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From WHITE@DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU Tue May 12 10:33:45 1992 Received: from DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU by eff.org with SMTP id AA26757 (5.65c/IDA-1.4.4/pen-ident for ); Tue, 12 May 1992 10:33:35 -0400 Message-Id: <199205121433.AA26757@eff.org> Received: from DUVM by DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU (IBM VM SMTP R1.2.2MX) with BSMTP id 3301; Tue, 12 May 92 10:30:15 EDT Date: Tue, 12 May 92 10:30:07 EDT From: "Avid Reader - Fledgling Writer" To: RITA@EFF.ORG Status: OR 1 / DDDDD ZZZZZZ // D D AAAA RRR GGGG OOOO NN N Z I NN N EEEE || D D A A R R G O O N N N Z I N N N E ||Volume 2 -=========================================================+|) D D AAAA RRR G GG O O N N N Z I N N N E || Issue 4 DDDDD A A R R GGGG OOOO N NN ZZZZZZ I N NN EEEE || \\ \ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- DargonZine Volume 2, Issue 4 09/29/89 Cir 816 -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Contents -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Dragon Hunt 3 Max Khaytsus Naia 25-Yule 7, '13 The Knight of Stone Jon "Grimjack" Evans Yuli 11-22, 1013 Trial before Tribunal Wendy Hennequin Sy 15-22, 1013 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Dragon Hunt Part 3 by Max Khaytsus (b.c.k.a khaytsus%tramp@boulder.colorado.edu) When I was young and foolish, I sought adventure, not realizing what dangers it could bring. Once, when in my early twenties, I signed on a ship going on a foreign safari. The passengers were a mystic, a priest and two warriors, on their way to Gereon, to hunt a dragon rumored to live there. To make a story that may take a book in itself short, one of the two warriors drank the blood of the dragon and bathed his body in it, in hope of becoming invincible. He died a few weeks later, on the return trip, when a mast broke in a storm and crashed down on him. In view of this, I must dispute the myths cast upon dragons. To start with, let me assure you that a dragon is no more than a large lizard. It has not the rump of a lion, nor the forelegs of an eagle, nor the wings of a bat. A dragon is a survivor of times past, when giant lizards still walked the surface of Makdiar. As such a survivor, the dragon is in no way a supernatural or mythical combination of beasts and is completely characteristic of other lizards. Dragons are cold blooded, with scaly skin, a forked tongue and so on, as long as this describes a lizard as well, although there is one notable discrepancy to this rule. Dragons have what can be termed as wings, but from my research and single meeting with a dragon, I feel safe in stating that these are no more than strong membranes binding the extension of the spine to the body, much as the skin on a duck's webbed feet. This trait enables the dragons to fly or more accurately, glide. This leaves one more myth to be disclaimed - the dragon's ability to breath fire. If such an ability, which I will not dispute, exists, I have not witnessed it and so must dismiss it as a mythical ability of this species. Fires and treasures and great intelligence have always been attributed to dragons by legend alone. Perhaps it is some lizard's fetish for shiny objects, just as the crow's, which made its way into folklore and in order to obtain and store the treasure, these lizards were made intelligent. Fire breathing can be just another part of this same myth. The dragon's primeval element is water and all recorded have lived in damp dark caves on shores of large bodies of water or deep inside non-volcanic mountains. No magic, no mystery. A dragon is simply an animal that happened to become famous in folklore and myths. Being a nearly extinct species has contributed to the dragon's fame and fewer sightings and almost no survivors of dragon hunts are what we consider to be a romantic legend. -Bistra, head chronicler, City of Shakin, "The Realities of Myths", pages 81-85 Dead. Rien looked at the body of the hermit. Blade wound in the neck... "It was probably Cril or one of his men," Kera said. Rien fought to retain his sanity. "How long will we be leaving this bloody trail?" he looked at her. 1 "We didn't do this," Kera said. "We only killed those who were after us..." Her voice trailed off, as she realized she had killed two men. "We led them here," Rien glared at her. "We did this." He turned to leave. "Coming?" Kera looked at the dead hermit one last time and followed Rien out. "Aren't we going to bury him?" she asked. Rien paused and looked back. "No," he answered. "We don't have the time." He took two more steps and stopped again. "He did his best to help us. We have to put him to rest." "We need to release the dogs too," Kera added. "They'll starve otherwise." A few hours later Rien and Kera finished with their tasks and returned to the horses. "I was thinking of not returning to Dargon," Rien said. "It would only put us closer to Liriss. Let's go down to Tench. Hopefully that will give us a lead." "I doubt there are any dragons in Tench," Kera said. "It would be easier to find a sage or a scribe or a chronicler to point us on our way in Dargon than in Tench." "Tench is a two street town. There are no sages or scribes there," Rien stated. "Then why go there?" "For a two street town, Tench sees more traffic than Dargon can hope to. We need the people in Tench. A lot of them travel; they see things that may help. Besides, Dargon is not a very safe place for either of us right now." "Do you really consider Dargon to be such a danger?" Kera asked. "I killed Terell. Liriss is probably on a war path by now. There are plenty of other things that would be hard to deal with at a time like this. We have to got to Tench." "But if it's so small..." Kera began. "Why bother going there?" "Hope," Rien answered simply. "Lame Duck Inn?" Kera wondered out loud, stopping in mid stride. Rien bumped into her and thoughtfully looked up at the sign above the door, then guided Kera inside. Across the lobby a small man, with his back to the entrance, was flipping his way through a book. "Excuse me?" Kera approached the counter, seeing that Rien was not going to take charge. "Uh..." the man froze, holding up a page, but then turned it over and continued reading the listings. Kera struck her plated forearm against the top of the counter, making the innkeeper jump. "Yes, yes!" he spun around, startled. "One room or two?" Kera looked at the short balding man with a hint of amusement on her face before answering. "One," she ordered. Rien started to protest, but decided against it. "Right away, right away," the man mumbled, placing the book before her. "Sign in right here," he pointed to a blank line. "Boy!" he screamed into the doorway behind the counter. "Boy!" Moments later a skinny boy, with half open eyes appeared in the doorway. "Show these people to room four," the innkeeper ordered. "And take care of our horses," Kera instructed, returning the book. The boy nodded, circling the counter to the front of the lobby. "This way, please," he said with a sleepy voice. "Coming?" Kera prodeled Rien and he followed her up the stairs. "This town is even smaller than I remember," Rien commented when 1he and Kera were left alone. "It will be a miracle if we will be able to get anything accomplished here." "So will we go on to Magnus?" Kera asked. "No," Rien answered. "Not yet. It was only a passing thought when I mentioned it. Magnus has the resources to help us and I have some friends there who would be willing to help, but we don't have the time. Depending on what we learn here, we may have to return to Dargon...or to Maari. I strongly doubt that there are any dragons in Cherisk." "First time I heard you giving up," Kera commented. "First time I had my back to a wall," Rien said. "You didn't expect me to be all powerful, did you?" Kera shook her head. "No, but I've seen you take on odds I'd turn down." "Like what? Terell the 'great' alchemist? Cril and his men? Liriss' guards in the alley?" Kera nodded. "That wasn't taking on greater odds. That was fighting the way I learned it -- dirty." Rien paced the room, metal sollerets clanking unevenly against the wood floor. "If I would have stopped to think, I would have never drunk Terell's potion, chased you down an alley and I certainly would not have agreed to have sex with you in the middle of a forest. I created my problems by not thinking and had to get out of them by use of force." "Where do elves have sex?" Kera smiled. Rien looked at her sternly, then smiled back. "Ljosalfar do it in the woods. I don't know about Dopkalfar." "So what wrong with the forest?" Kera asked. "I suppose nothing," Rien answered. "Only it's not done while someone is trying to hunt them down." "And anything wrong with this room?" Rien glanced around at the old stained furniture he did not get a chance to look at before. "There's a lot of work to do and you need rest." "Won't you be resting?" Kera asked suggestively. "My rest does not depend on sleep," Rien said and Kera's smile widened. "But I do intend on finding out what this town has to offer," he added hurriedly. The innkeeper was still up, still reading his book where Kera had left it. Rien looked over his shoulder, realizing that it was a ledger, containing guest names, room numbers and lengths of stay. "Is there a