Castle Roland

Sword of Kings: Forged Out of Necessity

by Bill W


Chapter 20

Posted: 11 Feb 16

Sword of Kings: Forged Out of Necessity

by Bill W
Copyright © 2014 by billwstories

The Second Council of War

Beraut was nearly exhausted from his last effort, but he was still coherent enough to realize that he had to hurry if he was going to be ready for the next gathering. There were only a couple of hours left before this all-important session was set to begin, yet he still had to work on his summaries and organize his thoughts for this presentation. Besides that, he also need to bathe and change for the evening's activities, but he knew if he hurried he might still have time to arrange the hall and greet his guests as they arrived.

Moving at a speed that belied his age, Beraut completed all of his mental preparations. He then washed and moved to the bed to don his fresh attire. For this night, he had selected a flowing midnight blue robe, trimmed with rabbit's fur. He had chosen this particular outfit carefully to help set the mood, because in it he radiated an aura of immense power and authority.

When his personal grooming had been completed, the wizard dashed down the corridors to the Great Hall, secretly hoping his diligence would prove sufficient. As he entered the room, he was pleased to note it had been prepared as he requested. The tables were arranged in a square, with the only gap being a narrow aisle between the head table and the one to its right. The various civil and military leaders of the land would soon be seated at these tables, as they waited to learn about the tactical plan he had devised.

In the opening between the tables and completely surrounded by them was a large relief map. It was an accurate cartographic model of the Tarolian landscape and had been created to scale. It depicted, in precise detail, all of the geographic diversities of this wonderful kingdom.

As Beraut continued his cursory examination of the contents of the chamber, it began to fill. One by one, the representatives of the divergent cities and races entered the hall and Beraut led them to their seats. Each was filled with anticipation, maybe even some trepidation, about what would transpire this evening. They were also eagerly looking forward to the meal that would precede the meeting itself.

As was befitting his status, Beraut seated himself at the center of the head table. To his right sat the dwarf delegates and on his left were seated the elfin emissaries. The wizard had decided to place these two races at the head table with him for two reasons. First, he did it to recognize that these two groups were collectively supplying half of the total number of troops that would eventually comprise the allied forces. Beraut felt it was both appropriate and fitting to acknowledge their contributions in this manner. Even more importantly, it would also allow him to keep the two groups separated from each other, since he'd be seated between them. It would also keep them apart from the delegates of men. The men would be seated at the remaining three tables and their place would be determined according to the geographic location and importance of each group.

At the table to the right of the head table sat the delegates from the two major Tarolian cities, Leander and Cassander, as well as the envoy from Tunstan. The table directly opposite the head table was reserved for the emissaries of the coastal cities of Reza and Tiago, as well as the delegates from the river cities of Udele and Veleda. At the final table, which was located to the left of the head table, sat the leaders of the independent northern city-states.

Each of these various factions were talking quietly amongst themselves, while suspiciously eyeing the other delegations. They were also trading comments about the various other representatives gathered for this monumental meeting. Beraut was well aware that many of the delegates were leery of some of the other ambassadors with whom they'd had previous dealings. Those emissaries seemed to be mentally rehashing the pros and cons of those earlier encounters, while vowing not to repeat any of their past errors. Even though these representatives realized negotiations rarely resulted in terms that were seen as equally favorable for both sides, they still felt they had been misused and abused as the result of some of the prior agreements.

Knowing how strongly some of these individuals felt, Beraut finally conceded that only a matter of this magnitude could draw these divergent groups together. He also prayed they would be able to lay aside their petty jealousies and resentments for the good of the kingdom. It was imperative these varied groups unite, without exception, against an even more sinister adversary, because anything less would increase the odds of failure.

Slowly, the hall began to hush, as the meal was served. This process was very similar to the meal at the First Council of War, although the items offered varied slightly. Once the meal was completed, Daimon, the minstrel the elves had met during their tour of the castle, entered the room carrying his lute once again. Recognizing some of the guests, he looked around quickly for the boys and was greatly disappointed when he didn't find them. He knew he would miss their warm, friendly smiles, as well as their boundless enthusiasm for his music. On the other hand, he acknowledged that whatever role the elves had played earlier had ended and their presence was no longer required.

