Monday, 27 December 2010

The Return of the Exiles

Chapter 21

They set up camp in a grove of trees close to the barren land they had left behind. Once the camp was organised, Edward wrapped Megor in a blanket and, although the weather was sunny and warm, lit a fire. Without looking at Karlan, he placed Megor close to the warmth of the flames. While the others were putting the finishing touches to the camp, Edward tried to get some water down Megor's throat. He could not swallow. With a worried sigh, Edward decided that moistening Megor’s lips was more successful. He only hoped that enough moisture was entering his friend to maintain his life balance.
“ How is he?” Karlan demanded standing over Edward and Megor after he had helped set up the camp.
Edward looked up but could only sadly shrug his shoulders. “ I have no real idea, Karlan. I am sorry but I have no experience of looking after the sick. That was the thing that my mother and Morag did.”
“ Will he pull through?” Karlan snapped and then he too sighed. “ Sorry to be so blunt Edward.  I am worried about him. He is my cousin and his mother asked me directly to look after him. I promised to make sure I brought him back safe to her when this is all over. I can fight an enemy with weapons but I was helpless to help back there. What do you think will happen to him, Edward?”
“ All I can tell is that he is living,” Edward replied honestly. “ He is very cold and weak but breathing steadily. I think we should keep him warm and try to get him to drink some water. Once Tag returns with the results of his hunting, we should try to feed him some broth. What supplies have we left by the way?”
Karlan grimaced. “ What little you had on your pack horse. The rest of us lost ours during the fighting and the confrontation with the King creature. There is a little flour but not much else. Tag has gone hunting, Boric has gone to bathe in a pool he found back there in the trees. That leaves me to guard the camp.”
Tag returned after a while carrying some joints of meat wrapped in sacking. “I will get this cooking and then go back and get the rest. There does not seem to be any sign of other people around here. I suppose we are too close to the green mist for anybody to come here.” 
“ What do you suggest we do Edward?” Boric asked coming back into the camp and they all knew he was referring to Megor.
“ I think we should stay here for the rest of the day which is not long by the position of the sun,” Edward replied. “ Then I think we should spend tomorrow here while Megor recovers. If we an get some broth into him this evening and then keep him warm during the night, he might be able to travel in a days time.”
“ All right.” Boric shrugged. “ We will have to make do as best we can for food. There is however plenty of water.”
“ I’ll look around and see if I can find any roots to cook with the meat,” Karlan said doubtfully. “ Morgiane taught us what to look for when we were learning about going out on border patrol. As far as I know no Elf has ever needed those skills because we take enough supplies with us on patrol. Besides, there are always settlements not far away.”
He went off into the woods whistling to himself.
They spent the night in the shelter of the trees. Edward could not settle and spent his waking hours tending to Megor. The others kept watches although there was no sign of hostile people. They were all up soon after dawn eating their breakfast.
“ What will have to be done about the creatures?” Edward asked Karlan.
“ They are an abomination in this land and will have to be destroyed,” Karlan replied fiercely. “ As soon as we get back to the Forest, I will have to call a meeting of the Council so that we can decide what to do.”
“ They scare me,” Tag remarked.  “ But I don’t know how they can be destroyed.” 
“ It is not their fault,” a voice interrupted and they all turned to find Megor sitting up in his blankets looking in their direction. His face was as white as chalk and his eyes were sunk into his head. Edward rushed across from his seat by the fire and pushed Megor back into his bed.
“ What are you doing sitting up like that?” Edward almost shouted ashamed that he had stopped watching over Megor for a minute to eat his breakfast. “ You must lie there and have some rest.”
Megor smiled slightly but struggled to sit up against the restraining hand of Edward. “ I am all right Edward, honest. I feel a bit weak but I do want to sit up. Prop me up against that tree trunk.”
Karlan came over and helped Edward prop Megor up against the rough bark of a tree. 
“ Is that better, my cousin?” Karlan asked.
Megor smiled. “ Yes, thank you.”
Megor took the bowl and nodded. “ I am feeling all right though a little weak but I am hungry.”
They all waited in silence for Megor to finish his broth. After he had handed the bowl to Edward, Karlan asked. “ What happened back there? We thought we had lost you.”
Megor looked from one to the other and then frowned. “ Where is Tag? You didn’t lose him when you came after me, did you?”
Karlan laughed. “ No, he is out there keeping watch. Tell us what happened and then we will tell you how we escaped.”
Megor grimaced as he tried to recall what had happened. “ As soon as we entered the mist, I could feel something not evil exactly but hostile.  I said to Edward that I had this feeling that something was trying to capture my power. Then when we were attacked, I got separated from you by the creatures and they drove me to the hollow. Their King took over my will and forced me down onto the slab or altar as they know it. Then he put his tentacle on me and started to drain my power. I did the only thing I could and disappeared into myself. I found I could not keep the King out of my mind completely. All I could do was slow the process down in the hope that you would come. I was semi-conscious of what was happening around though things became more and more opaque as the time passed. The pressure eased when you came into the dell as though the king had to give all his attention to you rather than me. All I could do was sense that you were there as a group. I did not dare to lessen my shielding to see how many of you there were. Then there was this screaming in my mind, the pressure eased completely and I knew I was free. I am sorry Edward but at the releasing of the power I passed out completely. All I can remember is it was like floating under water. It must be like it is when we are in our mother’s womb. It felt warm and safe. I was relaxed and a voice kept telling me to relax and get back my strength. Then I knew I had to rise to the surface and gradually I let myself rise until I broke the surface and was lying here. I lay with my eyes closed for a while, feeling the breeze on my face and the warmth of the sun. Then I heard your voices and I opened my eyes.”
Edward chuckled. “ Well done Megor.” Then he told Megor what had happened to them.
When Edward had finished, Megor sighed. “ Did you have to kill the King?”
Edward looked into the fire and took a long time answering. “ I had to kill the King though every time I kill somebody a little of me seems to die. Tag once told me that it starts to get easier once you have done it a few times and he is right. If you had told me before all this started that I would use my power to kill other creatures, I would have laughed at you. My father will be turning in his grave because he felt our power should only be used to help other people not to harm them.”
“ But you have only used your power to help other people,” Tag said from the edge of the clearing. “ Karlan it is your turn now.”
When Karlan had gone off to guard the camp, Megor said. “ It must be hard for you Edward because I sense that you take no pleasure in killing people.”
Edward answered, “ Yes it is hard. At the moment I can see nothing other than getting back to my people and helping them find a way to defeat the enemy. I am afraid that if anybody gets in my way or threatens to stop me, I lash out. It is not a nice feeling but I cannot stop myself.”
