It was midday when the slaver reached Yndarr. The river had carried them far indeed, and quickly. It was easy for him to find the bard, since there was only one bard. Bez had always made his home near the bazaar in an apartment above one of the shops. The apartment was only accessible through one of the cul-de-sacs that made up the maze. There, the slaver found the bard.
“Bez,” he began, “I made her a promise to bring the child to you. I was to take ‘im no where’s else. I was to take whatever you could pay, but I do not want your money.” He handed the bard the scroll. “She also wanted me to give you this.”
Bez broke the wax seal and began to read the message. Without a single glance, he reached around and picked up one of the money pouches from the table and handed it to the slaver.
“Consider it a messenger’s fare,” he replied, “Not the price of a baby.”
“So now what?” The slaver inquired.
“Go home, Trybus,” Bez replied with a smile, “Go home and get drunk…and forget this ever happened. And thank you for delivering my grandson to me.”
The slaver nodded and left. Bez turned his attention to his grandson.
“Now to make it a bit more comfortable for you, my boy,” he stated, waving his hand.
In the corner, a cradle appeared. Beside it was a bureau of drawers that held swaddling and a feeding udder-a sack with a false nipple through which milk was suckled by a nursling orphan baby-and many toys to amuse the child. Bez would make sure that the child had his milk and was clean.
Once he had made sure that needs were met, he set about studying the child. The first thing that caught his attention was the fiery red hair. Upon closer inspection, he noticed the baby’s eyes. Blacker than the darkest abyss, they were, and seemed to such a person in. Such depth!
The child was the one promised by the prophets, he was sure of it. But exactly what did the prophecy mean, anyway? It was vague, at best. What was so special about this child and what was he going to do to the Dark Ring and the Renge?
Kyrzhad entered what had been Niobe’s chambers to find her gone. The torches along the back wall were gone, missing. He frowned. This was so like her. she had always left without so much as a word of farewell.
He strode to the back wall and moved the tapestry aside. Nothing. Not even a window. So where had she gone?
The guards outside her house had not seen her leave. Nor had those watching the windows of the manse. No one had seen her make her escape. It was almost as if she had simply vanished.
Her rucksacks were still on her bed, filled with her clothes. It was unlike her to leave her clothes…unless she’d had sense enough to secret a portion of her imperial allowance. If she had done that, she would have money enough to buy whatever clothes she needed. Still, she normally left nothing behind.
He went to her desk and ransacked it, searching for any sign of her allowance money. Nothing. He turned his attention to her rucksacks. Dumping them out, he feverishly searched through her belongings for the money she had been paid as the imperial princess. Still nothing.
His anger grew as he realized that she had taken only what was most important to her. She had taken money enough to survive on and buy clothing once she arrived at her destination. His frown deepened. He would have to cut her off. She would receive no more of her imperial allowance. He didn’t care how his father had set things up, she did not deserve the money.
He wanted to send an army after her. He wanted to hold her in the city donjons until she died of old age. He wanted to force her to love him. but it would be of no use. He had promised her that she could leave and exile herself to the farthest city from the capitol. He had promised her that the city of Yndarr was hers.
He only hoped that he had not done something he would regret. He hoped she would not oppose his campaigns in the region of Yndarr. He had a feeling, though, that she would. It was a feeling he couldn’t escape.
Niobe’s small group emerged from the tunnel a few leagues north of Yndarr. She wondered if she could call a meeting with Khardym. She really needed to, but did not know how well she would be received. Khardym was not overly fond of her. she had spurned him once.
But he was even less fond of her brother and had reluctantly accepted the false siege of Yndarr. He had really not wanted to make any siege at all. It was against all of his better judgments. But, in order to keep his head, he obeyed his emperor’s wishes.
“Malius,” she called to the captain of her guard, “I need you to run an errand for me.”
“Yes, milady,” he replied.
“I need you to take a message to Khardym, general of the forces besieging Yndarr,” she continued, “asking him to meet with me.” She handed him her signet as a sign for Khardym.
He bowed and ran ahead to do as she bid. She kept the rest of her companions traveling at a slower pace. She didn’t want to put them in danger by getting too close to the siege forces. No one needed to be injured.
After what seemed to be an eternity, a horn sounded and the thunder of half-hearted catapult lobs stopped. It had actually been just enough time for the message to be delivered and for Khardym to make a decision. Wisely, he had decided to meet with her. that would be the only reason for him to stop.
She picked up the pace of her little group. She needed to make good time now. Weaving a silent spell, she transported herself and her companions to the edge of Khardym’s camp. The old general emerged from his tent and waited for her.
“Milady?” he called to her.
“General Khardym,” she greeted him, “do you really want to do the bidding of my brother? He wants nothing more than to throw the four lands into perpetual war against themselves. Peace is boring to him.”
“What do you propose, milady?” the general inquired.
“Yndarr will need a general,” she replied, “or two. We will need as many soldiers as we can muster. And we will need to form alliances. You, general, are known as a great diplomat as well as a soldier’s soldier. You would be a priceless asset to Yndarr and its people.”
“You stated two generals, milady,” he replied, “who is the second?”
“Malius, the captain of my personal guard, of course,” she responded, “but he will concern himself with the city guard. In other words, he will train those entrusted with the enforcing the law and keeping order within the city. You will lead the defense and the training of forces in the case that we need to go on the offensive.”
“Your plan?” he was now very interested in what she offered.
“We will unite Sudia,” she revealed, “and ally ourselves with whichever Orders of the Dark Ring have lands here. Yndarr will welcome all mages as it always has. For all intents and purposes, Yndarr will not really change. We will merely bring whatever chaos under control enough to make life halfway bearable for the people.”
“And the taxes?” He was captivated.
“Oh, we will send him taxes,” she smiled, “but not as much as he wishes. I wish to slow the flow of lotus as well. Yndarr will not be a haven for drug smugglers. I can handle thieves. I can handle cutthroats. I can even bear the slavers. But lotus and those who smuggle it will not be welcomed. I have found clarity since I stopped use. I like the world I see while sober.”
“Your brother will not be happy,” Khardym warned, a grin spreading across his aged face.
“To Alhulu with him,” she snorted, “Yndarr is my city, and Sudia is now my region. He dares not send his mad general here to attack any in this region.”