In which Ewan adds another piece to the puzzle,
"Glitch?!" Kai and Valarien exclaimed together - then looked at each other.
"Ah - you do know him? Both of you?"
"Oh, yes, I know him," Valarien spat out venomously, "I know him very well indeed!"
"Why such heat?" Scipius asked gently.
"Don't waste any sympathy on him. It was probably he who knifed you. He certainly got the - um - drop on me in the keep."
Scipius's eyes widened. "The man behind you. I remember."
"He was the one who carted me off to - um - Volasnia. I don't know how I survived the trip. It was certainly no thanks to Glitch."
"You weren't on friendly terms with him in Del-e-ziba, I take it?"
"I never even saw him there."
"Hm. Didn't think he looked your type. You know him, too, Kai?"
"You knew I did. He was 'assisting' Vash'târik when you killed him."
"That was Glitch?" Ewan asked in surprise. "He had his back to me, and I didn't "
"Didn't what?" Kai asked when the nightranger tailed off in something like consternation.
"Didn't check that he was dead," Ewan said slowly.
"You mean he - they - could still be alive?"
"It's very unlikely, but - yes."
"I'd run out of my usual stuff, you see," Ewan explained apologetically. "My reserve supply isn't as potent, but it'll take out most things man-sized and smaller. I should have made sure, though... "
Valarien looked significantly at Kai. "Do you still think it's - um - just coincidence?"
"It begins to look a lot less likely," Kai conceded, "but why?"
"Good question, and one which I will - um - look into in the morning. Several possibilities come to mind and I - um - don't care for any of 'em."
"Hey, I've just thought of something else," Leon exclaimed suddenly. "We'd heard of Glitch before we reached the Eyrie. Sofian's tale - don't you remember? 'Zervan's trusted killer'. He bribed one of the dwarves to give him information about ways into the fortress."
"Yes... " Kai nodded thoughtfully. "This Glitch does seem to have been a busy fellow, doesn't he?"
"Busier than you think," Ewan remarked. "After he introduced himself, he became very friendly. Told me Valarien had heard that Casper had headed south towards Al-jamiila, and was going to follow him by way of Q'ulzira. Said I was to meet you both in Al-jamiila. Not very bright of him really. I mean, no one in his right mind crosses the Ashq'arati Desert unless he's got a very good reason - in which case, I figured Valarien wouldn't have left things quite so much to chance. Let him think I'd swallowed it - let him think I was a bit lush - then picked his pocket. Thought you might be interested in this. Means nothing to me, but might mean something to you."
Ewan pulled a folded piece of parchment from his scrip and passed it across to the wizard. Valarien unfolded it. He froze as he looked at it. Silently, he handed it to Kai. It was blank except for an ominously familiar scrawl at the bottom.
"I think the coincidence theory just died," Kai said quietly, staring at the sigil of Glasyalabolas. "Come to think of it, every one of us has been hit in some way ever since Valarien set up this mission."
"Except me," Leon pointed out.
"I think I'd - um - keep quiet about that, if I were you. Kai is correct in one way. Every person whom I planned to include in the - um - venture has been subject to some form of attack. Of the original seven, only three remain for certain. I have not yet seen Ardino, but I imagine that after the - um - activities of the Saghan' îl, it is unlikely that Lord Florian will be able to spare him, especially as I cannot guarantee that he will return before -um - harvest time."
"If at all," Kai put in glumly.
His apprehension about what he would find when he returned had grown alarmingly, but so had his yearning for Gyldenburg. If anything, the knowledge that some unknown power was seeking to prevent his return made him all the more determined to oppose it. It was not a prospect he was relishing, however. He found Ewan was speaking again and returned his attention to the present.
"So I left by the southern gate, making sure he saw me, and set off in the general direction of Q'ulzira till I reached Markaz. Turned out to be a good move. Met an itinerant carpet vendor - Parandi. Very friendly. Was on his way to a carpet fair in Gallisar in Cheratolia, so I hitched a lift. Took a fairly circuitous route, mind, doing business on the way. Became a bit of a carpet salesman, myself..."
This brought hoots of derision from some of his listeners.
"Bet you never sold any," squawked Leon.
