“ You must have a drink and eat some food, Edward,” Karlan said as he sat down next to Edward, putting a goblet and a plate of bread and cheese on a stool by Edward’s side. “ For the last two hours you have been sitting in the window looking across the square at the Citadel. In all that time you haven’t said a word to any of us. Even you, with all your powers, can’t will a way to get into that place. Eat and drink while we talk. Start by telling me what you have decided to do.”
As instructed by Karlan, Edward took a bite of the bread and cheese but grimaced while he ate. “ As far as I can see from here, there is only one way into the Citadel. That is through that small door you can see from here in the main gate.”
After taking another bite of his bread, Edward continued through his full mouth. “ I know I can get us through the gate and into the Citadel, that is not difficult. The problem comes when I am inside. From the gate, I have no idea where we have to go. While searching the building for the place where Boric and Tag are being held, we will be attacked. When that happens, I am not certain whether I can defend us all. If I knew where we were going, I could plan how to protect those who are with me. As things stands, I will have to concentrate on searching for Boric and Tag and will be vulnerable to attack.”
“ When you gave that mind meld with Corlina back at the Golden City, you showed that you could translocate between places,” Karlan observed, “ You even did it with somebody in your arms. Can’t you do that to me and you?”
“ I am afraid not Karlan,” Edward said sadly still not looking at the elf. “ I have to know where I am going to materialise before attempting a translocation. To put simply, I have to fix a picture of the place where I am going to end up in my mind before I set out. When I did it back in Sandaria, I was going to a place I knew well and could fix a very accurate picture of the location in my mind. As I have said, I have no idea of what lies behind that gate and those walls. Would you be happy if I translocated us into a well or a wall?”
“ I see that this translocation thing is more complicated than I thought,” Karlan said in strangled voice, his eyes looking at Edward with horror. “ What would happen if you translocated us into a wall?”
“ I have no idea but I am not about to find out,” Edward replied. “ We will have to find another way.”
“ Claude says he can tell you where Tag and Boric will be kept,” Megor interrupted Edward and his cousin’s conversation from across the room where he had been talking to Claude. For some reason, Claude felt wary of Edward and had kept his distance since showing them into his room.
Claude addressed Edward in Rombuli. “ Once when I was staying here, the guards from the Citadel asked me to help them translate from Rombuli to their language. There was a prisoner who insisted on speaking only Rombuli to them. They took me down to the bottom level of the dungeon where they keep all the most difficult prisoners.”
Claude rummaged in his drawer and came up with a piece of parchment and some charcoal. He drew a square on the paper. “ This represents the inside of the walls of the Citadel. As you can see it is almost a perfect square. From the gatehouse here, there is a covered walkway around the inner parade ground. It is raised about three feet above the level of the sand. Opposite the gatehouse is the guard house. You get in through a door here. At any one time there can be as many as twenty guards in there. Before you get to the door to the guard house there is a stair leading up to higher levels of the Citadel. This leads to the barracks above the guard room where the rest of the guards are stationed when off duty. Once through the door into the guard room, to the left you will find a smaller room for the officer on duty. I know this because that was where I was taken before being escorted below. In the wall diagonally opposite the entrance to the guard room, there is a door. This door leads to a winding stairway down to the next level. On this level are the first of the cells, each holding about ten people. There are always, so I was told, three guards on duty on this level. Once more, opposite the entrance to this level is a trap door. To get to the third level, the trap door has to be lifted. Some rough stairs lead down into the third level. There are three cells on this level, each containing at least ten prisoners. These are the ones the authorities fear most. In one corner near the stairs is the place where interrogations take place.”
Claude grinned wickedly at Edward. “ So. All you have to do is fight your way in and out against all those soldiers. At least by following my description, you now know the way to go. Seriously, what you propose is suicidal.”
“ Maybe it is suicidal but they are my friends. I must make the attempt even if trying a rescue puts me in grave danger,” Edward replied candidly. “ When I was in dire trouble some years ago, Boric came to my aid even though it went against his best interests. What he did then could have resulted in his death. I will not leave him to die here at the hands of some renegade Elf and a manipulated dictator. Even against his better judgement, Tag has faithfully followed me and, as he would say, guarded my back. In the middle of the night, I will make the attempt.”
Karlan grinned but shook his head. “ Without Tag you will need somebody to guard your back, Edward Eastland. Will you trust me to guard your back despite feeling I will throw a knife at you? Tag has become my friend and I will not allow him to remain a prisoner of my uncle.”
“ I will go where Karlan goes,” Megor stated bluntly. “ I can at least warn you of any dangers lurking unseen in the shadows.”
“ Thank you both,” Edward said. “ We will leave Claude to look after the horses and have them ready when we come back.”
“ Can we trust him?” Karlan asked Megor in the language of the Elves.
“ I think we can,” Megor replied. “ I can detect no malice towards us. He wants to find out more about Edward. He will help us by looking after the horses.”
Turning to Edward, Megor said. “ I have just had a thought. If you could see where you were translocating, could you take Karlan there?”
Edward frowned but answered, “ Yes.”
“ There is another way to get into the Citadel but I am not too certain I could handle it,” Megor said quietly, the nervousness making his voice shake. “ Have you ever heard of out of your body experiences?”
Edward looked puzzled. “ No. I’ve never come across that.”
Megor ran his fingers through his hair, obviously very nervous and on edge. “ I have been taught how to accomplish this by my mother but I have only practised once and that was in the Golden City with my mother and my sister beside me. It was exhilarating at the time. I am willing to try taking you with me. If we can do this we can float through the Citadel and you can seek out locations to translocate yourself. By a series of steps you should be able to get to the level where they are keeping Boric and Tag. What do you think of that idea?”
“ If it enables me to get into the Citadel undetected, I am willing to try anything,” Edward grinned. “ While we are away, Karlan and Claude can collect all our weapons together and tie them in such a way that I can take them with me. What do we have to do?”
Megor lay on the bed and patted the place by his side. “ Come and lay here by my side. We will have to hold hands. While we are gone, our bodies will lie here as though we are asleep. Karlan and Claude will have to guard them and make sure nobody interferes.”
Edward lay on the bed and took hold of Megor’s hand. Karlan and Claude looked on wide eyed but did not try to interfere. “ Right you two, guard our bodies well. We will be back in about an hour. Edward relax, tune your mind to mine and let me take over.”
Edward relaxed and opened his mind to Megor’s. At first nothing happened and then Edward felt as though he was floating towards the ceiling of the room. In his surprise, he almost let go of Megor’s hand but Megor tightened his grip before contact could be lost. Looking down, Edward was surprised to see what appeared to be Megor and himself lying on the bed as though asleep. Edward looked side ways at Megor but all he could see was an indistinct outline of his friend through which he could clearly see the wall of the room.
Megor spoke directly into Edward’s mind. “ Strange feeling, is it not! Now we float through the window and across the square. I don’t think anybody will be able to see us.”
“ Now you tell me!” Edward exclaimed. “ What happens if we are spotted?”
