The Gauntlet Thrown - Chapter Thirty Seven


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


Chapter Nineteen


Chapter Twenty


Chapter Twenty One


Chapter Twenty Two

Chapter Twenty Three

Chapter Twenty Four


Chapter Twenty Five

Chapter Twenty Six


Chapter Twenty Seven


Chapter Twenty Eight


Chapter Twenty Nine


Chapter Thirty


Chapter Thirty One


Chapter Thirty Two


Chapter Thirty Three


Chapter Thirty Four


Chapter Thirty Five

Chapter Thirty Six






There was an instant of stunned silence throughout the chamber and Toryn used the moment of surprise to his advantage. He leaped upon Reed, who was hampered in his effort to rise by the heavy ermine cloak. Toryn locked his left arm around Reed’s neck and dragged him forward into the open space before the dais; at the same time he drew his dagger with his right hand and pressed it against Reed’s throat hard enough to draw a thin line of blood. A shout went up and the archers drew their bows in the gallery above.

“Loose a single arrow and he dies!” Toryn shouted. Everyone froze and the music jangled to a discordant halt.

“Very good. Now throw down your weapons. All of them. Bows, daggers, swords. You, too, priest,” he barked, spying movement behind him. A hail of weapons rained down from the gallery above, causing the nobles to shriek and scurry out of the way. Several audience members shouted angrily, unlucky enough to be hit by the falling arsenal. Nice folk, Reed’s soldiers. The priest scuttled away, hands concealed beneath his robes. When Toryn was satisfied that most of the weapons had been disposed of, he flung Reed away and drew his sword. He tossed the dagger aside and backed away toward the dais, leading Reed into the open area before the dais, not trusting the wedding guests. Any number of them might be loyal to Reed and would happily join the fray

“Now verminous dog,” Toryn snarled. “Fight me as a man, if you can.”

Reed seemed only mildly surprised. “The little Redolian pup,” he said with a slight smile. “I expected you to be fully cooked over the fires of Shaitan by now.”

“They found me not to their taste,” Toryn commented. “Shall we begin?”

Reed drew his sword and saluted mockingly. Toryn sneered. They both stepped forward as one and their blades met with a force that almost snapped the blades in two. They measured each other over the next few moves, feinting and thrusting carefully and parrying each other’s attacks easily. Toryn smiled after a flashing attack scored a red gash on Reed’s right thigh. The spreading red stain showed clearly upon the white material. Reed’s eyes spat rage.

“You know, of course, that I am better than you,” Toryn said conversationally.

“I will try to remember that as I skewer your heart,” Reed snarled.

Toryn grinned. He pounced forward, his sword a blur of silver. He beat aside Reed’s defenses easily and only Reed’s panicked leap kept Toryn’s blade from impaling him mortally. He parried desperately, but Toryn’s sword penetrated his side and then flicked back to lay open one cheek. Reed staggered back as blood poured down his face, spattering red across his shoulder and chest. He clutched his side, rapidly stained with the same crimson. The wound was deep, but it would not kill the bastard, Toryn knew. Panting, he circled the man, still grinning like a hunting wolf. Reed was, he had to admit, very good with a blade. But not good enough. He laughed to himself and attacked again. Reed roared with anger, fighting for his life.

“This ends now!” Reed bellowed. He gripped the red crystal that dangled from his neck and held it tightly, then spat a curse at Toryn, who pulled his blade back for a deadly thrust. The blow never fell.

Toryn howled and clutched at his head. He reeled backward and barely kept a grip on his sword. His balance was gone; he staggered two short steps before the polished tile floor rushed up to meet him.

Reed stood where he was and looked malevolently down upon Toryn with his brow furrowed in concentration. Toryn shrieked in pain and arched his back, clapping both hands to his head, sword and everything else forgotten as pain such as he had never experienced overwhelmed him.

He saw Reed smile.


Jace prowled the servants’ quarters, searching for any sign of Kerryn or others hopefully opposed to Reed's plan. His faith in Kerry was not misplaced and he finally located the "rebellion", such as it was when a small band of men swarmed from a doorway and dragged him into a dimly lit room. A dagger pressed into to his throat.

