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|Part one of a two chapter chronicle of an event in the life of the elven mage Lady Kerryn, whose relationship with a powerful and exiled mage leads her into a perilous situation. This story is K.Sinclaire's long overdue prize for claiming the 100th comment on my page... thus, the main character is loosely based on her wish to be represented as a lady mage of the elven nobility. For those of you who may be acquainted with the history of my three elven kingdoms, she is a member of the Aratyn family--those descended from Sarselm, son of Emensor'tol. Without further ado, here you go! Hopefully the 200th comment prize won't be too far behind... ;)|
Note: the translations for the bits of Elvish are located at the end of the section. Happy reading!
Kerryn looked intently into the brilliant red gem she held suspended between her long white fingers, almost forgetting the small attendant that stood quietly at her side. As she delved further into the study, her soft blue eyes grew pale with the strange green tint that ever accompanied her pensive moods. A small frown turned down the corner of her mouth, and her fair brow bent in fixed concentration over her gaze. That fiery stone had always given her strength, but in this unprecedented instance it did not seem to be helping.
“I don’t know, Nedee,” she uttered at last, her soft voice tinged with frustration. She let the gem fall back to her chest, where it hung suspended upon a fine, beautifully-wrought chain of silver. Her eyes wandered to the bright arch of the wide eastern window. The sun had just woken from its slumber beneath the horizon, and even now was stretching its first soft rays into the gray skies of the morning. Kerryn closed her eyes as a cool breeze swept into the chamber and gently blew back her long, golden hair.
Her little maid looked up at her questioningly, wondering what to make of her silence. “Won’t you go, Lady Kerryn?” she ventured at last to ask, her girlish voice high and puzzled.
Kerryn opened her eyes and reached out her hand to pat the girl’s pale-haired head. The brown eyes that gazed back up at her looked so inquisitive and anxious that she could no longer refuse to answer the lingering question.
“I suppose I shall,” she murmured, rising gracefully from her cushioned seat. “I would never miss an opportunity for a change of scenery, after all. Furthermore, I do believe that Lord Aldain would never stop complaining if I failed to make an appearance.”
The little child grinned brightly. “He seems much enamored with you, Lady.”
Kerryn met the girl’s bright gaze with amused eyes. “That he does. And if it were not for your constant pestering, you little pup, I might be better pleased by his invitation.”
Nedee might have been hurt by these words, had not the lady negated their gravity with a playful tickle as she swept past the young girl and to her wardrobe.
“Now, what shall I bring?” she said, her eyes gleaming with quiet delight.
Nedee sprang upon the soft couch that stood alongside the wardrobe, leaning over the back as to be nearer to the action. “O, do bring your fine autumn gown—the one the daughter of that Aramelian lord sent to you.”
“Yes,” said Lady Kerryn, musing over the garment, “the people of the wood do work beautifully with such natural colors as these. But ‘tis too rich for my tastes. I believe I shall wear this,” she announced, drawing forth a delicate yet simple riding dress.
Nedee’s bright eyes expressed horrified discontent, but a small cry was the utmost rebuke she could utter.
“I know what you would say,” laughed Kerryn. “The Lord of Scodern invites me to a grand feast in his King’s castle, and I would appear in a riding garment? Well, I rather think it would amuse him. Despite his grand love of science and that curious alchemy of his, I believe he finds my whims intriguing.” She turned with a self-confident air at this, holding the dress before herself in the tall mirror standing near the wardrobe. “Besides,” she continued. “It is not a short journey. I must be comfortable, mustn’t I?”
The little maid would have spoken again, but a more mature voice preempted her.
“And I suppose the fair elven maiden would undertake this quest alone, without bothering to concern her guardian in the matter?”
Kerryn turned, but with no great expression of alarm or hurry. The tall, dark-haired warrior that stood, illuminated by the strengthening sun, in her doorway awaited her response with an expression of subdued patience settled over his fine features.
“Saelras,” she said with a mischievous smile, watching his unfathomable green eyes, “you can’t believe that I didn’t mean to tell you?”
“I have learned never to believe anything in regards to you, my lady,” he replied, his calm voice unfaltering. “’Twould be like believing that the tide must never change.”
