CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE
The Silver River was barely a river so close to its headwaters, so they forded it easily as they traveled southward. Brydon had Lavan’s position fixed easily in his mind. It was hard to tell whether the three bandits were riding toward Tyvestyn or continuing on to Saavyn. The trio was far ahead of them, only occasionally glimpsed far in the distance when Brydon and the others topped a hill. Toryn decided, on his own, that he would scout and find out what they were up to, a fact Brydon did not discover until Toryn had been gone for a couple of hours the next morning.
Toryn! What are you doing? he demanded.
Scouting. I’m getting closer to the others. They are still camped. I think they are waiting for someone, Toryn replied.
Well, stay where you are. We will come meet you. I mean it! Stay there! Brydon ordered.
Don’t worry, I can take on all three of them if I need to, Toryn replied. Brydon had no doubt the Redolian would try. He and the girls mounted and cut cross country to meet up with Toryn, who had snuggled down at the top of a small rise, watching the encampment in the valley below. Brydon left Darkling on the other side of the rise and climbed up to join the Redolian.
“What is happening?” he asked. Toryn gestured to the west.
“They seem to have been waiting for those two men to arrive,” he said. Brydon watched as two men, mounted on horses, entered the valley from its western end. As they neared, Brydon felt there was something familiar about the riders. They entered the encampment to be greeted by Sellaris’s brother.
“I know where I have seen those two!” Brydon exclaimed suddenly in a hushed tone.
“Where?” Toryn asked.
“In the Black City. They were talking to Sellaris’s brother in the tavern. Why do I always forget his name?”
“Laveen? Liven?” Toryn suggested.
“Lavan. That’s it. They were in a sleazy tavern in the Black City. When I got there, they were discussing the price of a wench. I must have missed their prior conversation.”
The five of them below talked for a while, and then dirt was kicked over the fire before they all mounted and left the valley, heading south again. They stayed off the road, a decision that made it much easier for Toryn to trail them.
“Where do you think they are going?” Toryn asked later.
“I don’t know. I only hope they have something to do with the Gauntlet,” Brydon replied. He continued to cast out with his mind gently, in order confirm his quarry’s location, but he did not dare try to read their minds, nor even track them overtly, since he did not know the extent of Sellaris’s power.
“What is this stupid Gauntlet you are always talking about?” Alyn burst out, startling him.
“You have been trailing the thing with us for days now and you have not even thought to ask?” Toryn inquired snidely. “I always knew Akarskans were stupid; thank you for confirming it.”
Alyn bestowed a glare on him. “I have not asked because I don’t care. I am here to find stolen horses. If I am not mistaken, the horses that Sellaris and those other criminals ride are most definitely stolen.”
“You can tell that from this distance?” Toryn asked as though marveling at her prowess. “You must have the keenest eyes of anyone in the world! Tell me, can you see the ocean from here?”
“Yes, it resides in your head, leaving no room for brains,” Alyn retorted.
“Ho ho.” Toryn grinned. “You are not after horses at all. I know why you really came with us.”
“Why?” Alyn growled.
Toryn smiled widely. “I won’t tell you now in order to spare you embarrassment.”
“Does it have anything to do with your league-wide ego?” she asked. “If so, you are the one that would be embarrassed.”
“It has nothing to do with me,” Toryn protested.
“Never mind,” Toryn said enigmatically. Brydon shook his head and grinned. He turned his mind to other things, namely Shevyn, who rode beside him without complaint. He mentally compared her with Sellaris. They were both quite beautiful, albeit in different ways. Sellaris’s dark red hair was wild with curls and her grey eyes were unfathomable. She was wild and unpredictable. Shevyn had hair of soft honey brown, long and mostly straight with just a hint of a wave. Her eyes were clearest blue. She was as calm as Sellaris was wild, but there was something just as mysterious about her.
She looked at him in puzzlement. He smiled and she tipped her lips in a grin. He felt his heart lurch and dragged his eyes away. Wonderful. First Sellaris and now Shevyn. He wanted them both. Not that it mattered while Princess Eryka awaited him in Falara. He would have to try and remember that.
By the time they determined that Sellaris and her party were headed for Tyvestyn, Brydon worried whether or not they had made the right decision. Jace had told them to wait in the Black City. Not only had they not waited, but they had left Darkynhold completely. He wondered where Jace and the others were at that moment.
Tyvestyn was more mountainous and rocky than what they had previously seen of Silver, likely due to its proximity to the Ven-Horn Mountains. Ruby was the ruling city and from what Jace had told them, the highway led straight to it. Brydon chewed his lip, wondering whether they should continue to chase Sellaris, or veer off and go into Saavyn as they had originally planned.
