. -Earth's Dreamlands- (313)558-5024 {14.4} (313)558-5517 A BBS for text file junkies RPGN

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.: -----=====Earth's Dreamlands=====----- (313)558-5024 {14.4} (313)558-5517 A BBS for text file junkies RPGNet GM File Archive Site .:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:. From WHITE@DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU Tue May 12 10:33:57 1992 Received: from DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU by eff.org with SMTP id AA26766 (5.65c/IDA-1.4.4/pen-ident for ); Tue, 12 May 1992 10:33:46 -0400 Message-Id: <199205121433.AA26766@eff.org> Received: from DUVM by DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU (IBM VM SMTP R1.2.2MX) with BSMTP id 3302; Tue, 12 May 92 10:30:23 EDT Date: Tue, 12 May 92 10:30:14 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 5 DDDDD A A R R GGGG OOOO N NN ZZZZZZ I N NN EEEE || \\ \ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- DargonZine Volume 2, Issue 5 10/13/89 Cir 824 -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Contents -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ DAG Dafydd Editorial Sons of Gateway 2: Magic Jon "Grimjack" Evans Naia 21-Ober 13, '13 Dragon Hunt 4 Max Khaytsus Yule 8-23, 1013 Damsel in Distress Wendy Hennequin Sy 24-27, 1013 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Dafydd's Amber Glow by Dafydd Cyhoeddwr, Editor DargonZine (b.c.k.a white@duvm.BitNet) Today's editorial is to let all of you readers know that DargonZine is not alone. Two other magazines of Science Fiction/Fantasy have recently come to my attention - Quanta and Athene. In a spirit of cooperation, we three editors have gotten together in the hopes of increasing the readership of each others' 'zines. Please note: we three are in no way in competition. All three magazines are free, and all three of us would be happy if each and every one of our readers received a copy of all the magazines currently available. See the end of this issue (and future issues) for more information about both Quanta and Athene. On a related note, if any of you readers know of other electronic magazines about SF/Fantasy, either Fiction or Fact 'Zines, please let me know about them, and perhaps let the editor (if you know him/her) know about DargonZine. I would love to have more reading material available to me and I'm sure that most of our readers would too. Thank you, Dafydd Cyhoeddwr, Editor DargonZine ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Sons of Gateway Part 2: Magic by Jon "Grimjack" Evans (b.c.k.a. v047kfz7@ubvms) The early morning sun sparkled off the sweat pouring down Ne'on's forehead, red from the effort. Symbols flashed through his mind, mimicked by interweaving patterns of flying fingers. The final incantation, and the command: "Burn!" Ne'on concentrated on his target and a branch burst into flames. He smiled as he imagined skin of his brother's limbs blistering and burning like the twig. He was pleased with himself. Just then, a pale ghost of a human being "floated" through the wall next to him. It was Qord, astrally projecting himself to summon Ne'on. 'It is time,' Ne'on thought. "It is time," Qord said. Turning back toward his room, Qord "flew" immediately back to his body, walls and tables proving no obstacle for him. Ne'on took a quick drink of water from a glass on the table and poured the rest on the smoldering branch. Wiping his brow, he answered his master's summons. "Ne'on Winston, son of Kald, Lord Gateway," called Qord in the ritual of the test. "You are charged with a claim to the title of Bark - do you deny this claim?" Qord was a little uneasy. Ne'on had shown much improvement and discipline since his return from Gateway, and he was proud of Ne'on. However, if he failed now, he would be Drained. If Ne'on believed he needed more time for study, he could always answer "Yes". "No," Ne'on replied, tensing for the test. "Mage," smiled Qord, "prove your mettle." With that, the test began. Potions were concocted and illusions shimmered. Energy flew in all forms as every color of the spectrum flared. Spell upon spell was uttered; elixers were created and destroyed. For hours, the chambers of Qord, Leaf of the Nar-Enthruen, glowed, darkened, flared, and faded. And with the setting of the sun, the final spell was uttered. Ne'on collapsed in a pool of sweat. "You made one mistake, my son," noted Qord, shuffling through his robes. "Well, two, actually," he continued, producing two vials. He quaffed one of the elixers and extended the second to Ne'on, "First of all, you have to work a little more on definition of the images in your illusions. Second, you didn't save a strength potion for your recovery." Qord smiled. "Lucky for you, I always carry a spare!" Ne'on feebly reached for the flask, fumbled with the seal for a moment, and quickly inhaled it. Breathing in more of it than he swallowed, he choked as he felt the strength returning to his bones. "Thank you, Qord," he finally managed to say. A bit anxiously, "Well? How'd I do?" "If you had failed, Ne'on, you would already be stripped of your power. As it happens," Qord's grin grew broader, "I am proud to bestow upon you the title of Bark! "In celebration of this indubitable honor, I propose a vacation, of sorts. A trip! As you know, the Melrin festival begins in nine days. Magnus is renowned for its holiday extravaganza, and is only four days ride from here. I haven't spent Melrin in Magnus in over five years. What say we go? We can laugh, drink, celebrate . . . I've a few old friends I would like to see . . . and I'd be proud to have you with me." Qord was practically bubbling over. He was obviously very happy about Ne'on's success, and Ne'on wondered if that potion Qord had just taken didn't have more than just a strengthening herb. He supposed magicians would have knowledge of such substances. Quite pleased with 1his own success, his reply was obvious. "Why not? I could use some rest. And, speaking of rest . . ." Grunting to stand up, he bid his master goodnight. Potions that granted unusual strength usually demanded a high price in sleep for their benefits. On the morning of the twenty-fifth of Naia, Qord and Ne'on departed for Magnus. With some final instructions to Jordan, the servant, they moved their horses onto the brightly lit path of the forest. In the early morning light, the dew glistened off the leaves of the underbrush, and the shadows of the trees mixed with the moss on the ground. Around midday, they came across a terrible sight! Lying on the path in front of them was a man, half-conscious, and covered in blood. He was sprawled out on his back with his head against a tree. "Help me..." he gasped weakly, "help...me..." Qord leapt from the saddle with a speed be-lying his age and rushed to the man's side. "Ne'on, bring the potions, quickly!" Easing the man's head down to the ground, he gently probed the man's body for the wound, or wounds, robbing the man of his life. Just as Ne'on arrived with the potions, the blood soaked man raised his arm and pointed behind them. "There..." There was the sound of people crashing through the brush and a dull THUNK! as an arrow struck the man in his chest! He twitched once, and stopped. Ne'on stood still, afraid to move. "Turn around slowly, both of you. And step away from that man. Very good," he added, as Ne'on and Qord obeyed. "What have they got, Red?" "Very nice purses, Mackie!" The man they had stopped to help - the one with an arrow in his chest! - stood up and walked toward "Mackie", presumably the leader of the rogues. "Must be on their way to Magnus for Melrin, by the look of them. Well, now, they just ensured us a very nice holiday!" The band of men, seven of them all told, laughed heartily as Red withdrew the arrow from a wooden board hidden under his leather jerkin. "Next time, Mackie, use a little less force on the bow, eh? The arrow tip nipped me a bit." Ne'on's mind was racing. Qord's life and his were worthless to the thieves, and they knew it. If anything ws to be done, it would have to be now; but, he didn't know what to do! His stomach knotted and his limbs grew unsteady. His pulse beat loudly in his ears, and he began to panic. "Hold, Ne'on." Once again, the voice spoke to him. "These paltry ruffians cannot harm you. With a single thought, their crude weapons cannot touch you. And with a single motion, your enemies will flee before you." "Who are you?" Ne'on called out, no longer aware of his surroundings. The voice was not the one who answered, though. "Just simple travellers on our way to Magnus!" Red's answer brought out more jeers and laughter from the thieves. "Yeah! Collecting charity from the good people in these parts for our favourite cause: us! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!" The band was quite pleased with itself and the fun it was having, but Ne'on was oblivious to them all. 