The Last Tale of Yajikali

Chapter XLI - Meeting the Enemy

by Charles Matthias

Cover | Contents | Prologue | Book I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Interlude I
Book II | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Interlude II
Book III | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | Interlude III
Book IV | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65
66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | Epilogue

“At last!” Jaime Verdane exclaimed as the lakeside city of Bozojo came into view beyond the rise. To their right the crystal clear waters of Bozojo lake stretched to the horizon. They could see fisherman and several merchant vessels docked at the extensive harbour, and several were setting sail down the river to Ellcaran. There were even a few dilettantes enjoying a pleasurable cruise in oversized flotillas that glided over the water’s calm surface without disturbing their masters’ drinks.

The city was surrounded by walls that rose and fell with the hills. Bright blue and green pinions rose from the gatehouse and the baileys. The city was designed like an onion, with the merchants and labourers district close to the water, the wealthier citizens inside the next bailey, while Lord Calladar’s castle and the Lothanasi temple towered above the city on a raised mount inside the final curtain wall.

Despite its apparent size, the city depended upon the river trade for survival. Lord Calladar kept a large compliment of knights and soldiers not because his city was in danger of siege, but to protect the merchant caravans from brigands living in the forests to the north. It was those knights Jaime’s father needed. The pikemen from Saildon could not hold the Angle without horsemen to support them.

Jaime Verdane led a compliment of a dozen armed soldiers. His journey had taken longer than he’d expected, but at long last they had arrived and could finally bring Lord Calldar’s forces under the Duke’s wolf-head banner.

Jaime gave his horse an encouraging kick and they galloped down the hillside towards the city gates. When the ground levelled out, the hard earth was replaced by closely packed stones. The sharp staccato of their steeds’ hooves brought any further conversation to an end. Also venturing along the road were several farmers and local peasants coming to the market. They all shied away from Jaime’s band, kneeling in the dirt and mud when they saw that red banner with black wolf silhouette.

It was only midmorning, and so the gatehouse was open. Jaime could see the guards atop the bailey scramble when they saw who approached. A messenger would bring news of his arrival to Lord Calladar before Jaime and his men were inside the second bailey.

The gatehouse was large enough for two wagons to pass side by side. There were three portcullis along its length, with ample room for archers to skewer an invading army. Jaime slowed his horse to a quick trot once inside the gatehouse, and brought his company to a halt once they were inside the first bailey.

Several Bozojo soldiers bearing heraldry of a blue and green fish came to attention, spears held firmly in their hands. “His grace, Lord Mayor Jaime Verdane of Kelewair!” His seneschal trumpeted, while holding the Verdane banner aloft.

Jaime smiled at the effect these words had on the soldiers. He gestured with a nod of his head towards the castle that dominated the eastern skyline. “Where is your Captain?”

An older man with a neatly trimmed mustache stepped forward. “I am he, your grace!”

Jaime’s voice rang across the cobblestone courtyard. “I need your men to escort me to Lord Calladar’s castle. I bear an urgent message from his liege, my father Duke Verdane.”

The captain shouted some quick orders, and horses were brought for him and six of his soldiers. They saddled and soon were leading Jaime’s men through the crowded city streets. At first they passed numerous vendors hawking their wares, but soon they gave way to modest homes and taverns. The people in the street all knelt when they saw the Verdane banner pass, but otherwise his appearance did not seem to generate much interest from the populace.

The second bailey gatehouse was smaller than the first, but in some ways more cleverly built. The road through the gatehouse was set at a moderate incline, and he could see vats for boiling oil and pitch at the top of the far end of the gatehouse. The oil would land not just on those directly beneath it, but on all those down the slope.

Once beyond, the Captain shared a few words with the bailey guards, and then led them through the wider and more prosperous portion of the city. The houses were all two stories, apart from the Ecclesia cathedral which was three. Bozojo was primarily Lothanasi, but with their liege Duke Verdane a Follower, there would be Ecclesia places of worship in all of his holdings. Jaime made a note to himself to visit the cathedral before he returned to Kelewair.

