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

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

Skeptic Tank!

:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.: -----=====Earth's Dreamlands=====----- (313)558-5024 {14.4} (313)558-5517 A BBS for text file junkies RPGNet GM File Archive Site .:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:. From WHITEJL@DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU Tue May 12 09:06:50 1992 Received: from DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU by eff.org with SMTP id AA25404 (5.65c/IDA-1.4.4/pen-ident for ); Tue, 12 May 1992 09:06:41 -0400 Message-Id: <199205121306.AA25404@eff.org> Received: from DUVM by DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU (IBM VM SMTP R1.2.2MX) with BSMTP id 3200; Tue, 12 May 92 09:03:31 EDT Date: Tue, 12 May 92 09:03:25 EDT From: "SilentElf" 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 11 DDDDD A A R R GGGG OOOO N NN ZZZZZZ I N NN EEEE || \\ \ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- DargonZine Volume 3, Issue 11 11/15/90 Cir 1057 -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Contents -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ DAG Yours Truly Editorial The Bronze Horseman III Max Khaytsus Ober 5-7, 1013 Understanding Bill Erdley Yule, 1014 Opus Interruptus Wendy Hennequin Melrin 4-5, 1014 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Dafydd's Amber Glow by Dafydd Cyhoeddwr, Editor First, I hope that I haven't lost any of you loyal readers by waiting so long to get this issue out. We have lots of material now, so there should be lots of reading material coming your way between now and the end of the year, which should make up for the long dry spell since August. Next, I would like to officially welcome a new author, Bill Erdley, to the published fold. I'm sure he never thought he'd see this story in print - he only submitted it to me an eon ago! But here it is, and I'm sure you all will like it. It presents a different perspective on the little war we're having, and does so very effectively. Lastly, for those of you who haven't heard, the Archive at MGSE is no longer functioning for a variety of unavoidable reasons. What this means is that the back-issues of DargonZine are no longer available in an automated way. When the Archive accepted DargonZine as part of its service, I archived all of the back-issues to tape (I needed the space desperately!). So, while I do still have access to them, I do not have them on hand at all times. Consequently, if anyone wants back-issues of DargonZine from now until someone else volunteers to house and distribute them (a veiled plea!), they will have to send their requests to me and I will put them in a queue. When I have enough requests and enough time, I will send them all out at once - it is unlikely that this will be any more frequent than once a month (sorry). Now, on with the stories..... ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 The Bronze Horseman Part 3 by Max Khaytsus (b.c.k.a. ) "He's not dead!" Kera looked defiantly at the farmer. "He can't be!" "I saw it with my own eyes, Miss. They jousted and then Sir Quinn cut his throat. He's not the first one either. Knights and bounty hunters from all over have been coming to collect the reward on his head." "No!" "Trust me, Miss, he's dead. I can take you to his grave, if you want." "All right," Kera said. Seeing Rien's grave would not help her, but maybe it would let her know one way or the other for certain. If what the farmer said was true, she would finish the job Rien started. Quinn would become the target of her revenge. "Miss? Miss?" Kera looked up, a single tear coursing down her cheek. "Are you all right? I'm sorry about your friend. Sir Quinn is a renegade, you know. Come, it's not safe here. Those brigands are always on the lookout for new blood." Kera felt another tear run down her cheek and tried to hide it. Rien was all she'd ever had, the only one who ever cared and now she was on her own. "I'm fine," she wiped her eyes. "Show me the grave." "This way," the farmer led her towards the cluster of huts at the edge of the field and she followed blindly. Nothing seemed to matter, not even as she realized that this might be a trap. She could not imagine what to do next. It was as if all control and ability to make decisions suddenly escaped her. "It's right here," the farmer stopped short of a cleared patch of land, not far from the edge of the road leading to the village. It contained seven wooden markers, representing the men Quinn killed. "Your friend is on the edge there," the farmer pointed. "He was the last killed." Kera walked over and sank to her knees. `And yet another knight lies buried here, slain by Sir Garwood Quinn on 20 Seber 1013,' read the marker. This time Kera forced herself not to cry and made a decision. She was going to get revenge, no matter what stood in her way. "They're coming, Miss! You'd better hide!" She heard the frantic words of the farmer and turned. On the road at the edge of the village were three mounted men. As the farmer began to run, the one in the middle pointed at him and one of his companions charged after the running man, drawing his sword on the charge. The other two rode slowly up to Kera and she gasped. The one who appeared to be in charge was Rien. "You're not from this village," Rien declared. "What is your business here?" "I-I..." Kera stuttered and saw Rien wink. "I was looking for someone..." "One of them, perhaps?" he pointed at the graves. "This one, I think..." Kera pointed to the last grave. "It's not marked." "But it is marked," Rien insisted. "Some fool knight who lost to Sir Quinn. He got all the honors he deserved." At that moment the brigand who had charged off into the field after the farmer came riding back alone. "I struck him down, but he's still alive. He's from the village." 1 "Get the village healer to take care of him and I want him brought to me when he can talk," Rien said and the man rode off towards the village. "I hope your find was satisfactory, as you won't have much satisfaction from now on." Rien winked again. "Come here, wench." Kera walked over to him and he pulled her up on his horse and quickly removed the two daggers in her belt. Kera was suddenly too scared to move. "Here," Rien handed the blades to his companion. "Remain here. I will send someone to replace me, so you may complete the patrol." "Yes, Sir," the man answered and Rien galloped off. A safe distance away Rien slowed his horse. Kera still could not move. She did not know what happened to Rien, what he was after or even who was buried in the grave. More than anything else, she wanted to embrace Rien, but could not permit herself to do so. "I am glad you're here," she finally heard Rien's voice and felt his arm tighten around her waist. "It's a lot worse than I thought. Quinn is holed up here as if he was born in this place. He has plenty of men, too. I managed to become his lieutenant after killing the man who originally held the job, but I needed you. When I kill him, this place won't be safe for anyone. We'll need to be together. For now I need you to pretend you'd rather be anywhere else but here." "I love you," Kera said almost inaudibly and Rien realized that she was crying. The horse came to a dead stop and Rien's grip on Kera's waist tightened. "No. Not here and not now. Please." Kera nodded through her tears and Rien kicked the horse into motion again. "Did you get everything at Sharks' Cove?" "It's a few leagues out of town," Kera answered. "I tied the horses to a tree away from the road." "Good," Rien approved. "I'll check on them in the morning." They rode through the village which appeared to be deserted. Rien stopped the horse before the largest building in sight and helped Kera down, then jumped off himself. Kera noticed that he had a limp, but he pushed her ahead of himself before she could say anything. The building was a tavern and an inn. Inside four men lounged around drinking and a bartender stood behind the bar. Kera noticed there was a metal chain around his neck which led up to the rafters. Rien kicked the chair out from one of the drunker looking men. "How often do I have to keep telling you not to drink if you can't hold your booze?" The man groaned, rising his hands to his head and Rien, having picked up a half full goblet off the table, threw it at the man. "Go get Quinn and clean up this mess when you get back!" The man stumbled up to his feet and staggered off as the other three straightened themselves out. Rien shoved Kera into a chair and picking up the jug on the table took a few deep swallows from it, then sat down himself. A few moments later a tall dark haired man dressed in a fashionable red tunic and grey pants came down the stairs. Rien immediately stood back up. "And what have you brought me this time, Sir Keegan?" the man looked over at Kera. "With all due respect, Sir Quinn," Rien answered, "I brought her for myself. You told me I might select a woman for my own." "So I did," the man kept appraising Kera, "but you said none in the village suited your interest." "None did, Sir, but she is not from the village. She came looking for one of the knights you jousted. I request her for my own." Quinn thought for a moment. "Having found her, you may have her for tonight, Sir Keegan, but I want her tomorrow and then I shall 1decide. She is rather young. The rest of the men might appreciate her as well. They need something new." "As you wish, Lord," Rien answered. "It's always as I wish, Sir Keegan," Quin laughed and went over to the bar. "Give me a drink, man!" The man Rien kicked out of his chair came back to clean up the floor. "After you're done here, go take up my patrol with Kritner and Breault," Rien told him. "Kritner will be in charge." "Right away, Sir," the man answered. Rien took Kera by her arm and led her up the stairs, showing her into a luxurious room. "Sit," he let go of her and locked the door. Kera sat down on the bed. The way Rien acted reminded her too much of the men working for Liriss. She noticed him doing everything he said he was against and it was beginning to frighten her more and more. "Are you all right?" he finally asked her. "Fine," Kera answered, wiping the tears off her cheeks. Rien knelt in front of her. "You sure?" "Why are you limping?" Kera asked. "I got hurt proving to Quinn I'm as good as any four of his men," Rien said. "It's fine now. I ride most of the time anyway." He and Kera embraced and remained that way for a long time. It was dark in the room by the time they let go of each other. "How are your eyes?" Rien asked. "As good as ever," Kera said. "I think my sense of smell improved too." "It's not the disease?" "No, no. That's all passed. I guess I was so concerned, I just didn't notice the change at first. How are you?" Rien smiled. "A little worse for wear, but fine. I am glad you're back," and he embraced her again. This time they let each other go a lot sooner. "Are you hungry?" Rien asked and without waiting for an answer went to the door. "Let me get us some food." He put the key in the lock and remained motionless for a moment. "What's wrong?" Kera asked. Rien waited a moment longer, then turned to Kera. "Scream." "What?" "Just scream." Kera did and her yell was followed by laughter from the corridor. She smiled and screamed again and Rien pushed a chair so it fell over with a thud. More laughter could be heard outside and Kera bit down on her lip to prevent herself from doing the same. Rien placed his index finger to his lips and made a shushing sound, then quickly unlocked the door and stepped out. "What are you doing here?" Kera heard Rien demanding. "Talking, Sir," someone answered. "Not at my door!" "Yes, Sir." "Bring dinner for me and my friend and then get lost." Kera heard footsteps hurrying away and Rien stepped back into the room, holding a candle. He was smiling. "I have a well earned reputation." Kera smiled also, in spite of being concerned over how Rien was acting. The nagging thoughts of how he could have earned that reputation were shoved to the back of her mind, where she would not have to think about it. Rien placed the candle in a stand on the table and returned to Kera. "Give me your cloak." Kera fumbled with the strings at her neck and handed it to him. 1 Rien turned it over, shook it, then carelessly tossed it on the floor in the middle of the room. He then bent down and unlaced Kera's tunic, pulling it partially off of one shoulder. "What are you doing?" she asked him, but instead of answering, Rien kissed her and roughed up her hair. A knock sounded at the door, "Yes?" Rien stood up and turned, one hand resting possessively on Kera's shoulder. The door opened and a man walked in carrying a tray. He stepped over the cloak on the floor to place the food on the table, then stepped back and threw a quick glance over at Kera, who lowered her eyes. "Will there be anything else, Sir?" he asked Rien. "When's your patrol?" "Midnight, Sir." "Stay away from my door." The man bowed and quickly retreated from the room, pulling the door closed after himself. Rien hurried to relock it. "Come," Rien called to Kera and she came over to the table. "You can fix your tunic now," he motioned. "I was hoping I would be removing it later," she answered cautiously. Rien smirked. "As you wish. I won't make you sleep dressed." Kera hurried through dinner, even though