“Kill him—he’s one of Reed’s,” someone said.

“Kerryn,” Jace choked through the pressure of the knife, whose edge was thankfully dull, though a portion of it began to draw blood.

Some of his captors were thrust aside and Kerryn’s suspicious face appeared before him.

“Jace!” he cried and waved the others back sharply. The knife fell away and he sat up, coughing and gasping for air.

Kerryn knelt beside him. “How did you get here?” he asked anxiously. Jace climbed to his feet and evaluated the rag-tag band before him. There were barely twenty men crammed into the servant’s room, most of them poorly armed and unarmored. It was laughable to think that they could take on Reed’s merciless guards.

“By hell, Kerryn,” Jace said in amazement, “You are either very brave or completely insane.”

Kerryn bristled. “There are more of us serving the wedding guests, waiting to strike. We will not let that murdering bastard marry Shevyn!”

“You are planning to kill him?” Jace asked.

Kerryn nodded.

Jace rubbed a temple and queried sardonically, “How?”

He scowled. “We know Reed has demonic powers. All we can do is take out as many guards as possible while the rest of us rush him.”

Jace sighed explosively. “Things have changed. Brydon is here. He is going after Shevyn as we speak. Did you plan to use the Gauntlet Knights encamped in the outer bailey?”

Kerryn shook his head. “I have tried to reach them for days. Every man I send does not return and there has been no message. I can only assume the Knight-Priests are ignorant of what is happening.”

“Have you considered it might be easier merely to open the gates and let them in?” Jace questioned.

“How do I know the Knight-Priests are not part of this?” Kerryn snarled. “It was convenient of them to ride off to Bodor and allow Reed free rein here!”

Jace had not considered that angle, but he pondered it for only an instant before rejecting the idea. He knew some of the Gauntlet Knights well. They would die for the Kerrick line. Nothing Reed would offer them would cause them to betray their duty. Reed’s power would never be enough to subvert the entire battalion of Gauntlet Knights. Jace smiled grimly.

“We must let them in,” he decided.

“But what about Reed?” Kerryn protested.

“As long as we have Reed's soldiers to content with, we will fight a losing battle. There are too many of them. We must even the odds,” Jace said vehemently. “Reed is not likely to panic and flee. Not when he is this close to gaining everything he has worked for.”

The blare of trumpets drowned Kerryn’s reply. His face was ashen.

“The time is now—Reed is in the Great Hall.”

“Then let us go. For Ven-Kerrick, and for Shevyn,” Jace said.

He quickly laid out his plan, praying that Verana had reached the Gauntlet Knights.


The Knight-Priests of the Gauntlet were mounted and in formation. Reed’s men watched uneasily from the walls as the armed soldiers rode a circuitous path along the wall of the outer bailey. A man dispatched from the gatehouse approached Knight Commander Montyr, who watched his charges proudly. He felt more calm now that he was back in the saddle, though he knew that his mare could feel the tension all around her. She pranced and jangled the chain upon her bit.

The lackey trotted up nervously, dressed in the livery of Ven Kerrick, which made Montyr’s blood boil. There was a time—not so long ago—when he had known every servant in and about the castle, by sight, if not by name. He had never seen this man before.

The fellow scratched at a pockmarked nose and coughed, eyeing the mare uneasily. “Sir...” he began.

“Knight Commander,” Montyr corrected mercilessly.

“Knight Commander,” the man stuttered and scratched his nose again. “My captain begs to know why the Knight-Priests are in formation.”

“He begs, does he?” Montyr asked contemplatively. “That is fine. You may trot back and inform him that we are merely conducting a little drill. The horses need exercise and the men have been getting restless.”

The man’s head bobbled as though his neck had come unhinged, and then he quickly bowed and scurried away. Montyr gave him enough time to get back inside the gates and report. Then he led the Gauntlet Knights in a thundering charge, racing for the drawbridge and the inner bailey at a dead gallop. The guards in the towers stared in disbelief at the sight of fourscore Gauntlet Knights pounding toward them. When the shock broke, there was a madcap scramble.

