will be standard.”
Kel pointed at the last man, telling him, “Trell, you brought your three galleys and four sloops in for refitting and liberty. I know you planned another week before recalling the men, but you'll have to do it now. You've got time left today to get your ships down to blockade Venton's harbor. Nobody comes out except for the fishing fleet. In that area the fish are caught in fairly shallow water, so they seldom go out very far, but have your sloops keep a watch on them. If they try to escape, sink them, and don't pick up any survivors.”
Kelwyn shook his head, his large black eyes showing his pain. “I know that's against the tradition of the sea, but everyone in Venton has to be regarded as infected. Picking them up can transfer the plague to the Navy and with the other nine galleys based in other ports up and down the coast, in territory which the Council controls already or will soon, your people are all we'll have or can get. We can't afford to lose a single ship. Warn ships on their way into Venton about the plague. Some of them may still want to go into the port. Don't try to stop them. If some idiots want to sail into a plague ridden city, their death is their own responsibility.”
Kel said harshly, “People are probably going to feel I'm overreacting, but you have to remember the people in Venton are just as aware of the danger of a plague as we are. If the Bluebird shows no sign of plague or any illness they won't bother to quarantine her. But Decord has told us through the Seers that it's going to happen, so that means that it takes at least two months to start showing symptoms. How fast it will act after those initial two months, we have no way of knowing, though there is a possibility I can learn a little more about the plague and how it acts.”
Kelwyn said, “Delsin, you will take command if something happens to me. Hopefully that won't happen because the Kayliffe would no longer have an Anointed One to obey. However I will ask them to continue to support you if that occurs. Great-uncle, please ask the Seers another Question. Tell us when the danger is over.”
His Great-uncle nodded. Kel spread his hands, telling them, “That's it, except for one thing. As long as it doesn't concern what I'm doing, obey the new Council of Nobles' orders, at least as far as your conscience dictates. As I said, they're trying to go back in time. They're afraid of the new middle class. They feel they should have all the power as they once had, and this is their attempt to regain it. Use whatever means you think are appropriate, but I would avoid starting a civil war. Nobody gains from such a war, except for the arms dealers.”
“One other thing, Delsin, send half a dozen military couriers to the King. It's unlikely they'll get through, but send the same requests for men and money. We might get lucky.” Kelwyn stroked the table in front of him with affection, saying with regret, “Perhaps this is the last time this table will ever see a Council meeting, but it has seen many past ones. I hope that the person who buys it will appreciate it as I do.”
Outside of the Council Chamber Kel said to Tenil, “Find Pol and tell him what's going on. He has no family except for those in Venton, we'll have to take him with us. It's going to be especially hard for him. He's going to be a few miles from a family he can't see, and may never see again in this world.”
Kelwyn sighed, as he said, “His father would be devastated if he manages to get into the city. He's only eight years old but he's resourceful. If he decides to go into Venton we probably can't stop him, but we'll try.”
Tenil nodded his head, saying, “Yes Kel I will do what I can, but Pol has a sense of duty that in its way is as strong as yours. Knowing that he will be Baron if his family dies, I think it's less likely than you do, that he'll try to get into the city.”
Nodding his head in respect, Tenil headed down the corridor, while Kelwyn and Havron headed in the opposite direction toward Kel's quarters. Inside his bedchamber the boy concentrated in front of a blank wall, and after a few seconds he began to make signs in the air, which briefly lit up and then slowly faded. After three signs the wall turned into a doorway, a soft glow coming from it.
Kelwyn and Havron walked forward into the room, the doorway disappearing behind them. The man took up his normal station in front of the wall and Kel walked forward into the center of a pentacle. As he came to a stop, the lines of the pentacle flared up brightly and then faded to a glow that matched the light coming from the walls.
With reverence Kelwyn took out a white cloth and tied it around his head settling a ruby fixed into a plain silver mount into a precise position on his forehead. The jewel actually glowed with an inner light showing the magic it contained. With the patience of long experience, he simply waited. After a few minutes the wall seemed to disappear in front of him, and five beings were standing facing him.
Two were human, one was humanoid, the fourth looked like a bear, though it had massive hands instead of paws. The fifth figure was simply indescribable. Not ugly, and in fact quite beautiful, but humans simply didn't have the words to describe her.
Kel brought his hands together and bowed toward them, and they did the same, a greeting of equals. With no questions being asked, Kelwyn began to describe the situation. When he was finished, the fifth being asked in a voice like the chime of a bell, “What do you wish from us, little one?”
Kel said, with a little humor, “Venton is what it is and has always been; a haven for smugglers. We know that there are many ways in and out of the city that only those who live there know about.”
His voice became grim then, as he said, “They will begin to panic as they begin to die, and it's an unfortunate fact of human personality that some of them will try to escape. Some will not care that they are already infected, thinking that if they get away from the sick and dying that they will be safe, others will not even be aware that they are infected. But in either case they can spread the infection and cause the very thing that I'm trying to avoid.”
Kelwyn shook his head, saying, “We don't know how a plague is spread, so we can't establish a close perimeter. Three miles away I would think would be a safe distance, but even that I can't be sure of. I can call on a total of about seventeen hundred men. To cover a perimeter of almost nineteen miles, though the harbor should be adequately covered but with the many ways in an out of Venton, only a Great Circle can possibly give us a chance of containing the plague.”
The fifth being, whose name appropriately in Kelwyn's language was Bell, said, “The Southern Continent is in effect gone, Kel. Unlike plagues which have struck in the past such as the Black Plague, this one seems to take mainly the upper and middle-class. Not that the lower classes are of less importance to us, but the middle class, especially the craftsmen, the merchants, and the lawgivers, are the glue that holds a society together. The Southern Continent has lost so many of them that the glue is gone and society is crumbling. It will take generations, perhaps centuries, before they will recover from the Dark Age that they are now entering. Indeed, if you can't hold the plague in Venton, your continent will suffer the same fate.”
One of the two humans was a powerfully built man in his mid-fifties with gray beard and hair and a circlet on his head indicative of royalty. He said gently, “You have come to us for power?” more of a statement than a question. “We know a little about the plague, from our Fellows on the Southern Continent, as Bell has indicated. People start getting ill about two to two and a half months after they are first infected. It seems to be passed only by bodily contact and sneezing and coughing, after six months the danger seems to be gone. Between fifty and seventy-five percent of the population died. We'll probably never know exactly how many. You are only a Master Class Mage. You know the consequences of what you are asking obviously, but we must make sure of that, because you will have to hold the Circle for at least six months. “
Kelwyn said, sadly, “Yes I know, Grenfell. The destruction of my own magic is inevitable over that length of time, and I know especially at my age the damage could be severe, possibly fatal. But you would do the same, as would everyone here. To become a Disciple of Chandrass, a willingness to give your life for your people is as much a requirement as the ability to use magic.”
He paused and then he said, tears of sorrow in his voice, “I would say my good-byes now. You are my friends, but our world is large and only magic allows us to meet. When my magic goes, this reality, whatever it is, would move on anyway to find another to join the Fellowship, so I will send it on it's way. I will miss the trips into your parts of the world, especially the peace of your forest, Redden.”
The bearlike being's voice rumbled deep in his chest as he said, “I too will miss you, little one. Our world revolves around our mates and children. When Fern died in childbirth, I thought nothing could ever heal my sorrow. Yet I have watched you grow since you found us on your fifth birthday, and that has been such a joy that I would not turn back the sands of time even if I could. That has been the lesson you taught me, when I once thought I was past all need for further lessoning. I will join my mate and my daughter in the next world, and if you must go first, I know you will be there to greet me as well.”
They reached out misty hands to touch the jewel on his forehead and it flared into red brilliance which seemed to last forever, then it faded to a dull glow, the hands finally drawing back. The humanoid who looked very much like a hairless gorilla said in a surprisingly quiet voice, “Whether you are able to contact us or not, whether you live or whether you die, matters not. Once a Disciple of Chandrass and a Member of the Fellowship, always a Member of the Fellowship. In this world and in the next.” He raised a clenched fist to his forehead in a gesture which was farewell, but also their way of greeting. The others did the same with the various gestures their people used to say goodbye to a loved-one, they faded out of sight.
Kelwyn turned and walked to the wall. Havron stepped aside, and Kelwyn repeated the gestures in reverse order, and the doorway reappeared. When he and Havron were outside and the doorway had disappeared, he made several gestures Havron had never seen before.
He asked, puzzled, “What are you doing, Kel?”
The boy turned around and there were tears streaming down his small cheeks, his voice showing his obvious sorrow as he said, “Sending it on it's way, Havron. To find another Disciple of Chandrass. I know for you no time passes and you don't hear what goes on in the room, but I borrowed a great deal of power, to use in a working of magic. Only the Fellowship of Chandrass among mages can share power except for rare instances between family members. I know now that the plague will last at least six months before the danger will pass. Used for that length of time, the magic at the very least will destroy my magic and very possibly my life.”
Kelwyn wiped his face and looked at the wetness on his hand. “The tears are because I needed to say goodbye to friends I have known half of my life. Friends that I will never see again, because only magic allowed us to contact each other. They are the same tears I would have if I had to say goodbye to you and the other members of my bodyguard.”
Havron looked down at the small boy, and he remembered his sister at the same age. Despite the fact that one was a girl and the other very obviously a boy, they looked almost identical. He marveled at his nephew's unselfishness. He said, with a hint of sorrow, yet also with a fierce pride in his voice. “You really are giving up everything, aren't you?”
Kelwyn said, simply, “Whatever it takes, I will give, as long as it doesn't involve the Dark One.”
Pol had ridden along behind Kelwyn for the last hour. Finally he booted his horse and pulled up to Kelwyn. Pol said, “Tenil said you thought I might go into Venton." He shook his head, "I won't. I know I will long to do so, but I can't. The only reason my father ever became Baron was because his three brothers foolishly threw their lives away attacking the bandits who killed their father. That's what he said, 'Foolishly.' and there was contempt in his voice. They knew he was already dead, yet still they attacked an overwhelming force just to get revenge. Father said if we are going to be nobles, then we must think of our people, and they have to have as much importance as our family, sometimes more.”
