Tag Archives: friendship

The Wolf pack is Free

From tomorrow, Book 1 of The Wolves of Vimar is FREE until 28th December.

This fantasy tale brings together a group of disparate people. They set off on a quest to find the long, lost sword of the legendary king, Sauvern, in response to a prophecy found in an ancient book.

They meet with dire adventures on the way, and come near to death, only to be rescued by unexpected sources.

On the journey they each have to face their greatest fears and not one of them returns unchanged.

But they learn that, despite their different backgrounds, what really matters is friendship and loyalty.

Click on the link here to go to Amazon where you are in order to get your free copy.

Don’t forget that Vengeance of a Slave is due to be released on Thursday. Pre-order your copy now from here.

An Interview with Fero. The Wolf Pack

 

 

Me: Thank you for agreeing to talk a bit about yourself.

Fero. I know you don’t talk much about where you came from but please fill me in. You were born beyond thehree Seas, I believe.

Fero: Yes. I was born in the land of Beridon. That is not only beyond the Three Seas, but also beyond the Great Desert.

Me: Tell me about your family.

Fero: My father was a sandalmaker in the village where I was born and grew up. I was the eldest son. I have three sisters older than me. My parents were delighted to have
a son at last as in Beridon, girls are deemed to be of little worth.

Me: That is shocking.

Fero: Yes. I now realize how bad that is. How much talent is being wasted in that country I can hardly begin to contemplate. It wasn’t until I came to Grosmer that I really learned the value of women.

Me: I suppose, growing up with that way of thought you wouldn’t think it unusual.

Fero: No, but I am ashamed now for my past, my family and my countrymen.

Me: What was life like in Beridon?

Fero: It was hard. We were not actually in the Great Desert, but in the summer there was usually a drought. Frequently our animals and crops died and we went hungry. However, in the past, we had learned about irrigation and so it was not as bad as it had once been. Only in really bad drought years were we in very bad conditions.

Me: Tell me about your family.

Fero: I haven’t seen them for many years. I hated sandal making but my father thought that,  as the eldest son, I should follow him and take over the family business. I would then marry a girl of their choice and look after them in their old age. I hated that idea and was something of a rebel. I took every opportunity to go out into the wilds and it was on one of those forrays that I met an old druid.

Me: Did you decide to bevome a druid yourself?

Fero: Oh, no. I am not a very religeous man, although I do revere Grillon, the god of nature and wild things. The old man taught me much, but even he could see that I was not cut out to be a druid, so he sent me to a ranger friend of his.

Me: What did your family think of this?

Fero: My mother would have been quite happy with this. I had two brothers now and they were both happy to go into sandalmaking. My father was completely opposed and forbade me from going. Mother couldn’yt go against him as he would have beaten her and it would still have made no difference to his thoughts. He beat me too, and tried to lock me in my room.

Here Fero laughs.

Fero: He should have realized that he couldn’t really do that as my brothers had to come in and out!

Me: What did you do?

Fero: Well, I escaped, of course. I gathered my things and went to tell mother that I was going. Father came in at that moment, just as I was going out of the door. Mother called ‘Goodbye Fero. Don’t forget us.’ Father pushed her back indoors and I heard him say ‘Go in, woman, we have no son called Fero.’

Me: That must have been very hard. What did you do then?

Fero: I went to join my new master. She was very good and understanding and taught me well, until one day she deemed my apprenticehip was ended and I was to go out and make my own way in the world.

Me: Where did you go?

Fero: Firstly I wandered Beridon, then decided to go and look at the Great Desert. I almost died of thirst then. I was completely lost, but a tribe of nomads found me and saved me. I was sunburned, blisters all over me. They tended me and then took me travelling with them. I learned to wear the long enveloping robes they wear and to keep out of the direct sun as much as possible. They wandered eventually to the seaport of Candor on the Inner Sea. I had never seen a large expanse of water and it fascinated me. I got passage on a ship crossing to Grosmer. I worked my passage, of course, and eventually came to Bluehaven. Here I abandoned my new career as a seaman and wandered around the south of Grosmer for many years, doing jobs here and there. Sometimes I would pick fruit, grapes or peaches or oranges. At other times I was scouting for caravans. Then one day I was with a group of young men who decided to go to Eribore. I joined them, intending to cross the Western Mountains and see the Horselords on the plains.

Me: Did you see them? The are supposed to be quite a sight when they ride their horses.

Fero: No. I have wondered and wondered why I took that path towards Hambara, but I can’t tell you why. Just a sudden impulse came upon me and I left my companions and turned east instead of west. If I had not done that, I would not have met Carthinal and the others. I wonder what the outcome of their quest would have been if they were not 8 questors as the prophecy had said? Would they still have found the Sword or would the quest have failed? Also, I would not have met Randa either.

Me: Thank you for your time.Me: Thank you for agreeing to talk a bit about yourself,

Fero. I know you don’t talk much about where you came
from, but please fill me in. You were born beyond the
Three Seas, I believe.

Fero: Yes. I was born in the land of Beridon. That is not only
beyond the Three Seas, but also beyond the Great Desert.

Me: Tell me about your family.

Fero: My father was a sandalmaker in the village where I
was born and grew up. I was the eldest son. I have three
sisters older than me. My parents were delighted to have
a son at last as in Beridon, girls are deemed to be of little
worth.

Me: That is shocking.

Fero: Yes. I now realize how bad that is. How much talent
is being wasted in that country I can hardly begin to
contemplate. It wasn’t until I came to Grosmer that I really
learned the value of women.

Me: I suppose, growing up with that way of thought you
wouldn’t think it unusual.

Fero: No, but I am ashamed now for my past, my family and my countrymen.

Me: What was life like in Beridon?

Fero: It was hard. We were not actually in the Great Desert, but in the summer there was usually a drought. Frequently our animals and crops died and we went hungry. However, in the past, we had learned about irrigation and so it was not as bad as it had once been. Only in really bad drought years were we in very bad conditions.

Me: Tell me about your family.

Fero: I haven’t seen them for many years. I hated sandal making but my father thought that,  as the eldest son, I should follow him and take over the family business. I would then marry a girl of their choice and look after them in their old age. I hated that idea and was something of a rebel. I took every opportunity to go out into the wilds and it was on one of those forrays that I met an old druid.

Me: Did you decide to bevome a druid yourself?

Fero: Oh, no. I am not a very religeous man, although I do revere Grillon, the god of nature and wild things. The old man taught me much, but even he could see that I was not cut out to be a druid, so he sent me to a ranger friend of his.

Me: What did your family think of this?

Fero: My mother would have been quite happy with this. I had two brothers now and they were both happy to go into sandalmaking. My father was completely opposed and forbade me from going. Mother couldn’yt go against him as he would have beaten her and it would still have made no difference to his thoughts. He beat me too, and tried to lock me in my room.

Here Fero laughs.

Fero: He should have realized that he couldn’t really do that as my brothers had to come in and out!

Me: What did you do?

Fero: Well, I escaped, of course. I gathered my things and went to tell mother that I was going. Father came in at that moment, just as I was going out of the door. Mother called ‘Goodbye Fero. Don’t forget us.’ Father pushed her back indoors and I heard him say ‘Go in, woman, we have no son called Fero.’

Me: That must have been very hard. What did you do then?

Fero: I went to join my new master. She was very good and understanding and taught me well, until one day she deemed my apprenticehip was ended and I was to go out and make my own way in the world.

Me: Where did you go?

Fero: Firstly I wandered Beridon, then decided to go and look at the Great Desert. I almost died of thirst then. I was completely lost, but a tribe of nomads found me and saved me. I was sunburned, blisters all over me. They tended me and then took me travelling with them. I learned to wear the long enveloping robes they wear and to keep out of the direct sun as much as possible. They wandered eventually to the seaport of Candor on the Inner Sea. I had never seen a large expanse of water and it fascinated me. I got passage on a ship crossing to Grosmer. I worked my passage, of course, and eventually came to Bluehaven. Here I abandoned my new career as a seaman and wandered around the south of Grosmer for many years, doing jobs here and there. Sometimes I would pick fruit, grapes or peaches or oranges. At other times I was scouting for caravans. Then one day I was with a group of young men who decided to go to Eribore. I joined them, intending to cross the Western Mountains and see the Horselords on the plains.

Me: Did you see them? The are supposed to be quite a sight when they ride their horses.

Fero: No. I have wondered and wondered why I took that path towards Hambara, but I can’t tell you why. Just a sudden impulse came upon me and I left my companions and turned east instead of west. If I had not done that, I would not have met Carthinal and the others. I wonder what the outcome of their quest would have been if they were not 8 questors as the prophecy had said? Would they still have found the Sword or would the quest have failed? Also, I would not have met Randa either.

Me: Thank you for your time.

An Interview with Duke Danu from The Wolf Pack

On a visit to Bluehaven I met with Duke Danu and he answered a few of my questions.

newcoverwolfpack

Me: Good afternoon, Your Grace. Thank you for agreeing to answer  some questions.

Danu: I hope that I can give your readers some insight into my life and how I came to be involved, however slightly in the important events that took place last year.

Me: Firstly, how did you come to know Mabryl?

Danu: Well, I was, in fact, not the eldest child. I had an older brother, and so I was not expected to become the Duke, so I had to find another occupation. Fortunately I had a little
affinity for magic and so my father, being rather enlightened (magic isn’t trusted still after all these years since the Mage Wars) allowed me to go to the Mage Tower to train.

Me: That was where you met Mabryl?

Danu: Yes. He and I were in the same batch of youngsters training to be mages. In fact our teacher was the man who now leds the mages, Magister Robiam, although at the time he was simply Mage Robiam. He hadn’t even progressed to Arch-mage. Still, he was a good teacher and it was obvious that he would go far.

Me: Were you friends from the start?

Danu: Well, I was a bit jealous of Mabryl at the start. He was so much better than I was. He was a natural where I had to work hard to keep up. However, we soon overcame our differences and became firm friends.

Me: How was it that you ended up as Duke?

Danu: It was tragic really. While I was away there was sickness in Bluehaven. My mother contracted it by visiting and ministering to the poor who were sick. she then contracted the disease and my brother caught it from her. She recovered. My brother did not. Mother blamed herself for his death right up to her own. she never really recovered from it. A terrible thing, the death of one’s child.

Me: I am really sorry to hear of this tragedy.

Danu: Thank you. Of course my father sent for me straight away and told me that I must learn to be the Duke and give up my magic practices. I have, however, always kept an interest in magic, and although I never did the Apprentice Tests I have kept up with what is going on. This was why mabryl brought the prophecy to me when Carthinal found it in that old book.

Me: Did you know Carthinal then?

Danu: Not at that time. I knew Mabryl had taken him on as an apprentice. I advised him against it though. To take on a wild thing like him, who knew no discipline. Madness! Many times Mabryl came to see me in despair at one thing or the other he’d done. Then he went and adopted him! I will admit now that I was wrong and he has turned out alright in the end.

Me: About the prophecy. Did you know what it was about?

Danu: Not really. I could make some wild guesses, but they were just based on myths and legends so I didn’t say anything of my suspicions. I don’t want to say any more at the moment, but I have an idea as to who the ‘immortal mortal’ is.

I opened my mouth to ask him when he held up his hand.

Danu: No, I’m not saying any more until I have more facts of the matter.

Me: Tell me about Randa then.

Danu: She was a spoiled brat of a child. Rollo tried to make up for his earlier neglect of the girl by giving her everything she wanted. That made her think she was superior to everyone else, and her attitude to those not of her class was appalling. And to those who were non-human, like the elves and dwarves she was even worse. When she wanted to learn swordmanship I thought he would draw the line. What highly born young lady would ever need to swing a sword? It just isn’t lady-like. But no, he allowed her that too.

Me:  Wasn’t it a good job, though, that she could use a sword when she went on the quest with Carthinal and friends?

Danu: Perhaps if she hadn’t been able to wield a sword she would never have gone on the quest in the first place! And she would have chosen a husband instead of rejecting all those suitors that have asked her father for her hand. If she had been settled down with a few children she wouldn’t have been able to go on the quest, would she?

Me: Some say that it was foreordained that those particular folk went on that quest; that the gods had a hand in it.

Danu snorted: The gods, as you well know, young lady, do not interfere in the doings of humanity.

Me: But it does seem as though there were a few ‘pushes’ propelling them in the right direction.

Danu: Believe as you will, but I cannot think that the gods would have instigated that flood that killed so many people.

Me: Thank you for you time, Your Grace.

If you liked this interview, or even if you didn’t, please add your comment to the comments box. I’ll try to get back to you as soon as I can.

If you want to find out more about The Wolf Pack, click on the link at the side of this blog.

An Interview with Davrael. The Wolf Pack.

newcoverwolfpack

I have managed to get Davrael to agree to do an interview. This was a difficult task as he is a very private person, but eventually my power of persuasion triumphed. I was a bit afraid when Imet him. He is an imposing man, and the hawk tattoo on his face, wings over his eyebrows, head and beak down his nose and talons on his cheeks was very intimidating. Here is what he said:

wild_horse_marsh_pony_assateague_island

Me: Good afternoon, Davrael. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I know you are not very keen on publicity.

Davrael: No. I not speak your language too good. It is difficult for me.

Me: I will try to make it as easy as I can for you. Please tell me something of the life of the Horselords.

Davrael: We, as you know, live for horses. Our horses are best on whole of Vimar. We respect them not just use them.

Me: What do you mean by that?

Davrael: We never put them to do things unnatural. We do not enslave them with saddles or bits to make it easier for us. We never beat them, but talk to them and are gentle.

Me: But don’t you use them for food?

Davrael: Yes, but we apologise to horse. He allow us to eat him. We thank Grillon for horse too and we grieve for him when he die. If we not eat horse sometimes, we not survive. If we lost in dry places, horse allow us to drink his blood so we do not thirst. Mares allow us to drink milk too even though it is for foals.

Me: How many horses do your tribe own?

Davrael: We not own horses. They are own masters. We follow when they move to different grazing grounds.

Me: But the horses that you ride;  surely you can’t say they are their own masters?

Davrael: Yes. They allow us to ride and use them, but they not belong to us. To answer your first question, there are 300 horses that allow my tribe to be with them.

Me: That is a lot of horses.

Davrael: Yes. Swooping Hawk tribe very rich. Look after horses well so horses breed well.

Me: Tell me about your family then.

Davrael: I my father’s heir. I second son, but it not auto…automatic…is that the word? for eldest to inherit. My father think that I would be better to see after horses than my brother. I have 2 sisters too. They younger than me. Probably married by now. I not hear since I leave The Plains.

Me: Your father is chief of the Swooping Hawks I understand.

Davrael: Yes. He great chief. We always win fights with other tribes. He good at tactics.

Me: Why do you war with other tribes?

Davrael: Over land–territory, over stealing horses, over stealing women; things like that.

Me: Would you have become chief after your father if you had not left?

Davrael: Perhaps, perhaps not. It depend on other men in tribe. Elders. They vote, but usually it is heir of last chief. Only if they think he not fit will they vote for another. Usually no one challenges. Sometimes, if elders not agree, contestants must fight and winner is chief.

Me: Is it not a hard life, wandering The Plains.

Davrael smiled: Before I came to Grosmer. I not think so. I used to it, and love the horses. Now I get soft with easy living. No need to look for place to camp near water for animals and people, soft beds, not hard mats on floor, stone walls that keep out cold and heat, not hide tents that are cold in winter and hot in summer.

Me: But when you were on your quests with Carthinal and the others. That must have been a bit like your life on The Plains.

Davrael: Yes, but that before we settle to soft life. We only just come over the Barrier–The Western Mountains, you call them.

Me: We?

Davrael: Me and Kimi. We run away because our parents not wish us to marry.

Me: Why was  that?

Davrael: I am son of Chief of Swooping Hawks. Kimi is daughter of a nobody. She also is daughter of settlers. Nomads think settlers no good. Settlers think nomads no good. So we run away.