Megor smiled in sympathy. “ I hear you Edward and thank you for rescuing me. It is not our place to threaten to wipe out those creatures as I was saying when I woke up. They did not ask to be twisted in that way or to be like they are. They are the direct result of our, yes the Elves, actions. By our stubborn sticking to our principles and the other part of the Elven nation sticking to theirs, we fought this fight with armies of men and our magic. We turned their land into the wasteland it is now and by our indiscriminate use of magic turned those creatures in to what they are. It is up to us to help them gain their freedom not for us to kill them off.”
Edward smiled back. “ Very well, Megor. We can discuss this at some other time when we have some leisure. I think we should stay here for the rest of today but if you feel up to riding, we will leave in the morning south towards the Gap and back to Rombuli. All I hope is that Latask and Nelvask have found some way to hold up the enemy.”
They packed up their camp the next day and set off heading south under clear blue skies. The land they rode through was teaming with wild life, gentle grass covered slopes with small woods and stands of trees. It was very pleasant riding and they did not see another human. They did catch glimpses of smoke drifting into the air either beyond a wood or over a ridge but they avoided these places as best they could.
Two days later in the afternoon with the sun starting to get low in the sky, they came out of a narrow stand of beech trees and scrub onto a worn path leading away south. Tag, who was leading, held up his hand and they all stopped on the edge of the path.
“ What do you make of this?” Tag asked Boric.
Boric looked around. “ We must be getting close to some sort of settlement by the way this path looks as though it is used. We have no other choice than to follow along and see where it leads. It is going in the right direction.”
Tag shrugged, shook his horse into motion and set off along the trail. Karlan dropped back to cover their rear while Boric, Megor and Edward took up station in single file behind Tag. It was not long before they heard the sound of rushing water and  soon came to a river, the flow rushing between high banks. The path turned south east following the course of the river and Tag led them along the path.
Shortly after turning to follow the river, the land dropped away to the level of the water. The trail turned to cross the river by what they took to be a ford.
Tag once more reined in waiting until Boric was level. “ We can cross the river here but look at the other side.”
Boric looked across the river and grimaced at what he saw. There was a barrier across the trail just after it emerged from the river with a hut at its side. Manning the barrier were a number of men dressed in an assortment of untidy, ill matched uniforms,
“ Customs,” observed Tag dryly.
Boric frowned. “ We must be coming to a more settled land for there to be customs posts on the border. We will have to bluff our way through though we have nothing of value so I can’t see them trying to charge us any duty. Like we did when we met Togot, I will lead the way up to the barrier with Megor.  Edward and Karlan will follow though we have only one pack horse for them to look after. Tag will bring up the rear. Try not to do or say anything which will get these peoples backs up, Edward. We need to get through here without any trouble.”
Megor grinned at Edward and moved forward to join Boric. They rode in line down to the river and into the water. The men on the opposite bank watched them come closer, standing by the barrier with swords and pikes at the ready. Boric made sure his hands were away from his sword as his horse climbed up the bank and came to a stop a few feet away from the barrier and the guards. Edward almost laughed and Karlan shook his head as the guards nervously blocked the road. The men held their weapons like under trained recruits and it would not take much effort on the part of Boric’s friends to push their way passed the barrier.
Boric raised his hand and they all stopped. “ We have one pack horse and no goods.” he said to the men, waving his arm to indicate the party with him.
One of the men with a scarlet sash over his shoulder detached himself from the barrier and approached the waiting horsemen. He said something in a sharp tone which Boric did not understand but Megor replied. There was a sharp exchange of words from Megor and the man, the man shouting and talking fast, Megor replying softly and slowly. The man called out and four other men approached though Edward noted they cast nervous glances at the swords strapped to Boric and Megor’s sides.
Megor said to Boric. “ They speak much the same language as Togot though the accent is very different. As far as I can make out the Captain here wants us all to dismount while his men search our belongings. If we don’t let them search us, they will turn us away.”
Somehow Boric managed not to laugh.
Looking at the pompous official and the other nervous men he said harshly. “ Tell him we will dismount and let them search our belongings.  Edward will watch while they do this. If they try to steal anything, we will punish them. While they are searching our bags, we will have a drink from their well and something to eat.”
Turning to Edward while Megor was explaining to the Captain, Boric said, “Sorry Edward but somebody has to watch them and with your power, you are the obvious choice.”
Edward shrugged. “ Get one of the men to bring me a drink.”
They all dismounted and Boric led them all other than Edward over to the building and the shade. The men cast nervous glances at Edward as he lent against a post, sipping from the flagon of water one of the men had provided, watching closely as they went through the belongings. At last the Captain declared that all was in order and they remounted. 
Megor asked where the nearest large town was and the Captain indicated about twenty miles down the track. 
Before they mounted their horses, the captain shoved a brass disc into Boric’s hand, obviously issuing instructions as he did so.
Boric frowned and looked at Megor. “ He is instructing you to report to the travellers building in Krich when we arrive. As far as I can understand Krich is the town twenty miles down the trail. Oh, if an army patrol stops you anywhere, you have to show the disc and explain where you are going. If you do not report to the travellers building within a few days, the army will be alerted and you will be arrested.”
They rode away from the customs post and Edward could sense the relief in all the guards’ minds.
Once out of sight of the buildings, Boric called a halt. “ We can carry on riding towards Krich this evening but it is late and I expect we will find the gates of the town shut when we get there.  My suggestion would be to ride until we are about an hour away from Krich and find a place to camp for the night. In that way we will arrive at the gates mid morning rather than be sitting there waiting for the gates to open.”
“ Do we need to go into the town?” Edward asked.
Boric looked around. “ We have to report to the traveller’s bureau and hand in this disc. Besides, even if we did not have to report, we need supplies and we have to find out what the country between here and the Gap is like. Anybody got a better idea?”
Tag smiled. “ If we don’t go into the town, they will be suspicious of us. Oh don’t look like that Edward. The customs Captain will let the authorities know, maybe not straight away, that we have passed through. If I know the authorities, whether here, in Rombuli or in the Empire, they will assume that we will visit the town. If we don’t, they might send out some more efficient troops to investigate. Besides, I want to spend a night in a bed, find a girl and have a bath not necessarily in that order.”
“ What are you going to do for money?” Edward asked innocently, his eyebrows raised. “ I know I am a country bumpkin from the outskirts of the Empire.t Even I know that hotels cost money and girls can be very expensive.”
Boric looked hard at Edward. “ What do you suggest?”
“ I have no idea what sort of currency they use in this country. We lost most of our valuables in the wilderness,” Edward explained. “ As that is the case, we will have to collect anything of value, even sentimental things like jewellery. When we get to Krich, we will see what we can sell. That way at least we should have some money.”
