7 - WARDWICK
Aethervon has always been a curious problem for devout Tallvens. If he was really a god, why did he allow the destruction of his temple? Fortunately, most Tallvens are not given to worship anything except gold so, on the whole, they aren't much troubled.
"Tell me again why we're traveling so close to Estian, Ward," said Tosten, swinging his sword my way.
"Because the best path through the mountains is straight south," I replied, parrying. "From what you said, Garranon has given up finding his brother's runaway. He'll have taken the faster road to Estian, so we won't meet him."
We were doing patterns he and I had practiced since we could hold a sword. Stala encouraged talk during patterns, said that engaging the mouth demanded the body operate from reflex. I wasn't certain of that, but I did know I didn't have to worry about him missing a link in the pattern.
"Think we'll reach Estian today?" asked Tosten, increasing the speed of his strokes so I had to as well.
"Should." I increased my speed a little more than he had.
"Wouldn't traveling have been faster if we practiced less?" he said with a gasp, but he set the pace even faster.
"Yes. But we need to be ready by the time we reach Oranstone." I managed all that without a breath and matched his speed, too. I added, "I don't want anyone kill - " gasp " - killed because they don't know how to handle a sword." To make up for the loss of breath, I quickened again. From the corner of my eye, I saw the others had stopped fighting to watch.
"Why does Ward look faster?" I heard Bastilla ask.
"Because he is." Axiel's voice carried satisfaction like a proud father's. "He has a longer distance to move to meet Tosten's blows. That's why a big man is almost always slower than a small man."
"It always surprises me to see Ward fight," added Oreg. "He always talks slowly - sounds almost stupid, even when he's not trying to appear that way. Moves that way, too."
"No," Axiel disagreed. "He just moves well. It usually makes him look slow, like Penrod's gelding. Fastest horse in the bunch, but he looks as if he's traveling half the speed of the others." He raised his voice, "Ward, Tosten, slow down. Someone's going to get hurt."
"Want to really show them?" asked Tosten, grinning. The expression took me aback. He'd never been given to a quick smile.
"What do you have in mind?" It would have to be quick, because I couldn't keep the pace up much longer.
"Close your eyes."
Stala had us do that. We all used wooden blades and full armor so that, barring total incompetence, the worse risk was a nasty bruise. Usually, she blindfolded only one of the sparring partners and the patterns were taken at half speed.
"You, too?" I asked.
He closed his in answer, so I did also, and neither of us slowed the pattern. The worst thing about closing my eyes was that it always threw my balance off until I got used to it. On the other hand, it increased my focus immeasurably. The greatest sensory input came from my sword, until I almost felt like Tosten's sword was hitting my arm instead of the silver blade. It was exhilarating, better than running down the cliffside on Feather - and about as smart.
We kept it up until I heard a raggedness in the rhythm of metal on metal; one or both of us was tiring. "Done on three," I whispered.
"One," he said as softly.
"Two," I replied.
"Three," he said.
I jumped back out of range and opened my eyes to see that he had done the same. Dizzy with the sudden addition of sight to my heightened senses, I had to sit on the ground before I fell.
"Idiots," said Axiel. "That kind of horseplay will get you killed."
Tosten and I exchanged unrepentant grins, and I felt the old bond of brotherhood settle over us for the first time in a long while.
Our attitude didn't help Axiel's temper. "I told Stala that blindfolding was stupid. It encourages the steran to do stupid stunts like that display."
Feeling less dizzy, I rolled back to my feet and held out my sword to Axiel, as a repentant student is supposed to do.
He shook his head in refusal but gave me a reluctant chuckle. "I wouldn't have missed it for all the sheep in Hurog - but don't you tell anyone."
"What's a steran?" asked Oreg, with such innocence in his voice that I looked at him sharply. He was pointing out something to me, but I didn't know what it was.
"Foolish young boys," answered Axiel with such well-concealed discomfort I might not have noticed without Oreg sharpening my attention. I knew several languages, as any lord who lived in the Kingdoms had to. Steran wasn't a word I was familiar with.
"Fretsome old dwarf," taunted Oreg softly.
Axiel's face set, but before he could say anything, Tosten jumped in, as he did at every opportunity to attack Oreg. "Poor-mannered bastard," he said. "You need to show respect to your elders."
A look of unholy glee spread across Oreg's face.
"Time to break camp," Axiel said abruptly. It was the first order he'd given outside of the morning and evening exercises. It might have been to keep Oreg and Tosten from fighting, but I wondered if it was Oreg's remark about dwarves.
