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Skeptic Tank!

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From WHITE@DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU Tue May 12 10:35:22 1992 Received: from DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU by eff.org with SMTP id AA26841 (5.65c/IDA-1.4.4/pen-ident for ); Tue, 12 May 1992 10:35:11 -0400 Message-Id: <199205121435.AA26841@eff.org> Received: from DUVM by DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU (IBM VM SMTP R1.2.2MX) with BSMTP id 3308; Tue, 12 May 92 10:31:24 EDT Date: Tue, 12 May 92 10:31:14 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 3 -=========================================================+|) 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 3, Issue 5 03/23/90 Cir 971 -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Contents -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Two Bits and a Silver I Michelle Brothers Yuli 17, 1013 Materia Medica III Max Khaytsus and Michelle Brothers Yuli 22-23, 1013 Be Careful What You Wish For Bill Erdley Janis 13, 1014 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Two Bits and a Silver Part 1 by Michelle Brothers The street-lamp lighters had just emerged to begin doing their jobs when Eliowy slipped out from behind the glass-blowers shop on Atelier Street. The purse she had just lifted was heavy in her hand but would just barely cover the amount she was supposed to bring in for the night. The purse was heavy not just from the weight of the coins within, but the girl had no time to address the feelings of regret she had in taking the coins from their owner. At the moment keeping her own skin intact was of more importance than the moral considerations involved. Eliowy hurried down the street as quickly as she could without it being obvious that she was in a hurry. She was supposed to have her day's wages, if they could be called that, in by sunset, and already the burnished disk of the summer sun was sinking below the horizon. She was running a little late because she had been trying, over the course of the last few weeks to steal enough extra money so that she could buy a horse to facilitate her escape from Dargon and, incidentally, Liriss. Eliowy picked up her pace. The memory of her tall, hulking boss made her slightly sick. The deal that he had offered her at first hadn't seemed too bad. He had set her up in a boarding house until, according to him, she could get back on her feet. This would have been fine, except that she hadn't really needed any help but she wasn't able to convince him of that. He had insisted. Not seeing any immediate harm in it, Eliowy accepted. A few days later, just as she was about to tell Liriss `thank you very much, but I have to be going', the man had suggested that she might like to repay him for his kindness in putting her up for a time. Eliowy hadn't been able to refuse. It took her a few weeks to realize that she wasn't getting any closer to paying Liriss off. He still paid for her room and board and just a week ago had purchased her a new tunic and cloak for winter. Frightened at the implications of this, Eliowy had given him more money, in hopes of erasing the debt faster. This plan backfired when she was unable to produce the same amount the next night. Liriss had warned her in a low, cold voice that if she didn't bring in the full required donation the next night, he would turn her over to his guards for a night to teach her a lesson. He had added, in a much gentler, honey sweet voice, that there was no place in Dargon that she could hide that he couldn't find her, so she'd better not even think about trying to run out on him. Eliowy had left that interview profoundly disturbed. She believed everything that Liriss told her, less one. She believed that he could find her in Dargon, but doubted that his reach extened much further than that. Besides, she had out run and out-foxed Teran for the last ten months: Liriss, a man she had never seen to leave his office, should be much less of a challenge. The next night she brought him the exact amount that she was supposed to and saved the difference in a small ceramic jar to put towards a horse. The thought of her old mentor made Eliowy walk a little faster yet. According to Liriss, he had left Dargon two days after Eliowy had been taken into the crime lord's `care'. Whether this was true or not, she didn't know, but she did know that sooner or later Teran would make his way back to Dargon and if she was still here by then, he would find her. She had to put as much distance between both Teran and 1Liriss as possible as soon as possible. Full night had fallen and the last of the merchants had left the market square leaving only the rats and other night prowlers out when Eliowy arrived at the building that housed Liriss's office. The building was a three story affair made of wood and solid red bricks. Windows were scattered all about the face of the building along the wall that had the best view of the market place. Liriss, Eliowy had learned, was a great people watcher. The auburn-haired girl shuddered as she climbed the stairs to his office because lately that watching had included her. The door that let her out onto the third floor opened on silent hinges and Eliowy walked the distance down the hallway slowly. Liriss was still having her deliver her daily take to him directly, instead of giving it to one of his lieutenants as the other girls did. She wasn't quite sure why, although the intimidation factor probably had something to do with it. She opened the office door. Liriss's latest secretary, the third in the last month, was seated at the small desk set to one side of the entrace to the crimelord's inner sanctum, carefully applying a pale green powder to her eyelids. She looked up as Eliowy closed the door. "You're late," she observed quietly. "He's waiting for you. Go on in." And she turned back to peering in the polished bronze mirror, wielding her eyebrush with care. Eliowy swallowed and stepped up to the last door. She composed herself, knocked sharply, and entered. As usual, Liriss was standing with his back to the door holding a glass of some dark liquor, staring out his prized picture window. He turned slightly as Eliowy entered. She stopped a few feet from the polished oak desk he stood behind, leaving the door open at her back. "You," he said flatly, returning his gaze to the window, "are late." "I have the money," responded Eliowy promptly, to change the topic. She had gotten a lecture, not too long ago, about the hazards of being late with one's required payment. The alternatives to being prompt that Liriss had chosen to mention had not been pleasant. Eliowy had mentally prepared her lines of defense for the next time she was late, because she knew there would be a next time, and wanted to avoid the consequences. Dodging the question was the first line. "That does not alleviate the fact that you are bring it in late," snapped Liriss, turning to face Eliowy fully, brown eyes blazing angrily. "I brought in a little extra," added Eliowy quickly. "I got lucky today." Second line -- bribery. "You know the penalty for delivering payments late," Liriss continued, as though Eliowy hadn't spoken. "You were warned once before--" "I had to out run the guard!" Last line of defense. Lying or honesty. Whichever sounded the best at the time, coupled with prayer. Liriss stopped talking abruptly and the glare in his eyes became darker. Eliowy forced herself not to cringe under his gaze. "You had to out run the guard," he repeated. With deceptive casualness he set his glass down on the desk. "Just how is it that you're earning this money, young lady, that you should need to run from the guard?" Eliowy swallowed hard, not liking the look in the man's eyes. "Pickpocketing," she said. "How else should I get it?" She couldn't understand the look of utter disbelief that covered Liriss's features. How else was she supposed to earn the money he wanted? Granted, he could, like Teran, disapprove of stealing, but it wasn't 1as though she had many options. No one would hire her for honest labor and she really doubted that Liriss cared that she was thieving. The look on his face was one of surprise, not disapproval. "Pickpocketing. How else could you earn it!" said Liriss in a brittle voice. "Since you don't seem to know, I think tonight will be very--" "Sir!" Liriss turned with a black look to the open door to face his first lieutenant, Kesrin, who held one of his employees by one arm. "My Lord," said Kesrin with a significant look, silently reminding him that he had other business to deal with that evening. He had been Liriss's second lieutenant until the disappearance of Cril over two months ago, and was allowed a certain amount of familiarity. "Kesrin," Liriss acknowledged him with a sharp nod and turned back to the young woman before his desk. "Eliowy, you may go. Do not be late again, or you will be visiting the barracks. Am I clear?" "Yes sir!" Eliowy didn't bother to question her luck. She ducked out the door. Liriss took a deep breath and forced his temper down. He could deal with the girl and her education later. This was just a little more important. "Come in, Kesrin. Tilden." Kesrin closed the door with a brief glance out, and shoved Tilden into a position before the desk while Liriss seated himself. The crime lord took a swallow from his glass, narrowly studying the man before him. Tilden stared at the desktop. "Rumor has it, Tilden, that you've been complaining about my work policies," said Liriss after a suitable interval of time had passed. "According to some of my men, you seem to have this quaint idea that you deserve better than you've been getting from me. Is this correct?" After being the sole survivor of a party of men sent out to bring back Kera, a thief in Liriss's employ, and returning without her, Tilden had been removed from his cushy position as one of the crime boss's scouts and put to work as simple guard, watching one of his gambling establishments. Tilden was a little upset about his new position. "I'm the best damn scout you've got, Liriss," said the man hotly, looking up. "I shouldn't be doing a job that you've got muscle for!" "I see," said Liriss, sounding regretful, "I wish that you had expressed your displeasure to me earlier, Tilden. Then I wouldn't have to deal with the seeds of discontent that you have sown among my troops." Tilden shifted uncomfortably and Liriss took another sip of wine. "Kesrin, take Tilden here to the blocks--" "NO!" "--I have no use for disloyal and incompetent men in my ranks." Tilden lunged suddenly for Liriss's throat but was caught and pinioned by Kesrin before his hands made it halfway across the table. Carefully, almost gently, Kesrin knocked him out. "And when you're