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Dean-Contest of the Gods

By Geraldle

Copyright © 2002

Note: Venndel has a 485 day year, 12 months of 40 or 41 days, and an 8 day week.

ONE

"Why do you let them do this to you, muchacho? Your brother is almost five years older than you are, weighs almost three times what you do and is an athlete, yet you are strong enough that you can hold him down easily when you wrestle together." Maria said in Spanish to her eleven year old nephew, who she was cleaning up after he'd been beaten up for the third time this month.

Dean started to say something and it ended up being, "Ow!" and he looked at her reproachfully with his huge black eyes. She dabbed at his eye a little more gently.

He said in fluent Spanish, "My strength and everything that go with it are a gift, Tia, whether from God or whoever. I'm not going to use it just to beat up some boys a little older than I am just because they cause me a little pain. That would make me a bully instead of them, and make me like them, and I don't intend to become like them. Besides, as long as they're picking on me, they're not picking on someone else, because they're too dumb to concentrate on two things at once. They're too small too hit me hard enough to cause more than minor damage."

Finished his aunt stepped back and he put his elbow on the counter and rested his chin on his hand, playing with the black bangs on his forehead with his other hand, face creased in a frown, black eyes showing his annoyance. "The problem is they're starting to lose interest. If they start picking on someone else, I don't know what I'll do."

She kissed him on the top of the head, "You'll think of something Dean. Now it's almost four, and Doctor Maria's office hours start at four, so I'll be in the Clinic if you want me. Your parents will be back late from the business trip, probably long after you're in bed. Trina is over at Gloria's, and she's having a sleepover, Carter's in the gym and my three are working. So, it'll just be you and Carter for supper."

Dean smiled, "Just me, Carter's got an invite from his girlfriend for supper and then they're going to a movie later." He looked down at the book he was reading.

Maria looked at him with sadness. He was so young, so compassionate and so friendless. He didn't seem to mind, nor did he seem to mind that his little sister and big brother made friends so easily. She shook her head again, cursing under her breath. With the rezoning, he was going to a new school and he simply didn't know how to make friends. At least at his old school he had had acquaintances.

TWO

Carter was cursing himself as he tried to get the barbells back up and into the rest. Too much weight and too many repetitions. Suddenly Dean was there and he took the almost two hundred and forty pounds of the barbell and easily lifted it into the rest. He glared down at his older brother, and Carter threw up his hands. "I know, you warn me all the time, don't overwork myself. I get wrapped up in what I'm doing, and so do you. Right now you're protecting your whole sixth grade class from bullies and they don't even know it. I can see from that black eye that they beat you up again. Why do you let them do it? I'm one-hundred and eighty pounds, and you weigh what seventy pounds, and you can kick my ass all over the mat, and you let them beat you up." Carter said, knowing the answer as he saw the sadness creep into Dean's eyes.

Dean said, "You know why, the last time I let myself go, I came within a fraction of an inch of killing a kid. I just stopped my hand in time." His face twisted in shame. "Another inch and he would have been dead." He altered the subject abruptly. "I'll be out on the range. I want to do a little speed work."

Carter sat and watched his lonely little brother walk toward the back door and shook his head.

*****

Dean set up the six targets, from two hundred to two hundred and forty yards away, and ranging in distance from each other from ten yards to forty yards, all together covering an arc one hundred yards long.

Walking back, he easily strung the short, recurved bow. Sized for him, and designed by a friend of his father for his uncanny strength, it was much stronger than an ordinary bow. His father couldn't even draw the bowstring back more than a couple of inches on this bow, yet Dean could do so easily.

Putting the quiver over his head, he buckled the belt around his waist so it couldn't move. Picking up a stone he threw it high into the air, and just stood there waiting for the stone to land, relaxed. When the stone hit the ground he reached over his shoulder and pulled the first arrow out of the quiver. Making an automatic adjustment by feel, by the time the arrow was on the string it was in the proper position, and in a fraction of a second he drew and released, and ignoring the arrow as soon as it was gone he reached for the second arrow. In just under ten seconds he had drawn and fired twenty-four aimed arrow shots.

When he collected the arrows, he was disgusted with himself, he had actually missed the bull's eye on two of the targets by almost an inch. He hadn't been concentrating properly. It wasn't until he collected his arrows on the fourth attempt that he was satisfied. All twenty-four shots were in the bull's eye.

*****

"Him? Are you sure? He's just a child.," said one of them.

"That's why I chose him. Everyone is going to underestimate him at least the first time, which gives him more of a chance than if I'd chosen an adult. He has the strength of a Gart, and he can move faster than a Tang Snake. The speed is natural, the strength I added in his mother's womb. It was created by magic, yet it is no longer magic, it is simply an ability that is part of him. The only other thing I did was to make the skin on his forearms much tougher than normal human skin, so he can use a bow without needing protection from the string. Also the bow can be used by either hand simply by turning it over. He's much slower however with his left hand, it takes him at least a second and a half longer to empty the quiver." and he laughed with amusement.

"When do we take him?"

"Now is a good time, he has his bow and those deadly arrows of his."

"What else do we give him?"

"Languages, and the ability to distinguish good from evil, social knowledge and knowledge of the Contest, and that's all, he has a natural affinity for weapons of all kinds, and bare-handed combat, that again is part of him, and why I chose him."

THREE-Vent 2nd day of week- 14th day of Vere-Year 2118

Dean was walking back to his firing position when he was suddenly surrounded by a red light. Automatically, without being aware of what he was doing, he pulled an arrow and placed it on his bowstring. He had been reading Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen by H. Beam Piper, and he was a definite believer in alternate worlds.

He was on the top of a hill looking down on a battle. Some things that looked human were attacking circled wagons and things that were definitely not, since they had tails. But there were no ambiguities for Dean, he knew without question that the things with tails were good and the things that looked human were not, and they were getting ready for a final attack, many of the things from the wagon were hurt or dead.

The things had bows, but their arrows just bounced off the humans chain mail armor. Dean drew back his bowstring and carefully let go an aimed shot at the one he thought was the leader, and his arrow didn't bounce. He went into his speed routine, the humans went down one after the other, and Dean didn't even stop when they turned to run, emptying his quiver. Perhaps six of them were still alive to escape and he had missed only four shots, when someone jigged when he should have jogged.

Dean searched for a way down from the hill and he found that the way down was on the opposite side from the wagons. It was steep, he had to climb down carefully in places. All told, it took him maybe forty minutes to get close to the wagons. He didn't expect to be able to get really close before being discovered, and he was right, suddenly a shrill whistle was heard, half a dozen bow carriers were facing him with bowstrings drawn back. Dean spread his arms apart, indicating he was no threat. The bows were lowered a bit, but not completely.

Two of the beings came out from the wagons, and though they were apparently identical, Dean knew one was male and the other female. Their overall look was that of a weasel but they had almost no snouts, and their faces were very humanlike, though their eyes were much larger than a humans would be.

They stopped about ten feet away, and one of them asked, "Which human language do you think you should try, Tordell?"

"I don't know but I only know three, so it's not going to take long to find out if he speaks any of them, Fellen." said Tordell.

Dean said easily, "That's all right, it seems that I can understand your language, without any problems."

Fellen and Tordell looked stunned. Very few humans could speak the Weasan language, it was made up mainly of hisses and whistles and while a Weasan's vocal cords were flexible enough to produce human speech, the reverse was very rare. Fellen collected herself, "I am Fellen, wagon master of the Weasan Shadow Clan. More than half of my people were killed or wounded. If you had not intervened, all would now be dead. We owe you a blood debt."

Dean said, "No, your Gods are responsible for my being here. They brought me to this world, and they set me down here where I could help you, rather than many miles from here, as they could have."

Fellen said firmly, "The Gods may have put you here, and we will thank them for that, but you are the one that shot the arrows, so our debt is to you not to them."

"Mother!!!" screamed out a young Weasan, and Fellen turned sharply, "Da says one of the bandits is Broden."

Fellen put her hand over her heart and caught her breath, and then after saying, "Come young human." she began to run, skirting the wagons instead of going through. Despite the fact that he was almost a foot shorter than the Weasan female, Dean kept up easily. He slowed to a stop when he saw the group around one of the men he had killed. Dean took a gulp of air. He had a feeling he'd be on this world for a while and he'd have to face those he killed, but he was in no hurry. Walking would get him there in about thirty seconds and that was soon enough for him.

Soon he was standing beside Fellen, looking down into the face of the man he had killed. Surprisingly the sight of the bloody body didn't upset him, yet for some reason, he was extremely sad, and he realized that it was for this man's victims, not for him. He also realized that he was feeling detached that when he came out of it, he'd be upset, but he decided to show them how to retrieve his arrows before that happened.

At the distance he'd been shooting from, he expected that the arrows would have gone right through most of the raiders. The narrow but razor sharp arrowheads wouldn't even have been slowed by the chain mail that the men were wearing. At that distance not even full plate armor would have stopped them, either. He knelt down and easily turned the man onto his side, and as he had figured, the arrowhead was protruding six inches from his back.

He said, "The arrowhead unscrews from the arrow, and if you grasp the upper part of the arrowhead you can turn the head without getting cut, the lower part of the head is extremely sharp." He demonstrated by unscrewing the arrowhead, the Weasan watching closely.

"If you would collect my arrows I would be grateful. Right now I'm feeling detached, but I'm starting to come down and in a few minutes, I'm going to feel very emotional. I've never killed anyone before and I just killed twenty beings. Evil they certainly were, but they were intelligent beings. While mentally I don't regret their deaths, emotionally I'm going to." Dean said, his voice starting to wobble a little.

Fellen nodded her understanding, "My first kills were against beings somewhat like this, though not so well armed, but like you, even though I knew they were evil, I felt their deaths deeply. It seems only beings like these can kill without remorse. Fellehin!"

"Yes mother?" asked the younger Weasan female.

"Take the boy somewhere that he can have some privacy. He needs to regret and perhaps to cry a little before he will feel better." Fellen said.

"My daughter Fellehin, has just started studying to be a Healer and part of that learning is the Healing of the mind. She will be easy company for you, little one."

"Thank you." Dean said, feeling numb, and knowing that when the numbness wore off, the grief would take over. Fellehin led him away and surprisingly between one of the wagons into the wagon circle. Fellehin said, "I am simply a beginning apprentice, and the wounds that my people suffer are far beyond my present ability even to help with, so we will go to my tent, where you can have some privacy."

The tent she took him too looked surprisingly modern and Earthlike. She opened it, ushered him inside, and closed the flap after herself, and suddenly there was absolute quiet. She said, "These tents are spelled to provide peace for those that need them, usually it is a Healer who needs some quiet time, but it will not be the first time that a warrior who has been forced to kill for the first time, has used it."

She continued to talk and her voice was soothing to Dean, who was beginning to come out of his numbness. He rubbed his eyes as the first of the tears began to fall, blinking quickly trying to force them back, but finally he just let them flow, sorrow flooding his heart. There were no regrets because of what he had been forced to do, but still he had killed, and he had killed twenty men and women. He wrapped his arms around his knees and buried his face in his hands, shoulders shaking as he sobbed silently. After a few minutes his sobs slowed and then ceased. He took his handkerchief out of the pocket of his shorts and blew his nose, and then wiped his eyes on the short sleeve of his T shirt. His heart began to feel easier, as he accepted the fact that he had needed to kill, and probably would again, and if he had to cry every time he did so, so be it.

FOUR

When he came out of the tent, his arrows were cleaned and lying on a cloth. He put down his bow, took off his quiver, and put the arrows into it, then putting the quiver on again and buckling it around his waist.

One of the Weasan archers asked, "Why do you do that?"

Dean explained, "It helps keep the quiver still and unmoving, so that when I reach back it's always going to be in the same place and at the same angle. Watch." The Weasan did so, suddenly an arrow appeared in Dean's hand, and he could see that it was just in the right position to go on a bowstring. He shook his head. He saw the end result but he hadn't even seen Dean's arm move.

He shrugged, the end result was what he was interested in, obviously he would never equal this child, but then again he doubted there were many on this world who could. "How do you make the flight feathers end up in the right place?"

Dean turned the arrow around, saying, "Feel the end." The Weasan did so, and could tell that one section was smooth and one section very rough, while the two sides were not quite as rough. "It doesn't seem like much, but after the amount of practice I've had, I can feel exactly where the areas are. As I draw the arrow I spin it, just enough so that the smooth area is at the top, that way it'll always come up in the right position." Dean explained. The Weasan looked at Dean, aware, as the boy was not, of the extraordinary coordination the boy must possess to be able to do that.

Dean shrugged and made the arrow disappear. He nodded at the Weasan's bow. "Why did so many of your arrows bounce off?"

The being looked rueful. "Our war captain underestimated our foe. We are less than a day from our home, and never before has anyone attacked us so close. We put all of the war arrows away this morning, and all we had were broad head hunting arrows since we expected to be able to do a little hunting a little closer to home. We'll never know what we would have done to him because he was one of those killed. When we circled the wagons, the wagon that the arrows were in shifted its load so we never had the opportunity to get them out. It was a costly lesson, but we won't be caught like that again. Thanks to you, we're able to tell our people about it."

Realizing that he had embarrassed Dean, when the boy went red, he chortled and said, "We've always been glad that we don’t go red when we get embarrassed. You humans are the only ones who advertise it to every other race. Most of us only show our embarrassment to our own people." and he watched Dean go even redder. He gently ruffled the boy's black hair, a gesture that was a universal signal of affection on this world, as well as on Earth.

*****

Dean looked at the Weasan headman who was Fellen's father. "You figure I'm involved in something called the Contest. Twelve beings chosen from other worlds are brought to your world. Six of them are of the light and six of them are of the dark. I suppose this Contest consists of running hither and yon, back and forth to collect important objects and treasure, and the one who gets the most objects gets the girl and a place of immortality in your legends."