it was much better than the trail rations she had been enduring for the last couple of weeks. She found herself thinking of the things she saw and heard. Listening to Rien she understood that he did his best to fit in with the rest of the cut-throats around, but the environment greatly reminded her of Liriss' organization, something she thought was well behind her. "How did you join them?" Kera asked when she finished eating. "Here?" Rien asked and she nodded. "I was ambushed on the road. I realized it was an ambush, but there was nothing I could do when I was attacked, other than be ready. So I got hurt, but I did win the fight." Kera smiled. Somehow she'd expected that. "That's when Quinn showed up," Rien went on. "He had a couple of his men with him and all had crossbows, so I decided to talk my way out of a conflict...or rather into a job. A couple of praises of his skill and fame and a boast or two about my own abilities got me challenged to a sword fight. Quinn's pretty good, but I let him win anyway. Told him I'm a knight. "That got him interested enough to keep me around and a week ago I arranged for a mishap to take his lieutenant. Being the only other knight around, Quinn gave the position to me." "Why haven't you killed him yet?" Kera asked. "Sounds like you've had plenty of opportunities." "He has men," Rien said, "and I cannot outfight all of them should they learn that I either attempted or succeeded in the assassination. I also promised you I would meet you here. I don't expect to stay long now. Just a few days so I can finish the job." There was some commotion and Rien got up to look out the window. He saw two men pushing another one around in the dark. "The guards must have gotten a hold of another villager," he sighed. Kera took a look too after putting out the candle. "Aren't you going to stop them before they kill him?" "No. There are only so many good things that I can do and not have anyone wonder," Rien said. "Don't worry, they won't kill him. There are so few villagers left that Quinn will have their heads if they do." "Rien," Kera said, "Quinn told you he wants to bed me tomorrow." "He won't," Rien promised and put his arms around Kera. "Tell me about your trip. What happened in Sharks' Cove?" 1 Kera woke up alone, realizing that her arms had fallen asleep and to her surprise found that both her hands were tightly tied behind her back. She struggled against the rope, which was looped somewhere beneath the bed, but could not break or loosen it. With difficulty she sat up on the bed and looked around. Her clothing was still scattered on the floor, but Rien's were gone, as were the dishes on the table. She tried to bend over, to see what the rope was attached to, but it was too short to give her that much freedom of movement. She kicked at the floor in anger and threw herself back on the bed. "Son of a ...!" She couldn't think of a good derogatory word for an elf. `What am I going to do? Run away?' She rolled over to look at the window a few feet away. All she could see was a clear sky and a ray of sunlight filling the room. It must be late morning. Kera tossed a bit longer, making herself comfortable. It made sense to her that a prisoner could not roam free, but couldn't Rien just lock her in or at least tie her more comfortably? She wondered if the door was unlocked and maneuvered herself under the blanket. `He wouldn't dare...' The street was reasonably quiet and occasionally voices and footsteps could be heard in the corridor. After what seemed like an eternity of staring at the same spot on the wall, Kera decided that her only course of action was to wait and, anyhow, the bed was the most comfortable place in the room and she could not get free of the rope anyway. It was well past noon when Kera heard a key click in the lock and quickly slid further under the blanket. Rien walked in. She glared at him. "I'm sorry," Rien shut the door and walked over. He sat down and untied the rope. Kera felt like strangling him, but instead placed her arms in front of herself and dropped her head in them. "Why?" "If you are to appear as my captive, it has to be full time." "Who's going to see me?" "Quinn has keys to all doors. Most other men could pick the lock." "And you were going to leave me tied up for them?!" Rien stroked her back. "If you were free to roam about, could you pick it?" "Why didn't you warn me?" "I didn't think of it last night and did not want to wake you up this morning. You tend to sleep late, so you would have been spared most of the anxiety." Kera sighed. "If you keep this up long enough, I'll forgive you." Rien smiled and continued running his fingers along her spine. "How long?" "Long," she answered and brushed the blanket back. Rien looked up to avoid meeting Kera's gaze and then moved behind her, so she would not see him. "I moved the horses to a box canyon on the other side of the hills to the south," Rien said after a while. "It's secluded and has good grass." Kera moaned in response. "Are you paying attention?" "Uh-huh." "I left one of the healing potions we took from Terell on your horse. I am leaving another one in the room so you can be close to it. The third is on my riding horse here. I've got the poison here too. You'll administer it to Quinn tonight." Kera turned over and Rien pulled his arms back. "What do you mean I'll administer it?" She looked down at his hands. "Keep going, I 1haven't forgiven you yet." "Quinn wants to see you tonight," Rien reminded her. "You will have the opportunity. I will be taking care of his men." He reached out towards Kera and a second later she jumped up with a burst of laughter. "Cut it out!" "That sounded pretty final," Rien said. "I guess I'm done." Kera covered her stomach with her arms. "How are we going to do that?" "You will take..." A knock on the door interrupted Rien. He looked at Kera, then stood up. She instinctively took the rope and placed her hands behind her back. "Come," Rien turned to the door. The guard whom Kera met in the field the day before entered. "The old man is conscious, but the healer says he is not to be moved." Rien folded his arms and the man took the opportunity to steal a glance at Kera. "Prepare my horse. I will be there shortly." The guard bowed and left. Rien turned to Kera and she fell back on the bed. "I hate this," she sighed. Rien sat down on the edge of the bed. "I have to leave. You will add the poison to Quinn's drink tonight. I will take care of as many men as I can. We'll leave during the night." Kera looked up at him. His eyes were a nondescript blue-grey. "I have to tie you." She turned over, placing her hands on her back and closed her eyes to hide the pain. Rien secured her hands and left without a word, locking the door after himself. Rien and Breault dismounted on the neat lawn in front of the healer's hut. The healer, Sherestha, a plump old woman, scornfully muttered that these two could not walk the fifty yards from the tavern to her house. "How is he?" Rien asked. "He'll die if he's lucky," the woman answered. Rien took the healing potion from the saddle bag and went inside. The old farmer lay on his stomach on a pile of blankets and skins. Across his back were leaves and herbs covering a foot long gash. Rien knelt down next to him. "He is not conscious," the woman said. "He's too old." Rien stood up and handed her the potion. "Make him drink it." "What is this?" Sherestha asked. "Does it matter? He'll die if he's lucky." Breault chuckled and the woman glared at him. "What is this?" "It will heal the wound," Rien said. The healer opened the vial and smelled the contents, then turned the wounded man on his side and began pouring the liquid into his mouth. The smile on Breault's face diminished as the wound started healing over. He looked at Rien. "Come, we need to talk, Breault." They walked out back with Rien saying no more. "Why are you healing him?" Breault finally asked. "What good is he to us?" "Are you questioning my authority?" Breault drew himself to his full six-four height. "Yes, Sir 1Keegan, I am." Rien calmly walked past him. "Don't you think I know better?" "I think something is wrong." Rien stopped. "Like what?" "There's something wrong with you." Rien remained with his back to Breault, but his hand all ready held the hilt of his long dagger. "Like what, Breault?" "You like life," the man made the accusation and started after Rien. "I've never seen you take it." Rien waited for Breault to be directly behind him, then turned, putting the dagger in his stomach. "Don't you like life, Breault? Given the choice, do you want to live?" He held the man still and forced it up under his rib cage. "I am taking a life, Breault. Do you like it?" Red foam began appearing at the brigand's mouth and he started slipping down. Rien let the body drop to the ground. "Now you've seen it all." He wiped the blade on the dead man's tunic and returned to the house after stopping by his horse. He noticed the wound on the farmer's back was almost gone and the old woman was looking it over. "He will never be able to repay you," she looked up. "You will," Rien said. "What do you want of me?" Rien held up the dark green stalk he had retrieved from his saddle bag. "This is Wolfbane. I want you to make me the strongest poison you can with it." "Why?" the woman asked. "I will free this village of its plague," he answered. "You alone?" "Mostly." "What's in it for you?" "Peace of mind. Revenge." "For what?" "One of the graves out there belongs to a friend. My lover is a prisoner at the tavern. Is that reason enough? ...And," he added more carefully, as if the healer was one of Quinn's people, "I just killed a man for trying to stop me." The old woman took the stalk from Rien's hands and carefully studied him. "I will help you," she said finally. Kera lay on her back, staring at the wooden planks in the ceiling when she heard a key turn in the lock. `About time,' she thought to herself and turned over. The door creaked open and Garwood Quinn walked in. Kera's eyes immediately snapped shut and she pretended to be asleep. She heard Quinn walk up to her and immediately wished she was better covered by the blanket. He stood over her for a bit, then walked away. A chair was shoved aside and the shutters on the window were pushed open. Quinn came back to the bed and kicked it solidly with this boot. Kera bolted upright, looking at him with startled eyes. The knight smiled and she looked down. "Has Sir Keegan been a gentleman with you?" Quinn laughed. Kera didn't answer. Quinn grabbed her chin and forced her to face him. "Well?" Tears formed in her eyes. "He wasn't!" Quinn laughed with delight. "Well, I won't be either!" Kera tried to pull her head back, but Quinn tightened his grip on her jaw until she screamed in pain. "So you can talk..." Kera continued looking at him emptily. It was the only thing she 1could do. Quinn pushed her down and untied the rope from the bed, retying the lose end around her neck. "Come on," he pulled the rope. "My room's bigger." Kera resisted and Quinn jerked hard on the rope, making her fall to the floor. The loop around her neck tightened and constrained her breathing and as she began to to cough, Quinn stepped on the rope near her neck. In her coughing fit, Kera tightened the loop more and started gasping for air. Quinn lazily bent down and loosened the loop, then pulled her up. "See what can happen if you don't follow my lead?" He checked the knots at her neck and hands and then pushed Kera ahead of himself to the door. By the time they reached it, he was all ready ahead of her and pulling her by the rope. "You make this good and I may even let you enjoy yourself." In the corridor they were stopped by a guard. "Sir Quinn, a wagon was just brought to the inn. The men say they have prisoners." Quinn looked at the guard with annoyance in his eyes, then shoved Kera into him. "Take her to my room and keep her there." Rien returned near dusk, his vial refilled with a potent poison. He watched the off duty men roll two barrels into the bar from a wagon in the street. He asked where it had come from and was told that a merchant and his daughter were captured and were currently being questioned by Quinn. The wagon was being unloaded at his order. The two casks contained wine. Rien proceeded upstairs to his room only to find the door unlocked and the room empty. He scanned the area for any signs of struggle. There were none and he returned to the corridor where he saw a guard standing by Quinn's door. "Where is the girl who was in my room?" "Here," the man said. "Sir Quinn asked me to guard her." "Did she try to escape?" "I don't know, Sir. I was only told to bring her here and guard her." Rien opened the door and walked in. The guard followed him. Kera sat inside in a chair, her hands still tied behind her and a rope around her neck. "She looks nice, Sir," the guard smiled lecherously and Kera glared up at him. "Did anyone hurt you?" Rien asked. Kera shook her head. "How long ago did Quinn leave?" Rien asked the guard. "Not long. Shortly after sunset, when the wagon was brought. He went to talk to the prisoners." "Good," Rien said. As the guard turned back to gawk at Kera, Rien forced his dagger into the man's back and carefully lowered him to the floor. "Are you sure you're all right?" Rien asked Kera again, cutting her loose with the bloody knife. "They didn't do anything to you?" "I'm fine, really. He didn't have the time." Rien helped Kera up and put his free arm around her. "Return to my room and get dressed. Come down in a bit. Be ready for a fight." He picked up an empty glass and walked out with Kera. She took a turn down the side corridor to Rien's room and he proceeded to the top of the stairs. Below he saw Quinn's collection of thugs and cutthroats gathering together for dinner. Behind the bar he noticed the two barrels that were brought in from the wagon. He smiled and poured the poison the healer made for him into the empty glass and proceeded down the stairs. 