Daimon quickly tuned his instrument, while the last of the dishes were removed and a group of serving women circulated around the room enthusiastically filling goblets with wine. When it appeared he was ready to begin, those in attendance pushed their chairs back from the table and got comfortable, so they could enjoy the entertainment.

Beraut adjusted his position in the well-cushioned chair he was sitting in and lit a long stemmed pipe he had kept hidden under his robe. He puffed lazily on it and blew the smoke carelessly into the air. As he did this, he eyed the young man whom the elves had claimed they had met by chance during their travels around the castle.

Beraut studied Daimon intently, as he considered whether the young man could possibly be one of the Dark Lord's spies. However, the longer he observed the musician, the less he suspected this to be the case. For one thing, the young man was too consumed with his performance to be a spy, as he very carefully plucked every note on his lute. He was also delicately rendering every sweet phrase of his vocalization, whereas a spy would be doing something quite different. Someone trying to gather information would be playing very softly, probably even without singing. He might also occasionally hit a wrong note, as he strained to listen to the various conversations going on in the room.

During this time, Beraut continued to eye Daimon carefully and used his 'wizard sight' to see if he could detect any evil intent. No matter how hard he tried, there was no indication this young man was anything other than what he appeared to be – a fine, maturing virtuoso. When Daimon eventually finished all of his scheduled selections, he received a well-earned ovation from the crowd. An ample supply of coins were also flung in his direction, so the musician scurried about and scooped up his reward. He then placed his earnings in a little pouch he had tied to his waistcoat and packed up his lute, as he prepared to leave the hall.

As he was taking his final bow, he looked up and noticed the wizard was summoning him to approach the head table. This made Daimon slightly nervous, so he swallowed hard, before plucking up the courage to move in that direction. He slowly approached the intimidating figure seeking his presence, to discover what the wizard wanted.

After Daimon came to a stop beside Beraut, he stood there with his head bowed slightly. The wizard took a few moments to study the young man first and noticed Daimon's complexion appeared slightly paler than it had earlier, when he had been entertaining them. The lad was also trembling slightly, which reminded Beraut of the demeanor of a frightened schoolboy waiting to be disciplined.

"No need for concern," Beraut announced in a soothing voice, to dissuade his apprehensions. "You have done nothing wrong and I merely asked you to approach so I could compliment you on your fine playing."

Daimon suddenly looked relieved and smiled back at Beraut, just before the wizard continued his comments.

"There is, however, another topic I wish to discuss with you, if you are interested. I think you could be of service to me in another way and I have a proposition for you. If you are willing to discuss it, I would like for you to meet me here in two hours' time, so I can explain the idea to you in some depth. Would you be willing to do this?"

Daimon thought about it for a few seconds, before nodding his agreement. He then bowed slightly, as a sign of respect, before turning and slowly walking away. As he did so, his head was swimming with questions about why the wizard thought he might be useful to him. Did Beraut merely want to hire him to play at some other functions or was it more than just that? Did it have to do with his musical training or something to do with the youngsters he had met when selecting his lute?

Dazed and confused, Daimon left the Great Hall and returned to his quarters, which he later didn't even remember doing. As he waited for the time of the meeting to approach, he kept glancing at the hourglass he had turned over upon entering the room. He knew he had to keep an eye on it, so he wouldn't be late for his appointment with the wizard. As soon as the grains had moved from the top to the bottom for the first time, he flipped it over to repeat the process. Throughout the time he was watching the hourglass, he continually wondered why the sand seemed to be draining so slowly. Was that actually the case or was it only his imagination?

Beraut waited until the entertainer had left the room and the doors had been secured before he rose from his seat. He then waited patiently for the throng to quiet down and get settled in, so the meeting could begin. Once he sensed everyone was attentive, Beraut started his address.

