An hour later Jasen and Hawk followed a servant to the main dining hall. True to his word, Hawk was immaculate in a tunic made of the same exquisite fabric as Jasen’s but in a spectacular shade of green. The tunic was the color of a Terran rain forest as seen through a veil of moonlight. A mesh of silver threads accented the gleaming fabric. The silvery‑green suited the Filidae well. Like Jasen’s, his pants and boots were an unadorned black. They looked like visiting royalty instead of two space travelers.
They followed the servant down the twisting, turning corridors until he paused outside of two large ornately carved wooden doors. A footman in bright livery opened the doors and ushered them into the Great Hall.
Entering the room, Jasen paused and gazed in fascination at the panorama before him. The Great Hall certainly lived up to its name. It was a huge cavern with a high vaulted ceiling. One could house an army within its walls and have plenty of room to spare. Four wide stone fireplaces, two per side, warmed the chill from the chamber. Everywhere lavish, brightly colored tapestries decorated the walls, and hundreds of candelabras lit the vast expanse of stone.
Two columns of long, heavy wooden tables ran the length of the room. At the far end of the chamber, sitting on a slightly raised platform, was the king’s personal table. Strolling minstrels, jugglers, and dancers wandered among the tables, providing entertainment, and everywhere servants scurried about carrying heaping trenchers of food and jugs of wine.
Seated at the head table was a tall, broad shouldered man decked out in royal burgundy and wearing a golden circlet on his forehead. His resemblance to Tivonna left little doubt that this was her father, the king. Beside him, sat a beautiful blonde‑haired woman regally dressed in a gown of pale pink. She also wore a golden circlet of rank on her forehead. This must be Tivonna’s mother, the queen. On the right hand side of the table, seated nearest the king, sat Tivonna wearing a gown of molten copper and a silver circlet of rank. Two place settings had been laid out on the left hand side of the table. It looked like they were to dine with royalty this night; a privilege few commoners were ever allowed.
The other tables in the hall were crowded with flashily dressed nobility. The nobles sat according to rank. Those occupying the tables nearest the monarchs were dukes and earls. The middle tables were reserved for barons and lesser nobles. In the far rear of the room, sat the soldiers and men at arms. Jasen and Hawk followed the servant down the length of the room to the king’s private table. As they passed the citizens of Aquilla, the curious nobles carefully scrutinized them. Reaching the head table, they bowed formally to the royal family and took their places. They were just in time; the meal was about to begin.
As Jasen and Hawk entered the Hall, King Arcus studied Jasen curiously. He knew little about this man except that Jasen had saved his daughter’s life and was not from Mystra. When the king met Hawk, he was impressed by the Filidae’s wit, intelligence, and character. He was curious to see what type of man Jasen was that he could win the loyalty and devotion of one such as Hawk as well as the heart of his fiery daughter.
As King Arcus watched Jasen, the first thing that struck him was the air of authority surrounding him. His bearing was that of a royal prince or king. It was not something learned or copied from others, but was a natural, integral part of the man. Jasen was a born leader. Here was one used to giving commands and having those commands obeyed. He was not a stranger to power or responsibility.
As the meal progressed, the force of the man’s personality struck Arcus. It was magnetic. Servants and nobles alike seemed to be drawn to him. He treated each with respect and dignity. The calm golden eyes met his without flinching or reservation. They seemed to look deep inside and weigh what was hidden there. Arcus found himself wanting this soft-spoken young man to think well of him; it was an odd sensation.
The king decided that he liked this enigmatic stranger. He was controlled and reserved, true, but to Arcus’ surprise he was not cold. There was warmth that belied his calm, cool exterior and a sense of humor too. Jasen proved well able to hold his own against Hawk’s quick wit. There was a keen mind and a strong will behind those piercing eyes. This man was no fool and would not easily be taken in or fooled by others. Jasen could be an invaluable ally or a deadly enemy. He could see how such a man could win his daughter’s heart. Arcus was determined to keep on Jasen’s good side. He would not relish having him as a foe. Yes, he was pleased; Tivonna had done well.
