Continuing Inona's quest to stop the Necromancer
The Scarred One
Inona sat up in bed looking out the window the sun already well up she had slept overlong. A knock on the door came, and a woman servant entered.
“I have brought water for you to bathe lady,” she held a large pitcher of hot water and was followed by three other maids with pitchers. Filling the bath, they told Inona undress and get in. Two of the servants bathed her and washed her hair. As she got out of the tub, they dried her applying scented oils to her skin another maid entered carrying a satin dress which she left on the bed taking her everyday clothes to clean.
“Your clothes will be cleaned and returned before you leave lady,” the servant said as she left.
Inona had never been treated so well in all her life; she put on the dress as the servants left her alone again. Admiring herself in the glass; for the first time, she felt genuinely feminine. She examined her features , curiously somehow Inona thought the scarred tissue had shrunk a little or maybe it was wishful thinking. Turning as she heard a knock on the door again, no one entered this time. Inona went to the door and opened it.
“Hello, Inona it has been some time since we last met,” Silena smiled. “You look well, and my you should wear a dress more often it suits you,” Silena said admiringly.
Inona’s face reddened as she stood at a loss for what to say for once. “What are you doing here?” Finally finding her voice, “last time we met, you disappeared after paying the bounty for capturing that bandit.” Remembering the mission, she undertook for her. The two became friends during the quest and arranged to meet when it was over, but Silena never showed, and Inona wondered what happened to her.
“Come, breakfast awaits, we can talk on the way,” Silena began as they went down the spiral staircase. “I’m sorry I never came to meet you after the mission I tried to get a message to you, but you had already gone,” She explained as they reached the bottom of the stairs.
“I wondered what happened to you, I waited for a while, then I got news of another mission so had to leave.” They fell silent, walking along a narrow corridor with paintings on the walls their footsteps echoing on the marble floor. Silena stopped next to an ornate arched entrance and faced Inona.
“Here we are, the dining hall, your friends are already at breakfast... “I’ll see you later,” she bowed smiling and left Inona to join her companions.
As she entered the hall Inona, noted there was no sign of Shan. The others had almost finished eating as she sat helping herself to the assorted fruits and meats on the table finishing it all with a glass of grape juice which she acquired a taste for the last time she was in Callir. The conversation around the table was mostly small talk. She noticed that Aron kept glancing at her. She knew there was something on his mind that he wanted to tell her. After breakfast, Inona went for a stroll in the gardens admiring all the different flowers and shrubs. The day already quite hot, she took shelter from the sun in a wooden pergola. A while later Aron found her, sitting down next to her; she knew he wanted to tell her what was on his mind.
Inona gave the prince a serious look, “So what is it you have wanted to tell me since the library in Malori? Though I think I might have an idea what it is."
“Oh, in that case, you tell me what it is I’m going to say.”
“Playing that game are we, all right then,” Inona grinned. “The dreams I’ve been having since starting this quest, remembering things about my childhood it's because of you right.”
Aron raised an eyebrow and nodded. “Very good so far and quite right,” he paused looking intently at Inona, “What else?”
“You were there, you pulled me out of burning building that's when I got this scar,” Inona said touching her scarred cheek.
“Only half right, I was there I had the vision --- one of the very few visions I’ve had,” he paused as Inona looked bemused. “I am a little older than you, but I was still a boy then I couldn’t have pulled you out of that building."
Inona felt confused, “Then who?” Then something came to her it was around that time that the king died. “Your father!” Inona exclaimed incredulously.
Aron winced at the memory of it all. “I kept that a secret all these years just me and father knew. We took you to a healer gave him money to look after you,” he paused reliving painful memories. “Father inhaled to much smoke getting you out of that building and never completely recovered he died shortly after,” Aron swallowed his eyes having a haunted look.
Inona shook her head astounded by it all. “Why, all because of some obscure prophecy?"
“Father took my visions seriously more than I did at the time,” he paused. “He was also a little superstitious and a great believer in prophecies,” he paused again. “He said no else should know not even mother just the two of us.” He sighed relief washing him over him as he finally let go of his burden.
“Inona regarded Aron her expression softening she took his hand in hers. “I’m so sorry Aron, all this pain because of me,” she paused shaking her head. “I don’t know if it was worth saving me,” she paused. “Maybe your father should have left me to die in that building then he would be alive today.” It was too much for her to comprehend. She felt guilt, it was her fault Aron's father's died and, Aron having to carry such a painful burden all these years
“Don’t talk like that my vision showed your importance in all this.” He paused grabbing Inona by the shoulders and shaking her. “You don’t get to feel sorry for yourself not now,” he paused. “Don’t let my father’s death be for nothing.” Realising he was shouting, he took a deep breath. “If you had died then, or fail now, inevitably the world would fall into darkness and chaos."
Inona felt numb, “Please give me a little time to think this through it’s a lot to take in."
Aron nodded, he knew the moment he set eyes on her again after all these years who she was even without the scar he would have recognised her. Since they started on this quest, she had remained strong, capable, and self-assured this was the first time he had seen her show any weakness. He wondered if he made a mistake in telling her.
He ran a hand through his hair and tried again more gently. “Inona, none of it was your fault, you were just a child.”
Inona breathed out slowly gathering herself together, Aron was right she was just a child then, and she lived now thanks to Aron and his late father. She couldn’t let Aron’s and his father’s sacrifice be in vane. “Is there more secrets you haven’t told me about yet?” She asked firmly.
Aron was glad to see her back to her old self it had been quite a shock for her. “There is nothing more I can tell you, but I think Koburn is hiding something.”
Inona frowned, she suspected there was more to come but decided to let it go for now; it would come out in time. They stood and started walking back, just as Silena came to take them to meet with the Caliph
The companions gathered together, Inona noticed that although the mute was with them there no sign of Shan. Silena led them through the great hall towards a connecting side chamber at the far end.A heavy ornate door was slightly ajar without further aplomb Silena pushed the door fully open and entered. The Caliph stood talking to Shan at the far end of the room. Silena ushered Inona and her companions forward stopping near the two men as the Calif and Shan turned to face them. Silena went to stand on the right side of the Calif while Shan stood on the left.
Inona scrutinised the Caliph a tall elderly man wearing a turban and a white caftan with gold trim. He wore simple sandals with a pointed white beard on a smooth, unlined face. There seemed to be great wisdom in his deep blue eyes.
“Welcome my friends; I’m sorry to have kept you waiting,” the Caliph began. “You already know the two here beside me but perhaps not fully; let me introduce you,” he paused turning to Silena. “This is my daughter Silena and my nephew, Abul Shan,” the Caliph stated turning to Shan.
Inona was not surprised to hear Shan was related but Silena being the Caliph’s daughter did surprise her. The Caliph stepped forward smiling serenely he faced Sir Markwight. “The gallant and prideful Sir Markwight,” he began as the knight bowed. “But perhaps not so prideful now,” he said. The Caliph moved to Koburn next. “It has been many years since we last met old friend,” he said as Koburn bowed.
“Indeed it has Caliph,” Koburn replied as he stood straight once more with a small smile.
The Caliph gave a smile in return before moving on to face Aron. “Could this be Lord Farley,” his smile widened, and as Aron bowed the Caliph also bowed then nodding his head, he moved to Ben. Inona noted the exchange obviously the Caliph knew Aron’s real identity. He signed to Ben, then in a surprising move embraced the mute warmly. Next, he faced Sharmane. “Be at peace seeress, heir apparent to the Matriarch,” he said as the Sharmane bowed. Lastly, the Caliph faced Inona, she began to bow, but the Caliph stopped her putting his hands on shoulders. “Inona, do not bow it has not been your habit to bow before anyone do not start now child,” The Caliph stated. Inona stood at a loss for words as the Caliph smiled and drew her to one side raising a hand he touched her scarred cheek Inona felt a tingling where he touched her.
“I have a gift for you Inona,” he began. The Caliph picked up a sword which lay on a nearby table as Inona waited. He held the sword out to Inona with outstretched arms with the tip of the blade and hilt resting in the palms of his hands. “It's a vorpal blade a very rare and unique sword. Inona studied it at times she thought there appeared to be two swords one solid and darkly shimmering the other near invisible to the naked eye.
“It exists on two planes simultaneously here, and now in the real world the other in the underworld do you understand this?” the Caliph asked.
Inona considered fascinated by the sword seeing a double image at times she understood what the Caliph meant. “Yes I believe I do,” she answered. “You are saying this sword will kill the undead as well as the living," she deduced.
