Faolan watched Baron Loegaire’s three wagons turn toward the river before continuing on the road to Bar Krouth.Gutter sat on the other end of the bench next to Badger.As the buckboard jerked
forward, he put his arm around Badger’s shoulders.The big badger turned slowly to look at Gutter’s hand, then leaned his head toward Gutter and lifted his lip in a low snarl.
“Badger’s my friend, Gutter.Not a pet.He doesn’t take kindly to being treated like one.”Faolan smiled at Badger. “Unless food is involved, of course, particularly sweet treats. He has a
serious sweet tooth.”
As Gutter took his arm quickly off the big animal, Badger glanced at Faolan and snorted.
“What?” Faolan grinned.“So that wasn’t you letting the neighbor children pet you like a dog while feeding you the sweet treats their mother gave them last month? It was some
other badger who just happened to be passing through?”
Badger turned to Gutter and growled before jumping into the bed of the wagon.He turned around in a circle twice before lying down, grumbling the whole time.
Faolan directed his attention to the road after watching Badger. “He says he’ll take a sweet treat if you have one, but don’t try to pet him.”
Gutter looked back.“I’m sorry, Badger.I didn’t mean to insult you.I just wanted you to be my friend.I’ve never had a badger for a friend before.”He faced the front. “I guess I’m not very good
at making friends.”
“You make friends just fine, Gutter.”Faolan patted him on the shoulder.“Badger’s just a little touchy about being treated like a pet.”
The bronze gates of Bar Krouth were closed when Faolan reached the wooden drawbridge. Two guards stood at ease on this side.One of the guards waved them to a stop.“Well, if it isn’t Faolan the
Blacksmith back from his travels.”He looked slightly askance at Gutter.“And who’s this?Are you taking on an apprentice, business is so good?”
“Well, Pendal, how did they drag you off tavern patrol?”
“They didn’t.The sickness did.All the taverns are closed.”
“I heard there was a sickness in the city when I was leaving on my buying trip, but the city gates weren’t closed then.Has it gotten that bad?”
“It was.But since the two drus from Hawkland got here the sickness has been contained.We keep the gates closed now to warn travelers of the sickness before they enter and to check people
leaving.”Pendal stepped close.“I hear one of the dru is a sorceress.Gamaliel himself said she should come and he walked around town telling the story of Halone and preaching that there are good
wizards and bad wizards.”
“Well, if Gamaliel says it’s right for her to be here, then I’m sure it’s all right.”
“Don’t mistake me.”Pendal waved one hand palm up.“My wife’s cousin was one of the sick, and she was cured.”
“Well then, can we enter the city?It’s been a long journey and we’re tired.”
Pendal glanced back at the gate.“In a few minutes.The sergeant said the gates would open on the hour to let those out that were cleared to leave this afternoon.”
“I’ll pull out of the way then.”Faolan turned the cart and pulled to the side of the drawbridge.A few minutes later a horn sounded and the large bronze gates began to swing outward.Two more guards
came out to join Pendal and his partner and all four stood to one side as a stream of wagons and horsemen exited, followed by a small crowd of people.
As Faolan watched them pass, he noted the passenger on the second wagon staring at him and Gutter.Faolan felt the hair on the back of his neck rise as he looked back at the middle-aged man.The
stranger’s bearing was that of a noble although he was dressed as a Mercian trader.Then the drawbridge was clear and he pulled the wagon onto it and through the gate.
Faolan’s blacksmith shop was not far from the gate, near the stables and corrals in the fabrication trade district just inland from the riverbank and the wall.He unlocked the doors to the small
stables next to his shop and drove the cart inside.“The door to the shop is unlocked,” he said to Gutter and jumped down.“The living quarters are upstairs.Take the packs up there and open the
windows while I put the horses in their stalls.I have to go down the road to get Nightshade.”
“Nightshade?Isn’t that poisonous?”
“Nightshade’s my war horse.He’s too big for a wagon.I had to put him in the stables while I was gone.”He removed the harness from the horses and led them into empty stalls. Then he went out the
door and turned toward the stables down the road.Walking toward him was Princess Evaughnlynn, dressed as a dru in a white robe and blue headdress. She was leading Nightshade.
“Milady.”He smiled and stopped.“I see you anticipated my return.”
“Rumors of war in the mountains have reached the city.I trust the dwarfs are safe since you’re here.”
“They were when I left.”A dull ache struck his heart as he looked down at her upturned face.His rough hand brushed her soft one as he took Nightshade’s reins and Lady Morrigan’s words, “I fear you
and Sir Beowyn are as dense as stone when it comes to women,” flashed through his mind, followed instantly with the realization of who and what Evon was.
A smile flashed over Evaughnlynn’s lips.“My dear friend, it’s good to see you again.”She put her arms around him and hugged him tightly.“The Light has made harsh demands of you all these years.”She
looked up, her chin resting on his chest.“But the patterns are finally shifting.For the first time I have hope for the future.”She released him and stepped back.“I will drain your strength if I
hold you any longer.”
“You’re tired, I can tell.”He glanced around.“What brings you here?And alone at that?”
“You.”She looked up again.“It was hard to let you leave last year, especially since I foresaw the darkness threatening this land.I needed to see that you
were all right.”She looked him over from head to foot and smiled. “A few new scars, but healthy overall.”
Faolan felt himself blush.“Milady, Bar Krouth is the safest city in all Ellisland, but you shouldn’t be about by yourself.”When she smiled he quickly added, “Not that you can’t protect yourself,
but you are a princess, not a common dru.”
Her hand came up to touch his beard-covered cheek.“You’re too much restrained by protocol for a man who rejects nobility.Take care or it may well be the cause of your downfall.”
She was smiling, so he knew it was a jibe, not a warning. She grabbed his hand. “Come, Badger wants to show me his new friend.” She began pulling him toward his blacksmith shop.
When they came through the doors, Gutter was adding wood to the forge while Badger sat to one side.“Greetings, Master Dwarf,” Evaughnlynn said.“Sir Badger tells me that you have been helping
Gutter turned at the sound of her voice and dropped to one knee before she finished speaking.His eyes were twice their normal size and his mouth hung open.His whole body was trembling.
Faolan put his hands on his hips.“Stand up Gutter and close your mouth.I want you to meet my friend, Princess Evaughnlynn.”
Evaughnlynn looked over at Faolan.“Don’t call him that.That’s not his name.”She walked over to where Gutter continued to knee, now eyes down.“Stand up Sir Gunther.You are noble born and should
act like it.”Gutter’s head snapped up. “Your father was Schade, a great warrior and leader of the Accetani.He died after finding the new home of your people, Hollow Mountain.Your mother was Lilje,
the daughter of Clovis, King of the Accetani.She died giving you life.Your grandfather could not bear to raise you.His daughter was his greatest treasure, and every time he looked at you, he saw
her.”She smiled.“So he asked Lord Borka, Sir Schade’s father, to raise you as his son.”
“Milady.”Gutter stood quickly and stared at her. “How do you know these things?”
The princess smiled.“Not by magic, Gunther.Your father was a friend of the Elves of Norwood and my stone of power is the Stone of Norwood.”
“My father was a friend of the elves?”
Evaughnlynn nodded.“His mother was half elf and her blood flowed strongly in him.That’s why he was never completely happy underground.He visited the elves in his travels several times.It was they
who told him of the cavern in Hollow Mountain.It was during the exploration of the caverns and the surrounding area that he fell in battle.”
“My father was killed in battle?”
“Oh, yes.”Evaughnlynn’s face went serious.“He and a small party of dwarves exploring the area around Hollow Mountain came to the aid of Freeman farmers attacked by a band of raiders.His name is
listed in the Freeman registry of fallen heroes.”She put her hand on his shoulder.“You are the son of a hero.Be proud of your father.”
“Milady,” Gunther grabbed her hand resting on his shoulder.“Sir Faolan can teach me to be a warrior, but I can’t defend my mind from attack.Please, teach me to guard my mind.”
Evaughnlynn looked to Faolan, who replied, “He was caught in a wizard’s mind trap.I had to knock him unconscious.”
“I see.”She turned to Gunther.“Faolan has a very strong natural block.I didn’t teach him to block his mind.”She smiled.“But even if I could help you, I couldn’t help you block a curse.Faolan has
been very lucky to have survived several times because he wasn’t attacked directly.But to see if I can help you, I must look at your mind.May I?”
“Yes, Milady.”He looked up, staring into her eyes.
Princess Evaughnlynn smiled.Then after several seconds her head cocked to one side.She turned to Faolan.“He was caught in a wizard’s mind trap?”
“Completely.”Faolan shook his head. “The wizard sent a command to his goblin allies and Gutter, ah, Gunther was caught in it.”
“Goblins?That explains it.” She pulled Gunther’s hand around to hold it in both of hers. “Your mind is strongly elfin, like your father’s.You are nearly immune
to a wizard’s illusions.Yet you were caught in the trap.The goblins must be the reason.When the old ones went to war against each other the dark ones twisted elves into the monsters we call goblins
and used them as allies.So the goblin mind is still elfin to a large extent, but twisted to obey dark powers and urges.Elves are mentally linked to each other, and so are goblins.When you were
among the goblins your mind naturally linked to theirs.When the wizard cast his spell, it trapped them, and so it also trapped you. Had the goblins not been there, I don’t think the trap would have
worked on you.You’d have heard the words but felt no compulsion to obey.”
“Are you sure, Milady?”Gunther grabbed her hands that were holding one of his.
She smiled at him.“I believe so.Fortunately, I don’t think you need to worry.There are no goblins around here.”
Beowyn walked into the dispensary next to Evaughnlynn’s and Roselyn’s room in the Shahar Mansion. Roselyn was standing at the preparations bench laughing lightly and Captain Tamir was
standing close by her side with his hand on her shoulder, leaning in against her arm and smiling. Tamir’s head turned to the doorway and his face went instantly serious.
“I’m sorry,” Beowyn said. “I didn’t mean to interrupt, but have you seen Evon?”
Roselyn turned, bumping Tamir in the process and nearly dropped the glass beaker in her hand. “She had an errand to do privately this afternoon and said not to bother you.” Roselyn
looked closely at him. “She said you were very tired when you got back last night. It was a very long day yesterday and you were up early this morning. How do you feel?” She
walked over and put her hand on his cheek.
Beowyn brushed her hand away. “I’m fine. And I wasn’t as tired as she was when we got back.” His eyes flashed over to Captain Tamir. “You shouldn’t have let her go out
alone. Do you know where she went?”
Tamir walked over to stand by Roselyn. “She didn’t say where exactly, but she headed toward the river. Rose said yesterday that the Princess was expecting someone to arrive today.
Perhaps that’s where she went.”
Beowyn’s head snapped to the captain. “Captain, Princess Evaughnlynn is under your protection in the Freeholds. It’s your duty to know where she is at all times. What kind of
protection are you giving her when you don’t even know where she is?”
Captain Tamir smiled. “You are absolutely right, Sir Beowyn.” He nodded. “And I would be upset if I were in your position. However, while I personally don’t know where she
is, the three undercover agents I’ve had watching over her since she arrived in Bar Krouth do.” He put his hand on Beowyn’s shoulder. “My friend, she’s safe, or the alarm would have
“Toward the river, you say?” Beowyn turned to leave.
Roselyn grabbed his arm. “I think you owe Tamir an apology.”
He shrugged her hand off. “After I’ve found Evon.” He walked out the door and turned toward the front of the house.
Roselyn turned to Tamir. “I must apologize for my cousin. He can be an idiot at times.”
“There’s no need for an apology. He’s right. I should know where she is at all times. It’s just that my agents are probably more likely to need her protection than she is theirs,
and I let that fact cloud my thinking.” Tamir smiled. “He is very protective of his cousin.”
“Ever since we were children we’ve planned to go to Anglia with Evon. We’ve always been a team, the three of us.”
Tamir put his hand on Roslyn’s shoulder. “And now that you’ve grown up, is that still your wish?”
She smiled. “I thought it was, but now I’m not sure.”
“And has something caused you to change your mind?” The captain turned so that he and Roslyn were face to face, nearly touching.
“Lady Roslyn,” a young voice interrupted, and Roslyn turned to see Neima in the doorway. “Three children have been brought in for treatment. They’re very sick.”
“Have they been taken to the treatment room?”
“Yes, Lady Roselyn, along with their families and the guards who brought them from the city gates. They’re from Bar Elam. The sickness has reached there and the people heard you were
Roslyn turned back to Tamir. “I must go.”
© Copyright 2020 R. M. Keegan. All rights reserved.