"Most of that's right, but we generally forget their names the minute they leave." said Ferrehin.

"Well I've got a few words for your Gods, The Hell with them. I'll take Broden to the capital, and admit I killed him. I'll collect the reward and I'll buy a house and stay nice and comfortable. If the Gods want me in on this they can send things and people to me, besides I'm too young to want the girl." Dean pursed his lips and blew a raspberry at the Gods. The headman and his council were too astute to say anything where the Gods might be listening, but their eyes glinted with humor. For the first time, one of their pawns wasn't going to play the game their way, but his.

FIVE-Acen 1st day of week-21st of Vere-Year 2118

The Shadow Clan had given him a small cart and a horse and supplies, and their shaman had spelled the body of Broden so that it would be preserved for long enough to get to the capital Clare, which was a seven days travel away by cart. His Weasan escort had left him several miles back. They felt he should get any credit and the reward that went with it. Though they would have been welcome they felt uncomfortable in cities, avoiding them whenever possible. On their horses the trip home would only take a couple of days.

The guard at the gate was bored, and he yawned. He saw the boy approaching and there was a lot of interest in the boy wearing the strange garb, jean shorts and a green short-sleeved T shirt. He said, through the open door of the gatehouse, "Sarge, there's a kid approaching with a cart and he's dressed really funny."

The sergeant came to the door and watched with curiosity as the strangely dressed boy drove up to the gate. He asked, "Do you have anything strange in that cart, kid?"

Dean smiled black eyes glinting, considering, "Well, I guess you could say that. I've got a body."

The sergeant frowned, not fond of children's humor. Dean reached back and flipped the edge of the tarp off of Broden. Dean says, "He's well preserved but it was a nice, quiet trip because he doesn't talk much."

"It's Broden. I've never seen him look better." the other guard took one look at the body and headed for the latrine. The sergeant watched him go, then said to Dean, "His first body. It won't be his last."

He watched Dean closely when he asked, "Did you kill him?" and he saw sadness, regret, and satisfaction pass through those big black eyes and small face he knew that Dean had done so, even before he said, "I did."

He picked up his whistle and blew on it twice, summoning two guards, and they showed up about twenty seconds later, one of them had corporal stripes. He asked, "What's up, sarge and where's Jezzy?"

The sergeant said, jerking his thumb at the cart, "His first body. He's in the latrine losing his lunch."

"Anybody we know, sarge?" asked the corporal.

"Well you might say that. It's Broden," said the sergeant with satisfaction.

The corporal whistled under his breath and then looked around carefully, "You might want to get him to the Palace. He had friends, they might try to get the body back."

The sergeant nodded, "True. Let's go kid, the sooner we get him to the Palace the better." He climbed up beside Dean and they headed for the Palace, the sergeant giving directions and keeping his eye open. When the sergeant got to the Palace guardhouse he handed Dean and his body over to the Captain of the Guard, and a half-hour later, the boy was in front of the King. He was looking somewhat doubtfully at the boy who was supposed to have killed the most famous bandit in the kingdom.

"Ah how did you kill, Broden, you'll still get the reward if you didn't. We just wanted him dead, we don't care how he got that way." the King said. About forty he gave the impression that he wasn't very bright, but Dean had seen those shrewd brown eyes, also the humor that lurked in the depths.

He smiled and answered back with a little humor of his own, "I assure you Your Majesty, I shot him with my trusty little bow and arrow." and indicating his unstrung bow, put the end of it on the floor and easily strung it and handed it to the King. The man was slight but was stronger than he looked and he couldn't move it more than an inch.

He handed it back to the boy, watched Dean easily pull the string back to his ear, and then ease off on the tension until the bow was straight again. Dean heard a whisper in the air and his hand snapped from the bowstring and caught the crossbow bolt two feet from the King's chest. "Second balcony, sir, why would he chose that one?" looking upward.

The King looked calmly at the crossbow bolt in the boy's hand. "There's a door to an outdoors balcony, on that level."

"Ah, yes, I see it. He hasn't had time to use it yet. What type of wood is the railing made of sir, hardwood or softwood?" asked the boy.

"Softwood." the King answered briefly.

"Simply delightful, sir." said Dean in a soft, dangerous voice. Suddenly there was an arrow flying upward and it hit the balcony railing going right through the softwood and hitting the wall behind. He went into semi-speed mode, shooting about one arrow a second, alternating from one end of the balcony to the other, moving toward the middle, on the seventh shot, someone screamed and straightened, falling forward through the railing. The people underneath him scrambled towards the walls except for one young page, who was staring in fatal fascination at the body that was falling right at him.

Dean reached him just in time, grabbing him around the waist, the body just missing them. Dean set him on his feet. Looking at the body, the boy began crying, his eyes wide with fright. Dean picked him up with one arm and carried him back toward the King.

SIX

By the time he had reached the King, the Captain of the Guard was getting very clear orders from a very annoyed King Hanae. "Find out what happened, Captain, or you might end up as a man-at-arms."

Dean coughed slightly, and Hanae looked at him, with a smile of thanks, "I owe you my life, ah..."

"Dean, Your Majesty, Dean Richmond. I really would like my arrows back, I don't know if I'm going to need them but I'd like to have them just in case." said Dean.

The King grinned, "Chancellor, send someone up to get the boy's arrows. Is the boy all right?"

"Yes sir, but he's feeling ashamed of himself right now, that's why he refuses to look at anybody. He wet himself and he feels very embarrassed." Dean said, his eyes filled with sympathy.

The King sighed, "He is much too young to be at the Palace, but he's an orphan and we thought we would try it despite the fact that he's only a little over six. We'll retire, so no one else knows about it for the moment, but rumors will fly."

He stood up, and addressed his courtiers. "I'm afraid that you will need to stay here until the Captain of the Guard finishes his investigation. I'll withdraw and I instruct the servants to bring in chairs so you may sit."

He exited through the door behind the throne, accompanied by the Chancellor, Evalt and his squire and Dean carrying the little page. In his rooms he shrugged off the heavy robe with relief, the servant who was waiting in the room, taking it. "Wat, fetch some of Telwyn's clothing for our little page." and the servant nodded and bowed himself out.

The Chancellor took the page from Dean, and sat down with the boy on his knee, facing him, ignoring his wet breeches. Deltin's face was flaming red and he couldn't bear to look at the man. The man who was on easy terms with almost everyone at Court, said, "Don't be ashamed Deltin. Our bodies don't always do what we want them too. You've probably heard the rumors about me." The tiny page took a quick glance at the man, and nodded a little.

"Absolutely true. I pissed my breeches every time I went into battle. I long since stopped being ashamed of it. It never stopped me from doing what I was supposed to do." said the man seriously. "You're ashamed because you want to be a brave, grown up page, but you're not. You're a little boy, just as the other pages are little boys. Put into danger for the first time, they would probably react much like you did. I don't imagine it will stay a secret, so you're going to get teased about it, but ask them what they'd do if they saw a body falling towards them. They'll probably boast about what they would have done, but the louder they boast, the more uncertain they'll be about what would have happened."

Wat returned then and the Chancellor said, "You go with Wat, and he'll clean you up and put you into clean clothes." The little page, much cheered by one of the most respected warriors in the Kingdom, hopped down and went over to the corner with Wat. There was a washstand, he quickly stripped off his clothes, and Wat gave him a quick sponge bath, then dried him off and began to dress the boy again.

Dean had unstrung his bow and taken off the quiver, and he was watching the two. While Deltin lifted his arms so that Wat could slip the shirt over his head, Dean noticed something and stiffened. He went over to the two. "Before you put on the belt, Wat, there is something that I want the King to see."

"Certainly, sir." Dean took the boy by the shoulder and led him over to the King.

"Your Majesty, have you ever seen this?" and turning the boy around he lifted his shirt and revealed a birthmark just under his right shoulder blade. It looked like an inverted pyramid, and it was very detailed, if it were upright, it would have looked like one of the pyramids in Egypt.

The King stiffened, saying, "I didn't realize that Deltin had such a birthmark, but I saw a birthmark just like it once before, thirty years ago. I was swimming with one of the Champions and I noticed it. I inquired about it, and he said all those of his blood had that birthmark." He smiled briefly, "He won the Contest and he got the girl, in this case it was my older sister. She was ten years older than I and when he returned to his world she went with him."

Without a word, Dean turned his back, raising his T shirt he revealed an identical birthmark, and both the King and Chancellor drew in a deep breath. They examined the two marks with wonder.

Dean turned around; "It appears that time doesn't act the same on your world as on mine. My father is only forty-four, and my mother forty. Eighteen years ago, my mother was expecting their first child and the baby just disappeared, after he was born. My Aunt Maria is a doctor and they arranged to keep the disappearance quiet. They must have known that he disappeared into this world."

"My father was here thirty years ago, but it was only twenty years on my world. They must have had Deltin in a magical sleep for years before they woke him so that he could start to grow up." Dean said.

"But the Champion was blond, with blue eyes and light skin, and my sister had light brown hair and brown eyes. You two have black hair and eyes and dark skins." said the King.

"My sixteen year old brother has blond hair, and blue eyes and one of Aunt Maria's girls has as well, the rest of us are all dark. Our grandmother had blond hair, and her great-grandmother did as well. It shows up in our family every once in a while." said Dean. "You said Deltin was really a little too young to serve as a page. I would like to take him with me." Dean said.

"But you're a Champion, you'll be doing a lot of traveling!" exclaimed the King.

Dean shook his head his black hair flying around his head, a determined look in his snapping black eyes and his small face. "No I won't, Your Majesty. I told the Gods to stuff it, though I was somewhat ruder than that. There's a nice reward on Broden. I intend to buy a house and set up a household here in Clare. If the Gods want me involved, they'll need to bring the action to me, since I don't intend to move a foot outside of these walls until it's all over."

The King and the Chancellor looked at each other and burst out laughing. When the King regained his composure though they're was still humor in his brown eyes. "The Gods have finally picked someone who doesn't intend to play their game, but can you avoid it?"

"Not really, Your Majesty, but I can be comfortable while everyone else is out freezing their ass off. Eventually they have to come to me. I have two tokens now, Broden was the first, and Deltin is the second. Nobody's collection will be complete without them." His dark eyes went bleak. "That's another reason to get Deltin out of the Palace, to claim a living token, the dark side has to kill them. The light can claim a living token by having him in his possession or by killing, and by killing Broden I took his token, so to possess that one they have to kill me. Now that I've claimed Deltin, they must kill me first before they can kill him."

There was a knock on the door right at that moment and the squire answered it and said to the King. "It's the Captain of the Guard, Sire."

"Show him in, Clell, I want to know what he found out." The squire opened the door and the Captain came in. The Captain stood at attention, saluted, and the King said, "Relax, if you have a reasonable explanation, there's no problem."

"We examined the outside balcony sir, we found two dead guards and two workmen, stone masons, there were supposed to be three and the assassin is dressed as a stone mason. There were wounds in the throats of the guards and the workmen looked liked their throats had been cut. We found no knives, so I don't know how they were killed."

Dean was investigating the bucket that the Captain had put on the floor just inside the door and with his affinity for weapons, guessed what had been used at once. He said, "You've got to think unconventionally at times, Captain." and he bent down and took three of the chisels out of the bucket. He came over to where the men were talking; he put down two of the chisels on the desk and picked up a blank sheet of paper. Holding up the sheet of paper he put the chisel at the top of the sheet, showing how easily it sliced through the paper.

"I think this chisel is somewhat sharper than a stone mason would need." he said ironically, and the King and the Chancellor nodded and the Captain looked at it open-mouthed.

Dean put down the chisel and picked up the other two. He cast his look around the room. "Is there anything you don't particularly like in this room, Your Majesty?"

The King laughed, "I think that you can feel free to call me Uncle. That picture over in the corner of the stout woman. That's my mother-in-law, and she was about to get tossed out. With my wife dead." and a fleeting look of sadness passed over his face, "I no longer have to keep that portrait around."

Dean nodded and moving slowly, for him, so that they could see what he was doing, he took one of the chisels in hand and with a snap of his wrist he threw it, flipping the second from his other hand, he threw the second one. They ended up with one in each eye at about ten yards. "Believe me, Your Maj… Uncle you don't have chisels perfectly balanced like that unless you intend to use them as throwing weapons. I could have thrown them a lot faster and I imagine that's how the apparent mason did it. He could have thrown one with each hand. I can, I don't know if he could. The guards would have seen absolutely nothing wrong with a stone mason handling his chisels. The other stone masons. They were civilians; probably the most violence they ever saw was a fistfight when they were children. None of them really had a chance. I'm more interested in how he got the crossbow?"

The King said, "That's easily explained, I'm afraid. The Palace is warded; it gives warning when a being enters wearing a weapon. A Wizard watches twenty-four hours a day. It only takes a high Apprentice, and they can see if the being carrying the weapon is accompanied by a guard or not. If not, then a warning is given. If a guard accompanies the being, he tells the ward to ignore that being. There are rooms off of the second balcony, but they are seldom used, so a weapon could have been put there almost anytime in the last year, though it was probably much more recently."

"Well he had to get into the building, so first he had to get rid of the guards and the witnesses. He might have been able to do so using hand to hand combat, but it would have been harder to do it silently. I would suggest that from now on your guards look at anything that looks faintly like a weapon. If it has any characteristics of a weapon, an experienced guard should be able to tell if it really is one. If any of the guards had picked up any of those three chisels and especially the throwing ones, they would have wondered why the balance was so perfect. That could have stopped the attempt right there." Dean said, smoothing down his bangs, a habit of his.

