After spending the night in a set of rooms that was to the side of the council room, we gathered in front of the human-sized building to wait for Jocov to see us off.
I brushed my fingers against the hard circle under my shirt. I couldn’t believe I was still wearing the thing—the Hashna Stone. In all my imaginings, I’d never thought that the gemstone I found belonged to the king. Or that the “king” ruling over Minaria was only the twin of the true king. It made sense now—why the “king” suddenly seemed so different after his brother died. Of course “King Radon” seemed different. He was Ryker pretending to be Radon.
“Now we know why the king made that decree, letting soldiers take orphans. It wasn’t Radon, but his twin Ryker,” I told Faiza and Ethan beside me.
“It does explain why the king would do something so out of character,” Ethan said, “but it doesn’t explain why he would make such a rule.”
I shrugged. “Because he’s Ryker. My father said he was lazy. He probably just wants lots of servants so he wouldn’t have to do anything.”
Still, that didn’t make much sense. He’d been rounding up orphans for a while, and I was sure the castle didn’t need servants that badly.
Before the conversation could continue, Rachael appeared with a huge pack on her back. Her pecan-colored hair was swept over one shoulder in ponytail to keep from being tangled in the straps.
“Good morning!” she practically sang.
“Are you moving into the council building?” Faiza asked, eyeing the pack.
“I’m going to Minaria with you.” She smiled brightly.
Faiza let out a forced laugh. “Right. You’d be loads of help when a grimulin comes.”
“I already talked about it with Jocov, and he said I should go.” Rachael looked between the three of us as if trying to gauge if we had a problem with it.
Faiza made it clear by saying, “Well no one told us about it. We decide who’s going with us, not Jocov.”
Rachael looked both hurt and angry at Faiza’s snappiness, but before she could continue, Samel came up beside her. He also had a pack on his back.
“Oh no.” Faiza crossed her arms. “Not you too.”
“What are you doing?” Rachael asked the curly-haired dwarf.
“I’m going with you of course.” He stood a little straighter and looked at the group as if expecting us to clap at his announcement.
“You are not!” Rachael said.
“If you’re going, I’m going. I have to protect my little sister.” Samel looked at us and winked.
“Well you don’t have to go,” Faiza told him, “because she’s not going.”
“My father is there.” Rachael looked at her sharply. “And I haven’t seen him in three years. I’m going.”
Ethan and I exchanged worried glances. Faiza didn’t do well with people ignoring her commands.
“You wouldn’t really want to come with us anyway,” Ethan cut in, trying to cool things down, “We’ll be walking the whole way and sleeping on the ground. We can’t travel on the main roads because we aren’t of age yet and the soldiers might take us, so we’ll be going through woods the whole time.”
“And there will probably be more grimulin after us,” I added.
“And we won’t be able to protect you if they do.” Faiza crossed her arms.
“I don’t need protection,” Rachael said, lifting her head. “I can take care of myself.”
We were interrupted when Jocov came in our midst carrying a sword. The size of the sword was all wrong for a dwarf. It must have been as long as he was tall.
Without greeting he said, “The council began making this sword when we first learned of what had truly happened to the King.” With effort, he held the sheathed sword out for me to see. “It has been enchanted with our best spells. It will never break and will always feel light. It was intended for Rachael’s father, but we have no way to get it to him. I think it would be put to best use by this group.”
Jacov looked at me. “Dalan, we offer this sword to you with our most sincere thanks and hope that you will succeed in your mission.”
He laid it in my hands. I pulled it from its sheath and did a couple of practice swings. It wasn’t as nice as my father’s sword with the wolf head pommel, but it felt good to have a sword in my hand again. Now I had a real weapon, not just a hunting tool like my bow.
Jocov continued speaking. “The others and I stayed up all night to add a final ability to the sword. It can kill a grimulin much faster than any other weapon. That’s why we chose to give the sword to you. You’ll need it most with that around your neck.”
I thought of how many of Faiza’s and Ethan’s arrows it took before the grimulin fell and felt safer with something that could kill it faster.
“Thank you,” I said, sheathing the sword.
Jocov inclined his head. “It is I who should thank you. You are doing not only your own people a great service, but the people of Hashna as well. If King Radon is still alive and can be put back on the thrown, our alliance will be renewed and we won’t have to fear the Dakshen attacking.”
It seemed like such a great responsibility that I was at a loss of words.
Faiza wasn’t though. “Since we’re the ones risking our necks, don’t you think we should choose who comes with us?”
Jocov looked to Rachael and Samel with their packs. He raised an eyebrow when his eyes fell on Samel.
“I did tell Rachael that she could travel with you. She is eager to reunite with her father, and having her with you may make it easier to get into the castle.” Jocov looked to me. “But it is up to you of course.”
“Why are you asking him?” Faiza.
“He’s the one with the Hashna Stone.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“That makes him responsible for it. He has to make whatever decisions he thinks is best for our mission.”
Everyone looked at me.
I swallowed, not sure how to make a decision without making everyone mad.
Faiza was right about them being a burden. Neither one had ever been on the road before as far as I knew. And neither one had a weapon on them. It would be up to us to defend them if we were attacked.
But having Rachael would make it easier to get into the castle. Besides, she hadn’t seen her father in three years. How could I deny her that? I would give anything to see my father if he were still alive.
But what about Samel? He was too small to defend himself. A grimulin could carry him away like a hawk did a chipmunk, and being in charge of defending two helpless people would be more difficult that one.
Check out the Hashna Stone Page for previous chapters