Chapter the Thirteenth

David Lee


"Do you see anything? Nadia asked, wriggling into a more comfortable position on the hill. Her brown eyes twinkled with curiosity.

"Quiet, child," the elf next to her hissed, peering slightly over the peak of the hill. It was just after midday, and it was hot. Nadia was dressed in a knee-length beige skirt and a light shirt that bared her navel. Wearing a pair of soft boots, she sat back on her heels, and idly ran her fingers through her brilliant chin-length red hair. The girl glanced at her companion Shusa. The elf was dressed in the same loose, grey clothing Nadia had always seen her wearing. Shusa's hooped earrings jingled lightly as gazed across the valley. Her long, golden ponytail swayed slightly in the breeze, which provided little comfort from the heat. "Araon's light, why is it so hot? It's almost autumn!"

The two adventurers had found themselves in central Ryth after the incident at the Greenfield Stretch. For over two weeks they wandered; Nadia had never been so close to Cathania before, and Shusa had little idea of Ryth's geography. The fact that they were two unescorted, attractive women brought unwanted attention to them. It was, however, of little consequence; Shusa was more than enough to chase off any lecher. The elf would be snarling with rage at any and every male that came swaggering up the road to them. Apparently, Elven daggers are a very effective means of intimidation.

What irked Shusa the most was the possibility that Linnatiel might be lost in Ryth, or even dead. She had told Derryn that he would have to protect the Princess when no one else could, and now even Derryn might not be alive. Or he might be someone else, after what happened at the Stretch. The mere notion of Linnatiel being alone or dead brought swift tears to the stalwart elf's eyes, and it was up to Nadia to cheer her up.

It was hard for the cheerful Spellweaver to raise Shusa's spirits, for two reasons: the first was that Shusa was an elf, and the second was that Shusa was decades older than Nadia. Still, Nadia did not give up at cheering up the anguished Hunter, despite her own anguish at losing her brother Valaan.

Eventually Shusa lightened up, and she gave Nadia a pat on the head for her efforts. That only reminded Nadia of the fact that Shusa was the superior, and it was she who would have to get them out of this mess.

Yesterday the two had unwittingly wandered north into the Templar state, where the fighting was scarce. They both noted that they were lucky enough to avoid any Templar encounters, but it would be a while before they could find their way back out of the Templar state again.

Daring to go further, Nadia crawled further up the hill to get a glimpse of what Shusa was trying to look at. The elf was always trying to keep her in line; Shusa never wanted to have any fun.

A group of Templar were gathered in the valley below, and they looked like they weren't on very good terms. Five of the mail-clad warriors faced the other five, one mounted rider apiece, and it seemed the tension was building. Nadia squinted her eyes to see, and strained her ears to hear the conversation.

"This time you've gone too far, Kanak," the mounted Templar on Nadia's right snarled. "Trespassing Drakelight territory without permission is forbidden, and you are subject to our laws." The young Spellweaver could barely make out his face, which was masked by a full visor.

"You don't know how deep you are, Aesus," the other mounted knight, called Kanak, retorted. "Your lord consorts with Elves, which makes you suspicious enough. What will the other Keeps think?" Nadia heard a low growl come from Shusa's throat.

"Ignorant, conceited challoth!" The elf spat. "I've a mind to go down there and teach him a—" Now it was Nadia's turn to quiet her companion.

"Shh, Shusa," the Spellweaver hissed, evoking a deathly glare from the elf.

"I will TELL you when—" Shusa's outburst was enough to garner the attention of the knights in the valley below. They all peered up at the hill, as Nadia, stifling a horrified squeal, hopped awkwardly back down the hill peak. Shusa was more agile in disappearing from the Templars' sight.

The Templar Kanak saw this distraction as an opportunity, and urged his horse forward to charge the Drakelight Templar. In mere moments, all of the knights were clashing with each other in heated combat. Battle cries and screams erupted from the valley.

Nadia squealed again in terror and curled herself up into a ball on the hill, covering her ears. "All this fighting is too much for me!" She exclaimed, terrified. "I don't want to die!" Shusa slid over and shook the girl's shoulders.

"Get a hold of yourself, for Araon's sake!" She ordered, but Nadia wouldn't budge. "We have to help the ones on Drakelight's side!"

"They'll kill us for what we did!" Nadia retorted, squeezing her eyes shut. "I can't stand blood, Shusa! Not when it's blood of good people!" The elf grit her teeth in obvious frustration, then marched off down the hill by herself.

