Authors: Steven A. Tolle
“I think the old man used some magic.” Norlan stated, scratching his head. “Reheating forged metal is tricky; done incorrectly, it can ruin the strength of the metal. I did not think that I could possibly get it done before tomorrow. When Tomaris said he could help me with it, I was skeptical. But he did something, standing there with his eyes closed, for the metal seemed to become almost like clay. I was able to repair it and it cooled quickly, quicker than it should have. Dern and Almos made the new straps while I worked.” He shook his head in wonder. “I would swear that the steel is as strong as it ever was.” He barked a short laugh. “If I could hire him, I would make a fortune.”
“We’ll find out how well it is done when it has to stop the first arrow or sword thrust.” Dominic said sardonically. “But I am glad to have proper fitting armor again.”
Dominic accepted Madalin’s invitation to stay for dinner. While Jake and Cherise played with Maxis, Norlan and Dominic sat on the porch benches, talking quietly. With the daylight fading in the west, Tomaris’ carriage appeared at the gate. Jonas and Tomaris stepped down and entered the yard. Maxis ran over to Tomaris, stopping and sniffing him, shaking his head as if he could not understand the scent. Tomaris smiled down at the dog and petted him. When Jonas and Tomaris joined the other men on the benches, Jake was surprised that Maxis lay down and studied Tomaris, appearing to be puzzling out who he was.
Madalin came out, seeing the newcomers and asking if they would like to join them for dinner. When Jonas agreed, she called Cherise inside to help her. Jake sat down next to Dominic, absently listening as the men made small talk about the weather and the going-ons of the city.
The meal was delicious as usual. Once they finished eating, Dominic departed to finish gathering supplies for the trip. As he left, he told Jake that Hailyn would take Dontas as her mount on the way to the Keep.
“I think Jake should pack and get some rest.” Jonas said gently as he stood. “They will be leaving early in the morning.” He looked at Norlan and Madalin. “Tomaris and I need to speak to Jake about some aspects of his condition. We will accompany him to his room to discuss it privately.”
Night had settled over the city as they crossed the patio. Once they were inside Jake’s room, Tomaris again created that shimmering of air to safeguard the room. Satisfied, he turned to Jake. “Lie down and release your magic, child. We are going to try to heal you now.”
Jake complied, stretching out on the bed and letting go of his power. He immediately felt that strange crawling sensation radiating from the two men. As before, the sensation suddenly ceased from Tomaris as he approached Jake.
“Jonas.” Tomaris said. “What I need for you to do is surround Jake and I with your power, as much as you can wield. You do not need to do anything, but be prepared for me to draw on it. Do you understand?”
“I understand.” Jonas said, his form shining brightly as he called up his power.
“Close you eyes and relax, child.” Tomaris said gently as he sat down next to Jake. His eyes took on a far-away look as he laid his hand on Jake’s forehead. “Now, Jonas.”
Jonas sent his magic to surround the two, drawing as much as he could through his staff, dazzling the air. He watched as the two remained encased in his power. Suddenly, the air around the two flared into a brilliant white light, almost blinding in intensity, overwhelming his own light. Jonas felt his power suddenly rushing through him, unable to stop the flow as it swirled around Jake and Tomaris. He held on, serving as a conduit of power, the magic sweeping through him like a river of Light.
As quickly as it began, the light disappeared and the pull of his magic stopped, leaving Jonas panting and a bit light-headed. Tomaris fell back, stumbling off the bed and slipping onto the floor, the wall preventing him from collapsing completely. Jonas moved to him when he saw blood flowing from his nose and his eyes seemed unfocused. Jonas knelt and sent his magic into him, soothing waves of healing.
Tomaris blinked, rousing, and shook his head. “Thank you, friend Jonas.” He said wearily. “I fear that I misjudged what was needed to heal Jake.”
Jonas looked over to see Jake sit up, his hair without a trace of white, his body and complexion normal. He breathed a sigh of relief, then reached over and sent a probe of magic into Jake, assessing his condition. Jonas let his power go when he knew that Jake was healed.
“That was not something I want to do again.” Jake said. “I can’t really describe it, but it wasn’t exactly pleasant.” He shook his head and looked over to Tomaris, seeing the blood. “Are you alright?” He asked hurriedly.
“I am fine, child.” Tomaris replied. He pushed himself to his feet, swaying slightly. “However, I do need sleep to recover fully.”
“We will go back to the Temple.” Jonas said. “I will make sure that you are not disturbed.”
Tomaris nodded and looked back at Jake. “Do you have a cloak or something that can hide your face?” Tomaris asked Jake.
