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CHAPTER TWENTY TWO

NYKAR




    Brydon made it back to the tavern without being grabbed or accosted, for which he breathed a sigh of relief.  Toryn and the women returned a short time later.  He greeted them with a smile as they sat at his table.

    “So you were going to burn down the barracks for me?” he asked and grinned.  “I thank you.  It might have been necessary.”

    Shevyn flushed slightly and looked away.  Alyn snorted and said, “I thought it was a stupid idea.  Toryn thought of it.”

    Toryn rolled his eyes.  “What happened in there?”

    Brydon brought them up to date, including his encounter with the strange man in the mask who had questioned him.  They offered theories, but came to no better conclusions than Brydon regarding the man’s identity.

     “Apparently, Amerryn thinks the object we seek is useless to anyone.  For all we know, it could be true.  I’d rather not take the chance by letting Berikon get his hands on it.”  Not to mention that it would be bloody difficult to get the item from any Silveran prince.

    “What do we do now?” Toryn asked.  “Where did you get those clothes?”

    “We continue as we were.  I got the clothes from the Prince.”

    “I hope you plan to change.  You look about as inconspicuous as a purple horse.”

    “Thanks,” Brydon said dryly.

    “You’re welcome.  Anyway, while you were chatting with His Highness, I found a man who knows where the caravan is,” Toryn went on.  “He parted with the information for a minimal fee.”

    “Six glasses of ale,” Alyn said.

    “Where is the caravan?”

    “On its way south.”

    “South?  What principality is south?  Do any of you know?”  He was not at all familiar with Silver and found himself missing Jace with his limitless knowledge.

    Toryn shook his head.  “I never expected to be in Silver, Falaran.”  Alyn shrugged, but Shevyn grabbed Brydon’s hand.  It was obvious she wanted to say something, but did not quite know how.  She pantomimed writing.  Brydon asked the tavern keeper for writing materials, which were grudgingly supplied at the cost of a few silver coins.  He took them to Shevyn, but instead of writing, she drew a map.

    Vineyard quickly took shape, followed by Obelisk, Sar-Tela, and then a few of the other Silveran principalities.  She drew a line from Shimmer to indicate places the caravan could be headed.

    “Either Darkynhold or Saavyn,” Toryn noted.  “Which is more likely?”

    Shevyn sighed and shrugged.

    “South it is.” Toryn said.  Brydon was forced to pay for a room for the night so that he could divest himself of Amerryn’s clothing gift.

ooOOoo

    Toryn reflected that at least the journey so far had not been boring.  There had been slavers, dungeons, men with strange powers, venomous Akarskans—he glanced at Alyn—well, it was better than herding cattle in Redol, at any rate.  They had been riding for three days, trying to figure out which way the caravan headed.  There was no way to trail it.  To the local peasants, all caravans looked the same.  Finally, they reached the place where the road forked.  Redwing pulled out the map Shevyn had drawn, studied it, and looked at her.

    “The Black City is closer than Teel, right?”

    She nodded.

    “We will go to the Black City in Darkynhold, then.  We are supposed to meet Jace there, anyway.  Maybe we will get lucky.”

    Two days later they crossed the border into Darkynhold.  They camped that night in a tree-filled valley.  The weather was warm with an occasional cool breeze.  They had run across a nesting flock of geese that afternoon and it had only taken a few of Redwing’s arrows to provide them with dinner.  Toryn had flaunted his skill and roasted them to perfection; there were no leftovers.

    The girls fell asleep quickly and Toryn clung to wakefulness by the thin thread of mischievousness.  Redwing was too preoccupied to notice and Toryn decided that he had been far too nice to the Falaran of late.

    “Brydon?” he asked.

    “Hmmm?”  Redwing looked at the stars, his mind obviously far away.  He was probably dreaming about that annoying witch, Sellaris.  Or Shevyn, who constantly made doe eyes at the Falaran.  It had to be the aura of untouchable goodness about Redwing that drew women to him like bees to honey.

    “Have you ever seen a green insect about the size of a gold coin, with hairy white legs and antennae?”

