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Chapter 27: Trapped

I tried to keep my hand from resting on my sword as I followed the servant girl down long hallways and flights of stairs. I didn’t want anyone we passed to think I was getting ready for a fight, but I was a little jumpy. I’d asked the girl what was going on, but she shushed me and said that we couldn’t talk about it out here where someone might hear.

Was Tallis in trouble? Or did he just want us to meet with those loyal to Radon and explain our side of the story?  Maybe he wanted them to see the stone.  But why ask for all of us?  Whatever it was, it must be important if he had me leave the room with the stone.

“In here,” the servant girl said opening a door and standing aside so we could enter. I went first, with Rachael, Faiza, and Ethan behind me. I assumed that Samel had come along too, invisibly of course.

The few candles resting on the large table in the middle of the room did little to dispel the darkness. It wasn’t as fancy as the dining hall Ryker had his meal in. The chairs were plain and worn, and there was a musty smell. The room must not be used anymore. Perfect place for Tallis to meet with the allies of King Radon so they wouldn’t be bothered.

But Tallis wasn’t there. The room was empty.

“I’ll be right back,” said the girl closing the door. She must be getting Tallis.

There was a clicking noise that sounded like…

“Hey!” Faiza shouted as she grabbed the door handle and twisted it back and forth. “Locked,” she spat.

“Keen observation,” said a man’s voice. I spun.  A figure stepped from beyond the candle light. Shadows flickered across his face, but I knew who it was. My stomach sank and I grabbed the hilt of my sword.

“Bayvlad.” I said his name in a hiss.

“At your service.” He gave a mock bow making the crescent moon clasping his cape glint in the candle light.

So it wasn’t Tallis who sent the servant. I silently berated myself for coming.

“What do you want?” I asked, tightening my grip on the sword.

“I thought you might give me a demonstration of your sword techniques. It was remarkable what you did earlier—killing those grimulin so easily.”

He knew there was no way I should be able to kill the grimulin so fast and was trying to get me to tell him how. “It was luck. And a lot of practice.”

“It didn’t have anything to do with the dwarves?”

“You think dwarves taught me how to fight?” I tried to sound insulted.

“I think they gave you the sword.” Bayvlad looked to Rachael. “And something else.”

Did he mean Rachael? Was he upset that she was back? He might suspect her of knowing the truth about who was on the throne. Thinking he was about to interrogate her, I drew his attention away. “Tallis isn’t going to be happy that you have his daughter in a locked room.”

Bayvlad chuckled. “Tallis? The one suspected of keeping grimulin in the dungeon? The one who interrupted the King’s dinner?” He paused. “Or at least suspected of interrupting the King’s dinner. We know who was really responsible for that.”

I was ready to say something in my defense, but he was looking at Rachael again.

“You spent a long time in Hashna without your father.” Bayvlad’s voice became softer. “Why was that?”

“It was the only home I ever knew,” Rachael said. “Everyone I’d grown up with was there.”

“And your father thought it would be better to let you stay there until you were older?”

Rachael nodded.

“That was the only reason? It wasn’t so you could learn magic from the dwarves, wait until they found the Hashna Stone, and bring it back here?”

We all stood still, not sure what to do.

“Don’t look so surprised. It wasn’t hard to figure out. The moment you come back, grimulin show up to eat with the king.”

“I can’t conjure a grimulin.” Rachael seemed insulted, but the panic in her eyes told me it was a show. “No one my age would be able to do something like that.”

“I never said that you conjured it,” Bayvlad said as if he were addressing a spoiled child. “But you were responsible for letting them out.”

No one felt the need to let him know that it was me who let them out.

“But how would you know they were in the dungeon?” Bayvlad asked the question more to himself than to us. He looked to the sword by my side. “The same reason you knew you would need a weapon enchanted to kill grimulin.” He paused. “You saw a grimulin. And the only reason a grimulin would approach you would be if you had something very important. Something it was looking for.”

My heart pounded so hard that in knocked against the stone laying on my chest.

“The Hashna Stone.” The only movement in the room were the shadows flickering across Bayvlad’s face.

The silence made us seem guilty, so I swallowed and said, “We’d be dead if we tried to take the Hashna Stone from the king.”

“But who is the king?” Bayvlad lips curved into a slow smile. “Do you know what would happen if I told the King you knew his secret?”

“What are you talking about?” My voice was so feeble, that my question made me look even more guilty.

“You have the Hashna Stone, yet you didn’t give it to the King. Why is that?”

“Because we don’t have it,” Faiza said.

“You have it.” Bayvlad’s voice grew rougher. “Why else would the grimulin all go to one place? It wasn’t because they smelled dinner. The stone was in that room. And if you don’t want the king to find out that you’ve had his gemstone all this time and didn’t tell him, you better give it to me.” He was looking at Rachael again, and I realized he must think that she had it.

He knew too much. There was no way to convince him that we weren’t responsible for letting the grimulin out and that we hadn’t used the stone, so I changed tactics.

“Alright,” I gave a deep breath. “I let the grimulin out and used the Hashna Stone to bring them all to the dining hall.”

I could feel the other three staring at me, wondering why I’d admit to it.

“At least one of you realizes that it’s pointless to lie.” Bayvlad seemed pleased. “So where is it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Tallis took it somewhere.”

He gave a shrewd smile. “I doubt that. Tallis wouldn’t take the stone away from the castle. Not when someone he wants to help is in the dungeon.”

“He wouldn’t be stupid enough to leave it with us,” Rachael said.

“We’ll find out.” Bayvlad turned, making his cape swish, and disappeared into the shadows. For a moment it was quiet and it sounded like he’d left the room. Was there a doorway at the other end of the room?

The silence was broken by a familiar sound of flapping wings and snarls. About two dozen yellow eyes glowed from the place Bayvlad had disappeared.

I drew my sword. Faiza and Ethan readied their bows, and Rachael stepped closer and held her hands up as ten grimulin charged at me.

I plunged my sword into the first one’s chest. It squealed and its talons still reached for me as it dropped. I pulled my sword out of its body before it hit the floor, but the other nine were on me in a tangling mass of black fur and swiping claws.

I tried to swing my sword but it was difficult to move with so many closing in around me. I stabbed as best as I could, but I couldn’t get in a direct hit. Their furry bodies banged against me from all sides, and I stumbled to my knees.

Rachael, Faiza, and Ethan were blasting magic, and shooting arrows at them, but it wasn’t killing them fast enough.

I was going to lose the stone.

Shouts and banging came from the door behind me. Bayvlad cursed. There was a lot more yelling and crashing, like the wall fell over. Voices and footfalls filled the room.

