*** 2 ***
The house was quiet in the morning respecting the rest Brillar needed. Elden looked at himself in the mirror and decided that it was time to remove the beard he had grown. He had often used the spell but not on such a thick growth and thought a mirror was needed. A small door near the bed proved to be an indoor necessary, complete with chair, ewer, water, mirror and other items. He refreshed himself, then stared at his face and began the spell managing to clean away the whiskered grown without incident. He ran a comb through his hair. Clean shaven he was surprised to see how pale his jaw was. ‘Soon mended,’ he thought.
Back in the main room, he opened the foldbox and removed the grey clothing with trim that Brillar had admired. Dressing quickly he found his way to the stairs and descended.
Darwallen met him at the bottom of the stairs; she had sensed he was awake. She was casually dressed in a white blouse and skirt. She raised an eyebrow at his cleaned face. “Well met a second time,” she smiled, “rest has made you a new man.”
In spite of himself, Elden flushed.
“We are at breakfast. Come with me.” The family dining area was as bright as the sitting room. White walls trimmed in blue and hung with paintings, the crest of the Sisterhood on one wall above a side table. Prendar rose when he entered and waved him to a seat as a servant brought in a platter heaped with sliced fruits.
Breakfast was a fine affair although a bit hushed. Rodenis had been with Brillar all night but joined them before they were halfway through the meal. She was dressed a robe of pale blue and ate with a hearty appetite. It had been a long night but she seemed lively and talkative.
“Sister Idelia is with her. She is nearly free of the poisons and I have begun to mend her head. She must have cracked it somehow.” She bit into bread spread with honey.
Elden stiffened, his face tight, his eyes dark with anger. A light hand on his arm soothed him. “She will heal now” said Darwallen, “and be safe.”
“She will stay safe as well,” added Prendar, “and finish her studies if I have to nail her feet to the floor.” There were chuckles all round at that and Elden thought that the trick might have already been tried.
“Few things escape me,” said Brillar’s mother, “but she did. Walking off with whatever she could stuff in the foldbox.”
“Running off,” interrupted Terol, “why did you think she practiced so much? To run in the races at the spring tournaments?” There was more laughter at that and Brolin roughed Terol’s blond hair. Terol was a slender lad of sixteen and the family seemed used to his interruptions. His grey eyes and straight nose matched his sire’s.
“Running then,” said her mother. “Master Mage, if I may have a word?” she asked when breakfast was finished. He went with her the sitting room he and Alliana had used. Through the window he could see the lake and wondered briefly if that was where his apprentice learned to swim.
“Darwallen,” he began as they sat down and was stopped with a gesture.
“I am called Darwa by friends and family. Sometimes even less.” She smiled. Looking at her, he could see Brillar. The hair and green eyes were there and her daughter had her mother’s firm chin. The steel must have come from her father.
He smiled in return. “Darwa then. You know I didn’t tell the whole truth last night?” She nodded. Her serenity was remarkable and he hated what he would have to tell her.
“My meeting with your daughter was not quite as I told it. I was not merely ‘found,’ she approached the men who had taken me and had to kill one of them; he attacked her before we had even met.”
Darwallen paled and she clenched her hands in her lap, dropping her eyes to them. Her daughter? Taking a man’s life? A tear appeared on her cheek and she brushed it away.
“You’re sure of this? You know what happened?” Her voice was pained.
“I was held by the dimlock, but what I saw later was evidence of the truth, and the man who took me…there are no words for him or what he would have done to her.” A moment passed as he let her compose herself. “I’m sorry. I know the position of the House of Life on the matter.”
“Yes, well. We won’t discuss that further. Not now.” She sighed. “But the dimlock. I’ve heard of its use and recognized the scars from drawings, but I’ve never heard any sure stories of someone who was released from one. Not until after an execution. You say my daughter removed it?” A nod. “And knew somehow that it should be removed.” She stared at him, searching him and he put up no defense. Satisfied, she relaxed a bit. “She saw all that through the dimlock?” When Elden reddened, she added, “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.” He shook his head.
“Now, if I could see the scars the collar left? My skill is healing.”
Elden nodded again and opened his shirt for her. She held back the cloth and examined the marks, first the nape of his neck, then round the shoulders to the deep scar where the pendent had been. She touched it lightly, her face grim at the extent of what he had suffered.
“How long?” she asked.
“Seventeen days,” he replied resettling his shirt. Darwallen turned pale and sat quickly.
“So long,” she murmured to herself. “Brillar removed such a thing? Alone and unaided?”
