CHAPTER SEVENTEEN





“Come in,” Elaina gently smiled as she closed the door behind Josef and Duncan.

Josef wearily smiled in her direction. Duncan quickly raised his eyebrows in a silent question as he mouthed Christien’s name. Elaina nodded to the corner where Christien stood staring out the window.

As the two men entered the room, Christien turned. Seeing Josef, he hesitated then smiled. “Long journey?” he teased.

“Distance has nothing to do with it!” Duncan interrupted with an aggrieved look. He ostentatiously sank into one of the comfortable chairs. “Why is it that everyone insists on starting the day so damned early?”

“Poor Duncan.” Josef smiled as he also sat. “Maybe we should call Starra to soothe his brow?” He glanced at Christien trying not to laugh.

“Leave my Precious One out of this,” Duncan glowered.

Christien hesitated not sure how seriously he should take Duncan’s seeming infatuation with his sister.

“Be careful, Duncan.” Josef happily grinned. “I think Christien’s about to start acting like a protective brother.”

Duncan eyed Christien who slightly flushed. “No need for that, Christien,” he assured his friend with a serious look. “I have only the most honorable of intentions.”

“Somehow that doesn’t reassure me,” Christien muttered. He slowly sat across from his friends as Elaina brought a platter of fruit and sat it between them. “Just the two of you?” he quietly asked.

“I imagine Mother would have liked to be here.” Josef’s hazel eyes were shadowed. “But I think Father convinced her not to come.”

“Besides, he insisted on leaving before dawn,” Duncan scowled. “He knows Kathlyna wouldn’t be awake then.”

Josef gave his friend a dark look. “There was no need for either of them to be here,” he finally answered.

“I’m sorry, Josef,” Christien said after a moment’s silence.

“Why?” Josef quietly asked. “I don’t have to do this, you know.” He saw his friends exchange a quick look and smiled. “Well, maybe I do,” he admitted. “The two of you would do the same.”

“You see what I have to put up with?” Duncan leaned his head onto Elaina’s shoulder. He ignored the sudden scowl Christien gave him. “If Josef’s not playing the martyr then Christien is playing the hero.” He looked up at Elaina for sympathy.

“Poor Duncan.” Elaina smiled patting the top of his head. “Perhaps I should call Starra to see if she can make your life easier.”

“Elaina!” Duncan pulled away a look of horror on his face. He ignored the snickers from his friends. “I thought I could count on you!”

“You can, Duncan,” Elaina assured him with a wide smile. “I’m sorry for teasing you.”

“Don’t apologize,” Christien growled. “It’s what he deserves.”

“When do we try this?” Josef asked after a moment. He saw his friends exchange another quick look and sighed. “Why are the two of you ignoring this? You act as though nothing out of the ordinary is going to happen.”

“How are we supposed to act, Josef?” Christien angrily replied. “I brought up your name. We don’t know this will even work! And you could get killed for nothing!” He took a deep breath. “I don’t expect you slept soundly last night either!” he snapped.

Duncan worriedly glanced at Elaina who barely shook her head.

“Actually, I did sleep soundly,” Josef lightly replied. “I’d made my decision and that was all there was to it.”

“I almost wish it were Duncan doing this!” Christien glared at his friend.

“Me?!” Duncan looked shocked.

“Christien!” Elaina remonstrated.

“At least Duncan would make a fuss!” Christien snapped. “Then I could...do....” He helplessly waved his hands in front of him.

“Do what?” Josef asked his eyes twinkling.

“Something!” Christien shouted. “Anything!” He glared at Josef. “Just don’t take it so calmly!”

“Christien, have you thought about what will happen if you’re right?” Josef quietly asked. “You’ve concentrated on what might go wrong. What if it all goes right?”

“Then the Spell of Protection around the Orb of Prophecy will be removed,” Christien shot back. “Then we may..or may not...hear something that will help us.” He glared at Josef. “I don’t see it’s worth the risk.”

“Maybe,” Josef admitted. “Maybe not.” He leaned forward and stared at Christien. “But you’d take the chance if it were you, wouldn’t you?”

Christien stared at his friend for a few seconds. “Yes,” he finally answered. “You know I would.”

Josef leaned back satisfied. “And we both know Duncan, after some obligatory protests, would do it as well.” He glanced at the two of them. “Now, when do I try to make history?”

