Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Return Of The Exiles

Chapter 15

One morning, three weeks after leaving Nimmar, Edward and Tag sat in the common room of the Grey Dog Inn in Alskar waiting for all the people with the talent they had contacted and who had agreed to become part of the communications network, to join them. Since leaving the Grey Dog three weeks before, they had spent the time criss-crossing Alskar Province through good and bad weather. They had spent the time following the leads given them by each those with the talent who had agreed to join them. From one place to another, one contact to the next, as though following a trail with no defined path or destination, blown about by the winds of circumstances. During their travels, they had met confident ones who needed no second encouragement to join their group and timid ones who had taken a great deal of persuading to leave home. There had been many who had refused to come. These had cited various reasons from being needed to plant the fields to the need to look after relatives. Edward had not condemned these people, just smiled and asked them to stay in touch in case they were needed in the future. Some. who Edward knew beyond a shadow of doubt possessed some talent, had shut their minds to Edward's probing and figuratively turned their backs on the whole enterprise.
Edward, Tag and Margaret had been to small villages, hamlets and isolated farms even venturing into the mountains to the west and in amongst the trappers and miners. A few nights they had failed to find accommodation and had had to use the tent Tag had packed. In total, Edward had managed to persuade twelve people with the talent to accompany them to Nimmar. He ahd now way of testing what type of power they held. All he was able to establish was that they could all communicate with their minds. It was, he reasoned, up to Nelvask to determine how useful they all would be to the task of supplying the army with communications networks.
When the time came for him to return to Nelvask, he had arranged for all those who had agreed to join him to meet him in Alskar. Now, later in the morning at Alskar Meeting House, Tag and Edward would meet these twelve others who had agreed to come with them to Nimmar. Once their army escort arrived, they would start the journey to Nimmar. At this time,  Edward felt elated at what he had managed to accomplish but exhausted by the constant travelling. He did understand  this was only the beginning of what Tag described as their adventure.
" Well, we managed to achieve what we set out to do," Tag remarked, sitting back in a padded chair with a tankard of beer in his hand. " After breakfast, I will go to the Fort and collect the horses we will need and our escort. I understand Boric will be leading the escort troops. He arrived at the Fort last evening ready to set out for Nimmar today. On another subject, what is it like hearing all these voices in your head?"
Edward smiled from his place by the fire. " Confusing, though we have the ability to close our mind to the babble if we want. I can leave a small part of my mind open to anybody who wants to specifically contact me. I have to go and look over my property so I'll see you at the Meeting House about eleven o'clock."
The first snows of winter were dusting the square outside the Meeting House when Edward arrived later that morning. As he passed by, some young men in one corner of the square were enacting weapons drill under the watchful eyes of two Imperial Army instructors in, churning the snow to a dirty grey. This, thought Edward, is a sure indication that the mobilisation of the Rombuli had truly started.  The proclamation had been posted on the Meeting House door the day after he ahd left for Fox’s farm. Things had happened quickly after that with the arrival of Boric with the army trainers. Very soon enough young men had volunteered for the training to commence. Soon most eligible men were undergoing training. Just as Edward had promised at the Governor’s Council meeting in Nimmar, once the Rombuli had been convinced that they were free, most men had grasped the gravity of the situation and volunteered.
Inside the Meeting House building, the young people contacted by Edward were waiting along with Mark Fox and seven other men and women.
" Hello Edward," Mark Fox greeted him as he shook the snow from his hair. " I did what Nelvask asked and contacted all the people I could with the talent. The ones who admitted they had the talent are over there talking together. We are going to have a meeting of those with the talent today after you have left. Hopefully we can come up with a plan on how we can use our talent to help the Empire in this situation. We will also plan the elections of representatives to sit on the Council in a few weeks. I see you and Margaret successfully collected a number of younger people to take back to Nimmar with you."
" Hello Mr. Fox," Edward answered, smiling slightly at the memory of how Mr. Fox had been so antagonistic towards the Empire three years before. " Yes. I think we were as successful as we hoped when we started. Once Tag gets here with the Army escort, we will be on our way."
" Once you have left, I will start my meeting," Mark Fox remarked looking round the room. " I will go and say goodbye to my daughter now. Try to look after her Edward. Her mother will never forgive me if anything happens to Margaret."
" I will do my best Mister Fox but we are in the hands of our Maker now," Edward answered, with a sad expression on his face. " Goodbye. Hopefully I will see you again in the future."
A man who Edward did not recognise came through the door and caught his eye. " Are you Edward Eastland? There is an Imperial Master outside asking for you."
" Thank you," Edward answered. Calling for his group to go outside, Edward left the building to join Boric.
When Edward emerged into the light snow, he found Boric with Tag watching the Rombuli drilling in the square. There appeared to be a great many horses being held by one of the soldiers but then Edward realised there were a great many riders to be accommodated.
" Hello Edward," Boric smiled at his friend. " I am on the way back to Nimmar after getting the volunteers and training under way in Alskar Province. I thought my troops could act as your escort for your journey to Nimmar. Are your people ready?"
" Hello Boric, you have been busy," Edward answered nodding at the Rombuli men. " My people, as you call them, are coming out in a few minutes after saying goodbye to their friends and family. Remember Boric, some are not very good horse riders so it might take longer to get to Nimmar than you might have hoped. I see Tag has the horses for my people."
It was a large group that left Alskar for Nimmar, Edward, Tag and the twelve Rombuli escorted by Boric and his troop. There was no particular hurry and they camped the night sheltered by a grove of oaks half way to Nimmar. Luckily the snow had stopped falling and the fires kept out most of the chill but it was an uncomfortable night for many.
It was early afternoon when once again Edward topped the hill and looked down over Nimmar. The Rombuli with Edward all looked down on the town for the first time and exclaimed at its size in comparison to Alskar. Like that first time when he had been accompanied by Grand Master Borovic, Boric told his men to smarten up and form ranks.
Edward opened his mind and contacted Nelvask to inform him that his group were approaching the Island. Nelvask replied to say that he would be at the Mansion to meet them.
Once through the town, the group followed Boric's soldiers across the river to the Island. After crossing the bridge, the escort left Boric and took the path  to the Barracks. When they arrived at the front door, they all handed the horses reins to grooms outside the Mansion. Carrying their bundles and keeping close together their eyes looking round at their surroundings, they followed Edward  down the hill to meet Nelvask.
He found Nelvask waiting on the lawn in front of the Meeting House well wrapped up against the cold. He greeted Edward enthusiastically as the group approached.
" Welcome back Edward," Nelvask called. " I see you have succeeded in finding some young people to help us form a communications team. I have managed to find fifteen talented people in the rest of Rombuli. That means we now have a total of twenty-seven. Lets get them into the dormitories and then I can get to know them in the morning."
" Hello Nelvask," Edward shook his mentor's hand. " I will leave them with you and go and clean up before dinner. I expect Kitty is waiting for me."
Turning to Margaret who was talking quietly to Tag, Edward said, " This is Nelvask and he will look after you all for now. I'll leave you in his hands and see you in the morning. If you need to contact me, you know what to do now."
As the activity in preparation for war increased, the old year passed into the new on the shortest day and the snow piled up across Rombuli. During this time, Edward felt that he was on the periphery of the activity. As the other people with the talent who he and Nelvask had brought to Nimmar learnt more about their abilities and formed their groups, Edward was not included as part of their teams. Even though he joined in some of their mental exercises and showed them the extent of his own power, he always felt like an outsider. They were forming groups of three, one of them to travel with the army and two staying in Nimmar to take their messages. He was not part of that system.
Tag was set the task of furnishing escorts for those providing the communications between the armies in the field and the base on the island. For weeks Edward did not see Tag as he searched for the right people to look after those with the talent among the Rangers. Once he had assembled the right people, he spent all his time training them and introducing them to their charges. He did not seem to have any time to spend with Edward.
Boric immersed himself in the planning of the Rombuli training and deployment. He spent days away from Nimmar and when he was there he hardly had any time for Edward.
Even Kitty was busy organising the women to form healing groups to look after the wounded once the war had started.  She spent a great deal of time in Nimmar with her friendsarriving back often just in time to dress for dinner.
Nobody seemed to know what Edward's task would be, so he wandered from group to group, offering help here and there without any focus for his efforts or his life. It was in some ways a lonely time without purpose or focus.
He did notice on many occasions that Tag and Margaret were spending a great deal of their leisure time in each others company. Margaret more and more explored the countryside north of Nimmar with Tag and some of his men. This area had been designated as the place from which she would lead a group harassing the advancing Enemy army as the Rombuli and Sandaria armies retreated towards Alskar. When he complained to Nelvask that he was not doing much to help, Nelvask would only say that his time would come later.
After the new year had begun, groups of Rombuli started to gather in Nimmar before moving on to their designated places on the battle front. A meeting of the Rombuli Council took place in the historic Meeting House on the Island and Edward welcomed Mark Fox to Nimmar. Still as the time passed, nobody told him what his role was going to be.
As the snows started to melt, Edward was summoned to the office of Rulask the Governor. In the office next to what had become known as the operations room, were Rulask, Nelvask and Latask.
" Ha, Edward come on in, " Rulask said from his comfortable arm chair by the fire. " Sit down."
When Edward was seated, Nelvask said. " You must have been feeling rather left out of what has been happening since you came back from Alskar. Well, we now have a job for you and Tag. As you know, we have chosen the Rombuli who are to join the front line as observers and communications people. They have also been given the task of harassing the enemy after we retreat back towards Alskar. Each one has been provided with an escort and a territory. How they will overcome the need to communicate from behind the lines, we have not worked out yet but Latask is working on that. Now it will be your and Tag's task to escort these groups to their places on the front line in time for the campaign. Boric Borovic and his troop will accompany you. The details will be given to you later. Once all the Rombuli are in place, you and Tag are to go on to Walloonia and find Nomal and Rembert, the only other two Covenenters who we believe are still free."
Edward frowned. " How will I know where to look?"
Latask smiled grimly. " At least you have accepted the task without question. My advice would be for you to find out as much as you can about Walloonia from the information I have in my room and that in the Governor's office. Tag will know a little as he has travelled in Walloonia. Edward, we need those Covenenters to know what is happening here and to provide them with the chance to join us if their task fails in Walloonia."
" What do they look like?" Edward asked. “ If I am to contact them, I will have to know what they look like.”
Latask laughed. " If you get through the mountains to their camp, you will not need to know what they look like. They will be the ones looking after the army and will soon know who you are. It will come as a surprise for them to find somebody who is not of the Circle but who has the power you do. Still, sit there and I will show you what they look like."
