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From WHITE@DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU Tue May 12 10:36:09 1992 Received: from DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU by eff.org with SMTP id AA26860 (5.65c/IDA-1.4.4/pen-ident for ); Tue, 12 May 1992 10:36:01 -0400 Message-Id: <199205121436.AA26860@eff.org> Received: from DUVM by DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU (IBM VM SMTP R1.2.2MX) with BSMTP id 3312; Tue, 12 May 92 10:31:50 EDT Date: Tue, 12 May 92 10:31:39 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 9 DDDDD A A R R GGGG OOOO N NN ZZZZZZ I N NN EEEE || \\ \ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- DargonZine Volume 3, Issue 9 07/27/90 Cir 963 -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Contents -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Reluctant Revelation Carlo Samson Mel 5-Ye 2, 1013 The Bronze Horseman II Max Khaytsus Se 25-Ob 5, 1013 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Reluctant Revelation by Carlo N. Samson The trading ship _Vanguard Voyager_ sailed smoothly through the calm green waters of the Laraka River. Cydric Araesto and Mandi Mercallion stood at the rail, watching the town of Port Sevlyn slowly come into view along the left bank. "At long last," Cydric remarked. "It'll be great to get back on solid ground again." Mandi clapped her hands excitedly. "Party!" she exclaimed. "Where?" Cydric looked at her quizzically. "What party are you talking about?" "The one that Uncle Quill and the Lord Mayor of Port Sevlyn always throw for Brynna whenever she gets back from a voyage," Mandi replied. "Long voyages I mean, like when she got back from Bichu, but after they hear about how we gave Challion and his pirates a good thumping I'm sure they'll have one for her--probably not tonight but for sure tomorrow night, or the next night at the very least. I've just got to get a new dress!" Cydric stretched and leaned against the rail. "I'm sure you'll have a nice time. Myself, I just want to get to a decent tavern. I haven't had a good Lederian since we left Shark's Cove." "You'll have a nice time too," Mandi said. "The Lord Mayor stocks plenty of Lederian." "Is the whole crew invited to this party?" Cydric inquired. "Truthfully, no." Mandi twisted a strand of her tawny-auburn hair. "Well, except for Kayne and Scarabin, they're always invited. But since you did help save the ship I'm absolutely sure Brynna will invite you as well. She owes you that much." "It's not necessary. I'm not all that fond of parties anyway." Mandi's jaw popped open in surprise at his comment. "Why on Makdiar not? There's food, music, dancing--it'll be fun! Don't tell me you wouldn't want to go." "I've been to enough of them to know what goes on. I'd rather spend my evenings engaged in more meaningful activity." "Really? I didn't know scribe's sons got invited to the Mayor's mansion very often." Cydric started to reply, but decided to let the remark pass. He didn't want to start any conversation that would lead him to reveal his true past. To change the subject, he pointed out towards the docks. "Say, isn't that a Navy ship over there?" Mandi snapped her fingers. "I know what it is. You're worried about showing up without a date! I can take care of that for you. I know lots of girls who'd--" Cydric put his hand over her mouth. "Mandi, even on the wild chance that I did get invited, there's nothing you could say or do that would make me go." Light chamber music mixed with the sound of many simultaneous conversations filled the spacious feast hall of the Lord Mayor's mansion. "It was very kind of you to invite me to this celebration," Cydric said to Brynna Thorne. The twenty-seven-year-old captain of the _Vanguard Voyager_ nodded and tipped her wine glass. "Quite welcome, Cydric," she replied. "Mandi convinced me that double the usual voyage pay wasn't enough of a reward." Cydric made to protest that it was more that enough, but the silver-haired gentleman standing next to Brynna clapped him on the shoulder and said, "Now, now, Brynn. You can't put a price on bravery such as his." 1 "Thank you, Lord Thorne," Cydric replied, "but I didn't do all that much. The bow was enchanted; anyone could have made the shot." Lord Quillien Thorne shook his head. "The dweomer is such that it makes good archers even better. You underrate your own skill. Myself, I think you're a fine addition to my daughter's crew." A large brown-bearded man in rich maroon robes approached them, accompanied by a tall woman in similarly elegant dress. "Quillien! Brynna!" the man called. "You'll be pleased to know that Captain Hellriegel has just captured the last of the _Black Swan's_ crew--even that Danner fellow. The messenger was just here." "Excellent news," said Lord Thorne, looking to Brynna for her reaction. "That's wonderful! Thank you, Lord Mayor," Brynna said. "The Navy's certainly done their job. I'll have to send him a note of thanks before he leaves." "They ought to be the ones thanking you," said the woman, who was the Lord Mayor's wife. "All those months spent chasing down Challion and Skoranji and their mangy lot--then look who brings them in!" Brynna smiled. "You're too kind, milady. Some of the credit, though, belongs to Cydric here." Suddenly feeling uncomfortable, Cydric said, "I think I'll go and tell Mandi that Danner's been captured. She was concerned that he might come back for her. If you'll excuse me?" "Enjoy yourself," said the Lord Mayor. Cydric nodded to everyone, then took his leave. He spotted Mandi by the musicians and made his way over. "Did you have a nice chat with Brynna and Uncle Quill?" Mandi asked. Cydric answered affirmatively, then told her about Danner's capture. "That's such a relief!" Mandi exclaimed. "Not that I was really worried, though." She tugged at the side of her black evening dress. "Oh, while you were talking some of my friends arrived. Let's go, I'll introduce you." Moments later, Cydric and Mandi arrived at a table where four young people were seated. "Everyone," Mandi said, "This is Cydric, the one I was telling you about. Say hi!" A well-dressed young man with almond-brown hair stood up and gripped forearms with Cydric. "The name's Kifton, I'm the Lord Mayor's son. Sorry I wasn't here to meet you at first--the meeting with my personal treasurer ran a little long." The next to greet Cydric was a meek-looking youth and an ample- bosomed flaxen-haired young woman. Mandi introduced them as Garrett and Tassy Covington. She mentioned that Garrett was studying to become a healer, and that Tassy was one of her best friends. "I sure hope you're planning to tell us about your adventure on board the ship," Garrett said. "It must have been enormously exciting." The last person at the table was a slender young lady in a midnight-blue satin ball dress. Her cinnamon-brown hair was twisted in a long loose braid that lay across her shoulder; in her left hand she held a small white lace fan. "Cydric," Mandi said, "this is Rayna Silverwood. She'll be your date for tonight." Cydric looked at the girl and immediately felt his blood turn to ice. No, it's not possible, he thought. Damn! Of all the girls in Baranur....He felt Mandi nudge him slightly. "Ah, I am very pleased to meet you," he said woodenly, taking Rayna's outstretched hand and quickly pressing it to his cheek. Rayna flashed the barest hint of a smile. Her pale blue eyes locked with Cydric's for a moment, then her gaze flitted to the tabletop. "I-I'm pleased as well," she replied, a hint of confusion in 1her voice. She stole another glance at Cydric as she began fanning herself. Mandi stared at the two of them, puzzled by Cydric's reaction. She knew that Rayna was somewhat of a shy girl, but she expected more enthusiasm from Cydric. It couldn't be that Rayna was unattractive--she and Jannis had spent hours getting her ready for the party. The look on Cydric's face was one of shock, surprise, and dismay--like he'd seen someone he never hoped to see again. "Mandi! Have you seen Jannis?" Tassy asked. Mandi turned and motioned to the arched entrance to the gardens at the back of the feast hall. "Last I saw, she was with the Baron Fianchetti's son." "Brynna's little sister certainly is popular, isn't she?" Kiff