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Later than morning, Eldrin led a procession down some stairs until they were far underground the palace. Simon and Hector followed him Simon slowly nodding at whatever Hector was whispering to him. Macedin and Stefan followed each wearing an expression clearing indicating this was a waste of their time. Christien, Josef, and Duncan followed Josef more calm than either of the other two. Careen and Evan followed last Evan’s eyes narrowing as he saw his sister’s eyes watching Stefan’s broad back. For a few moments, he allowed himself the luxury of contemplating an accidental collapse of the ceiling...properly controlled, of course.

Eldrin waited at a closed door until they had assembled behind him. He looked at Josef. “Are you sure?” he quietly asked.

Josef silently smiled and nodded.

Eldrin took a deep breath and opened the door. They quietly filed in behind him.

Suspended close to the back wall was the Orb of Prophecy. Through the surrounding bluish glow, they could see a globe of white light. The magicians in the room took a deep breath feeling the power that emanated from the Orb.

Suspended in the middle of the room was Maxen’s Sword. The warriors stared at it with varying degrees of astonishment and envy. Even discounting the legends that had grown up around it, the Sword was obviously a work of art. The shining blade was slightly curved and the hilt looked to be gold. To their practiced eyes, they knew it would be a perfectly balanced and lethal weapon.

Silently they stood in a semi-circle facing the Sword. Careen glanced across the circle startled to see Stefan directly across from her. Their eyes locked for a second then both glanced away. Evan eyed the wall directly behind Stefan mentally calculating the risk of inwardly collapsing the wall. Then he saw Josef step forward and glance at Eldrin.

“All that’s been done before is someone has stepped forward and put their hand on the hilt,” Eldrin quietly shrugged.

Josef nodded turning to eye the Sword. He glanced over his shoulder at Christien and Duncan. He gave them a brief grin then firmly walked closer. Slowly he raised his hand to the hilt.

Duncan held his breath feeling Christien tense next to him. He knew Christien wouldn’t be able to save Josef if they were wrong. Josef had known that as well and had made Duncan promise to protect Christien from hurting himself. Not for the first time, Duncan wished both his friends would be a little more reasonable about matters.

Stefan eyed his brother curiously. His black eyes quickly moved to Duncan and he nodded in silent agreement. If Christien got past Duncan, Stefan would stop him before he got hurt.

Eldrin closed his eyes praying to the Prophet that if Josef were not the one, at least his life would be preserved.

The others held their breath as Josef’s hand slowly inched closer to the hilt of the Sword. Josef paused his fingers scant inches from the hilt. He saw his father’s face before him as he’d last seen him. Josef silently apologized to his father before deliberately he closed his hand around the hilt. A burst of energy surrounded Josef jerking him rigid.

Duncan felt Christien stir next to him and grabbed his arm. Stefan moved his larger body in front of his brother.

“That’s not what happened before!” Macedin shouted to Stefan.

Christien relaxed slightly shaking off Duncan’s hand. He peered around Stefan who continued to block his brother’s path.

Eldrin’s eyes flew open. He immediately saw that Macedin was correct. If they’d been wrong, by now Josef’s body would be on fire.

Josef felt his other hand being drawn to the hilt of Maxen’s Sword. The pale yellow energy surrounding him shot through him...controlling him. He felt his arms raised in the air over his head. He slowly turned then quickly pointed the Sword at Careen.

A similar wave of energy shot from the point of the Sword into Careen’s body also surrounding her with a pale yellow glow. Evan started forward but Simon caught his arm. “She’s not being hurt, Evan,” the older magician murmured. Evan glared at him but didn’t move.

Christien glanced at Stefan who stared at Careen. He saw his brother’s hands quickly clench and unclench but Stefan made no move to go to her side.

Careen’s eyes darkened until all they could see were flecks of emerald against blackness. Her eyes locked with Josef’s she slowly raised her hand and pointed towards the Orb. Another stream of yellow energy shot from Careen’s fingers and surrounded the Orb. It clashed with the blue energy surrounding the Orb.

The magicians watched in various degrees of fascination as the energy flowing from the Sword through Josef and Careen battled with the energy surrounding the Orb. Evan’s eyes narrowed to slits as he watched the energy flowing through his sister. “She can’t stand much more of that,” he muttered to Simon.

Simon slowly nodded in agreement. He glanced at Eldrin whose face held a mixture of worry and anticipation.

