The dragon shape-shifters welcome their brownie guests with a party
|It seemed as if every vouivre of Lord Gormor’s household had flocked to the party that he held to welcome the guests. It was a merry gathering refreshed by mead and accompanied by the playing of a lute. The brownies knew joy for the first time in years.
Boroden, Quentillian and Klaufi could not shake off their distrust of Lord Gormor but the others were carefree, drinking in the peace and jollity of the place. Baskets of hazelnuts, sweet chestnuts, fruit and flowers that the brownies should have assumed to be out of season were brought in for the guests.
Whilst Hëkitarka munched a pear, one of the young vouivre maidens threaded daisies in his hair. Already he was a great favourite with the vouivres. One of the little vouivres was using a feather paintbrush to practice his warpaint designs on Hëkitarka’s arm whilst two more gambolled at his feet. Another stared in fascination at his quiver of rainbow feathered arrows.
Aira, always popular with little ones, was eagerly dragged by the gaggle of vouivre children to join Hëkitarka in a dance. The delightful tune that one of the vouivres played on his flute ebbed and sparkled like the sea. Harfan helped to erect a bright arch of flowers before he too joined the simple, beautiful dance. They were glad to be indoors for there came the sound of rain knocking against the glass like tiny fists trying to get in.
Lord Gormor smiled fondly to see so many faces glowing. Already he envisaged happy times for his people following a new friendship forged with the brownies.
Keelia screamed. This was followed by gasps as the others looked in the direction in which she was staring.
It was raining heavily, the last desperate onslaught before the storm abated. Pressed close to the streaming glass was a face. A wild face as white as a moonbeam. Leanan’s red eyes glowed with unearthly longing as they fixed upon Hëkitarka. There was something pitiful about her tattered dress and straggling hair after her usual cultivated beauty, yet this made her no less deadly.
Many of the young vouivres whimpered and huddled together in the corners. Fury flamed in Harfan and his hand went to his war hammer despite Leanan’s warning that death should befall any mortal that harmed her.
Lord Gormor too was instantly on edge. He guessed that trouble might follow the brownies but the rewards of an alliance with them he hoped should make the cost worthwhile. Their enemies were his and he had not forgotten his incarceration in the Unseelie dungeons.
Hëkitarka alone sat calmly, though a strange emotion between resignation, pain and understanding, glinted in his eyes. Harfan looked at him in surprise.
‘I’m not afraid of her,’ Hëkitarka told him.
Boroden clenched his fists. ‘We must ready ourselves. It shan’t be long before she finds a way to break in.’
Hëkitarka rose. ‘No. I’ll not bring trouble to you, Lord Gormor. I’ll go out and meet her.’
‘What! Are you mad?’ Boroden had laid aside his suspicion of Hëkitarka being in league with the witch as too distressing, but he took it up again upon hearing Hëkitarka’s words. He went to him, whispering urgently, ‘I cannot trust that you are not on the other side. When Krysila brought me from her dungeons to torture and question me there you were buried in Leanan Sídhe’s embraces. You plead with us to let her come with us and now this?’
Lord Gormor rose and stood by Hëkitarka. ‘He has her inspiration, it is true, but it is a gift that she gives to all she loves. His heart is free. He cannot love her. Because of that there is still hope. He can be saved if another claims his heart.’
The brothers looked questioningly at Lord Gormor, delighted there was some hope to clutch at.
‘We need not parlay with her. We can fend her off,’ Harfan said.
‘No. It would not be right. I’ve taken something of hers and I must give it back and break free of her cleanly, without animosity. I want to wipe those years away, Harfan, and be free of her hold on me.’ Hëkitarka turned to Klaufi. ‘May I borrow some clothes of yours?’
‘Have some of mine, my son. They shall make you a better fit,’ Lord Gormor told him.
Moments later Hëkitarka was skipping down the stairs attired in a flowing robe mottled like autumn leaves. The clothes that had been his as Leanan’s First Knight hung over his arm. Thinking that this was all that he meant to hand back to Leanan Sídhe, many of the brownies gave surprised grumbles as he announced, ‘I must return the sídhe horses to her. Are they in your stables, Lord Gormor?’
‘I keep no horses myself for we have no need of them. I have let them in the garden where there is lush grass.’
