Evaughnlynn walked out of the small room slowly and leaned against the narrow hallway wall. She glanced back over her shoulder and managed a smile. The girl would live, although it
had been close. Her mother had ignored the temple crier going down the street calling for the sick to be brought out. If Beowyn had not noticed the young boy hanging around at the
mansion gate and talked to him, they would not have learned of his sick friend in the hovels near the docks.
Beowyn was at the end of the hallway keeping watch. He said, “You’re tired, I can tell. Let’s go back to the mansion. You need rest.”
Evaughnlynn’s head tilted to one side. “Why did you tell her mother we were sent by her god?”
He shrugged. “It was the only way she’d let you near the girl.”
Evaughnlynn remembered the woman at the door barring the way. Beowyn had said, “Fear not for the child. God has heard your prayers and sent one who will heal her.”
Sorcha whispered, “You’re right, I too felt the power speaking through him. It was the same power that spoke through the high priest when he spoke to the servant girl, Neima.”
And it has been five days now and none of the servants have fallen sick, just as the high priest said. Evaughnlynn sighed. “The Freeman’s god wanders the streets. Why
didn’t I feel such power even in the temple of Anglia?”
“The power of the old gods has never been felt,” Sorcha answered. “Perhaps, that is why the old ones who joined with the Freeman abandoned the gods of their fathers.”
Evaughnlynn was shocked. “Are you saying the gods are false and that the Freeman’s god is real?”
“No, child. I have never felt the power of the gods, nor have I ever heard of any who carry stones of power claiming to have felt it. But absence of proof is not proof of
absence. The fact their power is not felt by us does not mean the gods are false.
“Nor does the presence of power mean the presence of a god. Your presence brings power, and you are not a god. But power does have an effect for good or ill, and the power we’ve
felt in the Freeholds is of the Light, and it is very strong. I think the old ones left the gods to take care of the gods and contented themselves with following the power of the
“Evon, are you all right?” Beowyn gripped her shoulder, his face close and his eyes searched hers.
“I’m fine, just tired. You’re right, we should return to the mansion.”
They went down the narrow stairs to the door and out into the street. The night air was cool and moist near the river. It felt good and refreshed her after the close quarters of the
small room. She had used a lot of energy to destroy the disease in the child and the mother, who had no idea how sick she was, worrying instead about the condition of her child.
She sensed Faolan coming closer to the city as she walked along the street. He would arrive in the midmorning tomorrow. She glanced over at Beowyn. He clearly loved Rose and
thought highly of her abilities in all things. And yet, over the past days here in Bar Krouth every time she sensed desire for Rose flare in him, it flickered out almost immediately.
She thought of Roselyn and sensed her to the west. She too was returning to the mansion from checking on the sick with Captain Tamir. Evaughnlynn was very excited her cousin’s power
had grown tremendously since their arrival in the Freeman city. Sorcha had told her that only part of that was from her stone of power, Mauve, growing stronger. Roselyn had come into
her power as well.
Sorcha said, “The moment you thought of Faolan you immediately turned your mind to Beowyn and Rose. Why?”
She tensed at the question. “It’s natural to think of them together.”
“Or is it that your own feelings for Faolan are mirrored in Rose’s feelings for Beowyn?”
You think I’m in love with Faolan?
“I love Faolan. But I also love Rose and Beowyn, and my father, and many others.”
“Yet I sense distress mixed with sadness in your coming marriage,” Sorcha whispered. “It’s as if some tragedy awaits you.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever live in Anglia. The shadows I see are dark and gathering around poor Prince Thrall.”
“You’re steering the conversation into safe water. But once you were handfasted to Prince Thrall you were no longer a daughter of the house of Ragnon. You’re a daughter of the
house of Garthen. Even if Prince Thrall dies, King Garthen will want you in Anglia as his daughter. Isn’t that where you think you can do the most good?”
“I didn’t know that handfasting broke the bond with my father.” Evaughnlynn stopped walking. “How’s this possible?”
Beowyn half drew his sword as he stopped short and looked around quickly. “How is what possible?”
Evaughnlynn turned from staring straight ahead to look at him. “What did you say?”
“Me?” Beowyn tapped his chest as he let his sword slide home. “You said, ‘how is this possible’, and I asked, ‘how is what possible?’” He glanced around. “Evon, you
confused me by talking to yourself again. Didn’t you?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to speak aloud. Sorcha startled me by saying that after Prince Thrall and I were handfasted in the ceremony this spring I became a daughter of the house of
Beowyn nodded. “Of course. That’s the purpose of the ceremony.”
“You knew that? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Beowyn bowed and waved ahead. “You never asked, and I thought you knew. It’s all in the knights’ code of honor.”
“What?” She started walking again. “This knights’ code, is that why you offered to marry Morrigan after the duel?”
Beowyn stepped off with her. “I didn’t offer to marry her. I was offering to be her guardian. I forgot the age difference requirement because I wasn’t thinking of the
code. Making sure she was taken care of was just the right thing to do. But, of course, my uncle and Prince Hagarn realized there’s an age difference clause in the rescue and duels
sections of the code. I was too young to be her guardian.”
Evaughnlynn stopped again. “There’s an age difference requirement? How interesting.”
Beowyn stopped and sighed. “We’re never going to get back to the mansion if you keep stopping.”
Evaughnlynn started again. “So if a knight rescues a maiden and they’re close in age he’s expected to marry her?”
“If she’s of noble birth and he’s unmarried. Otherwise he can demand a reasonable ransom. The family can put forward a champion with a challenge to combat in response. If there
is neither ransom nor response, he can hold her as concubine. The exception is a rescue made by way of duty sworn to her house. Like when Phylon rescued you back when the dark wizard
attacked. The real purpose is to keep order among knights by having a predictable code of behavior, or…”
“I understand,” she said. “Who came up with this code of conduct and how binding is it?”
Sorcha asked, “What are you thinking?”
“Me first. What do you know of this code?”
“I know the code in its entirety. Each knight is taught the code as a squire and must learn to recite it by heart before being elevated to knighthood.”
“Why do men follow it?”
“It was written over the past thousand years by trial and error and the fall of many. Men follow it because it works for the benefit of all. It is the moral compass of man.
Without a moral compass society will fall into chaos to the destruction of all. Now, what are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking that my darkness may have a spark of light in it that just might become a bright guiding star.” Evaughnlynn felt a new strength flow into her and knew it was
hope. The darkness that had plagued the edges of her mind these past many months was dissipating as glimmerings of a possible new future had appeared, a possibility if not yet a
“Milord,” the man-at-arms said softly at the door to Brother Knobu’s room.“There’s a boy in the hall who says he has news from Brother Banag.”
Brother Knobu straightened up from packing and turned.“Send him in.”He controlled the anger which rose at Brother Banag’s cowardice in sending a boy instead of reporting himself, undoubtedly from
fear of punishment for his double failure to kill either the Freeman prophet or the accursed witch. He would save his anger until he could unleash it when next he saw his subordinate.
Dressed in rags and looking like any half-starved street urchin, the boy stumbled into the room and went to one knee.“Milord, Brother Banag and his barbarians are dead.I alone escaped alive.”
The anger he had suppressed rose again.“Who are you to bring me this news?” He reached out with his mind to grip the boy’s heart.
“I’m Uric, Brother Banag’s acolyte.”The boy looked up with pleading eyes.“I saw him die.”
Uric looked down quickly and Brother Knobu released his grip on the boy’s heart as his contempt for his dead subordinate dominated his mind.“How did Brother Banag die?”
“It was at dawn. I had gone into the woods to relieve myself when they attacked. I got back just in time to see Brother Banag cast a curse at the warrior in the lead, but the curse turned
on him and the warrior struck him with his lance.” The boy looked up, confusion written in the lines of his face. “I don’t understand, Milord. How did the warrior turn the
“Describe him,” Brother Knobu snapped.
“They were giants, Milord.”
“The warrior, you fool.Describe the warrior who killed that fool Banag.”
“He was a little smaller and thinner than the other giants, Milord, and younger.”
“Leave me.” Brother Knobu waved his hand at the door.“And take a bath.You stink.”
“Yes, Milord.” Uric scurried from the room.
Brother Knobu looked at his bag, then dropped into his chair.How can this be? The Master told me to look for a tall, thin young warrior and to report immediately if I found
him. Then word comes that a tall, thin young warrior led the dwarves to overrun the men and goblins I sent to destroy them. Now, I learn a tall, thin young warrior destroyed Brother
Banag and his barbarian allies as well. He looked again at his bag sitting on the bed half packed. It was also a tall, thin young warrior the Freeman leader sent to fetch
their prophet. Is he everywhere? Who is he? What is he?
He came to his feet and strode to the bed to finish packing.That accursed witch is everywhere in the city as well. She’s becoming impossible to avoid. “He angerly stuffed the
last of his clothing in the bag. I’ll retreat upriver to one of the towns and wait for word from the Master.
Faolan pulled his buckboard into line behind the baron’s three wagons and settled back to while away the hours until they reached the spring and a safe camp. When they reached their
destination just before dusk, Baron Loegaire rode back to Faolan’s wagon. “We’ll camp here for the night. But in the morning we turn north and follow the river road. All the
river towns are doing a brisk business since sickness closed Bar Krouth. The river’s where the bargains will be.”
Faolan nodded. “You’re probably right. But I expect Princess Evaughnlynn is already in Bar Krouth. She’ll make quick work of this plague. When the city opens again the
merchants will be desperate for trade. That’s where the real bargains will be then.”
“You’ve the right of that.” The baron turned his horse in a circle. “That’s why I brought three wagons. I plan to pick up some river goods and then move on to the city for the
distress sale. I also hope to find a good market for the load of armor I’ve brought. These are troubled times.”
“No doubt of that. It’s no coincidence the plague struck the capital just as trouble struck the mountains. I’ll wager we’ll all see combat before this is over.”
“You’ll come to dinner with me and my ward, Faolan Blacksmith. One more mouth will not trouble my cook.”
“I thank you, and happily. But if you don’t mind, it’s two more mouths. Badger dines with me.”
“Bring him, and welcome. I’ll be happy to see him again. I still tell the story of his exploits on the wall of Tower Farm, and Lady Morrigan will be fascinated by him. How often
does a lady of rank meet a civilized badger?” A slight smile played over the baron’s mouth. “Especially one as handsome as he is.”
Faolan glanced over to see that Badger had returned from his wanderings and was listening to the conversation. He had no doubt the big badger understood every word and was licking his lips
in anticipation of eating at the baron’s bountiful table instead of tasteless trail rations.
When Baron Loegaire rode away, Badger followed him with his eyes for a few seconds before he turned to sit looking at the back of the small wagon with his head cocked to one side. Then he
sighed and clambered up the wheel to the seat. He looked at Faolan and gestured with his head at the tarp covering the back. After a few seconds he snorted and leaped onto the center
of the tarp.
Badger jumped to one side and glanced at the spot where the sound came from before jumping to the ground. He turned, snorted, and looked up at the tarp.
Faolan stepped quickly to the wagon and jerked the tie off the tarp before pulling it back. Gutter scampered to his feet from where he had been concealed amid the ingots of iron to stand
slump-shouldered and head down. “Please, Master Blacksmith, let me stay with you.” He looked up. “Your friend, the lady, will come and teach me how to protect my mind.
I’ll work for free. Please.”
Faolan put his hands on his hips. “And what of Lord Borka? Where is he going to think you’ve gotten to?”
“I left him a note.” Gutter straightened up. “I told him I’d come back when I’ve done what I have to do.”
Faolan’s head went back as he looked at the youth. “And what do you have to do?”
Gutter’s head and shoulders slumped again. “Learn to guard my mind—like you.” He looked at Faolan. “She’ll help me—if you ask her. And I want to learn how to fight—like
Sympathy for the young man welled up, forcing Faolan to shake his head. He remembered how shattered Gutter had been after his mind was taken over by the dark wizard. He also knew he
could neither take the youth back to the mountain nor abandon him in Bar Krouth. Faolan took a deep breath, then let it out in one great sigh. “Why do you want to learn to fight?”
“So I can protect my people when the war comes.”
As Faolan started to reply he felt a strong pull on his trouser leg and looked down. Badger had his front paw tightly attached to his trousers while his other front paw pointed toward where
the baron was camped and a cooking fire burned. “Dinner? I remember.”
Badger nodded and released his grip to sit waiting. Faolan turned back to Gutter. “We’ll talk later. But now it’s time to wash up. We’ve been invited to eat with the baron
and his ward.” Faolan pointed at the wagon. “There’s a bucket on the back. Go fill it in the well next to the baron’s wagons.”
Half an hour later Faolan, Gutter, and Badger walked into Loegaire’s camp, scrubbed and combed. The Baron turned on their approach. “Welcome, my friends.” His head tilted to the
side. “And who have we here? Gutter?” He looked at Faolan.
“He hid in my wagon.” Faolan looked down on the youth. “He wants to see the city, and he wants to become a warrior.”
“Now, don’t be too hard on the lad.” The baron put both hands on his hips as he looked down his nose at Faolan. “I seem to recall hearing of a headstrong boy who wanted to be a
warrior so badly he gave up a baronage and became a simple man-at-arms. He seems to have turned out all right.”
Faolan grunted. “With the gods’ own luck and more than a little help.”
Loegaire laughed and let his hands fall to his sides. “And haven’t we all? What warrior didn’t have the luck of the gods and friends at his back to win the day?” He held his
arms open. “Welcome to our camp, my friends. Come, supper waits beyond with Lady Morrigan.”
A camp table had been set up next to the fire pit although the evening wasn’t cold. Lady Morrigan was seated at the end nearest the fire and places were set on the side opposite the fire
and also at the other end. “Cook,” the baron called as they walked up, “we need another place set. We have another guest.”
He waved to the place next to Lady Morrigan. “Sir Blacksmith here by my ward, and you, Sir Badger, by me.” He stopped at the head of the table and turned to Gutter. “Here on my
left side, Sir Gutter, so I can better tell the tale of a princess, a warrior, and a noble badger, who stood against all odds to slay two dark wizards and save a kingdom.”
Faolan dropped into his designated chair. “Don’t leave out the fact that they couldn’t have won the battle without the aid of a baron and his men who joined the fight and stood against a
force of orcs who breached the wall.”
The dinner came and went and the campfire burned down. Servants cleared the dishes and served wine. The baron continued his tale. “So, there he was, dressed in naught but a
tabard and armed with but fang and claw.” The baron held his hands like claws before him. “But the brave badger leaped on the barbarian warrior as he came over the rampart armed with sword
and shield. The barbarian drew up his shield, but Badger grabbed it and used it to climb on the man’s shoulders and attack his head and throat. Back over the wall he went tumbling to
his death, and my nephew Beowyn knew not how close his death had been behind him.”
The baron’s fist slammed onto the table, causing Gutter to jerk backwards. “Aye, twice more I saw him put his life on the line to protect young Blacksmith there and my nephew in that
battle. And that’s why King Ragnon of Hawkland knighted a badger, who sits now at this table, a noble of that realm.”
Gutter looked wide-eyed from the baron to Badger, who was licking his paws, having finished the meal before him. Badger looked back at the young dwarf’s face and burped.
Lady Morrigan leaned toward Faolan. “Will you teach the dwarf to be a warrior, like you did Sir Beowyn?”
“I will teach him to fight as best I can. His people will need all the warriors they can muster. War is coming.” He looked at the moon high in the sky. “The Dark is rising
and this land lies on the dark ones’ path of conquest.” He turned back to her. “The plague you heard about is just one of their attacks. The assault on the dwarves, another.”
“Why here and not Anglia? After all, Anglia is the strongest kingdom in Ellisland.”
Faolan regarded her, his head tilted slightly. “I think because the Freemen are here. There’s something about these people that draws the hatred of the Dark.”
“The Freeman?But they’re just merchants.”She turned to the baron.“Why would the Dark hate them more than others?”
Loegaire rubbed his chin as he considered for a moment.“The Freemen are appropriately named.Their religion holds that all men are equal.They have no nobles.They hold elections to determine who
leads them.The Dark hates free people.”He leaned back.“There’s also the fact the Freeholds are on the border between the north and the south.A war to conquer Ellisland would be simplified if the
land was divided and conquered piecemeal.”
She turned to Faolan. “Is that why you settled here?”
Faolan said, “Yes—and no.I came because Princess Evaughnlynn asked me to and I had to go somewhere.She knew the dark was rising.I’m returning to Bar Krouth now to meet with her.”
“So you still serve the royal house of Hawkland?”
Lady Morrigan leaned back in her chair.“You are an unusual man, Faolan Blacksmith.”She smiled slightly.“I have never met your like before.”She looked over at the Baron and then back to Faolan.“I
see now why you and my guardian are such good friends.”Her eyes fell to the rough wooden tabletop and her finger began tracing the grain.“The few men I’ve had occasion to meet were my brother’s
friends.Like him, they were only interested in themselves and advancing in this world.”
She looked up and stared into his eyes. “When Sir Beowyn claimed me after the duel I was prepared to accept his attentions gladly over those of my brother’s creditors.” A look of fear
flashed through her eyes for a moment, then she laughed. “But I soon realized that wasn’t his intent.”
Her head tilted to one side.“You are aware Lady Roselyn is in love with him?”She smiled again.“I’m afraid I made her my enemy by trying to win his heart.I knew it upset her, but I couldn’t
resist.He was so kind and attentive.”
She looked at Baron Loegaire.“He too is very kind.He’s an old bachelor and set in his ways, happier in a foundry than a parlor, but he arranged social events for me after we arrived at his keep.”
Faolan smiled.“Roselyn in love with Beowyn? I’d rather think she sees him more as a bothersome brother than a potential suitor.She chides him more than a mother, and he’s more afraid of her than
Lady Morrigan looked at Faolan for several long seconds before she shook her head and smiled.“I fear you and Sir Beowyn are as dense as stone when it comes to women.”