Breaking off his contemplations, the king turned his attention to the conversations in progress. Jasen was deep in a discussion with Sivena concerning the royal banner displayed on the wall behind their table. The crest of Aquilla was a rearing winged horse. The banner was a swirl of muted shades of color, radiating from a central point outward to the edges of the banner. The colors seemed to mirror the spectrum from the reds and yellows going through the blues, greens and violets. Surprisingly, the colors were not garish but soft, one blending into the next like a circular rainbow. Imposed on the field of colors was a rearing white winged horse. The horse’s wings were fully extended and tipped with silver, his hooves were done in the same bright silver shade.
“Your Royal Standard is beautiful, a true work of art. Whoever wove it was a gifted craftsman. I have never seen such fabrics and colors as you have here, especially the metallic shades. How do you get gold and silver without metal?”
Sivena gave a bright smile. “I wish we could take all the credit, but the fact is that most of the colors and textures of our cloth are due entirely to the plant from which we gather the fibers. In truth, dyeing is an unknown art in Aquilla.”
“What? I’m afraid I don’t understand.” Jasen gazed at the uniquely colored clothing around him. Hawk’s silvery‑blue was impressive but Tivonna’s copper was even more spectacular. Upon closer inspection, it proved to be shot through with flashes of green. The cloth itself rivaled the finest silk; it could not have just grown that way.
Seeing his bafflement, Tivonna laughed and explained. “It’s true, Jase. The thread we use to make our fabrics comes from the Mirror plant. It is one of the true wonders of Mystra. We discovered that the plant produced pods containing thousands of silk‑like fibers, which could be spun into thread. The cloth is more rugged and easier to care for than silk, but just as lovely and soft. Even more amazing, we discovered that governing the type of soil in which the plant grew could control the color of the threads produced by a given plant. In truth, the fibers would mirror the minerals or organic matter in the soil. Since an earth elemental can control the soil, it proved easy to tailor the plant’s growing environment to make the colors desired. The copper from flower petals with a smattering of emeralds for my dress and jade mixed with silver bark for Hawk’s fabric. Our circlets are actually wood painted with pigments made from colored bark mixed with diamonds for shimmer.”
“Wow!” Hawk exclaimed. “With a racket like that, you could corner the off-world clothing market. No one would be able to top you. Think of it, custom grown fabric in the finest material both rugged and beautiful.”
“Get a hold of yourself, my friend. First things first, we deal with the present problem, then you can become a fashion tycoon.” Jasen looked at the king and queen and shook his head. “You’ll have to forgive him. He gets carried away when you mix money and shiny objects together.”
Everyone broke into laughter as Hawk looked indignantly at his partner. They had grown fond of the whimsical Filidae during the past few weeks and were pleased to see someone finally get the better of the quick-witted visitor.
Arcus smiled at his two entertaining guests, “Well, I can’t think of when I’ve enjoyed a meal as much, but speaking of present problems, I think it’s time for us to retire somewhere quiet and discuss yours.” Thus saying, the king rose and led the party to his private sitting room.
As the group left the Great Hall, Jasen and Tivonna walked close together. “I had a wonderful evening.Your people are very warm and charming.”
Tivonna looked at Jasen and smiled. She had been pleased and amazed at his manners and decorum throughout the evening. No one would ever guess that he was not royally born. She gave a soft laugh. “I do not think Aquilla will ever be the same. Between Hawk’s wit and your charm all the ladies of the kingdom will be pining away for you.”
“There is only one lady in Aquilla that I am interested in. You look lovely tonight.” Jasen’s golden eyes seemed to smolder as he gazed at her. Tivonna’s pulse raced and it suddenly became hard to breathe. The bond between them hummed to life, filling her with an unexpected warmth and tenderness. Could he finally be willing to acknowledge his feelings for her? Her question was destined to go unanswered. The moment was lost as they arrived at the king’s suite.
Entering the room, they made themselves comfortable around the table located in the center of the room. This might take a while. At first, the five sat staring at each other wondering where to begin. Finally, Jasen took the initiative.
“I want to thank you again for all that you’ve done for us. Not everyone would have been so quick to open their home to two strangers. I owe you my life.”
“No, it is I and Aquilla who owe you for saving my daughter and my kingdom.” Arcus gazed fondly at his daughter. He owed this man a great deal indeed. “I know very little about why or how you came to Mystra. How can I aid you?”