“ As we ride, think about what you can contribute everybody and we will undertake a collection tonight when we camp.” Boric ordered as he nudged his horse into motion.
They had an uneventful ride through the late afternoon hardly meeting anybody else on the trail. The land was hilly with groves of trees and pockets of cultivation round small villages well off the road. 
Just before they were ready to set up camp for the night, a troop of soldiers approached along the road. The officer with a plumed helmet ordered them to stop. Edward noticed that these soldiers, in contrast to the guard at the border, were smartly dressed. They wore blue uniform coats on top of shiny breast plates, grey breeches with shiny metal leg protectors and their boots were clean. Each soldier carried a lance tucked into a support at the stirrup and a curved sword in their belts. The horses they rode also looked well cared for.
Boric, accompanied by Megor, dismounted and saluted the Officer in charge. 
“ Tell him who we are and where we are going,” Boric said to Megor handing Megor the brass disc they had been given at the border.
Megor said something to the Officer and handed him the disc. The Officer studied the disc, counted the group, handed back the disc and said something to Megor. Turning to his men, he waved and they rode away towards the border.
“ What did he say,” Boric asked as he remounted.
“ As far as I could make out, he wanted to know where we had come from and where we were going,” Megor replied. “ I told him what we had agreed about seeking gold in the mountains to the south and then showed him the disc. As you saw he counted us, which seems to indicate that the disc has the number travelling stamped on it. Then he warned me to make sure we kept to this road and report to the travellers bureau when we get to Krich.”
“ Interesting,” remarked Boric. “ It appears that movement is closely controlled in this country. All right Tag, find us a place to camp. The sun is almost setting.”
They set up their camp in a grove of trees close to the road. Because the soldiers knew they were there they built a fire and had a hot meal. Then Boric went round everybody and collected all their valuables in a small canvass bag. It did not amount to much when he had finished.
The next day they set off early, eager to get to a town. An hour after leaving the camp site, they rode out of some trees and saw just ahead the town of Krich. The walls were not specifically high but the river which had been sighted every so often to their right as they travelled along the trail, curved round the walls on the west, south and east sides before bubbling away towards the southeast. The road they were following led down a slight slope through well tended fields to a gate in the walls.
In single file they followed Boric on down the trail, the walls of the town looking more imposing as they came closer. Above the gate flew a banner, a running fox on a green field with crossed lances below. On each side of the gate were soldiers, dressed in uniforms similar to those worn by the soldiers they had met on the trail. These soldiers were studying everybody who entered through the gate. When they were close, Tag pointed to the bow men on the walls above the gate.
“ They are a suspicious lot in this country,” Tag remarked to Boric keeping his eyes on the gate guards. “ I wonder what they have to be scared of?”
Boric looked around and shrugged. “ In some parts of the world,  there is a philosophy of control which pervades all section of the population. As you know this leads to a regimented people. Things  can be like this even if there is no real danger to the ruler.”
“ You should know considering what went on in the Empire,” Edward remarked with a grin.
Boric did not have a chance to reply because they came to a bridge over a canal leading to the gate. Boric wondered whether it was his imagination or did the soldiers at the gate take on a more alert attitude as the group of horse men approached across the bridge. To Edward it felt as though the bowmen on the parapet above the gate were aiming their bows straight at his heart. He was very alert for any sign of trouble but despite the stares of the guardsmen they were not stopped and soon found themselves inside the walls of Krich.
From the gate, a cobbled road led away towards the centre of the town through two and three storied houses. The upper windows were constructed such that they overhung the street and at intervals narrow alleyways flanked by buildings ran away into the gloom on either side. People dressed in a variety of clothing from the most colourful jackets to drab browns and greys hurried passed hardly giving the strangers a glance. About four hundred yards from the gate, the road opened out into a large square. On one side was an imposing building with the fox banner flying above the double doors, doors guarded by soldiers. In front of this building the square was empty apart from the people passing in and out though the doors. Directly opposite was an ornately decorated building with towers and a bell shaped dome. A Temple to some God, Edward thought. On the other two sides were shops selling all kinds of goods. The square in front of the ornate building  was filled with a scrum of people pushing their way between market stalls, street performers and gambling pitches. The noise of the cries of the traders trying to attract attention was loud to Edward used as he was over the last few weeks to the open country.
Boric led the way across the square towards the official looking building. He studied the token and then pointed to a side door with a sign in the form of the symbol on the token attached above the door.
“ You stay here and look after the horses Edward,” he ordered in a voice which did not countenance any argument. “ Karlan, can you go looking for the price of hotels. Tag can you go and sell or pawn our collection so that we have some money. Megor come with me and we will report to the officials in that building. After we have all finished, we will all report back here to join  Edward.”
Edward watched as Tag disappeared into the crowd one way, Karlan down an alleyway in another direction and Boric led Megor into the building. After leading the horses to a horse trough and letting them drink, Edward had nothing to do but idly watch the crowds by the Temple. People walked, hurried or strolled between the stalls pausing to look and sometimes to buy. As time pass Edward became more and more fascinated with one stall which he could see clearly from where he tended the horse.
A small thin man stood behind a table covered in a white cloth. In front of him were three  small silver cups. He made great play at placing a small black ball under one of the cups and then asked people to put down their money. When somebody put down their cash, the man shifted the cups around at lightening speed. When the cups came to rest, the man invited the person who had put down the money to choose which cup the ball was under. Lifting the cup, the man showed the gambler that the ball was not under that cup. If the man or woman betting on the outcome insisted on knowing which cup the ball was under, the man would lift the other cups and there was the ball under one of the cups. 
It did not take Edward long to figure out that the man always hid the ball between his fingers before shifting the cups thus making sure he never lost. When he had to show which cup the ball was under, he was so quick that he could drop the ball as he lifted the cup and make it look as though the ball was there all the time. Every so often, somebody won and the man paid out double the money on the table. Again it was not long before Edward observed that it was friends of the man who collected the money whenever there was a win.
In the other corner of the square was another stall which also caught Edward's eye. On the table was a wheel with numbers round the rim and stops on the gaps between the numbers. On looking closer Edward could see that every other number was zero, with a lot of two’s, some fives and one ten. When enough people had put down their money, the stall holder spun the wheel and when it stopped, paid out to those on whose number the wheel had stopped. On close watching, Edward realised the wheel invariably stopped at zero, occasionally on two but never on five or ten. Watching closely when people won, Edward saw that they were paid back their original stake plus two times if the wheel landed on two. The stall holder was raking in the money even when he had to pay out. With a shock Edward read the man’s thoughts and found out that he could control the wheel with a peddle under the table.