    Redwing’s brow creased absently.  “Mmmm.  Sounds like a Voran leaf bug.”

    “Are they poisonous?” Toryn asked casually, as if half asleep.

    “Very.  They are deadly.  Why?”  Redwing’s eyes closed.

    “No reason, except you have one on your shoulder.  It’s eyeing your neck quite hungrily.”

    “Oh.”  Redwing’s tone was noncommittal and then his eyes snapped open.  He flew into motion, swatting his shoulder with his left hand and leaping into the air while pulling out his dagger.  He stood like cornered prey for a moment, eyes wild and searching for the poisonous creature before Toryn’s guffaws caused him to swing around with an icy glare.

    “There was no Voran leaf bug, was there, Toryn?”

    Toryn shook his head.  His chuckles were nearly silent, but threatened to explode his lungs.

    “There was nothing at all, was there?”  Redwing’s voice was soft, but Toryn was not deceived.  He climbed to his feet with a laugh.

    “I suppose not!”  He ran.  Redwing raced after him with a growl.  Toryn kept laughing as he led the Falaran through the tall deciduous trees.  Dead leaves from the previous fall crunched under their feet.  Just as Redwing was about to seize him, Toryn spun around, catching the Falaran by surprise.  Toryn tugged out his jade-hilted sword and Redwing dove aside, barely avoiding the blade as it flashed in the darkness.  Toryn laughed again.

    Redwing turned and parried quickly, then attacked.  Toryn beat the blows back easily and carried out a lightning swift attack that ended with Redwing whacked on the behind by the flat of Toryn’s blade.  Redwing roared and countered with a flaming maneuver that surprised Toryn for a moment, but not long enough for Redwing to slip past his guard.  Toryn backed up slowly, keeping Redwing’s sword away with skillful parries.  Their blades clashed noisily in the air.

    “I hope you’re ready for the real attack,” Redwing said, although he panted through his smile.

    “Bring it on!” Toryn crowed.  The steel turned into two silver blurs, ringing together so quickly that the sound nearly melted into one tune.  It continued until both combatants were drenched with sweat.  Toryn’s arms ached, but he was not quite sure how to stop.  Toryn was still debating when Redwing suddenly leaped backward; his flew from his grip with the force of Toryn’s final strike.  The sword careened off a tree with a metallic ring and Toryn lowered his sword, looking at Redwing in surprise.

    “Did you plan that?” he asked, breathing hard.

    Redwing shook his head, panting.  “No, but we had to stop somehow—and now.  Someone is coming.”

    “How do you know?” Toryn asked.  “I thought you had to be concentrating.”

    “I was, partly,” Redwing said.

    “You can fight like that when you’re only partly concentrating?” Toryn asked in amazement.  If so, the Falaran was far better with a blade than Toryn had thought.

    “No, you could easily have had me.  I’ve never seen anyone with your skill.”

     Toryn looked at him suspiciously.  “You’re joking, right?  I’ve always assumed you to be as good with a sword as you are with a bow.  All that Knight-Priest training and everything.”

    “Not even close.  I might be good with a bow, but with a sword you’re the best I’ve ever seen.  Not that your ego needs any fodder, but Reed nearly bested me and you drove him away without half trying.”  He paused.  “They are nearly here.  We should get back to camp.”

    Toryn nodded and they trotted back to the sleeping women.

ooOOoo
    
    Brydon woke Alyn and Shevyn easily.  They quickly made up their blankets to imitate sleeping bodies and faded into the foliage to await the newcomers.  Three men soon came into view, entering the encampment as silently as thieves while two others fanned out.  Brydon was uncomfortably reminded of the night he had first met Toryn, but he shook the image out of his mind.  He signaled to Alyn and Shevyn to deal with the two men nearest the girls and stepped into the clearing just as the lead man prodded the blankets with a sword tip.

    “Looking for us?” Brydon asked.  He leveled an arrow at the man, who looked up with no surprise.

    “We come in relative peace, Falaran,” the man said.  He had dark hair, made darker by the night, and a mustache covered his upper lip.  He held his hands out to his sides in a gesture of submission.