It was some minutes before Nadia could open her eyes again. Lowering her hands from her head, she meekly glanced at her surroundings, and realized the sounds of fighting had stopped. What the Spellweaver noticed next was the towering form of a Templar looming over her. The warrior's full plate mail shone brilliantly in the sun. A beaten broadsword was gripped menacingly in one gauntleted fist. The knight's full visor glared down at the terror-stricken girl. Nadia fought the urge to scream as loud as she could, and failed.

"Hey!" The knight exclaimed, dropping his sword and covering the sides of his helmet. "Hey now, it's okay! I'm not going to hurt you!"

"I don't believe you!" Nadia said, and with a thought, an eerie green light began to glow from her clenched fists.

"Whoa, whoa!" The Templar said, shaking his head and raising his gauntleted palms. "I mean it; I'm not going to hurt you! Here," the knight shirked off his gauntlets and tied them at his waist. With a click, he lifted his helmet off his head and tucked it in the crook of his arm. He stretched out a hand to Nadia. "Here, give me your hand. I'm Templar Aesus, Lieutenant Commander of the 6th Scout Force."

Nadia peered up at the knight called Aesus. He looked exceedingly handsome, his hard face and short brown hair matted with sweat. His eyes were brown and sharp, but glittered with friendliness. Aesus looked to be in his late teens. The Spellweaver gathered enough courage to take his hand, and he easily hauled her to her feet. "I'm...I'm Nadia," she said weakly, "a Spellweaver." Aesus smiled knowingly.

"I can see that," he said, with an accent that was common of northern Ryth. "You almost made me rust my armour for a second there." Nadia laughed. The Templar continued. "Hey, we beat the other guys with your elf friend's help, yah? So we're heading back to Drakelight Keep, and you're welcome to come along if you want. I'm sure we got people who can help you."

Nadia nodded. "That...would be very nice," she said. Aesus laughed.

"I thought so, yah? Come on, scaredy-cat. I'll let you ride my horse on the way there."


After half an hour of traveling across the green hills of the state, Nadia caught her first glimpse of Drakelight Keep. It was a huge array of buildings and towers, all surrounded by high, gray walls. It was almost large enough to encompass several small towns. One complex rose above the rest, and from its peak flapped a tall, white banner with a red drake and gold embroidery.

Soldiers and knights could be seen all around the keep. Dozens of sentries and crossbowmen kept watch on the battlements, and mounted cavalry patrolled the keep walls and the surrounding area. Pairs of spearmen were stationed at each of the three gates leading into the fortress-city. Nadia spotted a group of men hauling out a huge ballista, a gigantic crossbow on wheels. Nothing went by unnoticed or unguarded in Drakelight Keep.

"This...is where Derryn came from?" Nadia asked.

"Sure thing," Aesus replied. "He never wanted to be one of us, but Waste, could he fight. No one is raised in Drakelight Keep without knowing how to defend themselves." The Templar pointed at the gate straight ahead. "We'll check in at the west gate, men."

"Yes, sir!" The other Templar acknowledged at once.

The squad of knights and their guests were greeted at the keep's gate by a bald, burly soldier with a sword on his back and a sheaf of parchments tucked under one arm. He eyed Shusa and Nadia warily, then turned his gaze to Aesus. He pressed a fist to his chest in a salute.

"Greetings, Templar Aesus," he said, "Back from patrol duty so early? And who are these foxes you bring with you?" Shusa seemed particularly startled by his comment.

"Janak tried to pull something," Aesus replied darkly. "But we got it under control, yah? An elf Hunter here helped us out, and the other is a Spellweaver." The big guard whistled.

"That sure is something," he said. "I wonder how they got into the Templar state. Well, never mind that; I guess we'll know soon enough. You may pass, but have a care that they'll need to be questioned."

"Of course," Aesus said, and saluted. Nadia stared down at Aesus in horror.

"Questioned? Questioned?!" She gulped. The Templar looked up at her and laughed.

"Don't worry, yah? We're only going to ask you some questions about where you came from, and what you're doing here. Maybe you still are a scaredy-cat, eh, Nadia?" The Spellweaver snorted once and looked up ahead. A heavy, iron portcullis was raised, and the knights entered Drakelight keep.