"Well, Captain you're off the hook. There's no way of knowing how alert the guards were, but as Dean has shown even if they were fully alert, they probably wouldn't have had time to prevent their deaths. But have them be on the alert for anything that looks like a weapon. Show them these chisels and demonstrate their use. That should make them aware that they have to be careful, after all it is their lives, as well as mine." Hanae said, and the Captain nodded, bowing himself out.

The King looked at Deltin, and asked, "Have you understood anything that we've said, little one?"

Deltin shook his head, and answered honestly, "No, Your Majesty, only that somehow you're my Uncle and he's my brother, and I'm going to be going with him."

The King laughed in amusement; "Well you understood the things that were most important to you." He looked at Dean, "We'll get you your money which is one thousand gold coins, and for saving my life we'll add an additional two thousand. Is there anything else you need?"

Dean looked at him shrewdly and saw that the King was determined to reward him, and he accepted it. "I could use some weapons, Uncle. I may need my bow again, but I doubt it will get much more use in the city. I imagine you have an armory with weapons from the time the Kingdom was founded. There should be something there that I can use."

SEVEN

Dean looked with interest around the Armory. As he had anticipated, it was filled with weapons from all eras. Hanae said, "Your father left one of his weapons behind when he returned to your world. It's over this way." and he led them over to a weapon which took pride of place.

Dean looked at it, and like most fine weapons itched to take it in his hands but he shook his head. "It's a lovely weapon and the Bowie knife is considered one of the finest fighting knives my world ever produced, but it's way too large to fit my hand."

They all heard what sounded like a whisper, 'Your wish is my command.' and suddenly the Bowie knife had a much narrower handle. Without heat, Dean said, "Bastard... I hope you didn't screw up the balance." and they all heard the whispered laughter. Standing on tiptoe, Dean lifted the Bowie knife and its sheath off of the wall.

Dean flipped the knife high in the air and everybody watched it spin and it came down right where it should have, the hilt slapping into his palm. He slipped the knife into its sheath, and unbuckling his belt, he slipped the sheath onto it, tying the thong on the sheath around his bare thigh.

Putting his hand up and behind his head, Dean clenched his fist. Then he moved, and the motion was so fast that none of the other four even saw it, but suddenly his hand was at waist height with the knife in it.

He nodded his head with satisfaction. Looking around he saw a piece of wood on the wall, and from the marks, it was obviously used to try out throwing weapons. He gave a flick of his wrist and the Bowie knife was suddenly sticking out of the bottom right hand corner. He smiled with satisfaction, and went to collect the knife, saying, "Well, it looks like that INTERFERING BUSYBODY didn't manage to screw up the balance." as he sheathed the knife.

He started to return to the others and when he was about halfway he noted something unusual. "Where did this come from, Uncle? Your glass is good but this is much finer than anything I've seen so far." he said of the thin opaque black glass cylinder, which was reminiscent of a bottle but had a rounded top and it was on a wooden base.

The King said after coming closer, "We have no idea, Dean. It's been here for several generations and nobody has ever been able to move it, or to remove it from its base."

Dean said crisply. "Well you're about to find out. Twelve people on your world can now remove the glass because it contains a token. It was probably put on your world for just that purpose, to be used someday in one of the Contests." He took hold of the glass and lifted it straight up, and then set it to the side to look at what it had covered; a wooden cross with narrow arms. Draped on it was the silver chain of a necklace. On the end close to the base was a jewel in the shape of a sword in sheath. Barely one inch in length, the sheath had the red color of a ruby, and the hilt was the green of an emerald.

Dean picked it up and suddenly the gem had tiny runes on it. With the ability the Gods had given him to understand all languages on Venndel, he translated it though with a little difficulty, not because of the language, but because the runes were so small.

'I am Sinore. Wear me. Call me with your mind.'

Dean smiled briefly, "I'd offer it to you, Uncle, but I have the feeling that you wouldn't want it anyway, if you could even touch it."

The King laughed, then said with vigor, "You are correct, no sensible person wants a token from a Contest, it could very easily get you killed."

Dean put the necklace around his neck and moving back from the others, leaving plenty of space, he thought in his mind, 'Sinore' and suddenly he had a sword in his hands. It was a scimitar. The green hilt was about eight inches long and the blade itself was about three feet long. It had a razor sharp curved edge and like the Bowie knife a sharpened curved false edge, leading back to the widest point of the sword, and unlike some scimitars it wasn't extreme only about three inches wide.

It was heavy for a one handed sword. It weighed perhaps fifteen pounds, and it would take a strong being to wield it for any length of time, but that didn't bother Dean, and he appreciated the perfect balance. He lowered the blade and lifting up the small jeweled sword sheath on the end of the necklace they could all see that it no longer had a hilt.

"It is part of the Contest as I mentioned, and as I come across tokens I know them and about them. It will appear when called, but it has no other magic than that. If I release it like this." and he dropped the sword, which disappeared before it touched the floor. "it will return to its sheath in the gemstone. However, if I dropped it as a ruse, or threw it from hand to hand it wouldn't."

Dean looked around, and he sighed, "Well my knowledge of your world tells me that what I want for throwing weapons aren't available. I'll have to see an arms maker and see if he can produce them for me. This however will be useful," and he held up a simple weapon, and both the King and Evalt nodded. It was simple, but if he was as expert with it as he was with his bow, it was deadly. "The excitement is starting to wear off, and I think I need somewhere private where I can cry for the man I killed."

Both Hanae and the Chancellor nodded their understanding, not surprised, both knowing you could kill when it was necessary yet find the necessity saddening, though both Clell and Deltin were surprised.

Hanae said, "Evalt, will show you to your rooms, and then arrange for your supper, while Clell accompanies Deltin to gather his things from the pages quarters. That should give you enough time to grieve. Evalt will go with you in the morning. He knows every good house that's available in the city."

Dean had asked for a tub to be brought up, and after food had been delivered for supper he washed himself and a reluctant Deltin, and then he washed his clothes. He had no intention of reverting to native garb until he had to. The jean shorts were only a month old, so they would last quite a while, though his underpants and his T shirt weren't going to last long, nor would his socks or sneakers.

Naked he got into bed with Deltin, thinking of the other Champions wherever they were. He hadn't been kidding when he said that he would stay comfortable while they were freezing their asses off. It was still early spring, and it had been downright cold on a couple of the nights on his way to Clare. If he hadn't had a double bedroll from the Shadow Clan, he would have spent a couple of cold nights.

EIGHT FIVE-Vent 2nd day of week-22nd of Vere-Year 2118

Evalt could see that Dean still showed the somberness that had ended the previous day, and there was a sadness at the back of his eyes that had become a permanent part of him. He said, "I have a suggestion. The widow of an old friend is about to lose her house to her brother-in-law. She owes him five hundred gold pieces that she borrowed when her husband died to pay off his debts. He's never liked her and he intends to put her and her three teenage daughters out on the street."

"With five hundred gold pieces you can buy part of the house and have a ready made housekeeper. When you leave, the house can go back to her, and if for some reason you are stuck here, you will have a house for life. Another five hundred gold pieces will run a household such as that for five years, in a lavish lifestyle and if you're frugal, it can last twice that. That is if you don't mind living with one woman and three who are almost women."

Dean grinned, the sadness no longer visible in his large black eyes. "My Aunt and her three daughters have lived with us since her husband died just after my sixteen year old brother was born. I'm used to two adult women, three in their late teens and a little sister. If Carter, my father and I couldn't get along with women we'd have to head for the high hills, and live like hermits."

Deltin giggled beside him, covering his mouth, and Dean rubbed his back. His family was one that touched a lot, and he had no intention of treating Deltin any differently. Instead of picking up his bow, he took the sling he had taken from the armory, put it into his back pocket and dropped a dozen one ounce pellets into his front pocket.

Evalt asked him, "How good are you with that?"

Dean said, "Up to twenty yards I can throw the shot hard enough to kill. Well over two hundred yards with the sling just as deadly, though not as fast as with my bow. However, the only place where you would need that type of range is from the Palace itself or the Cathedral bell tower. I asked the sergeant of the City Guards about the bell tower, and he said that there's no actual platform in the bell tower where anybody could stand to use a bow or crossbow."

"Aside from those two places and the city walls themselves, there is only one other place where you have more than about thirty or forty yards of clear space. The market place does but even there, it's broken up into areas so that the longest range you would have would be about sixty yards."

He abruptly changed the subject, "How many attempts was that on my Uncle?"

Evalt sighed, "That was the third and the closest."

Dean nodded. "I'll see if I can't do something. Once I have a household, I can start wandering around. After a while they'll get used to seeing me, and they'll forget I'm there. Since I can speak and read any language on this world, it doesn't matter if they use a language foreign in Clare. I'll understand it anyway."

*****

When they approached the house that Evalt had suggested, there was a woman in her late thirties with three teenage girls behind her, and she was arguing vehemently with a man with rich clothes, a fancy goatee and mustache which was as pure black as his hair. Dean almost broke out laughing, the dye was so bad that the color was an obvious fake, and aside from that he took an instant dislike to the man. He wasn't evil, but he wasn't good either, not as Dean interpreted the term. He was accompanied by a bodyguard, a good seven feet tall and weighing over three hundred and fifty pounds, and he looked very unhappy.

He yelled at the woman, "You owe me five hundred gold pieces. Where do you think you're going to get it in the next two weeks. Tell me that. Why don't you leave now and save us a lot of trouble."

She spluttered, "You, You..." and she looked at her daughters and the neighbors trying to think of something she could call him which would satisfy her feelings, yet wouldn't scandalize everyone.

Dean suggested, with a grin, "Unprincipled scoundrel."

She looked at the boy, and nodded grinning at him, "Thank you little one." before turning back to the man, "You unprincipled scoundrel, you know your brother would be ashamed of you. Yes, you do." she said with satisfaction, "I can see you going red with shame."

Dean said, "I might be able to solve your problem. Evalt suggested that I buy part of your house for five hundred gold pieces and I have enough to keep it running for a while." The woman looked at him and then at Evalt who nodded. She trusted the man, and perhaps there was a little more feeling in her heart than just trust.

She nodded, "I'd be delighted, little one." and she turned away from her brother-in-law and bent over and gave Dean a kiss on the forehead. Dean had long since stopped blushing when he was kissed by a woman, but Deltin giggled. Suddenly the man grabbed her arm and swung her around to face him, but screamed as Dean grabbed his wrist and squeezed, forcing the man to let go. Dean gave him a shove and he landed on his behind ten feet away.

Dean started for him, intending to give him a lesson on how to treat women, when the Gart got in front of him, unhappiness even more evident. He rumbled, "Sorry, kid I can't let you do anything more to him."

Dean sighed and then saw the humor in it and grinned, "I have to go through you first, do I?"

"I'm afraid so, kid." the man said sadly.

"Very well." Dean said. Nobody saw his move, but suddenly he jumped, kicking the Gart just above the knee with his left foot, numbing the leg so it began to collapse, while Dean grabbed his upper arm with his left hand, swung himself completely around and kicked the Gart in the back of his left leg, completing the move. The Gart went to his knees. Dean was now behind him, one hand holding his chin the other the top of his head, and Dean said cheerfully, "If you move, I'll break your neck."

Dault didn't move, he could feel the incredible strength in those small hands, and he knew that Dean could do exactly that. He heard Dean say in Garthan, his language, "Your life is now mine, to do with as I will. As the victor I claim you. Do I have your bond oath?" and Dault's heart soared remembering the Shaman's prophecy when he was a boy. 'You will always be unhappy until he is there for you, so unlikely he will be but give your bond oath, it will be the happiest time of your life.'

Dault said hoarsely, "You do. But I still can't let you hurt him."

"Very well. I'll let him off this time. How much do you owe him?" asked Dean, releasing him.

Dault said, "Either six months service or twenty gold pieces."

Evalt was already counting out the money from the large pouch he was carrying and he handed it to Dean, who looked at the man who no longer looked quite so impressive, his clothes hair and beard dusty. "On your feet, if you want your money." and the man got to his feet with alacrity.

Dean began to count out the coins, out loud, showing them to the crowd before putting them into his hand, so they could see that they were all fifty-coin gold pieces. He counted out loud, until he reached ten and added two ten-coin gold pieces. The man looked around wildly. He no longer had a bodyguard, and suddenly he had five hundred and twenty pieces of gold he hadn't expected to have. Dean sighed, "Dault, escort him home and make sure nobody robs him, would you please? Gather your belongings and come back here when you're finished, and Madame," he looked at her and she said, "Gloudin," Dean nodded, "Madame Gloudin will provide you with a room. It's a large house, but I don't imagine the staff is very large any more."

"Yes, Minva." and the others watched as they headed off.

Evalt asked, "What does Minva mean."

Dean smiled, "I asked for a bond oath from him and he said yes. Minva in this case means lord because he's now my liegeman, but it also means brother, because he's as much a member of my family now as if he had been born into it. If it was to a woman in my family it would mean sister, mother, or aunt, grandmother, cousin, niece or a man father, uncle, or grandfather, cousin, or nephew. It's all inclusive. In the beginning it went both ways, but it was too complicated a system to maintain, so it has only gone one way for the last one thousand years."

Dean took a look around at those who had been watching with interest. Two of them showed signs of having been recently released from the army, and they were certainly related, brothers perhaps, and possibly even twins, though one had a mustache while the other was clean shaven. The boy's black eyes fastened on them and they shifted nervously. Those large eyes seemed like they could look right through you, and suddenly the two men relaxed. They had little in their lives that they were ashamed of, and Dean nodded.

"Do you two want jobs?" he asked.