“I have my hoodie.” Jake replied, confused.
“That will work for tonight.” Tomaris stated. “If you need to leave this room, use it and your power. Remember that you are supposed to be in your previous condition. If Jonas is right about the spies, then you must continue to act as if you are infirm until we are safely away.”
“I understand.” Jake said.
“I will tell Norlan and Madalin that you should be left alone tonight.” Jonas said. “You will have a chance to say goodbye in the morning. I will also make sure you have a hooded cloak tomorrow.”
“You should say your farewells now.” Tomaris said quietly to them both. “You cannot have any contact in the morning. I will wait for you outside, Jonas.” He held onto the doorframe as he slowly departed, the door curtain closing behind him.
“Jonas, I cannot begin to thank you for everything you have done for me.” Jake began, trying to clear his throat, feeling it tighten. “You made me feel welcome, set me up with Norlan and Madalin, and have been here for me when I needed you.” He paused, voice breaking slightly. “I will never forget you.”
“I will not forget you as well, Jake.” Jonas said, pulling Jake into a hug. “I have given thanks to the One that you came to us. I now pray that you will be successful and return safely to your home and family.”
Jake returned the hug for a moment,
then Jonas released him. “Take care of Hailyn and keep her safe, Jake.” Jonas said seriously, eyes shining from unshed tears.
“I will do my best.” Jake replied.
Patting Jake on the shoulder for the last time, Jonas turned and followed Tomaris out.
Jake sat down, feeling the sense of loss already. He went through the pain of being separated from his family and friends when he arrived and was now facing the same with his new friends.
Dwelling on it is not going to help
. He told himself.
Get up and do something.
He stood up, relishing his new strength, grabbed his saddlebags and began to pack.
Jake was awake, dressed in his armor and sword, when Dominic strode into his room. It was still dark outside, an hour or so before sunrise. He had not slept much the night before, tossing and turning as his mind raced with imagined possibilities and dangers. Despite his recovery, he was nervous as he knew that confrontations with the demons and half-men lay ahead of him. After the battle with Creatos, he felt pretty confidant that he had the power to withstand most demons one-on-one. However, it was a near impossibility that the Guardian’s sword would be guarded by only one demon. How he and Hailyn could locate and safely gain access to it troubled him throughout the night. Hopefully, Tomaris would have further instructions to assist them.
He was also somewhat anxious about traveling with Hailyn. They were close, but he had never actually spent that much time alone with a girl before. They would be on their own, trying to stay out of sight for the most part. That meant sharing a camp, likely a small one, and dealing with their bodily needs along the way. He just hoped that he would not embarrass himself.
“Are you ready, boy?” Dominic said as he tossed a cloak with a hood towards him. “Jonas was granted leave by the king to have the gate opened to allow us to leave before the sun rises.”
Jake hurriedly put the cloak on over his armor as Dominic picked up his saddlebags. “Remember, you are supposed to be weakened.” He said as he slung them over his shoulder. “Pull up the hood and walk slow.” Dominic turned and left.
Jake called up his magic as he pulled the hood over his head, his form shining brightly, bathing the room in an azure light. He slowly turned, trying to etch the room into his memory. It had been a good place to stay, as close to a home as he would have here. Sighing, he tried to shrug off the slight melancholy that descended on him, straightened his shoulders and went outside.
Looking across the yard, he saw Tomaris’ carriage on the other side of the gate, lighted by the torches in his soldiers’ hands. Dominic was in front of the carriage, already astride Shadow, speaking quietly with Deepwood. As he slowly made his way towards the carriage, he saw Hailyn sitting on Dontas, her gaze on him. She was dressed in brown leggings and boots, with a cowled robe, belted at the waist, which only extended to mid-thigh to allow her legs more freedom of movement. Next to her was a similarly dressed male cleric, who looked to be in his mid-twenties, with medium-length dark hair and an easy smile on his face, sitting comfortably on a chestnut-colored horse.
Inside the fence, near the gate, he observed Tomaris and Jonas talking quietly with Norlan, Madalin and Cherise. He felt a pang of loss as he made his way towards them. These people had sheltered him, cared for him, and acted as a surrogate family for him. Now he was leaving, likely to never return. He was not sure what he could say that would adequately convey his feelings towards them.
Making sure that his face was as deep in the cowl as possible, he stopped next to them. He could see the tears in Madalin and Cherise’s eyes, holding each other’s hand. Norlan was standing next to Madalin, his arm around her shoulders, trying to be stoic, eyes dry, but Jake knew that was an act.