I didn’t have time to figure out what was going on. A claw grabbed hold of the stone, ripping the front of my shirt to shreds. I hacked the grimulin’s leg off, then hunched over to keep the rest of them from getting the stone. I felt the tiny pricks of their claws as they scraped my back.

One of them pulled the chain from the back of my neck. It yanked hard, pulling the chain up like a noose around my neck. I choked and tried slipping my fingers between my neck and the chain but couldn’t.

I rolled over so I could slash the thing with my sword, but a tangle of black fur and talons filled my vision and I couldn’t tell which one had it.

Rolling over was the wrong move. It gave the grimulin just what it needed to pull the stone from my neck.

For a second, I felt their talons sink into my skin like knife tips raking through bread, then the mass of dark fur and yellow eyes left.

They went after the grimulin that carried the stone.

“They have a piece of jewelry!” someone shouted. I didn’t recognize the voice.

Now that I was free of grimulin, I saw that soldiers filled the room. Rachael, Faiza, and Ethan each were held by one of them, their weapons taken.

The grimulin clutching the Hashna Stone’s chain was bleeding badly. It had a gash on its side where my sword must have cut it and there were several arrows sticking out of it.  It dipped and fluttered sideways.  The other grimulin grabbed at the stone, but it held.

A girl darted into the mist of the throng. It was the stern-faced, dark-haired girl from the army, Nakin.

She swung her sword and cut two toes from the grimulin carrying the stone leaving the chain hanging by one talon like a cloak on a hook. The moment she grabbed it, the grimulin were on her.  Their claws dug into her and she slashed at them with her sword.

“Give it to me.” Bayvlad came forward and held his hand out.

“It’s the king’s,” grunted Nakin.

“And I’m retrieving it for him.”

The soldiers who weren’t holding my friends began hacking away at the grimulin.

“Stop!” Bayvlad commanded.

They didn’t listen.

Bayvlad began muttering words like he did earlier in the dining hall and I expected the grimulin to disappear. Instead they backed off and fled into the darkness behind Bayvlad.

The soldiers turned to me.

“Drop it,” one of them said, pointing his sword at me.

I gripped my sword tighter, not wanting to part with it. Not wanting to believe we’d gone through all this just to have the Hashna Stone given to Ryker.

“You can’t fight us all, boy.”

I laid my sword on the floor.

“I am working under the direct order of the King,” Bayvlad said, glowering at Nakin. “Give it to me.”

“It isn’t yours.” Nakin clutched the stone with her bloodied hand. The grimulin’s talons had shredded her skin.  She was lucky she had on leather armor or the rest of her would be bloody too. Blood was already trickling down my shoulders and chest from the few seconds they’d been on me without the stone’s protection.

“It certainly isn’t yours.” Bayvlad stepped closer to her, probably to intimidate her.  Nakin held his eyes with her stony gaze and sheathed her sword.  She turned her back on him and walked away.

“Which is why I’m taking it to its owner,” she said.

“You can’t do that.”

“Take it from me then, but know that Commander Surin doesn’t like it when people show disrespect for his soldiers, and somehow I think attacking them will be seen as disrespectful.”

“I don’t fear that pitiful man.” Bayvlad’s face contorted. “All of his strength is nothing to mine. But you should be fearful of the disrespect you’ve shown me. The king will not be happy to know that you have interrupted me in capturing these thieves.”

Nakin was halfway through the door, and paused to look back at him. “Interruption? I helped you.”

The soldier in front of me motioned for me to walk. I got in line behind the others who were prodding my friends forward. The soldier went behind me and kept his sword to my back.

It looked like I would be seeing Ryker again.


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Hi guys! I hope you all are enjoying the story so far. It’s getting down to the end. Only 7 or 8 more chapters to go!

Since it’s coming to a close, there aren’t many more decisions to be made, and that means less voting. The next two chapters are already decided based on the voting in the last chapter, so you won’t be seeing that poll box for a while.

Cheer up though! There’s still one more vote to be made, and it completely determines the outcome of the story. The ending will be totally different depending on what is voted for that one. So make the right decision! No pressure or anything. 😉

Countdown to the big decision: two more chapters.

Chapter 26: Bayvlad’s Plan

Back in Tallis’s rooms, Samel materialized beside me and held out the Hashna Stone. I put it around my neck. “Thanks Samel.”

Samel stretched out on a couch. “I’m just glad I’m not wearing it anymore. All that dodging makes a person tired.” He crossed his feet, laid his head in his laced fingers, and closed his eyes. “Still, I guess I was the only one who could do it. Lucky thing you decided to let me come along.”

For a minute, I wondered if he forgot that he’d followed us and we’d been given no choice. Then he opened his eyes and winked at me.

Faiza grunted from where she sat on the floor, leaning against the wall, hands clasping the bow in her lap. She seemed to want to say something smart to Samel, but knew if she started that conversation, it would end with her admitting that Samel was useful after all.

Rachael walked from where she stood at the window. “Did you run into any trouble? Father came back a while ago.”

“We’re fine,” I said. “Where is Tallis? We need to talk to him.”

“He went to find the two of you,” Ethan said. He stood by the mantle, absentmindedly turning a glass figure of a horse frozen in a rearing position in his hands.

“When he came back and neither one of you were here yet,” Rachael said, “he thought something happened.”

The door opened and Tallis stepped in. He looked relieved when he saw me. “Was everything alright? Where is Samel?” The back of the couch kept Samel’s reclining form from his view.

Samel raised his arm so his hand came over the edge of the couch. “Still alive.”

“We overheard something,” I said. When Tallis turned to me, I continued. “Bayvlad is trying to blame you for the grimulin.”

“How? I’m the head of ambassadors, not a sorcerer.”

“He said you learned magic from us,” Samel said.

“He tried to convince Ryker that the dwarves sent a message with Rachael,” I said, “telling you that he isn’t really the king.”

Samel sat up and his curly head appeared over the couch. “And Ryker told Bayvlad that he had to get him the stone by tomorrow.”

“Bayvlad said he could get control of the grimulin in the dungeon,” I said. “So Ryker wants him to use them to get the stone from Radon.”

“But Bayvlad doesn’t know where the stone is.” Tallis frowned. “Besides, he wants it for himself. He wouldn’t give it to Ryker.”

“Why does he want the stone?” Rachael asked. “Does anyone know?”

“From what our spies tell me,” Tallis said, “Bayvlad plans on starting a war.”

“So he’s not trying to become king himself?” Ethan asked.

At the same time Faiza said, “A war with who?”

