Brydon shot to his feet. “This cannot be!” he burst out.
Reed ignored his outcry and switched his gaze, dark and glittering, to
Toryn. “And you, swordsman. I had hoped to meet you again. This time
I will cut your heart out.”
Toryn sneered. “As long as you have your army to help you,” he said and gestured to the men-at-arms.
“Indeed,” Reed promised. He stared at Davin for a long, silent
moment, stroking his mustache with forefinger and thumb, but he said
nothing to the silver-haired Penk. He looked lastly at Shevyn.
“I do appreciate you bringing my little Shevyn back to me. I feared
that I would never see her again. How did you find her?”
Shevyn pressed closer to Brydon with her eyes firmly fixed on the
ground as if willing it to open up and swallow her. Brydon put an arm
around her shoulders and glared at Reed, holding her protectively.
“How sweet.” Reed smiled. “Did she talk you into coming here to kill me?”
“I need no persuasion for that,” Brydon snapped. “If you are truly
the King of Ven-Kerrick, why were you in Terris dealing with bandits
and stolen horses?”
“That is not your concern,” Reed said in
a bored tone. He stepped back and sprawled casually on the throne as
if wearied by their conversation. He gestured at his guards.
“Take them out of here until I decide what to do with them.” He paused
and his eyes narrowed. “Except the Penk. He stays here.”
“You don’t even know why we’re here!” Brydon protested, horrified to have his Quest come to this.
For him to die here with his Quest unfulfilled—it was almost beyond
imagining. In his wildest dreams, he had never envisioned the King of
Ven-Kerrick to be a dishonorable cur such as Reed.
here to take the Gauntlet, are you not?” Reed asked. Brydon was
startled. No one but Toryn knew what he was after and he doubted Reed
had been able to pull the information from his mind during their brief
encounter in the forest of Terris.
“It’s a pity that you
traveled all the way from Falara.” Reed sighed dramatically. “The
Gauntlet is already gone.” With that, he waved a hand and the guards
dragged them out of the room, leaving only Davin to stand before him.
“I knew this would be interesting,” Toryn commented unnecessarily.
They were hauled down two long corridors and descended a dark, winding
stair to the dungeon. Shevyn clung to Brydon as long as she could, but
she was dragged bodily from his side and the three of them were tossed
into separate cells.
“I also knew we would end up here,” Toryn finished.
~~ O ~~
Toryn gazed unhappily at his new quarters. The cell was dismal and
dank, as some universal code of dungeons stated it should be. It was
about six paces deep and four across. Three of the walls were
windowless stone and the fourth consisted of iron bars that stretched
from floor to ceiling with a gate built into the center. A patch of
filthy straw moldered on the floor, looking old enough for the castle
to have been built around it. Toryn decided against sitting on it,
ever, and stood as near the bars as possible. The close confinement
made him decidedly uncomfortable.
The cells were situated
side by side so prisoners could not see each other. He peered through
the iron and dimly saw more cells across the way, but nothing else of
interest except the metal-clad door that led upward to freedom.
Rather than give in to his growing sense of tension, he tried to
figure out why Reed had been in Terris. And what was his interest in
Davin? Then there was his cryptic last remark? Where was the
Gauntlet? Redwing would not be pleased about that. Not that it would
matter unless they got out of here.
Brydon? he called out mentally.
Toryn jumped a bit, even though he’d expected the response. He wondered if he’d ever get used to the Falaran’s abilities. Do you know anything about this?
No, Redwing admitted. I never expected this. The King of Ven-Kerrick was supposed to be noble and good.
It looks like Kerrick’s offspring decided not to follow in his footsteps.
Apparently not. Redwing sighed, an odd sensation when experienced through their mental link.
“Hail, newcomers,” a deep voice called from the darkness. “What did you do to annoy Reed?”
Toryn peered through the bars, but saw nothing.
“We encountered Reed some time back,” Brydon explained. “It seems he held a grudge.”
“That is Reed’s way.”
“What was your crime?” Redwing asked.
“I walked unaware into the lion’s den. I am Jace the Wanderer,
Knight-Priest of the Shield. Reed has no tolerance for Knight-Priests.”
“Then he has a twofold reason to keep me here,” Redwing said dryly. “I am Brydon Redwing, Knight-Priest of the Lance.”
“A Falaran! You are far from home!”
“The distance seems to be growing with every passing moment,” Redwing
said. Silence descended upon them until the rattle of a key in the
door brought them all to attention.
The iron door swung open
to admit a man bearing a large tray. He was dressed in rough clothing
and a hood covered much of his face. The guardian at the door held a
torch over the man’s head, ostensibly to light the way.
hates it down here,” the newcomer whined and made no effort to enter
the darkness of their cellblock. “Can’t ye feeds ‘em?”
in there,” the guard snarled impatiently and shoved the fellow with a
hand to the back. The man staggered inside and nearly lost the tray as
well as his balance. He set up a loud wailing and the guard slammed
the door, leaving him alone with the prisoners. The man’s whimpering
silenced immediately and he set the tray upon the ground. He hurried
from Toryn’s sight and a moment later cried softly, “Shevyn! Oh, my
Toryn pressed his face against the bars
curiously and heard the man speak in a lower tone; he could not make
out any words. A short time later, the man rose. Toryn could see his
profile as he stopped in front of Brydon’s cell.