Pol said gravely, “To retreat would have been the wise course, to find a fighting force and then come back. Only then would they have been able to get revenge. Instead all they ended up getting was death. The one who got the revenge was my father, and he wasn't even there, yet the men he sent destroyed the bandits and their camp. Father wouldn't say anything to me if I went into Venton, but I know what he would think. 'Foolish boy.’”
Kel looked at him and smiled, telling the younger boy, “Good, I'm going to need you. Your father was my tutor for five years, a man who was most comfortable with his books, yet was one of the best warriors in not only the Duchy but the Kingdom. He never expected to be Baron. He never wanted to be Baron, but accepted it without complaint when it came to him. Though he used more forceful language about what he thought of his brothers than simply 'foolish'. He swore for five minutes straight and I don't think he repeated himself once. I can't be absolutely sure, because he was using five different languages, and I only understood two of them. Ours and Kayliffe.”
Pol giggled and for the moment felt better. To think his solemn quiet father could swear as vehemently as the training master of the pages was a revelation to him: though he had always been aware that even the most dangerous knights walked softly around his father.
Kel put his hand on Pol's shoulder, and said sympathetically, “I'm sorry that your family is trapped in Venton, but as for me I couldn't be happier about the type of commander the city has. A man who knows how to think, yet has the respect of everyone because he's one of the most dangerous men they know. And that was deliberate. When he was a child he saw that men who cared about nothing but books received no respect in our society. Knowing that his preferences were in that direction, he first set out to make himself the most dangerous person that he could be, only then did he turn to books.”
They pushed on most of the night and both Kelwyn and Pol were asleep in front of Havron and Tenil respectively. By midmorning the next day they began to run into heavy traffic which had been turned back by the cavalry. Havron woke Kelwyn up at that point and after they made a brief stop to eat and relieve themselves they continued on reaching the demarcation point by noon.
Kelwyn immediately went to see Cowran, the senior officer of their small cavalry force. The man told him, “It was easy to turn people back, My Lord. Surprisingly the gates of the city were already closed.”
Kelwyn's black eyes widened for a moment in wonder, and then he nodded in comprehension. He said crisply, “The seamen of the Bluebird must be getting ill. Cardall put the pieces together and realized that the ship may have brought a plague, so he took no chances and closed the gates. When the Healers and priests get here in two or three days, let them in.”
Kelwyn waved toward the city, saying, “Cardall knows better than I do that there's no way to seal the city. He's the one who told me about the smugglers in the first place. Let’s hope he's given me enough time.” Kelwyn said. He took the headband out of his pocket and tied it around his head. Several of the men looked at him with astonishment, as they realized from the stories they had heard that Kelwyn was a Disciple of Chandrass, the legendary Order of Mages.
“I need a troop of men, Commander Cowran. Men who will obey orders. Plus my bodyguard and Pol. Gather them here.” Kelwyn ordered, “Also send some men upriver to find some rowboats to transport the men and I across the river at the two points we will need to cross. It will take several hours to reach the first crossing point.”
“At once, My Lord!” Within five minutes he had the men he needed, and the other men were on the way up the river.
Kelwyn faced them, and began to talk in a quiet tone, “Some of you may know what this is,” touching the jewel on his forehead. “But for those of you who don't, it signifies that I'm a Disciple of Chandrass. I am a Master Class Mage, and we are the only magical society we know of that can share major amounts of power. Five other Mages, three Master Class Mages and two Adept Class Mages, have given me their power. With their power added to mine, I intend to form what is called a Great Circle. I can do it once, and once only!! If I'm interrupted in any way in a manner that I'm not expecting, I can't resume, because I won't have enough power to do so!”
Kelwyng said forcefully, “Only my bodyguards, because they are all related to me and Pol, can come within ten yards of me without interrupting me. I intend to partially key the Circle to Pol so that he can receive information from it, though he can't control it. He simply doesn't have enough magic, nor will the Kayliffe Messengers when they arrive. That means that you keep everyone away from me, no matter who it is, by any means necessary. You know the area into which they can't intrude.”
Kelwyn looked up from the map towards the channel leading into the harbor, the largest sheltered harbor in the south, about twenty-five percent bigger than Redmarsh. He explained, “This isn't the narrowest part of the channel. Further in it narrows to just under half a mile, but this is exactly three miles from Baron Cardall's manor home which is in the exact center of Venton.”
He told them, “I will start the Circle here and I will end up on the other side exactly opposite us. There is slightly under nineteen miles so there will be nineteen segments, each segment except for the last, one mile wide and one mile deep, and curved in an arc to make up part of a circle. The last segment overlaps, but the two ends will simply blend with each other, completing the Circle.”
Kelwyn ordered, “Guards, take up your positions. Try to stay between twenty and thirty yards from me.” He looked at his bodyguards, Havron, who was his uncle, Tenil, Havron's son, Veltar and Barna, the latter two second cousins. He told them, “Pol will stay close to me, and at the beginning he can aid me physically, but very quickly I'll no longer be able to walk the distance needed, so you will have to carry me. You'll also have to keep an eye on the other guards. They might doubt my word about how far away they and others need to stay. If they let their guard down, then it's your responsibility to make sure my orders are carried out.”
Kelwyn gave an explanation of what he would be doing, saying, “A Great Circle is simply a giant, one mile thick Ward, and when finished, will allow me to feel anything larger than a jackrabbit that enters it from the inside facing the city. It can only be completed once by a Disciple of Chandrass. For each segment that I produce, it takes some of my magic, and needs some of my life force energy so that I can stay in touch with it and feel whenever someone enters it from the inside. When I banish the Great Circle, it will take my magic with it permanently, though I will recover my life force energy. Just in case, I will be weaving a little of Pol's life force energy with mine so that in the event of my death, he will be able to take my place. He won't be as sensitive as I am, and there is the possibility of a small child or a Halfling slipping through, but that's the best I can do.”
Kelwyn pointed to Pol, saying, “Aside from you, he's the only one I know who has any magical ability, though it's not very powerful. I can't use any of you, because of your relation to me. Your life force energy has a similarity to mine and without the magic that I weave into it, the Circle would simply drain it, killing you. I sent a summoning to Rafel for a couple of Messengers. They'll have to travel at least a hundred miles and possibly twice that, so it'll take a while for them to get here. With the much greater magical ability that a Messenger has, they'll be as sensitive as I am when acting through Pol.”
“Can't you ride?” asked Barna.
Kelwyn shook his head, saying regretfully, “It's too dangerous. We'll be crossing farmer's fields, some of which contain rice and will be under water, rocky ground, and brushland. The probability of a fall is almost certain. That won't even bother me, because I'll be expecting it. Once you need to start carrying me, a fall wouldn't bother me, again because I'll be expecting it. A falling horse could actually crush me, or at the least knock me unconscious which would mean the magic I'm weaving will just dissipate.”
“Things will be happening to me. I don't know exactly what yet, aside from the weakness that I'll begin to feel. Any questions you have will have to wait until everything is all over.”
Kelwyn then ignored the others, except for Pol, who he drew with him to the very edge of the water. Letting go of Pol's shoulder, he spread both arms wide and reaching within himself he touched his magic and then he reached into the jewel where the other's magic had been transferred. Kelwyn knew exactly how much he would need, and, once he was connected to the reservoir of magic, a low light began to stream out of his fingers and as he had said, some of his magic and life force energy went with it. It took about five minutes. At the end of that time, there was a very faint shimmering which rose about ten feet into the air, going fifty yards into the ground and where it met the water, it went from the surface to the bottom of the channel.
Absently Kelwyn noticed a light pain surrounding his joints, and a little dullness in his mind which would get much worse as he continued the spell. He said to Pol, “I know something happened to me. Don't tell me what it is, and, as I said, don't ask questions. As for the stretching feeling in your mind, that's a tiny bit of your life force energy mixed with the magic. Don't worry about it. It will never be dangerous enough to harm you in any way.”
Pol closed his mouth, and bit his lower lip. He looked at his Duke who at ten, two years older than he was, was just about the same size. Kelwyn's shiny black hair was no longer completely black, but had a few white streaks through it.
Kelwyn said absently, “Come. We'll move on to the next point.” and he began to lead the way. Though those protecting him had no way of knowing it, he would be following the Circle as if he was attached to it physically, which he was in a sense. It took several minutes of walking to get to the next position, where he repeated the process. A little more of his hair turned white, the pain was a little greater and the dullness in his mind was slightly worse.
By the time he reached the fifth station, Kelwyn went to his knees as he finished the portion of the spell for that area, as physical tiredness began to be mixed in with the mental dullness. His hair was half black and half white by now. Pol and his personal bodyguards and relatives realized that it would be completely white when he was finished.
Pol helped Kelwyn to his feet when the older boy reached for him, and Kel stood unsteadily for a few seconds before regaining his equilibrium. His eyes blinked several times and Pol realized that not only was Kelwyn's hair turning white but his eyes were changing color as well. Instead of the deep black they had been, they were now a dark gray.
Kelwyn said soothingly, “Come. What you see happening to me is inevitable. I knew and accepted it as soon as I realized what had to be done.” He began to walk to the next station, moving more slowly, because the pain in his joints had become much greater. He stopped at the next place where he had to continue the spell. When he was finished he went to his knees and began to vomit. Pol had started to approach him but he was waved away. Helplessly Pol and his bodyguards looked on.
Finally Kelwyn pushed himself to his feet with difficulty and used his sleeve to wipe his mouth. He said in a hoarse determined voice, “We continue.” swayed for a moment, put his hand on Pol's shoulder and leaned on him heavily. He smiled wryly at the younger boy, “Just be thankful that you don't have enough magical ability to become a Mage.”
He didn't notice Pol taking a quick peek at Kelwyn's hair which was now almost completely white with a few black streaks. He needed plenty of support from Pol as they made their way to the next stopping place.
