Chapter 26 – Confluence of Circumstance


Sixteenth of Learning 1142

After fighting practice, Dahr, Eric, Chari and Kalutu took a detour to track down Lord Ormund, who didn’t seem all that happy to see them. They found him in a corridor on the way to his quarters and told him their time with him was winding down, which seemed to cheer him up.

“Is there a last bit of wisdom you might be able to supply?” asked Eric. “We don’t have time for an actual lesson.”

“The most useful thing I can teach you is how to interrupt a casting. Different mages have different skills in this regard, so there are no hard and fast rules. For example, most mages don’t need a specific set of movements to

Spontaneous Crowd in Rish

cast most spells and preventing them from moving their hands won’t stop them. Silencing them will, through a spell, or magic item. Since you have neither of those you’ll have to depend on more pedestrian methods.”

“I might be able to silence a mage,” said Dahr.

Lord Ormund looked annoyed. “Prince Dahr, while your abilities are no doubt impressive, I would venture to guess…”

Dahr gestured and that was as far as Lord Ormund got. His lips were moving, but nothing came out. His eyes grew hard, and all four students could see the rage in them.

“That’s enough, Dahr,” said Eric. “You’ve made your point.”

Dahr gestured again, and Lord Ormund, hesitantly, said, “Hello? Yes, well, good.”

Almost as fast as it had appeared, the anger was gone, replaced by a complex series of emotions that was hard to read. Perhaps he had realized he was talking to a prince of the realm and decided that whatever his feelings, keeping them to himself would benefit him.

“As I was saying. To interrupt a casting, without using Dahr’s unusual powers, you’ll have to physically disrupt the mage. Hitting him in the stomach and knocking the wind from him will interrupt the vocal component of the spell, which most mages need, though apparently not Dahr.”

Dahr shrugged. “I’m not sure what I’m doing is magic as you understand it.”

Suddenly, Lord Ormund was interested. “Indeed? What is it then?”

Dahr looked apologetic. “I don’t think George likes you very much. I think it’s just him expressing his opinion.”

“Your god doesn’t like me?”

Dahr nodded. “He pretty much told us that.”

“He told you he didn’t like me? He just came right out and said it?”

“Pretty much. We all defended you, of course, seeing how helpful you’ve been, but you know how gods are. You can’t really change their minds. George is a bit set in his ways.”

Lord Ormund’s eyes grew wide, and he looked around as if expecting lightning to strike Dahr down right there in the palace.

“You shouldn’t say such things. Blasphemy can be dangerous.”

“It’s not blasphemy if it’s true,” said Dahr. “Anyway, George respects honesty and being blunt. He has no time for people who don’t say what they mean.”

Lord Ormund pulled himself up to his full height. “In that case, I’m not that impressed with George either.”

At once, the corridor grew colder and the air heavier.

“That might have been a mistake,” said Dahr.

Lord Ormund’s face went from ire to fear in a matter of moments. Even Eric and Chari were surprised. Kalutu, however, seemed calm as ever.

“I thought you said he respects honesty and being blunt,” complained Lord Ormund.

“Yes, but I meant from me, his adherent. Not from you.”

“I’m so sorry,” whined Lord Ormund. “I was trying to be pleasing. Really, I didn’t mean anything by it.”

Almost at once, the temperature around them increased, and everything seemed to go back to normal.

“You were saying,” said Eric, after shooting Dahr a disapproving look.

To his credit, Lord Ormund regained his composure faster than any of them had expected. He picked up right where he left off. His face was still pale, but he seemed determined to finish what he had started.

“Yes, well, every mage is different, but knocking the wind out of anyone, or tackling them to the ground would affect almost all mages. If a mage isn’t affected by that, you’d have no chance against them anyway. Some mages, the less experienced ones, could even be interrupted by a missed attack, because it will break their concentration. There’s a skill to casting in battle. It takes focus and practice. Not everyone has that skill.”

“Thanks,” said Eric. “I wish we could stay longer, but I think it’s almost time for our wedding.”

“You’re getting married today?”

“We are.”

Chari looked alarmed. “Eric, do you suppose whatever is coming for us is coming for us during our wedding?”

“I’ve thought about it, but I don’t think so. Everyone we know will be at that wedding. My father, Veloran, Maynor, I mean, we’ll be in Sheba’s Temple. I’m not sure we could be in a better position should something go wrong.”