I thought about pursuing the matter but reluctantly decided to leave Axiel to his own counsel. He'd earned that much by his long years of service to my family. Besides, I never liked playing someone else's games, not even Oreg's. Just how unlikely was it that Axiel's father was a dwarf? About as unlikely as Oreg being as old as Hurog. I could accept dwarven blood; it was the other part that I would choose to disbelieve. When he was really, really drunk, he claimed his father was the dwarven king.
Pansy was feeling good and showed it by dancing and snorting. The warm sun felt good to me as well, and for the first time since leaving Hurog, I started to feel normal again. My broken bond with Hurog still made me feel like I was missing some vital part of myself, but it was bearable, a healed-over scar of a missing limb.
"My lord," said Oreg diffidently, riding to my side.
"Where did you intend to camp tonight? We won't reach Estian until late this afternoon."
"The trail we're on meets up with the main road in a few miles. My father liked to ride into Estian in the morning. I thought we'd just camp where we always have and ride past the city tomorrow."
"Is it possible to camp at Menogue instead?"
"In the interest of a scholarly visit?" asked Bastilla who was riding beside me.
Oreg gave her a pleased smile and nodded his head.
Bastilla had blended into my odd group much better than I had expected a beautiful woman to do. She was, I think, sleeping with both Axiel and Penrod, but managed it without friction.
"Menogue is northeast of Estian. It's at least five or six miles out of our way," I said. "That means over ten miles altogether."
"I know," he replied. "I'd still like to stay there overnight. You told Tosten that speed isn't important."
"The ruins are haunted." The track was wide enough here for Tosten to come up on my right. "Axiel knows all the stories. He's scouting, but I'm sure he'll be happy to tell us all about it tonight."
His tone was congenial. Something about this morning's sparring had made him happier.
"Haunted?" I put some tremolo in my voice and managed not to glance at Oreg. "I'd forgotten about that. Maybe we shouldn't stay there after all."
Tosten humphed, "You needn't fake it, Ward." He grinned at Bastilla. I could see she'd worked her magic on him as well. "We've a ghost at Hurog, too. I've never seen it, but you should have heard my aunt - Lady Duraugh, not Stala - when it visited her." Bastilla hadn't met Stala, but she'd heard us all telling stories.
"It's easier to dismiss ghosts in the daylight," I said. "Not so easy at night when the ruins come alive around you."
Penrod had ridden up to see what was going on. "Ruins?"
"Oreg wants to stay in the haunted ruins of Menogue," explained Bastilla.
The old horseman grinned, "Spend the night in haunted ruins? Sounds like home."
It was Axiel who found the path we needed to take. I would have ridden right past it. There were signs of the great road it had been, but I doubted there would be any trace in another hundred years. Rumors of hauntings and curses had kept the curious away. And to think the Tallvenish were so quick to point fingers at us Northlanders for being superstitious.
Truthfully, had I not known what Oreg was, I would not have agreed to it. As my uncle had said, no one knew like a Northlander how bothersome real magic was. Neither Axiel nor Bastilla showed much enthusiasm. But Tosten practically brimmed over with excitement, which was what had finalized my decision. This was the most cheerful I'd seen him.
Our path twisted between trees that hadn't been there during Menogue's reign but now towered over us, shadowing the path. Blackberry brambles hid the remnants of broken stone benches and statuary.
The horses were tired after a full day of riding, and they huffed and sweated, hauling us up the steep hill. Penrod kicked his feet loose of the stirrups and slid off. Axiel ahead of him and Ciarra beside him followed suit. I laughed a bit at myself as I slid out of the saddle, because I didn't want to walk up the hill very much, but if Penrod, who looked as fresh as he had this morning though he was at least twice my age, was walking up the hill, then so was I.
The moment my feet hit the soil, I stopped laughing as the hair on my arms rose and gooseflesh covered my body. It wasn't the same here as it had been at Hurog. The magic in the hill didn't flow through me like the sea, filling the hollows in my soul, but it was definitely here. And it was curious.
I don't know why I thought that. I'd always been taught that magic was a force, like the wind or the sun. But at Hurog the magic welcomed me, filling me with strength and peace when I needed it - though it didn't answer my call anymore. But whatever touched me through the soft dirt under my feet was inquisitive and...not that welcoming. Oreg stepped beside me and gripped my elbow, pulling me forward before the others had realized I'd stopped.
