"Quest for the Neckulet"

Chapter 1
Theft, Part 1

By krprice

Radolf handed his grandmother the last of the dirty dishes from the celebration. After she stowed them in the brown, reed basket, she closed the lid. Radolf stepped over and hugged her.
“Nana, thank you for everything you did for my birthday party,” he said.
She returned the embrace. “I’m proud of you. You’re eighteen, a man now.” His grandmother squeezed him again.
When she pulled away, he admired the jewelry she wore around her neck. A pendant of black herbonus with a castle with two turrets edged in white salstein hung on a silver chain.  His grandmother had called it Anisha’s Neckulet, a gift from the goddess, Khlorae, centuries ago to be passed down the matriarchal side of the family. He couldn’t recall why she had given it to his ancestor.
His grandmother turned around, grabbed the basket, and strode toward the hut they shared.
Radolf watched a moment as her silver braid swung back and forth like a pendulum. He spun around and marched across the grass to the caves in the mountains, whose stony arms embraced the Landetta Valley and the inhabitants of the Spatali Tribe.
He shivered as a chilly, early spring breeze tossed his short, dishwater blond hair around as if it was the air’s personal plaything. Last time he’d experienced that his parents and grandfather had been killed fourteen years ago by several members of the Savaecus Tribe.
Was he and Nana in danger this time?
Radolf shook his head. Can’t worry about that now. However, his heartbeat raced, nearly exploding, a hand touched his shoulder, and he jumped. Radolf spun around, fists in the air, ready to punch the person who scared him.
“Sorry to scare you,” Skeen said, his voice breaking from soprano to baritone. “But Kona’s up a tree again.”
Radolf sighed. “That’s the third time in two weeks she’s climbed up there. What drove her up there this time?”
Skeen shoved a lock of brown hair out of his large amber eyes. “I think a goat chased her this time.” He shrugged.
“Well, let’s get her down.” Radolf motioned for the youngster to follow him.
According to legend, the oak tree had been around close to five hundred years. Since there was no one that old in the Landetta Valley still alive, that information couldn’t be verified.
A crowd had gathered around the tree, calling to the year old, gray and brown feline, urging her to come down.
“Be quiet,” Radolf shouted. “You know she won’t come down unless I coax her down. Now who has any tidbits, pieces of fish, chicken, even parts of a dead rat, something I can use to lure her down?”
“Here,” an elderly man said and handed Radolf a small pan. “I cleaned several fish. These are the innards. She likes those.”
“How am I to climb up with that pan?” Radolf raised his left eyebrow.
“Use this,” Tisha said. She grabbed the pan, dumped the contests into an old, green cloth bag, returned the pan to its owner, and gave it to Radolf. “I can wash it.”
“Thanks,” Radolf said, taking it and pulling the strings tight and looping them around his wrist.
He jumped up to the lowest branch and grabbed it, wrapping his other arm around the trunk. After placing his left foot on a sturdy gnarl, he swung his right foot up onto the branch, and pushed off the gnarl, swinging his left up, and hugged the trunk.
Radolf climbed from branch to branch until he sat on the one below Kona. She meowed.
Making sure his seat was secure, he opened the bag.
“Here, Kona,” he said in a gentle voice, bringing out a couple of pieces and holding them under her nose. “Have some sweet fish guts.”
She might like them, he thought, but they stank. He wrinkled his nose.
She sniffed and sunk her teeth into one, then another, gobbling them down.
Radolf offered her another piece. As she ate it, he grabbed the scruff of her neck and slowly inched his way down onto the next branch.
Settled on that, he continued to feed her, slowly moving down the tree until he could jump down.
He handed the bag and Kona to Sheen.
“Thank you so much,” the kid said, taking both.
“Better learn to climb that tree,” Radolf said. “In case I’m not around to get her.”
“You plan on leaving?”
“No, but you never know what will happen.”
Radolf walked off, taking time to wash his hands in a pool of water before continuing to the caves.
He grabbed a lit torch at the entrance and strode through the black stone walls and floor.
The tunnel opened up into a large cavern divided into pens. Ten sheep and twelve, pink furred quanya lay on straw. Like sheep, quanya were four-legged with black faces and ate only plants.
He walked over to the last pen, opened the gate, and walked over to Missy.
He cooed to the quanya who nursed her four, week-old babies. She glanced up, and her teal eyes lit up.
As Radolf knelt by her, the gate opened again.
“I brought Missy some granta leaves,” Mikal said.
Radolf turned enough to accept the small, blue leaves Mikal handed to him. When he glanced back at Missy, her mouth was open, ready to accept the food. Radolf gently placed a leaf in her mouth, giving her time to chew and swallow it before giving her another.
“The babies are growing quickly,” Mikal said, leaning on the light brown railing of the pen.
At fourteen, Mikal was six foot, two inches taller than Radolf. He pushed a lock of his bright red hair out of his dark green eyes.
“Well, their momma is doing an excellent job of taking care of them,” Radolf said.
Once Missy and her babies had eaten, the little ones curled up by her feet and went to sleep.
Radolf rose, and by the time the duo had left the caves, the sun had set.
Stars began coming out and lit the way to the village of dark brown, wooden huts with thatched roofs. They parted at the communal fire over which a large boar roasted, its aroma tantalizing.
Radolf’s fears crept through him like a burglar as he bid his grandmother goodnight and walked through the red and gold beads that divided his sleeping quarters from hers. Some of the light from her lantern shone through the strings of beads.  Below the window, twin, large, brown reed baskets sat near the far wall holding his clothes. He removed his boots, changed into his blue nightshirt, and settled on his pallet, trying to think happy thoughts about his celebration.
Eventually, he fell asleep.
Dramatis Personae
Radolf Tsondondes—caretaker of animals, member of Spatali tribe, heir to Anisha’s necklet
Para Tsondondes—gifted weaver, member of Spatali tribe, owner of Anisha’s necklet
Skeen—member of the Spatali tribe
Mikal—member of Spatali tribe
Assorted members of the Spatali tribe

Author Notes I had to change the title on this book as fanstory wouldn't let me post it. The actual title is Quest for the Truth, first book in the Starcastle Trilogy, which is science fantasy.

Chapter 2
Theft, Part 2

By krprice

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

A soprano scream stabbed the quiet of the night. Radolf eyes flew open as he bolted upright from his pallet. A silvery strand of moonlight through his window provided him with enough light to look around the darkened hut. He scrambled up and darted between the beads. Two hooded men stood over his grandmother. One held the black handle of a dagger with an S over a V in gold
filigree in his green hand and plunged it into her heart.
The other man glanced up. His small, brown eyes widened at Radolf’s appearance. “Holy Mother, let’s get out of here.” He grabbed the neckulet’s silver chain, yanked it free, and they sprinted out the front opening.
Radolf ran over and knelt in a pool of blood as the stench of death permeated the hut. He took his grandmother in his arms. Her usual twinkling blue eyes stared at the ceiling. Her life had already fled. Tears streamed from his blue eyes. They splashed on her still face, and he trembled.
“Oh, Holy Khlorae, why didn’t they just take the neckulet and leave Nana?” Radolf raised his head toward the heavens. “She was all I had left.”
Quiet answered him. He pulled her limp body closer, bent over her, and wept.
“My son.” Only minutes later, Temma’s familiar soothing baritone brought him from his stupor.
The village chieftain squatted next to him. Radolf glanced at the man in a dark green robe which matched the sorrow in his wide-set eyes.
Radolf gently laid his grandmother on the floor.
“They took Nana from me. Why?” Drops spilled from his eyes again.
“It wasn’t your grandmother they wanted. It was the neckulet. She was just in their way.” Temma took a deep breath. “What happened?”
Radolf looked up and wiped his nightshirt sleeve across his face. Through choking sobs, he stammered, relating the events. He told of the scream which woke him. As he got to the part about the beads, he halted. Numbness started in his heart and spiraled outward, followed by fear. 
His fingernails dug into his palms. His knuckles turned white.
“Please, Radolf.” Chief Temma put his arms around the young man. “I must know what happened.” He paused and added, “Take a deep breath. That will help.” Temma pulled out a cloth and held it to his nose.
Radolf inhaled deeply and continued. He finished with, “The next thing I heard was your voice.”
Temma let Radolf go and sat back.
“Who would want the necklet?” Radolf asked innocently. “It has no value to anyone but Nana and me.”
Temma winced. “Rough times are coming, I suspect. And you’ll need to grow up fast. The neckulet’s disappearance is only the beginning.”
Tilting his head in puzzlement, Radolf asked, “What do you mean, Supreme Ruler?”
Temma stood. “I must tell the others.” He left the hut.
Outside, voices rose and fell, calling out, asking about Radolf and his grandmother.
Radolf stared at the crimson stained floor, already drying in the Landetta Valley’s dry air.
The sounds beyond the hut stopped, and silence draped the night.
 Then Temma spoke. “Para has been stabbed with a Savaecus dagger. Begin a search for two hooded men. I doubt you’ll find them. The hut needs to be cleaned, and Para readied for a dawn burial.”
At first, all remained quiet, and then the murmuring started. First, one woman cried out and another as shock and grief set in.
“How dare those savages do this to Para?” A man screamed in anger.
“Why? Who would want to hurt her?” another man asked. “Everyone loved her. She was one of the most respected women in the village.”
“Like I told Radolf, they wanted the neckulet. She was just in their way,” Temma explained, then asked, “Dela, will you organize the women to clean the hut and prepare Para’s body?” 
“Yes,” she answered.
“Stelmar, take the best trackers and see if you can find out which way they went,” the chief ordered. 
“Yes, Chief Temma,” he answered and called out names.
“Dela, you and the women come with me.”
The young man raised his head as Temma reentered the hut with Dela and five females who wrinkled their noses.
“Radolf, let the ladies clean up and prepare your grandmother to finish her journey to our Holy Mother. Come, get up,” Temma chided gently. “Dela must be able to get to her.”
Radolf sat, unable to move, like he had been bolted to the floor. Temma drew him up. Radolf looked down at his grandmother’s body. He gasped as if seeing it for the first time. The stench overwhelmed him, and he gagged as he tried to keep from vomiting.
Someone nudged him from behind, and he took one step and then another. He let one lady push and another pull him forward. The beads rattled as he moved from his grandmother’s room to his. A woman stripped off his blood-soaked nightshirt and washed him. Radolf let them cleanse him as if he were an infant, too numb to realize or care what was happening. They put fresh clothes on him and led him to his pallet. He lay down.
Temma whispered as if afraid someone else would hear. “Now you must sleep. Dawn will come early. After the burial, we will discuss what must be done next.”
Radolf nodded, more a reflex than anything else. The young man closed his eyes and tried to forget the real nightmare that just happened as quiet filled the hut.
He awoke before dawn, an inner clock telling him it was time to arise. He sat up to silence. That brought back last night’s tragic memory. Tears welled up and slid down his face, his heart ached with grief. He took a deep breath, dressed, and left the hut.
Mageron’s twin moons were setting. The glowing ball rising eastward painted the mountains and the valley bright orange. Radolf, accompanied by Temma wearing, his black ceremonial robe, carried his grandmother’s stiff body through the crowd gathered for the funeral. Women held bouquets of galyndas. Their faces, already stained with tears, joined the solemn men’s faces, reflecting the agony of last night’s tragedy. Children tossed petals of yellow galyndas in their path. Its soft fragrance of cinnamon and ginger wafted on the late autumn breeze.
The procession stopped at the freshly dug grave.
“Holy Mother, please come among us. Comfort us as we grieve Para Tsondondes’ sudden death. She lived a long and faithful life in your service, but it was filled with sorrow too. The tragic loss of her husband, Al, and her only child, Bronsel, and his young wife, Candala, slaughtered by marauding Savaecus renegades fourteen years ago. Four-year-old Radolf survived because his grandfather shielded him. Now he grieves. Provide him with the faith and assurance he needs. Cleanse his heart. Make him whole again, so he may be strong and serve Thee as he continues his path through life.”
Radolf knelt and laid his grandmother in the grave next to her husband and stood. He nodded to the woman holding the harp and wondered if he had any more tears left. However, they slipped down his cheeks as she played, HOLY MOTHER DIVINE, his grandmother’s favorite song.
After she finished, Temma picked up the Klanna, a rattle shaped shaker filled with holy water from the Shrine of Khlorae inside their settlement.
Shaking it over Para’s body, he chanted, “Accept Para Tsondos into your blessed house for now and always. May she be happy as she is reunited in death with the rest of her family. Holy Mother, we ask for your blessing and love, thankful for all you have given us. Asay.”
Temma handed Radolf the Klanna. He shook it until it was empty, as empty as the void in his heart no one else would ever fill. Tears continued to stream down his face as he picked up a handful of sand from the mound and tossed it in.
“Asay,” Radolf cried. He realized it was the end, which what the word meant.
Alone or in couples, villagers threw the flowers on the grave as the men filled it.
Each one hugged Radolf, whispering condolences in his ear. They drifted back to the village, leaving the young man and the ruler behind. Temma left him alone.
Again, Radolf murmured, “Asay.” 
At first, Radolf didn’t know what to do next. Shivering, he rubbed the goose bumps on his arms and knelt in the morning sun. The rays seeped into him, warming him. Grief still clutched his heart, burying itself like a thorn, but something else slipped in replacing the numbness.
Adrenaline rushed through his body as if it needed to win a race as blood pounded in his ears. Curling his hands into fists, he pommeled the golden sand. He must retrieve the neckulet. He must avenge his grandmother’s death. 
Dramatis Personae
Radolf Tsondondes—caretaker of animals, member of Spatali tribe, heir to Anisha’s necklet
Para Tsondondes—gifted weaver, member of Spatali tribe, owner of Anisha’s necklet
Temma—Chief Ruler of the Spatali tribe
Dela—member of the Spatali tribe
Stelmar—tracker for the Spatali tribe
Assorted members of the Spatali tribe

Author Notes This is part of the Starcastle Trilogy.

Chapter 3

By krprice

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

“Radolf,” Temma called.
“Come in, Chief Temma.” Radolf’s baritone almost cracked with grief.
Temma entered the small front room which was bare except for two quanya skin pallets on the floor. He glanced around. Just Radolf’s pallet, his opened trunk, two blue shirts, a pair of brown trews, and the pack he was loading remained.
“What happened to your grandmother’s things?” Temma asked. “Like the tapestry of the setting sun? Para always displayed her work. She was the only one in the village who had the talent to produce such things, and every woman in the tribe envied her.”
“I took what I wanted and told Dela and the other women they could take what they wanted.  Nana had a lot of nice things. I won’t need them, and someone might as well get use from them.” Radolf stuffed a tunic in his pack. “Dela took the tapestry for you. Nana would want you to have it.”
“Thank you.” Temma held a medium-sized, cloth bag and leaned against the animal skin of the hut. “And where are you headed?”
“To recover the neckulet and avenge Nana’s death.”  He turned and faced Temma.
“You’re just going without any planning or direction?” Temma shook his head. “You haven’t been out of the village except to hunt with the dogs and never alone. Many dangers lurk around our world. You know little about survival in the wild. And you have no idea of where to look for the neckulet.” Temma waved his index finger.
“I’ll survive. I can hunt, fish, and I know what is and what is not edible. Finding water is a gift Khlorae gave my family.” His voice grew louder with each declaration until he was almost shouting.
Temma raised an eyebrow. “There’s more to survival than that. Yes, you can hunt and locate water, but what about fighting? You’ve never had much training in weapons. What will you defend yourself with besides your bow and arrow?”
“The Savaecus dagger.” He held it aloft. “I’ve cleaned it and will carry it with me.”
Temma shrugged. “Why not seek aid from the Aderran militia?”
Pausing from his packing, Radolf clenched a pair of pants, his voice rose. “You expect me to ask help from them? The Kiso tribe will give us the same kind of help they did when we asked them after Mother and Father died. Nothing! How naive can you be? We’re of no use to them since we left the city. They’d just as soon see us all killed.”
“No, Radolf, you’re wrong. We have had our differences with the ruling tribe, but they don’t hate us.” Temma sighed as he circled the young man. “They are comfortable in the city. Those of us in the Spatali tribe are not, so we left for the Landetta Valley centuries ago.”
“Well, I’ll find the neckulet and have my revenge whether you like it or not.”  He yanked on the strings, shutting the pack.
“At least, take some trained fighters and trackers,” Temma recommended, narrowing his eyes.
“No, I need to do this on my own.” Radolf stood and stared at Temma.
“Since you’re so determined to go on your own, I can give you some direction,” Temma stood in one spot. “The trail led out of the valley into the prairie. If you encounter a village, you’ll need some coins or something to trade for meals, a room, or supplies. I’ve put together some of your grandmother’s small weavings and what coins she had hidden away.” He handed them to Radolf.
 The young man took them, momentarily opened his pack, and stuffed everything inside before pulled it closed again.       
“Thank you. I’ll head that way.” Radolf picked it up and stalked out.
He stomped around the village, avoiding people when possible. Temma must have been senile to suggest going to the militia, he thought. The hut was empty when he returned. He pulled open the pack and took up where he left off. It was the same one that had belonged to his father and grandfather. Nana had given it to him five years ago.
After finishing in the sleeping area, he grabbed it and hauled it into the small food storage area at the back. He added some salted meats, some cheese, travel rations, and the dagger. Now full to its limit, he tugged it closed. Radolf snatched two empty water skins.
Before leaving, he stared at the empty space his grandmother’s pallet had occupied, hoping she would walk in the hut, hoping last night had been nothing more than a nightmare. He blinked, letting a few tears seep from his eyes and roll down his cheeks. After taking two deep breaths, he regained his composure, put his pack on his back, and fixed the water skins to his belt along with his hunting knife. Radolf tossed his bow and arrows over his right shoulder, picked up his walking stick, and left.
The villagers stopped whatever they were doing and stared at him as if they were not accustomed to seeing him outfitted for travel. Aromas of boar meat teased his nostrils since he had not eaten that day, and noon neared, but his stomach roiled at the thought of food. Maybe I’ll feel like eating tonight. He’d planned on traveling until dusk.
The Shrine of Khlorae stood at the north end of the village. The white salstein statue of the goddess was almost life like. Long, fiery red hair streamed down her back, and her emerald eyes blazed with life. The modest gold dress started at her neck and went to her ankles and wrists.
From the end of the fingers flowed the life-giving water the Spatali Tribe worshiped.
He filled the skins and placed them on his belt and then knelt before the statue and the pool.
“Holy Mother, guide me through the path I have chosen. I know hate and revenge is not your way, but for the moment, it’s all I have. Keep me safe from harm. Bless those in this village especially Chief Temma and continue to guide him in your infinite wisdom. Asay.”
Radolf stood and walked around the shrine. He left and did not look back.
The cerulean sky hung as a backdrop for the golden orb blazing on Radolf. The village sounds grew weaker as he distanced himself from it.
He passed the brush the quanya like so much, only a few galyndas still bloomed. Bare grass stretched for miles on each side of him. He counted the steps, trying to keep thoughts of last night from his mind. However, memories still haunted him, like ghosts. The two men hovered over his grandmother like vultures. Shaking his head, he decided he needed to make plans.
Which way do I go when I get to the prairie? Temma didn’t give any more directions, and I didn’t even think to ask. Guess I’ll make that decision depending on what I find there, if I can find any footprints, any tracks of them at all.
He paused long enough to sip some water before going on.
The next evening Radolf wiped sweat from his brow as the sun dropped below the horizon. Red and orange skies gave way to darkness as night came swiftly to the valley. Goose bumps rose on his arms as a breeze sprang up and penetrated his thin tunic. Radolf shivered. 
Better get moving, he thought. Radolf pushed the few bushes aside and walked over to them, looking for signs of danger. Only small animal tracks appeared. He set down his pack, bow, arrows, and walking stick. As he stretched, pain streaked through his muscles not used to carrying a heavy load.
Hunger gnawed at him like a wild beast chewing on a bone. Walking around the valley, he pulled up some brush, laying it in a pile. Once he had enough, he rubbed two sticks together.  Soon, a fire blazed. A kangrella darted on the far side. Small and furry, one would make him a good meal. This way I’ll save on rations.  He took his bow and arrow. They were rather dumb, and once out of the burrows, easily caught. In no time, he found one doing the same thing he was–looking for food. Kneeling quietly, he stuck an arrow in his bow. Holding his breath, he let it fly. The arrow struck the animal in the neck. Radolf walked the short distance and retrieved his arrow. He picked it up and returned to camp. After cleaning it and cutting it into pieces, Radolf shoved sticks through each piece. Balancing the sticks on two rocks, he hung them above the fire.
As he opened the overstuffed pack, food, clothes, and quanya skins spilled out. He shook out the skins, laid some on the ground. He set the rest in a pile next to him and sat on the others.
The valley’s grass gave way to the plains, but in the dimming light, little was visible. Nocturnal animals scurried around in search of their evening meals. Secure in the knowledge none were large enough to harm him, Radolf stared at the glittering stars. Memories of last night’s tragedy emerged from the far corners of his mind. But that wasn’t the only one that slid out, but this one was vague, almost like a dream, or as if it had happened to someone else.
The more he thought about it, the more it came into focus. His parents and his grandfather had taken him out of the village for a picnic. They sat on a bright pink blanket Nana had woven for them. As his mother had started putting out the food, the pounding of horse’s hooves shook the ground. In only moments before six ebony horses appeared. Astride them sat dark, green skinned Savaecus. As they jumped from the animals, his parents and his grandfather shielded him from the silver and red gilded daggers thrown at them. His mother and father tumbled to the blanket while his grandfather pushed him down and fell atop him.
Radolf waited until the sound of the horses had vanished. He managed to push and squirm his way out from under his grandfather whose brown eyes stared at the sky.
Even at four, he had seen the blankness of death. He began to cry.
That was how the villagers found him, cradled him, and then carried him to his grandmother. Her tears joined his when she held him.
First, the Savaecus killed his parents and his grandfather, and now they murdered his grandmother.
Thoughts tumbled together. They’d been after the neckulet all along.
Tear spilled down his face as heat flushed through his body. His muscles tensed. The thought of revenge coursed through him. They warred with each other, neither winning the battle nor dominating him, but somehow coexisting though not very peacefully.
“They will pay for what they did.” Radolf gritted his teeth as revenge emerged victorious for the moment. He shook his fists at the sky. His body tensed up, his whole body as rigid as a post.
Minutes passed before his body ached. He relaxed and took deep breaths as the aroma of the kangrella made his stomach growl.
He removed it from the fire and set it aside to cool. Hunting through the pile of things that tumbled from his pack, he found some cheese and took a bite. He washed it down with water.
The meat cooled quickly in the night air, so he picked up piece. He took a bite. The meat slid down, warming his stomach. Radolf bit into some cheese, chewed it before he drank. Eating and drinking his fill, he left the rest scattered on the ground.
When he finished, Radolf added more brush to the fire and set his walking stick next to him. He didn’t expect any visitors, but his gaze darted around before he crawled between the quanya skins. Exhausted from prior events and a day and a half of walking, he fell into a deep sleep.
Several hours later, Radolf awoke. Long, sharp teeth glittered in the fire’s dying embers. He froze, then tossed off the skins, grabbed his walking stick, and clubbed the animal, knocking it away. He jumped up, ready to repeal another attack. As if the wolf’s survival instinct took over, it sprang at him. Trying to dodge the creature, he danced away, but as he did, it buried its teeth into his arm. It throbbed as crimson streamed from it. He brought the walking stick down on her head. As he did, a blinding flash seared through his mind. Radolf fell to the ground as unconsciousness took him.
Dramatis Personae
Radolf Tsondondes—caretaker of animals, member of Spatali tribe, heir to Anisha’s necklet
Temma—Chief Ruler of the Spatali tribe

Author Notes This is the first book of the Starcastle Trilogy.

Chapter 4
Two New Friends

By krprice

Radolf opened his eyes. Bright sunlight almost blinded him. As he lifted his arm to shade his eyes, pain knifed through his left arm. Inwardly, he winced. Then someone or something blocked the sun. A woman sat next to him, a mixture of sweat and lemon floating around her. Her large, slitted emerald eyes penetrated his soul. Long black hair, like ravens’ wings, flowed to her waist.
Gold bands wrapped their way around the sleeve cuffs of her black robe. She was a witch, he thought. He’d heard of the Majutsu, the sorcerous community near Aderra but had never met one. Stories abounded saying they did everything from destroying entire communities or armies to healing those in need.
He inched away, but he couldn’t ignore the agony throbbing through his arm. His blood had clotted during the night. In the light, he noticed the wolf lay a few feet from him. Vivid memories of it sinking its teeth into him slashed his mind.
“You don’t trust me,” the witch asked, her eyes softening.
He stammered, “I trust you. Who are you?”
She raised an eyebrow as if not believing him. “Jewelletta.” She reached for his arm. “Let me see it. If it starts bleeding much more, it will be difficult to stop.”
His breathe caught as he edged back toward her and let her examine the jagged slash.
“It needs to be cleaned and bandaged at least. Do you have any water and something I can use for a bandage?” 
“There’s water in the quanya skins and some cloths in my pack.” Radolf pointed to its location.
Jewelletta reached over, grabbed the skins, and opened his pack, hunting for the needed items. 
After locating them, she cleaned the clotted blood off. He turned his face away from her. Pain blazed through it. He tried not to flinch, but he winced anyway as the scab reluctantly came off.
As she worked, Jewelletta asked, “What’s your name? And what are you doing here alone at the edge of the canyon? You must be from the Landetta Valley, of the Spatali tribe with those pointed ears?”
“Yes, I am. I’m Radolf.” He paused and related the events of his grandmother’s death and added what happened last night. Tears filled his eyes as he recalled his grandmother lying in the grave.
One dribbled down his cheek before anger crept through his mind like a forgotten nightmare. Radolf stopped for a moment. Why am I telling this strange woman about the events? He swallowed. Maybe I just need to tell someone, maybe find someone who’ll understand. Through clenched teeth, he continued. “I’m going to track down those murderers and thieves. Make them pay for Nana’s death and regain the neckulet.” By the time he finished speaking, his voice raised several decibels. The flame of revenge burned within him. “I’ll avenge her, I swear I will!”
“Revenge may be sweet, Radolf, but it is not Khlorae’s way.” Jewelletta bandaged his arm.
The events of that fateful night singed his brain like a branding iron. The desire for revenge warred with Khlorae’s teachings. The words this strange witch spoke echoed in his mind. He looked at her, wondering what she must be thinking.
“You must help the dailam,” Jewelletta commanded.
“Dailam?  It’s a wolf. And why should I help after it bit me last night?” He narrowed his eyes.
“She is a dailam, not a wolf. You have heard of them?” Jewelletta stroked the gray and white dailam.
“Yes, but they’re just animals.” Radolf looked intently into her eyes.
Returning his stare, she said, “She is a creature of Khlorae. Look how thin she is? Her ribs are showing, and she’s probably starving. If she hadn’t been, she would never have bothered you.  All she wanted was what was left of your supper. Did you strike her?”
“I awoke, saw her leaping toward me. I thought she was attacking me.” He defended his actions. 
“I couldn’t have known she was hungry. I would have gladly shared what I didn’t want.” He mentally berated himself over his actions, and his remorse echoed in his voice.
“Well, it’s over and done with.” Jewelletta sighed. “Once she has eaten, we can go in search of the truth.”
“In search of what truth?” Radolf raised an eyebrow.
“As to who killed your grandmother and stole the neckulet. Rough times are coming, Radolf, and I fear you’ll have to grow up quickly. Faster than you might want.”
Radolf ran those words through his brain again, remembering Temma said almost the same thing. What in the name of Khlorae was going on? He blinked his eyes, puzzled at the strange words.
“If you don’t believe me, ask the dailam,” Jewelletta said nonchalantly as if she was asking him to take a drink of water.
“Ask a dumb animal? Come on, Jewelletta, I may be innocent, but I’m not that naive.” He laughed at her suggestion.
“Dailam are as intelligent as you and me. Haven’t you heard they keep in contact with each other telepathically?” Jewelletta reached for a waterskin and took a sip. “That’s the difference between them and wolves.”
“Telepathy? I thought only those with magical powers like you could do that. Why don’t you ask her?”
“I-I can’t contact her, not even when I was touching her. It’s not possible at this time,” Jewelletta said.
This was the first time Radolf had seen a break in her confidence. He thought about what she said. A nagging notion in the back of his mind recalled the flash when the dailam attacked him. 
Maybe she was right about the telepathy. She’s speaking in riddles. Maybe this dailam will be able to answer them. The witch wouldn’t. He was sure of that.
Radolf rose and walked to the dailam, who watched him as he approached. She growled.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he assured her, his tone gentle and soothing, the same one he used on Missy.
He sat beside her and laid a hand on her side. As though he had been hit with a club, he fell backward, hitting the hard ground. It jolted his arm, and pain lanced through it. He took a deep breath. “Holy Mother, help her. She’s starving, and she’s grieving.” He cried, almost sobbing after feeling her misery. “Jewelletta, you must her help.”
Her jaw dropped, shocked at his abrupt change in attitude. “Why don’t you just feed her what’s left of the kangrella?” Jewelletta suggested and handed him the remains of his supper. “But do it fast. I must get to Sildar to meet up with my alchemist.”
Now his jaw dropped, startled by her revelation. It was against the Majutsu’s code to fraternize with the scientific community, as scarce as it was on Mageron.  “Your what?”
Dramatis Personae
Radolf Tsondondes-- caretaker of animals, member of Spatali tribe, heir to Anisha’s necklet
Jewelletta—Mistress of the circulet, member of the Majutsu tribe, sorceress
Anarra—a dailam, a canine who is intelligent

Author Notes This is the first book of the Starcastle Trilogy.

Chapter 5

By krprice

“Just lay one hand on her and feed her the rest of the meat,” Jewelletta suggested. “I’ll explain everything later.”
Radolf glared at the witch for a moment and did look down at the dailam, laying one hand on her and started feeding her. She told him her story.
My name is Anarra. Six moons ago there were fifty in my pack. Twenty were oldsters while the rest of us were of various ages between cubs and those who have reach their top growth. The search for food kept getting harder and harder until the oldsters told us to feed the young and not to worry about them. Eventually, they died. May I have some water please?
Radolf searched through his pile of belongings, found a bowl, and poured water into it from his waterskin.
When Anarra finished, she thanked him and continued her tale. About ten risings of the sun ago, our hunt sent us further afield. When we returned, no one was alive except for the five of us who had brought the ten small animals back. We shared those and then went our separate ways. I think I am all that’s left, and I wouldn’t be without your aid.
Recent memories of his own loss crept into the recesses of his conscious mind. He thrust them out and took a deep breath before trying to help Anarra control her grief. Radolf recounted the events that brought him out here.
I understand. Thank you for sharing your heartache with me, Radolf.
“If she’s eaten as much as she can, we need to leave,” Jewelletta said.
My stomach has shrunk. I’ve had all I can for now.
“She’s ready to go.” Radolf hoisted his pack and slung his bow and arrows over his shoulder.
As they started walking across the prairie, Radolf asked, “I thought it was against your code to fraternize with the scientific community?”
“It is,” Jewelletta explained. “I must drink a potion he prepares for me for my health.”
“Oh,” Radolf said, but he wondered what kind of medical problem she had and why she was out roaming about without it.
“Now what did the dailam say?”
Radolf told her what Anarra said.
“Yes, that makes sense,” the witch said. “It might be that time.”
“What time?” Radolf raised an eyebrow.
“I’ll explain when I have more information.”
With the sun overhead, Radolf wiped sweat from his forehead and drank some of the last of his water. Two days had passed since he had met Anarra and Jewelletta.
“I can smell water ahead,” Radolf said. “We need to stop and fill our waterskins, rest, and eat. I’m starved.”

And I need to eat too.
Radolf relayed Anarra’s request.
Before Jewelletta got to answer, two large pairs of felines with cubs snarled as they ran toward the trio.
“What are those?” Radolf asked.
“Vikorza, felines from Vijand,” Jewelletta answered. “I thought they were all dead.” 
Then Jewelletta spoke a few words, and the animals halted. However, from behind the trio, the earth shook as six black horses with dark green men astride them surrounded the two humans and the dailam.
Dramatis Personae
Radolf Tsondondes-- caretaker of animals, member of Spatali tribe, heir to Anisha’s necklet
Jewelletta—Mistress of the circulet, member of the Majutsu tribe, sorceress
Anarra—a dailam, a canine who is intelligent

Author Notes This is the first book in the Starcastle Trilogy.

Chapter 6

By krprice

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

Jewelletta spun around. She planted her legs wide and flared her nostrils.
“What do you want?” she growled.
Radolf and Anarra scooted behind her.
“We’ll take the dailam,” the tallest Savaecus answered. “Never tasted any.”
Radolf jumped in front of Jewelletta. His muscles quivered. “You cannot have her.”
“Witch, can’t you control your servants better?” the same man asked.
“I am not her servant nor her slave,” he snarled, his fingers digging into his palms. “I am Radolf Tsondos of the Landetta Valley.” He glared at the Savaecus.
“We’ll take the boy instead,” the Savaecus said. “Seize him.”

Anarra placed herself between the Savaecus and Radolf and roared.
“Maybe we will get dailam too.” Another Savaecus laughed.
Jewelletta dropped the shield holding the vikorza and settled it over the trio.
As if the vikorza figured the horses would be easier prey, they sprinted toward them. The eyes of the horses widened, spun around, and bolted with the felines chasing them.
Jewelletta muttered a few words, and the shield vanished.
“Get your water.” Jewelletta pointed to the river. “We can ford it a bit further upstream.”
Once they had their water and crossed the river, they headed for Sildar, 
The evening’s red and gold streaks played tag with the oncoming sunset as they walked along hard sand that stretched out beneath the small plains community. Some people strolled around while others hurried home with shopping baskets full of carrots, cabbage, and meats.
Herbonus buildings crouched on both sides of the street. Savory mutton stew teased his nostrils, but something else, something he didn’t recognize floated on the night’s icy wind. It swirled around them, tugging at their clothing. 
Radolf shivered. “What’s that spicy scent?” He swung his head from side to side, trying to see the red, yellow, and blue signs and the people dressed in everything from drab brown to bright colors of the rainbow.
“Barbecued quanya.” Jewelletta took a deep breath. 
A shepherd with his flock including two goats and three quanyas came between him and Jewelletta.
“I have to meet Gildor at his lab. I’ll leave you two in the common room at The Black Horse.”
Jewelletta said. “Gildor was supposed to reserve us two rooms. Do you have any money?”
“Yes,” he said. “And several items for trade.”
“Go in and have supper. I’ll be back shortly.”
Before he could turn around, she gave him a motherly hug and kiss on the cheek. “Take care of him, Anarra.”
She barked in acknowledgment and walked beside him.
I’m hungry too. He opened the door, and they entered the inn.
This was a new experience for Radolf. Although there had been a small inn at his village, he never visited it. His grandmother strictly forbade drinking alcoholic beverages in or outside her home. He had been more interested in staying in his grandmother’s good graces than drinking.
Radolf glanced around the inn. Glasses clinked, and the soft buzz of conversation filled the room. The aroma of venison made his stomach growl. People stared at the duo. Radolf ignored them as they threaded their way through a maze of richly carved tables and chairs made from the highly prized wood from the Ventrifico Forest. Home to one of the other five tribes on Mageron, the Militio Tribe hired themselves out as mercenaries. Men in dark green and brown uniforms made Radolf think this was one of their villages.
They found a table in the corner. Radolf sat, and a waitress approached them. 
“What’s your special tonight?” Radolf asked.
“Venison slices, potatoes, wild onions and carrots,” she answered.
“I’ll have that,” he said, knowing it would be the cheapest. He didn’t have any idea how much money Temma had given him. “And extra venison slices for my companion, along with water for us. Please bring a bowl for her.”
“I will,” the waitress said, smiling at Anarra before leaving.
They seem to be friendly here, even letting you come in.
I’m not so sure we’re welcome though. Take a look at those men to your right.
Radolf stared right at them. Their faces frowned, and they glowered at him.
Don’t be so obvious.
He gulped as the waitress brought their water. She set Radolf’s on the table, and Anarra’s bowl on the floor.
“Is she really a tame wolf?” his server asked. “Does she belong to you?”
“She’s a dailam, and Anarra belongs to no one except herself.” Radolf took a drink as the waitress left.
He gazed around the room. Large antlers hung on the walls as did a painting of Rainbow Valley, its myriad of colors sparkling in the sun. Sneaking a look at the men who scowled at him earlier, he noticed they busily ate and talked.
Their food came. She put his in front of him and Anarra’s on the floor. They ate in companionable silence. Every once in a while, Radolf’s gaze darted around the room. Once finished and their meal paid for, Radolf got another glass of water for himself, a refilled bowl for Anarra, and leaned back.
During their meal, Radolf spotted a man sitting alone in another corner.
His aching muscles relaxed until several dark brown men approached him. Anger blazed from their eyes as they glared from Anarra to him and back again.
“We didn’t really like sharing our eatin’ area with the likes of that.” He spat at Anarra. A blotch of dirty brown spit hit the floor next to her. “But we let it slide. Now you’re finished, so git. We don’t want that killer ‘round here.”
Radolf fixed his eyes on them and said, “Anarra?  Why she’s friendly and intelligent.”
Radolf, maybe we should leave. Neither of us are in any shape to defend ourselves.
No. I’m not going to let some bully push us around. You haven’t hurt anyone.
Dailam aren’t very well liked around here. Some of us have preyed on the horses these people prize. I prefer small animals, but Dektor was very adept at running them down and killing them.
No. He said this firmly. Jewelletta said to wait here.
“Swallow your tongue, kid?” the man growled. “If you can’t make up your mind, I’ll make it up for you.” He pulled a knife and assumed a fighter’s stance.
Radolf froze for a moment. He yanked out the Savaecus dagger hanging on his belt.
The men’s eyes blazed daggers at the weapon as if it would turn into a snake and attack them.
“The only thing I hate worse than a dailam is a Savaecus,” the biggest man growled. “Those savages don’t even have the right to live. Figures you’d be in cahoots with them. Come here to scout the territory for those renegades who have been stealing our horses and our women?”
Before Radolf got a chance to respond, the man charged him. The other four men surrounded him. The one who had been speaking slashed at the bandage on Radolf’s arm, splitting it and starting the wound bleeding again.
Radolf swung his dagger and missed. The bulky brute struck back, slicing into the other arm, leaving an angry red stripe. Pain flooded through him like a dam breaking. He had sensation of strength, and his vision clouded.
Radolf lunged at the man, not caring where he struck.
His dagger found the man’s left side, pierced through his tunic and skin.  Blood spurted out.
The man and his companions glowered at Radolf. 
“You Savaecus-loving bastard.” As he jerked out another knife, he hurled himself at Radolf.
The youngster managed to sidestep him but got cut in the back as one of the other men took out his vengeance. Anarra dove at the men, biting into any flesh she could find that didn’t belong to her friend.
Sitting in a corner, Jahm watched the fight, not liking what he saw. He had seen the young man and the dailam enter the common room but had been more interested in his own lack of money and shabby clothes–until the men attacked. 
“Don’t like these odds,” he muttered. “Four against two is bad enough, but one is little more than a boy. Definitely not instructed in fighting.”
He rose from his chair and strode over. One man stood on the edge about ready to swing his knife at the dailam. Jahm grabbed his collar and flung him across the room into an already occupied table. Food and drink flew everywhere. The occupants, not taking kindly to this uninvited visitor, growled curses and threw him off into another table.
Back at the far end of the room, Jahm none-to-gently pushed another into a long table. This one, too, had diners. With their food dripping from themselves and the man, they shoved him off.
He smacked another on the side of the head, forcing the man to fall back onto the floor.
Now the odds are even, Jahm thought. But it’s time to get the kid and his pet upstairs.
Several other people in the common room joined the fight as it escalated into a free-for-all.
“Let’s get out of here, kid. You can’t handle trained warriors, particularly when they’re mad and drunk. I’ve got a room. You and your pet follow me.” Jahm picked up the kid’s collar, dragged him across the floor, and hoped the dailam or wolf or whatever it was followed.
Dodging chairs, bodies, and weapons of every shape and size, the trio moved through the fighting to the stairs. 
Good, Jahm thought, his pet came.
With Jahm leading the way, they ascended to the next floor and slipped into his room. The young man collapsed on the bed with his friend on the floor.
The mercenary sank into a chair, his breath coming in gasps. 
Dramatis Personae
Radolf—member of Spatali tribe, heir to Anisha’s neckulet
Jewelletta—member of Majutsu tribe, sorceress
Anarra—a dailam, an intelligent canine
Jahm—member of Militio tribe, mercenary
Assorted trouble makers

Author Notes Any help in adding more action to the fight scenes would be appreciated.

Chapter 7
Jahm, Part 1

By krprice

An hour later, Jewelletta towered over the wizened, little man. Standing in front of The Black Horse, she asked, “Have you eaten, Gildor?”
“Yes, I ate earlier,” he answered, his soft tenor almost a whisper in the night. The brisk wind tossed his short white hair around, and his clear blue eyes looked up at her.
Jewelletta opened the large wooden door to the common room and stepped in. Gildor followed.  She surveyed the sight and staggered in shock at the horrendous scene. Chairs were turned in complete disorder, and tables upended. Bodies of all shapes and sizes fell where they hit like crumpled rag dolls. Large and small chunks of glass covered the floor like rocks in a bright red bloody river.
“Oh Khlorae,” Jewelletta muttered as she looked upward. “I hope Radolf and Anarra got out safely.”
Gildor glanced around the room. “I don’t see a dailam or the boy you told me about.”
“I wonder where they are?” She paused and continued. “Radolf and Anarra barely made it here under their own strength. If they were forced to fight or flee, they might be more seriously injured somewhere. I’ve got to find them.” She said the last few words with urgency. “Why don’t you get your belongings and move into your room? Return quickly. I’ll need my herbs too for Radolf’s arm.”
“I’ll return as fast as I can and meet you in room two twenty three,” he said and left.
Carefully, Jewelletta threaded her way through the maze of glass, broken furniture, and blood, stepping on bare floor though those places were few and far between. She arrived at the bar.
“What happened in here?” she inquired.
“A brawl,” the stocky bartender answered curtly.
“That’s obvious,” she snapped.  “I’m looking for a young man with blond hair. . .”