Chari smiled, relieved. “Thanks, I needed to hear that.”

Eric turned to Lord Ormund. “Thank you for helping to prepare us, Lord Ormund. We hope you’ll be attending the wedding.”

“If there’s potential danger, I’ll certainly be there. It is my duty.” The fervor in his voice surprised them all, but he continued before they could react. “But I agree with Eric. You’d have to be mad to attempt something inside the Temple of Sheba.”

“Yeah,” said Dahr. “And it’s not like anything mad has happened recently, right?”

They all turned to look at him. Eric punched him on the arm and walked past him in the direction of their quarters.

“Ow!” said Dahr, “What was that for?”

Chari punched him on the same arm, fortunately without making use of Amazing Strength. She followed Eric down the corridor.

“What did I do?” asked Dahr.

Kalutu looked at him, and Dahr put his hand quickly over his arm.

“I wasn’t going to punch you,” said Kalutu. “Though I’d like to point out that Princess Chari had been looking for reassurance, and Prince Eric was trying to provide it. Your statement simply went against what the two of them were looking for.”

“What they should try looking for is the truth. Because whatever we think about the odds, anything can happen at any time, even in the Temple of Sheba. Remember, this is somehow her agenda. There’s no reason she can’t let something happen. In fact, in a lot of ways, it would be the ideal place. A place where she has control, and no one else can interfere.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” said Kalutu. “I have so much to learn.”

“We all have a lot to learn,” said Dahr, then he looked at Lord Ormund. “I’d like to apologize to you.”

“You would?” Lord Ormund looked surprised.

“I would. Unfortunately, I suspect my god won’t allow it.”

Then Dahr turned and walked down the corridor, leaving Lord Ormund standing with Kalutu.

“Lord Ormund, I apologize for my master and his god.”

“You do?”

“I do. Try to understand, the pressure has been mounting on both Prince Eric and Prince Dahr, and I assume, Princess Chari as well. They are not acting as they normally would. I think it’s the stress.”

Lord Ormund nodded, still looking irritable from Dahr’s last words. “What they’re going into…will it really be that dangerous?”

“I think it will. So thank you for helping prepare them for it.”

“You are most welcome,” said Lord Ormund, surprising the familiar with a bow.

Kalutu returned the bow and hurried to catch up to his masters, glad he had taken a moment to mollify the mage. There had been no reason to antagonize him, and it wasn’t inconceivable that they might need his help in the future.


Andeon Walsh stood in the solid white portal room, waiting. The room itself was featureless. Not a blemish to be seen anywhere. When the door was closed, as it was now, you couldn’t see its outline. If it weren’t for the creature in the center of the room, it would have been hard to look at.

The chirkir sat in the middle of the room, looking more or less like a giant stone platform with a ritual circle engraved onto it. Not much was known about the chirkir, and what was known wasn’t all that certain. He studied the creature, as there was nothing else in the room to look at, and reviewed the small amount of information he’d uncovered about it over his years as an adventurer.

Every chirkir had a unique pattern. Perhaps they were born that way. Perhaps they developed the pattern as they aged, based on some unknown criteria. They were here before Sylinar, so the gods didn’t know what to make of them either. Probably the most interesting thing about them is that they ate magic.

For eons, they were the dominant magical race on the planet, consuming magic so they could reproduce, or so the literature says. But Thysandrika’s magic levels had been higher in the days of the Empire. Much higher. No one really knows why they had started dropping but the effects, in some cases, had been catastrophic, particularly for some of the older magical races like the chirkir.

There was no longer enough ambient magic for a chirkir to build up the energy it needed to reproduce and thus the chirkir that existed now were all there would ever be. Fortunately for both them and humanity they seemed to be immortal. Well almost immortal. They would live forever if something didn’t kill them. Unfortunately, starvation could, and some of the larger chirkir did succumb to their hunger, eventually dying and crumbling away to dust. The very thought of such loss filled Andeon with sorrow.

The entire race might have gone extinct, if not for an industrious mage improbably named Catharsis, who figured out that chirkir could be used to teleport people and objects anywhere in the world. That discovery had changed everything.

