Copyright © 1999 Ken St-Cyr, Simon Lipscomb, and Shawn Bodmann


Sir Ennemath led the way, mounted on his gardell. Gaidrach had put the body of Raeglin over his gardell and walked silently, grimly beside it. His face revealed none of any grief he might have had.

Ennemath, on the other hand, told a few stories to pass the time.

“About Sir Westlan ... he's old enough to have fought in the recent skirmish with Galfmor, so he has battle experience. He also wins every tournament he happens to participate in.”

“In that light you do him a disservice comparing Bruehan to him,” said Gaidrach.

“Aye, but I have not seen a tournament involving Bruehan. Perhaps at Bristor next year.”

An hour later they reached Riudsech. Gaidrach turned to take the path to the temple.

“You go on ahead,” he told Ennemath. “I have business with Turnith.”

The rest of them continued to the castle and were admitted into the bailey. There Tam recognized Athna the village healer (who was also Brannath's mother), tending a reclining lady. She smiled at the new arrivals. Another lady rose to greet Ennemath, teasing him about returning early.

“We were ambushed by that bandit knight Bruehan,” said Ennemath. “Both Gaidrach and I, on separate occasions. Raeglin has been killed. Gaidrach is with the body at the temple.”

“Has Gaidrach been hurt?” asked still another lady.

“He's in better condition than I.”

“I'd better make sure!” She took off running.

“So you had an adventure and I missed it?” said a grey-haired man.

“Aye, Athrun,” Ennemath replied. “These two fine lads here — Tamhan and Rueren — scared Bruehan off and saved the day.” He gave a wink to them.

Athrun greeted them both with pleasure. Sizing Tamhan up, he said, “What a sorry-looking fellow you are.” His wink indicated he was only teasing. “Hey, ever hold real gold? Catch ...” He tossed Tam a gold coin.

Tam caught it. Then poof. The gold vanished in his hands. It just disappeared without a trace. He felt a strange feeling of warmth coming from the vicinity of the coin but also somehow linked to Sir Athrun. The same knight burst out in an uncontrollable fit of laughter. He really seemed quite elated and his cheeks were all rosy.

Tamhan stared at him open mouthed. “Magic?” he exclaimed. “How did you do that, Sir?” He looked at his empty hands in disbelief and wonder.

Rueren realized that his mouth was open and he closed it suddenly. “What was...”

Under the shade of the keep, on a grassy lawn beside a worn brick path was a group of a dozen or so people. Four of them were male: Athrun and another older gentleman, and two youths of approximately Tam's age. The remaining people were women and girls. They were gathered around the reclining lady until they noticed the three approaching.

One of the young men, wearing a floppy hat over his long black hair and carefully preened garb, bowed and introduced himself as Glannoch.

Tam bowed back to the man in the floppy hat, suddenly realising that he had looked like a foolish peasant in his surprise at Athrun's trick. “Such a wonderful hat you have,” Rueren said with sincerity.

The other youth excitedly rushed over and asked, “So, what did you do to scare off Bruehan? Was he alone?”

Rueren shrugged. “We were there, I suppose. I could have shot at him [he gestures with the bow he is still holding] but the truth is, it didn't even occur to me until he was gone.”

Tam shrugged nonchalantly. “He just judged me to be too fearsome an opponent, I guess.”

The youth then excitedly bustled over to Athrun ...

“Perhaps if we leave immediately, we can catch this scoundrel and bring him to justice!”

“Aye,” Athrun said, regaining his composure somewhat. “I am concerned for the rest of the hunting party. They should have fair warning.”

A matronly-looking woman looked sternly at Athrun. “How did you do the trick with the coin?”

Athrun frowned. “I didn't do anything, Ethna. But it's okay. It was one of the Baron's coins.”

“You stole it?” demanded Ethna.

Athrun looked hurt. “It wasn't stealing. Brosian gave me the power to administer his estate while he was out ... so I procured it from his coffers. I hope all of his gold doesn't disappear like that.

“But, enough of this,” he said. “Get my gear ready, Horlach, we've got some riding to do. You're in charge here, Ennemath. If we get attacked by a horde from Temorgor, make sure you warn the bailiff.”

