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G. J. Kelly

Sword and Circle

Prologue

“There are still those who, even to this day, hold me responsible for everything which came to pass after Ferdan. The wisest of them hold their tongues when I’m within earshot though, I’ve split more than one wizard in two for lesser offences against the Crown of Raheen and I won’t have Morloch’s foul deeds laid at my door by anyone, least of all a whitebeard.

“The one question which still, on occasion, haunts my dreams is this: Would I have done the same, had I known the outcome, and did I have a choice? Those I love are kind, and tell me, ‘of course,’ but in the darkest hours of night, sometimes I lay awake, and I do not know… The pain of those days haunts me still, and that which is broken, even though it be repaired, is never the same as it was.”

The DarkSlayer, as told to the Bard-Chronicler Lyssa of Callodon

1. Aftermath

Three weeks had passed since the first full Council of Kings within living memory had ended in near catastrophe, and still the shock of those events was clear to behold in the aspect of Allazar, once wizard to King Brock of Callodon, now wizard to Gawain, royal crown of Raheen, King of Ashes.

Gawain stared at the wizard across Gwyn’s back as he currycombed the faithful Raheen steed. Allazar was helping Elayeen lay out their evening camp. As was usual of late, a flicker of a smile warmed Gawain’s insides whenever he glanced at his throth-bound beloved elfin queen. She moved with such grace…

Gwyn shifted her weight a little and Gawain snapped his attention back to his duty to his horse. Ever since Morloch had utterly destroyed Raheen, it had been these simple duties and customs which kept the memory of his homeland alive in Gawain’s heart, kept him Raheen. Besides, he knew if he gazed at his lady too often or too long his yearning for her would surely make itself known through their binding, and this was their third week of nights out of Ferdan. Three weeks apart after their nights alone together in that ill-starred and inhospitable Jurian town was, to Gawain at least, a very long time. Worse, there were at least as many weeks ahead of them, even at the remarkable pace they were keeping.

“I suppose spit-roasted rabbit is out of the question? The nights are cooler of late.” Allazar grumbled, and Gawain realised with some small surprise that it was probably the longest sentence the wizard had uttered since the three of them had ridden out of Ferdan’s gates.

“You suppose correctly,” Gawain replied cheerfully, “It’s summer, we’re on the plains of Juria, the only possible kindling for a fire, should we be stupid enough to light one, is that clump of gorse yonder, and it’s still green. An enemy would see the smoke for miles, not to mention smell it.”

“I was thinking as much of your lady’s stomach as my own, Longsword. The haste with which we departed Ferdan meant we had no time to gather provisions beyond water and the cakes of spiced Threlland frak you insist we keep in our saddle-bags just in case. Though in case of what I’m sure I cannot say.”

Gawain was about to offer a curt reply but was robbed of the chance by his queen.

“Why, in case we should find ourselves charging south across the plains of Juria to Callodon and beyond, with nothing but green gorse for kindling and enemies all about.” Elayeen announced, the humour in her soft and lilting voice seeming to tickle Gawain’s ears.

“Ah,” said Allazar, “Now that you’ve explained it to me, my lady, it is obvious. Poke me in the eye for being a dullard whitebeard.”

“I’m hardly likely to do that…” Elayeen chuckled, happy that the wizard seemed to be returning to his old self.

Gawain listened to their banter as he continued tending to Gwyn. That Elayeen held Allazar as a trusted friend and advisor was plain for all to see, and completely understandable given all that had come to pass since the two of them had first met in Tarn, in Threlland. It seemed so long ago now, but in truth it had been perhaps six months since Gawain had reclaimed Elayeen from the circle of faranthroth and Gwyn had carried them both across the northern plains in bleakest midwinter.

And in truth Gawain knew there was little else, if anything, the wizard could do to prove his loyalty and friendship. He had fought alongside them both, defended Elayeen against Morlochmen, Black Riders, and against the treachery of the D’ith Sek and D’ith Met wizards who served Morloch at the Council in Ferdan. And yet Gawain knew he could never truly be trusted. Not by the King of Raheen, who had seen across the Dragon’s Teeth and thus knew what awaited these gentle and utterly unprepared southlands.