Cries of, “Raise the drawbridge!” mingled with, “Archers! Get some bows up here!” Several men struggled with the drawbridge mechanism while a few others snatched up bows and positioned themselves in front of the machicolations.

The drawbridge creaked upward, too slowly and too late. The leading ranks of horses leaped upon the bridge and their iron-shod hooves rang like steel upon a forge as they surged forward. Their riders caught the few hastily shot arrows upon upraised black shields.

A small band of men tried to pull the heavy gates closed. Those who were not ridden down in the charge were dispatched with a quick swing of sword or mace. No one had thought to drop the portcullis and it became clear to Montyr that Reed had left the walls pitifully under manned. His overconfidence would be his downfall.

The black-clad Knight-Priests flooded into the inner bailey. A small contingent dismounted at a signal from Montyr and charged the gatehouse to deal with the men inside. Montyr jerked up his shield almost absently to catch an arrow loosed from a bowman atop the wall. He halted the mare.

“We must get inside!” he yelled, reflecting that in all his years of training, he had never expected to invade Ven-Kerrick. “Damn it! They trained us to defend this place—not storm it!” He swore again as an arrow thunked into the thick leather pommel of his saddle. One of his men lifted a crossbow and dispatched the archer.

Montyr grinned. “My thanks, Raylyn!” he called, yanking the arrow free of his saddle. “That one nearly unmanned me!”

A few of the men laughed as they spread out to surround the castle, staying out of range of the machicolations—they knew exactly where they were. Unfortunately, the only way into the castle—other than a suicidal single-file run through the barracks entrance—was through the heavy stone doors Montyr now faced. Once Reed sealed off the barracks entry the castle would be inaccessible and could stave off an army for months.

Montyr sighed. There was no choice. They would have to attempt entry through the barrack and hope Reed had not had time to line up twenty archers with which to massacre them all. He raised his hand to give the order—and stared in disbelief as the main doors began to slide open.


Upon the stairs outside the Great Hall, Brydon slammed into the wall as pain exploded into his mind through the link he shared with Toryn. He had forsaken all attempt at secrecy and had bolted down the stairs, nearly trampling the nobles who now sought to assist him. He was blind for a moment as waves of agony washed over him. He clamped down on Toryn’s link with all of his mental strength, nearly severing the chain in his urgency to shut out the pain.

When his link to Toryn quieted to the barest whisper, he shrugged off the concerned onlookers and pounded down the remaining steps. He feared for Toryn, but he could help neither of them if he allowed Reed access to his own mind. As he approached the doors to the Great Hall, he saw Jace and Kerryn appear from a side corridor, trailed by a group of armed men.

I’ll handle Reed, Brydon sent to Jace in a controlled burst of thought. You get those doors open for the Gauntlet Knights.

Jace blinked in shock for a moment; it was the first time Brydon had used mental communication on him. He turned to Kerryn. “Signal your men to take out as many of Reed’s guards as possible and then help me get these doors open.”

Kerryn nodded. Brydon had not broken stride as he approached the open doors of the Great Hall. Without a single pang of conscience, Brydon put the doormen to sleep with brutally efficient mental shoves and stalked into the room to see Reed standing over Toryn’s writhing form.

Leave him alone, bastard!” Brydon yelled as he walked steadily down the aisle. Reed jerked his head up and ceased his attack on Toryn, who lay still as death. Reed stared at him in astonishment for a moment and then backed away a few steps before eyeing him warily.

“I thought I killed you,” he said.

“You thought wrong,” Brydon spat. He leveled a full force mental blast that caught Reed completely unaware. The pretend-regent staggered back with a cry of pain and quickly raised his mental defenses. Before he could fully recover, Brydon was upon him, sword flashing down, barely deflected by Reed’s quickly raised blade. Brydon slashed again, but Reed danced back out of reach.

They circled each other, glaring. Reed panted noticeably. Was he weakened from his battle with Toryn? Blood marred the white clothing he wore.

“The Redolian is worse than dead, you know,” Reed taunted. “I twisted his mind into ten thousand knots.”