“What do you think, Toryn?” he asked.
“About Alyn?” Toryn inquired. “Well, she has a fine body, but her personality needs a little work. Maybe if she had been born with a bit more intelligence….” Alyn glared at him and Brydon refrained from comment.
“Should we keep following Sellaris’s party, or head into Saavyn?”
“I think this entire ‘find the Gauntlet’ thing is a waste of time. Let’s give up the Quest, sail off to the Corolis Islands and be treated like kings by the lovely native girls,” Toryn suggested.
“Wonderful idea. And when the Gauntlet is used by someone for evil and they take over the world, then where shall we go?” Brydon asked.
Toryn scowled. “You Falarans always suck the joy out of everything,” he complained.
“It’s a curse,” Brydon admitted.
Toryn sighed. “I think should keep following the redheaded wench. You seem to want to do that, anyway.” Toryn chuckled. Brydon smacked him on the leg with a rein.
“Fine. We’ll do that.”
They rode in silence, watching the clouds building over the large mountains to the southwest.
“Looks like a storm coming,” Brydon commented.
“How do you know?” Toryn asked.
“They build like that in Falara, over the mountains.”
“Oh. I wouldn’t know. We used to have mountains in Redol, until Falara stole them.” Toryn sniffed.
“You are not going to start all that again, are you?” Brydon objected.
“Yes, I am. I have not complained about Falaran tyranny in a long while.”
“No, it’s been at least an hour,” Brydon admitted. Toryn snorted.
“What is Redol like, then, if there are no mountains?” Brydon asked before Toryn could start extolling the atrocities of Falara. He had never been to Redol, or anywhere near it until he had begun his southward journey. His family lived north of the city of Eaglecrest, separated from Redol by two mountain ranges and a large valley.
“Well,” Toryn mused, thinking back. “It’s mostly rolling hills covered with tough sea grass. It’s green almost all year round because of the rain. It rains practically every day, which gets to be quite annoying. We raise cattle, since the grass is so plentiful, and the few horses we have seem to like it there. Of course, only the chiefs have horses.”
“How many chiefs are there?” Brydon asked. He knew Redol had no king, but the intricacies of its ruling class were a mystery.
“I never counted and it changes often. The chiefs rule the tribes and they gather together to discuss issues a couple of times a year, usually at the festivals. We do not all live together like Falarans. We don’t have cities, nor even villages, really. We roam the plains so the cattle will always have enough to eat, and in the winter we take them south, across the Warrior River and into the mountains where they are protected from the harsh winter storms.
“Each clan follows their own leader. My own clan is the... well, that is not for a Falaran to know,” he finished haughtily.
Brydon glared at him, stung. “How can I still be a ‘Falaran’ to you?” he asked angrily. “Have I not proven that I am not your enemy?”
“Perhaps not now,” Toryn snapped. “But what happens when you get back to your precious king and your bloody princess? Then what will happen? Will I still be your friend?” Toryn did not wait for a reply, but dug his heels into his mare and galloped up to ride in the lead.
Brydon stared after him in amazement. He had not thought much about returning to Falara. Obtaining the Gauntlet had been his only consideration. He realized now that he had better start thinking about it. He had barely brought to mind “his princess” in a long, long while, except in passing. He could not even clearly remember what she looked like. He tried to call her to mind, but her blond hair faded into honey brown. He tried again and received red hair and grey eyes. Shevyn and Sellaris. He sighed. He could remember his mother, her golden hair long and silky as she brushed it out in front of the fireplace, as well as the smell of fresh baked bread that always seemed to permeate their house. His father had been tall and strong, as a smith should be. He realized that he knew nothing about Toryn, except that he came from Redol, and suddenly he wanted to know more. He wondered what would happen if he returned to Eaglecrest with Toryn and announced to the world that he was his best friend. He had friends in Falara, but no one that would have followed him to Ven-Kerrick and beyond.
Tory, he sent.
Get out of my mind, Toryn snapped back silently.
Why did you come all the way here with me? Brydon persisted.
There was a short pause. I was sent to kill you. I failed. My clan chieftain will be extremely displeased.
Why? Surely others have failed before you?
Naturally. But the chieftain just happens to be my brother.
Yes, I know. That is the only reason? he asked.
I don’t believe you, Brydon sent stubbornly.
That is your choice. Toryn was equally stubborn. Brydon sighed mentally.
Toryn, you are my best friend. Anger surged through the link to assault Brydon. He swayed in his saddle with the force of it.
