The biggest problem in using relocating stones was that you had to be able to picture exactly where you were going. Dorien had to get close to the Palace of Den to pick up Karayana’s trail, but not unwittingly arrive somewhere where he might be recognised. Carefully, he pieced the scene together in his mind, remembering all the minute details that made it into the location he wanted. Grasping the stone in the palm of his hand, he began to chant. The first time he had done this, it had exhausted him. Now it was as easy as walking.
He opened his eyes and grunted in satisfaction. He had landed perfectly. The forest around him was gloomy, and he stood quietly for a time, attuning his senses. No one was nearby. Treading softly, he found his way onto a narrow path and set off towards the Palace. Observations had shown him that this route was used very little; however, just before he started the steep climb onto the plateau, his senses detected a shift in the energies behind him. He froze, sifting his way through the life patterns of plant life, animal life, birds… and there it was. Or rather, there they were. Two equine energy patterns were coming his way at a gallop. If there were horses, then there would be riders. Stepping behind the huge bole of a tree, he wrapped his cloak around himself and stood rooted.
Two Knights shot past him. He watched their progress through the cloth of his hood and nearly gave himself away when he spotted the insignia on the saddlecloths. Forcing his heart to stay calm, he waited until they had disappeared from view, and quickly got out the stone again. This was something The Master needed to know. Within a minute, he was back in his old room and heading for the door.
“Sire, two Knights of Isil-Ra have arrived.” A servant accosted Morden as he made his way to the stables. A ride always helped clear his head and he really needed to think straight.
“Knights of Isil-Ra? Are you sure?”
“They do bear the emblem, and they are… definitely not ordinary Knights.”
“I better take a look,” he said, resigning himself to this next problem.
“They asked to see the Lady Liasna as well, Sire.”
“She is still in my study. Ask her to join us.”
“Of course, sire.”
Morden advanced towards the small crowd that had gathered around a table halfway down the dining hall. People stepped aside as they saw him and, gradually, a hush fell. Seated at the table, tucking heartily into fresh bread and chicken, were two sombre men. They didn’t look up at his approach, but carried on talking in undertones, as if completely unaware of the silence around them. Before interrupting the two, Morden turned to face the few serving women and guards that had not already taken it upon themselves to leave, and shooed them off with a wave of his hand. Then he took a seat opposite them. They looked up at once, and stood as a pair, bowing their heads, before seating themselves back down.
“Sir, we greet you as Knights of Isil-Ra. We come in peace.”
Morden did not look at the speaker – he was too busy scrutinising the face of the other.
“Azti?” he asked, incredulous. “You are Azti.” Morden looked into the eyes of the Knight and knew he was right. The man looked back and drew a deep breath before speaking.
“Once I was he. Now I am a Knight of Isil-Ra. My name is unimportant.”
“But you died. Blakely reported you dead.” Morden couldn’t believe his eyes.
“But he did not bring you my body. I was burned enough that I would have been dead. But as I began to walk the path of light, I was called by Isil-Ra. He bade me turn back and face the pain and be his servant for as long as he needs me.”
“I cannot believe you did not at least write and tell your Father that you are alive.”
A look of pain swept swiftly across the face of the Knight.
“The Azti you knew died that day. To explain more would break my secret code. I am a Knight of Isil-Ra.”
“Well then, Sir Knight, explain to me why you have returned here if you do not want your Father to know you still live,” Morden said, beginning to feel angry with the young man.
Corli had suffered so much with the death of his eldest son, which had happened only six months after the death of his wife. Morden respected his friend greatly. To have survived what he had gone through, and to support Marti so well at the same time had been something that Morden doubted he could ever find the strength to do.
“I was sent to protect your wife and children on their journey. It was thought that you would trust me to do the job well.”
“How did you know that Liasna is going on a journey?” Morden was getting suspicious.
The Knight shrugged.
“I was told.”
“By whom?” Morden demanded loudly.
The other Knight put up a quieting hand and glanced around the room.
“Please, Sir. We are here to help, not cause you trouble. You have to understand that our Order is bound by secrecy and this is necessary. Our orders come from one higher than us. I cannot give you his name or tell you how he knows what he knows, except to remind you that we are Knights of Isil-Ra.”
