Fugitive Princ (icon)
Excerpt
FUGITIVE PRINCE
The Wars of Light and Shadow: Volume IV
Alliance of Light: Volume 1
"Damn you! What's afoot?" Dakar shoved between stamping horseflesh, his cloak wadded up in the crook of his elbow, and his feet in grave threat of maceration. "No innkeeper in his right mind trades prize post mounts for two bone-skinny oxen and a wain overdue to be hacked up for kindling.

Arithon flipped the mare's reins over her high neck and mounted. "There's a free singer in trouble." His fingers, flying, adjusted the hang of a stirrup. "Time's short. You'll hear as we ride."

Dakar stuck his toes in to argue, while the horseboy disappeared. A potbellied graybeard scurried from the yard, burly arms clutched round a saddlebag. Slung across his shoulder was a fleece wrapped bundle that looked to be a second lyranthe.

"Here." The man wheezed to a stop and unloaded his burden into Dakar's already taxed charge. "The singer naturally couldn't take his belongings. Left here in irons, poor wretch." A coin sack teetered onto the top of the load, forcing Dakar to bobble sidewards to avert a spill.

"There's his silver, as well," the innkeeper explained. "Mine's an honest house. Won't take advantage of a man caught aback by misfortune."

"What misfortune?" Dakar ejected through the horse-reeking leather of the saddlebags.

"You didn't hear?" The landlord scrubbed moist hands on his apron. "Sunwheel soldiers and a weasel-faced examiner arrested the minstrel I had quartered here. Condemned him to burn. They said that the singing of legends threatens innocents. I tell you, what's happened to good sense? Unkempt louts drew cold steel in my taproom and bedamned to any grace of hospitality. Never mind it's my inn will suffer the blame and the satires."

"This has nothing to do with us," Dakar insisted. He juggled his load, and ineffectively tried to return the unwieldy collection. The lyranthe slipped and banged his knee with a ringing, hollow clunk, and a harness buckle snagged in his mustache. "Will you listen?" he cried in breaking, fresh temper. "My companion and I are not interested."

But the landlord only shouted to roust up some laggard from the tavern. "Wenj! Jump on it! They need those provisions now, not next week!"

The prospect of victuals deflated Dakar's protests. He stood, breathing hard, while the innkeeper narrowed incensed, dark eyes, saying, "Dharkaron's Spear strike the unsavory brutes! My reputation's in ruins. Better I ask for the Fate Wheel's turning than see a free singer take harm during his stay in my tavern. There's curse and misfortune in the breach of a bard's right to shelter."

"You'll have no bad luck," Arithon assured, then beckoned for haste as the horseboy trotted out with a third mount, this one a fancy iron gray gelding with snowflake dapples, and a bridle which trilled, sewn with bells and flamboyant red tassels.

"The singer's own palfrey," the landlord explained through Dakar's flabbergasted glare of mutiny. "Bless you both! If you can spare that poor wretch from the fire, the horses are yours with my compliments. That's the best I can do. Grain fed mounts aren't easy to come by, not since the season's been harsh. But you'll need the advantage to outrun the sunwheel guardsmen."

"Guardsmen?" The sidling horse trod on Dakar's toe. Before he fell over in an avalanche of goods, the horseboy stepped in, hooked the lyranthe and packed saddlebags from his wobbling grasp, and secured them onto the palfrey.

"Rip off the bells," said Arithon, succinct. "We don't need the noise to betray us."

"If you think we can save anybody, you're mistaken," Dakar snapped.

"Oh dear." The innkeeper wilted. While the horseboy paused, the plink of bronze bells choked in dispirited fists, he implored, "Who else is left?"

Dakar shot a venomous glower at Arithon. Green eyes watched him back, implacable as glints in sheared emerald, with all the fresh sorrows of Riverton like a spiked canker beneath.

The Shadow Master insisted, "I gave my promise."

No plea, but a warning; Dakar shut his teeth in balked temper. As the inn's kindly matron fluttered out with a bulging pannier of provender, he shrugged; and discovered the coin sack still grasped in the hand underneath his rucked cloak. That saving fact raised his smile like gilt on bad tin. "Well then. We'll give your bard's rescue our diligent best."

Dakar crammed the silver down the neck of his shirt before the innkeeper recovered his aplomb. The venture perhaps made plausible sense. Gifts of coin and horses were no sort of boon for two fugitives to spurn for the overnice scruple of honesty. While the innkeeper gushed his effusive relief, and Arithon took directions to the hamlet, the Mad Prophet busied himself checking the bay's girth to make sure his fat bulk could stay mounted.

