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Authors: Karleen Bradford

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BOOK: Whisperings of Magic
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Catryn looked at him in surprise. Who was so at ease with Dahl the king as to enter his chamber so casually and without permission?

“Bruhn!” Dahl exclaimed, his face lightening momentarily. “You are well come and just in time.” He leaped to his feet, then turned to Catryn. “I want Bruhn to hear what you have to say. Bruhn is my most loyal and faithful friend here. His knowledge of the people has been invaluable to me. I could not have accomplished the half of what I have done without his help. I wish his judgment on this matter as well.”

Catryn recognized the young man then. He had been Dahl’s companion when they had both been enslaved by the Usurper. Catryn knew how much Bruhn had helped Dahl in that dark time and, it would seem, he had aided Dahl just as much in the time since then. She was slightly taken aback, however. She had not had time to get to know Bruhn before leaving to dwell with the Elders, and, truth to tell, she had almost forgotten about him.

“My lady,” Bruhn stammered. He looked apprehensive. He had not been at court when she had arrived, but he had obviously been told about her extraordinary entrance.

Catryn suppressed a smile. She had wanted to impress the people of Daunus—it would seem she had.

“You are well come indeed, Bruhn,” she said, gathering her wits about her and setting the smile free to encompass him. “But there is no need to address me so formally. My name is Catryn. Surely you have not forgotten?”

Bruhn bowed. He struggled to regain his composure. Dahl resumed his seat and motioned for Bruhn to sit beside him.

“Catryn has brought disturbing news,” he said. “I would have you hear it with me and help me judge what it means.”

Catryn’s smile dimmed. She would have preferred to speak to Dahl alone. It was obviously not to be, however. She shrugged and resumed pacing. “When I
tried to see into the north,” she went on, “I could not. In the beginning I believed it to be a lack in my own powers and I strove to overcome it, but gradually I came to realize that it was something else. I consulted with the Elders and they, too, tried to see with me, but even with all of our combined powers we could not. We could sense chaos and terror, but also a numbness. A blankness. Almost an emptiness. It is frightening, Dahl.”

“Could there not be some explanation?” Dahl asked quickly. “Is there really need for such fear?”

“There is more,” Catryn replied. “A few days ago a man arrived in the country of the Sele. The Sele have remained close to me these past years, and when they heard what he had to say they sent word to me through Sele the Plump. That Sele is with me now. The man arrived sorely wounded and died before he could speak much more than a plea for help, but before he died he managed to tell them that there is a great evil befallen on the villages to the far north. He spoke of the enslavement of the people, of the devastation caused by a beast of great fearsomeness.” She fell silent. She could see in both Dahl’s and Bruhn’s faces now a reflection of what she herself was feeling. A remembrance of the horror that they had all lived through under the Usurper.

“Surely not,” Bruhn exclaimed. “Surely not again!” He had gone pale.

Catryn ignored the outburst. She spoke directly to Dahl. “The Elders have summoned you,” she said.
“They and the Protector. I must take you to them and there we will consult as to what we should do.”

Dahl returned her gaze. He did not answer, but his face was grim. As pale as Bruhn’s, but the dragon scar that seared one cheek flamed blood red now. He rose to his feet and strode over to a chest that lay in the dark shadows at the back of the room. As Catryn watched, he lifted the lid and reached in. He took out a sword—long and heavy. The hilt glinted gold in the firelight. He looked at it thoughtfully, then back to Catryn.

“My father’s sword,” he said, his voice heavy. “Will I then have need of it again, Catryn?”

“I think so,” Catryn answered. “And the Elders do as well. That is why they have sent me to bring you to them.”

“And I?” Bruhn’s voice startled them both. “I would go, too, Dahl. I have earned the right.”

“Of course, you have,” Dahl answered. “After all you have done for me and for our kingdom, it is no more than your due.”

Catryn stared at Bruhn. His face was flushed now, his words loud and brave. Why then was she suddenly uneasy? She sent out a questing tendril from her mind to his. There was confusion there. And more. The beginnings of a deep, not even acknowledged, fear. She looked at Dahl with concern, but he was smiling broadly.

“I will feel better with you at my back, old friend,” he said, then turned to speak to Catryn again. “I will
ask Coraun to rule in my stead while I am gone,” he said. “Bruhn knows him. He was one of my father’s most trusted advisors and continues to be mine. I will consult with him tomorrow and begin making plans for our departure.”

“It must be as soon as possible, Dahl,” Catryn said.

“And it will be,” Dahl hastened to assure her. “We will waste no time in making ready. But I must leave my affairs in order—it will take a day or two.” He paused for a moment, then spoke again. “There is just one more thing …”

Catryn and Bruhn looked at him.

“I will go in the guise of a simple man. I would not have anyone we meet in those far lands know I am king.”

Catryn nodded. She could see the wisdom of that. Bruhn, however, looked puzzled.

“Would it not be easier if the people we meet knew who you were?” he asked. “They would be much more willing to help.”

“And more willing to betray us, perhaps,” Catryn put in.

Bruhn scowled at that, but said no more.

“Now,” Dahl continued. “You said the Sele was here with you, Catryn?”

“It is,” she answered.

“I would dearly love to see Sele the Plump again,” Dahl said. “It was a good friend and faithful guide to me when I first came to Daunus. Why did it not accompany you here to me?”

“The Sele have no liking for cities, Dahl, as you know, and even less for the buildings of men. It determined to settle into the stable with our horses for the night.”

