"Well, what do you think?" Elfin Crown Prince Treyas Merripen gestured at the structure in the corner of the study, his gaze on the faces of his two good friends, Quinlin Thomarius and Jansson van Tannen.
"What is it?" Jansson asked, approaching the wooden structure.
"It's a TravelPortal," Treyas said.
"A what?" Quinlin asked.
"A TravelPortal. You step through the archway, select the MagicStrand you want, and just like that, you're where you want to be. Of course, right now there are only two exits. Your palace, Jans, and your cottage, Quin. But I hope to add more in the future."
Jansson studied the Portal thoughtfully. "So, how can I use it? I don't have elfin magic."
"Neither do I," Quinlin reminded him.
"That's the beauty of it," Treyas explained. "You can use it, Jans, because you have bardic magic. And Quin, you can use it because you're an elf. You may not be proficient at magic, but you still have the capability. Do you want to try it out?"
Jansson and Quinlin exchanged quick glances, and Treyas rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Come on. I've already tested it. Even Kyel has used it. I'll show you how easy it is."
"I don't think so," Quinlin said softly. "I mean, it's not that I don't believe you, it's just that..." He rubbed at his neck. "Hell, Treyas, you've only been studying magic for two years. Don't you think this is a little bit advanced?"
"It works. It's not that hard to maintain. Please, at least try it. It'll make it so much easier for you and Jansson to visit. Or for me to visit you. I'm tired of always having to wait for Kyel to Spell you over. Please?"
"Oh, hell," Jansson said. "I'm game. I'll give it a go."
"Wait!" Quinlin grabbed his arm, stopping him. "You'd better let me try it out first. I doubt Kyel would want the King of Odora Dava flying about someplace unknown."
"It's not unknown, Quin," Treyas assured him. "I can take him straight to Mayfaire, right to his palace. I've set up a Portal in his library already."
"You did? When?" Jansson asked.
"A few days ago. Kyel helped me."
"I didn't see anything in my library."
"You're not supposed to. I'll set up an archway like this to let people know it's there. Quin, yours is in a vestibule off the hallway from the kitchen."
Quinlin's eyebrows went up in surprise. "You mean that closet space Drisana has been keeping me away from? She said there was a present in there for...oh, a present from you. The Portal?"
Treyas nodded, grinning. "It's all ready to go. Please?"
"I need to get back home, anyway," Quinlin said. "Let me give it a try."
"All right. Jansson, you wait here. I'll be right back."
"Make it quick. We're supposed to go to the Keep in Karsaba, remember?"
"I remember. I'm all packed. See?" Treyas gestured to his pack lying on the floor near his desk. "We can leave as soon as I get back from Quinlin's."
"About this trip," Quinlin said, drawing rolled eyes from Jansson.
"Don't worry," Treyas assured him. "The guards are already at the Keep. Kyel made sure of that."
Quinlin let out a sigh of relief, then motioned toward the TravelPortal. "All right, what do we do?"
"Like I said, it's simple." Treyas led him through the archway. "Do you see the MagicStrands? I made them a different color."
Quinlin's eyes went wide. "Hoi!" he breathed. "I do see them. This is incredible. I've never seen anything like this. Is this what you see when you do magic?"
Treyas grinned. "Yes, it is. All right, see those red ones over there? If you choose those you go to Mayfaire. If you choose those blue ones over there, you go home. I made them blue like the cove in Bailiwycke, so you would remember. Give it a go." He took hold of Quinlin's arm.
Quinlin hesitated a moment, then reached out and touched the MagicStrands. Treyas tightened his grip as the magic spun them away from Lidgerwood. Seconds later they were standing in the vestibule at Quinlin's seaside cottage. The elder elf swayed dizzily, and clutched at the doorjamb, while Treyas let out a whoop of success.
"Quin?" A female voice preceded its bearer, and the door of the closet opened. "Oh!" Quinlin's wife Drisana stepped back, startled. "Quin! Treyas!"
"Just trying out the TravelPortal, Drisana," Treyas told her. "See, Quin? It was easy, wasn't it?"
"Yes, I guess so," Quinlin mumbled, stepping into the hallway. "A question though. When will my stomach get here?"
Treyas laughed. "I'm going back. Jansson has been pestering me about going up to the Keep for weeks now."
"Why?" Quinlin asked. "What's he all keyed up about anyway?"
Treyas shrugged, his smile disappearing. "He's been having nightmares. He wanted to get out of magic for a while and see if they went away."
