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Authors: Karleen Bradford

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BOOK: Whisperings of Magic
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“We have tried in many ways to see into the north,” Tauna told them, “but something is blocking us.”

“You must journey there and discover what it is,” Ygrauld said.

“And do battle again, if necessary,” Dahl answered.

“Yes,” Ygrauld agreed. “And it will be necessary, I am certain of it.”

“Catryn has learned well,” Tauna answered. “She will guide you, Dahl.”

Dahl stood tall, his face as cold and set as the stone surrounding them. Only the dragon scar flared red on his cheek.

“I will not fail,” he said.

Catryn thought of how nearly she had failed and her face burned. Was it truly because she did not want Dahl to doubt her that she had not told him, or was it shame? And was it shame also that had kept her from telling him about her vision? Shame at the terror it had awoken in her? Was she so afraid of Dahl thinking her weak? And if she were, was that not a weakness in itself? Questions she did not want to dwell on right now. She pushed them from her mind.

Dahl left, making his obeisances. Catryn would have followed but Tauna spoke, halting her.

“What is it that you have not told us?” she asked.

Catryn realized that she could hide nothing in this company. Slowly, reluctantly, she told of the magic of the stars. The calling that had nearly led to her death.

When she had finished, mortified at having exposed such a vulnerability, she could not suppress a cry. “So soon! So early on in our quest! How am I to lead Dahl if I am so weak?”

“You are not weak, Catryn,” Tauna replied. “You are but learning still.” Then she added, “There is more that you have not told us, is there not?”

“Yes, there is.” Catryn said, resigned now to admitting all. She told them then of her vision. The looming walls, the voice that spoke to her. To her surprise, it was a relief to finally speak of it. The Elders’ reaction was a surprise as well.

“It was a mistake, perhaps, for that power to reveal itself to you so openly, Catryn,” Ygrauld said.

“A mistake?” Catryn echoed.

“Yes,” Ronauld agreed. “He has given you warning. You can arm yourself now against him.”

“Yes, you are right,” Catryn said slowly. “But I worry about Bruhn. He is full of anger and fear. He resents my friendship with Dahl.”

“The path Bruhn will take is not yet formed, Catryn. You must help him find the way, if you can,” Ronauld said.

“And put your trust in those who go with you,” Tauna added. “You have learned much, Catryn, but even though you have been given powers far beyond any that mere humans possess, you must learn to trust as well. You and Dahl must strive together if you are to save Taun.”

The Protector rose stiffly from his seat. “Come with me now,” he said. “We have work to do this night.”

Catryn bowed her head to the Elders, then turned to follow his halting figure out of the cavern. Back,
through familiar tunnels, into familiar caves. Her mind was full and confused. It was with relief that she set herself yet again to be his student.

In the morning they all assembled once more before the Elders. Catryn had not slept, but she felt renewed and refreshed after her time with the Protector.

“Approach, Dahl,” Ygrauld commanded.

Dahl did as he was bade.

“Hold out to me your sword. Your father’s blade.”

Dahl unsheathed the glistening weapon and held it out in front of him, resting flat across both palms. Ygrauld rose and stepped down to meet him. He laid his hands upon the blade. As he did, time seemed to pause. For one moment there was a silence beyond silence. The sword began to glow.

“This sword and this sword alone will slay the evil you will face, Dahl, King of Taun.” The words seemed to come out of the very air, deep and sonorous, filling the void. “Wield it well and with strength. But beware, it can be used for evil as much as for good.”

All eyes were upon Dahl and the Elder. But at that moment, Catryn looked over at Bruhn. He, too, was staring, but his focus was on the sword itself, and the look on his face was one of hunger.

The parting was somber. The Sele looked as if it were well aware of what faced them, but that had not ruffled its usual air of calm determination. Bruhn, however, seemed to move as if he were in a trance. He kept his eyes lowered and would not meet Catryn’s gaze. Catryn determined to speak to Dahl about him as soon as she had a chance.

She took Dahl aside as they were saddling up their mounts and loading on bags well stuffed with provisions.

“I am concerned about Bruhn,” she began. “He is troubled and fearful. I think you should send him back to Daunus.”

Dahl looked at her in surprise. “Bruhn is anxious,” he said. “And he has every right to be fearful. This is a dangerous quest we embark on. But he is not a coward, Catryn. He endured much as a slave to the Usurper.”

“I would not argue with that, Dahl,” Catryn persisted, “but that is not the kind of bravery that will be required now.”

“Bruhn is my friend, Catryn,” Dahl replied. “As are you. You need not fear for him. And I would not for the world insult him so by sending him back.”

Catryn took a deep breath. “There is more,” she said, then told him about the night she had caught Bruhn watching them—and about the wave of anger and resentment she had read in his mind.

Dahl remained silent for a long while after she had finished speaking. He busied himself with tightening
the girth on Magnus. He checked it over and over. More than what was necessary. Finally Magnus snorted and took a few irritated paces away from him.

Catryn wondered if Dahl were remembering the words of the Elder. There was doubt there, too, about Bruhn.

At last Dahl raised his eyes and gazed squarely at her.

“I cannot believe Bruhn would deliberately spy on us,” he said. “And I cannot condemn him for what you say is in his mind.”

Catryn felt her temper surge. Dahl saw it and reacted quickly.