Me: Is that why you ended up in Grosmer?

Davrael: Yes. We first come to big city, Eribore. I not seen anything as big. Walls all round of stone. We think we not stay there. Too near home, so we go to Hambara. It even bigger city. Kimi find inn and there we meet Carthinal, Basalt, Fero and Asphodel. They kind to us and take us on adventure. Other folk kind too. Duke Rollo give us work after we return. We  think of Grosmer as our land now.

Me: You would not go back to The Plains?

Davrael: No. We have no home there now. Our families have disowned us. Our home and country is Grosmer.

Me: Thank you very much for your time.

Re-launch of The Wolf Pack

newcoverwolfpack

 

The Wolf Pack has now gone live on Amazon for Kindle, complete with new cover and some alterations to the story. It will be on special offer from June 11th to 17th. £0.99 or $0.99.

This is very exciting. Now for The Never Dying Man and then Part 3, Wolf Moon, which hasn’t been published yet at all.

Here is a bit about the story

The Wolf Pack

To end his apprenticeship and be admitted to the ranks of the mages is all that Carthinal wants and so he is excited to travel from Bluehaven to Hambara, where the tests will take place. He did not expect to end up travelling far beyond Hambara on a quest to find the long lost sword of the legendary King Sauvern.

Along with three strangers that he met on his journey, the beautiful but headstrong elven cleric, Asphodel, Fero, a dark foreigner from lands far to the south, known as the Black Ranger and a fearless dwarf, Basalt, Carthinal reluctantly sets out on this seemingly impossible quest.

Followed by Randa, the snooty aristocratic daughter of the Duke of Hambara and a very young runaway thief, known as Thad, Carthinal has to decide whether to send them back or allow them to continue on this dangerous quest. There will certainly be fireworks as Randa will try to take over the leadership of the group.

Faced with floods, wolf attacks and near death in the mountains, Carthinal and his friends will have to accept help from the least likely sources and face their innermost fears.

But this is more than a simple adventure. The fate of a nation hangs in the balance.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.

The Wolf Pack Tomb

wolfpackcover (2)

TOMB

The Wolves continued their search after the disappearance of the Guardians. They were all subdued. They found it difficult to believe that Sillaran had created the undead warriors. The whole idea was anathema to them, as it would be to most right thinking people at that time.
‘I can’t believe Sillaran were evil,’ Thadora mused. ‘All th’ stories  ’bout ’im an’ Sauvern said ’ow good they was.’
‘Maybe thinking was different then,’ Carthinal replied.
Asphodel then spoke in a quiet, thoughtful voice. ‘Sometimes, good people do evil things, and sometimes evil people do good things. Equally, good can sometimes masquerade as evil just as evil often masquerades as good. I think this is what is happening here, evil being used to further the cause of good, just as at the temple in Hambara, good is being used for evil purposes.’
The others did not fully understand what she was getting at, but all of them decided to keep it to think about later.
Soon they came to a clearing in the wood. In the centre of the clearing were three grassy mounds. There were two smaller ones, with a larger one in the centre. Each of the smaller ones was about seven feet high in the centre, and circular. They estimated that they were about forty feet in diameter. The centre mound was much larger. It was twelve feet high and fifty feet in width, but instead of being round, it was about one hundred feet long as far as they could estimate. They walked all round the three mounds to see if they could find an entrance to any of them, to no avail.
‘Well, what now? We’ve not got the tools to dig our way in,’ said Carthinal, sitting down on a fallen log and scratching his head.
‘There must be a way in somewhere. According to the prophesies the Sword would be needed again,’ said Basalt. ‘I can’t believe that Sillaran would not put a door or at least some easy way in since he obviously knew of the prophecies.’
‘That would make it too easy for tomb robbers, in spite of the Guardians,’ put in Asphodel, sinking down beside Carthinal.
The half elf jumped up, startling her. ‘That’s it!’ he exclaimed. ‘A door, but hidden or disguised.’ He hit his head with the heel of his hand in exasperation. ‘I should have thought of that straight away. Come on Asphodel,’ He grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet. ‘We’re going secret door hunting.’
The others looked at them.
‘We c,n all ’elp, right?’ said Thadora. ‘I know elvenkind ’ave much better sight, an’ an almost uncanny feelin’ f’r these things, but even you c’n miss things sometimes. We might just find somethin’ you didn’t notice.’
So eventually, Wolf found three hidden doors. They were cleverly disguised with soil and vegetation, but they were there. They decided to search the largest tomb first, as it was the most obvious one to hold the body of a king. They scraped the soil away to reveal a wooden door.
‘Don’t open th’ door yet, let me check ter make sure there’s no soddin’ traps on it,’ said Thadora. ‘It’d be a pity if we got bleedin’ killed just opening th’ door.’ She examined the door and lock carefully and then declared it safe. ‘But there’re traps I’ve not seen before, an’ this is very old, so there’s p’rhaps traps folk ’ave forgotten, so we should still be careful,’ she added cautiously.
Fero volunteered to open the door. He approached it with caution, and standing to one side, he flipped the door open with his sword. The group stood for a few minutes, and then they cautiously entered the large tomb.
All drew weapons instinctively as they passed through the door. Once they were inside, they realised they needed some light. Thadora slipped out and gathered some dead branches from among the trees and returned for Carthinal to light them with his useful little cantrip. It took a while for one of the branches to begin to burn, but eventually they had some light. A passage stretched out before them. On each side and at the end were doors. They opened the door on the left, having first had Thadora check there were no traps. This she did and then Fero opened it in the same manner as he had opened the main door. When they peered in, they saw a coffin. In one corner were some weapons and armour. There was a shield, chain mail and helmet, also a sword in its scabbard and a crossbow and bolts. They walked over to the coffin. On it was inscribed the words,

“Gallaron
Faithful beyond death.”

‘One of the guardians I suppose,’ whispered Kimi. If she had been asked, she would not have been able to say why she whispered, but it seemed wrong to break the silence of this place.
They pressed on and entered the door on the right. There, they found similar weapons and armour, and a coffin bearing the same words, but the name of Lanroc. Another of the guardians it seemed.
Full of anticipation, they went to the final door. It opened readily, and there was a third coffin and armour and weapons, but instead of crossbow and bolts, they found a longbow and arrows. They cautiously and reverently approached the coffin, certain that here was Sauvern, the great King. How great was their disappointment when they saw another inscription to a Guardian. This one read,

“Craddok
Captain and Friend
He was loyal enough to guard his king
even beyond the grave.
He went to his fate willingly and with joy.”

‘It look like only Guardians here,’ said Davrael. ‘Sillaron want hide body, he put in one of smaller tombs maybe?’
‘Suppose ’e were so keen ter ’ide it ’e put a bloody false inscription on th’ coffin?’ Thadora responded.
‘No,’ replied Fero, ‘I don’t think he’d do that. Remember there were prophecies about the Sword being needed again.’
‘I think Fero’s right,’ Carthinal said decisively. ‘Let’s go search the other tombs.’
So they went through the same procedure again. Again they had the same results. One of the smaller tombs held five coffins and the other four. The only difference was a hand written, very faded inscription on one saying,

“Stranger. if you have got this far, you are the prophesied ones
and our task is finished.
We no longer need our armour or weapons.
Take whatever you need with our blessing
Bry, the youngest guardian.”

There were a number of arrows that they decided would be very useful and Fero and Randa examined some longbows that they stated were very well made. These they appropriated in place of their own. It felt wrong doing so, but in view of the inscription they felt they were permitted. The crossbow mechanisms had corroded and they were useless, so they only took bolts for Bas’s cross bow. The rest of the weapons and armour were rusty and useless.
After Asphodel had said a prayer over the remains of the guardians, as they all felt right and proper now they were truly at rest, they left the tombs.
Once outside, the little company sat down on the grass to discuss their next move.
‘This just ’as ter be th’ right place, right?’ sighed Thadora. ‘Lake, Guardians, tombs, even a nymph, but where’s the main soddin’ tomb? Sillaron ’as ’ idden it a little too well if yer ask me. I c’n see no sign of any other burial mounds.’
They sat for a time in silence, each trying to puzzle out the mystery. Then Carthinal got to his feet and pulled Asphodel to hers. ‘Secret doors and hidden passages again. Sillaron hid his journal in a secret room, the doors to the tombs were hidden and so he probably did the same here with Sauvern’s body. Come on Asphodel. Elf blood is the best for seeing secret doors. Let’s go look,’ and with that, he strode back towards the middle tomb.
‘I’ll come too,’ called Thadora, ‘It’s an occupational requirement of thieves. Findin’ ’idden things, that is.’
‘And me,’ said Basalt. ‘We dwarves know stones and can sometimes spot things, especially in stonework.’
Eventually, all eight went to look once again, but it was Basalt who noticed the slight gap in the slabs on the floor, and the hollow sound his feet made as he walked over it. The gap was so small that it was barely discernible. Even Carthinal and Asphodel with their superior eyesight had not noticed it. It was just in front of the coffin in the furthest room. Asphodel quickly found the lever that opened it and when she pressed it, there was a grinding noise and the floor opened. One of the slabs tilted until it was at an angle, and fitted into a slope leading downwards. Stale air wafted up from below.
‘We’d better give it some minutes to clear that air and for it to be replaced by some fresh stuff or we could just about suffocate,’ the dwarf advised.
‘Then let’s go eat while that’s ’appenin’,’ Thadora suggested as her tummy rumbled. ‘I’m so bloody well starvin’, I don’t know about the rest of you.’
Everyone thought this a good idea, so they exited the tomb once more.
A half-hour later they passed through the now familiar passage and stood at the top of the slope. Fero drew his sword. ‘I’ll go first,’ he stated. ‘I can be quiet and stealthy.’
‘I’ll come too,’ This was Thadora. ‘I’ll check there’s no more traps, see. I c’n be quiet and stealthy too, Fero,’ she said to the ranger who looked as though he was about to stop her ‘I know, Red Cub,’ he replied, ‘But it maybe dangerous. We’ve no idea what’s down there.’
‘Poof! Th’ ’ole mission’s bleedin’ dangerous, and what if you stumble across a trap unknowing and get bloody well frazzled?’
So the two went quietly ahead. Halfway down they stopped and beckoned to the others that it was safe, and they followed, weapons at the ready. They continued in this mode, Thadora and Fero going ahead and making sure all was well and the others following, until they reached the bottom. Here the slope levelled out and they found themselves on the banks of an underground river. The surface steamed gently, like a pot on the coals, giving the air a misty and mysterious air.
‘This must be the river that feeds the lake,’ whispered Fero.
They continued along the banks of the river until they saw the wall ahead drop down to only a few inches above the water. The river rushed out from under the wall at such a rate as to make it impossible for anyone to attempt to go through to any caverns that may exist beyond. It seemed they had come to another full stop. They peered around them.
‘Do you think the river has risen since the tombs were made?’ asked Kimi. ‘If so, it seems we are truly stuck, unless we swim through the water, on the off-chance that it comes out.’
‘No way!’ exclaimed Basalt, with feeling. ‘I’ll climb mountains and get nearly frozen to death in the snow, pass through lava tubes of a volcano, obviously only dormant, even face undead warriors, but never, never will I voluntarily attempt to drown myself in an underground river on the off-chance that I’ll find air before I die.’ He folded his arms over his chest and planted his feet firmly on the ground as though he expected them to drag him into the water at any minute.
Then Thadora called out, ‘We may not ’ave to, silly bugger. I c’n see a dark patch up there, which is p’raps an entrance ter another passage.’ She turned to Carthinal. ‘’Old up th’ torch so I c’n see better.’
It was still inconclusive, so Thadora volunteered to climb up to see.
‘Be careful, Red Cub. That wall looks difficult,’ warned Carthinal.
‘Oh, th’ climb’s easy enough,’ she scoffed. ‘Plenty o’ ’and and foot ’olds. Much easier than scalin’ th’ wall of a bleedin’ ’ouse.’
The others looked a little uneasy at the reminder of her profession, but Thadora was oblivious to this, as she was already part way up the wall.
The climb was about fifteen feet. Once there, Thadora disappeared, and then her face reappeared and she waved and called down that there was another passage, as she had thought, going off at an angle of about twenty degrees from the direction of the current passage. This made it just to the south of west, and probably into the hill behind the tombs.
The others were too busy watching Thadora to notice the river until it was nearly too late. There was a sudden sound, and a large shape rose up from the centre of the water. It was a warty creature with large bulbous eyes and a formidable mouth, which it opened and flashed out a long tongue like a frog or toad. Asphodel just noticed it in time to throw herself onto the ground and roll off to one side, or she would certainly have been caught. The creature withdrew its tongue, and readied itself for another try.
Davrael and Kimi notched arrows to their short bows and let fly, but the arrows skidded off the thick skin of the creature. And a bolt from Basalt’s crossbow followed their arrows. To their surprise, Fero and Basalt’s shots stuck.
‘Well, I’ll be a hobgoblin’s breakfast!’ exclaimed Bas. ‘These arrows and bolts are truly good.’
Davrael and Kimi found their arrows were no use at all against the monster. Carthinal sent a couple of his small energy bolts against it, and they managed to do some further damage. The creature roared in pain, but readied itself for another attack. This time, it aimed for Fero, whom it obviously saw as one of its main tormentors. Fero had to take evasive action then and missed his shot, but the tongue also missed him by a hair’s breadth. Carthinal used the staff to fire off the silvery bolts of energy, and to his surprise it released six of them. Then, as the monster shot its tongue out again, this time at Carthinal, a knife came flying over their heads, turning in the air to embed itself firmly in the toad-like creature’s eye. With another roar, it slipped beneath the surface of the water, which turned a pinkish colour.
From above, they heard an expletive. ‘Shit! That were a good throwin’ knife wasted,’ Thadora called as she scrambled down the wall. ‘I ’ope your ass is worth a good knife, mage.’
‘What, in all seven hells was that thing?’ said Davrael, leaning against the rough wall of the cavern and breathing hard, ‘And what it do in here? If no us, what it eat?’
He looked surprised as the others laughed.
‘Your Grosmerian is improving, Davrael,’ pointed out Fero, ‘If you are now beginning to swear in the language.’
‘I learn from best,’ he replied, smiling. ‘I listen Red Cub there and learn. But I not like that thing in water.’
‘“That Thing,” Davrael, may have come in as a youngster. Maybe it has a tadpole stage, like true frogs and toads,’ Randa said thoughtfully. ‘As to what it eats, who knows? Fish can probably swim in here from outside, and maybe the odd aquatic mammal. Maybe there are fish living in these caves. I’ve heard of such things. They are white and have no eyes, as it’s so dark that eyes would be useless. There may even be another exit from the tunnel Thadora’s found and things come in and fall down here.’
‘Have you seen that thing in your father’s books, Randa?’ Kimi enquired of the other girl.
‘No, Kimi, never. I’ve no more idea than you as to what it was. I just hope it has no friends around.’
At that thought, they all turned once more to the river, but there were no further signs of life.
‘Well so much for the idea of going down the river then. Good job we didn’t decide to do that. I’ll go with Thadora’s idea any day,’ said Basalt.
They laughed.
‘You wouldn’t want to go up the river if there was nothing worse than a friendly otter,’ teased Fero, his black eyes twinkling in the light from the torch he was carrying.
Bas replied with a ‘Humph!’
Thadora had by now come down the wall. ‘Well,’ she exclaimed, ‘I suppose th’ wall an’ that passage’re th’ only way forrad, so up we go.’
Davrael groaned. ‘I’m not sure I can do it, Mouse,’ he whispered to Kimi in their own language. ‘I did not know I had this height thing.’
‘Are you a warrior and a horselord, or just some kind of wimp,’ she replied, also in the language of the horselords. ‘The only way to overcome your fear is to face it, as you said to Carthinal. So face it warrior.’
Thadora had taken the rope from Fero and was climbing nimbly up the wall again. She reached the top, tied the rope onto a natural rock pillar and let the end snake down over the lip of the opening. ‘Use th’ rope ter ’elp you climb,’ she called down.
Fero was the first one up, and he climbed well, scarcely using the rope to help him. After him came Randa and Asphodel, followed by Basalt.
Carthinal turned to Davrael. ‘Warrior,’ he said, using the formal form of address used in the Tribes, ‘You helped me when I was in need of support. Now I will return your words to you. Face your fear. Decide why it frightens you. What is the worst thing that can happen?’
‘I fear feeling I made to jump. I fear I give in to it. I fear I fall, or jump, I not die, but be maimed for all my life. Cripples in Tribes considered dead. They no use to our society,’ then in almost a whisper he said, ‘Women whose husbands crippled be free to remarry as they widows.’ He looked at Kimi, pleading in his brown eyes.
She put her arms round him. ‘We’re not on the plains now, Davrael. Those rules don’t apply here. And they’d never apply to us. I’ll love you whatever you are, and wherever you are.’
‘Come on, you three. We’ve a Sword to find,’ Thadora’s voice came from above and a curly red head poked out over the cliff face.
Davrael took a deep breath and stepped to the rope. He grasped the end and began to laboriously climb up, keeping his eyes always on the silhouetted figure of Thadora above him, who, realising that her face was helping, remained peering down at Davrael. He stopped once, half way up, and the others thought he was going to freeze as he had on the bridge, but then he continued to climb, and eventually made it to the lip of the opening and hauled himself over. He lay on the rocky edge for a few minutes, and then rolled away and sat up, breathing heavily, with sweat beading his forehead. Thadora, in her demonstrative way, hugged him and praised his bravery. Then Kimi climbed up followed by Carthinal and they were all in the upper passage.
Once they had all gathered their breath, and Davrael had once more regained his equilibrium, they set off along the tunnel that opened before them. It was very dark, but dry. Fero and Thadora walked in front, Thadora keeping an eye out for anything that may resemble a trap. Behind them came Basalt and Asphodel followed by Randa and Carthinal. Davrael and Kimi brought up the rear, keeping a check behind in case they were followed by anything. They could not see very far ahead, even with the makeshift torches they carried with them, and so had no idea how long the tunnel was. Thus they very nearly stumbled on the monster before they saw it. It was a large caterpillar-like creature, white in colour, with many tentacles around its mouth. As soon as it saw them, it reared up on its hindmost most legs, like some caterpillars do, in preparation for a strike. Fortunately, Fero and Thadora saw it and shouted for the Wolf pack to halt.
‘Carrion Crawler,’ Randa whispered to Carthinal. Then she called to those in front. ‘Keep away from the tentacles. They have a poison that will paralyse.’
Carthinal seized the mana, and the now familiar silvery missiles shot from his fingers to hit the creature just beneath its raised head. At the same time, Davrael and Kimi released their arrows. Kimi’s hit, but Davrael missed. Fero and Thadora were scrambling backwards out of the way of the head, which was now descending towards them, and Basalt and Asphodel were also moving backwards. Unfortunately, Thadora tripped on a slight hollow in the floor of the tunnel and fell directly under the creature’s head. The tentacles struck. By this time, Fero had reached a safe distance and let off a shot, along with a bolt from Basalt’s cross bow and a stone from Asphodel’s sling. All three missiles hit. The final arrows from Davrael and Kimi, along with one from Randa dispatched the creature.
Fero rushed towards Thadora. ‘Come on, Red Cub,’ he said, ‘You’re all right. The thing’s dead now.’
Thadora made no response, just lay motionless on the ground. Asphodel pushed Fero out of the way. She knelt down on the ground beside Thadora and gently felt her pulse and checked her breathing.
Then she felt all over her for wounds. ‘Bring a light here, someone,’ she commanded.
In the light of the lamp she looked for any signs of wounds, but found none except for a rash of reddish pinpricks on Thadora’s neck where the tentacles had hit the young thief.
‘She’s alive, at any rate,’ Asphodel told the others. ‘Her breathing and pulse are steady, and I can see no wounds except for these marks where she was hit. The poison is fast acting though. She went down immediately. Randa, do you know about how venomous the poison is?’
‘I’m sorry, Asphodel,’ replied the girl, ‘I can’t remember what the book said. As I told you, I used to browse the books as a child. I wasn’t looking for practical information, so I didn’t take much notice of details.’
‘I don’t think it will be fatal to creatures the size of humans, elves and dwarves,’ Asphodel went on. ‘If it were, then I suspect Thadora’s vital signs would be less strong, and showing signs of fading. I think she’s just temporarily paralysed. At least I hope so.’ she thought to herself.
It was just as Asphodel said. After five minutes or so, Thadora’s eyes moved and looked around the Wolves, gathered around her, then slowly she regained her movement.
When she could speak, she said, ‘It’s kinda cool that you’re all so worried ’bout me. Thanks. No body ’cept Mam ever seemed bothered afore.’ Then she sat up carefully. ‘Me neck’s bloody sore though,’ she told them.
Asphodel tried a healing, praying to Sylissa for ease for Thadora’s pain, and Thadora said she felt a little better. Some of the stinging had passed away. She was still a little groggy on her feet, but expressed her view that she could carry on.
So they continued down the tunnel, but at a slower rate and with frequent stops to look and listen and they met no further denizens of the underground. Then the tunnel did a sharp left turn. They could see that, a dozen or so feet ahead, it ended, not in a stone wall, but with an iron bound wooden door. Thadora approached carefully, looking and feeling for any traps. The others stood back as she instructed them.
‘Take care, Red Cub,’ called Bas. (The name given to her by the yeti seemed to have stuck.)
In reply, she gave him a jaunty wave. She reached the door and inspected it on all sides before turning her attention to the lock. Careful examination in the light of the torch seemed to indicate that all was clear, so she tried the door. It was locked. She searched the lock again, and spotted a simple trap. If she had tried to pick the lock, a needle hidden in it would have struck her. She carefully removed the needle. It was probably poisoned, so she placed it in a leather wrapper in her pouch of thieves’ tools so that she would not inadvertently prick herself with it later. After a final check, she inserted a lock pick and quickly had the door open. The others came forward. They looked into the cave beyond, and saw no dangers apparent, so they cautiously entered.
Carthinal held his torch aloft and its flickering light illuminated the cave with leaping shadows. It was not a large cave, and it seemed to have been worked to make it larger. At least, that is what Basalt said when he examined some marks on the walls.

