Authors: Eric Buffington
The city of Lexingar was a mass of excitement as the tournaments came to a close. Many contestants milled through the streets, waving to throngs of fans, while some disappointed hopefuls packed up their things to return home. Recruiters for the king’s army or smaller barons’ patrols scrambled to get the best men or women signed up to return home with them, while merchants offered large sums for tournament champions to help safely deliver their supplies to distant lands. The enthusiasm overflowed past the city walls to the small tents and carts set up in the outskirts of the city.
At a small cooking fire outside the city, Dune tried to carry on a polite conversation while he kept an inconspicuous eye on a large, green tent. “I actually wasn’t able to be at the jousting,” Dune responded to an out of town spectator.
“It was amazing!” the man replied enthusiastically, throwing his hand up in the air. “First, Mylot blasted his opponent onto the ground, actually denting his armor, then he just vanished. Like he didn’t care at all about winning. Some say he was scared, but that doesn’t make any sense, he was the obvious favorite to win.” The man took a breath and poked at the wood, watching as it burned down to a nice bed of coals. Before Dune could respond, the man continued excitedly, “With Mylot out of the way, Yendys went undefeated every round. I’ve never seen such an upset in all my years.” He emphasized each word with large hand gestures.
“That sounds pretty spectacular,” Dune answered. He didn’t care about the tournament results or even the food he had paid this man to cook; he wanted to know what was happening inside the green seekers’ tent. It had been over two hours since he had magically placed the poison into the large barrels of Han’Or, and there had still been no reaction. He didn’t know how often Mordyar’s stone seekers needed to drink the elixir to hold back the loss of sight and sanity that came with being a seeker, but he knew many of the seekers were running out.
Dune turned to his blacksmith friend and couldn’t help but smile. Trae’s face was still magically deformed, so he had a large nose bent awkwardly to the side and some lumpy spots on his cheeks. While the disguise had provided protection, Dune knew he didn’t need to make his friend so ugly. But where was the fun in that? Trae nodded his head to the side and returned Dune’s attention to the green tent.
A small handful of seekers were walking from the tent with their heads bowed to the ground and their shoulders slumped. Their depressed posture spoke volumes and Dune whispered, “Melna did say she would turn some away without Han’Or.”
Trae nodded. “True, but I would think they’d be a little more…”
Before he could finish the thought, a sword slashed through the side of the tent and a man was thrown out onto the ground.
“I was faithful! How can this happen? I’ve served for twenty years!” the man bellowed.
Trae moved to stand up, but Dune placed a hand on his arm. As they watched, the man drew his sword and dove back into the tent while shouting, “Give me what is mine!” Through the hole that was cut in the tent, Dune saw the man cut down and he dropped to the ground.
The man preparing their food got their attention and pointed past them toward the city walls. “City guards will be coming soon. They’re always on high alert around tournament time. They have to be with this many people all coming here to try to win a fight,” he shrugged his shoulders and laughed a little.
Trae had a concerned look on his face as he rested on his heels, ready to pop up at a moment’s notice. “I think I’m going to go see if I can help.” He stood up, but the man cautioned him.
“If you get caught in a fight, it’s a week in the dungeon before they will even release you to tell your side of things. It’s best to keep your distance. Besides, the fire is just about ready. We’ll be eating in no time.” He reached into a crate and brought out some food.
Through the cut opening in the side of the tent, Dune saw Melna rushing about now, handing out the poisoned Han’Or. She filled up the bottles that hung from the seekers’ belts. She also must have known that they would have the local guards coming. After giving it to all the gathered seekers, she held her own bottle up in the air. Dune held his breath as he watched her slowly bring the bottle to her mouth. The other seekers followed her lead and began to drink the poisoned liquid. As she was about to tilt the bottle back, she leaned her head to the side and made eye contact with Dune before he could avert his gaze. It only took a small moment for recognition to set in and she began to scream.
“Put them down! Don’t drink that!”
Dune stood up and began running toward the tent. Most of the seekers would be dead momentarily and he wasn’t going to let Melna escape. Trae rushed up next to him with his mace in one hand and shield in the other. “What’s the plan?”