“Good morning, Jake.” Jonas said with a nod of his head. “I wish that I could do more for you, but I believe that Tomaris is the person best able to figure out how to help you.”
“I know that, Jonas.” Jake replied, going along with the deception. “You have done more for me than I deserve.”
“It has been my honor to do so, Jake.” Jonas said. He raised his hand and spoke again, voice gentle with an undercurrent of suppressed emotion. “We must now say farewell. May the blessings of the One go with you, Jake, and
may He grant you a way home.”
“Thank you.” Jake responded.
Jake turned to the family, feeling his throat going tight. Norlan came up to him and pulled him into an almost crushing embrace. “I will miss you, Jake.” He said in a tight whisper. “I also hope you find a way home, but if not, return here, for this is your home as well.” After another few moments, Norlan released him.
Madalin threw her arms around him, pulling him close. “Our love goes with you, Jake.” She said, voice cracking. “Stay safe and write if you can. Do not forget us.”
“Never, Madalin.” Jake said softly. “I will never forget what you have done for me. I only wish I had a way to repay your kindness.”
“No payment will ever be necessary, Jake.” Madalin said as she leaned in and kissed his cheek. Jake kept his head down, hoping that she would not notice his true condition.
Once Madalin let go, Cherise came in and hugged him, crying softly. “I wish you could stay.” She sobbed. “I feel better, safer, when you are here.”
“I wish I could.” Jake said, hugging her tightly. Amid his roiling emotions, a thought occurred to him. “If you ever need someone to protect you, ask for Marcus and tell him I said that he should watch over you. I am sure he will.” Jake felt her nod.
“I’ll miss you.” Cherise said brokenly, releasing him, then turned and threw herself into her mother’s arms, weeping.
Before his emotions got the best of him, he turned to Tomaris. “I’m ready if you are.” He said, voice catching in his throat.
“Yes, child. We should get started.” Tomaris said, then turned to the family. “Allay your worries. I will do everything I can to protect and assist Jake.” He said compassionately. “Do not fear for his safety while he is with me.” Norlan gave a stiff nod of his head, while holding onto his wife and daughter.
“Join me in the carriage, Jake.” Tomaris said as he headed for the gate, Jonas at his side. “It is time.”
With one last long gaze at the family, Jake turned and followed Tomaris. He waited while Jonas helped Tomaris into the carriage, then made to follow. As he grabbed the handle to pull himself into the carriage, the sound of horses approaching made him pause. He was surprised to see Marcus ride up, flanked by two men in Royal Guard armor. Marcus dismounted and approached him.
“I just heard that you are departing.” He said as he stopped in front of Jake. “I wished to say farewell.”
“Thank you, Marcus.” Jake said. He glanced over at Cherise. “Will you do me a favor?”
“Just ask.” Marcus replied.
“Watch over Norlan and his family for me, especially Cherise.” Jake said quietly. “They have been through a lot because of me. I will feel better if I know you are protecting them.”
“It will be my honor, Jake. Nothing will harm them while I live.” Marcus answered. He paused. “Do you not plan to return?”
“I don’t know what will happen.” Jake said truthfully. “I have to assume that I will not.”
“It is better to expect the worse.” Marcus agreed. “Always keep that in mind while you are on the road.” He held out his hand. “May your journey be successful.
Jake took it. “I’m glad we became friends, or at least not enemies.”
Marcus nodded, looking at Jake’s face. Jake saw his eyes widen slightly and his grip become firmer, pulling Jake a bit closer.
He saw and now he knows.
Jake thought, dismayed.
Jake leaned close. “You cannot tell anyone, Marcus. Not Keria or even Norlan.” He whispered urgently. “Only Jonas knows.”
“I will keep your secret, Jake.” Marcus said quickly and quietly. “I take it that you have other plans than what was announced?”
“Yes.” Jake responded, glancing around. “I can’t say anything more.”
“Fair enough.” Marcus said. “May you find success in your quest, whatever that may be.” He released Jake’s hand. “Do not worry about Norlan and his family. I will keep them safe.”
“Thanks, Marcus.” Jake said.
Marcus turned and headed back to his horse. Once he was back in the saddle, he gave Jake a final salute, and then he and his companions rode off. Jake motioned Jonas over.
“What is it?” Jonas asked softly.
“Marcus saw my face and knows that I’m not going to be healed.” Jake said. “He promised to keep it secret.”
Jonas mulled it over. “I will make sure of that.” He said firmly and resolutely.
“I trust him.” Jake stated quickly. “He will keep his promise.”
“Of course.” Jonas said absently. He motioned for Jake to climb into the carriage. “You need to be off.”