Early on, there was a race to capture the creatures, or in some cases, entice them into service. Tremendous amounts of gold were poured into research to save the chirkir, once it became known how useful they could be. The greatest minds banded together to create spells that would help transfer magical energy directly to a chirkir in a way that they could actually make use of it. The issue was that mages could channel magic directly from the other realm, but that magic was different from ambient magic, altered by the very process of accessing it. The spells to convert magic used by the mage into ambient magic, which the Chirkir could consume, took time and energy to perfect. Those who had the ability to learn the requisite spells became the first chirkir operators.

Though human greed had saved the chirkir from extinction, figuring out the necessary spells had taken too long. These days there weren’t many chirkir left.

Those who were lucky enough to have access to one had a huge advantage. The ones remaining were found in guild buildings or occasionally temples to Ioranna. Nobles didn’t trust the creatures and as far as he knew, no noble wanted to be anywhere near one, given that it opened up their home to outside intrusion. There was no way to lock a chirkir. That was the official story anyway. There were always rumors of kings and queens who had one stashed away in the bowels of their castle, but Andeon had always dismissed such rumors. It seemed unlikely anyone today could keep a chirkir against its will.

Andeon had always wondered how those that had trapped them in the old days did so. It seemed like it would be impossible. But the histories were clear on the point. Some unscrupulous humans had found a way to ensnare chirkir, but so many of the ancient spells were either lost to time, or no longer possible to cast. Some say the chirkir didn’t do well in captivity and many didn’t make it, but most of those stories were anecdotal.

Every chirkir was in constant contact with others of its kind, and they could send physical items between them, or even transfer magical energy. As he understood it, a group of distant chirkir could feed a starving one from anywhere, and sometimes that happened. The chirkir had lost so much since the days of the Empire, they were no longer willing to lose more. But they were willing to trade their abilities to survive, and they didn’t seem particularly put out by it. At least some of them didn’t.

Andeon knew that chirkir had different personalities. Some were lighter, more positive, even playful, whereas others were standoffish, taciturn or even outright hostile. Some were quiet, or even shy. Some were friendly and quite talkative. Andeon had never had a conversation with a chirkir before, so he was quite surprised when he heard a voice in his mind.

A moment of great moment.

Andeon Walsh rolled his eyes. He could feel the chirkir enjoying his reaction. Damned telepaths.

“Is that so?”

It is. I have been waiting for this day for a very long time, even by my standards.

“This day?”

I have lived a long time, and have seen many things that would astound even you. But today is special.

“What is so special about it?”

Today it begins. There are moments history waits for and this is one of them.

“The Priest?”

The Priest, The Beastmaster, the kreve, they’re all one in a way.

The chirkir knew they were coming, but how? Was it simply communicating with its counterpart in Pelaro, or was this information it already possessed?

“What do you mean when you say they’re all one?”

But the platform had started glowing and the surge of magic that preceded an arrival effectively silenced the chirkir. Andeon Walsh never learned the answer to his question. Unlike the sending point, the magic here didn’t build, but flared suddenly, and when he could see again, the Misfits of Karmenon, looking slightly disoriented, took in the room with interest. It wasn’t difficult for him to identify the beast master, since she stood with a hand resting on the kreve’s massive black head. The beast’s jaws parted when she saw Andeon looking, revealing a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth.

“I love what they’ve done with the place,” said Striker.

A warrior standing beside her chuckled. “It’s not white enough if you ask me.”

“Good day to you. I’m Andeon Walsh, Guild Master of the Rish branch of the Adventurer’s Guild. Welcome to the Kingdom of Twyl.”

They all nodded, except the salad, who bowed.

“I am Ressssen, leader of the Misfits of Karmenon.” The serpent lord gestured to each team member as she introduced them. “This is Striker and her pet, Stalker. My second, Garne. Borin, Dreek and Merck Vanderoth.”

“Well, Aranya was right. You are an interesting group,” he said, though he was staring at the kreve when he said it. As he continued, his eyes never left it. “I know why you’re here, and this room is currently warded. If you need anything, I am at your service.”

“What we need is to find a fourteen year old boy with black hair. He’s probably a noble.” said Merck.

“So Aranya told me. His name is Prince Dahr. He was here with the high priest of Sheba, who seems to know him very well. The high priest’s name is Veloran. I can give you a note, and you can go meet him. He might be able to arrange a meeting with the prince for you.”