“Actually, I was going into town to buy these two a tankard or two,” said Ennemath.

Athrun sighed, shrugged. “Suit yourself. I'll leave my dear wife in command.” He smiled and turned to Ethna. “My dear, the troops stand ready to do your bidding.”

“Don't get hurt,” she replied.

Horlach rushed out to get Athrun's equipment ready. Meanwhile, Ennemath stripped off his armor and dressed more coolly. Sir Athrun and Horlach rode out of the castle, and headed down the road to the forest. Ennemath took Rueren and Tam into town, letting Glannoch tag along.

On the way, Tam asked Ennemath, “I still don't understand who Bruehan is, and why he's so dangerous to the knights of Riudsech. Can you tell me more, Ennemath?”

“Bruehan is one of those people who does not respect the traditions, and takes spite on those of us who do. He isn't in line for any inheritance, and is impatience to ascend the ranks of the Order of War. He thinks he deserves more than others and that his cleverness is proof of his worthiness. He has no sense of honor.”

Mordrigan hurried to the cave mouth and emerged upon a wooded hillside. To his left a babbling creek ran from the mouth and splashed over some rocks. There was enough of the sky visible through the trees that he could tell the sun was low on the horizon, to his right. The air had a comfortably mild temperature.

Aside from the creek and the birds, Mordrigan heard nothing. He did not recognize the place at all. He planned to make his way back to the temple. What day was it when he had gone down to the library? It had been the 20th of Glant; according to what Ietome told him, this should be the day after. He couldn't really be sure.

Since it was getting late, he decided to find a place to sleep.

“If I get hungry, I'll try and fish. After it gets dark and I'm just sitting around, I'll practice on the color wheel and try to remember and study the symbols on the scrolls.”

“The first chance I get, I want to see if I can find anything in the library about Rolkinform. If I can't find anything in the library, then I'll head down to the taverns and see if I can find any Dalings and listen in, or even possibly ask them flat out.”

Presently, Mordrigan looked around a bit and noticed a path leaving the clearing in front of the cave. It wound its way up toward the top of the hill. When Mordrigan crossed the clearing to where the path began, a noise turned him around.

“Looks like I'm just in time.”

He turned to see Giun, that rogue from Ietome's place, climbing up to the clearing from the creekcut.

“What? Aren't you glad to see me?” he said as he passed Mordrigan and started up the path. “Come on up and join the party. Everyone will be happy to see you.”

“Sure, Giun, I'll be up in a little bit. I want to have a look around, and maybe clean up a bit.”

Mordrigan waited until Giun was out of earshot, then he followed Giun up the path from a few hundred yards downhill to the left. He came to the top after an exhilarating bit of physical activity. The trip was quite refreshing since he had spent so much time in an unfamiliar climate. It felt good to stretch his legs a bit.

The top of the hill was crowned by pines that concealed a deliberate clearing there, as well as the interesting features located there. Mordrigan saw standing stones arranged in a strange pattern (he discerned some kind of pattern but it was difficult to tell what it was from his position). He saw a gardell parked by one of the stones. A young man was trussed up with his hands and ankles behind his back and lay on his side near another stone.

Maloska and Giun were there, as well as a fourth man. This one was almost as big as Maloska, but was dressed in a red cloak. He carried a mace. Maloska and Giun were gathering up their gear. The red-cloaked man roused the prisoner.

“So where is he?” asked Maloska to Giun. “You said he was right behind you.”

“He was. Maybe his puny wizard legs are having difficulty getting him up the hill.”

Mordrigan crept back down a ways and then proceeded up the path.

“Sorry it took so long. I had to take a leak. Who's this?” pointing to the tied up guy, then turning to the man in the red cloak, “and who're you?”

“This is Bruehan,” said Giun. “He's your friend and that's his prisoner.”

Mordrigan addressed Maloska and Gium. “What am I doing here for that matter? Ietome said he was sending me back to Goerbest.”

“Yeah, but Ietome always gets that creature of his to do the actual work,” Giun replies with an ugly grin. “And it always brings us here. Guess it thinks this is close enough.”