tavern here?" "Down the street," the man yawned, not looking up from his work. "Thank you," Rien muttered and walked out of the inn. The town was dead quiet, with the exception of a single noisy building not far away. Rien made his way there and found the bar. A fat balding man was pouring drinks, at times missing the glasses he aimed for. Rien ordered an ale and when it was served, asked the bartender if he knew anything about dragons. The man wandered off laughing to himself. "Pay no attention to him," someone behind Rien said. "By the time it's this late, he's tasted most of what he served." "I wonder how he ever makes a profit," Rien said, turning to face a farmer standing behind him. "You wouldn't know anything about dragons...would you?" "Sorry," the farmer released an abrupt laugh. "You need a sage for that problem. I'm afraid this town is just too small." "I realize that," Rien said. "I'd even venture to say there's no such beast in this whole kingdom," the farmer added. "Why are you asking anyhow?" Rien 1hesitated answering and the farmer went on. "Want to recapture the glory of the old dragon hunts?" Rien smiled silently. "As easily as in a legend..." He returned to the Lame Duck Inn shortly before sunrise and spent the first half of the morning rereading key paragraphs of "The Realities of Myths". By the time Kera came downstairs, the inn was full with people eating breakfast. She found Rien sitting in a corner, going through his book. "You've been at it all night?" she asked. "Since sunrise," he answered. "I spent the night asking questions in the tavern, although most drunks aren't very cooperative." "Did you learn anything?" "One man recommended I find an old witch named Maari in the woods west of here," Rien smirked. "Most people couldn't even recommend that." Kera too smiled, in spite of the graveness of the situation. "What about the book?" "It's about as helpful as Maari. Bistra wrote it for reference, not practical applications." Kera shook her head in dispair. "But I have come to a decision," Rien said. "Having polled most of this town in a single night, I've decided that tomorrow morning we will leave for Magnus." "It will take too long!" Kera gasped. "You won't be leaving any time for yourself!" "I am half human," he reminded her. "I may have more time then they said. The disease may not even have as great an effect on me." "And if you don't have that time?" "Then I'll make sure you have a better chance than you've got now." Kera was about to protest, but kept quiet as two men pushed by her and sat down at a neighboring table. She hesitated talking with strangers so near and was about to ask Rien to move when one of the two new comers started talking. "If the old man wants to have a dragon, he can go hunt one down himself." Kera and Rien looked at each other in disbelief. "Excuse me," Rien leaned to face the new comers. "Did you say dragon?" One man continued sipping his drink as the other turned to look tolerantly at Rien. "Yeah. You dumb enough to go get one?" "Perhaps 'desperate' would be a better choice of words," said Rien. "Room twelve, on the corner," the man answered and returned to his companion. Rien and Kera did not waste any precious time persuing their good fortune and hurried to the specified room. Behind them the two men watched them leave, then one flipped a silver coin, catching it in mid air. "Easiest silver I made all month..." The two laughed merrily, calling for more drinks. A middle aged, grey haired man opened the door for Rien and Kera. He stood as tall as Rien, dressed in a silver and red robe with swirling patterns. "What can I do for you?" he asked with a slight accent, examining the visitors. "We heard you were interested in hunting dragons and became curious," Rien said. "Ah, it is I who is curious about your dragon fetish," the man responded. "Why don't you come in and tell me about it?" Cautiously Rien and Kera stepped into the man's room. They were surprised at the man's approach to their visit and he seemed mildly amused. 1 "Please, don't be surprised by my curiosity," the man said to Rien. "I heard you in the tavern last night and could not help but wonder what you need a dragon for." "You know where there is one?" Rien asked. "First things first," the man said. "Sit down. My story is short, but our discussion may take a while." He waited for Rien and Kera to follow his instructions before continuing. "My name is Gerim Marat, though it should mean nothing to you. I am a jeweler by trade and wizard by profession. I give advice to those who can afford it and will go out of my way for a good adventure." "So are you here for adventure or we for advice?" Rien asked. "Be courteous and introduce yourself first," Gerim suggested. Without hesitation Rien did so. In his view Gerim could be a powerful wizard and these would better be left satisfied with the way the world spins around them. Old lessons taught by wizards are certainly things to remember and keep in mind when talking to men of the trade. "Good, good," Gerim smiled. "Why don't you tell me now what you need a dragon for." "Why do you want to know?" Kera asked in a how-dare-you tone. "If I like your reason well enough," the wizard said, "I may opt to help you." "We don't really need a dragon," Rien admitted. "We need a dragon egg..." "This is the right time of the year," Gerim approved. "Providing that the dragon is in the mating mood, that is. What will you do with it if you get it?" "We were promised medicine for it." "What kind of medicine?" "Aren't you getting a little personal?" Kera lost her temper again. "Perhaps I am," the wizard agreed, "but then I did say it was to be a lengthy discussion." Rien weighed the situation. Neither thinking, nor fighting seemed appropriate here. He clasped Kera's hand in hopes that she will calm down. "The cure is for lycanthropy." Gerim nodded. "May I see your book?" Rien permitted him to take it and the wizard smiled approvingly, flipping through the pages, stopping at the bookmarks. A minute later he returned the volume. "Which of you has the disease?" Kera tried pulling her hand from Rien's grip. "Both of you. I see..." "If this is all you wanted to know," Rien began, getting up and pulling Kera up with him. "No, not yet," the wizard stopped them. "One man yesterday told you to see old Maari and you told him that she is the one who sent you. Is that right? Is she the one who wants the egg?" "She said she needs it as an ingredient," Rien answered. "Good, good," the wizard smiled. "If you return tomorrow at this time, I will have one waiting for you." "And how much will you want for your 'advice'?" "Let's just say it's my adventure," Gerim continued to smile. "Now go. I have a lot of work to do." Rien and Kera left the room, as amazed as they were entering it. "Do you think he is serious?" Kera asked when they were out of the man's hearing range. "He seemed anxious to help," Rien admitted. "I really don't know. We won't lose much if we don't leave tomorrow morning." "Do you think he's a real wizard?" Kera asked again. "We'll know tomorrow," Rien answered. 1 "How? Have you ever seen a dragon egg?" "No, but I assume it's bigger than that of a chicken. Maybe the size of a head." Kera sighed. "I hope you're right." Rien smiled at her. "Go eat breakfast and I'll see to what supplies we may need." "I'm not hungry. I'll go with you," Kera said and leaned on Rien's shoulder. "I wish this was all over. I wish I could relax." "Life was boring when it was simple," Rien put his arm around her. Gerim went into the make shift laboratory, considering what he had just done. If this couple was gullible enough, he could force them to do the job for him. If they weren't...they had to be. It would be a simple con, easy to execute and they would never be in danger...unless they knew or Maari suspected. Gerim approached the crystal ball. "Where are they?" and an image of Rien and Kera exiting the inn appeared. He listened carefully to their conversation, then got up. "They need to be tested..." "I thought you said there wasn't anything to sight see around here." "There wasn't last time I was here," Rien repeated, almost to himself. "That's a pretty big army camp, to be in the middle of nowhere," Kera said. "When's the last time you were here?" "A while back," Rien sighed. It was really before the rule of the previous king. "What's a while in your terms?" "Long enough for this to be built, it would seem..." He sat down in the lush spring grass, pulling Kera down next to himself. "I was really hoping for this to be a bit more deserted..." For the first time Kera realized just how tired and worn out Rien looked. "Why don't you go back to the inn and get some sleep," she suggested. "I can take care of the supplies we need myself." "I'm fine," Rien shook his head. "I'll get some rest tonight." "I wasn't recommending it," Kera insisted. Rien's gaze followed the people practicing in the field. "Trust me, I'm fine." Kera leaned on his shoulder and he shifted so as not to fall over. "I can tell," Kera sighed, as Rien pushed her back, forcing her to the ground. "Don't argue with me," he held her down for a moment. "I was hoping to find a quiet place to soak in the atmosphere. It's not the army camp I should be worried about distracting me -- you do the job well enough alone." Kera sat up, brushing the lose grass off her