Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The Retun of the Exiles

Chapter 9

The night on which the service of the Dark of the Moon took place in the Temple, Edward retired early to his room despite the pleas of both Kitty and Boric that he come to the service with them. To make them stop asking, Edward made some excuse about not believing in their form of worship and therefore not feeling in the right frame of mind for religious ceremonies if he came with then to the Temple. As he said this, he knew what he said sounded rather lame but Kitty, having heard him argue with the Covenenter so soon after he had arrived, did not seem surprised. She and Boric wished him good night and went off to the Temple to join most of the other inhabitants of the Mansion.

When all had gone quiet in the Mansion, Edward got dressed in his old brown clothes and soft soled boots. Pulling the hood of his cloak over his head, he left his room and crept through the corridors of the Mansion trying to make sure he was not seen. At a side door away from the main entrance and the guards, Edward paused to listen and look before going out into the night under the shadows cast by a tree. Once more he paused and looked around to check on whether a patrol was near but nothing disturbed the calm of the night. Leaving the shadows of the tree, he crept forward along the path pausing to listen every time he heard a noise. Nothing else seemed to be moving near the Mansion. Though he was not sure he could use it on another human being despite the lessons from Tag, he carried a dagger tucked into his belt and about his waist he had fastened a sword belt and sword. The weight of the sword gave him some reassurance that he could look after himself but he smiled ruefully at his real lack of confidence.

Pausing in the shadow of the wall at the end of the Mansion, he looked about but could see no sign of another human or detect any movement though he reasoned there must be guards somewhere. Boric had shown him some weeks before the rota for the guard patrols around the outside of the Mansion so Edward knew they must be there somewhere. With a beating heart, the sound of which seemed too loud in the night, Edward crept along the path from the Mansion to the Temple his ears straining to catch any sound that might mean danger. The hoot of an owl searching for its dinner made him pause and hug the shadows of a shrub but nothing else stirred and he continued.

The stars shone brightly from the dark sky and a pool of light shone in front of the Temple. Edward avoided the light by going into the shrubs at the side of the path. A pair of eyes flashed briefly and then Edward was pulled roughly deeper into the dark under some overhanging branches. Here Edward was completely hidden from the path.

“ Greetings Edward. I am glad you made it,” a voice whispered in his ear.

It was the voice of Matt that Edward recognised instantly. All he could see however, was the darker indistinct outline of a figure against the shrubs.

“ What do we do now? “

Edward strained his eyes to make out the other men standing in the darkness; hoods pulled tightly round their heads. It was impossible to recognise who they were and so with hardly a pause he whispered back.

“ We follow the path down the side of the Temple keeping to the edge as much as possible and making no noise. I will lead with Matt and Gary following. Tim and James will bring up the rear and make sure that nobody follows us. All of you keep as close as possible. If I tell you to stop, freeze instantly and don't move again until I give the order. All of you were there in Alskar when the Covenenter attacked Matt and you have some idea of what we are up against. If there is a need for it, because we happen to meet somebody, leave the talking to me and don't make any sound. Is all that understood?”

Edward sensed rather than saw the nods of agreement from the indistinct outlines hiding in the shrubs. With one last anxious look up the path to the Temple and down the path to the Mansion, he led the way out of the dark of the shrubs into the semi-dark of the path. Every sound they made was magnified in Edward's highly tuned ears but in reality they passed on soft soled boots quietly into the night.

Matt gasped softly when he first caught sight of the watchers on the gateposts, their red eyes malevolent and watchful even in the dark. Edward whispered urgently for Matt and the others to stop as the heads and eyes of the watchers locked onto the approaching men. Edward could sense in his mind the rising feeling of panic in his friends as they came to a halt under those piercing red eyes.

Edward felt the sweat moistening his palms as he sought to remember the exact words the Covenenter had spoken when he came through the gates with Kitty what seemed like an age ago.

Taking a deep breath he said in a firm voice, “ Let us pass oh watchers. We come in peace.”

He was dreading that there was some secret sign he had missed when the Covenenter had spoken those words weeks ago or some mental connection with which the Covenenter had opened the gates.

There was a pause during which the red eyes seemed to stare right into Edward's mind and the rest of the men grew even more panicky. Just as Edward was about to abandon their quest and run, the gates swung open and the creatures returned to their watching once more.