done with that, Kesrin," added Liriss. "See what you can do about whipping the men back into shape. I don't want to have to make any more examples of this sort." "Of course, Lord Liriss," Kesrin pulled open the door. "And I'll send Hollis in to you." "You do that," said Liriss, distractedly. He stared out his window for a long while before designing to notice the woman standing there, crafting plans to tighten his grip on his people to make future repetitions of the month's incidents unlikely. People failing in their assigned tasks and having deserters did not make for a smooth running 1operation. Liriss hated it when things didn't run smoothly. With a sharp gesture, he beconed Hollis to his side. "Don't do this to me, Kesrin! Kesrin, you can't do this. Let me go! Please, you can't just leave me here to die, Kesrin!" Tilden struggled futilely against the chains being locked around his wrists and ankles. His voice raised to a paniced scream. "You can't just leave me!" "Yes, I can, Tilden," said Kesrin calmly. He stood a few feet away, holding a torch, and watching calmly as the guards manacled the ex-scout to the granite slab that Liriss used for his executions. "You were warned. You did not heed that warning." "Let me go, Kesrin," repeated Tilden frantically as the men left his side. They walked quickly away as the scout jerked frantically against the chains. "You hate him as much as I do. Let me go and we'll kill him together!" "No," said Kesrin, just loud enough to be heard over the pounding of the waves. "You cannot hate him as much as I do." He stared past the block to the narrow stairs that the guards were slowly climbing. "I will deal with my Lord Liriss. When the time comes." His cool reguard refocused on Tilden's sweaty, spray covered face. "Goodbye, Tilden. May you gain wisdom in your next incarnation." And he turned and walked away, feet splashing softly in the rising tide. "Kesssrriiinnn....!" Two torches were left burning in salt encrusted brackets on the handrail of the stairs that led to Lord Liriss's private execution grounds. The light reflected eerily off of the slowly rising water, turning the sea foam to silver. Liriss's lieutenant, Kesrin, had been gone for some time when Eliowy made her way down the slippery stairs. The water had risen to almost thigh level as she waded out. As she splashed towards him, Tilden jerked in his bonds. "Did you come back to gloat, Kesrin?" he demanded, in a voice cracked raw from screaming. "Or is it you, `Great Lord Liriss', to see if your oh so faithful servant did his job properly!" "Neither, actually," said Eliowy. "And if you hold still, I'll try and get your wrists free." "Rescue! You're here to rescue me!" Tilden's hoarse voice dropped to a whisper of desperate hope, unwilling to question his luck. "Did you get the keys?" "No. I have to pick the lock. Now hold still." Tilden held, while Eliowy swore softly to herself. Before she left Rubel, she had been in the process of learning to pick locks, under the friendly tutelage of her friends the twins, Piper and Skeeter. The two were first rate cutpurses who had developed their lockpicking skills for those rare times when one or the other of them was caught. They had just started to teach her the dubious art when she left. As a result, progress was slow. By the time Eliowy had the scout's ankles free, the ocean had crept up to her thighs. "Hurry," hissed Tilden. "I'm doing my best," retorted Eliowy. "Why are you doing this?" asked Tilden abruptly, as Eliowy fumbled with the lock. Each wave, as it came, nearly lifted her off of her feet, making the effort to pick the locks that much more difficult. "Because," said Eliowy, shaking sea water out of her face. "No one deserves to die like this. And I owe you one. Your timely arrival saved me from..." Eliowy broke off, then began again. "I followed Kesrin out and when I figured out what he planned to do, I had to go 1find a lockpick. That's what took me so long. Sorry." `I can't believe it,' thought Tilden in shock. `Liriss hired someone with a conscience. And when I'm done with him, he won't be able to corrupt any more young people like her again!' "It's all right," he said to Eliowy, forcing himself to calm down. "You're here and that's something." Eliowy didn't reply. After what seemed like an eternity to Tilden she said, "Jerk your arm. I think I got it far enough." Tilden yanked on the chain and felt resistance; he pulled harder and fell to one side, almost off the block, as his arm came abruptly free. "Give me the lockpick," he ordered. Eliowy handed it to him; little more than stiff wire twisted and curved to try and strengthen it. Tilden didn't bother to comment. He was able to unlock the last manacle with deft ease. "Let's go," he said, levering himself up, off of the slab. Together they waded over to the wooden staircase that led to the top of Liriss's private pier. "Can you think of anyplace I can hole up?" asked Tilden as they climbed. "I can't exactly go back to the guards barracks and they know all of my hideouts." "I think I know a place where you can stay," said Eliowy, after a pause. "You plan to take on Liriss, don't you?" she added, knowing that that was the only reason the man would need a place within Dargon city limits to hide. "I plan to make him pay for trying to kill me," replied Tilden, eyes gleaming with hate. "That man has lived far too long and ruined too many lives..." He continued ranting about Liriss and Kesrin, laying out in detail the plans he had for each. Eliowy said nothing else as she led the man to one of the places she had staked out as a potential hiding place for herself. While she agreed with Tilden that the crimelord had to go, she didn't want to get involved with trying to assassinate him. After she got the scout to safety, she planned to leave him. He could take care of himself and the time to leave Dargon was running out fast for her. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Materia Medica Part 3 Max Khaytsus and Michelle Brothers A ten foot grey stone wall came into view, appearing suddenly in the green of the forest, after the bend in the road. The gate to the courtyard was open and Rien and Kera were able to simply ride in. They did not go unnoticed, however. A lone guard looked up from his restless pacing and after straightening his tabard, quickly approached. "Is this the Connall residence?" Rien asked as the man strode up to him. "Yes, it is, sir," said the man politely. "May I help you?" "High Mage Marcellon Equiville should be expecting me," Rien said. The guard seemed to be taken aback for a moment. "Your name?" "Rien Keegan. I was sent by Dyann Taishent." "If you'll wait, sir, I'll go see if the High Mage is available," the guard responded and turned smartly and headed towards the main house. Another guard appeared to replace him in the courtyard before he made it inside. "Well rehearsed," Rien commented to Kera as they dismounted. They remained standing next to each other, holding onto the horse's reins and looking over the noble's estate. The stone wall went on for a good fifty yards, forcing the road outside to turn deeper into the forest, while inside a large courtyard with trees and green, well cared for shrubbery led up to a two story stone house. Other than the single man at the gate, there were no other guards or servants visible. The first guard reappeared at the house's front door with a young, dark haired woman who could not be much older than Kera. They were speaking quickly to each other as they walked over to Rien and his edgy apprentice. "Good morning," the woman said, inclining her head politely. "I am Myrande Shipbrook, the senechal of Connall Keep. I understand that you are here to see the High Mage." "We were told he would be expecting us," Rien answered. "I am Rien Keegan and this is my apprentice, Kera." "Please follow me," Myrande said, smiling. "Marcellon will see you in the Baron's study. Sergeant, please see to their horses." Leaving their mounts, Rien and Kera followed Myrande into the house where they were taken down a corridor and asked to wait for the wizard in a large room. It was the Baron's study, filled with books and decorated with weapons on the walls. By the window stood a large desk, with a disorganized stack of papers on top. An ink well and a nearly new quill stood beside the untidy stack of pages and a large padded chair sat behind the desk, turned to face out the window behind the desk. Four other comfortable looking chairs were scattered about the room. "High Mage Marcellon will be with you in just a few minutes," said the senechal, walking to the door. "Please, make yourselves comfortable. I will send for refreshments." And she stepped out, closing the door behind her. Rien walked over to the bookshelf to take a look at the titles. Most dealt with war and weaponry, but there were quite a few on tactics, law, and a couple of histories as well. 1 "Rien, I'm sick of these wizards and witches," Kera said, prowling the room. He turned around. "We seem to be lacking alternatives. What troubles you more? The disease or the people who can cure it?" Kera sighed and sat down. "They both bother me, but look at how much more trouble looking for a cure caused..." "Are you saying you'd rather have the disease take its course?" "Damn it, Rien! This is all my fault!" "Is it?" Rien asked. "How could it be?" Kera burst into tears. "I led you down that alley! I stabbed you..." Rien embraced her. "You did not lead me. I followed...and you wounded me in self defense. That dog could have been anywhere, as could I..." He stroked her hair back. "We got into the trouble looking for a cure. We have to look for it together. It's not something magical that will find us on its own. I don't want you feeling guilty or thinking that it's all your fault, because it's not." Kera didn't reply, merely buried her head in Rien's shoulder and shook. Marcellon and Myrande stood outside the study door, patiently waiting for the sounds inside to stop. "How could I go in there right now?" Marcellon asked no one in particular. "Can you imagine what they are going through?" "I don't even know why they came here," Myrande answered. "What?" Marcellon snapped around. "I said I don't know why they are here in the first place," Myrande said again. "Come along," Marcellon said, leading Myrande down the corridor, away from the door. "The two mages who came to see me yesterday sent them over. This couple was attacked by a dog diseased with lycanthropy...or perhaps a man diseased with it." "You mean like werewolves?" Myrande asked, eyes wide. "My Lady Myrande," Marcellon smiled kindly. "Werewolves are only a myth. This is a real disease that, over the course of time, makes severe alterations on the diseased body. I have a book on the subject. I may have brought it with me