said, grinning. Mandi shot him a disapproving look. "You know what I mean," he hastily amended. From the front of the room came the Lord Mayor's voice. "The feast will begin shortly," he announced. "I would ask that everyone please be seated now." The guests gradually left the dance floor and made their way to the banquet tables that were set up around the hall. Cydric hesitantly sat down next to Rayna, while Mandi took a seat next to Kiff. "I thought Kayne and Scarabin were supposed to be here," Cydric said to Mandi. "I haven't seen them since we left the ship yesterday." Mandi started to make a cutting reply, but decided to speak to him later on in private. For the mean time, she would act as if everything was fine. "Don't you remember?" she replied. "Scarabin's at the healer's getting cured of his razorworms, and Kayne went off to see some woman. This is the first time they've missed one of our parties." "What about Brynna's mother--your Aunt Rolanda?" "Someone challenged her to a game of King's Key. She's probably out on the terrace beating the pox out of him." A serving girl came by and filled their goblets with wine. After taking a sip Kiff said, "So Cydric, you seem to be the hero of the day around here. Why don't you tell us all about the pirating incident of a couple days ago?" "Yes, please do," Rayna said. Cydric drank a bit of wine, not acknowledging Rayna's words. After the liquid had cleared his throat he proceeded to relate the events of the day before last. The group let him talk uninterrupted; when he was finished, Tassy asked, "So who exactly is Commander Challion? I think I heard the name somewhere before." Kifton, in the process of drinking, looked over the rim of his goblet and set it down. "Hah! Now there's a good story." He wiped his lips, then spoke. "Challion used to be Knight Captain of the Southern Marches about five years ago. My cousin was in the Army at the time; he told me that one night old Captain Challion had a bit too much fine wine, then went out and tried to have his way with a peasant's daughter. Hah! Obviously, the Army kicked him out. They say that Challion used to brag about how one day he'd become Knight Commander, so after his discharge the troops gave him that title to mock him." "Serves him right, I think," Garrett said. "But then, how did he become a pirate?" Kifton shrugged, then looked at Mandi. "You ever hear anything about that?" Mandi cocked her head in thought. "Yes, but bits and pieces, mostly. They say that he was at the Abyssment in Shark's Cove once, and met up with Captain Skoranji--who owns the _Black Swan_, by the way. Well, Challion supposedly played high-stakes paquaratti with Skoranji and it ended up that Challion won the ship, but since he didn't know spit about sailing he made a deal with Skoranji that they go into scavenging treasure from wrecked ships and split whatever they 1found evenly, but Brynna said that she once ran across them off Cape Perpetual where they were searching for a sunken ship that was carrying gold that the pirate Soloman Banshee supposedly stole from the vaults of the Beinison Emperor and--" Kifton reached over and put his hand over Mandi's mouth. "I think he understands now." Mandi sputtered and pushed his hand away. "Pox! Why are people always doing that to me?" She glared briefly at Kifton, then delivered the same look to Cydric. A middle-aged woman in elegant dress swept past their table. Suddenly stopping in mid-stride, she backtracked and spoke to the group. "Greetings everyone, having a good time? Hello there Cydric, nice to see you again. You've met Lord Silverwood's daughter, I see. Getting along, are you?" "Ah--glad to see you too, Lady Thorne," Cydric replied. Mandi's temper sparked as she saw the hurt look in Rayna's eyes when Cydric didn't answer the question. Not now, she told herself. I'll get him later. "Where's Jannis?" asked Tassy. "Seems like she vanished all of a sudden." "Oh, she's out by the stables--showing off her horse to the Fianchetti boy," Rolanda Thorne replied. "He's rather a geeby type, if you ask me, but don't tell the Baroness I said that!" She grinned widely. "But he's harmless, and at least Jannis likes him. I told them to come in, so they'll be here soon. Well, enjoy yourselves, all. Dakka-zee, as the Bandalusians say!" She tousled Mandi's hair, gathered up her voluminous dress and hurried off. A bell sounded, followed by Lord Thorne's voice. He stood behind the table at the front of the feast hall; Lady Thorne took the chair to his left, and to her left Brynna was already seated. The Lord Mayor sat to Thorne's right, and next to him sat his wife Miriyan. "Thank you all for being here," Lord Thorne said. "Once again my daughter Brynna has proved herself a worthy sea captain, and made her family and friends all very proud of her. Before we begin the feast, there is something we would like to do for her. Corbin?" The Lord Mayor stood. "I've known Brynna ever since she was a child, and she was never one to believe the limits other people set upon her. Three years ago she set sail on her maiden voyage in spite of all those who said a woman couldn't command a ship, and her reputation has grown with each succeeding journey." He went on to describe her past voyages and accomplishments, then signalled to a servant who handed him a carved wooden box. He went over to Brynna and motioned for her to stand. Brynna looked confused for a moment, then got up at the urging of her mother, who also rose from her seat. The Lord Mayor continued, "It is with great pleasure that I present to you, Captain Brynna Thorne, this symbol of Port Sevlyn's highest honor." He opened the box to reveal an eight-pointed silver medallion inlaid with the likeness of Cirrangill, God of the Seas. Brynna smiled broadly and thanked the Lord Mayor amid loud applause from the guests. Lady Thorne lifted the medallion out of the case and looped the attached ribbon around Brynna's neck. Lady Thorne hugged her, as did her father. The Lord Mayor and his wife extended their congratulations as well. "Got her totally by surprise!" Mandi exclaimed. Brynna looked down at the medallion that hung against her chest, then up at the still-applauding crowd. She waited until the ovation had died down before speaking. "This is, this is certainly an unexpected honor," she said, her hand going to the blue streak in her long dark hair. "I'm not usually at a loss for words...." She made a 1brief speech in which she expressed her appreciation for all the support her friends and family had given her over the years, and mentioned that her crew also deserved recognition for their loyal and faithful service. She was making her closing remarks when Lady Thorne broke in. "Wait a moment! That's not the only surprise we have for you," she said. "Okay, Jannis, bring him in!" Through the back entrance to the feast hall came a tall well- muscled man in a gray uniform, accompanied by a slim young girl. The man strode up to the Lord Mayor's table and bowed, while the girl sat down with Cydric and the others. Lady Thorne smiled widely. "Everyone, may I present Captain Xane Hellriegel, of the Royal Navy ship _Storm Challenger_. Dakka-zee, Captain, so nice that you could attend!" Captain Hellriegel thanked his hosts and smiled at Brynna, who stood open-mouthed in surprise. "Greetings, Captain Thorne," he said. "Very glad to see you again." "Now now now, none of this 'captain' business, please," said Lady Thorne. "This is a celebration--first names only!" She leaned close to Brynna and whispered, "Don't just stand there gaping like a fish! Say something to the man, lest he think you're a statue." Brynna cast her mother a dark look, then turned to Captain Hellriegel. "So nice that you could attend," she said. "Please do have a seat, Xane," said Lady Thorne. "Next to Brynna, if you would." Mandi shook her head. "Pox, Jannis, I thought you were giving Fianchetti Junior a tour of the stables. Don't tell me you were outside with _him_ all this time!" Jannis Thorne grinned at Mandi from the opposite end of the table. "I certainly was, sure as snow! Are you jealous?" "Oooh, I could poke your eyes out!" "Thank you," Jannis said with a laugh, tossing back her golden hair. "Hah! What's to be jealous of?" said Kifton, putting his arm