The royal party continued on through the town to the fortress gates where an official welcoming party waited, having been alerted to their arrival by the Freeman guards who had ridden ahead.
The fortress surprised Evaughnlynn on the ride through its streets. The grounds and buildings looked like any other city or town. There was even a park across the road from the
headquarters building. She realized that the town had not so much grown up outside the fortress as grown out of it.
They were escorted to the headquarters building where the Captain General of the fortress stood on the front steps surrounded by his senior officers and aides. When the coach stopped her
father stepped down quickly and turned back to help her and Neima. The Captain General’s head went back and his eyes bulged when he saw her. But his mouth fell open when she was
followed by Neima, who was also wearing the traditional robes of a dru.
Evaughnlynn smiled. “I know we look too young to be real dru, Captain General. But I assume you’ve heard the results of our work in Bar Krouth and Bar Elam? We will defeat the
“The sickness is not a concern of ours. It is a matter for the city officials in Bar Dor. It has not found entrance here.” He turned to face her father. “The Elect, however,
has instructed that your party is under our protection. I have arranged housing within the citadel. If you wish to visit the sick in the town tomorrow morning, or thereafter, we can
arrange a suitable guard detail.”
Evaughnlynn was dumbstruck by the Captain General’s words and had instinctively looked at his aura. It was an angry red. It was more than embarrassment at not knowing how to deal with
nobility, but active hatred for her group.
Before she could recover, her father laughed, stepped forward and slapped the Captain General on the shoulder. “I’ll have to tell Benami how seriously you take your responsibilities.
However, we’re not under your protection, Captain, but the protection of God. Gamaliel, himself, has spoken on this.” He squeezed the captain’s shoulder with his right hand, causing the
officer to flinch slightly. “Now, since God helps those who first help themselves, we have brought guards from both Hawkland and the Freeholds.” He smiled widely. “And while we
appreciate your offer of hospitality, this sickness is serious business and needs immediate attention to save its victims.” He stepped back and looked at the Captain General with his head
tilted to one side. “Unless you think God is unable to take up the slack in the help we have given ourselves?”
“Of course not.” The Captain General straightened his back and brought up his chin. “All things are possible for God.”
“Then, will you please direct us to where the sick are being quartered in Bar Dor?” Her father stepped back toward the coach.
The Captain General didn’t move. “They have been quarantined to their homes.”
“Their homes.” Her father nodded his head. “And where might we find the dru treating them?”
“If they’re still alive, that would be Old Merari and his son. The other town dru have been commandeered due to the high number of wounded we’ve suffered from border raids.”
“And where might we find Old Merari and his son?”
The Captain General’s mouth moved and his eyes went left and right momentarily. “Ahhh…” He turned to his staff. “Sergeant, take the royal party to Dru Merari.”
He turned back to Ragnon. “If there’s nothing else, I have work to do.”
Ragnon nodded. “That will be most satisfactory.” He turned to the sergeant, who saluted.
As their coach moved through the town of Bar Dor Evaughnlynn regarded her father and the things he had said about his experiences with the Freemen. “You are more familiar with the Freemen
culture then I knew.” She tilted her head to one side. “You speak the language, don’t you?”
“Speak and write.” He looked out the window. “And I believe we’ve arrived.”
The coach stopped. Her father got out and turned to help her down. “Have you forgotten I lived with Benami’s family and served on one of their ships for two seasons?”
She nodded. “And studied their ways and religion when you lived in Anglia, I know.” She looked up and stopped. “This is a warehouse.”
The Freeman sergeant was standing to one side and stepped forward. “When the Captain General ordered all the dru to the citadel, Dru Merari and his son remained behind to look after the
plague victims. They had them brought here. They couldn’t look after all of them otherwise.”
The sergeant strode over to the warehouse door and pulled it open. The smell of mold, dry rot, and sickness reached Princess Evaughnlynn immediately. She sighed and walked toward the
smell. Neima and her father followed.
The large area was lighted by only a few lamps, but Evaughnlynn could see the floor of the warehouse covered with litters arranged in rows. Two dru wearing the traditional bird beak masks
moved about but turned and stopped when Evaughnlynn entered in her dru robes. The one nearest sighed and slowly sank to the floor. The one in back yelled, “Father,” and hurried forward.
Evaughnlynn went to the fallen dru and gripped his wrist. She had already sensed the sickness in him. She immediately began to fight the virus with her mind.
Neima put her hand on Evaughnlynn’s shoulder. “May I help?”
Without looking up, Evaughnlynn replied, “Not with him. See to his son and the others.”
Karl opened his eyes. The tent was dark. The voice had been so soft he wasn’t sure he recognized it, or if it had been a dream and not a voice. He kept his breathing regular, as
if still asleep.
“It’s time to go. A wizard will arrive in a few hours to check on you. We must be well and away from here by then.”
