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Boy in the Painting

Geraldle

Copyright (c) 2002

Prologue

"The traitor in the rebel camp informed you that the boy would be used as a messenger to some of the town rebels. You arranged to acquire the boy so that he could be blamed for being the suspected traitor in the rebel camp. That need not change. If he suddenly appears in your entourage as a page, richly dressed and apparently in your complete confidence, and allowed the run of the Palace, those who thought they witnessed him talking, will have their impression reinforced. At the same time, if you gather in those rebels in the town, what else will people think but that he betrayed them?" said Mafius. "I'm sorry I was unable to get the boy too talk in front of witnesses. With magic I was able to make them think he did so, and did so willingly." apologized his sorcerer, Mafius. "While his magic isn't particularly powerful, his strength of will is one of the strongest of any person I have ever questioned."

"With a little judicious magic I can tie him undetectably into the Palace wards, and to you, so that he cannot leave the Palace grounds unless he is in your presence. I can also arrange it so that he will be unable to tell about anything that he learns while he is in your presence, or to do you any harm. You will have the perfect confidant. Unable to run, unable to talk to anybody else and you will know exactly what he feels for you without having to guess. Complete hatred."

Mendes stoked his long gray beard. "That does have a certain appeal." he sighed, "Someone I can talk to freely, without having to worry about what he thinks. Someone who has nothing he wants of me, except my death."

He looked broodingly at the sorcerer. "I know you have your own agenda, make sure that when you work your magic, you don't try to make the boy your spy. I have enough magic, with the help of the Palace wards, that I will be able to detect any attempt to do so. Go and perform your magic on the boy."

The sorcerer bowed his way out of the King's presence.

ONE

The King, who had been pacing back and forth, stopped and looked down at the blond haired, green-eyed little boy who had a solemn look on his small face. "It's ironic isn't it, little one. You start off hating me, now you are probably the only one who no longer does. Very soon, it will not matter. The Wizard Servius's attack on the Palace wards will soon have them down to the point where they can attack, and then the final battle will begin. You, the only innocent in the Palace, will suffer the most. You cannot fight your own people, and among the magic Mafius wove around you was the inability to kill yourself, so it is likely that they will take you alive, and the web that Mafius and I have woven so tightly around you will close."

"To hide the real traitor, we made sure that Verren hated you, and then the one we were hiding turned his back on us when he saw that the rebellion could actually succeed. The only satisfaction I have is, knowing that he died fighting in battle, so he can not benefit from his double treachery. Neither side has ever been very lenient with traitors and your age will not save you. If Mafius hadn't disappeared, he could release you from your silence, so you could tell that you didn't betray your people."

Ryn said regretfully, "Whether I was released from my silence or not wouldn't matter Your Majesty. I figured out who the traitor had to be even before you mentioned it, so I can talk about it, but I can't use that information. Vetry was loved and respected. Verren is respected, but it wouldn't take much for others to challenge him. Revealing that his brother was a traitor could very well start a civil war between the various factions. In five years, I don't think it will matter, Verren will have a firm grip on the country, what his brother did in the past will have no importance. My death is a small price to pay to ensure peace."

"My rank requires that I be imprisoned in the Palace, and the executions of those of high rank, will also occur on Palace grounds. It is unlikely that they will have any reason to transport me away from here, so they will unlikely ever to discover that I can't leave the Palace grounds. That's the only thing that might make them suspicious."

TWO

It hurt even though I knew it had to be this way, to be ignored by people I had known for years. Well almost ignored. Aside from "Imprison him in the tower, looking down on the courtyard." in a very cold voice from Verren, nobody had said a word to me in over two months. Not even those who brought my food and emptied my chamberpot.

The reason for looking down on the courtyard. Well that was where the executions were being held, and Verren wanted me to know what my fate was going to be. Some had been simple beheadings or hangings, grotesque enough, but others had been horrific. Those I had forced myself to watch, despite the weakness it gave me, knowing that it was unlikely that a simple death would be my destiny.

He had trusted few people and had been at ease with even fewer. I was one of his few trusted confidant's, mainly because I was only ten years old, and could hardly be expected to betray him. But that's exactly what it appeared I had done. He would not forgive me, and my death was likely to be drawn out.

THREE

Only one execution had occurred today, a simple hanging. The body was swaying in the wind, and it would remain there until nightfall. This had been the first one in more than a week. Soon Verren would come home after rooting out those who had betrayed the Kingdom into Mendes's hands, and it would be my turn. He had been saving me for last. The ultimate traitor. I could not say I wasn't afraid, because I was, terribly afraid.

It was about mid-afternoon when I heard the door of my room being unlocked, and my door swung wide. Severus entered accompanied by his Danie guards. They both scowled at me when I didn't get up to show respect to him. I asked him brusquely, "Why have you come? We went over this two months ago."

He gestured at the door, and I realized that he was reminding me of my guard. I switched to high Danie, feeling a little amusement, when his personal guards stared at me. "That was careless of me, I can only say that I'm not thinking very well after being cooped up in here for so long."

"I told you at the beginning, that I could think of no other way to protect you from a traitor's death without revealing the truth. I respected the fact that you chose to put the country above your own life. I agreed that if they knew the King's brother was the actual traitor, there are half a dozen who would fight Verren for the throne. Our country would end up in worse shape than it ever was under Mendes's rule." I just nodded, I could see his guards looking at him with astonishment as he went on.

"I have been examining the Palace wards lately and I've found that they are somewhat weaker than they should be. Looking carefully I find that there is a path that should not be there and it leads directly to you." he said. In our original talk that fact hadn't come up, it hadn't seemed important.

"Mafius tied me into the Palace wards and to King Mendes, so that I couldn't leave the grounds unless I accompanied the King. Now that he's dead, I am locked into the grounds."

"Much more than that, Ryn. I don't know how Mafius did it but he made you a keystone to the wards. The important keystone. The original keystone is unaffected, and protected by very powerful magic. But you are not. Whatever happens to you, correspondingly happens to the wards. You have spent two months cooped up here, so you are not in the best of condition, and the wards reflect that. If you were to die, the wards would be destroyed."

I looked at him in astonishment. I didn't ask him if he was sure. Of course he was sure, or he wouldn't be saying it. "Of course that means that Verren may try you and pronounce sentence, but that sentence can't be carried out, until or unless you can be separated from the wards. Since I don't know how it was done I certainly can't reverse it, and my power is waning, and what power remains is all that is keeping me alive. I will not live more than another year, if that. I have no time to find a solution."

"I intend to release you and I will assign my guards to you, two during the day and two at night, and their job is to keep your former friends from sticking a knife in you, or even something minor, such as a beating. You will be ignored by all of the people in the Palace because they won't dare be seen talking to you, unless specifically ordered to."

"You are going home to die, aren't you Grandfather? That's the only reason you would dispense with the guards the Griffin assigned to you. You have the arrogance of most of our people, volunteering someone without even asking, them. Are you sure that they want to stay here, they have been gone much longer than is normal. I will not accept them without their agreement." I told him.

He looked at me with amusement. "No wonder the Griffin exiled you, you do not think like a Danie. They would not even dream of questioning my right to assign their services."

"You raised your daughter, Grandfather, and you did not raise her as a typical Danie, why would you think she would raise me as one?" He turned to his Danie guards. After the initial shocks their faces had gone back to the usual expressionless face of a Danie bodyguard.