'Who are you?' he thought, this time. "A part of you that wishes to survive. Now," it continued, "protect yourself." Ne'on closed his eyes. Mystical symbols danced across his mind as the low hum of his voice summoned the magic within him. "Hey! What's he doin'?" Red called attention to Ne'on and the whole party sobered. "You idiots!" he cried. "He's a freakin' wizard! He'll kill us all! Shoot him!" In less than two seconds, six arrows 1were nocked and loosed. Too late. Ne'on's spell was finished and the arrows deflected off him. "Now, make them run." More symbols appeared as he traced runes in the air. His incantation finished the spell. Suddenly, a wall of fire burst forth between the rogues and the mages! Smoke rose in the air, and twigs crackled as they burn. "Gods! He's gonna burn us ta death! Let's get out a here!" The men dropped money, weapons, and packs in their desperate scramble to flee the burning woods. "There," spoke the voice, and a lightening bolt struck out of the clear blue sky. "And there." "And there." More than one of the thieves would be cleaning their britches this day as the last bolt struck Mackie and he fell to the ground. It would be a long time before they returned to this area. The wall of fire dispersed as quickly as it appeared. The electrically charred ground of the forest floor vanished, leaving the soil marred only by the panicked scamperings of frightened men. Mackie lay on the ground, unconscious. "Well done," praised Qord as he went to collect their belongings. "I almost believed you cast those spells for real! If it weren't for this scoundrel's breathing I might not have been able to tell the difference. You amaze me more and more, Ne'on. You'll be a great mage, one day - you're already a respectable illusionist!" "Why is Mackie unconscious?", he thought aloud. He was glad he didn't finish the thought verbally for he had meant to kill the rogue. "Well, you couldn't expect him to stay conscious, could you? After all, the mind believes the body has been struck by lightening. It shuts itself down in order to keep the body from experiencing too much pain. "Now, before he wakes up, let us be moving along." Qord repacked the rest of their belongings. "Oh, yes. I almost forgot." He removed a silver dagger from within his robes. "Here, I found it near Mackie." Ne'on took the knife, admiring it's beauty. "It's a fine blade. Very well crafted. Thank you, Qord." "Oh, no! Don't thank me. After all, you were the one who chased off those ruffians. No, no; you deserve it." And with that, they set forth once again for Magnus. The warm summer evening settled heavily on Ne'on's shoulders as he watched Qord exit yet another of Magnus' inns. By the look on his face, Ne'on knew the answer to his question before it was asked. "If we keep this up we'll be spending Melrin in a stable!" "Not very likely." Qord was tired. Four and a half days of travel took their toll on the seventy year old Leaf. "All the merchants in town brought extra horses to carry their wares. There's less room in the stables than in the inns." He laid a reassuring hand on his horse, "But don't worry, Gal, I know a place where all of us can stay." His gaze returned to Ne'on, "A gentleman whom I aided a few years back. A mystical being from another dimension fell in lust with him, poor chap. She was an atrocious sight. Didn't take rejection well, either, I'm afraid." There were fewer street lamps on this side of Magnus, but the light from the shops, houses, and taverns kept the street well lit. Up ahead, Ne'on noticed, was an inn with the standard of two unicorns in battle. The sign read: "The Fighting Unicorns", and Qord assured Ne'on they would be able to stay here. Before they could reach the inn, there was a loud crash, the sound of breaking glass, and a heavy thud! as the door swung open. 1Silhouetted against the bright light from within was a large man swinging another through the air, releasing him at the hight of the swing. The smaller man flew through the air, landing in a wagon on the other side of the street. The larger man's voice bellowed over the noise from within, "Next time you touch one of my girls like that, it'll be more than a bottle I break over your head! Now, get out of here before I lose my temper - and you lose your neck!" "I hope you don't treat all your customers like that, Sir Hawk," Qord spurred up to the light of the inn, removing his cowl as he spoke. "I do not think I could survive such a toss, at my age." "I treat 'em the way they deserve, old ma- Well! By my sword and shield!" Sir Hawk's visage turned from one of annoyance to one of great joy. "Qord, you old son of a she-wolf, how are you? And what are you doing in such a common part of the city?" Qord dismounted and grasped his friend's arm firmly. "I'm here for Melrin, of course! And, other than lack of a place to stay, I'm fine. Very well, in fact." Sir Hawk smiled. He had guessed the reason Qord had ventured so far from the nicer districts of Magnus. Thankfully, he could accommodate him. "Say no more, my friend! I have just the room for you and your companion. Come in! I'll have the boy take care of your steeds." A servant came at Sir Hawk's behest and took their mounts to the stables. Sir Hawk ordered a meal for his guests and cleared a table in the well-crowded tavern. The room was loud with song and revelry, and Sir Hawk almost had to yell to be heard above the din. "So tell me, Lord Winston: why is it you do not spend Melrin in the Royal District? I thought it was a matter of etiquette to stay with your family while you are visiting Magnus." "A matter of honor, sir," Ne'on replied. "My father and my uncle were never on good terms. Rather than inconvenience my uncle, and embarrass my father, I declined to stay there." It wasn't unknown among the nobles of Magnus that Lord Keeper Winston of Gateway Keep and his brother, Lord Winston, a minor land holder, associated with each other as little as possible. Ne'on sipped his wine. Hawk looked confused. "No, not your uncle. I meant your brother, Lord Goren." Ne'on choked on his wine, spitting a little, and drooling some onto his napkin. "My apologies, sir! But Goren is here? In Magnus?!" Ne'on instantly became nervous and defensive. What's he doing here? Does he know I'm here? Does he know WHY I'm here? What does he want? He almost betrayed his emotions to the others; but, once again, the voice, like rolling thunder, spoke to him: "Do not fear, Ne'on. Your brother could not possibly be aware of your presence here. You need not worry." Then Hawk spoke. "No need to apologize, my lord. Had I known how you would react, I would not have asked. It is I who should apologize. Let us have some more wine." Sir Hawk called one of his serving girls and ordered more wine. "I thank you, Sir Hawk, but I must be getting to bed." Ne'on stood up. "I have never been in Magnus during Melrin before, although my father often told me of it, and I wish to make an early start tomorrow morn." Ne'on made his leave of the mage and the innkeeper, and found a servant to lead him to his room. 'I'll have to go to the Fifth Quarter,' thought Ne'on, sipping his mead. It was the second day of Melrin and most of the populace was at the festival, leaving the Fighting Unicorns all but bare of customers. Ne'on had not been having a good time in Magnus. He had spent all of the previous day trying to enjoy the festival, but he was 1troubled with the knowledge of his brother's presence in Magnus. It was an added worry which he didn't need. Last night, however, Ne'on had found his solution: whoever he found to replace Luke as his Captain would have a test - find his brother and make him leave town. Finding him wouldn't be the hard part, but making him leave town would be; Goren isn't one to take threats idly, and he is fairly proficient with a sword. Just then, Ne'on noticed an argument growing louder in the room. It was coming from behind one of the curtained booths to Ne'on's right. The curtain drew apart, and a large hulk of a man walked through. A smaller man, with a black cloak about his shoulders, remained seated. "You still owe me fifty gold coins," stated the smaller man as he rose from his seat, "and I'll get it from you whether you give it . . . or I take it." The larger man stopped. He smiled an amused smile and turned around. "Well, I don't think you'll be takin' too much from me, Bart." The large man had an almost equally large sword sheathed across his back. He drew it. "So I think I'll give it to you." A faint smile could be seen on Bart's face as the lummox swung his sword through the air. Like lightning, Bart drew his own sword with his left hand, to parry the attack, while a dagger flew out of his right, solidly lodging itself in the man's chest. The giant fell loudly to the floor. Bart sheathed his sword and walked over to the corpse. Wiping his dagger on the dead man's clothes, he sheathed it and removed a purse from within the man's pockets. He tossed a gold coin to the man at the bar. "It was self-defense. You don't remember me." Bart looked around once, stared at Ne'on for a moment, and left. Ne'on hastily finished his drink and rose to make his exit. 'Apparently', he smiled, 'I won't need to go to the Fifth Quarter after all!' The sound of Goren's footsteps echoed off the walls and buildings of the street around him. The light of the street lamps were blurry and bright, so he raised his hand to block it out. Unfortunately, this was the hand which held his wine bottle, and its meeting with his head caused him to stumble about the sidewalk, narrowly side stepping the sludge-filled drainage gutters between the street and the walkway. He was drunk. He was not happy. And what he saw next made him think he was dead. In the street ahead of him was a man. The man wore a long black cloak about his shoulders, disguising much of his body, but his face was unhidden. His face was long and thin and well cleaned, his eyes were a piercing blue-grey, and his hair . . . His hair was what most struck Goren for it was long, as if it hadn't been cut in years. It was dirty blond in color, and thin, and it fell lightly about the man's shoulders. In the man's left hand was a long, sharp sword, and he was pointing it at Goren. Then the man spoke, and his voice was deep and deadly. "Certain people don't want you in Magnus, Lord Winston." His thin lips barely parted when he spoke, and a slight smile broke out on his face. "I've been instructed to tell you to leave. By tomorrow noon, on the third of Melrin, you should be out of Magnus. This is your warning." With deadly grace, the man jumped forward and lunged at Goren. Goren was too drunk to react, and his only thought was 'I'm dead' as the sword drove toward