“That easy?” asked Striker.

“Of course,” said Merck. “Just look at the series of events that brought us here. We’ve had exactly one dinner with nobles, and suddenly we know where the target of our search is, and now we’re here, halfway across the world.”

“It’s not even close to halfway,” said Striker.

“Yes,” said Merck, “Well, when they were training me in geography in Swindler school, I swore I would never make that mistake, but there you are.”

Striker laughed. “I like him. Can we keep him?”

“For a while longer at least,” answered Ressssen. “Please, Mr. Walsh, pen your letter. And then, if you would be so kind, can you direct us to the Temple of Sheba.”

“I can do one better. It’s quite close. I can walk you over there.”

“That would be apprecccciated.”

The Guild Master gestured and the door opened. They followed him out into a passage that extended directly away from it. The portal room was at the end of a corridor to keep it isolated from the rest of the building. Isolation was important and in fact, there were no other doors or passages in that corridor. Too many important people traveled by chirkir. More than a few wanted to keep their movements confidential.

“There are traps here,” said Dreek, gesturing to the walls, “quite a few in fact. I suspect if we were not welcome, we would soon come to regret our intrusion.”

“You have a good eye,” said Andeon. “Most people can’t detect them.”

“Most people are not phase shifters,” said Dreek, matter of factly. He wasn’t bragging, simply stating a fact.

There were few people on this level, but as they moved through the building they started seeing more and more traffic.

“There’s a lot of people here,” said Striker.

“More lately,” said Andeon. “A new dungeon has been discovered nearby. Adventurer’s have come from all over to explore it.”

They looked at each other, but Andeon was in front and didn’t notice.

“That’s interesting,” said Ressssen. “When was it discovered?”

“A bit over a week ago,” said Andeon.

“What the hell is going on?” growled Garne.

Quickly Striker filled Andeon in on the dungeon found near Pelaro, at least the little bit she had heard about it.

“That is odd. I wonder what it portends.”

“The world is changing,” said Merck. “I think we’re all going to have to get used to that.”

Andeon Walsh examined the Misfits of Karmenon. None of them looked surprised at the announcement. Two humans (one of whom had a pet kreve), a serpent lord, a phase shifter and a salad. One of the most eclectic teams he’d ever encountered.

It was the reason he had volunteered to escort them personally. For most teams, particularly low level teams, he’d have sent someone to perform that task. But Aranya seemed quite taken with this team. And curiosity had always been one of his most defining traits.

“You talk about change. Do you know what that entails?”

Merck shook his head. “You’re asking the wrong guy. I can’t even tell you my god’s name.”

Striker broke in. “Yeah, we’re pretty big on not knowing stuff. It’s sort of a team specialty.”

Andeon looked around at the misfits who all seemed quite happy to let that comment stand. Most teams would have tried to impress the guild master of a large city guild, but this low level team didn’t seem to have any need or desire to do so. In Andeon’s experience, that meant one of two things. Either they weren’t confident enough to talk themselves up, or they were good enough that they didn’t feel they needed to.

Some teams he knew were going to move up the ladder sooner rather than later. Andeon had the distinct feeling he was looking at one of them.


Eric and Dahr had returned to their suite, while Chari, for once, went to her own room. The brothers were about to wash up before changing. They had prepared everyday garb instead of formal wear. Chari had been quite clear about this affair being casual, and Eric couldn’t even begin to imagine how annoyed she’d be if they showed up in formal attire while she was dressed more casually. He wanted his wedding day to be memorable, preferably for the right reasons.

He watched as Dahr picked up a clay pitcher and poured water into a metal basin. Dahr picked up a cloth and sloshed it around, not caring how much water spilled over the sides in the process. Dahr started to scrub himself. Eric looked at the untouched pitcher and basin in front of him. He had neither the time nor energy for the conversation he knew he needed to have, but that didn’t matter. There were some things that had to be addressed before it was too late.

“Dahr, I wanted to talk to you.”


Dahr hadn’t even glanced in his direction. “Dahr, I think you should lighten up on Lord Ormund. Whatever you think of him, he’s here to help us.”