The Caliph sighed and nodded a broad smile crossing his face. “Yes, indeed it will slay any creature from the underworld as well as the living the blade never dulls or it can be it broken."
“This is too precious a gift I cannot except it,” Inona shook her head she began to bow, once more the Caliph stopped her.
“Inona I said bow to no one, you are the hope of the world you have a pure heart a rare thing in this troubled world we should all bow to you.” Inona felt overwhelmed by this humble and wise ruler. Her eyes watered as she shed a tear something she hadn’t done since her childhood. He nodded to her to take the sword; as she held the sword, the double image became one. Finally, they returned to the others Inona holding the sword at her side.
“Now, I have news for you,” the Caliph looked around at the companions as he again went to stand between Selina and Shan. “The second gem lies in a crypt outside the city to the south. There is a letch lord commanding undead guarding the tomb,” he paused. “Defeat him first, and the undead will fall,” he paused again. “Selina will join you as you are a few short and will need all the help you can muster on this perilous quest,”
Inona knew now why the Caliph had given her the vorpal blade. She looked to Silena who smiled at her, joining the group along with Shan.
“Farewell my friends I wish you well may fortune smile on your endeavours,” the Caliph stepped forward and embraced Inona. “Stay safe child and be happy,” he whispered in her ear. Inona swallowed fighting back the tears as the Caliph let go he stood back nodded to Inona then regarding all he smiled sadly and bowed his head low.
A while later they gathered outside the city gates having resupplied and obtained their horses they prepared to set out to the crypt. Samba appeared near Inona and Selina smiled impishly at Inona.
“Well we are all here shall we, ”Selina said with an easy grin.
Inona gathered the horse's reigns nudging the animal forward, “Good to be working with again Selina,” Smiling she gave Selina sideways glance as they set out to the south. They made camp as darkness came expecting to arrive at the crypt before midday the following morning - the three women set around the campfire as the other talked amongst themselves.
“Have you had any more visions?” Inona asked, Sharmane her expression indicating she appeared partly lost in thought.
“No, Inona I suspect I won't get any more visions till we get the gem,” Sharmane answered.
“Oh, why do you think that?” Selina asked with a shake of the head, flicking back her dark hair.
“Just a feeling that’s all,” Sharmane said. Inona nodded again lost in thought. She looked up at the moon, a pale disk surrounded by millions of stars shining brightly in the night sky. She reflected on her journey so far and felt a chill even though the night was balmy.
“Looks like your old friend has turned up again,” Aron lay in hiding on top of the dune with Inona and Selina looking down to where a group of mercenaries waited. He handed the spyglass to Inona.
“Tano Wyle,” Inona exclaimed with a sour expression looking through the spyglass.. She handed the spyglass back to Aron. “Let's get back to the others and tell them what’s happening.
“What do you propose doing?” Aron asked as they made their way back to the rest of the companions.
“We can't go around them or leave them at backs, so I guess we ride down there and face them head-on,” Inona replied.
Selina grinned, “Good plan.”
“You two are much alike,” Aron said shaking his head slowly.
Koburn stroked his beard considering after the three returned to inform the rest of companions what they planned. “You’re sure we can't go around them?”
“Even if we could it wouldn’t be a good idea to leave them at our backs,” Inona tugged at her hair in agitation. “We could get trapped between the undead and Tano’s mercenaries. It would be like him to let us do all the work then come in and pick us off afterwards.”
Koburn nodded accepting, though by his expression none too happy. Leaving Selina, Sharmane and Samba to follow behind covering their backs. Taking the lead Inona rode toward a ruined cemetery. Ahead, the gate entrance hung from its hinges, eroded by time, wind and sand. Swinging lazily in the warm breeze with the occasional squeak of grating metal. Inside Inona scanned around intently collapsed gravestones and crypts some covered with sand -and others partially visible lay in rows with a narrow pathway between them and a broader path leading through the centre.
“Let's leave the horses here,” dismounting. The rest of the companions dismounted tying their horses to a broken fence outside the graveyard. Entering several ruined buildings lay ahead, and a further entrance to another part of the cemetery where the mercenaries waited. “Stay alert there are plenty of places to lay in ambush here,” Inona said. She narrowed her eyes squinting against the sun’s glare as she scanned ahead. The party drew their weapons spreading out between the central pathway and the gravestones as they walked cautiously forward. Halfway to where the mercenaries stood in wait, Inona spotted movement to her left.
“Ambush,” Aron said none too surprised as an ambusher rose from hiding. The ambusher took a step forward as an arrow thudded into his chest he fell back dead, more rose from hiding to the left and right of the companions.
“Not a very well laid ambush and much too obvious,” Selina knelt with one leg bent forward to steady her aim. Notching another arrow, she fired an ambusher fell the arrow going through his neck. “A little too high, sloppy of me,” she commented to no one in particular. Beside her, Sharmane gave her a sideways glance as she cast a spell. Selina smiled at the seeress. “What? I take pride in my skill with a bow,” Selina said in answer to Sharmane’s look.
“I dare say you do,” the seeress began frowning. “Though snuffing out a life seems an insignificant matter to you compared to your skill with a bow,” Sharmane replied.
“I never said that,” Selina began downing another man. The arrow this time piercing the man’s heart. “I will kill when needed to protect the those I care for in this life and have no regrets. Besides these men deserve to die,” she paused again glancing at the seeress. “I will at least try to give my victims a clean death,” Selina shut her eyes looking down her mood momentary sombre. Looking up again her eyes wide sparkled with mischief she gave Sharmane a tight smile before notching another arrow. Sharmane nodded beginning to understand and reappraise her opinion of Selina and why she was such a good friend to Inona. A man suddenly screamed in agony as Samba took him down tearing out his throat.
“I can never get used to that,” Sharmane said. She swallowed averting her eyes from the grizzly scene.
“I’d worry if you did,” Selina said rising they moved forward close behind Inona and the others.
Inona sliced across her foes midriff opening a gaping wound. The man groaned in pain his free hand went to the injury clutching the wound trying in vain to stem the blood flowing between his fingers. He stumbled forward a step on to his knees then facedown dead in the sand. Grinding her teeth Inona, blinked as sweat ran down her forehead into a shallow cut on her unscarred cheek. She winced as the saltiness stung the open wound, stepping over the dead man. Advancing she ignoring the gash on her side that soaked her mail shirt with blood. Her companions pushed forward on either side. She could see Tano Wyle at the back of a group mercenaries in front with two of his captains. Beside him.
Aron side-stepped light-footed as an enemy tried a thrust. Aron’s sword came up under the man’s guard slicing in an upward arc from across his chest. Tearing through muscle and sinew exposing his ribcage. The man dropped his sword screaming in agony falling on to the hot sand riving in pain. The prince put an end his foe’s pain before moving on.
An enemy yelled in pain as Samba brought him down. On the far left of Inona, Korburn took two more foes out with a spell. Sir Markwight favouring an injured arm killed another foe. Shan and Ben on the far right took down three more between them. Few remained at the second gate. Suddenly Tano Wyle called out waving excitedly for a retreat. Inona looked up to see what Wyle was so excited about. In the distance further to the south Inona could see a dust cloud heading their way.
Inona swore “Sandstorm!” We need to find cover now.”
The mercenaries along with Tano Wyle retreated towards one of the collapsed buildings they passed earlier. Aron pointed in the direction their enemy fled. “Should we follow them looks like they have someplace to shelter.
Inona shook her head, “I doubt Wyle will let us share.”
“Over there,” Koburn pointed towards a large crypt,” as the wind grew in strength beginning to raise sand around them. They ran through the gateway towards the crypt. It took several minutes before they managed to open the crypt door. By the time they squeezed through the door closing it behind the sandstorm raged outside.
Inona looked around as Koburn cast a light spell igniting nearby wall-mounted torches “We are not going anywhere for a while may as well rest here.” Inona slumped against the crypt wall feeling her wounded side as Sharmane came to her.
“Be still a moment while I heal your wounds,” Sharmane said. She put a hand to the cut on Inona’s cheek then to her side until both wounds healed. Then she checked the others for injuries.
Koburn stood reading ancient writing and symbols on the opposite wall to the entrance above a large door. “I thought so,” Koburn pausing he gave a nod of his head reading further. “This is the crypt we want its the largest one I could see in the graveyard that's what I said head for this one.”
“Better rest before going further,” Aron said, pausing as he sat on the damp floor with the rest of the companions. "We are in no condition to take on the undead right now.”
