Harrolen was dead. His lieutenant and men wrapped him in a rich cloth and prepared to carry him to his ship.
Elden could hear the men moving around him, someone shouting orders. He could even hear the sound of a cart being brought to the plaza but he couldn’t seem to move, couldn’t seem to think clearly. He knelt with Brillar where she had fallen, muttering spells, drawing in mana as he needed it. With all that he could do, her face was still swollen and pale.
Finally, he felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up at Harrolen’s lieutenant. “Her cart is ready. We’ll take our lord back home by ship; that was his final wish.” At Elden’s uncomprehending look, the man nodded. “You are free to go, truly. You are in no danger from us.”
Elden tried to rise, still holding his apprentice, and staggered. A hand was under his arm at once and he managed the few steps to the cart placing Brillar on piled blankets in the back, noticing that her foldbox was there. He looked around, confused; the plaza was full of people all standing quietly. They parted as he moved to the horse’s head taking the bridle and moving forward.
“She killed him then,” someone ventured and he nodded. There was an odd stillness about the crowd. He had taught them to fear his power, the power of a madman seeking death, and their fear for his soldiers lingered even as those faithful men gathered to take his body away. He had kept the town in thrall and they knew it and resented it. Elden could sense their confusion. The crowd parted and he walked toward the gate with the cart wheels making the only sounds.
Elden had only gone a few hundred yards past the gate when he lost Control and broke down, sobbing for his lost Brother and for his apprentice who might also be lost. How long he knelt in the dust he didn’t know, but there was a sudden nudge at his shoulder and a soft snuffling at his face.
Elden looked up wearily at Jez with Bright by his side. He stroked the stallion’s long face, feeling renewal in the familiar, and rose unsteadily.
“You were told…….you were sent,” he began and was nudged again, “and I am glad you didn’t go.” He struggled to his feet and wrapped his arms around the strong neck finding renewal in the familiar.
He went to the rear of the cart. Brillar was resting comfortably but unconscious on a pile of blankets and he covered her lightly. Food, water and other items had been placed in the cart. He took a cup, filled it and held it to her lips. She squirmed away and he splashed a bit on her mouth. She drank greedily choking a little then sank back. Elden reached out again with what he knew of healing others and found only the unknown. This was not a simple bruise or break, potions had been used and he knew nothing about them. He went back to the cart horse and led it back to the place where he had left the saddles and bridles.
“A great shame on you, Jez, you disobedient brat,” he scolded, putting the saddles and bridles in the cart. He had to shift Brillar a bit to do that and she moaned. She was pale, the skin around her eyes and lips held a greenish tinge that he feared and could not reach. He gave her more water and drank s cup himself while sitting on the back of the cart. Looking through what had been stowed there he found something more satisfying, several bottles of wine. Removing a cork, he poured himself a cup, then a second and suddenly found himself laughing. He had gone to Lands-end expecting to die, half expecting Brillar to die with him and they were alive. The thought made him giddy; then he sobered. She was alive for now but so badly used that he feared for the future.
‘The best place for her now, for both of us, is Laurenfell,’ he thought. ‘She needs more healing than I can give and the Great House of the Sisterhood is there. They’ll have the healing she needs; they must know about potions and poisons there.’ He turned the cart to the southwest.
It was a three day journey to Laurenfell and the House of Life there. His skills in the healing arts continued to be insufficient for her and Brillar remained lethargic; she could take only water. Her fall, the many drugs and potions, such different ones, had all taken their toll. The greenish tinge he had first noticed had spread, creeping along veins in her face and now in hands and feet. For most of the journey, he trotted, afraid to let go of the cart horse’s reins, worried about the road and how much it would jar her. He had nothing but what was in the cart and ate when he remembered to eat usually at dawn and when it was too dark to see the road ahead and judge its condition.
He was consumed with dread; whatever she had been given, the drugs had clearly poisoned her. What people thought as he hurried the cart horse forward, he didn’t care, answered none of their calls. When the road was suitable, he climbed aboard the cart urging the horse into a faster pace. He covered the distance more quickly than he expected and with little sleep.
On the afternoon of the third day, he came upon a farmer near the edge of a town and asked its name.