Kelwyn's reaction was even worse, but the vomiting was only dry heaves, he had already thrown up everything he had in his stomach. Finally he waved Havron over to help him to his feet. Leaning against the man, he slowly made his way to the next stop. Any sudden moves exacerbated the pain in his joints, pain that he knew would be with him until he released the spell.
Fortunately it seemed to have reached it's zenith at that point, it didn't increase as they continued for the rest of the day and well into the night. If anything it seemed to dull as Kelwyn's body got used to it. Always there, never to be forgotten, and any sudden or unexpected moves made him cringe in pain. After the next stop Kelwyn no longer had the strength to walk, and Havron began carrying him. His four bodyguards, both relatives and people who had known him all his life, felt completely helpless since they were unable to do anything to aid him. Kelwyn however reacted worse each time in casting the spell, and on the second last segment he was sick for close to an hour and a half before he could continue.
Fortunately the last segment, which joined to the first segment, didn't affect him as badly. First because it wasn't as long and second because with the spell complete, he no longer had to fight off the almost unbelievable tiredness.
Kelwyn slept for four straight days, only waking long enough to eat and to be helped to the latrine; though even then he wasn't aware of anything that was going on around him, his eyes only opening to slits during those periods.
When Kelwyn finally woke completely, in the middle of the fourth day, the militia from Redmarsh were just setting up camp. He tried to push himself to a sitting position, but with a grunt of pain he fell back on the cot. This attracted the attention of Pol who was sitting reading on his own cot, set up a couple of feet from Kelwyn's.
Pol put down his book, leaped up and was beside his Duke in a second. Kelwyn said, “Help me up.” in a hoarse voice, even speaking hurt. Pol grasped his arm and began to pull and despite the grunt of pain from the older boy he persisted until Kelwyn was sitting on the side of the cot.
Kel said painfully, “Water please?” and Pol poured him a mug and helped him drink it. That seemed to help his sore throat, and when he had finished it, he spoke more normally. “Is that the militia arriving?”
“Yes, My Lord, they're just setting up camp now.” Pol answered respectfully, far more respectfully than he would have done four days earlier. Until then Kelwyn was simply another boy like himself, now Pol had a look of hero worship in his large blue eyes.
Kelwyn ordered, “Summon Delsin and the commanders of the Light Horse, please.”
“Yes, Sir!” Pol rushed out of the tent and Kel heard him say excitedly, “Havron, he's fully awake.” and Havron appeared a moment later, with relief in his black eyes.
Havron said with unease, “We weren't sure if you were going to wake up. When the Healer from one of the Light Horse companies examined you, he said when he reached into you to look, it was almost as if he burned himself.”
“What do I look like?” Kel asked with curiosity.
Havron took a good look at him, and then said bluntly. “You've almost turned into a albino, your hair and eyebrows are completely white, your eyes are a very light gray and you've lost about ten pounds. You were slender and only weighed sixty pounds to start with, so you look like shit.”
Kel couldn't stop himself from giggling, then he said matter-of-factly, “Well the hair and eyes I can't do anything about. As for the weight, I'll have to put back on as much as I can. Though in the end it'll probably be a losing battle. I'll have to eat constantly. At least it's not going to matter what I eat. My body will just want food, and even the worst dreck will taste like heaven. Also I'll need a lot of liquid. Preferably fruit juices if I can get them, highly watered wines if I can't. They're made of fruit. That'll help put the weight back on.”
They heard people outside the tent. Kel said, “That'll be Delsin and the commanders of the Light Horse. I'm going to need support.” he grinned, “Pretend I'm a woman who you're escorting into supper, and lend me your arm and move slowly, my joints are as painful as a person with arthritis, though hopefully I won't suffer any permanent physical damage.”
Havron held out his left arm somewhat awkwardly as he had seen courtier's do in the Palace at grand balls, and the boy put his right hand on top of the arm. Havron began to move toward the door of the tent the boy moving with him leaning heavily on the man's arm.
When they emerged from the tent, Kelwyn had to blink several times before his ultra sensitive eyes, caused by the depletion of his magic, adjusted to the light. He didn't see the shock on Delsin's face and the faces of the commanders. Havron shook his head at them, and Delsin closed his mouth, choking back the comment he had been about to utter.
By the time Kel could see again, the iron discipline that Delsin had gathered in his years of service, allowed him to arrange his face in a pleasant mask. The commanders, while unable to manage that, at least were able to hide their emotions behind expressionless features.
Kelwyn waved his left hand in a general wave indicating the surrounding area. He said quietly, “You're seeing a shimmering in the air. Perhaps you think it's simply an illusion or caused by the weather. It isn't. It's what is called a Great Circle, and it's a type of Ward. Basically there are two types of Wards. The first one you'll probably be more familiar with. It's intended to stop magical and or physical passage. Any halfway competent Mage can create a fairly large Ward to stop magic, however the larger the Ward the less effective it is. A Ward to stop physical intrusion must of necessity be much smaller, measured in tens of yards.”
Kel explained, “The second type of Ward is used to detect things. In the case of the Ward that you can see here, which is called a Great Circle, it entirely surrounds the city of Venton. The outside is three miles from the center of Venton, therefore it's six miles in diameter and almost nineteen miles long. It reaches inward for a full mile. It's ten feet above ground following the contour of the land and goes fifty yards into the ground, and at the channel into the harbor it's touching the bottom. Within that area nothing bigger than a jackrabbit, living or dead, can enter from the inside without alerting me.”
Kelwyn said solemnly, “As you can tell, casting the spell that created the Great Circle, did things to me, and it will continue to affect me. I'm not sure exactly how at the moment. Only a Disciple of Chandrass can create a Great Circle of the size that I've done, and I could only do it because I could borrow magic from my Fellows. Though there are other Disciples of my age and younger and have always been from the time the Fellowship was founded, none of them has ever needed to create a Great Circle, so I don't know exactly what it will do to a child.”
Kel paused for a moment before continuing, “A very real possibility is that it will kill me. If that happens, the Great Circle will gradually dissipate, but it will take years to do so completely, keeping it's integrity long enough for the plague to end. Just in case it does kill me, I've also entwined a little of Pol's life force energy into the spell. Unfortunately he's not as sensitive as I am, but to get around that, I've sent for a couple of Kayliffe Messengers, and through Pol they'll be even more sensitive than I am.”
Kel sighed and there was deep pain in his eyes. “From my contact with the Fellowship when I borrowed the power I needed, I learned a little more about how the plague acts. It takes eight to ten weeks before the first people infected start to get sick, and the danger seems to be over after about six months. It seems to be caused by bodily contact and from the things which occur with a cold, sneezing and coughing. The Southern Continent is to all intents gone. Fifty to seventy-five percent of the population died and nearly all leaders and teachers. It'll be generations, before they will recover.”
Kel told them that, “I've asked a Question of the Seers. Their Answer will tell us when the danger is over. Until then nobody is allowed out of Venton. Not a man, not a woman, not a child. You will establish seventeen permanent camps just inside the Great Circle. That will allow me to contact any of the soldiers and direct them towards someone trying to escape the city. You must let every one of your soldiers know exactly what's at stake here. If even the tiniest child is allowed to escape the city and contact those outside, this could be a second Southern Continent.”
Kelwyn said harshly, “They must die!! Then their bodies must be destroyed by the Fire!! No one must ever let an escapee get close enough to touch him.!! If that happens, then, even if it happens four months into the time during which the plague is ravishing the city, we would have to spend an extra six months waiting!!”
Kel said more mildly, “The families of the militia will be joining us here. They are never normally called up for more than a few weeks. They aren't accustomed to arranging for their families to be cared for, not for that length of time.” he grimaced, “Also it will help remind them exactly what they will be trying to prevent if their families are in danger.”
Kelwyn shrugged, “It might seem callous to use their families in this way, but they are in no more danger here than they would be if the plague escapes Venton. And we've taken on a fearsome task. For those of you not from this area, Venton is the center of smuggling for the whole south coast area. Cardall said that he couldn't even estimate the number of illicit ways out of the city, but he says there are at least fifty and there might be three times that number. That's why a Great Circle was necessary, and why it goes so deeply into the ground.”
Kelwyn turned to Delsin, “Do you have any information from Marzon and Kurdon?”
Delsin tried not to stare at the now white hair that a few days before had been a shiny black, and the gauntness that showed how much the spell had taken out of the young Duke. He said, “Marzon did a quick estimate of the Palace contents and your other properties. He feels at the rate that you stated of a maximum of ten percent over market value for the food, that he will able to supply us for a period of six and a half to seven months at most.”
Kel nodded, “If nothing happens, that should be long enough. Customarily the army doesn't tell an ordinary soldier anything. Make sure that everyone knows the danger and knows how long we can supply them.”
Delsin continued, “Kurdon has already arranged for the first shipment of food, and the transportation of the families of the militia.”
“Good.” said Kelwyn. “Most of my magic is bound up in the Circle, but I still have a little left. I'll contact Cardall and I assume my Great-uncle in Venton, telling them what has been done. They will get food but most of it must be cooked, therefore they need wood. Fortunately from what Cardall was telling me the forests in this area are part of his estates, so the wood is easy to get. However, we need woodcutters and they'll have to be paid.”
Delsin said, “Marzon has sent a little money with me. A little over a thousand gold nobles. He said that if you wished, he could probably raise some money among the merchants.”
Kelwyn shook his head, saying firmly, “No. I won't accept any monies from the merchants unless I absolutely have to. But thank him for me, and tell him that the jobs that merchants provide are more important than my properties.”
He began to turn to go back into the tent, and he said, “Don't pity me Delsin. You would give your life to protect your family, and you almost did thirty years ago. Why would you think I would do any less for my family?”
Delsin said softly, “Nobles don't normally consider the people they rule as family.”
Kelwyn turned his head and smiled, “Well, I guess I'm not a typical noble.” His face went solemn before he continued, “I didn't really expect a situation like this ever to come up. When my uncle and the other nobles began creating the Council of Nobles, I assumed my position would simply be abolished, but I had a premonition and I asked a Question, and the Answer brought us to this.”