The inside of Drakelight Keep was not at all what Nadia expected; it was as if they had entered a city instead of a military compound. The sounds, sights and smells were all characteristic of a market square. The cobblestone streets were filled with both townspeople and Templar alike. Citizens passed by the knights with fists pressed to their chests. Aesus had to raise his voice over the din of the crowd to speak to Nadia.

"This is the outer city of Drakelight Keep," he explained. "We grant the people our protection, and in return they send recruits to us. Everything takes place inside the keep walls, including the farming."

"How is this place so big?" Nadia asked. "You keep an entire city in your walls?"

"The Templar must be wealthy and strong to protect Ryth," Aesus said. "It has been that way since the beginning. All of the people who live in the state live within a keep."

Nadia looked down at Shusa, who was walking alongside her horse. It was clear that something was bothering the elf, but Nadia didn't know what. She resolved to talking to Shusa after the mess with the Templar had been settled.

The squad of knights passed quickly through the streets of the city and came upon another set of high-walled, heavily guarded gates. "We now enter the inner city," Aesus said, "where the Templar and Drakelights live. Be careful not to draw attention to yourself, eh?" After a brief inspection, Aesus' squad was waved in.

The other side of the gates opened up into a beautiful courtyard with shimmering fountains and vibrant, green grass. Further ahead was the large building that Nadia had seen earlier, with the white flag. It looked much more grand up close, as one could see the coats of arms and banners that hung over an elaborately ornate pair of heavy, steel doors.

"That," Aesus said, "is Drakelight Keep. Those," he gestured to the blockish, dark gray buildings flanking both sides of the Keep, "are the barracks of the Templar. We eat, sleep, live and train there. The ceremonies, when Templar are tested and promoted, take place here, in the courtyard.

"Ah, I forget my place!" Aesus laughed to himself. "I'm a knight, not a tour guide!" A few of his comrades around him laughed as well. "Well, the tour ends here. And you must dismount, Nadia, for horseriding is forbidden here." The Spellweaver nodded and hopped off the horse's back.

"Thank you for your help, Aesus," she said cheerily. "I appreciate it." The Templar laughed and grinned, his eyes twinkling with delight.

"It is not a problem, kitten," he said. "That is, if I may call you that."

Nadia smiled back. "Of course you may," she said.

"Well then, it is settled, yah? Most outsiders are not questioned here, but you two are of some importance, so one of Lord Drakelight's officers, or Lord Drakelight himself, will speak to you." Aesus took the reins of his horse, then gestured to two of his men. "I must report to my superior, so Alanor and Thanes will escort you into the Keep." Aesus bowed to Shusa, then more deeply to Nadia. "I found your company most enjoyable. Visit me again sometime, and we'll talk more, yah? Farewell!" Aesus and his squad then headed towards the barracks on the left.

Alanor, a younger knight with long, dark hair, bowed to the two. "If you will follow us into the Keep?" Shusa and Nadia looked at each other, then nodded to the Templar. They started their way towards the steps of Drakelight Keep.

"That Aesus certainly seems taken with you," Shusa commented as they walked through the courtyard. "I've never seen a Templar act like that before." Nadia blushed as red as her hair.

"Well, he was quite friendly," she said. The elf chuckled to herself. "But that's beside the point. Shusa, is something bothering you?"

"What do you mean?" Shusa asked.

"Well, it seems you're brooding or depressed," Nadia said. "More than usual. It's not healthy, Shusa." The elf glared at the Spellweaver.

"I'll TELL you when I want to feel healthy!" Shusa snarled, startling Nadia. The Spellweaver looked down, abashed.

"I...I'm just worried for you, Shusa," she said quietly. "I didn't mean to offend you." Shusa stopped and looked at Nadia, then hugged her tight.

"I'm sorry, little one," the elf said apologetically. "It's not your fault. I hadn't realized that I had a friend beside me all this time, instead of a shoot of a human girl. I promise I'll tell you everything, all right?"

"All right," Nadia said, breaking out into smiles. Shusa smiled back, before they started for the Keep again.

The lobby of Drakelight Keep looked every bit as Nadia thought it to be: grand, polished and extravagant. Paintings and sculpted reliefs decorated the high walls of the large chamber. On either side of the chamber were winding staircases that lead further up into the Keep. Just ahead was another set of wooden double doors, a guard standing on either side. The doors opened, and a short, plump lady in a white dress rushed out to meet them. Her graying hair was worn up in a bun and she had a polite demeanor. At a wave, the two Templar escorts bowed to her, then strode out of the lobby. The woman moved closer to Shusa and Nadia, and eyed them both up and down.

