Several days pass slowly. Mynar keeps talking history with Murr, and ignoring his hints about the chest. I send out barbers to the mercenaries, supposedly to clean them up as befits Alan’s dignity (yes, Alan did laugh himself silly when I warned him of my lie), but really to look for tattoos. The ‘maids’ do the same for the ex-hostages, under the pretense of deciding how to dress their hair for the winter festivities. This time, I do not choose to tell them what we were doing, to reveal we know about the hidden runes. Still, all of it is a waste of time. Again. Alan tries to tell me even negative information is useful, but I don’t believe him.
Celeste’s scried messages are all variations of the same warning, the same vision reoccurring, all lands in darkness. The last one frightens me. What if the danger is originating in some other realm, to be well-established before we know of it.
Danger and secrets keep me in a constant state of tension, relieved only when Alan and I play with his new spell, seeking it’s limits. So far, no one has noticed that we are not always closed away in workshop or vault, but we have kept our forays to open areas where there is little chance of brushing against someone. I want to investigate my tower—soon to be our tower—but Alan thinks there are too many workmen.
“Someone bumping into one of us would likely break the spell.”
I reluctantly agree with him, so we mostly walk along the parapets of the castle walls and enjoy knowing that no one is staring at us. Alan has slipped me out of the vault, and we are headed to one of our favorite spots when we almost run into Lej hurrying down the steps. Luckily we have turned the corner on the stairs, out of view of the guards who are complacently waiting outside the closed vault door, confident I am still inside.
“What’s wrong?” I know something is wrong; no one ever comes to the vault except me and occasionally Mynar.
Lej doesn’t seem to realize we have appeared out of thin air, maybe he thinks we just turned the corner.
“Mynar needs you. Can you keep your guards from entering the library?” Lej is whispering, I can barely hear him. Suddenly he realizes there are no guards. “He is hurt, but won’t let me summon anyone. Just you.” He is still whispering.
“Go back to the library, we will be right behind you.”
Lej obeys, and doesn’t notice when we fade from view just before entering the more public areas of the castle.
“Jes and I found him like this,” Lej explains as Mynar looks at us with unfocused eyes and a great bruise forming on his temple.
“What?” I demand as I force his head up so I can look at his eyes. Both pupils are the same size. Good.
“Father will never forgive me.”
“Mynar. What?” I keep staring at him, his eyes seem normal, panicking, but normal otherwise.
“I brought the flint disk up for Murr to see. He took it.” Mynar is right, father will never forgive him.
“Jes is following him,” Lej interrupts.
“We need to fix this before father finds out. Alan and I will try and follow Jes. You,” I turn to Lej, “Will take care of Mynar, try to figure out how he could have fallen and hurt himself so badly.”
“Well,” I look at Alan, waiting for him to renew his spell.
“Don’t irritate father until after the wedding,” he quotes myself back to me.
“Bah,” I answer. Alan grins and renews the spell.
Once we are outside the castle, Alan limits the spell to me, so he can ask people if they have seen Jes. But while he is speaking to the first person, an older boy runs up and tugs on his arm for attention.
“Lord Jes send me to tell you or the Princess ‘the lesser gate going west’, and told me you would give me another penny.” He looks at Alan hopefully—smart of Jes to promise additional reward, ensuring delivery.
Alan hands the boy the promised penny, nods good-by to the man he is talking to, and starts walking toward the gate, assuming I will follow. In this case, assuming works because I do follow, carefully. I know how people will react to seeing their Princess walking about the city alone—except for her Sword and her Mage—and I don’t intended to be the center of that sort of attention.
The road runs north and south at the lesser gate, so going west means heading through fields toward the forest, a good distance away. I follow closely behind Alan, hoping my passage through the tall grass won’t be noticed. In fact, the grass is way too tall. Someone has not been attending to their job properly. I’ll have to remember to say something about this, after we get back, after we cover up what Mynar has done, and after I can come up with a good reason for knowing how tall the grass is. Lying is so complicated.