Kerryn sighed. “I feel I should be insulted by your insinuation, but alas, you know me too well—I might as well tell you all. I have been invited by Lord Aldain of Scodern to the Autumn Banquet at his king’s castle, and I mean to go.”
Saelras frowned, a new light in his eyes revealing his concern. “That is well enough, my lady—but to reach Scodern by the autumn turning you must pass through Imithol. I am afraid that is too dangerous at the moment.”
“Dangerous?” piped up Nedee. “Why, Lord Saelras?”
The warrior looked down at the little girl. “The armies are amassing there, child. There is rumor of war between Imithol and the people of the northern country of Trual.” He returned his gaze to Kerryn and spoke once more. “It is far too dangerous.”
“What threat can be found in a lone lady traveling with her maid and personal guard?” she asked, her brow bending in annoyance. “I am certain that none would assail us.”
“You misattribute your own consideration to those who do not deserve it, my lady. Not all have your merciful spirit. I would rather you did not take the risk.”
Kerryn sat silently for a long moment, considering. At length, she laid the blue traveling gown across her bed.
“Nedee,” she said casually, “do seek out my riding boots.”
She turned to Saelras, who stood regarding her with a look of reserved dismay. She smiled almost apologetically.
“Armies or no, dear friend, I will not be daunted—and I will not change my plans. Besides,” she added, moving across the room to her dressing-stand as Nedee left in search of the requested footwear, “there is one along the way whom I must stop to visit.”
A shadow passed over Saelras’ face. “My lady,” he said quietly, “you cannot mean…”
Kerryn looked up, her green-tinged eyes gleaming. “I mean no other. I told you long ago that I would not abandon him.”
“Lady Kerryn…” Saelras began tentatively. He rarely called her by name. “He is an exile. You must not forget what he has done.”
“Oh, I shall not,” she replied quickly. “And neither shall I forget what was done to him. If war is coming down upon his head, is it not merely just that he should know of it?”
Saelras nodded slowly. “Of course, my lady. Assuming that he does not know already. I fear that he is still—”
“Dangerous?” interjected Kerryn. “I know that as well as you or Lord Elstir, Saelras. You needn’t remind me. However, I refuse as I ever have to forfeit him entirely to his own destruction.”
“He lost his mind long ago, my lady. There is nothing to preserve.”
Kerryn cast her far-seeing gaze out into the brightening morning as Nedee’s light step sounded in the hall.
“We shall see, Saelras,” she replied quietly. “We shall see.”
* * *
By the third day of the journey, the small party had reached foothills of the looming Peak of Minthir. Beyond the rise lay the wooded realm of Imithol, and some hundred leagues further to the east—deep in the valley—rested the kingdom of Scodern. Saelras reined up at the glittering trickle of the mountain stream, a small brook which ran down from the highlands into the basin of the quiet lake several leagues below. Kerryn slowed her mount as well, regarding the rugged silhouette of the peak with gentle eyes.
“Do you still wish to take the mountain pass, my lady?” Saelras asked, keeping his face turned towards the northern road.
Kerryn sat up straighter in her saddle. “It is the quicker trail, is it not?” she inquired.
Saelras nodded wordlessly.
“Then I see no reason not to pass that way. Lord Aldain awaits our party—it is best to take the most expedient route.”
“Never mind the dangers?”
Kerryn turned her horse towards the mountain path. “Never mind the supposed dangers.”
Nedee pressed her pony close against the lady’s horse. “Is it dangerous?” she whispered, her small voice strained with apprehension.
Kerryn extended a comforting hand to the girl’s head. “Nay, my dear. Not with Saelras here to fight off any wolves or dragons that might come our way.”
“Dragons!” Nedee squeaked, her soft brown eyes growing wide in an instant.
Saelras cast a disapproving glance at Kerryn. “My lady,” he said calmly, “you’ll terrify the girl.” He turned to the maid. “There are no dragons in these mountains, little one, and the packs are not dangerous in autumn. Worry not.”
Nedee attempted a failing smile, then simply bobbed her head in gratitude.