around Mandi. "Those Navy fish-kissers don't make a tenth of what I could get from a caravan contract. I could spend in a day what he makes in six months!" "Oooh, I'm not the only one jealous around here!" said Mandi, elbowing Kifton in the ribs. "You always bring up your money whenever you feel threatened, don't you?" "I do not," said Kifton. "Do so!" "You want to bet on that?" "Just as I thought." "He's just a fish-kisser! There's nothing special about what he does." Mandi thrust his arm away from her. "What he does is the same thing that Brynna does! Are you saying that being a ship captain is nothing special?" "That's not what I meant," Kifton said defensively. "What I meant was...simply that...uh...." "Forget it, Kiff," said Jannis. "You're in deep enough as it is." "So Jan," Tassy said, "Whatever happened to young Fianchetti? Was he impressed by El-Johan?" Jannis giggled. "About that! Soon as we stepped into the stables, he started sneezing like a thunderstorm. He never said that he was allergic to horses. It got so bad he decided to go home. And a good thing too, for just then Mother came over with Captain Hellriegel and asked me to keep him company until she called. He told me all kinds of fascinating stories--he's a very interesting man, a perfect match for 1Brynna." "You mean Captain Thorne isn't married?" asked Cydric. "Not yet," replied Jannis, "but not for long, if my mother has her way." "I was about to send a messenger to inform you that we'd captured all of the _Black Swan's_ crew," said Captain Hellriegel, "but it was such a fine day I decided to deliver the message myself. I was halfway to the doors when Lady Thorne intercepted me and invited me to the celebration. What I didn't expect was that I'd have to make that surprise entrance." "Yes," said Brynna, "Mother always manages to surprise everyone." "I'm afraid Corbin and I are also partly responsible," said the Lord Mayor's wife. "Rolanda coaxed us into going along with it." "So tell us, Captain, what's the word from Magnus?" asked the Lord Mayor. "Is there any truth to the rumors of an invasion from Bichu?" "There's plenty of speculation, yes, but I personally don't believe it," Hellriegel replied. "For one thing, it's highly doubtful that the Bichanese--" Lady Thorne clapped her hands. "Please please! You men, all you talk about these days is war. Let's discuss more pleasant things. This is a celebration, after all." "How right you are, Rolanda," said Miriyan. "The subject is growing rather tiresome. I doubt we'll see any major war in our lifetimes." Lord Thorne drained the last of his wine and signalled for a refill. To Captain Hellriegel he said, "It's extremely fortunate that you decided to replenish your water supplies at Port Sevlyn. Otherwise, those pirates might be causing trouble in town right now." "They won't be troubling anyone for a long time to come," Hellriegel replied. "We're taking the ship in tow, and the whole crew is safely in the brig--except for the oarsmen. We had to find a mage to disperse them." "So it is true," said the Lord Mayor. "Skoranji _did_ have undead among his crew. I didn't think it possible." "How gruesome," said Miriyan, shuddering. Lady Thorne started to speak, but her husband cut her off. "We're not discussing war, Rolanda," he said. "I meant anything that dealt with death on a mass scale," Lady Thorne snapped. "That reminds me," said the Lord Mayor's wife, "the first course should have been served by now. I'll have to see what the problem is." She excused herself and left the table. In keeping with Lady Thorne's topic limitations, the men began talking of less gruesome things such as the state of Lord Thorne's trading business. "The Land's Rim is doing quite well," Quillien said. "I've added spell-protection to the vaults, plus installed a secret exit--might come in useful if the Bichanese invade." The group laughed. "In addition," continued Lord Thorne, "the items that Brynna brought back from her last expedition have sold extremely well; I can now afford to either add a new room to the house, or buy another ship." The Lord Mayor shook his head. "I've a better idea, Quillien--build a summer home in the Catswoods. Duke Quinnat and I were thinking of some kind of joint project...." Lady Thorne suddenly looked at her daughter. "Brynna dear, you've been unusually quiet. Feel free to join in at any time." "I need to get a breath of air," Brynna said. "Please excuse me." She stood up abruptly and hurried out through the back of the feast 1hall. "...so as soon as we'd docked, Captain Thorne went over to the _Storm Challenger_ to tell them about the battle and have them pick up the survivors," Cydric was saying. "I did see her talking briefly to Captain Hellriegel--something he said seemed to irritate her, and she left the ship in a hurry." "She didn't mention anything about that to me," Jannis said. Just then, Brynna rushed past them out of the room. Lady Thorne followed not a moment behind. "Not again," sighed Jannis. "Cydric," Mandi said, "did you know that Rayna's father supplies almost all of the pottery that's used in the towns along the Laraka?" "Really," Cydric said. "I didn't know that." "It's true," Rayna said. "He owns three shops here in Port Sevlyn and two in Magnus. Have you ever seen how pottery is made?" "Ah, no, but I'm sure it's fascinating." Cydric turned back to Jannis. "What do you mean 'not again'?" Mandi made a tiny sound of frustration. "Mother and Brynna--they always seem to get into an argument whenever Brynna gets back from a voyage," Jannis explained. "And it's usually about the same thing." Mandi said, "Cydric, could I see you for a moment--in private?" "Hold it, what do you want to see him alone for?" Kifton said suspiciously. "It's about--his horse," Mandi said quickly. "He had to leave it behind in Shark's Cove when he joined the ship. I promised him I'd let him ride mine when we got home." "But now? They're about to serve the food!" "Well, it'll be dark soon. He can't very well ride around at night--it's so hard to see things! Honestly, Kiff, think before you speak." Mandi got up and indicated for Cydric to do the same. Cydric looked confused. "Ah, Mandi--" "Once around the pond, isn't that what you said? Well let's go then, come on!" She went around to Cydric and surreptitiously pinched him. "Ow! Owv course. Pardon us." Cydric followed Mandi out into the garden. Brynna and Lady Thorne were there, having a discussion near the rose bushes. Mandi led Cydric away from the house and over to the stables. "What is this about, Mandi?" Cydric demanded. "I ought to--I ought to poke _your_ eyes out!" seethed Mandi. "I'm not going take it anymore!" "Calm down and tell me what you mean." "Oh, you don't know what I mean--I'll tell you what I mean! You have been utterly, totally, and completely rude to Rayna! You hardly spoke to her--you barely even looked at her! I'm not going to sit by and let you treat one of my dearest friends this way! Oh, I could just scream! Rayna's a bit shy, and I thought you'd be at least nice to her. Her mother died recently, and she needs someone she can talk to. I just can't believe how you've behaved towards her! For your sake, you'd better have a reason for it!" Cydric stood stunned for a moment, taken aback by Mandi's tirade. He gulped, quickly weighing the consequences of telling her the truth or compounding the little lies he'd already told. "Well? I'm waiting," said Mandi. "I had no idea her mother was dead," Cydric said cautiously. "You should've told me." "I didn't think I needed to. I thought you'd be at least polite. Is there a reason that you weren't, or did you suddenly become a 1scrud- sucker overnight?" "Yes, there was a reason. But I don't need any abuse." "Sorry. Do you feel like telling me?" Cydric looked away and began to pace. He turned the question over and over in his mind. Would it do more harm than good to tell her? Was it really that much of a secret? Would it be so bad if he did tell? He debated within himself for several minutes. Finally he made his decision. "All right, I'll tell you." "Brynna! Slow down! You can't just walk out of the party--you're the guest of honor! What's the matter?" Lady Thorne hurried to catch up with her daughter. Brynna stopped and spun to face her mother. "Was