The Mage Fermile felt the beginning of a magical presence developing. It was hesitant, not what one would expect of a Mage who could use his or her Astral Form. When it finally appeared after about thirty seconds, he recognized the young Duke despite the fact that the last time he had seen him, barely three weeks before, his hair had been a shiny black and now was pure white. He nudged Baron Cardall sitting on his left and High Priest Devan on his right, capturing their attention.
They had time to take in the young Duke's appearance, his now white hair and his gauntness, as he gave them time to hide their shock and concern. It was almost thirty seconds before the boy was able to open his eyes, the strain obvious on his face.
Kelwyn spoke hoarsely, “I apologize for not greeting you on my feet. But my strength is somewhat low at the moment. I wouldn't have used my Astral Form, but I wanted to see you one last time just in case.” He smiled a gentle smile. “Of course after creating a Great Circle that's only going to get worse, so I can't give you the respect you deserve.”
Fermile looked and saw the jewel on the headband around the boy's head, something he hadn't noticed before because of his shock at the boy's appearance. He said, with a slight tone of reproof, yet obviously in jest, “I greet you Honored One. I felt the working of a great magic several days ago. It would have been nice to know that you were a Mage. You could perhaps have satisfied some of my curiosity about the Fellowship of Chandrass.”
Kelwyn's eyes twinkled, as he said, “You always were a nosy old bastard Fermile. But I'm afraid the secrets of the Fellowship will remain our secrets.” He closed his eyes briefly in pain breathing heavily, before he opened them to continue, “We are found, we learn and we live our lives seldom revealing what we are. Only when it is necessary do we reveal ourselves. Many of us live a whole lifetime without doing so. The situation here of course changed things.”
His face was solemn as he said, “Only the fact that I was only a couple of days travel from Venton was chance. A few weeks later and I would not have been. My uncle and the other nobles finalized their agreement in the formation of the Council of Nobles. Pravon had to make concessions. I could tell he didn't like them, but in order to get an agreement, he eventually complied.” He coughed several times and pain appeared on his face again. “They intended to strip me of my title, and banish me to the Kingdom capital.”
Kelwyn shook his head thankfully, “But if I had been four weeks away, this continent would have died like the Southern Continent has already died. Only the fact that I'm here to form a Great Circle even gives us a chance to prevent the plague from spreading. I asked for men and money from the new Council. They haven't even answered, and I expect they will ignore my request completely. Not including the galleys and sloops blockading the port, I only have seventeen hundred men to man the perimeter that I established. Just a little over eighteen miles.”
Kelwyn told them that, “At first I was disturbed that I had so few men, but once I thought it out I realized that in fact I really didn't want any more men anyway. The Great Circle will do most of the work. The Circle goes inward for one mile from the perimeter, and anything bigger than a jackrabbit that enters the Circle from the inside will reveal itself. If it's an intelligent being, I'll be able to read surface thoughts, and if the feelings are intense I may be able to go much deeper.”
Kelwyn shook his head saying softly, “I realized that throwing men at it as the new Council of Nobles would have done, wouldn't have worked. It would simply mean more people that could be infected. Of course I couldn't let them have control because when this situation has happened before nobility and royalty have simply written the city affected off, and let everyone die. Even if I would have allowed them to try that, it wouldn't work with Venton, not with the number of ways out of the city. You told me Cardall that you knew of at least fifty and suspected there were at least three times that number.” and the Baron nodded.
Kelwyn smiled his eyes dancing with amusement, “Of course your family has never tried seriously to stop the smuggling. I looked over your tax revenues about six months ago.” He giggled but then coughed and it was a longer bout of coughing this time, and he clenched his hands at the pain it caused. The three men, who had known him all of his life, looked on aware that even if they had been with him they would have been helpless to do anything for him.
When Kelwyn was able to speak again he said hoarsely, “As I said I looked over the tax revenues. That entry under Miscellaneous Revenues was a dead giveaway. Yours is the only Barony or County that has almost twenty percent in Miscellaneous Revenues. Surely your father and other ancestors could have hidden your smuggling revenues better than that?”
Cardall said with a twinkle in his eyes, “I assure you that the next list of tax revenues that the Duchy receives will break down Miscellaneous Revenues in such detail that even the nosiest clerk would have given up before getting a third of the way through them.”
Kel smiled, saying, “Well it doesn't really matter. Past Dukes were quite aware of what was going on here, and they never seriously tried to curtail it, so like them, even if I was going to be Duke, I would have ignored it as well.”
Kelwyn thought for a moment. “What do you need to know? Well as I said I created a Great Circle. Normally the bulk of it would be above ground, however it can be placed where we want it. So in order to counter the possibility of tunnels, I sank the greater portion of it under ground. It goes fifty yards deep, and only ten feet of it is above ground.”
He stated flatly and with such bite the three men winced. “I'm not a typical member of the nobility, thanks in great part to two of you!! You, Cardall, who served as my tutor for five years, and you Great-uncle! However I can be ruthless, and this will happen!! I have asked a Question of the Seers: nobody comes out of Venton until the Seers have given us the all clear!! My men and I will kill anyone who tries and destroy their bodies with the Fire so they can't infect anyone!!”
Kelwyn told them, “However; saying that, I intend to get as many people in Venton through this alive as I possibly can. Healers and priests have been allowed in, and any others that show up will also be allowed to enter. Marzon says that I have enough money to feed those in the city and the soldiers and their families for six and half to seven months. From knowledge I received from other Members of the Fellowship, the danger should be gone after six months. The soldiers and militia have been paid for a full year. Marzon also came up with a thousand gold nobles which allows me to pay woodcutters to allow your people to cook the food we provide.”
Kelwyn waved his hand, saying, “With regard to infection: Food and wood will be placed on the main road where there is a field, which I understand from Cardall is used for the Carnival, every two or three months. Also I stripped Redmarsh's walls of the ingredients needed to create the Fire. We will keep some of the ingredients for our use but the bulk of it will be placed in the field as well. Once the food and wood is delivered and the wagoneers return to our lines, your people will come out and get it. Once back in the city, your people outside will use the Fire to scorch the field, to prevent spreading. That will be done every time a shipment is made.”
“You’re the commander on site Cardall, and I'm sure you know what to do.” Kelwyn said seriously. “Pol is here with me. However he understands the seriousness of the situation and that he’s your heir and he told me he won't try to go into the city.” and Cardall breathed a sigh of relief, Kel giving a smile of agreement.
“Give my regards and love to Pol, and tell him I’m proud of him.” Cardall said. “About money, we are a small but wealthy city, but it’s impossible to send money out now. I do however have an account with my agent in Redmarsh, Merchant Hansil. If you send a messenger, he’ll pay out up to 700 gold nobles. Not much, but at least it should help to pay for some of the food and wood you’ll send in.”
Kel closed his eyes, weariness evident in his voice, “I probably won't be able to use my magic in this way more than a couple of times. I have sent for two Kayliffe Messengers and they will be able to read the Circle through Pol and will be even more sensitive than I am. Once they arrive, whether I live or die is no longer important.”
Kelwyn opened his eyes, and smiled, “Certainly living would be desirable from my standpoint, but my presence wouldn't be needed even to keep the Circle intact anymore. It would stay coherent for eight to twelve months anyway and then gradually dissipate over several years time.”
Kelwyn's face hardened. “One last thing. Destroy the Bluebird! She's too fast, if someone manages to get her into open sea, none of the galleys could catch her.” Kel said, and then continued, “Finally, tell the people the truth. They deserve that, and they'll find out eventually anyway. Trying to hide it will just make it worse in the long run.”
He said quietly, “Obviously we can't point to one person and say you will live, or you will die, but we can point to them and say, 'If you live, you won't die of starvation.' Goodbye. I hope I'll still be alive to come into the city when we know it's safe.” and Kelwyn let himself fade out of sight.
After Havron helped him drink a mug of watered wine, the boy quickly fell asleep, exhausted.
Back in the city Devan said, “It's a pity that Pravon has always been jealous of the fact that he was passed over even though he was the first born, and Kel's father was chosen instead. He was hurt when his father said he wasn't a ruler. When he became Regent he did an exceptional job, and he thinks he proved my brother wrong.”
He smiled sadly fingering his beard, before saying, “He didn't. Though he doesn't know it right now, he was governing not ruling. There is a vast difference. He had a structure to work within, a structure that took hundreds of years to develop. It's so subtle that if you don't know what you're looking for, you might not even realize it. Pravon was cradled gently on all sides, and with his ability to govern he couldn't fail. As long as he was within that structure he was fine, but he would have been lost without it.”
He stated, “A ruler can also govern within a structure, but if necessary he can step outside of it and make his own rules. Pravon would be lost in a situation like this. Also as Kel said, he would have tried to take the way they have always taken in this situation and contain the plague. And would have failed, because of the very nature of Venton which you know about and which you told Kelwyn about.”
Cardall cleared his throat and when Devan looked at him, he said with a smile, “Actually I only told him about how many ways there were to get out of the city after he asked me about the smugglers.” He smiled more broadly, “In other words he just came to me to fill in the gaps. I simply don't know how much he knows about the Duchy. His mind simply doesn't work like mine or yours or anybody else I know. Probably because of what he learned as a Disciple of Chandrass, something perhaps only Havron knew about.”
He shook his head, sayimg, “I tutored him for three hours a day for five years. Any other boy I know would have wanted time off, but even when he had a childhood ailment of some kind, he still insisted on the normal three hours a day. He was also, of course, very active in sports and weapons training and that's what most people think about, when they think about him.”
Cardall said decisively, “Well he gave us a task, and he's right about the Bluebird!! If she gets out with any type of advantage, she'll show her heels to anything that Kel has!”
Kelwyn woke up slowly, conscious of the pain in his limbs. He used some of the techniques he had been taught by other Disciples of Chandrass. The pain receded a bit but not much. Most things he had learned to control pain required magic. He opened his eyes. He saw Pol sitting on a stool, watching him, and trying to be still. Entirely without success, he was fidgeting and he stifled a yawn. Pol saw that Kel's eyes were open and his eyes brightened with excitement.