"Did very well actually. On commission. Needed the money to buy another horse when we got to Gallisar "
"Why, what happened to the other one?" Leon asked.
"Had to sell it. Parandi didn't let me ride with him out of the kindness of his heart, you know."
"Why change, anyway? Riding's a lot quicker than travelling on a tradesman's cart."
"True, Kai, but a lot slower than flying."
Kai looked horrified. Once, as a child, when he'd escaped his lessons and gone to play with some of the local children, a great eagle had swooped down and caught up one of the crowd. The boy, kicking and screaming, had been carried off and was never seen again.
Kai's tutor had been indulging a penchant for literature not in keeping with his status when Kai had slipped his leash. Belatedly missing his charge, he had gone in search of the truant and saw the whole thing from a high window. In consequence of his own feelings of guilt and relief, he'd given Kai the thrashing of his life.
Kai for his part, found it far less horrific than the actions of the eagle - almost a reassurance, in fact. As a result, he had conceived a profound love of mother earth and a strong ambition to remain in contact with her at all times. Any thought of voluntarily parting company with her loving arms was a clear symptom of insanity.
"It's quite safe," the deranged one went on. "Wonderful experience. You should try it some time."
"Never!" said Kai vehemently.
Ewan shrugged. "Only took us three days."
"Very interesting view. Flew over a mighty host on the move. Must've been the Saghan' îl. Didn't realize it at the time. Too high to see any detail."
Kai shuddered again. "Please," he begged, "just carry on from Gallisar, would you."
"Right. Well, there was no trace of Valarien, but it was clear he was heading for the west coast, so that's the way I went. Bit concerned not to pick up any signs. Would have missed you but for Vash'târik. - Ironic isn't it? - Spotted this largish troop along the 'little north road'. Thought it might have some bearing on the case. Found they were asking after Casper and a 'magician fellow dressed in blue'."
Ewan grinned at Valarien, who was looking faintly apoplectic.
"Anyway, I figured they were following a false trail, so I diverted north. No signs in Ramara. Went on to Claresso. Struck gold."
"How long did you stay at the - um - 'Jolly Raven'?" Valarien asked suspiciously.
"Hm. Well, it was an excellent hostelry. That Roxana. Bit of all right, there..."
"Oh Gods!" exclaimed the wizard, "three days at least."
"Be fair. The sign wasn't that easy to spot."
"It was if you were - um - looking for it!"
"Ye-es, well, guess I wasn't looking in the right place - not just at first..."
The wizard groaned. "Where did you expect to find it? The - um - bottom of a tankard, maybe? Or tattooed on a buttock?"
The nightranger bit his lip, but his expression otherwise was that of the injured innocent. Kai couldn't help laughing.
"Thank the gods you didn't check them all," he grinned.
"Well, actually..." Ewan produced an impish smile, a rare event that lent an entirely different cast to his countenance. Kai gave him a hard look, unsure of what lay beneath the apparently stony exterior.
As promised, Valarien disappeared to his room after breakfast to investigate Glitch's role in the affairs of the past few weeks. He was gone for several hours and Kai became concerned.
"These things can take some time," Scipius reassured him, but there was that in his voice that was not reassuring.
Eventually Kai overcame his scruples and invaded the wizard's privacy. He had not been gone long when Ewan and Leon returned from a sightseeing excursion of the town. Leon, lacking Kai's tact, and becoming daily more familiar with the workers of magic, blithely wandered into Valarien's chamber - and stopped dead on the threshold.
The wizard was seated at a small table, staring into a large sphere of crystal as if mesmerized. Kai, also, seemed glued to whatever he saw within. What pulled him up short was the expressions on both faces. Whatever was going on was well outside his experience. He turned tail and ran to the illusionist's chamber.
"I think there's trouble," he gasped. "You'd better come."
"Calm down, lad. What's the matter?" Scipius asked.
Leon told him.
"I see," he said, when the barbarian had finished. "Looks like our fledgling mage has over-reached himself."
"Mage? I thought he was a wizard?"
"He is. He also has aspirations to the highest order of magic. A bit of a high-flyer, young Valarien. Let's hope he hasn't flown too high."
So saying, Scipius hunted in a large, oak chest, and pulled out a square of white silk.
"You'd better stay here," he said.
Leon was only too happy to oblige.