“We'll have to go the long way around,” said Bruehan. “We don't want to run into any ... ah ... trouble.”

“Lead the way, Sir Knight,” said Maloska. “You're the one who knows the forest.”

Bruehan removed the cords from the prisoner's ankles and forced him to stand. He tied him up to the gardell. Then Bruehan led everyone down the hill.

The gardell was walked beside the prisoner, who was tethered to its saddle. Bruehan was in front, leading the beast. Maloska was behind the prisoner. Giun served in a scout capacity, and occasionally would disappear from sight as ran up ahead.

The trees of the forest hid the sun, but as the group travelled through the wilderness darkness grew rapidly. They started out travelling east, then Bruehan steered the them southward.

“We'll go through Somberwood,” he said. “Then up through the woods along the Ralubian Road. That way we'll avoid any unnecessary traffic.”

Some time during the march, Mordrigan asked Giun, “We are headed back to Goerbest aren't we?”

“Aye,” he replied. Giun was in front of Mordrigan by several yards, and threw this word over over his shoulder. He paused briefly to allow the wizard to close the distance.

“We're gonna find a good place to take the backroads. To avoid whatever trouble Bruehan seems to have stirred up.”

He gave Mordrigan an ugly grin before jogging forward again.

The Greenleaf Tavern was a pretty good sized place, with tables located in the barroom and outside as well. They entered and Ennemath greeted the bartender.

“What's new Drachan?”

“Beautiful summer weather,” said Drachan. “Though that traveller in the corner there's been spooked by something he saw on the road. A couple of Ralubian merchants arrived this morning; they're soaking their feet at the inn now. Nothing else unusual. So who's your friends?”

“This is Rueren, that's Tam, and, er...”

“Aye, and Glanno!” Drachan said, nodding cheerfully. “What'll you have?”

“We're a hungry bunch, so we'll whatever you can feed us. Plus, I'll have your best ale.”

“We've got org stew and bread,” said Drachan. “Drinks for anyone else?”

They ordered, got a table and sat down to drink.

Tam said: “Maybe we ought to ask that man what he saw? Perhaps its connected to Bruehan, or perhaps it was grueslin.”

The traveller wore fading travelling garb: a muegran tunic and trousers full of holes, and peeling leather boots. It was hard to judge his size because he was sitting, but he did look on the small side. He carried a dagger at his belt. He held his jack of ale carefully in both hands when he lifted it to drink.

Ennemath was oblivious of the man. He did, however, exclaim his pleasure with the ale. He quickly downed what he had and asked for more.

“Sir,” said Glannoch of Ennemath, “at the castle we have been discussing the Lady Sionna's illness and the doctor's seeming ... inability to help. That was why we convinced Sir Athrun to bring the village healer. What do you think of this? Have you noticed anyone else with such a sickness as hers?”

Ennemath laughed. “I see with the Baron away the gossip-mongering has become more bold. If I spent as much time as you riddling through court politics I would never have time to do knightly things.”

Glannoch frowned. “Knightly things? Like what kind of knightly things?”

“Hmmm ... adventuring, tourneys, playing Daens.”

“I'm very good at playing Daens ...” Glannoch said with a sly smile.

“Yes, but I don't mean your kind of Daens.”

Glannoch shook his head, rocking his floppy hat back and forth. He shrugged. “So have you noticed anyone becoming ill?”

Ennemath gave Glannoch an exasperated look, but finally shook his head no. The org stew arrived in large wooden bowls and everyone dug in, keeping the conversation minimal for the first onslaught. Rueren and Ennemath seemed to share the same voracious appetite, and their bowl drinking turned into a minor contest. On the fourth bowl, Ennemath ended the contest with a huge belch. Rueren quickly put his bowl down and grinned, broth running down his chin and dripping off his short beard.

“Amazing,” said Glannoch. “Of course, if Athrun were here we'd see a real contest.”

“If Athrun were here,” said Ennemath, “there'd be no contest. We'd all've had a night's sleep and gotten ready for breakfast before he were done.”

After everyone had reached steady-state, Tam said, “Maybe we ought to ask that man what he saw? Perhaps its connected to Bruehan, or perhaps it was grueslin.”

