Sword & Sorcery tale about a young mercenary woman on a quest
The Scarred One
Inona strode unnoticed through the throne room; her hood pulled over her head concealing her face nearing the marble throne she stopped. The queen sat consulting with nobles, knights in ceremonial armour stood guard on either side; lords and ladies gathered near the throne. The chatter of voices quieted, as all eyes focused on Inona. Queen Ellana turned her attention to the figure before her. Inona bowed gracefully lowering her hood, nearly all in the throne room gasped in shock and outrage.
Inona Chanele let her black hair fall to her shoulders; she wore light mail and breeches tucked into calf-length boots; a long sword strapped to her waist. Inona was sure some here would know of her. A mercenary for hire, but that didn't shock the nobles so much; no it was the livid scar she bore that covered most of her left cheek and marred her beauty. She had returned to the land of her birth after all these years, yet they still could not accept her. Bad enough being a woman mercenary for hire in Kendonia, but to be so cruelly scarred as well; made her an aberration in many eyes.
The queen, however, showed none of that, as she spoke. "What is your request, my dear?" She asked her lips curling in a half smile.
Before Inona could answer a knight near to the throne spoke out. "Pardon Your Majesty a woman mercenary; it is unthinkable, and abhorrent to all present that she is allowed to speak in your presence let me show her out," the knight said
As he stepped towards Inona, from seeming mid-air a huge black cat pounced in front of the knight, he froze mid-step, the queen taken aback turned to speak to an elder at her back. Inona smiled at the knight, her eyes glinting with mischief, with a slight hand gesture the cat came to her side. Inona hadn't taken her attention from what was happening around her either, and the feline remained ever alert. A low growl emitting from the animal as it watched all around the throne room. All this happened in but moments; the knight found his voice again.
"What manner of sorcery is this, how dare you.---"
"Sir Markwight,” The queen interceded with a look that gave the knight pause. “I’m assured no sorcery is involved, stand aside and let her speak, or maybe a spell in the dungeons will cool your fervour." She commanded her expression showing a hint of annoyance. There were murmurs amongst the lords and ladies. The queen raised a hand with a withering stare silenced all in the throne room. She returned her gaze to Inona gesturing for her to speak.
"You are kind indeed Your Majesty," Inona began magnanimously glancing at the abashed knight as he stepped aside. "I heard tell you are looking for swords for a quest I offer my services, for a fee of course." The throne room was in an uproar, some voices insulting others fuming. The queen turned to the elder behind the throne and said something, he nodded and strode forward arms outstretched light flashed between his outstretched hands.
"Silence!” The Queen will hear this woman out; if you don't hold your tongues, I'll clear this court now," with startled explanations the throne room fell silent once more. The sorcerer turned to Inona "The Queen wishes to know what is it you wish in return that is to say what is your fee, my dear?" He asked not unkindly.
"I will tell you my fee Your Majesty, but first I wish to prove my worthiness for this quest against your finest swordsman." There was more muttering from the crowd.
“I will duel this upstart and teach her a lesson, Your Majesty," challenged the knight who had tried to throw her out. Inona sighed as the queen after considering a moment nodded her consent. The crowd hushed as Inona and the knight faced off swords at the ready.
"Now I'll send you back to the gutter--" before the knight could finish speaking Inona darted forward lunging rapping his sword hand hard. The knight protested yelling in pain dropping his sword. Before it hit the floor, Inona caught it standing upright with both swords in her hands leaving the knight red-faced, wringing his hands eyes watering with the pain.
"I protest Your Majesty; no one signalled to begin the contest," the knight said.
"Would an enemy warn you he was ready to fight," Inona answered handing back the knight’s sword.
"Haven't you anyone better Your Majesty no offence, Inona bowed again giving the knight a disdainful glance who had the decency to at least look shamefaced. "I have heard the prince is a good swordsman; perhaps he would like to try his hand."
All eyes turned towards the queen with a sense of expectancy. The queen had a whispered conversation with the sorcerer and one or two others around the throne before turning her attention back to Inona who waited, the big cat once more at her side ever alert.
"The prince is presently indisposed, but Lord Farley has offered to duel with you,” informed the queen. Inona sighed disappointedly from what she could garner from snippets of conversation around the throne room the prince was, rarely seen in public.
The man stepped forward a little taller than Inona dressed in greens and gold with handsome features and piercing blue eyes. There was an air of confidence about him that made Inona wary. He also looked vaguely familiar she wondered if she had seen him before a long time ago. She shook off the feeling; she had not returned here since her childhood and couldn’t remember ever being near the castle. So it was impossible to have crossed his path before. The cat gave a low growl; also was wary of this lord whoever he might be. Inona waved the cat back as she faced the noble bowing formally he gave her a pleasant smile.
Once again Inona lunged forward but could see he already moved in anticipation of her move and parried it with ease. They both stepped away circled thrusting, parrying, and lunging. Breaking off, they sidestepped circled again feigned a few thrusts and probed each other's defences. Everyone in the throne room watched in nerve biting silence not daring to move or speak. Inona thought his skill useful but considered herself better. She took a moment to study her opponent's face for any sign of weakness. He raised an eyebrow giving a slight of nod of the head to acknowledge her skill but no other sign. Back and forth they went as time seemed to slow Inona getting a little tired and wanting to end the contest couldn’t quite see the opening she needed to finish the duel.
Suddenly he changed tactics switching sword arms, to block a disarming blow from the left side, Inona also switched but not fast enough leaving herself open a split second as his sword came across to disarm her. To her surprise, he missed giving her the chance to disarm him; she took it. Inona was not happy though. Inona glared at him furiously. He had let her win they both knew it. She didn't relish the thought preferring to win fair and square. It had all happened so fast that hardly anybody noticed except maybe the queen and the sorcerer having the best view of the duel. The noble bowed graciously and smiled returning to his position. Inona felt sure he would want payment for letting her win later. She gritted her teeth, "he would get payment alright, at the end of my sword if he has any ideas of what to expect from me." Still furious as much with herself as the lord but not showing it as she bowed once more to the queen.
"A most thrilling contest my dear you are indeed very skilled and worthy of the quest. Now tell me what is your payment, for accepting this mission. The others have accepted payment in gold half in advance; do you wish the same?" The queen asked studying Inona carefully. “You have not asked what the quest is? It is not information we have made people privy to until they accept, most ask first anyway," the queen explained.
Inona had heard rumours that it would be a dangerous quest that some would most likely not return; no details as to what it might be. Those who accepted were probably a hard bunch and hoped against the odds of getting rich quick if they survived.
"It matters not to me what the quest is Your Majesty. A mission is a mission I will treat it like any other. The danger is part of the mission and what I get paid for; as to payment,” Inona paused. “No gold I've enough gold to see me comfortable the rest of my days." The crowd were muttering again wondering what her payment would be.
“Then what do you wish, if it’s within my power I will grant it," stated the queen expectantly
"Careful what you say Your Majesty it may come back to bite you," Inona smiled to herself. "Land Your Majesty, a small piece of titled land," Inona stood erect unruffled by the dismay of the gathered lords and ladies even the queen frowned studying Inona a moment. Inona knew if they didn't like it they would probably accept it. Thinking she likely wouldn't live to return and claim her payment. She was sure some would try to make sure of that even if she did succeed. The queen had to know this also she was once again in conference with the sorcerer and other nobles. All talking subsided as the queen turned to face Inona again.
"I have said if it's within my power I would grant it and indeed it is; I will seed to you the land at Lewyne Vale as I believe this land is not contested or bordering on any lords land. The queen paused a moment smoothing her gown. “I'm afraid it's a barren piece of land, it will take hard work to make it habitable.” Again she paused glancing around the throne room to gauge the reaction. “I'm sure you'll be up to the task should you succeed,” the queen proclaimed smiling.
Inona thought the queen shrewd indeed. Hedging her bets by placating the lords giving her land that nobody wanted. There was grudging approval amongst the gathered crowd, but the queen hadn't finished yet.
“Step forward and kneel before me," Inona did so without hesitation kneeling head bowed before the queen.
“What is your name my dear?" The queen grasped a gold sceptre next to her, in hand.
"Inona Chanele," she said her voice loud enough for all to hear.
“I name you Lady Chanele of Lewyne Vale and all its holdings and wealth therein accumulated yours subject to an annual tithe to the throne; from this day forth." passing the sceptre over Inona. “So say we all," the queen intoned passing her gaze over the crowd.
"So say we all," the lords and ladies grudgingly replied. The queen bent towards Inona and whispered, only the two of them could hear. Inona smiled and felt a thrill of delight shudder through her she would make sure she survived to claim her payment.
"You have your title now, but your land will only be, granted on successful completion of the quest," the queen added.
On a small sovereign island ruled by the sisterhood of Lashia, a seeress strode hastily through the dusty corridors of the temple; stopping at an ornate wooden door, she knocked loudly and waited.
"Enter”, a rasping voice within said.” The seeress entered and waited for permission to speak. At an oak desk, the matriarch sat, she gave any that met her the appearance of an old crone. Her short cropped hair long turned white with features sunken. Her bony hands folded the scroll before her. However, when one looked carefully, they would see eyes sharp as an eagle’s that missed nothing with intelligence to match and a fierce, stubborn will. She looked up from the scroll on her desk her grey eyes caught the worry in the posture of the seeress. The slight shuffle of feet the head more bowed than usual.
"What news Sharmane?" Knowing whatever it was, must be important, judging by the woman's demeanour.
"The scarred one has appeared at Queen Ellana's court Matriarch," the seeress met the matriarch's gaze. At first, the matriarch did not answer. Instead, she scrutinised the seeress carefully before responding.
"Are you sure Sharmane, he's not supposed to appear for another decade at least and certainly not in Queen Ellana's domain. It's supposed to happen in the Emperor of Mafren's empire many leagues from Kendonia," the matriarch shook her head. “Nay Sharmane you must be mistaken."
"No Matriarch there it is no mistake the signs all point to it," the seeress insisted, "also he is a she," added the seeress.
"What!" For the first time in her long life, the matriarch was genuinely surprised. "This cannot be the scarred one is supposed to be a man. Besides the time and place are all wrong that alone the gender you must be mistaken." Slowly shaking her head as if chastising an unruly child. "Return to the other seers and meditate on this more. Cast your net further there must be an error somewhere in your divinations," commanded the matriarch. The seeress nodded resignedly but didn't look hopeful of a different outcome.
She started to leave, and the matriarch spoke again more gently. "Thank you Sharmane you did right to me tell of this straight away. I pray you are wrong on this occasion for all our sakes, but make preparations to leave for Kendonia in case you are not. Please let me know the outcome of your far-seeing as soon as possible. "The matriarch sighed and bid the seeress leave. She stood and paced the room pondering the implications. “If Sharmane was to be right and she usually is. A woman, and now, in Ellana's court it was all wrong, of course, the prophecy hadn't said, the scarred one would be a man, but all indications had implied it to be so." She sat down again. "I will have to go through all references to the prophecy again.” The matriarch considered with some irritation; she rubbed her hands to warm them a look of grim determination on her weathered face.