Turning to the fire burning in one corner of the room, Latask waved his hands. The flames at first seemed to die and then sprang up again in a fierce solid light. The light wavered, went silver and then figures appeared. Rulask gasped. Two men, one tall and thin with a short cropped beard, long nose and thick lips set in a grim expression, the other, shorter, broad around the girth with a shaven face and black curly hair. The second was grinning, his blue eyes sparkling.
" The tall thin serious one is Rembert, the happy one is Nomal." The silver light died and in its place was the fire.
" How did you do that?" Edward asked.
Nelvask laughed. " Not many people can conjure pictures in smoke so Latask, even at his age, likes to show off. I must admit it is a good way of showing things to a group of people. The usual way is to project a picture into somebody's mind, which is how I would do it. With a lot of people, doing it my way would take a long time."
For the first time since Edward had known him, Latask looked rather sheepish.
" I suppose it is showing off but it impressed the Governor. Nomal and Rembert will not leave their chosen people until all is lost.  If I am right, your pleading with them to come to join us here will not alter their minds. What you will have to do is convince them that if things go badly, and they lose Walloonia, the best chance they have for stemming the tide of the invasion is for them to join us here."
Edward looked sceptical. " How am I to convince them of that? They do not even know me and they will not be able to get in touch with you."
" Edward, I have no idea how you can convince them but you are going to try," Latask shrugged.
Edward looked to Rulask. " Is this one of your orders?" he asked knowing the answer before Rulask replied.
" Edward, I am the symbol of the Empire but I have not the power to order you to do anything. I am relying on these two old magicians as much as I am on you." Rulask replied truthfully. " They have the only source of power here which might be able to stem the tide of the enemy's power. Silker and the other Army Officers will plan the military response to any invasion but even they will rely on these two for help if the enemy use any forces of magic. If all is not to be lost, we have to hold a line at Alskar River to give us time to figure out how to combat these forces ranged against us. The odds against us holding the line are rather poor, as you well know. Latask assures me that without Nomal and Rembert, the odds might be overwhelming. Therefore, they need you to contact these two Covenenters. It is not an order but will you do this thing for me?"
Edward stared out of the window at the melting snow before answering.  " All right, I will try to do what you ask. I have no idea how to go about this task but I will have a few days to think about it. I suppose the first thing is to go and find Tag and plan what we are going to do."
" Thank you Edward," Rulask said.
" Don't thank me in too much of a hurry. It is you who is  going to have to explain to Kitty why I am being sent away again," Edward said with a grin. " I will leave you to the rest of your planning and go to find Tag."
Edward left the meeting and walked through the snow across the river to the barracks. He asked a passing soldier where he could find the Rangers and was directed to a building in the centre of the barracks.
The building was a vast hall where some of the most disreputable men Edward had ever seen were practising with weapons and hand too hand fighting. Tag, stripped to the waist, moved between the groups, offering advice here and admonishing some of the men there. Edward stood and watched for a while until he caught Tag's eye, bringing Tag over to greet him.
" Hello Edward. What brings you here?" Tag greeted him cheerfully, wiping his chest with a towel.  " Want to try your hand at this?"
" I came to talk to you," Edward said. " Who are these men?"
" These are my men, " Tag answered proudly, looking round the hall at the men. " These are the men who are going to look after the communications teams that we gathered to help the army. They come from all the races of the Empire and they have been chosen individually by me."
" They look most untrustworthy to me," Edward remarked thinking of Margaret and Tony Newton who he knew had volunteered to accompany the Army in the field.
Tag laughed loudly. " In a way they are but they are the best when it comes to unorthodox methods. None of them would fit into the army, as such. Indeed, many of them have been disciplined by the army at one time or another but they are the best suited for the job of keeping the people you convinced to help us alive in the heat of battle and what comes after. Come on over here and I will introduce you to the team who are designated to look after Margaret."
Tag led Edward around the hall to a group of men who were lounging in one corner away from the others. The men stood at the approach of Edward and Tag. There were six men, all dressed in worn nondescript clothes and looking like a band of bandits. The leader was a large man with a patch over one eye whose hand made Edward's disappear when he shook it.
Edward looked from one to the other and could not help remarking. "Do you trust Margaret with this bunch of thugs?"
The men all laughed cheerfully at Edward’s implied criticism.
Tag was very serious when he replied.  " Yes, Edward. I would trust these men with my life. They are the best I have ever known. They may not look much when compared to the smart uniformed soldiers but they know what they are doing. They will keep Margaret alive if it is at all possible. And they know if they do not, and are still alive when I get to them, they will have to deal with me."
Bork, the leader with the patch over one eye, grinned even more. " Don't fret yourself, Edward Eastland. Oh yes, we all know who you are. Tag has told us that Margaret is here because of you. We will keep your friend alive and help her to achieve whatever she is asked to do. Even if only for professional pride, we will keep her alive.  I may be tough, but Tag is the best and I would not like to have to face him if anything happens to Margaret."
Tag waved to his men and they resumed their seats. " All right Edward Eastland, what do you want from me?"
" Can we go some place private?" Edward asked.
Tag nodded and indicated a door at the end of the hall.
" My room," he said.
Once in Tag's room, which proved to be an equipment store, Tag sat in a chair and waved Edward into another. Reaching behind his shoulder, Tag retrieved a bottle of wine and two goblets from a shelf, pouring the wine for them to share. Grinning broadly, he raised his goblet as though in a toast, saying with a world weary air, " Speak my friend and tell me what brings you away from the luxury of the Mansion to the sweaty depths of the barracks. It must be serious or you would have called for me to come to you so that you would not have to soil your delicate hands."
Edward sipped from his drink while collecting his thoughts. " You may not like this but I have agreed, on your behalf with the full approval of Boric Borovic, a mission to accompany me into Walloonia."
Tag stared hard at Edward and then growled. " I suppose I have no choice but to go along with you. I was hoping to help keep Margaret alive."
Edward shrugged his shoulders. " I don't pretend to understand the way the army works or who can give orders to whom. Rulask, the Governor, gave me the order and Silker as the Chief of the Army then approved. Boric Borovic went along with the scheme. So I suppose the orders came from the top for you to accompany me though I as a civilian was given the choice of whether to go or not."
" I get the picture," Tag's manner was resigned to his fate. " What are we supposed to do?
" Some of what I am about to say you all ready know, " Edward began." We are to accompany the communications teams to their places on the front lines. Two teams to Ishika, two to the Rock, two to the ford and two, including Margaret's, to the canyon crossing so that they are in place before the invasion starts. Once they are all in position, and before the fighting starts, we are to slip across the border between Sardonia and Walloonia and locate the Walloonian front line. Specifically, we are to locate two Covenenters called Nomal and Rembert and deliver a message from Latask. There that's it or as much of it as I know about."
Tag laughed out loud but shook his head. " That's it! By Hades that's it! Have you any idea what you have let us in for?"
Edward shook his head, looking rather lost. " No. I have no idea what I have let us in for, as you put things. I am not a soldier. I have never been out of Rombuli before. I know nothing about sneaking around the land with people trying to kill me. The Governor asked me to do this and I agreed. That is why I was relieved when he suggested I take you along. With your skill at staying hidden, your knowledge of military scouting and my power, we might be able to do what is asked. If Nelvask thinks we should try in an effort to help our cause, I will try to help. If you feel it is not something you want to do or it is too dangerous for you, I will have to find somebody else to help me. I suppose I could call on Bork to help and you could take his place.
Tag leant back and poured himself another wine. " Edward Eastland don't you start even attempting to put words in my mouth. I did not say I would not help you. I was only trying to gauge how much you knew about the dangers. As for Bork, he is a good man but not that good. No we will do this thing together. Now having settled that, where do we start?"
" I was hoping you would be able to suggest what we have to plan for," Edward remarked.  " How much do you know of Walloonia?"
" I've been there a few times but I don't have much knowledge of the place." Tag drained his goblet and banged it on the table as he jumped to his feet. " Come on Edward. Let us make a start right now. First we will go to the map room and find out what maps they have of Walloonia, especially the border between Sardonia and Walloonia. We can then plan our strategy."
Like a schoolboy following the headmaster, Edward trailed Tag out of the room and through the now empty hall. They crossed the parade ground and entered a low building on the other side. To Edward's surprise, the soldier on guard duty sprang to attention when the came to the door and ushered them inside. There was an Under Master sitting behind a desk, who looked up when they entered.
" What do you want?" he asked rudely in what sounded like a sneer.
Tag smiled sweetly and then leant over the desk and grasped the Under Master by the front of his tunic. " When you address an Over Master of the Imperial Army, even when he is not in uniform, you say Sir and stand to attention. Now I will overlook that lapse of discipline for now but you had better make sure I find what I came to look for or I will have to report you to my friend Grand Master Silker. We want to consult any maps you have of Walloonia and the border area between Sardonia and Walloonia. Could you call one of your minions to show us where to look?"
" Yes Sir!," the Under Master shouted to the accompanying smile from Tag. " I did not recognise you when you came through the door."
The Under Master rang a bell and another soldier came into the room.
" I know a great many of the maps are in the operations room in the Mansion but will you show Over Master Ormrood and Mr. Eastland any maps we have of Walloonia and the border area with Sardonia?" The Under Master indicated Tag and Edward.
" Come with me sir," the soldier said politely, indicating the door through which he come. " The map room is through here."
" The Under Master knew who you were all the time," Edward whispered to Tag as they left the reception area.
Tag smiled grimly. " He is the product of the Parison system of breeding and feels he is superior to anybody who does not come from the high families of Parison. You must have met people like him?"
Edward nodded as he thought of Cannoc and the superior attitude he had adopted on their first meeting. Then he realised that in many ways Botic Borovic had much the same attitude other people at times.
They followed the soldier into a sizeable room the walls lined by shelves and with a large table in the centre. The soldier went to a shelve, selected a number of rolled papers and laid these on the table.
" Will that be all sir?" At Tag's nod, he smiled. " Give me a call if you require anything else."
After the soldier had left the room, Tag looked at the rolls and smoothed two out onto the table.
" Here we are Edward. Take a look at these."
" I know it might sound strange to you but you will have to tell me what I am looking at," Edward said blushing. " I have never seen a proper map before. Only rough sketches of the land around Alskar."
Tag laughed at Edward's embarrassment but squeezed his shoulder before placing his finger on one of the maps.
