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Authors: James Erich

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BOOK: Dreams of Fire and Gods 2: Fire
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“A messenger arrived from my father this afternoon,” Sael added. “His troops will be arriving in four days.”

“Good. Those men won’t be afraid to sleep in the woods. And you can bet our men won’t stand for the
’s men showing them up!”

Sael was surprised at the general’s enthusiasm for cracking down on his troops again. Clearly he’d had been too lenient in his handling of the military, afraid of appearing… well, too much like his father. He suspected Meik had allowed it without interference until something like this happened, and Sael was forced to realize coddling his soldiers wouldn’t work.

More embarrassing still, Sael sensed the hand of his father in this. Even ten leagues away, in his capital of Worlen, the
was making certain his son was educated in the ways of administering a city. It rankled Sael, but he had to admit he needed the guidance. His training as a mage had never prepared him for this.

But that thought brought him around to Master Geilin. The old wizard was looking extremely haggard and frailer than Sael had ever seen, apart from when the mage had been severely injured on their journey to Harleh.

“Perhaps we should call it a night,” Sael suggested, setting his half-full glass on the table.

But Geilin shook his head. “Your Lordship, I believe we may soon have a serious matter on our hands concerning the magic users in Harleh.”

“I didn’t think anybody
use magic anymore,” Meik said.

“That’s true,” Geilin replied, “and therein lies our problem. We have twenty-seven
and nine
who are all feeling the physical effects of being cut off from their power—the
have lost the sense they depend upon most—and they’re all demanding that they be allowed to leave Harleh.”

“Let them go!” Meik snorted. “They’re useless without their powers.” Then he hastened to add, as Geilin quirked an eyebrow at him, “Present company excepted, of course. Everyone knows how valuable you are to His Lordship as an advisor.”

Fortunately, Master Geilin was a bit more diplomatic than the general. “But not as a mage,” he said calmly, “and my health is suffering as much as any of the others. More than most, in fact, since it appears the more accustomed one is to using Stronni magic, the more acutely one feels its loss. I confess that it’s quite painful. Some of the elder
have taken to their beds.”

“What do you advise I do?” Sael asked, distressed. “Let them all go?”

“No. At this point, I think it would be unwise to allow too much information to get out of the valley. If we allow the
to leave, then the
will demand they be allowed to leave as well, and that will immediately provide the Stronni with information that could prove very dangerous. I’m far more concerned about the gods learning of our treaty with the Taaweh than I am about the emperor learning of it.”

Sael suspected, as Geilin no doubt did, that the Stronni would immediately attack the valley if they discovered their ancient adversaries had returned. Would the Taaweh be able to repel an attack from the gods themselves? Koreh had had faith in them, enough to sway Sael into forming an alliance with the Taaweh. But that didn’t mean Sael trusted them or had much faith in their magic. Clearly they were immensely powerful, but more powerful than the Stronni? He had a difficult time believing that.

“Can’t the
do anything for the pain?” Sael asked.

Geilin gave him a stern look, as if he hadn’t been paying attention to his lessons. That look used to irritate Sael; now it felt pleasantly nostalgic. “What makes their healing draughts truly effective?”

“Oh,” Sael replied, feeling foolish. He himself had lectured Koreh on this point just a few weeks ago. “The spells they cast on them.”

“Exactly. Without the spell, the draught is nothing more than a mildly effective herbal tincture. And without the light of Druma, the
are unable to cast spells.”

The general had been listening to this conversation with growing concern on his features. Now he leaned forward and asked, “What’s that? Do you seriously mean we’re unable to heal a soldier, if he gets wounded?”

“Yes,” Geilin replied. “We can bandage wounds, of course, and some herbal remedies are efficacious in and of themselves—the peasants have always relied upon their own, with some degree of success—but if war were to come to Harleh, or a serious malady were to take root in the populace, the situation could be dire.”

Meik looked grim as he contemplated this new bit of information.

Sael, too, felt chilled by Geilin’s words. “Ten leagues to the northeast, the skies are clear. Could we perhaps take some of the
who are loyal to us—”

“Are any of them loyal to us, at this point?” Geilin interrupted, rubbing a weary hand across his bald pate. “Would you trust any
not to communicate with the Sisterhood? Or any
not to attack his guards, the moment he had the chance? Or any of them not to simply flee? No, I think it far too risky.”

“But you could go yourself,” Sael insisted.



“There may be an alternative,” said an all-too-familiar voice that caused all three men to leap up from their chairs and whirl around to face the shadows in the dark recesses of the room.

It was Koreh’s voice, Sael knew; the sudden quickening of his pulse was not entirely due to being startled. There was another man standing beside Koreh, indecently clad in nothing but a short skirt that Sael had to assume was an undergarment. But Sael barely noticed him, his eyes fixed on Koreh’s face as the young man stepped forward into the flickering light emanating from the fireplace. He was more beautiful than Sael had remembered, if that was possible, with thick jet-black hair, fair skin, and large, startlingly clear blue eyes. He met Sael’s gaze and smiled affectionately.

looked into the face of the young
and it took all his strength not to rush forward and gather Sael up in his arms. In the soft golden light of the fire, Sael’s fair skin seemed as smooth and lustrous as golden flaxseed and his fair hair was illuminated from behind, as if it burned with a light of his own. Koreh could see his own joy at their reunion reflected in Sael’s green eyes.

But he had been charged with delivering a message, and Koreh stepped forward now to address Sael not as a lover, but as the leader of the humans the Taaweh had sworn to protect. “The Taaweh are willing to teach your
their magic.”

The temple priests were welcome to worship the Taaweh, Koreh knew, but he didn’t mention it. The
did not practice magic, apart from a basic fire spell, and they stood to gain little from switching their allegiance. And unlike the Stronni, who seemed to crave worship, the Taaweh were unconcerned with such matters. Humans could worship them or not, as they saw fit. The Taaweh had aided the humans in subtle ways over the millennium during which they’d been hiding, and they would continue to do so regardless.

Geilin stepped forward, one hand stroking his short beard in thought. It was by now a familiar gesture to Koreh. “And what do they ask in exchange?”

“They don’t ask for anything. But you should be warned that anyone who accepts their offer will be severing their connection to the Stronni.”

“What do you mean?” Geilin asked suspiciously. “‘Severing’ in terms of alliances?”


The Taaweh who had accompanied Koreh now stepped forward and spoke. “Your mages and seers are magically linked to the Stronni. It is the straining of this link that causes you to suffer.”

“And you demand that we sever that link before you will teach us your magic?”

“Learning Taaweh magic will sever the link,
. It is not a matter of demands.”

Geilin was silent for a long moment, apparently contemplating this, until Sael broke the silence. “May we have a day to consider your offer?”

But Geilin took another step forward and straightened himself to his full height. He was not a particularly tall man, but he presented a striking figure when he wasn’t smiling. And he looked extremely serious at the moment. “I do not need to consider it any longer. I accept your offer—for myself alone. Please allow me to try this ‘experiment’ before we ask any more of our people to do so.”

Sael looked distressed at this and quickly said, “No! Let me do it. My connection to the Stronni can’t be as strong as Master Geilin’s, and I have already ostracized myself from them.”

“Your Lordship—” Geilin began, looking irritated, but oddly, the Taaweh interrupted him.

“It cannot be you,
Sael,” the man said. “You must remain linked.”

This brought everyone up short. They all looked at the Taaweh with curiosity, including Koreh, who had heard nothing of any plans involving Sael until this moment.

“Why is that?” Sael asked.
“It is part of your destiny.”

When the Taaweh offered no more on the subject, Geilin said, “Regardless, I insist on being the one to volunteer. I cannot ask any other
to risk himself, and I refuse to subject Harleh to further risk by endangering the

The Taaweh merely offered a gentle smile and replied, “As you wish,
Geilin. We may begin this night.”

Koreh had been unable to take his eyes off Sael during most of this exchange, and he asked his companion, “Am I needed,
? Or may I spend some time with my

“You may.”


Chapter 3


was at the dock before the first light of Atnu appeared on the horizon, but he was far from alone. Fishermen were hurriedly loading nets and other supplies onto the vessels they had moored there, shouting good-natured jokes and insults at one another as they worked, so that the place had the feel of a bazaar to the young assassin. Except that here, nobody was interested in talking to him, which he much preferred.

Most of the fishermen he attempted to arrange passage with showed little interest in taking a passenger across the lake. It was too far, they told him, and they would lose out on an entire morning of fishing near the shore, where the best fish were to be had. It also became clear the fishermen were afraid of the deep lake, for giant creatures that could capsize a boat swam there.

Donegh was surprised to find another man on the docks attempting to arrange passage as well—a priest. He was middle-aged, but had the lean, welldefined physique of a man dedicated to the worship of the gods. Of all the noble classes, only the
were permitted to walk through the city streets nearly naked in emulation of Caednu, the king of the gods. Only a thin gold cloth covered their loins, in keeping with public decency laws. But it was considered shameful and negligent for a
to present a less-than-perfect body to the god.

Still, on this cold, misty morning, the priest had wrapped his body in a simple wool cloak to keep out the chill. Donegh approached him while the latter was engaged in an argument with one of the fishermen.

“Sorry, Father,” the fisherman said, hands outstretched, “I’d like to ’elp you, but I’ve a family to feed. You understand.”

“I’ve offered to pay for my passage.”
“Aye, but I could make twice that wi’ me nets.”
The priest frowned, his patience clearly beginning to fray around the edges. Donegh saw this as an opportunity for both of them. He quickly stepped forward and addressed the fisherman. “I’m looking to get across the lake myself. Perhaps with the two of us, it would be worth your while.”

“How much kin ye pay?” the fisherman asked, eyeing Donegh’s peasant clothing skeptically.

But regardless of his outward appearance, Donegh had brought a fair amount of coin with him to speed his passage from the capital to Harleh. After some haggling and a grudging agreement from the
to contribute a bit more to the pot, Donegh came up with a sum the fisherman would agree to.

Once they were underway, the small fishing vessel gliding almost silently across the lake, cutting through waves that appeared ink-black in the foggy predawn, the priest insisted upon standing with Donegh near the side railing and making his acquaintance.

“You’re a clever young man,” he said jovially. “It was lucky for me you came along.”

Donegh merely nodded, hoping the man would find him dull and wander away. He pulled his cloak tight about him to keep out the slight chill in the early morning air.

But the priest persisted. “They call me Father Gednon.”




“I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Donegh nodded again but continued to look out into the darkness, until the priest broke the silence again by asking, “Do you have family in Mivikh?”

BOOK: Dreams of Fire and Gods 2: Fire
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