“You brought her here!” the man hissed. His brutish accent had remarkably disappeared. “How could you do that?”
“Kerryn,” Jace interrupted in a dry voice, “You may dispense blame
later. For now, can you concentrate on getting us out of here?”
“Sir Jace!” the man gasped. “I did not know you had been imprisoned.”
“It seems Reed’s explanation of my sudden disappearance was accepted by all.”
“Not all, but we feared you were dead.”
“I most likely will be unless we can escape from here.”
“I do not know how to accomplish it—our numbers now are too few,” Kerryn said.
“Find our friend Davin,” Redwing said urgently.
“Why should I listen to you?” Kerryn demanded.
“Kerryn!” Jace snapped in a voice that crackled with authority. “He is
a Knight-Priest. How was he to know that Ven-Kerrick had fallen?”
Kerryn shook his head. Toryn could barely make out his features in the dim light, but he seemed young.
“We dare not make it known,” Kerryn murmured miserably.
“Exactly. We are the only ones who can stop Reed and we can
accomplish nothing from inside these cells. Listen to Sir Brydon.”
Kerryn glared, but nodded.
“Find Davin,” Redwing said again. “He is the silver-haired man who
rode in with us. I do not pretend to know Reed’s purpose, but he most
likely seeks to bargain with Davin. Find him and tell him where we
are. I know he can help us.”
“What can one man do against Reed’s guards?”
“More than you can imagine,” Redwing replied cryptically.
The guard outside flung the door open suddenly and Kerryn crouched instantly.
“Haven’t you distributed that food, yet?” the guard demanded.
“What if they grabs me?” Kerryn whined hysterically. The guard cursed
and strode forward. He seized Kerryn with a meaty fist and flung him
toward the door. Kerryn stumbled and fell, then picked himself up and
ran, wailing pitifully. The guard roughly shoved their food trays
beneath the cells doors. The meal consisted of rock hard crusts of
overcooked bread, a thin gruel in small wooden bowls, and a few slivers
of dried apples—probably a delicacy for prison fare. The guard
departed in the same manner he had entered.
Toryn did not
touch the meal, but he could hear Jace’s teeth as he gnawed at the
bread. He wondered how long the Knight-Priest had been imprisoned. Toryn, I’m going to try to contact Davin, Redwing sent.
Won’t that terrify him?
Possibly. But what choice do we have?
Do you think he can help us?
I know he can help us, the question is whether or not he will.
Redwing’s presence disappeared and Toryn waited, tapping a knuckle on
the bars impatiently. He was considering gnawing on one of the bread
crusts when Redwing’s mental voice returned.
That was rather fruitless.
You couldn’t find him? Toryn asked.
found him, but he shut me out. I didn’t know he could do that. I know
this sounds strange, but I think he can change his shape at will. Redwing related an incident in Terris when he felt Davin become a different creature.
Then he really is a werewolf? Toryn asked in amazement.
Of sorts, unless I am mistaken.
Damn! It would explain the attack on Garyn during our fight with
Reed. Remember, he was clawed by some animal? I always wondered how
that happened. Do you suppose Reed knows about Davin’s ability?
Either that or Davin has been in league with Reed from the beginning, Redwing suggested unhappily.
On that note, they sat back to wait.
~~ O ~~
Davin watched the others until they were escorted out and then he
turned to Reed. The dark-haired man watched him without expression and
Davin said nothing. At last, Reed got to his feet.
“Accompany me, if you will,” he said and strode out. Davin shrugged
and followed, puzzled at the man’s tone. He wasn’t treating Davin in
the same condescending manner he had shown the others. The two of them
passed through the entry hall and mounted the marble steps. Two of the
black-clad men made as if to follow but Reed waved them away. On the
second level, they turned right and walked through an open door into a
massive library. Davin was shocked to see two large glass windows, one
on each outer wall. The early afternoon sunlight streamed through the
southernmost window, falling on the floor in a pattern of squares.
Reed followed his gaze.
“One of the Kerricks was appalled.
I believe it was Terryd, the Warrior-King. He ordered the bars
installed. It rather ruined the aesthetics, but most warriors do not
appreciate beauty, anyway.” Each window had been covered with
horizontal and vertical iron bars. Reed laughed shortly. “The bars do
keep the melancholy from leaping to their deaths after reading a
particularly tragic poem.”
Davin was not amused. “What do you want?” he asked.
“You are definitely Penk,” Reed said with a sigh. “Capable of sustaining only one thought at a time.”
Davin waited. Reed sighed and walked to a mahogany table set near one wall.
“Brandy?” he asked and lifted a crystal decanter. Davin shook his
head. Reed poured a splash of the liquid and downed it in a single
gulp, then replenished the glass and raised it slightly in salute to
the painting that hung on the wall above him. Davin looked at the
portrait for the first time. It was a portrait of a young king with a
golden crown set atop long, curly locks that blew in the wind. He held
a strange, pale sword clasped in a fist covered by a silvery, jeweled
gauntlet. The painting was magnificently done and very old. Davin
thought there was something fey about the image of the slender king—the
“Kerrick, himself,” Reed supplied,
confirming Davin’s suspicion. “They say he died in a fall. A
rockslide. His body was never recovered.” Reed laughed shortly. “I
say he staged it all and disappeared to escape the duties of kingship.