side, then lunged at Rien, pushing him down under herself. He grunted, rolled over and held her down, reducing her struggling to helpless wriggling. "Cut it out." Kera held still and Rien let her go. They lay next to each other, staring up at the blue sky. "Are you going to trust the wizard?" Kera asked after a few moments of silence. "Probably," Rien said. "Even if he wants some payment, it can't be worse than Maari's, but I want to hear what he has to say first." "What about Maari?" "I can deal with the dragon egg -- a task in itself," Rien began, "but the business of her wanting a subject to cast spells through I 1can not agree to. I wish I could come up with a good way to trick her." "But if you're against what she is doing, why not stop her from doing it?" "That wouldn't be right. If anyone could kill anyone else because they disagree with their basic beliefs, the only rule would be that the strongest rule. I don't believe in making myself an exception to that. Plenty people already do as it is." "So what are you going to do?" Rien turned over, digging his elbows into the ground. "I don't know. Burn that bridge when we get to it." They lay like that for a while longer, enjoying the morning sun without their armor, observing the army camp at the bottom of the hill. "That camp is strategically misplaced," Rien said in a matter-of-fact voice. "It would take them weeks to get to the nearest border..." Kera turned over, adjusting herself to the moving sunlight. "This is wonderful," she muttered completely out of context and Rien sat up. "What?" Kera lay still. "What?" Rien asked again, touching her shoulder. "This is wonderful without armor," Kera mumbled, shifting away from his touch. "Get up," Rien took her arm. "You're not going to fall asleep on me. We still have a lot to do today." Lazily Kera sat up and Rien helped her to her feet. "Let's go find that store." They returned to town and locating the small wooden building named Kristee & Daughter, entered. A mildly overweight woman at the counter greeted the pair and asked what she could get them. "We'd like to look around," Rien answered politely and together with Kera retreated to the shelves of merchandise. "I'll get the rations," Kera said, disappearing deeper into the store after Rien's approving nod. Rien paused at a display of equipment when suddenly he heard the woman at the counter exclaim loudly. "The money," a male voice sounded as Rien turned around. Two men, one with a sword, a second with a crossbow stood between him and the counter. The man with the crossbow motioned to Rien. "Yours too." The woman started frantically placing coins on the table. "You know you won't make it out of town," Rien pointed out. "And who's to stop us?" the man with the crossbow asked. "You?" Rien shrugged. "I doubt it. You seem too determined." "The money," the man repeated. At that time Kera showed up at the front of the store, her arms loaded with goods. "Are you just going to stand there?" she asked Rien before noticing anything wrong. She shifted uncomfortably, looking at the two armed men. "I'll wait back there..." "Your money," the man with the crossbow repeated. Rien noticed Kera balancing what she carried on one hand and immediately stepped forward, handing his money to the brigand and blocking Kera from his view. When he stepped back, Kera stood perfectly still. "You too," the man indicated to Kera, who slowly bent down, put what she carried on the floor and straitened with a sudden flick of the wrist. The crossbow went off in panic, the bolt harmlessly hitting a wall and the man who fired it sank to his knees, grasping a dagger 1stuck in his stomach. Kera pulled out another dagger. The man with the sword hesitated -- try throwing a sword at a dagger. "Take your friend and go," Rien instructed. "Or she may hack you too." The man hastily sheathed his sword and scooped some money off the counter. "Leave the money," Rien added and the man, supporting his companion beat a hasty retreat. "Oh, mercy!" the woman exclaimed, looking from Kera to Rien and back again. "How could I ever thank you? Oh... Just take what you wanted to buy and don't bother paying for it!" "That's quite all right, madam," Rien smiled. "It was our pleasure to help. No gratitude is needed." "I insist!" the woman exclaimed again. "You can't even imagine how much help you were! Now you see, normally one of the nice young men from Lord Morion's school is here to help me if I need it, but this time..." She was certainly long winded... The crystal ball grew dark as its owner stood up. His own quest would soon come to an end. "A test well passed, but you two will yet do my job for me...I wish I could help your quest as well..." ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 The Knight of Stone by Jon "Grimjack" Evans (b.c.k.a. v047kfz7@ubvms) Setting rays silhouette the figure of a knight on a horse, poised on a hill. The rain fell heavily from the dark grey sky, as the sun dropped behind the trees to the west. Jaryn, ankle deep in the muddy waters of the graveyard, stared at the stone monument honoring his father's life. "Here lies Sir Karl von Gruen," read the headstone, "honorable knight of his Royal Majesty, the King." Jaryn gripped the sword at his side tightly, remembering the day, four years ago, when his older brother left to avenge their father's death. "If I'm not back in a year, my brothers," he heard Mark say, "the next son must follow." That meant young Karl, our father's namesake. Jaryn pulled the grey hood of his cloak over his soaked blonde hair and turned toward the gates. That day came and went, he thought, and Karl repeated those same words to Dirk, the third son of the dead knight. Karl left with the hope of rescuing Mark and defeating our father's murderer at the same time. That year passed just as quickly as the first; and, on the second anniversary of their father's death, Dirk said to Jaryn, "Keep the family name alive. Marry before you leave in search of our honor." And then Jaryn was alone. Stepping into the stables, he called the boy to fetch his horse. By the third anniversary of Sir Karl's passing, Jaryn had not married. He still had dreams of falling in love and raising children, and he hated his father for dying at the hands of a foreigner, and he hated his brothers for not succeeding in their quest, leaving him alone without hope of a life of peace. On that day, he sank to his knees in the mud, crying before the monument of his father, hating the world for the poor lot he was given. Jaryn mounted his beast, accepted his lance, and left the stables on a journey marked for him four years before. On the fourth anniversary of his lord's demise, he left his wife and son, the last bearers of his proud family name, and entered the graveyard to mourn, one last time, his father's death. He did not expect to return. A flash of lightning captures the figure of a charging knight in a split second of daylight. Jaryn knew what must be done, and he knew where he had to do it. His enemy lies beyond the hills to the south, in the land called Caeredwyn. Jaryn was no fool, however, and knew his enemy should be expecting him. Three times before, his enemy had defeated his father's sons; and three times before, he knew they would be coming. Jaryn hid his approach not with stealth or cunning, but with a field of grey on his shield. He would not carry the family crest as did his brothers for he had adopted this new banner. The grey of the stone monument erected for his father, and the greyness which filled his life since his first brother's leaving. He spurred his mount lightly as he approached the open fields of oats filling the lands outside his father's home. The huts on the horizon belonged to his subjects, the farmers who worked day and night to produce the grain which kept them alive. What a simple life, thought Jaryn as he rode over the lands. To be alive and happy, married to the woman of your choice rather than one chosen for you, having only to plant the seed and harvest it. I wish I could be one of you, not bound by honor to defend a king you hardly know, or a father who never had time for anything but his land. To be able to grow old 1with my wife, to raise my children, and not to worry about the politics and economics of the realm. I am cursed, instead, with the wealth of previous oppressors, duty bound to tax you, and pressed to defend my family's name. Such a simple life you have. Pulling himself from his dreams of sunny days in the fields with a beautiful wife and three strong sons, he looked out toward the slowly approaching hills on the horizon. By morning he would reach them, nine days he would travel through them, and then he would meet his enemy. The stone knight's lance pointed at its target, ready to strike. Along the road through the hills, Jaryn came across a peasant with a broken cart. He looked at the man, so pitiful and old, and thought that surely there would be another passerby to help him. It was beneath Jaryn's station to help him, and he didn't want to touch the grimy fielder's cart, in any event. First able person I encounter I will send to help you, old man. And he rode past, hiding his face behind the grey steel visor of his helm. Farther along, he encountered a group of young men, healthy looking, and apparently more wealthy by the swords at their sides. He told