"My grandson will not accept my transferring your allegiance to him, without your permission." The one who acted as their leader took a quick look at the other.

"If he is not guilty, Your Reverence, and Vetry is the traitor, it would indeed start a civil war. If he is willing to give his life to prevent that from happening, why do you feel you must interfere?" he asked with respect.

"Among our people, a shaman puts up a ward around the village, usually with the help of his apprentices. That ward is keyed to the shaman. The ward that encloses this Palace and is independent of people because it is much too powerful to be controlled by one person. Instead, the power to control it is invested in a keystone, which is controlled by the legitimate King and his family. Mendes as a distant cousin could partially control it. But only partially. That was how I was able to force the ward to open to me, using the connection to the rightful King's family, Verren and his cousins. Mafius, Mendes's sorcerer somehow made Ryn the keystone. I presume by accident. If he did it on purpose he would have been much stronger than I, and wouldn't have had to run."

"Now in spite of internal strife, those countries around us who covet our territories never attacked because there was no way to get by the ward of the Palace and the city. It closes off the valley and cuts off three-quarters of the country from the rest of the world. No one would dare try to get through the mountains, because of the Danie, they learned that lesson the hard way.

"Now because of his rank, Ryn must be tried by the King himself in open council. There's no way that the council will be able to keep the fact that he is now the keystone, to itself. There are too many babbling mouths."

"I am not giving my guards to you on a permanent basis, but right now you need some exercise to get back into some kind of decent shape to improve the ward. Once that happens we have to arrange for you to disappear. I have an idea about it."

FOUR

It was about a week later and I was feeling much better physically, I saw something in the glass, someone behind me, and as I turned I saw Severus in all his glory. I could see through him, so I knew that he wasn't here in person. He was in his tower, which was directly across from me, and he was in astral form.

I walked toward my cot, and sat on the edge, and offered him my single chair, "Hello, Grandfather. Have a seat. You said you had some idea to make me disappear last week, what is it?"

"I have a very, very old spell in the old tongue, and if I have translated it correctly it will make you a part of the Painting. The spell takes a certain skill to use. I have used it on a mouse and it worked successfully, and I was able to retrieve him alive, and quite unharmed. Once I have used it on you, I'll hide it and someday, someone who has the skill to use it, will find it, and release you. That may be ten years or a thousand, either way it won't matter to you, because you will be in a state of suspension, and will be unaware that time is passing."

I looked at him in astonishment. The Painting that he was talking about purported to be the history of the people who had ruled Eyesen before us. They appeared as human as we were but we could not be sure. There were oddities. Standing seven feet from the floor and reaching up a further six feet, it surrounded the whole of the Great Hall. And even a thousand years of smoke rising from the fires in the Great Fireplace had not dimmed the Painting in the slightest.

I say purported to be their history. No one knew for sure, scenes did not connect to other scenes, and everything appeared to be out of order, and it changed. A scene that one day might be on the west wall, might be on the east wall the next day, and the north wall the day after that, though that was unusual. Such changes had been documented by the Archivists, but normally changes occurred over periods of months, and not even the Archivist knew what it had looked like when our first people had walked into the Great Hall.

I asked the first question that came into my mind, "Are there any figures in the Painting that might have been put there by the spell you're talking about?"

Severus said, with sorrow, "I do not know Ryn, I might be sentencing you to thousands of years of imprisonment."

"But as you say, I have little choice in the matter, do I? Verren is returning, and one of the reasons people are so unsure of him is because of his occasional penchant for cruelty. Cruelty, which this time will be turned on me. I doubt that there will be any who care what happens to a traitor. With the wards in danger if I die we can't take any chance." I told him.

"I know that you have more magic than most people are aware of, I even considered taking you on as an apprentice. I want you to set up wards that have to be broken down by a powerful Mage. Which in this case is me. When I do break them down, you will be gone, they will probably think that Mafius helped you escape." he told me.

"I can't set up complete wards with your astral form here!" I protested, "Your magic is much more powerful than mine so there will be a hole in them!"

"Yes, but so small that only a Mage who is my peer or stronger will be able to detect it. That will allow me to get back out after I have cast the spell on you, which will put you into the Painting. I do not want to hurt Verren any more than he has already been hurt if I can help it."

"Very well, it'll take me a little while to get ready, I haven't dared use much magic since I arrived at the Palace." With effort I moved into the state of calm that was required for me to use my magic. Inside my mind I imagined four candlesticks, hanging in mid air with blood red candles at both ends. They represented each corner of the room, and the top and bottom of the candle represented the floor and the ceiling. I don't know how others did wards but this was the way I did mine. Lighting both ends of one of the candles I drew the flame to the second set then the third and then the last set, and back to the first set. When they touched the first one sheets of fire at the top and bottom and at the sides flowed together until the space inside was completely enclosed. I could see one tiny hole that was Severus magic piercing it.

I opened my eyes and the walls seemed to be covered with flame. I saw Severus looking at the ward, with amazement. He turned to look at me, "I greatly underestimated you, child, what I could have taught you if I'd realized. I've never seen a simple ward done so artistically." I shrugged. It was a ward, done artistically or not. I had one more thing I had to do. In order for it to still be there so Severus could knock it down, I had to provide a continuous source of power for it.

I thought for a moment, a simple water wheel should do the job. I pinched a bit of the flame from the candle and the ward dimmed very slightly. Directing it so it flowed from one ward to the other, in a separate stream, I created a water wheel. Running the stream of fire over it, as it began to turn, I connected each of the corners to the center of the wheel, and then stepped back to see if it would work. It did so and I now had a continuous power supply and I could ignore the wards.

Sometimes magic was done with spells at other times simply with the will of the user. What I had done was the latter, the Great Magics required spells, memorized or written and said aloud. I sat on my cot as Severus pulled out a scroll. I knew a dozen things could go wrong with the spell. It was in the Old Tongue, so it had to be said in that tongue, any mispronunciation could change the way the spell acted. Since we didn't know much about the language, there would probably be dozens of words pronounced wrongly. Luckily with complex spells the mispronounced words somehow seemed to cancel each other out. To a certain extent, at any rate.

That was the main danger. Even if you knew exactly what the spell did, there was no guarantee that something might not go wrong. At close to three hundred years old Severus had been studying and using spells in the Old Tongue, for many years, however a slight difference in the way words were accented could mean the words should be pronounced in a completely different manner. Even though he had placed a mouse into the Painting and retrieved it successfully, if he pronounced one word differently it could alter the whole spell.

Basically the spell worked as it was supposed to, but from there, things went completely wrong.

FOUR

I ended up in the Painting all right, but instead of time being suspended, I was completely aware of where I was. Luckily, I was on the wall directly across from the Great Fireplace, and there were torches placed at intervals, so I didn't end up in complete darkness.

I'm not ashamed to say that I panicked at that point, which probably saved my sanity, because I inadvertently called on my ability to use my astral form. Normally as I said, I needed calm to use my magic, but this time, I was granted the ability somehow to use it even without calm, and I was suddenly standing in the Great Hall.

Not physically, as I quickly realized, but in my astral form. It was light enough in the Great Hall so that when I brought my hand up before my face I could see nothing. I wasn't inclined to panic again, since I recognized the feeling I had had several times before, since my magic first became evident just after I turned eight. I was in astral form and I was invisible, and considering it, I realized that I had better stay invisible.