"I am High Advisor Ewaine," she introduced. "If you've made it this far, then you've something important to say. And if one of you happens to be an elf, then all the more important."

"High Advisor," Shusa said, "our journey has not been easy. We have come here by accident, from the Greenfield Stretch—"

"What was that?" Ewaine interrupted. "Did you say the Greenfield Stretch?" Both Shusa and Nadia nodded. "And you're still alive?" Silent nods again. "Did you know Derryn Drakelight?"

"We were his traveling companions," Nadia said. "And his friends." The High Advisor eyed the two women up and down again, and nodded.

"So you were two of the six," she said gravely. "We have not heard anything of the others since the incident occurred. I am happy to hear that you are well, and surprised that you are even alive. No doubt there will be people who will wish to talk to you, not the least being Lord Drakelight."

"L-Lord Drakelight?" Nadia stammered. "He's going to t-talk to us? Personally?"

"Well, I don't see why not, little one," Ewaine said. "This concerns his son, so every detail counts. We still have not been able to find Derryn, and you two may be the help we need."

"We'll be happy to help in any way we can," Shusa said. "But please tell me something, High Advisor: has Vellucyn been attacked?"

Ewaine clucked her tongue sympathetically and squeezed Shusa's shoulder. "We think Wynell will reach the Isle in less than two weeks." The Hunter bit her lip hard.

"Shusa..." Nadia breathed.

"We'll not spend any more time here," Ewaine said. "You two must have had a hard time, out in Ryth all alone for weeks. I'll have rooms prepared for you. Take as much time as you need to gather your wits, but be reasonable about it. Poor things," the elderly woman clucked again.


A little while later, Nadia found herself in a very well furnished room. A red and gold carpet lay out on the floor, matching with the covers of an extravagant bed. Dressers, drawers and closets were all in good order, complete with sets of clothes. A window next to the bed overlooked the Keep's courtyard. It was everything she could want: a clean room, a warm bed...something that had become precious in the past weeks. She sighed contently and fell back onto the bed, bouncing lightly. It was only a matter of moments before she fell asleep...

"Nadia!" A voice called out. Nadia stood alone in the darkness, wading in her murky thoughts. Everything seemed blurry, distorted. She looked around wildly. "Nadia!"

"Who is it?" She called back. "Who's there?"

"It's me, Valaan!" Her brother yelled, his voice echoing in the foggy emptiness. Nadia whirled around more frantically.

"Valaan?! Where are you?" A dark figure appeared in the blurry mist, but did not move close enough to become clearer. It waved to her.

"I'm over here, Nadia!" He said. "Thank the Waste you're alive!" The young Spellweaver tried to move through the murk, but made a hard task of it.

"Valaan! Is it really you?!"

"It's me, Nadia! I'm alive!"

Nadia tried to move further through the darkness. "I'm so glad! What happened, Valaan? What is this place?"

"I don't know, Nadia. I'm in Tareth's village. He's alive, too. His people have some way of talking through dreams or something; I barely know anything of it myself. Where are you?"

"I'm in the Templar state, with Shusa. Valaan, do you know if Derryn or Linnatiel—"

"No." Valaan's reply was stark and simple. "I don't know. I don't want to think about what could have happened to them. Fate shield their souls, this was bad enough." The dark, misty form that was Valaan began to disperse. "Dammit! I can't get the hang of this soon enough! I have to leave now. I miss you, baby sister. Take care of yourself..."

"Valaan!!!" Nadia cried out, but there was no answer...

Nadia woke up again when there was a solid thump thump thump on the door. It continued incessantly as she sleepily got off the bed and staggered over to the door. Opening it, the Spellweaver stumbled into Aesus. The Templar managed to catch her in his arms before she fell.

"Ah, it was my fault, waking you up like that," he said sheepishly. "Get up, sleepy kitten! You have been summoned."

"Wha...?" It took a few moments for Nadia to realize that she was leaning against an almost complete stranger. "Oh! Sorry!" She said, pushing herself away from Aesus. "How long was I sleeping?"

"Three, maybe four hours," he replied. "Sounds like a catnap to me." The Spellweaver couldn't help but giggle at his joke. "Hurry now, Lord Drakelight does not like to be kept waiting."

"Him?! NOW?!" Nadia flew into a panic. "I look like a mess! Why does it have to be now?!"

