It always takes me a few days of sailing before I quit trying to jettison last week's dinner.

My stomach told me I was aboard a ship before I opened my eyes to see Bastilla sitting cross-legged on the floor beside my bunk, wearing boy's clothes and looking very much like the woman who had traveled halfway across the Five Kingdoms with me.

She smiled. "Good morning, Ward. How's your head?"

I returned her smile before I remembered what she was. I touched my head gingerly but could find no bump.

"I healed you," she said. "I'm sorry Tosten was so angry that you chose to follow my master. He gave you quite a concussion. My master thought you should sleep until we reached the sea, so I let you rest."

"How do you know Tosten was angry?" I'd planned upon that interpretation, but she sounded so certain.

"When I healed you," she said, patting my knee, "I picked up on your emotions. I felt how much he hurt you."

Tosten had said she invaded his mind when she healed him. Just how much did she know?

"He doesn't understand what Hurog means to me," I said tentatively. Her normalcy so contrasted with the picture of her kissing Kariarn's boots, it was hard to believe it was both the same person.

She nodded her head sympathetically. "He'll come around; he idolizes you. After Duraugh is dead, he can put it behind him." So she hadn't read me enough to know that Duraugh's death was one of the things I hoped to stop by traveling with Kariarn.


Everyone seemed to think that I could just throw away my uncle's life in order to satisfy my own ambitions. I don't know why I cared what Bastilla thought; maybe it was just confirmation of Tosten's opinion that hurt.

"Does King Kariarn know you tried to kill me?" I asked.

She dropped her head so I couldn't see her expression. "That was very bad of me," she said. Then she met my gaze and laughed. "Did you think you would get away with flirting with Haverness's cow after refusing me? And you suffered. I saw it on your face when Penrod died." She sounded like my mother talking about her garden. "Poor Penrod. I had thought to use him to kill your wizard, but the opportunity, with us so close to my master, was difficult to resist. He fought me, though. I don't think I could have gotten him to do more than wound you before he broke the hold, but Tosten made that a moot point, don't you think?" She smiled again at the expression on my face and ran her fingertip around the outside of my ear. "I told you that you'd regret how you treated me. But - " There was a repellent eagerness in her eyes. "  -  if you tell my master, I'm sure he'll punish me. Speaking of whom, I'd better tell him you have awakened."

Wordlessly I nodded.

She shut the door behind her, but I couldn't tell if she locked it or not.

Oreg appeared sitting in the same place she'd just been. "He told her to make you comfortable."

I shivered, and Oreg patted my knee the same way Bastilla had. I jerked away, because I hadn't been able to jerk away from her.

"Did Tosten get away?"

"Yes." He shifted on the bed, not looking at me. "I'm sorry I hit you so hard."

I remembered what our last words had been, and why Oreg had been upset. "Oreg, I wouldn't let him take the bones if I could see a way around it."

He nodded his head, not looking at me. "What are you going to do about Duraugh?"

Tosten, Bastilla, and now Oreg, I thought. It didn't help that the rocking of the boat had begun to make me nauseated. Thoroughly miserable and wanting to hurt him back, I said, "I'll kill him if Kariarn doesn't take care of it for me. He's the last thing standing between me and Hurog. If I have to sacrifice everyone left at Hurog to regain my birthright, well then, I guess that's what I'll do." I thought he'd catch the sarcasm, but he left instead. Even Oreg, I thought, even Oreg believes me capable of killing Duraugh.

The next few weeks were grim.

If I went onto the deck, I had to talk with Kariarn with Bastilla always nearby. I had to be very careful not to do anything that would tell her I was not Kariarn's ardent supporter. Bastilla, herself, behaved as if nothing had changed, forcing me to do the same.

I'd grown used to being less guarded, and the old cautions learned from my father's treatment sat upon me like a hair shirt. I don't think I could have done it if I hadn't wanted what Kariarn offered so much. It gave me a truth to blind him with.

Kariarn proved his reputation for charm. He asked me soft-voiced questions and listened while I ranted and stormed about the idiots around me - the way I'd always wanted to rant about them. I told him of my ambitions and how much Hurog meant to me. I even told him about my father. I talked myself so raw that when I went to my cabin and Oreg's accusing silence, I couldn't bring myself to confront Oreg about his assumptions.

His distrust hurt almost as much as the loss of Hurog. Again. I'd resigned myself to it at Silverfells, but that didn't mean it didn't hurt when Kariarn dangled it in front of me.

I stood near the prow one evening, the setting sun on my left sending red fingers out into the darkening sea. The air was chill on the water and blew my hair away from my face.

"You can't make the ship go faster by willing it," said Kariarn, approaching me from behind.

Nor could I make it any slower. Last night I'd overheard the Seaford-born sail master say we were making good time.

"I'm getting tired of the food," I said truthfully.

Oreg wasn't speaking to me except when I demanded it. I wondered bitterly if Oreg would tell some long-distant Hurogmeten about Wardwick, who betrayed dragonkind one final time. But Oreg wasn't without companionship. He'd made friends of the shy trillies who lived in the darkest bowels of the ship: I'd seen one of the gray green, rat-like creatures scamper off his lap when I came into our cabin one evening.

It was shortly after that the food began to suffer from rot, rats, and weevils. My blankets were always damp. Rats got into my trunk and put a hole into every garment I owned. I made Oreg repair them. It might have been just ship's luck, but I suspected Oreg or his trillies, who were fully capable of such mischief and weren't bound by the ring to serve me.

