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Abul and Yenda visit Jakkanna

Freezeday, Illusion week, Fire season - mid morning

After having left Egil and other members of their group in various locations of New Pavis, Yenda and Abul go directly to Duke Raus' city mansion. There Abul is well known and Yenda is recognized by the servants. Fresh water is offered while Lady Jakkanna is fetched.

Abul remains silent when they have been received in her austere room and made their salutations.

"Something bad has happened?" asks Lady Jakkanna, knowing the young man well. "You seem worried..."

"Not so clearly bad," he answers. "But I have news that could lead me into problems if I'm uncautious..."

"You perhaps seek advice then..? It must be very serious news," she adds with a slightly ironic tone in her voice as she remembers the usual difficulty to teach him.

"Well, yes it is. First I'm here to say Goodbye. I'm about to leave New Pavis. Yenda and I plus various legionnaires will get a new assignment in Dragon Pass... I don't know exactly where yet and wouldn't be allowed to tell it if I knew, but I will certainly be far away from my father or any other Carmanian people I know..."

"I'm surprised you don't show your happiness. Wasn't adulthood freedom your personal goal, being far away from my dull lessons and living adventurous experiences..?"

"Maybe... but lately I had a disturbing experience about old memories, dreams and my... old medallion."

Suddenly Lady Jakkanna's glance sharpens and her attention focuses on the young Her'wardi. As he remains silent, she suggests: "That's the worrying part of your news, isn't it ?"

"You have told me about the Enemy seeking to destroy each of us. Could it be possible that... that he would have a specific reason to pay a special attention... to me? I know it sounds like a total lack of humility, but... it's my current conclusion for the moment... I have recovered... difficult memories about past events... I mean, before I met Jamal."

Lady Jakkanna can be extremely patient when needed and her silence just encourages the young man.

"People...well... family members... slaughtered... by some dark things... somehow because of me.... in my childhood... Some of my senior officers, experts in fighting such things, think that my medallion is involved and... I... agree."

"How can I help you, Abul? It seems difficult. Are you speaking of some kind of curse?"

"Possibly, it's all blurred now... but you have shown interest in the medallion. Could you tell me why?"

Jakkanna pauses before answering, looking from Abul to Yenda and back. "From the little I have seen of it, it is Spolite work," she answers. "I am from Spol myself, so recognise the style. What concerns me, and concerns me more now you have spoken of creatures of the Darkness, is that it may be connected with the Spolite Witches."

"Forgive me I am naught but a humble barbarian. What are Spolite Witches? Coming from outside the glowline there is a tendency to dismiss stuff as just being Lunar empire and on principle oppose it without bothering to understand it. I think for Abul and the Legions sake we need that understanding." Yenda looks from Jakkanna to Abul and back waiting for a response.

"The Spolites emerged after the tumoil of the Gabji wars in Peloria... " answers Abul with a kind voice for Yenda. "It is said that they were at first only the ruthless magicians worshipping the Darkness entites brough by the trollish demons of Arkat's army, but soon they became the murderous rulers of the Pelandans, then they wared against Dara Happa and finally when Night was about to conquer Day, the Good God sent Syranthir the Wanderer with his army of mercenaries. He was fleeing the Godlearners and outraged by the Basphemies done to Creation..."

Now, Abul fully seems to resume a traditional narrative:

"The Good God provided him the support of its Hum'Akt and Syranthir mercilessly broke their tyranny and liberated Pelanda. His son, the prophet Karmanos revealed that the Spolites were agents of the Enemy, the ultimate Evil who eternelly fights the Good God in order to destroy the World... The Carmanians purged restlessly Spol by fire and sword and now..." He gives there a quick nervous glance to Lady Jakkanna. "the surviving Spolites are taught about the right ways..."

"Except that we all know that forcing them into the 'right ways' merely drives those who are 'wrong' underground, whilst pretending to be model citizens." Yenda comments cynically.

"There will always be people who think that the old ways are the best. If I have it right then the Witches were the magical enforcers of that older, cruel empire and they favoured darkness entities, from wherever they could find them. If this medallion is a relic of those times then it could be something to protect them from their own summoning, or perhaps something to attract them."
Yenda holds up a hand to calm Abul's alarmed expression and smiles reassuringly at him.

"I don't think that that is likely though, because you would have been fighting them off all the time. I wonder if this is a significant family piece and some of the 'let's go back to the old ways crowd' found out about it and that is why they sent darkness creatures to retrieve it from your parents. What do you think lady Jakkanna?"

"I think that I can tell you very little about this medallion without a closer look at it," she responds drily, "but you are right that the older, darker ways still persist, even at the highest levels, though none will admit to it openly. It would be most unwise, for instance, to suggest that the Countess of Spol had any knowledge of witchcraft. It might even annoy her enough that she would ask her son, the Heirophant, to look into the matter, and at that point, leaving Spol would be prudent."
She sighs. "Still, the medallion. From what I can see at this distance, the style is very much like the one I wear myself: the Dry Bone medallion that gives protection from the undead. For such a thing to be given to a child would be unusual, to say the least. May I take a closer look?"

Without getting it off, Abul brings the medallion out of his white linen shirt, revealing by the way a large masculine chest, with a tanned skin, bruises and scars under thick dark curly hair... not a small boy's anatomy anymore.
To let Lady Jakkanna get the medallion in her own hands, Abul has to get very near to her and this proximity clearly isn't to the taste of either party.

She handles it at arm's length, fingertips only, peers at the inscription, and turns it over to check the back before letting it go.
"Yes, the family name I thought I'd seen. "Melch’Abukk". Does that mean anything to you, Abul?"

"No. Nothing at all, sounds like some creepy Spolite name directly from the old wives' tales of my childhood in Pelanda... that's what these letters mean, a family name?" answers Abul intrigued.

"That would seem to be a fair summary of the family history, yes, from the little I have been able to learn," Jakkanna responds. "There is rather more to the writing than that. This is intended to guard against enemies of that family, and against creatures of the darkness in particular. It has one personal name on it as well as the family name: "Yaazinda". A woman's name. Whether this was made by her, or for her, I cannot tell."

Apparently Abul reacts strongly to the woman name. It's not very usual to see the young man fighting so clearly deeply moving emotions. After a while, raucously he answers.

"Yaazinda? It reminds me a lullaby from my childhood... a man used to sing it when I was about to sleep... it was a long time ago, even before I met the attention of the Evil One. In this song, Yaazinda was a fair princess supposed to watch over her baby..."

"... which was supposed by the singer... to be me." He finishes in a surprising contained sob.

After a short silence and a deep breath, Abul finds his mask back and apologizes harshly to Lady Jakkanna and Yenda.