Inona knew now what the quest was, but it didn't make much sense to her. A sorcerer had apparently stolen an ancient relic. A crown believed to hold some power; he had also raised a small army of undead and killed many in the southern city of Malori where this crown had been kept until now. To Inona this was all nonsense she didn't believe it, an army of undead? That would make him a necromancer, and she didn’t think they existed that alone undead. She had travelled far and seen much in her life till now. Never had she seen a sign of a necromancer she heard rumours from time to time all proofed false. This so-called necromancer was probably just a rogue sorcerer running amuck. It would be easier to send the sorcerer with a few soldiers to dispatch him and return the crown. Last reports said he might be, headed towards the Mafren Empire surely the emperor could handle it; he had the men and resources to deal with such a threat
One thing was making her nervous though lord Farley had not appeared since the day they duelled. She felt sure he would be snooping around hinting how he let her win and how was she was going to repay him. There had been no sign of him; Inona asked others about him few had seen him since nor knew much about him. Inona gave some thought to evaluating her fellow adventurers and considered them to be a capable bunch, Most had shunned her when she tried talking, but she was used to that now. Surprisingly the knight she had humiliated had become friendly and apologised for his past behaviour. Which surprised her she wondered if the queen had something to do with his change in attitude. He too was on the quest when she had asked him about Farley he became strangely reticent. The queen’s sorcerer was also with them. Another four knights, two nobles each accompanied by one of their best captains. These she suspected would be the ones that would try to prevent her returning. For now, she could relax, only if they succeeded, she believed would they try to stop her claiming her reward. She surmised they hoped this rogue sorcerer or whatever he was would save them the trouble.
It had been two days since she had arrived back in Kendonia there a were few yet to join their party before they left. So Inona had some time to look round the castle and the city. It appeared not to have changed that much since she had gone, which seemed like an age ago now. The castle stood on a rocky hill with one broad winding path leading up to the heavily armoured gate. To try and assault it head on would be very difficult. From any other side would be practically impossible it was too rocky if you didn't break half your bones in your body trying to climb up you were also left exposed to attack from within and would be, cut down before you got near the castle walls. Inona didn't envy anyone trying to storm this castle.
The city of Kendor nestled in the castles shadow bustling with life. Its crowded streets and thriving marketplace were a hub of commerce for people from all over Kendonia. As well as from other lands to buy and sell all kinds of goods from the common to the rare and exotic. Inona made her way through the marketplace, jostled by the crowds. She was glad she left Samba back at the castle. Not many people in Kendonia knew about Janju cats or their ability to become invisible, to blend in with their surroundings. They were fearsome animals half a man's height hunted by a few brave enough to try for their skins. Some thought wearing a coat made with Janju skin could make you invisible also. It didn't work no one knew why or how the Janju cat could make itself invisible it just could. Inona had more than one occasion to thank Samba for that ability. The two of them had become almost inseparable since she rescued Samba as a cub. Her comrades at that time had told her to kill him before the animal grew big enough to turn on her. Some had tried taming Janju cats before and had died or were maimed when the animal eventually turned on them. Inona, however, hadn't attempted taming Samba he was free to go whenever or wherever he wanted and often did disappearing for days, but he always returned. He was fiercely protective of her that Inona wondered if he was maybe a little jealous of others attention towards her. Inona stopped to look at a stall with some trinkets that caught her eye. Further up the crowded street, there was a commotion, and she could hear awed voices, she heard one-word seeress as a carriage passed along the road towards the castle.
"Seeress here in Kendonia what nonsense,” shaking her head she decided to move on.
Queen Ellana ran her hands down her blue gown smoothing the creases as she waited pensively for the matriarch and seeress to approach the throne, it had been many years since she last met the matriarch. She was just a girl then. Not many knew but they were family the matriarch and queen in fact only the sorcerer Koburn and the prince knew. Koburn leant towards the queen and spoke quietly so no else could hear.
"Your great aunt is looking very frail these days Your Majesty."
"She always looks frail, gods how old is she now two centuries or more,” the queen answered
"Not quite that old, but don't take it too lightly your majesty I fear her time draws near,” he said with an edge to this voice.
Ellana looked into the sorcerer's eyes for any sign of humour, but there was none. Then with some trepidation, she faced the frail looking old woman as she finally stood before her with the seeress by her side and she could hardly speak, The matriarch wore a long flowing beige gown trimmed with gold and lace. The seeress was, similarly attired except without the gold. Koburn was right in his assessment. She coughed pretending to clear her throat in order give herself a moment to compose herself.
"Welcome matriarch, what brings you here to my lands, is there some service we can assist the seers of Lashia with," the queen smoothed her gown and spoke with a slight tremor in her voice despite her efforts not to show any emotion.
"Such formality Ellana,” the matriarch began in a clear ringing voice. "But yes there is a service you can render. We have travelled by way of the waystones, alas it was just as tiring travelling over land and sea for one of my age. Not so for Sharmane here though eh." She paused nodding towards the seeress who flushed slightly and curtsied to the queen,” rooms, a hot bath and food for now and we shall talk later my dear."
“Of course matriarch I shall have the steward organise rooms for you right away," the queen clapped her hands and waved for the steward to attend her. Ellana thought whatever reason the matriarch had to travel here by way of the waystones must be urgent and it was apparently something to do with the quest. The waystones, from what she could remember from her youth were magical gateways that went from one location to another it, was said, that people get lost travelling in them occasionally never to be seen again only those versed in their use could successfully utilise them. They were a fast way of travel cutting a seven-day journey down to just minutes at most She didn't think there was that many waystones there was one close to Kendor she knew of and that was half a day's journey away at least.
It was early evening when queen Ellana met in the matriarchs private chambers the sun now low in the sky still cast light through the arched window throwing shadows across the room. The seeress sat in a shady corner meditating; the matriarch at a desk reflective as she spoke to the queen.
"Ellana my dear I'm sorry for making you come to me I know how this must look to the lords--"
"Oh to hell with the lords!” the queen interrupted. "I'm more concerned with you, great aunt, you don't look well this journey was too much for you wouldn't sending the seeress with an entourage have been enough I'm sure she must be quite capable," going to the matriarch and clasping her hands in her own.
"You're too kind dear, I'm not ready for my grave yet, and the matter is too important for Sharmane alone or anyone else but myself," the matriarch stated gravely.
"Has this something to do with the stolen crown?"
"Yes," the matriarch paused considering. "You remember that old prophecy I told you about when a child?"
"Vaguely, it's supposed to take place in the Mafren Empire but not for many years yet."
"At the Mafren palace to be exact, do you recall who the catalyst for this prophecy is supposed to be?" The matriarch said as the queen, seated herself in a chair opposite.
The queen was thoughtful for a moment and then frowned at the matriarch. "You surely don't mean the young woman just because she has a scarred cheek, besides from what I can remember the catalyst was to be a man. He would be, hideously scarred as you told me." The queen said emphasising the words, hideously scarred, melodramatically. She smiled fondly at the matriarch. The queen obviously thought the whole idea was not worth taking seriously. "Besides this is Kendonia not the Mafren Empire or palace," Ellana concluded.
"I see you haven't lost your sense of humour, or flair for stating the obvious dear,” said the matriarch sardonically. In any case, we were wrong about the catalyst being a man, and as I've heard this necromancer may be headed for the Mafren Empire. Also according to all the seers including Sharmane here, this young woman is the scarred one."
“Are we sure this sorcerer is, in fact, a necromancer there have none seen for many years,” the queen considered the possibility that maybe he was just a sorcerer. She didn’t want to believe he was a necromancer.
“I’m sure that your, sorcerer has already confirmed it; you can be certain this is a necromancer, and he poses the greatest threat to us all especially if he obtains that what he seeks,” the matriarch said seriously.
"I wish to see this young woman first thing in the morning I'm tired and wish to rest now," The queen rose to leave, and Sharmane saw her to the door.
"How is my great nephew?" The matriarch asked the queen as she was about to leave.
"Aron is well and as reclusive as ever,” the queen replied.
"Not for much longer I suspect, will he come to see me after I've seen the young woman? It may be sometime before I get a chance to see him again I think," the matriarch arched an eyebrow. The queen's face was a mask of diplomacy that spoke volumes to the matriarch. "By the way, Sharmane will be going on this quest. I will stay here with you for the time being if it's no trouble,” she paused in thought. “I suppose there will be enough gallant souls to see to her welfare and protection," the matriarch finished shrewdly.
The queen walked back to her rooms lost in troubled thought. She hardly noticed her surroundings or the two guards who escorted her, this prophecy she had always believed to be mostly nonsense. If Aron intended going, however, she might have to try and dissuade him in case there was some truth in it.
Inona was furious two guards had come to her room and demanded that she go with them. She hardly had time to finish her breakfast before they bustled her out the door and escorted her across the castle grounds to the east wing. The guards were impassive and refused to answer any of her questions. The east wing is where visiting lords and ladies stayed at the castle and had much more comfortable chambers than the south side where she stayed. Inona began to wonder if some lord had summoned her perhaps to threaten or discourage her from going on the quest. They certainly wouldn't try anything stronger while at the castle especially after the queen had made her a lady “Oh that was a nice touch;” despite herself, she found she liked the queen. The guards stopped in front of double doors and knocked. Inona fully intended to give whoever it was a piece of her mind. A voice within bade her enter the guards pushed the doors open and ushered her in. She was about to speak her mind instead her mouth dropped open, and her eyes widened in surprise as she came face to face with the matriarch.
"Close your mouth dear you might swallow a fly, and it's not becoming for a lady of the realm," said the matriarch dryly.
"Yes matriarch," was all Inona could answer.
"I see you know of me, "
"Of course matriarch I'm well travelled and knowledgeable," Inona said finding her voice and feeling a little cross. The matriarch arched an eyebrow while beckoning Inona to come closer she scrutinised her a moment
"Tusk! Tusk! We are tetchy, aren't we? I know your roots child I know you were born here in Kendonia and I know you must hate how you were, treated by its people. Not without cause, I'll grant you but don't let that cloud your judgement. The Queen is a good and just ruler, and the prince is a lot like his mother."
"I like the Queen, but I haven't met the prince yet."
"Oh have you not, you would recognise him if you did would you?" asked the matriarch again arching an eyebrow.
"Well, I... That is I mean if someone introduced me..." Inona stuttered perplexed.
"Things are not always as they seem child and people are sometimes are not who they appear to be." Interjected the matriarch, "but that's by the by, I want you to do something for me."
Inona tensed warily searching the matriarch’s features for some sign, expecting trickery or maybe some spell to make her compliant to do what the matriarch wished. Not far away in a nearby corridor Samba appeared in front of a startled maid and bounded towards where Inona stood-facing the matriarch, alerted by her sudden tension
The matriarch waved a hand agitatedly. “Tell that animal of yours to be calm I’m not going to harm you or make you do anything against your will.”
Inona hadn’t been aware that Samba had picked up on her tension before the matriarch mentioned it nor was she sure she should stop him coming to her aid.
“I simply want you to look after the seeress for me she is new to the outside world,” the matriarch said with some exasperation
Inona relaxed and sensing Samba now outside the matriarch’s chambers communicated the same to Samba
The matriarch frowned. “So the two of you are linked I see I thought as much but wasn’t certain still now that is a rare gift you have.”
Inona knew the matriarch was referring to herself and Samba but didn’t answer she was surprised by how much the matriarch knew and seemingly accepted most people would make it just another reason to call her an abomination.
“As I was saying, please look out for Sharmane for me I would consider it a great kindness. You can trust her don’t forget she is a seeress and could see things which may help you,” She paused. “I wish you no ill my dear but much success,” her tone had a ringing finality to it. Inona replied she would do her best to follow the matriarch’s request and keep the seeress safe partly because if what the matriarch said was true the seeress may prove useful.