" We are here in Nimmar. When we leave Nimmar, I expect we will go along this road to Shardlaw, the same way you went to and from the Governor's estate after your wedding. Then we will go down the Stair Road by the Great Falls, here, and out onto the road through Sardonia. I expect we will camp the night about here," his finger stabbed the map at a point half way between the Great Falls and the lake. " As you can see from the symbols on the map, to the south of the road is forest, to the north the start of the Sardonian Plain. We will then go on to Ishika the port on the Lake, just here, drop off two of the communications groups and then take this road to the Rock. We will probably spend the night there. Then it is on to the Ford and finally north along the river to the Bridge. That is where we will drop off Margaret's group. We will spend the night there, provision for our journey and then go through the foothills to Walloonia."
Tag pushed on map aside and pulled the other into place. " This is the Bridge near the bottom of this map. All we have to do is get through these hills and find the Walloonian army. Simple isn't it?"
" How will we know where to look?" Edward asked obviously at a loss to understand.
Tag laughed loudly. " That, dear Edward, is the question. We have had no communications from the Walloonian Army since before the winter so we will have to assume they are under attack and their thoughts are shielded from us by the mountains. We will get some idea of what is happening when we see the patrols that are being mounted in this area, here. If they are enemy patrols, we must go west to avoid them. Looking at the map, if I was going to make an attempt at stopping the advance into Walloonia, I would do it here at Bryents Ridge. If I have my way, that is where we will look for the army."
" You will have your way because that is your part of our mission," Edward remarked tightly. " As I understand things, you have been asked to accompany me for the purpose of getting me to the Walloonian army and the Covenenters. For the journey, I am really baggage.
In a friendly gesture, Tag placed his arm round Edward's shoulder. " Do not say that ever again, Edward, my friend. Your skills will be needed as well as mine if we are to accomplish our mission, as you put things. Come on, lets go and have a drink in my room before we make the final preparations."
In the early dawn a few days later, Edward dressed by the fire in his bedroom. Kitty sat in bed watching him prepare for his journey, her face expressionless but her eyes worried. When he was ready, he kissed her.
" You look after yourself, Kitty. I will hurry back as fast as I can." Edward tried to keep the concern out of his voice but failed.
" It is not me who has to look after themselves but you," she said with a sad smile. " Just as I am getting used to being your wife, off you go again. I know, it is for the good of the Empire but I have had to live with the good of the Empire all my life. I just wish it were somebody else, that's all. I will help Nelvask and Latask all I can. Now you must go before I pull you back into bed and help you make love to me like you did last night."
After kissing her passionately, Edward turned and went out of the bedroom without looking back. The halls of the Mansion were already busy with people rushing about their early morning tasks and many greeted Edward as he strode towards the entrance.
Shivering in the early morning chill as he came out of the building, Edward found a groom waiting with his horse and Boric already mounted, his breath steaming in the cool spring air.
" Good morning Edward," Boric greeted him as Edward mounted. " A trifle cold to be setting out on a journey. Come on lets get going before we freeze. The others will be waiting for us in the barracks."
They rode side by side passed the Temple and over the bridge into the barracks. To one side of the parade ground where Edward had first seen the Rombuli Troop train for the visit of the Emperor all those years before, the troops were waiting for their arrival. Edward was surprised to see Latask talking earnestly to Margaret and her friends. On seeing Edward and Boric approach, Latask broke away from the group and came towards them.
" Good morning Edward, I am pleased that you could join us," Latask remarked sarcastically but hurried on when he saw the thunderous look Edward cast in his direction. " You know what you have to do when you leave here. Try to keep in touch as much as possible.
Edward smiled then, his breath steaming in the cold air. " I will do my best Latask but will have to rely on Tag to get me through. You and Nelvask make sure there is something here for us to come back to. Tell Nelvask to look after Kitty."
There was a shout from the Sergeant of Boric's troop and everybody mounted and made ready to leave. Seeing Tag, Edward went to join him.
" Edward," Tag grinned. " Good to see you this morning. We will ride with Margaret's company for the present."
" I wonder why?" Edward murmured but softened his sarcasm with a grin in return. " What is the plan?'
Tag shrugged. " You and me are just hangers on to this lot, so we have not been involved in the planning for this trip. That has been up to Boric. As far as I am aware, we ride today to Shardlaw to camp for the night. The next day we descend onto Sardonia and then camp half way to the City of Ishika by the Lake. The next day we go onto the Lake, drop off the two communications people, then onto the Rock for the night. Next to the Ford and finally along the river to the Bridge of Sighs. After spending a night to get our gear in order, we are then on our own. We will disappear into the hills and start our search for the Walloonian Army at Bryents Ridge. Easy isn't it?"
Edward sighed at Tag's attempt to make everything look straight forward and followed Tag to join Margaret's company.
They rode out of the barracks and onto the road leading to Shardlaw, spurs jingling and banners flying in the wind. Everybody was muffled in furs against the chill wind that whistled across the hills to their left from the mountains hidden in the mist. Flurries of wet sleet crossed their path at intervals and everybody rode slumped in their saddles. Late that afternoon they camped in a field to the west of Shardlaw and Edward was once more struck by the efficiency shown by the soldiers in the quickness with which they set up the camp. It was not long before fires were lighted and a hot meal was being prepared. As though they were in awe of Tag, two of Margaret's escort pitched Tag and Edward's tent and invited them for the evening meal with Margaret's group.
As soon as the column had stopped for the night, Edward had noticed a few of Tags men slipping away into the surrounding countryside.
" What are they up to?" he asked Tag as they sat by the fire trying to get warm.
" This maybe friendly countryside, Edward, but they will have to protect their charges during a battle and, if all goes well, behind enemy lines after the main army has retreated towards Alskar. In those circumstances they will have to keep a lookout and now is a good time to get into the habit," Tag replied looking round the camp with a sharp eye. " Boric's soldiers will supply the sentry cover on the outskirts of the camp but my men will look round the area. They will try to sneak back into camp without being seen."
The next morning early they rode through Shardlaw with the sound of the Great Falls in their ears. To Edward, it was like coming to the end of the world when they paused at the top of the escarpment. The ground dropped sheer in front of them and they could see out over the tops of the trees below, out over the beginning of the grasslands disappearing into the mist and murk of the morning.
The road under their feet dropped away, criss crossing the face of the land while the falls rumbled straight down to the plain to one side. Spray wettened the road making the surface slippery. During the descent Edward tried not to look at the sheer drop first on one side and then, after turning a hair-raising bend, on the other. It was with relief that they reached the road at the bottom of the escarpment and started off through the trees.
About mid day, only his stomach gave him a clue as to the time because there was no sign of the sun, the troops rode out of the trees and onto the vast grass plain that made up most of Sandaria. The road did not however venture far into the grasslands but followed the edge of the wood.
That night they made camp off the road in a clearing slightly raised above the road. Once again Edward was struck by the efficiency of setting up the camp and it did not seem all that long before he was sitting by the fire eating a meal of stew given to him by one of Margaret's escort.
As the darkness descended, Edward sat back and thought about what lay ahead, secretly observing Tag and admiring his sense of calm. Edward was far from calm. The way ahead in both time and destination was obscure and he was in the hands of Tag completely.
His thoughts were interrupted by a commotion on the outskirts of the camp. Getting to his feet, he strapped on his sword and with Tag beside him made his way towards Boric's command tent in the middle of the camp. Before he had reached Boric, he could see several figures bent over somebody lying on the ground but he also heard what sounded like fighting off towards the road.
The man lying by the fire was dressed in a dirty white robe with what looked like bloodstains on the front. The other two men were dressed in breast plates and tattered remnants of a uniform which Edward immediately recognised as being the same as the soldiers escorting the Emperor to Nimmar and must have come from the Army in Parison.
The commotion on the other side of the camp grew louder and more urgent. There was shouting, the clash of weapons and screams as though people were being injured. In the flickering half light, Edward could not make out who was fighting whom.
One of the soldiers who had come with the stranger looked up nervously and then looked round as though checking which way to escape.  He threw water over the man lying by the fire and caught him by the shoulders. Edwaward pushed him back. “ He is exhausted. We will have to let him rest.”
" What is happening?" Boric demanded urgently as he dispatched some more men to the source of the disturbance.
" It is these monsters who are coming into the camp," the soldier accompanying the injured man gasped his eyes wide and fearful.  " They have followed us all through the Empire as we tried to escape and seek out Latask and Rulask in this obscure place called Rombuli."
" Why are they chasing you?" Boric demanded.
" Surat, this man lying by the fire, has something they want in a pouch at his belt. No matter what we do, they always find us. He is a Covenenter but even his magic will not shake them off. There were ten of us defending Surat when we set out but there are only two of us left. They will be in here amongst us soon."
" My men will capture them before we they get much further," Boric stated confidently.
" No Sir!" the soldier shook his head. " We have not been able to kill any of them even though at first we out numbered them. They will keep on coming, throwing men out of their way until they get him. All you can do is hold them up for a while to give us time to get Surat away.”
Edward looked towards the source of the disturbance and what he saw was a vision from hell. By the flickering light of fires and torches, all he could see was the black outline of figures struggling. It appeared that in the midst of the scrum four huge black figures were hurling soldiers aside as they struggled to get to the Covenenter lying by the fire.
Acting on impulse, Edward gathered the Covenenter into his arms and mentally screamed at Nelvask. " Get out into the garden in front of your house. I am coming through but I will be followed by four black monsters which I do not know very much about. All I know is that the are killing and injuring my soldiers in our camp. Latask get out in the garden with Nelvask and I will come to you. By my Maker make sure you can do something with these monsters or we are all in trouble."
Turning to Boric, Edward shouted,  " I am going to get Surat to Nelvask and Latask in Nimmar. Once I am gone just let the monsters through and then they will follow me .That way no more soldiers will get hurt"
" How are you going to get away from them?" Boric shouted back, never taking his eyes off his soldiers who were struggling to stop the monsters.
" I am going to try to translocate myself and Surat to Nimmar," Edward answered, trying to sound confident.
Before Boric had chance to reply, Edward shut his eyes, fixed a picture of the garden in front of the Meeting House on the island near Nimmar in his mind and willed himself there.
It was as though he had disappeared into a mist. Everything went grey and the camp vanished. Then, with a wrench, he was stumbling across the grass outside the Meeting House still clutching Surat in his arms.
