They rode only a short distance from Kaaza before stopping for the
night and camping without fire. After they had eaten a cold meal, the
girls went to forage for edible roots that Verana said grew in the
area. Davin accompanied them.
Brydon combed burrs from Darkling’s tail and then turned to the Bodorii Knight-Priest. “Jace, tell me about Reed.”
Toryn, who lounged against a nearby tree, nodded. “Why would Reed
send the Gauntlet away? If anyone could put such power to use, I’d
expect it to be him.”
Jace sighed. “I’m not completely
certain, but I have some suspicions. You should know what the stakes
are before you get involved. As Northerners, this really isn’t your
battle. You are not part of the Concurrence.”
“It’s already too late for that,” Toryn said. “I feel like we’re neck deep and sinking.”
With a sense of foreboding, Brydon agreed.
Jace said, “When I rode into Ven-Kerrick I was taken immediately. The
information I gleaned from servants who brought my meals was sketchy,
at best. Reed had been a well-known occupant of the castle and had
been for nearly a year.
“Korryn was king in Ven-Kerrick up
until two months ago when the entire royal family mysteriously died.
They told me it was a dreadful sickness, but it would have been more
plausible if there had been victims outside the royal family. A couple
of council members also perished; not surprisingly, they were loyal to
the Kerricks. I’m convinced that Reed murdered King Koryn, Queen
Onara, and the two princes, Kayn and Iyn.” Jace spoke in a hushed
voice and his face was drawn in sadness. “I knew them well. I
challenged Reed in a fit of anguish, but he laughed and waved me away
as though I were insignificant. I knew it was only a matter of time
before he had me killed—he was simply waiting to see if I could be of
“It’s not difficult to determine how he seized power.
Apparently, King Koryn sent away all the Knight-Priests of the Gauntlet
and Reed replaced them with his own handpicked mercenaries. Once the
royal family was gone, there were none to gainsay him.”
“But the Knight-Priests will return!” Brydon said.
“To what end? As far as anyone knows, Reed is the rightful regent.
Even if they return, they won’t expect danger in Ven-Kerrick. The
bishop in Kaaza is sending word to Bodor, Silver, and Kaneelis, but all
we have are suspicions of foul play. It’s unlikely the Church will
intervene, but at least they will be aware of the situation.”
“Unlikely to intervene?” Toryn asked. “I though the Church was supposed to right all wrongs and crush all evildoers.”
Jace sighed. “The Church cannot blatantly intervene in secular
affairs. When Koryn sent the Gauntlet Knights away, their obligation
to protect him ended. I’m sure they would fight if they returned to
find Reed on the throne, but they would do so without the official
sanction of the Archbishop in Kaneelis.”
“But it’s Ven-Kerrick!” Brydon protested.
Jace looked at him sadly. “You are from the north, Brydon. You’ve
been regaled with the glorious tales of Kerrick’s bravery, the magic of
the Gauntlet and the protective power of Ven Kerrick. It’s different
here. The Four Kingdoms resent the power of the Overking. They fight
in Council and complain that the need for Ven-Kerrick has passed.
Tar-Tan has always been rebellious; they have broken the Concurrence
more than once. There has been no real trouble since Eldryd crushed
the Regency in Silver in 192, and many Silverans still resent
Ven-Kerrick for that interference. The Gauntlet has not been used in
battle since 156. After one hundred and fifty years of peace, people
forget the threat of war. There no longer seems a need for the
Brydon was shaken by Jace’s assertions. “And now
the Kerricks are gone. What difference will it make if the Gauntlet is
“The male line seems to have ended,” Jace
admitted. “But some research will have to be done. I vaguely remember
a rumor about one of the original Kerrick sons disappearing, although
it would be nearly impossible to track down his line after all these
years. In any event, it’s not our position to determine the survival
of the Concurrence. We must find the Gauntlet and let fate decide the
They moved out shortly before dawn and decided to
follow the patrol that had departed Kaaza the previous day. The patrol
was mounted, which spoke of the importance of their mission, whatever
it might be.
“Do you think they are after the Gauntlet?” Brydon asked.
“If Prince Berikon found out about the Gauntlet, it’s a distinct
possibility. He is extremely power-hungry. I’m surprised he’s not
already in league with Reed.”
“Maybe he is and Reed neglected to mention the Gauntlet.”
Jace laughed. “That would not surprise me.”