"I see. Has he talked to Kyel about these dreams?"
"I don't know. Probably." Treyas turned back toward the Portal, then stopped at a shrill squeal. He turned, grinning at the little girl who toddled his way. "Reya!"
She giggled and held out her arms to him. He obliged, scooping her up and giving her a gentle hug.
"Trey," she said.
Treyas gasped. "She's talking! She said my name!"
Drisana laughed. "She's been talking for a while now. You just don't come to visit often enough to know about it."
Treyas sighed, ruffling Reya's soft copper curls. "I wish I could come more often, but Elek and Kyel are determined to force magic down my throat. At least, they let me work on the TravelPortal as a diversion." He looked at Quinlin who now wore a frown. "What's wrong? You still don't feel well?"
"No, it's not that," Quinlin murmured. "I'm just a little worried about that Portal. Do you have any security measures in effect?"
Treyas shrugged. "Why would we need them?"
Quinlin huffed an exasperated breath. "To keep uninvited visitors out of the palace, Treyas. You're not the only one in Glede with magic, you know. I'll talk to Elek about it later."
Treyas shrugged again, and kissed Reya on the nose. "I have to go now, Reya."
"No go!" Reya cried, tightening her grip around his neck. "Play outside."
He chuckled. "I can't. Not right now. I'll come back soon though, and then we can play on the beach."
"No go!" Reya said again. Tears sparkled in her green eyes.
Treyas winced, looking to Drisana for help. She smiled and pried Reya away from him, although the little girl's whimpers turned into sobs. The sound tore into Treyas' heart.
"She's just tired, Treyas," Drisana soothed, bouncing Reya gently. "She needs a nap. She'll be fine. If Jansson is waiting, he'll be fuming by now. You'd better go."
"Read," Reya sobbed. "Story."
Treyas smiled. "I can take a few minutes to read her to sleep." He reached for the little girl, and she clung to him, burying her face in his shoulder.
Quinlin chuckled. "You're spoiling her, letting her have her way all of the time."
Treyas grinned. "That's what god-fathers are for." He turned toward her room.
"Just don't forget Jansson," Quinlin called.
"I won't," Treyas called back. He took Reya to her room and settled her into bed. "Now, then, which story do you want?"
"Dragons," she said at once.
Treyas grimaced. Dragons? Again? What did he know about dragons? He wasn't even sure if they existed. Reya didn't have any books about dragons, so he spun out the little story he'd made up about powerful, beautiful dragons that lived in a land far away. He was about halfway through, and Reya had already drifted to sleep, when he felt a strange touch in the magic about him. He sat quietly, frowning, trying to analyze what had happened, but could not. He rose, tucked the blankets around the sleeping child, kissed her forehead gently, then went in search of Quinlin. Instead, he found Drisana in the kitchen. She looked up at him with a smile.
"Reya's asleep," Treyas said. "Where's Quin?"
"He went to see Elek."
"Oh. Then he didn't try using the TravelPortal again?"
Drisana laughed. "I don't think he'll be trying that on his own for quite some time. Magic still frightens him, Treyas."
Treyas sighed. "I know. But you're a wizard, Drisana. Can't you talk some sense into him? Show him that magic can be our friend?"
Drisana laughed again. "I'll do that. I just can't promise that he'll listen."
Treyas shook his head. "Well, I'd better go. Have Quin practice while I'm gone." He returned to the TravelPortal, and cast his Spell back home. He arrived to find the study empty. Treyas' pack lay where he'd dropped it, as did Jansson's, but there was no sign of the bard. Treyas frowned and stepped from the Portal. Something didn't feel right, but he couldn't put his finger on it. He stood very still, his gaze scanning the MagicWeb about him. Two years ago if someone had told he could actually see magic, he would have laughed in their face. Now? Now, he saw magic everywhere. He reached for a Strand, then thought better of it. He was no master yet at StrandSearches. Better leave that to those more qualified. He needed Kyel. He was about to go in search when the elfin king strode into the room.
Kyel stopped short, his brow furrowing in question. "Did you just use the Portal?"
Kyel paused. "Where's Jansson?"
"I don't know. I left him here while I took Quinlin home. Why?"
Kyel approached the TravelPortal, his blue eyes narrowed in thought. Treyas' stomach was beginning to knot up. "Kyel, what,"
Kyel silenced him with an upraised hand. "Let me sort out these Strands."
