Chapter the Sixth
Knock knock knock. A groan worked its way out of Derrynís mouth. His cheek was pressed flat against his pillow, dark circles under his eyes. He was sprawled face down on the bed; still in his good clothes, to his mild annoyance. The swordsman could feel an aching in his legs. Working all of his strength up, he raised his head. Knock knock knock.
Squinting, he heaved himself up, turned over and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He was sitting on his black cloak. At least he had taken off his boots; that might have to relieve the pain in his calves. What in the Waste had happened last night? To his initial horror, Derryn could not remember. Something about Linnatiel saying she loved me, and...Waste...The memories began trickling back to him. After they had held each other in that snow-blasted observatory, they went back down to the feasting hall. He remembered Linnatiel bowing, apologizing for her outburst, and only wide grins all around the room. No one could ever stay mad at Linnatiel for long. After the meal was done, there was dancing, and...
"Waste," Derryn muttered, rubbing his face. Now he remembered why his feet hurt. He had danced with the elf literally for hours. Even with his sharpened agility as a swordsman, he could barely keep up with her. She whirled around like a dervish, never missing a step. He had never danced before, but he figured last night would be a fine one to try. Fool! Never try outdance an elf!
Knock knock knock.
"Of all the bloody..." With a snarl, Derryn got to his feet and took a step before wincing. Reaching for the scabbard slung on the nearby chair, he hobbled to the door, using it as a cane. The person behind the door was in mid-knock before Derryn gripped the doorknob and wrenched the door open. Linnatielís face popped right in front of his.
"Morning, Derryn!" She piped happily. The swordsman was so startled, he jumped back...and tumbled to the floor.
"Waste, Linn," he moaned, "Give a guy a little mercy!" Linnatiel placed one hand on her hip and frowned slightly. She wore simpler, less extravagant clothes today; a white blouse and long, grey skirts as opposed to the silk green dress. The thought of her wearing it still took Derrynís breath away.
"Whatever are you talking about?"
"I canít walk, Linn!" He exclaimed. "Iíve lost all feeling in my legs!" The elf giggled.
"Then I will carry you," she said with a grin, and helped him to his feet. "I remember helping you back to your room last night. It couldnít have been that bad, could it?" Derryn balanced himself with one arm on the back of the chair.
"How do you do it?" he breathed. "Youíre not tired?" Linnatiel twirled around lightly and shook her head innocently.
"It was fun," she smiled. "Youíre not a bad dancer. Now hurry up with the packing; weíre going to be leaving soon." Derryn gulped.
"Of course, silly. You said I could come along with you. Or did you forget that?"
"Forget that? Linn, I only said that toó" He cut himself off when he saw the fierce glare in the elfís eyes.
"What did you say?" She demanded. "Said that to what?"
"I am not a child, Derryn Drakelight. If you think you can just set me aside like some toddler, you are gravely mistaken!"
"Linn, that wasnító"
"Do you dare defy the will of an Elven Princess, Derryn Drakelight?" A voice at the door coolly commented. Shusa was leaning against the doorway, dressed in her gray woolen Hunterís outfit. A brown backpack was slung over her shoulders, and her two daggers hung on a loose belt around her waist. She was shaking her head slightly in mock shame, her long ponytail emulating the swinging movements. "I thought there was a line you wouldnít cross." Derryn stared wildly at Shusa, then to Linnatiel, and back again.
"Youíre coming too?" He exclaimed in disbelief. Shusa merely glared at him, her eyes another pair of green lights that seemed to bore into his skull. "Well-uh-that is, I meantó" Derryn threw up his hands in frustration. There was no talking around two elves that were against him. "Ack! I have to change! We can talk later. Out, out, out!" Gripping Linnatielís shoulders, he turned her around and marched her out the doorway amidst half-finished protests. The last thing Derryn saw before he shut the door in the Elvesí faces was the icy stare Linnatiel gave him. Even if those eyes werenít blue, the emerald glints were just as cold, and sent just as unsettling a shudder down his spine. Indeed, he would have some explaining to do.
The gateway room that was chosen for the group was connected by the east wing of the Sanctuaryís main chamber. It seemed completely identical to the main chamber itself, but there was a gold plaque above the large double doors with an old script etched into it. Derryn walked in carrying his backpack with the black cloak slung over the top, and the scabbard at his waist. The medallion of the drake and the half-sun still hung around his neck.
Many people were gathered in the large room, talking to each other. Tareth stood nervously next to Linnatiel and Shusa, who were talking quietly amongst themselves. Strangely enough, Nadia and Valaan stood with them. Nadia was casting nervous glances at Valaan, clutching her green skirts as she listened to Linnatiel. The older mage dismissed her worries with a wave, pausing to adjust the cuff links on his dark red shirt. Both were wearing traveling packs. The two elves wore flowing, grey cloaks, with hoods that hung unworn around their shoulders. When Linnatiel saw Derryn, she sniffed and turned back to Shusa. All the others gazed at him for a moment, then turned back to their conversation. The swordsman groaned; he hoped he wouldnít have to put up with this for the entire journey. Adakran, accompanied by three Templar, were talking with Velena and Rathos next to the doors. The Templar lord saw Derryn enter, and strode towards him. The two saw almost eye to eye. Almost.
"So youíll be leaving again," Adakran said, examining his son. "Are you ready?"
"As ready as Iíll ever be, Father," Derryn replied. "Is it wise to let Linnatiel come?" Adakran barked a laugh.
"It is none of our places to tell where she can and cannot go. Even Velena conceded; she did not want to teach magic to an elf that could boil a manís insides with her stare, even if it was her own niece. A quiet, intense temper, that elf has." Derryn gaped.
"Niece?! Velena is Linnatielís aunt?!"
"All of us are connected to each other in some way, Fate willing," Adakran explained calmly. "Nonetheless, Velena cannot teach young Linnatiel the art of spellweaving, for now."
"Is that why Nadia and Valaan are coming, too? To teach her as we travel?"
"That is correct. Sending you off on your own may have been a foolish idea. You now have five companions with you. Much more comforting, is it not?" Adakran leaned closer to speak in Derrynís ear, his gruff voice becoming serious. "Do not forget your mission. These brigands are a thorn in our side while we deal with more pressing matters, but a thorn can still become a festering wound. You must lead; your friends will follow you." The lord stopped speaking when he saw the medallion around Derrynís neck. His mouth quirked into an amused smile. "I thought you had put that away long ago, Derryn."
"I think Iím starting to grow into it," Derryn replied, grinning. Adakran chuckled and clapped him on the shoulder.
"You are changing even as we speak, my son," he said proudly. "You are much easier to deal with than before. Remember this: you have great potential in you. You are capable of much; do not give up, under any circumstances. You are too strong to give up. Drakelights are too strong to give up." Derryn nodded fiercely, a proud glow of his own in his eyes. Velena suddenly appeared beside Adakran, striding gracefully. Rathos stood behind her.
"Are you ready, child?" She asked Derryn.
"Yes, Velena," he replied. "At least, I hope so." The Magemistress smiled warmly, touching his cheek.
"You will be, when the time comes," she said. "You must keep an eye on Linnatiel. While she is not docile, she may become headstrong. I am charging you with her safety, Derryn." The swordsman bowed his head, gripping his sword hilt.
"I will do as I have always done, Velena." Rathos stepped beside Velena, casually putting an arm around her. She glared at him for a moment, then sighed and rested against his shoulder.
"And while youíre at it, donít think you can slack off on your training. Remember, three times a day, an hour each day." Rathos smirked. "Iíll not have my best student coming back with a weak sword arm and wobbly legs."
"Iíll remember, Waymaster," Derryn replied. "Is it time?" Velena nodded, then glided to the doors. Derryn walked to where his companions were standing.
"We meet once more, Derryn Drakelight," Valaan said, gripping the swordsmanís wrist. "A chance to travel with an esteemed swordsman is an honour, and even more to watch one at work."
"Glad to hear it, Valaan," Derryn replied. "Iím going to need your spellweaving skills soon enough." He passed his gaze across all five of them; Linnatielís eyes seemed to stare the hardest. "Alright, people. The sooner we get this thing done, the sooner we can get back and go our own ways." The double doors swung open at a gesture from Velena, the gaping darkness lined with flickering dots of torchlights beckoning to them. Taking a deep breath, Derryn walked into the dark tunnels, the road ahead.
"For a minute there, he almost sounded like you," Rathos commented to Adakran after the group of youths had left, and the doors closed again. "What will you do now, brother?"
Adakran rubbed his chin thoughtfully with a steel-backed gauntlet. "I must return home, and see to important matters. I trust everything is well here?" Velena nodded.