Before she continued, he grinned. “Isn’t that the dream of all you aging dames? To find some young stud and prove you’re still desirable?”
“How would you like all your money to disappear in one poof?” She waved her hand, and the glass in his hand vanished.
His brown eyes widened, and his gaze flicked about the room. “Hey, how did you do that?”
Looking down, he recognized the small gold bands on her robe’s cuff. He gulped. “He and that dailam, they went upstairs. They were the ones who started this. I was gonna throw them out.”
“Radolf started the fight?” Jewelletta’s gaze roamed the room. Her mind calculated the damage. 
“Not exactly, but he didn’t help it any when he whipped out that Savaecus dagger.” The bartender looked around as if hunting for that missing glass.
“Why didn’t you?” She laid her arms on the bar, making sure the gold bands were visible and demanded. “Where are they?” 
“Saw them scurry up the stairs fast with that rattily dressed loner that’s been here a few days. He came to their rescue when five of those jokers jumped the kid.” The bartender pointed to the back of the common room. “So I didn’t get a chance.”
“What room are they in?”
“Two twenty eight,” he answered.
“Thank you,” she said, waving her hand again. The glass reappeared on the bar.
His eyes widened again at its return, but Jewelletta turned away, amused. She stomped up the stairs, and once on the second floor, found the room.
She knocked. After several minutes passed, a brown-skinned man in his late forties opened the door. His collar length, straggly, dark hair was as dirty as his torn tunic and pants. Deep set, sad dark eyes looked back at her.
“I’m looking for a young man and a dailam. I understand you came to their rescue.”
“Yeah, they’re here. Pretty exhausted too. They need medical help, particularly the kid,” he said in a baritone voice.
Jewelletta didn’t wait for an invitation to come in or for him to move out of the way. She barged in, pushed him aside, and strode toward Radolf who sprawled on the one bed.
“Radolf.” She knelt and murmured.
He opened his eyes. Pain blazed from him. “Jewelletta.”
“What happened?” The sorceress gently took him in her arms.
The man sat on the only chair, cleaning his nails with a dagger. Between him and Radolf, they recounted what happened.
“Why didn’t you leave as they asked?” Jewelletta tucked a lock of hair behind her ears.
“Anarra said we should, but you said to wait there. I didn’t know of anywhere else to go.” He sighed.
“Come on, I’ll get you to your room.” She helped him from the bed, surveying his wounds. 
“How is Anarra?”
Fine. I’ll follow. Don’t worry about me.
Radolf relayed the information.
“Here, I’ll help you,” the man offered, putting Radolf’s other arm around his shoulder. “My name is Jahm.”
“Jewelletta. My friend is Radolf, and the dailam is Anarra. Our room is right down the hall.” 
They left Jahm’s room and slowly ambled their way down the wood-paneled hall to two twenty three.
“Gildor,” Jewelletta called. “Open the door.”
The door opened, and the alchemist moved aside. Jewelletta and the man help Radolf to one of the single beds.
“Thank you, Jahm,” she said. “Anything I can do for you?” Her gaze slid up and down his six-foot two inch muscular frame. Might look good cleaned up. She shook her head. Now where did that thought come from?
“No,” he answered, noticing the gold band. He swallowed and said. “Glad to help the boy. He needs a keeper and lots of training in fighting.” 
She smiled. “I’ve appointed myself his keeper, but I can’t teach him things a trained warrior can.” An idea tickled her mind, but she left it alone for the moment.
“Good night.” They chorused.
Dramatis Personae
Radolf—member of Spatali tribe, heir to Anisha’s neckulet
Jewelletta—member of Majutsu tribe, sorceress
Jahm—member of Militio tribe, mercenary
Anarra—dailam, intelligent canine
Gildor—scientist, alchemist

Chapter 8
Jahm, Part 2

By krprice

Radolf watched as Jewelletta closed the door and strode to the fireplace. The wood was set. She muttered a few words, and a fire flared. She walked to Radolf’s pack and pulled out a pot.
“Please get some water boiling in this, Gildor.” The sorceress walked to her herbs next, bent over, and sifted through her packets with various colored stripes on them indicating their purpose.
Minutes later, she pulled out what she wanted and sprinkled them in the water. After filling another pot with water, she hastened to Radolf side. His bandage hung in strips, so she cut the rest from him and cleaned it.
“Get out of those clothes,” she ordered. “They’re almost as dirty as the ones you took off this morning. Do you have another clean set?”
“Yes, one.” He hesitated.
With her help, he removed his shirt. As she pulled his pants down, he grabbed them.
“Radolf.”  She rolled her eyes. “Okay, I’ll turn my back. If you need help, ask Gildor. Cover yourself with the sheet if you’re that modest.” She turned away from him and introduced Gildor and Radolf to each other.
“Aren’t you taught not to display your body in front of strangers?” He asked, grunting as he undressed. Pain flared through his arm.
“Yes, but not to this extreme,” she answered.
“Oh.” He tossed his pants on the tunic already on the floor and pulled up the sheet. “I’m covered.” 
“Any more dirty clothes?” Gildor asked.
“He has a pack full of them.” Jewelletta cleaned the other arm. “You have a cut on your back too. Turn around, and I’ll get that.”
Gildor rummaged through Radolf’s pack, pulled out the filthy clothes, and put them all in the hallway. “They’ll come back clean in the morning.”
He went over to the fire. Using a cloth, he took the pot from the fire, put some cold water in it, and brought it over to Jewelletta. She submerged the clean cloth. After wringing it out, she glided it across Radolf’s sore arm.
He pulled back, flinching at the pain.
“Stay still,” she scolded but then smiled.
She cleaned the laceration and bandaged it again before treating his other arm and his back.
“Use the rest of the water to bathe in and get some sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.” She bent over and gave him a kiss on the forehead. “Take care of him. If you need me, I’ll be in the next room.” She turned and left the room.
Radolf cleaned himself up, never speaking to Gildor, who emptied the chamber pots when Radolf finished. The alchemist blew out the candle and crawled into the other bed.
Goodnight, Anarra.
You look better but still tired. Sleep well, Radolf.
He turned on his side and was asleep in minutes.
A knock on the door awoke Radolf the next morning. Gildor answered it before Radolf could sit up.
“Good morning.” Jewelletta entered the room “How are you feeling, Radolf?” She moved closer to the bed.
“Better,” he answered.
Jewelletta bent over and petted Anarra. “And you?”
I’m feeling much better. Radolf told the others.
“I’ve arranged for breakfast to be brought up. Gildor, please put some more herbs on to boil and make my potion while I check Radolf’s arm.”
Gildor worked as she sat on the bed and removed the bandage. “It’s improving, but it’ll still need watching for a while as we head for the Valley of the Jakoda.” She looked at the other arm and his back.
“Why are we going to the valley?” Radolf asked, trying to keep the sheet over his private parts.
“To see the dwarves. Since Jamari stole the power jewels, I must replace them. The dwarves are the only miners on the planet. And besides, the jewels I need can only be found in the Aurifex Cavern, where the dwarves live. Chances are your thieves ae headed there.”
“What are the power jewels?” Radolf inquired.
“A circulet of ten different jewels, each representing a Master of the Majutsu Council,” she told him. “The jewels are infused with the powers of each Master at a special ceremony at the Veda Community. I’m only one of two on Mageron who has mastered all the jewels. By combining their powers and my unique ability, we can control the evil forces in the universe. And believe me, there are enough of them. That’s where I get my name–Jewelletta.” 
During her explanation, Gildor brought over the water. She cleaned Radolf’s arm but left it open to the air.
“Who is Jamari and why did he steal the jewels?” Radolf sat quietly while she worked on him.
“That’s a tale for a later time,” Jewelletta said.
Someone knocked on the door. Gilder handed her the potion before he answered it. A waitress stood there with their breakfast. He took the tray, closed the door, and set the food on a table. Jewelletta drank her potion.
The three ate in silence when someone else banged on the door. Gildor was over at it and had it open before Jewelletta got up.
“Come in, Jahm,” Jewelletta invited. “We have some extra food. Want some breakfast?”
“Yes,” he answered, a bit hesitantly as he entered. “How are you this morning, Radolf?”
“Much better,” he said between bites of egg.
“Anarra?” He accepted a plate of quanya meat and eggs from Jewelletta and sat.
“She’s better too,” Radolf told him.
“What brings you to Sildar?” Jahm asked. “I’m not trying to be nosy, just curious. We don’t get that many Majutsu through here.” He ate.
“Gildor lives here.” The sorceress pointed to her alchemist. She paused for a moment.
 Looking from Jahm to Radolf, Jewelletta launched into her reason for coming here, telling him of the theft, Para’s death, their search for neckulet, and how they met. She told him where they were headed and why.
“Valley of the Jakoda.” He sipped a cup of tea Gildor handed him. “That’s quite a ways from here.”
“Sildar is a Militio community, isn’t it?” Jewelletta asked. “But since you’re staying at The Black Horse, you must be on a mission.”
Radolf wondered the same thing.
“I wish I could say I was on a mission. I’m no longer considered a member of the tribe.” He put his plate down, hid his face in his hands, and bent over.
Radolf and Gildor widened their eyes as Jewelletta’s jaw dropped open..
“You must have broken the tribe’s code to have been kicked out,” the sorceress said none too tactfully.
He pulled his hands away from his face. “Yes. Loyalty, honor, and courage are the essence of our creed, the vows we make when we take up arms to fight. I broke the vow of courage.” Jahm hung his head. “We fought a battle three years ago in the Kanballi Jungle. I had command and instead of letting my men fight the renegade Savaecus who live there, I ordered them to retreat.  We were outnumbered. I know from firsthand experience what can happen if those cannibals capture you.” The mercenary turned around and lifted his shirt. Scars the length of Jewelletta’s hair marred his back. “This happened five years ago, and I was lucky to escape with my life. In this last instance, discretion was the better part of valor to paraphrase the old saying. The tribal council didn’t agree and kicked me out. I’ve been wandering from the northern mountains south to Aderra. From the Landetta Valley to Rainbow Valley ever since.” 
“Do you hire yourself?” Jewelletta finished her eggs.
“No one would hire me with the word out I’ve broken my vows. I collect wood and carve animals and various other things. People request certain ones. I sell them to many in Sildar or Aderra, even your people have bought some. I make enough to stay alive. I can hunt and fish, but that gets old and lonely very quickly.”
“Why don’t you come with us?” Radolf asked. “Your hunting and fishing skills will be invaluable, and I could use help in defending myself.”
Jahm’s gaze landed on Jewelletta and Anarra. “How do you two feel?”
We need him. You must learn to defend yourself. The attack last night proves you need training.  I can help with the hunting, and I know you can hunt, but we will be able to do better with him.  Jewelletta needs some company her own age although she’s much older than she looks, or she wouldn’t need Gildor. Jahm needs us much as we need him.           
Why does she need Gildor?
The only reason would be for a youth potion. She looks to be in her forties, but I daresay she’s at least twice that. We dailam live very long lives. I’m eighty, and I saw her roaming around the world a good forty years ago.
Radolf started at her revelation. Didn’t think you were that old. 
And very wise.
He chuckled and announced. “We agree you need us as much as we need you.”

Chapter 9
Radolf's impulsive move

By krprice

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

Jewelletta’s eyes widened, and Jahm’s jaw dropped at Radolf’s blunt confession. 
Jahm closed his mouth and looked at Jewelletta. “Anything I can get for our trip?”
“Yes,” she answered. “We’ll need extra water skins, dried meat, cheese, and any travel rations we can scrounge to get us through the plains. Once we hit the foothills of the Marufuku Mountains, we’re sure to find food and water in abundance. The dwarves will supply us with anything we need from there to get to the Veda Community.” Jewelletta sipped her tea. “Radolf needs a couple more sets of clothes and a sword. If you think of anything else, get it.” She fumbled around in her robe’s pocket and handed him some coins.
He stared at the money. “Jewelletta, that’s too much. We could buy half the community for that.”
Radolf stood, walked over to his pack, and pulled out the bag Temma had given him. “Since much of what you’re getting is for me, I should pay for it. Will any of the stores you plan to visit be willing to barter? He opened the bag and fished out two pairs of gray woollen gloves, a dark blue wool scarf, pink lace made of quanya fur, and another scarf of quanya fur, setting them on his bed. However, he held back other items he figured they might need to trade along their route.
Both Jewelletta and Jahm gasped.
“Where did you get those?” Jewelletta asked, walking over to the bed.
“My grandmother made them,” he answered as tears filled his eyes.
Jewelletta took a cloth from her robe, wiped away the water, and hugged him before stepping away.
Jahm joined them, his brown eyes examining what was displayed. “Are you sure you want to part with them since your grandmother made them?”
“I have a number of her things packed away in our hut in the valley,” he said.
“The place where I plan to get everything is always willing to accept barter,” Jahm said. “Why don’t you put your money away, Jewelletta? I think I can get a good deal on what we need.”

“All right. Get what you think we’ll require and whatever you need also.” She shrugged and stuck her coins back in her robe.
Jahm carefully picked up the items and walked to the door. “I’ll see you all later,” he announced and left.
Gildor brought a pot of hot water to Jewelletta. He took away the breakfast trays and returned with Radolf’s clean clothes.
As Jewelletta stripped the bandage from his arm, Radolf asked, “What was in that potion you drank this morning?”
“You would never understand the chemical terms. I don’t really know, but I trust Gildor knows what he’s doing.” She fished through her medical supplies and brought out a jar of aloe vera. He remembered the aroma always filled the healer’s hut in his village.
“But-but why do you take it? Are you ill?” Radolf shuddered when she smoothed some salve over the cut. He refused to let her get away without answering him.
“It’s a youth potion,” she finally admitted. “I’m older than I look. I take it every day. Gildor will mix the herbs for me before we leave. I’ll just have to add water.”
“That’s what Anarra said,” he told her.
“Have you and Anarra nothing better to do than to discuss my age?” Jewelletta narrowed her eyes.
“We-we didn’t mean it as an insult,” he stammered sheepishly and told her of their chat that morning.
You shouldn’t have asked, Radolf.  When will you learn to keep your big mouth shut!
His face became hot. “I’m sorry, Jewelletta. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
“It was bound to come out. After all, we’re going to be traveling together. It’s no secret among my people I’m scared of getting old. No one is perfect, Radolf. Least of all me.” She finished tending to him. “I’ll leave, so you can get dressed. I’m going to pack, and you do the same. That way we can leave soon after Jahm’s return.”
Gildor returned a few minutes later. Radolf dressed and repacked his bag. The alchemist stayed busy mixing herbs and putting them in packets before loading up his belongings.
Jewelletta brought her things into the room as lunch arrived. Jahm came only minutes later. He carried several bundles with him and set them on the floor.
“Let’s eat a good lunch,” Jewelletta suggested. “Sort out everything afterwards.”
They all nodded. Radolf and Jewelletta plopped on the bed while Jahm sat on the chair. Gildor put a generous amount of beef along with a bowl of water before Anarra. He passed around the barbeque quanya, boiled potatoes, carrots and drinks, before he settled on his own bed.
Thank him for me. Radolf passed on the dailam’s request.
Once finished, Jahm unloaded the food and clothes for Radolf along with a sword and scabbard.
“I guessed at Radolf’s size. I hope they fit.” He handed two outfits to Radolf.
The youngster held them up, examining them. “They will. Is that sword for me?” Excitement rang in his final words.
“Yes. Why don’t you try it on?” Jahm handed him the belt, sheath, and sword.
Radolf wrapped the belt around his waist and buckled it. It sagged to his hips “It’s too big,” he admitted as he gazed at the leather sheath encasing the sword. It dragged the floor.
“Here, let me help.” Jahm stepped forward chuckling at Radolf’s predicament.
“I can do it,” he snapped.
Jahm stopped. Radolf pulled the belt up, unbuckled it, and moved it one notch tighter. He fastened it again, but it still scraped the floor. 
Radolf, let Jahm help you. You look like you have no more idea of how to do it than I do.   Swallow that stubborn pride of yours.
“Oh, all right. It’s obvious I don’t know what I’m doing.” He dropped his hands from the belt.
Still chuckling, Jahm walked up to Radolf.
“Well, you don’t have to be so happy about it,” he grumbled.
Jewelletta’s hand covered her mouth as if trying to hide a smile, dropped it, and laughed. Gildor smiled.
“I thought you were my friend, Jewelletta.” Radolf stiffened, not liking being made a fool of.
“You’d laugh, too, if you could see how funny you look trying to adjust that. You look like a child trying to play grownup and strap on his daddy’s sword.”  She couldn’t quell her laughter.
Laugh, Radolf. You do look ridiculous.
Resigned, he smiled. “Guess you’re right.”
Jahm adjusted the belt and sword, instructing Radolf how to fasten it. “It’ll take you a while to get used to walking with it, but it won’t be long before you’ll feel naked without it.” He slapped Radolf on the back. “And if it makes you feel any better, first time I strapped on a sword by myself, I swaggered around camp and fell right into a pile of horse droppings. Took me hours to get that stuff, not to mention smell, out of my sheath and off my sword.” 
That set the sorceress off into laughter again. Radolf even chuckled.
“You’re all set now. Is everyone ready?” Jahm asked.                                            
Jewelletta wiped her eyes with her robe.  “Yes.”
“I still have these new things to pack, but that shouldn’t take me long. I’ll meet you downstairs,” Jahm told them and left.
Radolf added the new clothes to his pack and strapped on everything with Jewelletta’s help. He stuck the Savaecus dagger in his right boot, picked up his bow, the quiver, and his walking stick.
The sorceress hugged Gildor. “Thank you for everything. I’ll leave a note for you at The Silver Talon when I get to Veda.”
“You should have more than enough to get you there,” Gildor said. “I’m going to Aderra for a conference. If you end up there before I get back to you in Veda, come to the Merianna Inn.  Either ask for me or drop off a message.”
Jewelletta led, followed by Radolf, Anarra, and Gildor.
As the quartet walked through the common room, Radolf noticed his attackers. They stopped talking. Their gazes seared through Radolf and Anarra as they walked through and out the door.
Jewelletta looked over at him. “Your friends from last night?”
Gildor waved goodbye and walked to their right.
Jahm exited behind them. They strode across the hard-packed sand that comprised the city streets. The buildings shielded them from the noonday sun. People scurried past on their own errands. Once they left the community, Radolf wiped sweat from his brow. The sun, blazing like a golden jewel against a cobalt blue background, scorched the plains.
Early that evening, the wind picked up.  Since this wasn’t unusual, Radolf thought nothing of it until it was too late. When the wind stopped and the dust cleared, twenty men on horseback surrounded them including the five who had jumped Radolf at the inn.
Radolf yanked out his sword and charged. They dodged him easily.
Radolf, what kind of nonsense are you up to no? You don’t even know how to use that thing. Get back here, back under Jewelletta’s protection.
By that time, his attackers enclosed him in a circle, making his return to Jahm and Jewelletta impossible. Five swords poked and prodded him.
Now you’ve done it. Well, how are you going to get yourself out of this one?
Radolf looked around. He shook, his hands sweated. “Jewelletta,” he yelled, fear in his voice.

Chapter 10
The Princess and the Bodyguard

By krprice

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

Radolf looked around. He gulped. What am I doing out here? I can’t wield a sword. But I can shoot an arrow.
He stuck his sword back into the scabbard, took his bow from around his arm, and yanked two arrows from the quiver. He stuck one it his mouth and notched up the other. Taking aim at one of the horses’ hooves, he let it fly. Before it had hit the ground, he repeated the process with the other arrow and shot it at the hoof of another horse.
The first horse reared, almost dumping its rider, and the second horse did the same.
“Draw your sword, Jahm,” Jewelletta said.
However, before he was able to do that, the men threatening them, spun their horses around, and galloped off in another cloud of dust.
Radolf took a deep breath and returned to the others. “I’m sorry for running off.”
Jahm dashed over and shook him. “What was in your head, boy, to make you race off like that? 
You don’t have any idea how to use that sword.”
“Jahm,” Jewelletta intervened. “Don’t be so harsh with him. He did save us.”
“Someone needs to teach him to control his impulsiveness. That kid needs to grow up.” His brown eyes blazed with anger.
Jahm stalked off and muttered a curse.
Jewelletta scolded Radolf, waving her right index finger at him. “Don’t you ever to anything like that again. Do you hear me? You don’t know the first thing about sword fighting, but it’s about time you learned.”          
Radolf hung his head. “I’m sorry.”   
“Think before you act.” The steel in her voice warmed but stayed firm.
She’s right.
“Are you all against me?” Radolf glared from Anarra to Jewelletta.
When you behave like that, you put us all in danger. You’re not skilled or mature enough to lead yet. Let Jewelletta and Jahm do that. Learn those skills and grow up. Once you do, you’ll make a fine leader.
“Anarra scolding you too?” Jewelletta raised an eyebrow.
“Yes,” he said, smiled and relayed the dailam’s advice.
“She’s right. That animal is more perceptive than most people. Well, we’d better find Jahm and hope he’s cooled down. It’s about time to camp for the night.” Jewelletta headed to the right.
Nodding, Radolf followed her, and they soon found Jahm setting up camp.
“Thought it was about time to stop.” Jahm laid wood down for a fire. “Don’t you agree?”
“Yes.” Jewelletta waved her hand, said a few words, and flames rose from the wood.
After eating and cleaning up, they settled down for the night after Jewelletta had set wards to keep away unwanted visitors. No one mentioned the adventure earlier, and Radolf was happy they didn’t.
He lay beside Anarra and gazed at the glittering stars and two bright moons.
It is soothing to watch the night sky, Anarra, I wonder . . .
You had better sleep and quit stargazing. Tomorrow will be another long day.
Grumbling, Radolf turned over and went to sleep, dreaming of traveling to those stars.
Late the next afternoon, the prairie shook as if in fright. Pounding hooves came from behind, echoing throughout the massive prairie. Two people ran as if the devil chased them. Men on horseback closed in for the kill.
Remembering what he had done yesterday, Radolf unslung his bow and reached for an arrow.
“No,” Jewelletta warned. “You might hit the wrong people. Let me handle this.”
He thought a moment and realized she was right, so he stuck the arrow back in its quiver and put his bow back on his shoulder.
Jewelletta gazed toward the horses amidst the swirling grass and sand. “They’re from Aderra. The emblem on the shields is King Davanol.”
“Who are they?” Radolf asked. “Are the prisoners running from the militia?”
“Be quiet,” Jahm warned. “Let her concentrate, so she can help them. We’ll find out soon enough.”
As the duo neared, Jewelletta raised her hand. More grass and sand swirled around them, blocking the men’s searching eyes. The man and woman emerged from the sandstorm, coughing and choking.
“Come,” Jewelletta assured them. “We must get away from here. You’re safe with us.”
At more than six feet, the green-skinned man stood taller than Jewelletta. Sand stuck in his short curly, reddish brown hair. He wore a loincloth and armor. Blazing gray eyes fell on the petite woman at his side. She coughed as she brushed sand from her pale pink top and pantaloons.
“Hurry.” Jewelletta urged them on.
With the ease of picking up a child, the muscular man scooped the woman up in his arms, and said in a soft melodic tenor, “Lead the way, friend.”
As they moved away from the maelstrom, Radolf asked Jahm, “Who is she? She’s beautiful.”  Waist length, light blond hair, though filthy now, shrouded her like a silky golden mist though fear shone from her amber eyes.
“Princess Chrystella of the House of Michaelandra,” Jahm whispered as they hurried behind the sorceress.
“Heir to the throne?” Radolf dropped his jaw.
“Not directly. Prince Taynar is several years older and in direct line. She’s next, then Princess Ellaissa, who is sixteen.”
Radolf formed a silent OH. He stared at the woman who lay quietly in the man’s arms. “But who is he?”
“From his clothing, I’d say he’s a guard at the place, a high-ranking one too. Quite possibly her bodyguard.” Jahm picked up his pace.
“But he’s a Savaecus,” Radolf growled. “What’s he doing so close to the royal family?”
“Long story, kid,” Jahm said. “No time to explain now.”
Radolf lengthened his stride. 
“Maybe he decided he wanted to guard her body closer than he was supposed to and angered the king,” Jahm sneered.
Radolf halted. Memories of two hooded men and the Savaecus dagger rushed through his mind.  He curled his fingers into a fist.
“Come on, kid.” Jahm yanked on Radolf’s sore arm, bringing him back to reality. 
“Be quiet, you two, and quit speculating. When we’re well away and in safer places, we’ll find out the whole story.” Jewelletta turned around and scolded them. “And don’t go stirring up trouble, Jahm.”

Chapter 11
Legend of the Starcastle, Part 1

By krprice

He muttered a few curses, but the two males followed.
They walked a short while and stopped.
“You’re both exhausted, and it’s time to eat as my stomach’s so nastily telling me.” Jewelletta said.
Radolf opened his pack and laid them down for the princess. “Why don’t you put her here?”
The man gently set her down. “Thank you.”
 Jewelletta turned to the man. “We didn’t have time for introductions earlier.” 
After introducing herself, she pointed out each group member.
“I’m Vidad of the Royal Guard, and this is Princess Chrystella, second in line to the throne,” he told them.
“She needs some water.” Jewelletta held out a waterskin to him.
He took the water, knelt, and murmured, “Chrys, drink this.”
She opened her mouth and choked on the first few drops but then drank heartily. “You too, dear.
You need water. You’ve been giving me all the water for days. Please.” It sounded as if her pleading soprano voice caressed him. As her violet–blue eyes cleared, the gold flecks sparkled.
She smiled when he took the skin and drank.
“Thank you.” He returned the water skin to Jewelletta.
“What are you waiting for, Radolf, a royal invitation? Unpack the food.” Jewelletta teased in an affectionate tone. “I’m starved. I’m sure Vidad and the princess are too.” 
So am I, but I’ll go hunt my own. Enjoy your lunch. I won’t be far. Anarra ran toward the hills.
“Where’s she going?” Jewelletta asked.
“To hunt,” Radolf said.
Vidad and Chrystella glanced from Radolf to Jewelletta and back
 “How do you know that?” Vidad raised an eyebrow as he accepted a pouch of travel rations.
“She told me.” Radolf handed Jewelletta some cheese.
“Told?” Vidad asked as Radolf passed around the food.
“You know dailams are telepathic, don’t you?” Jewelletta asked and bit into her yellow cheese.
“Yes, amongst themselves,” Vidad answered.
“Usually that’s true, but Radolf and Anarra have forged a special bond, linking them telepathically.”
“Oh,” came from the duo.
As they ate, Jewelletta asked, “Now, Chrystella, why were you two fleeing the Aderran militia?”
Vidad and Chrystella looked at each other as if trying to decide what to tell them. He spoke first.
“Up until a few weeks ago, I was captain of the largest platoon of guards at the palace. Several months before that, one of the king’s aides asked me to sing at the upcoming festival. I sometimes sang on occasion for the king only, but this was quite an honor for me.” He puffed out his chest. “I quickly agreed. I saw Chrystella quietly sitting beside her father. I fell in love then.”
He paused and took a bite of smoked venison and a sip of water. 
Jewelletta hung on his every word, but Jahm leaned back on one arm. Curiosity wormed its way through Radolf, so he listened with interest.
“Several days later, we happened to meet again. All I had to do was to look into her eyes and knew she loved me too. We met secretly when we could. If it was discovered I was making advances toward her, I’d be punished severely. Well, Prince Taynar caught us in a passionate embrace. He and I have never gotten along. The king favored a marriage between Chrystella and the Vijanden ambassador, Vanall.” He drank some water.
The princess picked up the story. “Guards surrounded us. They snatched Vidad from me and put him in the lowest dungeon. He was to be executed at sunrise. Death is the penalty for intimately touching a member of the royal family. I-I . . .” Tears rolled down her cheeks. She stammered. 
“Wasn’t about to let the only man I’ll ever love die. I schemed and planned the rest of the day. 
That night, I slipped my guard. Taking the water and food I collected from the kitchen. I also brought some sleeping herbs my maid keeps hidden and sneaked into the dungeon. The guards were playing dice and cards and halfway drunk. Well, I decided I would help them to dreamland. 
After I put the herbs in their last bottle, I hid. One by one they fell asleep. I took the keys from the head guard and opened the door. With Vidad freed, I returned the keys, and we fled out of the secret passages that lead from the palace under the city and exits outside Aderra.” She sighed and drank more water.
Vidad took over again. “We stayed hidden as much as we could. I thought we had eluded them, but this morning, they found us. If it hadn’t been for you, Jewelletta, they would have caught us.  Again, I thank you.”
“And me also,” Chrystella echoed. “There’s more. As Vided said, I was promised to Vanall.
He’s too mean and cruel, and I was in love with Vidad.” She pointed to the waterskin, accepted it, before setting it down. “One night I pretended I was asleep. When both my maid and guard dozed off, I followed him. He met with my brother, and someone called Jay. Vanall said five hundred years had passed, and it was time to go after the neckulet.”
Radolf growled and lunged at Vidad, who leaned over to protect the princess.
Jewelletta grabbed him. “Stop this nonsense. Let her finish her tale.”
He grumbled but sat.
“Jay said he had already set those plans in motion.”
Jewelletta flared her nostrils and bared her teeth. “I think Jay is my twin, Jamari. He has always wanted power and wealth without working for it.” She took several breaths. “Why is the Vijanden ambassador at the Mageron court? Who invited him?”
“I don’t have any idea,” Chrystella answered.

“So where are you headed?” Jewelletta picked pieces of cheese that dropped on her robe and flung them on the ground.
“We had no specific place in mind. Didn’t have any plans beyond freeing Vidad,” Chrystella admitted.
“Why don’t you join us?” The sorceress invited. “We’re headed for the dwarves in the Valley of the Jakoda.” She explained about the circulet’s loss. “I suspect Jamari stole them. We’re going to the Veda Community from there.”
“The power jewels?” Chrystella asked, her eyes widening.
“Veda is getting a little too close to Aderra, but I think it is best if we do travel with you.” Vidad cleaned up after himself. “At least to the Aurifex Caverns. Maybe by then, we’ll have figured out where we can hide.”
Radolf sat straight up. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Jewelletta’s green gaze glared at him. “And why not?” 
“Because he’s one of those Savaecus.” Radolf’s body tensed as he pulled out the Savaecus dagger.
“Where’d you get that?” Vidad asked, his eyes widening. 
“We need to get going if we’re going to try to get to the foothills by nightfall.” The sorceress scowled at Radolf. “We’ll explain tonight.  Put that thing away, Radolf. We don’t have time for any more of your foolishness.”
He glowered and shoved it back in his boot. 
They packed up everything and continued their journey.
With evening shadows trailing them, they set up camp a good twenty miles from the caverns.  The towering mountains, looking majestic with late autumn’s white capes clinging to their peaks, sliced into the red and gold sunset, dividing it into pieces.
Chrystella sat on a log and watched the others set up camp.
“Get up, Chrystella.This isn’t servants’ day at the palace. Everyone pitches in and helps, or you don’t eat,” Jewelletta berated.  
“She’s a princess. She doesn’t have to do anything but sit there and look pretty,” Vidad snapped at first. He softened his tone in the second sentence.
“Like I said, either she helps, or she doesn’t eat.” With arms crossed, Jewelletta’s eyes narrowed.
“I’ll do her share and mine too,” he offered gallantly. His eyes blazed a stormy gray. He held a load of wood in his arms and dumped it on the ground.
“That’s fine with me if you’re so gullible to think you can travel all day and do both your chores and hers too. Doesn’t matter to me,” Jewelletta said.  She started the fire.
Radolf and Jahm stared at the princess. The mercenary shook his head. With Anarra in the lead, they set off to hunt.
A short time later, they returned from the foothills with several kangrellas. While Jahm cleaned
them, Radolf located a few wild potatoes and carrots from the surrounding area. He washed them, split them, and handed the vegetables to Jewelletta. She put the last of the meat on the fire and added the rest. 
While the food cooked, Radolf, Jewelletta, and Jahm told their tales.
Vidad shook his head. “We are a violent race, and we have our renegades. It would be my guess they are responsible for your grandmother’s death.” He held out his hand.
Radolf thought about spitting on it. One look at Jewelletta made him decide not to do that. “I’ll think about it.”
“We are so sorry for your loss,” the princess said, tears streamed down her face. “Why didn’t you bring it before my father’s attention?”
“Because he didn’t help fourteen years ago when some other renegades killed my parents and my grandfather.” He almost spat at her.
Chrystella gasped. “I was too young when that happened. That was about the time my mother died. Father was so devastated he could barely function. I’m not using that as an excuse, but that could explain why you didn’t get any help.”
“I remember when that happened,” Jewelletta said. “Chaos reigned for several moons until the king recovered.” She poked the meat and vegetables with a stick. The food is ready.”
Everyone but Chrystella pitched in afterward and cleaned up. Jewelletta fixed her potion and drank it.
Vidad collapsed next to the petite princess by the fire. She shivered as the night’s frigid fingers penetrated her thin clothes. The others flopped too since it was still early.
“You said you sang?” Jewelletta asked.
“Yes.” He rubbed the princess’ arms.
“Do you know THE LEGEND OF THE STARCASTLE?” The sorceress asked nonchalantly. 
“Yes,” he answered.
“Would you sing it for us?” 
Vidad’s clear, melodic tenor rang out as he sang the century’s old legend.
            Khlorae made the universe
            Blackness prevailed, no life, no light
            The stars, the moons, the sun they came
            And brought us love; they brought us sight.
            Mageron, first and favorite child
            Susjed, smartest of them all
            Vijand, young not worldly wise
            Came and conquered, made them fall.          
            The signs appear on planets three
            Mageron, he begins the quest
            Joins with Susjed to journey on
            Til mighty Vijand dies and rests.
            When time has come, the dailam die
            The neckulet appears then too
            The queen arrives and shows her worth
            The tribes unite with trust anew.
            Scientists and Sorcerers link up
            The swans go to the Rainbow
            Vatarra awakens, her might unleashed                                                
            The Little People their worth doth show.
            In Remalga, system of magic
            Stars glisten and form a castle
            Vijand attacks, bold and sure
            And there they fall in a mighty battle.
Radolf’s shoulders slumped, and his eyes were half closed.
Pay attention. This is important.
He sat up and opened his eyes, which he widened at the word ‘neckulet’. What does that have to do with this? It’s been in my family for centuries.
Listen. You might learn something.
He had managed to miss a few lines but followed Anarra’s advice.
When he finished, no one spoke at first until Chrystella said, “That was beautiful, Vidad.  I enjoyed the song.”
The words tumbled through Radolf’s mind like rambunctious puppies.
He turned to Jewelletta, who seemed to be caught up in some kind of reverie. “That’s only a legend, a myth, isn’t it, Jewelletta?”
She shook her head as if to shake out something lodged inside. “Think about the words.” She looked over at Vidad. “Thank you, Vidad. You certainly sang it better than I had heard it a long time ago. Why aren’t you singing professionally with a voice like yours?”
“I’ve always wanted to, but I’ve never had the opportunity.” He hugged Chrystella closer to him.
“A talent like yours shouldn’t be hidden away. Khlorae gave it to you to share with the rest of the world.” Jewelletta noticed the duo shivered.
“Maybe someday it’ll happen,” he sighed wistfully.
Chrystella leaned over and kissed his cheek. “You will. Have no fear of it.”
“We better sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a long day. We’ll be crossing the Lazeo River several times. It’s sure to be a hard journey.” Jewelletta rose and arranged her things for the night.
Jahm and Radolf followed. Vidad and Chrystella huddled together on the lone quanya skin Radolf had given them earlier.     
Radolf, offer Vidad and the princess some of your quanya skins. You have enough for the entire palace guard to sleep on.
Radolf looked over at them. But they are the enemy.
Grow up. Did they kill your grandmother?
No. He sorted through the quanya skins. Radolf thought a moment. The princess was shivering.
Go do it. It is what Khlorae would want you to do. Show you don’t blame them. Be a man about things.
Radolf picked up several skins and walked over to the couple curled up together by the fire.
“You need something cover up with. It gets cold here in the plains at night.” He handed them the skins with a smile. “They’ll keep you warm.” 
“Thank you.” Vidad accepted them.
Radolf returned to Anarra, and Jewelletta walked up.
“That was very generous of you, Radolf.” She looked into his eyes, glanced at Anarra, and lowered her voice. “I get them impression this was a joint venture?  Hm-”
“Anarra suggested it.” Heat crept up Radolf’s face.
She bent and petted the dailam. “Thank you.”
Anarra barked, her eyes twinkling in response to Jewelletta’s comment.
“Evidently, she agrees.” Jewelletta smiled. “Goodnight.”
She left them and headed for her belongings. After pulling a robe from her pack, she strode over to Chrystella.
“I know this will be extra-large, but you’ll freeze in that outfit, Chrystella.” The sorceress gave a robe to the young princess.
She took it. “Thank you.”

After Jewelletta set wards, everyone in the camp settled down. Radolf ached from the day’s journey. The words kept churning in his mind, but he turned over and fell asleep.

Chapter 12
Legend of the Starcastle, Part 2

By krprice

Jewelletta arose with the sun. “Come on, get up. If we’re going to get some traveling done
today, we need an early start before it gets too hot.”
“Shouldn’t it be cooler in the foothills?” Radolf collected his things and repacked them.
“Yes, but then the going will be rougher too. That river twists and turns like a maze. We’ll probably have to cross it more than once.” Jewelletta moved her hand over the fire, and it flared to life.
“It’s filled with rapids too,” Jahm added. “I’ve traversed it several times.”
After eating, they broke camp and soon entered the foothills. With the plains behind them, the Marufuku Mountains rose above. Bare trees stood naked, exposed to winter’s harsh elements.  Stones dotted the brown path of leaves, but the animal trail remained clear of any obstacles. The wind blew their hair over their eyes and carried on it a piney fragrance. As they neared the river, the rush of water grew ever louder. 
Jahm headed up the group with Jewelletta behind him, Vidad, Chrystella, Anarra, and Radolf.
The path abruptly ended at the river’s edge, a mass of whirling white water furiously trying to dodge the rocky boulders. The water roared as if angry, warning anyone or anything in its path of its oncoming fury. It smashed against the rocks, spraying anyone on the bank.
Radolf shivered as the icy water mist touched him.
“How are we going to cross?” Chrystella clung to Vidad.
“By using those rocks as stepping stones.” Jahm scowled at her.
“But they’re wet,” the princess whined.
“Of course, they’re wet. They’re sitting in the middle of the river. And they’re slippery too, my dear princess.” Jahm turned to the sorceress. “I’ll lead the way, you follow.”
Jahm cautiously stepped on the first of four stones. “Not too bad.”
He placed his foot on the second and the third stone, but he slipped on the fourth. Tottering, he
regained his balance and reached the other side. Jewelletta followed right behind him. Vidad walked after her, neither losing their footing. Chrystella chose to ignore Vidad’s proffered hand as she moved across the rocks.
On the last rock, Chrystella slid sideways, her left leg plunging into the current. Vidad grabbed her waist and swung her on the bank. The princess shivered in the wind blasting them with its biting breath.
“Radolf, get over here,” Jewelletta called. “She needs clothes from your pack.”
Anarra bounded from rock to rock, quickly making it to the other side. Hesitantly, Radolf stepped on the first stone, eyeing the water around it. Don’t look down. He steadied himself, making sure he had his balance. Picking up his other foot, he let it join the one on the stone. 
Radolf repeated the slow process until he arrived on the other side. He pulled out a tunic and pants for her, and she went behind a large green bush to change.
When she returned, the tunic hung to her knees and the pants dragged the ground. Everyone laughed.
“Roll up the pants, Chrystella,” Jewelletta suggested. “They’ll still be big, but you can manage.”
As she did so, Vidad said, “You sure picked the wrong time to refuse my help.”  
Her eyes blazed, the gleaming gold flecks more pronounced.
He walked over and put his arm around her. “Honey, don’t be angry. I didn’t mean any harm, and neither did the others.”
The flecks returned to the normal size. Vidad bent over and kissed her lips.
“When you two are finished, let us know,” Jewelletta said. “It’s almost lunch time. We might as well eat before we continue.”
After eating, they followed the path that wove in and out of the trees, coming to the river again.
“There are no stepping stones here. How do we cross?” Jewelletta asked.
“Build a raft. It’s much too rough for most of us to swim.” Jahm barked orders about who should do what. “And don’t go alone. Not even you, Vidad.”
“I know an easier way to make a raft,” Vidad said.
“You do, huh?” Jahm raised an eyebrow. “Well, explain it to me.”
Once Vidad finished his explanation, Jahm asked, “So someone still has to swim across with the rope on the other side. Who’s going to do that?”
“I will. I’m a strong swimmer.” Vidad boasted.
“We’ll try it,” Jahm said.
They spent most of the afternoon building the raft and moved it to the edge of the rushing water.
Vidad removed his armor and sword before he dove in. The current pushed him toward one large boulder. He crashed into it. Its icy froth swirled over him, burying him under a torrent of water.

Chapter 13
Lake Saphir

By krprice

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.
Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of language.

Chrystella raced to the water’s edge and stopped.
“Don’t!” Jewelletta ran and grabbed her arm before she did something foolish. “Vidad can take care of himself. There’s nothing you can do.”
The young princess yanked off the sorceress’ hand, turned around, and growled, “Don’t order me around.”
“I’m only trying to keep you safe.” Jewelletta glared at Chrystella.
Are they going to fight right here?
Several minutes later Vidad surfaced, still clinging to the rope. Radolf didn’t realize he held his breath. He and the others let out a sigh. 
Thank goodness he’s safe.
Vidad swam to the other side, climbed out, waved, smiled but shivered. He tied the rope to the tree and motioned for them to cross.
Tentatively, Radolf put his right foot on and wobbled. Once he steadied himself, he set the other foot on and slowly moved out of the way. Anarra followed. She lay down out of the way. Jahm handed Radolf their packs, Vidad’s armor and sword, and he arranged them. Jewelletta boarded and stuck out her hand. Chrystella started to refuse it, and then took it, as if she remembered the earlier incident at the wet stones.
Jahm held out a pole. “Pass this on to Radolf.” He jumped on last, though the raft rocked.
“I’m going to push off and get us going. Radolf, you steer this tub. Everyone else hold onto something. I don’t want anyone falling in. If something does fall, forget it. We’ll survive without it. Lives are more valuable and harder to replace,” Jahm ordered.
Chrystella looked up at him.
“Yes, even you. You may prove your worth yet,” the mercenary said. “We’re on our way.” He threw all his weight against the pole, and the raft spun away from the bank. 
Radolf steadied himself as the water tossed the little raft around. It sliced through the torrent throwing the water’s frigid fingers onto them. Chrystella and Jewelletta huddled with Anarra. 
Radolf gazed longingly at the two ladies. Wish I could do that!
But you have a task to do. 
Radolf’s arms ached from exhaustion as they passed the three quarters mark. “I’m getting tired.”
“So am I, kid, but keep at it. You’re doing a great job, and we’re almost there.” Jahm’s smile reached his eyes.
Radolf glowed inside at the compliment and worked harder. When they reached the far bank,
Radolf and Jahm held the raft steady as everyone climbed on shore. They unloaded it and got off, dragging it on land.
“What are we going to do with it?” Chrystella cuddled up to Vidad.
“Leave it,” Jahm said. “As often as this path is used, someone will need it.”
Vidad nodded and shivered. Chrystella enfolded him in her arms, but he pushed her away.
“Don’t want you to get wet.” The bodyguard glanced at them. “Though you all look a bit damp.”
They all laughed.
“We sure don’t have any clothes to fit you,” Jewelletta commented.
“I have two extra sets of pants,” Jahm volunteered. “They’ll be short but at least you can get out of that wet loincloth.” He searched through his pack and plucked out a black pair.
“Thank you,” Vidad said, taking it and going out of sight.
That’s a surprise. Jahm’s hasn’t bothered hiding his hate of Vidad. Radolf told Anarra.
Maybe his feelings are changing. Khlorae knows we can’t afford to fight amongst ourselves if we’re to recover your neckulet.
Radolf nodded. You’re right about that.
Vidad changed clothes, and they continued their trek, leaving the plains and entering the Valley of the Jakoda.
“We’d better find a place to camp.” Even Jewelletta’s shoulders slumped.
Anarra bounded ahead.  I found a place, and it’s not far.    
Radolf told them the good news.
The shadows lengthened ahead of them. The Marufuku Mountains were located in Mageron’s northern part.
They entered the clearing, and Chrystella plopped on a log.
“Again! Who does she think she is?” Jahm accused, not bothering to lower his voice. “Royalty?”
“Jahm, she is royalty.” Jewelletta set down her pack. “She is accustomed to being waited on.”
“Not out here she won’t be and definitely not by me.” Jahm glowered at the sorceress, his arms akimbo.
“Vidad has offered to do his share and hers too.” Jewelletta reminded him.
“He is a fool. He’s crazier than I thought.” Jahm searched through his pack.
“He loves her.” Jewelletta sank to the ground and took a deep breath.
Jahm shook his head. “Love is blind, but in this case, it’s deaf and dumb.” He pulled out two collapsible poles and turned to Radolf. “How about helping me catch our supper? The river is probably full of fish just waiting on us to catch them.”
Radolf put his belongings to the side. “Sounds great.” He followed Jahm to the water’s edge.
When they were settled with bait on their lines and had thrown them in the water, Radolf asked.
“Do you have any idea what the legend means?” Radolf asked. “Jewelletta said for me to puzzle it out.”