“It’s a long story.” Collecting his thoughts, Jasen filled them in on his and Hawk’s mission. “So you see it is vital that we find out how your world survived. It may be the only hope for the rest of the galaxy.” Jasen concluded his recitation. “Do you know anything that might help us?”
Arcus was silent for a few moments, then answered, “I’m not sure how much help I can be. My people have been away from the stars for a very long time. Fortunately, my ancestors were scholars. They tried to preserve every scrap of knowledge they could, even though much of it could no longer be used on Mystra. Have you searched the old records?”
“Yes, I’m convinced that the Firehawks’ aversion to your world has something to do with the energy fields surrounding the planet. Do you know exactly when and how they were formed?”
“Mystra has always possessed strange energy patterns. They are the reason that technology was outlawed. No machine containing metal can function on Mystra and no ship can land on the planet.” Arcus looked intently at Jasen. “At least, no ship ever has until now.”
“Then how were you able to land?” Hawk tried to steer the king’s attention away from the subject of spaceships. He didn’t want Arcus to take too strong an interest in Jasen’s technology. He might decide to keep them here. “Why didn’t the field destroy the colony ships as well?”
“That particular field didn’t exist then. The energy distortions were only on the surface. The curtain of lights was unknown on Mystra until after the Great Cataclysm. Then, everything changed.”
“Yes, what about the cataclysm? The diary we found said that a group of scientists tried an unlawful experiment that went awry. Do you know what they were trying to do and where their lab was located?” This was the information Jasen sought. If he could find the lab, he might find a clue to the energy barrier’s secret.
“Rumor was that they were trying to open some kind of doorway to other worlds. They were supposed to have been located somewhere in the far North.” Tivonna glanced at her father for confirmation. “I don’t think anyone really knows for sure.”
Arcus nodded. “She is correct. The exact location of the laboratory has been lost for centuries. The only one who might know is the Duke of Cenchrea, and I would not advise asking him.”
“Any particular reason why, or are you just at odds?” Hawk asked.
“I’m afraid the only thing that interests the duke is power and machines. He is obsessed with technology and making it work on Mystra. t would not be wise for him to learn about you. He would do anything to possess your knowledge and technology…anything.”
“And what about you King Arcus? What would you do to obtain such technology?”
The calm, soft-spoken words struck Arcus like a blow. He met the cool, golden eyes and sighed deeply. “I can’t deny that I’ve been tempted. You hold a secret that could change the face of this planet. But I don’t think you are the type of man who could be coerced into doing anything against his will. Frankly, I would rather have a willing partner that I can trust than a reluctant slave.”
Jasen smiled and gave the king a nod in salute. “I’m glad you feel that way. I too prefer to make friends instead of enemies. There will be plenty of time to discuss technology after we have settled the matter of the Firehawks. Agreed?”
Arcus returned Jasen’s smile. He had to give the young man credit; he certainly had guts. “Agreed.”
“Well, now that you have settled that, what are your plans, Jasen and how can we assist you?” Sivena had listened to the ongoing discussions in silence. She liked and approved of her daughter’s bondmate, but she feared the task he had undertaken. She knew that Jasen would not be swerved from his goal, and was determined to do all that she could to help assure the trio’s success and safety. There was no doubt in Sivena’s mind that Tivonna would accompany Jasen and Hawk on their quest.
Jasen shrugged and leaned back in his seat. “Our only choice is to go north. I believe the key to this whole mess is locked away in that secret laboratory if it still exists. We’ll travel north and see what we can find out. Maybe someone we talk to will know its location. It’s a long shot, but it’s the best option we have at the moment.”
“It will not be an easy trip. Aquilla is in the extreme south. You’ll have to cross hundreds of miles and almost every type of terrain to reach the northern settlements. Not to mention having to pass through the territories of a number of the kingdom’s more belligerent inhabitants. Let me see…I think I have a map here somewhere.”
Arcus rose from his seat and walked over to a large chest set against the wall near the door they had entered. Opening the chest, he rummaged inside seeking a current map. As the king searched the chest, Jasen relaxed. He had been unsure how the monarchs would take his tale. He was relieved that Arcus believed him and was willing to help. He and Hawk would have had a tough time navigating the kingdom on their own. They needed the supplies and information the king could give them.
Suddenly, Jasen stiffened. Being a telepath, he was always in danger of exposure. Discovery meant death. It had become a habit of his to periodically scan his surroundings for danger. He did so almost subconsciously. Now, however, every sense was alert. His mind had swept the room and registered an unknown intruder; they were being observed.
