Faolan brought the hammer down on the red-hot horseshoe. The clang of metal on metal rang out and sparks flew. The tongs in his left hand held it firmly on the anvil. He raised
the hammer again. Six more shoes and he could finish the kitchenware for the sea captain’s wife. Two hours to weld the silver handle on the pitcher and polish everything to a shiny
finish and he could deliver them.
If she liked the set more orders would come in. It seemed strange to him that he had a talent for silverwork. But his designs and decorations were considered very stylish. If
this keeps up I’ll have to join the Silversmiths’ Guild.
His hammer came down with a clang and sparks. Faolan raised the horseshoe to examine it, then turned to quench it. Princess Evaughnlynn stood just inside the barn doorway.
“Milady.” He stuck the horseshoe in the water and steam rose from the barrel.
“I’ve come to warn you,” she said. “The Dark Ones know you’re here in Bar Krouth. You have to leave.”
Faolan set the horseshoe on the bench, along with his hammer and tongs. Then he turned around. “I know. A wizard showed up here the other day.”
“Why are you still here?” She strode across the room until she was inches from him. “You can’t stand against a wizard.” She took a deep breath. “Of course you did, or you
wouldn’t be here.”
He laughed. “I’m still here because this is my home and Gunther smashed the wizard’s stone of power.”
“How did he—never mind. They’ll send another wizard, and this time he’ll have help.”
“So I expect.” He regarded her for a moment, then smiled. “You’re not really here, are you?”
“I am, and I’m not. Why?”
His smile turned into a wide grin. “You didn’t mention how bad I stink. So where are you really?”
“I’m still in Bar Elam. The Dark Ones have infected a lot of people here. And I was being polite. I could see you’d been working.” She reached out and touched his face.
Faolan’s hand came up and caught hers. “You feel real.” His smile vanished. “Do you want me to come there?”
“Yes. I’ll be leaving for Bar Dor in a few days. You can go with me.” She looked at his hand and her eyes softened. “You shouldn’t have to keep risking your life for me.”
“There’s no purpose for which I’d rather risk it.” His lips brushed her fingers as he spoke. “My life is pledged to you.”
“Oh, Faolan.” Her eyes brimmed with tears. “I wish it were that simple.” Her free hand came up to join the other still gripping his. “But my path to Anglia has been set for
years. When this is over, if we survive, I must return to Hawk’s Keep and await my husband-to-be and you must go…”
“Somewhere.” He released her hands. “But when you need me, call me, and I’ll come to you. Nothing will ever change that.”
She sighed and looked down. “I’m sending Rose to Bar Chof on the coast.” She looked up into his eyes. “Will you come in time to go with me to Bar Dor?”
He smiled. “Of course.” He glanced toward the door leading to his shop. “I’ll leave early tomorrow.”
She grabbed the straps of his leather apron. “Leave tonight. Make what arrangements you must, but leave tonight.” She stared into his eyes. “Promise me.”
“I will, since you wish it.”
Her hands dropped to her sides. “Please, take Gunther and leave as soon as you can.”
“Of course Gunther will go with me.”
She sighed. “I must go.” She walked to the barn door and turned to look at him one more time. Then she was gone.
Faolan stood looking at the empty doorway, thinking about what had just happened. He had told Evon many times that he was pledged to her and she had never reacted the way she did this
time. Why did she mention her betrothal? And why did she say, “I wish it were that simple?” It was as if I had proposed marriage and she had declined. And why
the tears in her eyes? Is it because I am no longer sworn to her house, and, therefore, a possible husband?
He turned back to the furnace and began pumping the handle to stoke to the fire. But she is still a stone bearer and I am still a warrior sworn to defend her. Nothing else
matters. Her image flashed into his mind so strongly it was like she stood between him and the fire. It would be easier if she were not so beautiful.
“I’ve finished the delivery to the stable across town,” Gunther said behind him. “They liked the way you fixed the halter, by the way. Said they’d send you more repairs with the next
order of shoes.” Gunther paused. “Are you all right?”
“What?” Faolan turned. “Yes, I’m fine.” He arched his back and stretched for a moment. “We had a visitor while you were out. Princess Evaughnlynn. She wants us
to meet her in Bar Elam.”
Gunther frowned. “Why?”
Faolan rocked his head from side to side. “I think she expects an attack on our way to Bar Dor, where she’s going next. It’s only logical. This plague is clearly the work of dark
wizards, just like the attack on Hollow Mountain. If they can’t stop her, she’ll cure the plague there, just as she has here and in Bar Elam.”
He turned back to the furnace and began stoking the fire again. “Meanwhile, I need to finish this order before I finish the silver pitcher for the sea captain’s wife. We’re leaving
“I can do the horseshoes if you want to finish the silver pitcher.”
Faolan turned around again. “All right. But shut and brace the barn door. I don’t want anybody walking in behind you while I’m inside working on the silver.”
Roselyn stood several feet from the bed where Evaughnlynn lay in a trance. She had seen this before, but Evaughnlynn had never used the translocations potion without her help before.
Concern for her cousin’s safety and for the closeness between them flashed through her mind. Suddenly, Evaughnlynn opened her eyes.
Roselyn said, “You’re back.” She walked over to look down at Evon. “You used the potion without me? I thought we agreed you wouldn’t do that.”
Evaughnlynn sat up. “I didn’t.” She stood up and looked around. There was a heavy chest made of oak in the corner and Evon pointed at it. “Can you lift that chest for me and
float it over here?”
Roselyn shook her head. “I’m not strong enough.”
“If I help you, you can, right?”
“Well, yes. Of course.”
Evaughnlynn smiled. “Then lift it and bring it here. I’ll help if you need it, but only if you need it.”
Roselyn drew her wand with its focusing crystal at its base and pointed the gold-clad tip at the chest. It rose and floated smoothly to her cousin, stopping a few inches away before slowly
lowering to the floor.
“I didn’t help you cousin,” Evon said. “I didn’t need to. And I didn’t need the potion to go to Bar Krouth.” Eon smiled at her. “We’ve been strengthened by the force which
dwells among the Freeman. It has been with us ever since last night when Neima asked it to cure the sick. Ask Mauve if she felt any change since then.”
Roselyn’s eyes went wide. “Mauve, did you feel a change?”
“I have sensed something different since last night. First, there was a feeling of being alive. Not aware, but alive. Then there was a sense of caring. That’s
an emotion. I don’t have emotions. I thought it was from you, because you cared so much.”
Roselyn looked at her cousin. “Will it stay with us while we’re here? And will it stay when we leave the Freeholds?”
“I don’t know.” Evon shook her head. “But I think that’s up to us.” She nodded toward the door. “Let’s go check on Neima. We need to go into the town to find those who
are too fearful or ill to come here. Neima must stay here and brew potions for the dru treating the sick.”
Neima wasn’t in her room so they headed for the children’s sick room. She was sitting in the corner with her hands folded watching the others. She looked up and smiled. “He cured
them like he said.”
Roselyn asked, “Who was that, Neima?”
“The man in my dream. He was very nice.”
Evaughnlynn’s face went blank. “When was this, Neima?”
“During the night.” Neima got up and walked over to them. “I was afraid the children needed help and I was going to go to them, but he told me they were cured. So I went back to
Evon put her hand on Neima’ shoulder. “Can you describe him?”
Neima smiled. “He was old, but not like my grandfather who’s all wrinkly, and he had long white hair and a beard.” She leaned close to Evaughnlynn. “He was wearing a dirty robe
and his beard needed combing, but his smile was really nice.”
Evon’s face displayed shock and Roselyn touched her. “Are you all right?”
Evon turned and smiled. “Yes.”
Brother Knobu moved easily through the dock area in his disguise as a trader from Cymru. The last of his agents had been notified of the move to Bar Dor tomorrow but he wanted one more look
at the river defenses. When the invasion came a detailed knowledge of those defenses would make the conquest easier.
He walked around the corner and stopped. Directly ahead was a female dru dressed in a white robe and blue headdress walking with a Freeman guard, clearly an officer by his clothing and
armor. It’s Princess Evaughnlynn. Women dru don’t exist among the Freeman. He stepped back around the corner and grabbed his stone of power. After a moment he
realized she had not reacted to his presence.
Concentrating his ability to detect the use of power, he reached out and sensed another stone nearby. Surprise rolled over him. It’s not a stone of great power. It’s a dru
stone, strong, but only a dru stone. He moved back to the corner and looked. She was smiling and talking to the officer guarding her. I was so sure the Master had lied
for reasons of his own when he claimed her stone was not but a dru stone.
His mind flashed through her history. She had survived the attack of a wizard sent by Lord Arnol. His curse had been partially blocked somehow and a warrior had been there whose mind
the wizard couldn’t touch. Then, the Master sent a sorcerer and two wizards to destroy Tower Farm, but again they were defeated by her unexpected power, and yet that same warrior was
there. So it was the warrior who held the power all along! Last year it was definitely the warrior who defeated the two sorcerers sent with the orcs to invade Cymru. But, that
means he’s a stone bearer who kills as a warrior! No wizard of the light will kill intentionally either as a wizard or a warrior.
Brother Knobu hurried away, unwilling to remain near a stone of power while distracted. A stone bearer able to turn a killing curse has to be a sorcerer. He strode down the
street. But if the sorcerer kills, he’s of the Dark. Yet he acts with those of the Light. Why? What does he gain by pretending to be one of them? Nothing,
except to frustrate the Master’s plans. He stopped. Because he’s planning to overthrow the Master? That must be it! No wonder the Master is concerned about this
He looked around and realized he was at the docks. He walked directly to the river and began walking toward the town wall on the far side, examining the river for any interior defense.
He didn’t find any. Everything seemed to depend on stopping any invaders at the outer walls. Once a ship gets past the outer barrier, he concluded, the ship is free to move
from one end of the town to the other. Nothing but towers on each side of the river armed with arrow slits and catapults. Except for the chain that can be raised and lowered, there are
no other defenses. It was the same in Bar Krouth. The Freemen’s cities will be easy nuts to crack. When he reached the wall, he turned and headed for his room to await the
morning and his trip to Bar Dor.
The Master’s servant had traveled far by ship to reach Bar Krouth and had dwelt in the gutters and sewers of the city, coming out only at night like the rat his ancestors had been. But he and
his brothers were twice as large and much more intelligent and vicious than any rat. This city was his second mission for the master. The master had told him he was a faithful servant
and he had been allowed to feast on the master’s kill last time. When he’d met the master just after sundown at the sewer outlet by the river, he had been promised a feast later tonight.
But first he had to reach the area of the city near the main gate without being seen. That didn’t worry him, it was dark, and he was as black as a shadow. He could not read. But
he knew the signs for the various businesses.
He darted down the gutter from shadow to shadow as he moved closer to the city gates. Once he smelled a cat hunting nearby and paused to dream about lying in wait for the big ratter. He
had acquired a certain amount of sensitivity in the service of the Master and enjoyed the fear when the cat realized it was its own neck that was going to be torn open.
Then he saw the sign he was searching for, a shield with hammer and tongs crossed in the center. He moved into the shadow between two buildings across the road where there was room and
concealment for his master when he arrived. He waited.
A few minutes later the shadows darkened and the night air went cold.
“You have done well, Rizo.” The shadows coalesced into the shape of a tall man dressed completely in black with a spectral face concealed under a hooded cowl. The dark figure moved out
of the alley toward the barn doors of the blacksmith shop. Halfway across the road he stopped. Prominently displayed on the door was a piece of wood with words on it.
The shadow-man drifted back to the alley. “Stay and watch.” The shadow darkened and then dissipated, drifting away like black smoke. Rizo moved closer to the end of the alley,
where someone had set an empty barrel. He lay down to watch the shop across the street. He knew the Master was angry and surmised the prey was not there yet. He would wait and
when someone went into the doors by the sign, the Master would return.
Time passed, the guard changed, and the moon entered the sky. Suddenly Rizo felt the darkness stir and grow colder. The darkness rushed in and solidified. The Master stepped out
of the shadows and strode into the street to stand across from the sign. He stood there for several moments. Then a black whirlwind engulfed him and he vanished in a cloud of black
Rizo remained behind the barrel and continued to wait. The watch bell rang, signaling all was well, and the moon moved slowly to its zenith. Again, the darkness drew into the shape of a
man who walked to the center of the road, then vanished.
Rizo moved back and forth in the alley to ward off sleep before he slipped behind the barrel to watch the sign across the street once more.
The watch changed, followed by the moon disappearing behind the horizon. The darkness again condensed into a man who strode into the road.
“Flama!” A huge ball of flame flew from the Master’s hand to blow the two barn doors into the shop. The interior of the building burst into flame. Then, with a growl, the Master
became a whirlwind of smoke and dissipated into the night sky. A few minutes later bells began to ring at the gate and people quickly began to spill into the road from the other
buildings. Rizo ran to the other end of the alley and then into the darkness and the sewers where he would be safe.
He reached his favorite spot, where a number of sewer pipes joined into a large pipe before it drained into the river. Rizo began to watch the flow for something to eat. Soon, the
half-rotted body of a cat drifted by and Rizo pulled it from the flow.
Suddenly, the darkness drew in and quickly formed into the shape of a man followed by a loud splash and a cry, “Ahhh! Rizo! You idiot! I didn’t tell you to leave!”
Rizo’s whole body spasmed in intense pain, causing him to toss the dead cat into the air to fall in the flow of sewage and drift away. He collapsed, panting.
© Copyright 2020 R. M. Keegan. All rights reserved.