1 A few of the men greeted him on his way to the bar and he responded in kind. "Where's Quinn?" he asked the barman. "There," he was directed to the back room. "Make my dinner," Rien ordered and the man left, the chain clanking up above him as he walked. Rien went around the bar to the barrels, opened one with a mallet and dumped the poison in. The men in the common room quieted down hearing the bang and looked over. Some even came up. A couple more hits and Rien removed all the portions of the splintered lid. "A little good fortune that we can all share in!" he announced. "Help yourselves." The men cheered and Rien, picking up a pitcher and scooping up some of the dark red liquid, left. Making his way past the mob that gathered around the barrel, Rien stopped in the corridor before the back room door and and emptied the vial of poison he obtained from Terell into the pitcher. He opened the door and entered. A guard stepped out of his way and Quinn, sitting with his back to the door looked over his shoulder. Across from Quinn sat a middle aged man and a girl not yet out of her teens. "Good, Sir Keegan. I am glad you could join us. You should see how this fool is trying to make a deal!" Rien smiled and placed the pitcher before Quinn. "Compliments of our guest." Quinn released a laugh as Rien reached up to a shelf to get a goblet. "Get me two," Quinn instructed. Rien placed both glasses before the knight and remained standing behind him. Quinn poured wine into both goblets and moved one to the man across from him. "Let me remind you I have you, your property and your daughter. Offer me something I don't all ready have, otherwise you wanting to go free is merely wishful thinking. Drink a little of my wine. Let it not be said I am not a hospitable man." Rien looked down. There was no way to stop the merchant from poisoning himself. Quinn was about to have his last taste of wine. "No matter how badly I want my daughter and myself to to be free, I can give you nothing more than what you've all ready taken from me. I will not drink stolen wine!" The goblet bounced to the floor with a pronounced clank. Rien looked at Quinn, whose eyebrows went up. "Then why did you ask me to make a deal, you old fool?" The man did not respond and Quinn took a swallow from his goblet. "I will let my men practice with you tonight and your daughter can try and stay alive with me." He turned back to Rien. "That bitch of yours is in my room. You may have her back." Rien nodded. "May the gods strike you down for what you are doing!" the merchant exclaimed, glaring at the three rogues. "If they haven't yet, I doubt they will. Worry about yourself for now," Quinn said, taking a second, larger swallow from the goblet. "And tomorrow your worries may be over." Deep inside Rien smiled at the irony of the merchant's statement. If he identified Terell's poison correctly, Quinn would not have a pleasant death. Quinn coughed as he put the goblet down and again turned to Rien. "Good wine. Have the men break open a barrel." "All ready have, Sir. I knew you'd be in a good mood." As he spoke, Rien noticed Quinn's face beginning to redden and his arm was curled under his stomach. Quinn struggled to get up, holding onto the table, trying to maintain his facing. A look of horror spread on his face. "Let them go, Rien..." and with those words Quinn collapsed to the floor. Blood 1flowed out of his open mouth. "Get a healer!" Rien turned to the startled guard and the man made for the door, impaling himself on Rien's long dagger. Rien pushed the dying man down on top of Quinn. He waited for a moment for the man to die, then looked up at the merchant who was as white as a sheet. "In a few minutes you will leave by this door and turn left down the corridor. The passage leads to the stables out back. There will be no guards. Take your horses and wagon, nothing else, and go. The left fork of the road is not guarded." Not giving the merchant a chance to recover from his death sentence and its subsequent favorable resolution, Rien left the room, proceeding to the stables. He killed the man standing guard in the doorway and then another one outside the barn door. He took a little more time to compensate the merchant with some of Quinn's lootings and after dumping a bag in the wagon bed, circled around the building to the front entrance. The first thing to catch his attention were the two guards lying at the door. `The healer's poison must be quick,' he thought, walking past them. Inside a good half of the men were sprawled out on the floor and furniture and another dozen or so were merrily drinking away. "Look!" Rien noticed someone get up behind the bar. "Seli is dead!" The man pulled the bartender up and shoved him over the bar, collapsing after him. Neither got up. Rien remained at the door, watching as two or three other men quietly passed out in front of him. There was a commotion upstairs. A male voice said something and a moment later a body hit the railing and broke through, falling into the common room. The man had a deep wound in his chest. Kera appeared at the top of the stairs looking down. Besides her clothing she wore Quinn's red cloak and scabbard. A bloodied sword was in her hands. She looked around the common room, surprised that no one had reacted and, after spotting Rien, went down stairs. As Kera passed one of the tables, a man at it got up, took one step towards her and collapsed. She stood in awe, looking at Rien. "What did you do?" Rien shrugged. "I asked the village healer to make me the strongest poison she could with a stalk of Wolfbane I took from Maari. Wolfbane, also known as Monk's Hood, is an aphrodisiac and hallucinogen in small quantities, but too much of it will burn a person out...or make them go mad. She must have added something else. They don't even realize what's happening to them." Another man fell out of his chair as Kera stepped over the one that had fallen in front of her. "I didn't ask for a lecture. What about Quinn?" "I gave him the poison I took from Terell's shop. He's dead too." Only three of Quinn's men remained upright and it was obvious they would not last long. Nineteen other bodies lay on the floor. A job well done...if well could in any way be associated with death. "Come," Rien took Kera's hand. "There are still patrols out there. We'd better leave." "Shouldn't they be killed too?" "There are less than ten men total, all back alley thugs. The villagers can take care of them if they don't flee on their own." Distant thunder rolled through the skies as they stepped outside the tavern. Rien walked past the stables towards the forest. "Aren't we taking the horses? It looks like it will rain," Kera stopped him, "and what about all your stuff?" "We have horses waiting," Rien answered. "They are more powerful than anything here and they carry equipment. I have no use for looted treasure. The villagers need it more." 1 Kera tossed the cloak she wore to the ground. "Red is too obvious in the moonlight," she said. "And it's not my color." She started unstrapping the sword when Rien stopped her. "It's a good blade. Keep it." It was well into the night when Rien and Kera reached the hilly area southwest of Phedra. Their target was a cluster of boulders with a small pass between them. On the other side, in a box in canyon, waited their two horses and escape from the remaining guards. "I take it you didn't bring them through here," Kera said, looking over a passage so narrow that even she would not fit through. "I went all the way around," Rien answered. "Climbing over to the pass will save us three leagues of hiking. We'll have to climb some twenty feet, though. There is a lip in the cliff face up there." "What's another three leagues after the last ten?" sighed Kera. She grabbed a hold of some rocks and started climbing. Rien followed her. "Do you smell smoke?" Kera asked when near the top. Below her Rien took his time to finish the climb before answering. "I've been smelling it for a while. If there was wind, we could tell where it's coming from." The step-like formation in the face of the cliff was about two feet across, wide enough to stand on, but not much more. Rien leaned back on the wall. "Can you see the village?" "Right there," Kera pointed into the darkness. "It's not very clear." "I'm impressed," Rien nodded. "Much superior to other people." "Do I look better with grey or brown eyes?" Kera asked. "Excuse me?" "You did notice that my eyes changed color?" "Of course! I told you they did." "So which is better?" "For what?" "My appearance!" "I'm partial to grey." "Took you long enough." Rien laughed and Kera took a step towards him. "If we weren't on a cliff right now, I'd give you a shove you'd remember for a while." "If you give me one here, I promise you I will remember it for a while as well. At least on the way down." Rien took Kera's arm. "Come on. This slopes up. Watch your step." They made their way up the ledge into the crack in the hill side and continued at a leisurely pace for some time. They were passing an overhang which was level with the top of the hill on the other side when a loud sound of splintering wood disturbed the night and rocks started falling from above. The thunder that has been at the horizon for the duration of their walk, sounded overhead and a brilliant flash of lighting split the sky. Kera jumped back and fell against the wall. One stone managed to bounce off her shoulder and a mass of pebbles sprayed over her back. When it was all over, she stirred and got up. Rien lay a few feet up ahead. He must have taken the brunt of the landslide. Kera made her way to him. He was alive, but unconscious. The top of the hill was no more than twenty feet away. While thinking of what to do next, Kera heard running footsteps and went up, in hope of finding help, but instead encountered two men with swords, one of which promptly took a swing at her and missed. She backed down the slope, dodged his second attack and then swung at him with her sword. Those late night practice sessions with Rien must have 1helped, as the man was knocked off balance and fell past her, off the cliff. His fading scream made Kera realize how dangerous it was for her to remain on the ledge and she hurried to level ground. The second man, apparently wiser for not taking the same risk, held a torch in one hand and a sword in the other, patiently waiting for her to come up. His first swing was with the torch and Kera instinctively jumped back, stumbling and landing on her back. With horror she realized that her head was over the edge of a fifty foot drop. The man advanced with the torch ahead of him before Kera had a chance to react. She could not move with it almost directly in her face. "Drop the sword," the man told her and when she hesitated, brought the flame closer in. Kera smelled singing hair and immediately let the weapon go. The man kicked it aside. "Now get up. Slowly." Kera did so and took a step back when the man motioned her to do so, but when he bent down to pick up the sword, she gave the torch a kick and it flew out of his hand and over the edge. Darkness descended on the small plateau. The man blindly swung his sword, but Kera had no problems avoiding the blow and remained crouched on the ground. Without light and a cloudy sky, her opponent was practically helpless and expected her to be just as lost, but was surprised by getting a dagger in his side. He swung in the proper direction, but was again too high. Kera remained silent, watching him trying to hear her. After a while the man apparently gave up and Kera was able to put her dagger into his knee. He sank to the ground, but swung again anyway, missing Kera completely. With another thrust she finished him off and went to check on Rien. Thunder and lightning made themselves known once again and a light rain began to fall. Kera found Rien still unconscious, laying where she left him. She took the time to examine him now. It was difficult in the rain, without light -- everything was red or black or both -- but it was enough to determine his condition. The most obvious wound was in his side. It was dirty and bloody and the clothing was torn. Kera, not quite sure of what to do, decided to move him to the level area up above, instead of continuing on the thin ledge. It was amazing that neither one of them had fallen off it in the first place. While trying to move Rien, Kera found what looked like remains of a mechanism that could have caused the rock slide, but it was of little importance now. She struggled to get Rien up top and he groaned from pain in spite of being unconscious. Locating the brigand's camp, a small cave in the rocks, sheltered from the storm, Kera dragged Rien in and placed him on an even slab of rock towards the back of the cavern. There was a small fire to keep warm and she tore off a few strips of her tunic to make a bandage. It was only then that Kera