The Last Tale of Yajikali

Chapter V - Sword Dreams

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

It had been three nights since they passed the oasis, and Gelel of the Magyars hoped with every fibre of his being that they would soon find another. But from the look of the horizon, with miles and miles of endless dunes in every direction, he knew there was not much hope.

After they had begun travelling through the desert by night, it had only taken a few days before the Magyars had found an oasis. They’d seen it from a mile away as a broad stretch of relatively low dunes with a stand of prickly trees in the centre. In the midst of the sparse copse was a lake of water. Thorny flowers blossomed along the edge of the pool. Several creatures darted or slithered away when they approached.

The tall trees bore a strange hard fruit that Nemgas said they could eat once they broke the shell. Gelel could not describe the taste, except that he didn’t particularly like it. Nevertheless, the Magyars had collected the fruit and refilled their waterskins before pressing westward through the desert.

Chamag had been right about travelling during the night. They were using far less of their water than before, and according to Amile who kept a watch over it, they had enough to last another two weeks. Their food was less plentiful, but if they stretched out their supplies they’d have enough. Berkon had suggested hunting some of the local wildlife, but they could not risk wandering in the desert for game. It was far too easy to become lost.

And Gelel knew that was true. Every sand dune looked the same as any other. Behind them their boots left a trail that the wind quickly obliterated. Only the stars above remained inviolate. Somewhere in the west was Yesulam, a city that had never welcomed the Magyars. A city that had sent those bastard knights that had killed his best friend and wagon brother, Hanalko.

It was true, Nemgas had killed the particular knight responsible for Hanalko’s death. But Hanalko had not been the mountain slayer’s friend. It should have been Gelel that had sent the evil knight to his death. He so wished he could have been the one to push that man over the ravine’s edge to be dashed upon the sharp rocks below.

His flesh trembled. Gelel just wanted to kill one of those damn knights.

But there just behind Pelgan was one of those knights. The man, Sir Petriz, walked with his hands unbound, dressed in his green and blue surcoat with a cloak drawn over his form to protect him from the chill of the desert night. He even was allowed to lead his own horse. What madness had Nemgas fallen into to allow this viper in their midst?

Gelel pulled his cloak more tightly around himself to ward off the cold. It did him no good to brood over Petriz. He’d promised Nemgas not to harm the man. What good it would do them, the boy could not comprehend. All he knew was that his friend was dead, and it was the fault of these knights.

But they were travelling to Yesulam to save their people. Somehow they would find out who had sent the knights after them, and make him stop. As far as Gelel was concerned, that meant killing whichever priest had done it. But wouldn’t that mean that the other priests would order them to die too? He grimaced as that thought filled his mind. Would they have to slaughter the entire city? That was ridiculous to contemplate. Not even the mountain slayer could hope to do that.

Gelel let out a heavy sigh and took another step through the sand. It shifted under his boots, and he felt his legs sliding down. They were climbing yet one more dune. The night sky hung above them, star bright with the familiar constellations he had grown to know. It was strange to see them so late at night. During the Summer, he only ever saw The Wagon directly overhead, but now it was in the northwest and would soon disappear altogether. The sky shouldn’t look like this until Autumn.

The air felt colder on his hands and face. Gelel tucked his hands within his sleeve and shivered. There was no hope for this venture. He felt tired and weary, his eyes drooping as he put one plodding foot before the other. All he would do was climb up one dune and then back down. The desert would never end. The knights wanted them dead. Somehow, that Sir Petriz was tricking them. It had to be.

The more his tired mind thought on it, the more he knew it to be true. Nemgas was being led astray. More and more that knight had won the mountain slayer’s trust, and soon, it would be the knight who was leading them. Leading them in chains back to Yesulam.

Gelel’s eyes fell shut, and he blinked them open. He tried to rub his eyes, but he couldn’t move his hands. They were stuck fast to his waist. His heart began to beat faster. The multi-coloured tunics of his friend shad been replaced by the blue and green tabard’s of the Driheli knights. Sir Petriz looked back at him and smiled sadistically. By the gods, he was their prisoner!

