The Warrior Within By Mark E. Cooper
Copyright©2000 by Mark E. Cooper
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Lord Keverin reached the Camorin border in a foul temper. Although a troop of brigands had intended it otherwise, his journey from the capital had been quick. The guardsmen with him had persuaded the scum to run away screaming. They hadn’t delayed him over much.
The reason for Keverin’s mood had nothing to do with brigands, nor yet the length of time taken to reach the border. No, what had him seething was the sight of nearly a thousand Athione guardsmen sitting encamped on the Devan side of the border.
“Calm down, Kev. Listen to Brian’s explanation first.”
Keverin frowned in irritation. Jihan was a good friend, and an honorable lord, but he didn’t know how irritating it was to have someone half his age telling him what to do. He was calm; he was always calm! When hadn’t he been calm? Brian should be on the trail, not loafing around on the border. He had better have a flaming good reason for his loafing, if he didn’t… he just better had, that’s all.
Keverin dismounted and made his way with Jihan toward the center of attention. Brian’s men were listening to a pair of mages chatting with Brian. At their feet were two mirrors glowing with magical images. Keverin couldn’t see what the views were, but he would wager they showed Julia’s kidnapper’s location. In fact, he was wrong as he saw when he finally broke in among his men.
“Brian’s a goner for sure—”
“—looks madder than a sorcerer with his beard on fire!”
Keverin tried to ignore his men’s comments, but the last one had even him grinning. That would be something to see all right, something worth savoring. His temper cooled as if quenched in oil, and it was with a cool head that he questioned his Captain. “Report Brian,” he ordered, and the men quieted down. Jihan was at his left elbow studying the images in the mirrors.
“My lord, we tracked The Lady toward Anselm, but were unable to close the distance more than half a day. With Lucius and Mathius scrying ahead, we discovered the Hasians had boarded ship—”
“One of my father’s barges,” lord Adrik said.
Keverin didn’t show his annoyance at the interruption. He nodded politely to Adrik and indicated to Brian he should continue.
“A barge then,” Brian said annoyed at being corrected so blatantly. “It was obvious we would lose ground, so I ordered my men to head straight north to cut them off here where the river crosses the border. I failed.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Brian,” Lucius said. “Julia would understand.”
Mathius added his support. “That’s right. Besides, she’s safe enough for the moment. The Clans won’t hurt her.”
“What? I told you to report, Brian. I meant everything!”
“I was just coming to that part, my lord,” Brian said glaring at Mathius. “We were more than two days behind when the barge was attacked during the night by Clan warriors—”
“Not just warriors, Brian,” Mathius said. “Shamen attacked in the night with magic, my lord. It was beautiful. The warriors swam to the boat and killed the sentries and the steersman without a sound. One moment everything was normal, the next, a warrior was diving over the side with Julia over his shoulder! None could have done it better.”
Keverin listened to the rumble of agreement and admiration swept through the men. Julia was safe! It was wonderful news, but he pushed aside his exultation to hear the rest.
“—burning,” Brian continued. “Every time the sorcerers put the fires out, the shamen threw fire and lit them again!” Chuckles swept through the crowd, but no one would be fooled into thinking they were amused. It was a positively evil sound; the Hasians deserved what they got and more. “The barge sank near the west bank. The last sorcerers were crushed.”
“Not exactly, Brian,” Lucius said in glee. “The shamen were very annoyed at this point, my lord. Whoever led them made a point I feel won’t be lost on Mortain. They wrung the last one like a dirty wash cloth!”
“Ooh, I bet that hurt!”
“—bastard deserved it!”
“No one does that to our Julia and gets away with it!”
Keverin nodded. He felt the same, but he would have preferred killing them himself. Still, they were dead and that was all that really mattered. “So, why are you encamped here instead of riding to meet Julia?” He had no doubt she would be spitting mad and in a hurry to get back.
“My fault I’m afraid,” Lucius said. “I advised Brian to hold back.”
Keverin nodded. Brian was new at the rank of Captain. He had allowed himself to be swayed by an older head—whether Lucius was wiser as well remained to be seen. “Why?”
“Julia is safe for the moment, as safe as she can be full of Tancred as she is—”
Tancred was a dangerous drug for anyone, but it was more dangerous for Julia as she’d had a run in with the vile stuff before. Tancred saved her life then, but later it nearly took it again as her addiction did its evil work. Thank the God she had survived. The worst effects had diminished after a few days, but it had taken much longer to recover completely.
“It was the only way to hold her,” Lucius explained. “Demophon must have been a worried man to order the use of Tancred, but though I detested the man, I can understand why he chose it. It really was the only way to prevent her from blasting everything in sight short of killing her.”
Lucius and Mathius had killed Demophon, five other sorcerers, and destroyed an entire set of rooms in the palace as revenge for Julia’s murder. They hadn’t known at the time she was still alive. If they hadn’t killed Demophon, Keverin vowed he would have, assuming he could that is. Killing a mage was very hard to do, by surprise or with magic were the only ways to have even a remote chance.
Keverin gritted his teeth; he would have found a way.
“So you see, Julia’s all right,” Lucius went on. “The warriors are what worry me.”
“You’ve lost me, Lucius. What’s this about, Brian?”
Brian was almost bursting with his need to speak. “We have more than a few warriors watching us from concealment as we speak, my lord. Lucius found them in his mirror. If we move onward, I’m thinking the King won’t like it, especially if we hand him a war in the process. My dispute with Lucius is this: he wants me to wait until they visit us to talk. I prefer the reverse.”
Keverin nodded. “Bide a moment, Brian.” He turned to Adrik, “My lord, if you will follow me?”
Adrik stood from where he was studying the mirrors to follow Keverin and Jihan away from the others so they might discuss their options.
“First, I have a duty to perform,” Keverin said. “The King has confirmed you as lord of Ascol before the Council. Your father was executed for treason and regicide… I’m sorry.” Keverin added just a little late.
Adrik’s jaw clenched, but he held the pain at bay. The young man’s eyes were haunted, but they remained dry. “Not really, Keverin.” He said addressing Keverin as the equal he now knew himself to be.
“No, not really,” Keverin agreed. Lord Rowton of Ascol had been his enemy. More, he was the King’s enemy and that of Deva herself. Rowton was beheaded for his crimes as befit his station, but he still felt it too good for him. Rowton should have been hung as a common brigand.
Jihan interrupted Keverin’s reverie. “Gy won’t want a war with the Clans; he’s more interested in buying their horses for the new armies.”
Keverin knew that was true, but Julia was his personal priority. Too many times he had allowed duty to come between them—most notably when the King forbade him from pursuing Julia’s kidnappers. Gylaren had threatened his removal as lord of Athione if he did not obey. That had been a tense moment. His attempted removal would have split the kingdom wide open, and although he had no doubt the King would have won in the end, he had been on a sword’s edge, teetering one way then the other in indecision. In the end, he had ordered Brian and all his guardsmen to pursue the kidnappers, while he obeyed the letter, if not the substance behind the King’s order. Gylaren had acknowledged his stance and accepted the situation with good grace; he’d had little choice unless civil war was what he wanted.
Gylaren and he had been friends for years. The split between them had been sudden and shocking. He still couldn’t believe it and wondered even yet if it was permanent. He had vowed that if Gylaren’s actions harmed Julia, then their friendship was finished, but privately he had vowed one thing further. If she were harmed, he would challenge and kill Gylaren. Nothing was more important to him than Julia.
She was his life.
Putting grim thoughts to one side, Keverin concentrated on the current situation. These hidden watchers or scouts might be useful. He looked around but couldn’t see anywhere they might be hiding. It was said Clansmen could hide behind a blade of grass, but this was ridiculous! Although still on the Devan side of the border, it looked indistinguishable from the plain. He could see for leagues, but there was nothing to see, just long grass waving in the chill breeze. Winter was almost here, and he felt it likely they would end their journey back to Athione through the first falls of snow.
“War isn’t what I want, nor do the Clans want it,” Keverin said. “They saved Julia when I was unable to, for that they have my eternal gratitude. I don’t believe war is likely, they have Navarien to worry about.”
Jihan shrugged. “People can be irrational, but I agree I think. If I had the General on my doorstep, I’d be worried indeed.”
“Why not walk over there,” Adrik said hooking a thumb over his shoulder, “and shout that you want to talk?”
Keverin’s eyebrows climbed. “Why not indeed?”
He wandered northward shouting that he wanted to talk. He felt a little silly, but his bubbling hilarity disappeared as if it had never been when dozens of Clansmen stood from where they had lain hidden. Worse, some were between him and the safety of his men. Brian was alert to the danger, and suddenly every guardsman of Athione and Malcor had his sword in hand ready to charge to the rescue. The Clansmen seemed unconcerned, though they were outnumbered a hundred to one.
“I am Anwa, warrior of the Jaralk. You may speak to me.”
“I am Keverin of Athione, Lord Protector of the west—Deva’s west that is.”
“I know who you are. What do you want?”
How? Maybe Julia had told him. That thought cheered him no end. “My lady was captured by Hasian sorcerers. I’ve come to bring her home.”
“No,” Anwa said simply and turned to leave. The other Clansmen turned away silently.
Keverin stepped forward angrily and grabbed Anwa’s arm. The Clansman stopped, and looked at the offending grasp. Keverin reluctantly let go. “It’s not your decision, Anwa. I am a chief of my people, but you are a mere warrior. I demand to speak to your chief.”
Anwa thought about that for a moment then made a sign to one of his men. The warrior nodded and loped away. “We wait.”
Keverin walked back to his men unhindered, but he was worried. Why, after saying he knew about Julia and him, would Anwa prevent him from seeing her? Were the Clans playing some kind of game with him?
* * *