I watch the crowd gathering. Father has spent a lot of effort on the invitation list. Both of the Bards (I had found out the journeyman bard’s name is Radandla, which I frankly think he just made up.), Guild Masters, Guard Captains, officers from Taver’s battalion. All of the Lord Advisors, and a random selection of citizens of the city, all excited to finally hear how the swamp-wizard was killed. There are crowds in the streets outside the castle, waiting for the luckier citizens inside to come out and repeat what they have heard—doubtless with embellishments. Harvest is over and there hasn’t even been a snow shower yet, so gossip is the best entertainment available.
Sister Mays sits to one side with several of the other nursing sisters and a selection of the priests who seems to have permanently joined our guards, but I think she is more interested in being sure her patients aren’t overtired than in hearing their story.
The five travelers, along with Adl and Mychl are seated in a cluster to the left of the throne dais. Rage still looks weak, but a week of sleep and good food have done wonders for the others. Even Flower no longer looks fragile.
I notice the guards around the edges of the room have crossbows. Alan notices me noticing and leans forward to whisper, “Rage will not try anything. Right now he thinks I have four grimoires because I killed three other Sorcerers, and he knows you have the Sword. He isn’t stupid.”
“Do you intend to tell him the truth?”
“Of course, I’m going to tell him you killed two Sorcerers and a demon.” Alan’s smile is smug. It takes me a few minutes to realize he is going to make sure Rage won’t attack me. Or anyone I care about. Probably.
I quit worrying about the crossbows and look around to see who is attending since I haven’t seen the last version of father’s guest list. The two Bards are in the front. Radandla looks overly excited, but a murmured word from Jakab settles him down. Lej and Emrinalda are whispering quietly to each other, probably debating a translation. Dryn and Adres are here, as reward for past services; no one from the goldsmith’s guild has been invited. Everyone is either just staring straight ahead waiting, or speculating wildly to each other. Mynar and Jes are on the other side of my parents’ thrones, blocked from my view by the screens and braziers placed to shield mother.
My parents finally enter, and everyone stops talking, just waiting.
“You have a story to tell,” father speaks to Rage without exactly looking at him. Father is still trying to come to terms with having another Sorcerer in his castle—or another Sorcerer who is guest and not prisoner. And not going to turn into a Mage.
Rage nods, and pauses for a moment. I feel Alan go still beside me, then relax. I look a question at him as Rage starts to speak.
“A minor enhancement spell, so his words will reach everyone,” Alan whispers in my ear.
“Sloan and Jkas freed Dker and me,” Rage starts. “using the tools Princess Adava gave them. And we freed our families.” Rage stops for a moment to look at Mychl, who smiles back at him. “Burned their prison and their guards.
“But Dker and I were two of The Wassak’s most powerful slaves, we knew he would not just let us go. Could not just let us go. He would have to make an example of us, to keep his other slaves from seeking freedom, and to find out how we were freed so he could devise a counter. Our families would only be safe if The Wassak were dead. But Dker and I together were not strong enough. And though Sloan and Jkas were as eager as we were, they are not warriors or Sorcerers. A farmer and a blacksmith have skills, but not at killing.
“So we decided to use a demon.” Rage stops to take a breath.
“You can control demons?” father asks. I’m afraid he is close to ordering Rage’s death, but before I can do anything Rage answers him.
“Of course not.” Rage looks slightly wistful, as if he really wished he could.
“The plan was that Dker would keep The Wassak busy long enough for me to summon a demon, then we would maneuver The Wassak between us and the demon, and let the demon kill him. Then I would dispel the demon.”
“You know how to dispel a demon,” this time Alan interrupts in his I need to know this tone of voice.
“Of course, you just reverse the summoning spell. It should work. Theoretically.” He shrugs, “And if it didn’t, then the demon would kill me and would still be gone. And Mychl and Kthyn and Byne would be safe.”
“It almost worked.” Rage takes a deep breath. “Except that The Wassak was stronger than the demon, and killed it.
“But the battle weakened The Wassak, and Dker and I were able to finish the job, although Dker died doing it. I managed to cut off The Wassak’s head, to be certain, before I lost consciousness.
“Sloan came in, set both bodies on fire and pulled me out. He wasn’t suppose to. He and Jkas were supposed to just watch and report to you.”
“We drew lots,” Sloan interrupts, “to see which one of us would go in. It would only take one to carry a message.” He nods for Rage to finish the story.
“The unwilling slaves ran because they were free; the others ran because of the demon, but we knew they would come back. While Sloan and Jkas were debating what to do—they didn’t think I would be able to travel—Canor caught up with us. He had used our attack to free Flower, and thought he owed us, so he led us into the swamp, to a hidden camp.” Rage nods to Canor to continue.
“I had managed to get employed in the kitchens.” Canor looks around as if debating how much more to tell. “I came there to rescue Flower. I slowly established a camp in the swamp, while I tried to find where in the keep she was working. I planned on running to the swamp once I got Flower, and letting any hunt for us move past before we started to travel. Figured if it would work for two, it would work for five—although I didn’t really expect Rage to live. Didn’t expect the Cats either, for all that The Wassak hunted them in the deep swamp.”
Rage resumes the tale. “We hid there for weeks, while The Wassak’s captains fought over what was left of the keep after the fires Sloan started. Canor tried to keep us fed; he was the only one with any hunting ability. I was out of my mind part of the time, but luckily I was too weak to successfully throw any spells, since I thought I was still fighting. One evening, while Flower was cooking two small rabbits Canor had caught, a large Black Cat pulled the carcass of a deer to the opening of our cave and left it for us. Next day, there were three Cats. They hunted for us, and insisted on licking my leg. I was feeling too hopeless to fight; I had been near to asking Canor if he could amputate it for me, before I died of the poisoned wound. Instead, I just lay there, with the Cats taking turns licking—and my leg started to heal.
“They helped us because we had killed The Wassak, I’m sure of it. And then we came here.”
“Where you are welcome,” father manages to say as if he really means it. Mychl’s face lights up and her smile makes her look beautiful. “If,” father adds, “you promise no more demon summoning.”
Rage turns pale, “I never want to see a demon again.” He stops short of making a promise, but Mychl pokes him. “I will swear an oath,” he adds, and I am sure it is for Mychl and not father.
I look toward Sister Mays, and she nods in agreement. I will talk to father, and she and I will take care of the oath. Like she said with Zar, no need to make the oath too specific. Not that I would consider using a demon as a weapon, unless I was really, really desperate.