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Gifts

by Geraldle

Copyright © 2001

Part 2-643 AF

Chapter 1 – 30th of Shan – Afternoon

It was ten months since his banishment from the castle and Symin was alone in his hut on The Plateau. Since it was only raining lightly, the door was open. Maxim had been visiting his family for the last three days and would be spending another three or four days with them before he returned. Timoh was on The Plateau with his son Dimon, grazing his flock of sheep which was now much larger than it had been when he first arrived on The Plateau.

He had finally worn out his favorite light brown short trousers and was wearing a dark blue pair instead. With the five months of the rainy season just ending, he had lost much of his tan and his straight blond hair was much darker. It was also much shorter at the moment, Minna having given him a haircut when she had visited a couple of weeks before, so that his bangs only came down an inch onto his forehead, instead of almost falling into his eyes.

He was taking great pleasure in reading one of the books that Minna had brought with her on her last visit. Every few minutes he took a piece of candied fruit and popped it into his mouth. While he preferred to be out of doors even during the rainy season, he was much more able to sit still at this time of year and reading had always been one of his favorite pastimes.

A pastime that would have been forever denied to him without the stone that had given him the Sense of Perception. It was stronger than that day when Cartan had first presented it to him, as were all of his abilities. He still only saw in black and white but now and then, a flash of color appeared. He could as Cartan had told him, read a book without actually opening it but he takes great pleasure in handling books and turning the pages.

He had learned how to control the way he viewed things. At first it had simulated normal sight only, as if he were actually using his eyes, allowing him to see about five yards in front of him, before the dark closed in, plus the extra ability to Perceive inside things. But now he could use it in several different ways. He could use it as normal sight, his increased strength extending his vision to ten yards. The second view allowed him to see in a three hundred and sixty degrees arc all around him so that he can see ten yards in all directions. The third view allowed him to see all around and also from above at the same time. This view was somewhat disorientating and he could only use it when he was moving very slowly, but it was very useful when he went swimming and the disorientation didn't seem to affect him when in the water.

In all the preceding views his Perception acted more or less like normal sight and was stopped by solid objects though he can change it so his Perception makes solid objects look transparent. With the last view it was as if he was in a globe and he can see in all directions around and above and below at the same time. Solid objects don't stop Perception in this view, and though he was aware of them, they are transparent to his sense of Perception. This was totally disorientating and no movement was possible with this view. With practice, he had learned to switch between any of the views instantly. Finishing the book and the fruit at the same time he stood up and went over to the washstand, poured a bit of water from the filled water jug into the washbasin, dampened the washcloth and washed his face getting rid of the sticky residue around his mouth. Wringing out the washcloth he took the washbasin over to the door and emptied it.

His Empathy picked up a presence heading his way and straining his ears, he could hear a wagon approaching. He went back and replaced the washbasin on the washstand and then returned to the door. As the wagon got closer the mind presence started to become familiar. Symin knew he has met whoever was approaching but it took him a few minutes to place the presence.

Finally, his mind flickered back to Mid-winter Days and the visit he had made to Maxim's family. He recognized the mind feel of Dunn, Maxim's oldest brother. Instantly a shiver of anxiety went through Symin. He dashed out into the warm rain, running toward the wagon, slowing as Dunn yelled out "Whoa!" to the horse pulling the wagon.

Symin slowed as he got close then stopped at the driver's seat at the front of the wagon taking holding of the side and looking up at the man he could feel the sorrow in Dunn's mind, "What's wrong, it's Maxim, isn't it? Has anything happened to him?"

"Aye, young Master, I'm afraid there be trouble," Dunn said heavily. "Maxim took ill all of a sudden, the Wisewoman says he's got some kind of illness that grows slowly in the body but only becomes visible towards the end. She says he only has a couple of weeks." He shook his head in sorrow. "She canna do much now except to make him comfortable. We canna afford a Healer right now just before planting, and the Wisewoman said a Healer would be able to do little more. Da sent me to get you."

Symin was torn. He wanted to take Anya and have Dunn leave the wagon here and ride the horse back. That would be faster. But already a plan was forming in his mind. He made his decision, the wagon would be needed.

"I'll need a few minutes to get ready. Then you'll take me to Maxim. I'll take him to a Healer in Bremen. Bring the horse up to the hut." Symin said crisply. Dunn was astonished at the authority in the boy's voice. He was acting much differently than when he had visited them with Maxim over the Mid-winter Days.

Symin turned and ran back toward the hut and Dunn started up his horse following him and stopped in front of the hut. Meanwhile Symin was inside making ready to leave. He took some silvers from a secret hiding place and placed them in his belt pouch with the Prince's Token that he always carries. He had earned the silvers from his carvings. Every couple of months when Timoh went into Bremen, he took the carvings with him and sold them. They were exquisitely done but since they were so small they only made a few coppers each, but over the months they had added up to ten silver pieces.

Taking the jug from the washstand he doused the fire and used his Perception to make sure it was completely out. Dashing out of the hut, he ran around the back and into the shed Anya and Atine shared. He made sure she had water and food, gives her a quick caress, dashed out and back into the hut. Taking his saddlebags he put an extra pair of short trousers in the bag and wrapped some bread and cheese in a cloth, and pushed that into the bag as well. Picking up the staff Sivvin had made for him and rushing to the door he closed and latched the door. At the height of his head, there was a small wooden crosspiece which was horizontal. He pivoted it to a vertical position before moving over to the wagon.

He threw the saddlebags and staff into the back of the wagon, putting his foot on the wheel of the wagon and climbed up. Settling himself on the seat beside Dunn he said, "Lets go! Neither Timoh nor his son Dimon can read but by turning that crosspiece to a vertical position, they'll know that I left with someone and he should take care of Anya until I get back."

*****

When they reached the farm, Symin turns to Dunn, "Don't unhitch the horse. As I said we'll be taking Maxim into Bremen."

"But, but young Master we canna, canna afford…" Dunn stammers.

Symin looked at him fiercely. "I have a little silver. It's not enough either but I think I know a Healer who will do me a favor!"

"However," he laughed with no humor, affected by his own sorrow and the heaviness he could feel coming from the house, "I don't think you have to wait out here in the rain."

He turned and putting his foot on the wheels, jumped to the ground. Hurrying into the open door of the house, he was directed wordlessly into a bedroom by one of Maxim's young nephews. Maxim's mother and father were in the room as was the Wisewoman who was sitting in a chair beside the bed on which a pale and obviously weak Maxim was lying.

He knelt at the bedside opposite the Wisewoman and took Maxim's large hand in both of his small ones, tears beading his long eyelashes and trickling down his cheeks. There was a darkness around Maxim.

Maxim smiled weakly and reached out with his other hand and brushed away a tear. "Remember when I was crying for you, you said it was your choice. Well the Gods have chosen for me and death comes to all us. You do not have shed tears for me. My time has just come a little bit sooner than we all expected."

"I love you Maxim. You're the brother I never had. The Gods are going to have to change their minds and wait for a while longer, if I have anything to say about it." Symin exclaimed vehemently.

He turned two large gray eyes to stare across the bed at the Wisewoman. "I want you to give him something that will make him sleep. I'm taking him into Bremen. I know a Healer who will see him."

The eyes held hers commandingly and she reached into her bag almost involuntarily and pulled out a small bottle. She said to the room at large, "Would someone please fetch me a mug of water."

Maxim's father left the room and returned quickly with a mug and handed it to the Wisewoman who undid the stopper and dropped half a dozen drops into the water. Putting the stopper back into bottle, she returned it to her bag.

Holding Maxim under the shoulders, she helped him raise up and drink the potion. She said to Symin, "Two drops of this will normally put a person to sleep. Half a dozen drops will put him to sleep for several hours. A Healer can provide him with any additional sleeping draughts he might need."

Symin held Maxim's hand fiercely until he fell into a deep sleep. Then he began to hand out orders which were swiftly followed. Straw was placed on the bed of the wagon and a straw mattress was placed on top of the straw.

Dunn carried his naked brother out of the house and put him on the mattress covering him with a blanket and pulled a waterproof cloth over him. Symin climbs into the wagon bed and sits beside Maxim holding his hand, his staff and saddlebag beside him.

Chapter 2-30th of Shan-Afternoon

It had stopped raining though the sky was still cloudy as they entered the gate of Bremen. Once inside Symin ordered, "Hold the wagon, here, Dunn. I'll ask the gate guards how to find the Healer."

He jumped down from the wagon and approached one of the gate guards. He stood in front of the man spreading his legs and clasping his hands behind his back, and asks politely, "Could you please tell how to find Dearna the Healer?"

The man looks down at the boy, with curiosity. The expensive looking dagger and sheath showed the he was of noble birth and the very unusual blond hair gives him a striking appearance, in a part of the country where the majority of people had brown or black hair.

Both he and the other gate guard, who was his cousin a, had only belonged to the Town Guard for the last six months. Though he recognized the Ascalon crest embroidered on the short trousers and tattooed on Symin's right arm he was unaware of what had taken place ten months before.

He bobbed his head with courtesy, "Take that street," and he pointed at the street directly opposite them. "and take it to the town square and go straight across. Beside the Mayor's house is a street that has mostly artisan shops but about halfway to the southern gate there is an apothecary shop. The Healer has a half interest in the apothecary's shop and lives on the floor above it."

Symin straightened and gave a small bow thanking the guard. He skipped back to the wagon and climbed back aboard, giving Dunn directions. They moved along the road and Symin shuddered as they passed the Boar's Head Inn. As with his last visit this was not a market day either, and the square that would be crowded with stalls on that day had only half a dozen permanent stalls set up.

A little way into the other street, just as they were passing a small alleyway, Symin's sharp ears caught a muffled cry. "Dunn, stop the wagon!" He listened and heard a definite cry for help coming from the alley. "Wait here. I'll be right back" as he hopped over the side of the wagon taking his staff with him. For a normal person the alley would have been very dark and the three persons there would have been hidden in the shadows. Symin's sense of Perception was not affected by darkness and he could clearly see two men in the alley, one of them holding a young girl, his hand over her mouth.

His Empathy had not been of very much use since they entered the town, there were just too many people around. But as close as was now he could feel hate emanating from the men and fear from the girl. Blazing anger rose in Symin as one of the men, seeing it was just a small boy began to move toward him. He ignored the staff, which was a huge mistake.

Sivvin had made it for the boy and taught him how to use it. While not an expert, he was willing and able to wield it and had the advantage of not being half blinded by the shadows. As the man came within striking distance, Symin swung up with the lower end of the staff. Moving with blinding speed the end caught the man between the legs directly in the genitals. Half paralyzed with the sudden pain the man involuntarily began to fold forward. Symin reversed the motion of the staff and swung down the other end, catching him at the base of the skull.

Swung with just a little bit more skill it would have cracked his skull like a broken eggshell. As it was he went down like a poleaxed steer, instantly unconscious. Normally such pain would have been almost as disabling to Symin but the righteous anger he feels turned it into a glorious feeling the boy had never had before.

As he approached the second man he pulled her in front of him and pulled out a dagger and holds it loosely. Symin raised the staff. When he was well beyond striking distance the man waggled, "Come any closer boy and I'll slit her throat." grinning savagely.

The end of the staff was about two feet from the man. Symin's eyes were bleak. He brought the staff up though not any closer. The small index finger of his right hand searched for and pressed a hidden catch.

The man never knew he was dead, as a slim two and a half foot blade flicked out from the end of the staff pierced his right eye and entered his brain. His right hand sagged to his side and he dropped the dagger as he also lost his grip on the girl and she twisted away. Symin's mind was filled with a savage glee, a glorious feeling deeper even than the two blows, he had punished the first man with. Appalled and at the same time satisfied, almost absently he thought in the back of his mind, 'I'm going to have to be careful from now on.'

As the man began to sag Symin jerked the blade free from the man's brain and watched him a slide down the wall to the ground. Symin wiped the blood and brains off on the man's clothes and presses the catch again the blade disappearing as fast as at it had appeared.

He took the girl's arm and lead her to the alley opening. He took a deep breath, only now beginning to realize what he had done. Dunn looked down at him anxiously, "What happened Master Symin."

The boy let go of the girl's arm and jerked his thumb back over his shoulders. "There are two men back there. They were trying to do something to this girl." He looked at her.

Though he hadn't actually asked a question she informed the two "Probably kidnap. There's been several children and teens disappearing in the last six months. I'd better summon the Town Guard." Reaching into her bag she pulled a whistle out and gave three loud blasts.

After that she said, "Most of the Town Guards use our tavern, the Boar's Head Inn, for eating and drinking. We got good food and drink and we don't overcharge. So they gave me this whistle just in case I run into trouble. Shoulda put it on chain round my neck." She shrugged. "Didn't really think it could happen ta me."

"What happened to the men?" Dunn asked, "Did they get away?"

"No, I killed one and the other isn't going anywhere under his own power for awhile." Symin voice a felt unreal to him, and he began to tremble. Finally, with an "Oh, Gods," he dropped the staff and lurched over to the wall as he began to vomit.

He felt small gentle hands holding his head and stroking the back of his neck, as it seemed like he lost all of the meals he had eaten for the last week.

It felt like hours before his stomach had given up all that it could, but was only a few minutes. He was leaning against the building bare back against the brick when the two of the Town Guard arrived, still shaking a little. Lorry took a clean handkerchief from her bag and wiped his mouth and he nodded his thanks.

One of the guards asked "What happened here, Miss Lorry?"

"Two men hauled me into the alley. I think they were planning ta kidnap me like the others. I yelled for help and Ii got it." She didn't say who had helped, maybe she thought she wouldn't believe her.

"Did they get away?" asked the seeming spokeman.

"No they're still there." she said, with satisfaction.

They looked at each other and quickly hurried into the alley. Symin bent down and picked up his staff and followed them. The sight of the two men didn't affect him at all. He had gotten sick not because he had killed one of these men and injured the other but because he realized that he was capable of doing so.

One of the guards bent over the first man and examined him. "This one be still alive, Tane." he yelled over to the other guard who was approaching the other man.

"Only because I misjudged my stroke!" Symin said flatly. Tane turned as he commented and the other Guard looked up at him and nodded wordlessly as he held up his staff.

Tane had now reached the other, "This one be well dead, Dorn." He looked over at Symin. "But he not be killed by a staff. It's a little hard to tell in the shadows but this looks like a blade of some kind.

Wordlessly making sure that the staff was not pointed at anyone and that there was no one close he felt for the hidden catch and pressed it. The blade flickered into view. Dorn shook his head in admiration, "That be a nice sneaky trick to have in reserve." he said.

"Do you want to keep it?" Symin asked.

"Aye, until the Captain's seen it but I'm sure it'll be returned once that happens."

Symin showed him how the blade was retracted and extended, using a recessed catch so that it couldn't be released by accident and gave it to him. "I have a patient that I want Dearna to see. I'll take Lorry with me. We'll be there when you want us."

This last was a statement yet at the same time, it was a command and the guard didn't even question it, just saying, "Aye. I'll tell the Captain."

Symin walked out to the wagon and looking up at, "We'll go on to the Healer's. I told the guards that's where we'd there." Looking at Lorry, he continued, "I also said you'd be there as well. Do you mind?"

She says "I don't mind.

Dunn started off, the two youngsters following.

"I be Lorry."

"I know."

"I be the Boar's Head Innkeep's daughter."

"You did mention that."

"I be the one that turned you in."

"I know that too."

Exasperated she turned to him and put her hands on her hips. "Is there anything ya don't know?"

Symin grinned at her, the gaptoothed grin that he'd had for several months, now filled. "Well I'll tell you what I do know aside from what I just mentioned. I know you're almost fifteen and that you've had some schooling."

"I know that when you were offered a reward for turning me in, you refused it, and wouldn't let your father accept it either. And I know that Timoh and your father were boyhood friends and that Timoh herds sheep up on The Plateau on the Ascalon estate, and that he comes in every couple of months to see friends and do some shopping for things that he can't get at the castle."

With a solemn look on his face he said more seriously "And I know that your father told Timoh that he didn't want you to know it, but he was very proud of you for refusing the reward."

"Well, I'll tell you something that you don't know. Da may notta said he were proud of me, but he began treating me as if I were more grownup. I sorta figured that were the reason."

Chapter 3 – 30th of Shan – Afternoon

They reached the apothecary shop where Dunn has stopped the wagon and tied the horses reins to the hitching post. There were two doors at the front, one leading to the shop itself.

Lorry pointed to the second, "That be the stairs up to the secon' floor. Dearna leaves the door unlocked. I've got to stop at the apothecary for Da's headache powder then I'll come up. Her apprentice might try to stop you but being as bossy as you be, I don't think that'll bother you very much."

Dunn carried Maxim over from the wagon while Symin unlatched the door and held it open and then carried him up the stairs. There was a second door at the heads of the stairs leading into the main second floor area and Symin opened that as well.

Inside there was large room, probably taking up about a third of the upstairs space. There was a bed on one side around which a curtain could be pulled and there were half a dozen comfortable chairs. Along the walls were shelves filled with books and other materials for making up medicines just like the apothecary's shop downstairs would contain.

Symin asks "Put Maxim on the bed. There are two people in the back rooms. Very strong personalities. Nobody else up here so there aren't any patients. I'll ask the Healer to have a look at Maxim."

He pushes the latch on the door up and the door open onto a smaller space than the first room containing two small cots. The presence's he could feel were on the other side of the other door he could see on the far side of the small room.

Thinking that this probably led to living quarters he knocked firmly. He hears footsteps approaching the door and, it was opened by a girl. By her age, she was only in her mid to late teens. Symin knew this must be Dearna's apprentice. She looked down at him with some superiority despite his obvious nobility, and almost insolently drawled, "Yes, may I help you?"

"I would like to see Dearna. I have a patient for her." Symin replied in a quiet yet firm voice.

"I'll take a look at the patient and see if Dearna is needed. She started to close the door but Symin grabbed her right wrist. She tried to pull away and was astonished at how strong the boy was.

"I want to see Dearna. Now." the boy said with an edge to his voice. "Tell her it's Symin Ascalon."

"Very well," she said somewhat sullenly. When the boy released her she turned and went back into the room coming back within a few moments. "She said for you to come in."

He started to walk past her, then stopped, "He's in the outer room with his older brother Dunn. It can't hurt for you to see him. His name is Maxim."

He entered the room closing the door behind him. Dearna was standing looking out a window. She turned when she heard the door click shut. She stared at Symin and he could feel emotional turmoil behind an apparently calm face.

"I never wanted to see you again!" she said in a steady but emphatic voice.

"And I never expected to `SEE' you again!" the boy said and she caught the emphasis on the word SEE and looking at him she realized he was actually looking at her.

She regarded him more closely, wonder beginning to replace some of the turmoil. "Yes, you can see me. How? I didn't think that even a Self-healer had a enough power to repair the sight nerve."

Placing his hand on his breast he picked up the silver chased sapphire that Cartan had given him. It gave a sense of Perception to any Magic User wearing it, at the same time it tended to be almost invisible unless a person knew of its existence.

Instantly she knew what it must be. "A Stone of Perception," she breathed. Under the additional wonder and curiosity, her turmoil almost disappeared. "I've read about them."

"It was a gift," the boy told her. "As you know Perception doesn't replace sight but it does make it easier to accept its loss."

"My servant and friend, is waiting in the outer room. His village Wisewoman says there was nothing that can be done for him, that he is going to die very soon. That may be true, but I have to make absolutely sure."

He looked at her consideringly, "I think you at least owe me the courtesy of looking at him," he said brushing his hand over his eyes.

He smiled as he felt her bristle, then he shook his head slowly, "No, you don't owe me anything, I had Timoh ask some questions about you and I know you hated what you did. I was waiting a while until I felt you would listen. I want to tell you that you were just doing your duty. I know it and I can feel that you know it as well."

She smiled warmly at him the turmoil now almost entirely gone. "Are you sure that you're just ten years old, Master Symin Ascalon?"

He grinned, "I'll be eleven next week."

His face became solemn again. "But I told you the truth about my friend. He's in the outer room."

"Then let's go see him."

*****

He stood solemnly beside the bed hands clasped behind his back as she examined Maxim, his brother and her apprentice looking on with interest. He could feel her Healing ability flowing into Maxim and as she reclaimed it he felt sick as she shook her head. "I am afraid that it really was hopeless. It would take a much stronger Healer than I to cure him."

Symin looked with sorrow at Maxim not immediately taking in her full comments. When he realized what she had said he jerked his head around to stare at her. "Do you mean that a stronger Healer could help him!!"

"Yes," she answered "I'm strong enough so that I could drive it back for a few weeks, but it's such an insidious illness that I simply cannot eradicate it completely. It would take a full Healer-Mage to cure him. Or to possibly cure him. I don't know if even one so powerful could heal this illness or not."

He reached across the bed and grasped her arm. She too also was astonished at the strength he showed before she paid attention to what he was asking. "You mean there's a chance he could be cured. Where?"

"The nearest Healer-Mage would be Master Seldon in Camarra. I believe that there was one also in the Madron capital but that's almost twice the distance. Why?" she asks the excited boy.

"I'm going to take him to Camara," Symin said with utter confidence. "If there's any chance to save his life I intend to take it."

She raised an eyebrow showing scepticism. "You think your family will provide funds to take him to the capital."

Symin shook his head, "From what I've heard my family isn't all that bad as nobility goes, but to pay that much for a servant boy. Hardly." he continued, cynically, "Right now I doubt they'd be willing to pay to send me to the capital."

"Then how do you expect…" she started to ask.

Reaching into his belt pouch he felt the tingle of the Princes Token and pulled it out. "Timoh also told me that you received your training in the capital and that you worked for the government for several years before returning to Bremen."

She nodded. He turned his hand up the Token, resting in his palm. She looked at, absolutely astonished, before picking it up reverently, sighing as it tingled in her hand, the Princes Crest appearing. "I've only seen half a dozen Royal Tokens in my life and never before have I seen a Royal Token from Prince Tamen before. I've heard that you could count on the fingers of your hands, not including thumbs, the number of Tokens that Prince Tamen has given out since he entered his father's service twenty-five years ago when he was fifteen."

"With this you could practically take Bremen apart brick by brick and move Bremen from here to just outside the capital." A sudden idea came into her head and she looked at Symin. "Did you…" she started to ask.

Symin held up his hand, stopping her from completing her question. He leaned forward and whispers, "Don't ask. But I think I know what your question was going to be. That's another reason you shouldn't feel guilty. It was my choice." He straightened up and said, "But you said you could drive back the illness for a few weeks. Would that give us time enough to get to him to the capital?"

"I can do better than that. With several treatments over time, I could delay the illness for about nine weeks. For each additional treatment, I would have to be with you. However I can put him into a sleeping trance that would last for about twelve weeks, and that wouldn't ingrain any resistance to healing that the other treatment does."

"That will slow down his metabolism to one tenth of normal so that to his body will only think about a few days have gone by instead of twelve weeks. Unfortunately that's as long as my Healing ability allows me, and once it lapses such a trance cannot be used again for over six months."

While they were talking, none of them had noticed Lorry open the door and slip in through it, closing it softly behind her. She had taken a seat in one of the comfortable chairs. But in the sudden silence, there was a sudden clumping of large feet climbing the stairs. Symin looking around noticed Lorry sitting in one of the chairs and remembered what had happened earlier.

"What in the Gods name was that?" Dearna demanded.

"Ah," stated Symin "I think that'll be the Town Guard. We ran into a little trouble on our way here." and he pointed to Lorry who the others were now noticing for the first time. "Two men were trying to do something with her. She thinks they were trying to kidnap her. I killed one of them and left the other one unconscious." The door opens just as he says the last part. "I missed, and just knocked him out."

"And just as well for us, little one," said the first Town Guard who entered. He was carrying Symin's staff. He gave a quick bow to Symin and offered it to Symin, continuing, "I be Captain Sparan. We be just as happy to get a prisoner. Though," he said glumly, "we've captured a couple of them in the past but never been able to get any of them to talk. They seem to have some kind of compulsion that prevents their talking. Eventually they gets tried and sent to prison or hard labor where they seems to die very quickly."

The two Guards carrying the man, were Tane and Dorn, who Symin had met earlier. They stood holding him.

"We wanna question him as soon as possible. We figured you'd be able to wake him up so we brung him along." He winced before making the next statement looking at Symin. "His nuts be mashed pretty good. He be gonta be in a lot of pain when he comes around."

An approving look passed over Dearna's face, "Well I can give him something to stop the pain. But you won't be able to use any of your normal persuasion methods. He won't even be able to feel them."

"Don't matter," said the Captain. "They don't work nohow. We just want to question him as soon as possible. The other two that were caught were out in the country and it took a coupla days to get here."

There was a feral grin on Symin's face. "I think I can help." he purred in a silksoft voice filled with animosity."

"Now, how."

Symin ignored the interruption, "Yes Captain", he continued raising his eyes to look at him and the man shivered at the look in the large gray eyes, cold as ice. "I'm an Empath and all you have need is to ask him questions that can answered with a yes or a no, and I'll KNOW the answer. He doesn't even have to say a word. Dearna can mask his pain but he can't hide his emotions."

Dearna said, "Take the bas... take him into the next room. This bed is occupied by a much more worthy person." As the two Town Guards carried the man into the next, Dearna darted here and there about the room gathering herbs and other paraphernalia. It only her took her a few minutes to make up the pain medication and something to wake him up.

Meanwhile the Captain questioned the two youngsters and Dunn about what had happened, which only took a few moments, and then they had to wait about a half-hour before Dearna came out of the other room.

Chapter 4-30th of Shan-Afternoon

She looked with respect at Symin, "From the looks of things, if somehow he ever gets free, he's certainly not going to be fathering any children." The Captain grunted with amusement and she turned to look at him. "He's awake and lucid and in no pain for the moment. And I was quite serious, his testicles are so badly damaged that they'll have to come off."

The Captain gave a bark of laughter and clapped Symin on the back and with his arm around the boy's shoulders they went into the other room.