‘Not very good work, though,’ he opined. ‘Done in a hurry, I’d say, and not by dwarfs either. Even in a hurry, dwarfs make better work than this.’
They walked round the cave, which was about fifteen feet across, and roughly circular in shape. In the centre of the cave was a large stone sarcophagus. They walked slowly towards it. They were not sure why, but hurrying did not seem appropriate here. Nor did talking. There was a feeling of righteousness and goodness about the place.
‘A bit like a temple or other holy place,’ Thadora was to say later in describing their quest.
They spread themselves around the sarcophagus, each subconsciously standing at one of the cardinal points of the compass. On the sarcophagus was a brass plaque. It was engraved with some kind of writing, but had corroded somewhat with age. Carthinal leaned over and rubbed it with his sleeve. Some of the corrosion came off, and he read,

‘“Here Lie the Mortal Remains of
The Greatest King Ever to Serve the Land
King Sauvern I
By his Side Lies His Famous Sword, Equilibrium,
Awaiting Its Call to Action Once More.”’

‘Does that mean we have to remove the lid of the Sarcophagus?’ asked Kimi. ‘That doesn’t seem right. To disturb the last rest of a great King.’
‘That’s what is implied,’ replied Carthinal.
‘Then we’d better get on with it then,’ said Basalt, ever practical.
They pushed at the stone lid, which was extremely heavy, but eventually it moved to the side. When they peered inside the coffin, they saw the bones of what had once been a tall man. The body had been dressed in chain mail armour, and had had a beautifully worked helmet on his head, made to look like a winged hawk, with the head and beak forming the nose piece, and wings stretched backwards. A shield and a sword were grasped in his hands, bony fingers holding on tightly. It was a hand-and-a-half sword, sometimes called a bastard sword. There was a large ruby set in the pommel and the grip was ridged with what looked like gold. The quillon was knobbed at each end, again looking like gold, with decoration on each side. The blade had a blunt section, called a ricasso, at the top end just below the quillon and the blade had a double fuller running down the length.
‘We can’t disturb him,’ Randa whispered, ‘It would be sacrilege.’
‘If anyone can, it must be us,’ Carthinal replied, also in a whisper. ‘We are the prophesied ones it seems, and now the Guardians have gone, anyone can get in here.’
‘I suppose you’re right, but it doesn’t make me feel any better.’
Carthinal reached in carefully to grasp the Sword.
Suddenly he withdrew his hand. ‘It burned me,’ was all he said, looking surprised and hurt. Thadora and Basalt suppressed chuckles.
‘Let me try,’ Basalt said, trying not to laugh at Carthinal’s discomfort, but when he reached in, he could not lift the Sword at all. It seemed to him to be incredibly heavy.
He struggled and tried, all to no avail in spite of his strength. Eventually, he gave up, puffing and panting. By now, Thadora could not contain herself, and was nearly exploding with giggles. Kimi and Fero had also joined in with her amusement. Now Fero decided he would try, but received an electric shock for his pains. By now, they were beginning to feel they were not the right people. Randa decided to have a try, and then after her, Thadora said she would try, but that would be the last. There was no one else since the horselords did not use swords.
So Randa approached the last resting-place of Sauvern, the king who had united Grosmer and defeated the Raiders. To Randa’s surprise, the Sword came out of the skeleton king’s grasp easily, almost as though he had released it to her, and she lifted it up in salute to Sauvern. She swished it a few times and declared it to be perfectly balanced and the most incredible weapon she had ever held. Then she looked round at the others and it was her turn to laugh. The expression on their faces was one to behold. A mixture of incredulity and amazement on all their faces, mixed with not a little envy on the faces of a couple of the Wolves.
They were still looking surprised when they heard a sound. Those with their backs to the door, turned and the others looked in that direction, all ready for action. They saw, silhouetted in the doorway, the figure of a tall man. He was wearing a robe, which looked to be made of red silk, and was belted at the waist by a soft leather belt. An empty scabbard hung down at his side. Over his shoulders was a cloak of red velvet, and on his head was a circlet of gold, with the symbols of all the gods surmounted at intervals. He was holding a sceptre indicating rulership in his left hand. The strange thing was that he seemed to be here, and yet not here. He was near enough to touch if they reached out, yet he seemed very far away. Also, not one of them felt afraid. They knew this was not an evil apparition. None of them was able to explain this afterwards, but they all agreed that this was what they felt.
Then the figure spoke. ‘I am Sauvern. The gods have allowed me to wait for your coming before being born again on the Wheel of Life. I have returned to your plane briefly, although my time is short. You are those prophesied who are to come to claim the Sword.’ He turned to Randa. ‘The Sword has chosen, and will remain with you, my lady, until the day you die, unless you prove unworthy. No one else will it permit to touch it, as you have no doubt found. Use it well.’
He then turned to the others. ‘Your task is not yet finished, your destiny not complete, so the gods tell me. They will not permit me to see what you must do, but the Sword and Swordbearer are needed at this time. Your paths will have many crossroads where you will need to make decisions that may impact on the future. Already you have all made important decisions that have brought you together. Many of those decisions, I believe, were decisions involving some act of independence. This spirit of independence in each of you is what makes you what you are, and ironically makes your companionship the stronger. The time ahead of you is uncertain indeed, and fraught with dangers. You will be tested in the future. You must all face dark times ahead, but you must be strong and overcome these trials. Remember your sworn oath. The gods heard you and accepted it. You must always remember you are the Wolves.’
With that, he slowly began to fade. As the apparition disappeared, they heard these last words. ‘Take whatever you need from my tomb. All is yours. Swordbearer, I give you this.’
The tooled leather scabbard fell to the floor as the apparition finally disappeared.
After standing for a few minutes, Basalt was the first to recover his senses. ‘Well, you heard the man,’ he said to Randa. ‘Go get the scabbard, girl, and put the Sword away.’
Randa walked slowly towards the said piece of equipment as if she thought it might vanish any moment as its previous owner had. She slowly picked it up and examined it.
‘It’s a fine piece of workmanship,’ she said, as she donned it and sheathed the sword.
‘Of course it is,’ Bas responded. ‘It belonged to a king, didn’t it? Can’t expect him to have just any piece of old leather made into a scabbard.’
The others had recovered by now, and were again looking into the sarcophagus. They were still reluctant to take the armour, which was amazingly, still bright and shining as was the helmet and gauntlets. Then Davrael reached in and lifted the helm off the head of the skeleton.
‘A bird of prey,’ he said. ‘The totem of my tribe is hawk.’
‘Put it on, Davrael,’ Carthinal urged. ‘Sauvern, or rather, his ghost, told us to take anything we needed.’
So Davrael slowly lowered the helm over his head. The wings swept back over his head, and the head and beak of the bird came down to protect his nose. Its claws were made to cover the ears on each side. With this helmet and the tattoo on his face, Davrael looked truly fearsome.
‘If I didn’t know you, I think I’d be afraid,’ Kimi said to him, smiling, ‘But I know what a pussy cat you really are, even if you try to pretend otherwise.’
Davrael looked at her, put on a fierce expression and lunged towards her. ‘You know what pussy cats do to little mouses,’ he said as he lunged.
She jumped backwards, letting out a little squeal, then let him catch her up and swing her round. ‘Ouch, Davrael. Those claws hurt,’ she complained, as he hugged her to him, and he reluctantly let her go.
The others were looking at the mail and gauntlets still in the coffin.
‘The chain mail may fit you, Fero,’ said Basalt.
‘No. Chain mail will make too much noise when I’m tracking and hunting. I prefer to stick to leather,’ the ranger replied.
‘Same fer me. It’d be no bleedin’ use to a thief, even if it’d fit me,’ said Thadora.
‘It’s too big for a dwarf,’ said Carthinal. ‘And no use to a mage either as it would interfere with the magic.’
‘That leaves Davrael, Randa and Asphodel as I’m sure it wouldn’t fit Kimi; she’s so tiny,’ Thadora put in.
‘I’ve already got chain mail,’ Randa pointed out. ‘I think the only one it will fit is Davrael.’
‘Unless it’s elven chain,’ mused Asphodel. ‘Sometimes enchantments are put on by the elf mages to make it fit anyone.’
‘Is that true, Asphodel?’ asked Basalt. ‘I’ve heard tales, but never quite believed them.’