“ We will ourselves back here quickly!” was Megor’s terse reply.
They floated across the room and through the window as though it was not there. Edward soon cottoned on to the idea that all Megor had to do was will a direction and that is the way they floated. They approached the gate and, even though Edward tensed, they passed through as though it was not solid.
The area inside the Citadel the other side of the gate was just as Claude had described. Running along all four walls was a covered walkway with steps leading to higher levels at each corner. The wall opposite the gate housed some living quarters as did the level above the covered walkway. The flat sand floor of the inner square was three feet below the level of the walkway with steps leading down from the walk way at regular intervals.
At the end of the walkway leading directly away from the gatehouse was a door. They floated towards this and passed through. Once through the door, Megor stopped so that they could see the layout of the building. They were in a room with bunks to their right and tables with benches to their left. At the end opposite the door through which they had entered was a rack for hanging weapons. Several soldiers lay on the bunks, some snoring while others silently slept soundly. At the tables were a few soldiers eating a meal and drinking. Megor lead the way across the room and through a door the other side of the tables. They found themselves in a small office with a desk in one corner and a bunk along one wall. On hooks on the other wall were some swords and daggers.
“ This is it,” Edward projected his thought at Megor as they hovered above the desk. “ I can memorise this place and translocate safely here from the hotel. I can still feel Karlan’s spirit.”
They landed in front of the desk and Edward put the configuration of the space in his head.
“ All you will have to be careful of is the officer. You will have to act quickly if he is here in the room when you materialise,” Megor’s voice sounded smug in Edward’s head.
Once more they floated out of the room and through the door at the end of the guard room. Just as Claude had described, they found the stairs which twisted as they descended. They came out on a level stone floor and in dim light. Landing in the corner away from the light, they looked around. The major source of light came from candles on a table at which sat three guards drinking. There were a few torches lining the walls but these gave off very little light except in the place where they were attached to the wall. Opposite the table at which the guards sat were a row of bars obviously the cells. It was too dark to make out more than just shadowy figures behind the bars. At the place where Edward and Megor were standing, there was very little light.
“ This is a good place to end the second jump,” Edward projected his thought at Megor. “ I can still feel the officer’s room so we are all right as far as line of thought goes.”
In the floor near where they stood was the trap door that Claude had mentioned. They floated through the trapdoor and down a set of rough hewn stairs, worn smooth in places by the constant passage of guards and prisoners. They floated above a space near the wall away from the cells dimly visible in the light of sparsely set torches. Along the wall where they floated were hung some of the instruments of torture but Edward ignored these. Looking round, he fixed the space in his mind.
“ This is the spot where I will materialise. Lets take a look at the prisoners.”
They floated over to the cells and through the gloom were able to make out Tag and Boric. Boric was lying unconscious on a pallet, one wrist and one ankle firmly manacled to a chain stapled to the wall. Tag was similarly fixed though he seemed to have more movement. There were seven other men in the cell.
“ Just hang on for a few hours Tag. We will be coming for you then.” Edward projected his thoughts at Tag.
“ He can’t hear you,” Megor remarked but gasped when Tag appeared to acknowledge Edward’s words by saluting in the Parison manner.
“ I have seen enough,” Edward thought. “ Lets get out of here.”
They floated towards the trapdoor and were soon speeding through the Citadel, through the gate and across the square. They passed through the window and gently lowered themselves onto the bed. It was a strange sensation. One minute Edward was floating weightless above his body, the next he was sitting up on the bed inside his body once more.
Karlan was by the window and he turned when he heard Megor and Edward move on the bed. “ Ah you are back! Don’t do that again, Megor. I thought you were both dead by the way your bodies did not move or appear to breathe. What did you find out?”
“ It is possible to get into the Citadel by translocation,” Edward replied bluntly. “ We have located the places where I can materialise on the way to the third level. We found out exactly where Boric and Tag are being held. Getting out might be more difficult but I think we will have a chance to rescue them. Did you get the weapons ready for me?”
“ There are two bags by the door,” Karlan said indicating two canvas sacks near the door close to where Claude was sitting. “ When do you think we should make the attempt?”
“ We?” Edward almost shouted. “ I thought I would have to attempt this by myself.”
Karlan laughed harshly, shaking his head. “ I have followed you this far against my better judgement and because my father promised you I would help you get back to Rombuli. Do you think I would let you undertake this mission on your own?”
Edward grasped Karlan by the hand. “ Thank you my friend. I will need somebody to watch my back. Funny isn’t it? Not so long ago you would have as soon as flung a knife at my back than act as my guard. I think we should make the attempt after midnight when most of the guards will be relaxed and sleepy. Megor and Claude, if he still wants to help, can have the horses ready so that we can make a dash for it as soon as we come out of the Citadel. Now I will try to get some sleep.”
It was dark in the room when Megor shook Edward awake. The curtains were tightly shut but the full moon cast a faint glow into the room. Claude lit a candle and Edward saw that Karlan was already up, dressed in his breastplate and helmet with metal grieves on his arms. Megor handed Edward his breastplate and helmet, helping him into these without a word. Edward could sense the tension in the room and he tried to assure Megor, by smiling at him, that all would be well. Even though Megor smiled back, there was no warmth in his look.
When he was ready, Edward stepped into the space at the foot of the bed, shouldered the spare weapons in their canvas bag and griped Karlan by the shoulders.
“ Make sure you are ready when we materialise in the officer’s quarters,” Edward instructed Karlan. “ If he is there, while he recovers from the shock of two people materialising out of thin air in his room, we will have a couple of seconds to over power him before he cries out or starts to defend himself. Let us hope he is either asleep or not there when we arrive. It would make our task far easier. Are you ready?”
Karlan looked over his shoulder and grinned, though his eyes showed he was on the verge of blind panic. Sensing that it was now or never, Edward fixed a picture of the officer’s room in his mind and willed him and Karlan there.
It was as though they were passing through a grey fog and then, with a shudder, they were standing in the officer’s room in the Citadel. Karlan shook his head as though to clear the fog and crouched with his sword extended ready for a fight. Edward looked around the room. There was no sign of the officer. Karlan made his way silently to the door and looked out through the crack. Except for two soldiers sitting cleaning their weapons at a table, the rest of the guards appeared asleep. Edward collected the weapons hanging on the wall and stuffed these into the sack with the other’s they had brought with them from the hotel.
“ All right so far,” he whispered to Karlan, grinning at his companion in the dim light. “ Now for the next stage.”
“ Lets get on with it.” Karlan’s expression was one of suppressed fear but he sounded resolute. “ No matter how many times I do this, I am not going to like it.”
Edward gripped Karlan by the shoulders and willed himself to the next level. Once more they came out of the grey fog and Karlan crouched, his sword ready. Edward crouched at his side and indicated the soldiers dozing at the table. Karlan measured the distance from the trapdoor to the table with his soldier’s eye, estimating the time he would have from trapdoor opening to the soldiers being aware of the danger. Edward raised an eyebrow and Karlan stroked his chin.
