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Our Journey Comes to an End

I can’t believe it’s over! I’m feeling kind of nostalgic already.

Yesterday, I posted the last chapter of The Hashna Stone. It’s been a long and memorable journey and I wanted to thank you all for being a part of it. It wouldn’t have been the same without you! 🙂

I had so much fun writing this story, but like all stories, they can be a pain at times. There were a few people who help lessen that “pain” part of writing a story and I’d like to give them a huge thank you.

First off, I’d like to thank Joy Pixley for being a fantastic NaNoWriMo buddy, which is when I wrote the draft for The Hashna Stone. Her encouraging emails kept me writing and it was nice to have someone to be accountable to. Thanks for being my NaNo partner Joy!

Next, I’d like to thank clcouch123. He has been the biggest supporter of the Hashna Stone. Seriously, he commented on every chapter (and no I didn’t bribe him :P). And I don’t mean he typed something nondescript like, “This is good.” He had something insightful and encouraging to say about every chapter. That is dedication! 🙂 So, thanks clcouch123 for giving me something to look forward to after posting each chapter.

Last, but most certainly not least, is Nandini. She was nice enough to point out a few mistakes in the first two or three chapters I posted, and even nicer to offer to proofread the chapters before I posted them. Nandini took the time to read over every single chapter of this ongoing adventure (even reading on here vacation and through exam week…she’s a trooper!). She made sure that all the funky grammar mistakes that made it past my foggy writer’s brain, didn’t make it into the final draft of the chapter. So, you can thank Nandini for a much better experience of The Hashna Stone than I could have given you on my own. Thank you Nandini for patching up my story! 🙂

Now that I’m done saying my part, you guys get a chance to speak. I’d love to know what you thought of the story. What was your favorite part? Who was your favorite character? Comment and tell me your thoughts!

Missed some chapters? No problem! They’re all at the Hashna Stone Page .

Twitter_bird_iconThis little blue bird will take you to my Twitter page where it will continuously feed you random lines about writing, blogging, and the world inside my head.

Chapter 34 All as it Should Be

I couldn’t believe this was all in our honor. The banquet hall was packed with people.

I glanced to my left where King Radon sat at the head of the table, looking much more kingly now that his reddish-blond hair was trimmed and clean. Who would have thought that I’d be sitting at the king’s side, eating with him at a banquet held to celebrate me? I wished my father were here to see this.

The banquet wasn’t only celebrating me of course. Ethan and Faiza sat next to me and Tallis was across from me, followed by Rachael, then Samel who, besides looking a little pale, was back to his usually self. I stole a quick look at his hand lying on the table next to his plate to see if it had miraculously started moving after a week of being motionless, even though I knew the doctors said the feeling wouldn’t come back. I may have carried the Hashna Stone safely to the castle and taken a foolishly-brave swing at Ryker, but Samel was the one who’d sacrificed the most.

King Radon stood and the room quieted even before he spoke.

“We are here to celebrate those who have bravely fought for the King of Minaria when he could not fight for himself. They have uncovered truth, traveled far, fought hard, and given much to ensure that the rightful king sat on Minaria’s throne.”

The king paused as the people applauded, then continued, “Faiza. Ethan. For your service to Minaria, what would you ask as a reward?”

Faiza and Ethan looked at each other, caught off guard at the question. Faiza spoke. “I want the law about nabbing orphans to be changed.”

King Radon’s lips curved upward in a smile. “Everything that was done while I was away from the throne will be revoked. Since this hardly counts as a gift, is there anything else?”

Ethan spoke this time. “We would like to have some houses built, if it’s not too much to ask.”

King Radon raised an eyebrow.

Faiza explained. “They’re for some kids. They don’t have any.”

Of course that was all Faiza and Ethan would ask for. Faiza may have complained a bit when we were selected to bring the Hashna Stone to the castle, but it was only because she didn’t want to leave the Foxes. Even now when she had the chance to be compensated for time she’d been away from them, all she wanted to do was make sure they were taken care of.

I rubbed my fingers on the cloth napkin in front of me, wondering what I should ask for. I didn’t have a group of kids I was looking after. Would asking something for myself be selfish?

The king gave his consent, then addressed Tallis. “To you, I give a choice of any position in my court. Name it and it is yours.”

Tallis bowed his head humbly. “All I would ask, Highness, is to be reinstated to my position as ambassador to Hashna.”

“I would gladly give Hashna their ambassador back.” King Radon smiled. “He’s been too long away already.” Then he looked at Rachael. “Is that your request also?”

My stomach fell. Hashna was much further away than Faiza’s and Ethan’s Foxes. If she went back to Hashna, who knows how long it would be before I would see her again.

“Actually,” Rachael said, “I’d like to stay here and help train the orphans Bayvlad brought in.”

I glanced at Tallis, wondering what he thought of Rachael’s idea. He didn’t look surprised at all, and I guessed they’d talked about it before now.

“I would be honored to have your help,” King Radon said. “And in a few years, I may have you put in Bayvlad’s position.”

Rachael dipped her head. “Thank you, your highness.” When she lifted her head, she grinned at me, like I’d been the one responsible for the offer. I was surprised by how much warmth spread through me.

Then I knew what I would ask the king for. It would be something that was both for me and others.

“Samel,” King Radon said. The dwarf was munching on a piece of cake topped with strawberries and grapes. His mouth was so full, his cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk’s. Anyone else would find it embarrassing to have the attention of the room focused on them at that moment, but Samel simply kept chewing and gave the king a salute with his left hand.

“What is it you would ask for a reward?” King Radon asked with a slight smile.

Samel swallowed loudly. “I’ve already got it. The alliance is back in place between Hashna and Minaria, and Tallis is coming back. I couldn’t ask for more than that.” Then he tapped his chin. “Though you could order Rachael to come back with us.” He winked at Rachael.

King Radon’s half smile turned into a full one. “I’m afraid you’ll have to be content with just Tallis. But I can offer you more than the alliance as a reward.” He motioned to a butler beside a door who opened it and let in three servants carrying miniatures sets of clothing: tiny shirts, jackets, trousers, and shoes.

“I heard you were having trouble finding clothing in your size,” the king said. Samel hopped out of his chair and went to examine the clothes, running his hands over the cloth, trying on a jacket. Some of the nobles at the table laughed. Others looked embarrassed or annoyed at his lack of propriety. But King Radon didn’t seem to mind.

When Samel was finished reveling, he stopped by King Radon’s chair and raised his right arm, hand hanging limp at the top. He caught himself and let it fall to his side with a shrug. He grinned like a mischievous child caught nabbing a cookie. “Some habits take a while to get rid of.”

He began to lift his good hand, but King Radon took hold of Samel’s limp one and shook it.

“Minaria is in your debit for what you did,” King Radon said, keeping Samel’s hand in his. “If you ever need anything, know that you have a friend in Minaria’s king.”

As Samel came back to his seat he was smiling, but his eyes looked moist. Maybe it was just the candle light.

Next, King Radon’s attention was directed at me. “Dalan, without you the Hashna Stone would still be lost, and Minaria’s throne still being held by a pretend king. All of Minaria is grateful for your bravery. And I am grateful for your loyalty.”

I ducked my head, feeling a bit awkward, but hoping it would look like the respectful bow that Rachael and her father gave earlier.

“What would you ask?”