This time he was sure he recognized the old man’s voice and sat up. “You’re going to help me escape, Ingal?”
“Don’t speak. Even a whisper can be heard. Get ready, but in the dark. A light might draw attention when we don’t need it.”
Karl scrambled off his cot and into his boots. He more sensed than saw the old man at the tent flap, looking out. He whispered, “How are we going to get out of camp?”
“Hush. Follow me.” The old man slipped through the tent flap without a sound, letting it slide back into place.
Karl rose and went to the opening. He paused for a moment and then slid the tent flap open enough to squeeze through. He was surprised at how much lighter it was outside than in the
tent. The full moon was halfway below the northwest horizon. The old man beckoned him to follow and started through the camp for the cliffs. It was like following a shadow.
Karl did his best but knew he was making noise. Fortunately, the camp was asleep.
Karl was concerned about the perimeter guards. He could see two of them watching the cliff from the edge. Suddenly, the old man stopped and waved his hand toward the closest
guard. Then he waved his hand at the one further away. He nodded his head and started forward again. Karl followed. When they reached the first guard at the cliff, he nodded
at them before he returned to watching the sea.
The old man started forward again, but halfway to the second guard he turned into the path downward. Karl stopped. A moment later Ingal came back to the top and waved him forward.
Then he turned down the path again.
Karl followed him, wondering where they were going, since the cove was blocked both north and south by cliffs. The only way off the beach was the guarded road which led back to the camp.
Ingal whispered, “There’s also a rudderless boat set off to the side awaiting repairs.”
Karl easily caught up with the old man moving cautiously down the path. “We can’t sail a rudderless skiff. It’ll drift back to shore. We have to be able to tack into the wind.”
“We will. The broken rudder’s a trick. It’s removeable and an undamaged rudder is concealed under the sand.”
The shock of his escape was wearing off and Karl’s mind raced over the events of both tonight and the days since he was taken out of his cell in the dark sorcerer’s keep. His mind could not
believe this was real, but he could also not suppress the hope welling up.
“I’ll answer your questions when we’re at sea,” Ingal said from just ahead of him. “Right now, content yourself with the fact this is real. This is not a trick of the dark ones.
Someone you know and trust waits for us at the boat.”
The path ended at the bottom of the cliff near the skiff and Karl realized that was why the boat had been placed there. Ingal moved quickly to the near side of the small craft and began
shifting the sand with his hands. After a few seconds he stood up and dragged a small ship’s rudder out of the shallow hole.
Karl walked over to the back of the boat to examine how the rudder was attached. He realized the broken rudder could be lifted off by removing a cotter pin.
“Well, Captain,” a strangely familiar voice said out of the dark. “Shouldn’t you pull off the damaged rudder so we can be on our way?”
Karl turned. He could just make out the figure of a man approaching from the darkness of the cliff. As he approached, Karl thought, It can’t be. Agam fell years ago on the
“Ya, I know, cousin. I’m supposed to be dead.” He grabbed Karl by the shoulder with one hand. “It was necessary for my job. But, I’m really here.”
A ‘thunk’ brought Karl around. Ingal stood next to the boat, resting the bottom of the replacement rudder on the sand.
Karl turned back to the boat, pulled out the cotter pin, and lifted the damaged rudder off the brass fitting. He reached over and took the replacement from Ingal, set it in the place, then
rotated it up and locked the brass fitting. He glanced at his cousin, still feeling confused by seeing him alive. “You push and I’ll pull.” He strode to the front of the skiff,
grabbed the bow line, and began to drag the boat toward the water.
When the water reached his knees and he felt the skiff floating, he said, “Get aboard.” He pulled and then pushed the skiff along one side until he was near the stern then grabbed his
cousin’s hand and jumped aboard. Ingal was busy untying the square sail in preparation for running it up the mast.
Karl looked for the oars. “We’ll have to row for a while. The prevailing wind is onshore.”
“There’s a north wind coming.” Ingal kept arranging the sail.
“Not on this coast at this time of year.” He looked around for the oars. “The north winds don’t move in until the fall.” The moment he spoke he felt the onshore wind shift to the
south. He dropped the rudder and looked forward to see Agam and Ingal raising the sail.
The sail went up, filled, and pulled the ship forward. The old man tied off the line and turned to the rear. “Well, Captain Shachar, son of Benami, it’s time to talk about our
The roll of the sea, the salt air, and the pull of the breeze on the sail washed away the illusion of Karl, and Captain Shachar brought the small ship heading about directly at the Freeholds ports
along the coast of Ellisland. He looked at his cousin and the old man sitting by the mast. “All right, we’re at sea. Now, it’s time to answer some questions. Cousin, what do
you mean your death was necessary for your job? And, Ingal, who are you?”