"The burning was to happen between the flour mill and the glassworks," the inn matron finished, while the horseboy tossed over the palfrey's neck rope, and Arithon set heels to the mare.

Caught flat-footed, Dakar forgot to shut his mouth. Departing hooves churned up a gobbet of mud, which vengefully clipped him in the teeth. Hornet mad, he spat grit, clambered astride, and gave chase, while stirrups too long to suit his short legs clanged and battered his dangling ankles.

A league down the road, stretched flat at a gallop, he shouted through a stinging lash of mane. "You can't mean to try this. The risks are enough to serve up our guts raw on the sword of Lysaer's executioner! Even if we bolt now, someone will remember our foolish exchange at the tavern. Since you chose such rash lengths to be quit of those oxen, we'd be wise to turn off of the thoroughfare."

"I spoke in good faith," Arithon flung back, breathless while the horses careened neck and neck through a turn. "Didn't you recognize the silver bosses on the gray palfrey's saddle?"

Dakar's rank epithet allowed he had not.

Arithon steadied his mare's stride and urged greater speed, rankled to acid impatience. "The free singer they're to execute is Felirin the Scarlet." As his mount stretched her nose and thundered ahead, his voice eddied back through the turbulence. "You'll remember Felirin once helped save my life."

"Red tassels, oh Ath, of course!" The Mad Prophet regained recollection; as well as loud clothes, the free singer effected complete indiscretion before bone-headed, townborn intolerance. "Felirin always did know just the right ballad to set headhunters brawling with fists." Dakar tried and failed to match his companion's sinuous agility astride. His seat smacked the saddle, his mount jibbed and pecked; left trailing by three lengths, he hollered admonition, "You know you're turning one minstrel's misfortune into a lunatic's play for disaster."

But Arithon by then had forced too wide a lead to bother to frame a reply.

*

The Mad Prophet scrubbed sweat from his neck and sagged against the gapped boards of the glassmaker's shed. "Ath, I'm too old and fat for this."

His breathing ran ragged. His heart sped too fast. The muffled thunder in his ears came as much from the beat of his own rushed blood, as from the rumble of the mill's vanes, turning. The two frame buildings notched the mild rise, and beyond them, the tide-driven thrash of sea breakers, ripping a white, sandy headland. The hollow between held a spindly row of cottages, a cobbler's shop, and a blacksmith's; the hamlet they had lathered good horses to reach before the free singer's burning.

A glance at the gathering packed onto the commons showed the plight of the minstrel was hopeless.

"You don't have an obligation," he exhorted to Arithon, crouched motionless behind the glass monger's rickle of supplies. "What you face is a clear invitation to suicide, and if you try, I'll have no choice but to invoke the blood oath you swore under Fellowship sanction at Athir."

"Who would answer? The Sorcerers are all gone to Havish for King Eldir's wedding." Arithon did not turn his head, but shifted his vantage between the piled quartz sand, the green piggins of iron oxides, and the sacks imported from the fens of West Shand where saltwort was burned into soda ash.

"Why can't you hear reason for once in your born life?" Dakar clapped his cheeks in frustration. "Now would be a nice time to start listening."

Sweat trickled down his spine, steamed through his clothes by the kilns, which beat rippled air through the gapped boards. While the miller's dogs yapped, and a woman's railing punched through the sonorous bass of crown authority, the sun scudded under a burl of cloud. Catcalls from the bystanders maligned the prisoner on his pile of oiled faggots, no encouragement. With at least ten guardsmen attached to the official now citing the formal charges, Dakar read bad odds. The crown soldiers were from Lysaer's elite division, their sunwheel cloaks white as strewn snowdrifts amid the drab motley of the countryfolk.

Arithon regarded the tableau with the unswerving attention that boded the worst sort of consequence. "Felirin is condemned for singing the ballad of Tal Quorin, as written by Halliron sen Al'duin," he said. "Ath knows where he learned the rendition. He must have spent time with the clans."

"Daelion's ballocks!" Dakar shivered, hands latched in his cloak to shut out the plucking breeze off the sea. "Small wonder they'll burn him."

"They won't." Arithon ducked, doubled back, and slid down beside Dakar. "Since I can't turn that crowd with steel in plain sight, I'll need to borrow your mantle."