He jumped up and darted out of the tent, to return in a few seconds followed by Delsin. Havron was helping Kelwyn to sit up. Delsin waited until he was sitting on the side of the bed, before telling him. “Trell sent me a message that there was a fire in the harbor last night, and smoke is still rising.”
Kel nodded, telling him, “I ordered Cardall to destroy the Bluebird. If she had gotten out, Trell has nothing that can catch her.” His now gray eyes were bleak, “There was also a little element of revenge since she brought the plague here. It's silly to hate a ship, but I did. Send Trell that message. Also I want the two of you to set up a semaphore system with the city. I probably won't be able to contact them the way I did yesterday more than once more. I imagine the standard army system will be fine. You know it from your time of service in the army, and I'm sure that Cardall knows it or can find someone who does.”
With Havron's aid Kel got to his feet and walked slowly to the table in the middle of the tent. He looked down at the map. He pointed at a field halfway between the perimeter and the town. He said, “The food and wood will be delivered here and unloaded. The two ingredients to produce the Fire will also be brought here. Put the barrels holding the elements well away from each other, and when you get the semaphore system working, tell Cardall that they're in place. After we place a shipment in the field and it's picked up by those in Venton, the field will be scorched. That should stop infection from spreading.”
Kel closed his eyes for a moment as the pain rose in a wave and then receded. He said with a gasp, “Call for volunteers to take the wagons to the field and unload it. Bachelors if possible. Hopefully you won't have to order anybody to do it, but do so if necessary. Those are your instructions, and from now on, basically you're in charge. The effects of the magic has affected me far more quickly than I expected. I have trouble keeping my mind clear, and when my mind is clear the pain is interfering with my thinking. The Kayliffe Messengers should be here in a few more days at the most, and they can take over from me if necessary. That's it Delsin, I leave it in your hands.”
The man nodded, saying earnestly, “Yes, My Lord, I'll do what you want. When I first heard you tell us of the plague, I thought of my youngest son in Venton, and I felt despair because I knew I would never see him again. Perhaps that will still happen, but at least you've given him a chance to survive. In our world that's all we can ask for.” He gave a deep bow and swept out of the tent.
Kelwyn said to the younger boy, “Help me to the latrine Pol. Then I want breakfast and after that I want to get to know the people. In two weeks I'll no longer be able to walk, and I want to know those who share the danger with us.”
The children were making their usual racket, then suddenly they were making no sound at all. I turned from the cooking fire and saw them clustered around two boys one of whom was on the ground. I recognized from the richness of their clothes they had to be nobles, but I was shocked when I looked at the one on the ground. I had thought at first that his hair was simply a white blond, but now I remembered hearing that his hair had turned white from performing a great magic. He was incredibly thin, as if he hadn't eaten in a long time.
I was about to shout at my children when the young Duke began to giggle, and I realized that he didn't resent what had happened but found it funny. The giggle ended in a bout of coughing, which he ignored and held out his arm to be helped up by the man who was with the boys. I saw him wince as the man pulled him to his feet. He said to all of us though he addressed me, “Don't be angry with them. They're simply being children. I came into their territory, therefore it's my responsibility to watch what's going on around me.”
He looked at me closely, thoughtfully, “I believe you have a market stall in one of the smaller City Squares. Let's see,” and after a brief pause to think he said, “Resina, isn't it?”
I was surprised that Duke Kelwyn even knew of me, and stunned that he actually knew my name, but after I gathered my wits I answered, “Yes, My Lord.”
He nodded at the man who set down the thing he had been carrying and opening it I realized that it was a canvas stool. He helped the little Duke carefully sit down. The boy said, “My name is Kelwyn, or Kel, Resina. I'm sorry that you lost your stall, but believe me it's more important that your husband be here.”
I shrugged, “It's not important, My Lord.” I said firmly having no intention of using his name, not yet realizing that before he left, everybody would be calling him by name. “With the money my husband will be making, when we get back to Redmarsh we can afford a much better stall in a much better location. We gain, we don't lose.”
He said, “I'm glad, Resina. I know that at least two of these children are yours, because I've seen them with you. The twins. They look very much alike despite the fact that one's a boy and the other a girl. The boy, Mathi, I think it was. The girl, Shalla. Are any others yours?”
I pointed at my eldest who was ten, “That red-haired scamp is Terzon, he's the only other one.”
He smiled with amusement, “We'll let them get back to what they were doing, and we can have a talk. I want to know who your man is and everything about you.” he said, and there was such obvious interest that I knew he was telling the truth. Duke Kelwyn wanted to know about me, and as the day wore on, he moved to other families to be introduced to their children and learn about them.
By the time Kelwyn left after sharing lunch and supper with us, he had talked to everyone, and it was late evening. I saw him leaving, leaning heavily on the man who was with him, drooping with weariness.
I heard that in the next two weeks he visited each camp, and all of the men and also the ships. When he returned to our camp, there was great sadness at how the magic had treated him. He was being wheeled in a cart, crippled almost unable to move, but his interest was as great as ever and there was no self pity in him, nor was there ever as he continued to visit.
As more and more of Kelwyn was eaten away, he just seemed to get stronger. That made us stronger, and, even when the dying began in Venton, we took comfort from the fact that the young Duke had arranged things so that their deaths couldn't threaten the rest of the country. Yet at the same time we knew that he intended to make sure that every life that could be saved in Venton would be. We knew even if the magic took him, matters were arranged so that nothing would change.
The magic leaching on his life-force energy had brought Kelwyn to the point where he was almost totally crippled. Movement was almost impossible, and we had to care for him as if he was a baby. At least some of the pain had eased. As he had become more and more crippled, some of the sensation had left his body. Yet his strength and zest for life was undiminished.
Kel had us build a cart so he could continue the visits to the camps. The Kayliffe are long lived, and I was in my late sixties, though I looked thirty years younger. I had been a bodyguard for almost forty-five years. I had never seen anything like it, the weaker he got the stronger the militia and the horse soldiers got, and the more determined to carry out his wishes. I knew that even if he died, these people, who had come to love him, would not let him down.
The dying had begun in Venton, and we were on alert. Suddenly I heard in my mind. It was the young Duke and there was a tone of urgency in his mind voice. *Conla move two hundred yards to your right!! There are five people coming toward you!!!*
My five men and I did as we were bid. The moon was full, and we readied our crossbows. When the attempted escapees came into view I was appalled and I realized that it was three children and two adults. We all froze, they were a family like our own.
I heard the Duke in my mind again, and there was incredible sadness, *Conla you must! If they escape, they endanger you, your family, all of Redmarsh, the Kingdom and the continent! They are weapons of the plague and they must be stopped!*
Perhaps if it had simply been an order I couldn't have done it, but the intensity of his sadness at what had to be done shocked me and forced me into the knowledge that we had no choice.
With tears in my eyes I targeted a boy who couldn't have been any older then my eight year old twins, and I fired. The bolt took him in the chest and he must have died instantly which is the only consolation I will ever have. The knowledge that he didn't suffer and perhaps didn't even have time to know that he was dying. I heard a strangled gasp from Eesha next to me as he fired and the man went down and then the other four also fired. Perhaps the Gods guided our hands because none required more than one shot and none suffered.
Weeping I pulled out the special bolt that contained the Fire and armed my crossbow, but it took minutes before my eyes were clear enough to take a shot. I fired and despite the fact that I knew my victim was already dead, it felt almost as bad as the actual killing had been. As the ingredients of the Fire mixed, the small body began to burn, and then the other bodies began to burn as well.
I bowed my head and said a little prayer to the Gods to take their souls to them quickly. I heard the Duke again, *I do not praise your actions Conla, you do not want praise, and it would make me sick to give it. Don't choose the bottle that you have hidden. Go to your wife and children and tell them what you feel. Resina is a strong woman, and, despite what you might think, your children aren't too young to know what happened.*
Talking to the others when we could bear to talk about it, I found that they had each been given advice that suited them. I was amazed at how much our young Duke had learned about us, simply from meeting us and our families.
I had been in mourning for the family I had ordered killed, for the last two weeks. But at least I was sleeping a lot, so I could forget for a time, but the anguish was always there when I woke up.
One morning however when I woke it was dark, but I knew from the buzz that was going on all around me that the dark was not the dark of night. Someone entered the tent, and I asked, “Havron?”
He said, “Yes, Kel.”
I said soberly, “The magic I'm feeding to the Circle has taken a new phase. My sight is gone and I'm very tired. Despite the fact that I can't see, I can barely keep my eyes open. I must use the last of my magic to contact Cardall. Then I imagine I will sleep for most of the next few months, until I can finally release the Circle.”
I closed my eyes to concentrate. It took me minutes to invoke my Astral Form, and when I finally began to appear, I saw that they were bustling around and were in deep discussion. I coughed to get their attention wondering if this would be the last sight I would ever have.
They looked up at me and both Cardall and my Great-uncle started to talk at once. They stopped and my Great-uncle nodded at Baron Cardall and Cardall said, “We've come across an unusual pattern Kel. Mainly those who are sick and dying are of the upper middle class and the upper class. Not the only ones of course but a large majority of them are from that class.”
I said, with quiet confidence, “And you know why, otherwise you wouldn't look so pleased with yourselves.”
He nodded, saying, “Yes, Kel. It's simply a matter of diet. The lower middle classes and even the lower classes can afford to buy fish, and much of what they eat is either fish or grains or a mixture of both. The upper middle class and the upper class eat very little fish, instead eating mainly beef. That distinguishes them from the other classes who can't afford it. Either the fish or something in the fish is protecting those who have been eating it on a regular basis.” Cardall said.
I remembered something I had read, I said, with excitement, in my voice, “It has to be the fish oil Cardall. The poorer classes can afford fish but not the poorest class, but they can get fish oil for the fish oil sauce that you use.” I made a face, “From what I've heard, they put it on everything. We could be completely wrong, but we have to take a chance. I'll have Marzon switch to buying as much fish and fish oil as possible.”
