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Crown Prince Rugan Merripen paced his large room. His hands flitted through the air and his lips moved as if he were having an animated conversation with someone. But he was alone. He stopped momentarily before the window, studying the bars that kept him a prisoner. He no longer saw the beauty of the landscape beyond, the rolling grasslands, the far distant high mountain peaks that sparkled with first snow. His vision had been reduced to the thick iron bars that prevented him from leaving.
Still, something was different today. Something picked at him, set his nerves tingling, his anxiety soaring.
A knock at the door brought him around. "Go away!" he snapped.
The knock sounded again.
"I said, go away!"
Instead, the door opened, and a tall, slender man stepped into the room. Rugan regardedhim through narrowed eyes.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"Your savior," the man answered.
Anger whipped through Rugan. "Cute. Now the who the hell are you?"
The man chuckled, and sketched a bow. "Count Vaalde Lerrak at your service, Your Highness."
Rugan studied him a moment, then turned away. "Another healer? Someone sent to examine the mad prince? You're wasting your time."
"Am I? Then you choose to remain here? Locked up? Away from your family? What's rightfully yours?'
The words intrigued Rugan, and he turned to face the man. "What are you talking about?"
"May I?" The man gestured toward a chair.
Rugan nodded, although his gaze shifted to the still-open door. He wondered why it had been left thus. Usually when a healer came to interrogate him, the door was firmly closed andguarded. The open door, and the lack of activity beyond, intrigued him as much as the visitor's words.
"Now then," Vaalde said, seating himself. "What if I told you I could remove you from this prison and return you to your rightful place? What if I told you that you would even have magic, your magic, at your disposal? And what if I told you that you could exact revenge on the meddling bastard child who usurped your rightful position as the Crown Prince of Lidgerwood?"
Rugan stared at him, stunned. Vaalde rose and came toward him.
"Do you feel that tingle, Rugan? In the air? That's magic, Rugan. Elfin magic. Your magic. Wouldn't you like to be able to command it as you were born to do?"
"I don't know how," Rugan said tightly.
"One needs only a teacher to learn," Vaalde said smoothly. "I am quite versed in magic. I could teach you much." He walked to the window, reached out and touched the bars. They disappeared in a flash of light.
Rugan's mouth dropped open, and he approached the window slowly. He waved one hand through the air to convince himself the bars really were gone. They were. His gaze swept to the door, sure that at any moment his elfin healers would come crashing into his room. But there was only silence. He brought his gaze back to Vaalde. "Where is everyone?"
"Everyone? Oh, you mean your wardens? They're gone. There's no one here but you and me."
Rugan hesitated a moment, then walked to the door. He reached out tentatively, but his hand made no contact with a WardSpell.
"It's gone," Vaalde said. "You're no longer a prisoner. Now, you can either leave here on your own, return home, continue to play second rate to your half brother, have your rightful magic denied you..."
"Or you can join forces with me."
"Forces? What do you mean?"
"Think about a few things here, Rugan. How many magics are there in the land?"
Rugan shrugged. He didn't know.
"Less than a dozen. Of those the two most powerful are elfin and sorcery. Now, if a man were to have control of both, think what that man could do."
"How could a man control both?" Rugan asked, his interest finally piqued.
"Simple. Sorcery magic has been banned for use here in Glede."
"Then what did you use there?" Rugan gestured to the window.
Vaalde laughed. "It's been banned for use, Rugan. I just don't happen to agree with that ban."
"So, you can use sorcery magic?"
"And you can use elfin magic. A perfect team, don't you think?"
Rugan paused, his gaze still on the window. "I don't know how to use elfin magic. No one would show me. They said my mind wasn't strong enough, that I wasn't capable of using the magic." He snorted his disdain at the mere thought. As if that half-elfin, half-brother of his was. And to make things worse, a Dresari elf was now king. The Dresari had no direct blood-ties to the elfin crown--none. It was only because of Kyel's close friendship with Fredek, now deceased, that the black elf had been elevated to such a position. A position that Treyas stood to inherit. Rugan had tried to deny Treyas' heritage, but the fact that the elf shared a strong heritance from their father would not allow such denial. Even now, Rugan could see the mis-matched blue and green eyes Treyas had inherited. It should have been me. I should have been the one to inherit that, not Treyas! Rugan scowled in rage, then started when Vaalde lightly touched him on the shoulder.
"I will help you, Rugan," the sorcerer said quietly. "But first we need to get you away from here, to someplace safe. We can't have those who would seek your power to try to keep you from it."
"Where will we go?"
"Leave that to me, Your Highness," Vaalde said smoothly.
Rugan regarded him suspiciously, then moved away. "Why do you want to help me? What's in it for you?"
Vaalde shrugged. "I already told you. Half. Half of the power, half of the glory, half of the lands."
Rugan pondered on the words for a moment, then asked the nagging question, "How? How do you propose to take control over the elfin magic?"
"With the Triskelion."
Rugan sucked in his breath, his thoughts spinning. He knew of the Triskelion. It was part of his family's legacy. Centuries ago, all elfin magic had been stored in the medallion, stripped from a land devastated by war. The theory was that without magic, things would be simpler, less violent. But it hadn't proved to be so. Just two years earlier, when another war threatened, the magic of the Triskelion had been freed. Two pieces had been re-joined by two people--the King of the North, and the Elfin Crown Prince. Only that prince hadn't been him. No, he'd been denied that right by the Triskelion itself. Anger gnawed at his gut, and his hands balled into fists, as he felt again the sting of rejection.
"Think, Rugan," Vaalde said softly, his words draping over Rugan like a comforting shroud. "Think what you could do with your magic."
Rugan did. He fairly trembled at the prospects. But ... he half turned to face the man. "But I don't have the Triskelion," he pointed out, his tone surly. "Treyas does."
Vaalde smiled. "Come here."
Rugan did as told, sinking down in the chair opposite Vaalde. Thesorcerer reached for his hands. Rugan allowed it, although his muscles tensed warily.
"Now, then," Vaalde said. "Think about the Triskelion, Rugan. Remember it. Picture it. At the moment, it's empty. Give it some magic, Rugan. Elfin magic. Your magic."
Rugan frowned. In his mind's eyes he could see the Triskelion. It glowed with an internal fire that called to him. It should have been his to carry. And he had never even touched it. His right, his legacy, had been stripped from him by his illegitimate half-brother, Treyas. And that cocky little bastard, King Jansson, had helped.
Rugan's anger increased. If he had the magic, he could get revenge. He would remove Treyas, send him packing back to the whorehouse he'd probably come from. And he would find a way to tear apart Jansson's life as well, to make the young king feel the pain of rejection and loneliness. Loneliness that he, Rugan, had grown up with, that had been his only companion these many years. Then he would follow his rightful path to the crown of the elfin empire. He would be King Rugan Merripen, King of the Elves. If only he had his magic!
He gasped and leapt to his feet as a jolt of energy shot through him. Vaalde looked up at him, smiling.
"Well done!" he cried, getting to his feet. "For someone who does not know how to handle magic, you did a splendid job!"
"What did I do?" Rugan asked.
"You just pulled elfin magic, my friend."
"I did? I pulled the magic?"
"Yes, and, as per your heritage as elfin royalty, you were also able to direct it straight into the Triskelion. And there it will remain until you, and only you, are ready to remove it. Ready to use it. Ready to reclaim your kingdom, and your magic."
Rugan stared at the man, excitement surging through him with as much intensity as the magic. Yes. He would reclaim his heritage! And no one, not Treyas, not even Kyel--no one would stop him. He looked at Vaalde, and smiled. "I think," he said, "this is the start of a wonderful and lucrative partnership."
Treyas selected a MagicStrand, directed it toward the candle and concentrated. For a moment, nothing happened, then the candle exploded, raining flaming bits of wax onto the scarred tabletop. His instructor quickly extinguished the flames with a small bit of wizard magic. "You lost your focus, Treyas," he said, his voice calm.
Treyas whirled on him. "I can't do this, Van. I wish you and Elek would quit making me try."
Van's amber eyes flashed with exasperation. "It is imperative that you learn to control your magic. Lighting a candle requires pinpoint accuracy."
"Accuracy I don't have! Will never have!" Treyas snapped.
"With practice and patience--"
"What if that had been a person?" Treyas interrupted, gesturing wildly at the remnants of the shattered candle.
"He would be dead," Van said softly. "Exactly why you must learn to--"
"I don't want to learn," Treyas retorted. "I had enough of magic a year ago. If you give it the chance, it takes over."
Van sighed, and Treyas huffed out an exasperated breath and crossed to the window of the training facility. He threw open the shutters and breathed deeply of the salty air. The sea, glossy green, sparkled under the slanting rays of the late afternoon sun. From here he could see the fieldstone cottage where Quinlin and Drisana lived and, if he leaned a little to one side, the thatched roof of the one he shared with his guardian Elek. Ravenscroft village itself lay north and west.
"It's hopeless," he mumbled.
"It is not hopeless," Van said firmly. "And it is something you must learn to do, Treyas! You've seen the results of uncontrolled magic."
Treyas winced, his memories never dull on that. He had killed hundreds in the breath of a moment. "But I didn't mean to," he whispered, pushing the torturous thoughts aside.
"But the results were the same. Precisely why you need to learn to control your magic."
Treyas shook his head. "Why can't I just give it back?"
"Give it back?" Van's voice held just a touch of amusement.
Treyas turned to face him. "Yes, give it back. Elek told me that Kyel was able to use the elfin magic at the Devil's Hold because I gave it to him. Why can't I give it to him again? Once and for all?"
Van was silent for a long moment. He carefully closed the thick books lying on the table before him. "Magic is not something that can be given back, Treyas. What Elek meant was that you allowed Kyel to use the magic at that time. It had chosen you, and only you could release it. Now," he spread his hands, "it no longer belongs to one person. It's free in the world, free for anyone to use ... or abuse."
The last words sent a chill through Treyas. He sagged, and once more glanced out the window. "I'm tired, Van. I don't wantto try anything more tonight. And I'm supposed to leave tomorrow to go see Nissa."
Van's bristly white eyebrows rose in surprise. "With Elek ill? He won't be able to accompany you. And Quinlin would surely be loath to leave Drisana right now with the baby due any day."
"Elek's already agreed to let me go alone this time."
Van's expression was one of astonishment. "Alone? But Treyas, you must remember your position! You are now heir to the throne, and--"
"Hush!" Treyas cried, and quickly closed the shutters. That was the last thing he wanted to get out in the village.
Van frowned, his displeasure obvious. "Treyas, you have got to stop this. You cannot change who you are, or your destiny. Keeping it a secret--"
"Is exactly what I want to do," Treyas said, interrupting once again. "It's what my father wanted, and it's what I want." He sighed, and approached the old wizard. "Please, Van, I'm just not ready to announce it to the whole world. I'm having enough problems just believing it, and dealing with it, myself."
Van shook his head and made a clucking sound. Treyas knew he didn't understand. Treyas wasn't sure he understood it himself. Most elves his age would have been yelling it from the rooftops. They would have taken King Merripen up on his offer to live at the beautiful, and lavish,elfin palace. They would have reveled in the finery, the money, the magic. Why didn't he? He shook the questions aside, and tuned in to what Van was saying.
"If Elek cannot accompany you to Wray, then perhaps I can do so," the wizard muttered.
Treyas rolled his eyes. According to Van, assassins lurked behind every bush, just waiting to waylay a gifted young prince. "I'll be fine, Van. I've been over that trail a hundred times."
"And always with an escort," Van pointed out. He stood and moved toward the door as if the decision had already been made.
Treyas intercepted him. "Come on, Van, I can do this. It's going to start looking suspicious if someone goes with me everywhere. I'm not a child any longer. I'm almost sixteen. I need to start doing things on my own. I'm more than capable."
Van's expression held a hint of puzzlement. He nodded slowly, then walked out of the room into the hall. Treyas followed, smiling, congratulating himself on his persuasive abilities, only to be caught up short by the wizard's stern warning as he closed the door after them. "Take your weapons, and ride your fastest horse."
"I promise," Treyas mumbled, and followed the wizard to the outside door. He took a deep breath of fresh spring air as they crossed the threshold. He'd been cooped up in the training facility all day. It felt good to be free ofits confines. He bade Van a quick goodbye, fearful the wizard would change his mind, and turned toward a path that led through a small copse of cone trees to Elek's cottage. Evening shadows were already lengthening; the woods were cool and dim. He quickened his pace thinking of both a warm hearth and warm food. He was starved. He had just reached the backside of the small stables, when a voice called softly out of the dusk. Treyas started, whirling, Van's words of caution suddenly leapingto the fore. He relaxed as a familiar figure stepped from the shadows. The boy was of the same slight stature as Treyas, but he was human, with fair skin, expressive brown eyes and brown curly hair that fell to his shoulders.
"Gods!" Treyas cried. "Jansson! You scared me. Where in Tor's hell did you come from?"
"I'm glad to see you, too," Jansson said.
Treyas flushed, remembering who stood before him. Jansson van Tannen, just a few days short of his fourteenth birthday, and already with a year's time spent as ruler of the eastern kingdom of Odora Dava. Treyas bowed, then laughed when Jansson grabbed him in a friendly bear-hug. He stepped back and inclined his head. Jansson was attired in traveling clothes--leather tunic and leggings, and a dark brown cloak woven of llamaca hair.
"How did you get here?" Treyas asked glancing about for Jansson's guards. "Where's Kyel?"
"No magic. Kyel's not with me. I rode. At least most of the way."
"You rode? Alone?"
Jansson rolled his eyes. "Of course not. I'm not that stupid."
Treyas waited but it didn't seem an explanation would be forthcoming. "So, where's Ziv then?" he prodded. He found it very odd that Jansson would be in Ravenscroft without either Kyel or his bodyguard, Ziv. Usually the two elves watched him like a hawk.
"He's on furlough," Jansson said.
"Furlough? In Ravenscroft? Who does he know here? I mean, besides me and Elek?"
"All right!" Jansson snapped. "He doesn't know I'm here. Neither does Kyel. I went with them to Lidgerwood. From there Kyel went to the South Keep and Pendorelle. I gave Ziv furlough in Lidgerwood. I'm supposed to be on a game hunt with some of the elves from the Council Chambers, and some of my guards from home."
Treyas gaped at him. "And you slipped them?"
"No! Well, sort of."
Jansson huffed out an irritated breath. "Gods! You're as bad as Kyel! Can't I do anything on my own?"
Treyas winced, hearing the frustration behind the words. "Gods," he mumbled. "I'm as bad as Van. I'm sorry." He looked around. "Where's your horse?"
"He's already in the stables with yours. And I'm sorry I snapped at you. It's just that it's been unbearable these past six months or so. I can scarcely breathe that Kyel doesn't know about it. It's a good thing I didn't think about coming here until after he'd left, or he would have known."
"Is he still reading your mind?" Treyas asked.
"He doesn't call it that. He calls it a MindLink. And he says he can do it only because I subconsciously want him to." Jansson sighed. "And maybe I do."
Treyas well knew of the close bond between Jansson and Kyel--a father-son relationship equally as strong as the one Treyas shared with his guardian, Elek, if not stronger. They had saved each other's lives, and Treyas could think of no stronger bond between two people. And it would do no good to remind Jansson that Kyel was no blood relation to him, that he could send the elf packing at any moment. He knew Jansson would never do that, that he looked to the elf as a mentor, an advisor, and a father figure.
"Can't he MindLink you here?" Treyas asked as they walked.
"I guess not. I haven't felt him, anyway." Jansson frowned. "Come to think of it, he didn't TravelSpell to the South Keep this time, either. He rode." With a shrug, he added, "Maybe he's decided to give up magic for a while."
Treyas shook his head. "I doubt that. Not when he embraced it like he did." The words were said with a certain amount of jealousy and awe. Treyas still could not figure out how Kyel could so expertly use magic that had not been in the land for decades, while he and every other elf had to start from scratch. He led the way into the stables, and put a spark to a small lantern that hung from a support post.
Jansson glanced at the riding gear at the ready and the pack lying on the floor. He waved one hand. "I'd forgotten. Full moon and all that. You're off to see Nissa, aren't you?"
Treyas nodded. "Tomorrow."
"Oh." Jansson shrugged. "Well, if you already have plans, then I guess I can go on without you..." He let his voice trail off, heaved an exaggerated sigh and turned toward the door.
"Go where?" Treyas held him back.
Jansson glanced about as if he expected eavesdroppers to be lurking in the hay, then leaned close to Treyas. "Do you remember the sword I left at the Devils' Hold?"
Treyas nodded. "The one Lyn gave you."
Jansson regarded him steadily. "I'm going back for it."
"What?" Treyas asked, aghast. "Why? The one I left there once belonged to King Gwillim. Still, I don't care if I ever see it again. Especially if I have to go back to that horrible place."
"Well, mine holds different memories than yours. I want it back."
"Why don't you send some of your soldiers after it, then?"
"Are you mad?" Jansson cried. "Kyel would have me on library duty for a month if I sent soldiers on something so trivial as retrieving a sword he thinks I don't need. And he's been so preoccupied lately that I didn't dare ask him about going after it myself."
Treyas brought an armful of hay for Jansson's horse. "What's bothering Kyel?"
"I don't know." Jansson flung up his hands. "Every time he comes home from visiting Rugan, it takes him days to get back to normal. And the last two months have been the worst. Kyel's practically locked himself in either his study or his precious workrooms. I rarely even see him anymore. And when I do, he's so testy I'm not sure I want to be around him. And it's all Rugan's fault. That blasted prince has caused me nothing but grief since the first day we met."
Treyas shook his head, as he thought of the prince. Rugan not only hated Jansson with the passion found only in diseased minds, but had enough animosity left over to hate Treyas, as well. If he ever escaped from the South Keep where he was undergoing mental evaluation ... the thought sent a chill crawling along Treyas' spine. Even though he and Rugan were half-brothers, he certainly wouldn't trust the prince close by, dagger in hand. He paused. Once more he addressed Jansson. "It's been well over a year. You'd think he'd be cured by now. Have the practitioners made any progress at all?"
"Kyel won't comment," Jansson said, and waved the subject away. "Anyway, he'll be gone for days, if not weeks. Plenty of time for us to get to the Devils' Hold and back."
Treyas thought about it, then nodded. "Let me talk to Elek, and--"
"No!" Janssoninterrupted. "If you tell Elek we're going to the Devil's Hold, the first thing he'll do is contact Kyel, and that will be the end of it. No, you can't tell him."
"No!" Jansson said again. He gripped Treyas' arm. "I just want to do this on my own, Treyas. I've spent the last year so cooped up I'm about to go mad. I'm never alone, never out of sight of a bodyguard. Even being a prince was nothing compared to this. I feel... suffocated, trapped. More like a prisoner than a king." He sagged onto the nearest bench. "I want it to be like before. Some of the best times of my life were wandering through the forest with Kyel. No pressures, no one telling me how to act, what to say. I was just myself, Treyas, not King Jansson. Just Jansson. I want to do that again. I want it to be just me and you."
Treyas regarded the young king thoughtfully. While he could understand Jansson's lament, he could also understand Kyel's watchfulness. King Brann van Tannen had no other children. Jansson had been the sole heir to the Davan crown. Treyas couldn't even begin to guess what life must be like to be a king at so young an age.
Thoughts of royalty brought back his own newly discovered heritage. An heir to the elfin crown. Or so everyone said. To Treyas' way of thinking, there was no such lineage. He was only half elfin, and could never see the elfin empire accepting him as anything more than what he was--a bastard child of the crown prince.
Jansson looked up at him, his brown eyes full of despair. Treyas sighed, frowning. He couldn't stand the look of disappointment and resignation.
"It only takes two days to get to Wray, another two back. Even if I add on the three days of land time, that's not enough time to get to the Devil's Hold and back."
"Well, what if you told Elek you wanted to stay and visit for a while?"
Treyas looked at him for a long moment. "I don't like lying to Elek. I feel like I'm breaking a trust."
Jansson sighed, and got to his feet. "Fine. Do me a favor though. Don't tell Elek I was here." He turned toward the horse stall. "The way I figure it, I'll have about a two-day head start on Ziv, before he'll be pounding after me."
"You can't go alone," Treyas said quietly. He thought againof the rigorous training schedule Elek was holding him to, as if learning to use his magic was the most important thing in his life. Well, it wasn't. Spending time with a good friend like Jansson was important, too. He reached out and gripped the young king's arm. "I'll go with you."
Jansson studied him a moment. "And you won't tell Elek?"
Treyas drew a deep breath. "No. We'll go together. Just you and me."
Jansson smiled, and gave Treyas a brief, heartfelt hug. "Thank you, Treyas. You are truly a one-of-a-kind friend."
Treyas smiled back, although trepidation tore at his gut.