them of the man in the road, and they laughed. It had been their work, and wasn't that a nice horse he was riding, and a fine lance and blade by his side. They didn't have to explain the situation to him, and he hastily grasped his lance, striking the first of the group. Red blood poured out of the man's throat as the lance struck into his neck. A gasp, a cry, and the man fell to the ground with a dull thud. Jaryn looked at the corpse in surprise, and shock. He's dead, he thought as he watched the blood mix with the muddy puddle at his horse's feet. Several times he was struck by the weakly swung blades of his opponents, but he never noticed. He was untouchable in his armor and his melancholy. He dropped the lance and drew forth the great blade his father had made for him when he was barely strong enough to lift it. Its weight was familiar to him, and gave him the strength to look back at his attackers. He felt little or no remorse, now, as he lopped off one man's head, and separated another's arm from its shoulder. The remaining two fled the unfeeling knight, hoping for a more favorable encounter in another territory. Jaryn wiped his blade and sheathed it. He would leave the lance for any who would take it. It was his no longer, and he thanked the thieves for ridding him of such an ignoble tool. He would face his enemy with a sword, not the cowardly weapon his enemy had used to pierce his father's throat. A shield of stone hung on the knight's arm, ready to defend its owner from the oncoming blows of the enemy. Jaryn arrived in Caeredwyn with much ado. The people did not often see strangers from other provinces, and rarely a lord. With my shield of grey, he will not realize who I am until I challenge him, thought Jaryn. He rode up to the gates of the keep, and called for permission to enter. Jaryn gained the courtyard and begged an audience with the lord of the manor. Upon seeing his enemy, he spoke. You are Kalen-Ord, the lord of this keep? My name is Jaryn von Gruen. I have come to avenge my father's death at your hands, these four years past, as well as the death of my brothers before me. I will meet you in combat of arms in the fields outside your keep when the sun is low in the sky. And Jaryn left. There was now much talk going on in the town and its surrounding villages. Once more, Jaryn looked out over the peaceful people of the land. They looked just like the peasants of his own land. They spoke 1the same language as his people. They had the same simple life his people did. Again, he longed for a simple life; more so now than before, since he knew his life would soon end. He wished to see his wife again, to hold his son in his arms once more, and to taste the wines his people made for the summer festival one last time before he died. He had had enough of this. Honor and pride had given him nothing in life, and had taken his father and three brothers from him besides. He would not fight Kalen-Ord. He would not avenge his father. He would go home, love his wife, raise his son, and rule his land. And there was Kalen-Ord, with hundreds of villagers following him, out to see their lord defend his honor. The grey stone visor hid the stoney eyes beneath the helm, the last defense for the knight of stone. Kalen-Ord drew up to Jaryn and asked him where his lance had gone. I do not use a lance, Kalen-Ord, Jaryn replied. It is the weapon which slew my father, and probably my brothers, and so I will not use it. I will not fight you, Kalen-Ord. I have changed my mind. Honor and pride have only lost me my family, and I do not wish to die. You have changed your mind? Kalen-Ord was much surprised, and slightly annoyed. I wish I could accept that, young von Gruen, but I cannot. You have challenged me in the presence of my people, dishonored me, and called me a murderer. Your brothers did so before you, and I can only hope Sir Karl did not have more children such as these. I tire of killing young souls in the name of honor, but let it be known that I never challenged them to battle. I sought to ally your father to me, those years ago, when I was fearful of more powerful lords. It was his challenge I faced, when his honor was bruised, and it has been his sons' ever since. You cannot change your mind, boy, as I cannot change the past. And so, he swung his horse around and galloped a distance. Jaryn would face the lance of Kalen-Ord with but a sword. He did not care. He hoped his son would not follow in his footsteps, as he and his brothers had followed in their's. It was decided in the first pass as Kalen-Ord's lance knocked Jaryn to the ground. The blood flowed slowly from his chest, his wound barely worth the effort to heal it. Stripping his helm from his face, he spat on his sword and flung it from him. Kalen-Ord rode to him and dismounted. My honor is satisfied, young lord. I still have no wish to kill you. You may go in peace. And Kalen-Ord, Lord of Caeredwyn, rode back to his keep, his people straggling behind. Jaryn rose to his feet and looked at his wound. It was nothing, but it would scar and remind him of this day for the rest of his life. He stripped his armor from his body and mounted his horse. He would return to the house of his father, now his house, and love his wife and hold his son and rule his lands. A grey statue of stone stood in the graveyard of his father, the figure of a knight on a charging war horse, the monument to his life. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Trial by Fire Part II Trial Before Tribunal by M. Wendy Hennequin (b.c.k.a. HENNEQUI_WEM@CTSTATEU) Luthias stormed into the Duke of Dargon's office as if he were the god of war. "Coranabo has accused my Castellan of conspiracy against the crown!" Clifton blinked. "You're really having a hard time of it lately, aren't you?" he joked, smiling, but the smile only adjusted the lips; it didn't glow in the Duke's eyes. The teasing didn't work. Luthias was furious. "This is serious, Clifton. There are witnesses! I have to try my own Castellan!" "Coranabo is saying that Ittosai--" "Yes, for the third time!" Luthias shouted, pounding his cousin's desk. "The Tribunal wants the trial in two days." The Duke of Dargon leaned back in his cushioned chair. "There is evidence, you said?" "Witnesses...a witness. A townsman, who overheard something at the Sy tourney..." "Credible?" "I don't believe him," Luthias revealed. "I know Michiya has too much honor to--to--" Luthias didn't even want to say it, didn't want to think it. "Yes, cousin," Clifton said carefully, "but there's a witness." "Am I to believe that scum over my own Castellan?" Suddenly, the young Baron of Connall stared at the Duke in horror. "Clifton, you don't think that--" Clifton Dargon smiled. "My dear cousin," he said, a lilt of mild mocking in his tones, "if you, practical as you are, can see all the evidence and dismiss it as nonsense, so can I. Besides," he continued, before Luthias could become much angrier, "I agree with you. Ittosai Michiya is much too honorable to do such a thing. Sit." Obligingly, Luthias sunk into a chair. "Where is Ittosai?" "In Connall. I insisted that he be released into my custody." "What does he have to say about all this?" "What do you expect? Michiya told me he was innocent, that--" What had Ittosai said exactly, and what had the witness said? Carefully, Luthias told his cousin the Duke what the witness had reported, and what the Castellan of Connall had told him. Clifton frowned. "I am more inclined to believe Michiya." "As am I." Luthias frowned. "Yet I am the one who must try to prove him guilty!" "I hate to have to fight you, cousin," Clifton sighed, "but I'm going to defend him." Clifton grimaced. "War with Bichu...but both you and Sir Edward agree that war with Bichu..." "Ittosai is falsely accused," Luthias said with conviction. "I know, manling," Clifton returned with gravity, "but you must try to prove the lies." Separating the Barony of Connall from the Barony of Coranabo was the wide river Coldwell which flowed from the mountains to Dargon, and thence to the sea. Its shore in Connall was bordered by trees, in which Roisart, Luthias, Clifton, and Myrande had established a retreat when they were younger. An archery range and a pell had been long set up for private practicing. By a bend in the river where the Connall twins and their cousin and Myrande often swam was a clearing they used for picnics and privacy. Here Luthias came to escape his own thoughts and his own barony. 