“I would like to train in the army,” I said, firmly. “I want to serve Minaria like my father did.”

My dream to become a soldier like my father had faded when they began nabbing orphans, but now that they would no longer be doing that, I could join the army like I’d always wanted. It was an honorable request. I wasn’t asking for items or a title, but to protect Minaria and serve its king.

Besides, training as a soldier would mean staying at the castle with Rachael.

King Radon nodded. “I couldn’t have asked for a better soldier than your father. I know you will make him proud.” He motioned to the butler at the door, who again opened it. There was only one servant that came through this time, holding something out in front of him. “If you are to be in the army, you will need a sword.”

As the servant approached, I saw the pommel of the sword in his arms.

It was the face of a wolf.

I reached out and touched it, tracing the eyes and nose as I did so many times when I was a child. Then I took it, holding on to it like it was my father come back from the dead.

I looked up to give my thanks to King Radon, but my throat was too tight. I realized my eyes were moist and I blinked. I hoped everyone watching would think it was just the candlelight.

———

Once the gifts were given, everyone headed to the ballroom, but I’d never been much of a dancer, so I slipped outside to one of the gardens.

I stood looking over the neatly trimmed plants and fingered the wolf on my father’s sword at my side. It didn’t comfort me as much as I thought it would.

After wanting so badly to get rid of the Hashna Stone, I was surprised at how empty I felt now that it was gone. It wasn’t that I missed its familiar weight around my neck or the power that it gave. It was the togetherness that the stone brought. Our little group came together because of it, and now that it was in its rightful place, there was nothing to keep us together anymore. Since my father died, I hadn’t felt close to anyone until I met them. Now, we would go our separate ways.

Rachael stepped out and stood beside me.

At least she wasn’t leaving. That thought chased away my sudden gloom. Then I realized I was staring at her and smiling like an idiot, so I quickly thought of something to say.

“You don’t want to dance?” I asked.

“I don’t know how.” She shrugged.

“A girl? Not know how to dance?” I gave her an exaggerated, disbelieving look.

She rolled her eyes. “I was taller than all the men in the nation by the time I was eight. Who was I supposed to dance with?”

“There’s plenty of tall men around now.”

“Are you asking me to dance?”

“Well no…”  My cheeks heated.  “I can’t exactly dance either.”

“Oh, so you were trying to get me to leave.”

“No. I don’t want… I didn’t mean…”

She laughed.  “I’m just kidding.”

It was my turn to roll my eyes.

“So, do you?” Her eyebrows rose over her blue eyes.

“Do I what?”

“Want to dance.”

“How do we dance if neither of us know how?”

She shrugged. “Just go with it.” She took my hand and my heart sped up.

Just as we were getting into position, the door opened behind us and we both jumped like rabbits. Faiza, Ethan, and Samel spilled out into the night.

“You two aren’t dancers either huh?” asked Faiza.

We looked at each other, then burst out laughed, thinking that we were about to dance.

“Someone’s had too much of the wine.” Faiza shook her head.

“I wouldn’t mind dancing,” Samel said, “if all the girls weren’t such giants.”

“You’ll be back with your midget friends soon,” Faiza said, but there was a smile on her lips.

“And will I be glad to not have to worry about being stepped on,” Samel said. “You Minarians need to look down more often.”

“I’ll just be glad to get away from you,” Faiza said. “You’re worse than all the kids at our camp combined.” Then the smile slipped from her face and she looked out into the darkness. “I hope the boogers are still there and didn’t starve to death while we were gone.”

“With you whipping them into shape?” I said. “They’ll be fine. What I can’t see is you as head mistress of an orphanage.”

She whirled on me like I’d suggested that would be a fat old maid with seven cats. “Why would I be head of an orphanage?”

“They’re building you a house, aren’t they? For orphans.  And you and Ethan are the leaders.”

She lifted her chin. “It won’t be an orphanage. It will be run just like it was in the woods. They’re free to come and go as they want.”

“We’ll just be in rooms with beds now,” said Ethan.

“Just like the woods huh?” I asked, thinking about the pledge, and how much trouble I’d be in if the stone I’d found had been anything less than the Hashna Stone. “I’m glad I’m getting out now then.”

Ethan grinned and Faiza gave me a look. “I can’t help that you’re a scoundrel that breaks your pledge.” A flicker of a smile played on her mouth.

There was a small lull in the conversation where everyone seemed to realize that this was our last night together.

“What does your father think of you staying?” I asked Rachael, thinking of how long she’d been separated from him already.

She sighed. “He wants me to come with him, but we talked about it. I’ll still get to see him. He comes to the castle once a year for an annual meeting, and I can visit him. He understands that there is nothing for me in Hashna.”

“Thank you very much!” huffed Samel.

Rachael ruffed his hair. “Besides you of course.”

Samel smoothed his hair back into place with his left hand, his right hand dangling by his side. “I won’t miss you doing that.” He grinned.

“I will,” she said. “I’ll miss all of you.”

Ethan looked at the ground and Faiza cleared her throat, clearly uncomfortable.

“I guess I’ll miss you all too,” Samel said. “But not nearly as much as I miss this.”  He held up his hand.  Well, he held up his arm.  His hand wasn’t there.

We all startled at the sight of his handless arm. Then he laughed and his hand appeared, hanging limply on top of his arm.  He’d made just part of him disappear.  I didn’t know he could do that.

“It won’t be the same without all of you to scare.”

“That’s something I won’t miss,” Faiza said dryly.

I would. I was going to miss Samel’s pranks and his cheeky grin. I was going to miss Ethan’s easygoing way and Faiza’s sarcasm.

They were my family. And now we were splitting up.

But maybe that was how it was with families.

I thought of my father and fingered the wolf on his sword. Maybe he wasn’t here right now, but that didn’t mean he ever stopped being my father. Space between people didn’t mean they stopped being who they were. It didn’t mean they stopped being connected to you.

We might each go our separate ways, but we’d always remember each other.  We may not always get along, but we’d be there for each other. And like Rachael and her father, family may separate for a while, but they never stay apart forever.

 


Next (A thank you to all involved)

Missed some chapters? No problem! They’re all at the Hashna Stone Page .

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Chapter 33: Samel

When I woke, I didn’t open my eyes. They were too heavy to be moved, like the rest of my body. I was drifting back to sleep when I realized the familiar weight of the Hashna Stone wasn’t on my chest. I moved my hand to the spot, and was surprised by how stiffly it moved. Then I remembered the fight with Bayvlad, my blackened, bent sword, Radon’s confrontation with his brother, and Samel’s brave attempt to take the Hashna Stone. The image of his small body lying motionless on the floor and his curly dark hair surrounding his bloodless face filled my mind, and I bolted out of bed.

I was disoriented to find myself in a room that wasn’t one of Tallis’s, but the regal blue and silver decorum let me know I was still in the castle. I rummaged through the stately dresser drawers for my clothes, but couldn’t find them. I shoved the last drawer shut and let out a huff of air. I couldn’t go searching through the castle for news about Samel in my nightshirt.

I shrugged. Then again, maybe I would. I started toward the door when it opened and a maid walked in. I froze in my nightshirt, feeling foolish.

“You shouldn’t be up,” the woman said trying to hustle me back into bed, but I didn’t move.

“Where is Samel? And Rachael and her father? And—“

“They’re all fine.” She frowned at me, clearly dissatisfied that I wouldn’t move back to the bed.

