ZIHAEN, The Shadow of the Revenaunt, Book 2


That evening when dusk fell, Ghyll took Anliin to a quiet place away from their camp. Torril wanted to go with them, but Ghyll shook his head. ‘Only Anliin; it has to do with his studies.’

When they had reached a good place, Ghyll unsheathed his sword. ‘This is Childegard,’ he said. ‘The sword of the Kings of Rhidauna. It’s no ordinary sword, as you will find out.’

Anliin could not understand a word, but the sword whispered and the boy held out his hand. When his fingers grasped Childegard, his eyes widened in surprise and he sank to his knees on the ground.

‘Bye,’ Ghyll said, and with a wave of his hand, he limped back to the camp. He didn’t see the dark figure slipping past him and moving towards Anliin.

The night was quiet, as quiet as only the endless fields of Zihaen could be. A huge, deep black sky stretched out overhead, sprinkled with countless brilliant suns, and the fuzzy, colored clouds that the gods said were cosmic fog. Breathlessly, Ghyll stared upward, and an immense anger welled up in him against the Dar’khamorth for wanting to unmake this splendor. He didn’t know how long he stood there, till a cramped neck made him come back to the world. Filled with wonder, he walked back to the others, round a fire.

Olle looked up. ‘Where did you leave him? Thrown for the wolves?’

‘No; Anliin is having a deep conversation with Childegard.’

‘What?’ Then Olle saw his foster brother’s sword was gone. ‘You’re serious. But how…’

‘Childegard said he could help Anliin with his problem, but he had to be alone with him.’

Alone… Torril?’

‘Where is Torril?’ Ghyll said sharply.

‘He said he went for a piss. But that was some time ago.’

‘Mainal hale that kid! Of course he followed us.’

Ghyll turned on his heel and strode away, back to where he had left Anliin. In his chagrin, he promptly went the wrong way, so he had to retrace his steps. But after a while, he came to the right place and found Anliin cross-legged on the grass, with Ghyll’s sword in his lap, his eyes closed and an intense, almost beatific expression on his face.

When Ghyll approached, he opened his eyes. He smiled and said something to the sword. Then he bowed to Childegard and offered him back to Ghyll.

‘Please, Sire,’ he said, with the sword’s heavy accent. ‘Thank you for allowing him to help me. Now everything is perfect.’

Ghyll looked searchingly around. ‘Where is Torril?’

Anliin pointed to a slightly darker patch of the ground. ‘Over there. He sleeps. Childegard wasn’t very happy when Torril tried to bespeak us.’

‘He bespoke you? Torril? No, I understand Childegard not liking that. What happened then?’

‘Torril fell asleep. It won’t hurt him, the sword said.’

Ghyll bent over the sleeping Nhael and prodded him roughly in his side. The boy sat up, a puzzled expression on his face.

‘Didn’t I tell you to stay near the tents?’ Ghyll said, icy-voiced. Torril nodded.

‘Then what are you doing here?’

‘Anliin is my friend,’ the boy said stubbornly.

‘He had to do something that was no concern of yours.’ Ghyll was angry now and Torril turned pale. ‘And while Anliin is in conversation with my sword, you try to bespeak him? Have you any idea how dangerous that is?’

Torril shook his head dumbly.

‘You don’t know. How did you learn to bespeak?’

‘I forgot,’ the boy said quietly.

‘Has anyone ever told you that you mustn’t use magic you don’t understand? You’re not a child, Torril. Not an infant who must try everything, whether it’s a sharp knife or a pot of boiling water.’

‘We’ve bespoken each other for days already,’ Torril said. ‘That’s how we understand each other so well.’

‘But not when Anliin is doing his own magic. That’s far too dangerous. Do you understand me now?’

‘Yes, Ghyll,’ Torril whispered and there were tears in his eyes.

‘Back to the camp then, you two, and make it snappy.’

When the two boys had run away, Ghyll raised his sword.


‘Yes, Sire?’

‘I’m sorry about Torril.’

‘Ah, Sire, true friendship. We used to do things like that when we were younger.’

Ghyll remembered a few occasions when he and Olle hadn’t pleased Uncle Jadron and he laughed.

‘You’re right. To bespeak – I didn’t even know the rascal could do that. Did you teach Anliin Abarranese as well?

‘Not intentionally, Sire. I realized too late that he had picked up more from me than I had thought to give him. I’m no longer used to this; it’s been so long since I exchanged thoughts with another magic user. The Valvodjara was right, that marmot recipe does sound awful.’

Ghyll chuckled. ‘So you leaned things from Anliin as well?’

‘Apparently so. I now know more about these nomads than I ever wanted to. And about him. He was a very unhappy child, Sire. The other boys laughed at him and bullied him, most adults saw him as a failure and he had almost given up. With Prince Torril it clicked immediately. The young Nhael accepted him as he was. In his company, he didn’t have to prove anything and he could just play. Let him be, Sire, he has a lot to get used to, and if necessary, I’ll speak with him again. I now can reach him without physical contact.’

Ghyll chuckled as he walked back. Childegard had no heart, but as a sword, he was more human than many who walked in their own bodies.

When he came back to the tents, the boys were nowhere to be seen.

‘They went to bed,’ Olle said, before Ghyll could ask. ‘They were very quiet. Did something go wrong?’

Briefly, Ghyll explained what had happened.

‘Rascals,’ Zino laughed. ‘I’m happy for Anliin that he has a friend.’

The next morning when Ghyll got up, he saw was Bo already awake. He’d got a fire going and sat staring into the flames.

‘Good morning,’ Ghyll said quietly.

The firemage turned his head, and immediately his hand went up to the painful bump on his head. His face was pale and he looked twice his eighteen years.

‘Good morning, Ghyll,’ he said dully.

‘I’m sorry I had to knock you down,’ Ghyll said. ‘I knew no other way to stop you.’

‘Uwella told me. I’m the one who should apologize; I didn’t know what I was doing.’

‘Don’t worry; how are you?’

Bo shrugged. ‘I’ve seen her,’ he said. ‘She’s really dead.’

The young king nodded wordlessly.

‘We have to bury her.’

‘Yes, we waited until you were back on your feet. Can you walk?’

‘I can do anything,’ Bo said. ‘Expect no fireworks, lighting that fire took me ten minutes. But walking and riding will be all right, if we’ll take it slowly.’

‘We can’t leave immediately. The real…’ Ghyll stopped. ‘You have heard we have found the true Avelore?’

A tic appeared on Bo’s face. ‘Yes; Uwella said so. Does she look like…’

Ghyll spread his hands. ‘She’s blonde and small and yes, she looks like Ruchelle. She is still very weak, abused, malnourished, but she’s alive.’

‘Yes,’ Bo said bitterly.

Ghyll remained silent.

One by one, the companions came from their tents and gathered around the fire. There was little talk and even less laughter.

At last Kerianna appeared, with her arm around Avelore looking pale and uncertain.

‘Good morning, everybody,’ the queen said.

Bo turned and saw the new girl. His face contorted as he got up jerkily and walked away.

Avelore trembled and turned back to her tent, but Keri pushed her gently forward.

‘Come on,’ Zino said. ‘There’s plenty of room.’ It was his and Damion’s turn to make breakfast, and soon the smell of oatmeal pancakes and fresh cawah filled the air.

Uwella rose and walked over to Bo. Nobody knew what was being said, but after a while they came back together.

‘Avelore,’ the wikke said, ‘this is Bernabo Lusindral. Bo, this is Avelore.’

Bo nodded at the girl.

‘Hello’ she said softly

Then the firemage sat down and stared at his hands, while everyone started talking together.

The Exhumyst sat in his armchair with a stack of files on his lap. As always, the boy was impressed at how quickly his master read them. Once he’d thought the Exhumyst only leafed through them, but he soon found out his master remembered every word of them.

‘Sire,’ he said softly. ‘Thadziwill and Ruchelle are dead.’

For a moment, the Exhumyst froze in the middle of a bulging file, but then he read on.

‘Tell me.’

‘Central said Ruchelle at the last moment betrayed their trap to Hardingraud. Thadziwill let the golem cat poison her, but in someone with Ruchelle’s background the venom worked too slow.’

The rustling of papers stopped. ‘Did she mention any names?’

‘No, sire. Only those of Thadziwill and Kirogall, but that was hardly news. She smashed the golem, sire; the last thing we got was how the firemage Lusindral blew the temple off the ziggurat. Hardingraud personally slew the Practicus Thadziwill and all contact ended, sire.’

The Exhumyst sat still, with the papers on his lap. ‘Ruchelle,’ he said. ‘She was the sister of my wife. She was so beautiful that I…’ Without another word, he picked up the file and resumed reading.

The boy was stunned. He knew Ruchelle somewhat, they had met two or three times, and he admitted that she had been pretty. But ‘The sister of my…’ His thoughts stopped. This was forbidden territory.

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