“The door’s sealed with a combination of enchantments which will take some time to work out in any case,” Koburn paused. “half turning he waved to Sharmane. “I might need your help to figure this out Sharmane.” The seeress stood studying the symbols alongside Koburn the two locked in animated discussion. Inona noticed sir Markwight standing alone head down by himself; she rose and went to over to him. Inona hadn’t looked too closely at the knight until now. She became used to him always being there, reliable and strong despite what had happened on their first meeting.
“Something the matter sir knight?” Inona for the first time took in his features with sandy hair; intense blue eyes peered from under thick eyebrows. His cheekbones were prominent, with a craggy jaw and pale skinned. His mail-shirt had several dents and one or two holes. He appeared strangely handsome to Inona at this moment and far different from the knight who confronted her in the throne room.
The knight sighed looking up at Inona “They’re all gone Inona; all my fellow knights who started on this quest,” he paused. Inona detected weariness in his voice as he spoke tinged with sadness. “The last of comrades fell today and covered by sand now out there somewhere.” He shook his head Inona was about to speak, but the knight had more to say. “I realise now I’m a prideful and arrogant man Inona I have always looked down on those of a lower station than myself,” he paused again. Inona waited to let him finish unburdening himself. She felt sorrow and compassion for him also something else she couldn’t quite grasp yet. “That’s not how a true knight should behave; I have shamed myself and my fellow knights. Like my fallen comrades, I will not live to see the end of this quest Inona."
Inona gathered her thoughts to find the right words to reconcile Markwight. The man looked already to have given up any hope of surviving she didn’t want to lose anyone else on this quest if she could help it; especially not Markwight. “Sir Knight, don’t talk like that we will both return to find your fallen comrade and give him a proper burial when the quest is over.”
The knight sighed again then straightened himself giving Inona a smile that startled her. “I’m okay now forgive me for being melancholy it won't happen again,” he paused hesitant whether to say more. His cheeks turned red, “Call me Stefan."
Inona gaped at the knight wondering what was going on with him. Before she could say more Koburn and Sharmane started to cast a sequence of spells cursing as the first attempt failed they tried several more times before the enchantment worked and the door noisily grated open to reveal steps going down deeper into the crypt.
Koburn cast a spell lighting the way down. He turned to face the others his features part cast in shadow from the dim light, “Shall we proceed.”
Aran following behind Inona noticed her looking back at the entrance as Koburn led the way down. “You're worried about Samba,” he paused as Inona nodded before turning around again. “I’m sure he will have found somewhere to ride out the sandstorm.” He reassured, seeing Inona sigh and grunt an affirmative, as they followed the others down he spoke further. "By the way, what were you talking about with Markwight?”
Inona detected that the question was more than idle curiosity. “Oh, nothing important,” she frowned feeling her cheeks burn. “Why didn’t I tell him what we spoke about? And why do I feel awkward about what was said?” Inona asked herself, reaching the bottom of the steps. A narrow passage barely wide enough for two people to walk side by side run from left to right; disappearing into the darkness in both directions. A bare stone wall ran alongside the passage..
Inona peered down the passage in both directions before turning back to her companions. "We should split into two groups one group going in either direction,” she paused as the others nodded agreement and divided into two. “Call out if you find anything or run into any undead else meet back here.” They all agreed as Inona warned them to be careful. Grabbing one of the torches Koburn lit from the wall she headed to the right with Sharmane, Selina and Stefan the others going in the opposite direction. Inona felt every nerve in her body tense as they walked in silence. She could tell that others felt much the same. The atmosphere felt oppressive, looking down the floor thick with dust. Inona suddenly stopped cursing.
“What?” Selina asked bumping Inona and Stefan who walked in front.
“Rats! I hate rats,” Inona exclaimed. As they heard a squeak as a startled rat scurried away. “Disgusting creatures,” She added.
“Stefan stared up at the cobwebs hanging from the ceiling; he shuddered shaking his broad shoulders. “Myself I don’t like spiders, never know when one might drop on you.”
Inona looked closely at Stefan in the dim light trying to see if was jesting or really afraid of spiders. Either way, she couldn’t tell. "A grown man and a knight at that! Afraid of spiders? It seemed ridiculous, yet amusing at the same time if true.” Inona shrugged as they continued. They came to a passage that branched off to the left, Inona decided to keep straight eventually coming to dead end.
“We could go back to the steps or take the passage that branched off?” Inona looked to the other two to see what they thought.
“I vote we take the side passage,” Selina said glancing at Stefan.
The knight shrugged, “I agree let's see where it leads.
Inona turned to brush away a cobweb casually. “Okay, let's backtrack and find the side passage. She turned to face Stefan holding the torch aloft and stared at him.
“What?” the knight asked.
“There is something on your shoulder,” Inona replied.
The Stefan jumped, quickly trying brush of whatever was on his shoulder. Inona stifled her laughter glad that the knight couldn’t see her face in the dim torchlight; as she grinned. She felt a little less tense now albeit at Stefan's expense; filing the information in her head for future use. "Who would've thought it, afraid of spiders.” Shaking her head as they reached the side passage. The mood turned sombre once more. Walking along the passage, Inona noticed recesses cut into the walls were the bones of the long-dead lay covered in cobwebs. Suddenly a figure appeared ahead of them, Inona stopped as the figure drew near.
“Shan,” Inona exclaimed.
Shan gave his usual smug smile. “We have found what we are looking for the others wait for you there.”
Inona nodded, “lead on then my friend.” Shan turned back as Inona, and the rest followed coming to the end of the passage they turned left down another short passage which led into a long passage. After turning a corner to the right a short distance ahead, the others waited outside a heavy wooden door.
Koburn’s face looked grim in the torchlight as he regarded the gathered companions. “I believe beyond this door is what we have come for. It will be well guarded as we already know so prepare yourselves.” Inona reached over her shoulder to unsheathe the vorpal blade. “Stop,” Koburn grabbed her hand. “Don’t take that blade in hand until you are close enough to strike the letch lord.”
“Why?” Inona frowned.
“Once you draw it, the letch lord will sense it and will be prepared. He may even take the gem and flee,” Koburn explained. Inona lowered her hand and readied her short sword
Koburn studied the door a moment. “Stand back everyone there is only one way to open this door it’s by sealed by magic.” As the others stepped back Koburn cast a spell. The door burst inward sending pieces of wood and splinters flying leaving the door hanging from its hinges. Koburn led the way into a long burial chamber filled with the undead at the far end on an ancient wooden throne sat the letch lord. Inona studied the letch sizing up her opponent. He appeared to be tall and wore a tarnished coronet on his head. His face sunken with large eye sockets in which fire seemed to burn. Rotting and shrivelled flesh with bones protruding hung from his skeletal frame. He wore rusting chain mail with an equally rusted broad sword strapped to his waist.
The letch lord stood fixing his fiery gaze on the companions, “How dare you flesh things enter my domain. You will die here and join my legion of undead.” He rasped in a voice filled with menace. The undead turned to advance on the companions. Spreading out the party attacked with Koburn and the seeress casting spells. Silena and Shan in the rear using fire arrows while Inona pushed forward with Ben, Stefan, and Aron towards the letch lord. As fast as the undead fell more appeared summoned by the letch lord.
“We will tire long before the letch lord can run out of undead to summon,” Silena said from behind Koburn.
Koburn glanced over his shoulder to speak to Selina and Shan. “We just need to keep going long enough to let Inona reach the letch then it’s up to her.”
With the three men to protect her, Inona finally reached the letch lord. The letch gave Inona the impression of an arrogant and overconfident lordling as he looked down on her drawing his broadsword. Inona reached for the vorpal blade, and instantly, the letch lord’s demeanour changed. Inona thought he looked fearful for one that was already dead if such a thing were possible. The blade glowed eerily and once again to Inona's eye seemed to have a double image. She ducked as the letch lord swung his broadsword and tried a counter. The letch backed away, causing Inona’s thrust to miss, again and again, the letch lord swiped at Inona not giving her room to close with the vorpal blade. Then Ben swung his hammer at the letch lord distracting it momentarily. The letch lord turned to strike at the mute, leaving an opening for Inona.
She closed as all-around she could hear the sounds of battle. Inona ignored the struggle around her, concentrating on the letch. Stefan managed to get in a strike followed by Aron. Inona went for the head, judging her move after Stefan and Aron managed to distract the letch lord again. The blade cleaved through the neck, severing the head sending a shockwave through Inona as the head fell to the floor. An unearthly shriek sounded as all the undead fell. Inona turned to see Shan rush forward to where the mute lay motionless and knelt beside his body. In the thick of battle, Inona hadn’t realised Ben had taken a fatal wound. She went to kneel beside Shan staring down at the lifeless body of the big mute as the rest of the companions gathered round.
