The Gauntlet Thrown - Chapter Nineteen


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





    With Kerryn’s help, Brydon and Jace donned black clothing, cloaks, and helms before walking with relative safety through the main doors and into the courtyard.  Jace pulled his cloak forward enough to cover his breastplate and disguise the red trim.  They made it to the stables without being accosted and located Shevyn and Toryn concealed in a large tack room.

    “Shevyn!” Kerryn exclaimed.  He rushed forward and enfolded her in an embrace.  She clutched him with a happy sob.

    “No time for that,” Jace said.  “As you can see, she is safe, though not for long if we—”  Jace suddenly grabbed his temples with a loud cry and fell to his knees.  Brydon recognized the signs.  Reed!  Brydon cast his mind out to Jace in order to help somehow, but Jace began to speak.  His voice was hoarse, as if he forced the words out with effort.  After a shocked moment, Brydon realized he was praying.

    “I claim victory for Your name’s sake.  I put on the armor of Adona.  I put on the girdle of truth.  I put on the breastplate of righteousness.  I put on the gauntlets of peace…”  Jace’s voice grew stronger and the strain in his face relaxed somewhat.  “…I take up the shield of love.  I put on the helm of salvation.  I grasp the sword of spiritual victory.  In Your name’s sake I defeat the minions of Shaitan!”  The last word rang in the small room and Jace got shakily to his feet.  He looked at Brydon triumphantly.  “Apparently, Reed has an aversion to the Holy Word.  He was trying to discover our location.  Kerryn, tell us how to get out of here before he tries again.”

    “There is no easy way,” Kerryn protested.  “The gates are shut tight and guarded.  The only way is for me to go up to the tower and open them myself so that you may ride through to safety.”

    Brydon rolled his eyes at the idiotic selflessness of the man.  Toryn did not quite manage to subdue his guffaw.

    “You would get yourself chopped within minutes and we would be cut down with arrows on our way out,” Jace said.  “No, there has to be an easier way...”

    Shevyn cleared her throat.  They turned to see her leaning against a door that had appeared in the flat wall.

    Jace laughed.  “I should have known.  This castle is rife with secret passages.”

    “How did you know of this one?” Brydon asked her even though he expected no answer and received none.  “Where does it lead?  Beyond the outer walls?”

    Shevyn nodded.

    “Excellent.  Let’s get out of here,” Toryn said adamantly.

    Kerryn stood watch near the doors as they collected their horses and led them through the tack room and into the dark passage beyond.  Toryn gave Jace the reins of a tall chestnut stallion that almost looked like Fireling, but with no white markings at all.

    “Shevyn got him for you,” Toryn explained.  “As well as this.”  He handed Jace a broadsword with an ebony grip.

    “Marvelous girl.”  Jace smiled.  “This is my own blade and Archangel, my stallion.  She remembered.”  He took the horse and led him after Shevyn.

    “Wait!” Brydon exclaimed softly.  “What about Davin?”  He noticed that Toryn had brought Davin’s sorrel gelding.  He was mortified that he had completely forgotten about the silver-haired man in the excitement.

    “Do not worry about him.  He will probably annoy them long enough for us to escape.  It will be difficult for them to catch a panther, or a wolf, or a gypsy moth,” Jace said.  Brydon nodded, appeased.  Kerryn looked at them in puzzlement.

    “What did he mean?”

    The sounds of booted feet came to them with a jangling of mail and Kerryn gave them a parting salute.  “I will mislead them,” he said.  “Hurry.”

    Brydon needed no further prompting.  He and Toryn towed Fang, Darkling, and Davin’s horse into the secret doorway and closed it shut behind them, trusting Kerryn to conceal the opening from the other side.

    The passage was dark, but Shevyn carried a torch and the dim light made Jace and the horses appear as dark silhouettes.  The corridor was barely wide enough for the horses and they snorted fearfully, not at all liking the trapped feeling.  Neither did Toryn, as his dark muttering revealed.  They followed the passage in a long, roundabout, downward path and Brydon noticed several other branches that led off from the tunnel they traveled.  He wondered how much of a maze they had entered and hoped Shevyn knew where to take them.

    After a dark eternity, they slowed and then stopped.

    “What’s happening?” Toryn asked.

    “Jace?” Brydon called.  “Why have we stopped?”