After nodding to Edward, Karlan stood still while Edward shifted them to the next level. They came out of the fog beside a table. Karlan, crouching by the side of the table, noticed the manacles at each corner. It was very dim with only three torches spaced along the wall near where they had appeared. Opposite where they had materialised, Karlan could just make out the bars to some cells.
“ Right,” Edward whispered but he smiled faintly in the dark. “ Tag and Boric are in the end cell with four other men. Place the weapon’s sack on the table and go and guard the trap door. I will free Tag first and get him to join you. You two can work out how we are to overcome the guards on the next level without alerting those who are awake in the guardroom above.”
“ Don’t be too long,” Karlan grinned. He was more relaxed now because he was dealing with something familiar. “ If somebody comes, I might need help.”
Karlan deposited his bag on the table, unslung his bow from his back, loosened his sword in its scabbard and went to the stairs leading to the trap door. Edward deposited his bag and took out the weapons from both bags and spread them on the table. Looking round, he decided there was nothing else to prepare and made his way softly across the uneven floor to the cells.
“ Tag are you there?” he asked softly.
A figure in the dim light of the cell turned in the direction of the sound and then stood up by the door. One of his arms and one of his ankles was attached to a chain fixed to the wall.
“ Is that you Edward?” Tag’s voice was unmistakable. “ I am afraid Boric is in a bad way.”
“ All right, Tag. I will come into the cell and free you. Once free you can join Karlan guarding the stairs down into this level. There are some weapons on the table over there, so arm yourself,” Edward tried to sound reassuring but could not see Tag’s expression to gauge whether he was successful. “ I will deal with Boric.”
Edward bent and touched the lock on the door. Using his power he moved the mechanism and the door opened inwards. Stepping into the cell, Edward floated a light globe from his hand as he had seen Latask do. Now he could clearly see the interior of the cell. Using his power, he unlocked the shackles holding Tag. Once free Tag, after rubbing his wrists, left to join Karlan. Next Edward bent over Boric, noting the pallor of his skin and the beads of sweat on his forehead. Again using his power he freed Boric.
Turning, he found four pairs of eyes looking at him. Moving the light higher, he could see the other men clearly. One was a dapper looking man with shrewd blue eyes and, though his beard was ragged and his clothes rumpled and stained, there were still signs of careful grooming. The second man stood looking at Edward with an expression which could only be described as arrogantly disdainful. He was taller than Edward, broad shouldered and dressed in expensive, though dirty, clothes. The other two were obviously subservient to him.
Edward freed the arrogant man first and was surprised at the result. In perfect Parison, the man said, “ Thank you for freeing me. I will take over now and you will obey my commands.”
Edward saw red and slammed the man back against the wall, reattaching his chains at the same time. “ I have risked my life and the life of my friend to rescue Boric and Tag. If you think you can interfere with us now, you had better have another thought while you stay here and rot. No don’t say a thing. Just lie there. If you make a sound, I will shut you up.”
Turning to the other man, Edward said in Parison. “ Who are you?”
The man brushed imaginary fluff off his dirty sleeve and smiled.
“ I am Count Dillarger.” he answered in perfect Parison. “ I was ambassador to the Empire in Parison for a number of years.”
“ Why are you here?” Edward barked.
“ Ho, why we are all here,” Count Dillarger smiled ironically. “ I fell foul of Ironhand because he thought I was plotting against him. There was no evidence but he sent me here anyway. The same goes for the playboy prince you have just smashed against the wall. Prince Ahkiem from Posdeland by the sea. Those are his two body guards over there. He has the exalted opinion of himself as being even more important than me. He tells me his land was over run so he came here to join the army hoping that Ironhand would be ready to attack the occupiers of his home land. Unfortunately, he was rather indelicate when putting his points to Ironhand and his General. You do not call a dictator, with all the power in the land he controls, a foolish old woman for not rushing off to retake the Prince’s homeland. Are you going to set me free? I am not much of a swordsman but I am good at urging people on from the back.”
Edward set the Count free. “ You can be more help than urging us forward from the back. I need a stretcher for my friend Boric and four men to carry it. You can organise that. Also you can tell me who is a fighter among the people in the other cells.”
The Count smiled. “ It will be a pleasure. There are four soldiers in the next cell. They were sent here for supposedly helping me though I hardly know any of them. I will show you where they are and you can free them. They will take orders from you if I tell them to. Then we will find your stretcher bearers.”
“ Thank you, Count,” Edward said leading the Count to the next cell. He freed the men in the cell leaving the Count to instruct them while he freed the others in the third cell. When he came back to the Count, the organisation of the stretcher was all ready progressing.
The Count looked up and indicated four men. “ These are the soldiers I told you about. They await your orders.”
Edward smiled at the men. “ Tell them to collect what weapons are left over there on the torture table and join Tag and Karlan by the stairs.” The Count instructed the men in their own language and they left to join Karlan. “Tell the rest to wait here until we instruct them to come to the next level. Tell them to keep quiet or I will shut them up.”
The stretcher was ready and Boric had been lifted in place.
“ We are ready,” the Count remarked.
Edward nodded and was turning away when a voice from the cell interrupted him. “ Are you going to leave us here?”
Edward turned to find the Prince sitting up rubbing his shoulder. “ Any reason why I should set you free? We are going to have to fight our way out of here and I do not need somebody behind me trying to stab me in the back. I have risked my life and that of my friends to get in here and free them, so anybody who gets in the our way is an enemy.”
The Prince stood and bowed deeply with a flourish, his chains jingling. “ I must apologise for my reaction. It will not happen again. I will take my lead from you and Tag. My men will follow me as well.”
“ Can I trust him?” Edward asked the Count.
“ Ah, Prince Ahkiem might be arrogant and used to getting his own way but having given his word, he will keep to it,” the Count drawled. “ He is a good soldier and will be invaluable during a fight.”
Edward turned to the Prince and freed him and his men. “ Right I will take your word. Get some weapons if you can find them and join Karlan and Tag. Count, get ready to follow us with the stretcher when I call.”
Edward left the Count and the other prisoners and joined Karlan and Tag by the stairs. Tag grinned.
“ What now Edward?” he asked.
“ We have to overcome the guards on the next level,” Edward said pointing to the trap door. “ Karlan has a plan. I will follow. You will need my power when we attempt to take over the guard room.”
Karlan shrugged his shoulders. “ Its not much of a plan, Tag. There are three guards sitting at a table on the next level. When we came through there, they were dozing. We can either throw the trap door back and charge but that will cause a great deal of noise. I think the best thing would be to ease the trap door up and for three of us to sneak through. I will rush to the bottom of the stairs and guard against any guards coming down. You and Ahkiem can try to get to the guards before they are awake properly. How does that sound?”
“ Like a lot of this trip, pretty awful but if it is the best you can come up with, lets get on with it.” Tag shrugged.
Two of the Count’s soldiers positioned themselves on each side of the trap door. At a signal from Tag, they eased the trap door up slightly and Karlan had a look. The three guards were still dozing at their post.