“Even Samel?  He’s…”

“Resting. Like you should be.”

“I want to see him. All of them. Where are my clothes?”

She snorted. “Those things you were wearing?  The ones with holes through them and blood on them?  We burned them.”

“I had another pair in Tallis’s place.”

“We haven’t had the time to move your things,” she said, looking at me as if I should know this. “It’s been a bit hectic around here after what happened.”

“What has happened?” I knew Radon had the Hashna Stone back but I didn’t know what happened after that. Had the court accepted him?  Did the soldiers believe that he was Radon? Or did they think he was some look-a-like Bayvlad hired to help steal the crown? Surely once his face was washed, his beard trimmed, and his hair untangled they would be able to see that the resemblance was too much to anyone but Radon.

The maid looked at me like I’d gone mad.  “What happened?  Aren’t you the one who caused what happened? And you’re asking what happened.”  She shook her head and let out a huff of air.

“I mean, Radon is king again, isn’t he?”

The door came open again and Rachael, Faiza, and Ethan spilled in.

“I told you three to come back later.” They maid scowled at them. “Let him rest.”

“He looks rested to me.” Faiza looked me over with a smile playing at her lips and I was keenly aware that I was still in my nightshirt.

“Did everyone decide to stop knocking?” I said.

“Is that anyway to great your friends after all we’ve been through together?” Ethan asked with a smile.

“Sorry,” Rachael said.  “We were worried about you.”  Her apology wasn’t very helpful because her whole face looked like it was trying to hold in a giant giggle.

“If you were so worried, you wouldn’t be busting down his door without any thought to his health.”  The maid put her hands on her hips, but no one paid her any attention.

“What’s happening?” I asked, hoping to get more answers from them than I had from the maid. “How long have I been out?”

“Only since yesterday,” Rachael said. “You’ve slept through the night.”

“Which is more than we could say,” Faiza said.  “You’re lucky you knocked out like that.”

I didn’t feel lucky. My body was achy, like I had the flu.

“There was a lot of confusion,” Ethan said.  “Tallis and Radon— King Radon I mean—called a meeting with all the nobles to straighten everything out.”

“My father explained how Ryker asked the dwarves to make him a new stone,” Rachael said, gesturing animatedly, “and how he became angry when they wanted to use magic to see the stone.  He told them how they saw King Radon in a prison cell, using the stone, and how you found the Hashna Stone and brought it here.”

“We had to stay up half the night with them,” Faiza said, “to tell our side.  Basically we were robbed of our sleep just so we could tell those stuffy nobles that Tallis was telling the truth.”  She rolled her eyes.

“But Radon is king once more,” said Rachael.

“What happened to Ryker?” I asked.  Last I’d seen him, he was held between two soldiers.

“The council found him guilty of treason and sentenced him to death,” Ethan said.

“Doesn’t the king get to decide?” I asked.

“He can overrule anything they decide,” said Rachael, “but I think he was glad to have them make the decision for him. I get the feeling he didn’t actually want to be the one responsible for killing his brother.”

I thought back to the fight yesterday. Radon could have run Ryker though, but instead he told the soldiers to take him.  Perhaps even after all that Ryker had done, it was still difficult for Radon to kill family.

The door opened again and an aged gentleman came in.  He was carrying a small bag and I assumed he was the doctor. He frowned when he saw all the people in my room.

“I thought I told you to keep people out of his room,” he said to the maid.

She gave a huff. “How am I supposed to keep them out?  The castle walls couldn’t keep them out and the dungeon doors couldn’t keep them in. How is a maid supposed to keep them from doing anything?”

“Alright,” said the doctor. “Everyone out.”

“See you later, invalid,” Faiza said as she left.  Ethan gave a wave.

“Wait,” I said to Rachael just before she followed them.  “Samel?”

She gave a small smile. “He’s fine. He’s been sleeping, but the doctor says he’ll recover.  He’s tougher than he looks.”

I wanted to say something else.  Something about how relieved I was that he was alive.  How sorry I was that I hadn’t been able to kill Ryker with my twisted sword.  But no words came and I just nodded.

“I’ll come get you as soon as he’s well enough to receive visitors.”  And she left before the maid could shoo her out.

———

I woke up the next day to pounding on my door.

“Just a second,” I called as I hurried to dress.  My clothes were brought to me yesterday. Which was a good thing, because I was summoned by the nobles to tell them how I’d found the Hashna Stone and everything that had happened afterward.  It was the only thing that I’d been allowed out of my room for.  After my friends’ short visit yesterday morning, I’d spent most of the day bored out of my mind.

Once I was dressed, I opened the door. Rachael was on the other side, her blue eyes shining.  I was suddenly aware that I hadn’t combed my hair and ran my fingers through it.

“The doctor is allowing visitors.”

At first I thought she was talking about visitors for me, then I realized she was talking about Samel.

He was in the room next to mine so it didn’t take long for us to get there. Rachael opened the door. “Go ahead. I’ve already had my visit.”

I stepped in and Rachael shut the door behind me. The bed in the center looked even bigger with someone as small as Samel laying in it.  He looked like a doll tucked under the covers of a child’s bed. He was sitting up, surrounded by so many pillows he looked as if he would drown in them.

“You gave us the biggest scare of our lives,” I said, then thought that probably wasn’t the best thing to say to someone who’d almost died.

“That’s what I’m best at.” He gave that cheeky grin of his and almost looked normal except for his sallow cheeks.

I smiled back. “You did that just to scare us, didn’t you?”

“Of course.”

I shook my head, the smile falling from my face.  “I thought you were gone.”

“So did I.” It was the first time I’d seen him look so serious. “It was quite a chance. The Hashna Stone couldn’t be taken by a human hand.  But what about a dwarf?”

“Then you knew it wouldn’t kill you?”

“Had no idea.” He shook his head, making his curls swirl. “The wording of magic is a tricky thing.  If the dwarves that made it said ‘human hands’ and left it at that, then it wouldn’t kill me. I didn’t know if they included ‘dwarf hands’ or not.”  He shrugged. “I saw you charge in with that crooked blade in your hand, and thought ‘if he’s crazy enough to do that, I’m crazy enough to take that stone.’”

I was suddenly glad that I’d decided to rush in, even if my plan didn’t work.

“But it still zapped you,” I said.

Samel shrugged.  “Who knows how those spells were worded. I guess my hands were enough like human hands that it wouldn’t let me take it freely. But not enough like a human that it killed me.” Samel lifted his right hand.  Well, he lifted his arm. His hand flopped forward in a crumple of limp fingers.  “It got its revenge though. It didn’t let the hand I grabbed it with come away unscathed like the rest of me. I still can’t feel a thing.”

I swallowed. What could I say? Was it polite to ask if he would ever be able to use it again?

“Is it permanent?” I blurted. Too late to think about what was polite.

He let his hand fall limply to the quilt. “The doctors aren’t sure. They’ve never dealt with injuries from magical dwarf stones.” He wiggled his eyebrows.

“Maybe the feeling will come back later.”

“That’s what the doctors said. I think they’re just saying that to make me feel better.  They think that just because I’m the size of one of your children that I am one.” He let out an indignant huff.  He glanced his stiff fingers, then looked away. “It’s just a hand, not my life.”  He tried to keep his voice cheerful, but it cracked at the end of his sentences.