“Well, the first two stanzas are easy.” Jahm lounged against a gray boulder. “We all know Khlorae created everything, including the planets. As far as those signs, we are on Mageron and are on a quest.”
“True.” Radolf’s mind mulled over the next two lines, speaking them allowed. “Joins with Susjed to journey on. Til might Vijand dies and rests. I’ve only heard of Susjed once.”
“It’s like Vijand. Another planet,” Jahm stood as his line jerked.
While he was busy with his fish. Radolf’s thoughts swirled. If’s it’s another planet, how are we going to get there?
He shook his head as his line bobbed. Letting those thoughts lapse, he retrieved his fish and rebaited the line.
“How are we going to get to another planet?” Radolf asked.
“Aboard a spaceship,” Jahm answered. “And I’ve never been on one, so don’t ask me about that.”

They remained quiet until they’ve gathered enough fish for a meal, and then they returned to the campsite.
By then, a fire blazed. They sat to clean their catch.
“Verflusen,” Vidad swore in his own language.
Anarra yelped. Radolf looked up from his task. The dailam bared her teeth.
“You shouldn’t use that kind of language in front of the princess and Radolf.” Jewelletta tossed another carrot in the pot.
“How did you know what I said?” His eyes stared into hers.
“I speak all languages on Mageron fluently, including Madini, native to the Odori dwarves.” She returned his stare.
He gulped. “Oh.”
Radolf jumped up and ran to Anarra. He grabbed the scruff of her neck just as she was ready to sink her teeth into Vidad’s calf. “What did you do to Anarra?”
 No, Anarra.
“I kicked her.” He dropped his wood.
And it hurts.
Radolf repeated his words. This time more firmly.
The dailam backed away as if his voice penetrated her anger.
“That lazy, stupid animal of yours, Radolf, stopped, and I tripped over her.” He turned his head glowered Radolf.
“She’s not lazy!” Radolf looked over at Chrystella. “Not like some people around here. She tries to do her share. And why didn’t you watch where you were going?” 
Vidad stammered, unable to answer, even to defend the princess. They glared at one another. 
The palace guard spoke first. “I’m sorry, Anarra.”  He bent to pet her but hesitated. Her teeth gleamed in the setting sun.
She covered them and offered her paw. He accepted it and once he stood, Vidad turned back to Radolf.
“We still have two more points to settle, Radolf. Evidently you were referring to Chrystella being lazy. She is used to being waited on. Then there’s the comment about Anarra being smarter than other people. You meant me.” Vidad moved closer to the young man, withdrawing his sword.
Radolf flinched at the sight of that lethal blade, and his blood began to echo in his ears. Vidad’s answer came at the point of the bloody sword. No surprise there.
And it was high time someone stood up to the murderous cruelty of Vidad’s tribe.
Radolf reached for his sword. Courage. It must be done.
“She is smarter than some people I know.  But, yes, I did happen to mean you.” 
He raised his sword and held Vidad’s startled gaze. His hand trembled slightly. Would anyone else see it? He wondered?  He waved his sword to hide the evidence of his fear. Vidad’s eyes narrowed cruelly, and Radolf breathed deeply to calm his nerves as sweat began to trickle between his shoulder blades. They would fight, then. To the death if it came to that.
Back down, Radolf. You can’t beat him in a fight. And I made peace with him.
The princess jumped off the log and bounded over to them. She grasped Vidad’s wrist holding the sword and moved between them. “Quit squabbling like two children.”
Vidad’s eyes widened. “Go sit, Chrys. I’ll handle this.”
“By fighting?  Why don’t you find out why he thinks Anarra is smarter than you? I sure don’t blame her for trying to bite you. After all, you kicked her, and that isn’t like you at all. At least, not the Vidad I know and love.” Her voice softened.
“What’s come over you? What have I done to turn you against me?” He frowned at her.
“I haven’t turned against you. But I think you and Radolf are acting foolish. There’re enough animals and things out there waiting to attack us. We don’t need to fight amongst ourselves.” 
She put her hands on her slim hips.
Radolf watched as everyone’s mouth dropped open. He staggered back and gasped, surprised at her words of wisdom. He stuck his sword back into the scabbard as did Vidad.
“You’re not as fragile or docile as you look.” Jahm returned to his fish cleaning.
Jewelletta nodded a smile of approval on her face.
“I was a bit hasty in my judgement.” Radolf offered his hand.  If you could forgive him, then I can, at least, be civil to him. And Chrystella’s right.
Glad you agree with me.
Vidad took his hand and shook it. “Apology accepted.” He smiled at Radolf and turned to Chrystella, opening his arms. She stepped into them.
After dinner and cleanup, Jewelletta spoke. “I’m going to walk to the lake and look for the swans. Anyone want to come?”
“Yes,” everyone chorused.
Jewelletta strolled next to Jahm, their arms and hands occasionally brushing. Vidad and Chrystella embraced.
I feel left out, Anarra. Loneliness stabbed Radolf’s heart.
I’m sorry I can’t be of any more comfort. She moved under his hand. I love you.
And I love you too. But I, like you, need companionship of my own kind. At least, there are other humans around me. You’re all alone.  He stopped and knelt, drawing her close to him.
This is as close as we can get.
Radolf hugged her, and she licked him. He pulled way, breaking the mood. They increased their pace to catch up.
At the lake’s edge, Radolf and Anarra stared at the emptiness. A memory scratched at his brain. Something he’d heard recently.
The legend last night. Anarra reminded him.
“When the time has come, the dailam die,” he spoke out loud inside of telepathically. “Oh. And you think you’re the only one left?”
“So the time has come. But for what?”
Do I have to finish the legend for you?
“No.” His face, head, and face felt impossibly hot.
“The neckulet appears then too. But it’s always been in my family. However, it hasn’t been stolen before. Maybe that’s what it means.” He paused a moment. “The queen arrives and shows her worth. Well, she is not the queen, but she stood up to Vidad this evening. The tribes unite and trust anew. We are all traveling together. Trusting anew is another story.”
They continued on toward the lake.
Digging through is memories, Radolf finally said, “Scientists and sorcerers unite. Hm. . .  I do recall Jewelletta and Gildor saying something about them getting together at Veda.”
He stared at the lake. It was empty, glittering in the late evening sun.
“Jewelletta mentioned something about coming to the lake to look for the swans, but they’re not here.”
Remember the next line.
“Oh, yes. The swans go to the rainbow.” Radolf scratched his head. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
Think about it.
“I’m ready to return to camp,” he hollered at everyone, particularly watching Jewelletta and Jahm.
“Jewelletta,” Jahm said. “Radolf’s suggestion is good.”
He looked into her eyes. “It’s all right. You’re safe with me. Whatever you were thinking of scared the living daylights out of you.” His baritone sounded like a caress. He pulled her into his arms.
Momentarily, they stood that way, until she withdrew.
“I’m all right, Jahm.”  Jewelletta assured him. They stared at each other for a few seconds.
“Whatever you fear, you won’t be there alone. I’m with you.” 
Jewelletta smiled. “Yes, I might need you. Time for sleep.”
She needs him as much as he needs her. Why won’t she accept that and give in to it? Radolf and Anarra continued to watch Jewelletta and Jahm.
Because she knows how important those jewels are. She must get a new set. Nothing, not even her own personal needs, must get in the way.
Chrystella fell in bedsides Jahm.
“Something I can do for you, princess?” Jahm asked.
“Would you teach me survival skills, so I can help?” Chrystella asked. “This doing everything is taking a toll on Vidad.”
Everyone’s mouth dropped open. No one more than Vidad’s.
“You don’t have to do that for me.” He straightened up.     
“It’s not just for you,” Chrystella said. “Radolf was right. I’m not doing my share. I didn’t have to back in Aderra, but things have changed now.”
Jewelletta strode over and hugged Chrystella. “I’m proud of you.”
“We’ll start tomorrow night,” Jahm said as the sorceress let go.
They returned to the camp and settled down to sleep.
Sometime during the night, Anarra’s growl woke Radolf.  He rolled over and opened his eyes. 
What’s the matter?
Jewelletta forgot to set wards last night, and we have company.
The night’s silence made its peacefulness deceiving. Sleepily, he gazed around. His jaw dropped. Brown furry beasts, taller than Vidad and Jewelletta, moved closer to them, their teeth gleamed in the moonlight.
He screamed. That shriek not only woke Jewelletta, but the others too. Surrounded, they were outnumbered two to one.

Chapter 14
Jakoda Valley

By krprice

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

Vidad jumped up, his sword out before anyone could speak.
“You won’t scare them off with that little thing.” Jahm pointed to the sword.
“Little? My sword is one of the largest in the guard. I hope you’re not questioning my ability because I assure you I have always been the best in the entire palace.” He waved his saber around.
“Arrogant as well as stupid. That’s a deadly combination.” Jahm darted to the fire.   
Flames flew from Jewelletta’s fingers to the almost dead fire as Jahm threw more wood on. It blazed up.
“This is the only way you’ll get rid of them.” Jahm grabbed a burning brand.
Vidad, ignoring his advice, charged the largest beast. His sword barely grazed its tough hide. The bodyguard turned around and found himself in the center of five howling creatures. Their long teeth dripped brown goo as a shiny black liquid oozed from their six inch, razor-sharp claws.
Standing on the balls of their paws, they appeared ready to pounce.
“Everyone grab a piece of wood from the fire.” Jahm swung his around. He lunged at the closest. 
It jumped back. The others in the Quest followed his example.
Radolf paused. Chrystella faced a creature eye to eye. She flicked the flame near him, and he dashed off. She took advantage of this and ran to the circle surrounding Vidad.
“Take that,” she growled at the first one she came to and warmed the fur on its behind.
It turned around, snarling but drew back when flames signed its fur. 
One came at Radolf. He thrust the faggot toward its face. It swiped a big paw at him, but the youngster sidestepped it and smacked the beast with his fiery weapon. It screamed and ran off.
Jahm retreated to the fire and retrieved another piece of wood. With two, he drove off the beasts in front of Vidad. 
“Here catch.” Jahm tossed a torch to Vidad.
As it flew through the air, Jewelletta waved her hand. The flame leapt higher, almost glowing. 
Vidad rammed his sword in its sheath barely in time to catch it. Turning around, he took the offensive, clubbed one on its paw and scorching it. The animal shrieked and raced to the forest’s edge. The smell of burning fur hung over the group like a cloud. The others moved away from Vidad, as if they quickly acquired respect for the power he wielded.
Radolf walked over to Jahm and Vidad who formed a line. They stepped toward the beasts, driving them back until they all fled. Jewelletta and Chrystella had already put their weapons back in the fire. They wiped soot from their brows, breathing deeply as the men returned.     
I’m sorry I couldn’t be more help.
Radolf chuckled. “Anarra apologized for not being to assist us more.”
“She did more than her share.” Jewelletta pushed her hair back behind her ears. “If it wasn’t for her warning, we’d have all ended up a midnight snack for the Jakornas. And you’re right, Jahm, about not wanting to meet them. I sure don’t want to venture a guess about what that slime was dripping from their teeth.”
“Probably the remnants of their last meal,” Vidad said lightly, but he shuddered.
“Come on, dear, we’d better get back to sleep.” Chrystella grabbed his hand and led him back to
their sleeping skins.
“She’s right.” Jewelletta yawned.
Before he crawled into his sleeping skins, Radolf watched as Jewelletta set wards.
She crawled back to hers as the others slipped into theirs.
“Don’t you think it’s about time you got up?” Jewelletta, the usual early bird, teased. “You’re really lazy this morning, and it is morning despite the gray sky.”
Jahm sat up. “How long have you been awake, Miss Jewelletta?”
“About two minutes.” She grinned.
“We weren’t the only lazy ones.” Radolf looked over at Anarra.
I just woke up too. But after last night, we needed extra rest. I guess I’m as lazy as the rest of you. Her eyes twinkled with mischief.
Radolf relayed the information.
“That’s quite a confession from a dailam. They have a tendency to be rather closed mouthed.” Jewelletta stretched.
“Are you the resident expert on dailam?” Vidad teased as he climbed from his skins.
“Well, Vidad, I have been around a lot longer than any you and seen a good bit of this old world. 
Besides, I studied ancient lore for many years before I even traveled on my own. So I guess you could say I’m the resident expert, ruling out Anarra, of course.”
Hope swelled within Radolf as they joked this morning. Last night had been the first time they’d been attacked as a group, responded well, defending not only themselves, but each other. 
Loyalty, trust, and love will help us on this quest.
I’m glad you’re finally coming to understand everything.
Certainly not everything, but I think more is going on than just my search for the neckulet.
Jewelletta climbed from her skins. “Well, we’d better start the day. If we eat a quick breakfast, we should be at the Aurifex Caverns in two or three days.”
They walked in the same order as yesterday. The clear path led past Lake Saphir, white caps bristling as the wind rose, scenting the air with a piney fragrance.
The swans were still not there, Radolf noted. Where did they go? He repeated the line again in his mind. The swans go to the rainbow. Still doesn’t make any sense. How could swans go to a rainbow? He shook his head as they marched on.
A couple of days later, torn leaves covered the trail. As they got further into the valley, winter’s breath edged her way past the aging autumn. It would die a natural death in a few short weeks and be replaced by an icy infant who would blanket this brown deadness with a cloak of frigid whiteness.
“Is that the Aurifex Caverns?” Radolf pointed at a yawning maw of blackness in the mountains.
“Yes,” Jewelletta said. 
“Shouldn’t we let them know we’re coming?” Radolf asked.
“They already know.” Jewelletta paused for a breath.
“How?” The young man continued his questioning.
“Sentries. They may live underground, and that gives them some protection, but they still make sure no one approaches without their knowledge.” Jahm finished when several dwarves ran toward them.
Short and stout with long hair and beards of various colors, three wore brown, the other green. 
Scowling, their deep-set eyes discouraged Radolf from feeling he and his companions were welcomed. Each of the four held an axe. Radolf stepped back. Probably kill the lot of us.
An image of silver axes glinting in the sunlight, and crimson flowing from each of them flashed in his mind. He shuddered, and his chest tightened.
No, Radolf. I’ll admit the dwarves are an unfriendly bunch. And they don’t take kindly to strangers boldly approaching them. We have Jewelletta with us, though. Remember who she is and what tribe she’s from. There are very few people or even animals who would not accept her friendship. The sorceress is liked. The Majutsu helped bring the dwarves from Satu. Mining the jewels here and in Rainbow Valley has made them very rich. They’re not likely to forget. Anyway, very few would enjoy being on the receiving end of the wrath of magic user, and Jewelletta is one of the most powerful.
“Greeting, my good dwarves.” Jewelletta stepped between her friends and the Little People. “I am Jewelletta of the Majutsu. I wish an audience with your queen.”
Eyes widened, jaws dropped. Once they overcame her bold request, they conferred in their own language.
One stepped forward. “I am Trall. I will send a message to the queen. Why do you wish to see her?”
“The old circulet has been stolen, and I need a new one. Time is of the essence, so I need it fast.  Hard times will soon be upon us. The Majutsu power jewels might be the only thing that stands between our world’s survival and its destruction.” She stood with her arms across her chest.

Chapter 15
The Dwarven Kingdom

By krprice

The dwarves conferred again, and one left. They whispered among themselves, but blatantly ignored the Quest.
Radolf looked around. Chrys and Vidad leaned against a tree while Jewelletta and Jahm murmured to each other.
 I’ve heard the dwarves are rather slow in making up their minds.
Not in battle. You don’t want to encounter them alone on a dark night.
The youngster examined them again. You’re right. They may be small, but they’re sturdy. Those weapons have a nasty edge to them. Wouldn’t want an axe to meet my head or any other of my body parts. He chuckled, and then remembered the images. 
“Something funny?” Jewelletta turned her gaze to them.
“Anarra and I were discussing the dwarves and their weapons. We want to stay on their good side.” He bent and petted the dailam.
“That’s a good idea,” she agreed.
The messenger returned and talked to Trall.
“Our good Queen Melitta welcomes you and your party, Jewelletta. Please follow me.” He turned around and headed for the caverns.
Woody fingers of pine and oak trees bare of leaves, reached toward the sky. Boulders and bushes lined the path.
As they entered, Radolf’s eyes took a short time to adjust to the dark.  By then, torches dotted the rock walls and lit the tunnel. They passed several tunnels leading off in various directions.
Trall stopped. “You are weary, and it is almost noontime. Would you like to bathe and freshen up before lunching with the queen?”
“Yes, we would,” Jewelletta said. “Thank you.”
“We have two visitors’ rooms–one for gentlemen and one for ladies.” He eyed Vidad warily. 
“They have bathing pools, soap, and towels. We can offer you clothes should you not have clean ones and will wash your dirty ones.”
“Very gracious of you. I have always been received well here,” Jewelletta said. 
“We owe you a lot. And we know you would not harm us,” Trall said. “But we don’t know your friends.” His hard-brown gaze examined the newcomers. Dressed in green, he fidgeted and toyed with his graying blond ponytail.
“Please forgive my manners. We are all exhausted.” She introduced her friends. “I will formally present them to your queen. You have nothing to fear from them. I vouch for them.”
“I accept that. You do not give your word lightly.”
A female dwarf in a dark blue blouse and skirt appeared.
Trall said, “This is Granya. She will guide you and this young lady to the bathing room and care for your needs.”
“This way, ladies.” Granya pointed to a tunnel on their left.
Chrystella clung to Vidad. 
“You are both safe here,” Jewelletta assured her. “Come.”
Torches illuminated their way, and soon the passage opened into a large room. At the far end, a blue pond fed by a natural waterfall glittered.
Chrystella’s eyes grew to the size of platters. “It’s beautiful. Even more so than the bathing room
at the palace.”
“You’ve been to the home of King Davanol?” the young dwarf asked.
Jewelletta stood away from them, amused at the interchange.
“I live there.” She straightened up to her full five-foot height. “I am Princess Chrystella of the
House of Michaelandra.”
Granya’s gaze swept over the young woman and looked at the sorceress.
“She is the princess.” Jewelletta took off her dirty robe and slipped into the warm water.
“We’ve never had any of the royal family visit us before.” The dwarf clapped her hands.
Two females appeared as if they came from the smooth stone walls surrounding the room.
“Get some clothes for the young lady from the queen’s wardrobe. She is very generous and won’t mind sharing with another royal. Jewelletta will be harder to clothe, but we will find something.”
The women disappeared.
“Granya, I have another robe. I can use that.” Jewelletta slid further into the water until all but her head was under water and sat up. 
Chrystella undressed and stepped into the water. “It’s warm.” She groaned with pleasure.
“Hot springs,” Granya explained.
After a pleasant bath and hair washing, they dressed. Granya insisted on combing the princess’ hair, which now cascaded like a golden waterfall down her back.          
They joined the men, now bathed, shaved, and dressed in clean tunics and pants. Jewelletta, again, wore her familiar black robe. Chrystella had made the biggest transformation. Gone was the dirty female who looked more like a street urchin. In her place, stood Chrystella in a flowing blue silk gown that trailed the floor. 
Radolf’s eyes almost popped from his head. “She’s even more beautiful than she was when we first met.”
Vidad grabbed the young man, his eyes ablaze with jealousy.
“Yes, she is,” Jewelletta said. “And you’re just admiring her, aren’t you?” The sorceress’ gaze went back and forth between Vidad and Radolf.
“Of course.” He looked at Vidad. 
Jahm, too, looked at the princess appreciatively. “We’re not after her, Vidad. She’s all yours.”
Vidad let his arm fall and shrugged. He gazed at his beloved. She smiled, having eyes only for the tall man.
“Everyone looks better,” Jewelletta said.
“And smells better,” Radolf added. “Even Anarra bathed.”
The Quest laughed.
“This way, please.” Trall indicated a tunnel to their left.
It opened into a vaulted chamber with marble pillars stretching to the top. They supported the massive dome that glittered like a rainbow.
Radolf stared upward, first then gazed all around. Inlaid jewels of ruby, sapphire, jade, or diamonds dotted the white salstein walls. The youngster didn’t know if the beauty came from nature’s handiwork or that of the dwarves. A black shield with a flaming arrow of gold atop it had been created on the ebony herbonus floor. Radolf figured it was the dwarven crest.
Dressed in a flowing jade gown, Queen Melitta sat on a herbonus throne on the far side of the chamber. The Quest approached her.
“Welcome to the Aurifex Caverns.” Her smile reached her warm gray eyes.
Jewelletta curtsied. “We thank you for your gracious hospitality and have an urgent request. 
First, I will introduce my traveling companions.”
“Jahm, a warrior of the Militio tribe.” Jahm strode up, bowed, and moved away.
“Vidad, of the Royal Palace guard, and Princess Chrystella of the House of Michaelandra.” 
Vidad bowed before the queen, but Chrystella nodded her head.
“Curtsy,” Jewelletta scolded in a hushed tome. “Quit being so haughty.”
“She does not need to bow to me.” Queen Melitta rose and stepped down, beckoning the young princess. “We are equals and should treat each other as such.” The tiny dwarf queen, about half of Chrystella’s five foot, embraced her warmly. “Welcome, my dear, to my caverns.”
Chrystella’s jaw dropped, but she returned the hug. “Thank you, Queen Melitta.”
The queen returned to her throne.
“Radolf of the Spatali tribe and his faithful companion, Anarra, last of her pack.”
“I am also heir to Anisha’s neckulet,” Radolf boasted
Jewelletta gasped as the others stared at Radolf as if he’d stripped naked.
“You can explain that later.” Jewelletta gulped some air.
“Welcome all of you. We know you get little to eat on the trail and have prepared a big lunch for you. Once we’ve finished, we shall hear your story and discuss your request.”
She got up and led them to a large banquet table overflowing with chicken, beef, venison, breads, and vegetables.
During the meal, they chatted, bringing the dwarven queen news from outside her mountain kingdom.
Quick moving feet came from the entryway, and a female dwarf ran into the chamber.
“What is the problem, Solna?” The queen paused in her chat with Radolf.
“It’s Quin. He’s delirious.” Her voice quivered. “I’m afraid we’re going to lose him. He’s just gotten too old to withstand these fits.”
The queen jumped up. “I want to see him, though there’s nothing I can do to help.”
“Where is your master healer?” Jewelletta held a golden goblet in her hand.
“Quin is our master healer, Jewelletta. The two apprentices aren’t anywhere near ready to do more than basic healing on their own. I fear Quin’s problem is even beyond his ability.”
She turned to Radolf. “Please get my herbs from the bathing room. Maybe I can help, but someone will have to explain the situation to me.”
Radolf pushed the chair out and stood.
“He won’t be allowed in the females’ quarters,” the queen said. “But Granya will get them for you. Let him come with us. He may be of some help.”
“Granya, get Jewelletta’s herbs and bring them to Quin’s room,” Melitta commanded.
The young female scrambled off.
With Radolf and Jewelletta by her side, the queen explained, “Quin came from Satu when your tribe originally brought them here some four hundred years ago.”
Radolf’s heart raced. No wonder he’s ill if he’s that old.
Jewelletta gasped. “I know your people are known for their longevity, but I didn’t realize it was that long.”
“Normally, we don’t live much more than three hundred to three hundred and fifty years. I just had my two hundredth birthday. Anyway, he was a young apprentice, maybe forty when he began the journey from Satu. He began having these fits about twenty years ago. They’ve gotten more violent as time’s gone on. I asked him about it. Old age was what he said. He admitted he was far older than most of my kind.  Unfortunately, this is the price one must pay for it. He feels his time has come, and he will join our Holy Mother before the decade is out.” The queen took a deep breath, but her eyes moistened.
“The young dwarf mentioned fits. What kind of fits?” Jewelletta shortened her stride for the queen’s benefit. Radolf did the same.
“He always runs a fever and almost becomes violent. We have to strap him down. Solna and
Dana are his apprentices who remain single because of the demands, but they plan to marry.
That’s good as they will understand what the job entails.” They stopped for the queen to take a breath again. “Dana is almost finished, but Solna has another two years left. We need Quin around another year to bring Dana through the rest of his training. He will be a master healer.”
Granya caught up with them and gave Jewelletta her herbs. 
“Thank you,” she said.
A dwarf with long straggly, gray hair lay on the couch, strapped down like a dangerous animal. 
Wooden shelves with labeled vials and packets lined the walls along with various sized bowls and knives. Hot coals glowed in a brazier.
“How is he, Dana?” The queen walked over to the ancient dwarf and took his hand.
“No better, my queen. I fear there’s no help for him this time.” Wearing a green tunic and pants, he wiped his red-rimmed eyes.
“This is Jewelletta, one of the finest healers on Mageron. Let her see what she can do.” The queen moved out of the way.
Jewelletta strode to the dwarf. He tossed violently as she approached. “Please boil some water.  I need a couple of your strong, sturdy dwarves to keep him quiet, so I can examine him,” Jewelletta ordered.
“I can hold him down,” Radolf offered. “I’m strong. I’ve been caring for and lifting full grown quanya’s for six years.”
“If you’ve been doing that, he won’t be a match for you,” the queen admitted.
“Hold Quin still,” Queen Melitta said. “She can’t tell what’s wrong with him if he won’t stay still for two seconds.”
Radolf put a hand on each side of the dwarf’s shoulders. “That should hold him.”
With Quin pinned down, Jewelletta laid her hands on him. Her eyes glazed over as if she had
slipped into a trance. Her gaze started at the head, going downward, branching to each limb.
Sighing when she finished, Jewelletta said, “You can let go now, Radolf. Thank you.” She walked to her herbs, extracted some, and mixed them in a nearby bowl. 
“Here’s the water,” Dana said. 
Jewelletta added the water to the herbs before stirring them with a spoon. “It needs to steep and cool. We have to get him to drink it.” Jewelletta smiled.
Sighing, the queen asked, “Will it settle him?”
“Yes, almost immediately. It won’t cure him, but I’ll explain to him once he’s able to understand me. He can mix a batch and keep it on hand. If he drinks it once a week, it’ll keep him from having these fits. It won’t help him live longer, but he’ll be free of them.” Jewelletta stood arms crossing her chest. “And it’s like he said, it’s the price he must pay for living so long.”
They chatted about inconsequential things for a short time. Jewelletta put her hand over the bowl and chanted a few words. “It’s cool enough. I’ll spoon feed him until he can drink the rest.”
With the bowl in one hand and the spoon in the other, Jewelletta walked to the elder dwarf.  Radolf held his head up.
“Open your mouth,” Jewelletta commanded, adding a touch of magic to it.
Once he did, she slipped the first spoonful down. He swallowed that one, and then the second and a third until half the bowl was gone. Quin stopped thrashing and drank the rest.
“You can unstrap me now,” the master healer growled. “I won’t hurt you.” He glared at his queen. “And I certainly don’t need some youngling holding my head.”
Radolf let go and walked over to Jewelletta.
“He’s back to normal.” Solna laughed, and the others joined in as the apprentice undid the straps.
“What’s so funny?” He scowled.
“I’m glad you’re better.” The queen hugged him.
He looked up at Jewelletta, towering over the diminutive dwarves and at her sleeve.
“You must be Jewelletta,” he said.
“Yes, Master Quin. I’m glad to see you are better. But how did you know who I am?”
“The gold bands identify you as Majutsu.” He pointed to her cuff. “And you are known around
the world as the best healer among your tribe, maybe the best in the world, outside of me, of course.” He glared at Radolf. “Who’s your assistant?”
“Radolf,” the young man answered.
“Arrogant as usual,” the queen teased. “Humility is not one of his virtues.”
“I’m not arrogant, just confident.” He grinned and turned his attention to the queen. “If I was a hundred years younger, I’d court you.”
“You’d have lots of competition. From what I’ve heard you were quite a Delna in your time.”  The queen squeezed his hand.
“Delna?” Radolf asked, realizing this was probably a game they played.
“Delna is almost as old as Satu. He was known as a playboy” the queen explained. “He strung along many young females but never did settle on one.”
“I understand. We have one or two among my tribe like that.” Jewelletta said.
“Jamari, for instance?” The master healer asked.
“He is something altogether different.” She glowered at him and took a deep breath as if trying to control her temper.
“Sorry to mention his name,” Quin apologized as Jewelletta helped him from the couch.
“Well now we can return to our lunch. That is, if your friends haven’t finished off everything.”  Queen Melitta smiled.
They left the room, heading back upstairs. “What brought you here?”
“I need a new circulet. The power jewels have vanished.”

Chapter 16
Jewelletta's Explanation

By krprice

Queen Melitta grabbed Jewelletta’s arm. Her nails dug in despite the robe.

Jewelletta flinched, but the queen didn’t seem to notice.
“The power jewels are missing? Who would have the audacity to steal them?” Her highness asked in a disbelieving voice.


“No wonder you acted like you did. You must explain how it could have happened.” Queen Melitta released the sorceress.

“I have some other things to tell you, but I don’t want to mention them now.” She looked down and smiled. “Of course, I don’t expect them for nothing. What can I do for you in return for the jewels?”

Jewelletta slowed her stride so the little queen could keep up. Torches dotted the black stone walls of the passageway. Radolf purposely lagged behind the duo, but not far enough so he couldn’t hear their conversation.

“Do?” The queen waved her hand as if dismissing the idea. “You’ve already done enough by healing Quin. That’ll be quite some tale appearing in dwarf lore–the day a Majutsu healed a dwarven master healer.” Her laugh bounced off the dark cavernous walls. “We will make you another circulet. We would’ve done it for nothing. This world will be a lot safer with the power jewels again in your hands.”
Radolf had been listening intensively. “But will it?” he asked, continuing before anyone answered. “Won’t the old power jewels Jamari stole counteract the new ones?”

Jewelletta gulped. “You have a point there. It’s something to think about.”

After they arrived at the dining chamber, others lingered over the table. The queen, Jewelletta, and Radolf ate.
The queen beckoned one of her messengers. “Ask Tonas to attend me.”

He left the room, and a dwarf dressed in black arrived and bowed. The queen explained the situation and then asked. “How long will it take?”

Tonas stood silent. “Tonight at nine. We have many of them available.” He bowed again then left.

“Have them ready then.” She turned to her chamberlain dressed in bright red.

“Prepare a celebration,” she ordered.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” he said and left.

“Let’s go to my sitting room. We can talk in private there.” She stood. “I think there’s another reason you’re all together, and I want to find out what it is.”
With the queen came an escort of six dwarves, trays of pale dwarven wine in their hands. They walked through the caverns and entered a large room. Queen Melitta sat on a red and black padded wooden chair from the Ventrifico Forest. Two dozen chairs of various sizes filled the room. Each quest member found a comfortable one and settled into it. The escort placed a golden goblet on the small tables next to each and left.

“How were the jewels stolen?” The queen turned to the sorceress.

“Our houses in the Veda Community are built on packed earth with wooden flooring. The jewels had wards on all sides except the bottom. We never thought we needed to protect valuables from the ground.” Jewelletta smelled the wine and took a sip. She rolled it around in her mouth before swallowing it. “This batch is excellent. Hope you made enough to sell.”

“We did.” The queen grinned. “Believe me, we did.”
Jewelletta drank more. “I suspect Jamari somehow burrowed under the house, cut a hole in the floor, and stole the jewels. He did it the one night while I was away. When I get home, the circulet usually buzzes in my mind. Nothing loud, almost like a welcome home noise.” She paused and took a deep breath. “That particular time I heard nothing. I thought it odd, so I checked them. They were gone. At first, I couldn’t believe it. I questioned everyone in the community. No one had seen nor heard anything. Only Jamari would be bold enough to do such a thing. I reported it to the Master’s Council before leaving Veda to hunt them. During that search, I found Radolf and Anarra. I’ll let him tell his story since this is as much about him as it is about the lost circulet.” 

Radolf told of his grandmother’s death, the neckulet’s disappearance, his reason for leaving the village, and his meeting Anarra and Jewelletta. The sorceress continued the tale, telling the queen what happened until they arrived at the caverns.        
Queen Melitta paused for another sip of wine. “What does the neckulet look like?”

“It is oval and made of herbonus,” the youngster explained. “With a castle etched in salstein.”

The queen gasped. “You are in luck then. Not two days ago some strangers—all Savaecus—approached our sentries and wanted it appraised. The dwarves, who do the appraising, are in Rainbow Valley at the Kristall Caverns--on a special mission. We told them that.” She motioned someone to refill her goblet, drank some, and proceeded. “Several sentries asked to see this and described it to me. It is exactly as you told me. The men thanked the sentries and said they’d search out our companions in Rainbow Valley.”

That’s it. The answer I’ve been mulling over. “I bet the swans have gone to Rainbow Valley,” Radolf said, a bit breathless.

“You’re probably right. We go to Rainbow Valley next,” Jewelletta announced, a big smile on her face. “Vidad, Chrystella will you come with us?”

“Yes,” Vidad said. 

“We’ll leave day after tomorrow since we’ll probably be tired after tonight. Can we get some supplies and water from you, Your Majesty?” Jewelletta asked.

“Most certainly,” the queen said. “I think we should all rest up for a big party.”

Knowing this discussion was finished, they were shown to their respective resting rooms.

Chapter 17
A New Set of Power Jewels

By krprice

At seven that evening, Jewelletta and the others in the quest entered the vaulted chamber. Fat, skinny, tall, and short dwarves filled it. They all wore bright colors of blue, red, orange, green, and yellow, one even wore a purple hat. Queen Melitta sat on her throne. Her sweeping gold gown glowed in the torchlight. A banquet table overflowing with food stood to her right. The aromas of venison, freshly baked bread, and chocolate custard teased Radolf’s nostrils. His stomach complained about being empty.
They approached the queen.
“I hope you are well rested,” Queen Melitta said.
“Yes.” Jewelletta bowed, motioning the others to follow her. 
Chrystella nodded her head, and the queen did the same.
“We shall present Jewelletta with a gift first.” The dwarven monarch stood and extended her hand. “Jewelletta, please come forward.”
As she did, Trall handed Queen Melitta an ebony box. She took it and opened it, displaying the circulet.
“We give this in thanks to you, Jewelletta, for saving our healer’s life. Please accept it as such and may the powers of the mighty Majutsu continue to keep us safe.” The queen handed the box to Jewelletta.
As she accepted it, the sorceress gasped at its beauty. Tearing her gaze away, the sorceress turned around, showing the new circulet to everyone. She looked around. Everyone else either widened eyes or dropped jaws, captivated by the gleaming jewels.
“The head of the Majutsu Council handles the lone diamond while the other nine members on the council control the three rubies, three emeralds and three sapphires,” she explained. “I, alone, can control all ten.”
“Our tables overflow with food. Eat your fill, my friends and fellow dwarves, and we shall have music for dancing and entertainment,” Queen Melitta announced and smiled.
“What may I get you, Your Majesty?” One of her servants asked.
“I think I’ll go through the line myself. Follow me, Jewelletta.” The queen stepped off the dais and walked to the table.
Jewelletta slipped the box into her robe’s special pocket as she followed the queen. The others strode behind her.
After filling their plates, everyone scattered around the chamber. The quest gathered at the same table with the queen.
“Must you leave day after tomorrow?” The queen asked sorrowfully.
“Yes.” Jewelletta said, took a bite of venison, chewed, and swallowed. “If we’re to catch up with the thieves, we must get on their trail immediately. They already have two days on us. I doubt they’ll stop for long until they deliver the neckulet to whoever hired them.”
“The sentries said they fidgeted, anxious to get on their way. They must have figured they were being followed.” Queen Melitta drank from her goblet.
“I don’t see how,” Jewelletta said. “This is the first news we’ve had of them. Sheer coincidence had us both coming in this direction.” 
“I think it was more than that,” the queen said but didn’t elaborate.
Once everyone ate their fill, the queen waved at the dwarves on a small stage. They struck up a lively song, and many younger folks took to the dance floor.
The queen explained each song’s meaning. A dwarf of the opposite sex approached each quest member and asked them to dance.
 “Please dance with me, Jewelletta.” Quin bowed.
“You’ll have to teach me the steps.” She took his hand, and the others accepted their invitation.
“Gladly.” He chuckled.
Dressed in a bright purple gown, Granya chose Radolf and he accepted, though she had to instruct him in the different dances. They stayed close to enough to sorceress and the master healer to overhear their conversation.
He patiently explained the intricate dance steps. She sighed, but improved under Quin’s expert tutelage. She shortened her steps.
“We look like beauty and the beast,” Quin teased.
“I don’t know about that,” she returned sternly. “You surely aren’t any beauty, and I don’t think I look like a beast, though sometimes I act like one.” She grinned.
Clearing his throat, he laughed. “Actually, I’m the beast. You’re certainly the beauty of us. I was handsome two hundred years go, but not now.” His small jade eyes twinkled.
“Now, my dear Quin, instead of being handsome, you’re distinguished, which means handsome in old age.” She let him lead her through a set of steps.
“Thank you for being tactful.”
The music ended.
Jewelletta took a deep breath. “I need to rest.”
They headed back to where she had been seated. Radolf and Granya followed.
“Oh, you young pups. When I was your age, I could work all day in the mine, dance and make love all nigh, and be ready for the mines again–with only a short catnap.”
“I’m older than I look,” she admitted.
His gaze roamed over her and boldly stared into her emerald eyes. “Yes, I believe you are. How do you keep looking so young?”
He spoke again before she got a chance. “You have some help, don’t you?  Remember I’m a healer and familiar with herbs. I know a bit about science, but don’t tell Queeny that. She doesn’t know I dabble in that a bit. Not even my assistants know.”
“It’ll be our secret.” She winked, and he winked back.
Granya’s eyes widened but didn’t say anything.
Radolf thanked her and sat while Jewelletta settled in a chair next to the queen.
“What are you plotting with Jewelletta now, you old goat?”
“Nothing that would interest you, my dear queen,” he teased.
He turned to Jewelletta. “I’m not tall enough to boldly take you in my arms and kiss you, so I’m going to have to ask for a kiss.”
“Of course, my dear Quin. Come over here.” 
Once he did, she grasped his head and kissed him on the mouth, keeping it there a few seconds.
“Wow,” Quin said. “Whoever finally wins your heart will get someone special.” He bowed to both ladies and returned to the dance floor.
With the others in the Quest dancing or off chatting except for Radolf, the queen, and the sorceress sat in silence as dwarf filled the queen’s goblet and brought one for Jewelletta who thanked her.
Once everyone returned, Queen Melitta suggested, “Let’s move to a more private place. We have things to discuss.”
The members of the quest nodded as they and the queen rose. She led them to a room just off the main room. Her servants followed with drinks, handing them out as soon as everyone was seated, and then left, closing the door behind them.
“What is this world coming to, Jewelletta, when a woman is murdered in her own bed by a member from another tribe?  Not even the sacred power jewels are safe anymore!” The queen sipped her wine.
“Dark times are ahead, Your Majesty.” She gazed into the Queen’s eyes.
“Are you familiar with the Legend of the Starcastle?”
“I had Vidad sing it the other night.” Jewelletta shuddered.
“The neckulet has resurfaced, and its owner killed. Anarra is the last of her pack. I, too, have heard of the dailam’s demise. Members of five tribes are traveling together. And Chrystella is heir to the throne.” The queen shook her head.
“Not a direct heir. Taynar is a few years older,” Jewelletta corrected.
“My sources at the palace tell me few like him while everyone loves Chrystella.”
“I usually keep my distance from Aderra,” Jewelletta explained. “Many of my tribe like working in the city. I prefer helping those in outlying area.”
“Too many coincidences?” The queen raised an eyebrow.
“That’s all they may be, Your Majesty. Coincidences.”
“You really don’t believe that, do you?” Gentleness tempered her tone’s hardness.
“Now I’d like to hear this tale about Anisha’s Neckulet.” Queen Melitta looked at Radolf.
“Some of this many of you know, but I’ll repeat it anyway,” he said. “Five thousand years ago, Khlorae created the universe with the main planets being Mageron, Susjed, Satu, and Vijand.
It took Vijand twenty-five hundred years to develop space travel. With Susjed as the closest world, they attacked them learning that planet was far ahead of them in weaponry. Another hundred years passed before they aimed for Satu, but they learned quickly dwarves were nasty fighters.” He paused to drink some wine. “Four hundred years went by, and they found an easy target in Mageron. In secret, Khlorae created the neckulet. In the middle of its silver chain sat an oval piece of herbonus. On it was a castle in salstein. She gave it to Anisha of my tribe, who hid it, along with the legend and instructions it was to be passed down to the oldest female of each generation. Time passed, but the Vijanden continued to attack every five hundred years. They searched for the neckulet, but never found it until they learned of my grandmother and her family. They thought my mother, Adeline, was her daughter. They killed her, her husband, and father-in-law who shielded me. It was my father, Konstanzil, who was her only child. Upon Nana’s death, I, though a male, inherited the neckulet.”
Everyone continued to stare at Radolf as he told his tale.
“Well, I certainly didn’t expect to hear that,” the queen admitted. “No wonder you’re after it. Sounds like it is our salvation from Vijandan terror. But what will you do with it when you get it?”
Radolf glanced over at Jewelletta. She shrugged.
“At the moment, we don’t know,” he admitted.
“The legend mentions joining with Susjed,” Jewelletta said. “I guess that’s where we’ll go once we recover it.”
A knock echoed on the door. A servant stuck his head in.
“The rest of your people are asking for you. Especially Quin.”
“Well, ladies and gentlemen, let’s rejoin the party.”
Everyone got up and returned to the main hall.
Quin asked the queen to dance while Jewelletta watched.
Radolf mulled the recent conversation in his mind and kept coming up with the same answers.  And he didn’t like them. Not one bit. The evening raced by and close to midnight, everyone retired, going their separate ways to bed.
They rose early two days later. After eating and saying goodbye, the quest left the Aurifex Cavern just past dawn. Their packs had been filled with food, water, and more.  Radolf noticed Jewelletta pat her robe often as if to make sure the circulet was still there.
The trip out of the valley passed without incident until late in the day. Radolf gazed around at the mountains that marched beside them. 
Not watching where he was going, Radolf stepped in a hole and howled.
What happened? Anarra, who had been scouting, rushed back. And tell them I’ve found a place to camp.
Radolf stared at his foot wedged into a crack in the earth. He figured it was the entrance to a kangrella burrow. The others gathered around.
“How did you manage that?” Jewelletta asked. “Not looking where you were going, huh?”
Heat warmed his face. “I guess I was too busy looking at the mountains. They’re beautiful aren’t they with their white capes.”
“Yes,” Jewelletta said. “However, when you walk through the foothills, you’d better watch your step.”
Radolf nodded. Pain lanced through his ankle. In a weak voice, he told them Anarra’s news.
“We’ll camp there. Radolf needs to get off that ankle.” Jahm watched as Vidad held the youngster steady, and Jewelletta gently pulled Radolf’s foot from the hole.
Are you all right?
I’ll live. With Vidad’s help, he hobbled to a log in the clearing.
“What can I do to help?” the princess asked.
Jewelletta raised an eyebrow and gave everyone a task. Once supper was finished and cleaned up, Jewelletta examined Radolf’s ankle.
As she used her magic, his foot and ankle tingled along with the pain. He flinched every time she touched it.
“Nothing’s broken,” Jewelletta said. “I can give you something for the pain. It’s still a few days to Rainbow Valley, so we’ll have to take everything slowly. We’ll rest there and give your ankle a chance to heal. Now let’s get some sleep.”