from Magnus..." "Are they dangerous?" Myrande asked. "Maybe I should have a guard posted." "Unless they bite someone they are not dangerous," said Marcellon, the seriousness of his tone belaying the lightness of his words. "I doubt that there will be any problems." When the door opened and Marcellon walked in, Rien and Kera stood with their arms around each other by the window. "I am sorry to intrude," he said, not expecting to walk in on something like this. The pair separated. "I am Marcellon Equiville." "I'm sorry, sir," Rien answered. "It was not proper on our part." "It's quite all right," the wizard replied, smiling. "I understand your situation." Once again Rien introduced himself and Kera and Marcellon invited them to sit down, after taking a seat behind the desk. "I will be more than happy to see what I can do for you," he went on after everyone had seated themselves. "I am not very familiar with the disease, but I am a doctor and from what I understand, you have never approached a physician." "No, sir, we have not," Rien said, "but it was your reputation as a wizard that made the final choice for us." Marcellon smiled good naturedly. "It is a much stronger reputation, I agree, but I intend to be a doctor. Magic does not solve 1all the world's problems." "Before you agree to help us," Rien said, "I'd like to discuss the matter of the fee." "I will not charge you any money," Marcellon said. "I have more than I know what to do with as it is. I simply request that you, at some future time, perform a task for me that I will require to be done." "I've taken that path before--" Rien began warily, but was interrupted by Marcellon. "I can guarantee that it will in no way compromise your morals." Rien paused to think. "You do realize that we need two cures?" "Yes." "And that I am Ljosalfar?" "Yes," the wizard said again. "The price I named accounted for all that." Rien looked at Kera, expecting approval or at least some sort of comment but she said nothing. Realizing that it was to be his decision entirely, he turned after a long pause and nodded to Marcellon. "I accept." "Good," Marcellon said. "Myrande will give you rooms here as I will need you around while I do my work. We can begin right after lunch." Rien walked into the room Marcellon converted into a small laboratory. Kera sat on a chair, holding a cloth compress against her arm. Next to her stood Myrande and Marcellon. The wizard was cleaning the side of a small glass tube filled with blood. "This is good," the wizard said, handing the vial to Myrande. The senechal took the glass over to another table as he turned to Rien. "Have a seat," he said. "You're next." He returned his attention to Kera, as Rien pulled up a chair, and removing the cloth on Kera's arm, cast a quick spell. "Go wash the blood off. It will be fine." Kera got up, looking suspiciously at her arm and went over to a basin of water and began washing the blood off. "Now, you," Marcellon walked over to Rien. "Elves are naturally nocturnal, is that correct?" "Yes." Rien's expression darkened at the use of the slang term for Ljosalfar. "Then you haven't noticed any changes in your vision?" continued Marcellon, oblivious to the change in expression. "No." "Any other changes?" Marcellon asked. "I'm afraid not," Rien said. "Nothing to be afraid about," Marcellon answered, selecting a sharp instrument off of the array on the table. "It could be a sign that your organism is putting up a good fight or that you are immune. We'll see." He looked at Rien's arm and frowned. "Someone had drawn blood before and not too many months ago," he said, indicating the lattice of thin scars below the inside of his elbow. "Yes," Rien said with distaste. "I expect that you will be more sparing with my blood than the other was." He smiled crookedly to take the sting out of his words. By this time Myrande finished with the task that she had been occupied with and came back, holding a clean, empty vial which Marcellon took from her. "I wish I could tell you this won't hurt," said Marcellon, "but purposely desecrating flesh almost always tends to be painful. Are you ready?" Rien nodded and Marcellon made a small incision in his forearm. Blood slowly dripped into the waiting vial. "There," the wizard said after a short while and removed the 1container, moving quickly over to the table where Myrande had taken the first vial. Myrande quickly took his place and instructed Rien on how to hold the cloth compress to stop the bleeding until Marcellon could heal the wound, then went over to the wizard to help with the collected sample. Kera came over to Rien and sat down in a chair next to his. "I was hoping you'd be squeamish," she sighed and he playfully swatted her. "You're hoping for the wrong things," was his quick retort. Marcellon came back. "Let me see your arm," he told Kera. She stretched it out, palm up to display that there was no trace of the incision, not even a scar. "Good," Marcellon approved his own work and turned to Rien. "Let me see yours." Rien stretched his arm out, removing the compress. The bleeding had stopped, but a bloodied cut remained. Marcellon examined it and cast his healing spell again. He looked over the arm again and then said, "this is the first time I've cast anything on a member of your species. It's good to know that magic is a universal doctor." "You had doubts about the spell working?" Rien asked. "Small ones," Marcellon admitted, "but it appears as if nature makes us all of the same dough. Go ahead and wash up." After cleaning his arm, Rien came over to the table where the others stood. In the middle was a deep dish with ice chips and water in which stood the two vials of blood. Around the dish stood other vials and jars and medical instruments, neatly arranged by category and size. Myrande was quietly preparing a solution while Marcellon chatted with Kera. He turned as Rien approached. "What now?" Rien asked. "Now I study the blood," Marcellon answered. "Actually I will only study Kera's for now, as I am vastly more familiar with human physiology. You're free for the rest of the day. I will see you two at dinner." And the mage turned away and, picking up an empty vial, moved purposefully towards the other end of the table. Kera pulled at her new tunic, trying to settle the stiff fabric around her shoulders to her satisfaction. It was a deep shade of red, decorated on the hem and collar with gold thread, and quite becoming on her. Kera couldn't stand it. Dressing up to have dinner wasn't her idea of a good time, no matter who the hosts were. The fact that they were nobility just made the situation worse. Frowning into the polished brass mirror, she tugged again at her collar. She turned at a knock on the door. "Come in." "Are you ready?" Rien asked through the door. "Yeah. Come on in." Rien stepped into the room and looked Kera over. She was a contrast to him, with his dark blue and silver trimmed tunic and blond hair. He nodded approvingly. "You look nice," he complimented. "I don't like this," declared Kera, pulling at the front of her tunic to emphasize her point. Rien shrugged. "You don't wear travel clothes when you dine with the Baron." He looked narrowly at her. "Be glad I'm not having you wear a skirt." Kera shuddered at the thought and Rien smiled faintly. "Now, if you're ready to go?" Kera sighed, nodded, and followed Rien out into the hall. They had been given rooms in Connall Keep proper, along the outside wall so that their windows over-looked the main courtyard and gave a wonderful 1view of the forest over the wall. Despite the simplicity of the furnishings, Kera found herself a little in awe of the place. They turned into the main hallway and walked down the main staircase. At the foot of the steps, Rien paused, trying to remember the directions he had been given to get to the dining hall. After a moment he moved off to the right. A short walk brought them to the doors that led to the smaller of the Keep's two meeting halls. Two guards, in the livery of House Connall pulled the doors open as they approached. "You look nice, too," said Kera suddenly. "What?" Rien turned his attention from studying the tapestry decked hall to his apprentice. "I said `you look nice, too'," repeated Kera. Her eyes darted nervously to the table in the middle of the room where four people sat talking. The hall was lit with many candles and a large fire was lit in the hearth behind the table and the added illumination made their shadows dance eerily. Kera grinned weakly up at Rien who smiled reassuringly. "Welcome to Connall Keep," declared a tall dark haired man from the head of the table. He rose and bowed slightly. "I am Baron Luthias Connall. This is my Senechal, Myrande," he indicated a dark haired woman seated to his left. "We met earlier today," said Rien, inclining his head in the woman's direction. "A pleasure to see you again, Lady." Myrande smiled at him and Luthias continued his introductions. "Ittosai Michaya, my Castellan," a black haired man with narrow brown eyes to his right, "and I believe that you already know Marcellon." The red robed wizard smiled and inclined his head from his place at the foot of the table. Rien bowed politely and Kera quickly, if a little awkwardly followed his example. "I am Rien Keegan, and this is my apprentice, Kera." Kera bowed again as the senechal smiled at her. "Have a seat," said Luthias, gesturing to the empty chairs, "and we'll start dinner." Rien gestured for Kera to sit next to Myrande while he seated himself next to Ittosai. After they had settled themselves, servants brought out the first course of dinner, a hearty soup. "You are here, I understand," said Luthias, after everyone had had a chance to begin their meal, "seeking the cure to a disease that you have." "Yes," confirmed Rien. "We managed to contract an illness that is rather difficult to cure and were directed here by a mage who thought that Lord Marcellon might be able to help us." "I'm certain that I can help you," said Marcellon. "Besides, you present me with a rare opportunity. I've never had a chance to study an elf before." He smiled, taking some of the clinicalness out of the statement. "You mean that elves aren't a myth?" said Luthias vaguely surprised. "I've heard the stories but..." "Not the last time I checked," smiled Rien. Kera concentrated on her soup, hiding a smile. "Pardon," said Ittosai in a strangely accented voice. "But I am unfamiliar with the term. What is an `elf'?" "A pointy eared human," said Kera. Rien shot her an icy glare from across the table. "Except for culture, there are few other differences between ljosalfar," he emphasized the name, "and humans. Your social structure is much more rigid than ours is," said Rien to Ittosai reluctantly. He 1disliked casually discussing his heritage. "My apprentice is