I was still in danger and I could also cause danger to Severus if I appeared fully visible in astral form, just at the time when I was supposed to be disappearing from the Palace for good. I realized with sadness that I wasn't going to be able to go to Severus afterwards and demonstrate that while he had successfully put me into the Painting he hadn't suspended time for me.

I felt he had stayed on only long enough to get the throne back for Verren's family, and didn't intend to stay in this world much longer. He deserved his rest in the next world without worrying about me. I was hidden in the Painting so my life was safe, someday there would be a Mage who could get me back out when my presence couldn't hurt the Kingdom.

I didn't go up to the tower when Severus broke into my room. He was still a powerful Mage and I didn't know exactly what he could detect and what he couldn't. I was somewhat astonished at the noise that it made. I don't know if he was pretending or if he actually needed the power he used, but I heard discussion in the Great Hall that if there had been anyone still alive in that room, they would have died.

FIVE

I read a lot at night. I found something very interesting in the Book of Dragon. And no it's not about a dragon, not in this case. Dragon was a person. The founder of Eyesen, and he had been a Danie, and my ancestor on both sides of my family. In fact it told me how to get out of the Painting, but of course I could not use it.

It was about two months later, and Severus had fared badly over that period. He had lost weight and he didn't have it to lose, so he was very gaunt, and I could tell his magic was fading. I was privy to his last conversation with King Verren in the Great Hall. I no longer feared that I would be detected by Severus, so ignored him as I did the rest of the people and went about my affairs, unimportant as they were.

With a bit of a quaver in what had only a few months ago been a firm, steady voice Severus told Verren. "I intend to leave you my young friend. It is time for me to pass to the next world, and I would do it at the place of my birth." Verren's face appeared to be impassive, but I knew him well enough to see the sorrow in those dark eyes.

"I will be sorry to see you go, you have been my teacher and my friend as long as I can remember." He reached out and grasped the shaky arm in a final goodbye. Even now, he would not dream of embracing his old friend, for him that would be showing too much emotion.

"One last question, Verren. Do you really think that young Ryn was a traitor?" My heart lurched at the question.

Verren's eyes went opaque as he thought for a few minutes, and then looking around with apparent casualness. "At the time, I was too angry to think, but since he disappeared I've had time, to mull it over, and I realized that he couldn't have been the traitor. While he was in my complete confidence for almost six months, some of the information that was passed on occurred before that event happened. No I realize that he wasn't the traitor and I know who it must have been. It's just as well that he disappeared. Even if he was still here and his execution had been delayed for long enough for me to realize that he couldn't be the traitor, I would still have had him executed. It would have been his death or a possible civil war, and that couldn't be allowed."

My heart was pumping hard with joy, that Verren knew that I wasn't a traitor. Severus spoke, "I went to him in astral form the night before he disappeared. I had reason to believe that he couldn't be guilty. Since he wasn't guilty, he could have proven it with a simple truth spell. While I didn't mention a truth spell, as a minor Mage, he of course knew of it. He admitted that he couldn't tell the truth, for the very reason that you've just stated. He was willing to die in whatever manner you chose to protect the country. I will say no more except that I couldn't let that happen."

Verren gave a very rare smile then, "Thank you, my friend, that eases my mind somewhat. I hope wherever he is he's happy." I was, ecstatically happy. What I had done was right and necessary, and I was glad he knew about it.

My Grandfather left very soon after that with his Danie guards, and he never returned.

SIX

My reputation as a ghost began a couple days after Severus left. It was about eight o'clock in the morning and I was just wandering around as usual, when I could hear soft crying coming from a dark corner of the hallway I was in. It was one of the new Royal Pages, huddled in a corner. A very young Royal Page. The minimum age was generally seven, and he couldn't have been a month over seven. As I found out later, he wasn't even quite seven. He was an orphan and a ward of the Court, and he still had a month to go before his seventh birthday.

Verren had decreed that orphans of high rank, who were wards of the Court, should do something to earn their keep whenever possible. I concentrated and when I was faintly visible, I went to his aid. I hoped pretending to be a ghost wouldn't scare him. He was holding his groin, and since there was nothing around at the right level someone must have kicked him. I helped him sit up, and asked, "Are you all right, young..."

He looked at me in wonder, but there was no fear in his large gray eyes, "My name is Syndor, are you a ghost?"

"Yes," I said. He had given me his name, so I quickly took part of my name that nobody but me and my Grandfather even knew existed. "I'm Cam. What happened to you?"

He answered with obvious anger, but also with fear, "Dendre hit me a couple of times in the stomach and then kicked me in the..." he hesitated for a moment, maybe not sure of the language.

"He kicked you in the nuts." I said, dryly. He giggled, so he must be feeling a lot better.

"Yes. It hurt a lot, but it's better now." he said simply.

"How old is Dendre?" I asked him.

"He's twelve, almost thirteen and he's big for his age." Syndor said. That made me mad, I hated bullies.

"I'm afraid little page that you probably have somewhere to be, so if you're feeling better, you'd better get there, or you're liable to end up with a whipping as well." I told him.

His gray eyes went wide with alarm. "I'm supposed to go to Master Conklin, for lessons. Will he really beat me?"

"No, I know him quite well and he won't, but if you get hurt in the future, you don't have the luxury of just lying around. You'll have to make your way to Mistress Eren, and get an excuse slip, because there are plenty of men and woman who would be very prone to whip you." I told him.

He got to his feet, forgetting about me, and he headed for where he was supposed to be, walking a little awkwardly at first and then as he felt better, he began moving a little faster. I followed him, I wanted to see this Dendre.

SEVEN

There were five Royal Pages already with Conklin when Syndor rushed into the room. Conklin looked at him and the little boy froze. Conklin was a kindly man but he had a glare that a basilisk would envy. "Why are you late?" he said in a kindly tone, so at odds with his stare. Syndor relaxed a little.

"I fell and hurt myself, sir." the boy said.

"Where exactly, did you hurt yourself, Syndor?" asked Conklin.

Blushing, Syndor pointed between his legs. Conklin and the pages winced in sympathy. "Are you all right, child?"

"It still aches a little, but that all." admitted Syndor.

"Be aware that many of your teachers will not be lenient, if you're late, even if you've fallen and hurt yourself, it might very well earn you punishment or even a whipping. All right, take your seat." and the little boy did, glad that he was no longer the center of attention.

Conklin addressed them, "The King has finally taken up residence in the Palace, none of the pages from the previous reign were retained, so you are all new to the Palace, though you older ones have been pages in other places."

*****

While Conklin's instructions might have been interesting if I was going to be a page, I quickly got bored, so I went next door to the Palace library. About half of all the books were on magic or government, but the rest were mostly history and stories, so I took one down from the shelf and sat down at a table.

I snapped my fingers to produce a Mage light and I was surprised at how bright it was. Much brighter than I had ever produced before. Making a quick examination, I found that part of the power was coming from the Palace wards. My connection to them was actually giving me some extra power, though it hadn't shown up at the beginning.

Moderating the Mage light, I opened the book and began to read. I was absorbed in the story, and I didn't hear the library door being opened. I wasn't aware of Conklin and his class until Syndor said, "I wonder if that's Cam?"

Looking up, I saw one adult and six boys crowded in the wide doorway. Disgusted with myself, I flicked out my Mage light, and since I had already revealed myself, I snapped the book shut and carried it over to the shelf and put it away.

Conklin's mouth snapped shut and I saw determination on his face. I knew that look, he was going to ignore what had happened, not that it did much good, with six little boys having such a good story the tale of Cam the ghost was all over the Palace by the evening.