his skull. However, the blade only just cut him above the eyes, causing a lot of bleeding but doing no serious harm. Goren could not see with all the blood pouring down his face, and he tensed as he anticipated the killing blow. It never came. "This is to remember me by," the man said, and 1Goren heard soft footsteps striding away. Blackness settled on his skull. Darkness faded in and out as Goren dreamed. He dreamed of his brother, Ne'on, and the man who attacked him. Ne'on gave the man a purse of coins and a letter, and told the man to go to Gateway. The man left, darkness faded in and out, and Goren awoke, the dream fading in his memory. "He'll be alright, Lord Winston." The robed healer was hovering over Goren and speaking to someone elsewhere in the room. "More than likely, it was the wine which made him unconscious, not the wound - that was just bleeding a lot - it is nothing serious." Goren saw the healer's head and shoulders pull out of his tunnel-visioned line of sight. "The bleeding has stopped and the tissue has begun to heal. I can heal it completely, if you wish." "No, no; let it scar." The second voice was deeper and older than the healer's. And familiar. "It will teach him not to walk unguarded and inebriated through the streets of Magnus. Besides, it shouldn't take more than a week to heal, and there are others who more desperately require your services." Now Goren recognized the other voice: it belonged to Lord Cameron Winston, his uncle. "In that case," spoke the healer, as Goren's vision expanded, "I shall take my leave." The healer bowed, "Good morning, my Lords," and left. After a short while, Goren spoke. "Whe- AHEM! Where am I?" His voice was gravely from little sleep and much alcohol, and his mouth was filled with paste. When he cleared his throat he became aware of a pressure in his skull, and when he moved his head the room seemed to have to catch up with him before he could focus. "Ugh! And what have . . . I done to myself?" Cameron Winston laughed loudly at his nephew's state, and in so doing caused even greater suffering to Goren. This effected even greater laughter from Lord Winston, and Goren decided he hated his uncle. "I apologize, young Goren," Lord Winston began, "but if you saw yourself, you would laugh, too." Lord Winston calmed himself and waited for Goren to reply. "Oh . . . I don't know," spoke Goren, softly, "I might find pity on myself . . . and kill me . . ." At any other time, Lord Winston might have found this humorous; now, however, he was serious. "It seems someone already tried that for you, my nephew." Goren looked up and saw only concern in his uncle's eyes. "No . . . this was just a warning . . . Whoever did this could have killed me . . . Gods! I was sure he would! . . . but he just did this, and told me to leave Magnus." Lord Winston's confusion now added to Goren's. "And you still haven't told me where I am." "Oh! My sincerest apologies, young lord. I had forgotten you and your brother have never stayed in my home." Lord Winston extended his hand. "If you feel well enough, allow me to give you a tour of House Winston." Goren took his uncle's hand and allowed himself to be helped to his feet. In the next hour and a half, Goren was given the grand tour of House Winston. From the master bedroom to the wine cellar, Lord Winston instructed Goren on the history of the house and their family. Goren was pleased with being able to hear the history, for his father never discussed it. It was a large house, bigger than Winston Manor in Gateway Keep, yet it was one of the smallest in the Royal District of Magnus. Goren's ancestor's, it was explained to him, were not rich. However, during the Great Houses War in 97 BY, the Winston family sided with House Tallihran, King Haralan's ancestors, and became Lords as a result of their fealty. 1 Lord Winston seemed eager to answer any questions Goren asked about the family history; however, when he asked about Cameron's feelings toward his father, Lord Winston replied, "I leave that to your father to explain, if he will. It is between he and I, mostly, and I would not want that to interfere in future generations of the Winston family." Finally, Goren asked his uncle what he thought of Goren's encounter the night before. "Well, Goren," began Winston, "you have assured me it is not some young lady's father trying to frighten off suitors, so it can only mean one thing." "And what is that?" "Someone in Magnus believes you pose a threat to him or her. Now, you have two rational courses of action. First, you can stay in Magnus; I'll give you five of the House guards to protect you for the rest of your stay. Second, you can leave Magnus, in which case I should still give you those guards to protect your journey." They were in the Main Hall, again, and Goren looked at two of the guards protecting the outside entrance. "No, that won't be necessary. I-" Goren stopped. His vision wavered, and he felt weak for a moment. He grasped his uncle's shoulder to steady himself, and then it was past. "No doubt I've still to recover from last night's activities. But, as I was saying, I do not think the guards will be necessary." Goren raised his hand to stop the protests he saw building in his uncle. "Do not worry, my Lord, I have no intention of staying in Magnus. While I'd love to meet that man while I am sober, I have no doubts about his having friends. I shall leave within the hour." "Well thought, Goren." Lord Winston was surprised. He had heard of Goren's usually-rash behavior from Marcus, and his reaction toward this matter was unexpected. "I thought you would have wanted to form a search party and hunt the man down. It seems I was mistaken." "Not really." Goren looked down for a moment, then raised his head. "My first thought, when I awoke, was to grab my sword and find this man. But I was in no shape to go anywhere - and I don't believe you would have let me - so I had the opportunity to think, for a while. It seems some problems cannot be solved with a sword." Lord Winston smiled, and Goren felt proud of that smile. It was meant for him. Already, he began to feel closer to his uncle than he did to his father. "I see you've heard my brother's favorite motto," said Winston. "Heard!" Goren exclaimed, "I lived it for 23 years!" The sun had just fallen. The lamps of Magnus were being lit by men and women on carts, travelling the streets with fire and oil. It was night time. A man huddled on one side of an alleyway, his form barely visible in the darkness. Another man stood a foot away from him, speaking softly. "And how will he know who I am?" spoke the second. "Give him this letter," replied the first, producing a letter and a small sack of coins from within his robes. "And here is a retainer - I'll be there in a few more months." "Thank you, my Lord. Everything will be ready when you arrive." Fire licked the edge of the stone platform, and molten lava boiled for miles about it. Phos laughed. All was proceeding well. Control was almost effortless, and his puppet was unaware of his danger. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Dragon Hunt, part 4 by Max Khaytsus (b.c.k.a khaytsus%tramp@boulder.colorado.edu) The egg Rien held in his hands was much larger and harder than that of a chicken, but it in no way revealed itself to be that of a dragon. He carefully turned it over, hoping that somewhere there would be an indication or marking that would brand the egg uncommon, but not finding anything he looked at the wizard. Gerim smiled. "How will she know? Trust me, this is just what she needs." "What do you want for your 'advice'?" "Ah, it may have come across as advice, but for me it was just another adventure." "Sir," Rien sounded vexed, "I do not like carrying debts. Before I accept this, what is your price?" "No price," Gerim said. "Let it be my good deed to you." "You don't even know me," Rien pointed out. "We only met last morning." "I saw you in the tavern two nights ago," Gerim corrected. Actually there was also that time in the forest two weeks before... Rien still looked at him, unsure of what to do. Gerim waited, thinking what he could offer as collateral, in this unstable and lopsided business deal. "When I was your age," the wizard spoke, unconsciously bringing his hand to his ear and making Rien's gaze jerk up, "I had a friend who was poisoned by a snake bite." Rounded ear -- no evidence of elf blood. "They told me there was no cure and I watched that boy waste away in a matter of hours." Boy. In the elven tongues there is no distinction of age, just gender. "I see a similarity here and perhaps this time I can do something to help..." Gerim spread his arms out as an offering of peace. "Please, I travelled half the world in one night." "Very well," Rien finally nodded. The wizard seemed sincere. "I wish I could express my thanks. You're saving two lives, not just one." In a week and a half Rien and Kera made their way to the path where the hidden trail to Maari's house lay. Their rushed pace had taken its toll and they made camp a half day's distance from their destination, to rest and regain their strength. "I'm a little worried," Kera mentioned to Rien, over the early evening fire. "I'm anxious too," he answered. "I want to get this over with." "I keep thinking that she won't help us," Kera continued, staring into the fire. "What if she tries something?" "That's a possibility," Rien said. "Something to be aware of, but at times it's best to hope for the better." "How are we going to pay her?" Rien shook his head. "I don't know. I refuse to sentence anyone to death." "What if that means our death?" "I can make that choice for myself, but not for you." Kera moved herself to sit next to Rien. "I remember a while back you told me you saw nothing wrong with killing someone if your well being was threatened." "Nothing wrong with killing an individual who threatens my well being," Rien corrected. "I am sure we can find one," Kera smirked. "I couldn't condemn an individual to the kind of death that Maari has in mind," Rien sighed. 