“Laurenfell,” was the answer, and Elden closed his eyes, swaying with relief. He felt a steading hand on his arm and opened his eyes.
“And the home of the Lady Darwallen?” he insisted.
The farmer pointed to the east, “Ah, the Laurenfell House. A few hundred paces is all. And do you need help, then?” Elden shook his head and dragged the horse forward.
The massive house of quarried stone was close to the town and set in a grove of trees by a lake. A long tree-lined lane lead to it and his approach did not go unnoticed. He barely glanced at the lake, concentrating on reaching the house. The dogs that came out to bark at a stranger quieted quickly, finding him no danger.
As he came to the broad steps, a servant came out to greet him bowing slightly at such a rough and dust covered guest but politely asking his need.
“I am Garnelden,” he hoarsely answered the polite inquiry, “I bring the Lady Brillar to her mother and the Sisters for healing.”
Astonished, the serving man glanced into the cart and rushed back into the house, calling out wildly that it was Brillar, injured, shouting for Darwallen, but it was Prendar who bolted from the house and down the stairs first.
“My daughter?” he questioned, demanded.
“In the cart, Lord Prendar,” was the unsteady reply. He held the cart horse’s reins for support.
A red-haired woman came flying down the steps as Prendar gently lifted his daughter. Brillar stirred as he did and called for Elden then seemed to focus.
He carried her inside and her mother followed. Elden turned away but a young woman he hadn’t noticed came up beside him laying a hand on his arm. “Come inside. There must be a tale here. I’m Alliana and with my sister there is always a tale.” She was not smiling.
Obediently he followed her in aware of his dusty clothes and muddy boots but too tired to care. The house was in frenzy. Servants rushed out, one to fetch another healing Sister, one to find the sons of the house, others to the store rooms for herbs. In the kitchen there was a great noise of pots being brought down. Through all this, Brillar’s sister led him calmly, taking him to sit in a quiet room where she closed the door and offered him a glass of brandy.
“We have stronger in the house if you prefer,” she said, and sat down composed, waiting for him to speak. She was dressed for summer, in a blue shift that matched her eyes. Her hair, like her father’s, was a soft yellow. He took her in briefly, noting similarities to her sister and drank the brandy gratefully then leaned forward on his arms, drained.
“I think the story should wait for everyone,” he said finally but straightened when a youth brandishing a short sword flung open the door.
“If you have harmed Brillar,” he began and was interrupted.
“Terol! Stop at once,” said his sister. “He did her no harm, he brought her home!” The lad was confused but stopped.
“I was just about to get the story although he is correct; everyone should hear the story from him. Sit and have a brandy or go and see her for yourself.” She turned to Garnelden.
“Please excuse my brother; he has always been fonder of my sister than of me,” Alliana said with an indulgent nod to Terol.
Embarrassed, Terol muttered, “Untrue and you know it.” He left in consternation.
“A moment, please, while I have a room readied for you and the animals cared for.” She went to the door with easy grace and called to a servant. “Our guest will be staying for a while. Please have the animals and cart taken care of.”
Elden looked at her admiringly, to remain so calm when all else was frenzy. She was slim like her sister and composed, but there was a softness to her and he saw no hint of the steel that was in his apprentice. She poured him another brandy.
“Supper, I think, will be later than usual as the story of Brillar’s return has, I am sure, already spread. We have a fine bath house should you care to freshen yourself?”
‘Well,’ he thought, ‘time to see if this one can be startled.’
“No need, thank you,” he said, uttering spells that cleaned both himself and his clothes.
Surprised, and then laughing, she said, “Leave it to my sister to bring home a mage, or to be brought home by one.”
The door opened once more, but quietly and Darwallen entered distressed but composed. “Thank you for bringing my daughter home. Sister Rodenis is with her. We were fortunate, she was visiting us when you arrived and was quick to attend Brillar. She’s unconscious,” Darwallen bit her lip, “but if you’d like to see her?”
Standing quickly, he put the brandy glass in Alliana’s hand and followed Darwallen to a room on the main floor of the house. It all passed in a blur for him until the door to the sickroom was opened.