Suddenly a white burst of energy shot from the Orb towards Careen. As it surrounded her, she jerked wildly. Evan thrust past Simon intent on breaking the link.

“Do not approach!”

The voice came from Careen yet wasn’t Careen’s. Evan suddenly halted for once hesitant.

The energy flowing from Josef to Careen flickered then disappeared. Josef stood holding the Sword of Maxen with a confused look on his face. He looked at Christien and Duncan as he slowly lowered the Sword.

“Are you alright?” Christien hissed taking his arm.

“I think...I think so,” Josef shook his head to clear it. “What happened?”

Duncan nodded towards Careen who was slowly walking towards the Orb. “I don’t know,” he reluctantly admitted.

They watched as Careen placed her hands on either side of the Orb as though embracing a long-lost friend. She murmured something they did not hear.

“Careen!” Evan snapped.

She glanced over her shoulder to study Evan. Again, they saw only flecks of emerald green deep within the blackness of her eyes. She turned away from Evan silently dismissing him. Simon placed a warning hand on his arm as Evan bristled. The glow surrounding Careen flickered then steadied.

Careen finally turned standing under the Orb. “Hear me!” Careen intoned her voice echoing in the room. Evan’s eyes widened despite himself at the sound of power in her voice. Simon glanced at Hector who, for his own reasons, hummed softly as he listened.


Protector of the reborn bird
Fires’ lady with commanding word
Cubs roar their defiance loud
Warrior Lord firm and proud


To kill the One already dead
Shining gem of ruby red
Violence and rage deep inside
Hold screaming souls of those who died


Stone of forest glade and glen
Protect the bearer the danger send
Surrender to the fear that will destroy
Travel the path of confusion and worry


Greed given with the cat’s eye stone
Beware the One who walks alone
Satisfy the roamer with the hungry heart
Desire and honor the two must part


To save the Eye that does not see
Violet to sooth the soul and set it free
Heal the spirit, body, and mind
The One who sees yet Who is blind


Azure stone will lead to strife
Truth a cold hard path of life
Expose to all the hidden lie
To bring it forth one will die


Follow into fire and storm
A Dark Lord this stone will adorn
Stone of fear, stone of dread
Ebony touch opens the realm of the dead


Bright stone to control the rest
Sword of Maxen leads the quest
Drawn with a warrior’s strong hand
He is the fair son of the honest man


Heroic hearts strong with desire
With flames around a funeral pyre
Creating the First - the Middle - the End
The next glory shall soon begin




“Well, that tells us nothing!” Macedin snapped.

Careen slowly turned to look at him. “It is indeed a fool who refuses to learn.”

“That’s not very nice,” Hector loudly whispered to Simon. He smiled brightly when Careen turned to study him. It seemed to the others that she mockingly nodded towards him.

“Who are you?” Eldrin asked stepping closer.

“That knowledge is not necessary for your understanding.”

“How do we address you?” Eldrin edged closer.

“Do not come closer.” Careen’s hand shot up in warning.

“Why?” Eldrin measured the distance between them.

“Only the Sword may approach.” Careen glanced at Josef who still held the Sword of Maxen in his hand.

Josef stared down at the Sword as though surprised to still find it in his grasp.

“What can you tell us about the Prophecy?” Simon spoke up.

“The Prophecy is as it has been given.”

“Typical nonsense,” Macedin growled.

Careen’s head jerked in his direction. In a split second, she raised her hand her fingers pointing at Macedin.

“No!” Josef shouted moving in front of Macedin the Sword raised.

To their surprise, Careen slowly lowered her hand. She briefly inclined her head at Josef. “The choice was wisely made.”

“Can you tell us anything?” Eldrin asked with a warning glance at Macedin.

Careen sardonically smiled at him. “What do you ask?” She stressed the word “you”.

Eldrin flushed and hesitated. “Will we defeat the Jackal?” he finally asked feeling somewhat foolish.

Careen threw back her head and wildly laughed. The sound of her hollow laughter made more than one of them wince. “Such a childish question. The Jackal is a God. Do you think you can defeat a God?”

“Then will we defeat Lucas? Leodin?” Evan snapped. His eyes stared at Careen as though challenging her to call his questions childish.

“You ask for guarantees. There are none. You have been given all that you are able to use. Do not presume to ask for more. Whether you are victorious or whether you are defeated, it is your destiny that will come.” Careen looked back at Eldrin and sarcastically smiled. “Shall I prophesy for you, leader of the desert sands? Shall I answer the question you do not wish to ask?”