Scipius, like the barbarian, stopped on the threshold of Valarien's room. He made a mental image of the scene, then closed his eyes and stepped towards the pair. When he reached the table, he felt for the crystal, and, without opening his eyes, threw the silken cloth over it. Valarien let out a deep sigh. There was a sharp intake of breath from Kai.
"It's all right, my friend," said the wizard faintly. "You can open your eyes now."
Scipius did so, and was shocked to see the drained expressions on both faces.
"What happened?" he asked.
"I saw I saw... my brother," said Kai, pale and haggard. " in torment," he whispered. "I must return. Immediately!"
He seemed beside himself, his anxiety bordering on panic.
"No!" Valarien said sharply.
"But I must!"
"We must take no hasty action," the wizard urged, "or all may be lost."
He thrust himself between the warrior and the door and nearly regretted it. Then rationality returned. Kai sat down heavily on the chair just vacated by the wizard, and covered his face with his hands, his shoulders heaving with emotion. Valarien laid a consoling hand on his shoulder.
"Have faith, my friend," he said. "Together, we will - um - set all to rights."
The wizard never did say what he had seen in the crystal, but it had the effect of focussing his mind wonderfully on the task in hand. At quiet times, he would withdraw into himself again, sadly mourning his love, but at other times, he put aside his unhappiness and contrived to appear much as he had done before
. Kai remained tense and anxious. Taut as a bowstring before the arrow flies, Leon thought. He would not be happy until they were on their way. Until then he would continue to fidget and fret.
Scipius hit on the idea of despatching him to look for a suitable mount for Valarien and to arrange the return of the ponies to the dwarves. This had the dual effect of giving him something useful to do - something which would also occupy his mind - and of giving everyone else a rest from his constant chafing and complaining.
This worked excellently well. The fresh air cleared his mind and by channelling his excess energy into a spirited bargaining session, he acquired for the wizard a fine Cheratolian stallion for a very fair price. He thus returned to the inn feeling moderately pleased with himself. Most of the loose ends had been tied up during his absence which pleased him still further.
Valarien, on the other hand, was less than delighted when he clapped eyes on the prime piece of flesh and bone awaiting him in the inn's stables. The animal was snorting and stamping and showing an ardent desire to rid itself of all restraint. The wizard had always made a point of selecting for himself a placid animal, not too big, and with no inclination to travel at much beyond a fast trot. This new creature was a good seventeen hands. Its name was Wildfire and it looked well named. Valarien was impressed not at all by Kai's reassurances that it was just a little fresh from lack of recent exercise.
"There is no way I am getting on that animal," Valarien declared with finality. "Either you mount up right now, or I throw you into the saddle."
"You lay a finger on me, and you'll - um - regret it."
The wizard pointed his finger at Kai who recognized its import only too well. It seemed to be a stand-off, then Leon came into the stable, whistling cheerfully.
"Oh-oh, now what?" he said to himself when he saw the two eyeball to eyeball and looking like a pair of thunderclouds. Aloud he said, to neither in particular and with a creditable attempt at insouciance, "Having trouble?"
"Yes!" came a tight-lipped chorus, followed by a jumble of strident recriminations.
Leon shook his head and waved a hand for silence.
"Oh, is that all?" he asked when he finally grasped the cause of the dispute. "No problem," he continued breezily.
He received a frosty look from the wizard and a wrathful one from the warrior. He grinned back merrily and went to the horse's head. Wildfire shimmied restively and rolled his eyes as Leon took hold of his bridle. Quite what the barbarian did, neither of the disputants could tell, but the horse suddenly calmed down, nodded his head with a friendly snicker and nuzzled Leon in a cajoling manner. Leon slipped him a piece of apple, patted his neck and returned to his suspicious colleagues.
"There you are, you see," he said to Valarien, "now he knows who's the boss, he'll be as gentle as a kitten. No problem."
"I still think we ought to - um - start off fresh in the morning."
"We go now," Kai insisted. "We've a good four hours before sunset. We can be miles away from Larenna by then."
It was clearly useless to try to withstand Kai once he'd got the bit between his teeth though Valarien tentatively suggested that Leon might try his powers on the wayward warrior. Leon shook his head.
"I think he already knows who's the boss," he said.