1Here, by the river range, there were three things in the entire world: the pell, his arm, and his sword. And the heat: stripped to the waist, he imagined an enemy and fought. One blow, then another. A triple blow. A blow to the waist, to the head, to the right, to the left. A twisting shot that wrapped his sword to the helmet area. There was a horse coming slowly behind him. He saw it out of the corner of his eye, but did not stop. The horse was black and the rider small: Sable. Luthias smiled slightly, and continued to fight. The contact of wooden sword and wooden pell rang in the woods and beat out the rhythm of the fight. One blow, a second, two quick shots. Keep the rhythm. Strength flowed from Luthias' arm, but the power came from the movement of his body. Without moving his arm, he could twist and hit the pell and sound a ringing blow. On the helm from the right, from the left, a twisting blow that would hit from behind. Right arm. Left arm. Right leg. Left leg. Thrust. Thrust to the face. Helm right, helm left, helm thrust, helm wrap. Right leg, left leg... Finally, a soft pair of arms gently encircled his waist. The Baron of Connall smiled and allowed his tired arm to drop. Panting only slightly, he said, "I wondered how long you were going to stand there and watch me." Her hair brushed against his sweaty back. "You look beautiful when you fight, Luthias," she replied softly. The Baron of Connall laughed heartily. "You look beautiful all the time." He put his free, left hand over her arms. "Don't mock me," she warned, slightly testy, starting to draw away. "Never, Sable," he promised sincerely, patting her wrists. "So," he continued in a light, jesting tone, "did you come out here only to admire my body, or are you going to practice with me?" Luthias could almost feel his seneschal's smile. "Neither, actually," she bantered playfully. "I came here to seduce you." "Mmmm," Luthias chuckled deep in his throat with amusement and anticipation. Slowly, he reached his left arm in back of him and drew Myrande forward as he savored the idea. My father will return from the dead and kill me! Still, it reminded him of something he had been trying to tell Myrande before the tournament. He looked down at her, not relinquishing the embrace. "We must talk, Sable." "Can it wait?" she pleaded. "For what?" "For the real reason I came here. The Knight Commander's come to see you." The young Baron of Connall wasn't certain whether to feel despair or amusement. "And here I am, sweating and dirty!" Myrande patted his stomach lightly. "How do you think he got to be Knight Commander? By practicing on the pell and getting sweaty and dirty! In any case, I knew you were practicing so I brought you a change of clothes. Why don't you leap into the river to wash some of the dust off?" Luthias nodded, squeezed her waist once, then ran off toward the river. He stripped off his breeches and dived into the Coldwell. It usually was a chill river, especially as far north as Connall was, but with the recent heat wave, it was actually warm. Luthias submerged himself, then rose to see Myrande laying out his clothing on the grass. Luthias began to swim toward shore. "Give me a minute," Myrande requested. "For what?" "To give you some privacy." 1 Luthias snorted. "You've seen me like this before." "Only by accident." It was true; still, the Baron Connall's laugh echoed like a merry shout, "You come here and admire my body, and now you don't want to see it!" Myrande shook her head and made her escape. Luthias laughed again, left the water, and dressed himself. He met Myrande near the pell. Eyes closed, she was lying on the grass, resting near her steed. Luthias reached down to touch her. "Come on, sleepy." She opened her eyes and smiled. "Yes, sir." Luthias offered his hand, and, taking it, Myrande pulled herself to a sitting position. Gingerly, she felt at the chopsticks which she had placed, crossing, in the back of her head, above the dark braid. "That isn't comfortable," she chuckled. "Why wear them, then?" Luthias asked, hauling her to her feet. "Michiya advised it, with all the fuss about Shipbrook," she revealed, smiling. "I think he's afraid for me." "What good are those things going to do you?" Myrande reached back and pulled forth one of the ivory sticks for Luthias' inspection. The Baron of Connall took it and glanced at its steel-tipped point. Carefully, he pricked his finger with the tip. It was sharp as a dagger. "They're used in Bichu as weapons of last resort," Myrande explained. "Michiya wants to make certain I can defend myself at all times." "Good," Luthias approved, returning the ornament. "Michiya's a good man, and he's right: you should be ready and able to defend yourself at all times." "Do you suspect more trouble with Baron Shipbrook?" "Not really," Luthias told her, "but I still want you prepared." He smiled tiredly. "And I was going to grow up to be your Knight, Sable, to protect you from this sort of thing." Smiling, Myrande slipped her small arm around his waist. "You do," she assured him, standing on her toes to kiss his cheek. "And you will be a Knight someday." The Baron grinned at her quietly. "Let's hope so, Sable. Are you ready to go?" "Of course. Where's Dragonfire?" she inquired, looking for Luthias' horse. "I walked. We'll have to ride together." He swung onto the mare's back and, without asking, lifted Myrande to sit in front of him. With one hand, he took the reins; with his left, he held his seneschal. Slowly, he started the horse. As much as he wanted to hurry, he didn't want to ride the animal too hard: it was infernally hot. He would have to make his excuses to the Knight Commander when they arrived. For a while, they rode silently. "Did Sir Edward say what he wanted to see me for?" the Baron asked his seneschal finally. She shook her head. "No. I was wondering, but I didn't ask." Luthias thought about it. "He probably wants to talk to me about Magnus." "Magnus?" "He wants me to go to Magnus to train under him. He says I'd be a Knight by the next Melrin." Suddenly, Myrande looked up at Luthias with elated admiration. "When are you leaving?" Luthias was silent a moment. He guided the horse around a few stones. "I may not go." Sable's expression snapped into concern and confusion. "What? But all your life, you've wanted--" "Do you think I'd leave you?" Luthias challenged, anger 1smoldering beneath his words. "I don't understand," Myrande answered slowly. "I'm a woman now, Luthias. You don't need to stay here and protect me--" "With Oleran--" "Michiya's been making certain that no man would ever touch me unless I allow it," Myrande retorted, her words crisp. "Besides, do you think I would ever allow you to give up your dream because of me?" After a moment of silence, Luthias said, "Sable, I don't want to leave you." "What?" Myrande asked, as if she couldn't believe what she had heard. "I don't want to leave you," Luthias repeated, and it was true. Luthias wasn't certain why, but it was true. Myrande bowed her head. "Then I'll go with you. I won't let you give up any chance for Knighthood because of me." Luthias smiled. "What would you do in Magnus?" "What do I do here?" she returned, smiling at him. "If you don't want to leave me, I'll go with you." She bowed her head again. "Truth be told, I don't want you to leave me. Now," she concluded, resuming her jocularity, "no more arguments--or excuses." Of course, if she by some miracle approved his other idea, it would be normal that she go with him to Magnus..."We'll talk later," he promised both her and himself. "We'll see." They soon arrived at the keep. Luthias tossed the reins to a stable lad. "Where's the Knight Commander?" he asked Myrande. "In the study." "When you get a break, join me there," Luthias commanded. He nodded to her once then hurried through the halls to his study. When he arrived, the Knight Commander was standing opposite the cold hearth, staring at the portrait that hung there. Sothos turned. "Baron," he greeted Luthias, stepping forward and offering his hand. Luthias shook the hand heartily. "Sorry to keep you waiting, Sir Edward," the young Baron apologized. "I was out practicing." "So Lady Myrande said." The Knight Commander smiled. "As I'm expecting war, Luthias, I can wait for a warrior who practices." Luthias returned the smile thinly. Edward gazed up at the picture, which portrayed a tall beauty with auburn hair, smiling blue eyes, and skin the color of apple blossoms. "A relative of yours?" Luthias glanced at the portrait quickly, then averted his eyes. "My mother." "I don't remember meeting her when I visited Sir Lucan all those years ago," Edward mused. "I should think not," Luthias returned, his smile strained. "She's been dead twenty-one years. My father never removed the portrait, however." Out of respect for his father, Luthias vowed he never would, either, but he didn't want to talk about his mother. "To what do I owe this visit, Sir Edward?" "You have Castellan Ittosai here in your keep, correct?" Luthias nodded. "The Tribunal allowed, at my insistence, that he be in my custody." Sir Edward sat. "Be so good as to summon him." Luthias opened the door and bellowed for one of the men-at-arms. "Bring the Castellan to the study, and treat him respectfully." "Of course, Baron," the soldier agreed, confused. Luthias smiled; despite the rumors of war and the accusations against Ittosai, the men-at-arms of Connall still respected him. "It seems your men have no suspicion of Ittosai," Edward observed. "Some do," Luthias confessed. "I'm having Macdougalls, my assistant castellan, keep an rein on them. Some have been ready to 1tear him apart ever since Yuli, when the rumors about the war started." The Knight Commander made a face. "I would suspect." There was a discreet knock on the door. Luthias opened it. A guard stood with Ittosai Michiya, who stared directly through the young Baron. "Leave us," Connall told the guard curtly. The man looked confused, but bowed spartanly and obeyed. Luthias shut the door and turned to Sir Edward. "The Knight Commander wanted to see you, Michiya." Aloof, Ittosai bowed toward Sothos. "I am wondering," Sir Edward began, his face stern, "what you think of these accusations against you, Lord