"My fellow Tarolians, we are met here this evening to plan for the battle that has been anticipated since the reign of the mighty King Ethelbert. During the interim, Madumda has bided the years seeking out and destroying all known heirs of Ethelbert. He hoped this butchery would put an end to the prophecy of old and secure his future as ruler of the kingdom. With this bloody task accomplished, he is now gathering an army within the folds of the Devil's Horseshoe and making plans to extend his power throughout the entire realm. We must now make our own preparations to finally rid the kingdom of this threat."

Beraut stopped speaking momentarily, while he retrieved his goblet from the table and took a few swallows of wine. He sensed that before he would be able to continue, he needed to wet his throat and relieve the parched sensation that was beginning to make talking difficult. Once he felt the problem had been adequately taken care of, he placed the cup back on the table and turned toward the map, so he could continue his address.

"As you are probably already aware, I have held numerous meetings with various combinations of representatives over the past few days. During these meetings, I have secured many commitments from the assorted delegations and formulated strategies for the upcoming battle. The plan of attack we will use will be an eclectic approach, into which I have tried to blend the strengths of each group. I have listened intently to the comments of the various military leaders, gleaned the best ideas from their suggestions and incorporated these tactics into a single strategic plan. I will now attempt to demonstrate the logistics and give you a brief description of the battle plan we will employ."

The wizard now glided gracefully from his seat at the head table, passed around the dwarf congregation and used the aisle between the head table and the one to its right. Having moved through this opening, Beraut strode over to the large relief map of the kingdom and stood with his back to the chair in which he had been seated only moments before. Once in position, he bent down and withdrew an oaken box from beneath the map and placed it on the table behind him. It was about half the size of a small treasure chest and the wizard immediately reached inside and extracted something, which he managed to keep out of the view of those around him.

"I will now attempt to depict this plan for you by using a series of models that have been specifically made for this presentation. Each piece will represent one of the various tactical components that will participate in the battle and the actual deployments will commence just as soon as each unit is organized. This process will begin once we've concluded this meeting, but I will continue to show the various troop movements up until the time we do battle with the enemy forces. We will start here, with the forces of Leander."

At this pronouncement, Beraut held up three golden figures he had kept hidden in his palms. The wizard had retrieved the small figures from the chest he had pulled out earlier and then used magic to adjust each figure to the color, size and shape he needed. Two of the items were shaped like human infantrymen and were meant to signify the Royal Guard of Leander. The third figure showed a human on a horse and represented the Leander cavalry. Delicately, he placed the pieces on the map, at the place where Leander stood.

"Each figure represents a single regiment and this group will be joined by one legion of river elves, which will be led by General Chardel."

Once again, the wizard reached into the box, but this time he withdrew three statues shaped like elfin archers, pale blue in color. These three figurines were then placed next to those he'd already set on the map to represent Leander.

"While these troops are forming at Leander," Beraut continued, "the forces from Reza and Tiago will sail their troops over the Great Western Sea and up the Silver River. There, they will join up with the group from Udele. Since both Tiago and Udele are supplying a regiment and a half each, the second figure I use to represent their contribution will be slightly smaller than the other."

The wizard now removed a royal blue warrior for Reza, a red soldier on horseback and a smaller red soldier on foot to represent Tiago's contribution. He then extracted a dark brown fighting man and a smaller, brown warrior on horseback for Udele's contingent. He then placed these statuettes on the map at the spot where Udele stood, which was also the point at which the River Sterling and Silver River merged.

"As these troops are moving into position, the wood elves will march north, from Aurelia, and arrive at Cassander, where they will organize with the forces there. Those groups will then ferry across the Shadow River and form up on the plains,"

While he had been talking, the wizard removed two green elfin warrior statues and three more green statues depicting elves on horseback. He placed each of them, along with two silver human warrior figures and one silver cavalryman, across the Shadow River from Cassander.

"The green statuettes signify one full legion of cavalry and two regiments of foot soldiers for the wood elves. Cassander's models indicate two regiments of their warriors and only one regiment of cavalry."