"Shh, relax," Aesus said calmly. "He'll understand. A few minutes won't make any difference, yah? Fix up your hair and come out when you're ready."

"All right," Nadia said, taking a deep breath. "Thanks, Aesus."

"Don't worry about it, Nadia," the Templar said with a grin. The Spellweaver smiled back before closing the door.

When Nadia was ready, Aesus lead her down the long hallway on the second floor of the Keep, the same floor as her room. Her stomach was full of butterflies at the thought of meeting such nobility, but she managed to maintain her composure. The two made their way downstairs into the lobby, then Aesus pushed open the double doors that lead into the inner chambers. He went in first, and motioned Nadia to follow.

A red carpet lined the path from one doorway to the next, which was guarded by another two Templar. They nodded at Aesus, then pushed open the last set of doors, leading into the reception hall. He went in, followed by Nadia.

The reception hall was not grossly elegant, but not threadbare. The walls were made of polished stone and adorned with several gild framed paintings. Sunlight managed to pierce the chamber through an elaborately designed skylight, which must have been carved through floors. Warm candles were set around the room. The red carpet traveled further until it reached three cushioned chairs. In one sat Adakran Drakelight, Lord of the Keep, and another beside him sat his wife, the Lady Saryn. The last was next to the lord's wife.

Nadia recognized the lord as being stony-faced and noble as ever, with that dreadful scar running down his face. He was clad in fine, white cloth, with ring mail over his chest. A grand weapon of a sword leaned against the wall close by.

However, the young Spellweaver had never seen Lady Saryn, and her beauty took her breath away. Those jade green eyes contrasted with her long, brown hair, making her look exotic. She was dressed in a light gray, velvet dress, with her hands folded in her lap.

Aesus dropped to one knee and gripped the hilt of his sword. "The Spellweaver Nadia Falthara, as you requested, my lord." Lord Drakelight nodded.

"Thank you, Templar Aesus. You are dismissed." Aesus rose to his feet, and, casting an assuring glance at Nadia, marched out of the chamber. Nadia stood alone.

Feeling her knees get weak, Nadia regained herself by dropping a light curtsey. She still stood there nervously, under the eyes of nobility. Lady Saryn was the first to speak.

"Do not be frightened, Nadia," the woman said calmly, with a warm smile. "We will not bite. Come, sit next to me." This petrified the girl even more, but she nodded, walked to the empty chair, and sat down with relief. "At least, I will not bite. I will try to keep my husband from doing so."

"I am not a monster, Saryn," Lord Drakelight protested in a deep voice. "I don't scare little girls."

"A joke, my darling," Lady Saryn smiled again, touching the man's cheek sympathetically. She turned to Nadia. "Nadia, you no doubt know why you have been summoned here. We would like you to tell everything you can about the Greenfield Stretch, and what happened to Derryn. Please take your time."

Nadia began slowly, recounting their journey from the Northern Sanctuary, but began to pick up speed. She told of their stay at Sonill, of the Black Wolves, and the Reavers. Lord Drakelight's face darkened especially at the mentioning of the Black Wolves. "Damn cur," he snarled. "What I'd give just to have been there..." Saryn gently touched his arm.

"Shh, love," she said. "It's over now." She gestured for Nadia to continue. The Spellweaver went on and described every detail she could of what happened that fateful day. She tried to tell everything she could of Derryn; how he acted, what he was like both before and during the incident. She also retold the words he said that day.

"Anthan?" Lord Drakelight whispered. "What does this have to do with my ancestor?"

"He was your ancestor, my lord?" Nadia asked. The man nodded.

"He was the first Drakelight," he said. "But whatever significance he has to Wynell or the Black Wolves bear further study."

"The Reavers were there to help you," Lady Saryn explained sadly. "They were brave people, strong people. They could not have just disappeared..." It was Lord Drakelight's turn to comfort his spouse, as he squeezed her shoulder.

"Your information has been most useful, Nadia," he said. "We will not forget your help. You are no doubt a foreigner in this place; how would you like to go back to the Sanctuary?"

"The Sanctuary?" Nadia breathed. "I would like that very much." A question suddenly came to her mind. "Have you heard of the others, like my brother? I would really like to know if they're okay."

Lady Saryn shook her head sadly. "I am sorry, child. We do not have the answers you want, nor the ones we want. We are all in the dark until this is solved."

-Tuesday, April 16, 2002