And yet, again, Gawain had called him ‘friend’ in the aftermath of Morloch’s onslaught in the council chamber. Yes, thought Gawain, as he glanced again at the wizard, Allazar probably was a friend, now. But what kind of friend is he who by his own admission could be tempted by the evil power of Morloch’s aquamire?

“It consumes!” Allazar had said, so long ago at Tarn, looking towards the evil blackness shimmering beyond the Teeth, “It consumes your very soul! Do you not realise how hard it is for me not to rush across the farak gorin? To ally myself with Morloch just for one taste of that power?”

Gawain did realise, only too well. Allazar was D’ith pat, low down the ladder of power scaled by his brethren, and the D’ith Sek, allegedly the most powerful and wisest of wizards, had betrayed the races of Man. Some of them had, anyway. If those deemed to be very wise and powerful could not resist the lure of aquamire evil, what chance those of lower order? What kind of friend is he that one might yet have to kill?

And yet…, in the fresh-built long-room of the council hall in Ferdan, the air filled with the scent of new-sawn pine and wizards’ crackling fire, Allazar had been driven to his knees by the power of a D’ith Sek wizard who had been attempting to destroy Elayeen and thus, through the strange elven throth-binding, Gawain himself. Yet Allazar’s defence of Elayeen had held, at least long enough for trusted honour-guards to slay the traitor.

The sound of Elayeen’s quiet laughter at some remark Gawain had missed drew the young warrior from his reverie. Again he glanced at the wizard. Allazar was a few inches shorter than Gawain, but at six feet two inches Gawain was considered tall even for a Raheen. The wizard’s short clipped white hair was always neatly cropped, and the slightly square-jawed face always clean-shaven in spite of the brethren’s preference for the long beards which earned them the derogatory soubriquet ‘whitebeard.’

The wizard wasn’t ugly by any stretch of the imagination, and in fact usually had about him an air of quiet confidence. Except on those occasions when Gawain had crushed that confidence with a withering look or a terse word. And except of course now, here on the plains, in the aftermath of Ferdan.

In fact, Gawain thought, but for the traditional garb of the wizard, robes now worn loose in the lingering heat of the summer’s evening, he’d probably be just an average fellow, slightly tall perhaps, but not remarkable. A man few would notice.

“You’re still ugly though, Ugly,” Gawain said softly to his horse at the final stroke of the brush. Gwyn simply swung her hindquarters a little as she moved off, nudging Gawain unceremoniously out of the way as she went in search of greener grass. “Don’t wander too far now, nag!” Gawain chuckled, but got no reply.

“So,” Gawain sighed, settling on the blanket Elayeen had laid out on the grass beside their saddles, “What do you two find so amusing this late in the day in the middle of nowhere?”

“We were talking about you, mithroth, not to you.” Elayeen smiled disarmingly. Allazar merely grunted as he sat heavily a polite distance across from them.

Gawain studied the wizard closely. “Are you still weak from the fight at Ferdan?”

Allazar shrugged. “It is passing, Longsword, thank you for asking. Probably nothing that good hot food, cool ale, and a soft bed in the comfort of some rustic inn wouldn’t cure. We could have availed ourselves of any number on our journey here.”

“Ah. And here was me thinking old age was creeping up on you.”

That remark earned him a reproachful nudge from Elayeen as she settled against him, cautiously cutting a strip of frak from a small lump of the pressed meat with her dagger.

“I think I have a few more years left in me yet,” Allazar replied, but his heart clearly wasn’t in it. “Unless of course you should decide to kill me in the morning.”

“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today,” Gawain countered, noting not for the first time the dark circles around the wizard’s eyes, and realising that he really didn’t know how old Allazar was. He looked no more than thirty, perhaps forty, which was certainly old enough from the perspective of his own twenty years. But there really was no telling with wizards.

“Mmm? I’m sorry Longsword?”

Gawain frowned. “Come, Allazar, you’ve barely said a word since we left Ferdan. My lady’s best efforts have earned little more than a heartless chuckle from you and my best efforts are poor even at the best of times.

. . .
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