They looked at each other, remembering the ease with which he'd beat the Gart. He was a commander to be proud of, despite his age. They turned to the boy and nodded. He said, "Five silvers a month each. You start now." He turned to Evalt. "Do you have five of the ten gold coins, please?" and when the Chancellor handed them to him he turned to Madame Gloudin. He offered them to her, and she accepted them with wonder, just now beginning to be overwhelmed with what seemed to be gifts from the Gods.

Dean said, "Fifty gold coins, to start with, for incidental expenses. I imagine you cut way back on staff to save some money. Evalt said that five hundred gold coins would allow us to live for five years in a lavish lifestyle, and ten years with a frugal one." He smiled, "I don't know exactly which way we'll be going, probably somewhere in the middle. If you go anywhere take either…" and he looked at the men, a question in his eyes.

The clean-shaven one said, "Shore, and my cousin is Slad."

"Either Shore or Slad or Dault with you, when he comes back. When that happens one of the two left here can go get your belongings from where you're staying. I want one guard here at all times, from now on. All right?" he asked, and the two soldiers and the four females from the Gloudin family nodded, and he continued, "Deltin and I'll get back for supper. We'll have lunch out. We'll see you later."

NINE

Evalt said with some worry in his voice, "How do you know that you can trust them?"

Dean put his arm around Deltin's shoulder, and said, confidently, "That's one of the gifts that the Gods gave me. The ability to tell good from evil and all the shades in between. For instance, Madame Gloudin's brother-in-law isn't evil, but he's somewhat of a scoundrel. Right now he's simply greedy and he could still go in either direction. Shore and Slad just shine with goodness, as does Madame Gloudin and her daughters, as does Dault and you and the King, and little Deltin here. That's how I knew that Broden and his band were evil while the Weasan's were good."

As they turned the corner, they came upon a commotion. Jezzy and the sergeant of the City Guard, who had brought Dean to the Palace the day before, was standing talking to a large man who was being held by two other guards. Evalt said to the sergeant, "What's going on, sergeant?"

The sergeant looked glad to see the Chancellor. "Sir, Jezzy here lived in Cant for most of his childhood, close to the border with Sharn, and he says he thinks that some of the dogs that this man has are Sharn hounds. Danns here says as far as he knows they're no different than any other hounds he has ever had."

The obviously worried man, said, "That's truth, sir. I swear it." sweating with fear.

Dean said, "I think I can help, sergeant."

The sergeant looked at the boy and recognized him, and he remembered the rumor that had been going the rounds. An intelligent man, he put the rumor with the fact that the boy was with the second most important man in the Kingdom and figured the rumor must be true. "How can you help, Sir?"

Dean said, "I'll ask them, sergeant." and he grinned when the sergeant's mouth dropped. "Let's go."

Inside Dean looked at the pens, and saw that they were better cared for than most dog pounds of his world, and his sympathy was with the owner instantly. He knew which ones Jezzy meant at once even without their being pointed out. They had an aura of goodness which was visible to him, so they had to be intelligent beings, because none of the animals that he had seen had one.

Yet at the same time he realized how easy it would be to make a mistake. They were huge animals, each weighing well over two hundred and fifty pounds, and they were vaguely reminiscent of German Shepherds. But the dogs in the next pen looked almost identical, yet he knew they were simply animals.

Their barks had meaning but were simply signals having no language content, the other noises they made were what they used for language. He began to speak their language, and it was instantly evident to the others listening that it was a language. It simply had the patterns that a language would have.

While he could possibly be faking it, when the matriarch of the six Sharn hounds came to the pen's door and sitting on her haunches and began replying, it was impossible to deny that it was a question and answer session.

After a dozen sentences between them, Dean looked up at the others. "Danns is telling the truth. He didn't know, nor did the previous three people who had them. Danns and two of the three people treated them kindly but if they ever come across the last he's in deep trouble, he was cruel for cruelties sake, and they're pissed at him, and that's putting it mildly. However he was the first owner, somewhere in Cant, so it's unlikely they'll ever see him again." He went back to his conversation which lasted about ten minutes.

When he was finished, Dean turned to the others, and began telling the hounds' story. "As you probably know Sharn hounds have a matriarchal society. Sherik here is the matriarch of this group, and they are rebels. They don't like the way Sharn has developed. Instead of a partnership as it once was, with Sharn hounds and humans being true equals, for the last couple hundred years it's been going back and forth, first the hounds holding the balance of power and then the humans. About the only thing they agreed on in the last two hundred years is that they don't want to go back to the way it was."

"Sherik tried to persuade them to change. While she has no objection to violence when it's necessary, she knew that it wouldn't have solved their problems, so she just talked. However, that was enough to get a coalition of hounds and humans together to get rid of her. They captured her and her family and sold them to the first man as the Woheff hounds, that they look so much like." Dean waved his hand to the next pen.

"She says it's ironic, because those who got together to capture her have stayed together, according to what they heard while being carried by wagon across Cant, and they seem to be gathering converts to the new cause that she inadvertently lit a spark to. In any case she doesn't intend ever to return, nor does her mate, but she doesn't know about the others. They are much younger, and right now they say they won't either, but she doesn't know if they have the resolution to stick to what they say or not."

Evalt said a little nervously, "Why exactly are four of them looking at me like that?"

Dean grinned, black eyes twinkling, "Do you want me to lie or tell you the truth?"

Evalt said, "I want you to lie, however my duty compels me to ask you to tell me the truth."

"Well I hired Sherik and her mate to work for me and I hired the other four to work for you and the King. One silver a month and all they can eat." Dean said.

Evalt grinned a little getting over his first shock, "No intelligent beings I hope."

One of them answered and Dean giggled, "Sharl asks if that includes intruders, or are they allowed to snack on them?"

Evalt's grin got much wider. He was at ease with most intelligent beings, and only the most intelligent had a sophisticated sense of humor. The type of humor that Sharl had just demonstrated. And if it wasn't humor and she meant it, well that was all right as well.

Evalt looked at Danns who was still looking nervous, sweat on his brow. If they simply took the Sharn hounds he was out of business. "Danns, you're too good with dogs to close you down over this. We can't buy the Sharn hounds. That would be paying for slaves since they're intelligent beings, but we can reward you for taking good care of them and providing the food and shelter that they needed. It should be at least as much as you would have made by selling them."

Dean held out his hand to Danns and said, "Keys please." He accepted the key chain and he tried two before the third opened the padlock on the pen, and he opened the door wide. The hounds didn't bother to get up. He said, "Evalt here is taking my brother and I to an arms maker, we'll be back to get you in about an hour or so."

He handed the keys and the padlock back to Danns, who looked at the open door and just shook his head in wonder as Dean, Deltin and Evalt left with the four guards, two of them leaving as soon as it became apparent they wouldn't be needed.

TEN

Dean asked the sergeant, "Is Jezzy on duty?"

The man shook his head, "No, nor am I. Jezzy is boarding with my sister, who lives right next door, and he still sometimes gets lost. So since I have to go home first anyway, I was taking him there. Jezzy wanted to go in and see the dogs, he heard they had a new shipment, so I went along with him and he discovered they were Sharn hounds and I summoned a couple of on duty guards and that's about when you came along."

Dean said to Evalt, "It might be a good idea to take the sergeant and Jezzy along when we bring the Sharn hounds to the Palace. They're going to look overpowering if there's just you and a couple of kids with them, walking through the streets. The sergeant and Jezzy can get a good Palace meal and brag for the next month about eating at the Palace." The two men looked eager, Evalt looked thoughtful and then nodded decisively.

"Agreed. We're going to Barthan's first. Dean wants to look for some weapons. Then we'll pick up the hounds and go directly to the Palace. There will undoubtedly be something good cooking, it's the Princes' main meal and the older one is hard to satisfy." he grimaced, which Dean noted.

"We'll be glad to accompany you sir, as City Guards we're always interested in weapons, and we seldom have a chance to enter Barthan's, what he sells are too dear for our purses. I'm Sergeant Genn and this is Jezzy, he's just been in the City Guard for a couple of weeks, and the Captain always assigns a veteran to a newcomer for the first six months." the sergeant finished.

*****

Dean said, "I'm looking for throwing weapons. I want a stiletto like blade however instead of two edges I want three, eight inches long and it's maximum width a quarter of an inch, with appropriate sheaths, that will fit on a belt."

Barthan looked at him thoughtfully, "Ordinarily I would say there was no such thing, however…"

Dean said warily, "However what?"

"However last week, I got three dozen such weapons in a shipment. the odd thing is I didn't order them. I normally produce all of the weapons here, I have three Master smiths who I trained myself, and I don't need outside weapons. But I looked at them and they're as good as what I make, so I have no objection to selling them." the man said.

"Let's see them, please." Dean said with resignation. Even if that INTERFERING BUSYBODY had arranged for them to be here, he didn't intend to turn them down if they were what he wanted.

They were. He took the sheaths. There were two of them, each of which had six weapons in them. He pulled one of them out, appreciating the slight friction that meant the weapon wouldn't fall out of the sheath if he had to make an acrobatic move.

He untied the thong to the Bowie knife and set it on the table and unbuckling his belt he pulled it off, and slipped the sheath onto the belt and pulled it right to the buckle, he put the belt through the first of the belt loops and put the second sheath on next and then threaded the belt into the rest of the belt loops and slipped the Bowie on where it had been, and buckling his belt refastened the thong.

He began emptying his pockets on the table. First the dozen lead pellets for the sling, then from his other pocket he took a tiny compass, a lead weight for a fishing rod, a piece of string, five pennies and a dime, a small magnifying glass, a couple of safety pins. two marbles, a white one and a skyblue one. His library card with a year old picture. He'd made a mistake that time, he'd smiled and it was just after he lost two baby teeth so there was a gap in his smile. His handkerchief was in his back pocket and he left it there, and the sling was in his other back pocket.

Evalt asked with a smile, "Digging for buried treasure, Dean?"

Dean said, "It's all junk, except for the sling pellets. If I was actually fighting it wouldn't matter if they fell out. It might even distract an enemy. I want to test the weapons to see if they will stay in place."

"And how do you intend to do that?" the Chancellor asked.

Dean turned around and making sure he had a clear space he did four cartwheels, twisting slightly after landing from the last cartwheel, he headed back in the Chancellor's direction doing a couple of backflips and on the third he went much higher and twisted so he landed two feet from him, facing him. He grinned, "Like that Evalt." He felt the weapons, wiggling them in their sheaths. "They didn't move," and he stuffed his odds and ends back in his pocket. He saw Deltin looking at the marbles. "You can have them once we get to the house. You don't have any pockets, and you don't have a belt pouch, so they would just get lost. All right." and Deltin nodded with a smile.

"Now a target," Dean said, "Now that I know they'll stay in their sheaths I want to know how well they'll come out of them."

The target range he was taken to at the back of the shop featured painted targets, full head to foot pictures of men, and he saw an artist at the side of the range painting additional targets. Looking at the half a dozen targets he realized that they were all different. He appreciated the fact that they would give a more realistic target than the silhouettes used on his world.

There were lines on the floor at ten, twenty and thirty feet. He moved to the thirty foot mark and turned his back on the target. He said, "Evalt, decide on a number between one and twenty and then count to it under your breath. When you reach it say Now, please."

He closed his eyes and relaxed completely until he heard Evalt yell, "Now!!"

He spun on his heel, his eyes opening throwing spike already in his drawn back hand. With a snap of his wrist he threw it. He was slower than with his bow but he wasn't used to the weapons yet, and his self-imposed targets were much smaller, but still he threw all twelve in just over ten seconds.

He walked up to the target and looked at it totally satisfied which was unusual for his first time with a weapon. Two in each eye, three in the throat, five in the heart and two in the groin. He began to collect the weapons. He complemented the INTERFERING BUSYBODY in his mind, at least he knew how to choose superior weapons. And then the INTERFERING BUSYBODY had to spoil it by saying, *Thank you.* and laughing.

Sizzling Dean headed back toward Evalt and Barthan, and he heard Barthan saying, "I understand the eyes, throat and heart, but why the groin?"

Evalt laughed, "Oh, my friend you have to have been on the battlefield to understand. It is of course not a fatal area, but aside from the eyes a blow to that area can be more distracting than any other. If you can do nothing else, it's a good move, because it catches the opponent's attention and maybe takes his mind off his weapons for a fraction of a second."

Dean's voice was calm though he was still sizzling. "I'll take all three dozen. Sometimes all they can be is a distraction, and they're much easier to lose than a knife, so spares are essential."

ELEVEN

The trip to the Palace with the Sharn hounds calmed Dean somewhat, though he was still on a hair-trigger. People weren't concerned and didn't even look at them closely. They thought they were Woheff hounds and despite their great size Woheff's, like the St. Bernard of Earth, were amiable beasts. The fact that Deltin was riding on Sherik's back reinforced people's impressions.

They remained at the gatehouse of the Palace with some very uncomfortable guards while Evalt went in to the King to tell why the Sharn hounds were there. The Chancellor returned a few minutes later accompanied by the Captain of the Guard and half a dozen guards, and they were taken to a private audience chamber.

The King was waiting for them, not wearing formal robes, and he was accompanied by Dervan, who was the Palace's Master Wizard. "Dervan has half a dozen translator amulets, that will allow the Sharn hounds to speak our language as well as understand it. He needed to be here in order to attune the charms to them."

Dervan asked, "Who's the matriarch?" and Sherik stepped forward. He put a light chain around her neck and dangling from it was a small amulet. He held it in his hands for about two minutes looking into her eyes and then he released the amulet. "That should do the trick, Matriarch. Try using it now."

"Thank you Master Dervan, that will make our life somewhat easier in human society, and we are exiles so we simply refer to each other by name, and mine is Sherik." she told him.

He grinned, "That's part of my job, Sherik, and I find it very satisfying. The other amulets were attuned when I was doing yours. You can still speak privately among yourselves by using your own language. Only when you actually address one of us personally will we be able to understand you."