correct, however. Our ears are somewhat pointed." He did not offer to show them and no one asked. "Where do you come from?" Kera asked Ittosai suddenly. Everyone's attention shifted abruptly back to her and she suddenly wished that she had kept her mouth shut, but she pressed on. "You don't look quite like anyone I've ever seen in Dargon before. Sir." She didn't feel it was polite to mention his accent. Ittosai smiled, his dark eyes sparkling. "You are correct. I am not from here," he said. "I am from Bichu, it is an island in the ocean of Valenfaer." Kera's eyes widened a little as the rumors she had heard about a Bichuese invasion gained a bit more credibility because of his presence. A servant appeared at her elbow, distracting her from further questions. The soup dishes were removed and replaced with the main course, a roasted fowl with vegetables that was finer than anything Kera had ever tasted. Finer, even, than what Liriss was accustomed to having. The thought of Liriss almost ruined her appetite, so Kera concentrated on the conversation to get the thought of the crime lord and his assassin out of her mind. "What sort of business are you in, Rien?" Myrande was inquiring. "I am an adventurer, Lady," replied Rien. Kera looked sharply at him as he continued. "I am still young. I want to see the world before I settle down to a trade." "Ah, the restlessness of youth," said Marcellon with a sigh. Again Kera's attention was distracted. Youth indeed! The mage looked no older than a thirty year old man and Kera knew that Rien, who looked younger than Marcellon, was at least fifty, if not older. "There is much to see in the world," continued the wizard, "and so little time to see it in." `You're telling me,' thought Kera ruefully, thinking about the disease coursing through her veins. Time was short and if the old man couldn't cure them...Kera's musings were interrupted by Myrande asking her: "And how did you meet Rien, Kera?" "By accident, my Lady," returned Kera promptly, and, taking her cue from Rien, did some hasty adjusting of the facts. "He saved my life in an alley and I offered to...keep him company after that. It does get kind of lonely adventuring alone. He's teaching me sword-craft so I don't end up in that sort of situation again." "You're a swordsman?" Luthias asked Rien eagerly, laying down a bone from dinner. "Yes, Lord," said Rien carefully. "I have some skill with the weapon. Every adventurer should, don't you agree?" "Of course," supported Luthias immediately. "It's a skill every man should have." Ittosai nodded in agreement. "Would you be interested in a sparring match tomorrow?" "No, Luthias," said Marcellon, as Rien cast about for a suitable reply. "I don't want you beating on my patients. I need him in one piece tomorrow." "There is no honor in taking on an opponent who is not at his best," said Ittosai quietly. "Perhaps some other time, Lord Luthias," Rien said, graciously inclining his head. "Yes, some other time," sighed Luthias. Myrande also sighed and the sound almost seemed to say `men!'. "Lady Myrande," said Rien, looking over at the woman. "You are the senechal of this house. Are you a doctor as well?" "I am simply helping Marcellon," replied Myrande with a smile. "And I have some experience with mixing potions." An unreadable glance 1was exchanged between her and Luthias. Rien nodded and concentrated on finishing his meal. Again servants appeared to clear away the plates and dessert was served. There was little discussion during this last course and what was said was limited to sincere compliments to the cook's skills. Kera was surprised to learn that the the dessert confection was an imitation of a Bichuese delicacy. As the last dished were cleared away, Marcellon turned to Rien. "I would appreciate it, Rien, if you and your apprentice," he smiled over at Kera, "would stay around the keep for the next few days. I may need you for tests at odd hours." "That won't be a problem, Lord Marcellon," said Rien. "I will need to go back to the inn, however, to pick up the rest of our belongings if we are going to be staying here." "There's no problem with that. Now, if you will all excuse me," he pushed his chair back. "I'm going to retire to my laboratory to begin my research." Everyone rose, paid their respects to each other, and went their separate ways. Kera followed Rien out of the hall. "Why didn't you agree to fight Lord Luthias after we're cured?" she asked as they climbed the stairs to Rien's room. "Other than not being positive about being cured?" said Rien. "It's considered bad form to beat your host in a fight." "Are you so sure that you'd win, then?" "I am not sure, but I have many more years of experience than he," said Rien, opening the door and pulling his cloak off of the chair he had tossed it on. "The odds are in my favor to win." "Just how old are you?" asked Kera curiously as Rien swirled the cloak around his shoulders. "Wouldn't you like to know," said Rien. Kera glared at him. "I am going for a walk. I will be back later this evening. You stay out of trouble, understand?" "Of course I'll stay out of trouble," Kera replied, offended. "Where are you going?" "For a walk. I will be back soon." "Where? We're in the middle of a forest!" "Precisely." And Rien walked back into the hall and down the corridor with Kera trailing after him, muttering unkind phrases at his back. The following morning Rien went directly north from the Connall Keep, wanting to enter Dargon from a point where he would not be particularly noticeable. After over two hours of travel through the forest he reached the ocean, about ten leagues west of the city. He turned east, the horse slowly trudging through loose sand which began a few feet past the edge of the forest, creating a few yards of beach before being swallowed by the sea. The horse slowed its pace on the new terrain and Rien relaxed, enjoying the ride and the crisp ocean air. To one side, as far as the eye could see, a broad leaf forest slowly turned into evergreens and on the other side the ocean ran off into the distance, somewhere meeting with the horizon and becoming one with the sky. After another hour of gentle riding, the forest thined out, giving way to cultivated fields and harder, open ground. Rien guided the horse off the sand and nudged it into a trot, towards the line of buildings visible a league or so ahead. By the time he reached town, the red disk of the sun was hanging low over the ocean. Rien dismounted, leading his horse up to the pier, deciding to walk the rest of the way, both so he could watch the sunset and give darkness a chance to cover the city. 1 Daily life on the docks was coming to a stand still and the transition to the night-life was beginning. Loading conducted on the few ships currently in port had been halted long before sunset and now crews were lighting lanterns to illuminate the decks before they retired to the ale-houses for the night. Rien paused at the pier that Kera showed him a few days before. A ship was now docked at it and a lone guard patrolled on deck. Leaving his horse, Rien came closer to examine the vessel. It wasn't a small craft. A good sixty feet long, but nothing to compare to the one hundred foot giant about a league back. Rien circled forward to read the ship's name, out of curiosity. Large red letters spelled out _Ocean_Lady_ across the bow. Nothing unusual about that, despite what he knew about the owner of the ship. He was about to turn back when he heard a commotion from beneath the pier, followed by a splash. Noting that the guard was now on the far side of the ship, Rien went down the stairs beneath the pier. Two men with swords stood with their backs to him, facing an unarmed young woman. From their stances it wasn't difficult to deduce that they meant nothing good for her. Rien was about to rush them, when he noticed a third man getting up in front of him. The other two were backing the girl into deeper water. Not giving the situation a second thought, Rien kicked the man getting up and, drawing his sword, advanced after the other two. One of the men turned to the sound of his companion falling back into the water and decided to change the subject of his attack. His swing was parried by Rien and the man's companion became aware of the new opponent as the sound of their swords clashing echoed underneath the pier. The girl, now waist deep in the water and no longer facing an armed opponent, stopped backing into the ocean. Rien parried two more swings, before trying to disarm one of his opponents. The swords met with a loud clank, locking together for a moment. In the dim light the soldier observed Rien's eyes change color and involuntarily took half a step back. Rien took the opportunity to groin him and shove him into the water. So much for chivalry. Ducking the swing of the other man, who was finally able to get close enough to engage him, Rien made a half turn and swung back, catching his opponent on the arm. The man's sword went flying into the water with a dull splash, next to the girl. She hesitated, wondering whether or not to pick it up, then deciding against it, ran out of the water past the two fighting men. Rien's opponent produced a stiletto to continue his fight, but it was knocked from his grasp with a quick slash from Rien's blade. With another swing Rien finished the man and turned back to the one who was again raising himself from the water. A quick, deadly thrust caught him in the chest and the man submerged one more time. Rien waited patiently, knee deep in the rising water. Neither of the men rose again. The first one, the one Rien kicked, was lying face down in the water, not far from the shore line. Rien resheathed his blade, ready to leave, when another man appeared on the stairs. He was wearing chain mail and carried his sword in hand. Rien recognized him as the guard from the _Ocean_Lady_. The guard looked around, spotting Rien and the body in shallow water. "You! Who are you?" Rien backed up to one of the rocks sticking out of the water and climbed up. The guard entered the water, sword at the ready and Rien stood up. "I asked you a question!" the guard barked. Rien remained silent, attempting to lure the guard deeper into the water. In spite of chain mail not being excellent armor, it was a lot more than what Rien had to depend on and some compensation was 1needed. As soon as the guard waded into hip deep water, the padding under his armor started absorbing water. Rien jumped one stone back, out of the guard's reach and drew his sword again. Seeing that his armor was weighing him down, the guard was about to retreat, but Rien's drawing of his sword was an open challenge he could not turn his back on. He proceeded further into the water after Rien, taking a swing when he was close enough. Rien parried and swung at the guard's torso, changing his attack at the last moment. The guard tried to parry the attack, but the feint caught him off guard and Rien's sword impacted at the base of his neck, cutting half way through the chain and flesh. The guard dropped his sword and spasmodically grabbed at Rien, missing his target and sinking into the water. Rien stayed perched on the rock. It was dark now and only the splashing of the waves disturbed the night. Four people killed to save a girl from...what? Rien tried to reconstruct the scene in which he entered. Back on the pier he had heard a commotion and a splash. The girl had probably attempted to escape and in the process of doing so, knocked one of the men to the ground. By the time Rien made it down, the two other men had the girl cornered. It all made sense, except for who the girl was. Her amber eyes reminded him of someone he once met, but he could not place the person or the event. And why was she here? Perhaps Kera would be able to identify the girl and her conflict with Liriss, but that would have to be solved at a later time. With two leaps Rien made it to the first of the stone pillars and jumped off into the water to return to the pier. The only thing that could happen here now would be for someone to find the bodies and Rien did not want to wait around for that. He returned to the pier only to find that someone had appropriated his horse. He wasn't too concerned about the loss of the animal itself, but the loss of transportation annoyed him greatly. It upset Rien enough to want to rough up the first person in sight, but luckily no one was around and by the time Rien finally saw a person wandering the streets, he was sufficiently cooled off. It took him three times longer than it should have to get to the inn, but he finally arrived, with his temper more or less intact. At the inn, as he made his way to the stairs, the inn keeper came up to him. "Sir, a woman stopped by yesterday evening asking about you. She didn't want to leave a message, but I thought I'd mention it to you anyway." "A woman?" Rien asked, wondering who in the world it could be. He knew few people in Dargon and to his recollection, an old woman wasn't one of his acquaintances. "An elderly lady, on the plump side, with grey hair," the man answered. "She didn't say what she wanted?" "No, sir. Just asked if you were in and then left." "Thank you for letting me know," Rien said. He dug into his purse and produced a few coins. "See if you can find me a good horse by tomorrow morning. I am willing to pay for promptness and inconvenience." Promising he'd try, the inn keeper returned to his place behind the bar and Rien went up to his room. He took out the key and put it in the lock. He met resistance when he tried to turn it. He applied a little more pressure but neither the key nor the door budged. Removing the key, Rien examined it and the lock. For the first time in a week there was a problem with the door. He reinserted the key and forced it about in the lock before turning it. The locking mechanism clicked and he pushed the door open. The first thing that caught Rien's eye when he lit a candle was a 1crescent, sloppily drawn in red on the opposite wall. He glanced around the room, but nothing else appeared out of order. Rien approached the wall to get a closer look at the design. The symbol seemed to be painted in blood. He went back to the corridor, to call in the maid who had been lighting candles while he was fumbling with the lock, but she was no longer there. Rien looked both ways in the corridor, then turned back to the room. To his surprise, the wall was clean. Closing the door, Rien approached the wall again and examined it closely. There was no trace of anything ever having been spilled or written there. Rien sat down on the bed, wondering exactly what he saw...or as it stood, what he thought he saw. Footsteps behind him alerted Rien that he was not alone and he looked quickly over his shoulder, but the room was empty. Somewhat shaken by the apparent failure of his senses, Rien blew out the candle and sat down in the middle of the bed, trying to free his mind from all that seemed to be cluttering it, but found he was unable to concentrate. Rien opened his eyes. The candle was still burning, but by the time he made it over to the table, the room was once again dark. He sat on the edge of the bed, wondering what could have caused this madness. Madness...was lycanthropy finally taking its toll? Rien looked at his hands. They were covered with short grey fur. "No..." He dropped back onto the bed, ignoring the phantoms around him and forced his mind to go blank. The world descended into darkness. It was nearly midnight when Myrande made her final rounds of Connall Keep. Luthias had long since retired, but Myrande felt it was her duty to see that everything was settled for the night before she sought her bed. Ordinarily there was nothing that needed her attention at this late hour, so when she entered the minor dining hall seeing a small figure seated on a bench in front of the banked fire was a surprise. As she advanced further into the room, the figure resolved itself into the young woman who was guesting in the Keep with the man who had sought Marcellon. Myrande moved around the dining table, her soft leather shoes making almost no sound against the well worn stone floor. She sat on the edge of the bench, on the side opposite of Kera, before the girl realized that Myrande was there. Kera's reaction to what seemed to be the sudden appearance of a stranger was to make a grab for her dagger. It took her a second to realize that Myrande was not a threat. Silently she berated herself. Myrande should not have been able to sneak up on her like that. Being with Rien so much must be causing her to lose her edge. "I'm sorry, my Lady," she mumbled, releasing the dagger. "I didn't realize that it was you." "It's all right," said Myrande softly. She paused for a moment then said, "it's late. I would have expected you to be asleep by now." Kera shrugged noncommittally, staring into the dying fire. "I'm not really tired," she said. Myrande waited patiently. "He's not back yet," said Kera abruptly, turning to face Connall's senechal. "It's almost midnight. He should have been back by now and I'm afraid that something's happened to him." "Rien?" Kera nodded. Fear lurked in the back of her dark grey eyes. Fear that Liriss, or one of his men, or the assassin had gotten him. Fear that the disease had taken an unexpected turn in him. Fear that he might simply have left her. Myrande slid further down the bench to sit next to her. 1 "You're very worried about him, aren't you," she said gently. Kera nodded again. "Have you known him long?" "Not very long," replied Kera. "But...he's different. Different from all of the other men that I know." Myrande smiled knowingly and allowed her to keep talking. "He's the only person who's ever treated me like a human being and I never really gave him much reason to. I haven't known him for very long, but I think he's pretty special and yes, I am worried." Her gaze challenged Myrande to laugh or refute anything that she had said. Instead of ridiculing her, the dark haired woman nodded in understanding and smiled. "I do understand. I feel pretty much the same way about...someone, too." she said softly. "What if something happened to him," cried Kera, sudden tears coursing down her cheeks. "He could be dead in some alley for all I know or the disease could have..." she choked on expressing the last thought. Myrande wrapped her arms around Kera's shoulders and let her cry herself out. They talked a little, after that, about love and life and death, then Myrande led Kera back up to her assigned room, reassuring her that if Rien wasn't back by morning, a search party would be sent out. She retired to her own room, hoping that he would make it back by the next day. There were enough problems right now, without adding yet another one to the list. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Be Careful What You Wish For... by Bill Erdley All I was supposed to do was feed the horses. It was my turn to do the barnwork chores. Telia smirked at me as I got up from the breakfast table. Last week she had done the barn work; this week she was helping Mother with the house chores. It was cold and wet outside; it had been snowing all night, and that made the upcoming trip to the barn look even worse. I don't think I would have minded so much if she wouldn't have made a face at me as I took my cape from the hook. She stuck her tongue out at me, and I replied with the same. As usual, I was the one who was caught by my father, who clouted me in the head and yelled and promised more punishment if I didn't tend to my chores "right this minute." As I made a hasty exit from the house into the cold morning air, I vowed that someday, very soon, she'd get what was she had coming to her. Just because she's seen five summers less than my fifteen, Mother and Father treat her like a queen and me like a slave. It's not fair. The snow that had fallen the night before had mixed with enough rain to make the ground a slushy, sloppy mess. It was too warm for the snow to stay frozen for long, and between the snow, the puddles and the mud, my feet felt frozen by the time I reached the barn. One of these days, when no one else is around, I'll get her good. I grabbed the old, wooden pitchfork and started cleaning the one empty stall in the barn. Father still hadn't replaced the gelding that had broken it's foreleg in the fields last year, but I didn't care. With an empty stall to move horses into, I didn't have to clean a stall that was occupied by a huge, smelly beast. I should take some of these horse cookies and put them in Telia's bed. That'd get her. As I pushed the first stall's waste out the barn's back door into the pit, I thought I saw a couple of horses at the edge of the woods. They were probably neighbors headed to our house, to talk to Father or to invite themselves in for some of Ma's elderberry pie. I went back into the barn and closed the door. They'll stop and I'll have to take care of their horses. They'll be all wet and need to be brushed down and bedded in the empty stall. I'll smell like a horse for days. I transferred Steos, our stallion, into the bare stall. I began to clean the now empty stall, moving as fast as I could, so that I could be done before those stupid neighbors arrived. Several field mice, who probably came in to get out of the rain, scurried quickly away when I disturbed their home in the straw. I finished the stall quickly, and pushed the refuse to the back door of the barn. When I opened the door, I could see that the horses were closer, and more! There weren't a couple of horses; there were at least twenty or more! I stood there and watched for a moment, but