Glannoch jumped at the chance to introduce himself to the traveller. He swallowed his current mouthful, licked his fingers, rose from the table, and approached the stranger casually. “Greetings, traveller, I am Glannoch. I couldn't help but notice your solitude. Perhaps a bit of company is in order.”

“Did it ever occur to you that I prefer solitude?” said the stranger, eyeing Glannoch suspiciously.

Glannoch was hardly fazed. He bowed awkwardly — his lanky frame looked like it might snap — and put on a pleasant smile. “Solitude is not a natural human condition. Erm ... Have you by chance come across anyone who was strangely ill?”

Rueren got up and fell in behind Glannoch. One couldn't help but notice the difference in sizes. Glannoch looked to be only slightly taller, but Rueren's large frame almost completely blocked Glannoch from view. “I think the idea here is to ask this man what he saw on the road.”

“Ahh,” replied Glannoch. “Yes, well, I was going to get to that.” He addressed the stranger again. “You weren't spooked by someone sick were you?”

“No,” said the stranger angrily. “I was spooked by someone dead. Some ones. Three of them. One of their heads had been split open, the other two completely severed, and the bodies left beside the road to rot.”

The traveller had Ennemath's attention now.

“Ugh, grim,” Tam said. “Where were they? Near Castle Riusech?” He turned to Ennemath. “Something like this couldn't happen too close to the castle could it? Who'd dare?”

“Not like this,” said Ennemath. He stopped to think for a moment. “Though I do know there used to be a lot of raiders back before Durn the Black turned good.”

“I come up from Tanhalm,” said the traveller. “They were in a place where there weren't anyone living nearby.”

Tamhan thought for a moment. “Does Bruehan always fight with a mace? He couldn't slice someone's head off with that, so it must be someone else.”

Ennemath nodded in agreement. “I don't like the sound of this. It isn't right.”

“Maybe we ought to investigate?”

“It seems kind of late to be out...” said Rueren.

“Aye,” said Ennemath. “But we can't let those bodies sit out there and rot. They might come back to haunt us.”

“Glannoch,” he said. “Go to the temple and make sure Gaidrach meets us at the castle. The rest of you, come on. We have some travelling to do.”

Ennemath led the way back to the castle. He pulled a couple of hueglachs from the pens for Tam and Rueren to ride. “Know how to ride?” he said with a smile. “Just hang on real tight. These things don't go too fast so you have nothing to worry about.”

Gaidrach, mounted, arrived at the castle, accompanied by his sister and Glannoch, on foot. The knight made his way toward Ennemath (south side of the keep) while Glannoch escorted Gaidrach's sister to the keep.

“What's this about?” asked Gaidrach. “Corpses?”

“Strange murders,” said Ennemath.


Ennemath shook his head no. “Decapitated corpses. Down the road to Tanhalm.”

“Ugh. And we're travelling by night? We'll need men.”

“Aye, that's why we're taking Tam and Rueren here.”

“Good choice,” Gaidrach said with a grin. “Though I must say, those are some pretty sorry looking mounts.”

“True, but this way our troops don't get eaten.”

“Well,” said Gaidrach, carefully inspecting the company. “Let's go then.”

A few hours later, with the darkness complete, Bruehan brought the group to a halt.

“We'll stop here for the night,” he said. “trade watches.”

Mordrigan knew that Somberwood was not a particularly friendly wilderness, and downright hostile at night.

The prisoner was bound as before, with his wrists and ankles tied together. Mordrigan suggested that the prisoner be gagged. “He could make noise and attract some unwanted attention.” Bruehan was agreeable with the idea, so he found a mangy piece of cloth to stick over the prisoner's mouth.

The remaining men made a circle around the packs (which were removed from the gardell for the night). A campfire was not lit, since the night was warm. Giun took the first watch, followed by Maloska, then Bruehan.

Mordrigan pulled out his scrolls to study them, but found it impossible with the light available.

“Giun!” said Bruehan. “The wizard needs some light. Give him one those stones.”

Giun reached into his belt pouch and pulls out a small leather bag. He tossed it to Mordrigan. “Try to keep it out of sight.”