noticed that her own shoulder was bloody where it had been hit. After washing Rien's wounds, Kera bandaged them. She suspected that his ribs were broken, but not being a doctor, not only did she not know how to make sure, but also how to treat it. She then took care of her own shoulder and looked over the cave. It was bare, except for the fire and two packs in the corner. Searching them she found nothing more than basic equipment. It looked like the two men had only been beginning to set up camp. Kera returned to the cliff to pick up her sword and then looked around to see if the men brought horses. Not finding anything, Kera paused on the cliff overlooking the canyon. Through the rain she could tell it was a good mile wide and at least three long. Kera did not know where to begin looking for their own mounts and the only healing potion she could use was somewhere out there. She spent a long time 1looking down into the darkness, waiting for a glimmer of something other than trees. Finally giving up, Kera returned to the cave to take shelter for the night. Maybe Rien would wake up by morning and tell her where to look. She checked the dressing on Rien's side one more time before settling down to sleep. He was definitely weaker and this time did not even groan when she moved him. His breathing was shallow. The lesion was still oozing blood with no indication of stopping; the area around the wound was hot. Kera made the bandage as tight as she could, knowing it would probably do more damage to the broken ribs, but preferring that to having Rien bleed to death. Upon completion of the task, Kera made herself comfortable against the wall of the cave, leaning slightly back on the step-like rock formation and wishing for Rien's condition to improve by morning, finally fell asleep. Kera opened her eyes and was nearly blinded by the bright lights around her. She blinked several times at the light that was as bright as day and after a minute her eyes adjusted to the brightness. She sat in a soft chair with arm rests in a large, brightly lit room. She looked up to see where the light was coming from, but saw nothing more than a uniformly glowing ceiling. In front of her sat a box, about a foot square, with a glossy black surface that reflected the ceiling, facing her. Kera reached out to touch it, but as soon as her hand made contact, the box made a noise and lit up with an orange glow. Strange symbols appeared on the smooth surface. Startled, Kera jumped up and the chair she was sitting in swivelled and rolled back. For the first time she noticed that ten feet away, to her right, sat a young black-haired man. The clothing he was wearing Kera could not recognize as having ever seen before. He wore faded blue pants and a sky-blue tunic carefully tucked into them. She gasped and he looked up at her, no less surprised. Next to him was a box identical to the one Kera had touched -- she now noticed there were quite a few of them set in rows about the room. The young man simply stared at her for a minute, not quite sure what to say. The box next to him flickered a couple of times, but he did not look at it. Kera straightened out as the rolling chair bumped against a table on the other side of the room. The box on that table lit up like the first. "Where am I?" Kera asked, concerned about all the magic going off around her so freely. "En..." the young man began to say with what appeared to be reflex, making Kera believe it was a question he heard often. He picked up a frame from a pile of papers and put it on his face. It looked to be made of thin strips of metal, twisted to hold two round pieced of glass in place in front of his eyes. A wider piece of metal connected the two pieces at the bridge of his nose and two pieces extended from the other side to hook over his ears. The man eyed Kera from head to toe and she stood there looking back at him, doing the same. "Kera?" he finally asked, taking a quick glance at his box. Kera nodded and took an unsure step back. She felt for her dagger, but remembered she was sleeping before and did not have it on her. It was on the ground in the cave, where she had placed it after cutting bandages for Rien. "Rien?!" she spun around, realizing he was not there. "Calm down!" the young man finally stood up. "He's fine." "He's not fine!" Kera fired back, no longer concerned for herself. "He's alone in a cave, unconscious and bleeding! Maybe dying!" The young man again glanced at the box next to him. "Trust me. He 1will be fine," he said, not without compassion. Kera noticed that he had a slight accent that made his words softer. "Please, sit down. I need to know how you got here." Kera did not care one bit how she ended up in the room. All she wanted was to be back with Rien, but realizing that this man seemed to know both her and her companion, she sat down in the chair nearest to her. Just like the first one she sat in, this one was soft, swivelled and moved freely on the floor. "I don't bite," Kera's host smiled and indicated to a chair next to his own. Kera changed seats, but not to the one he pointed to. She sat down one chair away, just in case she would need to move. That seemed to satisfy him and he sat back down, again looking at his box. Kera looked at the desk at which she was now sitting. On it was yet another of those boxes, but the glossy front of it was not lit. A rectangular pad with emphasized squares sat before it. Each of the squares had a different symbol on it. On this desk, like on some of the others, lay a pile papers, scattered around in disarray. Kera picked one sheet up. It was very smooth and thin -- nothing like the parchment she had ever seen. On it were uniform proper letters which did not appear to be written by hand. Kera stealthily picked up a palm sized glossy item on the table to examine it. "You were asleep," the young man said. Kera was not sure if it was a question or a statement or even an order. He still looked into the glow of the box. The door across the room opened and a slender woman with long brown hair walked in. "I got it!" she declared in a joyful voice, holding up sheets of parchment similar to those on the tables. She stopped at the door, looking at Kera. She wore a white blouse neatly tucked into a narrow grey skirt that went down to her knees and a pink belt with a butterfly buckle. The shoes on her feet were elevated so that she stood balanced on her toes. Kera could not believe that someone would ever wear clothing so impractical for everyday activities. "Stay there," the man said to the woman, holding up his arm. "I don't know what's happened." The woman remained standing by the door and the man turned back to his box. He quickly pressed different locations on the rectangular pad before the box and took one more look at Kera, then he turned back and deliberately pressed one of the right hand squares. Darkness so dark that Kera could no longer see at all descended on the room. Her back hurting from where a sharp rock pressed into it forced Kera to leap up from the "steps" she was sleeping on. She looked about the cavern she was in. The fire was almost out and her night vision began supplementing her normal sight. She noticed Rien lying on the ground not far away. However much time passed, he has not moved. Kera sat down next to him, realizing that she held something in her hand. It was the little glossy object she picked up in the brightly lit room that she believed to have been a dream. It was a thin, smooth rectangular bar, made of some material she had never seen before. A slender chain was attached to one side, ending with a silver ring. At the other end was a strange golden symbol that Kera later realized to be overlapping runic letters. A long red line ran almost the full length of the item. It was crossed by many small black lines. Down both sides of the red line were more symbols, all in black. Kera turned the strange item over. On the back side a circle was cut away in the square. In it floated a glowing arrow and in time Kera realized that no matter how it was turned, level with the ground, the arrow always pointed in the same direction. She put it away and took another look at Rien. His condition had 1not improved. Kera lay down next to him and after some tossing and turning, fell asleep again. Kera awoke to Rien trying to turn over. She held him down for a moment, stroking his hair and he relaxed. She again examined the condition of his wounds and was surprised to find that the cut was beginning to heal over and what she originally thought were broken ribs was only a severe bruise. Satisfied with her diagnoses, Kera started making breakfast from the supplies the men she killed had, waiting for Rien to wake up. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Understanding by Bill Erdley As I sit here under this tree and watch my friends die, I think of how nice a day this is. It's a fine day to just sit and watch the hawks circle lazily through the sky, occasionally dodging an errant arrow. The clouds seem oblivious to the carnage happening below them. The grass, on the other hand, gets to see it all; the blood, the horror, the death. The grass doesn't understand ... I was one of the first to fall during the first rush. I was holding my shield a little too high, and I caught an arrow in my right leg just above the knee. As I stopped to remove it, I took another arrow in the side. I fell and crawled out of the way of my comrades, who continued the attack. I had fallen near the tree, so my crawl was not a long one, but it was most painful. The arrow in my leg snapped off when I fell, but the leg is almost numb, so I don't notice. I removed the arrow from my side, but it was high enough to catch a lung. Already I am coughing blood, and the wound continues to ooze through the rags that I hold over it. The rags are soaked. Even the grass beneath the tree knows the taste of blood ... ... but the tree won't understand. This is a fine day for sitting, and for thinking. How many of us know what we are fighting for? How many know who we are fighting against? We fight for no good reason, except that we are told to fight. Those that we fight could as easily be our neighbors as our enemies. Yet we hack and slash and kill those that we have no reason to hate; fighting and killing and dying for the whims of some noble. I watch a man who I had met last night crash to the ground with a cry ... ... but the ground can't understand. The battle is going badly for us, and I watch my friends fall one by one. They are proud men; strong men; brave men who would fight until they could fight no more. But they could be proud at home, with their families, watching a new child take it's first step. They could be strong in the fields growing crops or strong in the shops making horse shoes or plow blades or axe heads. They could be brave facing a storm without shelter, or protecting a neighbor from a wild animal. But they are here; these proud, brave, strong men. They are here to die beneath a sky which has only now begun to weep for them ... ... but even the sky doesn't understand. The ground is cool and the grass feels soft, under the tree beneath the sky. The battle is almost over, and the outcome assured; we have lost. I need no longer watch, for I have seen all that needs to be seen. A warm breeze blows across my face toward the carnage of the battlefield. I can smell the scent of wild flowers in the wind and it makes me smile. I can feel the wetness on my cheeks which must have 1come from tears, but I don't remember crying. I think of my wife, who waits for my return. I think of my children, playing in a field like the one before me used to be. I think of the nobles who demanded that this war be fought. I think of the men whose blood now colors the meadow. Darkness begins to fall in the middle of the day as I think ... ... And I don't understand, either. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Opus Interruptus by Wendy Hennequin (b.c.k.a. ) Relaxed at last, Marcellon walked barefoot beside a woman along the shore in Dargon. The sand was warm and the water cool, and the sea air soothed the High Mage's mind, overwrought with conferences with the King, War Councils, nursing the ill and wounded flocking from Pyridain, and all manner of interruptions which dissolved his visions as if they were powdered sugar in a child's drink. Marcellon turned to the woman beside him and smiled. She had started appearing to him about a year ago, when the High Mage had first met Luthias Connall and his twin. Perhaps that explained why she looked as if she could have been related; her coloring was the same, and so was the shape of her eyes. She also bore some resemblance to Lady Sable: they were of a height, and while they were not cut from the same cloth, neither could either outshine the other's own kind of beauty. She soothed Marcellon's heart. She always seemed to know what troubled him, and although the woman seldom spoke of the High Mage's anxieties, she calmed them by her presence, for Marcellon had the most certain feeling that this woman had everything under control. He had never seen her on the shore of Dargon before. Once, he saw her in a meadow, on a moonlit night, with a tall, blond man who reminded Marcellon of Richard. Another time, she sat with a man quite like Clifton. Once, the High Mage envisioned her on an archery field, shooting arrows. Marcellon pictured her many times in a moving, red room, small and uncomfortable. Thus, he called her the Wanderer. "Who will be hurt in the war?" Marcellon asked her suddenly. "The King will be wounded in the last battle," the Wanderer began calmly without looking at him. The High Mage smiled. Of course she would know; the Wanderer always seemed to know things, even things that managed to evade Marcellon's crystal. That question had nagged the magician all day, but interrupted constantly, Marcellon could find no answers. He should have known the Wanderer would tell him. She continued, "Ittosai Michiya, too, will be wounded." The Wanderer halted and looked up at her companion. "Clifton will receive a severe wound soon, and you must do something, or he will die." Clifton? Marcellon's heart froze. His daughter's husband would die? "What should I do?" "That answer will come to you soon enough," the Wanderer entoned calmly. "I do not need to tell you everything." "What of Luthias Connall?" That made the Wanderer smile. "Has he not suffered yet enough?" "That is not an answer," Marcellon chided guardedly. "Do not worry about Luthias. Be concerned instead about Lauren and Clifton. Clifton's wound is certain; his death is not. And if Lauren goes to the battle--" A bang--thunder?