"Barriers have been woven around every Pathway," she said. "No one may enter or exit without my permission."
"That is good to hear. There are reports of Nightcloak raids all over Eastern Ryth. In due time, we will discover the cause of these disturbances, and put an end to it. Let us hope that Derryn has an easier task than us..."
The Pathway had led Derryn into a grassy plain less than half a mile away from the Chensa River, the curling body of water a boundary for the Greenfield Stretch. Time seemed to pass quickly in the Pathway tunnels; by the time they got out, it was dusk. After hearing Tareth mutter some words about a waste of a day, Derryn led the group south for an hour before settling down to camp at the side of the road. He had been silent for the time they were traveling, leading the group while fingering his sword hilt anxiously. There were thieves and bandits about, much more commonplace than the rest of Ryth, he was told. Everyone else save Tareth spoke excitedly about the cities they would get to see: Sonill, Westcreek...Derryn knew the Northerner was silent for the same reason as he; they were on their guard.
The sky was half dark with the sun just about to finish setting, and a bright campfire crackled at the side of the road, conjured by Valaan. Nadia sat across from Linnatiel beside the fire, teaching her the basic points of weaving complex spells, while Valaan sat close by, nodding and chewing on a long piece of straw as he supervised the lessons. Shusa sat next to Tareth, sharpening a knife on a small whetstone and chatting with him. Tareth simply nodded and listened, while running a larger stone down the length of his swordís edge. Derryn sat next to Tareth, huddled in his black cloak. The evenings seemed to be a bit colder, but he was sure the daytime would be warmer. His sword sat across his knees, and he stroked the hilt absently while staring into the fire.
"Oy, Derryn," Shusa called across from Tarethís left. "You seem quiet. Is something troubling you?" Derryn turned his head to the Hunter and shook his head.
"No." He suddenly stood, shirking his cloak off and tossing it to the ground in a bundle. "Iím going to be just over the hill. Call me if thereís any trouble." Derryn began walking across the grass to a shallow valley beside the road. His legs seemed to work better now.
He drew in a breath, calming himself, and unsheathed his sword. The Templar broadsword flickered as the dim light of the sky caught the steel. Taking one step forward, he twirled the weapon and swung it in a wide arc, cleanly cutting the air with a loud whistle. Rathos had taught him how to sharpen his technique by simply thinking, and letting his body hone itself. Believe you are fluid, and you are. Float serenely, like a stream, and you will be calm. Derryn pulled the hilt to his face in ready position. Act like a waterfall upon your foe, sweeping him away with strength. The swordsman noiselessly leaped, sweeped the sword downwards, spun around and returned to ready position. If you are outnumbered, give yourself space, and evade. Dodge and cut. Derryn hopped to one side, slashed twice, aiming for an imaginary torso and neck, turned around and thrust his sword point out in a clean stab at air. Twirling the hilt, he kicked forward, slashed twice, spun around and brought the sword blade close to his face. Do not think. Think once, and in a blink, your head will be gone. Act on instinct. Now, the swordsman remembered Rathos explaining, I will show you something different. A Waywalker must learn all the Shalírin of his style. A Shalírin is a technique used by swordsmen of long ago, who had magic in their veins. This is the first Shalírin you must learn. Taking a deep breath, he gripped the hilt with both hands, and launched himself into the air, cutting upwards. His jump suddenly took flight, as he went straight up, twenty feet into the air. Reversing his blade, Derryn swung downwards, then stabbed in the same direction, pulling himself down. He landed on one knee, leaning on his sword for support, and panted heavily. Beads of sweat formed on his face. He suddenly felt exhausted, as if he had ran ten miles without rest. A Shalírin is not easy to master. It requires much energy and concentration. But mastering a Shalírin is a mark of excellence. This is Sumeníthar, the Merciless Geyser.
Derryn stood, and let the cool night air brush across his face, chilling the light sheen of sweat and calming his rapid pulse. Gripping his weapon in one hand, he surveyed his surroundings. Linnatiel sat on the hillside, hugging her knees and watching him silently. A long staff sat in her lap. "Linn," Derryn said.
"Derryn." Her voice was a touch soft, but flat.
The swordsman sheathed his weapon and walked to the base of the hill. He looked up toward Linnatiel. "Can you tell me why youíre angry at me, Linn?" He didnít feel the piercing glare of the elf, which meant it wasnít directed at him.