    “Peace is not relative and seldom brought in the dead of night,” Brydon countered.

    “True,” the man admitted and motioned to his cohorts to sheathe their weapons and draw back.

    “You may call the other two,” Brydon suggested.  The man stared hard at him for a moment and then called to his men.  It probably saved their lives.  Alyn had been in a bloodthirsty mood lately, probably because of Toryn’s constantly irritating presence.

    The others approached the light of the small campfire and Toryn also stepped forward.  He threw another log on the fire to give them a better view of the men.

    “I am here on business,” the leader said.  He was of medium build and seemed to be the type of man that had been born a soldier.  Brydon could see it in the way he moved and in the wary way his dark eyes seemed to miss nothing as they flicked from place to place.

    “State it,” Brydon ordered.

    “We are the Border Guard of Darkynhold.  We need to know what brings you here,” he said.

    Brydon shrugged.  “We are searching for a caravan.”

    “A caravan?” the man looked at him in puzzlement.  “Why?”

    Before Brydon could reply, Toryn answered, “They have stolen something that belongs to us and we want it back.”

    “Who are they, these thieves?”

     “Men dressed in the livery of Ven-Kerrick,” Toryn replied. “Have you seen them?”

    “I can definitely say that I have not seen anyone from Ven Kerrick in a long, long while,” the man replied.  “Why would they steal from you?”

    “Would they have passed your guard to reach Darkynhold?” Brydon asked, ignoring the man’s question.

    “Not necessarily,” the man said.  “We only happened upon you because we saw you earlier today.  If we patrolled farther north when they passed, we may have missed them.  What were they carrying?”

    “Melons.”

    “The market for melons is better in Saavyn.  Darkynhold normally receives produce from Regal or the outer principalities.”

    Brydon nodded, but could not mention that the men from Ven-Kerrick were probably not interested in selling fruit.  But where would they take the Gauntlet?

    “If you like, we will escort you to the Black City and help you look for this caravan,” the man suggested.  There was something odd about him that Brydon could not quite place.

    He shook his head.  “No, that will not be necessary, thank you.”

    The man shrugged.  “As long as there will be no bloodshed.  Prince Rakyn likes Darkynhold to be kept peaceful and orderly.”

    “I can appreciate that,” Brydon replied.  “There will be none, if I can help it.”

    The man nodded.  “Fine.  Do you mind if we camp here tonight and use your fire?”

    Brydon and Toryn looked at each other warily, but it would seem strange to refuse the request.

    “Not at all.”

    “Thank you.  Would you happen to have some tea?  It has been a long day and tea helps the muscles relax.”  The man stretched his back in the manner of exhausted men everywhere, and then ran a hand through his brown hair.  His grin was lopsided and reminded him somewhat of Toryn’s.

    Brydon went to his pack and dug out some of Verana’s favorite spiced tea.  He gave it to the guard captain, who immediately sat at the fire and began to prepare tea.

    Toryn signaled to Brydon and went to check on the horses and the girls.

    “You can bring your other two men in from the dark,” the man said without looking up and Brydon smiled.

    “They are not as trusting as I am.  I think they will stay out there.”

    “You don’t seem to be that trusting, friend.”  His gaze was sharp and Brydon was reminded of the Knight-Priest that had trained him in Eaglecrest.  The fellow had been sober and almost devoid of humor—the quintessential soldier.  There was something almost familiar about him and Brydon was certain it was because of his mannerisms.  Certainly his facial features evoked no recognition.

    Brydon shrugged.  “These are troubled times.  We have encountered bandits before.”

    “Here?” the man asked.  Brydon shook his head.

    “In Penkangum.”

    “You were in Penkangum?”

    Brydon laughed at the foolish question.  “How do you think I got here from Falara?  Crossed the Abyss?”

     The man shrugged, smiling.  “I had hoped it could be done.”

    “I will not be the one to try it,” Brydon replied.  The rest of his men sprawled here and there, chewing on strips of jerked meat and passing around a skin of wine or possibly water.

