The Gauntlet Thrown - Chapter Eighteen
 

 

Chapter Six 

 

Chapter Seven

 

Chapter Eight 

 

Chapter Nine

 

Chapter Ten

 

Chapter Eleven

 

Chapter Twelve 


Chapter Thirteen

 

Chapter Fourteen 

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

Chapter Sixteen

 

Chapter Seventeen


 

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

 

VEN-KERRICK


    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.

    “You are 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.

    Yes?

    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.

    “I hates it down here,” the newcomer whined and made no effort to enter the darkness of their cellblock.  “Can’t ye feeds ‘em?”

    “Get 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 dearest Shevyn.”

    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.

    Good luck.


    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.

    I 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 eyes, perhaps.  

    “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?”

    Davin’s face 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 they possess.”

    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.

    “I know 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.”

    Davin shrugged.  “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 attack.

    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, he shifted.

    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 Toryn.

    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.

    Jace was 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?”

    “No.”

    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 went down.

    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.

    “The stables.”

    “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 us all.”

    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 Shevyn.

~~ 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.

    “Ah, there 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 glare.

    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 quiver.

    “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 glass.

    “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!”

    “I’m off 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.

    Shevyn led 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 ~~


    Brydon 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.

    The 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.

    “Marvelous!” 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 his sword.

    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.

    “Your lord?”

    “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 precious laws.”

    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.

    “Pile 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.”

    “Where 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, Kerryn!”

    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?”

    “I will help you,” Kerryn said. 

 

CHAPTER NINETEEN


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