*****

However, I still hadn't seen Dendre, and I intended to do something about him, so I kept on following Syndor for the rest of the day. I didn't see him until bedtime. The pages all slept in one dormitory, and there were twenty-four all told. Twelve were on duty during the day, the day ending after supper at eight PM, and six, from six PM to twelve AM, then six more from twelve AM to eight AM. In a few months the number of pages would at least double.

It was spring and it was getting lighter at night, but the sun went down at around eight or a little after, and no one was going to give a bunch of pages expensive candles just so they could stay up a little later. While it was still light, they were stripping off their clothes and naked were crawling into their cots.

I saw one of the larger boys leaning over Snydor's bed, and I moved over to hear what was being said. "But Dendre, I didn't say anything, I promise, except to Cam and he's just a ghost." Syndor said urgently.

He was looking with fear at the closed fist, which the bigger boy was holding above his stomach. Me I just thought it made a nice convenient handle. It took more effort than I had ever used before, but I was able to lift him into the air, and I headed for the window. Sensibly, when it looked like Dendre was going to crash into it, one of the naked pages opened it, and I carried him outside.

In a reasonable tone of voice, I told him, "We're twenty feet above a flagstone courtyard. If I dropped you at this point, it's safe to say that you would end up with some broken bones, and if you fell in the wrong way, it could easily kill you. If I catch you or hear of you bullying anybody again, and that means pages, stableboys, servants, whatever, you'll make this trip again and I swear to you that next time I'll drop you."

I gave him a little shake, "Do you understand me, Dendre?"

I took the fact that his bladder let go at that point, as understanding, so I carried him back into the page's dorm, and set him down. He had his eyes closed tightly, and they flicked open when his bare feet touched the floor.

I ignored him then, he'd learned his lesson, or he hadn't. If he hadn't I fully intended to carry out my threat, though not from the full height, at least not the first time.

I raised my voice so that everybody in the room could hear me, "Now he lost control of his bladder, and several of you saw that. If you make fun of him, I'll take you on the same trip and see what happens. Now in bed all of you. NOW!"

In seconds all of the naked pages were in bed, and the three that were still partially dressed, were rushing to finish getting undressed and thirty seconds later, they were all in bed. Most of them with the blankets pulled up to their chins, some over their heads, however Syndor had his hands behind his head and he was smiling.

I gave him a kiss on the forehead and whispered, "Goodnight, Syndor. I can't leave the Palace grounds, but as long as you are here, I will be watching. Call me if you need my help. But don't think you can use me to bully anyone. If you try, I promise you that I'll give you a good spanking. All right?"

He accepted my threat, just nodding, and he didn't lose his smile, as he turned onto his side and pulled the covers up to his chin.

*****

Perhaps some are wondering why I never mention returning to my body, as everyone who uses their astral form must do. Well the fact is despite the fact that I shouldn't have been able to continue to survive away from my body, I could not return to it. I had tried on several occasions, and it was as if there were a barrier between the Painting and me. I think I survived only because I was as much a part of the Palace wards as I was of the Painting.

EIGHT

One of the people I had known from the time of the rebellion was Luk Pars, he was someone I had never liked or trusted, and when I encountered him skulking through the Palace corridors late one night, of course I followed him. He knocked lightly on the door of one of the lesser noble quarters, in the Palace. The man, who opened the door, saw who it was and pulled him into the room, and naturally, I went right along with them. Pars and the man in the suite by the name of Vren Ray, were involved in an interesting conspiracy.

*****

It was time for the ghost of the Palace to make his first public appearance. With my peripheral vision, I watched the food taster take a drink from the goblet, testing the new bottle of wine that had just been opened for the King and those at the head table. The King's goblet was filled first. I was watching Luk Pars and I saw the self-satisfied smirk on Pars' face. Last night I had learned he had only one magical talent, and that was the ability to transport light things and he had just transported poison into the King's goblet. I took the small silver dish, and crashed it on top of the King's metal goblet, just missing his fingers. It was very noisy, and I had intended it to be.

I had everybody's attention now, and I picked up the goblet and dish and moved it over and set it down in front of Luk. He no longer had a smirk on his face, and if you didn't know him, you might not have recognized the fear in his eyes. I kept the disk tightly on top of the goblet in case he tried to spill it, and moved it closer to him.

The King spoke with apparent humor in his voice, but there was coldness there as well. "It appears that someone or something wants you to have my goblet Luk. Why don't you have a drink?"

Luk didn't move, even knowing it had been a Royal command, not simply a request. Verren spoke again, "Guards, help Luk drink from the goblet." in a hard voice. Four guards moved in on Luk, three to hold him and one to pour the wine down his throat. I let go of the goblet then, leaving it in their capable hands, and went into one of the other rooms. When I returned, Luk was coughing and sputtering. I was satisfied that he had got enough down him that he would get very sick even if it didn't kill him.

One of the guards pointed my way. I carried the hourglass to the King and set it down in front of him. Then I turned it, once, twice, three times, and a fourth. The King said, dryly, "It seems that it will take four hours for what Luk Pars just drank to take affect. I think we may resume our meal, unless our guest considers anything else dangerous." I picked up the bottle of wine and taking his neighbor's wine goblet I poured him some and then put it in front of him.

Not too many people were very hungry, but the King had a hearty appetite, and I was proud of him. I realized that this dinner was going to become legend.

The dinner itself was long over, and we had about two hours to go, when I realized that some of the pages and some of the other children especially the younger ones were beginning to become somewhat agitated. It took me a few minutes, to realize what was wrong. It was with some amusement that I realized what the problem was. Since I considered it would add to the legend rather than detract from it, I headed for the room where I had gotten the hourglass, and returned with a piece of parchment and a quill pen and a bottle of ink.

I hope they didn't consider what I was writing momentous because they would be disappointed. I didn't bother to disguise my handwriting. As far as I knew I had never written anything he had seen.

Your Highness,

I think some of your pages and some of your younger guests could use access to a latrine.

Verren roared with laughter, when he read it. "Gaff, you and Wims take the children, including the pages, four at a time, to a latrine, where they can relieve themselves."

I could see relief on the faces of the children. It wasn't a family court, not yet at any rate, and not many had children there. Including the pages there was only about twenty children all told. They might have to hold it a little while, but not the at least two hours that had been facing them.

It relieved some of the tension that had been gathering, though it would build again, as the time come close to an end.

*****

In fact, it only took three and a half hours instead of the four that had been estimated, but then the King was almost fifty pounds heavier than Luk Pars was. I will say one thing for Luk, he never begged for mercy, but then again, if he knew there was no antidote to the poison there wouldn't have been any point, now would there? His death was very calm, at the end, his face just turned a bright blue and he just slumped down in his chair and died.

Perhaps Vren figured nobody knew about him, I don't know, but until I took the axe from the wall and buried the edge in the table with the spike pointing at him he was completely calm. At that point, he panicked, jumping up and heading for the door. If the King hadn't roared, "ALIVE!!!" he would have died without getting in a blow, but as it was he managed to injure half a dozen, none seriously.

NINE

It was after twelve and there was nobody in the Great Hall except the King, and his chief general Atides Senin. There were guards on the door but they had been instructed not to come in, and the high table was far enough that the two men couldn't be heard from there. They were talking about Vren. He hadn't given them much, before he died of an unexpected heart attack. He'd been approached at the Bull's Head Tavern, and offered a very important position in a new government, which was to replace Verren's, if he managed to assassinate him.