    The guard captain handed Brydon a cup of the steaming tea once it had brewed.  Brydon accepted it and took a sip.  The beverage was a bit stronger than he liked it, but it did taste good after the long day.  He felt exhausted and sore after the sword battle with Toryn, who returned at the thought and crouched next to them.  He accepted the cup Brydon offered and took a long drink.

    “The others?” Brydon asked.

    “They have decided to stay with the horses.  They do not like strangers,” Toryn explained.  The man merely nodded and poured more tea.  The three of them sat silently and drank for a time, feeling the pungent herbs soothing tired muscles.

    “I don’t think I ever tasted tea like this,” the man said, motioning to his cup.  “Where did you get it?”

    “From a friend of mine in Terris,” Brydon explained tiredly.  “By the way, what is your name?”

    The man smiled.  “I am Nykar.  And you?”

    “I am Brydon Redwing.  This is Toryn.”  

    Nykar nodded at Toryn and yawned widely.  Brydon yawned, also, and a moment later Toryn followed suit.  They all laughed and Brydon stretched out on the ground.

    “I need to rest my head for a moment,” he murmured.  He watched the fire until the flames swam into a red-orange blur and then he recalled nothing more.


    Brydon woke with a horrible headache and a jolting sensation that would not stop.  He raised his head and opened his eyes to see the scenery bobbing up and down like a ship in a bad storm.  He snapped his eyes shut and groaned.  Instantly, the motion ceased.

    “Greeting, Falaran,” Nykar said.  Brydon opened his eyes again and saw Darkling’s hooves quite clearly.  He realized he had been thrown facedown over his saddle and tied there.  He felt his ropes loosening.

    “Sorry for the discomfort.  I didn’t want you to slide off on our little ride.”

    “What happened?” Brydon asked.  He slipped off of Darkling and gripped his pounding head in both hands.  His legs threatened to give out on him, so he grabbed at his saddle with one hand.  He looked at Nykar through half closed eyes.  “Where are we?”

    Nykar shrugged.  “I had to drug you.  Those are feisty womenfolk you have.  After you and the other one collapsed, they came tearing out of the bushes like she-cats.”

    Brydon’s eyes opened dangerously.  “What did you do to them?” he gritted.  He gazed around, but saw no one except Nykar.

    “Nothing.  We disarmed them, even though the blond girl gravely injured three of the men with that whip of hers.  Against the five of us, they did not have much of a chance.  We tied them up and left them.  Your friend should wake up in time to set them free.”

    “Where are your men?” Brydon asked.

    “The border guard?  Back at their post.”

    “You speak as if you are not one of them.”

    “How perceptive.  You don’t recognize me?  I had thought better of you.”  He took a corner of his cloak and draped it over his features.

    “The man in the mask!” Brydon exclaimed.  No wonder he had seemed familiar!  Brydon nearly swore aloud at his stupidity in not realizing it sooner.  “Who are you?”

    “You will find out soon enough.  I’m taking you to the Black City.”

    Brydon frowned.  “What will the border guard do to my companions if Alyn injured them?” he asked, worried.

    “Nothing.”

    “Nothing?  Why not?”

    “Because I ordered them not to.”  There was a strange note of steel in Nykar’s voice.

    “You have that authority?” Brydon asked.  There was more to this strange man than met the eye.

    “If I so choose.  Now get back on the horse and let’s be off.”

    “What if I refuse?” Brydon snapped belligerently.

    Nykar shrugged.  “Then, I clout you on the head with the flat of my blade and tie you on again.  As you may have noticed, you are quite unarmed.”

    Brydon had noticed.  He glared at Nykar and mounted Darkling.  “What will we do in the Black City?” he asked.

    “We are going to speak to someone,” Nykar said mildly.  He was a nondescript sort of man, the type you would see a thousand times in the city or in the peasant fields.  Brown hair, brown eyes, plain face, and no remarkable features.

    “You seem very interested in the alleged caravan from Ven Kerrick,” Nykar said as they traveled.  “Why?”

    “You seem very interested in my interests,” Brydon returned dryly.  “Why?”

    “We seem to be at a stalemate again.  Very well, we will ride in silence.”  Nykar smiled.  He ignored Brydon and hummed to himself all the way to the city.  Brydon thought of spinning Darkling around and racing back to Toryn and the others, but he was curious to discover just what it was that Nykar wanted.  If he escaped, the brown-haired man would likely hunt him down again—Nykar seemed the type who would do it.

    They reached the Black City shortly after dark.  Brydon mentally urged Toryn to hurry, even though he seemed to be out of range—or still unconscious.  Brydon’s curiosity did not extend so far that he would risk losing the others.  If he could not reach Toryn mentally, the Redolian would likely be able to track their course without much trouble.  He was well-familiar with Darkling’s hoof print pattern.

    The Black City appeared to be just that but, of course, it was night when they arrived.

    “Why is it called the Black City?” Brydon asked to get Nykar to stop his infernal humming.  He seemed to know only two lines of a single song and was content to hum them over and over.  The horses’ hooves rang on the cobbled stone of the streets and the gurgle of a swift river could be heard nearby.

    “Onyx mines,” Nykar said shortly.  “Darkynhold has little agriculture, but plenty of gems and precious metals.  Enough to hold its own with the other principalities for wealth.”

    “I don’t understand why the princes of Silver fight,” Brydon said.  “In Falara there is one king and we all obey him.”

    “There is only one king in Silver, also, but thirteen rulers and we obey the one that commands us most closely.  The brothers fight because that’s what brothers do, especially if they aren’t full brothers.”

    “They are not full brothers?”

    Nykar snorted.  “With twelve kids?  Well, it’s possible, but not in this case.  Naryn, the king, has had a number of wives and a number of mistresses.  His first wife had three sons:  Keev, Larec, and Merator.  She died and the next year Byoon was born; he was the son of Naryn’s favorite mistress, Shalleel.  He married again and his new wife presented him with Rakyn, who rules Darkynhold, and then Shalleel produced S’Lor.  The king’s new wife wasn’t about to be outdone by any mistress, so she had two more sons, Reboryx and Eryn.  She died after Eryn was born.  Too much effort, I suppose, especially since she had to raise her own children in addition to the first three.  She was not a particularly strong woman.  At any rate, Shalleel was still fertile and had three more boys.  The first two are twins, even though they don’t look alike.  Yavarrin and Verryn.  They don’t get along too well, either.  The next one was Berikon.  After that, the King married again and three years later the last prince, Amerryn, was born.  That’s the history of the princes of Silver.”

    “If Shalleel gave the King so many sons, why didn’t he marry her?  He stayed with her for so long...”

    Nykar snorted.  “He would have and things probably would have been better off, except that Shalleel was already married.  She was a sneaky wench, married to a wealthy merchant who was unaware of her liaisons with the King and was thrilled with all his boys, incorrectly assuming that they were his.  When the merchant finally died, Shalleel packed up and moved in with the King, bringing all her illegitimate children with her.  Amerryn’s mother was so outraged that she took Amerryn and moved away to Bodor to live.  She eventually died there.  When he grew up, Amerryn came back to live with his father, the King.  At that time, Naryn finally married his mistress, Shalleel.  She turned into a complete shrew shortly thereafter and it’s widely believed that he had her poisoned.”

    “What?  Shalleel is dead?”  Brydon was aghast.

    “As a coffin nail.  Needless to say, there is bad blood in the whole family.  The illegitimate sons were made legitimate when Nykar married Shalleel, but still, some of them might actually be the merchant’s sons.  Perhaps, all.  Who knows?  Anyway, those who believe they are the true sons of the King are even more enraged than the others about the whole business.  Things started to get out of hand with all of them living in the same city.  Naryn finally divided up the kingdom to get the boys out his hair and start them fighting with each other instead of him.  Pretty wise man, even if his is a bit old and senile now.”

    “Your prince is Rakyn, correct?  How does he fit into this puzzle?  Is he looking for more power or more land?”

    Nykar shrugged.  “Who knows?  Rakyn keeps his own council.”

    The streets were nearly deserted as they neared the palace wall, but a few citizens and merchants still roamed about.  Brydon caught a glimpse of dark red hair and halted Darkling in surprise.

    “Sellaris!” he breathed just as the girl disappeared around a far corner.  Without thinking, he turned Darkling and raced down the cobbled street.  Nykar bellowed for him to halt, but memories of Sellaris flooded Brydon’s mind, stopping rational thought.

    He galloped to the corner and around; there was no one in sight.  He quested with his mind and found a jumble of personalities; none of them were hers.  It was likely she shielded her thoughts.

    Hearing Nykar behind him, Brydon touched heels to Darkling and started off again.  He decided he was not all that curious after all, about meeting the person Nykar had brought him to see.  If he turned out to be a friend of Reed’s, Brydon would not be breathing for long.  He raced down one twisted street after another until the sound of pursuit finally faded.  He eventually reached the gates of the city, purely by accident, and paused.  He slipped off of Darkling and shouldered his saddlebags before sending the horse through the gates with a mental command.  The guards shouted in surprise, but Darkling was already past them and galloping down the road.

    Brydon watched until his steed disappeared and then he pulled a hooded cloak from his saddlebags.  He donned it and looked for a place to hide.  An alleyway beckoned and he followed it until he came to steps leading downward beneath an almost indecipherable sign that read “The Bloody Stump.” Obviously one of the better taverns of the area.

    Brydon entered and paused for a moment.  It had been quite dark outside, but the interior was even darker, lit by only a few small candles.

    Conversation was so muted as to be almost nonexistent and Brydon felt many pairs of eyes upon him as he made his way to the bar.  He ordered dark ale and carried it to a small table to an inky black area of the tavern.  All the corner tables were taken.

    He sipped the stuff slowly, mostly because it tasted  both stronger and fouler than anything he had ever had before.  He kept his cloak pulled closely about him and wished he had his sword.  This was not the sort of place to be unarmed.  Now that he had escaped Nykar, he pondered his options.  He wanted to find Sellaris—if indeed it had been her—and discover her purpose in the Black City.  He had expected her to be in Ven-Kerrick with Reed, if anywhere.  Then again, she had seemed to be innocent of Reed’s doings there.  He hoped it was so.

      He sighed and glared morosely at the dark liquid in his goblet.  He should probably leave the Black City and find Toryn, lest he and the girls ride unwittingly into the Black City, where Nykar would probably snatch them up.  The man obviously knew Brydon well enough to suspect that he would never leave his friends in the hands of unknown enemies.

    He sat for a while longer and studied the people who came and went, giving Nykar a chance to move his search farther away, until a shock of recognition shivered through him.  Sellaris’s red headed brother sat at one of the corner tables.  He had not imagined her, after all!

    Brydon hunched lower in his chair, gratified that he had kept his hood on.  Sellaris’s brother—Lavan, that was his name—was deep in conversation with two other rough-looking men.  Brydon wished he were close enough to hear what they were saying.  He debated with himself for a moment and reluctantly sent out a tendril of thought, remembering the last time he had tried to read Lavan’s mind.  He was conscious this time, however, and his surface thoughts were rather easy to read.  Brydon drew back for a moment in revulsion.  Lavan was bargaining with the men over the price of a whore.  The excitement of a sexual encounter was the foremost thought in Lavan’s mind.  Brydon tried again, pressing past Lavan’s thoughts of the moment to seek knowledge of his presence in the Black City.

    ...Sellaris can’t snap at me for gambling, Lavan thought clearly.  No gamble, this, ha ha!  Brydon seized upon his brief thought of Sellaris and tried to steer Lavan’s thoughts in that direction.  Lavan must have sensed his presence, however, for surprise registered.

    Sellaris? he questioned, alarmed and somewhat angry.  Brydon pulled out rapidly, sweating.  Lavan stood up and stared about suspiciously.

    Brydon waited until Lavan relaxed and then he finished his ale and got to his feet.  He went outside as nonchalantly as possible and walked down the alley to a well-shadowed spot and waited, eyes fixed on the tavern door.

    It opened off and on over the next hour to admit and expel various patrons, but at last the redhead exited alone and started toward Brydon, who remained unmoving until he had passed.

    Brydon waited until Lavan reached the end of the alley before following as silently as he could.  Sellaris’s brother made no effort to conceal himself and Brydon kept him in sight easily as they neared a more middle-class section of town and stopped at a small boarding house.  He entered and Brydon waited until a light came on at the rear of the building.  He approached the house and peered through the dusty window, where he spotted Sellaris, her brother, and Garyn.  Sellaris sat cross-legged on the single bed, brushing her hair, while the men argued about something.  He considered tapping into Lavan’s or Garyn’s thoughts, but any clumsiness would alert Sellaris of an intrusion.  He did not want them suspicious.

    Brydon backed off and walked across the street.  There was an alleyway not far from the boarding house, so he slumped against the wall and waited.  He would wait until they came out in the morning and follow them.  If Sellaris was about Reed’s business, Brydon intended to discover what it was.

    Shrugging off his tiredness, he chewed on a strip of smoked meat and waited for dawn.

    Some time after sunrise, Sellaris left the house, dressed ravishingly in a deep green gown sparkling with white stones. Brydon had never seen her in a gown, much less such an elegant one.  She wore a short cloak of white fur and Brydon would have bet she carried a couple of daggers under her cloak.  He followed her to the marketplace, keeping an eye out for the Ven-Kerrick wagons as he did so.  Sellaris bought a few small items and some food.  Brydon kept her in sight for nearly an hour, stopping every so often to send his mind out in a wide sweep.  At last, he found what he sought.

    Toryn? he asked.

    Brydon!  Where are you?

    In the Black City, but not where Nykar had intended.  I escaped.

    Good,
Toryn sent.  We are near the city gates, concealed.  What do you want us to do?

    Stay there.  I’ll stay linked with you.  Sellaris is here; I’m following her.  Did Darkling find you?

    Yes, he trotted in last night.  We feared you were dead.  Shevyn has not slept.  I think she was worried about you.

     Tell her I’m fine.  I will let you know if anything happens,
Brydon finished.  He kept a fragile link with Toryn. so he would be able to find him in a hurry.  Sellaris went back to the boarding house; there was no sign of the Ven-Kerrick caravan.

    After watching the house for a few more minutes, Brydon was glad to see the three residents exit, shouldering packs.  Sellaris was dressed again in her dark green leathers with sword and daggers visible on her slim hips.  Her hair had been stuffed under a black hunter’s cap and she could have passed for a man except for some very obvious attributes that Brydon remembered all too well.

    The three of them walked to a tavern with an attached corral where they caught up three horses that milled amongst the others animals there—oxen, mostly.  They saddled the horses and rode toward the southern gate and Brydon swore.  For all he knew, his description had been posted at each of the city gates.  Thinking quickly, he lifted himself onto the back of a departing wagon filled with sacks of seed.  The driver was nodding sleepily and did not seem to notice the wagon creak when Brydon climbed on.  He concealed himself under the parcels until the wagon passed, with excruciating slowness, through the gates.  Brydon dropped from the wagon once it reached a bend in the road, beyond the sight of the guards.

    Toryn! he called mentally.  I’m outside the southern gate.

    Toryn appeared through the trees shortly, trailed by Shevyn and Alyn.

    “I’m so glad to see you,” Brydon said with a smile.

    “Likewise.”  Toryn grinned.

    “How is everyone?” Brydon asked, scanning them.

    “Fine.  The border guards had to knock Alyn out because she wouldn’t shut up—”

    “They did not!” Alyn snapped.  “They forced some of that tea down our throats and tied us up.”

    “Anyway,” Toryn continued, laughing, “Here we are.”

    “We need to follow Sellaris and the others.  They are heading south, so maybe they know where the Gauntlet is.  The caravan wasn’t in the Black City, at any rate.  Chances are good that if Sellaris is here, Reed is involved.”

    “How will we find them?  They have a head start and we can’t track them on the road,” Alyn protested.

    “I can find them,” Brydon said with a grin and mounted Darkling.  “Let’s cross this river.”
 

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

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