they were still too far away to see anything, so I pushed the dirty straw into the pit and 1went back into the barn. There had been rumors of war spreading among the farmers in the area, but Father always answered the neighbors' fearful musings with "There ain't nothin' here worth fightin' for, so calm yourselves." I moved the old mare, Yonda, into the clean stall and moved Seh, the other mare, out of her stall. I put a halter on her and tethered her to a barn post. Now I could clean both stalls at the same time. If Father came out and saw the mare out of her stall, I would get a whipping, but I hoped that the weather would keep him in the house. I desperately wanted to get the stalls cleaned and the horses fed before the men and the horses got here. Maybe they are soldiers heading for a battle, dressed in armor and carrying huge swords and crossbows and pikes. Maybe they will stay the night, and tell us stories of storming castles and skirmish lines. That way I won't have to sit and listen to Telia practice on her stupid harp. She sounds like a wounded cat when she sings, and her harp playing is horrible. She'll never become a bard like Mother and Father say she will. When I was pushing the last of the dirty straw to the back door, I thought I heard the sound of horses. The travellers must have arrived more quickly than I had hoped. I kicked open the door and pushed the straw out toward the pit. As the manure fell into the open hole, I saw the knight for the first time. I knew he was a knight, dressed in his magnificent armor. His shield hung from the saddle, as did his sword and scabbard. A second horse held a smaller man, also armored, but by his face I could tell that he was younger. A third horse was ridden by an ugly man, who had thick black hair and a scowling face. The rest of the horses were still a good distance from the barn. My eyes were drawn back to the knight. A real knight! Father used to tell us stories about knights. Telia didn't pay much attention, but I did. Father used to say how knights were chosen by the king to defend him and his people against evil wherever it was found. He said that knights were the greatest fighters in the land; that they fought with flashing swords and shining armor, and that the best knights were chosen to defend the king himself! I want to run up and beg to see his sword and his armor and plead with him to tell stories, but that wouldn't be polite. Oh, admit it, you're scared of him... The young man saw me first, turned toward the knight and spoke. The knight immediately looked in my direction and, raising his hand, brought the men to a stop. Then he and the young man turned their horses and rode toward me. "Boy," the knight spoke as he reigned his horse to a stop in front of me, "I would speak to your father. Take me to him." His voice rang with authority. It almost felt like his voice had the power to control my very actions. It was thick with an accent that I had never heard before. I found myself leading his horse around the barn by the bridle, followed by the younger man. I turned to look back at the knight, and saw him sitting straight in his saddle, looking directly forward. The youth was looking around, as if he were watching 1for something to jump out from behind every tree and building. I don't know what he expected to find, since our closest neighbors were a long ways off, and Mother, Father, and Telia were all in the house. I held the horse's halter while the knight dismounted, assisted by the youth that I finally realized must be his squire. Father said that squires were knights-in-training and that they had to do all the chores for the knight and that I could never be a squire because I hated chores so much. The squire helped straighten the knight's tabbard once the knight was on the ground, then accompanied him to the door of the house . The knight turned before he knocked and looked right at me: "You had better return to your chores, son. I wouldn't want your Father to be angry with me for taking you away from them." I turned and ran back toward the barn. I don't know why I ran; it was as if my legs just decided that they had seen enough and really wanted to get away from there. I looked back before entering the barn, the knight had already gone into the house. I stood there at the barn door, looking toward the house, straining to hear what was being said. The house is too far way for you to hear anything, you dummy! Besides, he's a knight. What use would he have for you? You can't even talk! When you live way out here, away from other people, it's easy to forget that you're not like other people. Mother and Father and Telia are used to seeing what I wanted to say in my gestures. When I made the trip into town with Father a while back, people laughed when they realized that I couldn't talk. They acted like I was a dunce and made fun of me. So I just don't go into town anymore. They wouldn't dare laugh if I was a knight. They would stand and admire my armor and my sword and my horse. It wouldn't matter that I couldn't talk. I could just imagine myself on the knight's horse, riding into battle beside my squire and fighting the enemy, swords flashing and armor shining in the sun. The battlefield would be filled with the shouts of victory as we fought our way from one end to the other, dispatching our foes with ease. Other knights and their squires would be fighting, too; and soon all of the enemy would be gone and we would triumphantly ride into the city, to the cheers and admiration of all of the people... "Derrio, come here! Now!" My Father stood at the door and shouted at me. Great. There's a knight in the house and my Father is standing outside the door and yelling at me like a little child! I ran back across the yard, thinking that perhaps the knight needed something and that I was to run and get it for him. "Derrio, go out to the barn and move the horses into the lower pen. Then make sure that each stall is bedded with fresh straw. After you've done that, make sure that the loft ladder is up so that the men in there can use the loft to rest. Go!" Boy, does he look scared! Why is he so 1 afraid of the knight? Seeing the fear in his face made me run all the faster back to the barn. I can't remember ever seeing his eyes so big or hearing his voice shake so much. That knight must have said something that really frightened him. I wonder what he said... Maybe he needs another squire. Maybe he just told Father that he is going to take me along with him and that Father would have to manage the farm on his own. I heard men inside the barn even before I managed to open the door. I guessed that they must be the men that I saw far behind the knight, near the woods. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but it didn't matter. All of a sudden I was scared; I mean REALLY scared. I couldn't figure out why, but I knew that I didn't really want to be anywhere near them. Father's orders were clear, though, so I knew that I had to go in, no matter what I wanted to do or how I felt. So in I went... The men were scattered all over the barn and many had already taken to the loft. Most of them were busy taking off their armor, but there were several by each door and a couple were in Steos' stall, checking him over like I had seen Father do when the horse threw a shoe. The two by the front door watched me as I went past them and headed for the stalls. I quickly untied Seh from where I had left her tethered, then opened Yonda's stall and led her out. I grabbed Seh's halter as I passed her and led them both toward the front door. The men that were there opened the door for me without saying a word, and soon I had both of the horses in the lower corral. I turned and was surprised to see two other men leading Steos out of the barn. They turned to come toward me, but I pointed toward the upper pen. Putting the stallion in with the mares was just asking for trouble, so I decided to put Steos in the other pen. As I closed the gate, I nodded to the men in thanks, but they ignored me and went back into the barn. Rude. And mean-looking. These men give me the creeps. Boy, I wish Telia were out here doing this instead of me. These guys would scare her silly. That would serve her right for making fun of me this morning at breakfast. I re-entered the barn and headed for the loft ladder. I still had to throw straw into the stalls, so I grabbed the pitchfork on my way. It wasn't until I was heaving straw into the empty stalls that I realized how much these men stank! They were all in the process of removing their armor, and with each piece that came off, the stench got worse. I never thought that men could smell worse than horses, but these men... "Derrio, Mother and Father want you to hurry an' get done so you can come into the house." Telia's voice seemed a little higher than usual, like she was scared. Good. "And Father said to make sure that you put Steos in the upper pen and not in the lower pen with Seh and Yonda or they'll be fighting all day." Great. Now he'll think that I put Steos in 1 the upper stall because he told me to instead of remembering it myself. Why doesn't he ever let me do things myself?! I heard several of the men start to laugh and one of them said something about "having some fun with the young lady." Tickle her. She hates that. Oh, if these smelly, ugly men start tickling her... Telia screamed. I may not like my sister very much sometimes, and I've made her scream myself plenty of times; but I can tell the difference between an "I don't like this" scream of displeasure and a scream of sheer terror. I ran to the edge of the loft and saw several of the men around her, and one was reaching under her skirt! She was screaming and trying to get away, but two other men were holding her down. Hey! What are you doing!? Leave her alone! I ran for the loft ladder. I still had the pitchfork in my hand, so I couldn't climb down very fast. I jumped the last few rungs and ran toward the men. I heard one of the men still in the loft yell something, but I was too busy running and hoping I could get my sister out of there before they could catch me. I turned the pitchfork around so that the prongs curved up; that way it wouldn't stick the man that I hit. I ran right toward the kneeling man, looking right at the back of his head. You will be first. When I swung, he moved forward slightly, so that I hit him in the back instead of in the head. He groaned and slumped sideways, falling into another of the kneeling men. I raised the fork and turned toward another man. Suddenly the fork was torn out of my hands. The ugly man that I had seen riding the horse earlier had run up beside me and grabbed it. He clouted me in the head with his fist and sent me sprawling. Telia screamed harder. Telia! I tried to get up but the ugly man swung the fork at me and hit me in the legs. Both legs buckled and felt like they were on fire. A man knelt over Telia and yelled at her, shaking his fist. Telia, get out of here! I rolled over but I couldn't stand because my right leg had cramped. The ugly man swung the fork again and hit me in the back. The man hit Telia across the face with his hand. Leave her alone, you bastard!! I was trying to crawl backwards, but I found that I was against a stall and I couldn't go anywhere. 1 The man hit Telia again, harder this time, and she stopped screaming. Come on, Telia, fight! FIGHT AND SCREAM!!! The ugly man raised the fork again, then a hand came from behind him and grabbed it. He looked and saw another man, in horribly dented and tarnished armor, take the fork away from the ugly man and hit him once with it, hard. The ugly man fell to the floor groaning and holding his head. The armored man turned toward me, but I couldn't see his face because of his helm. He dropped the fork toward me, then turned and ran toward Telia. The barn door flew open and the Knight came in, sword drawn. As soon as he saw the men around Telia, he sheathed his sword and ran toward them. The armor-clad man who had saved me from a beating ran towards Telia also, and got there first. One of the kneeling men saw the Knight coming and tried to stand, but the man that saved me kicked him away from Telia while he swung his sword at the man who had hit my sister. The knight roared something in a language that I couldn't understand. All of the men, including the one that helped me, stopped instantly. I wanted to get back to my feet, to run over and help Telia, but my legs still felt numb and didn't seem to want to do what I wanted them to do. Come on, legs. I've got to get to Telia! I finally managed to get back to my feet, and I staggered over to where Telia lay. The armored man pushed the dead man off Telia and knelt beside her, but I managed to squeeze past him. Her head was twisted all wrong! She was lying on her back. Her skirt had been torn away and there was blood all over her legs and on the ground. The armored man slid his hand over her face, then stood back and I knelt beside her. "I'm sorry, kid," the man said as I lifted her head into my lap. You're sorry?! YOU'RE sorry! They've killed her! She's dead and they've killed her! Kill them all! KILL THEM ALL! I'm sorry, Telia. I didn't mean it. I didn't want them to hurt you. I didn't want this to happen. Why did you come in here? Why? Why did Father have to send you out here? It's not fair. Damn them ALL! I didn't really want you to get hurt. I wished for it but I didn't mean it. WHY DID I WISH FOR IT AT ALL?!? IT'S ALL MY FAULT!! I knelt there and cried, not knowing or caring what went on around me. Nothing else mattered except the fact that I had, somehow, caused my sister's death by the stupid wishes that I had made. I was finally drawn from my self-pity by a hand on my shoulder. I looked around and saw my Father kneeling beside me. "Derrio, I will take her into the house." That was all he said. I could tell that he was almost crying himself, and for once I was glad that I couldn't speak; it saved me from having to say something to him. I rose and removed my cloak, draping it over Telia's body as Father picked her up. He walked to the door, then out into the yard, but I couldn't follow. 1 How can I face them? It was what I said; those things that I wished for caused Telia to die. I never wanted her to get hurt. I didn't want her to die. I was angry and I thought some mean things and I wanted for revenge. Now she's dead and I'm to blame. And they will know; Mother and Father will know the minute that they look at me. They can always tell my thoughts, even when I try to hide them. They will take one look at my face and they will know. How can I face them? What am I going to do?.... Many different thoughts ran through my head as I wandered around aimlessly in the strangely deserted barn. I could run out the back of the barn and into the woods and as far away from here as I can go..., but where would I go? I could jump off of the loft or out of the upper window..., but Mother and Father have already lost one child today. My mind ran wild with possibilities, each too scary or noo hard or too stupid to consider. At the end of it all, I realized that the only thing that I could do was to go and confront them; tell them that it was my fault. They will hate me. Mother will scream and cry and Father will stand there and quietly tell me to leave and never come back. As I walked toward the door, one of the knight's men came back into the barn. He ran past me without looking at me at all, and went directly to the ladder. I stepped through the door and headed for the house. It was then that I saw the knight and the armored man that saved me. They were standing in the yard, swords drawn, facing each other. They are going to fight each other! I stopped dead in my tracks. They were the two that had tried to save Telia. Now they were going to fight!? It didn't make sense. I heard the loft door open and I looked up. The man that had passed me must have opened it, but I couldn't see him, standing where I was almost directly beneath the door. I stepped back into the barn and walked into the first stall so I could see him. He appeared to be bending over, tugging at something. He turned back toward the window and I saw that he held a crossbow! He meant to shoot someone! The knight!! Or the other one! Damn this stupid tongue! How can I warn them? If I try to run out there I'll be too late! I saw the pitchfork lying near the stall where the armored man had dropped it. I ran and grabbed it, then ran for the door. Once outside, I saw the two fighting. They couldn't know about the man in the loft. I turned and hit the barn with the fork, again and again. When I finally stopped to look, the armored man was lowering his shield, which now had a crossbow bolt imbedded in it! The knight was pointing to the barn and shouting. Several men came running toward the 1barn. I stepped out of the way, hoping that they were coming for the man in the loft and not for me. I was right, for they ran past me and into the barn. Very soon they emerged, dragging the man from the loft with them. They took him to the knight, who slapped the man's face, spoke to him, then waved his hand in dismissal. The crossbowman was dragged to one side and thrown to the ground, his captors standing beside him. He didn't even try to get up. The knight and the other man resumed their fighting. I didn't understand why they were fighting, but I knew that they were serious. Several times I saw the second man falter, but he recovered each time. Then I saw the knight almost fall in the mud, but he recovered, too. I was so enthralled by the battle that I almost missed the movement out of the corner of my eye. Looking past the house, I saw something moving just inside the forest's edge. When I looked harder, I saw that there were men all along the forest border. Several men on horseback emerged and galloped toward the house. I had tried to warn the two armored men, but several of the other men grabbed me and held me back. I tried to tell the other men, but they were too interested in the fight before them. Then again, so was I. I turned back toward the fighting men and saw that they were no longer fighting. Much to my amazement, it was the man in the tarnished armor that was standing over the knight, who was kneeling on a muddy patch of ground. The knight held out his sword to the mysterious man, who shook his head. The knight stood and removed his helm as his opponent removed his own. I had gotten close enough to hear what was being said... "... You promised me that, should I conquer. I have. You are an honorable man, and you will keep your word." I looked for the first time at the speaker, the man who had saved me. His face was drawn and haggard and his hair was disheveled by the helm; he was almost as sorry a sight as the tarnished armor that he wore. The voice, however, was strong and rich; like the knight's -- a voice of authority. "I have what I want. I won't kill an honorable enemy without need, sir. Return to your home." The knight stared at the man who had just defeated him and spoke: "Whoever your teacher was, he trained you well in the ways of fighting; and in the Knightly Code. Would to God we weren't enemies, Luthias Connall; this day, you would have your Knighthood from me." The knight offered his hand to the man named "Luthias Connall." Luthias' smile grew, and content calm flooded his eyes. "I have never been so honored, Sir Lawrence," he said, and he shook the Knight's hand. "I believe, Sir Lawrence, that I can fulfill that office." A mighty voice boomed from behind me. I turned to see ANOTHER knight, who was dismounting from his horse. He was accompanied by an older man, much too old to be a squire, climbing down from a horse as well. "Honor given by an enemy is a high compliment, one that Luthias has well earned. Count Connall, kneel." A COUNT!! Knights and Counts?! What is going on here? Count Connall knelt in the mud, and the knight who had just arrived walked over to him, drew his sword, and spoke: "I, Edward Sothos...." Luthias lunged forward and grabbed the speaking man's arm. "Sir Edward, you can't! You know what I need!" There was a desperate look in Luthias' eyes, one which I have seen in the eyes of frightened 1animals. There was so much going on here that I didn't understand. "You no longer need it." The older man, who now walked past me to stand near Sir Edward, spoke for the first time. His voice is strange; soft and soothing, yet there is something about it that was out of the ordinary. I couldn't quite figure out what it was. "The drink I gave you... I cured you. By accident, I cured you." The look on Luthias' face changed to a look of confusion. "I don't believe it." "How long since the last time, then?" The older man, who wore red robes, was smiling. Luthias' face changed. He eyes went blank for a moment, like he was trying to remember something. Then his eyes slowly widened and a smile took over his face. The knight named Sothos began once again, as if taking the smile on Luthias' face as a cue. "I, Edward Sothos, Knight of Baranur, have been called upon to convey upon Luthias of Connall the office of Knighthood..." A Knighting Ceremony!! This is a real knighting ceremony, just like father described! "Who asks this charge for him?" The red-robed man started to speak, but the other knight spoke first. "I so ask." This seemed to surprise Luthias. "You know him worthy?" Sir Edward asked. "I so know." "So be it. I, Edward Sothos, Knight of Baranur, charge you, Luthias of Connall, to take up the office of Knighthood. Do you accept the charge, with all its honors and obligations?" "I so accept," Luthias answered, his voice now stronger and more confident. "Do you vow to protect and serve your homeland, your lady, and your King?" "I so vow." "Do you vow to be in and above all things, a Knight, a follower of Chivalry and Honor?" "I so vow." "How do you so vow?" "Upon my honor, my sword, and my life." "Then I, Edward Sothos, Knight of Baranur, with this silver chain do convey upon you, Luthias of Connall, that office." Sir Edward turned toward the older man, who mumbled something, then handed the knight a silver chain. Edward turned back toward Luthias and draped the chain across Luthias' shoulders. He then slapped Luthias on the cheek with the flat of his sword. "Let that be your last unrequited blow." Sheathing his sword, Sir Edward spoke loudly, for all to hear. "Rise, Sir Luthias, Count Connall." Sir Luthias began laughing as he got to his feet. In a quieter voice, Sir Edward said "I am proud of you." Strange. I know that there are enemies here, but at this moment, I can't tell who is friend and who is foe. Sir Luthias turned toward the knight that he had been fighting only moments before. "Return now, Sir Lawrence. You will have safe passage out of the country. You have my word, as a Knight." Sir Lawrence grinned. "Thank you, Sir Luthias. May you and I live to laugh about this someday." 