The two guards were sitting on one of the cots and the prisoner was on the other. Aside from slightly dilated pupils he looked completely normal. The Captain drew up one of the two chairs and placed the second beside him, gesturing for Symin to sit. Symin did so, his legs much too short to reach the floor, so he brought his legs up until he was sitting crosslegged on the seat.

The Captain passes over his notepad and pencil to Tane, "Here, you write a better hand than I, take down the answers."

Turning to the prisoner he said "Now, we don't care what be your name right now. We have other questions we be wanting answers to. But we don't even care if ya answer them."

Symin was staring fiercely at the man as the questioning begins. The Captain, "Were you be trying to kidnap the young girl for slavery?"

The man was startled when Symin answers the question. "Yes."

"Have you kidnapped other children?"

"Yes."

"Do you know how they're transported?"

"Yes."

"Are they transported by wagon?"

"Yes."

"How are they hidden?"

Symin said, "Only questions that can be answered yes or no Captain." he reminded.

The Captain nodded, "Well we know they be transported by wagon. There's only a coupla ways to do that."

The prisoner's eyes were now wide with fear as the Captain continues his questioning. "Are the children hidden in the cargo and disguised somehow?"

"No."

"Are they hidden in a false bottom?"

"Yes."

Tane objected, "But Captain, we search every wagon that goes out for a false bottom!"

Symin had uncrossed his legs, now his bottom barely on the edge of the seat his feet on the floor. He said, "May I ask a couple of questions, Captain?"

"Go for it, little one.

He looked at the Captain, and the two guards sitting on the bed, apology written on his small features. "I'm sorry but this first question is unpleasant but it must be asked."

Turning to the prisoner, he queried softly, "Are any of the Town Guards involved?" All three guards grunted but did not say anything.

"No." he read from the prisoner and stated out loud as the guards, sigh with relief, and continues. "Good! In fact very good!!"

He resumes his questions, "Are the children hidden by magic?"

"Yes!" he exclaimed with excitement.

"Is Magical Concealment used?"

"Yes." he exclaims, explaining to the three men "It was an Artefact of some type. It's usually a small stone, but it can be anything of a suitable size. The material doesn't affect what can be done with the Artefact. That's all the questions I have for now."

"I'll continue, then," said the Captain, "Do you know who your boss is?"

"Yes."

"Do you know his name?"

"No."

Annoyed at the last answer, when they seemed so close the Captain slap his leather clad thigh. Taking a couple of deep breaths he began again, "Is he tall?"

"No."

"Short?"

"Yes."

"Thin?"

"No."

"Fat?"

"Yes."

"Does he have a moustache?"

"Yes."

"Beard?"

"Yes"

"Does he have a mole just above his right eyebrow?"

"Yes."

Sparan slapped his thigh again this time giving an ugly laugh. "Got him. Sheran. He has warehouses and offices just outside the east gate."

Symin asked eagerly, "Can I go with you?"

Sparan frowned, "It might be dangerous little one."

"If this Sheran uses Magical Artefacts on his wagons, he probably has some around his place of business as well." Symin said logically.

The Captain frowned, "You're an Empath and from what I understand Artefacts of Concealment affect your abilities as well.

Symin closes his eyes, showing a bit of theatricality since he certainly doesn't have to and reaches out with his sense of Perception.

"You have in your belt purse three silvers and four coppers. The silvers were minted in 625, 634 and one in 637. The coppers were all minted in 640. You also have in your pouch a small carved figure of Teron the God of Warriors." He frowned for a second and then a look of delight flashed onto his face, as he bounced on the chair and clapped his hands.

"Oh, it's one of mine!" he laughed "Oh, I do hope you like my carving!"

Sparan opened his belt pouch and took out the contents. Looking at the three silver and four copper pieces and a little wooden statue of the God Teron. Wordlessly he showed it to his men. He didn't even bother to look at the dates.

Symin picked up the little God, frowning at it. "I use Ironwood on these figures since most people want to carry them around. I hope the colors are all right. I can't Perceive colors, Maxim always has to pick them out for me."

He put it back into the Captain's hand and the Captain put everything away, saying absently, "I have half a dozen of these little gems. You must have to sharpen your knives a lot to do these carvings."

"I have a Dwarven dagger. It'll cut through the best steel without getting dull." Symin says.

"I gather that little demonstration was to show you had a sense of Perception as well as Empathy."

Symin nodded, explaining, "Perception is affected by Concealment as well, but it tells you that there is an absence when something should be there."

The Captain turned to his men, "Dorn, you stay here and watch our friend here. Not that I think he's going anywhere with the injuries he has but he still could be dangerous. Sheran keeps twenty to twenty-five guards all the time. Tane, you go back to guard headquarters, and start sending out runners, to gather all of the off duty men and the Auxiliary. Tell them not to appear all at the same time. We don't want to make anyone suspicious if we can avoid it."

Turning to Dorn, he says, "I'll ask Dearna to give him something to make him sleep for the next twenty-four hours, and once he's out join us at headquarters."

"Symin, I guess that it's important to have a Magic User with a Sense of Perception so I'll have to allow you to go." That decision made Tane headed off to see about gathering the Town Guard.

Chapter 5 – 30th of Shan – Late Afternoon

The guard headquarters consisted of a single building which held the town jail as well. There were cells at the back of the building and in the cellar, while the front half served as office space for on duty Town Guardsmen bringing in prisoners and filling out reports. The Captain was the only one who had a separate office. The upstairs floor served as the armory, practice area and living quarters for those of the men who were bachelors and had no family in the town with whom they could live.

The men began trickling in soon after Symin and the Captain arrived, and the man stood at the front of the room until everyone was present, which took about half an hour. Dorn was the final guard to arrive. The Captain gave instructions to meet at the East gate and to get there in the same manner as they had come to headquarters, so it wouldn't be obvious that they were gathering for a raid.

"I'll take Symin and head directly to the East gate to arrange for it to be re-opened, and to make sure all of the workers have come back into the town. I don't want to involve innocents if it can be avoided. Those who would normally take over the guard position at 8, contact those they would replace and tell them to stay at their posts until they are relieved, and then make your way to the East gate."

Clapping his hands he said, "Alright, let's be about it." and he headed for the door with Symin following close behind.

*****

At the East gate the Captain and Symin found out that all of Sheran's workmen had come through the gate earlier, before it closed. They re-opened the gate and Symin stood just outside it, and with the town behind him he was able to focus his Empathy on the warehouse, which was some one hundred and fifty yards from the wall. What he felt alarmed him. He turned and walked through the town gate and went into the guardhouse. The Captain and one of his men, Symin found out a little later that he was Martil, one of the Town Guards two lieutenants.

"Captain," Symin said solemnly. "You said that Sheran keeps 20 to 25 guards. Well I can feel fifty-six people in the warehouse. Twenty-five are awake and active and I can tell they're guards."

He gave a little smile, "Those in your profession seem to have minds which are more organized than others. There are twenty-five men and women sleeping and there are six civilians."

The Captain and Martil looked at each other with surprise and worry on their faces. Sparan said, "That's a lot more men than I expected. I was hoping to take them by surprise and take them down before they could kill the missing children, if there are any in the warehouse. We'll have to go through with the raid in any case but I don't know if I should talk to the Mayor and get some of the Militia to give us a hand."

"What is the warehouse made of, the usual baked mud brick in this area?" Symin queried.

"No," said Martil with scorn. "He's from Madron and they prefer to build with wood, so he imported it and brought in carpenters from Madron to build the warehouse."

"He may also have wanted to hide any unusual additions to the building," pointed out the Captain in a reasonable tone.

"Then the walls will be a lot thinner than usual!" exclaimed Symin.

"Yes," the Captain said, nodding his head in agreement. "The wood was only a couple of inches thick buttressed every two or three feet with a thicker post. And that's how they left it, since it's just a warehouse, they didn't bother dressing the inside walls."

Symin walked over to the table, which was the only furniture in the room, apart from a couple of chairs. It was small, two feet wide by four feet long and the top was made of a single slab of wood about four inches thick. Taking out his dagger he put the point on the table top, and just by holding the top of the pommel loosely, the blade sank effortlessly into the wood, up to the hilt guard. Putting his hand on the hilt, he gently pulled the blade through the table to the edge.

He looked at the two adults and gave a nasty grin. "That's why I wanted to know what type material the warehouse was made of. The dagger will go through mud brick just as easily, but most buildings with mud brick are a foot and more thick so it wouldn't do much good."

He offers the dagger hilt first to Martil, "But if it was only a couple of inches thick we can make our own openings very easily."

Martil took the dagger in his hand, but with a yell he dropped it and put his fingers in his mouth. Symin caught it by the blade before it hit the floor and then stared with surprise at the man who was grimacing in pain.

"Now, what the hell was that about," the Captain asked with annoyance.

Martil took his fingers out of his mouth and began to wave them in the air. "The damn thing bit me, Cap'n." and holding his hand still he showed that his fingers were red with irritation. He felt them gingerly with his other hand. "The pain is starting to leave now, but I don't think I want to touch the damn thing again." looking at the dagger in Symin's hand.

His pain was forgotten as he realized the boy was holding the blade in his bare hand. "Now how are you doing that?"

Symin looked down at the blade in his hand, and shrugged, "I don't know. I cut myself a few times when I first began using it for carving but since then I can't cut myself with it at all."

To demonstrate he took the hilt in his right hand and puts the blade on his left hand and presses down, and then holds up his hand on which there was a line from the pressure he had exerted, but no bleeding at all.

"Well, you've Tuned it to yourself somehow, so no one else will be able to use it." the Captain said ruefully. "When Toron gets here I'll put you under his protection and you'll have to make those secret entrances so that we can surprise Sheran and his men.

Chapter 6 – 30th of Shan – Early Evening

True to his word, the Captain had put Symin in the care of Toron, a corporal of the Town Guard, who as well as being the Captain’s nephew, had exceptional night sight. They were accompanied by 3 Elves and 2 Dwarves, all members of the Auxiliary, chosen for their night vision.

Of course for Symin, it made no difference if it was day or night since he didn't see anyway, but Perceived. They carefully circled the building. Using his Empathy he located the occupants, and fashioned an easy way to get into the building close to each group inside. With the help of Toron, who lifted him up he carefully, he cut through the wall between the studs and leaving only a little material, which would hold the new doors in place, taking only a well delivered kick to remove the now flimsy barriers.

He completed the last entrance and Toron sent the last of the Messengers to fetch up the group that would enter by this door, and they appeared about ten minutes later moving carefully in the dark.

Toron whispered to Symin, "Now remember, you stay behind until we've mopped up. If we get smashed instead, get to the gate guard who has instructions to get to the Mayor and call out the Militia."

He gathered the men around him and gave them instructions based on the information that Symin had provided. They knew where they were supposed to go and they knew there were plenty of lanterns lit inside, though there were no windows to show the light.

Toron was to start the raid. Getting ready to kick in the new door he blew hard on the whistle he had in his mouth and applied a big boot to the wall. It smashed to the floor and the men were inside all yelling like maniacs heading for their assigned positions.

This group and one other were to attack the sleeping men camped out on the warehouse floor and they were completely merciless cutting down men and women in their beds and those trying to get themselves together. The attack was so unexpected that the sleeping occupants were almost helpless and within a few moments, all of the sleeping warehouse guards were dead, dying or too seriously injured to fight anymore. Only a couple of the Town Guards had more than just scratches but even they were quite capable of fighting, so they headed out into the rest of the warehouse to give their comrades some support.

Taken from the front and the rear the awake but not very alert guards were almost as easy prey as the sleeping ones had been, and within five minutes after they burst into the warehouse all opposition was over, only Sheran's assistants were taken completely uninjured.

Now the only one that remained was Sheran, and the Captain and Martil headed for the back of the warehouse where he had an office. Symin who had followed Toron into the warehouse after only a short wait, now followed them. The Captain tried the latch and found it was unlocked. He pushed the door open and entered carefully in case a couple of knives might come his way, and he moved to his right, ending up in front of the merchant's desk.

Martil entered behind him and staying to the left, moved into the room staying close to the wall. Symin moved into the doorway, clutching his staff in his hands. Sheran was sitting behind his desk his hands on his desktop and trying to smile but only a grimace on his plump face.

Symin could read the fear in his mind but also determination and something else, something that was building. Instinctively he knew what was coming. At the top of his lungs, the boy screamed, "DOWN!!!!" as Sheran raised both hands, one pointing at each man.

Sparan and Martil had been soldiers and then Town Guards for many years and they obeyed, instantly going to the floor as Mind-blasts went over their heads, smashing through the walls. Symin could feel the power building for additional Mind-blasts. Sparan was partially covered but Martil was at Sheran's complete mercy.

The boy threw his staff at the man, to distract him, and then ran forward his dagger suddenly in his hand and dove over top of the Captain and landing on the desk, on his chest with an "OOOFF," as the wind was knocked out of him the papers on the desk allowing the boy to slide across the desktop and with hand extended, the dagger took Sheran in the chest, the chain mail armor he was wearing doing him no good at all as the blade sliced through it into his heart.

The Mind-blast he had been raising, was bled off into the dagger and Symin's body, throwing the boy backwards, and he landed on top of Sparan and kept rolling violently as far as the wall, where he was stopped with a crash.

Sheran was pushed back in his chair as it almost toppled over, but then it came back down with a bang, throwing his dead body forward, chest and arm landing on the desk.

Painfully Symin rolled onto his back, his chest was on fire, and his mouth was opening and closing like a fish out of water, as he tried to breath. Sparan and Martil were on their feet in an instant and checked on Sheran. One look was enough to tell that he was dead and the Captain went to Symin's aid, putting his arm under his bare shoulders and raising him a bit off the floor. Despite his distress, the boy had the forethought to turn the dagger in his hand so the blade was along his forearm so that it couldn't harm the Captain.

Symin stared up at the man, body rigid, gray eyes wide with fear as he frantically fought to breath. Finally he managed to force a shuddering breath and he went limp with relief. As he laid in the man's arms, he was able to take longer and longer breaths. His chest hurt with each breath and the bruises on his chest were already starting to turn black and blue.

He heard Toron's voice from above, coming from the new hole in the wall, in an anxious tone, "Is everybody all right, sir?"

The Captain grunted assent, then expanded, "The blast that caused the hole you're looking through just missed me."

"I'm glad, sir." and Symin could hear relief in Toron's voice. "You would have made a really ugly wall ornament."

Symin couldn't help himself. He giggled, and then groaned from the added pain. Toron asked, "Is he all right?"

The Captain put his left hand on the boy's chest feeling his ribs one by one. "There don't seem to be any broken ribs. It looks like he just had the wind knocked out of him and his chest was badly bruised but there doesn't seem to be any major damage."

Symin croaked in a whisper, "That's easy for you to say. Help me up, will you?"

The Captain asked anxiously, "Are you sure?"

"No, I'd rather lie here," the boy croaked crossly, "But we're not finished yet, so help me up. Though I wouldn't mind sitting in a chair."

The Captain made a motion to Martil as he began to help the boy to his feet. It was just a deep bruise but it hurt, and Symin let his breath out in a hiss. He gratefully sat in the chair that Martil brought over. He only felt a little wobbly for a few seconds when Sparan released him. Once the Captain had moved a little away from him Symin turned his dagger around and after a couple of tries sheathed the weapon.

The man let out a hiss of his own as he saw the dagger. He had forgotten all about it. He instantly appreciated that even though hurt the boy had the presence of mind to protect him from injury. After taking a few seconds to regain his composure he asked, "You've discovered something." he said, making it a statement not a question.

Symin gave a weak wave at the back. "There's something wrong with that wall. Here, help me up and it would be nice if you would retrieve my staff. I think I need it right now."

With the staff returned to him the boy made his slow way to the back wall. Starting in the corner, he moved out until he was four feet from it. His eyes moved up and focused on a point about eight feet above the floor just below the ceiling.

He said in the croaking whisper that his voice was at the moment. "One of you lift me up, please."

Both men winced in sympathy at the request. Martil looked at Sparan then nodded, stepping up behind the boy. He put his hands on the boy's waist, then jerked away as the boy actually shuddered in pain. But then in a hissing whisper, "Do it! Lift me straight up! The quicker you do it the quicker it'll be over!"

Martil took him by the waist and lifted the boy up. Symin almost fainted from the pain, but shook his head a couple of times. When he was almost at the ceiling Martil stopped lifting him. Everything an effort now, Symin drew his dagger and put it against the wall but not pushing. He moved it right several inches, then with a gasping instruction, "Move right about a foot, please."

Martil did and Symin stabbed forward with the dagger. He felt a kick as the dagger pierced the Artefact of Power and then a doorway was suddenly visible.

"Down!! Now!! Please!!" Symin gasped. Martil instantly but carefully lowered him to the floor. The boy sheathed his dagger. Sparan went to one knee and took the boy in his arm. He put his arms around the man's neck shuddering. Sparan gently caressed his bare back, comforting him, allowing him to regain his physical strength.

After about five minutes, Symin says with less of a gasp, though still in a whisper, "Chair, please."

Martil fetched the chair and Sparan helped him sit. Symin smiles guiltily. "Sorry."

"Don't feel guilty about giving me orders. You saved my life and I respect brave people." Martil said, admiration in his voice.

"Okay. Try." Symin said. He closed his eyes to help him concentrate, taking deep breaths despite the pain, knowing he would need the energy.

After several minutes, he began to speak in a ragged whisper. "Behind door. Stairway. Goes down below cellar. Lanterns at top and bottom. Eighteenth step. Trap. Double width. Dark there. Cause stumble if not careful. Door here not locked relied on Concealment. Room under cellar, door thicker, locked, bolted on inside. Three men. Two beds far as possible from door. One man sleeping. Others playing cards."

He paused to take several deep breaths. "From door on right, that side of room partitioned into cells. Three cells. One closest to door empty. Men playing cards are at table right beside this cell. All three men heavily armed, men playing cards have chainmail on as well, one sleeping not."

"In other two cells, 4 boys, 2 girls, look to be between about six and ten, all naked. Pads on floor for beds. Chamber pots. The three boys in farthest cell from door all tattooed. All crested. Oldest about ten, other two, twins or brothers, not identical if twins, about nine. Girls about eight and nine, boy with, 'bout six."

He opened his eyes and stared at the two men, "Must go with you. Door too solid to break down. No room. Must cut around lock, bolt. Must support me. Can't take staff. Might drop. Must go!!! Now!!! Feel anxious!!! Danger? Don't know."

Symin's last words galvanized the two men. Sparan went over to the door and opened it. Though, he took care, he found it was not really necessary, the door being well greased. Martil helped Symin up. Moving slowly, the pain while there, was bearable. Carefully they climbed down the stairs, the climb causing more pain but still bearable.

The boy let out one hissing word, "Step." and Sparan was very careful, as were Symin and Martil. They reached the bottom of the stairs and Symin was thankful that it was almost over. Very carefully he drew his dagger and pushed it into the thick wood of the door, until it was less than a 1/16 of an inch from the far side of the door. Carefully he drew a half circle around the lock and bolt. With relief he whispered very softly, "Ready."

Very carefully the two men drew their shortswords and Sparan prepared to hurl himself at the door, being careful to avoid the half-moon circle that would stay in position.

Symin was almost in a dream state as he heard the Captain say, "On three. One, two, three." and hurled himself violently at the door. They were in and to the right instantly and the two card players had no chance at all.

But something unexpected happens. The sleeping man reacted with astonishing speed and rolled to his feet and pointed at the three crested boys in the last cell, the same type of power that Symin had felt in Sheran beginning to build. He was too far away to be reached in time. Even a thrown weapon wouldn't be quick enough.

"No," screamed Symin, with all his might, the pain tearing through his chest. He pointed his dagger at the man and what happened shouldn't have been possible. Mind-blasts were never visible even to Mage-sight. Yet that's what happened as a Mind-blast shot whitely out the point of his dagger. It was about three inches in diameter when it struck the man in the chest and literally threw him back and up into the air against the wall, killing him instantly.

Symin felt a singing exultation in his mind as the darkness welcomed him with its warm embrace.

Chapter 7 – 3rd of Rege – Early Morning

The darkness was released him as Symin spiraled back into the light. He began to feel his Empathy and he almost drowned in the emotions striking him. With a bit of resentment he wished that he could lock it away until it was needed. With the speed of thought, he imagined taking it and putting it in a box and shutting the box and turning a key. AND MIRACULOUSLY THE EMOTIONS BOMBARDING HIM STOPPED.

Suddenly his mind was for the first time in months entirely his own. He breathed an inaudible sigh of relief, while he looked around with his Perception. He recognized it as Dearna's quarters and Symin was lying in the main bed. There was three other people in the room. Dearna, a small older man, and Maxim lying on a cot next to the bed.

Then suddenly he was on his side almost falling out of bed staring down at Maxim in the cot. He yelled, "The darkness is gone."

Suddenly Dearna was by his side and begins caressing his hair lightly.

"Yes, little one. The darkness is gone."

"But, but, how, how, how," he started incoherently.

"The day after the Town Guard raided Sheran's warehouse, Prince Tamen and two companies of soldiers arrived for exactly the same purpose bringing along a plethora of Magic Users and one very special Magic User. Seldon, the Healer-mage that I told you about."

Suddenly Symin wrenched away from Dearna and jumped out of bed and launched himself at the man, who was leaning back in the chair balanced on the two back legs. The balancing act definitely ended, Seldon landed on the floor with a naked boy lying on top of him and hugging him fiercely. Symin began to cry silently then face buried in the man's chest, tears of joy not sorrow, but nonetheless emotionally charged.

He cried very seldom and this was the first time he had ever cried in happiness. With Dearna's help Seldon was able to get up and resume his seat holding the tearful boy on his lap until he was cried out, rocking him gently as if he was a very young child instead of being only days away from eleven.

Finally the tears ended and Dearna was there to extract him from Seldon's lap. She plopped him back on the bed and gave him a needed face wash. Saying that he was obviously fully recovered she didn't try to make him get back in bed and nude he sat crossledgged on the end of the bed and looking expectantly at Seldon said, "Please explain?"

Seldon looked at him seriously, "There's not really that much to explain. We arrived here three days ago, and I immediately came to see my daughter." Symin's head flicked around at Dearna and then back to Seldon. "Yes, she's my daughter, even though we don't look much alike. Healing seems to run in the family. My father and one of his brothers were also Healers as was my wife." He looked sad at the mention of his wife and the boy assumed, correctly, that she was dead.

"With Dearna's able help," and he gave a little bow in her direction, "We've given him three treatments that seem to have done the job. He's in an induced healing sleep now and it'll last for two to three weeks that'll complete the healing and give him strength and when he awakes he should be perfectly healed and the illness should not return."

"Thank you." Symin said with simple sincerity.

"You are welcome, Symin Ascalon." the man said with equal sincerity. "Now you said, just before you attacked me, that the dark was gone." He said it with a big smile on his face and Symin grinned back.

"Yes it was." Symin replied.

"What do you see when you look at Dearna and I?"

"Well I don't actually see anything, but you feel of the light."

"Do you know what an aura is?"

Symin inclined his head wondering where this was going, but he nodded. "There are several books in the Ascalon library about magic and one of them gives an explanation of what an aura is."

"Are you aware that many Healers, those of sufficient power use auras a great deal in telling when a person is sick or well. An aura will in fact show when a person is starting to become ill before there was any physical indication of the problem."

Symin shook his head, "They didn't mention anything about that in the book I read."

"Well, reading an aura is one form or Mage-sight and to a Healer the most important one. With the way you are describing what you sense in Maxim, Dearna and I, it indicates to me that you should be able to read auras."

"Really, how?" queried Symin with interest.

"A few minutes ago, just after you woke up you did something. You had a deep grimace on your face which suddenly smoothed out. What happened?"

"The emotions were bombarding me from all directions."

"It's market day," interjected Dearna who was listening with interest.

Symin looked at Dearna and nodded with satisfaction, "That's why it was so bad." Looking back at Seldon, "I locked my Empathy away until I need it again."

Seldon looked shaken at that. "I didn't know that that was possible. All I've ever read about magic and I have access to the Royal Library says that Empathy can't be turned off. How did you do it?"

"I just imagined I had a box in my mind and I put my Empathy in it and locked it. Wait a minute." Closing his eyes to concentrate he unlocked the box and opened it and was immediately bombarded again with emotion, so he shoved it back in the box and locked it again. He opened his eyes and stared at Seldon, "I wanted to make sure that I could get it again, so I opened the box, then closed it again."

"Well imagine that you see a light around people, the greater their magical talent the thicker the light will appear. I've always thought that Mage-sight relied more on Perception than sight so it should be easy for you." Seldon instructed.

Symin nodded thoughtfully, and closed his eyes again to concentrate. He centered on Maxim since he still wanted reassurance that he was all right. After a few minutes, a light began to appear around Maxim's body. It was less than a quarter of an inch thick but it was clear with no darkness in it. He sighed with relief and then moved on to the other people in the room.

Dearna's aura was lighter with threads of light running through it and was about 3/4's of an inch thick. When he turned his attention to Seldon, his aura was a couple of inches thick and shot through with threads of light. When he turned his attention to himself, he was surprised that his aura was as thick as Seldon's though with only a few threads of the light.

He lost his concentration and as he opened his eyes, he blurted out to Seldon, "My aura was as thick as yours. Why is that?"

"You have Mage class potential and the threads of light through it indicate how much of your potential you have achieved. It becomes automatic for a Healer to look at the aura of those who have been their patients. When you first brought Maxim in your aura was about an inch thick. Dearna noticed when you were brought in after the raid that your aura had doubled in thickness."

"Since you have barely tapped into your Magical ability you only have a few threads. I on the other hand have been using my abilities for more than seventy-five years, and I've reached my full potential so my aura is very active with many light threads. And just because you have Mage class potential doesn't mean that you will ever reach your full potential."