    “I have no idea,” Jace replied helpfully and Brydon relayed the statement to Toryn, who muttered almost inaudibly.  They heard another grating sound and then they traveled on again.  As they passed the place, Brydon saw that they had entered another concealed passage branching off from the main one.

    “Close the door behind you, Toryn,” Brydon suggested.

    “Right.  How am I supposed to get around the horses?” Toryn asked.

    “Squeeze by.  I think there is room enough here.”

    He heard Toryn grunt and swear as he tried to get past his obstinate mare, then a yelp and the muffled whopping of a fist on horseflesh.  And then more swearing.

    “What is taking so long?” Brydon asked casually.

    “Stupid, flea-bitten, lop-eared mare stepped on my foot!”

    Brydon grinned and continued down the passage.  Time was a lost concept in the winding tunnels and they soon grew too tired to be tense.  At long last, they reached a cavern too large to believe at first.  It was dimly lit by sunlight showing through cracks in the ceiling.

    “What is this place?  It looks like a hollowed out mountain,” Toryn whispered in an awed tone.  “You could fit an army in this cavern!”  Shevyn was already at the far wall, tugging on what was probably another door.  Brydon went to help her.

    “That is probably what Kerrick had in mind,” Jace said and checked his saddle.  “He could bring horses and men one at a time through the tunnels and gather them here.  When he had a large enough force, he could let them out to attack the enemy from the rear.”

    “Until the enemy followed them back in here.”

    Jace shook his head.  “If a force entered through here, they could only get through the tunnels one at a time.  Easily killed that way.  Not to mention the likelihood of getting lost in the warrens.”

    “If Reed is the King of Ven-Kerrick, then surely he knows about this passage!  Won’t he be waiting outside with a garrison?”

    Jace smiled wearily.  “He will not be waiting.”

    “How do you know?”  Brydon and Shevyn had succeeded in opening a large portal to the outside, letting in the bright sunlight of afternoon.  Brydon turned to hear Jace’s response to Toryn’s question.

    “He is not waiting outside because he is not the King of Ven-Kerrick,” Jace clarified as he mounted his stallion.  He rode out the stone gate at a trot, leaving Brydon to stare after him in amazement.  The others filed out and Brydon dragged the gates closed again.  From the outside, the opening resembled the rock face of a cliff embankment.  The castle was nowhere to be seen.

    “It is beyond that slight rise,” Jace explained.  “This place is well-concealed.”

    “If Reed isn’t the King, then who is?  And who is Reed?” Brydon asked as he double checked the rock doorway.  It looked absolutely natural—a chunk of rock with a crack running down the right side of it.  As he mounted he judged the time to be mid-afternoon.  It was difficult to believe that a few hours ago he had ridden hopefully into Ven-Kerrick relishing the end of his Quest.  Now it seemed his Quest had started anew.

    “That is a subject I am not at liberty to discuss,” Jace said.  “There is too much at stake right now.”

    Brydon exchanged a glance with Toryn.

    “Where do we go now?” Toryn asked.

    “The Quest remains the same,” Brydon replied.  “We have to find the Gauntlet.”  The knowledge that Reed was not the King of Ven-Kerrick had lightened his spirits considerably.  If he found the Gauntlet now, there would be no one to gainsay him taking it to Falara.

    “We do not even know where it is!”

    “Of course we do.  It’s in Silver,” Brydon said.

    Toryn heaved a longsuffering sigh.  What are we waiting for, then?  Let us get to Silver.”

~~ O ~~

    As they rode, Jace recounted a brief history of the Principality of Silver.  Toryn cared little for history outside of Redol and Falara, but the tale was bizarre.  “Silver was originality a kingdom, but the King of Silver had so many sons that he divided the whole of it up into parts and doled it out to them.  The decision helped avoid many a family squabble and started many another.  Two or more of the sons are always at war with each other and the battles tend to start over border disputes, women, insults, chess games; the usual things that cause brothers to fight.  But these brothers have the power to fight real wars, much to the irritation of the King, who probably came to lament his decision more and more each day.  Still, few of the princes have actually been killed and those that remain usually make up within a few months and became allies again.”

    Jace explained that there were twelve surviving brothers and the one whose land they approached was possibly the greediest of the lot, as he possessed more wealth than any of the others.