I smiled at him, saying, “The problem might be getting them to eat it or drink it, but that's your responsibility.” I stopped smiling and I said solemnly, “This is the last communication I'll be able to manage in this manner. The magic has entered a new phase. I'm intensely tired, and I will sleep most of the time from now on.” I didn't bother to tell them I had lost my sight, I didn't want to do anything to dampen their spirits when it was so high. Besides it was really only of importance to me.
The Healer gave Kelwyn a powerful stimulant to wake him up and to clear his mind. The young Duke was the only one who could do what needed to be done. He opened his eyes almost immediately, but they took several minutes to focus properly. He asked hoarsely. “What's the matter?”
Delsin said tensely, “Count Monlif has blocked the road between here and Redmarsh. While the fish and fish oil is coming from up and down the coast, we still need the grain that was coming by road to feed those who are recovering. He's stopped all shipments.”
Kelwyn looked behind Delsin to where one of Kayliffe Messenger's was standing knowing somehow that he was there. He said harshly, anger in his treble voice, “Talin, send the usual warning, with the message that he has one day to lift the blockade. Monlif is too timid to do this on his own. Either someone on the Council of Nobles or the whole Council is testing us. Send them each a warning to stay out of my business. Unfortunately Monlif, now that he's challenged me, is too dumb and too proud to back down. If he doesn't heed the warning send Death. If the Council doesn't back down, I may be forced to order a Blooding.”
said, “As you order, Ashok, we obey.” and Kel moved his head slightly
in a nod and then closed his eyes.
Monlif brandished the knife in one hand and the note in the other as he raged, “The stupid little bastard is trying to play games with me. Well I have no intention of doing what he says.”
His brother looked at him and shook his head. He turned to his nephew who was looking at his father sadly. He said to the young man, “Kelwyn has given up his entire fortune, several hundred people have been killed by his soldiers trying to escape, two ships were sunk by the galleys, and he thinks that the boy will balk at killing one more person.”
The young man sighed, saying with regret, “My father has gone too far, uncle, he simply can't believe that a child would order him killed. He's too proud to back down now, and he refuses to accept extra guards. We probably couldn't stop the Kayliffe anyway, but he's making it easy for them. Mother and my sisters have already gone into mourning. Even now we've already begun preparations for his funeral.” He looked at his father moodily, “I don't blame Kelwyn. He warned the Council and they're testing his resolve using father. They're making an offering and Kelwyn will take the sacrifice, because he knows what he's doing is right.”
The messenger rode up to the men on the barricade. He passed a message to the sergeant, telling him what it contained. “That's an order for you to lift the blockade Sergeant Keetan.”
“What happened Coron?” asked the sergeant as his men were dismantling the barricade across the road.
The man said, with quiet satisfaction, “Kelwyn sent Count Monlif a message to lift the blockade within one day or die. He refused and he died, and the new Count ordered the barricade dismantled. Stupid bastard. After the resolve that Kelwyn has shown, Monlif still couldn't believe that a little boy could order his death. From what I've heard the whole Council were sent messages, and they're sitting on their hands right now hoping Kelwyn's attention doesn't turn to them.” showing his admiration of the young Duke.
Kelwyn was suddenly wide awake, as a jolt went through him from the Ward. It shouldn't have happened, but four men had managed to get through the Ward and past the guards. They must have come out of a deep tunnel. The commander of three men jerked upright as he suddenly heard in his mind, *Jerlyn!!!! Four men have got past you. They're about fifty yards directly behind you!! Stop them or everything that we've done has been in vain!!*
Jerlyn called out to his men, keeping his voice low, “The Duke said that four men got past us somehow. Come on.”
He began to run towards the escaping men, and he was almost on top of them before they had a chance to react. Three of them died by Jerlyn's sword almost before they had a chance to realize they were dead, but one managed to give him a severe cut on the arm, and the soldier could no longer hold on to his sword. He didn't even hesitate. He flung himself on the last man, and wrestled with him. Finally he got his good arm around the man's neck and he began to squeeze. As his air was cut off the man tried desperately to escape. Unable to do so, he died as Jerlyn crushed his windpipe.
His three men and friends were approaching as Jerlyn got to his feet. He yelled, “Stay back.” and they obeyed. Calmly he took his knife out of its sheath, and he yelled to them. “Tell my wife I love her.” and putting the knife to his chest he shoved it into his heart, blood spurting as he toppled on the last man he had killed.
Kelwyn wept for a brave man. Jerlyn had known that if he was infected then it would add four months to the original time estimate. All of his men knew the young Duke was bankrupt and couldn't have afforded to continue feeding the people in the stricken city. Jerlyn had taken his own life, rather than allow many others to die.
Envra dismounted from the horse with a groan. He wasn't a big man, but he was chubby. He had once been a very good rider, however thirty years of sedentary living had taken it's toll on him. Shaking off the pain in his buttocks and thighs he headed toward the young Duke's tent. Delsin was just leaving it just as he arrived. He put his hand on the man's arm, saying with relief, “Del, the Seers have given an Answer. The danger is over.”
The man closed his eyes in relief, unashamed of the tears that began trickling down his cheeks. After a few minutes he said, “Come, we'll see if the Healers can rouse Kelwyn. They've been very worried about him over the last week. They felt he could die at any time.”
He turned and went back into the tent, and those inside looked up at him as they hovered over the young boy. Del asked, anxiously, “Covan, can you rouse him? The Seers say the danger is over.”
Covan looked stricken. He shook his head, saying, “I don't know, Del. It'll take the most powerful stimulant that we've got. It could kill him or it could wake him up, or it might do neither. If it's the latter he'll only live a few days. If we can rouse him enough so that he can reclaim his life-force energy he should live, but how much damage has been caused to his body, I don't know. He told us that while the magic is no longer his, still some of it is still in his body. It will take several weeks to dissipate. When it does he'll only have a very small bit of magic left, which means we're not going to be able to tell until then how much damage he suffered.”
put his hand on his arm, saying, “Do what you can, my old friend.
He created a miracle here. It's something he should know about. As of
this morning, eight-thousand one hundred and one have died, and five
hundred and three of those died trying to escape. Nobody expected in
their wildest dreams that more than seventeen thousand would survive.”
Covan said as he was preparing the stimulant from his portable medicine chest, “We found a way about a hundred years ago to inject drugs right into the veins. Using a pig's bladder and a hollow needle, we can squeeze it right into his bloodstream. Also the stimulant is very powerful. A little too much and it will kill him. Not enough and it'll put him into an even deeper state of sleep, and he simply will never wake up. Excuse my rambling. I'm nervous, I admire Kelwyn so much for what he's done. He knew beforehand many of the things that would happen to him, yet he never hesitated.”
Covan looked at the beaker when he had finished mixing the stimulant, and hoped he had got the dosage right. He dipped the needle into a beaker of alcohol. Then he took the needle attached to the pig's bladder and pressing the bladder he blew out the air, and then dipped it into the liquid and watched it being drawn into the bladder.
Saying a little prayer to Elion the God of Healers, Covan searched for a vein. Finally he found one, and carefully pushing the needle in he pressed the bladder and injected a little of the stimulant into Kelwyn. He paused, watching Kelwyn's face. After about thirty seconds when a little color came into the boy's face, he pressed the bladder again, and again he waited. The color was becoming more natural and he pressed once more and then withdrew the needle, swabbing the arm with a cloth covered with alcohol.
Covan absently began rubbing Pol's hair, the boy kneeling beside the cot looking at Kelwyn anxiously. Covan drew in his breath with tension as Kelwyn's eyelids began to flutter, and finally, after what seemed an interminable wait, his eyes opened. The man let out his breath in relief. He was still anxious, just because Kelwyn was awake didn't mean he was aware of what was going on around him. Finally Kel's eyes blinked several times, out of rhythm with the blinking he had been doing as a normal eye function. It was deliberate and controlled, and Covan leaned down to speak into Kelwyn's ear.
“Kel, you can release the Circle now. It's over, and we won.” the man said, and he saw a slight curve of a smile on the boy's lips. As Kel released the Great Circle, every person within one hundred miles who could use magic felt the liberated magic wash over them and the boy reclaimed his life-force energy. He closed his eyes again and was asleep instantly.
Covan looked at him with satisfaction. He said to the tent at large, “It's a normal sleep this time, thank the Gods.”
After sleeping for almost five days straight, Kelwyn was finally able to stay awake for hours at a time, and Pol and others were reading to him to help pass the time. Around him the city was starting it's painful journey to recovery. While the death toll had been amazingly light, the plague had still taken a third of the population. The plague had only affected one city, so most of those people who were the glue that held a society together had heirs and a trickle of them began to show up by the end of the week.
Baron Cardall came in one morning when Pol was reading to Kelwyn. He said, with some embarrassment, “I have two messages for you, Kel. One from the Council of Nobles, which I got a copy of, and one from the King.”
Kel said with amusement, “I've been expecting the one from the Council. I assume it says they no longer need a Duke, so they've voted to abolish the position, and it would be really nice if I got out of the Duchy and didn't return. No on second thought they wouldn't have said Duchy, probably province.”
Cardall looked at Kelwyn and just shook his head in wonder. He said, “Completely accurate, Kel.”
Kel said soberly, “Well I think I really pissed them off when I sent the threat by the Kayliffe. It brought home to them exactly how powerful I was. I said I wouldn't start a civil war. I think they feel, after what happened here, that I will keep my word. However they still want me far away, just in case. What news from the King?”
Cardall said, “King Ketan died, leaving no close heirs. I gather they were going round and round not knowing what to do, when Count Barnon simply declared himself the new King. It seems that everyone was relieved and there was no fuss or bother. I know Barnon, I think he'll make a good King.”
Kel sighed, saying, “The message, I assume, summons Duke Kelwyn to swear an oath of allegiance to the new King. Well by now they probably know that I'm no longer the Duke, so they probably wouldn't care if I didn't show up. But I really feel that I should. I did swear an oath of allegiance to the crown, and I should tell them in person what occurred.”
He said, thoughtfully, “Marzon told me in the letter I received from him the day before yesterday that everything is gone, so I need to borrow a carriage and some money. Even though I've recovered to some extent, Covan thinks it will take another two or three months before I'll be able to ride again.” said Kelwyn.