"I assume you've examined everyone in the room including yourself. Since your Perception doesn't allow you to Perceive color you wouldn't have noticed that Dearna and I, and you and Maxim have the same color auras. That's because those of the same blood heritage generally have like auras, but that's not always the case."

"I see the occasional flash of color," volunteered Symin.

"Well that probably indicates that as your power grows your Perception will allow you to see colors more and more often. All living things have auras and some non-living things also have auras, especially those things that are imbued with magic."

"All right, father, that's enough explanations for the moment." She handed Symin his short trousers and his sandals. "Two of the Prince's people have been here every day to see how your were doing. They said that though they didn't know you very well they consider you a friend and they were worried about you."

"Who's that," Symin asked with curiosity as he slipped into his short trousers.

"They're King's Messengers and the man said his name was Cartan, and the woman, a Forest Elf, called herself Sinya. They're staying with the Prince at the Boar's Head Inn."

Excited, Symin sat on the edge of the bed to pull on his sandals. He stood up, looked at Dearna questioningly head cocked to one side in expectation. She smiled at him, "Go."

He shot toward the door and he heard her call after him, "Be careful Symin, this is market day, and you're not used to crowds." If he had been wearing boots, they would have clattered as he raced down the stairs but only the slap of his soft soled sandals on the steps was audible as he raced down the stairs.

He jerked open the door and then paused in consternation. While the street wasn't filled with people, it was still far more crowded than he had ever seen and it took some determination to push his way into the passing people and wagons and he was very uncomfortable. He certainly didn't notice the man who had been leaning against the building across from Dearna's straighten up and follow him. More familiar with crowds he was able to close the distance between them.

Then unexpectedly just in front of Symin, a small wagon lost one of its right wheels. Before he could get it halted the wheel acted as a brake on that side and the wagon turned sideways.

There was plenty of room to either side of the wagon, but Symin was hesitant unaccustomed to crowds. He saw Cartan and Sinya just on the other side of the wagon and he waved to them and then waved back.

He decided to remain where he was until they reached him, but suddenly a hand grabbed the necklace around his neck yanked on it and started pulling him to the left, before it broke, and at virtually the same time a line of fire burned along his right side. He went to his knees using his hands to avoid falling on his face.

He heard a deep roar of rage, accompanied by a lighter yell of anger as Cartan and Sinya drew their swords and one went around each end of the cart, people scattering to get out of their way.

Symin straightened just as the two reached him. It hurt but it wasn't as bad as his ribs had been three days ago. Putting his hand on his side he felt the wetness of blood seeping out of the knife wound that had gone just deep enough to draw blood.

He brought his hand up to show Sinya who was kneeling in front of him, Cartan standing over them, on guard. He said wryly to Sinya, "They call nobles blue-bloods. That sure looks red to me."

Then with shock he realized what he had said, and with wonder looked around at a world that was suddenly filled with color again. His hand went to his neck as he realized that the necklace with the Stone of Perception was gone.

His large gray eyes went wide and his face lit up with wonder, almost forgetting the pain in his side. "I can see colors again." he stated to Sinya with awe in his voice.

"Well that's great, little one, but right now I'm more interested in how bad that wound is." Sinya stated, with a serious look on her face. Symin examined his side with his Perception, then shrugged. "Wet with blood, and it hurts some, but it's only a quarter of inch deep and actually my knees hurt almost as bad."

Gingerly, with her help he got to his feet, Sinya took off her neckerchief and gently swabbed off the blood which had already begun to slow, to confirm Symin's self-diagnosis and she was relieved at his accuracy. She admired this little boy, who had a sense of duty that all nobility should have, but rarely did. He had kept a secret when he knew it might cost him his life and had in fact cost him his sight.

Seeing that Dearna's was only a few doors away, she told the boy to take the kerchief and keep pressure on the wound, and she swept him into her arms, "Watch our backs, Cartan. We've only got about thirty yards to go to get to a Healer." She carried the boy and they had lots of room with a still angry Cartan brandishing a long sword in his hands.

Chapter 8 – 3rd of Rege – Morning

Dearna and Seldon were talking when Cartan flung open the door and ushered Sinya and Symin into the room. With consternation, Dearna asks, "What's happened now?"

"Someone knifed Symin. It doesn't seem serious but often an assassin's weapon was poisoned, so I didn't want to take any chances. Also someone stole his necklace and he had a severe yank on the neck." Sinya said in a rapid-fire voice, showing her anxiety.

They were curious about the fact that Symin could still see but waited for an explanation until after they had dealt with his wound and scrapes on his neck and knees.

By the time they had reached her Dearna had spread a towel on the end of the bed and motioned for Sinya to set him down there.

She looked at Seldon with a raised eyebrow, and he nodded. He had more experience with possible poisonings. As soon as Symin was seated he motioned for the boy to remove the kerchief and ignoring the still lightly flowing blood put his left hand on the wound.

After a couple of minutes of examination, he looked up, "No poison. And since I've got my hand bloody I might as well do something about the wound." Symin invoked the Mage-sight he had just learned how to use and observed that a lot of the light threads in the man's aura gather around his hand and in a few moments the pain was gone.

Taking a wet sponge that Dearna offered he brushed it over the boy's side showing the wound now only as a slight line which would disappear in a couple of days. Observing that the blood his flowed into the top of his short trousers he undid the boy's belt and had him stand up and pulled the short trousers down his legs.

Obediently Symin stepped out of them as they reached his feet and Seldon handed them to Dearna and she was being very careful not to touch the dagger.

Seldon sponged off the rest of the blood which had flowed under the waistband of his trousers and then did his scraped knees. Taking a towel, he dried the boy's side. Then taking a look at Symin's neck he discovered the skin wasn't broken, just chafed. He healed that and the scrapes on his knees.

Seldon handed the towel to Dearna and then demanded a full explanation of what had happened.

It was quickly told up to the point of the theft of the necklace. Sinya continued after that, "So someone yanked on the chain on his necklace to break it and get hold of the sapphire. It held just long enough to pull Symin several inches to his left and obviously the assassin was already thrusting. He couldn't adjust and the knife blade just scored a line along his ribs. The pull on his neck also caused boy to lose his balance and go to his knees, again the assassin couldn't adjust to try a second time."

Seldon looked at Symin, "Obviously you can still see. You must have a natural gift of Perception."

"I can see in colors now," stated Symin happily. "And my range has increased. I can Perceive, about forty yards before things become dark." he fell silent there. Something was tugging at his mind and it took him a little while to realize what it was. "I can feel the Stone," he said with excitement. "It's coming from the marketplace." he stood up ready to dash out, then realized that he was still naked.

Symin put his hands on his hips and complained, "Now what I am supposed to wear?" he asked. "Now I know I'm small enough that I look too young to wear clothing anyway." he said, obviously disgusted with his small stature. "But I will be eleven in a couple of days and it wouldn't be dignified for an almost eleven year old to go naked."

Dearna suppressed a laugh, "Don't worry about your dignity. When Dunn got turfed out by the Prince and his men, he ended up spending the night here on the floor and he brought your saddlebags here with him."

Sinya cleared her throat. Taking the backpack she was wearing off her back and opening it. Taking out four packages, she handed them to the boy. "Cartan wanted to meet your redoubtable Minna, and I can tell you he was much impressed. When we told her that Symin would be meeting Prince Tamen she insisted on sending these to you."

With the excitement of all children when confronted with presents, he sat on the end of the bed, from which Dearna had removed the towel and began eagerly to open them. In the first he opened he found a pair of light red short trousers, the Ascalon crest embroidered in silver on the right leg just above the hem and all of the seams sewn with silver threads. As well, there was a leather belt dyed a slightly darker shade of red with elaborate cross-stitching in silver thread, and a belt pouch bleached to a pure white leather.

In the second package, he found a pair of sandals, the same color red as the belt and with the same type of cross-stitching. In the third package he found a red button less, sleeveless vest, also with a small silver crest on the right breast, and in the fourth and last a white sleeveless pullover shirt with the Ascalon crest embroidered on the right breast. The full crest this time, with the crossed sword blades done in silver and the hilts in gold thread and the four daggers the same as the swords all on a blue background, the border of the crest done in light red.

Symin was ecstatic. It was only clothing, but it was the first full formal garb he had ever had. Only nobles wore red and he would be the center of attention, something that normally he would have shunned, but it was an important occasion because it showed off his full status and he would be the first Ascalon in ten years to wear full regalia in Bremen.

He got dressed quickly and after transferring his dagger to the new belt, he showed off his new clothing, a feeling of bliss flowing through him. He bowed to Seldon and his daughter, "I thank you for the care you have given to me and my friend Maxim. By the way the green color of your auras suit you."

Looking at Sinya and Cartan, he said with impatience. "Let's go. I want to find that stone and hopefully the one who stole it. He may not have intended to do so but he saved my life and I owe him a debt of honor."

Sinya put her hand on his shoulder, "Don't let your impatience rule your actions, Symin. Stay close. There's still someone out there who tried to kill. Missing may have scared him away but I wouldn't count on it. All right?"

As restless as he was, Symin realized that she was right, "I'll stay close!" he promised, "but let's go. Neither of you are that old."

He rushed to the door and opened it but he waited for them to say goodbye to the two Healers and make their way to the door before he exited, and he went down the stairs much more slowly than he had done a few minutes ago, waiting at the outside door holding it open to let the two adults exit first, then followed them out.

He felt happy, and he would have tried to hold hands with Sinya and Cartan but he realized they needed both hands free in case of trouble, so he walked sedately between them with an occasional skip in his walk showing his joy. With his Perception, he was aware of people noticing him and pointing him out to others. Normally very shy, right now he was a representative of his family and he was proud at the attention he was getting. Not personal pride, but familial pride.

Chapter 10 – 3rd of Rege – Morning

Nothing in Bremen was very far apart so they were quickly at the marketplace. He stopped at the street entrance to the town square where the marketplace was being held, disconcerted by the amount of people. The street had contained more people than he was used to but the square seemed to actually be packed with humanity.

To Cartan and Sinya, used to the capital market squares, it was really not very crowded, but they knew that he had been living on The Plateau for the last few months with only three other people and the sight must seem almost overwhelming. They let him grow accustomed to the people at his own pace, just moving him to the side of the street so they weren't blocking traffic.

Finally overcoming his timidity, Symin pointed into the square. "I can feel the stone in that direction. It hasn't moved," he said in puzzlement.

Sinya said, "He probably threw it away when he found out that it was Tuned. It's a good thing he didn't realize it before he stole the necklace." she said dryly.

Cartan nodded in agreement but Symin was concentrating and didn't hear what she said. He began moving into the square and Sinya put her hand on his shoulder to maintain contact, and he looked up at her and gave her a sweet smile. He moved slowly not particularly confident as they moved toward their destination taking a jog here and a jog there to go around a booth or stationary people.

Eventually they reached the far side of the square. Just before they reached, their final destination Symin's attention was caught momentarily by a familiar sensation in his mind. He was too intent to reach the stone and he dismissed it for the moment intending to come back to it.

They found it on the ground, right up against a wall. Symin picked up the necklace with his right hand, by the stone and suddenly his Perception was back to black and white again. Hastily he transferred it to his left hand taking it by the end of the chain and the colors were back. Putting the stone to his forehead, he concentrated for a moment and Detuned the stone.

As soon as he did so the feeling that had caught his attention returned with much more force. It was so familiar but he had to think for a bit to remember it and as he recognized it he smiled and then he frowned as a second memory joined the first. He looked around with his Perception and about ten yards away he saw a booth that was selling semi-prescious and interesting stones. The man at the booth was looking at them with horrified fascination.

As Symin slowly turned to face the booth, the man tore his attention away from them. Symin walked over to the booth and looked at the stones with the fascination of a carver holding the chain with the Stone of Perception in his left hand keeping it in full view. Taking up pride of place in the most prominent position was a large black stone. Irregular in shape, it must have been about twelve inches wide by eight inches deep by fourteen inches high. It looked like obsidian, a stone that the boy was familiar with, but it wasn't and it jangled in his mind.

Invoking Mage-sight, he looked at it in awe and a great deal of consternation and concern, as he saw a light orange aura almost eight inches thick. Thankfully, he realized there was absolutely no threads of light, indicative of Magical activity.

"What is this stone!!" he asked, his intense curiosity evident in the excitement in his voice.

Becoming relaxed by a question about his specialty, he answered, "It's called Diamond Obsidian. And it's a unique type of stone. As you can see it resembles obsidian but it is in fact the hardest substance that we on Lythea know about. It's harder than diamonds, and while diamonds can be worked by gem workers, this can't be touched. They're rare and people like to buy the smaller ones, but this one seems to intimidate everyone. I wouldn't have brought it, but I had a buyer for it but the deal fell through."

"Sheran, the merchant." said Symin, a definite statement not a question.

"Yes," sighed the stone merchant, "he offered me 20 gold for this one. I was shocked when I found that his warehouse had been raided and kidnapped children found."

Symin turned to Sinya and Cartan, and ordered crisply, "Between you, you are carrying 30 gold pieces." he held out his hand, "Give!" His tone of voice was so much like their current master, Prince Tamen that they obeyed immediately not even questioning his right to give them orders. It was only much later that surprise began to set in.

They handed him their gold. Cartan had 16 and Sinya 14. Counting out twenty gold pieces, he handed Sinya the rest to divide between them. Turning he handed the merchant twenty gold pieces. Astonished but grateful the merchant took the coins.

Invoking Mage-sight Symin put the necklace down on the stand and drawing out his dagger he put the point on the top of the Diamond Obsidian stone and pushed. The dagger pierced the stone as easily as it had done every other material, and Symin gave a sigh of relief as the orange aura disappeared.

Sheathing his dagger and picking up the necklace he held it up and in a conversational tone of voice asked, "Who tried to sell you this stone?"

The merchant went white and dropped a couple of the coins. He started to stammer out a denial, but Symin waved his hand to catch his attention, "I give you my word as an Ascalon that no harm will come to the seller. When he stole this he inadvertently saved my life so I owe him a debt of honor."

His sincerity was so evident that it erased the merchant's nervousness, and he answered crisply. "My cousin, Dav Dumar. He and all of the adult family members were working for Sheran. Ironic. I lost a sale and he and his family lost their jobs. Now he has to resort to stealing to support them."

"And what does he look like," Symin inquired.

"He's about six feet tall and thin yet he has unusually broad shoulders." the merchant replied.

Symin closed his eyes to concentrate, invoking Mage-sight looking, around. Many of the people around him had the same blue as his own aura, which was logical, many of them were Ascalon descendants, but the merchant's aura was green and they were rarer.

The first two he examined with that color aura were not the one he was looking for but the third was.

"Sinya, he's standing about twenty yards directly in back of us. Perhaps picking out another victim." he said wryly. "Would you ask him to join us. Please assure him that he's in no danger."

*****

Symin, Sinya, Cartan and the clearly nervous Dav Dumar were sitting at a table at the small outdoor inn run by the three respectable taverns and inns in Bremen on market days.

Symin started off the conversation. "I heard about the illness that struck your family. I wish to offer you my condolences." His obvious sincerity set the man at his ease. "What actually happened, and how did you and the others survive?"

Dav spoke with pain in his voice, "A plague struck, seemingly out of nowhere. It went through the whole clan in days. By the time anyone knew about it they were long dead. I and nine other men, and our families were down in the south serving as mercenaries. We were in a dangerous profession. Before the destruction of the clan, even if we had all been killed, there would have been plenty of others to carry on."

"Suddenly we were all that was left of the clan, we could no longer risk our lives, so we gave up the profession and returned north. But we had trouble finding jobs. We were trained to fight and could no longer do so. Our gear was sold over the months, until it was all gone. We were to be paid for the week the day after Sheran's was raided, and we're down to our last resources so I decided to steal.

Cartan asked, "Why weren't you able to get jobs as Town Guards somewhere. It's not normally as dangerous, yet with your skills you should have able to find jobs easily."

Dav winced, "We were forced to break our contracts and the Crown official had the Guild blackball us so we couldn't hire on as guards."

Cartan scowled, "They had no right to do that. Under the circumstances you had a perfectly legitimate right to default."

"Our employer was rich and we didn't have any money to fight him, so we had to find jobs in other fields. We were lucky when Sheran hired us." He looked a little guilty. "We suspected that there was something off-color about him but we never saw anything and we couldn't quit a job which was feeding our families just because we suspected something was wrong."

Sinya nodded in agreement, "No you couldn't."

Symin asked, "How many are left in the clan."

Dav was silent for a moment. "Eight of the ten who were serving as mercenaries are married. So there are a total of fifty all together. Eighteen adults and thirty-two children between the ages of one and fifteen. And also there's Bran the merchant but he's a bachelor as well and unlikely to get married."

"If you have no objections to working for the Ascalons I'll write a note to Sivvin to hire you. He took over as Captain of the guard when the Edict ended. Before the Edict we kept 120 guardsmen and right now there's only fifty and he wants to get it back up the to the pre-Edict numbers."

"I have no beefs against the Ascalons and I'm the present clan leader. Besides, as far as I know none of the others dislike the Ascalons either." He looked at Symin, "Why are you doing this?"

Symin threw the necklace on the table, and Dav flinched, "When you stole this from me you pulled me to the left. Someone tried to stab me in the back. Because of your yank, before the chain broke the knife only scored a shallow wound along my ribs instead of killing me. I consider that I owe you a debt of honor." He speculated for a moment, "I want to send you out fully equipped as well. Sivvin can equip you, but when he does so money is deducted from your pay until it's considered to be paid off. I'll have to get money from someone."

The little boy laughed with amusement as Cartan and Sinya instinctively put their hands over their belt pouches. "Not from you, this time," Symin said, "Besides you don't have as much as I need."

Opening his own belt pouch he took out 8 of the 10 silver pieces and put them on the table in front of Dav. Picking up the necklace, he put it in his pouch. "This should get you food for the a few days, and I'll see if can arrange to get the money to outfit you or not. Tell Bran we'll pick up the stone on our way back. We have to go see the Town Guard, and don't worry, we won't get you into any trouble, but they have to know there's a possible killer on the loose and I have a couple of other things to discuss that have nothing to do with you."

He was so transparently honest and earnest that Dav believed him, and left the table with no worries as the others headed for the guard headquarters on the other side of the square.

Chapter 11 – 3rd of Rege – Late Morning

They entered the guard headquarters and Sparan noticed them as they entered the door. Seeing Symin and two adults dressed as King's Messengers he got to his feet and came out to meet them. Symin introduced the three adults to each other.

Sparan looked speculatively at Sinya. "Ten months ago there was a report of an Elven maid, a Forest Elf with very light hair staying at the Boar's Head Inn. She left in the evening and Symin was found in her room the next morning."

She nodded her head, "Yes, Captain, that was me." There was no apology in her voice. "I was here doing the King's business. That's all I can say."

The Captain looked at Symin who simply shrugged philosophically. The man nodded then led him back into his office. There was two chairs in front of the desk and two over by the wall. He moved one of the chairs to the desk and waved them to a seat and then sat in his own chair.

They described the attempt on Symin's life, telling him the whole story and he agreed not to cause Dav Dumar any problems. Once that was out of the way, Symin asked, "Did you retrieve that Artefact of Power from the warehouse, Captain?"

"Certainly," and he reached into one of the drawers of his desk and pulled out a small stone maybe an inch and a half in diameter and three inches long. He handed it to Symin, "It's a funny thing about that. My men were questioning Sheran's assistants. And like the others they couldn't answer, when all of sudden; they were able to answer. Now we tried to figure it out and it appears that the Compulsion they were under ended when you pierced that stone."

"Damn," Symin swore, "I was afraid of that."

The Captain raised his eyebrows in question, so Symin continued, holding up the stone, "This little stone is made of Diamond Obsidian and it performed two functions. Concealment and Compulsion. For Concealment, it was only covering the warehouse but the Compulsion was covering the whole town. I've read of Artefacts of Power that could perform more than one function but they were usually very large pure gemstones, and they certainly wouldn't have been able to influence the whole town."

"May I take this with me, Captain? Cartan and Sinya are taking me to see the Prince and I'd like to show it to him." Symin explained.

The Captain waved his hand, "Go ahead. It's not needed for evidence. I was just keeping it as a curiosity."

"Thank you, Captain!" Symin exclaimed gratefully.

Chapter 12 – 3rd of Rege – Noon

When they entered the Boar's Head Inn, a young boy dressed in light blue short trousers was just climbing the stairs, a tray in his hands.

"Genda!" Cartan called to him. The boy turned and came back down the stairs. Stopping in front of the man, he looked up at him. If he was surprised that he was carrying a large block of stone he didn't show it. "Yes, Sir." With a bit of a shock Symin recognized the oldest of the three crested boys that he had seen Sheran's warehouse.

On the leg of his short trousers, was the joined double circle of a page, the bottom and larger of the circles containing the Royal Crest the top and smaller circle containing the same crest that was tattooed on his right shoulder.

"Please tell the Prince that Symin Ascalon was here to see him. Give him my apologies and tell him that we would have been here sooner but a couple of things came up. We'll explain when we see him."

"Yes, sir." Turning to Symin, he smiled warmly, "I want to thank you for rescuing my friends and I."

"I didn't do it alone!" Symin exclaimed, flushing with embarrassment.

"Maybe not." said Genda, matter of factly, "But you saved our lives all by yourself." He turned and hurried up the stairs.

Cartan turned to Symin, "Prince Tamen sent the news by Courier to their families. Until we hear from their families, Genda and the twins are serving as pages."

Genda came back hurrying down the steps, "Prince Tamen says to go right up."

He led them back up the stairs and ushered them into the room which Prince Tamen was using as an office, the bed having been moved out, replaced by a desk and chairs. Genda then went outside the room and sat in a chair provided, to wait to perform any duties the Prince required of him.

The three in the office bowed to the Prince. As they straightened Tamen looked at Cartan and his strange burden, "What in the name of the Gods is that?"

Cartan, unsure of why it was important to show it to the Prince, put his hand on Symin's back and pushes him forward. "It was Symin's idea sir. I don't know why."

Symin looked with interest at his Prince, struck by his forceful personality. His hair, beard and moustache were streaked with gray, more a sign of the power he wielded than of age since he was only forty. His eyes were midnight blue and they looked directly at a man. While several inches smaller and less heavily built than Cartan, he gave the impression of being much larger. Those midnight blue eyes that could seem to look through a man, looked at Symin warmly, and he raised his eyebrows in question.

Symin said confidently, "I bought it in your name, Your Highness, and you owe Sinya and Cartan 10 gold pieces each."

"You bought something in my name and we hadn't even met," the Prince roared with laughter. "It's a little big for a paperweight. What am I supposed to do with it."

With grave seriousness, Symin said, "Pray to the Gods, in thanks that it didn't reach its destination, Your Highness." He looked at Cartan, he did look a little silly carrying that stone. He suggested, "Why don't you put that thing on the floor."

Cartan did so. While not heavy, it was an awkward burden and he was glad to get rid of it. The Prince waved them to the chairs in front of his desk. He took the tone of the boy's voice to heart, and right away knew what he was implying, "Obviously you consider it dangerous. Why?"

Opening his belt pouch Symin took out the Artefact of Power, he had gotten from Captain Sparan. He put it on the desk so that the Prince could reach it and he examined it, and he could tell at once that though the size difference was tremendous the two stones looked to be made of the same material.

"That was the Artefact of Power that Sheran was using in his warehouse. It's called Diamond Obsidian, according to the merchant we got the large stone from, and also according to him, it's the hardest substance on our world. Harder even than diamonds. The little stone was used to Conceal the stairway and the room under the basement, and according to Captain Sparan it was also used as an Artefact of Compulsion. His men were questioning the prisoners and they were under the same Compulsion as the other prisoners that had been taken. He said that suddenly the Compulsion ended and the prisoners began answering questions, and he implied that it happened when I pierced the stone with my dagger."

"Now the Concealment wouldn't have required a lot of power but the Compulsion covered at least part of Bremen and maybe all of the town. From what I've read, that type of power is unprecedented. That little stone covered several hundred yards and maybe much more. We simply don't know the extent of its influence. That stone," waving his hand at it, "is several hundred times larger. If the rate of power was dependant on the size of the stones, that stone would have covered at least fifty to sixty miles and maybe many times that."

"The merchant said he an order for the stone but it fell through. The sale would have been to Sheran. I have a hunch that he was buying it for someone else since I don't think he had the type of power needed to control the stone."

The Prince, instantly understood the danger, and looked at the stone with utter loathing. Symin hurried to reassure him. "Don't worry Your Highness, it's harmless now. It seems that when they are damaged in any way they lose their power. As soon as I purchased it I pierced it. I was watching with Mage-sight and I saw it's aura disappear."

The Prince looked relieved, and then interested, "Might I see this unusual dagger."

"Certainly, Your Highness, I'll be..."

He was interrupted by Tamen, "Enough of this Your Highness, thing if you have to be formal, call me Sir."

Symin nodded gravely but with a little smile flickering on his lips. "Yes Sir, as I said. I'll be glad to show it to you, but be very careful. I think it will be safe as long as I hold it, but when I offered it to Martil, Sparan's lieutenant it stung him badly. Also, be careful about the blade. If it can cut through the hardest substance known on our world touching the edge might end up with you picking up a finger or two off of the desk."

Standing up he drew his dagger and with the hilt on one palm and the point on the other and extended it over the desk so that the Prince could examine it. He looked at it closely and he could see a crest just under the hilt guard, and he could see runes inscribed on the blade. He brought up his right hand and moved it cautiously toward the hilt. Symin had given one warning and he didn't think the Prince was the type of man to need more than one and he was right. Tamen brought his hand close to the hilt.

He remarked to the room in general, "I can feel it tingle even from an inch away." Carefully he moved his hand closer and as he did so it began stinging. He was actually able to touch the hilt and the pain felt like stinging nettles, unpleasant but bearable for a short period of time. However, he well believed that taking the dagger would have resulted in unbearable pain. Moving his hand away he nodded his thanks, Symin sheathed the dagger and sat down again. The Prince asked, "It's so small that it's hard to make out but that looks like the Ascalon crest.