But as she left the matriarch’s chambers and headed to the courtyard, she felt troubled by how much the matriarch knew. She felt there was much more she knew and had left unsaid there was a seeming finality in the matriarch’s tone as if they wouldn’t see each other again. Maybe the matriarch thought Inona wouldn’t return if that were the case she intended to prove her wrong.
The following morning all on the quest assembled in the courtyard Inona was surprised to see lord Farely had joined their group also it was the first time she had seen him since they duelled apart from Farley two more had been added to the group of adventurers all mounted after making final preparation for the journey ahead. The queen came to see them off, wishing them success and a safe return.
The matriarch had said her goodbyes to Sharmane beforehand and watched from her window as they rode out through the castle gates.
"My prayers go with you, child and may the gods help us all,” the matriarch whispered to herself.
Inona had been riding at the rear of the group when they left the castle and city behind them. She had been studying the two newest members of their little band. One a tall bearded mute with a lean muscular frame the other shorter and dark-skinned the two seemed to be together. Many would dismiss the shorter man, as being of little threat in a fight. Inona knew better, once she had undertaken a mission in his country. He hailed from Caliradia probably the great desert city of Callir itself by his accent, and he was undoubtedly an assassin. She wondered if he had been hired to assassinate her by some lord. Or was he here just for the quest like everyone else was supposed to be. She must have been staring at his back overlong for he turned in the saddle and looked directly at her giving a quick smile before turning back again. Inona shrugged if he were here for her he would at least wait to see if she survived to make the journey back before attempting anything at least she hoped so. She figured the tall one was a backup for the assassin or to keep him safe while he got the job done.
“No good worrying about it now time to get to know the seeress.” Spurring her horse to the front of the group where the seeress rode beside the sorcerer. She passed lord Farley riding with the knights just behind the seeress.
“Good day Inona,” he said smiling. Inona didn’t reply but gave him a cold stare. There was some murmuring among knights at Inona’s slight which she pointedly ignored.
The seeress glanced over at Inona as she came up beside and smiled pleasantly she rode side saddle on a white stallion that Inona couldn’t help but admire.
“I call him Cloud,” the seeress said noting Inona admiring the animal.
“You ride him well, have you done much riding?” asked Inona curious she couldn’t imagine the seeress had done much riding having been cloistered in that Temple most of her life.
“Before I joined the sisterhood, I used to ride a lot my father owned stables, so I used to get to ride many different breeds of horses.” She had a faraway expression as if reminiscing about times past.
“Oh I see,” said Inona a little surprised by this she thought the seers were taken in from a very young age. “How long have you lived in the Temple then?”
“Since my thirtieth year, I am well past my sixtieth year now,” Inona was stunned for a moment with this revelation the seeress looked to be no more than twenty or thirty years at most.
“You will be giving away to many secrets of your order Sharmane if you are not careful,” Koburn put in smiling
The seeress flushed slightly seeming flustered, as she realised that indeed she said more than was intended. Inona thought she may know horses but didn’t know much about people.
“Pay no attention to that old fool, all he knows is how to turn people into toads,” Inona jibbed deflecting the conversation while she absorbed what the seeress said. She hoped the sorcerer wouldn’t take offence and turn her into a toad. To her surprise, he burst out laughing which made the seeress laugh and then Inona herself started laughing. “That could have gone badly if he did take offence,” thinking she might have overreached herself and angered the sorcerer, but she had judged him right. He was one not to take himself too seriously.
“You seem to have a way with people my lady Inona,” said Koburn shrewdly
“Don’t start that,” Inona said cringing.
“Start what?” He asked innocently.
“Calling me my lady I was enjoying myself up to now. You’ve just gone and ruined my day,” said Inona woefully.
“Why not my lady, after all, you are a lady now, like it or not,” Koburn smirked, and all three started laughing again.
From behind lord, Farley piped up in a grandiose voice “Is my lady ready to stop for some refreshments?” Inona stopped laughing turned and glared at Farley who had a smug expression on his face and merely shrugged his shoulders at her.
“Well it is past midday; time to water the horses and have a bite to eat,” lord Farley excused. In spite of what she thought of him or any lord for that matter he was right, it was well past midday now and time to take a break.
“I haven’t seen that feline of yours all day is he nearby?” Asked Koburn, looking around while he sat on a tree stump eating, the rest of the group sat in a circle busy eating or tending the horses.
“Yes I have heard so much about the Janju cats I would love to see one close up,” said the seeress excitedly. “Are they really, that big and fierce as people claim they are?” She asked.
“Most people aren’t so keen on seeing one close up,” replied Inona. The seeress reminded her of giddy girl on her first outing. She sent her thoughts out to the cat it had just had his first meal of the day and was basking in the afternoon sunshine. The cat immediately came slinking into the camp most of the group let out surprised exclamations of shock or amazement and shied away from the animal.
“He is lovely,” Sharmane said as Samba came and laid down close to Inona. She asked if she could touch him.
“He doesn’t normally let just anyone touch him,” She was surprised to see he let the seeress stroke him. The seeress seemed to have a way with all animals.
The group decided after having eaten and watered the horses to continue their journey they had several hours yet before dark. There was an Inn at the edge of a forest where they hoped to spend the night. They passed travellers and the road and had yet to meet any trouble. Kendonia being a mostly prosperous law-abiding country its people were mostly friendly. There were a few bandits in remote areas, but few and far between They passed a few farmsteads here and there as they travelled onward. Dusk had fallen when they arrived at the Inn. The innkeeper looked the group over and told them he hadn’t enough cots to put them all up, so the seeress, the sorcerer, and the lords took what spare rooms were left while the rest had to sleep outside or in the stables.
Inona didn’t mind she preferred sleeping outside. She was busy grooming her horse when the stable door opened and sir Markwight came in. The knight had changed somewhat since their first encounter Inona thought she might even grow to like him.
“Lord Farley asks if you would like to join him for supper,” the knight said.
Inona frowned, “here it comes I just knew he would want something for letting me win that duel,” she thought while the knight waited for her answer. In spite of her misgivings, she agreed expecting supper to be in his room or a table for two in a discreet corner where no one could see them. Inona was surprised however when she entered the Inn a little later, which was full of boisterous patrons three maids moved between tables carrying drinks and food. lord Farley sat at a table on one side of the Inn with the seeress, sorcerer and sir Markwight who spotted Inona enter. Calling her over waving an arm in the air to catch her attention; she barely heard him with all the noise. Making her way to the table, Inona spotted the other two lords with their captains sat on the other side drinking and talking amongst themselves. One of them noticed Inona and gave her a disdainful look which she ignored as she sat down between Sharmane and Koburn.
Later as she returned to the stables, she passed sir Markwight taking some air he nodded to her. Inona felt compelled to ask him what was on her mind. “What’s his game, and who is he really?” she asked.
Sir Markwight didn’t have to ask who, he already knew who she meant “Why he is lord Farely, and you would do well to give him his due, he is here for the quest like we all are nothing else.”
Inona shook her head doubtful she had a growing suspicion about this lord. She didn’t know what to make of him. She usually was a good judge of character, but it seemed she had been, totally wrong as far Farley was concerned she expected him to be arrogant and conceited like most lords, but not Farley it appeared and that wrangled; It was most perplexing.
“Well if you think otherwise you should take it up with lord Farley,” he wished her a good night.
Shortly after daybreak, they left keeping on the road as they travelled through the forest, as usual, they stopped for a short break soon after mid-day. Inona was talking with the seeress when she noticed Farley disappear into the woods by himself. Inona waited a minute, or two then excused herself and went into the woods at roughly the same place lord Farley had disappeared. Tiptoeing through the undergrowth it wasn’t long before she found him with his back to her practising with his sword she stood little way of watching him.
“You know you shouldn’t creep up on someone like that they might get the wrong idea,” he said continuing his practice without turning.
“Why did you let me win the duel?” Inona asked ignoring his remarks. He stopped finally turning to face her. Sheaving his sword he walked towards where she stood, stopping close he seemed to study her a moment then smiled.
“I’ve heard about you before we met and I couldn’t think of anyone better suited for this quest.”
“I don’t think you are telling me all of it your lordship,” Inona frowned there was something he wasn’t telling her.
“Well, that's all the answer you’ll get, for now. Come on let's head back, time we got on our way again,” he started walking back to the others, and Inona followed close behind.
Just as Inona was getting ready to mount her horse, the seeress whispered to her urgently. “I must speak with you privately when we camp this evening,” Inona just nodded not wanting to draw attention, whatever it was the seeress wished to speak about she seemed troubled by it. Inona remembered what the matriarch had said about Sharmane anything she had to say when they had a chance to talk privately she would give serious consideration.
The forest gave way to low hills and fields with the occasional stand of trees, and it was under one such stand that they decided to make camp as the light faded. When everybody had settled around the campfire, the seeress came to Inona.
“I wish to take the night air will you walk with me a while. I don't feel safe walking on my own,” Inona took the hint, and they walked off a little way from the camp. When far enough away not to be seen or heard from the camp they stopped.
“Well, what is it Sharmane is there something I need to know?” Inona asked
“Yes, and it's not good,” Inona nodded for her to continue. “We have a traitor in our midst one of the lords will attempt to kill you.” The seeress squeezed her eyes shut trying to shake off the possible consequences of the nightmarish vision she had.
“Well, I’ve been expecting at least one would try and get rid of me but not this soon,” Inona said
The seeress was shaking her head, "No it's not what you think---"
“When is it supposed to happen?” Inona asked containing to speak over the seeress; thinking through possible ways to foil any attempt on her life. “Any plan that didn't involve myself being dead would be good,” she thought sardonically.
“No, listen to me, it is not only you but Koburn, myself and just about everyone else while we sleep I’m not certain when either tonight or tomorrow,” Sharmane said troubled.
“What, why would anyone want to kill you or the others?” Inona was beginning to have misgivings about trusting Sharmane’s visions.
However, she knew the seeress wouldn't make such wild claims unless she felt reasonably sure. Her instincts told her to trust the seeress in spite of any doubts though she considered that Sharmane might of miss read her vision. She wondered whether the assassin was involved in this plot, or maybe lord Farley as he was just being too friendly to believed either or both seemed a likely possibility to her.
“He would need more men to kill the rest of us are you sure you have it right Sharmane?” Inona mulled it over in her head, Sharmane nodded.
“But I still don’t understand, why kill everyone,” Inona was beginning see that something more was going on than she had first thought, but she couldn’t quite grasp it yet. “Do you know which of the lords it is Sharmane?” She asked still working on possible scenarios in her head.
“I’m afraid not Inona it's not that precise at least not often, but I can tell you this now you can’t tell anyone about this.”
Inona looked aghast at the seeress, “Why not, surely we should at least warn Koburn.”
“If you warn anyone, it will change the vision, and the most likely outcome is we will all die,” Sharmane said gravely.
Inona started pacing to and throw; she shook her head in frustration trying to see a way forward. Samba picked up on her emotions and appeared close bending down she ran her fingers through his fur it helped calm her as she considered what to do.
“You are central to everything that is happening now Inona what you do may well decide all our fates,” Sharmane said solemnly.