    When they camped that evening, Davin strolled into camp as if he had just taken a brief jaunt.

    “Davin!  Well met!  How did you escape?” Toryn asked eagerly as he leaped up to grasp the silver-haired man’s arm.  Davin seemed surprised at the touch.

    “They were so upset over the disappearance of the girl that they gave up chasing me in order to search for her.  Reed surrounded himself with a knot of soldiers, but I managed to keep him from using his powers to seek you out.  Once you were away, I went over the wall and came after you.  Reed has sent three contingents of soldiers to find you.  One went to Penkangum, one to Bodor, and one is directly behind us, heading this way.  If we hurry, we can outrun them.”

    Brydon said, “Sorry to have left you, Davin.  It seems Jace was right when he said you are able to fend for yourself.”

    Davin shrugged.  “It’s a bit easier to take care of yourself and not have others to worry about.  I’ve had quite a bit of practice looking after myself.”

    Toryn grinned.  “But if not for Brydon, who would you have to insult?”

    Brydon bounced a rock off Toryn’s thigh and he yelped before throwing a glare at the Falaran.

    “There is something to companionship,” Davin agreed, then took some blankets from his horse and went to sleep.

    They departed early in order to maintain their lead over Reed’s soldiers, leaving the boundary of Ven-Kerrick to enter the Principality of Obelisk.  Neither Jace nor Davin knew why it was so named.

    Silver was a pretty land with thick forests and rolling hills of green as far as the eye could see.  The elevation was higher than Penkangum and it was with relief that they left the bristly desert behind them and entered the cooler woodlands of Silver.  They rode for two days, staying away from the main road, and saw few people, but Jace led them by roundabout means to the capital city of Obelisk.

    “Behold the city of Kaaza, home of Prince Berikon.  He is one who believes he should be the next King of Silver, even though he’s one of the youngest princes,” Jace said as they topped a rocky ridge and looked into a long valley containing a high-walled city.  “It would be wise to avoid the city altogether, but we need information.  If we enter in smaller groups we will be less obvious.  We should probably leave the horses concealed outside, but someone should remain with them to prevent theft.”

    Toryn was silent, having no intention of avoiding the possibility of decent food and drink in order to horse-sit.

    “I can maintain a link with Darkling,” Brydon suggested.  “If someone should discover them, Darkling will alert us.  I can also track him if it becomes necessary.”

    “I can stay with the horses,” Davin offered, but Brydon shook his head.

    “We all need to wash away Reed’s stench.”

    Jace shrugged and consented.  “Kaaza’s baths are exceptional.  If the horses alert Brydon you can take wing, Davin, and get to them before the rest of us.  They should be safe for one evening.  We will find the path of the Gauntlet quicker with four of us asking questions about shipments from Ven-Kerrick.”

    They built a quick makeshift corral from deadfalls and brush, though Brydon doubted the horses would stray after he gave them a quick mental suggestion.  Toryn and Shevyn entered the city together, posing as a peasant couple.  Jace and Brydon followed as couriers from the Church, which earned them barely a glance from the city guard.  Davin slipped into the city through his own method.

~~ O ~~

    They went immediately to the city baths, which were not crowded due to the early hour.  Jace stopped Shevyn before she entered the women’s side of the bath and pressed a cloth bundle into her hands.

    “We will be across the street at the Emerald Inn, should you linger,” he said.  She nodded and disappeared into the dark interior.

    After a wickedly hot bath, Toryn and the others entered the main room of the inn.  Jace left them briefly to seek out the local church and ask for information.  The others ordered a meal and soon dined on bean soup and a large ham shank with cups of chilled wine.  As predicted, Shevyn had not finished her bath.  Jace appeared as they were finishing the last of the soup.

    He sat down and spoke quietly.  “I stopped at the Temple of Might.  They were unaware that the Gauntlet had disappeared and they are sending inquiries to Bodor to determine the whereabouts of the Gauntlet Knights.  They know Reed is now King in Ven-Kerrick, although the Council has not yet convened to debate the matter.  The Council is scheduled for later this week, which could work in our favor.  I doubt Reed will abandon Ven-Kerrick to chase us this close to a meeting.  He needs the Council’s approval to remain in control.”  He sighed heavily.  “This news is not well known, so please keep it to yourselves.  The entire royal family died after a long illness, during which time King Koryn made it clear that Reed was to be regent.  Reed apparently has documents signed by Koryn’s own hand.”

    “Reed could have taken his mind and forced him to sign anything!” Brydon protested.

    Jace shook his head.  “Not so.  The Kerricks have always had formidable mental skills.  Vai blood runs strong in their veins.  It has to be a deeper plot.  Something more involved.”

    “You mentioned that word to Davin—Vai.  What does it mean?”

    Jace looked surprised.  “How can you know nothing of the Vai when you have your own abilities?  You saved me from Reed in Ven-Kerrick.”

    “I don’t know where these powers came from, or even what they are.  I thought I was the only one, until I met Reed.”

    Jace sighed.  “Someone has been remiss in your history lessons.  Many people prefer to ignore the existence of the Vai, but I had expected the Order to be true to the facts, even in far Falara.  However, we don’t have the time for that now.  If time permits as we ride, I will try to make up for your lack of education.  Right now we need to find out where the last caravan from Ven-Kerrick is bound.  The palace has records of every shipment, but prying such information out of Prince Berikon will be difficult and expensive.  Better to try the guards at both gates.  Between us, we should have enough coin to loosen some tongues.  Brydon, you and Toryn can try the men at the northern gate while Davin and I ask the southern guards.  After that we will try the marketplace, if necessary.”

    Brydon glanced toward the doorway and said, “Toryn might want to stay here.  I think he’ll have his hands full.”  He gestured and Toryn turned to see Verana and Alyn standing in the doorway.

    Toryn leaped to his feet, as did Davin and Jace.  Alyn was attired in a fringed leather dress of bright sky blue.  Toryn stared at her, shocked to realize he had never before seen her in feminine clothing.

    “Hello, Davin,” she said as she walked forward.  She smiled up at the silver-haired man and grasped his hand.  Davin flushed and nodded before regained his seat.  Alyn’s brow furrowed as she looked at him, as if she struggled to remember something.  She sighed and looked at Toryn, whose jaw had clenched slightly while witnessing the interaction.

    “Toryn.”  She smiled sweetly and he beamed at her.  Then a small fist smacked into his stomach, causing his breath to whoosh out painfully.  “You slime-spawned Redolian range rat!” she hissed.  “What do you mean, running away with my horses?  Did you think I would not find you?”

    Toryn coughed, off-balance for an instant.  “Did you leave your brains in Akarska?” he asked hoarsely.  “You told me yourself that they were unclaimed.”

    “It’s still thievery to take any horse from Akarska,” she snapped, azure eyes flashing.  She was a bit thinner and paler than when they had first met, but other than that she seemed to have returned to normal.

    “Even if it was done to save your bloody life?” he demanded.  She flushed at that and looked away, apparently with no ready reply.

    “I thank you all for that,” she said, “But I still want my horses back.”

    “They are not your horses,” Toryn said with a sneer, warming to the old habit of arguing with her.

~~ O ~~

    “How did you find us?” Brydon asked Verana as he easily slipped back into the habit of ignoring the quarreling pair.

    “Alyn would not be put off once she discovered you had taken her steeds.  I decided to accompany her as a guide.”

    “Thank Adona you did not go to Ven-Kerrick,” he breathed. “Your reception would not have been good.”

    “I thought you had mentioned going to Silver.  We were going to stop in Ven-Kerrick and ask for news, but we encountered some servants fleeing the castle.  They told a frightful tale of King Koryn and his sons dead and the castle overrun with soldiers under the command of a strange magician.  I came here straightaway to determine the validity of the tale.  We planned to eat first and attend the baths, so here we are.”

    She turned her attention to Jace, who had moved to stand before her.  She grinned and threw her arms around his neck in an exuberant hug that he heartily returned.

    “I see you have met the finest Knight-Priest ever to walk this land,” she said to Brydon.

    “You know him?” he asked, surprised.

    “Oh, yes.  We trained in Kaneelis together long ago, before he went to G’Neel Across the Sea.  You have not changed much in five long years, Jace.”

    “You have only become more beautiful, Verana.  When are you going to marry me?”

    “When are you going to ask me and mean it?  When are you going to stop wandering and settle down?” she countered.

    “Ah, Verana.”  He sighed as he set her aside.  “Already you sound like a nagging wife.”

    She giggled and Brydon asked, “Trained together?  Are you a Healer, also?”  It was possible, though quite rare, to have training in more than one Order.  Jace shook his head.

    “No.  My destiny lies in another direction.”

    “Yes, destroying the minions of evil,” Verana stated.

    Jace caressed the hilt of his sword and grinned.  “The peaceful life of a Healer is not for me, Verana.  I joined the Brotherhood of the Shield for a reason.”

    “Adona has used you in other ways, Jace,” Verana said gently and placed a hand on his arm.  “You protect the innocent and defenseless.  I cannot say as much.”  Jace smiled at her gently and Brydon wondered if the two of them might once have been more than friends.

    Shevyn entered the inn at that moment, looking lovelier than Brydon could have imagined.  Her honey brown hair had been braided into a coronet upon her head and she wore a white blouse frothed with lace.  The skirt she wore was floor length in dark blue satin.  Brydon had come to appreciate the short skirt she had been wearing, but he had to admit that the dress made her even lovelier.  As she came closer, her eyes bored into his and his breath caught in his throat.  No longer the captured slave girl; she was gorgeous.  Every man in the room gazed at her and obviously shared his opinion.

    Alyn turned to see what had caught Toryn’s attention and she stiffened.  Shevyn approached Brydon and squeezed herself next to him on the bench.

    “Alyn, Verana,” he said.  “This is Shevyn.  She joined us not long ago.”

    Alyn looked at Toryn, who smiled at Shevyn in unabashed admiration.  Verana’s brow wrinkled and she threw an odd glance to Jace, who nodded.

    “Toryn bought her, actually,” Davin added.  Brydon grinned as Toryn stared at Davin, horrified, and Alyn’s eyes widened.


    “I can explain…” Toryn said lamely.

    “Don’t bother,” Alyn snapped.  She huffed away from him and sat down next to Davin, who grinned wickedly.

    “Hello,” Verana said to Shevyn with a warm smile.  Shevyn managed a slight smile and a nod, and then looked at Brydon, who ordered food and drink for the newcomers from a passing barmaid.

    “If she’s your slave, Toryn, why is Brydon waiting on her hand and foot?” Alyn asked peevishly.

    “She’s not a slave,” Toryn said as he regained his seat.  “We bought her in order to save her from slavers intent on taking her to Tar Tan.”

    Alyn blanched.  “I’ll be leaving as soon as you return my horses.  Where are they?”

    “You are not taking the horses,” Toryn said adamantly.  “And we left them in the forest so no one could report back to Reed.”

    Alyn flung herself to her feet, chest heaving in anger.  “Try and stop me!” she growled and spun on a heel.  Toryn was after her in an instant.  He snatched her arm and spun her back to him, catching her around the waist with his free hand.  Their faces were very close as they glared at each other.  Davin climbed to his feet and stood watching them intently.

    Spectators in the bar cheered as Alyn raised her hand to do some damage to Toryn’s handsome face.

    “Toryn is right, Alyn,” Jace cut in, stopping her hand in mid-swing.  She looked at him in irritation.

    “I don’t know you,” she said.  “What are you talking about?”

    “I am Jace the Wanderer, Knight-Priest of the Shield.  You may accompany us if you wish, but we need those horses.”

    “I care nothing for that!”  Her voice was cold as an ice storm.  She glared at them all for a moment.  Brydon wondered how she intended to make off with the horses with the lot of them determined to stop her.  She tore herself out of Toryn’s grasp and stalked upstairs.  Brydon smiled.

    “You see, Toryn?  You’re going to have more than enough to do, trying to convince her to leave us the horses.”

    Toryn snorted.  “We should tie her to the back of Fireling and point him toward Akarska.  Even if she comes with us she’ll be nothing but trouble, although she is a fair hand with a whip.”

    “I wouldn’t mind having her along in case something should happen to one of the horses.  She can care for them better than any of us,” Brydon said pragmatically.  “Besides, do you really want her to leave?”

    Toryn flushed and shrugged.  “If you want her, she can come.”

    “Then I suggest you go outside and stop her from climbing out the window right now,” Brydon said.  Toryn gaped at him for an instant before he leapt up and ran out the door.  He returned shortly, dragging a struggling Alyn who cursed him with words most of them had likely never heard before.