Furiously, Gelel fumbled at the bindings with his fingers. His breathing was heavy, and when he finally broke free, he dashed across the desert sands, screaming in horror. He dashed up on dune, and glanced backwards. The others were chasing after him, screaming foul foreign words. Gelel threw himself down the dune, scrambling through the sand to get away.

The stars overhead began to swim, and he could see the face of the knight that had killed Hanalko leering at him from the heavens. “No!” Gelel cried out, holding his arms in front of him as he ran. He didn’t know where he was going, only that he had to run. He was going up another dune, and then he crested the top and tumbled down the other side.

Gelel tried to get his feet under him to push upwards but he felt hands around his ankles, pulling him down. The sand was twisting in bizarre shapes, of men on horseback pulling him down under. He screamed as the hands of sand climbed up past his knees.

Nemgas had been stretching his arms when he heard the scream. He turned and saw that Gelel was clawing at the rope tied around his waist. They had lashed themselves together out of fear of the haunting nightmares that would claim the minds of travellers in the Desert of Dreaming. It only took a single moment for Nemgas to realize that the boy was suffering from the dreams.

“Berkon, grab him!” Nemgas cried, even as he pulled loose the knot at his middle.

Berkon lunged forward, but Gelel slipped free of his knot and ran off to the south. “We canst not let him flee,” Nemgas shouted as he charged after the boy. “All of you follow!”

Whatever images Gelel thought he was seeing made him deathly afraid of them. He ran up the first dune before tumbling head over heels down the other side. Nemgas managed to reach the top an see the boy get back to his feet and begin running again. Behind him, the other Magyars were following and dragging the horses with them. Their faces were worried, even the knight Sir Petriz looked frightened.

Nemgas almost managed to grab the boy’s shirt as they crested the next dune. He fell to his knees while the boy tumbled down the next slope. Nemgas growled and charged after him, but immediately felt his heart tighten. When Gelel reached the bottom and tried to get back up, his legs went down, and rather quickly the rest of him began to sink.

“Quicksand!!” Nemgas cried. He slid down the incline several feet from the boy, being careful to lay on his belly. “Bring the rope! Doth not stand or thou wilt sink too!”

Their first day in the desert, Nemgas had told them what they would have to do in case they ever found a patch of the sucking sand. Whatever dreams were taunting Gelel, he clearly did not recognize his peril. He thrashed about with his legs, and screamed in fright. The was already at his waist, and its pull was only growing stronger.

“The rope!” Gamran called, throwing Nemgas the empty loop that had once been around his waist. Nemgas caught it and quickly reworked the knot.

“Gelel, stop struggling and do as I hath taught thee!” Nemgas cried. The boy did not even appear to hear him, his arms flailing in every direction. He cursed under his breath, and then shouted to the others. “Grab my legs and lay flat! I shalt try to rescue him.”

Gamran and Pelgan wrapped their arms around his ankles. Amile and Petriz grabbed Pelgan’s legs, while Berkon and Kaspel secured the little thief. Chamag was in the middle and held fast both Gamran and Pelgan.

Once he felt secure, Nemgas threw the loop he’d made in the rope towards Gelel and missed. He inched forward, wriggling on his chest. He felt the ground before him begin to give way, but he had several more feet to go before he’d sink.

“Gelel, please!” Nemgas cried, his fears freezing his heart. He threw the loop again, and this time it wrapped around the boy’s head and one of his arms. That would have to do. Nemgas pulled strongly, and the loop drew taut.

“Everyone, pull me back!” He tugged on the rope, while he felt the Magyars hauling his legs. The sand sucked on the boy, drawing him in to his chest even as he began to slide closer. Nemgas could almost reach out and grab the boy’s cloak. “Again, pull!”