Chapter 18
More Dwarves

By krprice

“Come on, get up,” Jewelletta’s voice brought Radolf from a deep sleep.
Radolf opened his eyes, and then shaded them as the bright golden orb peeked over the mountains, its yellow fingers of light pierced the pine trees and showered the quest with blazing rays.
I’ve never seen anyone so chipper in the morning. What do you think, Anarra? Can we cure her of that?
Some people are like that, I suppose. My pack’s nocturnal. I like it that way, so I can sympathize with you.
Radolf chuckled, sat up, and rolled up his bedding.                                     
“Something funny?” Jewelletta turned from the fire she had just started.
“Anarra and I were having a conversation about you.” He stuffed the last of his belongings into his pack and hobbled to the fire, his ankle still tender from getting stuck.
“Me? I didn’t realize I said something funny.”
“You didn’t. I was wondering if there’s any hope for you.”
Vidad, Chrystella, and Jahm laughed.
“Hope? As matter of fact, Radolf, I’ve been wondering that about you.” She put a pot of water on the fire.
He gulped. “Thanks a lot. I thought you had some confidence in me.”
“You are getting a bit better. You weren’t quite a hothead when we encountered the Jakornas.”  Jahm shot a look at Vidad.
Vidad blushed and found an interesting piece of ground to inspect.
“I guess a left-handed compliment is better than none.” Radolf chuckled again.
“In what way am I hopeless?” Jewelletta sprinkled some tea in the pot. “I mean I try to be perfect.”
“You perfect?” Jahm teased. “Now nobody’s perfect, least of all you.” 
Her glare would have frozen water in the summer sun. “Why, sure I’m perfect. Just like you are.”
Radolf laughed.
Jahm sauntered over and put his arm around her. “You would be perfect, my dear Jewelletta, if you would sleep later in the morning and not try to wake the sun and every other living thing on Mageron.”
“So you’d prefer to sleep longer, is that it?” She glanced around, her gaze lighting on each.
They chorused a unanimous yes as Chrystella and Vidad handed bread and the cheese around.
“Sorry. I’m a morning person. And we’d never get far if I let you sleep late. Someone’s got to keep you youngsters on track. Now eat.” She poured tea. “And be quick about it, or I’ll turn you over my knee and spank you.”
“That I’d like to see.” Still holding his breakfast, Vidad stood, and turned to Jahm. “Maybe we should show her who’s boss.”
Jahm smiled and looked over at the sorceress.
“What kind of animal would you prefer to be, Vidad. A gorilla?” She waved her hand and chanted.
“On second thought, you can be boss a while longer.” Vidad sat.
“She’s pleased with something.” Radolf pointed to the grin on her face.
“Never mind. Let’s get moving as long as Radolf’s ankle can manage it?”
“It’s much better this morning.” He drank some tea.
They finished, cleaned up, and left the clearing.
The path sloped upward. The sweet fragrance of pine traveled on the wind and grew to be more numerous. Sunlight danced on the carpet of brown pine needles and leaves that covered the trail.  Occasionally, an animal scrambled about, but nothing bothered them.
Radolf and Chrystella panted as the trail steepened, each barely able to put one foot in front of the other without help.
At the top of one hill, Jewelletta suggested, “Let’s take a short break. I didn’t realize Rainbow Valley was so high.”
“Knew it was higher than the Valley of the Jakoda.” Jahm walked to the side of the hill. “Militar is that way.” He pointed toward the east coast. “Home settlement of my tribe.”
“Why didn’t you warn us?” Jewelletta plopped.
“I figured you knew. You seem to know the planet better than any of us, and I’ve traveled extensively.”
“I do know most of the other side of the Tolsada Mountains, closer to the Spatali Valley.  I’ve never been this far northeast of Veda before.”
They sat quietly, as if lost in their own thoughts.
What are we going to find in Rainbow Valley? The swans? The neckulet? If the thieves are two or more days ahead of us, we won’t catch up with them there. Maybe the dwarves will know where they’re headed. If not, maybe we can pick up their trail.
Jewelletta’s voice intruded upon Radolf’s reverie.
“Time to move on.” The sorceress arose and stretched.
They followed her example and continued their climb.
Late in the morning, they reached the valley’s outer fringes.
“Jahm, where’s Lake Orania?” Jewelletta halted.
“In the middle.” Jahm shaded his eyes. “With this much sun, it’s usually gleaming like a blue disk, shimmering, calm as a pane of glass. All I see are bits of blue amidst white.” He pointed to the spot.
Radolf stared at the lake. What could be causing it to turn white? A thought slashed through his brain, jolting him as if it had been struck by a lightning bolt. The swans.
He turned to look at Jewelletta. First, she grinned, and then grimaced. Was she remembering the conversation with the queen? What was really going on?
“Let’s go. It’s all downhill from here.” She pushed ahead of Jahm, as if anxious to see what was on the lake.
As the sunlight hit the various crags of the valley floor, it showed a myriad of colors. Emerald greens, cobalt blues, and ruby reds glimmered like jewels in a crown.
The trees at the bottom were just as bare as the ones on the trail. A breeze brought an unknown scent.
“What is that fragrance?” Jewelletta asked.
“Tara.” Jahm caught up to her. “Haven’t you ever seen pictures of the reddish-gold flowers that blossom in the snow?”
“Oh, so that’s what it smells like. A freshly peeled orange.” Jewelletta took another whiff.
“We have them at the palace,” Chrystella said. “They were my mother’s favorite flower.”
Everyone paused and fell silent. They filled their nostrils with the intoxicating scent. Several minutes passed before they continued.
The swans are here. Radolf stared at the beautiful white birds as they glided upon the waters.  As the quest neared, a few screeched in fright.
The swans go to the Rainbow. Those words echoed through his mind. Too many parts of that legend were coming true. First, the dailam die, and then the neckulet appeared. The tribes are together and now the swans. Am I my tribe’s representative?
“Radolf,” Jewelletta called, rousing him from his musings. “My stomach is grumbling. We need to find a place to eat and rest before we seek the dwarves?”
“Yes.” Jahm led them into a clearing.
Jewelletta asked, “Jahm, do you know how to get to the Kristall Caverns?”
“I know it’s up in those foothills somewhere, but I don’t know its exact location. Surely, we’ll come upon sentries.” He took a bite of smoked venison.
“Maybe not.” Jewelletta set down her water. “The settlement in the Aurifex Caverns is large and home to the queen. This is probably a small group. They may not have sentries.”
“As long as they ask before attacking us.  I don’t want to tangle with a bunch of angry dwarves.”  Vidad said.
“Me either,” Radolf agreed. His eyes glazed over. “Anarra offered to do some scouting for us.  We should probably wait and let her since we don’t know the exact location. This is a big valley.”
“Actually, it’s smaller than the Valley of the Jakoda, but we’ll take her up on her offer,” Jewelletta said.
The dailam barked in acknowledgment and ran off.
“Might as well get comfy.” Jahm sprawled, pillowing his head on his hands.
Time passed in slow silence as each tried to get some rest. By the sun’s movement, Radolf thought twenty minutes passed when something rustled in the woods to their right.
“What-what was that?” Radolf started. “Anarra wouldn’t be that noisy.”
“Let’s take a look.” Jahm stood and drew his sword.
Vidad jumped up, his sword out, and followed. Before they got two steps, an odd-looking animal stood at the clearing’s edge. Its midnight blue eyes widened at the sight of the humans.
Bright gold and about the size of a small horse, it had one vicious looking horn coming out of its head.
“Is that what I think it is?” Radolf widened his eyes.
“Yes.” Jewelletta let her jaw drop, like the others. “It’s a unicorn. I don’t like the look in its eyes.” The sorceress shivered.
“You’re seeing things,” Radolf commented.
Chrystella started to speak, but Jewelletta cut in. “Maybe, but my instincts tell me otherwise.  I’ve learned not to question them. They’ve kept me out of many dangerous situations. Please, Chrystella continue. Sorry for interrupting.”
“They are sacred to my tribe. And to most of those who worship Khlorae,” Chrystella told them.
“What if it attacks us? That horn looks nasty.” Radolf eyed it warily. He trembled as if a centipede with icy feet danced down his spine as Jahm and Vidad returned.
“You’d better hope it doesn’t. The penalty for killing one is death by torture.” She looked all four members in the eyes.
“Whose crazy idea was that?” Radolf asked sassily.
“One of my great-great-great grandmothers,” the young princess answered.
“Grandmothers?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Yes. I think she took the throne about five hundred years ago. From what I can remember of family history, the unicorns had been almost hunted to extinction. They had always been her favorite. So by decree, she made them a holy animal of Khlorae. She made the penalty so horrible no one would kill one again.”
“Bet they’re not extinct now.” Radolf drank some water.
“They live here in Rainbow Valley,” Jewelletta added.
As quickly as it arrived, the unicorn disappeared.
“Maybe it was just curious,” Radolf commented.
“Hope you’re right.” Jewelletta said, her voice tense.
What did you find? Anarra entered the clearing.
Lots of unicorns and the entrance to the Kristall Caverns. Guess they don’t expect trouble; no sentries. Only the foolish attack dwarves. They’re too good in a fight.
Radolf relayed the information.
“We might as well go.” Jewelletta stood. “Anarra, lead on. Radolf will follow you. Vidad, bring up the rear of the line and protect that.”
“Do you think we’re in danger?” Chrystella clung to Vidad’s arm.
“I keep getting the feeling we’re being watched. And not by friendly eyes. Trust me.” Jeweletta glanced around, cocking her head as if expecting someone or something to jump out at them.
Anarra led them up a steep, muddy incline away from the floor and up toward the eastern part of the valley. The path narrowed. They could only walk single file. Small stones dotted the path, but as they went higher, they had to skirt gray boulders.
“Couldn’t she have found a gentler path.?” Chrystella gasped for air.
This is the easiest one I could find. I know it’s difficult but the rest were even worse. Maybe we should rest, so the princess can catch her breath. It doesn’t get any better.
Radolf passed on the information. “She isn’t the only one getting winded. It must be the altitude.” He huffed and puffed too, trying to catch his breath.            
“We are very far up,” Jahm said. “And I’ve never been this high in the mountains.”
A chill wind knifed through them, its icy breath stabbing them like a frigid dagger. Radolf and Chrystella shivered.
“Let’s find a place to rest. Preferably out of the wind.” Jewelletta suggested.
Jahm pointed to a clump of trees. Anarra led them there.
Vidad pulled the princess into his arms. “I’ll keep you warm, Chrys.”
Jewelletta sat and swung her head from side to side. “There’s something out of place here. Don’t ask me to explain because I can’t. The unicorns aren’t a particularly curious species. There is something hauntingly familiar about that wind.”
“You’re right about the unicorns,” Chrystella chimed in. “I remember that from my school studies. The wind must be your imagination.”
Jewelletta stayed quiet.
Once everyone felt better, they started their trek again. Anarra set a slower pace, moving only a short way, stopping, and letting the others catch up. At one point, solid gray mountains stood on one side. One wrong step on the other side, and they would slide into the valley. 
They approached the caverns, and the entrance appeared like a big, dark mouth waiting to devour anyone who ventured in.
“I’ll lead, the rest of you follow,” Jewelletta offered. “The dwarves will be more willing to deal with me, and they have no reason to fear a Majutsu.”
Making a small light in her hand, they strode further into the inky blackness that tried to hide the precious jewels that gave the caverns and valley their names.
“Who goes there?” Someone asked before she had gone a hundred feet.
“Jewelletta and friends. I have come seeking the dwarves working in the Kristall Caverns. I am a friend of Queen Melitta.”
The sturdy dwarf inched out of the darkness. He, like the dwarves from the Valley of the Jakoda, wore bright red, but the mountain’s black dust covered him. He tugged on his gray beard as his steely gaze examined her. A few gray wisps of hair stood out from under his bright red cap.
“Welcome, Jewelletta and friends.  I am Graynor. How may I help you?” he asked.
“We have come in search of a neckulet. The queen said it was headed this way.”
“It did. Please enter.” Graynor suggested. “I’ll round up my fellow dwarves. They’ll be quite willing to call it an early day. Follow this tunnel. It will lead you to a chamber. We’ll meet there with food and drink. We get few visitors and even rarer one from your tribe.” He waved, turned around, and left.
The small light in Jewelletta’s hand gave off the only illumination until they reached the chamber. Though vaulted, it was not as large as the one in the Aurifex Caverns. Bright yellow and blue lanterns dotted the jewel-encrusted walls. They crossed a white marble floor and approached the table and chairs at the far end.
Graynor spoke first. “Welcome to the Kristall Caverns. My companions are Marna, Kalen, Lindor, Shauncy, and our leader, Davin.”
 Davin wore the same red as Graynor and had the same gray eyes. “Graynor is my younger brother. It’s good to see you again, Jewelletta.”
“And you too, Davin,” the sorceress said. “We met on my first trip to the Aurifex Caverns and traveled some together.”
Radolf widened his eyes, and everyone’s jaws dropped, but the quest’s faces returned to normal as she introduced them.
“This began with Radolf.” Jewelletta and her friends found seats. “Please tell your story again.”
Again, Radolf told his tale, tears streaming down his face, his chest aching like his ankle still did. He ended with, “Have you seen it?” He gasped for breath.
“Several men came by four days ago and asked its value. We had never seen anything like it and were unable to appraise it honestly. It must have been worth a king’s ransom.” Shauncy pulled on his left ear.
“How long did they stay? And did they say where they were going next?” Radolf fired off questions.                                                                                                                 
“They remained long enough to get our answer and made no mention of their next stop,” Davin told them.

Chapter 19
Ruthless Attack

By krprice

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

Disappointment hung over them like a gray cloud. Radolf lowered his head. His eyes turned downward.
“Don’t give up hope, Radolf. We may still catch them.” Jewelletta tried to cheer him up, but hunched her shoulders.
“Sorry for not having better news,” Davin apologized. “If there’s any way we can help, please let us know.”
“Thank you,” Radolf said.
“You are all welcome to stay here as long as you wish,” Davin offered. “The terrain between here and the Valley of the Jakoda is rough. A rest here for a day or two might put things in a better perspective.”
“We do need rest. And it’s going to be a long trip to Veda.” Jewelletta filled her plate with baked chicken and potatoes, following the example of the others. “We have to pass over the Tolsada Mountains. That’s rough traveling no matter what trail you take.”
“Please make yourselves at home then,” Graynor said.
The dwarves sat on one side of the trestle table while the quest sat opposite them.
As they ate, each member told of news from his or her part of the world. The dwarves were as curious as their queen. 
Once finished eating, Graynor led them down a tunnel to two smaller rooms. “We offer one for the men, one for the ladies. Each has a bathing pool off to the right. Take a rest now.”
“Thank you,” Jewelletta said and entered a room of black stone walls. 
Four small beds sat off to the side, but Radolf, Jahm, and Vidad rolled out their bedrolls and took baths before lying down.
Three hours later, they again gathered in the chamber.
“I think it’s time for Radolf’s first sword fighting lesson,” Jewelletta suggested.
“I’ll teach him,” Vidad offered. “After all, I was the best swordsman in the guard.” He straightened to his full height. “Why don’t we go outside and have a lesson?”
Jewelletta pulled Jahm aside. “I wanted you to teach him. For some reason, I don’t think Vidad is quite as good as he says. And he seems a bit too arrogant. Please go with them and keep an eye on Radolf.”
The young man in question strode up to them.
“I’d rather have Jahm teach me,” Radolf said.
“So would I,” Jewelletta said. “But let’s give Vidad a chance. Jahm will keep an eye on you two.”
“Aren’t you coming?” Jahm asked.
“I need to spend some time alone. This place seems safe, but I keep getting the feeling we’re being watched.” Fear glinted in her eyes and receded to the mask she usually wore.
“You mean the dwarves?” he asked.
“No. I don’t feel it in here, just outside. I don’t know what’s happening. Call it intuition,” Jewelletta said.
“Well, I don’t understand it, but I’ll go along with you. Your tribe has an uncanny sixth sense and can pick up on trouble before it happens. I’ve seen it before. You have my trust.” He stared into her emerald gaze and let his eyes soften.
“Jahm, Jewelletta, are you coming?” Vidad asked.
“I won’t be, but Jahm will. He might be able to give you a pointer or two.”
Radolf watched as the sorceress left the cavern and followed the others outside.
A stream burbled its way through a large clearing surrounded by oak. A piney scent filled the air.  Chrystella and Jahm sat at the edge, giving the others lots of room.
“This is perfect.” Vidad withdrew his sword and took up a sword fighter’s stance.
Radolf unsheathed his sword and imitated it.
“First, you have to learn how to hold a sword.” Vidad demonstrated and took Radolf’s hands, his hands correcting Radolf’s mistake.
“This is a parry,” Vidad explained, showing the young man the move. “It means to deflect the thrust of a sword.” He continued to show him the different defenses before he moved onto the offensive positions. “This move is called thrust, meaning a sudden pass with the sword.” He continued with his demonstration, never bothering calling on Jahm.
“Are you ready to try now?” Vidad asked.
He clutched his sword, but his stomach clenched.  “Yes.”
Vidad thrust his sword at Radolf. The youngster brought his up barely in time to avoid getting skewered. The second time Radolf danced out of the way and lifted his sword up to again to block another lunge. Vidad gave him no mercy, clearly beating him. With each try, Radolf paused for air, and sweat beaded on his brow. 
“Now you go on the offense,” Vidad said.
Radolf rushed forward, Vidad parrying him at each turn. As the session progressed, Radolf hesitated, his chest tightening. I can do this.
 Vidad smiled, continuing to beat Radolf and humiliating him.
The mercenary jumped up, baring his teeth. “We know you’re superior to Radolf, Vidad. Quit showing how great you are and teach the boy something, or are you afraid once he learns more, he’ll best you?”
Vidad scowled. “Do you think you could do better?”
“Yes. If you want to show off your skill, why don’t you fight someone your equal?” Jahm crossed his arms over his chest.
“There isn’t anyone on Mageron my equal,” the former guard boasted.
“Better watch it. Your arrogance is showing.” Jahm withdrew his sword.
“So you think you can best me?” Vidad raised an eyebrow and smirked.
“I’d like to give it a try. We can call it a demonstration for Radolf. That way he can study us and learn without having to concentrate on getting hurt.”
Jewelletta strolled into the clearing.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“I’ve challenged Vidad to a sword fight,” Jahm announced.
Jewelletta glared at him.
“Don’t worry. It’s an exhibition, a teaching tool for Radolf to learn from two experts.” Jahm grinned.
“Good idea. Are you willing, Vidad?” Jewelletta sat next to the princess.
“Quite willing.” He puffed out his chest.
Radolf took a deep breath. Warmth made his limbs tingle as he walked over to the women and sat.
Jahm charged Vidad. It caught him off guard, but he managed to parry. The mercenary didn’t let up, didn’t give Vidad a chance to go on the offense. He lunged after him again and again. This continued with neither winning until Jahm’s sword struck Vidad’s and sent it flying.
“Where did you learn that trick?” Vidad spat as he watched his sword soar behind him and off into the grove of trees.
“Actually, when I did it the first time, it was by accident. I was as surprised as my opponent.  Luckily, we were practicing, and it wasn’t a real fight. He got his sword and asked me to teach him. I admitted what happened.” Jahm took a drink of water from the stream. “I spent time trying to figure it out and practiced it. I rarely use it, but you needed to be humbled after what you did to Radolf. You don’t know all the moves.”
Vidad stalked off in search of his sword, muttering obscenities in his own language.
Radolf jumped up and ran to Jahm like a playful puppy. “Will you show me how to do that?”
“When you get good enough in the basics,” Jahm promised.
Vidad returned, hanging his head. “I’d like to learn that too, if you’re willing to teach me. You were right. I was showing off more than instructing him.” He turned to Radolf. “I’m sorry.”  Vidad flashed his winning smile and stuck out his hand.
Radolf reached out, but Vidad’s hand engulfed his over the wrist and to the forearm. The youngster scratched his head.
Jewelletta and Chrystella dropped their jaws.
Vidad let go and spun around to Jahm. “And you, Jahm.”   
Jahm put his hand out, and the guard shook his hand the same way.
Jahm stared at their hands as Radolf had.
Vidad extracted his hand. “I see neither of you are familiar with our handshake.”  
“Your handshake?” Jahm glanced from Vidad to Jewelletta.
The sorceress took a deep breath. “That handshake is usually used only between male members of the Savaecus tribe. I’ve seen it a couple of times. It means an intimate relationship . . .”
“Now wait a minute,” Jahm growled, yanking his hand away.
Jewelletta interrupted him. “Not intimate in that way. It means brotherhood.” She looked over at Vidad. “I’m saying this all wrong.” She blushed.
“You’re doing fine,” Vidad said. “I couldn’t have explained it better myself.”
“Do you understand, Jahm, Radolf?” Jewelletta looked from one to the other.
“Yes,” they both said.
However, Radolf couldn’t figure out why Vidad would do that gesture after the beating he took from him.
Because he’s apologizing in the only way he knows how. He’s offering friendship, a special friendship, a special bond. Accept it as it is not given lightly.
Radolf had been quiet, listening to everything. “I’m glad someone explained it. I sure didn’t know what was going on.” He relaxed. Maybe we can all be friends.
Let us hope so.
Silence hung over them like a fog. Not just the quest but the valley. Not peaceful, but ominous without birdsong, without animals scurrying around. 
Jewelletta looked around as if searching for something. She shrugged. “I want to take a closer look at the swans again. Why don’t we take a walk?”
“Great idea,” Jahm said.
They picked their way down the incline to Lake Orania’s edge.
“The swans look restless,” Radolf noted as the birds bumped each other. Settling in one place and flitting to another. They screamed at each other.
Something’s going on. I’m picking up signals of fear from them.
“They’re scared,” Jewelletta said.
“That’s what Anarra said.” Radolf related the rest of the conversation.
Let’s get out of here. We’re not safe.
“Come on. I’m getting strange feelings. Let’s leave.” Her voice shook.
As the ground trembled, the swans took flight. Small animals scampered around, mindless and scared, running into each other. Radolf and Chrystella shivered as an icy wind gusted through the valley. Its frigid breath stabbed through their clothes. Something pounded the earth, deafening as it drew closer. 
“What’s that noise?” Radolf held his hands over his ears as the thunderous sound grew louder.
“Hooves!” Jahm screamed. “I grew up around horses. I know running hooves when I hear them.”
“Up there.” Vidad pointed westward. “What is it? And the sky. All of a sudden it’s beginning to cloud over.”
In the distance, something covered the mountain in a massive blanket of gold, moving in their direction.
Jewelletta looked up. “It’s the unicorns. They’re stampeding. Anarra, can you contact them?”
No. I only sense mindless fear, a burning evil present in their brain.
Radolf told them what she said.
“Mindless fear, burning evil,” Jewelletta repeated. She raised her eyebrows and widened her eyes. She drew the corners of her mouth back. That emerald gaze had a haunted look, and she staggered. “No, Jamari, no.” Jahm caught her before she lost her balance. “Get back to the cave quickly. I’ll deal with this. Protect Radolf and Chrystella at all costs.”
“What about you?” Radolf scratched his head.
“Jahm, get him to safety. I’ll provide the decoy.” When she commanded in that steely tone of hers, no one dared disobeyed her.
Radolf stood still, like something made of stone, staring up at the stampeding unicorns.
“Radolf, come on,” Jahm said. “Vidad, get Chrystella to the caverns. The come help me with His Stubbornness.”
Vidad whisked the princess up into his arms and dashed up the path, vanishing into the trees.
The deafening pounding came closer and closer. Radolf’s eyes stayed glued to the animals.  “Come to me,” something whispered in his mind. He walked toward the lake, toward the unicorns.
Radolf stop. You’re in danger. Anarra’s voice sliced through his mind. He spun around and dashed to the cavern, Anarra following.
Jewelletta concentrated on the animals, heading for a certain death unless they veered off or came to their senses. She reached out with her mind. I can’t get to them all, can’t control them.  She searched for the leader. Her heartbeat raced as her chest tightened. Horror and malevolence seared her consciousness. A burning pain and festering sore that could only be removed by death. It’s all in your mind. He’s doing that to you. It’s not really there.
A jagged bolt of lightning slashed through the sky as a thunderous clap egged them on. They charged down the mountain, destroying everything in their path, heedless of their destiny. A cold curtain of rain fell, stinging and biting Jewelletta’s hands and face.
“Jamari, you’re violating your oaths and overstepping your boundaries. Quit using these innocent animals.” She sobbed.
Jahm reappeared, supporting her. Another flash of light knifed through the darkening sky.  Jewelletta slumped in his arms.
“There’s nothing you can do. Let’s return to the cave.”
“No, I must win.” Her steely tone returned.
She straightened up and spread her arms out. A fiery wall appeared in front of the unicorns. That jolted them long enough for the lead animal to swerve off. The rest followed. The rain ceased, and the sun peeked through the clouds, reappearing as mysteriously as it disappeared.
Seeing the sun, the unicorns spread out, as if no longer panicked. She lowered the shield.
This is not the end, sister dear.  We will meet again, and I will triumph. Jamari’s bass voice said.  His malevolent laugh blasted through her. Jewelletta screamed and collapsed.

Chapter 20
A Trip to Lilac Falls

By krprice

Jahm cradled Jewelletta in his arms.

“Don’t die.” He stroked her forehead. “We need you. I need you.”

Something fluttered overhead. Jahm looked up. The swans glided onto Lake Orania.

Vidad entered the clearing. “What happened?  Chrys and I stayed well inside the caverns, keeping Radolf there.”

“She forced the unicorns to stop stampeding but exhausted herself in the process.” Jahm still stroked her head.

“Who was she battling?  Surely not just the unicorns?” Vidad squatted next to them.

“One of her own kind, I guess. When I suggested we get to safety, she said, ‘No, I must win.’ I don’t know who she fought.”

“We should probably carry her to the caverns. I’ll help. She’s not a wisp of a thing like Chrys,” Vidad offered.
Jahm nodded. Reluctantly, he laid her down. “I’ll take her feet, and you get under her arms. But watch where you put your hands.”

Vidad chuckled. “Don’t worry, Jahm. I don’t want your woman. I got my hands full with Chrys.  One female is enough for me–even as tiny as she is.”

Jahm grinned, knowing Vidad loved the princess, and she felt the same way. “Better get going.  I don’t want to be around if whatever drove those unicorns return. Not with Jewelletta unable to run interference for us.”

They picked her up and slowly walked the path to the Kristall Caverns.
Radolf, Anarra, and Chrystella stood at the cavern’s edge when the two men arrived with the sorceress.

“You’ll never get through there without some light,” Radolf said. “Come, Anarra, let’s ask the dwarves for some torches.”

Anarra led the way. Hold my tail. I don’t want to lose you in here.

Without argument, Radolf touched the dailam’s tail gently, not wishing to hurt her.

No, you’re not hurting me.

Slow down, girl. I can’t keep up with you.

I forgot. You can’t see as well as I can in the dark.

They crept through the tunnel and emerged into the chamber.

“Davin,” Radolf called. “We need some torches. Jahm and Vidad are carrying an unconscious Jewelletta.”

“Come, dwarves, let’s help our friends. They can tell us what happened,” Davin ordered.

They jumped up from the table, each grabbed one of the many torches, and ran down the tunnel. 

Looks like we’re on our own again.  Anarra chuckled.

We might as well stay here. We’ll just be in their way.
You’re right.

Radolf sat at the table, Anarra sprawled at his feet.
Once Vidad and Jahm reached the chamber, they eased Jewelletta onto a blanket a dwarf had retrieved. Radolf and Anarra dashed over.

“Thanks for your quick thinking, Radolf.” Jahm grinned.

“And glad to see you used your head and stayed behind.

Kept him in line this time, didn’t you, Anarra.” He bent over and petted the dailam.

“Isn’t there anything we can do for her?” Radolf fidgeted.
“She’ll revive soon,” Davin told them.

“How do you know?” Jahm sat next to her.

“Because it’s happened before. A kiss from you might bring her around quicker.” Davin placed a blanket on the sorceress.

His face warmed, and he blushed. “Happened before. Who was she fighting?”

“Jamari,” Davin answered.

“I’ve been hearing about him during the trip. Who is he?” Jahm asked.

“Another sorcerer. He’s been the bane of her existence for many years. Why don’t you kiss her?  We know you want to.” Davin’s smile lit up the chamber like a lantern

 Lowering his head, he kissed her lips, not quickly but lingering. At first, they were unyielding.  She moaned as her lips became soft and pliant under his tender touch. Jahm pulled her into his arms, taking advantage of her vulnerability.

Jewelletta opened her eyes and withdrew her lips. “Thank you, Jahm,” she murmured.

Jahm straightened. “Welcome back, Jewelletta.” 

He assisted her to a sitting position. She turned to Davin. “I guess that was your idea? Hm?”

Davin blushed. “It’s worked before, and he was willing.”
“Yes, he was.” She gazed into Jahm’s eyes and smiled. “I need some food and drink, and then I’ll tell you what happened.”

Jahm helped her stand, and everyone moved to the table. Like the others, Jewelletta filled her plate and ate.

Sometime later, she told the whole tale, including what the quest knew.

A hush fell over them at the mention of Jamari’s name.                              
“The evil sorcerer.” Davin drank some wine.

“I see he’s gained quite a reputation even this far from Veda.” Jewelletta ate more venison.

“We’ve heard of him. But why here?  It’s always been so peaceful,” Graynor commented.

“Rough times are coming,” she said enigmatically. “That’s all I’ll say. If you have any questions, ask your queen.”

“I will,” Graynor said.

Jahm shook his head as he looked around the room. Radolf scratched his head. Everyone wore puzzled looks.
Radolf leaned against the black stone walls. He spoke to Anarra. Something’s going on. I think trouble is brewing. Jewelletta suspects what it is. But why won’t she tell us? 
She’s rather closed mouthed. She’ll tell us in her own good time.

You’re right about that.

“Davin, has anything unusual happened in the valley recently?” Jewelletta pushed her plate away.

“You mean besides having you visit and the episode this afternoon?” He grinned.

“I’m serious. Have you seen or heard of anything out of the ordinary?” Jewelletta laid her head on Jahm’s shoulder.
The dwarves whispered among themselves.

“We have heard of something, but we haven’t seen it,” Graynor said. “Lilac Falls. It’s changed colors.”

“Anything else?” she asked.

“Just the swans’ appearance,” Davin said.

“And they flew away when the unicorns charged,” Jewelletta informed him.

“They’ve returned, Jewelletta,” Vidad said.

“We need to see what’s happening at Lilac Falls,” Jewelletta suggested.

“Will we leave in the morning?” Radolf asked.

“Yes. After this afternoon’s attack, it’s even more important to deliver the power jewels to the Masters. Jamari’s getting stronger if he can panic an entire herd of unicorns.”

It was useless to question her further. Jewelletta would tell them what she wanted them to know.
“Where is Lilac Falls?” Jewelletta asked when everyone finished.

Davin drew a piece of paper, a quill, and ink from his pockets. He sketched a map. “The path from caverns leads to this trail. Follow it right to the falls.” He handed it to Jewelletta.

“Thanks.” She accepted it.

The questors stood. Jewelletta wobbled at first, but Jahm steadied her.

As they left the cavern, Vidad grabbed a torch before the entered the passageway’s blackness. They emerged from the darkness of the tunnel into the night. Nocturnal animals sang as the quest strolled to the falls. Trees, barren and exposed to the oncoming winter, marched beside them.  It provided some shelter from the north’s icy breath.

The brown carpeted trail widened into a small clearing. At the far end, Lilac Falls spilled its frigid nectar into a small pool at its feet. The fragrance of the flowers vanished, replaced by rotten meat.

“Phew. It stinks. It isn’t lilac, it’s not even blue!” Radolf exclaimed, holding his nose. “What could cause that?”
They were all silent.

Jewelletta stared at the falls, started walking toward them, and stumbled. Jahm grabbed her. She shook her head as if in disbelief.

Anarra, do you remember if the Legend of the Starcastle mentioned anything about Lilac Falls?

No mention of it.

Jewelletta certainly doesn’t like what she sees.

The sorceress spun around and headed back to the cavern, her eyes glazed, almost as if she was in a trance.
Jahm cradled Jewelletta in his arms.
“Don’t die.” He stroked her forehead. “We need you. I need you.”
Something fluttered overhead. Jahm looked up. The swans glided onto Lake Orania.
Vidad entered the clearing. “What happened?  Chrys and I stayed well inside the caverns, keeping Radolf there.”
“She forced the unicorns to stop stampeding but exhausted herself in the process.” Jahm still stroked her head.
“Who was she battling?  Surely not just the unicorns?” Vidad squatted next to them.
“One of her own kind, I guess. When I suggested we get to safety, she said, ‘No, I must win.’ I don’t know who she fought.”
“We should probably carry her to the caverns. I’ll help. She’s not a wisp of a thing like Chrys,” Vidad offered.
Jahm nodded. Reluctantly, he laid her down. “I’ll take her feet, and you get under her arms. But watch where you put your hands.”
Vidad chuckled. “Don’t worry, Jahm. I don’t want your woman. I got my hands full with Chrys.  One female is enough for me–even as tiny as she is.”
Jahm grinned, knowing Vidad loved the princess, and she felt the same way. “Better get going.  I don’t want to be around if whatever drove those unicorns return. Not with Jewelletta unable to run interference for us.”
They picked her up and slowly walked the path to the Kristall Caverns.
Radolf, Anarra, and Chrystella stood at the cavern’s edge when the two men arrived with the sorceress.
“You’ll never get through there without some light,” Radolf said. “Come, Anarra, let’s ask the dwarves for some torches.”
Anarra led the way. Hold my tail. I don’t want to lose you in here.
Without argument, Radolf touched the dailam’s tail gently, not wishing to hurt her.
No, you’re not hurting me.
Slow down, girl. I can’t keep up with you.
I forgot. You can’t see as well as I can in the dark.
They crept through the tunnel and emerged into the chamber.
“Davin,” Radolf called. “We need some torches. Jahm and Vidad are carrying an unconscious Jewelletta.”
“Come, dwarves, let’s help our friends. They can tell us what happened,” Davin ordered.
They jumped up from the table, each grabbed one of the many torches, and ran down the tunnel. 
Looks like we’re on our own again.  Anarra chuckled.
We might as well stay here. We’ll just be in their way.
You’re right.
Radolf sat at the table, Anarra sprawled at his feet.
Once Vidad and Jahm reached the chamber, they eased Jewelletta onto a blanket a dwarf had retrieved. Radolf and Anarra dashed over.
“Thanks for your quick thinking, Radolf.” Jahm grinned. “And glad to see you used your head and stayed behind. Kept him in line this time, didn’t you, Anarra.” He bent over and petted the dailam.
“Isn’t there anything we can do for her?” Radolf fidgeted.
“She’ll revive soon,” Davin told them.
“How do you know?” Jahm sat next to her.
“Because it’s happened before. A kiss from you might bring her around quicker.” Davin placed a blanket on the sorceress.
His face warmed, and he blushed. “Happened before. Who was she fighting?”
“Jamari,” Davin answered.
“I’ve been hearing about him during the trip. Who is he?” Jahm asked.
“Another sorcerer. He’s been the bane of her existence for many years. Why don’t you kiss her?  We know you want to.” Davin’s smile lit up the chamber like a lantern
 Lowering his head, he kissed her lips, not quickly but lingering. At first, they were unyielding.  She moaned as her lips became soft and pliant under his tender touch. Jahm pulled her into his arms, taking advantage of her vulnerability.
Jewelletta opened her eyes and withdrew her lips. “Thank you, Jahm,” she murmured.
Jahm straightened. “Welcome back, Jewelletta.” 
He assisted her to a sitting position. She turned to Davin. “I guess that was your idea? Hm?”
Davin blushed. “It’s worked before, and he was willing.”
“Yes, he was.” She gazed into Jahm’s eyes and smiled. “I need some food and drink, and then I’ll tell you what happened.”
Jahm helped her stand, and everyone moved to the table. Like the others, Jewelletta filled her plate and ate. Sometime later, she told the whole tale, including what the quest knew.
A hush fell over them at the mention of Jamari’s name.                                          
“The evil sorcerer.” Davin drank some wine.
“I see he’s gained quite a reputation even this far from Veda.” Jewelletta ate more venison.
“We’ve heard of him. But why here?  It’s always been so peaceful,” Graynor commented.
“Rough times are coming,” she said enigmatically. “That’s all I’ll say. If you have any questions, ask your queen.”
“I will,” Graynor said.
Jahm shook his head as he looked around the room. Radolf scratched his head. Everyone wore puzzled looks.
Radolf leaned against the black stone walls. He spoke to Anarra. Something’s going on. I think trouble is brewing. Jewelletta suspects what it is. But why won’t she tell us? 
She’s rather closed mouthed. She’ll tell us in her own good time.
You’re right about that.
“Davin, has anything unusual happened in the valley recently?” Jewelletta pushed her plate away.
“You mean besides having you visit and the episode this afternoon?” He grinned.
“I’m serious. Have you seen or heard of anything out of the ordinary?” Jewelletta laid her head on Jahm’s shoulder.
The dwarves whispered among themselves.
“We have heard of something, but we haven’t seen it,” Graynor said. “Lilac Falls. It’s changed colors.”
“Anything else?” she asked.
“Just the swans’ appearance,” Davin said.
“And they flew away when the unicorns charged,” Jewelletta informed him.
“They’ve returned, Jewelletta,” Vidad said.
“We need to see what’s happening at Lilac Falls,” Jewelletta suggested.
“Will we leave in the morning?” Radolf asked.
“Yes. After this afternoon’s attack, it’s even more important to deliver the power jewels to the Masters. Jamari’s getting stronger if he can panic an entire herd of unicorns.”
It was useless to question her further. Jewelletta would tell them what she wanted them to know.
“Where is Lilac Falls?” Jewelletta asked when everyone finished.
Davin drew a piece of paper, a quill, and ink from his pockets. He sketched a map. “The path from caverns leads to this trail. Follow it right to the falls.” He handed it to Jewelletta.
“Thanks.” She accepted it.
The questors stood. Jewelletta wobbled at first, but Jahm steadied her.
As they left the cavern, Vidad grabbed a torch before the entered the passageway’s blackness. They emerged from the darkness of the tunnel into the night. Nocturnal animals sang as the quest strolled to the falls. Trees, barren and exposed to the oncoming winter, marched beside them.  It provided some shelter from the north’s icy breath.
The brown carpeted trail widened into a small clearing. At the far end, Lilac Falls spilled its frigid nectar into a small pool at its feet. The fragrance of the flowers vanished, replaced by rotten meat.
“Phew. It stinks. It isn’t lilac, it’s not even blue!” Radolf exclaimed, holding his nose. “What could cause that?”
They were all silent.
Jewelletta stared at the falls, started walking toward them, and stumbled. Jahm grabbed her. She shook her head as if in disbelief.
Anarra, do you remember if the Legend of the Starcastle mentioned anything about Lilac Falls?
No mention of it.
Jewelletta certainly doesn’t like what she sees.
The sorceress spun around and headed back to the cavern, her eyes glazed, almost as if she was in a trance.