Princess Evaughnlynn straightened up from her last patient and sighed from exhaustion. She looked around the warehouse. Neima was washing a small boy’s face with a damp cloth. Dru
Merari, the younger, was sleeping in an armchair next to his father’s cot. The crisis was passed. Once again, as Neima had moved through the room, a pale blue aura surrounded her and
the sick had rallied. Occasionally she had stopped and lingered over a patient, some young, some old. When she did her aura flared, as if there were a resistance to the healing she
brought. But eventually she had moved on, giving broth and comfort to each in turn.
The squeaking from the door opening brought her around. Her father stepped inside and waved her over. She took a deep breath and walked across the large, cot-filled warehouse to where
he stood just inside the doorway.
“Faolan and Gunther are here,” he said in a whisper. “They have news of the dark wizards.”
Evaughnlynn nodded, but it was more to conceal the emotions the mention of Faolan’s name caused than to acknowledge her father’s statement. “Take me to them.” The sudden joy she felt
nearly overwhelmed her as she followed him outside.When she didn’t see him, she looked around. There was no one on the street other than her father’s six men-at-arms and the
local sergeant. “Where are they?”
“In the shop across the street.” He waved his hand in the direction of a blacksmith shop on the opposite side of the road. “He said we’ve been under observation since we arrived in the
city. He doesn’t yet want to be seen with you. That’s why Faolan had Gunther tell me where he was.”
She looked around. “Wait here.” She started across the street.
“Not bloody likely.” Her father started after her.
When she reached the blacksmith’s she stopped with her hand on the large stable door. She couldn’t move. Faolan was inside. The look on his face at her cousins’ wedding filed her
mind. She hadn’t intended to, but she had seen his aura. It was exactly like Beowyn’s had been before he had learned Roselyn was in love with him.
“Well, girl, are we just going to stand here? Or are we going in to get his report?”
Evaughnlynn glanced back at her father and then opened the door with a deep sigh. Faolan was talking to an old man at the rear of the room while Gunther was a few feet away watching the
door. Her heart began to pound wildly.
Gunther immediately went to one knee. “Milady.”
Faolan turned, then tapped the old man on the shoulder and strode over to her. He bowed. “Milady.” As he straightened up his eyes narrowed. “Are you all right, Milady?”
“I’m find.” She suppressed her broiling emotions. Why is this happening to me?
Sorcha replied, “Because something has changed. Your future is no longer certain. Something beyond this attack on the Freeholds has changed the course of future event.”
Evaughnlynn could not stop herself from brushing the palm of her hand across Faolan’s face. “You look so tired. I’m afraid you’re not taking care of yourself.”
“Don’t worry about me, Milady. Something is going on. All but one of the dark wizards left the city this morning. I stayed close to their men last night and heard one of them say
they were leaving for the border with East Mercia. I fear an attack on Bar Dor is coming.”
King Ragnon replied, “Not Bar Dor. The border posts.”
She turned. Her father stood just inside the door. “The Freeman sergeant tells me the reason there were only two dru fighting the plague was because the rest were commandeered to treat
the high number of wounded from the border patrols. I expect the Captain General has sent for reinforcements, but they can’t have arrived yet. So the border posts are undermanned.”
Evaughnlynn fought to fit this information into the pattern she had seen earlier. There was a piece missing and she knew instinctively she should see it, but she didn’t. “How long until
the reinforcements arrive?”
The king’s forehead wrinkled. “They’ll assemble in Bar Krouth and travel overland by wagon from there. The sergeant told me they were requested four days ago, they should be here in
seven days.” He glanced Faolan. “Do you agree?”
“Yes, Milord.” He looked at the door. “Two days to the border if the wizards and their men maintain cover as traders, another to join their forces waiting in East Mercia and get
ready.” He turned to Evaughnlynn. “Even if the dark wizards have an army waiting, there’s no way it could fight through the Freemen to Bar Dor before reinforcements arrive.”
Evaughnlynn touched Faolan’s arm. “Even with wizards leading them?”
He looked at her. “That could change the timeline a day…maybe two, but openly using dark wizards against an entire country, unlike last time against a small force in the wild, or even a
localized attack like the one at Tower Farm, would be a major departure for the dark. Failure to have a decisive win would cause all Ellisland to unite.”
The princess dropped her hand. “So, you think the attack will be conventional?”
Faolan nodded. “I think this whole attack is a ruse.” He turned to Ragnon. “When the princess broke the plague and the dwarves stopped the western invasion, the plan to conquer
the Freeholds failed. So, to what purpose an attack on Bar Dor? First, the plague and then an attack from East Mercia? The plague brought your daughter here and the attack keeps
King Ragnon looked from Faolan to his daughter and then back again. “They wanted her here, why?”
Faolan shook his head. “I know only that the dark wizards hid one of their own in the city when they left. Why? The only thing I can think of is that they intend to kill the
princess during the confusion of battle.”
© Copyright 2019 R. M. Keegan. All rights reserved.