Inona glanced towards Shan; the assassin though pale knelt dry-eyed beside his friend's body well used to dealing with death. Shan remained collected the single sign of any emotion his mocking grin no longer present. For herself, Inona shed a few tears wiping her eyes on her sleeve she stood walking over to the letch lord’s remains. She spotted a ring with the gemstone on one of the letch’s bony fingers. Bending down, she tugged at the ring, trying to prize it off the finger. The finger broke, releasing the ring, Inona picked up the ring staring at the jewel mounted on it for a moment then clasping it in her hand she walked back to the others. Inona grabbed Koburn by the sleeve as he and the rest of the company got to their feet. She opened her hand to give him the ring. Koburn glanced at the ring the gemstone glinted in the shadowy light. Koburn shook his head without speaking clasping Inona's hand; he closed it around the ring again.
Shan, finally got to his feet once more; he sighed regarding the rest of his companions as he spoke, “I do not want him to remain here among the undead,” he paused, looking down at his former friend. “His eyes should look up to the sky one last time.”
Inona and the rest of her friends understood and agreed to carry his body up and into the light of day. Darkness greeted them when they finally exited the crypt. They laid Ben’s body on a fallen tombstone. Shan finally closed Ben’s eyes, he stepped back and nodded to Koburn as the companions looked on Koburn cast a fire spell over Ben’s body. They stood silent for several minutes, watching as flames consumed the body then they left Shan alone.
The sandstorm had lost some of its force by the time it reached the graveyard Although it had changed the look of their surroundings. There was no sign of the mercenaries or Tano Wyle. They did find a body of one of the mercenaries partially covered by sand near where Wyle, sheltered by the way the body lay, unmarked and the desperate frozen expression on the face. Inona assumed there hadn’t been room enough in the shelter, so they left him outside to die.
“At least the horses are still here,” Koburn paused looking ahead as they walked through the graveyard. “A bit worse for wear no doubt but with a little grooming, watering and care, we should be okay to ride back to Callir tomorrow.” He said, trying to lift the gloom that hung over them all, like a dark cloud.
After they made camp Shan joined them, he looked at Inona as she sat with a worried expression nervously looking back through the graveyard. “Janju cats are used to the desert and can even survive a sandstorm,” he reassured.
Inona glanced up at Shan and nodded she couldn’t think of anything to say to comfort him, yet he was able to comfort her. It was true of all her companions, even the prince. They reassured and gave support to her when needed. They believed in her; she felt useless and inadequate for the task ahead of her. She couldn’t even save Ben how many more friends would she lose? Inona shook herself, breaking out of her self loathing. “Focus dam it. We have one of the gems focus on finding the next one.” Inona gathered herself stubbornly as she looked around at the concerned expressions on the faces of her friends.
They broke camp not long after sunrise; much to Inona’s relief Samba appeared just as Inona’s was about to mount her horse. The cat came running up to her nearly knocking her off her feet. She flung her arms around Samba feeling a little better knowing her faithful companion was safe and returned to her. She sighed the momentary joy of being reunited with Samba passing as she thought of Ben and all her fallen comrades. They rode back to Callir in silence.
When the city could be seen, but still some distance away. A group of riders appeared ahead of them. As the riders neared Inona recognised Hasan. “Ho! My friends, how goes your quest did you find the gem?”
Shan nudged his horse forward, greeting Hasan they spoke quietly for a few minutes then Hasan bowed his head solemnly he leaned over his horse and grasped Shan by the shoulder. When they finally parted Hasan turned to the rest of the group with a severe expression. “I ‘m sorry for your loss my friends, but I have news of worrying events that cannot wait you need to travel to Domire as fast as possible.”
“What is happening at Domire?” Koburn asked scratching his chin
“We do not know for sure, but the port is under attack by pirates and some of our enemies spies are there. The Caliph believes it is a deliberate attempt by our enemy to stir up trouble.”
Inona frowned, “Can we travel by the waystones to get there?”
Hasan shook his head, “It’s safer to go by ship as the waystones at Domire are in an exposed location. We have a fast armed galley waiting for you at Safon. My men and I will go with you as you may need us.”
Koburn considered a moment in thought, “I will not be going with you to Domire but will re-join back at Kendor.”
Inona looked at Koburn feeling a little saddened she would miss the old sorcerer even for a short while. He always made Inona feel reassured that all would work out in the end. “Why? Where are you going?” She asked.
“To Mafren, I have friends there who can sneak me into the palace so I can find out what our enemy is planning.”
“Be careful you old goat! I’ll miss having you around don’t get caught, or I’ll never forgive you,” Inona said with feeling.
Koburn smiled as he grasped Inona by a shoulder with one hand and spoke in a whisper, “Don't worry about me Inona I’ll be fine. Keep that gem hidden never let anyone else see or touch it and keep yourself alive no matter what okay.” He paused, letting go of Inona, “I’ll see you all again at Kendor castle,” he said aloud then he turned his horse back towards Callir as the rest rode west to the port of Safon. The following day they arrived at Safon, where the galley awaited. Before midday, all the cargo was loaded along with their horse's and the ship set sail for Domire.
Inona stood on the deck of the ship leaning over the rails looking out over a becalmed sea. The sails billowed in the cool gentle breeze. She sighed, looking up at a darkened sky; the moon seemed so large and so close that Inona felt as if she could reach up and touch it with her hand. She turned hearing footsteps approach from behind. “Sharmane! Couldn’t you sleep either?”
The seeress looked troubled , “I just had a vision; there is something strange happening in Domire.”
Inona shrugged as she regarded Sharmane, “Well, we already know its likely trouble stirred up by the necromancer.”
Sharmane shook her head slowly, “ No, I don’t think the trouble there has anything to do with our enemy; it is something else.”
Inona gave the seeress a quizzical look. “Then who is it?”
Sharmane frowned her features creasing in worry lines, “That’s just it, I don't know I’ve contacted the matriarch, and she is no wiser as to the reason behind the trouble in Domire.”
Inona tugged at her hair lost in thought, Pirates attacking and agents of the necro just happened to be there, surely there couldn't be any other reason behind it. “Well, we will know soon enough we should arrive before noon tomorrow,” she said aloud in conclusion.
The seeress nodded, giving a faint smile; she clasped Inona’s hand in her own. “I’m sure whatever awaits us tomorrow your courage and determination will help us win through.” Sharmane paused as she let go of Inona’s hand, “I’ll go back and try and get some rest now you should do the same soon.”
Inona watched Sharmane's back as she made her back the cabin they shared. Inona doubted she would get any sleep this night nor did she feel tired. She sighed, looking out to sea again as the wind strengthened. Again everyone seems to be depending on me! Why does it have to be me isn’t there anyone else? she tugged at her hair in frustration. At this rate, I’ll have no hair left before this quest is over!
The captain stood at the helm, steering the ship; he glanced over his shoulder while keeping one hand on the wheel bellowing orders to the crew. He turned his attention forward again, with both hands firmly on the helm once more. Inona watched two of the crew quickly scramble to follow out the orders. The men set about readjusting the sails to catch the rising wind. The ship listed to one side, leaning into the wind as the captain spun the wheel. Spray washed over the decks as the vessel crested a wave. Inona stumbled sideways with the motion of the ship regaining her footing as the ship once more came to an even keel. She continued walking along the deck, rounding the stern of the vessel and headed up the far side. Inona stopped a short distance away the prince stood with sir Markwight. The two engrossed in conversation Inona once more reflected on how unlike a prince and future king Aron appeared to be.Aron glanced behind Stefan noticing Inona stood watching them. Resting a hand, momentary on the knight’s shoulder the prince spoke in a low voice, he gave the knight a nod of the head before turning to walk towards Inona.
Inona waited, watching the prince as he came towards her. “Your Grace,” she said as the prince stopped to face her.
Aron raised an eyebrow, “Why so formal all of a sudden?”
She shrugged, "Don’t know just seemed appropriate.”
“I see well try to get some rest it will be light in a couple of hours,” the prince smiled and tussled Inona’s hair.
“Hey!” Inona glowered at the prince, as she ran hand through her hair to straighten it once more.
“That's more like the Inona I know,” Aron chuckled as he left Inona to return to his cabin.
Inona noticed Stefan still stood head down as if contemplating something serious; he suddenly looked up as she approached. The moon briefly disappeared behind a cloud-only to reappear seconds later as she stood beside Stefan, neither speaking. Inona finally broke the silence as she looked sharply at the knight. “All right, what did the prince say that’s has made you go all quiet and morose?” Inona, felt irritation creep into her voice, as she spoke, though she couldn’t explain why she felt that way.