"Yes," he murmured quietly so the jingle of harness and clomp of hooves would cover his voice. "You feel it, don't you? Bastilla doesn't. How curious."
"It's like Hurog," I murmured back.
He smiled grimly. "Yes, and no. They are both places of old power."
"What power?" asked Tosten, coming alongside as he frequently did when Oreg and I talked, though he seldom addressed Oreg directly.
"Menogue," I answered, nodding my head to the ruins that rose darkly above us.
Tosten rubbed his arms and said, "This place makes me nervous, as if something not very friendly is watching us."
"Come on, hurry up," called Bastilla, "you're blocking the trail. If we've got to camp on this forsaken hill, let's at least make camp while we've light to do so."
I glanced back and saw that Bastilla, unencumbered by pride, was still mounted. But I quickened my pace without a word. She was right.
Walking put a stop to my inquiries for lack of breath - something I'd have felt badly about except that no one else could talk either. When the slope began to get steeper, I let my reins loose on Pansy's back and dropped back to use his tail to help me over the rough stuff. It was an old mountaineer's trick, and I forgot until I grabbed his tail that Pansy wasn't used to such familiarity. But when he didn't kick and kept following Penrod, I quit worrying and gratefully accepted his help. Glancing back, I saw Tosten had done the same, though Oreg scrambled up without apparent effort. Bastilla had dismounted at last and fallen behind. Feather, bearing a lighter burden than she was used to, hauled Ciarra past us as if she were walking on the flat.
The crest of the hill loomed ahead like a beacon in a snowstorm. Pansy felt it, too (or maybe it was the humiliation of having Feather pass him) and increased his pace until I had to jog to keep up with him.
Though the top of the hill was still light, trees shadowed the path, and I stumbled over the rough ground. Rather than have Pansy drag me the rest of the way up, I let go of his tail and caught a broken stone pillar that was part of the ruins.
I woke up flat on my back with a stranger leaning over me. He wore none of the tattoos of our order, nor were his robes familiar. There was something about his face...he looked like a Hurog...I saw a dragon in the sky, fierce and frightening, deep blue scales edged in gold.
It was Tosten who leaned over me, his eyes concerned. "Are you hurt, Ward? What happened?
It seemed like a good question, but tingling from toes to forehead, I didn't have an answer. I must not have been there long, because I heard Oreg and his horse approaching in a rush.
"What's wrong?" asked Oreg.
"I tripped," I said, though it had been the pillar, not whatever I'd stepped on that laid me out. I forced a quick grin. "It just feels so good to lie here on the grass, I thought I'd stay here a while."
Noticing that my hand was still touching the base of the stone, I pulled it away. Blessedly, the pulsing tingle faded within a few heartbeats. Nothing hurt except my head.
"Nothing's wrong," I said rolling to my feet. My head bumped into Pansy's, which did neither of us any good, and he stepped back indignantly. "Let's get to the top."
I hoped the shadow hid my face, because I didn't want anyone to see my fear. What had sounded like an adventure this morning was turning into something else, and I'd just developed a serious mistrust of whatever Oreg had in mind for this visit
"I hope you know what you're doing, Oreg." I said softly.
He smiled faintly but gave no other reply.
When I reached the top, Axiel, Penrod, and Ciarra had already unsaddled their horses and were grooming them briskly. Pansy whickered and joined the other horses, waiting for me to get his hot, itchy blanket and tack off, too.
"Can we explore a bit and see if the monks left anything?" asked Bastilla, fastening the hobbles on her horse.
Penrod took a good look at the sky. "We won't have daylight for much longer."
Ciarra looked at me expectantly, bouncing on her toes. She'd already hobbled Feather. I knew what Ciarra wanted to do, but after my experience with the pillar on the hill, I wasn't sure the ruins were safe.
"Right," I said reluctantly. "Just for tonight, no practice. Go ahead and look around. But remember, this place was dedicated to a god. Be respectful, and don't touch anything."
Before the words had left my mouth, Bastilla and Ciarra were off. As soon as he was finished with his horse, Tosten followed with Penrod beside him. Axiel took the small shovel off the pack saddle and began digging a firepit. Oreg, looking uninterested, gathered dry sticks that were lying around on the ground.
I took my time, grooming Pansy until his coat gleamed and only a slight roughness showed where his cinch had rubbed. Finally, he stamped his foot, impatient to go out and graze with the others. I put his brush away in a saddlebag and let him go. I didn't hobble him; he'd stay with his herd.