Carefully probing the room, Jasen soon pinpointed the presence he had sensed. High up above the ceiling in the far back corner of the chamber was a spy. How long had they been observed? What had the man learned? And more importantly, was this the first time they had been spied upon?
Jasen was in a dilemma. He couldn’t let the man escape. The question was, could he risk exposing himself to Arcus and Sivena? His options were limited. He could contact Hawk and send him after the man, but that would be risky. There were a number of entrances to the spy hole. The man could be gone before the Filidae reached him. Besides which, Hawk suddenly leaving the room would alert the spy to trouble, as well as arousing the others’ curiosity. They could not take a chance of letting the man escape, not without learning what he had seen and heard in the castle.
There was only one thing to do. Jasen cringed at the thought. He would have to bring the man down and question him under truth lock. This could be dangerous. He was unsure of how the king and queen would react to learning about him; he and Hawk might be forced to run from the castle. And what about Tivonna? She had accepted that he was a telepath, but actually forcing his will on another was quite a different matter than just reading thoughts; she too might turn on them.
Jasen gave an inward sigh. There was no other way. Quickly, he sent a mental warning to Hawk. “Get ready. We have an intruder. I’m going to bring him down. This could get messy.”
Hawk glanced worriedly at Jasen, and gave a slight nod. He would back any play Jasen made.
Rising from his chair, Jasen fixed his gaze on the far left corner of the ceiling.
“Come Here.” Uttering the words of command, Jasen reached out with his mind and took control of the man’s nervous system and will. Hidden away in the loft, Gaius jerked as if electrocuted and slowly lowered the trap door into the chamber below. Throwing down the knotted rope he used as a ladder, he carefully climbed down into the king’s sitting room. Still entranced, he walked over and stood before Jasen.
“What the...” King Arcus watched dumbfounded as Jasen stood and spoke to the empty air. He was even more astonished as he watched Gaius, a kitchen servant, leave his hiding place and move to stand before Jasen.
“What’s going on here?” The king walked over and confronted Gaius. “What were you doing up there? Who do you work for?Why are you spying on me?”
Gaius stood mutely staring straight ahead. He did not move, utter a sound, or acknowledge his ruler’s presence in anyway.
“He can’t answer you.” Jasen steeled himself; things were about to get messy. “I have him in a mindlock. I can compel him to answer truthfully, but you must ask your questions slowly, one at a time.”
Arcus was stunned by this strange turn of events. His mind tried to cope with what he was seeing and hearing. “What do you mean mindlock? Who…what are you?”
Tivonna stepped forward and faced her father. Lifting her head, she gazed directly into his eyes. “He is a telepath and my bondmate!”
She turned to Jasen. “Find out what he knows; we can’t afford to have anyone learning about you and Hawk.”
Surprised, Jasen nodded. She was actually defending him! But just how far would her trust go? What if he had to mindwipe the spy, would she be so quick to defend him then? Jasen feared not. Ignoring the waves of fear and distrust coming from the monarchs, Jasen faced Gaius. Under his careful probing, the spy soon divulged all he had seen and heard.
“Well, what do we do now?” Hawk gazed at the people gathered around Gaius. “Anyone have any bright ideas how we get out of this one?”
Jasen shook his head. “I’m afraid the damage is done. The duke knows about us, but he doesn’t know why we are here or where we are going. At least, we can keep that much a secret.” Glancing over at Arcus, he continued, “Your Majesty the way I see it we have two choices. You can kill Gaius but, in doing so, you alert the duke to the fact that we are on to him. Also, there is no guarantee that he won’t send another spy to take Gaius’s place.” Jasen hesitated. He did not want to say what he knew he must.
“And the second option?” The king had regained some of his composure, but was still wary of this strange, fearsome, young man.
“To rearrange his memories. I can make him forget what he has learned here tonight. He will also cease to spy upon you. If the duke asks, Gaius will tell him there is nothing new to report. It will buy us time.”
Arcus, Sivena and even Tivonna stared at Jasen in horror. All the childhood tales and horror stories were coming true before their very eyes. This man stole the will of others and twisted their minds and memories to suit his pleasure. What kind of a monster was he?