They discussed it for a while and then finally the King said, "Go to bed Atides, we can go round and round and round, and not come with anything, we need more information."

"Very well, Verren. At least we managed to prevent your assassination, or at least our friend whoever it was, did so. We can be thankful for that anyway. Goodnight, Highness." he said before turning and heading for the door.

I said softly, "Hello, Your Highness." making myself appear.

Verren turned to look at me. "Hello, Ryn. You're too substantial to be a ghost, so it must be your astral form. Where are you?"

I waved at the walls. "Somewhere in the Painting. I've looked and I can't find out where. The spell Servius used was an ancient spell and it was supposed to put me into the Painting with my life force suspended. It put me in the Painting, but I was fully awake. I panicked and somehow broke out in my astral form. Servius couldn't afford to let me be tried."

"When Mafius had me in his power, he couldn't get me to talk in front of the witnesses as he intended, but he used his magic so that they thought I talked, and that I talked of my free will. Mafius and the King wanted me blamed, so that Vetry would be unsuspected, and they succeeded in that, but then Vetry also betrayed them when he realized you could actually win, and then he went and got himself killed in a battle. I was apparently free, but actually I'm tied into the Palace wards, and the times I left I could only do so in the King's presence."

"Servius found out that Mafius tied me into the palace wards, but somehow inadvertently he made me the keystone. I couldn't be tried because it would have been in open council, the fact that I was now the keystone would be brought out and it would be impossible to keep it quiet. You can only protect a human to a certain degree, and it's usually possible to kill one, no matter how well they're guarded, so our enemies only had to target me, and with my death the wards would go down, and give our enemies a chance to conquer the country."

"Now only you know I'm alive. Servius' Danie guards may suspect but they don't know. They knew he was going to do something but not what. Everyone else knows me as Cam the ghost, and that is how I will remain, at least until my presence will no longer endanger your reign. You have a lot of enemies and a lot of people who are reluctant to support you. If you control your temper and the cruelty you sometimes exhibit you should be in complete control in about five years."

I considered what else to say as I watched his face. It was calm, but the temper he was so famous for was lurking just below the surface as it always was. "If you start to lose your temper or do something stupid, don't be surprised if I give you a kick in the butt, or hit you with something hard enough to knock you out."

He grinned, "I missed you, little one, you're the only one who ever dared interrupt me or step on my toe if you felt I was getting out of line. It's good to have you back."

I said with some sadness. "You'll know I'm here, but I won't talk to you again. To get this much privacy will become rarer and rarer. The pages and servants talking to Cam, will be excused. If you do so, well once might be all right, but doing it more than that people might think that you've gone over to the dark side. Goodbye my King." and I disappeared.

TEN

The pages had stripped off their clothes and simply left Syndor sitting on the bank looking longingly at the coolness of the water. That annoyed me, but I would deal with them later. First things first. I asked Syndor, "Do you want to learn how to swim?"

The blond haired little boy looked at my faintly visible form with his big gray eyes. He said, "I'd like to learn but I'm afraid of the water. The other boys don't have no patience with me."

"Well, in that case you're going to learn how to swim. You can stay afraid of the water if you want, but knowing how to swim is an important survival ability. We'll go around to the other side, it's much shallower. Come on."

He hesitated, and I bent close to him. "You go in on your own or I'll drop you in. That's how my mother taught me how to swim. When I was four she just threw me into a pool. She warned me first of course. Since she was a Mage she didn't even have to get wet to make sure that I didn't drown. If you weren't an orphan it's very likely that's how your father would have taught you how to swim as well. It's a pretty common method with small boys."

He looked at me anxiously but realizing that I meant what I said, he got up and we walked around to the other side of the pool, and he took off his clothes. I stood in the water waiting for him, though of course I couldn't feel it. I began to talk, to take his mind off of his fear. "This pond is man made, and they made two areas. The other side which is deep enough to dive and jump in and this side which is shallow enough to simply paddle in."

He stood on the bank, and dipped a toe in. He shivered, because it was still early enough that the water was cold. I said with encouragement, "You'll get used to the temperature. If you ever need the ability to swim, it's more liable to be in water that's as cold or colder than this rather than nice warm water. Where I'm standing it'll be just about up to your waist, and that's deep enough to start with."

With determination this time he walked into the water and out as far as I was. I saw him shivering. I knew I was right, and the pond I had learned to swim in, was filled by a stream flowing right out of the mountains and was much colder than this because it was the result of melted snow. When he reached me I took his outstretched hands and told him, "The first thing I want you do is take a deep breath and then go under water, completely so it's over your head. Try to count to twenty the first time."

Obediently he took a deep breath and ducked down. He didn't stay down long enough to count to twenty, five maybe and he looked at me sheepishly as he stood up again. I told him, "That's all right, it's a start, now try it again and stay down to a count of ten."

He ducked down again and this time he stayed longer, and when he popped up he was grinning. "Now again, this time to twenty." and obediently he ducked down again, and I counted to twenty before he came up again beaming with pride.

By the end of their free hour I had him swimming a few strokes and filled with happiness.

*****

I showed up in the pages dorm just as they were getting ready for bed. I banged on the gong which was used to wake them up and got their attention, and they looked at my dim form wondering why I had showed up.

Well I told them, "I'm ashamed of most of you." I said scathingly. "And this isn't particularly about Syndor though he was the one involved. You knew he couldn't swim, yet none of you bothered to take time out to help him learn."

"Cather, how often do you expect to see your family?" I asked.

The nine year old said, "We live right on the border, and they're farther away than any other noble family. I'll be lucky to see them once in two years, when they can make it to court." and there were tears in his eyes.

"Willen, you?" I pointed at an older page, an eleven year old.

"Maybe once a year. They said if possible they'd try to get here once a year." he said.

"Some of you who have family living closer you might see every six months or so, but most of you will be lucky to see them once a year. All right, if you don't see your families very often, who are your friends, who do you need to be your friends."

Cather said, "The other pages."

"Yes. The other pages, they are your second family. You've got to get along with them if you can, but even if you can't you've got to treat them like brothers. That means if the older ones know how to do something, they have to teach the younger ones. Some of you are heirs, but most of you are younger sons, and as you grow up you will become squires, and then knights. Once you become knights, unless you inherit suddenly and must take over your lands, you owe to the kingdom four years of service."

"For those of you who are younger sons, it's not uncommon to spend a lifetime in service to the Crown. For those of you in that position, then the page who might be seven years younger than you when you're fourteen, might be the knight who is at your side in a battle. If you bullied him, or if you ignore him, perhaps, he won't care quite as much that the enemy might only need a sword stroke to kill you and he'll be a little slow in blocking it."

"Does a normal person hold a grudge for maybe fifteen years? No, a normal person wouldn't, but who says the knight beside you has to be normal." I looked around at all of the pages, and I could see they were looking thoughtful, and I knew that they would talk to each other and the pages who weren't here. I was satisfied that I had at least made them think and I disappeared.

The talk did seem to work at least for the time being. Dendre of all people offered to help Snydor learn how to swim, and I must admit he was a much better teacher than I had been. Within a week the little boy was playing in the deeper part of the pool with the other boys. I ached as well, because I realized that for the very reason that I had given I would have to stay away from Snydor from now on. He would, like the others have to think of the others as his brothers and if I was around he would always be coming to me.