The Mad Prophet rammed upright, swearing. "Man, that's a death wish! You dare not be seen here!" Certainly not after an unexpurgated ballad which maligned the s'Ilessid prince as a butcher made blind by self-righteous morality and arrogance.

"Your cloak," Arithon repeated. "Dakar, stop arguing!"

The Shadow Master spun in fraught urgency as the door banged at the front of the glass house. A boy hurried out with a torch from the kiln fires, streaming a tang of dark smoke.

Still Dakar hesitated. "I can't sanction such risk."

"Then I must." The Shadow Master snatched up the drover's oiled wool, ripped the cloth through unwilling fingers until his companion stood stripped to his jerkin.

"Felirin delivered no less than the truth! A free singer's rights should hold his life sacrosanct, and I am Halliron's successor! If I don't stand forth and protest this injustice, can't you see? Any minstrel in Tysan could burn for composing an ordinary satire!"

In Arithon's hands, the vast, caped cloak flared and settled over taut shoulders. "I need you to frame up two runes of mastery for elemental fire. Draw them here, in my palms."

He pressed a twig of charcoal scavenged from the glassmaker's midden into the spellbinder's nerveless grasp. "Damn you, think! Dakar, I can't douse live flame with bare shadow. Not when my mage talent's blinded."

A surging cry from the onlookers marked the moment the sunwheel guard captain bent and set torch to the faggots.

The crown examiner hailed over their noise, "May Daelion Fatemaster find you repentant as you pass his Wheel in judgment!"

"Dharkaron, Ath's angel, avenge me instead!" the condemned musician hurled back. Disheveled, not young, his face scraped and bruised, he let outrage fuel his dignity. His voice razed through the burgeoning crackle of flame and carved the first lines of a bard's curse.

Dakar pressed stubby fingers to his face. He could not look, lest he weep. While the singer's defiance clipped short in a rasping cough, speech failed him. His throat closed, too parched to shape words to garner the ritual permissions.

Arithon's prompt spurred on laggard memory. If his talent was silenced, he still had trained knowledge. The graven discipline of a masterbard's diction bridged a channel for clear concentration, even through the first stifled whimpers from the victim chained on the pyre. Then his slim, urgent hand, thrust through Dakar's damp one, firm enough to steady them both as the branching runes to blight fire were inscribed in crumbling ash.

"Touch anything, even your weapons, and the marks are going to smear," Dakar cautioned.

Arithon tossed off a nod, tucked marked hands out of sight in the folds of the cloak.

Irrevocably committed, he emerged from the cover of the glassworks, strides limned by the diamond-shard heaps of white cullet. He advanced past the rain-channeled mounds of pure sand, straight as Dharkaron Avenger's ebon spear in the furling layers of his leathers. When his head tipped that familiar listening angle askance, a friend could do naught but feel the heart tear for the moment's brazen, doomed courage.

"Daelion Fatemaster wept!" the Mad Prophet ground out. "For merciful sense, turn back."

For one hagridden moment, dogged by the leaping surge of the flames, Arithon raked and measured the backs of the crowd ranged against him. They were fifty against one: the curs circling the fringes in whining excitement; the knots of weeping women, and the glass monger's burly craftsmen, bare arms and furrowed foreheads ruddied by the heat. They still wore hide aprons smeared with ash and the singe prints of cinders, while the rods and tongs of their trade hung cool between idle fists. Beyond them, drawn in from the plow, farmsteaders watched with their droves of barefoot children, the clappers to scare the wild birds from the seed grain clenched silent in slender fingers; next the hands from the mill, blanched head to toe with musty flour; then the granddames and old men, stoic as aged oak with the soldiers between them, impassive in their white and gold cloaks and prideful, expressionless faces.

All eyes tracked the fire, braiding hot tongues of carnelian through the snagged heap of faggots. In horror, in macabre, slack curiosity, the manifest presence of death held them riveted. The free singer writhed now for their sick fascination. His suffering became a spectacle, supple hands rammed taut in steel bonds, all the gifted splendor of his voice broken hoarse as the inevitable, blistering pain cracked through its fallible timbre.

Arithon's survey touched last on the crown's high official, his brilliance sullied by the risen smoke of his sacrifice, and his righteousness backed by the helmed ranks of his retinue.

Lord Examiner Vorrice sat enthroned on a plank propped across the clouded bricks that were pigs of raw glass, stacked ready for export to town craftshops. He wore the sunwheel of vested authority with an unswerving dedication, his jowls shaven, and his fleshy mouth tucked like pleats basted into raw silk. His view was untrammeled as the slight, dark haired Masterbard broke his stance and stepped forward, voice raised and soaring in song.