"Youíre a stubborn fool, Derryn Drakelight," she said, resting her chin on her knees. "And I didnít know a person with such a thick block of a skull could move so lightly."
"Stubborn? At times. Fool? Probably." Derryn shrugged. "I do what I think is right."
"No oneís lives are completely dependent on your actions, Derryn." Linnatiel rose to her feet, skirts rustling softly, her staff in one hand.
"Whatís that supposed to mean?" Derryn was puzzled.
"Iím saying that I am fully capable of following you, anywhere you go, Derryn." The elfís tone was calm. "I want to follow you."
"Linn, ever since we were little, Iíve wanted to protect you. I suppose I canít stop you from coming with me, but there are times when the going gets rough. And you have a kingdom to inherit."
The elf repeated her words, a bit more forcefully. "I want to follow you." Derryn walked up the hill until he stood face to face with Linnatiel.
"Are you still angry, Linn?"
"No, I just wish that youíd see it my way." She sighed. Derryn smiled.
"The moment I do, Iíd want you in my arms every minute of every day." Linnatiel smiled back at his words.
"Now that is the kind of romanticizing I want," she murmured, brushing her lips against his cheek, then his mouth.
"So itís settled, then. Youíre staying with me." Derryn smoothed back her long hair, then took an offhand glance at the staff in her hand. "Were you planning on using that?" he asked.
"If you werenít...cooperative," she replied with a meek smile, which did not look right on her face. "I figured a few cracks on your head would have convinced you otherwise."
"Well, thankfully it didnít come to that," the swordsman said. Gently, carefully, he slipped an arm around Linnatielís waist. To his relief, she leaned against him, sighing contentedly. The elf wasnít going to bite him. For now. "Come on, we have to get back to the others." She nodded sleepily, closing her eyes.
"In a minute, Derryn. Itís only been an hour, but my eyelids feel heavy..." Linnatiel collapsed against Derryn, her staff slipping from her fingers. Derryn caught it, then reached under her legs with a free hand and lifted her up in both arms. He let a smile pass across his face as he cradled the elf against him, her dozing face peaceful and calm.
"Sleep, my fickle Princess," Derryn whispered, and began carrying her back to the campsite. She seemed lighter than the first time he had carried her, all those years ago.
"And then, the cave bear threw itself at me!" Tareth said in a grand tone, firelight flickering off the hard, worn planes of his face as he scrunched up his fingers in the imitation of bearís claws. Nadia jumped in her seat and huddled against Valaan, who sighed annoyedly. Shusa looked amused at the telling of the Northernerís story.
"You know he survived, Nadia," Valaan grunted as he rolled the strand of straw between his teeth.
"But-but...a cave bear!" the red-haired apprentice squeaked. Valaan sighed again as Tareth continued.
"Before I could bring my sword to bear, it had wrestled me to the ground..."
"I wonder whatís taking the Princess so long," Shusa mused.
"She did look kind of subdued when she went off to find Derryn," Valaan said across the fire. "Maybe theyíre making up." His last words were said with a wry grin. Shusa cocked one eye and frowned at him.
"You did not see the light in her eyes, Spellweaver," she explained. "A very dangerous light. She also took her staff with her. A wonder she kept quiet so long."
"I managed to throw a right hook at the beastís snout..." The story went on, with Tareth making matching gestures. Only Nadia was listening now, leaning forward and eager to hear more.
"Oh dear..." Valaan said quietly, "our Princess may have gone and knocked the wits out of our leader."
"I am here," Derrynís voice answered, several meters away. The campfire revealed the swordsman, who was carrying Linnatiel in his arms. Shusa quickly rose and strode to Derryn.
"What happened?" She hissed. "Did you get into a brawl?"
Derryn shook his head. "No. I was practising until she came and...we made up."
"Yes!" Valaan crowed from his seat. "I told you so, Shusa!"
"Not like that!" Derryn snarled. He turned back to the Hunter. "Linn just suddenly fell asleep. Can you carry her back for me? I-I feel a little tired myself."
"She was exhausted from training," Shusa said, taking the Princess from Derrynís arms. The Hunter seemed stronger than she looked. "You werenít gone long enough to tire yourself from sword practice."
"It was only one Shalírin, but it sapped the strength out of me," Derryn said, leaning on his sword.
"Very risky things, those," Shusa tsked. "Fintaal would have taught you much."