“Ah, you’ve no sense of fun, Saelras,” chided Kerryn as she led her horse past the tall pine marking the entrance to the mountain path. “She would have guessed that I spoke only in jest soon enough. How far is it to the cave?”
Saelras was quiet for a long moment. “My lady,” he said at last, “I would again advise avoiding the cave. You do not know what has passed in Rekan’s mind since last you met him.”
Before Kerryn could reply, Nedee raised her voice.
“Who is Rekan? I’ve heard him spoken of oftentimes by the elders, but none ever mention who he truly is. Did he used to live in the kingdom along with us?”
Saelras looked up the mountain path, saying nothing. Kerryn smiled down on the little maid.
“Yes,” she said. “He lived with us before you were born. He left the kingdom years ago, after a terrible accident caused him to become dangerous for awhile.”
“Did Lord Elstir make him go?”
Kerryn’s hands tightened around her reins. “Yes, but he went willingly.”
Nedee frowned, considering. “Did he hurt someone?”
“He hurt a lot of people,” Saelras interjected. “And there is no reason in stating that his actions were ‘accidental’ at all.”
“Saelras, that’s not fair.”
“He knew the dangers of the incantation. He chose to risk us all.”
“To save us all,” she replied, her voice cold.
Nedee shrunk back, sensing the tension in the lady.
“As you will,” Saelras said shortly, nudging his horse to a faster trot and pressing his lips together to restrain his speech. His cool eyes gleamed with anger.
“Saelras!” Kerryn called, urging her mount forward. “He did it to save us—you cannot argue that.”
Saelras stopped his horse and turned his head. “He knew the dangers, Kerryn.”
The lady halted her horse as well, and the two elves regarded each other with cold eyes—each as silent as the stone walls which rose up around them. Nedee had fallen back a ways, and now her small voice crept into the space between them.
“What did he do?”
Kerryn and Saelras both turned back to her, somewhat startled. Kerryn spoke.
“He lost his mind. He is a strong mage, Nedee, and he cast a spell that was too powerful for him. A powerful host from the northern kingdoms had broken through our walls and was inside the kingdom. The men had been empowered by their black mage, Helur. There was no stopping them—they were killing us all. The situation was desperate, and Rekan used an ancient incantation to empower himself and fight them off.”
“But it drove him mad,” interjected Saelras. “The power was too great for him. He did not know friend from foe. He slaughtered hundreds.”
Kerryn looked sharply at her guardian. “And saved as many, seven-fold. Turratyn was lost. If he had not acted, all would have perished.”
Saelras matched her adamant gaze. “Perhaps so, perhaps not. We shall never know.”
“Our hosts were failing! I saw the ruin with my own eyes. There was no other course to take.”
“Lord Kaelan was rallying the hosts. We would never have relinquished Turratyn to those sykulaan.”
“Willingly, no. I am aware of that.” She stopped, a new resolve hardening in her eyes. When she spoke again, her words were gentle yet unyielding. “Your brother is a great leader, Saelras, but the situation was beyond even him.”
Her guardian neither met her steady gaze nor offered any reply.
Kerryn frowned. “Come, Saelras. I shall see him once more at least. My heart cannot rest until I know what has become of him in his exile. You must not forget how close we were.”
Saelras turned and studied her face for a long moment.
“Very well, my lady,” he said at length. “We shall take the mountain pass.”
* * *
Kerryn stood silently alongside her mount, watching with pensive eyes as Saelras patiently struck the flints to fire his torch. The entrance to the cave before them, half hidden by the tattered and weather-stained remnants of an old riding cloak, seemed impenetrably dark even to Kerryn’s keen gaze. Nedee huddled close behind the lady, her small eyes staring in open terror into the blackness.
“Does he live in there?” she whispered.
Kerryn nodded distractedly, tipping her chin only slightly in response.
Nedee shuddered. “It seems not such a fine place to live,” she observed.
“Being driven into exile,” uttered Saelras, “he hadn’t much choice.”
The flints sparked successfully, and the dry brands of the torch crackled into a small, smoky blaze. The newborn fire flickered insignificantly under the bright glare of the sun.