As the black elf returned his attention to the magic, Treyas sank into a chair, his mind whirling back to the strange touch of magic he'd felt at Quinlin's. What could have happened? Where was Jansson? Treyas' gaze moved to the TravelPortal. Was it somehow involved? If it were, Kyel would probably dismantle it straight away. And all of my hard work will be gone, Treyas thought sourly. I'll be back to square one, having to rely on others to see my friends. He huffed an irritated breath.
"Please," Kyel said, "if you cannot control your magic, go elsewhere."
Treyas scowled, sinking back into the chair, trying to keep his emotions from pulling at the magic. He was once again touched with awe for the black elf. That he could do a multiple StrandSearch and talk at the same time was amazing to Treyas. Even a simple, single StrandSearch left Treyas unable to think of anything else. In fact, it had often been a task just to remember to breathe; he had lost consciousness on more than one occasion, especially if the Strand had any length to it. And here was Kyel, pulling Strands whose length Treyas could only guess at, and still completely aware of his surroundings. He sighed heavily, frustration raging through him.
Immediately, Kyel turned toward him, blue eyes flashing with anger. "I cannot work if you are going to keep disturbing the MagicWeb! If you cannot control your emotions, go to your room!"
Treyas flung himself out of the chair and stormed from the study to his own room. He slammed the door behind him and threw himself face down across the bed. He wasn't really angry at Kyel, but at himself. He knew his frustration had been pulling at the MagicWeb, but he hadn't been able to stop himself from doing it.
He rolled onto his back and stared at the patterns in the mosaic tile ceiling. This room was the one where he had stayed the first time he ever set foot in Lidgerwood. He knew every flower, every leaf carved in the white marble fireplace. He knew all the woodland scenes in the brown and green and rose tapestries that softened the glare of the white stone walls. He could almost smell the sea, so true was the color in the green velvet draperies.
Three years ago, he had felt as if he didn't belong in a palace. At that time, he had not known he was the love-child of the elfin Crown Prince, Tehras Merripen, and Reyna, Queen of the Naiads. From them, Treyas had inherited a unique and powerful ability to use magic. Tehras was dead, but he had left instructions that Treyas be raised as a commoner, away from the royal life. Still, the Triskelion had sought him out over Crown Prince Rugan, who should have rightfully been the one to carry it. Treyas still felt guilty over that; he hadn't wanted to usurp his half-brother. Gods! He hadn't even known he'd had a half-brother until the whole situation with the Triskelion. He sat up, his gaze going to the medallion hanging in an ornate open-faced frame over the fireplace.
The Triskelion. Once it had held all the elfin magic in Glede. Now, it was empty.
A tap on the door brought him to his feet. "Come in," he called.
Kyel entered, his lean face grim. For a moment, he said nothing, his attention obviously drawn to the Triskelion. He approached the medallion slowly.
"Have you touched this recently?" he asked.
Kyel was quiet a moment, then reached out and laid one finger lightly on the medallion. His brow furrowed, then he abruptly changed the subject.
"Had you shown Jansson how to work the TravelPortal?"
"No, not yet. I only showed Quin. Why?"
Kyel sighed. "Apparently Jansson attempted to use it."
Treyas winced. "Then shouldn't he be at either Quinlin's or Mayfaire? Those are the only two exit points."
"Jansson is in Karsaba," Kyel said flatly.
"Karsaba?" Treyas' hopes inflated. "At the Keep?"
"No. I'm not sure where he was trying to go, but his TravelStrand was diverted."
"Diverted? By whom?" Treyas cried.
Kyel paused, his gaze again moving to the Triskelion. "Rugan."
"Rugan!" The word came out on a breath. Treyas felt a chill run through him at the mention of his half-brother. "But how? He doesn't know how to use magic does he? Besides, I thought he was locked away somewhere in another dimension."
"He was. Apparently, he has escaped."
Treyas sank back onto the bed, his legs robbed of strength. The mere thought of Rugan on the loose sent pure terror through him. The elfin prince was insane. He not only hated Treyas with a vengeance, but also he had thoroughly terrorized Jansson; had left him scarred not just physically, but emotionally, and all because of Kyel's relationship with Jansson. Tehras and Kyel had been close friends, and Rugan had always thought Kyel should have stepped in to parent him when Tehras died. Instead, Kyel was a surrogate father to Jansson, a human, with a kingdom of his own to run. The rejection and loss had, at last, sent the unstable prince into insanity. Treyas swallowed hard to calm his rising panic. "How? When?"
"At this point, I don't know. He could not have done this himself. I will need to further investigate."