Baron Cardall nodded, saying with deference, “You're welcome to my carriage Kel, and I'll provide you with five hundred gold nobles. That should allow you to live comfortably for some time. As the city recovers, I'll send you more. The least this city can do is allow you to live in comfort for the rest of your life.” with such determination that Kelwyn simply nodded.
“I accept with thanks, Cardall, though I think I'll try a small village first.” Kelwyn said. “Pol would you please go with your father. Come back in an hour or two.” and the younger boy got up and looked at his friend with uncertainty. His father put his arm around the boy's shoulders, and drew him out of the room.
Cardall said, once they were in the corridor, “He wants to cry Pol, and he wishes to do it alone, with only Havron there to see him.”
Most of the magic had dissipated from Kelwyn's body, and Covan was finally able to examine him thoroughly for the first time. Kelwyn's health wasn't as bad as it could have been, but he was able to verify several things.
After the examination Kelwyn summoned Talin the Kayliffe messenger. Kel said to him, “Covan confirmed it, please tell my grandfather, tell him goodbye for me, and tell him I love him.”
Talin bowed in respect to the young boy. He said with admmiration, “I will tell him, Duke Kelwyn. The Kayliffe are proud of you and your name will never be forgotten.” He saluted the young boy, then he turned and left the tent.
In the morning Talin and Sallis the second Messenger and Tenil and the two other younger bodyguards rode out heading for home. Kelwyn said to Havron, “You really should have gone with them.”
He shook his head, “No Kel, my place is with you. My place among the Kayliffe is assured through my sons, and daughters and their children. I will not abandon you.” Havron said resolutely.
The Herald announced, “Kelwyn Redmarsh, Your Majesty.”
The whole court turned to see the boy who had been talked about so much in the last few weeks. He entered his left hand on the arm of Havron. He was moving slowly, and in obvious pain, as he made his way to the dais. Holding onto Havron's arm he bowed with some difficulty and then straightened.
King Barnon asked, “You no longer consider yourself the Duke?”
Kelwyn's eyes which had been focused between the two thrones of the King and Queen flicked to Barnon and the man realized with a start that those gray eyes were seeing nothing but darkness. The boy said, “I told the Council that I wouldn't start a civil war. I accepted the fact that they did away with the position of Duke and asked me, politely of course, to leave and please not return. I imagine that you already know everything I can tell you, however I did swear an oath before this throne when I came here after my seventh birthday, so I thought I should tell you in person.”
Queen Challion asked with curiosity, “What do you intend to do now Kelwyn?”
The boy explained, “Baron Cardall is providing me with a pension. Five hundred gold nobles to start with, however that'll allow Havron and I to live comfortably. I was thinking of one of the small villages somewhere near the capital would be a nice place to settle at least to start with. After a while I'll probably move into the capital.”
Suddenly someone said rudely, “Why don't you go live with your Kayliffe kin.” and he shrank back as the King glared at him.
Kel said, with amusement, “Ah, Count Gavin, I'm afraid that will be impossible. The magic that I used to create the Great Circle removed the ability to have children from me. I informed my grandfather before I started, that twenty-four of the twenty-five times a Great Circle has been created the Mages who did it were no longer able to have children. There's some doubt in the last case whether the child was actually his, apparently the child had Elvish features, and neither he nor his wife had any Elvish ancestors as far as they knew, but he acknowledged it as his.”
He clarified, “However, once the Great Circle was completed a Healer could no longer examine me because of the amount of magic in my body. Since that was the case, my grandfather and the priests agreed that they wouldn't replace me until it was confirmed. Enough magic dissipated so that the Healer was finally able to examine me five weeks ago, and he confirmed that I was sterile.”
Kelwyn told them, “The Ashok or Anointed One must be able to have children, and when they cannot, they are replaced. The only way that the Ashok can be replaced is if he/she is dead. At one time I would have actually been killed, but for the last fourteen hundred years or so the Ashok has simply been banished and declared dead. They held my funeral about four weeks ago. An effigy was burned and the ashes scattered to the wind. A ritual funeral of course, but none the less real. I therefore am considered dead and I no longer exist to the Kayliffe.”
“I'm Collier, the Royal Archivist. There is a history of the Kayliffe in the Royal Library. It doesn't have much detail, but, while it confirms your account, it does say that on occasion the Anointed One is not Banished.” said the man.
Kelwyn nodded, telling him, “Rare but true. On occasion some of the Ashok suffered injuries that prevented them from having children before they reached adulthood. In those cases the children are given a ritual funeral and they are considered to be reborn and they receive a new name and are actually adopted by their parents as if they were orphans. However once you use the power of the Ashok as I did, then only banishment and a declaration of death and a ritual funeral is allowed.”
The King said, “You said you used the power you possessed. Are you talking about the death of Count Monlif?”
Kelwyn nodded his head and said, “Yes, Your Majesty. The Council of Nobles either didn't know enough about the Count or didn't care. They should have known because when you use the wrong tool for the job, you shouldn't be surprised when it gets broken. Monlif was definitely the wrong tool. He was a somewhat timid man, and he would never have gone out on a limb like he did unless the Council had convinced him that I wouldn't do what I had said I would.”
Kel paused, and then said almost in a musing tone of voice, “While I said Monlif was timid, that doesn't mean he was a coward. Once he had made his commitment, he couldn't back away from it. His pride wouldn't let him do so. I respected him for that, but I couldn't let him stand in the way either.”
The King looked at the little boy and his eyes were hard, then he said, “Well Kelwyn, I can't condone assassination. According to the treaty that was signed between the Kingdom and the Duchy two hundred years ago, I can't interfere in the internal workings of the province. The Council of Nobles has indicated that your absence from the province is enough. Possibly they would feel differently if they knew you were no longer the Anointed One. Nevertheless I will not accept your presence at Court.”
Kelwyn bowed carefully, so that he wouldn't fall, and said, “As the King commands.” and taking the arm of Havron again he made his careful way out of the Audience Hall.
Sill was reading from one of the books that Kelwyn had brought with him. He looked up and stopped at what he saw. He said, “Kel, a big fancy carriage just entered the village square.”
Kelwyn nodded, saying, “All right, Sill. Thank you. For the rest of you I've taught you all that your parents wanted you to learn, so lessons are finished. You can read, write and figure, which gives you an advantage over your neighbors. Make sure to keep it alive. Teach your brothers and sisters as they get old enough to learn. Now scoot, I imagine that there are some games you'd rather be playing.” Kelwyn smiled as they jumped to their feet and headed for the village pond, for a cooling swim.
Sill who was the only one not to leave asked, “Are you going to leave, Kel?”
Kelwyn shook his head, saying in an encouraging manner, “I don't know Sill. I don't know what they want. Keep the book, and if I'm able, I'll send you more. Your friends have reached the end of their path. They've learned all they need and all they want to know. You've barely started your journey, and the path stretches before you. It'll be a hard path for a peasant to follow, but you have a start. I've given your parents twenty gold nobles. Ten for them to keep and ten to further your education. Once you get through the books I've given you, your next step is the capital. Be careful when you go into the city, Sill. Cities are always dangerous places, and that's especially true for peasants. Spend your gold wisely and the world is yours.”
Sill said, almost in a whisper, “Thank you, Kel. I always knew I wanted something, but, until you came, I didn't know what it was. Thank you for the start and for the books you've given me. I have a feeling that you'll be leaving, so this is my goodbye to you.”
He took Kel's hand and squeezed tight and then he too was off, first to bring the book to his cottage, then to join the other children for a cooling swim.
Kelwyn stood up, as did the enormous dog lying down next to him. When she was standing, her head was level with his. He said, “Lead me to the new arrivals Genna.” as he put his hand on her back, and the dog, far more intelligent than a dog should be, led him toward the carriage.
When he reached them, one of the men put his hand on the boy's shoulder and gave it a little shake of affection. He said, “It's good to see you again Kelwyn.”
The boy put his hand over Marzon's hand on his shoulder. He gave a squeeze back, saying, “I'm glad you're here. This is a nice place to visit, but I don't really want to live here. The adults asked me to teach the children how to read and write and do some arithmetic, and with the help of Havron, I was able to do that.” he sighed, “Unfortunately I've completed what they wanted or will ever need, and today was the last day. Havron and I will have to leave for the capital I guess.”
Kelwyn felt a jolt go through him as another man spoke and he recognized it as his uncle's voice. “Where is Havron anyway. I've never seen him more than a few feet from your side since you could walk.” the man said in an awkward way.
The boy covered up his surprise by patting the dog by his side. He said affectionately, “Havron feels that Genna here can handle any danger I'm likely to run into here. Though undoubtedly he's watching us from somewhere. I understand the tavern is pretty good for a village this size, if your carriage driver unhitches the horses, it has a corral in the back where they can get food and water and he can wait for you inside.”
Marzon gave the needed instructions, Kel put his hand on Genna's back
and said, “Home Genna. Come we'll go to my house and I'll get you
something to drink. It won't be cool, but it will be wet.”
The cottage had only one room, but it was spotless. Genna laid down by the door while Kel said, “Take a chair at the table.” He went over to a cupboard and opening it he got out four mugs and with fingers entwined in the handles carried them over and set them on the table. Going over to the washstand he pulled a wet towel off a pitcher, carried it over to the table, and placed it in the center. Havron came in the door just as Kelwyn sat the pitcher on the table, and he nodded to the two men who nodded back.
Kel said with amusement, “You'll have to pour your own. I have to stick a finger in mine to see how much I've poured, and you can do without having my dirty finger in your drink.” as he sat down.
Kelwyn put his elbows on the table, and his chin on his hands. He asked, “So Uncle, the Council of Nobles is already in deep trouble? What did they do, exile you as well?”
Marzon smiled but Pravon looked at his nephew in surprise. He began to speak, “Uh, not exactly. You're right about the Council though, we're in deep trouble. Things went so smoothly until we formed the Council and for the six months after that while the transition was being made, and then things just fell apart. We can't get anybody to agree about anything, or almost anything.”
Kelwyn giggled and stuffed his hand in his mouth to stop himself. After he controlled his mirth he said, “As I said at the beginning Uncle, you can't turn back the sands of time. Cardall did a serious study about ten years ago, after spending time in both the Duchy and the Kingdom as a whole, and he taught me how much we differed. The Duchy s differs from the rest of the Kingdom. We are much more advanced socially. In effect we had three branches of government. Like a windmill the Duke was the axle and the nobles who made up half of the Council were the sails, and the half made up of commoners was the wind which made everything go. The Duke didn’t really have overriding powers. It took seven members of the Council to overturn anything the Duke did, but they could do it.”
Kel explained, “The Kingdom as a whole is made up of the King and the nobles. It's a feudal Kingdom outside the Duchy. The King is in a sense an absolute monarch. I said in a sense, because there are powerful nobles the King can't ignore, he does so at his peril. He makes the laws, and he decides the direction in which the country is going. He has a Council, but they're advisors only. Sticking to the windmill analogy, the King is both the axle and the wind and the nobles are the sails with commoners having no say.”
He said seriously, “But they can still afford to be a feudal system. Their primary industry is agriculture. About eighty percent of industrial work done outside of agriculture is done in the Duchy. For instance we have almost twice as many cities and large towns as the rest of the Kingdom does, and our inhabitants make up almost fifty percent of the total population of our country.”
Kelwyn said softly, “I don't know if I could have stopped your little experiment in turning back the sands of time, but I asked Cardall, and he said not to try. He said that you had to find out for yourselves, otherwise you would always wonder, and we couldn't go forward. The Duchy's journey is just beginning. Where it will end up nobody knows, but in one hundred years we're going to be much different than we are now.”
“I assume your presence here means that I can return to Redmarsh?” asked Kelwyn.
His uncle looked at the little boy and a smile played around his lips obviously the boy intelligent as he was hadn't realized the real reason why they were here. He said, “Much, much more than that Kelwyn. We want you to return as our Duke.”
Kel looked shocked, blurting out, “According to the law my blindness automatically disqualifies me from becoming Duke again.”
Pravon said firmly, “As you said, we are no longer a feudal society. Our little experiment, as you called it, proved it to us. That law was made in a time when a Duke had to lead his armies. That's no longer necessary. I said the Council of Nobles could agree on very little, but we know that you're the only one who can be Duke. The commoners would trust almost no one else of the nobility, perhaps not even Baron Cardall Venton. It can't even be a Regency, because they wouldn't trust me either.”
He explained, “We changed the law, in fact the Duke is now forbidden to lead the army if it is ever needed again. And Cardall said it might, he says that what we did focused the attention of the rest of the Kingdom on us. When you return and the Ducal Council is reestablished, they're going to look at us even more closely. They'll either begin to imitate us, or they'll be worried enough to start a civil war.”
“Cardall thinks that King Barnon is too intelligent for the latter and pragmatic enough to begin the changes now while he can control them, at least to a certain extent. At the same time however, we have to prepare for the latter just in case.”
Marzon opened the box he had put on the table. He took out several dozen sheets of parchment. He told the boy, “The merchants who loaned you the money got together and decided that we should have a part in saving our country even if it's after the fact. Eighty percent of us decided to return your properties. The nobles put up the twenty percent to buy back what remained of your properties for you. By the time you return to the Palace, if you could still see, I don't think you could find anything missing.”
Kelwyn had tears running down his face, and he turned to the one who had always been there for him, Havron, who took him on his lap holding him closely.
Havron smiled at the two men, saying quietly, “I think you can guess that Kelwyn is overwhelmed. He accepted his exile and he wasn't bitter about it, but he longed to return to Redmarsh, with all his heart and soul. Even the Kayliffe will accept him, because Kelwyn the Duke was always separate from Kelwyn the Ashok.”
Duke Kelwyn turned as the page ushered in Resina, Terzon, Mathi and Shalla. He'd gotten used to this room over the last week. Nothing was ever moved, so he was in no danger of falling over anything. Genna got to her feet and joined him.
Kelwyn said warmly, “It's good to see you again, Resina.” He giggled, “Not actually see, since I'm blind, but your presence is very welcome. And don't start calling me Duke, after all we're going to be very close relations in the future, aren't we Shalla?”
The little girl smiled and said in otherworldly voice, “Oh yes, Kel. When I first touched you, I saw our future and it will be a long and happy one. Despite the fact that you can have no children, the Palace will always be filled with children. But of course that is to come, right now we are still children ourselves and will be for some time.”
Her brothers and mother were staring at her in wonderment. She shook her head and spoke like the little girl she was. “I heard about the children you are collecting from all over the Duchy. I knew that we would be called sooner or later.”
“Yes.” stated Kelwyn, “If I can't have an heir naturally, then I must choose one. And even though you can see our future, I must be prepared. Not even Seers always see true. But you must be prepared as well, in case you do dream true. Girls of your class don't often get lessons, something that eventually will have to change, but right now I'm just concerned with you. It will be hard for you, since you don't have a natural talent for learning a lot of the things that you must learn.”
“I will do it willingly, Kel.” she said, grinning, “But don't be surprised if I kick and scream occasionally.”
He grinned back at her and then turned to the page, asking, “Have you got that present for me, Daryell?”
The boy had it on a tray, and he said, “Yes, My Lord. It's just to the left of you.”
Kel turned carefully and felt for the tray and lifting up the lockets he opened one and showed it to Resina. “For you and Conla. The Tree of Life. To remind him that while he took a life, he gave life at the same time. He gave your family life, when it could have been death.” He handed her the silver lockets.
“Thank you Kelwyn.” she said in a low voice. “He's getting over it, but he still finds it hard. This will help.”
Kelwyn nodded his understanding thinking back to the child who Conla had needed to kill. He still wept occasionally at nights thinking about it. He shook himself, literally. He said, “Leave the children. I'll send them home at about four. I know Terzon isn't really suited for learning, but he will at least learn how to read and write, even if the teacher has to beat it into him letter by letter. Shalla and Mathi will go much further.”
He said to the page, “Daryell, please take Terzon to the classroom, and then escort Resina out. Havron and I will bring Mathi and Shalla in a few minutes.” The page bowed and leading the way Terzon with a scowl on his face and Resina followed him.
When the door closed behind them Kelwyn took the headband holding the jewel out of his belt pouch. He explained, “This jewel contains it's own magic and normally when a Disciple of Chandrass hands on this jewel he simply thinks about it and the jewel's magic takes it to the new Disciple. This is somewhat unusual, but I knew when you knocked me down in the camp that you two were the next recipients. The jewel is one and doesn't have the power to divide itself, that can only be done by a meeting of the Fellowship of Chandrass. Both of you put your left hands on the jewel and trace the first letter of your name in the air.”
The two looked at the jewel in awe but obediently they did as they were told. When they sketched their initials in the air, they were lit up by a blue light. While neither of the children were literate, the twins like most people could at least write their own names. A doorway opened in the wall and putting his hand on the younger children's shoulders they made their way through the doorway followed by Genna and Havron, and the doorway closed behind them.
The three children and Genna moved into the pentacle. The lines flared up and then softened to a low light. Kel told them, “I don't know how long we will have to wait, but no time is passing outside the pentacle. You will just have to be patient.”
It took almost fifteen minutes before the wall seemed to disappear in front of them, and the five beings who had talked to him months before appeared. Kelwyn put his hands together and bowed and they returned it. He said with happiness, “Greetings my friends, I didn't expect to ever see you again, and if it hadn't been a necessity, I wouldn't have. However I'm glad the magic in this place lets the last Sight I will ever see will be of you.”
Bell said in her tinkling voice, “Twins, Kelwyn. We haven't had twins in more than two hundred years. Of course the jewel which is one must become two.”
“Yes.” said Kelwyn nodding, “normally the magic it contains would be used to find a new Disciple, but I already knew who the recipients were, so it provided enough magic to allow one last visit. Once it is divided and bonded to the twins, I will no longer be able to return. Like Havron without my magic I would no longer be able to see you”
He smiled in satisfaction, saying, “But I was successful. While slightly over eight thousand people died, Venton survives. Baron Venton discovered the fact that those who ate primarily fish and used fish oil sauce were almost immune to the plague. It even helped those who got ill to recover, so many more lived than I ever expected even in my wildest dreams.”
King Grenfell, asked, “And what of you little one? How did you fare?”
Kel explained, thoughtfully, “Well I'm Duke, which I didn't expect. I've been given oaths of allegiance by all of the nobles, so I have been confirmed in my position. My sight is gone. My eyes were damaged too badly ever to recover. My heart suffered some damage, and I get tired more easily than before and my joints ache when a storm is coming, and of course I can never have children. But considering what the Duchy gained, it was a small price to pay.”
Kelwyn put his hand on Shalla's shoulder, telling them, “When I first touched Shalla, we saw ourselves as mates with a long, happy life ahead of us, and through her I will be able to get news of you. I have chosen an heir, though he doesn't know it and may never know it. Their brother Terzon is my present heir, and he will certainly end up on the Council, even if I live as long as Shalla and I saw.”
Shalla and Mathi jerked their heads around and stared at him. Kel grinned, “He just has to be challenged. Behind that ‘can't sit still exterior’ is a brilliant mind, with compassion and ruthlessness. Watch him over the next few years. You'll find your older brother is much more than he seems at the moment.”
Kelwyn said with regret, and quiet satisfaction, “Goodbye my friends, I leave them to you.” He bowed and the others all bowed back. Then they reached out and touched him on the forehead, and their love surrounded him as he backed out of the pentacle taking Genna with him, leaving Mathi and Shalla to become acquainted with their new friends.
Note: Merchants is a broad term, but it includes people who own businesses which would be similar to factories, but of course before mass production became common. In essence the merchant class employs everyone who is not a farmer on one of the nobles estates, though merchants also own farms as well. Nobles are primarily involved in agriculture of all kinds.
365 days leap year each
13 months lunar cycle 28 days per month
52 week - year