He placed the other five amulets on the other Sharn hounds and making sure they worked, he bowed himself out.

The King addressed the Captain at Arms. "You and the guards here start passing the word around the castle. There are now four Sharn hounds sharing the Palace with us. They have the run of the Palace, and have the right to go anywhere they choose. They have the equivalent rank of sergeant of the guard, pass that word as well Captain."

"Yes Sire," and he grinned, "that should make assassination attempts a little harder, Your Majesty." as he and the other guards bowed their way out.

The King opened the door onto the garden and indicated the bowls of raw meat. "This is for your first meal here. I wasn't too sure about what you eat, but I figured you'd all eat this."

"I'm Sharl, Your Majesty and I am chief of those who will be staying. We eat raw meat, cooked meat, or half cooked meat, we're not particularly choosy. We can also eat almost anything that a human can eat. But we're not dogs Your Majesty, we won't eat until there's no more food. Our bodies tell us when we have enough, and we listen to them. Once those in the Palace get used to us, it might be a good idea if we wandered around during mealtimes. Again we're not dogs, our sense of smell has been developed for other purposes as well as for hunting. We are very good at detecting poisons of all types."

TWELVE

Dean was grinding his teeth at the antics of Doran, King Hanae's oldest son, who was not quite nine years old. The King looked at him sympathetically. "You do not like brats, Dean?"

"No, Uncle. I don't. He has a position to maintain, and he's old enough to know better. Why do you stand for it, Uncle?" asked Dean in an angry voice.

Hanae sighed. "You notice that he has two Tang Snakes as bodyguards. They were given to him by his grandmother when he was six. At that time he was disciplined by my wife. When she died, thankfully her mother-in-law went home. But his bodyguards won't let me touch him."

The anger was gone from Dean's face replaced by a thoughtful look. After about a minute, he said, "From the knowledge I have been given, I know that Tang Snakes will not interfere with a father's correcting his children. Therefore, they have been lied to. Your mother-in-law told them that you were not the boy's father."

Hanae looked bewildered. "But he looks exactly like me, and like many of the portraits of my ancestors scattered around the room. How could they not see the resemblance?"

"Tang Snakes see very differently from humans, Uncle. At least they do for living things, what they see of things not alive would be very comparable to how we see. But when looking at living things they see a heat pattern, and no two beings heat pattern is alike, not even identical twins. They see the portraits but they can not translate that to you or your son. And of course your heat pattern is completely different from your son's. If I can convince them he is your son, what will you do?" asked Dean and Hanae's face went grim.

"I will spank him, and I will do so here, with his bottom bared. That must be done where others can see it so that they know I have re-established control over him, and I will do so whenever I have to until he's back under my control and they know it." King Hanae said seriously.

Dean nodded his head vigorously, straight black hair flying. "I agree. I'll see if I can't convince them."

He stood up and walked behind the King's chair, heading for Doran, his oldest son. He stood looking up at the two Tang Snakes. About five feet tall, aside from the scales they looked very human like. Dean spoke to them in High Tang. "The boy's grandmother told you that the King was not the boy's father didn't she?"

They looked at each other then back at the boy. "Yes." one of them answered.

Dean said, "She lied to you."

"Why should we believe you?" asked the spokesman.

Unlike any beings he had yet met they saw his hand start to move and they had their knives half drawn, when the point touched the throat of the spokesman. "Because I don't need you to believe me. I have the ability to kill you."

The two Tangs smiled. They had little individual sense of preservation, their primary duty would be preservation of the clan, but they respected his ability, and indeed it was a very good reason to believe him. Very few beings with the ability would hesitate to kill them, when going against a Tang. Then again there was probably very few beings with the capability.

"If you are telling the truth we must inform our clan. They will withdraw our protection for his grandmother, though not for other members of the family." the spokesman said.

Dean shrugged as he sheathed his knife as fast as he had drawn it. "I couldn't care less. Anyone who would try to create a gap between a father and son, especially between a King and a Prince, deserves whatever happens to her."

The two looked at each other again, and they both nodded. "We agree," said the spokesman. "You have no need to lie to us, since you could certainly kill us. We will not interfere. We felt he has deserved what his mother used to do to him, but we did not think anyone had that right. Will the father spank him, as she did?"

Dean nodded, "He will. He told me that it would be a bare-bottom spanking and it will take place here, so that the King's people know that he has regained control over his son."

Doran was looking at them with worry. Dean turned to him, "Go to your father, Doran, he intends to spank you."

Doran bit his lip, knowing exactly what that would mean. His mother had on a couple of occasions taken his breeches down and spanked him during a meal in the Palace, and he knew that he had been misbehaving. His grandmother had encouraged it and he hadn't stopped when she left, he just couldn't stop himself, even knowing that someday this would happen. He stood up and slowly walked toward his father, not particularly anxious for the embarrassing procedure to take place.

THIRTEEN

Deltin asked as they headed for their new home with Sherik and Cetan her mate. He was carrying his bow and a small bag with Deltin's things. "Would you spank me if I was bad?"

Dean grinned down at the little boy, "You better believe it, little brother. But the Prince was unfortunate because he is the Prince, and the people had to know about his punishment because he was bad in front of them. If I have to spank you, only those in the household will know. I thought he was very brave when he stood up and apologized to everyone, don't you?"

Deltin nodded and held up his right hand. Dean took it in his left and squeezed very gently, showing his love. He was glad both the sergeant and Jezzy had gotten a good meal, and a tale to go with it.

At his new house, he used the brass door-knocker to announce their presence. Shore opened the peephole, which was covered with a heavy mesh screen, and his eyes lit up at sight of the two little boys, but he was somewhat uncertain when he saw the huge dogs. He was a little more knowledgeable than most and he knew they weren't Woheff hounds. Dean said reassuringly, "Don't worry, they're Sharn hounds, and like you they have been hired to help guard the household."

Relieved Shore opened the door. Dean said, "This is Sherik and her mate Cetan, and the man is Shore, his cousin is called Slad and unlike Shore he has a mustache. Tell me Shore, how closely related are you? You look too much alike to be even just cousins."

Shore said, "We are cousins, however my father is his mother's brother, and my mother is his father's sister, so we are doubly related, which is why we look so much alike."

"Cetan and I are pleased to meet you Shore. We hope our association is long and congenial." Sherik said and Shore looked astonished. Dean giggled at his wide-eyed wonder.

"Four of her family have been hired by the Palace, and the Master Wizard provided all of them with translating devices." he said with humor in his treble voice, as he, Deltin and the hounds entered. "Now you've been here long enough, tell me about the house defenses."

Shore took a moment to collect his thoughts, and then began. "The house itself is made of stone, and the walls are two feet thick. At the back of the house is a garden, it's overgrown, and one of the things Madame Gloudin has gone to see about, is to hire a new gardener. It's surrounded by a brick wall seven feet high, and the wall is topped by sharp spikes three inches apart and twelve inches long. There is a gate in the back, so you can bring horses or wagons in. The two walls on either side do not touch the neighbors walls, there's a one yard gap between them. The walls on all three houses have been coated with a material that's almost impossible to climb, despite the fact that there's only a yard between the houses. There are bars to close off the passageways and they are also topped with spikes. The passageways can be reached from inside the house if needed."

"The front door can be covered by a grating, and it goes two feet into the ground. By using this lever," and he put his hand on it to point it out, "bars can be extended out through the bottom of the grate to make it impossible to lift. You would have to pull the grate out to get it open. The back door and the two side doors out onto the passageway are protected in the same way. There are no windows on the ground floor, which is used mainly for storage and the kitchens. Since it's a city house and of course has no moat, there are no arrow slits on the ground floor."

"Windows above the ground floor level don't have obvious grates, but they have the same type as the doors. Inside shutters with arrow slits can be placed over the windows. Apparently Madame Gloudin's father-in-law was an army engineer, and he replaced the old defenses and devised the new ones. The roof is flat, and there are channels cut into it for rainy weather, though it has to be shoveled in the winter, and there are stones of various sizes in piles that can be dropped on any attackers.

"They have a good armory, and all of Madame Gloudin's family have some warrior's training. The two young maids, and the odd jobs boy, also have some training. The cook has as much training as Shore and I. He was Sir Gloudin's aide in the army, and he was wounded in the leg. It was too weak to allow him to remain in the army, but it doesn't incapacitate him that badly, when he doesn't have to do a lot of walking. Many of the rooms have been closed off because of lack of staff, but the rest of the house sparkles. Several of the rooms have been opened for you and your brother and Dault, and Slad and I. Her daughters and the maids should be just about finished cleaning them. Madame Gloudin and her daughters have none of the normal nobility's nonsense of leaving work to others."

FOURTEEN

They were all eating dinner in the great hall, all except for the cook and the odd jobs boy, and one of the maids who were serving supper. They would eat once the serving was completed.

Madame Gloudin had hired a couple of older maids to join the two fourteen year olds, and a gardener and his son to put the garden to rights. They were all people she had employed in the past. When she had needed to save money, she had arranged for them to have positions with friends, and had promised them their jobs back if she ever needed their services again.

The cook, Danan, was a gruff man in his late forties, and his leg didn't really affect him that badly as long as he didn't need to use it for long periods. The odd jobs boy Vill, aside from Deltin at ten, was the youngest member of the household. The two maids were fourteen, and the new ones were both in their early twenties. The gardener was in his mid-thirties and he was a widower, and his son and helper had just turned twelve. They had all taken the introduction to the Sharn hounds much better than Dean had expected. But the personalities of all people in the household were similar in that they took things calmly.

Danan the cook, and Vill, the odd jobs boy, and Teras the younger of the two maids who had already been working for Madame Gloudin, had joined them at the lower end of the table to eat their supper.

Dean said with a smile, "Those just starting to eat don't bother to stop for this. My name is Dean Alejandro Richmond, and I am a Champion in the Contest." He blew a raspberry. "That's what I think of the Contest, and whatever you've ever heard about a Champion, I have absolutely no intention of doing things the way the Gods want. I have three tokens and if the other Champions want them, they have to come to me, because I have no intention of going looking for them."

"There are twenty-four tokens and twelve Champions. Now to get tokens which haven't been claimed, the Champions can do so anyway they want. Buy them, barter for them, steal them, kill for them, or in the case of living tokens kill them or take possession of them." He ruffled Deltin's hair. "Deltin is a living token, and he is my brother, and the two of us are the sons of a former Champion and Joahna, the King's sister, so we are his nephews. To get the three tokens that I have, they must kill me, or I must surrender them. According to the rules of the Contest, they must challenge me first, if they killed me any other way possession of the tokens dies with me."

"Champions are also protected from magic, so a Wizard can't transport enemies into the house. For anyone except for a Champion to knowingly harm a Champion can bring the wrath of the Gods down on their heads. If I should happen to get involved in a battle or a duel and get killed, the Gods might be annoyed but wouldn't punish anyone."

"Normally the Champion who gets five or six tokens may end up the winner, because Champions are often reluctant to face each other. Every once in a while the Gods modify the rules of the game and it requires a majority of the tokens to win the Contest. To win the present Contest you must have thirteen tokens, and if you get all of them, you will be highly rewarded. So Champions will challenge Champions in this case. Eventually, no matter what I do, I will be challenged. I have no idea how long this Contest will last. I'll be here until the Contest is over, and since I don't intend to play the Gods game their way, I may be here permanently."

Dean turned to Madame Gloudin, "How did you get into the problem with your brother-in-law, if you don't mind my asking?"

"No, I don't really know how it happened. When my husband died, my father said that he would pay the debts. He died suddenly, and while I felt heartbroken, I felt that he would have made some provision for me in his will, so I borrowed the money from my brother-in-law in expectation of receiving an inheritance. However no will was found, and in that case everything goes to the oldest son, who in this case was the only child of my father's second wife and only twenty-three. He was in the army and resigned when my father died to take over the estates. Like me he had believed my father was a wealthy man, and it was almost with disbelief that we realized that there was simply very little money. Just enough for my brother to keep his estates, and he could do nothing to help pay off my debt."

"If you had not come along, we would have gone to live with my brother when the debt came due. We would have taken Vill and the two younger maids with us, if we couldn't find them jobs, since they're all orphans and I took responsibility for them when I hired them. Danan is a good enough cook that he could easily find a job."

"How far away does your brother live?" asked Dean.

"He only lives ten miles outside the city." Madame Gloudin said.

"We'll go out in the morning, you, Dault and I. I have an affinity for tokens and for other things that are hidden, also I can see the character of people. Maybe your father was fooling you, but maybe not, if someone knows anything, I should be able to tell."

Dean looked at Sherise, Madame Gloudin's oldest daughter. "Vill told me that you taught him how to read and write. I would like you to do the same for Deltin, please." He looked down at Deltin, "If he misbehaves, well Vill says you know how to wield a strap. If necessary use it." Deltin didn't even question it. Even though he was only six, he had always been punished that way, and he wouldn't have expected anything different.

FIFTEEN-Dela 3rd day of week-23rd of Vere-Year 2118

Madame Gloudin was wearing a split skirt for riding, and they had hired two horses from a livery stable. They were both spirited and somewhat under worked, but neither Madame Gloudin nor Dean had any problems with them, both being excellent riders, and the horses were well-trained. Dault hadn't even looked for a horse. At three hundred and fifty pounds only a war horse would have been big enough to take his weight and they weren't available at a livery stable. Even ancient warhorses were never retired, they would be used to train the next generation of warriors.

Even with Dault walking, it only two them a little over two hours to travel the ten miles. As they clattered over the moat and through the castle gate, they were met at the entrance to the great hall by Sir Glawer and his castellan. Dean could tell that the castellan wasn't a man to be trusted by his aura, and his shifty eyes that would never meet anybody else's directly, and surly face, just reinforced his opinion.

Daes Glawer, was a cheerful young man who looked even younger than his twenty-three years. He was above average height for this world at six feet tall, but if you just went by his face he looked to be in his middle teens, and Dean liked him on sight.

Dean asked, "This is a castle and I assume that it has secret passageways?"

Daes said, "Oh yes, loads of them. But they've all been mapped over the years, and when father died, we hired a Wizard to look just to make sure some didn't remain hidden, but he couldn't find any."

Dean had a sudden inspiration. "My father was on this world as a Champion. Do you know whether your father would have known mine?"

Daes and Senna looked at each other, and Senna thought and then nodded. "Yes, I believe they did. I was only about seven or eight at the time, but I remember him talking about life at court, and he said he had some interesting conversations with the Champion before he won the Contest and claimed the Princess." She smiled with amusement, "I don't know if she was actually one of the prizes or if they simply came to prize each other so much that she returned to your world with him. Why do you ask?"

"My father left school when he was eighteen and joined the army. He served two three year periods, and our army is much different from yours. Individualism is far more important, and he spent most of his second term as a sergeant in charge of training other people in the use of weapons and in hand to hand combat. That's where he learned the skills he used in the Contest. When he got out of the army, he spent a couple of months working in his father's company. My grandfather's company constructed safes, and from what I know of this world, they don't exist here." Dean was watching the castellan and saw he was beginning to sweat.

"Since they knew each other, my father may have told him about safes, and he might have decided it was an ideal method to hide his wealth. If the Wizard was looking for hidden passages, he would have overlooked a safe, since their spells only find things they're actually looking for." The sweat was pouring off the castellan now.

Dean said to Dault in Garthan, "Watch the castellan. I don't know where he would go, but he's scared enough to try to run, anyway." Dault just nodded.

"Is there somewhere your father used to work on a regular basis?" Dean asked.

"He had something he called a study." Senna Gloudin said. "It has a large desk and several comfortable chairs."

Dean nodded, "Study is a word from my world. While it originally meant a room where people would actually study things. In my world it often is used simply to refer to a room where someone does their work."

The castellan bolted then, too scared to think about the fact that there was nowhere to go. He abruptly stopped moving as Dault grabbed him by the shoulder and lifted him off the ground with one hand.

Dean said, "Obviously the castellan knows something. Let's go see your father's study. Bring him along Dault." and the Gart casually slung the man over his shoulder and followed the others.

*****

The study was a pleasant room with a couple of narrow windows in one wall and books on the other, so it obviously served both purposes a place to study, the original meaning and a place to work a modern meaning. The other two walls were paneled in wood, which went from floor to ceiling. There was five panels on each wall, and the middle panel on each one was divided into three pieces.

Dean ignored the solid panels, and also the one where the desk was sitting that left the free wall. He drew his Bowie knife and gently prodded at the middle of the three panels. Assuming if the panel opened it would open to the right, he gently ran the knife up and down the left side of the panel, and they all heard a click, and the panel swung open, to reveal a crude safe. He asked Daes, "Did you find any odd keys that you didn't know the use for?" and Daes shook his head.

Dean sighed, "Ah well, there's usually more than one way to open a lock." There were gaps all around the safe, not big enough for a man or a woman to get their fingers in, but Dean easily managed it. He shut his eyes then began pulling, slowly increasing the strength he was using, until he was using his full strength. He heard the lock creak but he wasn't strong enough, not alone anyway.

He opened his eyes, and said, "Drop the castellan, Dault and give me a hand."

When he heard the thud that the man made when he hit the floor, Dean told himself to be careful of the orders he gave Dault. He took things literally. "If you would sit on him, for the moment, Madame Gloudin. I don't want your brother near him for the moment. I'll explain after we've got the safe open."

The safe was made to give protection and as a hiding place, it wasn't meant to hold up under the strength of a couple of Garts, and in affect that's what Dean and Dault were, strength wise. Dean with his keen ears heard the metal of the lock beginning to crack and he grunted out, "The lock's ready to go."

About twenty seconds later there was a loud crack, and the safe door flew open, as Dean and Dault jumped away. Dault whistled at the amount of gold coins there were, but Dean was more interested in the sheaf of parchments.

Daes, after seeing the gold coins, started toward the castellan with murder in his eyes. Dean said, not bothering to look up, said, "Madame Gloudin tell your brother to calm down. If he hurts the castellan before I've had a chance to explain what I'm thinking, I'll break his arm."

She grinned, knowing Dean meant it. "I'd do what Dean says, little brother, he's quite capable of doing it. If you don't believe me, look at the thickness of that lock. Only two Garts or one Gart and someone who's strength is equal to a Gart could break that." Unlike Dault she hadn't taken Dean's words literally, she had just drawn her short sword, looking much like a Roman gladius, a twenty inch blade with two razor sharp edges.

While Daes was wearing the same type of sword, he fought his temper down and wisely didn't draw it. She was better than he was with that particular weapon, and she wouldn't hesitate to spank him with the flat of it. That was one of the reasons he respected her so much. She knew how to fight and if the army didn't have a prejudice against taking women, she would have made a better soldier than he had.

SIXTEEN

Dean finally looked up, "What's the castellan's name?" he asked.

Senna answered, "Daker."

"All right according to these documents, there's four thousand four hundred gold coins in the safe. There may be a little more, because I saw there were some loose gold coins as well. There's a will and it leaves one-third to Madame Gloudin."

Both Daes and Senna nodded, that was much more than a female heir would normally get, so her father was being generous, and Daes wasn't greedy. "These parchment sheets are deeds, or at least partial deeds, he owns part of many things. He even has a five percent ownership of Barthan's the weapons maker. And he owns a half interest in at least forty farms. Now I have a question for you both. How did an unimportant Baron, I'm sorry to be so blunt, but that's what he was, how did he get so wealthy, when normally the nobility won't touch anything to do with trade?"

The two siblings looked at each other. "Daker's father and then Daker," said Senna.

Dean nodded, "Your father was probably the wealthiest single individual in the country. What's in the safe is the last years revenue after all taxes and investments have been made. Down off of one of the cells is a vault that contains another one hundred thousand gold coins." Dean held up a key, "and here's the key. And that doesn't include the property that he owned."

They gasped from complete shock. Dean held up a piece of parchment. "This is the amount that Daker received last year as a salary. One hundred gold coins. Now I don't like the way Daker went about things, he was probably going to try and steal the money in the safe. I imagine he has the key somewhere, but then again do either of you blame him?"

Senna shook her head immediately, and Daes while he hesitated for a second wasn't far behind. "Now Daes do you have any idea how to manage that much money?"

Daes laughed, "Not a chance."

"Madame Gloudin?" he asked.

"Certainly not. See how I mismanaged the house in town." she said.

"Well then, you need Daker, and you need a cooperative Daker. Penalize him a bit for the way he went about it, but before you divide the property give him ten percent of what's in the vault downstairs, and fifteen percent of the revenues that you make from now on. Good managers of money are worth their weight in gold. No matter how much money you have, unless you have a good manager, it's possible to lose all of it in a few years."

Dean began giggling then. His laughter was so infectious that everyone except for the castellan joined in. Finally Dean hiccuped a couple of times and stopped laughing. He said, "Sorry, I sounded just like a pompous adult I know, when I was telling you what you should do."

He giggled again briefly, "My father. He can sound so pompous when he's giving advice." Then he became serious, "But people pay my father a lot of money for his advice, because it's good advice. What I told you is what I heard him tell some friends when I was eight. They were friends but at the same time they were paying him. They were in almost the same position, and that's the advice he gave them, and I understand it only because he went over it with me afterwards and explained things in a way I could grasp."

Dean looked at Daker who was looking at them with astonishment. "You may not be strictly honest Daker, but Madame Gloudin and Daes realize they need you to keep the wealth flowing in. Ten thousand gold coins is a good sum, and I think, a fair one. From now on you'll get fifteen percent of whatever they make. The more they make the more you make. Go home and think about it, and come back in the morning determined to make them a lot of money."

Daker nodded seriously, "Aye I'll want to do that. My father, he wasn't bitter that he only got a pittance, but I simply couldn't help but resent it. I've been training my son. He doesn't know about the money I took, but I think he'll be even better than I am." He bowed himself out of the door.

Dean said, "I'll take this as a reward. I don't think you'll want it anyway. It's a token of the Contest and it's from my world." and he held up a small coin. The three others stared at it with a little awe.

Madame Gloudin asked, "Are you sure my father didn't put it there after he met your father?"

Dean shook his head, smiling, "It has this years date, so it was placed here this year, and that means a God put it there." He sighed, "I suppose you'll want your house back, Madame Gloudin." and he looked a little lost, his black eyes showing his vulnerability.

She came over and took him in her arms, and he relaxed against her the hand stroking his back feeling good. "No, little one, we made a deal, and it was a good one for both of us. Even though I'm suddenly wealthy, I still think it's a good deal. You are welcome to stay as long as you're in this world."

He turned his face up to look at her and his face was sunny with relief. "I thank you, I'd like that very much."

She looked at Daes, "I think that before we divide anything Dean should get ten percent, don't you think so brother."

He nodded, face breaking into a smile, "Agreed. Without you Dean, we might never have found the money. Daker was the only one who even knew about it. If he'd disappeared the only way we would have found either the safe of the money in the vault would be by accident."

SEVENTEEN

When they rode into the courtyard of the livery stable, there was a crowd gathered around two men involved in a fight. Well, if you could call it that. It was really a beating being administered by a man about six feet three inches tall, to a man at least eight or nine inches shorter than he was. The smaller man fell and the bigger man picked him up and was ready to continue the beating when Dean yelled, furiously, "Enough!" and he let his horse move forward making the crowd get out of his way.

The man looked at him contemptuously, "Get lost, little boy!"

Dean touched his heels to the well trained horse and it lunged forward, brushing the man with his shoulder, shoving him away from the other man and knocking him to the ground. Dean putting his right leg over the saddle horn, slipped to the ground and threw the reins to Madame Gloudin who backed them away so that there was a clear space again.

The man got to his feet slowly, rage on his face. He grasped the whip that was in his belt and pulled it out. He said, "You've just interfered in something that was none of your business little boy, let's see how you like a little taste of the whip."

Dean said softly, "I really wouldn't if I were you. You might regret it."

The man ignored the soft warning and shaking out the whip, he brought it back and swung it forward. Dean lifted his arm up and let the whip wrap around his body not even flinching. He grasped it with his left hand and he drew the Bowie knife and with a slash the whip was suddenly five feet shorter. The knife disappeared again and Dean lunged forward catching the surprised man in the mid-section with his shoulder knocking the breath out of him as he went back and down. Dean landed on top of him and brought his left elbow around and hit the man on the chin and the man went limp as he lost consciousness.

Pushing himself to his feet he said to the world in general, "Exactly what is going on here?"

A boy of about nine, yelled from the stable wall, "Midor said Da hurt his horse. It's a lie, Da took it in, but Jens took care of it."

The man standing next to him, "Why you little…" and reaching for the little boy he suddenly stopped when a throwing dart suddenly appeared in the wall a little in front of his hand. Dean said, "The next one will pin your hand to the wall. Did you hurt the horse?"

Jens just stood there sullenly refusing to answer. An older authoritative man said, "I don't know the what and why of this, but Midor is too good a customer. All three of you are fired."

The man looked at Dean with a sour look on his face and started to say something, but Madame Gloudin said, "I wouldn't Luvan, the boy is the King's nephew. You don't really want the King on your back. Besides I'm going to reopen my stable and I need a man and a boy to run them, so I'll hire the two you just fired," she looked down at Dean and he nodded that the two were all right, "and I want to buy several horses. These two and two more, plus two who can be ridden and used for a light carriage. I'll also arrange to buy the carriage from you."

She dismounted, and looked at the man on the ground and the boy who had scurried forward. "Are you all right?"

The man nodded his head to his new employer, "Aye mistress, I be small so I've learned to duck blows from big men like Midor." he said struggling to his feet with his son's help. "He hit me a couple of good ones but most were just glancing blows. I be Vere and my youngling is Verelin." he said with pride.

She looked at him closely and seeing that he was standing steadily she handed him the reins of the two horses. "After I've made arrangements with Luvan, you can come with us to my home. The stable needs a cleaning out before it can be used, since it's been idle for a year. I'll arrange for Luvan to deliver feed and tack."

She looked at Verelin. "One of the things that I insist upon is that the children who work for me be schooled, so that your son will spend a couple of hours a day learning how to read and write and figure. My oldest daughter will teach him."

She saw that the little boy's eyes were lit with happiness. Obviously it was something he was looking forward to. She said to Dean. "Do you have anything to say, Dean?"

"Just one thing to Jens. There are three hundred and sixty directions leading away from Clare. Take one of them. If I see you again, you'll regret it." and Jens, looking into those hard black eyes, felt a shiver of fear go up his spine, and he fully intended to be long gone by the time evening came.

EIGHTEEN-Dela 3rd day of week-31st of Vere 2118

King Hanae looked at the three little boys playing together and said to Dean, "I'm glad that I have two sons. And especially ones who are so close together in age, only one year separating them. They can enjoy playing together, and they don't feel the loneliness of an only child. While I loved my sister, she was ten years older than I, and certainly not much interested in playing with a little boy, though I can remember that she liked to read to me, and she always had time when I was troubled to listen to me."

Dean said, "My brother Carter is five years older than I am, and my sister is three years younger. You would think that it would be easier for us to make friends, since we don't have the class system that your world does, at least not in my country, and my brother and sister have always found it easy." He sighed and shook his head, "I just changed schools and even in my old school, all I had were acquaintances, never friends. I've always had trouble making friends."