Mordrigan was startled by a bright light when he opened the bag. Looking inside he saw that the light came from a cabochon-cut stone about an inch in diameter. The light illuminated an area about five feet in radius.

“I said keep it out of sight!” said Giun.

It was dusk when they readied their animals for the trip down the road to Tanhalm.

“Keep your eyes open,” said Ennemath. “Since we don't know exactly where we're going, we don't want to miss the bodies.”

Tam nervously mounted the hueglach and picked up the reins.

“How do I stee..,” he began to say before Ennemath spurred his mount forward and the party set off. Nearly falling out of the saddle, Tam clung grimly to the creatures neck and tried to get used to the lurching gait.

Eventually, Tam released his grip, opened his eyes and sat more upright in the saddle. He realized his mount was keeping up with the others and that he don't need to do much to control it.

“How are our new recruits coping?” Ennemath turned and asked them. Tam smiled faintly and tried to keep his eyes out for dead bodies hiding in the undergrowth. Once or twice, his imagination created them for him from moss-covered logs and boulders.

“Bye the way,” said Rueren. “What are we going to do with the bodies when we find them?”

Ennemath stared dumbly at Rueren. He looked at Gaidrach, who seemed somewhat dazed. Ennemath turned back to Rueren and shrugged.

“I hadn't thought of that.”

“We were just gonna look at them,” said Gaidrach.

“I suppose we ought to give them a decent burial,” Tam added. “They might come back as ghosts otherwise.”

“We could use a shovel, then,” said Gaidrach.

A few moments later, Tam's keen eyes spotted what looked like an arm lying in the ditch beside the road.

“Ennemath, over there,” Tamhan pointed and slid off his hueglach before it stopped moving fully. He pulled out his rather pathetic knife and took a few steps towards the arm. At that point he stopped and waited for the others.

The bodies didn't smell too good.

“Where's the nearest village?” asked Ennemath.

“Probably that cluster huts we saw a couple of miles back,” said Gaidrach. “Shall I go back and ask them for a shovel?”

“There's an idea,” said Ennemath.

Rueren cautiously approached the edge of the ditch and looked in. He quickly stepped back. “Who could have done such a thing?”

Gaidrach took a good look. His eyes widened. “Rangers? These men are knights!” Noticing the bewildered expressions on everyone's faces, he explained: “The Order of Rangers of the Marsh. They're the knights who patrol the Ralubian side of Somberwood.”

“Why are they up here?” asked Ennemath. “And who could have killed them?”

Gaidrach shook his head. “Whoever it was had a fair amount of skill, and heavy weaponry. Either a two-handed sword or a really big axe. These are clean strokes.”

“And they're Ralubian noblemen. We can't bury them here, we have to identify them somehow.”

“Ralubian? Weren't there some Ralubian merchants back in the inn? I suppose they'll be there overnight — they might know something about this. Unless ... they were responsible?”

Tam looked around at the others' faces. “I think we should go back and have a word with them. Maybe ask if anyone in that village saw anything too. What are we going to do with these bodies though?”

Gaidrach nodded solemnly at the comments about the Ralubians.

“Guess I'll head back to those houses after all. We need a wheelbarrow or cart. I'll wake up them herders and bring over some of their animals or something. Then we need to get back to Riudsech and find those merchants.”

Ennemath was in agreement. He knelt his gardell and dismounted.

“We'll stay here and make sure these bodies don't go anywhere.”

“I'll return as soon as I can,” Gaidrach said as he turned his gardell and rode off at a full run. The sun had set behind the distant mountains, but still lit up the western sky. Ennemath watched the rider and beast disappear into shadows up the road, then turned to his companions.

“I don't see all the body parts here. Why don't you two help me look for their heads. I have torches to make the job easier. (reaches into his saddle pack) Here.”

He handed Tam a torch and firemaker. As Tam worked to light the torch, Rueren reluctantly began scanning the area.

The heads were nowhere to be found. After about an hour of searching, Gaidrach came noisily down the road accompanied by a creaky old cart driven by a tired-looking herder and pulled by a feisty pack lizard.

“Load 'em up.”

It was nearly midnight by the time they returned to Riudsech. The village and castle were asleep.