The verses and melody in sere acapella were the same ones performed long ago for Halliron's widow at Innish.

Dakar heard the words, mute. He sensed the true notes spin their harmonic magic. This was the appeal that Arithon's dead master had written for his art, a plea for mercy and a cry for understanding from a family abandoned through the demands imposed by his talent. In an expression of distilled pain, Halliron had claimed freedom to pledge his life to the immortal tradition of music.

Flattened against the glass shed, Dakar felt the first lines stab through him, whetted to a lance of bright power. Stripped of accompaniment, Arithon's voice became a honed weapon. The spare, severe handling of each flowing lyric came tempered to unassailable force. Another step, a second verse; song unstrung every tie of resistance and stormed the floodgates of emotion.

Arithon crossed the beaten earth of the commons. Through the riptide of release as his powers reached resonance, his directive held true: to captivate, then to bind, through a suspension of irresistible beauty. On his makeshift dais, the Lord High Examiner's pouched chin jerked in startlement. Below him, heads turned, those hatless and wind-tangled and bald, and others in gold-blazoned helms. Then the bard who demanded in naked, clean song reached their midst.

He would be recognized. The yelping cur silenced. Humanity paused, pierced through by a masterbard's construct of absolute, unalloyed sorrow.

A figure alone, Arithon parted them. His nerve stayed as iron. Above the evil crack of caught flame, his melody unreeled, simple and fine as poured water.

The seabreeze now wafted a sickening stink of singed flesh.

Sheltered, still safe, Dakar laced his hands over the clench in his gut. "Ath, merciful Ath."

Nearest to the pyre, Arithon s'Ffalenn must endure through the reek of the fumes. His concentration must not waver. Pitch and syntax must cleave to perfection, even through the ugly, shuddering moan as the victim's gray head thrashed to the first nip of agony.

The bard's step trod its measure, nerveless, detached. His voice did not quaver. Each sustained note razored out in true pitch, harmony and word interlaced to create one matchless tapestry. Power as wide as new morning forced the horror at bay; drew each of the onlookers singly and turned them. Pitted against time, and the fire's cruel lead, Arithon s'Ffalenn weaned the watchers away from their morbid fascination. He thralled them to his art with spellbinding clarity. Each step, each staid beat, he must be aware: once Felirin gave way to a full throated scream, his effort would be shattered wholesale.

The enchantment he fashioned was founded on nothing beyond a fugitive brilliance of sound.

Second to second, he fused his art's focus. His will, his voice, his irrefutable bearing netted guards and bystanders, and held them in rooted attention. Dakar watched them, terrified, aware of the flaw in the odds; his heart skipped for cold knowledge that one whelming dissonance would splash those superb ties of empathy to ruins.

All eyes tracked the bard, now, except for one rheumy, bent grandmother.

"Damn her, she's deaf," Dakar whispered through the unbidden, salt taste of tears. Sweat dripped through his beard. His lungs felt strapped in lead. The thud of each heartbeat slammed hammer to anvil against the locked bone of his sternum.

Arithon threw back his head. Face tipped to sky, he hurled all he was into the song's final verse.

The talent he commanded ran through him like light, and snatched the stilled air into feeling.

Nothing moved but the flames. Dakar, himself paralyzed, felt mage-sense cry warning. Such winding power as this could not be indefinitely sustained. The tension had climbed to the threshold of peril, with each listener poised like blown bubbles of glass that the first jarring tap must collapse.

Then at last, elbowed by the wizened grandfather at her side, the recalcitrant old woman turned her head.

"Now!" Dakar whispered. "Arithon, you have them, act now!"

Immersed mind and heart in the throes of his art, his audience netted like fish, the bard freed his hands from the cloak. Dakar croaked the ritual word of release; and the sketched charcoal runes to bind fire laid into Arithon's palms raised their element to primal awareness.

The bard responded, still singing. Through that offered gateway to conjury, his gift of spun shadow descended, sharp as the snap of flung wool.

While all eyes were averted, an unnatural darkness clapped down and smothered the flames on the pyre.

Felirin broke into choking, hysterical sobs.

Throughout, the descending beat of sung melody never once missed precise rhythm. Each note rang true, each word stitched its place to hold the disparate bystanders enthralled. In timing to raise the fine hairs at the neck, Arithon s'Ffalenn reached the dais. He stopped. He hurled down his falling, last line like a gauntlet; and fell silent at the feet of the crown's Lord Examiner.