1 "Can you condemn yourself to lycanthropy?" "At this point I am not desperate enough to say 'no'." Kera leaned back into the grass, looking up into the darkening sky, with the first stars beginning to appear above the forest. "What day were you born on?" she asked abruptly. "A cold one," Rien smiled. "Don't be silly," Kera laughed. "When?" "Under the great oak...a green one, in unseasonably cold weather." "In Yule?" "Naia 27," Rien said. "Why didn't you tell me?" Kera sounded hurt. "Wasn't important," Rien said. "There were too many other things to worry about, particularly Maari's request." "Melrin wasn't much of a holiday either," Kera agreed. "I'll just have to surprise you sometime." Rien put his arm around Kera's shoulder and pulled her close, in an attempt to comfort her. "You remember the weather you were born in?" she asked. "Not really. My mother told me it was a little too cold for the event." "She should have had the windows closed," Kera laughed. "It was outdoors," said Rien. "Doesn't sound very private," Kera said, "but then you did say morals weren't much where you came from." "It's traditional," Rien explained. "Well, there's your Oak," Kera said, pointing up to the constellation of Valonus, materializing slowly in the almost dark sky. "When were you born?" Rien asked, sitting up and throwing some dirt on the fire. "Eighth of Janis," Kera said, sitting up as well. "I'm sure it was seasonably cold." The fire went out, leaving the clearing covered by the bright light of the almost full moon. "What happened to your parents?" Rien asked. "When I was young, Liriss told me that I was found abandoned. I stopped believing him after a while...after seeing how he deals with people. I guess my parents got in his way and he had them killed and took me." She again leaned back into the grass, admiring the moon. "Not having known them I really can't say I that miss them." Rien leaned back in the grass next to her, also looking at the moon. "Aren't you even curious..?" "I'm curious who they were, but...if they are still alive, I don't think I'd want to meet them." Rien lay quietly, staring up at the sky. "What about your parents?" Kera suddenly asked. Rien remained quiet for some time. "My mother lives in Charnelwood," he finally said. "What about your father?" Rien shifted uncomfortably on the ground. "He was killed by a Dopkalfar hunting party before I was born...before he found out I would be born." "I'm sorry," Kera whispered. "There's nothing to be sorry for," Rien answered. "In spite of how we feel, life comes and goes. We're not all friends on this planet. Some of us simply don't belong." Now it was Kera's turn to fall quiet. The two lay next to each other in the dark for a long time, then Rien heard Kera's breathing become more even. Exaustion had taken its toll. Carefully pulling his arm from under his companion, Rien relocated himself to the other side 1of the clearing. Kera woke up in the morning to the smell of a roasting rabbit. She looked around the clearing to see Rien managing a small camp fire with a rotisserie set up over it. "Why didn't you wake me up?" she asked. "You needed the rest," Rien answered without turning around. Kera shuffled around on the ground, then got up. "Let me do that," she indicated the rabbit. "I already smell it burning." Rien moved away from the camp fire. "How did you ever survive in the wilderness alone?" Kera asked, taking his place. "I don't discriminate against raw meat," Rien said, "even if cooked is better. Besides, I know that it's fresh if it's raw." "Gross," Kera mumbled. "I'd rather eat it burned." "I know," Rien smiled. "I thought the smell of burned flesh would get you up." Kera laughed and continued preparing the food. "It will all be over today, won't it?" she asked a bit later. Her voice suddenly somber and serious. "I hope so," Rien said. "One way or another." He moved to face Kera and continued. "Listen, I've been thinking. When we get to Maari's home, I don't want you to dismount. Just stay on the horse and if anything goes wrong, leave." Kera tried to protest, but Rien continued. "Don't argue. Like you said, this gets resolved today and I don't want you to get hurt. If a fight starts, if a spell is cast, go. Don't worry about me." "I'll agree to this now," Kera said, "but I may not do it when the time comes. My best chances are with you and in the end I'm sure you agree that it's purely my decision what to do in a situation like that and you certainly won't be in a position to argue if it comes to that." Rien nodded approvingly after a moment. "Well said. You've been paying attention." Kera smiled back. "I was hoping you'd like it." But in some way it appeared to Rien that the smile was false and there would be a lot more to do before all would be resolved. After breakfast they mounted their horses and in the building heat of the afternoon summer sun made their way to Maari's dwelling. They rode their horses onto the hidden path, cautiously guiding their animals through the thick grass until the roof of the witch's hut appeared in the distance. Rien stopped his horse and checked the egg one more time; a final inspection in the unlikely event that he had missed something previously. Kera stopped next to him, shifting restlessly in the saddle. "Maybe we should spend some more time preparing..." she said. Rien looked up in mid turn of the egg. His companion's voice sounded shaky. "Are you alright?" his concerned eyes focused on her. "Just a little nervous," Kera smiled awkwardly. "You look downright scared," Rien said. He replaced the egg in its pouch and moved his horse closer to Kera's. "Get down before you shake yourself from the saddle," he said, dismounting to help her. Kera half slid, half fell from the saddle and Rien helped her to a shaded patch of grass beneath a tree. "What's wrong?" he asked, gently pushing her down. Kera leaned back against the tree trunk, trying to regain her composure. "Relax," Rien took Kera's hands in his own. "I won't let Maari do anything to you..." He was beginning to understand what her problem was. 1 Kera violently shook her head in response. "Nothing will happen," he insisted again, taking Kera in his arms. It did not help. "All right," Rien said after a minute, releasing Kera and rising. "We're not going to see her. Mount up. If we push the horses, we can make it to Magnus in little over a month." Kera looked up at him, her shaking not as strong as before. She tried to smile. "I'm alright," but it didn't look convincing. "Let's talk to her," she managed to say. "Are you certain?" Rien knelt before her. She still seemed on the verge of a breakdown. Kera nodded and started to get up. Rien hurried to help her to her horse, but as Kera grabbed the saddle, she looked towards the barely visible hut among the trees and again broke into a shaking fit. "I can't," her voice shook with fear. "She'll kill me!" Rien recognised himself as part of the problem. To Maari, he was worthless, but Kera could provide exactly what the old witch wanted; a soul to experiment with. He took Kera in his arms again, holding her up against the horse. He permitted himself to realize just how much he feared and hated humans who practiced magic. He turned Kera around, his now grey eyes searching for an answer in hers. Kera held still, not understanding what the changes in her companion were. Her fear of Maari lessened, replaced by that of Rien, who suddenly thrust her away, tore the saddle bag with the egg off his horse and disappeared in the direction of Maari's hut. Kera stood still, holding onto her horse, watching Rien leave, then, her curiosity and concern winning over her fear for herself, she advanced forward, with her mount obediantly following her lead. Making his way to the clearing, Rien looked around. "I have your egg, witch!" he shouted. A moment later Maari appeared from around back. She seemed completely unprepared for his visit. "I have the egg!" he yelled again, triumphantly holding up the saddle bag. He patiently waited for her to approach before dropping the bag to the ground and drawing his sword. "Bitch!" he stammered, ready to swing. Maari answered something in anger, making an unseen force throw Rien backwards to the ground. She fell on her knees before the saddle bag, tearing it open, to get to the precious egg. It was whole. With triumph in her eyes, Maari got up, egg in her hands. "Fool," she looked at Rien's unmoving body. "There never was and never will be a cure!" She turned to leave, when the egg in her hands disloved to a glob of slime. It covered her hands and spread slowly to her body, in spite of her loud protests, as Kera watched from a cluster of trees at the edge of the clearing. As the witch transformed into a puddle of slime on the ground, Kera advanced from the trees, for a better view. Her fear was completely dominated by curiosity and when she spotted Rien's motionless body, she ran towards him, in spite of what she had just seen. "Don't touch him, girl," a pleasantly accented voice sounded above her, as Kera reached Rien's body. She looked around, startled, seeing Gerim not ten feet away. How did he get there? "Don't touch him," the wizard repeated. "I can only change the chain of events if you do what I say." Kera took two steps back, looking at Gerim in disbelief, to shocked and surprised by the turn of events to ask any questions. "He was an innocent victim of poor planning on my part," the wizard continued. "Hurry, bring me the large black book Maari has in her house." Kera bolted before the instructions were complete. She tore into the dark two room