"Please excuse this lack of control. I can't explain why I feel so much sadness. I don't wish to appear weak in front of you both. I'm a Carmanian hazar now, not a Pelandan whiny. "

"Piffle!" Yenda dismisses his apology. "These investigations are ripping into a traumatic part of your youth. I would think less of you if they didn’t elicit some strong emotions!"

"Men!" She exclaims to Lady Jakkanna. "They seem to think that it is so clever to hide their emotions, even from themselves. All they do is harm to themselves. Secretly thinking they must be weak and the others around them are so much stronger."

"This suppression of feeling is the first thing secret chaos cults feed on. It was how Santhis was lured from Yelmalio and many others I could mention. If you can let your mask slip for a while in our presence then we will have a far better idea of how to help you."

Yenda continues more thoughtfully. "I wonder how literal that song could be? Could it be your father singing about you and your mother? Though the idea of a princess could mean you have a link to Pelandan royalty or just the normal view that any wife is a princess in her husband’s eye."

Abul bears Yenda's rebuff stoically, just lowering his eyes in sign of surrender.

"I don't know," he responds finally. "I'm an orphan raised in the city of Kendosos by my father's family. They never talked a lot of my parents... although I remember them telling me once that my father was a kind of minstrel, killed by a noble for an offensive song. They seriously warned me about getting ideas above my station... So maybe the lullaby is a real memory somehow, but the Pelandans have no royalty of their own since mythic ages..."

He has a small amused smile as he comments on the political weakness of his nation. "They have been ruled by Dara Happans then by Spolites and finally by Karmanos the Liberator. Currently they are under the Carmanian Karmanoii or the Lunar Satraps' laws, depending on which side of the Oronin river they live. No chance to find a princess among the Pelandan people, at best for a spouse you can find a daughter of a rich priest or of a successful merchant.. and only at best."

"So, logically, if your mother was literally a princess, then she was not Pelandan," Jakkanna says drily. "Your father, yes, but not your mother. If Yaazinda Melch’Abukk was your mother, that would make sense: the Melch’Abukk family used to have enough power behind the scenes that they might well have been seen as unofficial royalty. Since what I can read of the writing suggests that it was made by her, or for her, or both, and it works for you, then either there are no conditions on its use, or whatever conditions there are apply to you as well as to her. The conditions, if any, are not in the obvious writing visible at the moment, but the repeated mention of the family name suggests that it would have been tied to the bloodline."

"Emotions aside, I believe that is a series of logical deductions?" she says to Yenda.

"Logical perhaps, but if I may object, your conclusion is just plainly silly..." retort Abul skeptically. "If you knew where and how I lived in Kendosos, you wouldn't see in me the descent of any famous and glorious family. There was there no frequentation for medallion-making magician, just poor entertainers, singers and musicians... basically the dregs that universally nobles can't even see... and especially Spolite," he adds with a mixture of disdain and pride."

"Dregs that Spolite nobles can't see?" Jakkanna repeats sarcastically. "Oh, well, yes I can quite see how impossible that would be as a hiding place for someone who was trying to avoid the attentions of Spolite nobles, then. And the idea of nobility, or even royalty, in exile, having to live in a manner slightly less comfortable than that to which they might have become accustomed would be completely unheard of."
The sarcasm turns into a snap. "Grow up, boy. If your mother was a from a Spolite noble family, and fell out with them, then among the poor and the dregs is exactly where she would be. The question is why she fell out with them, and why their enmity extends to her son."

"Every culture has stories about the hidden heirs to a kingdom. In most, parents have fled from vengeful family / rivals to protect their children. Often they have some item that is the key to their inheritance or an artifact to defeat the bad guys too. Perhaps the medallion is yours." She smiles fondly at Abul.

"Usually the heir in question is so modest that they refuse to believe that they could ever be so important. That fits you down to the ground Abul."

Becoming more serious she addresses Jakkanna.

"You are right the real question is why and the answer usually starts with the unique item. Someone, usually by accident, finds some secret writing or some such. Writing that only appears in certain conditions. I've encountered a few, let’s see if we can elicit a response from this medallion.” She pauses, gathering her thoughts. “Let’s see, heat, various different light sources can have an effect. It is made with lead so certainly extreme heat might cause damage to it. Lead always makes me think of trolls and that to me means darkness and cold. Do we have any way of creating a magical darkness?”

Abul looks totally baffled, hearing voices, listenning to words but apparently unable to understand the sentences they are making. Slowly their meanings diffuse into his consciousness, causing a continuous flow of objections in his mind. However he has been trained to recognize such a state of mind. Long ago, Jamal taught him to recognize objections as signs of obedience-refusal, and as much obstacles to action and realisation. "The whole conversation is crazy," he thinks, but half by education and half because Yenda seems serious, he forces himself to consider the comments of the two women...

"I don't, no - and it would need to be magical, Darkness is not the same as mere absence of light. Simply being near a being tied to the Darkness rune might be enough. You are right, hidden writing is a common part of a Spolite enchantment - hiding and secrecy was always a large part of their power. My own amulet, for instance, shows more under the influence of Death magic."

Although still reluctant, Abul feels that studying the medallion is less dangerous than studying the implications of Yenda and Lady Jakkanna's demonstration. "Lady Jakkanna, do you want to try with Sextus, the pet trollkin we brought for our trollish lessons? We tied up him outside with the Mansion's dogs. For once, it will have more usefulness than eating my boots or stealing dung in the stables..."

"Stealing...?" she looks disgusted. "I suppose that would be a valid test, and worse sacrifices for knowledge have been made, but at least wash the beast before bringing it in here."

Abul stands up eager to escape for a moment the discussion about his origins:
- "Allow me to take some water from the well and give me a bucket and I'll take care of that task. Since I observe this thing, I have to admit that Dori seems to be right, I find trolls less impressive..."

Leaving the two women for a while, he comes back with Sextus, a quite correctly shaped trollkin, big enough to hold a spear, but for the moment apparently desperately terrified.

Sextus' sparse hair is wet but except for some overlooked straw, the trollkin's skin is dry and clean, perhaps its redness also indicates an energetic horse-brushing by the young Carmanian.

Abul shows no specific mercy to the creature and addresses Lady Jakkanna: "Speak loud, Madam, to show you're in power. I don't now if it is half-deaf or if the voice tone is important to get its attention, but that a fact I have recently discovered. Kicks in the bottom also help its comprehension, but I will take care of this chore.".

He then turns to the trollkin, apparently more with resignation than wickedness: "Number Six, obey every order from this old woman here or I will skin you alive if by accident you escape her witch-curses!"

Trembling, the trollkin prostrates before Lady Jakkanna.

"I'm not sure that you need to be so cruel Sexstus," Yenda murmurs. "I'm sure the poor creature would respond to kindness.... eventually. When we can converse with him properly then we will be able to explain our actions."