"I've spoken to the shipmaster about his food storage," said Kariarn amiably. I gave an inward shudder and silent apology to the poor unfortunate. "I've sent a boat out to the Sea-Singer to get some supplies so at least we'll have good food tonight."

There were six ships, including ours. Two hundred fifty men in each ship except for the Serpent, which carried a hundred men, the basilisk, and fifty horses (officers' horses - Pansy had been left behind at Buril). Fourteen hundred men, of which about two-thirds were actually fighting men (the rest being cooks, messengers, smiths, grooms, and the like) - so almost a thousand men and a monster to take Hurog. Duraugh had, at best, one hundred twenty, and he was missing Stala and fifty of the Blue Guard.

I kept my gaze on the sea.

"I've always hated to travel by water," Kariarn said, setting his arms over the railing and leaning out into the wind.

"You get seasick?" I asked, though I hadn't seen any sign of it in him.

"No more than you." Kariarn grinned. I smiled back. No one knew about the night I'd spent throwing up. Oreg had helped me dispose of the mess quietly, though I'd had to order him to do it. He'd spared no sympathy on a Hurogmeten who'd betray his own. "It's just - " Kariarn said, "that I hate being dependent on something I can't control."

I laughed and turned toward him. "Me, too."

"You look sad, sometimes," he said. "Bastilla thinks that you worry about your uncle."

I nodded my head. "Sometimes. But he took Hurog from me." I met Kariarn's eye. If anyone knew about obsessions, it was he. "I cowered beneath my father's hand, gave up my very identity to keep Hurog. I won't let Duraugh take it from me."

He touched my arm, then after a moment gave me an affectionate shove. "I can't believe that you don't know where the dragon bones are." He'd said similar things before, and I gave him the same excuse as always.

"I'd just found out about them myself a few weeks before Bastilla came. Oreg belonged to my father before me." And his father before him, but Kariarn didn't need to know that. "My father's mishandling of him has made him all but useless to me. It's taken me a long time to get Oreg to trust me with the secrets of Hurog."

"So you think there are more secrets?" His response was so idle, so harmless sounding, that I had to go over what I'd said in my head to find what had triggered his oh so very casual interest.

Secrets. Plague it. To a man obsessed with magic, secrets meant magic. I'd never get him out of Hurog if he thought there was something else there, especially since there was nothing else to be found.

I nodded my head and gave him the truth. "My grandfather sold all the important stuff - four suits of dwarven-made mail, every artifact that his wizards could find touched with magic, most of the valuable tapestries - to get Hurog through two bad seasons half a century ago. But according to the keep's accounts, there were two thousand pieces of silver left over. I know my father had access to them from his notes in the account book. There should be almost twelve hundred left, and they weren't in the regular coffers. I'd bet gems to sweetmeat that Oreg knows where it's stored. That would buy enough sheep to start a fair-sized herd. It's sheep that'll restore prosperity to Hurog, you know," I confided at my usual pace. The expression of interest on his face became fixed, but I continued anyway. "My father and grandfather tried it with horses, but they are labor intensive. You don't get good money out of them unless they're trained. Sheep, on the other hand..." I watched the interest die out of Kariarn's eyes as I waxed enthusiastic about sheep breeding.

Oreg was standing in my cabin when I pulled my shirt off over my head, though I'd been alone when I grabbed the bottom of it.

"You usually abbreviate what you say so that you don't drive people to drink by how slowly you talk, don't you?" He observed. "Did you notice the grip Kariarn had on his knife while you told him about the difference between Northern Avinhellish sheep and Southern Avinhellish sheep?"

It was the longest speech he'd made to me since I'd awakened aboard ship. It made me wary.

"So what do you have planned next?" I asked in mild tones. This evening had been tiring, and I wasn't in the mood to ignore him anymore. "You could have the trillies rot the rope holding up my hammock so it dumps me on the floor tonight." I'd abandoned the bed for a hammock because it helped hold the seasickness at bay.

His eyes widened at my words, so I tugged hard on the top of my hammock (as opposed to the bottom, which would only dump me feetfirst) and at the second jerk, the hook holding the hammock to the upper deck pulled out of the beam. It was the wood, not the rope that had rotted.

I pulled my clothing trunk over and used it to stand on while I moved the hook to the next board over without saying a word. When I was satisfied the hook would hold my weight, I moved the chest back to where it had been and sat on it. It was time to negotiate. I needed Oreg if I were to save Hurog, so I couldn't afford to sulk anymore.

"I know you don't want to give the dragon bones to Kariarn, but I don't see any way to prevent it," I said.

"She was beautiful," he replied obscurely. "Rose and gold with a voice that made the waves leap to her music. And Seleg killed her for fear of losing Hurog. He wept and sorrowed, then justified his actions. He cursed his family even down to this generation, and he justified it because he didn't want to admit he'd been too frightened that he would lose Hurog to the invaders to try to stop them without the magic he gained from the dragon's death." Oreg took a small step away from me. "He'd learned by then what killing the dragon meant. The Hurog bloodline was thick with wizards, but Seleg was the last wizard born to your family until your birth."

I stared at him, remembering little things he'd told me, things Axiel had told me. "That's what drove the dwarves away, wasn't it? Not that the dragon had been killed. If they'd have known that Seleg killed the dragon, the dwarves would have attacked Hurog, and there's no record of it. But the dragon's death did something to Hurog. Something that made the dwarves grow ill and stunted their magic." Oreg nodded. I took a deep breath. "That's what caused the mines to quit producing and brought salt creep to the best fields. I've seen the records of the crops that used to come from those fields. We bring in less than half of that on a good year."