“Ennemath,” said Tam, “I've got to go — my family will be worried about me. Are you going to wake those Ralubians now, or wait until morning? I want to see what they say.”

“I have a mind to, despite the hour ...” Ennemath replied, then hesitated. They had just passed by a grandly fat arach tree — a black and grey monster in the night — and had come up to the fencing around the inn. The yard was empty.

“Strange,” muttered Gaidrach.

“Now I am very suspicious,” said Ennemath. “Why would these merchants leave so late?”

Gaidrach raised a shaggy eyebrow. “They are Ralubians.”

“True.” A bobbing nod from Ennemath. “I'm still suspicious.”

“They're hours ahead of us,” said Gaidrach. “They could be as far as Thestor, by now.”

A few moments of thoughtful silence passed between the two knights. The gardells and hueglachs, oblivious of the indecision, uttered an occasional noisy yawn or snap at nearly invisible flying pests. Tam and Rueren could feel the hueglachs shifting their weight beneath them.

“Your call,” said Gaidrach.

Ennemath shrugged. “Unless they're travelling all night we can still catch them ... if we leave early enough in the morning.” He turned to Tam. “You had better get home, if your family worries. [to Rueren] And you, too.”

Time lagged noticeably as Tam and Rueren hesitated. Ennemath cast a sidelong glance at Gaidrach, who shook a nod. Ennemath grinned and continued.

“If you want to come with us, then you'd better get here by sunrise.”

“Aye, so take the hueglachs,” said Gaidrach. “I'm sure the baron won't miss them.”

Mordrigan had not been asleep for long before voices woke him up.

“What in Temorgor's pits?!”

“We've got company!” said Giun, getting to his feet. Mordrigan followed Bruehan and Giun's gaze to the edge of the clearing. There, in the shadows, dimly glowing eyes peered out maliciously. Shuffling boots announced the approach of creatures of the night. Draped in filthy muegran rags, worn boots, and salvaged armor, these creatures had the shape of men, but the visage of all manner of beasts. In fact, they looked very similar to the Beast-Men Mordrigan had encountered during his strange journey.

Bruehan drew his sword and faced the Beast-Men impatiently. “What are you doing here?” he demanded. “It is not time for you to come crawling out of your holes. The master will be angry.”

“The master sleeps at night, just as you humans do,” laughed the Beast-Men's leader. “We are scouting, looking for goodies to eat.”

“We have rations, if that's what you need,” replied Bruehan. “But there's only a little.”

The Beast-Man leader shook his snouted head and snorted. “We have rations, too. But we are looking for fresh meat.” He paused to think a bit, searching the campsite with beady, cinder-colored eyes. “We'll take your prisoner, and let the rest of you go free.”

Barely alert, Mordrigan sat up to get a better view of the proceedings. When the Beast-Men turned at his movement, their eyes widened in shock.


They backed away from Mordrigan unsteadily.

Not hesitating to take advantage of the situation, Mordrigan stood up and drew out the light-stone pouch in such a way that Giun and company saw that he had it, leaving it up to them to shield their eyes.

Then he turned to face the Beast-Men, “That's right beasts, and unless you wish to feel my magic, I suggest you return to the holes you crawled out of.” With that, he pulled the light stone out of the pouch, making it look like he had just cast a spell.

The Beast-Men shielded their eyes and stumbled backward with cries of dismay. Maloska and Giun drew their weapons and stood beside Bruehan.

“Okay,” said the Beast-Man leader, with a note of anger in his voice. He shook his fists at his fellows, as if pleading them to show more courage. “We will find fresh meat elsewhere.”

The Beast-Men rapidly departed, disappearing into the darkness beyond the range of the light.

Bruehan looked at Giun. “Be extra alert, in case they decide to come back.”

“I was kind of looking forward to lopping a few of their heads off,” said Maloska, brandishing his greatsword. “Too bad they were scared of a little light.”

After the excitement had passed and everyone calmed down, Bruehan re-established order in the camp and set the watches as before.

The rest of the night passed uneventfully. Mordrigan kept himself busy studying the symbols, experimenting with them so he could understand what powers they controlled. And the color disc. He must attune himself to it. He made a mental note to do all that in whatever free time he had, and try to keep it secret from everyone else.