- "You can try Yenda, but believe me, I'm not harsh or cruel only by pleasure." Abul justifies. "I have tried kindness before myself. Sextus will just look at you stupidly or cheat you without remorse on the first occasion... it already cost me a pair of nice leather boots: It ate them as soon as I left instead of polishing them against a future decent meal. I fear that it relies only on pure immediate survival tactics like 'eat or be eaten'... I don't know if it is innate or acquired, but I won't take risks any more..."

At this, Abul gives a small kick in Sextus' ribs and commands in a resigned bass voice: "And don't bite these human females, it's not troll food and even if it was, your last master wouldn't have allowed you... nor would I!"
The small creature squeaks then and flattens on the paved ground with an ambiguous glance toward Abul who just sniffs with exasperation.

Abul looks at Lady Jakkanna and asks, "Do you need some of its blood or something like that?"

"I'm not sure." She studies the miserable creature at her feet with some distaste. "We need Darkness applied to the medallion, in some form. It seems unlikely that this thing could do any magic at all, much less summon a Shade, unless you know otherwise? Allowing it to touch the medallion directly would probably result in it eating it, from what you say. Spilling its blood may well be the safest and most effective option, and Spolite magic of the darker sort is often associated with blood in any case."

Abul reacts calmly but quite stubbornly, "There is no risk that Sextus eats the medallion because I shall not remove it from my neck and I will beat it if it tries. Let's try first to have it directly in contact with his skin before trying to get a pint of blood from this fragile body..."

Abul then calls Sextus to him and with visible disgust, orders him to sit on his knees like a child on his father's knees. Getting reasonable results after some threats and growls, he then passes the chain over the trollkin's shoulder and puts the medallion first on the trollkin's chest then directly in its armpit.

"How much time do you think we have to wait to be sure it works or not?" asks Abul, embarrassed.

Jakkanna is staying well away from the nasty little creature. "Something should have shown by now, if simple proximity were enough. Is there anything?"

With apparent relief, Abul takes his medallion back, pushes the trollkin down and while keeping a firm foot on its neck, examines both sides of his talisman. "I spent every day of my life with my medallion around my neck. I know every detail of it and I see no change at all, no mark, not even a scratch."

"Then I suppose, if we must.... a few drops of blood should be enough, but do try not to make a mess."

"This shouldn't be much of an issue..." comments Abul in a resigned manner while Sextus begins to lash out at the mention of its own blood pouring. Quickly and without afterthought, Abul suddenly mows the trollkin down with a violent foot sweep and holding its fragile arm in its back in a painful grip, he orders the creature: "Don't move and it will be hurt less. This is the Praxian slave-making grip, no one can escape it without breaking a bone or two..."

Yenda winces knowing the effect of that hold. In a former life she had older brothers and they practiced that on her. A lot.

Sextus squeaks, moans and begs but Abul is merciless. With his free hand, he unsheathes his dagger and cuts the trollkin's skin deeply but precisely. Blood flows. Abul wipes it with the scarf which he usually uses to protect himself from sand and dust during the windy days. Feeling that his grip is weakening, Sextus tries to break free, but Abul simply punches him in the face, knocking him out for good.

"Sorry for that brutality," apologizes Abul rubbing his medallion with the bloody linen.

When the medallion is fully covered with Sextus' blood, Abul shows it still hanging on the chain around his neck to Lady Jakkanna. "Do you see anything special?"

Without a word Yenda takes the bloody cloth and ties it round the wound of the trollkin, staunching the flow of blood effectively.

She's trying to keep as far away from the mayhem as possible, a hand pressed to her mouth, but they can all see something, as they look - the blood has pooled in grooves and hollows that had not previously been visible to the naked eye, and now shows in bright contrast to the dark lead, outlining symbols.

"I cannot read the dark letters,' said Jakkanna in a quavering voice.
"No," said Abul in his new deep baritone, (sounding remarkably as if he was being played by Ian McKellan), "but I can. The letters are Darktongue, of a debased human mode, but the language is that of Spol, which I shall not utter here..."

He ends on a rising note of query to Jakkanna, unsure if voicing the words aloud might activate something.

Fascinated Yenda leans in to look at the medallion too. Everything looks strange, the letters are familiar but they don’t fit together in any recognisable patterns.

"Just reading it should be harmless," she says. "Intention counts as much as vocalisation, if it is in fact a spoken spell. I know how good your Spolite is, young man - just about enough to recognise the language. Read it to me, and if the sounds are approximately right, I should be able to translate."

Abul tries at his best to decypher the blood letters with a clear loud voice. Even if the reading is hesitating, his usually quiet bass tone takes immediatly a disturbing nuance. "Ash Nak Durbatulook, Ash Nak Gime By Tool, Ash Nak Thrall Katulook Ag Burzum-Ishi Krimpatool...?"

"Yes, as I was thinking: awful accent... we should consider you taking more lessons on your native country, young man... the right pronounciation should be: Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, Ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul...."

Said so the words take an even more threating polish. Even Yenda can feel in Lady Jakkanna's careful wording the potential for fear, hate and brutal coercion in such sentences. She stares wide eyed at Lady Jakkanna not sure whether to hide or grovel, only her Jalmari training stops her from doing either or both simultaneously.
"A common form for such things, with a common basic translation, though an inadequate one. The best-known version, with the house name and attributes inserted, would be:
One charm to rule them all, one charm to find them
One charm to harm them all and to the darkness blind them
In House Melch’Abukk where the shadows lie

Yenda lets out a breath that she hadn’t realised that she had been holding.

What the translation does not show, though, is that in the original, subject and object of the verbs are interchangeable."

Seeing the blank looks at this mention of Grammar, she continues:
"So, for instance, 'to the darkness blind them' could equally mean 'blind the darkness to them', as seems to be the case here."

Abul scowls, visibly thinking. "What charming intentions in these words... but I wonder, who are 'them'?"

"The family of which this is the wyter, of course."

She thinks back. "I'm sorry, I thought that was obvious, but perhaps not. This is the wyter of House Melch’Abukk, normally held and used by the head of that house. The various powers mentioned allow the ruler to control their family - or rather, their subjects."

Thanks to his Carmanian instruction, Abul has been vaguely introduced to the notions of logical thinking and even if his mind closes at Yenda and Lady Jakkanna's delirious hypothesis, it's necessary for him to draw some conclusions from what the priestess is saying.
"You are saying that this medallion contains the global spirit of an ancient Spolite noble house, that it has various powers offered to these family members, one of them being to blind the darkness to them... When I offered my blood a few minutes ago it was in the hope to demonstrate that I have nothing to do with this Spolite witchcraft... But I have to admit that this power to hide me to the Darkness works for me... indisputably."