Treyas' stomach fluttered. He could scarcely get the word out. "Vaalde?" Mention of the sorcerer sent panic surging through him. Vaalde had put him through hell, nearly driven him to take his own life. He could not face the sorcerer again.
"No," Kyel said softly. "Nowhere did I get the sense of Vaalde on the MagicStrand. Only Rugan."
Treyas gasped, suddenly remembering why Jansson was visiting in the first place. "Jan's dream! He was having nightmares! About Rugan! That's why we were going to the Keep. He wanted to see if the nightmares went away without magic around. Gods! I should have said something!"
"Treyas." Kyel's voice was soft. "Nothing is to be gained by self-recrimination. Jansson also talked to me about his dream. I also dismissed it. I felt nothing through the MindLink to suggest it was any more than a dream."
"The MindLink!" Treyas came to his feet at the mention of the mental connection. "Can't you use it to locate him?"
"The MindLink has been severed. Jansson is no longer in magic."
"That's right. Karsaba has no magic. Then how are we going to find him?"
Kyel shook his head. "There is much about Karsaba you don't know, Treyas. Elek and I have been exploring it, and we have found that not all of it is empty of magic. We have now mapped the entire area. Not only are there fixed pockets of magic scattered throughout the land, but balls of it move about, seemingly without pattern or motivation."
"What kind of magic?"
"So far as Elek and I have been able to determine, it contains elements of all magics. Sorcery, elfin, nymph, brownie." He walked to Treyas' desk, picked up a quill and a piece of parchment, then drew rapidly for a few moments.
Treyas went to watch him. "What's this?" he asked, pointing to a large black circle on the map.
"Rune Mountain, the only spot in Karsaba that's equivalent to being outside its borders. It's the focal point of a great store of magic, the one from which the roving balls of magic originate."
"Then that's where Rugan will be."
Kyel's brows lifted in puzzlement.
"Because Karsaba has no king," Treyas said. "And if Rune Mountain has elfin magic that Rugan can use, he can rule the country. If he can't have Lidgerwood, he can have Karsaba."
Kyel gave him a sharp look, blue eyes narrowed. "You're assuming a great deal, Treyas. Rugan may not be interested in --"
"Oh, Kyel, please!" Treyas flung up his hands, exasperation driving his tongue. "Think back on the last three years! From the moment the Triskelion called, he tried to answer. He wanted to be in control, to be in power. He couldn't force the Triskelion to choose him, so he took his rage out on Jansson. Now, he's taken advantage of the situation in Karsaba. Just because Tehras wasn't interested in power, doesn't mean Rugan isn't. Try to remember that Rugan is not Tehras!"
Kyel rose stiffly. "And you," he said coolly, "try to remember your position."
Treyas flushed. He hadn't meant to be disrespectful to the King of the Elves. He knew of Kyel's love for Tehras, and he understood why that love would extend to Tehras' son. "I'm sorry, Kyel." He paused, then tightened his resolve and went on. "It's just that I see no other explanation. If he only wanted to come home, he would have come here. He would have talked to you. He wouldn't have gone to Karsaba, then taken Jansson away. It doesn't make sense."
Kyel regarded him for a long moment, then dropped into the chair, his gaze never leaving Treyas' face. "The older you get, the more you resemble your father. Tehras never let my emotions cloud my thoughts. Apparently, neither will you. It's time I realized that Rugan has chosen his own path and he must walk it alone. My duty is with Jansson. I owe it to him as his advisor and his guardian to look at Rugan as no more than a potential threat. My apologies, Treyas."
Treyas shifted uncomfortably. Not because of the apology--Kyel was always fair minded--but because the black elf spoke of "duty", when Treyas knew his heart must be agonizing over the disappearance of the young king. "So, how do we go about finding Jansson?" he asked.
"We?" Kyel's voice betrayed his frustration. "I cannot go anywhere. My responsibilities here and at Mayfaire dictate my actions."
"Not true," Treyas argued. "Fedor and the Council Members can manage politics here for a few days, and Major Idak is capable of keeping close watch on the borders of Odora Dava until the spring treaties are signed."
Kyel rose and paced the room, eyes downcast. "Still, border conditions are in a state of flux," he said. "As much this year as any other. We've just renewed our trade pact with Pendorelle and are trying to come to a similar equitable agreement with Anrofia." He stopped walking and raised his gaze to meet Treyas'. "No, I think it best that we let Elek handle this." He picked up the map, hesitated a moment, then gestured for Treyas to follow. "I trust he's taught you how to contact him, even in another dimension?"