In the absence of art, the unchanged voice of nature ground as a shock on the ears.

Past the ramshackle eaves of the craft sheds, surf slammed and hissed over unyielding sand. The racketing creak of the mill's turning vanes, and the shrill calls of gulls grated on dream-wakened nerves. Against that structureless absence of melody, Felirin's whimpers struck like a whiplash of shame.

Through the riveted focus cauterized by his art, Arithon s'Ffalenn addressed the robed man on the dais. "What is a song, or a word but a thought given wing? A man should not burn for expression of ideas. The sentence passed here offers frightening precedents. Or has forthright speech become one and the same thing, to be tried as a deed that caused harm? Do we allow you to end a man's life in a fire because you disagree with his music?"

"That's rank impertinence!" Vorrice leaned forward, one hand raised to summon his guardsmen, and the knuckles of the other splayed over the pristine lap of his robe. "This was a crown trial, held under seal of the realm's lawful regent." His tight, narrowed eyes refused the appeal, and his brows clumped above his wedged nostrils. "I see no grounds for any commoner to intervene with the works of Prince Lysaer's justice."

Arithon stood his ground, arms lightly crossed beneath the caped shoulders of the drover's cloak. "I'm Athera's titled Masterbard, affirming the law of the land and a free singer's right, as you see." Chiseled, imperious, yet in the crowd's sympathy through the spelled meshes tied by his song, he cracked a command to the guards. "You there! Unshackle the minstrel you have wronged. He's no felon, but the victim of injustice."

The ploy almost worked. Two soldiers broke ranks in reflexive obedience.

Vorrice surged to his feet. "Hold hard! Are we half-witted dupes to jump for the first soft-hearted meddler who speaks?" To Arithon, he shouted, "You presume far too much!" The snap of his rage reordered his guardsmen, and a murmur arose, as one, then another of the bystanders awakened to the fact that the flames in the pyre had extinguished.

"There's sorcery here, sure as the mother who bore me," someone cried.

Farmhands and craftsmen made signs against evil, while matrons snatched their children and hustled them to safety inside the craft sheds and cottages.

Dakar ripped out an oath, while fear stirred a palpable current through the gathering. The unarmed onlookers crowded a step back, while first one, then another guard's sword sang from the sheaths. They advanced, bristling; not to unlock shackles, but to hem Arithon s'Ffalenn inside a nervous circle of steel.

"You mistake what you see," Vorrice said, his confidence oiled by the shielding ranks of his guardsmen. He smoothed a wrinkle from his robe and explained in condescending forbearance, "Felirin does not burn as a singer. He stands duly sentenced as the minion of the Master of Shadow. As such, every man must agree, he poses grave danger to all of us. No masterbard's privilege can excuse those who side with the Spinner of Darkness. Such license would lead us to ruin. My given office, by the seal of this realm, is to rout out hidden servants of evil. You could be one of them. Tell me your name."

"Tell me yours, instead, puppet!" A brazen contempt sharpened Arithon's voice, clear over the crowd's stirring murmurs behind him. "Or do you not wear another man's gloves, and parrot another man's lies to give yourself airs and importance? Show these people here you can think for yourself. Or take my promise, you'll have a satire the five kingdoms won't readily forget!"

"Remove him!" snapped Vorrice. "He has upset proceedings."

The guardsmen pressed in, hampered. They were many ranged against one, without proper space to wield arms. Dakar watched them close in, racked by agonized helplessness. Like the stag menaced by the jaws of a wolf pack, their quarry must know: the least step in retreat would trigger aggression against him.

Arithon's feet shifted stance beneath the cloak as he answered in searing, soft mockery. "A contest of force cannot make your cause right. You're a misled zealot, or else hopelessly stupid."

Vorrice bristled. "Should I care what you think?" Gold braid flashed at his cuff as he snapped knobby fingers at his guard captain. "Clap him in irons! He'll share the minstrel's pyre. Let him die in anonymity. The mother who named him won't even weep when the sea wind has scattered his ashes."

"But his mother didn't name him," a gruff, broken voice cut in.

"No," Dakar groaned.

Forgotten at the stake, sick and bewildered from inhaled smoke and the blistering pain of burned legs, the condemned minstrel cleared his throat and spoke out. "You don't know whom you address?"