“Now,” Saelras observed, “we may enter.” Even as he spoke, the tall warrior stepped towards the entrance and pushed the cloak aside so that the torchlight could reach into the darkness. The yellow flame of the cool-burning torch flared to life in the dimness of the cave, casting pale shadows upon the dark stone. Saelras turned back to Kerryn.
“I shall bring him out,” he said. “You should—”
“I’ll not have that,” Kerryn interrupted. “You and he are not to be trusted together—he’ll welcome my presence far more than yours.”
Saelras drew his lower lip in under his teeth, frowning indistinctly. Kerryn had already approached the entrance and prepared to dismount when he finally spoke.
“’Tis not safe.”
“Of course it is safe. I’ve told you that for years. He is not dangerous.”
“As you will, lady. I shall come with you.”
Kerryn slid easily off her mount. “You will not. Remain with Nedee.”
“Lady…” Saelras’ frustration sharpened his tone.
“I’ll return shortly. Wait here.”
Saelras turned away, his face cold and drawn with the deep lines of subdued anger.
“As you will,” he said. He handed her the torch.
Kerryn nodded, disregarding his unspoken protest and resentment. Taking the light and leaving her two companions behind, she stepped into the darkness of the cave.
She moved close to the inner wall of the tunnel, measuring her steps with care and keeping one slender hand upon the stone at her side. The path rose up sharply as she passed through the darkness, and her shadow crept along the ground behind her. After only a few moments of walking, she perceived a widening of the passage and a dim glow up ahead.
“Rekan Dirnath?” she called, her voice constant and relaxed. “’Tis Lady Kerryn. I’ve come to see how you fare, old friend.”
Although she received no response, she continued undaunted towards the pale yellow glow above her. The smell of heated wax grew heavy as she drew closer to the chamber, and she could hear the snapping and burning of some low fire. A thin red panel of woven fabric hung across the opening of the tunnel, illuminated from behind and drifting almost imperceptibly in the slow-moving breath of the mountain pass.
She did not call again; if he were present, he would have heard her the first time. She stepped up to the panel, touching the warm fabric for a moment with her fingertips. After only a small pause, she brushed it aside.
The chamber opened wide before her, a glowing cavern of unpolished stone lined with dim candles and heavy tapestries. A mess of cloaks lay strewn upon the ground, and a single rough-hewn table stood near to the entrance. Kerryn glanced down to where the stand was pressed against the wall at her left. A large, tattered writing quill lay discarded to one of its corners, and its wooden face was deeply engraved with strange, straight-edged symbols which she recognized immediately as the runes of the mage-art. A slender-handled blade projected vertically from the marred surface, its keen point imbedded into the wood.
Kerryn raised her eyes from the table, taking a step into the chamber and looking more closely at the dark tapestries which covered the cold walls.
“What have you been doing in your solitude, Rekan?” she murmured, her gaze intent on the dark, graceful patterns she knew to be the work of her own hands—presents of kinder years.
Forcing her eyes away from the walls and continuing into the chamber, she looked down to the mess of deep red cloaks which seemed to serve as bedding. Beside the tumbled pile lay several sheets of yellow parchment, stacked neatly upon each other and showing the bold, dark lines of Rekan’s fluent hand. Kerryn knelt beside the writings, brushing back her long riding skirts as she lowered her slender body towards the floor.
“And these, they are your journals?” she questioned, thinking aloud to interrupt the whispering silence. “Never did you fail to record—to attempt to understand—that which passed around you.”
Frowning slightly as she studied the lines, she extended one hand and gently lifted the topmost sheet to her eyes. It was as she thought: the script was of the Old Elvish—not the common tongue—and it was intermixed with more of the hard-edged runes.
The old magics. The thought cut through her mind like an arrow. Why, Rekan? The silent walls afforded no answer to her unspoken question, and she looked again to the parchment.
“They come as shadows,” she read, translating the script as her eyes moved along the lines, “the birds circling the fields of dead and dying. To feed upon the flesh—elekriin,” she paused as she pronounced the name of the rune of death that stood, seemingly out of place, within the line. Her slender brows bent sharply above her eyes as she continued to read.