hut, tripping over a chair and winding up on the 1floor. A large black cat hissed at her from the corner and quickly disappeared into the darkness of the second room. Kera got up and looked around. Her heart beat faster, now that she realized where she was. She held onto a chair for support. Dark blinds and furniture decorated the spartan main room of the witch's dwelling. A heavy, murky smell hung in the air, making Kera think of the blocks beneath Liriss' private pier. She slowly scanned the room, fearing to walk in any further, when she came to face a human skull -- she assumed it to be human, anyway, -- which lay on the table behind which stood the chair she used for support. She jerked back in surprise, looking at the empty sockets that somehow seemed to look back. The lack of a bottom jaw made it appear as if this horrid creature had something to say. Barely forcing herself to look away from the skull's empty gaze, Kera realized that beneath it lay a thick book, covered with black leather. She cautiously stepped forward, then dashed for the book, pulling it out from under the skull, causing the relic to fall and roll on the floor and ran out as quickly as she ran in. Outside Gerim looked up from the puddle of what was left of the witch. "Ah, the book," he said, taking it from Kera. Kera watched restlessly as Gerim opened the book and started flipping through it. After a while he found what he needed and pronounced an incantation. Kera felt her back grow cold, as the spell grew to its climax. A low rumble sounded in the cloudless sky and Rien's hand twitched. Gerim closed the book and let it fall to the ground, kneeling before Rien. Kera cautiously approached, fearing that the wizard would still forbid her to come near. Noticing that, Gerim called her over, saying that it was all right. "How is he?" Kera asked with a shaky voice. "He's fine," the wizard answered. "He's lucky not to be human. Elves pay for their long lives by not having a soul. Maari could not kill him. She was no more than a necromancer." Kera took Rien's twitching hand into her own. "Give him some time," Gerim suggested. "His system will overcome the shock." He got up to leave, but turned to look back at Kera. "You two did me a great service, but I'm afraid I have nothing to repay you with. I wish you luck with your quest. May you find what you need." With those words the wizard retired into the woods. Rien's hand grasped tightly around Kera's. Epilogue Liriss stared coldly at Tilden, who stood before him. This fool had the gall to fail and return to tell of his losses. That took guts, but certainly no brains. Then again, most of his men had no where else to turn and knew no more than mercanary work. "I sent four men to bring back two people and what do I see before me?" Liriss asked after considering the trapper's story. "I see a bedraggled fighter who lost his companions, weapons and mount. I've got half a mind to send you off to the blocks." Liriss walked a wide circle around Tilden, waiting for fear to set in. The man remained motionless, but became noticably more nervous. Liriss made a second circle, smiling when behind Tilden. The feeling of power can at times be intoxicating and an offer of mercy a god-like act. "I should send you to the blocks," Liriss came to face Tilden again, "but I won't. I'll assign a real man to do your job and in the mean time you can get some simple guard work done." Tilden released his breath, which Liriss imagined he had held for 1quite some time. "Thank you, sir." The crime leader walked over to the window and looked into Dargon. "Return to your quarters. I will have your new orders sent down." Tilden left the room with another sigh of relief, permitting his master's female attendant to come back inside. The girl closed the door and waited patiently for Liriss to notice her. He finally turned, looking at her thoughtfully. "Rene, find me Kendall and have him come here." "The assassin?" she asked. "You said you didn't want to see his face again." "I don't," Liriss nodded solomnly, "but at least he's reliable." Gerim's loud footsteps sounded in the great hall of the keep. "Nagje'," his voice boomed above the loud echos. "Prepare to vacate your chair." As he approached the large table at the far end of the great hall, three gazes met his. "I told you," Gerim looked at the man in the center, "once Maari is dead, I'll be seeking a council position." "Explain to us one thing," the wizard on the left said. "The elf was dead. Why did you interfear?" "He was caught in the struggle through my intervention." "He would have gone to the witch anyway." "He would not have gone to her in anger with a dragon egg!" "Dragon egg my ass, Gerim! You brought life to a dead man!" "I reunited an elf with his spirit, a much easier task than a man with his soul!" Gerim stopped, realizing he was now shouting. "I tricked him into helping me and repaid him as best I could for the services he offered, risks he took and damages he suffered." "You broke the rules," Elaff insisted. "Whose rules?" Gerim snapped. "Rules of three hypocrites who do not follow the advice they give others? There is nothing more to discuss. Prepare for the challenge." With those words he left the keep. Rien and Kera sat by a creek, looking through the leather book that once belonged to Maari. "It's a very old script," Rien said, explaining the writing. "I've seen this on old calendars, the ones used before the current one was introduced." "I wish I could read it," Kera said. "So do I," Rien answered. "I never had the time to learn when there was an opportunity. "So if we can't read the book, then why are we trying?" Kera asked. "I was hoping there'd be pictures," Rien smiled. "Just curious of what's in it, I guess." He flipped a few more pages. "You may have heard that those who use magic keep notes on their knowledge and experiences, not just a list of spells. Look here," he pointed to the open page. "See how messy this is? I'd gamble this isn't a spell, but a memo or a description. And over here..." he flipped a few pages back. "See how neat and evenly spaced the text here is? This I can't say is a spell, but I'd guess it requires care when reading or performing." "But if you can't read it, why bother with it?" Kera asked. "It's worth something to someone," Rien said. "It may be good to us." "How?" "You probably didn't have much experience with this sort of thing, but information can at times be more precious than money." 1 "Like blackmail?" Kera asked. "It's an example," Rien nodded. "There are other types. It's like an old book, valuble beyond the price of money and sometimes life." He closed the volume with a smile. "This maybe such a book." "And you're hoping to find someone in Dargon who has use for it?" Kera asked, going back to the conversation they had before arriving at the creek. "It would do us little good in Tench," Rien said, "and Magnus is too far away at this point. Dargon should give us a safe margin of time to apply what we learned...may learn." "I heard Maari say that there was no cure," Kera said. "I guess I was out by then," Rien said. "That was foolish of me to charge out after her like that. She could have killed me just as easily." "Does your head still hurt?" Kera asked. "It's not as bad as it was," Rien smiled awkwardly, "but I'll remember it for quite some time." Kera put her arm around him sympathetically. "What if there is no cure?" "I don't believe that," he answered. "If there is a way to induce a condition, then there is a way to reverse it. There are two faces to every coin. We'll find something. Tomorrow. It's getting too late to go any further tonight. Let's make camp here." "Good, I wanted to take a swim," Kera said. "Why don't you join me?" "That's all there is," Alicia said. She and Mija stood over a dark green patch of ground, after unsuccessfully searching Maari's house. Mija sat down on the grass next to the dead patch and poked with a branch at what looked like a piece of an egg shell. He watched it crack and break under the pressure before tossing the branch away. "What are you doing?" Alicia asked. "Thinking," he shrugged. "Can you figure out what got spilled here?" Alicia sat down next to Mija, with a thoughtful look on her face. "Ever feel helpless without your notes?" she smiled. Mija shifted uncomfortably, pushing himself back, as Alicia started on a semi-familiar spell. "Certainly wasn't a normal potion," Alicia said a while later, finishing with her spell. "I never saw anything like this." Mija stood up behind her and helped her up. "Something's wrong. Maari knew we were coming. Let's inform the coven." The pair quickly disappeared in the woods. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Trial by Fire Part III Damsel in Distress by M. Wendy Hennequin (b.c.k.a. HENNEQUI_WEM@CTSTATEU) Myrande sat in her hot, little office and stared at the stones in the wall. She put her hand to her lips, remembering Luthias' kiss. "Are you all right about what happened between you and Luthias last night?" Lauren had asked her that morning, almost a week ago when Clifton and Luthias had left for Magnus, when neither the Duchess nor the seneschal could eat breakfast. Suprise had jolted Sable, then some slight resentment crept in. She could never manage to keep anything she felt strongly about a secret from Lauren--and this time it bothered her. "What do you mean?" Myrande hedged. "You know what I mean," Lauren replied calmly. "Nothing happened. He was drunk. He didn't know what he was doing," Myrande replied sullenly, toying with a sausage. Lauren smiled. "What makes you think that?" "He was drunk," she repeated. "He doesn't want me when he's sober. If only--" Myrande tried to finish, but there was nothing left to say. "He was so hurt," she confided to the Duchess, who leaned forward sympathetically. "I haven't seen him like that since Roisart died..." Sable could feel Luthias' pain, a hard, cold, burning lump of stone in her heart. "But he was drunk, and I pushed him away. I don't know how, I don't know if I should have, I don't even know why, but I pushed him away." Despair washed over her then, as it had consumed the Baron of Connall the night before. "Perhaps you shouldn't have rejected him," the Duchess said coldly. Myrande stared at her, confused and hurt. "Perhaps you should have let him continue. Luthias is a man of great honor, young as he is. He would have married you--" Furious, Myrande leapt to her feet, and her chair flew toward the stone wall of the keep, crashed, and tumbled noisily onto the cool floor. "I would never do such a thing!" she cried, enraged. "I would never compromise Luthias' honor to--" The Duchess of Dargon looked at her calmly and compassionately. Sable compressed her lips angrily, reached behind her for the chair, righted it, and sat. "You knew better," she accused tightly. "You know better. Why did you say that?" "So *you* would know why you pushed him away," Lauren explained gently. And Myrande did understand. She had wondered whether or not she had scornfully rejected the only opportunity she would ever have to feel Luthias' touch, to be anything like a wife to him, to have his love. Tired, sorrowful, her head lowered. The Duchess touched Myrande's hand. "It will be all right. I know." Myrande didn't question her; there were some things that the Duchess of Dargon, daughter of the High Mage, just knew. She was magical, the Duchess of Dargon was. "Do you know what this trial will bring?" Myrande finally inquired. "Only that Luthias will gain great honor by it," Lauren sighed. "Perhaps when he returns, he'll make you Duchess of Dargon." "Don't say that; it's ill luck," Myrande hushed her swiftly. "Luthias doesn't want to convict Clifton or Michiya. No more does he want to be a Duke. I don't wish to be Duchess. The only thing I want is Luthias' love." Which I shall never have, she reminded herself sternly. "What does your father think of all this?" 1 "He's consulted his crystal for days," Lauren revealed. The Duchess stared at the wall. "And he sees war and blood." War and blood. Sir Edward Sothos had told Luthias that he thought war was coming. And so the seneschal this day, a week after the Baron of Connall left her to try his cousin for treason, sent for Macdougalls, who sauntered into her office and her reverie. "Hi," said the assistant Castellan casually, seating himself without permission. He had know Myrande all her life and had been assistant Castellan under her father; he saw no reason to stand on ceremony, and Myrande knew it. "What can I do for ye, lassie?" Myrande smiled slightly at Macdougalls. He was a short, dark man, perpetually wearing a quiver of arrows and a saucy grin. "You can send to Dargon for masons and carpenters, since you won't let me out of the castle without a guard," she bantered, only half-playfully. The fact that Macdougalls did not permit her to go anywhere alone irritated her, as did the fact that Luthias had ordered it so. "In case there is a war, I want this castle ready. Besides, we're due for the maintenance." "Aye, lassie," Macdougalls agreed. His grin expanded. "These yer orders, or the lad's?" "Both, I think." But she didn't want to think of Luthias. "And when they arrive, I want you to oversee the repairs. I'm sure you know, as well as I, what needs attention." "Aye," Macdougalls agreed, "and I would say ye're on top of my list." Myrande rolled her eyes in dismissal, but the archer only laughed. "Ye've been workin' too hard, lassie. Why don't ye just go shootin'?" "Will you let me go alone?" "Nay. Lad's orders," he reminded her. "Then I'm not going," Myrande decided. "I refuse to give up my privacy. If I'm going to be surrounded, I might as well stay where I am." She paused. "Were you telling me the truth when you said that I shoot better than half the archers of the Barony?" "Aye, of course, lass," he confirmed confidently. "I wouldn't lie to ye." Myrande grimaced. "If that's so, you'd better institute a mandatory daily archery practice for all the soldiers in the castle." Macdougalls laughed loudly and irreverently. "Ye don't have to be so accurate when you fire into a whole troop, lassie!" There was a discreet knock on her door. "Come," Myrande instructed. Mika, her pretty, young assistant, crept into the office. "My lady," the girl announced, "the lord of Shipbrook is here to see you." "My cousin, Lord Warin Shipbrook?" Myrande asked. "No, my lady. It is your uncle, the Baron himself." "Oh, damn," Myrande breathed. Louder, she ordered, "Seat him in the solar, and convey my regrets that I cannot join him immediately. Assure him I shall attend him shortly." Mika nodded to the seneschal and the assistant Castellan and timidly crept away. "What would the Baron of Shipbrook want of ye?" Macdougalls wondered aloud. "He knows the lad ain't here." Sable's lips twitched with displeasure. "Yes, he knows." Myrande knew exactly what Shipbrook wanted. "He came here because the Baron is absent, Macdougalls." "I'll set a guard in there," the archer decided. "No," Myrande countermanded the order. "I don't want him to think I fear him." She rose to leave her office. "But keep an eye sharp, Macdougalls. I don't trust him." "Me neither," Macdougalls agreed as she left the room. Myrande sped upstairs to her chambers, threw off the stained 1muslin overdress and slipped into a semi-formal gown of light blue silk. She could not look the seneschal for company, and her pride would not permit her to look overworked to her uncle. She quickly unbraided her hair, brushed it, and wound it behind her head. Hastily, she reached for the two Bichanese hair ornaments Michiya had bought her. She smiled; they were beautiful--and deadly. Although topped by exquisite Bichanese artwork, the ivory sticks were tipped with a sharp silver point. Michiya had told her that often these chop sticks were used as weapons for a final defense. She finally slipped them into her ebony hair and checked her appearance in the mirror. As usual, she was dissatisfied; she was short, dark of skin, eye, and hair, and looked capable rather than ornamental. Her face was well-formed, but not striking. She glanced at her body and wished her figure were not so pronounced. Oh, to look as the Duchess of Dargon did, tall, willowy, and beautiful, with creamy skin and blue-green eyes...to be educated and magical, as Lauren was...then, perhaps, Luthias might have loved her, if she were beautiful and enchanting. But she was small and dark and practical, a seneschal and not an enchantress. She sighed and hurried from her room; no matter what she felt about her uncle, she would not shame Luthias' house. The Baron of Shipbrook, a tall, heavy-set, dark-haired man, stood as his neice entered. "You are looking well, my dear," he greeted her with a bow Myrande found artificial rather than courteous. "How are you?" "Well, thank you, your lordship," Myrande addressed him formally. Somewhat gracefully, she offered a curtsey. "And you, sir?" "I thank you, well," the Baron of Shipbrook said. He sat without invitation. "I came to inform you that I have arranged your marriage for the twenty-fourth of Seber." "I am not marrying," Myrande told him. Did the man really find it necessary to go through this again? "But, my child," Shipbrook protested in a gentle, wheedling tone full of a feigned concern, "you must marry." "The Baron of Connall says I needn't; he is my guardian, sir, not you." Shipbrook's eyes narrowed angrily. "Girl, you have no conception of the shame you bring on your family, and on yourself, by remaining unmarried. Half the Duchy thinks you Connall's whore--" All the blood drained from Myrande's face as rage exploded at the comment, but she somehow kept silent. How dare he! Whore? It was true that most of the Duchy thought her Luthias' bride --Fionn Connall, Luthias' father, had started that rumor years ago--but whore?! How dare he! When Luthias returned-- But he wasn't here now. Her words were slow, careful, and formal; she must be careful and keep her rage in check. "I am the seneschal of Connall, sir, nothing else, and you know it. My guardian, the Lord Baron, has refused permission for my marriage, has he not? When I asked him about it, he forbade me to enter into such a marriage." Remembering his absolute refusal made Sable smile. Shipbrook's lips compressed into thin, pink lines. "He wishes that you be a spinster, to be mocked by the Duchy." "That is not true," Myrande argued, wondering at the serenity of her voice. How cool and placid she sounded! "The Baron of Connall is doing his best to see I am happy." Within her, something warm lit when she remembered the arguement she and Luthias had had in Dargon before the Sy tourney. He had put his arms around her and said then that he wanted her to be happy. "Don't you want to marry Baron Oleran?" Shipbrook continued. 