Jasen blocked the waves of horror, outrage, and distrust slamming into his mind; he had a job to do. He led Gaius to the table and bade him sit; no one moved to stop him. Dropping to his knees beside the still figure, Jasen reached out and placed a hand on either side of the spy’s head. Fighting his own revulsion as well as that of the others in the room, Jasen steeled himself and plunged into Gaius’s mind.
Contrary to popular belief, delving into another’s mind was not something a telepath particularly enjoyed. All of Gaius’s greed, fear, and unscrupulous desires beat against Jasen’s mind during those first few moments of contact. It was like wallowing in mire.
Quieting the terrified mind around him, Jasen sought for the cord of memory he needed. Locating the thoughts in question, he slowly began to unravel the threads. When Gaius’s mind had been wiped clean of all memory of this night, Jasen painstakingly began to weave a new thread of thought to replace the old. When he had finished, Gaius remembered nothing of the conversations he had overheard, but instead remembered a quiet evening at home.
Leaving the memory cords, Jasen delved deep into the subconscious. Seizing the center of will, he set a deep compulsion. Gaius would never again spy on Aquilla’s rulers. Also, if questioned by his employer, he would act as if he had been spying as ordered but had nothing new to report.
Withdrawing slightly from Gaius’s mind, Jasen surveyed his work. He hated this; the violation of another’s mind was loathsome to him. It went against the deepest code of his race; but sometimes there was no other choice. At least this way, Gaius would live. Planting one last set of instructions, which would take Gaius from the chamber to his home, Jasen gently withdrew from the spy’s mind.
Opening his eyes, Jasen stood and faced the others in the room. A second later, Gaius opened his eyes, rose and left the room to return home. He would remember nothing out of the ordinary.
The emotions in the room were electric. Arcus and Sivena fairly screamed horror and loathing. Tivonna’s emotions were more controlled, but her face was pale. Only Hawk was calm though alert for any sign of danger. Jasen sighed deeply. He couldn’t deal with this now. The intense emotions were threatening to overwhelm his shields. He would give them time to calm down before trying to reason with them. Meanwhile, he would prepare for the worst. The king could easily order his death or at the very least exile him from Aquilla. Without a word Jasen turned and left the room, leaving emotional chaos in his wake.
Tivonna watched Jasen exit the room in stunned silence. She could not believe what she had just witnessed. Everything she had ever heard about mind-robbers was true. She had been horrified, but then reason asserted itself over blind emotion. This was not some unknown soul-stealing monster. This was Jasen, her bondmate. She knew him and knew the self-loathing and pain this had caused him. In his concentration, he had forgotten to shield himself from her. She had felt his struggle and his resignation to do what was necessary no matter the personal cost. Tivonna loved him all the more at that moment. He had risked everything for their sake. She was determined to see that the price was not too high.
“I want that monster out of here!” King Arcus was beside himself with fear and anger.
Hawk’s eyes blazed, but before he could move, Tivonna stood before her father, green eyes flashing with her wrath.
“How dare you? He is the same man now as he was ten minutes ago. Would you have rather he let the spy escape, or maybe you would rather have killed him. Do you really want his blood on your hands or to live in fear of spies? Jasen did what he had to. Don’t think that it was easy for him. He hated what he had to do. Controlling another’s mind is repugnant to him, it violates everything he stands for.”
“Then, how could he do it? If this task was so distasteful, how could he have gone through with it?”
“How could you order your own daughter’s death?”
Tivonna’s soft-spoken words hit Arcus with the force of a slap jarring him to his senses. His anger died; he was acting like a fool. Jasen had done nothing to harm him or his family, yet he was treating him like some kind of demon. Tivonna was right. The telepath had done something he detested because he had had to. Nothing he had seen of Jasen led him to think that the visitor was anything less than a man of honor. What right did he have to judge him, especially based only on old wives’ tales and myths? All right, so Jasen was a telepath and that was frightening. But he was also the man bonded to his daughter. Arcus had seen nothing to make him doubt Jasen’s integrity. Just the opposite was true.
“I’m sorry, daughter. It was just so unexpected. You’re right, I have no right to judge him.” The king looked at Hawk. “I am truly sorry, Hawk. I know that you would not be friends with someone who was unworthy of your trust. I guess I let my fears rule my thinking. I can’t say that I feel completely at ease having a telepath around. I will, however, try to judge him by his actions and character, not by old prejudices and fears. You are both welcome to stay in the castle and we will offer any help we can to aid you in your mission.”
