King Ragnon stood by his carriage with Baron Loegaire and watched as his daughter and Neima came down the steps of the mansion. They were followed by Badger in his guard’s tabard. Sir
Phylon, or Faolan, as he was called in the Freeholds, had ridden ahead with his apprentice, Gunther of the Accetani Dwarves. If all goes well, we’ll be at the inn this evening before
we’ll hear from them again. He suppressed a smile. Acting Lieutenant Bullnose is extremely nervous in his new assignment, but not as nervous as Acting Sergeant
The Hawkland guards were formed up, four in front of the coach and four behind, all watching Bullnose. The baron’s men were in the rear with the wagons. Evaughnlynn and Neima reached
the coach and Badger leaped in the open door. A maid following them with their luggage. King Ragnon held out his hand to assist his daughter and then Neima into the carriage while
Bullnose opened the boot at the rear and helped the maid place the two small trunks inside.
Baron Loegaire laughed when Badger stuck his head out the window as if to hurry them up. After following Neima into the coach, King Ragnon sat across from the two girls with Badger now seated
between them. “Well, are you ready to start the journey to Bar Dor, or is there some last-minute task to perform?”
“No, Father. We’re ready to leave.” Evaughnlynn smiled at him. “I’m glad to see you’re no worse for the wear after the feast last night. It lasted well into the night.”
“I hope the revelers didn’t keep you awake, my dear, considering you left very early.”
“We had the sick to check on and potions to make.” She glanced at Neima quickly. “We wouldn’t want the sickness to break out again while we’re at Bar Dor. I was also hoping for
word from Bar Chof concerning the sickness. Rose is going there, and I would like to know she can handle what she’ll find.”
Ragnon smiled. “Then you can relax. The Elect sent dru there before we left Bar Krouth. They’ve reported that the sickness is there, but they’ve contained it in the dock area and
have treated the rest of the people with the injection you taught them to make. Rose and Beowyn should have a quiet honeymoon.” He waived out the window. The coach jerked forward,
down the drive, and into road. “The question is, what waits for us in Bar Dor?”
Princess Evaughnlynn looked at her father with her head tilted to one side. “Is that why you were so desperate to come with us?”
“That’s where the battle will be this time, isn’t it?” He leaned forward. “You’re my daughter. The idea of letting you ride off to face the-gods-only-know-what while I babysat
your cousin as a matter of honor was beyond my limit. I had no intention of going with them.” A smile flashed over his face. “Fortunately, Beowyn solved my problem for me.”
He looked out the window. “Considering that I was begging the Freeman’s god for help when Beowyn walked in with my answer, I’m near converting to the Freeman religion.” He looked back
at her. “It would be nice to have a god who listened to our prayers for a change.”
She sensed a flash of sadness pass through his mind and immediately thought of her mother’s death. She reached out and patted his hand resting on his knee.
He smiled weakly. “There’s so much misery in this life that for a long time I’ve felt like we’re just players on a board game the gods have forgotten. Then we came here and I began to
see what it would be like if the gods were truly present with us. There’s great power in this land. I felt it even in Anglia among the Freemen when I was young. I thought later it
was just their enthusiasm for their beliefs and their separateness from other people that caused it. But now, on this adventure of yours, I feel it again.”
Evaughnlynn leaned back. “There is power in being separate from others.” She turned and regarded Neima. “From being chosen—even more power.” She turned back to her
father. “But I agree with you. There is something in this land, in these people, that is more than that.” She smiled and shook her head slightly. “I think I know why the old
ones who fought for the Light abandoned the old gods. Whatever the power that dwells here, it’s of the light. That is sufficient for me to believe in, and I think that was sufficient
for them as well.”
Her father looked out the coach window at the open countryside. “Will you be flying ahead to look for ambushes, or will you leave that to…Faolan?” He shook his head.
“It’s hard not to think of him by that name, but I’m glad you’re able to do it. It reduces his danger.”
Ragnon looked at his daughter with his head tilted to one side. “There really is power in a name?”
“More than you know. The first thing Sorcha taught me was that images and names are linked in our minds. If you know what someone looks like and what they are called, it’s easier to
find them with your mind. All that’s necessary is a strong connection to them.” She looked out the window on the opposite side of the coach. “But, as to your question, I intend to
leave it to Faolan to spot any ambush.”
Evaughnlynn turned back to her father. “This trip reminds me of the ride to Tower Farm. I can sense an attack coming, but I don’t know when or where. It may well come only after
we reach Bar Dor. But what’s to be gained by such an attack, I don’t know.”
“Your death. The death of Faolan. Those would be very welcome to the dark ones. You two have frustrated them too many times. I suspect the dark would risk a lot to bring you
She shook her head. “This move was against the Freeman. The Dark One planned to infect the people with sickness and then invade from the south and west. He planned to destroy the
whole country. It would have opened up Ellisland to invasion. That plan is now broken. It can’t be put back together. The west is secure and the sickness defeated.