He pauses, having difficulty admitting the conclusion. "'Quod erat demonstratum', as it is said in the Lunar empire... I should be a member of this family... but it is a cursed item... I have loved it for years, it has protected me in return and now... " Abul seems lost again..." what should I do, Lady Jakkanna?"

For once, there is no trace of rebellion or insolence in Abul's attitude, just a great surprise with the seed of a new growing anguish. The feeling was old but quite forgotten since sometime: he needs his father's advice, but Jamal isn't here.

“I told you!” Yenda smiles fondly at Abul. “You ARE the heir to a powerful family.”

"Only a Spolite would consider this as good news... " Abul grumbles.

A frown creases her brow. “Though it doesn’t sound like one that would welcome you back with open arms and a seat at the head of the table!"

"Why do you say that Yenda?" Abul interrupts with respectful interest. "Perhaps they are looking after me or at least after the medallion. I'm not looking to take any position of power among them, five minutes ago their existence wasn't even a possibility..."

"True, but someone sent those demons against your father. Nobody with peaceful intentions would send in darkness demons as a first contact. Now I know that it could have been another, rival to the Melch’Abukk house. But I am inclined to believe that the Melch’Abukk house is more likely to be able to detect their own medallion rather than a rival house. If that is true then it would suggest that they would stop at nothing to get the medallion back in the right hands."

Yenda pauses for a moment thinking.

"If it were mine, I would not tell anyone else about it and carry on keeping it hidden. I would also think about learning to use the other powers, especially the one about 'find them'. That way you may get a warning if any of 'them' are nearby."

"Or to find them actively and meet my mother... if your hypothesis is right of course..."

Abul seems to get dreamy eyes for a very short moment, but rapidly his acute mind shows up again. "Which leads me to my first reason to talk to you today, Lady Jakkanna. If I leave Pavis, I need to know if there is any trustworthy contact in Dragon Pass I can have with the orthodox Carmanian church... and even harder with traditionalists in open or hidden rebellion against the moon-worshipping faction. Although I may I have more chance to meet traditionalists in exile in Dragon Pass than in Carmania itself... at least in that you were right, I don't want to become so spiritually polluted that I would become an easy prey for the Enemy... and now I need to enquire more on this... well... hypothesis... and more practically on the medallion itself."

"I can give you a list of names before you leave, yes," Jakkanna agrees. "I'll speak to the Duke, and... yes, and to Daine. There are aspects of this that I should discuss with him in any case, since it concerns Death, and the possible location of your parents' souls. You go to your language lesson now - and take that horrid creature with you!"

She's still trying to stay as far away as possible from the trollkin.

"Come back late this afternoon, and we may have more to tell you - but for now, I think you haev had enough of these deep matters, and will need more time to take them in, am I right?" The amusement in her eyes is of affectionate acceptance, not derision.

"What do you mean my parents' souls?" Abul asks with concern. "We have no proof of their deaths... or are you suggesting... that you have ways to know about this?"

"We have no proof either way," Jakkanna agrees. "Strong evidence, yes, but no proof. If Daine or I can determine whether or not either of them are dead, and if so, where their souls have ended up, that would provide some clarity, yes? Whether or not we can do so, I do not know - there may be secrets of Death that he has not told me."

"Daine is Humakti, yes?" Yenda asks and continues at Jakkanna's curt nod. "He might be able to tell you if they have entered the lands of the dead. For that is Humakt's place but, Humakt will not be able to tell you where they are now, unless they are with him. He has no powers over the destination of souls. In Prax Daka Fal has that roll. I believe the Orlanthi call him Darhudan or sometimes Grandfather Mortal."

She pauses a moment.

"You know Egil may be able to help here. Gerras is one of the Zebra Riders. I'm sure that the tribe would have a Daka Fal shaman that could call forth your ancestors. If your parents are truly dead this may offer the best way of contacting them."

Abul looks then more decided. "Good! We have a appointment this afternoon with him at the Lankhor Mhy temple anyway and I will be back here after, even if it means missing the departure for the camp before the night. Yenda, would you agree to stay with me? I hope everyone will understand that these questions are important for me and, indirectly, important for the Legion."

"Of course I will stay with you. We should meet with Egil and Santhis to let them know we will return in the morning." Yenda replies immediately. "Other than that there shouldn't be a problem."

He stands up and takes the unconscious trollkin on his shoulder as if it was a bag. "Another bucket of water for Sextus and I'll be back to clean up this bloody mess..."

The afternoon was a painful time for Abul: first he went to say goodbye to his new friend Sarger. The young Sartarite promised that he would keep an eye on any news concerning Carmanians or Humakti in New Pavis and Abul would come back with news from Dragon Pass. The Darktongue lesson after that was terribly boring and irrelevant, Abul feeling either sad to leave a place with people he trusted and liked, or feeling disturbed by the discoveries made about his medallion. By luck Yenda was still with him and this helped him to stoically endure the passing hours. That is until they met up with Santhis.

Santhis was the last of the companions to arrive and his face was split with a grin, from ear to ear. He calls for mead as he approaches his friends.

"The temple has accepted me!" he says enthusiastically. "They said since I was tricked away from Yelmalio and have helped hunt down those responsible for my straying they are willing to re-initiate me! I can do it next week on their.."

He pauses before his face lights up. "I mean my high holy day."

His face falls and darkens as if a cloud has passed over it. He leans forward and whispers quietly.

"When do we go? Will I be allowed to stay behind for this? Surely, I won’t be prevented?"

Yenda smiles encouragingly. "I don’t know, but I am sure that an exception can be made. We’ll stay with you and catch up later."
"I hope so. Now drink up we have some celebrating to do!"

"That's great news, Santhis" Abul adds sincerely. "Today you joined the Light side again and the world is a little bit better than it used to be... May the Great Lord of Light be blessed as he shines on you again Santhis! Like Yenda I'm pretty sure that the Legion officers will find a way to let you go to your initiation and if we can be of any help, just tell us."

At these words, Abul smiles benevolently ... apparently fear and darkness don't always win and the young Carmanian takes it as a good omen for the rest of his day. At the appointed hour the group depart for Duke Raus’ house.

The servant who opens Raus' door to them seems a little surprised at the numbers. "Sir Daine said he would see both of you now, and to leave the trollkin with the dogs as usual," he begins, looking at Santhis and Egil thoughtfully, and noting Egil's obvious Humakti runes. "Since neither of these two gentlemen is a trollkin, I will take it to mean that he will see all four of you, if the young master so wishes?" He raises an eyebrow towards Abul.