Brydon, in mounting fury, restrained himself from looking at his fallen friend. Pain oozed through the tight grip Brydon maintained on their link, so he knew Toryn still lived.

“Then your death shall be doubly painful,” Brydon gritted. He leaped forward and attacked with a powerful move Rakyn had taught him. The blazing maneuver took Reed by surprise and left him with a bloodied shoulder. Brydon swore inwardly; the move should have cloven Reed’s collarbone.

Reed watched Brydon thoughtfully for a moment as they circled one another again, seeming to realize that Brydon had learned much since last they had crossed swords.

Darting forward, Reed forced Brydon back with a flashing whirl of his blade, searching for an opening. The action nicked Brydon’s right forearm and Reed smiled in satisfaction. Brydon knew that in time the blood would seep down onto his sword hilt and make the grip slippery. He closed with Reed, forcing them into an impasse as both strained to thrust the other away. Reed’s dark eyes glared into Brydon’s and his lips twisted into a grimace. The red crystal glimmered on his breast.

Without stopping to consider the action, Brydon snatched the crystal and ripped it from the chain that held it. He shoved Reed away in the same motion, earning a painful slice on the ribs for his efforts, but the crystal was in his hands.

Reed’s eyes narrowed and the crystal began to glow. Brydon, startled, had only a moment to register the effect before a killing mental blast surged from the stone. Though stunned by the strength of it, Brydon managed to deflect most of the impact, gritting his teeth with the effort. He knelt and dropped the crystal onto the floor, and then raised the hilt of his sword.

Reed, seeing what he was about, increased the mental force he poured into the crystal. At the same time, he rushed forward with a shout and lifted his sword for a deadly blow. Brydon’s sword smashed down on the crystal, shattering the red stone into a thousand shards. Reed howled an unholy scream and fell back, clutching his head. The waves of pain that barraged Brydon ceased so suddenly he actually staggered and caught himself on the floor with one hand. He climbed slowly to his feet and watched Reed warily; the man shrieked and slashed about wildly with his sword. Had the crystal’s destruction destroyed his sanity?

An arrow hit the floor near Brydon’s feet and gouged the marble before it skittered away. Brydon ignored the threat and a strangled cry told him one of Kerryn’s men had dealt with it. Brydon hoped Reed’s soldiers were more worried about the Gauntlet Knights than their stricken employer.

Reed looked at Brydon and his eyes gleamed feverishly. He charged forward like a madman, not even attempting to defend himself. Surprised, Brydon raised his sword, but Reed’s rush did not slow—he plunged straight onto the blade, impaling himself and wrenching the sword from Brydon’s hand in the process. Foam frothed from his mouth. He did not even seem to notice that he had been mortally wounded as he flailed at Brydon, growling incoherent sentences. He floundered and fell to the ground at Brydon’s feet; but even then his malice was strong and he crawled forward to claw at Brydon’s boots weakly. Brydon’s sword, still imbedded, scraped along the marble with an unpleasant sound. Blood oozed over the hilt and left a red trail on the floor. Brydon backed away, horrified. At last, even that small motion ceased.

Reed glared at Brydon. His eyes cleared for a moment and bloody bubbles burst upon his lips as he choked out a laugh. “The Dark Master will have you,” he said with dreadful clarity. Then his head dropped to the floor and he was dead.

For a moment, Brydon felt he had slain something inhuman. He shuddered and looked away and his eyes landed on Toryn. Before he could run to the Redolian, noblemen surrounded him, holding the weapons discarded by Reed’s men.

“You have slain the queen’s betrothed!” one cried. They all seemed uncertain what to do about the fact. Brydon looked at the steel-tipped bolts of death pointed at him and then a voice ripped through the room.

“Hold! The first man who touches him dies!”

There was a collective gasp throughout the room as everyone turned to look at Shevyn, who leaned heavily upon Kerryn’s arm. Her cousin had spoken, but she was the one holding a deadly-looking crossbow. At that instant, metal-shod hooves rang in the foyer and a dozen mounted Gauntlet Knights burst into the Great Hall. There was a massive scramble as the wedding guests strove to get out of the way.

The Knight Commander reared his mare—a dramatic excess Brydon felt was warranted under the circumstances.

“Your Majesty!” he bellowed at Shevyn, who seemed to be using all her willpower to merely stand. She looked pale, but aware. “Shall we secure the castle?”

Shevyn gave him a curt nod and the Knight-Priests spun their horses and pranced out to hunt down Reed’s remaining soldiers. Jace walked forward to support Shevyn; he removed the crossbow from her hands.

Brydon turned away and knelt beside Toryn. He touched the Redolian’s throat; his pulse was weak and erratic. Brydon slowly released the tight grip he had on their link. Riotous emotion flooded over him once more—horror, fear, revulsion, nausea, rage. He fought the tide as it threatened to sweep him away and struggled to recall his lessons with Rakyn. He sensed no conscious thought from Toryn, only frantic emotion. He steeled himself and entered Toryn’s mind, hoping to follow the link to its end point, the very essence of Toryn. He entered a maelstrom. Normally an ordered, calm place, Toryn’s mind was a chaotic swirl, a fog of alternating darkness and color. Images with no pattern assaulted him—barely glimpsed faces, landscapes, shadows and objects. The thin silver cord was only vaguely visible, stretching into the chaos. Brydon pushed forward, using it to guide him. Abruptly, there was a disorienting shift and he felt a moment of panic. Everything went black for an instant and then the fog was gone.

Brydon looked down, surprised to find himself in corporeal form. His body seemed solid enough—was he a figment of his own mind, or of Toryn’s? He shook off the bewildered thought to take in his surroundings; he stood at the edge of a blood-soaked field. Spears with impaled bodies stretched across the plain to the horizon like a grisly crop. Before he could get his bearings and pull himself out of the vision—to go where?—there was a foglike swirl and he stood in front of a hide-covered hut, watching helplessly as five rough-garbed soldiers dragged a dark-haired girl from the building. My sister, he thought in anguish and then gasped. No, Toryn’s sister. He struggled forward, but his feet were heavy, as though attached to lead weights. The more frantic he became, the slower he moved. He watched, moving as though through cold molasses, as ropes were bound to his sister’s hands and feet. The ends of the ropes were tied to the horns of four snorting, pawing cattle, held fast by a number of men and then released. The girl was torn to pieces, screaming in agony.

Caryn!” Brydon screamed. Oh please no, not her, he thought in anguish, oh Adona, not my sister!

He tried to shake off the image and the nauseating horror. He didn’t have a sister. It was Toryn’s sister; and it wasn’t real. He had to find Toryn. Fog swirled again before he could hold onto the thought. He saw Alyn hanging from the edge of a high cliff by bloody fingertips. She screamed and Brydon leaped forward, able to move once more. He touched the cliff and found it solid, so he climbed valiantly and tried to reach her, ignoring the rocks that tore at his flesh. Her blue eyes were wide and frantic as he neared—his fingers brushed her arm as she fell. Not real, he reminded himself. It’s not real. Mist again.

Brydon struggled against invisible bonds, trying to reach a burning, twisting man. Morgyn, he knew instinctively. My brother. Toryn’s brother. Brydon felt his sanity start to slip as he realized he was not only with Toryn—he was Toryn. He felt a moment of panic as he realized he could be trapped in this nightmare forever, unless he discovered a way to pull them both out of it. Rakyn had never taught him how to handle anything like this!

Brydon blocked out everything and concentrated solely on Toryn, trying to separate himself from the Redolian. A lurching sensation wrenched at him and he caught a brief glimpse of Toryn before a billow of black smoke obscured the image. Brydon felt calmer, more centered. He fought his way through the smoke, surprised that it felt completely real. It burned his throat and stung his eyes. He coughed and struggled not to inhale, wondering if it was possible to die of smoke inhalation in someone else’s subconscious mind. Better to operate on the assumption that it was, indeed, possible. Just when his lungs felt like they would explode, the smoke dissipated and Brydon fell forward, sucking air gratefully.