“For how long?” Toryn burst out. “Until you take me back to Falara and hand me over to your king?” The girls stared at Toryn, shocked at his unexpected outburst.
“I would never do that!” Brydon protested, outraged. “You can return to Redol whenever you like. Go now, if you want!”
“I already told you I cannot!” He booted his mare forward.
“That was not a reason!” Brydon yelled. He nudged Darkling to catch up with the Redolian.
“I don’t want to go back!”
“Why not?” Brydon demanded.
“Because I want to see you fulfill your stupid Quest and become the next Falaran king, damn it all! Are you satisfied now?” Toryn shouted, stopping his horse and swinging it around so he could face Brydon. His eyes flashed emerald fire.
“Yes, I am,” Brydon said calmly. “What do you want from me, Toryn?” The anger in Toryn’s eyes dissipated slowly and he looked at the ground.
“I don’t know.” He sighed finally. “I’m just not used to liking anyone, especially a Falaran.”
“You can pretend I’m from somewhere else,” Brydon suggested.
“Canaar?” Toryn grinned, referring to the land where monsters and devils roamed among the active volcanoes.
“Thanks,” Brydon said dryly, but he smiled. “Tell me about your brother.”
Toryn looked surprised and Brydon hastily added, “I swear upon my honor, and upon my king, and upon Adona, if you insist, that it will never go any farther than this.”
Toryn flushed. “I know. I’m sorry about what I said. I was just thinking about what my people would say if they could see me now—what my brother would say. They would be far from thrilled with my choice of companions.” He laughed aloud. “A Falaran and an Akarskan. I suppose they would not have anything to say about Shevyn. At least she is quiet.”
“Your brother?” Brydon asked, curious. Toryn looked pained.
“Morgyn. He would beat me with a bullwhip, I think, and then send me off to kill you again and get it right this time.”
Brydon was shocked. “Are you serious?”
Toryn shrugged. “I don’t know. Morgyn is kind of hard to figure. My father died in a raid on Falara, so Morgyn took over leadership of the clan.” Brydon blanched at that, but Toryn went on. “He takes his responsibilities too seriously sometimes. He has been the chieftain for a long time now and he is not much older than I am. Children grow up fast in Redol and Morgyn had to do it faster than most. I think he worries that he did not raise me right and if I come back and disappoint him this way... well, I just won’t do it,” he finished.
“He raised you? What about your mother?” Brydon asked. “And don’t you think your brother would rather have you back, even if you failed in your mission, than to think you are dead?”
Toryn’s face hardened. “My mother left us when I was very young. I barely remember her.”
“Left you?” Brydon burst out. Such a thing was unheard of in Falara. Toryn smiled bitterly.
“As I said, things are different in Redol. The women are strong, or they are despised. They tend cattle with the men. They know how to stop a charging bull with only a thin strip of braided leather or a staff. They can run across the hills without tiring for the length of a full day. My own sister can nearly best me with a sword.”
Brydon was awed. “I can hardly imagine such a thing, except that Alyn seems to be much the same. The women in Falara are soft and pleasant and the most they ever seem to do is bake or sew. You have a sister?” He tried to sound nonchalant, but the interest in his voice was evident.
“Yes, and I will see to it that you never meet her,” Toryn warned with a laugh. “Her name is Caryn and she looks just like Morgyn and I. Black hair, green eyes, and she is very tall. We all got our looks from our mother, wherever she may be.”
“Well, I feel that you are lucky, anyway. I have no brothers or sisters. Just a dog that was too old to come with me,” Brydon confided.
“But your parents?” Toryn asked.
“My mother is short and kind of round with golden hair like mine. She bakes bread every day and sells it at market. I eat the rest.” He laughed as he remembered.
“Sometimes she makes it with nuts and fruit as a special treat. She sings a lot in the kitchen and seems quite happy. Father was a weapon smith and an armorer, as well as a retired Knight-Priest. He was gone to the palace often, making weapons for the King. He was tall and muscular with thick brown hair and blue eyes. He taught me how to forge a blade, but I never really had the skill.” Brydon sighed. “He died four years ago of an illness that swept through the village. My mother almost died, too, of the sickness and later from grief, but she held on. For me, I think.”
“I’m sorry,” Toryn said. “It sounds like you had a wonderful family. Peaceful.”
Brydon nodded. “Mostly, it was. Except for the time that I climbed the tree near the front of our house and broke three of the branches. It was my father’s prized fruit tree, so I had trouble sitting down for a few days after that. And there was the time that my dog and I were hunting field grouse and trailed one into a pit of a stink-rat. Mother must have used three bars of soap and then she still made us sleep outside for a week.” He chuckled at the memory.