He felt tired, so tired, and he collapsed on the steps of the Meeting House breathing heavily. Through the mist in front of his eyes he saw Nelvask standing staring at the spot from which he had appeared and out of the corner of his eye saw Latask hurrying from his house. Then the air in the garden wavered and four figures stepped out of the mist.
They were large and all black. Their faces were shaped like the lizards with large ears. Their bodies were solid, smoothly drawn over heavy muscles and shiny black. They did not carry weapons as far as Edward could see but looking at the size of their hands and the reach of their arms, Edward could see that they did not need to be armed.
Nelvask took all this in at a glance and then reacted. Raising his arms above his head, he muttered some words and a sheet of translucent light appeared between the monsters and Edward. The lead monster moved but was repelled by the barrier.
 Still chanting, Nelvask nodded to Latask and brought his hands down while Latask maintained the barrier. Placing his hands before him at full stretch with the palms together, Nelvask started to chanted in a language that Edward did not understand.
Slowly Nelvask moved his palms apart and behind the figures, the air seemed to part as though a curtain was being pulled aside. Edward caught a glimpse of a wide golden staircase rising up towards a palace with many people upon the stairs. Then Nelvask raised his arms high, and brought them chopping down with a shout. The Monsters struggled but were pushed backward onto the stairs and Nelvask closed the rift with a bang.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

A Ceremony Of Innocence

A Ceremony Of Innocence

Set against the political and industrial strife of the 1980's, this is a story  follows the lives of one family during one summer in 1981. 
Joan Brookes, the mother, is excited because her two sons will be back home together for the holidays, something that has not happened for what seems to her an age. All she wants for the holiday is her house filled with laughter, conversation and joy. In anticipation of the holiday she is happy.
Her husband Charlie is a shop steward at the Brents shipyard and at the same time as her boys are arriving home, there are redundancies announced at the shipyard. The workers led by Charlie vote to strike at the same time as his sons arrive home on holiday.
Jim, her youngest son is to graduate that summer from university with a first class honours degree making her feel proud and happy.  Left wing and loyal to his friends, Jim wants only to help his father in what he sees as the struggle for justice. Jim thinks of his brother as left wing and shy from the little he remembers of him when they were together at school ten years before. From this stand point Jim thinks his brother will help with the strike.
Mark, her oldest son, wants a quiet life while on leave from his travels as an officer in the merchant navy. He is skeptical about the strike and its effects on the community although he supports his father. Mark feels that because time is short while he is at home, he has to grab any opportunity for gain or happiness that comes his way. He is not prepared to subordinate his pleasure for the sake of the family over something that he sees as none of his business.
Against the background of the strike, Jim painfully finds out what his brother is like and is annoyed that Mark has enough friends to help Jim out of a brush with the law when the rest of the family were helpless.
What will be the climax, reconciliation or a final fractured relationship.

The book is available through Amazon etc.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Return of the Exiles

Chapter 14

It  was still dark when Edward was awaken by the sound of people moving around the apartment the morning after the meeting of the Governor's Council. Edward sat up in his bed when he heard Tulla and  Zita speaking in the next the room to discover that the fire was blazing cheerfully in the hearth. It still shocked him a little to realise that the servants had been into his room to make up the fire while he was still asleep alongside his wife. Kitty was so used to having servants around, it was as though they were not visible until she wanted them to do something for her. Edward felt he would never get used to another person wandering around his apartment while he was there.
Kitty lay close, snuggling up to his body but showing no signs of moving. With a sigh, Edward gently moved her arms away from his body and swung his legs from the bed. Even though Kitty had been reluctant at first to let him go after he had told her of the Governor's orders, a discussion about duty that ensued had convinced her of his duty and she had reluctantly agreed.
She had made him understand, however, that he would have to get up on his own the next morning. Having travelled in the wet and cold the day before, she was going to lie in bed until mid morning, she told him emphatically.
As Edward looked around for his clothes before venturing out into the sitting room, Tulla said brightly from the doorway to his bedroom, " Good morning, Mr. Eastland. I am glad to see you are up. Over Master Ormrood is waiting for you in the entrance hall of the Mansion. Zita and I took the liberty to pack what you will require as instructed by the Over Master. I hope you did not mind. Your breakfast is laid out in the sitting room by the fire and your clothes are on the chair. Will I call Mrs. Eastland before you go?"
Pulling his wrap around his body to keep out the cold, Edward smiled at Tulla. " Call her while I am having breakfast. No doubt she will go “
" It was cold and frosty when I went out to find Over Master Ormrood. Enjoy your breakfast." Tulla smiled again and left Edward to dress.
After dressing and eating a quick breakfast, Edward went back into the bedroom to say goodbye to Kitty. She was sitting in bed bundled in the bed clothes, sourly looking out of the window at the brightening sky.
" Do you have to leave so early?" she asked grumpily her eyes still misty from sleep.  Looking at her, Edward had to conclude that she could be as messy as any other woman early in the morning " I am afraid so. If you have any complaints, moan to your brother. He is the one who has arranged all this for me." Edward kissed her. " I will see you in a few weeks, I expect."
" Hurry back Edward. I hate it when you are away," Kitty said kissing him fiercely.
Leaving Kitty preparing to snuggle back under her bed clothes, Edward left the apartment and strode down the corridor to the top of the staircase. Looking down the stairs, he saw Tag in the hall, leaning against a pillar waiting for him to descend. Tag was of medium height, broad shouldered, dressed in tan coloured leather clothes with his long black hair pulled away from his face by a red cloth. He grinned in greeting when he saw Edward descending the stairs and pushed himself sinuously away from the pillar.
" Good morning, Mr. Eastland," he said cheerfully. " All is ready for our ride. I gather from Boric that we are going to Alskar Province. He told me that you would know what our itinerary will be. You can explain to me what we have to do as we ride."
Matching Tag's step pattern as they left the building, Edward replied with a smile, " Call me Edward. We have a lot of riding to do together and this formal address will get wearing after a while. The plan is to get to Alskar by this afternoon and stay at the inn in the market square overnight. Then we go on to Fox's farm to meet Margaret Fox and her father. After that I am not certain. All I know is that we will have a lot of riding to do but it could result in our chasing shadows. Where we will stay each night, I have no idea."
Tag grinned once more. " I have packed a tent on to one of the pack horses so, if we have to, we can sleep rough."
Edward growled in reply. " I know what Rombuli can be like this time of the year and sleeping rough will not very pleasant especially up on the moors of Alskar Province. Let us hope we can find buildings to sleep in every night."
Tag laughed. " Come on Edward. You are taking all the adventure out of our quest!
When they came out of the door, they found a couple of grooms holding six horses, one of which was Midnight.
" Our horses, two spare horses and two pack horses seems to be enough. I took the liberty to include your long bow though how you can shoot with that thing is beyond me. I have my short horse bow. I see you have your sword and a dagger." Tag waved his arm to include their gear.
Edward frowned. " Alskar is a peaceful place and I cannot see us needing all those weapons while we are there."
" Troubled times, Edward," Tag looked serious. " If the Empire is in trouble, we have to be prepared for trouble, no matter where we go. I wanted to bring more men with us but Boric told me you would not allow me to have anymore. Something about frightening the natives if we came with a troop of soldiers. So, you will only have me to watch your back."
" I have certain powers which might help as well," Edward said as they approached the horses.
" So I have heard," Tag replied laughing," but even somebody with power still needs somebody to watch their back."
They mounted their horses and rode away from the Mansion towards the gate and the bridge over the river. As the guards raised the barrier to let them through, waving to Tag, Edward’s mind drifted back to that time years ago when he had last left the Island to ride to Alskar. He had left Kitty in Nimmar and rode as fast as he could to Alskar only to find his family dead when he had arrived. As he and Tag rode up the hill out of the town, Edward could only hope that his journey would be more peaceful this time.
The ride to Alskar was uneventful, though cold and wet in the drizzle driven across their road by a wind from the mountains to the north.
It was late afternoon in a gathering gloom when they crossed the bridge and entered the town. The Grey Dog Inn looked welcoming as they alighted from their horses and handed these to a groom with instructions about their gear. Across the square, the Meeting Hall stood dark and watchful and there were very few people abroad on the streets.
Pushing his way through the door of the Grey Dog, Edward led Tag into the sitting room. The lanterns were already lit, bathing the room in a smoky light. A large fire in one corner gave out heat from the logs burning fiercely and the few people in the room looked round at the visitors but soon returned to their conversations and their drinks. Tag noticed that the wooden floor was cleanish and the tables polished.
A man came round from the serving bar, a frown on his face. Edward recognised Joe and at the same time Joe recognised him.
" Edward Eastland! How are you? It has been a long time since you came here. What brings you to this part of the world?" Joe wiped his hands on a cloth, eying Tag and their weapons in enquiry.
" Hello Joe. The last time I saw you was at my parents funeral." Edward shook the offered hand. " This is Tag and we need two rooms for the night. After we have settle into our rooms, I will explain everything over a meal and a beer. Have you two rooms?"
" For you Edward, I will always have a room. Top of the stairs and to the front of the building. I will get Bob to bring your bags up. Welcome back to Alskar."
Later, Tag and Edward came back down into the sitting room and Joe showed them to a table to one side of the fire. He called a serving girl called Massie and instructed her regarding the meal she was to fetch for Tag and Edward. As she left, she looked over her shoulder with a puzzled frown and Edward knew then that his return to Alskar was not going to be anonymous. Soon the word would be out and he could imagine many people coming to the Inn to see him. Still, he thought, I am not supposed to be here unnoticed.
They ate their meal in silence though Edward noted that Tag never for one moment stopped looking around the room. He was especially attentive when anybody new entered through the street door and his hands were never very far from his weapons. When they had finished, Joe came back to their table with three glasses of beer and pulled over a chair to join them. As though this was a signal, two other men left their table and joined them.
" You know Jerry Macklin, " Joe said indicating a grey haired man of medium height who had joined them.
" Greetings Mr. Macklin,"  Edward said smiling. " I hope you have forgiven me for being  part of the action which led to Gary's death."
" Welcome home, Edward," Jerry Macklin replied. " I never did blame you for his death, you know, which was why I asked you to lead the his funeral service. It is the pigs who control the Empire who were to blame. I am now Mayor of Alskar taking over the leadership from your father though I have not his power or his authority. Joe thought I would like to hear what became of you so I hope you don't mind if I join you. I expect you remember David from when you were growing up here. He is here to represent the younger ones who remember you."
Edward caught the look in Tags eye and the way Tag lent back in his chair to make sure his feet were out from under the table. Edward nodded to David, a short thin man who he remembered more of a friend of Matt's rather than himself.