Abul takes the same icy tone that Jamal uses usually with overzealous subordonates: "And so I wish! Unblock the way, Doorman. Those are young faithful Humakti. I don't see Sir Daine having any objection receiving coreligionists in the faith of the Death Lord and my friends by the way..."

"Do you not?" the servant murmurs, and leads the way inward, pausing at the door to the courtyard where Daine usually trains Abul and motioning the group to precede him.

Santhis, who hasn't Abul's confidence, is intimidated by the servant and mutters "Are you sure Abul? I can wait in the inn until you have finished here."

"Don't worry Santhis, it's better to stay together and here is a safe place." Abul answers with apparent confidence. "If Sir Daine doesn't wish you to be here, he will probably send you to the kitchen for an improvised dinner... or to the training hall to suffer the local training..."

If it's a joke, the young Carmanian doesn't smile. Perhaps only Yenda could deduce from this lack of expression the doubt that may disturb his friend, but Abul isn't the type to let himself be overcome by indecision. "... at worse, you will all be sent to the inn. There are worse fates. Let's go now."

Daine looks up as he enters. "Ah, Abul and Yenda - and would these be more of your sword-brothers? How very fortunate."

"Serendipitous," Jakkanna agrees from her seat at the side of the courtyard.

After a short hesitation, Abul presents his companions. "Sir Daine, Lady Jakkanna, please, let me introduce to you Egil and Santis, both honourable members of the Her'ward Legion... Dedicated Humakti who both have fought Evil without restraint. Santhis is even supporting a double commitment to Truth by also being a member of the Yelmalio cult. Travelling in the Rubble being always a risky challenge, I have suggested that we stay together, anticipating your hospitality... Ihope I have done correctly."

"Humakti, and your brothers in the shield wall? More correctly than you know. There are things I would teach you before you leave that need them: and that great shield is ideal for this lesson."

He studies Santhis. "Yelmalian and Humakti both? So which are you going to be, soldier or warrior? No matter, time will tell."

"We did not manage to find out more about that other matter, Abul," Jakkanna says gently. "Given more time, and more of a trail to follow, perhaps, but for now - nothing. Attend to your lesson here, and we will speak afterwards."

She sweeps out of the courtyard, and the lesson begins. What Daine has in mind, it seems, mirrors Dori's lessons in teamwork and shielding each other, only with rather more emphasis on partnering a light, fast swordsman with a heavy, defensive guard. There is History, too, as a pair of brothers, both called Ajax, are used as an example, though Little Ajax apparently used a bow rather than a sword from behind his larger brother's shield.

"Right then Abul, you heft the shield, I'll do the swordwork. Firstly I'm a more experienced swordsman but, perhaps more importantly this sword is a little bit special even though it looks plain." Egil's face assumes the look of grim determination he takes on when fighting or training.

"Well tried, Egil!" Abul pricks with an amused smile. "But if I If I have understood the exercise well, you're the heavy, defensive guard, I'm the fast swordsman... you're perhaps more experienced, but surely you're not the quickest here... and I'm surely not the more experienced, but surely you are the more heavy..."

And as Egil grimaces in search of a possible double sense in the impertinent words of the young Carmanian, Abul adds: "Your sword might be magic while mine is just good plain carmanian bronze, but our pair will achieve nothing if my guard collapses under the enemy's strikes while your are taken breathless only because you have try to move your big fat ass... and you know that I vowed to speak Truth, Egil."

Abul laughs at his witty jokes and considers the eyes of the tall, strong and young Heortling, obviously the thin and small Carmanian seems to be no match for the angry barbarian, if his posture wasn't betraying his preparation for a fast and agile retreat.

Egil glowers at Abul, his voice is barely a hiss when he speaks. "I will carry your shield here, but, and this is the only warning I will give you, if you ever speak to me like that again in front of anyone but the legion I will kill you where you stand. Do you understand me?"

Surrounded by the general movement and noise of the exercise, the moment lasts only shortly: Abul got his emotionless mask as he lets the flow of violent feelings passing over him and in a mutter intended only for Egil, he answers: "Egil, it makes a long time that I wanted to tell you that: you're an asshole..! Threatening with Death everyone around you, even a comrade for a spiritual joke, will just lead you to die early and alone. Remember your words the day one of your so-warned partners will be the guy in charge to protect your life, because duty without love is empty."

On this, he displays a icy polite smile and takes his position behind Egil and his shield. "Now, I'm the one with the blade in your back, Egil, but be sure I will do my best to protect you to see the day you will change your ways or suffer from them... 'cause I'm your swordbearer,Egil!"

Egil takes a deep breath and allows Silence of the Mind to wash over him. It is almost a minute before he responds to Abul in a calm and measured tone. "Didn't you know that of us Humakti? I'm already dead, and this may come as a shock to you but we all die alone. I came here out of comradeship to ensure you get back to the camp safely but I see you are a big, brave warrior who has no want or need of my help and just wants to barb me into a rash action to prove what a thicky I am, so I'll make my own way back now and see you there. It may not have been your best decision to drive away a friendly swordsman just before you try and cross the city."

Egil picks up his gear and heads towards the exit.

Abul thinks: "with a friendly swordsman like Egil, no need for more enemies..." He looks at the angry barbarian leaving the room, visibly hurt and Abul's mind, surprised without guiding directions, gives him some clues: "It seems that I have started again to talk a little too much. It seems that, once again, all truths aren't so good to tell... I wasn't like this before... until... until I ate this tongue on the godsplane..."

Yenda looks up as Egil passes. "You can't leave. We don't have your expertise in surviving the Rubble. I know that honour demands that you can't back down, but Santhis and I still need you to guide us back. I am sure that Abul was not trying to slur your honour. Please stay for us."

Egil pauses for a moment, "I'll stay and help you back, but I won't wait here. When you're done find me at the training ground. I'll be practising there until you're ready to go."

He doesn't even reach the door before Daine explodes.

"ABUL! Is that how you treat your sword-brothers - baits and insults? I thought you had some promise, thought your Carmanian training might overcome your birth, but today you show all the courtesy of a baboon, or even " (he spits) "a Pelandan."
He grabs Abul by the collar and throws him to the floor in front of Egil.
"Apologise to your betters, on your knees, if you want to leave this hall in one piece."

Without delay and in fact quite automatically, Abul kneels, bows his head and apologizes loudly enough to be heard by all. His whole attitude denotes a long training in immediate and full obedience. "I present my humble excuses to Egil and to everyone here. I apologise to my betters, on my knees, hoping that my poor courtesy will not wound anyone any further..."

He keeps the position, blank faced, perhaps expecting a reaction from Daine or perhaps just his own beheading.