“ Now!” Tag whispered and quickly Karlan, Tag and Prince Ahkiem slipped through the opening.
Edward was surprise at how quickly it was over. Karlan took up station at the foot of the stairs while Tag and Prince Ahkiem rushed the table. Before the guards could get to their weapons or raise the alarm, they were all lying unconscious on the rock floor by the table. The prisoners were starting to make a commotion in their cells but the Count appeared and told them to be quiet.
The soldiers joined Karlan, Tag and Prince Ahkiem at the foot of the stairs leading to the guard room. Edward freed all the prisoners and the Count told them to stay in their cells until ordered to come out.
“ Bring up Boric,” Edward instructed the Count.
When Boric was on the second level, Edward joined the others at the foot of the stairs.
“ Right Karlan. This is going to make a great deal of noise but I hope it works,” Edward grinned.
Tag raised his eyebrows. “ I take it you have never done this before?”
“ No Tag but I know what to do,” Edward grinned back. “ Get everybody to stick their fingers in their ears and close their eyes.”
“ Why do I worry about what you are about to do every time you attempt something?” but Tag relayed the order, then nodded to Edward.
Edward drew in his power, envisioned a lightening storm and then projected this into the guard room. There was a bright flash of light, so bright that it would have temporarily blinded anybody who was looking. This was followed by a resounding crash so loud that it almost incapacitated anybody who was not prepared. As the sound died away, Edward thrust open the door and rushed into the room followed by Karlan, Tag and Prince Ahkiem, his bodyguards and the other soldiers.
“ Get those soldiers rendered harmless, “ Edward shouted. “ Karlan the officer!”
Karlan rushed to the office door followed closely by Edward. The door opened to reveal the officer sitting on his bunk pulling on his boots. A look of shock crossed his face but before he could reach for any weapon, Karlan had a sword to his windpipe.
“ Easy now, “ Karlan said, even though the officer could not understand. Karlan made plain with gestures that he wanted the officer to lay face down on the bed with his hands behind his back. The officers hands were shaking and his face was the colour of chalk but he obeyed without a struggle. Karlan bound his hands and feet with some rope he found hanging by the door, gagged his mouth with a scarf and then tied his bound feet to the bunk post.
“ That should keep him here,” Karlan grinned at Edward and then went to search for more weapons. Carrying an armful of swords, Karlan and Edward joined the others. The guards were secured in a similar fashion to the officer and there was silence in the room. Edward noticed Tag by the window and Prince Ahkiem by the door. The Prince’s bodyguards had somehow found bows and sheaves of arrows.
Edward went back to the door and called for the Count. “ You can bring Boric up now. Tell the others to wait until we give the all clear and then they can come up, arm themselves and leave.”
The Count relayed his instructions and then appeared at the head of the stairs. He was closely followed by the stretcher bearers and Boric. Edward noted the dampness of Boric’s forehead and the flushed look to his face. Boric was however breathing evenly.
Turning away from his friend with a sigh, Edward went over to join Tag and Prince Ahkiem at the door. The Prince had cracked open the door a little and was peering out of the opening.
“ Well?” Edward asked.
Tag answered from the window though never taking his watchful eyes from the outside. “ It is too quiet Edward. Both Karlan and I reasoned that this was going to be the hardest bit because after all that noise, there was bound to be some soldiers waiting for us. As far as we can see, there is nobody there. Obviously it is dark on the parade ground and especially on the walkways so it is difficult to see anybody. The only thing is that both Karlan and I have a feel for these things from experience and if somebody was there waiting for us to come out, we would have felt it.”
Edward was suddenly aware of a noise coming from a distance. It was like the buzzing of thousands of bees, rising and falling in irregular patterns. Faintly he caught the sound of shattering glass. “ What is that noise?”
Prince Ahkiem shrugged. “ It sounds like a riot to me,” he remarked shrugging. “ For the life of me I cannot work out why there can be a riot going on now. Civil disturbances are unknown here mainly because of the ruthless way they are dealt with.”
“ Could it be that a rumour circulated about prisoners being freed early in the morning and the people are revolting because no prisoners have been released? ” Edward asked.
“ Who would spread a rumour like that?” Tag asked and then grinned broadly. “ Megor! He wouldn't even have to speak to people. All he had to do was sit in the window and plant the idea in the minds of all those who passed by. It would not take long until he had a sizeable crowd convinced that the authorities were being dishonest. I can’t see how it helps us.”
“ The chaos out there will enable us to slip away,” Edward said briskly. “ Having said that, we have to make a move if we are to slip away. What plan have you come up with?”
Tag raised his eyebrow. “ What no ideas from our new military planner? Seriously. We have to secure the front of this building, the stairs in each corner and the gatehouse. Karlan, with two of the soldiers, is going to go left out of the door. One soldier will secure the stairs to the left while Karlan and the other cover the front. Prince Ahkiem and his body guards will go right and guard that area. I am going to take the other two soldiers and secure the gatehouse. I would like you to guard the other stairs to our right. Simple isn’t it? Ten of us against the whole Canswater garrison. Its still too quiet out there. I do not like it.”
“ If there are soldiers waiting and hiding, the only way we will find out is if we leave this room,” Karlan stated bluntly.
Tag rolled his eyes but said. “ Why did I get mixed up with this lot? You are getting just as badf as him. All right. Is everybody ready?”
At the nods from the few, he pushed open the door. Karlan rolled through the door to the left and took up station kneeling by one of the stairs leading to the floor of the parade ground. The soldier with him ran crouched over to the base of the stairs in one corner leading to the floor above where he stationed himself blocking the stairs. Prince Ahkiem and his men followed Karlan’s lead and positioned themselves by another stairway, his bodyguards with arrows notched to strings and pointing out across the parade ground. Tag, with the other two soldiers, rushed crouched over to the gatehouse. Edward ran to the stairs and positioned himself at their foot, his sword ready.
Nothing happened. There was no sound and nothing stirred. Everybody was frozen in a tableaux as though posing for an artist to paint a picture. Still nothing happened.
Tag ran back to join Edward. “ What do we do now?”
Edward frowned. “ We still have to get out of the Citadel. There could be a line of archers waiting in the square for us to emerge. The best thing would be for you to get all the prisoners up here and let them out first. As soon as they are free we can follow. If they are assaulted by soldiers we will know what we are up against. In the confusion we might win through to the stables. Shall we see how that works?”
Tag shook his head, staring at Edward in horror. “ You can be quite harsh at times, Edward Eastland. If I had suggested that only a few weeks ago you would have berated me for being inhuman. Still it is a good plan. I will get things moving.”
“ Good,” but the words Edward was about to utter died in his throat. Suddenly a glowing globe floated above the parade ground bathing the sand in a bright light. A figure detached itself from the shadows where it had presumably been waiting.
“ Leave this to Karlan and me,” Edward told Tag. “ Get everybody moving as planned. Take Boric to the stable in the building opposite the gate. Karlan and I will join you when we have dealt with the man down there.”