Nodding, Jake climbed into the carriage. With a final wave to Jonas and the family through the window, Jake turned ahead and the quest for the Guardian’s sword began.
The party rode throughout the day, only stopping briefly to feed and water the horses. Like Dominic and he had done, they stopped at the North Reach waystation as the sun was setting. The ride in the carriage had been quiet for the most part, with Jake’s thoughts on those back in Sanduas and Tomaris sitting there silent, his eyes closed, seemingly content to wait for Jake.
At the waystation, Jake was forced to play the invalid again, shining in power while keeping his hood up. He made a show of it, making his way slowly through the dining hall to the room he was sharing with Dominic. Dominic brought him his dinner, then went back to join the rest in the hall. Jake ate in
silence, anxious now to be on his way, so he could be free of this masquerade.
He was lying on his bed, his thoughts focused on what was coming, when Dominic returned. He sat up when the door opened, then sank back down when he saw it was Dominic.
“What’s on your mind, boy?” Dominic asked, seeing the look of concern on Jake’s face.
“I’m just thinking about what I have to do. I don’t want to screw up.” Jake replied. He looked up at Dominic. “I’m also a little scared, to be honest.”
“That is good to hear.” Dominic said. “If you were not afraid, I would be worried.” He sat down on his bed. “Control that fear, but keep it in the back of your mind; it will make you cautious. When you confront obstacles in your journey, just remember your lessons and react accordingly.”
“But, what if-.“ Jake began, but Dominic cut him off.
“Leave over the ‘what ifs’, boy.” He said. “Thinking on it does no good. What will happen, will happen. You simply need to stay focused and be prepared to deal with what comes.”
“That’s easy for you to say.” Jake retorted. “You have a lot more experience with stuff like this.”
“And how did I gain that experience?” Dominic asked rhetorically. “By trial and error, like all good lessons. You learned from the bruises on how to properly defend yourself with a sword. You faced demons with your power, despite your fear, learning how to fight them. You will learn your way through this as well.” He snorted. “Also, you have the girl to keep you out of trouble.”
“Do you think we have a chance?” Jake asked quietly.
“Tomaris believes it to be so and, so far, I have been given no reason to doubt his judgment.” Dominic replied. “There is danger ahead, even great danger, but the reward may be a way for you to return home. Only you can decide what you will risk to accomplish that.”
“I just wish I had a better idea of what to expect.” Jake said.
“Then, when we are on the road, ask Tomaris if he has anything more to say other than what he has told us.” Dominic responded. “I’m sure he will have some advice for you.” He leaned over to blow out the candles. “Now, get some sleep.”
As they continued their journey the next day, Jake decided to follow Dominic’s advice. He asked Tomaris if he could tell him anything else more on what he had planned.
“When we camp near the crossroads tonight, you will trade places with the young cleric.” He told Jake, eyes knowing and sympathetic. “In the morning, you, dressed as a cleric, and Hailyn will continue north towards Beragan. Jonas has provided a letter of introduction to the Chief Cleric of Beragan that will give you passage to Dunanty, the capital of Beragan.” He reached into his robes and pulled out a small piece of parchment, handing it to Jake. Jake took it and saw several runes on the paper. Confused, he looked over at Tomaris.
“When you reach the capital, you should ask the Chief Cleric if he
can decipher those runes.” Tomaris continued. “I was only able to acquire them recently. What I know is that they are from ancient Beragan. Without having their key, though, I have not been able to interpret them.” He paused. “However, I believe that they refer to a possible location of the sword.”
“If you can’t interpret them, why do you think the Chief Cleric can?” Jake asked.
“While I have an extensive library, I don’t know everything, child.” Tomaris said with a laugh. “It is possible that the clerics of Beragan will know what the runes mean. That will save time that we cannot spend seeking the key.”
“After we get there?” Jake asked. “What then?”
“You will need to follow the clues as you find them.” Tomaris replied. “You will have to think your way through this and, sometimes, simply follow your instincts. If I knew more, I would tell you. I would not risk you if I knew where the sword is located. I would simply have sent a large party of clerics and soldiers to recover it, trusting in them to get there before the demons could move it.”
“I am an old man, Jake.” Tomaris continued. “While I still have my power, my body is fading; I cannot do this quest myself. If I could, I would leave you in the safety of the Keep and go myself.” He sighed bitterly. “As it is, since I cannot go, someone must. I believe that you have the power and intelligence to accomplish it. Otherwise, I would not have suggested it. You have stood against a demon lord and survived; that is no small thing.”