“I think he is happier leading Minaria from behind a king. Which is why he helped Ryker get rid of Radon. Ryker cares more for the title and the prestige. Bayvlad can easily get him to go along with anything he suggests. It was Bayvlad’s idea to gather orphans and force them into service.”

“But who is he going to start a war with?” Faiza asked again.

“He doesn’t want Minaria to start the war. He wants the Dakshen to start it.”

I couldn’t imagine the tall, grey skinned race taking orders from Bayvlad. “He can’t make them fight a war for him.”

“What’s the reason for having someone else start a war?” Ethan asked.

“He doesn’t want them to attack Minaria, does he?” Rachael’s wide blue eyes went even wider.

Tallis held his hand up to keep us from asking more questions. “He isn’t going to make them fight. He’s only going to feed them the right information to make them want to fight. At the moment, the Dakshen have refrained from attacking Hashna only because of the treaty that Minaria made with them after Radon helped protect the dwarves. Bayvlad plans to leak the information that the treaty is broken and the army of Minaria won’t come to Hashna’s aid.”

“The treaty was broke three years ago,” Faiza said. “That’s plenty of time for them to have heard.”

“Maybe for most countries,” Rachael said. “But the Dakshen are cut off from the usually gossip of the other nations.”

“They aren’t really even a country,” Ethan said. “They’re a bunch of clans busy warring among themselves.”

Rachael nodded at him. “They don’t have ambassadors or anyone that would represent them among other countries and bring back news.”

“The only time they stop warring against each other,” said Tallis, “is when they decide to attack another’s land. Like Hashna.”

“But why would Bayvlad want them to attack Hashna?” I asked.

“What did we ever do to him?” Samel  asked, looking like Bayvlad had personally insulted him.

“It’s a chain reaction that he’s hoping for,” Tallis said. “Once the Dakshen take over Hashna…”

If they take over Hashna.” Samel crossed his arms.

Tallis gave a humoring smile. “If they take over Hashna, they won’t stop there. High off their victory, they will attack Nalam.”

“How does he know they’ll attack Nalam?” I asked. Nalam bordered Hashna, so once the Dakshen had it, it would be easier for them to invade Nalam, but Minaria also bordered Hashna. “What if they decide to attack us instead?”

“They might,” Tallis said. “But we are a bigger nation that Nalam and have larger armies. Besides, the Dakshen have already fought us and lost.”

“With our help,” Samel added.

Tallis nodded. “We were with the dwarves, but I think the win was enough that the Dakshen will be hesitant before striking us.”

“How does a war with Nalam benefit Bayvlad?” Ethan asked.

“Like I said, Nalam is small and doesn’t have a very large military…”

“He’s going to offer to let them use our army,” I said thinking of all the orphans drafted into the army over the last three years. “But he’ll make them pay to use them. Like mercenaries.”

“Perhaps,” Tallis said. “But Nalam also lacks the ability to do magic.”

“He’s going to get them to pay him to use magic to protect them?” Rachael’s forehead wrinkled.

“Not him. The orphans he’s been training.”

“What?” I asked.

“Before the orphans are taken to Commander Serun they are brought to Bayvlad. He works with them for a while to see if they have the aptitude to learn magic. If they do, he continues to train them. If they don’t, he sends them to be trained in the army.”

“Now he has his own little army of sorcerers,” I said. “And he can loan them to Nalam for a price.”

“A very high price.” Tallis nodded.

“That doesn’t explain why he wants the Hahsna Stone,” Rachael said. “He won’t be the one going to battle.”

“He’s hoping not to, but he can’t be sure that he won’t. The Dakshen may still choose to attack us instead of the Nalam, or maybe if the Dakshen do conquer  Nalam in spite of the help Bayvlad offers them, they will try to invade us as well. Or maybe Ryker will order Bayvlad to help protect the Nalam knowing they will pay a high price for his help.”

“He’s alright with sending those orphans out there,” Faiza said darkly, “but he won’t go himself unless he has a stone around his neck to keep him from being hurt.”

“The last Royal Sorcerer died in the battle between the Dakshen and the dwarves,” Tallis said. “Bayvlad isn’t one for taking risks. And, who knows? Maybe he does have some plan to overthrow Ryker and take the throne one day.”

We were silent for a moment, taking it all in. Then Tallis said, “But if Ryker wants the Hashna Stone by tomorrow…” He looked deep in thought.

“Should we leave?” I asked. If Bayvlad decided to send the grimulin out in search of the stone, it may be better if I were farther away when they found me. Then I could kill them without anyone from the castle seeing.

“Leaving would look suspicious,” Tallis said. “Give me a moment to call a meeting with the supporters of the true king. I’ll see if they have any more information about this matter, and discuss options with them. In the mean time, all of you stay here. I don’t know how Bayvlad plans on getting the stone, or how much he truly suspects us of knowing.” He gave a look to Samel. “It will be best if you all stay out of sight.”

—–

After Tallis left we sat in tense silence, so it wasn’t a surprise that we all jumped when there was a knock. I gripped the hilt of my sword with one hand as I opened the door with the other. A servant girl only about 11 or 12 stood in the hallway, looking up at me with frightened dark eyes.

“Please sir, Master of Relations Tallis sent me to get you.” She looked past me to the others who’d gathered around.  “All of you.”

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Chapter 25: Tallis Accused

I couldn’t see Samel so he had to lead me by grabbing my arm and pulling me in the direction he wanted us to go. It was unnerving to feel a hand gripping me that I couldn’t see and it threw me off balance to have him yank my arm one way or another, so I was glad when Samel stopped and let go.

We were in a room that looked like it hadn’t been used in years. It was caked with dusty cobwebs and the only furniture was a bed frame and a stool.

Samel appeared in front of me and brushed his hands down his clothes as if wiping dust off of them, thought I couldn’t see any. “It’s a good thing I go around invisibly,” he said. “My clothes are entirely un-presentable after trekking through the woods for so long.”

“Where are we?” I asked him, completely unconcerned about his clothes. “I thought we were supposed to be able to listen in.”

“We will.” He walked to a wall. “They’re meeting on the other side of this wall.”

We pressed our ears to the hard surface and listened.

The first hour of the conversation was nothing but accusations and guesses. Everyone was trying to come up with who might be able to conjure a grimulin and which country would have a reason to assassinate the king. Ryker asked Tallis if any of the ambassadors had felt any amnesty toward them or spoke of anything that may be an indication of plotting against Minaria’s king, but Tallis told him that none felt that they or their king was threatened in anyway.

