It was the next evening from my meeting with Radon, and I was back in the dungeon. I shoved the food through the bottom of the door without saying anything. I didn’t have time to explain to King Radon what was going on, which he would surely be wondering after I left in such a hurry yesterday.
Bringing food was just an excuse to get down here. Now that I’d gotten rid of it, I took a torch from the wall and made my way to the end of the hall with the grimulin. They were much calmer now. There was no scratching or growling sounds.
Through the barred window, I saw about thirty grimulin pacing back and forth in the cell.
I absently touched the place where the Hashna Stone usually hung. With it not close enough to excite them, they seemed a little more like a pack of wild dogs then the monsters they normally were. A few were in a corner sleeping, but most seemed agitated, though not ferocious like yesterday. They walked back and forth in the cell, snapping and snarling at each other. A few of them flapped their wings, taking them a few feet in the air then dropped back to the ground once they reached the ceiling.
I pulled out the set of keys that Samel had nabbed yesterday, after I’d told them all the plan, and unwrapped them from the cloth they were bound in. The cloth kept them from rattling as I walked. I didn’t need the guards to hear that.
Once they were unwrapped, I chose a random key and stuck it in the key hole. Or at least I tried to. It wouldn’t go in. I tried another one. It fit better, but didn’t unlock the door.
I glanced in the window and saw that all the grimulin were alert. Their dog-like ears were perked and their yellow eyes were trained on me.
I tried another. Click. The door was unlocked but I didn’t open it.
I only wanted to let a few out. We all agreed that three would be enough to get past the guards and make it to the dining hall where Ryker was having dinner with other high-ranking people in the castle—including Tallis.
To make sure the grimulin went there, I had Samel take the stone and sneak into the dining room. Ryker would see them and wonder how they got into the castle and who conjured them. We were hoping that the castle guards would kill them before they got to Samel, but even if they didn’t, Samel wouldn’t be hurt with the Hashna stone on.
I reminded myself that the grimulin on the other side wouldn’t come after me since I didn’t have the stone, then I eased the door open. A black dog-head popped through the crack. Then another.
I opened it a little wider to let their shoulders through.
Four of them came out, clambering over each other. I tried to close the door, but the others were trying to squeeze their way through.
There were squeals and yelps as I trapped their bodies in the door.
Great. I’d let out one more than I needed to and two more were halfway out. I tried to push one back in with my boot to his chest. It growled and snapped at my foot.
I pulled it back quickly. In the moment it took for me to regain my balance, the two that were trapped between the door wriggled out and ran past me. One more leapt out before I could shut the door.
“Cursed things,” I huffed.
I’d just let out seven, a little over double the number I was supposed to. With so many, one of them may get the stone from Samel. I quickly shut the door before anymore could come out and locked it.
Yells came from the entrance of the dungeon letting me know the grimulin had found their way out. They didn’t take long.
I ran down the hall and dashed up the dungeon stairs just in time to see the two guards disappear around a corner.
Chasing after them would do no good. I had to go to Tallis’s chambers first to get my sword. Regular weapons would take too long to kill seven of them, but with the sword the dwarves gave me, I could speed things along and make sure they didn’t reach Samel or the stone.
By the time I retrieved my sword and made it to the dining hall, the grimulin were already there. The soldiers that normally stood guard at the entrance were in the dining hall trying to kill the grimulin so I was able to go in without being noticed.
The room was chaos. The dinner party, all high ranking officials in the king’s court, were cowering along the sides of the room as the grimulin flew around the table, soldiers trailing after them. There was one man who wasn’t huddling along the wall, but standing at the table. His dark blond hair fell to his shoulders, the tips touching the top of a midnight-blue cloak clasped with a silver crescent moon. He stood still, his blue eyes fixed straight ahead, not taking in any of what was going on around him and hypnotically whispering to himself.
He must be Bayvlad.
The group of grimulin were headed toward me. They yipped and yowled like dogs on a hunt and clawed at the air. I wondered if any of their swipes hit Samel.
I counted six of them, then noticed one laying motionless on the floor.
I drew my sword and charged at one closest to me as they flew by. I used both hands and brought the sword to the thing’s neck. The head disconnected from the body and rolled a few inches away.
I made a thrust for another one’s chest, but my sword went through the body like nothing was there, and unneeded momentum almost caused me to drop my sword.
The grimulin I’d stabbed was fading away. For a second I thought Samel was touching it and making it disappear, but then I saw the others were doing the same thing.
They were all fading, becoming transparent. Then, like the flame on a candle being snuffed out, they all disappeared at once.
The soldiers kept their swords raised as if expecting them to appear again, and none of the richly-dressed people on the sides of the room moved.
Bayvlad stopped muttering and sank into one of the chairs. He picked up a goblet and drained the contents.