it truly necessary to invite him?" "Him? Xane? Well, why shouldn't I have? After all, he is a captain like yourself. I imagine you two have lots of things in common." "You may as well have invited every other ship captain currently in dock, for that matter." "Oh Brynna, please. He's come to apologize for whatever it was that he said to you. Not many men would do that! And besides, I do believe that he's never been married before, either." Brynna exhaled loudly and crossed her arms. "Gods' breath, that's exactly what I thought. You never change, mother." "I don't understand...." Lady Thorne stopped speaking as Cydric and Mandi came out of the house and headed past them toward the stables. Brynna waited until they were out of earshot, then said, "I suppose I'll have just to say it plainly: I want you to stop throwing men at me in the hopes that I'll marry one of them! It's becoming extremely annoying to return home and find you waiting with the 'catch of the day', as it were. Haven't I said enough times that marriage isn't important to me right now?" "But Brynna dear, you're almost thirty. It's--" "Age again. Mother, I don't want to talk about. Straight?" Lady Thorne shook her head. "I just--I don't know what more to say. How can I convince you? You can't go rambling around the world for the rest of your life. Someday you'll have to settle down." There was the sound of someone coming down the paved garden path. Both women turned to see Captain Hellriegel approaching them. "I'll leave you alone," said Lady Thorne. "But this is your chance --remember what I've said. Be nice to him, now!" She nodded to Hellriegel as she headed up the path back to the house. "I don't think he likes me," Rayna sighed, rapidly fanning herself. "That's not true," Jannis said, trying to sound reassuring. "Cydric's probably just trying to work up the courage to--" "Hah! Just be serious for a moment," Kiff interjected. "The man killed a sorcerer with nothing but an arrow. I think he's got courage enough. More likely he'd prefer someone more--" He suddenly realized that Rayna was sadly staring at him. "Uh, what I meant was, someone who's not so...well, let's just say...." "Kiff," Jannis said. "What?" Jannis made an obscene gesture to him. Kiff sputtered in indignation. Tassy giggled. Garrett looked over at Kiff and shook his head. "Perhaps I should be going now," Rayna said. She started to get up, but Jannis gently pushed her back down. "No, you don't have to 1leave. I think that's what Mandi's talking to him about out there. I did notice that he was somewhat cool towards you." "Cool!" Kiff snorted. "Dead of winter was more like it. His look alone could've frozen water! I mean, frostbite...." Jannis coughed loudly. "One more word Kiff, and I'll tell Mandi about Corinne." "Hah! Who?" Jannis took out a handkerchief and impressed her lips upon it. She held up the cloth to display the red blotch left by her lip stain. "The girl Mandi will think this belongs to, that's who." "Hah! You wouldn't," Kiff said, his tone sobering. Jannis smiled sweetly. Rayna folded up her fan. "I think I really should leave. I'm not feeling all that well anyway." "But Rayna--" Jannis looked to Tassy for help. "Tell your mother it was a lovely party." Rayna got up and began to walk away. "Ah--you should at least have dinner!" Tassy called. "It would be a shame, almost an insult really, to walk out before the meal's been served." Rayna paused, then returned to the table. "I do suppose that's true." She sat back down. "But why do you think Cydric was acting that way?" "Maybe he's got another girl," Kiff mumbled. "Kifton!" Jannis and Tassy said together. "Is anything wrong?" Captain Hellriegel asked. "Just a little family disagreement. Nothing to be concerned about," Brynna replied. "Why did you run out here, though? You seemed a little upset." "As I said, nothing to be concerned about." Brynna turned away and peered closely at a nearby rose. Hellriegel nodded and clasped his hands behind his back. After a moment he said, "Congratulations on the medal. It's an honor well deserved." "Indeed," Brynna replied without turning around. Hellriegel let out a breath and rubbed the back of his neck. "I didn't expect this to be easy," he muttered to himself. Brynna straightened up and faced him. "I think I'll be getting back to the party now. Do please excuse me." She started to walk past him. Hellriegel grasped her arm. "Brynna--Captain Thorne, please wait. I--" Brynna glared at him until he released her. "Don't you have to get under way soon? Your prisoners must be anxious to get to trial." "About what I said the other day. I'm sorry." "So mother was right. You did come to apologize." "Listen, Captain--I can't excuse what I said to you that day. It was wholly obnoxious, it was entirely uncalled for, it was--" "Typically male?" Brynna finished. "All right, that too. There's no way under Kisil-Doon I can take back what I said. All I can say is, I wish I'd never said it." Brynna nibbled her lower lip, but said nothing. Captain Hellriegel let his hands drop to his sides. "That's all I really came here for. I suppose I should get back to my ship now. Goodbye, Captain." He slowly turned and started up the path. "Captain," Brynna called after a moment. Hellriegel stopped and faced her. "Would you have said similar things to a...a non-female ship captain?" 1 Hellriegel grinned. "Definitely not. I'd have said something much worse!" Brynna strode up to him. In a softer tone she said, "If I might ask a small favor?" "Of course, anything." "I have some business to take care of in Magnus, and since you're already going there...." "My cabin is yours--if you want it, that is." Brynna smiled slightly. "We'll see." "This wouldn't have anything to do with the Codex Araltakonia--the book that Challion wanted so badly--would it now?" "It might," said Brynna. "If I could have an hour to get ready?" "Take all the time you need." Cydric sat down against a tree. "You may be surprised at what I'm about to tell you, and for you to fully understand I'm going to have to start at the very beginning." Mandi plopped down in front of him, legs crossed underneath her. "I'm listening." "You also have to promise not to say anything until I've finished." "Yes! Now get on with it." Cydric sighed, then proceeded to tell her the truth. He told her that instead of being a scribe's son like he initially claimed, he was in fact the son of Khysar Araesto, who was the King's Royal Treasurer and Duke of Pyridain. He told her of his long-standing desire for adventure, of his love for the King's niece Lysanda, and of the Dreamrealm adventure he had shared with the Sage of Dargon. He then gave an account of how he was forced to marry Lysanda after he learned of her pregnancy, and of how the resulting scandal caused the dissolution of their marriage. "...so that's why I decided to leave Magnus, and how I ended up in Shark's Cove. But when you introduced me to Rayna, I couldn't believe it--she looked exactly like Lysanda. Same hair, eyes, lips...they could almost be twins. And everything that I was feeling after she left with the baby--it all came flooding back to me. I thought I'd forgotten her, about what she said...I was afraid that I might take it all out on Rayna. So I tried to say as little as possible. Damned unfair of me I know, but..." He shrugged. "I don't blame you if you're still angry." Mandi sat silent for a moment, digesting all he had revealed to her. "Pox," she said at length. "When you said you had a reason...I thought it was her looks, or her dress--I had no idea I'd be getting a full confession!" "I felt I needed to tell you the entire truth. It was becoming too difficult to keep my lies straight." "I'm glad you trust me enough to tell me all this," Mandi said, placing her hand on his knee. "But you actually lived in the same castle with the King! That is the most amazing thing I've--" "Are you still upset about how I acted towards Rayna?" "Well--well of course I am. I know what's she's feeling; my mother's dead, too." Mandi traced a circle in the dirt. "It happened when I was a child, though. I never got along with my stepmother-- that's why I ran away and came up here to join Brynna." She looked up and shook Cydric's leg. "But Rayna's a completely different