He looked up and was momentarily stunned when he beheld his own face. A second Brydon flailed in a pit of hot tar, slowly sinking while Toryn stood on the bank, frozen, unable to save him. Toryn yelled hoarsely and Brydon looked away from his own dying image. He forced himself to concentrate on Toryn. It unnerved him to hear his own voice calling for help. He ran forward and grabbed at Toryn, who turned to stare at him through maddened eyes. Toryn gaped, looking from one Brydon to the other.

“This is not real, Toryn!” Brydon yelled and shook him roughly. “Come out of here!”

Toryn turned his gaze to the Brydon in the tar, whose mouth filled with the thick, black substance as he continued to scream until silenced by the tar. Brydon felt a distinct chill, watching the sight.

“But—Brydon!” Toryn protested, gesturing at the dying figure.

“I am Brydon! That one is not real! None of what you have experienced here is real! Do you remember your battle with Reed?” Brydon shouted. Toryn’s eyes, red-rimmed with horror, burned into Brydon’s, but revealed no comprehension. Brydon sighed. Though he doubted it would have any effect, he slapped Toryn hard. “Wake up!” he yelled. The Redolian’s head snapped back and then he glared at Brydon with perfect clarity.

Brydon grabbed his shoulders and shook him slightly. “Lead me to the center, Toryn. Show me what Reed did. I need to fix it.” Brydon was instantly enveloped in blackness, unable to see or feel anything at all. He kept both fists clenched tight, instinctively sensing that he still held Toryn in his grasp. A torch flared. His hands still grasped Toryn’s shoulders; the light was in the Redolian’s hand.

“I can’t hold it back for long,” Toryn said grimly. “Even now it’s clawing at me. Follow me, and hurry.”

Brydon nodded, sensing that Toryn referred to the nightmarish visions. Toryn took Brydon’s hand and pulled him along. They trod for what seemed like eternity and the blackness seemed to go on forever. Occasionally things would brush Brydon’s legs or whir by his head. Though unseen, they made his blood freeze. He wondered if Toryn was simply leading him into another nightmare. Eventually, though, he began to envision brightness, glimpsed through the corners of his eyes and dismissed as illusion. The light increased gradually until he knew it was not his imagination.

Finally, the darkness gave way to a featureless gray plain where patches of light and color would occasionally flash—brief as lightning bolts. Brydon was glad to see that he still held Toryn’s hand and not the flesh of some creature, as he had begun to imagine. Toryn looked exhausted—he was shaking with effort. He halted and said nothing, but gestured upward.

Toryn’s mind was an infinite landscape to Brydon at this perspective. He concentrated for a moment and saw patterns in the grayness, something like a complex net made of light. Sparks of brightness raced along the lines, lightning-quick, like fireflies. Brydon had never envisioned anything like it. Toryn’s mind was laid out like a convoluted map. After a bit of effort, Brydon found that he could trace the pathways. Toryn gestured again impatiently. Brydon looked closer and discovered the damage Reed had done—there were frayed snarls of light where complete strands should have been. In that area the sparks were not traveling on the netlike lines, but leaping randomly into the grayness and disappearing.

“I can’t fight any more,” Toryn said. “I’m too tired.” His hand vanished from Brydon’s and in the same instant a black shadow leaped from the blankness and swallowed him. Brydon saw a flash of white fangs and a fetid stench washed over him.

Toryn!” he yelled but Toryn and the black shape were gone. Brydon shook off his stunned horror and turned his attention to the damaged neural net. There was only one way to help Toryn now. But how was he to fix it?

“Well, I can braid, can’t I?” he muttered. The strange landscape had not changed with Toryn’s disappearance, so he set to work. He carefully reached into the tangled mass of twisted light and marveled at the sensation. Sparks raced up his arms and made his hair stand on end, but it was not uncomfortable. He felt energized and realized he was immersed in the very essence of Toryn—every thought, every action, every word originated here. Feeling humbled and almost reverent, Brydon carefully grasped and separated each gossamer filament. Next he crossed, braided, and wove the individual strands and prayed that he was making the proper connections and not making matters worse. Every link he made fused back into a smooth, undamaged strand, though he had no way of knowing if it was correct. He had to rely on Toryn’s mind’s ability to heal itself. It seemed an arduous, time-consuming task, but at the end, it looked flawless. When he was finished, he checked carefully to make sure he had not missed any. Reed’s damage had not been confined to one area.