"In my old school, even when I was little, I was always aware that I could hurt the other children seriously if I was careless. I couldn't join them in most athletic contests, even then I felt it would be unfair to compete with other boys and girls, since I was so much stronger and faster than any of the other children. Since I didn't join in most of their activities, I was always on the sidelines, and I was never quite accepted and I got so used to it, that when I changed schools, I couldn't make friends, I was simply too shy." He smiled ruefully, "I get along better with adults than I do with children my own age."

Hanae said, "Have you ever thought that perhaps that the Gods were doing that deliberately, getting you ready to come to my world, where you would have to interact mainly with adults."

Dean looked startled and then thoughtful. He said, "That's possible. I never thought of that. I know from reading books from the Royal Library about past Contests that the Gods sometimes actually mold their Champions, at times even before birth, to produce what the think they need. My strength for example. No other child on my world is as strong as I am, and I don't think there are any adults either. Thank you, Uncle, I'll have to think seriously about that."

"You're quite welcome Dean. Sometimes we're so close to a problem, or even part of it, that we can't see what's causing it, and don't know what to do about it. A fresh eye sometimes helps in that case. That's why I have some councilors that I only call on occasionally. When the rest of the councilors get stuck, I have them come in and look at it with a different perspective." said Hanae with a smile.

"Now on a different subject. We've received news that two of what are considered priceless treasures have been stolen. The first is called the First Book, because it's the oldest known book. We have scrolls that we believe are older, though they are simply copies, we also have a copy of the book." He picked up a small book and handed it to Dean.

Dean opened it and slowly went through it. At the end he was smiling a little. "It's definitely a token. But while it's important for what it is, for its age, its contents aren't very important. Your cook for instance would probably be more interested in it than your Wizard would, since that's what it is. A cook book. From my knowledge of your world, which increases when I find a token or find out about one, none of the recipes can be made today. They require three things that no longer exist. A spice made from a nut. Before the nut ripened they would grind it up, then they'd take some ripe nuts and grind up the shells very finely, adding it to the unripened portions already ground up. Between them they created a very useful spice which is utilized in every recipe in the book. Apparently it was quite a hot spice as well, how hot it was depended on how much of the shell they added."

"Even at that time there was only a few hundred trees known to exist. Of course the king of that time reserved them for his own use. However I know that the trees no longer exist, so the nut and therefore the spice is no longer available. The second thing is the animal in all of the recipes. It was deer like, but it was much smaller than normal deer, closer in size to a dog, and they're extinct. It wasn't always used alone, sometimes it was a minor part of the dish, but it was in every one of the recipes. The last is a type of grain, I have no idea what it looked like but I know it no longer exists." He set the book back on the table.

Hanae looked at it, "If we had anything else in the same language it might be useful to have a translation, but if it's simply a cook book as you say, it's only important for it's age. The other thing stolen is called a Pearl Without Price."

"Also a token." acknowledged Dean. "It's also referred to as the Eye of God, the God in this case is Venware, God of the Sea. About six hundred years ago a pearl diver found probably the largest pearl discovered on your world. Telwyn!" and the younger son of King Hanae turned to face him, "could I borrow your ball for a few minutes?"

The little boy said, "Sure Dean." and he came over and handed the hard ball which was made of a material similar to rubber, to his cousin.

Dean held up the ball, which was about two and a half inches in diameter, "Believe it or not, the pearl was almost twice the size of this ball. Almost five inches in diameter. The pearl diver who brought it up thought he had made his fortune, but when he got it into his boat he found it was blemished by a dark blue pigment covering almost half of the pearl. He was somewhat disappointed, but he was a fatalist, and fate had decided that he wasn't going to get rich. He had to travel to the city, to sell his pearls, and give his tithe to Venware. He brought the pearl on the off chance that someone would buy it as a curiosity. When he had no luck he went to the temple to present his tithe. He decided to give the pearl to the temple since it was unique."

"The priests were reluctant to take it, since they could see no use for it, but the chief priest said it was an offering, and they should take it, so they did. It simply sat in the treasure room of the temple for more than a century. Ironically at that time the great-grandson of the original donor was a priest in the temple. He decided to see if he could do something with it, and asked permission of the chief priestess at the time, which she gave. You see, pearls are created in layers, like the bark of a tree. I have no idea of how long it takes a layer to form, but it's possible to peel layers off of a pearl and if this one was destroyed, it didn't matter."

"He began to peel layers until he had a pearl slightly larger than this ball. Abruptly the pigment suddenly began to cover much less of the pearl. With excitement he kept peeling until it was about the size of this ball or maybe a little smaller. With trembling hands he looked at the finished product and the pearl looked back at him. What appeared looked exactly like an eyeball, with a blue eye and darker blue pupil. Since that day its been known as the Pearl Without Price or the Eye of God."

He stood up smiling, to return the ball to Telwyn, when he saw a Wizard standing about forty feet away. He had never seen him before, but he was evil, and the way he was moving his hands he was in the process of casting a spell. Putting his left hand under Telwyn's bottom he lifted the boy into the air, throwing him into the pool ten feet away. Seeing that neither Deltin nor Doran were in any danger, he jumped to place himself in front of King Hanae. The spell washing against him simply dissipated. Cocking his right arm, he threw the ball, catching the Wizard on the forehead.

The hard ball thrown at well over one hundred miles an hour cracked the Wizard's head as if it was an eggshell, the force knocking him backward and down.

Dean had begun to draw his Bowie knife, but seeing where the ball hit, he knew he would have no need for it. Concerned for Telwyn, who he had thrown into the pool, he jumped in that direction just in time to see the seven year old coming up spluttering. He shook his head and swam over to the side of the pool. He looked up at Dean who was standing on the side of the pool with his hands on his knees, "Daddy, already taught me how to swim that way." he said reproachfully.

Dean said soberly, though with a little grin on his face despite the situation. "Sorry Telwyn, that wasn't the reason I threw you into the pool. A Wizard was attacking your father and I wanted to get you out of the way, so you wouldn't get hurt."

He offered the smaller boy his hand and pulled him out of the pool. Hanae was on his feet and there were several guards surrounding him. He said to Dean, "You saved my life a second time, nephew, and possibly Telwyn's life as well, so I am doubly thankful."

He looked at his younger son, who was shivering from the cold pool. He smiled, "Always the first to get into the pool, Telwyn. This year you outdid yourself, you're at least a month early. Doran, why don't you and Deltin take your brother to his room and make sure he gets a hot bath and then a change of clothes?"

"Yes, Da.." and then going red because he thought he was too old to be calling his father Daddy, "Yes, Father." and taking the two younger boys' hands he led them toward the Palace and he halted at the door when Evalt came rushing out, followed immediately by the Master Wizard.

Evalt said, "Is every one all right Your Majesty? I was with Dervan and he felt a spell being cast."

"Yes, Evalt. One of the Palace Wizards tried to kill me. Dean got in front of me and the spell came apart when it hit him. He had Telwyn's ball in his hand, and he threw it at the Wizard. As hard as it hit him I don't imagine he'll be getting up." and he looked questioningly at a sergeant.

"No Your Majesty. The ball must have killed him instantly. It's the Wizard Demfrey, Sire." said the sergeant.

Evalt gave an exclamation, and Hanae looked at him with a question in his eyes. Evalt said, "We hired Demfrey because he had such a good recommendation, Sire. Your cousin Savelle. He's always been one of the main suspects in the assassination attempts. We've been having him watched, but he's never done anything suspicious."

Dean said, "Probably after the fact, Evalt. Once he gave Demfrey his recommendation, he had him in the Palace. Probably the attempts on your life were planned by Demfrey himself. Acting on Savelle's orders of course. If I hadn't been here either of the last two attempts would have succeeded, and Savelle would have what he probably wanted: The Regency. He is your closest relative, and the King's Champion, so it's very likely that he would have been chosen."

"Unfortunately Telwyn wasn't important in his plans. It's obvious he only needed or wanted the heir. How long would Doran have lived after he became Regent?" he asked rhetorically, shrugging his shoulder.

Hanae nodded, regretfully. "I'm afraid I've never liked Savelle. Everybody else seems to like him so I've always considered that it was simply two people who were completely different, and couldn't get along, but I never would have thought he was a traitor."

Evalt said, "He wouldn't necessarily consider himself a traitor, Your Majesty. All he had to do was think that he could do a better job of ruling than you've done, and then what would be more natural than to try to replace you?"

One of his aides appeared then and he moved away to hear what he had to say. He shook his head when he came back to his King. "Your cousin has a lot of gall, Your Majesty. He must have known of today's attempt and prepared for its failure. He's in the main Audience Chamber, and he's demanded a Trial by Combat."

Hanae looked at Dean, saying, "I hate to ask it of you Dean, but if I do not accept the challenge, I automatically declare that he's not guilty. I'm no match for him but in his position he's too dangerous to be allowed to live."

Dean had a frown in his dark eyes and he was obviously unhappy about what he needed to do, but at the same time determined. He said, "I'll do it, Uncle. I haven't killed two men just to allow the one who gave the orders to get away. Let's see if I've got it right. Trial by Combat, in essence it follows all of the aspects of a duel. As the challenged party, you or your chosen champion, me, can choose the time and place and the weapons used."

King Hanae nodded, "Exactly. What time will you set?"

Dean said, "Now, and the weapons? What we are wearing. As King's Champion he is required to carry a sword when in your presence. That way we get it over with and get on with our lives, you a little safer, and Savelle… Well since you cremate your dead and scatter the ashes to the wind, he's not even going to have some ground for a grave."

NINETEEN

Savelle was looking supremely confident as usual. As a fighter he had never been beaten, and unless you had seen Dean fight firsthand, you were going to doubt the tales you had heard about him. He didn't look very dangerous standing there relaxed and easy in his outlandish clothes.

The Court Herald Wenton stood in front of the throne, and he banged four times on the floor as tradition demanded to get silence, though it wasn't needed since there was complete silence already. Though most didn't dare to show it, there was contempt for Savelle. Most of them had only seen Dean use his bow. Only a few had seen the confrontation between him and Doran's Tang Snake bodyguard and were aware of how fast he was.

Doran, Telwyn and Deltin were standing on the balcony watched by the Crown Prince's bodyguard. If Hanae had been able to, he would not have allowed them to watch what was going to happen, but since it concerned them as members of the Royal Family, he couldn't avoid it.

Herald Wenton said in a ringing voice, "Trial by Combat, demanded as his right by Savelle Claremont, second cousin of the King and former King's Champion." Savelle winced at that. He had forgotten that the moment he challenged the King, he lost the title of King's Champion. Then he just shrugged as Wenton continued, "On this occasion the King is represented by his nephew Dean Richmond. As the challenged party, he chooses the time the place and the weapons."

Wenton paused, then continued in his sonorous voice, "The time, now. The place, here. The weapons, what the two combatants are presently wearing."

Iselli asked of his companion, "What do you think my brother, will Savelle even be able to get his sword out of his sheath before he dies?"

The other Tang Snake, Isalan said scornfully, "He may get it out but he'll already be dead by that time, he just won't know it yet."

A space was cleared and the two combatants faced off against each other. The supremely confident Savelle, looking at the miserable expression on the face of Dean, felt everything he had heard about the boy must be an exaggeration, unaware that the boy was distressed by the need to kill once more.

Wenton looked at the two combatants, standing facing each other ten feet apart, nothing showing whether he considered the match unequal. "When I bring my staff down on the floor you may begin. You may not draw your weapons until that time. If you do, you automatically lose the contest and the crossbowmen on the balcony will execute you."

Neither Dean nor Savelle were watching Wenton, as he raised his staff and brought it down sharply making a ringing sound on the stone floor. Only the Tang Snakes even saw Dean move, as he drew the Bowie knife and attacked, his body moving fluidly forward. He only struck one blow, between Savelle's legs severing the femoral artery, and he shifted back with a flowing movement, as Savelle began to bleed out.

He drew his sword and lunged forward at the boy, and for the next few seconds Dean became a phantom he couldn't touch. He was unaware that he had taken a fatal blow and had only minutes to live. Only a Healer applying immediate pressure could have saved his life. As he began to weaken he stopped moving, swaying for a few seconds before he fell, dead within a few minutes after he hit the floor.

Dean's eyes were blurred by the tears falling into them, his grief overwhelming him, before he was ready for it. King Hanae knew not to approach a combatant who would be on a hair trigger, and said reassuringly, "It's over Dean. I'm sorry that I used you, but I will do it again, if ever it's necessary to protect the Kingdom. Give Evalt your knife and he will clean it for you. You can come with me to my quarters, where you will have some privacy." Dean nodded, handing the knife to Evalt, and he was led away by Hanae.

*****

Dean said a couple of hours later. "It isn't the deaths themselves that affect me. My mind knows logically that I've never killed someone who hasn't deserved it. It's just that my emotions get in the way, and until I've had a chance to cry for those I kill, my emotions can't catch up to the logical part of my brain. Once that happens then I can put those I've killed behind me. They're never forgotten, and they'll always cause me sadness. To live with the sadness is necessary, because I know that my skills are needed to save innocent lives. I would feel far worse if I failed to kill when I could and that person went ahead and took those innocent lives. This one was much harder because he was a relative, and to us family is the bedrock of our lives." His large black eyes showed his sorrow. He gestured with his hands sighing, "Evil doesn't usually choose you. You choose it. Most people, unless they're crazy, have a choice, and when you select evil you become my enemy."

TWENTY-Larn 4th day of week-33rd of Tevel-Year 2118

Over the next few months Dean became a popular figure in Clare. Unlike on his own world, he began making friends and if most of them were adults, not all of them were. The children knew they couldn't compete with Dean physically, but they introduced him to a game called Korlo. Essentially it was pitching pennies, in this case copper coins, or game pieces which ironically were called tokens. Either could be used and the tokens were made to weigh exactly the same as the smallest copper coin did.