    “She’s pretty fast.  She was already down and running for the city gate before I got out there.”  Toryn grinned.  “Shall I tie her up?”

    “No need,” Brydon said.  “Let me have a talk with her in private.”

    Alyn, when released, angrily followed Brydon back outside.

    “He is such a… a…” she began.

    “I know, but this isn’t about Toryn.  We have a very serious situation here, Alyn, and we could use your help.”  She was quiet.  “The Gauntlet of Ven-Kerrick has disappeared and Reed has taken over the throne.  I’m not sure if you remember him, but he is the one who bought the horses from the slavers that captured you.  His band has taken large groups of horses to Bodor—and they have been doing it for years.”

    She digested that and her angry, skeptical expression changed to one of curiosity.  “Why Bodor?” she asked.

    “We don’t know.  The Gauntlet and the horse thefts could be related.”

    “What is this Gauntlet?  I’ve never heard of it.”

    Brydon gaped at her.  For the first time, she truly seemed to be a foreigner.  Everyone had heard of the Gauntlet!

    “It’s the most powerful object in the…”

    “Never mind,” she said, waving her hand.  “Are you telling me the truth about the horses?”

    “I’m a Knight-Priest.  I don’t lie.”

    Her brows rose for a moment.  “You are?  Damn, since I’ve already traveled this far from home, I might as well look into this horse-stealing.  I’ll help you look for this Gauntlet if you promise we will track the stolen horses and get them back.  I’m also taking the horses you smuggled out of Akarska.”

    “Fair enough,” Brydon said, knowing it was useless to argue with an Akarskan when horses were involved.

    “It had better not take forever to find your ‘powerful object’ either!”

    “Don’t worry on that score—whatever Reed has planned, I have a bad feeling we might already be too late.”

    When they returned to the common room, Alyn was thoughtful and subdued.  She refused to look at Toryn and sat down and began to eat as though nothing had happened.

    “What did you say to her?” Toryn asked Brydon in amazement.  Brydon shrugged and smiled.

    “I told her about the stolen horses Reed has been running down to Bodor.”

    Toryn rolled his eyes.  “Of course.  Why didn’t I think of that?”

     “I’m just more intelligent, I suppose.”

    “When I get those horses back,” Alyn said primly, “I intend to take back the ones that you wrongfully took from Akarska.”

    “Would you rather we had left you in the clutches of Reed?” Toryn snapped angrily.  “I’m sure you would make a fine Tar-Tanian slave.  They probably would have to beat you for six or seven weeks to make you behave, but other than that….”

    Alyn shot to her feet again.  “How dare you speak to me that way!” she shouted.  She snatched up the knife that had been provided with her meal and slashed at Toryn, who threw himself backward and ended up on the floor.

    “You little demon!” he growled as he got to his feet.  “I’m going to take you upstairs and give you a proper thrashing for that!”

    “Try it!” she snarled.  She jumped forward and sliced at him again, but he was ready for her.  He grabbed her arm and squeezed until the knife clattered to the floor.  Then he hefted her over his shoulder and carried her up the stairs.  The rowdier inn patrons cheered as they disappeared.

    Davin stood up suddenly and left the tavern.  Brydon stared after him worriedly.  Shevyn gaped at them and Verana gasped, “My goodness!  Should we go help her?”

    “Ah… I think she can handle Toryn,” Brydon replied.  He mentally eavesdropped for a moment to be certain, and then flushed and withdrew.  “I think they’re done fighting.”

    “The longer we tarry, the farther the object may get from us,” Jace commented.

    Brydon sighed and looked to the door where Davin had disappeared.  “I’ll take Davin with me and go ask some questions.  I don’t think he wants to be here right now.”  He ignored Shevyn’s questioning look and reflected that it was sometimes nice to be with a woman who could not ask any questions.

    He and Davin headed for the northern gate Kaaza and tried to come up with a plausible story on the way.

    “State your business,” the guard said in a bored voice when they stopped in front of him.

    “I am Brydon Redwing, Knight-Priest of the Lance.  I am trying to locate a shipment that recently traveled though here from Ven-Kerrick.  Do you remember any such caravan?”

    The guard looked at him more closely.  “Maybe I do and maybe I don’t,” he said.  “How important is this news to you?”