The Knight stared hard at Morden.
“You expect me to believe…”
“Yes Morden, he expects you to believe. Good afternoon gentleman.”
Liasna seated herself next to her husband and then looked at the two men opposite her.
“I always hoped you were real, but I thought you gone into history books, never to return. I am glad you are here in these troubled times. We seem to need…” Liasna paused, staring at the man opposite her. “Azti,” she whispered, shock showing clearly on her face.
“No, he’s not. He’s a Knight of Isil-Ra,” Morden said sarcastically.
“It’s alright, he can explain it all as he escorts you to Torlund, for that apparently is why they are here.”
Azti looked down at his unfinished food, while the other Knight cleared his throat.
“Actually, I am to stay here and help you defend your borders and the surrounding kingdoms, especially Torlund. We think that Deverous will send his legions out soon, and they will want to get into the Tors.”
“And you think it is wise for me to send my wife and children there. If the devil himself wants something in Torlund I will not stand in his way.” Morden sat back and crossed his arms.
Liasna gave her husband a withering look, before turning back to the Knights.
“Please tell us as much as you can. It sounds like you are preparing us for war.”
“That may be the case, and as yet we have no idea of scale or times involved. But we do know that something will happen soon.”
Liasna looked to Morden, but he just stared at Azti across the table.
“Although your presence here gives a feeling of security,” she said, “the fact that you are here in the first place is rather a frightening thought. Anything I have read of you says you only appear at times of great need to mankind. I suppose that means this is one of those times,” she finished quietly.
“Yes, my Lady. This is one of those times,” Azti said, his tone grave. “We only ever know what we need to know, and we never question our orders. It is not our place to do so.”
Liasna looked at the Knight next to Azti. She decided he was the elder of the two, although a glance at his face would tell you they were of an age. But his eyes were older, much older than Azti’s. So perhaps the old legend of immortality was true, she pondered. He carried on speaking.
“Isil-Ra and Devorous have had a falling out, over what we don’t know. We do know that something in the Tors is important to Devorous and we need to keep him out, at least until you discover what it is he wants.”
“Me?” Liasna was startled.
“Yes, my Lady. Without your help, we are told that we will never find what we look for. Also, your children must accompany you on your trip. They will definitely be safer in the Tors than here. With the armies of all Estlund fighting to keep Devorous away,, the Tors will be safe, for now at least.”
“Your words do not fill me with much confidence Knight,” he said harshly, leaning forward against the table.
“My words and my honour are all I can give you, Sir,” the Knight retorted.
“And I will give you my solemn oath that my life will be lost before the lives of your wife and children,” Azti said.
“Your life has already been lost once. Your oath doesn’t count for much.” Morden pushed back his chair and got to his feet.“I suggest that you leave here now.” Morden began to walk away.
The elder Knight stood also.
“I am afraid, Sir, that we have orders to carry out. We will not be leaving until we have completed our tasks, with or without your leave.”
Liasna rose quickly to stave off any words that Morden would throw at the knight. “Morden and I will speak. We have much that we need to discuss.”
She heard Morden storm out off the hall, but didn’t turn to see.
“I will have quarters prepared for you both. And please, Azti, go and see your Father and try and explain to him how you are alive.”
“I cannot do that, my Lady. And I require that you do not tell him of me. He will not see me here.”
“But other people will recognise you and tell him. He would be so upset if that happened,” Liasna pleaded.
“No one will recognise me. You and Morden had to see who I was. We needed to gain your trust. Everyone else will think me but a Knight.”
Liasna stared into his face and tried not to see the handsome little boy that had plagued his Father to teach him to use a sword. She touched his arm. “You will always have my trust, but I think that Morden remembers his friend’s pain too much to ever grant you that wish.”
She smiled sympathetically at the grave eyes, and then left the hall to search out her angry husband.
Azti was a long time watching her go.
Morden was in no mood for talking. So many feelings were rushing round inside him, betrayal being uppermost. Liasna, his beautiful wife, the person he trusted most, had lied to him as long as he had known her. The pain of that thought was unbearable. Now she wanted to take his children on some perilous mission to do God knows what? And then Azti. How could he not speak to his best friend about the return of his son? Marti going missing had been a big worry to Corli, but he had hidden it well. There was small comfort in the thought that he and Karayana might be together. Azti returned from the dead would put strength back in him. Or would it? He was certainly not the same young man who had left on that fateful mission four years earlier.