"It was," said Symin, "and it isn't. The crest on the blade of the dagger was very, very old, and was only used for a few years just after the founding of the Great Clan. The present crest as it would be used on a sword blade has crossed sword blades with two horizontal daggers between the hilts and points of the swords with points facing each other, and two vertical daggers, one between the sword hilts and the other between the tip of the sword blades. The top one was pointing down and the bottom is pointing up so that their points are facing each other."

"The crest on the dagger has one small difference, the bottom dagger is also pointing downwards. That particular form of the crest was only adopted a year after the beginning of the reign of Sandor Ascalon. When he died the Clan sub-leaders met to confirm the ascent of Sandor's eldest son, they also decided to honor the founder of the Great Clan by changing the crest so that the bottom would now point upwards. Therefore Sandor would be the only Ascalon to ever rule under the first Ascalon standard."

"That makes the blade at least twelve hundred years old, and I think it's much older than that." he said solemnly. He a looked a little guiltily at Cartan and Sinya. "I've been calling it a Dwarven blade but I don't believe it is. There was a book in the Ascalon Library which follows the development of language in this region over the last five thousand years. The part on human languages, takes up three-quarters of the book, because with their longer life spans both Elven and Dwarven languages change much more slowly and really haven't altered that much in that time period. None of the runes on the blade resemble anything in the book."

"As I said I think the dagger was older than the founding of the Ascalon clan. You can't see it with the naked eye and it's hard to tell even with a glass, but I see it with Perception, not sight. And the crest was on top of several of the runes. Of course since they can't be read I don't know if it's at the beginning or the end of the rune passage."

"Sir, do you mind if I sit with my legs crossed," Symin asked the Prince, "When you're as small as I am it's somewhat uncomfortable sitting the normal way in a chair." The Prince waved his agreement and with relief, Symin brought his legs up underneath him.

The Prince remarked, "Before we leave to go back to the capital it would be a good idea if you copied out the runes so that I can give a copy to the Royal Librarian. If this language was from this continent we should be able to find out who used it at least."

"Yes Sir, I'll do that. Now I've something important to say, it's a story that's a little about me but mostly about my parents." He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes and began to tell his tale in a voice devoid of all emotion.

"Sixteen years ago my father had finished his knightly education and was spending the required three years in the capital which was a precondition. He was in the final year when my mother and her grandfather came up from the south, with Minna and her parents and brothers and sisters. They were the last remnant of their family, the war in the south having caught them and destroyed most of their estates. Luckily, great-grandfather had seen the war coming and he had deposited a large sum of money with bankers in Camara, the capital. It was a sum or more than twenty thousand golds so they were quite well off."

"They were frugal, despite their wealth but my mother Deian was seventeen and of marriageable age and my great-grandfather was over a hundred and didn't have many years left, so they invited eligible nobles and knights to dinners.

"It was the third month they had been in the capital before my father Duran Ascalon was included in the guest list. It wasn't that he was being slighted. He was only the son of a Baron and not the heir at that and being from the south they were unaware of the real power the Ascalon's wielded."

"But it was love at first sight, between the light haired light skinned beauty and the darkly handsome knight and though the dinners continued for the next month, he was invited to all of them. Through talking to Duran, great-grandfather became aware of the importance of the Ascalon family, though he confirmed it with other acquaintances.

"He wanted the best possible marriage for his granddaughter and it looked as if he had found it, as indeed he had. They married two months later at a small ceremony because great-grandfather had become ill and was to die only months later. With sorrow, and yet at the same time with joy, she prepared to return to Ascalon with her new husband who she loved more and more each day. Only Minna decided to accompany her, the other members of Minna's family deciding to return to the now peaceful south."

"Deian sent them south with a thousand golds, and she loved her husband even more when he didn't object to the gift. Their appearance at Ascalon was greeted with days of celebration that the illness of her grandfather had not allowed."

"And as the years passed one by one she came to love his family and him and the country more and more each year, but there was a shadow over her happiness. She had no children to give to her new family. So she was ecstatic when after five years, a few months less than twelve years ago when she realized she was pregnant and her husband was just as happy, knowing how much she wanted a baby."

"But after only a month of pregnancy the Healer began to see signs of problems with Deian. He called in the primary Healer in the area which was and still is Dearna, and she agreed with him. Deian must terminate the pregnancy or certainly die in childbirth or sooner."

"But they underestimated her obstinacy. She refused. But as the pregnancy continued she began to get more and more frail. Duran added his pleas to the Healers, but she ignored them. Oh she didn't disbelieve them but she was a follower of the Mother Goddess, Tamra. Duran had known that fact but he hadn't known how it would affect a situation like this. To those who follow the Mother Goddess, bearing children is the most important thing that they can do. To trade her life to bring another life into the world was ingrained into her very being by her religion."

His simple story had the three adults transfixed in their seats. "When he came to realize exactly what that meant, Duran came to despair. He went to his father asking him to order the Healer to end the pregnancy. But Armand would not interfere, while he would not agree with dark beliefs, this type of religious belief was up to the believer."

"Duran raged at him but could not get him to change his mind. He went to the Healer, trying to have him give her a potion which would end the pregnancy with nobody knowing how it had ended. But the Healer would not agree, and in fact was so shocked that he went to Armand to get his backing, which was given willingly."

"So Duran finally seemed to come to accept what was going to happen, his wife was going to die to give birth to a child he didn't want, not at the expense of his wife. And he watched as she got worse and worse, he loved her too much to let his hatred of the baby show, so she thought he had as much joy as she."

"Finally a month before the baby was due, she went into labor and produced an undersized but remarkably healthy baby. But as both Healers had expected, she did not long survive the birth. She was dead within the hour. Duran retreated to his rooms and would not come out even for the funeral."

"The important part of his life was gone and he remained hidden in his quarters for two months. But one day Minna entered the nursery to check on the baby and she found him trying to smother it. She screamed with rage and attacked. Minna may look fat, but most of that is muscle and she moved with great speed and grabbed Duran and threw him against the wall with incredible strength."

"He hit the wall head first but luckily for him it wasn't square on, so he only got knocked out and had a concussion. Armand's room was close and he was there in seconds. He took in the scene and instantly knew what had happened. He had the servants move Duran to his room and summoned the Healer to check on both Duran and the baby. He set a two man round the clock guard on the baby, and another two men to watch Duran around the clock to make sure."

"I was one month old when that incident occurred, and then something happened that shifted the attention away from Duran and I. A company of the King's soldiers rode up the to the gate and arrested Tyril for treason. They took him into Bremen. He refused to see anyone but Duran. They were only eighteen months apart and had always been close. They looked very much alike."

"Tyril was tried and convicted and the Edict of Exile was imposed on our family. Everybody thought those events had shocked Duran back to sanity. He seemed to change, he no longer seemed to hate me, in fact he didn't seem to care one way or the other."

"Both Armand and Minna were sceptical at first. Armand had known him since birth and Minna for six years. This didn't seem to be Duran they knew, but as the days, then weeks, then months, then years passed Armand became convinced that he had indeed changed. Minna's still sceptical to this day."

"I think Minna's right but not the way she thinks. When I saw that large stone, there was a jangle in my mind. I tried to think where I had felt that before then I remembered the warehouse and that satisfied me for a minute, but then I remembered I had felt that feeling before. I haven't been in my father's study very often and never when he was there, but a few months after my Magical abilities began to appear I had to go in to fetch something and on the desk I saw what I now realize was a Diamond Obsidian stone. One that was fully powered because the jangle was much worse than the large stone was earlier."

"I think that almost eleven years ago you beheaded the wrong man. I think that you executed my father Duran, not Tyril. I think that Tyril took my father's place and has been impersonating him since then. Whether my father did it willingly or was compelled I don't know. I suspect it was willingly. I think he wanted to join his beloved Deian."

"From what Minna said about how hard my father hated he should have hated me all of my life not just at the beginning. And I know he doesn't hate me, my Empathy tells me that, as I said he just doesn't care one way or the other." With that Symin ends his story and opened his eyes.

The Prince looked at Cartan, "What do you think Car, if I remember correctly you roomed with him as a squire and bachelor knight."

Cartan said, "He was a good person in many ways, but Minna was right about the hating part. Once he hated someone, nothing would make him change his mind. If he hated Symin as a baby, he would still hate him. I think it very likely that Symin is right. The man out there isn't Duran, it's Tyril and obviously, he has some Magical abilities to be able to use an Artefact of Power. And the sooner we get out to Ascalon estate the better."

Chapter 13 – 3rd of Rege – 2:00 o'clock

It was two in the afternoon when they rode up to castle. The gate was wide open, and but guarded only by a couple of servants who didn't try to impede their progress. Minna was in the keep standing on the steps leading into the great hall, and aside from the two peasants on the gate, there were only half a dozen others awake and alert.

Symin jumped down from his horse and ran up the stairs to Minna, "What's going on?" he asked in alarm.

"Don't know, little one," Minna answered a bit absently, "I only woke up a couple of hours ago and I found everybody else still fast asleep. Servants, guards and your grandfather and grandmother. These are the only ones I've been able to wake up. What are the Prince and his men doing here?"

Symin gave her a quick summary of what he had told the Prince and she focused her eyes on him as she listened with fascination, as the men of the Prince's command began dismounting and spreading out over the castle. She nodded decisively, when he was finished, "Aye that sure makes sense. A leopard doesn't change his spots and for sure Duran Ascalon couldn't have stopped hating."

Symin asked, "Is my fat... This is confusing, until we know for sure I guess I better call him father. Did you find my father sleeping anywhere."

"No, I didn't, but both of his horses are missing from the stable, so I assume he's long gone." she replied.

"Okay, I'd better tell the Prince!" Symin said excitedly. He ran over to where the Prince was standing with Cartan and Sinya and his bodyguard. "Sir, Minna says that my father's horses are gone from the stable and she figures that he's gone."

"Right," said the Prince, "my men will continue to search the castle to locate everybody and if they've been put to sleep using magic, Seldon and the two other Healers should be able to wake them up. If they were drugged they might have to sleep it off, but in the meantime we should have a look in your father's rooms."

"Follow me, Sir." said Symin as he turned and led the way to the opposite side of the keep. They could have reached his father's quarters from the great hall but that would have been the long way around. He climbed a staircase to the second floor and passed through a door which led into a long hallway. He said leading the others down the hallway, "My room was over here as well. By the time I was old enough to leave the nursery they decided that my father was safe so they put me here."

He led them right down the hallway to the corner rooms. He had unlocked his Empathy soon after they left Bremen, and he couldn't feel anybody inside but he could feel the jangle of a Diamond Obsidian stone. "Well, nobody's inside, but he left the Artefact of Power here."

Cartan pulled him back and with drawn sword, tried the door and finding it unlocked he pushed it open. He moved through it swiftly Sinya right behind him, sword also drawn. Symin and the Prince stayed in the doorway while the made sure that the rooms were empty. They returned to the outer room, swords sheathed, and gave the all clear.

Symin saw the stone sitting on the desk, in the outer room which his father used as an office. He approached the stone, looking at it with a feeling of foreboding. He invoked Mage-sight and recoiled at the throbbing angry reddish color. He snapped, with that complete authority which seemed so incongruous coming from such a small boy. "Get the Prince out of here!!! Right now!!!"

The Prince's bodyguard hustled him out of the room and he didn't even protest; that sense of authority coming from the boy was so overwhelming. "Sinya, Cartan make sure there's no one else in this part of the castle, above or below, and conscript guards to keep everybody out of this area." The orders crackled out and they obeyed them as readily as the Prince and his guards.

When they returned he was sitting crosslegged on the desktop at one end of the desk, staring broodingly at the Artefact of Power, at the other end, everything but the stone having been shoved ruthlessly onto the floor, an opened bottle of ink soaking the papers all around it.

He looked up at them and with his voice still crackling with power, "You should leave as well. I have a feeling this is going to very dangerous."

"We are wearing armor," said Sinya, who had seemingly taken over the role as spokesman when they talked with Symin. It seemed right to the two adults.

Symin snorted with derision at that. "We're looking at the hardest substance on our world, something that makes diamond seem soft and you think that metal armor is going to stop the shards if it explodes. I doubt it. But on the other hand, if it does explode I don't think our bodies we still be around by the time the shards reach them, so it really doesn't matter.

Quietly, "Thank you for staying. It's nice to have friends. Even stupid ones." Putting his hands on the desktop, he swung around until his legs were dangling over the edge and jumped down. He came around the desk and stood with feet spread apart and hands on his hips staring at the stone. He turned to them with a sour look on his face, "Okay, here's what I'm going to do, and what you are not to do. I'm going to pierce the top of the stone. If it doesn't blow-up, the power's going to drain into my dagger, and since I don't think it can hold that much power, into me. I imagine I'm going to scream like I'm on fire, but don't touch me, no matter what.

"If you do, I think the power may all be released at once and we'll get that explosion we oh so, don't want. Once I drain the stone, assuming I'm still alive and conscious I'm going to go somewhere where I can discharge that power, and you'll have to make sure that nobody gets near me." He cocked his head, "Okay?"

"Okay," they both answer quietly.

He held out a hand to each of them and they grasp it firmly. "Thank you!"

Releasing them, he turned to the stone, this time drawing his dagger. He invokes Mage-sight and with no hesitation now he brought the point of the dagger to the top of the stone and pierced the stone. He watched as the red from the stone a began to creep up the blade of the dagger. In reality it was a slow process but the red seemed to race up the dagger blade and then into the hilt. He put his hand as far up the hilt as he could and he watched in horrid fascination as the red approached his fingers.

No longer able to retreat he watched helplessly as the red touched his fingers and it felt as if they'd been dipped in boiling oil. Unlike his expectations, he couldn't scream, the pain was too great for that, as it moved up his hand into his arm. Finally, it stopped just above his elbow.

In a pain filled whispered, "I was wrong, as long as you don't bump my right arm it should be all right to touch me. In fact I think I'm going to need the support." He pulled the dagger out of the now drained stone and sheathed it, the pain lessening a bit as he did so.

Sinya took him by the left arm. "Okay, where are we going?"

"Out of the gate and down the road about half a mile. Do you remember that outcrop of rock I pointed out to you? Dangars Rock. That's where we're going."

As she helped him out of the door, he bumped into it with his right arm. He hissed with the extra surge of pain, but almost laughed, as he said, "Well that answers one question. It'll be all right if you get a wagon to carry us." She nodded to Cartan who raced ahead of him to order a wagon, and then quickly returned, as they were halfway down the hallway. Either he was getting used to it or the pain was lessening, he didn't care which as long as he got a little relief.

The rest of the walk down the hallway and down the stairs and the wagon trip were mainly a blur to Symin. He only came back to full awareness when the wagon stopped with a jerk. With Sinya's help he got down painfully from the wagon. He was absentmindedly aware of the Prince and his bodyguards and Minna following them.

"Have the driver take the wagon well away from here, and warm him there's liable to be a lot of noise. We shouldn't need it on the way back." Symin said. Cartan went to do that and the wagon lurched away from them.

He waited for about five minutes, then said, "Tell everyone to shade their eyes." He looked at Dangars Rock, usually referred to as Danger Rock by the inhabitants of the castle and the village. It was forty feet long and twenty feet thick and at one end, a spire added an additional twenty feet of height.

He pointed the dagger at the top half of the spire and let go with a Mind-blast, and a thick red light visible to all blasted out of the point of his dagger and the top half of the spire just shattered into tiny pieces. A second Mind-blast aimed at the base of the spire sheared it right off and blasted it away from them.

Those two incredible blasts barely touched the power he had stored up inside of him and in the dagger. He brought the point of the dagger down so it was pointed at the main bulk of the rock and braced himself for a very long Mind-blast. The red light ripped out of the dagger striking the rock and this time didn't stop. It just seemed to go on forever as he played the light along the whole of the rock back and forth. Not until the light began to turn orange then yellow and finally white did Symin stop.

He noted that the pain was gone, and the dagger still had enough power in reserve to give half a dozen of the type of Mind-blasts that he had first used.

Even his Perception wasn't able to make out much of what was in front of him, so much of it was rock dust that blocked out much of his Perception. He had to wait like all of the others for the dust to finally subside. And when it did he heard gasps from behind him. Personally, he just felt satisfaction. Dangars Rock, or at least that portion above ground no longer existed. It was now level with the rest of the field.

He felt the Prince come up behind him, "There was that much power in that stone."

Symin said, "Not really, Your Highness. It had a lot of power but the damage you see is a little deceptive."

He bent down and picked up a pair of rocks off of the ground. He held them up and commented, "They look like perfectly ordinary stones don't they, Sir."

The Prince simply nodded, and then he, Sinya and Cartan watched Symin brought them together. Instead of the bang they expected they both just crumbled into powder.

"More than fifty percent of Dangars Rock was like that. Rotten and ready to crumble at the slightest bang. Many of the people around here called it Danger Rock, and all of the children were forbidden to play on it. But I know you have children, Your Highness so I'm sure that you're aware that forbidding something to us often makes us want it more. Three children have died playing on that rock in the last twenty-five years and I can't count the number of minor injuries.

"A week before I was provided with a personal servant in the form of Maxim who has become a very dear friend, I was climbing that spire. I had finally gotten up the nerve to do so. Well I was halfway to the top when a piece of rock I grabbed just crumbled in my hand and I slipped. Luckily, I didn't go over the edge, but I had enough scrapes and bruises that I had to tell Minna what I had been doing, and she told my grandfather. They didn't want to limit my freedom, but they decided that I had enough of just wandering around on my own. They thought a little older, cooler head might keep me out of trouble.

"Except for a couple of occasions, it seems to have worked. But as soon as I had the power to do so, I knew exactly what I was going to do. It's just a rock, but it limited my freedom and even though I wouldn't want to go back I still was going to punish it for doing that."

"By the way, the reason the stone was unstable was that it has a flaw in it, I was able to see it after I drained the stone. There a hole in the center about and inch in diameter, and some cracks radiating from the hole. The power entering the cracks was slowly widening them. Eventually the stone would have exploded and it would have taken out that part of the castle."

"It was just sitting on the desk," Sinya said. "What if someone had touched it, would it have exploded."

"I imagine it's been touched many times. No, the only thing a non-Magic User would have noticed was that they wouldn't have been able to move it. Since aside from my uncle, I think we're safe to assume now that it was my uncle not my father, I'm the only Magic User in the Ascalon family for generations, and it would have taken a powerful Magic User to affect it. It's unlikely a Magic User would ever have had access to it, so there wouldn't have been any danger."

Chapter 14 – 3rd of Rege – 3:30 in the afternoon

The Prince, Sinya and Cartan, and Symin were back in his uncle's office. The debris from the desktop was still littering the floor but a couple of chairs had been added so they all had a chair to sit on. The Prince said seriously, "Very impressive and very troubling. I've sent a messenger to Esgen with a message the Courier's to bring to my father, explaining the danger these stones represent, and to have him spread the word to all of our Custom Agents to keep a special watch for them."

"I think that's a good idea sir," Symin said with full agreement. "What about those in the castle who were asleep?"

"Seldon tells me that they were drugged. He found remnants in last night's food. A few like your Minna, shook off the drug early but others are awake or starting to wake up now and he feels that they should all be awake by morning. He tells me that it's not normally a dangerous drug as long as it isn't used again for a week or so, because it takes that long to completely disappear from the body, and a second dose during that time period can be dangerous, even deadly." the Prince explained.

"Do your know if Sivvin was awake, Sir?" he asked diffidently.

"Sivvin?" the Prince, asked with a raised eyebrow.

"The Captain of the Guard," explained Symin.

"Oh, him. Yes he is, and he's as mad as a hornet. He says that while the last time the castle was attacked was during one of the wars with Madron more than two hundred years ago if any bandits had somehow gotten wind of how helpless they were, we could have found a destroyed castle. While he didn't say so, from his attitude, if he could have gotten hold of your Uncle Tyril he would have cheerfully hung, drawn and quartered him." said the Prince.

"That's Sivvin, sir. He takes his duties very seriously. I'm glad he's awake, I need to talk to him then I have to go into Bremen."

Standing up he took two things from his belt pouch. He put the necklace with the silver chased sapphire on the desk. "I would like to return this to you, Sir, since I no longer need it. I'm grateful for the use of it while I had the need."

The Prince nodded taking the necklace in his hand, "I'm glad that you were able to get such good use out of it, young Symin. I know what it was rumoured to be, but I couldn't be sure that the rumor was true, but you deserved the chance to find out, and I'm glad the rumor was correct."

Symin put the second thing from his pouch on the desk, the Prince's Token, "I would like to use this now, Sir. I need some money." and he explained about the Dumar's and his promise to outfit them and find them jobs as guards at the Ascalon castle. And he also mentioned how they had been shafted by the Mercenary Guild because of pressure put on them by the Crown official in the South.

The Prince took some of his own stationery, which had replaced what was on the floor and scribbled a quick note. "Take this to my clerk at the Boar's Head Inn and he'll arrange for them to be outfitted, and I'll see what I can do about our over-conscientious Royal official. As Cartan stated, they had sufficient reason to break their contract and the Guild can't be allowed to harm it's members just because they're intimidated by a Crown official. And keep the Token, you've certainly earned it several times over. And besides," he grinned boyishly, "Sheran will be paying. We confiscated almost six thousand golds that were found in Sheran's strongbox."

Symin took back the Token somewhat reluctantly, after all he had been given it to use, and he had used it, he didn't feel he should keep it, but he saw the determination on the Prince's face and put it back in his pouch.

The Prince looked at Cartan and Sinya, "You two go with him. If someone tried to kill him once they may try again, and he's certainly earned some protection from the Crown."

They certainly didn't object to that order, being just as worried about a possible assassin as the Prince, and they accompanied the boy as he left the office. He first went to his room, where he changed out of his formal garb and went to see Sivvin, who was quite agreeable to hiring on ten additional guards, especially ones well fitted out.

Chapter 15 – 5th of Rege – 2:00 in the afternoon

It had taken most of two days to get the Dumars fitted out completely. The arms and armor could all be purchased in Bremen but they had to go to a horse farm for the horses. The owner had been absent when they arrived so they had had to spend the night and had chosen the horses the next morning. Then they had returned to town where the wives were renting three wagons to transport the families and belongings to the castle.

Symin sent them on ahead, he thought they would make a good impression on Sivvin and he didn't want to get in the way of that first meeting. Besides, he wanted to see the Mayor. The discussions he had with Dav Dumar during the buying spree had given him some nasty feelings.

The only meeting he'd had with Mayor Tomma had been an unpleasant one for both of them, and the man showed his discomfort on his face. Symin had locked his Empathy away again since it was another market day and he had been inundated with emotion as he had approached the town.

He looked at the man, calmly sitting in a chair flanked by Sinya and Cartan. He decided to open the conversation since the man seemed reluctant to do so, "You know that I arranged to have the Dumar's hired by Sivvin to add to our guard force?"

Surprised by the topic and relieved that it wasn't about the unpleasantness that had occurred ten months earlier, the man nodded. Cartan and Sinya were just as interested since he hadn't told them why he wanted to see the Mayor. He confirmed, "The Town Guards keeps me informed about things that might affect Bremen and they were a bit worried when they put them out of work when Sheran's was destroyed. They were afraid they might turn to banditry."

Symin pounced on the last statement. "That's exactly what I want to talk to you about. Bandits, or possible bandits. Dav was telling me that an unusually large proportion of the Mercenary Company's that were formed came from the northern provinces and at least two full companies or close to two hundred and sixty men and women were from our province, and their time was either up or will be soon, since only the crown can hire full mercenary companies and they hire them for a full year. They will return very shortly. He was speculating that if they couldn't find honest jobs they would be likely to do exactly that. Become bandits.

"Sivvin was aware of those mercenaries. Before the Edict, the Ascalon's maintained a couple of roving patrols, and they co-operated with Esgen and Bremen who kept up three additional patrols between them. Well he intends to reinstate those patrols. I intend to recommend to the Prince that both Esgen and Bremen increase their Town Guard contingent and also reinstate their active Militia for roving patrols."

He grinned at the Mayor, "And don't say Bremen can't afford to hire an additional twenty men for the guard and twenty for and active Militia force. I happen to know that almost 6000 golds were confiscated from Sheran and the Prince's clerk told me that under Kingdom law, since it was Bremen's men who captured the money the Township gets half. After the required bonus's have been handed out that'll still leave you with plenty to hire what you need."

"Sivvin figures that he can hire an additional fifty of those mercenaries, and between Bremen and Esgen that'll take care of an additional sixty. Unfortunately if they all return that'll still leave one hundred and fifty, but the Mercenary Guild is always looking for bonded guards so hopefully they can use up most of them.

"I know with the Ascalons starting to visit again, to look for possible marriages for the older children and potential ones for the younger children, they each took six guards and they really would have preferred double that number. As they begin to return, and the first ones should be back in about a month or so. They'll begin to receive return visits and therefore there is going to be a lot more noble traffic in the near future, and they'll all want guards.

"I also intend to suggest to the Prince that many of the noble families in the area should hire an extra guard or two. Hopefully that'll avoid problems, and in fact might even create a shortage which would be even better, making the available mercenaries much more appreciated than they normally would be."

The Mayor was impressed with the plan. He himself had been worrying about that exact problem, and if the Prince got involved and that fact that two high ranking King's Messengers had accompanied Symin, argued that he was, then they could completely eliminate a possible danger, one that had occurred the last time a war had been fought. When the men where released they had been unable to find jobs and had resorted to banditry.

*****

"I've said it before, are you sure you're only ten?" Sinya asked outside the Mayor's office.

"Eleven, tomorrow," replied Symin cheerfully, "Besides aside from the Prince, the whole idea was Dav Dumar's. He's been thinking about it for months, ever since he came north. He tried to see the Mayor and was unable to get in and he didn't think that anybody with influence would listen to him either. He would have gone to the Ascalons but we were still under the Edict at the time. So, he passed the idea on to me.

"Well even with wagons the Dumars should have reached the castle by now, so we should head out there." Symin said.

*****

Symin and the two adults handed their horses over to the stableboys and were hailed by Sivvin as they leave the stable.

"We have some visitors from Madron. There's twenty men guarding two well dressed men. One is an Elf. They arrived just after the noon hour." he reported, then continued with approval, "The Dumars look good. They admit to a bit of rust but with a couple of weeks work they'll be back to their best, and with the other mercenaries, when they come up from the south, in a few weeks, we'll be at full complement for the first time in eleven years.

"When the Dumars arrived they said you shouldn't be too far behind, so Minna stationed a boy up in the tower to keep watch for you. She had a tub of water placed in your room and she told me to remind to take a bath and change back into your formal clothes." Looking at the two adults he said, "The Prince has taken over Tyril's old quarters and Minna has placed your gear on that same level near Symin's room. If you want to take baths send one of the Prince's pages down and she will arrange for tubs and water to be brought up to your rooms."

*****

Unlike most children, he enjoyed taking the occasional bath, as long as he didn't have to overdo it. The tub had been emptied out the window by two footmen and then carried out of his room. They had been instructed to leave it in the hallway so that it would be available if either Cartan or Sinya decided to take a bath.

Symin was dry, except for his hair, which was still a bit damp, and he had put on his red short trousers, and had taken a book out of the small bookshelf next to his bed, when he felt a pop behind him. Dropping the book, he whirled around, eyes going wide. There was a small man standing in front of the door, very fancily dressed and Symin could see right through him.

He was muttering under his breath, and though Symin couldn't make out what he was saying the boy guessed he swearing like a trooper. The man's eyes narrowed, as he was staring at the boy and he began to smile. "Well, the Princes are warded as I expected. But from your looks, you have to be Symin Ascalon, and from the trouble you caused me, you'll do in their stead. You'll do just fine."

Symin realized with a sinking heart that it wasn't a ghost but an Astral Spirit. A ghost couldn't have hurt him but an Astral Spirit could kill him. He remembered a quote from the book he had just dropped.

'An Astral Spirit can't be harmed by anything physical, not even a magic weapon. A Mage can sometimes send a Mind-blast through an Astral Spirit to affect the actual physical body, which will cause the Spirit to be pulled back into his body. It can also be warded against, but to fight it you must also be on the Astral plane.'

But Symin had no give up in him, he might die trying but he would try anyway. As the man began to raise his hand negligently, the boy dove over his knee high bed and felt a Mind-blast pass over his back and smash into the wall with a loud crash. With a shoulder roll he had learned riding he came back to his feet, pulled his dagger and dove forward as a second Mind-blast passed over his head. Stretching out as far as he could his blade caught the Astral image in the lower leg and to his surprise he felt it bite into something substantial.

A screech came from above his head then abruptly stopped, as the forward momentum of his dive ended and he fell to the floor. Luckily, unlike when he had dropped onto the desk a few days earlier, he landed on the thick fur rug on his bedroom floor. He was expecting it, and though he was a bit winded, it only took a few seconds to get his breath back.

By the time Sinya and Cartan came bursting through his door, swords in hand, a few seconds later, he was sitting up contemplating sourly, the two holes going completely through his wall which would have hit him at chest level, if he hadn't moved so quickly. He had turned his dagger protecting it so that the blood on the blade wouldn't be rubbed off on the rug.

Cartan was dressed only in his leather breeches and boots while Sinya had on only her leather breeches and a breastband, being barefooted.

After making sure that the boy was all right, they went over to examine the extra holes which had appeared in his bedroom wall. Sinya said, with bemusement, "Based on the noise that was made we should be getting a question from the Prince just about... now."

Sure enough, just as she said that Genda appeared at the door to Symin's bedroom. "The Prince would like to know what all that noise was?"

Sinya strode over to the boy standing in the doorway and putting her hand on the top of his head, she pushed him gently backwards until he was against the far wall of the hallway. His eyes went wide with apprehension. "Genda, that was very stupid. I know you were just trying to carry out your duty, but if something like this ever happens again, stay back and yell out instead. Not only could there be an enemy, but a nervous soldier, on your own side, might end up running you through accidentally." She took his chin in her hand and raised his face so that she can look into his eyes. "Understood?"

He nodded vigorously. "Good," she said in approval. "Now go and tell the Prince that someone, unknown at this time blew two holes in the wall of Symin's bedroom. We will come to see him as soon as we can. Now scoot."

Obediently, he headed off down the hallway looking back over his shoulder every few feet. She returned to Symin's room where the boy was just finishing wiping his dagger off on a washcloth. Very carefully he folded the cloth several times and placed it on the bed. He put the dagger in its sheath on the trousers lying on the bed and after threading the red belt onto his red trousers placed the sheath of the dagger on that belt and put the folded cloth into his belt pouch, actually partially into his belt pouch since the pouch wasn't made for something that large.

"Well," she demanded, "What happened."

"Well, I've never seen him before, but a man in Astral form appeared in my bedroom. He said the Princes were warded, but he said he recognized me and he gave my name and said that I would do just fine, and he started blasting away with Mind-blasts." Holding up the book he had been looking at he said, "I found out this was wrong, thank goodness. A magic blade can hurt someone as Astral Spirit. At least my magic blade can."

He took a towel from the washstand and began rubbing his hair vigorously. "Don't you think you'd better get ready," he said pointedly, "After all the Prince does want to know what happened."

He ducked grinning, as Sinya gave a fake swat at his head. But then just as they reached the door, he commented, "Remember what I said. The man in Astral form said the Princes were warded. I think you'll find that one of the two men who were escorted here was a Prince of Madron. It can't be the Elf, since no member of the Madron Royal Family has any Elven blood."

Sinya and Cartan looked at each other and nodded, not at all surprised but glad of the warning, since they hadn't expected him so soon.

*****

Within ten minutes, they were all ready and walking down the hallway to the quarters the Prince had taken over for his stay here. Genda was no longer sitting outside the Prince's office, instead it was one of the twins. Symin was curious, "Why does Prince Tamen have Genda on day duty when he's the oldest, and you and I assume your twin, on night duties." The little page grinned at them, and told them, "We're night owls. We have trouble sleeping during the night. The Prince said we should be Dwarves, we like the dark so much, so he switched us to night duties and let Genda do the early day shift. He told me to bring you right in when you arrived.'

He turned and knocked on the door. With a "Come" from behind the door, he opened it and ushered the three in, and then closed it behind them and resumed his seat.

Inside the three bowed formally to Prince Tamen and then to the man who had to be the other Prince, sitting at the side of the desk. The Elf was sitting in front. The three looked somewhat surprised and Tamen demanded, "How did you know?"

Symin replied, "The man who attacked me in my bedroom, said the Princes were warded. Plural. Sivvin told us that two men with twenty guards had just arrived from Madron, and one was an Elf. Madron has no Elven Royal Family members." nodding at the other man, "so that means he has to be the Prince. Even if the Prince was pretending to be one of the guards, he wouldn't be here in this room if he wasn't the Prince."

The dark-haired, dark eyed Elf, stood up and said to Sinya, "I hope you don't hold a grudge over our farewell, cousin Sinya."

"Hardly," she grinned at him. "Actually that was the one of the best evenings of my life, at least eating wise. I kept hoping for the next year that you'd come back and leave again."

She explained to the room in general, "My family seems to be one of the more adventurous of the Forest Elves, my uncle. Kraftin left home as a young Elf and did a lot of travelling. He ended up in southern Madron where he met and married a Black Mountain Elf maiden. After Karliv was old enough to ride, he decided to bring his wife and child home to meet the rest of his family. I was only a couple of years younger and with elves that isn't very much of a difference, and we got on like brother and sister."

"Cats and dogs," Karliv said sotto voce. Symin giggled silently, Sinya just ignored him and continued, "Well when he was coming up on the equivalent of seven years old he began to show a pronounced affinity as a Magic User. Our branch of Forest Elves wasn't heavily into magic so Kraftin decided to take his family back down to Madron to the Black Mountain Elves since they were more magically inclined.

"As Symin has demonstrated, teachers aren't always necessary, but they can make life easier. Well he was all decked out in brand new formal clothing, his first clothing may I add. Now, I was annoyed at the way he was acting, and though it wasn't the rainy season we'd had a nice little rain storm the day before and there was this nice mud puddle on the way to the pasture where Kraftin keep their horses. I had scouted it so I was aware that it was there. Now just as I went to push him into the puddle he jumped aside."

"A little arrogant on that occasion but stupid I wasn't, she did make a lovely splash when she hit the water. She banged the water a couple of time with her hand in annoyance then looked at me demurely to help her out. I wasn't going to get anywhere near her, I knew if I tried to help her I'd end up in the water with her. Fortunately for me her father came back, and pulled her out and gave her a swat on the backside and told her to behave."

"Father gave me a little lecture on good manners that evening, I was paying close attention since he was peeling a switch at the time, but he only sent me to bed without my supper. Yum, that was a lovely night," Sinya said dreamily, "Mother was first, she brought in some milk bread and cheese and a slice of my favorite berry pie."

"She'd hardly left the room when my father showed up. He was a bit skimpy on the bread, but he had a double portion of berry pie, and a couple of hours later my older brother showed up. Now he had a real feast, bread, meat, cheese and milk and the rest of the berry pie which we finished off in jig time. So as I said," she grinned at Karliv, "I was hoping you'd come back and leave a few more times."

He roared with laughter, "And here all this time I thought you were mad at me."

"Don't get too complacent, cousin, if I see a convenient mud-puddle, I'm sure I can arrange for you to fall into it," she said sweetly, and then more seriously, "It's good to see you again, Karliv, it has been much too long. You should have come back for a visit."

With equal seriousness, he replied, "It's been a long time, but it's been a busy time for me. Once you learn how to use magic then you start using it. And unfortunately, we have a powerful Magic User for an enemy, and he wants to set the clock back to the time before the Consolidation and he'll use any method to accomplish his aims. In the past few years, he's concentrated on trying to start a war with countries around us. We've been able to keep the peace for the most part, but now he's concentrating on Camron."

"Eleven years ago he conspired with some Camron nobles to kill your King. Then last year he tried to kill Carlinn's youngest brother Karvel and his companions, who were all of powerful families. Between us we were able to prevent that and to trap the mercenaries he had hired to do the killing. Now he's kidnapping children of both noble and lower class families. Of course, the kidnapping of the noble children was the most dangerous part of his present plan, since the nobles have the money and power to actually make a war between our two countries inevitable."

"Not inevitable," said Prince Tamen in disagreement. "Since we were alerted to the kidnapping of noble children eleven months ago, we've been working very carefully to find out who's children were kidnapped and we're sitting on them so to speak. We sympathize with their loss but we won't be allow them to start a war over a few children. Not when a war could cause the death of thousands of children."

Symin asked, "Is your Magic User a small man, who likes to wear gaudy clothes?"

Karliv turned his eyes on the boy, "Yes, indeed. His name is Yersine and he's the great uncle of Sheran. I assume that's who your Astral visitor was."

"Uh huh, I was glancing through the book 'On Magic' by Kraftin Darnason. Your father?" he asked.

Karliv nodded and Symin continued, "Well, when he suddenly showed up and when I realized he was an Astral Spirit rather than a ghost," he couldn't help blushing at that, "I recalled a passage he had written in the book. 'An Astral Spirit can't be harmed by anything physical, not even a magic weapon. A Mage can sometimes send a Mind-blast through an Astral Spirit to affect the actual physical body, which will cause the Spirit to be pulled back into his body. It can also be warded against, but to fight it you must also be on the Astral plane.'

"Well, he was wrong about that." he said matter-of-factly, taking the washcloth out of his belt pouch, he placed it on the edge of the desk and unfolded it. All of those in the room instantly recognized the red stain on the cloth as blood. "I didn’t think I had a chance, but I wasn't going to give up and the dagger came through for me again. He underestimated me because I was only a child." Symin made a sour face at that, before continuing, "and he casually threw a couple of Mind-blasts, at me. I was able to avoid them and get close enough to stab him with my dagger, and I felt it go into him. It was only in the leg, but he screamed in pain and then disappeared. I don't think he'll underestimate me in the future." Symin said with satisfaction.

Karliv stared at the stained cloth with surprise then looked at Symin. "I know that not all of what father wrote in his book was completely accurate. In fact when I mentioned the fact to him, he told me that some of the information was deliberately misleading. That on a few points it’s better for a magic student to have false information than to know the real facts. That when they know what they think was the entire truth they neglect other facets of their magic and since everyone's magic differs slightly, a truth for one Magic User might in fact not be true for another."

"Might I see this dagger of yours, Symin?" he asked.

Symin obligingly drew his dagger, and holding it as he had done for the Prince a few days earlier, hilt on one palm, point on the other, he gave a more severe warning than he had done on that occasion. "When I showed it to the Prince, a few days ago I said to be cautious about handling it, but he was able to touch it. I wouldn't advise it today. When it cut into Yersine physically it also took a bite out of his magic. It's almost to the point of being uncomfortable but not quite, and normally it doesn't have an aura but right now it does."

Karliv raised his eyebrows at that statement. He placed his hand close to the dagger and he could feel the power thrumming through it. Invoking Mage-sight, he saw what Symin had mentioned, that the dagger indeed had an aura. It was only about a 1/4 of an inch thick and it was the same color blue as Symin's aura, but where his had some activity in it the dagger had none.

Taking a glass out of one of his two belt pouches, he took a magnified look at the dagger. While he couldn't read it, he knew what it said and it told him exactly what the dagger was.

He was fascinated by it, and it was hard to tear his attention away from it, but he was finally able to do so, and nodded at Symin in thanks, and the boy re-sheathed it. He put the glass away and sat in thought for a couple of minutes and then forced himself to say speak. "I can tell you what this writing says, 'I offer this humble blade to my God, Kranholt,' and it would have included the name of the maker, which was covered up by the crest. However, I wouldn't be able to read the name if was visible anyway. We actually know what the passage says only because it has been passed down verbally over the millennia."

"This is was a Mandean dagger and aside from Dwarven weapons ordinary Mandean blades have no equal. And this was a very special weapon. It's a Mandean God-blade and aside from a few magical blades, they had no equal. I say had because the Mandeans were a secret religious sect that existed between three to four thousand years ago. As far as we know they consisted of a few dozen families. The head of each family was a Master-smith and a Great Mage and their one overriding purpose was to complete one blade such as this in their life time as a tribute to their God, Kranholt the God of fire and forges."

"And size wasn't the important factor, from what I've heard each family decided among themselves what type of blade the family head would produce. Some were tiny, only six inches overall and others were truly enormous having a six foot blade.

"We know of only two that were actually used. Everyone has heard of Scolinel and Mandel Bloodyhand. He was reputed to have killed a dragon." Karliv smiled with some disbelief at this point. "And then went on and forged a kingdom which lasted almost a thousand years and included all of present day Camron and Madron and more."

"And Darva, carried by Barnara the Fair, who used it to take revenge on the clan that destroyed her own clan. She killed all of those who had taken part in the massacre of her family then took over leadership of that clan and led it to greatness.

"We know of no other God-blades by name. We think that any others that survived were some of the smaller blades and were used for rather simple purposes. We suspect that Tran the Carver used a God-blade to produce his work. We know he was a Great Mage who used his magic only on rare occasions." Symin jerked at that. Karliv smiled, at him, "I've heard of your carvings as well."

"And the reason that God-blades were seldom heard about was simple. Once complete, a Mandeans tribute to their God was also complete and the blade no longer had any importance. Perhaps over the thousand years that the Mandeans existed, no more than 500 God-blades in all were produced. We believe that most were simply discarded, actually cast into the rubbish heap and since they were principally made of magic they very quickly deteriorated, not lasting more than a few years. We believe that only a few made it into hands other than Mandean.

"We know that Scolinel had been in Mandel's family for close to a thousand years and disappeared into Mandel's treasure room at his death and was never seen again. He had no natural born children and passed the throne to an adopted son. And we know that Barnara, her revenge complete and her new clan thriving cast Darva into the sea.

"Tran lived about twenty five hundred years ago and we do not know if he had any offspring or not. But I suspect that there was a good possibility that he did and that one of his descendants was Sandor Ascalon, who used the God-blade to help him join the Lesser Clans of his time into the Ascalon Great Clan. I suspect that closeness to those of the original user's blood was important to the continuing existence of a God-blade. While not used, in the intervening years it was always close to his direct descendants and unlike other God-blades it did not deteriorate, and was in time claimed by Symin Ascalon.

"We have no idea of the exact age of the dagger in Symin's possession but it is at least three thousand years and possibly as much as four thousand years old." His sonorous voice had captured all of their attention and the room felt empty when he finally finished.

Chapter 16 – 5th of Rege – 4:00 in the afternoon

Prince Carlinn spoke first breaking the silence. "If Symin is capable of using his Astral Spirit that gives us a chance at Yersine at last."

"It does much more than that, Carlinn," Karliv said. "The legends say that Barnara passed through powerful Wards to destroy their Great and Lesser Mages before she attacked with her few remaining clansmen and hired mercenaries."

Symin looked at the two of them with confusion. Karliv looked at him kindly. "Don't worry about it, Symin, first we've got to see if we can teach you a few things, and only when we know what we're capable of doing together will we be able to tell you what our plans might be. Where can we go to do some work?" he asked.

Symin grinned, "How about my bedroom, it's a little draftier than it was a little while ago, but otherwise its fine. Do you mind if Cartan and Sinya come with us.

Karliv shook his head, "Nothing we'll be doing should be dangerous, so I have no objection to their presence."

The four got up to head back to Symin's bedroom bowing to the two Princes, before exiting. As Symin was going out the door Prince Tamen called him back, "Your grandparents are both awake, and apparently the reports that your grandmother was bedridden was a complete fabrication of Tyril's. Apparently, she at times was able to fight off his compulsion, so he kept her drugged on those occasions. They'll both be down for supper at seven and they'd like to see you before that."

"Yes, Sir. Thank you. That's good news about grandmother." he said enthusiastically. He exited the office and he turned a couple of cartwheels in the hallway in happiness. Karliv, Sinya and Cartan turned just as he was starting his second cartwheel and they smiled at his exuberance.

Coming to his feet and joining his clasped his hands behind his back he followed them sedately the remaining distance to his bedroom. Cartan collected a chair from his room on the way since there was only one in Symin's bedroom. The two men used the chairs while Symin sat on the bed with Sinya.

"First, we'll see if we can teach you how to free your Astral Spirit. From your aura you're are going to be a Great Mage someday and very few with your potential are unable to do so, at the stage you're at now. Now what you want to try to do is to get up, without actually getting up. I know that doesn't make a lot of sense but in essence that's what you will be doing if you can free your Astral image. I'd tell you to close your eyes to block out all the sights but that won't work with you, now will it?"

"Uh uh, but I do it anyway, it's a habit and it does seem to help." Symin remarked.

Symin closed his eyes and leaned against Sinya, and tried to imagine himself getting up yet staying seated. The solid body of Sinya against his shoulder seemed to help, giving him an anchor. Then abruptly he was standing, yet his body was still sitting on the bed. He looked down at himself and couldn't see anything and abruptly he was back in his body.

He opened his eyes and looked at Karliv. "I was out but when I looked down I couldn't see myself." Symin complained.

"That's the normal state, when your Astral Spirit first leaves your body, you have to will your body to appear and if you want to speak you either have to use Mind-speech with those who have that ability or you have to will your voice to be audible. By the way when you appear you'll be naked." Karliv said dryly.

Symin asked, one of those questions, children so love to ask, "Why? Not that I care, but Yersine was fully clothed."

"Us Great Mages like to stand on our dignity, and we don't like to appear naked, in front of enemies or those we're trying to impress. It ruins the image, you know." Karliv said, mock pompously. "We put a little magic into our clothes and they react just like our body does. I'll teach you how to do that later."

"Okay, with me," Symin murmured, closing his eyes again. This time it was easier, and again he was standing looking down at his body. He willed his Astral Spirit to appear and at first nothing seemed to be happening but after a few minutes his body began to appear, faintly at first, but then more solidly. As Karliv had said, he was naked, that certainly didn't bother him. But he found that his dagger was visible on his right hip, and the Prince's token was also visible, seemingly floating in the air by his left hip.

Karliv instructed, "See if you can talk to me with Mind-speech, first and then try to talk out loud."

*Actually Maxim has a little Mind-speech and we've been using it for the last few months. Why are my dagger and the Prince's Token visible.*

"The dagger and the Token appear because they are magical objects. Now see if you can talk so that we can all hear you." Symin found this harder, and it took several minutes before he was able to make himself heard by everyone.

"Good," Karliv was very pleased, the boy was learning faster than anyone he had ever taught before. Of course Symin had already been forced into Mage potential and the skills he was learning were ones that most Lesser and Great mages all had, to a different degree. "Are you tired?"

Symin thought about that, then shook his head, "I feel fine."

"Good, the next thing I want you to try is to penetrate a Ward, and it so happens there's one at the end of the hallway. Make your body disappear again and walk over there and see if you can penetrate the ward. As you get more experience you should be able to sense a Ward and approach it without any danger to yourself but that may take a little time, so walking is the best way at the moment. The ward should appear as a shimmering semi-transparent curtain when you reach it. Don't draw your dagger, just hold the hilt if you can't pass through normally. Once you're inside you'll have to be careful to exit the same way. I don't know what would happen if you just let go at that point, but I assume that it would probably kill you. I think if you had a drawn dagger you might be able to actually destroy the Ward and I don't want to leave either of the Princes with no defences against Astral Spirits just in case Yersine decides to return."

Symin did as instructed and the ward did indeed look like a semi-transparent curtain. He pushed against it with his hands but the Ward was completely resistant. Taking hold of the dagger hilt with his right hand, he prepared to push through the Ward and actually fell through when he encountered no resistance at all. He returned through the Ward, hand on dagger hilt he just walked through it and then let go and just snapped back into his body.

He opened his eyes a pleased look on his face. "I couldn't get through it in normal fashion, but as soon as I touched the hilt of my dagger I almost fell through the Ward."

Karliv rubbed his hands in satisfaction, "Good, next we should test your range. Go back into Astral form and see if you can reach Esgen, that's about thirteen miles away and at your level should be close to your maximum range."

Obediently, but not bothering to close his eyes this time he went into Astral form and began to will himself toward Esgen. He found himself flying swiftly above the landscape. He couldn't go very high or he would have been out of Perception range. He was moving many times faster than a horse could move but as he approached Esgen he quickly began to slow down, and on the outskirts of the little town, just where the Messenger Post was located he came to a stop. Trying to push on a little further he was unable to do so, he had reached his limit. Letting go he snapped back into his body and fastened his large eyes on Karliv.

"I was just able to reach the Messenger Post on this side of Esgen and couldn't go any further." he stated.

"That's very good Symin, for a first attempt. Now we'll try something else, which has nothing at all to do with your total range, at least at this point. Most Great Mages have some ability in which they tend to be very good at doing. My special skill is the ability in Astral form to be able to take most other people with the ability to invoke an Astral Spirit with me. And once we arrive at our destination that other person uses me as their anchor rather than relying only on their own body, so in effect you have two strings tying you. One to your body, always the stronger bond, and the other to me, which means that your range starts wherever my Astral Spirit is and you are able to move around independently within that range. Unfortunately, one of Yersine's greatest talents is the ability to detect Astral Spirits. Get within twenty miles of him and he'll know it."

"First I want to make sure we can join our Astral Spirits and then if we can join we're going test the Ward again to see if you can take me with you when you go through. Okay, Astral Spirit form again, make yourself visible and hopefully we'll be holding hands, if so we'll disappear again."

Having done it several times now, Symin felt it happen almost instantly and only had to make himself appear. Karliv, appeared almost instantly, *With clothes*" noted Symin as he himself began to appear, not realizing that he thought it out loud…

*Of course,* answered Karliv, sardonically, *a Great Mage's dignity, remember.*

Symin, couldn't help but giggle, then remonstrated, *Don't make me laugh. It's hard enough to concentrate as it is.*

Finally he was fully visible and holding out his hand he felt Karliv take hold of it. He was surprised how natural it felt, as his small hand was taken in the man's much larger one. *Now, disappear.* And Sinya and Cartan watched as Karliv just seemed to wink out and Symin faded to invisibility.

*Are you ready.* Karliv asked. *Remember it's going to much different this time, so try not to lose concentration.*

*Okay and yes I'm ready.* as Symin stopped thinking at Karliv with what felt like a whip-crack they were standing in front of the Ward.

*Now see if you can take me through with you.* and obediently Symin put his hand on his dagger hilt and went through the Ward. He instantly knew it was a failure as he felt the warm hand that had been holding his, disappear.

He turned and walked back through the Ward he caught the last part of Karliv's thought, *...hear me?*

*I can now, but I'm back through the ward,* answered Symin.

*Well, one part success, one part failure, but I was pretty sure it wouldn't work anyhow, so I'm not disappointed. Back home.* and they both let go and snapped back into their bodies.

Karliv really hadn't expected the latter part of the experiment to work, and he was quite happy with what they had accomplished so far and he showed it with a smile that lit up his face and eyes.

"Now for three more things and then we'll be finished." Karliv took out a small stone from one of his belt pouches.

Symin looked at it puzzled, looking up at Karliv, he protested, "It looks like Diamond Obsidian, but I can't feel it."

"Prince Tamen has compiled a fairly complete file on you, telling quite a bit about you, especially the magical talents you have been observed using." Karliv looked a gravely at Symin, "You were maybe a little lucky the other day at the warehouse. A Great Mage has the ability to hide an Artefact of Power and to use it to generate a false image." When Symin went white with consternation, biting his lower lip. "Don't be too concerned. It takes a Great Mage to use an Artefact of Power to its full extent and since they already had a Lesser Mage in Sheran and no reason to expect a potential Great Mage to show up, it was unlikely that they would have wasted a Great Mage here in this case. Especially since Yersine wanted the warehouse found in any case.