The wizard now took all of the figures he had already placed on the map and magically moved them to an area on the lower Plains of Asimae, about halfway between Udele and Cassander.

"All of the forces that I have just assembled here will comprise the Central Army and will be under my command. From there, we will march north to do battle with the enemy."

Beraut paused briefly to let everyone absorb the information he had given them up to this point. When he felt they had sufficient time to do this, he continued again.

"While the Central Army is forming at this location, the dwarf Captain Baith will lead one legion and two regiments of dwarf warriors to Veleda, where they will join up with the Veledan soldiers. That group will make up the Southern Army and be under the Veledan commander's control."

Beraut now removed five purple dwarf sculptures and placed them with a light green human figurine at a point across the River Sterling from Veleda.

"While they are forming up, Commander Elgin will guide the remainder of the dwarf fighting-men along the Citadel Mountain range. This group will meet up with the soldiers from Tunstan and will comprise the Western Army, which will be led by the dwarf commander, Elgin."

Reaching into his box, the wizard pulled out four red dwarf figures and one orange human sculpture. He then placed them at Tunstan, slightly south of the western edge of the Devil's Horseshoe.

"The Northern Army will be formed by the collective forces of the northern city-states under the leadership of their Supreme Commander. They will join up at the northwestern edge of the Faerie Forest, before skirting eastward and then southward around it. They will eventually travel through Hell's Gate and assemble at the southern tip of Shadow Lake, at the source of the Shadow River."

From his chest, the wizard now withdrew six statuettes, two crimson human figures for Mitiku, two turquoise human models for Akikta, and two beige human figurines for Nardin. He placed them all at the southern edge of Shadow Lake and then looked the map over. After surveying it briefly, he paused and stroked his silvery beard, before scanning the interior of the chest again, to make certain he had remembered everything. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he addressed the throng again.

"I nearly forgot," he mused. "The remaining regiment of river elves will be loaded onboard several elfin merchant ships and hidden below decks. These ships will then set sail for Leander, before continuing up the Shadow River to Cassander. Here the ships will unload supplies, as they regularly do, but the journey will not be over. They will remain in dock until the evening darkness conceals their activities and then slip away, hopefully unnoticed, to resume their travels. They will sail north, up the Shadow River to the place where it joins with the Shady River. After diverting to the Shady River, they will anchor and lie hidden where the river bends into the Mystic Forest, near its boundary with the Arden-Woods.

"The river elves will remain sheltered there until the Northern Army arrives to join them. When this group is sighted, the ships will move northward to transport everyone across the ample headwaters of the Shadow River. At this point, the elfin warriors, who were sent to help guard the vessels, will become attached to the Northern Army and serve with them until all of our forces are joined together at a later time."

Having made this statement, the wizard now placed the final figurine on the map, a lavender elfin archer, beside the figures of the Northern Army. He took a deep breath and looked around the room, while wondering if the leaders were already figuring out his battle plan. He took another deep breath and continued his narration.

"Now that we have all the troops properly placed, I will try to explain, step by step, how the attack will proceed. The first move will be for the Central Army to march north and join the Southern Army on the central Plains of Asimae. From there, we will assemble with the infantry in front, archers in the center and the cavalry in the rear. Being so arranged, the army will march northward to engage the enemy troops somewhere on the upper plains. This would mean we would have eight legions to stand against our foes, whose strength is estimated to be ten legions.

"At this point we will be praying for some divine providence and hoping the supreme beings will look with favor upon our cause. If they do, then Madumda and his war leaders will conclude they have the advantage in numbers, as we want them to. If they accept this as fact, it might cause them to make some tactical errors due to overconfidence, which would allow us to set them up for a few surprises."

During the time he had been giving this explanation, the wizard used magic to move all of the figures representing the Central and Southern armies. They were now placed in the order he had indicated on the upper Plains of Asimae, just west of the Mystic Forest. The infantry was in front, archers in the center and the cavalry in the rear. After they were positioned, Beraut magically transported thirty black figurines from the chest. Some were shaped as human figures and others fashioned as gnomes, to signify the Merropites, gnomes and mercenary forces under Madumda's control. He then arranged those items just south of the Devil's Horseshoe.