Dahr stopped what he was doing and looked up, surprised. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No, Dahr, I’m not. Lord Ormund is a high level mage, who deserves at least minimal respect, even if you do outrank him.”

“He’s a condescending jerk. He talks down to me like I’m a child.”

“Compared to him, we’re both children, even if we have transitioned. Let me ask you a question…if you had studied magic all your life, only to be shown up publicly by a Level 1 fourteen year-old, how do you think you’d feel?”

“Me? Humbled. You’d think after the last time he would have learned his lesson.”

“My father taught me that people should be treated with respect.”

Dahr turned to face Eric and took a step toward him. Eric could see he was getting angry. “And what about him respecting me? Why is he allowed to talk to me like I’m just a kid, when I can do things he can’t do. He’s pompous and arrogant. He’s a fool.”

“I asked my father about him. He’s a knowledgeable mage who has years of experience. He’s relatively high level. He knows more about magic than anyone else in the palace.”

Dahr started to pace now, clearly agitated. “Yes, he’s a high level mage, and I can do things he can’t. Tell me, Eric, where do you think I’ll be when I’m Lord Ormund’s age?”

“Honestly? I think you’ll be in a grave. If you’re going to piss off everyone that can possibly help you, it doesn’t matter how powerful you are. Everyone needs allies. You may feel powerful now, here in the palace or safe in a city, but we’re not always going to be here. You don’t turn away possible allies, even if you don’t like them. Even if you don’t care for their manner. If you won’t take it easy on Lord Ormund because it’s the right thing to do, then do it because it’s the smart thing to do. You’re better than this, Dahr. Don’t let the power go to your head.”

Dahr had been angry but at those last words, Eric saw the anger drain from his face. When he spoke again, Dahr’s words were calm and measured. “Is that what you think is happening? You think I’m becoming a bully?”

“Are you? Was it necessary to attack Lord Ormund when he was already down? If you’re truly more powerful than he is, do you have to rub it in? Who benefits from that? It disrupts the lesson. It makes Lord Ormund feel worse, which could affect his ability to teach. It doesn’t even particularly help you. I can understand why Lord Ormund annoys you, but take it from me. People are the way they are for a reason. You don’t know what he’s been through to make him that way. My father always tells me that no one thinks they’re the bad guy. People have reasons for acting the way they do, even if it makes no sense to us. My mother took that a step further by teaching me that learning how people think and why they act as they do is the first step to not only understanding them, but making allies of them. Not everyone can be your friend, but we all need as many friends as we can gather.”

“You think I should apologize to Lord Ormund?”

“It doesn’t matter what I think. The real question is, do you think you should apologize. I think you should do what’s right. I know you should do what’s smart. But I’m not your father, Dahr. I can’t make you do anything. You’ve transitioned now. You’re your own man. I can only offer advice. I can’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t do.”

“That’s a good thing,” replied Dahr. “If this is the kind of lecture I get when you can’t tell me what to do, I can’t even begin to imagine the kind of lecture I’d get if you could.”

Eric laughed. “Okay, okay. Point taken.”

Dahr sighed. “I don’t know why that guy gets to me so much, but I think I need to apologize.”

Kalutu cleared his throat. “You may not have to, Dahr. I’ve already took the liberty of apologizing for both you and your god.”

Dahr shifted his attention to their familiar. “You did what?”

“I apologized. I think Prince Eric is right. Lord Ormund is an ally, and if you’re going to anger an ally, you should have a stronger reason than he gave you. I didn’t think you’d apologize, so I did.”

Eric nodded approvingly, but Dahr scowled. “Aren’t you supposed to do what I think is right?”

Kalutu shook his head. “I’m supposed to protect and obey you. In the absence of a direct order, I can use my own judgment. Keeping Lord Ormund on our side seemed like a good idea. It makes everyone safer. I understand your issues with him, but I think there might be other ways to deal with the situation.”

“Such as?”

Kalutu scratched his head. “I don’t know, but I do know this. Lord Ormund holds a place of respect in the hierarchy of this palace. Having him respect you adds to your reputation. A person’s reputation in society is partly based on what they can do, and what they’ve done, but it’s also based on who respects them and who doesn’t. That’s true even if you’re a royal. King Terrence, from everything I’ve heard, is very well regarded, and people take him seriously because of it. King Leonid is less well regarded, and though people are scared of him, they talk about him behind his back. They get away with what they can. They think he’s a foolish king. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be in King Terrence’s position.”

Dahr looked from Kalutu to Eric and back again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disrupt the lesson. I guess I have some growing up to do.”

Eric walked over to him and ruffled his hair. “We all do, Dahr. I’m getting married, if I ever finish getting ready. Do you think I feel ready for that?”

“What are you talking about?” asked Dahr. “It’s Chari. You practically live together already.”

Eric laughed. “You realize I’ve known Chari for less than a week, right? And you know, Chari, as much as I like her…she has some strong opinions. Part of me thinks marrying her is as dangerous as anything else that might happen. She can be a bit scary. And she has that Amazing Strength skill. I’m going to have to learn how to behave.”

“Behave?” Dahr spluttered. “Eric, you’re the gold standard. The goddess of honor gave you two holy weapons. You’re here telling me to be more honorable, and that I should treat people better. Getting you to break a rule is like convincing a noble to become a servant. I can’t remember ever seeing you misbehave.”

Eric laughed. “You weren’t around when I was younger. I got up to some pretty serious mischief, believe me. You should ask my mother one day.”

Dahr looked at Kalutu. “He probably used the wrong fork at dinner one night.”

Before Eric could reply, there was a knock on the door. Both of them pulled on robes, while Kalutu answered it. Chari stood outside in leather breeches and a white shirt.

“You aren’t ready yet? How hard is it to wash up and get dressed?”

Eric and Dahr exchanged a glance before Eric answered. “Sorry, we stopped to have a talk about how Dahr treated Lord Ormund.”

Chari raised an eyebrow. “What? I thought that was funny.”

Eric sighed. “Let us finish getting ready, and we can talk about it.”

Chari walked into the room. “Okay.”

Dahr looked embarrassed. Eric rolled his eyes. “We’d like to get dressed.”

“I’m not stopping you.”

Dahr grumbled and took his clothes into the bedroom to change. Eric thought about it for only a minute and started to do the same.

“You realize,” said Chari, “We’re going to be married in a matter of an hour or two, right?”

Eric nodded. “Sure, but we’re not married yet. Did you really think that what Dahr did to Lord Ormund was funny?”

“I did. That guy always talks down to Dahr, so I’m not sure what he expected. If you’re going to talk down to people, you have to expect some backlash. Especially people who are above your station.”

Eric grimaced. Having an argument with his future wife just before the wedding, probably wasn’t the best use of what little energy he had left.

“Right. I’m going to get dressed.”

He walked from the room with his outfit, and closed the door behind him. Chari looked at Kalutu.

“So, how bad was it?”

Kalutu shrugged. “It seemed to go fine. I agree with Eric by the way.”

Chari smiled. “Yeah, me too.”

“But you said…”

“Kalutu, women say a lot of things that mean something other than what they’re saying. Eric had a point and Dahr had a point, but either way, I still found it funny.”

Kalutu shook his head. “I fear I’m going to need an interpreter. Are they expensive?”

Chari chuckled. “You won’t need an interpreter, Kalutu. You’ll just do what most men do.”

“Which is?”

“Wrack your brain trying to figure us out until it melts. This is why women will one day rule the world.”

Kalutu’s frown of confusion went unnoticed as beaks were bad at displaying that particular expression.


The party that left the palace heading for the temple district was larger than Chari thought it would be. It contained both her parents and Eric’s. Then there was her team, she chuckled at the thought, appropriate guards and some servants, a few nobles she didn’t recognize, Leta, Maynor and Lord Ormund. Fortunately, the temple was large, and would no doubt be reserved for something as important as a royal wedding. Her wedding. It didn’t seem real. It certainly wasn’t anything like she’d pictured when she was younger, on the rare occasions she’d bothered to try.

In a lot of ways this was better. More honest. The union of two people binding themselves together because they wanted to. Without all the strangers trying to gain advantage by talking to you. Without the ludicrously long ceremony. Without the consummation ritual that she was happy wasn’t practiced in Twyl. Just a binding of souls. One day, they would be King Eric and Queen Chari, if they survived whatever was coming for them. Not the time for such thoughts, she chided herself. Today was a day for celebration, brief though it would be. She understood the chef was making quite a lovely dinner for them back at the palace.