"I'm going to look around," I said. Axiel grunted, but Oreg left his pile of dry tinder where it was and followed me.
Penrod or Axiel had chosen a camping ground some distance from the main buildings. That put us on the northern edge of the hilltop, farthest from Estian with the remains of the temple tower between us and the city.
The top of the hill was a flat field encompassing about six acres. Though the sides of the hill had been covered in tall trees, the top was a grassy meadow. Once, I supposed, most of the acreage had been paved. Now there was soil over the old stones, but it was too shallow for anything but grass.
"Why did you bring us here?" I asked when we were alone.
Oreg ducked his head so I couldn't see his face. "Wait and see. It might be important, most likely not."
I stopped. "Is this dangerous?"
He smiled a little. "Life is dangerous, my lord. Death is the only safety. But the Tamerlain keeps evil spirits away from here. It will be fine, Ward."
I stared at him for a moment. The Tamerlain was the legendary guardian of the temple, a great predator who fed upon the night demons and lived only on the mound of Menogue. Sometimes I wasn't certain whether Oreg was mad or not, but he seemed calm and sincere about our safety. I nodded briefly, mostly because I didn't really want to trek down the hill again, and continued toward the place where the largest section of walls remained standing.
It was a tribute to the Tallvenish fear of Menogue that most of the temple was still here, not carted off as building stones for more humble dwellings. There were stories about nasty things that happened to people who took things away from Menogue, plagues and ill luck. My father had once observed, cynically, that access to a trove of building materials would have upset the natural order of things. Peasants would have had good stone houses just like the merchants. They'd have gotten above themselves. Much better to make the stone off limits to the peasantry, and superstition has always been the cheapest guard.
The end result for us was that as Oreg and I approached the standing walls, we had to scramble over a lot of loose rubble. Some of the fallen bits were taller than I was, and a fair number showed carving, mostly cracked and broken. Even so, I marveled at the quality of the stonework.
"Did the dwarves carve these?" I asked Oreg.
"Eh?" Then he grinned. "You believe the dwarves' claims that they're the only ones who know how to carve stone, too? Not that they weren't masters - they did the carving in Hurog's library - but there were skilled human masons, too, like the ones who carved this. But stone carving fell out of fashion a couple of centuries ago. Plaster and wood carving are cheaper and faster."
The piece of standing wall I approached would have towered above the highest roof at Hurog. At one time it would have been even taller, but the top had tumbled to the ground. The wall was gently curved and layered in four-foot-tall sections, each one a little farther inset than the one below it. I imagined that at one time it was part of a dome. The sections were covered in stone carvings but we were still too far away for me to see them in any detail in the growing shadows of evening.
We skirted a few piles of stone and crawled over another into a small cleared area right next to the wall.
"This was the inner temple," said Oreg a little sadly. "It was painted in brilliant colors, blue and purple, orange and green. There was nothing else like it anywhere."
After he spoke, I could see that the wall had been painted once. Where the panels were undercut, protected by the weather, the paint was obvious. The bottommost panel contained a series of comically exaggerated people who seemed to be occupied holding up the next layer with their stone hands. Upon closer examination, each of them differed in feature and clothing. Some were standing on their hands and supporting the top with their feet instead of the other way around. The lip of the upper layer even bent upward a little where a particularly stout little man pushed on it. Near the first break in the wall, one of the little fellows had a particularly sly look on his face. Upon closer inspection, I could see that neither of his hands were touching the slab above.
The second tier of panels were trees, but they were trees I wasn't familiar with. The one above that...
"Siphern," I exclaimed, sending Oreg, who had been waiting patiently for me to notice, into a fit of laughter.
Like most Tallvenish gods, Aethervon was deity of two opposites: sorrow and merriment. The folks in the third tier looked very merry indeed.
I examined one particular scene. "I didn't know that was possible."
"Only if the woman is very flexible," smirked Oreg.
I looked at him doubtfully. "I don't think I'd want to be this fellow if she loses her balance."
"Some risks," he asserted with all apparent seriousness, though his eyes still danced with fun, "might be worth taking."
I shook my head at him and continued on in my explorations, leaving Oreg to the carvings of the inner temple. I found Ciarra standing on a wide section of broken wall staring at Estian far below. I stepped up behind her to make sure she didn't fall.
"Big, isn't it," I said. Ciarra had never seen Estian before.
She shook her head and made a shrinking motion with her hands. I looked down again and considered what she'd said. Estian was an old city, maybe older than Hurog. Oreg would know. From this height, successions of city walls, each added as the population outgrew the safer space inside, gave the impression that the city had been laid out by a spider of some sort. The older inner walls were softened by the buildings that had been built against them.
I frowned. The outermost wall was narrower and shorter than the wall that had preceded it. There were few buildings between the outer two walls. For the most part, the space was filled with the blackened remains left by the fire that had ravaged Estian near the time of my birth.
Ciarra was right. Estian was shrinking.
I slept badly that night; I kept hearing bells. But when I sat up and looked around the first two times, everyone else was asleep. The third time, Ciarra and Oreg, who were on watch, were both gone.
I woke Tosten up and moved to Axiel, while Tosten woke Penrod. Axiel opened his eyes before I could utter my whispered warning, but neither he nor I could wake Bastilla, who slept as one drugged.
"I'll stay with her," offered Penrod in our whispered conference.
I nodded at him, and the rest of us set off to look for Ciarra.
"It's too dark to track," whispered Axiel. "We need to split up and meet somewhere."
"Let's meet at the wall," I said pointing to the silhouette of the tallest section of wall where the comical men held the tower upon their shoulders. I knew where she was; I'd found her and Oreg some time before. My magic was telling me that if they weren't at the wall, they were somewhere very close to it. But, for some reason, I knew I wanted to go there alone first. It was such a strong feeling that later I decided it hadn't been my own. So I sent Axiel and Tosten off.
The summer night was alive with the sounds of insects and night hunters going about their business. The white, ghostly shape of a haar owl flew above me, making the distinctive sound for which it was named. The scattered stones made it impossible to run, but I wasted no time heading for the wall.
Ciarra stood on top of the wall where she had been earlier this evening. The cool night wind ruffled her hair as she stared at Estian. Oreg lay curled into a small ball on the ground at the base of the wall.
"Ciarra," I said kneeling next to Oreg's huddled form. "Oreg, what's wrong?"
"I can't," he cried out. "I can't stop it, master. I tried, I tried...Aethervon..."
"Ciarra, do you know what happened to him?" I asked.
She faced me then, and the hairs on the back of my neck crawled, and a chill clenched my heart, for her eyes glowed a brilliant orange in the night. She put out her hand and something materialized in the darkness, a great beast that made Ciarra look even smaller than she was. It shoved its head under her hand, like a cat asking for a scratch. I was close enough to smell the predatory odor of its breath.
My sister smiled gently and spoke. "Wardwick of Hurog, there will yet be dragons if thou art willing to pay the price." There was no tone to her voice at all, it could have belonged to a man or woman, child or grandfather.
"Hush," I said to Oreg, who was still muttering soft, broken words to himself.
"Child of the dragon killer, choose thy path carefully, for in the end it will be thy choice upon which everything rests, but the heart of the dragon is rotten through." Her voice this time rang with bass overtones; it might have been my father's.
Numbly, I recalled the stories I'd heard of Menogue.
There had been a seer here who would speak at the god's dictation. The last seer had died when Menogue was razed.
"I didn't find..." Axiel's voice fell silent as he came around a large block of stone to see us.
"Son of the dwarf king, what brings thee to this circumstance?" She was all female this time, with a sensuousness that had never belonged to my sister.
"Prophecy and necessity," he answered plainly after a moment in which he took in the scene before him. "My people are dying."
"Thy father dreamed a dream," agreed Ciarra, now sounding like a child much younger than she was. "And you are necessary for the cleansing."
"Ciarra!" It was Tosten, sounding out of breath as if he'd been running.
"Singer," she said in a musical tenor.
He stopped dead at the sound of her voice.
"Dig out thy knowledge and use it well. Minstrels have always been close to the way of the spirit, and melancholy touches their heels. But be thou a warrior, also. This world has need of song and sword."
"What have you done to Bastilla and Oreg?" I asked, tiring of Aethervon's games. Oreg was shuddering and shivering against my hands, whispering to himself, and it made me angry.
"The woman woke before times," said Ciarra, this time in my mother's light, faraway tone. "She'll sleep until morningtide under Tamerlain spell." The big animal pulled away from Ciarra's touch and dropped to the ground.
Unblinking eyes caught mine and tried to pull me into them. I tugged my gaze away and turned back to Ciarra. "And Oreg?" My mouth was dry; ignoring the bear-sized predator standing almost on top of me wasn't easy.
"Quit, now, Tamerlain. Thou'll never catch a dragon so," chided my father's voice, rich with amusement. "That one tried to overreach himself and needed a reminder of what he is." Oreg flinched at each sound Ciarra made, reminding me of the day he'd inflicted wounds upon himself in Hurog's great hall.
It made me angry, the way I'd been angry when my father hit Ciarra. I surged to my feet with a roar, startling the Tamerlain into backing away. "Enough! You have no need to torment him so. Leave my sister."
She looked at me through ember eyes, and still in my father's voice said, "Can you make me?"
Rage shook me, and magic from the foundations of the ancient temple came to my call, flooding me from my feet to my head as it forced a searing path through my body and mind.
She smiled, waved her hand, and the magic was gone as if it never had been. My body felt as if someone had filled it with ice water rather than blood, and I dropped to my knees, holding my head against the pain of it.
"Ward!" Tosten's warm hands closed on my shoulders.
"Not with my power, you can't." Ciarra's voice changed back to the first sexless whisper. "This is not the dragon's eyrie."
Ciarra closed her eyes, and her body toppled off the wall toward us, rather that down the hillside. Axiel caught her before she landed on the ground. Her body was limp, and she didn't awaken when Tosten patted her cheeks. The Tamerlain twitched its tail twice and disappeared.
I forced down panic and the throbbing headache that kept me on my knees. "Axiel and Tosten, take Ciarra back to camp and keep her warm. Oreg and I'll follow you."
"Are you all right?" asked Tosten in a low voice.
I nodded and gritted my teeth. "Yes. Fine. Go."
Tosten threw his head up at my tone like a young horse trying to evade the touch of the bit.
He looked at Axiel, said, "Let's go," and stalked off without looking at me again.
Axiel looked after him thoughtfully and glanced at Oreg. "If you're not careful, Tosten's going to hate Oreg - if he doesn't already."
"I'll deal with Tosten," I said shortly. "You take care of my sister."
Axiel nodded and followed Tosten into the darkness with my sister laid over his shoulder. I should have been tending to Ciarra, but she had Tosten and Axiel, and Oreg had only me. Aethervon said he'd reminded Oreg of what he was.
"It's all right," I told him, settling uncomfortably on the ground, for every muscle in my body hurt. "Aethervon's gone. You're safe." What was Oreg? A slave? Hurog?
He flinched away from my touch, pressing his face cruelly hard into the rock. "He wouldn't leave her." He said. "I tried, and he wouldn't leave her. It's my fault, my fault, my fault."
"Shh," I said.
"You told me to protect her, and I couldn't. It hurts, it hurts..." he moaned.
I was in pain myself, and it distracted me. I almost didn't catch the import of his words. "Trying's enough," I said, my throat tight. "Do you hear me, Oreg? Trying is always enough. I don't expect that you'll be able to protect her from everything."
I'd told him to protect her, I remembered. He had to follow my orders. I hadn't realized there would be consequences if he could not. At my words, his body relaxed, and he quit banging his head into the stone. After a moment, I realized he was unconscious. The pain that the Tallvenish god had inflicted on me seemed to have settled into the sort of muscle aches I got from training too hard. Resigned, I pushed myself to my feet and gathered Oreg over my shoulder for the walk back to camp.
I found Axiel, Penrod, and Tosten at the fire. Neither of them commented when I set Oreg on his blankets and covered him up. When I came up to the fire, Tosten walked pointedly back to his blankets and rolled up in them, his back to me.
Axiel watched him, then said, "I told Penrod what happened. Bastilla and Ciarra seem to be sleeping now. Hopefully, they'll wake fine after they've slept it off."
"I wish we could get them out of Menogue," I said. "I won't feel safe until we're well away from here."
"Did Aethervon tell you anything helpful before I got there?" asked Axiel.
"No," I answered. "All he told me was something about the heart of the dragon rotting - as if I haven't known that Hurog is in trouble." He'd revealed that the stories about Axiel were true, though. Pushing aside my smoldering anger at the suffering of Oreg and Ciarra, I thought more carefully. "He said something about the return of the dragons if I choose carefully."
Penrod shook his head, but Axiel stiffened to alertness, like a hound at the sight of a leash. A small, satisfied smile touched his face.
After everyone went to sleep, I cupped my hands and stared at them for several minutes. At last a small silvery light hovered, cool and bright, a few inches above my fingertips - a child's exercise in magic. Untrained as I was, I could do no more with my magic. But it was my magic once more.