The Magyars grunted as they pulled on Nemgas’s legs. Nemgas drew hard on the rope, as he felt solid sand beneath his chest again. The boy drew closer to the edge of the pit, his voice raving, though more weakly. He’d sunk up to his armpits, and his other arm was no longer visible.

Nemgas narrowed his eyes and gave it one more tug. “Again!” his voice was hoarse from fear. Despite the cold desert night, sweat beaded on his brow, and his white locks of hair fell into his eyes. He dared not let go of the rope for one moment. The loop was sinking into the quagmire, and Gelel was gasping as sand tried to slide into his mouth.

He felt himself dragged back another foot and the boy with him. Nemgas drew the rope closer and closer, and then finally grabbed at the boy’s flailing hand that still waved above the surface – Gelel’s head was nearly gone. Nemgas grasped the hand, and strained.

“Thou shalt not take him!” he cried, pushing down on the ravaged earth. For a moment, it seemed as if the desert and the Magyars were at a standstill. The sand sucked and clawed at the boy, hoping to swallow him whole, as if the desert were some great beast that would feast on the boy’s flesh. But it could not draw the boy that last foot inside with the Magyar’s trying to pull him up. For several long seconds, it seemed that it was only a matter of time before the strength of the Magyar’s failed and the desert would have its meal.

And then, Gelel’s face began to slip free of the earthy grave. Nemgas let out a cry of triumph, and yanked again, lifting more of the child from the quicksand. Gelel spat sand from his mouth as he gasped and began to scream again. The other Magyars reached forward and helped Nemgas draw the youth from the sandy pit, pulling him up onto the side of the dune. His clothes were covered with moist sand. Once free, he began to struggle and kick his legs, shouting in a tongue that none of them could recognize.

“Bind him,” Nemgas said. “Bind him hand and foot. He wilt try to escape again if we dost not.”

Chamag grabbed the boy’s arms and used one end of the rope to tie them together. Kaspel stuffed some of his linens in Gelel’s mouth, and then wrapped the rest of them around his head to keep him from screaming. Pelgan and Gamran together secured his ankles.

Nemgas was breathing heavily. He could not make himself stand until he was upon the dune. He patted the boy on the chest. Wild eyes regarded him, and he attempted to struggle some, but bound as he was, he could do nothing but squirm. “We shalt drape him o’er one of the horses. Let us be away from this place e’er the dreams strike again.”

They were all quick to climb back up the dune. Kaspel and Chamag carried the boy, while Nemgas walked beside the knight. He spoke in the southern tongue. “Thank you for helping save the boy.”

Sir Petriz nodded his head slowly, brushing a bit of sand from his tunic. “This is no place for any to die, least of all a young man such as Gelel.”

“Even if he tried to kill you?”

Petriz looked upwards, not meeting Nemgas’s eyes. “I am your enemy, Kashin. It is only natural he would seek to kill me.”

“Then why save him?”

Petriz snorted as if he’d been insulted. “I am a knight of the Ecclesia. I do not kill or allow to be killed children.”

Nemgas frowned, angry at this man’s arrogant remark. “You do not understand why Gelel wants you dead, Sir Petriz. Not at all. His closest friend, also a boy his age, was killed by one of your knights. So do not ever tell me that you Ecclesia knights do not kill children. I know it is a lie. I saw it.”

Sir Petriz took a deep breath and then lowered his head. “I am sorry. It is a hard thing to love your order, but to find other knights who do not love it the same way.”

For a moment, Nemgas felt ashamed. Here was a man who’d sacrificed himself to save his squire, and he was lecturing him on how to do the right thing? “I do not blame you for the boy’s death,” Nemgas pointed out. “I wish the others in your order were knights like you.”

Petriz glanced back at him. “Then will you believe in my word?”

Nemgas could not bring himself to say anything at all.

It was a full hour before Gelel stopped struggling. The dispirited Magyars continued on their way westward trough the night with the boy tied to his horse. At first he’d kicked and rocked back and forth, drooling around the gag in his mouth. Even when he settled down, he shuddered frequently.