“… of those that have perished under sword and spear. Sraen emir,” she stopped suddenly as the two runes appeared on the line. “Fire,” she breathed, speaking the common word for the rune. “Strength. What can it mean, Rekan? What powers are you working?”
She returned her eyes to the words. “The dreams are clear—war shall come again. Sraen aiyl arken nurryn, elen ne iyl emir al’ elekriin.”
Again she stopped, studying the lines. The latter runes were clear to her, but the exact meaning of the first few she could not at first decipher. She struggled for only a moment, however, before her eyes darkened with the realization of the significance of the second and third runes in the last string on the page.
“Arken nurryn,” she muttered once more. “Dragon spirit.”
“These things are not yours to know.”
Kerryn leapt to her feet, spinning towards the voice with alarm in her eyes. The strong figure of the shadowed form which stood near the entrance was familiar to her, from the long dark hair to the black and crimson folds of heavy fabric which rested over gleaming silver plates of armor—plates which spread across his chest and layered themselves in sharp peaks upon his broad shoulders.
“Rekan!” she cried, unflinching—surprised more than frightened.
The deep blue eyes that watched her from the shadows glinted in the fire of the torchlight. “You have come to visit me,” he said quietly.
Kerryn’s taut brow relaxed a little as she perceived no loss of gentleness in her estranged friend’s warm voice.
“I have,” said Kerryn, pausing only a moment as his soothing tones reached her ears. “I travel towards Scodern, for the Autumn Banquet. You were too near to pass by.”
“Ah,” he replied. The light in his eyes remained distant.
Kerryn looked down at her hand, realizing suddenly that she still held the parchment between her fingers. She held it forward, offering it to him.
“You have been delving into the old magics again, I see,” she said boldly.
Rekan drew one arm from beneath the folds of his heavy cape and reached for the page. His forearm was encased in an ornate silver gauntlet—one etched with runes and lines of script and ending in a sharply ridged silver plate which stretched several inches above his wrist. Beyond and beneath that point, his hand was covered in a sleek black glove which scintillated like the fine scales of a serpent in the yellow light. He took one silent stride forward.
“It is my art,” he said. “I will not change my ways.”
Kerryn moved to meet him, still holding the parchment before her. She watched his pale face with deep interest. He had grown haggard since his exile.
“What does it mean?” she asked.
Casually, almost gently, he took the sheet from her fingers. “You should not have read my thoughts,” he said. Though his words seemed to imply reproach, he did not alter his tone.
“You were not present,” Kerryn replied. “I needed to know what had become of you.”
Even as Rekan regarded her, Kerryn’s face paled slightly. A new consideration had emerged in her mind, and she spoke again before he could offer a response to her previous words.
“How did you pass Saelras?” she asked, her bright eyes clouding with sudden concern.
Rekan did not fail to notice the subtle change in her expression.
“You are afraid I harmed him,” he said, his angular face lacking any expression.
“I am more afraid he forced you to defend yourself,” said Kerryn, not bothering to mask her feelings. “Tell me he did not.”
“Both of your companions are untouched,” he replied, his voice suddenly cold. “I would not greet a brother of Kaelan for my life.”
Kerryn smiled, her eyes clearing and her voice bright with relief. “Who would think that dislike for one brother would lead to the sparing of another? You have a kinder heart than you admit.”
“Saelras did not betray me.”
The smile faded quickly from her face. “Rekan,” she said, her voice deepening slightly, “neither did Lord Kaelan.”
The shadows under Rekan’s dark eyes grew perceptibly deeper as he turned his face away from the light of the torches and moved without a sound to stand beside his small table. The gloved hand set the yellow page down gently upon its surface, carefully aligning the edge of the parchment with the edge of the wood.
Observing his withdrawal with concern, Kerryn drew a step closer to him and raised her voice to address a different issue.
“How have you fared these past years, Rekan? The mountains are not the kindest home, I am certain. I hope you have been well enough.”
The dormant eyes of the mage turned slowly to meet her glance. “I live,” he said. “It matters not how or why.”
Kerryn allowed a frown to darken her countenance once more. Her eyes wandered over the shadows of Rekan’s pale face.
“You are too grave, Rekan. I fear you do not take this life of solitude well.”