person from Lysanda. Just because they look the same--that means nothing. Rayna may be a little shy, but she's warm and caring, a really good friend. She would never do anything to hurt anyone, and right now she needs someone that won't leave her after a single night. Do you understand what I mean? She deserves a honest chance. Will you give 1her at least that much?" Cydric slowly nodded. "You're right. I suppose I do owe her that. Should I apologize?" Mandi stood up and dusted herself off. "How about if the two of you go out to a tavern together? You can start all over without being distracted." "Sounds like a good idea. Help me up, would you?" He stretched out his hand. Mandi reached for him, but withdrew her hand at the last moment. "That was extremely humorous," Cydric said, getting up on his own. Mandi giggled. Cydric frowned. "Is that a leafhopper?" he said, putting his finger on her shoulder. "What!" Mandi said, quickly turning her head. Cydric flipped his palm over and lightly slapped her cheek. "Oooh!" Mandi exclaimed. "Now we're even. Shall we go?" Cydric grinned. "You have to tell Brynna, you know." "Oh," Cydric said. The first course was served shortly after everyone had returned to the house. Garrett frowned down suspiciously at his plate. "Is this it?" he asked. The dish consisted of a slab of cooked beef in between two thick slices of bread. Kifton said, "It's a recipe Mother learned about from a bard who came through here a few weeks ago. He said it's very popular down in the southeastern duchy where it originated. In fact, it's named after the Duke himself." "What Duke is it named after?" Tassy asked. Kifton thought. "Leftwich," he said. "A Leftwich," Mandi repeated. She took a small bite. "It's good," she said. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 The Bronze Horseman, Part 2 by Max Khaytsus Kera gratefully accepted the sailor's outstretched hand and jumped down onto the pier. After a few weeks at sea, it was a pleasant change to stand on ground that did not rock beneath her feet. "I hope you had a good voyage, miss," the sailor told her. "Actually that was my first time," Kera smiled. "The constant rocking was...well, a pain." "Never been on a ship before?" the sailor asked with a smile. "I have, but only for a few hours at a time," admitted Kera. "Never had to sleep on one before." "That was a relatively calm trip," the sailor said. "You picked a good time to travel." "Calm?" Kera exclaimed. "What about that storm last week?" "That wasn't a storm," the sailor laughed. "A month or two more and storms like that will be common out there." "You below!" someone yelled from the ship. "Get a move on! We need to unload cargo before nightfall!" "Better go," the sailor sighed. "Gotta make room for new cargo. Enjoy your stay here, miss." "Thank you," Kera called as the sailor rushed off. She walked up the pier to the dock and stopped, looking both ways. A board-walk much larger than the one at Dargon stretched both ways as far as she could see. Rien said that The Tipsy Dragon, the bar she was to deliver his message to, was on the north shore of the Laraka, about a league from the docks. She turned right, adjusting her pack, and went towards the river. Kera wished she had her horse, but as Rien predicted, she had to sell the animal in Armand. The ship's captain refused to put up with the horse on a three week journey and there wasn't the time to travel by land. She dreaded having to sell the horse, as it had been her constant companion for the last few months, but there was no other choice and Rien promised her she would be provided a replacement in Sharks' Cove. After some walking Kera came to the end of the dock at the north end of the Laraka river delta. On the island ahead of her rose a large stone castle that caught her eye. It wasn't as tall or magnificent as Dargon Keep, but a single silver tipped spire pointing up into the sky over barely visible stone walls covered by a multitude of trees forced her to stop and look. Never having been more than two hours beyond the gates of the city of Dargon, Kera found everything to be a wondrous sight, even the ship she sailed in on. This castle, the second she had seen in all her life, was easily one of such wonders and she remained on the board-walk admiring it for a long time. She had heard the sailors on the ship talking about this castle, Quirin Keep, and about its owner, Baron Morgen Roderick, whose reputation matched that of Sharks' Cove, the so called "hind end of Baranur". Kera finally turned to the road leading upriver, deeper into the city and began looking for her destination. There were many beggars wandering the docks and a lot of drunken men slept by the walls of the buildings near the pier. The other people, who Kera imagined to be a little more respectable, were not as friendly as the folk in Dargon. When she asked for directions, most simply ignored her as they wandered by and those who did stop to shrug their shoulders did not even dare to smile. The entire atmosphere of the city was rude and impersonal. One young man even walked up and pinched her behind. She turned around and whopped him one so hard that he slunk away with a 1bloody nose and a fat lip. Then for a whole block people got out of her way, which kept her immensely amused. By late afternoon Kera found a two story building facing the river with the words "The Tipsy Dragon" painted across a sign board on the front, right below an overweight dragon reclining lazily on the letters. The crowd in this part of town appeared to be a little wealthier, better dressed and somewhat more friendly. After a brief hesitation Kera entered the tavern. Inside it was murky and loud, but Kera was surprised to see that no drunk people slept on the tables and, on the whole, it was a lot cleaner than most places in Dargon. A large bouncer looked down at Kera. He must have been over seven feet tall! She must have missed him because he blended in with the furniture so well. Everything appeared a little imposing. Feeling a little self conscious, Kera slipped by him into the large main room. Three musicians played on a raised platform in the far corner and a young woman sang in front of them. Kera tried to catch the words to the song, but realized they were in a foreign language. She wasn't that far from Dargon, was she? In either case, both the melody and the words were pleasant to the ear. Finding a seat at the bar, Kera sat down. The bartender was off at the other end of the bar and she took the time to look around a bit. Perhaps the bar's most prominent feature was a kite shield hanging up above the center stand, with a large crimson dragon sprawled out on his back, obviously drunk and just having released a belch in a puff of circular white smoke, painted on the shield's face. Kera almost giggled at the sight. "What can I get you?" the bartender walked over to Kera. He was young, maybe a little older than she, with good muscle tone and a deep tan from being in the sun. Definitely not the typical overweight and balding barkeep with a dirty apron. "Mead," Kera said and he walked off. She wondered how to best follow Rien's directions without making a fool of herself. The bartender came back and placed a glass before her. "I'm carrying a message," she said. The man looked up. "For whom?" "I am carrying a message," Kera repeated. The man frowned and looked around the room. "When the singer is done, talk to her." Kera nodded and picked up her drink. When the bartender walked away, she turned to watch the group on stage. The three musicians, all men, were dressed uniformly. At first Kera thought it to be frivolous, but then realizing that by dressing this way the men would make themselves more recognizable, she saw the logic. The girl singing was commonly dressed, if a little like the merchant class, which could afford better garb. She was slightly taller than Kera, dark eyed with blond hair. Kera was wondering why she has to deal with a musician, when the singer finished her song and bowed. The patrons began cheering and even the bartender clapped his hands. Someone yelled for her to sing again and the majority of the tavern began cheering her on. The young woman raised her hands into the air to silence the mob and when it was quiet, started