Then someone came in and told them that the grimulin that had disrupted the meal had come from the dungeon. In fact, there was a whole prison cell full of them. The total count of grimulin in the castle was seventeen.

There was a lot of discussion about who put them there. Everyone knew Bayvlad was the only sorcerer in the castle and most likely the only sorcerer capable of conjuring a grimulin in Minaria, but because he was so close to Ryker and held a powerful position, no one would actually accuse him.

Tallis told me this would happen when I’d let him know about my idea to let the grimulin out. We could only hope that someone would mention it to Ryker privately, which Tallis would be doing as soon as he could get Ryker alone.

The meeting was adjourned without coming to a conclusion, but as we heard everyone else leaving, Ryker’s voice called Bayvlad to stay. When everyone was gone, Ryker said, “Someone is after the Hashna Stone. But are they trying to steal it from me or….”

I guessed Ryker was worried that someone suspected that he was posing as Radon and trying to know for sure by having the grimulin sent after the Hashna Stone. If the grimulin didn’t fly for Ryker, it would be a dead giveaway that he didn’t have the stone.

“I fear that it is someone who suspects what’s going on as well, Highness,” Bayvlad said.

“But who?” Ryker sounded like a spoiled child demanding to know why they had to eat their green beans.

“There is only one person who would have access to the dungeon, have reason to be suspicious, and be capable of conjuring a grimulin.” Bayvlad paused dramatically. “Tallis.”

My eyes widened and I kept myself from groaning. Samel’s face mirrored mine. Tallis wasn’t supposed to be blamed for this.

“Tallis?”Ryker asked.

“He was the ambassador to Hashna, and you know that his daughter just came back from there. Perhaps she came back with some information that made him want to investigate.”

“But Tallis doesn’t know magic.”

“Not that we know of,” Bayvlad said, “but he spent over ten years there. He could have learned magic from the dwarves. He would keep his skills a secret if he was suspicious of anything. Waiting for a chance to find out the truth.”

“Then why didn’t he try this three years ago?”

“It takes time to conjure so many grimulin, besides, he probably didn’t want to do anything unless he was sure. The dwarves must have found something out and sent his daughter to tell him.”

Ryker made an uncommitted noise. “You know a lot about the grimulin.” There was a silence. “Why didn’t you tell me they could be made to be seen and told to do things? Like take things that couldn’t be touched by human hands.”

“Bringing them into the physical realm is a dangerous procedure,” Bayvlad blustered. “Only the foolish would attempt it.”

“Yet someone attempted it seventeen times!” Something slammed. “Dangerous isn’t some fairytale dog-creature. Dangerous is the Hashna Stone staying with my brother.” There was a gulping sound and I imagined Ryker was dumping some wine into his mouth. “Can you get those grimulin in the dungeon under your control or do they need to be destroyed?”

“I can control them, Highness.”

“Good. I want that magical dwarf stone around my neck by tomorrow.”

“But, my king, it will be difficult. They are very unpredictable and hard to control. They are likely to turn on the one trying to get control over them.”

“I saw how you made them disappear. I’m sure they won’t be too challenging for you.”

“It takes a lot of strength to get control over even one and I have spent mine dispelling the creatures tonight. It may—“

“I want. It. Tomorrow. Are you loyal to me or to Radon?”

“You, of course, my king.”

“Then quit acting like taking it from my brother will break your heart and do what you should have done three years ago.”

“Yes my king.”

 


 

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Chapter 24: Ryker Meets the Grimulin

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.”

“Why?”

“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.

Next

Check out the Hashna Stone Page for previous chapters.

 

Chapter 23: Audience in The Grand Dungeon

I kept my eyes lowered like a servant’s as I passed  between the guards at the entrance of the dungeon.   I was relieved that they hardly looked at me.  I was scared they would realize that I was a new face and question me, but I guess servants weren’t worth remembering.

I pictured the map Tallis had shown me of the dungeon’s layout so I would know how to get to the right cell. It wasn’t too difficult. I would go straight, take the third left, then go all the way back where Radon was, in the deepest part of the dungeon.

Some of the prisoners called out as I passed their cells, sticking their hands through the bars and calling for food or pleading for release.  Most remained silent, watching me pass with hard eyes.

The farther I went, the fewer prisoners there were, until eventually I was passing empty cells and the only sounds were my feet shuffling across the stone floor.  There were fewer torches lit too and shadows danced across the walls like many grimulin flying through the air.

The dungeon was bigger than I thought and it felt like I would be walking through the gloomy halls for hours before reaching the king’s cell.  With every step, my apprehension grew. I kept expecting a grimulin to materialize from the shadows or a guard to leap from around the corner and wished that I had my sword with me. Tallis got all of our weapons back to us, but it would be ridiculous for a servant to carry a sword, so I left it in the rooms.

I finally reached the dead end where I was supposed to turn left, but instead of doing that, I stopped.  There were scratching, growling sounds coming from the other direction.

Did someone lock a bunch of animals in the dungeon?

There weren’t any torches lit down that hall, so I laid the food on the floor and took a torch from the wall.  I turned right and made my way toward the sounds. The snarling became more intense the closer I got. There was something familiar about the sound.

At the end of the hall was a wooden door with a tiny square window with bars. The door rattled and thumped with the force of something banging against it.  I couldn’t see through the window, so I raised my torch higher and stepped closer.

A black face filled the square window.  It appeared so suddenly that I stumbled backward.

I knew those eerie yellow eyes well.  Grimulin.

It bared its teeth, then let out a shriek somewhere between a dog’s howl and a hawk’s call.  It whipped around and flew deeper into the room.

There was a swarm of them in the little cell.  They all were pacing or flying.  Moving around the room as if something had agitated them.

The stone.  They sensed it was here and were trying to get out of their confinement to get it.

I shuttered and backed away.  There were more of them than I expected.   I wondered why they were here and not out looking for the stone.

I made my way back to where I’d left the food and, after putting the torch back, picked it up and continued to the king’s cell.

Like the cell with the grimulin, the one that held the king had a small square-shaped, barred window at the top of the door.

Suddenly feeling awkward that I was about to meet a king in such diminished circumstances, I paused and cleared my throat.  No one came to the window.  There weren’t even noises from inside.

It seemed inconsiderate to simply peak into the barred window like I might with any other prisoner.  I felt I needed permission to approach, just as I would a throne.

I cleared my throat again and took a step closer.  “Highness? I need to…I would like to speak to you.”

Was that how you address a king in a prison cell?