“How should I take it?” he responded, speaking the words without haste.
“Do you have nothing to bring you joy here?” Kerryn asked, moving closer as she spoke. She now stood within a pace of him—closer than she had been in many years.
Rekan looked down to the table. Kerryn followed his gaze, and saw that the fingers of his gloved hand traced the line of runes carved along its surface. The movements were measured and precise, with an unsettling perception of rigidity in their fluid arcs and lines.
“The war between Imithol and northern Trual is an illusion,” he said in a pensive tone, seemingly speaking to the table.
Kerryn looked up, surprised. “What do you mean?” she asked.
Rekan turned to her, his drawn face suddenly wearier and paler than ever. “They are gathering in the valley below these mountains, but not for battle against one another. ‘Tis an illusion. At dawn, they will join ranks and march through the mountain pass under one banner.”
Kerryn’s bright eyes expressed her alarm. “Towards our kingdom?”
Rekan met her gaze. “Towards your kingdom.”
“If this is true, Lord Elstir must be warned at once!” Kerryn said quickly, still holding her interrogative and amazed eyes on Rekan’s cold face. “How do you know this?”
“I have seen it,” he said. “You should know that. I have seen war come to Turratyn before, and I have seen it again.”
“In the dreams you wrote of?”
Rekan nodded vaguely, his staring eyes seeming to gaze within himself. “In the dreams,” he muttered.
“How long have you known this?”
He did not answer immediately. His eyes had fallen, attracted by the glint of candlelight, to the gem suspended around the lady’s neck.
“You still wear the heartstone,” he said quietly.
Kerryn’s face grew tense with confusion for a moment, and then she raised a hand to touch the stone. “This? Yes, Rekan, of course—”
“Curious that you’d keep the memento, and cast away the one who gave it.”
“Rekan, please! It was not my choice to send you into exile. And if war is upon us, then we haven’t time to discuss the past! You must tell me. How long have you known that Imithol and Trual are to march on our kingdom?”
The mage’s quiet eyes returned to her face. “Weeks.”
“Rekan!” Kerryn cried sharply. “How could you not have sent word? ‘Tis but a day’s march through the mountain path to the walls of the kingdom—not even Lord Kaelan can prepare the armies sufficiently in such short time! Our people will be slaughtered!”
“No,” Rekan said slowly. “They shall not.”
Kerryn pressed her lips together, frustration darkening her countenance. Rekan turned his eyes directly towards hers. The light that gleamed in them shone as from a great distance.
“You are afraid,” he said. “You needn’t be.”
Kerryn waited, her gaze intent on his and a gentle line set into her fair brow.
Some life returned to his face as he continued. “I am going to destroy them,” he said, speaking in the same subdued voice he always used. “They shall never leave the valley.”
Kerryn’s face paled instantly, and for a long moment she neither moved nor spoke. Her mouth remained tightly shut, and the cold shade of horror darkened her eyes. Slowly, unconsciously, she raised her hands and folded them over her abdomen. The silky fabric of her gown felt cold beneath her fingers.
“The old magics,” she breathed at length. “The rune-spells?”
Rekan nodded. “They are all I know,” he said. “I will not change my ways.” He paused, meeting her eyes once more. “Return to your kingdom.”
Before Kerryn could respond to the softly spoken command, the mage turned away from her and, brushing aside the heavy tapestries which shielded the entrance to the chamber, disappeared from her view.
“Rekan,” she said nervously, stepping quickly after him, “you must not—”
She stopped short as she pushed aside the curtain and found the long corridor empty.
* * *
The dark passageway slipped in shadow beneath the lady’s swift, determined stride, and in a few short moments she had emerged once more into the overwhelming light of day.
“Saelras!” she cried, raising one blue-sleeved arm to shield her eyes.
The warrior stood several feet off from the entrance, speaking to Nedee—who had perched herself on a small boulder and sat toying nervously with the stitching on her reins. Upon hearing Kerryn’s voice, he quickly handed his own reins to the maid and stepped toward the lady.
“What is wrong?”
Kerryn moved to him without hesitation, laying a hand on each of his outstretched, lightly-gauntleted forearms. “It is Rekan,” she said quickly. “He imperils himself, and the armies… ah, the armies!”