Toryn grinned. “That’s not as bad as the time I thought up the fabulous idea of taming bulls for us to ride,” he admitted. “I bravely caught one and then proceeded to climb on. I broke three ribs that day and Morgyn threatened to kill me the next time I went near a bull with anything even resembling a rein. Once I was supposed to dye his favorite shirt, but I was angry with him for something, so I told my sister that he didn’t want it. She cut it into a short skirt and dyed it blue. I hid in a neighbor’s tent for the next two weeks, but he found me and gave me the chore of cutting and tanning him a new shirt. That was a horrid, rotten job.”
Brydon chuckled with him and looked at the sky. The clouds were thick and the wind had picked up. He glanced back to find that they had ridden far ahead of the girls. Alyn seemed to be asleep. Brydon was amazed; only an Akarskan could sleep comfortably on horseback. They slowed to wait for the girls and Brydon cast ahead with his mind to make sure Sellaris and the others were still in range. They were. The sky grew prematurely dark because of the building storm, so they halted.
They made camp in a shelter of large boulders and tall trees. Brydon determined it was safe to build a fire as the wind blew strongly in the opposite direction from Sellaris and the others. They had not taken a chance on hunting that day, so they ate dried meat and a few strange fruits that Alyn had located, washing it down with hot tea.
After the wind nearly started a forest fire when it picked up the sparks and threw them across the camp, they decided to do without the warmth as they chased after the embers and frantically stamped them out. They extinguished the fire and huddled together.
“This is exciting,” Toryn said. “Perhaps we should tell tall tales. Shevyn can start.”
“You are so entertaining,” Alyn snapped.
“I know,” Toryn said happily. “Maybe when this quest is over I’ll get an easy job as a storyteller.”
“Someone will hire you,” Alyn said sweetly. “They always need fools to mock. Or people to muck out the dog kennels.”
“No thanks, I would meet too many of your relatives, there,” Toryn said. There was a meaty thwack as her fist smacked into his chest. As if on signal, the rain began to fall.
“Now look what you did, evil wench!” Toryn cried.
“I did no such thing! Your Adona is probably trying to drown you to shut you up.”
“The girl spews blasphemy!” Toryn shouted in a righteous voice. “Pagan of Akarska!”
“I am no worshipper of Shaitan,” Alyn growled. “But the thought of pulling out your heart is tempting at this moment.” Brydon and Shevyn hurried to the shelter of the boulders and held a waterproof cloak over themselves to keep out the rain, but the other two seemed too wrapped up in their argument to care about getting wet. Toryn danced around, pointing at Alyn.
“You heard her! Strike her down!” A fair-sized chunk of wood bounced off his chest. “Hey!” he yelled. It was followed by a handful of mud that left brown splatters all over Toryn’s pale buckskin shirt.
Toryn retaliated by grabbing a handful of the thick stuff and slinging it at Alyn. It caught her squarely on the head, coloring her fine blond hair dark brown. She screamed loudly and increased her mud barrage. Brydon and Shevyn fearfully retreated farther into the safety of the boulders and watched the developing war. Shevyn looked at him with a puzzled expression.
Brydon sighed. “It’s been like this since they met,” he explained. “Some days I want to tie and gag them both to get some peace.”
Toryn won by chasing down Alyn, throwing her to the ground and dumping handfuls of forest mulch into her hair before massaging it in. She screamed for revenge and he shut her up by kissing her quite soundly. He jumped up and raced into the forest, laughing merrily. She spluttered incoherently and threw every object within reach at him, but she remained where she was, probably more shaken than she wanted to admit. Shevyn had fallen asleep on his shoulder and he smoothed her hair back from her brow, pondering once again the strangeness of her mind that he could not penetrate.
The rain lessened and Alyn tried futilely to comb the mud and mulch out of her hair. Brydon had to smile. She looked like a mud monster. Toryn sauntered back into camp, dripping wet but sparkling clean.
“Where were you?” Alyn demanded.
“Worried about me?” Toryn asked.
“Ha! How did you get clean?”
“With water,” he said obstinately. She hissed at him and he laughed. “There’s a stream. Right through the trees, that way.” He gestured and she stormed off.
“Want me to protect you?” he called after her. She marched back and picked up her bow and full quiver of arrows.
“Not in a thousand years,” she said acidly. He shrugged and she left. Brydon watched as Toryn waited a short time and then slipped into the trees after her, to either guard her or spy on her. Knowing Toryn, probably a little of both.
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR