Castle Roland

The Translator

by David McLeod


Chapter 31

Posted: 13 Apr 15

The Translator

by David McLeod

Dragon Fortress

The elven king assembled his privy council in a tent on a barren plain in an inhospitable mountain range far from the pomp—and comfort—of the court. That they traveled there by dragon-back, mollified most of them, a little.

"It's been a long time since I ate army rations," the Masterguildmaster Smith said. He patted his small paunch. "Perhaps I should remain for a few weeks."

"I'm sure they could find something for you to do," Mistressguildmistress Stonemason said. "With nothing but rock to work with, I might find useful employment as well."

"Comperes? The king," announced the head of the council, Masterguildmaster Potter. The assembled nobles, guildmasters, clerics, and mages rose. The king, followed by Phillip, entered the tent.

"We have received unsettling news," the king announced, gesturing for them to be seated, and dispensing with ritual and formality. "The advisors who accompanied me have not been able to answer it. It is important enough that you were summoned.

"Our dragon riders have encountered dragons and riders who appear not to serve the light."

The king waited for the buzz of conversation to die down before relating the speculation about ancient enemies, but also recalling Zosa's words to Phillip when the boy had asked the dragon if she were good: Do not ask me; ask yourself. I live, I eat, and I breed. I protect my hunting grounds and I protect my young. Good and evil are people things. Do not ask me; ask yourself.

"Why might dragons serve evil?" the king asked. "Is it as simple as them taking on the nature of their riders? Why, when the dragon Farengeld did not kill the prince, did the dragon say the boy was not an ancient enemy? More important, can we expect more dragons and riders who serve evil and our enemies, and what can we do about that?"

The council debated and discussed and, the next morning, sent a messenger to the king.

"Your majesty," the Masterguildmaster Thief spoke for the council. "It is an open secret, at least among this group, that the Thieves Guild serves neither light nor dark, neither good nor evil, but that we serve balance. We fit into the spaces that fall between good and evil. We are an essential part of our society.

"I would prefer that none of you repeat this analogy, but we are as important as is the fungus that returns a dead thing to the soil. You may see it as unpleasant; we see it as necessary."

Before the king could grow impatient, the man concluded, "Balance must exist in World. That is something we have forgotten in the past thousands of years of peace. The Thieves Guild also serves as a repository of the knowledge of balance and its importance.

"The dragons and riders who serve the darkness are merely counters to the dragons and riders who serve the light."

A castle frowned from the top of the mountain. Zosa circled. Phillip and Javari looked over the fortress. Can you land on the tallest tower? Phillip asked. Rather than answer, Zosa snorted and glided to a smooth landing atop a crenellated tower that rose above the rest of the castle.

"I suppose that's the reason no one has claimed it," Javari said. He gestured to the courtyard, below, and at the remains of carnage: bones of elves lay among the longer and heavier bones of trolls. "The portcullis and drawbridge are missing," he added, gesturing to the gaping hole in the front wall.

"Is it defensible?" Phillip asked.

"As well as is Rome," Javari said. A chasm, a place where World had split apart, separated the castle from the rest of the mountain. That the break was ancient could be seen from the aeons of weathering that had polished the sides of the chasm. "Unless we replace the drawbridge, the only way in will be by dragon."

"Or by magic," Phillip said.

"We'll mount guards, sentries, on the parapets," Javari replied. "And at least one in each watch will be a mage. But how will we repair the drawbridge? None of us knows how."

"The army does," Phillip said. "When the king said we might claim this fortress, he said we'd receive help fixing it up; I wonder if he knew what all that would mean."

The king had known: an army century, accompanied by dozens of wagons, arrived a few days later. They brought beams and planks for the drawbridge and mithral bars for the portcullis. It took them only three days to replace the drawbridge, just in time for a supply convoy to cross with oats and hay for the horses; charcoal for the smith's forge; and foodstuffs for the people. The hydraulic engineers required only another day to repair the series of seven pumps that—with the help of magic—would draw water from an aquifer three thousand feet below the fortress.

Less than two tendays after they had arrived, the soldiers left—all, that is, except the six boys who had been recruited by Javari to join the Dragon riders' auxiliaries.

Phillip lay on hard ground while Zosa slept. She'd eaten three, plump mountain goats, and her belly was slightly distended. Phillip could not sleep. He wove with his mind the spell that had opened the sipapu to bring Argon and himself into this world. He merged it with the spell he had worked in the dungeon of the Duke of Barbican. The result was the same as always. "We need a place of great power!" he shouted, and then listened to the echo from the rocks: . . .power . . .power . . .power.

Why did you not ask me, before? Zosa's voice interrupted Phillip's thoughts. We dragons have many stories. Some are from the days before the mist of time clouded the minds of men.

"Do you know of such a place?" Phillip asked. "Will you tell me?"

I cannot tell you; I will show you. Zosa settled her head on the ground and closed her eyes. Her thoughts drew Phillip to a place in the mountains just west of Barrone, a place in the Ice Mountains.

That evening, Phillip shared Zosa's images with his companions. "We must find this place. We must find the Ice Mountains," he concluded.

"You are grasping at chaff blowing in the wind," Argon said.

Phillip took Argon's hand and squeezed it gently. "I would grasp at a cloud if I thought it would take you home."

Phillip had no time to think of this before the next crisis demanded his attention. The dragons circled high over the battlefield. Gone were the days when the sight of a single dragon could chase an army from the field. The trolls had found allies among the lizard men of the rain forest, the humans of Lankaris, and renegade elves. Rather, it was more likely that the more intelligent humans and elves had taken command of the armies of the short-lived trolls and lizoids. The humans and elves had brought mages, too. They had learned that an air elemental might cause a dragon to fall from the sky, and that mage fire could burn the strong but delicate wings of the dragons.

The dragon riders had learned, too, and had changed their tactics. They no longer flew blithely at low altitude, flaming long swaths of soldiers and war machines, but darted in and out quickly, reducing the time they were exposed to archers and mages. The mages of the elven king's army had developed spells to counter the air elementals and mage fire, and at least one dragon in each flight carried a journeyman mage who sat strapped to the dragon rider. Needless to say, the competition for these positions was fierce.

When the enemy mages were too strong for the dragon corps mages, the dragons reverted to a reconnaissance role, and carried one of the very rare telempaths who relayed what he saw to a counterpart on the ground. Even this may not be enough, Phillip realized. There are stories that the enemy has found more dragons.

"Phillip, do you remember how Jason saw magic when you held your books?" Before Phillip could answer, Javari pulled the rope that opened the shower. Warm water, and then Javari's fingers, caressed Phillip's body.

"Um, hmm," Phillip replied.

"You know that I, too, can see your magic?" Phillip felt the tingle of magic and the rough scraping of a loofa as Javari washed Phillip's back, buttocks, and legs.

Phillip turned at Javari's urging, and faced him. "Um, hmm. Where is this going?"

Javari applied the loofa, soap, and more magic to Phillip's shoulders, chest, and tummy. He turned his eyes and attention to Phillip's groin. Phillip's breathing quickened and his face flushed. "There's something . . . different about your magic," Javari said. "Something that frightens me."

Phillip's erection subsided instantly; the flush was slower to leave his cheeks. "Frightens? How?" he demanded. "Look at me!"

"Please don't be angry," Javari asked. He lifted his eyes to Phillips but quickly looked away. "I don't know . . . I'm not a mage . . . but it's dark and twisty, and it scares me."

"I love you, Phillip, and I am sworn to you. We all are, and we will follow you wherever—"

"Have you told the others?" Phillip interrupted.

"No, but they know something's wrong. Your boy magic . . . there's something different about it . . . it feels strange; they must have noticed that. And Maranon said you felt . . . somehow . . . distant, as if you weren't all here . . . " Javari's voice trailed off."

Javari hiccoughed, or sobbed; Phillip could not be sure. "Please tell me what's wrong!" Javari asked.

Phillip took Javari's head in his hands and gently turned it until they were looking into each other's eyes. "I truly do not know," Phillip said. "I have not felt really good in a while. But I thought I was just tired."

"I'm afraid to kiss you," Phillip said. "Maybe I'm sick, and I don't know it. Maybe all the killing Zosa and I have done has made me evil. Zosa said she was neither Evil nor Good, but reflected what was inside me . . . we've killed so many."

Phillip's knees weakened and he sat, heavily, on a bench. "How can we know?"

The dragon riders were accustomed to Javari relaying orders from Phillip, so they did not question the instructions to bring Master Coriolanus to the Dragon Fortress. A flight of three dragons, one carrying a mage with defensive spells, was aloft within the hour.

It was impossible to keep Phillip's illness secret from the dragon riders. The mood was somber when Master Coriolanus arrived, and Argon's greeting to Jason—who had wrangled a ride for himself—was muted. Javari escorted Master Coriolanus to Phillip, leaving Jason with Argon and Maranon.

"They did not tell us why to we must come here, only that Phillip requested it, and that it was urgent," Jason said. He was clearly puzzled.

"Phillip did not request it," Argon said. "Javari ordered it in Phillip's name. Phillip is ill. It is an illness of the mind that affects his body—and his magic. I only hope that Master Coriolanus can help."

Master Coriolanus stopped abruptly in the doorway of Phillip's bedroom. Javari's cry of surprise prompted the mage to step into the room. He waved his hands before himself, as if pushing away something tangible—something that Javari could not see.

"What?" Javari asked.

"The magic in this room is twisted," Master Coriolanus said.

"Dark?" Javari asked. He feared to say the word he was thinking: Evil.

"No, not Evil," the mage replied. "But something is clearly wrong, and it is centered on Phillip." Master Coriolanus approached the bed and touched Phillip's forehead. The boy's eyes snapped open.

"Master . . . ? What? Are we in Barbican?"

"No, I have come to visit you, and I have brought Jason."

Phillip smiled weakly. "Argon will be so happy."

Argon was, indeed, pleased to be reunited with Jason. The boy's presence, and universal confidence in his master, lifted everyone's spirits. After a meal and a bath, Argon's sharing with Jason was more joyous than any he'd experienced since Phillip's illness had begun. After, they cuddled and whispered to one another, catching up on adventures. Jason told of expeditions to the rain forest, to seek out nests of the lizard creatures, and to drive them away from the borders of Elvenholt. "We cannot simply kill them; they are innocent, in a way, following only the orders of Evil men."

"When we saw your brother's army, so long ago, thinking it was your father's, I wondered to Phillip if you would be there," Argon said. "Phillip laughed. It was a kindly laugh. He said he doubted that your father would bring a very junior mage onto the battlefield. But it wasn't your father, it was your brothers, and you were there, as well. You were more than a very junior mage, and are so much more, now."

Jason nodded. "My brother, the dauphin, has made me his mage. If I am good enough, I will be the senior mage of the duchy when he becomes the duke. Master Coriolanus has made me study and practice very hard, and he has said that he is pleased with my progress. Still, I have a great deal to learn."

Argon thought very, very hard. "There's something about us . . . something that the king and the Duke of Rome know. I think you should know it, as well." Argon told Jason of his origins and of Phillip's. He told of the tapestry in the castle of the Duke of Rome; he told of the book: A Child's Geography of the World. He told of Phillip's promise to take Argon home, of Argon's releasing Phillip from that promise, and of Phillip's conflict between his destiny as a dragon rider and his original promise.

"I think," Argon concluded, "that this conflict is what affects Phillip."

Jason nodded. "May I tell my master?" he asked.

Argon thought only for a moment. "Yes," he said. "Yes." Not for me, but for Phillip.

Master Coriolanus nodded after Jason told him of Argon's story, and instructed his apprentice, "Write your cousin, Justin. The king must be told."

"Your illness is affecting more than your First Companions. Your link with Zosa as well as Argon's empathy mean all the dragons and their riders are affected." Master Coriolanus declared. "You are no longer in harmony with this place."

"It's the killing," Phillip whispered. "All the killing. I've become—"

"No!" Master Coriolanus interrupted. "It's not the killing. I would have seen that. It is not that."

"Phillip, I cannot tell you what to do to bring yourself in harmony. That is beyond my knowledge."

Phillip understood, and that understanding brought some relief. This is something I will have to deal with, but not now.

"Phillip! Justin's here!" Argon's voice registered his excitement. Justin was the most uninhibited and enthusiastic sexual partner Phillip and his companions had ever known. Moreover, he was the son of the king, and the crown prince of Elvenholt.

"Hmph," Phillip said. "He must have heard that we've recruited two more dragons, and he wants to try—"

Phillip's voice stopped abruptly when the prince, himself, burst into the room. Three, and then two more boys followed on his heels. Their hands were on their weapons and their eyes scanned the room. Even here, in the famous Dragon Fortress, they did not relax their guard.

Justin ran across the room and collided with Phillip. Only the taller boy's weight and his anticipation of Justin's behavior kept Phillip from being knocked down. The smell of cornflowers, which existed only in Phillip's mind, overwhelmed him for a moment. Justin's hands, clasped firmly around Phillip's waist, pulled the two boys together.

Several minutes passed before Argon's cough broke them apart.

"I'm glad I can still make you blush," Justin said. He turned to Argon and pulled that boy into an embrace that was just as passionate as his earlier one with Phillip. "And you, Argon, I'm very glad to see you."

By this time, the remainder of Justin's entourage, as well as a score of dragon riders and auxiliaries had come into the room. All these boys were long-time companions and friends, and Phillip felt the level of pheromones rise.

"Your Highness," he said, a little louder than was necessary. "We are honored by your company, but we also know that the reason for your visit is, um, serious?" Phillip looked at Justin and raised his eyebrow.

"Oh, all right," Justin said. "Would you all leave us, please?"

"Is that a good idea?" Phillip asked, his voice pitched for Justin's ears, alone. The smile left Justin's face, and he nodded.

Phillip turned to Argon. "It is meet," he said. Within minutes, the two boys were alone.

"You have another difficult question," Phillip said, gently.

Justin's father was often uncomfortable dealing directly with Phillip. The king knew that Phillip had been sent to this world and time from another world. He knew that Phillip was a mage who must be, after breaking iron manacles with magic, at least as powerful as any in Elvenholt. He knew that his son and Phillip had been sexual partners from the day they met, and that Justin had seduced Phillip without revealing the prince's own identity. He knew that Phillip and Zosa had saved Justin's life when the prince had defied reason and joined candidate dragon riders in the sometimes-fatal selection process.

The king also knew that the dragon riders who followed Phillip, while being elves and the king's subjects, were tied very, very closely to this human boy. The king did not know, nor did he want to find out, whom the riders would follow should the king issue orders that Phillip would not obey. It pleased the king, therefore, to use Justin as an intermediary.

Justin nodded. "You have never refused any request from my father."

"Your father offered amity to me, to a boy from another world about whom he knew nearly nothing. He offered amity for himself and for his people. I know that means more than just nonaggression, or entente. I understood that when I accepted his amity and offered mine. There is little I would not do for him or for his kingdom or for his people.

"He wants to ask something that I would not want to do." Phillip's voice held certainty. There was no hint of question in its inflection.

"Master Coriolanus has reported that you are no longer in harmony with this place, with our time," Justin said.

"Did you people never hear of doctor-patient confidentiality?" Phillip demanded. His voice was harsh and loud. He crossed his arms on his chest and glowered at Justin.

"Yes, but a healer's first oath is to his king," Justin said. He reached across the distance that separated the two boys and took Phillip's hands. Again, Phillip smelled cornflowers. This time, there was also the scent of sage and sand heated by a summer sun: the smell of his homeland.

"It's more than that," Justin said. Phillip saw tears welling in the corners of the boy's eyes. "I must ask you to leave—to leave Elvenholt, to leave me—and to go into danger greater than any you have yet faced."

The boy wiped the tears from his eyes. A slight shift in his posture, the tilt of his head, the firmness of his mouth, and he was again a prince.

"Phillip Windrider Spartus, will you leave Elvenholt, taking only Zosa, Argon, Javari, and Maranon, and travel to Barrone by the Sea, there to seek the place of power from which you can take Argon home?

"So asks my father, King of Elvenholt, and I in his name."

Phillip thought of the friends he had made, of the battles they had fought, of the bonds that they had created: bonds that even death would not sever. He thought of the dangers they would face as they traveled the thousands of miles to Barrone. Nevertheless, he nodded. He knew that this was Right, and that it was the next step on their journey. No, not just a journey, Phillip thought. It is some sort of quest, like the Knights of the Round Table looking for that Hispanglo icon. We have been told that we are on a quest, although I am not sure what it is that we seek. Surely, it is more than a way home for Argon.

Phillip paused for a moment. "Kyle and Brendan? We are sworn to them."

"Their first oath was to my father," Justin said. "They will join my companions, if you and they agree."

Phillip remembered what Argon had said: only by becoming part of this world can we leave it. Yes! Surely it is more than just a way home for Argon! Yet, that is a part of it. We must go on what Argon, Javari, and Maranon will see as a great adventure.

Jonathan, the blue-haired boy who had been the first dragon rider after Phillip, was named commander in Phillip's place. There never was any question. Jonathan was a warrior. More than that, he was a leader.

Justin and his companions joined the dragon riders to say farewell. After dozens of hugs, Phillip, Argon, Maranon, and Javari stood a little apart with Justin. The prince's eyes twinkled. "Phillip, you once told me you would never refuse a request from me. I have one last request. Would you and your companions kneel? Please?"

Phillip looked startled, and some of the dragon riders began to grumble until Jonathan raised his hand. Justin is a prince, Phillip thought. He's more than a thousand years old. And he is my friend. Phillip knelt. Maranon, Javari, and Argon quickly followed.

Justin unclipped his sword and laid it on Maranon's head. "Maranon of Solimoes, for service to this kingdom and its people, and for service to come, I name you knight. So speaks my father, King of Elvenholt, and I in his name."

Justin moved to stand in front of Javari. "Javari of Solimoes, for service to this kingdom and its people, and for service to come, I name you knight. So speaks my father, King of Elvenholt, and I in his name."

Standing in front of Argon, Justin's words changed. "Argon of Beringia, friend of Elvenholt and its peoples, for service to this kingdom and for service to come, I name you citizen and knight of Elvenholt. So speaks my father, King of Elvenholt, and I in his name."

Justin stood in front of Phillip. He paused. He swallowed. He blinked tears from his eyes. "Phillip Windrider Spartus whose honor equals any in this kingdom, for service to Elvenholt and its people and for service to come, I name thee citizen and knight bannerette of Elvenholt. So speaks my father, King of Elvenholt, and I in his name."

Justin reached out to pull Phillip to his feet, hugged him, and whispered. "I love you, Phillip. If I do not see you again in this life, I will look for you in another." The assembly cheered. Phillip's reply was lost to all but Justin, but it brought more tears to that boy's eyes.

With Zosa flying aircap, Phillip and his companions rode south. They were scarcely out of sight when a scout landed at the Dragon Fortress with word: the dragon corps was needed to face a new enemy incursion.

"The wind is cold," Javari said. "It draws the heat from us." He shivered despite the layers of cloth, leather, and fur that they all wore.

"The Hispanglos called it wind chill," Phillip said. "My people called it the breath of the mountain."

"Here, the breath of the mountain is fire," Maranon said, pointing to the horizon where the plume of a volcano streaked the sky.

"In any case, we need more shelter than these rocks provide," Phillip said.

There is a cave," Zosa said. Phillip and Argon turned: they had not only heard her voice, but also seen where she was looking.

Javari kicked at the twigs and duff on the cave floor, and uncovered a circle of blackened rocks. "We're not the first to find this place," he said.

We? Zosa asked. Only Phillip and Argon heard. They looked at one another and grinned.

"Phillip, come see?" Argon whispered. "Look. These are what you call Roman letters, but I do not think the words are Elvish."

Phillip followed Argon's voice to the back of the cave, where the boy stood with a candle. Etched into the wall were two figures. Male? Perhaps. They were standing beside a checkerboard . . . No, a map, Phillip thought. Then he saw the letters Argon had seen: PAUL + LARRY JACKSONVILLE WYOMING USA.

Phillip realized, then, that the checkerboard was a map: a map of his world, a map of the western states of the Hispanglo nation, but the Res, the Athabascan Nation, it's not there! 'Paul' and 'Larry' are Hispanglo names of my world. Wyoming is an Algonquin word But what is usa?

Phillip had an epiphany that struck fear into his heart. This is not my world!

"You know the map and the words?" Argon said. "It's your world, and there are two boys. The same two from the tapestry?"

"I don't think so," Phillip said. "The boys in the tapestry, if they came here from my world, must have come years and years ago. Cassius said the tapestry was old, and that most of the story behind it had been lost. But, these boys are not from my world. The map is wrong. But it does prove, I think, that openings between worlds are more common than we have thought."

The boys slept curled together, like puppies in a blanket. The next morning, they descended the mountains toward the town of Wellsprings.

The soft notes of a mountain dulcimer were lost in the noise of the crowd. Only the children who sat at the minstrel's feet heard his song. It was a song of adventure, a song of a quest by a boy from west of the mountains, a boy named Arabion, and of the prince who became his Best Friend. The children smiled and clapped their hands when the last note died. The minstrel smiled his thanks for the coppers their parents dropped into the bowl at his feet. The crowd dispersed. The minstrel bent to retrieve the coins, but looked up when a silver shilling dropped into the bowl.

The boy's thank you died on his lips when he saw who stood in front of him. Lord Varda, he thought.

"You don't like me, boy," the man said. He stood so close to the minstrel that the boy could not stand as protocol demanded.

"You are a sembler, my lord," the boy said. "But you are not an empath. My thoughts are my own."

"You are clever—but also impudent, boy. Do you want me to whip you?"

"No, my lord." You're not likely to sully your hands, anyway, the boy thought. "Nor would I like your minions to whip me."

"You'll not come with me, then?" the man asked.

"No, my lord." The boy held out the bowl in which the shilling rested.

"Keep it," the man said through a sneer, and walked away.

Thank you, father, the boy thought. He tucked the shilling into his belt and the bowl into his shirt. He picked up his dulcimer and crutch, and hobbled toward the inn.

Phillip scrambled down the hill to the road where his companions waited with the horses. "Zosa said there were many mountain goats in these hills," he said. "She will feed—while we feed the horses and ourselves. The town looks to be about 20 miles away. We should reach it by nones." He took the reins of his horse from Maranon, and hugged the boy.

"I've missed you," Maranon said.

"I've missed you, too," Phillip said. "But you know that Zosa . . ."

Maranon silenced Phillip with a kiss. "I'm not jealous, and my words were not a reproach. I know that you and Zosa have bonded, but I also know that the bond does not threaten me, nor the bond we made lifetimes ago."

"No," Phillip said. "It does not. Nor does it threaten the bond we share with the others who—it seems—are anxious to ride."

People and carts moving away from Wellsprings filled the road. The new moon had appeared four days before; the three-day-long First Market was over, and farm families were returning to their homes. The companions often stood patiently on the verge to allow a wagon to pass. It was, therefore, past nones when they reached the town. On the other hand, with the market over, the streets were clear and the inn was empty. The publican was glad of their custom.

The boys were in the hot soak when the door opened and a boy hobbled in. The crutch under one arm substituted for the foot on that side, for the boy's leg ended a few inches below the knee. However, the boy's movements were not awkward as he dropped his clothes in the washtub, nor as he showered and cleaned himself. His gait was fluid when he walked across the floor to the hot tub. He slid easily into the water.

After a few moments of silence, the boy spoke. "It's not catching, you know." He looked directly across the tub to where Javari was sitting.

"What? Huh?" Javari said.

"My leg," the boy said. "You can't catch it; it's not contagious."

"I'm sure we did not think it was," Argon said. His empathy allowed him to grasp the meaning behind what the boy said. "We are, however, new in this country, and do not know your customs." The companions had crossed into Arcadia only recently, and had immediately learned that elven and human customs were different. Perhaps because their party included elves, and perhaps because they brought stories to isolated elven villages, they had been welcomed, even feted, in Elvenholt. The people of West Fort, the first human town they'd entered, were less welcoming. Taciturn, certainly. Unfriendly? No, but not overly friendly, either.

"You came from Elvenholt," the boy said. "And you came through West Fort. Raiders from the west have attacked them twice this year. They probably weren't very happy to see you, and therefore, not very friendly. My name is Bartholome, and I welcome you to Wellsprings in the Light."

"Thank you for your welcome," Phillip said. "I am Phillip and these are my companions." He named the others.

"What brings you to Wellsprings?" Bartholome asked. "If you do not think me impertinent."

"Rest for our horses and ourselves, a bath, and supplies," Phillip replied.

"True enough," Bartholome said. "And now you know that I am a sembler." He hesitated. "You should also know that I am an empath. I wouldn't have said that, but I sense goodness and amity. I also sense a great yearning, and a curious hunger. One of you yearns for his home. The hunger? It's . . . it's almost as if you wanted . . . a . . . a mountain goat?"

He senses Zosa through me, and perhaps through Argon, as well, Phillip thought. He kept his composure, as did Javari. Bartholome did not have to be an empath to read surprise and concern on the faces of the two youngest boys.

"Please," he said, a little fearful, "I mean you no harm."

"Oh, no! Nor we, you," Argon said. He'd sensed Bartholome's fear. "We were just surprised . . . and a little concerned, too. Did you really see a mountain goat?"

"Yes, but I know you don't want to talk about it," Bartholome said. "Are you staying the night at the inn?"

"Yes," Phillip said.

"Then I will play for you," Bartholome said. "I am a minstrel," he added, and lifted himself from the tub.

Javari quickly followed. "May I dry you?" he asked.

Bartholome smiled. "Yes, thank you. I would like that."

Javari stood beside the boy. His hands took some of the magic that he'd received from his companions, and formed an invisible strigil with which he scraped water from the boy's skin. There was a briefly whispered conversation, after which Javari led the boy from the room.

Maranon's horse had an inflamed cannon bone, rather, the casing over the muscle that lay alongside that bone was inflamed, and the companions' stay was extended for several days to allow the horse to recover. Despite the village's location in the northern marches, and its proximity to Elvenholt, elves were infrequent visitors. Javari and Maranon had many invitations, including those from Bartholome. It was, therefore, not until the third night that Bartholome invited Phillip to share with him. Afterwards, Bartholome whispered to Phillip, "I see in you a power I've never seen before. It's a power that soars high above me. It is a power that sees with the eyes of an eagle. But it is also a power of . . . death. Yet it does not frighten me. Who are you? Who are you, Phillip?"

"Tomorrow," Phillip answered. "Tomorrow."

The next day dawned gray. The dawn was followed by a slow, steady rain. It was a good day for sharing stories. Phillip and Bartholome sat in a corner of the common room, a little apart from the others. Phillip related an abbreviated version of his story, the same one he'd told at so many elven villages.

Then, Phillip told the boy about Zosa. "She waits in the mountains for us; it is she who hungers for mountain goat . . . although she has eaten often in the past days."

"You would be a wonderful minstrel!" Bartholome exclaimed. "You're not going to stay here, are you? This village couldn't support the both of us." His smile served to show that he didn't mean ill by his words.

Phillip laughed. "No, we stay only while the horses rest; we'll be gone in a day, two perhaps." His smile showed that he hadn't taken offense at Bartholome's words.

Phillip sobered quickly, and asked, "When we first met, you said you felt a great yearning—a yearning for home. Will you say more?"

Bartholome nodded. "You told me that Argon was far from his home . . . and you know that the yearning comes from him. Yet, it is smothered, as if by a heavy, wool blanket.

"There is conflict, is there not?" Bartholome continued. "Like that in my father's mind. He yearns for an heir, but believes that I cannot be that. He loves me, but he hates my infirmity. So it is with Argon: he loves you, but he also wants to be at home. He knows that the two are irreconcilable."

Phillip nodded. "I swore to take Argon home. I find that I cannot. At least, not presently. We seek a place of power from which I can take him home."

Phillip sighed. "I love Zosa; yet, I doubt that there is any way to take her to Argon's home. I must select between Argon and Zosa. It is so hard."

"Phillip, in your story you said that you are from so far away that an elven child could not walk there in a lifetime. You are not from this world, are you?"

Phillip stared at Bartholome. "You are the first—the only—person who has deduced that." I could have lied to him, Phillip thought. I've learned enough of this world's magic, and the magic of the semblers, that I could have safely lied to him. Why did I not do so? He put these thoughts aside.

"No," Phillip said. "Argon and I met after he was transported to my world, a world far different from this one. We do not know how that was done. We do know that he was not in harmony with my world. Therefore, my people sent us to this world. That was easy, I guess, compared to what I must do: take Argon not only to his home place, but also to his home time."

Bartholome sat quietly, digesting Phillip's explanation of time and what, to Phillip, was time travel. Then, "There is a story that may help you.

Bartholome began, "A thousand lifetimes ago . . . "

Bartholome's story of two boys from another world, boys who had come on a strange conveyance to this world, and who had become great warriors for the Light, was a confirmation that Phillip did not truly need. The boys in the tapestry: they came to Barrone. Everything points to that city. We are, indeed, on a quest, and its goal is Barrone.

Later that evening, Phillip and Bartholome lay, warm and close. "What is your great yearning?" Phillip asked.

"My father," Bartholome replied, "is the baron. I am his only son. I lost my leg—well, part of it—when I was a child. I cannot inherit the title, for I cannot ride a horse in battle, nor stand and fight with a sword. I am not unhappy in that. I love my music, and I make my way in the world. I am, however, an embarrassment to my father."

"Because you are a musician?" Phillip asked.

"More so because I play in the market square and in the inn's common room for pennies," Bartholome said. He laughed. "My father sends someone every tenday or so to give me a shilling or two. I don't need it, but I accept it. Last market—the day before you arrived—he came himself and gave me a shilling. We spoke. It was not pleasant.

"My great yearning? To be reconciled with my father."

The next morning, all the boys hugged Bartholome and thanked him for his music and his stories.

"You are on a quest," he said. I do not expect you to return. But if you ever do, I will be here."

The companions looked from one to the other. Phillip spoke for them all. "If we do not see you in this life, we will look for you in another."

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