speaking in a slightly accented voice. "Let me take a break and I will sing again later in the evening." "You're just trying to keep us here so we buy more drinks!" someone yelled and the patrons broke into laughter. The young woman got off the stage and went to the bar. The bartender walked over to her and placed a glass with dark blue syrupy liquid before her. As Kera watched, they chatted with each other for a while, then 1the bartender pointed in Kera's direction. After a few more words he left and the singer walked over and sat down by Kera. Up close she looked a little older than Kera had initially thought. Maybe thirty or so. "I am told you brought a message," the woman said. "Are you one of the new couriers?" Kera shook her head. "I feel like one, but I'm not." "Who is it from?" "Sir Keegan," Kera answered. The woman looked puzzled. "Rien?" Kera nodded. "I didn't know what you called him here." "May I see it?" Kera picked up her pack off the floor and pulling the rolled up sheet out, cautiously handed it over. Noticing the apprehension, the woman put the parchment on the bar and reached her hand out to Kera. "I am Adrea Rainer. I'm in the same line of work as Rien and for the time being in charge here." "I'm Kera. Rien apprenticed me." Adrea laughed. "So he finally broke down and took one. Have you had dinner yet?" Kera shook her head. "Good," Adrea said. "You can keep me company. Brice!" she called to the bartender. "Serve us dinner." She picked up the message and asked Kera to follow her to a corner table, where she read it. "I'm afraid he's a little late going after Sir Garwood Quinn," Adrea said. "We sent a man up two weeks ago. I expect Rien will run into him." "He couldn't make it earlier," Kera said. "There were a few problems." Brice came over with a tray and served dinner to the two women. "It tastes better than it looks," he said and left. "Problems?" Adrea asked, ignoring the bartender. "I can't comment on them," Kera said. "I don't know if Rien wants this known." Silence ruled the table for a few moments, then Adrea spoke again. "How long have you been with him?" "We met in Dargon before Melrin," Kera said. "How did his vacation go?" "I didn't find it very relaxing," Kera said, "but he claims it was a break from the normal routine." "First one he took in three years," Adrea said. "He tends to get into trouble just for the adventure of it." "Life with him isn't boring," Kera agreed. "I wish he hadn't sent me here for his stuff. I can't begin to tell you how many times I got sea sick on that boat." "First time?" "No. I've been on boats before, but never for three weeks straight." "A few more times and you'll get used to it," Adrea promised. "A few more times and I'll develop a phobia," Kera smiled. "I'm just glad I'm not going back the same way." "When do you want to get going?" "As soon as I can, I suppose. How long will it take to put everything together?" "An hour or so," Adrea said. "We weren't expecting you." Kera nodded. She was surprised at the short amount of time, but did not give it away. "That will be fine." "Why don't you spend the night here?" Adrea offered. "After that boat ride you may need the rest." Kera thought about it for a moment. "I suppose a night won't make 1that big a difference. Why not." "Good," Adrea approved. "I'll show you to your room after dinner." Silence took hold for a little longer, then Adrea pointed to Kera's pack. "Is that all of your gear?" "I sold my horse and armor in Armand," Kera said. "Neither one had much room or purpose on the ship." Not true, really. The horse could have served as company at least as good as some of the sailors and the armor could have been packed neatly under something to be out of the way, but available if necessary. "A horse is no problem," Adrea answered thoughtfully, "but we'll have to measure you for armor. What's your height...?" Brice returned to the table. "Adrea?" "We're not done yet," she looked up. "The couriers are back," he said. "Damn!" she moved her plate aside and stood up. "One of these days I'll get out on the streets again and you can handle the messes." "That's what happens when you have children," he answered. "Get back to the bar," Adrea shooed him away. She turned and looked at Kera's confused expression. "I'm the senior member present. I deal with all problems. You want to come along?" Kera nodded and got up, following Adrea to a room behind the bar where two men waited for them. She recognized one as the courier who delivered the message to Rien in Dargon, but he did not seem to know her. Perhaps the cloak had protected her better than she thought. He handed Adrea a rolled up sheet and she sat down to read it, after tearing the seal. "This just proves Bichu can't go to war!" she finally said. She wrote her response under the message and resealed the letter. "Take this back. I want to know who and where!" The two men left. "They don't get to sleep over?" Kera asked with a smile. "I guess I'm running them a bit ragged," Adrea admitted, "but there are all these rumors and no trace of their source." "What makes you think that Bichu does not want to go to war?" "Lack of a fleet. They need to get here to attack us." "I met a Bichuese man up in Dargon," Kera said. "He was very nice." "In Dargon?" Adrea asked. "He is Baron Connall's Castellan," Kera said. "He came here because of a family feud at home." Adrea scribbled a note on a sheet and folded it. "I'll have this checked. He may know something useful. Let's go finish dinner." The two women returned to the dining room. "Do you know Rien well?" Kera asked suddenly when they sat down. "I suppose," Adrea answered. "We've worked together for a while now." "Can you tell me about him? He doesn't talk about himself much..." "That's a sensitive one," Adrea said. "What do you already know? You know where he is from?" "Charnelwood," Kera said. "He told me about his parents also." "Good," Adrea nodded. "I wouldn't be telling you much if you did not know this. It's the most sensitive part of him." "I understand why he has so much to hide..." "Well, let's see," Adrea began, "he wanted to find out what the real world is all about. His people avoided outside contact for centuries. A long time ago, according to histories...what we now call myths, the world was quite different. Our scholar could tell you a lot more about those. I'll introduce you to him this evening. Rien's tribe has been secluded from everything since before Baranur became a 1country. "From what I understand, his father was one of the very few contacts they made with the outside world. How and why, I don't know, but obviously one thing led to another and Rien was born. I don't know how his tribe treats him, but he definitely feels he is an outsider to them and above all, doesn't talk much about it." "What about his name? It doesn't sound elven. Was it his father's?" "What do you consider elven," Adrea asked. Kera honestly could not answer. "I meant it sounds human," she said. "It is, but it's not his father's. Have you ever heard of Sir Gaelan Keegan?" Kera shook her head. "I'm not surprised. He doesn't talk much about that either. I didn't know about it until I saw it in a book and brought it up," Adrea said. "I don't know why that man never became a hero. Judging by his biography, he should have. A century ago Sir Gaelan Keegan, a baron in the Duchy of Arvalia, together with a dozen of his knights defeated the mob lead by Duke Silas Wolfric's brother, to take the duchy back...and didn't lose any of his men in the overnight victory. Of course that was also the only thing he did in his lifetime." Kera continued staring blankly, not understanding the relevance." "Rien was there," Adrea emphasized. "He was Sir Gaelan Keegan's squire. Gaelan took him to help him learn how to fit in. That's where he got the name." Kera felt herself turn pale, forgetting her question dealt with Rien's name. "How old is he?" "I don't know," Adrea said. "He was about fifty back then. That would make him a hundred and fifty now." Kera gasped. "Are you all right?" Adrea asked. "I didn't realize he was that old," Kera said. "Elves tend to do that..." Adrea smiled. "Or, as he puts it, `Ljosalfar do; I don't know about the Dopkalfar'." They both laughed at the expression and quickly finished