“She did or I wouldn’t be alive. I was barely that when she began,” he replied.
“This is a story for Sister Rodenis after she rests. To think that Brillar had the skill, that anyone had the skill, to remove a dimlock except the keeper of its key! And seventeen days! From the scars it was sunk deep. Would you be kind enough to show the result to Rodenis?”
Nodding, he smiled and she rose.
“There’s something more.”
Darwallen took her seat again.
Elden stood and poured one brandy, handing it to her. She looked surprised but took the glass.
“One more thing I withheld. It wasn’t a townsman who killed Harrolen. Brillar drew in enough strength at the end to wield a bow.” Darwallen did indeed need the brandy. Elden tried to sooth and was rebuffed. They sat quietly for several minutes.
Fortified, Darwallen finally stood and straightened as there was a soft rap at the door. Alliana was there and said, “She wakes and asks for you.”
Darwallen brightened. “No mother, begging your pardon. She asks for Elden.” Darwallen raised an eyebrow at that but acquiesced gesturing him to follow Alliana, which he did, somewhat red-faced.
“Mother, she’ll want you soon as well,” Alliana assured her mother.
The two led Elden back to the sickroom but he entered alone. Like the other rooms in the house, it was brightly painted and had a large window. There was a chair by the bed. Sister Idelia was nearby ready to help as needed. Brillar stirred as he sat and he could see her color was better; the green veins had almost faded from her face.
Turning her head, Brillar gave him something of a smile. “You are alive then. And you managed to find your way here?” Her voice was dry and she reached out a thin hand. She had shrunk so on their journey.
“I did. I came as fast as I could since my healing was not all you needed.”
“Rodenis has seen to all that. She and Idelia say that now I need rest and feeding. I seem to have faded a bit.”
“That’s easily mended. But I should send your mother in. She was a bit put out that your spoke my name before hers.” He patted her hand, stood and went to the door. “You should know that your father has threatened to nail your feet to the floor,” he said and was rewarded with a weak laugh. Courteously he held the door open for Darwa and Alliana then closed it as mother took her daughter in her arms.
He met Prendar in the hallway. “Now if I may have a word?” Elden nodded. “Perhaps under the trees.”
Elden was led across a green lawn to a wide bench near the lake. Prendar was dressed for riding in a rich dark blue shirt, short breeches and black boots. He was above average in height and a bit stocky but looked strong and fit. Grey eyes stabbed at Elden and his face was stern. He gestured for Elden to sit while he stood arms folded for a moment. Finally deciding, he said bluntly,
“Besides her obvious troubles, what other harm has my daughter taken.” His voice was firm.
“None from me,” was the quiet answer. “As for others…she did lock her door against a ‘sprightly archer’ of a night.”
This brought a gruff laugh from Brillar’s father. “She always led the village lads on a short leash. Headstrong and always into something that one; more trouble than her brothers.”
Elden took a breath and shifted uneasily. “I named myself Mage and didn’t want to upset Darwa, but Brillar has bound herself as my apprentice for a year.”
“What do you say?” Prendar demanded.
“I made the offer, she made the bargain.” He kept his voice composed.
Prendar began to pace. “Go and change that finery,” he said abruptly. “I assume you can ride since the two animals you brought in were saddle horses and there were saddles in the cart. You’re strong enough to ride?” Elden nodded. “And there is something else there that you should see when you’re changed.”
A bit bewildered. Elden hurried to change, surprised when he located his room without trouble. As he came down, Alliana smiled, “I see you and father have had a talk? The stable is that way,” she said, gesturing.
Jez was giving the stable boy trouble with the saddling but the horse quieted when Elden arrived. He saddled the stallion then Prendar took him to the cart.
“Pull back all the blankets and tell me what you find,” he ordered.
Elden did as he was told and gasped. There were ten bars of gold in the cart-well, covered in thick quilts and blankets. He gaped! Open mouthed, he turned to Prendar and was clapped on the shoulder.
“I take it you knew nothing about this then,” he said firmly.
Still open mouthed Elden could only shake his head.
“If you wish, I’ll have Terol and Brolin take it to our storeroom.”
A nod was all Elden could manage and Prendar sent a stable boy for his sons.
“Let’s see then if you can stay in the saddle after such a shock.” Prendar mounted his dun gelding and Elden mounted Jez. Prendar put his horse into an easy trot which was matched by Jez’ walking pace. He nodded approvingly then clicked his horse into a canter and led the way across a fallowed field. He put the roan over hedge and a fence and cantered down a long track. He reined up at a small brook and both dismounted.