As much skill was removed from the game as possible. You threw the coin or token from a small box and your piece was one of five, the other four being red and green throw pieces, which were removed from play unless the game piece happened to land on top of one of them. The game piece closest to the wall was the winner.

Quite a few other games had been introduced by Champions over the years, a couple from Earth were chess, and poker, in all its myriad varieties, and one of the most popular of games among many of the middle-class was bridge. Then there were many other games which had no resemblance to anything Dean had ever seen or heard of before, some were local, others imported from other worlds by other Champions.

The people of Clare were born gamblers, and most of the games attracted gamblers of all types, even the games of the children. Gamblers would gather round and bet on various things. For instance since the throw pieces were green on one side and red on the other, bets on how many would land with one color up, were quite common.

*****

Over the next three months, Dean heard news of things being stolen and he knew that twenty-three tokens were in a Champion's possession, but for some reason no twenty-fourth token had shown up.

He was walking home from the Palace one afternoon when a man walked into the street in front of him. He was an ugly man, both in looks and in personality. The sense that showed Dean evil told him this was the most evil man he had yet met, and he was the first Champion Dean had seen. He sneered at the small boy, "You don't look like much kid, I've killed seven Champions for their tokens and once I take you I win, with your five tokens that gives me thirteen."

Dean laughed to himself despite the seriousness of the situation. Dean was the twenty-fourth token, that's why he hadn't heard anything about the last token. He knew this man must be good, to kill seven Champions he had to be. Perhaps he would be the eighth, but either way this was the end.

The man approached him, and he moved like a cat, and Dean said Sinore in his mind, and suddenly the sword was in his hand. When the man was about twelve feet from the boy he stopped, and then suddenly twelve additional images were surrounding Dean. They all drew their swords and the man began to brag. "They were all so surprised at my lookalikes. They couldn't be affected by magic from this world, but nothing in the rules says that a Champion can't have a magical talent and this is mine."

Suddenly one of the images attacked from behind, and Dean twirled around and met the image sword to sword. He was a trifle careless, and the image's sword cut him lightly on the chest as he blocked it, and he began to bleed. The image was as slow as most humans but Dean's sword simply went right through it as he disengaged from the block and slashed it leaving it unharmed. He realized how dangerous the man was as the image pulled back and he twirled around to face the man again. The images could actually kill him while he couldn't touch them.

In effect he was facing thirteen opponents and the only way he could survive was to kill the real person. The images began a dance of death then, first one would attack and then another, Dean's speed and stamina standing him in good stead. But as the minutes went by he realized why the images were so deadly. He had lost track of the real Champion. He began to feign tiredness and to take advantage of the one thing he had noticed about them. The images made no sound and he began listening with all his being.

The Champion was impatient. He could and should have allowed his images to make the kill, but he wanted to do that. He enjoyed killing, and he intended to do it himself. Two of his images attacked simultaneously and Dean twirled to meet them, and as they dropped back after the engagement he heard the scrape of a boot behind him, and reversing his sword in his hand he thrust backwards, taking the Champion full in the stomach. The images all disappeared as he pulled the sword out of the wound and spun around and the man's head just leaped from his shoulders as Dean's sword cut through it.

The man disappeared as abruptly as his images, leaving behind the tokens that he collected, and a cheering crowd who had been watching the contest. Dean said, "I have thirteen tokens. The game is won unless you wish to challenge." knowing that the three remaining Champions could hear him.

Perhaps thirty seconds went by and then he heard three voices in his mind say 'No challenge.' and Dean knew he was the last Champion left on Venndel, as the last three Champions disappeared, sent back to their worlds with the prizes that the remaining eleven tokens had gained them.

Dean let go of the Sinore, and the sword returned to its sheath around his neck. Taking off his shirt he gathered the eight tokens. He heard in his mind, *The others are celebrating, Dean. They will ignore you until they come to claim the tokens.*

Realizing know why the Interfering Busybody had been interfering he said back to him, *I forgive you. I know now what you were doing.*

He looked at the tokens, the First Book and the Pearl Without Price were too important. His eyes lighted on one thing and he began to grin. Looking around he ignored the crowd who had been watching the combat and seeing that Sedg's smithy was right beside him. He passed Sedg in the doorway, and felt a hand on his shoulders give a brief squeeze, and he smiled at one of the many friends he had made, over the last few months.

He said to the man, "I would borrow your largest hammer for a brief time, my friend."

The man grinned at him, "Always little one. As a friend my shop is yours."

Putting his shirt with the tokens on a work table he took the articles he had selected. A pair of dice. A pair of loaded dice, and he didn't think anyone needed crooked gambling gear. He put one on the anvil and taking the massive hammer in one hand. Sedg watched as Dean lifted it and brought it down in a blow as true as if he had done it thousands of times before, and the dice cube was reduced to crushed dust which the boy brushed off of the anvil. Putting the second cube on the anvil he lifted the hammer and with a blow as true as the first one he brought the hammer down, and brushing the dust off of the anvil he sighed with satisfaction.

He heard the voice in his mind, *The Contest has been won but it is not over. Not until all of the winning tokens have been given to the Gods can the Contest end. Since you just destroyed one of the tokens, that can't be done, so the Contest can't end. By the rules that were agreed to at the beginning until one Contest ends another can't be held, so you have prevented another Contest from ever being held. They will punish you little one. Try not to smile when they announce your punishment.*

TWENTY-ONE

Dean said to the King, "I brought Deltin here to say goodbye, Uncle. The Contest has been won."

"So you will be leaving us, Dean. I'm sorry to say goodbye to you."

Dean smiled shaking his head, "No Your Majesty. Both Deltin and I will be going home, but I won't be leaving. I won the Contest but I destroyed one of the tokens. Without all of the winning tokens the Contest can't end, and another Contest can't be held. Since I did this deliberately, the Gods have decided to punish me. Deltin will be allowed to return home permanently, and he'll have memories of a life on Earth overlaid over the ones he has, though he will keep the present ones. No one else will even know that I've been gone. Deltin and I will simply wake up on the morning after I left my world, to my brother it will simply be a dream. I'm the only one who will know that I've actually been gone."

"I will return to my world, but at the same time I won't be leaving this one. During my normal sleeping period on my world, I will spend two days and a night in this one. Only my sponsor is aware that I have come to love this world, and it is his reward for finally ending the Contests, and the devastation it has sometimes left on yours. The others believe it is a punishment. The people on this world will know that the Contests are over and somehow I had a major part in ending them, and the Gods have punished me by leaving me on this world. I will retain some of the attributes of a Champion. The ability to speak any language on your world and the resistance to magic, also the sword Sinore."

His nostrils flared, "The Champions didn't care what they did to this world, if they had to cause a war to get a token, they would do it without a thought of the cost to this world. My sponsor, well actually I should say my sponsors, since it was the Father and Mother of the Gods who conspired to end the Contest. My family was chosen so often, because the Mother Goddess as Seeress, saw that someday a Champion with the inverted pyramid on his back would end the Contest for good."

"When it was originally played, the Contest was intended to be a one time thing. A sort of Trial by Combat played out for the Gods. But the Father and Mother of the Gods reckoned without the Dark God, he put a longing into the minds of those who played the first Contest, and they demanded that it continue. As the Gods of Light give humans free will, they must give free will to their own children as well, and while those who played the Contest were not important Gods, still no fighting could be allowed between Gods. Occasionally the Father God would join in the Contests, always choosing one of my family, and with me he finally won the prize that he has been seeking for generations."

"Can't they hear what we've been talking about?" King Hanae asked.

"No Uncle, with the Contest unable to be continued, my sponsor's have forbidden any more interference in this world by the minor Gods who were part of the Contest. They have the authority given to them by the other major Gods of Light on this world. They have put a barrier around me so that only they can hear what my companions and I have to say."

Dean sighed happily, "I get to keep both worlds and both families. That's a reward that makes everything worth while."

EPILOGUE

Dean stretched, feeling good, thinking about the advice that King Hanae had given him. 'Dean, you're afraid of hurting your bullies because you're thinking of them as opponents. Forget that. Remember they're children, so treat them as children.'

He heard his alarm ring, and turning it off, he got up and in his short pajama bottoms he walked through the bathroom he'd be sharing with Deltin, though Deltin didn't know this would be the first time that they had ever shared it. He shook Deltin on the shoulder. His dark eyes opened and stared at his brother. He said, "I had a really strange dream last night, Dean. I dreamed I was on another world and you were there too."

Dean said, "Forget about that Del, it's seven-thirty, time to get up for school." He flipped back the covers and began to tickle his little brother who went into a fit of laughter. After a couple of minutes he stopped and pulled the boy out of the bed, and headed for the bathroom, Del following.

The younger boy was wearing the same thing that Dean was, a pair of short pajama bottoms, and they stripped them off and put them in the clothes hamper and got into the shower. They were brushing their teeth, when their mother appeared in the doorway. She looked at Dean's black eye, and said, "You've got to do something about those bullies Dean."

He rinsed his mouth out and dried his face and putting his arms around her, he said, "I'm going to, Mom, I got some really good advice last night in a dream. I've been going at it all wrong. I've been thinking of them as the opposition, and they're not they're children, so I'm going to treat them as children."

She looked down into his sparkling black eyes and saw that all was right with his world. She gave him a kiss on the forehead, and turning him around gave him a swat on his bare bottom, sending him back to his bedroom, feeling much better about her middle son.

*****

Deltin and Trina were being driven to school by their mother. She had offered to drive Dean as well, but he had business to attend to, and he was so cheerful her heart felt easy. He looked ahead and saw that the two bullies were there as usual, and he looked at his watch, the bus should be here in about seven or eight minutes. Plenty of time to take care of business.

They were rousting Sandra Post but when they saw their favorite target approaching, they abandoned her and headed for Dean. Their attack ended much differently this time. Dean grabbed one of them and held onto his arm while he got the other one down and sat on him. Turning the one he was holding over his knee he began to spank him. In a couple of minutes the boy was howling with pain, though Dean wasn't really spanking very hard. The other kids stood around watching with open mouths.

Letting go of the first boy he let him get to his feet hopping around rubbing his bottom and he got the second boy in the same position and spanked him as well.

After letting the second one up he said to them, "The next time I hear of either of you bullying anyone I'll give you another spanking only I'll take your pants down and it'll be on your bare bottoms."

The boy who had been spanked first said, "We'll tell our dads about this."

Dean said cheerfully, "Oh, I wouldn't do that. I like both Zach and Carey, and I know neither of them would like the fact that you've been beating someone up all the time."

One of the girls who was a sister to the older boy, asked, "How do you know our dad? I know you're right about him not liking Eric being a bully." She looked ashamed, "I know I should have told him, but.."

"But your brother bullies you as well, doesn't he?" Dean said and she nodded blushing. "Well Zach and Carey are both partners in the law-firm in which my father is the senior active partner. Hernandez and Hernandez. It was started by my great grandfather Jorge Hernandez and his son who was also called Jorge is a US Senator right now, and plans to retire completely after the next election, my father will be the senior partner."

Her brother Eric asked, "Why didn't you tell us that in the first place?"

Dean said, "Of course then you wouldn't have bullied me would you?"

and Eric shook his head.

Dean said, "I'm me, I'm not my father. I don't let him fight my battles for me." He could tell that Eric didn't understand but he saw his sister nod her head. Dean continued, "I'm only telling you now because I don't want you to get into trouble with your fathers because of what I consider my business."

He looked at the other kids gathered around them, and said, "I won't accept friendships just because of who my father is either." He shook his head ruefully, "I'm not very good at making friends, but I'll only accept those who are trying to make friends with me."

When the bus came and they got on, Dean was no longer worried. He'd make friends or he wouldn't. He wouldn't try to force it. He had a whole world of friends to go back to every night on this world when he went to sleep.

END

AFTERWORD

I have put this here rather than written as a prologue, because I didn't want to reveal the fact that Dean's family always have the inverted pyramid birthmark, before the story starts. This also tells why Dean's name is Richmond and not Hernandez.

His grandmother, Trina Hernandez, married a distant cousin called Ricardo Hernandez. Her mother and father disapproved of the marriage and she ran away to marry him, and deliberately severed contact with her family. She was one of the blond Hernandez's, as is Dean's father.

By the time her husband, who was in the Navy, was killed in an accident at sea, she had two children. When she died in childbirth with what would have been her third child, her two children, Maria was three and Ricardo Jr. was two. They were separated by Children's Services, and Maria ended up in a foster home while Ricardo ended up being adopted by Mitzy and Carter Richmond, a wealthy couple who were unable to have children.

After his mother and father died, Jorge Hernandez traced his sister, and found out that she was dead. He knew she had two children but could only find Maria, and he and his wife took her into their home and adopted her.

By a twist of fate the Hernandez and the Richmond families moved in next door to each other, and when the now renamed Richard was seven and Maria just turned nine, Maria was invited to Richard's eighth birthday party, which was spent mainly in the swimming pool.

Mitzy and Aidia Hernandez discovered the inverted pyramids on Richard's and Maria's backs and the two families discovered that the two children were Trina's children. Rather than trying to split up a happy family, Jorge and his wife decided to leave Richard with the Richmonds. They lived next door anyway and the two families simply became one extended family.

When he became an adult, out of love for his foster parents he named his male children after the Richmond's, and his daughter after his grandmother. Carter, for what ended up being his first son once Deltin disappeared, and Dean for Mitzi's maiden name. He did however later in life change his first name back to Ricardo from Richard, and that's what it is at the time of this story.

 

11.7.02

 

 

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