Stefan fixed his gaze on Inona a glimmer of a smile crossing his face. “Nothing to worry you about. You should really try and get some rest you know.”
Inona sighed, "You're the third person to tell me that. I don’t feel tired and I won’t be able to sleep.” Inona said feeling even more irritated for some reason. Is it just that I’m tired and in need of sleep, or is there another reason I’m feeling this way. Stefan patted Inona on the shoulder then left, leaving her alone; she watched him go until he disappeared below deck. She stayed on for a while before finally returning to the cabin, not expecting to sleep. The seeress stirred in her cot but remained sound asleep as Inona laid on the cot opposite the seeress.
Inona woke with a start to a rumbling on deck and the raised voices of the crew. She was alone in the cabin; the seeress already up and about. Inona opened the cabin door and peered out squinting at bright sunlight. She yawned, deciding head down to the ship's galley to get some breakfast. As she left the cabin the crew were busily moving catapults into place. Entering the galley, Shan and Hasan sat around the table talking; there were empty plates in front of them.
Shan looked up, seeing Inona enter and nodded towards the stove, "there is plenty of food left help yourself .”
Inona grabbed a clean plate next the stove and helped herself, surprised by how hungry she felt. She went back for more managing to scrape her plate clean, putting her cutlery down. Inona sat back in the chair and sighed with satisfaction. Seeing, Shan and Hasan sat watching, with grins on their faces. Inona stared at the two men, “What?”
“I guess it must be the sea air,” Shan mused aloud.
Hasan slowly nodded his head, “Indeed, my friend, you must be right for she has eaten enough to feed a dozen men.”
Inona gave the two a disgusted look, “Bah!"
The galley door opened, and Markwight peered in, “The captain wants us all on deck now.”
Inona left with the three men arriving on deck; as the ship stood of a small cove. The rest of their party already awaited. The captain nodded seeing they were all present. “I’ll drop you off here. I can't get any closer without running aground so you’ll have to get a little wet going ashore.” He paused and pointed towards the cove,” On the other side of yonder rise you can see there, is Domire it will bring you in at the rear of the town,” he paused again. “Good luck to us all,” he said casting a final measured look over the companions. He left them to get ready turning to his crew he ordered the gangplank lowered into the water as Inona and her friends gathered their gear and horses. Inona lead the way her horse splashing as the animal jumped from the gangplank to wade through the shallow water.
Inona and her companions gathered on the beach. She took a last look back as the ship set sail then they headed up the beach.As they waited at the top of the rise looking down on Domire. Aron rummaged in his pack retrieving the spyglass he scanned the scene below. “That’s strange."
“What is strange? What do you see?” Inona asked
Aron frowned, giving the spyglass to Inona. “Here take a look what do you make of it?”
Inona observed the scene below through the spyglass there were two ships in the harbour flying unknown colours. In the town itself there appeared to be no sign of any looting as would be expected if they were pirates. She spotted a few armed men in black patrolling the town. She could hear the distant sound of battle; at the far end of the town, she spotted the garrison under attack. She handed the spyglass back to Aron, “They aren’t pirates, is this what I think it is?”
Aron nodded his expression troubled, “A prelude to an invasion if that’s what you’re thinking,” he paused. Looking through the spyglass again spotting another ship anchored outside the harbour he passed the spyglass to Shan to take a look. “You could well be right,” he concluded, turning to face Inona again.
“But who are they? And where did they come from?” Inona asked absently scratching her scarred cheek as she spoke.
The prince pursed his lips his brow furrowed, “Most likely somewhere across the ocean.” He nodded in the general direction of the sea.
Shan looked through the spyglass, carefully observing what Aron and Inona saw. “I didn't think there was land across the Mire Sea. No one has ever crossed it before,” Shan said, handing the spyglass back to the prince.
Aron shrugged his shoulders, “Well not until now at least; there must be land out there somewhere. Those ships are flying colours unknown to any country here and from what I’ve seen their armour and dress style is strange as well.”
Selina and Sharmane moved up from the back after listening to what Inona, and the prince said. Sharmane giving Inona a concerned look. “I have a premonition that something significant will happen here, Inona,” she paused a troubled expression crossing her pale face. “Be wary - I don't know what, when or how but a lot will depend on how you react in a particular situation.”
Inona stared at the seeress, “What no vision? Just a feeling it's not much to go on Sharmane, you are not usually this vague.”
Sharmane slowly moved her head from side to side deeply disturbed; she sighed, “I just sense something important will happen, be careful, Inona, and remember what I said okay,” Inona nodded with a tug of her hair.
Selina gave the seeress a disgusted look glancing around at the others as her horse stamped his feet, sensing the impatience of his rider. “Are we going to stay here watching, or are we going to do something,” she said, snapping at no one in particular. Aron gave Selina a stern look about speak in rebuke.
“Selina’s right we need to act now; we will follow the usual order myself Aron, Markwight, Hasan and his men will lead the rest of you to bring up the rear,” Inona said stepping in to ease the tension.
“We could do with Samba, here now to take out some of those soldiers patrolling the town,” Selina said.
Inona scowled pursing her lips, “Samba, doesn't like large expanses of water whether it's a lake or sea he won't go near.;” she paused sighing. That is why he disappeared before we took the ship. He will probably catch up with us eventually, for now, we’ll have to manage without him. We need to take out those patrols before they can warn those attacking the garrison.”
Aron and Stefan nodded no one else spoke as they spurred their mounts into a canter. It wasn't long before they encountered the first patrol. Four armed soldiers, one with a bow called out a challenge. Inona couldn’t understand what they were shouting but assumed their telling to stop. She spurred her horse onward the rest of the party following suit. The soldiers drew their weapons while still calling for them to halt. The patrol seemed unwilling to move as Inona and her companions neared. She wondered if they were so determined to stop them that they were willing to be trampled over by horses. At the last moment, the soldiers broke into pairs on either side cutting chopping at their horses with their weapons. It wasn’t long before the soldiers were all cut down, but despite being outnumbered they managed to inflict some minor damage on the group.
Inona called a halt looking at the dead soldiers she frowned, “This won't do if we encounter many more patrols between here and the garrison they will eventually whittle down our numbers.”
“They are veteran soldiers used to guerrilla fighting,” said Stefan grimacing.
Inona nodded, “We need to change tactics; Sharmane, can you cast a few spells to confuse or blind the enemy,” the seeress nodded. “ Shan you scout ahead, a few of Hasan’s men can protect Sharmane while she casting her spells; the rest of us take down as many as we can.”
They took out two more patrols without incurring any injuries and were about halfway to the seafront. The town usually bustling and noisy at this time of day was eerily quiet with all the townspeople staying behind locked doors. They sat taking a breather waiting for Shan to report back on the whereabouts of the next patrol. Inona gazed out to sea and caught a glimpse of a ship coming around the headland.
Aron pointed, “that's our ship looks like the captain is turning to align the catapults.” As they watched the ship turned broadside to the ships in the harbour balls of fire launched from the catapults streaking toward the ships in the harbour some falling short some hitting the mark. Inona knew that the fireballs were made of tightly compressed balls of straw soaked in oil then loaded on to the catapults. They were then set on fire with torches tied to long poles so that there was less risk of accidental fire on the attacking vessel.
As they watched, they could see sailors scrambling to put the fires out. The attacking ship turned before fully entering the harbour presenting the other side. This time rocks were hurled from the catapults ripping through sails and smashing the masks. Several sailors were killed and many injured. The ship that took the brunt of the attack began to take in water slowly sinking. Men could be seen diving into the water to escape.
The remaining ship, although crippled tried to lift-anchor and sail out of harm's way. The attacking vessel hadn’t finished though returning to fire one more volley of fire and rocks. They had no more time to watch the sea battle as Shan returned, leading them nearer to the garrison. Inona took one last glance back at the harbour both ships were sinking. Inona caught a glimpse of the ship that was anchored outside now sailing in the general direction of the harbour. Fighting still continued at the garrison; as they drew nearer, Inona spotted a group of the attackers breakaway heading back towards the harbour. She surmised to secure the harbour once more for the approaching ship.