While they were still several yards from the tent, Dune saw that some of the seekers were falling to the ground, grasping at their throats. The poison was working, but there were some seekers who hadn’t drunk it yet, and so were not affected by it. When he was about to reach the tent, a huge explosion erupted, blasting him onto his back. His ears were filled with a deafening ringing, and his world began to tilt back and forth.
While he was still struggling to get up, Trae came to his side and was mouthing something that Dune could not hear. He channeled his magic and healed his ears, then reached out and did the same for his friend. Fortunately, the magically enchanted armor Trae wore, and his own magic robe, had kept them safe from any further injury.
“Are you all right?” Trae was asking as he helped Dune to his feet.
Dune nodded and groaned a little as he stood up. “I’ll live.” The explosion had definitely been caused by magic, although Dune could not tell whether it was some kind of enchanted device that had caused it, or whether Melna’s daughter Genea had been there to set off the blast herself with her magic.
“Good. Let’s get in there, we have to get Melna and Genea!” Dune picked up his staff and they moved cautiously forward to the small crater in the ground and the smoldering remnants of the green tent. As they approached, some surviving seekers who had been outside the tent, or thrown out from the explosion, limped past on either side of them, or dashed out into the field in the opposite direction, trying to get away from the scene, eager to avoid drawing attention.
Dune held his staff in front of himself as he searched the area for any signs of life. The seekers who remained had been killed by the blast, or perhaps they had died of poisoning before the explosion hit. Either way, most of the seekers were destroyed, the area was burned, and Melna and Genea were both gone.
“Where did she go?” Trae asked as he stepped onto the scorched ground behind the magician.
“I have no idea, but I bet if we find the right seeker, they’ll send us in the direction we should go.”
Under the stadium in Lexingar, in the secret training ground for the King’s Guard, Mylot sat on a hard, wooden bench waiting for directions. Since he had given up his place as a sure winner in the jousting competition, he thought he would immediately be well received as a member of the King’s Guard, but instead he was largely being ignored. Sir Theodore had left to do more recruiting, and Captain Conrad, the obnoxious woman who was left to help him, had sent him into the horse stalls to clean up, then left without saying another word. Now he was sitting alone in the dark, underground training facility with no idea what to do.
Why did I leave my manor, and the prestige of being the jousting champion for this?
As he sat brooding, a young man came running into the facility. “We need some help! There are seekers just outside the city.”
Mylot jumped up from the bench and ran for his horse, Gapol. He began throwing on his armor as other members of the King’s Guard quickly mounted and dashed out into the night. When he was dressed in his armor, he leapt up onto his horse and pulled the reins about to follow the group of soldiers when he heard a familiar voice.
“Hold on, little mouse,” Captain Conrad said. “You haven’t even started your training, and I can’t have someone as
as you getting killed on his first day.” The way she said ‘important’ was a clear mockery of his rank as the nephew of the king.
“I know how to use a sword; I can help,” he objected, hoping that this would be the first of many adventures with the King’s Guard.
“Not today,” she replied. Then she added as if it needed to be said, “That is an order.” Without another word, she left.
He watched as two dozen specially trained soldiers went out into the field to catch some stone seekers. As a child he had heard about some magic stones and a group of evil people actively searching for them who worked for Mordyar, but he didn’t know much about stone seekers, and actually had begun to think they were a myth. But it seemed that they were real, and capturing them was something that was important enough for the King’s Guard to get involved in.
Mylot stood still as the other soldiers left him alone in the stall. He removed his helmet, balled up a fist and pounded it through the hard wood wall of the stall as he screamed. It was so frustrating to sit out of this when there was finally something exciting to do. He had been taught with one of the best trainers in Denall. He knew how to fight.
They asked me to join with them, not the other way around!
Mylot paced back and forth in front of his horse, while still in his armor. If he had chosen to not go with Sir Theodore, he might be out there finding the seekers, he reasoned. This choice was actually holding him back. With that thought, he got up into the saddle and kicked Gapol out of the stadium horse stalls and into the night. When he got out into the streets he found that the soldiers who left before him had cleared a path in the streets, and he galloped down the main street out the southern gate of the city. When he got past the city wall it seemed the entire field was in mass hysteria. There was a large tent that had been blown up and was now a smoldering heap, with bodies all around it. Some people were running away from the tent, while others seemed to be approaching it to help put out what was left of the fire.