Inona stood once again, staring intently at the seeress. ”Why me?” Pieces were beginning to fall into place in her head. What the matriarch told her and now Sharmane though she wasn't sure what it all meant yet.
“Because you are the catalyst the one told of in prophesy,” answered the seeress
“What is that supposed to mean, bah! You seers can be so infuriatingly obscure sometimes. In any case, I don’t believe in prophecies.”
“It doesn't matter, the thing is what do you intend to do now,” the seeress began. “There is more I need to tell you,” Inona waited, wondering how much worse it could get. “This lord is an agent of the necromancer, and there is more of his agents at Queen Ellana’s Court. There will be an attempt on the Queen’s life soon,” the seeress said at length.
Inona tugged her hair she had many questions that needed answering. One or two answers would do for now though, “I presume you didn’t know about these agents or the attempt on Queen’s life before we left. Maybe we should turn back,” Inona said considering the best course of action.
“No, we must go on I can warn the Matriarch she will know what to do, I suggest you talk with Koburn. He can tell you more about the quest as long as you don’t mention what I’ve seen in my vision.”
“How are you going to warn the Matriarch?”
“I think there is a stream nearby is there not,” the seeress asked Inona nodded, they headed toward the stream. “Keep watch, in case anybody comes,” Sharmane said bending down she stirred the water with her hand. At once the water steamed and a mist rose. A reflection of the matriarch appeared in the water. Her face turned sideways and seemed to be looking down; almost immediately she turned to face the seeress.
“What is it Sharmane,” asked the matriarch her voice sounding distant but still clearly heard. Sharmane related what she had seen in her vision. The matriarch frowned her expression appeared deeply troubled even through the water. “I’ll handle things here,” the matriarch began just as Inona leaned over to have a look. “Ah, there you are, child, you must carry on with the quest it is too important to turn back now,” she said firmly. The water began to clear again, and the matriarch’s reflection vanished.
On the way back to the camp both were quiet Inona was thinking furiously she had one or two ideas, but first, she had to speak with the sorcerer and keep Samba close. She would definitely, need him for whatever lied ahead. When they got back to the camp, some had already turned in for the night.
Koburn lord Farley and sir Markwight sat by the fire quietly talking. Koburn looked up at the two women as they entered the camp with the Janju cat and immediately he sensed something was troubling them. The seeress went to her sleeping bag while Inona sat on a large rock at the edge of the campsite with Samba at her feet. Koburn excused himself and walked over to Inona. He could see she was waiting for him as he approached.
“Well, what’s troubling you I know something is wrong I can see it in your face? He asked seriously
“I want to know more about this stolen crown and this so-called necromancer,” Inona said ignoring the sorcerer’s question. Koburn raised an eyebrow sitting down beside her he cleared this throat before speaking.
“The crown is just an antique by itself nothing more,” he paused to see Inona’s reaction.
“But there is more to it?”
He nodded, "yes, three jewels are missing from the crown when they are all reunited and fitted into the crown. It grants enormous power to the wearer, magnifying any magic abilities the wearer already has many times. Even just one jewel reinstated increases the wearer's ability to some extent. Its also thought to send the wearer insane eventually,” he explained at length.
“So if you had this crown and the jewels fitted, you could become all-powerful, but a necromancer can only raise the dead right?”
“If this necromancer is who I think he is, he once was a sorcerer and besides a necromancer normally can raise a small army of undead however with the crown, he would be able to raise legions of undead that is apart from any sorcerous abilities he has. I know you don't believe in any such thing as necromancy or necromancers Inona truth be, told there hadn’t been any seen for many years until recently but they do exist.”
“So now he is looking for the jewels I take it, and they are hidden somewhere not all in the same place I presume.”
“Clever girl, I knew you where a lot smarter than most would give credit for,” he said again nodding his head
“So where did this crown come from what are its origins?” Asked Inona astutely.
Koburn gave Inona a small smile, “Again an excellent question my dear,” he marvelled at how talented, and knowledgeable this young woman was.
“The crown was forged by ancient elven craftsmen many centuries ago, or so it is thought,” pausing a moment he gathered his thoughts before continuing. “The elven race is now believed to be extinct. So there is none alive to verify the crown’s potential, but I think a few may yet survive today somewhere. The crown was, meant as an ultimate weapon in a war they waged back then nobody knows who the enemy was. No records go back that far,” again he paused considering. The point is, they never actually used it out of fear it was too powerful and could end all life. Besides there was more than a good chance it would eventually make whoever wore it insane,” he finally concluded.
Inona mulled all that she had learnt up till now as she lay on her bedroll; she did not sleep but lay awake sifting it through in her head. Some pieces were beginning to fall into place, but she still couldn't make much sense of it. She needed more information to be able to fit it all together one thing was sure this was not a straightforward mission like the many she had undertaken in the past. In the meantime, she needed a plan to foil the attack on herself and the others. She knew whichever lord planned to kill her and the rest would need more men to be able to kill everyone before some would wake and raise the alarm. That meant there had to be men lying in wait somewhere ahead of them. She kept Samba at her side if the attack were to be tonight the cat would alert her to any danger.
Inona passed a sleepless night, but at least it had been uneventful although it didn't’ help her mood at breakfast. She snapped at anyone that tried to speak with her. Inona noticed the seeress looked as if she hadn't slept much either. As they set off again, she considered what lay ahead. They were to pass through a small hamlet that went by the name of Kandon Creek. Ordinary she would have found it an ideal place for an ambush but as the attack according to the seeress was to be at night it seemed unlikely. Still, she was wary. She could send Samba to scout ahead but thought it best to keep him near.
As they arrived at Kandon Creek, Inona decided she needed to buy some supplies. Dismounting she looked around the small hamlet a few people were going about their daily business everything looked normal and quiet. The rest of the group waited, looking around. Inona headed for the general store entering her eyes adjusted to the dim light; the store seemed crammed with various goods of all kinds from food to clothing. A tall, thin man stood behind a wooden counter. He watched Inona intently as she found some trail bread and held it up to the man.
“How much,” she asked
“One centin,” he answered gruffly.
Inona got the coin out and put it on the counter; then she got two more putting them on the table also.
“What's this for?” the storekeeper asked eyeing the extra coin on the counter greedily.
“Information,” the storekeeper raised an eyebrow but said nothing glancing down at the extra coins again. Inona sighed and put another coin down. He snatched them up and once more scrutinised Inona.
“What you want to know?”
“Man of few words I see,” Inona began laconically he grunted. “Did a small group of men pass through here recently?” She studied the storekeeper’s face for any reaction.
The storekeeper looked thoughtful a moment. “Yesterday about ten or twenty men passed through they looked well armed as if expecting trouble,”
“ As many as twenty!” her eyes widening slightly. “You sure about that?”
“Cant, be sure of the exact number but more than ten for certain.”
“Okay, thanks,” she turned to leave.
“Good luck,” the storekeeper called. Inona gave him a wave in return as she left the store.
As Inona remounted she once again began to think furiously, she thought maybe six but as many as twenty. “Looks like they want to make sure nobody survives,” she thought.
They stopped by a stream at midday, and the seeress sat beside Inona and whispered so nobody else could hear. “Do you know what you are going to do yet,” The seeress looked drawn and pale “I believe it will be tonight,” she finished pensively.
Inona nodded, “I have an idea,” looking up she let her gaze fall on where the assassin and the mute sat. The big man was gesturing to the assassin and seemed a little agitated about something. She recognised the quick hand movements of the mute as sign language and could even interpret some of it. Enough to know she needed to talk with the assassin. Inona excused herself and walked over to the two men. The big man stopped his signing as Inona approached and stared, and the assassin who had his back to her turned to face her with that same self-confident smile he always seemed to have.
“Good day scarred one,” he said
If Inona didn’t know of his origins, she would think he was insulting her, but the opposite was the case. Her instincts were telling her that she needed these two so she gambled hoping she would not be wrong.
“You’re not here for me are you?”
The assassin grinned, "Yes and No!"
Inona gave him a look like sour grapes, “Don't play games with me I know you're an assassin are you here for me or not,” she said in a hissed whisper getting up close to him that they were nearly cheek to cheek. Her nerves were getting more than a little frayed at the edges. She hadn’t time to play cat and mouse with the assassin.
The assassin took a step back raising both hands still grinning in a way that made Inona want to knock the grin off his face.” Forgive me scared one; I didn't mean to cause you distress." He inclined his head to her, “I am Abul Shan, and my big friend here goes by the name of Ben we are here to help you.”
“Why,” Inona said her instincts hadn't failed her, again pieces began to fall in place. She felt like a small piece in a larger game that she had no control over
“Because I have been sent by, the Caliph himself to aid the one told of in prophecy."
Inona wanted to scream, “be damned prophecy again,” but she would take help wherever she could get it right now; let him believe what he wanted. She told him about the attack that would happen tonight. The seeress said she couldn't tell anyone but also that everything was supposed to depend on what she did; it was a risk she had to take. Between them, they formed a plan.
Later as dusk fell, they made camp in a small clearing surrounded by trees and a narrow stream if it weren’t for the likelihood of them being attacked and murdered while they slept it would have been an ideal spot. The surrounding trees, however, would give their would-be attackers cover to conceal themselves and the sound of the stream muffle their approach. Inona waited while everyone settled in for the night. Looking around the camp to make sure no one was watching dark clouds crossed the moon; the night air was still and warm. Inona placed her saddlebags under her blanket to make it look like someone sleeping. Creeping over to where the seeress lay she gave her a nudge and whispered for her to get up and follow. The two of them silently went a little way back from the camp behind some bushes and lay watching the camp. Inona expected Shan and the mute would be in place by now all they had to do now was wait.
The moon reappeared from behind the clouds and the night air grew cool several hours past, and Inona had to rouse the seeress twice to keep her from falling asleep. Then she caught movement at the far side of the camp where she had seen the two lordlings sleeping two dark figures silently rose; one waited in place while the other went in the opposite direction to where Inona and the seeress lay hidden. She heard a low whistle like a bird call then the figure returned one heading towards where Inona was supposed to be sleeping. The other headed to where the sorcerer lay. More dark shapes appeared among the trees moving silently towards the camp. Inona surmised, correctly that they would go for the most significant threats first.
Inona waited while the figure neared her bedroll, she whispered to the seeress to stay put removing her hip dagger she silently crept towards her intended target. She came up behind the man just as he was about to stab his knife in her bedroll; he half turned sensing someone behind him, Inona put one hand over his mouth and pulled his head back plunging her blade into his back. There was a brief struggle as she held him keeping her hand tight over his mouth until he finally gave a strangled moan and collapsed at her feet. She could just make out his face in the gloom it was the noble who had given her a dirty look back at the Inn. Across from her she heard another moan and could just make out Shan crouching over his victim. Drawing her longsword she cut down another, Shan doing likewise they took out another two before the assailants realised what was happening.
Then as Samba brought a man down, he screamed as the cat mauled him. The mute charged in, wielding a war hammer and caving one attacker's head in swinging the hammer from side to side breaking limbs and crushing bones of any that got near him. The rest of the camp was hastily on their feet and grabbing for their weapons. Koburn just managed to get to his feet casting a fireball that engulfed two attackers that rushed him in flame. Farley sir Markwight and the knights fought side by side the remaining noble, and his captain joined them. Inona noticed that the seeress had entered the fray. Though her spells were mainly of a defensive nature, she blinded one attacker and made another stumble while Inona stepped in and finished them. Samba went from one victim to another disappearing like smoke only to reappear moments later savagely ripping throats and disembowelling others it was a gruesome sight to witness. Shan and the mute took down several more while the sorcerer got a couple more with bolts of lightning.
Several lay dead at the two nobles feet both confident swordsmen with almost equal skill as Inona caught a glimpse of them a lull in the battle close to her. Then she was in the thick of it once more fending of two assailants taking one through the heart ducking low to avoid a swipe to her head rolling to one side she came up slashing the man across his waist spilling entrails on to the ground.
Then all was silent it was all over in a matter of minutes. Shan and the mute went about gathering the dead while the rest took stock of the situation they had lost one of the knights and had three wounded. Sharmane was healing one of the injured knights when Inona approached.
“When you’ve healed everyone else, can you heal Samba he has some minor cuts,” Inona asked.
“Of course Inona,” she answered a little tiredly, “I don't suppose we’ll get any more sleep this night,”
Inona shook her head in reply by the time they had cleared the campsite dawn was beginning to break on the horizon. They decided to burn all the bodies together except the knight giving him a separate pyre. Sir Markwight stood over the knight as flames consumed the body.
“He was a good friend and valiant knight,” sir Markwight spoke solemnly saluting his fallen comrade. They rode out quickly as dawn broke leaving the fires still burning wanting to be long gone before attracting unwanted attention.
“You knew about the attack didn’t you?” Koburn asked Inona when they were well away from the campsite.
“Yes,” Inona said while scanning the countryside in front of them. The terrain had become flat with just the odd bush or tree, dotted around.
“Sharmane I presume,” Koburn nodded looking to the seeress.
“We couldn't tell you I’m sorry,” the seeress put in apologetically.
“No need I understand how foretellings work,” he paused looking around to get his bearings. “We should reach Maroli tomorrow evening he said, changing the subject.
“Wouldn’t we be better heading straight for Mafren if that’s where this sorcerer or whatever he might be is headed,” Inona said quizzically.
“We don’t know for sure where he’s headed. He may still be in Malori,” Koburn began. “In any case, we need to go there first we may find some clues to where the gems may be hidden, in the Malori library.”
“It’s the biggest library in all the known world I’m looking forward to seeing it myself,” said the seeress.
Again the seeress reminded Inona of an excited child it was hard to believe how old she, actually was. They came to a crossroads shortly before midday. A weathered wooden signpost pointed in several directions. One northwest and read Mafren, another west to Domire and the coast; the last led south to Malori. Just off the road on the north-west side of the crossroads lay a large circular formation of strange flat stones with symbols engraved on them. Inona had come across these several times before in her travels they were waystones.
“Couldn't we use the waystones to get to Malori,” asked the other remaining lord who went by the name of Callad. The sorcerer looked thoughtful a moment, as the group stopped. Callad had been travelling beside the sorcerer, Sharmane and herself since the attack while Shan and his companion rode in the rear. Lord Farley and the knights rode in the middle. Callad had spoken little until now but seemed reasonable for a noble if just a touch stuffy Inona was quite surprised to hear him speak out
“There is a waystone at the south exit of the city.” Koburn stroked his beard considering.
“It’s not a good idea, we don't know what will await us on the other side,” lord Farley said coming up beside Inona and the sorcerer. Inona was inclined to agree with Farley. The enemy would surely suspect pursuit by now and may well have a trap waiting for them.
“Agreed, we could exit amidst our enemies,” Koburn nodded after some thought. Without further discussion, they rode on.
It was past midday when they stopped, and Inona overheard Callad talking to lord Farley. “I’d known him a long time; he was a friend I just can't believe he would do such a such a thing?” He paused gesturing with outstretched hands. “Why try to have us all murdered in our sleep?” Inona didn't catch Farley’s reply before Callad walked away downcast. She now felt certain that either Farley or Callad was not who they professed to be. She wondered if Sharmane might be able to tell her more. It wasn't until later after they made camp. She finally broached the seeress on what was on her mind. As they sat near the fire together
“One of the things the matriarch said to me, though I didn't pay much attention to it at the time is troubling me,” Inona said. Turning things over in her head as she spoke to Sharmane. She realised something else also that she treated Sharmane as a friend and confidant and could trust her entirely even with her most inner secrets.
“What is it Inona?” Sharmane smiled reassuringly.
“Well, for one thing, she seemed to know a lot about me but what’s bothering me the most is something she mentioned about things and people not being what they seem.” She looked at Sharmane for some reaction and thought she caught a glimmer of something about which she wasn't telling her. So she decided to get to the crux of the matter. “I think either Lord Farley or Lord Callad is likely the prince,” she studied Sharmane’s face for a reaction. She noted the seeress didn't seem surprised by what she said. Inona absently stroked her scarred cheek trying to think which one it might be.
“That’s not for me to say,” Sharmane said pausing she considered her words carefully. “As before and now you must decide the best course to take.” It was a complete evasion of what Inona had put to the seeress. But of course, there was the damned prophesy to take into consideration. The reference to before obviously referred to Sharmane’s fore-telling about the attack. She was now sure, one of them had to be the prince but which? She bid Sharmane a goodnight and went to her sleeping bag.
As they set out the next morning, the weather changed, and a light drizzle fell turning to a steady downpour by midday making almost everyone feel miserable. All except the seeress who seemed to revel in the rain. Much to Inona’s and Koburn's annoyance, Inona just didn't like the wet while Koburn complained about the damp affecting his old bones. Inona found the more she knew of the sorcerer, the more she liked him. With his white hair, pointed beard and a short moustache. He had a ruddy face with steel grey eyes that showed signs of bags under them. As was his custom he dressed in a grey sorcerer ’s coat and leggings with flat hard wearing shoes of solid construction. Typical and practical wear for a sorcerer. He was everything she could’ve wanted in the father figure she had never known. Being orphaned on streets of Kendor was all she could remember of her childhood. As they rode along in relative silence, Koburn suddenly spoke looking closely at Inona.
“ I know you are originally from Kendor, Chanele is not a Kendonian name,” he said shrewdly
“No, it isn’t, I don't remember who my parents were, I know that my name is Inona. At least that's all I can remember anyone ever calling me.” Inona looked thoughtful as if trying to remember something of her lost past.
“I see, so you invented the name Chanele?” Koburn expression showed sympathy he wished he could have met her sooner and in better circumstances. She was so quick and intelligent there was so much more he could have taught her.
“Yep,” Inona cheekily smiled at Koburn, “Now it's my lady Chanele to you.” Inona stuck her tongue out, and they both started laughing.
After a short stop in the afternoon with just enough time to water the horses, they pressed on now that they were nearing Malori. Hoping to get out of the rain and spend somewhere dry for the night. It was nearly dusk when they arrived outside the city gates. A group of tired looking city guards met them.
“Halt,” one of the guards commanded raising a hand. By his bearing and uniform, he was apparently the captain. Koburn, Farley and Callad rode forward to talk with the captain while the rest stayed back waiting.
“There is a curfew in force as there is still some trouble in parts of the city,” Callad said as they regrouped.
They followed the guards through the city gates. Smoke could be seen rising above the houses in one-quarter of the city. The guards lead them to a comfortable looking Inn with stables where the captain bid them goodnight before going back on duty with his men. The Inn was reasonably quiet with hardly any customers. Inona considered at least she will have a bed this time. After having a quiet supper, they all decided to get some sleep and went to their rooms. Inona could faintly hear some fighting sounding a long way off in the city as she lay on her cot. She had not seen Samba all day and wondered where he was. Reaching out she managed to contact him he was nearby at the side of the Inn. He had found a hay-wagon to curl up in and keep dry. Inona smiled, “trust Samba to find a good spot to spend the night.” Was her last thought before falling asleep.
Inona dreamed she was a girl again chased by city guards in the back streets of Kendor. It was dark running she came across an abandoned house entering she hid from the guards. She could hear their shouts as they searched for her eventually fading as they passed the house. Then she realised she was not alone.
Queen Ellana only half listened while two elder nobles squabbled over land rites. She felt deeply concerned by what the matriarch had told the night before. She long suspected one of the nobles would attempt to overthrow her rule. She had her spies in court so knew which one of the nobles it would likely be. She instinctively wanted to have the man arrested and thrown in prison. The matriarch, however, counselled her against such action that there may be more involved but have him watched for now. They needed to wait to catch all involved in the act. She was even more worried about Aron she had tried her best to stop him going on the quest to no avail. She wondered if he were alright she would never forgive herself if anything happened to him. Later after she finished a busy day she headed to her chambers. Queen Ellana removed the coronet shaking her head to let the scarlet ringlets of hair drop to her shoulders. As was her habit she ran her hands down the assure blue velvet gown the action somehow soothed her as she made her way along the corridor accompanied by her guards. As she reached her chambers a tall, dark-skinned women with black hair tied in a knot at the back awaited her. Everything about the women appeared black even the clothes she wore which enabled her to merge with the shadows. Malobi mistress of spies was her staunchest most loyal supporter and friend for many years.
“Malobi are we prepared,” the Queen queried.
Malobi bowed gracefully, “Yes my Queen we have done all we can. The matriarch awaits in your chambers,” she paused. “The knight captain is ready also there is no more we can do for now,” pausing again she regarded the Queen with a serious expression. “One of my spies will take your place the attack won’t come till late.” Malobi made to leave but turned having more to say, “No harm will come to you while I live my Queen.”
The Queen rested a hand on Malobi’s shoulder, “I know Malobi I couldn't be in better hands thank you, my friend.”
The spy mistress disappeared into the shadows as Ellana entered her chambers where the matriarch awaited. “Come sit, Ellana lets talk a while it will help pass the time,” the matriarch said.
“I don't know how you can sit there calmly when we are likely to be attacked at any moment,” Ellana fretted taking a sedan chair next to the matriarch.
“Tell about this spy mistress of yours she hails from Caliradia I believe?” The matriarch could see the Queen’s nerves were getting the better of her so tried to focus her attention elsewhere.
“Yes from the eastern province,”
“She certainly is a very exotic creature, and very dedicated to you,” the matriarch said arching an eyebrow.
Ellana got the underlying meaning she wanted to giggle in spite of herself but managed to give a serious answer. “There is nothing like that between us although she is that way inclined I, however, am not.”
“People can change with time,” the matriarch said pausing in thought. “Have you ever thought of remarrying?” she asked.
Before Ellana could answer someone knocked on the door, “that will be the spy to take your place in bed,” the matriarch said. Ellana opened the door a woman of equal height and same colour hair as the Queen entered.
“Your majesty, matriarch I’m Hana,” she said bowing. “The spy mistress says to be ready. ”
“Very well, blow the candles out Hana and get in the bed while we go wait in the passage,” the matriarch said.
The Queen went to a bookcase on the far wall and pulled a concealed lever opening the door to a hidden passageway. There were many such passages in the castle used by her spies, and few knew of their existence. “Don't get too comfortable in my bed I want it back when things get back to normal” the Queen quipped trying to make light of the situation. The spy grinned at the Queen before blowing out the last candle.
“It’s dark in here,” the Queen whispered. “And dusty,” she noted.
“Again your flair for stating the obvious amazes me Ellana.”
“Can't help it, Do you think it’s inherited?”
“Obviously dear,” the matriarch said sighing.
“Hope she doesn't fall asleep while we wait,” the Queen said
“Ellana be quiet if you keep talking our enemies are likely to hear you.” The matriarch said exasperatedly
“Yes matriarch,” Ellana answered feeling like a naughty child.
They waited in silence for what seemed like an eternity to the Queen with the passage door just opened a crack so they could see into the darkened room. Suddenly the door into the bedchamber opened silently a shadowy figure emerged creeping towards the bed in the darkness steel glinted as the figure leaned over the bed. Hana threw back the covers and leapt forward grasping the hand the assailant held the weapon they went tumbling onto the floor as the matriarch and Ellana exited the passage. Ellana lit a candle and could see the spy struggling with the assailant. It wasn’t long before she had subdued the attacker and with more candles lit his identity revealed.
“Lord Bowan, your is treachery is undone,” Queen Ellana said.
“Bitch,” Lord Bowan spat vehemently still struggling, Hana held him firm and forced him to his feet, “My lineage is pure I should be king,” he ranted.
“Not so, Lord Bowan,” the matriarch began. “You are the son of the twelfth Duke of Kendor your lineage and claim is tentative at best.” She concluded.
“Lies, sorcerous bitch I’m the rightful ruler,” he spat with specks of spittle around his mouth and dribbling down his chin.
The matriarch frowned, “sit him on the bed I want to take a closer look.” The matriarch said. Hana hauled him on to the bed as he kept struggling to break from her grip. The ageing lord, however, was no match for the young spy who was adept at handling awkward prisoners.
The Queen stood behind the matriarch and felt appalled at the Lord's reaction she knew he always bore a grudge and thought he was the rightful heir to the throne. She also knew he would likely try to take the throne someday, but this venomous hate-filled behaviour seemed more than she believed him capable of.
The matriarch stood over the man concentrating she put a hand on his head he went limp head dropping then suddenly he lifted his head again his eyes changing colour, as he glared malevolently “I do not fear you witch,” he uttered in a chilling voice not his own
“Then perhaps you should,” the matriarch moved her hands slowly over the man “Begone,” she finally said. The lord thrashed in convulsions then went limp a black miasma emitted from his mouth, eyes and even ears dispersing as it drifted up.
The Queen took an involuntary step back in horror even the spy let go her grip shocked. “What dark magic is this?” the Queen explained in a quavering voice
“Its an adapted form of necromancy know as possession,” the matriarch said calmly. She studied the prone man dispassionately feeling for a pulse. “He’s dead," she announced finally looking away from the body. Fighting could be heard nearby, and the spy mistress entered she signalled for Hana to join the others now she had completed her task successfully.
“The lord's men are attacking, and some minor lords are taking advantage of the chaos to settle scores,” Malobi said grimly.
“Its time we ended this,” the matriarch began going to the door. “ You better stay here Ellana until it is all over.”
“No, I will not stay cowering in safety while people fight and die for me,” Ellana began gathering herself together. “ I’m their Queen what example does it give the people if I hideaway in fear.”
The matriarch sighed in resignation, “very well stay close and do what your spy mistress tells you.”
The three left walking along the corridor towards the great hall an attacker exited a side corridor as they passed coming up from behind. The spy mistress turned drawing a knife she threw it in one fluid motion the man fell dead. Retrieving her dagger, they continued onward. On entering the great hall, they were confronted with a group of men in the former lord’s colours. The matriarch stopped, the spy mistress stood protectively guarding the Queen.
“It's the Queen she must have escaped shouted one of the former lord’s men.”
“Stop, surrender now, and you may be spared your lord is dead,” commanded the matriarch.
“Lies, kill them,” their leader shouted as they advanced
“So be it,” the matriarch said resignedly she raised her arms extending her hands out and gradually lowered them to her sides while chanting, “powers of earth and air I call upon you now to my aid,” suddenly the air hummed with electricity the attackers hesitated in their advance bemused. The spy mistress held the Queen back as a concussive blast rent the air, bolts of energy danced to and thro engulfing the attackers. Their screams horrible to hear. The Queen paled covering her ears wishing she was anywhere else and not able to listen to the terrible sounds. When all quieted smoke rose from the fallen blackened bodies of their foes together with the stench of burning flesh. The matriarch stumbled drained as the Queen went to support her.
“Great-aunt Luise, “ the Queen said her expression deeply concerned as she held the matriarch up.
“I haven’t been called by that name for a long time,” the matriarch said with a wane smile
The knight captain entered to report the rebellion quelled and everything under control. He had few a scratches and blood on his armour to tell he had been in a fight himself most of the blood, however, wasn’t his.
Sometime later the Queen sat by her great aunt's bedside fussing over her
“Don't fuss so Ellana, I just need to rest a while,” she insisted.
Inona sat up, she remembered part of her dream and wondered getting out of bed why she would be dreaming of her lost childhood now. She went to the window looking out the sky had begun to lighten, and the sun would soon be up. As she freshened up splashing cold water on her face noting that there were traces of blood in the bowl from her scarred cheek. She frowned examining herself in the glass the scar tissue looked fine now. Inona gave some thought to what had been a vexing problem as she dressed. Which one of the two Callad or Farley was the prince? Callad was undoubtedly quiet and reclusive while Farley seemed the reverse. She realised however that the Farley had never felt awkward in her presence like Koborn and Sharmane he like they never mentioned her scar or looked away unable to look at her straight nor did the three of them feel pity for her but instead treated her as an equal. There again Callad seemed to accept her also and didn't feel uncomfortable in her presence. Inona left her room feeling sure now who was the prince.
Lord Farley was already up she noted sitting at a table, he looked up as he saw her coming downstairs.
“I couldn’t sleep,” he said as Inona crossed the room and sat opposite him.
“Bad dream your highness?” Inona said observing his expression.
He let out a long breath and smiled, “Well its about time, and call me Aron.”
“Am I the only one that didn't know till now?” Inona asked.
“Well naturally Koburn, Sharmane, Markwight and his knights knew, but nobody else and that’s the way I want it to stay for now,” he paused looking seriously at Inona. “Not even your assassin friend and his companion must know,” Aron said.
“Why are you here and why all the secrecy?” She asked again there were more questions than answers.
“You know that the matriarch is family,” he said ignoring Inona’s questions and pausing to gauge any reaction when she didn't reply he continued. “She’s nearly two hundred years old that’s amazing isn't it,” he concluded casually.
Inona was mulling over what he said there was something that she almost grasped some connection. The prince seemed to be waiting for her to fit it together.
Suddenly she had it!
“You’re a seer or at least have some magic affinity,” Inona concluded.
“Koburn is right about you are very intelligent and quick.”
“With a face like mine, you have to learn quick or die,” Inona said touching her scarred cheek.
There were noises from the kitchen as the Inn came to life the innkeeper entered and asked what they wanted for breakfast. They ordered their meal, once the innkeeper left the prince resumed the conversation.
“It’s not so bad you should have my problem,” the prince began as Inona gave him a disbelieving look. “You have a scar while I’m a real freak of nature,” he said gloomily.
“What do you mean?” Inona felt stunned by what she was hearing.
“Well you are partly right about me being a seer I occasionally have visions though very rare, but I’m also an empath other than that I have no other magic ability.”
“Empath how does that work?” she asked
“I can sense others emotions when in close contact with them, and when I touch someone, I can sometimes even tell what they are thinking at least bits and pieces of their thoughts mostly nothing I can make sense of most of the time. I have no control over how the ability works.”
“So that’s why you like your identity secret and dislike public appearances,” Inona deduced. “You couldn't tell anything from those who betrayed us then?” She asked frowning in thought.
“I felt nothing from them no emotions at all, but I didn't really get that close to them, and I had other things on my mind since we started on this quest,” he said
“Like what?” she asked giving him a severe look. A maid entered with their breakfast
“Well, What other things,” Inona pressed between mouthfuls as they ate.
“Well the quest and...”
“And?” she pressed again
“Well, you I wondered when you would finally find about me, and I know your importance in all this,” he said
Inona looked thoughtful, “Ok take my hand and tell me what I’m thinking,”
“I already told you I have no control over it I may get nothing from your thoughts,” he shook his head reluctant to do as she asked
“Come on your highness,” Inona reached over and grabbed his hand closing her eyes she concentrated. After a few moments, he pulled his hand away and stared at her. “Well, what was I thinking?”
“You think I should stop hiding away and feeling sorry for myself,”
“That wasn't so bad was it,” she said
“What, that all I was thinking,” Inona explained.
“No, you were thinking that you liked me after all,” the prince said
“No, I wasn't thinking that,” she explained crossly.
“Yes you were, maybe not knowingly, but you were,” he said with a smug expression.
The rest of their party arrived downstairs, Koburn and Sharmane came across and sat with them. The sorcerer gave the two a knowing look as the seeress wished them a good morning
“I see you two are getting along better now,” Koburn said as the maid entered again and took their order.
“What, get along with this pampered lordling pah!” Inona explained indignantly.
“You see what I have to put up with! No respect for her betters,” the prince replied forlornly.
“Yes I see they are getting along much better now,” the seeress said trying to keep a serious face.
When they all had finished breakfast, Koburn went to pay the innkeeper. “Thank you for your excellent hospitality, my good sir, he said. “Is it alright if we leave the horses stabled here, for now, we will be back for them before we leave the city.” He asked
The innkeeper beamed with pride, “Of course, your horses will be well looked after, until you return. It's a pleasure to serve such noble guests at my humble Inn,” the innkeeper began. Recognising that some of his former guests were nobility. “Be careful in the city there is still some fighting in parts. The city guards still haven't got it under control yet,” he concluded.
“We will, and thanks again,” Koburn said as they left.
With the cobbled street damp from the previous day's rain, and the sun still low in the sky; they made their way to the northern district. Inona noted that there were few people on the streets as yet. Those that were had no time for idle talk but hurried about their business nervously. There was a palpable atmosphere of tension that made the whole party wary. Inona reached out to Samba and bade him remain invisible for now a city and especially a city on edge was no place for a big cat to be seen wandering around.
“You know the city well don’t you lord Callad,” asked Koburn
“Yes I have business connections here,” Callad replied
“Well, perhaps you should lead the way as you will likely know a better route to the library than the rest of us,” Koburn said.
Callad nodded taking the lead, “very well we will take the next left ahead,” he said. Inona walked just behind Callad with the seeress and the sorcerer then sir Markwight ’s knights and the prince, with Shan and the mute in the rear. They turned left as suggested onto a narrow street with modest housing on either side. A few people stood on doorsteps looking on nervously as they passed. The road bent right and led to a tree-lined avenue somewhere ahead out of sight they could hear the sounds of battle. Checking their weapons, they moved cautiously forward.
“We have to go left again at the crossroads,” lord Callad said with an edge to his voice. He kept putting a hand on his sword still in its sheath fingering it nervously expecting to draw it at any moment. They came to the junction and turned left the way led up a small hill and the street once again narrowed. The fighting sounded closer and as they neared the top of the hill people ran past them in the opposite direction including women and children panic and fear etched on their faces.
“Right here,” said Callad as they drew their weapons.
They entered yet another narrow street and stopped, some of the houses looked damaged, and smoke rose from one or two. Inona could hardly believe her eyes ahead a small group of city guards tried to fight back more than twice their number of animated skeletons wielding swords and shields. Although the undead swung wildly with their weapons as fast as the guards could break the skeletons up, they reassembled again so that the guards were fighting a losing battle as the undead wore them down.
“What do you think about necromancy now Inona?” Koburn asked.
“How is it possible,” Inona said.
“Look at their eye sockets you see that glow they're animated by malevolent spirits conjured up by a necromancer,” Koburn began. There are only two sure ways to defeat them, either by fire or a spell,” he explained.
“I don't see any necromancer nearby,” Callad said
“These are not under control of a necromancer they must have gone beyond his reach so roam free attacking any living thing,” Koburn said.
“You men fall back,” Koburn called to the guards, “I’m a sorcerer get clear now,” he said. They immediately fell back to where Koburn and the other stood greatly relieved that someone else was here to help. Koburn cast a fireball that seared a path through the undead a black mist rose from those the fire touched and scattered the bones on the ground to rise no more. Some remained though and advanced towards them.
“My turn,” said Sharmane stepping forward she whispered a spell, weaving her hands, she finally thrust them out towards the undead. “Begone,” she said. The remaining undead fell back as if hit by a high wind the bones shattering as they hit the ground once again a black haze rising from the broken skeletons.
“Thank the gods you came I don’t think we could’ve held out much longer,” one of the guards said.
“Is there more undead about?” Koburn asked.
“In the next street near the grand library, the Captain took half the men there a while back,” the guardsman explained.
“Have your men form a protective wedge around the sorcerer and the seeress, but don't get in their way,” Inona began. “Their spells are the only effective weapon against these abominations,” she concluded. They all formed up and continued onward turning right to the next street at the far end stood the library. A great many of undead stood between them and the library
“Look over there in that doorway is that your necromancer,” Inona said.
“Where,” said Koburn Inona pointed to where a tall figure in a doorway surrounded by mercenaries.
“Ah yes I see him now, you've got better eyesight than me Inona,” he began. “He’s a necromancer alright that much I can tell you,” he paused casting a spell as beside him Sharmane cast her spell. “I doubt it’s our man though,” Koburn continued. They moved slowly forward casting spells; the mute joined them crushing undead with his hammer while the guards repelled undead one of the guards fell only to be raised again to fight against his former comrades.
“That hammer seems to be as effective as the spells,” Inona noted.
“It is most likely a blessed hammer,” the seeress began casting another spell. “Which is probably a good thing because I’m tiring, and cant cast many more spells without resting a while.
“Likewise,” Koburn began, "we have to get to the necromancer, so he cant raise more undead,” he said grimly.
Inona called for Samba seeing no quick way to stop the necromancer as they tried to fight a way through. Samba came, Inona could occasionally make out his shape as he made his through the undead. They could hear the necromancer’s screams as Samba reached him. Inona sensed from Samba that he was enraged as never before tearing the necromancer to shreds and the mercenaries protecting him; then she sensed pain from the cat.
“Samba! he’s hurt.” Inona called charging forward through the undead to the dismay of the others. The assassin quickly signed to the mute who followed after Inona eventually coming alongside and protecting her until she reached the wounded animal. The sorcerer and seeress finally cleared the remaining nearby undead but still more remained near the library, some distance away at the end of the street.
“Gods there is not much left of him or his protectors,” one of the city guards said looking at the torn corpse of the necromancer and his protectors, which were barely recognisable as being human. He turned pale and threw up against the doorway.
“Let me heal Samba Inona, then I think he has done his part for now,” the seeress said kneeling over the cat.
“I’ll tell him to go for now and rest,” Inona said as the seeress cast a healing spell the gaping wound on the cat’s side closed. The cat stood a little shakily at first and limped away as Inona watched him go, he vanished.
“We still have the undead in front of the library to deal with,” said Koburn
“There must be at least one more necromancer nearby,” lord Callad said trying not to look at the torn and mangled corpses.
“We better take a couple of minutes to rest a little, and plan our next move,” said the sorcerer.
“Well what’s the plan?” asked the prince after they had a short rest.
Inona stood looking towards the library her expression grim and determined as she drew her sword. “I don't need a plan; I just need my sword,” Koburn gave the prince a concerned look as the mute strode up beside Inona. The sorcerer nodded gratefully believing Inona in her present mood would not be reasoned with to be cautious.
“Wait, Inona I have a spell that will help for a short time at least,” the seeress began. “Hold your sword up I will bless it. The rest of you do the same.” They all held their swords up as the seeress cast a spell over them. Inona took the lead with the mute, at her side as they set off towards the library.
As they neared the library, they drew the attention of the undead who advanced to meet them; the two opposing forces clashed. Inona wielding her sword waded through the undead with the mute and prince on either side the others spread out so as not to be surrounded. With the sorcerer and seeress casting their spells the undead fell before them as they advanced.
“Look there,” called lord Callad. “Its the Captain and the rest of the city guard they have barricaded themselves in, on that side street.” He pointed to a narrow street near the library.
“I see them,” Inona said she turned to go towards them. “My sword is not effective anymore the spell must have worn off damn it,” Inona cursed as she started to bludgeon her way through the undead with the rest following they finally made it to the captain and the remainder of his men. Inona recognised the man it was the same captain they had met the night before. They regrouped behind the barricade the captain and his men looked near to exhaustion as he greeted them.
“Sorry, we meet again in such unfortunate circumstances,” the captain began. “We are all trapped here I don’t know how long we can hold out against them.” He finished sounding weary.
Inona scanned the front of the library until she finally spotted a small group of mercenaries guarding a thin, dark-skinned man in the centre. “Is that the necro controlling the undead,” she said pointing him out to the captain.
“That’s him alright no way we can reach him to many undead we tried once they push us back before we could get anywhere near to him we lost too many men trying,” the captain said grimly. Inona thought a few moments studying the lay of the land and the surroundings. Then she looked at the guards to see if any of them had what she needed.
“You’ve got an idea haven’t you I know that look, and it's probably an insane idea at that,” said the prince.
“Has anybody here got a bow with some arrows,” Inona said ignoring the prince.
“I have said one of the guards.” He handed her a bow and quiver to Inona.
“I need some rags to tie around the arrows, oil and a striker,” Inona said, they searched their equipment and nearby bins and found what she needed handing them to Inona.
“How good are you with a bow?” Asked the captain, realising what Inona intended.
“Almost as good as I’m with a sword,” Inona grinned, “But I need to get closer and maybe a little higher,” she said looking at the nearby buildings
“Over here Inona, I’ll give you a hand-up,” called sir Markwight standing near a low building which held several crevices suitable for climbing. Inona nodded to sir Markwight as she jumped on to his shoulders.
“I take back what I thought about you when we first met,” said Inona as she clambered from the stout shoulders of the knight onto the roof.
“And I you Inona, be careful,” the knight said.
“I second that,” said the prince, “if you get yourself killed I’ll get a necro to bring you back so I can give you a good thrashing for being careless,” he finished. Inona poked her tongue out at the prince before scrambling across the roof jumping onto an adjacent building as she kept low. She jumped another rooftop barely making it as she held on to the ledge and pulled herself up. Inona unstrapped the bow and got the oil and striker from her pocket and rags she had tied around her waist as she neared a vantage point. Soaking the rags in oil, she tied them to several arrows knocking her first it took several attempts for the striker to work and ignite the rags. Taking careful aim, she loosed the first arrow and watched as it fell a little short, quickly lighting another arrow and the rest of oil-soaked arrows. Inona fired again this time it landed true, in the middle of the small group of mercenaries in quick succession she knocked and shot the remaining arrows. She could see the necromancer down engulfed in flame The undead having no one to control them overran the mercenaries then wondered in all directions and were gradually picked off by the sorcerer and the seeress.
Inona joined the others at the entrance to the library as the captain gathered his men he approached the sorcerer. “I thank you for your assistance, all of you, without your help well, I don’t think we would’ve survived,” he paused a moment gathering himself. “We must go now, I think the worst is over, but we need to ensure the city is safe.”
“And thank you, captain, for your help,” Koburn replied. The captain gave a short bow turning to his men led them off in an orderly fashion as the others looked on for a moment.
“Good man, the captain,” Koburn said as he watched the captain and his men depart.
“Indeed,” lord Callad, began turning to the large wooden ornate door to the library. “Shall we,” he finished.
“Let’s be careful there might be more enemies within,” Koburn cautioned.
The door opened silently on well-oiled hinges as Callad turned the brass door handle he held it open while the rest of the party entered. Then entering himself closed the door. The library was dimly lit and smelled of burning oil from the lamps, and old parchment. The interior of the library was oval shaped with a domed roof, and embossed marble pillar supports. An aisle led from the entrance to the first of many bookshelves fitted against the walls some were free standing and arranged in a near semi-circular fashion. Inona was amazed by the size of the library and the number of books stacked on shelves never had she seen the like before. In the quietness, Inona heard faint muffled voices. “We have company,” she whispered. They all stopped a moment trying to listen, but the voices had stopped. Inona took the lead waving for Abul to join her while the rest followed a few steps back. They turned left along one of the many semi-circular aisles of bookstands which led eventually back to the central passageway Inona could hear talking again sounding much nearer; they were coming from the next aisle ahead on the right. One voice doing the talking sounded familiar to her.
“I recognise one of those talking,” Inona whispered turning to Abul, “tell the others to be ready.” The assassin nodded turning he waited for the others and whispered for them to be ready for a fight. Inona moved into an aisle with half-empty shelves on either side and books strewn all over the floor. Ahead two men stood near a desk stacked with many books They appeared to be arguing about something so didn’t notice Inona approach.
“Tano Wyle,” Inona said,
“Inona should’ve have killed you when I had the chance,” Tano Wyle replied looking up in surprise.
“It wasn’t for the lack of trying,” Inona began. “Care to try again,” she offered.
The other man looked up, and Inona cursed he was a sorcerer, and about to cast a spell at that moment Koburn moved forward and cast a shielding spell in front of Inona the clash of spells momentary blinded Inona when she could see again Tano Wyle had gone. Inona cursed and started to pursue she could hear his retreating footsteps as he ran.
“Leave him Inona, we haven't time to waste; I’m sure we will cross paths with him again,” said the prince. Inona kicked a chair over in frustration and glared at the prince, but didn't pursue.
Koburn held the rogue sorcerer in a stasis field and questioned him as Inona calmed herself.
“Where is your master, what have you found here,” Koburn questioned the entrapped sorcerer. The man struggled as Koburn tightened the spell around him.
“You’re too late Gaylin already controls the Emperor and has one of the gems you cant defeat him, better to join while can or be crushed when he reaches his full power,” said the rogue sorcerer.
“We will stop him have no doubt,” Koburn replied.
The man laughed maniacally then lifted his head looking all around as if seeing his surroundings for the first time. His eyes glowed with an eerie light, and he spoke with a disembodied voice not his own. “Hello Linus old friend, so this is the best you can do,” he began surveying the others gathered around. He stopped and gazed at Inona for a moment then laughed. “So this is the scarred one who will defeat me, Oh what sweet irony, how fitting,” The sorcerer fell silent dropping his head. A black mist emitted from his mouth as his body went limp.
“Who is, this Tano Wyle, you and he seem to have some history,” asked the prince regarding Inona as Koburn and lord Callad checked the now deceased rogue sorcerer. Sir Markwight and the others were looking through some of the books on the desk and picking the ones on floor up. They spoke quietly amongst themselves leaving Inona and the prince to talk alone.
“We worked together once on a mission, when things went wrong he turned on some of the men trying to kill them until I intervened then he tried to kill me also,” Inona paused recalling a time that still haunted her. “He almost succeeded if it hadn’t been for Samba, I was younger less experienced,” again she paused implying Wyle wouldn’t find her so easy to kill now. “He’s a bully and a ruthless killer who will work for anyone that pays him well,” Inona said grimly.
Aron nodded thoughtfully, “I felt strong emotions from him even from a distance,” he paused grimacing. “He really hates you, but fears you and his mind is a cess-pit.” The prince said.
“He’s right to fear me because I’ll kill him if I see him again,” Inona said, stony-faced just as Koburn and Callad came to them. She turned to Koburn questioningly. “That was him wasn’t it the necro; you said you knew him,” she queried.
Koburn nodded, “His name is Gaylin Olpar he was a friend once before he became obsessed with necromancy I tried to dissuade him but he wouldn’t listen,” Koburn paused reliving painful memories. “He had lost his wife to an unknown sickness and believed he could bring her back using necromancy,” He paused again clearing his throat. “Well as you have seen it doesn’t work that way,” he concluded.
“What did he mean when he saw me,” she asked finally. Both Koburn and the prince looked at one and other in silence. “There is still something the both you aren’t telling me. You and your damned prophesies and secrets, how am I supposed to know what to do if you keep things from me,” Inona kicked a chair over and stormed off.
Aron moved to follow, but Koburn shook his head, “get Sharmane to go after her,” he said.
Inona felt frustrated, and she worried about Samba it seemed like everyone was relying on her. “Why me,” she gritted her teeth, “Why does everyone believe I can save them.” She thought bitterly her temper rising again she picked a book from the bookcase and flung it at the wall.
“That’s no way to treat, these ancient tomes,” began Sharmane from behind Inona. “You're worried about Samba aren’t you,” she said, coming to stand beside Inona she put her arm around her shoulder. Inona let out all the pent-up emotion in one long juddering sigh.
“That’s part of it, yes, but everyone seems to be counting on me expecting me to lead them, like some romantic heroine in on of these books,” she paused taking a calming breath. “Tell me when did you know that Aron was the prince,” Inona asked
“The matriarch told me before we left,” Sharmane said
“And you didn’t see fit to tell me,”
“It wasn’t my place, and I thought his grace would tell you when he was ready,” Sharmane explained.
Inona nodded, “makes sense I suppose, you didn't foresee it then,” the seeress shook her head.
“Inona, don’t worry about prophecies or kept secrets,” Sharmane began guiding the two to a desk they sat, “secrets have a way of coming out eventually. Be yourself; you are a natural leader, where you lead, people tend to follow,” the seeress said.
“I’m sorry for my outburst, they must think of me as a spoilt child,” Inona said standing again she gathered herself.
“They don’t think any less of you Inona they know you are under a lot of strain,” Sharmane began. “Remember if ever there comes a time when you doubt yourself, you are a good person at heart,” Sharmane said.
“That almost sounds like you are trying to tell me something,” queried Inona raising an eyebrow
“Only that I believe in you as does Koburn and his grace,” Sharmane replied.
Inona picked the book she had thrown and started leafing through the pages she suddenly stopped staring a particular page looking at it closely.“I don’t believe it!”
“It’s what we have been looking for,” she said as Sharmane came Inona handed her the book opened that the same page. Sharmane studied it and looked at Inona.
“Now what do you think about prophecies,” Sharmane began, “come on let's show this to the others.
They returned to the others, who were still looking through books, for any clues. Inona noticed there was no sign of lord Callad. “Where is Callad?” she asked.
“He sends his apologies, he had to go and check on his contacts in the city which would detain him for a few days,” sir Markwight began, “and that he may re-join us later,” he concluded. As Sharmane showed the book to Koburn, the sorcerer studied the book carefully.
“According to this one of the gems is in Mafren which I think we know our enemy already has,” pausing he read on. “There is one in Callir somewhere, and the last is in Kendor none of this gives exact locations.” He paused again thinking. “I believe the one in Kendor maybe hidden in the castle. Hence the plot to try and remove the queen,” Koburn concluded.
“Wouldn’t that mean he already knows where the remaining gems are?” Inona asked.
“Not necessary he may suspect though or the plot may have been a diversion to keep us occupied,” Koburn replied.
“Surely there can’t be a gem hidden at the castle it would have been found after all this time,” explained Aron.
Koburn considered a moment, “There are ruins underneath, on which the present castle stands,” he began in thought. “I believe the ruins to be a former castle which was probably standing at the time the gems where hidden,” he concluded.
“I’m assuming we are headed for Callir now,” Inona said scratching her scar absently.
Raising an eyebrow, Koburn nodded, “quick as ever my dear,” He said.“ No use going to Mafren now, at least not yet anyway,” he concluded.
“Meaning we will have to face this necro eventually,” Inona said in an icy tone. The remaining group looked at each other, nodding in agreement. They would continue wherever the quest may take them. As they all prepared to leave and return to the Inn, Aron took Inona by the arm.
“There is something I have to tell you,” he began with a troubled expression.
“We are ready to go,” interrupted sir Markwight as Inona turned to the prince.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Never mind, it will keep,” he replied, still troubled, as they gathered their gear and headed for the entrance. On the way back through the city, Inona noted things were returning to normal, and word had gotten out that they were mainly responsible for restoring order and the people came out to thank them. Arriving back at the inn they decided to rest a while and have something to eat before continuing to Caliradia and the city of Callir. Inona noticed four men sat around a table drinking as they entered one of the men smiled.
“Abul my old friend we meet again,” the man called standing he waved for them to join him and his comrades.
“Hasan what are you doing here?” the assassin asked.
“We have come to give you a safe escort to Callir,” Hasan began. “The Calif is anxious to meet the scarred one,” he concluded.
“Seems you are becoming more popular,” whispered the seeress at Inona’s side as they made their introductions.Inona frowned as they all sat around conferring, she noticed the mute sat by himself so feeling for him went to sit with him, using what bit of sign language she knew. She hadn't thanked him for his help earlier. Aron went and ordered food for everyone and joined Inona and the mute.
“I didn't know you could sign,” Aron said as he watched Inona signing, Ben smiled at Inona then rested his meaty hands on her shoulders with a serious expression taking one handoff, he pointed a finger, at her then placed his hand back on her shoulder.
“Even I can understand what he means by that,” the prince began." Ben looked to the prince and repeated the same with him. “A great weight rests on your shoulders and mine also I believe he is saying,” Aron said.
“So it seems,” Inona said, glancing at the prince impassively. As the food arrived, the conversation turned to mundane matters. A couple of hours later they said their goodbyes and left before dark; deciding to use the waystones to travel to Calir
“I’m not too sure about this,” said sir Markwight apprehensively as they waited near the waystones. Koburn began casting the incantations to activate the waystones each symbol on the stones began to glow in sequence as he cast the necessary spells
“You don't believe the talk about getting it wrong and never been seen again do you,” said Hasan smiling. “I have travelled them often and its safe as long as you get the sequence right,” he assured.
“What if you get it wrong?” the knight asked nervously.
“Most often nothing happens or!” he said.
“Or what?” sir Markwight said swallowing hard.
“Or you can end up anywhere in the middle of the desert or the ocean,” Hasan said laughing. Then shook his head, “not likely though, but it has happened on the rare occasion. I'm sure your sorcerer won't get it wrong though,” Hasan replied smiling again.
Koburn glanced at Hasan giving him a disgusted look. Hasan shrugged and fell silent, but he still had a smile on his face, as he watched the knight turn paler. As Koburn finished the waystones lit with a luminous glow, Inona had never travelled by the waystones, but unlike sir Markwight she was excited to use them for the first time.
“There is one thing,” Koburn began looking around at the gathered group, “you may feel nauseous if this is your first time, it’s a bit disorientating, but it will pass quickly,” Koburn reassured.
They stepped into the circle two or three at a time with their horses and disappeared. Inona, Sharmane and Koburn were last. Inona paused before entering looking around then she gave a relieved smile, as Samba appeared still with a slight limp but looking much better than last she saw him, She bent down and hugged the animal then they entered the circle and vanished. Inona re-appeared in a remote guarded area of the palace grounds. She managed to keep the contents of her stomach down despite the dizziness and nausea. The knights and the prince didn't fare so well which Inona felt a little smug. The full moon already high in this hemisphere the air still and clammy. Inona felt much relieved that Samba suffered no ill effects either, once they all felt ready, Hasan led the way to the palace.
“This way if you please, leave your horses my men will look after them for you,” Hasan said. He looked at Inona then at Samba who promptly vanished and nodded unperturbed by the creature. Inona supposed this was not the first time he had seen a Janju cat they were, after all, native to a remote region of Caliradia. They passed cascading fountains, well laid manicured lawns and gardens with stone statues. Inona couldn’t see the full splendour of it all in the dark only the odd glimpse in the moonlight. They followed Hasan in silence, as he led them inside the entrance hall of the palace.
“Wait here a moment; I’ll get servants to show you to your quarters,” he paused as they all gathered. “You can rest and refresh yourselves tonight, someone will call for you in the morning,” he paused again, looking at Abul, “Your usual quarters are ready Abul.” He said, with a slight bow.
“Thank you, Hasan, I will see you later,” Abul said. Hasan turned and left to find the servants. Inona was a little curious by the exchange between Abul and Hasan.
“Seems our assassin friend is more important than we think,” Sharmane commented as she stood beside Inona.
“Yes it would appear so,” Inona replied.
A while later the servants appeared and showed them to their rooms. Inona had never seen such luxury before; the room was spacious and well decorated with a large four-poster bed with satin sheets. A bath stood against a wall, and a bowl of fruit sat on an ornate bedside table, Inona walked over to the large arched window, opening it, a warm breeze blew wafting the scents from the garden below. Inona breathed revelling in the exquisite heady perfumes. Inona ate some fruit undressing down to slip she retired to bed.
Inona dreamed, once again she was a little girl in the abandoned house. Though not alone rough hands grabbed her from behind.
“Hey, boys, I’ve caught this gutter snipe snooping,” the man said as he dragged her into an adjoining room, three other men sat around a table counting ill-gotten gains. An oil lamp stood at one end of the table; a dim light casting eerie shadows across the men’s faces.
“We’ll have to get rid of her can’t let her go to snitch on us,” one of the men said. Inona struggled against her captor with all her might kicking and screaming.
“Shut her up, she’ll bring the city guard down on us,” another said.
Inona twisted around and bit the man’s hand; he yelled losing his grip on her. She pulled free kicking the man’s legs; he shouted in pain stumbling, falling over the table knocking the oil lamp to the floor, the dry timber caught fire. All became confused cursing the rogues got to there feet and made to try and grab her, as flames spread. Then seeing the fire grow beyond control they panicked giving up their attempt to catch her, and made their escape, leaving Inona to her fate. Inona stumbled trying to get to the exit, but couldn't see through the smoke; flames surrounded her. A piece of burning timber fell hitting her on the side of the face; she fell to the floor dazed, her face burned the pain excruciating; smoke and heat overwhelming her. Half-conscious she felt someone grab her by the arms and pull her out of the burning building.
Inona woke soaked in sweat, she remembered so vividly now, how she had got the scar. Why now, after all this time? And who pulled her out of the burning building? She felt sure, she knew the answer to both questions, more pieces began to fall into place.