1Somehow, he had subdued his anger and was again employing a wheedling tone. "He is a handsome man; he's rich and owns a great deal of land in the Duchy of Northfield. Granted, he is older than you--" "I do not wish to marry," Myrande informed firmly. Her calm was wearing thin. "Oleran has only seen you once, at a distance, and he is already in love with you." Myrande supressed a desire to laugh. True, she had never met Oleran and that she was judging him by the rumors, but she could not conceive of a man of Oleran's evil reputation falling in love with anyone, let alone a dark seneschal. "I do not love him," Sable replied flatly. "And I shall not marry him. I shall not marry at all--ever!" "You must marry!" Shipbrook demanded, rising. He was tall and ominous now, his dark, surly eyes wicked. "If you refuse--" "What will you do?" Myrande challenged him. "You have no authority over me. Luthias has forbidden the match--yet you take advantage of his absence to try to convince me to disobey him. I will not marry, your lordship. And if you think you can convince me, try, but I warn you that a hundred guards will protect me if I so much as call." Shipbrook grimaced and turned away. "I suppose you will turn me out, then." "I would not think of shaming the hospitality of Lord Connall," Sable assured her uncle haughtily. "You are welcome to stay for dinner." Myrande woke slowly, woozily. In confusion, she stared at the ceiling. It was not the low, beamed ceiling in her chamber at Connall. Where was she? This was not any room in Connall Keep or Connall Castle; she would have recognized it. Perhaps she was ill. Yes, at dinner with her uncle, she remembered feeling dizzy and sick. That was the last thing she recalled. Where was she now? What had happened? "You dispatched men to intercept the Castellan's messenger?" she heard her uncle's voice say. "Yes, my lord. The man was stopped." "Good. I don't want the Baron of Connall knowing of this. Make sure of it. You may go." "Thank you, your lordship." Myrande heard a door close a moment later. "She is rather lovely, in a dark way," Myrande heard an urbane voice appraise her cooly. "Like a fairy child. She will do." Where was she?! "And the bridal price?" she heard her uncle ask. "I grant it is more usual to receive a dowry--" "One thousand, as we agreed," Oleran returned politely. "You are taking a good deal of trouble to get me my bride; I am willing to pay a good deal for her. Besides, as I told you, I need a bride to rescue my reputation." The door--where was the door? Myrande could not turn her head to see--opened and shut rapidly. "Father, what is this?" Myrande heard her cousin, Warin, demand. "How did you get Myrande here? Does Luthias know of this?" "Of course not, and he won't," Shipbrook said firmly. "Lord Oleran, I believe you know my son, Warin." "Sir," Warin acknowledged the other noble quickly. For a moment, Warin's eyes stared at Myrande's. "My God, Father, she looks like death. What did you do to her?" "I gave her a little callin. It calmed her enough to be more cooperative." 1 "Callin?!" Warin squeaked. Inside, Myrande felt like screaming. That--! He had drugged her and taken her from her home. Myrande knew of drugs; part of her duties as seneschal involved healing. Callin was used to calm people too agitated to relax alone. But its side effects included euphoria and susceptibility to suggestion. Her uncle, that--!, had probably used this power of suggestion to assure their escape from Connall, to convince Macdougalls that all was well. But would Macdougalls allow her to get away? No...they had said something about a messenger. Which her uncle had done stopped. "You drugged her?" Warin continued, outraged. "Father, she doesn't want to marry!" "I'll convince her otherwise," Myrande heard the urbane voice promise. She felt some of her hair move, then felt the point of the chop stick on her scalp. But Myrande couldn't adjust her position; she was still too drowsy. "If not, I still have plenty of callin," Shipbrook reassured Baron Oleran. "You'll have a wife yet." "You--" Warin began, but did not finish. "Father, you can't just kidnap Myrande and marry her off. Luthias--" "Is two weeks away in Magnus, attending the business of the King," Shipbrook reminded his son cooly. "Now, have you something useful to say, son, or am I to take away your birthright." There was silence for a moment, then Warin said, "I did actually come to tell you something 'useful.' There is a ship our harbor. An ambassador from the Beinison Empire, one Count Tyago, has arrived and asks hospitality." Shipbrook suddenly sounded interested in his son's words. "An ambassador from the Beinison Emperor? Where is he?" "In the great hall." Myrande heard her uncle rise. "Come, Oleran, we must greet the man civilly. An ambassador from Beinison in my house!" he concluded joyfully. "We must hold a ball in his honor. Warin, send a message to the Duchess of the ambassador's arrival, and see that you don't mention your cousin." The room went dark as the men left it, and Myrande slipped back into sleep. Myrande Shipbrook, Seneschal of Connall, woke seething when the maid came in to tend her. She rose silently, glared at girl, then regretted it. It wasn't her fault, after all. Myrande smiled sadly and allowed the maid to dress her (dress her? She was no noble lady like Lauren. Sable didn't need or want a maid to dress her). Her sky blue gown had been wrinkled by sleep, but the maid provided another of peach silk. Myrande gazed at herself in the mirror in disdain. The garment's color made her skin appear dirty. The maid brought breakfast then, but Myrande shook her head. The maid seem confused and left, but she left the tray behind. Myrande gazed at it, took a deep breath, and made a decision. Ignoring the food, Sable went to the window and gazed out. She was high in a tower, the highest tower in Shipbrook's keep. She smiled. She could see the towers of Connall. "You must eat!" her uncle raged at her a day later. "No," Myrande refused firmly. Although as furious as her relative, she refused to raise her voice and lower herself. "You'll starve yourself." "If I am kept captive." "Eat!" Shipbrook commanded. "I will not," Sable repeated. She smiled. Luthias had always called her stubborn and prideful; thank God she was. She would not 1allow this toad to win. "Oleran will not have a starved bride!" "Baron Oleran will have no bride at all," Myrande corrected him. "I refuse to marry him, sir. In the ceremony, I am asked to accept the bridegroom. It is my choice. You cannot make me marry." "I pursuaded you to leave Connall, my girl," Shipbrook threatened. "I can use my pursuasion again." "Not if I neither eat nor drink," Sable reminded him, smiling triumphantly. "How will you drug me again?" Her uncle looked shocked at the words. A knock sounded. "What?" her uncle shouted angrily. Myrande's cousin Tylane opened the door slightly. "Father, the Count of Tyago is ready for the ball. Is Myrande coming?" "No," the Baron of Shipbrook said flatly. He turned to Myrande. "I will not let you out of this room until you agree to marry the Baron Oleran." Myrande only smiled at him, and Shipbrook turned back to Tylane. "Where is your brother?" "Getting ready. He'll meet us downstairs." "Very well. I shall also join you there." Tylane nodded, cast one sympathetic, helpless look at his cousin, and disappeared behind the heavy door. Myrande stared at the door. She heard the bolt slide into place every time Shipbrook left, and she knew that there were two guards outside it. Shipbrook turned to his neice again. "You shall change your mind," he promised. He whirled and left the room. A ball tonight. Perhaps she could escape. Lauren would be invited; if only she could get a message to her. No; the servants, though sympathetic, couldn't risk it. Tylane wouldn't. Warin--perhaps he would help. But she could depend on no one but herself. As night fell, Sable went to the window again and looked out. She smiled as she saw the towers of Connall again, then she examined her own tower. Her room was over four hundred feet high (can't climb down, she decided; not enough bed covers to make a rope); the roof of the tower, which was a flat stone floor with crenolations, was only forty feet above her. Myrande pulled her head back into the room and examined the ceiling. Yes, she could see the trap door, and there were stairs along the walls leading to it. Reaching the roof wasn't a problem. She looked back out. The top of the tower was accessible from the castle walls; she had an escape route. But the walls were patrolled by Shipbrook's men and Oleran's; she would never get out alone. If she could get a guard's uniform, that might be one thing. She might be able to trick the guards and send one away, but she couldn't subdue the other one unless she chose to kill him with her Bichanese weapons. No; she would not kill. Myrande jolted as she heard the bolt slip back from the door. Perhaps Oleran had come to beat her, or Shipbrook to try to convince her to marry. Her mouth set; she would not let them win. A slim figure slipped rapidly into the dim tower room and closed the door. "Myrande!" it rasped. Myrande smiled slightly and came forward. "Warin! What is it?" Warin took her hands firmly, but the grip was also frantic and frightened. "Why aren't you eating?" her cousin demanded. "Do you know what you're doing?" "I know exactly what I'm doing," Myrande assured him. "I'm preventing your father from drugging me again. He drugged my food before; he isn't going to trick me into marrying Oleran the way he tricked me into leaving Connall." "Myrande, you must eat something," Warin reminded her, holding her hands so tightly that it hurt. "If you don't, you'll die." "I'm so glad you went to the University, Warin," Sable teased 1playfully. "I would never know these things if you didn't tell me." "I'm serious!" the frustrated Warin cried out, jerking her hands. "Myrande, you could die! Do you want to die?" "No," Myrande spat angrily, "of course I don't! Do you think I want to give up on life? But I'd rather die honorably than be tricked into a marriage and beaten by Oleran. Luthias would rather--" She stopped. Warin sighed and, defeated, he released her hands. "You're right," he conceded, sounding tired. "Luthias would rather you died like this than married to Oleran. So would I," he revealed heavily. "But I wish there were some other way." "Get me out of here," Myrande suggested. "Send someone for Luthias. Get me a guard's uniform. Anything." "I can't get you a uniform or take you from here. My father has the soldiers watching for tricks," Warin told