They continued to travel until the sky began to brighten in the East. The wind had begun to pick up and was throwing sand around them. It was not enough to make their journey dangerous, but it did sting when they turned towards the wind. They wasted no time in building their lean-tos on the windward side of a stand of rocks that protruded from the sand. It was the closest thing to shelter they had seen for miles.

They kept the horses protected behind their largest canvas, and after they were fed they quickly fell into slumber. Nemgas and the rest broke up into two groups of four. They draped the extra tarps in the face of the wind to protect themselves from the billowing sand. All of them huddled inside as the sun began to scorch the sand.

Nemgas kept Gelel with him, along with Kaspel and Berkon. He wanted Chamag to keep an eye on the knight, as he was the only other Magyar who could overpower the knight should Petriz either prove faithless or susceptible to the same nightmare that had claimed the boy. Nemgas was disturbed by Petriz’s question. In his gut, he felt certain the knight was honourable. But after the late Sir Poznan and the other knights chased the Magyars into the mountains, he found it hard to believe any of them. Even Grastalko had nearly betrayed the Magyars before making the wise choose to be one of them.

No, Nemgas was not ready at all to trust that knight, no matter how he had helped to save the boy Gelel’s life.

Nemgas could feel the air heating already. The sand had turned a bright golden hue, and the air was full of its dust as te wind howled outside their makeshift tent. The canvas snapped and furled under its onslaught, but the tents held together. The Magyars had faced such difficult winds on the Steppe, and knew how to protect themselves. Only in the past it had been snow in the air and not sand. Sand could lacerate far more easily.

“‘Tis hellish out there,” Berkon opined as he huddled in his corner of the tent. His eyes were focussed upon the boy. Gelel’s eyes were closed, and his chest was rising and falling. He appeared to be asleep.

“Aye,” Kaspel replied. “How long wilt the wind last?”

“I know not,” Nemgas admitted. “Storms such as these canst last for days though I dost not think it will. Such storms art rare.”

Berkon nodded at those words, but his eyes remained transfixed upon the boy. “Shalt we all dream as he? Wilt thou enter Yesulam with all of us tied to the horses?”

“Nay,” Nemgas replied, though his voice betrayed far more of the uncertainty he felt than he would have liked. “Nay, we shalt not all end up as poor Gelel. We hath a long journey still, but it has taken six days ere the dreams touched us. Gelel was the weakest of us all. ‘Twill take many more days yet ere we art in danger.”

“What of Gelel?” Kaspel asked as he slid his hands in either side of his cloak. He sat cross-legged, eyes heavy with sleep.

Nemgas frowned and considered the boy. He seemed to be sleeping peacefully now. Perhaps the dreams would leave him if given time. He wondered idly what had happened to others who had been taken by the nightmares of the Desert of Dreaming. That other half of him, Kashin, had known the answer. Nemgas allowed his mind to sink into Kashin’s memories. It always felt like robbing from another’s grave, something not even the Magyars often did – though Nemgas reminded himself the black and silver blade that he carried he’d found at Pelain’s tombstone.

There were many legends of the Desert of Dreaming, and there were even people who lived in the desert, though they were clustered near the southern reaches and the sea. Rarely would any venture into the deep interior of the desert. It was there that the dreams and madness were the most dangerous. It was a wild and untamed land. Every few decades a priest and a few soldiers would venture into that wasteland. Sometimes they would return, raving from nightmares they alone could see. More often, they would never return at all.

Sadly, Nemgas found not memory from Kashin as to what happened to those who returned. He opened his mouth to speak, but found his voice caught in his throat. All he could do was stare. Gelel’s eyes were open, and if he wasn’t mistaken, lucid.

Nemgas shifted forward and undid the gag around Gelel’s mouth. “Fetch water for him,” he instructed. Berkon lifted his waterskin and put the nozzle to the boy’s lips. Gelel drank what was poured into his mouth, but otherwise he remained slack and unmoving.