--sounded, and Marcellon jolted awake to stare furiously at the door. Cephas Stevene, could he not even *sleep* without interruption? "What?" Marcellon screamed violently, and the knocking stopped. Damn it, hadn't he given the servants strict orders to let him sleep? For God's sake, he'd been up all night at the War Council--so many stupid, mundane things that Haralan and Sir Edward and the various military and noble personel could have handled by themselves, but no, the King wanted Marcellon's wisdom or visions or moral support. God knew, but Marcellon was certain that he instructed his servants that 1he was absolutely not to be disturbed until at least noon. *They* had been doing it to him all week--they, the indescribable, ever-present *they*--the King, Sir Edward, the sick ones, the desperate, the dying, everyone and anyone--and never was it worse than it was now. *They* had stolen the Wanderer's warning from him. His only daughter was in danger if she went to the battle...or maybe Clifton could only be saved if she went to the battle. Marcellon didn't know, thanks to *them.* "Well," Marcellon seethed, rolling out of the couch and seizing the door handle, "which one of *you* is it this time?" He threw open the door and was surprised to see Luthias Connall there. The High Mage relented a little. Luthias had been at the previous evening's War Council--and had distinguished himself with his knowledge of strategy and tactics--and if Luthias was willing to disturb Marcellon this early in the morning after being up all night at War Council, there was a good reason. Marcellon looked the young man over. Luthias Connall was a tall, handsome, strong man with the gait and bearing of a warrior- -usually. Today, he held his shoulders straight with great effort, but Marcellon felt defeat oozing from young Sir Luthias, as if he fighting a battle he knew he could not win. The Count was tired, haggard, haunted, anxious--just as he had been during Duke Dargon's trial months ago. Hell, Marcellon thought, staring, he hadn't even been this bad after Mon-Taerleor and his cohorts in Beinison had finished with him. "Sit before you collapse," Marcellon ordered with the brisk authority of a healer. "What is it, Luthias, son?" "I need a sleeping potion," the Knight stated with his usual directness. Marcellon practically shrieked, "You fool! And you woke me for that? Stole the chance to save my daughter and her husband for that?" The High Mage subdued his frustration, however. If Luthias had come to him, something truly needed fixing beyond the power of a sleeping potion. "Why not have you wife make you one?" The Count of Connall scowled through his beard. "Oh, she'll make one for me, all right, but not for her." His eyes pleading, Luthias faced the magician. "If she doesn't get some sleep, it'll kill us both." Marcellon sat on the edge of his barely rumpled bed. "What's wrong that she's not sleeping? Is it the babes? I thought you had a wet nurse." "We do. It's not the girls, Marcellon. It's me." Marcellon fought to hide a smile. "Most men would enjoy a woman who couldn't get enough, manling." Worried as he was, young Luthias still--still!--rose for the teasing. "You--!" he began, but he finished with a pillow tossed expertly at Marcellon's head. The High Mage murmered a word, and the feather missle dropped inches from his face. Luthias was sputtering. "You--you know better--I mean Sable isn't--I mean she is--damn you, magician." The last was uttered in half-hearty exasperation, so Marcellon didn't take it seriously. Oh, young Luthias Connall had reason enough to hate users of magic after what the Beinisonian butchers had done to him, but the Knight reserved no ire or prejudice for Marcellon or his daughter Lauren. These two he trusted. "And don't call me manling," Luthias finished. Marcellon chuckled at the displeasure in the Count's brown eyes. The High Mage held no fear of Luthias in his heart, just as the Count harbored no awe of him. "Come, Luthias," Marcellon encouraged gently, "what's wrong with Myrande that she isn't sleeping?" The Knight's expression questioned the mage's tone. "You're not 1angry with me any more?" Marcellon waved the question away with his hand, much as he had dismissed the pillow. He could search the crystal later for a warning for Lauren and salvation for Clifton. "I know as well as you that your Lady Sable won't take a sleeping potion without being tricked. What is it, Luthias, son?" "She's worried about me," the Count explained. "She's afraid I'll die in the war." Marcellon considered this. "That isn't an unreasonable fear. How soon do you ride out with the cavalry, General?" "The King promised me I wouldn't ride until after the Melrin Ball. I can't believe he's still celebrating at a time like this." Marcellon understood it, however. The celebrations gave the message that all was normal, all would be right again. Without those assurances, the populace would fall apart. "He has his reasons, but I'm certain he won't make you attend." "Oh, I'm going," Luthias countered, half-laughing. Marcellon frowned mightily. Damn Haralan! One of these days he was going to push Luthias Connall too far. First, Clifton's trial, then Beinison, now, Haralan was going to force Luthias to attend the same ball at which his brother had been murdered a year ago. Luthias laughed outright. "Of my own accord, Marcellon, believe it or not. I promised Sable when I left for Beinison that I'd be back to dance with her at the Melrin Ball. I keep my promises. Besides," the Count concluded, his eyes merry, "if I stayed home, Roisart would taunt me from his tomb, 'Just another excuse not to go dancing, eh, twin?'" Well, something was getting better, the High Mage noted with satisfaction. Marcellon had never heard Luthias joke about his dead brother. "Anyway, you'd better give me the potion. Between her nightmares and mine, no one in the house is getting any sleep." "Your nightmares?" Marcellon sometimes dreamed them too, houses or miles away; those dreams of torture, longing, flight, cold, fear, and murder were incredibly powerful. Marcellon never dared ask if they were real. He didn't want to know. "The same ones?" "Mostly." "What are the new ones?" Luthias considered. "I'm tied to a horse. The ocean's in front of me, filled with a thousand ships--ours and theirs. There's a battle--I move with it, but I can't get to the ships. I can see Clifton's ship. It's hit by something, and I see Clifton fall, and the sea turns to blood." "Blood," Marcellon whispered. Clifton would be wounded and bleed to death. Oh, granted Luthias Connall was no mage, and his talent for magic was recessive, but the Knight's dreams occasionally took a prophetic turn. Roisart had been more powerful; if only he had lived, Marcellon groaned to himself. He could have used the help. Then he saw in his mind a young man of medium height with jet- black hair and hazel eyes. His face was Luthias', but the expression it wore was closer to Roisart's face. *Roisart-Talador,* Marcellon thought, and Luthias was before him once more. The High Mage blinked the image away. "Marcellon?" "Clifton is going to be wounded and bleed to death," the wizard explained, rising, for there was no time to lose. He glanced out his window and raised both eyebrows. It was past noon, at least two hours. He might be able to do it today, on an off chance, if he had help. "If I can make him a ring--" Luthias shook his head. "What good is a ring going to do him?" 1 "I can enchant it so that he will never loose enough blood to die." At the Count's look of disbelief, the magician laughed. "I am not High Mage because I lack power. Still," Marcellon mused, "I cannot do it alone. Send your wife to me. Part of the process includes making potions, and she has experience in that area." "What about the sleeping potion?" Marcellon's mind raced. "We have only until sunset to complete this," he told the Knight. "The process must all be completed between dawn and sunset." "Why not wait till tomorrow? You'll have more time." Tomorrow? But who knew when the battle would be? That was one thing that frequently enfuriated the mage. He often knew what would happen, but seldom knew when. Besides, a feeling of urgency was pushing him. "I must do it today. I need your wife, Luthias." "What about the sleeping potion?" Luthias asked again. "I'll give something to her before I bring her home," the mage promised, distracted. "I must make that ring. I cannot allow my daughter's husband to die!" He moved to his cabinet and pulled a lever. A concealed door opened; Marcellon did not make access to his laboratory easy. From the cabinet he took a few of the move mundane of his needs: oil, sulphur, and acacia. "I wonder," Luthias said behind him, startling the mage out of his preparations, "if having a sword like that would be unKnightly." Marcellon turned slowly. "I don't think so," the mage answered, uncertain why Luthias had asked. "I learned this spell from watching the Old Enchanter in my crystal. He enchanted a King's scabbard with this spell, and the King was a Knight and a great leader of Knights. Why?" Marcellon finally confronted him, remembering the Wanderer's words. "Do you want your sword enchanted? You don't need it. I don't need to worry about you, Luthias." "Oh, I'm willing to put my faith in my training," Luthias confessed, a little of his normal confidence seeping into his smile. "But if I had a sword that would keep me from bleeding to death--or better yet the sword hilt, for any blade can break--I bet Sable would feel much better." Marcellon smiled as he realized the logic behind the suggestion. "Send your wife, my friend," he invited. "Have her bring the sword you will use in battle." The Countess of Connall entered, and Marcellon ached to see her. She was a beauty, normally, but the worry had worn her out. Quelling sudden fury that both Luthias and Myrande were being forced into old age without having reached their twenty-second year, the High Mage smiled. "Welcome. Come in." Uncertainly, Myrande stepped forward and offered a swathed burden. "Luthias said we would need this, but I have no idea for what. What's this all about, Marcellon?" Marcellon unwrapped the shroud and smiled at the sword within it. "Luthias intends to use this sword in battle?" The Countess grinned. "Why not? It has excellent balance, and Carrerra steel is the best in the world. Beinison does know how to make its swords." The High Mage raised his eyebrow. "And when did you become a weapons' expert, Lady Sable?" In response, the Countess gave him an arch look. King Haralan had been right when he said that Myrande would have made an excellent Queen. "Being a Knight's daughter--and another Knight's wife--I've manage to glean a few facts." She paused and relaxed her imperial expression. "Even if this weren't the best sword that Luthias owns, he 1would still use it. It isn't every man who wins the respect and tribute of an enemy, let alone a Knight of the Star." "It was quite a battle," Marcellon agreed. "Luthias fought excellently." "I figured Sir Edward knighted him for a reason." Marcellon rolled his eyes in mock-agony. "You're developing my own sense of humor. Come," he commanded, offering her hand. "We have much work to do." A knock on the door halted the mage mid-step. "Good God, who is it this time?" Marcellon forced between clenched teeth. Myrande, trained from birth as seneschal and hostess, turned back and opened the door. King Haralan stood behind it, attempting to blink away his bewilderment. "Your majesty," Marcellon greeted him icily, but he supposed he must speak to the man. Haralan was, after all, the King. "Good day, Countess," the King spoke finally, taking Myrande's hand to his cheek. He looked over her head at the High Mage, who gave him a cold, furious stare. "Your sevants did tell me not to interrupt you, Marcellon, but there is something I must know. Can we not speak privately?" Without taking his glare off the King's eyes, Marcellon said, "Lady Sable, will you go into my garden and pick seven large valley lilies? We will need them." "As you wish," she answered, ducking out the room's sudden chill. "With all due respect, your majesty, speak quickly," Marcellon ordered, turning away. "I have much work to do. There are reasons I asked to not be interrupted." "I am sorry," Haralan apologized mildly, and Marcellon felt himself relenting. Still, he was furious. He was sick of the interruptions. "I only need one question answered, and I will leave. I quite understand the need to work uninterrupted." Suddenly Marcellon saw a collage of images of Haralan, trying to see his sons or catch a nap, trying to write proclamations or pray for guidance. He was interrupted each time. He hadn't seen his two young sons in a week. He hadn't slept for as long. The High Mage sighed heavily. Kings' burdens were heavy, too. "What is it, your majesty?" "Is my brother still alive and well?" Marcellon looked up quickly and saw the pain in the King's eyes. "Of course. If anything had happened to him, I would have told you." Haralan's blue eyes calmed like the sea after a storm. The High Mage smiled at the King's relief. "The worst he's suffered since he left us is a few broken bones." Haralan managed a weak smile. "That puts him ahead of you and I, my friend. Thank you." As he turned to go, Marcellon said softly, "He misses you, too, Haralan." The King turned sorrowfully, nodded once, then asked, "When is the last time you saw him?" The High Mage smiled. "A few days ago." Marcellon called up the memory, then searched for the vision. Ah, there was the younger prince, in his usual place, with his two friends. "You see him now?" Marcellon nodded. "He is well and quite merry. He is singing." "That's like him," the King acknowledged. He turned to go, then paused. "If a King may ask..." The mage rolled his eyes. "What now, your majesty?" "What is of such importance that you instruct your servants to deter even the King?" Marcellon closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Haralan's occasionally pompous attitude always annoyed him. Still, the High Mage answered, "Preserving the life of your fleet admiral." 