A face appeared in the window.  I recognized the broad forehead and brown eyes from the painting I’d seen of the king once when I’d visited the castle with my father.   His hair was the same blondish-reddish color, but it was much longer and unkempt.  His beard wasn’t neatly trimmed short, but fell to his chest in a thick, bushy mass.  His hair wasn’t shiny and slicked back, but was a snarled gathering that hung down to his shoulders.

The guards may not have noticed that I was a new face, but King Radon did.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Dalan, Highness.”

His eyebrows lowered and I imagined his mouth was frowning under the hair on his lip.  “Don’t call me that.  It wouldn’t be good if anyone heard.”

There was no one this deep in the dungeon to hear, but I thought it was best to do what he said.  I didn’t want to risk being marked as a Radon sympathizer and executed.

“The food goes down here,” he said.  A small sliding door at the bottom of the door shuttered as he kicked it once to bring my attention to it.

I bent down and slid the panel up. An empty bowl sat there from his midday meal that I was supposed to take back with me.

“What happened to the other boy?” he asked.

“What?  Oh, nothing.  I’m just replacing him for today.”

He looked relieved.  Probably glad that the boy wasn’t caught bringing food to Radon and executed.  I swallowed and slid the food into the hole beside the empty bowl.

He took it, and by the time I stood up, the window was empty.  He was somewhere off the side where I couldn’t see him.

“There’s something else,” I said. “Something else I have to give you.”

His pale face appeared in the window.  “Well?” he asked.

I didn’t know where to start or how much to explain, so I simply pulled the stone from under my shirt.

The king stared for a moment as if seeing a mirage.

“They found it.”  He said the words lowly, as if any loud noise may make it disappear.  “How?” he asked, his eyes leaving the stone to meet mine.

Before I could answer, he said, “Put it back under your shirt.”

“But Tallis said to give it to you.”

“Put it back,” he said firmly.  His face was pained, like a man in the desert shown water, but not being able to drink any.  “I can’t take it.”

I blinked.  The stone was his.  And without it, his life could be over at any moment.  We’d gone through so much to get it to him. He couldn’t just refuse to take it.

“But it’s yours.”

“You think I wouldn’t like to have it back?”  His tone was harsh.  “That I wouldn’t like to stop living every moment waiting for my brother to find out that my protection is gone so he can finally end my life?”  He looked away and took a breath to compose himself.  When he looked back at me, there was pain in his eyes.

“The moment I take that stone, Bayvlad will be down here with his grimulin to claim it.”

I was about to say that Bayvlad’s grimulin were out looking for the stone, but as I’d just discovered, he had more of them than we thought.

“But what if Ryker finds out that you don’t have the stone?”

He gave a forced laugh. “As long as Bayvlad is void of his prize, he won’t let my brother know that the stone is missing.  That would mean that my brother would send out search parties to find the stone, and Bayvlad doesn’t want to risk him finding it first.”

“You could still take it. Bayvlad wouldn’t know.”

He shook his head.  “Bayvlad is down here all the time with one of those fiendish creatures.  Making sure the stone hasn’t reappeared somehow. He would find out, have his ugly creatures take the stone, then either leave me here to rot or let his pets devour me. You have to keep it.”

“I can’t keep it.”  Here I was again, thinking I’d finally get rid of this thing only to be told I needed to keep it.  “What am I supposed to do with it?”

“Don’t let Bayvlad get it,” he growled.  Then he pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers.  “Just take it back to Tallis and tell him what I said.  I’m sure he can come up with something.”

“Tallis is out of ideas,” I said. “And keeping it away from Bayvlad isn’t that simple.  I’ve been attacked by grimulin several times trying to get here, and it’s only a matter of time before they find me again.”

I wondered if I’d spoken too boldly, but he didn’t seem to notice if I were out of line.

“You brought it here?”  he asked, surprised.

I nodded and told him a quick version of how I found the stone and ended up here.

There was a moment of silence, then I said,  “He’ll find out I have it just as fast.”

Radon shook his head.  “He won’t.  He can’t send his grimulin to look for you in the castle without drawing suspicion to himself.”

I guessed he was right. It was easy for Bayvlad to take it from Radon, down here where no one would see. But I didn’t see how keeping the stone would help anything.  Radon would still be here.  Ryker would still be on the throne.

I stayed silent for a moment, a plan forming in my mind.

“We need Ryker to see the grimulin,” I said.

“What?” The king looked at me with tired eyes.

“I’ll take care of it,” I said shoving the stone into my shirt again. Then I raced off, forgetting that I was supposed to collect the dirty bowl used for the midday meal.

—————————————————

 

This chapter doesn’t end with any choices and usually when that happens I’ll post the next chapter the day after. I decided not to do that this time because chapter 24 is a little over 2,000 words (which is double the words in most of the chapters) and I didn’t want to overwhelm you.

I also didn’t want to overwhelm my proofreader, Nandini. 🙂

But the poll will be back next week, so be ready to vote! As The Hashna Stone comes to an end, there will be fewer scenes that end with decisions to be made. So enjoy the voting while you can!

Chapter 22: Two Kings, One Castle

Tallis’s “chamber” was more like a house tucked away in a part of the castle.  There was an entryway, a lounging room, a dining room and several bedrooms.

After we’d washed and ate the food Tallis had the castle servants bring us, we met in the lounging room—a room lined with couches, cushioned chairs, and small tables made of shining wood with glass ornaments on top.

Rachael sat on a couch with her father.  Faiza sat in one of the chairs with her legs stretched in front of her.  Ethan took a seat on a cushioned bench and I sat on the couch across from Rachael and her father.  Samel, now visible, joined me.

“Now,” Tallis said taking a breath, “we can all discuss what is going on.”

I opened my mouth to begin explaining, but Tallis wasn’t finished speaking.

“Samel appears at my door this morning and tells me that my daughter is here along with some others who escorted her from Hashna. And that no one would listen to her when she told them I was her father, so she ended up working in the kitchens—“

Oh, so that’s where she’d ended up.

“How did you know she was in the kitchens?”  I asked Samel.

“After you told that ugly guard that you wanted to be soldiers, I had to wander around the yard until someone opened a door.”

“Why didn’t you open one yourself?” Ethan asked.  “You can grab things when you’re invisible.”

“It’s a good way to be discovered, that’s why,” Samel said.  “Do you think people will calmly accept that the door just opened on its own?  Even if I make sure that no one is there to see me, how do I know no one is on the other side of the door? You have to think of these things if you’re not going to get caught.” Samal tapped the side of his head.

“Thank you for the lesson in invisibility,” Tallis said looking slightly amused.  “Now, what does this have to do with how you found Rachael?”

“Well because the first door that was opened lead to the kitchen.  It was hot and steamy in there, but the smells.”  Samel closed his eyes.  “The smells were amazing. And the taste was even better.”