Treyas nodded grimaced. With a sigh of trepidation, he accompanied Kyel back to the study. Elek wouldn't come through the Portal, but the study held the most intricate MagicWebbing because of it. Treyas sat down and sought the MagicStrand Elek had told him to use. It was a long one and he wondered why Kyel didn't do it. Probably another test. And I'll likely pass out and he'll have to finish it anyway.
He found the Strand and started following it slowly, going faster as he cleared the Web of the Land and started toward the Dimensional Web. Once there, he would send out an energy pulse along the MagicStrand. That was the part he hated. It always left him with a raging headache.
Remember to breathe, he told himself, then suddenly stalled as a new MagicStrand materialized and cut in front of him. It was a wide Strand and, as Treyas tried to traverse it, he was abruptly sucked into it. That had never happened before.
He pulled back and tried to rejoin his original Strand, but found his way blocked. In confusion, he tried to drop the Spell and was immediately swept up by the spell of the wide Strand. He had a brief glimpse of his study and Kyel's startled expression, and then a blue light swallowed him.
Jansson regained awareness slowly, his head reeling. He lay cheek down in sticky, malodorous mud. He pushed back and up in disgust, then froze, his breath catching in his throat. In front of him stood a large, spotted boar, its small pink eyes fixed on him, glowing with hostility.
On three sides was the wood-rail fence of the enclosure. Pushing with one hand, and feeling with the other for the fence section he hoped was close behind, Jansson wriggled away from the animal. When his hand touched wood, he flattened himself, and scooted under the bottom rail as the boar charged with an enraged squeal. A snout full of gnashing teeth chewed at the dirt and only the creature's bulk kept it from following him. Jansson scuttled backward on all fours, and crashed into a pail filled to the brim with warm milk.
"Baerns!" a young male voice cried out. "I just filled that! What do you think you're doing?"
Jansson leapt to his feet, his sword flashing to the ready. He heard a startled gasp even before he saw the boy. He appeared to be about Jansson's age, and equally as tall, though stockier, with piercing blue eyes and flaming red hair that fell to his shoulders. He was dressed in the usual peasant attire, ankle-high leather boots, thick, well-patched woolen pants and a short, belted tunic made of coarse cloth. He regarded Jansson with a mixture of fear and curiosity, all the while keeping a tight grip on the heavy pitchfork he held.
Close behind him stood a small wooden barn, open at both ends, with stalls along its sides. The hind end of a brindle cow was visible in one. The other stalls appeared to be empty, except for the one nearest the barn door, which was filled with a mound of dried meadow grasses. Jansson stared at it all, his heart pounding with confusion and terror. He had no idea where he was, or how he had gotten here. The last thing he remembered was being in Treyas' study. Now, here he was, covered with smelly mud, and looking at the sharp end of a pitchfork.
The red-haired boy glanced past him and uttered another oath. "If you plan to go on living, put the sword away and get yourself hidden in the hay," he said. "Now!"
Something in his voice made Jansson obey despite his confusion. He ran to the barn and burrowed into the stall full of meadow grasses. Through a screen of sweet-smelling stems, he watched as the boy drew a small silver flask and a dagger from inside his tunic. He took two long swallows from the flask, then to Jansson's astonishment and revulsion, used the dagger to make a deep cut on his arm.
He let the blood drip freely for only a moment, then spoke a few soft words and passed his other hand over the wound. Immediately, the cut was healed, leaving only a long red welt. The boy looked up as six men mounted on horseback thundered into Jansson's view. Jansson shrank farther into the hay, heart racing, as the men roared up to the boy.
"Ah, my good so'diers," the boy called, staggering over to them as they pulled to a halt by the pigsty. "Welcome to my humble farm."
One of the soldiers leaned on the saddlehorn and regarded him with blatant disgust. "Early start on your drunk this morn?" he asked.
"Or late start on las' eve." The boy grinned, waving his flask about. He took another long pull, then belched loudly. "An' wha' brings you out this early?"
"Magic, Darosenim," the man replied, his voice cold and sarcastic. "I suppose, as usual, you don't know anything about it."
The boy looked hurt and staggered backward, as if to find the overturned bucket to sit on. He missed and landed in the spilled milk, eliciting a roar of laughter from the soldiers.