“I do not doubt you, Catryn,” he said. “I believe what you say to be true. But perhaps the fault lies with me. Perhaps I have not been aware enough of how Bruhn feels. It must be hard for him to take second place to you when for these past long years he has always been first in my regard.”

“He is a danger to our endeavor,” Catryn said, controlling her anger with difficulty.

“That I cannot believe,” Dahl answered, shaking his head decisively. “This is my problem, Catryn. I will deal with it.”

“It might be a problem for us all,” Catryn argued. “I think he should go back.”

“I will not ask that of him,” Dahl repeated. “He is my friend. He has never proven himself anything other. I
must
believe in him, Catryn.”

Catryn bit her lip. To argue further would only
open a rift between her and Dahl. That she would not do. Ronauld had said that the path Bruhn would take was not yet formed. Perhaps her fears were groundless. She would trust in Dahl’s decision.

The Elder had also urged her to help Bruhn, a small voice in her mind reminded her, but she could not see how she could do that. What she
could
do was watch and be on her guard.

It was almost a shock to return to the real world of Taun. They emerged through the portal, leaving the sunlit, peaceful domain of the Elders, only to find that the rain they had left had built itself into a true storm.

“We cannot travel in this,” Catryn declared. “We must take shelter.” For a moment she was tempted to lead them back through the portal, then dismissed the thought. There was cause for haste—she could feel it in every bone of her body. They could not turn back.

They found a thick grove of trees whose branches protected them from the worst of the weather and huddled together under it. For the most part they were all silent, watching the rain stream down. It seemed as if each one of them had much to think about. By afternoon the rain lessened, then finally stopped. They shook out their wet cloaks, dried off the horses and prepared to resume the journey. By the
time they were on their way again, the sun had come out fully and the forest was full of the scents of good wet earth and drying vegetation. The small animals that lived there also began to emerge from their shelters and scurry around. Catryn decided to ignore the persistent worry that insisted on gnawing at her and regard the clearing of the weather as a good omen.

“Our journey truly begins now,” she announced to Dahl.

“It does,” he agreed.

They came to a village before sunset.

“Shall we look for a tavern or make camp?” Dahl asked.

Catryn considered the possibilities.

“I think we should look for an inn or a tavern,” she said. “We need to talk with the people and discover whether anything of note has been happening here.” She did not think there would be since they were still fairly close to Daunus, but the discovery that their enemy might have a portal so near to them had unsettled her.

Dahl agreed. They made their way into the village. All seemed normal here. The road led through the center and was lined with small cottages. Flowers bloomed in front of stoops, vegetable plots could be seen on the sides of the dwellings and in behind. Smoke from fires issued forth from the chimneys of the houses. It looked as if most of the villagers were inside partaking of their evening meals. The few people still abroad returned their greetings pleasantly,
without any apparent curiosity. They must have seemed just a group of weary travelers, searching for lodging. Certainly no one recognized Dahl as the king in his peasant clothes. At the far side of the village a tavern sign creaked in the wind outside a small inn. They rode their horses into the yard and were met by a stable boy.

“I’ll stable your mounts for you,” he called to them. “And rub them down for you. Nothing but the finest oats here. I’ll take marvelous good care of them for you, I promise.”

Catryn smiled. The boy was working hard in hopes of a few coins, obviously. She would make certain he received them.

“Thank you,” she replied as she dismounted from her horse. A blanket covered his wings—she would not have the boy see them.

“I will care for this horse,” Sele the Plump put in quickly as the boy came toward them. “We will be grateful to you for tending to the others.”

The boy’s eyes widened as he looked fully at the Sele.

“I am a Sele,” Sele the Plump replied patiently. “We are a race that lives to the south of you.”

“Yes, sir,” the boy answered, stammering slightly. “Of course, sir.”

“I will bed down in the stable with this horse, as well,” Sele the Plump said.

At this the boy’s eyes popped even more but he obviously dared not demur.

“Of course, sir. Of course. Right this way, sir. Follow me, sir.”

“You may desist from calling me sir,” Catryn heard the Sele saying as he prepared to follow the boy into the stable. He turned back briefly. “I give you good night, my friends. I will see you on the morn.”

“Good night to you, too,” Catryn called back, and was echoed by Dahl and Bruhn.

It was with relief that she walked into the welcoming warmth of the tavern. A fire burned brightly. They were shown to a table and within minutes served with food and mead. Catryn found her head nodding before she could finish the half of what had been placed before her. She had not realized how tired she was. But all seemed normal here. The room was crowded with people, full of noise and talk and smoke. None here seemed aware of any problems anywhere.

“There would seem to be naught wrong in this village,” Dahl said, looking around as well.

“Perhaps it is all a mistake,” Bruhn said. “Perhaps there
is
nothing wrong anywhere.” He sounded wishful.

“Do you think I am so misguided then?” Catryn asked. “Do you think the Elders and I have brought you all this way by
mistake
?” She was weary beyond belief and careless with her words.

But it was Dahl who answered. “Of course, he does not, Catryn. You cannot fault him for hoping.”

“I can fault him for doubting me,” Catryn replied.
“I have powers you cannot even dream of, Bruhn,” she snapped. “I have spent three long years learning to perfect them. Taun needs me and I must be obeyed. You
must
understand that. Understand it and accept it. I will not be questioned.”

BOOK: Whisperings of Magic
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