"But I'm sure he wasn't expecting to be found quite so soon or Sheran wouldn't still have been here. He does not like to lose family members." Symin sighed a little with relief his face returning to its natural color. "But always remember, you can't underestimate your opponent. Several have done that with you. Just because you were a child, they ignored the fact that you were armed, and ended up regretting it."

"Now that I've given you a little cautionary note I'll see if I can teach you how to detect a hidden Artefact of Power. It's a rare ability and not one I possess, though I can do the hiding part, I can't do the detecting part, for both my Empathy and Perception are quite weak, but with your more powerful Empathy and Perception you should be able to learn it.

"The way to use this ability has been described to me and I'll see if I can explain it to you. Now you know what a Diamond Obsidian stone feels with your mind. Now you want to twine your Sense of Empathy and Sense of Perception together so that you can feel it with them rather than with your mind."

Symin was puzzled about how to go about this task, but then he finally decided to try to visualize it as he had done when he had first locked his Empathy away. He concentrated deeply, actually seeing in his mind the two strands of the disparate abilities, and he literally began to braid them with his mind, twisting them together like a rope. When he was finished he had one strand where two had been and he reached out with that strand, probing, probing and then suddenly finding.

The jangle was still there, muted but still tangible enough to be felt, once he knew how to look for it. He looked at Karliv and said matter-of-factly, "I can feel it now."

"Good, try everything else first, but if all else fails try this method." He looked at the stone for a moment and Symin could feel the familiar jangle in his mind. Karliv stood up and placed the stone down a few feet away. He triggered the Ward and Symin felt something but didn't see anything. He looks with a question at the man. "When you're in Astral Spirit Mage-sight is part of it and was automatic. When you're in solid form, you have to invoke Mage-sight to be able to see a Ward.

"Right now I want you to see if a Ward created by a Diamond Obsidian stone reacts the same way as an ordinary ward."

Automatically now, the process programmed into his brain, Symin invoked his Astral image. He made his body appear and approached the Ward. It seemed more solid than the Ward of the Prince and he found that when he touched his dagger, it was a little more difficult to enter, but not by a significant amount.

He decided to stay in Astral form until he saw what Karliv wanted him to do next. "There's just one more thing I want you to try, I want you to use your dagger and pierce the Ward stone. This was the only possible, dangerous part of what I want to teach you. A Ward stone when it was set up properly also guards against physical intrusion. To touch a large Ward stone would be fatal, but this one was only 1/5 the size of the Prince’s and I deliberately didn't invest a lot of power in it so there shouldn't be any problems handling the power it contains."

Symin looked a little nervous, but with a reassuring smile from Karliv squared his small shoulders and drew his dagger. He pierced the Ward stone and suddenly a backlash of power caught him and knocked him back into his body so violently that it actually caused him to somersault backward on the bed and end up on the floor on the far side.

Karliv swallowed his disappointment as he rushed to see if Symin was all right. Sinya and Cartan were both on their feet as well. The boy was already up and kneeling on the far side of the bed elbows resting on the covers. He shook his head ruefully, "I'm all right," he assured them, "I've got a little headache but it's not too bad."

He could see relief on all three faces but Karliv's face also showed disappointment, which he tried to hide and Symin felt somewhat puzzled, everything had seemed to go very well.

Karliv said, "Why don't you take a little nap to make sure you're fully recovered. Supper's still a couple of hours away."

Surprisingly, while he wasn't really sleepy, and the headache was really very minor, Symin gave a big yawn, and nodded in acquiescence, "Okay, but Prince Tamen told me that my grandparents wanted to see me before supper, so please have someone wake me up a little after six."

Sinya, who had vacated her seat on the bed, told Symin, "I'll make sure of it, I'll come and wake you myself."

Symin gave another yawn, "Thanks Sinya."

Chapter 17 – 5th of Rege – 5:15 in the afternoon

He laid down on the bed and closed his eyes as the three adults left the room. He had no intention of sleeping right at the moment, he wanted to know why Karliv had been so disappointed. As the adults left the room he invoked his Astral Spirit and followed them, Cartan and Sinya peeling off to go to their rooms to prepare for supper.

As he expected Karliv went directly to the Prince's quarters. He nodded at the twin who got up and opened the door for him. Obviously, he had been instructed that Karliv was to have access to the two Princes at all times.

Tamen waved him to a chair. He sat and brought his hand up to his face, kneading his eyes. Symin sat on the floor, leaning against the wall. After a few minutes he stopped and looked at the two men, "Well, I've got some good news but also some bad. Symin easily mastered invoking his Astral Spirit and our talents are compatible, so our idea about setting a trap for Yersine should work. He already has Mind-speech. Apparently, his servant Maxim has a bit of the ability and they've been using it for several months. He easily passed through your personal Ward, and the Diamond Obsidian Ward I prepared was no greater barrier."

"He was able to destroy the Ward but the backlash knocked him off of the bed, and there was only a little magic in it, barely a tenth of what your Ward generates. I think he could destroy it without suffering any permanent damage even though the backlash would be tremendous."

"However the Wards covering Yersine's fortress as far as we know, are all Diamond Obsidian Artefacts of Power and they are all much bigger than the stone that you found in this room, and they've been used constantly for the last twenty years.

"I think he could probably destroy one of the Wards, but it would be mutual destruction. He would not survive the backlash. But he's the only chance of actually destroying a ward and saving any of the children in the fortress." Karliv finished wearily.

Tamen picked up a document. While ordinary paper was plentiful and cheap, important documents were still written on parchment. He began reading:

I, Hamar, King of Camron, herewith make the following request of the Kingdom of Madron. If at all possible the 48 children held in the Fortress of Yersine should be freed unharmed.

However if events are such that rescuing the children is not possible I take on the full responsibility for their deaths, by asking the following of the Royal Family of Madron. To attack the Fortress as soon as it was feasible for the purpose of returning the bodies of these children to their relatives where they can be decently sent into the afterlife.

Hamar, King of Camron.

Tamen dropped the document back on the desk. "Both my brother and I agree completely with my father's point of view. We will not allow the lives of a few children, no matter how important, to affect the future of our Kingdom. Symin must be asked, and told the truth. He has already proven he was willing to give his life for his Kingdom. I do not believe he will refuse. But if he does," and he flicked the document with his thumb, "this comes into effect.

Symin sitting against the wall put his thumb in his mouth and began sucking on it. Immature. Yes. But he just heard his death sentence, and he was afraid. The Prince was right however, he would not refuse.

Carefully standing up he left the office and penetrated the ward and then he let go of his Astral image and flashed back into his body. He rolled over onto his back, and put his arms behind his head, eyes open and looking up at ceiling. When Sinya came to wake him up he had pushed the fear to the back of his mind, and accepted the fact that he was going to die in the next couple of days.

First of course, they would have to eliminate Yersine, if they did not succeed in that endeavour a full out attack on the Fortress would be futile. They would have to besiege it, and try to starve them out, a process that could take years, and would mean the children in the Fortress would die, probably within the first twenty-four hours.

He heard Sinya approaching and he swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up. When she saw that he was up, she asked sympathetically, "Couldn't sleep?"

He looked at her solemnly, his fear popped up, but he pushed it back down again. "Actually, Karliv looked so disappointed, that I followed him and eavesdropped."

"In Astral form I assume, since I know you didn't pass my door?" she said.

"Yes. If we can kill Yersine they're going to ask me to destroy one of the Wards in Yersine's Fortress." a pause. "Karliv says if I do it, it'll kill me."

She looked at him with compassion, "And do you know what your answer will be?"

"I thought I was going to die 10 months ago. I haven't changed my mind. Camron is still my country, and my life is hers if she needs it." he answered simply.

She sat on the bed beside him, and putting her arm around his shoulders rocked him back and forth. He leaned against her accepting the silent comfort she was giving to him.

Chapter 18 – 5th of Rege – 6:15 evening

Symin knocked on the door to his grandparents quarters and it was quickly opened by Dylyn, Armand's personal servant. They were in the sitting room side by side on a loveseat and holding hands like newlyweds. The boy was impressed by the changes in their appearances.

Armand looked ten years younger and no longer looked like the timid harassed man, but more like the kind, decisive man Minna had first met and described in detail to the boy, and Cecily looked a good twenty years younger. Their emotions mirrored their new appearance, calm and assured.

Symin gave a bow and offered his grandfather his hand to shake as he had been taught, and he was astonished as he was gathered into a long bear hug and then passed over to his grandmother for a less vigorous but equally long and loving hug.

Though he was unaware of it, this was the true character of his grandparents that Minna had observed when she first arrived at Ascalon and for the six years before the Edict was imposed. The character they had displayed over the last eleven years was the result of the Compulsion, Tyril had them under.

After being thoroughly hugged, Armand pulled the footstool he had been using closer and sat Symin on it so that both he and Cecily could see him. Cecily looked at Armand and he started the conversation. "We want to apologize for the way that we treated you after your ordeal, and the sacrifice you had to make for your country." He reached out and gently touched Symin on the face below his eyes. "But Tyril had control of us and he was worried that your presence in the castle could bring unwanted attention to his activities, so he forced us to exile you to The Plateau. The Prince told us the true story of what happened and we honor your for your courage, selflessness and the duty you performed for your Kingdom.

Symin didn't speak over the next fifteen minutes, but his face was lit up with joy, as he basked in the love and admiration he could feel. Armand finished with, "We know that it's your birthday, tomorrow, but it is not the right time to celebrate it. Once this affair was all over we'll declare a Great Ball in your honor."

Symin, couldn't help it, he winced at that. Armand grinned at him, "I see Minna has described the Great Balls we used to hold. Don't worry we'll celebrate your birthday during the day, and by the time the ball starts I'm sure you and the other children will be long in bed, and won't have to suffer needlessly."

He stood up and offered his hand to Symin, and when they entered the great hall a few minutes later he was between his two grandparents holding onto their hands fiercely. Once in the hall they reluctantly released him to find a seat between Sinya and Cartan at one of the two lower tables, the high table being almost filled with the Prince Tamen and his more important officials and Prince Carlinn, there only being the central seats reserved for Armand and Cecily, still empty.

Symin was surprised when Karliv sat down opposite him. He expected as chief advisor to Prince Carlinn that he would be at the high table. He glanced up at it, and Karliv followed his gaze, then flicked his eyes back to Symin answering the unasked question. "They offered but I hardly think my Prince needs my advice at the dinner table. Besides I wanted to talk to you."

Symin felt uncomfortable, fear rising again, and again he pushed it down. "I eavesdropped."

Karliv calmly loaded some food onto his plate from the serving platter that was being brought around by a servant. He said calmly, "I know." Symin's mouth dropped open as Karliv continued, "Close your mouth Symin, or put something in it. I said that Yersine principal talent was the ability to detect Astral Spirits. In fact unlike my ability to take another Astral Spirit along for the ride, it's a fairly common talent among Great Mages." He chewed a mouthful of food.

"However in Yersine's case it's an extreme ability. In my own case, and in the case of most Great Mages my detection range is only a maximum range of between 1/4 and 1/2 a mile. In fact I felt his arrival earlier today and the two Mind-blasts he gave and then he was gone again. Now I felt you following me, and I could have used Mind-speech to tell you to go back, but I felt you had a right to know what I intended to tell the two Princes, and give you your chance to make your decision. Besides I really didn't want to have to explain to you directly." he said looking a little uncomfortable.

"I hate having to tell people, Oh we want you to do such and such, and by the way, you'll be killed in the process. I prefer just asking the final question, though I'd get out of that if I could," he said looking at Symin with compassion, his eyes in this case asking the question.

Symin gulped, then managed a barely audible, "Yes." He took a deep breath and his second, "Yes, I'll do it." was said calmly.

Chapter 19 – 5th of Rege – 8:00 in the evening

Symin was asleep, getting as much rest as possible before the coming ordeal. He had asked Sinya to stay with him, and she was standing in the doorway watching him, and wishing she could do something to cheer him up. While she had gone into situations where death was a highly probable outcome, she had never gone into one where death was a certainty.

Finally with a shrug, she gave up, and walked over to sit on the stool beside the boy's bed. The lantern was on, which was for her benefit though not on high. Since Symin could not see but only Perceive while awake, everything appeared to him as it would in bright light.

He squirmed a bit, changing position in the bed, and the lantern caught him at a different angle and suddenly Sinya drew a deep breath. She remembered opening the door when she had first seen him ten months ago, when his hair had been much lighter and a fair bit longer. Her mind was not as alert as it should have been, and her first thought had been, "How did one of the twins, get here."

That simple thought had snapped her into complete alertness, and she realized at once that it wasn't one of the her twin nephews. First of all he was wearing clothes, and the twins weren't old enough yet to be wearing anything, and when he moved his head she could see under the sun-bleached almost white hair that his ears were round not pointed.

She had put that thought away and she had forgotten it completely, until this moment. Under the dim light of the lantern the resemblance was remarkable not only to the twins but to her younger brother, the twins father, when he'd been that age. Not feature by feature, they certainly wouldn't have been mistaken as twins. The resemblance was in the overall appearance. Same small upturned nose, same determined chin, same shape of their large gray eyes. She remembered how old Symin really was and how old he actually looked, and she was amazed she hadn't made the connection before.

She reached out with that amazing ability that only some Forest Elf clans had. It was a form of Mind-speech, but limited only to family members, and its full range rivalled that of a Far-speaker.

She touched her father's mind, and was surprised by how tired he was this early time at night. *Father, I need to talk to you?*

He jerked up in his chair, *Sinya, what do you mean, getting in touch with me at this ungodly hour.*

Sinya giggled, *Father, it's only a little after eight o'clock.*

*Humph. Yes I guess it was,* he sighed. *I apologize. Both Telton and Sera are off visiting her parents and they didn't take the twins with them but they did take your mother. Now you know that normally I love having the kids all to myself.*

*Certainly father. You've always been very good with children of all ages.* Sinya complimented him.

*Unfortunately they found a patch of druberrys two days ago and they absolutely decimated it. I've been up for the last forty-eight hours keeping an eye on them. I just got them to sleep finally about an hour ago.*

Sinya thought about druberry – taken in the amount the twins must have eaten they wouldn't have been able to sleep and they would have been full of energy.*

*Did you have any help at all?* she asked, commiserating with him.

*Feone and Drew gave as much help as they could, but their own brood wasn't as calm as usual. I don't know if they got some of the berries as well or if it was just a bad spell. Well Dale and Sear are both asleep, finally. So what can I do you, favorite daughter.*

*I happen to your only daughter, father.* she thought dryly, before continuing, *I want you to look at someone though my eyes.* She closed them and in a few seconds she had that sensation that told her someone else was ready to see through her eyes.

She opened her eyes and focused them on Symin's face. She heard her father whistle with amazement. *If I didn't know you were a few hundred miles from here, I would have thought it was one of the twins, or your brother at their age.*

*If you saw him in broad daylight, the resemblance isn't quite as remarkable as it looks in this light, but I think it's too close to be just be a coincidence. He's human father, but is there any possibility that he has Elven blood in his veins. And since there is such a resemblance, our blood in particular.*

*Exactly where are you and who is he, and where do his parents come from.* he asked.

*We're at the Ascalon castle, and he's Symin Ascalon. I told you about him the last time I visited. He's the one who gave his eyesight for his King.* Her father had expressed his admiration of the boy when she had told him about what he had given up for his country, and she could feel admiration in her father's mind now, for the little boy lying in front of her. *His mother's from the southern part of the country. She and her grandfather met Symin's father in Camara, after fleeing north because of a war. She was also reported to have had blond hair. That was rare in this part of the country, most having medium dark to midnight black hair, but as I've seen it's not particularly rare in the south.*

*Why the rush, Sinya, you're not usually in such a hurry?* her father asked.

*If everything works out as planned, in the next couple of days he will be performing a task that Karliv says will kill him. He's too confident an individual to worry about his size, but I know it concerns him that he's so small. It would relieve him to know that he was small only because as a part Elf, the attributes that would normally appear in the first generation have skipped several and appeared in him.*

*Yes, Sinya there is a very good chance that he is part Elf. My oldest sister Avoe, left just before I was born. You know I've described my father as a hidebound conservative. Well Avoe was a very high Magic User and wished to go the Black Mountain Elves for further instruction. My father refused, she went anyway. The last we heard of her was about a hundred and twenty years ago, when Kraftin was able to contact her. She said she had married into a noble family in the south and had a baby girl. She said that she would provide no other information, and would not answer any other attempts to contact her. Kraftin himself left soon after that.*

*Well I hate to tell you this father, but Avoe is a common name for the Mother Goddess in the southern provinces and was a very common name for females there.* She felt the surprise in his mind as she told him that.

*Well, you're going to have to wake him up and see if you can use Mind-speech with him. Our particular ability only allows us to speak to family.*

*But he can speak with Karliv,* she protested.

*Just because he can speak to Karliv, doesn't mean the boy is related. Karliv is what we historian refers to as a broad-speaker. Each of the races has a different cadence or rhythm to their minds. A broad-speaker's mind automatically translates that cadence into his own cadence or rhythm but since most Mind-speakers develop into broad-speakers we just refer to them as Mind-speakers, but it takes at least a year or so to develop broad-speaking and Symin shouldn't have attained it yet. So if you are able to converse with him mind to mind then he is in fact descended from Avoe.*

*Also remember Avoe wasn't that much older then I am. If she was still alive she probably would have come north with Symin's mother and great-grandfather but she might have died not long before they were forced north. Most people assume that only the first generation would have inhabited the traits of a half-elf. Not everyone is aware that it can skip a period, and suddenly appear full-blown generations later.*

*Will you stay with me, father,* she asked him.

*Of course, daughter, if he is Avoe's great-grandson, I would want to know as historian of the clan, and as personal news I would want to welcome a new and previously unknown member of the family.* She could feel the excitement in his mind that belied his apparently calm words.

She bent forward and shook Symin's bare shoulder. He woke up slowly and yawning and stretching, he turned over to look at her, asking. "Is it time?"

"No, not yet. Karliv did a few tests earlier today. I have one I would like to try with you now."

"Okay," Symin said somewhat sleepily looking at her.

*Can you still hear me,* she asked.

"Of course I can still hear...." he stopped, a little puzzled, "You didn't move your lips. I didn't know you were a Mind-speaker."

"I'm not, not in the usual sense of the term. I can only talk to members of my own family." she said calmly, but her mind was bubbling with joy as was that of her father.

As she had discovered in the last few days, he was very intelligent, and very quick. It only took him a couple of seconds to put the pieces together and he surged up to his elbows. Using Mind-speech he said, *I'm a member of your family. But how?*

*Were any of your members of your family, named Avoe?* Symin's eyes widened as he realized that this question wasn't from Sinya, but from someone else.

He spoke out loud, "My mother's middle name was Avoe, and that was my great-grandmother's name."

Sinya said with satisfaction. "That was my Aunt's name as well. Do you know if she was an Elf?"

Symin she his head regretfully. "I don't know. I know she disappeared before my mother and her grandfather and the others started north, but Minna was always too upset when she mentioned her that I never really tried to find out about her."

*Well I wouldn't be able to speak to you mind-to-mind if you weren't part of my family, so you can be assured she was an Elf. My father is here with me and unlike normal Mind-speech we can share vision as well as talk, and he agrees with me that you look much like Dale and Sear, my twin nephews, and how my younger brother did at their age.*

"How old are they?" asked Symin with intense curiousity.

"Actually in human years they are older than you are, being just under fourteen but in human terms they aren't quite seven years old." she replied.

Symin said regretfully, "I guess it's not a good time to meet them, considering what's going to happen."

*No it isn't, they are still innocents, they haven't been exposed to death very often, and they're still too immature to grasp the concept.* said Sinya's father. *It would be unfair to them to one who's...* His thought trailed off, unwilling to remind Symin of his coming fate.

But Symin though apprehensive, yes and not relishing the prospect was resigned and no longer frightened, continued calmly. *Introduce them to someone who was going to die in a short time. No that would be unfair, to them.*

*Yes,* thought, the man heavily, *It would be unfair. My name is Condee, by the way, and I am the historian of our branch of the Forest Elf clan. Goodbye nephew and good luck.* and his mind was gone from Sinya's.

"Nephew?" Symin asked.

"Well, more properly in human terms, great-great-nephew, but Elves pretty well ignore those degrees of separation that the human world uses." Sinya explained.

"Why did you contact him now?" Symin asked with curiosity.

"I wanted to find out whether what I figured out about you was actually true. I didn't know how to go about it so I contacted my father, who I was sure would tell me how to go about it." She smiled before continuing, "You seem to be worried about your small size compared to other children your age."

"Not worried," Symin corrected, "Annoyed."

"Well, I thought I could put your mind at rest on that score. I understand from talking to Minna that you read a lot. You've probably come on the fact that when an Elf marries a human, the next generation will have some Elven traits and some human traits. That's not completely true. While in many cases that is what happens, at times it will completely skip the first generations and appear in later generations.

"You, in fact appear to have some of the traits of a half-elf, particularly in the way you are aging. A half-elf while not having the full lifespan of a Elf will generally have about two-thirds of our normal three-hundred year life-span. You are so small because your body is in fact only seven years old, while your mind has matured at the normal human rate."

She could see him mulling this over and then suddenly he was hurtling at her. She marvelled at how fast he could move, at the same time as his arms went around her. If she had been sitting in a chair it would have ended there as she caught him, but she was on a backless stool and she went over backward with a squawk and ended up on the floor, Symin landing on top of her hugging her fiercely. Still in his mind, she could feel his intense joy.

Cartan who unbeknownst to Symin had also stayed up keeping Sinya company, appeared in the doorway, short sword in hand. Seeing Symin hugging Sinya on the floor and the overturned stool he realized what the sudden thump that had attracted his attention, had been. Sheathing his sword, he leaned against the opened door, open amusement on his face.

She got to her feet, Symin in her arms and leaning over she pried his arms from around her and set him on the bed. Smoothing back his hair, she said, "Go back to sleep. Symin." She reinforced the instruction through their present mind link and he yawned. Forcing his eyes back open, he murmured, "Thank you!" Then closing his eyes, he was asleep almost instantly.

Cartan asked amusement still evident in his voice, "What was that all about?"

"I was just explaining some facts of life to him." Sinya said not really paying, attention to what she was saying.

Cartan snickered, "I thought that's usually be left to the male members of the family."

Not understanding what he was talking about for a moment she went back in her mind over what she had just said. Then she said with equal amusement, "Not those facts of life, idiot!"

She explained to him what had just occurred up to the point where they had ended up on the floor, and why Symin had been so happy. "But Gods, Cartan he's fast, one moment he was on the bed flat on his back, the next he had his arms around me and we were going over. I didn't see him start to move and even though I was still in his mind I didn't even feel him start to move. No wonder he's been able to do the things he's done. When you can move that fast, you don't need strength, size or more than rudimentary skills with weapons to be absolutely deadly."

Chapter 20 – 6th of Rege – 12:00 AM

Karliv shook Symin awake this time, and unlike earlier in the evening the boy was awake instantly. "Time to go to work, young cousin."

Symin stretched, yawned and then swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up. "It's nice to know we're related." the boy said earnestly.

Karliv put one large hand on the top of Symin's head and ruffled his hair, "I agree, little one. Now do you want to appear dignified like a Mage should."

Symin was uncertain about the question for a moment then he remembered what Karliv had said earlier. "You'll teach me how to put magic in my clothes so that they'll go along with my Astral Spirit?"

"I will, it'll only take a moment and a minuscule amount of magic." Symin hopped off the bed and got the dark blue short trousers he was going to wear tonight, belt pouch and sheathed dagger already on the belt.

It was a bit like the process of Tuning an Artefact of Power but much easier and after a few seconds of instruction Symin began running his hands over the cloth lightly.

Finished Symin pulled on his short trousers, and did up the belt. When he was dressed not bothering with sandals since he wouldn't be going anywhere physically, he sat down on the bed. Sinya, who had been watching from the door, came over and sat on the bed next to him, and he put his hand in hers and leant against her glad of her solid presence.

Karliv sat in the chair which had been moved over in front of the bed, and asked, "Are you ready, Symin?"

Symin considered, then sighed, "No, but let's do it anyway."

Karliv was a bit disconcerted for a moment by the honesty of the reply, but then he collected himself, "All right, let's go."

Symin invoked his Astral Spirit and stood up, and concentrated on becoming visible. Karliv was visible instantly but it took the boy a few seconds. Finally they were both as solid as they could be in Astral form, and Karliv held out his hand which Symin gladly took, the fear which he thought was behind him briefly rising its head only to be knocked down again.

Karliv gave him a few instructions in Mind-speech, *I'll get well within your maximum range. When he comes out after me, you'll have to wait until he was concentrating on me completely before you act or he might detect you, but at the same time you can't wait too long. If he impairs my ability to remain in place, I'll snap back into my body as will you. If he follows us we'll be helpless.*

He shook his head ruefully, *As soon as we get there let go of my hand and move away from me. If I asked you again if you're ready you'd probably say the same thing, so just disappear and we'll go.*

Symin faded out and when he was completely invisible, Karliv began to move. Knowing exactly where he was going the journey was incredibly quick, lasting only a few seconds. The boy felt a little dizzy and when they abruptly stopped he almost fell, only Karliv's hand holding him up.

When he was steady, he let go, and moved away from the man. He had only gone about a dozen yards, when Yersine appeared. The boy had been moving directly forward hoping that's where Yersine would appear and he was lucky. Though a few yards to the side he was only about five yards ahead.

Symin froze, thanking the Gods for his luck, he was only about a total of ten yards away from Yersine. Yersine snarled with a combination of rage and amusement, "So Elf, you've finally come to challenge me."