Nothing I could say would make up for the loss of his hand. But I knew what would at least lighten the moment. “One thing’s for sure,” I said, grinning. “I was pretty smart for letting you come with us.”

He grinned back. “You sure were.”

Next

—————–

 

Missed some chapters? No problem! They’re all at the Hashna Stone Page .

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Chapter 32: Unlikely Hero

The doors led to a spacious sitting room littered with over-turned furniture, dead grimulin, and it was packed with soldiers. Ryker stood in the center between his two bodyguards, the Hashna Stone still around his neck. Radon stood opposite from him, looking even shabbier now that he was next to his twin.

Faiza and Ethan were standing behind Radon along with several soldiers forming a protective half-circle around him. They must be some of the soldiers that knew of Ryker’s treachery before now. I started to join them, but a bout of dizziness swept over me, so I stayed by the door and leaned against the wall.

“That is not my brother,” Ryker said. “He died three years ago.”

“I am Radon. Rightful King of Minaria,” Radon looked more like a beggar than a king with his uncombed hair and shabby beard, but his voice was commanding, where Ryker’s came across as whiny. “Ryker, the scoundrel that now wears the crown, put a sleeping potion in my drink and dragged me to the dungeon. Then he claimed that it was Ryker who died, while he pretended to be me.”

There were several shouts of outrage.  A few directed at Ryker, dressed in the king’s robes and decorated with the crown, but most were directed at Radon. The soldiers were having trouble deciding who to believe.

“This is madness!” Ryker’s eyes were wild, like a man on a piece of driftwood in a storm. “This man dares to come in here and accuse me—Radon, King of Minaria—of stealing my own throne.”

“He is your twin,” called one of the soldiers near Radon.  “There’s no mistaking that.”

“Perhaps I should come closer, brother,” Radon said. “So you can recognize me.”

“I buried Ryker three years ago.  I identified him with my own eyes.  If this is Ryker, then he has either found a way to fake his own death or has been raised from the dead.” Ryker gave a barking laugh that no one joined.

“I am Radon,” Radon said firmly.

“If you are Radon, then why am I wearing the Hashna Stone?” Ryker pointed at Radon. “This man is in league with Bayvlad! They have plotted together to steal my crown. Seize him!”

The soldiers around Radon lifted their swords, ready to fight.  The others in the room either stayed put or only took a few hesitant steps toward Radon. No one wanted to risk killing him if he was the king.

“I know who the real king is!” Tallis strode into the room followed by twenty soldiers and a handful of people dressed in wealthy clothing that must be important officials. Right behind them came Rachael.  She was still pale, but she wasn’t shaking.  She spotted me leaning against the wall and came over.

“Are you alright?” She looked me over.  I realized I was probably as pale as she was, and I was covered in scrapes from the grimulin’s talons. I nodded.

“You,” Ryker scoffed.  “You who were arrested for conspiring to steal my stone! This only proves that my twin is in league with Bayvlad.”

“These will vouch for what I have to say.” Tallis gestured to the officials.  “Our true king has been locked in a dungeon for the past three years.”

“Silence!  Guards, kill the traitors.”  No one listened to Ryker’s demands. Their eyes were fixed on Tallis.

“As many of you know, I was once an ambassador to Hashna and before I left, a very strange thing happened. Our king came to the dwarves and asked for a new stone to be made for him, because his had been stolen—“

Ryker drew the sword at his hip and charged at his brother.  “If you cowards won’t defend your king…” Ryker swung at Radon, but Radon blocked it. The guards around him tried stabbing at Ryker, but their swords didn’t cut him. Rachael stiffened beside me and put a hand on my arm. I gritted my teeth feeling helpless. After wearing the stone for so long, I knew there was no way for anyone to hurt him, no matter how strong or skilled they were.

Ryker laughed, “Fools!”

His two body guards followed him in his charge and attacked Radon’s soldiers, but there were only two of them and about a dozen surrounded Radon. They were soon killed.

Ryker continued slashing at his brother paying no attention to his fallen body guards or to the men that tried attacking him in spite of the stone’s protection.

The rest of the soldiers didn’t know who to attack. What if they chose the wrong side and killed the real king? That would mean their death for sure.

I started forward, ready to join the fight. But what was I going to do? Kill Ryker who had the protection of the Hashna Stone? Grab the stone and be shocked to death?

We’d gotten this far for nothing. Radon may be a better swordsman than Ryker, but eventually Ryker would wear him out. Once he died we’d be back in the dungeon, or if we were lucky, running for our lives, or hiding in some other country.

I shook myself. There had to be something that could stop Ryker.  My sword!  It was immune to Bayvlad’s magic, maybe it wouldn’t be hindered by the stone’s magic either.  It was a long shot, but it was the only thing I could think of.

I turned and ran back to the hall, causing another burst of dizziness. I slowed long enough to let it pass, then found my bent and blackened sword.

“What are you doing?” asked Rachael as I came back to the room. I didn’t answer. My mind was focused on one thing.

I would only have one chance to make this count. Ryker wouldn’t be expecting anything to actually be able to hit him and his surprise would be my only advantage.

That is, if it actually could hit him. It may be a bit beat up, but it should still have the magic that the dwarves put into it.

I pushed passed the soldiers and ran toward Ryker whose back was to me. Perfect. I would hit him in the back of the neck. I couldn’t exactly stab with my sword bent like that. The tip was curved in. The blade was still sharp though.

I brought the blade down across the back of his neck and was pleasantly shocked that it made contact.  Blood came out. Ryker stumbled forward, but didn’t fall as I expected. The gash on the back of his neck wasn’t deep.  My seared sword wasn’t as sharp as I’d thought.

He righted himself and faced me with wide eyes.

I would have laughed at his expression, but all that physical activity caused another bout of dizziness and all I could do was stand there with my sword held up in trembling hands.

Ryker batted my charred sword from my grip and would have stabbed my with his next blow, but someone caught his arm. Radon stood beside him, holding his arm back.  It only lasted a second before Ryker pushed him off and in two moves, had Radon at the point of his sword.

His smile looked more like a grimace of pain. Blood ran out of the wound in his neck and down his back.

I swayed and thought I would fall over from the dizziness, but somehow managed to stay upright. All I could think was that I’d messed things up again. My stupid plan to attack Ryker caused the king’s death, just like my stupid plan to let the grimulin out of the dungeon caused us to be thrown in the dungeon.

Ryker stumbled backward and the stone on his chest moved. It pulled away from him, and I expected it to disappear—sending itself away again—but it didn’t. There was a flash of red light and the Hashna Stone fell to the floor.

Right beside Samel. I blinked, thinking the dizziness was making me see things, but Samel’s motionless form remained.

There was a moment of shocked silence before Radon advanced on his brother. In one movement, Ryker was at his mercy.

Ryker whined for the guards to take Radon, but Radon commanded for them to take hold of Ryker and they did.

Radon picked up the glistening red gem from the floor beside Samel, his face grim. The golden chain was broken so he held it in a clenched fist instead of putting it around his neck.

Rachael rushed forward and knelt beside Samel.

“Samel!  Samel? Wake up.”

I knelt beside him too, the pieces finally connecting in my fuzzy brain.  Samel had pulled the stone from Ryker’s neck. He’d come up invisibly and no one had seen him until the stone’s power had shocked him and….