The innermost bailey wall was taller than the rest, and the gatehouse was designed at an incline like the second one. Beyond stood a wide courtyard with the Lothanasi temple to the right facing the eastern wall. At the rear of the courtyard stood the squat castle atop whose towers snapped the piscine flag. Barracks and stables lined the northern curtain wall, and decorative gardens lay in tranquil decline along the western wall. So late in the season, the groundskeeper must have already removed the more delicate flowers to protect them through the winter.

The castle entrance was a massive marble portico whose columns were shaped like leaping fish. Beneath it Lord Calladar stood waiting, accompanied by several blue liveried guards and his steward. Calladar was ten years Jaime’s senior, and his wife had just given birth to their third child. Jaime was quite surprised that neither of Hyman Calladar’s elder daughters accompanied him. The steward, a younger man with the flaccid appearance of a eunuch, appeared rather anxious, with sweat beading on his brow despite the chilly air.

“Ah, milord Jaime,” Hyman crooned, bending his knee quickly. “It is a true delight to have your lordship pay call to my humble home. Will you be staying long? Quarters in the barracks can be easily arranged for your men as long as you desire to stay.”

“Thank you, milord Calladar, I do not expect to stay long, but your offer of accommodations for my men is most welcome.” He dismounted and his soldiers did likewise. He handed the reins of his horse to his captain and then turned back to Lord Calladar. “There is a matter of some urgency we must discuss.”

Lord Calladar nodded, as if expecting this. “Of course, milord. Please come inside, we may talk freely in my study.”

Jaime followed him, accompanied only by his captain. The other soldiers waited outside. The steward muttered something to himself as he bustled off towards the barracks to see that rooms were prepared. Hyman Calladar smiled winningly as he led Jaime through the cool hall. They ascended a set of stairs and emerged on a smaller hall with several oaken doors, each bearing the fish crest. Massive curtains obscured the outer wall.

Calladar opened the central door and stepped into a small study. Several animal heads were mounted along the wall, with a large bear’s head growling from atop the hearth. A crackling fire provided warmth, and an assortment of wineglasses were set upon a small oval table. There were several chairs waiting for them.

Calladar walked to one and bent over. Jaime blinked in confusion, until he realized that there was somebody sitting in the chair. A dark-haired man about his own age stood. He was dressed in black doublet and hose, a gilded falcon decorated in gold over his shoulder. Jaime tensed as the man turned around.

“Ladislav!” Jaime shouted, reaching for his sword.

“Jaime,” the black-clad man said, voice contemptuous, but triumphant. From behind the curtains armed soldiers emerged, each brandishing swords aimed at Jaime’s and his captain’s necks. “I think it would be wise for you to put down your weapons.”

Jaime shot an unbelieving stare at Lord Calladar. The man was actually smiling. “You know what you have done?” Jaime snapped, even as he lowered his sword and motioned for his captain to do the same. “You have betrayed my father and your liege. This he cannot forgive.”

Ladislav Otakar, heir to the Outer Midlands duchy, laughed. “Your father is no longer his liege. Lord Calladar has wisely decided to swear fealty to Salinon. Bozojo, from this day forward, is now part of the Outer Midlands.”

“You will rot in Hell for this, Calladar!” But if this threat bothered Calladar, he did not show it. Instead, he lifted a wine glass and raised a toast to Ladislav. Jaime turned his eyes to the man who for only two weeks had been his cousin by marriage. “I did not kill her. I mourn her even now.”

The words only infuriated the Salinon heir. He set his cup down, strode before Jaime and stood with hands on hips. His eyes quivered with deep anger. “Never speak of my cousin again. Never!” He tensed his fist, clearly wishing to strike Jaime. Jaime’s captain tried to step forward, but the soldiers pressed their blades more keenly against his neck. Ladislav took several deep breaths and then let his anger fade. In its place, his triumphant grin returned. “Prepare him for his new journey. Lord Calladar, your second act as my father’s vassal will be this: have Jaime’s men sent back to Kelewair with a message.”

Lord Calladar nodded obsequiously. “And what message would that be, your grace?”

“That my father, Duke Otakar of Salinon holds Jaime Verdane as his hostage. If he ever wishes to see him released, he will honour your decision to swear fealty to Salinon. Should he attack, my father will consider that an act of war upon himself.”

“It will be done, your grace.”

Jaime squirmed with rage. “Whatever they have promised you, Hyman, you will regret this day. You are a traitor. Do not ever think any will trust you again.”

Ladislav laughed and drunk his wine. The insult appeared to make Calladar thoughtful for a moment, but only a moment. “His grace, the Duke of Salinon, will allow me to reap greater profit from the Marchbourne, something Verdane would never allow. And I may now rid myself of that ridiculous Phergold church he insisted I build. The treason was that I did not do what I should have years ago.”

Jaime shook his head. “My father will not let this be!”

“Your father has a civil war in his country,” Ladislav replied with a laugh. “He can do nothing to save you. Guards, take him to his cell. We shall take him to see my father in the morning.”

Jaime used his last seconds in the study to spit upon Calladar’s boots.

“Momma! Momma!!” a chorus of piping voices shouted in alarm. Kimberly had been dreaming of her long absent husband and only realized belatedly that the voices were those of her children. Slowly, she pushed herself into a seated position. It was completely dark; the coals in her fire had died, and the curtains were drawn over the small circular windows in her bedroom. Despite this, she could smell four of her children on the bed with her.

“Children! Children! It is not yet dawn! What are you doing?”

It was little Erick who spoke. “Ladero’s sick!”

“He’s bweeding!” Bernadette agreed with a squeak.

“Bleeding?” Kimberly asked, alarm filling her voice. “Where’s Auntie Baerle?”

“She told us to tell you, Momma!” little Charles reported as he bounced in place.

Kimberly pushed her children back and jumped from the bed. Dressed only in her nightgown she dashed from her bedroom, across the main room, up the stairs, and into the children’s room all without stubbing her toes. Baerle had a single lantern lit and was sitting by Ladero’s crib, brushing his face off with a cloth. She glanced up when Kimberly bounded into the room, tears standing in her eyes.

“Kimberly! It’s Ladero! He’s coughing up blood.”

Kimberly scooted in beside the opossum and felt her heart breaking in her chest. Her boy was holding his stuffed dog Towseh tightly in his arms. Blood framed his snout, and his eyes were a disquieting red.

“Baerle, you must go alert Jo at once! And then find Kevin!”

Baerle stood up, handing the handkerchief to Kimberly. “Kevin?”

Kimberly took up cleaning Ladero’s snout. The boy stared at her weakly, eyes filled with confusion. “Aye, to take a message to Raven hin’Elric. Please hurry!” Baerle was out the door a moment later.

By the time that Kimberly had finished cleaning Ladero’s snout of blood, Jo was rushing up the stairs. Baerle put the other children in their play room before rejoining Kimberly. The Healer vixen was harried, and had not even taken the time to properly dress. She had slipped on a vest over her nightgown and grabbed her herbal bags, which she now stashed on top of the nearest crib.

“Let me see him,” Jo said, crouching over the little rat. She glanced at his eyes, and then felt at his chest. “Does it hurt here, Ladero?”

The little rat nodded. He coughed suddenly and a bit of spittle laced with blood. “What’s wrong wif me?”

Jo grimaced and licked her nose unhappily. “I don’t know yet, Ladero. But I’ll make something to help you feel better.” She gave Kimberly a serious look. “Your kitchen.”

Kimberly nodded and kissed Ladero on the forehead. “Baerle, wait here with Ladero.” She then helped Jo carry her bags down to the kitchen. Jo rubbed her paws together nervously, her whole body shaking with worry. “Will he live?” Kimberly asked once they were in the kitchen. The words felt horrible, like a knife to her heart.

“I don’t know,” Jo admitted, tears standing in her eyes. “I don’t know! I don’t know! I can make him a broth to take away the pain and settle his cough. But I don’t know what more I can do.”

There was a tapping on the door, and Kimberly bolted to open it. Standing outside in the dark was a man-sized sparrow with nothing on at all. “Lady Matthias?” he said respectfully. “Baerle said it was urgent? I’m sorry it took me so long to come.”

Kimberly grabbed his wing and dragged him inside. “Kevin! I need you to fly to Metamor Keep!”

“To Metamor Keep? When?”

“Right now, can you fly now?”

Kevin’s short beak opened in surprise. “Metamor? I suppose. It will take me a few hours to get there...”

“That’s fine! I need you to deliver a message for me. Ladero’s life is at stake, and I need you to bring Lothanasa Raven hin’Elric here. She’s the only one who can help my son.” It took her a moment to realize that Kevin was wincing and she let go of his wing.

His eyes filled with worry, and Kevin glanced up at the ceiling. “Ladero’s life?” He swallowed and nodded, stretching his wigs out. “All right. I’ll go to Metamor and tell Lothanasa Raven she is needed here. But tomorrow is Daedra’kema! She’ll be needed in Metamor then too. How can I convince her to come?”

Kimberly gripped her nightgown so tight that she was beginning to tear the fabric. “I don’t care! Just bring her here. Tell her I’ll become Lothanasi if it means she can save my boy! Just bring her here! Please!!” Kimberly rubbed her paws against her eyes to brush the tears away.

“I’ll go,” Kevin nodded, sucking in his breath and spreading his wings. “And I won’t come back until Raven agrees to come.”

Kimberly smiled gratefully, and hugged the sparrow tight. “Thank you, Kevin. Now hurry!”

Kevin nodded and hugged back as best he was able. A moment later he was out the door and hopping as quickly as he could to the clearing. From there he jumped into the air, and glided carefully through the trees. Kimberly did not stay to watch him reach the open air where he could more easily navigate. She rushed back to the kitchen to help Jo prepare the broth. She had to dry her eyes three times more before they were finished.

It was a long day of bitter marching before the Breckarin army and their strange prisoners emerged from the Duke’s woods. Despite the fact that so many soldiers had beaten a clear path, and despite the stamina they had gained from four months of travelling, by the time they stopped for the night, the Keepers were thoroughly sore and exhausted.

They were given no bedding on which to sleep. Heavy stones were set on the hard earth, and in each an iron ring was embedded. The Keepers were chained to the stones so tightly they were forced to lay with their backs to them, preventing them from finding any comfort. As they lay with the Brecakrin soldiers watching them, they felt the uneven surface of the blocks digging into their skin.

Charles received special treatment to keep him bound. After half a dozen soldier laid his side upon the ground and had his frozen form steadied, Agathe drew runes into the dirt all around him in a tight circle. When she was finished, a smile crossed her ruined face. Her empty eye-socket burned like an old dying fire given new fuel. “If you cross these runes, I will hear it. If you so much as erase one of these runes, I will hear it. You will become as you are now, a statue, unable to do anything. When I emerge tomorrow, you will be unable to move. Consider what pose you wish to spend your day in.”

When Agathe had disappeared within her tent, the rat’s body regained flexibility. Charles grunted as he collapsed to the ground. He quickly stood up and surveyed his surroundings. The runes were set in a circle roughly five feet in diameter, giving barely enough room to lay down, and only if he kept his tail curled tightly to his chest. His friends lay upon the ground around him while soldiers watched from all sides. The Rheh grazed nearby, their green eyes filled with indignation.

“Jerome,” Charles whispered and bent down as far as he dared. “Jerome, can you hear me?”

His friend nodded and looked up. His eyes were heavy and his face slack. “I’m here, Charles.”

“Can you move at all? I might be able to break your manacles from in here if I could see them.” The guards had positioned his fellow Sondecki such that his manacles were between his body and the lode stone. If Charles could see them, he might be able to use his power to strike them with the air. A strong enough blow could loosen the manacles. Once Jerome was free, there would be a good chance he’d be able to free the others.

Jerome tried to shift, his body tensing with strain for nearly fifteen seconds before he collapsed against the weighty rock. He breathed heavily, barely able to speak. “Too... too... much...”

Frustrated, he turned to the Binoq, “Can you do anything about these runes?”

Abafouq shook his head. “I am sorry, but no. I cannot move my hands.”

“Hey you!” One of the soldiers threw a rock at the rat. It bounced off his chest and nearly struck James in the nose. “Keep quiet!”

Glumly, Charles sat down and pulled his tail into his lap. His friends looked miserable after their march. The soldiers hadn’t given them anything to eat, and he could hear at least three stomachs growling in protest. Jessica had escaped, but what could she do against that witch Agathe?

What had any of them hoped to accomplish? Everyone who had challenged Marzac’s servants had been struck down. Rickkter had his soul sucked from his body when he’d attacked the Marquis. And even Wessex, the Metamorian most familiar with the magic of the enemy, had been killed and his body reanimated to further Marzac’s plans.

It had been a long time since Charles had thought on the boy wizard. Nasoj’s Yule attack immediately after more often occupied his thoughts. What had started as a glorious day had gone so wrong. Both Jerome and Krenek had been there with him to elevate Garigan to the rank of a Green Sondecki, and at the time there had been no proof that Krenek was a slave to Marzac. Charles had heard the accusations, and hoping to settle them, he’d surreptitiously brought Krenek to Wessex’s quarters. If Krenek was tainted, Wessex would have been able to see it.

But Wessex was already dead by the time they’d arrived, though he’d not been dead long. With a start, Charles realised that they had never discovered who had killed the boy mage. It was not Krenek, as he’d been in the rat’s company for many hours, and it couldn’t have been Ambassador Yonson, the weathermage allied with Marzac, as several people could testify to his whereabouts that day. That left only one other servant of the Marquis who could have been responsible.

Charles glanced upwards when a hauntingly familiar figure approached. The black-clad Sondecki did not step near the Keepers or their allies, but stood on the periphery. The soldiers guarding them regarded the Southerner warily.

Charles felt the faint stirring of both rage and confusion blossom, but his stony heart dulled the pain. “You said you were sorry,” the rat stated evenly. “Sorry for what?”

“How things have turned out,” Krenek Zagrosek replied with the barest of sighs. He rubbed his forehead and looked away. “I do not act willingly, you know. From time to time he allows me to behave as I wish in small matters. But when he wants something, I cannot disobey. And I have tried. Tried vainly. Last year, when I saw you again for the first time, I wanted to warn you, wanted it more than anything, but he would not let me even try to hint at it!” Zagrosek shook his head. “I would not wish this on anyone.”

“If you do not wish to do what he wants, then don’t!” Charles snapped, crossing his arms over his chest. He would not show the courtesy of standing while talking as Zagrosek was; instead, he remained seated in the circle of runes.

“I have spent the last four years wishing I could. But any time I try, he is there; and all I can do is watch as my body commits atrocity after atrocity. Even those times when I think I have done some good he turns it to evil ends. There is nothing I can do.”

“So you give in?”

Zagrosek’s eyes darkened and he turned on the rat. “There is nothing to give in to! There is nothing to fight! It just is! I am amazed that he lets me tell you these things, has let me say anything at all. You are... his enemy. I am his slave.”

The pained expression on his old friend’s face appeared genuine. If Charles took him at his word, there were two possibilities: he was speaking with his childhood friend who was an even greater prisoner than the rat, or he spoke with their enemy who sought to use that old friendship against them. For the moment, he decided to believe the first was true, but he’d ever keep the second in mind.

Charles gestured at himself, the stone, the vein, and the branded black hand on the right side of his face. “Look at me, Krenek. Look what has become of me thanks to your master. I am living stone! Unless your master fails, I will always be stone. And even if I do become flesh again, I will always bear this scar on my face.”

“Knowing you,” Zagrosek chided, but without mirth, “you will proudly carry that scar. Touched by a Shrieker and yet you live? Don’t expect me to believe that doesn’t please you.”

He was right, the scar did please the rat. But he wasn’t about to admit that. “But what of Kimberly? She has not seen it yet, and as my wife, I’m sure she will have a strong opinion. Do you realize that I haven’t seen her in over four months now? And my children. Great Eli! I have five beautiful children. All rats just like Kimberly and I. One of them even has the Sondeck!”

“If you think knowing this will make it possible for me to fight him, you are mistaken. Though I did already know these things, it is best you not mention anything you don’t want him to know. He is always here. If not, do you not think I would free you? I could do that. But he won’t let me.”

Charles glanced briefly at his fellow Keepers. All ears were turned to listen to them. Maybe there was something he could learn from his childhood friend. He narrowed his gaze at Zagrosek and asked, “Who is he? The Marquis?”

“Camille is only the beginning of our pain. I wonder if he ever allows the real du Tournemire to act anymore. Oh it is his personality we see, but what acts...” Zagrosek laughed bitterly. “The Marquis binds me with his cards, which from time to time I can fight, but what I speak of is far worse.”


“It is there that he exists.” Zagrosek’s smile grew wide, and for a moment Charles felt sure something else was staring through his eyes. The moment passed quickly, after which Zagrosek looked away. “I’d gone to find you, ironically.”


“When I left Sondeshara four years ago, I’d gone in search of you. I could no longer stand by while the innocent were punished and sought you out that we might together stop Brothus from destroying the Sondeckis. I made the mistake of seeking the Marquis’s aid. I thought him honourable, and expected him to repay the debt he owed us. I also thought that you might have sought him out when you fled four years before.”

Zagrosek shook his head and his lips turned into a disgusted frown. “He claimed that you had, but I now know that to be a lie. He said that he had some documents which would help, and told his Steward to find them. They were several years old he told me, and said it would take some time to find them. So he invited me to play a game of cards. A game of cards! I agreed, and that was my undoing. Suddenly I was his slave, and though I fought hard, he dragged me to Marzac. He had to cripple me with agony nearly the entire trip, but he succeeded. Once in Marzac...”

“How long did it take?”

Zagrosek shrugged. “Not nearly long enough.” He turned away and stared at the southern horizon. “We will be in Breckaris in two days time. We are supposed to bring you there alive. But if you try to escape... I am very good at hurting you without killing you.” He stalked off into the darkness, heading for Agathe’s tent. The Keepers lay in silence. Charles watched his old friend until he could no longer see him.

Charles glanced at his friends and sighed. “Get as much sleep as you can. If anyone else comes, I will wake you.” Despite his admonition, as the hours of the night slowly ticked passed, he doubted any of them slept more than an hour or two. It was going to be a very difficult two days.

Jessica found it easy to follow the army southwards while they stayed in the forest. While she could only see them when a gap in the forest canopy allowed her a glimpse, by the same token, they could not see her. Once they left the wood her task grew more complicated.

She had never spent so long in her animal form. Sure, there had been many times at Metamor where she would enjoy a pleasant flight in the morning or the afternoon, soaring high above the castle and admiring the valley from above. But then she had spent an hour or two at best as a beast. Even while they had journeyed and it had been easier for the party that she perch upon Lindsey or one of the others, that lasted perhaps half a day. Now she was going to spend however many days it took for them to reach Breckaris or wherever they might be going in the guise of a red-tailed hawk.

When the army was finally able to see her, Jessica was forced to fly higher in the sky lest any soldiers think to skewer her with arrows and gain a trophy. She had seen the Longs practice with bow, and knew there was a limit to how high an arrow could fly. Staying well out of that range, she soared on the air currents, doing her best to find ones that flowed north-south. They were scarcer than she would have liked, but she managed.

She had no idea how she would go about rescuing her friends, and that was the worst thing of all. Jessica had many magical skills, skills that had already proven invaluable on their journey. But how could she contend with that witch, whose power seemed limitless? It had only been the intervention of the Nauh-kaee that had saved them in the mountains. Jessica had done everything she could to balk the Runecaster, but all it had managed to do was delay the inevitable.

Now she was expected to rescue her friends from this woman? Jessica shuddered at the notion.

After the first night, the army’s pace quickened. The Keepers were all kept in a line, with columns of soldiers on either side. The Rheh followed them, but were surrounded by horsemen with spears and bows. She noted that the stone rat was being carted on a litter, frozen solid in an absolutely ridiculous position with all of his limbs spread wide. Behind them rode Zagrosek and that Runecaster witch. Jessica knew it was her because of the purple cloak which shrouded her entire form. Not even her hands were visible.

After a few of the soldiers pointed upwards in her direction, Jessica flew to the western side of the river where she could watch them in relative safety. It was a painfully slow process as she flew faster than they marched, and she would frequently double-back to keep them in her sights. Her stomach ached for her to feed, but she did not allow herself that luxury. Besides, she’d never eaten like an animal before, and wasn’t terribly interested in trying.

When night fell, Jessica found a perch in a small wood and slept. When she awoke the army was already on the move. Within a few hours she could see their destination. The horizon was filled with the aquamarine colour of the sea, and set where the land came to its end was a sprawling city that framed both sides of the river. On the eastern bank stood a high castle and magnificent cathedral. They were built differently from those in Metamor, with wide balconies and open air halls. Everything appeared baked like bread in an oven, though she knew that to be only a matter of style. And even though winter was fast approaching, she found the temperature quite comfortable.

There could be no doubt the army would bring her friends into the city. Jessica perched upon one of the castle’s parapets and waited. The army couldn’t surround them in the city, and maybe, just maybe, the Runecaster witch and Zagrosek would be forced to leave them for a time. All she had to do was watch and wait.

After two full day’s march, the army finally returned to Breckaris. The tang of salt filled the air even in the rolling fields north of the city. High walls met them, but the wide northern gate opened to admit the army. The soldiers fell into a tight formation, marching proudly and looking no worse the wear for their long journey. The Keepers were chained together, and once they passed into the city, they were pelted with rotten vegetables and insults from the populace.

The mob lined the street, and they showered their troops with flowers. None of them fell upon either Agathe or Zagrosek and all eyes shied from them. But a balding, bespectacled Bishop rode forward with a train of priests and functionaries to greet the two mages.

“Bishop Hockmann,” Zagrosek crooned. “Your army has proven themselves capable. I am delighted to report that we faced no difficulty in capturing the Metamorian spies.”

“Most excellent! Eli looks kindly on those who serve His people.” Hockmann surveyed the Keepers with mild distaste. “Not a very impressive group.”

“No,” Zagrosek agreed. “Certainly not like this.”

Hockmann began to frown. “I understand there was a hawk. Where is she? I do not see her amongst the prisoners.”

Agathe hissed unpleasantly. “She will be found soon.”

The Bishop nodded and gestured towards the castle that towered at the end of the wide street. “His grace, Duke Schanalein waits with your master. He wishes the prisoners brought directly before him in his throne room.”

Zagrosek nodded. “Of course. Will you accompany us, your grace?”

“Indeed. Now that we have them captured, I await further instruction.”

They said nothing after this. The Keepers endured with as much grace as their weary bodies could muster the invective heaped upon them by the mob. Charles was a statue and could do nothing. Carted on his back, he stared at the overcast sky and ruminated upon everything he heard. Did Hockmann say they were to meet Zagrosek’s master? Which master would this be?

It did not take long for them to reach the castle. The army began marching around the castle grounds, taking up flanking positions to make sure the prisoners went straight in. A detachment of at least two dozen spearmen and another two dozen swordsmen led the way into the castle. The Keepers noted the grand tapestries, suits of armour, and other audacious trappings of wealth without much interest. Behind them Agathe, Zagrosek and Hockmann dismounted and entered, their eyes prodding the prisoners forward.

The massive doors were drawn shut behind them, and immediately all fell quiet. Their footfalls were muffled by thick carpeting. Charles watched arched ceilings and transoms pass overhead, barely able to note the various decorations before he was beneath another.

Guards lined the halls, all watching them warily. The Keepers followed the soldiers wordlessly, into an even larger hall. Bright light shone through stained windows, and incense burned in braziers at either end of the hall. Tapestries depicting the Breckarin heron crest dominated every wall. At the far end of the chamber was an ornate throne upon whose back heron’s wings were carved from cherry.

Seated on the throne was an older man with greying hair, dressed in bright green doublet and hose. Sitting next to him in a cushioned chair far less ostentatious was a hauntingly familiar man. Long nose, charismatic features, and an air of indomitability, all they knew from that one moment in the belfry at Metamor. In his hands he held a deck of cards.

“Welcome to Breckaris, my friends, my servants, my slaves.” The Marquis du Tournemire rose and smiled. “I knew you would come. Let us reacquaint ourselves for a time. Daedra’kema is tomorrow, and I have many things to do before then.”

The Marquis spread the cards before him, and his smile turned to poison. “Now kneel!” He gave the cards a bend and the Keepers felt pain crush them to the floor. The Duke of Breckaris watched it all and laughed.

Cover | Contents | Prologue | Book I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Interlude I
Book II | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Interlude II
Book III | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | Interlude III
Book IV | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65
66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | Epilogue

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