"To fight you, Evil One, not challenge you." and he struck first raising his hand he let off a Mind-blast. As soon as he raised his arm Symin began to move and when the Mind-blast struck, he was within a few yards of his target. Yersine rocked back a little on his heels and then laughed bringing his left hand up to unleash a Mind-blast of his own. The Mind-blast struck Karliv and he did more than rock back, he was knocked backwards off his feet.

Yersine was about to unleash a second Mind-blast, when he felt someone only feet away. Instantly he knew it had been a trap, but he was too late, the Mind-blast was already rising, he couldn't abort it and withdraw as the God-blade sheared through his ribs and into his heart. He screamed as he realized his doom, "NOOOOOoooooo!!!...." and then he was gone, forever. The boy felt a jolt of power as the dagger took a bite out of Yersine's magic and the rising Mind-blast instead filled the dagger. He rushed to Karliv's side, the man beginning to fade, and grabbing his hand he pushed the energy the blade had just absorbed into the man.

Karliv at first basked in the inrushing power and then when it began to be become uncomfortable he jerked his hand loose, and yelled, "Enough."

The dagger was still a little antsy with the increased power but Symin had drained off enough so that it wasn't painful. He began to appear as he sheathed his dagger. "What now?"

"Now I introduce you to a couple of people, and then you go into the Fortress to see if you can find where the children are located, have a look at the ward stones and then see if you can find a list of all of the children who have been kidnapped."

Chapter 21 – 6th of Rege – 12:30 AM

Taking Symin's hand this time the journey was very brief, only taking a second or two. They arrived in a large tent, its only occupants a regal looking man in his late thirties and a young boy, curly blond hair and nude except for an elaborate slave collar and a pair of sandals.

The were intent on playing a game of chess, the man sitting hands on his chin, a mournful look on his face, the boy kneeling on a chair, leaning over, arms on the table, a big smile on his face. The man made a move and the boy's smile became even broader as he made his own move. Symin heard *Checkmate!!* in his mind, as the boy clasped his hands above his head in victory, sticking his tongue out at the man.

The man grabbed him and wrestled him to the floor and began tickling him. The boy made no vocal sound but he was obviously giggling and Symin could hear it in his mind.

Karliv cleared his throat, The man and the boy looked up at them and showed no surprise at their ethereal presence. "How many times he beaten you tonight, Ren."

"Six straight. I managed to beat him twice yesterday, and he was seriously annoyed, so he's shown no mercy at all tonight." the man said, ruefully getting to his feet and pulling the boy up after him.

"I gather you managed to succeed or you wouldn't be here." the man continued.

"We did. Yersine was dead at last." said Karliv seriously, and then the two men and Symin winced as a sudden mind piercing, *YYYYYaaayyy!!!* hit them.

The man gave him a swat on his bare bottom, to get the boy's attention, "Terry, not so damn loud!"

Obviously it hadn't been very hard, it certainly didn't dampen the boy's spirit, as he grinned from ear to ear. *Sor-ry! I forget myself sometimes.*

"Tell the King! He must know right away!" said the man.

The boy closed his eyes in concentration, and Symin could feel something that seemed far above his head, though he recognized it as Mind-speech, it was like nothing he had ever heard before.

Karliv looked down at Symin, "The boy was mute and while he wasn't aware he had Mind-speech until a year ago, his talent developed quickly and though his range is only about two hundred miles and more limited than an adult, we were able to scare up enough other low power Far-speakers to mount a relay from here to the capital."

Turning to the man, he asked, "Ren, could we see the list."

The man lifts a batch of papers and takes out the bottom sheet and laid it out on the desk. It was a list of names.

Terrion Wymark, Count of Wymark 8 1/2 - Rendar, Duke Royal, Duke of Farlei

Jaran Volsen, Baron of Volsen 9 - Aron Decon

There was a total of twenty names on the list. Symin looked at the man, who was now sitting, his arm around the waist of the boy now standing beside him. "Ren, Karliv called you Ren, you're Rendar? But Terrion doesn't have a crest."

Karliv said, "Look at the slave collar more closely, Symin."

Symin did so. He realized that it was a hidden Artefact of Power. One of its properties being that of Compulsion. Concentrating hard he pushed away the Compulsion and saw a crest appear on Terrion right arm. He allowed the Compulsion to take over again and the crest disappeared. He looked at Karliv, who smiled, "Yes, Ren was Rendar. That's how we first found out about this plot in the first place. He found Terry, Terrion at the slave market, as special merchandise. Terrion had just found out he was a Mind-speaker and when Rendar saw that the special merchandise were crested boys from Camron, he immediately recognized that they were trouble for his country, he inadvertently broadcast in Mind-speech and Terrion heard him and spoke back to him.

"Something that Rendar didn't broadcast was that he realized how much danger both he and the boys were in at that point. They wouldn't have involved the Duke Royal, a member of the Madron Royal Family, nephew of the King, unless they were very serious. He realized that if he didn't buy one of the boys the probability was that he wouldn't survive to leave the slave market and the boys actually there also would have been killed and disposed of so that no one would have known they were nobility. Rendar fully intended to buy one of the boys, the fact that Terrion had Mind-speech and could talk to him, convinced him that Terrion was the one.

"Terrion was delivered to him after dark that night. Remember I showed you how a Artefact of Power could be hidden, and told you it could hide things, well the Magic-Users of Madron are past masters at hiding things, especially secret passages and one of those secret passages leads directly into the Crown Prince's quarters, Carlinn who you've met. He consulted me and his father, Vendar, King of Madron who consulted with Hamar your King and Prince Tamen, through Trent, his Far-speaker, and it was agreed that everything had to be done very carefully."

"They suspected that there were missing noble children, because two had shown up horribly tortured and mutilated, and rumors were going around all over the country, but the nobility was simply too frightened to risk their children's lives by going to the King. We were able to get eleven aside from Terrion into hands of our people and were able to keep track of a further ten. The first twelve on the list are all boys as you can see from their names but the remaining twenty-eight even it up a bit so that in the end there are twenty-four boys and sixteen girls.

"That's not including the eight noble children we know of inside Yersine Fortress, and the forty children of high churchmen and merchants. We can only guess at the number of lower class children and we figure between two or three hundred and we have no idea where any of them are and actually can't be sure that all of those we have rumors of being kidnapped were kidnapped by Yersine and his people, and not freelancers.

Symin observed, "It might not matter. If Yersine was trying to stir up as much trouble as possible and wasn't worried about money, any freelancers might have sold to him anyway because he would probably be offering the best prices."

Karliv and Rendar looked each other with surprise, they hadn't thought of that though now that it was mentioned, it was an obvious possibility.

"So first, I find out about the Wards and locate the children inside the Fortress and then I see if I can find out any information about the children outside the Fortress." Symin said.

"If he has any such information it will probably be hidden in the way I showed you."

Symin nodded. "Is this tent inside my range?"

"Well inside," Karliv answered.

"So I assume that you will showing me to the Ward boundaries and then coming back here?" Symin stated.

"Correct," said Karliv, getting used to the mental perception Symin showed as opposed to the magical Perception he also had. "And I guess it's time you got started."

Chapter 22 – 6th of Rege – 1:00 AM

Karliv had left Symin at the curtain of the Wards, after a quick lesson in how to raise and lower himself in the air and instructions on how to go through walls and ceilings if necessary. It was the brightest he had ever seen, and the sheer power it evinced was beginning to terrify Symin.

He decided to start before the serenity he had managed to raise deserted him. He rose into the air and when he reached the top of the wall, he put his hand on his dagger and moved forward and the curtain of the Ward was an almost tangible presence at first, but yielding when he concentrated harder. Once he was just above the walkway surrounding the parapets, he lowered himself to it. Once he had dreamed of flying, now that the ability was in his grasp, at least in his Astral form, he decided he preferred to walk. Once on the walkway, he headed toward the Ward stone itself and it became brighter and brighter as he approached it.

Finally, he was only about twenty feet away from the tower where the Ward stone was placed and he decided that was close enough for an examination. When he examined the stone more closely, he was intrigued to notice that there were two energy streams, one going into the stone and one coming out of it. They were in parallel and one was red and one was blue. About a yard away from the stone they disappeared.

An idea came to him and he was intrigued by the thought. Walking was now too slow for what he wanted. So he rose a bit above the walkway, and flew back the way he had come until he approached the second tower.

Again he stopped about twenty feet from the tower and observed the two energy streams for a few moments. Very thoughtful now he flew a diagonal course to the next wall. Twenty feet away from the Ward stone there was energy streams pointing toward the Ward stone he had examined but none coming in this direction.

He flew swiftly toward the third stone. When he was hovering twenty feet from it he could see another two energy streams pointing at the tower he had not yet visited. With excitement he flew toward the fourth and last tower which confirmed his suspicions.

He hovered in the air for a few moments thinking and then reaching into his mind he unlocked his Empathy. He had thought it might be distracting, and hadn't dared keep it open, because of that. Now he needed it. And he immediately realized it wasn't as effective as it normally was. The Ward stones were simply putting out too much power. He would have to be almost on top of the children to find them. He dropped down twenty feet and as he drifted toward the first tower he was sampling the emotions he could feel and he was hoping.

He reached the first tower and began to follow his previous route though now twenty feet lower, and then he began to feel the emotion of apprehension. He hadn't expected real fear, not after this length of time and this was what he had been looking for, all along. He turned so he directly facing the wall and pushed forward, not enjoying the feel as he passed through the thick wall. He was in a corridor. The apprehension was directly across from him. Resignedly he floated across it and passed through. He stopped, sighing with relief. Found.

The whole interior was made up of cells filled with naked children. Obviously, the rooms had been ripped out to make the cells. He found the crested children very quickly, they were all in one cell together, but as he began to count the children he realized that there were far more than forty-eight. In fact by the time he finished counting he reached a total of one hundred and twenty-three.

He was puzzled at first as he wandered through them. By their accents, most of them were lower class children. And then he realized why they were there, and both joy and horror and loathing pulsed through him at the same time. Joy at the remembrance of killing Yersine and horror because he realized they were here to demonstrate how serious Yersine had been. He would have killed these children in full view of an attacking army before sacrificing his more important hostages. And loathing for every living thing in this Fortress who was here willingly.

The Mages were going to have to know exactly where these children were when the Wards went down, to be able to protect them.

He went directly up until he was on the walkway. The first tower was twenty-seven yards from his position, and the cells were eight yards directly below him.

Going back down to the cells he searched all five floors looking for any possible booby traps by which the children could be killed all at once. He relaxed a bit when he had been through the area once and found nothing.

His second sweep was much slower as he twined his Empathy and Perception as Karliv had taught him looking for hidden Artefacts of Power, both of Diamond Obsidian, as the Wards seemed to be, and of any other material.

Unsatisfied with the second sweep, he did a third one even slower and more searching, but was able to find nothing which could endanger all of the children at the same time.

There were thirty-two guards stationed in the room with the cells, positioned so that they could slaughter the children in very short order, but though the occasional throwing knife was visible, there were only a few, and there were no bows or crossbows. Also, after invoking Mage-sight he could detect no Magic Users of sufficient strength to trigger magic potions or other dangerous magic spells. His assumption was that this would be the time of day they would be assigned here for that purpose if there were any to trigger. He could only hope that he was right.

There were a total of nine cells each holding ten children and three cells each with eleven children. All of the children were asleep on pads on the floor. Some were alone but most were huddled in groups of three or four. Each cell had two entrances, with a guard stationed at each entrance. And there were an additional eight guards stationed in the room. As he observed these eight guards kept moving and while they couldn't keep the other guards completely alert they would tend to keep them at a higher state of readiness than would usually be the case.

He began to memorize everything he could and since he was using Perception, his positional memory and memory in general was much better than sheer sight would have been. If there were transporters among the Mages available to the Madron forces, sleeping potions placed in the right places would do a great deal to protect the children and Mages in Astral form could take care of the rest. As long as nothing went wrong and as long as he could destroy the Wards.

Chapter 23 – 6th of Rege – 3:00 AM

Finally he decided he had learned as much as he could here and set out to find Yersine's private quarters. As he quickly found out they were in the same quadrant only about a hundred feet away, on the very top floor. That was easily told by the cluster of very alert guards at an elaborate set of doors.

He was astonished that they didn't realize that Yersine was dead, and that made him nervous. Maybe he hadn't killed the man after all. But as he got closer he knew at least why they wouldn't know if Yersine was dead as he approached the shining curtain of a Ward. Or rather of Wards, like the Fortress, four of them and they were placed in positions to cover the walls and the ceilings.

If Yersine had no guards inside, those outside wouldn't have heard him die. While he had screamed, he had done so in his Astral form and it wouldn't have been audible in the normal world. He passed through the Wards by taking hold of the hilt of his dagger.

Once inside he was very cautious as he looked around but he relaxed a bit with supreme satisfaction as he located the body of Yersine lying on bed, and could tell with his Perception that he was really dead and that there were no guards inside.

Just be to absolutely sure he joined his Empathy and Perception once more to search for hidden Artefacts of Power that might be casting an illusion of Yersine being dead, but could locate none. There was no horror in him as he drifted through the door into Yersine's bedroom and looked down at the dead body of the Great Mage. Only contempt and jubilation.

Yersine had a bunch of books and papers on the bed beside, and Symin looked glanced through with curiosity, and then he laughed in triumph. Right on the bottom of the pile he could Perceive what he had come here to find.

Sitting on the bed, ignoring Yersine's body he began to go through the book, page by page, memorizing the names he found. The first name in the book was identical with the list he had been shown in Rendar's tent except it also included the price he had paid for Terrion and the boy's degree of relationship with his father.

Terrion Wymark, only legimate son, Count of Wymark 8 1/2 - Rendar, Duke Royal, Duke of Farlei 1600 golds.

His Perception going deeper and deeper as he read each page.

In total there were four hundred and seven names and there were five additional noble children that the two governments didn't know about. One hundred and twenty-three were in the Fortress and a further two hundred and eighty-four, forty-five of whom were of noble families, were outside.

Finished he stood up and walked toward the outside wall and right through it holding onto his dagger to pass through Yersine's personal wards, and then through the Fortress Ward. Once outside the Wards he felt for the strand that would lead him back to Karliv and just let go, his body instantly in the tent. There were twelve additional men and women in the room and Symin assumed they were army scribes.

Chapter 24 – 6th of Rege – 4:00 AM

He saw Karliv begin to spin around as he began to materialize but then his attention was caught by a scale model which had been placed on a table. Exquisitely made, his artist's soul loved it on sight, and the warrior's soul which possessed him at the moment was highly appreciative.

He walked over to it and when he was joined by Karliv, Rendar and Terrion and the scribes had brought out their pads and pencils he wasted no time.

There was tension now in his voice, "We're lucky. You were hoping to destroy one Ward and get your people in that way. In fact the Wards are paired." He gestured to the facing wall on the model which orientated the same way as the Fortress. He touched the right tower on the wall closest to him, "Here," on the facing wall and brought his hand over to the second tower on that same wall, "to here." Then placing his hand on the far tower. "And here to here," again moving his hand over to opposite tower on the far wall.

"The side walls are not joined, maybe you'll find some reason in his papers, if any survive after the attack." He shrugged his shoulders, "It's not going to matter very much to me. But take out one of a pair and you take out both. So it's possible to clear this whole side of the Fortress with one blow."

"The children are all located on this side as well, but there are in fact one hundred and twenty-three children not forty-eight." putting his hand on the right tower again, "They are on the second floor, twenty-seven yards or eighty-one feet from this tower, and eight yards or twenty-four feet down." he began to describe everything he had seen in great detail, to within a few inches of accuracy as was later found out comparing his figures to the actual measurement. He finished with "As far as I could tell there are no booby-traps on any of the floors from basement to the top, that they could use to kill all or some of the children.

"My Mage-sight, which allows me to see auras, show that none of the guards at present on duty are strong enough Magic Users to invoke magical booby-traps or potions. I can't guarantee that there are no magical booby-traps since I can't see magic, only auras."

He continued, the chill fingers travelling up and down his spine as his serenity was tested by what was soon to come. "You showed me earlier that you knew where twenty-two children were located and that there were an additional eighteen. In fact according to Yersin's records there are five children you don't know about."

"The twenty-three children of noble birth are as follows." and he proceeded to name each, including all of the information included in Yersine's book. Name of the child, relationship, age at time of kidnapping, who the child was sold to, the amount of the sale and the location of the buyer. "Yersine had underlined in his book that all of the noble children would be targeted for assassination if the Fortress was attacked.

"Aside from the lower class children in the Fortress there are a total of two hundred and sixty-one children. While all of those in the Fortress were kidnapped by Yersine's men, ninety-three of those outside were sold by their parents and in their cases Yersine included neither who their parents were nor where they were purchased. In fact of those remaining who were kidnapped only twenty-seven have parents mentioned, and places of origin, of the one hundred and forty-one remaining only sixty-four have places of origin filled in. Under the remaining seventy-seven names all he put for origin was Camron."

He proceeded to name them one by one, and on the odd occasion when one of the scribes asked him to repeat or spell a name he obliged with no trouble.

Karliv was simply amazed. While he had come to realize that Symin wasn't an ordinary child, he hadn't realized how much out of the ordinary he actually was. That made him even sadder as he realized that in a few hours he would die. Symin began on the names of the children in the Fortress, taking only few minutes to complete the list.

Once they were completed and checked with Symin, who until that moment hadn't realized they were divided into twelve different areas of the country, the scribes began to disappear one by one to a different Far-speaker who would pass the messages on to districts in the area he was responsible for. The noble children inevitably were at the top of the list, in this case because their deaths could still start a war that Camron and Madron had been working to avoid, and also because the leadership didn't believe that the lower class children were in any mortal danger.

There were only Karliv and Rendar and the two children, Symin and Terrion. Terrion was sitting crosslegged on the floor, elbows on his thighs, chin in hands, annoyed look on his face.

Symin sat down in front of him, crossing his legs as well, but leaning back on his hands. *Something wrong?*

Terrion looked at him shrugged his shoulders, *I was just wishing I could learn how to read. I've been trying as long as I can remember, but whenever I look at a page of writing, it looks like nothing it's supposed to look like. I was able to help tonight by sending word to the capital that they were to round up those children they knew of, but it would have been nice if I could've helped more.*

Symin invoked his Mage-sight to examine the other boy's aura. It was a cool blue much like Symin's own. Symin wondered if they could be related. While he didn't know exactly where Wymark was he knew it was somewhere in the south. Mentally he shrugged. While Terrion's aura wasn't anywhere as thick as his own, or of Karliv's, it was close to three quarters of an inch thick, and while not very active it was indicative of a fairly powerful potential.

*Get something with some printing on it. Not writing. Can you tell the difference?* Symin asked.

Terrion jumped up to do as he was bid and returned a few seconds later with a book. Symin tells him *Open it up to a page with printing on it and show it to me. It wouldn't do much good if it was in a language I couldn't read* he chuckled, unaware that both Karliv and Rendar, their duties for the moment done, were watching.

Once he was sure he could read it, *Okay, show me what you see.*

Terrion looked at him with astonishment, *That's impossible!!* he protested.

Symin chuckled, *I thought so too until last night last night. Try it.* While much smaller than Terrion, he was a year and a half older and now that he knew that he would have been able to grow if he wasn't going to die, the authority of an older boy over a younger one was evident, as Terrion obeyed.

He hadn't actually looked through either Sinya or Condee's eyes but he knew that they had done it, so he concentrated on actually entering the younger boy's mind. Then suddenly he was there and he looked at the page of type and there was absolutely nothing recognizable on the page or almost nothing, The only letter he recognized was upside down and backwards.

He whistled out loud, as he exited Terrion's mind. He put his hand on his thigh and chin on hand and closing his eyes he thought seriously. His Sense of Perception could operate like sight and in that mode, he thought that things would seem exactly the same to Terrion. But when he used pure Perception like he had done to read Yersine's book he had actually Perceived the indentation the pencil had made in the paper and his mind had interpreted those indentations as letters. With the type of printing done in his world it acted the same way, the letters were raised and the paper was forced onto them by pressure to make an indentation. It became more complicated when both sides of the paper were used.

At the beginning, he had seen both sides at once. It had almost driven him crazy the first couple of months until he learned how to concentrate completely on only one side at a time. But he had learned how to read before he had become blind and he had had to readjust to the new way of reading.

Also once his Perception had manifested itself using the Stone of Perception, he hadn't been able to turn it off. It was on all the time and he had no intention of ever finding out if he could lock it away like he did his Empathy. If he was here in his physical body he could have created and Tuned an Artefact of Perception, and since Terrion was a Magic User he could turn it on and off at will.

But he wasn't here physically. He sat up straight. He wasn't here physically but he could connect with Terrion's mind. Could he Tune a mind. He was pretty sure he could, and he certainly didn't intend to try without Terrion's permission, the thought of doing so by force made him feel ill despite his body not being there to actually be ill.

He opened his eyes, and spoke directly to Karliv only, *Karliv, is it possible to Tune a mind?*

*Yes, it is, and that's one of the things in my father's book that is deliberately misleading.* Karliv said with a smile in his mind voice. *And it's an ability that only the most trustworthy of Magic Users should be allowed to know about. But you have proved yourself worthy of that type of trust.*

*Could you supervise such a use of magic?* Symin continued.

*I can and I have done so on several occasions.* Karliv answered seriously.

*Is there any danger involved?* Symin asked.

*There shouldn't be,* Karliv answered, *I'm a Great Mage and have been one for many years and it should be completely safe, but there is was no guarantee when dealing with magic.*

Symin looked directly at Terrion, "I have thought of a way that might allow you to learn to read.

*How?!!!!* mind-yelled an excited Terrion. The other three winced at they had done earlier.

"Not so loud. I'm a Tuner. That's one of my talents and Karliv confirmed that it's possible to Tune a mind and that he can supervise the proceedings. He also said that while it shouldn't be dangerous, there are never any guarantees with magic." Symin explained.

Terrion was a little more in control this time when he Mind-spoke. *How?* he asked again.

"I'm blind and have been for the last ten months, but I have a magical ability called Perception, that allows me to Perceive things. It's not as good as sight, in some ways since it has a limited range, with me anything over forty yards is dark, and in other ways it's much superior. I can Tune a portion of your mind to Perceive things, not see them. I don't intend to make it very strong and you'll be able to turn it on and off at will. When it's on you won't see a page of writing, you will feel it. That way the letters on the page should maintain their real shape and with some effort, you'll be able to learn to read.

Terrion had tears in his eyes. He looked at Rendar, *Please?*

The man knowing how much the boy wanted to be able to read nodded, a little reluctantly. He trusted Karliv but there was that qualifier on the possibility of danger.

Permission given, Terrion looked at Symin, his Mind-speech just a whisper this time, *Please?!!!"

"I'll have to enter your mind again and I don't know if it'll be unpleasant or not," Symin warned.

*I don't care!!!* Terrion spoke passionately.

Symin looked at Karliv, "I'll join with you first and then with Terrion."

Karliv simply nodded, as Symin closed his eyes in concentration, *Ready!* he said and he felt the Mage join with him, not fully, but enough so that he could watch and intervene if necessary. Symin thrust his mind gently at Terrion and felt his mind enter the other boy's. He began looking around for a piece that contained nothing and would therefore be appropriate. Finally he found what he was looking for and carefully and slowly, allowing Karliv to examine each step before he proceeded to the next.

Symin remembered back to those stones he had Attuned to himself and with a slight twist of his mind, performed the same operation on the piece of Terrion's mind that he had chosen, though it was a little more complex than those had been, because not only was he placing a strictly limited Sense of Perception he was also placing the ability to control it. Then he drew back and watched it for a few minutes to make sure it was stable, and when both he and Karliv were satisfied they withdrew and then separated.

Symin opened his eyes and looked at Terrion, who had an unsure look on his face and was chewing on his lower lip. *Well what did it feel like.*

Terrion answered, *It felt like something snapped into place!*

*That's good,* replied Symin, *that's pretty well the way it works with me as well. I left it in the on position so I'll join you again when you open the book.*

Again he entered Terrion's mind, and the feeling was now much more familiar, as Perception not sight but as he looked beyond the imposed limits which was only a couple of feet normal sight took over for Terrion, unlike for Symin. *Okay, try the book again.*

Terrion's hands were trembling as he obeyed. Symin could instantly see that it had worked. He could see a normal page of type. He could feel the wonder in Terrion's mind both through his mind directly and through his Empathy, as he realized the same thing. Symin began to withdraw at that point, closing any vulnerable points in the boy's mind.

Terrion would be able to Mind-speak as he normally would, but no one would ever again enter his mind without his express permission.

Terrion knuckled tears of gratitude out of his eyes, and then as he began to move, Symin was suddenly on his feet and five feet further away than he had been. "Don't be silly," said Symin, hands on his hips. "I'm not here physically, in fact Rendar is the only one that is, if you want to jump on someone jump on him."

Terrion's mouth was in an O of surprise, and though he was unaware of it both Rendar and Karliv, especially Karliv, were equally surprised. Karliv was aware that unless actually travelling or levitating that you could only move as fast in your Astral form as you could in your normal body.

Rendar's surprise was interrupted as Terrion did indeed jump into his lap, and began to shed happy tears. He gently strokes the boy's bare back.

Chapter 25 – 6th of Rege – 5:00 AM

Symin was worried and he was pacing back and forth. Karliv had left soon after Symin had given the gift of Perception to Terrion.

Rendar was calm, still holding a now sleeping Terrion on his lap, though he found it a bit disconcerting that Symin was ignoring the furniture in the tent and walking right through it.

Suddenly the boy stopped pacing and cocked his head as though listening, which he was, though to his Empathy, not his ears. The soldiers, he had been aware of in the back of his mind were beginning to move. They were heading toward the tent and past that to the Fortress. There was anger, hatred and satisfaction all directed at the Fortress. They were moving as quickly as the dark would allow.

Karliv and a man dressed in armor and fully armed entered the tent. The man in armor gave a salute to Rendar who simply nodded.