"Ah, my good cap'n, you wound me," he slurred. "Or rather I wound m'self." He held up the bloody dagger and offered his arm for proof. "Your senses were not wrong. Magic was used here. Nothin' grand, nothin' noble. Jus' a clumsy choreboy with a bit too much drink and a dagger too sharp for his own good. Bes' you take it before I kill m'self, nex' I fall." He waved the dagger at the captain, who scoffed and turned his steed.
"Take care, Darosenim," he warned. "If Ver Rugan finds you were lying, your death will be slow and painful. And even your drink will not help then."
The boy nodded, took another swallow and waved at them as they turned away. Jansson watched, his gut so tight he thought he'd be sick. Rugan? It couldn't be! He was locked up! Besides, Jansson thought, Rugan isn't learned in magic. Treyas told me that. It must be a coincidence, someone with the same name. There could be no other explanation.
He watched as Darosenim hauled himself to his feet, re-sheathed the dagger and staggered into the barn, chatting and singing to himself. Jansson started to push the hay aside, but the boy suddenly fell against the railing of the stall, knocking a variety of halters and leads noisily to the barn floor directly in front of his hiding place.
"Baerns and the good mother earth!" Darosenim swore loudly, bending within view of Jansson's face. "Stay down," he hissed, then went back to his drunken singing, all the while trying to pick up the fallen halters with one hand, still holding the flask in the other.
There was a sudden clatter of horse's hooves over wood. A lone soldier swept through the barn, very nearly taking down Darosenim, who raised his flask high and yelled a drunken salute as the soldier raced his horse to catch up with the rest of his troop.
Darosenim lowered the flask. "Seven rode in, seven rode out," he said, his voice holding no trace of drunkenness. "You can come out now, but stay in the barn."
Jansson crawled out of the hay. He picked stray pieces from his hair and wiped rapidly drying mud from his face. He opened his mouth to ask one of the many questions pounding at his brain, but Darosenim beat him to it.
Darosenim pocketed the flask and glared at him. "Are you trying to get us killed?" he demanded hotly. "Coming in here on a TravelStrand wide enough to carry four people! What the hell were you thinking? Who the hell are you? What are you doing here? What do you want?"
Jansson gaped at him, not sure which question to answer first, not sure he should answer any of them. Darosenim pocketed the flask, and spun away.
"I don't know if the captain bought my story or not, but I can't afford to take the chance." He walked to the far stall, beckoning Jansson to follow. He brushed some hay aside, then bent and yanked open a trap door. "Go on down. You can answer my questions there as well as here."
"Down? Where?" Jansson had finally found his voice.
"To safety. Unless you would enjoy being a permanent guest of Ver Rugan." Darosenim shoved him forward, and Jansson nearly fell down the narrow ladder affixed to one wall. He whirled toward Darosenim in anger, then froze. The boy once again held his dagger. Jansson drew a quick breath of irritation, then, on impulse, he reached out gently with his empathy, probing the boy's thoughts. Kyel had told him to trust his Empathic Gift; that it wouldn't let him down. If he trusted it now, he could put his faith in Darosenim. It felt as if the boy had only his best interests at heart. Without another word, he turned and climbed down the ladder into a dark, musty pit. He couldn't see a thing, but he heard the clank of metal on metal, then a sliding sound. He supposed that Darosenim was securing the trap door. A second later a torch flared to life, and Jansson squinted in the sudden brightness.
"Now, then," Darosenim said. "Who are you?"
"My name is Jansson."
"Where are you from? And why?"
"I came from Lidgerwood."
"Lidgerwood!" Darosenim's dagger flashed in the torchlight, his blue eyes gone cold. "Lidgerwood is in Aelfdene Valley, home to the elves. Sorry, you're small and thin, but you're definitely not an elf. Now, I'll ask you again. Where are you from?"
As always, mention of his slight stature roused Jansson's anger and he clenched both fists. "I'm telling you the truth. I came from Lidgerwood. Specifically, the Elfin Council Chambers, third floor study. I was waiting there for my friend, Crown Prince Treyas Merripen."
Darosenim's eyes narrowed. "And how come you to know the Crown Prince?"
Jansson exhaled sharply. "Because I'm King Jansson van Tannen of Odora Dava, that's why!"
Darosenim's gaze flicked over Jansson's fine woolen tunic and suede boots, touched on the red-stoned ring he wore, and came to rest on his sword. "Why do you carry a weapon of the black elves?"