Edward looked round to see Karlan rise from his place by the steps and start to descend onto the parade ground. Ahkiem, sword held ready, tiptoed down the other set of steps. An arrow sped from the bow that one of Ahkiem’s bodyguards had found, flew across the square aimed at the person standing in the centre of the sand but it burst into flame and fell in a cloud of dust to the sand.
“ Ah, Karlan, my nephew!” a voice boomed in Elvish, echoing round the square and the walls. “ I thought you might be the instigator of this attempt to help the prisoners escape. Have you been searching for me for long? Has the King sent you to get me to go back?”
“ No Uncle Nahran, I have not been searching for you on this trip,” Karlan replied never taking his eyes from the elf. “ I am here to help my friends. You imprisoned one of my friends so I thought I would help set him free. I did not think you would lower yourself to stand in the way of such a lowly person.”
“ I am afraid a high ranking officer from the Parison Imperial Army is no lowly person,” Nahran replied. “ Oh don’t look so surprised. I heard what he was saying to the soldiers and caught his language when he spoke to his bodyguard. It is only natural that I should be curious as to who he is and why he has come here.”
“ That is what I want to talk to you about,” Karlan said. “ I know you have abandoned us and your birth right but times change. Some of the Sea Elves have come back.”
“ Is that meant to frighten me?” Nahran laughed. “ They are a figment of our consciousness, a legend kept alive to justify our shutting ourselves away from the would of men.”
“ It is true Uncle Nahran,” Karlan tried hard to make his voice convincing. “ They have over run most of the eastern lands between the Forest and the sea. They are searching for us and we need all the help we can get. With your power, we might stand a better chance of defeating them again. The very idea that they should start to fight the Golden Elves again is horrific.”
Nahran looked long at his nephew and then threw back his head and laughed. “ So it is fear that drives you to find me. But Karlan you are wrong. Over the last ten years I have learnt without an overt use of my power how easy it is to manipulate men. If you promise to help them get power over their fellow men, they will follow your orders without question. I am starting to think that the Sea Elves had it all about right. Men are created to be our slaves and to do what ever we order them to do. They can be cruel to their fellow men and quite ingenious when it comes to thinking up ways to inflict pain on another human. They will inform on their neighbours at the slightest provocation if they think that will help them to a higher position or grant them privileges. What surprised me was that I did not have to exert much power. All I had to do was make sure my sponsored hard man won and then suggest what had to be done. Ironhand’s supporters fell over themselves in helping me put him in charge. Now they do all the hard work and I only need to remind everybody of my power every so often. In addition, I can have a different woman every night if I so desire. All I have to do is make known my interest and they come running, even if they are married. So you want me to go back and give all this up? You have to be joking. I expect I will sit here and deliver this land up to the Sea Elves in return for being put in charge.”
“ If that is how you feel, I will have to force you to come back with me!” Karlan said drawing his sword.
On hearing this, Nahran laughed out loud. “ You! One of the reasons I left the Forest was because I had power and your father did not. He was made King even though I was far superior to him in both intellect and power. You take after your father and have very limited power, as I recall from watching you grow up. Come on now Karlan, enough of this nonsense. Give me your sword and we can go back to my house and discuss things. I will put these others back in their cells and then we can speak peacefully.”
“ I cannot do that, Uncle Nahran,” Karlan said with a sad smile. “ I promised my father that if I came across you on this trip I would try to convince you of the need for you to return home and help the Elves in the coming struggle. Besides that, I have given a promise to my companions that I will assist them to return home and help beat off the enemy. So you must let my companions go and then go back to the Forest. My father, your brother, needs your assistance and power.”
“ And how are you going to stop me!” Nahran laughed.
He pointed his hand at Karlan and Karlan rose from the sand until he was three feet in the air. His sword fell from his fist and his back bent backwards. Edward watching could only wince as he remembered how it had felt when Latask had bent him back like that.
Prince Ahkiem let out a roar and started to rush across the sand towards Nahran, his sword extended towards Karlan’s uncle. As though he had run into a hidden barrier, Prince Ahkiem stopped suddenly, his sword fell from his hand and he fell to the ground clutching his throat. He screamed in terror and then rolled on the sand gasping for breath as though he was being strangled.
Prince Nahran laughed and turned two more arrows from Prince Ahkeim’s bodyguards to charcoal. “ Did you both think you could challenge me? How little you understand my power.”
Edward, who had been watching from the shadows, came down the stairs he had been guarding and out onto the steps leading to the parade ground. He waved his hand, breaking the spell holding Karlan in the air and gently lowered him to the sand. Turning to Ahkiem, he waved his hand once more and shielded him from Nahran’s power. Ahkiem lay back gasping for air.
“ It was only in your mind, Ahkiem,” Edward told him as he stepped onto the sand and bent to make sure Karlan was conscious. Then he straightened and turned to face Nahran.
Nahran smiled but his eyes showed his doubt.
“ Who are you?” he asked his eyes never leaving Edward’s.
Edward stood tall though he was a head shorter than the Elf. All the time he kept a steady gaze on Nahran. “ I am Edward Eastland from a place called Rombuli somewhere to the east.”
“ Where do you come by your power?” Nahran asked.
“ I was born with it,” Edward answered bluntly. “ Now, you will let these people leave, including Karlan. When we are gone, we will leave you to exercise your power here. I think it is a shame when your nation faces its greatest challenge since the Elvish Civil War almost destroyed the world but if you are intent on staying that is your choice. I think you are wrong but if that is how you feel it is not my job to make up your mind for you. If you try to stop us, I will have to force you to let us go. Which is it to be?”
Nahran looked at Edward as though he was considering what Edward had proposed. For a brief moment of joy, Edward was certain from the mixed emotions which crossed Nahran’s face, that Nahran was going to agree.
Then Nahran frowned and shook his head. “ A nice try Edward Eastland but I doubt you have the power to oppose me.”
Nahran then attacked. Edward raised his shields and defended.
Karlan raised himself to his knees and watched, helpless to intervene. All he could see was two bright glowing shades. They rose above the ground, thrust and counter thrust in what appeared to be a ballet of light. Twisting and turning, rolling and jumping leaving after trails of bright light they opposed each other. Bits of masonry fell from the walls as bolts of energy were flung by one at the other. Windows punctuating the wall surrounding the parade ground smashed sending showers of glass raining down. The entrance gate collapsed but still they continued. It became evident to Karlan that though his uncle was maybe better able to control his power, Edward was the better swordsman. The end came suddenly. Nahran fainted left twisted in the air and thrust at Edward. He was ready. Rolling away from the thrust, he somersaulted over the elf’s body and came up behind Nahran as the Elf tried to steady himself. When Nahran turned to counter the danger, Edward thrust with his sword and the blade smashed through Nahran’s chest. Nahran collapsed to the sand and the white glow that had surrounded him went out.
Edward staggered back to sit suddenly on the bottom step of one of the stairs. He had never been so tired. His sword fell to the sand in a cloud of dust. His shoulders slumped. He held his head in his hands. He could not think about where he was. The whole world was spinning before him in a grey fog. Tears came unbidden to his eyes. The face of Nahran as the sword went through his body seemed to be a fixed image in Edward’s mind. Then it was replaced with the scene in the Meeting House on the Island and a Covenenter meeting his death across by the door from Matt’s arrow. He could still hear the mental scream. In his mind he saw the Elf fall burning from the back of the dragon. Then another Elf was falling from his horse with another mental scream that almost incapacitated Edward. Then the arrow was hitting the creature in the green mist right between the eyes.
I kill, mused Edward. I kill without thought. What have I become? Then a vision of Kitty rose in his mind and he was back in their room at the Mansion. Kitty was stroking his brow and her eyes were big as she pleaded with him to come back. Somebody was shaking him but he could not focus his eyes or his mind. All he could think of was a great desire to lie down and sleep. The shaking got harder and them the fog cleared and he was back in the Citadel. Karlan was standing over him.
“ Edward get up. It is all over,” Karlan’s voice broke through the fog.
Edward shook his head and staggered to his feet. He had to hold onto the wall as the world seemed to rotate and he almost sat down on the step again. Then the world stopped revolving and he could see his surroundings.
In the centre of the parade ground, Nahran’s body was laid out on a platform. Where did that come from? Edward thought idly as he still tried to concentrate. Then he noticed that somehow Karlan had found a couple of trestles and a long plank on which the body was arranged. Prince Ahkiem stood beside the body with his head bowed. Under the plank on which Nahran’s body lay, was piled as much wood as Karlan and Prince Ahkiem could find.
Taking a deep breath, Edward steadied himself and stepped away from the wall. At first he thought he was going to collapse but he held himself upright. He shuffled rather than walked to join Ahkiem with Karlan by his side.
“ I am sorry Karlan,” he whispered, the sadness evident in his voice. “ I did not want to kill your Uncle. All I was trying to do was rescue Boric and Tag. He would not let us go so we had to fight. I am sorry Karkan.”
Karlan put his arm round Edward’s shoulder. “ It is all right Edward. If you had not killed him, he would have killed you. We have laid him out for a funeral as best we can but we cannot get the wood to light. All high born Elves must be cremated in all their finery at the funeral. That is unlike ordinary elves who let their body leech into the ground of the wood. We cannot get his finest clothes but we must cremate the body.”
Edward drew in a deep breath and focused is power. The wood of doors, benches and tables splintered, piling higher round the body. When he thought he had broken up the wood enough, Edward thrust his arm into the wood pile and willed a fire. To the horror of Prince Ahkiem, Edward’s arm started to glow and then flames sprung from the wood. Soon the whole pile was burning fiercely and Edward withdrew his arm unscathed. Smoke circled up into the star studded sky and Prince Nehran’s body disappeared into the red heat of the fire.
“ Thank you once more Edward,” Karlan said with tears running unhindered down his cheeks. “ Now we must get out of here and join the others before anybody comes to investigate.”
The three of them turned away from the funeral pyre and mounted the steps to the walkway. Side by side, their swords ready, they walked to the gate. Prince Ahkiem motioned for them to stop while he looked cautiously out of the shattered gate.
The square was full of people but they were not looking at the Citadel. They were looking at the line of soldiers blocking the road which led out of the square towards the Palace. Ahkiem motioned for them to go and they silently slid through the gate and into the square to disappear into the crowd. Once they were in the crowd, Karlan led the way across the square through the people and into the stables.
When they pushed open the stable doors, they were challenged and had swords thrust towards their backs.
“ What happened?” demanded Tag lowering his sword on being certain it was Edward.
“ Edward fought my uncle and had to kill him. We cremated the body as is the custom, ” Karlan answered bluntly. “ From what we saw when we left the Citadel, the town is up in arms and there is a riot going on. I think we had better leave as soon as possible.”
“ We have discussed that while we were waiting for you to join us,” Tag countered. “ Claude has said he will get us away and hidden in the hills before any pursuit can be mounted. Count Dillarger has to get away as well. He has volunteered to accompany us out of the town and as far as his house out in the country to the north west. There he is going to call on any who are willing to meet and discuss how to over throw Ironhand. Claude reckons we should accompany the Count to his estate and then go on from there.”
“ Does that sound reasonable, Edward?” Karlan asked Edward.
Edward shrugged. “ It seems to be going in the wrong direction to me but we need all the help we can get. Let us go along with Tag’s plan until the time comes to think otherwise.”
He turned to Prince Ahkiem. “ I know we started off on the wrong footing but I have to thank you for your help. You are free to go where you want to now.”
Prince Ahkiem grasped Edward’s hand. “ Edward Eastland, it is I who must thank you. Without you and your friends I would still be in there facing an uncertain future. I would like to accompany you on the rest of your adventure.”
Edward raised his eyebrow. “ You must realise that we bring trouble on ourselves at every turn. If Tag will agree, you are welcome.”
Tag looked at the Prince and then grinned. “ You can come with us on one condition.”
“ And that is?” growled the Prince.
“ That you agree to take your orders from me or Edward,” Tag stated bluntly.
“ I am only too willing to agree,” the Prince replied, bowing and smiling. “ I will instruct my men.”
Tag bowed in answer and turned to the others. “ The horses are ready so we must get going. I am worried about Boric though. He is in a bad way and barely conscious. The Count thinks we should leave him here but I said we will be taking him with us or staying. As far as I can make out, if we can get Boric to the Count.s house, there are healers who will help. How we are going to transport him is beyond me. We could not find a carriage.”
“ Leave Boric to me,” Edward said. “ Get him mounted onto a horse and Megor and I will make sure he stays in the saddle. Can you help me?”
Megor nodded. “ I bound up his wound and it has stopped bleeding but how long that will last I have can’t say. If you ride on one side of him, I will ride on the other. We can then use our power to keep Boric in the saddle. The others can defend us if need be.”
They all mounted and Tag flung back the double doors. With the Count leading, flanked by the rescued soldiers who it appeared had pledged their allegiance to him, they left the stable. Megor and Edward rode at the side of Boric with the Prince and his two men directly behind. Karlan and Tag brought up the rear. The crowds parted nervously at the sight of a band of armed men and some saluted the Count. They rode slowly out of the city gate, across the bridge and onto the causeway. As they left the city the sounds of rioting and angry voices could be plainly heard.
Still keeping to a walking pace, the Count led them along the causeway towards some soldiers blocking the road out of Canswater. When they came to the place where the soldiers were lined up across the road, the Count saluted the soldiers and pulled his horse to a halt. The Count exchanged a few words with the officer and on the officers orders, the soldiers’ ranks parted to let the Count’s men through.
Once more the Count led the way through Ambleton at a walk, saluting any soldiers he met. There appeared to be groups of soldiers on every street corner but at the sight of the Count, they let the riders through. Nervously they rode on through the town at walking pace but they were not actually challenged by the troops. Then they were out of the town on a road leading to the north east and the Count picked up the pace.