Morden struck his desk in frustration. He felt drained of any power. Everyone else was making decisions without him.
He turned as the door opened. Liasna walked in.
“I can’t talk to you right now,” Morden said gruffly.
“Well it’s now or never, Morden. I’m leaving in the morning.”
She walked over to the cabinet in the corner and poured them both a large brandy.
“Here. I think we both need this.”
Morden picked up the glass and swirled the dark liquid around inside it.
“I know you, Morden,” she said firmly, “and most of what you’re feeling is injured pride. But we have to put our feelings to one side for now. There are more important issues here than you and me.”
Morden took a sip of his brandy. He said nothing. Liasna sighed and continued.
“If I can do anything to help Karayana, then I will. I have a feeling, though, that this is much bigger than we ever imagined.”
She looked down at her untouched brandy held in her lap and bit her lip.
“Morden, please don’t make this harder than it is.”
He drained his brandy and placed the glass down carefully in the centre of the desk.
“What do you want me to say? That I am happy that you are going away and taking my children with you? That I will be fine without you?” He didn’t look at her, just shook his head slowly. “That I forgive you the lies?”
Now he looked at her. He watched her trying to stem back the tears. She took a swig of brandy and coughed. She looked at him and pleaded with her eyes. And he wanted to take her and hold her. He didn’t want her to go. But he couldn’t make himself do it. She drained the last of the brandy, placed her glass next to his on the desk, and then made for the door. With her hand on the latch, she looked back at him and gave him a watery smile.
“Yes,” she whispered in answer. And then she was gone.
Morden stared at the two glasses side by side in front of him, and then with a roar he picked them up together and threw them at the fireplace.
Mona was heading for the audience hall. She had overheard two serving girls discussing the handsome Knights that had arrived and considered it only polite, as the eldest daughter still here, to go and introduce herself. The serving girls believed the men to be Knights of Isil-Ra, but Mona had decided they must be gravely mistaken. Everyone knew them to be a legend, a fairy tale. But Knights were still Knights, and as far as Mona was concerned, any new men in the palace were worth a look at. She reached the main double doors just as they opened, and nearly walked straight into a very handsome man. Trying to appear unruffled, Mona smiled demurely and offered a small courtesy.
“I am sorry, my Lady Mona, are you alright? You must excuse me for not looking where I am going.”
Mona looked up, pleased. This man knew who she was already.
“You are forgiven, Sir Knight. Might I enquire if you and your friend have everything you need?”
“Yes, my Lady,” the other Knight spoke now, “ we have been well provided for.”
Mona thought frantically. What could she say next to keep them talking?
“Would you like a tour of the gardens? They are very beautiful at this time of year. In fact, people travel quite a distance to admire them, I hear.”
The handsome one glanced at his friend and Mona had to try very hard not to jiggle about. Please say yes, please say yes, she chanted silently.
“Perhaps a quick tour en route to our rooms,” he conceded with a grin that made her weak at the knees.
“Which wing are you in?” she asked politely, falling into step between the Knights.
Mona managed to find something to say all the way to the gardens, at the same time noting the jealous looks she was receiving from every female she passed. Once outside, she faked a turn of the ankle, and found herself being helped to the nearest bench, a Knight on each arm.
Her heart had never pounded so fast, and she was glad of the excuse of the pain, which nicely covered the fact that she was lost for words.
“Perhaps we should help you to your rooms, my Lady,” Azti suggested.
“Oh no, no. I’ll be quite alright in a minute, thank you,” Mona said, trying to catch her breath. It was all well and good talking to nice men, but what did you actually say to them? Mona blamed Karayana. If she had been a normal sister, then Mona could have listened in on her conversations and learned what it was you talked to young men about.
“Tell me, my Knights. What exactly are you here for?”
Mona didn’t notice the small smile that passed between the two men above her head.
“Why, my Lady, I am to escort you and your mother and younger brother to Torlund,” Azti said.