Brillar was lying on a small soft bed, with an older healing Sister to one side. The Sister was passing an orb over her patient, murmuring cleansing spells and spells to draw out poisons; dark oily stains were spreading beneath her patient. Elden had never heard the spells before.
“That,” said Darwallen quietly, “is Sister Rodenis. Her skills are above any in the Sisterhood. My daughter was poisoned, she thinks, by a combination of potions that might have otherwise cleared quickly and which were worsened by a heavy blow to her head.”
He nodded tears welling in his eyes. They stepped outside and closed the door softly. He leaned against the wall eyes closed and she waited for him to compose himself. “I didn’t have the spells, the herbs. All I could do was give her water. I thought we would…come too late.”
She took his arm. “But you’re here, the Great House is here and Rodenis will heal her if any can.” He only nodded.
There were already people in the halls and others were arriving. Darwallen spoke quietly to everyone as they passed. Alliana rescued Garnelden, taking him back to the blue and white windowed sitting room asking him to stay just a few moments. He leaned against the cushions wearily and closed his eyes, falling asleep at once. An hour later, Darwallen woke him apologetically.
“Supper is ready. I came to escort you. It’s a hasty supper I’m afraid, we have a number of guests. Again, I apologize. Half the town has already heard that you brought…” she stopped and took a deep breath, “brought our daughter home.”
She led him to the great hall where Garnelden found supper and wine laid out for the household, neighbors, friends and Sisters of the local house who had all heard the news of Brillar’s return and her condition.
Prendar, obviously relieved, immediately greeted Elden and handed him a cup of wine. “We will dine first,” he said, and the assembled group grumbled, “and no grumbling!” he barked at them. Elden could see Darwallen hide a smile.
“There is a story to be told and the man must be fortified for telling it,” he said commandingly waving at the company. Planked tables had been hastily assembled with benches for seating. Servants passed food to everyone and refilled cups.
The meal was eaten quickly since everyone wanted the story more than food. Servants, all fond of Brillar, left the plates where they were to stand stood along the wall. Her childhood maid-companion was weeping softly and others were sniffling.
“First, a toast to the man who has restored a daughter of this house to it and her family.” The all raised their glasses and drank.
“Now, if you please enlighten us with the story,” he said to Garnelden. There was a brief rustling as they settled in.
Elden took a deep breath and stood. He felt better than he had in days.
“I am Garnelden, Mage of the Four Powers with First Standing in Three,” he began, at which the assembled started in with questions and were silenced by Prendar’s, “Let the man speak!”
“If Brillar’s life is saved it’s because she saved mine first after I was unjustly taken.” He opened his collar slightly revealing the scars left by the dimlock. Darwallen, recognizing what the scars must be from, began to rise, staring, for few survived a dimlock. She was gently reseated by her husband.
It was a long story, even with what Elden omitted, and full dark when he finished. Darwallen, in tears, went to Elden with an embrace pronouncing him a member of the house to cheers. Prendar, Terol, and Brolin, her elder brother, shook his hand and the others in the hall would have had him shaking hands and answering questions until after midnight, but Prendar clapped his hands.
“Good Sisters, friends, guests, family; Sister Rodenis has announced that Brillar will be asleep for some time. I ask that everyone depart quietly and give us a few days to recover from our shock. Our guest must be tired after such a difficult day. Terol, if you would escort him?” The lad took him out of the hall.
“Are you truly called Garnelden, I was told my sister said ‘Elden’ when father lifted her, and the Four Powers, how long was the study,” Terol’s words gushed out and he barely waited for answers.
“Terol,” Alliana was suddenly beside them, “our father said lead not pester. I will lead him and you take yourself to the stable and make sure that the horses are well taken care of there.”
“The stallion is Jez, the mare, Bright, and they should be close together,” said Elden catching his sleeve. “The cart horse I simply called Hob after another of his sort.” Terol hurried off down a wide hall.
“He always hurries,” said Alliana with a tolerant smile. She took him up the stairs and through well-lit corridors, finally opening the door to a wide windowed room with a high soft bed, a table with glasses and brandy, several plush chairs and a desk. He thanked her and closed the door then removed his boots and clothes. He doused the lamp, and fell into the bed twitching the soft covers over him. ‘We are both alive,’ was his last thought.