“You ate the food?”  Faiza frowned.  “What happened to being stealthy?”

“I made sure no one was watching,” he huffed.  “I’m an expert.”

“Samel was still in the kitchen when that girl brought me,” Rachael said, speeding Samel’s tale along.  “So by the time he found my father, he knew where I was.”

“And were you hard to find,” Samel said, looking at Tallis.  “I wandered around for hours and still couldn’t find you.  This place is a city in a building.  And it’s not like I could ask someone where to find you—not unless I wanted to give them the scare of their life.”  Samel grinned mischievously and I wondered if he had talked to someone, or at least moved something while someone was looking just to see their reaction.

“Once I finally spotted him, I still couldn’t show myself because there were others around.  I had to wait until he went back to his room.”

“I’m not sure which surprised me more,” Tallis said.  “The fact that there was no one at the door when I opened it, or that once I closed it, Samel appeared.”  He gave Samel a wry smile, then looked at the rest of us.  “But what I don’t know is why you are here.  Samel mentioned something about a mission from the council of dwarves?”

I pulled the Hashna Stone from under my shirt.  “I found this.”

Tallis’s mouth parted and he looked at the stone as if seeing a grimulin.

“How did you find this?”

I explained how I’d found it in a cave and how I started having dreams that urged me to take it to Hashna.  I told him about the grimulin, which didn’t seem to shock him as I thought it would.  I finished my tale with the dwarves’ charge to take the Hashna Stone to him.

“They said you might know what’s going on,” I said.

He let out a breath and looked out a window streaming in late afternoon sunlight.  “Knowing what is happening isn’t much use.  It’s what to do about it that I wish I knew.”  He looked back to the stone on my chest.  “But having this back is a relief.  The King’s life is in danger without it.”

Did he mean Radon or Ryker? Having two kings was really confusing.

“When you say the King…?”

“I mean Radon.  The true king, not his pretender brother.”

“So he is still alive?” Rachael asked.

“He is.”

“You know where he is?” I asked.

Tallis nodded.  He leaned forward and lowered his voice even though there was no one else in the room but us.  “He is in the castle dungeon.”

“This castle’s dungeon?” Ethan asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Ryker wanted to keep a close eye on him I suppose.  He couldn’t kill him with that around his neck.”  He gestured to the Hashna Stone.

“But how did Ryker get him there in the first place?” I asked.  “No one can harm you with this on.”

“Ah, but that’s just it,” Tallis said. “No one can harm the person wearing the stone. Being put in a dark cell under the castle isn’t exactly harm.  The Hashna Stone prevents swords and arrows from piercing the skin.  It keeps the wearer from feeling the full effects of punches thrown or from being strangled or drowned.  But it doesn’t prevent the wearer from being kept in a room.”

“But how did they get him in there?” Faiza said. “He wouldn’t just let someone lead him in there.”

Tallis took in a weary breath and began.

“The King—King Radon—had no need of someone to taste his food or drink for him after he was given the Hashna Stone.  If something was poisoned, the food or liquid would simply refuse to go in his mouth.   It would fall off the spoon or spew on either sides of his mouth. But what the stone wouldn’t protect him from was something that would send him into a deep sleep, like Hopsik.”

“Hopsik?” I asked.

“It’s a plant.” Ethan perked up, eager to explain. “If you eat its leaves, it will put you into a deep sleep. Almost like a coma if you eat enough.”

Tallis nodded. “Its leaves can be boiled into a tea and slipped into almost any other liquid and because it doesn’t have a strong taste, it is almost undetectable.”

“Ryker had someone put it in Radon’s drink,” I said.

Tallis nodded again. “It takes affect slowly, so Ryker didn’t have to worry about Radon suddenly falling to the floor in a deep sleep and drawing suspicion. Once the king was asleep, all Ryker had to do was have the group of soldiers that was loyal to him take the king to the dungeon and lock him up.  They left the stone around his neck, knowing that there was no way to get it off without being shocked by a bolt of lightning-like substance.”

“So when Ryker showed up in Hashna three years ago,” Rachael said, “he was hoping that the dwarves would believe the story that he’d lost it and make him a new one so he could be just as powerful as King Radon.”

“He never would have gone if he had known that the dwarves had the ability to see the person wearing the stone,” Tallis said. “Once he found out, he knew the dwarves would locate the stone with their sight after he left, which is why he broke the alliance and forbid dwarves from entering Minaria.”

I understood all that.  We knew why Ryker broke the alliance when we left Hashna and why he’d gone to Hashna in the first place.  What I didn’t understand was how the Hashna Stone got in that cave.  The dwarves had explained that an item of powerful magic could transport itself to another place if it was in danger.  Sort of a self-preservation mechanism.  But if the danger was three years ago when King Radon was put into a cell in the dungeon, then why did it take this long to move itself?  The dwarves said they saw it on King Radon until about six months ago.  Something didn’t add up.

“Do you know how the stone moved itself to the cave?”  I asked.  “The dwarves said it moved about six months ago.  Not three years ago when the King was put in the dungeon.”

“I know exactly how long ago it was when the stone was lost to the king,” Tallis said, his face clouding.  “It was a dark day.  Losing the stone meant the king could lose his life at any moment.  If anyone found out that he no longer had the protection of the stone, it would mean instant death.  Luckily the king’s brother seems to have forgotten him there and no one checked to see if the stone was there.  Well, no one but Bayvlad.”

There was that name again.

“Who is Bayvlad?” Ethan asked before I could.  “The guard at the gate mentioned him and so did that girl, Nakin.”

“He is the Royal Sorcerer,” Tallis said.

That was why his name seemed familiar.  My father must have mentioned him before.  The Royal Sorcerer would work with the army if there was ever a battle, using his magic to defend and attack.

“Why was Bayvlad checking to see if King Radon had the Hashna Stone?” Rachael asked.  “Is he on Ryker’s side?”

“He is,” her father replied, “for the most part.”

“What does that mean?” Faiza said.

“It was because of Bayvlad that the stone transported itself.”

Before Tallis could go any farther, something clicked in my head.

“It’s Bayvlad!” I exclaimed.  “He’s the one that conjured the grimulin.”  He was the royal sorcerer.  He could do something as powerful as summons a grimulin.

Tallis nodded solemnly.  “The Hashna Stone can’t be taken by human hands.  But something that is technically a spirit—the stone can’t do anything against.”

“Except send itself off to someplace,” Samel chimed as he flicked the tassel on a pillow beside him.