‘Only one way to find out!’ said Carthinal. ‘Someone must try it on whom it seems not to fit.’
Asphodel was chosen. Kimi was unsure about using chain mail. She had never needed any armour at all until she had left her home, but Davrael had insisted that for her safety she should not only wear armour, but also learn to use the knives she now carried. He had been teaching her on their travels. (She had already been accomplished with the bow as she had hunted with her brothers, she said.) She had agreed to wear leather armour.
So Asphodel removed the leather armour she was wearing and donned the chain mail. At first it seemed to swamp her, but then a strange thing happened. The armour seemed to shiver, and then the rings seemed to slowly shrink, pulling it to a perfect fit. It was indeed elven chain mail with an enchantment on it to fit anyone. It felt so light that Asphodel felt as though she were not wearing armour at all. She pulled the tabard with the holy symbol of Sylissa over her head and was ready to continue. There was now the question of the gauntlets. Were they magical too? Randa had the Sword, Davrael the helm, Asphodel the chain mail. Carthinal could not use armour for fear of interfering with his magic, and Fero declined. The three remaining Wolves decided to try them on to see whom they would best fit. So Thadora came by a pair of beautifully fitting leather gauntlets. She was unsure about them at first, thinking they may hinder her movements when drawing her bow that she had been practising under the tutelage of both Fero and Davrael. Then she decided to give it a go as they would protect her hands in close fighting, so minimising any damage that may affect her lock picking skills.
So the Wolves left the tomb. They passed the body of the carrion crawler and climbed down the rope they had left back at the passage with the river. Thadora untied the rope and descended last, carrying it with her. The descent seemed very easy to her. Much easier than the ascent had been. When she reached the river bank, she once more protested the loss of her throwing knife, but declined to follow Basalt’s suggestion that she go into the water to reclaim it. They once more ascended the slope, closed the trapdoor, and exited the tomb.
When they got out, they were surprised to find it growing dark. They set up camp before the largest mound, and prepared to eat some of their dried rations. There was a rustle of wings over their heads, and Muldee descended before them.
He spoke to Asphodel in his version of elvish. ‘They’ve gone! The Guardians. What did you do? How did you defeat them?’
She translated for the others, and replied, ‘We came here for a purpose. It seems we were expected. The Guardians have finished their job and have gone to their rest.’
‘About time,’ Muldee replied. ‘Their presence here was spoiling the whole valley. Well, now you’ve finished, I expect you’ll be leaving.’
Asphodel laughed. ‘Are you so keen to be rid of us?’ she asked him.
‘No! Not at all,’ replied the little creature. ‘My brothers and sisters and I have been talking, and we’ve decided we should know more about the world. So they’ve elected me to be the explorer. I’m coming with you!’
The others looked at Asphodel’s amazed face and immediately asked for a translation. When she had done so, she laughed at the faces of the others. They looked as amazed as she supposed she must have done.
‘Is this a good idea?’ queried Basalt, remembering the antics of the dragonet in the water, and how amused he had seemed to nearly drown them all.
‘I don’t see how we can stop him,’ replied Fero. ‘He’ll follow us if we don’t agree, and I for one would like to know exactly where he is.’
‘My thinks too,’ replied Davrael, remembering his own loss of dignity at the hands, or maybe one should say, claws, of the young creature.
So they reluctantly agreed for Muldee to accompany them. The dragonet then went on to say that they would not find their way out of the valley without him anyway as it was not straightforward. With that, the creature flew to the fire, and curled up next to it, and within moments was fast asleep.

The Wolf Pack. Valley. The Wolves encounter the guardians of the Sword.

It’s the first Tuesday in the month again, and so it’s time for the next episode of The Wolf Pack. I hope you enjoy it.

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VALLEY

The valley was truly beautiful. It opened towards the east and the sunrise. It was densely wooded but with open glades between mature oak trees. The snow-capped mountains towered high above them to the north, west and south, but gradually fell away towards the east. Below them, spring was beginning to burst out. Trees were showing the first pale blush of green and there were spring flowers blooming. They wondered how long they had spent with the yeti.  They worked it out by the height of the sun that it must be the middle of Grildar at least.

‘Then I’m not a child any more,’ stated Thadora. ‘If it is the middle of Grildar, my birthday has gone. It was on Grildar 8. I’m sixteen!’

‘That should have been cause for a celebration, then,’ responded Basalt. ‘We must have a birthday party when we finish this quest.’

They slowly walked down the slope towards the woods, listening to the birds singing their songs in the trees and bushes until they entered the woodland. It seemed an almost magical place. The large oak trees spread their branches high towards the sun as though in welcome and all with the hint of new greenery. Beneath their feet, last autumn’s leaves crunched. The huge trees every now and then gave way to open glades where the sun’s rays filtered down making the place look almost magical. Then they stepped out of the forest to see a lake spread before them. It was steaming in the sunshine. Kimi wondered why that should be so.

Basalt explained to her. ‘This is volcanic country, Kimi. There is heat below the ground, which feeds the volcanoes. There are often hot springs nearby. I suspect this lake is one such, fed by a hot spring from below the volcano.’

They decided that they all needed to eat, and then to bathe, as it was a long time since they left Roffley and their last bath. Settling down by the lake, they ate the cold food that Grnff had given them before they parted. As they looked towards the lake, they saw strange birds flying in the sky.

‘What are they?’ Thadora asked the words that had been in everyone’s lips.

No one seemed to be able to say. Then one of the birds, followed by two or three of the others, dived into the lake. They expected to see them rise into the air shortly, probably grasping a fish or something, but to their surprise, they seemed to remain swimming in the water. Then Asphodel noticed something with her superior elven sight.

‘Strange birds, with four legs as well as wings,’ she said.

The others looked closer.

‘The wings look rather leathery, not like birds’ wings at all. They look like pictures I’ve seen of dragons in my father’s library. I used to like to look at his books on the animals and plants of Vimar when I was a child,’ said Randa.

‘You know, I think she’s right. They do look like dragons,’ responded Basalt. ‘Just our luck. I suppose we couldn’t have hoped for our good luck to continue,’ he grumbled.

‘Well, they’re a long way away. Maybe we’ll be able to avoid drawing their attention,’ said Asphodel. ‘We’ll have to be very wary. Anyway, they looked rather small. Maybe they’re just babies.’

‘Or maybe they only looked small through distance. Or maybe they are babies, but if so, their mother won’t be far away,’ groaned Basalt. ‘Well, at least I’ll end my days in pleasant surroundings in the company of friends.’

‘Don’t be so pessimistic, Bas,’ Kimi scolded him. ‘We may not see any more of them, and even if we do, if we’re careful, we may not alert their parents.

‘Always expect the worst, Kimi, lass,’ Basalt retorted. ‘Then when it doesn’t come to pass it’s a pleasant surprise.’

‘You don’t always go by that philosophy though, do you Basalt?’ Fero put in. ‘I’ve known you to be a happy sort of fellow at times.’

Basalt grunted in reply.

After they had eaten, the dragons seemed to have disappeared so they walked slowly and quietly down towards the water. They were looking for places where they could bathe in privacy, the men apart from the women. There was a small beach in front of them, and they were approaching it when Fero, who was ahead as usual, held up his hand and stopped. They drew along side of him and saw, sprawled on the beach and basking in the warm spring sunshine, a small iridescent shape. It was one of the baby dragons they had seen flying over the lake. It was about three feet long from the tip of its snout to the tip of its tail. Its wings were spread out to catch the maximum warmth and it was snoring gently. It had the horns of an adult dragon on its head, but they were rather smaller in comparison to its size. It did not seem to be a definite colour, but its scales shone with many colours in the sunlight. There it looked red, here blue, and then again green. Sometimes it seemed to be black. It was a truly beautiful creature.

‘The pictures of dragons in my father’s books were definite colours,’ puzzled Randa. ‘Not this iridescent mix. I think that the books said that there were blue dragons in the mountains.’

‘Yes, but p’rhaps th’ young’re different. P’rhaps th’ colours come later on, but dragon or not, it’s so-o beautiful,’ put in Thadora.

‘True enough. Many youngsters look different from their parents,’ responded Fero. ‘Think of frogs and toads to name but two. Dragons may be like that. Anyway it seems there are dragons around here after all.’

Asphodel then murmured in Elvish. ‘Dragons! Typical! How are we to fight dragons?’ Then she turned to the others. ‘That poem said there were guardians near the tomb, but didn’t specify what. Maybe the guardians are dragons.’

The sleeping creature suddenly leaped up. It looked around itself, saw the friends and made some sounds.

Asphodel looked surprised. ‘That sounds like a form of elvish!’ she said. It sounded as though it said, “Dragons? Where? I’ll sort them out for you.”

The Wolves looked at one another.

Asphodel replied, in elvish, ‘You’re the dragon, even if only a baby.’

The creature looked incensed. ‘Baby?’ it said. ‘Baby? Who are you calling a baby?’

‘But aren’t you a baby dragon then?’ asked Asphodel.

‘Indeed I am not! I am a fully-grown dragonet,’ it responded.

Asphodel translated the conversation to them.

‘I’ve heard of dragonets,’ Randa said, ‘but they are considered to be myths by most people nowadays.’

Asphodel translated when the little creature asked what Randa had said.

‘Do I look like a myth to you? My name is Mulldee, by the way. If you’d been properly brought up you’d have introduced yourselves to me first, since this is my home.’

Asphodel again translated for the others and Randa then looked towards the creature and said, ‘I, at least, have been properly brought up. I am Randa. My companions are,’ and she indicated each one in turn, ‘Carthinal, a mage, Asphodel, a curate of Sylissa, Fero, Thadora, Basalt, Kimi and Davrael. May I apologise for our poor manners.’

After more translation, the dragonet replied, ‘That’s better. Now we know each other, I must ask you what brings you to our valley?’

The companions looked at each other and then at Carthinal. The young half-elf spoke for the first time.

‘Asphodel, tell Muldee that we are passing through. We became lost in the mountains, and a pair of yeti showed us the way through the volcano.’

The dragonet put his head on one side, and looked at Carthinal. ‘Most unusual. In fact, unheard of. Yeti helping people?’

Suddenly there was a flurry of wings over Muldee’s head. Another dragonet appeared, this one paler in colour, but still with the iridescence of Muldee. It made a series of whistles and clicks. Muldee responded with his own series of whistles.

‘My clutch mate, Amonine,’ he told the Asphodel. ‘She hatched after me, and so is more of a baby.’

‘Huh! Baby indeed. I only hatched seven hours after you! Come on, Deedee. We’re waiting for you.’ (She spoke in the form of elvish that Muldee had used so Asphodel could understand her.) With that, she dived into the water and swam away.

Muldee’s concentration seemed to evaporate as he saw his siblings swimming and diving, and he turned to the travellers saying, ‘I don’t suppose “they” will let you do any harm, anyway, so I may as well go and play.’

With that, he ran to the water’s edge and swam out to join the rest of the dragonets out in the lake.

Once he had gone, the others looked at each other.

‘Not only do they damn well exist, they talk too. That’s real cool,’ said Thadora in delight at the little creatures.

‘At least they’re not dragons. They seem harmless enough,’ Kimi replied.

They decided to continue their search for bathing places. The men quickly found another beach about one hundred meters away, and so the party split. The girls quickly undressed and ran to the warm water. Randa had some soap in her pack, and she soaped herself, and then her hair. She threw the soap to Asphodel who did the same, and then the other two had the soap. They swam in the water and splashed each other. It was so good to feel clean again.

The men had also stripped off. Basalt was quite happy to wade into the water as far as his waist, but pointedly refused to go any deeper. ‘If dwarves were meant to swim, we’d have been given webbed feet,’ was his reply to the urgings of the others.

Davrael was standing in the shallower water still trying to persuade Basalt to come in deeper, when all of a sudden, he found himself swept from his feet, and took a severe dunking in the water. The normally proud and dignified Horselord looked far from proud or dignified as he thrashed around to regain his feet, and came up spluttering. He automatically felt for his knives, but of course they were not there, as he was naked. He looked at the others. They were all laughing. How could they laugh when something had nearly drowned him? Then he saw a flurry of water in Basalt’s direction. Something was beating the water and covering the dwarf in a fountain.

Basalt was spluttering in anger, and he too reached for his non-existent axe. Then a shape burst from the water beside him, and he realised what had happened. Muldee had decided to join them in their swim. He was still smarting from the loss of his dignity but had to smile when Carthinal was dragged down by the playful dragonet, and came up spluttering and angry. Muldee then flew high in the sky and dived into the water. Soon they were all, except for Basalt, swimming and diving with the little creature and enjoying themselves immensely.

When the men saw that the four young women had left the water, they too climbed out onto the sand and sat there drying off before putting on their clothes, also to give the girls time to dry off and get dressed. They saw ripples in the water and thought that one of the dragonets was approaching, but nothing emerged. Davrael thought he saw a figure that looked vaguely human beneath the water, but could not be sure. They watched, but saw nothing. Eventually, they decided it must have been a large fish of some kind. Then, just as they were dressing to go back to the others, Fero dashed into the water and managed to catch the shape. He drew out a beautiful woman, who was spitting and scratching at him. She had blue hair and a faintly greenish tinge to her skin. Her ears were pointed like an elf’s, and she had elf-like slanted eyes of a deep blue colour, but her pupils were elongated like those of a cat.

Fero held her gently, but firmly whilst the others looked in astonishment.

‘It’s a nymph!’ exclaimed Carthinal. ‘This must be her lake.’

‘Yes, half-elf,’ she spat, ‘This is my lake. You did not ask my permission to swim.’

‘I apologise,’ he replied, bowing slightly to her. ‘We didn’t realise that a nymph was present. We’d have been more respectful if we did.’

‘So I would hope,’ she said. ‘Now let me go!’ This last was to Fero.  ‘No one has visited this valley for hundreds of years, and I have been left in peace,’ she said. ‘Now you come. Why are you here?’

‘We are on a quest,’ Carthinal told her. ‘We are searching for a magical item.’

‘Oh-oh,’ the nymph said. ‘Well, I don’t expect you’ll get far. The Guardians will soon see you off. No one comes here now. The stories of the Guardians are enough to frighten would-be treasure seekers. It suits me. Although sometimes it does becomes lonely with only the dragonets for company. They are amusing, but at times can be rather irritating.’ She cast a sidelong glance at Fero. ‘Occasionally I feel the need for company of a more, shall we say grown up kind. The dragonets get a bit tiresome at times.’

‘Don’t look into her eyes, Fero,’ Basalt whispered out of the side of his mouth, ‘Nymphs can spell humans into thinking they are in love with them.’

‘Don’t worry, Dwarf,’ she said, ‘I had a human lover once. He loved me of his own free will and I him. That is better than a sorcerous love. I have never wanted anyone under magical coercion since.’

‘That not usual?’ asked Davrael. ‘Nymphs not usually love humans, I think.’

‘That is true. He found his way into the valley when he and his army got lost in the mountains. He wandered away from them to be alone. He had just lost a battle and was feeling despair. I saw him and loved him immediately.

‘He was proud and dignified; a bit like you, warrior,’ she looked at Davrael. ‘I was going to cast a spell on him, but he saw me and I then realised I did not want him to love me through magic, but for my own self. I showed myself to him, and comforted him. He truly loved me. He could not stay with me forever though as he had a wife, and had his duty to his country and so he left.

‘He returned many times though. His adviser, an elf, cast a spell on his men so they would forget where the valley is. Only my lover and his adviser could find it again. But that was hundreds of years ago. I’ve been alone ever since, except when the advisor came with others and created the Abominations. My lover came back to me, you see. To stay forever near me; not her, his wife. He was dead, of course. I’ve mourned his passing ever since. Don’t worry, handsome, dark stranger,’ she said to Fero. ‘I would never want to have love through magic again, when I’ve had the free love of a man.’

They were silent for a while. Then Carthinal asked, ‘Why are you telling us this? Nymphs are usually shy and don’t talk readily to mortals such as we.’

‘I don’t know,’ she replied looking puzzled. ‘I felt that it was important you know. Whether to you or to me I don’t know.’

With that, she turned and slipped back into the water and was gone.

The men looked at each other. ‘I think we’ve found our valley, guys,’ said Carthinal. ‘Let’s go and tell the girls!’

They all sat around the fire they had built from dead branches gathered from the woods around. Carthinal repeated what the nymph had said.

‘It was most odd,’ he told them when he had finished. ‘Nymphs are the shyest of creatures, and don’t usually succumb to loneliness, yet this one was quite voluble, telling us things I would not have expected.’

He left them to draw their own conclusions about the valley, which they quickly did.
‘There are tales of Sauvern falling in love with a nymph, aren’t there?’ asked Asphodel
‘Yes, indeed there are,’ replied Carthinal, ‘and if you take into account that we’ve been warned about “them” and also told of the “Guardians” it seems to add up. As I said to the others, we seem to have found our valley.’

‘Or rather, had it found for us,’ said Basalt. ‘We would have been hopelessly lost, if not dead if Grnff and Zplon hadn’t saved us and brought us here.’

Asphodel was thinking. ‘And there was the mysterious man who told Grnff about us—before we even knew each other existed. We’ve definitely been directed here. I think this is the valley, too.’