" It is a surprise to see you here," Jerry Macklin went on pointedly ignoring Tag and his weapons.  " The last I saw of you was when you and Morag were being led away by the Imperial Master and his troops up towards the Fort. There were persistent rumours that you had been let free and were working around Alskar Province but nobody ever saw you and you never came back to Alskar Town. Morag disappeared completely though it was understood that she had been dragged away by a Covenenter. Then a wagoner told my son that he had heard from the blacksmith that you had been arrested down near Pinaar and escorted back to Nimmar by some Imperial troops a few months ago. Now you have turned up here, free and accompanied by an Imperial Ranger, if I am not mistaken. At the same time there are rumours circulating that the Empire is in trouble. What can you tell us?"
" Should I have to tell you anything?" Edward answered harshly.
Jerry Macklin did not have a chance to reply. A large red faced man thrust his way through the group around the table and confronted Edward. A knife hilt was banged on the table and the man thrust his face close to Edward's across the surface.
" How can you come here like this? Did Matt die following one of your crazy schemes in vain?" The man shouted angrily. " We thought you were one of us especially when you stood up to the Covenenter in the Town Square that day. I was so proud that somebody had the courage to stick up for my son. Now you have gone over to the enemy!"
Tag started to move but Edward waved him back into his seat. " What are you talking about?" Edward asked calmly.
" What is this Bob?" Jerry Macklin asked, putting a restraining hand on Bob's elbow.
" I was given a permit to transport some corn to Nimmar," Bob shouted, his eyes never leaving Edward's face. " While I was there, he got married to that Kitty Borovic he was so concerned with while she was here with the Grand Master. He is now one of them and we should have nothing to do with him!"
Bob moved suddenly, the knife rising from the table and thrust towards Edward. Tag came out of his chair, a sword suddenly in his hand but Edward did not move. The knife stopped half way to its target, Bob stood rigid trying desperately to force the knife home but he was held in a spell as though shackled in place.
" Get a chair!" Edward ordered Tag, who quickly, his eyes staring at his friend, obliged. With hard eyes, Edward forced Bob back into the chair. The knife fell to the floor and Tag picked it up and put it on the table in front of Edward. All of the people in the room were staring wide-eyed at Edward.
" This has gone far enough!" Edward snapped. " Sit down Tag and put your sword away. These people are not fighters like you except for the odd barroom brawl. They would not stand a chance if it came to a fight. Anyway as you can see, I can defend myself in my own way."
He looked at the knife, jerked his head and it floated across the table to land gently in Bob's lap.  " Put that knife away before you harm yourself."
Jerry Macklin shook his head. " We all knew you had some power from that day you stood up to the Covenenter but never this much power. Your father never went out of his way to show us his power even though we all knew he had the talent. Morag only used her to help the sick and injured. Can you tell us what this is all about?"
" Joe, serve everybody with a drink while they listen to what I have to say," Edward said smiling. " Three years ago I was taken to Nimmar, like a number of Rombuli, to prepare the Province for the visit of the Emperor. While there I found the place where the symbols of the Rombuli nation were kept. Matt and I planned a scheme to recapture the symbols for our nation. The idea was for Matt and his friends to bring them back to Free Rombuli and present them at the Gathering that year while I stayed behind to give the Covenenters a target. It all worked well except we had to kill a Covenenter while in the Meeting House on the Island. That made the chief Covenenter Latask mad and he came to my room with the idea of forcing me to tell him who was responsible. With the help of Boric and Kitty Borovic, I escaped and rushed back here after getting a mental message from my father. You all know what happened that night and the next day. The Covenent had me and Morag at their mercy but Boric Borovic rescued me again. I was banished into Alskar province with no home and the threat of sanctions hanging over my head if I left Alskar province or caused trouble."
Edward paused his eyes distant and moist. " They did not let Morag go with me. The last I saw of her was being led away by the Covenent and I have no idea what happened to her after that. She maybe dead for all I know. That happened because we cared for Rombuli and our people. Bob you do not have to tell me about sacrifices. My mother and father killed, my best friend killed and my sister disappeared."
" Did you actually see and touch our Symbols of nationhood?"  Jerry Macklin asked in a reverent voice. " What happened to them after the Covenent took them away?"
" Oh yes," Edward said. " I broke the spell that held them to the wall and helped to wrap them in their containers for Matt to take away. Actually, the Covenent has put them back on the wall of the Meeting House on the Island. Vaguely you have all heard a part of that story. Some of you seem to have heard that just before the Gathering this year, I was arrested down near Pinaar”.
" Well not specifically but there was a rumour that some people had seen you. It swept through the Gathering. Though some people said you had gone voluntarily with the Army showing that you had changed sides. A few even speculated that this proves that it was you who betrayed Matt and your family." Jerry stopped, realising at the last moment just what he had inferred.
" There is nothing I can say to put a stop to those rumours, I suppose," Edward answered sadly. " Actually in reality I was not arrested as such. Imperial Master Borovic had a request from the Governor Rulask asking me if I would accompany him back to Nimmar to take a place on the Governor's Council."
" So you did go voluntarily then?" Bob demanded still angry.
Edward shrugged. " To me at the time there was no option. If I had resisted they would have tried to arrest me and people, many of whom were my friends, would have got hurt trying to give me a chance to escape. When I arrived in Nimmar I met Kitty Borovic again. At the Council, Governor Rulask informed us that the Empire was in trouble. Indeed he told us that it was collapsing. Latask the Covenenter then outlined what he knew. It appears that the provinces of Sardonia and Rombuli have not been able to contact Parison for a number of months. Indeed, everybody they sent to investigate disappeared and was not heard from again. What convinced me of the seriousness of the situation was Latask. He was scared and I had never seen one of the Covenent scared before. To shorten my story they expect to be invaded in the spring.”
" Good," said David with a smile on his thin lips. " It will give us a chance to throw off the yoke of the Empire. We have suffered enough under their boot for too long!"
" If that is what you think then you are a bigger fool than you look!" Tag spoke for the first time causing all eyes to turn in his direction. " I know I am not one of you and many of you might regard me as part of the enemy. I do however have some experience of these matters. From what we know of our enemy, which is not much, they will roll you under and you will have no rights left. You will really be a subject people, not allowed to think for yourself, doing what you are told and completely controlled. It will make your time under the Empire appear like a golden age. If I was you lot, I would listen carefully to what Edward is saying."
To stunned silence Tag sat back in his seat but his hand stayed close to the hilt of his sword. There arose in the room a murmur of angry voices most of the anger directed at Tag. To stop any more aggression towards Tag,  Edward banged the table for attention.
" Two other things before I go to bed, " Edward said once he was certain he had their attention again. " I did marry Kitty Borovic and I make no apologies to you for that. The second thing is we were married by Nelvask, the Ancient One."
Once more there was a stunned silence around the room until Jerry Macklin burst out. " If that is the Nelvask mentioned in the Book, he disappeared many years ago. How could this be true?"
" It is the same person," Edward answered quietly to a sceptical crowd. " Latask asked me to contact him and bring him to Nimmar, which I did. As you will find out in the near future, Nelvask demanded as a consequence of his agreement to help Governor Rulask and the remains of the Imperial Army, that the Rombuli people be set free from what my father called the Imperial yoke. A delegation from the Governor is coming with a proclamation that will be posted on all the Meeting House doors in every town and village in Rombuli. What that means, I will leave for you to find out when the delegation comes. What is important is that part of the deal will be Nelvask calling a Rombuli Council in Nimmar where each district will send a representative, as was the case in the past. My advice is for you to send somebody to that Council. The threat is grave and we must all pull together and forget the slights from the past."
" If that is the case, what are you doing here?" Jerry Macklin demanded aggressively.
" That to a certain extent is my business," Edward said bluntly. " No don't get more angry with me. One advantage the Rombuli have had through history is in being able to communicate through thought transfer. In any war this gives the army the chance to keep abreast of what is happening on the battlefield almost instantly. Derek Gorland used this in the war against the Empire but failed because of overwhelming odds and their similar ability. Nelvask has asked me to find those in Alskar province with the talent and invite them to come to Nimmar to form an intelligence gathering and communications network. That is what I am here to do."
Jerry Macklin laughed loudly such that the other men in the bar looked round in his direction. " You will find that task very difficult. Most people with the talent keep it well hidden so you will have to seek them out without much help from the rest of the population. Your father was one of the few who never denied he had the talent but even he did not publicise it to everyone. I wish you luck.”
" Thank you Mr. Macklin," Edward observed dryly. " We can but try. Just think about what I have said and do what you think is right for our people."
Getting to his feet, Edward nodded to Tag and walked through the crowd to the door accompanied by silence. Every eye followed his back but as soon as he left the room, a babble of voices broke the silence.
" Not the heroes welcome you thought you would get when you came home," Tag remarked as they climbed the stairs.
" No, " Edward replied thoughtfully. " In many ways their attitude is understandable. They have lived under the Empire all their lives but the one thing that has sustained them is the thought that most Rombuli would not co-operate with that Empire. To them I have joined the enemy and it must be hard to accept. Only time will tell if they can rise to help the Empire counter the threat which is posed across the border. All we can do is try to play the part we have been given."
The next morning Edward and Tag left the Grey Dog Inn and rode up the hill away from the square. Once more Edward was transported back to the time when he had galloped up this very street with the glow of a fire lighting the sky ahead. The people they passed cast hardly a glance in their direction and they soon came out of the shelter of the buildings into a biting wind coming straight from the mountains to the north. Ahead of them were the fire blackened ruins of buildings and Edward paused to look.
At Tag's raised eyebrows, Edward said rather bitterly. " That was once my home. The Covenent killed my father and mother here, trying to defend the Symbols of our nationhood. This was the place where Jerry Macklin's son Gary perished on that night three years ago, as did my best friend Matt. Looking at the ruin of my home, you can see why those we met last night are still bitter. They think I was partly responsible. Add to that the fact that I am still alive and their love ones dead, makes it all the more obvious."
Turning his horse, Edward led Tag away from his burnt out home along the road towards the moors. He did not look back, even though the land was once more his by proclamation of the Governor. With a sigh, he told himself to concentrate on the job in hand. If he came through the coming upheaval and they won the coming war, he would have the time to plan what to do with his former land. If they lost the war, there would be no need to think about what to do with his former home. In that case, he would either be dead or a captive controlled by the enemy.