“Gelel, canst thou hear me?” Nemgas asked, waving his hand before the youth’s eyes. But the boy said nothing. His eyes shifted slightly, following the motion of Nemgas’s hand, but haphazardly.

“Gelel?” Kaspel asked, leaning forward. Gelel turned his head slightly towards him, and his lips turned in small smile. His face went slack again quickly, and Gelel’s eyes shut.

Nemgas grimaced and felt at either side of the boy’s face. His flesh was still warm, and he was breathing fine. They had wiped most of the sand from the quagmire from his clothes, but he was still dirty. His hair was caked with it. It would have to stay that way until they found another oasis.

“I think he dost sleep,” Nemgas said, and then tensed as Gelel let out a scream, eyes snapping open again. He struggled and kicked both legs at once. All three Magyars leapt upon him, pinning him down. Berkon was quick to push the gag back into place, cutting off the boy’s cries. His eyes were wild, clearly frightened. Nemgas gripped the boy’s legs tightly, even as he felt them try to kick around.

And then, just as suddenly as the boy came to life, he fell back into torpor. Nemgas breathed heavily for several long minutes before he let go of the boy’s legs. Berkon and Kaspel took their time before returning to their sides of the lean-to. Outside, the wind buffeted their canvas ferociously for a moment but then began to abate. A few seconds later the wind had died down so quickly that the canvas began to sag.

“We dost need sleep,” Berkon reminded them. “As dost Gelel.”

“Thou shouldst sleep,” Nemgas advised. “I wilt watch o’er him until midday.”

“I wilt watch at midday,” Kaspel volunteered.

“And I early evening.”

Nemgas nodded to them both. “Good. I shalt wake thee ere noon hath arrived.”

Both Berkon and Kaspel laid their heads down on their travel packs. Nemgas sat cross-legged, his face a mask of stone. Gelel seemed to be breathing normally again. He hoped that when the night came he would be his old self again. He offered a silent prayer that the rest of them would escape the dreams.

They took Kaspel the very next night.

When they saddled up shortly after dusk, Gelel had still been incoherent. They secured him across one of the horse’s backs, and then made sure he had a bit of water to drink before starting out. They lashed themselves together with rope, though Nemgas was uncertain whether to tie the knots about their waist tighter or not. It could prevent any of the others from breaking loose. But it could also hinder them trying to subdue any who had fallen victim to the desert’s vile dreams.

In the end, they left the ropes as they had the night before. They kept a close watch on each other for any signs of the dreams. The night cooled fast, and soon they were all huddling in their cloaks as they led the horses over the interminable sand dunes. The sand storm that had struck them at daybreak had passed, leaving the vault of heavens brilliant above.

Nemgas led them across the desert, and so he kept track of the stars in the sky. At dusk he would lead them toward sunset. Once the glow of twilight faded and night surrounded them, he would stop and orient himself by the stars. The desert sands would change from day to day, sometimes even from hour to hour. And as they were so deep within, there were no landmarks to navigate by. That left only the stars. In them would he trust.

Slowly overhead they turned on their nightly course. Nemgas did not marvel at the surprising constellations he found lingering so late at night in the Summer sky. He had seen far stranger things in his life, and knew that he could still see more. But he did feel uncertain at having to rely on them. Some of the constellations he recognized looked peculiar. The stars appeared to have moved in the wrong way, as if they were rebelling against the turning of the Earth.

Nemgas had shaken his head to clear his mind. There could only be madness down that line of thought. Or even worse he had realized, it may have been the dreams of the desert come to claim him.

Resolutely, they continued on their journey. Nemgas would frequently look back over the group, and see that each of his fellow Magyars was doing the best they could to remain aware of where they were. The desert sands were quiet apart from the fall of hoof and boot. The horses plodded along, following after their leads without any resistance. Nemgas half fancied that the beasts knew better the way than he did.

It happened after midnight, and as Nemgas heard the cry erupt from Kaspel’s mouth, he could not help but wonder how quickly he’d been claimed. The long-limbed archer had appeared calm and in full mastery of his senses the whole night long. What had gone through his mind to make him vulnerable?

Nemgas had no time to ponder the question. After the scream erupted from Kaspel’s throat, they had to grab him before he could saw through the rope with his knife. Kaspel’s voice rose in pitch, his shriek that of a frightened child. His eyes were wide and bloodshot, and his fingers trembled, nails digging at them as they tried to restrain him.

“Hold him down!” Nemgas shouted. Chamag and Berkon were doing their best to grip the struggling Magyar, but he continued to kick and claw at them as if he’d become a beast in mind. Pelgan and Gamran danced around the three men, trying to find some way to help hold their brother Magyar.

“Wouldst thou take the knife!” Berkon snarled as he finally wrested it free from Kaspel’s grip. Kaspel responded by sinking his teeth into Berkon’s arm. With a bestial snarl, he tore at the flesh. Blood began to dribble through the cloth. “Chamag!!”

Chamag let go of Kaspel’s leg long enough to drive his fist into the man’s stomach. Kaspel opened his mouth and gasped before collapsing in a hacking wheeze to the sand. Gamran and Pelgan rushed in and began to wind the rope about the Magyar’s arms and chest.

“Thou art bleeding!” Amile pointed out, rushing over to see to Berkon’s wound.

“Aye,” Berkon admitted as he tore free a strip of cloth to bind the wound. “‘Tis shallow. Canst thou tie it for me?”

While Amile tended to the wound, the others finished securing Kaspel. Like Gelel before him, once he was restrained, all of the fight seemed to leave him. Nemgas bent over and looked into his fellow Magyar’s eyes, grimacing.

“Didst he act odd?”

Pelgan shook his head. He was thumbing the dagger that Kaspel had dropped. His eyes were dark, but with a haunted look that Nemgas could scarcely ever remember seeing in the young man. “Nae, he wast walking quietly fore he didst scream. I didst not suspect that he wast dreaming.”

“These art not dreams,” Chamag muttered as he brushed sand from his trousers. “These art nightmares.”

“Aye,” Gamran said as he bounced back and forth on the balls of his feet. The soft cap that Thelia had made for him the day before they’d left their wagons was slipping over one ear and about to fall off. “I like not this place. There art things out there in the desert that we canst not see. I hath heard them speaking.”

Nemgas spun on the little thief. “What dost they say?”

But Gamran shook his head, sending his cap flopping to the ground. “I know not. But I like not the sound of their voices. They art seductive and poisonous like the old river spirits that lure men to drown.”

“And they wilt drown thee, as they almost did to Gelel,” Nemgas agreed. “Gamran, if thou hear’st their voices again, I wish thee to tell me. I dost not want to lose thee to the dreams. Perhaps they wert trying to take thee, too.”

Chamag and Sir Petriz hoisted Kaspel’s body on top of the horse carrying Gelel. The two of them bound the babbling Magyars together. “I wast wrong,” Chamag said. “I shouldst ne’er hath told thee to journey by night.”

Nemgas frowned and kicked at a bit of sand. “Nae, thou wast right. We wouldst ne’er have survived e’en this far hath we journeyed by day.”

“But we hath lost two to the dreams,” Chamag pointed out, rubbing his hands together. “If we lose many more, we wilt ne’er survive this desert.”

“What if we journeyed partly by day and partly by night?” Pelgan suggested. He’d sheathed the extra dagger through his belt loop and was absently fiddling with the hilt.

“So that we might suffer the evils of both day and night?” Nemgas asked in a disconsolate tone. “Nae. We hath supplies for two weeks more. Yesulam is at least two weeks to the west. Shouldst we chance upon another oasis, then we canst risk journey by day. Until then, we must continue at night.”

Chamag was not the only one to take a deep breath before continuing westward. Nor was he alone in looking over his shoulder towards the South. Gelel had run to the South, and Kaspel’s eyes had strayed that way. In their bones, they each began to feel as if something very real and very dangerous lurked just over the dunes to their left.

They neither saw nor heard anything else that night. When they stopped to make camp, they were cold and tired, but none of them could tell of anything strange they saw or heard. They drank a little water and did their best to sleep through the inferno of the day. When dusk came, they secured Kaspel and Gelel to the horses and hoped and prayed that they would safely traverse the desert.

They barely spoke for the many long hours of the night. From time to time, they would ask each other how they were doing, but the answers were always short, hopeful, and afraid. When they settled down for camp that night, they were all smiling, feeling a buoy of optimism.

It died the next night when Chamag started to cry out in horror.

The burly Magyar threw Pelgan from his side as he struggled to tear the rope that held him fast to the other Magyars in half. Sir Petriz grappled him from behind, while Gamran and Berkon tried to hold down the man’s legs. Amile was even trying to help the little thief. Chamag kicked at them, his voice raw and growling.

Nemgas pushed him down on his chest, trying to bind his hands with rope. But one of those hands broke free and grabbed Nemgas around the throat. Nemgas gasped, feeling those massive fingers clenching tightly, squeezing the life from him. He grabbed and tugged at the Magyar’s hand, trying to maintain his focus. He kicked at the ground, struggling as Chamag pushed him into the sand.

Amile drove her fist between Chamag’s legs, and for a moment, Nemgas felt the pressure on his neck lessen. He yanked himself away from the large man, while Pelgan smacked him in the back of the head with the hilt of his dagger. The large Magyar let out a groan and then collapsed.

“They wilt take us all ere we leave this desert,” Gamran predicted morosely. His face was ashen and full of fear.

“Speakest not so!” Nemgas shouted, his voice trembling. His throat hurt, and he rubbed at his neck with his hands. “We shalt make it! We shalt!”

“Thou shalt all die.”

It took them a second to realize that the one speaking was Chamag. His voice was so strange, tortured and visceral, as if he were speaking with muscles in his stomach. Sir Petriz had already bound his arms behind his back, and Berkon had bound his feet, so he could not move. But none had yet gagged him.

Nemgas kneeled before the prone man. “What didst thou say?”

His lips opened, and words spewed forth. “Thou shalt ne’er escape. Thou wilt all dream my dream.”

Gamran grabbed either side of his head and screamed, falling to his knees. He buried his face in the sand, covering his ears as best he could. Pelgan and Berkon ran to his sides, but he was not struggling, just screaming in pain.

“Gag him,” Nemgas told the knight. Petriz nodded and balled a bit of cloth, shoving it within Chamag’s mouth.

Nemgas crawled over to Gamran’s side. The little thief was breathing heavily, but his voice had died. “Gamran, what hath happened to thee?”

At Pelgan’s quiet urging, Gamran managed to sit up. He was trembling, and his face was white. “Did thou not hear? Did thou not hear their voices calling?”

“I heard what they didst say through Chamag,” Nemgas replied. “What didst thou hear?”

Gamran’s eyes stared across the horizon. “My name. It called my name!”

“In two weeks we’ll reach the headwaters of the Yurdon,” Sir Guthven reported. “It will be another two weeks along the river to Yesulam.”

The bearded knight was riding uneasily in his saddle. He wore his linens, mail shirt and tabard, but in the Summer sun, that alone was almost too much. Sweat streaked down his forehead and drenched his beard. But it was not the heat that made the veteran knight so uncomfortable. It was the man to whom he spoke.

The Knight Templar of the Driheli, Volka wei Stuth, Sir Czestadt of Stuthgansk was riding westward on his horse and staring at the southern horizon with unsettling vacant eyes. A bright pink scar crossed up his right cheek and into his forehead. The flesh alongside the scar was a pasty white. And his voice sent chills down the spine of his men.

“That is very good. I fear it will be too late.”

“Too late?” Guthven asked, glancing back at the rest of their company. The knights of the Driheli were still two complements strong, though there were now two squires without knights to accompany the riders and two priests who could only follow the knights like lost animals struggling to survive.

Sir Czestadt lifted one arm and pointed along the horizon. “Yes, the sword is moving. It is directly south. They will reach Yesulam first.”

“The sword?” Guthven wished that he had not asked.

“The sword that struck me. I can feel it, Sir Guthven. I can feel it still.” Czestadt turned his face on the knight. Guthven reminded himself that he was a knight of the Driheli, and that this man was his Templar. He should not be afraid.

“You can feel it? How is that possible?”

Sir Czestadt’s eyes narrowed. Could he see Guthven’s anxiety? “Before I became a knight of the Driheli, I was a Kankoran. You know of this. You have seen me fight with swords.”

“Aye. I have seen that. We all have. None of us could believe it when we saw you struck.”

Sir Czestadt laughed, but it was hollow. “Kashin used a magical blade. One that I could not control. And I tried. I tried to wrench it free from his grasp. I could feel it, but it denied every attempt I made to command it. And it struck me. It scarred me.”

Guthven let his horse fall back a pace, but still close enough that he could hear the Templar clearly. “I have been struck by other blades before. They have never scarred me. I have always healed those scars. I was once a Blademaster of the Kankoran. No blade can kill me. It is part of the magic and training that a Blademaster endures. We are few, and while the Kankoran wish that I was using my abilities to further their ends, I left their order on good terms. I have never lost my powers, nor have they ever tried to stop me from using them. And in that time, I have never met my equal. I have never met a blade that I could not master.”

Guthven glanced over his shoulder. Sir Czestadt’s squire Hevsky was slowly approaching on horseback. The rest of the complement waited behind, allowing the Templar to lead at a distance.

“I see it in my dreams, you know. A golden blade, jewelled, but that’s just what it looks like. There’s something behind it. Something I cannot describe. It looks like a mountain, but it’s not a mountain. The summit is a long claw that tears at the sky. Those claws are blades too. It’s there, Guthven, there at the back of my mind always.”

Guthven swallowed heavily. “Will it go away when you have killed the traitor?”

“I don’t know,” Czestadt admitted. He looked back at Guthven and his lips drew up into a small smile. “You are a good knight, Sir Guthven. I know that I disturb you. Do not fear. I will not fail this time. Let Hevsky come forward. Inform the men that we will be in Yesulam in four weeks time.”

Guthven nodded, and let his horse fall back as Hevsky came forward on his charger. The youth was strong, and in the weeks since Czestadt’s disfigurement, he had never offered a word of complaint, only gratitude that his knight had not been killed. Hevsky stared up at the pink scar on Czestadt’s face not in fear, but in awe. He had not seen the blade that had cut him, yet the wound had been like none he’d ever seen outside the forges.

“Is there anything I can get for you, Master Templar?” Hevsky asked as his horse came along side the Templar’s.

“Nae, I am well enough.” Czestadt turned his head southward again and he grunted heavily. “They are moving by night.”

Hevsky had been wondering something for a long time now. But he never really felt the courage to ask, certainly not in front of the other knights. With the sound of their hooves covering their voices, he knew it was safe to speak. “If you can feel where they are, why don’t we head for them?”

“They are in the desert,” Czestadt replied. “We do not have the supplies to survive that sort of journey. Besides, I know where they are going.”

“To Yesulam. But aren’t you worried about what they may do there before we arrive?” Hevsky could not imagine what sort of evil the traitor Kashin could do to the Ecclesia before he was stopped.

“With the sword in my dreams?” Czestadt asked, surprise clear in his voice. “I can think of nothing else, my boy. No matter what he does, I will find him and I will bring these dreams to an end.”

Hevsky nodded and sucked on his lip. “I hope that Sir Petriz is okay.”

“As do I.” Czestadt said no more as the Driheli knights rode to the west. Four more weeks to Yesulam. Only four more weeks until they found Kashin.

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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