The Gauntlet Thrown Chapter Fourteen


Chapter Six 


Chapter Seven


Chapter Eight 


Chapter Nine


Chapter Ten


Chapter Eleven


Chapter Twelve 

Chapter Thirteen





    Toryn’s search for Redwing led him in a large circle around the camp.  If he had only waited with the horses a bit longer, he probably would have seen Redwing mount Darkling and ride off.  He cursed and caught Fang, who was not at all happy at the idea of being ridden.  He allowed her a few cursory bucks and then followed Redwing’s faint trail.  It led west and Toryn rode on, glad that it was not raining.  He was sick of rain and tired of not being able to see where they were going because of the ever-present trees.  It rained often in Redol, but usually in spectacular downpours that quickly spent themselves.  Not like the ever-present misty dampness of Terris.  Redol was mostly rolling hills and highlands and one could see for miles by climbing to the top of a hill.  He was surprised at how strongly he missed his homeland.

    It took him nearly twenty minutes to catch up to Redwing. His mare swung her ears forward and Toryn rested his hand on  his sword, just in case an enemy approached instead of Redwing.

    Brydon? he called with his mind.  It had worked once before, when he had gotten an impression of direction.  He was shocked this time when it worked even better.

    Toryn? an odd voice in his head answered.  It was definitely Redwing and Toryn shoved down a moment of panic when he realized that the voice was inside his head.

    How are you doing this? Toryn asked.  He wanted to find out about Redwing’s strange power once and for all.  Can you hear me?

    Come ahead.  There came a sense of direction.

    Toryn rode on and caught sight of Redwing.  The Falaran knelt near the black stallion with his sword planted in the ground and both hands clasped about the hilt as if praying.  Knowing Redwing, he probably was.  Hopefully he prayed for the strength to resist the redheaded temptress, Sellaris.  Toryn reined in beside him and dismounted.

    “What are you doing way out here?” Toryn asked aloud and hoped that Redwing was not still lurking in his head.

    “I needed to get away and clear my mind.  Besides, it was fruitful.  Come and see.”  Redwing dropped Darkling’s reins and strode through the foliage.  Toryn swore mildly as he tied Fang securely to a tree—she would not stay put like Darkling unless she was tied.

    He hurried after Redwing.  After a few minutes the ground become firmer and the trees thinned.  Toryn almost ran into the Falaran when he stopped.

    “Look.”  Redwing gestured.  Toryn passed him and walked ahead.  The trees ended abruptly in sand, which stretched away for a goodly length and terminated at the water’s edge.  The water extended forever, sparkling in the afternoon sun, and rushed at them in white-capped waves.

    “The sea!” Toryn yelled excitedly.  “We’ve reached the sea!”  He exuberantly ran out and kicked up the sand, suddenly so happy to be free of the cloying trees that he could hardly contain himself.  He breathed deeply of the salty air, amazed that he hadn’t noticed the scent before.  He yelped and cavorted and ran all the way to the water’s edge while Redwing trailed more slowly.

    Toryn kicked off his boots in a childlike manner and let the surf splash over his bare feet.  It was marvelously cold.

    “The sea, Falaran!  The wonderful sea!”  He laughed when Redwing was near enough to hear him, but the Falaran’s gaze was focused far out on the water.  Toryn followed his stare and saw, barely visible, a tiny sail on the horizon.

    “A ship!” Toryn yelled.  “Wahoo!  A ship!”

    “If we can see a ship from here,” Redwing said seriously, “Kaneelis cannot be far.”

    Toryn sobered, recalling his reason for seeking out Redwing.  “What happens when we get there?” he asked.

    Redwing looked at him and his eyes were colored like the sea Toryn stood in.  “We dump our unwanted passengers and continue on the Quest, of course,” Redwing replied.  “Will you stay with Alyn or come with me?”

    Toryn snorted to cover his relief.  “Leave the chance at real adventure for a female?  I think not.”

    Redwing laughed.  “How could I even think such a thing?”

    “I don’t know,” Toryn said pointedly.  “How could you?”

    “It was a brief moment of weakness,” Redwing replied.   “I know what I have to do.  You should know that for a Falaran duty always comes first.”  He sounded almost bitter.  For a moment, Toryn could see the depth of his emotion where Sellaris was concerned.  He was glad they would be leaving her far behind; she would have been nothing but trouble.

    “Good.”  Toryn clapped Redwing on the shoulder and then grabbed him and dragged him into the surf.  The Falaran yelped and struggled, but he was off balance and fell to his hands and knees just as the wave rolled in.  He came up spluttering, completely drenched.  Toryn laughed delightedly until Redwing’s hand caught him around the ankle and toppled him into the water.  He gulped water, unable to keep from laughing.  They both crawled out of the sea and sat on the wet sand looking at the sky.  They stared up at the clouds moving high overhead, floating slowly inland where they would dump more rain on the waterlogged swamps of Terris.

    “Where do we go after Kaneelis?” Toryn asked.

    “South.  Into Penkangum,” Redwing answered.

    “And from there to Ven-Kerrick?” Toryn ventured slyly.

    Redwing sat up sharply.  “How did you know that?”

    Toryn smiled triumphantly.  “I guessed,” he admitted.

    Redwing looked thoughtful.  “Yet, you still intend to accompany me?” he asked.

    Toryn laughed.  “Of course.  I can’t wait to see how you plan to get the most prized possession in the entire South away from Ven-Kerrick.”

    “Well, I thought of—”

    “No!  Don’t tell me!” Toryn yelled.  “I want to find out when it happens.  I want to be there for every minute of swordplay and torture.”

    “I not counting on either swordplay or torture,” Redwing said dryly.

    Toryn sighed.  “I didn’t think so.  But I can always hope, right?”

    Redwing punched him on the shoulder and Toryn sobered after a moment.

    “You are getting better at your...” Toryn said and tapped a forefinger against his own forehead.  Redwing nodded.