Egil looks down at the young man kneeling before him, "Up, up!" he says. "My recommendation is that you should only kneel before the Warlord and his sword, anyone else and you're asking to get your head lopped off. I accept your apology Abul, try and remember not to piss off those whose blades you are going to rely on for your life. Lucky for you this fine gent has taught you that lesson before you learnt it with blood. Now where do I need to stand to hold this shield for you?" Egil drops his pack and picks up a shield before striding into the practice circle.

Abul listens. His face is emotionless even he finds ironic to receive back the lesson he tried to give to Egil with more humour, surely a lesson for him in the future. At the end of Egil's speech, however, he remains silent and motionless having received his orders from the weaponmaster of their host Duke Raus of Carmania.

Egil turns in the practice circle and sees he is stood by himself. He looks at the still kneeling Abul, "Well, come on then. We don't want to spend all the daylight here and have to travel through the Rubble when it's dark and all the really 'interesting' things come out."

"Aye!" Abul answers simply as he takes his place back in the training room.

Yenda and Santhis look at on another and quickly Santhis smiles. "Well I come with my own shield so I'll take that role shall I?" He swings round his heavy shield and settles it on its straps. Yenda grins in relief, she has tried to hold Santhis' shield before, tried and failed. Santhis enjoys this as this is close to the soldier training he enjoyed in his youth. He even tried to see if he could still use the long spear with the shield. It worked, after a fashion, but having offensive capability detracted from the purely defensive role required for the technique. When the time came to switch about he helped jury-rig a shoulder strap for Yenda. Taking some of the weight on her shoulder helped her immensely, though she still lacked the bulk needed to properly brace the shield. However, because Santhis favoured the long spear his extra reach enables him to minimise the numbers getting to her.

The training goes well - Daine is a good, if severe, teacher, and while this pairing technique is fairly similar to the shield wall Egil knows, much is new even to him. Daine's attitude to fighting is brutally pragmatic, except when instructing Yenda. There, he is merely pragmatic. Since they are concentrating purely on offence, both Abul and Yenda get lessons in how best to use a weapon that would normally be too heavy for them - and that leads on to an interesting conclusion, later on, when they are resting in the shade with cool drinks.

Daine has examined all their weapons, providing practice blunts that duplicate them in so far as possible, and now turns back to Abul's sword, his gift from Duke Raus.

"A fine blade," he muses approvingly, "and yet, a blade for the man you will be, not the boy you are. A good blade, when you have a comrade to defend you, and both hands free to wield it. For now, you could use a lighter sword, keep this for when you grow into it. Or...."

He sights down the blade again, admiring the edge, swings it one more time. "No, this is too fine a blade to waste in idleness. The Hum'akt gives us ways of lightening a heavy blade, but they come at a cost even to His worshippers. Would you be willing to pay such a cost, Abul? To obey some of His strictures, as your sword-brothers already do?"

Surprisingly, Abul instinctively glances briefly at Lady Jakkanna, the last person to whom he would have thought that he have turned to for some form of support. After this single hesitation, he answers in Carmanian because only this language can truly express his thoughts: "Since a long time, I try to defend myself against the Enemy. It's now quite obvious for me that the Good God keeps sending me in all the best places to learn not only to protect myself but also to fight back and keep Evil down... I do not fear the Hum'Akt, I do not fear its rules, because I know that it obeys the Good God... I'm ready to pay a tribute if the Hum'Akt manifests its powers to support my duty."

"Very well, then." Daine is still speaking Carmanian.

Holding the sword, he goes over to a sheltered wall of the courtyard, and opens two shutters to reveal a niche, with a small altar within. Runes of Death and War adorn it -and yes, "adorn" is the right word: the decoration is finely and intricately carved, and seems almost dainty. A niche holds Abul's sword, upright, so the cross-piece and hilt is displayed as a Death rune. Daine murmurs a blessing in Carmanian before stepping back slightly.

"These hazar swords are well-made in every aspect, including being ready for enchantment, with no extra work needed." He's switched back to New Pavic. "See those patterns on hilt and blade? Those would glow when the shrine is active, if they had magic in. As it is..." He bows to the shrine, murmuring what is presumably a prayer, and they can all feel the magic in it awakening. The sword starts to glow - not from any of the patterns Daine had pointed out, but all over. A faint glow, almost too faint too see, but glowing it is, with a black light. As he rises from his obeisance, Daine sees this, and stops. "Abul? What is this? I had thought this to be a virgin sword, unenchanted?"

Abul shakes his head. "But It should be as it was offered to me by the Duke, I keep it like a sacred relic but I never had any magical operation made on it... and I didn't even had the time to bring it in any religious ceremony..." at these words, he stops, thinking a little more... "Or is an heroquest a religious ceremony with enchantment powers...?"

Stiffly he addresses to Carmanian weaponmaster with a blank voice: "Sir Daine, I apologize. I took the blade with me when the Legion went hunting a demon on the godsplane as we already talk about it. I didn't wanted to spoil it... I was thinking that using such a fine sword would be a correct tribute to the Great Cleaver and would contribute somehow to its succes... and well, we make it anyway. Our leader killed the Demon for good, exposing the definitive superiority of Death over the Enemy..."

"It's been on the Godsplane? On that quest?" Daine turns back to the shrine and the sword. "May the Hum'Akt protect us from leaders such as that... So, did you gain any powers from the quest, Abul? Did you use this sword for anything significant, slay any foes with it?" His tone edges into sarcasm. "I take it you did not kill the demon with it, for instance?"

In front of sarcasm and denial, Abul uses his heroquested feat to Speak Truth and magical words flow out with the fascinating attraction of true meaning beating the silence like bronze hammers on stone. "Sir, there I have lost my boy's voice, there I have learnt to speak out loud the naked truth, there I have learnt to taste lie and it isn't a flavour I do like... but believe me if I swear to you that the Demon was killed by Godcleaver itself and not by my humble sword, there I was only Herw'Ard the Scout, a puny mortal tracking the enemy for the invincible Hum'Akt..."

"So you fought nothing? The sword remained unblooded? This can only come, then, from the quest as a whole. A black light - is this something any of you are familar with?"

It is, to the Legion. That's a light they associate with the Sword.

Daine doesn't wait for an answer. "I am no Sage to interrogate this thing, but let us see what Rune powers it."

He makes no additional movement, only concentrates, but they can feel the Death radiating from him, and Abul's sword responding.

"So. It kills - something. At a guess, it kills demons. Or tries to..... Abul, be wary of this thing. It may wish to kill demons, it may aid you in killing demons, but that does not mean that even with its aid, you would have any chance of surviving such a contest."

Abul answers in his usual voice: "I protected the Hum'Akt and his warband as much as I could by sacrificing my own childhood innocence - and I begin just now to understand the paid price - but no, I fought nothing with my sword, it remained a virgin blade there..."