Jansson glanced down at the sword belted at his right hip, wondering how Darosenim knew who had crafted it. The slender blade was hidden in its tooled leather scabbard, but the oval, blue, beryl stone in its hilt glowed in the torchlight. As usual, it evoked strong memories in Jansson, and he again wondered what had prompted him to choose it over all of the other weapons in his armory.
"It was a gift from a friend," he said softly, his anger diffused by melancholy. "Willed to me when the elf who owned it knew he was dying."
Slowly, Darosenim lowered the dagger, and re-sheathed it, although he did not bow or give any other acknowledgment that he believed himself to be in the presence of royalty. Still, he seemed to pick up on Jansson's somber mood. "If you are from Outside as you claim, then you are in grave danger. We must get you back across the border as soon as possible."
Darosenim frowned at him. "Do you know nothing of Karsaba?"
Jansson felt heat flush his cheeks. "I know where it is, the land mass, the general populace, the major crops grown here, if that's what you mean."
Darosenim actually smiled, but it wasn't a taunting smile, merely a sad smile. "That's all well and good, but did you know that Karsaba is a land that steals memories? If you stay here too long, you'll soon forget who and what you are."
Jansson regarded the red-haired boy with doubt. "I've never heard of such a thing."
"Well, it's true."
"But Treyas and I have a small Keep just inside the southern border of Karsaba. I seriously doubt that we would have been allowed to build it if --"
"If what I say is true?" Darosenim interrupted. He was quiet a moment, in which he studied Jansson thoughtfully. "What you know of Karsaba, you have learned from books or lessons. What I know of Karsaba, I have learned by living here. Which do you think is more accurate?"
Jansson said nothing, his irritation increasing. Still, he couldn't debate the boy's words. No one could really know a place until one had visited.
"Now, then," Darosenim continued. "The rest of my questions. What are you doing here? Why are you here?"
At that, Jansson sagged. "I don't know. I really don't know." He reached out, took hold of the young Karsab's arm and looked at the spot where it had been sliced open. "I want to thank you for helping me up there," he said. "That was a brave thing to do, Darosenim. But why?"
The boy flushed and pulled his arm away. "My friends call me Dar. And deep-wound healing leaves just about the same residual magic as the TravelSpell you came in on."
"That wasn't my TravelSpell," Jansson said.
"Your elfin friend's, then?"
"No, he wasn't even in the room."
"Well, someone sent you here." Darosenim turned, and started down the tunnel.
Jansson followed, his mind swirling. A TravelSpell? No one had been there to Spell him. It was just him and the MagicPortal. He grimaced. Him and the Portal and his impatient curiosity. He had grown tired of waiting on Treyas, and had decided to go to Quinlin's and hurry the elf along. He had heard Treyas' instructions to Quinlin, had heard what color the Strands to Bailiwycke were, and had reached out to the blue ones. But instead of Bailiwycke, he had ended up here. He moaned inwardly. Gods! Kyel was going to kill him. Provided someone else didn't first. He hurried to come alongside Darosenim.
"This Ver Rugan...who is he?"
"A sorcerer, though not much of a one. But he is a tyrant this land would be well rid of." Darosenim cast Jansson a sideways glance. "Do you know Ver Rugan?"
Jansson paused. "I know of someone named Rugan, but he's an elf, not a sorcerer."
"Then it might be one and the same. Ver Rugan is indeed an elf, come from Glede, I understand." He stopped at Jansson's gasp of disbelief. "Then you do know him?"
"I...I don't know. The Rugan I knew...he didn't have sorcery magic. Just elfin." He shook his head. "I don't see how it could the same one. Rugan was imprisoned in..." He broke off, unsure just how much Darosenim knew of magic. "Anyway, the Rugan I knew was actually part of the royal family."
Darosenim looked at him in confusion. "The royal family? If he's part of the royal family, then why is he here?"
"I don't know. Tell me, how long has your Rugan been in power?"
"Only about six months. But in that time he has already killed almost every Mage in Karsaba."
The boy shrugged. "Most likely to get rid of any threat to his rule."
"Have you ever seen him?"
Darosenim nodded. "Why?"
"Tell me what he looks like."
"He's tall, thin, blond hair, blue eyes, arrogant, rude, pompous...I could go on."
Jansson swallowed hard. "No, you don't have to. It sounds like the same person." He sighed, his own confusion rising. "I don't understand any of this - why Rugan would come here, or even how. What could he hope to gain here? And how does he use magic at all? I thought Karsaba had no magic."
"For the most part, that is true. But there are small pockets of magic scattered here and there. Some are stationary, like my farm and Rune Mountain. Others, called Rovers, move freely about the land."