“Yes, I too am sorry. I know my daughter would not be bonded to a man who was unworthy of her. I guess the shock of seeing our worst fears come to life caused us to forget. How can we make amends? ”Sivena echoed her husband’s words. She too was ashamed of the way they had treated Jasen. She hoped Hawk could convince him of their sincerity. The telepath still made her nervous, but she knew he was not the monster she had feared.
“I’ll come with you Hawk.” Tivonna wanted desperately to talk to Jasen. Had he picked up her initial fear? What must he think of her? He had looked so dejected when he had left.
“No, I’d best go alone. I doubt Jasen will be in the mood for visitors just yet. I’ll let you know what happens.”
Thus saying, Hawk exited the room and went in search of his distraught friend. Hawk had felt some of the tension in the room. It must have been awful for the telepath. He just hoped he could talk his friend into giving the monarchs and Tivonna another chance. Jasen could be extremely stubborn when he chose. Hawk’s first problem was to locate him. Where would he go? Glancing around, his gaze fell on a narrow stairway leading upwards. Of course, Jasen would want to get as far away from people as possible. Making his decision, he began the long climb to the top of the tower. Reaching the summit, Hawk walked out onto the narrow balcony encircling the top of the tower. As he had expected, there was Jasen. The telepath stood on the far end of the platform leaning against the retaining wall running along the edge of the balcony. He appeared to be lost in thought, oblivious to the majestic view spread out before him.
“Well what’s the verdict, execution or exile?”Jasen spoke without turning around, keeping his back to his approaching friend.
Hawk did not need to see Jasen’s face to know the pain he was going through. It was evident in his voice, which was flat and lifeless. He had feared as much. Jasen had walled himself away. He would not be won over easily. It would be hard for him to trust the nobles again.
“Oh, it’s nothing like that. We are free to go or stay as we wish. The king and queen wish me to extend their apologies for their less than gracious reactions. Jase, it’s not you they fear. Like everyone else in this particular universe, they have an inbred fear of telepaths. It was like seeing the boogieman come to life. They realize now that you are the same man you always were and it is unfair to judge you by their prejudices. It is not easy for them, but they are willing to try.”
The raven head nodded slowly and some of the tension left Jasen’s body. But he still would not turn and face Hawk. “What about Tivonna?”
The question was asked so softly, that only the Filidae’s keen hearing allowed him to catch it. “What about her?”
Jasen turned and faced his friend. “Hawk, she despises me. I expected it from the others, but I thought, hoped, that she was different. I felt her fear and loathing. She thinks I’m some kind of monster. How can I be around her everyday knowing that if it wasn’t for the fact that she’d die, she too would happily kill me?”
This was bad! Jasen had felt Tivonna’s initial fear, but had failed to register her change of feelings and acceptance. “Jase, she doesn’t hate you. She loves you. You should have seen her stand up to her parents. She made them see how foolish they were. Believe me, she cares deeply for you and this episode hasn’t changed that, except to draw her even closer to you. Don’t shut her out.”
The look in Jasen’s eyes was answer enough. “Nice try, but there’s no way I’m going to believe that!”
Hawk sighed. “Look, give it time. For now, we are free and safe. The king and queen are trying to accept you for who you are instead of giving in to groundless fears, and Tivonna is firmly in your corner even though you won’t believe it. Take it one step at a time. Arcus has offered us help and anything we need for our mission. Let’s take advantage of his generosity and get on with the mission. OK?”
Jasen laughed and the tension drained from his body. Looking at the serious expression on Hawk’s face he couldn’t help but smile, it was so unlike his happy‑go‑lucky companion. “So when did you suddenly become wise and responsible?”
“Oh, I have my moments. But you’d better get yourself together quickly. I can’t take too much of this intense seriousness. I have this wild urge to go do something outrageous.”
“Then, I’d best stop giving in to my self‑pity and rescue this poor world from you. Come on my friend, let’s turn in. Tomorrow, we make our plans. Oh, and by the way, thanks.”
“Anytime partner, anytime.”
Side by side the two left the balcony and headed for their chambers.