Mylot looked out and saw that a small patrol of city guards had set up a perimeter around the large tent, and they were directing people to stay away. The rest were following the King’s Guard chasing down people who seemed to be fleeing from the fire in groups.
Why were groups of six or seven people chasing down a single person?
It seemed like overkill. Mylot ducked his head down as he saw Captain Conrad pass by chasing after a man who looked like he was in his thirties. When he lifted his head up again, he saw a lone person sneaking away from the tent toward the tree line. She ran in a crouched position and she ducked behind rocks in the field as if trying to avoid being seen. This was his chance to capture a prisoner and prove his worth to Captain Conrad.
He kicked Gapol into action, chasing down the woman. When he came close to her, he called out, “Hey, you there, stop!”
The woman turned and looked over her shoulder. When she saw him she drew her sword and stood ready. Beneath his helmet he scrunched his eyebrows together in confusion. He was mounted and in full armor, and this woman who was probably in her fifties was drawing her sword to challenge him.
Mylot pulled on the reins and stopped his horse. He was suddenly unsure how to proceed in this situation. He had never approached a potential criminal before, and now he felt lacking in authority to continue as aggressively as he had begun.
“Excuse me ma’am,” he began stupidly, but before he could ask for her name, or what she was doing, she charged forward. This was not at all how he had expected the situation to play out. Shaking himself from his shock, and realizing he would need to take some action to respond to the threat, he jumped to the ground and drew his longsword and shield, ready to confront the woman.
As she closed the distance on Mylot and swung her sword in a downward strike, he stood in a ready position and raised his sword to intercept, feeling that it would be easy to disarm this older woman. As their swords clashed, Mylot was blasted backward three yards, and he landed flat on his back. As he skidded to a halt, he barely had time to recover before the woman was already attacking again.
He dodged to the side as she swung down at him. Her sword struck the ground next to him and the earth shook, making a small crater. Mylot rolled away and got onto his feet just as she swung at his middle. He braced himself in a solid stance and held his sword in place anticipating another magically enhanced strike, but even his perfect footwork, and enhanced level five strength couldn’t compete with the enchanted sword. Mylot was thrown into the air, and landed hard on his back.
Mylot shook his head and quickly got back on his feet and stood facing the woman.
“You are very strong,” she remarked, “and very foolish. People who want to live usually give up and run away after a single beating.”
“I guess I’m a little stubborn,” Mylot replied. He shifted his sword so he held it in two hands. She approached without any concern and swung again at his middle. Instead of bracing for impact as he had on the previous attacks, Mylot dove forward. The dodge brought him under the swing of the deadly sword and he landed on the ground right in front of the woman. He grabbed her legs and threw her to the ground.
Mylot stood tall above her and stepped onto her sword pinning it to the ground while still held in her grasp. “You are under arrest,” he said proudly.
“Really?” she twisted her hand a fraction and the sword blasted Mylot in the bottom of his foot throwing him up into the air. As he was falling back down, the woman swung out at him again, and although Mylot held his sword in a double handed reinforced block, the woman’s weapon struck his sword, throwing him head over heels flying back into the field, and it snapped the sword in half.
With a groan, Mylot painstakingly pushed himself up to one knee, and looked down at what was left of his sword. The woman advanced on him, and he realized for the first time, that he was in serious danger. This was the first time the outcome of a fight actually mattered. He tried to stand up, but his legs buckled under him. He threw the handle of his sword at the woman but she deflected it easily and continued advancing on him. Mylot turned around and half stumbled, half crawled away. He couldn’t believe this was how he was going to die, killed by an old woman before he even had a single training session with the King’s Guard. He looked over his shoulder and saw the woman closing in on him. She raised her sword above her head, and as she dropped it down at him, he fell to his back and held his hands defensively up. The sword struck the air in front of him, then stopped.
Mylot looked at the blade that was inches away from cutting into his arms. Then he looked past to see the woman. She was now ignoring Mylot and frantically looking back and forth over her shoulders. “How did you do that?” she demanded of a pair of men who approached.
One of the men, who was dressed in armor and carrying a mace and shield answered, “You have no power over us. If you answer some questions, we might let you live.”