“What was that?” demanded a voice from the corner of the room. It came from a man with familiar looking blondish-reddish hair, a broad forehead, and blue eyes. I was looking at a cleaner, less tired version of Radon.
Ryker looked just like the painting of King Radon, except he wore his hair in a different style. It was more unruly, with a lock of coppery hair falling over his forehead, instead of slicked back. And instead of a beard like his brother, Ryker wore a mustache.
Any regal bearing he may have had before was gone. His face was as pale as his prison-kept brother and his voice wobbled when he spoke. His silk shirt was stained with…blood? No, it had a purplish color to it. Wine.
“What were those things, Bayvlad?” he demanded. His voice lost the frightened wobble and sounded more angry. Good. Maybe he already suspected it was Bayvlad’s doing.
Bayvlad answered in a calm voice. “Those, my king, were grimulin.”
The nobles gasped and murmured at the news.
“That’s impossible. You can’t see grimulin,” Ryker said.
“They become visible if someone conjures them,” Bayvlad said. I was surprised he was still sitting while addressing the King. “But it takes a lot of energy to do something like that. Someone must want something very badly to conjure so many.”
Why would he say that? Did he want to look guilty?
Tallis stepped up. I didn’t even notice him until then. “Highness, there are very few in Minaria who could conjure such things. And, as Royal Sorcerer Bayvlad said, there must be something they want very much to bring so many here.”
“Thieves? After my wealth?” Ryker suggested.
“I wouldn’t think so, Highness,” said Tallis. “Why go to all the work of conjuring grimulin when hiring a thief would be easier and less conspicuous? The only reason that a person would go to the trouble of conjuring one is to do something that a person couldn’t.”
Tallis looked pointedly at Ryker, hinting that whoever conjured the grimulin had some ill intent toward the wearer of the Hashna Stone, which Tallis pretended to believe was Ryker. Hopefully, this would get Ryker to think about where the Hashna Stone really was—or at least where he thought it was—and suspect that someone in his inner circle was trying to collect the stone for themselves.
I didn’t hear Ryker’s response. One of the soldiers noticed me. “Boy! What are you doing here?”
“I saw the grimulin flying around the castle and thought I could help.”
The soldier looked at the sword in my hand. “A recruit? Why are you in the castle? You should be in the training yard.”
“He’s with me.” I was relieved that Tallis spoke for me, but now every eye in the room was looking in my direction. Tallis gave me the look that a father gives a disobedient son. “Go back to my chambers.”
“Wait,” Bayvlad said. “You said you saw the grimulin?” He must have heard what I told the soldier. “Did you see where they came from?”
I swallowed. Did he suspect me of letting them out of the dungeon? No, he just wanted to make sure no one saw them coming out of the dungeon.
“There were in the hall just outside of this room.”
“And why were you just outside of this room?”
I had no trouble making myself look like I was ashamed to be caught. “I was hoping to get a glimpse inside. Everyone talks about how great the king’s feasts are.” I was thankful I didn’t say Ryker’s feasts.
“Children,” said Tallis, shaking his head. “Full of inquisitive minds and mischief.”
“He almost got more mischief than he bargained for.” Bayvlad studied me like he knew there was more to my story.
“Lucky for him, he’s good with the sword,” said the soldier. “He killed that monster with one good whack. Chopped his head clean off.”
“He killed it with one stroke?” Bayvlad looked even more interested in me now.
“This one here,” said the soldier motioning to the headless grimulin, blood draining out of its neck and pooling on to the polished floor.
“Do you know anything about these grimulin, boy?” Ryker asked.
I shook my head and repeated what I said about seeing them outside the room.
The nobles began talking amongst themselves, trying to figure out why seven creatures who were supposed to only exist in some unseen spirit realm had ruined their meal.
“A suggestion, King Radon,” Tallis said. It was strange to hear that name applied to Ryker. “Perhaps we should discuss what just happened in private.”
Ryker agreed and he and a small group including Tallis and Bayvlad left through a door in the back of the dining room while the rest of us were shuffled out through the main doors. I hurried thought them, partly glad that I had escaped without further questioning, partly disappointed that I couldn’t go with Tallis and hear what was going on.
Once the guards shut the dining room off, I stood in the hallway watching the nobles go their separate ways, talking in excided, worried whispers.
“That was exciting,” said a voice to my left. Even knowing that Samel was around didn’t keep me from jumping a little. I still wasn’t used to having a voice without a body talk to me. I shushed him in a way that reminded me of Rachael.
“No one’s around to hear,” said Samel’s voice. “Besides I wanted to get your attention before you went all the way back to Tallis’s chambers.”
“I know how we can listen to their conversation.”
I couldn’t deny that I was curious to know what they would say, but it might be too risky to listen in.
Samel must have sensed I was about to turn him down. “I’m going anyway, if you come or not.”
In that case, it may be better to go with him to make sure he stays out of trouble.
Check out the Hashna Stone Page for previous chapters.