Faolan watched the princess and her father enter the coach and leave with most of the guards. Neima and Gunther remained in the warehouse with two Freeman guards and the local sergeant who
would see the two youngsters back to the fort. Faolan quickly slipped out the back door to the blacksmith shop and trotted to the corner to watch the back path of the coach. Sure
enough, two men followed, one near the coach while the other hung back, watching their own back trail.
Faolan suspected there were more men, probably parallel and mounted in case the coach turned or sped up. He stayed well back as he followed the rear spy until the man joined the other two men
just outside the fort gate. From there he followed the three men to a tavern near the outskirts of the town. There they met with four other men and sat at a table, drinking until they
all went upstairs to sleep.
Since he had checked the guests at this same tavern the day before, he was sure the wizard who had remained behind was not there. He still had no idea where the wizard was, but he knew one
had remained behind. These men would have to report to him soon if he was going to try killing Evaughnlynn. He yawned. Tomorrow would be another day. He dropped a copper
coin on the table and left.
Gunther had stayed with the princess and her party, so Faolan had no one to share the watch with. He went to the stable next to the tavern, where the dark wizard’s men kept their horses, and
slept in the loft. He knew that he would wake if the stable door was opened.
Princess Evaughnlynn stood looking out the window overlooking the inn courtyard. She missed Roselyn and Beowyn as she fought to control her anger at her father and Faolan. Her cousins
had always helped her calm down. When her father had ordered her to immediately go with a full complement of guards to the inn within the fortress she had been speechless for several
seconds. The idea that he would give such an order despite the things he had seen her do was unbelievable.
Sorcha had whispered, “Hold your temper, girl. Fear for a child bypasses the brain. He’ll listen to you again when he sees you’re safe in the fortress.”
But her anger at her father was not as deep as her anger at Faolan. She was positive he had turned from her to her father deliberately to stress the seriousness of the situation. If he
frightened her father, Phylon knew he’d lock her down immediately. He intended to go after the dark wizard by himself before she could.
However, her anger was tempered by her fear for him and the fact she knew why he had done it. He knew she wouldn’t kill while the dark wizard wouldn’t hesitate. Faolan had no such
“You fear Faolan’s death more than your own.”
She sighed. “I don’t fear death. It’s a waste of energy.”
“You’ve been very lucky so far in your battles with the dark. Don’t get overconfident. But I sense you don’t agree with Faolan’s belief the dark drew you here to kill you.”
Evaughnlynn pulled her stone of power from concealment under her clothing to hold it up to the light. “From what Dru Merari’s son told me, the plague didn’t arrive here until after Rose and I
had broken it in Bar Krouth. Since Faolan and the dwarves had defeated the attack on Hollow Mountain, the invasion plan had failed. So what purpose was served by planting the plague
here? I don’t see the dark going to such lengths to kill me. An attack on Hawk’s Keep would be easier. So, I’m convinced there must be some other purpose.”
“What other purpose.”
“I don’t know.” She looked out the window again. “And yet, I feel I should. There’s something. I can’t quite see the pattern because…I don’t know.” She turned
around. “It’s like a dream I can’t quite remember. Something I know, and yet don’t know I know.”
She sensed Neima approaching and turned toward the door.
There was a soft knock on the door.
“Come in, Neima.”
The door opened and Neima stepped in. “Milady, I thought you were going to rest.”
“I can’t.” She sighed, and then smiled. “At least they let us finish treating the sick before they hustled us out of that…”
“Warehouse.” Neima smiled. “Dru Merari told me before I left that he can now bring in family members to help care for the sick. He said the cleaning we recommended would be done
“Good. If there’s nothing else, I’m going to try again to get some rest.”
Neima curtsied. “Then, goodnight, Milady.” She opened the door but turned back before exiting. “Milady, if you don’t mind, I’d like to go to the Warrior’s Temple tomorrow morning.
I promised to make a rubbing of my uncle’s name on the wall if I could.”
“Of course you can.” She turned back to the window before she recalled what Sorcha had told her earlier about Gunther’s father. She turned quickly and saw the door close. She
called, “Neima.” When the door opened again, she said, “You should ask Gunther if he’d like to go with you. His father’s name is there as well.”
“It is?” Neima stepped back into the room. “But the names in the warrior’s temple are those who died to protect the Freeholds.”
“His father came to the aid of some Freemen who were attacked by raiders. He fell in the battle.”
Neima’s eyes went misty. “Many men, even many Freeholders, wouldn’t put their life in danger for others.” She looked up at Evaughnlynn. “He must have been a good man.”
Evaughnlynn smiled. “I think his son’s a very good man too, although he’s still a youth.”
Neima smiled. “I’ll ask him if he wants to go to the temple. He’s standing watch downstairs right now.”
Evaughnlynn watched the door close and then stood looking at it. Neima suddenly reminded her of herself when she had first met Faolan, a too-young warrior in her father’s guards. And
Gunther, unaware of who he really was, reminded her of Faolan at the same age.
“You saw his aura when he was near Neima earlier,” Sorcha said. “Both love and admiration for her were clear. It was the same aura you saw around Phylon the first time he
“Don’t use that Name, Sorcha.” Evaughnlynn turned away from the door. “I must never think of him by that name. He’s Faolan now.” She stepped back to the window and looked
out. “Oh, where are you Faolan? Hunting the dark one? Please, God, keep him safe.”
“God? Not gods?”
“I have felt the presence of the Freeman God in this land. I have never felt the presence of our gods. I will pray to that power while I’m here. It may not heed me, but it will
surely hear me.”