ELEVEN

Over the next year I stayed in the background, only appearing occasionally. The pages were the only ones close to my own age who were there all of the time, most noble families when they came to court only stayed a few weeks, and if they had children they didn't always bring them. I had cut myself off from Verren and now from the pages, because it was better for them, but it was a lonely time for me.

There were more than the pages now. Some of the older pages had become squires and other squires had come to court with their knights, and the court was getting back to what was thought of as normal, which it had been under King Mendes. Of course, many of the people were the same, which was to be expected, not all of them had been traitors. They had been in a position that they had to acknowledge the King in power, yet many of them had actually been on the rebel's side.

Verren was ruling well I thought. He had mostly outgrown his penchant for cruelty, though it surfaced once, when the young sons of a traitor lord gave themselves up. He was going to deal with them harshly, I could see, but the kick in the butt I'd told him I would give him if I ever felt it was necessary, had brought him to his senses. They were only ten and eleven years old after all. Instead of having them executed which I'm sure was his first thought, he only confiscated one-third of their properties and confined them to their estates for two years.

Seeing the leniency that he gave to the two boys, many of the children of traitors began to turn themselves in, and seeing that the people approved of his leniency, he had remained lenient, and the countries wounds began to heal. It was just in time, because at the end of the second year we were suddenly at war as Mafius showed his face again.

The outbreak of war was signaled by the destruction of the ward keystone which should have destroyed the wards around the Palace, which of course they didn't since I was now the keystone. Obviously the keystone had been sabotaged with magic and timed to self-destruct after two years.

We had warning of the army approaching and the gates were closed and the walls of both the Palace and the city were manned. Mafius finding that the destruction of the keystone hadn't brought down the wards began to put pressure on the wards and on me directly.

I showed up in Verren's apartment in the morning, where he was meeting with his people and I whispered in his ear, "I must talk to you, Verren, in private."

He looked doubtful but finally did as I asked and dismissed those present. For the first time I appeared to him as solidly as the astral form would let me. I bowed to him formally. "King Verren, it is time to reveal your brother's treachery. You have no choice, Mafius is putting pressure on the wards and therefore directly on me. No human who isn't his equal, can withstand the pressure he is putting on me. I must get out of the Painting and transfer the power that makes me a keystone, to a new keystone."

"There is still danger, but you've gotten control of the country much more quickly than I thought you would." I told.

He said wryly, "That's because of the kick in the rump you gave me, when I was judging Teren's children. By being lenient with them, it healed the country much faster than I would have believed possible. As you say there is still danger, but right now there is far more danger of the ward being destroyed. The army would go right through the Palace and the city and into the main part of the country."

"All right, Your Highness. You were willing to do this even though you thought it was Vetry who betrayed you." I saw his hard brown eyes fix on me, and there was a question on his face. "Just as it couldn't have been me who betrayed you, because some of the things happened before I was in your confidence, it couldn't be Vetry because one thing happened after I joined you that Vetry didn't know anything about. He didn't know about my trip to the city. He was in the north, three days ride away, when I left."

"But you were captured four days later, Ryn." he protested, "and he was back by then."

"No Verren, I was captured two days earlier than that. Mafius didn't reveal he had me, not even to Mendes until after Vetry had a chance to return. I didn't know about that fact until very recently when two of your men were talking about it. They were talking about my being captured in the city four days after I left the camp. I was captured two days before I reached the city, while still on the road. Verren, he's a great Mage and I'm a minor Mage, do you think he couldn't have gotten me to talk if he had really wanted me to. He lied to King Mendes and I didn't even realize it, because I didn't realize that you thought I was captured days later than I really was." I told him. "Why did you automatically think that it was Vetry, sire?" I asked.

"Because all the information that had been going to Mendes stopped." he said.

"Yes, it stopped, but it did so about a month before Vetry was killed. Or at least Mendes thought it had stopped, because Mafius no longer passed on the information that he was getting. He set up the destruction of the keystone, and he wanted Mendes out, because he was really much stronger than you probably give him credit for. The country was very well organized to fight off an invading army. Mafius was actually helping you to get into power, because he figured that once you did, that it would take you some time to get complete control of the country."

"He didn't expect me to keep silent as I did. He has no concept of love of country, and a willingness to die for what you believe in. He had very carefully set me up, believing that I would tell the truth and confirm it by using a truth spell which would indicate that Vetry was the actual traitor, and at that point he knew I believed that he was guilty. When I kept silent he was baffled, and he didn't know how to deal with it. According to his way of thinking nobody would keep silent instead of speaking or escape when the opportunity came unless they were indeed guilty. He knew I wasn't guilty but he didn't believe that anyone would think I could possibly be innocent after I apparently did both things."

"So he ignored it and attacked once the keystone was destroyed. When the ward didn't go down, again he was baffled, but he's been putting pressure on it, and he's aware that it's much more vulnerable than it once was. He doesn't know why right at the moment, but he may figure it out. We must meet in the Great Hall. I know a spell that will get me out of the Painting and transfer the power to a new keystone, but it must be performed in the Great Hall." I told him.

"Very well, we will go there. It would be better if you appear once everyone is in place." he said.

He said tersely to his waiting staff when he left his chambers, "Come. We must go to the Great Hall." Some of them showed astonishment, but they followed the energetic Verren.

ELEVEN

When they were all standing on the dais around the high table, Verren began to speak. "Two years ago Ryn Florin disappeared and that seemed to confirm the fact that he was the traitor. In fact it did no such thing. I will not tell you why now, but in fact he could not have been the informer. Much of the information that Mendes knew was of things that happened before Ryn became my page and was taken into my confidence, and there was never any reason to discuss it in front of him."

"In point of fact Ryn never left the Palace. Servius used a spell from the Old Ones to place him in the Painting, and he has been present in his astral form as the ghost boy Cam for the last two years." Verren said, and I made my appearance, looking at them calmly.

Tate said, "How do we know that you aren't lying, you've used the name Cam falsely for two years."

I looked at the Danie representative, and he took the hint, "Cam is not a name it is a title. It is given to those who are direct descendants of Atton Dregon, the Dragon, founder of both the Danie and Eyeson. How do you get the title Ryn?"

"Servius was my Grandfather. If he had not been a Mage he would have been the Griffin, but the Dragon's son, feeling somewhat uncomfortable in having a great Mage as a father, forbade a Mage to ever hold the leadership of the Danie. So, instead of going to Servius it went to a cousin of his, who could not claim descent from the Dragon. Truth?" I asked of the Danie representative.

He nodded, "Truth. Servius was the heir. When his ability as a Mage showed up he had to choose between one or the other." He grinned. "It was well known that he didn't want the throne anyway and he was glad of an honorable way to get out of accepting it."

I said, "I must perform a spell, Verren knows why, and I won't tell anyone else until the spell is complete. But first a preliminary spell. Verren, Tate if you will go to each end of the high table and take out your daggers, which were both used by the Dragon, and have come down to you for that reason. When you hold the daggers over the end of the table, a slit will appear at either end. Place your daggers in the slits. Once you do that a dome of light will form over the table, and inside it no lies can be told. Please do so."

Both of them looked a little dubious, but the did as they were told, and when they pressed the daggers into the slits, the dome of light formed over the table. I began to speak, "The reason I didn't defend myself when you captured the city was because I believed from Mendes and Mafius that the traitor was actually Vetry. Verren, after he cooled down, knew I couldn't be guilty but rather than risk a civil war we both accepted that my death was necessary to protect the knowledge that Vetry was actually the traitor. This was a decision we made separately. We never talked about it at that time."