Just at that moment, there was a flurry of wings overhead and then, in a spray of sand, Muldee arrived. He landed on his hind feet, and sat, to all intents and purposes like a dog begging for food, his strong tail balancing him behind. In his front talons he was carrying a large fish.

Asphodel translated his words.

‘I thought you may like this,’ he told them, dropping it straight into Randa’s lap. ‘I’m sure you would like a change from those birds the yeti seem to enjoy so much.’

Randa was not over-pleased at having the wet and fishy creature land on her, clean as she was now, and she threw the fish away from her. The fish was still alive, and it flopped about, wetting Randa further.

The others smothered laughs as she picked it up gingerly and said, ‘Thank you, Muldee. We’ll enjoy this immensely. Will one of you kill it please?’

‘Why can’t you?’ said Asphodel.

‘I’ve never killed anything before. I’m not sure I can.’

‘That’s not true, Randa,’ Fero told her, ‘you managed to kill those wolves that attacked us, and very efficiently too, I might add.’

‘That was different. They were attacking us. It was our lives that were at stake.’

Fero looked at her, and pointed out, ‘It could be our lives at stake here too. People die without food as well as by being killed by wild animals. It’s necessary to kill in order to survive. Sometimes killing is to stop something from killing you, but more often it’s in order for you to eat.’

‘Yes, but someone else has always done it for me,’ she whined ‘and it’s arrived on my plate looking nothing like an animal that has given up its life for me to eat.’

Asphodel responded to this by telling her that it was about time that she learned to face life’s unpleasantness as well as the good things. Carthinal glanced at her. She had learned a bit about life and death herself since her kidnapping by the orcs and having to live off the land.

‘Killing a living being is never pleasant,’ she went on, ‘but sometimes it’s necessary as Fero said. Before the flood I’d never killed anything either, but I had to learn or starve. You kill the fish!’ Muldee had been listening to this exchange with a perplexed look on his face.
Randa, supervised by Fero, found a large stone and hit the fish sharply on its head, and began the process of cleaning it. By her face, it was not a job she was enjoying very much. When she had finished, Asphodel gave her a handful of herbs, which she spread inside the fish along with some wild garlic they had found near the trees. Then she wrapped it, supervised by Asphodel, in leaves and placed it by the side of the fire, almost, but not quite in the flames.

Muldee was again bewildered. ‘Now you burn it!’ he exclaimed. Asphodel laughed at the little creature’s expression and translated once again. ‘Why do you ruin a good fish? I had a lot of trouble catching that. It’s a big one. Enough to feed you all.’

Asphodel had to explain again to the dragonet. He sighed and replied to her explanation.
‘It seems I know little of the world. We’re very sheltered here in our valley.’

Then he seemed to be considering all he had learned.

They ate the fish, and it was very good. It was, indeed, big enough for them all with some left over. They offered Muldee some, but he refused, saying that he did not think he would like burned fish, even if they preferred it. Then he flew off, telling them that it would soon be dark and he needed to go back to his clutch mates for safety.

They spent the night there on the beach. The nights were getting warmer, but not warm enough to want to be far from the fire, even if it were safe to do so, which they were unsure they were. After all, there were the mysterious Guardians to consider.

The following morning, they finished the remains of the fish, which tasted even better than it had the previous evening. Each of them expressed a feeling that eyes had been on them all the time they were on watch. It had been a most eerie feeling, as there was no sight or sound of anything, Fero had moved silently towards where he felt the eyes were, but had seen nothing. They quickly dismissed it as imagination. The warnings of Muldee and the nymph had been on their minds they decided.

After breakfast, they set off in search of the tomb that they were now quite sure must be in this valley, somewhere. They walked towards the head of the valley, in a westerly direction, with the intention of circling the lake, and returning by the northern and eastern shores. The mountains towered over them, making them feel very small. There were small woods down here nearer the lake, interspersed with meadows, which now had flowers blooming. The day was warm, and the sky cloudless. In these less dense woodlands, bluebells were just beginning to form their blue carpet under the trees. Thadora was entranced. She had never seen a bluebell wood before and exclaimed continuously of its beauty.

‘If I’d ’ave known ’ow lovely the damn countryside is, I’d ’ave never stayed in ’Ambara,’ she exclaimed. ‘I always thought as ’ow it’d be so not excitin’ livin’ outside o’ th’ town, y’know, nothin’ to do, nothin’ ’appenin’, like, but it’s so bleedin’ lovely, and I’ve not been bored one little bit.’

The others all laughed at her comments, and Fero pointed out that their journey so far had been an unusual one. People did not normally get attacked by wolves, traverse a difficult, almost impossible pass, nearly die from the cold in the snow, get rescued by yeti and walk through a volcano, not to mention meeting dragonets.

Yet in spite of the idyllic surroundings, as they neared the western shore of the lake, they all began to have a sensation of being watched, much as they had during the night. The nearer they approached the western end of the valley, the more fearful they felt. They instinctively drew nearer to each other, and walked with hands on weapons. Carthinal searched his mind for both offensive and defensive spells, and used the staff to put protective armour of “hardened” air on himself.

As they emerged from one of the little woods they saw spread out before them a meadow of wild flowers, much as others they had passed through. There was one difference, however. The feeling of menace here was stronger than ever, and standing before them amongst the flowers, looking somewhat out of place in the meadow, were twelve warriors, swords drawn and ready to do battle.

Twelve battle-hardened warriors against eight mismatched adventurers are not good odds, but that was not what brought them to a standstill. It was a feeling of utter terror that was emanating from the warriors. It washed over the Wolves. Wave upon wave of fear. It was all they could do to stand their ground. In fact, Fero held out his hand to physically stop Carthinal from turning back there and then.

‘We’ve not come this far to fail now,’ he whispered to the half-elf. Carthinal looked at him.

‘They are undead warriors,’ he said. ‘If there is one thing that I cannot face it’s undead. They frighten me more than anything else does on Vimar.’

Just then one of the undead stepped forward. He was wearing a captain’s insignia of a very archaic design on equally ancient armour. He spoke, and it sounded as though the voice was all around them, echoing from the mountains that surrounded the valley.

‘Why do you come to the Valley?’ he intoned. ‘You must return and let the dead rest in peace.’

‘We mean no harm,’ Basalt said in a quavering voice.

‘You are not the leader. We must speak with the leader,’ went on the undead captain.

‘Carthinal, speak to him,’ prompted Asphodel as Carthinal made no move to step forward and respond to the creature.

Carthinal’s face was pale. He seemed as though he could not stand. Fero was all but holding him up.

‘I-I can’t,’ he managed, ‘I can’t speak to those dreadful creatures.’

‘You must or we can’t get any further,’ Asphodel scolded. ‘Remember the rhyme. “No fear must show or from there you will be hounded.” We now know what the Guardians are. You must control your fear and not let them see you’re frightened.’

Carthinal was about to protest again when Davrael came to him.

‘I understand, Carthinal,’ he told him. ‘I have fear such as you on bridge. You must face it. We here. We help you. I come stand by side. Face it and it seem less.’

With Davrael on one side, and Fero on the other, Carthinal drew himself up to his full height. His legs felt weak, but he forced them to move and carry him forward.

The three approached the centre of the meadow, and the captain, with two of his men did likewise.

‘I am the leader of this group,’ Carthinal ventured reticently.

‘Then you must answer my question. Why are you here?’

Carthinal thought of a number of myriad replies, then decided that he must answer with the truth. These creatures would surely be able to tell if he lied.

‘We are here to find Sauvern’s Sword,’ he told them. ‘We have been sent by a man who believes the world is in grave peril.’

‘What is this peril?’ asked the undead captain.

‘We don’t know. We weren’t told any details. We’re only the employees doing our employer’s bidding.’

The captain appeared to think about this reply. He turned to look at the other two with him. There were no words exchanged, but Carthinal had the distinct impression of a conversation passing between them.

Then the captain said, ‘My youngest knight, Bry here,’ he indicated the man on his right. ‘Wishes to ask you a question. It is unprecedented for the youngest to ask, but he has served bravely and well, so I grant him this boon.’

The young undead knight, who looked not much older than Thadora, said, ‘Who are you?’
‘I am Carthinal Mabrylson. My companions are…’

He got no farther before Bry interrupted him.

‘No, Not your given names. That is meaningless. What do you call your group, if anything.’
Carthinal paused for a second, wondering if he should give the name as it suddenly seemed rather adolescent to call themselves a name. Rather like the adolescent gangs in the cities to which he, himself, had once belonged.

Then Thadora suddenly ran forward. ‘We call ourselves “Wolf”,’ she cried.

The undead warriors looked at each other.

‘They are the ones,’ intoned the leader. ‘Now our vigil is at an end. We can at last go to our rest.’

With that the twelve warriors seemed to slowly fade from view, and the feeling of being watched vanished with it along with the feeling of menace. All at once, the birds began to sing. They had not realised, due to their own fear that they had not been singing in this part of the valley until the song recommenced. A collective sigh came from the members of Wolf.

The Wolf Pack Chapter 9. Thad

wolfpackcover (2)CHAPTER 9

THAD

Carthinal lifted the young thief over his shoulder. He was not heavy, and so it was not difficult for him to carry the lad. Shortly after they had left the Warren, he felt the boy stirring.
‘Hey! Put me down, you bastard!’ he cried.
Carthinal did so, but did not release his grip on the boy’s arm. The boy was struggling, but was nowhere near as strong as Carthinal, and his efforts were futile.
‘If you don’t struggle, you won’t get hurt,’ said Carthinal. ‘You’ll come with me to the inn. I’ll let go of you, but if you run, remember I am a mage. I may forget I said I wouldn’t hurt you.’
‘OK, I’ll not run,’ replied the boy sulkily.
The pair walked along side by side, each watchful and distrustful of the other until they came to the square in which the Golden Dragon was situated.
‘They’ll not let me in there!’ exclaimed the boy.
‘Leave it to me,’ replied Carthinal. ‘I think I can get in with you. I’m good at talking my way out of situations, and so I think I can talk my way into the inn with you.’
As luck would have it, there were few people about, so Carthinal did not have any problems entering the inn with the young thief. As he passed through the public room, Basalt and Fero waved at him to come over to sit by the fire. He walked over with the boy in tow.
‘What have you got there… and why?’ queried Basalt while Fero raised an eyebrow at the boy’s dirty and unkempt look.
‘The thief who robbed me this morning. I spotted his red hair running away after he’d picked my pocket, and saw him again a few minutes ago,’ replied Carthinal ‘I want to get my goods back. I’m taking him upstairs and I intend to find out what he has done with his ill-gotten gains.’
‘I hope you don’t intend to hurt him,’ Fero said with an anxious look at the boy.
‘Gods! What do people think I am? Of course I won’t hurt him,’ snapped Carthinal. ‘You’re the second one to ask me that.’
‘I apologise, Carthinal,’ Fero was truly contrite, ‘but I fail to see how just talking to him will make him give up his secrets.’
‘I have my little ways,’ smiled Carthinal, tapping the side of his nose, and with that he took the boy’s arm and went up the stairs, leaving the others looking after him with bemused expressions on their faces. Fero shrugged and returned to his drink then after a few more seconds, Basalt did the same.
Once in the room, Carthinal surprised the boy by speaking to him in the language of the underworld, developed by the under-classes so that the Guard and others could not understand them when messages were passed.
‘I want my goods back. You cut my pouch this morning. You ran. You are very good, but not good enough. I saw. I recognise you now.’
‘How do you know cant?’ replied the thief, with a look of amazement in his green eyes. ‘You don’t look like one of us.’
‘No matter,’ replied Carthinal. ‘You get my pouch back and return it to me. But I don’t trust you out in the streets. You’ll run and hide. Then you’ll stay low until I leave. I’ll come with you to get it.’
‘You must be one of us if you speak cant, even if you look like one of the grollin.’  The boy used the disparaging word the thieves used for the honest population of Grosmer. ‘I’ll return your pouch. We don’t steal from our own. You come with me now.’ The boy stood and started to walk towards the door.
After a second’s hesitation, Carthinal followed. ‘I should be studying for tomorrow,’ he thought, ‘But this will probably be my only chance to get the figurine back. I must take it.’ With that thought, he followed the boy out and down the stairs, quickly catching up with him.
‘Going to get my stolen things,’ he called to Bas and Fero, leaving them gaping after him, and wondering how he had persuaded the lad to return them.
The pair of them walked through the Market Square.
‘What’s your name, boy?’ asked Carthinal.
After a second’s hesitation, the boy replied, ‘Thad, sir.’ It seemed he had a new respect for Carthinal, honouring him with a “sir”.
‘I assume that is short for Merothad. But there’s no need to call me “sir”.

I’m just another punter who has been stupid enough to be caught by a very good “dip.” My name’s Carthinal.’
‘That’s twice you said I were real good, s… er Carthinal. D’you really think so? That’s so cool.’ The boy seemed to glow in the slight praise.
‘Yes, I do. You have some things to learn yet though. Like not getting caught. One thing you could do is hide your red hair with a hood, you know. You are not very old are you? Thirteen? Fourteen?’ asked the half-elf.
‘Fifteen, Carthinal. Sixteen just after the Equinox.’
‘You’re rather small for your age. Still, there are plenty of folk who are small at your age and grow quickly after that to overtake their taller friends. You may be a giant yet!’
The boy laughed at that idea, but seemed to be warming to his captor. They came to the edge of the Warren.
‘We’re now come on my patch. We talk cant from here or we’ll be so bloody suspect,’ advised Thad. ‘There’s always people sussing out guards in disguise. Everyone speaks cant on the streets in the Warren.’
‘Done!’ replied Carthinal, and the pair relapsed into the language of thieves, assassins and other undesirable characters.