That night, they camped in a wood off the road. Tag set a guard and taking Prince Ahkiem, rode back to where he could observe the road to see if they were being followed. Karlan went to investigate the surroundings of the camp site. Edward and Megor laid Boric to rest and he had soon slipped into unconsciousness.
The night proved uneventful and they were soon on their way shortly after dawn.
Near midday they turned off the main road to follow a trail marked by wheel ruts, leading away to the north through a copse of trees. Coming out of the trees after another mile, they saw across some well tended fields a large house set on a hill. Soldiers could be seen erecting a hastily dug rampart around the house at the bottom of the hill, the track leading through a gap in the earth mound. The Count rode through the gap in the rampart, acknowledging the salutes of his soldiers. The road led through an arch under the house and into an inner courtyard. Edward noticed as they rode through the arch and into a tunnel that there were gates at each end. Easily defensible, he thought.
The Count dismounted in front of the main entrance to the house calling for his lieutenants to be summoned to his study. Grooms and servants appeared as though from nowhere and soon the horses were being led away.
Smiling, the Count bowed mockingly. “ Welcome all to my humble estate.” he then frowned as Boric collapsed against Megor’s shoulder.
Turning to one of the servants, he shouted. Megor translated for Edward. “ Don’t just stand staring at my guests. Run and fetch a stretcher and four strong men. I want Imperial Master Borovic in his bedroom as soon as possible.”
A woman regally descended the stairs from the double entrance doors.
“What is all this shouting, Alsopp?” she demanded.
The Count took her hand and kissed it. “ Marriah, these are our guests. They helped me escape from prison. Prince Ahkiem and his two men, Prince Karlan and Prince Megor from a kingdom in the North, Tag, a pioneer in the Imperial Army, Imperial Master Boric Borovic and Edward Eastland from Rombuli. Gentlemen this is my wife Countess Marriah.”
All of the Count’s companions bowed. The Countess smiled and turned to her husband. “ What is all this getting thrown in prison? I thought you had more sense than to cross that monster Ironhand and his General. Still come on in everybody and we will show you to the guest rooms.”
At that point four servants came running from the house carrying a stretcher. The Countess frowned and then gasped slightly on seeing Boric slumped against Megor.
“ What happened to him?” she demanded of her husband.
“ He ran foul of Ironhand's soldiers and was flung in prison,” the Count answered hastily. “ I was being a little untruthful when I said they rescued me from prison as though I was the real subject of their rescue. They came for Boric, actually.”
“ You can tell me all about it later,” the Countess snapped.
Turning to the servants, she barked orders and led them up the stairs and into the house followed by the servants carrying Boric on a stretcher.
“ You get yourselves sorted out. I will look after Boric Borovic.”
The Count shook his head. “ My wife,” he said rather proudly. Then his expression grew very serious. “ I would like you all to be in my study after you have bathed. You can answer any questions I might have. I have a feeling there is going to be a civil war here before long and I am going to try to get as many soldiers as possible to gather here under my flag. Therefore we have many preparations to make. I have ordered rooms to be made ready for you all in the west wing. Dolby will show you the way. When you are ready, will you all come to the study for this meeting.”
A servant standing in the hall indicated that they should follow him. It was only then that Edward realised that the Countess had spoken in almost perfect Parison. Then he remembered that the Count had been the ambassador to Parison and his wife must have accompanied him when he went to the Imperial capital.
The room Edward was taken to was neatly furnished with a bed, table and cupboard for hanging clothes. There was a pitcher of wine on the table and some fruit in a bowl painted with scenes of hunting. A basin of water and a towel were by the bed and Edward gratefully washed. He had just finished drying his hands when there was a knock at the door. On opening the door, Edward found a servant outside with his saddle bag. The servant bustled into he room and emptied the contents of the case on the bed. Rifling through the contents, the servant sighed but laid out some clothes on the bed. Indicating that Edward should get changed so that the clothes he was wearing could be cleaned. With an even bigger sigh, the servant hung the few remaining clothes in the cupboard.
Shortly, Edward emerged from his room to find the servant waiting to take him to the library. Following the servant, Edward noted the landmarks he passed hoping he would be able to find his way back through the house later without assistance.
When they emerged into the landing leading to the main staircase, Edward was certain he would be able to find his room without assistance again. He followed the servant down the stairs and along another corridor leading off the hall until the servant stopped outside a closed door and knocked. At the sound of a voice from within, the servant opened the door and indicated for Edward to enter.
The room he entered was lined with shelves in the form of open boxes, each box shelf stuffed full of rolled parchments and books. Around the room were scattered some leather covered chairs with tables by their side presumably for spreading the scrolls and books to read, Edward thought. In the centre of the room was a large table and eight or nine chairs. At the head of the table sat the Count, his grey beard neatly trimmed, his hair washed and combed. He was dressed in a plain top with a green velvet jacket. Around his neck was a gold chain with a large medallion resting on his chest. He looked for all the world like somebody who had a place at any top table in any society in the world. It was obvious that he felt he was in control of his destiny. Ranged around the table were Prince Ahkiem, Claude, Karlan and Tag all obviously bathed and changed.
The Count smiled at Edward and indicated a chair near Tag. “ Come and join us, Edward. Tag has been explaining why you were so conveniently, for me anyway, in Canswater at this time. It appears there are far wider forces let loose in the world than our little local squabble here. I will do all I can to help you but I will be busy here so I am afraid I cannot travel with you or lend you any of my men.”
Edward took his seat. “ Thank you. We will be leaving in the morning after a nights rest. If you could let us have some supplies to help us on our way, we would be most grateful. Tag and Claude can tell your people what we require. May I ask what you intend to do?”
The Count raised his eyebrows.
“ Blunt isn’t he?” he said to Prince Ahkiem.
The Prince winced. “ You saw what he did to me in the cells.”
The Count turned to Edward. “ I still have difficulty in working out who is in charge of your band. At times I am certain it is Tag or Karlan but when there a big decisions to make they turn to you.”
Edward laughed. “ There is nobody “in charge” as you put it. We were given a task to fulfil, Tag, Boric and me. Each of us brought our own particular skills to that task and given the circumstances each of us will make the decisions. It has worked out well so far. We seem to have accumulated the others on the way but they have voluntarily joined us and can leave at any time. They have all added some skills to the party. I asked what you are going to do now? There are some very experienced people in this room and they might be able to help you with advice.”
The Count laughed in turn. “ Thank you Edward. I have sent out some of my soldiers to contact those who I think might follow my lead. I have invited them here for three days time for a council of war. What they decide I have no idea but I will ask for a commitment of troops to attack Ironhand's army near Canswater. It is time for this land to start to throw off the yoke of that man and start ruling under the law.”
“ Where are Megor and Boric?” Edward suddenly asked.
The Count frowned. “ Boric Borovic is being cared for by my wife and a healer she keeps on the estate. Megor is with them. Whether to learn something about Boric’s injuries and what will have to be done when you leave or because he does not trust the healer or my wife I have no idea. Put it this way, I have not much faith in that healer but my wife swears by his powers.”