her, collapsing onto her feather bed. "And as for messengers--Father's already killed Luthias' man that your archer castellan sent out." Young Lord Shipbrook sighed, was silent, then sat up quickly. "Myrande--if I bring you the food, will you eat it? I understand why you don't trust my father, but--" "I'll eat it," Myrande agreed. Perhaps there was a way after all! "At the ball...can you talk to the Duchess?" "My father's after me like a hawk." "He'll disinherit you if he finds out about the food." Warin smiled weakly. "I'd rather be right than rich, if it comes down to your life, Myrande." He was silent again. Myrande sat down beside him. Warin looked up at her, his hazel eyes cloudy in the dimness. "We could get married." "No," Myrande said softly, but quickly. "Why?" Myrande looked away. "Is it that man Luthias told me of, the one you're in love with?" Myrande was still, then she nodded. "Who is he? Maybe--if he knows you love him--he'll help us." Myrande laughed and turned toward her cousin. "I wouldn't doubt it!" She sobered quickly. "But it wouldn't do us any good. He's in Magnus--" "Good God!" Warin cried out, caught between laughter and shout. "You love Luthias." "Yes," Myrande admitted, sighing. "I love Luthias." "He doesn't know? You didn't tell him?" "I couldn't." "He would marry you, Myrande, if--" "For the wrong reasons," she argued. "I don't want him marrying me because he feels he should. And I don't want him pitying me, either. Let it alone, Warin." For a long while, young Lord Shipbrook didn't speak. Finally, he stood. "We'll find some way, Myrande," he promised. "Thank you," Myrande said, and Warin knocked on the bolted door to be let out. He turned back. "I'll bring something before dawn." Myrande assented, understanding. Her cousin disappeared when the door opened. She took the chop sticks from her hair, slipped them beneath her pillow, then undressed and went to sleep. Warin slipped into the ball room once the music started. His father snagged his tunic angrily. "Where were you?" the Baron of Shipbrook demanded of his elder son. "Why are you late?" "I was talking to Myrande," Warin explained defiantly. "Do you object?" "She will marry Oleran," Shipbrook insisted. "I will see to it." "I told her that," Warin lied. "She's stubborn, Father, like her mother." 1 Warin watched his father's face; it did not move, but he saw the flinch behind his eyes. Yes, that still hurt his ego, that his brother, who had no title, no wealth, and at the time, not even Knighthood, should have been preferred to him by the loveliest woman in the Duchy of her generation. Like her mother, Myrande was immobile when she loved another. "You are trying to trick me," Shipbrook accused his son in low tones. Smiling, the Baron bowed to a passing noble. "Not at all. I don't want to see Myrande caged. It would be better for her if she gave in," Warin stated, lying again. A brief thought cascaded across his brain; if Myrande conceded, would he be able to smuggle her out of the keep? His father looked him over cooly. "It is good to see you have come to your senses," his father finally told him. "Come. You must meet the Beinsison ambassador." The Baron of Shipbrook led his elder son toward his younger son, Tylane, and Tylane's betrothed, Danza Coranabo. With them was a young man who looked to be about Danza's age: fifteen. To this young man, the Baron of Shipbrook bowed. "Count Tyago," he announced himself. The young man, blond and boyish, nodded respectfully. "This is my eldest son, Warin. Warin, Count Tyago." "How do you do, sir," Warin said politely, bowing. "How do you do," replied the Count in an accent pronounced enough to be noticed but slight enough not to interfere with understanding. He held out his hand to Warin. "A pleasure to meet you." "And you, your--" What was the proper term of respect for a Count of the Beinison Empire? It was "excellency" here... "And you, Count." Warin smiled at the young man. "What brings you here to Baranur?" "The business of the Emperor," Count Tyago replied. "I am going to Magnus as an emissary from his Imperial Majesty to your King." Tyago glanced at Warin's brother. "Your father has offered to me the companionship of Lord Tylane." "You're going to Magnus?" Warin asked his brother. Tylane nodded, almost shyly. "And leaving your bride?" Warin teased. His brother blushed, as did Danza. "I would not want your son to leave his betrothed," Tyago protested. "Please stay." "I'll go in his place, Father," Warin volenteered, then cursed himself. Who would bring food to Myrande? She'd die for certain! "No," Baron Shipbrook refused with finality. "Tylane will go." Danza appeared dejected, Tylane sad. "I have given my word." The Baron looked over his shoulder and saw the entrance and announcement of the Duchess of Dargon. He grimaced. "I must attend to my other guests, sir," he said to the young Count. "Pray excuse me." Tyago bowed to him as he left, then bowed to Danza as the music started. "Would you like to dance, my lady?" Danza blushed again. "With your permission, Lord Tylane?" Tylane smiled and nodded, then whisked Danza gracefully away. Warin grabbed his brother's sleeve. "You're going to Magnus?" "Don't get any ideas," Tylane warned him in a hiss. "Father's like a falcon; he's watching every move I make. If he--" "Take a message to Luthias," Warin breathed. "Tell him what's happening. Tell him to get the hell back here before Father marries Myrande off to Oleran, before she gets beaten or raped or killed!" "I can't," Tylane swore. "If Father suspects, he'll refuse to accept Danza for me." "Would you rather have Myrande's blood on your hands?" "I won't give up Danza!" Tylane vowed angrily. He smiled as the Duchess of Dargon passed him. "Not for you, not for Myrande, and not for Luthias." 1 "You'd better," Warin threatened, snagging his brother's sleeve. "You *owe* Luthias. You told me yourself that if Luthias hadn't chosen to listen to Danza when she said she loved you and not him, she'd be married to him now and you'd have no hope!" "I won't risk losing the woman I love!" "And you are willing to risk Myrande's losing the man she loves?" "She loves no one," Tylane stated petulantly. "If she had, Fionn Connall would have married her off years ago." "She loves Luthias," Warin hissed. "Is it any wonder the late Baron held off?" Tylane looked at his brother, then looked away. "It isn't hard, Tylane," Warin cajoled. "Just tell him." Tylane looked up again, then shifted his gaze. "You owe Luthias." "Yes," breathed Tylane reluctantly, "I owe Luthias." "You'll do it?" "I'll tell him," Tylane promised, sighing. "I can't promise anything else, Warin." "It's enough," Warin assured him, and he went to dance with Pecora Winthrop. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 QQQQQ tt QQ QQ tttttt QQ QQ uu uu aaaa nnnn tt aaaa QQ QQ uu uu aa aa nn nn tt aa aa QQ QQ uu uu aa aa nn nn tt aa aa QQQQQQ uuu aaaaa nn nn tt aaaaa QQQ ______________________________________ A Journal of Fact, Fiction and Opinion ______________________________________ Quanta is an electronically distributed magazine of science fiction. Published monthly, each issue contains short fiction, articles and editorials by authors around the world and across the net. Quanta publishes in two formats: straight ascii and PostScript* for PostScript compatible printers. To subscribe to Quanta, or just to get more info, send mail to: da1n@andrew.cmu.edu da1n@andrew.bitnet Quanta is a relatively new magazine but is growing fast, with over two hundred subscribers to date from seven different countries. Electronic publishing is the way of the future. Become part of that future by subscribing to Quanta today. 1 ** ************ *** *********** **** **** ********* *** **** *********** **** ** *** ** *** *** *** ** *** *** **** ** ***** *** *** *** *** **** *** **** ****** *** ******** ****** ******** **** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** **** ******* *** *** *** *** *** *** ** *** *** **** ********* ***** **** **** ********* **** *** **** *** *** **** ** *** *** ------------------- **** *** ****** ***** The Online Magazine *********** ****** ***** of Amateur Creative Writing ************ --------------------------- >> What is Athene? Athene is a free network "magazine" devoted to amateur fiction written by the members of the online community. Athene does not restrict itself to any specific genre, but will publish quality short stories dealing with just about any interesting topic, including (but not limited to): science fiction, fantasy, religion, mystery, computers, humor, psychology, sports, politics, business >> Distribution Athene is published monthly (assuming stories come in at a reasonable rate), and comes in two formats -- ASCII and PostScript. For those who don't have access to a PostScript-compatible printer, the ASCII distribution is a text-only file much like the mail you are reading at this moment. The content of the magazine is identical across both formats. The ASCII version usually runs about 1300 lines, and the PostScript edition typically generates about twenty pages. To subscribe, send mail (no interactive messages, please) to me at: Jim McCabe MCCABE@MTUS5.BITNET Please remember to indicate which format (ASCII or PostScript) you would prefer to receive. >> Miscellaneous Back issues can be ordered on request by sending mail to me at the above address. An index is also available upon request. Please contact me at the above address for further information concerning Athene's story submission policy. Jim McCabe Editor, Athene MCCABE@MTUS5.BITNET 1------------------------------------------------------------------------ (C) Copyright October, 1989, DargonZine, Editor Dafydd . 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.


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank