Champion of the Scarlet Wolf (Excerpt)

Five years after abandoning the Sagrada Acedemy, Elezar Grunito has become infamous in the sanctified circles of noble dueling rings for his brutal temper and lethal blade. Men and women of all ranks gather to cheer and jeer, none of them knowing Elezar’s true purpose. But a violent death outside the ring marks Elezar as a wanted man and sends him into hiding in the far northern wilds of Labara.

There, creatures of myth and witchcraft—long since driven from Cadeleon—lurk in dark woods and prowl the winding streets. Soldiers and priests alike fear the return of witch-queens and even demons. Elezar soon learns that magic takes many forms, some too alluring to resist, others too terrible to endure. But just as he begins to find his place in this strange new country, the past he left behind along with his school days returns to challenge him once again.

Return to the world of Lord of the White Hell in this fantasy adventure from Ginn Hale! Champion of the Scarlet Wolf is available exclusively on Weightless Books. Print editions will follow in Fall 2015.

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

Shadows flooded past the heavy iron bars of the cell as the light from a distant lamp guttered out. Elezar swore softly into the darkness. The enveloping black unnerved him far more than waking, half-drunk, to find himself in irons again. Slowly, his eyes adjusted and the agitated rhythm of his heart steadied. The demon-haunted Sorrowlands hadn’t reclaimed him yet. This was only another jail.

He drew in a deep breath and regretted it. The damp air reeked of sour sweat, moldering straw and piss. His stomach rolled with dull nausea, but then settled as if resigned. Over the past five years, he’d awakened in worse surroundings than this. He’d slept more than a few evenings in assorted jails, while local sheriffs investigated the legality of his duels, or awaited the arrival of their bribes. At least this evening he shared his prison with nothing more offensive than fetid straw rather than a herd of argot-addled swine.

Something about the space of the cell and the feel of the stone walls made Elezar feel certain that he’d been held in this place before—though not this particular cell.

Shouts and wails of other men imprisoned in the warren of chambers both above and beyond his own cell drifted to Elezar. Most sounded drunk and furious, ranting the long strings of Eastern obscenities so commonly heard in the capital.

Elezar felt certain he now resided in one of Ceilalto’s three city jails. The fact that he’d merited his own cell assured him that he’d once again been deemed a murderer.

He rose and paced the confines of his cell in the slow, short steps his shackles allowed. The ache of a grazed forearm flared through him, but the wound felt neither deep nor dangerous. If he needed to, he could still put up a fight despite the torpid, sloshing sensation inside his skull.

As he moved, he caught a strong whiff of blood and another of floral cologne. The heavy odor of blood rose from his clothes but certainly that pungent perfume did not.

“Atreau?” Elezar called out to a dark form sprawled in the cell across from his own. A moan rose in response. Elezar scooped up a wet tangle of straw and hurled it across the short space.

This time the responding cry sounded far more awake and peeved.

“Are you in one piece?” Elezar demanded.

“I think so. God, my head feels like it might split of its own accord.” Atreau didn’t rise from where he lay, though one of his legs twitched. “What is that smell? Did you douse me in rose oil?”

“Lord Reollos hurled you through your cologne cabinet,” Elezar replied.

“Ah, yes… I think I remember that… He caught me with a woman, didn’t he?”

“His wife, actually.” Elezar reached his cell door and tested the lock with a hard shake. The iron held. Still, it never hurt to try.

“Wife…” Atreau seemed to contemplate that—or perhaps he’d lapsed back into unconsciousness. “Yes, I remember now…the lovely, dark-eyed lady and her coy little maid. I sang for them in the morning and had them in my bed by noon.”

Elezar continued to inspect the strength of each of the cell bars. It seemed that his jailors had not only paid him the compliment of shackling his ankles but had also secured him in an exceptionally sturdy cell. He hadn’t put up much of a fight when they’d arrested him, but his harsh features and long, powerful build often inspired more fear than his actions merited. Of course, he’d also been the only man standing in a blood-spattered room when they’d found him, and at twenty-four he’d already earned a reputation as a frequent, merciless duelist.

Perhaps he deserved the shackles after all.

“If you’re going to break the door down could you do it a little more quietly? Holy Martyr my head…” Atreau clambered up to a sitting position, groaning as if it were a nearly impossible feat. Straw matted his dark hair and clung to his velvet doublet. “We were the ones set upon. Reollos’ pretty ass ought to be locked in this prison cell. Why exactly are we locked up, do you know?”

“Because we—I—may have killed him,” Elezar replied as calmly as he could. “Reollos, that is.”

In the cell across from him, Atreau looked suddenly sick.

“I don’t remember that,” he whispered.

“You wouldn’t. You were laid out limp as an eel by the time Reollos decided to skewer you.”

“He tried to murder me?” Atreau didn’t sound so much shocked as hurt by the thought, and Elezar knew why.

“You charmed your way into his household then took his wife to bed. What did you expect him to do when he discovered you?” Elezar demanded in whisper.

Atreau went quiet, bowing his handsome head against his knees. Elezar wasn’t sure if remorse or his pounding headache had inspired the forlorn slump.

The distant echo of boot heels striking hard stone filled the silence. Elezar thought he heard men whispering as well, but couldn’t understand their words. For an instant he considered what hushed accusations other prisoners were exchanging, and he wondered how closely the jailors might be listening.

He shouldn’t have spoken so freely.

But the folly of the entire affair infuriated Elezar. He had to grind his jaw to keep silent and recapture his calm. For Atreau, the brief dalliance with Lord Reollos had been little more than a curiosity—a queer diversion he could boast of in the drunken company of his favorite whores once the thrill of forbidden flirtation dulled. But Lord Reollos hadn’t shared Atreau’s casual ease.

Doubtless the few teasing glances and the quick kisses that Atreau had so thoughtlessly bestowed upon the other man had touched Reollos to the very heart. Atreau, with his charm and beauty had altered Reollos’ whole life—promised him a paradise that he had never dared to dream of. And then, with a drunken laugh, Atreau had destroyed it all. Too clearly, Elezar recalled the raw anguish in Reollos’ pale face as the man confirmed Atreau’s infidelity.

“You didn’t actually kill him, did you?” Atreau asked.

Elezar prayed that he had not, but Reollos had fought him with utter abandon—like a man who felt no pain, and feared no death because there was no reason left to keep living.

Elezar well understood the agony and rage of being scorned in love.

“He meant to murder you.” Elezar kept his tone flat. “I couldn’t have stayed my blade and kept you alive.”

Again Atreau fell silent.

The sound of footsteps grew more distinct. A door nearby scraped open and golden lamplight flared through the chamber, illuminating both Atreau and himself in their narrow cells.

Through the blaze of light, Elezar picked out the dark forms of three men. From their bulky shapes he guessed that two were guards dressed in heavy byrnies. The third man stood taller than the others and offered a more refined and elegant silhouette. He took the lamp and turned to his companions.

“Leave us, will you?”

The guards bowed and withdrew. Elezar squinted into the glare. He recognized the voice as belonging to Fedeles Quemanor, the duke of Rauma and his lifelong friend. But Fedeles should have set sail for Labara hours ago. His spirits sank even lower as Elezar realized that Fedeles must be missing the tide to come search for him.

“Fedeles!” Atreau found the strength to rise to his feet.

“Indeed.” Fedeles hung the lamp from an iron peg and drew near their cells. Deep shadows clung to his black hair and silken raiment, contrasting the natural fairness of his skin and lending him a ghostly pallor. Signet rings gleamed on his fingers. A gold collar proclaiming his appointment to Prince Sevanyo’s cabinet hung around his neck. For all Fedeles’ finery, Elezar still caught the scent of horses and saddle leather on him. Bright flecks of straw speckled the hem of his cloak. Duke or not, no one could keep Fedeles out of the stable.

Under other circumstances Elezar would have teased him for that and Fedeles would have laughed and asked after Elezar’s own stallion, Cobre.

But this evening Fedeles appeared to be in no mood for any sort of humor.

“I would greet you with a good evening, but clearly it is not.” Fedeles glowered at them. Despite his youth he looked every inch the condemning duke. “Are either of you sober enough to know what you’ve done?”

Atreau nodded, his full mouth drawn down in obvious misery.

“Is Reollos dead?” Elezar asked.

Fedeles lifted his head to meet Elezar’s gaze, and his harsh expression softened. He was afraid, Elezar realized, more afraid than Elezar himself.

“Not yet,” Fedeles replied. “But his physician doubts he will last another day.”

Elezar didn’t flinch, but simply drew in a long breath, forcing himself to remain stoic despite the fate he now faced. In the five years since he’d left the Sagrada Academy he’d killed more than a dozen men. But he’d always ensured that he fought other noblemen in sanctioned duels. The bandits and highwaymen he’d slain had waylaid him as he traveled. More often than not their demises had won him rewards. But tonight he’d run Reollos through in a rented room, far from any dueling ring. He’d towered over the slim, fair-haired man, outmatching him in both reach and experience. And Elezar couldn’t even claim he’d been forced to battle for his own life. Rather, he’d been defending Atreau Vediya, a notorious libertine from the wrath of a cuckholded husband.

No, this time he’d gone too far. He’d murdered a fellow nobleman and could be lawfully hanged.

“I thought you’d be on your way to Labara.” Elezar found some pride in the fact that his voice still sounded relaxed given that he now faced the possibility of the gallows.

“And I thought you were going to join me. Your horse and trunks are stowed and waiting,” Fedeles countered.

“I was delayed.” For an instant Elezar whole-heartedly regretted his decision to bid Atreau a last farewell. If he hadn’t gone to Atreau’s cheap rooms he would never have seen Lord Reollos storming up the stairs and wouldn’t have raced after the man to keep Atreau from harm.

But then Atreau certainly would have died, and Elezar couldn’t wish for that either. Atreau had been a friend to him and his family for far too long.

“Elezar came to visit me, and well…” Atreau trailed off with a sheepish shrug.

“Yes, you’re becoming somewhat renowned for your knack at entangling other people in your troubles.” Fedeles scowled at Atreau with the expression of a disappointed father. In truth, the three of them were of an age—twenty-four this year; Fedeles simply wore his responsibilities more heavily.

“I’m the only one to blame,” Elezar admitted. “Atreau was hardly conscious when Reollos and I fought.”

“The man’s wife was conscious enough, though,” Fedeles responded. “She was overheard telling the physician that her husband went mad with jealousy and would have murdered Atreau if you hadn’t interceded.”

Elezar nodded but the knowledge did little to ease his guilt. He hadn’t known Reollos well—and that seemed a shame now. They might have found something in each other, if they’d only had the chance. Instead he’d killed the man.

“Then she can testify before the king’s court. Elezar and I both should go free. Or at worse perhaps pay a blood fine.” Atreau brightened a little though his complexion still looked sickly gray.

Fedeles shook his head.

“She’s the duke of Gavado’s daughter and his allies are no friends of Prince Sevanyo. She isn’t a foolish woman and I imagine as soon as she recovers from the shock of seeing her husband run through, she’ll realize how greatly it would delight the royal bishop to do away with two of Sevanyo’s loyalists—particularly two who aided Javier Tornesal in making the royal bishop look a fraud.”

 “Do you really think she would demand that Atreau and I both die just to better her father’s standing?” Elezar had never cared for the intrigues of court and the current rivalry between the royal bishop and his brother, Crown Prince Sevanyo, struck him as more petty and vicious than usual. Five years ago machinations between the princes had resulted in his best friend Javier’s exile. Elezar had lost the truest friend he’d ever known. Now he stood to lose his life.

“No. As I said, Lady Oasia Reollos isn’t a fool.” Fedeles spoke harshly but his expression was pensive. “I think that even now she’s taking steps to keep the sordid details of this entire affair from being aired in trial before the king and his courtiers.”

“There has to be a trial,” Atreau objected. “Even as the fourth son of a baron I’m still a nobleman and Elezar is heir to an earldom, for God’s sake!”

“Dead men don’t stand for trial, regardless of title,” Fedeles said. “This little jail won’t offer much resistance against Lady Reollos’ men-at-arms when she sends them for you.”

“She wouldn’t…” Atreau swayed on his feet and then bolted back into the shadows of his cell and vomited.

Fedeles frowned after him then looked back to Elezar.

“I thought you were done with your days of being Javier’s Hellion,” Fedeles commented under his breath. “You told me you were finished with drinking and dueling.”

“Between Lady Reollos’ men and the hangman’s noose I definitely will be soon enough.” Elezar didn’t have it in him to tell Fedeles that he’d been sober as a stone these last three months. Only after he’d known there would be no escaping from his own actions—after the lady, her maid and both of Reollos’ pages fled, abandoning Elezar to the company of Atreau’s battered, limp form and Lord Reollos’ bloody dying body—had he taken up Atreau’s open bottle of white ruin and drunk deeply of what respite it could offer.

“You’re idiots,” Fedeles ground out. “Both of you.”

“But idiots you’re fond of, yes?” Atreau staggered back to the bars of his cell. “You can’t have come just to recriminate us and let us die, Fedeles. Five years ago we risked our lives to free you—”

“I am very aware of my debt.”

“I was at sea for six months and sick the entire time, and Elezar was wounded—nearly died—and suffered fines for the three men he slew in combat—”

“I’m not going to let you die.” Fedeles cut him off with an annoyed flick of his hand. “But don’t dream that it’s because I feel I still owe you anything. My debt to you is well past paid, Atreau. I’ve emptied a small treasury keeping you safe, fed and housed these past five years. If I intercede here and now, it will be you who owes me. Do you understand?”

Atreau closed his mouth and simply nodded.

Just then the door behind Fedeles swung open and the lamp flickered low, almost plunging them into darkness. Then the flame lit back up. A guard rushed in and made a quick nod of his obligatory bow to Fedeles. From the silver insignia embroidered over the breast of his cloak, Elezar guessed he was the captain of the night watch. He looked worried and somewhat young for his responsibilities.

“My lord, it is as you said,” the captain told Fedeles. “A lady and her maids are at the door with a full company of men-at-arms behind them. They are too many for my own men to hold off.”

 “You shouldn’t need to hold them off at all, my good man.” Fedeles offered the guard an assured smile. “Only give me the keys to these cells and this man’s shackles. I will take these two into my custody. Once that is done you only need invite the lady and a small escort in to see that she has come too late. She will see for herself that the prisoners she seeks have been taken from you.”

Elezar watched as the young captain considered the proposition. He seemed to take confidence just resting his gaze on the symbols of authority engraved across Fedeles’ gold collar.

“Your carriage is waiting at the rear gate, my lord.” The captain took two keys from the heavy ring at his hip and placed them, with great reverence, in Fedeles’ outstretched hand.

“Thank you,” Fedeles said. “I will not forget the service you’ve rendered this evening.”

The captain bowed deeply and then took his leave. The lamp’s flame leapt and spat at the breeze created by the closing door. Fedeles unlocked Elezar’s cell and removed his shackles. Then he freed Atreau. Though Elezar’s left forearm still bled and his bruises ached, he was in far better condition than Atreau. Up close Elezar saw the long, deep gash where his scalp had split open almost to the bone. Blood and straw matted his black hair and dark bruises colored the swollen skin around his split lip.

“Where will we go?” Atreau managed a few steps toward the door but then lurched as his balance failed him. Elezar caught him and easily took his weight.

“The ship bound for the north of Labara?” Elezar guessed. He all but carried Atreau, while Fedeles took the lamp and led their way through the dank stone corridors of the jail.

“Yes, the capital city, Milmuraille.” Fedeles spared a quick glance over his shoulder at them and then continued. “There you will remain until I send word that it is safe for you to return home.”

“You won’t come as well?” Elezar asked.

“I think I’ll have my work cut out for me here.”

They passed through a set of doors and then ascended a staircase. Elezar caught the shrill timbre of a woman shouting, but not so close that he could distinguish her words. Fedeles quickened his pace and Elezar abandoned the pretense of Atreau’s dignity. He hefted his friend’s slack body over his shoulder like a felled hind and raced after Fedeles.

“Bloody beast,” Atreau muttered but he offered no resistance.

 Someone in a dark cell begged for water and another prisoner spat insults intended for his jailors. A weathered older guard waved them through another door and then they were out in the fresh, cool air of the late autumn night.

When they reached Fedeles’ glossy black carriage, Elezar lay Atreau down on one green padded-leather seat then took his place beside Fedeles on the opposite side. The driver reined his horses ahead even before the footman had fully closed the carriage door.

“Ostensibly, I was visiting Milmuraille to pay court to Bishop Palo’s young niece.” Fedeles’ gaze settled on Atreau for a worried moment.

Atreau flopped with the rhythm of the carriage then finally seemed to rouse himself enough to ask, “Attractive young niece?”

“Pleasant enough, if you believe the portrait her uncle sent,” Fedeles replied. “The bishop expects me, my pages and a companion to stay with him at his townhouse while his niece also visits.”

“And now?” Elezar asked.

“Now I obviously won’t be arriving… However, no one in his household—or the city as far as I know—has ever laid eyes on me in person, and the portraits I’ve sent were not well made.” Fedeles looked a little embarrassed, as if Elezar had caught him purposely misrepresenting himself as a homely hunchback. “I never have the patience to sit still long enough for the painter to capture more than my coloring. They could be pictures of any man with black hair and pale skin.”

Elezar considered this as they raced over rough cobbles. The smell of the air took on the slight tang of the river docks. “Do you mean for Atreau to pass himself off as you?”

“It would serve to hide him well enough, and my pages are quite loyal.” Fedeles raked Atreau’s sprawled form with a disapproving gaze. “Though I find it difficult to imagine a worse man to send in my place to meet a prospective bride.”

Elezar couldn’t either, even after mentally running through a list of several well-known scoundrels.

“I’ll keep him in hand,” Elezar assured Fedeles.

Fedeles looked unconvinced. “You’ll have to for both your sakes.”

“Does the bishop know that I’m the companion you were bringing?” Elezar asked.

“No, I wasn’t certain you’d agree to come when last I wrote to him.”

“Just as well that I don’t reveal my title to the bishop then,” Elezar said. “I’ll go as a varlet in the service of the duke of Rauma. No one will pay me any heed after that.”

“My thought exactly,” Fedeles said.

The carriage turned sharply and the clatter of horseshoes against stone cobbles muted. They’d reached the wooden planks of the pier.

“There was to be another purpose to my visit to Labara.” Fedeles lowered his voice, though Elezar felt certain that Atreau had lapsed into unconsciousness once again. His mouth hung open in a lolling gape.

“Prince Sevanyo hoped you could parlay with Drigfan, the Sumar Witch Queen?” Elezar guessed. “He wants you to find some way to stop her from razing any more Cadeleonian priests monasteries.”

“Yes.” Fedeles didn’t disguise the surprise in his voice. “How did you know?”

“I’ve listened to talk in taverns and managed to pick up this and that from the royal couriers visiting your stables,” Elezar said, with a shrug. “It’s common enough knowledge that the Sumar Witch Queen has made a show of murdering Cadeleonians who enter her lands—priests in particular, but traders as well. There are only two ways to stop something like that, and knowing Sevanyo he’d rather it be through diplomacy than battle.” 

“He’s not the only one. The Sumar forest is not a place I would choose to wage a war—particularly not a war against Mirogothic witches. But it will come to that soon if these atrocities against our holy men are not stopped.” Fedeles scowled down at his hands but then lifted his gaze to meet Elezar’s. “If you can make peace with the Sumar Witch Queen in my stead, then both Sevanyo and the royal bishop will have to welcome you back to Cadeleon as a friend.”

Elezar nodded numbly. All he knew about the four Mirogoth tribes, their warlords and witch queens he’d learned from a pompous ass called Scholar Habalan years ago at the Sagrada Academy. If Habalan’s knowledge of the Mirogoths was on par with the rest of his teaching, it was likely to be riddled with patriotic inaccuracy and convenient omission as well as being decades out of date. Still Elezar wracked his mind for every detail he could recollect.

Of the four Mirogoth tribes, the Sumar people were the most powerful. Their territories bordered Labara directly to the north.

Nearly a hundred years ago a coalition of Mirogoth tribes had swept through the Labaran Peninsula to penetrate deep into Cadeleon. Elezar’s own ancestors had been among those who had driven them back through Labara into their forest holdings. In the process of being twice overrun, Labara had lost her king and broken into several counties, which had all fallen under Cadeleonian protection.

To this day, the four counts of Labara still tithed to the Cadeleonian king, who used the taxes to fund the garrisons and troops he maintained in major cities. Throughout the land Cadeleonian bishops consecrated churches and monasteries alongside native Labaran temples.

It was said that a Cadeleonian man could visit any of the three smaller southern counties of Labara and never know he’d strayed from his homeland. But the northern-most county of Radulf, whence Elezar was bound, was infamous for its street witches and its ruling count, who was reputed to be descended directly from a Mirogoth lineage of warlords and shape-changers. 

A witch queen even resided in the capital city of Milmuraille where, in return for defending the Labaran border, she was indulged and supported by the count.

How Fedeles expected him to wrangle a cessation of hostilities in this environment that he knew nothing about, Elezar could not even hazard a guess. Particularly not from any sort of witch queen. He only kept regular company with two women, and one of them was his mother.

 “I’m not sure I’m fit for this,” Elezar confessed. “I’m no man of manners or letters. We both know I’ve spent more time in dueling rings than attending court.”

“You certainly aren’t a typical diplomat,” Fedeles conceded, and Elezar saw the flash of his white teeth. “But you might be better suited than you’d first think. Mirogoths aren’t a courtly people, not even their grimma—”

“Who?”

“Grimma,” Fedeles repeated. “That’s what the Mirogoths call their four witch queens.”

“Is the title plural as well as singular?” Elezar asked reflexively. Coming from the trade city of Anecleto, he spoke a smattering of several languages, and at least enough Mirogothic to know that they rarely designated a plural form of nouns. A man had to be very specific about numbers when he traded with Mirogoths or the shoal of fish he thought he’d bought for a pittance could all too easily turn out to be a single costly fry.

“Ah, a good question. It’s both. One or many,” Fedeles sounded pleased. “And you say you aren’t made for this. You’re just the man, Elezar. The truth is that both Prince Sevanyo and the royal bishop have already sent cultured envoys and clever monks to parlay with the Sumar Grimma. None of those men even managed to locate her stronghold—her sanctum as it’s called. Two returned half-mad from fevers and babbling about walking mountains and stone giants. Another crawled back after eight months lost in the Mirogoth wilderness and immediately died of the flux. The other men in his party had all either succumbed to the elements or been torn apart by wild animals.”

“That’s encouraging.” Elezar glanced to Atreau’s limp form, watching the way his loose limbs jostled with the motions of the carriage. Atreau’s mother heralded from southern Labara and had taught her son her language but as far as Elezar knew that was the full extent of Atreau’s knowledge of the land. He’d been born in Cadeleon and spent most of his life being passed between the households of Cadeleonian lords whom his father desired as allies. Most recently he’d been taken in by Fedeles.

 He wasn’t made for the hardship of a wilderness.

“Apparently even in this modern age,” Fedeles went on, “Mirogoths still live among beasts in rocky palaces, hidden by dark forests and witchcraft.”

“So no one has even a glimmering of where this Sumar Grimma keeps her court?”

“Glimmerings, but precious little more,” Fedeles admitted. “According to Mirogothic lore her sanctum lies at the heart of an enchanted forest where it is forever summer and all the beasts are hers to command. The road there is paved in moonlight and no man can find her unless she wishes it.”

“Must make it hell to get her market deliveries to her,” Elezar responded.

Fedeles laughed lightly at that.

Elezar gazed at him through the darkness. “You meant me to do this even before this trouble with Reollos, didn’t you?”

Fedeles looked a little sheepish. “I’d planned to explain it all once we were under sail and—”

“It was too late for me to turn back?” Elezar finished.

Fedeles nodded.

“Well, I’m certainly past turning back now, have no fear,” Elezar assured him.

 Despite the ominous failures of previous envoys, Elezar took a kind of comfort in the knowledge that Fedeles had wanted him to do this and that the work ahead would require more than good manners and a glib smile. God knew, he’d solved enough problems with his fists and sword. He was, as Atreau had called him, a bloody beast. He felt sick with the knowledge but he couldn’t deny it. Perhaps this once he could do more than leave a trail of weeping relatives in his wake.

 “I’ll show you the books I’ve packed as well as a few maps previous envoys cobbled together. It’s all already aboard our ship…I hope I don’t have to mention that this task isn’t something Prince Sevanyo particularly wants any Labarans finding out about, particularly not Oesir, the current Labaran Grimma.”

Elezar considered this and then nodded.

“The grimma or even Count Radulf might take inspiration from the Sumar Grimma’s actions and demand their own negotiations for greater power, yes?” Elezar asked.

“Quite,” Fedeles responded.

The carriage drew to a halt and Fedeles opened the door. Atreau roused himself and wiped his mouth. Something about the clumsy motion made Elezar think suddenly of his artless younger brothers. He hoped they would be well in his absence.

“Have we arrived already?” Atreau asked and from his voice Elezar guessed that he’d been awake for more than a little of the conversation.

“Yes. Can you walk on your own yet?” Elezar asked.

“I think so,” Atreau replied.

Elezar ducked out of the cramped confines. Through the evening darkness he made out the black silhouette of a tall ship. Before him deep waters and a foreign land awaited.

 

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