They are more tedious than I had imagined.”
Davin still said nothing and Reed turned.
“I know what you are, Davin. You have Vai blood in you. Quite a lot
of it, I would imagine, and power that most men can only dream of.”
Davin schooled his features into impassivity and Reed strode forward.
“You are well-known in parts of Penkangum. There is a high price on
your head. They say you killed several people with magic.” Reed
stopped a handbreadth away. “How did you do it, Davin?” His eyes
were bright as copper coins, fixed eagerly on Davin’s face. He went on
in a hushed voice. “Did you turn into a wolf and tear their throats
out? Was it exciting to smell their fear, to feel it in the air? Did
they beg for mercy? Was the blood hot on your lips, salty and
pulsing? How did it taste, Davin; did you drink their life’s blood
while they watched you through dying eyes?”
contorted and he shoved Reed away, hard. He spun and went down, though
he caught himself on one hand and knee. The brandy glass hit the floor
and rolled; liquid seeped into the fine carpet. Reed looked at the
growing stain as he regained his feet, and then he turned his amused
gaze to Davin, who struggled to contain his rage.
“Ah, you are squeamish!
An unusual quality in a Vai. I fear you have spent too much time with
the Falaran and his misguided ideals. Life is a vicious mistress. She
rewards only those who take what they want from her. By whatever means
Reed's philosophy sickened him. “Am I here for a reason or do you merely enjoy hearing yourself speak?” Davin asked.
Reed picked up the glass and returned it to the table. “I see you do
not have a speculative nature. That is good. I grow tired of those
who rant and rave about my sins. But enough of that. I need you to
help me, Davin.”
Davin’s jaw tightened, but Reed continued,
“I need you to teach me the ways of your power. I must learn how to
change my shape as you do.”
Davin stared at him for a moment
and then burst into laughter that he quickly stifled. “You do not know
what you are talking about,” he said with a sneer.
precisely,” Reed retorted in a cold voice. “My father was a full
Vai—his blood flows strong in my veins. I can already distance-shift.
You and your companions were witness to that. I know how to turn men’s
minds inside out. I have been taught many things.”
“Then go back to your teacher and ask him to show you,” Davin said shrewdly. The statement obviously touched a nerve.
“He will not.” Reed hissed in frustration. His eyes narrowed as he
realized what he had disclosed and he picked up the brandy glass once
more to hurl it into the huge fireplace. The shattered glass seemed to
calm him as he took a steadying breath. “I do not need him any
longer,” Reed amended. “I have fulfilled our bargain.” He turned to
Davin. “And I have you to teach me, now.”
“I will teach you nothing and would not even if I knew how. You are
vile. I can no longer pity myself now that you have shown me the
depths to which a human can sink.”
Reed’s eyes glittered and
he smiled maliciously. “I do not recall asking for your knowledge. It
would be foolish to beg for something I can take.” With that, Davin
felt as though his head had been seized in a huge, invisible hand. It
gripped him while something else bored into his mind and sucked at his
memories like some horrid, unseen leech. Davin cried out and flailed
at the air with his hands. In panic, he nearly changed shape, but
realized at the last instant it was exactly what Reed wanted.
He forced himself to concentrate on Reed’s presence in his mind.
Davin allowed rage to flood his mind and he sent it back to Reed at
full force, using a mental strength he did not know he possessed. It
was almost like beating at a fly—one moment Reed was in Davin’s mind,
clawing and scratching for information—the next he staggered, trying to
keep Davin out. Unable to penetrate his hastily erected mental shield,
Davin instead grasped Reed’s presence in a large mental fist and shook
it like a dog shakes a rag doll. Reed crashed into the table with a
shriek and knocked several decanters and glasses to the floor. They
landed in a tinkling wet mass and Reed clung to the wood. Davin
released him and took great care in crafting his own impenetrable
mental wall, something he had done since he was a child. It was almost
comforting to know he had not forgotten how, especially when Reed
recovered with a snarl and turned on him, lashing out in a full-force
Davin deflected it with a minimum of effort and Reed gasped, staring at him with eyes wide and full of rage.
“Perhaps you should find someone else to train you,” Davin suggested.
Reed pulled out his sword with a fluid motion. His face was red and
mottled. At that moment, several black-clad men appeared at the door
with weapons held ready.
“My lord?” one questioned.
Reed, after a long, tense moment, recovered himself and sheathed his sword.
“Take this man away,” Reed said slowly. “Take him to the north
antechamber. I want two men with him at all times. Do not take your
eyes off of him for a moment. Are you all wearing your medallions?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Keep them on. This man is very dangerous,” he said and added, “And, worth a great deal of money in Penkangum.”
The men, six in all, ringed Davin. Before they could escort him out, a servant appeared in the doorway.
“My Lord King,” he announced, “The Bodorii delegation has arrived.”
Reed swore mildly. “Put them in the Great Hall. I will be down shortly.”