The patrol was large and made no effort to conceal itself, so Jace and
Toryn had no trouble tracking it. They also stayed largely to the
road. Brydon, of course, knew where they were at all times, but Jace
and Toryn were enjoying themselves so he didn’t bring it up. They
stopped for a quick meal at noonday. Obelisk was thickly forested and
the trees were welcome shade from the warm sun. The weather had been
spectacular since they had left Ven-Kerrick.
camped, Brydon judged the patrol far enough out of range to risk a
fire. Toryn cooked, as usual, assisted by Shevyn. Alyn curried the
horses diligently. She had been impressed by Jace’s stallion,
Archangel, and had barely harassed Jace over his ownership; he had
politely produced papers for her inspection.
close to Jace, dexterously removing the seeds from a cluster of pink
berries she had picked earlier; they were apparently a remedy for fever
or some such. Davin honed a dagger.
Jace leaned back
against a mossy stump, dislodging a spider that scurried toward
Verana. She paused in her task and reached down a dark hand, allowing
the thumb-sized creature to climb aboard. Brydon stared in horror,
having no liking for spiders. She noticed his gaze and smiled.
“It’s not poisonous,” she commented. She transferred the arachnid to
her other hand and set it on a nearby branch. It scurried behind a
leaf and effectively disappeared.
“I would have squashed it,” Toryn said with a grimace.
“It is not necessary to destroy everything that you fear,” Verana admonished.
“No,” Jace said. “That is Reed’s way.”
Toryn snorted. “He must be deathly afraid of us, then, because he keeps trying to kill us.”
They traveled until nearly noon the next day before Jace announced, “I
know where they’re going. There is a river crossing ahead. If we
hurry, we can get there first.”
They urged their tired
mounts on a roundabout course around the patrol to outdistance them.
By nightfall, they had reached the river crossing manned by guards of
both Prince Berikon and Prince Merator. The guards on the Obelisk side
were reluctant to part with any information on the caravan, but Toryn’s
suggestion that the Sar-Telan guards would tell them for less money
persuaded them—for a minimal fee—to admit that the caravan had passed
through. Twelve merchants wearing the black and grey armor of
Ven-Kerrick apparently guarded the caravan, which carried a cargo of
early red melons, hard to find in Silver at this time of year.
At the next crossroads, a kind villager informed them that the wagons
had passed through the town and split up; half of them went toward the
City of Roses while the other half took the southern road toward
Vineyard, land of Prince Amerryn.
Jace thanked the informant
and growled to himself as they continued on the road to the city.
“What if the Gauntlet is not in this caravan at all?” Brydon asked.
“What if the whole thing is only a decoy?”
Jace ran a
frustrated hand through his hair. “This is the only information we
have! For all we know, Reed could have sent the damned thing away with
a single rider. I only hope that he would not risk it being
stolen and protects it with armed guards. If it is with this caravan,
it has most likely gone with the southern contingent, as Merator is not
the type to be involved in a conspiracy. He is too honest. Amerryn
has a streak of mischievousness that I do not entirely trust—he is the
youngest of the Silveran princes. West of Sar-Tela is Overlook. The
prince there is S Lor. He has a lust for money, but he stays mostly to
himself and does not seem to crave power like some of the others.
South could be either Rakyn or Reboryx and I know little about either
of them, except that Reboryx tends to be careless. He has lost a lot
of land in bad dealings with his brothers.” Jace pounded a fist on his
saddle. “For all we know, they could be taking it through Silver to
Parmitta. But why? Why take it anywhere?”
“Jace!” she breathed. “I had nearly forgotten until now! Brydon found
a Parmittan sacrificial dagger in Reed’s belongings. He could be a
priest of Shaitan.” Jace halted his horse and thought hard for a
moment. After awhile, he shook his head.
“If he is a
priest, he is keeping his sacrificial activity to a minimum. Either
that or he is very good at concealing it. Even if he merely is a
minion of Shaitan, it would not explain why he would send the Gauntlet
to Parmitta. They are all barbarous heathens—they would not know how
to tap its secrets.”
“Perhaps they want to destroy it. Don’t they hate the Gauntlet?”
Jace looked at Brydon. “Very plausible,” he admitted.
Brydon shrugged. “I think we have to split up and follow both caravans.”
Jace sighed and nodded. “It’s the only way to be sure. I will go
west to speak to Merator. I’ve had dealings with him before and it
should be a swift matter for me to seek information and hurry to join
you if the Gauntlet isn’t there.”
“What about the girls?” Toryn asked.
“I’m not letting you out of my sight, horse thief,” Alyn said. Shevyn
kneed her horse over to Brydon and looked at Jace defiantly. The
Bodorii shrugged and said, “Davin, Verana, and I will go to the City of
Roses. If you happen to find the Gauntlet, do nothing until we see you
again. We will meet in the Black City in Darkynhold. Go to the Broken
Rib Inn. If the caravan moves on, follow it and leave word for us
Brydon repeated the name and nodded. “We will see you soon, with luck.”
They clasped hands and exchanged farewells. Brydon, Toryn, Shevyn and
Alyn turned off the road and headed into the forest and south,
searching for the road that would take them to Vineyard. Brydon was
surprised that Shevyn had wanted to accompany him rather than stay with
Jace. It was apparent that the Shield Knight knew who she was. Brydon
had asked about her and received only a vague response: She was the
daughter of someone who had gotten in Reed’s way.
out at a rapid pace, hoping to put as much distance between themselves
and Berikon’s men as they could, should the prince’s patrol choose the
southern path. They left Sar-Tela the next morning and entered
Vineyard. The principality was rockier than either Sar-Tela or Obelisk
and seemed to possess less wealth in trees and agriculture, but perhaps
more in mining. Why it was called Vineyard was a mystery, for they saw
“What will we do if we find the Gauntlet?” Toryn asked.
“Jace told us to do nothing,” Brydon replied.
“That’s not what I asked.” Toryn grinned.
“Toryn! I’m shocked at you!” Then he shrugged. “We’ll take the Gauntlet, of course. Why wait for Jace?”
Toryn laughed aloud. “Good, I was afraid all this easy living was making you soft.”
Shevyn looked at them and worried at her lower lip for a moment, but
said nothing, as expected. Alyn rode far ahead of them, the better to
The royal city of Vineyard was called Shimmer
and it was built on a hill, inside of a wall that could have withstood
a cataclysm. They rode into the city as mere travelers visiting the
city to please their wives. Toryn grabbed Alyn and kissed her
lingeringly before caressing her lovingly in order to make the story
more believable. Alyn’s face was red with rage when he released her,
but she smiled sweetly at the guards. Only Brydon saw her finger the
whip coiled at her hip. Shevyn looked at him inquiringly and a smile
twisted her lips. Brydon flushed unaccountably and saluted the guards
before riding through the gates. He did not dare kiss her—he had
enough trouble trying to keep Sellaris out of his mind.
stopped at a tavern and Brydon left the others to visit the
marketplace. He hoped to find the remainder of the caravan or ask
questions of the merchants there. As he stepped past a dark alleyway,
a hand suddenly reached out and clamped over his mouth. At the same
time a sharp blade poked into his ribs.
“Make a sound or a
move, Blondie, and my dagger tastes your blood,” a harsh voice said
quietly. Brydon was pulled into the alley and down some stone steps
into a room dimly lit by a single candle. Heavy curtains on the window
kept out the sun’s light and warmth. Brydon was forced to sit in a
chair the man had kicked into the center of the room. The dagger moved
from his ribs and the hand left his mouth.
“Don’t move a
muscle. I’m an expert and this knife will be in the back of your neck
before your fingers reach the hilt of your blade.”
“Fine,” Brydon said dryly, although a trickle of sweat found its way down his spine. “What is it you want?”
“Information. Who are you and what are you here for?”
“What do you mean?” Brydon asked.
The man swore. “Don’t play stupid. I was in Kaaza two weeks ago and
I saw you and your friends asking questions. What are you looking
for? You have moved in haste since then—are you on a spying mission
“Then what is your business in Shimmer?” the man prodded.
“I am not at liberty to say,” Brydon replied and then snapped forward
as a fist slammed into the back of his head. His ears rang and it was
hard to hear the man’s next words.
“I don’t care whether or not you are ‘at liberty’,” the man growled. “Are you working for Berikon?”
Brydon sat up and blinked the stars out of his vision. “Who are you?”
“No one you need concern yourself with. Answer the question.”
“If you are asking on behalf of Prince Amerryn, then I will speak to him, but no one else.”
The man pondered for a moment. “I’m not asking for Amerryn,” he admitted.
“Then who?” Brydon asked. He wondered if he could mentally hurt the
man the way Reed had done. He tentatively reached out with his mind
and encountered… nothing. It was not quite like Shevyn’s blankness,
but rather it was as if the man had built an unnatural wall that Brydon
could not penetrate, different from the mental shields that both Reed
and Sellaris had possessed. He drew back quickly when he recalled his
meeting with Reed; he was not eager for that to happen again.
“You have been riding in haste—on horses, no less—and now half of your
party has disappeared. Where is the silver-haired man?”
is elsewhere. What we seek is no concern of yours; it’s a personal
matter,” Brydon said somewhat desperately as he wondered how to get out
of this situation. He wished he had brought Toryn along.
personal matter involving a Knight-Priest, a Redolian, and an Akarskan
girl? Northerners are rare in Silver and you travel in strange
company. Have you been hired as spies or mercenaries?”
have been in Shimmer less than an hour!” Brydon snapped, annoyed by the
questioning. “I know nothing about the politics of Silver and I don’t
“So you say, but you are no merchant.”
“I was on my way to the marketplace,” Brydon commented sarcastically.
“You deny that you are a spy?”
Brydon glared. “I deny that I am a spy.”
“Perhaps we should go see Prince Amerryn and discover what he says about this.”
“Fine. I’d like to speak to him about you, also.” Brydon twisted
suddenly to look at the man. Thankfully, the movement did not seem to
surprise him and he did not use the knife. A hooded mask hid the upper
half of his face; only his mouth and chin were visible. Brydon thought
he spied a hint of a dark mustache on the man’s upper lip. He looked
lean and muscular beneath a nondescript brown tunic and dull green
cape. A leather belt held a sheath for weapons—besides the dagger in
his hand, a sword was strapped to his hip. Brydon’s gaze flicked to
his other hip where a deadly-looking crossbow rested. He looked
altogether capable of causing harm.
“What now?” Brydon asked and tensed to reach for his sword.
The man sighed. “Since you will tell me nothing, I fear I must let you go.”
“Why don’t I believe you?”
The man held out his hands and smiled. “Fear not. You are of far more use to me alive.”
“If you would tell me who you work for, I might be more willing to talk.”
“Sorry. I can’t say until I know where your allegiance lies.”
Brydon drew himself up. “My allegiance is with my own country and shall be until I die!”
He laughed. “I see. A patriot. What is your country?”
The man looked at him in disbelief. “What does a Falaran want in
Silver? Don’t you have enough problems with the Redolians? And are
you not traveling with one?”
Brydon was impressed. “You seem quite knowledgeable. How is it that you don’t know my business?”
“Is it common knowledge?”
“In the north it is. I’m on a Quest.”
The man gave no sign that he had heard. After a long moment, he said,
“That is perhaps too convenient an excuse. It would be a fine cover
for a spy. What are you questing for?”
Brydon stood up,
sick to death of the strange man and his suspicions. “I do not lie! I
also have no intention of telling you what I’m after.”
“What is your name?” the man asked as he fingered the dagger thoughtfully.
“Brydon Redwing. My Quest can be verified by any Falaran.”
“It would take months for a message to be sent and returned. Thank
you, but no. I shall make my own decisions. You may go.”
“You’re letting me walk out of here?”
“Of course. Unless there is a reason why I should not?”
Brydon walked to the door and out without looking back, even though
his back tingled. He half-expected the whiz of a knife through the
air. It never came and he continued on to the marketplace, puzzled by
the strange encounter. Who was the man? He claimed not to have been
sent by Amerryn. He could not have been in league with Reed, either,
because Reed knew what Brydon sought. Also, anyone sent by Reed would
have either captured or killed him instantly.
sighed. He missed Jace and his wealth of knowledge about the southern
kingdoms. The Bodorii Knight-Priest might have been able to figure out
who the man worked for.
Brydon walked on, oblivious to the
crowd. His head ached from the blow the mysterious man had laid upon
it. He approached a fruit trader and bought a citrus, and then asked
the man if he had seen any melon traders wearing the livery of
Ven-Kerrick. The man had barely arrived in Shimmer and knew nothing.
Brydon thanked the merchant and moved on, peeling the violet colored
fruit and picking at the juicy pulp. He tried in vain to keep the
juice from running down onto his sleeves and stopped to toss the rind
into a waste cart before washing his hands in the fountain in the
center of the square. He questioned a few more people and came up
empty until a hand was clasped on his shoulder.
requested to come with us,” the man said and Brydon turned to see a
soldier dressed in scarlet and white. Two others accompanied him. He
wished again that he had brought Toryn along, for no better reason than
to even the odds.
“Where are we going?” he asked politely.
“To the palace, to see His Royal Highness, Prince Amerryn.”
Please let us know what you think of Chapter 20 by clicking here (you can comment anonymously if you like).