"Yes," whispered Oreg.

I stood up and began to pace. "It's not just the dwarven kingdoms though, is it? I stood on top of the remains of the temple at Menogue and looked down on Estian. It's shrinking and has been for a long time. It's not just Hurog that's become less than it was, but it's spreading from Hurog."

"Yes," whispered Oreg again.

"And the curse on the family isn't just that there are no more Hurog mages. I remember my mother when she was happy, but the longer she stayed at Hurog, the stranger she got. Then there is my father." I remembered what the Oreg I'd dreamed of had told me about Hurog. I said, "Hurog poisons the people who live there. My grandfather had eight legitimate children of whom only two survived childhood: my father and his brother, who were sent out for fostering at a very young age. Ciarra can't speak, and Tosten was suicidal." The strain of the voyage was telling on my temper so that the results of that ancient stupidity made me want to hit something.

"And you lost the ability to work magic."

I waved my hand, and all of the oil lamps in the room flared brightly. "Not completely."

Staring at him, I realized that the reason he hadn't moved was because he was afraid of me. I'd been agitated and ranting like my father used to, and for little cause besides stress and fatigue. I inhaled and closed my eyes and carefully pruned away the anger I felt toward Seleg, who hadn't been the hero I needed him to be; toward my father; my mother; and finally, toward Hurog, whose magic filled my soul and took my sister's voice and my mother's reason; but most of all at Oreg, who hadn't believed in me.

"Anger is stupid, and stupidity will kill you more surely than your opponent's blade." My aunt's voice echoed in my head, and so I pushed anger aside with reason. It was not Seleg's fault I'd chosen him for my hero. It was not my fault my father had hated me, and my mother had run away. When I was certain it was gone, I looked again at Oreg, who'd been betrayed far more than I.

"I can't change what Seleg did," I said at last. "There is nothing I can do to make it right."

Oreg's purple eyes were still wide with fear or some other strong emotion, watching me so he could tell which way to jump.

"I could have you get the two of us into Hurog when we are close enough. We could help my uncle hold her."

"Duraugh can't hold Hurog, Ward," said Oreg. "There are too many here. Even with all of the Blue Guard, Hurog could not withstand this many men. Not in its current state. It's not ready for a siege."

I thought again. "Could you move the bones out?"

He shook his head. "Out of the cave and its protections, every wizard within a hundred miles could find the bones, but it doesn't matter. Seleg bound me past my death to keep the bones hidden in the heart of Hurog."

"Do you see any options that would keep Kariarn from the bones?" I asked.

"No." He turned his head away from me.

"Oreg." I waited. "Oreg."

Finally, he looked at me.

I cleared my throat to hide how much his answer mattered to me. "Do you think that I would kill my uncle just to become Hurogmeten again?"

His face worked suddenly, and he dropped to his knees before me. "I believe that you would never have killed a dragon to save yourself. I believe that you would never knowingly betray a trust."

It was a powerful speech, and I wanted to believe him, but I'd been around slaves. They told their masters what they thought their masters wanted to hear, then tried to believe it themselves.

When he looked up, there was a strange expression on his face, one I'd never seen there before. It took me a moment to identify it as hope. "You would not betray Hurog," he said. "You would do the right thing, no matter what the consequences." There was something about the way he said it that made me want to question him, as if his words meant more than they said.

From the shadows beyond the chest, a shadow darted, chittering loudly, distracting me. Oreg laughed suddenly and picked up the trillie, ruffling the gray green fur behind the rodent face. He said something to it and set it down to disappear once more in the shadows of the cabin.

He pulled up his knees and buried his face in them. His shoulders shook with - laughter. "There's a rotten fish in your blankets," he said.

"The sail master says we'll reach Tyrfannig tomorrow - probably very early morning," I said, watching Oreg, who lay on the hammock belly first, swinging it back and forth while he stared at the floor. It was black as pitch outside, but the little oil lamp was sufficient to light a larger space than my cabin.

"What?" he said. Apparently the floor was more interesting than I was.

"Quit watching the cracks go past, and listen to me." I paced as I spoke. Two strides, heel-turn, two strides, heel-turn. Our cabin was the second largest on the ship, but that wasn't saying much. "As soon as you can, transport yourself to Tyrfannig and warn them about the Vorsag. Have the headman send a message to my uncle and - "

"Calm yourself, Ward," soothed Oreg, rolling over and bouncing out of the hammock in one easy motion, effectively stopping my pacing because there was no more room. "I know, I'm to tell the townspeople to hide themselves until the armies have passed by. Then, as soon as we're close enough, I'll transport both of us to Hurog and you can warn Duraugh."

Something about Oreg had changed in the last few days. Perhaps it was just that he trusted me; but I'd never seen him in such calm good humor. It made me nervous. All right, more nervous. Waves of panicky self-doubt had been rolling over me since I awoke on board Kariarn's ship. My plans were so tenuous as to be laughable. Nothing I could do would guarantee my uncle's safety.

Even without experience in siege warfare, I knew that Hurog couldn't stand off a siege before harvest. So the only answer was to get the people away from Hurog and hope that Kariarn would leave with the bones. Oreg seemed strangely unworried about that part for all of his earlier histrionics. He spoke confidently of our weak plans, while I wasn't even certain my uncle would trust me when I told him to get our people out of Hurog.

"If I'd slept with Bastilla, she might not have gone back to Kariarn," I threw myself back on the bed, since Oreg had the hammock.

"It wouldn't have mattered, Ward. She is bound to him."

"Could you have broken the binding, Oreg?"

"If she wanted it badly enough," he answered. "But she didn't."

His reasonableness made me furious, and I curled my hands into fists, just as my father always had before he lost his temper. The thought forced me to stretch my fingers out and flatten them against the narrow mattress. "I'm sorry, Oreg. Just jitters. I just wish I knew what was going to happen."

Some fleeting emotion crossed his face. "All things happen in their own time, whether you want them to or not."

He stiffened suddenly, lifting his head and staring at nothing. "We've come farther than I thought. I can warn Tyrfannig now."

"Go," I commanded, but he was already gone.

I took in a deep, shaky breath. It had begun. I didn't know whether I felt better or worse.

There were no ships at the mooring when we sailed within sight of Tyrfannig. Nor were the dockworkers there. It didn't hamper Kariarn's ships. They weighed anchor offshore and sent eel boats to transport troops and mounts to land.

"Is it always so quiet here?" asked Kariarn from the prow of our ship.

I shook my head, watching the Vorsagian eel boats. They didn't look a lot like eels, being much broader and flatter than anything a Northlander would sail. In the season of storms, they'd be capsized, but it was calm today, and they slid through the waves as if they were negotiating the southern seas.

"Where are all the people?"

"My brother must have gotten a message to Duraugh," I said without concern. "Look at that! If they're not careful, that horse is going to - ah, they got the blindfold on. Could have lost the boat."

"A message!" said Kariarn. "What message? How many troops could he muster?"

I rolled my eyes at him and said, "My uncle has a wizard, and so does Haverness. I would suppose from the results in front of us that Haverness's man sent a message to my uncle's." Inside, I felt a flash of hope. I'd forgotten about the wizards.

"Bastilla?" he asked.

She shook her head. "My sources say Duraugh's wizard is inept, and Haverness's man has no talent for farspeaking. I suppose Oreg might." She looked at me.

I shrugged. "He might be able to do it; he likes to be mysterious. It doesn't matter. Tyrfannig has no fighters except ten or twenty mercenaries hired to escort merchants. This late in the summer there won't be many. My uncle has only half the Blue Guard."

"He has another estate."

"Iftahar in Tallven," I answered. We'd already discussed this. I wasn't the only one nervous about the assault - if for different reasons. It was hard to remember that Kariarn was little older than I. "Even if he had time to bring them all in, he would not have half the men you bring against him."

"If a messenger could get through so fast, so also could troops."

"Not so." I raised my voice a bit impatiently. "You know how much longer an army takes to cover so much territory. There are supply wagons that have to be taken on real roads - or at least decent trails. They'd be lucky to make five leagues a day. They won't be here for another week at the very least. By that time, Hurog will be mine, and I'll welcome them in, having supposedly driven your troops off."

On the ship nearest to us, Kariarn's wizards brought the basilisk on deck. It was longer than any of the eel boats, but they appeared to be trying to get it in one anyway. The long, slender boat swayed wildly on the pulleys that would lower it into the sea as soon as it was loaded. The basilisk was so heavy that the ship it was on dipped dangerously toward us as the creature's position threw the ship off balance. A big wave at the wrong angle would capsize it.

The basilisk remained motionless, all four legs spread out to support it against the motion of the ship. At long last, it dashed across the deck and into the eel boat. But it didn't even hesitate aboard the rocking vessel but slid over the edge and disappeared into the sea. Who would have thought stone dragons could swim?

Kariarn swore and dashed to the side of the boat nearest the beast. I followed him in time to see the basilisk dive under our ship, hitting it solidly with its tail. I grabbed the rail as the ship wallowed, instinctively grabbing Kariarn before he went over.

He didn't pause to thank me but ran to the other side. The basilisk surfaced near the rock-strewn shore and climbed out of the water. It settled on the rocks and closed its jewel-toned eyes, blending so thoroughly that if I hadn't seen him move to the spot, I wouldn't have known he was there.

A heavy hand slapped my shoulder.

"Thanks for keeping me from falling in." Kariarn grinned at me.

I grinned back and wondered if he would have drowned if I let him go over. Or perhaps I could have jumped in to "rescue" him and made certain of it. But there hadn't been time for thought, and instinct had bade me save him.

"Sire, the boat is ready." One of the sailors approached cautiously.

Kariarn waved at me to precede him. I turned, and darkness pulled over my eyes.

I woke up in a room that wasn't surging with the sea. My wrists and ankles were tightly knotted together.

"I'm sorry for this, especially after you've demonstrated your good faith," said Kariarn.

I focused on his face. The aftereffects of Bastilla's spell weren't as bad this time. I must have been getting used to it.

"I can't afford to trust you right now," explained Kariarn sincerely. "After we've taken the keep, I'll send some people to get you. Then Bastilla and my mages will pretend to help you take back the keep with a few impressive shows of magic. You'll be quite safe here. No one but my men will know that you've been our prisoner. Even if some of the Tyrfannig people return, I'm leaving the basilisk in the main room, just outside your door. My mages tell me that it's become harder to control and is as likely to kill my army as it is your uncle's, so it will serve as a guardian for you. To keep you safe."

I nodded my head - slowly, so the pulsing pain didn't get worse. "I understand. Just be sure you take the keep. Wouldn't want to be stuck here until the basilisk gets hungry."

Kariarn laughed and left the room, Bastilla trailing behind him.

"They made a mistake taking the basilisk here," said Oreg, emerging from the shadows after the bolt slid home. "I thought they might have trouble. The land here, even so far from Hurog, is steeped in dragon magic, which is close kin to that of the basilisk. I doubt they have any control of her now, whatever they think. You're not the only one who's able to play stupid."

"Did you get everyone out?"

"I carried a message from your uncle to the headman, who can read, bless his merchant's heart," he said.

"A message from my uncle?"

"Bearing his seal and in his own writing," confirmed Oreg. "Forgery is one of my many talents. At Duraugh's command, the Tyrfannig citizens have taken to the hills where they cannot be easily found." He took a slender dagger out of his boot and sliced the bindings on my wrists and ankles.

We'd decided not to send a message for Hurog. A message alone wouldn't give Duraugh cause enough to leave Hurog; I wouldn't do it myself. "Can you get to Hurog to warn them, too?"


I stopped rubbing my wrists and said, "No?" My stomach clenched. Kariarn's people would slaughter my...my uncle's people.

"It is too far from you. I can't do it."

I cleared my mind of panic. "Then we'll just have to get close enough to do it. When Kariarn clears out of Tyrfannig, break us out of here and...Why are you shaking your head?"

"She's spelled the building against your escape. It's specific, so it's nearly impossible to counterspell without alerting her. I think she suspects that you know a lot more magic than you do. Maybe it was the pyre at Silverfells."

"So you can come and go, but not far enough to do us any good. And I can't leave without alerting Bastilla. Should we worry about her?"

He nodded. "With the number of wizards Kariarn has, if they know what we're about, they can probably stop us. But she was working fast, and the spells on the doors are not holding. Doors are meant to let people in and out, and their nature fights against imprisoning spells."

"The outside door is past the basilisk," I said. "You said she was smarter than Kariarn believes. Could we negotiate?"

He shook his head. "She won't negotiate with her food. But if I can touch her for a few minutes, I can control her."

"Even here? Where there is dragon magic?"

Oreg smiled, "Especially here."

"So all I need to do is distract it for a while."

With the same magic that allowed me to find lost things, I found where the basilisk was, waiting outside about ten feet from the door. I still wasn't used to having my magic back: I knew exactly where it was. Surely there would be some way to use that. And, as if it had been just this afternoon that Tosten and I fought blind, I knew what I could do. Before I'd seen it come off the ship, I'd have been a lot more confident of my chances.

There was a broom leaning against one corner of the room where Oreg and I were held. It wasn't much of a weapon - more of a stick than a staff. And I would have to try it blindfolded, using my magic to tell me where it was.

"Give me your shirt," I said at last.


"Because I don't want to end up like Landislaw. I need to cover my eyes."

"What about your shirt?" he said as he complied with my request.

"I'd rather have some protection if it hits me. I trust you'll spell the creature soon as you can." I took the broom and gave it a thwack against the wall. It bent, but it didn't break. Beyond the wooden walls, the basilisk moved restlessly. "It sounds like there is a lot of space out there. Are we in one of the warehouses at the docks?"

Oreg nodded. "Cleaned for the new harvest."

There was no time to waste. Kariarn and his army could be at Hurog by early evening, even on horses that were weak from the sea voyage. We had to beat him there.

I took Oreg's shirt and ripped several ragged strips off of it until I could fashion a blindfold. Oreg led me to the door the Basilisk waited behind. My knowledge of magic hadn't increased with my abilities, but finding had always been mine.

Where was the basilisk?

As before, the response I got back was better than sight. I hoped.

"Open the door," I said.

He threw it open, hard, and the basilisk retreated enough for me to get out into the open room.

"Yeah! Over here!" I shouted, anything to get its attention.

It moved toward me slowly. Oreg had said it wasn't stupid. I backed away from it and bumped into something unexpected: an upright timber, identified by a brush with the back of my hand. I dodged behind it, and something hit the timber hard enough to crack it. The basilisk cried out either in anger or in pain and darted forward with that sudden swiftness it was capable of. I ran at it.

Running away from it was out of the question. I'd likely brain myself on one of the support posts or run into the wall. Magic told me where the basilisk was, but I couldn't see warped floorboards or walls at the same time.

I thumped it hard on the nose, and my broomstick broke. Before I could think anything but an astonished, help, something my finding sense insisted was taller than me and about to hurt me badly swept in from my left. I jumped, lifting my feet as high as I could, tucking them like a horse going over a fence.

It caught my heel; the force of the blow stretched me flat out in the air and tossed me away from the basilisk. I tucked, but unable to see the ground, I landed badly, slamming my head on the ground. Instinct forced me to my feet, but I was dazed and unable to recover my sense of where the basilisk was.

Something flickered over my face, and sheer terror brought me to my senses. I'd seen the basilisk tongue Landislaw's face before eating him. Seeing me standing still, the basilisk must have assumed I was caught in its gaze.

Urgently, I called my magic, found the basilisk, and dove beneath its head. Blindfolded I might have been, but terror showed me its gaping jaws as I rolled on the ground beneath it.

Startled by my action, it didn't move for just long enough for me to get a firm grip on a hind leg. I hadn't realized I was still holding the broken stick until I had to drop it to secure my hold on the basilisk's leg.

I'd underestimated the creature's flexibility. It reached over with its other hind leg and caught my back with a sharp claw. If I'd have held on, I think I would have been dead. But my aunt's drills were firmly fixed in my body's reflexes, and I went with the force of the blow rather than resisting it. I let go of the leg and flung myself forward onto the ground and rolled to my feet. At which point I scurried away like a rabbit, hands outstretched to hit wall or support beam before my face did. When I reached the wall, I turned, panting.

Once again, I'd lost the sense of where the creature was. The warehouse was silent except for the slight sound of clicking scales, but I couldn't be sure which direction it was coming from. Something warm and wet dripped down my leg from my back. I couldn't tell how much damage the basilisk had done.

"I've got her," Oreg said. "You can take off the blindfold."

"Now what do we do with it?" I took off my blindfold in time to see Oreg slide down her shoulder onto the floor.

"She'll die here; the climate is too cool." He frowned at her.

"Does it eat things other than people?" I asked. I was all for helping rare creatures, but I wasn't going to inflict it on a helpless village.

Oreg slanted me a humorous glance. "Sometimes. I think I'll take the same tack some long-ago wizard did."

He drew in a deep breath and put his hands on its side. I closed my eyes, trying to hide my ecstasy as Oreg's magic swept into the room like a warm wind, filling the empty places in my soul that leaving Hurog had made. I drew that warmth around me as if it were a blanket.

"To stone," said Oreg in old Shavig. There was such power in his voice I had to open my eyes.

Magic glittered like a golden fog over the room, covering Oreg, the basilisk, and me as Oreg used it to draw patterns over the basilisk scales. As I watched, the basilisk began to draw into itself, changing color from forest green to gray as delicate scale edges blurred and disappeared.

When at last the magic was gone and Oreg and I stood alone in the storage room, the basilisk was nothing more than a boulder less than half the size the creature had been. The dirt floor under the stone was muddy.

Oreg flexed his hands and stretched his neck, as if working magic had tightened his muscles.

"We've got to go," I said.

Oreg nodded. "I'll just see that Kariarn's mages don't wake her again." He made an abrupt pushing motion, and the stone sank through the wet ground until there was nothing left of it but a dark stain on the earth that would dry in a few hours.

There was no time to look for horses. After Oreg un-spelled the door and wrapped what was left of his shirt around my back, he and I ran down the path Kariarn's army had taken with less than an hour's head start. Holding hope tightly to my chest, I ran as I'd never done before, ignoring burning lungs and burning legs.

After the first few miles, I quit speculating, concentrating only on moving my feet, one after the other. There was a rhythm to running, an echo of the pulse that beat behind my ears.

When Oreg grabbed my arm, I didn't even pause, so I tripped over the stool in my bedroom, where he'd brought us, and I landed hard on the stone floor.

My room smelled musty, as if the servants hadn't aired it out in a long time. Light streaming down from the narrow windows revealed that the surfaces of the furniture had been dusted. "Oreg, where's Duraugh?"

Oreg reached for my arm again. I rolled out of reach and got to my feet before I let him touch me. I was not going to be sitting on the floor when we confronted my uncle.

I don't know what I expected Duraugh to be doing, but it certainly wasn't conferring with Stala in the great hall. Stala should only be halfway here, even if Tosten had managed to sprint all the way to Callis. But Beckram, Axiel, Tosten, and Ciarra were standing on the other side of the table from Duraugh and Stala. Gathering round behind them were eight or ten very short, very broad men. Dwarves. I was still gaping when Tosten looked up and saw Oreg and me.

"How did you get here?" I asked, betraying to Tosten that I had known they wouldn't make it. But somehow they had.

Beckram tilted his head at Axiel, a wry look on his face. "I think that's our question. I didn't hear the door open." But he let it go. "You know how some of the Guard say that Axiel, when he is really, really drunk, claims to be the son of the dwarven king?"

"He is," I answered.

Beckram nodded in agreement. "And they have the most interesting method of getting from one place to another."

"Beckram's told me what you've been up to, Ward. Do you know how many soldiers Kariarn's bringing?" asked Duraugh, breaking into the conversation.

"About a thousand," I said, pulled back to more urgent matters. "And they've just left Tyrfannig. They'll be here by nightfall. Even if you've managed somehow to get the whole of the Blue Guard, you cannot hold Hurog. Unless...Axiel, how many of your people are here?"

"Just those you see here. The days when my people could afford to waste lives in armies are long gone, Ward. We've left the rest of the Blue Guard at Callis to come home the slow way."

"Right," I continued after drawing a breath. "So we need to get every person out of Hurog and into hiding in the mountains. Kariarn doesn't want Hurog. He wants something hidden here. He knows where it is, and once he has it, he'll leave. But there is no time to waste. The bronze doors on the mountain make a good place to gather. It's high. You can see for miles if Kariarn sends men up it, and it might be possible to defend it from people attacking from below." It was only as I finished that I realized I was issuing orders.

Duraugh gave me a considering look. My uncle had only known me while I was pretending to be stupid. I didn't know how long Beckram and Tosten had been here nor what kind of story they'd told my uncle, but it must have been something, because he only nodded and said, "If Kariarn is so close, explanations can wait. We'd best get organized."

Evacuation took much longer than I was comfortable with, but Duraugh was thorough. He mounted all the grooms and sent them and the horses on to Iftahar. We gathered all the foodstuff and anything that could be used as a blanket or a weapon. I found my father's sword and knife in the armory and fastened them on my belt. Kariarn still had mine.

As I strode out of the armory, I came face-to-face with my mother.

She smiled at me vaguely. "When did you get back, Fenwick?"

The skin on the back of my neck crawled. "Mother, I'm Ward. Father is dead."

Her smile widened but didn't cover the blankness of her eyes. "Of course you are. And how is my baby today?"

"There you are, my lady." Her maidservant trotted around the corner of the hall. She shot me a defensive look and wrapped a heavy wool cloak around my mother's shoulders. "Let's get you out to the courtyard." To me she said, "She's been like this for a while. Mostly she doesn't even know where she is."

Oreg appeared at my side, his arms full of blankets.

I took a deep breath. "Are you through gathering things? We need to get to the bailey."

When we got outside of the keep proper, my uncle was already hard at work. Fascinated, I watched Duraugh use the Blue Guard as the base of the troop of soldiers he formed out of household servants. When he was finished, a ragged army marched smartly up the trails to the great doors high in the mountains overlooking Hurog. It was a tricky climb at best, but with such an urgent need for swiftness, I found our pace unbearably slow.

"So," said Beckram marching beside me, carrying a sleepy child of three or four who belonged to one of the kitchen maids, "Did you ever try to dig under the bronze doors?"

I think it was the first time my cousin had sought me out for conversation. I knew he could care less about the doors. It was a peace offering between us.

I accepted it. "No. After you and Erdrick dug that trench around them, my father made me fill in the holes."

He laughed shortly. "Erdrick thought it was a waste of time. I did the digging." The child he held peered worriedly into my cousin's face. He smiled at her, and she tucked back down against him. "Why do you think they are there?"

I shrugged and began climbing with him again. I suppose I could ask Oreg. "They've been there a long time, Beckram. I used to think they hid the dwarven ways, but I take it the entrance to the dwarven tunnels is in Hurog itself. The Hurogmeten - my father - said he thought it might have been the grave of some ancient hero." We buried our dead on the side of the hill. Perhaps it was an ancient tradition.

Just ahead of us, my mother fell and wouldn't get up when her maidservant tried to tug her to her feet. Hesitating, I knelt beside her. "Mother?" I said.

Blank eyes stared into mine.

"Aunt, you can't stay here," said Beckram, hampered by his burden.

I didn't know what to do. In my extremity, I reached for the familiar comfort of Hurog's magic. I hadn't meant to do anything at all, but I had been looking for my mother in those blank eyes - and I was a finder.

Cold chills crept up the back of my neck as I realized what the magic told me. There was nothing behind the blank gaze, truly nothing. My mother was gone forever.

"I'll carry her," I said, answering the maid's anxiety.

I picked up my mother's body, which still breathed and moved, and carried it the rest of the way up the mountain. I would remember my young mother who played with me while my father was away at war and not the woman who hid in her herbal potions until there was nothing of her left.

We made it to the bronze doors before Kariarn reached Hurog. I found a place to sit where I could look down at the keep. I should have been exhausted, and I was, but the flow of Hurog's magic through my flesh kept me from feeling it much. So I felt almost peaceful as, from my mountain vantage point, I saw Kariarn's massive army approach Hurog. They stopped when they saw Hurog's open gates. After a long hesitation, during which I imagined them sending a few riders to make certain the keep was indeed empty, a section of people pushed through to the bailey.

Tosten came up behind me and hit me hard in the shoulder. It was the first time he'd approached me since I'd found them all in the great hall.

"What's that for?" I whispered furiously. Sound travels oddly in the mountains, and Duraugh had warned us all to keep quiet once we'd sighted the Vorsag.

"That's for sending me to safety while you went out to get all the glory. Haverness told us there was no possible way for an army to get to Hurog before Kariarn. And you knew it, too," he returned as hotly.

I rubbed my shoulder and decided he'd a right to be angry. "So how did you get here? You could have pushed me over with a feather when I saw you in the great hall. You were supposed to be safe at Callis."

Tosten grinned at me, the expression so young it hurt my heart. "You're going to wish you'd come with us," he said. "You remember there were only a few keeps the dwarves traded with?" I nodded.

"That's because they travel on an underground waterway, and there are only a few places where it surfaces. Hurog is one, and Callis is another." He chuckled, "You should have seen old Haverness's face when Axiel led us to an opening in the cellar."

"You should have seen my father's face when he found out I'd showed our secret ways to humans," said Axiel as he seated himself by my side. The eight dwarves who'd been following him as if they were some sort of honor guard found places to sit in front of him. He handed me a blanket, and I wrapped it around me. "I explained the situation to him, and he allowed us to bring everyone here." He looked at me earnestly, as if anxious to cement my good opinion of his father. "That wasn't without cost, Ward. The waterways take a lot of magic to traverse, and my father hasn't much power to waste."

Tosten shook his head in awe. "It was incredible, Ward. Some of the caverns looked like they were made of crystals. The boats were flat, like the riverboats the Tallvens use on their tame rivers; but the waterway isn't tame at all. I don't think we'd have made better time if we'd flown."

Beckram, wandering by with Ciarra beside him, paused to say, "It was incredible. Mostly because we all survived to disembark at Hurog."

Ciarra sat down and dragged half my blanket around her. I wrapped an arm about her shoulders, content at last. The magic of home soothed my soul; Ciarra's presence just solidified my well-being. Against all odds, Hurog would survive this intrusion as would my uncle. Kariarn wouldn't seek us out here.

I couldn't think of a time I'd been happier than when I was watching sparks that were Kariarn's torch-bearing men walking along the top of Hurog's walls. Oreg sat down at my feet. His face contained the same bone-deep peace I felt. His peace disturbed mine. He'd been so worried about the dragon bones, and now he was content to let Kariarn have them. I would never understand him.

In a dreamy voice that carried clearly to anyone who wanted to listen, he said, "They are very close to the dragon's bones. Kariarn has wasted no time."

"What?" said Axiel in a voice I'd never heard from him. "What dragon bones?"

Oreg smiled at Axiel and said innocently, "Didn't we tell you what it was Kariarn wanted? What Ward would sacrifice to him to save the people of Hurog?"