“ While you soldiers discuss your tactics, can you get a servant to show me the way to the room where Boric is being nursed?” Edward asked.
The Count turned and pulled at a bell cord. When a servant appeared, the Count ordered him to take Edward to Boric’s room.
Boric lay in a large bed covered in a white sheet, pillows pumped up behind his head. On one side of the bed was Megor and on the other was a man dressed in a pale blue robe, who Edward took to be the healer. Megor and the healer were obviously arguing when Edward was shown into the room. At the foot of the bed stood the Countess and two of her maids who were holding bowls and clothes.
Edward caught the final angry words of Megor but did not understand what he was saying.
“ What is happening?” Edward demanded in the language of the Elves. All eyes turned in his direction though only Megor understood what he was saying.
Megor turned back to the bed, glowering at the healer. “ Everything was all right at first. They bathed Boric and cleaned the wound with some fluid that was distilled from a plant I had never heard of. It certainly cleaned the wound and seemed to ease the pain. Boric slept for a while and I went back to my room to bath and dress for dinner. I then returned to find the maids bathing Boric with cool water which was fine. The Countess was so kind. Then this man came back with a knife. He told the Countess that the only option was to cut Boric's arm and collect some blood. It appears it is a standard remedy in these parts to let out some blood when somebody is hurt. It seems they believe that shedding blood will let the evil vapours out of the body in the blood. I told him that was madness. I said that having cleaned and dressed the wound, the best thing was to keep Boric cool and let him sleep. That idiot still insists on bleeding him to death!”
Edward turned to the Countess bowed in acknowledgement and said in rather a formal tone. “ Madam. I must thank you for all you are doing for my friend Boric. I know he is sorely wounded and we should leave him here when we leave but he must come with us. I have hardly any medical knowledge so I cannot say what is best for my friend. Megor though has a sense of what is happening inside a persons body so I trust him when he tells me what to do. If he feels that bleeding Boric is wrong, I believe him. Tell the healer that we are grateful for what he has done but we feel he has done enough.”
The Countess turned to the healer and spoke in the local language. Megor listened intently. “ They thank you for what you have done to help heal their friend. Where they come from, they do not believe that bleeding a sick person is the right policy. In order to help them, I suggest we refrain from bleeding the patient this time. Thank you for your help.”
The Countess turned to Edward and said in Parison. “ I will give you my word that Boric will not be bled while he is here. My maids will look after him while we go for dinner with my husband. I will show you to way to the dining room.”
Megor bowed to her. “ Thank you Madam. He is a good physician as shown by the way he cleaned and dressed Boric’s wound. It is just that I do not think spilling any more blood is the answer to curing Boric. It can only make Boric weaker than he is now. I will leave Boric in the hands of your maids and come down to dinner with you.”
The Countess nodded slightly and smiled faintly. Holding out her arm, she said in a quiet voice, “ Take my arm, Prince Megor, and escort me to the dining room.”
Megor bowed deeply and took the Countess’ arm. Like that, and followed by Edward, they walked down the corridors to the dining room.
The next morning after an early breakfast, the friends assembled in the courtyard. The horses were all ready saddles and waiting for them to appear. Muttering to himself, the healer helped Boric to mount and spoke to the Countess.
She turned to Edward. “ The healer asks you to look after Boric. He does not want him to ride with you insisting that he should stay here to recover. He asks that you take things easy with rests every couple of hours. Goodbye for now and may your particular Gods ride with you.”
Boric tried not to hold his stomach but could only growl that he was fit to ride.
Edward saluted the Countess. “ Thank you for all your help. We will try to look after Boric as your healer requested. May you journey through life with your Maker.”
The others had said their farewells to the Count and led by Claude rode out of the courtyard and through the earth rampart. They rode easily for the morning until the sun was high in the sky, when Claude called a halt. They helped Boric to dismount and had lunch while they rested the horses. As they ate lunch from the supplies given to them by the Count, Edward looked away to the east and the mountains. The mountains were now dominating the sky line and between their camp site and the mountains the ground had started to rise.
After lunch they continued their journey. All day the mountains grew closer, cutting out more of the sky until it was as though their whole world was dominated by those rocky crags. Towards evening, they had to start following valleys towards the mountains though all the time winding their way upwards. As evening approached Tag found a sheltered camp site and they soon had the camp set up. Boric did not complain but as soon as they had helped him to eat, he went to his bed and was soon asleep.
Claude took Edward to one side as darkness engulfed the camp like a cloak pulled over the head at night. “ About midday tomorrow we will come to an isolated farm. The farm is owned and farmed by a Rombuli and I am well known there. From the farm the path we have to follow will not be suitable for the horses. We will have to leave the horses at the farm. From then on we will have to walk to the place where we can start getting through the mountains. I suppose we could handle one horse to carry our bag and Boric for the first part of the journey. If you want to get to your home on the other side of these mountains, you are going to have to back me up on this when I tell the others.”
Edward looked towards the shadow of the mountains overhanging the camp. “ All right Claude. I will back you when we put this to the others. I only hope our trust in you will be worth it.”
Claude grinned, his teeth white in the gloom. “ Trust me, Edward, trust me.”
As they returned to the circle of firelight, Edward muttered, “ Why do those words fill me with dread?”
When Claude told the others gathered round the fire what he intended for the next day, there was a heated discussion but in the end, Edward backed by Tag had his way. They broke up the meeting vowing they would be ready to follow Claude in the morning but they made certain that Edward was aware of their doubts.
When they left their camp the next day, the sun was hidden behind the sheer upper cliffs of the mountain range. They were now climbing steeply through a valley with a stream rushing downwards beside the path they were following. The track soon turned a corner of the hills until the way they had come was no longer visible and then the valley opened out into abroad flat land. From where they stopped to observe the way, their route ran downwards towards a flat meadow and some neatly tended fields. In the centre of the valley was a group of buildings and as they approached Edward could make out a farm house and some barns. On the slopes above the farm and the fields, Edward saw sheep grazing and behind the farm house a field with some cows. Further on beyond the fields, the path ended, disappearing into moor land as the slopes of the mountains once more came to dominate the landscape.
Claude called a halt. After they had all gathered round, he addressed them.
“ This is the farm I was talking about. We have to go up there,” he pointed beyond the farm and the moor to a cleft in the rocks forming a canyon and through which the stream poured. “ It is easy at first and we will be able to use one of the horses as a pack animal and to carry Boric. After a while the path gets steep and the horse will have to be set free. He will find his way back to the farm because there is no where else to go.”
They rode on to the farm, Claude in the lead with Karlan. Once there, the farmer came out to greet them and have a lengthy talk with Claude in Rombuli. They took all their things off the horses, made up their individual packs, loaded these on one of the horses with Boric and left the other horses with the farmer. Walking, with Megor and Edward on each side of the horse carrying Boric, they set out towards the mountains.