Chapter 21
Message from Trall

By krprice

The next morning, Radolf lay on his pallet, listening to the dwarves moving around the main chamber. The aroma of the black bread the Little People were known for made his stomach growl. The rubies, emeralds, and sapphires on the ceiling glowed in the lantern light.
Radolf’s eyes opened. “You mean there’s someone on this planet up before Jewelletta?”  His light tone dispelled the gloom of yesterday.
Jahm grinned. “Evidently, our dwarfish friends have been busy for hours.”
“Hrumph,” Jewelletta stood at the room entrance and seemed to take the jesting in stride. “I needed some extra rest after yesterday. Bet you’d be tired too if you battled a sorcerer and his herd of unicorns.”
“We’d probably be more than tired,” Radolf commented. “We’d probably be dead.”
“Looks like everyone is in good spirits,” Jewelletta said. “And rested too. We need to get started, so we can reach Veda as soon as possible. The climb over the Tolsada Mountains will be difficult. We’ll make it as long as we work together.”
“And you’ll make sure we will do that.” Vidad sat up.
“Yes, you can bet on that.” Jewelletta stretched.
“How are you feeling this morning, Jewelletta?” Jahm asked.
“Better after a long bath and a good night’s sleep,” she answered.
“I guess you want us to get up?” Radolf asked.
“Yes,” she answered. “We must leave after breakfast.”
During their meal, Davin asked, “Any truth to the rumor?”
Radolf passed on the bad news.
“First, the swans, then the unicorns, now this.” He turned to the sorceress, his eyes widening. 
“What does it all mean?”
“I’m not sure, Davin, and until I am, I’d rather not say anything. Too many things are happening.  Be careful.” Her tone changed. “Now what can I do to thank you for your gracious hospitality?”
“Well . . . ”  He hung his head sheepishly.
“Speak up, Davin. If there’s anything I can do, all you need do is to ask.” Jewelletta smeared butter over a slice of black bread. 
 He drank some tea. “We could eventually get through, but it would take time, and we’d lose several days. If you could unblock it for us . . . ”
“I’d be happy to. Why don’t you show me where it is?”
After eating, Davin and Jewelletta rose and headed toward a tunnel to the left of the chamber.
Jewelletta paused and turned to the others. “If you have any more packing to do, get it done while I’m gone.”
“We’ve prepared several packs of food for your journey,” Davin said. “Veda is a long way. I know you can hunt, but this can supplement that, even make your way quicker. Graynor will see to its division among your people.”
“Thank you very much.” Jewelletta followed Davin. 
He grabbed a torch. Jewelletta chanted a few words. A ball of light appeared in her hand. A musty smell seeped through the darkness. Rills of water ran down the black walls.
They walked straight and turned right. From there, they turned left, then right, twisting one way and another as if inside the guts of a large animal. At the far end of the last passageway, chunks of black stone blocked their way.
“Hold the magefire.” Jewelletta reached for Davin’s hand, ready to put her ball of fire light in it.
At first, he snatched his hand away. He raised his eyebrows as his eyes widened.
“It won’t burn you.” She grabbed it and transferred it to her other hand. “See my hand is fine.”  She showed him.
“But it’s fire,” he argued.
“Magic fire. Take it.” Jewelletta seized his hand and slid the ball into it.
He flinched. “Why it’s only warm.”
Jewelletta grinned, amused at his fear. She spoke an incantation. In a few seconds, the large stones moved, slowly at first and more rapidly as the heavier ones flew off to the side. The smaller ones appeared. Minutes later, the entrance stood empty.
The elder dwarf’s jaw dropped in wonderment at the feat he’d witnessed.
“Can I carry it?” he asked in an excited voice as if he was a child and this was a new toy.
“Of course,” she said.  Let’s go back to the chamber.”
Upon their return, Davin’s eyes blazed with wonder. He proudly displayed the light to the other dwarves. 
“Here, take it,” he said to Graynor.
Graynor hid his hands behind his back.
“It won’t burn you. It’s magic.”  Davin told him. “I’m your older brother. Would I lie to you?”
Graynor edged his hand out. Davin put the light in it.
Entertained by the dwarves’ antics, Jewelletta watched as he made each of his fellow miners hold it.
Davin finally gave it back to Jewelletta. “Thank you for your help. And for making me hold the magic fire. I haven’t had so much fun in years.” His grin stretched from ear to ear.
“I’m glad I could help,” she acknowledged.
Graynor spoke. “I’ve been going over the events in my mind when those men were here. Right before they left, the leader mentioned the Militar.”
“That’s my home,” Jahm said. “At least, that was my home.” Sorrow edged his last words.
“We’ll head there,” Jewelletta said. “It’s on our way to the Veda Community. You know the way, Jahm. You can guide us.”
Panicked eyes glared at her, his knuckle’s white. “Yes, but I don’t know what kind of reception I’ll get.”
“I’m from the most respected tribes in the world.” Jewelletta grabbed his hand, caressing it. “I think you’ll be safe.”
Chrystella hesitated and spoke. “I’d rather not get too close to Veda or Aderra. I don’t know where else to go.” She clung to Vidad’s arm.
“Stay with us, for the time being anyway,” Jewelletta invited.
“Probably a good idea,” Vidad said, petting Chrystella’s arm. “You wouldn’t lead us into harm.”
“We’re ready to go.” Jewelletta said.
Everyone picked up their things and followed Jewelletta, with her magefire, out the tunnel.
“I’ll follow Jahm, Radolf, and Anarra next, and Chrys, and Vidad. I want you to protect our back.” She turned to the dwarves. “Thank you again for your help.”
 They all chorused goodbye.
Mud on the path made the climb down almost as difficult as the climb up. Chrystella slipped twice, but Vidad and Radolf caught her. Radolf stopped and stared at Lake Orania as they passed. The swans were still there. That must mean something. But what?
“Radolf, keep going,” Jewelletta chided.
Shaking his head as if to clean out the cobwebs, he answered.  “Sorry I got involved with my own thoughts.” 
“Trall.” Radolf spotted the green- clad dwarf from the Aurifex Caverns. “What brings you here?”
“You and your party,” he said. “The queen sends her regards.”
“I’m sure Queen Melitta didn’t send you here to say hello.” Radolf smiled, but his stomach churned.
“No. We had some visitors that day after you left. A renegade Savaecus war party.” He glared at the bodyguard.
Vidad scowled but remained quiet.
“I’m sure you’ve handled worse,” Radolf said.
“Yes, but they inquired after you and Jewelletta,” Trall said.
Radolf dropped his jaw. He looked at the others. Their eyes widened to the size of large trenchers.
“By name?” His breakfast danced a whirling dervish in his stomach. 
“No, not precisely. They asked about a blond boy from the Spatali Valley. Said he is travelling with a dailam and a black-haired witch.”
“Not a very nice compliment, I must say. I’ve been called many things. Never a witch though.  Did they say why they wanted him?” Jewelletta stared at Trall.
“They had a message for him from his grandmother,” he told them.
Radolf widened his eyes. “My grandmother’s dead.”
“I know. So did the queen, though she didn’t let on. She told them you he’d passed through the valley several days ago but had no idea where you were headed,” he said. “Suffice to say, they weren’t happy with the news. Didn’t dare challenge her, not with a whole community full of dwarves standing around her.”
“What was the message?” Radolf inquired, his heartbeat increasing.
“Never did say,” Trall answered.
“How many were there?” Jewelletta asked.
“Eight or ten. After they were clear of our sentries, Queen Melitta ordered me to take an escort to warn you. Whoever they are, they don’t mean you warmth and happiness.” Trall chuckled, and the rest grinned. “Must have been very desperate to come ask our help. We aren’t known for our hospitality.”
“True.” Radolf pretended to cough, so he could hide a smile behind his hand. “Thank you.”
“You’re quite welcome. Now we’ve delivered our message, I think we’ll visit our cousins up in the Kristall Caverns. Davin is really a first cousin, and I haven’t seen him in a while.”
Jewelletta told him of the discovery and the reopening.
“Good. He’ll be in high spirits. Haven’t done any real mining in years. Not since I took up cavern security. Maybe I’ll spend a day or two and help.” He rubbed his hands together as if anxious to get started. “Hope you don’t run into those nasty fellows.”
“Were they on foot or on horses?” Jahm asked.
“They have an advantage over us. Come, Jahm.” She waved goodbye to Trall.
 They went in different directions.
“I don’t like that news,” Jahm said as they walked next to each other. “Someone’s after Radolf.”    
“Yes, and it doesn’t bode well for us. We’ll have to be very careful.” She made sure the others knew it too. She glared at Radolf. “No impulsiveness.”
His face grew warm. “I promise to behave.”
Traveling in silence, they climbed the long, steep hill leading from the valley. Just as muddy and filled with rocks as the rest of the trail.
Vidad spoke when they reached the top. “Jewelletta, Chrys is tired. Can we rest? We need a war council.”
“Good idea,” Jahm said before Jewelletta could answer him.
“You’ll get no argument from me.” Her breaths came in puffs. “Jahm, Radolf, and Anarra find us a place. We do need to discuss a few things.” Velvet cloaked her steel tone.
A few minutes later Jahm called, “Down this way. Anarra’s found us a great place. Off the trail.”
They followed him down to a clump of trees and into a small clearing with a quiet stream nearby. Oaks surrounded them, hiding them from nosy people. 
“Let’s eat.” Jewelletta wiped sweat from her forehead. 
She bent down and distributed the food.
“I’m worried about Trall’s information.” Vidad bit into a hunk of cheese. “I grew up in a Savaecus camp, and I’ve seen these war parties. Renegades have steel nerves and iron guts.   They’ve attacked the main camp when they knew most of the men would be away. I was only twelve when I had to defend my mother and younger brother from a marauding party. I had begun learning swordplay with an edged weapon. I was very clumsy, but I guess determination made up for what I lacked in experience.” He chuckled. “Not that there was anything funny about it. Renegades are nothing to toy with.”
“You don’t have to tell me about renegades.” Radolf spat as he glowered at Vidad.
“Evidently, you’ve had more than your recent experience with them.” Vidad handed a waterskin to Chrys.
He told of the death of his parents, his grandfather and stood.
“Cool down, Radolf.” Jewelletta grabbed his hand. “And don’t condemn Vidad because he’s from the same tribe.”
Sit, Radolf, before you make a fool of yourself.
He glanced at Anarra. She was right, so he sat. “I’m sorry, Vidad. I get rather emotional when I speak of my parents and grandfather. Particularly since my grandmother’s death.”
“Can’t say I blame you. They love to stir up trouble even when no one will hire them to do it.”  Vidad told him. “I’m not like that.”
“The problem is still with us. We’ve got to cross the Mara Plains to reach Militar. We’ll be vulnerable to attack.” Jewelletta bit into a piece of black bread.
“We should be able to see them coming,” Jahm said.
“Unless they ambush us as we come from the valley,” Vidad suggested.
“Hm . . .   Good thought. What else do you know about them that might help us?” Jahm asked.
“They like to use poison darts. That’ll be our worst danger.”
“And they’ll be on horseback,” Jewelletta added and turned to the princess. “Chrystella, do you have a weapon?”
“Vidad has been teaching me how to use a sword, but I don’t have one. I do have a dagger.” She drew it from a sheath hidden inside her pants waistband.
“Radolf and Chrystella are in the most danger. We must protect them at all costs. The rest of us are expendable. I will protect Radolf.” She paused for water. “Jahm, Vidad protect Chrystella.”  She rummaged through her herbs. “Here, Chrys, Radolf. This is acciderum. Be careful where you throw it. Aim for the horses’ eyes. It’ll blind them. Temporarily.” She handed each of them a small pouch.
What about me? Anarra asked Radolf.
“Anarra wants to know what her assignment is.”
Jewelletta smiled. “Protecting you, of course. Did you really doubt that, Anarra?” The sorceress bent over and stroked the dailam’s back. Crystal blue eyes gleamed back as if acknowledging her part.
After eating and packing up, Jahm led the way.
They did not encounter any trouble until a few miles outside of Militar when the pounding of hooves shook the ground.
Dressed in black with hoods and masks, a dozen men astride ebony horses encircled them.
Jewelletta, Jahm, and Vidad stepped in front of the other two as Anarra growled beside the sorceress.  

Chapter 22

By krprice

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

Radolf fidgeted. He glanced over at Chrys. She couldn’t stand still either.
She doesn’t like to be shoved in the background any more than I do, to be protected like a fragile vase.
Jewelletta, Jahm, and Vidad began to argue in quiet tones.
“I should be the one to step out and speak to them,” Jewelletta said.
“We’re chasing after Savaecus renegades,” Vidad countered. “They’re my people.”
“But we’re in Militio territory,” Jahm said. “Let me talk to them.”
Chrys gazed back at him. She shook her head and clenched her jaw. Then she nodded.
 Radolf and Chrys pushed their way forward and through the trio. They faced the man who had directed the group.
“I am Princess Chrystella of the House of Michaelandra.” She straightened to her full five-foot height and threw back her shoulders in a haughty pose.
“I am Radolf of the Spatali Valley.” He stood straight. “Heir to Anisha’s Neckulet.”

Jahm dashed around them, staring straight into the leader’s eyes. “I am Jahm of the Militio tribe.”
“Is that really you, Jahm?” The man asked in a deep voice. He jumped from his horse, tore off his mask, ran over, and hugged the mercenary. “We’d heard you’d been killed in the Kanballi Jungle.”
Jahm stepped back. “Kadin, as you can see I’m still alive.” He turned around and said. “This is my cousin, Kadin.” Then he introduced the members of the quest.
Kadin glared at Vidad. “Strange companions, you have. What brings you all together and over to this part of the continent?”
“Long story and best be told in private,” Jahm said.
“I think we can manage to double up and ride the rest of the way to town,” Kadin said but continued to eye Vidad as if the bodyguard would yank out his sword and slaughter him.
“I’ll run next to the horses,” Vidad offered. “Even carry Chyrs if it would be easier on everyone.”
“Jahm can ride with me,” Kadin said. “Baras is small, so Jewelletta can climb up behind him.”
Before Kadin said anything else, another man rode up, stopped, and offered a hand to Radolf.
“I’m Zarna,” he introduced.
Baras brought his horse over, and Jewelletta climbed on while Kadin and his cousin got settled on his horse. Vidad lifted Chrys up, and they trotted off to Militar. 
The sun had barely moved by the time they left the dusty plains and entered the dirt-packed streets of the home of the Militio tribe. Chatter stopped and people paused in their errands to stare at the unusual parade as they passed the gray stone buildings. The salty scent of the Mavi Ocean traveled on the breeze while aromas of fish stew and venison teased Radolf’s nostrils. His stomach growled loud enough for Baras to chuckle. An inn stood alone with a sign of a blue fish swinging in the wind. It read The Grumpy Talkor.
They finally turned right and rode down four streets before turning right again, stopping in front of a three-story gray stone house. Only a few red and green flowers had managed to grow in the dry ground.
After Radolf and Baras dismounted, the youngster asked, “Who came up with the name of the Grumpy Talkor?”
“The owner,” Baras answered. “Kase Timmons, who’s just as grumpy as the fish.”
Both he and Radolf chuckled.
The rest of the quest climbed from their horses as Vidad set Chrystella down. Once they thanked the men for the ride, everyone but Kadin left.
“This is the home of Kleptor, our Chief Councilor and his wife, Mahanna,” Kadin said. “You will need his permission to stay in the town.”
He led them up to the door and knocked. As if they’d been watched, only seconds passed before a short, plump, brown-skinned woman opened the door. Her dark, brown gaze wandered over the quest.
She gasped when she spotted Vidad. “What nerve you have to bring that nasty savage here, Kadin, after what he and his fellow thieves did to your cousin and his jewelry shop?” She opened her mouth, which was full of saliva, as if she was ready to spit it at Vidad.
Jahm shoved Kadin aside. “I can vouch for him. He was not one of the thieves.”
Radolf pushed his way to the front. “I am Radolf, heir to Anisha’s neckulet. He was not with those thieves.”
“And I swear he was with us.” Jewelletta marched up to Kadin’s left side. “I am Jewelletta of the Majutsu tribe.”
“Your word is enough for me, Jewelletta,” the woman said. “I am Mahanna. Come in and tell me why you have come here.”
Radolf stepped onto the dark, brown hardwood floor and followed the others into the house. His stomach growled again and was answered by Chrystella’s, and then Jewelletta’s.
“Guess I’d better feed you.” Mahanna said as she led them deeper into her home.
Radolf glanced into the living room as they passed. Dark gray, velvet curtains covered the windows with a pale blue couch and chairs dotting the floor. The young man gasped as they entered the large dining room dominated by a light brown table and chairs made of wood from the Ventrifico Forest. 
Jewelletta ran her fingers over the top and widened her eyes. “How old is this?”
“One hundred and years old,” Mahanna answered. “My great-great grandfather cut down the trees and made it as a wedding present for his new wife. Now take a seat, and I’ll get you something to eat. After that, you can tell me what brings you here.”
While the men sat, Jewelletta and Chrys asked, “What can I do to help?”
“As a matter of fact, you can,” Mahanna said, turned around, and strode into the kitchen, her gray and black braid reminding Radolf of the way his grandmother’s silver tresses did on the afternoon before her death. He took several deep breaths to control his emotions.
Only a few minutes later, Chrys and Jewelletta brought in glasses of a red liquid and set them in front of everyone.
Chrys left the dining room and in a few minutes called, “Anarra. Come in for some water and food.”
The dailam jumped up and scampered away from Radolf’s chair.
“Mahanna says this is fingleberry tea,” Jewelletta told them. “The berries are sweet.” She spun around and returned to the kitchen.
Radolf sipped his drink. Not only was it cold, but it slid down and quickly quenched the thirst he didn’t even know he had.
I’ve got a bowl of water and a large plate of meat. Thank her for me.
Next time the princess came in, Radolf passed on the message.
The ladies continued to fill up the table with plates, silver, platters of meat, cheese, bread, and a crock of butter.
Once everyone was seated, quiet covered the room like a blanket as everyone filled their plates with food and began eating. When all the platters were empty, Mahanna stood and returned to the kitchen. A short time later, she came back in with dessert.
Strawberries covered a two inch by two-inch square of sponge cake topped with fresh whipped cream.
“This is more than lunch,” Radolf said. “It’s a feast.” He took a bite, chewed, and let the deliciously sweet food slide down his throat.
After the meal was finished and the table cleared off, they adjourned to the living room with full glasses of tea.
“So what brings the six of you to Militar?” Mahanna asked.
Radolf began their tale, tears streaming down his face like a torrential rain. He had just mentioned Anarra’s name when the front door burst open.
Two men marched in. The tallest topped Vidad by a half a foot. Short, curly, silver hair framed a square jawed face. A good thirty years younger, the other man had curly brown hair and resembled the other man.
Before Mahanna even got to introduce them, the elder’s gray eyes turned as dark as any storm cloud.
He pointed to Vidad. “While I was out hunting those bastards, you let one in my house.” He yanked out a dagger and threw it at the bodyguard.

Chapter 23
The Jewelry Store

By krprice

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

Jewelletta raised her and chanted. The man’s dagger bounced off something. The sorceress had put a shield around the quest. The two men gasped at the others.
The sorceress stood. “I am Jewelletta of the Majutsu tribe. I vouch for Vidad.”
Then Jahm rose. “And I am Jahm of the Militio tribe. He’s been with us for several days.”
“And I’m to take the word of a witch and a coward who’s dead?” the older man growled.
Mahanna stepped in. “Klep, my husband, and Edvar my son.” Then she introduced the quest. “Kadin swore for Jahm and the others. Are you angry because you didn’t catch the thieves?”
“They vanished before our eyes as if by magic.” Klep glowered at Jewelletta whose eyes turned from their usual bright emerald to a darker green edged in ebony.
Radolf had never seen them turn that color in all the time they had been traveling together. Her nostrils flared, and Radolf wondered if flames would pour from them, as if she smoldered inside.
Jewelletta took six deep breaths before her eyes returned to their normal color. “I have my suspicions as to who did it, However, I’d rather not say at this time.”
She paused, but before she got to say anything more, Klep walked over and picked up his dagger.
“When Mahanna invited you into our home, she automatically gave you guest protection,” Klep said. “I apologize for violating that promise.” He hung his head and walked toward Vidad.
Jewelletta immediately withdrew the shield.
The duo shook hands, and Klep did the same with Jahm and Radolf while Edvar rose went into the kitchen and returned with two glasses of fingleberry tea, handing one to his father before he sat.
“So what is going on and why are members of the five tribes and a dailam traveling together?” Klep returned to his seat.
“Radolf was starting to tell why he began his quest when you two came in,” Mahanna said.
Taking several deep breaths to calm himself, Radolf began his tale again until he met up with Jewelletta. She took over then, stopping when they reached Mahanna’s house. Jahm spoke of what had happened to him, and then the princess and Vidad recounted their side of the story and how Jewelletta had saved them.
“I’ve heard of the Legend of the Starcastle,” Klep said. “Vidad, would you be willing to sing it again for us?”
“Yes,” he agreed and began the song.
Radolf followed Anarra’s advice and paid attention to the lyrics this time.
I think Jewelletta suspects its time to build the Starcastle. All the signs seem to be appearing.
Except for a couple, but they might still come to pass.
The entire group remained silent for several minutes.
“Something strange is going on,” Klep admitted.
“Kadin mentioned something happened at a jewelry store,” Jewelletta said. “Do you think we could go there, see it, and talk to those still alive? I am an expert on jewels which is how I got my name.”

“Then let me escort all of you there.” Klep rose. “Maybe you can spot something our security people didn’t see.”
“Edvar and I will stay here,” Mahanna said, staring at her son who nodded.
With Klep in the lead, they left them house and walked through town. Everyone stopped to stare at the little group who trailed after the chief councilor like ducklings after their mother.
The briny breeze whipped through Radolf’s hair as the aroma of sweet ginger and cinnamon custard like his grandmother used to make drifted from The Grumpy Talkor.
Light brown wooden boards had been placed across the windows of the jewelry shop. Klep tried to open the dark, brown door, but when it didn’t open, he rattled it before pounding on it.
“We’re not open,” a deep male voice said.
“I know,” Klep said. “But I have some people who want to talk to you and might have an idea who the thieves were.”
The entrance opened, and a short, balding man stood on the other side.
“Oh, Klep, it’s you,” he invited. “Be wary where you step. I haven’t gotten all the glass cleaned up.”
Klep stepped inside with Jewelletta second. She swept her hand around, spoke a few words, and all the glass ended up in a pile in the corner.
The man’s blue eyes widened. “Thank you,” he stammered as the others walked in. However, his face turned ashen as he spotted Vidad. “So you caught one of the thieves. But why bring him here?”
“While he is a Savaecus, he’s not one who stole from you,” Klep said. “And I didn’t catch them, Ortis.”
“Oh.” Ortis gulped.
Klep introduced the quest. “Now take a good look at Vidad. Does he look anything like any of the renegades, because that’s who they were.”
Ortis inched his way closer to the bodyguard, trembling. He started at top of the man’s head and paused at his face, and then continued examining him like the bodyguard was a side of meat he wanted to buy.
He glanced back at Vidad’s face and stared. “Though he resembles one of the crooks, he isn’t the same one. The robber had a dark, brown mole under his left eye.”
Vidad parted his lips, touching them with his fingers. “Oh, no,” he exclaimed. He shook his head. “I think I know who you’re talking about. Oh, Khlorae, what has he gotten himself into!”
“Who is it, dear?” Chrystella grabbed his arm.
“My brother, Valtora,” Vidad said. “He’s in his late twenties and has always had a tendency to get into trouble.” He turned to Radolf. “Where you able to get a good look or any kind of look at whoever stole the neckulet?”
Radolf fidgeted. “No, I’m sorry. The two men wore hoods which covered their heads and faces, not to mention it was rather dark in the hut. Moonlight was the only light.”

“Well,” Jewelletta said. “It seems we now know who one of the outlaws was. But who was the other?”
“And who is behind it all?” Klep said.
They all gazed around at each other as if they would find the answer there.
I believe Jewelletta knows who’s behind all of this, but for some reason, won’t tell us.
Maybe by divulging it, she will have to acknowledge something she doesn’t want to admit.
Could it be that evil sorcerer, Jamari, Quin mentioned?
Quite possibly, and she’s hiding something about him she doesn’t want us to know.
What makes you say that?
Call it intuition.
“I think it’s time we left Ortis to his job,” Klep finally said.
Ortis turned to Jewelletta. “Thank you again. You made my work easier.”
They turned, followed Kelp out, and returned to his house. An aroma of fish stew filled the house.
Once everyone was seated with more tea, Klep asked, “Where are you headed now?”
“Eventually, our destination is the Veda Community,” Jewelletta said. “We must cross the plains, go through a part of the Ventrifico Forest. I’m not sure what else is between there and the Kanballi Jungle.”
Klep rose and left the living room, coming back with a large piece of paper.
“The Ventrof Swamp,” Edvar said.
“Hmm,” Jahm said. “It was only a marshland, but that was over a decade ago.”
Klep spread it out on the coffee table. “This is a map with the latest information I have.”
Jewelletta and Jahm moved the table closer as Radolf sat on the floor to the right side and Vidad squatted on the left.
“There are many dangers in the swamp,” Edvar warned. “The plants are not mindless, but seem to think.”
Radolf and Chrystella shuddered.
Edvar continued. “Vines have been known to grab people and swing them around, sometimes dropping them in water for the reptiles to eat, or on a hillock, or maybe in a tree. There’s quicksand too, not to mention huge birds, mosquitoes, bushes with thorns, and a plant that spits. It’s not venomous, but it causes a nasty rash.”
Chrys shivered. “I don’t think I want to go through there.”
“It’s either that or go back the way we came,” Jewelletta said. “And we would have completely lost their trail, not to mention the time it’ll take “She shook her head.
“Then there are the ghostly lights and sounds that try to lure you away as if they can read minds,” Edvar added.
“You’re just full of good news,” Jahm grumbled.
“Just giving you fair warning as to what to expect,” the man said.
“And we appreciate it.” Jewelletta glared and Jahm and scowled. “Is there a safe path, a main trail, we can take that’ll keep us away from most of those nasty things? Who made this map?”
“Kadin’s brother did,” Klep said. “Jontwill. He should be able to give you more information.”

A knock sounded on the door, and Mahanna rose to answer it. She returned with Kadin and a man who had Kadin’s light brown eyes and long brown hair.
“I came to see how you were getting along,” Kadin said. “This is my brother, Jontwill, but call him Jon.”
“Nice timing,” Jewelletta said. “We were just discussing the swamp and its hazards.”
“Find a place to sit,” Mahanna said. “I’ll bring a pitcher of tea, glasses for your two, and refill everyone’s glass.” She left.
Kadin introduced everyone.
“Why don’t we adjourn to the big table where we can spread the map out, and everyone can sit comfortably?” He sipped his tea.
Everyone nodded, stood, picked up their glasses, walked to the table, and sat, though Kadin picked up the map and spread it out on the table. Mahanna returned with a pitcher of tea and glasses. She filled ones for Kadin and Jon, refilled the others, and found a seat.
Jewelletta asked Jon the same question she had Edvar.
“Yes,” He said then drank some fingleberry tea. “You’ll need to gather supplies to get you through the swamp. From here, you’ll cross the plains.” His right index finger moved across the map as he spoke. “There are small animals you can catch to eat but little water. Again, in the forest, you’ll find food. Gather as many pieces of wood for fires in the swamp. Right before you come to the marsh, fill your waterskins with fresh water, and wash. It stinks enough in there. You don’t need to add to it.”
They all laughed and drank their fill before Jon continued.
Pointing again to the map, the young man traced his finger across the paper. “This is the main trail. As long as you stay on it, you’ll be all right. There are other paths, but I suggest not exploring them unless you happen to need to rescue someone.” He withdrew a quill and inkpot from his pocket and filled in other tracks, dangers, and waterways. “There is a bit of marshland before you get to the swamp. At the edge of the prairie, you’ll find a safe lake to catch fish, bathe in, fill waterskins, and camp beside.”
Jewelletta fished out a piece of parchment. “Please make us a list of what we will need.” As she handed it to him, she asked those from Militar, “Do any places in town accept barter?”
Mahanna grinned. “Everybody does.
“Good,” Radolf said, opening his pack and pulling out the special bag. From that, he extracted a pink shawl, two yellow wool scarves, and three pink scarves. “That’s the last of the things my grandmother made I can contribute to our supplies.”

Mouths dropped opened, and eyes widened to the size of platters.
“I thought you gave us everything in Sildar,” Jewelletta said.
“Figured I’d better hold some things back,” he explained and smiled.
“That shawl will probably get you everything you need at Frojo’s warehouse,” Mahanna said, regaining her shock.
After Jon had finished his list, he gave it to the sorceress.
The brothers finished their drinks, bid farewell, and left.
About that time, everyone’s stomachs growled as if they planned it that way.
“Let’s clean off the table, set it, and eat,” Mahanna said as Jewelletta picked up the map.

“We have room for everyone to sleep.”
The next morning Jahm and Jewelletta set off with the list and Radolf’s contributions to gather what they would need for the next leg of their journey.
Overloaded, they returned sans the shawl, but with enough to fill everyone’s pack several times over.
While Jewelletta refused to give up her robes for the trip, she did agree to wearing socks and boots. The others added both those and green and brown tunics and pants to their wardrobes.
They spent the rest of the day stuffing everything into backpacks, spent another night in Militar, and left the next morning.
They walked long days, stopping only when there was only enough light to see to set up camp. Taking Jon’s advice about getting clean and refilling their waterskins, they stayed just outside the marsh,
Radolf wrinkled his noise at the stench of decaying plants and animals that wafted on the breeze. Chrystella sneezed.
“Hope you’re not catching something,” Jewelletta said.
“Me either.”
Jahm led them into Ventrof Swamp, followed by Jewelletta, Radolf, Anarra, Chrystella, and lastly, Vidad. Mud squished under their boots. Vines slithered around them like snakes on the black trail. They had barely gone five miles in when a green plant spit something purple at Radolf’s left arm. He screamed.
Everyone stopped. Jewelletta turned and examined it.
“It burns,” the young man said as a red rash emerged.
Jewelletta unfastened a bag hanging from her right, brought out a jar, opened it, and dipped two fingers in it. She covered the rash with salve. Radolf cringed at her touch.
Something large blotted out the sun. They glanced up to see a black bird screech, grab the princess in its talons, and fly off toward the left.

Chapter 24
The Ventrof Swamp

By krprice

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

Vidad shoved the others aside as he sprinted down the mud.
“Stop him, Jahm,” Jewelletta shouted. “Anarra, help him.”
The duo sped off.
Jewelletta spread a bandage across Radolf’s arm and put away her supplies. “Is that better?”
“Yes, he answered.
“We’d better catch up to the others.”
They ran a short distance and found Anarra in front of Vidad, growling and baring her teeth.
“Let’s examine the map.” Jewelletta retrieved it from her robe and opened it.
They gathered around her as best they could on the foot-wide path.
First, Jahm slapped at a bug, then Vidad and Radolf.
“Do you have anything for these biting insects?” Jahm scratched at a bite.
“Yes,” Jewelletta said. “And we should have put it on before entering this place.” She took off her backpack, opened it, and fished out two jars, handing one to Radolf and the other to Jahm. They unscrewed the lid and started spreading it on themselves, and then each handing one to Vidad and Jewelletta who had put the map back into her robe.
Sufficiently covered, she removed it and unfolded it.
Birds squawked, and something plopped in water. Radolf jumped.
“There’s a stream we have to cross in a few miles,” Jewelletta said. “And a river a short distance from that. The first route leading in the direction the bird flew is several miles from that. I’m sorry Vidad, but we won’t find her today.”
He snarled and turned his back.
Jewelletta stuck the drawing back in a pocket, signaled for Vidad to watch their back, and motioned to Jahm to start their trek again.
Some seven miles later, they forded the stream. As they stepped into the river, several huge fish swam up to them, their mouths open, long teeth as sharp as daggers. While Jahm, Radolf, and Vidad stabbed them with special spears, blue bolts shot out from all ten of Jewelletta’s fingers as three reptiles, their jaws with jagged teeth tried to grab her robes floating in the water.
Radolf took deep breaths as he slashed at the fish. Fortunately, Jahm and Vidad had managed to clear a path, and the youngster stuck his lance into a reptile’s mouth long enough for Jewelletta to toss several red slashes at it. He yanked it out, and they all jumped to safety.
 Water dripped from the bottom of their clothes, turning what little of the hard ground into a muddy mess.
Shoulders slumping and weary feet dragging, they stopped for the night as the sun had starting to set. Anarra slipped off to hunt. They ate venison and cheese and sipped some water before laying out sleeping bags.  When the dailam returned, Jewelletta set wards so nothing would bother them.
After a cold breakfast, they marched on. Radolf snapped and swatted at the bugs who didn’t bite them, but buzzed around, making an annoying sound.
A track going northwest stopped on the main trail. They followed that.
“Wait,” Jewelletta called. She plucked three thorns from her right arm and grimaced.
“I’ll get your ointment,” Radolf said. He flipped up the flap her pack and found it right on top. After opening it, he dipped out two fingers full and rubbed it over the affected area.
“Thanks,” she said as he put everything away.
Maybe two dozen steps away, a vine swung down and snatched Jahm up. It swung him around like he was a rag doll.
“Jewelletta,” he shrieked his voice fading as he dangled from it as it veered toward the northwest part of the swamp.
Radolf shook. Who was going to be next?
Stay calm. We won’t be able to rescue them if we panic.
Radolf hugged Anarra and then Jewelletta. Vidad kept his distance.
“All right,” Jewelletta said. “Do we continued on in the direction of Chrys or go after Jahm?”
“I vote, that is if this is up for a vote, we continue in the direction we were headed.” Vidad crossed his arms over his chest.
“But we need Jahm,” Radolf countered. “Especially his tracking and fighting talents.”
“I agree with Radolf,” Jewelletta said.
Do I get a vote? If so, I agree with you and Jewelletta.
Radolf grinned.
“What’s so funny?” Vidad snarled, glowing at the young man.
“Anarra asked if she had a vote,” Radolf answered. “If she does, she agrees with Jewelletta.”
“Of course she has a vote,” the sorceress told him.
Vidad said nothing, only raced down the path.
Shrugging and rolling her eyes, Jewelletta motioned for the other two to follow.

Vidad’s baritone voice rang out in anguish.
Anarra ran ahead of Jewelletta and Radolf. She barked.
He’s stuck in quicksand and sinking fast.
Radolf passed on the news as they sprinted toward the noise.
The duo found Anarra standing in front of a circle of quicksand with Vidad about a foot in.
Radolf pulled his pack from his back, opened it, and yanked out a piece of rope about twenty- four inches long. He tossed it to Vidad who caught it.
The dailam sank her teeth into it. Jewelletta stood behind Anarra and Radolf behind her.
“On three,” Radolf said. “One, two, three.”
.Having been used to picking up sheep and quanyas all his life, Radolf had developed muscles. He used all his strength to pull on the rope. The sorceress began grunting, but Radolf tugged harder until Vidad climbed from the quagmire, flopped on the mud, and let go of the rope.
Both Anarra and Jewelletta dropped it. Radolf yanked it toward him, shook off any mud and quicksand, rolled it up, and shoved it into his backpack.
“You shouldn’t have taken off like that. I hoped you’ve learned your lesson about running off in unfamiliar territory.” Jewelletta waved her index finger at him.
Having been at the receiving end of her chastisements, Radolf figured she glared at the bodyguard also.
Vidad hung his head. “Yes, you’re right. I’m just so worried about Chrystella.”
“I understand that.” Her voice softened. “We all are. Now let’s drink a bit of water, walk until dusk, and then settle down for the night.”

All three had slumped shoulders and were dragging their feet as they set up camp near a lake.
The hairs on Radolf’s neck stood up, and his skin prickled as he stared at the water.
“Something is not right,” he said.
“You’re imaginings things,” Vidad said as he brushed the quicksand from his pack.
Radolf remained silent, but his gaze darted around.
I feel it too. Just be careful.
After a cold supper, they laid down to sleep.
Radolf awoke during the night. He sat up and climbed from his sleeping bag.
Come to us. We will take care of you. Something said in a sing-song soprano voice.
It was coming from the lake. He put on his boots and walked in that direction.
Despite wearing footwear, mud squished between his toes. Radolf glanced down, but
still he wore his boots.
We love you and will keep you safe.
Radolf smiled as he walked along the lake.
If you turn left, you will get to us faster.
The young man did as requested walking into the water.
Moments later, something with teeth tugged at his pants, trying to pull him backward.
Ignore any attempts to keep you from us.
Someone picked him up, dragged him from the water, and slapped him.
Radolf shook his head as if trying to clear the sing-song voice from it. He blinked several times before he kept his eyes open. Anarra licked his face, and he petted her.
“What happened?” Jewelletta asked.
“I heard a female voice inviting me to join them,” he explained and rubbed his head. “What or who was it?”
Jewelletta stared into the water and then said, “Water Fae. Many centuries ago, a nasty sorcerer created them to lure the vulnerable to them.”
She gazed out into the lake and raised both hands. Lances of blue and green burst forth. As they struck the water, it bubbled up. Steam rose as if it was boiling.
Female shrieks rent the air for several minutes before they stopped.
“While that didn’t kill them, it will take them decades, maybe even centuries, before they have the abilities to ensnare other people. Let’s try to get some sleep.” Jewelletta spun around and led them back to their camp.
You rescued me, didn’t you?
I woke and noticed you were gone.
Thank you. He hugged her and lay down though it was quite a while before he fell asleep.
After breaking their fast, they trudged their way through the mud, stopping when Vidad hollered and held out his hand.
Jewelletta plucked the thorns from it as Radolf fished out the salve from her backpack and opened it. She slathered it while Radolf closed it up and stuck it back where he found it.
A vine swung toward Vidad, trying to grab him. He managed to dodge it near the bottom of a tree.  Chrys’ voice rang from the top. However, as the bodyguard sprinted toward it, a gray feline with dark blue spots snapped at him.
“What is that?” Radolf asked, his heart raced and his legs shook like leaves in a rainstorm.
Radolf wobbled as they backed away and huddled.
“A zetara,” Jewelletta answered.
“What do we do now?” Vidad fidgeted.

Chapter 25
More Rescues

By krprice

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

Anarra barked and ran to the left. They all followed and climbed up to a grassy hillock.
“How are we going to get her?” Vidad asked. His lips and chin trembled.
“I can climb that tree,” Radolf said.
Jewelletta and Vidad stared at him. The sorceress lifted her right eyebrow while Vidad scratched his jaw.
“I can see you don’t believe me,” Radolf commented before telling them about his regular rescues of Kona. “However, we need to get that zetara away from the tree somehow.”

Use food.
Radolf passed on Anarra’s suggestion.
“All right,” Jewelletta said. “Vidad and I will lure it away.”
And I will stand guard by the tree.
“Yes,” Radolf said out loud and told the others Anarra’s comment.
The sun was barely over the horizon, so after they broke their fast, Jewelletta emptied all the backpacks onto the sleeping bag and sorted through everything. Vidad and Anarra left to hunt not only food for the zetara but for the dailam also.
While he couldn’t get close to the tree, Radolf studied it from a distance since they were higher up now than when they encountered the zetara.
Several hours passed before the hunters returned.
“We found an inordinate number of small animals to use as bait,” Vidad said, displaying his catch to them. “And Anarra located a dead zetara which she feasted on.”
The trio ate lunch, and then Jewelletta distributed the items left from the backpacks.
“I’ll carry Radolf’s pack and my own,” Jewelletta said. “He doesn’t need that weight to impede his climb. Vidad will have enough to lug since he will have the animals.”
Jewelletta and Vidad stood and walked down the hillock. Radolf watched as they threw two small animals at the zetara. It ran to them and devoured them.
As they duo moved backward, they tossed more food at the feline. It continued to follow them.
Radolf retrieved his rope from his pack and tied one end around his waist.
Once they were out of sight, Radolf and Anarra sprinted to the tree.
Hold this end in your teeth. I’ll pull on it or ask you to release it when I want it.
The young man dangled one end in front of Anarra who took it between her teeth.
 He pulled the Savaecus dagger from his boot, stuck it between his teeth, and jumped up to the first branch, swinging his leg over it as he had done many times in the valley. From there he reached toward the next, slowing ascending the tree.
With one more branch left between him and Chrystella, the black bird screeched at him, diving down toward him.
Once it got close enough, Radolf clung to the tree with one hand, extracted the dagger from his teeth with the other hand, and stabbed at the bird. He managed to hit its stomach. Screeching again, it flew off.
Eyes brimming with tears, Chrystella stared at him.
He returned the dagger to his boot, and then tugged at the rope. Moments later he had the whole thing.
“Tie this around your waist,” he told Chrys, handing her the one end Anarra had been holding.
Once she had done that, he extended his hand. She took it.
Slowly moving down a branch, he instructed her how to clutch the trunk or branch and swing her leg over.
Halfway down, Jewelletta yelled, “We’re back.”
Chrys untied the rope from her end. “Vidad, catch me.”
She jumped and landed right in his arms.
As quickly as he could, Radolf descended the tree, untied the rope, and coiled it up.
“Here’s your pack,” the sorceress said.
He stuck the rope in, closed it up, and swung it onto his back.
“We’d better get away from here before the zetara returns,” Vidad said, still holding the princess.
They walked the rest of the day, crossing a river before camping.
It was late the next afternoon when they spotted Jahm on a hillock with swampy, bogging land on three sides and six zetara on the other.
“There’s too many to lure away this time,” Vidad said, setting Chrys down.
“Then we need to come up with another solution,” Jewelletta said, pointing back in the direction they had come to figure things out.
After they had eaten, Radolf kept glancing from one side of the zetaras to another. An idea started to form in his head.
“What do you find so fascinating?” Jewelletta asked.
“There is a pond on one side of the dry ground on which the zetaras stand, and a lake on the other,” he said. “They are just big cats, and cats hate water. Is there a way for you to magically dig a channel large enough to keep them from crossing yet make sure there is enough land for us to rescue Jahm and get across safely?”
“We’d have to distract the zetaras,” Vidad said.
Anarra, did you eat all the dead zetara or leave any?
I left quite a bit, and I can give Jewelletta a visual image of where it was.
“I have a suggestion for that.” Radolf took a sip of water then told the others what he and Anarra had spoken of. “Jewelletta, is there some way for you to transfer what was left over to the zetaras? He pointed to those on the spit of land between the pond and the lake? And, Vidad, do you have any animals left?”
“I have three,” Vidad said.
Jewelletta closed her eyes for several minutes.
Vines whipped through the air as birds dodged them, cawing at the green menace.
She opened her eyes, chanted a few words, and the remains of the beast plopped down a foot from them, a blue dome around it. “Thank you, Anarra, for the excellent picture of the location.”
Radolf figured it was to keep not only other predators away but the smell. The latter didn’t much matter as everything and everyone stunk here.
“I also checked on the one who was guarding the tree. It’s limping badly.” She paused, then said, 
“Evidently, it tangled with something. We might as well settle down for the night. I’ll think about your suggestion, Radolf, but I suspect it’s something I can do.”
Jewelletta arose and set wards while the others found their sleeping bags and climbed in.
Everyone arose with the sun. As the humans finished eating, Anarra walked into camp dragging a corpse of a partially eaten zetara topped with several other smaller animals.
“She’s been busy,” Jewelletta said.
Some more food for the zetaras.
Thank you.
More than willing to do my part.
Radolf relayed their conversation.
“I’ve come up with an idea, but first we need to distract the beasts,” Jewelletta said. “Pack everything up, so you’re ready to leave when I give the word.  I’ll do the rest, including rescuing Jahm.”
Once that was done, Jewelletta removed the wards and the dome. She pointed at the two dead zetaras, lifted them in the air, and floated them to the creatures before dropping them. The zetaras dashed to the food, pushing, shoving, and fighting each other.
With them busy, she stuck her right hand toward the ground by the lake and chanted. It was marshy anyway, so slowly water trickled from the lake into the channel Jewelletta was digging. The piece of land was only twelve feet wide. As she prodded more mud away, the trickle turned into a larger flow, more like a swift stream. With more shoving, the last of the mire gave way and poured into the pond. Jewelletta took a deep breath before widening the waterway.
“Get across now,” she shouted.
Vidad picked up Chrys and galloped across the foot-wide piece of land with Radolf right behind him. They stopped well beyond the new waterway.
Jahm must have been watching everything because as soon as Jewelletta paused in front on the hillock, he climbed down. Then he hugged and kissed her.
They hiked for three days before they left the swamp and the marshes. The next several days were long, eating berried filled crackers for breakfast, stopping only to rest and water at lunch, and smoked meat and water for dinner. They camped, spending a couple days to wash themselves, their clothes, and hunt and smoke small animals since their food supply was running low.
 One evening, Jewelletta asked, Jahm, “What do you remember about the Kanballi Jungle? Are there any ruins where we might find information?”
Jahm winced and sighed as if this telling was inevitable. “It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been there. I don’t remember any ruins, but the whole jungle is a mass of vines and overgrown bushes. Could have easily hidden or camouflaged not only ruins but a whole army.” He shrugged. “It’ll be tough going and very slow. The Kanballi tribe has traps set throughout and not just for food. They hate visitors.” Jahm picked up his waterskin and drank deeply. “I’ve heard someone built a city there five hundred years ago. These tribesmen feel it’s their job to protect it from being discovered or destroyed.” Taking a deep breath, he continued. “There are mosquitoes by the millions, and several plants not friendly to humans or animals. If you’re determined to go there, I’ll lead the party.”
Radolf grimaced at the mention of more bugs.
“I can draw you a few pictures of traps we’re liable to find, and I’ll take rear guard,” Vidad volunteered.
“That’ll help,” the sorceress said. “I want to get an early start in the morning. And I do mean early.”
“Before the sun?” Radolf asked.
“No, but as soon after daylight as possible. How far to the jungle, Jahm?” Jewelletta asked.
“About twenty-five miles,” he said.