Eventually, they entered a dark, dismal and rather smelly back street. Carthinal entered with no hesitation, a fact that gained him an admiring glance from Thad.
Towards the end of the street, Thad bent down and lifted a grating in the middle of the road. ‘Down ’ere,’ he said, and Carthinal could see his grin in the dim light.
‘Down here being, I presume, the sewers.’ Carthinal peered down into the depths. ‘Smells rather, but if your hiding place is down here, who would go looking? What are we waiting for?’
Thad looked rather taken aback by the fact that Carthinal was willing to go down into the sewers. If he had had any ideas of escaping through the sewer system while Carthinal rather fastidiously waited on the surface, he had to shelve them.
The pair climbed down into the depths. Water came up to Carthinal’s knees, and he tucked the skirts of his robe up into his belt, leaving his legs bare. The water would not be so difficult to walk through then, and his robes would keep some semblance of cleanliness. He did not care to think what was in the water flowing by his legs. The smell was almost

overpowering, but Carthinal sighed, although he winced as he felt solid things bump against his legs as he walked through the noisome fluid. He followed Thad’s figure, which appeared to glow a deep red to his infra-vision. Again, if Thad had intended to escape in the dark, he was out of luck.
The young thief had no need of a light as he could find his way through the sewers as well as he could the upper streets. They twisted, turned, and took many side branches until Carthinal was completely disorientated. He half wished that he had invited Basalt to come along. Dwarves were used to being in caves and mines, and could not easily get lost, having an excellent sense of direction underground.
Eventually Thad stopped. He felt up to a ledge and pulled out a torch and a flint. Quickly lighting the torch, he pulled out a brick from the sewer wall. Reaching in, he rummaged around for a few seconds, and then pulled out a pouch.
‘This it?’ he asked Carthinal.
‘Too right it is,’ replied the other, opening it. He emptied out the coins onto his palm and counted them.
Thad quickly said, ‘I spent a few crowns on some eats at the six hour meal-time.’
‘That’s OK, Thad, but where’s the figurine?’
The boy’s face fell. ‘The figurine? You mean that gold horse thing? Yeah, well. I’m sorry, but I’ve fenced it already.’
‘What? Already?’
‘It’s always good to get goods changed to money real quick, right? Chances of being traced and all that. You know!’
‘Yes, yes, of course. But that really was quick.’
‘I’ve a good fence, like.’ said the boy dismissively. ‘Was it important?’
‘Someone I know thinks it is,’ Carthinal sighed. ‘Oh well. That’s that then.’
‘Maybe I c’d get it back for you. My fence’ll do me favours if I ask, right? ’E’s so into boys, see, (if you know what I mean) and ’e thinks if ’e does me favours, like, I’ll do him one sometime. It’s summat I don’t try very ’ard to change. It’s useful.’
‘Yes, I’m sure it is. I just hope you know what you are doing with him that’s all. That sort of game is dangerous.’
‘Don’t worry, Carthinal,’ the boy replied, cheerfully. ‘I’ve a dagger and am bloody good wi’ throwing knives.’
‘Just be careful, that’s all, Thad. Don’t go relying on weapons. That way lies the end of a rope.’
Thad looked up at Carthinal and grinned. ‘I ain’t scared of no old rope. Anyways, they’d ’ave to bloody catch me first.’
‘Anyway, if you do manage to get the figurine, you can bring it to the Golden Dragon and give it to me. Now are you going to show me the way out of here, or abandon me to wander for ever through the dark and dismal sewers, never to see the light of day again!’ This last said in a sepulchral tone.
Thad grinned and said, ‘Don’t tempt me! That’d be real cool, you comin’ up at night to scare the bleedin’ punters. All but me, o’ course. We’d be partners an’ all. You’d scare ’em away and I’d “acquire” their things. But come on, or you may end up as a zombie scaring the honest folk of ’Ambara for real, comin’ from the sewers at night to prey on the innocent townsfolk.’ He imitated Carthinal’s tone.
The pair laughed and set off back through the sewers. Carthinal found he liked the young lad and wondered what his story was—why had he ended up a thief in the Warren and not one of the honest poor?
Carthinal was surprised to find that the grating that Thad returned him to was near the edge of the Warren, in a place he recognised.
‘You don’t think I’d, like, take you straight to me bleedin’ hidin’ place, do you? Or bring you straight back? That would be so not sensible,’ grinned Thad. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll get that statue thingy.’ With that, the young thief slipped back down the sewer grating and was gone.
‘Well! That was an adventure,’ muttered Carthinal to himself as he strode across the market square.
People drew away from him and held their noses, but could not make out why he smelled so bad. Some of the rich folk held pomanders to their noses as he passed. His robe had kept out of the noisome water, and now covered his legs and feet, so the filth of the sewers could not be seen, only the smell was apparent.
On entering their room, Fero and Basalt stepped away from him as though he had the plague. ‘Where have you been?’ asked Fero. ‘You smell like a sewer rat.’
‘Rather a polite way to put it, Fero. Carthinal, you smell like shit. Quite literally. Get a bath before you come anywhere near either of us, or give us any explanations.’
So Carthinal, with a grin at his friends moved off in the direction of the bath house to get clean, after which, he returned to their room ready to give the story of his trip with Thad and its results. At the end of the story, Fero expressed his surprise that Thad had been so co-operative.
‘I had certain advantages that I used,’ replied Carthinal, but did not go into any further details.
‘Now I think I’d better do some studying. Tomorrow’s the test of History of Magic—not my best or favourite subject. I always thought history was a bit of a waste of time.’
As it was obvious from his attitude that he did not want to make his remarks about his advantages any clearer, the other two left him to his studies and went into the bar for a drink.

The Wolf Pack’ Chapter 8. Thief.

I have decided to publish another episode of the Wolf Pack even though it is not a full month. I want to try to get back to my proper schedule of publishing it on the first Tuesday of the month, since it’s got out of synch.

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CHAPTER 8

THIEF

The next morning Carthinal woke to the sounds of the inn preparing for the day. At first, he could not remember where he was, and then he realised that he was in a warm, soft bed in a warm and cosy room. He stretched, and lay back to savour the comfort, but then a voice broke his dreaming.
‘About time you woke up. There are things to do today, or have you forgotten, with this comfortable living?’
Carthinal threw a pillow at Basalt, for it was indeed he who was speaking.
‘Allow me a few moments grace to wake up properly,’ he scolded the dwarf, good-naturedly. ‘Where is Fero?’
‘Up and about long ago,’ replied the grinning dwarf, returning the pillow with an accuracy that hit Carthinal right on the nose. ‘We’re meeting Asphodel downstairs for breakfast in about ten minutes. Think you’ll manage to make it?’
Carthinal nodded, and rose out of bed. He washed quickly in the water in the jug, which was now cold, but had been hot when Fero brought it up from the bathhouse, and pulled a comb through his shoulder-length auburn hair. Then he dressed in his clean robes and made for the door.
‘Hey, wait for me!’ called Bas.
‘I thought you were the one waiting for me! Come on then.’ With that, Carthinal left the room.
Downstairs, he found Fero and Asphodel sitting at a table near the fire. They waved and beckoned the others to the table which was laden with warm rolls, butter, preserves and from a pot on the table came the delicious aroma of fresh coffee.
‘We can have something cooked if you wish. Mabrella offered it, but Asphodel and I prefer to break our fast lightly,’ Fero said as they approached the table.
‘This is just fine by me,’ replied Carthinal. ‘What about you, Bas?’
‘It looks and smells delicious. Pour some of that coffee, will you, Asphodel. It seems forever since I had a drink of such a delicious smelling beverage.’
As Asphodel poured coffee for them all, and they tucked into the homemade rolls and preserves, they discussed the plans for the day.
‘We shouldn’t go too early to see Duke Rollo,’ Asphodel said. ‘We don’t know how early he rises or what his plans are for the mornings. Maybe we’ll have to make an appointment if he’s very busy today.’
‘We can first have a look at the town. Find our bearings, and also get directions to the Duke’s residence. We, Asphodel, also need to find out how to get to our own destinations, and Fero and Basalt to theirs.’ Carthinal pointed out.
After a good breakfast, and feeling rested and full, the four set off to explore the town. The Market Square was beginning to come alive with the stallholders setting up their stalls in readiness for the day’s trade. There were already people in the square hoping to get the best of the goods on sale before everyone else came.
The four wandered around until they came to the street by which they had entered the previous evening. They walked slowly along, looking at the wares now on display in the windows of the various shops. This street seemed to be mainly hardware, with the shops selling pots and pans, cutlery, buckets, farming implements etc.

There were many dwarves among the shopkeepers, as dwarven metalwork was always of the highest quality and greatly in demand. One shop drew their attention in particular. It was selling metal goods of an ornamental design. Some things were purely decorative, while others were functional, but with such beautiful workmanship and with embossed parts that they all thought it would be a pity to use them. There were drinking vessels that were engraved with intricate designs, knives with delicately etched designs in their blades, forks with elaborate handles and many, many more.
Other streets seemed also to be dedicated to particular types of shop. There was a street full of butchers’ shops, one of bakers, another, from the smell, was the street dedicate to fishmongers. There were jewellers, grocers, haberdashers, milliners, shoe shops and clothes shops. There were shops dedicated to hunting, others to spices and herbs. One road was filled with shops selling armour and another dedicated to weapons of various kinds. It seemed that every type of goods could be bought here in Hambara.
‘Of course, we are in the merchant area,’ Basalt reminded them.
There were many people around and Fero in particular was feeling rather uncomfortable, being much happier in the wilderness. They felt the crowds were jostling them rather a lot.
Suddenly, Carthinal cried out, ‘That boy! He’s just taken my pouch,’ pointing to a quickly disappearing youth with a mop of curly red hair.
‘You won’t catch him now,’ pointed out a man who was walking past.

‘He’s no doubt passed your pouch onto his companions by now, and they will be long gone.’
‘Did you have much in it?’ asked Asphodel, concerned.
‘Not much of my money, but it did have the figurine we were taking to Duke Rollo,’ replied Carthinal. ‘Damn! That should not have happened. How did I let that happen?’
‘These things happen in cities,’ Fero laid a hand on Carthinal’s arm. ‘One reason that I don’t like to be in them for too long.’
‘I know! I know! Of all people, I know!’ Carthinal was angry with himself .
‘What’s done is done, lad,’ comforted Basalt. ‘It’s no use trying to undo it.’
‘You’re right of course, but how did I allow myself to slip like that?’
‘Come on Carthinal. At least you didn’t have all your money in it. You were sensible enough to put some elsewhere,’ said Asphodel. ‘We’ll just have to explain to Duke Rollo that you haven’t got the figurine any more, and how you lost it.’
‘But he may not believe us if we don’t have it for identification,’ argued Carthinal.
‘Maybe, but we still have the letter. It is signed, and it has a seal,’ went on Asphodel, unsure as to why Carthinal was so very angry with himself over what must be a common occurrence, especially as little of his money had gone.
‘I suppose you’re right but I’m still angry that I let my guard down so I could be robbed. Also, the Duke may think we are planning on keeping the figurine ourselves, and have made up the story of the thief,’ he replied. ‘It is made of gold after all.’
The others eventually managed to placate Carthinal, and they set about trying to find the way to Duke Rollo’s house. As it happened, it was not difficult to get directions. The first person that they asked directed them to the centre of the town, to the green parkland that they had noticed from the hill. They walked along towards the town’s centre. Basalt’s observation from the hill outside town was obviously correct, that the house in the centre of the park was the Duke’s residence.
‘I hope he’s there and not out of town,’ said Asphodel. ‘These important people sometimes have business to attend to in other places, as well as other homes in the country.’
‘I don’t think he’ll be at his country residence at this time of the year,’ replied Fero. ‘It’ll be a bit chilly. Anyway, he wouldn’t be likely to be away from his main residence for the Equinox would he?’
‘Well if he is away, we’ll leave the letter and tell someone where we can be found if he needs us,’ suggested Carthinal. ‘Come on. Let’s go. Asphodel needs to get to her temple and I need to go and report to the Tower today as well.’
Soon the four of them came to the gates in the centre of the town. They were at the northern end of a large square. The gates were closed, and a small building was situated just inside. They saw that there was a bell on the gates, and Carthinal rang it. A man came out of the building. He was a large man with greying hair and beard and he had obviously been in the army at one time for he carried a two-handed sword as though he knew how to use it and was willing to do so on any visitors.
‘State yer business,’ he said in a gruff voice.
‘We wish to see Duke Rollo,’ Asphodel told him, giving him her sweetest smile. Her charm did not work on this rough warrior though.
‘Yeah! They all do. I need to know why you want ter see ’im afore I open these ’ere gates,’ he growled.
‘We have a letter for him,’ said Carthinal. ‘It’s from Duke Danu of Bluehaven.’
‘Gi’ me th’ letter an’ I’ll send it up to th’ House,’ the other replied. ‘Jondo! There’s a letter fer ’is Lordship ’ere. Tak’ it up ter th’ House.’ The capital letter was obvious in his voice.
A boy came out of the building at the big man’s call. He was about nine years old, and bore enough of a resemblance to the old warrior that it was obvious that he was a close relative; probably his grandson.
The boy looked at the man and said, ‘I’ll run all th’ way. See how quick I c’n be this time. I bet I c’n beat me record.’
‘OK! But be sure an’ be quick. These ’ere people haven’t too much time to waste, I’m sure.’
At this, the boy set off at a run along the tree-lined drive.
‘Yer’ll have ter wait ’ere till ’e comes back if yer want a reply. May’ap th’ Duke’ll see yer, may’ap ’e won’t. Depends on what’s in yon letter,’ The old warrior said. ‘P’raps I can let yer through th’ gate so’s the young lady can sit down, but no messin’. I knows how to use me sword, an’ I’m pretty ’andy with a cross bow too.’
‘We’ll put all our weapons down if that will ease your mind,’ said Carthinal. He was rewarded by a scowl from Basalt.
‘If th’ Duke’s gonna see yer, yer’ll have ter leave yer weapons ’ere anyways,’ replied the man. ‘Don’t let no one in wi’ weapons, don’t the Duke. Afraid someone’ll harm Lady Randa, ’e is.’
‘Who’s Lady Randa?’ asked Asphodel. ‘His wife?’
‘Naw. Yer new in town ain’t yer or ye’d know. Lady Randa’s ’is daughter. Eighteen years old and spoiled rotten she is. Anyway, mustn’t talk out o’ turn. It’s the duke’s business ’ow ’e treats ’is daughter. ’E’s allus been good ter me though. Give me this job when I retired from ’is guard.’
The boy returned quickly, and was somewhat out of breath.
‘Granda,’ he panted. ‘The Duke asked they be sent up to th’ House straight away.’
‘Well, well. That is a mighty important letter,’ the old guard said. ‘Go on then. Straight along th’ drive. Can’t miss th’ House. Yer can collect yer weapons when yer returns.’
‘I feel naked,’ grumbled Basalt as they walked along the drive towards the house.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Asphodel.
‘Without my weapons. I go everywhere with them. We could be set upon from out of these trees and have no means of defending ourselves.’
‘Don’t be silly, Bas. I’d like to see anyone get past that old guard, and we needn’t fear the Duke, I’m sure,’ Asphodel reassured him, but the dwarf was still uncomfortable and rather jumpy when they reached the end of the avenue of trees and saw another set of gates before them.

As they approached, a guard in a scarlet jacket and black trousers opened the gates. He carried a sword sheathed at his hip.
When they passed through the gate, he saluted them and said, ‘Go straight to the main doors, Sirs and Sister. You are expected.’
‘A slightly different reception,’ whispered Asphodel to Carthinal.
‘Yes, but here they know we’re coming and what it’s all about. Out there we could be anyone,’ he pointed out.
They passed through formal gardens on the way to the main doors. On either side of the path were gardens with winter flowering plants whose perfume hung on the air giving a promise of the spring to come.

After about thirty yards, the path divided to go around a fountain in the centre of a pool. Golden fish swam in the pool, the like of which none of the four companions had ever seen before. The fountain was in the shape of a water nymph, and she was pouring water from a large shell into the pool, the surface of which was covered with large water lily leaves.
Beyond the pool, and after some more formal garden edged with small neatly trimmed box hedges, steps climbed up to a terrace which ran along the entire front elevation of the building. There was a low wall along the garden side of the terrace and at the top of the steps were two large urns, one on each side planted with small conifers and more of the winter flowering plants.

Large double doors stood in the centre of the House with gilding in an intricate pattern all around the edge. There were large windows to each side of the door, two on either side, and columns, holding up a stone porch to keep anyone standing at the door dry in inclement weather, flanked the door.
As they approached the door, it opened, and an elf in red and black livery stood aside to allow them to enter. He was dark-haired with the natural good looks and elegance of all elves.

He looked at them with some suspicion in his blue eyes, but bowed politely as they entered the House.

They passed under the porch and found themselves in a large and elegant entrance hall. The floor was of marble and at the far end of the room was an imposing staircase, also of marble. The staircase began in the centre of the far wall and divided half way up, each side sweeping up to the first floor. There were doors off the hall on either side, three on the left and two on the right. The third door on the left was almost hidden under the staircase. On each side of the hall was a small table. One had a bust of a young man and on the other side was an urn filled with dried grasses and seed heads, making a very elegant arrangement.
On the floor was a long golden coloured carpet, running the length of the hall and up the centre of the stairs, and on the walls were beautiful paintings, all in a colour scheme to match the room. The floor itself was a cream marble and the banisters of the stairs were gilded.
The walls were of a creamy colour that perfectly matched the marble floor, if a little deeper in tone. The impression that was given was one of understated wealth and excellent taste.
‘The Duke will see you in his study,’ the elf told them. ‘Follow me.’ He began to walk towards the third door on the left.
When he reached it, he knocked twice and then entered and announced them. ‘Your guests, sir,’ he said. ‘Should I send them in?’
A deep and musical voice replied, ‘Yes of course, and bring some wine, please, Daramissillo.’
They entered a room with two windows, making it appear very light and airy. The first window was in the wall opposite the door, and the second was on the wall to their right, opening on a garden. To their left was a fireplace with a fire burning in it and a second door at the far side of it.
Immediately opposite the door was a large wooden desk inlaid with tooled leather, but at the moment covered with books and papers.

A man was seated behind the desk. He was in his late forties or early fifties, so Carthinal estimated, and had obviously been a warrior in his youth. He looked as though he still kept himself fit, however, his physique being that of a younger man, but his age was given away by the grey in his once fair hair. He wore his hair in a fashionable style, just touching his collar at the back. His blue eyes held an intelligence that indicated that he was not easily taken in by falsehoods.
‘He must have been a very handsome man in his youth,’ thought Asphodel to herself.
‘Come in and seat yourselves by the fire. It’s rather cold today and I’m sure you want to get warm,’ the deep voice said. ‘I’m Duke Rollo although you have probably guessed that. I’ll be with you in a minute. I’ve just got to sign these last couple of papers. Always papers to read and sign running a dukedom, you know.’
There was another knock on the door, and Daramissillo returned with the promised wine. He poured out five glasses, gave one to each of them and one to the Duke and quietly withdrew, leaving the tray with the bottle on a small table near the hearth.
While the Duke finished his paperwork, the group sat down in four comfortable chairs that were arranged around the blazing fire in the hearth on the left-hand wall of the study. Over the fireplace was a painting of a beautiful young woman. She had grey eyes and long, brunette hair and the sweetest smile on her face. They found that the picture was so riveting that they could hardly tear their eyes from it.
‘Ah I see you’ve been captivated by that painting, as have all who have seen it,’ said the Duke, approaching them soon afterwards. ‘It is the work of the artist Demando, and one of his best works, but it doesn’t do justice to the original. No, nowhere near,’ he added in a very quiet voice, almost to himself.
‘Is it your daughter, sir?’ said Fero. ‘We heard you have a daughter.’
‘No, friend,’ the Duke replied sadly. ‘It’s a portrait of my wife, who died just eighteen years ago this month. In fact, the anniversary of her death and the birthday of my daughter were just two days ago.’
Carthinal voiced their sympathy for his loss as seemed proper to do. Then the Duke seemed to pull himself together and asked for introductions to the group. After they had finished giving their names, the duke held up the letter.
‘Where did you get this?’ he asked them. ‘This letter contains some rather disquieting information. I would rather not reveal it until I’ve thought about it some more, but I wanted to see you to convince myself that you’re not mischief-makers. Tell me the story as to how you came by this letter. The letter also says that you should have something to let me know that you are genuinely from Danu. I would like to see that as well.’
Carthinal told the story of how he had found the paper with the prophecy in the book that Mabryl had bought and how Mabryl had told Duke Danu about it. He went on to relate how they had been caught up in the flood on the Brundella and told of Mabryl’s death, tears coming to his eyes at the thought. He went on to explain how Basalt and Fero had come into their company, and of the kidnap of Asphodel by the orcs. He told of his disquiet that the orcs were raiding so far from their usual areas, and finally he explained how he had lost the identifying figurine.
Duke Rollo listened intently, then said, ‘If you can get the figurine back as proof of your veracity, I would be grateful. It would take away any doubts I may have that this is truly a letter from my old friend and not some trick. Your story has a ring of truth to my ears, but those whom we may be dealing with are masters of deceit. I must be sure. If you can’t find the ring, then I must think long and hard, and pray to the gods that I come to the correct decision. Meanwhile, if you let me know where I may find you if I need to ask you any more questions I would be grateful.’
Carthinal then told him that they were staying at the Golden Dragon Inn but that Asphodel would be going to the temple of Sylissa that afternoon, and some of the time he, himself, would be in the Mage Tower taking his tests.
At the mention of the Golden Dragon, Duke Rollo smiled. ‘I bet Jandi was on duty when you arrived, wasn’t he?’
When they replied in the affirmative, he replied, ‘He always sends travellers to his sister’s inn. Not that it isn’t one of the best in town, and very reasonably priced, I’m told, but she’s often over-crowded and run off her feet. Still, he means well.’
The duke then stood up, and seeing that they had all finished their wine, he rang the bell that called Daramissillo.
‘Please show our guests out,’ he told the elf, then he extended his hand to each of them in turn, and bade them farewell.

After they had left, the duke rang the bell on his desk once more, and Daramissillo entered again. The duke spoke to him. ‘I want you to find out as much as you can about those four that have just left. The letter they brought contained worrying news and I must be certain that it is genuine. Find out where they came from, and something about their backgrounds.

‘I want them stopped from leaving the city just at the moment. Nothing too obvious mind. Make sure the dwarf and the ranger can’t get work. The mage will be around for a few days at least as he told me he’s taking his tests and the elf is bound for the temple of Sylissa. Send a message to the Great Father there and ask him to come and see me as soon as he is able. I know he’s a busy man, but he may be able to help with details of the elf, and how to detain her if she plans to go anywhere else. Use whatever methods you can.’
Daramissillo began to leave, after bowing to the duke when the duke said, ‘Oh! And find out if any of the fences in the town have bought a gold figurine in the shape of a horse. That will be all,’ and he dismissed the elf with a wave of his hand.
After Daramissillo had left, the duke sat thinking deeply, a frown on his handsome face. He rubbed a hand over his hair and sighed. Why must there always be problems for him to resolve? He supposed that was what being the Duke was about—responsibility for others’ welfare.
‘What kind of ruler will Randa make when I’m gone,’ he wondered. ‘I’m afraid that I’ve indulged her too much. Ah well, too late to worry about that now. I must try to decide what to do about this current problem.’
With those thoughts he returned to his work.

When the four left the Ducal Palace, they made their way to the gates.
‘I don’t think the duke was too impressed that we didn’t have the figurine,’ observed Fero.
‘No. And that’s all my stupid fault,’ growled Carthinal in reply. ‘I know what cities are like and how thieves operate in them. I should have been more wary. Now Asphodel and I must go, she to the temple of Sylissa, and I to the Mage Tower. I’ll see you both at the inn this evening I trust?’
‘Yes, Carthinal, we’ll be at the inn,’ replied Fero with a smile. ‘I don’t expect we will find work so quickly.’
The four split up, Carthinal and Asphodel heading to the Temple area, and the others back to the inn. As they approached the temple, Carthinal felt a reluctance to say goodbye to Asphodel. He had begun to think of her as a good friend on their journey and was attracted by her delicate beauty.

They stopped at the bottom of the steps of a large white temple. A white banner with a blue triskel flew from the flagpole above the large double doors, which were in turn embossed with gold triskels, the symbol of Sylissa, and signifying life. He held out his hand, and she took it. On impulse, he dropped a swift, light kiss on the top of her black hair.
‘This looks like goodbye, then,’ he said ‘I hope all goes well. I know you will be a wonderful healer one day in spite of anything I said in anger after Mabryl’s death. I apologise for my behaviour then. It was inexcusable.’

With that, he turned and strode quickly away before Asphodel could reply. She watched for a few moments, and then turned and slowly made her way up the steps to the doors of the temple.

Carthinal, ignoring the feelings of sadness that were threatening to envelop him, continued along to the turning for the Tower. He felt he had lost another important person in his life when he said goodbye to Asphodel, and he wondered at the feeling. He hardly knew her yet he she was beginning to become important to him.

He turned right along a road that was dominated by the sight of the Tower at the end and his thoughts turned to that edifice. It was truly an impressive building. It was about ten stories tall, and if the rumours were true, there were many more floors below ground level, where research was carried out. The tower was built of a golden coloured stone, and there were windows around its circumference. The top was roofed over in grey slate, and a walkway surrounded the highest storey, giving the tower an overhang at the top.
He came to a pair of gates set in an iron fence, inside of which were grassy areas and water features, with shady walks and hidden areas where a person could sit quietly and read or just think. The whole feeling was one of calm. Carthinal felt his apprehensions drifting away as he approached the gates.

A gatekeeper saw him, and immediately saw that he was an apprentice, and probably here for the tests. He asked Carthinal his name, and then consulted a list that he had in his shelter.
‘You were expected before now, and we expected two of you, but enter,’ he said. ‘Go and report to the main entrance.’
There seemed little in the way of security, unlike at the Palace. He was obviously the last, as the gatekeeper began to pack up the papers as he walked through. Carthinal supposed that the awe and fear in which most people held mages would be enough to protect the tower and its occupants from unwelcome intruders, and he assumed that there were magical defences as well.
He entered the doors and found himself in a large round room that covered the entire ground floor. Stairs wound up the tower from the opposite side of the room, and there was also a staircase that went down, confirming the rumours that there were floors beneath the ground.

Suddenly a strange thought struck Carthinal. He was sure that this room was bigger than it should be. It seemed to be bigger than the outside. Carthinal was looking around, to try to sort out the disorientating feeling when he was approached by a man in the scarlet robes of a probationary mage, one in his first year after qualifying.
‘You must be Carthinal. My name’s Dabbock,’ he exclaimed. ‘You’re the last of the apprentices for this session. You’re just in time. The tests begin tomorrow, and you must be briefed with the others in about an hour. Where’s your Master?Apprentices rarely come alone, although strangely enough, there is one other without his master this time.’
Carthinal crushed the brief feeling of sorrow, and squeezed back the tears that threatened to come at the mention of Mabryl.
‘He met with an accident on the way here, and unfortunately, in spite of the ministrations of a novice of Sylissa, he died.’
‘I am sorry to hear it,’ Dabbock replied. ‘I heard that Mabryl was a great mage and I was looking forward to meeting him. You must come with me to Tharron. He was my Master until I passed the Tests. He was a friend of Mabryl when they were students, and they kept in touch. He asked to see you when you arrived.’
‘Yes, I’ve heard Mabryl speak of him. He regarded him very highly and said that he was one of the greatest teachers of magic alive today.’
Carthinal did not want to have to repeat the story of Mabryl’s death, but he saw that he had no choice, so he followed the other man up the stairs. They climbed three flights, and then his guide knocked on a door.
A voice called, ‘Enter.’
The pair did so. His guide introduced him to a man seated behind a desk, reading a large book and then withdrew. The man was grey-haired but youthful looking, and was wearing black robes.
He stood and held out his hand. ‘I’m Tharron,’ he said in a light tenor voice. ‘I was hoping that Mabryl would be with you. He usually comes. It must have been something important if he’s not here.’
Carthinal briefly related the news of Mabryl’s death.
Tharron was obviously taken aback by the news. ‘You’d better tell me about it,’ he said.
Carthinal began to tell him about the events that had transpired on the journey. He was telling the tale for the second time in a day, and he had to stop once during the telling, when he got to the actual death of his master. He was obviously overcome, and Tharron passed him a glass of water.
‘What a tragedy. You obviously feel his loss deeply. Please pass me the documents that he had regarding your tests.’
This Carthinal did, and Tharron read them with interest. ‘I know he’d adopted you. You’re therefore his heir, since he never married and had children of his own. You’re down on these papers as Carthinal Mabrylson. In this letter he says that he is absolutely certain that you will have no problems, and that he thinks that one day you will become one of the great mages of Vimar.’

Tharron looked up from the papers. ‘That is very high praise from a man like Mabryl, but I mustn’t keep you. My condolences on your loss. I’ll hope to speak with you again, but you must go and join the other apprentices and eat something before the briefing.’
With that, he called Dabbock back into the room and told him to take Carthinal to the dining room where he should be able to find some lunch, and then to the briefing room.
After a light lunch, Carthinal went with Dabbock to the room known as the briefing room. It was on the first floor, and was a relatively small room. Here he met the other apprentices who were thought by their masters to be ready to progress to probationer status.

There were five of them. Carthinal realised with a pang that all but one of them had their masters with them. The room seemed crowded with ten people in it, but shortly, after giving last minute instructions, the masters withdrew.
The apprentices looked at each other anxiously, until one of them said,  ‘Look, we’re going to be in each other’s company for a few days, so let us introduce ourselves. My name is Laurre.’
Laurre was a very tall young man with rather untidy, mousy brown hair, and rather prominent teeth. He was very thin and looked as though he needed a good meal.
The others then introduced themselves.
Olipeca was a human woman, rather small and retiring with brown hair tied in a tight bun away from her face in a style, which emphasised her rather pointed features. She could have been pretty if she made more effort and did her hair in a less severe way, Carthinal thought.

Hammevaro seemed to be very fond of himself and said how certain he was of doing well. He was the other apprentice whose master was not with him. He made everyone to understand that he was sure to get the best marks as well as have both the girls fall for him, and he tossed his mane of golden hair to draw everyone’s attention to it. He was undoubtedly very good looking, but his pale blue eyes were cold even when he smiled, which he seemed to do for effect rather than from genuine amusement or friendliness.

Carthinal took an instant dislike to him.

Grimmaldo was a friendly young man of medium stature and build, with light brown hair that he wore much shorter than the other men, just barely scraping the collar of his robe. He had a ready smile and a wicked sense of humour that was apparent in the twinkle in his greenish-blue eyes. Not particularly good-looking, he more than made up for this by his personality.

Finally Ebrassaria introduced herself. She was an elf with black hair. Superficially, she reminded Carthinal of Asphodel, but it was only superficial. Although she had the good looks of all elves, she spoiled it rather haughty expression. In addition, her eyes were a rather muddy brown, not the clear grey of Asphodel’s.

Carthinal thrust the thoughts of Asphodel to the back of his mind and he concentrated on listening to the others.
He noticed Olipeca looking at him and smiling shyly, and he smiled back. She came over to him, encouraged by his smile.
‘I’m a little nervous about this.’ She spoke quietly, almost apologetically. ‘My mistress says I’m ready, but I’m not too sure. It’s not the written part that worries me but the practical test. I’ve heard that they put you through dreadful things and that sometimes people…you know…die.’
This last in a whisper so quiet that Carthinal had to struggle to hear. He had heard this rumour too, but he tried to reassure her. Then the door opened and Tharron entered.
He spoke briefly to the group, who had sat down on the chairs provided, Carthinal finding himself between Olipeca and Grimmaldo.
Tharon gave them a brief summary of the procedures for the tests and then said, ‘Thank you for listening to me, ladies and gentlemen. Now your time is your own.’
Grimmaldo came up and said, ‘We’re going to go for a drink, are you coming, Carthinal?’
‘Yes, I think I will,’ he replied.
The group set off from the tower, with the exception of Ebrassaria who said that she thought she should study and that they were all rather foolish. Anyway they would be going to places where there were a lot of humans (she made it sound as though she were talking of slugs or worms or some other such revolting creatures) and she did not want to involve herself with them except when there was no alternative.
They left the confines of the tower, and as it was still only mid afternoon, they decided to go and explore the town. As they passed the temple of Sylissa, Carthinal could not help but look to see if he could catch a glimpse of Asphodel. Then he told himself not to be stupid. She was safely inside, probably worshipping her goddess at this very moment.
The group of apprentices wandered around the town aimlessly, and then suddenly they found themselves in the area known as the Warren.
‘Hey!’ cried Grimmaldo ‘This is the thieves’ quarter I think.’
Olipeca quietly drew nearer to Carthinal. ‘I wish we hadn’t come here,’ she whispered. ‘Anything could happen. I wish I’d stayed in the tower like Ebrassaria.’
Before Carthinal had time to reply to her, he became aware of a mop of unruly, curly red hair at the end of the street. He recognised the thief who had stolen his pouch with the figurine in it. He must not let him escape. He began to draw the mana into himself preparing to send a mind-influencing spell to the youth that would make him believe he was tired and must sleep.

The others were surprised at hearing the spell, and stopped in their tracks.