They glanced at Eldrin some in surprise. Eldrin glanced at Simon who watched him somewhat sadly.

“No,” Eldrin shook his head. “I will accept what comes.”

Again Careen wildly laughed. She twirled in a circle her arms outstretched. “Do you fear the future? If you do not wish to know, then why did you release the Orb?”

“Careen,” Evan said warningly.

Again she wildly laughed. The energy flowing from the Orb surrounding her began to flicker and then glow more brightly.

“I don’t think that’s going to be very good for Careen,” Hector looked worried.

“Careen!” Evan shouted risking a step closer.

Careen whirled around pointing her fingers at Evan. “You were warned not to approach!”

Evan quickly stepped away from the others expecting an energy blast. Josef quickly lunged forward bringing the Sword down in an arc through the energy flowing between the Orb and Careen. There was a brilliant flash of light as the glow surrounding the Orb vanished although it remained suspended in mid-air.

Careen stiffened her eyes bulging in their sockets. She looked at Evan. “All I ever wanted was...” she said in a soft voice. Then she crumpled to the floor her head striking the stone with an audible thud. Breathing heavily, Josef stared down at her in surprise.

Evan and Simon reached her at the same time. Evan gently raised her head to his lap as Simon felt her pulse.

“Is she alive?” Stefan asked from behind Josef.

Christien winced at the coldness of his voice.

Evan glared up at him. Stefan returned the glare in full measure. Evan started to move only to find Simon’s hand on his arm. “Her pulse is rapid but normal,” Simon evenly told the others. “I think, Evan, you should get her to her quarters. I’ll ask Fawn to join you there.”

------------------------------------------------

“I swear by Anhur Himself...” Artur angrily muttered as he slammed the door of the Great Hall behind him. He looked around and saw Rik and Gwen sitting by the fireplace. “Where is she, Gwen? Rik?” he demanded.

“Who?” Gwen asked in confusion.

“Jaella!” Artur bellowed looking over his shoulder and up the staircase.

“What’s wrong?” Rik asked trying not to smile.

Artur gave him an angry look. “I’m going to beat her,” he threatened.

“You will not!” Gwen angrily retorted.

“Don’t tell me...” Artur angrily began.

“Before the two of you begin shouting over the proper way to raise children, can I ask what’s going on?” Rik sensibly intervened.

“I’ve told them time and time again they are not to bother the war horses.” Artur swung around and walked to the bottom of the stairs. “Jaella!”

“Artur, you know they can’t hear you upstairs,” Gwen pointed out.

“What about the horses?” Rik prodded.

“They have their own ponies,” Artur grumbled. “That’s good enough for them.” He glanced at Rik. “What happened? Jaella tried to ride my horse, that’s what! I’m told she was thrown and the horse almost got away!”

“Thrown!” Gwen worriedly stood. “Is she hurt?”

“I doubt it,” Artur snorted. “According to the witnesses, she scampered away. My horse, however, almost came up lame.”

Rik grinned. “Sounds like Jaella was taking a page out of Christien’s book,” he recalled.

Artur glared at him. “Jaella!” he bellowed. He glanced up the stairs to see someone’s head disappearing around the corner. “Get down here!” he ordered.

After a moment, Shiloh led the other children downstairs. “Yes, Uncle Artur?” he tried to smile.

“Where’s Jaella?” Artur’s eyes flickered over the group. He noticed Levi edging behind Paolo.

“We don’t know...exactly,” Shiloh answered.

“Trainor!” Artur snapped at his son who jerked. “Where’s your sister?”

“I don’t know...exactly.” Trainor’s eyes met his then he looked towards his feet.

Rik smothered a grin as he exchanged a glance with Gwen.

“Do you have any idea where she might be?” Artur’s voice shook with anger.

“She’s awfully sorry, Uncle Artur,” Paolo softly spoke up.

“Not as sorry as she’s going to be,” Artur grimly promised. “Now where is she?”

“In the chapel,” Cheyne calmly replied. She met her uncle’s eyes. “She’s claiming sanctuary.”

“Sanctuary?!” Artur shouted. From behind him, he heard Rik choking back a laugh. “Sanctuary?” he repeated in a lower tone.

“Yes, Uncle Artur.” Cheyne’s smile showed her dimples. “We thought it best.”

“You did, did you?” Artur studied his niece for a moment. “Why is that?”

“Because we know you would be awfully mad,” Trainor pointed out. “She’s my sister. I had to protect her.”

“We’ll see about that.” Artur turned away.

“You can’t take her from sanctuary!” Cheyne shouted. She ran to catch up with him. “You can’t!”

“Oh, yes, I can,” Artur assured her.

“No!” Cheyne shouted as she and the other children ran to block his path. “You can’t do that! Can he, father?” She looked around Artur at Rik.

“Don’t interfere, Rik.” Artur looked over his shoulder. “Jaella’s my daughter and it’s my horse.”

“But he’s the mighty Lord of Shi’ar!” Cheyne proclaimed. “Aren’t you, father?”

“Well...” Rik half-nodded.

“Uncle Artur?” Paolo gently pulled at Artur’s sleeve. When he glanced down at him, Paolo smiled engagingly. “Can I pre...pre...”

“Prevail,” Levi hissed.

“Prevail upon you as Lord of Elhalyn to...well, she didn’t mean to hurt your horse.” Paolo smiled again.

Artur gently picked Paolo up and set him to one side.

“No!” Cheyne howled as Artur picked her up as well.

---------------------------------------------

Adriana was grateful for the silence of the chapel. A solitary person by nature, there were few places in Shi’ar that were naturally quiet. As she sat in the back of the chapel, she heard a rustling noise to one side. She instinctively gripped the staff she now always carried.

“What are you doing here?” Jaella demanded with a scowl. “If Father sent you...”

“No one sends me anywhere,” Adriana coolly interrupted. “Your father least of all.”

“Oh.” Jaella eyed the door cautiously. “Then what are you doing here?”

“I could ask you that,” Adriana retorted. “I usually come here for some peace and quiet at least once a day.”

“Oh.” Jaella repeated. “I’m here for sanctuary.”

“Really?” Adriana’s voice sounded disinterested. She closed her eyes and began to meditate.

“Don’t you want to know why?” Jaella demanded coming closer.

Adriana repressed a sigh. For the most part, the children were somewhat well-behaved. However, none of them seemed to understand the need to be alone. “Very well, Jaella,” Adriana turned her head in Jaella’s direction. “Why?”

“I tried to ride Father’s horse,” Jaella said somewhat proudly.

“And you weren’t supposed to do that?” Adriana guessed.

“No.” Jaella momentarily frowned. “We’re not supposed to be around the war horses.”

“Then why were you around them?” Adriana questioned. “Why did you try to ride your father’s horse?”

“He ignores me,” Jaella mumbled. She absently began kicking a nearby stool ignoring Adriana’s wince. “Trainor gets more attention because he’s a boy.” She made a face.

“I don’t think your father ignores you,” Adriana lightly protested.

Jaella gave a very unfeminine snort. Adriana smiled at how it resembled Artur’s snort.

“Oh, I’ll get a hug when I go up to him,” Jaella shrugged. “But most of the time, he just gives me this look.” She saw Adriana’s puzzled expression. “I can’t show it to you. You can’t see!” She looked back down at the stone floor. “It’s just a look.”

“Is it this look?” Adriana made a face.

“That’s it!” Jaella vigorously nodded. “How did you know?”

“Because it’s the same look I used to get from my grandfather,” Adriana chuckled. “He got it when he couldn’t figure out why I was doing something. It usually means they’re very confused and don’t know what to do about it.”

Jaella quietly digested this piece of information. “He never talks about my mother,” she finally muttered.

“Have you ever asked about her?” Adriana shifted slightly on her stool.

“Uncle Rik and Uncle Christien said I shouldn’t,” Jaella frowned. “Uncle Stefan said Father wouldn’t like it if I did.”

“That’s not right.” Adriana slowly shook her head. “You have a right to ask questions about your mother.”

Jaella studied Adriana for a moment. “Are you going to marry my father?” she demanded. “I don’t want you to. He’ll just ignore me even more. Or yell at me even more.”

Adriana looked surprised. “I have no idea,” she finally answered.

“Don’t you want to marry my father?” Jaella indignantly asked.

“Jaella!” Artur bellowed from the doorway.

Both Jaella and Adriana jumped. Jaella knocked over a nearby stool as she backed away.

“I’m in sanctuary!” Jaella shouted. “You can’t take me away!”