He glared at Davin and departed, leaving him with his escorts. Davin
was manhandled down the hall and into a windowless room with a single
entrance. Two of the men accompanied him inside. The room was
furnished with a single table and several chairs. Tapestries adorned
the walls—scenes of Ven-Kerrick’s history, Davin assumed. He calmly
seated himself in a chair and watched the two men watching him.
After a moment, he sent out a tentative mental probe, amazed at how
difficult it was. He had honed some of his abilities to a high level
of skill while others had rusted away. What he encountered made him
draw back, amused and grudgingly impressed by Reed’s knowledge. The
guards were wearing special medallions that blocked mental abilities.
Davin could not access their minds in any fashion. He wondered who had
taught Reed the secret of the medallions’ creation—they were not easy
to forge, nor were the ingredients common. Platinum was used in
quantity. The men likely had no clue as to the value of the medallions
they wore, or they would smuggle them out and pawn them for gold.
Davin waited a quarter of an hour before he got to his feet and
casually examined the tapestries. They were large weavings, stretching
from floor to ceiling. Davin doubted there were any concealed doors in
the small room, but he lifted a tapestry and stepped behind it, causing
an immediate uproar from his guards. Before they could properly react,
The familiar exhilaration filled him
as parts of him melted away and others compacted and change. It took
only an instant and then he raced on mouse feet around the perimeter of
the room, avoiding the guards as they searched the tapestries
frantically. He flattened his furred body and slipped easily under the
closed door. Once in the corridor, he paused for a moment, blurred
into an unobtrusive orange cat, and bounded down the stairs. He lurked
outside the Great Hall, trying to determine where Brydon and the others
had been taken.
A cat-hating guard aimed a booted foot at
him, so he dodged it and scurried toward the kitchens. Catching a
particular scent, he paused and then sidled down two long corridors
until he reached a staircase that spiraled toward upper and lower
levels of the castles. He chose the descending stairway and eventually
entered a damp, rough-hewn cavern that contained several branches. An
excess of unpleasant odors in the air made Davin sneeze and he quickly
changed back into the less-fastidious rodent. He crawled unseen past
the feet of a sentry and inched beneath an ironbound door. Perfect. The dungeon.
He crept past several cells until he found Brydon Redwing. Davin
squeaked in relief as the blond man raised his head and then uncoiled
from his cross-legged position. Brydon seized the bars eagerly.
“Davin,” Brydon breathed, “Is it you?”
He leaped back in surprise and nearly shifted in reflex. How could he possibly know?
Davin retreated and scurried under the door once more and scampered
back to the guard. He shifted into his usual human form in the blink
of an eye and threw an arm across the man’s neck in a stranglehold.
The guard thrashed and tore at Davin’s arm, but he simply squeezed
tighter until the gaoler went limp.
Davin quietly plucked
the keys from the man’s belt, unlocked the door, and dragged the
unconscious man into an empty cell. Brydon grinned as Davin unlocked
the iron door to his cell.
“We have to hurry,” Davin said. “By now, Reed knows I’m gone. Keep your mental shields tight, if you have them.”
~~ O ~~
They released the others and divested the guard of his cheap sword and
dagger. Jace the Wanderer was the only other man in their block of
cells, thankfully, because Brydon did not want to think about other
prisoners bellowing for release.
Toryn took the sword Brydon
offered without question, although he raised a brow. Brydon shook his
head, although he was not sure how to explain their release even to
Shevyn threw her arms around Jace’s neck and then did
the same to Brydon. He smiled at her and caught Toryn’s sardonic grin
before he introduced himself to Jace the Wanderer.
a tall man, taller than any of them, with thick dark brown hair and a
broad grin. He wore gleaming black leather armor. Under the polished
breastplate a white shirt flowed out into sleeves gathered at the
wrists with a practical cuff. A long dark cloak was attached to rings
on the breastplate. He looked impressive and was obviously a
Knight-Priest of the Shield, evidenced by the bronze shield symbol
prominently displayed on his breastplate.
“My thanks, brother,” Jace said. “I know this castle well. Let us depart this place.”
Brydon nodded and they headed down the dank corridor, dimly lit by
small torches hung in wall brackets. They reached another door and
Jace grasped the handle, but Davin hissed at them to stop.
“Two guards stand beyond the door,” Davin whispered. Jace pushed a
hand through his dark hair and studied Davin for a moment, obviously
wondering how the Penk had slipped by the two guards on his way into
the dungeon. “Armor?”
Davin motioned at Jace’s breastplate.
“Leather?” he asked. Davin nodded. “Helms?”
Jace smiled. “We may have a chance.”
The violent cry of a great hunting cat split the silence of the corridor and Brydon grinned
at Toryn in admiration. He wondered how the Redolian could mimic the
sound so perfectly. The door burst open and the two guards rushed in,
holding spears and swords ready. Jace and Brydon brought two
still-smoldering torches down upon their heads. One of them was
faster, or perhaps better trained, and he narrowly avoided the
bludgeon. The torch swished by him and he rolled into Davin. Both
Jace’s victim stayed down. The second man
scrambled up, avoiding Davin’s quick grasp, only to meet Toryn’s
torch. It caught him across the jaw and snapped him around to fall on
Davin again. The Penk climbed out from under him, muttering. Toryn
already had the man’s sword in his hand, testing it for balance against
the other. Jace picked up another and Brydon took the weapon Toryn
decided was the lesser blade. Shevyn hefted a spear and Brydon took
one of those, also.