1 "Is he in danger?" Haralan's eyes were wide and worried. Maracellon could feel the cold terror that gripped the King's heart. Good and skilled--not to mention loyal--officers were difficult to come by these days. "Be easy, sire," Marcellon assured him softly, coming close enough to touch the King's shoulder. "I believe the Duke of Dargon to be in great danger, yes, but as long as I can have an uninterrupted day's work, I may be able to prevent his death." And Lauren's too, Marcellon added. What about that battle? "Be assured I will do my part to get you that uninterrupted day," the King promised, reassured. "Work well, Marcellon, and thank you." Myrande opened the door the instant the King touched the opposite one, but she didn't enter until Haralan had left. "Don't worry. I didn't hear anything but the last bit. I don't know, and I don't want to." Marcellon smiled tiredly and took the lilies from her hand. "War isn't my talent." "No, but making potions is," Marcellon agreed, examining the lilies closely. Yes, they would do well. "That is why I asked you here." "What potions? What are we doing?" Marcellon led her into his laboratory, put the valley lilies on the table, and began pulling ingredients from shelves. "We are enchanting a ring for Clifton and your husband's sword hilt so that they will never lose enough blood to die as long as they wear them- -or wield or touch them." Without turning, Marcellon could feel the Countess' relief like a long-pined-for breeze. She took a step closer to the table and started scanning the bottles and boxes which Marcellon had selected. "Hematite, coral, beth root, acacia, garlic, thyme, fox tail, amaranth...We're making a clotting salve and an anti- hemoragging potion?" "Triple batches, and that is only the first, longest, and most tedious step," Marcellon instructed her, fetching the mortar and pestle and two glass cauldrons. "After that is done, I must magick them so that they will be permanent. I must cast other spells to make them both work together and yet others to have their effects work by touch and not absorption or digestion." Myrande started shredding the valley lilies. Marcellon was glad he did not have to lesson her on how to make the potions he sought. "How do we get the sword and the ring to do these things, Marcellon?" "That is the most difficult part," Marcellon sighed, grinding hematite in the mortar. "The final spell, and the one that is the most exhausting and exacting--and therefore the one that I'll most likely have to cast many times to make it work--transfers the powers of the potions to the sword and the ring." In another mortar, Marcellon began crushing red coral. "And we have only until dusk." "If we can't make it work today, we'll try again tomorrow," Myrande promised, sprinkling the valley lily strings into a glass cauldron and adding the oil. "I'd rather finish today," Marcellon grumbled. "I do not know when Clifton will be wounded, but I know that if he doesn't have this ring, he will die." Myrande shuddered and reached for the cloves. "In that case," she agreed, grinding them in the mortar, slowly, "we had better get to work." Marcellon raised his hands over the clotting salve and began to chant softly. The words were old, soothing, like a long- known prayer. The mage felt heat in his fingers and knew that his hands had started to glow. Between two fingers, he crushed a diamond. 1 There was a flash, and Marcellon opened his eyes. "Done." Myrande looked from the High Mage to the caudron of salve, then back. "How do you do that? Can you teach me? If I could make potions that would never spoil--" Marcellon chuckled gently at her eagerness. "You may indeed have a talent for it, Lady Sable. According to Rish Vogel, we have a common ancestor ten or twelve generations back. However, we don't have the time now for it. Perhaps after the war." Myrande studied both cauldrons carefully. "How do you know that the spells worked?" Marcellon blinked at the question. He had never thought about it before. "I...just know. I can feel it." The mage wished he had time to show her how to feel such things, but Marcellon felt rushed still. "Come, we have much to do. Move the hemoraging potion toward me." Showing greater strength than her size suggested, Myrande lifted the glass pot--with effort, the mage noted--and, grimacing, she set it beside him. The High Mage stretched his hand over the salve and then over the potion. "Bring me a piece of coral and another of hematite, each as big as your thumbnail. When I hold my hands open, put one in each." The Countess of Connall scurried toward the counter. Beginning in a whisper and increasing toward a shout, Marcellon chanted again, the ancient words in the ancient tongue, praying for both mixtures to work together. He turned his hands over and felt Myrande place the stones on his palms. The wizard held them out, offered them to God on High, raised his voice-- And gasped as if struck. Marcellon dropped to his knees and covered his ears at the force of the fear. There was fury, too, from another source, just as criplling. The power left him, and he could feel Myrande's arms around him. "What is it? Are you well?" The High Mage took deep breaths. "Something is very wrong," he gasped. "Call for dinner. We may as well eat now. Sir Edward is coming." Although Sir Edward Sothos, Knight Commander of the Royal Baranurian Armies, hid his emotions almost professionally, Marcellon could sense the fright--he might have named it panic had it been in any other man--clanging like tuneless bell. "What happened?" Marcellon demanded as he motioned Sir Edward to a chair. The Knight Commander sat heavily after greeting the Countess formally but tiredly. "Your excellency--" he adressed her. Marcellon dismissed his fear of her overhearing with a jerk of the hand. "You know as well as I that Lady Myrande can be trusted," he snapped. "What is it? Say it, Edward." The Galician Knight took a deep breath. "The King has gone mad--or Sir Luthias has. I'm not sure." Cold, steel bands snapped around Marcellon's heart like a trap. That was all they needed! "What happened?" the High Mage demanded again. If Edward didn't spit it out, and quickly, Marcellon decided to read his mind. This avoiding the question-- "The King," Sir Edward revealed finally, but slowly, "said something to me about..." The Knight Commander paused to search for words. "About bringing back his brother to be Captain General of the Archers." Marcellon's jaw dropped. He stood and clapped his hand to his forehead. He should have known when Haralan had asked, he berated himself silently. "Steward!" the High Mage bellowed. The cowed servant stuck his head timidly through the door. "Summon the King and the Count of Connall to my presence *immediately!*" As the servant whisked himself from the house, the magician 1turned to his friend. "Don't worry, Edward. The King isn't mad. What exactly did he say?" Sir Edward frowned mightily. "I don't remember exactly, but I thought it sounded like a wish, especially as both King Haralan's brothers are dead." Marcellon nodded grimly. "As is well known," he concurred, but the falsehood tickled his heart unpleasantly. His hasty, mental accusation of Haralan also bothered the High Mage; he knew Haralan better than to think the King foolish enough to try to bring his brother home. Next to the Knight Commander, the Countess of Connall frowned. The High Mage raised an eyebrow. "What is it, Myrande?" She sighed. "I can't believe he--the young prince--is dead." "Believe it," Marcellon confirmed with a nod, though he smiled internally at Myrande's calling a man more than ten years her senior "the young prince." Where the hell was Haralan? "Who did he tell this, Edward? It is imperative." Sir Edward took a moment to remember. "Myself, Sir Luthias, Ittosai Michiya and Ito, Sarah Verde, and Coury." Marcellon breathed his relief. Those few could be trusted to keep quiet. "Good. Luthias will need no such instruction, but the others must be made to hold their tongues. And as soon as he and the King arrive, I hope there will be no need for him to speak of it any more at all." "I have already spoken to Captain Verde and to Coury. Answer me this, old man: if Haralan's brother is dead, why is Sir Luthias upset?" "I'd like an answer to that myself," Marcellon interrupted, glaring at the unopened door. Where was Luthias? Where was the King? "Luthias doesn't think Prince Richard is dead," Myrande supplied easily. She stared out the window at the near-setting sun. After a moment, she turned back to the High Mage and the Knight Commander. "When my father came to Uncle Fionn with the news that Prince Richard had been declared dead, we were all appalled. Luthias finally asked my father how he had died. Then Uncle Fionn laughed and told us that Prince Richard probably was still alive, and that he was only declared dead so that King Haralan could take the throne." Marcellon fought cringing. That was too near the truth. Well, leave it to Fionn Connall not to miss a trick. And damn Myrande for her excellent memory. She couldn't have been more than eight or nine at the time of Richard's "death." "I see," the Knight Commander said slowly. Then his eyes widened, and this time Marcellon saw the fear plainly. "Nehru's blood, no wonder Luthias exploded! If Haralan could bring his brother back--" The High Mage raised his hand, and Sir Edward ceased. "I'm sure Sir Luthias merely misunderstood him." "What did my husband do to the King?" Myrande asked quietly, her voice testy. Marcellon smiled at her willingness to defend Luthias even if he had done treason. Marcellon's own wife had been like that. Sir Edward patted her hand. "Nothing of great insult or injury, my lady. He merely roared, 'Why don't you just *give* the country to Beinison?' and marched off with his castellan." Marcellon pictured the entire situation without benefit of his powers: Haralan's announcement, Luthias' explosion and departure, Edward's cautioning the ladies to keep this quiet, and his quick journey to the High Mage's house. "Well, that's like our Sir Luthias." "And he's right," Sir Edward concluded. "Or he would be, if Prince Richard were still alive. As I understand the inheritance laws of this country, the chosen child becomes heir. If Haralan's brother were alive, then Haralan's right to rule would be uncertain." 