Jansson frowned. "What a strange form of magic." Another thought struck him and he looked again to Darosenim. "You're a mage, aren't you? How is it that Rugan has spared you?"
Darosenim gave a wry smile. "Because he thinks of me as only a drunk with the Gift for Healing. Not much of a threat, but quite an aide. I can't count the number of times I've patched up Rugan's men."
"Men? He's got an army already?"
"It doesn't take much to hire mercenaries. Either enough money to keep them happy, or the threat of harm if they don't follow orders. From what you've said about Ver Rugan's heritage, money is obviously no problem. And from what I know about his power, neither is a threat."
Jansson was quiet for a moment, letting this all sink in. "If you're his healer, why aren't you at the palace with him?" he finally asked.
"Why would he do that? Rune Mountain holds the strongest magic in Karsaba. It's not likely he'd let me get near that much power. My home holds what I need to heal even the gravest wounds. That is all Ver Rugan will allow me. Besides, it's not likely I could do anything more even if I was at Rune Mountain. I'm really not that gifted. If it weren't for, what's the matter?"
Jansson suddenly staggered and clutched at his head as fierce pain stabbed at it. Darosenim caught his arm, lowered him gently to the ground and hunkered down beside him.
"Gods," Jansson moaned. "The TravelSpell must have just caught up with me." He winced again, trying to sort out the sudden feeling of aloneness that swelled through him. He felt empty, as if something inside him had died. A flicker of fear coursed through him. Had what the young mage said about Karsaba stealing memories been true? No, he knew perfectly well who and where he was. But he felt a desperate urge to be back in Mayfaire or Lidgerwood with those he loved.
"I want to go home," he mumbled, looking to Darosenim. "I have no magic. But you do. Please. Send me back."
Darosenim returned his gaze, blue eyes alight with concern and consternation. "I can't throw TravelSpells. And even if I could, there isn't enough magic at the farm for such a use."
"But I came here."
"Because you followed a Strand from outside." Darosenim rose. "Can you walk?"
Unable to shake the feeling of loss, Jansson nodded and got slowly to his feet. "Where are you taking me?"
"To Lask, the only mage besides myself who yet lives. He's the real power behind everything I do. If it weren't for him, I'd have been killed a long time ago. Rugan doesn't know about him. As long as he stays here, hidden, he's safe." He sighed. "Not that this is a way to live - hiding underground, always in the dark, never seeing the sunshine or the moonlight." He sighed again. "But it keeps him alive. And me, as well."
"Why are you helping me?"
Darosenim stared at him as if it were the stupidest question he'd ever heard. "Because you look like you could use a friend." He smiled. "And a bath."
The smile and the words were genuine, Jansson knew. "I'd be grateful for both."
They resumed walking. "So, if this is the same Rugan, what do you know of him?" Darosenim asked.
Jansson grimaced, glancing at the long white scar that ran across the back of his left hand. A scar put there by Rugan three years ago. "Do you know the story of the Triskelion?"
"Yes," Darosenim replied. "Why?"
"Then you know that the Elfin Crown Prince was supposed to be the one to carry a part of it, to re-unite it with the piece held by the King of the North?"
Darosenim nodded. "The Key and the Circlet were the two pieces. The Key was in the protection of the elves, and the Circlet in protection of the gryphons at a place called the Devil's Hold. The Bloodfire is rumored to have the power to move the --" He stopped suddenly, his gaze darting to Jansson's ring, then to the young king's face. "You?" The word erupted from him as if it had only just registered. "You really are the king? You weren't joking?" At Jansson's shake of the head, he dropped to one knee, head bowed. "My apologies, M'Lord. What you must think of me! I'm no more than a bumbling peasant who --"
"May have saved my life," Jansson interrupted. "Please, get up. I don't need, or want, you bowing to me." He waited until Darosenim had once more regained his feet, then continued. "Yes, I commanded the gryphons. But it was Treyas who carried the Key, who released the elfin magic."
"Of course, he is the Crown Prince," Darosenim said, his brow furrowed with confusion.
"No, he's not. Or he wasn't. Rugan was. But the Triskelion chose Treyas over him."
"I don't know. No one knows. But it made Rugan very angry. He took most of that anger out on me."
"Why?" Darosenim asked again.
"Because of --" He broke off suddenly, the words caught in a throat gone dry as he suddenly realized what the terrible sense of loneliness meant.
Kyel's MindLink was gone.