Thus armed, they slipped out and found
themselves in a similar corridor. More tunnels branched off and a
stone stairway curved up and out of sight. They took the curving
stairs and met no one on the way.
At the next floor, the
stairs continued upward, most likely to the tower’s lookout post and
possibly the roof. A long corridor led into the darkness and the
sounds of shouting and the clatter of many booted feet greeted them,
likely from guards sent by Reed to prevent Davin from rescuing them.
Shevyn tugged at Brydon’s arm and pointed upward. They scrambled
quickly up the stairs and paused again on the next landing.
“How do we get out of here?” Brydon hissed.
“How do we get our weapons back?” Toryn asked. Brydon nearly laughed. Trust Toryn to be worried about his sword.
“Follow Shevyn,” Jace said. “She will know where your weapons are. Davin, will you come with me?”
“Where are you going?” Brydon asked, alarmed.
“To have a little talk with Reed.” Jace smiled and stroked his sword.
“I’m coming with you,” Brydon decided.
Jace nodded. “I thought you might want to.”
“Toryn?” Brydon asked.
“Shevyn and I will get the weapons and meet you... where?”
Shevyn mimed mounting and riding, then pawed and snorted like a horse.
“Good,” Jace said, “We’ll meet you in the stables. If we are not
there in half an hour leave without us, however you may. Toryn, take
care of Shevyn. If anything happens to her, it could be disaster for
Toryn nodded absently and the two of them slipped
down the corridor. The other three took the stairs leading upward.
Brydon hoped it would not be the last time he looked upon Toryn or
~~ O ~~
Toryn trailed Shevyn, who seemed to
know exactly where she was going. She ducked into an empty sitting
room and continued on into a bedchamber. From there, she slid into an
alcove. Toryn paused, but she reached out from the darkness and pulled
him in. He followed her through the wall and a stone panel slid shut
behind them. Who was she, to know the secret places of the castle?
Another panel opened into an antechamber, this one occupied. They held
their breaths and peered through the cracked opening as a woman
puttered about the room, searching for something.
it is,” she said and then snatched up a fan upon the seat of a nearby
chair. She exited through a doorway on the left. Shevyn pulled Toryn
out of the concealed passage and crossed the room to another door. The
room they entered was unoccupied and opened into another corridor.
They followed it until a door appeared and Shevyn opened it carefully
before sighing in relief. Toryn smiled in satisfaction. The room was
filled with weapons and armor and he could see by a single glance that
it was not ordinary soldiers’ armor—this room was for display and
safekeeping. Plate armor was covered in etching or plated in gold and
silver and the chain mail was polished to a glossy silver hue. Shields
and standards proclaimed victories in battle, some of them scarred and
torn. Swords were mounted on the wall, each of them unique and
beautiful. Toryn’s jade-hilted sword and Redwing’s family blade had
been tossed casually upon a table.
Toryn took his sword and
replaced it with the guard’s plain blade. He strapped on Redwing’s
sword and dagger and then buckled his own sword belt on as well, though
he kept his blade in hand. Shevyn walked over to a very thin sword
with an etched blade and a strange, pale-colored hilt. She looked up
at a conspicuously empty place on the wall where a sword had once hung,
and then moved to grasp the hilt of another. This one was a broadsword
and she could barely lift it. She dragged it over to Toryn and he
noticed it had a very plain silver hilt with a well-worn ebony grip.
“Jace’s?” he guessed. Shevyn nodded.
He took it and felt much better with three swords than he had with
one, even though it was a slight burden. He swung Jace’s scabbarded
blade over his shoulder. He looked around the room and saw a few
things of value he was tempted to take, but he restrained himself for
lack of time, not to mention the anticipation of Redwing’s disapproving
Footsteps sounded in the hallway and Shevyn flew by
Toryn in a panic, but he grabbed her and pulled her behind a large open
case that displayed polished horse armor. The footsteps continued past
and they stood, staring at each other wildly for a moment.
“It is time we got out of here,” he said and they headed for the
door. Suddenly, Toryn felt a strange sensation in his mind and knew
instinctively that it was not Brydon. Inspiration seized him and
rather than fight the intrusion, he cleared his mind and then
concentrated with all his will on dice.
Now, he thought, If
I throw them with a toss of my wrist just so, I should get seven every
time. If I toss them with a backhand flick, I should get doubles. I
need to win that money back so I can go find that wench in town
again.… Come on, lucky seven. The presence moved on,
hopefully convinced that Toryn was a common soldier. He blew out his
breath in relief. Shevyn tugged at him, her expression alarmed.
“Reed is looking for us,” he explained. She bit her lip with a
worried expression. They continued to the door and exited, but a
moment later Toryn dashed back in and grabbed up Brydon’s bow and
“He would kill me if I left these!” Toryn whispered
to Shevyn. They returned the way they had come and managed to avoid
the woman in the antechamber once more. They hurried down a wide
corridor until a guard surprised them.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” he demanded, obviously the bullying type.