His musing was interrupted by Tag returning, though he showed no pleasure at seeing Edward.
With a voice that dripped with malice, Tag said. “ I could only get ten Ducets, or what ever they are called, for our goods. I  have a feeling that I was cheated.”
“ Did you say ten Ducets?” Karlan had approached unnoticed. “ That will barely get us into one of the real cheap Inns in the poorer district of town. I was hoping for a bit of luxury. Ah well, throw in your lot with a group of desperadoes and what can I expect.”
“ You insisted on coming,” Tag growled but before they could argue, Boric and Megor came out of the building to join them. 
“ Well that is all sorted. We have a disc which will take us from here to Ambleton on the Lake. We will have to report to the Traveller’s Bureau when we get there. It appears all the once proud city states in this area have been united under one leader who’s Palace is at Canswater, an island on the Lake. If Megor understood right, we have no need to go to the fortress town of Canswater when we get there because the office of the Travellers Bureau is in Ambleton. Now what about this hotel, a bath and clean sheets?”
“ Don’t bank on it Boric,” Karlan said. “ Tag only got ten Ducets for our valuables and that will only run to a down market hotel. With what we can afford, I can see the sheets not being too clean and no bath.”
Boric started to protest but Edward interrupted. “ Look, lets not fight about this. I have a plan which might make enough money to get us into the best hotel. All you have to do is follow me and do what I say.”
Before they could protest, Edward led them with their horses over to the stall where the man was still raking in the money as he enticed people to bet on which cup the black ball would end up under.
“ Megor you will have to lead because you can understand what the man is saying. Tag give me all the money.” Edward took the money despite Tag’s frown and gave one Ducat each to Megor and Boric. “ Over there is a stall selling sweetmeats. Go and buy a few so that we have some small change.”
They returned eating their sweets and offered what was left to the others.
“ Right,” Edward said. “ Now go and join in the fun. Put small bets on the table in turn with the other punters. When the time is right, I will have my gamble.”
Megor and Boric grinned and went over to the stall leaving Edward once more holding the horses. They kept losing except once when the man seemed to let them win. At one point the man held up four fingers but they all still lost.
Edward called Megor over to hold the horses. “ What did the four finger mean?”
“ He says he will pay out four times what is on the table if the punter guesses right,” Megor replied.
Edward joined Boric, Tag and Karlan at the table. He watched while various people lost their money and Boric made indications that he had run short of cash. The man held up four fingers and Edward stepped forward. Placing all eight Ducets on the table, Edward grinned at the, at first startled expression and then the sly greedy one displayed by the stall holder. The man said something to Edward but Edward shrugged. 
Turning to Karlan and Tag, Edward told them to go round behind the stall, ready for the man to try to leave. The man placed the cups in a line on the white table clothe, made great play of placing the black ball under the middle cup, looked up at Edward and started to shift the cups at speed. Edward waited patiently unto the man stopped. Then, using his power, he took the ball from in between the man’s fingers and place it under the left hand cup. Grinning, Edward pointed to the left hand cup and the man lifted it with a smile. In an instant the smile froze on the man’s face and he turned to his accomplices standing behind but they did not move. Behind them Karlan and Tag were standing grinning knives close to the guards backs.
The man looked from his men to Edward and back. He started to move sideways grasping his money box in his hand but Boric moved to cut him off. Reluctantly, the man opened the box and counted out the thirty two Ducets to place with Edward’s bet.
“ Thank you,” Edward said scooping the money into his canvass bag. Nodding to Tag and Karlan, Edward joined Megor with the horses a big grin on his face. 
When Karlan arrived, Edward asked, “ Is this enough to get us into the best Inn in town?”
Karlan laughed and hugged Edward. “ You are a genius. That will give us a night at the best Hotel and buy us some supplies. Though after that we will be stony broke again.”
“ Ah,” said Edward. “ I have another idea which will help with that. Megor and Tag take the horses back to the horse troughs and we will be along shortly.”
Leading Boric and Karlan, Edward went along the side of the square towards the stall with the wheel. Boric and Karlan frowned but watched as the people put their money on the numbers on the board on the table. The stall holder, a scruffy looking man flanked by two very large men, one with a scar across his face, the other  bigger than Boric with a black patch over one eye, spun the wheel when enough bets had been placed. The crowd watched with baited breath as the wheel spun and there was a collective sigh of disappointment when the wheel stopped on a zero. Edward realised there was no zero on the board on which the people placed their bets. The stall holder grinned and swept the money into a box.
Boric looked at Edward but Edward watched the wheel intently for a few goes. Every so often the wheel stopped at a number, especially a number with little or no bets on it and the stall holder paid the excited punters. Each time this happened Edward saw that there was more money on other numbers and so the stall holder won while giving the impression that it was a game of chance.
Reaching into his bag, Edward took out thirty of the Ducets they had just won and much to Boris’s surprise put them all on the ten.
“ Are you certain you know what you are doing?” Karlan asked shaking his head.
“ I think so,” Edward laughed at Karlan’s expression. “ All you have to do is go round and stop him making his escape when I win. Be careful of those brutes he employs to protect his money.”
“ No problem,” remarked Boric though as he eyed the two men up, he did not look so confident.
The stall holder called for more bets and the board rapidly filled with money. People gathered behind Edward, calling out to him but he did not understand what they were saying. All he could think of was that they were trying to warn him that he would most likely would lose. The stall holder grasped the wheel and gave a vigorous heave. The wheel spun faster than it had before but Edward was watching the stall holder. As the wheel slowed, Edward forced it under his control, making it spin slower and slower as the stall holder tried to apply the brake. There were gasps from the crowd and then loud cheering as the wheel came to rest on the number ten. Edward bowed to the crowd and went to the table with his hand out. The stall holder looked round desperately, but Karlan had one of his thugs by the arm with a dagger against his throat. Karlan was grinning from ear to ear. The man had gone deathly white. The other thug held his hands in the air staring wide eyed at Boric’s sword pointed at his chest.
As though acting in slow motion the stall holder opened the lid of the box and counted out the three hundred Ducets while still looking round for an escape. Smiling sweetly, Edward swept the money into his canvass bag, nodded to Karlan and Boric and sauntered back across the square to join Megor and Tag waiting with the horses to the applause of the crowd.
Boric and Karlan joined them, laughing. 
“ Why didn’t he protest more?” laughed Karlan. “ As soon as I put the knife to his throat, he gave up.”
“ Mine took one look at my sword and raised his hands,” Boric chuckled. “ I was all ready for a fight but they thought we were too tough for them.”