Finally satisfied, he looked around and wondered how he would get out again. He noticed a faint golden cord back stretching back into the darkness and assumed it was the lifeline that tied his consciousness to his own body. He turned and followed it until he could see nothing but glaring whiteness. He held up a hand to shield his eyes, but a physical likeness was longer evident. He felt a wrench, as though something had grabbed his forehead and yanked him into the air. He cried out as vertigo assaulted him, but gradually the awareness of his own body returned to him.

His limbs were stiff and cold. He opened his eyes and blinked at the brightness; he still knelt beside Toryn on the marble floor. He slowly focused on Shevyn, who sat next to him with an anxious expression. Brydon was relieved that the effects of the drug seemed to have worn off—her blue eyes were alert and watchful. Pins and needles of returning circulation assaulted Brydon’s limbs and a pair of dark hands helped him recline into a more comfortable position. Verana rubbed his legs skillfully as she questioned him.

“How do you feel?” she asked.

“I think I’m fine. Toryn?”

“There is no change.”

“How long was I… gone?”

“Over two hours,” she replied. “We were afraid to disturb you. Jace told us not to touch you, other than to make certain you were both breathing. What... did you do?”

Brydon shook his head, unable, and too exhausted, to explain. “I’m not sure, yet. Move him to a bed and I’ll try to awaken him as soon as I can think clearly again,” he replied.

Jace sat cross-legged near Toryn’s feet and Kerryn occupied a nearby bench. His features reflected confusion. A handful of Gauntlet Knights stood behind Shevyn and their expressions were equally disgruntled. Brydon supposed someone had broken the news to them about the Gauntlet’s disappearance. He wondered if a contingent of the Knight-Priests had already been dispatched to find it. The wedding guests were gone—herded back to their rooms until their questions could be answered, no doubt.

Shevyn gestured. One of the larger Gauntlet Knights moved forward and carried Toryn out of the room as he would a sleeping child. Brydon struggled to stand and Shevyn held his arm, assisting him. His eyes met hers and she smiled. Brydon smiled back and would have kissed her if not for the presence of the others. The enormity of what they had done suddenly dawned on him. They had defeated Reed! Shevyn draped his arm over her shoulders and forced him to lean on her as they made their way from the room, followed by Jace, Kerryn, and the remaining Knight-Priests.

Brydon noted that Reed’s body was gone and had little doubt that the Gauntlet Knights had displayed it in some grisly fashion as a lesson to others, though the gesture seemed empty next to the fact the Shevyn’s family was dead.

“What about the priest conducting the ceremony?” Brydon asked.

“Imprisoned, along with the rest of Reed’s men,” Verana replied. “Only two of the Gauntlet Knights were killed in the onslaught. Three of Kerryn’s men are dead and one is wounded. I will tend the others now, if you think Toryn will not need my assistance.”

Brydon nodded as the procession made its way up the stairs. “We will soon know,” he replied. Toryn was placed in the room next to Shevyn’s. Brydon sank down beside him on the bed. Pulling forth the last of his energy reserves, Brydon mentally nudged the Redolian into wakefulness. Toryn’s green eyes opened and blinked for a moment before they settled on Brydon. A weak smile cracked his face.

“I’m glad you came,” he rasped. “It wasn’t very pleasant in there.”

“I noticed,” Brydon replied quietly.

“Do you think you could fix things a little sooner next time?”

“There had better not be a next time.”

Toryn closed his eyes and his tongue touched dry lips. Brydon helped him sit up and Verana held water for him to drink.

“Reed?” Toryn asked after his thirst had been sated.

“Dead,” Brydon answered. “How do you feel?”

“I feel like a castle was dropped on my head.”

“Rest. You need it.”

“As do you,” Verana said.

Brydon needed no further urging. Without bothering to even remove his boots, he sprawled next to Toryn on the huge bed. He gave Shevyn’s hand a quick squeeze and fell asleep. 



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