It was only then that Edward realised that his legs had become stiff and were shaking almost uncontrollably. With a sigh of relief he motioned Matt after him and began to descend the steps.

The gates closed with an ominous clang behind James and they were plunged into darkness under the trees bordering the steps. A thought screamed through Edward's mind about this being a trap but he shook the thought away and continued down the stairs feeling ahead with his foot to detect the steps in the dark.

At the bottom of the stairs, they all paused close together in the shadows of an oak tree, as though gaining strength in numbers, while their eyes adjusted to the faint silver light of the stars. Ahead of them just discernable in the gloom, the fountains threw their water towards the sky and splashed faintly in the stillness of the night. Edward remained rooted to the spot for a long time, his ears straining to catch any sound that would indicate that they were not alone, his eyes searching for any sign of life in the buildings across the lawn. There was no light visible in the buildings, and nothing moved on the lawn or in the shrubs surrounding it's edge. Still Edward did not move though he could feel the tension building up in his friends as they crowded close and tried to peer across the lawn. Still nothing moved.

Motioning for Matt to follow and indicating that the others were to stay until he signalled, Edward ran across the lawn doubled over to make himself as invisible as possible, the spray wetting his hair but he ignored it's cold touch. Pressing himself against the wall of the Meeting House, Edward again stopped to look around and make sure he and Matt were alone.

His breathing was rasping in his throat as he tried to contain his panic that was sweeping all restraint away. He wanted to run, back up the stairs through the gate and on into his room and his bed. His ears strained to hear anything over the beating of his heart, beating so loudly he thought Matt must hear, but nothing stirred on the lawn, among the trees or in the buildings close by.

So far so good,” Matt whispered, his lips close to Edward's ear, his eyes white in the faint light.

Edward grinned in the faint light but felt anything like making jokes. “ Call the others over. The flags are in this building that is the old Meeting House of the Rombuli. I haven't the time or the inclination to tell you about the significance of that. We have to be quick now before anybody comes along. When we go in, leave Tim and James out here to watch our backs. For our Maker's sake and the good of the free Rombuli, lets hope they see anything and warn us before we are caught inside.”

When the others had joined them in the shadow beside the wall and Matt had relayed Edward's instructions, Edward paused again and looked around. Nothing stirred.

“ Right. Lets go,” he whispered to Matt.

Matt sprang to the door, a large iron bar in his hand but stepped back in surprise when the door opened to his touch to reveal a small entrance hall. Matt froze at Edward's urgent call and stepped aside to let Edward pass. Concentrating on the inner archway, Edward suddenly made out some lines of power that effectively barred any passage into the Meeting House. Noting that James and Tim were crouched protectively on each side of the door scanning the approaches to the Meeting House from all directions, Edward turned back to Matt and Gary.

“ Look you don't have to believe me if you don't want to but pay attention to what I am about to say. There is some kind of power field across the door.” Edward ignored their puzzled looks and hurried on. “ I can't explain it in any other terms but you will have to believe me even if you can't see it. If you had stepped through that door Matt, you would have broken the power, set off alarms somewhere and most likely been killed. Now all you have to do is follow my instructions. There is a gap of about two feet between the bottom of the power field and the floor. Obviously, the Covenenter who set this up did not think that any intruder would be able to see what he had done. Therefore he did not carry it right to the floor. You will have to get down flat on the floor and wriggle on your stomach underneath to make sure you don't touch the power field. Keep like that until you are well into the room and I tell you that you can stand.”

Matt stared at his friend as though Edward had lost his mind, then Matt shook his head and stared hard at the doorway. “ I can't see or feel anything. “

“ Matt either you do exactly as I say or you can walk into the power field. I couldn't care less but let me know what you decide and quickly. If you decide to ignore my advice, give me time to get a reasonable distance up the stairs before you walk through the door and bring every Covenenter within hearing distance down on our necks. Now make up your mind! ”

Edward was nervous, on edge and becoming angry. He knew he was not being fair to Matt or the others but he was so fearful of discovery that he did not have the patience to explain everything in detail or the time to show them what was required. All he wanted was for the others to do as he said and get into the building lift down the flags and then get out of there as soon as possible. All the time they stood on the steps of the Nimmar Meeting House, Edward was conscious that a Covenenter might discover them.