“Take another bath, scrub your clothes.  I’ll dry them magically, and you can pack them,” She suggested.
Two days later, they entered the jungle. Vines tangled along the path, ready to trip some unsuspecting soul who failed to watch where they walked. The dirt trail dwindled until it became a path. That too thinned as it wound between immense bushes and trees, until they followed a mere suggestion of a track. The vast, damp foliage hid the jungle’s inhabitant’s spying eyes.
Birds chattered to each other above their heads, and noises of scrambling animals added to the noise.
Anarra moved away and shook the water from her fur.
“Thanks for moving away.” Jewelletta squeezed moisture from her long locks.
“Guess the sun can’t get through this greenery to dry things out.” Radolf looked up at the leafy canopy in time to get a few drops in his eyes. “Well, I guess I could use another bath . . . “
They all laughed.
“As could the rest of us,” Jahm said.
“Just a minute,” Vidad said. “Look at any area large enough to hide a pit underneath. That’s one way of trapping food–human and animal.”
“You don’t seem the least bit scared, Vidad. In fact, you’re quite confident,” Chrystella said.
Radolf’s stomach battled with his breakfast.
Don’t worry, Radolf, I’ll protect you.
“Chrys, I grew up learning these things, even practicing them. I don’t condone it now. It’s a reality I’m used to.” He patted her arm.
Jahm nodded. “What else should I look for?”
“Search the ground for vines strung and hooked to a tree with leaves covering a net,” Vidad said.  “That’s a favorite.” He explained some more things and added, loud enough for everyone to hear. “There’s no way we’re going to move through without being heard. It’s dark in here, even in daylight. Anarra, would you be willing to join Jahm in the lead? We could use your ability to see in the dark. Did you hear and understand what I told Jahm?”
Please tell him yes. I’ll help any way I can.
Radolf passed on the message.
Anarra moved to Jahm.
Phew, whatever passed this way sure smells, and I’m not particularly fussy about odors.
Radolf relayed the comment. They chuckled, but Radolf’s insides quivered as his chest tightened.
The deeper they drove into the jungle, the darker it got.
“Those mosquitoes have decided to make me their breakfast.” Radolf slapped at another one. 
“Stop,” Jewelletta ordered and pulled the same two jars of salve from her pack she did back in the swamp. She handed one to Jahm and one to Chrystella.
After everyone had rubbed it on themselves, she stuck them back in, closed the pack, and motioned for Jahm to start walking.
“I can barely see where I’m going.” Jahm grumbled.
“Shush,” Jewelletta chided. “Maybe we’d better join hands to keep from getting separated.”
“Good idea.” Jahm grabbed the sorceress’ hand.
The others complied, though occasionally broke the hand chain to smack another bug.
“I feel like we’re being watched,” Chrystella whispered.
“Me too,” Radolf said.
“Me too what?” Jewelletta turned her head to the youngster.
Radolf told her what Chrystella said.
“My instincts tell me the same thing,” Jewelletta said. “They’re probably waiting on us to make a mistake.”
We are being watched, and from what I can see, they don’t plan on inviting us to dinner unless we are dinner.
Radolf chortled.
“I don’t find anything funny about our situation.” Jewelletta’s harsh tone came through.
Radolf told them, hoping to break their doom and gloom mood. Jahm, Jewelletta and Vidad laughed, but Chrystella stayed silent.
The dark canopy overhead remained an angry black.
“A little light would help,” Jahm complained. “We could see better.”
“Look at it this way, Jahm, if we can’t see far, neither can they,” Vidad said.
“It’s not what I can see that bothers me. It’s those plants Vidad mentioned earlier. I can’t see what’s strung along the ground,” Jahm grumbled.
“That’s why Anarra is there,” Jewelletta reminded him. “Now be quiet. We already sound like a herd of horses.”
They crept through the dense growth. Creatures serenaded them as a thin mist fell.
Radolf gazed up, shaking his fist and pulled his damp clothes from sticking to his body. All he got was another eyeful of water. “What is that stench?” Radolf growled. “Smells like rotten meat.”
We have company.
Two bright green eyes glowing like polished jade glared at Anarra. It stood possessively over a dead bear blocking the path.
“Least we know what stinks,” Jahm said. “What do we do now?”
The quest moved to the side of the trail.
The black cat jumped over its meal and aimed for Anarra’s throat. It only ate fur as the dailam darted out of its way. The fight continued with the panther managing to get the best of Anarra.
“She needs help.” Jewelletta raised her hand to throw of a lance of lightening at the enemy.
Radolf grabbed the sorceress’ arm. “Anarra’s proud. If you help her too much, it’ll hurt her pride.”
“Better she loose a little pride than her life.” Jewelletta tossed a bolt of blue, singeing the panther’s tail. It looked up and retreated, as if not interested in tangling with whoever used its tail as a fire target.
Radolf raced over and hugged her. You did fine. I love you, Anarra.
I love you too, and please thank Jewelletta for me. Again, she saved my life. Let me clean myself, and we can go on. Anarra paused to lick her wounds.
Radolf told them the message, and when she finished cleaning, they walked on.
Later Jahm and Anarra stopped. The dailam examined the ground, sniffing it. 
Avoid this spot.
 Radolf passed the message to the others.
As they moved into a small clearing, Jewelletta fidgeted. She wiped her hand over the back of her neck.  
“Watch out,” she warned. “I have a feeling we’re in danger.”        
She had hardly spoken when she tripped over a vine. A net rose and enveloped them, swinging as it lifted them twenty feet off the ground. Chrystella screamed.
They were tangled amongst each other. Radolf’s left hand had landed on Jewelletta’s left boob. She grabbed it and threw it off. While Chrys’ right hand rested on Radolf’s crotch. He gently lifted it and laid it by her side. The princess’ left hand clutched Vidad’s arm as if it was a raft in a storm-tossed sea.
Radolf swung his hand around to look outside the net.
Anarra, where are you?
Safe and hidden. They don’t even know I’m here. I’ll follow you to wherever they take you and see what I can do to help.
He decided to keep that information to himself until he could pass it on without anyone but the five of them hearing him, though he doubted the cannibals could understand him. 
 Fifteen men dressed in loincloths appeared, aiming nasty pointed spears at those imprisoned above.
“Looks like our luck ran out.” Jahm glared. “Can’t you do something, Jewelletta?  Strike them down, anything.”
“Well yes, but who would get us down?” She stared at him.
Radolf gulped and gazed at their captors, whose mouths salivated hungrily.

Chapter 26
Jungle Savages

By krprice

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

“Talk to them, reason with them, Vidad,” Jewelletta asked. “Tell them we merely want passage through the jungle.”
“Reason with a cannibal?” Vidad’s eyes widened. “You’ve got to be kidding. These savages won’t listen.”
“But you do,” Chrystella said. “And you’re Savaecus.”
“I’ve also benefitted from living in Aderra and getting some education,” Vidad said. “My tribe isn’t known for its intelligence. Most are ignorant.”
“Please, Vidad.” Jewelletta’s emerald eyes had a haunted look. “At least speak to them.”
“All right.” Vidad grimaced and gave in. “I can’t make any promises.”
In his own language, he explained the situation.
The natives jumped up and down, all talking at the same time until one finally barked out a command.
“Their dialect is an unusual form of Nolado, but this is what they said.” He translated it.
“We have been waiting for you. Some of our people came earlier and said you would be following. We are to make sure the boy and the black-haired witch die. They are a danger to our people.”
“Oh, great.” Jewelletta pushed strands of hair behind her ear. “Must be that duo who created havoc at the jewelry store in Militar.” She sighed. “Well, what are they going to do with the rest of you?”
Vidad posed the question and received a quick answer.
“Since we travel with you, we’re to suffer the same fate.” Vidad wiped sweat from his eyes.  “Might as well let them get us down. Can’t do anything until then, and I have an idea. Don’t do anything until I give the signal. Radolf, tell Anarra to stay out of sight. She might be the one to save us.”
“Already done.” Radolf said.
The one who talked with Vidad shouted an order. Men pulled on several vines. Slowly, the net lowered to the ground. Their hosts pointed spears at them before they untangled themselves from it.
Each cannibal grabbed a quest member. With the pointy end of the spear, they nudged them in the smoke’s direction. Jewelletta and Chrystella went first, followed by Vidad, Jahm, and Radolf.
I’m behind you, staying just out of sight. Once I know where you are, I’ll hide until we can figure out how I can help.
“Hey, that hurts.” Chrystella pushed the lance away from her buttocks. “Keep your nasty weapon to yourself.”
“He doesn’t understand you, Chrys,” Vidad said. “Save your breath and don’t antagonize them.”
“Hope they fill their bed with shit,” Chrystella snapped.
Radolf fought to keep from laughing, but Jewelletta turned, blanched, and shook her head. 
At the entrance to the village, two shrunken heads perched on poles.
“Their guardians?” Jahm asked.
“Probably earlier guests. Hope that isn’t our fate.” Radolf shuddered.
“It will be if we’re not careful,” Vidad warned.
Their captors tied each to separate poles. 
Vidad twisted his wrists and groaned. “Don’t try to free your hands. You’ll only hurt yourself.  Be quiet. Our chance will come.”
The females of the tribe scurried around the animal roasting on the large fire. It crackled and leapt higher as fat dripped into it. Each female cut off a chunk, put it on a wooden platter with some vegetables, and took it to a man.
“Bet I know who the man of the house is in this tribe,” Chrystella growled.
“Same in my tribe.” Vidad and his companions watched the activities.
“Wonder if we’ll get fed?”  Jahm asked. “Don’t they respect that custom?  Give the condemned a last meal?”
“Doubt it.” Vidad took a deep breath.
After the meal and clean up, the females brought out headdresses along with rattles and black masks.
“Looks like we’re in for a show,” Radolf said. “But I’d rather be fed.”
“So would I,” Jewelletta said. “My stomach is grumbling.”
“I know.” Radolf tried to lighten the mood. “I can hear it way over here.” He was three posts from her.
“Don’t complain. Yours hasn’t been quiet either.” She continued with the teasing.
This stab at humor didn’t help his frame of mind, but it helped to strengthen their camaraderie.  If only Jewelletta could get her hands loose, she could give them some real entertainment. Well, I hope Vidad’s plan works. We’ll only get one try. 
“Radolf, where’s Anarra?” Jewelletta’s question brought him from his reverie.
“Right behind me, in the bushes. She’s watching everything.” Radolf tried to twist around to look at her.
“We’ll need her help later. Ask her to look for those ruins,” Vidad said. “We’ll probably have to hide there once we get free.”
“She’s already found them,” Radolf said. “They are at the southern tip of the jungle, near the Mavi Ocean. And she knows the quickest path.”
“Can’t do anything till they’re asleep.” Vidad shot a warning glance to Jewelletta. “And don’t try any magic. I’ll get us out of this.”
The sorceress shrugged. “Looks like our show’s about to begin.”
They focused their attention on the natives. The men wore black masks and headdresses, plumed with deep purple, fiery orange, red, bright blue, dark green, or canary yellow feathers. They moved into a circle and chanted.
“What are they saying, Vidad?” Jewelletta asked, ever curious. “Give us a running report.”
“Actually, I can’t understand anything. They’re speaking in another language, but it sounds familiar.” Vidad leaned his head closer, as if that would improve the situation.
“It’s Veldestra,” Chrystella announced. “I heard Vanall speak it a couple of times.”
“Who’s Vanall?” Jewelletta asked.
“The Vijanden ambassador,” Chrystella told them.
Vidad shook his head. “That’s why it sounds so familiar. Veldestra is Vijand’s native language.  These people really have gone back to their roots. I wonder where they learned it? We never spoke it in my tribe. Nolado is an offshoot of Veldestra. After all, we are descendants of the Vijanden who stayed here when they came conquering a thousand or so years ago.”
“Only five hundred,” Jewelletta corrected him and returned her attention to the activities.
The men sat in a circle, and each drank from a bowl. First, they stiffened and swayed to the tempo of the beating drum. The fire leaped higher, dancing and crackling as it spewed fiery sparks into the black night.
“Looks like some kind of worship service,” Chrystella commented.
“It is.” Jewelletta watched closely. “Now I know the language, I can pick up a word here and there. Can you, Vidad?”
“They’re worshiping some dark goddess named Kaynora,” he announced. “She told them to guard the ruins.”
The fire died, and they came out of their trance, moving in pairs with women to various huts.  Soon, everyone except for two men speaking in hushed tones, deserted the village.
“What are they saying?” Jewelletta asked.
After a few minutes, he said, “They’re speaking in rapid Nolado, sprinkling their conversation with some Veldestra. The tallest man is our guard. We’re to be sacrificed at sunrise to Kaynora in a temple in the ruins.”
“Do you know anything about their sacrifices?” Jewelletta inquired of Jahm and Vidad. “What can we expect?”
Jahm grimaced. “Torture is their usual practice. Rather not go into detail. I’ve seen the results of their sacrifices, and they’re not pretty. They don’t always kill you. Seems Kaynora likes her sacrifices still breathing when they join her. Wherever she resides.”
Icy feet danced down Radolf’s spine. He stared at the dying fire.
“Never seen the results of sacrifices, and I’m not anxious to start now.” Vidad looked over at the guard leaning against another pole. “He’s going to make our escape more difficult.”
“We need our weapon and supplies,” Jahm reminded.  That is, if they’ve left us any.”
“Radolf, have Anarra scout for the weapons,” Vidad asked.
He asked her, and she said yes. He told the others.
The sky overhead cleared and turned to an ebony dome littered with shining stars. Mageron’s two moons cast their silvery aura over the jungle. An evening breeze sprang up and rustled through the branches. Frogs and other nocturnal creatures tuned up for their evening concerto.
I found the weapons .They have two guards on them. I sneaked into the back of the tent. I don’t know if you’ll be able to retrieve them.
Radolf told the others.
“Could she get them for us?” Vidad asked, and Radolf questioned Anarra.
Too hard for me. However, when you get free, I’ll gladly attack the rest of that meat still hanging over the fire. I’m hungry.
Radolf chuckled. So are we. He relayed the message.
“We don’t want to wake the whole camp if we can help it,” Vidad said.
“Might not have much choice,” Jewelletta said. “Where is the tent, and in what direction do we have to go to get there?”
“South end of the village, and we have to pass it to get to the ruins Anarra said,” Radolf told them.
“Remind me to thank them for putting our belongings so conveniently on our route.” Jewelletta’s sarcasm came through. “If we’re going to do something, let’s get started.”
“Radolf, have Anarra chew through the vines on our hands,” Vidad said. “Find out which way we go from here.” 
Anarra’s tongue washed Radolf’s hands. It tickled, and he laughed as she chomped on the vines. 
It’s a small tent off by itself.  You shouldn’t have any trouble finding it. 
The vines dropped away. He told the rest as he untied his feet. Anarra chewed on Jahm’s bindings next.
“Remain as if you’re still bound,” Vidad said. “We have to move together. Jahm, Radolf,
and I will get the weapons and knock out the guards. Chrys and Jewelletta head for the ruins.”
“Anarra says the path behind these bushes lead straight to the ruins. The temple is off to the left.  Stay away from that.”
Once the dailam finished Jahm, she moved over to Jewelletta, Chrystella, and Vidad. Each got rid of the vines.
“Ready.” Vidad cut through the bindings of everyone’s feet.
Everyone nodded.
Their guard slumped near a tent, half-asleep.
The small group slipped into the dense brush. Narrow and overgrown, the trail forced them to walk single file. Nightly creatures whistled, hissed, or scrambled around.
At the tent, Jewelletta and Chrystella continued to the ruins. Anarra scurried back along the trail.
I’m going to get some of that meat. That should keep the guards busy while you recover the weapons.
Shouts rang through the village. The two guards ran back to see what was happening.
“Thank you,” Radolf said as they slipped inside the tent and gathered their belongings.
Someone yelled in Nolado, others answered.
“They’ve discovered our escape.” Vidad helped Radolf put his pack on. “Better get
going, or we’ll have company soon.”
They grabbed everything and darted away as someone screamed.
Anarra joined them back on the trail.
“They know where we’re headed.”  Vidad ran ahead. 
“Hope there aren’t any traps along the way.” Jahm adjusted his pack.
“We’re in too much of a hurry to worry about it. Just pray Khlorae is watching out for us.”  Radolf’s breath came in gasps.
They entered a large clearing dotted with ruins. A small dome shaped building stood off to the left. The temple. Need to stay away from that.
Anarra led them through an entrance into crumbled, yellow stone maze covered with greenery and dirt. Dodging vines and various shape and sized boulders, they wove their way into the center. Jewelletta and the princess sat on the remains of a stone bench. Animal droppings added to the jungle’s damp aroma.
A mass of decaying a jumble of stone surrounded them.
“This must have been a large room.” Jewelletta arose, turned around as shouts rang from the other side of the walls
“They’ve found us.” Jahm set his pack down. “But don’t worry about their coming in here. The only place they use is the temple. They think this place is haunted.”
“And how do you know that?” Jewelletta put her hands on her hips. “I doubt they volunteered that information.”
“A friend of mine, who knew enough Nolado, managed to escape and told me.” Jahm winced. 
“He’s dead now.” Jahm hung his head and turned away, but not before tears rimmed his eyes.
Jewelletta closed the distance between them and spun him around.
“Cry if it’ll make you feel better.” She pulled him into her arms.
The dam burst, and the tears flowed. Several minutes later, he dried his eyes.
“I’m better now.” He pulled away. “I’ve gotten your robe wet.” He brushed at it as if the wet spot would rub off easily.
“Don’t worry.” She straightened her robe. “It needed a wash.”       
Everyone grinned, but Jewelletta turned serious again.
“Do you want to talk about it?” She and Jahm sat on the bench.
They all found a seat.
“Same story I told you in Sildar.” He recounted it for the two newest members. “It was my fault.” Jahm buried his head in his hands.
Jewelletta embraced him again. 
“Jahm, I lost people during battle. Some were my best friends.” Vidad sighed. “When you’re in command, you have to make decisions that sometimes get people killed. You learn to live with it. It isn’t easy.” His voice cracked, and he lowered his eyes.
Radolf watched and realized though these confessions were difficult, they bonded them. We’re going to need this closeness if we’re going to retrieve the neckulet. Even more so if it is time to build the Starcastle. He gazed skyward through the hole in the ceiling, wistfully wondering if that wasn’t their ultimate destination.
“Hadn’t we better eat something and sleep?” Vidad asked.
“Do we have any food left?” Jewelletta joined the others as each pawed through their own packs.
“I’ve got two breakfast bars,” Radolf said.
“Only a bit of smoked kangrella,” Jahm said.
Chrystella and Vidad said the same thing.
“Before we leave, we need to get food or something to get to Veda.” She rose. “I’ll take the first watch. Get some sleep.”
The others climbed into the quanya skins and snored.

Chapter 27
Writing in the Ruins

By krprice

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.
Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of language.

Well past midnight, Jewelletta shook the mercenary. “Jahm,” she whispered.
Sleepily, he looked at her and pulled her into his arms. “I’m glad you’ve decided to curl up to me, Jewelletta. I was getting cold.” He buried his face in her raven hair.
Jewelletta smiled at first, comfortable in his arms. This is where I’d like to be. She let her yearnings get the best of her. I must stay in command of the group until Radolf is confident to lead. “It’s your turn for guard duty.”
Sheepishly, he cleared his throat. “Go to sleep, Jewelletta. I’ll keep watch for the rest of the night.” He caressed her hand.
She returned the gesture and climbed into her own skins. I need him more than I realize but to openly acknowledge it now would prove disastrous for us. I must stay in control of myself. That’s what made me a Majutsu Master. It will serve my purposes again.
With that thought, she drifted asleep.
By the time Jewelletta awoke, sunlight shone through the cracks in the walls. The others sat in a corner whispering to each other.
“It’s about time you got up.” Radolf grinned broadly. “You’re lazy this morning.”
“And you weren’t up half the night keeping watch.” She smiled, walked over and hugged him.
Even if I can’t accept Jahm’s affections, I can show my feelings for Radolf. He’s gotten to be like a son to me.
Radolf returned her hug and kissed her on the cheek. She needs the closeness as much as I do, and Jahm is more than willing to provide it to her. Why won’t she accept it?
Someone needs to guide us, Radolf, until you’re ready. Jewelletta is the oldest and wisest.
What makes you think I’ll be guiding us someday?
Instincts, and I, like Jewelletta, have learned to trust mine over the years. Just don’t worry about it. Grow and learn. Now where’s breakfast?
“Anarra’s complaining about being hungry.” Radolf gazed into the dailam’s twinkling blue eyes.
“And I’m afraid she might decide to sample us for breakfast if we don’t feed her soon.”
“She’s not the only one hungry,” Chrystella said. “If I remember right, none of us got any supper last night. Lunch was a long time ago. At least, she got a mouthful of meat last night. That’s more than we got.”
“We don’t have much of anything to eat,” Jewelletta said. “Go hunt, Anarra. You’ll have a full stomach then.”     
She barked and ran from the ruins.
Someone shouted in Nolado and Veldestra outside the ruins.
“Our friends are back,” Jewelletta grumbled and arose. “They don’t give up, do they?”
“They are very persistent.” Vidad brushed dirt from his pants and stood.
“Can you understand what they’re saying?” Jewelletta turned to Vidad.
“They want us to come out,” Vidad said
“Sorry to disappoint them. I’d rather stay safely in here.” Jahm stretched.
The others nodded in agreement.
A grin spread across Jewelletta’s face. “Jahm, did your friend happen to say what the goddess Kaynora looked like?”
“No, and I don’t have the faintest idea either.” Jahm looked at her. 
“Don’t look at me.” Vidad shrugged when the sorceress’ gaze turned his way. “I never heard of her until last night.”
“You have an idea?” Radolf asked.
“A germ of one anyway,” Jewelletta said. “But we need to find out what she looks like. If we can, I think maybe I can get us food and freedom.”          
“Surely there should be a likeness of her in the temple,” Radolf commented. “I’ll go find out.” 
He rose as Anarra bounded in.
“No,” Vidad ordered. “I’ll go.  If you get caught, you won’t be able to defend yourself. I can speak the language enough. Anarra, will you come and be my guard? You can tell Radolf what I find if I don’t happen to get back. The rest of you can get out safely.”
Chrystella jumped up and threw her arms around him. “I don’t want you to go. Please be careful.” She kissed him.
Several seconds later, they broke apart. Vidad grinned. “Be back soon. Come, Anarra.”
Vidad crept from the rear of the ruins, carefully stepping over vines that could trip a person up.  He circled around back of the temple, searching for an entrance. Something rustled near him, and he slipped into a clump of bushes. Two tribal men dressed in long gold and crimson ceremonial robes appeared. The tallest tapped on a stone three times, and when a door opened, they entered.  It closed behind them.
“Looks like we’re going to have to do our snooping quickly and get out fast,” Vidad whispered to Anarra. “Well, at least I know how to get in. Maybe we won’t have to go far to learn what we want.”
Vidad looked around; no one approached them. He crept to the stone and touched it three times like the priest did. It slid open, and he and Anarra stepped in. His gaze darted around for possible trouble. When it closed, he turned around to find out how it opened. He pushed down on the handle, and the door opened again. 
“Our way out,” he murmured.
He and Anarra stood in a workroom. Statues in various stages of completion cluttered the tables and shelves. Vidad ambled along the wall, examining them. He hoped to find out what the dark goddess looked like.                               
“Keep an eye and ear out on that door,” Vidad warned. “I don’t want our captors to find they have unexpected company nosing around their temple. Don’t think they’d take kindly to that.”
He finally came upon a picture at the far end of the room. A beautiful nude woman with fiery red hair and blazing green eyes opened her arms as if welcoming a lover. In front of her knelt a nude man, gazing up at her, his eyes glazed with lust. Underneath the caption read, “Kaynora and Krator.”
He slammed his fist on the wall as anger built within him. He searched the room only to find more nude golden statues of the goddess passionately entwined with different men in the act of love.
“Let’s get out of here before I destroy this place.” He spat and strode to the door. Vidad opened it, stepped out, and disappeared in the brush.
Adrenaline rushed through him like water over a waterfall, and blood pounded inn his ears as he ran for the ruins. He took deep breaths, trying to put that room and all its defiling art as far behind him as he could. Before entering, he paused and took another deep breath as Anarra sprinted in.
“Where’s Vidad?” Chrystella’s asked.
“Right here.” He came up from behind and hugged her. 
Radolf embraced Anarra.
“Did you find anything?” Jewelletta paced.
“Yes,” he answered. “But you won’t like what I’ve found. Kaynora and Khlorae are the same goddess only they’ve managed to distort Khlorae and everything she stands for.” He told them what he had seen.
Radolf’s eyes narrowed, and his jaw tensed. He cursed them in Spatali.
“Radolf, I know how you feel but. . . .”  Vidad started, but Jewelletta cut him off.
“Let him get it out of his system. You were furious when you came in. I guess it was for the same reason. If it would make us all feel any better, why don’t we all tell them what we think of their goddess.”
While others spat a few curses, Radolf still spewed off degrading names by the time the others finished.
“Are you almost finished, Radolf?” Jewelletta asked. “I need to get on with my plan.”
He grinned. “Yes, I’m quite finished. Actually, I ran out of names to call them.”
“Now I can cast an illusion on the front of the ruins and instruct the Kanballi to allow us safe passage through the jungle.” 
“You think it’ll work?” The youngster inquired.
“That’s a stupid question,” Jewelletta scolded. “If I didn’t think it would work, I wouldn’t try it.”
Radolf hung his head. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“No, as a matter of fact, no one can help.”  She strode to the corner. “Leave me alone, so I can make my exact plans.”
The others sauntered to the far side and discussed their chances of getting out alive.
A short time later, the Kanballi shouted at them again.
“I sure hope she’s ready. I know your friend said they don’t come in here, but with our luck, this might be the time they get enough courage to brave the ghosts,” Vidad said.
Jewelletta left her corner and strode to the largest part of the ruins shielding them from the natives. She raised her arms in the air and chanted in magic’s secret language.
Outside, the natives quieted and intoned, “Adoree Kaynora.”
“I’m going to see what’s going on,” Vidad said.
“Be careful,” Jahm warned. 
Vidad slipped out the back again, stepping over vine-covered stones. He stole around the ruins to the brush in front. Crouching behind a large bush, he peeked over.
A sea of green-skinned Kanballi, on their knees, continued their intonation.  On the front wall, a woman in the image of Khlorae/Kaynora appeared. Fiery red tresses streamed down her back like a bright red waterfall. Her green eyes glared in anger like highly polished emeralds. Her skimpy halter kept her voluptuous breasts from spilling over, and the same material barely covered her feminine triangle. The fabric matched her eyes.
One of the natives whispered to the one next to him. The second rose and darted to the temple.  A few minutes later, several priests, garbed in the same ceremonial robes he had seen earlier, joined them. They knelt, paying their respects.
Vidad recognized Jewelletta’s voice. “You have displeased me, my servants. You must not always believe everything your friends from the outside tell you. They have misled you. From now on, listen only to my commands and forsake those who do not dwell in my realm. Those people you captured are my Chosen Ones. They are on a mission known to only me. Your actions might have put my plans in danger. Feed them, give them provisions, and let them leave safely. Is this understood?  Is there anyone out there able to speak to me?” The phrase came out with a touch of frustration and disgust.
“Oh, Your Eminence, Lady Kaynora.” A gray-haired priest raised his head to speak. “I am Vidallia, your most humble priest. We are intolerably sorry and ask forgiveness. Your mercy is great, Your Eminence. How must we atone for our sins?”
“Your promise to not disturb them except for food, drink, and safe passage is all I require. After all, you were led astray. Leave all food, water, and travel provisions at the entrance of the ruins.  Only cheese, bread, vegetables, and cooked animal meat will suffice.”
“We will do as you asked,” he said.
“If you anger me again, I shall wreak havoc on your jungle. Keep the faith and trouble me no more.”
The goddess vanished. The jungle citizens rose and left.
After everyone had gone Vidad returned to the interior. “That was quite a performance, Jewelletta.”
“And I need to rest. It took more strength than I expected.” She collapsed. Jahm picked her up and laid her on her skins.
Jewelletta awoke several hours later to the smell of food.  She sat up, yawing and stretching.  Jahm and Vidad brought several platefuls of delicious aromas in the ruins. She stood and walked to the rest of her friends.
“Looks like the natives made good on their promises of food,” she sat. “And I’m starved after that difficult magic this morning.”
“Jewelletta to the rescue.” Radolf raised his bark mug. “What would we ever do without you?”
The others joined in the toast and drank. Jewelletta let the cool water slip down her throat. She bit into the meat. Musky and tangy, she decided it was some kind of wild boar.
Her gaze wandered to the walls. Someone scribbled all over them. She fidgeted, anxious to find out what it said. 
After eating, Jahm returned their wooden platters to the front, but kept the cups and pitcher of water. He brought back twelve packets of jerked meat. 
“Divide this among the packs. Hopefully, they’ll bring more.” Jewelletta strode briskly to the wall and pulled away the vines. “Help me clean this stuff off.”
They removed vines. Chrystella brought her some water, a rag, and passed out more to the others. Jewelletta scrubbed away centuries of dirt.
As they exposed more, Jewelletta jumped around. “I can’t decipher all these. But this one says neckulet.” Jewelletta wiped away more dirt.
“I have a steady hand,” Chrystella said. “And I have seen runes like this before.”
“Where? Can you tell us what they say?” Jewelletta asked. Her tone echoing a bit of breathlessness as her heartbeat increased.
“In some of the things my cousin Davanor brought back from Susjed. He studied at the university there. But I don’t know what they mean,” she answered.
A hush fell over them. Jewelletta’s shoulders slumped.
Radolf brought out paper, ink, and quill. “Here, Chrystella.”
She took them and copied as the rest cleaned off the walls. The sun barely peeked through the ruins when she handed the copy to the sorceress.
“We bring more food, water, and provisions as promised,” someone shouted. “Tomorrow when we bring breakfast, we will have freshly baked bread and goat cheese.”
“Thank you,” Jewelletta said in her Kaynora voice.
Once the noise outside quieted, Vidad and Jahm got the provisions and brought them in. Anarra left to hunt. At first, everyone ate in silence, but finally Jewelletta spoke.
“We leave first thing after breakfast. I know where we can get the runes deciphered.”
“Where?” Jahm asked between bites of meat.
“The monastery in Yasak Cliffs. It’ll be a hard climb. They should have old books of ancient writings in their library. I was there once though many years ago.” She paused to take a breath.
“That’s in the Tolsada Mountains,” Jahm said. “We have to go over them anyway to get to Veda.”
“I’ve heard of strange things happening at the Mavi Ocean. I should like to see if they are actually happening or if someone made them up. We go past it on our way to the cliffs.” Jewelletta said.
Jahm suggested, “If we’re going to get any early start, we’d better pack and get a good night’s sleep. I know the trail between here and the beginning of the Yasak Cliffs. It isn’t hard traveling. However, the foothills and the cliffs themselves are treacherous. And we’ve still got to make it through the jungle with its dangerous plant life.”
“You’re right.” Jewelletta handed her trencher to Jahm. 
He and Vidad left them outside. Anarra returned from her hunt too.
“How far are we to the edge of the jungle, Jahm?”
“Not far, but maybe Anarra should scout for us.” He drank some water. 
Anarra bounded from the ruins.
While she was gone, they packed more supplies and unpacked their sleeping skins.
She returned some time later.            
“The main path is only a short way from here,” Radolf said. “It’s a few miles to the end of the jungle and the Mavi Ocean.” He hugged Anarra.
“Thank you,” Jewelletta said. “I don’t think we need a guard tonight.”
Like the others, the Radolf crawled into his sleeping skins, but his mind spun like a child’s top.
The legend did not mention the Mavi Ocean, but maybe Vatara’s awakening affected it. Or was it the other way around? An earthquake in the ocean? Hmm.  
That whirled around until he fell asleep, too tired to ponder the problem anymore.        

Chapter 28
The Holy Fathers

By krprice

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

They rose early, ate a quick breakfast, packed their belongings, and prepared to continue their journey.
“Jahm.”  Jewelletta stuffed some more provisions in her carisak. “How long will it take to get to the monastery?”
“At least two to three days. That is if we don’t have to fight off any more savages or animals.  We’re all exhausted and will be more so once we get into the foothills and begin the climb.” He pulled out his dagger and cleaned his nails.
Radolf fidgeted, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Vidad and Chrystella paced. 
“Jahm, you and Anarra lead,” Jewelletta said. “You two know the way out.”
The sorceress followed the duo, then Radolf, Chrystella, and Vidad. Jahm kicked small pebbles out of the maze of tumbled rock and stone tangled with vines and overgrown brush. They finally left the ruins. The sun shone through the tall cypress trees. They hovered over them like protective hens fearful of sharing the golden rays with anything else alive in the jungle.
With their path free of brush, only waist high grasses and numerous green flora blocked their view on either side. Vines grew like tentacles from several large plants. A small animal wandered into one, and vines closed around it in less time than it takes to blink, capturing it.
“That’s a polypen.” Vidad pointed. “To an animal, the center looks good to eat. It lures them in.”
Chrystella shuddered, and Radolf looked at the green canopy above.
“Let’s get moving.” Jewelletta tapped Jahm on the shoulder.
They walked on.
Chrystella swung her head from side to side as if afraid something might jump out at her. 
She screamed. Vidad picked the fragile princess up just in time to elude the dangerous plant. He jumped over it. As he did, she shrieked again, not knowing who or what had her.
 Vidad’s hands encircled her waist, suspending her in mid-air. She looked down at the others.
Those in front spun around. Jahm had his sword out as Jewelletta raised her hands. Even Anarra, showing her teeth, growled as Radolf pointed his dagger at them.
“What happened?” Jewelletta put her hands down.
“I wasn’t watching where I was going,” the young woman stammered. She shook, still scared after her experience. “I stepped to the side. Stinging nettles closed about my foot.”
Vidad put her down and embraced her. He explained what happened.
“Are you all right?” He stroked her hair.
Chrystella clung to him as if she had fallen off a cliff, and he was the rope to safety. She took several deep breaths before she could breathe normally.
“I will be.” She took his hand. “I wasn’t watching where I walked. I was so afraid something would leap out at me. I didn’t expect to find anything dangerous on the path.” She smiled. What a dumb thing to do, she thought. You were beginning to prove you could hold your own, and then you pull a stupid stunt like that. The young princess shook her head.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” Jewelletta gazed intently into her eyes.
“Yes. I was scolding myself for being so dumb.” Warmth crept up her face.
“We all make mistakes, Chrys,” Jewelletta said. “Just learn from it. That’s what’s important.”  Jewelletta strode to the princess and hugged her.
She returned it. Jewelletta hugged Vidad and Radolf before returning to her position.
Jahm placed his hands on his hips. “Where’s my hug?” His brown eyes locked with Jewelletta’s emerald gaze for a few minutes, and he smiled.
She gave him a big bear hug and pulled away. “Satisfied?”
“No, but that’ll have to do for now.” He turned and led them on.

Two days later, at the edge of the jungle, a salty tang drifted on the ocean breeze. It ruffled the bushes and the trees, flowing through them as it lovingly caressed each and every leaf and branch. The sea pounded the shore as if it was mad at it, but the sand, like a battered wife, welcomed it back, longing for its kiss of white lace before it left again, only to return a short time later. 
The ground shook. Miles away Vatara boomed. The sea withdrew, and the waves came closer.  Something’s happening, Jewelletta thought. She watched the water, mesmerized by it, frozen like a snow statue. Someone pushed her back into the jungle. An enormous wave crashed down where they had been standing, splashing everyone
Jewelletta came out of her reverie. Jahm had his arms around her. She tried to untangle herself from him, but he held her firmly.
“Let me go,” she demanded.
“As long as you promise to stay away from the ocean,” he said. “You almost got yourself killed.”
“That wave was on top of us before I realized it.” She shivered.
More waves followed the path of the first.
“Better get out of here before another one like that hits. It’s building again.” Jahm let go but tugged her hand. “I don’t like the idea of being trapped between killer waves and those cannibals.”
“Here comes another one,” Vidad shouted.
They dashed into the plains that ran to the foothills of the cliffs. In the distance, Mt. Vatara spewed ash into the sky. They took a moment to dry themselves.
The line about the volcano kept playing in her mind, like a favorite song. An earthquake wasn’t mentioned in the legend, but neither were giant waves. She mulled that over.
Gray residue covered the sky. They spent the night at the mountain’s foothills and started early the next morning.
The next day the terrain changed. The path zigzagged like a maze through large boulders and rocks, blocking their path. They were forced to work their way around the boulders or skirt the whole area.
“This way looks best.” Radolf stopped at a fork in the path and pointed to the right.
“I don’t think so.” Jahm stood with his arms across his chest.
“It isn’t as rough as what we just climbed. See all those stones we’d have to avoid if we took your path.  Besides, there’s nothing on the left side except open air and rocks at the bottom. 
Mine has a sturdy mountain on one side and trees on the other.”
Not giving the others time to decide, Radolf charged up his chosen path, Anarra barking at his heels.
He looked back to see Jahm running after him, and the others following.
A short time later Radolf’s stepped over larger rocks. He put his hand out to steady himself and found only air. The mountain and trees disappeared. The youngster gasped at the ledge before him. A few inches wide, it looked as if it could barely support a young child.
He blushed when the others arrived.
“I told you so,” Jahm chided. “But you wouldn’t listen.”
“Did you know?” Radolf asked meekly.
“I didn’t know for sure but had heard of it. I knew it was up here somewhere. I didn’t know exactly where.” Jahm eyed the ledge. “We can’t go that way.”
“Vidad, lead the way.” Jewelletta scowled at Radolf as he returned to his place by Chrystella.
They camped in a small clearing at the fork and ate.
“We should reach the monastery tomorrow evening.” Jahm picked up jerky wrappers. “You can see it from here.”
Perched on the tip of the cliff, the monastery clung to it like a climber hugging the side of a peak.  The centuries old yellow stone monastery stood in all its decaying majesty. What little they could see was crumbling walls and large boulders, like a giant’s toys awaiting their owner to come and claim them.
The next morning, Jahm led them up the steep path to the stone structure. They dodged dirt and rubble on a path that skated along the left side. One side fell into nothingness while the raging Mavi Ocean pounded jagged rocks below, jutting from the cliffs like sharp, hungry teeth.
Radolf shaded his eyes from the glistening sun. Like the others, he couldn’t close his eyes to the glaring rays, or he would tumble to his death. A sharp wind blew off the ocean, its breath moist and salty.
Chrystella stumbled over a rock, gasping for breath. She reached for Radolf who looked around in time to see Vidad grab her.
“Jewelletta.” He screamed, but the wind carried his voice. 
The sorceress tapped Jahm on the shoulder, urging him to stop and turn around.  
“She’s exhausted.” Vidad held the princess in his arms. “Is there anywhere we can rest?”  Deep concern echoed in his voice.
“Jahm, you and Anarra, check ahead,” Jewelletta ordered. “My stomach’s growling, and I’m getting weary.” Her shoulders slumped.
Radolf, we found a clearing. It’s near the top of the climb. Tell the others to come.
He passed on the news and swung his head around. “Vidad, need any help?”
“No thanks, Radolf. I can carry Chrys.” He smiled.
The ascent got steeper. At one point, Jewelletta paused, gazing back at the others. Radolf held his own, though he panted. Vidad put one foot in front of the other, took a deep breath, and did it again.
Stumbling out of breath and almost crawling, Jewelletta plodded into the clearing. She collapsed next to Radolf. Vidad laid the princess down. He flopped next to her. A pregnant silence hung around the pine circle. Anarra already disappeared. Probably in search of food, Radolf figured.
Jahm moved first, unpacking lunch. “My stomach’s going to disown me if I don’t feed it.”
“Yours isn’t the only one.” Radolf managed to drag himself over to Jahm. He grabbed some dried meat and cheese and scooted his way over to Vidad. “How is she?”
“She’s out of it.” He took the offered food. “I hope she awakes soon.  She needs to eat.”
“If she hasn’t come around by the time I finish, I’ll see what I can do.” Jewelletta bit into a hunk of cheese. She washed it down with water.
“Thanks.” Vidad took a deep breath and followed Jewelletta’s example.
Toward the end of their meal, Chrystella opened her eyes. “What happened? Did I do something stupid again?”
Vidad and the others chuckled. “No, dear. Stay quiet.” He related the events.
She sat up and ate.
Anarra sprang into the clearing and ran to Radolf, knocking him over.
“What’s got you so excited? And where did you get all that energy?” He petted her.
We’re almost to the monastery. It’s right through those trees. And the climb isn’t as bad as what we just came up.
Radolf smiled and passed on the news.
“Good. It isn’t far.” Jewelletta brushed cheese from her robe. “I hope the Holy Fathers will let us spend the night. This evening will allow us to decipher the runes. We all need a few hours rest.  We should get it now.”
The little group cheered, and they settled down for a nice nap.
Jewelletta’s voice penetrated Radolf’s sleep. “Time to get up.”
Complaining, they rose, gathered their belongings, and fell in line behind Jahm and Anarra.
The walk through the woods kept what was left of the late afternoon sun off them. No boulders blocked their path as pines lined both sides of the trail beside them, bare of needles.
The monastery’s tumbling yellow walls revealed its age and decrepit state. It sprawled for at least a mile or so. The outer walls, which once hid the grounds and the main building, lay in pieces, leaving it vulnerable to attack from anyone who dared the dangerous climb. They located what had once been a wooden gate and entered the courtyard. Flagstones, brightly colored centuries ago now dung yellow, lined the courtyard. Dirt covered the famous Shrine of Khlorae, once the largest and most beautiful in the world. No life giving holy water flowed from her fingertips. Only stunted weeds entwined the goddess in a lover’s embrace.
Tears brimmed Radolf’s eyes. “My grandmother told me people from all over came here for water or to celebrate Khlorae’s birth and the beginning of the universe.”
“It’s sad, isn’t it? Mother came here as a little girl. She always remembered the trip as a highlight of her childhood.” Chrystella wiped her tears.
“Nothing we can do about it now. Maybe someday it can be restored to its former beauty,” Jewelletta said.
“I would command it if I ever sit on the throne.” Chrystella stood up to her full five feet height.  It had been a long time since she had referred to her rank.
“Let’s see if we can find the Holy Fathers.” Jewelletta boldly walked to the wooden door and knocked.
After several minutes of waiting, she knocked again.
“Looks like no one’s home.” Radolf tried to lighten their mood.    
“They’re probably at the other end and don’t hear us.” Jewelletta tried the door; it opened. “I know where the library is. We’ll look for the Holy Fathers later.” She led the way. Only the clop, clop of the footsteps echoed in the long, dark hallway.
Chunks of wall dotted the hallway. Jewelletta muttered a few words, and a light fluttered in her hand. Rats skittered away as they turned right and left before entering the musty library. Radolf sneezed from all the dust.
“Looks like they never use this place,” Radolf commented after he blew his nose.
“Think you’re right.” Jahm took a rag from his pocket and dusted off a table. “I hope you know what to look for.”
“I do,” she announced and strode toward the stacks at the back of the library.
Returning with scrolls and books, the sorceress laid them gently on the table.
“Chrystella and Vidad can work on half of this when I find what I want. Radolf, can you write clearly?”
“Yes.” He dug through his pack for papers, quills, and ink.
“All right. Here’s what we’ll do.” She laid out the papers they had copied in the jungle. “I’ll search for the runes. When I find some mention of what we’re looking for, I’ll give them to either Chrystella or Radolf. After they copy them, Jahm and Vidad can clear away the books and scrolls, to make room for more. I’ll put them away.” She turned to the dailam. “Anarra, please hunt a way for us to get back down the mountain toward Aderra and Veda.”
Anarra ran out as the others set about their assigned tasks
“Who are you and what are you doing in our library defacing our holy books?” A tall mn, his arms folded across his chest, asked from the door way. His hazel eyes glared at them as he waited for an answer.
Radolf and the others started. They had been so engrossed in what they were doing, they hadn’t heard the monks enter.
Six more stood behind him clad in deep brown-cowled robes.        
“I am Jewelletta of the Majutsu tribe.” She stood.
Three Holy Fathers gasped at the gold band on the sleeve of her black robe. The others remained silent, including the one who spoke.
“We knocked at your door. No one answered.  Let me introduce them.” After the introductions, she continued, “Radolf seeks an heirloom neckulet stolen when his grandmother was murdered.  In our travels, we came across runes. I knew of your extensive library, so we came to decipher the runes.”
While Jewelletta spoke, Radolf quietly grabbed their papers and shoved them in his tunic.  Chrystella rolled hers up.
The Holy Fathers marched to her. “We do not care what ragtag you have dragged along on your ridiculous mission. You have invaded our privacy and our inner sanctum without permission.  For that, you will pay with your lives. Take their weapons and throw them in the dungeon. We’ll let you think about what you have done for tonight and tomorrow. In accordance with Khlorae’s wishes, you will be executed the next morning. You would be advised to pray for Her forgiveness.” He paused. “Take those papers from her.”
Before the closest Holy Father could snatch them, Chrystella stuffed them inside her pants slender pocket.
Helpless, he looked at his companion with a furrowed brow.
“Let her keep it,” he growled.
While they dealt with Chrystella, the sorceress snatched her papers and concealed them in her robe.
Radolf, Jahm, and Vidad took fighters’ stances, ready to battle. They glanced at Jewelletta. She shook her head, indicating they shouldn’t fight the Holy Fathers. Shrugging, the members let one guide him or her from the library.
The yellow walls remained the same with sconces lighting the way. The Holy Fathers escorted them down four fights of steps to the lowest dungeon. They shoved the members of the quest in a cell, and steel bars clanged closed. The lead one locked them.
Once they left, Radolf said, “At least they let us keep most of our belongings.”
“And keep what we’ve been copying.” Chrystella pulled her papers out, displaying them like prized jewels.
“We do have that.” Jewelletta wrinkled her nose at the odor of rat droppings.
Jahm peeked out of the tiny, barred window of their cell. “Quite a drop off. Why didn’t you let us fight them? We could’ve won even without your help. How are we going to get out of here?”  He banged his hand on the wall, squeezed his eyes shut, and turned his mouth downward.

Author Notes Sorry this is so long.

Chapter 29
Understanding The Translation

By krprice

“To begin with, I didn’t want to hurt the Holy Fathers. Any one of us could’ve easily overpowered them. Even Chrys, with a properly placed kick.” Jewelletta shook the straw pallet, trying to detach any vermin hiding within. “But I didn’t see any sense in hurting them.”
“So you let them imprison us.” Jahm spat and paced.
“Calm down, Jahm. We’ll get out of here. This place is in such bad shape, we could probably push on the walls, and they’d tumble down. Besides, we have two aces in the hole.”
She dropped the pallet and plopped on it.
“You and Anarra.” Radolf grinned as he slammed a pallet against the wall.
“Right. And speaking of Anarra, find out where she is. Let her know our predicament,”
Jewelletta said, “The Holy Fathers don’t know about her.” The sorceress paused and glowered. “Jahm, will you please stop pacing and sit somewhere.”
Scowling, he dropped to a spot in the corner.
Where are you, Radolf? When I got back to the library, it was empty.
We’re in a dungeon. Follow my thoughts and come to us. He explained what happened.
When she arrived, she stuck her head through the bar, and Radolf hugged her. Her pink tongue snaked out to give him a big slurpy kiss on his cheek.
I was worried about you.
What did you find out?
There’s a trail leading from the courtyard. It goes down the mountains toward the Olitta Plains.  Isn’t that where the Veda Community is?
I think so.
You did good work as usual. He petted her, turned and relayed her news.
“Yes, Veda is in the Olitta Plains.” Jewelletta walked to the tiny window. The sky darkened from twilight into night. She spun around. “Might as well forget about escape tonight. I want to look over those runes. Tomorrow we will leave. Radolf, Chrystella, what do you have?”
Jewelletta strode back to her pallet. They pulled out the sheaves of paper and handed them to her. 
She muttered a few words. A ball of light appeared, and she scanned them.
Reading aloud, she said, “Mageron’s Legend of the Starcastle.”
“But it’s just a legend, isn’t it?” Radolf sat back, wondering if what was really happening was more truth than fiction.
“Many legends are based in fact. Don’t dismiss something because you think it’s all a fairy tale.  Only part of it has been deciphered, but this is how it begins.” She paused, dug out her canteen of water, and drank. Once she put it down, she continued, “At the start of time, Khlorae made the universe. Blackness prevailed, void of light and life. She created the stars, the moon, the planets, and the light of our life, Eletvalo.” She paused, trying to read what Radolf had written. “It gets kind of sketchy, speaking of Mageron, Susjed, Remalga, and the Vijanden. We’ve only managed to decipher bits and pieces. From what I can read, Khlorae was unhappy with the way the Vijanden were developing. They tried to conquer other planets. That’s when she created stars that form the Starcastle.”
“Stars making a Starcastle?” Radolf raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, but whatever they are we’ll never find out, at least not here. We weren’t able to copy that part. Anyway, it destroys Vijanden technology.”
“How?” Radolf asked as the others gave her a questioning look.
The legend doesn’t say. It’s rather vague.” Jewelletta shook her head.
“Most legends are,” Vidad volunteered. “Please continue. You’ve roused my curiosity.”
“It can only be built every five hundred years.” The sorceress deciphered what she could, and read from the papers again. “When the time comes, specific signs appear on Mageron, Susjed, and Vijand to prove five hundred years had indeed passed for a confrontation. It gets kind of sketchy again. Three signs stand out from all the rest. First, a neckulet which has a Starcastle depicted in salstein on a herbonus background surfaces.”
“My grandmother’s neckulet.” Radolf fidgeted. “What does it say about that?”
“Again, Radolf, it’s incomplete. There are a couple of lines not interpreted, but would have been had we not been interrupted. The quest must begin on Mageron. Second, it speaks of the dailam.  All but two of their species die–a male and a female.”
“Anarra,” Radolf said.
Jewelletta looked up and rubbed her neck.
Anarra lifted her head up from where she laid down outside the cell. What about me?
Listen to what Jewelletta is saying.
“May I continue?” She glanced at the young man.
“Yes.” He nodded sheepishly.
“Thank you.” She smiled. “They must mate and travel with the leader to communicate with the central star in the Remalgan star system and build the Starcastle. That’s all I have. There’s another sentence or two about the dailam, but I can’t make it out. The third major sign is a female becomes heir to the throne.” Jewelletta hesitated and growled in frustration. “I can’t figure out what else it says, but there’s more.”
“But I’m not first in line,” Chrystella protested.
“I know.” Jewelletta changed papers to what Chrystella had written. “At that time, all planets, including the moons are in alignment.” She stopped and thought about that. “What havoc that would wreak on the ocean!”
They stared at her. They remember the Mavi Ocean, Radolf thought.
“Again, only bits and pieces here. Mass appearances of the unicorns appear in Rainbow Valley.  Swans nest at Lake Saphir.”
Radolf’s memory traveled back to Rainbow Valley, seeing the swans and the unicorns that attacked the sorceress.
Jewelletta stopped, her eyes glazed over as she stared at the wall.
“Are you all right?”  Jahm shook her and brought her from her reverie.
Regaining her composure, she continued, “Members of the five tribes unite for a common purpose. Work of the little people become crucial at this time. Chrystella’s work stopped there.  Guess we were interrupted.”
“This gives us something to think about, doesn’t it?” Vidad’s voice broke the silence of several minutes.
“I need to reread and absorb this.” Jewelletta said.
“There are lots of coincidences happening.” Radolf petted Anarra.
“Too many to be comfortable.” Jahm grimaced.
Again, silence filled the room.
“We’d better eat and sleep.” Vidad pulled his pack over. “We can plan our escape in the morning. How does that sound, Jewelletta?”
“Sorry, Vidad, I didn’t hear you.” She looked up from the papers she had been reading.
“I gathered that.” He repeated it as he fished out food.
“At least, someone is thinking straight now. I’m sure not.”  She shook her head as if to clear it.
Vidad and Chrystella unpacked the food and distributed it.  After eating, everyone settled to sleep except Jewelletta.
Jewelletta spoke a few words, and her light vanished. Sitting alone in a dark corner, she mulled over what she had read. I need to confer with the experts in Veda, she thought. Maybe they’ll understand and explain it to me. Mageron’s twin moons had long risen before she fell asleep.
Jewelletta’s voice woke Radolf. “Get up. This isn’t a luxury vacation suite. It must be vacated soon for its new occupants.”
Rubbing his eyes, Radolf glanced up at her. “You mean they cheated me?” He grinned. “Why those double-crossers! They promised me I could sleep all day and from what I’ve been through lately, I need the rest. I demand to see the manager.”
“I’m afraid he’s unavailable.” Vidad climbed from his pallet. “Probably busy killing off unwanted visitors.” He smiled.
The rest laughed, dispelling the trapped feeling.
“We need to figure a way out.” Jahm propped himself against the wall.
All of a sudden, he lost his balance. The wall collapsed. Anarra howled.
“What the . . . ”  Jahm cursed as he picked himself off the floor, brushing away crumbled stone and dust. 
Anarra stood and shook herself. He woke me up. I was having such a nice dream about the male dailam.
Radolf relayed her information, and they laughed.
“I think you found our way out,” Jewelletta said.
“We need our weapons.” Jahm shook his head to get rid of dirt swirling around.
“Anarra,” Jewelletta asked. “Please try to locate our weapons. Stay away from the Holy Fathers.”
The dailam ran from the dungeon.
“When she finds them, Radolf, you, Jahm, and Vidad get them. I think I know how to get out of the dungeon, know the path Anarra told us about. Chrys and I will meet you down the trail a bit.”
“How far down?” Jahm asked. “And how do you know the way out?”
“Remember, I’ve been here before. We’ll meet in a grove about a mile down and have breakfast there.” Jewelletta stuck the papers in her voluminous robe. “We don’t need the Holy Fathers to spot us.”
I’ve found the weapons. 
Once Radolf relayed the message, Jewelletta said, “Go and stay as far away from the Holy Fathers as possible.”
The men disappeared from the cellblock.
“Come. Stay close and be quiet.”
Jewelletta led as they climbed over the crumbled stone, leaving the cell and following the way the men had gone. Stone steps leading up had only a few chipped pieces. Nothing like the rest of the monastery, Jewelletta thought. At the top, she crept down a corridor, peeking each way when they came to a side passageway. Moments before she stuck her head around one corner, Holy Fathers’ voices floated in their direction.
“Into that room.” She shoved Chrystella in without even looking to see if anyone occupied it and shut the door.
Empty of people, boxes filled the library sized room.
Once the hallway became silent, Jewelletta peered out, and they continued their escape. A booming surf greeted them as they ran from the monastery. They darted down the path into a pine copse, heaving a sigh of relief. Chrystella and Jewelletta flopped on the ground.
“Wonder how the men are doing?” Chrystella asked.
With Anarra leading, the men found their weapons.
“Glad they’re not under guard.” Vidad strapped on his sword.
“Would not have wanted to go against Jewelletta’s wishes.” Jahm, too, put on his. “But if it came to them or me, I wouldn’t hesitate.”
“Me either,” the others whispered as Radolf got his on.
How do we get out of here?
Follow me. Anarra ran to the right.
“This way.” As Radolf led the way, a thrill dashed through him. It feels good being in front.
Right where you should be. Just don’t get too cocky and go off on your own.
Some of the excitement slipped way, like air from a balloon.
Anarra looked both ways before she continued.  Several voices rang ahead of them.
“In here.” Radolf indicated a room to their left.
Barely large enough to hold him and Anarra, the two larger men took deep breaths to squeeze in.
Vidad let his out. “Maybe we should all consider going on a diet.”
Radolf fought to keep from laughing. Jahm nodded.
Sounds of the Holy Fathers faded. Anarra looked out and left the room. The trio followed. Two robed Holy Fathers rounded the corner then. Their eyes widened.
“They’ve escaped,” one yelled. “Recapture them.”
Follow this corridor to the door. It’ll take you to freedom. I’ll distract them.
Not in any mood to argue, Radolf motioned to the men. They ran down the hallway.
Anarra growled, baring her teeth. Through their link, Radolf heard what was going on.
“A dailam. Where did she come from?” one asked.
“No time to ask. Come. Let’s get them,” his companion said.
“That’s not going to be easy with her between them and us,” a deep voice said.
Several Holy Fathers appeared.
“She doesn’t look too friendly,” the first one said.
“They’re getting away,” another said as the men disappeared out the door.
Come on, Anarra, we’re outside now.
Minutes later, she arrived and hid in the trees. The three men and Anarra dropped on the ground, carpeted with pine needles and gasped for breath.
While the men caught their breath, everyone ate. They traded escape stories. Once finished, they packed everything and began the trek down the cliffs.
The sound of the ocean diminished as trees marched on both sides of the path. The setting sun found them almost on the plains.
“We’ll camp here.” Jewelletta found a clearing hidden by tall bushes. “I rather doubt the Holy Fathers are following us. We’ve been in danger before. I think we’d better be ready at all times from attack. Too many unfriendly forces would like to see us dead.”

Chapter 30
Savaecus Village

By krprice

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of sexual content.

Radolf opened his eyes to the early morning sun rising like a giant yellow ball over the Tolsada Mountains. Sun beams peeked through the bushes surrounding the Quest.
“Get up.” Jewelletta called to the sleeping forms. 
Radolf shivered at the thought of getting out into the morning chill. Griping and groaning, everyone climbed from their portable beds, packed, and sought something that would quiet their grumbling stomachs.
Radolf wandered over last to claim some breakfast. Anarra.
I’m eating. Are you in danger?
No. Just wondering where you were. Enjoy your catch.
“Chatting with Anarra?” Jewelletta asked.
“Yes. She’s doing the same thing we are.” He bit into a rather stale piece of bread. He made a face. “Don’t we have anything better than this?” Radolf held it up.
“Best we can do for now.” Jewelletta soaked hers in tea.
“What kind of nasty folk are we liable to find between here and Veda?” Radolf followed Jewelletta’s example.
“None, I hope.” The sorceress sipped her tea. “Maybe our ‘friends’ are way ahead and forgotten us. At least while we’re in the plains, we can see them from a distance. No sneaking up on us. 
As we get closer to Veda and Aderra, we might encounter the militia after Vidad and Chrystella.”
“And we must keep them safe. They are part of our little group. We need to stick together.”  Radolf crossed his arms over his chest.
“We appreciate the offer.” Chrystella leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek.
His face tingled with warmth. Radolf turned his head away, pretending to look around the clearing.
After cleaning up their campsite, Jahm led them from the foothills, across the river, and into the plains. An occasional white puff scudded across the azure sky. The chilly autumn breeze combed through the tall, brown grass. 
As the setting sun painted the sky with orange and yellow stripes, they camped.
“Not much to hunt around here. I’m afraid we’ll have to make due with what we have,” Jahm said.
Each sat and searched their packs.
Radolf brought out two slim wrappers of venison. “This is all I have.”
“Maybe we should eat only breakfast and supper,” Jewelletta suggested.
“We can get trout from the river tonight,” Jahm drew a collapsible pole from his pack.
“We’re two maybe three days from Veda, depending on how quickly we travel and how many hostiles we meet.” Jewelletta looked over the foodstuffs and frowned.
Someone kicked up dust in front of them. Radolf froze.
“Company’s coming.” Jahm broke the spell. He jumped up and
 yanked out his sword.
“And they’re riding horses,” Vidad added, up and ready to fight seconds after Jahm.
Chrystella stuffed the food back in the packs.
“Jewelletta, can you see who it is?” Radolf helped the young princess stand.
The sorceress stood. She held her temples and transfixed her gaze on them.
She broke the spell and wobbled. Jahm caught her and steadied her against his own body.
“Savaecus,” Jewelletta said.
“Our renegade friends from the village?” Vidad fidgeted.
“A much larger party. Could they be from the main tribe?” She gave Jahm a kiss and pulled away from him.
“Possibly. They’re nomadic and seem to like the plains. Never understood why,” he explained.
“We’d better get ready for battle in case they don’t recognize you.” She took a deep breath.
“That might not be any good. The tribal leaders weren’t happy when my parents sold me to the royal family.” Vidad looked straight at her.
“Your parents sold you?” Radolf gasped.
“How do you think we get our guards?” Chrystella finished the food packing.
“Recruit them, hire them,” Radolf answered.
“We’ve been buying fifteen or sixteen-year-old males from them for years to be trained as palace guards,” Chrystella explained.
“Why don’t you hire them?” Radolf’s eyes met hers.
“Cheaper, I guess.” The young princess tried to defend the practice.
“But, Vidad, how could your parents sell you.  I mean . . . “  Radolf widened his eyes.. 
“They need money. My tribe is very poor.” Vidad’s shoulders slumped.
“Mine is too, but to sell your own flesh and blood . . . ” His voice trailed off.
“I understand how you feel, but we needed the money. And I was glad to be selected. It is an honor.”  Vidad stood straight. “From what I’ve heard and seen of life in the tribe, I was much better off. I got fed, educated, and taken care of. The training was tough, but my life was better than before I was sold.”
Radolf stood rooted to the spot as if planted.
“Radolf.” Jewelletta shook him.
“Sorry,” he apologized.
Jewelletta stuck her hand in her robe and handed acciderum to Chrystella. “You might need this.”
“Thanks.” Chrystella took it.
They formed their little circle and prepared for what might be an onslaught as the horses and their masters closed in and surrounded them.
Jahm struck first as one man charged him. Anarra couldn’t seem to get close enough to grab a leg. She barked and showed her jagged teeth as she stood in front of Radolf. The horses shied away from her, but ran afoul of Chrystella and her stinging tosses. They kept their distance from her too.
“Vidad, turn around,” Jewelletta shouted, ready to unleash a torrent of magic on the guard’s attacker.
He spun, sword in hand, ready to fight.
The man stopped about three feet in front and lowered his sword.  “Vidad Assall?”
“Yes, who are you?” Vidad stared at him.
“Visnell, your cousin,” he answered and yelled, “Cease fighting.”
Everyone halted, even Jahm.
Visnell and Vidad sheathed their swords. Visnell jumped from his horse. They walked to each other and clasped their hands in the traditional handshake.
“So what are you doing here? Last I heard you were a guard at the palace.” Visnell let go.
“Long story,” Vidad answered.
“Let’s go back to the settlement and talk about it. Your mother will be happy to see you,” Visnell invited. “We can double up, making room for your friends.” He gave the orders, and everyone changed horses.
Once everyone was comfortable, they rode away.
The scenery didn’t change much over the plains to the main Savaecus settlement. Volcanic dust spewed in the fiery orange glow of the sun.
Animal hide tents circled the settlement as people scurried around like a disturbed ant colony. 
Most gathered outside to gaze at the newcomers. Vidad waved.
Radolf’s mouth dropped open at the sight of bare-breasted women. He gulped and blushed.
What’s the matter?
The women are half naked. It’s embarrassing.
I would guess it is common for them.
But to expose themselves . . .
Radolf, we’ve seen many different customs since we’ve traveled together. Each tribe has their own and though you might not agree with them, you must at least respect them and not criticize them.
Mulling over what Anarra said, Radolf jolted to a stop. He looked around. Everyone dismounted.
“Radolf.” Jewelletta held the horse’s reins. “Are you going to stay up there? I think you’d be more comfortable down here.”
He blushed again and dismounted. “No, Jewelletta, my mind got sidetracked.”
“Quit staring. It isn’t polite,” she scolded in a whisper.
“Sorry.” He smiled at her.
“Who leads now?” Vidad asked.
“I do. Come to my tent. You can introduce your friends.” Visnell motioned them to a large brown tent. “Your mother should be along shortly.”
Radolf ran his hand over the animal skin. “What kind of animal did this come from?”
“Karova.” Vidad entered right behind his cousin. “Bit bigger than a goat or a quanya but with no horns. We use it for tents, clothes, meat, and food. They are native to Vijand and adapted easily.”
“Sit,” Visnell invited.
Karova hide mats covered the dusty floor. And I thought my tribe was poor.
Nomadic tribes must carry everything with them. They can’t have much unless they have wagons.
Vidad’s voice brought him from his talk with Anarra. He introduced each one, making sure his cousin knew they were all valued friends and Chrystella the most important of all.
All but Vidad settled in when a small, rather plump woman dashed inside.
“Vidad,” she screamed and ran to him. “It’s been so long.” She flung her arms around him, and he enveloped her.
“Mother, it’s great to see you. How are you doing? Have you seen Val lately?” He let her go with one arm but slipped the other between her body and her long auburn hair.
She frowned. “I’m fine, but Val was rather dead tired when he stopped by. On the run again and in trouble.” Her expression changed as her gaze swept over Chrystella. “Introduce me.”
He told his friend’s names and said, “This is my mother, Delnorra.”
“And what brings you here?” She snuggled him.
“A very long story, Mother.” He knitted his brows. 
Radolf’s stomach growled. 
“Guess I’d better feed you.” Visnell clapped his hands as Vidad and his mother found mats to sit on.
Women came in with large portions of meat along with potatoes, carrots, and mushrooms. They left and returned with cups of liquid.
Radolf shared his meat with Anarra. Two women came back in with huge slices of meat and placed them in front of the dailam.
Thank them for me.
He told them what she said. 
“This meat is tender with a bit of herbs, but I can’t place it.” Jewelletta paused in her eating.  
“Oh,” Delnorra said. “That’s my special mixture. I’ll share it with you if you’re interested.”
“I most certainly am,” Jewelletta said.
“And so am I,” Jahm commented. “I’m always interested in something new to be added to food.”
Radolf sipped the drink. “This is good. Just tangy enough. What is it?”
“Qualew. Grows all over the world, but indigenous to Vijand.” Visnell drank some.
Jewelletta scowled at the mention of that world. “We all know your tribe is the remnant of the people left some five hundred years ago. Do you stay in contact with them, Visnell?”
“No,” he said soundly. “We are the most backward and illiterate tribe on this world, so why would they want to have anything to do with us? They might be my ancestors, but I don’t want to live under their domination. Those savages only come to conquer.” He spat to the side.
“Yes, they do.” Jewelletta returned to her food.
“Radolf, the berries are small, round, and smoky gray. They are very bitter when raw, but get tangy when boiled and made into juice.” Vidad held up his mug and drank again.
“Thanks.” Radolf did the same. He looked at Anarra. “Could Anarra please have some water?”
Visnell clapped. “We got her food, but forgot something for her to drink.”
 Three women came in. Visnell spoke in his own dialect. They left and came back with two huge bowls and set them by Anarra. She drained one bowl and drank half of the other.
Anarra spoke to Radolf. He said, “She thanks you for the food and water.”
After eating, they each told their tale in turn, explaining how they came together. Jewelletta filled in many other parts.
“So we seek Radolf’s neckulet.” Jewelletta concluded the story.
“I’ve seen it.” Delnorra’s jade eyes blazed. “Or some kind of neckulet.”
“Where? When? Here?” Radolf dropped his jaw.
“Yes. Val had it.” She moved her hands about as she talked. “I told you he was up to no good.”
“We suspected he traveled with renegades. We have been trailing them around most of Mageron. He or another demolished a jewelry store in Militar and killed a young woman.”
“Oh, no.” Tears ran down her cheeks. Holy Khlorae, what am I to do with him?” She sobbed. 
Vidad held his mother.
“Val’s a grown man, at least by our standards. You’re not responsible for him. Somehow, somewhere he got tied up with the wrong people. But you said, he had a neckulet?”
  “Yes.” She described it in detail.
“That’s it.” Radolf jumped up as if ready to track it down. “And he or his companion murdered my grandmother.”
“Radolf, sit.” Vidad ordered, and the young man complied, hanging his head.
Be sensible. We need more information than we have now.
“Did you see which one killed your grandmother and which one stole the neckulet?” Visnell asked.
“No.”  Radolf answered. “Cowls hid their faces.”
“That good-for-nothing Vesto was with him.” Delnorra spat, as if saying his name left a foul taste in her mouth.
“Vesto’s been misleading Val for many years,” Visnell said. “I was away and didn’t see them when they came through.”
“Did they say where they were going, Mother?” Vidad wiped his mother’s tears.
“Aderra. Said they had something to deliver to someone there. I don’t know if it was the neckulet or not nor who it was for.” Delnorra took the cloth and finished cleaning her face.
“Probably stole it for someone.” Vidad eyed Radolf
“Like you said, Vidad, your mother isn’t responsible for Val’s behavior and neither are you.  If he did kill my grandmother, I will exact my revenge from him, not you.” Radolf petted Anarra to calm the raging storm within him.
“If we ever catch them.” Jewelletta stood. “We must leave tomorrow for Veda. Maybe they know something there.”
“Jewelletta, you and the princess are welcome to join me in my tent,” Delnorra invited. “I’m sure Visnell can make room for the men here.”
“I can do that,” Visnell said.
She rose with her son’s help. “Do you plan to marry?”
“Eventually, but not now,” Vidad answered.
Chrystella kissed Vidad, and Delnorra escorted them from the tent.  With stars overhead, the village quieted with a slight breeze ruffling their hair.
She led them to another large tent. Again, this one had only pallets.
“We have little to offer in comfort, but you’re welcome to anything I have,” Delnorra said.
“A place to sleep is all we ask.” Jewelletta yawned.
Delnorra disappeared and brought back four large skins. She laid them down.
Chrystella and Jewelletta undressed before lying down on separate skins and covering themselves with the other.
Delnorra blew out a candle. “Good night.”
The duo chorused the same.
Radolf let the information roll around in his head.  Evidently, Val and Vesto either stole the neckulet or had others steal it. And they were taking it to Aderra. Someone must have wanted it badly to send those two all the way to the Landetta Valley for it. Someone with power and money. Someone with connections to the palace. Bet we’ll find it when we get there. But who or what else will we find?  He let his mind drift, trying to answer that question. Exhaustion overcame him, and he fell asleep.

Chapter 31
Planning the trip

By krprice

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

Someone moving around awoke Jewelletta. She opened her eyes. Delnorra sat and combed her own hair. Climbing from her karova skins, Jewelletta chuckled.

"I thought I heard you." Delnorra walked to where the sorceress got dressed. Did I hear you laugh?"

"Yes, you certainly did," Jewelletta answered. "On our entire trek, I was always up first. The others accused me of waking the sun. I always had to roust them and believe me it didn't endear me to them." Jewelletta grinned. "It's nice to see someone gets up earlier than I do."

"I've been rising before the sun for years. It's as if I have an inner time clock that wakes me whether I need or want to get up or not. This old body requires more rest than it did when Vidad was a boy. He was a handful to keep up with."

"He still is." Chrystella climbed from the skins, smiled, and dressed.

"I'm glad he's found someone. I hope everything works out for you two. I'd like to live long enough to see my grandchildren." She ambled to the small fire and stoked it.

"So you want grandchildren?" Vidad entered. He kissed his mother, grabbed Chrystella, and gave her a big kiss. "Visnell sent me to get you ladies for breakfast."

"We shall go." Delnorra led the others from her tent to Visnell's larger one.

Someone laid bacon, boiled eggs, bread, and cheese out for them, along with tea and juice.

"It's about time you got here," Radolf taunted Jewelletta. "I'm starved. Anarra's already gone for her breakfast."

Jewelletta smiled. Have you been up long?"

"Too long. Would you believe Visnell gets up earlier than you do?" Radolf teased.

"And Delnorra beat me up," Jewelletta told him.

They laughed, and Visnell motioned for them to eat.

As they finished breakfast, several voices yelled outside the tent. Visnell rose and dashed to the door.

A man, blood dripping from his scalp, slumped on a horse. "I must see Visnell."

"Bring him into my tent," Visnell ordered. "And call our healers."

"I'm a healer," Jewelletta said. "I need my herbs and hot water."

Their packs lay in the corner of the tent, where they left them the night before. Radolf hurried and pulled out her herbs while one of Visnell's servants brought water.

"Put the water on the fire." Jewelletta pointed to the small flame crackling in the middle of the tent, and it flared up.

The men brought the man in and laid him on a pallet. Jewelletta bent over him. Blood ran into his widened eyes.

"Majutsu," he wailed and cringed, trying to move away from her. "Sorcerers, killers."

"Yes, I am. I am Jewelletta. I do not kill unless in self-defense. In fact, I am a healer. What's your name?" she asked in a soft, gentle voice.

He spoke only gibberish. He continued to pull away from her.

"His name is Vosnor." Visnell sat and took his fellow tribesmen's hand. "You are safe. She is a friend." He turned to Jewelletta. "He and five others were on patrol toward the Veda

"Patrol?" Jewelletta had been fishing herbs from her pack and jerked her head up.

"'Yes. Though they've been keeping their distance, the Aderran militia watch our settlement." Visnell wiped blood from the man's head.

"For us, Chrys and me." Vidad stood and fidgeted. "I've put everyone in danger. She and I must leave immediately."

"Sit," his cousin ordered.

"Yes, sit," Jewelletta commanded in her steely tone.

Continuing to wash the blood, Jewelletta said, "That means they're between here and Veda."

"We'll lure them away." Visnell rinsed the rag she'd been using. "We're experts at that."
"You sure are." Jahm cleaned his nails with his dagger.

Jewelletta let her jaw drop as everyone's eyes widened at the scathing remark.

"I don't mean that as a slur, Visnell. Being from the Militio tribe, I've fought your people more times than I can think of. They are very skilled at luring and camouflaging."

"Well, Jahm, I hope this is a new beginning for our people. It's the first time members of the five tribes had eaten together in this settlement. And you're friendly with each other." Visnell pointed to each one.

"It's taken several weeks and a couple of almost near tragedies to get us this way." Jewelletta dropped herbs in the water.

"Can I question him now? I'd like to find out what happened to the rest of the patrol. Visnell laid his cloth down."Although I'm afraid I know the answer."

"Dead," Vosnor whispered. "They were laying in ambush for us like they knew we were coming."

"Val," Vidad spat. "Bet he was the one who told them. But why?"

"Don't try to understand his motives. I don't and don't plan on attempting to." Delnorra drank tea.

Jewelletta cleaned and put poultices on his wounds. "That's about all I can do for him now." She pulled some paper, a quill, and ink from her pack and wrote. When she finished, she gave it to Visnell. "Please give this to your healers." She paused and asked, "Can they read?"

"Vilana can," Visnell said.

"This is what I've done for him." Jewelletta handed him the information. "And if they mix herbs together and have him drink it, he'll get better faster, though he won't appreciate the taste."

Jewelletta grinned. "We'd better leave. It's about thirty miles to Veda. That will take us the rest of the day and into the evening. Longer if we have to fight."

"We'll lure them away." Visnell turned to a servant and spoke in his own tongue.

"Why don't you disguise us in some way?" Jahm wiped his dagger on his tunic and stuck it in his boot.

"You read my mind. Possibly a storm of dust and grass. They're not unusual here this time of year." Jewelletta packed her herbs.

Anarra raced in and skittered to a stop. Radolf's eyes glazed over as he explained the situation to her.

"She's willing to help anyway she can," Radolf told them.

"Keep her close. She's your personal protector," Jewelletta said.

The ground shook, and something bellowed.

"Vatara's getting noisy," Visnell complained. "For some reason, she's awakened again after all these years."

"Yes, she is," Jewelletta said. "It's all coming together. I must get to Veda and confer with the ellders." She stood too fast and wobbled. Jahm caught her.

"Are you all right?" Jahm gazed into her eyes.

She braced herself on him. "Yes. How soon can we be ready to leave?"

"No more than an hour for us. First, Jewelletta, we must plan. Why don't you and your friends decide what you're going to do?" Visnell rose.

"Use my tent," Delnorra offered. "After all, it's still Vidad's home."

"Thank you, Mother." He leaned over and kissed her.

They left Visnell's tent. People darted around in preparation for the war party that would decoy the Aderran Militia while they escaped to Veda.

Once inside, they all found seats on various pallets.

Jewelletta took command again. "I'll create an illusion of a storm with us at the center. It'll feel very strange to you, but don't panic. You'll be safe."

"We have faith in you," Vidad said. You've led us safely through many attacks. We know you'll get us through this one too."

She smiled.

Delnorra came to the door. "Hope you're finished. Visnell wants to speak with all of you."

"Thank you, Delnorra." Jewelletta and the others stood. "For everything."

"And thank you, Mother." Vidad embraced her. "I'm sorry I brought this trouble on the tribe."

"What else is family for if you can't go to them when you need help?" She hugged her son and Chrystella. "Take care of him, will you, and come back soon. Maybe with a grandchild for me. Hm . . . "
The young princess smiled. "I'll take care of him." She looked up at Vidad. "I can't promise when we'll return, but we'll work on that grandchild."

Vidad started to say something in response, but Jewelletta gave him a look as to say humor her.
They left Delnorra's and walked over to Visnell's tent. Once seated, Visnell drew a map.

"This is where we are. My men and I will go along this way and decoy the militia." He pointed out the settlement's location and dragged his finger along one side. "Jewelletta, why don't you and your friends go diagonally from the settlement to Veda. The militia will stay away from the storm. That'll be your best protection."

"Good strategy. I couldn't have done better myself." Jahm smiled.

"About time we fought on the same side, don't you think?" Visnell returned the smile and offered his hand in the traditional handshake.

Jahm took it. "Yes, it's about time."

"We need to get away from the settlement before I can create an illusion. Sometimes, it's rather powerful, and I don't want to hurt anyone or destroy anything."

"We'll leave you here, so you can do what you need to, Jewelletta. May we meet again in peace." Visnell offered the handshake to the sorceress.

Her jaw dropped open. "Thank you." She accepted his handshake. "In all my years, I've never seen that offered to a female."

"Well, you're special." Visnell shook her hand and withdrew his.

She turned and left, her friends trailing like sheep following their trusted shepherd.

Outside the settlement, Jewelletta waited until they gathered around her. "Veda is in that direction." She pointed northwest of their position. "Jahm, you have a good sense of direction. Your job is to keep us on course."

"Agreed." He rubbed the sheath of his sword.

"I'll be at the very center to be able to keep up such an illusion," the sorceress said.

"Will it drain you as much as the one in the Kanballi Jungle did?" Radolf asked.

"Probably. It will take a lot of strength and concentration, so once I create it, don't speak to me," she warned.

"Radolf," Jahm suggested. "Since I'm in charge of direction, you keep on an eye Jewelletta. Assist her if she appears tired. Vidad and Chrys can help too. And Anarra can protect if necessary."

"Agreed," everyone chorused.

"I need a few minutes to get ready."

The others circled her and quieted down.

She closed her eyes. Reaching deep within, she pulled all her power and energy up and focused it on this vast illusion. At first, it was quiet and slowly the wind picked up. Dust and grasses from the plains swirled around them until it blocked everything from the view like a giant yellow ball, a whirlpool of fragments from the floor of the plains.

Jewelletta nodded.

"Come on." Jahm headed for Veda.

Radolf looked around and shuddered. "It feels like I'm in a tomb."

"We felt the same way when that sandstorm surrounded us," Vidad said.

No one spoke. Jewelletta listened to the swirling sound around them.

Visnell gave last minute instructions when a bit of dust flew around the village. "Jewelletta and her friends are on their way. That's good. We'll tell the militia we're a search party looking for a lost child. We'll even ask them for help. Doubt they'll agree, but if it keeps them occupied, we've accomplished our mission. Vosnor said there were ten who attacked his party, so at least we're even on that score. Let's go."

"I think we should attack. Not only to keep them away from Vidad, but to avenge our scouting party." Varnor spat.

"I'm not going to fight them unless it's necessary. If they attack us, we'll defend ourselves, but not until then." Visnell reined his horse around and led the 'search' party from the settlement.

As they neared the militia, Visnell held up his right hand, his index and middle finger showing the shape of a V, the planetary sign of peace. The militia didn't bother to pay attention and attacked. With both sides on horses and having swords, it looked more like a jousting meet. They were evenly matched, but the Savaecus scored more hits than the militia and trimmed their numbers.

"We're outnumbered," a militia captain shouted. "Back to Aderra."

"Catch them, cut them off," Visnell yelled to his men, knowing if the other six militias found Vidad and his friends, they were in grave danger.

About a mile from the Veda community, Jewelletta staggered, and the illusion broke. It left them vulnerable to the coming onslaught rushing toward them in a swirl of dust.

One of the militia shouted, "It's Vidad and the princess. Seize them."

Hearing that, Jewelletta called, "Someone get out that acciderum. We're going to need it. I'm exhausted."

Radolf grabbed the herbs, and they formed their usual battle circle.

"No, Vidad, Chrystella run to Veda. You'll be safe there. As for sanctuary in my name. Tell them our dilemma." Jahm caught the sorceress as she almost collapsed.

Vidad opened his mouth to challenge her, but in her steely tone, she ordered, "Go. Don't question me."

Chrystella grabbed his hand and pulled him toward Veda. "Come on, Vidad. This is not the time to question her judgment." They set off at a dead run.

Chapter 32
Infusion of Jewels

By krprice

One large swirl followed another, and the dust cleared as the four militiamen surrounded them.

"Witch." The leading man addressed Jewelletta. "What have you done with Vidad and the princess? We're under royal order to deliver them to the king."

Jewelletta's shoulders slumped. She leaned against Radolf. Blood pounded in her ears as adrenaline raced through her. She was in no mood to be called names. She raised her hand to strike them down. "I'm not a witch, I'm a sorceress. And I haven't done anything with them." She took a deep breath and dropped her hand.

The man tried to charge her, but his horse got his eyes filled with acciderum. Anarra nipped at the animal's leg. It bucked and backed from its tormentor. The man cursed as he pulled on his mount's reins, trying to settle it down. The other horses shied from Radolf. Visnell and his friends stopped behind the militia.

Tension grew until the very air crackled as they remained in a stand-off. A bolt of lightning jetted across the plains. It headed toward Jahm and Radolf. The youngster shuddered. They jumped aside. Someone landed next to Jewelletta. Jaws dropped, and eyes widened. Seconds later, an old man with long gray hair and a longer beard appeared where the bolt had struck.

"Are you all right, my dear?" the Majutsu Master asked.

"Yes, Master Chankar. You arrived in time." She breathed a sigh of relief. She suspected it was one of her peers, possibly a master, but not the head of the council.

Speaking to the militiamen, Master Chankar said in a deep baritone, "I suggest you continue on your way and quit menacing my colleague."

"We seek the Royal Princess Chrystella and a palace guard under sentence of death," he said.

"As you can see, they are not here." The master spread his arms around.

"They were, and they fled to Veda. Are you so willing to defy the king and harbor criminals?"
He fidgeted in his saddle.

"The princess is a criminal? What is her crime?" Master Chankar widened his smoky, gray eyes.

"Helping Vidad escape." He puffed out his chest.

"She must have had her reasons. And before I turn her over, I will listen to them." He glared at the man.

"She is in Veda?" the militia man asked.

"She and her man asked for sanctuary in Jewelletta's name. We do not turn away anyone who requests help in the name of one of our tribe, particularly one of her reputation. Go while you still have a chance." Master Chankar's eyes glowed.

Grumbling, the leader reined his horse away, motioning to the others they were leaving.
"King Davonal will hear of this. And he will be furious."

"Do as you must. I am not afraid of your king," Master Chankar crossed his arms over his chest and glowered at the militiaman.

The leader of the troop motioned for them to turn around, and they galloped off.

After they left, Visnell and his friends approached.

"And what do you want?" Master Chankar growled.

"Just making sure Jewelletta and the others are safe," Visnell said. "And glad to hear Vidad and Chrystella are safe."

"What business is it of yours?" Master Chankar still had his arms across his chest.

Visnell introduced himself and said, "Vidad is my cousin. I was interested in his safe journey to Veda. Since he is there, I bid you farewell."

Chankar smiled. "I hope we meet again, Visnell, under a better situation."

"I hope so too." He turned to Jewelletta. "Goodbye, Jewelletta. You're welcome to come by our settlement when things calm down."

"I will, but it may not be for a long time. Thank you for your help." She let her smile reach her eyes.

After they departed, Jewelletta turned to the Majutsu master. "Thank you, Master Chankar, for your assistance. I was so exhausted from my last spell I couldn't help."

"Your leadership was enough." Jahm's eyes shone with love.

"Now let's get home and find out what's been going on. I sent you to find the power jewels, and you return with an army of friends, two in trouble with the king." He gently chastised her as a loving father would. "Did you find it?"