With a wave of his hand, Carthinal released the spell and the redheaded thief yawned and then lay down in the road to sleep.
‘What the…’ stuttered Laurre as Carthinal ran down to where the thief lay sleeping peacefully in the street. Some people had stopped to stare, but most shrugged and moved on. It was not wise to interfere with the business of others in the Warren, especially when that other was a mage. When the others arrived, Carthinal had picked up the thief, a young boy of about fourteen or fifteen.
‘He stole something from me this morning and I intend to get it back,’ he explained. ‘I’m taking him to my lodgings.’
‘You won’t hurt him will you?’ whispered Olipeca.
‘No. I think I can get my goods back without resorting to violence,’ replied Carthinal, smiling, and with that, he strode off towards the Golden Dragon Inn, the thief over his shoulder, leaving the other apprentices standing staring after him in amazement.

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The Wolf Pack Chapter 6 Horselords

First Tuesday of the month again, and time for the next episode of The Wolf Pack. Here we meet a couple of Horselords from over the Western Mountains. They will come to play a big part in the lives of Carthinal and his friends.

If you have missed earlier parts and would like to catch up, the story began in June.

horses

CHAPTER 6

HORSELORDS

Kimi crept silently out of the house. She paused to listen with bated breath as the outside door creaked slightly as she opened it, but the house remained silent, her parents and brothers fast asleep. Carefully, she closed the door, hoisted her pack onto her shoulders and slipped away into the night.
Once she had reached the enclosure containing the horses, she opened the gate to allow the animals to run free. She regretted doing this, but it would delay any search for her as the horses would need to be caught first, both to mount a pursuit and for the safety of the animals. She offered a prayer to Grillon, the god of wild things, to keep his creatures away from the beasts during the time they were free. The animals seemed reluctant to leave the enclosure, so Kimi got down from the fence where she had climbed and whacked the lead stallion on the rump. He whickered in indignation, but at another whack, he galloped through the open gate, followed by the mares, geldings and foals. Only then did Kimi turn her attention to leaving. She looked at the house that had been her home for all her seventeen years. She was sure she was doing the right thing even though her parents had told her it was wrong. Davrael was an honourable man, and his father was a chief, not that that would mean anything now since his father was as adamant they should not marry as were her own parents.
Kimi had met Davrael six months before when he had rescued her from the war party of an enemy tribe who had abducted her from her home. He had returned her to her parents, who were very grateful, but not before the pair had fallen in love. Unfortunately, the settled people, who were horselords that had decided they could rear better horses by settling in one place, were mistrusted by the wandering bands, and vice versa. So both Davrael’s father and Kimi’s parents refused permission for the couple to marry. In fact, they went further. Both groups forbade the match and told the pair that they would disown them if they went ahead. The lovers managed to meet as frequently as possible in secret, a difficult task when Davrael was wandering the plains following his tribe’s horses, and eventually they had agreed that the only way for them to be together was to leave the land of their birth entirely. They had planned to meet a mile from Kimi’s home in the forest clearing where they had so often met before.
Kimi had never been able to really believe that Davrael had fallen in love with her. She was not pretty, but she had glossy, dark brown hair worn long and in two braids over her shoulders in the manner of the horselord women. Her eyes were hazel and her nose small. She always felt that her mouth was too large for the rest of her face, but it was well shaped and always ready to smile. She was a tiny girl, barely five feet and slender as a reed with small, neat breasts and boyish looking hips. Davrael on the other hand was a handsome and fierce looking warrior of the Swooping Hawk tribe. As the son of the chief and the probable next chief, he had, tattooed on his face, the image of a hawk. Its wings swept over his eyebrows with its fierce head along his straight nose, looking down at its prey, its feet spread ready to pounce, on his cheeks. At first glance, he was a frightening sight, but those who looked closely could see a kindness in his brown eyes. He was about five feet ten and had a muscular figure with broad shoulders and narrow hips. He was carrying no fat at all and his muscles were hard as iron with the life he led as a nomadic herder. His hair, a dark brown, similar in colouring to Kimi’s but a little lighter, was worn loose about his shoulders and kept from his eyes by a leather headband. Both wore leather leggings and fringed leather tunics over woollen shirts in a similar brown colour. Davrael had a dark green cloak and Kimi a brown one.
The couple had chosen this night to elope, because the moon, Lyndor was three quarters full. Ullin, although just past full, had set by the time Kimi left. There would be sufficient light for them to see their way, and thus travel more quickly, but not so much that they would show up too clearly if they were followed quickly. The omens were good too, for full moons meant good things to come. If either of them were concerned by the fact that Ullin was in truth just beginning to wane, meaning that there were good things, but passing and transitory, they did not think of it. They were just too happy that they were at last going to be in each other’s company forever.
Kimi approached the forest clearing cautiously. At first, she could see nothing, and she felt a moment of fear that Davrael was not there. She knew that if he did not arrive, it would be because something had happened and her heart seemed to falter in her breast at the thought. Then she heard a soft jingle of harness and the gentle harrumph of a horse. When she looked to her right, she saw, in the shadows, someone holding the reins of two horses, a bay gelding and a dappled grey mare.
Davrael. She breathed a sigh of relief, and at that slight sound, the man turned and, letting go of the horses, ran towards her and swung her up in his arms before kissing her soundly.
Kimi laughed with pleasure at seeing her beloved, but there was no time to waste. Davrael quickly fetched the horses and the pair leaped on to them and set off at a steady canter towards the west. They headed for the pass through the mountains the Grosmerians called the Western Mountains, but the people of the plains called The Barrier, since it kept the people from the east away from their lands. The horselords rode bareback, eschewing such things as saddles. They also had no use for bits on their mounts’ bridles, considering it a violation of the horse and a symbol of slavery for their beloved animals.
They rode on until it was nearly dawn, through wooded land that slowly began to become hillier towards the east. Soon they decided that enough distance had been put between themselves and any followers so they stopped by a stream, and tended to their horses before anything else. Only then did they run into each other’s arms.
As they sunk down onto the grass, Davrael said, ‘We can’t stay too long in one place, little Mouse. They’ll have found out you’re missing by now I expect, or will do very shortly. We have about six hours start on them, that’s all, and they’ll be on fresh horses. If we sleep here for long, they’ll be on us. The horses need to rest though, and I needed to hold you, if only for a short time.’
Kimi smiled at her lover. ‘I think they may be longer than you think in mounting a pursuit, Davrael. They’ll have to find and catch the horses first.’
‘You let the horses out? Clever girl. But we must still limit our time here. I couldn’t bear to lose you after all we’ve been through.’
‘Nor I you, my darling,’ replied the girl.
They spent the next few days travelling ever eastward until they came to the pass over the mountains, and here they slowed. The passes were treacherous at the best of times, and it was winter still. Snow sometimes blocked the passes, and they both hoped they would be lucky and get through. The skies were leaden above them, heavy with more snow. Snow lay on the ground and banked up on the windward side of rocks and trees. The mountains of The Barrier towered over the pass through which they rode. The horses were gallantly plodding their way through the snow of the high pass, obedient to their riders’ demands. Davrael and Kimi were also cold. Very cold. It was the month of Majordar, which was the middle month of winter. Winter had begun with the solstice. Only now did Davrael think that maybe their haste had been ill considered, and wondered if they would have been better to wiat until spring arrived.
‘Davrael Swooping Hawk! Don’t you ever think such a thing,’ Kimi told him angrily when he ventured to say this one very cold night. ‘I would prefer to die here with you than live a moment longer in the comfort of my own home, if it meant I was living without you. I love you, and want to be with you all the time, no matter what the discomforts and hardships.’
Davrael sighed at her reply. ‘I’m sorry I said that, Mouse,’ he replied, ‘But I hate to see you so cold and hungry. I love you too much to bear the thought of you dying, even if I were to die with you, and I can’t live without you.’
So they clung together for warmth, and snuggled nearer to the fire, covered with furs and endured yet another night of cold.
The next morning, the pass began to descend towards Grosmer, and as they came to lower lands, they began to feel a little warmer, the bitter wind seemed blocked by the mountain range, and there was a little less snow. After a couple of days journeying, they found themselves at the walls of a town.
Neither of them had seen a town like Eribor before. There were few towns in their lands, and those that there were, were more a conglomeration of wooden huts, rather than true towns. This town, however, was built of stone. There were stone walls surrounding it, and a large stone keep. As they passed through the gates the guard stopped them. He demanded they state their business. They were under suspicion as Davrael’s tattoo of a hawk stooping on its prey, which he proudly wore on his face, marked him out as a Horselord of the Swooping Hawk Tribe, and one of some rank too. Kimi was also dressed as a woman of the plains in leather jerkin and trousers and with her hair in braids.
‘What brings the Horselords over the mountains?’ the guard demanded of them. ‘You lot are rarely seen this side of the range.’
They looked at each other. Both had managed to pick up a little Grosmerian, but Kimi, having been a settler, had managed a little more than Davrael since her family had traded from time to time with the people of Grosmer. The couple had decided that she would do most of the talking, but what should she say? If they said they were fugitives and outcast, they would undoubtedly be thrown into jail and thus separated if only until the law could run its due course. Then again, if they said they were running away from their parents to get married, they may be detained and returned. A consideration they could not contemplate.
‘We are on an important errand for Davrael’s father, the Chief of the Swooping Hawk Tribe,’ Kimi told them. ‘We are taking a message to Hambara for him.’
Kimi said the name of the only other town she knew of in Grosmer. Many years ago, her grandfather had travelled to that city, but Kimi could not remember why.
‘Do you have a copy of this message to show me to confirm this?’
‘Horselords no writing,’ Davrael put in, in halting Grosmerian, but looked at the guard with his most haughty expression. He truly did look like the son of a chief at that moment, and the guard quailed before his gaze.
‘Well, I suppose it will be all right to let you in. You look as if you need rest and food. There’s an inn just on the right, about fifty yards from the gate. It’s clean and not too expensive. It’s called the Invisible Mage. The sign has a picture of a mage on it.’ he added, remembering that the Horselords did not read and write. ‘He’s perfectly visible, even though the inn’s called the Invisible Mage, but I suppose it would be difficult to draw an invisible person, wouldn’t it?’
He laughed at his own wit, and opened the gate to allow them entry to the town.
As they entered, Davrael turned to Kimi. ‘I think we’ll have to sell one of the horses, Mouse,’ he said. ‘We’ve no Grosmerian coins and we’ll have to pay for somewhere to stay and we have to eat too.’
‘Oh, Davrael,’ exclaimed Kimi in dismay. She knew just what it would mean to him to sell one of his beloved horses. Horselords lived for their animals, and measured their wealth by the quality and quantity of their beasts. He was right, though. They had no money. In their land, all marketing was done on a system of barter. In the end, they decided to sell the gelding and to keep the mare as long as possible. If they could manage to keep her, they could use her as breeding stock once they got settled.
They led their horses through the streets. Sure enough, as the guard had told them, there was the Invisible Mage, but more important, right opposite was a livery. Davrael turned and led the horses through the gate.
‘We would like to sell this gelding,’ Kimi said to the man.
He turned to the horse and looked it over. He gave it a thorough examination to ensure himself it was sound, then turned to Kimi and said, ‘He’s not worth much, you know.’
Kimi understood about bargaining. She had seen the gleam in the man’s eye when he looked at the animal. It was a fine creature. One of the best the man had seen, she did not doubt, although not one of the best of Davrael’s father’s horses she knew. To take one of his tribe’s finest animals would not be Davrael’s way. So she bargained with the man and eventually got what she considered too low a price for such a magnificent animal, but it was obvious the man was not going to go any higher, so with money jingling in a pouch, they made their way over to the Invisible Mage.
They spent a couple of nights in the town, and were excited by all the new sights and sounds and smells of the place. However, they eventually decided they were not far enough away from the border where a pursuing party might come when they decided that the couple must have crossed The Barrier. They would be easy to find, as they were so distinctive. They decided to continue in an easterly direction towards Hambara.
They had few solid plans, but Davrael thought they might have more of a chance of finding work in a larger town. They walked and rode for the next few days, taking it in turns to ride Moonbeam, as Kimi had named the dappled mare, and resting either in inns or friendly farms when available, or sleeping rough when not. They paid with the money they had obtained from the sale of the gelding, and were forced to consider the possibility of having to sell Moonbeam. Kimi had become very fond of the mare on their journey and regretted they may have to sell her.
One day, as the couple was travelling through wooded country and it was getting dusk, they found themselves in a clearing, so decided to rest for the night. It was the last night of Majordar, and bitterly cold. An easterly wind was blowing from the Mountains of Doom, bringing a promise of a freezing night. There was a spring in the clearing, turning into a small stream which gurgled its way through the trees on its way to join the Avrimar, the river that passed close to Eribor, and hence to the Inner Sea by way of the Mistmere. They lit a fire to try to keep some of the cold at bay and to cook the last of their provisions, bought from a friendly farmer the previous day, and then settled down close to the fire to rest.
Suddenly, Kimi became aware of a growing light in the clearing. She opened her eyes, thinking that it could not possible be dawn yet as they had only just got to sleep. The clearing seemed to be filled with a soft golden light, and a feeling of peace and calm stole over her. She felt Davrael stir at her side, and then sit up and look around. The voice came then, soft and gentle.
It was a deep male voice, and it said, ‘Kimi, Davrael, my children. Do not be afraid, but approach the spring.’
They looked at each other and stood. The voice, although kind and gentle seemed to command their obedience so they walked hand in hand to the spring, which now seemed to look more like a beautiful fountain to their eyes. They did not see the figure at first, but then he spoke again.
‘You are blessed, my children. Love such as yours is a wonderful and rare thing. You have both given up much to be together, and you will be rewarded. I believe you wish to be committed to each other for the rest of your lives?’
‘Who are you?’ they both said at once. ‘And how do you know who we are?’ Kimi added.
‘That matters not,’ the voice replied. ‘Do you wish to vow to each other eternal love and fidelity?’
The shadowy figure stepped forward and they saw a man dressed as a scribe, carrying a scroll and a pen. He had white hair, but his face did not look old, and he was wearing a purple robe, the colour worn by the clerics of Zol, the god of learning and the consort of Kassilla, the chief deity.
After exchanging a brief look, the young couple replied in the affirmative.
‘Step forward to the spring,’ commanded the cleric.
This they did, and he asked them to speak their promises to each other.
‘Say whatever is in your heart,’ he told them, and I will record it on the scroll. Davrael began. He looked deep into Kimi’s eyes and said, ‘Kimi, my little Mouse, I promise you that I will always love you. I will give my life for you if that is necessary. I will never love another. You are my reason for living, and without you I am incomplete. This I swear before the gods themselves.’
Then Kimi replied, ‘Davrael, my one and only love, I swear before all the gods that I have never loved anyone else the way I love you. I will remain faithful to you for my entire life. Even if you should die before me, I will remain faithful to your memory, and if I should die before you, I will wait for you beyond the veil until we can go on or be reborn together.’
Their promises made, the strange man then said, ‘Enter the fountain together, and be bathed in its waters.’
After they had done so, the scribe smiled at them both, then became more serious. ‘Your promises have been noted and are irrevocable. You can now consider yourselves married. Your lives will not be easy my children.’ he went on. ‘You will face tragedy, but you will also know great happiness, and as you share your great love, you will also come to know great friendship too. You have a task before you. It will not be easy, but you have each other’s love to aid you. Go in peace, my children.’
With that, the figure disappeared. Kimi thought she heard glorious music for a while, but then that too faded. The pair looked around and to their surprise, the winter glade had become transformed by a profusion of spring flowers, which were definitely not there before. The newly married couple then returned to their bed by the fire, silently wondering exactly what had just happened.
The next morning, when they awoke, Kimi related a strange and beautiful dream to Davrael. Oddly, he too seemed to have had the same dream. They rose and went to wash in the stream. Half way there, Kimi stopped and silently pointed to their surroundings. There in the glade were hundreds of spring flowers.
‘Could it have been real, Davrael?’ she whispered. ‘Who was that man?’
Her new husband put his arm around her and hugged her to him. ‘I think, my little Mouse, we have been in the presence of one of the gods. I think that Zol himself has married us.’