“But if Bayvlad was trying to get the stone for Ryker,” I said, “then why didn’t he tell Ryker that his brother  isn’t protected by the stone?”  Every moment Radon was alive was a moment that someone might discover Ryker’s deceit.  He may have a few loyal followers who knew the truth, but most of the kingdom didn’t know that it was Radon’s identical twin that was on the throne.  Ryker wouldn’t last long if people found out.

“He wasn’t getting the stone for Ryker,” Tallis said.  “He was trying to take it for himself.”

“He’s trying to overthrow the King…er…Ryker?” Ethan asked, blue eyes wide.

“I don’t know his reason for wanting the Hashna Stone other than the power it gives,” Tallis said.  “If his attempt to get the stone was for Ryker, Radon wouldn’t be alive right now.  The only reason he wouldn’t tell Ryker that his brother is no longer under the stone’s protection is if he didn’t want to explain why it disappeared in the first place.  As far as I know, Ryker knows nothing of the grimulin.”

We all sat silently for a moment, soaking up the information.

“What are you going to do?” Rachael asked her father.

“We’ll return the stone to the king,” he said. ”But after that, I don’t know.”

“Can’t we free him?” I asked.  “You know where he is.  We can get him out.”

“I don’t have keys to any of the dungeon’s cells and, as you can imagine, the guards posted there are loyal to Ryker. They wouldn’t just let me walk out with Radon.  The first thing we need to take care of is getting the stone to King Radon.”  His brown eyes rested on me.  “I’ll be counting on you for that.”

“Me?” I asked. I thought that once I brought the stone to Tallis, he would take care of it. Why did everyone want me to take care of it?

“Since the Hashna Stone disappeared,” Tallis said, “I’ve been sending food to him by a servant loyal to the true king.”

Rachael interrupted to explain. “The stone keeps the wearer’s strength up and doesn’t let them feel hunger. As long as he had it on, he couldn’t die of starvation.”

I guess this whole time I could have eaten nothing and still been fine. Not that I really wanted to give up eating. Especially not after bringing Rachael and her cooking skills to our group.

Tallis continued.  “You will take the place of the servant tonight.”

Next

Whew! That was a long chapter. See why I didn’t post it last week? 🙂

So, tell me what you think of the story so far. Who’s your favorite character? What scene did you like best?

And of course, make sure you vote! I can’t write this story without you.

If you are new to Hashna, this page has all the chapters listed in one place so you can catch up on what’s going on. It also has a fun list of all the characters, so even if you have been following along from the start, check it out.

Until the next chapter!

Chapter 20: In the Army

The guard at the gate gave us a strange look when we told him that we wanted to join the army. He seemed to sense we were up to something, but he couldn’t see how a bunch of grubby children could do anything once we were in custody of the soldiers.

We had to give our weapons to the guard, which made everyone uncomfortable, except Rachael. I wished that I had magic abilities so I wouldn’t feel so exposed without my sword.

The guard took us through the castle’s court yard, then stopped at a metal gate. A black-haired girl dressed in leather armor opened it. I looked at the top of her sword, sticking out of its sheath. It wasn’t a wolf’s head.

“They want to join the army,” the guard said.

Want to?”  The girl raised an eyebrow—the only sign of expression on her face.

“That’s what I said,” the guard said. “Just take them to Commander Serun.”

The girl looked us over with shrewd eyes.

“They haven’t been to Bayvlad?” she asked him.

There was that name again. Who was this Bayvlad?

“Like I said.” The guard spoke slowly as if she were deaf.   “They asked to be brought here. Not to Bayvlad.”

The girl regarded him coolly, then without looking at us said, “This way.”

She turned around and led us into a large dirt yard with about thirty boys and girls standing in straight rows, listening to the bulky man in front of them who was yelling about how wimpy they were. He must be Commander Serun.

He stopped when he saw the dark-haired girl bring us in. “What is this Lieutenant Nakin?”

The girl was a Lieutenant? She couldn’t be much older than us. She must have been brought here when she was very young to get to that rank by 16 or 17. All interest in Nakin faded when Commander Serun stepped away from the rows of recruits and came to us. At the top of his sword was a wolf’s face.

“The next batch of recruits isn’t due for another few weeks.” He looked us over, much as Nakin had when she first saw us. I took the opportunity to scrutinize the sword at his side. It was definitely my father’s. I’d seen the regal look on the wolf’s face every day.

“Bayvlad’s rejects?” Commander Serun asked.

“No sir,” Nakin said. “The guard at the gate brought them. He said they wanted to join.”

The commander let out a bellowing laugh. “I’ve never heard of orphans turning themselves over.”

“I’m not an orphan.” I was shocked that Rachael spoke. The commander didn’t seem like the type that would do well with contradictions.

He whipped his head toward her and locked his hard eyes on her. Rachael continued, undeterred.

“My father is here in the castle. Tallis. He was the ambassador to Hashna.”

Commander Serun stepped closer to her. “It’s a good thing you’re too weak to join the recruits or I’d have you flogged for such a ridiculous lie.”

“It isn’t a lie. If you would—“

He got in her face. “Don’t presume to tell me what to do girl.  Gods know why you wanted to join the army.  Not only are you weak, you’re disrespectful.”  He turned to Nakin.  “Take her away.  It would be a waste of time to train her.”

“To Bayvlad sir?” Nakin asked.

“I don’t care.” He waved his hand dismissively. “Just get her out of my sight.”

He looked at Faiza, Ethan, and me. “You three.  Fall in line with the others.”  He turned and stomped away without waiting to see if we would comply. I watched the sword at his side sway with every step and heat bubbled inside at the thought of this arrogant man carrying my father’s sword.

“Come on,” Nakin said to Rachael. She looked annoyed at being tasked with taking her. Rachael looked to me.  Her blue eyes questioning whether she should go or not.  I would have rather us stay together, but I couldn’t see anyway to keep her with us. We’d be together before the end of the day anyway when Samel brought Tallis to us.

I gave her a small nod and she turned to follow Nakin. Faiza, Ethan, and I fell in line behind the others.

“You’re a sorry lot,” Commander Serun growled. “I’m going to have to work you hard if you’re going to become one-tenth the soldiers my men are.”

I hoped Samel found Tallis quickly.

 

—-

 

I dropped to the mattress, feeling the hard floor beneath as my weight pressed it down. I was just glad to be still for a moment.  I thought I was in good shape until spending a day with Commander Serun. We hadn’t stopped moving the entire day.  We did a lot of pushups and running while carrying heavy packs on our back.  Maybe it was a good thing that Rachael was taken away.  I wondered if she was with that Bayvlad guy.