"When we are just beyond arrow's range of the enemy lines, we will move into formation. The infantry will stand shield to shield and begin to move slowly forward, until the next phase can be put into action. From behind the foot soldiers' barrier, the archers will launch their projectiles at the enemy's ranks. This barrage will continue until each bowman has spent twenty arrows at the opponents.

"Once this has been accomplished, the infantry and archers shall step aside and allow the mounted troops to make their first forceful assault. After the cavalry has softened up our foes further, the horse-soldiers will make a hasty retreat and reform behind the ground troops again. The archers will then resume filling the air with more arrows and lob the projectiles into the enemy lines, as the infantry marches forward, their pikes and lances extended in front of them. Along the way, they will dispense with the enemy wounded that has been left behind from the cavalry assault, before engaging the remaining foes.

"When the ground troops are fully deployed, the mounted troops will split into two groups and attack the enemy's flanks. By this time, we should have the Dark Lord totally preoccupied with the battle, which will allow us to spring our first surprise. At this point, the Western Army, which has remained hidden near Tunstan, will have had time to move into position, so they can charge the enemy's rear and western flanks. This should cause the Dark Lord's generals to split their attention between multiple fronts, while bringing our troop strength to slightly fewer than ten legions, which will be closer to the enemy's numbers.

"By the time Madumda's military leaders have made their adjustments, we shall unleash our next unexpected assault. At this juncture, the Northern Army should have moved from its hiding place in the Mystic Forest and will begin their attack on the eastern flank of our adversaries. This means we will have nearly surrounded the enemy's position. It will also give us a distinct advantage in numbers, since we will have come to our full strength of twelve legions. If the gods are willing, then this should swing the tide of battle decisively in our favor and allow us to totally crush the Dark Lord's military threat."

Beraut glanced around the room to catch the expressions on the faces of those assembled, while trying to assess their feelings about the battle plan. From what he could tell, each of the delegates seemed satisfied with this strategy and were now merely waiting to be told when the troop movements and fighting would actually begin. The wizard decided to give them a few minutes more to discuss the plan further amongst themselves first, before continuing with his briefing. After several more minutes had elapsed, the murmuring began to subside, so Beraut started to speak again.

"We have, of course, some backup plans prepared in case we should need them," he added. "These include plans for various weather conditions and a defensive strategy, where we would dig in and barricade ourselves against assault. We would only do this if Madumda's army proves to be overpowering. We also have a siege plan in place, just in case the Dark Lord's forces fall back and attempt to hole up at Treblanc. The last scenario is highly unlikely, but it is best to have this option, nonetheless.

"I would like each of you to leave here tomorrow, so you can begin the preparations you have been instructed to carry out. Those living the farthest from Leander will leave first, followed by each successive group, also according to how far they have to travel. This will continue until everyone has departed. Each of you must be in place and ready to begin the attack in ten days time. If we wait any longer than this, we may lose the advantage, no matter how small that advantage may be."

The wizard now paused and took another swig from his wine goblet, while the delegates slowly digested the meaning of his words. Once he put his goblet back on the table, he made his final comments.

"If no one has any questions, then this meeting is concluded. I suggest you now return to your rooms, pack your belongings and get some rest. You will begin your journeys home with the first groups leaving at first light. The others will follow at hourly intervals after that, depending on the distance the group has to travel. Gods' speed and good fortune to you all."

Those in the room began to rise and started making their way toward the exits. Some of the representatives stopped along the way to speak with the delegates representing the forces that their troops would be merging with. Other delegates left without uttering a word and headed straight to their quarters. Before he departed, the dwarf king turned toward the wizard, in an effort to gain his attention and finalize their arrangements.

"My dear Beraut," King Brolin began, "I will prepare my companions to be ready to leave by late-morning. After we finish breaking our fast, we shall take our time getting our things together and will wait for you in front of this building. I am truly looking forward to you joining us on this excursion."