“Oh.” What could she say now? She couldn’t think of anything more exciting than being escorted by this man. She would be able to speak to him every day, and go to sleep knowing that he would be standing watch over her every night. Mona felt a warm glow in her stomach.
“That will be nice,” she said.
“Do you think you can walk now, my Lady?” Azti asked politely.
“Probably, if I have an arm to lean on.” Mona said dramatically.
“That can be arranged.” The Knights got to their feet and Azti offered Mona his arm. They helped her to the garden room, where she very politely gave them leave to go. She waited for what seemed like an eternity for them to be well out of sight, and then half ran, half walked to the family rooms.
Briyden was there with Loemo, playing at toy soldiers. One half of the room had become a battleground and Mona was appalled to see one of her old dolls in the middle of it, painted with red paint.
“Where did you get my doll?”
She was about to storm across the many soldiers strewn across the floor and grab the now ruined toy when she decided against it.
“Oh never mind. Briyden, I have something really exciting to tell you. Come over here and sit down.”
“But we’re in the middle of an important battle,” he whined.
“I promise you, you’ll want to hear this.”
Briyden sighed and plonked himself down in a big armchair.
“Go on then,” he said, sounding bored.
“I have just found out who is escorting us to Torlund.”
Briyden looked at her frowning.
“I thought we weren’t going to Torlund.”
“Yes, well, we weren’t. But I promise, you will want to go.”
Briyden gave her a pained look.
“Who is it then?”
“A Knight. A proper one with proper armour and a beautiful sword.”
Briyden tried to fain disinterest.
“Does he have a charger and a lance?”
“Of course he does.” Mona hoped she was right.
“Has he fought any dragons?”
“Well, perhaps. I…I didn’t ask.”
“He’s not a proper Knight if he hasn’t fought dragons,” Loemo commented from the carpet.
“I expect he has,” Mona said, getting angry. “The point is, he’s brave and handsome and he’s going to be there to protect us from dragons.”
“I have my own sword,” Briyden said, getting off the chair and returning to his game. Mona stared at his back for a moment in disbelief.
“Boys,” she muttered angrily and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
“Will you go now?” Loemo whispered.
“Of course,” Briyden replied, “I might learn how to fight dragons.”
Liasna spent the rest of the afternoon meditating, and although she couldn’t rid herself of the sadness, she felt more ready to face it when she’d finished. She checked through her packing and was pleased to find that Maria had managed to pack essentials in such a way that would easily fit in her own horse’s saddle bags. It would be quicker if they travelled light.
Now for the hard task. She had to tell the children that they were coming with her. She would visit Mona first.
“Mona,” she called, putting her head around the door to Mona’s room.
“Hello, Mother,” Mona replied cheerfully. “I’m almost packed.”
Liasna walked in, confused.
“So you decided to come, then,” she said, trying to not look startled at the many packages littering Mona’s floor.
“Yes. I thought it would be educational. And it will be nice to see my Grandfather too.”
“Good,” said Liasna, nodding.
“I have met the nice young Knight who shall be escorting us. He seems very pleasant.”
“I see.” Liasna smiled, suddenly understanding her daughter’s change of heart. “You didn’t think he looked familiar?”
Mona stopped folding up a purple velvet ball gown and thought for a minute.
“No, I can’t say he does,” she said. “Are his parents friends of yours?”
“We knew them once upon a time.”
Mona looked pleased.
I can see that this will be fun, Liasna thought.
“I will send Maria to co-ordinate your packing. She knows what we can fit on the horses.”
“I’m sure I shall be fine. But send her if you like.”
Liasna left Mona, relieved. Poor Maria, she thought. She doubted her daughter would be as cheerful by morning, minus a few less outfits.
Next, she had to find Briyden. As it was nearly teatime, this shouldn’t be too hard a task. She had already packed his things herself, so that was one job down.
Briyden was sitting at a table in the dining hall, playing cards alone.
“Hello,” she said casually. “Where’s Loemo?”
“I sent him home.”
“Oh. Did you fall out?”
“No, I just thought it would be best if I went to bed after supper. Then we can get an early start.”
Liasna sat down next to her son, not quite believing what she was hearing.
“Where are you going?” she asked carefully.