Once clear of the town, they followed the track to the north east out onto the moors overlooking Alskar town. Not knowing how long they were to be in the saddle, they did not push the horses too hard. At what felt like midday all most impossible to gauge through the overcast and threatening sky, they stopped to eat lunch in the shelter of some rocks. The land through which they travelled was bleak and rock strewn, the moors stretching away in rolling hills with hardly any trees to break up the landscape. It was a bleak outlook which accompanied their meal and they did not stop long.
Shortly after lunch they breasted yet another hill and stopped to look down on a huddle of grey buildings, farm house and barns, surrounded by a stone wall. Behind the house were signs of a cultivated garden and an orchard.
" Fox's farm," Edward observed waving his arm in the direction of the buildings. " This is our destination."
" Is it always this bleak like a grey place in nightmare dreams?" Tag asked shivering and pulling his cloak tighter about his body. " Why would anybody want to live here? My families estate is in the hills but it is green and pleasant with trees and meadows."
Edward looked around and shook his head." It is not my idea of a place to live but it can be quite mystically beautiful in the spring especially went the mist descends. Also, the dark edges are taken off the rocks by the snow in winter that I hope we do not have to endure. In those hills above the farm there is good grazing for sheep. It is simple really. The Empire desires wool. This farm, like many others, supplies it."
Clicking their horses into motion, they rode down the hill towards the farm. As they approached the gate, two ferocious looking dogs rushed from beside the barns and stood stiff legged and snarling out of reach the other side of the barrier. A large woman came out of the house, called the dogs to her side and came to lean on the gate squinting into the sudden low sunlight, waiting for them to arrive. When they came close, Edward slid from his horse and walked over to the gate.
The woman grinned, the grin transforming her plain face into something almost attractive.
" Well if it isn't Edward Eastland come to visit us again. If I know you, this is not just a social call." She  grinned even more.
" Hello Margaret," Edward said leaning over the gate and kissing her on the cheek. The dogs showed their fangs but Margaret hushed them with a pat on their heads. " How are you keeping, up here in this bleak place?"
" We get by," Margaret answered looking inquiringly in Tag. " Who is this hunk of a man you have brought to visit us?"
Edward laughed. " This is Tag, a Ranger from the Imperial Army. I suppose you could call him my escort. Tag this is Margaret Fox who we came all this way to see."
"Don't ask questions now. I will explain everything when we are inside. I need to speak to your father as well."  Edward spoke with his mind.
" The reason for your visit gets more curious by the minute!" Margaret shot back with a thought. Out loud she said, " Come on inside. The dogs will not harm you while I am here.
Tag dismounted and with Edward, led the horses through the gate. As he passed the dogs he stopped, said something in a language Margaret and Edward did not understand and the dogs let him stroke their heads. When she saw this, Margaret's eyes were big and round.
Looking Tag up and down she said, " How did you do that. These dogs do not usually answer to anybody but my father and I."
Tag shrugged his shoulders. " I have a way with dogs."
"Is he married?" Margaret asked Edward.
"No," Edward shot back. "He says that army life is not conducive to marriage. I would be careful there. He is a very tough man."
Margaret smiled a secret smile and led the way to the barn. As Tag passed her on the way into the barn with the horses, some signal passed between their eyes that excluded Edward. They took time to rub down their horses and when they were finished, Margaret led them into the house.
Mrs. Fox greeted them warmly when Margaret took them into the kitchen. Fussing around them, she settled them in chairs by the fire after taking their coats and hats. Once she was certain they were comfortable, she gave them hot drinks.
They sat beside the fire getting warm and chatting quietly while they waited for Mr. Fox to come home. Edward listened to the Fox's news with only a minimum of attention, the talk mainly about sheep and the marriage of two of Margaret's brothers. While he waited half listening to the others in the room, Edward was nervously rehearsing what he would have to say to these people when Mr. Fox returned.
In the event, the conversation passed off relatively easily. Mr. Fox had mellowed since Edward had last seen him and over dinner he listened politely as Edward related the events of the last few weeks.
When Edward had finished, Mr. Fox said. " Since your father was killed and you were taken away, I have not involved myself with affairs of Alskar Province. I have not even been to town in all that time, leaving the selling of the wool and of the lambs to my sons. After what  has happened to us at the hands of the Empire, it seems extraordinary to me that the Imperial Government should need our help. Coming from you, though, I am inclined to believe the change of circumstances, though the thought of war fills me with dread. Did you really see Nelvask, the name I have only seen in the Book? If he has become involved, I feel we have to understand that the future is grave. What can we do to help you, Edward?"
At Mr. Fox's response to what he had to say, Edward shook his head in wonder. " All the journey from Nimmar to here I have been apprehensive about your reaction to what I had to say. Now I am here, I find you agreeing without much hesitation. There are a number of things you can do though, in reality, it was not you I came to see.  I came to put a proposition to Margaret.
Margaret frowned and then smiled, once more Edward was aware of how her face took on a different aspect when she smiled. It was like the sun suddenly illuminating a shadowy room, he thought.
" As you are married, Edward, it must be something else than asking me to be your wife." While saying this, she looked quickly at Tag and then away. Tag smiled faintly but he did not look away.
Edward laughed and shook his head. " Margaret, you know there was never anything like that between us."
" Ah Edward but a girl can always dream, " she replied with a grin which lit up her rather plain face once more. " What is it you wanted to ask me?"
" Before I talk to you about what we have to do, there is something I would like to ask your father," Edward replied, looking across the table at Mr. Fox. After Mr. Fox raised an eyebrow in question but Edward continued. " Do you remember when we met in your top pasture when I came here to ask you to come to Alskar for a meeting with the Imperial Grandmaster?"
Mr. Fox looked puzzled but Edward continued, " You wouldn't listen to me then. So I caught your mind with my power and attached it to my father's that day. In the end, he convinced you of the need for you to go to Alskar for the meeting. Well, I would like to get you in contact with Nelvask in the same way, if you agree."
Mrs. Fox was shaking her head. " Why do I have this feeling that we are being drawn into something which will change our lives for ever? You have to do this, Margaret and Mark but you be careful of what you agree to when you talk to this Nelvask. Both you and Margaret have tried to keep your talent within the family and some people would feel it is best left like that."
Mr. Fox took his wife's hand his eyes sad. " We have had a good life even though it has been tough up here on the moors but I feel we have to become involved, as you put things. Indeed, I have this feeling from what Edward has told us that we will become involved whether we like it or not. It might be best if we get involved from the start on our terms rather be reluctantly drawn into this problem later. What do you want me to do?"
Edward smiled. " You amaze me Mr. Fox. I can now see why my father thought of you as his friend. All you have to do is open your mind to mine after I have contacted Nelvask. Then I will join you two together. After that, you will be able to open your minds to each other without me. While you are talking to Nelvask, I will talk to Margaret."
Tag was shaking his head. " When he semi-ordered me to accompany Edward on this trip, Boric Borovic did not tell me about all of this. He hinted that you had some talent and that you had to gather some people with similar talents to help the war effort. That, I was told, was the purpose of our journey. Before I came on this trip, I had no idea that this mind joining was so common outside of the Covenent. Oh, I learnt something about your power in Alskar when you forced that man to drop his knife without getting up from your seat."
" What was that?"  Margaret asked urgently, a worried look crossing her normally placid face. " Did somebody from Alskar attack you?"
" Matt's father attacked me with a knife because he thought I had betrayed his son when we were in Nimmar together. I used my power to stop him." Edward answered shortly.
Turning to Mr. Fox, he said, " Shall we go and sit by the fire?"
Once Mr. Fox was sitting by the fire, Edward called Nelvask. "Nelvask, I need you to answer me."
There was silence at first but then Nelvask's familiar voice echoed loudly in Edward's mind. " Hello Edward, where are you?"
"I am at the Fox's farm and have Mr. Fox here waiting to talk with you. He is one of the people I know with the talent. He will be very helpful in getting Alskar town behind the plan you have," Edward said. " I also have Margaret his daughter here and, if I am lucky, she is the one who will lead me on to others with the talent so that I can try to persuade some to come to Nimmar with me. Will you have a word with Mr. Fox?"
" It will be a pleasure to get back towards the position I was in before the Empire invaded. Connect my mind to his and then we will be able to talk whenever we like." Nelvask's voice beamed pleasure through Edward's mind.
"All right Mr. Fox. Open your mind to mine." Edward used part of his mind to maintain contact with Nelvask while opening part to Mr. Fox. He felt the burden taken away as Nelvask took over and relaxed back into his seat. Mr. Fox's face was a picture of wonder as he concentrated on Nelvask's thoughts.
Getting up from his chair by Mr. Fox, Edward went back to join Margaret and the others at the table. Before saying anything, he drank deeply from his mug of beer.
" You look tired Edward Eastland. I hope you are going to get some rest before you leave." Looking at her son, Mrs. Fox got up from the table.  " Let us go and wash the dishes, leaving these people to their deliberations. I have no doubt we will not be given a say in what they are going to discuss."
It was a surprise to Edward when Tag rose also and followed Mrs. Fox into the kitchen leaving Margaret and Edward alone.  Margaret watched Tag's back disappear through the door to the kitchen, sighed and then turned to Edward.
" Well Edward Eastland, what do want from me?" Margaret asked when they were alone apart from her father sitting with his eyes closed in his chair by the fire.
" I have a proposition to put to you," Edward started tentatively, a frown creasing his forehead. " The Imperial Army, when they are campaigning have always had the Covenent and their priests to provide them with communications. Unfortunately, from what I undestand, the Covenent is to all practical purposes defunct. Nelvask, though, thinks there are a number of young people in Rombuli with the talent who could provide that communications network the army might need in any future conflict. Don't ask me how he is going to do it but he has set himself the task of finding anybody with the talent outside free Rombuli, in other words outside Alskar. In reality, he is much better at sensing people with talent than I am. In addition to his task, he has set me the task of contacting those with the talent in Alskar province and asking them to join us in Nimmar."
" So that is why you came to me?"  Margaret smiled.
" You are quick!" Edward exclaimed opening his eyes wide in mock surprise. " Having been set the task, I had to start somewhere. We are both aware that, even in free Rombuli, people with the talent have hidden it away for fear of the Covenent. The times I was at the Gathering, I came across very few people who used their talent openly. Obviously, I knew you had the talent because we have communicated by thought transfer before when I have visited the farm or you have come to Alskar visiting my home. My plan is to start with you and see if you could lead me on to others with the talent."
" What if I refuse to help?" Margaret asked, her expression now very serious.