Shrugging his shoulders though still looking unconvinced, Matt lay on the floor and wriggled his way into the room. Edward watched closely, his eyes and mind searching for any indication that Mat was disturbing the field. Holding his breath, Edward watched as Matt passed directly under the power field and the air hissed out of Edward's lungs when Matt's feet were well inside the room. When he was certain that Matt was well clear of any danger, he signalled for Matt to stand. Matt stood up his hand on the table and his white teeth flashed briefly in the darkness, Gary followed Matt's example and was soon standing in the room.

Edward went and had one last look around outside, patting Tim and James on the shoulder in reassurance. All was quiet and peaceful with the fountains casting silver streaks towards the heavens. Sure that all was quiet, Edward wriggled his way under the power field and into the Meeting House.

Standing beside Matt, Edward could dimly make out the table but the flags were lost somewhere in the darkness at the other end of the room.

“ The flags are on the wall at the far end of the table, “ Edward whispered to Mat, his whisper setting off an echo in the room. “ They are protected in the same way as the door and I have to work out a way of getting rid of that protection. I'm, going down there now but I want you and Gary to stay here. Get into the comers of the room where you cannot be seen from the door. Have your bows ready in case we are disturbed and I mean ready with arrows knocked on the strings. If one of the Covenenters does come into the room before I have the flags, you will have to kill him. Round his neck you will see a chain with an amber medallion. His power has something to do with that stone. Once he is down on the floor, get rid of that chain. Don't stare at me like that just do, as I say.”

Again Edward sensed rather than saw in the darkness the start of Matt's protest but Matt turned away from Edward's fierce expression. To hide his confusion, Matt took off his bow and notched an arrow on the string.

Once Edward was certain they were in place and ready, he went carefully along the table, using the edge to feel his way in the dark.

When he stood where he thought the flags were, by concentrating his mind he was able to see the power field around the flags. With an effort he even made it glow in the dark shedding some light into the room. The knowledge that there was a power field and where it was did not help him in his search for a way to turn the field off. How long he stood staring at that faint glow, he had no idea but he was nowhere nearer a solution when power assaulted his mind. With a start, he wrenched his mind away from the problem of the power field around the flags and turned to face the door.

A Covenenter stood in the door, Tim and James held upright and immobile in the blue corona emanating from the end of his staff. With a flick of his wrist and a faint hint of power from his mind, he lit the candles standing at each end of the table and in alcoves along the walls flooding the room with light. Tim and James jerked convulsively and sank to the floor. Edward's mind was open to the Covenenter and suddenly he understood from the way the Covenenter used his mind how the power was created and used. In that one small gesture, the Covenenter had inadvertently shown Edward one more way to control and use his power but he stored this away for the future and closed his mind to any assault by the Covenenter.

Edward Eastland “ the Covenenter's voice crackled in Edward's mind whether he spoke or not Edward could not be sure.” What are you doing here?

Edward did not reply but deliberately opened his mind to the probing of the Covenenter. Reeling at the power when it struck but trying to hold onto the Covenenter’s mind and gain his whole attention. A small part of his mind he kept free, blocked off from the Covenenter's probing and he used this to throw a quick mental instruction to Matt to wait. As the arrows did not fly, Edward was certain he had forced his message into Matt's mind. The Covenenter fought to gain mastery over Edward's mind for some time before he began to laugh.

“ So that is why you are here. You want your flags back! Why such pieces of coloured clothe could have such a hold over you, I cannot understand. If that is what you want then you can get them down. Later I will have great pleasure in making you put them back. “

The Covenenter flicked his staff but once again Edward felt that slight surge of power as the power field was switched off. Once more things clicked into place and he understood how to erect and shut down a power field. Edward did not turn round to make sure the power was gone, he had no need. He could not feel any energy at his back that indicated that the power had gone without having to look.

“ You have not the power to make me do anything,” Edward said quietly, speaking aloud so that Matt and Gary, crouching fearfully in the shadows, could hear what was going on. “ I can close my mind to your power as I have demonstrated on more than one occasion. I doubt that you have ever dealt with anybody like me outside the Covenant before.”

Edward steeled himself to withstand the mental assault that he knew would inevitably come.

Changing tack, Edward decided to attack and started to probe the Covenenter's mind. It was as though he was entering a big black empty void with no end. It was as though the Covenenter was not there and Edward was probing nothing. He realised he was being sucked into the void in search of something anything to give him bearings but he began falling down into the unfathomable depths with no bottom in sight. Just in time he withdrew when he realised that the Covenenter was trying to draw him in and hoping to get passed Edward's defences that way. With an effort he withdrew and raised his mental defences against the assault he knew was coming.

Concentrating most of his attention on the Covenenter, Edward flashed a mental order to Matt for Matt and Gary to fire. Edward prayed to his Maker that he had enough mental strength to withhold the Covenenter and get through to Matt. Never before had Edward tried to hold onto one person mentally while giving orders with a part of his mind to another person.

The Covenenter must have realised something was happening. He must have detected Edward's mental order to Matt even though Edward had tried to hide this from him. The Covenenter started to turn. Desperately Edward plunged down the side of the table in the Covenenters direction, Edward's mind pushing against the Covenenter’s, his sword in his hand. Faced with a danger from two directions, the Covenenter hesitated, then sent out a blast from his staff that smashed Edward against the wall, driving the air from his lungs and leaving Edward groping for the edge of the table. Through the haze resulting from both t the blast and the thud of his head against the wall and the efforts to still keep all his attention on the Covenenter, Edward watched in agony as Matt drew back the string and let the arrow fly. Too late the Covenenter released his hold on Edward and turned his attention to the comer of the room near the door.

The thud of the arrow smashing into the Covenenter's back between his shoulder blades was very loud in the room but his mental scream of agony and the release of power smashed Edward back a against the wall once more. The table was lifted from the floor and returned with a crash, chairs smashed against the walls and the candlelights flickered and went out. Gary was across the floor in a moment and the medallion and chain rattled as he threw it under the table.

Breathing heavily, Edward slumped against the wall fighting a grey mist that was washing at his sight. It was a while before he was able to regain any semblance of normality slumped against the wall as though all sense was gone. With an effort he raised his head and lit the candles with a thought just as he had felt the Covenenter do. Staggering with a great effort, Edward got to his feet and shouted to Matt who was standing looking down at the figure lying on the floor in a pool of blood.

“ Ignore him! Come on down here and get these flags off the wall. I don't think I have the strength to lift them. Once you have them secure, let us get out of here before anybody else comes.”

Edward limped slowly towards Tim and James lying on the floor where the Covenenter had let them fall. As he approached, he thought they were dead and his heart missed a beat. While Edward examined Tim and James, Matt and Gary rolled the flags round their poles and stuffed them into long canvas sacks. It was with relief that Edward found Tim and James recovering but they were both unsteady. Roughly Gary hauled them to their feet and pushed them towards the door, ignoring their protests in his hurry to leave.

Glancing briefly at the dead Covenenter, Edward was surprised to find it was a woman but he had no time to ponder the significance of this.

Matt was at the door urging Edward to hurry. As soon as they were outside the Meeting House, they ran. Matt in the lead, until they were stumbling up the stairs. That danger lurked ahead rather than behind did not seem to occur to Matt as he rushed in near panic up the stairs. Some instinct or maybe some failing mental power made Edward grab Matt and urged them all into the bushes and trees beside the path. Calling on his weary mental state, he tried to cover their presence with a blanket of darkness as they lay in the leaves under the shrubs.

He vaguely made out through the gloom the outline of a Covenenter rushing down the steps towards the Meeting House in such a hurry that he took the steps two at a time. It was the first time Edward had seen a Covenenter hurry.

After the Covenenter had passed, Edward was never certain whether his mental blanket worked or whether the Covenenter was concentrating so much on what had happened in the Meeting House that he would not have noticed them even in broad daylight.

They arrived at the top of the stairs gasping for breath and at last paused in their headlong rush to get away from the Meeting House. Peering at the gate, Edward could see nothing moving and the only sounds were the breeze moving the leaves on the trees and the sounds of singing coming from the Temple. The gate opened at Edward's touch and the watchers did not take any notice as they rushed to hide in the shrubs at the side of the path near the Temple. Standing in the darkness Edward listened to the low murmur of prayer and steeled himself to say goodbye to his friend.

Gripping Matt 's arm, Edward whispered in his ear. “ Well Matt it is all up to you now. You must get away as quickly as possible. I will go back to my room as though nothing has happened. Don't tell me what you are going to do after leaving here or where you are going to hide because the first place they will look is in my room when they discover the flags have gone and the Covenenter dead on the floor of the Meeting House. When they come, I will try to hold them up for as long as possible by not answering any questions. You see why it is important that you do not tell me where you are going after you leave Nimmar or what you intend to do with the flags. Get going now before I lose my nerve and come with you.”

In the gloom of the bushes, Matt stared at Edward, and then moved as though to drag Edward with them.

Finally he shrugged. “ I really thought you would be coming with us but if you think this is the best plan, I will not argue with you. Take care Edward, my friend. Without you we would not have got anywhere near the flags let alone be standing here with them ready to take away. I am sorry I doubted you when I mention it to you in the barracks. We'll meet again at the Gathering when we will present these tokens of our nationhood to the Leader of the Council. They will look good alongside the portrait of Derek the Strong.”

Edward watched as Matt turned away and led the others towards the wall and escape from Nimmar. All his instincts told him he should go with them but he stayed in the dark by the shrubs watching as they disappeared into the night.

When Matt and his friends had disappeared, Edward turned and silently made his way back to his room keeping to the shadows as much as possible and entering the Mansion by a side door. He felt tired, oh so tired. His nerves prickled down his body and his hands were shaking. Every sound rushed at him out of the night as though the source of the sound was right by his side but in reality all the sounds came from across the river in the town. As he crept slowly along the path, he imagined Covenenters coming out of the Temple and pursuing him. Every other step he paused to look over his shoulder but he saw nobody.

Somehow, he reached the safety of his room without mishap but by that time his whole body was shaking uncontrollably and he had to force himself to undress, making sure that all signs that he had left his room that night were erased. At last, shivering with fatigue and fear, he sank into his bed and fell asleep.

It did not seem as though Edward had been asleep very long when he awoke with a start as the door to his room burst open with such force that it banged back against the wall. The room was suddenly bathed in light and Edward sat up in bed rubbing his eyes in an attempt to focus in the sudden brightness.

Three Covenenters arranged themselves at the foot of his bed, the glowing globes they held in their hands above their heads casting their faces in shadow. Without a word one of them gestured towards the candles and the room was bathed in even more light. Edward sat on the bed staring at them as they extinguished the globes by snapping their fingers.

They did not speak to Edward but were obviously communicating with their minds though try as he might Edward could not make out what they were communicating.

“ What do you want?” Edward asked trying to keep his voice calm and his face expressionless.

“ You!” one of them shot back and Edward recognised Latask his large body stiff and upright. Whether he had spoken or shot the remark straight into Edward's mind, Edward had no idea. “ Where have you been tonight? You were not at the Temple.”

The question was accompanied by the combined probing of his mind. Edward forced his brain fully awake, made it go blank on the surface and raised his mental barriers against their probing.

“ When everybody went off to the Temple, I retired to my room for the night. I am afraid your services seem rather pointless to me. I have been in my room ever since.” Edward tried to remain calm, fought to control his mental defences.

“ We cannot get through,” the Covenenter on the right stated flatly.

“ He is very strong,” the Covenenter on the left stated. “ We have never met anybody who could resist our power like this since we came to Parison.”

“ Oh yes we have in Derek Gorland but we thought he was unique,” Latask answered. “ Apparently he was not. Did you go to the Meeting House tonight?”

“ No.” Edward replied emphatically looking at the blue flame on the end of Latask's staff. “ I have already told you. I have been here all night.”

With a sigh, Latask released the power of his staff, fixing Edward in its blue corona. Edward could not move, his whole body screamed with pain and then the other two joined their power to that of Latask. Slowly Edward's body was bent backwards until Edward thought his back was going to break. Pain hammered into his head, the faces of the Covenenters blurred before him but their black penetrating eyes were clear in his mind the whole time.

Who were the others who were with you? ” the Covenenters demanded together with the full force of their mental powers. “ Where have they gone?

Their questions beat at Edward's brain, the pain was making him want to tell them the answers to their insistent questions. He wanted to give them what they wanted but the loyalty to his friends kept his resistance high.

With a certain relief, he found he could resist their combined probing of his mind. The pain was another matter. It was searing through his body, battering at his nerves, battering at his mind and making Edward want to give in. He would not give in and he fought to find some way to resist the pain. Then it came to him as though there was a quiet calm voice in his mind, coming from outside. Fight the pain by using the pain itself, the voice seemed to say and then he understood. The pain they were inflicting was to prove his salvation. By concentrating on the pain, by letting it explode in his mind rather than resist, he was able to free himself of all thoughts of why they were doing this to him.

For a while this proved beneficial but after a time Edward started to get tired and his mind started to drift. Latask as though sensing this changed tack and soon all three were working together again. Instead of pounding Edward with questions, they now started to smooth his mind by implanting the thought that the pain would go away if only Edward would tell them what they wanted to know. They mixed these thoughts with alternate bouts of lessened power, letting Edward feel the faint hint of hope as the pain subsided only to force upon him the abandonment of hope as the power was increased. At these times the probing of his mind was intense. Edward found his grasp of reality slipping, his body began to yearn for release and it was becoming more and more difficult to keep the Covenenters out of his mind. In desperation, Edward called out to his Maker to help but with a triumphant shriek, the Covenenters pressed him back against the bed even harder.

Through the fog that was closing in on both his vision and his mind, Edward felt himself bent even further back until all he could see was one hand pressed against the pillow above his head. The quiet small voice once more sounded in his head and tried to insist that he tried to move his hand. For an age he stared at his hand but could not focus his will on what he had to do. Forcing himself to ignore the pain, to ignore the probing by the Covenenters into his mind, Edward concentrated on his hand and willed it to move. With a sinking feeling that told him the end was very close, nothing happened.

Gathering the last shreds of his diminishing powers, Edward ordered one finger to move, his whole being channelled into that command. The pain in his head diminished slightly, the voices hammering to gain entry into his mind receded slightly and though it was only a flutter, his index finger moved. Now he knew what to do.

By degrees, Edward overcame their power, even moulded it into a form which helped him to move his hand. How he knew what to do he had no idea but it was working. His index finger straightened, then after a long struggle all his fingers. Now he was moving his hand, at first only a tremble but finally across the bed towards his body. With a shock he realised he could now feel the roughness of the blanket through his fingertips and the pain receded further.

Suddenly Edward understood. The three Covenenters were no longer fighting to read his thoughts, no longer causing him pain but struggling to hold him rigid. His arm, previously held in an iron grip above his head where it had come to rest when they had first forced him back onto the bed, was now moving down his body until it lay along his thighs.

Through the concentrated effort, Edward thought he heard a gasp but he did not let his concentration wander so that he could find out what was going on. With a supreme effort of will, he moved his head until he was facing the Covenenters lined up at the foot of the bed. Too late he realised that the effort of moving his head may have been too much.

The Covenenters were starting to bend him back once again, they were gripping his body in the iron shackles of their power and he was now too weak mentally and physically to resist. His mind started to drift, his control to slacken and he felt the surge of hope as the Covenenters started to probe his mind again. Was this the end, Edward asked himself as he felt their minds probing deeper into his mind and his resistance started to wash away in the receding tide of his vanishing willpower. Is this all the time I have managed to buy for Matt and his friends?

..........................................................

As Edward and his friends confronted the watchers on the gate, Kitty sat in the Temple trying to concentrate on the service but failing miserably. No matter how many times she turned her attention back to the Covenenters and the priests, she once more lost herself in contemplation of what she was going to do about Edward. Surrounded by her family and friends still she could not get this man from another culture out of her mind.

Ever since that afternoon on the banks of the river, that afternoon when the sun had shone and everything had seemed perfect, she had wondered what she was going to do. It had devastated her when Edward, obviously torn between his love for her and his loathing at the treatment of his countrymen, had told her they could not get married. It had never occurred to Kitty that she might be refused. She had thought that Edward would fall over himself to become her husband. Never had she been refused anything in this way by anybody especially a man. There were many very desirable and aristocratically valid men waiting for her in Parison, she told herself over and over again as the service droned on. All she had to do was make it known that she was interested and they would come running. There would be no problem with finding a perfect husband.

Yet she had no desire now to leave this place and go back to Parison. What has happened to me, she wondered as the light flared on the altar as a Covenenter brought forth the sacred flame. It was not so long ago that I loathed this place and I made certain everybody knew of my feelings, she told to herself. Everybody knew how I feel about the sacrifices I was making so as to be with my father. She had thought this was the most boring and backward place on earth. The only use she could see for the people who lived here was to serve her and serve the Empire in that order. In Nimmar, when she had first come, people had fawned all over her or had looked scared and done exactly what she wanted. Nobody had said no to any of her requests.

How she had hated Edward at first especially on that road outside Alskar when he had arrived to help with the carriage. He had not bowed down to her, had not shown her the fawning respect she expected from these peasants. He had told her what to do, made her look small in front of those common soldiers. And as for his sister, well there was nothing to say.

Later, after her father had suggested that Edward escort her on tours of the country surrounding the fort, Kitty had slowly come to appreciate that Edward was not ignorant but thought differently from her and the Empire. She came to understand that the Rombuli were not just difficult to understand when it came to defending their language and their rituals but felt that their identity was being taken away from them if these were denied them by Imperial power. Speaking to Edward and listening to him talk about the Rombuli made her realise that these people who she had despised had a history, had traditions and had their own ideas about how they wanted to be governed.

It was during the Emperor's visit that Kitty had finally realised that she was in love with Edward and found it difficult to think of a time when he would not be there. Once she accepted that she was in love, she started to plan what was going to happen. She was finally convinced that everything would be all right when the Governor invited Edward to be a member of his council. In addition, her father did not seem too put out by her attention to Edward, her friends who came to Nimmar with the Emperor made friends with Edward and more importantly to her, her brother had since become a friend of Edward. The only one who did not seem to accept that they were a couple was Edward.

Absently she noticed one of the Covenenters slip out of the Temple before the end of the service. This was very strange but her attention was soon back contemplating her problems. She had to find some way to get Edward to realise she was serious. What that was and how she was going to convince him was beyond her at the moment.

The service finished and Kitty left the Temple accompanied by her brother. When he asked her if she was going to come back to his apartment that he was preparing for Gloria his wife in the not too distant future, Kitty refused. She needed to get back to her rooms and think. For some reason Kitty had a feeling that she would have to act quickly or the chance would be lost.

Once back in her room, she sat in front of her mirror and looked at her face in the glass. She knew she was beautiful and desirable. Every time she walked into a room, she was perfectly aware that every man in the room wanted to come and sit next to her. After taking off her clothes, she looked at her body in the mirror. This was perfect and any man would desire her if he saw her without her clothes. And then she knew what to do. She would put on her nightclothes and her wrap and go to Edward. Once in his room, she would drop her clothes on the floor and get into his bed. Even a principled lump like him would not be able to resist if she confronted him in such an inviting way, she reasoned.

Kitty took her time over her preparations and when she was ready she slipped out of her door and into the corridor looking up and down to make sure nobody was observing her. She wanted to get to Edward's room unobserved so that it was only him and her who knew what was going on. In the morning when the maid arrived, she would face that problem when it came up. Approaching the door to Edward's rooms, Kitty saw the light streaming out into the corridor and almost turned round. Wondering what Edward was up to this late at night, Kitty pressed on. Finding his door open, she entered and approached the bedroom door.

She gasped at what she saw and turned and ran. Edward was lying on his bed facing the door, a look of agony on his face as he moved his arm slowly across the bed against the power of the three white robed figures arranged at the foot of the bed. Kitty ran at first in panic thinking the Covenenters who she had always feared were after her but then in desperation towards her brother’s apartment. Boric was sitting in a chair reading a report by the light of a lamp when Kitty burst into his room.

“ What is the matter Kitty?” Boric asked getting up from his chair and moving towards her.

At first she could not speak as she was having difficulty in breathing whether from the running or from fear she did not know. Boric forced her to sit in a chair, forced some wine between her lips and shook her slightly.

“ Calm down Kitty, you are with me now. What is the matter?”

Kitty stared at him and then swallowed painfully. “ It's Edward! “ she burst out struggling to breathe again.

“ If he has hurt you, I will kill him.”

“ No!” shouted Kitty closer than ever to hysteria at the thought of Edward and her brother coming to blows. “ The Covenenters have him in his room and they are torturing him. I don't know what he has done but we must do something about it.”

Talking made Kitty calmer and then she told her brother what had happened leaving out the part about what she was going to do when she got to Edward's room. Boric raised an eyebrow at the way she was dressed but did not comment.

Much to her relief Boric took charge. Ordering his manservant to get the guard from the hall, Boric strapped on his sword while he waited. To the guard when he came Boric gave orders for a squad of guards to be turned out with swords and bows and to meet him in the hall in the guests quarters. Once all was ready, Boric marched his men to Edward's rooms.

.........................................

Suddenly the pain was gone as the Covenenters let their power drop. Edward slumped back against the bed vaguely aware of other figures in the room. Kitty's face loomed close, her lips moving but Edward kept his mind closed for fear that the Covenenters would use that opportunity to break past his defences and into his mind.

As the clouds cleared and he was capable of seeing once again, he was able to make out Boric Borovic standing squarely in the door confronting Latask and the other two Covenenters. Around the walls of the room stood a troop of Imperial soldiers with drawn swords. By the door knelt four Lukics with arrows notched to bow strings, the arrows pointing at Latask and ready to fire.

Edward had no idea of what had passed between Latask and Boric before he had become conscious but Boric was now speaking in a very quiet, emphatic voice. “ This is no way to treat a member of the Governor's staff. ”

Latask replied in an angry voice. “ As I was telling you, he is an enemy of the Empire and we are only trying to get information from him. You will not stand in our way little man.”

Boric did not flinch at the implied threat in the Covenenter's words. “ He is to come with me. I, as the Governor's liaison officer between the army and the civil authorities, will take him before the Governor tomorrow morning and you can be there to level charges against him. You can then put your case in the proper way without resort to torture.”

Latask laughed softly. “ And how, little man, are you going to stop me questioning him? We have the power to stop any attempt by your soldiers to kill or hurt us. If you don't believe me, tell your men to fire.”

Latask moved his staff in an arc and several soldiers dropped their weapons.

Still Boric stood his ground. “ I have not been close to the Emperor and in the Imperial Army for the length of time I have without being aware of the power you have and what that power can do. There is to my way of thinking only one flaw in your argument. How are you going to explain to the Governor the deaths of an Imperial Master and his troops? Unless the time has arrived for the Covenant to openly declare its purpose and thus replace the Emperor and put Tulka on his throne.”

Latask stood his ground, his face covered by his white hood. His black eyes gleamed and he looked around the room as though weighing up the consequences of any action. Boric stood stubbornly staring into Latask's face, his feet firmly planted as though he was ready to resist being struck by a blast from Latask's staff while the soldiers impassively waited Boric's orders.

Despite the awesome power they knew the Covenenters possessed, the soldiers showed all the discipline, training and sense of duty to their officer and the Army that had been instilled in them from the time they joined. It appalled Edward lying bruised and battered on the bed in trying to resist the Covenanters that at a signal from Boric the soldiers would respond without a thought for the consequences. Edward could feel the tension in the room transmitted dramatically to him by the way Kitty's fingers bit into his arm. Despite an overwhelming desire to look at Kitty, Edward kept his eyes on Latask fearing that the sight of Kitty's face would make him lose all his mental defences.

The tension thickened in the room while Boric and Latask stared at each other, each waiting for the other to break first. They did not speak, just faced each other silently. At last, Latask gave way, motioning his colleagues to follow as he walked towards the door.

Turning to face Boric as he left, his voice was full of menace. “ I will remember this Boric Borovic. The time is not right for a confrontation between you and me. We will return to a discussion of your action at a more appropriate time. Not even you father's influence in high places will save you if I find out that Eastland killed my colleague. We will pursue the matter before the Governor tomorrow or when he is ready. In the mean time guard him well!”

Boric continued to look steadily into Latask's eyes. “ I will be ready to answer your accusations Latask when the time is right. I do not need my father's influence to stand for what I feel is right.”

Latask turned on his heel and silently left the room followed by the other two Covenenters leaving Edward surrounded by soldiers and clinging to Kitty.

“ Help him up!” Boric ordered two of his men.” We will take him to the guestrooms next to my apartment. I want a guard placed both at his door and outside in the garden until I say it is not necessary. Tomorrow he will be allowed in the walled garden by my apartment but he will not be allowed to go further. I expect the Governor will want to see him once he has recovered.”