"In fact I have learned recently that Vetry couldn't have been the traitor. The fact that I was going to the city was only known to a few people and Vetry wasn't one of them. He was three days to the north at the time. I never even considered that fact at the time, both Mendes and Mafius went to so much trouble to convince me it was Vetry. About a week ago I was listening to a couple of you talking about my capture, and apparently you believed I had been captured the day after I arrived in the city."

"I was not, I was captured two days before I reached the city, while I was still in the countryside. I realized then that Mafius at least knew that the traitor couldn't be Vetry. If he knew that, it must have meant that the traitor was working for Mafius, not for King Mendes, because Mendes never believed anything else, not till the day the Palace was captured from him. How do I know that? Mafius tied me into the wards so I was locked into the Palace grounds unless I was with Mendes. He also used his magic to prevent me from talking about anything that Mendes said to me. He made me into the perfect confidant. Someone who could say absolutely nothing about what I learned from Mendes."

"I still can't say what he did believe, only what I know he didn't believe, and he didn't believe to the day he died that anybody except Vetry was the traitor. All right. What I just said is the truth, not what I believe to be the truth but the truth as it really is. I will ask each of you if you are the traitor and if you are, even if you don't know you are because Mafius is controlling you, we will know the real truth.

"Verren, first to show that the dome can determine truth or lie please give me a lie." I asked.

His lie astonished me, "I don't love Ryn as if he were my own son."

A pause and then a whisper, 'LIE.'

I felt a warm feeling in my heart and I could feel my face going red.

"Please give your full name?" I asked trying to cover up my emotions.

"Verren Cam Lyanor Dregen." No sound.

"Are you the traitor?" I asked

He said, "No." No sound.

"Tate please give your full name?" I asked.

"Tate Cam Meven Dregen." No sound.

"Are you the traitor?" I asked him.

"No." No sound.

"Atides Senin, please give your full name?" I asked.

"Atides Senin." 'LIE.'

"Atides Cam Senin." he hurriedly said. No sound, but that astonished me, he was a direct descendant of the Dragon.

"Are you the traitor?" I asked him a little shakily.

"No." 'LIE. THOUGH HE BELIEVES IT TO BE THE TRUTH.'

"Did you arrange the assassination attempt?" I asked

"No." 'LIE. THOUGH HE BELIEVES IT TO BE THE TRUTH.'

I looked at Verren as the closest one to Atides Senin, and he took the hint, but I was astonished for the second time in a couple of minutes as he used his fist instead of his sword and hit Atides Senin on the chin, knocking him unconscious instantly.

I must have showed my astonishment because Verren shrugged his shoulders. "It seems he's a relative, and if he doesn't know that he was the traitor then Mafius must be controlling him. Something about you must have rubbed off onto me because I couldn't kill him for something he couldn't control.

Verren instructed a couple of guards to put Senin into a cell for the time being. One of the good cells. Which meant it was above ground and fairly clean, but it had a good steel barred door, and bars on the window. Much later when Mafius was gone, it was determined that he was no longer being controlled and Verren pardoned him. After all it wasn't something he could do anything about.

I moved on more quickly, I hoped we had gotten the only traitor, and it appeared that we had. The spell I had to use now wasn't that complex, but I was the only one in the world who could use it.

"As a descendant of Atton Dregen, known as the Dragon, on both sides, I call his spirit to me." None of the other's knew what to expect, but I did. And I watched the Painting peeled away from the walls leaving only a faint image on the wall, and then coalesced above the table, in the shape of a large bearded face.

It spoke in a deep rumbling voice, "What is your right to call me."

"I am Rynlar Cam Florin only son of Avian Cam Florin, and only son of Verren Cam Lyanor Dregen." I heard hisses of astonishment from around the table, but my concentration was on the face of the Dragon.

He nodded his head, "Yes, little one, I see the lines from me through each of my sons to those you named and then to you. You are indeed who you say you are. What may I do for you, my young descendant?"

"We are being attacked by a sorcerer named Mafius. He has made me the keystone of the Palace wards. Unaware of this fact, since my Grandfather assumed he did it accidentally, he sabotaged the original keystone, and it has been destroyed. I am simply a minor Mage and he is a great Mage. If it remains as it is, and he realizes what has happened, he can easily kill me and destroy the ward, and go through the Palace into the remainder of the country."

"My Grandfather, using an old spell transferred me into the Painting. Into your spirit. You must transfer my body back out, and replace me with a new keystone." I told him.

"And what if I can only do one, what will it be then?" he asked me.

"A new keystone is more important than one life, Atton Dregen." I told him.

"Very well, my young descendant. I will see what I can do." and he disappeared. I looked at Verren then, and, as I was afraid it would be, it was a frozen mask. My mother had sent me to Servius and Verren's camp when she was dying. She had left the decision to me, whether I should tell him or not. I had decided that the time wasn't right. It seemed it still wasn't right. His face was showing that he was rejecting me even now.

Abruptly I felt like I was being turned inside out and after a few seconds I leaned against the table, and it took me a few seconds to grasp the fact that I could feel the table. I was back in my own body.

The face of Dregen appeared above the table again. "You were lucky, my young descendant, I was just finishing the new keystone, when a spirit appeared inside of me, looking for you. I simply took his spirit and then his body and exchanged it with yours. You will not have to worry about Mafius again." and he disappeared and the full Painting was suddenly back on the wall.

Verren ignored me and said to his people. "If Mafius is suddenly gone from the enemy camp, we may be able to persuade them to leave with a little sortie. We'll wait for a couple of hours so that they're all aware that he's gone. Collect your men."

Still ignoring me, he walked out of the Great Hall. I looked down at what I was wearing, and it was of course what I had been clothed in, in the tower. Good clothing of a noble child, but not excessively rich. The type of clothing I preferred. I headed for the stairs and the room I had occupied when I had been I had been in the Palace with Mendes. I knew it was unoccupied. I opened a cupboard and pushing on a plank I reached into the hole I had made with my magic two years ago. There was additional clothing in a small pack and almost fifty gold pieces and a small ball.

That would be enough to buy a small horse, in the city, even with an army right outside the walls. I turned the ball over in my hands. I had one friend in the Palace unless he thought I had deceived him as well. I knew where to find him and he was where I expected him to be. He was almost nine now and almost as tall as I was. I sat down on the bank of the pool with him. He looked at me, and recognized me right away. He said, "You're Cam, but you're alive."

"My body was trapped by magic and my astral form is what you were seeing. I'm sorry that I ignored you in the last year but, after I made that speech in the pages quarters that night, I realized that what I said had to apply to you as well. You needed to think of the other pages as your brothers. If I was still around all the time, you would be coming to me instead of them, and you wouldn't be thinking of Dendre as a friend now. You'll hear about it soon. Cam is simply a title, and it means that I'm a descendant of Dregen the first King of Eyeson. Verren is my father." I told him.

He asked me with wide eyes, "Does that mean you're a Prince?'

I shook my head, "I'm a bastard. That means my father and mother weren't married. Unless Verren recognizes me as his son that's all I'll ever be, and from the way he's acting that's all he'll ever want me to be. Here." and I handed him the ball. "My mother gave this to me and I want you to have it as my friend. You don't have to take it if you don't consider me your friend."

He took it and held out his hand and I grasped it firmly. He asked, "What are you going to do?"