"We're moving forward now, Duke Rendar, by the time it's light we'll be ready for the first assault on the facing wall."

Karliv was next, "All of the messages have gone out and been acknowledged. Several Great Mages who specialize in Mind-speech have taken up position and are ready to block any Far-speakers from getting messages through. The other Mages, both Lesser and Great are ready to attack the moment the Wards go down. As Symin suggested quick acting and quick spreading sleeping potions have been prepared and will be transported into the cells. And Mages with Astral Spirits will follow right after in case the potions aren't completely effective, and to protect against other Mages in Astral form.

"We're extremely lucky, in that, Yersine would never trust other Great Mages in the Fortress with him, so we will only be faced with Lesser Mages." He turned to Symin, who was still now, the anxiety gone, his face completely calm. "Are you ready?"

"I've been waiting," Symin said simply. He held out his hand, "Take me to the barrier, please."

Karliv took the offered hand and as they faded out, gave the boy's hand a reassuring squeeze which Symin returned, and then they were moving. In less than a second, they were in front of the Ward, the barrier shining brightly in front of them.

He let go of Symin's hand and he felt him rise in the air, and then his presence was gone as he penetrated the ward. Symin, forty-five feet above him, was almost at the Ward tower. Soaring above it he landed on the top of the tower, in the middle. Drawing his dagger, he began to approach the Ward stone, which was close to the wall of the tower. Suddenly his Empathy revealed a presence behind him, and he whirled in the direction the emotional energy was coming from.

He realized that there was a guard on the Ward stone. A Mage in Astral form. He could feel the power rising for a Mind-blast, but he struck first. His dagger which had drunk of Yersine's power earlier and had not been fully purged expelled the surge of a Mind-blast at the invisible target. As always when using the dagger, the Mind-blast was visible to the naked eye and, worried that it would trigger an alarm, he whirled back toward the Ward stone, lunging for it, and slipped. Instead of the dagger, piercing the stone to release its energy as planned, his immaterial hand went into the Ward stone in its place.

On his knees, both knowledge and power began to slip into the boy. In a flash, he knew how to turn off the Ward stone, and he did so instantly. The translucent curtain of the Ward was gone. He was too preoccupied with what he was doing to take in right away that he had actually survived. He got to his feet and tried to withdraw his hand from the Ward stone but it would not come. He was able to move his hand around, but he couldn't remove it from the stone. Materializing he mind-yelled, *Karliv!! Help!!*

The man jerked up straight, when the Ward had gone down he had assumed that Symin was dead and he was already starting to grieve.

He launched himself into the air toward the tower. As he landed on the tower, he materialized. He looked with astonishment at the boy standing with his hand trapped up the wrist in the Ward stone.

"What in the Gods name happened," he demanded.

Symin explained, "But what am I going to do now. I'm stuck and I can feel the power slowly coursing through me."

Karliv invoked Mage-sight to look at the boy's aura and he could see that it was still partly blue which was its normal color and part orange which was the aura color that Diamond Obsidian gave off.

"Why don't you use Mind-blasts like you usually do?" Karliv asked with curiousity, wondering why the boy was so hesitant.

"I thought of that," explained Symin, "but normal Mind-blasts won't release enough energy and if I use the dagger the Mind-blasts are visible and with the amount of energy from the two stones that I have to release it'll light up the sky and reveal your advancing army before daylight comes. I don't want to do that."

"Do it anyway," smiled Karliv coldly, "If they see our army that'll bring soldiers onto the top of the wall. When that happens sweep the top of the walls. If you're careful, the only damage will be to the top of the wall and the soldiers on it. It'll help the army rather than hurt them. I'll inform the army brass about what you're going to do. Once you've drained the stones, or partially drained them, you should be able to remove your hand."

Symin smiled at that, his smile as cold as Karliv's was. He had no problem with that not after seeing how the cells were set up and deducing why the lower class children were in the cells.

Chapter 26 – 6th of Rege – 5:30 AM

It had taken a little while to get the information to the proper authorities and Symin was very uncomfortable. The Ward stone was pulsing and so was he and there was some pain, but it wasn't severe, yet. And though they weren't aware of it, Symin's physical body at the Ascalon castle was also pulsing. Finally Karliv nodded at Symin, "Everything's all set."

"Okay, I'm past ready, but I think you had better get out of here. We don't know how this type of energy will affect an Astral form." Symin said, strain in his voice.

Karliv only nodded and abruptly disappeared. Symin drew his dagger and pointing it at the sky released the first Mind-blast and dark turned into light. It was a weird orangey light but it revealed to those on watch the approaching army and the alarm was sounded. Blast after blast of light went straight up into the air.

And then the top of the Fortress walls were crowded with men.

Coldly he watched them, not conscious of the fact that three things were happening, the area his Perception covered was expanding rapidly, that his immaterial body was pulsing and that his physical body was doing the same thing. Sinya at the Ascalon castle was trying to contact Karliv but the Great Mages placed to prevent Far-speakers from sending out messages were also stopping messages from coming in.

Then the Mind-blasts which had been sent harmlessly into the air were sweeping the battlements of the Fortress and the battlements just disappeared taking the men and women who were manning them, with them. It swept along the facing wall of the Fortress and then the two side walls as far as the Wards which also flashed a brilliant orange as the Mind-blasts impacted them and were halted.

The Fortress's people retreated behind the still intact Wards and watched helplessly as the rest of the Fortress was occupied almost bloodlessly by the Madron army, their victory lighted by the now continuous blasts of light sent into the air. After almost a half hour of continuous blasts the stones were finally drained far enough to let go of Symin's Astral form.

They let go suddenly and Symin's fell backward landing on the stones of the tower top, his body both Astrally and physically pulsing faster and faster. Until suddenly the pulsing stopped as his Astral and physical bodies merged again, six hundred miles from their origin in the Ascalon castle, deep in the heart of Madron northern province.

So, Yersine's people and the Madron army each occupied one side of the Fortress eyeing each other uneasily, as Symin was lying unconscious on the tower top.

Chapter 27 – 6th of Rege – 10:00 AM

Symin went from being asleep to completely awake in only a few seconds. He knew that loss of consciousness in Astral form would have returned him to the Ascalon castle, since he was in Rendar's tent he had to be there physically. Terrion was over in one corner sitting crosslegged on the floor slate in hand, the delight in his mind, very evident to Symin's Empathy, as he was actually copying letters with chalk on the board.

An Elf Symin had never seen before, was sitting looking at him, on the cot. While blond-haired, his resemblance to Karliv was striking and the boy instantly knew who he was.

The boy opened his eyes, and he raised his arms above his head stretching carefully. There was a little stiffness but no pain. He sat up slowly and swung his legs over the side of the cot. He nodded at the Elf, "You must be Kraftin?" he stated, "If I have to be stuck in Madron, it's nice to have a relative around."

Kraftin was appreciative of the calm and intelligence in the boy's face, and the instant realization of what must have happened, even though it was supposed to be impossible. He bowed his head in the boy's direction, "It is also a delight to meet such a courageous and intelligent member of the family. I've been looking at your aura. I've never seen anything like it before."

Symin invoked his Mage-sight, and he realized what Kraftin meant. His aura had expanded again, only about a half-inch. But it was different now. The inner two inches was the normal cool blue it had always been, but the outer half-inch was now a light orange, and the two colors did not shade into each other either, there was an abrupt transition from one color to the other. If Mage-sight was actually a function of sight only the orange would have been visible, but Mage-sight in fact was a function of Perception and both colors were clearly delineated. And the activity as indicated by the threads of light, was much more intense than it had been, only a few days before.

He banished his Mage-sight and looked at Kraftin again, "Interesting, and according to your book, both my presence here and the way my aura has changed should be impossible."

"It seems that you and your God-blade specialize in the impossible, and I think that's the key. You possess a God-blade and that puts you outside the bounds of magic as we are familiar with, and whenever you use it in situations like this morning, you and the dagger change, sometimes a little bit but in this case and in others, drastic changes have occurred."

Kraftin's comment, reminded Symin about the situation that was taking place. He asked, "What's been taking place in the Fortress?" He winced, eyes widening with apprehension, before he continued, "and what about the other pair of Wards?"

Kraftin nodded, and took a moment to collect his thoughts, "There were less than a fifth of the soldiers left after you swept the top of the walls and no officers. Those on the other walls were moving toward the facing wall to reinforce it, the officers in the lead, and all of the officers and many of the soldiers were also caught in your sweep. Mostly what were remaining were servants and slaves, and Rendar decided to offer the remaining soldiers a chance to surrender, declaring a general amnesty to those remaining, the only exceptions were those who were found to have committed serious crimes."

"The amnesty was accepted and surrender occurred at eight o'clock this morning. There was only two Mages left alive. Again most of them were on the facing wall waiting for the attack. The two Lesser Mages that survived were guarding the Ward stones. The reason that the surviving pair of Ward stones weren't joined to the other pair was because they are not Diamond Obsidian stones. They are of obsidian only, and whatever was decided to do about them can be done by a Great Mage without any problems."

Symin sighed with relief, and Kraftin smiled with understanding, "Rendar would like you to destroy the pair of Diamond Obsidian stones that you drained this morning to make sure they can't fall into anybody's hands. The King doesn't trust anyone to take possession of them."

Symin had absently been looking at the area outside of the tent as well as that inside and he spotted a familiar figure. "Rendar is approaching the tent, he should be here in a short time."

Terrion, who had been completely focused on the slate in his hands, caught the reference to Rendar and putting down the slate, jumped to his feet, and was waiting at the opening of the tent for Rendar when he entered. The man was carrying a small package in his right hand and there was a feeling of joy in his mind.

He put his hand around Terrion shoulder and drew him over to the desk and sat down. Putting the package on the desk, he took from around his neck a chain on which was a small silver key. Symin could feel the joy suddenly explode in Terrion.

Calmly, but with restrained emotion in his voice, Rendar said, "Lift up your chin, Terry."

The boy did so, his hands clenching and unclenching in his excitement. Rendar placed the key in the tiny keyhole of the slave collar and turned it. The Compulsion that had been on the collar disappeared and Symin saw the crest appear on Terrion's arm.

Rendar with an almost ritualistic air, took hold of the collar with both hands and opened it, then placed it on the desk. Terrion flung himself into his arms, crying happy tears.

After a few minutes, Rendar pushed the boy to a standing position and solemnly offered him the package he had been carrying.

Terrion wiped tears from his eyes though they still continued to slowly fall. He tore open the package. Not much, it might be said, since it was only a small piece of clothing, but the light green short trousers in the package were as much a symbol of his changed status as the removal of the slave collar had been, since those who wore slave collars were forbidden by law to wear clothing.

Rendar helped Terrion put them on and then the boy was back in his arms again, the flood of happy tears on his face. Symin looked at the two, a deep satisfaction in his mind, and a little bit of envy, only Minna had ever given him the type of comfort that Terrion was getting from Rendar's hug.

Abruptly, feeling he was intruding on their happiness he turned to Kraftin, "Let's go for a walk."

He was surprised when Kraftin offered him his hand but he gladly accepted. They went out the tent's entrance into the open air. The tent was pitched on a patch of grass, and some of the army were also around but the bulk of it was much closer to the Fortress, so Symin's Empathy wasn't inundated with emotion as it might have been.

He was paying particular attention to what was underfoot, he wasn't accustomed to going barefoot and he hadn't bothered to put on sandals the night before. He hadn't expected to be here physically. He stopped suddenly. He had just realized that his Perception had changed.

Kraftin asked, "Something wrong?"

Symin shook his head, "No. I just realized that my Perception has changed again. A few days ago it only covered about twenty yards now it's more like two hundred yards."

"All of your abilities have probably increased in a similar manner," said Kraftin seriously. "From the amount of energy you channeled through your body it’s bound to have a profound impact. I've been talking to Karliv through Sinya, and he agrees with me."

"Where is Karliv, anyway?" Symin asked curiously.

"His Astral Spirit may be his specialty but out of necessity he strained all of his abilities, and it'll be a couple of weeks at least before he'll even start to approach normalcy. He doesn't even have access to the bond that exists between our family members and he's had to use Sinya to relay any information. He tells me that he informed your family of your unforeseen relocation and that you're fine and it'll only be a matter of time before you get home.

"That's about all he can do from his end for the time being, though he says both of the Princes plan to stay where they are for the moment. Rendar tells me that they've been rounding up the kidnapped children. He says that they have been moving very quickly on that and even though it's only been a few hours, they had a large number of people in place and most of the children are already accounted for."

Symin was listening, but at the same time he began to feel uneasy. He turned to look toward the Fortress though it was far beyond even his expanded Perception. "You said that Rendar wanted me to take care of the pair of Ward stones that I drained. We are going to do it! Right now!!"

Kraftin was struck by that strange air of complete authority that Symin showed and that he had evinced at times, to others, in the past. He was over one hundred and forty years old and an extensive traveller and only on a few occasions and in a few people had he observed that complete feeling of authority that Symin was now projecting.

He stopped one of the people that were passing by, this one a fairly high ranking officer, and obviously one he knew, "Wendel, have someone get four horses ready and have them brought to Rendar's tent within fifteen minutes."

The man gave Kraftin a salute, "Certainly, sir." and he turned around heading in the opposite direction from which he had been going, as Kraftin and Symin headed back to Rendar's tent. They had only been gone for about ten minutes and Terrion was no longer crying in Rendar's arms but was sitting on his lap and they were obviously conversing seriously, though in the silence of Mind-speech.

Chapter 28 – 6th of Rege – 10:30 AM

They looked up as the man and boy entered, Kraftin said abruptly, "Symin wants to go to the Fortress now and take care of the Ward stones."

There was a steely look of determination on Symin's face seemingly incongruous with his age, "Right now!!" still showing that air of complete authority. In Rendar's case, he was only familiar with his present King, and his cousin Carlinn as ones who showed that type of authority.

Rendar didn't hesitate, he put Terrion of the floor and stood up. "Terry get Symin a pair of your sandals."

Obediently Terrion went into a corner of the tent and dug into a bag bringing out another pair of sandals. Symin sat on the floor, to put them on then jumped to his feet feeling an increasing sense of urgency. He strode out of the tent and two men were just approaching each leading two saddled horses.

He took the reins of the smallest of the horses and ordered, "Help me up." The man, accustomed to obeying authority, obeyed instantly virtually throwing Symin into the saddle. Not waiting for the stirrups to be adjusted Symin headed for the Fortress.

It had been raining on and on all morning. The rain had stopped, but the clouds in the sky were getting darker and more ominous. The others caught up with him halfway to the Fortress. Rendar pulled up beside Symin. The boy looked at him, "Start an evacuation of the Fortress as soon as we get there." That strange authority was still with the boy and Rendar didn't question him on that point, simply asked, "How much time do we have?"

Symin looked up at the sky, which he couldn't possibly see, and said, "It's not urgent. As soon as possible. But They're getting impatient."

Rendar didn't ask who They were. He didn't think he would like the answer. When they were about a hundred yards away from the Fortress gates, Symin stopped and dismounted. Rendar continued on to the Fortress gates. He looked at Kraftin, "Will you please go with me?" The man simply nodded. Symin looked next at Terrion who had also dismounted. "Terry you stay here."

When the boy pouted and looked rebellious, Symin walked over to him and took his chin in his right hand and stared him straight in the eye, repeating what he had said, with an overriding authority, "You will stay right here! Do you understand me?!!"

Terrion tried to jerk his chin away, and he was astonished at the strength in Symin's small hand. Though Terrion was small for his age, Symin was much smaller but he was obviously much stronger. Finally, he nodded acceptance. Symin released him and a tiny smile was briefly on his lips. "Don't worry. The Fortress is going to be evacuated, you'll soon be joined by others."

And in fact, as he was speaking, the first of evacuees were starting to stream out of the Fortress at Rendar's orders. As Kraftin and Symin made their way toward the gates the stream began to increase. Rendar was inside in the courtyard surrounded by officers and giving them orders.

Symin simply nodded at him as he and Kraftin passed and received a nod in return. The boy remembered where the stairs to the towers were from his early morning examination, and once inside the tower they hurried up the stairs, and as they got closer to the Ward stone Symin could feel the familiar jangle in his mind. As they reached the top of the tower, the lookouts who had been stationed there were just leaving and they passed them on the stairs to the roof of the tower.

Looking at the Diamond Obsidian Ward stone Symin invoked Mage-sight, and now that the stone was drained he was able to see it. A clear orange, the threads of magic light that would have been running through it gone as was the energy that produced them. A full eighteen inches thick, the aura quietly disappeared as the God-dagger pierced it.

"One," exclaimed Symin.

And fifteen minutes later "Two," as the second stone was pierced. They hurried back down to the courtyard and headed for the gate. Right in the center of the courtyard, Symin stopped and straining his Empathy to the utmost he searched as much of the Fortress as he could reach to make sure there were no-one left behind.

The only people he could feel were those few still around the gates. Rendar came to meet them. "How soon?"

Again Symin looked up at the sky and the menacing clouds he couldn't see. Both Rendar and Kraftin looked as well, swallowing a sudden burst of fear. In the few minutes that the evacuation had taken the clouds immediately above the Fortress had gone a deep deep black, and were roilling ominously.

"As soon as the last of the people are safe, and that I think was us." Symin said calmly, as he began to walk toward the gate, with no urgency but quickly, followed closely by the two men. They were immediately behind the last to exit and as they were about to rejoin the line of people, which gathered a hundred yards from the Fortress, Terrion darted out to take hold of Rendar's hand. He noticed that all of the horses had been moved well back.

Rendar asked anxiously, "Are we far enough away, here?"

Symin answered, calmly, "Twenty yards would probably have been far enough. The first strike will happen in... ten seconds from now." Rendar and Kraftin began to count to themselves, and as they reached ten what at first appeared to be lightning struck the wall immediately above the gate.

But it was not lightning. There was no debris, and there was no sound and the eyes weren't blinded, and a section of wall simply disappeared. That first strike signalled a multiple barrage of strikes.

When the final strike occurred fifteen minutes later every man-made or man fashioned object in the Fortress was gone, except for the single chapel actually inside and the ones on the outside huddled against the walls.

Those looking on stood transfixed, unable to believe what they could see. The stillness that seemed to last for an eternity, was finally broken by Symin, "The Gods never actively interfere in this world. They simply show us whether they approve or disapprove of certain actions that have been taken. In this case, they waited until the crisis was over to show exactly what their wishes are. They do not want a war between Madron and Camron, and they want Madron to remain united."

Chapter 29 – 8th of Rege – Late Afternoon

Supper was just over and a discussion was going on in Rendar's tent. Only Rendar, Kraftin, Terrion and Symin were present. After two days Symin was still feeling strange from the touch of the Gods who had used him as a messenger, but he was beginning to get over it.

Rendar was speaking, "About three-quarters of the lower class children rounded up so far from outside the fortress refuse to say what part of Camron they come from and who their parents are. Since we know that close to half them were actually sold by their parents, it's not surprising. They like it where they are and we can go jump off a cliff before they tell us anything. Please and thank you. It has been agreed between the two crowns that they will be allowed to stay with the families who 'bought them'. They will simply be freed if they haven't already been. Those children who wish to return to their parents will be gathered at the border crossing on the Northern road.

"Those who live close will be sent directly home and will be provided with a hundred golds each to pay for their education and those of their siblings to help them rise to another class. The families will be watched to make sure the families don't just simply take the money. The rest of the children will be sent directly to Camara, where the Crown will take charge of returning them to their parents and assuring their futures. The crested children and the other children from the Fortress will be gathered in the largest town, close to the border, and once they all arrive, they will be escorted directly to Camara. Many of the lower class children are from Camara and the surrounding areas and the same provision will be made for them as for the other lower class children. Almost all of the children of high class merchants and churchmen were kidnapped in Camara and surrounding areas. The noble children will be sent home with suitable escorts.

"Prince Carlinn plans to start back for the capital right away, but Prince Tamen has decided to remain in Ascalon, until the convoy of children has reached him and provide an additional escort to the capital. Symin, your King would like you to accompany the children all the way to the capital. He wishes to thank you in person."

Symin looked rebellious for a minute, then he shrugged his shoulders, "He is my King and he has the right to command me and expect to be obeyed."

Rendar turned to Terrion, "Terry, what was discussed has now been formalized between your King and mine. Your King will remove all parental rights your father now has over you and allow me to adopt you, and my King has agreed that the adoption will be accepted and while you won't be eligible to inherit the title of Duke Royal you will inherit all of my other estates." He took Terrion’s hand and squeezed it gently, and Symin could feel the ecstasy in both of their minds, echoed by the looks on their face.

Chapter 30 – 5th of Seld – Almost eight weeks later – Afternoon

Symin was sitting waiting outside one of the King's private audience chambers in Camara. Kraftin, who had accompanied him, was there, as was Cartan and Sinya. And most welcome to Symin, was Maxim, his face glowing with health. The door opened and several people came out. First out was Jaran Volsen, one of the kidnapped noble children and Terrion's best friend and the father Baron Volsen, then Karliv.

They were followed by Rendar with Terrion in his arms and they were hugging and kissing each other. Symin didn't even need the feeling of happiness their minds radiated to know that everything had been completed to their satisfaction.

Two men slunk out of the chamber after the others. One of them, who had an obvious resemblance to Terrion, glared at them with a venomous look before he passed out of sight. Symin could feel his palpable hatred clouding the air. *Sinya, was that man who just left Terrion's father.*

*Yes, Symin. That's the former Count of Wymark. If my sources are correct, and they generally are, the King planned to strip him of his titles and estates.* she replied.

*He hates too much, Sinya. He'll do anything he can to hurt Rendar and Terrion.* said Symin, passionately.

*Talk to Rendar. Explain your fears. I'm sure you've already thought of a solution.* she thought wryly.

Symin Mind-spoke to Rendar, not trying to direct it only at him, he was aware that both Karliv and Kraftin were listening, but he was careful to make sure Terrion couldn't hear him. *Ren, do you know any assassins?*

*No, should I?* Rendar asked happily.

*Yes, I'm afraid you should. That man hates you and he'll do anything to hurt you.* Symin commented solemnly.

*In a month, Terrion and I will be back in Divandia, and he won't be able to touch us.* Rendar replied.

*Terrion tells me that he has two little brothers he has never met that he wants to see before you return. If anything happened to them that would hurt him, and what hurts him hurts you.*

A little more soberly now, though it wasn't visible on the outside, *You're right. What do you suggest I do?* he asked, not finding it odd that he should ask an eleven year old what to do in a situation like this.

There was humor in Symin's Mind-speech now, *I'd ask Prince Tamen, if I were you. It's well known that our Royal Family has no qualms about using assassins when they think it necessary.* He felt the approval radiating from both Karliv and Kraftin. *I'm sure they know someone who will be appropriate.*

*Thank you, Symin. I'll have to tell Terrion. I know Terrion does not want revenge, but when he realizes that it is necessary to protect his little brothers he will agree.* Rendar finishes.

Seeing Prince Tamen at the door ready to usher the others in to see the King, not at all unusual in this private audience chamber, he spoke to him and arranged a meeting for a little later in the morning.

Then Prince Tamen ushered those waiting into the audience chamber and went to stand by his father. The others stopped in front of the throne and bowed deeply.

"Symin we are truly proud of you. If you were older a knighthood would be automatic, but since we can't do that at this point we will honor you by providing you with lands. They won't be large but they are intended to convey our appreciation. Giving you lands in the Ascalon area could possibly cause you problems in the future, by bringing you into conflict with other members of your family. There are few people in the far north, however, few wish to be so far from what they consider civilization. Since you are related to the Forest Elves we have therefore ceded you an estate in the far north close to the land occupied by the Forest Elves. We have talked to the Forest Elf clan leadership and they welcome you."

At that he stands up and regally strode from the room, followed by Prince Tamen. We leave Symin, still feeling astonished, surrounded by three family members, Sinya, Karliv and Kraftin and two who seems like a family members, Maxim, and Cartan.

Epilogue – 20th of Tris, 6 weeks later – The Plateau, Late Afternoon

Dimon and Maxim were happily sitting at a table set up outside, rehashing a game they had just finished, Timoh was sitting on the steps of the hut, whittling, not at all disturbed or overawed by the half a dozen exquisite carvings Symin had just finished.

Symin was sitting crosslegged on the ground, leaning back against the wall of the hut, his mind literally many miles away as he checked in, one by one with the Elven members of his family, only three he had ever actually met in person.

Finished he was about to get up when for some reason his mind wandered south and to the east, somewhat towards where he had talked to Karliv and Kraftin earlier, but not quite.

Suddenly he made contact with a mind, both familiar and unfamiliar. An astringent mind voice sounds in his mind, *It may be a hundred and twenty years but I have not forgotten and I do not want your contact.*

Symin sits up straight, knowing it has to be Avoe. Astonishment tinges his mind-voiced, *Great-grandmother?!!"

Silence though the contact has not been broken off. Then after a couple of minutes a question. *Who is this?* Curiousity now.

*I am Symin, Symin Ascalon, Deian's son. You are Avoe?* he finished with a question, that was more of a statement.

Silence again as his new contact ingests the information. Then, *I welcome you, Symin.* There was unreserved joy now, but also sorrow behind the joy. Realizing that his obvious youth had fooled her into thinking that he was less sensitive than he actually was and he had picked up on her sorrow. *I have sorrow not because you exist, Symin, but because I know that if you exist then Deian has left this world behind her and has gone on to the next. I knew that it would occur if she insisted on having a child, yet her religion and mine demanded that she have a child. I just could not be present when it happened. That's why I did not go north when she and my husband did.*

*If I had to do it over again, it would be different, I would have accompanied them and would have known you from birth as I should. But I must not regret the past. Now that we are in communication we will be perhaps be able to make up for that past as we converse. If I had gone north I would not be who I am today.* she said, both with regret yet at the same time with resignation and happiness.

*???* from Symin.

*I am the Chief Priestess of the Mother-goddess in Temple-city in Madron, little one.*