I still couldn’t figure out why his name sounded familiar. Commander Serun asked Nakin if we were Blayvlad’s rejects. He must be another commander that trained recruits.

“Do you think that Samel has found Rachael’s father yet?” Ethan asked from the mattress a few inches away. He kept his voice low so the other boys coming into the room and flopping on mattresses wouldn’t hear.

“I thought he would have come and got us by now,” I whispered.

“So did I. I hope nothing…”  He didn’t continue his thought, but we both knew what he was about to say.  Samel may be invisible, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t have bumped into someone or made a noise that got him discovered.

“It’s a big place,” Ethan said. “I guess it will take Samel a long time to find him.”

Maybe it was just the largeness of the castle, but what if something did happen?   How long should we stay here before trying to find out?

“We should go,” I said.

“Go where?”

“Try to find Samel. Rachael.  Or her father.”

“How are we going to do that?”

“We wait for everyone to fall asleep, then we sneak off.” My eyelids were heavy along with the rest of my body and I wanted to sleep like the others.  But the longer we waited, the harder it would be to find the others.

“Tonight?” Ethan asked. “How are we going to get out? They lock the gate.”

Maybe we could climb the gate, though that seemed unlikely since the gate was made with bars that ran vertically, like a jail door. There was no way to climb it.

Maybe if we looked around we could find a way out. Then again, if we left now, we would have to leave Faiza behind since she was sleeping in another room with the girls.

Next

 

If you missed a chapter or don’t know who some of the characters are, visit the Hashna Stone Page for a link to previous chapters and a list of characters. (There’s even a picture of Dalan’s father’s sword…you know…in case you were wondering what it looked like. 🙂 )

Chapter 18: Rachael

I  walked back from the river feeling refreshed after the swim. When I got back to our little camp, I was surprised to see that Rachael and Samel were up and Faiza and Ethan were gone. It was after noonday, but after walking all night to put distance between us and the soldiers, we didn’t set up came until after first light.

“Where are Faiza and Ethan?” I asked.

“They’re hunting,” Samel said.

I wasn’t sure that they’d get anything in the heat of the day. Most animals wouldn’t be out and moving around. Still, I hoped they’d find something. We were all so tired when we finally stopped that we didn’t eat anything before falling asleep. Now my stomach felt like it were eating itself.

Samel looked at my wet hair and said, “I think I’ll take a swim myself,” and he walked off whistling.

This left me alone with Rachael. I shifted my weight and tried to think of some reason to leave the camp for a moment, but the only thing I could come up with was hunting. I didn’t really want to go off in the woods trying to find an animal with an empty stomach. The last time I did that, my stomach had growled and scared the rabbit I’d found.

Still, I hadn’t spent much time with girls, at least not alone, and I wasn’t sure what to say.

She broke the silence by offering me some jerky she pulled from her pack. I took it and sat, so the pack sat between us. She chewed on her jerky without saying anything, and I wondered if she were alright after last night.

“Feeling better?”

“A little. It takes a while to recover after using that much magic. Or at least that’s what I’ve been told. I’ve never actually used that much at once before.”

“What was that white light stuff?” I asked, picturing the light that had shot into the soldiers.

“It was energy,” she said, taking another bite of jerky. “I pulled it from my body, then shot it at the soldiers. That’s why it’s so tiring. I’m taking energy from myself and using it to stun something else.”

“Were you born with it, like Samel was born with invisibility?”

She laughed. “I wish I were born with it. Then I wouldn’t have to spend so much time practicing. I learned how to do magic from the council.”

I wondered if I could learn to do something like that, though the thought of taking so much energy out of my own body that I killed myself wasn’t a very comforting thought.

“Can anyone learn magic then?”

Rachael shrugged. “It’s like any skill. It can be taught, but some are better at it than others.” She looked at the sword at my side. “Anyone can be taught to use a sword, but not everyone will show the same aptitude for it.”

“Did your father know magic?”

She shook her head. “He never tried to learn. He was too busy being the ambassador.”

“Why didn’t you go with him?” I asked, then realized the question might be too personal. “I mean, you don’t have to tell me.”

She gave a smile, as if amused by my discomfort. “My father thought it might be too dangerous. All we knew at that time was that Ryker was pretending to be king while the real king was locked up somewhere. He thought I’d be safer in Hashna.”

I subtracted three years from her current age.

“Your father left you alone at twelve?” Maybe it was safer in Hashna, but it didn’t seem safe to leave a twelve-year-old on their own.

“I wasn’t on my own. Samel’s family looked after me.”

That would explain why they were so close.

“Does he write?” I asked. “Your father, I mean.”

“He can’t.” She looked at the jerky in her hand and bent in back and forth. “There aren’t any riders that carry letters to Hashna.”

Oh yeah. I guess with the treaty broken and the law forbidding dwarves from entering Minaria there wouldn’t be any mail between the two countries. In a way, she’d been an orphan for the past three years.

“I guess he’ll be surprised when he sees you,” I said with a smile.

“Very.” Her blue eyes brightened. “I doubt he’ll even recognize me.”

There was the sound of foot falls in the woods and Rachael and I both looked toward the noise to see who was coming.

Ethan appeared, bow in one hand and the other hand empty. “I didn’t see anything,” he said, coming to sit by us. Rachael offered him some jerky and he took it. “I guess this is all we’re going to eat for dinner.”

Faiza came out of the woods holding two rabbits. “Not as long as I’m around.”

I watched as Rachael got up to help with the rabbits, and thought how glad I was that I’d decided to let her come along. Not just because she turned out to be a good cook and ended up saving us last night, but because it would have been cruel not to let her see her father after all this time.

“Are you going to help or not?” Faiza asked me. “You might be our mighty leader, but we’re not doing everything for you.”

I grinned and got up to join them in preparing the meal.

 

Next

Check out the Hashna Stone Page for previous chapters.

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Guys! Do you realize we are halfway through The Hashna Stone? I know! How can that be already? I seems like we just started. But I’m estimating that the entire story should have about 30 to 40 chapters and that puts us right at the middle.

I’m not sure if I’m excited that we’ve made it this far, or sad that it’s going by so fast. Next thing I know it will be over. 😦

So enjoy it while you can. The end is nearing. 🙂

While I’m talking about The Hashna Stone, I’d like to give a huge thanks to Nandini from Pages That Rustle for reading through each chapter before they’re posted. You would not believe how difficult it is to spot mistakes in your own work. I end up reading what I meant to write and not what is actually there, so an extra set of eyes really helps.

Thanks Nandini for making The Hashna Stone a better story! 🙂