"No, but I got a new one," she answered. "The council must activate it as soon as possible. Dangerous times are upon us, I think, and we must move swiftly to keep our freedom."

"As always, my dear, you speak in riddles. I know you and your friends will explain everything to the council. So let's be on our way." He took the lead, and the rest followed.

The setting sun's red and golden rays streaked the sky as they entered the Majutsu enclave. Clay huts of various sizes comprised the Veda Community. Weaving their way through it, Jewelletta waved and greeted friends in her own dialect. Black robed men and women filled the settlement. The aroma of venison drifted in the air. Radolf's stomach growled.

At the far end, the largest hut stood. Its size was the only difference between it and the rest of the community. It must be the master's home or the town meeting hall. As they entered, Chrystella and Vidad jumped from chairs.

"It's about time you got here." Vidad teased Jewelletta.

Smiling, Jewelletta said, "Well, I'm glad to see you arrived safely and got my message to Master Chankar. Tomorrow I want to hear what happened."

"Afraid that tale is a bit dull compared to the rest of our adventures," Vidad said.

"Do you have room for all of them?" Master Chankar asked.

"We might be crowded, but I'd rather we all stayed together." Jewelletta reached out to Jahm to steady herself.

"Your friends are in no danger here at Veda, my dear, you know that." Master Chankar smiled.

"Yes, but I'd rather we remained with each other," she told him.

"We'll see you at nine in the morning at council. I will have my servants bring you supper in an hour or so. I'm sure you're hungry, tired, and in need of baths. And I'll make sure your dailam has plenty of meat."

"Thank you, Master Chankar," Radolf said.

"And don't forget to bring the new circulet," He extended his hand, and his eyes gleamed.

"Maybe you'd better give it to me now."

"In the morning," she said. "Good night."

"Good night all."

The others chorused the same and left.

Radolf and Chrystella shivered in the chilly wind as they made their way over the sandy surface to Jewellettta's hut.

Inside, a few red throw rugs covered the wooden floor. Chairs circled a wooden table in the main room.

"I only have two bedrooms," Jewelletta admitted.

"I can sleep in your room," Chrystella said. "The men can bunk in the other. What about you, Anarra?"

I'll sleep with you, Radolf.

He told them her answer.

"I have an indoor bath with plenty of hot water, so let's get clean," Jewelletta said. "Make it quick as dinner will be here before we know it. I'm going to sleep. This day has drained me physically and emotionally." As if to emphasize that, she sank into a nearby chair.

After eating, all but Jewelletta brought out their quanya skins and settled down for the night. Tomorrow was going to be a long day.

After breakfast, they left for the council meeting.

"Hey, Jewelletta," an older man hailed her. "Haven't seen you around. Where have you been?"

"Busy, Donal, very busy," she called back.

People continued to wave and call to her as they walked to the largest building.

The sweet smell of fresh bread sailed on the breeze.

"What have you been up to, Miss Jewelletta?" Two tiny ladies in black robes put their arms around her. "We heard the power jewels vanished." Alarm crossed their faces.

"They did," Jewelletta told them. "But I have a new set. Come to council. You'll learn everything."

"That's where we're headed," they chorused and joined them.

Dressed in their violet and gold ceremonial robes, the ten gray-haired Majutsu Masters sat at the long wooden table in the large circular chamber at the rear of Chankar's hut. In a gallery above, people hung over the railing. Radolf looked up. People crowded each other, jostling for a better view.

"Very few outsiders are welcome in council meetings," Jewelletta whispered. "I guess with the news I bring, Master Chankar thought it best if everyone heard it at once."

"Jewelletta, will you and your friends please come forward." Master Chankar stood and glanced around the chamber. "It's obvious everyone including myself is dying of curiosity, so why don't you begin by introducing them."

"Thank you, Master Chankar. I will do introductions in the same the order I met them." She went over to Radolf and introduced everyone, ending with Vidad and Chrystella.

The Majutsu Master sat. "And now please tell us your story."

Radolf told of his grandmother's death and the theft, particularly emphasizing it was Anisha's Neckulet. It flowed easily as he continued with his meeting of Anarra and Jewelletta. From there, the sorceress picked up the tale, letting Jahm and Radolf recount their meeting. Vidad and Chrystella told their story. Jewelletta filled in the rest, finishing with yesterday's battle, and Master Chankar's appearance. She did include various things she observed around Mageron, but did not voice her suspicions. I want to talk to some of the experts before I mention it to the council.

"That's quite an adventure you've had." Master Chankar looked down each side of the table at his colleagues. They whispered to each other in their own language before he spoke again.

"Princess Chrystella and Vidad, the council will allow you sanctuary and will intervene on your behalf if you want us to."

Jewelletta fought to keep her jaw from dropping. At least, they won't be in any danger here.
The militia dared not attack, or they'd be destroyed instantly. Even King Davanol was intimidated with our powers and challenging us would serve no one's purposes.

"Where are you going next?" Master Chankar ran his hand through his beard.

"Aderra, after we've rested. That seems to be where the trail leads," Jewelletta answered.

The master eyebrows raised, his face turning as white as the swans in Rainbow Valley. "We suspected your twin had stolen the circulet, but we had no idea he had the powers to force a unicorn herd to stampede."

Jewelletta walked over and handed the small black box containing the new circulet to Master Chankar. He rose and accepted it. "Fellow members of the Majutsu Council, you heard Jewelletta and her friends' story, of the signs appearing around the world, of Jamari's defection, and increased abilities. Our esteemed colleague and Mistress of the Power Jewels says dangerous times are upon us. These jewels," he raised them "Are our main defense against the oncoming evil. She has requested we infuse the new circulet as soon as possible. I concur. Do you agree?"
Without any thought or discussion, each member nodded in the affirmative.

"We shall meet again in two hours for the ceremony. Every member of the tribe is not only invited but also commanded to attend if physically able. Council is recessed until then."
Two hours later, they reassembled.

"Council session will now begin," Master Chankar announced and reexplained their purpose for being there.

He walked around the table to the ten-sided altar in the middle of the room. Gold satin sheaths draped the salstein altar. In the middle lay a black satin indentation for the power jewels.

"This is something to see. Very few outsiders have been invited to this ceremony," Jewelletta whispered to her friends.

As Master Chankar opened the box, he spoke. "Behold, my fellow Majutsus and friends, a virgin set of jewels ready for infusion." He held them up momentarily. "Praise be to our Mother, the Goddess Khlorae, for again entrusting us with the almighty power of the jewels." He placed each jewel in its special place, beginning at the far left with the ruby, continuing with the emerald, and then the sapphire jewels. The master set the diamond in the middle.

"Will the Masters of the ruby jewels stand and approach the altar?"

As soon as they stood, he continued, "These are the Masters of the ruby power of Khlorae. We commit the ruby jewels to these masters of the Mighty Majutsu to use as necessary to fight evil in her universe. May they always be worthy of her gift."

When the trio arrived at the altar, they said in unison, "We humbly thank thee, Mighty Khlorae, goddess of all that is good, for the privilege to serve thee. Praise be to Khlorae. Asay."

The audience echoed, "Asay."

Master Chankar repeated the same litany for the masters of the sapphires and emeralds. Each trio came and recited their prayers.

When all the masters were in position, Chankar joined them behind the diamond. "As Master, I ask Khlorae for her blessing on this occasion and ask you my fellow Majutsus, to extend your powers as we imbue the circulet with ours."

As soon as he finished speaking, auras of the rainbow rose. They surrounded each tribal member, and extended like brightly colored cords to the master's. Jewelletta raised her hands. Red, sapphire, green, and white tendrils shot from them to the jewels.

Each master placed his hands over his jewel. Master Chankar nodded. A torrent of bright gold erupted from each master's hand, streaming to each jewel. The quest shaded their eyes from its glare. That light remained for seconds before each stream changed from golden to match the particular color of each jewel. Three were three red, three green, and three blue. The controlling jewel, Master Chankar's, shone clear white. The beams pulsated and swirled around the room, filling it with a myriad of colors. It continued for a moment until it reached a frenzied climax before it slowed and returned to the jewels. It stopped once the infusion was complete. Each member's strand snapped back to them as if cut.

Radolf's eyes widened at the amount of power that had whirled above them like a carousel of brilliantly bright rainbows.

Slowly, the jewels ceased to glow.

"We have proudly and unselfishly given our powers to fight evil. Praise be to Khlorae. Asay." This last word the masters said in unison. Except for Master Chankar, all the masters returned to the seats.

"In closing, Khlorae, we, again, ask for your blessing and protection for the circulet and your humble children. Praise be to thee. Asay." Master Chankar lifted the power jewels from their places and laid them in the black case.

He returned to his place at the table. "Since we have completed our business, council is recessed."

People quietly streamed from the building. Jewelletta stood rigid for a moment as Master Chankar left the table with the power jewels in his hand.

"Jewelletta?" Jahm asked. "Are you all right?"

"Why don't you return to the hut? I'll be there in a few minutes." She turned to them. "I must talk with Master Chankar."
They looked at each other with questions in their eyes as they left. She walked to Master Chankar.

"Master, may I have a word with you?" she asked.

He took her elbow and steered her off to one side. "What's the problem?"

"What about the power jewels? Aren't you going to give them to me?" She put her hand out.

"Not at the moment." He clasped it warmly.

She dropped her jaw. "Why? I've been their keeper for many years."

"This is not my choice, my dear. I still trust you and feel they would be safe with you. However, the other Masters don't agree nor do many members of the tribe."

"Because Jamari stole them once he could do it again?" she said matter-of-factly.

"Not only that, but they strongly disapprove of your association with Gildor." He withdrew his hand. "You are still a beautiful woman. You don't need him."

She ignored the compliment. "So I must prove myself to them! What if I must go off planet?"

He stuck the jewels in his robe. "You will get them before you do."

"Thank you, Master Chankar," she said, velvety steel in her voice and stalked away.

She ground her teeth, and her muscles quivered. A lance of pain stabbed at her heart. Those two emotions, anger and pain, warred within her. She spun around and stomped from the building, wondering if she was more enraged or hurt.

Chapter 33
Jewelletta's Investigation

By krprice

By the time Jewelletta returned to the hut, she had regained her composure.
“Everyone better sit. We’ll have something to drink.” She motioned them into kitchen and pointed to the wooden chairs.
After settling with wine, she explained, “I’d better give you more information about my childhood. When we were children, Mother and Father gave us various spells to learn, tasks to perform to improve ourselves. This way we also found where our strengths, weaknesses, and abilities lay. I was always the conscientious one, did as my parents told me, and constantly tried to better myself. Once I found I was gifted in healing and jewels mastery, I concentrated on them. Jamari was too impatient and wanted to be able to do everything even if the job was mediocre.” She paused for a breath and sipped from a glass. “Sibling rivalry developed between us. I bested him at childhood games, and as we got older, at many of the advanced lessons we were given to perfect our powers. He became jealous. Instead of working on his own powers, he tried to sabotage mine. This continued as we grew up. Only my powers progressed to higher levels. I finally had control over a jewel and was made a master.”
Jewelletta took another drink, rose, got a glass of water, drained it, and filled it again. She returned to the table. “This infuriated Jamari. His powers never improved, never bothered to dominate a craft or jewel. Most of the Majutsu do not have the gift of any jewels. I have power over all them, which is why the council can work through me.” She sat back and took a deep breath, letting her friends digest the information.
Radolf started to speak and shut his mouth.
She reached back into her memory for more information. “Jamari always wanted to be Master of the Council and tried to do it by any means he could, honest or otherwise. He took up with some unsavory people from several tribes. He used his powers for whatever he saw fit, whether it was for the betterment of everyone or not. Master Chankar exiled him. Soon after the jewels disappeared, Master Chankar and I suspected who had stolen them.”
She finished that glass. “We don’t know where he’s gone, but now I’ve done battle with him, I know whose side he’s on. We must be careful.”
Her friends sat as a pregnant silence stole over them.
“I have to visit some people, so I’ll let you discuss this amongst yourselves.”
“Master Chankar invited us to lunch.” Jahm showed her the invitation. “It was here when we arrived. I opened it while you got your water.”
“Please feel free to accept the invitation.” She rose. “I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
Before they got to ask any more questions, she bolted from the hut, thinking about whom she must contact for the needed information.
The community came alive with people in black robes going to and fro on their errands. She paused here to speak to friends, exchanging tidbits of gossip.
“Where are your friends, Jewelletta?” Master Ralnor asked as he fell in step beside her.
“Back at the hut. I told them the full tale of Jamari, so that should keep them busy. And I have some things to take care of this afternoon,” she told him,
“That’s quite a tale you told us.” He adjusted his reed-woven shopping bag. “Seems like lots of things are going on around the world we didn’t know about. You studied Mageron lore, in written and verbal form, for many years. You must have some suspicions of what everything means.”
“Yes, I do, Master Ralnor,” she said.
“Being your usual closed-mouth self I see.” He chuckled. “Morian is the tribal expert on the Starcastle. If anyone can help you, she can. Have a nice and fruitful day, Jewelletta.”
“You too.” Now how did he know where I was headed?  Evidently, the masters suspect the same thing I do.
She stopped in front of one of the smallest huts in the community. It could’ve fit in her kitchen and living room. Morian had lived alone for many years. One of the eldest in the community, she was more interested in and comfortable with her library of planetary books than with other members of the tribe. Jewelletta knocked, hoping the older sorceress would welcome her. She wasn’t well known for her hospitality.
A short, gray-headed woman answered the door. Beaming with a smile, Morian invited, “Come in, Jewelletta. We’ve been expecting you.”
“We?” Jewelletta entered. 
The living room/kitchen had six chairs around a table stacked with books.
“My friends and I.” Morian pointed to two other members. They looked up from their studies.
Jewelletta recognized them at once. Both were respected seniors and studied the traditional knowledge and legends for many years.
“Come and sit,” Tassy said. She was tiny, even shorter than the princess. The youngest of the elders at a mere four hundred years old, her bright red hair hung to her waist. Vibrant jade eyes sparkled or blazed, depending on her mood.
Her husband of two hundred years, Kristor, sat by her side. As tall as she was short, ebony curls framed steel gray eyes that stared at Jewelletta.
“Please sit,” Kristor invited, his smooth baritone gliding across the room. “We wondered when you’d get around to us.” He wore a lopsided grin.
“I had to see to my guests first.” She fought to keep the steel from her voice. It had no place here she told herself. Jewelletta took a seat.
Morian placed a mug of tea in front of Jewelletta, a plate of cookies in the middle, and sat at the head of the table. “Kristor and Tassy were at council this morning and heard your story. At my age, I don’t venture out. Please tell it again.”
Knowing Morian was close to seven hundred years old, Jewelletta recounted their adventures, planning to return to the various points dealing with the Starcastle legend.
After telling the tale, she took a deep breath and paused long enough for tea. “I had Vidad sing the LEGEND OF THE STARCASTLE one night. The others thought it was only a song, but I found it full of information, riddled with enigmas.”
“It was meant to be.” Morian grabbed a cookie and bit into it. “Tell us more about Anarra and the starvation that killed her pack.”
Jewelletta recounted everything Anarra told Radolf, and he passed on to her. “I think that’s all she knows. When I first saw her, I was scared we wouldn’t be able to save her. That frightened me. Instincts told me she was the last female dailam.”
“She probably is.” Morian sipped her tea. “So the dailam are dying. The neckulet has popped up again after so many years of being buried. I remember my mother telling me about the neckulet and the last attempt to build the Starcastle. He led the Spatali Tribe. He got as far as Aderra before the Vijanden killed him. No one ever knew what happened to the neckulet.” She paused again. “All your friends belong to different tribes?”
“Yes.” Jewelletta reached for a cookie. The sweet apple flavoring soothed her.
“Princess Chrystella isn’t heir to the throne, though, is she?” Tassy asked.
“No, but she’s second in line,” Jewelletta answered.
“Accidents happen and from what I’ve heard, Taynar isn’t very well liked or as popular as the princess.” Morian tapped the table with her bright red nails.
“No, he isn’t,” Kristor added. “I was in Aderra the other day. I heard people talking about the company he keeps.”
“What company?” Morian and Jewelletta asked, the latter raising an eyebrow.
“Seems like he’s a close friend of Vanall, the Vijanden ambassador.” Kristor took a cookie.
“Chrystella said Taynar and the king wanted her to marry Vanall.” Jewelletta said. “She has no interest in him.”
“Considering she defied her father, she has a mind of her own. Seeing what’s going on around the world, her time might have come. Anyway, tell me more about Rainbow Valley,” Morian urged.
Jewelletta told them about the swans and her battle with Jamari.
“Think he’s gotten in over his head this time if he’s gotten tied up with the Vijanden. Wonder what they promised him?” Morian added wistfully.
“Probably head of the tribe,” Jewelletta said. “That’s what he’s always wanted and been too lazy and too undisciplined to work for.”
“The masters would destroy him in a minute if they suspected that’s what he was after.” Tassy slammed the open book closed with a resounding thump.
“First, they have to find him. I couldn’t and since we’re twins, there’s always been a link between us,” Jewelletta growled.
“Maybe, but if they combine their powers through you and the power jewels, he couldn’t stay hidden.” Morian toyed with a piece of string dangling from the sleeve of her robe. “As long as he is on Mageron.”
“But if he’s on Vijand . . . ”  Jewelletta’s voice trailed off.
“Not even the masters could locate him,” Morian snapped.
“Have all the prophecies been fulfilled?” Kristor kept turning pages in a book but didn’t look at them.
“All but two.” Jewelletta frowned. “Chrystella being heir and the discovery of a male dailam.”
“Don’t look so glum, Jewelletta. Those may happen in the future. And don’t worry about Radolf. When it’s necessary for him to take command, he’ll be ready.” Morian assured her.
“How can you be so sure? You don’t know how impulsive Radolf is.” Jewelletta banged her fist on the table.
“If it is time, and I feel it is, Khlorae will make him ready. And anyway, you and Anarra seem to be keeping him in line.” Morian smiled.
Finishing her tea, Jewelletta stood. “Thank you for your help. I feel more confident now.” 
Morian followed Jewelletta to the door.
“I’m glad we made you feel better. Now go back to your friends and tell them all you’ve learned.” Morian opened the door.
“I will,” she lied, having no intentions of revealing everything until the other two prophecies were filled. Though I think they suspect the same thing I do. “Goodbye and thank you again.”  She waved to the others and shut the door.
On her way home, caravans of wagons sat on the edge of the community. “Traders. Probably from Aderra. Well, maybe they’ll have news.” She muttered to herself. 
The aroma of roast rabbit stew brought her from her reverie when she opened the door.
“Well, make yourselves at home,” she said, wending her way through the living room.
“We already have.” Chrystella stirred a pot on the stove.
“When did you learn how to cook?” Jewelletta walked to the princess.
“Jahm’s been teaching me. I’ve learned a lot on the trail.” She picked up the spoon and took a taste. “Good, if I say so myself. Have a bite.” She dipped another spoon in for Jewelletta and brought it out for the sorceress.
Jewelletta sipped, mindful Chrystella couldn’t improve too much during the travels. “Excellent s soup.”  She looked at Jahm. “Either you are a quick learner, Chrys, you’ve got a great teacher.  Maybe a bit of both.”
“Both, I’d say.” Jahm walked over and kissed her.
She blushed.
“Get everything taken care of?” Radolf finished chopping the salad greens.
“Yes. How was your afternoon?” She put the spoon in the sink, though she yearned for another taste.
“Great,” Radolf answered. “Master Chankar gave us a tour of the community.”
“Traders are in town,” Jewelletta informed them.
“Master Chankar pointed them out. Hope they’ll have news of happenings in Aderra.”  Radolf put the cutting board and knife in the sink.
“We certainly need that information,” Jewelletta said. “Now how can I help?”
After dinner, they wandered into the center of the community where the traders had their wagons lined up like tables at a bazaar.
“Good thing we’ve eaten,” Radolf said. “Everything smells so good.”
Aromas of spicy venison and blueberry custard mixed with roses and lilacs.
“Come get hot, fresh garlic rolls here,” one baker shouted.
“Fresh flowers,” a florist hollered.
They competed with other hawkers. Jewelletta and Jahm wandered off first, and then Vidad and Chrystella slipped away from Radolf and Anarra.
A clean, but frigid, winter’s breath blew through from the icy tops of the Tolsada Mountains.  Radolf shivered. Besides the noisy hawkers, the people of the Majutsu tribe chatted, strolling around in their traditional black robes.
The pots and pans of iron gleamed like jewels in the twilight. Wagon covers of bright red, vibrant blues, and deep greens along with many other colors surrounded him in a whirlpool of color. Not having any money nor did he think to bring anything left from his grandmother’s stash, Radolf couldn’t buy anything, but the traders didn’t know, so he stopped and investigated anything that caught is fancy.
At a blue-covered wagon, Radolf paused to look at a necklace of herbonus and diamonds.  He growled as it reminded him of the neckulet.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” The balding man with an Aderran accent asked.
“Yes, it is.” Radolf took a deep breath, trying to control his anger. It wasn’t this man’s fault someone stole the neckulet. Why should I take my anger out on him?
“Dailam’s beautiful too.” He pointed to Anarra. “She your pet?”
“No.” Radolf chuckled. “No one could make her a pet. She’s got a mind of her own.”
“Aren’t too many left, I understand.  Funny, she’s the second one I’ve seen in a week.” He stared at Anarra.
“Where?” Radolf jumped around.
What’s going on? Why are you so excited?
Radolf ignored Anarra, fidgeting as he waited on the man’s answer.
“At the palace. There was a male. Beautiful animal. I wouldn’t mind owning one like that myself. I doubt the King Davonal would sell him. He seemed very special to the king.” The man rearranged three sapphire rings.
Anarra, this man saw a male dailam at the palace in Aderra.
Without answering, she ran around the wagon and set off at a dead run for the capital city.

Chapter 34

By krprice

“Anarra.” Radolf ran into the plains and realized he would never catch her. Better tell Jewelletta. She’ll know what to do. He returned to the trader’s wagons and searched for the sorceress.
Usually, Jewelletta wasn’t difficult to locate in a crowd, but as he darted through the sea of black robes, he snarled. This task was going to be harder than he thought. Many of the females had long black hair and looked the same from behind. 
At the far end of the settlement, he found her deep in conversation with Jahm, Vidad, and Chrystella.
“Jewelletta,” he yelled from some fifty feet away.
The sorceress turned, recognizing Radolf’s voice above the noise. Eyebrows raised, he watched her with a wide eyed, creepy look.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“Anarra’s run off.” He gasped for breath.
“What were you talking about when she left?” Jewelletta took hold of him and stared into his eyes
“A trader told me he’d seen another dailam at the palace in Aderra. A male. I told Anarra, and she took off.” He took a deep breath.
Jewelletta froze. “Another piece to the puzzle.  Only one missing now.” Jewelletta muttered and looked over at Chrystella.
“Oh, I forgot about Gregor,” the princess admitted. “That dailam’s been with my father for more years than I’ve been around.”
“Why didn’t you tell us about him?” Jewelletta snapped.
“I didn’t know it was important.” Chrystella shrugged.
“Neither did I. And I forgot about Gregor too.” He put a protective arm around Chrystella.
“But she’ll never reach him,” Chrystella announced. “Someone is bound to capture her if she runs about the streets. There are strict laws about animals loose in the city.”
“We’d better go after her now,” Radolf said.
“Not until we make plans.” Jewelletta herded them toward her hut. “I have much to tell you.”
Once inside, they sat around the table, each with a glass of water.
“There’s been many strange things happening around our world,” Jewelletta started. “You remember when I had Vidad sing the LEGEND OF THE STARCASTLE?”
They nodded.
“It wasn’t just for entertainment. I had a purpose,” the sorceress said.
“I didn’t think so at first,” Radolf said. “But as we’ve journeyed around Mageron, I’ve seen the signs coming to pass.”
“Me too,” the other four chorused.
Jewelletta shook her head. “I should have guessed.”
“But Taynar is the direct heir,” Chrystella said.
“Yes, and that is the one part of the legend that hasn’t been fulfilled,” Jewelletta said.
“You mean we have to battle the Vijanden in a Starcastle?” Vidad’s eyes grew to the size of a platter.
“Where? And how do we build one?” Radolf asked before Jewelletta got to answer.
“Yes, we do, Vidad,” Jewelletta answered. “We build it in the Remalgan star system. That’s where Vijand is. As to how we build it, Radolf, I have no idea. That’ll be your problem.”
“Mine?” He jumped up and plopped again.
“The last owner of the neckulet was the Supreme Ruler of the Spatali Tribe. So you are our leader.” Jewelletta drank some water.
“I’m not ready to command something like this,” he stammered.
“I know. That’s what frightens me,” Jewelletta confessed.
“Maybe you’re wrong, and it isn’t time,” Jahm said. “After all, Chrys isn’t heir to the throne.”  He sat back.
“Too many signs for it to be a coincidence, Jahm. We still have to recover the neckulet and find Anarra. They are both vital to this quest. Now we’d better plan on leaving in the morning.” Jewelletta sighed, not looking forward to the next part of the journey. “We’ll have to have faith in Khlorae you will be ready when the time comes.”
“Vidad and I know of secret passages under the palace. We’ll lead you in, but once we’re there, we’ll need a disguise or remain hidden,” Chrystella offered.
“You’ll be under an illusion, don’t worry. I won’t let anything happen to you two. I need to make arrangements though.” She stood.
So did the others. 
Momentarily, Radolf stood defiant. A rope as tall as a mountain pulled at him from both ends.  On one side, he wanted to leave for Aderra tonight, but logic told him to wait for his friends. He thought about what the young princess said and realized she made sense. He turned to Jewelletta. 
“What will I do if I lose Anarra?” Tears streamed from his eyes like a waterfall.
“We’ll find her, but we do need help from the Matjutsus there.” Jewelletta’s arms enveloped him. “We’ll leave early in the morning. The traders know me; maybe one will help. Why don’t you go to bed while I see what I can do? Tomorrow will be a long day.”
Radolf moved away from Jewelletta. The last of the tears dribbled down his face. Anarra had filled the empty void in his heart left by his grandmother’s death. Fear knifed through him with deadly sharpness at the thought of losing the love he had so recently acquired. “I’ll go to bed and follow your instructions.” 
“We’ll take care of him.” Jahm strode to the sorceress, hugged her, and kissed her lightly on the lips.
Even at her age, she blushed, embarrassed at his show of affection. A thrill ran through her.  Jewelletta turned and left the hut.
She gazed at the tiny specks of lights littering the black sky, twinkling and glittering like precious jewels. Is that where our trail leads? Jewelletta shivered not just at that thought but at the numbing, glacial wind that sneaked inside her robe and stabbed her with its biting, frigid fingers. She strode to the community center. Aromas of smoked sausages and fresh apple pie snaked into the night. Voices raised in song or laughter echoed throughout.
The tribe always had a celebration when traders visited. It was one of the few times her colleagues relaxed. Remembering one experience with too much ale and too much dancing, she smiled, but the memory of the next morning brought her back to her senses.
Kristor and Tassy passed arm and arm, loudly singing some bawdy song. They waved at her, stumbling a bit. She waved back.
Knocking on the back of the wagon, Jewelletta fidgeted while she waited for Stephanor to open the flap.
Someone peeled it back. “Jewelletta.” His smile spread to his large brown eyes, and he gestured for her to come in. “Great to see you.”
She climbed on the first step. With his help, she managed to make it into the wagon and embraced her old friend again. He stood six inches over her.
Jewelletta gave him a peck on the cheek.
“Still hoping you’ll marry me.” He flashed a lopsided grin.
“You never give up, do you,” she said warmly and laughed.
Jewelletta stepped around pieces of bronze and silver, finished jewelry, and shining jewels winking at her in their settings. A lantern swung off to his right with gold filigree strung all over his traveling workbench. Small cabinets ran above them.
“Jewelletta, one of these days some man is going to come along and steal your heart away and refuse to give it back. I always wished I’d be the lucky one, but it seems I must settle on friendship.” He wiped his hands on his brown apron.
Her tone changed. “I need a favor, and I can’t give you much of an explanation other than you’ll have to trust me.” She stood rigid. 
“I’ll help you. No questions asked.” His face became serious.
“My friends and I need discreet transportation to Aderra in the morning. We’re going to the Majutsu House.” She placed her hands on his shoulders. “When does the caravan leave for Sildar?”
“In three days. Something’s up, isn’t it?” He quirked an eyebrow.
“I said no questions. Actually, the less you know the safer you’ll be. No one and I mean no one must know where we’re going and who my companions are. It could mean death for my friends.”  Fear crept into her voice.           
“No questions then, and you know I won’t tell a soul. Anyway, I need to go back into the city.  Your colleagues seem fond of my jewelry. I need to resupply before we leave Veda. What time do you want to leave?”
“An hour or so before dawn. Meet us at my hut.”
“I’ll be there,” he assured her.
“Thank you, Stephanor.” She hugged him again. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.”
“As resourceful as you are, my dear Jewelletta, you would have thought of something. Now go.”  He returned her hug.
She turned around, and he helped her from the wagon.
Jewelletta strode to her hut and slipped into bed. 
The next morning the quest was ready to leave when Stephanor arrived. Jewelletta toyed with the idea of disguising the princess and Vidad, but knew she could rely on Stephanor’s silence. I’d better conserve my powers for when we really need them. Loaded and ready to go, they headed for the next part of their journey.
Around mid- morning, they arrived at the Majutsu house. Gargoyles peered down with malicious grins like hideous demons. The black of the herbonus significantly contrasted with the white salstein of the rest of the four-floor mansion.
“I’ll go in and speak to Branor. Hope he’s still in charge. We worked together many years ago.”  Jewelletta jumped from the wagon. “The rest of you stay quiet and out of sight.”
She walked up the steps, and knocked on the wooden door, a sharp deviation from the rest of the building. A few minutes later, it swung open.
“Jewelletta,” Lindel said. “Come in.  It’s been a long time since you’ve visited us.” The small dwarfish-like woman led Jewelletta into the parlor and embraced her cousin.
“I’m afraid this isn’t a social call. I need Branor’s help.” Jewelletta pulled away.
“I’ll get him.” She left the room.
Dark wood from the Ventrifico Forest paneled the room. Jewelletta caressed it.
“Jewelletta.” A hunched-back old man stood behind her. His glasses slid down his nose like they were on a ski slope.                                                                                    
She turned around. “Branor. It’s good to see you.” She grinned and bent to give him a good squeeze.
“Watch how hard you do that, missy. No telling what might come out the back end.” His jade eyes glimmered in the chandelier’s light.
Jewelletta let out a hardy laugh and said, “Sit, my old friend. I have quite a tale to tell you.” She told him everything except her suspicions.
When she mentioned Vidad and the princess, he frowned. “There’s been a massive search for them. Soldiers lost them outside Veda. Is that where you met them?”
“No. Please don’t ask any more questions for now, Branor. It’s essential we locate Anarra.” She broke part of her promise to herself. “She’s the last female dailam in the world. We know there’s a male in the palace.”
Branor’s eyes widened and narrowed as his gaze swept over her. “Bring them in. I’ll see what I can do for you. I suspect danger lies ahead for you and your friends.”                  
They stood, and she hugged him. “Thank you.” 
 Knocking on the wagon with a prearranged signal, she waited for Stephanor.
When he opened the flap, she said, “We’re welcome here. I need to cast an illusion.”
“A large box, maybe, to give people the impression I’m bringing something. I’ve visited them before so my appearance won’t look out of place. Of course, I’ll have to go in, but I’ll leave immediately.”
She moved away and closed her eyes. Reaching inside, finding her powers, she brought them up.  Jewelletta pictured a large box where she had been standing. Each side dropped into place. When it was finished, she opened her eyes. It was exactly as she had imagined it.
“Ready,” she called.
Her friends climbed from the wagon into the illusion. When they were all there, she and Stephanor carried this ‘large box’ into the Majutsu House. Someone closed the door behind them, and she dropped the deception. 
She turned to Stephanor. “I don’t know how to thank you.”
Smiling, Stephanor pulled her into his arms and thoroughly kissed her. While she enjoyed the smooch, it certainly didn’t match the special feeling she shared with Jahm.
When he released her, he said, “Oh-oh.  Bye.” He ran out the door.
Curious as to what spurred Stephanor’s speedy departure, she looked toward the interior of the hall. Icy daggers of hate blazed from Jahm’s eyes. She strode to him, gave him a big hug, and whispered in his ear, “Stephanor and I are very old friends. What we had a long time ago is gone. You don’t have any reason to be jealous.”
Red crept into his face as he embraced her. She pulled out of his arms and kissed him lightly on his cheek. She spun to Branor and introduced her friends, completely composed as if nothing happened.
“I’ll summon everyone to our meeting room. You may tell them what help you need, and they can search for it.” Branor pulled a rope connected to a bell. The sound vibrated through the house.
“This way.” He led them to a large room with a raised platform at the far end. Many chairs faced it. “Jewelletta, you sit up there. The rest of you over there.” He pointed to seats by the window.
They did as suggested.
When a sea of black robes filled the seats, Branor announced, “Jewelletta needs your help.  I‘ll let her explain.”
Jewelletta introduced her friends and recounted their recent trip around Mageron before telling them what information she needed.
“More than anything else, our presence must remain secret.” Jewelletta emphasized the last word.
“You don’t have to worry about that,” Branor assured her. “If you did, you wouldn’t have come for help.”
Jewelletta smiled, knowing he was right.
When everyone left to gather information, Lindel showed them rooms where they could bathe, eat, and rest while they waited for the informants to return.
The sun passed its zenith when those sent to gather information returned. The sorceress summoned Jewelletta and her friends to the meeting room.
“What did you find out?” The raven-haired beauty asked.
Radolf fidgeted in the chair.
“They all say the same thing,” Branor said. “She’s been seen at the palace entrance. All attempts to capture her have failed. Intelligent and elusive thing she is, everyone says. Some people wonder if she isn’t one of us masquerading as a dailam.”
“I assure you, Branor, she isn’t one of us. I’ve been traveling with her for several weeks. I’d know if she was,” Jewelletta said soundly.
“People are suspicious of a race they don’t understand. I don’t doubt she’s a dailam. Mighty smart too if she can elude the militia and the palace guard.” He chuckled. “What are you going to do now?”
“We need to talk.” She motioned to include her friends. 
Chrystella began to say something and must have thought better of it.
“We’ll go back to my room.”
“I hope we’ve been able to help,” Branor said.
“You have.” Jewelletta led her friends upstairs.
Once inside and the door closed, Jewelletta asked, “What do you want to say, Chrystella?” 
They took seats on the mussed yellow coverlet or on the matching carpet.
“There’s a tunnel near the palace’s entrance. If Anarra is in the vicinity, Radolf should be able to contact her and tell her where we are.” The princess squeezed Vidad’s hand.
“I know that tunnel. We might have trouble getting to it unless we’re under an illusion, and the guards are distracted,” Vidad said. “If she’s been seen there, it’ll be heavily guarded. The militia is probably out in full force. We’ll have to contend with them too.” Fear shone in his eyes.
“If I have to keep up an illusion, I won’t have the strength to do anything more.” Jewelletta pushed her hair behind her ears.
“Would some of your colleagues be willing to help?” Jahm asked.
“I’ll ask Branor. However, this is not something he will force anyone to do nor will I. It must be strictly voluntary,” Jewelletta said. “Chrys, if I’m to set up an illusion, I need to know what or who would be able to pass unnoticed. Any suggestions?”
“Very few people use the tunnels even though their existence isn’t secret. The dwarves who serve us prefer them. Don’t ask me why, but my own servants do too. Maybe it reminds them of home.” She shrugged.
“We’ll go in late under cover of darkness looking like dwarves returning from . . . From where?”  Jewelletta asked.
“The Aurifex Caverns or maybe wherever they gather for their drinking and visiting.” Chrystella still held onto Vidad’s hand.
“Would they be drunk or subdued?” Jewelletta continued her questioning.
“Subdued. They always are when they come back. I guess they miss life amongst their own.  They can leave the king’s service anytime they want. Of course, they enjoy the benefits they receive as servants of my father. They are a greedy bunch.”
“Yes, they are.” She decided she had enough information. “I’ll ask Branor about help.” Before she had time to speak again, the bell rang three times. “Time to eat. We’d better rest. We’ll leave about eleven tonight.”

Chapter 35
Death and Discovery

By krprice

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

While still at the Majutsu House, Jewelleta asked Chrystella, “Do you still have any acciderum in case you have to defend yourself?”
“Yes, I do,” she answered.
At precisely eleven, Jewelletta, her friends, and two members left for the palace. Lindel and her boyfriend, Janelen, planned to create a fire near the palace. As soon as they were two blocks from the house, Jewelletta threw up her illusion. A dozen dwarves surrounded them, heads bowed.
Radolf and Jahm stayed on either side ready to steady her if needed. Vidad and Chrystella led them. Fortunately, the entrance was merely three blocks away.
Few people walked around this time of night. A drunk staggered by and moved away as fast as he could. No one wanted to pick a fight with a bunch of dwarves. I’ve seen them firsthand, maybe not in action, but how sturdy they were even though they were small. Not only did they have axes, but daggers as sharp as any knife Nana kept.
As they neared the palace, Chrystella pointed out the tunnel entrance. Lindel and Janelen turned off onto a deserted side street. Minutes later, flames rose near the palace walls.
“Fire,” a palace guard screamed. He sprinted away. Moments later a bell rang, and guards scrambled toward the burning building.
Once they disappeared, Jewelletta opened the tunnel door. She and her companions strode silently inside and closed the door. She dropped the illusion and created a light globe in her hand.
“Radolf, contact Anarra. Tell her where we are and ask her to come here. We’ll help her find the other dailam,” Jewelletta told him.
“His name is Gregor,” Chrystella reminded them.
Anarra, can you hear me?
Radolf took a deep breath, trying to relax.
Radolf? Where are you?
In a tunnel by the entrance. Follow our mind link and come. We’ll help you find Gregor, the male dailam.
A few minutes later, nails scratched on the door. Jahm opened it. Anarra bounded inside and ran to Radolf. Jumping up on him, she rested her front paws on his shoulder and gave him a slurpy kiss right on his mouth and nose.
He hugged her. “I missed you, too.”
“When you two are finished with your reunion, I suggest we find Gregor and get out of here,” Jewelletta commented. “Anarra, can your thoughts reach him?”
Anarra stared into the tunnel’s blackness.
No. Maybe if we moved closer to the interior of the palace.
Radolf relayed the message.
“Vidad, you and Chrys know the way. I’ll be right behind you with the light. Jahm, you take our rear position. Radolf, you stay between me and Jahm. Anarra, get up front. You don’t need this light anyway.” Jewelletta barked out the orders like a leader. Her friends obeyed without question.
Slowly, they walked through the stone tunnel. Radolf hoped no one else would be using it tonight. They stopped after moving a short way inside.
Radolf stiffened; something stabbed his mind.
It’s only me, meshing my thoughts with yours. This way you’ll hear what Gregor and I say to each other.
Thank you.
Gregor, can you hear me?
Who are you? Your voice is strange to me, but it’s pretty. Are you one of my kind?
Yes. I’m Anarra and the last of my pack. I have been around the world and have found no other dailam alive. Gregor, we are the last two left alive.
I heard of how starvation is killing us. How did you survive, and how did you find me?
It’s a long story. I’ll tell you later. But first, we must find you and get out of the palace.
We? I thought you were alone.
I have human friends, two who saved my life. Two others are in danger. Let me use this link to find you. We are in a tunnel.
Follow my thoughts. They will lead you to me.
Radolf told them the news. Jewelletta sighed as they traveled deeper into the tunnel carved from solid rock. It reminded Radolf of the Aurifex and Kristall Caverns, craggy and black.
They climbed a set of windy stairs at the passageway’s end. At the top, Vidad motioned for everyone to step back as he opened the door and peeked out.
“All clear,” he whispered. “How far are we from Gregor?”
“He’s in small room alone. The door is closed, so he can’t get out by himself,” Radolf said.
Jewelletta motioned to continue. Anarra stopped in front of the third door to the right. Vidad pushed it inward, and they entered. To their left was a door to another room. Gregor laid before a fireplace, his silvery hair glinting in the firelight. Anarra sprang to him and nuzzled like he was a relative she hadn’t seen in years. He responded in kind.
“It does my heart good to see them together.” Jewelletta smiled.
Except for Radolf, all the others smiled too. 
He slouched and frowned, leaning on the wall. I’ve lost her. She doesn’t need me anymore.
Jewelletta walked over to him and put her arms around him.
“If you’re afraid of losing her, remember she’s not leaving you. In fact, you’ve gained another friend,” Jewelletta said, as if she understood.
She’s right.
He smiled at Anarra.
“We’d better leave,” the sorceress advised. “None of us are safe within the palace.”
As they turned to leave, male voices echoed in the hallway. They froze. The closed door kept their presence secret. A door banged open in the room next to them.
“When do I take the throne?” A male voice screamed. “I have the neckulet. That was our agreement.”
His body tense, Radolf yanked out his sword and burst into the room. The others followed. Two men more than six feet faced one another with knitted brows and tightened jaws. He glared at them, at first, but then his gaze fell to the neckulet in one man’s hand.
“Vanall and Taynar,” Chrystella gasped, pointing out each one.
Vanall’s piercing jade eyes glowered at Prince Taynar. He grabbed the neckulet as the prince tried to pull away. The Vijanden ambassador hauled out his dagger and plunged it into the heart of the heir to the throne. Chrystella stumbled as she witnessed her brother’s brutal murder. She screamed.
Vanall grabbed her around the neck. “I’ll kill her too if you try to stop me from leaving.”
She gasped, and then stomped on his foot. He growled. The young princess reached into her pants, pulled out a handful of acciderum, turned her head to the left side, and flung it at him.
He let her go. Chrystella scrambled out of his reach.
Vidad pulled out his sword, taking a dueling stance. Clawing at his eyes, he dropped the neckulet. Radolf sprinted to it and snatched it up. As Vanall lunged for the neckulet, Vidad plunged his sword into him.
Radolf dashed behind Jewelletta. He widened his eyes at the events and took a deep breath. He had witnessed history in the making.  At long last, the prophecies had been fulfilled. The five tribes were as one, and the dailam united. Chrystella was heir to the throne. Radolf had retrieved the neckulet. The quest for the truth had ended. It was now time to build the starcastle.
A shrill siren blasted throughout the palace.
“We’re under attack,” Vidad screamed.
                     THE STARCASTLE TRILOGY
                                CONTINUES IN
                                    BOOK TWO:
                               THIS GENERATION.

Author Notes I will start posting THIS GENERATION in early Feb.
Hope everyone enjoyed the book and will read the second one.

One of thousands of stories, poems and books available online at

You've read it - now go back to to comment on each chapter and show your thanks to the author!

© Copyright 2010 krprice All rights reserved.
krprice has granted, its affiliates and its syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.

© 2010, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Terms under which this service is provided to you. Privacy Statement