Felirin raised his smudged face and laughed in dazed triumph for the fact he still breathed, singed and degraded, but graced with an unlooked for protector. "You face the Master of Shadow himself, called Arithon by his maternal grandfather. And burn him? Just try! With my own eyes, in Tornir Peaks, I once saw his birth gift quench the fires spat from the jaws of a Khadrim."

Arithon's shout pealed through the crowd's shocked astonishment. "Fool!" he cried to Vorrice. As though he were not cornered, nor helplessly outmatched, he surged ahead, seized the towering mistake of Felirin's loose tongue as a tactic of raw desperation. "Did you think you could threaten a sorcerer's minion with a mere ten guardsmen to defend you?"

He hurled off the cloak. The scream of black steel drawn from his sheath came entwined with a soundless descent of pure darkness.

Then that seamless, unnatural night burst in turn, smashed asunder by unbridled light.

The guardsman singled out as Arithon's first target reeled back as the runes in the longsword, Alithiel, flared into white mage-fire in just cause of Felirin's defense. The Paravian blade in a masterbard's hand could not but welcome a free singer's right to disseminate truth, clothed in the fine art of music.

Its cry of bright power sheared the air into recoil.

Undone by terror before blows could be struck, the sunwheel soldier fled. Behind the glass house, Dakar dropped prone as the untamed chord which had first Named the winter stars knifed through the ramshackle hamlet.

Seared blind by fierce light, struck deaf by a paean of resounding celebration, every man ranged against Arithon s'Ffalenn lost his will to attack. Thought faltered and stopped. Grand harmony grown too refined to endure held them rooted, until mortal spirit longed to escape the bounds of its own living flesh. Onlookers unmanned by sheer splendor broke down and wept for a rapture too mighty for reason to encompass, and for a beauty too sharp for the clay of earthbound senses.

The enchantment built to a shattering crescendo. Reduced to shrill screams, Vorrice cowered on the dais. His less fortunate guards lost wits to flee as the land itself woke in reply. The ground shook to that spiraling resonance of celebration. Dust flew as the wild winds sprang aloft, to spin the arch of the sky into ecstasy. Caught in the breech, man's works became winnowed like so much chaff set to the flail.

The glass pigs whined into crystalline cracks. First one, then another of them sheared through and collapsed to a sleeting slide of white fragments. The crown's Lord Examiner toppled from skewed planks and landed, raked bloody and weeping. None heard his distress. Any whose feelings had maligned Felirin became trapped in the well of raised force from the sword.

Dead wood burst new leaves. Forged metal heated in sympathetic vibration, until swords and armor wracked apart into smashed links and tinseled shards. Within heartbeats, the prostrate, stupefied guard stood stripped to the shreds of their gambesons.

At the apex of power, charged head to foot by a wave of unbridled joy, Arithon s'Ffalenn cried aloud. Athera's titled Masterbard, sound was his element. Ceded a cresting tide of roused earthforce, he required no mage-sight to apply the fine dictates of his training.

Dakar thrust to his feet, prepared for the outcome. The Teir's'Ffalenn had accomplished much the same feat before, when an accident of song had unleashed the grand mysteries during a summer solstice in Jaelot.

Arithon raised his schooled voice. Merged with the harmonies fired by the sword, he sang the exacting resonance to wake steel. The bolts snapped in Felirin's fetters. Chain and shackles clanged free. Limned in the glare of the Paravian guardspell, Arithon kicked aside smoking bundles of faggots. Cinders whirled, sullen, in his wake as he reached the dazed singer and shouldered the man's failing weight.

"Run!" he implored.

In his hand, the sword passed through its crescendo. The sheeting flare off the runes bled from white to silver, then sank, sparkling into subliminal haze. While Arithon spun shadow to confuse their escape, Dakar reached his side, hands outthrust to stave off Felirin's collapse.

He said, urgent, "You don't have to walk far, we have horses."

Together, he and Arithon hauled the singer away from the charred bundles of faggots. Drunken flight carried them through the dazed guardsmen. They wove past the stacked saltwort, and ducked under the eaves of the craft shed, to explosions of fragmenting glassware as the sword's diminished vibration unleashed fresh destruction inside.

To Arithon, in horrified admiration, Dakar gasped, "Ath preserve! If you planned this, you know you've just handed Lysaer's Alliance all the fighting cause they need to raise the whole countryside against you."

Running as though traced in a frozen strobe of lightning, Arithon stung back in dry irony, "That's presupposing we manage to survive the next hour. Once that examiner and his guard find their wits, they'll be at our heels like fell vengeance."
© Janny Wurts