1 "True," Marcellon agreed. "But we needn't worry." The High Mage took a deep breath. "I may never get that ring done," he muttered. He faced the Knight Commander again. "I'll clear the matter, Edward. Don't worry, but keep quiet." "Thank you," a relieved Sir Edward exhaled as he rose with dignity. "Good afternoon." He moved toward the door, then turned. "Lady Countess, you have an excellent memory." The Knight Commander's scar danced as he smiled. "Do you perhaps remember when we first met?" The Countess of Connall gave him a smug grin. "It was the Melrin six years ago. You had come to judge the tournament and to visit my father." Sir Edward bowed, and Marcellon saw the Knight Commander's pleasure in his face. "I don't recall who won that tournament." "My father did," Myrande reminded him, tilting her chin proudly. "He was a good Knight," Sir Edward declared. There was no higher praise from the Knight Commander, as Marcellon knew well. Edward's smile wrinkled near his eyes. "I do remember, however, that that particular tourney was Luthias' first. I turned to Sir Lucan--" Myrande warmed at the mention of her father. "--and said, 'I do not want to meet your squire when he reaches twenty-one.' It is still not a pleasant thought." Sir Edward paused and squinted. "As I recall, Luthias took third place in that tournament." "That's because there were no bloody Bichanese!" Myrande rose as if she had been shot from a bow. Luthias, obviously in pain, stumbled through the door, supported on one side by his chief aide, Ittosai Michiya, and on the other by Michya's older brother, Ito. All three wore armor, but Luthias' breastplate hung in three pieces. Derrio, nervous and anxious, followed behind. Myrande rushed to help. "Lay him down," she instructed quickly. "No, on the floor," she corrected as Michiya and Ito moved toward the couch. "Your excellency, do you think you should attend him?" Sir Edward protested, horrified. The Countess laughed. "This isn't the first time I've put him back together." Marcellon entered the fray. "What have you done to yourself this time, manling?" He clucked mildly when the Count gave him an acidic stare. Luthias would not still be in a temper if he were seriously hurt. "Broken rib, I think," the young Count groaned as the Bichanese gently rested him on the floor. Myrande dropped to the floor at his side. "I was sparring with Ito." "And I thought you were saving yourself for Beinison," Marcellon quipped, moving to the Count's left and kneeling on the floor beside him. He reached out his hand and probed Luthias' chest gently. "They've had their chance already," Myrande snapped, looking coldly at the wizard. "My armor exploded," Luthias told them, glancing from his wife on one side to Marcellon on the other. "And Ito hit me again. It's on Sable's side, Marcellon." "I did not see it until after I struck the blow," Ito apologized, his Baranurian still somewhat halting. "It's no wonder," Luthias agreed, groaning as his wife found the injured bone. "Stevene, you Bichanese move like lightning." Myrande snatched a knife from her belt and sliced Luthias' undershirt open. Ugly purple-brown bruises decorated the Knight's strong chest. The High Mage quickly whispered a spell, and Luthias' armor fell off. Marcellon tossed the plates to the Knight Commander, who shook his head grimly as he inspected it. "I'm glad you're on our side, sir," Edward told Ito quite 1sincerely. The Knight Commander touched the crushed plate in wonder. "I would not like to be your enemy." The samurai bowed, and Sir Edward looked at his officer. "I doubt it can be repaired, Sir Luthias." "That's all right. It was pretty old." The Count tried to take a deep breath but found he couldn't. "Stevene, what I wouldn't give for Bichanese armor. You can move like the wind in that stuff." "And it does not...explode, as you say," Ito added. "So you will have your birthday present early," Michiya dropped casually. "It will be ready in two days' time, anyway." Despite the pain, Luthias grinned at the prospect of new armor. Marcellon chuckled at the boyish expression then laid his hand on the broken ribs and whispered a spell. Luthias sat up almost immediately. "I like you, Marcellon. Last time a broke a rib, I couldn't fight for two months." "You broke more than one this time," Marcellon informed him, "but I certainly couldn't keep you off the battlefield for two months in times like these." The Royal Physician and High Mage ignored the Countess' glare and continued his prescription. "Two days, Luthias. No fighting." The young Count nodded, and his lady wife helped him to his feet. "You may, however, be fitted for your birthday gift and dance at the Melrin Ball." Luthias grinned and turned to Ito. "Rematch, next week." The Bichanese turned to his brother, who translated the first word. Ito bowed. "Very well." "What were you doing fighting with the Bichanese, anyway?" Myrande wondered as her husband put an arm around her. Marcellon smiled at them, wistfully remembering such times with his wife. He quickly supressed the ache. "I have a lot to learn from them, Sable," Luthias explained easily. "Besides, I needed some way to work that frustration off." The young Count scowled. "God, King Haralan's crazy. How can he even think of bringing Prince Richard back?" "Luthias, wouldn't you bring back Roisart if you could?" Marcellon asked gently, and the Count looked away, his expression amguished. Marcellon hated to bring up a painful subject--it had been a year, less a day, that Roisart had been murdered--but he knew no better way to make the young Knight understand his King. "That's all the King meant." "Why is it that you do not want this Prince to return?" Ittosai Michiya, confused, asked Luthias. "Is he an evil man?" "No, he's great," Luthias told him, grinning. Marcellon had a quick vision of young Richard playing with Luthias and Roisart, and smiled too. "He used to teach me strategy by playing toy soldiers with me." Funny, that's how I taught Richard, Marcellon remembered. "He used to climb trees with us and everything. But," the Count darkly concluded, "he was supposed to be King." "He didn't want to be King any more than you wanted to be Baron," Marcellon admonished Luthias sternly. "Yet King Arneth chose him as heir over King Haralan," Luthias reminded the Mage. "Why?" Ittosai Michiya asked. "Is not Haralan a good King?" "Certainly, and a better one than Richard would have been, but Richard was his father's favorite," Marcellon said, pacing. Where *was* Haralan? God, if he didn't get here and allow Marcellon to dismiss these people, he'd never get that ring done! "You are saying that there would be problems if this prince returns?" Ito said, his face stern with concentration. "There will be no problems. The Prince is dead," Sir Edward stated. "You wished to see me, Marcellon?" the King asked mildly as he 1walked blythely into the nest of the Wasp King. The High Mage took a step forward, but Luthias, holding Myrande with one arm, beat him. "I'm glad to see you, Sir Luthias. I wished to speak with you." "I bet," Luthias spat angrily. Sir Edward sent his Knight a stern look, which Marcellon knew the Count ignored deliberately. "How soon are you starting the civil war, your majesty?" The King looked from his Cavalry General to the High Mage. "Is he well?" "I believe Sir Luthias has misunderstood a remark your majesty made about bringing back your brother Richard," Marcellon told him slowly, his blue-green eyes steadily holding the King's. Suddenly white-lipped, King Haralan inspected Sir Luthias' furious face. "I merely wished I could bring him back. I would think you would understand me, Sir Luthias, as you have lost a brother, too." Luthias' anger evaporated into shock and confusion. "You mean he's really dead?" he gasped. Haralan glanced at Marcellon, who returned the gaze steadily and nodded. Shifting his eyes back to Sir Luthias, the King laughed hollowly, and Marcellon saw the King's jaw shake. "Marcellon swore it. Are you calling him a liar?" "No, of course not," Luthias reassured him quickly. "But sire, I thought--" "Yes," Marcellon interrupted, then he caught the King's eye. "Baron Fionn Connall thought perhaps our declaring Richard dead was a political ploy to put you on the throne." Haralan groaned and put his head in his hands. Marcellon felt his despair--and the fear, too. If Fionn Connall had seen, how many others had? "Luthias, I can no more bring my brother back than you can bring back yours!" the King cried. He seized his tall Knight's shoulders. "Can't you believe that?" Luthias lowered his eyes. Marcellon sensed the young man's shame. "Forgive me, your majesty." "Sir Luthias," Haralan said slowly, breathing deeply, "if somehow I could bring my brother back and I was planning on doing it, I hope you would explode and prevent me. I realize what would happen if..." The King looked toward Marcellon. "We all know what would happen." "I certainly hope that you would not be so rude about it," Sir Edward scolded his Knight harshly. "Courtesy is the virtue of a Knight, Sir Luthias." "And advising the King is the duty of a Knight," King Haralan added softly. "Don't be so hard on him, Sir Edward. I understand the anger he feels." The King watched Sir Luthias sorrowfully. "I, too, have lost much of my family and would not sit still for someone increasing the danger. Besides, Sir Luthias has realized his mistake and apologized, and I accept that." With effort, the King smiled. "Come, Edward, and you, too, Sir Luthias. We have much to do." Haralan scanned the room. "And no one is to speak of this." "Understood, your majesty," Ittosai Michiya said, then he quickly translated for his brother, who nodded. Derrio covered his mouth. "I'll see you later, Sable." Luthias kissed his wife on the mouth. "How are the sword and ring coming?" the younger Knight asked. "The ring!" Marcellon breathed. "Shoo!" he commanded, waving his hands nervously at the King, the Knight Commander, the Count of Connall, his squire, and the two, dignified samurais. "I have much to do. And Haralan, issue a proclamation if you have to, but I can't deal with any more interruptions, unless you want you Fleet Admiral dead!" The King smiled and turned toward the door. "Good day, Countess." Haralan motioned to her husband. "Attend me, General." "As you wish, your majesty," Luthias agreed soberly. 1 Marcellon heard them no more, and he didn't notice when his assistant fairly shoved the Knight Commander out of the room and slammed and bolted to door. There wasn't time to waste. The sun would be setting in an hour. Such an hour. Marcellon had to cast the spell binding the two mixtures thrice before it took. Then he boiled the mixed potion and salve over a heavy fire, too hot for this day, but necessary. Plunging his hands into the scalding compound, the High Mage cried the spell in a loud, pained voice. The enchantment sealed over the mixture immediately, God be praised, for Marcellon couldn't cast that spell more than once a day. The damage to his hands couldn't heal more quickly. The High Mage cast a quick look out the window. A half hour to sunset, perhaps, and the most difficult spell left to do. Myrande stood patiently, awaiting his orders like a dutiful seneschal. "Bring the burning yellow sand and oil," Marcellon requested as gently as he could. He hands burned, and he whispered a spell to speed the healing. Myrande retrieved the two substances from a nearby worktable. Marcellon nodded toward the combined potions. When the Countess placed the two beakers near the cauldron, Marcellon reached out and dipped a hand in each. Almost absently, he sprinkled the sulphur and the oil over the potion. "How does it work?" Myrande asked, watching with avid, unconcealed curiousity. The High Mage chuckled despite his scalded hands. "It would take years of training for you to be able to understand, Lady Sable." Myrande considered his words, then inquired, "How do we make it work, then?" "Lay Luthias' sword and the silver ring on the table," Marcellon commanded. While she did so, he explained, "When the mixture cools, we will dip the sword hilt and the ring in it, then set them afire. When I say the spell, the fire and the potions will be absorbed, and we will be done." Marcellon grimaced at the difficulty of this seemingly simple process and added, "If it takes." "Why wouldn't it?" "It's a very difficult spell, Lady Myrande," the wizard tried to enlighten her. "Spells are...fixed, and if one syllable is off, one bit of rhythm a fraction late, the spell won't work. Like..." Marcellon's mind searched for something she could easily understand. "Like leaving a potion to boil overlong, or underlong." Myrande nodded thoughtfully and looked out the window. "Not much time," she commented. Turning back to Marcellon, the Countess wondered, "If necessary, could we finish tomorrow?" "We'll have to begin at the beginning again," Marcellon told her, finishing the delicate mixing. "Give me the ring and the sword." Myrande handed both objects to him and watched the High Mage with blatant curiosity. Carefully, for his hands still burned most wretchedly, Marcellon dipped the silver ring and the sword hilt into the mixture of the clotting salve, the hemoragging potion, the sulphur, and the oil. After one last glance to make certain that the objects were well covered, Marcellon uttered a single word. Both ring and hilt erupted in flames. "So far, we do well," sighed the mage. He raised his arms and closed his eyes. When he began murmering, Marcellon felt his body shiver, as it should. He felt power flow down his arms, and the hot, white light burned his hands. Marcellon felt the great release when the light left his fingers like harnessed lightning and struck the ring and the sword. Marcellon opened his eyes and watched them burn. If all went well, the fire at any moment would be sucked into the silver. 