But Abul's mind doesn't stand long on the question of the origins of his new improved aptitude for sly arrogance, listening to Sir Daine's words, he rejoices instead at the idea of unexpected support from the Hum'Akt itself. "Sir, Lady Jakkanna has already told you that black magic was after me and that Darkness Demons were certainly no self-delusion of mine but real enemies.... I can just feel grateful if the Good God allows me the support of its Severer."

And after a short introspection, he adds: "But I will listen to your wise advice and be cautious with the possible powers of this weapon... Do you think it will still accept the ritual you intended?"

"I see no reason why not. The magic is not incompatible, nor will one add to the other. This is a magic from the barbarian Humakt that I offer you, not that of the Hum'Akt, but only, I think, because they have more need of it than do we, not due to any difference in its nature. A gift and geas that binds the Humakti bearer of s sword is common, one that binds a non-Humakti less common, but this is something they do fo the women who follow Vinga, for Vinga is an ally of the barbarian Humakt, and he would not see his allies go unarmed. Nor, however, does he entirely trust them, it seems." Daine smiles grimly. "Barbarians they are, and he is right. as always. He binds the bearer of such a sword to protect Humakti, and thus the magic cannot be used against us." His glance goes from Abul to Yenda. "I do not think you will find such a restriction hard to bear?"

Under Sir Daine's scrutiny, Abul manages to remain impassive. "Yes, I already vowed to protect much of the Hum'Akt's domain. I'll keep to my word and I thank you for all you have done for me Sir Daine..."

A short while later, the ritual is over, and Daine hands the sword back. It does indeed feel lighter in Abul's hand, more responsive, better balanced.

Abul makes an impressive whirling with his new weapon, a movement that he would not have been able to realize a few moments before, then he has an appreciating smile.

Full of gratitude, he thanks Sir Daine, then he salutes Lady Jakkanna politely. "You had spoken to me about a list of trusted Carmanian contacts in Dragon Pass, now that I have to leave you and not be able to take advantage of your invaluable advice, I would be happy to know where to find useful support... "

"Ah, yes. A difficult task, when we do not know where in Dragon Pass you may be going. Let us retire to the study, and the map table."

Indoors, the largest desk has been cleared, and a huge roll of cloth laid out, with a map drawn on it.

Egil looks appreciatively over the shoulders of those closer to the table and lets out a low whistle, "That is surely a thing of beauty, would you happen to have a copy I might have or can buy from you?"

Jakkanna strokes the cloth gently. "It is lovely, isn't it? I'm afraid we only have the one, and getting this was quite hard enough. I'm sure a copy could be made, given time, or perhaps the Sages would already have such a thing. The 'Grey Ones', I think they call their mappers. If you happen to know one of them, they could probably obtain a map of the same areas, or even copy this."

Egil's mouth turns down "I don't know how much time I have before we leave Prax but if I could borrow that I might be able to get these Gray Ones to copy it today and return the map to you tomorrow."

"I doubt if the Duke would want this to leave the house, but if a copyist were to come here, I see no reason not to allow them access for as long as would be required."

"That seems reasonable. I'll go and see if I can persuade one now while Abul says his farewells."

He nods a kind of bow and turns to leave before heading off to the Lankhor Mhy temple. Once there he approaches
the first scholar he can find "Hello, Can you help me and point me in the right direct to the Grey Ones? I require a map to be copied and thought they would be the people to ask."

The man harumphs huffily. He points up the stairs to the landing above, "Although it it not my job and nor am I a tour guide for the temple, you'll find the cartographers up on the first floor in the second room on the left." Then he turns on his heel and stalks off muttering to himself about uneducated oafs.

Ignoring this Egil bounds up the stairs to find the room mentioned. There are several people in there and he approaches the nearest one, a woman in her mid twenties, "Excuse me, who would be the best person to ask to make a copy of a map?"
The woman thinks for a moment, "All of us are more than adequate at copying maps, can I see it?"

"Uh, no, sorry. It's at Duke Raus' mansion and not allowed to leave there. Anyone who wants to copy it had better come there and it."

The woman smiles, her eyes gleaming. "I can come and do this for you. It will cost though and you'll have to pay for materials too. When would you like me to start?"

"Right away, there's no time to lose. I'm leaving the area soon so need it done as quickly as possible. We can talk about prices on the way. Grab your things and we can go."

"The woman takes a step back from the over excited Egil "Steady on there, I have a few things I need to sort out first. I'll meet you at the Duke's mansion in half an hour, OK? We'll discuss my charges afterwards."

Egil's shoulders droop "OK then, half an hour."

He charges back to the mansion to await the cartographer's arrival.

When she gets there the woman surveys the map and declares "This is going to take a few hours to do, it'll cost you 10 guilders."

Egil replies "OK, I won't be here by then but a young zebra rider will wait outside the mansion, if you give him the map he'll give you the money. Abul, we can leave anytime you want to."

Meanwhile, Jakkanna has pointed out the key places on the map, some of which the group are already familiar with. The little picture of Whitewall is one that Abul knows well, as is the great metropolis of Nochet further west. Sartar is of more interest, and here Jakkanna points out the approximate location of the villas where exiled Carmanian gentry have settled - some have an attitude to their Lunar overlords that is not what the latter might believe. She is somewhat surprised when Yenda corrects her on a few matters, especially since the existence of the Jalmari library, much less Yenda's position as an archivist there, is never mentioned.

Santhis is interested to see that "the other" Sun Dome, from which his own Sun County was settled, is not just a myth but an actual place on a map.

And then Egil returns, and it is time to say their final farewells and depart. Yelm is dropping low in the sky, and the streets of Pavis are, in comparison to earlier in the say, pleasantly cool. Yenda looks at Yelm and asks Egil. "It's much later than we thought. Do you think we have time to make it safely back to camp? Or should we find lodgings at the temple overnight?"

"We can try the temple but it is often crowded and not necessarily all that safe for us. You never know who is willing to sell us out to the Lunars for a few silver coins. I was going to go to the zebra pens and get Gerras to give us some space in his tents. You can use the temple if you like and I'll come and find you in the morning before we head back."

"What about a last drink in Pavis and then the zebra pens, or better... the zebra pens and then a last drink with Gerras?" Abul proposes.

"A night with Gerras' hooch is preferable. Even though it tastes like zebra piss it'll get you drunker than an Uroxi in the Tin Inn in half the time and bet of all it's free."

"Sold then" Abul replies simply with a daring smile.

"I bow to your superior judgement about how it tastes!" Yenda teases Egil, "but some time amongst real Praxians would be nice."

"I didn't knew that Egil was an expert with pissed beverages..." Abul jokes mindlessly. "Oops, no ill intent, no ill intent!" He laughs in a low bass tone, miming supplicated apology.