Alan heads toward a broken branch, barely hanging on the tree. When we get closer, I can see it has been cut. A blaze has been cut from a tree farther on, but in sight. Jes is marking the trail.
We move quietly forward, using the trees to mask us instead of Alan’s spell, following the trail Jes has set, until we come to a point where there is no farther making.
“You make too much noise.”
I don’t jump because I knew Jes was somewhere near, otherwise the trail would have continued.
Alan does turn quickly, but is equally unsurprised. “Sorcer… Mage,” he changes his comment in mid-word, “not Shaman or hunter.”
“He’s up there, in a clearing with a ruin and a lot of boulders.”
We slowly move forward, and come to the edge of the clearing just in time to see Murr beating on the flint disk with a small hammer. I draw my Sword just as the flint shatters to revel a smaller metal disk. I hear a whirling sound and the disk starts to expand, sprouting a number of smaller black disks linked to the central disk by small, stiff wires. The air above the disk shimmers, as if something insubstantial hovers over the disk, a sphere that seems to disappear into the boulder the disk is sitting on.
“You’re too late.” Murr has seen us. “The great demons are being summoned to do my will. All lands will bow to me.” He speaks in such a calm, satisfied tone, you would almost think he wasn’t totally insane.
“Destroy it, Wielder. Destroy it quickly.” I move without hesitation. I trust my Sword.
“To late,” Murr doesn’t even try to stop me. “The demons are supremely powerful.” Still calm, still self-satisfied. I feel Jes moving beside me and know, without looking, that Alan is preparing a spell.
I reach the boulder before Jes reaches Murr, and swing. The shimmer in the air feels solid, slowing my blow. I try again, and the Sword produces lightening to rival the greatest of storms. The shimmer evaporates and I smash the metal disk into small pieces. Energy pours out and I’m thrown to the ground. I see Jes bounce off a tree across the clearing, as Murr screams and tries to hide behind one of the other boulders.
I feel Alan targeting Murr but a streak of black comes out of the trees and is on Murr before Alan releases his attack.
Things blur when I realize I am holding just a blade, a piece of metal, not my Sword. The unheard, unfelt, but still very real vibration/tone/presence that I always feel isn’t there. Nothing is there. I collapse in the center of the sunlit clearing wailing, holding the Sword as a baby, and wailing my pain.
Alan moves closer, but watches the black cat rather than me. Jes walks slowly toward the broken disk, ignoring the cat, trusting Alan to deal with the cat. Suddenly he stops.
“Alan, it’s healing.”
Jes doesn’t hesitate, he dives to my side and pulls me across the clearing as Alan unleashes his own lightnings at what is left of the disk.
I finally dig myself out of my rush of grief enough to realize Alan is kneeling beside me, trying to talk to me. “It’s dead. My Sword is dead,” I explain without really explaining anything.
Alan shifts to the intense stillness of building a spell as the black cat stops licking Murr’s blood off its paws and stretches like any tabby living in the castle’s barns. It stares at Alan for a moment, and then disappears into the woods.
I don’t care about the cat, I don’t care about Jes using Murr’s hammer to pound the few pieces of disk into smaller pieces. My life-long friend is dead.
Alan and Jes sit on each side of me in the sun-dappled clearing, not trying to talk, just being there. I cry until I am numb, and then I just sit, ignoring Alan, ignoring Jes, ignoring the dead mauled body.
I freeze, motionless, afraid I have imagined the faint whisper. Then it comes again, with a faint hint of a familiar presence. “The disk? Wielder.”
“It was trying to grow back together, but Alan zapped it with lightening.” Yes, I was talking to my Sword in front of Alan and Jes and I didn’t care. “Are you all right? Are you hurt?”
“I will recover.”
I smile at Jes and Alan. “He’s going to recover.” And I seriously think about kicking Murr’s dead body for starting all of this, but decide it isn’t fair to ask my ladies to clean his blood from my boots.