1 The ring and sword hilt burned. "Damn," Marcellon whispered. He scrutinized the worktable. "I said the spell rightly..." When his eyes fell on the cauldron, the High Mage reached out and touched the side. Too warm. He hadn't let the mixture cool enough. Then Marcellon laughed at himself. In his anxiety, he hadn't let the mixture cool at all. The magician turned to his assistant and smiled ruefully. "I suppose patience is not one of my virtues today," he sighed. Marcellon marched toward the window and yanked the curtain back. Twenty minutes, perhaps, until the sun set for the day. "How much does it need cool?" Lady Myrande wondered, placing her hand cautiously on the side of the cauldron. "We haven't much time." "We'll wait a few minutes, then try again," the High Mage decided as he wearily fell into a chair. "I have no wish to repeat this on the morrow, Lady Sable. Although," Marcellon continued, his eyes dancing, "I doubt we could have more...ah...interesting problems than we had today." Myrande chuckled. "Don't tempt fate." She handed him a goblet of wine. "What if we don't get it done?" "We'll do it again tomorrow," Marcellon promised her. She sounded so worried, as if Luthias would be killed before her eyes if he didn't have the sword by this evening. The High Mage could hardly blame her. Roisart had been murdered in a peaceful ballroom, a year from tomorrow. Still, Marcellon didn't want to wait until tomorrow any more than the Countess did. Clifton's life was in danger; he, too, could die at any time. And Lauren-- The High Mage grimaced as he thought of his daughter. Marcellon, now that he knew of its existence, felt the danger surrounding Lauren like a stench-filled fog. Lauren, if she goes to battle...what if she goes to battle? "I'm glad to know Prince Richard is still alive," Myrande began calmly. Marcellon started out of his thoughts and stared at the Countess, who was gazing at the setting sun. After a moment's consideration, the High Mage answered, "After all that, you think him still alive?" The Countess turned slowly and smiled regally. "Why not? He is. He must be." Marcellon stared at her sharply and quickly reached for Myrande's thoughts. 'If Prince Richard were dead, you would have said so,' Marcellon caught. "I did say so," Marcellon protested, although he knew she was right. "Sir *Edward* said so," Myrande corrected him smoothly, "but you didn't, and neither did the King. Besides, there's no other explanation for your anger and the King's fear." She read people too well, that one, Marcellon concluded. The winter in court had taught her much; Myrande had learned how to read eyes and faces and tones when words could not be trusted--too often the case at court. Still, the High Mage realized acknowledging her assessment was too dangerous. "Myrande," the High Mage sighed heavily, for he hated to lie, "Prince Richard is dead. He has been dead nearly fourteen years. I swore it on the Word of God. Would I be forsworn?" She doubted then; Marcellon felt it. Myrande knew well that Marcellon never lied--almost never, the Mage reminded himself. But she only doubted--and only for a moment. Myrande still believed Richard lived. By not pronouncing him dead at the very first, the High Mage realized that he had convinced stubborn Sable that Richard still lived. Oh, Myrande would say nothing more--in her 1thoughts, Marcellon gleaned the Myrande's realization of the futility of fighting the High Mage--but still she believed. Damn her, she was as stubborn as Lauren when Lauren magically knew something. Lauren--What would happen to Lauren? The mage sprung from the chair impatiently. As soon as this was done, he would search his crystal, day and night if necessary, and send a warning to his daughter when he sent her husband the ring. But the ring must be finished. As for Lady Sable, let her believe what she wishes, so long as she remains silent. There was no time to worry about it now. Marcellon knew without looking that barely a quarter hour of sunlight remained. "Come," Marcellon half-invited, half-ordered his assistant, "Bring the ring and the sword to me, Myrande." Marcellon took them from her and dipped them carefully. He immersed the objects in the carefully concocted mixture a second time to be sure of their coating. Once again, he placed them on the worktable and set them on fire with a word. Marcellon lifted his hands in spell and prayer and closed his eyes. Marcellon's body quaked gently as the power of the earth and the air flowed through his body and gathered at his hands into hot, white lighting, pure and powerful. The power began to elongate, lightning waiting to strike-- Lightning in a dark forest, covered with clouds--great wind and fire--blood on the ground--Lauren stood within in, calling out words of horror and magic. And the lightning coursed through Lauren, fell on her from a stormy sky and fled from her in many directions to sear as many trees. Lauren screamed with the pain of a banshee, but she didn't release or banish the lightning as Marcellon had taught her. Seven trees were sinking into the earth that spawned them, and more were burning. The lightning grew brighter, and Lauren glowed with its power. One more levin-strike, and it split a great oak in half. Lauren screamed--Marcellon heard himself scream her name--and his daughter collapsed on a high cliff amidst the cries of children. "Is Lauren all right?" Lady Myrande was asking anxiously. Marcellon sensed her arms around him, but the Countess seemed so far away. The High Mage tried to open his eyes, but the room swung dizzily. "Marcellon? Are you all right?" "Lauren," the High Mage murmered, clutching his head miserably. "Oh, my baby." "Marcellon, the spell," Myrande reminded him. The mage was beginning to feel cold stone beneath him. "It didn't work." "Lauren," Marcellon groaned. She had to stay out of the battles. He had to warn her. Without opening his eyes to the swaying room, the High Mage climbed to a standing position. "Lauren," he croaked. "I have to warn Lauren." "Marcellon, the spell!" Myrande insisted. "There's no time!" "I can't let her die," Marcellon mumbled, stumbling blindly in no coherent direction. The mage suddenly felt someone supporting him. "Myrande, my daughter....the lightning..." "We'll warn her," she promised. "I tell you, we'll warn her. But Clifton and Luthias--Marcellon, cast the spell!" That's right--Clifton and Luthias--but Lauren--and Marcellon feared to call the lightning again, lest it kill his daughter. Lauren! Lauren! "The sun is setting!" he heard Lady Sable scream. "Marcellon! The spell! Clifton will die! You told me Clifton will die!" Clifton--yes--Clifton, too, must be saved, for Lauren, for the King. But the lightning-- No, Marcellon knew his spell did not--would not--hurt his own 1daughter. Not his spell, no. But I must warn her! the High Mage thought, but even as he did so, he raised his arms and created the spark that set the sword and ring afire. I must dip them, he thought dazedly, but they burned as if newly immersed in the potions. Slowly, breathlessly, the High Mage murmered the words that set the magic in motion, that called power from the earth and from the air, and the lightning gathered at his hands. Marcellon knew when the lightning struck, and as the fire was pulled into the sword hilt and the ring, the High Mage collapsed. Marcellon did not raise his head from the table when Luthias entered the sitting room well after dark. Marcellon knew it was Luthias; he had had plenty of time to aquaint himself with the rhythm and sound of Luthias' walk on the ships bound to and from Magnus and in the long winter months in Pyridain. Marcellon even knew when the young Knight bent to kiss his wife, fast asleep as a kitten on Marcellon's plush couch. The High Mage sighed; he had often bestowed such a caress on his own, sleeping wife when the King's business kept him late. Ah, Eliza, my sweet Eliza... Marcellon heard the young Count pause before a side table, and the High Mage would have smiled if he had the energy. "You may take it. It is finished." With effort, Marcellon opened his eyes to see the Knight, satisfied, slip the sword into its scabbard. "It will serve you well." "Clifton's ring?" "It is on his hand as we speak." That spell, the one that transported the little ring and the warning, finally exhausted Marcellon so that even lifting his head from the table where he wrote his daughter was nigh impossible. "I could not wait for a messenger. I saw Lauren's death." "Lauren's?" Luthias questioned. "Maybe you should make her a ring." "It would not help. She will not die of wounds. I have warned her to stay away from battle..." "Marcellon." And the High Mage knew the time had come. He had known that for some time the questions that plagued Luthias Connall, and Marcellon had known that sooner or later, the young Knight would confront him. Without waiting for the question to be asked, Marcellon answered it. "I did foresee your father's death. I knew he would be thrown from a horse, and I did warn him, Luthias. To his credit, your father believed me. Still, there was no way...the drug Manus used on Dragonfire worked through the poor horse's food. There was no way to detect its administration until it struck, and when it was over, well..." "And my brother? You were at the ball, Marcellon. Didn't you--" "My visions are imperfect, son. Some are plain, others like dreams...and they only function if there is no change. I never foresaw your brother's death." Marcellon grasped a breath with tired lungs. "I saw yours." "Mine?" The Count sounded surprised. "But I didn't die." "I tell you, I see things that will happen if nothing changes," Marcellon repeated. "I saw, as if in a dream, your brother invested as Duke of Dargon, and he asked me what he should do now. But something happened--he saw the assassins, I guess--and he died, not you." "Why didn't you save him?" Luthias demanded, his voice grieved. "Marcellon--" "I could not have saved him," Marcellon admitted heavily. "I have great skill in medicine and magic--but not even I can bring back the 1dead. The poison they used on Roisart was immediate, like ardonatus. Roisart was dead before he fell to the floor at your feet. He was dead when you reached him, Luthias. I was farther away. There was nothing I could have done." "Nothing," Luthias whispered. After a long silence, the Knight said, "It is past midnight, and it's a year he's been dead." Marcellon heard the young man shift toward him. "Do you ever stop missing the dead, Marcellon?" "No." Tired grief flooded Marcellon's consciousness. "It has been six years since my wife died, and there are still nights I wake, expecting her beside me and grieving to remember her gone." Marcellon wearily turned his head and looked at the Count of Connall. "Do you not miss Sir Lucan still and your uncle Clifton?" The Knight nodded glumly. "And your brother and father...thank God your wife lives still, Luthias, son." "She won't be hurt in the war, will she?" The thought startled Marcellon; he had never even considered it. "I don't know. Now take your wife home, and drink a sleeping potion that you both might sleep uninterrupted. And if I can do the same, I'll tell you tomorrow." Marcellon listened as the Count of Connall took two steps toward his wife; again, the young man paused. "I hate to ask, Marcellon, but what about me?" The High Mage managed a coughing chuckle. "Sir Luthias, they have sent assassins for you. They have imprisoned you. They have tortured you and drugged you. They sent a Knight of the Star against you- -a high-ranking one at that--and you defeated him. I don't think Beinison possesses anything that can kill you. You seem to be under the protection of God Himself." "Well, I'm grateful," the young Knight admitted, chuckling also. In a more serious tone, Luthias continued, "And I am grateful for what you have given me, Marcellon. You saved my life once, and now you're preserving--" Before the words were finished, the mage's eyes slid closed, and he snored softly. Smiling, the Knight silently lifted the mage and carried him to his bed in the next room. "Rest well, Marcellon." Then Luthias took his sleeping wife, who cuddled to him as if she were one of their newly born daughters, home. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 ** ****** **** ** ** ** **** ** ** ** **** **** ** ** ** ***** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ***** ** ** *** **** ** Quanta is the electronically distributed journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy. As such, each issue contains fiction by amateur authors as well as articles, reviews etc... Quanta is published in two formats, Ascii and PostScript* (for PostScript compatible laser-printers). Submissions should be sent to quanta@andrew.cmu.edu. Requests to be added to the distribution list should be sent to one of the following depending on which version of the magazine you'd like to receive. quanta+requests-postscript@andrew.cmu.edu quanta+requests-ascii@andrew.cmu.edu or quanta+requests-postscript@andrew.BITNET quanta+requests-ascii@andrew.BITNET Send mail only- no interactive messages or files please. Note that if you subscribe with a letter sent over BITNET, you will have the magazine sent to you as a file over BITNET, whereas if you subscribe with a letter sent over the Internet, the magazine will be sent to you by mail. Note that all issues are available from the anonymous FTP server fed.expres.cs.cmu.edu (128.2.209.58). If you can access this server and would therefore only want to be notified when a new issues has been released, please specify this in your request. Quanta now reaches an international audience of over 1000 subscribers. It is produced bi-monthly by Daniel Appelquist (da1n+@andrew.cmu.edu). * PostScript is a registered trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated. 1------------------------------------------------------------------------ (C) Copyright November, 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. ------------------------------------------------------------------------

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank