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The fire crackled.
Owyn Belefote sat alone in the night before the flames, wallowing in his personal misery. The youngest son of the Baron of Timons, he was a long way from home and wishing he was even farther away. His youthful features were set in a portrait of dejection.
The night was cold and the food scant, especially after having just left the abundance of his aunt's home in Yabon City. He had been hosted by relatives ignorant of his falling-out with his father, people who had reacquainted him over a week's visit with what he had forgotten about his home life: the companionship of brothers and sisters, the warmth of a night spent before the fire, conversation with his mother, and even the arguments with his father.
"Father," Owyn muttered. It had been less than two years since the young man had defied his father and made his way to Stardock, the island of magicians located in the southern reaches of the Kingdom. His father had forbidden him his choice, to study magic, demanding Owyn should at least become a cleric of one of the more socially acceptable orders of priests. After all, they did magic as well, his father had insisted.
Owyn sighed and gathered his cloak around him. He had been so certain he would someday return home to visit his family, revealing himself as a great magician, perhaps a confidant of the legendary Pug, who had created the Academy at Stardock. Instead he found himself ill suited for the study required. He also had no love for the burgeoning politics of the place, with factions of students rallying around this teacher or that, attempting to turn the studyof magic into another religion. He now knew he was, at best, a mediocre magician and would never amount to more, and no matter how much he wished to study magic, he lacked sufficient talent.
After slightly more than one year of study, Owyn had left Stardock, conceding to himself that he had made a mistake. Admitting such to his father would prove a far more daunting task-which was why he had decided to visit family in the distant province of Yabon before mustering the courage to return to the East and confront his sire.
A rustle in the bushes caused Owyn to clutch a heavy wooden staff and jump to his feet. He had little skill with weapons, having neglected that portion of his education as a child, but had developed enough skill with this quarterstaff to defend himself.
"Who's there?" he demanded.
From out of the gloom came a voice, saying, "Hello, the camp. We're coming in."
Owyn relaxed slightly, as bandits would be unlikely to warn him they were coming. Also, he was obviously not worth attacking, as he looked little more than a ragged beggar these days. Still, it never hurt to be wary.
Two figures appeared out of the gloom, one roughly Owyn's height, the other a head taller. Both were covered in heavy cloaks, the smaller of the two limping obviously.
The limping man looked over his shoulder, as if being followed, then asked, "Who are you?"
Owyn said, "Me? Who are you?"
The smaller man pulled back his hood, and said, "Locklear, I'm a squire to Prince Arutha."
Owyn nodded. "Sir, I'm Owyn, son of Baron Belefote."
"From Timons, yes, I know who your father is," said Locklear, squatting before the fire, opening his hands to warm them. He glanced up at Owyn. "You're a long way from home, aren't you?"
"I was visiting my aunt in Yabon," said the blond youth. "I'm now on my way home."
"Long journey," said the muffled figure.
"I'll work my way down to Krondor, then see if I can travel with a caravan or someone else to Salador. From there I'll catch a boat to Timons."
"Well, we could do worse than stick together until we reach LaMut," said Locklear, sitting down heavily on the ground. His cloak fell open, and Owyn saw blood on the young man's clothing.
"You're hurt," he said.
"Just a bit," admitted Locklear.
"We were jumped a few miles north of here," said Locklear.
Owyn started rummaging through his travel bag. "I have something in here for wounds," he said. "Strip off your tunic."
Locklear removed his cloak and tunic, while Owyn took bandages and powder from his bag. "My aunt insisted I take this just in case. I thought it an old lady's foolishness, but apparently it wasn't."
Locklear endured the boy's ministrations as he washed the wound, obviously a sword cut to the ribs, and winced when the powder was sprinkled upon it. Then as he bandaged the squire's ribs, Owyn said, "Your friend doesn't talk much, does he?"
"I am not his friend," answered Gorath. He held out his manacles for inspection. "I am his prisoner."
Trying to peer into the darkness of Gorath's hood, Owyn said, "What did he do?"
"Nothing, except be born on the wrong side of the mountains," offered Locklear.
Gorath pulled back his hood and graced Owyn with the faintest of smiles.
"Gods' teeth!" exclaimed Owyn. "He's a Brother of the Dark Path!"
"Moredhel," corrected Gorath, with a note of ironic bitterness. "'Dark elf,' in your tongue, human. At least our cousins in Elvandar would have you believe us so."
Locklear winced as Owyn applied his aunt's salve to the...