"Your Majesty, I sincerely appreciate you including me in your travel plans. I shall be there on time and prepared to travel. I am looking forward to reaching your homeland and being able to learn how Kieren and the others have fared during the first stage of their mission."

King Brolin nodded in agreement and then turned away from Beraut, so he could make his way out of the hall. As the dwarf leader departed, King Dylan made his way over to talk to his old friend.

"Have you learned anything from Kieren and the others?" he asked.

"No, Your Highness. I have not had any direct contact with them since they left," Beraut informed him. "As you know, I watched them for as long as I could on the day of their departure and saw nothing to indicate any problems with our plan. Since that time, however, I have experienced some slight trepidation concerning their safety. There is nothing I can place a finger on or put into words, but I do worry just the same."

"Do you think Madumda knows of Kieren's existence?" Dylan asked.

"Of that I cannot be certain," the wizard replied. "The boy and the others are still alive, if that is what you are asking, for I have not felt his loss. However, I did sense the limited use of magic early this morning, but I could not discern why Kieren had summoned it. I hope I may discover something more once I get back to my quarters, even if I have to try to initiate contact with him."

"Do you think that would be wise?" the elf wondered. "I mean, aren't you afraid of Madumda sensing the magic and then eavesdropping in on your communication?"

"I may have to take that chance," Beraut admitted, "just to make certain the lad is unharmed and his mission is not in jeopardy. I will only use that option as a last resort though and shall try to merely look in on him first."

"You will keep me advised of any developments, won't you?" King Dylan asked. "I hope you realize that I feel personally responsible for those three youngsters and I'm as concerned about their safety as you are."

"Yes, I do understand how you feel, so I will keep you apprised of everything I learn," Beraut informed his old friend.

The elf king studied Beraut carefully and could tell something else was still bothering him. The wizard's concern was clearly etched upon his face. Since the two knew each other so well, the signs that there might be a problem was clearly evident to the wizard's royal companion. Dylan decided not to press the issue though, but watched patiently for the wizard's next move. He didn't have very long to wait.

"Your Majesty," Beraut finally began, "there is something else that is troubling me. I have not mentioned this to anyone else, but I hope you won't mind if I share it with you."

King Dylan stared at his old friend and took note of his troubled expression. He instantly realized this was not a minor issue.

"What is it that concerns you, my old friend?" the elf king finally asked.

Beraut hesitated before responding and used the time to study his confidante's unspoken signals. Eventually, the wizard found his tongue again.

"Try as I might, I still have not worked out an important part of our plan." Beraut confided, before pausing again.

A lengthy and disquieting silence seemed to overtake the Great Hall at that point, which the elfin king found very unnerving. He concluded the wizard's hesitation was due to the fact that he was unsure about how he should continue. The elfin king concluded Beraut was struggling to form his comments in his mind first, so he could adequately express everything he wished to convey. Finally, the wizard continued.

"I don't know how I am going to be able to guide Kieren into Treblanc," he informed the elf, while looking ashamed that he had to admit to such an obvious flaw.

King Dylan simply eyed the wizard, while giving him neither a verbal nor physical indication as to what he was thinking. Beraut immediately grew uneasy; since he was convinced he was being judged for his ineptitude, so he felt he needed to explain further.

"Due to the timing of the various stages of this confrontation, it now seems that I will be needed in two places at the same time," the wizard admitted, in an attempt to let the king know how conflicted he was. "Try as I might, I cannot think of a way to get around this problem, but I have grave trepidations that if I am missing at either location then something will go terribly wrong."

The elf king merely continued to gaze at his friend, while searching to come up with the right words to ease the wizard's concerns.

"You are very wise, Beraut," Dylan eventually countered, "so I am confident that you will be able to work this out. Eventually, you will find a solution that will not endanger the successful completion of either effort."

Having made this statement, the king simply smiled at his old friend and waited to see if his words had any effect. Although Beraut had not yet solved his quandary, he did somehow feel better about his prospects of finding a suitable resolution to the dilemma. He was glad he had taken the chance to confide in someone he both trusted and admired.

"Now, it is time we should also go to our beds," the elf advised the haggard looking wizard. "Possibly the answer will come to you in your dreams. Come on, my old friend, and I will walk with you to your quarters."

"Unfortunately, I must decline your kind offer," Beraut replied. "I have one more piece of business to attend to before I turn in. If you don't mind, I'm afraid you will have to make your way back to your bedchamber without me."

Dylan was curious about what other business Beraut still had left to conduct, but he was wise enough not to inquire. Instead, he nodded his understanding and left the hall, as he slowly made his way down the deserted corridor.

A few minutes later, Daimon hesitantly peeked through the open doorway and looked about for the wizard. Once he spotted Beraut, he entered the room and walked toward him, even though he was still perplexed about why he had been asked to return in the first place. As soon as Beraut noticed Daimon, he greeted the young man warmly and asked him to shut the door. Then, Daimon moved closer to the wizard and Beraut began to explain why he had requested this meeting.

"Daimon, thank you for returning," Beraut began, "and I'm very grateful you're willing to hear me out. I will begin by making a confession of sorts. After I heard you play at our first gathering, I did some checking up on you, primarily concerning your past."

After hearing this, Daimon's expression changed suddenly, as his previously curious countenance shifted to one of concern and dread. He couldn't figure out why in the world the wizard would be checking up on him in this fashion.

"Don't be worried," Beraut urged. "It was only to make certain you were the right person for the job I have in mind. It's an idea about how you can be of assistance to me, and the kingdom, but first I had to make sure there was nothing in your background that might prevent this from happening. Now that I have discovered there isn't, I need to know if you are interested in pursuing such an opportunity?"

Daimon hesitated briefly before responding, but that was partially due to his inability to understand what he could possibly do for Beraut that others couldn't. In addition to this, he was also intimidated being in the powerful wizard's presence, but he eventually gained enough composure to speak.

"If you believe there is something I can do to assist you, then I am agreeable to help in any way I can. However, I cannot imagine what that might be."

Beraut merely smiled at the troubadour's candor and confusion, before patting him on the back, as a sign of reassurance.

"You're a good man, young Daimon," Beraut responded, appreciatively. "Although you may currently be unable to fathom the unequalled services you can provide for me, I will be happy to enumerate them for you, so you will understand how important a duty you are undertaking. You see, I want you to be my eyes and ears as you roam this fair kingdom and apply your trade. I have mapped a route I wish for you to follow and I've had Nathar, the Steward of Leander, prepare a few letters of introduction for you to use when needed. I have also requested your guild to assign you to events in each of the locations I have chosen. This will provide you with a suitable explanation for what you are doing there."

"But what will I be doing in these places?" Daimon interrupted, since he still couldn't figure out what sort of duties the wizard had planned for him.

"Patience, my boy," Beraut sighed. "I was just getting to that. I'm sure you've heard the name Madumda before?"

"Yes, that name has been spoken often around here, especially recently," Daimon agreed, while nodding at the same time. "Everyone seems concerned about what he's up to."

"I'm sure they are," the wizard agreed. "What I'm asking you to do is to watch for any signs of activity from those affiliated with Madumda and to listen for any information that might gain us an advantage. You are to report back to me whenever you glean anything of importance. Do you think you can do that?"

"I'll try," Daimon agreed.

"Unfortunately, the locations I have chosen for you will not be in the same league as your appearance here," Beraut continued, "but being a novice minstrel, no one will question why you are there. You are scheduled to play at various inns and other lowbrow establishments, which I assume will also be frequented by Madumda's hirelings. It will be where they feel comfortable enough to discuss their business with each other and not expect others to be listening in.

"In order to remain inconspicuous, I suggest you polish up on the types of ditties the commoners might appreciate, but I want to also caution you to be on guard against possible attacks," the wizard added. "The assignment I'm giving you will not be easy and it might even prove to be dangerous. If you are successful, however, I will see to it that your efforts are suitably rewarded, once this conflict is over. So, with that additional knowledge, I will ask you once again. Are you willing to do this for me?"