" Then I will have to think of another way of getting people with the talent to come forward." Edward answered bluntly.
" What does helping you and Nelvask entail? I still find it hard to believe that somebody I have only read about in the History of the Rombuli is actually alive." Margaret was now frowning.
" There are two levels of help you can give. One is for you to point me in the direction of anybody you know who has the talent and then resume your life here as though nothing has happened. You have to know somebody else other than me." Edward smiled.
" Yes, like you I know somebody else," Margaret answered smiling back at Edward though her eyes were still serious. " There is a man about our age down in Milton who I have communicated with in the past. He is called Markus Drover. I think his grandfather had the talent and  his father. We could ride down there and find out. That way you would have a start. What was the second level of help?"
" You could throw in your lot with me and Tag, after helping me find others, come with me and as many as Tag and I can find back to Nimmar to set up Nelvask's communications network." Edward answered her seriously. " That would mean leaving home and maybe never coming back. Some of our people will have to be with the army reporting back to Nimmar about what is happening on the battlefield. It could be very dangerous."
Margaret stared at Edward for a while, her eyes lost and distant. When she spoke, her voice was almost a whisper.
" I have always dreamed of getting away from here and seeing more of the world than these moors and occasionally Alskar town, " she said as though to herself. Then she sat up straight and said in a strong voice as though she had made up her mind. "Edward, I will try to contact Markus and then we will leave in the morning to find him. Oh do not look so startled. I will come with you and Tag through your search and then go with you to Nimmar to meet Nelvask. My mother will not be pleased but I will convince her of the need."
" So you will be taking away my family will you?" Mr. Fox was standing unnoticed behind Margaret's chair.
" No Mr. Fox I am not taking your family away, " Edward replied sadly with a deep shrug.  " She has agreed to come with me."
" It has the same result," Mr. Fox but he held up his hand to stop Edward’s protest. " Its all right Edward. Nelvask has convinced me of the dire situation Rombuli is getting into. I never thought I would hear a voice from the past like I have today. He has asked me to call a meeting of the Alskar Council, get in touch with any I know who have the talent and to try to convince people that they ought to co-operate with the Imperial officials. He wants a Rombuli Council on the Island at the Meeting House as soon as possible. That means getting ten Counsellors elected, eight from the counties and one each from Alskar and Pinaar as the largest towns, in the same way as in the old days. They will join the fourteen from the rest of Rombuli, eleven from the counties and one each from Nimmar, Shardlaw and Ironton. The declaration of freedom for the Rombuli people will be posted tomorrow on the Meeting House door in Alskar and then over the next few days in all the villages of the Province. It takes time to arrange all of this but Nelvask wants it done as soon as possible. Imperial Master Borovic, the brother of your wife, will brief the Council in Alskar of what is needed in trying to train our men to become incompetent soldiers and then the trainers will spread out through the land. May our Maker have mercy on us and give us the strength to endure our coming trials."
" For somebody who wanted nothing to do with the Empire, you have changed, " Edward remarked.
" When I was protesting to Nelvask about getting involved, he asked me a simple question." Mr. Fox frowned. " He asked me what your father would have done in the same situation. Idris would have buried his principles, his hatred for the Empire, because he would have reasoned that without our help the Empire was doomed. It might be doomed anyway but with our help it has a chance. At least for a while Rombuli will be free once more. Therefore I agreed to help."
Mr. Fox smiled slightly, looking at his daughter with concern in his eyes. " Just one more thing Edward. Promise me and her mother that you will look after Margaret as much as you can.
" I will do what I can but we are all in the hands of our Maker," Edward answered.
In contrast to the cold drizzle and mist Edward and Tag had suffered on their journey to Alskar, the sun shone from a pale blue sky when they set out the next morning. The moors still looked damp and bleak stretching away from the muddy path they followed but their spirits were lifted by the sudden brightness.
They rode in single file, Edward in the lead, Tag bringing up the rear, Margaret in the middle, not hurrying but preserving their horses for the many miles they had to travel before their mission was completed.
Two hours after leaving the Fox's farm, they topped one of the rolling hills and stopped to look down on a well used track which meandered through a valley and the small village of Milton. There were about ten cottages in the village strung out along the road, all with smoke rising from their chimneys.
Margaret drew her horse alongside Edward’s when they stopped and said pointing into the valley, " There we are Edward. Markus Drover lives down there in that village with his parents. His father is a potter and Markus paints designs on some of his works. He is a very sensitive man and you will have to let me do the talking."
Edward shrugged. " You know the man better than I do. Has his father got the talent?”
Margaret frowned. " I am not sure but I have an idea. I seem to remember overhearing my father  and your father talking about being in touch with him. We will find out when we get there."
She moved her horse ahead and Edward, followed by Tag, trailed along in her wake. The few people around in the village looked suspiciously at them as they approached until one young man waved to Margaret. The road through the village was muddy and the cottages were even more run down than they had appeared from the top of the hill.
Margaret came to a stop before one of the cottages, the sounds of work coming from another building to one side. Alighting from her horse, she passed the reins to Tag and walked up the path to what Edward took to be a workshop.
Knocking on the door, Margaret stood waiting until the door opened and somebody invited her inside. She came out a few minutes later accompanied by a tall thin young man dressed in a smock splattered with different coloured paints. Tag and Edward dismounted.
" This is Markus, Edward. Markus this is Edward Eastland," Margaret introduced the man.
" Hello Edward," Markus smiled nervously." I have seen you before. I was there when you stood up to the Covenenter in Alskar a few years back. Have you really that much power?"
" Hello Markus," Edward answered, shaking his offered hand. " I acted instinctively that day and a lot of good it did me. Yes I do have a great deal of power as you put things. I try not to use it too much."
" My father was in touch with your father a few times," Markus frowned nervously. " We were sad to hear what happened. Come on inside. My mother is preparing lunch and Father will join us once it is ready. Margaret tells me you have a proposition to put to me. If you don't mind, we will wait until we are all sitting at the table before you tell us what you want me to do."
" I think that would be a good idea," Edward smiled. " This is Tag one of the Governor's Rangers. He is our escort, though what danger we are in down here is open to question."
" You didn't say that in the Grey Dog in Alskar," Tag murmured but still grinned at the look Edward gave him.
When they were sitting round a table with the family, Markus, Mr. Drover, Mrs. Drover and her two daughters, Megan and Lorna, after the meal of bread cheese and beer, Edward told them what had brought him to Milton. He left nothing out and when he had finished, sat back to wait for their questions.
" We have kept ourselves to ourselves and not broadcast our talent to many other people," Mr. Drover started tentatively. " The only other person I have ever told about my talent was your father, Edward. He agreed with me that we should not be open about our talent. After what happened to your family, I was even more convinced of the need to hide away. Even now after you tell me that you have thrown in your lot with the Empire, I am reluctant to believe you about the need for us to help."
Edward interrupted Mr. Drover with a wave of his hand. " I understand your reluctance to help me but time is short. We need men like Markus to help us but it has to be their choice. Nobody is going to force them to help. Now open your mind to mine and I will connect you to Markus Fox and he will explain what he is doing."
Mr. Drover stared at Edward for what appeared to be an age but in the end nodded.
" Mr. Fox," Edward projected his thoughts outward towards the foxes farm. " I have a Jack Drover, the potter, here and he would like to communicate with you."
"Ok Edward," Mr. Fox's voice sounded in Edward's head. " I am on the way to Alskar now to sound out the town Council. Connect us."
" Mr. Drover meet Mark Fox," Edward projected his thoughts at Jack Drover, and felt Jack and Mr. Fox's minds connect. Jack Drovers eyes opened wide and then he smiled.
Mrs. Drover shook her head but started to collect the plates. " Come on you two," she said to her daughters. " Let us wash the dishes and leave these people to their deliberations. Edward Eastland, I have always dreaded this day but hoped it would never come. May our Maker help us to come to the right decision."
Tag got to his feet as the women disappeared. " I'll go and look to the horses while you talk. I am a man of action and few words and I cannot help those with the talent make up their minds."
" Well Markus, you have heard what I have to say. What do you want to do?" Edward was blunt but he sat back and waited for Marcus to reply.
" What do you say?" Marcus asked Margaret with his mind.
Margaret laughed but answered aloud. " Marcus, Edward is connected to my mind and he can understand your thoughts if my mind is open. We will talk normally."
" Is that right?" Marcus demanded of Edward.
" Only if the other person allows it to happen. You have been taught by your father how to shield your thoughts, haven't you? " Edward asked.
" Yes but this thought transfer between more than one person is alien to me." Marcus shot back.
" Marcus, he is the most powerful Rombuli there has been for years, so believe what he says." Margaret interrupted. " When I get to Nimmar, Nelvask will teach me about shielding my mind and controlling my power."
Suddenly she lifted a knife off the table with her mind and thrust it at Edward with a flick of her head. Edward stopped the knife and left it suspended between them.
" See what I mean about his power?" Margaret looked hard at Markus.
Marcus stared his eyes wide with wonder as Edward slowly lowered the knife back onto the table.
Edward said aloud.  " Enough of these games.  We do not have much time. What are you going to do?"
" I sit here painting pots and plates for my father and dream of travelling."  Marcus' eyes grew distant. " I am intrigued to find out if it really is Nelvask from the Book. But I am scared of leaving my familiar surroundings and setting out into the unknown. How many others of us are there?"
" So far there are three, you, me and Margaret but my job is to find more." Edward answered honestly grinning.
" And it will mean being able to bring my talent out into the open?" Marcus asked.
" Yes Marcus, you will be with a number of other people all with the talent," Edward laughed. " By my Maker, to be able to let my talent free into the world and to some purpose. I have dreamed of this for a long time. All those years where my father warned Morag, my sister, and I against showing other people what we could do. All that time when I had to test my power in secret and not show anybody what I was capable of accomplishing. Now I will be able to use my power out in the open and have somebody teach me how to control my talent. This is what I have dreamed about. On top of that, a chance to free the Rombuli. What more could we ask?"
" All right Edward, I will do as you ask, " Marcus suddenly smiled shyly to himself as though surprised at his decision. " What do I do now?"
Edward grasped Marcus hand. " Good for you Marcus. You will wait here until we are ready to go to Nimmar. When that time comes I will ask you do join us in Alskar so that we can all travel to Nimmar together. Now, is there anybody else you know who has the talent?"