Ittosai." The Bichanese Castellan's face was immobile. "They are absurd, lord Commander." "You are not guilty, then?" Again, Michiya's face did not move; he was too proud to show his emotions. Luthias, however, could tell that his Castellan was seething at the fact that anyone would question his honor. "I would not do such a dishonorable act, nor would I dishonor Luthias-sama so. I am innocent." Suddenly, Sir Edward's face relaxed. "I believe you," he revealed matter-of-factly. "And you, Luthias, what do you think?" "I know Michiya well enough to know he would do no such thing, and that he would not lie to me," Connall affirmed, his voice guarded. He didn't know what this was leading to, but he didn't like it. "He is innocent." Ittosai Michiya's mouth twitched a little towards a smile. "I think I am being used as...what is it?...a scapegoat, because people fear the war and fear my country will invade yours." "It's more than that, I think," Edward sighed. "Luthias, why would anyone bring charges against Castellan Ittosai?" "It's as he said," Luthias began. "The people are mad to see war--" "No!" Sothos interrupted quickly, "You're thinking as a lawyer, Luthias. It doesn't become you. Think as a general." Luthias' mind raced. If he were a general, why would he accuse Ittosai? "The war. They're trying to start a war with Bichu!" The Baron of Connall swore violently. "It's the same reason they killed Roisart and my father. The same God-damned merchants who hired men to kill my brother are accusing Ittosai and are trying again to start a war!" "I too came to that conclusion," Edward finished softly. "However, I didn't know that merchants were behind the plot against Lord Dargon and your father." The Knight Commander appeared deeply concerned. "You must prove this false, Luthias. A war with Bichu would be a major mistake." "The King must declare war," Luthias pointed out. "It would be easy to advise him otherwise--" "If the mob is like this, there will be no help for it." "He speaks truth," Ittosai interjected. "The King cannot control hysterical men." "And there are war-mongers in Magnus," Edward added. "You've got to find a way to expose this accusation." "You should be having this talk with Clifton," Luthias protested grimly. "I am the one who is trying to prove these jack-asses are right." "The Duke of Dargon is an intelligent and educated man," Edward said, "but he might not see the connection you did." "Don't underestimate him," Luthias laughed shortly, but the laugh was not merry. The anger that he had beaten into the pell was 1returning, fast and furious as floodwaters. "He reads books of war, too." "You must do something," Edward repeated. "The Duke will put his Duchy before principle." "He's not defending principle here," Luthias returned. "He's defending Michiya!" "Luthias-sama," Michiya began, "you truly understand, as the Duke does not--" "Don't you see?" Luthias snapped. "I am the Duke's Advocate. I can't defend you. I know they're wrong. I know this whole business is wrong. War with Bichu is wrong. But I can't do anything! I can't do anything!" Another knock sounded. "What?" Luthias demanded angrily. Myrande, in a streaked dress, poked her head just inside the study. "What do you want?" Concern laced with anger adorned her face. She paused, as if unsure which emotion should take precedence. Tact and courtesy overruled them both. "I came to ask if the Knight Commander is remaining for supper." "Please do," Luthias invited, his politeness somehow not strained by anger. But he was angry--furious!--at the Tribunal, at the mob, at the merchants, and at himself, for he had taken his anger out on Myrande. "With pleasure," Sothos accepted, smiling. The grin did funny things to his scar, Luthias thought dispassionately. The seneschal nodded and began to shut the door, but Luthias halted it with his hand. "I'm sorry, Sable," he apologized softly. "Look, we need to talk." She smiled, accepting his apology, nodded, and shut the door. And then he remembered: the trial was tomorrow. With company tonight, he would not have a chance to speak to Sable for two days. Damn! The heat still prevailed, and on the day of Ittosai Michiya's trial before the Tribunal, the sun rose an ominous scarlet. The Baron of Connall, swathed in the hue of that bloody sunrise, entered the Hall of the Tribunal within Dargon Keep in the same manner he would have approached a battlefield. He looked so fierce at the injustice and his own impotence that no one, not even Sir Edward who had come to observe, dared to say a word against the sword he had improperly worn into a court of law. Seeing his placid cousin and stoic Castellan calmed Luthias a little, but did nothing to cool his rage. There was a year of injustice behind it: his father's meaningless death, his brother's sudden murder, his new, horrible responsibilities, Sable's broken heart, and now this...this! his friend accused of conspiracy. And he had to prove it. And he knew better; he knew better! He knew, Sir Edward knew, and there was nothing either of them could do. Luthias bowed to the Tribunal, who sat up on a dais: Baron Coranabo to his right; Baron Vladon in the center; and Baron Winthrop on the left. In front of the dais was a table, behind which sat Chronicler Rish Vogel, whom Luthias knew slightly. Apparently, he was acting as Scrivener in the case. Behind Luthias were two benches, one for him and the other for the accused. Baron Vladon, as elected head of the Tribunal, spoke softly and solemnly. "We are familiar with this case," he addressed both Clifton and Luthias. "We know that Castellan Ittosai--" How they mangled his very name! "--is accused of conspiring against the King of Baranur to begin a war with Bichu. You have witnesses, Baron Connall?" Luthias nodded. "And you, your grace?" Clifton nodded once. "Advocate, begin." 1 Luthias stood. "As you have said, sir," he began, "Castellan Ittosai Michiya is accused of conspiracy against the Crown. The charge was made by one merchant called Danal. I call forth this merchant Danal to testify." A mousy man with greedy eyes slunk forward like an animal afraid of a beating. He bowed to the Barons on the Tribunal, then faced the Duke's Advocate, who glared at him with merciless eyes. "You heard a conversation," Luthias prompted, "between two men." "Yes, so please your lordship," answered the merchant. His voice was high-pitched and nervous. It grated upon Luthias' ears and increased his rage. "Between that man--" He pointed wickedly at Ittosai Michiya, who sat erect and unmoving beside the Duke, "--and another man of his country." "Who was this other?" "A merchant, who sold near my stall. I do not know his name. I saw the Castellan walk away with two swords and some chop sticks from this other merchant." Oh, Michiya, Luthias thought desperately, my katana and the sharp hair pieces for Sable. Presents, mere presents! Why couldn't you have waited? "And where is he now?" "I don't know, lordship. I haven't seen him since that day." Luthias switched his gaze to the Tribunal. "I have sent the city guards in search of this merchant. It seems that he left for Bichu that afternoon, before the ball." Baron Vladon nodded, and Luthias continued. "What did this merchant and the Castellan say?" "They spoke of Bichu," Danal whined, "and a coming invasion." "What did they say?" Luthias repeated. "I told you," the man wheezed. "They spoke of the coming invasion that Bichu plans to send." Clifton stood. Luthias looked at him, unsure. Didn't he have the floor? "I invoke the right of the Defender to interject questions when I so deem," Clifton announced, by way of explanation. Luthias nodded his permission. "Did they speak of the *rumors* concerning the invasion?" "They spoke of battle plans," Danal corrected, wringing his greedy, sweaty hands. Luthias found himself wishing to strike the man. "Of a time table. And of some men here helping them." "Did they say how they were involved?" Luthias asked. "That man--" Again, the ugly, knobby man pointed his dagger-like finger and knife-like gaze at Luthias' Castellan. "--was to open the river Coldwell to the Bichanese ships. They were then to take Dargon City and Dargon Keep." Out of the corner of his eye, Luthias saw the Knight Commander's scar twitch with displeasure. Take the Coldwell River, then Dargon and Dargon Keep? Luthias almost snorted. The Coldwell would hold no strategic value; Dargon was too well fortified to take, and the Ducal navy, headed by Clifton himself who was a good seaman by inclination, would take out any Bichanese ships as if they were toys. Luthias angrily hoped that this was a bold lie. He would hate to think that the Bichanese were that stupid. "How did you understand them?" Clifton inquired, relaxing slightly. "Did they not speak Bichanese?" "I understand Bichanese," the merchant told the Duke proudly. Rish Vogel shifted uncomfortably. Suddenly, Luthias remembered that Vogel spoke Bichanese. It would be a good test of the witness...but surely, Clifton would bring that up later. It was just the sort of angle Clifton would try. "They spoke of men here who were to help them," Danal finished. "Men in Baranur aligned with them?" Baron Winthrop burst out. "Who? I demand it!" 1 "They mentioned no names," Danal revealed, slowly, as if he were calculating something. Behind him, the Baron of Coranabo leaned forward