Boroden looked annoyed. ‘Don’t be a fool, Hëki. We’ll likely have need of those horses again soon. I intend for us to stay the night and then leave. We’ll look after them better than any redcap servant.’
‘I’m giving them back,’ Hëkitarka responded firmly.
‘I’m coming with you,’ Harfan said.
Boroden and Klaufi joined them. Immediately as they stepped out they saw a strange orange glow in the distance.
‘What’s that?’ Klaufi asked.
‘The moon’s full,’ Boroden commented, pulling his silver lined hood up to shield his face.
‘It’s too low for that,’ Hëkitarka reasoned. For an instant the glow spouted up into the sky. ‘A camp fire.’ A small army of redcaps worked hard to protect the fire from the rain.
‘Leanan Sídhe hasn’t come alone it seems,’ Klaufi fretted.
‘Life when one strives for goodness and grace is a candle. Of late my light has burned in darkness, not in bright day, and it has been all the more obvious for that. Many hid their eyes, preferring the familiar dark, yet some were curious, longing. Leanan was one such. She could yet be saved. She will be with the redcaps. I will go and speak with her,’ Hëkitarka explained to Harfan.
The brownies each mounted a pony and, leading a pony on either side, rode out. As they neared the redcap camp they saw that Leanan Sídhe was not amongst the goblin host.
‘She’ll want to be alone with her sorrow. I say we split up and look for her,’ Hëkitarka said. Boroden nodded, although he had no intention of letting Hëkitarka out of his sight.
It was Harfan that found her first. Leanan raised her head at his approach. Leaves and twigs had caught in her usually luxuriant hair. It was now tangled and bedraggled so that it clumped like a mass of serpents. Her face was ashen and covered in scratches, her eyes haunted. Her sleeveless, torn silk gown offered no protection against the chill night air and her skirt was soaked to knee height. It would have been easy to melt with pity at the sight of her. Harfan was glad that his brother was not with him for he knew Hëkitarka’s soft heart would have been touched despite his better judgment. Harfan, however, was stern. He could not forgive her for what she had done to Hëkitarka or to the rest of the clan.
‘Tatty?’ she asked questioningly, distress creeping into her voice as she guessed that Harfan would oppose her. ‘Please, let me see him.’
‘No. I know what you are. You’re a monster. You mean nothing but evil to my brother. He’ll be a plaything to you for a while, then you’ll murder him. That is ever your way.’ His voice had a flinty edge rarely seen in one characteristically placid and good-tempered.
‘I love him. He is so kind and true. I can be so to him if you would let me.’
‘No. I know whose side you are on. Do you think I believe that Krysila’s daughter is so desperate to ensnare an heir of Peladach for the sake of his own sweet self alone?’
‘You know nothing of me, nor the kind of love of which I am capable. Tatty means everything to me, my mother nothing. I despise her now. You don’t know how she uses me - it is quite as ill as she ever did you.’
‘You cannot escape the bonds of kin, Leanan.’
‘You see everything as black and white, saint and sinner. Your brother did not. He’s the only one who ever understood me. I could have made him love me, I know I could.’
‘Go. You must forget about him. If you love him as you claim and weren’t selfish and evil you would see that what I ask is for the best. Let him make a new life.’
‘I do care about him, but I can’t go. I beg you, let me in. I don’t want them to find me. Please. Let me take sanctuary with you, just for a while. I promise that I won’t try and seduce your brother, nor even look on him if I must. I cannot stay out here. You have no idea of what I run from.’
‘Sanctuary is not mine to grant you,’ he said coldly. He was but a guest and his host would not take kindly to having his past jailor in his house.
Desperate, Leanan admitted that which she was sure could not fail to thaw his heart a little. ‘It is Midhir from whom I run. I hate him, and my mother too for she would gladly give me to him. He wants me, Harfan, though it is against my will.’
‘Is not that the very same way in which you once sought to terrorise my brother?’
Seeing that he refused to be moved, she shrieked in anguish and made a desperate bid to elude him and enter the house. He blocked her way and they struggled, Harfan growing more desperate as he glimpsed a redcap flicker between the trees.
‘I cannot let you kill me. If you do, then you’ll kill Tatty too.’
‘What do you mean? What have you done to him?’
‘I? Nothing. It is you. Any mortal that kills me must die themselves. Tatty loves you. If you died it would shatter him. I cannot do that to him.’
‘You will go then?’
‘I did not think you so cruel. Can I not see him, just once?’
‘No. These are good folk and he’s happy here.’
‘There you are, witch!’ Boroden snarled, spotting Harfan trying to wrestle Leanan back from making for Lord Gormor’s dwelling.
‘Help me,’ she called over her shoulder to the redcaps.
‘So, you are in league with them. Pretending to us that you are defenceless indeed! You’ve lied to us once too often, Leanan Sídhe,’ Harfan said.
‘I’ll deal with her. You save your brother.’ Boroden nodded to where Hëkitarka was approaching through the trees.
Harfan lost no time in doing as his cousin bid. For the moment Hëkitarka remained unaware that Leanan had been found and Harfan wanted to keep it that way. The redcaps had found the horses that Hëkitarka had left tethered to a tree and Harfan used this as a pretext to get Hëkitarka to head back indoors. ‘There’s nothing more we can do. If Leanan Sídhe wanted to speak to you she’d have found you by now.’
‘Where’s Boroden?’ Aira asked as Harfan, Hëkitarka and Klaufi returned.
‘He can look after himself,’ Gefi said.
That was until he let temper get the better of him, Harfan thought. Perhaps he should not have left Boroden alone. The fire of the redcap camp was no longer visible, although he could not tell if it was the rain or a skirmish that had put it out. ‘I’ll look. Promise you’ll stay indoors, Hëki?’
Harfan returned having found no trace of Boroden.
‘He’ll be back by morning. Once he’s used to the idea of staying with the vouivres he’ll be back,’ Gefi decided.
The night lengthened and Aira’s worry turned to grief. There was no knowing what Leanan Sídhe might do to Boroden. The mood was tense, all the carefree conversation with the vouivres turned to awkwardness.
Seized by remorse, Keahborah fastened her eyes upon Hëkitarka wonderingly as she kept to the shadows. She had never seen anyone so handsome and noble and that faith he spoke of! Though she had never been taught about God she sensed the truth of Hëkitarka’s words and wanted to know more. Hëkitarka sensed that she had something to ask him and smiled kindly, but she flitted away. She could go no further than the threshold, however. Trembling with the new feelings that seized her, she slipped softly back into the room.
They had watched up long for Boroden and it seemed that the only thing to do was to wait until the morning.
‘I’m sorry that he has gone,’ Lord Gormor said as Carnelian returned fruitlessly from scouring the land around Lord Gormor’s dwelling using lantern light. ‘When the day comes I’ll go with the swiftest of my kin to search over the forest for sign of him.’
‘Who will you look to as leader now? You do not have long to make your alliance I fear, my friend,’ Bresil asked Lord Gormor, keen to enlist his help for the brownies.
Lord Gormor turned to Hëkitarka. ‘Then I’ll speak to you. I knew you for a brave leader the moment you took up that brand that I dropped. You’re undaunted, willing to understand the ways of others and to be their friend. Compassion is a great gift. You had it even for the witch Leanan Sídhe who all others loathed. And I feel it for you, for the sufferings of your race. Well I know what it is to be shunned. We are despised too. I want to help you. All I ask is that you show us love and respect, though none else do because our bodies are cursed.’
‘I will,’ Hëkitarka promised.
Yet some of the brownies grew suspicious. Led by Quentillian they talked amongst themselves, voicing their surprise that Lord Gormor did not ask what they saw as a higher price. They knew a dragon’s love of treasure and imagined the attraction that the glittering stores of Velmoran must have. Distrust spread amongst them even as Hëkitarka, Harfan, Aira and Carnelian began to forge friendships with the vouivres.
‘You must rest, my son. The Dark Mistress has drunk much of your blood and sorrow and exertion shall take what strength remains to you. You must take better care of yourself, for I see in you such a beacon that would bring victory to your people,’ Lord Gormor told Hëkitarka.
‘Not in me. In God. I just ask that He works through me. He guides my steps, so I can take no credit.’
The vouivres retired to sleep but the brownies knew that they could not close their eyes that night. Though thankful for being brought to this house where they found respite and friends, they had much to pray for. Hëkitarka spoke first, then Carnelian.
The quiet that followed was stirred as a light tread approached. Keahborah stood amongst them with the timid expression of a forest creature, her feisty manner forgotten. ‘I have listened to what you spoke,’ she began.
‘There is no need to eavesdrop. Please, come on in and sit with us. God welcomes all who wish to follow him and so I welcome you. If it wasn’t for the monks accepting me in the abbey my life would have been lost. It is from knowing God that I take my comfort, though I have suffered much,’ Carnelian said.
‘It sounds good.’ Keahborah smiled. ‘You are very kind to me. Most brownies would despise me.’
‘You want to know the peace of which I spoke?’
‘Yes. I am afraid,’ she admitted. It was as if she had shed a skin as she became confiding, although Hëkitarka thought she was no less brave. In fact, she seemed to him more so. ‘It is Vortimus. He came and took it as his place to order the warriors amongst us vouivres, though we were happy with things settled in just our own way. But none of us dared to argue, for he is the bigger of us. He tells me he loves me, but he doesn’t otherwise he wouldn’t be cruel.’ Keahborah looked near to tears.
Hëkitarka patted her arm. ‘Don’t worry, we’ll help you sort him out. I doubt Lord Gormor will be impressed when he learns his secret.’
‘What secret?’ Keahborah asked looking eagerly at Hëkitarka for she had been wishing he would speak to her and was happy that he did.
‘Well, he was once Leanan Sídhe’s First Knight and favoured by Krysila. Lord Gormor probably knows that but I doubt he knows that Vortimus is still trying to wheedle his way back to Leanan and sees furthering Krysila’s evil plans as the best way to do that. I’ll warrant he’s waiting for an opportunity to bring trouble on you all.’
Keahborah went to the door in alarm. ‘We must tell Gormor now.’
‘I think it would be best to bide a while until we know more of Vortimus’s plans and then we might better be able to thwart him. Right now, I suggest that you have that wound I gave you looked to. I feel awful for shooting you.’
‘It’s all right. It’s not a smidgen as bad as what Vortimus did to me.’ Keahborah pulled her sleeve up to reveal the skin flaking with an angry burn where Vortimus had burned her as they fought in their dragon bodies.
Harfan clenched his fists. ‘I say we finish off the scoundrel now.’
‘No, wait. I agree with your brother,’ Keahborah said.
‘He always knows best.’ Harfan slung his arms over Hëkitarka’s shoulders with the same easy warmth as he had always shown.
Aira voiced her thoughts. ‘It seems strange to see you both grown up now, so fine and strong, yet in many ways you’re just the same.’
‘I must admit that I’m proud of how Hëki has turned out. Though he’s my brother and I should love him whatever I can truly say I could not be more delighted. I don’t want to speak out of term but sometimes, with all the difficulties, I wondered how it would end. Sometimes I fear that I’m too pleased with him and that I’m happier than it can be my mortal lot to be. Every day I’m so grateful to God that I have been given such a brother.’
‘Me too.’ Hëkitarka slapped his shoulder.
Guileless and forthright, Keahborah rose and enthused to Hëkitarka, ‘yes, you’re the most amazing brownie ever.’
By now Hëkitarka’s whiskers quivered. ‘I feel like keeling out the window.’
‘No, no. Don’t do that!’ Harfan cautioned his brother in mock alarm.
Keahborah looked at the open casement behind Hëkitarka in fear, imagining that he spoke literally. ‘Why? What have I said?’
‘He means that he’s overcome by your praise and it has struck deep with him. He didn’t expect it, although I’m sure it’s all the greater present coming from you.’ Harfan gave his brother a knowing wink. He had seen how he looked at Keahborah and it was certainly worth encouraging, especially after Hëkitarka’s bad experience with Leanan Sídhe.
‘Honey is a good cure for burns. Come Keahborah, we’ll find some and I’ll make an ointment to heal your arm,’ Aira suggested.
‘You’re a honey yourself, Aira. If Cousin Boroden won’t come to terms with Lord Gormor then at least we may do something to repay his kindness.’ Hëkitarka scampered away and returned flourishing his rainbow feathered duster which Leanan Sídhe had allowed him to keep as essential apparatus to his servant status.
Lord Gormor was greatly interested in the phoenix feathers which he believed to be behind Hëkitarka’s survival following being burned in the fire. Remarkably, the duster had escaped the flames unscathed.
The vouivres were fascinated to see Hëkitarka, Harfan and Carnelian cleaning and joined in with an enthusiasm that overpowered their lack of skill. There was a dance in Hëkitarka’s movements as he polished the furniture, for he was glad to be free of Leanan Sídhe. Gormor barely recognised his dwelling by the time that morning came, for everything was as spruce as if newly made.
Hëkitarka had only slept for a few hours but he felt too wide awake when dawn came to rest. Amongst the white castles of cloud, blue sky showed through, cool and clear. Spring was upon them at last. The thought gladdened Hëkitarka as he stretched his arms over his head. He was up and out before even Carnelian who was usually the earliest to rise. He had spent long enough indoors cooped up in the Unseelie caverns. It was such a morning as this that he had longed for in that darkened, narrow world. How he had missed his scouting missions into the unknown outdoors.
The very turf seemed to give fresh life to him and he sprang over it, joyous to be alive. A robin warbled, feisty in seeing off an intruder to its territory. The audacity of the little bird made Hëkitarka grin.
Even though they were thickly cocooned in leagues of forest, the gale had wrought its havoc. The ground was scattered with twigs and even branches relinquished by the more venerable trees. Perhaps Boroden had taken shelter from the storm last night and would reappear once it passed. Hëkitarka could not imagine him captured by the redcaps. He was wily at hiding after his long years journeying and he would not be foolish enough to attack a host of goblins single-handed. There was no sign of a skirmish. The rain had washed away any traces of Boroden’s scent. Hëkitarka imagined that his cousin was roaming the forest in a huff as he loathed the idea of staying with the vouivres. Hëkitarka, however, could not feel more differently.
About the roots of a pine clustered yellow and purple crocus flowers, cast roughly to the ground in all their satin finery. Full of pity, Hëkitarka stooped to gather them. Already he was forming a happy idea.
Back indoors, he found his way into the quarters reserved for his hosts. He met Clancy, Lacy and Delasan upon the stairs and merrily exchanged a greeting.
Keahborah was leaving her room, throwing her quiver over her shoulder.
Hëkitarka proffered the crocus flowers. ‘For you. To say sorry. For shooting you I mean. I hope you’re feeling better. I know you said that it was nothing, but I feel bad about it.’
Keahborah took the flowers, surprised and delighted and looking as though she did not know what to do with them. Giving flowers was evidently not a vouivre custom. She sniffed them, pollen dusting her delicate, freckled nose. They both laughed as she rubbed it away. ‘They are beautiful. Crocus are one of my favourite flowers.’
‘Mine too. They’re always so cheery and brave coming up whilst it is still cold and grey. And they make sillies of themselves rushing out too soon like me.’
‘I shall get you a flower to say sorry for being rude to you.’ She motioned him to follow her.
‘Is this your pad? It’s nice.’ Hëkitarka admired the room. Though small, it was cheerfully painted the colour of primroses and stencilled with humming birds. The front opened onto a glass walled balcony on which grew all manner of exotic plants; ferns, cheese plants, fuchsias and snapdragons. It was to the balcony that Keahborah went.
Taking a teacup from Keahborah’s shelf, Hëkitarka filled it with water from her washbowl and put the flowers into it.
‘Whoa, that’s almost as much treasure as the leprechauns have got stashed at the end of the rainbow,’ he exclaimed, noticing the gold and trinkets spilling over the floor in one corner. This hoard Keahborah used as her bed when she was in her dragon form. Immediately, Hëkitarka regretted his words, not knowing how a vouivre would take a reference to its treasure.
Keahborah did not seem to mind in the slightest but returned proudly clutching a large crimson amaryllis flower. ‘It is the only one. I have been watching for many days to see it come out. It was very exciting when it burst bud. I want you to have it.’
‘Are you sure?’ he asked, awed.
‘It’s the same colour as your hair.’ Hëkitarka grinned and popped it upon his head, forming a pointed pixie hat like that worn by Keahborah, although lower in the crown and ending in pointed petals at the brim. Keahborah laughed as he waltzed away to take his breakfast.
Harfan met him outside of the dining hall. ‘Where did you get that?’ he asked, amused, as Hëkitarka preened before the giggling young vouivres.
‘Keahborah,’ he replied, unable to repress a grin of delight. Too late he realised that Vortimus was behind him, glaring. Harfan hastened his brother away.
Keahborah joined them and amused the young vouivres by showing them how to blow forks of flame to toast bread for the brownies. The little vouivres ate a thin white paste they called dragon food.
‘She’s only done one side,’ Harfan apologised to Carnelian, quick and wincing in his movements as he poked the hot bread off the fork onto Carnelian’s plate.
‘You always cut bread as thick as doorstops,’ Hëkitarka chided his brother laughingly. ‘Hey, we could do marshmallows.’
‘What the…!’ Quentillian exclaimed as he entered and Hëkitarka sat down to devour his toast and coffee, forgetful of the flower on his head. ‘You can’t let Lord Gormor see you like that. Take that stupid hat off immediately. You look like a pixie! What are you thinking of making such a fool of yourself?’ Quentillian growled.
‘I don’t mind and I’m sure Lord Gormor doesn’t, do you?’ Hëkitarka asked Gormor as he entered, breaking into a grin as one of the little vouivres pointed out the flower.
‘Yes, but if Boroden was here,’ Quentillian pursued.
‘But he’s not,’ Harfan pointed out.
‘It’s a shame he’s so stuffy about pixies. He’d love a drink of dragon roast coffee I’m sure,’ Hëkitarka said.
‘My best fliers and I, we looked before even the sun came up. We saw not much. No sign of your king or any evil creature. There was a dark wolf we saw but it was heading away seawards,’ Gormor reported.
Gefi shivered. ‘It’s been following us for a while and bodes no good. I hoped we’d have lost it after we were imprisoned.’
‘If Boroden was about I doubt he’d be keen on showing himself to the dragons by wandering about the open ground. He’s probably taking cover in the forest,’ Harfan reasoned to comfort Aira.
Aira shook her head. ‘You all think he’s fine but what if he’s not? I’ve never seen Leanan Sídhe look so fearfully angry before. You were too kind to her, Hëki. Things should never have got to a stage where she feels disappointed when she’s turned away. She’s not like us. She’s born of evil.’
‘So, you’re blaming him? All you care about is Boroden,’ Harfan retorted, annoyed.
‘I am not ashamed that I love him,’ Aira said, pushing back her chair.
‘Let her be,’ Harfan said as Hëkitarka made to follow Aira.
‘You will help me make plans of how we are to go to Velmoran?’ Lord Gormor appealed to Harfan and Hëkitarka.
‘Yes indeed.’ Seeing his brother looking distracted by Aira’s words Harfan suggested to him, ‘why don’t Lord Gormor and I talk things through whilst you go and hunt in the forest for Cousin B?’
‘We have archery practice up on one of the crags on which our hall is built. From there you can see far. Would you come with me there?’ Keahborah asked.
‘Why not? Harfan made to push his brother up from his chair but Hëkitarka had already left it.
By the time that Hëkitarka and Keahborah returned indoors, Harfan had already forged a solid plan of attack with Lord Gormor. Never had he envisaged their retaking Velmoran. Now for the first time Harfan could see their hopes realised.
Hëkitarka was surprised to find the time had got so late. It seemed as if he had only spent an hour in Keahborah’s presence. There was so much to talk about, two whole lifetimes worth of experiences and thoughts and likes.
Talk they did. Over the next week they were rarely apart. Each time they had a meal Keahborah and Hëkitarka would be side by side, chattering gaily. The vouivres supped on a thin white soup that they heated by blowing flames over it. Keahborah was so engrossed that she often forgot to do this and pulled a face as she took a spoonful of it cold, to Hëkitarka’s amusement.
Though, like the other brownies, Hëkitarka fretted about Boroden who did not return, he felt he lived in a dream. He was rapidly regaining health and strength. He lost his ghostly pallor and there was a spring in his step when he went to take a walk or train at archery with Keahborah.
Their deepening bond had not gone unnoticed. Vortimus watched the pair with increasing hatred, giving Keahborah a hard, covetous glance as if she were an item in his hoard. He did not love Keahborah, but she was beautiful, and he wanted to possess her. This gave him a good reason to want Hëkitarka dead. Already Hëkitarka had taken Leanan Sídhe, his true love, from him. Then he had abandoned her so lightly for this dragon and was relived to be free of her though it caused Leanan much grief. Each night Vortimus caught Leanan’s longing song in the forest and he wished that she sang to him, not this unworthy brownie.
Yet both Hëkitarka and Keahborah were closely guarded by Harfan and their friends. Vortimus could do little except command Keahborah’s absence on guard duty as often as possible. Vortimus watched and waited, biding his time to strike.