“With you and the Knight.”
Briyden stood two cards up against each other, trying to form a tent.
“You decided to come, then. That’s good.”
“Yes. I’m going to help the Knight to fight dragons.”
“Ah. Well then, you will need a good sleep tonight.”
She bent and kissed the top of his head.
“I asked Father if he would like to come,” he said suddenly.
“And what did he say?” Liasna asked softly.
“He said he couldn’t come, because he had to help the other Knight with some things here. I think he’s a bit sad, but I told him I’d bring him back a dragon tooth. That seemed to make him feel better.”
Liasna smiled through tears. She ran her hand through the black curly hair and kissed him again, before leaving him to build a castle of cards.
Next stop, the stables. She wanted to check that all would be ready on time. And then she would try and talk to Morden one last time.
The smell of warm straw and horses struck her as soon as she entered the yard. Evening stables were a warm, drowsy place, and she had always found them comforting. She walked the length of the courtyard towards the head groom’s house. Halfway along, she stopped. The door to Drasco’s stable was wide open, the stable empty. Liasna looked to the darkening sky and sighed. This was going to be a long night.
The Master sat silently in front of a roaring fire. Even in spring, it was cold in the Bremese mountains and a northerly wind blew mercilessly, finding plenty of places to invade the old monastery. Dorien watched the flames, waiting to be given leave to go and continue with his earlier task.
“Why would Deverous release his hordes without giving us some sign first?” The Master mused.
So he didn’t know, Dorien thought. “Perhaps the Knights were meant as a sign?”
“But we have no idea where he has released them, or how many.”
Dorien stayed quiet. It was a disturbing thought that their God had released the demons, but what made it worse was his lack of communication with them. Had they displeased him in some way? Dorien had only ever come into contact with a demon once, and that was within a ritual circle, a controlled environment. The thought of meeting one for real was enough to make him shudder.
“We must release the dragons, I think,” the Master said. “The riders can gather information.”
“They can look for Mica and her runaways for you, but as soon as they are found, I need you to bring them to me. In the meantime, I think you must go back to the palace and see what you can learn of these Knights.”
Dorien cringed. The Master knew nothing of his liaison with Liasna, and his subsequent problem of being recognized. He cursed his own stupidity for ever thinking it wise to visit her. He nodded again. He needed to put together a disguise.
“You may go. Report back as soon as you have any information.”
Dorien exited the room and hurried to his own, devising a character in his head as he went. He needed to be someone who could get close to the Knights without drawing attention to himself. He didn’t want them to detect that he was using magic. He would have to be a servant assigned to them.
Pulling out a small box from the depths of a drawer, he set to work on his makeup. When he had run away from Torlund, he had joined a band of actors and travelled the length and breadth of the country, playing a large variety of roles. He would never have imagined, then, how useful that training would be. A large wooden chest housed a long grey wig, beard and false eyebrows, and he arranged them expertly. Next, he added makeup, accentuating wrinkles. When he’d finished, he stared into the mirror, checking every little detail. Satisfied at last, he smiled and said in a scratchy voice, “Hello, Harold.”
Limping across to his bed, he retrieved a relocating stone and within a few seconds stood in a short dark corridor in the Palace of Den. A door opened ahead of him and he noted the bustling kitchen. A serving boy was coming through the door, balancing a tray on one arm.
“Hello, young chap,” he said pleasantly.
“Hello,” the boy said, a small frown playing around his face.
“I am to wait on the new Knights. Which rooms are they in?”
The boy’s frown deepened.
“They’re in the west wing on the top floor. But they said they would wait on themselves.”
Dorien cursed his luck. Ignoring the boy, he took a door next to the kitchen and found himself in a broom closet.
The boy shook his head slowly and walked away.
Fumbling along a shelf, he eventually found a small silver key. Grasping it tightly, he opened the closet door to an empty corridor. Quickly, he unlocked the door opposite and hurried inside. It was pitch black, but after a minute he retrieved a torch from the wall and, with one word, lit it. A stairwell appeared at his feet and he carefully began to descend. The passage at the bottom led him to an intersection where only one tunnel led to the west wing. He had to hope now that the Knights were in one of the rooms with peepholes; otherwise he would have to think again.