People stared at the procession as it moved through the streets. They hurried to get out of the way. The king and queen rode side by side on matching horses and, as soon as they were recognized, a shout went up from the people on the street.

People were beginning to line the way as if this were a parade. Chari was surprised at how fast the crowd had gathered. There was cheering and waving and in a couple of cases shouts of discontent, but those were few. There would have been none of them if it had been her father, because the people of Melar would have been scared to express an opinion about him openly, at least in his presence. It was yet another difference between Twyl and Melar. Yes, it was good that she was here. It suited her. It seemed so strange. She had had to travel to another country to finally find a home. She had been so against marriage and now here she was, only weeks later and suddenly she was all for it. What had happened to her?

She knew the answer immediately. Eric had happened. Eric with his serious demeanor and his honor and his desire to protect those he loved. Eric with his devotion to Sheba, the goddess she had chosen to serve so long ago she could not remember a time when it hadn’t been the case. Eric with his two holy weapons and his favor. A man she could be proud to marry. A man with honor, and integrity and, as her father had told her, a handsome face and quite a good looking body. A body that was becoming harder and stronger as they practiced. A body that she would soon be sharing a bed with. Okay, they could work on that. Take it slow. It didn’t have to happen tonight.

And yet part of her wanted it to. She wanted that closeness, that intimacy. She wanted a part of Eric no one else had. No one else would ever have. But then she thought about her father, and even King Terrence and knew there was no guarantee of that. Still, if she had her say, it would be tonight. That much at least, the gods could give them. At least she hoped that was true.

The crowd grew even larger. She couldn’t believe it. Where had all these people come from? They lined the thoroughfare from the palace to the Temple of Sheba without a single gap. Chari pitied anyone who had to cross the street on which they traveled.

Chari tried to recapture her reverie, but it was gone now, chased away by the noise of the crowd. She waved as she passed, and people waved back, though most probably had no idea who she was. Was this what it was like to be famous? To be a hero? She had never cared about any of that. What she wanted was the strength to defend herself should she need to. She wondered how long it would take to acquire that strength. The road would be long, and she had only taken her first steps on it.

The crowd cheered again, and she looked around for a reason, but saw nothing. Maybe they were just exuberant. Had she ever seen the people of Melar this engaged? She didn’t think so.

And then it was over, and they were at the temple. Those riding dismounted, those walking gathered near the entrance, stopping before the wall of priests who stood between them and the large double doors. Veloran stood in front of them, but he was not wearing his fighting robes as usual. He was dressed in his formal high priest’s garb, which turned out to be burnished scale mail armor emblazoned with Sheba’s sigil.

She almost didn’t recognize him. He looked ten years younger. The armor added to his already massive frame, making him look like some unreal ancient hero. He might have been Arimen himself. She could barely take her eyes off him. Others studied him with the same intensity. The buzz of conversation died suddenly and there was silence. Veloran looked around with approval, amusement, pride. He seemed more than he had been, as if somehow, he had borrowed Sheba’s strength so that even people further back could hear him when he finally spoke.

“Your Majesties, Lords and Ladies of the Court, fine people of Rish, welcome to the Temple of Sheba. This will be a closed ceremony. The doors will be barred after the guests enter, and the priesthood will remain outside to make sure the ceremony is not interrupted. Tonight, Prince Eric of Twyl will marry Princess Chari of Melar. On this joyous occasion, I ask you to set aside whatever troubles you, for troubles will come soon enough. My goddess assures me however, that we have this time at least, and we will put it to good use, without the fear or pressure of the days gone past. Tonight is a night for celebration, and we will make it count!”

There were cheers again, louder than before, even though the people lining the street had no idea what the priest had actually been talking about. They didn’t particularly care. Already word was spreading down the line that a royal wedding was happening right here, right now. The cheer moved like water running through a channel, flowing faster and louder as the onlookers picked it up.

And in the front of the party, Eric, Chari, Dahr and Kalutu, stood and watched as the city came out to support them.

“It’s a good thing we kept it small,” said Eric, eyes sparkling with amusement.

“Perhaps,” said Veloran, “we should get inside. I can barely hear myself think out here.”


Forward to Chapter 27 – The Wedding 

Back to Chapter 25 – Training Day



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