in his seat. "But they did mention a Duke." "A Duke?" Coranabo shouted, leaping to his feet. The Baron glared at the Duke of Dargon. "No wonder you sprang to the spy's defense!" For a moment, the Duke of Dargon could do nothing but stare. "You accuse me of treason?" Clifton finally asked, his voice hoarse with astonishment. "I do," Coranabo stated firmly. Very, very slowly, Luthias turned toward Coranabo. "My lord," he began, his voice steady, but very controlled, "this is a heavy accusation you make. You need proof--" "Did not the merchant say the Duke--" "The merchant," Luthias interrupted, his fists curled so tightly that they glowed white, "said *a* Duke. Not the Duke of Dargon." Sir Edward Sothos, behind Luthias, rose. Baron Vladon spoke. "You know that when the highest noble of the Duchy is accused, Coranabo, the matter is brought before the King. The Duke's Advocate is correct. The word of a mere merchant is hardly enough to accuse the Duke of Dargon for treason before the Crown of Baranur. The Duke's Advocate will need proof of a more substantial sort to try the case, if one can be made, before King Haralan." "Very well," Coranabo replied easily. "The matter can be settled simply enough. If the Duke is involved, there will be some sort of indication in his home, will there not?" "I cannot believe this," Clifton interjected, anger and incredulity spilling over. "I am no traitor!" "Then allow us to search your keep," Coranabo argued. "If you are innocent, as you say, then the search can do no harm." Helplessly, Luthias turned to his cousin. "He's right, you know," he whispered. "And unless you allow the search, he'll bring you before the King himself." Scowling, Clifton waved his permission and turned away. Baron Vladon stood. "Bring the accused," he instructed calmly. Two city guards came forward, but did not lay a hand on either Ittosai or the Duke. Ominously, Luthias left the room, and the rest followed him to Dargon Keep. "It's all right, Lauren," Clifton said softly to his wife when they entered, but his eyes betrayed everything. One look at Luthias' smoldering eyes flooded her face with panic. "What is it?" she whispered. "Stupidity, nothing," Clifton returned as Luthias angrily ordered the search. "The trial?" Clifton closed his eyes. "Nothing--worse--where is your father? Send for him." As the Duchess did so, a soldier walked up to Luthias. "The desk in the office is locked." Luthias' mouth became taut. "Your grace," he addressed his cousin formally, "I will need the key." Clifton's eyes raged at his younger cousin, and angrily, he reached in his pocket. "I'll do it," the Duke decided, marching into the study. The Baron of Connall followed, hurt that his cousin apparently blamed this on him. What could he do about it? The Duke halted abruptly before his desk, thrust the key into its hole, and yanked the drawer open. He stepped back and threw a contemptuous look at the soldiers and the Tribunal. "There. Look if you must." Luthias frowned and turned to leave. He couldn't remain in here. His cousin's arm stopped him. "Hey, manling," Clifton whispered, 1looking where the soldiers searched, supervised by Vladon and Coranabo, "I'm sorry. This isn't your fault." "This is ridiculous," Luthias replied. "I--" "So you are innocent?" Coranabo yelled triumphantly, almost dancing to the Duke. "Kindly explain this!" He held out a large piece of parchment, heavily embossed with the Duke's seal. Concerned, Clifton took it, read it over. "I don't understand this," he muttered. "It's my hand...my signature...but I've never seen this document before in my life." Luthias frantically snatched it, read it, recognized his cousin's seal and signature as easily as the Duke himself had. And then he stared at his cousin, pain and horror in his eyes. With a heavy, worried look on her face, Myrande Shipbrook raced through her duties. Something was wrong, very wrong, and Luthias wasn't talking. Nothing new: he and Roisart had almost never spoken to her about their troubles. Yet, whatever was so wrong couldn't be left in silence. Myrande shuddered when she recalled how Luthias appeared when he returned to Connall Keep alone. His face was pale, full of shock, horror, pain, and yes, fear. The look had frightened her. She had only seen Luthias look that way once before. It was the night Roisart had died, and Luthias became Baron; he had been stunned, appalled, hurt, and terrified then, too. "My lady," Mika, her assistant called, "all is ready for the storm." Myrande nodded. She had been watching the storm come since before sunset. Lightning had started soon after, and the winds were high and hard. Myrande could hear them, even in the little keep that served the Connall family as a town house. She went to the wall and opened the window. Now, nearing midnight, the warm, rushing wind smelled of rain. Lightning flashed across the sky, cutting it cleanly. It would be a ravaging storm, no worse than the one that was laying waste to Luthias. Damn it all! What could it be? Myrande had no clue. The servants that had accompanied Luthias knew nothing. Luthias had dismounted his horse slowly, looked at her once, and went straight to his study and closed the door tightly. Myrande had called him, had knocked on the study door, but had not received an answer. Enough. Myrande gave a few final instructions to the servants. Let them finish the duties by themselves for once! Luthias needed her--now! With a swift, determined stride, she made her way to the Baron's study and tried the door. Locked. Myrande's lips tightened for a moment, then she grasped the keys which hung on her belt. Normally, she wouldn't have even thought of unlocking the door and intruding on Luthias' privacy, but this was important, and by God, what was the use of being seneschal if you couldn't use your keys? She quickly unlocked the door and shoved it open. "Go away, Sable!" Luthias called angrily from behind the desk. Myrande swayed backward a moment, his rage greeting her like a blow. The study was dark, except for a fire in the hearth, and the abrupt flares of lightning from outside. The window of the study was open, and the wind whipped the curtains and Luthias' hair mercilessly. The Baron himself was standing, tall, ominous, and half-dressed, behind his desk. In his left hand, he held a half-empty brandy decanter. The other hand held his glass. His shirt and the red tunic of his office lay flung on the floor. The look of fright, hurt, shock, and horror remained, but it was now flavored with fury. He stared at his seneschal coldly and gulped some of the amber brandy as if in defiance 1of her. Myrande almost shuddered; for the first time in her life, Luthias actually was frightening her instead of projecting safety. Determined, however, she stood her ground and shut the door behind her. "Luthias," she insisted, her words distorted by the wind, "tell me what happened." "You've got enough to worry about," he snapped, pouring himself some more liquor. He spoke clearly and held himself confidently. Luthias had always done well holding his liquor; still, drinking enhanced whatever emotions had made him want to imbibe in the first place. Myrande was afraid. "It's the same as always, isn't it?" she accused softly, slowly crossing the room. "You and Roisart, always the same. Whenever you had joy, you shared it with me willingly, but if something was wrong, you two would withdraw into yourselves and--" "We didn't want to trouble you then," Luthias snarled, slamming the brandy onto the desk. He drained his glass without flinching. "You have enough problems now. I don't need you. Leave me alone!" "No," she denied flatly. She held herself regally, although his tone whipped her and she wanted to run and hide. "What happened? Have they condemned Michiya?" Luthias laughed in a bitter, furious way. "Practically. They won't even listen, the bastards, and now Clifton!" Myrande's fear heightened. "What about Clifton?" "He's a traitor, that's what!" the Baron of Connall screamed. He lifted the brandy decanter to his lips and drained some of the honey-colored liquid. "They found the evidence in his own desk--in his own hand!" "Clifton, a traitor?" Myrande gasped finally. Outside, an explosion of lightning seared the sky. Thunder tried to mask Myrande's words. "You can't really believe that Clifton's a traitor!" "I tell you, I saw it!" Luthias raged. "I SAW it! My cousin's condemned to die, traitor or no, and Michiya with him, and I have to do it!" "What are you talking about?" She was beginning to fear that Luthias was hysterical or delirious. Lightning flared again. The rain was beginning, falling violently against the keep. "I have to try my cousin for treason in front of the King!" Luthias shouted shrilly. "I have to prove my cousin a traitor! In front of King Haralan! It isn't true!" the Baron screamed, "It can't be true! I have to prove it true! Oh, God!" he shouted, laughing bitterly at the ceiling. Lightning again, and thunder. "My only living kinsman--and I have to make him a traitor!" "Make someone else try him," Myrande suggested readily, like an arrow ready to spring at any target. The wind projected hard rain through the window. "Kingdom law, Sable!" he yelled at her, swinging the bottle, then drinking from it. "I'm the Duke's Advocate, and when the highest noble in the Duchy commits a crime, I have