“Then I will go out to it,” Dahl said. He laid the sword carefully back in the chest and closed it. “Come with me, Bruhn, my friend. You met this remarkable creature once before I believe, but only briefly. You will enjoy its company. Till the morrow, Catryn.”

“Till the morrow, Dahl,” Catryn responded. She watched as the two friends left, Dahl’s arm resting lightly across Bruhn’s shoulders.

Catryn twisted and turned until late that night, uncomfortable on the soft, pillow-strewn bed that had been provided for her. She had become used to a more simple pallet in the domain of the Elders.

She thrust all apprehensions about Bruhn from her. There was nothing to be done about that now—Dahl was obviously determined that he should accompany them. It was Dahl himself who occupied her mind.

Of course, I could not have expected him to be the same, she thought, brushing a sweat-soaked strand of hair out of her eyes. This room was much too warm. She tossed the coverlet aside. Light as it was, it
seemed to be stifling her. He was still Dahl, though. Her best—her only—friend. She loved Dahl dearly and knew that he loved her as well. But things between them could not be now as they used to be. Before, she had been content to let Dahl lead. Reclaiming Taun had been his quest, not hers. She had insisted on taking part only out of her friendship with Dahl, not out of any feeling for this world that was so strange to her then. She had helped him, true. Together they had faced the Usurper who had taken Dahl’s place and would have killed him. Without that help Dahl might well not have succeeded, but then it had been Dahl who had borne the brunt of the battle. Now Taun was as much her world as his. Now the battle that was to come was as much hers as Dahl’s. And with the powers she had been given, it was she who must lead. She who would have the greater strength to face the evil that was threatening them yet again. Would Dahl realize this? Would he accept it?

She leaped out of the soft bed and stumbled over to the fire. Picking up a stick, she thrust and jabbed at the still-smoldering embers until the ashes smothered them and the fire went out. She threw herself back down onto the pillows. Then, in exasperation, she threw the pillows onto the floor as well.

She cast her mind out to the familiarity of the Elders, seeking their comfort, their reassurance. Their aura came to her almost like music, calming her, soothing her. She allowed herself to bathe in it and, finally, she slept.

CHAPTER 3

Catryn awoke, as was her custom, just as the first rays of the morning sun were fingering the sky. She lay for a moment, gathering her thoughts. Now that the time had come, there was a restlessness inside her that was urging her to go this very day—this very moment! She knew Dahl could not move so quickly. He had to leave things in order. Still, it was galling to have to wait.

She leaped off the bed. There was one thing she
could
do. She sped through the halls of Dahl’s palace, casting uneasy glances around her as she went. Everywhere she looked was richness and luxury. It
made her uncomfortable. This grandeur was too much for her. Dahl, however, seemed to have learned to live with it. The few guards she passed bowed unquestioningly. There was such an air of calm here—it seemed so secure. Her mind chilled at the thought of the rising again of the evil she and Dahl had battled and overcome three years ago. Who, now, was it using as its tool?

Even as she responded to the cautious greetings of the people who scurried back and forth in the grand rooms, Catryn continued to worry at the problem. Dahl had overcome the Usurper; there was no one left here who was anything but joyous at the thought of his defeat. But someone there must be, somewhere, she thought as she made her way out of the building and into the cool morning air. And what was he doing to cause the chaos she and the Elders had sensed? The havoc the stranger had described?

She paused for a moment to drink in the freshness of the air. The sun, so like the sun of her old world, was just rising. Birds greeted it with song. The garden was heavy with the scent of dew-laden flowers. For a moment she allowed herself to bask in the peace, then she tossed her head and hurried on. She made her way across to the stable. She pulled open an ancient wooden door and was met with the warm, welcoming smell of horses. The air was full of soft, snuffling sounds and the occasional thump of a hoof. She looked around, searching for one particular horse. The horse with dragonfire in its eyes.

“Catryn, good morrow,” a voice said. She looked toward the shadow of an unoccupied stall. A small figure, half her height, sauntered out, brushing straw from its body. It walked upright, as would a human, but was covered in a smooth, silvery gray pelt that reflected the pale shafts of light; its eyes were big and dark. In one hand it held what looked like some of the horses’ grain. It raised the kernels to its lips and swallowed a large mouthful.

“Wonderful stuff, this,” it said. “Almost as good as what we grow ourselves.”

“Good morrow to you,” Catryn replied, amused in spite of herself. Sele the Plump was one Sele who was hardly ever to be found without a bit of food. Its round shape attested to its hearty appetite. In this it was quite different from all the other Sele, who were sleek and slight.

“So Dahl is making ready for our journey?” the Sele asked. “It was good to see him again last night.”

“He is,” Catryn said. Impatience rose within her again. “I wish we could leave today, but he cannot.”

“So he said,” Sele the Plump replied. “He promised to get his affairs in order as soon as he could, though.” It took another mouthful and munched thoughtfully. “I saw Bruhn last even,” it said then. “It seems he is a most trusted friend of Dahl’s.”

“He is, indeed,” Catryn replied. “It was he who helped Dahl survive when Dahl was taken prisoner by the Usurper and he who helped Dahl rebuild his kingdom.”

“And he will accompany us on this journey?” the Sele asked.

Catryn looked at it quickly. Was there a hesitation in the Sele’s voice? “Yes,” she answered. “Dahl would have it so.” She watched carefully to see the Sele’s response. She knew Sele the Plump well. Trusted its instincts. If it also had doubts … But the Sele forestalled any further conversation on the matter.

BOOK: Whisperings of Magic
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