The smug satisfaction that underlay his words caused me to shift Ciarra away from me. I wrapped the blanket tightly around her while I kept my eyes on Oreg.

Axiel turned to me accusingly. "There are dragon bones at Hurog?"

I nodded.

One of the dwarves said, in a voice like the winter wind, "Dragons eat their dead so that there will be no dragon bones for stupid humans to play with."

Axiel ignored him. "You can't let Kariarn have them." It was fear in his voice. I'd never heard Axiel afraid before. "Do you forget what he's done in Oranstone? The villages? He killed scores of people for a bit of power, and you would give him dragon bones?"

Oreg smiled at me. "Ward doesn't know about dragon bones. He was never trained in magic. Tell Ward what the dragon bones will do. I don't think he'd want to believe just me."

"For a human mage to have dragon bone is like giving a toddler a blazing torch in a grass hut." Axiel struggled for words.

"It is forbidden," said the dwarf who'd spoken before. Urgently, he came to his feet. "It gives too much power...corrupting power. My king thinks that's what caused this blight on dwarvenkind in the first place - that a human mage consumed dragon bone."

Seleg, I thought. Had Seleg gotten power that way?

"Kariarn will destroy what is left of this world, Ward." Axiel's face was pale in the fading light. "Oh gods...we are undone."

"They're in the cave," said Oreg, still looking at me. His gaze was intent, like a cat with a mouse. What had he led me to? And it had been deliberate on his part; he'd never attempted to tell me that the dragon bones were this dangerous. "Ward knows a way to stop them."

And I did. Oh, Siphern, I did. Oreg had told me.

"You said you could hold them off for days, Oreg," my voice was tight.

"I could have," he agreed. "But that would have just prolonged the outcome. So I helped them a little instead. You asked me, once, if there was a way to change what Seleg did."

Stala always said it is important to know what motivates your allies as well as your enemies. Oreg had once told me what he wanted a long time ago, while an invisible whip lay open his skin, but I hadn't paid attention. Oreg wanted death.

He'd planned this. Every step we'd taken off the ship. That's why he'd quit being mad at me on the boat, because he knew he could force me to this. Tears gathered in my eyes, and I fought for air. I protected those I loved.

"The cave is under the keep," I said. "It'll still be there if Hurog falls until not one stone stands on another."

"It won't matter," he replied. "I can see to it that the cavern falls. Ward, you can't change the past, but you can put right what is wrong." He looked at nothing for a moment, and when he resumed speaking, his voice was hurried. "You must be quick. They've found the bones. You have to do it right now." He leaned toward me earnestly. "Seleg couldn't let Hurog be destroyed, so he began the evil here. Your father would never have been able to give up so much just to do the right thing, to correct what has been put wrong. This is something that only you, Wardwick, Hurogmeten, can do, because of the ring you wear."

I drew my father's dagger and stared at the terrible triumph in Oreg's face.

"Please, Ward."

Tears blurred my eyes as I set my hand on his face. Some part of me was aware that Ciarra was struggling with her blanket, trying to stop me. I kissed Oreg's forehead, then stepped behind him. I held him as I slid my father's sharp hunting knife into the base of Oreg's skull with the hand which bore the worn, platinum ring. It was quick. It was very probably painless - for him. I felt his last breath touch my arm, warmth in the chill of the night, but I knew I'd never be warm again.

For a moment, it seemed to me that the forest around us became still, waiting. Then the earth shook with the force of the magic Oreg's passing had unleashed. The surprised cries of the men and women gathered on the mountain was drowned out by the sound below.

For Hurog keep, my home, was collapsing. The ancient stones, marred by the claws of dragons, tumbled to the ground, one by one at first. Then with a great cracking sound, the keep trembled apart, and the walls collapsed inward upon it. Dust rose, and between it and the ever-darkening skies, Hurog was mercifully hidden from view.

To me, all this was secondary, as was the feeling of Ciarra's nails tearing wildly at my bloody hand, the incredulous look on Tosten's face as he tried to drag her away from me. Even the rapid disintegration of Oreg's body, as if the years that had been artificially held at bay were absorbing his essence, was distant.

All I could feel was the wild rush of magic that surged through me, burning my lungs and heart as the land was burned clean of an ancient wrong, older far than the dragon Seleg had killed. Oreg had been incorrect. That betrayal had removed the stopper from the vial of ill, but I understood at last it was the older wrong that had poisoned the land. A crime of a father against his son.

The upheaval was over before Tosten succeeded in pulling Ciarra away from me. Below us, the once stalwart walls of Hurog were nothing but a formless heap that was soon mercifully covered by the blanket of night.

Sitting on the side of the mountain with a trace of dust on my lap, it occurred to me that Axiel had been right. I had stopped the curse that was killing his people. And, as Aethervon had told him, I wouldn't have been able to do it without him. I would never have killed Oreg just on his own word that the dragon bones were dangerous. It had taken the naked terror on Axiel's face, he who was never afraid, to convince me.

I had just saved the Five Kingdoms from powers that hadn't been seen since the Age of the Empire. And I'd done it by becoming worse than my father. I'd killed a man I'd loved as my brother.

And Oreg was right. My father wouldn't have done it, wouldn't have seen the necessity. Seleg wouldn't have done it; he'd have been certain he could control the damage. He wouldn't have read the fear on Axiel's face and understood the danger. It was Wardwick of Hurog who killed Oreg and destroyed Hurog.

I huddled on the cold earth. Stripped at last until there was only me and no one else to be, I buried my face in my blood-covered hands and cried.

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