The party spent the morning travelling through the forest. Bruehan decided to veer northward at that time and soon the party came out of the woods. Rolling pastures dotted with trees, foraging orgs, an occasional grazing pack lizard, and herders with trotting gantachs replace the darkness of the forest. Giun dutifully gave warning of the occasional approaching persons or animals. The land sloped gently downward to an unpaved road winding at the top of a steep decline into a river cut.

Giun stopped at the road and waited for the group to catch up. Bruehan addressed Giun.

“Giun, you will go to Riudsech and deliver the ransom message for me.”

“And lose my services as a scout? That's wonderful.”

Bruehan grunted. “We'll be okay as soon as we cross the river, you org. When you get a reply from them, meet us in the village outside Cadronel.”

“Okay,” said Giun. “One more thing.” The ugly rogue went up to the prisoner and removed the gag. “What's your name, boy?”

Before the prisoner answered, the sound of armor and saurid steps approaches from up the road. Giun clapped his hand over the prisoner's mouth and attempted to drag him off the road and under cover. Bruehan and Maloska were drawing the gardell quickly into a nearby stand of trees to sit it down.

The prisoner bit Giun's hand and followed up with a leg whip to the inside of one of his legs, knocking Giun off balance. As soon as his mouth was uncovered, he started shouting.

“Help! Bruehan! Wizard! Four! Goerbest!”

He ran towards the sound on the road, screaming the whole way.

Tamhan's family was not very forgiving. His father did not let him tell his story and forced him to apologize to his older brother, who had eventually spent hours looking for him. Tam's mother cried and cried.

His youth and immaturity, plus the excitement of his adventure make Tam somewhat deaf, and a little bit angry after a while.

When he left before sunrise in the morning, he did so in secret, with everyone asleep.

First thing the next morning, before the others were up, he got the sacks of charcoal, loaded them and himself onto the hueglach and rode off to the village, literally dropping the bags off at Brannath's house on the way.

Arriving, full of nervous energy for the others to arrive so we can go in search of these Ralubians.

Tamhan arrived to see Ennemath waiting by the tree at the inn. “Gaidrach will be here as soon as his lazy rear can make it up,” the knight said.

“I've been up,” said Gaidrach, as he appeared around the corner. “I just wanted a good breakfast, that's all. Where's Rueren?”

Ennemath shrugged. They waited around for a few minutes, pacing to keep warm in the chill of pre-dawn light. Ennemath, restless the whole while, finally conceded to his impatience.

“We'll have to leave without him,” Ennemath said. “We don't want to lose any more time than we have.”

One hour up the north road to Carfenell. It was a small manorhouse commanding the fields around a cluster of homesteads. Anyone see the Ralubians?Aye, they passed through last night and went north.

The road continued for another hour through a light wood to Thestor. Baron Brosian's hereditary estate was a grand manor house — the seat of the Siathannon clan, explained Gaidrach.

From the locals they discovered that the Ralubians took the road to Cadronel. This road went eastward past grain fields where the peasants were weeding. The road crossed the River Wede at a ford. A tiny village there confirmed the passage of the Ralubians. It took a total of about an hour and a half to reach Cadronel from Thestor. There they saw the Ralubian Road for the first time: it was an old Verentian highway thirty paces wide and paved. Tam found it hard to imagine the kind of work that went into creating it, despite its currently dilapidated state. At Cadronel they were pointed north.

At Goerbest: the Ralubians didn't stop there.

It was at a little cluster of houses around an inn called Dorella that they finally caught up to their prey.

“This is a familiar place,” said Gaidrach, eyeing the inn. The yard was full of wagons, pack lizards, tough-looking guardsmen, and a single gardell. Gaidrach smiled. “That's my brother's animal. He's probably inside busily eating rhalberry pie right about now. Let's go in and see him.”

Inside it was warm and crowded. Ennemath nodded to Tam, confirming the identity of the customers as Ralubian. They were smallish, dark-haired, with bronze-ish complexions. A large man at one end of the room bore some resemblance to Gaidrach.