“Be calm, my lady,” Saelras urged, “and speak carefully. Did you find him? What has happened?”
“Imithol and Trual have forged an alliance—they shall march tomorrow morn on Turratyn. Rekan has gone to stop them.” Kerryn moved away from the warrior, searching the northern ridges with keen, concerned eyes.
“He has gone to the valley, to battle them himself and keep them from coming.”
Saelras followed her gaze. “That is madness. His mage-craft cannot approach the power necessary to—”
Kerryn caught her breath as Saelras stopped his words abruptly. Her shoulders tensed noticeably as he stepped up behind her.
“He cannot plan to unleash the old magics again. That would truly be madness.”
Kerryn did not turn. “He does, Saelras. And we must stop him before he ruins himself utterly. You know as well as I what the rune-spells did to his mind the last time.”
Saelras strode back to Nedee and took his reins with a quick, decisive hand. The girl flinched under his curt movements and frigid countenance.
“Yes,” he said, mounting the horse. “They destroyed his sanity. I’ll not allow that to happen again. He might well descend upon Turratyn once he has finished with the armies.”
Kerryn turned sharply and looked up. “He has no reason to attack us, Saelras.”
He urged his horse forward a few paces. “Madness, Lady Kerryn, neither knows reason nor needs it.”
“We have to help him, Saelras. That is more important than stopping him.”
The warrior glanced down the path, then met the lady’s cold gaze. “Fortunately,” he said calmly, “stopping him shall help him. We may strive towards your desire, and with luck achieve both ends.”
Kerryn studied his face. After a moment, she nodded quietly.
“You should come with me,” Saelras said to her, a concerned yet determined expression cutting into his brow. “Though it shall be dangerous, he’ll listen to you, I believe. You’ve a better chance of persuading him than I.”
“He’ll not try to harm me if the worse is to happen. The past has proven that much.”
“’Twould be great luck if we can count on that. Nedee,” he said, turning to the girl, “can you ride back to the fortress on your own?”
The little girl looked up, her brown eyes soft and wondering. “Yes, Lord Saelras, I remember the way.”
“Good girl. You must ride to Lord Elstir’s house, and tell him that—that the armies of Imithol and Trual have joined ranks in the valley and shall march for our kingdom by dawn.”
He paused, glancing at Kerryn. “And that Rekan Dirnath may come down upon the walls as before. We are not certain what shall come to pass. Go now.”
In haste, Nedee slid down from the rock and pulled herself onto her small mount. Taking up her reins, she cast a frightened glance in Kerryn’s direction.
“My Lady,” she said in a tiny voice, “you will be safe?”
Kerryn looked up to her. “I shall be fine. Rekan will not harm me.”
Nedee tightened her fingers on the thin leather straps in her grasp and nodded. “I will hurry,” she said. “Please be safe.”
Kerryn reached up to touch her elbow. “Don’t worry yourself, Nedee. All will be well.”
Saelras turned his horse back to the mountain path. “Go, Nedee. We mustn’t lose time.”
The girl nodded again, and with only a brief glance back to Kerryn urged her pony quickly away. Kerryn watched her go.
“Rekan needs us,” she said quietly, her eyes still focused on the lessening form of her young maid. “We should indeed make haste.”
Saelras turned his face towards the valley which lay hidden beyond the rise of the mountain path. “We will reach the gathering armies by dusk,” he said, considering. “Did Rekan say when he would attack?”
“No. He only said that they would never leave the valley. But he is on foot—he will reach the valley less quickly than we.” Kerryn went to her horse as she spoke, gently stroking his soft white nose to reassure him before jumping lightly to mount.
“He means to take them by night, then. If we are to find Rekan and stop him before he acts, we must make haste.”
Kerryn’s horse brought her up alongside the warrior. “I know,” the lady said. “I know.”
* * *
Glossary of the Old Elvish Phrases
Human-like creatures with fangs and claws—a cruel and bloodthirsty race. Used by Saelras as a demeaning term for the men who attacked Turratyn.
|On the Morrow||The Willow|
|Of Courage and Fire (9)||Flight in Darkness|