"I wish I could have spoken to him," Derryn said sadly. "Do you think heís still alive?" Shusa smoothed Linnatielís hair away from her face, then looked up at him. A guardian to the Princess from birth, the Hunter was fond of her charge.
"I would not be surprised if he fell in combat," she said. "But Waymaster Fintaal was raised in Elithanor, and he knows the woods like the back of his hand. Perhaps he is still there, or he made his way back to Vellucyn. We may never know until he chooses to reveal himself. If he is alive, that is." The two began walking back to the campfire.
"I have heard of another Elven Waymaster," Derryn said. "He was said to be able to fly like a falcon, and perform Shalírin effortlessly. Have you heard of him, Shusa?" The Hunter smiled fondly at his words.
"Yes, Derryn," she said softly. "He is the light of my life." The swordsmanís eyes widened a little at her words, but she continued. "He is the Waymaster Sinvrael, one of the oldest in Vellucyn. The Shalírin you knowóyes, I have seen itówas taught by Rathos, who in turn learned it from Master Sinvrael. Sinvrael is extremely selective of his students, and acclaims even fewer to be Waymasters. A few years before you were born, before the Templar tried to invade Vellucyn, Sinvrael taught your father. Your father, however, could not become a Waymaster due to his duties to the Templar state. And because he had to raise you. Rathos, on the other hand, went on to become a Waymaster. They two were equal in skill, but Rathos has kept his edge sharp." Derryn shook his head at hearing all this information at once.
"That was a history lesson if I ever heard one," he said, sitting down at the fire next to Tareth, who was still telling his tale to Nadia. Shusa nodded, carrying Linnatiel off to one side and laying a blanket over her.
"Perhaps," she said, "You can ask for him to teach you the next time you return to Vellucyn. I can vouch for you, after all youíve done. And my opinion is not insignificant, when I can wound Sinvrael around my little finger." Shusa smiled deviously.
"When I return," Derryn said. "But there is still much to do in this place, and we have not started yet."
"No, indeed we have not," Shusa agreed. "We must rest, then, and prepare for the task ahead of us."
The wide doors of Drakelight Keep swung open, sunlight shining through and illuminating the court lobby of the castle. Adakran stepped in, flanked by a regiment of guards. His cloak rustled against the smooth floors as he took a deep breath, and exhaled in contentment. "Home, at last," he said. His officers echoed his happiness, grinning. They knew they would have the rest of the day off. Adakran gazed up at the high walls of the court. Several extravagant reliefs were set in the brick, retelling the history of the Drakelight family line. There was Lord Anthan, the first of the line, who slew a dragon while still in his teens. The feat earned him his surname, when dragons were still alive. I wonder how I will be portrayed, and the one after me, Adakran mused, when a multitude of footsteps came through the door from the courtyard. Saryn appeared, flowing in a regal blue dress, accompanied by two Templar guards and the High Advisor, a plump woman with the beginnings of grey hair at her temples. High Advisor Ewaine was completely different from her predecessor, Hillion, in almost every respect. May he be at peace now, the old man, Adakran silently prayed.
Saryn glided toward Adakran, a silver circlet adorned on her forehead, and a matching belt of woven silver around her waist. Her green eyes, uncommon for a woman with brown hair, sparkled as she smiled, taking his hands. Instead, Adakran wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her into the air, spinning her around once before setting her down. Saryn laughed against his shoulder. "It is good to see you too, My Lord," she said. Ewaine made a small curtsy, then frowned slightly at Adakran; she was like a mother to Saryn. "How is Derryn?"
"He is as fine as he has ever been," Adakran replied. "Less troublesome, and apparently charming; Princess Linnatiel has taken quite a liking to him. You would be proud of him, Saryn." Her returned smile indicated that she always was. "How are things here, Saryn? Advisor Ewaine?" Saryn smoothed her dress before answering.
"Julak Keep has expressed discontent of our recent actions," she said gravely. "They believe we are not doing enough, whatever it is. We do not even know enough to take any action. All of the other Keeps are still allied with us."
"They seem to be up to no good, My Lord," Ewaine added. "For Templar, they tend to stir up trouble where it is not needed." Adakran nodded at both of them.
"We will see what their intentions are soon enough," he replied. "Send a delegation to Julak Keep to discuss the matter. Sir Owen will be a good choice to lead. Lord Urnin must have a decent excuse this time."
-February 3, 2002