dinner. Adrea then sang a bit more for the customers and after, took Kera to the back room and down a flight of stairs. "This is where our people stay," Adrea said, showing Kera into one of the rooms on the floor. "We try to keep our staff in the dark, underground. Regular customers stay on the top floor." Kera dropped her pack on the bed and looked around the room. It was large, larger than the one in the Connall Keep. Candles mounted in special brackets on the walls kept the room well lit and there was a distinct lack of windows, which made the room look gloomy in spite of the plentiful lighting. "I've never slept underground before," Kera noted. "I promise you won't get sea sick," Adrea smiled. The bottom level of the tavern was occupied by a small library, a relaxation area and a laboratory. They were all brightly lit, but it was not obvious by what. There were candles on walls and tables, but none were lit and none cast shadows. Kera spun around, looking at the floor, searching for her shadow, but it was not there. "Magic," Adrea explained. "Come, I'll introduce you to the force behind it." "Force?" Kera asked, hurrying to catch up. Adrea opened the laboratory door and walked in with Kera behind her. The room was as big as the rest of the level. It was filled with counters and shelves along the wall and tables in the center. On one of the tables was an assortment of vials and beakers and other various 1equipment, most of which Kera could not identify if her life depended on it. Most of the glassware was filled with different colored liquids, some boiling over into other dishes, others standing aside. It took Kera a while to see the blond haired man in his late thirties sitting across from the door, watching a glass with some liquid heating over a flame. "Deven?" Adrea called to him and he raised his hand in response, without looking up. "Hold on." He had a distinct foreign accent. "Let me show you around," Adrea sighed. "He gets so much into his work he forgets to eat. He tends to sleep here too..." Adrea took Kera around the lab, mentioning equipment and trying to explain the setups. Most of the information went right over Kera's head. Noticing that, Adrea assured her that a year ago she knew next to nothing about magic as well. Finally the liquid Deven was watching changed color and he turned to the two women. "It's supper time," Adrea told him. "I already ate," he answered. "That was lunch," Adrea reminded him. "This," she pointed to Kera, "is Rien's trainee, Kera. Kera, meet our resident wizard, Deven. We'd all be lost without him, but he'd be twice as lost without us." "A pleasure to meet you," Deven said, taking Kera's hand. "Will you be staying a while?" "Just overnight," Kera said. "I came by to pick up some equipment." "That's good," he mumbled. "Is Rien here?" "He's up in Phedra," Adrea answered. "Oh...." the mage said, looking over his shoulder. "It's nice meeting you..." he told Kera and went back to the tables. "Did I offend him?" Kera asked Adrea. "Don't worry. He probably just remembered something. He'll remember about you later in the evening." "I have a book I need to give him." "What book?" Adrea asked. "From the Ducal library in Dargon. Rien wanted it copied if there are no copies here. He told me it goes to `the guy who can't remember his name'." "Sounds like you found him," Adrea smirked. She led Kera from the laboratory to the library. "Let's see if we have a copy. What is it called? Who wrote it?" "Realities of Myths by Bistra." Adrea started scanning the shelves. A lot of the books were in foreign languages. Most looked new, but well used. "No," Adrea finally said. "Doesn't look like we have it. What is it about?" "Uh..." Kera hesitated. "It talks about magic and mythology." Adrea pulled a thick tome from the shelf and started flipping her way through it. "It's not listed," she finally said. "We don't have it. I never even heard of it. What did Rien need a mythology book for?" "It's not exactly mythology," Kera said. "It explains how mythological and unnatural things fit in the natural world." "You sound like Rien." Kera smiled, a little embarrassed. "That's how he explained it to me when he started looking for it." It wasn't an answer to the question asked and she thought about it a little longer. Adrea seemed to know Rien pretty well. "Rien got lycanthropy when he was in Dargon and wanted the book to obtain more information about it...he's fine now," she added quickly. Adrea looked thoughtful. "Tell me about it." 1 Over the next hour Kera told Adrea the story of what happened...most of what happened, since she felt some parts, including her meeting with Rien and their relationship should remain private. Adrea was very understanding and it made Kera feel better for being honest. After their talk Adrea went to check on her daughter and Kera got the book and returned to the laboratory. Deven was back watching the transparent liquid bubbling over a flame. If Kera had not seen him move when Adrea introduced them, she would have sworn he was frozen to the bench. She remained standing in the doorway until Deven looked up. He must have been more alert than he appeared. "Come in," he said. "What can I do for you?" Kera showed him the book. "Rien told me to ask you to make a copy of this if you don't have one." Deven examined the book. "Never heard of it. Did you check in the library?" "Adrea did. She didn't find it." "Then we probably don't have it," he said. "Let's go copy it." "Now?" Kera asked. "I heard it takes months for a scribe to copy a book!" "And that's precisely the reason my father never made much money," Deven said. "Magic is an art form of many applications." As Kera watched, Deven got a clay box and a long stemmed yellow-green plant and after placing the box on the book, on which he lay the plant, he cast a spell. Before Kera's eyes the plant turned into a book identical to the one at the bottom of the stack. The box between the two books glowed a dim red. "What is it?" Kera asked when Deven finished. "A scribe's hand," he answered as if miscellaneous body parts were an everyday occurrence to him. Kera took a deliberate step back, but he did not seem to notice. "This will only last for a day or so," Deven went on. He found a bottle of ink and a small green gem and spent the next hour trying to crush the gem into powder and then, mixing it with the ink, made it into a paste. All this time he kept asking Kera about the book and her education and discussing what she knew, though he spoke very little about himself. By the time the paste was ready, Kera understood what Adrea meant when she said she learned a lot about magic in the last year. The paste, which there turned out to be quite a lot of, was molded around the new book and Deven cast another spell. The box stopped glowing and the paste disappeared. Deven proudly held up the two books. "Even the true owner wouldn't know which is which. Give this one to Adrea to send back. I will catalog the other." Kera thanked him and retreated upstairs. Deven was an interesting person to listen to, but after an hour of listening to theories of crystal stability and how to make octopus ink into real ink, Kera had a headache she felt may outlive her. "Is Deven still working?" Adrea asked when Kera made it to the bar. "He was making a copy of the book." "Is he done? Well, never mind. He wouldn't let you go if he wasn't." Kera smiled and handed Adrea the book to be delivered. "This needs to be returned." "Who does it go to?" "Rish Vogel, a chronicaler in the Duchy of Dargon," Kera said. "It's from the Duke's library. That's the only place there was a copy 1in the whole city." "I take it neither the Duke, nor this Vogel know it's missing?" "They might by now," Kera said. "I didn't think they'd just let us borrow it." "You should ask Deven about some of his stories," Adrea laughed. "He used to be a book thief." "With spells like that?" Kera asked, surprised. "He created the spells after the College of Bards caught him. That's the one he'll talk your ear off with. I'll have the book sent to Dargon as soon as there is a courier available," Adrea said. "Now I'd better go beat Deven over the head. One of these days I should let him alone, just to see how long it takes him to realize that he's hungry. He's