    “I am trying to locate my cousin who is a guardsman with the caravan.  His father is dying and asks for him,” Brydon lied in an attempt to appeal to the guard’s sympathy.

    The guard rubbed his chin thoughtfully.  “Pretty important, then.  How much is it worth to you?”  Brydon shrugged.  He could pay the man, but such information should not be hard to come by.  Someone in the marketplace or the southern gate was bound to have noticed such a caravan.

    “I’ll ask elsewhere,” he decided.

    When he and Davin were out of earshot of the greedy guardsman, Davin said, “He saw the caravan.  It came though here a week ago.”

    Brydon looked at him sharply and Davin smiled sardonically.  “I have taken no priestly vows and the weak-minded are easy to read.  It will save us time.”

    Brydon had no comment.  He despised the idea of invading another’s mind without permission, but marveled at Davin’s skill to be able to do so without the man noticing.  “How did you do that?” he asked.  “When Reed was in my mind, I felt it.”

    “Those with Vai blood can usually sense an intrusion.  Others can feel it, but not know what it is – they merely think they have a strange headache or are coming down with an illness.  Our powers are not common knowledge, after all, except in the case of the Kerricks and all assumed their abilities to be divinely granted by Adona through the Gauntlet.”

    “Who are the Vai?”  Brydon asked.  “And how could I have Vai blood?  My parents never showed any sign of having special abilities.”

    Davin shrugged.  “I only knew two other Vai until I encountered you and Reed.  One was my mother.  She told me the Vai have always been here.  I never knew my father.  My mother was a bit… odd.  We lived far from the village and people called her a witch.  She used her powers often and rarely spoke aloud to me, preferring to communicate mentally.  She warned me never to use my abilities near the humans because they would fear me and try to kill me.  It took me a long time to learn to speak.  She never told me anything of her past, nor ever mentioned the name of my father.”  He was quiet for a moment.

    “The other Vai was a wandering priest.  He visited us on occasion and told me about my powers.  He taught me how to use them, though he never really said where they came from.  I don’t think he knew.  Strangely, he couldn’t change shape like I can.  I’ve never met anyone else with that ability; even Reed wanted me to teach him.”

    “Is that why you weren’t thrown in the dungeon with the rest of us?” Brydon asked.  Davin nodded.  The shadows lengthened as they returned to the inn.  Jace was not in the common room, but Toryn was seated at a table looking morose and drinking from a large goblet of ale.  Shevyn sat next to him sharpening her sword on a whetstone.  Brydon and Davin joined them.

    “Where’s Alyn?” Brydon asked.

    Toryn flushed.  “She’s upstairs.  She’s a little... well, irritated with me right now.”  Brydon was tempted to ask why, but figured Toryn did not want to discuss it, so he just grinned.  He glanced at Shevyn.

    “What’s that all about?” he asked Toryn, who shrugged.

    “She had a bit too much attention from the rogues in here, so she fetched her blade.  They haven’t come around for a while.  Did you find anything?”

    “The caravan entered Kaaza a week ago.”

    Jace approached in time to hear the statement.  He said, “And it departed that same day, it seems.  The guard at the southern gate was not helpful, but a young boy eavesdropping nearby was full of information after I slipped him a few silvers.  He was a clever boy.  He thought it most odd that a large contingent of Ven-Kerrick soldiers escorted six wagonloads of fruit.  Another interesting tidbit is that Prince Berikon sent out a troop of guardsmen earlier today.  Rumor has it they are heading for Sar-Tela.  They could also be chasing the caravan.”

    “How did the Ven-Kerrick group get through the city without anyone checking their cargo?”  Brydon asked.

    “They probably paid their merchant toll and a bribe,” Davin explained.  “This isn’t Penkangum where they initiate mandatory cargo searches to hunt for smuggled items.”

    Jace nodded.  “We should get moving.  I want to trail Berikon’s men until we discover for certain where they are heading.  We also shouldn’t linger too long in one place.  Reed is likely to be searching for us—or at least for Shevyn—and we are not exactly a nondescript group.”  Brydon sighed.  He had been looking forward to sleeping in a real bed again, but Jace was right.  Toryn groaned.

    They departed Kaaza in small groups before the gates closed for the night, keeping a close eye out for anyone that might have followed them from the city.  After retrieving the horses, they headed south once more.



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