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From WHITEJL@DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU Tue May 12 10:38:25 1992 Received: from DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU by eff.org with SMTP id AA26880 (5.65c/IDA-1.4.4/pen-ident for ); Tue, 12 May 1992 10:38:19 -0400 Message-Id: <199205121438.AA26880@eff.org> Received: from DUVM by DUVM.OCS.DREXEL.EDU (IBM VM SMTP R1.2.2MX) with BSMTP id 3317; Tue, 12 May 92 10:35:23 EDT Date: Tue, 12 May 92 10:35:18 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 5 -=========================================================+|) D D AAAA RRR G GG O O N N N Z I N N N E || Issue 1 DDDDD A A R R GGGG OOOO N NN ZZZZZZ I N NN EEEE || \\ \ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- DargonZine Volume 5, Issue 1 03/20/92 Cir 1155 -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ -- Contents -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Sonnet to the Bichanese Wendy Hennequin Yule 4, 1014 Lessons Wendy Hennequin Yule 8, 1014 Dummy Bill Erdley Yule 10, 1014 Pact III Max Khaytsus Yuli 14, 1014 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Sonnet to the Bichanese by Wendy Hennequin (b.c.k.a. ) I looked up from the poem I was struggling to write as I heard someone enter, and then I lowered my eyes to keep from staring. A Bichanese man, one of the samurai the Emperor of Bichu had sent to the King by the looks of his weapons, stood in my cubicle, confused. After an awkward moment in which he searched my tiny, dank cell with his eyes and I didn't dare raise mine, I asked meekly, "May I help you, my lord?" "Please," he began courteously, to me of all people, and Bichu and Dargon flavored his words, "I think I am lost. They said I should seek the bastard to translate and transcribe my order, but I do not see him." My heart seethed. Oh, I didn't mind that the masters had sent this Bichanese lord to me--I am, after all, the only translator of Bichanese in the city--but they could have sent him to seek *Fionna*. I kept my face docile, though, as I had long practiced. This samurai hadn't insulted me, and thus I should not insult him with my anger. Even if he had been the one to throw my bastard birth in my face, I would not show him my wrath. Oh, they can all tolerate-- barely--a meek, gentle, unthreatening bastard, but an angry one who fights for her own justice, never. At least, that is the way of things in Magnus. My mother should have stayed in Dargon where she belonged, where bastards and unwed mothers are truly tolerated and never shunned. I'll be very glad when I have enough money to go there myself and leave Magnus behind me. I beckoned the samurai without looking at him. "Come in, my lord. I am--" I hesitated to name myself bastard, though it is true. There are others enough who so call me. "I am the person you seek." The samurai advanced, and when I stole a glance, I saw he was smiling, but his eyes were bewildered. "I do not understand. You are no despicable man." "Despicable man? What do you mean, my lord?" "My--" He paused and pondered. "My liege-lord calls despicable men bastards. He has never used that name for a woman." I tried not to laugh. For the first time in my life, I actually wanted to laugh at the word "bastard." "The word does not mean despicable man, my lord, though no doubt your liege-lord so uses it. Many people do so." The Bichanese considered this. "What does the word mean, then?" Somehow, I courageously looked the samurai in the face. He was a good-looking man, and his slanted, hazel-brown eyes were serious, and gentle. I was able to continue looking directly at him as I answered, "It means an illegitimate child." He shook his head, still confused. "A child conceived or born while his parents were unmarried, my lord." The samurai thought for a moment, then, as I lowered my eyes to avoid offending with my direct gaze, he asked, "This is an insult here, to have unmarried parents?" I nodded glumly and looked away, for my eyes had flooded. I had much better control usually. "Why? Luthias-sama--my liege-lord the Count of Connall- -he says such things often happen in this country, without blame from law or church." "Not in Magnus," I told him bitterly, blinking away tears. He cares about a bastard, I thought. "The new religions competing with the Stevene have made our priests very strict." "And people insult you with your birth?" "In my case, it cannot be considered an insult," I managed, gulping down my sobs. I am a bastard, I have always been a bastard, and I must survive despite it. Oh, God, I wish people would just accept me despite it! "It is true. My parents were not married, my lord. I don't even know my father's name." "Do they also taunt your mother?" My mother. My face warmed with indignation. Only her mistreatment burned me more than mine. "They did, my lord. God rest her, she's dead of the Red Plague these six years." "But they still call you names, although you were not at fault?" I turned toward the samurai and tried to smile. "Is it not like that in Bichu? I understood that the Bichanese honor code was quite strict." The Bichanese returned my smile warmly, and mine drew strength from his. "No, in Bichu, it is enough to know one's mother." He began to search my face curiously, and I ducked my head. "What is your name? They did not tell me." Of course, they hadn't. "The bastard" is all they ever call me. "My name is Fionna." "I am Ittosai Michiya." While I wondered why the name was familiar, he seized my hand suddenly and pressed it to his cheek. I, astonished, could not move. He sat on the unsteady stool next to my table, and when he looked at me, his smile collapsed. "Did I not do it rightly? Is that not how a man greets a lady here?" "I'm not a lady, my lord," I sputtered, trying to yank my fingers from his. "I'm a bastard!" Ittosai Michiya's hand tightened on my fingers, and he laughed. "I cannot catch it, can I?" Completely without my guard, I laughed too. "You'd never tell from how the people of Magnus treat me." I stared at him. This Bichanese, a foreigner, made me forget myself and laugh. I do not remember the last time I laughed. When he let go of my fingers, I held the hand out. "What have you brought me, my lord?" The samurai gave it to me without looking at it. "My liege- lord needs two copies, one in Baranurian for the King and another in Bichanese for General Kirinagi." I unrolled it and stared. After several minutes of concentrated scrutiny, I managed only to make out Connall's signature. Comparing it to the rest of the document, I surmised the hurried Count had scrawled the words out himself, hastily and impatiently. But then, from what I had heard of the Count of Connall, his hurry might well be expected and excused. Keeping my eyes on the illegible scratches, I said quietly, "Do you know what it says?" "Yes, of course. Luthias-sama told me as he was writing it." "Please tell me." When Ittosai Michiya didn't answer, I looked at him through my eyelashes. He wore a bewildered expression again. "Can you not read as well as write and translate?" I have never been bold, but I looked at this samurai and smiled. "Only when the writing is legible, my lord. Your liege the Count Connall is a great warrior and a fine general from all reports, but he'd never make a scribe." The Bichanese chuckled. "I am not surprised." "What does it say, my lord?" He took a deep breath. "It is a request to General Kirinagi for my official transfer. I go to war tomorrow with the Count of Connall and the cavalry." Ittosai Michiya, I remembered suddenly. No wonder the name had been familiar; last autumn, he had been tried for treason. I had thought, however, that he was Connall's castellan. Why would he need a transfer? The obvious answer came: protocol. I drew a paper toward me. "I shall have to make my own wording, but I have done such things before," I assured him. "Wait--I am not interrupting other work?" Ittosai Michiya tapped my poem. "No, my lord. That is..." I wondered how to explain, and looking at the very bad poem, I decided not to. If only I were a great poet, people might accept me, but I was not one. "It can wait," I told the samurai, dipping a pen and beginning the Baranurian order. Translating from Baranurian to Bichanese was easier than writing the original order in the foreign characters. "You are part of the cavalry?" "Yes. My leige-lord is its general, and I am his aide." His voice held great pride when he spoke of his lord and his position with him. "We ride for Pyridain to held the Knight Captain, Dame Mar..." "Martis Westbrook," I supplied. Although the master scribes rarely let me work on recent chronicles and the other scribes scarcely ever spoke with me, I had overheard conversations. There had been a great battle in Pyridain recently, at some village called Oron's Crossroads. Baranur had lost, and the Beinison army had all but slaughtered Dame Captain Westbrook's troops. I glanced up at this samurai who treated me not only as a human, but as a lady, and my stomach tightened. Pyridain? He could well die. "Yes, Dame Martis Westbrook shall be our chief general. Luthias-sama shall be one of her advisors." His eyes searched mine curiously. "Why do you look at me like that?" "I--The fighting in Pyridain is dangerous, my lord." The samurai bowed in the Bichanese way. "That is the way of the sword, and I am prepared for death as I strive for life." I shuddered. Ittosai Michiya laughed. "Do not think that I wish to die, Fionna. If I do, I shall...what is the expression here? I shall pay hell, for I promised the Countess that I would see her husband safely home." That made me laugh, and I returned to my work. As I wrote my neat letters, the samurai held my incomplete and incompetent poem to the one small candle that tried to light my cell. I graciously offered, though embarrassment squeezed my stomach, "You may read it if you wish." "I cannot read your language." Ittosai Michiya returned the work to my desk and reached for one of the books on my desk. I continued writing, quickly and neatly. "Did you do this?" I smiled warmly at the awe in his voice and glanced from my current work to see what he held. I recognized the bright gold and blue illumination of a Fretheod work I had finished translating yesterday for the University. "Yes, my lord. I did that." "You do beautiful work." I actually blushed. I don't believe I had ever blushed before. "I--thank you, my lord." "Despite their insults, they allow you beautiful things to work with." "Not usually," I muttered, not meaning for him to hear. "What do you mean?" I blushed more deeply, this time with shame at my words. "I am the only scribe here who knows the Fretheod tongue, my lord, and that, and the money from the University, are why they allowed me those beautiful things to work with. Usually, I receive the last, plainest work." "They are fools." I said nothing, for I agreed. I continued my work diligently. The samurai kept patiently silent. "You are not married?" he suddenly inquired. I laughed again, but my merriment was bitter. My tongue wished to tell him that no Magnus man would lower himself to marry a bastard or even to come near her and speak with her. For this, I dared not speak at all. The samurai had sharp wits. "They think they can catch your bastardness? They will not have you?" His tone demanded an honest answer. "That is the case, my lord." "They, too, are fools, and below you." Astonished, I squeaked, "Below *me?* Below a bastard?" "Any man who cannot appreciate beauty and talent is certainly unworthy of a woman such as you." I actually stared at him in acute shock. He could not be serious. He smiled at me gently and chuckled at what must have been my completely horrified expression. Since there was nothing I could say to his comment, I continued working as the samurai flipped through the book, pausing occasionally. When I finished the order in Baranurian and pushed it aside, Ittosai Michiya again pulled my poem toward himself. "Why are there no drawings?" "It is only the first draft of a poem, my lord." I had heard that great poets' words flowed from them; mine were forced, and they were far from good. The samurai studied them as I searched my little box for a brush with which to write the Bichanese characters. A pen would never render them correctly. "What does it say?" he interrupted me. "I--it is a very bad poem, my lord," I stumbled. Ittosai Michiya passed the paper to me. "Please read it to me." I took the paper and set it aside. "It is not a good poem, my lord," I repeated. "I--I would be ashamed to have you hear it." "Why?" he demanded, and I turned away. For all that I wished I were a great poet, I knew that my words were hardly worthy for a member of the nobility. I am no great poet. Perhaps someday I shall be, but not yet. "Why, Fionna?" "It is very bad," I repeated, and I found it harder to ignore this foreigner's gentleness than all my countrymen's scorn. "I would not have you think badly of me." "Of you? You have written poetry?" Because he sounded pleased, I looked at him, and Ittosai Michiya was smiling. "Please, read it to me. I too write poetry. I would like you hear your poem." "But it is so bad!" I protested. I knew how horrid, forced, and mismetered the words on that page were. "Please," the samurai said again, covering my hand gently with his. So I read the incomplete verse softly before I turned anxiously away to dip the brush and translate Luthias Connall's order into Bichanese characters. Ittosai Michiya did not speak, and I knew why. That poem was so bad. "I do not know the Baranurian forms of poetry," the samurai ventured as I began the second vertical line of Bichanese. "Is that in keeping with them?" "It isn't," I admitted. "I am working very hard, but I can't make the words fit." "It is not the words," he told me. "It is the poem itself. How can something as ignoble and horrible as this jail they give to you be made into a beautiful poem?" Shocked, I stared at him. "You may be right," I mused softly, and then I returned to my work. "Don't the Bichanese write of very common things?" "Yes, but of things of nature and of beauty--a frog, a tree. They do not write of squalor and oppression," he concluded scornfully, glaring at his surroundings. "How can this place be worthy of poetry?" "But I wish to be a great poet someday, and I will never be a great poet if I do not write." "That is true." I handed the samurai the brush. "Please, my lord, write your name in Bichanese." He scrawled the fanciful characters only slightly more neatly than his liege lord had scribbled my alphabet, but Ittosai Michiya's writing was at least readable. I copied his name onto the order and continued. "It is true that you will not be a great poet if you never write," the samurai was saying as I translated, "but it is also true that you will never be a great poet as you are now. A great poet writes of great things. Nothing great shall happen to you here." "I have nowhere else to go," I protested, turning toward him. "I am an orphan, my lord, and alone. I have no money. If I had money, I would go to Dargon and seek my mother's kin, and even if I did not find them, I would be accepted, for in Dargon, they follow the Stevene's teachings more closely. But as it is--" "Please, Fionna," Ittosai Michiya soothed, taking my hands despite the fact that I painted his palm black, "I do not mean to upset you. You will be a great poet, but you must leave. You are too fine for this place." I yanked my hands from him and quickly finished the order while trying hard to forget Ittosai Michiya's presence. Forbidding my own tears, I handed the samurai the order in the two languages. "They are finished, my lord." "You are angry with me?" The pain in his voice required me to look him in the face. "No, my lord," I admitted as my heart melted before the anguish in his eyes. I tried to smile, and the tears oozed into my eyes. How could he think me angry with him? How could I be angry with the one person who showed me kindness, who treated me as a human instead of a leper? I offered him my hand in friendship, for I had nothing else to give. "I will not forget you." Ittosai Michiya smiled then and took my hand. I should not have been surprised when he placed my hand on his cheek once more. Still holding my hand, he gazed at me with such a look on his face, as if I were a princess in a tower, a beautiful lady worthy of a legend. "If only you and I had met earlier," he said, and his voice was thick. Ittosai Michiya was a man worthy of a legend; of that, I was certain. I stepped closer. He kissed me quickly, and before I could recover from my shock, the samurai released both my hands. "Forgive me. I must go." I can speak only a few words in the Bichanese tongue, but I managed, "Sionara, Michiya." He smiled at me bravely, a smile that gave hope as well as absorbed it, and then Ittosai Michiya was gone. I faced my lonely, dark desk and sighed. Once, only once, a man looked at me with kindness and caring, and he went to war. I felt as if I would never see him again. When the tears threatened, my body weakened, and I put a hand on the desk for support. A paper in a place where I kept none moved beneath my hand. I lifted it and gasped when I realized that it was sprinkled with Bichanese characters. For a moment, I thought that perhaps Ittosai Michiya had forgotten the orders he had come to get. My stomach wrenched at the thought of going to the Royal Quarter to deliver them; if the common people were such snobs to me, what would the 'nobility' be like? Then again, Ittosai Michiya was a noble man, and the characters on the paper were in his hand. "I will return for you," the pretty lines promised. Following them was a short haiku poem, from which all beauty would be lost if the tiny lines were translated, but they spoke of my eyes. Resolved, I folded the paper gently and put it in my little box with my pens. I gathered my one bottle of ink. "I will return for you," Ittosai Michiya had written, but he would not find me in this place. I had no doubt he would be pleased. "Greats poets write of great things," the samurai had said, and I knew he was right. There were great things happening, great men living, and I would go and see the war and watch Sir Luthias of Connall and Sir Edward Sothos--and perhaps Ittosai Michiya--become great heroes. And I would write great epics and songs. Nothing so wonderful would ever happen here. I lifted my pen box and the one, lonely bottle of ink and paused. One great thing had happened to me here. Hurried, I sat one last time at the unbalanced table, and for once, the words flowed easily, and from my heart. Thou saids't, "Had thou and I met earlier--" And finished not, nor needed to; thy look So sad, profound, thy meaning did confer Far better than the words in any book. Thou saids't thou knews't regret; now I too know Thy prophet's vision, wondrous to the eye As roses risen from the Deber snow, But wrongly timed, were choked by cold to die. But still the roots beneath the snow await The spring and summer, time enough to bloom When winter's done; do not regret the fate Which might delay, but not forever doom. And I rejoice, that I have lived to see A living man who looked that way at me. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Lessons by Wendy Hennequin (b.c.k.a. ) "It is not your place to lesson my squires in courtesy!" Sir Ongis roared, "forgetting" the honorific that courtesy, custom, and his superior's rank and title demanded. Sir Luthias, Count of Connall, Knight Captain of the Northern Marche, glared at his officer coldly. "You are wrong, sir." The younger Knight's jaw was as tight as his clenched fists, but he managed to quote his wife's father, Sir Lucan Shipbrook, who had taught Luthias himself the ways of chivalry. "'It is the duty of a Knight to correct the behavior of all those who aspire to the chain.'" Sir Ongis' eyes narrowed. "My squires behave as I teach them." That much was obvious. "As does my squire," Luthias replied, keeping his voice even with great effort. "I taught him to give a curt reply to anyone churlish enough to taunt him." The other Knight snorted, his contempt for Luthias obvious. "So your idea of a 'curt reply' is a blow to the mouth?" Luthias' fists relaxed as he thought of what Marcellon might say to this buffoon, and the young Knight had to conceal a smile as he said it. "My squire is mute, sir. He can only speak with his hands." "You--!" Ongis growled, taking a step closer to Sir Luthias and putting a hand on his sword's hilt. Behind the Knight, Luthias' chief aide, Captain Ittosai Michiya, silently grasped his katana's handle. "I should teach you a lesson in how to respect your betters!" "At your leisure, sir," Luthias invited coolly, keeping his temper in check. He had had more infuriating foes than this. "I look forward to thrashing you as thoroughly as my squire thrashes yours." When Ongis took another step toward him, Luthias looked over the idiot's shoulder at his Castellan. "Shall I have you escorted to your pavilion?" The Bichanese offered a smile and a bow, as if he would enjoy such a piece of work. When the older Knight didn't move, the young Knight Captain walked to the fireside and contemplated the battle plans he had drawn in the dirt. Sir Ongis seethed. After a moment, Luthias added, "Dismissed." Out of the corner of his eye, the Count saw Ongis stalk toward his bright pavilion. Michiya smiled, and Luthias returned it. The Bichanese released his katana and approached. "A year ago, you would not have had such an easy time keeping your temper." Sir Luthias chuckled and clapped his aide's shoulder. "A Bichanese friend of mine has shown me the advantage of control." As a pleasant flush covered Michiya's round face, a dark shadow, angry and painful, floated through Luthias' eyes. "The training I got in Beinison helped greatly also." The castellan set his mouth. "A harsh lesson, that." Then Ittosai Michiya smiled again. "It is good to see that the fool does not anger you much." Luthias flashed a smile, bright as the fire and quite as dangerous. "Oh, I am angry, Michiya, and I'd love to drive that craven, pompous son of a whore into the ground, but I haven't got the time to worry about him." The Knight Captain waved his hand over his crude sketches. "I have more important matters to deal with." Michiya nodded and squatted over the pictures. "You are still certain that the Beinison army goes to Magnus, Luthias-sama?" Luthias' certainty knotted his heart. The Beinisons flowed toward Magnus as steadily as the Laraka river flowed from it. "They won't get there," Luthias vowed, his eyes hard. "If I have to die for it, Michiya, they won't get there." The Bichanese looked at his leige-lord seriously and said, "You may have to." Luthias gaze was serious and sincere. "If that's what it takes, I'm willing." Michiya smiled like a sunrise. "I hope it will not come to that. I promised Myrande that I would bring you home safely." Luthias actually laughed. "I wonder how many people promised her that." The King and Sir Edward knew they could hardly make such promises, but everyone else seemed to think themselves qualified to reassure Myrande that her husband would return from war alive and safe. Marcellon's promise rested in the sword on Luthias' hip. Michiya's promise danced in his merry eyes. Luthias' vow burned in his heart: *Sable, I'll come home to you.* Their last night before he left raced into his mind, recalling the Count's most urgent reason for halting Beinison's progress--his beautiful wife. "We have to protect Magnus, down to the last man." "Yes," Michiya agreed with a nod. "There is much at stake there, but do not worry about Myrande and the children. Marcellon put protections on his house, he said." Luthias laughed shortly. "If she consents to stay in it." "Still, she has protection," Michiya reminded him. "But Fionna..." "Who?" "Fionna," Michiya repeated. "Who?" To Luthias' surprise, his castellan looked away. "A...woman of Magnus. She is a scribe." A scribe? "Friend of yours?" Luthias wondered, scribbling in the dirt. "Yes. I--I think I love her." When Luthias' jaw dropped, Ittosai grinned up at his lord, and his openness disarmed any teasing words Luthias might have been preparing. "That is something that I learned from you: how to love a woman." The young Knight couldn't decide whether to be repulsed or amused. "You'd better find another teacher. I think I've pretty well botched it." His friend shook his head. "No, Luthias-sama, you always loved Myrande well, even when you did not know you loved her." Luthias saw about as much sense in that statement as in Ongis' behavior. Luthias needed to return to concepts that he better understood. "What do you think?" the Knight Captain asked, indicating his diagram with the stick he had used to draw it. Ittosai Michiya again surveyed the plan. "Well done." "If it rains tonight, we might have a little trouble. Mud could--" Sir Luthias looked at the figure entering the glow of the campfire as noiselessly as a ghost. For that--and his mute tongue--the other squires had named him the Silent. "Come here, Derrio." The Knight inspected his squire sternly, noting the blood, the dirt, and the bruises. "Brawling with Ongis' squires again?" Derrio hung his head, but managed to nod. Luthias waited a moment before asking, "Did you win?" The boy grinned. "Good. Now come over here and look at the plan for tomorrow." As the boy settled near the sketch, Luthias used his stick as a pointer and explained, "We'll meet Beinison here, and after a while, we'll retreat into this meadow. The archers will be hidden in the trees around the field. The troops will split into four parts--one to protect the archers on each side, and the last to seal off the meadow--and the archers will open fire." Derrio studied the plan intensely, then looked, astonished, at his Knight. The squire cupped his hands, then sprang them together. "Yes, of course, it's a trap," Luthias agreed. The Knight laughed at Derrio's appalled expression. "What's wrong? Don't you think it will work?" Derrio shook his head. He pointed an accusing finger at the Knight Captain, another at the battle plans, then shook his head. "Unlike me?" Luthias didn't understand his squire at all. The young Count had been trained in strategy for most of his life. "What do you mean?" Disgusted and stern, Derrio motioned reproachfully at the trap, then made a fist, with the protruding thumb pointing toward the ground. Luthias stared. The down-pointing thumb was Derrio's signal for "bad" or "evil." "It's not evil," Luthias argued. "This is war, Derrio. I'm trying to save lives." Derrio jabbed a furious digit toward the plan and drew the same finger across his neck. Luthias had to admit it. "Yes, it will kill many, too, but that's the purpose." The squire actually snarled. Again, he signaled that Luthias' plan was unworthy and evil. Luthias seized his patience desperately. Roisart, Luthias' year-dead brother, had never quite grasped the concept, either. Now, the Knight Captain found himself once again in the frustrating position of trying to explain war to an idealist. "This isn't a matter of good and evil, Derrio," the Count of Connall attempted. "This is war." Derrio shook his head angrily, and Luthias rolled his eyes. This was all he needed, Roisart's idealism combined with Sable's obstinancy. Again, the squire pointed at the sketches, then his Knight, then disapproved once more. Luthias hurled his drawing stick into the fire in frustration. "You can't judge me by my battle plans!" Luthias cried. "A man's conduct in *peace* makes him good or evil, Derrio, not his conduct in war. The only moral decision in war is whether or not to start one. After that, it's survival--kill or be killed, and end as quickly as you can." Derrio blinked, astonished once more. Slowly, the squire indicated the sketch and held out his hands, palms up, as if he were weighing something. Luthias smiled. "Of course, it's fair. There are no rules in war." Confusion suddenly rushed onto silent Derrio's face. Slowly, he pointed at his Knight, drew his hand across his chest where a Knight's chain might fall, then made an odd gesture near his waist. When Luthias shook his head--he had yet to understand all of Derrio's signs--, the squire tipped his head back as if drinking from his curled hand. When Luthias shook his head once more, Derrio grabbed a small stick and wrote in uncertain letters, "Lawrence." "Oh." Luthias recalled the battle against that noble Knight of the Star, who had gifted Luthias with the sword he now wore at his side. "That wasn't the same." Derrio shook his head in utter bewilderment. "Single combat does have rules. It's not the same as war." Derrio again shook his head, and Luthias tried to think of a way to make him understand. "You used to wrestle Sir Edward's squires, didn't you?" Derrio nodded, uncertain. "You were...playing a game of sorts, and there were rules. With Ongis' squires, though, you're just trying to beat them into the ground." Derrio nodded again, still not understanding. "When you wrestle Sir Edward's squires, it's like a Knight's single combat. You fight by rules. Thrashing Ongis' boys is like a war--the object is to win, and win fast." Derrio considered this. After a moment, he pointed to Luthias, to the name "Lawrence" scrawled in the dust, then made a gesture of killing. He looked at Luthias questioningly, and the Knight nodded. "Yes. I would have killed Sir Lawrence if I had to, Derrio, but I would have done it under the rules of chivalry." Derrio pointed to the name, then at the battle plans, and again his look questioned Luthias. "If he's there tomorrow, he'll die by the bow, the same as the rest, if all goes well." Derrio opened his mouth, pointed at Sir Lawrence's name, then made a gesture, same as the sign for evil, except that the thumb pointed toward the sky. "He is a good man," Luthias agreed, "but if I were in his trap, he would let me die, too. This is war, Derrio, and we all do what we must." Derrio tapped his chest with both hands and shook his head. Luthias smiled sadly. "You'll learn." Luthias gazed down at his hands; once feeble and trembling, they had murdered; strong and steady, they had killed. "Believe me, Derrio; you'll learn. We all do." ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Dummy by Bill Erdley (b.c.k.a. ) "Hey, dummy! Watch where you are walking!" The angry voice startled him out of his daydream. He had been thinking about the marches, and about the war, and especially about *her*; and he wasn't paying attention to where he was going. The man that he stumbled into stopped only long enough to issue the insult, then he trudged off to his own business. But his words stayed behind. 'Hey dummy, watch where you are going.' It rang in his mind as he crawled into his bedroll for the night. 'Hey dummy!' He was so tired of hearing that word. 'Dummy.' He drifted off to sleep thinking about the time that he had spent with Luthias after he had left the farm. They first went to Pyridain City, then they travelled on to Magnus. It was there that he had taken to exploring the city when he had the time, which, between his training, his schooling, and his chores, wasn't much. He did, however, discover several places that he liked: the marketplace, the liveries, and the docks. He liked the docks most of all. Coming to the city was the first time he had ever seen that much water in one place, so he was facinated by it: the ships, the sailors, the cargoes, the waves, the smells. On one such trip, he was walking back to the castle where he was staying when he heard the frightened squeal of a horse. Turning down an alley, he saw the horse rearing back onto its hind legs, eyes wild and nostrils flaring. On the ground in front of the horse was a large snake. He quickly ran down the alley and dispatched the snake with a piece of wood that he found on the ground. He then slowly approached the horse, and carefully reached for the reins. The horse's eyes were still wide with fright, but his motions were smooth and relaxed, and his manner non-threatening, so he was able to reach the reins without a problem. He stroked the nose of the horse carefully, then worked his way to the neck and shoulders. As the horse quieted, he thought to look for the rider. She lay face down in a pile of refuse, one of the many such piles cluttering the alleyway. Holding the reins of the horse low and tugging gently, he turned it in the narrow passage and guided it back to the trash heap. He carefully rolled the body over. She appeared to be older than he, but smaller in stature. Her long brown hair was woven into a thick braid, which was tied at the bottom with a jet black ribbon. She had a nasty gash on her chin and a bruise under one eye that was already beginning to swell. He picked her up and, as gently as he could, draped her across the horse's back. As he led the horse back to the keep, he wondered what the she was doing in the alley in the first place; and what a small girl was doing with such a large animal. He stopped several times to check on her; she remained unconsious, although the bleeding from the cut on her chin seemed to be slowing. He reached the compound and walked the horse directly to the stables where Lasran, the stableboy, was busy cleaning the stalls. Lasran, seeing the body draped over the saddle, immediately ran off to find help. Soon two men, guards by their appearance, appeared and lifted the small form from the horse. As they hurried into the main building, he heard one of them say "...gives me the creeps. He must be some kind of dummy, 'cause he never says anything..." The snake was huge, with six heads and fangs that oozed venom. The horse faced away from him, and it's young rider was oblivious to the danger. "Look out!" he screamed, but the voice was only in his head. The snake slithered closer to the horse and began to raise its head. Even now it was even with the horse rider's head. He tried to run toward the horse, but several guards appeared and grabbed his shoulders. "Call to her, dummy. Tell her that the snake is coming." The guards began to laugh. He tried to pull away, but they held him fast. He tried to cry out, but his voice was only a wish. The snake now towered over both horse and rider, and it's mouth opened as it prepared to strike. "Come on, dummy! It's up to you! You'd better say something..." The guards were laughing and poking him. He looked at them. They had no ears! The snake struck, and the rider tumbled from the horse. Rolling over and over, she came to rest at his feet. As her face came into focus, he recognized the face of his sister! Through her tears, she whispered, "Why didn't you warn me, you dummy." Then she died. He bolted upright, so drenched in his own sweat that he was chilled instantly in the cold night air. His heart raced and he breathed in short, gasping heaves. Just a dream. It was all just a dream. Remembering the incident caused a flood of memories to wash over him as he tried to go back to sleep. He remembered at sneaking out at night; and how he had learned to limit his visits to only an hour or two, since losing more sleep than that made too tired the next morning. Most of the time she would meet him at a place that they had aggreed on the night before. She spent many nights showing him the city... "Hi, Derrio." Hi. "Where would you like to go tonight?" Water. Boat. "To the docks? That's a bad place to be at night." Why. "It's dangerous. There are thieves and ruffians and drunkards there at night." I. Afraid. Not. "I know, but let's go somewhere else. I know. Some of my friends like to go down to an old, abandoned house and tell scary stories in the dark. Like to go?" Yes. Yes. "Ok, follow me." As they ran, he thought about how much he liked her, and about how much he wanted to tell her, but "hand speak" didn't seem to be very romantic. Once in the old house, he saw a dozen or so people sitting around a lighted candle. "Hi, all. This is Derrio." Her voice echoed from the bare walls of the empty room. "Hi, Derrio." "Come in and join us." "Yes. We have lots of room." "Newbees tell the first story" "Derrio tells the first tale." I. Talk. Not. I. Listen. You. "What's wrong." "What are you doing?" "He's a witch casting a spell!" "Ha ha ha. Look at him, thrashing around like a dummy... "STOP IT!! He can't talk! That doesn't mean that he's an idiot!" "Easy, Risa. We didn't mean any harm. Here, you and Derrio sit over here and I'll start the first story..." "Hey, Dummy!" "Dummy, dummy, dummy." The children's chant echoed over and over, until the voices of the small group sounded like the cries of a mob. "Dummy, dummy, dummy." Louder and louder the voices grew, until the sound was like a physical presence in his head, pounding this way and that, looking for an escape but finding none. "Dummy, dummy, dummy." The pain of the voices was intensifying. His head felt ready to explode. He opened my mouth to scream, to free this monsterous beast from its prison within his brain... Nothing came out. "Dummy, dummy, dummy." "Dummy, Dummy, Dummy!" "DUMMY, DUMMY, DUMMY!!" The sound that he made as he flew from his bedroll was loud enough to wake most of those around him. Luthias and Michiya found themselves standing, swords drawn, before they were consious enough to realize that there was no danger. Then, realizing that it was only a child's nightmare, they crawled back into their bedrolls. But the youth stood still. And shook. The nightmares were getting worse. He had to find some way to clear his mind so that he could get some sleep; but it drifted back to Risa. Her smile. Her face. Her hair. Risa... His courage was at a peak. It had been a day off from his studies, his sparring with Luthias had gone well, and he had finished his chores early. Tonight is the night. He washed and dressed as quickly as he could. Then he ran out of the compound and into the city streets as fast as his feet would go. Only when he approached her house did he slow and stop. Her parents. How could he reach her without seeing her parents? If they saw him, they would talk to him. What would they think when he didn't talk back? The door opened and a lady stepped out, looking straight at him. "Derrio?" Are you Derrio?" Yes. "Come. Risa is expecting you." He moved forward hesitantly. "Come, now. Don't be afraid. You needn't be shy about your not being able to talk. From what Risa has told us, you talk very well; you just use your hands instead of your mouth." He froze! They know! Oh no, now what do I do?! They know! "Come on in, son, before I find it necessary to come out there and drag you in. I'll make you a deal. I won't mind that you talk with your hands if you don't mind that I talk with my mouth." A hint of a smile snuck onto his face. Some of his confidence returned as he entered the house. After dinner he found himself sitting in a small room with Risa and her mother. "So you came here from the farm." Yes. "And your parents?" Father. Archer. Army. Mother. Cook. Army. "Do you have any brothers or sisters?" Risa's face held a look of horror as she tried to stop her mother's question. No. "Oh, dear. I'm sorry. Did I say something wrong?!" Risa jumped in quickly. "Mom, don't ask him about..." Wait. No. Fear. Sister. Dead. Bad. Man. Far. Army. Kill. Sister. "Oh. I'm sorry, Derrio." No. Sadness. "Well, I must excuse myself. There are lots of chores to be done tonight. I'll leave you to yourselves." I. Help. "No, Derrio. I can handle them. You sit and visit." The woman got up and walked quickly out of the room. I. Ask. You. Question. Risa smiled. "Of course you can ask me a question." He rose from his chair and knelt before her. Marry. I. She smiled and spoke his language. Yes. They embraced for a long moment. Her long brown hair smelled of smoke from the fireplace as he ran his fingers through it. Finally she broke the embrace and spoke. "I must tell my mother. I'll return in a moment..." Then she ran out of the room. Yes. She said 'yes!' Just wait until I tell everyone! She said that she would marry me! She said... "NO!!! I WILL NOT ALLOW IT!!!" Risa's mother's voice pierced the silence. "RISA, I SAID NO!! I WILL NOT HAVE YOU MARRYING HIM!! YOU KNOW WHAT HE IS!! HOW CAN YOU EVEN THINK IT!! I WILL NOT HAVE MY DAUGHTER MARRYING A..." The rest was lost to him as he burst from the house. But he had heard enough to be able to fill in the missing word. Dummy. 'I will not have my daughter marrying a dummy.' He ran as fast as he could through the streets by the docks. It was late and the normal dock traffic was missing. There were only a few drunks to witness his flight. Tears streamed from his eyes and he ran blindly on, navigating by instinct more than sight. Dummy. Dummy, dummy, dummy. 'He must be some kind of dummy 'cause he never says anything...' 'Ha ha ha. Look at him, thrashing around like a dummy...' 'I will not have my daughter marrying a dummy...' Dummy, Dummy, Dummy... WHAM! The impact made his head spin. He tumbled to the rough cobblestones and slid to a halt. "HEY!! You should watch where you're going, lad. There are some who would see your head roll for such an act." He looked up to see a man dressed in a dark cloak sitting beside him on the road. The man reached over and took him by the arm. "Now, would you like to tell me what you are running from?" No. "Are you running from the town guard, perhaps?" No. "Is someone chasing you, then?" No. "Well, next time you wish to run from no one, try not to run into anyone, OK." Yes. "Why don't you talk?" He looked into the eyes of the stranger, and for the first time the man could see the tears within. "Can I help you?" The man's voice was soft and filled with compassion and gentleness, but Derrio heard it as pity. He pulled away violently from the man's grasp and ran away, leaving the man sitting there, shaking his head. "Aw, poor little dummy. What's the matter, dummy? Why do you run? Are you being chased?" He turns from the cloaked man to look behind him. From everywhere on the docks, people approach. People without ears. "Dummy..." Their words are mere whispers, but the meaning tears into his soul. "Dummy..." They come from everywhere, young and old, men and women and children. All without ears. All murmuring the same thing... "Dummy, dummy, dummy..." The cloaked man still holds his arm, and he can't seem to pull away. Here come the guards, earless and chanting... "Dummy, dummy, dummy..." Behind him are Risa's friends, laughing... "Dummy, Dummy, Dummy..." Risa's mother is before him now... "DUMMY, DUMMY, DUMMY..." He looks to his captor, who looks with pity and says "Poor little dummy. Who will help you? Where can you turn? Can there be any place to hide for a dummy...?" "Dummy, Dummy, Dummy..." "DUMMY, DUMMY, DUMMY..." "DUMMY!!!" He wakes with a start and cries out, but the sound resembles the wail of a beast more than the cry of a man. The voice of a dummy. He sits there and weeps. Between the memories and the nightmares, the night had not been a restful one for the squire. The morning brought the remembrance of the previous day's marches, and the realization that this day would bring more. Derrio was finishing his morning chores when the man from the night before walked by. He noticed Derrio and smiled, "I see the dummy has mastered the art of standing still, now if he could only...AWK! The man suddenly found the point of Derrio's sword at his throat! With his free hand, Derrio signed violently. I! NOT! DUMMY! The man tried to step sideways to avoid the sword tip, but Derrio rapped him on the side of the head with the flat of the sword, cutting his scalp slightly. I! NOT! DUMMY! "Hey... Look, kid. I don't know what has you so mad, but whatever it is, I'm sorry. Ok?" I! NOT! DUMMY! "Derrio!" The boy froze at his Knight's voice, but did not remove the sword. He heard Sir Luthias' footsteps approach, but did not turn. "Put down the sword, Derrio," Sir Luthias said, his voice deathly stern. "I don't care what he said--" The Knight Captain glared at the cloaked man. "--but a Knight *never* draws steel on someone who is unarmed." Derrio's hand wavered. "Am I clear, Derrio?" Slowly, so slowly, Derrio lowered and sheathed his sword. He. Speak. I. Dummy. He. Laugh. Sir Luthias frowned. "I see." He turned to the cloaked man. "Who the hell are you, anyway?" The cloaked man mumbled something. "Isn't Beinison enough for you? Do you have to make enemies of your commander's squire?" Sir Luthias asked in that death-calm voice. "Your squire, Sir Captain? But he's--" "Well trained. I agree. His draw has gotten amazingly quick, lately, and if I hadn't said something, you would be dead right now." "But he's--" "Honorable, too. Like any honorable man, he does not like to be insulted." "But he's a dummy!" the man finally got out. "An idiot, Sir Captain!" "He is *silent*!" Sir Luthias roared. "My father used to say there was wisdom in silence. Dismissed." The cloaked man slunk away. Thank. You. Sir Luthias smiled. "It is one of my duties as your Knight, Derrio, to protect you. That man was a mage, and he could have killed you." He. Say. I. Dummy. "I know." Sir Luthias paused. "Now, about drawing your blade on him--" Sorry. Angry. "I know," Sir Luthias said again. "But that doesn't excuse you. You can't control what you feel--nobody can--but you've got to control how you act. Your action was wrong, Derrio." The boy hung his head. "When I drew steel on an unarmed man, Sir Lucan took my sword for a month." Derrio's eyes panicked. Then: You. Draw. Sword? Sir Luthias smiled, then sobered quickly. "Now, I can't do that to you in a war zone. But what I am going to do is give you additional chores to do. We'll talk further about this later." Sadly, Derrio nodded. Shortly after the midday meal, a small group of horsemen approached. Luthias and Derrio stood as the horsemen rode to a stop and dismounted. "Sir Luthias, this needs your immediate attention." The leader of the group handed Luthias a sealed letter. Luthias accepted it. As he opened it, another of the horsemen approached Derrio. "A young lady asked if I would give this to the squire of Sir Luthias of Connall. Are you said squire?" He held out a small package. Yes. Derrio took the package and looked it over. Attached was a letter, which he opened and tried to read. He could only understand a few of the words. As patiently as possible, he waited until Luthias finished reading his letter and spoke a few commands to the horsemen. As they turned and rode away, Derrio handed his letter to Luthias. Read. Please. Derrio, Please forgive my mother for saying those terrible things. We have spoken long about this, and I understand her fear. My father was a member of the militia. He died at Oron's Crossroads. My mother didn't want me to have to know the same kind of pain that she has known. She said 'I will not have my daughter marry a warrior', but I asked her if she would keep her daughter from marrying a knight! You will be a knight someday, Derrio. I know it in the bottom of my heart. When you return, I will marry you, with or without my mother's blessing! I wait for thee, my knight to be. Be safe and be well. Risa He carefully opened the package. Inside he found a thick braid of dark brown hair, carefully woven into a small loop and decorated with a jet black ribbon. He gingerly removed it from it's wrappings and, with trembling fingers, placed it in the small pouch which he carried at his side; the pouch which contained his only other treasure in the world. A small harp. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Pact Part 3 by Max Khaytsus (b.c.k.a. ) Ilona had no intentions of showing the note or the gem she received during the night to Kalen. Not knowing if he was still at her apartment, she carefully pushed open the door and stepped inside. The door had the bad tendency to squeak when it was opened or closed slowly and she tried to minimize the sound, but there was still a loud squeak as the door shut. "Shhh..." Ilona jumped at the sound of Kalen's voice. He sat in a chair by the desk next to the window, looking outside. That desk, a heavy old wooden monster, had been a gift from Captain Koren just a few months before, when new furniture was purchased for his office. "I thought you were supposed to be at work by now," Ilona said. Kalen put his index finger to his lips. "Tara's sleeping," he whispered. "We were up half the night talking." Ilona took a seat by Kalen. She had spent a big part of the afternoon of the previous day with Tara n'ha Sansela, Captain Koren's niece, talking about her uncle's death, trying to comfort her. She turned the young woman over to Kalen when she had to go to her shift and hoped the problem would be solved by the time she returned. Something in Kalen's manner told her there were still things to do. "How is she doing?" Ilona asked. "She cried herself to sleep," Kalen sighed. "I wish we could tell her, but it would only expose her to unnecessary risks. You know how much she'll want to see him." "Did you get any sleep?" "A little," Kalen motioned to a pillow and blanket in one of the corner chairs. "She got me thinking. What if the assassin hadn't been stopped?" "He was," Ilona said, half promising and half hoping. She did not want to think about the alternative. Kalen nodded, but did not speak. "You best go. I'll watch Tara." "All right," Kalen agreed. He kissed Ilona and left after gathering his equipment. Ilona removed her own sword and weapon belt and hung the dark blue guard tabard on the back of a chair. It had been a long day and she felt it would last much longer. It was barely noon now. She took out the gem sent to her during the night. It was a clear white crystal, two fingers wide, carefully cut into a flat oval shape. Definitely expensive. In fact, more expensive than she could afford on her lieutenant's pay. It could be made into a nice piece of jewelry and for a moment she considered keeping it. She knew she could not, simply because of who had given it to her. Besides, it was probably stolen. She would have to check the reports and return it as soon as this case was over, but it was nice to dream. The note that came with the gem ominously predicted the direction of Ilona's career for the duration of her tenure as one of Liriss' people. She understood that, with time, the rewards would become smaller and demands of the job would increase. For now Liriss was simply luring her into his trap, to get her in deep enough so that she would be unable to leave or tell anyone else. She was glad that Kalen and Jerid already knew. They would help keep her from falling into that trap; the same one too many innocent people had been drawn into. Putting everything in the desk, Ilona took a peek in the other room, where Tara was sleeping. The Captain's niece was in bed, buried deep under the blankets. At least she was resting. The things that had happened were the worst for her. About a year ago her own father and mother were killed by bandits down in the village of Myridon, in the Duchy of Narragan. She had spent weeks finding her way up to Dargon in hopes of locating Adrunian Koren, her long lost uncle. It was a big, happy reunion when they had finally met and Captain Koren had thrown a two day long celebration. Koren's own wife, Talei, died in child birth many years ago and the child died not long after. When Tara came into his life, he once again had a family and uncle and niece hit it off immediately. The injuries the Captain received during the invasion of Dargon threw Tara into a panic. She was helping with the wounded at the castle with Ilona when Adrunian Koren was brought in. It took hours to calm her then, while only the skills of the Duke's physician, Elizabeth, kept Koren alive. Now it was different. Everyone had to believe Koren was dead. Unfortunately this included Tara. In the girl's mind she was once again all alone, just like in the fall a year ago when her parents were killed. This did not make the conspirators feel any better. With a sigh Ilona returned to the main room and made herself comfortable under the blanket in the corner. She had been up for a long time, since the day she went to speak with Liriss, and two sleepless nights finally caught up with her. She fell asleep as soon as she was settled comfortably. Having knocked twice without receiving an answer, Kesrin opened the door and entered Liriss' office. The crime lord stood by the window, sipping wine from a goblet, thoughtfully looking at the events taking place in the street below. "My Lord?" Kesrin said cautiously. Liriss did not answer, unblinking eyes still focused on the market street below. Kesrin coughed. "My Lord?" he said louder this time. Liriss turned his head to look at his lieutenant, a scowl on his face. "I knocked twice, my Lord," Kesrin explained. "You didn't answer either time. I thought something was wrong." "Sit down, Kesrin," Liriss said harshly. He had no time or patience to be disturbed and his temper has been running hot all morning, ever since the news from the streets reached his ears. He started pacing as Kesrin sat down, passing behind his lieutenant twice and making him cringe. "I want to know who killed Adrunian Koren," he finally said. "Sir?" Kesrin felt sweat forming on his forehead. "Word on the street is that you sent a man." "I did not send a man!" Liriss bellowed. "I would have told you to send a man! I want to know who did!" "Sir?" "Stop saying that! Get off your ass and find the man who set me up!" "Yes, my Lord," Kesrin hurried to his feet. He had never seen the crime boss so furious and even if he could not provide the man responsible, his best option was to get out of Liriss' office while he still had the chance. He would see immediately to finding a culprit or a fall guy. Liriss watched his lieutenant retreat, then slammed the goblet down on the table. Red wine slopped onto the rich oak table top, quickly forming into bubbles of liquid. "Damn them all!" Rish halted at the far end of the corridor, watching Captain Bartol's office door, where Kalen had disappeared as the chronicler was making his way to see Jerid Taishent. Now he paced back and forth, waiting for his chance to see the castle lieutenant and ask a few questions about the assassin's methods and the investigation. Quite some time had passed while Kalen and Jerid talked and Rish once again had the chance to evaluate his research. It seemed strange that he was faced with so many stumbling blocks while trying to make a simple historical record. It was as if information was being withheld from him on purpose. Everyone claimed not to be familiar with the facts. Rish found this to be highly disturbing. The door down the corridor opened and Kalen stepped out. He was about to close the door behind him, when he stopped to listen. Rish listened, too, but could hear nothing coming from the office. "Okay, I'll do that," Kalen agreed. "And don't tell Elizabeth anything. I don't need her on my case again. It's bad enough Ilona knows. She won't let me hear the end of it, but at least she's not threatening me." Something more came from the office. "No, not at all," Kalen spoke again. "A wound's a wound, right? You just keep your end up here and give me a yell if there's a problem." He closed the door and turned, finally spotting Rish. "Uh, good afternoon..." Rish forced himself to smile. "Good afternoon, Lieutenant." "Stalking the castle again?" Kalen asked carefully. "No, I'm just waiting for Lieutenant Taishent to become available." The forced smile remained frozen in place. "He's in the office," Kalen hurried to say. "Have a good day." Before Rish had a chance to answer, Kalen was off. Rish watched him go, a bit puzzled and concerned if what he had just overheard was a conspiracy. If it was, his own life could be in danger now. He hesitated at the door, wondering if he should knock or not, when suddenly it was pulled opened from the inside. Rish stepped back as Jerid Taishent came face to face with him. "Rish... Is there something I can do for you?" Jerid asked. He was obviously unprepared for this meeting. "I, uh..." Rish had already decided that he would not do anything to cast suspicion on himself, but had no idea what he should say. "Ah... I came to tell you somebody stole my ink." "Your ink?" "My ink." The story was still not complete. "I have a box of ink." Rish paused for a moment, trying to organize his thoughts, then went on. "There were still fourteen full bottles there. This," he held up the bottle dangling on a rope off his belt, "is almost empty and someone took my box. If it were the quills or the parchment, I wouldn't mind so much, but ink is so expensive, there will certainly be questions." "I have an errand to run now, Rish," Jerid said. "Can I get back to you later this evening?" "Of course," Rish said agreeably. He needed the time to hide his ink. Ilona woke to the sound of splashing water. She rolled over, realizing she was on the floor. The sounds came from the adjoining room, probably Tara washing up. Ilona sat up with the pillow between her back and the wall. She was still tired and sleepy, but it was late afternoon and there was no reason to lounge around. There was work to be done. She pushed herself up, letting the pillow and blanket fall down around her. "Tara?" Ilona stepped into the other room. Tara stood at the basin of water, wiping her face with a towel. "How did you sleep?" Ilona asked. "Well, thank you. I hope I'm not imposing on you..." "No, not at all," Ilona said. "I'm glad to have you here." "I'd like to go back to my uncle's house," Tara said. "Boxter and Zed have been alone all day. I need to check on them and feed them." "Do you want me to go with you?" Ilona offered. "I'd like to be alone," Tara admitted. Ilona could see the red and a faint trace of tears in the teenager's eyes. "Tara..." "I'll be fine," the girl said with a catch in her voice. "I should be getting used to this now." "Oh, sit down," Ilona said, putting a comforting arm around Tara's shoulder. "I don't think we ever finished yesterday and I don't know what garbage Kalen filled your head with." "He was very nice, really. I don't want the two of you to have problems because of me." "We won't have problems," Ilona snapped, "Now sit down!" Tara sat on the edge of the bed. Ilona brought over a chair and sat down across from her. "Look, I wish I could make you believe that I understand how you feel. I lost my parents many years ago and I know what it's like to be alone, and I'm sure it doesn't get easier the second time around..." "I'm fine, really," Tara insisted again, wiping tears from her cheeks. "You don't need to worry." "All right," Ilona agreed, not really believing the Captain's niece. "But promise that if you ever need to talk, you'll come to me." "I promise." "All right, then," Ilona still did not believe Tara was well, but she was not about to force herself on the girl. In due time when Tara would be ready, the truth would be told, but until then she would have to suffer along with the rest of the city. "I'm going to the market now," Ilona said. "Be sure you're here for dinner...and I suppose you can bring Boxter over and keep him in the stables. I'm not sure about having a shivaree prowl the house, though." Tara remained after Ilona left and looked out the window for a long time. She was once again on her own, having lost her family, but this time there was no one else she could go to. This time she would have to learn to be self sufficient. A heavy hand fell on Ilona's shoulder as she made her way through the crowded market and although the touch was gentle, she jumped and grabbed for her sword. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant," Cormabis laughed. "I meant no harm." Ilona took a deep breath, looking at the smiling elderly man. "It's all right. I'm just a bit jumpy today. What can I do for you, Sage?" "Nothing for me, thank you, but I was wondering how you were doing. I heard about the Captain." In spite of herself, Ilona followed Corambis down the market street towards his booth. "It's my fault, Corambis. You gave me good advice, but I made the wrong decision." "Did you?" the Sage asked. "Or did uncontrollable events overcome you?" Ilona kept silent while they walked past a cloth dealer's stand where a crowd had assembled. "What uncontrollable events?" "Did you hire the assassin to do the job? Did you encourage him?" Corambis' eyes grew bright, almost seeing inside her soul. "Whatever you did, the assassin was not your direct doing." "How do you know that?" Ilona challenged him. "How do you know I didn't hire him to do that?" "Because I know you, Ilona Milnor," Corambis laughed, "just like I knew Dane Milnor and you are every bit your father's daughter." "Am I really that predictable?" "You?" Corambis continued walking in silence, a thoughtful expression on his face. "To an old Sage like me, you are. You wouldn't trust a crook as far as you could spit a mouse and neither did your father." "I can't spit a mouse all that far," Ilona smiled. "Take my advice," Corambis went on. "Bad things happen, but you have to be strong and prepared. I'm sure your father wouldn't give up, and neither should you." "But my father was a merchant!" "Even merchants can have strong character," Corambis insisted, "as do their daughters who want revenge." For a long time Ilona could not answer. "He..." She was not sure what she wanted to say. "It's been over two decades! You don't really think that's what I'm after?" "Only you can answer why you joined the guard, but I know you've hated Liriss since the day you learned what really happened to your parents." Ilona paused to think about what Corambis had said. She always had a hidden desire to bring Liriss' empire down, but that was also a part of her duty in the Guard. It was her job and she started to wonder if that was why she chose this line of work in the first place. "No one doubts the need to rid the city of crime," Corambis continued before Ilona had a chance to justify herself, "but it will have to be a gradual process. Don't let your haste interfear with your progress. Adrunian Koren will always live right here," Corambis touched his finger over her heart, "he knew the risks. Now you must do your job." And with those words Corambis shuffled into his booth, which they had now reached, leaving Ilona outside to ponder his wisdom. Tara brought Boxter, her horse, under the overhang that served as the stables. She secured him to a rail by the wall, making sure there was plenty of hay, and returned to the street where Zed, her pet shivaree sat waitin g for her, cleaning out the fur on his side. "Come along, Zed," Tara called and the animal quickly got up. She patted the shivaree as it brushed past her leg on the way to Ilona Milnor's apartment. Boxter and Zed have been alone at her uncle Glenn's house, where she had lived since coming to Dargon a year ago, for an entire day, ever since she went to visit her uncle at the castle. Tara had not been able to speak with her uncle, the Captain of the Guard, for a month now, since the castle doctor had put him to sleep with her medicines, but she would come every day anyhow and sit by his side for an hour or two and talk to him. The physician always said that the Captain could not hear the words in his trance, but Tara believed otherwise and continued her daily visits, until the previous day, when Lieutenants Milnor and Taishent told her that during the night someone had assassinated her uncle. She had cried at the loss, remembering of another loss less than a year ago, when her parents had been killed by bandits and she had to travel to Dargon to meet her uncle, whom she had never seen. Passing through the trading village of Tench, Tara had encountered a young woman by the name of Lana who looked very much like herself and who tried to kill Tara, believing she was being impersonated and her reputation destroyed. Tara fled Tench with a few cuts and bruises, together with Zed and Boxter. Zed saved her life, coming to her rescue just as her twin was about to deliver the killing blow. Zed lost his right ear in that fight, but mauled her attacker in his frenzy. Lana was left alive and as she staggered off, dripping blood, promised Tara she would come back to kill her. At first those words scared Tara, but after a few weeks in Dargon Tara relaxed in the safety of her uncle's home and even began to doubt that Lana survived her injuries, let alone that she could find Tara in Dargon, so many leagues away. It has now been almost ten months since Tara came to Dargon to live with her uncle Adrunian Koren. They both liked each other and lived well as a family. Her uncle taught her to fight and to read, although she was still having many problems with both. Then the war came and he was grievously injured. If not for a young mage trapped in Dargon during the war, her uncle would have died on the battle field. Tara paniced at first, when her uncle was brought to the castle. She was helping treat the wounded in the Dargon Keep while the Beinison fleet pushed wave after wave of soldiers into the city, but she was never really prepared for what she saw. The castle physician got to him immediately and eased his wounds, although he was still far from being in good shape. Now, just when it seemed everything would be fine, he was killed, without even the chance to defend himself. Tara wiped the tears that had formed in her eyes and reached down to hug Zed who kept circling her with anticipation. "You're all I've got left," she sobbed. Zed pressed his wet nose against her cheek and a grumble came from his throat. "It'll be all right," Tara assured him through her sobs, stroking his short light brown fur. She opened the door and went into Ilona's apartment. The shivaree followed her in, carefully sniffing the floor and the furniture. Tara watched him look around, knowing full well that he should not stay here for long, but she let him prowl around for the time being. She did not want to stay long here either. No more than another night, until she could prove to herself and the Lieutenant that she could go on alone. Then she would go back to her uncle's house and live there. She was his only living relative and knew he would want it no other way. Then she would have to find a job. She could possibly get on as a guard or maybe helping in one of the stores at the market or working at the Duke's castle. "We're going to have to go soon, Zed, if I'm to be back by dinner," Tara said. The shivaree trotted over to her and tried to climb into her lap. "Oh, Zed, you're getting so fat," she complained, gently pushing him down. "City living's too good for you. I'll have to start taking you to the forest more often." He slipped under the chair Tara was sitting on and reappeared under the table. After a moment she heard him licking something. "What did you find?" Tara looked down. Zed sat with his rear to her, licking at something by the wall. Tara pushed him aside. "What are you doing, you trouble maker?" When he looked over at her, she snatched a feather quill from under his paws. It probably smelled like a bird before. Now it was all wet with shivaree spit. As Tara got back in the chair, drying the wet pen, Zed stuck his head out from under the table and licked his chops. Having wiped the quill on her tunic, Tara opened the top drawer and put it there, so Zed could not get to it again. She moved aside a narrow strip of paper and put the quill on a small simple wooden box. She was about to put the paper on top of that, when some writing on the strip caught her attention. She looked at it, careful to make out the letters. "You're well on your way," the note said and it was signed, "Liriss." At first Tara dropped the paper -- she knew who Liriss was -- but then picked it up and read it again, ignoring Zed's nuzzling at her. There was no doubt that what she read was right. Quickly Tara started searching through the drawer. The only thing there that obviously did not fit was a large gem stone in the box the note had lain on. Tara heard how expensive these gems were and that lieutenants could not afford them. Even her uncle, with his pay, would probably have to stop and think twice if he could afford to buy something like that. "Come on, Zed," Tara got up. She put both the gem and the note in her pocket and hurried for the door. Lieutenant Milnor was working for Liriss, which meant Lieutenant Darklen probably worked for him, too. She knew they were very close. Tara closed the door after herself and Zed. The only safe place now was the castle where Jerid Taishent stayed. She had to tell him what she learned. "Come on, Zed," Tara encouraged the shivaree and he bounced down the street after her. Corambis shuffled the chips from his casting on the table. "By Kurin's beard! Twice!" He gathered the chips in their pouch and shook it. "Of all the things to cast!" He tossed the bag in a box in the corner and went looking for the other, older one he had. "Trissa, my girl, how could you get me an oak casting table?" He found the old leather pouch and checked its contents. Everything was there, all ten chips. Before casting, the old sage walked to the door leading to the waiting room and pushed it open. "Thuna?" His assistant entered the room. "Has Madam Labin come by?" "Not yet," Thuna said. "I'll let you know as soon as she does." "Did you tell her to come for noon?" the Sage did not stop his questioning. "Yes, I did." "Well, rush her in here as soon as she comes!" he shook his head and absentmindedly closed the door on Thuna. "Now, as for you..." Corambis looked at the casting table. The wheel, appearing as a giant eye, almost seemed to look back at him. Corambis chanted in incantation, then read another one for the chips in the pouch he held. After a minute he was satisfied that the ceremony was conducted correctly and emptied the bag on the wheel. The chips unceremoniously slid back to the positions he had seen before. "Saren's own curse," Corambis muttered again. "Why does it never change? Koren is dead!" Jerid Taishent knocked on the door of his father's house and waited. A few moments passed before the door opened to reveal Dyann, the town mage. The old wizard wore a common blue robe with a silk belt tied tightly around his waist. "Jerid!" the mage exclaimed, then coughed into his fist. "What brings you here?" "You do," Jerid came in. "I do?" Dyann asked, confused. "I must be getting old, son. Just how did I bring you here?" "Come on, Dad, you know what I want." "I'm just a humble mage. I don't read minds." "Dad, I want you to come stay at the castle with Aimee and me." Dyann frowned. "I'm a mage and I still have my work to do," he snapped. "Just the few days that I lost last month cost me three months of work. I have experiments and enchantments going on. I can't afford the time!" "Dad..." "If that's all you're here for, go away. I'm busy." "Well," Jerid hesitated, "I'd also like some advice." Dyann rubbed his hands together. "Fatherly advice or should I get my cards?" "Fatherly advice, Dad. I don't believe in that card none sense." "Now, don't start that again. You've seen what I do." "Dad, you've spent all my childhood trying to teach me and nothing came of it. I think I've earned the right to be skeptical." Dyann put his hand on his son's back and walked him to the kitchen where a meal was set out on the table. "You, my boy, inherited all of your mother's bad traits..." "I'm happy with them," Jerid interrupted. "Bring Aimee to live here with me and I'll teach her. She has it in her blood. By the time she's your age, she'll be one of the best." "I'm thirty-five, Dad. I don't want you torturing her for the next thirty years." "Oh, Jerid, where did I ever go wrong with you?" "I think it happened when you told me to be who I want to be." Dyann started setting another place at the table. "I hope you haven't been telling this sort of silliness to Aimee, have you?" "Yes, I have, Dad." Dyann shook his head, pouring soup into a bowl. "Do you know that during the war she left a chamber pot in the chimney to the big room?" "A chamber pot?" Jerid asked. "A chamber pot and a filled one, at that." He put the bowl before Jerid and sat down. "She must've put it there during the invasion, but since it's summer, the vent was sealed. I opened it up yesterday to get a big fire going to cook a potion. You should've seen the mess." Jerid smiled. "Sounds like she's experimenting." "It was all so old and dry and decayed that I almost set the attic on fire," Dyann drew a deep breath. "I'll talk to her about it," Jerid promised. Dyann nodded. "Now, what did you want to talk to me about?" "I wanted you to know what's going on with me, Dad. And what work I'm involved in and what you can expect..." Sitting in the great hall of Dargon Keep waiting for the sergeant to return, Tara was beginning to have second thoughts about coming to see Jerid Taishent. He did, after all, live in the castle where the murder took place and it would be next to impossible for him not to be involved in some capacity if outsiders had gained access to her uncle. She wanted to get up and leave and pretend that nothing had happened, but she did not have that luxury. If she left for no reason, that could make the Lieutenant suspicious. Tara did not know Jerid very well. She had only met him a few times at official functions. She could not begin to guess at what kind of a person he was, although he did seem like a nice man. She did know Kalen Darklen and Ilona Milnor, or at least she thought she did, before she found clues of Ilona's association with Liriss. Both the gem and the note now lay in Tara's pocket, waiting to be shown to the castle guard lieutenant. But now that she developed new doubts about his honesty, Tara did not know what to do. `Maybe if I ask him about the funeral,' Tara thought to herself. `Certainly they can't have the body just lying around for days doing nothing.' But for the longest time neither the sergeant, nor Lieutenant Taishent came down the stairs. Just when Tara got up to leave, the sergeant who met her at the door returned. "Lady, I can't seem to find the Lieutenant anywhere. Perhaps if you left him a message, or maybe I can help you with something..." Tara shook her head with relief. "Thank you, no. I'll come back tomorrow." "Very well," the sergeant bowed and escorted her to the Keep doors. Tara left the building, heading for a post in the yard where she left had Zed tied on a leash. Seeing her, the shivaree got up and started pulling on the rope. "Missed me, did you?" Tara played with her furry friend. She bent down to untie the rope and heard an elderly voice behind her. "Miss, you're the niece of Captain Koren, are you not?" Rish Vogel asked, looking more at the shivaree than at the young woman. Tara turned to look at the old chronicler, still holding onto the rope. She knew who he was, but little about him and it surprised her that he had come to talk to her. The chronicaler's eccentricities were widely known and she really did not want to spend the time talking to him now about what has happened to her uncle. She was still having a lot of problems dealing with it herself and did not need others to spoil her mood for her. "Yes, I am," she answered politely as Rish came closer. "And you're staying with Lieutenant Milnor?" the old chronicler went on. "Yes..." He was now so close that she could hear him whisper, which is what he did. "Have you noticed anything strange?" "What?" "About the Lieutenant, I mean." "Uh..." "I think your uncle was killed by his own guards," Rish rumbled on. "Why?" Tara interrupted him. "I don't know why!" "No, I mean what makes you think it was the guards?" "I saw his room after the murder. Everything looked wrong." Rish stopped and looked around to make sure they were alone and no one was trying to listen in. "And the lieutenants are hiding things. It's been a day and a half and no one has seen the body yet and they're not talking about what they're doing about it. No one even knows where it is. And..." he looked around again, "the guard who killed the assassin is missing. The room was cleaned, but I don't think they searched for clues." That was enough to convince Tara that Rish was on her side. She looked around as well, then took the note and the gem from her pocket and handed them to Rish. "I found these in Lieutenant Milnor's desk." Rish read the note, then examined the gem. His hands shook. "This is it...this is the proof," he muttered. Tara took a step back, backing into the post the shivaree had been tied to. She was not sure where Zed himself had gone. Rish suddenly grabbed Tara's hands and put the evidence in them. "Thank you, thank you," he rushed off. "Wait!" Tara hurried after him, returning the gem and the note to her pocket before anyone else had seen them. "What?" Rish looked back at her impatiently. "What am I supposed to do? I can't stay with Lieutenant Milnor!" "You can and you must!" Rish insisted. "Go back and put those things where you found them and don't tell anyone. I'll take care of everything." "But I can't stay with Ilona Milnor!" Tara went on. "If she killed my uncle, I can't stay with her!" Rish looked around, hoping no one heard the young woman's outburst. "If she hasn't killed you yet and doesn't suspect you know, she'll have no reason to harm you. Now go back and do what I say!" Tara watched Rish hurry back to the castle, his long brown robe tangling at his feet. Zed was back, rubbing against Tara's legs and she bent down and hugged him. "You'll protect me, right?" The shivaree nuzzled her cheek and ear and snorted. Rish hurried into his small cubicle of a room and locked the door behind him. He had his mystery, his clues and now his proof. Now he just needed a miracle to get it all resolved. Taking a pen and a sheet of parchment out of his desk, Rish started writing furiously. If it was the last thing he did, he would bring order back to the town of Dargon. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 (C) Copyright March, 1992, DargonZine, Editor Dafydd . All rights revert to the authors. These stories may not be reproduced or redistributed (save in the case of reproducing the whole 'zine for further distribution) without the express permission of the author involved.

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