    “You could hear words when I called you this time, right?” Brydon asked.

    “Clearly,” Toryn admitted.  “I knew where you were, too, suddenly.  I just... knew.”

    “This ability could come in handy.  If I fell down a hole, you would be able to find me.”

    “Unless I was the one that pushed you in there,” Toryn warned and laughed.

    “I wonder if I can mindspeak to anyone else?” Redwing mused. “I’ve never tried it with anyone but you.  My attempt to read Lavan’s mind did not go very well.  It was like tapping into his memories—everything that had ever happened to him in one barrage.  I could make little sense of it.  There must be some way I can learn to use this power—other than just blundering around in people’s minds.  Reed must have learned from someone.”

    “When your Quest is over, maybe we can track down Reed and get some answers,” Toryn suggested, refusing to accept the possibility that Redwing would become the next Falaran king.

    “I think I would prefer to have the answers before I encounter Reed again.”

    Toryn sighed and nodded.  “He would probably be no help, anyway.  And we’ll most likely have to kill him.”

~~ O ~~

    Brydon tried to quell his excitement as they followed the coastline into Kaneelis the next day.  The sound of the surf accompanied them as they skirted the sandy beach, riding in the scrubby beach grass to save the horses the effort of walking through sand.  The weather was surprisingly pleasant with no rain drenching them, for once.  They reached a small rise overlooking Kaneelis close to midday.  The city was the center of trade for most of the known world. The Terrin king resided there along with most everyone else in Terris, since not many residents chose to live in the swamps.  According to Verana, the only Terrins that dwelled outside the city were herb and moss gatherers, alligator hunters, and those that lived in scatterings of coastal fishing villages.  It was generally accepted that the Church had begun in Silver, but the center of control had moved very early to the already-bustling capitol of Terris.  Since Kaneelis was the center of religion for the civilized world, the ruling faction in Terris was actually the Church.  The king was more of a figurehead than a leader, a concept that Brydon could not quite accept.  In his opinion, the king should hold a strong leadership position and control secular affairs, as they did in Falara.  Even so, he looked upon the city with pleasure.

    “It’s so much bigger than Eaglecrest,” he said to Toryn. “And much more lively!”  Toryn nodded, though his expression bordered on apprehension.  Redol had no cities, or even large villages, and Toryn probably had never seen such a gathering of humanity before.  People swarmed everywhere.  Before they even reached the gates of the city, they met Terrin fur-traders, Corolian leather workers, Falaran merchants, Akarskan messengers and even a few Redolians bearing salted fish or driving herds of cattle.  They saw peddlers of cloth, weapons, leather, jewels, grains, fruit, and rare items heading out of Kaneelis toward the other countries, traveling alone or in short caravans.  Brydon had met traveling merchants in the past and listened to their tales of the great cities, but he had not been able to properly envision what now greeted his eyes.  The buildings themselves were dizzyingly tall.  The marble spires of at least four temples jutted from the center of the city.  Even the lowly wooden structures seemed to rise three to four stories.

    Their group joined the mass of people entering the gates.  Still-bound Lavan earned only cursory glances, though his furious expression invited more than one look.  The company itself, however, did draw some attention.  It was rare enough to see mounted travelers, but rarer still to see such an odd collection as they made.  Redolian, Falaran, Akarskan, Penk.  Brydon thought the girls alone would have drawn attention.  Davin had drawn on a hooded cloak but Sellaris seemed to enjoy the glances and whispers.  Verana ignored it all in her calm way.

    They were stopped briefly at the gates by a burly guard dressed in bronze and green armor.  An elaborate shield symbol on his uniform declared his membership in the Order of Might.  He wore a serviceable sword and held an elaborate bronze-tipped spear that looked more decorative than useful.  Brydon wondered who he guarded the city from and thought the position might be less one of necessity and more of tradition.

    “State your business in Kaneelis,” the man said in a practiced tone, but he watched them all curiously.

    “I am a disciple of the Temple of Healing,” Verana said boldly.  “I am returning there with my guests.”  She handed him a small scroll that he unfurled and glanced over.

    “This lot?” the guard asked dubiously.  Brydon had tossed his vest over Lavan’s bound hands and the red-haired man was silent for once, evidently not wishing to be taken to the guard post for questioning.

    “Adona sees all men alike, my lord,” Verana said primly.  The guard cleared his throat and nodded.

    “Proceed,” he said gruffly after returning her papers.

    They wound through the busy streets and threaded through milling persons hawking goods of all kinds.  Dull oxen pulled carts loaded with produce; children shrieked as they played tag underfoot; peddlers carried huge crates full of squawking chickens; and travelers of every shape and size clogged the roadways.  At long last, Verana led them to an inn and they gratefully dismounted and left their horses with a street urchin for safekeeping.  Inside, they sat at a long table and ordered a hot meal and spiced warm wine, eager for hot food not prepared by trailside.  Lavan was untied and he immediately stalked upstairs to escape their group.  Garyn sat down next to Toryn.  Sellaris had parked herself next to Brydon and her thigh rested, not uncomfortably, against his while they ate.  Brydon felt his face warm with a heat exacerbated by the heavily spiced stew.  He knew it was time to put his shameful longings to rest.

    “This is where we must part company,” he said and scraped the last of the meat from his dish with the wooden spoon.  He did not meet her gaze.  “We are keeping your horses and they will be given to Alyn and returned to Akarska.  The three of you are free to go, as I promised.”

    Sellaris was silent until Brydon looked at her.  Her eyes were fathomless pools of misty grey.

    “You have nothing more to say to me?” she asked softly enough that the others would not overhear.  She looked as beautiful as ever with her red hair braided into a long strand that fell over one shoulder.  She wore a white blouse half-hidden under a dark green vest.  Her green stone was lost beneath it, but Brydon knew she still wore it.  He wondered how deeply it linked her to Reed.

    “What would you have me say?” he asked quietly.  Toryn looked at him curiously, as did Garyn, but they returned to their meals without comment.  Brydon’s hand clenched convulsively around the stem of his goblet.  She shrugged and looked at him intently.  “You may try to forget me, Brydon Redwing,” she murmured.  “But you will not.  A day shall not go by that you do not think of me and wonder what might have been.”

    Brydon strove to look away, but could not.

    “Are you a prophetess, to make such a claim?” he asked, trying to make light of the situation without success.  She shook her head and he was shocked to see unshed tears sparkling in her eyes.

    “I only know it will be that way for me,” she replied and got to her feet.  She mounted the stairs to join Lavan and Brydon thought bitterly that she was probably right.  Toryn’s gaze followed Sellaris approvingly and his quick glance at Brydon revealed immense satisfaction at finally being rid of the girl and her disagreeable brother.  Brydon suddenly wanted nothing more than to find himself a bottle of something deadly strong and lose himself in it.  He rose.

    “Let’s get out of here,” he said to the others.

    They left Sellaris, Garyn, and Lavan at the inn and Verana led Brydon and the others to the Temple of Healing.  It was a magnificent building of white marble and polished brass.  Its beauty startled Brydon, to whom buildings were no rarity.  Before the building sat a massive circular fountain.  Water spilled from a huge bronze goblet into the fountain with a continuous soft splash.  Twined around the goblet were vines that sprouted huge roses and leaves that had been beautifully enameled to look real.  The marble surrounding the fountain and the dozen steps to the temple doors was palest pink with veins of grey and white.  Four huge columns of white marble flanked the open double-doors, twined with green vines.  Some of the plants were in bloom and clusters of yellow and white flowers trailed down from the beams overhead as they passed beneath the lintel.

    Verana said, “This temple is not nearly as large or elaborate as the Temple of Might in the center of town.”

    Brydon nodded; he would be going there, later.  The sanctuary of the Temple of Healing was most unusual.  Instead of the expected marble or polished wood, the floor was covered in a multitude of rugs stitched together to form one massive carpet that covered nearly the entire floor.  Atop the carpet were dozens of assorted couches and piles of pillows.  Patrons lay about the room, perched upon couches, pillows, or floor.  A number of men and women dressed in the bright yellow robes of Healers attended the people, guiding them in prayer or meditation.  The yellow robes differed only by the sash around their waists: red, white, or green, depending on their Order.

    “What color do you normally wear?” Toryn asked Verana, who was still dressed in her light blue traveling clothes.

    “Yellow robe, red sash,” Verana replied.  “The Order of the Rose is the only one that allows women.”

    She led them around the central sanctuary to a door at the rear, where they entered a large foyer lined alternately with red marble pillars and white benches. Tapestries hung from the walls and both Healers and patients walked about or sat on benches, talking quietly or reading.  Light streamed in through huge windows that stretched from floor to ceiling at various places throughout the room.

    Several corridors branched off from the foyer and Verana led them down one of them.

    “These are the guest quarters,” she said when they reached a long hallway of doors.  She assigned each of them a tiny room and then took Alyn off to the Healing sector.  Brydon’s room was clean and brightly colored, albeit there were no windows.  Two candles in wall sconces had been lit for him.  The room was populated only with a bed and washstand.  He set his pack down and looked into the mirror before wrinkling his nose in distaste.  His face was stubbly and scratched from shaving with a dagger and no mirror.  His hair was a wild mess.  He suddenly wondered at Sellaris’ sanity, if she was attracted to him.  He grabbed up his pack again and opened the door next to his.

    “Toryn, we are going to market.  Bring your things.”

    Toryn grumbled, but got up off his bed and followed.  “Wouldn’t you rather stay here than go back into that milling herd?”

    “The city?  Don’t you like it?” Brydon asked.

    “I don’t see how anyone can live here.  The noise alone is unbearable.”

    “You get used to it,” Brydon said even though he wasn’t sure.  Eaglecrest barely qualified as a city next to Kaneelis.  It seemed like a sleepy village in comparison.  Davin declined to go with them.  The silver-haired man seemed restless, almost—trapped was the word that came to mind.

    “Davin?  If the Healers make you uncomfortable, you need not stay here.  I am sure there are many inns nearby.”

    “No,” Davin snapped, turning away from them.  His fists were clenched.  “I will stay,” he said in a calm voice.  Brydon, not knowing what else he could say, nodded and left him alone.

    He and Toryn joined the milling crowd bustling about the city.  They left the polished, manicured area of the Temple of Healing and entered the boisterous, loud area of the merchant sector.  Open stalls, small shops, lone vendors and wandering peddlers all yelled and waved merchandise, vying for attention.  The odors were overwhelming: fresh baked bread, fruit over-ripening in the sun, broiled lamb and beef on wooden skewers, sugared fruits, pastries, ale and wine, exotic perfumes, oils and powders, spices, and unwashed animals.  Overlaying them all was the clean salty scent of the sea.

    Toryn had little in the way of money—one gold coin, three silver, and some scattered coppers, but Brydon produced a sizable purse filled with gold.  It had been a parting gift from his princess and well-wishers.  Brydon purchased new clothing for them both—ignoring Toryn’s protests—and then hurried to the public baths.  Inside they soaked in the steaming water, sighing in contentment.  Toryn even refrained from making derogatory comments about bathing.  Their hair was trimmed and their beards shaved off by young boys dressed in blue uniforms who worked with silent competence.  They walked out feeling like new men—and looking it.

    Back in the streets, they succumbed to a few of the merchants, buying necessary items.  Brydon acquired a new pair of boots; some nicely crafted arrows, and more clothes to make up for the ones that had been destroyed in their adventures.  He also purchased a bottle of potent liquor that promised hours of forgetfulness.

    Toryn haggled for nearly an hour to buy a gorgeous silver hilted sword with a grip of deep green jade carved into the shape of intertwined dragons.  After watching the display, Brydon remarked, “A Redolian can use just any old sword, eh, Toryn?”

    Toryn threw him a disdainful look.  “This is more than a sword.”  He sniffed as he waved it around and narrowly missed a passerby.  “This is an investment.  I can sell it in Redol for twice this price.  Besides, you’re buying it.”

    Brydon smiled and dutifully handed over the coins.  He would pay triple the price to keep Toryn from mentioning his old sword ever again, lost in the far snow banks of northern Akarska.

    The purchase of a soft leather cloak and a new scabbard for the sword did away with Toryn’s finances.  He did not seem concerned.  They walked around like tourists for a time, gazing at the King’s Palace and the Royal Gardens.  They rapidly became lost in a hedge maze and spent an eternity hunting for an exit.

    “Some hunter you make,” Brydon said and snorted, “You can’t even find your way out of a garden.”

    Toryn turned another random corner.  “You’re no better,” he growled.  “Besides, you brought us in here.”  They reached another dead end and Brydon shoved Toryn into the hedge.  The Redolian came out with a branch and went after him with it, but stopped short as his gaze went beyond Brydon’s shoulder.  Wary of a trap, he cautiously turned his head and saw three unsavory-looking men blocking the path.  He was as surprised as Toryn to see ominous strangers—he had not expected danger in a civilized park, so he had not used his mental abilities at all.

    “Well,” one sneered, “If we don’t have a fancy Falaran here.”

    “And a Redolian,” said another.  He sported a gold earring.  “How sweet.  You two meet here often?”  Without waiting for a reply, they lunged.  Brydon sidestepped the first one, ducking a dagger swipe as he tugged out his sword.  Toryn flung his branch into the face of another and then kicked the first attacker into one of his companions.  The greasy-haired man turned quickly, but Brydon parried the dagger blow with his sword.  The second man had recovered from the branch to the face and charged at Toryn, only to be spitted on the blade he had drawn like lightning.  The third man hung back and then threw his dagger at Toryn’s head, but the sword flashed up and sent the dagger spinning away with a metallic chime.

    Brydon found his sword to be a bit too bulky in close quarters as the earringed man ducked under his thrust and stabbed viciously at his ribs.  Brydon twisted away and brought the hilt of his sword down hard, but the man was quick and spun away; Brydon’s golden hilt barely missed his head.

    Toryn leaped over the body of his opponent and met the third man just as the brigand tugged out his sword.  The blades met with a clash and Brydon knew just from the sound that the man against Toryn did not have a chance.  He almost felt sorry for the fellow as Toryn’s gleeful howling confirmed his suspicion.  The man fighting Brydon feinted to the right suddenly and rushed by him.  Brydon turned quickly, fearing a stab in the back, but the man raced by Toryn just as his last companion fell to Toryn’s sword.

    The Redolian jerked his blade free with a yell and ran after the fleeing man.  Brydon, not really surprised, took off after them.  He caught up with a disgusted Toryn a few minutes later.

    “Fast little scum.”  Toryn swore.

    “He’s not worth your vengeance,” Brydon said calmly as he tried to catch his breath.  Toryn looked at him through amused green eyes.

    “Vengeance, nothing.  I was trying to follow him out of here.”

    They escaped the maze sometime before dusk by asking a small boy for help.  Toryn swore the urchin to silence with one of Brydon’s copper coins and they made their way back to the Temple.

    “What do you suppose they wanted?” Brydon asked.

    Toryn shrugged.  “Probably just thieves.  We look like fair marks; everyone in this city assumes people from the North are bumpkins.”

    Brydon nodded and fondled the gold hilt of his blade. “Where did you learn to use your sword?  I’ve never seen anyone so good.  I meant to mention it before, when you fought Reed.  He nearly had me before you came along.”

    Toryn looked at him, surprised.  “A compliment?  From a Falaran?  Amazing!”  He grinned.  “I learned from my older brother.  He’s far better than I am.  I guess he learned from Father.”

    “You don’t know?”

    Toryn shook his head.  “No.  My father died when I was young.”

    “My father was a blacksmith.  An armorer.  He made this sword.”  Brydon unsheathed the blade.

    “It has perfect balance,” Toryn admitted with admiration. “Why do you prefer the bow?”

    “My best friend’s father was a bowyer.  I spent most of my time at their cottage.  My father wanted me to follow in his footsteps, not only in metalworking, but also in the priesthood.  He was a Knight of the Lance.  I did join the Brotherhood, but the talent for metal is simply not in me.  My true ability lies with the bow.”

    “Your best friend?” Toryn asked.  “Why did he not accompany you on this Quest?”

    “He would have,” Brydon smiled sadly. “But he died in a hunting accident two years ago.”

    “I’m sorry.”  Toryn grimaced.  “Hunting?”

    “He hunted a boar even though a spear was not his chosen weapon.  He should not have tried it, but he always thought he could do anything.”

    Brydon was silent for a time after that, reflecting, and Toryn was quiet.  Their footsteps echoed off the stone walls.

    “Are you really going after the Gauntlet?” Toryn asked as they made their way through a quiet residential area.

    Brydon sighed.  “Yes.  Do you think it’s an impossible Quest?”

    “That depends on how much the Kerricks want to keep it.”

    “I won’t need it forever.  I only need to take it back to Falara to show to the Princess.  From there, it can go straight back to Ven-Kerrick.”

    “What happens if you don’t finish the Quest?”

    “If I’m not back in two years, the princess chooses another man.  If I return with the Gauntlet too late, I’ll be considered unworthy for the kingship and resume my previous life in no disgrace.  I’ll even be given a noble title for succeeding.”

    “And if you return without the Gauntlet?” Toryn asked.

    “I resume my old life as before.  But I would be privately considered a failure.”

    “What does your princess want with it?”

    Brydon grinned and then laughed.  “My place is not to ask why, Tory, my friend.  Mine is to Quest and bring back.”

    “Sort of like a hound?” Toryn asked.