Daimon gulped first, before trying to clarify his understanding of the situation.

"You mean you want me to act as a spy?" he gasped, looking incredulous.

"To a certain extent," Beraut confirmed, "but I don't want you to do anything you wouldn't normally do as a musician in order to gather this information. I merely want you to keep your eyes and ears open, without placing yourself in any undue danger. Do you think you can do that?"

"I'll try," Daimon almost whispered, "but shouldn't I have some special training first, so I know what to do?"

"That will not be necessary," Beraut assured him. "I only want you to collect whatever information you can as you perform your normal duties. I do not want you snooping in areas you don't belong and I certainly don't want you doing anything out of character for your position. You are not being asked to lurk in dark alleyways or eavesdrop at open windows and doors. I am merely requesting that you act naturally and do nothing to draw attention to yourself. The reason I selected you to do this for me is because your profession allows you access to the entire kingdom. Your skills as a musician, which are impressive, will also deflect any undue suspicion others might have about you being there."

Daimon nodded slightly, because he now understood why the wizard had sought his assistance. In fact, he even felt slightly honored that he was being trusted to do this, not to mention the compliment the wizard had just given him about his ability.

"I will also provide you with an enchanted device that will allow you to communicate directly with me." Beraut added. "I want you to use it to pass along any material you feel I need to be urgently made aware of. Otherwise, you can tell me what you have discovered when we meet up again, since I have designed our routes to overlap at various points."

Daimon looked relieved when he heard he would be running across this powerful wizard at different times. He was also intrigued about the enchanted device Beraut had just alluded to.

"There is one other thing," Beraut continued. "If at any time you begin to feel you are in danger, then I want you to contact me about that as well. If something like that happens, I will send someone to assist and watch over you."

Daimon once again nodded his understanding and felt even better about performing this task.

"So, are you agreeable to my proposal?" Beraut asked, yet again.

Daimon thought about this momentarily and then nodded his head.

"Yes, I will do what I can," he added, while making eye contact with the wizard.

Having received the young man's confirmation, Beraut made Daimon another offer.

"Let me walk you back to your room," Beraut told him, "since it is more or less on my way. It is also the reason I asked the steward to put you up here for a few days."

That explained something else Daimon had been curious about, after he'd been told he was going to be staying in this building, instead of the guild hall. The young man felt honored that not only did this powerful wizard trust him with such an important mission, but he was also willing to treat Daimon as an equal, as shown by his offer to walk Daimon to his chamber. Gratefully, the troubadour accepted the wizard's proposal and the two of them walked side by side out of the hall and down the corridor. Beraut then went into Daimon's room with him and explained the final details about what he wanted the young man to do.

Once everything had been understood and agreed to, Beraut hurried back to his own bedchamber to fetch something. Then, he returned to Daimon's room again, so he could present him with the magical device that he could use to communicate with Beraut. The wizard said a brief spell that granted him the power to operate it and bonded the device to him. Beraut then bid the lad pleasant dreams, as they parted ways. After the wizard left Daimon alone in his room, he climbed the stairs that led up to his own chamber. He locked the door behind himself, once he was inside.

Beraut had no intentions of sleeping though. Secretly, he hoped Kieren might try to contact him by using the Golden Medallion, because he desperately wanted his ward to ease his concerns and explain what had happened earlier. Even if that didn't occur, the wizard was determined to try to learn as much as he could about Kieren's situation, even if it meant he had to use stronger magic to be successful.

Beraut had been having some very uneasy feelings about the safety of Kieren's small party, even though he tried to minimize this point when discussing the situation with others. Some of the visions he had seen, although not crystal clear, were enough to alarm him, make his skin crawl and cause his hair to stand on end. The wizard decided to give his young ward another hour to make contact first, before he tried to initiate another scan of the area where he calculated the party should be by this time.

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