Toryn’s sword spun and flashed as he turned and struck the man’s chain
mail with a crunching sound. The guard grunted and staggered back.
Toryn followed through with a stabbing thrust that cut through the thin
links and pierced the guard’s overlarge gut.
The man tried
to scream, but Shevyn was behind him and sliced her thin blade into the
man’s unprotected neck. He was dead before the floor caught him.
Toryn gaped at her for a moment—he would never have suspected her of
ruthlessness! He shook off his surprise and they dragged the man
quickly into the nearest room—the library?—before his blood could leave
an obvious trail.
Toryn glanced around nervously and Shevyn
unbuckled the man’s armor. He watched in puzzlement for a moment and
then quickly assisted her. Shortly, Toryn was outfitted in the fine
black leather of Ven Kerrick, missing only the chain mail. The
breastplate was too large for him, as was the rest of it, but the black
cloak covered the flaws in the armor and disclosed no bloodstains.
Shevyn carried Brydon’s bow and quiver. Jace’s sword was still slung
over Toryn’s shoulder so only the hilt peeked above the collar of the
cloak. He left Brydon’s sword and dagger buckled around his waist.
His own sword he kept in hand. Shevyn marched behind him.
They walked openly down the marble steps to the entry hall, which was
remarkably free of sentries. They were probably rushing around the
castle hunting them. They continued on, but before they entered the
kitchens, Shevyn urged him to sheathe his sword. She moved in close to
him and snuggled her head against his chest before pulling her hair
down over her face. Toryn was rather surprised, feeling her softness
and her arm around his waist, but she gestured him forward imperiously
and then he understood.
He put his arm around her shoulder
and pushed into the kitchen. Servants scurried to and fro preparing
the midday meal, ordered about by a burly matron wielding a ladle.
Toryn spotted the open doorway at the rear of the long room. Two
guardsmen could be seen beyond the door. Toryn pulled Shevyn toward a
sturdy table upon which rested several loaves of steaming bread. He
reached for one greedily and found his hand blocked by the ladle. He
looked into the steely eyes of the matron.
“No soldiers in my kitchen!” she barked. Toryn gave the woman his most charming smile.
“I was hoping to share some of your magnificent cooking with my lady,” he said glibly.
The woman took in Shevyn’s shabby appearance and snorted. “Lady, is
she? Trollop, you mean! I’ll have none of the likes of you in here,
either! Bad enough to have that bastard’s thieving soldiers tramping
through here taking food and abusing my folk without dragging harlots
in, as well!”
The two guards near the door peered into the
room, but the matron ranted on, “Be off with you! If I was a younger
woman—” Her tirade halted suddenly as Shevyn reached out and laid a
small hand on her arm. Shevyn raised her head and stared at the woman
imploringly. The matron sucked in a breath, a prodigious feat that
increased her already enormous bust-size.
“Adona save us all,” Toryn heard the woman breathe and then she turned her steely gaze on the soldiers at the door.
“And you!” she bellowed loudly, “Are you lurking about for food,
also? I’ll teach you to befoul my kitchen with your stinking
presence!” She picked up a nearby iron pot and hurled it at the men.
It bounced unerringly off the helm of one with a loud gong that set the
man reeling for a moment.
“Hey now!” the other cried. “Stop
that, you crazy wench!” Another pot whizzed by his head and he ducked
back, alarmed. The woman brandished a large skillet and looked at
Toryn, who threw up his arm.
“Nay!” he shouted. “Keep your
mealy bread! We’re going!” He and Shevyn ducked and ran for the
door. The skillet clanged off the floor behind them. They hurried
past the first soldier, who ignored them. His eyes were set on the
kitchen mistress with deadly intent. The second soldier was in the
doorway and they pushed past him, followed by the sound of shattering
“Hey!” the second one called as they reached the
black and white cobblestones of the inner courtyard, “We are all
supposed to be watching for the escaped prisoners!”
duty!” Toryn yelled back without turning or breaking stride. “You
watch for them!” He glanced back over his shoulder in time to see a
pewter mug bounce off the man’s shoulder. The soldier cursed and
entered the kitchen, following his angry partner.
Toryn at an unhurried pace across the courtyard. The few people about
gave them a cursory glance and a wide berth. They made it to the
stables unremarked upon and Toryn sent the stable boy on a fictitious
errand before he and Shevyn climbed quickly into the loft. Amazed that
they had made it out unscathed, Toryn watched the castle anxiously for
any sign of Redwing or the others.
~~ O ~~
followed Jace’s confident steps and wondered what in Adona’s name they
planned to do when they found Reed. They reached the third story and
tromped down a corridor until they could see large ornate double doors
guarded by a single sentry.
“I thought we were going back to the Great Hall,” Brydon whispered.
“We are.” Jace smiled. “Can you think of any safe way to get past that guard?”
Brydon could not. They studied the problem for a moment and Brydon
itched to have his bow. Just one arrow... There was no help for it.
He turned to Davin.
“I know what you can do, Davin,” he said
softly. “I’ve found you to be a valuable comrade. That has not
changed. If anything, you have become even more important. I will
never treat you as anything other than my friend. Believe me when I
say I do not think your powers are evil. I think they are a gift.”
Davin’s strange grey-violet eyes searched Brydon’s intently and he looked at Jace, who looked pleased at their conversation.
“You are Vai? You come from a noble people, Davin,” Jace said. “I
know nothing of your past, but if you fear your abilities, I beseech
you to set your doubts aside and help us in any way you are able.”
Davin sighed, but gave no other sign their words had reached him.
Then he shimmered and disappeared, but where he had stood hovered a
butterfly in marvelous hues of silver and violet. It flitted around
the corner toward the guard, who continued to stare straight ahead, not
noticing the butterfly when it landed on his shoulder. It paused,
wings opening and closing slowly.
“How does he do that?”
Brydon murmured. “Can he become anything he wants?” There were dozens
more questions he wanted to ask Jace, who seemed to know what Davin
was, but now was not the time.
“I’ve never seen anything
like that,” Jace replied in an awed tone as the butterfly turned into a
huge python whose coils wrapped around the guard’s neck.
man dropped his spear and clutched at his throat, whirling about in
panic. The tightening coils prevented the man from crying out and Jace
was there to catch the spear before it clattered on the ground. Brydon
grabbed the guard and eased his limp form to the ground as the python
released him and shimmered back to Davin.
Brydon exclaimed softly. He smiled and grasped Davin’s shoulder
firmly. The Penk seemed a bit dazed and gave Brydon an uncertain
look. Jace had already eased open the door and Brydon, after taking
the guard’s sword, joined him. They entered a large sitting room,
richly furnished and carpeted. Davin waited at the outer doors, alert
for approaching guards. Brydon followed Jace into a lavish bedchamber,
tastefully furnished with dark wood and smoky grey and black
highlights. A tapestry matching the one in the entry hung upon the
wall. This was obviously the King’s Chamber.
Just as Brydon
realized it, Reed entered the room from a different door. He froze
upon spotting them and then dropped the coronet he held and reached for
Jace reacted first, moving across the room and
diving into Reed. They both fell to the floor and rolled to their feet
like cats, facing each other. Brydon watched as the two black-clad men
circled each other. A delighted smile appeared on Jace’s face as Reed
drew his weapon.
“How nice of the demon Vai to release you with the others,” Reed snarled.
“Adona is on my side, Reed old fellow.” Jace laughed. “What can you claim?”
Reed also laughed, harshly. “My lord and all his minions are at my right hand,” he said.
“I am certain you know him.”
“Indeed, I do,” Jace goaded. “Are you afraid to say his name?”
Reed sneered in return and Jace stepped in with a blinding series of
cuts that Reed countered, if not with ease, then with no difficulty.
Brydon remembered how talented Reed was and stepped forward, raising
his borrowed sword, but he changed his mind. He hefted the spear he
still carried and walked calmly to one corner of the room. He watched
the battle intently; amazed at the way Jace laughed and taunted Reed,
all while parrying and twisting out of the way of Reed’s deadly blade.
Brydon felt the smooth wood of the spear and waited. At the proper
moment, he let fly and the spear sailed swift and true. It caught in
the thick folds of Reed’s cloak where it gathered at the shoulder and
dragged him backward to the floor.
Before he could
disentangle himself from the spear and climb to his feet, Jace was on
him, sword tip pressed against his throat.
“Greetings, from my kingdom to yours.” Jace grinned.
“Watch him, Jace,” Brydon warned. “He likes to disappear.”
Jace clucked his tongue. “I insist you stay,” he said. “If I even think you
are going to try and fade out, I will press this blade downward. Who
knows? You might even make it before I cut through your throat.”
Reed’s eyes spat flame, but he did not move.
“Where is the Gauntlet?” Jace asked.
“Where you will never find it,” Reed replied with malice.
“You might be surprised,” Jace said and pressed the tip a bit deeper into Reed’s throat.
“I know you, weakling servant of Adona,” Reed said, his voice rough
through the pressure. “You will not torture me. It is against your
Jace smiled coldly. “Perhaps it is. I
suppose I can always take you to Shevyn and leave you to her tender
mercies. I am sure she will be lenient with you.” Reed paled, but the
impasse did not last. Jace screamed and recoiled as if hit by a
giant’s hand. His sword slipped away. Brydon stared in horror,
realizing Reed had attacked Jace with a mental assault. Brydon had
expected Jace to have some defense against Reed’s abilities. Reed
knocked Jace’s sword aside and shot to his feet, slicing at the
Knight-Priest with his own blade. The sword glanced off Jace’s
breastplate and Reed bolted for the door.
Brydon hurried to Jace, who had collapsed at the foot of the bed, clutching his head.
“Are you all right?” he asked. Jace stood up with Brydon’s assistance and leaned against him weakly.
“That... hurt,” Jace rasped. “I did not think he would use his confounded powers with a sword at his throat.”
“Can you walk?” Brydon asked and glanced at the door. Jace nodded.
Brydon helped him to his feet and they entered the sitting room. The
double-doors to the corridor stood wide open. They heard shouts and
booted feet running their way. A quick glance down the corridor showed
a large contingent of soldiers approaching.
“Where did Davin
go?” Brydon asked, surprised that Reed had not encountered the Penk on
his way out. Jace grabbed him and pulled him back into the room. He
slammed the door and shoved a chest in front of it.
more things up there,” he ordered and ran back into the bedchamber.
Brydon wondered why they were locking themselves in, but he dragged a
large dressing table over and pushed it over to lean on the chest,
shattering a porcelain pitcher and bowl in the process. As he pushed
another chest in front of that he noticed Jace in the bedchamber behind
one of the huge wall tapestries; only his black-booted feet showed as
he hurried along the wall.
“What are you doing?” he called,
looking around the room as he strained to push the heavy trunk across
the thick carpet toward the door. There were no windows or other exits
from the room. Shouts sounded from the corridor and heavy thumping
sounded on the door.
“I am looking for... ah!” Jace called.
Brydon shoved the trunk into place and turned. “Come here! Hurry!”
Jace cried. Brydon ran to the dark space between the tapestries and
the stone wall. He fumbled along until he reached Jace’s side. It was
pitch-dark beneath the thick coverings.
“What are you doing?” Brydon hissed again. The banging sounds on the door became louder. Jace grabbed his arm and pulled.
“This way.” He tugged Brydon through the wall and into utter
blackness. He stumbled as the ground dropped away from him. Jace
caught him and pressed him against the wall. “Stairs,” Jace said
unnecessarily. “It’s a secret passage. I knew there would be one in
the royal bedchamber. The Kerricks were no fools.”
does it go?” Brydon whispered as Jace slid the stone door shut quietly
and blocked out the sounds of the splintering door in the other room.
“That I don’t know, but we will soon find out,” Jace replied merrily. The steps curved down and down and finally ended.
“I had hoped this would branch off and give us a few more options.”
Before Brydon could reply, Jace swung open the stone portal and
stepped through. They found themselves behind another tapestry or
curtain, which they followed nervously to the end.
They found themselves in the Great Hall behind the throne. Jace breathed a sigh of relief. The room was empty.
“Reed did us a favor when he called the guards away, but it will not
be long before he figures out where we have gone and sends them back.
Let us get out while we can.” They ran.
Out in entry hall,
guards ran hither and yon, so they ducked into a corridor beneath the
stairs and hurried into a darker alcove. They slipped into the shadows
when a group of soldiers rushed by, heading for the Great Hall. Their
situation would only grow more desperate as news of their escape became
known. They left the safety of the alcove and passed another when a
hand reached out and snagged Brydon inside. Jace hissed and his sword
arced, but a blade parried it and a voice whispered, “Jace! It’s me,
Jace lowered the sword and Brydon relaxed.
“Is Shevyn safe?” Kerryn asked.
“We don’t know,” Brydon replied. “She is with Toryn.”
“He will turn her over to Reed!” Kerryn snapped. “Is that why you brought her back here?”
“Kerryn,” Jace snapped, “Brydon has nothing to gain by giving her up
to Reed. In fact, you are the one who will benefit most should
anything befall her.”
Kerryn sucked in a breath. “How dare you? I was ever loyal to her father and now to her!”
“Calm yourself, we are concerned only with her safety.”
“We are taking Shevyn out of here,” Brydon added. “Do you want to come with us?”
Kerryn shook his head after a long pause. “I must trust Jace to
protect her. I will be of more use here, watching to see what Reed
will do next. Many of us are still loyal and pray for his downfall.”
“Good. If you discover anything useful, send word to Baron Jilyan in
Bodor. We will try to be in contact with him.” Jace paused, and then
asked, “Where are the Knight-Priests of the Gauntlet?”
“Koryn sent them away—months ago—to join Queen Ierona in Bodor. There
have been border skirmishes with Parmitta and she requested assistance.”
Jace blanched. “He sent them all? Is the danger real, or was it part of Reed’s scheme?”
“He sent every man of them. Either the threat is real or they have
met with a serious mishap. The Gauntlet Knights have been gone nearly
four months and I have heard of no word from them or the Queen.”
“And what of the Gauntlet? Where is it?”
Kerryn raised his blade involuntarily.
Jace snarled. “We have no wish to steal it, fool! Reed told us
himself that is it gone. Do you want his servants to put it to use?”
Kerryn sighed and lowered the blade. “No. It is a puzzle, why he
sent away something so powerful. I hoped he would try to wear the
thing, but he obviously never touched it.”
“What would have happened?” Brydon asked.
“He would have been killed instantly. No man can touch it, unless he is a direct descendent of Kerrick.”
“The Gauntlet?” Jace prodded. “We must be gone from here, or Shevyn’s life will be forfeit.”
“Of course. Take these—they will disguise you.” Kerryn handed them
two bundles of cloth—black uniforms and something else. “The smaller
package is for Shevyn. The Gauntlet has been sent to Silver.”
“Silver?” Jace was surprised. “Why there?”
Kerryn shrugged. “I do not know. Reed does not confide to his
underlings, especially those who hold loyalty to Ven Kerrick. All I
know is that it was sent by caravan to Silver.”
“All right,” Jace said. “Now, how do we get out of here?”