bound to notice it sooner or later...I hope." Kera remained on her stool, watching the band play. There were more customers now than before. Brice served her a drink and after an exchange of pleasantries left to help the other patrons. After a while Kera began getting bored. There wasn't all that much to do at the tavern. The people here were for the most part middle aged and cultured; a crowd Kera could not fit in with. She nursed her drink a while longer and then went outside. A crescent moon shone above the bay off to the west and Kera wandered down the street towards the harbor. Within a few blocks the buildings became rundown and a lack of street light, artificial as it was, became apparent. Kera noticed a person sleeping by the wall of a building and edged by carefully, so as not to disturb anything. For the most part the streets were empty, but appeared more dangerous than the ones in Dargon, even if there was an assassin looking for her there. A patrol passed by Kera and she could have sworn that at least two of the three guards were drunk. They stumbled on, past her, not even noticing she was there. Even in Dargon the guards, who suspected Kera was a criminal, would greet her in the streets. Sharks' Cove was dirty and foreign and impersonal. Kera turned off the cobblestone street and made her way down to the river. During her voyage at sea Kera learned that her newly gained night sight made it possible for her to see fish swimming under the water at night, but it was not the case here. The water was murky and dirty and although it ran very fast, it had a stagnant smell to it. Kera sat down on shore, looking into the water. She wanted to put her feet in it, but decided against it. The beach was dark and quiet. On the shore across from her, at least a half league distant, Kera noted flickering lights and a dark massive structure. It was the Quirin Keep. She watched the lights a little longer. One, high above the structure appeared and disappeared every few seconds. It must have been a guard patrolling up at the top of the tower. After some time Kera got up and started walking along the beach. For some reason Sharks' Cove felt wrong and uncomfortable. She could not wait to leave this city. After a while Kera heard a commotion and edging carefully ahead saw two people fighting in the dark. Her initial instinct was to stop them...or join the fight herself -- she was never exactly sure of this impulse, but after a few moments of thought decided not to interfear. There was no reason for her to get into trouble in a town where she would only spend the night and making a resolution not to provoke anyone, returned to The Tipsy Dragon. In the morning, after breakfast, Adrea took Kera out back to the stables to give her the equipment and the horses. The night before Kera was measured for armor after she returned to the inn and while there was no plate that fit her perfectly, Enneth, the large man who was standing at the door the previous day, found a suit of chainmail 1for Kera overnight. The two horses, as Kera found out, were thundersteeds. Large, heavy animals with hairy feet. Kera had to stand on her toes to see over their backs. "Rien takes a lot of ribbing from us about his horse," Adrea said, pointing to one of the mounts. "A knight on a mare. Her name is Kelsey, by the way. But she's better behaved than most knights I've met." Kera walked around the horse, looking it over. On the left side of the saddle hung a kite shield covered by a cloth. Kera lifted it up to reveal the coat of arms -- a white oak on a dim blue background. She smiled at the sight of the symbol Rien had told her about. "It's covered so he won't advertise," Adrea said. "I don't think he uses it much anyway. His lance has been lying about back here for the last two and a half years, gathering dust." "He's not much of a knight, is he?" Kera asked. "I don't think he understands knighthood," Adrea answered. "Or maybe he doesn't want to understand it. He really has a point when he says that there is no reason to give an opponent the advantage of equal footing." Kera walked over to the horse given to her. It was also female, a few inches shorter, but tall enough to force her on her toes to see the top of the saddle. "If you're trying to be inobvious, why are you using thundersteeds?" "We don't normally," Adrea said. "Most are riding horses and light war horses, depending on what sort of jobs we do. Most couriers use lighter horses that won't stand a chance in a fight, but can outrun almost any beast. Rien tends to push his horse to the limit, along with himself, so he uses one that can take the strain and you'll need one to keep up." Kera paused a moment longer, looking over the animals. "I guess I'd best get going," she said finally. "Provisions and money are in your saddlebags. Rien's gear is on Kelsey," Adrea quickly finished the inventory. "Will you need anything else?" "Good weather and decent directions," Kera smiled. Adrea fished around in Kelsey's saddlebag and pulled out a rolled up scroll. "One map. You'll have to request the weather from a higher source." Kera took the map and got up on her horse, glad that she was not wearing plate when having to climb. "Any messages?" "Just tell him `welcome back'." Kera took Kelsey's reigns and looped them around a protrusion on her horse's saddle. This way she could control both animals. "Does this one," she pointed to the horse she sat on, "have a name?" "Not really. You can have the honor of naming her." Having heard that Garwood Quinn was still settled in Phedra, Kera decided to enter the village with caution. The farmers a few leagues south of her destination warned her that all roads were guarded and the only traffic on them has been a group of Quinn's men returning from a raid. There was no evidence of any adventurers, or anyone else, leaving Phedra, although a number went there to claim the reward. As yet there has been no evidence that anyone had succeeded. With all this in mind, Kera secured the horses in a wooded grove away from the road, in the hills south of the village to avoid detection. She also left her chain armor, sword and bow behind. If Rien was in Phedra, he may need help and she may need to stay inobvious. Being inconspicuous was the trait of the thieving profession which she knew so well. 1 After some time of fighting her way through the brush and tall stalks of grain, Kera spotted an elderly man checking the crops. She was about to duck back into the growth, when he spotted her. "Hey! What are you doing in there?" She froze as he made his way to her. "Stop trampling the wheat! Get out on the path. What are you doing in there?" Kera looked the farmer over. He was probably in his fifties, shaggy, tired looking and most importantly, unarmed. With a sigh of relief Kera stepped out of the crop to face the farmer. "What are you doing here, girl?" he asked again. "I was on my way to Phedra," Kera answered. "On your way to Phedra?" the man echoed. "Now that's a foolhardy thing to do. If Sir Quinn sees you, you'll never leave, young and pretty as you are." "I am looking for a friend of mine," Kera said. "He should be waiting for me in Phedra." "No one has friends in Phedra any more," the villager said. "It all belongs to Quinn. If your friend was smart, he avoided Phedra. I recommend you do that too. Don't go to Phedra. It's not safe." "Maybe you've seen him," Kera got an idea. "He's blond, about this tall," her hand rose to the six foot level, "on a light war horse? He should have been here about a week or two ago." The man thought for a moment, as if trying to remember the multitude of travellers that passed by. "No one like that, miss. Not a commoner. There was a knight like that, though." "A knight?" Kera snapped. She knew Rien disliked knighthood, but a knight riding into town would be much more impressive. "When? Where did he go?" The farmer shook his head. "A little over two weeks, miss, but he didn't go anywhere. Sir Quinn challenged him to a joust...and he lost. Everyone Sir Quinn challenges looses." ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 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 July, 1990, 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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