Egil's grin could be described as wicked or at least nasty, "Wait until you try and cross Prax in Fire Season. When the water runs out you'll take anything you can get as a drink.

The young legionnaries cross New Pavis quickly and go without delay to the Zebra Pens. There they meet Gerras and then, with a meal of various grilled meats and abundantly supplied with Kumiss (a typical zebra beverage, unusually alcoholic and rather fatal for those who do not understand its dangers) they joyously celebrate their next departure with him and his own small gang of friends.

Quickly, a good atmosphere settles down and jokes are exchanged among the young people. The evening is well advanced when someone remarks that the safest moment to be back at the camp was quite a long time ago. A tipsy cousin of Gerras taunts them to leave by night, insinuating that in fact, not being true Praxians, they would not dare to enter the darkness of the Big Rubble. Everyone laughs and jokes are exchanged again, but with some visible difficulties, Abul stands up and boasts with his impressive bass voice but in half mumbled speech: "Of course Abul isn't a little kiddie, hips! He has... a brand new big sword thirsty for demon blood, a trained trollkin guide and invisibility powers against dark witchcraft... So what do you answer to that, zebra-riderssss? He even suffered humiliation to get Egil the great swordsman's protection and he's protected by the Legion's magics! Do you really think that he fears darkness like a baby now?"

Everyone laughs again, as only Yenda can understand the true meaning of such words, but the Carmanian teenager continues: "NO! Let's go back to the camp or we will miss the red-haired barbarian queen's new enchantment... Egil, you're wrong ! This Kumiss does't taste like piss at all, it is just too weak to be an honourable be...beverage for warriors! hips!"

On these words, he staggers, falls down and stays lying on the ground. Before anyone can check his wellbeing, a tremendous snore brings the general hilarity to its climax.

Egil smiles at Gerras and shrugs, "It's true though, it does taste of piss. That nice araka you sometimes have though, that's the real thing. A warming drop of that before we head into the Rubble would do very nicely. For all the boy's talk of not being a kiddie he still seems to be and a couple of tankards of mares milk and he's boasting like any true huscarl in Sartar. He'll be pleased to know how much like a barbarian he acted when pissed. After dinner we'll head off to the temple, any of your braves who fancy a wander in the Rubble tonight will be most welcome."

Gerras shakes his head, "None to spare tonight my friend, they've heard of some buffaloes only a few miles out on the plains and all want to go and investigate them. I'm about though and wouldn't mind a bit of a leg stretch and a chance to bump into a broo or two."

"Fair enough! We'll take the normal route but stay about 50m off the paths and roads. I'll light the way with my sword, not many of you will see that I suppose between the Herwardi we can cast a fairly strong sense ambush, I'm hoping my new friend over there will have some clever Issaries magic to help us through etoo. Anything you want to add to the general magic will be most welcome."

In fact Yaren isn't all that far away, and comes over as Gerras moves away.
"Not all that discreet, your young friend, is he?" he remarks. "'Red-haired barbarian queen's new enchantment' - would that be why you were saying your officers might be sensitive about security at the moment? Not that I'll be saying anything, even if I knew whcih red-haired barbarian queen he might have been referring to, but others might be less close-mouthed."

"As for the clever Issaries magic, while I could carry out a ritual to find our way, even by a hidden path, I doubt if you need telling the way to your own home. For staying safe on any journey, I hire guards."

"Yes, I'm going to have a chat with him about that when we get a private moment. If he pisses off the warlord, and letting that become general knowledge surely would, he might get to look at the pointy end of a very nasty sword.

"Ha! Yes we're the sort of people you'd hire in the first place, and it wouldn't look good to turn up with random strangers hired as guards. Fair enough then. Right, as soon as everyone is ready we'll head off." Egil is smiling slightly as he moves round the small group making sure everyone is getting prepared for the journey.

When everyone has eaten and drunk their fill Egil kicks Abul's foot, "Come on then fella, on your feet. We want to get ourselves through this tonight and back home before Yelmrise. Don't worry about the dark though, it's a place I like and my sword shines there to light our way."

But the only reaction which Egil obtains is a growl more appropriate to an hibernating bear than to a proud descendant of the conquerors of Dara Happa.

Many emotions pass through Yenda, first amusement as she sees Abul's drunken antics and snoring body. Then concern that everyone is leaving him there, she starts to get up to go to him and realises that she isn't in much better condition than him. This prompts a wave of embarrassment. She used to drink this stuff as a kid, without any problem. Then she realises that she is now drinking as an adult and it is no longer diluted with milk. Yenda gets up slightly unsteadily and goes to relieve herself, on the way back she spots some of the women brewing a strongly smelling coffee. A drink she remembers her father using when he needed to clear his head. She decides that this is exactly what is needed and begs a cup from the women. After downing one cup, and feeling much better, she takes a second to give to Abul.

Egil goes and finds a bucket full of an unknown liquid, although judging by the smell it was once inside a horse, upon his return he finds Yenda tending to Abul. He puts the bucket down and grunts, "You sort him out then, but I want to be going in half a candle. Lucky for him Mav's not here, he has a thing for making loud noises around people with sore heads."

"Who poisoned the milk ?" asks a diminished Abul to Yenda, as he takes her bitter drink. "By all Bentus' blessings, I never had such an awful headache... in the future, I swear to taste all beverages against falsehood!"

Visibly struggling to reach his full awareness, he notices the bucket full of stinking liquid. "What the Hell was Egil about to do with that?" he wonders suspiciously.

"Nobody poisoned the milk. Though they may have added some arakas to liven it up a bit. All very amusing, but the coffee will help clear your head a bit." Seeing the sour face Abul is making she adds sympathetically. "It does take a bit of getting used to, if this is your first taste of coffee."

She gives him a few minutes to finish the drink.

"Now let's go. We have wasted enough time as it is. We're going to be hard pressed to get more than half way back before full dark."

Abul answers thoughtfully: "I know this dark beverage, my father used to give me some of his own making when we had to leave a place in the middle of the night to make a long day of travel, but generally, he used to soften it with honey. It has quite tonic effects."

With a grimace he finishes his cup. "I've got to get up and reach my bed at the camp as soon as I can... this day has brought too much for a single day....Yenda, do you really believe this story of a lost Spolite child? Why can't I be a humble juggler's son living a normal life in some peaceful town of sweet Pelanda?"

But before she can answer, Abul glances back to Egil's preparations. "Forget the questions for the moment, I'm pretty sure Egil is again considering ways to bully someone some more before going to bed and I have been stupid enough to seek and get his attention..." He hesitates. "By the way, thanks for your kind support today, Yenda!"

At this, he gets up, rubs his nape and slowly begins to gather his things.

Back across the Rubble

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