"I'm not wanted here, so I'm going home. My mother's house. There is a small village and like me, it's neither Danie nor Eyesen. They'll accept my presence, and I guess that's all I can expect. I'll miss you Syndor. Goodbye."

He threw his arms around me and I hugged him back, before we let each other go. I stood up and I was glad to see that while there was a tear in his eyes none were falling. He had other friends now and he shouldn't miss me for long.

I turned and began to walk towards the Palace gate. I turned once and gave him a wave and he waved back. It was easy to get out the gate leading to the city. Right then, a troop of thieves could have gone in and out of that gate without any trouble, they were paying so much attention to the sortie which would be going out the other gates.

As I had expected it was easy to buy a horse, and go out the city gate, and it took five days of travel to get to what I would have to think of as my home. Courier's went through leaving off notices at each of the villages, that the enemy army outside the city had broken up after half a dozen sorties by the King and his men, and had headed back to their various countries, being harried by the Royal troops.

I left the horse with the Headman of the village giving him ten gold coins to take care of it until I might need it, and I walked up to my mother's house. When I said the spell to unlock the door it broke the preservation spell as well, and I walked in. I noticed absently that the wood was low, and that I would have to pay the woodcutter to get some wood laid in for the rapidly approaching winter, but not right now and I sat in front of the wood less and fire less fireplace.

I knew that I was being stupid as I went into a magic trance, but I didn't care. The trance would keep me alive for a few days, and then it would become a deep sleep, as my bodies magical resources were used up. A sleep and then death, and I realized that I had lost the desire to live and it didn't bother me, and I knew then that's why I had come here. To die.

TWELVE

Syndor was one of Verren's favorite pages. As an orphan he had always been more candid and plain speaking than the rest of the pages, and he normally looked you right in the eye. Now he was avoiding every ones eyes, and he looked very sad. Verren said, "What's wrong little one?"

Syndor looked him in the eye and his large gray eyes were very sad, "I don't know if I should tell you, Your Highness. It's about Ryn." Verren stiffened and then forced himself to relax.

"What's wrong?" asked Verren.

"Before he left he came and gave me a ball as a present. Every other time, when I thought he was a ghost, his eyes were alive with good humor. This time his eyes were incredibly sad, and I thought of an animal that's sick, who goes off somewhere where he can die alone. That's what Ryn was doing. Going home to die."

He didn't tell Syndor that it was nonsense. Ryn was Verren's son, and that's exactly what Verren might have done in similar circumstances. He said to the little boy, "We'll go and find him, but I don't know if I can open up enough to help him. He needs my acceptance and I don't know if I can give it."

*****

I felt someone in the house with me, and I split off a piece of me, as my astral form to look. It was Verren and Syndor. I made myself visible. "Verren, how may I help you?"

They turned to look at me and Verren's face was a mask, his eyes told me that he was trying but the rest of him was resisting it. I said, "I need your love father, that's the only thing that will bring me back. I've been rejected all my life, never on purpose but it always seems to happen. My mother sent me to the Danie court so that I could become acquainted with that part of my heritage, but I was too different, too outspoken, so the Griffin exiled me, and I returned to my home here with my mother. But then she rejected me in a way that was final, and totally out of her control. She died, after sending me to her father, Servius. He was simply too busy as the rebel's main Mage to pay any attention to a little boy. So he out of necessity rejected me."

"I became your page, and mother had told me that you were my father, and it was my decision not to tell you at that time, because you didn't need the distraction I represented. But then I was sent with a message, and was captured and when you captured the Palace you out of need rejected me, though that was mainly my choice. Then when I had to summon the spirit of the Dragon from the walls, I had to reveal that I was your son, and you rejected me then as well. I know that much of what I'm feeling is caused by the psychic shock of coming out of the spell I was in, but it fits my needs and I have not tried to reject it but instead embraced it. I'm a little boy and the emotional shocks were too much for me, I no longer have the will, nor even the desire to live, not without the acceptance I see you still can't give to me."

"I have one last thing before I leave you. I carry a letter from Vetry to you Verren, and have done so for three years. It is in the lining of my pack. Why Mafius didn't find it I don't know, but it is still there. Once you captured the city and I had been placed in the Painting and you and I thought Vetry was the traitor I didn't think it wise to tell you about it. Then I simply forgot about it. He told me that if you survived and he didn't, to give it to you. I intended to send it to the city with a spell. Goodbye Verren. Goodbye Syndor."

I heard Snydor's low voice saying, "Goodbye, Ryn." as I let my astral form sink back into my body.

THIRTEEN

Dear Verren

Ha, I bet you never expected to receive a letter from me addressing you as dear. I know that you would never contemplate such a form of address even to your brother.

I've entrusted this letter to Ryn and if he can he will deliver it. Like you, his father, he is an honorable person. Ah, did you know you were his father? Possibly by now, but possibly not, because I don't think Ryn will tell you unless absolutely necessary.

He reminds me so much of you as a small boy. Oh not in looks but in personality. He has your good traits, but he has your dark side as well. With him it's not that streak of cruelty that can sometimes rule you, or the inability to express emotion, but the darkness of despair. He won't tell you because he will be afraid he will be rejected one more time.

I'm an easy person to talk to, and I don't think he even realizes how much he has revealed to me. The rejections may be real or imagined, and he admits that much of them may be in his imagination, but nonetheless that doesn't mean they aren't real to him.

He is a strong child, but even the strongest of us carry a weight on our back, and a rejection real or imagined may make that weight a burden which is beyond his ability to carry alone. He will desperately need your help if that ever happens.

But to my own son. Ah something else you didn't know. I married Baroness Gravend, in the second year of the rebellion, at the chapel in her castle, and now in the seventh year the end is in sight.

He knows me well but we have carefully kept my full name from him, since right now it could put him in danger. But you must know so that you can tell him.

She has stayed out of the fighting so far, but I know that Breda will not stay out of the last battles. Nothing can keep her from them, and if we are unlucky that will leave your nephew Syndor an orphan, and more important, you will not know that he is your nephew.

This letter is designed to do two things. To tell you about your son Ryn, and to tell you about my son Syndor.

Syndor is a bright sunny child, and he has none of the darkness that you and Ryn have, so even if both Breda and I die, he should be able to accept it, if not easily at least in a calm manner.

Ryn is not a bright sunny child. If anything happens he could react to it adversely and, as I said earlier, he will desperately need your help. If this happens, try to forget the lock you hold on your emotions, and let them flow free for once, or you will lose him.

Vetry

A brother who never could mind his own business.

Verren laughed at the comment under Vetry's signature. He looked at Syndor who was standing looking at him attentively. He waved the letter in the air. "Do you know what this is?"

Syndor said with the logic of a young child, "Your Highness, how would I know what it says? I haven't read it."

Verren laughed again, "It's from my brother Vetry, and it tells me that you're his son."

Syndor's gray eyes went wide. "For true, Your Majesty?" he asked.

"For true, Syndor and you can call me uncle from now on." said Verren.

Syndor threw himself into Verren's arms, and he began to cry in happiness. Verren for the first time in his life, released the lighter part of his emotions to work on his mind, and after about thirty seconds, he began to cry silently. He whispered, "I'm sorry my dear son Ryn, I failed you when you needed me the most."

Suddenly he had two children in his arms, and Ryn breathed in his air, "That's all I needed father. Acceptance." and he began to cry silently with his father and cousin.

END

7.20.02

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