" There was a woman called Michella who worked in the kitchen out at Downland Farm who I met at the Gathering once." Marcus frowned and looked sad. " We have kept in touch. The trouble is she is a strange woman. Not only can she read peoples thoughts but also she has this ability to tell people if they are ill. Some years ago ignorant people, who blamed her if anything happened which could not be explained, hounded her out of this district. The last I heard she was down near Pinaar working in a dairy at a farm. I can try to get in touch with her for you."
" Good Marcus. You get in touch with her and we will go down to Pinaar to see her." Edward sighed. " We will leave now. Give our regards to your father. Thank your mother for the meal."
" Are you not staying the night? It is a long way to Pinaar." Marcus looked surprised.
" I have friends in Pinaar and we can stay with them." Getting up from the table Edward shook Marcus’ hand and strode with Margaret towards the door. Mr. Drover was still sitting in a chair by the fire deep in thought.
It was dark when they rode down the muddy road and passed the fortified house on the outskirts of Pinaar. The lights of the town shone brightly in the valley and Edward led the way through the Town Square to the blacksmith’s house. Edward told Margaret and Tag to wait, dismounted and knocked on the door.
The door opened, spilling light out into the yard. " Who is it?" Tom Baston's familiar voice asked.
" Its Edward Eastland," Edward answered. " Sorry we are so late in calling but we have business in Pinaar and I was hoping you would let us sleep in room above the stable."
" Edward!" Tom came out into the yard and hugged his friend. " I didn't think we would see you so soon after your wedding. Come on in. June will get you some food. Derek will be pleased to see you. Of course you can use your old room."
" There are two others with me," Edward said waving his hand in the direction of the figures on horseback shrouded in gloom.
" Bring them in as well. Any friends of yours are welcome in my house." Tom waved to Margaret and Tag.  Taking this as a sign they were welcome, Tag and Margaret dismounted.
" We will put the horses in the stable and then see about some food. I am curious to hear why you are here." Tom remarked taking the horses reins from Margaret.
After the horses were stabled and they were sitting at the kitchen table, Edward told them about his visit and the problems of the Empire. June, Tom and Derek listened with rapt attention, their expressions getting more grave as the story unfolded.
When Edward had finished, Tom sighed and said." When we were in Nimmar for your wedding, we caught the feeling that all was not right. Only chance remarks overheard in passing but enough for even provincials like us to realise that something was happening. Then yesterday, Benny Newton from Dale Farm was in here collecting his wagon and he said he had heard from Alskar that the Empire was mobilising. I don't know how he heard because it was only this morning when an Imperial Army officer had a meeting with Bert, the Council Leader, to tell him what was to happen. If somebody visited his farm, we would have known because they have to pass right by here to get to the farm."
Edward was suddenly paying close attention to what Tom was saying and asked.  " Did Benny Newton say who told him?"
Tom frowned at the tone with which Edward had posed his question. " Not really though I did get the impression the information came from Norman Sharp in Alskar."
Edward turned to Margaret. " I think I should pay this Benny Newton a visit tomorrow. How about you and Tag going to see Michella while I go down to Dale Farm to talk to Benny Newton? We can all meet back here in the afternoon and discuss what we do next."
Tag frowned. " Is it safe for you to go there on your own? Boric told me to stay with you all the time."
" Oh I will be perfectly safe Tag. You look after Margaret. She has the hardest task." Edward smiled at the look of concern on Tag's face but had to stop himself from laughing as Tag tried to hide his pleasure at being alone with Margaret for almost a whole day.
Edward set out for Dale Farm the next morning, one of those cold and frosty autumn days when the sun shone from an almost cloudless sky. The trees of the wood bordering Pinaar shone with a brilliance of golden colours and when he came out from the cover of the trees, the fields bordering the track showed the signs of ploughs. After passing through another line of trees, Edward saw ahead a neat farmhouse with kitchen garden at the back and well tended barns to one side.
As he approached the gate, two men stepped out into the road barring his path, one carrying a bow, the other a sword. When he got close, Edward dismounted and led his horse the rest of the way. Both men were bigger than Edward, obviously brothers with the same round faces and thick black hair.
From his look and manner as the older of the two, one of the men bluntly ordered Edward to stop.  " Who are you and what are you doing here on our land? "
Edward smiled in greeting. " I am Edward Eastland but if I wanted to argue, I could ask you what you are doing blocking the highway. From what I see, this is not your land but a public highway."
" Don't get smart with us, " the younger one snapped, his eyes focused on Edward. It was only slight but Edward felt the probing of his mind but his mental defences were up and the other's mind could not touch his.
" I have come to see Benny Newton," Edward answered ignoring the probing of his mind.
" Who sent you?" the older brother demanded waving his sword in the air.
" Oh put that sword away. I come in peace," Edward said evenly. " I am staying with Tom Baston. Earlier in the year I worked for him."
Both of the brothers frowned and then the older grimaced. " I remember now. You worked for Tom when he broke his leg. Then you were arrested by the Imperial Army and taken to Nimmar. The last we heard was that Tom and his family went to Nimmar to attend your wedding to some Parison Noble's daughter. What do you want with my father?"
" It is about what happened in Nimmar that I wish to see your father," Edward said quietly. " Oh stop waving that sword around and show me the way to your father."
 Concentrating on the sword, Edward lifted it out of the older man's hand and dumped it point down in the earth at his feet.
" I would not do that if I was you," Edward projected his thoughts at the younger man. " I might get really angry."
The younger mans hand froze on the bowstring before letting his arm fall to hold the bow at his side. The two men stared at Edward and then bowed ironically.
" It was you, who faced down the Covenenter in Alskar town square three years ago,, wasn't it? " the younger brother asked.
" Follow me and I will take you to my father," the older brother said bending to pick up the sword. " I am William Newton and this is my brother Tony. As you have gathered, he is the one with the talent."
The two men led the way through the gate and on down the track to the farmhouse. Before long Edward was seated at the kitchen table drinking a mug of beer and explaining to Benny what had happened in Nimmar.
When Edward had finished, Benny sighed. " I was hoping to keep my family out of this," he said with a shake of his head. " Norman Sharp communicated with me this morning telling me that a Mark Fox had been in touch and was trying to call a meeting of those of his generation who had the talent. I told Norman that I did not want anything to do with this. What you have told me gives me pause for thought. Could Nelvask really be still alive?"
" Do you want to speak with him?" Edward asked automatically.
" Not really," Benny said. " I will rely on Norman Sharp's judgement. What happens now?"
Once more Edward was surprised on how quickly these people changed their attitude to him once he had explained what the problem was. It was as though they had been waiting, their minds dormant for a long time, for this to happen and once the need for action arose, they were willing at least to listen.
" That depends on you and your son," Edward answered truthfully. " I am trying to get other young people like me to form an intelligence and communications system to help combat the invasion when it comes. Those young people willing to come with me will be asked to gather in Alskar in about three weeks and we will then ride to Nimmar to join any whom Nelvask has gathered. There is to be no forcing anybody to come with me. Governor Rulask has ordered that anybody who comes will come of their own free will.. Mark Fox has decided to gather as many of the older people with the talent living in Alskar to discuss how they can help in trying to stop the invasion when it comes. So you see it is entirely up to you and your son as to what happens next."
" I will get in touch with this Mark Fox," Benny Newton replied bluntly. " He will be able to answer my questions I expect. As for Tony, it is up to him. If he wants to come with you, I will not be happy but I will not stand in his way. What have you to say Tony?"
Tony grinned like a small a boy. " Dad, I think I would like to see some more of the world. Think of being able to use my talent openly, not having to go round hiding what I can do from almost everybody outside the family. What about Heather?"
Edward looked from Tony to Benny, noticing the startled look on Benny's face at the mention of his daughter.
 " Who is Heather?" Edward asked.
" She is my twin sister," Tony answered still grinning. " My father does not want to get her involved but she has as much talent as me and I think we should at least ask her if she wants to come with you."
Benny sighed heavily. " I suppose you are right, Tony. Go and fetch her from the milking parlour."
They sat waiting in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Nora Newton brought drinks but did not say a word, silently placing each drink on the table in front of each of the men. It was obvious she had been listening to their conversation and was worried about the impact on her family. Edward noticed she cast forlorn looks at Benny from her lined and plain face but he just shrugged and waited.
Tony returned with a girl who looked so much like him there could be no doubt she was his sister. She smiled shyly at Edward and took a seat at the opposite end of the table.
" You have obviously had a talk with Tony while you were walking back here, " Benny began. " We do not need to go over everything again. This is Edward Eastland and he has a request to make of you."
" I will listen to what he has to say," Heather answered in a quiet voice.
Edward smiled in encouragement. " I have the talent as I suspect Tony has told you. Governor Rulask has given me the task of putting together a group of other young people with the talent to help combat the coming invasion of Sandaria and Rombuli. I hear you have the talent like your brother and I would ask you to join my group. This will mean your leaving here and travelling to Nimmar. What we will be required to do might be dangerous but everybody will be in danger come the spring whether they are willing to help me or not. It will mean that you can use your talent for the first time in the open. All I am asking is that you consider my request."
" Tony and I have already talked about this before we came to join you. We have decided to help all we can," Heather smiled shyly, her eyes never leaving Edward's. " I do not know much about the world outside of Pinaar. The only times I have ever travelled is to the Gathering and even then we go straight to the field and back. I know my mother and father are not going to be very happy about us going away with you but something inside tells me this is important. We will come with you."
" And now there are hopefully five plus me." Edward muttered to himself. " I can only thank you. Now is there anybody else you know who has the talent?"
" There is a woman called Michella in Pinaar. I have had contact with her a few times,"  Heather answered. " I could contact her for you."
" There is no need at the moment. My friend Margaret Fox is seeing her this morning," Edward replied. " Anybody else?"
" There is a Peter Powell up Long Reach way. I had contact with him one time at the Gathering but I have not heard a thing for a few years. It is rough up there on the edge of the mountains, what with the trappers and the miners coming into town. I do not know if his father or mother have the talent, " Tony offered.
" Thank you Tony. We will go and try to contact Peter tomorrow." Edward smiled gratefully. " Now we will open your minds to the others. After I have gone, you will stay here until I call you to Alskar. At any time you can contact me by using your mind."
Edward opened his mind and called Margaret. " I have two more people here willing to join our group. Open your mind to theirs.”
" No how are you Margaret! How are you doing with Michella?" Margaret's thoughts came back. Even her thoughts gave the impression of amusement and happiness. " All right Edward, I will open my mind."
              Edward shut his mind to their excited chatter. Things are going well, he thought