1 "I'll treat you to a drink," Sir Luthias said. "I drink to you now," Sir Lawrence answered, taking a silver horn from his belt. Without putting anything into it, he raised it and pretended to drink. When he was finished, he held the horn out to Sir Luthias, who repeated the action. I wonder what is meant by this ritual; or even if it is a ritual? "Thank you," Sir Luthias said, handing the horn back to Sir Lawrence. He hesitated, then held out his sword to Sir Lawrence. "Again, thank you." Sir Lawrence took it from him. "This sword was given to me by my master when I was made a Knight. Today I took the place of your master; today you became a Knight." He held out the sword to Luthias. "I have had no student more worthy than you." "I am deeply honored." Luthias took the sword from Lawrence once again. Sir Lawrence bowed to the other two knights and the old man, then turned to the main group of men that had come with him. "Let us ride!" Lawrence's squire brought the knight his horse. Sir Lawrence mounted and rode around his men, shouting orders to hasten their progress. When they appeared to be ready to leave, Lawrence turned back toward the other two knights, who still stood near the muddy patch of ground where the duel took place. He drew his sword and saluted Edward and Luthias, who returned the gesture. While Sir Lawrence gathered his men, I stood near the older man who had arrived with Sir Edward. He was dressed in robes, much like the local Vicar, but he smiled at me when he noticed that I was looking at him, which is something that the Vicar would never do. His gaze felt strange, though, like he was looking inside me. I turned toward Luthias, who was watching the departure of Sir Lawrence and his men. How can I thank him for saving me and for trying to save Telia? He is a stranger. He will not understand me. I felt compelled to speak, yet I knew that the only sounds that would come from my mouth would be groans and grunts. I approached the two knights and caught Luthias' attention. Thank you. I put my hand over my heart, touched my lips, then extended my hand toward him. Mother had taught me a few symbols that could, hopefully, be understood by others. He looked at me questioningly. I knew it. He doesn't understand! I pointed toward the barn. I swung my arms as if I were swinging the pitchfork, then pointed to my legs. He looked at the barn, then back at me. He nodded, but the confused look remained in his eyes. How can I make you understand. You saved me! You tried to save Telia! I clasped both hands over my heart, then extended them toward him 1once again. "He is trying to thank you, Luthias." The older man's words startled me, but I nodded and made the signs once again. "You are welcome. I am truly sorry about your sister. Had I only arrived a few moments sooner, I might have been able to save her...." An old, haunting look crossed his face. "But I couldn't save Roisart, either." Your eyes are so sad. Are you going to cry for my sister, even though you didn't know her? I wish I could be like you. I hesitated for a moment, then knew what I wanted more than anything else in the world. I wanted to become a knight; a knight like Luthias. Perhaps by becoming a knight, I could clear my conscience of my sister's death. I approached Luthias and reached toward him. He didn't back away. I touched the chain upon his chest, the chain that had been placed on his shoulders by Sir Edward, then I touched my own chest, tracing a line where the chain would fall across it. Please. Teach me. Show me how to become a knight. Please. Luthias seemed to understand immediately. He smiled; a warm and genuine smile which told of compassion and kindness and, strangely enough, of sorrow. He turned, grinning, to Sir Edward. "Since I am now a knight, I will have need of a squire, won't I?" "At least one," Sir Edward replied. Sir Luthias turned toward me. "Will you become my squire?" Sir Edward's eyes seemed ready to fall from their sockets. "Luthias, you cannot make this boy your squire! He is not of noble descent; he is just a farmer's son. "What difference does that make?" Luthias argued. "I know 'noble' sons who are dishonorable cowards. This 'farmer's son' was brave enough to try to rescue his sister from twenty armed men -- alone! This display of bravery by itself is an indication of this lad's worthiness. Social class has nothing to do with it." Sir Edward frowned. "I see your point, Luthias, but still, it is quite rare to make a peasant into a Knight. You do realize that he will have to be Knighted someday if he becomes your squire." "That is the general idea," the robed man observed dryly. "He's already displayed Knightly qualities," Sir Luthias reminded Sir Edward. "He tried to rescue a lady and defend her. He bravely faced the danger." He paused. "Look, Edward, I'd rather Knight a peasant with a noble heart than a coward with a noble name." "Again, you have a point," Sir Edward admitted. "I'm not certain I approve, but I can't stop you. To a point, I even agree with you." "So," Sir Luthias began, "would you like to squire to me?" Yes! YES! I'll learn, I promise. I'll do all of the chores that you ask me to do, and I won't complain. Thank you! THANK YOU! "We'll have the ceremony later this week. I cannot keep calling you 'boy', though. What is your name?" Then he winced, remembering that I couldn't talk. "His name is Derrio." My father's voice startled me, although I should have seen Mother and him approaching. "Is it true? Is there a war coming?" 1 The grim Sir Edward nodded. "It is already here. The Beinison men that were here were an advance scouting force sent to find the locations of our forces. As it appears, they will invade through this area, so your farm is no longer safe." "Let us leave this place," my mother said to my father, holding back the tears that must be for Telia. "I no longer have a desire to stay." "Could your armies use another archer?" Father's voice wavered slightly. "I may not be a good as your regulars, but I have won the county's archery contest for the last two years in a row. And my wife could cook and care for the wounded." Sir Edward smiled. "We can always use archers." He then looked at mother, who stood looking at the ground. Sir Luthias laughed loudly. "And a cook, a REAL cook, would probably boost morale more than anything else!" The robed man looked over his shoulder. "Come. We should be getting back to Pyridain. Another storm is coming." He approached me. "And I find myself curious as to why this boy is unable to talk." I suddenly remembered Sir Lawrence's silver horn. He wore that horn like a symbol; something that set him apart from the rest of the knights. I broke and ran for the house. I knew what I needed to do. I burst into the house and headed straight for Telia's room. When I entered, I saw Telia on the bed. She was lying there, under the quilts, as if she were asleep. On the other side of the room I saw what I had come for. Her tiny harp stood on a table by itself. I picked it up carefully. This was the first time I had ever held it. You will never sing again, little harp. The fingers that coaxed you to play are gone. Your strings are silent, angry over what has happened. No, you will never sing again, but you will speak. You will speak to me every night when I lay you aside before I sleep. You will remind me of what has happened here, and of what I have done. You will remind me when I forget about her. Her voice is stilled forever, so now I must be that voice. And I will speak for you, Telia; I promise you. I will speak through my actions; through my deeds and through my presence. One day, I will be a knight, and on that day, this harp will become my symbol. It will become a symbol of ... of ..." I had run out of words, but not tears. I watched as a tear ran slowly down one of the strings of the little harp. I knew that it was one of mine, but for that moment, the harp wept. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 ** ************ *** *********** **** **** ********* *** **** *********** **** ** *** ** *** *** *** ** *** *** **** ** ***** *** *** *** *** **** *** **** ****** *** ******** ****** ******** **** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** **** ******* *** *** *** *** *** *** ** *** *** **** ********* ***** **** **** ********* **** *** **** *** *** **** ** *** *** ------------------- **** *** ****** ***** The Online Magazine *********** ****** ***** of Amateur Creative Writing ************ --------------------------- Athene is a free network "magazine" devoted to amateur fiction written by the members of the online community. Athene is not limited to any specific genre, but will publish quality short stories dealing with just about any interesting topic. The magazine is published monthly, and comes in two formats -- ASCII and PostScript. The content is identical across both formats, but the PostScript version is designed for printing on laser printers while the ASCII edition can be read online as well as printed. To subscribe, send mail (no interactive messages, please) to: Jim McCabe MCCABE@MTUS5.BITNET Please indicate which format (ASCII or PostScript) you prefer to to receive. Back issues, an index, and submission information are also available upon request. 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------------------------------------------------------------------------ (C) Copyright March, 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.


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