“Let me live?” she spat. She picked up her sword and swung it at the man. He held up his shield to stop her attack, Mylot tried to call out a warning that the sword was magic, but as he spoke, the sword and shield met in a blast that sent a rush of wind out in all directions. The man remained standing, and the woman’s sword flew backward out of her hand leaving her lying on the ground.
Mylot tried to sit up, but as he did he pushed against an invisible barrier. He moved his hands along the edges and found that he was inside a cage that covered him on all sides. He turned on his side and watched the two men who now stood over the woman.
One of the two men turned and looked at Mylot. “You don’t need to be part of this conversation,” he said, then he waved his hand and Mylot’s world went silent. He could see them questioning the woman but he didn’t know what they were saying. He banged his hand against the barrier that trapped him in, but it was not moving.
Who are those two? What are they saying? How did that woman beat me?
After a short time the man with the armor tied the woman’s hands and feet together, picked her up and deposited her in a heap right next to Mylot. The man who had an astonishingly large nose waved in a friendly way, then he joined his companion as they walked back to the city.
As the men moved into the distance the ground under Mylot began moving and he turned to see some horses approaching. Captain Conrad pulled her horse to a stop in front of Mylot. She looked furious and as she opened her mouth to speak, he was disappointed to find that the magic barrier vanished.
“What are you doing?” She demanded.
Mylot rolled over and pointed at the woman to his side. “I saw her sneaking to the woods, I came to help.”
“Get off the ground, and go back to the barracks. We’ll decide what to do with you later.” She turned her horse around and charged after another seeker who was getting close to the woods. Mylot noticed that she had two other seekers tied up on horses behind her. Despite complete humiliation, he found himself again admiring her skill. There was definitely something he could learn from her expertise.
In the stables he removed his own armor, brushed down Gapol and saw that he had food, then he walked slowly down the stone corridor to sit on a hard wood bench. As he waited for the other seekers to return, he began writing a note.
I have failed in almost every way possible. You trained me well, and I left the tournament early. I am sorry. I will do everything I can to follow in my father’s footsteps, but I might not even be trained for the King’s Guard, and if I am kicked out of this training, I will come home in complete humiliation.
Whatever does happen, please continue with our plan to find my half-sister Maggie. I need to fulfill my father’s dying wish to get the chest to her. If I fail in everything else, I will not fail in that. When you get home tell mother that I will be writing her soon.
Mylot looked down at his note and all he saw was weakness. Excuses for failing. He was about to crumple it up when it was ripped from his hands.
“What’s this, little mouse?” Captain Conrad asked as she passed by him. She looked down at the note for a brief second, then back to Mylot.
“It’s nothing,” he responded as he extended his hand for her to return the note.
She held it for a moment. “Hmmm.” She stood as if trying to figure out what to do next, then she placed the note back in his hand. “Come with me.”
She walked down the hall a short distance then she pushed open an oak door. Mylot followed her into the small room that had a sturdy but plain bed, a desk and an old ladder backed chair.
“What is this?” he asked.
“Your quarters,” she said pointing around the space that was smaller than any bedroom he had ever seen. It was smaller than the servants’ quarters in their estate. But despite the size and humble furnishings, being shown to his quarters meant something much more important.
“So I’m staying?” he asked.
Captain Conrad nodded her head. “But this little act of stupidity tonight has pushed back your training substantially.”
“Pushed back my training? What do you mean?” he questioned as he set down his pack on the desk next to the note.
“For the next month you’ll be studying and you’ll be on cleaning duty.”
“Studying?” Mylot repeated with a quizzical look. “What will I need to study?”
The captain pushed past him to stand in the doorway, “Being part of the King’s Guard is not just being a body guard for the king. We do many other things that cannot be completed by anyone else. We chase down seekers, as you saw tonight. We investigate threats to our nation, we lead forces into battle, we go under cover, and we train soldiers to support the lesser barons. Wherever there is a need, we are sent in. We are trained to be the best, so the king can send in one or two people and the problem will be solved. To do that we need to be strong,” she patted his shoulder to emphasize his gift, “but we also need to be fast, and brave and smart. Now go muck out the stalls, and when you get back I’ll have some reading material here waiting for you.”