“ Enough of this,” Edward said smugly. “ We now have over three hundred Ducets so we can stay in the best Inn and have the best meal money can buy. Boric can buy some smart clothes after he has a bath, Tag can find his girl though what Margaret will say when I tell her I have no idea. We can get supplies and leave in the morning for the Lake.”
Boric grinned. “ Lead on Edward. This is your treat for us all.”
Megor darted into the crowd and engaged a group of men in deep discussion. When he rejoined them, he grinned.
“ Those men reckon, after much discussion, that the best Inn in town is the Golden Bull on Main Street. I will lead the way.”
The Inn proved a palatial building fronting Main Street which cut at right angles across the street from the Square. When they inquired about rooms the owner looked rather sceptical about their ability to pay but when Edward showed the money they had bargained for the rooms, the man’s attitude changed. 
They were shown to two very large rooms on the first floor with windows overlooking the street. The beds had proper mattresses, pillows and white sheets. Tag insisted on accompanying the horses to the stables but when he came back to the rooms, Edward could tell that he was impressed with the facilities. They were shown a bathhouse in the back of the Inn and after a bath and a change of clothes, Boric set out to buy some better clothes, Tag and the Elves to buy a pack horse and supplies. Edward just wandered round the town taking in the sights of what was to him a very large town compared to most places he had been.
They all gathered back in the room shared by Tag, Boric and Edward that evening to report on their day. Tag reported that they had purchased the horse and supplies as agreed and Boric paraded his new coat, breeches and highly polished shoes with shiny silver buckles. They decided to have dinner in the Inn rather than find another place to eat.
When they came down the stairs the owner ushered them into a small private dining room off the main dining area and away from the bar. Boric ordered the meal with the help of Megor and it was splendid. The wine was pleasant though Karlan called it more bitter than the wine of the Forest. By the end of the meal, they were all relaxed and happy.
After their eating, they joined the other patrons in the bar for a drink before going to bed. The bar was crowded and a waiter led them to a table  towards the end farthest from the serving counter. They ordered and while they were waiting for their drinks to come, Edward noticed Tag staring at a table close by with a hungry expression on his face. There were five men sitting round the table playing cards. Tag rubbed his hands together and smiled faintly as the game progressed. 
After they had been served with foaming tankards of ale, Tag nodded and turned to Edward. “ Can you give me one hundred Ducets, please?”
Edward looked startled. “ What ever for?”
From the other side of Tag, Boric laughed. “ Obviously you have never seen him before when there is a chance of a game of cards. He wants the money so that he can join in that game.”
Edward frowned. “ What and lose all our hard earned money?”
Karlan laughed now. “ Hard earned money? You got that by cheating those stall holders. I know they were cheating everybody else out of their money but you still cheated.”
Edward grinned. “ I don’t call it cheating but repatriating some of the peoples money. Seriously Boric, how good is Tag at this card game?”
It was Boric’s turn to frown. “ Put it this way, I have never seen him come away from  a card table with less than he started though it is the nature of cards to lose sometimes. Don’t tell me you have never played cards for money.”
Edward blushed. “ My father would not let me play gambling games because of my power. OK Tag, here is the one hundred Ducets though that will leave us short so make sure you win some money. Oh by the way, if you knew what cards all the other players had in their hands would that help you win?”
Tag looked angry. “ I can win without your help, thank you.”
Boric placed his hand on his friend’s arm. “ Look, Tag, this is our money. Let Edward help for a while. How will it work?” Boric asked turning to Edward.
Edward replied. “ I will take the three on the right, Megor will take the two on the left,” he waved away Megor’s protest. “ We will read their minds as they consider their cards and put that information in Tag’s head.”
Tag with Megor in tow approached the card table and with Megor’s help asked if he could join them for a game. The men looked at him suspiciously at first but when Tag placed his one hundred Ducets on the table some of the men nodded. Tag pulled up a chair, asked some questions about the game through Megor and the men explained the rules. Smiling Tag indicated for them to deal the cards. Megor came back to join Boric, Karlan and Edward. For the next hour while seeming to drink some ale, chat up the serving girls dressed in their tight fitting dresses and engage in conversation, Megor and Edward supplied Tag with the information they had promised. The pile of counters in front of Tag slowly increased until even to Megor and Edward it was obvious that Tag was a good gambler at cards. Edward realised that Tag would be able to keep his boast of winning without their help if left to his own devises. So when Boric suggested they go back to their rooms, Edward passed this on to Tag through his thoughts and he and Megor broke off their spying on the other players.
When they reached their suit, Boric invited them all into his room. “ We will get up early tomorrow and leave after breakfast. It is according to the map you purchased, Karlan, about one hundred miles to Ambleton so it will take us the best part of three days if we do not push the horses. I think we should camp each night rather than find accommodation where we can stay. That way there are not too many curious people watching our progress. It is bad enough having the authorities wanting to know everything we do.”
Edward slept soundly that night and awoke to the sound of traffic on the road outside his window. Getting out of bed, he washed and dressed before he realised that Boric and Tag were not in their beds. He was about to go out when both came back into he room.
“ I see you are up Edward,” Boric remarked as he put his saddle bag on his bed.
Tag handed another saddle bag to Edward and said. “ We have got the horses ready and you can pack your things in there. The landlord is getting our breakfast and we leave straight after. Megor and Karlan are already in the dining room.”
Edward packed his few belongings into the bag, picked up his long bow and followed Boric down the stairs to the dining room. Megor smiled warmly from  one of the tables and Karlan grinned. During breakfast Tag placed five small canvas bags on the table, grinned and then gave one of the bags to each of the men.
“ There is the equivalent of one thousand Ducets in gold in each of those bags,” he said with a grin. “ That is what I won last night at the card table. As my initial stake was supplied out of the general funds, I have shared it equally between us all. Gentlemen we are rich. Now I have a proposition to put to you all. Why don’t we give up this idea of trying to get back to Rombuli and help the cause of the Empire? What we could do instead is form a gambling syndicate and tour the world ripping off all the rich gamblers. I will be the card player, Edward and Megor will be the information gatherers while Karlan and Boric will provide muscle to protect our winnings until we can find land to buy. I can guarantee I will have us rich beyond our wildest dreams in a year. What do you all say?”
They all looked at Edward. 
“ I am sorry Tag,” Edward replied. “ I vowed to Nelvask that I would return if at all possible and that is what I intend to do.”
Tag held up his hand to stop anybody saying anything further. “ I knew that would be the answer but it was a wonderful dream for a few minutes. The horses will be ready shortly if you would all like to get on the road.”
Tag picked up his gear and left the room.
Boric turned to Edward. “ Don’t be too hard on Tag. He was only dreaming aloud because he knew you would want to carry on our search for a way back to your home. He is even more loyal to you than he has been to me. He will go anywhere with you if you ask him.”
They took their time on the journey south. The country through which they passed was green and pleasant with rolling hills, scattered woods and flowing streams. The temperature slowly rose until to Edward it was hot but Boric remarked it was getting like Parison. They camped each night under the shelter of trees beside a brook for fresh water and ate hot food because there was no need to stay hidden. The road passed through small villages rather run down in places and the inhabitants stayed out of sight in their houses or scurried away as quickly as they could. There was no doubt that the people were suspicious of strangers. Off the road in the distance they caught glimpses of large houses but the entrances were heavily guarded as though all the owners were expecting trouble. Every so often they caught sight of a heavily fortified town on the top of a hill but they did not go and investigate. It seemed that every morning and afternoon they were stopped by a troop of soldiers who inspected their token before waving them on adding to the sense of a controlled society.
On the third day, the road they were following crossed a plain of well tended fields and they could see the roofs of buildings in the distance. That afternoon they came out of the fields, crossed a dike  and into a town along a wide avenue flanked by large trees. 
Boric raised his hand and they all stopped. “ We have to find the Travellers Bureau before we do anything else. I suggest we make our way into the centre of town and then ask the way if it is not obvious were the bureau is. While I am satisfying the authorities of our legitimate journey with Megor, you can find the best hotel in town. We will lodge there for the night. How does that sound?”
“ All right by me,” Karlan replied for the others.
They rode on into the town down the broad avenue passed large houses on either side until they came to a large square with a round garden in the centre and a fountain. Directly ahead of them across the square the broad avenue continued and they caught a glint of the sun on water ahead. On either side narrower roads led away between tall buildings such that they could not make out where these roads ended.
Boric led the way round the square and continued along the broad avenue. The buildings now crowded against the road and the trees had disappeared. Ahead the brightness became more pronounced until the avenue opened out onto the shores of the lake.
Boric held up his hand and they all stopped. A promenade ran along the lake shore between the buildings and the waters edge. People were hurrying passed and there was a great deal of traffic, horses with riders, carriages and wagons on the road. Outside of the town the promenade swept round towards the lake and a causeway jutted out into the water. At the end of the causeway was the walled city of Canswater. Prominent at one side was the high walls of the citadel.
Megor accosted a passing rider and asked where the Travellers Bureau was. The man frowned with annoyance but on looking at the five riders, rapidly gave directions. 
“ To the right, along the promenade until it opens out into a half circle. That is where all the government buildings are. The Travellers Bureau is this end of the crescent or  so he says.” Megor reported to his friends.
Boric turned his horse to the right and led the others out into the stream of traffic. Even though he had stood looking over the lake in the City of the Dead Spirits, Edward could not help staring at the lake. Even now he was fascinated by the sight of all that water. In the distance through the heat haze he could see fishing boats plying their trade, sailing boats rushing from one side to the other of the lake and a large boat propelled by banks of oars. Edward wanted to stop and watch all the activity but Boric pressed on.
They came to the crescent and Boric dismounted before the building that Megor said was the Travellers Bureau. Megor and Boric disappeared through the doors while Tag, Karlan and Edward tended the horses. People cast glances in their direction as though trying to ascertain what these strange people from another country were doing here. At last Boric returned with Megor, a thunderous expression on his face. 
“ That stupid bureaucrat in there has informed me that we will have to come back in three days to apply for a permit to cross from here to the mountains,” Boric said through clenched teeth. “ A good job Megor was with me or I would have pulled him from his seat and banged his head a against the wall. I tried to impress on him who I was and what titles I hold but all he could sneer was that they did not apply in his country. You will have to return in three days to see if you have been granted a permit, was all he would say.  Megor find us the best hotel in town.”
Once more Megor consulted a passer-by and indicated the direction further along the promenade. Boric rode up beside Megor and told him to lead on. The five rejoined the traffic and rode west along the promenade with the sun in their eyes. Megor turned into a set of gates guarded by uniformed men. He spoke to the  guards and they opened the gates, sending a young boy running ahead of the friends along the drive. At the head of the drive was a large house and as they approached liveried servants and grooms appeared as though from nowhere.
Boric led them up to the door to the house, dismounted and handed his reins to a groom. “ Tell them to bring our bags into the hotel,” he ordered Megor in that ultra superior voice he could sometimes adopt. 
A man whose uniform had more gold braid than the others bowed deeply to Boric and indicated the doors. With the head doorman leading the way Boric and Megor were followed into the hotel lobby by Karlan, Tag and Edward.
“ Tell the man I want three of the best rooms, a bath, my clothes pressed and the best wine in my room,” Boric ordered Megor. Megor frowned but conveyed Boric's instructions. “ Tell him Edward will pay the bills.”
The door man handed them to another flunky and they were led up a wide curved staircase to the next floor, a line of servants following behind with their things. The man led them along a corridor to three doors leading to their left. 
“ I will have the centre room, Karlan and Megor on the left, Tag and Edward on the right. I will see you all at dinner.” With that last remark, Boric swept into his room followed by the servants with his luggage.
Tag turned to Edward and shrugged. “ He is impossible when he gets in this mood. I think we will leave him alone until dinner. He will be trying to impress on the staff here that he is high born and wants the appropriate privileges and servility. Megor and Karlan it looks like these are our rooms. See you in a little while when we have settled in.”
Tag bowed mockingly to Edward and led the way into their room. The servants followed them through the doors and started to unpack their bags. The chief servant showed them a small room to one side and indicated that soon somebody would come with some water for them to bath. Edward gave him some small change and the servants all left. To the side of the bathroom was a door leading out onto a balcony overlooking the lake across the gardens and promenade. Edward opened the window door and stepped out onto the balcony and stared round eyed out across the water to the distant mountains.
There was a knock at the door and Edward heard Tag shout to come in though Edward doubted that who ever was outside the door could understand. Two men and two women entered carrying some large containers of hot water. These they emptied into the baths and the servants indicated for Edward and Tag to undress and get into the baths. Tag eyed up the women as he undressed but though they smiled, there was no other response.
“ Things are looking up,” Tag remarked as they soaked in the bath and the women fussed around with towels.
“ What will I tell Margaret?” Edward asked innocently.
“ You tell Margaret and I will have to mention the ones you have been with since we left home,” Tag grated.
“ You have the upper hand,” Edward laughed and got out of the bath to accept the offered towel.
For the rest of the afternoon, Tag and Edward, having got no response from Boric or the elves explored the Lake shore. 
Lake Landarti, as Megor told them the local people called it, was as big as Lake Sardona, the only other large body of water Edward had ever seen. To the west where the river they had followed discharged its water into the Lake was a port from which river boats either under sails or propelled by oars plied their trades. To the east and connected to the shore by a narrow causeway was Canswater with its high defensive walls and a fortress in the other corner closest to where they observed. As far as Edward could see there was a bridge with a gate opening in the city walls. Wagons, riders and people on foot crossed the bridge to enter the city, closely watched by guards at the shore ward end of the bridge.
The next morning Edward and the Elves continued to explore the town of Ambleton. Boric and Tag had gone back to the Travellers Bureau to try to find out when they could get a permit to travel. It had surprised Edward and the Elves when Boric had used a passing resemblance to the language when leaving the hotel. 
Before they split up, they agreed to meet for lunch at an inn they had noticed on the way into the city near the cross roads. 
Edward and the Elves spent a pleasant morning in the warm sunshine, exploring shops and the main market near the town centre. The town’s people they passed looked at them curiously but nobody interfered with their walk through the streets and alleyways. One thing they did notice was that on most street corners were stationed groups of soldiers who kept a close eye on what was happening around them.
As the sun approached the south, the friends made their way back to the main road through Ambleton. As they walked along the road towards the inn, they noticed crowds of people lining the road and felt excitement in the air. Over the excited chatter of the crowd, in the distance Edward could hear the sound of drums and horns. People were stopping by the side of the road and the soldiers were lining the road as though getting ready to control the crowds. 
Across the grass lawn, fountain and flower beds in the middle of the cross roads, Edward saw a troop of foot soldiers marching towards the place where they stood, pennants flying. Behind in ranks were a troop of cavalry. The drums beating a marching rhythm got louder and the horns set up a triumphal march. As the soldiers approached the cross roads, all the people around Edward fell to their knees and bowed their heads to the ground. Edward looked at Megor but all he did was shrug his shoulders and kneel like all the others.
At the same time as he sank to his knees, Edward saw Boric and Tag standing above the kneeling people around them further along the road from where Edward and the elves knelt. Soldiers were approaching but Boric stubbornly stood his ground, stiff backed and his shoulders squared. A group of soldiers approached and obviously demanded that Boric and Tag knelt in the dirt and bowed down. 
“ I am from one of the high families of the Empire and I will bow down to nobody!” Boric shouted and he drew his sword as the soldiers started to manhandle him and Tag. A soldier thrust at Boric with his sword and Boric staggered back holding his side. Tag went to Boric’s aid but was overwhelmed by other soldiers. Edward tried to rise and go to the aid of his friends but a man kneeling next to him held him down.
“ Don’t be stupid!” the stranger shouted. “ You will do no good  getting involved.”
“ They are my friends and I have to help them,” Edward shouted back struggling to push the man away.
The marching soldiers were approaching and Boric and Tag were being held by the other soldiers by the side of the road. Edward stopped struggling and glanced down the road. Tag was holding Boric surrounded by soldiers. The troop had passed and Edward could clearly see a broad shouldered man on a black horse dressed in a bright scarlet coat, white breeches and shiny black boots. Under his golden helmet were hard brown eyes and cruel lips which curled in contempt for those around him. Behind him riding a very fine black horse was a tall man dressed in a black cloak with a hood pulled over his head which struck Edward as strange in this climate. This person stopped his horse when he drew level with Boric and Tag and said something to the soldiers. He looked around the crowd once and turned his horse to follow the scarlet dressed man.
The crowd were getting to their feet, some of them grumbling others silent, a few cheering now that the man had passed. Edward climbed to his feet, took in at a glance the soldiers starting to force Tag and Boric after the retreating back of the tall man in the black cloak. Edward started towards them only to be partially pulled back by the man who had been holding him down. 
With a strength which surprised the man, Edward flung off the restraining hand and shouted. “ Just leave me alone or  you will get hurt.”
Surprise was echoed in the man’s eyes and he let Edward go. The man in the black cloak was now further away and Edward realised that through the crush there was no way he would be able to catch Tag and Boric. He stood and started to draw in his power but Megor grabbed his arm.
“ Don’t Edward!” Megor yelled in a voice which was full of fear.
“ Why,” Edward shouted back. “ It is the only hope we have of getting our friends free.”
“ Because the one in the black cloak is an Elf!” Megor said. “ As far as I know he has as much power as you and a lot more experience of using it.”
“ It sounds like you know this Elf,” Edward said.
“ Yes,” Megor answered. “ He is my Uncle.”
Edward turned and projected his thoughts at Tag. “ We will come for you Tag. Look after Boric for me.”
Then Edward turned to the man who had stopped him from going to Tag’s assistance. “ Who are you? I ....” 
At that moment, Edward stopped and shook his head. It was only now that he realised that both he and the man had been shouting Rombuli. The man’s eyes were big and round and all he could do was stare at Edward.
“ Your accent is strange but you are speaking Rombuli,” the man answered. “My name is Claude Sharles. There are still a few of the original Rombuli who keep the language alive. I know all of those but I do not know  you.”
“ Look let us get off the street,” Edward suggested to Claude. 
To Megor and Karlan he said. “ Find a tavern where we can sit and talk this over.”
Megor looked scared and close to hysterics but Karlan responded instantly. “ There is one round the corner from here if I remember from when we first came through town. I will find it for you. Follow me. I agree we have to get off the street somewhere where we can talk this through without too many people overhearing what we are saying.”
Karlan turned on his heel and led the way through the now dispersing crowd to the cross roads near where Tag and Boric had been attacked. Pausing for a moment to look around, Karlan pushed open a door and they all followed him into the tavern. The place was crowded but using his height and weight, Karlan pushed his way through the crowds round the door and found a relatively quiet table near the back. 
The corner where they eventually sat was in semi darkness, hardly relieved by the flickering candles. The table was none too clean and the bare floor boards were sticky from spilt drinks. A serving girl came to the table, her rather plain blouse unbuttoned almost to her waist showing her large bosom but her hands looked clean. She made an attempt to wipe the table top with a cloth she carried in her hand. Megor ordered ale and paid the girl without looking at the others. Once their drinks were on the table in front of them, they all turned to look at Edward.
Edward sat looking at each in turn before he spoke. “ I have no idea where to start,” he said honestly. 
Turning to Claude, he asked. “ What do you know of what happened to our friends out there?”
Claude looked at Edward his expression serious. 
“ I don’t know where you are from or whether I can trust you.” he said in accented Rombuli.
Megor raised an eyebrow but Edward translated. 
To Claude he said. “ All right, I understand what you are saying.  In the country I come from nobody but a criminal would be reluctant to tell another person where they are from. Things must be different here. If you are scared of opening up to us, give us a background precise of what goes on in this place.”
Claude frowned and then shook his head. “ I will have to trust you a little. This land around the Lake was until recently a country of city states with only loose ties. Then there arose the present Protector, Blodwin Ironhand. Where he comes from we have no real idea but he suddenly appeared from the south at the gates of Canswater with an army. The town put up token resistance but after the gates had been blasted off their hinges by some mysterious power the army possessed, the city surrendered. All the leaders were given a choice. They swear allegiance to the Protector or be imprisoned. It soon became apparent that behind the Protector was this mysterious figure in a black cloak, taller than most people and the source of the power.”
Claude paused to allow Edward to translate. “ Once Ironhand had consolidated his power base around the Lake, he started to expand his territory. He sent out invitations to all the great City leaders and they all came to Canswater in answer to his summons. Once here, he somehow convinced them that the best policy would be to unite behind him and form one country under his control. There was much protest but using the power of the stranger, they finally submitted. Why I am suspicious of you is that the country is ruled by the use of a strong army which puts down any sign of revolt ruthlessly and a system of informers who tell the authorities what is going on in their area. All travel even over small distances is controlled through a system of permits. Anybody who talks out of turn or against the ruler is imprisoned.”
Edward shook his head. “ And where do you fit into this?”
“ As you know I am descended from the Rombuli people who used to live around the Lake and control the territory,” Claude answered. “ I am a trader and keep an eye on the remaining Rombuli.”
“ What happened to the rest of the Rombuli?” Edward asked sharply.
“ In our tradition it is said that many hundreds of years ago there was a great storm over the land and many tribes were uprooted. The Rombuli round Lake Umberto were being pressed from many sides by people looking for land and peace. There was a great meeting and some of the Rombuli families agreed to set out on a great trek to find a place of peace away from their enemies. The rest of the families stayed and some have over the centuries tried to keep the Rombuli people, language and traditions alive. What happened to the other families, we have no idea.”
“ I can tell you that but that will have to wait,” Edward growled. “ Can you show us where our friend will be taken?”
Claude laughed, though his face was still creased in a worried frown and his expression serious. “ Oh yes. I can take you to the very gates of where they has been taken. Not that it will do you a power of good. The gates of the Citadel are well guarded and the walls are high and thick. There is no way into the place, even if you had an army.”
“ We will be the judge of that,” Edward replied sharply. “ Will you be willing to show us where this Citadel is?”
“ You must have seen it all ready,” Claude barked. “ In one corner of the walls of Canswater. I will show you. In fact I am in a hotel overlooking the Citadel across the square. You can come with me and sit in the window of my room and look at the building before deciding your quest is hopeless.  If I was you I would abandon your friends and get out of here as soon as possible. Some informer is going to tell the General, as the man who arrested your friends is known. He is the real power around here not Ironhand. If you stay here, it will not be long before he sends some of his people to find you.”
“ We will have to act quickly then,” Edward replied. 
Turning to Karlan, he said in the language of the Elves, “ Now you tell me about your Uncle and Megor can translate for Claude.”
“ As you know my father is the King of the Golden Elves,” Karlan began rather awkwardly as though reciting something from rote. “ For such a peace loving people and a nation bound by moral principles, there is no laid down procedure for the succession when a King or Queen dies. Usually it is the oldest child of the dying King who becomes the next Monarch but it is not always the case. Each heir has to be approved by the Council of Advisers which you attended when you were in the Golden City. At that meting, the merits and demerits of the candidates are discussed. At the end of the discussion there is a vote which is anonymous. Each Advisor has two coloured balls, one green for yes, one red for no. The balls are placed in a box as each Advisor files out of the room. After the votes are counted, the result is announced after all  the Advisers file back into the room. If the heir is upheld in his or her claim to the crown, that is the end of the matter. If on the other hand there is a vote against, all the alternatives are discussed and voted on. One then is pronounced the winner. You have to understand that it is usually straight forward, there being only one candidate that is the oldest child of the King or Queen. My father was the oldest child. It was assumed by most Elves that he would be elected  comfortably. Nahran, his younger brother, it seems had other ideas. Nahran tried to gain support for himself by influencing the Advisers and using his magic to gain support. As it happens, somebody told the Council about Nahran’s supporters’ machinations. Nahran was hauled before the Council to explain. Arrogantly he made no attempt to defend himself but claimed that my father was not fit to rule the Elves. He, Nahran, with his superior magic power and his intellect should be the next King. The Council told him that they disapproved of his methods. In the event,  my father was elected as King. After it was decided, my father tried to seek a reconciliation with his brother but Nahran made it clear that he thought my father was weak. Nahran thought the Elves should leave the Forest and go back to the Old Golden City and reclaim all our land from the humans. Then those who would not work for us should be sent away into exile. Many Elves thought this came to close to the philosophy of the Sea Elves whom we had fought all those aeons ago. The next day Nahran had gone and nobody has ever seen him again.”
“ That is why you were sent out!” Edward suddenly exclaimed. “ To search for any trace of your Uncle and to make sure he was not getting an army together for the purpose of attacking the Elves in the Forest.”
“ Yes that is why I was sent out before,” Karlan said. “ What I was trying to tell you was that my Uncle is very powerful and not to be challenged lightly.”
“ Thank you both,” Edward said gloomily. “ What I think we should do now is to sign out of our hotel in Ambleton and go with Claude to Canswater. If what he says is right, we can get a room in his hotel and then work out what we are going to do.”
Claude listened to Megor’s translation and then said. “ There are spare rooms and on my recommendation I am certain you will be able to stay there. I will come back with you to the hotel.”
They signed out of the hotel, collected their horses and followed, Claude riding Boric’s horse along the road bordering the Lake. The causeway though only half a mile long, was devoid of trees or shrub meaning that any approaching individual or party was plainly visible from the walls of the Citadel. The road on the causeway ran straight to the bridge over the canal to the gate into the city. To the right of the bridge was the Citadel. It rose five storey’s above the walls, a square block of a building with no visible break in the closely fitted stones. At each corner was a turreted watch tower. It brooded over the town like a dinosaur waiting to crush anything which opposed its power. Looking at it as they approached Edward’s heart sank. As they got closer he could think of no way they could get inside there.
They passed through the gates unhindered though under the watchful eyes of the sentries. Their horses were lodged in a stables near the hotel and they were soon admitted to the Jumping Salmon Hotel. The Citadel brooded and threatened them from across the square.