I couldn’t even think the word. Not Samel with his cheeky grin and cheerful spirits. But he was lying on the floor. He’d touched the Hashna Stone while it was around someone’s neck. The bolt of magic it put out would kill a grown man. There was no chance half a man would survive it.

Rachael cradled his head in her hands and people crowded around us. They were talking, but I didn’t hear words. All my senses seemed to be focused on the tear sliding down Rachael’s cheek. It moved so slowly, like it too couldn’t believe what had happened.

I thought I should put my hand on her shoulder, but couldn’t move. I didn’t know if it was from shock or because I was so weak from my fight with Bayvlad.

I was still watching the tear on Rachael’s face when she gasped out a sort of choke/sob. I followed her gaze. Samel’s eyes were open. A knot that had formed in my stomach released and I thought I might fall over from relief.

Samel looked at Rachael, then his eyes wandered to me. “Bet you’re glad you let me come along.” The corner of his mouth lifted, then he closed his eyes again.

For a terrible second, I thought those were his last words.

Rachael looked up with teary eyes. “Someone get a doctor.” And I knew that he was still breathing at least for now.

“He took the Hashna Stone.” I looked up to see Radon gazing at Samel with admiration and confusion.

One thought pressed itself into my weary mind: the Hashna Stone was finally back where it belonged. Bayvlad was dead. Ryker captured. And Radon was back.

The relief should have made me feel light but instead it felt like a heavy arm clapped itself around my shoulders and pulled me down.

And down I went. Into blackness.

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Chapter 31: A Duel with Bayvlad

The castle’s south wing was chaos. Grimulin flew through the rooms attacking everyone in sight. Soldiers were hacking away at them, but it took five or six men to kill one.  When the grimulin weren’t focused on getting the Hashna Stone, they were much better at dodging blows.

I stayed at King Radon’s side, killing any grimulin that came at us. Luckily, we’d stopped at the armory before coming here so I had my grimulin-killing sword the dwarves had given me back.

“They’re all flying that way,” Ethan said behind us. Faiza and he each had their bows, but it was difficult for them to get a good shot with all the grimulin and men mingled together.

“That must be where Ryker is,” I said, going in the direction Ethan pointed.

We rounded a corner and came to a place where fifty or sixty solders were crammed into a tight space.  Grimulin were rushing at them, they were so packed together, they could hardly move to swing at them. Beyond them were a set of closed doors where Ryker and Bayvlad must be—that’s where the grimulin were headed—but there was no way we could get in with so many people in the way.

“First, we get rid of these grimulin,” Radon said as he hacked one’s leg.  It made a cut, but didn’t go as deep as my sword would have. I jabbed my sword into the thing’s belly, then pulled it out fast and dodged the falling body.

“Looks like it’s mostly up to you,” Radon said, turning to fend off another grimulin.

For the next few minutes, I concentrated on stabbing as many grimulin as I could.  It was different now, without the stone’s protection. I could feel their talons.  Luckily, the leather armor that I put on when we went to the armory protected my torso and forearms.  If the soldiers around me recognized me as a prison escapee, they didn’t do anything about it. Maybe they thought I was a recruit.  Maybe they didn’t care who I was as long as I was killing grimulin. I was just glad they left me alone.

I was moving toward a grimulin when I heard Faiza yell my name. I jerked around to see Bayvlad moving toward me. Soldiers ran forward and swung their swords at him, but their blades bounced back inches before it even hit him. The swords jerked back so violently that the soldiers almost lost their grip.  A few tried again only to receive the same result. Most backed away slowly holding their swords out in defense.

I hoped that it was some magical spell he’d put on himself that protected him, and not the Hashna Stone. I’d learned from Rachael that a spell would eventually wear out; The Hashna Stone’s protection would not.

He walked steadily toward me and when he stood only a foot away, pointed his sword at me. “You’ve killed enough grimulin for today. Drop it,” he said gesturing to my sword.

Anger flared in me as I thought of Bayvlad blasting my father for trying to release King Radon. I swung at his outstretched sword hoping he’d drop it from surprise. He fought with magic, not steel. The two swords made contact, but he didn’t drop it as I’d hoped. He took a step back, clearly not expecting me to attack him, then he laughed.  “You can’t hit me, boy. Didn’t you see the other’s attempts?”

I didn’t see a gold chain peeking from beneath his collar, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t have the Hashna Stone. I started to lower my sword, then I realized that it didn’t make sense for Bayvlad to be fighting me with a weapon. If he wanted me dead, he should have zapped me with magic white light like Rachael had the guards. Unless, he couldn’t. He was using his energy to keep some sort of magical wards in place to protect him. And his protection could only withstand so many strikes and, like armor beaten time after time, it would break. There were plenty of soldiers in the room.  If we all hacked at his magical protection, eventually it would break.

“Attack him!” I shouted. No one moved. Faiza and Ethan would have understood if I told them to attack, but I didn’t see them. They must still be around the corner still.

Maybe if I did first, the others would follow. I went for his side. He stepped back, dodging the blow.  Still, I’d swung close enough that my sword should have bounced back. It didn’t.

“Don’t test my powers, boy.” Bayvlad’s voice may have sounded lofty, but his defensive stance gave away his insecurity.  He was afraid of this sword. Maybe whatever magic the dwarves put over it made it immune to Bayvlads wards.

I took another swipe at Bayvlad and he blocked it.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. “I thought your magic did the blocking for you?”

Bayvlad answered with a jab to my side. The blade slashed the leather armor, leaving a gash that would have been opened skin. I should keep my mind on fighting, not talking.

We exchanged blows while the men not fighting grimulin gathered around to watch. They cheered every time I made a good move.  I landed a blow on Bayvlad’s shoulder. Not what I was aiming for, but just knowing that I could get past his wards gave me new strength. It was clear he’d had some training with the sword, but it was also clear that it wasn’t enough to best me.

I darted faster and faster while Bayvlad’s blocks grew slower and more clumsy.

There was yelling from the soldiers behind me and the men gathered around watching began running to the doors. It took me a moment to realize what they were shouting—“The doors are open! The grimulin are getting through.”

A smile appeared on Baylvad’s sweaty face. He looked confused when I smiled back. Radon must have pushed through the soldiers and opened the door.

I took advantage of his confusion to knock the sword out of his hand. He froze, then his hands slowly went up. “Looks like you win,” he said flatly.

I pointed my sword at his chest. Now that I had him I wasn’t sure what to do.  Should I kill him like he killed my father?  I’d never killed a man before and now that he stood calmly before me, I wasn’t sure if I could run him through.

Then I realized he was too calm. He didn’t look like a man that had just been defeated.

A blast of light came from both hands and for a moment my insides burned. Everything was white, then black. I didn’t realize that my hearing was gone until it slowly came back.  Distant sounds of steel hitting steel and a man’s gurgled scream.

I was disoriented when I opened my eyes. My body didn’t feel a thing and I thought that I was still standing, when I was actually flat on my back.

I sat up and blinked to clear the dizziness. Movement caught my eye to my left and I twisted to see Nakin pulling a sword from a figure on the floor. The man’s face was pressed against the floor.  All I saw was the back of his head, but I recognized that shoulder-length blonde hair and midnight blue cape.  Bayvlad.  How did he get over there?

Nakin wiped the blood on Bayvlad’s cape and strode toward me, sword still in her hand. To avoid being her next kill, I grabbed for my sword.

It wasn’t there.  Then I realized it was there, but it didn’t look like my sword. It was nothing but a black piece of metal, bent at an awkward angle.  Bayvlad’s magic must have scorched it.

“You’d be dead if it weren’t for that thing.”  Nakin was standing over me.  “It absorbed most of Bayvlad’s magic. You wouldn’t have survived it if all of it had hit you.”

I tried to stand, then sank back down as another wave of dizziness came over me.  Nakin stuck out her hand. I looked at it like it was a snake poised to strike.

“I don’t know who you are,” Nakin said, “or just what you’re plan is, but I don’t like owing people.”

I took her hand and she helped me up.  “Why do you owe me?”

She jerked her head at Bayvlad’s body. “You made it possible for me to kill that bloody sorcerer.  And I don’t owe you anymore. I’m not going to run you through. That’s payment enough.”

I looked to her sword, still carrying a smudge of blood and wished mine hadn’t been burnt to a useless piece of charcoal. It was too bad Tallis wasn’t able to get my father’s sword for me.

“How did you kill him with that?” I asked. Her sword wasn’t magical.

“He used all of his magic to blast you. He didn’t have enough strength to keep his invisible shield around him.”

For a soldier, she knew something about magic.

“You might want to find a weapon,” she said. “I wouldn’t stand around here without one for too long.”  She turned and walked toward the doors that were now flung open. It was eerily quiet in there. All the soldiers had cleared from the hall, so they must be in the room.  Had they all been killed?

I scanned the floor and the first weapon I saw was Bayvlad’s sword. He must have picked it up after I’d blacked out because it was laying beside him.

I took it and went to the doors.

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Chapter 30: Escape

The keyhole rattled, and I looked up from where I was sitting. Ethan stopped pacing and Tallis stood from the lumpy mat in the corner. We were all tense as the door opened. We were about to find out how long we had to live.

The door creaked open, but no one was standing there.

“Samel?” I asked, standing up. Stupid question. What other invisible person would come unlock our door?

The curly-headed dwarf appeared holding a set of keys. He grinned. “Aren’t you glad you let me come along?”

I pulled him in with one arm and gave his head a roughing up.

“Watch the hair. Just because I go around invisibly doesn’t mean I don’t care if my head looks like a porcupine.” He ran his hand over his hair causing it to stick up even more.

“Samel?” called Rachael’s voice from the cell next to ours.

Ethan, Tallis, and I spilled into the hall as Samel hurried to unlock the girl’s cell. The other keys on the ring clanged together as he stuck the key into the hole. The noise made me cringe, but I knew we were too far into the dungeon for the guards to hear.

The door opened and Rachael and Faiza hurried out. Rachael wrapped her arms around Samel and held him there until he croaked, “Are you and Dalan trying to squeeze me to death? I’m small boned you know.”

Rachael let go and hugged her father, then she hugged me. I was just as surprised by the hug as by the warmth that surged through me.

“What are we going to do now?” she asked as she let go of me.

“First we get King Radon out,” I said. I turned to the door on the other side of the hall to find King Radon’s face in the tiny square window.

“That one?” asked Samel, coming forward with the keys. “He hardly looks like King Radon.”

“Samel,” Rachael scolded. Her cheeks turned red as if she’d been the one to say it.

“If you were in a cell for three years, you wouldn’t look yourself either,” Radon said as Samel opened his door.

Now that we were all out, we stood around looking at each other like jittery rabbits.   We were out of our cell, but not past the guards.

“You wouldn’t happen to have brought some weapons with you,” I asked Samel.

“Know how hard it was to keep these things from clanging together?” He held up the keys. “Weapon would have made a ton of noise. Besides, I only have two arms. And they aren’t made for carrying your giant people weapons.”

“We’ll need something to get past the guards,” Radon said.

“I can do it.” Rachael lifted her chin.

King Radon looked her over. “How?”

“With magic.”

He frowned doubtfully.

“She has good aim,” I said. “She’s killed a grimulin when I was fighting it and didn’t hit me.”

“But is her magic strong enough to kill two armed guards?”

“She’s stronger than she looks,” Faiza said. I was a bit surprised that she was speaking on Rachael’s behalf. “Besides, she’s the only one who can do anything without a weapon.”

“True enough,” Radon said. “It looks like it’s up to you to get us out of here, girl.”

“What are we going to do once we’re past the guards?” Ethan asked.

“We leave,” said Tallis. “We get as far away from the castle as we can. I know a way out where we won’t run into anyone.”

“If my brother didn’t have the stone, I would say we gather what men are loyal to me and fight.” Radon lowered his head. “But I suppose we will fight another day.”

I was relieved we were leaving. The farther we got from Bayvlad and Ryker, the farther we were from death.

Radon began walking and the rest of us followed. As we walked past the cells, the prisoners called out to us.

“Are any of them loyal to you?” I asked Radon, thinking maybe some of them were thrown in here for knowing the truth about Ryker.

Radon shook his head. “Anyone who knew that it was Ryker on the throne was killed.”

I thought of my father and suddenly wished we could stay here and get rid of Ryker and Bayvlad. No one else should have to die.

We slowed as we reached the dungeon steps and tried to keep quiet. We stopped a few feet away and let Rachael through to the front of the group. She stood at the bottom of the stairs and hid behind the wall. She peaked around it just enough so she could see the guard at the top. She held her hand up and white light blasted up the staircase. A muffled scream, then a thud.

There was a metallic zing as the second guard drew his sword. Slow footfalls came down the stairs. Before he could make it all the way down, Rachael jumped from behind the wall and blasted him with a huge glow of light with both hands.

The guard crumpled on the steps. Rachael swayed and Tallis caught her shoulders. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Rachael said. I remembered how she’d passed out from using too much magic when we rescued those orphan kids from the soldiers on our way here and hoped she was really alright.

Radon took the sword from the guard’s body. “Anyone else know how to swing a sword?”

“I do,” I said.

“Get the other one’s sword,” Radon said, motioning to the top of the stairs where the other guard fell.

We clambered up the steps, no longer caring about the noise we made. The other guard was slumped over sideways against the wall. The others went ahead of me as I approached the body.

Of course he would fall to his left so the sword was underneath him. I couldn’t push him over because the wall was holding him up, so I pulled his arm, dragging his body away from the wall so he was lying on his back.

The arm I had a hold of twisted and the man’s hand grabbed my wrist. His other hand sprang to my shoulder, pulling me down. I tried to pull away but his head crashed against mine in a head butt. Everything was blurry and I stumbled as the man used me to pull himself up.

His hand reached for his sword.

He froze and began tilting forward. I barely jumped out of the way in time to avoid being crushed beneath his falling body. Radon stood behind him, sword red.

“Get his sword,” was all he said before turning.

My hands were shaking as I went for the man’s sword a second time. I expected him to jump up again, but Radon had made sure that wouldn’t happen. A pool of red was seeping from his body.

I pulled the sword from its sheath. It was heavier than my sword and felt all wrong in my hands, but it was better than nothing.

I caught up to the group and Tallis led us through the castle.

A servant girl ran from one hall and nearly knocked me over. She didn’t even apologize.  Her face was white and her eyes wide.

“Are you alright?” Rachael asked, catching the girl’s shoulder.

“Grimulin.” Her lower lip trembled. “They’re all over the south wing.” She broke away from Rachael and ran off.

“South wing,” Tallis muttered. “That’s where Bayvlad’s chambers are.”

“He must have decided to fight when Ryker confronted him with his treachery,” Radon said. He turned down the hall the servant girl had come from.  “Now is the time.”

“My king!” Tallis went after him.  “We must leave. It is perfect. No one will notice us in the distraction.”

“It is perfect,” Radon said. “Perfect time to attack. With my brother busy fighting Bayvlad, we can find a way to capture him. You can leave if you must, but I am tired of waiting and rotting.”

Radon spun and continued down the hall without looking to see if we followed.

I looked to Rachael, pale and shaky, then to Tallis who had no training as a warrior, then to Samel who was great at getting us out of places, but not much help in a fight. Faiza looked ready to follow the king. Ethan looked at me, waiting to follow my lead.

I lifted the sword in my hand. It was too big, not the right fit. But if we waited for perfect circumstances, would we be waiting forever?

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Chapter 29: Death Awaits

I paced the length of the grime-covered cell while Ethan lay on the thin, lumpy pallet in the back corner. Tallis, who the soldiers threw in a few minutes after us, sat on the other pallet. He looked intently at the floor as if it were a map with an escape route. Rachael and Faiza were in the cell next to ours, and while we’d talked at first, we soon grew tired of discussing what might happen to us.

Ryker wouldn’t let anyone who knew that he wasn’t King Radon live.  If I hadn’t revealed that I knew Ryker wasn’t the real king, maybe we could have gotten lighter sentences. Then again, stealing the Hashna Stone was no light crime.  We would have been sentenced to death anyway.

Still, it was my plan that got us into this mess. If I wouldn’t have had the great idea to let Ryker see the grimulin, then Ryker wouldn’t have commanded Bayvlad to use the grimulin to get the stone from Radon. Then Bayvlad wouldn’t have been desperate enough to get the stone in spite of the risk that he may be seen.

If my father were here, he would have come up with a plan that wouldn’t end with us in a prison cell.

I told myself death wasn’t so bad. I would see my father.  But it wasn’t my father’s face I saw as I slumped against the wall and closed my eyes.  It was Rachael’s.  It was Ethan’s and Faiza’s and Samel’s.

They should live. Rachael finally found her father.  Faiza and Ethan had to go back to the Foxes.  And Samel.  Was he still alive?  If anyone found him, they wouldn’t waste time brining him to the dungeon. With his ability to turn invisible, the guards would suspect him of being a great wizard and be afraid he would call down a bunch of grimulin or fire or some other harmful magic. He would be killed the moment anyone found him.

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled into my hands.

Someone sat next to me. I only realized it was Tallis when he spoke. “I was going to wait for a better time to tell you this, but…” There was such a long pause that I didn’t think he would continue. It was the first time I’d heard Tallis, the diplomatic ambassador, out of words. “I knew your father.”

I lifted my head from my hands and looked at Tallis. He’d known who my father was a few days ago when I’d asked him if there was any way I could get the sword that hung from Commander Serun’s belt. Tallis asked me why I wanted it, and I told him it was my father’s.  I took the look of recognition that crossed his face to mean that he knew of the sword, not that he knew my father personally.

“What were you told about his death?”

I shrugged and looked away from Tallis. “He was on some mission. I guess it was a secret. I didn’t know about it.”

“There’s some truth to that,” Tallis said. “Your father knew that it was Ryker wearing the crown and was loyal to King Radon.”

I studied Tallis’s face. Was he telling me this to make me feel better? Father never mentioned that he knew. But of course, he would have to keep quiet about something like that. Telling me would put me in danger. Not that it helped much in the end. Somehow I managed to get myself into this mess anyway.

“Your father and some others decided to free Radon.  Since your father was a high ranking officer in the army, he simply told the guards at the dungeon that he was ordered to take one of the prisoners out and they didn’t question him. It would have gone well, except Bayvlad was down there also.”

“Bayvlad?” I said. “But my father died a full year ago. The stone went missing only six months ago.”

“Bayvlad wasn’t able to get the grimulin to take the stone at first. He made quite a few attempts that didn’t work before the one that made the Hashna Stone send itself away.”

“Did Bayvlad send the grimulin after them?” The image of my father being torn apart by claws and teeth was gruesome.

“He used his magic.” Tallis’s voice was so low, it was almost a whisper. “It was quick, painless.”

I thought of when Rachael had zapped me when rescuing those kids on our way to the castle and imagined someone doing that with enough power to kill. No death was painless, but at least he wasn’t clawed to death by grimulin.

Tallis cleared his throat. “Rather than let everyone know that the men were killed trying to break a prisoner out, they told their families that they were killed on a secret mission. Your father was well-liked and respected. If anyone knew how he really died, they would be suspicious. They would wonder what prisoner was so important that he would risk his life for them.”

Tallis paused. I guess he was giving me the opportunity to ask any questions, but I didn’t have any. My mind was numb. My father was a hero. He died trying to put the rightful king back on Minaria’s throne. But the information left me feeling hollow. He still died. Radon was still locked up. Bayvlad was still free. And we were still in this prison cell.

An echo of footsteps in the hall pulled me out of my morbid thoughts. Tallis stiffened beside me, and Ethan bolted up from the tattered mat. This was the moment we’d all dreaded. The moment our sentence was given.

It sounded wrong though. The footsteps were a clamber of echoes—too many to belong to just one person. Why would they send more than one guard to tell us that we were going to die?

I stepped up to the small square window in the door and peered through the bars. Three shadows advanced on the stone floor, then I saw their owners. Two were guards, but the one in the middle was the last person I expected to see.

Ryker came strolling past, in his spotless clothes and neat reddish-blond mustache. Did a king usually read sentences to criminals?

When he strode past our cell without a glance, I realized who he was going to see.

The only cell past ours was Radon’s.  Of course, he probably came to gloat to his brother before he killed him.  With a sickening churning in my stomach, I wondered if Ryker was going to have him killed now. In the cell beside ours where we could hear.

“What’s going on?” Tallis was by my side.

“It’s Ryker. He’s going to see Radon.”

I shifted so I could see Ryker approach Radon’s cell. One of the guards opened the door and Ryker entered the cell with the second guard trailing behind him. The first guard locked the door and I could no longer see Ryker, but I could hear him.

“It seems I will finally be able to use this cell again,” Ryker said. There was no response from Radon. He must have been eyeing the stone around Ryker’s neck, because Ryker said, “You didn’t think I’d ever wear this, did you? Just as I didn’t think I’d get to live my life without your shadow. Both of us have had our expectations blown away.” He chuckled.

There was silence for a moment.

“Has your time of captivity stolen your voice?”

“Are you going to kill me yourself or have your soldier do it?” Radon’s every word sounded as if he were hurling spittle on Radon. “You never did fight your own battles.”

“I never started any battles. Unlike you, I didn’t stick my sword into other’s battles.”

“Helping in another’s battle was what got me that stone you’ve coveted.”

“A lot of good it did you.” Ryker’s voice was smug.  “And just how was your coveted stone slipped from your neck?”

“That snake of a sorcerer. He came in here with a grimulin.  But even he with all his wisdom of magic didn’t know that the Hashna Stone could move itself.”

“Don’t lie to me.”

“I know who I saw.” Radon’s voice was low with anger. “He’s come here many times since to see if the stone had somehow returned to me.”

It was Ryker’s turn to be silent.

“What was his plan? Why did he want it?”

Radon harrumphed. “He didn’t explain his plan to me anymore than you did when you poisoned me.  Or ordered someone else to poison me.  You couldn’t even do that for yourself, could you?”

“Insult me all you want.  You still die in the morning.”

Ryker had the guard open the door and he strode down the dudgeon passageway.

“I guess Bayvlad will be joining us,” said Ethan.  He was standing behind Tallis and me.

“At least one of them will be punished,” I said.  It wasn’t much comfort. The Hashna stone was still on Ryker’s neck. The rightful king of Minaria was still in a dungeon. We would still be sentenced to death.

 

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Chapter 28: From Bad to Worse

“What’s all this?” Ryker slouched to one side of the throne with a goblet in one hand.  Bayvlad and Nakin stood at the front of the group and Rachael, Faiza, Ethan and I stood behind them with a soldier at each of our sides. The rest of the soldiers fanned out behind us.

If I weren’t scared for my life, I would have laughed at how ridiculous it looked to have all those soldiers for four unarmed, untrained people.

“Your Highness,” Bayvlad and Nakin said at the same time. They glared at each other. Nakin held the stone up for Ryker to see.

“I’m sorry for the mess, Your Majesty,” she said, referring to the blood dripping from her shredded hands. “But I didn’t think this should be kept from you.”

Ryker bolted upright and sloshed wine on the servant beside his throne as he thrust the goblet at him.  All kingly protocol gone, he came from his throne.  Nakin met him halfway. She bowed and held it out.

“The Hashna Stone,” he breathed. He slid it over his neck, not seeming to notice the blood smeared on it.  He looked from Nakin to Bayvlad.

“How was it…How did you find my stone?”

Again, Nakin and Bayvlad started to speak at the same time, but this time it was Bayvlad who got Ryker’s attention.

“I was doing as you ordered, Your Highness,” he said in a smooth voice. “I was using the grimulin to take the stone.”

Ryker looked startled that Bayvlad would say that in front of soldiers who thought he was Radon and had always had the stone.

“From these thieves.”  Bayvlad gestured to us behind him.

“Ah, you found the thieves who took my Hashna Stone,” Ryker said, quick to play along.

Bayvlad dipped his head in a show of modesty.  “But as the stone was about to come into my hands, this girl comes in leading soldiers and takes it from the grimulin. She refused to give it to me.”

Ryker turned to Nakin. “Are you after what is the King’s?”

Nakin didn’t wilt under Ryker’s gaze. “If I were, I would have put it around my own neck and not bring it to you, Your Highness.”

“Then why not give it to my sorcerer?”

Nakin lowered her head in a sign of respect.  “I wanted to make sure it made it to its owner.”

“You don’t trust him to do that?”

“He was in a room by himself with the,” she glanced at us, “thieves.”

“Your point?”  Bayvlad said, bringing himself up.

“There were no guards, no soldiers, no one to help him,” she said. “It was suspicious.”

“I don’t need help from your pitiful kind.” Bayvlad gave a disgusted look at Nakin. “I have more strength in one hand than a hundred of those misfit recruits you train.”

“Enough of this squabble.”  Ryker said as he turned and walked back the throne.  “It doesn’t matter to me which of you is stronger or how many it took to bring me my stone, only that I have it. Now throw the thieves in the dungeon. Bayvlad, stay here a moment.”

The soldiers began to move us out of the room. I had no way of getting the Hashna Stone back now, but maybe I could get Ryker to doubt Bayvlad’s motives.

“My king!” I called.  “I need to speak with you.”  The soldier at my side backhanded me.  Ryker only glanced at me before his gaze went back to Bayvlad.

“It’s about the stone. I’ve been to Hashna.”  This time the soldier’s slap made blood leak from my nose, but it was worth it.

Ryker’s face flickered with interest. “Bring the prisoner here.”

Once I was standing a few feet from the throne, Ryker told the soldier to leave.

“But, Your H—“ one of the soldiers started to say.

“My guard will watch him.”  With the flick of his hand, Ryker summoned the guard behind his throne to stand beside me.

I wiped the blood leaking from my nose, and quickly went over what I would say, hoping I wouldn’t only dig myself deeper.

“If you have something to say, you should say it,” Ryker told me. “I have more important matters than listening to a thief.”

I wanted to spit back that the only thieves in the room were Bayvlad and him, but I needed Ryker to listen to me.

“I didn’t steal the stone. I found it.”

Bayvlad snorted. “Your Highness, we don’t have time—“

“Quiet, Bayvlad.” Ryker said without looking at him. “This will go faster if you aren’t interrupting.”

I wanted to smile at the way Bayvlad snapped his cloak around him and tightened his lips. It was like an adult version of a child’s crossed arms and pouting lips.

“It was in a cave, some miles from here,” I told Ryker.  “When I put it on, I started having dreams—I later found out they were messages—telling me to take it to Hashna.  Once there, the dwarves told me…” I paused, hoping that after my next sentence, Ryker wouldn’t throw me out before I could get to my point.

“Go on.” Ryker’s eyes held mine. “What did they tell you?”

I took a breath. He was going to throw me in the dungeon anyway. “They suspected treachery.”

“And you believe them?” Ryker leaned back into his throne and raised an eyebrow.

“They said that an item of powerful magic like the Hashna Stone can move itself if it is in great danger.”

“And what great danger is it in?”

“Bayvlad.”

“Me?” Bayvlad schooled his features to look offended.

“The only thing that could put the stone in such danger are the grimulin,” I said, “And the only one who can conjure them is Bayvlad.”

“This is foolishness,” Bayvlad said.  “Nothing but a desperate attempt to get out of being punished.”

I ignored Bayvlad and kept my eyes on Ryker. “Ask your brother.”

When I spoke the words Ryker’s face went rigid. “So, the dwarves were able to see the Hashna Stone.”

“And who was wearing it,” I said.

“But did they see who tried to take it?” Ryker asked.

Bayvlad’s eyelid twitched, but he kept the rest of his face calm. For all he knew, they did. I wished I had the satisfaction of telling Ryker that the dwarves had seen him.

“Your brother did,” I said. “Who else can conjure grimulin and would be able to get to the dungeon without being questioned?”

Ryker looked at Bayvlad thoughtfully.

“The king doesn’t trust the word of his brother, nor the world of a thief,” Bayvlad snarled.  “Your Highness, surely you won’t let him insult your intelligence.”

Ryker held his hand up to Bayvlad to silence him and for a moment I thought he might believe me. Then he snapped his fingers.

“Take him to the dungeon.”

The guard beside me iron-gripped my arm, squeezing a cut the grimulin had given me. I sucked in a breath through my teeth.

“Bayvlad wants the stone for himself,” I called as I was dragged away. “He put those grimulin in the dungeon. He knew the stone was missing from Radon and didn’t tell you.  Ask him. Ask Radon.”

I was dragged out of the throne room.  I looked over my shoulder and before the huge doors shut, I saw Ryker calmly take his goblet from his servant and take a drink.

Next


 

Countdown to the big decision: one more chapter.

 

Missed some chapters? No problem! They’re all at the Hashna Stone Page .

Twitter_bird_iconThis little blue bird will take you to my Twitter page where it will continuously feed you random lines about writing, blogging, and the Hashna Stone.