What possible gain does the Dark One see in an attack on Bar Dor from the south?”
“Now you’ve done it. You’ve posed a problem I’ll have to solve. But, I’ll have to think this through carefully.” He leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. “If I can
have a little quiet time, perhaps, just perhaps, I’ll be able to understand what’s going on.”
Evaughnlynn looked at Neima and laughed. “And get some rest you missed last night by staying up too late.”
“That too.” Ragnon smiled.
Brother Drogo stared into the fire his men had built and tried to organize future events in his mind. Brother Fulradt is an unknown, but he brings me a new stone of power more powerful
than the one I lost. Brother Knobu is an enemy. But when we meet again I should be stronger than he. That he’ll fail in his effort to kill the witch in Bar Elam is a safe
bet. She’s being guarded by the warrior/sorcerer. She and her guards will come to Bar Dor within days of my arrival. Brother Knobu, assuming he survives his attack on the witch,
will get there about the same time she does.
He looked at the youth struggling to set up his tent and shook his head. And Uric is useless. So what new plan has the master devised to destroy the Swinemen? He reached
over to the stack of wood by the fire, picked up a small branch, snapped it in half, and threw it into the fire. He watched until the flames began to eat his offering then looked up at the
night sky. There’s an invasion force in Mercia. That was part of the original plan. But the master said I was to meet Brother Fulradt in Bar Dor, not Mercia. Why?
Brother Drogo came to his feet and began pacing. The original plan was to spread sickness in the Swinemen’s cities, destroy the dwarf stronghold in the west and invade and destroy all of
them with a two-pronged attack from the west and from Mercia. But the sickness has been defeated by the witch and the western invasion stopped before it even began by the
warrior/sorcerer. So what can the master hope to achieve with this attack on Bar Dor? Nothing!
Brother Drogo looked around at the five men he had with him. I’m to join forces with Brother Fulradt. What forces will he have? The master cannot believe three sorcerers and a
few mercenaries can defeat the same man two sorcerers and a company of Orcs failed to kill last year. The master himself warned me not to use a curse against this unknown sorcerer when he
sent me to kill him in Bar Krouth.
He turned quickly to look at Uric and felt an overpowering urge to punish the boy for his failure to set up the tent properly, but the tent was done and he had no stone of power to punish him
with. He strode directly into the tent and sat on the side of his bed. The only thing the master can be hoping to do is to kill Erispoe’s son in Bar Dor. I’m
not going to die as a sacrifice piece on the master’s game board. If he thinks he’s putting me face-to-face against the sorcerer/warrior who’s killed half a score of wizards and sorcerers
already, he’s mistaken.
Brother Drogo looked around the tent as if seeking a hidden exit. Brother Fulradt will be in command and, if he’s still alive, Brother Knobu will be what? My superior or my
subordinate? Regardless, I will not go against Erispoe’s son, even with Fulradt and Knobu by my side. I’ll keep my mind on killing the witch. That way, at least I have a
chance of survival when this all comes apart like an old cart.
He nodded his head. “Uric, you fool, bring me a goblet of wine.”
Faolan watched the camp below from concealment under a bush at the top of the hill. The man in charge, dressed as a Mercian trader, did nothing except sit and stare into the fire. A
servant-boy moved slowly around the camp setting up a tent while the rest, mercenaries, or at least dressed as such, busied themselves with their weapons and equipment. It was not a camp he
would voluntarily walk into.
The tension among the men almost seemed to be transmitted through the air. But Faolan knew it was because the warriors did nothing to help each other or the servant while the trader ignored
them, contenting himself with angry glances at the servant-boy and throwing sticks into the fire.
The memory of lying on a hill overlooking another camp flashed through his mind, including what Lares had taught him that day. Faolan backed out of the bush and crawled down to where he could
stand unobserved before walking down to where Gunther lay on his back looking at the evening clouds backlighted by the setting sun. “Follow me, but keep quiet. I want you to see the
camp set up by the men we trailed.” He moved back up the hill, dropping to his knees and crawling to the bush.
A few moments later Gunther pushed in beside him and looked downhill. “What am I looking for?”
“Keep it to a whisper,” Faolan replied. “Sound carries farther than you think.”
Just then, “Uric, you fool, bring me a goblet of wine,” carried faintly up to them.
Faolan realized it had to be the merchant who had spoken, he was no longer sitting by the fire. The tent was finished and the servant boy was cooking at the fire. He turned and walked
over to the wagon where he began rummaging around in the back. A few moments later the merchant walked out of the tent. “What are you doing, you useless fool? I said bring me
Gunther rustled so violently in the bush that Faolan grabbed him and rolled with him out of the bush and partway down the hill. He whispered harshly, “What are you doing?”
“It’s him!” Gunther struggled to get free with his hand on his knife hilt. “It’s the dark wizard I fought.”
“The one whose stone you smashed?”
“Stay here.” Faolan scrambled several yards further along the hill and then crawled back up to the top to peek over the edge. Two of the mercenaries stood facing up the hill while the
servant ran over to the merchant with a bottle of wine and a goblet.
“Nothing,” one of the two mercenaries said after a few seconds. “Probably a bird,”
“Or a rabbit,” the other replied. ‘I think I saw motion in the grass further along the ridge.” The two turned back to their camp.
Faolan crawled backwards until he was well below the hill’s crest then hurried over to Gunther. “It seems I was right to trail them.” He sat and brushed the dirt off his hands. “I
wondered why they were moving cross country like outlaws when we cut their trail earlier.” Herubbed his chin. “The wizard is heading for Bar Dor, if their direction now is
any indication. I wonder why. He’s lost his stone of power. He looked up at the rapidly darkening sky. “The princess needs to know what we’ve found. Perhaps she can
make sense of it.”
Gunther looked at Faolan with his head to one side. “Are we going to backtrack to the inn on the road?”
“Yes. They’ve settled for the night. We can report to the princess and be back here well before dawn.” He got to his feet and headed for their horses at the bottom of the hill.
Gunther and Faolan rode for the inn where they had earlier left a message for the princess and her party. It seemed to Gunther that Faolan rode faster toward the inn than they had away from
it earlier in the day, and yet it seemed to take longer to get back then it had to get to the camp of the wizard.
The inn was on a hillock off the road with a wall and gate, now closed for the night. Faolan rode up to it and rang the bell hanging outside, but the gate opened almost simultaneously and a
large man dressed in armor stepped out. “Now, what brings you back here, Sir Faolan?” Gunther recognized Bullnose’s voice immediately. It was deep and loud like his grandfather’s.
“And what is an acting lieutenant doing standing guard?”
“It’s my usual watch time. I couldn’t sleep,” the big man replied. “And you?”
“I need to see the princess and the king.” He dismounted and clasped his friend by the shoulders. “But it’s good to see you again, my friend.”
“Well, come with me.” The big man went back through the gate. “If they’re still up and about, they’ll be in the sitting room.”
Gunther dismounted and followed Faolan through the gate, closing it behind him. He hurried to catch up. “I’ll take the horses to the stable,”
Faolan turned back. “No need. We won’t be here that long.” He waved his hand. “They’ll stay here.” He dropped Nightshade’s reins and the horse stopped. Faolan
and Bullnose immediately continued toward the inn door. Gunther shrugged his shoulders and dropped his horse’s reins as well, only to find the animal following him across the courtyard.
He stopped and pointed at the ground and said, “Stay,” like he would for a dog. The horse stopped and he ran to catch up.
It was bright inside the lobby of the inn and he stopped to let his eyes adjust. Faolan and Bullnose were just going through the large doorway across the room and he hurried after them.
Just as he entered the room, King Ragnon and Princess Evaughnlynn stood up from where they were sitting by the large fireplace. Neima and Badger were sitting on the floor with a game board
between them. Both of them glanced over. Then Badger looked back at the board and moved a game piece before looking up at Neima.
Neima was still looking at him, smiling as she stood up to step over by the princess. He suddenly felt he knew why Faolan always answered the princess’s call. He realized he would do
anything to protect this beautiful child. He smiled and bowed to her as Faolan had just done to the king and princess.
“I have news I thought important enough to tell you without delay. The wizard who attacked Gunther and his henchmen are on their way to Bar Dor. We stumbled on their trail when we were
doing a sweep to the East from the road. He and half a dozen men are camped for the night a few leagues from here. I think we should trail them. His destination will tell us much
we don’t presently know.”
The princess nodded. “And I will have to scout by air tomorrow to be certain no one lies in wait for us.”
The king looked off toward the window. “We could just hit their camp and take this dark wizard captive.” He smiled. “After all Gunther pulled his fangs earlier. We might
learn their plans from him.”
The princess put her hand on her father’s forearm. “We would only cause him pain and death. He won’t talk and his men will know nothing. Remember that his master can find him
anywhere and at any time. He’s more afraid of him than of anything you could do, and with good reason.” She turned to Faolan. “Follow him, but be careful. I want to know
where he goes without him knowing we know.”
“Yes, Milady.” Faolan bowed again, then turned to Gunther with a nod toward the door. “We leave immediately.” He paused a moment, “after we eat.”
Gunther sighed deeply. He had been wondering if he was going to eat again before dawn. They hadn’t eaten since midday and he was very hungry.
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