“This journey has changed you, daughter of Hawkland. You have grown into more than your power. You have grown into wisdom. I sense you’re finally willing to admit your true
feelings for Faolan. I too feel an uncertainty in the course of future events. Yet, it is still only a possibility. Something has occurred of which we are not yet aware. Or
is there something I’m not seeing that you are?”
Evaughnlynn walked over to the bed and sat down to remove her boots. “No. Only that I feel I’m missing, something—something I should know. Yet, I’m certain that something has
changed in the flow of events. It must be too far away for me to see yet.” She stood up and slipped off her robe. The bathtub had arrived so long ago the water was lukewarm.
She got in and began to wash. “I’ll look at it again with fresh eyes.”
“And a fresh mind.”
Evaughnlynn finished her bath and went to bed. Despite all the uncertainty she felt lingered just out of sight, she quickly fell asleep.
The sound of the rooster crowing woke Faolan and he scrambled down from the stable loft and into the street. He walked to the tavern confident the dark lord’s men were still asleep. He
took a seat at the rear of the room and ordered breakfast. He ate slowly and when he finished, he waited. A half hour later the six men came downstairs and ate. When they
finished, they walked in a group to the stable.
Faolan stayed only long enough to confirm they were saddling their horses before hurrying off to get Nightshade from the stable at the edge of town where the big roan was boarded. He had no
sooner ridden into the roadway when he saw the six men just outside the town on the road leading to West Mercia.
He watched them for several minutes, expecting them to change direction, but they continued until they were nearly out of sight. He started after them indirectly by angling off on a side road
which he knew paralleled the road to West\ Mercia. After half an hour he cut cross-country back to the road to Mercia and examined the roadway. After a few seconds he spotted the two
horseshoes he had marked several days earlier to make tracking them easier.
Four hours later he dismounted and moved off the road some distance before crawling up to the crest and looking over. As he had expected, the dark wizard’s men were stopped at a crossroads
with a spring. In any other country on Ellisland there would have been a shrine of the Hooded One at the rest stop. But in the Freeholds such shrines did not exist.
After an hour the men mounted and took the road to East Mercia instead of West Mercia. Faolan watched them until they rode out of sight over the hill nearly a league away. Then he
mounted and road back toward Bar Dor.
His mind was spinning. If the princess is the target of an attack, how is the watchers leaving the city helpful to that? It can’t be. Yet, they followed her since she
arrived. But Evaughnlynn had been right, an attack on Hawk’s Keep would be easier if killing her was their aim. Could her death be part of a bigger plan? But what?
Did the last dark wizard slip out of the city while I was watching his henchmen? No. He would never travel alone and if he left, what was the point of their following
Evaughnlynn? So the dark wizard is still here. But where?
Then the fact hit him that the wizard’s henchmen had abandoned following Evaughnlynn when she returned to the fortress. He’s in the fortress! That’s why his underlings left.
Their job was over. She has reached the place where the trap is set.
Evaughnlynn dressed and went downstairs to the dining area of the inn. Her father looked up as she entered the room, glanced at the empty seat on his right and then to the seat on his left,
where Neima was siting. She sat down and leaned close to whisper. “It wasn’t dressing which delayed me, father. It was thinking about the situation in Bar Dor and the recent
His head went back. “I’ve said nothing about your keeping us waiting, my dear.” He signaled the innkeeper with his hand. “I was enjoying telling Neima about your early years and
how your stone frightened the castle people.”
She smiled, a little coyly. “Your lips were sealed, but your eyes spoke loudly.”
“And my aura?” He grinned.
“I didn’t look. I don’t look at auras unless it’s necessary.” She cocked her head to one side. “Yours, shows you’re in good humor this morning. And I suspect your eye
lashing on my being late was done for your enjoyment.”
“It was.” He glanced around the room at the other occupants. “The plague is defeated and we can go home.”
“Despite the coming battle here?”
He looked up as the innkeeper and several servants arrived with breakfast. When the plates were in place and the servants left, the king leaned close to Evaughnlynn. “We don’t know an
attack will occur here. We only know there have been more border attacks than usual. We also know Eastern Mercia is in chaos because the king is keeping most of his army in the
Evaughnlynn sighed. “He’s afraid of his brother who’s clearly in league with dark powers.”
“He’s afraid of everybody.”
“Milady.” Neima leaned forward. “After breakfast Gunther and I would like to go to the Warrior’s Temple, if that’s all right with you.”
Evaughnlynn also leaned forward. “I think we should check on the wounded soldiers first. The Captain General has pulled most of the town dru into the fortress, so it must be
serious. Once we’ve assessed the situation, then, I think, there’ll be time for you to visit the temple.”
When Neima nodded, Evaughnlynn leaned back and began eating. She had noticed Gunther on the opposite side of the table listening. Her curiosity made her look at his aura as his eyes
shifted from her back to Neima.
“You’ve seen that aura before,” Sorcha said. “The first time you went out of the castle with Faolan.”
“You said that before. What does it mean, Sorcha?”
“That she is a beautiful child. Don’t you remember? It angered you at the time and made me laugh.”
Evaughnlynn looked down at her plate and took another bite. “And will he fall in love with her, as Faolan did with me?”
“And you with him.”
“There’s little more hope for them than there was for Faolan and me. She’s a Freeman dru of potential while he’s a warrior dwarf.” She took another bite but found it difficult
to swallow. She forced the food down and leaned forward. “Neima, the fort hospital has experience in treating battle wounds. I don’t think they’ll need our help after all.
Why don’t you and Gunther go to the Temple after breakfast as you suggested. I’ll check on the wounded as a courtesy.”
Neima smiled. “Yes, Milady.”
© Copyright 2019 R. M. Keegan. All rights reserved.