They encountered another patrol and more closing in on their position. Sharmane cast a blind spell at the attacking soldiers they suddenly stopped in their tracks temporarily unable to see. Shan took down a soldier from behind as they charged forward Selina fired several arrows which failed to penetrate their armour. She took careful aim at enemy’s head the arrow catching him in the neck the man toppled over clutching the arrow blood spurting from his neck. Inona slashed at another with the vorpal blade severing his sword arm. The man stopped stunned gapping at his severed limb for a moment then stared amazed at Inona before she ran him through with a thrust. More enemies joined the fight. Their foes fought with skill and determination, giving no quarter. Hasan lost three of his best men and two wounded but finally, they won though.
They paused for a minute to catch their breath’s and to take care of the wounded. Shan reported that there were no more patrols to block their way forward. Inona looked around at her companions studying the grim but resolute expressions . Sharmane, in particular, looked even more pale than usual. Inona wished she could spare the seeress from seeing any violence and death. Sharmane had lived a quiet, peaceful existence until she joined Inona on this quest. “All right, to the garrison lets drive these invaders back to where they came from,” Inona shouted, raising her sword above her head. Her companions gave shouts of encouragement galloped through the narrow empty streets leading to the garrison and taking the garrison attackers by surprise from behind. The garrison defenders seeing the enemy attacked from the rear cheered. The commander of the garrison ordered his men to open the gates and join the battle. The enemy now attacked from the front and the rear with nowhere to go.
Inona could not but admire their enemies fighting skill and tenacity they fought till the bitter end. There only remained those that retreated to the harbour as Inona along with some of the commander’s men raced to the harbour she could see the enemy ship near the harbour. Seeing their remaining forces under attack, the ship turned tail leaving what was left of its forces to the mercy of Inona and her forces. A short, desperate struggle ensued. Inona fought alongside the prince and Stefan. Suddenly the prince fell from his horse holding his head calling out. In the confusion and noise of battle, Inona couldn’t hear what Aron was shouting. He didn’t seem to have wound yet he was riving in pain. Inona dismounted and ran to Aron.
Inona looked the prince still she couldn’t find or see anything wrong,”What is it? What wrong.” Inona looked around confused seeing the battle nearly over.
“Get out of my head, “ Aron shouted, holding both hands on his head.
Inona looked around for Sharmane but couldn’t see her, anywhere. She looked towards the harbour and the retreating ship a man in black stood on deck motionless his gaze fixed on some point in the harbour. Inona felt a chill go through her; she thought she could see the man’s dark empty eyes as he stared . “What is he staring at ,” She stared back then hearing the prince shout out again. She looked to the prince feeling confused; she shook him trying to get to come to his senses. “You’re not wounded, Tell me what's wrong
“Get out of my head,” Aron repeated his face sweaty breathing fast and ragged.
Inona suddenly remembered what the seeress told her before she glanced at the retreating ship it had stopped. The man in black still motionless staring inland. Inona quickly looked around, seeing Selina nearby called her over. “Can you see that man in black stood on deck?” She pointed at the man.
Selina nodded, “Yes, he is a bit strange so motionless like a statue.".
“Can you hit him from here or get close enough to distract him at least?” Inona asked.
It's quite a distance, I’ll try, I don't think I’ll be able to but maybe near enough to unsettle him, at least." Selina said considering she left to get nearer the ship. Inona turned to Aron; she grasped his face in both hands to make him look at her.
“Look at me your grace, look into my eyes concentrate on my voice and nothing else,” she paused still holding him making look directly at her. “Focus on me and nothing else you are going to be all right, do you hear me?”
The prince breathing steadied, slowly he came back to himself gulping in air. The pain in his head began to fade. He gave a long sigh; his face ashen.
"Thanks, Inona I think someone was trying to take control of me,” he said his voice a little shaky.
Inona gave a faint smile then frowned "Was it possession?”
“Not quite, but similar I think they were trying to get information from me. I think someone with the same ability as I but more powerful,” Aron said shuddering. Inona looked out to sea the ship was leaving the harbour at full sail.
The tall man in black stood looking down at the arrows that fell close by one struck a mask pole near to where he stood. He looked up as another man approached stopping to stand next to him
“We failed, these people are stronger than we anticipated Viseer,” the second man said.
“There will be another time Jensor, for now, we should return home,” he said with a sigh frowning in thought, “I should have easily controlled the man’s mind, but something or someone prevented me. How is that possible?”
Koburn stood at the rear of the throne room; making himself as inconspicuous as possible. The throne room was crowded with lords, dignitaries and merchants standing about in small groups talking. Some spoke in whispers others spoke in open debate. Filling the room with discord. Koburn could sense an atmosphere of nervous expectancy in the room as they waited for the Emperor to make an appearance. He slowly worked his way closer to the throne as the Emperor finally entered with his entourage robed in trappings of his office. He was flanked on both sides by royal guardsmen still keeping himself out of plain sight Koburn got his first look at the Emperor. On first sight, the Emperor appeared normal. Tall in stature with black hair and gaunt features; it was his eyes that gave it away to Koburn. The Emperor's blue eyes stared blankly devoid of any emotion. Koburn got a good view of the shadowy figure stood behind the Emperor; there was no mistaking Gaylin Olpar. Koburn knew for sure he was the one really in charge here. The Emperor made the traditional ceremonial greeting before listening to the lords and their complaints. The merchants were particularly vocal with their about the raising of taxes. What made Koburn’s blood run cold though was the reasons given for raising taxes. Mafren had the largest standing army of any nation. Yet the Emperor was recruiting even more into the military. The people couldn’t understand why the Emperor needed to recruit more. They were at peace with most other nations, and there no new threats to the Empire to speak of.
Olpar moved up beside the Emperor so Koburn could see his features more clearly. Gaylin Olpar once a close friend with a cheerful disposition. Now to Koburn, he seemed a different person. His features set in grim rigid lines there was a madness in his eyes that made Koburn step back aghast. Suddenly the people stood in front of Koburn moved to one side, leaving him exposed. Their eyes met with a shock of recognition. Olpar features twisted in an evil grin he turned to whisper to the Emperor. At once, Koburn turned hurriedly threading his way through the crowded throne room towards the exit. He could hear a commotion behind him as he ran down a corridor ducking into a side room to avoid guards. He waited until the shouting and hurried footsteps outside past when all seemed quiet he peered out the door making sure the coast was clear before exited the room he crept silently along the corridor ducking into another room hearing soldiers approaching. Koburn went to the window looking for a way out. The soldiers were now searching room by room; it would only be a matter of time before they caught him. The door creaked open, Koburn turned around to face the door readying a spell to defend himself.
A short, stocky man stood in the doorway his beady eyes darted around the room nervously. “Easy my friend, it’s me.”
“Lanklin, I nearly turned into a pile of ash,” Koburn retorted with an edge to his voice.
“That all being said you’ll never get of here by the front of the palace,” Lanklin said become deadly serious.
“You know another way?”
“They won't be expecting you to go back inside the palace,” Lanklin said.
Koburn sighed exasperated losing patience. “Damn it man do you know another way out or not the guards will be here soon.”
Lanklin turned to peer out the door seeing the corridor empty, “Aye, follow me there is a way out to the rear of the palace,” he paused. “Is there a cloak or something you can wear as a disguise.”
Koburn searched the room finding a heavy grey coat, putting it on a hood covered most of his face. Lanklin nodded satisfied and lead the way. They passed several groups of soldiers as made there past the throne. Koburn nerves jangled as he tried to stay calm and not draw attention. Lanklin was his usual nonchalant self. Koburn had known Lanklin for many years in all that time he never changed. Koburn believed if the stars were to fall from the sky, Lanklin would take all in his stride. They passed servants and maids as well as soldiers finally Lanklin stopped outside a heavy wooden door. He glanced about making sure there was no one nearby to see before opening the door.
“This way,” Lanklin ushered Koburn in and closed the door silently behind them. They entered a small courtyard with a maple tree growing in the centre. Lanklin went to the far corner which was overgrown with bushes. “I only recently discovered this myself.” He pulled aside some branches working his to the back near the wall as Koburn followed. He pointed to where a partially covered wooden trapdoor lay. “I’ve been down to see where it leads it comes out far enough away from the palace to make an escape.” He paused, thinking. “When you get to the other side, you may be exposed for a short distance, so be careful.”
“What about you aren’t you coming?” Koburn asked as the stocky man lifted the hatch.
Lanklin shook his head, “No, I lived here most of my life. I'm just another servant that nobody takes much notice of unless they want something.”
Koburn nodded, “Stay safe friend and thanks.” Koburn lowered himself feet first into the hole; it was none too wide. He needed to push himself into the hole wishing that he were a little thinner at the waist. Finally, he managed to squeeze free; he fell a short distance, getting to his feet. He looked around, wrinkling his at the smell, thinking it must be an abandoned sewer drain. Koburn waved at Lanklin stood above watching him. “Farewell until we meet again,” Koburn said. Lanklin only nodded before lifting the cover back in place. Koburn was left in darkness sighing he shrugged his shoulders before casting a light spell. The drain wasn’t too high, so he needed to bend over slightly; by the time he got to the end, his back ached. Lanklin was right about being exposed, he needed to cross open ground where if anyone was watching he would be easily spotted. He dropped the light spell and cast a cloaking spell it would only last a short time but long enough to get to the cover the trees. Reaching the welcoming shelter of the trees, Koburn relaxed a little. He set off towards Kendonia if he remembered correctly there were waystones a days journey from where he was now. First, he needed to find somewhere to camp for the night as it was growing dark.
Back at the garrison, Inona found Sharmane tending the wounded. Sharmane looked up from where she knelt treating a soldier’s wounds as Inona approached. The look on Inona’s face confirmed to her something happened as she had felt earlier. “Something happened didn’t it?”
Inona nodded, scratching her scarred cheek she spoke hesitantly. “I think so... someone on that retreating ship tried to take control of his grace’s mind.”
Sharmane’s eyes widened, “Are you sure?”
Inona bowed her head a moment thinking looking up, she locked eyes with the seeress. “Pretty damn sure, even Aron believes someone tried to get in his head.” She
fell silent a moment. “Whoever it was he wanted information about us according to Aron,” Inona concluded.
Sharmane looked troubled as she spoke. “This is most disturbing whoever these people are I don’t think we have seen the last of them.”
Inona tugged at her hair in frustration. “You may well be right, but that is a problem for later.”
The seeress sighed, getting to her feet. As she finished healing the soldier. The man bowed several times, thanking the seeress. Sharmane patted the man on the shoulder, sending him on his way. “So are we headed back to Kendor?”
Inona pursed lips with a nod of the head as they walked side by side the sunset behind them. A cool breeze rose from the sea, and stars came out as the day drew to a close. A crescent moon shone in the sky though it was not dark yet. “First thing tomorrow for tonight, we will accept the commander’s hospitality.”
The following morning Inona gathered with her companions. As the commander of the garrison thanked them once more for their help. They waved goodbye mounting their horses. Hasan rode up beside Inona with a nod of the head. “My men and I must return to Callir to report to the Caliph what has happened here.”
Inona turned to face Hasan and nodded, smiling. “Thanks for your help and have a safe journey back.” Hasan waved turning his horse he stopped and spoke briefly to Shan. Inona and her companions stopped to watch Hasan and his men depart. Inona turned to the seeress who rode beside her. “You know how to use the waystones, right?”
Sharmane gave Inona an offended look. “Yes, of course, I know,” she retorted.
Inona’s lips curled up at one end, giving a faint smile. “Easy, Sharmane you are a bit grumpy today.”
The seeress took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “Sorry, Inona I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“We are not going to use the waystones again, are we? Can't we just travel overland,” Stefan said not relishing the prospect of travelling the waystones again.
Inona shook her head, “We need to return to Kendor as soon as possible. I’m sure our enemy knows by now the last gem is somewhere beneath the castle.”
The prince frowned troubled, “Inona is right. I’m worried about mother and the matriarch. There has already been one attempt on the throne. I’m certain our enemy will try again.”
Stefan reluctantly nodded in agreement. They turned their horses in the direction of the waystones. Situated on the top of a rise on the outskirts of Domire as they neared Inona caught sight of a familiar figure. “Wyle!” She spurred her horse on reaching for the vorpal blade. Wyle stood with three other mercenaries as a sorcerer busily cast the spells to activate the stones. Wyle saw Inona coming and shouted something at the sorcerer. By the look on his face as Inona neared she gathered he was telling the sorcerer to hurry up. Before Inona could reach him, the waystone activated they vanished.
Inona pulled her horse up cursing as her companions gathered at the waystones. Sharmane turned to Inona with a look that made her pause. “What is it Sharmane another vision?”
The seeress nodded, “Samba is waiting for us.”
“It will be good to see Samba again I’ve missed him,” Inona frowned she felt there was more the seeress left unsaid.
Sharmane said no more dismounting she prepared to concentrate on casting the relevant spells to activate the waystones.
Silena stepped up beside Inona as the seeress busily cast the spells activating the waystones. “Don’t get too wrapped up in seeking revenge against Wyle; it will be your downfall.” She said brushing a stray strand of hair from her face.
Inona gave Silena a stern look, “I know, I know...” She began tugging at her hair in frustration. “One day, Wyle and I will have a reckoning and one of us will die.” She concluded staring at Silena
Silena shook her head giving a lopsided grin, “Be sure it’s not you Inona I’ll never you forgive otherwise.”
The seeress finally activated the waystones, and they stepped into the circle reappearing at the crossroads in Kendonia. Stefan and the prince didn’t feel quite as nauseous as the last time. Inona was getting to like this method of travelling and wished she knew how to work the waystones herself. She looked around, expecting to see Samba, but it wasn’t until they made camp later that Samba finally appeared. Nearly knocking Inona over as he bounded into camp surprising everyone. Inona laughed delighted to see him. She rubbed her hands through the thick fur on his back as the animal lay down at her feet with a contented rumbling.
“Do you suppose Samba will ever get to like us that much?” the prince asked talking to Stefan.
Markwight shook his head sadly, “I doubt it, your grace, I pity anyone that tries to get close to Inona, that animal has a jealous streak.”
The prince gave Stefan a sideways look and nodded his head sagely.
The companions were just in sight of Kendor when sir Markwight pointed to what looked an advanced scouting party of men heading towards Kendor from the east. “Who's men are those I can't make out their colours.” They stopped while Aron got out his spyglass visibility was not good, but he could just make out the colours. The prince swore under his breath and handed the spyglass to Markwight.
“Damn, they are Mafren soldiers a scouting party the main army can’t be far behind,” Stefan exclaimed.
Inona took a look through the spyglass then gave it back to Aron. "If we ride all out now we’ll get there with time to spare and warn everyone before their army arrives.”
“Are you so sure Mafren is about to attack Kendor without provocation?” The seeress asked. Though she knew there could be no other explanation; she still held on to the slim chance that they may be wrong.
Selena sighed, giving the seeress an exasperated glance. “We can discuss what other possibilities there might be when we get there. For now, Inona is right, we should stop talking and ride hard to get there before them.”
With that Inona glanced around the party they all nodded in agreement and spurred their horses on; as the rain came harder. “At least the rain will slow the army down giving us more time,” Inona thought, coaxing her horse to gallop even faster. Samba ran alongside them, as Inona glanced across to see where was. The big cat seemed to be enjoying the run his legs stretching out as he comfortably kept pace with the riders.
They reached the foot of the castle their horses near exhaustion. Dismounting they led the horses up to the castle gates. Samba vanished, and Inona suspected he was already inside the castle walls. The knight captain waited at the gates already suspecting something was wrong. Aron quickly explained the situation. The knight captain listened to the prince, his expression grim. “Have you any idea of the size of the army we will be facing your grace?”
The prince shook his head, “We only saw the scouting party I have a feeling they won't have sent the full might of the army. Of course, I could be wrong.”
The knight captain ran a hand through his greying hair, weighing possibilities. "They may want to parley first, but we should be prepared for a siege. What about the town?” He asked in conclusion.
The prince winced, “There isn’t much time. Send some of your best men to warn the watch; get as many people as possible inside the castle walls,” he paused, a sense of impending doom coming over him. “That’s the best we can do."
The knight captain saluted and hurried off to prepare bellowing orders to his men. The prince left the companions to meet the queen and the matriarch. A while later, Inona and her companions met in the throne room. Inona was relieved to see Koburn was already there as well. The prince was discussing tactics along with the queen. Seeing Inona arrive, he took her aside. They went up onto the battlements overlooking the town. “Inona, you and Selina go to the dungeons find a way into the old ruins below the castle. Koburn will go with you. His magic may be needed to find the gem.” Inona looked troubled as she acknowledged the prince’s orders. She glanced out over the castle walls. Seeing soldiers below close the gates having brought as many townspeople inside the castle as they could in what time they had. They were mostly women and children and the old. The remaining townsfolk were to stay indoors and bar their doors only to defend themselves if needed. The vanguard of the invading army just reached the outskirts of the town.
Inona scratched her scar as she faced the prince. “What happens when we find the gem?” She had an inkling what the prince intended, and she didn’t like it.
The prince closed his eyes a moment when he opened them again; his expression was grim but resolute. “We can discuss that later. I have a plan which both mother and the matriarch agree with. Just concentrate on finding the gem. The rest of us will take care of things here.”
Inona sighed and nodded, knowing she would get no further by questioning Aron for now. “Well then luck to us both your grace.” She left to join Selina and Koburn.
The prince watched her back as she left with a heavy heart. He turned to watch the invading army gather as the Queen along with the matriarch, Sharmane, Sir Markwight and Shan joined him to study their enemy below.
“With the help of Sharmane, we have a few spells if needed that will surprise the enemy.” The matriarch said despite looking frail, she spoke in a firm voice.
“You should be resting you are not well enough yet matriarch,” the Queen said concern colouring her voice.
The matriarch shook her head, taking a deep breath. “No, I need to be here; this is my destiny. She stared with a sad smile at all gathered for a moment no one spoke.
Markwight coughed awkwardly, studying the assembling army closely. “There seems to be less than half the forces they could have sent unless there is more on the way.”
The prince nodded, “Odds are they don’t want to leave Mafren and the palace under defended as the Calif will be watching and may decide to attack,” he paused with a nod of the head. “Our enemy is shrewd doubtless I bet they have at least one necromancer with them and you know what that means.”
“They will be prepared for a siege as well easier and less costly to starve us out,” added Shan.
Inona cursed under her breath, they had already searched most of the dungeon not finding any hint that would lead them to the ruins below. Time was passing, she tugged at her hair, in frustration. She worried about how the others were getting on defending the castle.
Koburn glanced at Inona in the dim torchlight seeing her scowling. “Patience Inona we will find a way down have none fear.”
Selina squinted looking around in the gloom. “Why don’t you just blast a hole in the floor with your magic sorcerer!”
Koburn gave Selina a disbelieving look. “It’s not that simple...”
He was about to say more when Selina put a hand up and gave a wry smile. “I know, I know, don’t give me the explanation why you can't; I know it’s not that simple. I wasn’t serious guess I’m just a little on edge.”
Koburn shook his head then stopped looking around Inona had stopped a few paces back. “What is it, Inona?”
Inona stared at one of the cells curiously. She pointed to the chamber. “this cell seems smaller than the others in this row for some reason.”
Koburn frowned walking back to Inona he squinted to where Inona pointed. “Ah, I think we may have found the way down. If I wasn’t distracted unnecessarily by Selina spouting nonsense, I would have noticed it myself.” He gave Selina a dirty look as she joined them.”
Selina shrugged, “How is this the way down I don’t see anything?”
Koburn opened the cell door, “It is an illusion spell hiding what is behind. The spell has remained untouched all this time,” he said in wonder. Entering the dank cell followed by Selina and Inona, he raised hand casting it across the back wall muttering under his breath. The wall vanished, revealing more of the chamber and another wall with an old wooden archway set into it.
“Now what it is filled in?” Selina asked.
Koburn squared his shoulders, “Now as you said before I’ll blast a hole. Stand back both of you.”
Inona and Selina retreated outside the cell as Koburn gathered himself considering what spell to use and the right amount of power. He moved back to the cell door, raising both his hands in a distorted gesture. A concussive blast ripped through the air with the smell of ozone. Koburn staggered quickly regaining his balance as part of the wall collapsed inward raising a pall of dust. As the dust began to settle the hole in the wall revealed crumbling stairs going down into darkness.
Selina gave Koburn a curious look, “Impressive.”
Koburn shrugged, “Let's see what is ahead of us. The torches want last or give enough light to see what is down there.” He cast another spell a ball of bright light appeared. Koburn sent it out across the darkness first then directed it slowly downward. The stairs didn’t go straight down but rather in a rough spiral. Massive stone pillars could be seen illuminated jutting upward from below. The steps were thick with dust and strewn with rubble in places.
Inona stared down, squinting in the light of Koburn’s spell. In places, there were gaps with no steps that had to be crossed. Descending the stairs would have to done slowly and with extreme care. “We will need to go one after the other at short intervals,” She stated.
Koburn shrugged, “I will lead so I can maintain the spell in front of us; follow in my footsteps.” Inona and Selina nodded silently as Koburn took the first steps down
into the darkness..
Inona tugged at her hair in frustration. Her impatience reaching boiling point. It seemed like hours they have been searching in the castle ruins without any luck. Disturbed dust rose, making her sneeze. A rat scurried between her feet; cursing, she turned to face Koburn, her features cast in shadow from the dim light of the glowing orb of his spell. “At this rate, we could search forever and not find the bloody gem.”
Koburn sighed, shrugging his shoulders. “Patience Inona the gem is here somewhere. It won't be just sitting in open view for us to find. More likely, it will be hidden by magic and have traps set around it.”
“Koburn is right, Inona, be patient and keep looking. We are sure to find it eventually,” Selina said soothingly.
Inona suddenly stopped, “That’s it!”
“What! Have you found it?” Selina asked as she and Koburn came to Inona’s side.
Inona stepped away from the cabinet, taking another look around the room. “What is the one thing that most rooms have in them,” she paused thinking, then it came to her. “We need to backtrack. I think I know where it is.” Inona led the way back through rubble-strewn corridors peering into rooms already searched once. Most had little or no roof covering the doors hanging from hinges or rotting on the floor. Cobwebs covered what furniture remained and in every corner—some rooms were blocked with rubble and couldn’t be entered. Inona went from room to room until she found the one she was looking for. “This is it,” Inona noted footprints in the dust from when she entered the room before. It looked to be a study as shelves were stacked with books, and a cabinet stood against the back wall, which she had previously searched.
Inona scanned the room, noting a glass oil lamp in one corner. Low down nestled between some books was another oil lamp. She grabbed both lamps, standing them on the floor. “Do your magic, old man!” She said, turning to Koburn.
Koburn looked a little surprised as he nodded to Inona. “Ah, I see now,” he said, passing his hand over the lamps. One was an ordinary oil lamp.. The other had no wick; instead, the gem lay inside the lamp, eerily shimmering within the clouded glass. Inona picked the lamp up, opening the lid, she upended the lamp; the jewel fell to the floor. The three stared at it a moment before Inona picked it up pocketing it with the other gem.
Prince Aron stood beside the queen, staring down at the rider holding a white flag. “I wonder what terms they are going to offer us,” he said calmly
“Whatever terms they offer, we will never surrender. This castle can withstand whatever they throw at us. My concern is for the people in the city. I pray most if not all will survive,” Queen Ellana replied with concern.
Aron ran a hand through his hair, his face drawn with worry. “Normally, I would agree with you, mother. However, they have necromancers. Every person killed on our side or theirs will rise again as our enemy. If we can’t take the necromancers out, we may be overrun with undead eventually.
“Hello, the castle,” the rider called, waving the white flag. “Your majesty, your highness, can you hear me?”
“We hear you return from whence you came or suffer the consequences. We will never surrender to an aggressor,” Aron called back defiantly.
The rider stirred in the saddle, steading the animal as the horse moved sideways. “Hand over the scarred one and the gems, and we will leave in peace.”
Aron took a deep breath glancing at his mother a moment. The Queen stood serenely, her expression grim. She gave the slightest nod of the head to the prince.
Aron turned back to look down at the rider. “Who? what gems? Leave now we are done talking.” He gave the order to fire a warning shot. The arrow landed on the ground in front of the rider. The horse rose on its hind legs; startled as the rider brought the animal under control, he turned and rode back to his own lines.
“Now it begins,” sir Markwight said.
Aron watched through the spyglass as the rider returned to his own forces. There was a brief discussion with the commander of the invaders. Finally, a group broke away in front of the main army.
Aron handed the spyglass to sir Markwight, his expression grim. “Archers better tell them below to be ready, he began. “ Mother, you better go inside.” He said, turning to face the Queen, his voice cracking with the strain they all felt.
“No, I will stay! The people need to see their Queen, to help give them courage. Our enemy needs to know the Queen of Kendonia will not cower and hide within the castle walls.” She stated firmly, although her voice quavered a little as she spoke.
Aron sighed, knowing it would be no good arguing with his mother. Instead, he ordered several soldiers with shields to form a protective barrier around her and the other women. Half-heartedly, the Queen protested but at the same time felt relieved to have some protection. The Matriarch and Sharmane accepted with good grace.
The archers formed up below with vats of fire drawn up close, which they dipped their arrows before firing. A hail of flaming arrows flew, many falling short on the castle walls and ramparts. Some managed to fall inside the castle grounds starting fires here and there. The odd arrow struck down a defender on the wall or within the castle grounds.