to try him before the King. My God, Clifton!" He drank again. Suddenly, Myrande could take it no more. She leapt forward. "You can't believe Clifton a traitor!" Thunder roared outside, and the rain whistled on the wind. "How can I believe anything else?" Luthias screamed at her. "I saw it, I SAW IT! I have to try him, see him die, become the Duke of Dargon! I have to see my last kinsman die a traitor!" He moved to drink again, but Myrande wrested the decanter from his hands. "Do you think this will help you?" Myrande yelled at him, and enraged, she flung the brandy onto the stone hearth. The glass exploded into a crystal shower; the flame flared brilliantly blue from 1the brandy. There was explosive thunder. "I can help you, Luthias, if you'd talk to me!" "You help me? You won't even let me help you," Luthias shouted, taking her by the shoulders. "What the hell am I going to do? What the hell do you think you can do?" He shook her violently. "Tell me!" "Ask the King!" Myrande managed to shout somehow. Her brain was rattling in her skull. Lightning split her eyes and blinded her. "Or reason it out. Ask the King." "What?" Luthias laughed haughtily. "The King? The King help a traitor? Help me? You're joking! And reasoning it out--I'm not Roisart! I'm a fighter, not a lawyer!" He released her abruptly. "There's nothing you could do!" he told her bitterly. Suddenly, the rage left his face, and he sank into a chair, his head in his hands. "There's nothing to be done," he whispered, choking. Myrande knelt before him and put her arms around him. The rain spattered through the window, dampening them both. "When are you leaving?" she whispered. "Tomorrow," came the muffled answer. "We sail from Dargon tomorrow, then down to the Laraka." "You should get some sleep," she said gently, stroking his hair in an effort to soothe him. She shuddered as the wind chilled her wet skin. "You'll be dead tomorrow if you don't." "What does it matter?" the Baron asked bitterly. "Come, Luthias," she cajoled. "It matters to me." She took his head between her small hands and forced him to look at her. Despair and lightning glowed in his dark eyes. "It matters to me." Wordlessly, she coaxed him to his feet and led him to his room. Again, his expression worried her; he oozed despair. "Go to sleep," she counseled, seating him on his bed. Suddenly, Luthias was clinging to her, his grip like frantic iron. "Sable, Sable, what am I going to do?" "I don't know," she whispered. "I don't know." "Sable, Sable," he cried, rocking as if to comfort himself a little. "There's going to be no one left. I'll have no one." "No," she said, pulling back to see his face. She touched his cheek tenderly. "I'm here, Luthias. I'll always be here." Myrande gently brushed some hair out of his dark eyes. "You'll always have me." "Oh, Sable," the Baron said suddenly, pulling her close, and within moments, Myrande found herself being kissed passionately. Luthias was equally surprised, though slightly distant, due to the alcohol. Still, it felt good to hold her, to kiss her, and he didn't let go, wouldn't let go, no, not ever. Luthias didn't know how long the kisses lasted, but then his hands were moving carefully, subtly--he had had much practice. Her black hair unwound beneath his hands, and it felt like velvet and smelled of roses. His hands continued to move slowly, carefully; he did not want to frighten her. One thing at a time, slowly. He felt Myrande uncertainly returning the caresses. He held her more tightly then, shifted his weight, started to lower her onto the bed-- Abruptly, she pushed him away. "You're drunk," she accused roughly, then fled the room. Luthias buried his head in his hands and tried to scream, but was silent. He had just ruined everything--with the one person he had left. Only an hour past dawn, the sunlight was so bright that Ittosai Michiya had to bow his head in order to guide his horse on the road to Dargon. The heat made his stomach queasy; that was why, the Bichurian 1mused, that neither he, nor the silent, still Luthias, nor the hurried seneschal, could eat much in the dark hours before dawn. The hot air oppressed Michiya; it was never so warm in Bichu. The sun seared his eyes. He was glad that they would soon be in Dargon and leaving for Magnus; if he were to be doomed, let it come, and come quickly. He had had quite enough of this horrid waiting. If that weren't enough, the silence was driving the Castellan mad. Luthias had barely spoken to Ittosai that morning, and what the Baron had said was brief and gruff. Myrande, who rode beside Michiya, had been hurried before they left the little keep Luthias kept just outside Dargon and had no time to talk; now, Luthias silence seemed to weigh on her as well. But enough. "If you do not like something," Michiya's uncle had once told him, "you must do something, and not wait for others to do it for you." The Castellan began softly, "Why did you come with us, Myrande?" Her head jerked toward him as if she were startled. Ittosai smiled at her in an effort to reassure her; Myrande returned the gesture, but the smile was exhausted. "Someone should be with Duchess Lauren today." Crisply, Ittosai nodded. "It is well. I have no desire for you to be alone. This business with the Baron of Shipbrook has made me uneasy." Myrande made an effort to laugh, but like her smile, her laughter was full of fatigue. "Don't worry; I can take care of myself." "Still, practice much with the naginata, and wear the chopsticks." Myrande reached back and plucked one from her hair. Michiya smiled. "Will you stay with the Duchess?" "For a few days, perhaps." "They're waiting for us," Luthias muttered suddenly, looking at Ittosai, then swiftly turning when he found Myrande's eyes upon him. An astonished Ittosai stared at his Baron, then turned to the seneschal. "Did you and Luthias-sama have a fight?" he whispered. Her eyes, concerned, stared past the Castellan at his master. "What? No," she revealed, sighing. "This trial..." "Is he ill? He did not eat his breakfast. His color is not good." Myrande compressed her lips and looked past the Castellan at the young Baron of Connall. His eyes were red, as if from weeping; his complexion was a ghastly gray. Luthias was clenching his jaw. "Yes," she answered softly, "he is sick." Eyes dark with sorrow, she turned to Michiya. "Take care of him, will you?" "I could never do that," Ittosai replied ruefully, but smiling a little. "He would never allow anyone but you to take care of him." Myrande bowed her head. "It is you who must take care of him, Myrande-san," the Castellan gently corrected as he looked ahead. "I have no hope for this trial, and--" Confused, his voice raised. "Why is the High Mage waiting for us?" "We'll find out," Luthias returned gruffly. Like Ittosai, he kept his eyes on the waiting group: the Tribunal, Winthrop, Coranabo, and Baron Vladon; Sir Edward Sothos, the Knight Commander; the Duke of Dargon and his Duchess; and, sitting calmly on his mount, Marcellon Equiville, the High Mage. Ittosai made to spur his horse ahead, but Luthias abruptly held out his arm to stop him. "Don't go ahead of me; they'll suspect you of trying to escape," the Baron winced against some unknown pain. Ittosai paused. "I do want you to know that I know you're not guilty," Myrande started softly, "and I--" "No more, Myrande," Michiya cut her off swiftly. "It is all right." "Are you ready then, Baron Connall?" Baron Vladon asked as 1Luthias and his party approached. Worried, Michiya watched as the Baron nodded painfully. "Good day, Lady Myrande. Gentlemen, pray join us." "Why are you here?" Luthias bluntly asked the High Mage. The physician turned to him, a doctor's concern evident in his expression. "Don't you think you should stay with Lauren?" Gently, the High Mage returned, "It is my right, as a noble of Baranur, to defend Clifton and Michiya. Besides," he continued wistfully, "I have been neglecting my duties as High Mage of late. It is time I return to the King." "Enough," Coranabo interrupted angrily. "We are wasting time. Let us leave. The ship is waiting." He turned to the Duke of Dargon, who was tenderly kissing his wife good-bye. "Bind the traitors." "No!" Luthias' denial rang like a clap of thunder. Coranabo turned to him sharply. The furious Baron of Connall stared him down. "They are not traitors until the King decrees," Luthias explained curtly, his color paling. "I will not allow them to be bound." "That is your decision, Advocate," Baron Vladon agreed smoothly. "If you are ready, Duke Dargon." "My horse..." Clifton began, motioning for one of his servants. "Here, take mine," Myrande offered, sliding from her mount. Clifton smiled at her briefly and threw himself into the saddle. The seneschal smiled her good-bye to Ittosai; she then turned to the young Baron. "Luthias..." He didn't turn his head. "Good-bye, Sable," he took his leave, and abruptly he spurred his horse away, leaving the sorrowful Duchess and the seneschal behind him. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ (C) Copyright September, 1989, DargonZine. All rights revert to the authors. These stories may not be reproduced or redistributed save in the case of reproducing the whole 'zine for further distribution without the express permission of the author involved.


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