    “I suppose,” Brydon replied with a growl and shoved him at a nearby fountain.  He narrowly missed tumbling in and heartily splashed water at Brydon, who took off running.  They raced all the way back to the Temple of Healing.  Inside, they were treated to a fine meal and the Healers provided entertainment by singing and playing instruments long into the night.  When the diversions were done, they retired to their rooms and slept like fallen logs.

    True to her word, Sellaris haunted Brydon’s dreams.

    Brydon woke early the next morning, feeling restless and slightly hung over.  He had consumed half his bottle of fermented something with dinner—from the taste in his mouth he suspected it was rat dung—in an effort to drown Sellaris from his mind. He had not succeeded.  He sorted through his belongings in hope of finding something to remove the foul taste on his tongue.  A dagger tumbled out of his pack onto the floor and he stared at it in surprise, only then remembering he had taken it from Reed’s abandoned belongings with the intention of giving it to Toryn.

    He picked up the dagger with a smile.  Toryn had a fine sword and now he would have the ruby-encrusted dagger, as well.  Brydon dressed and shaved, glad to have clean clothing and a mirror to shave by.  He strapped the decorative dagger to his belt, but left his own hanging from the bedpost with his sword.  It would look rather odd to be armed while he walked around in the Temple of Healing.  Truth to tell, he felt better without his weapons—he seldom wore them at home and they were cumbersome.

    He belted his surcoat over the dagger to conceal it completely—the better to surprise Toryn.  He left his room and went down the hall to the foyer after he checked the Redolian’s room and found it empty.  After questioning an underling, he exited the main doors at the back and found himself in a courtyard that was also a well-cultivated flower garden.  Flowers bloomed in every imaginable color. Brydon walked among them, smelling their heady fragrances.  The path that led through the garden was made of crushed shells.  He sat on a bench near the fountain and listened to the birds sing.  Verana found him there.  Her dark skin looked even more so against the bright yellow robes she had donned.  She looked very official with her red sash of office and her hair bound back in a bright yellow swatch of cloth.

    “How is Alyn?” he asked.

    “Much improved,” she answered.  “The rest did her good and they have many medicines here.  It will be some time before she fully recovers, but it looks as though she will be well.”

    “Excellent.”  Brydon smiled.  “I can move on knowing she is in good hands.”

    “You are leaving already?”

    “The Quest will not wait for me and already time is passing too quickly,” he replied.

    She nodded.  “Promise you will keep me informed of your progress.  I feel I have lent a hand to your destiny and would like to know how it turns out.”

    He grinned.  “I promise to send you a note from every messenger-post I happen upon.”

    Her features became serious.  “Do not hesitate to send for me if trouble should befall you.  I have many friends in the Church—in all parts of the world.”  She smiled again as her good humor returned.  “Although Toryn is a stout guardian.”

    Brydon returned her smile.  “He is becoming a good friend.”

    She patted his hand.  “Do not leave without saying goodbye.”

    “I would not think of it.  I must go to the Temple of Might this morning.  I have news from Falara to deliver.”

    “I will see you when you return, then.” She rose and strolled away, her robes a golden contrast to the garden greenery.

    Brydon sat for a moment before leaving to find Toryn.  He assumed the Redolian was with Alyn, so he walked around hoping to find someone who knew where to find her, since he had forgotten to ask Verana.

    He passed a room with an open door and a frantic Healer called to him.  She was holding down a semi-conscious man whose leg was twisted at an unnatural angle.  Brydon hurried inside.

    “What do you need?” he asked, at a loss.

    “I need you to cut his leggings off so I can see the extent of the damage.  Argis was assisting me, but he has gone for potions.”  Brydon quickly fished the jeweled dagger from beneath his surcoat and cut the man’s pant leg from ankle to hip.  At first touch of the dagger, the man fainted.  The Healer straightened and pushed her hair from her brow with a sigh.

    “He broke his leg.  I cannot imagine how he got here by himself.  He is strong-willed.  Thank you for your help.”  She turned to him, smiling, and her eyes fell on the dagger he still held.  Her mouth rounded in an O before she screamed loudly, startling him.  Before he could move, she pushed by him and fled  the room.

    He looked at the dagger, expecting to see a large hairy spider on it, but it looked the same as before.  Gold nugget-style hilt crusted with crimson gems.  A slightly curved blade, single edged.  He shrugged and turned, just in time to see Verana and the babbling Healer enter the room with a hoard of others. The girl pointed at him and uttered something he could not quite make out.

    Verana looked at the dagger and then up at Brydon.  “Where did you get that?” she asked in a strange voice.

    “Get what?” he asked, puzzled.

    “The knife.”

    “I picked it up out of Reed’s belongings and forgot about it.  I planned to give it to Toryn.  Why?”

    Verana breathed a sigh of relief and turned to the others.  “It is all right,” she said.  “Tend to this man and I will have a talk with my friend.  Come out to the courtyard with me, Brydon.  This bears discussing.”

    She went out and Brydon followed.  The Healers parted before him as though he had suddenly sprouted black fangs and claws.  “Is there a problem?”

    She looked at him and then down at the dagger still in his hand.  When they reached the bench, she sat down and motioned for him to sit.  “That is a Parmittan sacrificial dagger.  It is used in blood sacrifice to slice open a victim and offer their still-beating heart to Shaitan.  I think Sellaris’ friend Reed is a bit more dangerous than we gave him credit for.”

    The dagger suddenly felt heavier in Brydon’s hand.  The gems seemed to wink at him with an evil light and he set it quickly on the bench beside him.

    “You think Reed was a priest of Shaitan?” he asked, disgusted.

    “I don’t know of anyone else who carries such a thing,” she said. “Perhaps he stole the dagger or came across it by trade.  But from the manner of his disappearance, I do not think so.”

    Brydon stood up, agitated.  “Which brings up the question of why he is gathering horses in Bodor.”  Neither of them had to mention that Bodor was separated from Parmitta only by a range of mountains.

    “If a Bodorii noble is collaborating with the Parmittans...” Verana began.

    Brydon snorted.  “What could they do?” he asked.  “Kerrick’s line and the Gauntlet are still in Ven-Kerrick.”  Unless, Brydon realized, his Quest succeeded, in which case the Gauntlet would be on its way to Falara.  That could be disastrous if Parmitta plotted a war.

     “Still,” Brydon objected, “If they plan anything on a major scale, they will need more than a mere two dozen horses that Sellaris and her band acquired.”

    “Unless she lied,” Verana replied.  “But I do not see what Shaitan’s minions would want with horses.  The last time they attacked, they had more than enough power with foot soldiers alone.  If not for Kerrick and the Gauntlet, they probably would have defeated the southern kingdoms.”

    Brydon shook his head.  “It’s too confusing to worry about. We will have to wait and see what happens, I suppose.  Perhaps someone from the Order of Might can track down Reed.  I’ll mention it when I go to the Temple and tell them about the horses.”

    Verana nodded.  “It would not be remiss to bring this to the attention of the bishops.  May I keep the dagger?”

    Brydon handed it to her gladly.  She looked at it with distaste for a moment and then tucked it away and departed.  Brydon thought about the Great War in which the countless hordes had come from Parmitta and devastated the southern kingdoms.  Things had been going very badly for them until Kerrick had turned up with the Gauntlet of Power.  Singlehandedly he had turned the tide of the war and driven the minions of Shaitan back into the southern climes of Parmitta, beyond the Ven-Horn Mountains.

    In gratitude, the four kingdoms—Silver, Bodor, Tar-Tan, and Penkangum—had given up a portion of their lands and built a magnificent castle, calling it Ven-Kerrick.  They had lauded Kerrick as the protector of the kingdoms and largely forgotten him over ensuing years of peace.  Now Brydon intended to ride into Ven-Kerrick and see if he could borrow that Gauntlet for a short time.  Thinking about it now, it seemed like a fool’s mission.  Not for the first time he wondered what Princess Eryka was about.  He had argued heartily with her when he’d first learned of the Quest, but the girl had been adamant.

    He sighed, and went to his room to change his clothes before searching for Toryn again.  He wondered if he would find the Redolian before the day ended.  He had better results this time after making inquiries and finally found Toryn five streets down, in a tavern, clutching two wenches and telling them tall tales.  Brydon pried Toryn’s grip away from the girls and made him take a walk.

    “About time you got up.  I thought you would sleep the day away.”

    Brydon ignored that.  “Did you see Alyn this morning?” he asked as they departed the tavern.

    Toryn glared.  “Yes.  She threw a glass at me.  I think she is feeling better.”

    Brydon laughed.

    Toryn asked, “What are you wearing?  You look like a snowman.”

    Brydon was bedecked in a pure white surcoat, white under-tunic, white breeches, and a short white cloak.  He wore black boots and a black belt.  A black design was embroidered diagonally upon his left breast and Toryn stared at it for a moment, furrowing his brow.

    “Where have I seen that before?” Toryn asked.  “Don’t you usually wear your falcon insignia?  What happened?  Did you change family lines?”

    “I decided to dress up for our trip to the Temple,” Brydon replied.

    “Are you planning to be sacrificed as a virgin?”

    Brydon threw him a quelling look, but by then they had reached the Temple of Might.  The building was spectacular.  Grey-veined marble steps led up to the entrance where four huge pillars lined the front, carved into the likenesses of women with swords.  The statues gazed out over the city as if protecting it from the power of Shaitan.  Brydon found the image odd for a moment, considering that women were not allowed into the Order of Might.  Toryn whistled softly.

    They joined many other townspeople walking up the steps and into the coolness of the building.  The main sanctuary was huge, able to hold thousands of people easily, and lined with dark green marble pillars.  The ceiling had several open slats filled with glass, displaying the clear blue sky in all its glory.  The walls contained many windows that looked out on magnificent gardens filled with all the flowers they had seen at the Temple of Healing and many more besides.  Exotic birds flew in and about the trees in the gardens, showing off their stunning colors.

    The Temple was full of light and color.  The pulpit sat in front of a massive fountain that shot water a full twenty feet into the air and caught the light from the ceiling, sending rainbows around the room.  Behind the fountain were marble steps where a choir would stand.  Sunken areas at both sides allowed musicians to play.  Many were there already, strumming on their instruments.

    High up on the wall, a balcony was bolstered by the pillars all the way around the room.  The ceiling was another twenty feet higher than that.

    There was no service at the moment and people meandered about while they talked quietly, or seated themselves at the fountain’s edge.  Many prayed while others sat quietly and listened to the Bards.

    Brydon’s eyes skimmed the assortment of people until he caught sight of a particular uniform.  He strode purposefully forward with Toryn at his heels.  Brydon halted before the man, whose dress was similar to his own, except the man’s clothing was forest green and the design on his chest was that of a bronze shield.  The man supervised a small boy who carefully scraped wax from a golden candlestick that rose easily to a man’s height.  From the boy’s downcast expression, it was clear that the boy was being disciplined.

    “Father Deacon?” Brydon asked the man respectfully.  Cold blue eyes turned to view them.  He took note of Brydon’s attire and then swung his gaze to Toryn.  His eyes widened for a moment at the sight of Toryn’s braids, but his features betrayed no hint of his thoughts.

    “Yes?” he asked with no inflection.

    “I am Brydon Redwing of Falara.  I have missives from Bishop Paryn for Bishop Nilyn.  Could you direct me to his assistant or secretary?”

    The man’s long nose twitched for a moment, almost like a rabbit’s.  He said nothing for such a long time that Brydon began to think he was deaf.

    “I can take them, Father,” the young boy piped up in a hopeful voice.

     “You can remain where you are until your task is completed,” the deacon snapped without looking at the lad, who sighed and resumed his scraping.  “Come with me,” the strange man continued, speaking to Brydon, and marched promptly off the dais and through a wide, arched corridor.  Brydon looked at Toryn, who made a blatant gesture that alluded to idiocy and Brydon barely suppressed a smile.  The boy giggled.

    They walked through the long corridor, which was lined on either side by small rooms with curtained doorways.  Each room was carpeted and contained a kneeling bench and a small wood-topped dais, which held an offering plate and a number of candles.  The outer rooms had large high windows to let in sunlight.  Several of the curtains were drawn, giving privacy to those praying within.  The corridor they walked was laid with a wide strip of patterned Bodorii carpet to muffle the footsteps of passersby.

    The corridor ended at a T.  The left passageway was unblocked, but the right was closed by an iron-barred gate.  The deacon took a heavy chain from beneath his robes.  A key was attached to the chain and he used it to unlock the gate.

    “Walk this way,” he said and they proceeded down the right-hand corridor.  The rest of the corridor was rather plain, showing only a blank wall on the right and several numbered doorways on the left.  The carpet was apparently no longer needed in this section and their footsteps rang on the polished oak floor.

    Before the corridor ended, the three of them halted at an ironbound wooden door, this one guarded by another green-clad man who stood at rigid attention.

    “These men are here for Secretary Ulwyn,” their escort stated in a brusque manner.  The guard rapped on the door and a panel instantly slid open to reveal two eyes behind a wire grill.

    “Messengers for Secretary Ulwyn,” the guard said and the panel snapped shut.  After an interminable moment, the door swung open and they beheld a nearly identical guardsman within the doorway.  Brydon looked from one to the other and deduced they were twins.

    “The Secretary will see you.  Please follow me,” the second guard said.  Brydon gladly entered the doorway, relieved to be free of their unfriendly escort, who sniffed and marched off.  The first twin shut the door behind them, presumably to resume his post in the corridor.

    A short walk down another hallway—this one completely carpeted in rich burgundy—brought them to another wooden door; this one open.  Their attendant rapped on the doorframe before he entered the room.  Brydon paused with Toryn on his heels.  The room was small and seemed in some disarray.  A large desk dominated the room, accompanied by a number of comfortable-looking chairs.  Shelves covered the entire wall space, stuffed with every manner of books, scrolls, and loose parchment.  Books were stacked haphazardly on the desk as well as the floor and one of the chairs.

    A bespectacled face peered at them from behind one of the book piles on the desk and a smile greeted them.

    “Come in!  Come in!” the old man cried.  He waved to them as he got to his feet.  The top of his head reached only as high as Brydon’s chin.  His hair was nearly gone and what slight wisps remained clung to his round head above his ears, white as goose down.  His face was pleasant, but Brydon refused to let himself be swayed by appearances—a sword lay sheathed upon the desk and a large dagger was visible at the man’s side.  The little man could not be an incompetent fighter to have risen in the ranks and become the Bishop’s secretary.  As if affirming Brydon’s assessment, the guard who had let them in smiled slightly and went out, leaving the old fellow alone with two young armed men.

    “Greetings, Knight Commander,” Brydon said warmly, noting the man’s rank insignia upon the bronze shield adorning his green robes.  “I am Brydon Redwing and this is my companion, Toryn of Redol.  I bring news from Bishop Paryn of Eaglecrest to Bishop Nilyn.”

    Secretary Ulwyn waved them each to a seat.  “No bad tidings, I dare say?” he asked and seated himself behind the desk once more.

    “No, sir,” Brydon assured him.  He rummaged in his pouch for the oilskin bag he had carried all the way from Falara.  Toryn carefully removed a stack of books from the nearest chair and set them on the floor before he seated himself.

    Brydon handed Secretary Ulwyn the packet and sat in another chair—this one surprisingly free of books and scrolls.  The secretary shook out the missives and broke the seal on the first one.  He read it quickly and his bushy eyebrows rose now and again.

    “Quarterly report,” Ulwyn muttered.  “Late, as usual.”  He set it aside and winked at Brydon.  “I suppose the Brotherhood of the Lance has a good excuse, being so far from us, eh?”  Brydon nodded agreeably and the old man opened the second missive. Ulwyn muttered as he read this one.

    “... a handful of knightings... request more supplies, yes, yes, as always... Sir Dorwyn taken ill... hmmm... trouble with Redol...”  The secretary paused at that and looked owlishly at Toryn for a moment.  The Redolian smiled broadly, looking like a black-haired angel.  Ulwyn turned his gaze to Brydon, but forbore asking questions.  He returned his attention to the document.  “... hmmm... Princess Eryka... chosen a suitor—” Ulwyn’s eyes widened.  He stared at Brydon and then grinned hugely.  “Why, congratulations, my boy!” he cried.  “On a Quest!  Nice to see the little minx has a head on her shoulders, to choose one of the Brotherhood.”

    “Thank you, sir,” Brydon said and flushed slightly.

    The old man chuckled and returned to the document.  “... hmmm, and what has she sent you after, eh?  Some girlish bauble...?”  Ulwyn’s face drained of all color and he shot to his feet.  “The Gauntlet of Ven-Kerrick?” Ulwyn bellowed.  “Is the girl mad?!”  He stared meaningfully at Brydon, whose jaw worked a couple of times, but no sound emerged.  Running footsteps approached and the guardsman burst into the room, sword drawn.  Secretary Ulwyn looked at him for a moment and then waved him away apologetically.

    “Sorry, my boy.  Shocking news, is all.  Didn’t mean to cause a ruckus.”

    The guard smiled slightly, nodded, and headed back to his post.  Toryn sank back into the chair and let go of his own sword hilt.  Ulwyn sat down and picked up the parchment once more.

    “The Gauntlet,” Ulwyn murmured, disbelieving.  “Why?”

    Toryn turned curious green eyes to Brydon, who shrugged.

    “She is young, my lord,” he tried to explain.  “And unlikely to travel outside of Falara in her lifetime.  I think she just wants to see something magical.”

    Ulwyn snorted.  “Magical, indeed.  Damned thing kills anyone who touches it.”  The secretary clamped his mouth shut, as if he had spoken too much.  He read the rest of the letter and rolled it up carefully.  He tapped it thoughtfully against his chin as he contemplated Brydon once more.

    “How do you plan to get it away from the Kerricks, my boy?”

    “Why, ask them, of course,” Brydon admitted.  He forestalled Ulwyn’s bark of laughter and continued, “They can send a royal escort to keep it safe.  Surely the Kerricks would be willing to give Falara a brief glimpse of the holy object in the name of international goodwill?”

    Secretary Ulwyn’s amused expression turned thoughtful.  “Very diplomatic of you, my boy.  You might succeed, after all.  Do you want an escort to guide you to Ven-Kerrick?”

    “No, sir.”  Brydon shook his head.  “I do not wish to take anyone from more important duties, especially when my Quest is of a secular nature.”

    The secretary chortled in delight.  “A fine tongue you have, young one.  I shall wish Adona’s blessing on your endeavor.  Will you celebrate evening services with us?”

    “Of course.”  Brydon nodded.  Ulwyn smiled at Toryn.

    “Your Redolian friend is free to join us.”  His eyes sparkled as he went on.  “I do hope you will give me the tale of your companionship one day.”

    “One day,” Brydon promised.  “As time permits.”

    Ulwyn sighed deeply as if mourning the passage of time and Brydon rose.  Toryn stood with him.

    “By your leave, Knight Commander,” Brydon said and touched stiffened fingers over his insignia in salute.  The secretary rose and returned the gesture.

    “Until this evening, Brother Brydon,” Ulwyn responded and gave Toryn a friendly nod.  They went out and Brydon caught Toryn looking at him intently, but the Redolian made no comment.  They traversed the hallway and were allowed egress by the same pleasant guardsman.  The second twin guided them to the iron gate and allowed them through.  It was not until they had crossed the sanctuary and exited the building that Toryn spoke.

    “You are one of them,” Toryn said.  “It never occurred to me before, when you said you had been ‘trained by the Knight-Priests.’  They don’t train outsiders, do they?  You are a Knight-Priest.”

    Brydon smiled.  “Order of Might, Brotherhood of the Lance, Eaglecrest Chapter,” he confirmed, gesturing to the lance embroidered upon his breast.

    Toryn glared at him.  “I tried to kill you!” he snapped. “You could not have mentioned it once?  Does Verana know?  Of course she knows!  You two probably made some secret holy sign to each other and vowed to keep the Redolian in the dark!”  Toryn stalked down the marble steps.  Brydon followed, rather surprised at his censure.  Toryn turned on him.  “Are there any other little secrets you are keeping from me?” Toryn cried.  “Is there anything else strange about you that I should know, Brother Brydon?”

    Brydon pondered for a long moment while Toryn waited impatiently, outwardly fuming.  Finally, Brydon said, “No, not that I can think of.”

    “Nothing at all?” Toryn prodded.

    “No, that should be everything.”

    Toryn nodded curtly and they began to walk back to the Temple of Healing.  After a long silence, Toryn asked quietly, “Why did you never tell me?”

    Brydon shrugged.  “There was not much opportunity upon our first meeting.”

    Toryn glared at him and Brydon chuckled.  He sobered before he continued.  “After that, it did not seem to be a consideration. I set aside my religious duties for the duration of the Quest and there has been no need for me to don the mantle, except for the time I said the final blessing over the bodies of your companions.”  Brydon dispelled the gloom of that image by smiling again.  “I did not think you felt any great need to confess your sins.”

    Toryn snorted, not amused.  “You should have told me at once,” Toryn griped.  “I would never have tried to kill a priest.”

    “You mean you would have gone merrily back to Redol and spared my life after that first attempt?”

    “Yes!”  Toryn admitted vehemently.

    “Then I’m glad I said nothing or you wouldn’t be here now,” Brydon confessed.

    Toryn seemed to consider that for a moment.  “I suppose you’re right.”

    Verana and Davin joined them for a private dinner in one of the smaller rooms of the Temple of Healing.

    “The journey will not be the same without you, Verana,” Brydon told her sadly.  She smiled and saluted him with her wineglass.

    “I have fulfilled my task.  Now I must return to my regular duties.  I feel we shall meet again one day.”

    “A premonition?”  Brydon asked.

    She smiled.  “No.  More of a hope.  Still, you will pass through Kaneelis on your way back to Falara.  You must promise to stop here.”

    “I promise,” Brydon intoned seriously.  “Will you come with us, Davin?” he asked after a pause.

    Davin looked surprised.  “You want me along?”

    “Of course.  Anyone who can hunt like you is welcome.  Besides, I need someone to keep me from killing Toryn once he starts to annoy me.”  Brydon laughed.  Toryn kicked him.

    “Can you leave Alyn?”  Toryn asked Davin a bit snidely.  Davin still spent several hours a day with Alyn.  The silver-haired man flushed and looked at Verana.

    “I believe it will be better for her if you go, although you may not understand why right now,” she said quietly.

    His face grew dark.  “I understand perfectly,” he snapped. Verana made to protest, but he looked at Brydon.  “I will come.”

     Brydon shied his mind away from the sudden image of the cat in the forest and turned to Toryn.  “What about the horses?  Did you ask Alyn if it was permissible for us to take them with us?  It will be much faster than traveling afoot.”

    Toryn studied his fork with great interest.  “She said it would be fine,” he said.  “Of course, she is not exactly in her right mind...”

    “If you think it’s not a good idea, we will leave them here and walk.”

    “No.  If we run into any Akarskans, you can talk them into letting us keep them.  Besides, Alyn told me the horses are unmarked.  Nobody’s property.  No Akarskan’s property.”

    Brydon sighed.  “I hope they see it that way.”

    “Don’t worry.”  Toryn grinned.  Brydon looked dubious, but dropped it.



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