“You ride well enough for a mage,” he said approvingly.
“Even a mage has the need now and then,” was the steady reply. Elden was all but holding his breath, feeling that he knew something of what the man would ask, already forming his answer.
Prendar dropped his horse’s reins and paced a bit. Pacing was his usual when he confronted the unusual. He stopped.
“It seems to me from your foldbox, I know of them what with three mages in the house, that you had some wealth before that gold.” Elden waited.
“Now you’re even wealthier. There are good fields here, good land for horses. The stallion and mare are well suited.” He raised his eyebrows.
“Speak up, man, what are your intentions?”
Elden had half expected the question. He had brought Brillar home to Laurenfell. True he was older than she was, but such pairings were not unusual and there was obvious caring between them as Brillar had spoken his name when lifted from the cart before she called on her father and called for him before calling for her mother. He had pondered the matter a bit himself. It was now to declare for good or for ill.
He looked away over the fields then brown eyes met grey levelly.
“I have an apprentice,” he said evenly, “one who, at present, wishes only to learn. What is in the future is for both to say, not one.” At Prendar’s slight scowl, he continued, “I made the offer because your daughter, whom you named headstrong, all but told me she was headed for the Wild,” there was a slight gasp, “completely unprepared. A year’s binding and she may lose all taste for me, if she has any, and for the Wild, even if we never venture there,” he finished to allay the man’s concerns.
“Hmm. A sound answer. The horses are ready. A quieter ride back to the house? Lunch should be ready by then.”
They remounted and rode off slowly. Prendar gestured to fields and woodlands, talking about his holdings and his dealings as a merchant. He pointed out the wall of the old town and the tower of the Sisterhood in the distance as they went. It was a pleasant ride.
Lunch was served at a long bench under the trees surrounded by flower beds and shrubs. Servants fetched and carried, glasses of wine were raised and Elden was bombarded with questions from Terol who appeared ready to run off to the Wild himself. He had, it seemed, developed a case of hero worship for the mage who had brought his sister back to them. If it hadn’t been for stern glances at Terol from his father, Elden would not have been able to feed himself. Rodenis had joined them for lunch saying her patient had taken broth and was sleeping again under Idelia’s watchful eye. She was grey haired with pale blue eyes and a well lined face that spoke of both care and laughter. She raised a brow at Elden when they finished and both excused themselves, going to a now familiar room.
Without a word, he turned down his shirt. She eyed the scars then touched them lightly examining them with a practiced eye.
“My student did this? Removed a dimlock? Alone and unaided?” she didn’t know she was echoing Darwa’s words and he nodded. “Hmpf. Here I was sure she never listened. Wild that one.” He smiled at that.
“She opened the lock with a pick? I knew her fingers were deft, despite all that archery.” she shook her head. “The pendent hung here?” she touched the deep scar on his chest and he nodded again. Like many Elders she had a tendency to speak both to herself and for her patient.
“At least she remembered to carry the herbs and instruments in her foldbox, and an orb perhaps. Hmm. Powders as well, I see. You carry other scars, less recent, which could be removed. The scars of the dimlock cannot be removed, not even with my skill.”
She helped herself to a brandy, eyes bright. “You told the story last night I hear and it was retold to me. The man who used the drugs on her or had them used had little skill with such things. Those were certainly of K’ish making.” She scowled at the name. “The combination would have killed if you hadn’t brought her here.” Elden lowered his head and could only nod.
Rodenis went on, “I have known Brillar all her life. I taught her, or tried to. But a dimlock! I’ll search the records, of course, but I don’t remember a record of the removal of a dimlock except by its key,” she eyed him as Darwa had, probing; he stiffened at the depth of her search as she tilted her head at him, “a key which was only used after an execution. The Light must have guided her for it seems that she made the right decision.” She released him and he shook himself.
“Now though, there is something else I see something else in my student, a shift in her, something different that I cannot quite discern. It troubles me.” Her eyes were on him steadily as he adjusted his shirt.
Sensing that Darwallen would permit it if asked, he said quietly, “She has killed two men, both in defense.”
Like Darwallen, Rodenis stiffened and sipped her brandy. She nodded with understanding. “What is done is done,” she said, “it cannot be undone nor, I think, should we wish it undone. Not if a dimlock was involved and used unjustly. Now I will see if my patient can take some more soup.”
She went calmly from the room, leaving him there to review the morning.