“We’ll discuss your actions in the stable later,” Artur grimly promised. “Right now, you’ll apologize to Lady Adriana.”

“For what?” Jaella demanded.

“Yes, for what?” Adriana quietly echoed. When no one spoke, she continued. “She has a right to ask that sort of question, Artur. After all, it affects her.”

“Don’t interfere, Adriana,” Artur warned. “I’ve had just about as much as I can deal with today.” He glared at his daughter. “Apologize, Jaella...now!”

“I apologize,” Jaella mumbled.

Adriana slowly stood and faced Artur. “I do not accept it, Jaella,” she coolly answered. “You have nothing to apologize to me about. However, Artur, you need to apologize to your daughter.”

“What?!” Artur bellowed. “She rode...”

“I don’t care about your precious horse,” Adriana crisply interjected. “But apparently your actions towards your daughter of late have been lamentable...and inexcusable.”

Jaella’s eyes widened as she saw her father’s fists clench and unclench as he walked towards Adriana. She edged towards the door hoping to get past her father.

“I’ll thank you to not interfere with how I raise my daughter,” Artur snarled.

Jaella took one look at her father’s face and fled the chapel.

You raise her?” Adriana’s eyebrows rose in derision. “From what I’ve been able to determine, Lady Gwen and Lord Rik are raising your children.”

“The children need a woman’s touch,” Artur admitted. “As for Rik, he spoils mine as well as his own!”

“She feels you ignore her.” Adriana gripped her staff closely.

“She’ll wish I would ignore her when I...” Artur turned around and cursed. “Where did she go?”

“She’s gone?” Adriana slowly smiled. “Good. Perhaps you’ll calm down before you confront her.” She felt Artur turn in her direction. “Is it your intention to turn the girl against you?”

“What are you babbling about, woman?!” Artur bellowed.

“She feels you ignore her,” Adriana patiently repeated. “That’s probably why she does something she knows will get your attention...even if it’s the wrong sort of attention.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Artur snapped although he frowned.

“She wants to know about her mother,” Adriana quietly continued. “She wonders why you never talk about her.”

“There’s no need to talk about her,” Artur snapped. “The woman’s dead.”

“The woman, as you call her, is Jaella’s mother!” Adriana snapped. “She’s gone to your brothers who have respected your wishes and told her to not ask. Artur, it doesn’t matter what your relationship with Jaella’s mother was. She was still her mother.”

“This is lunacy,” Artur muttered. “Don’t you understand? I can’t talk about her mother to Jaella for that very reason! Anything I would say probably would put her in a worse light than she probably deserves!” He took a deep breath. “I’ll ask Rik to talk to her. He’ll be able to do it.” He irritably glanced at Adriana. “Will that meet your approval?”

Adriana sightlessly stared at him. “Your daughter is very much like you,” she decided. “In the most unfortunate ways. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I came to meditate before I was interrupted.” She sat back down on the stool and closed her eyes.

Artur angrily muttered something under his breath and slammed the door to the chapel. By the time he returned to the Great Hall, he found Jaella sitting between Rik and Gwen. Gwen gave Artur a challenging look as though daring him to lay a hand on the girl.

“You know you weren’t supposed to be around the war horses.” Artur tried to control his temper. “You know you weren’t supposed to ride any of them, much less mine. You deliberately disobeyed.” His hand shot up to stop Rik from interrupting. “I don’t care why. You disobeyed.” He took a deep breath. “You’re confined to the castle for two weeks.”

“Two weeks!” Jaella protested.

“Three weeks!” Artur angrily retorted.

“That’s...that’s...not fair!” Jaella shouted as she ran past her father.

Artur watched as she ran up the stairs. He shook his head giving her a familiar look.

----------------------------------------------------

Artur almost defiantly retired to his tower. He knew from Gwen’s angry look in his direction she disagreed with his actions. Although Rik kept quiet, he could tell his brother would have liked to hit him. As for Adriana...Artur broke off that thought immediately.

Lying on his bed, his thoughts uncomfortably kept straying back to his dead wife. For the life of him, he could not understand why Jaella would be interested in someone she didn’t know...and someone who probably wouldn’t have cared much about her daughter if she had lived.

Lost in thought, he jerked slightly at a knock on his door. Grumbling to himself, he quickly wrapped a fur robe around him and opened the door. He glanced down to see Trainor looking up at him. “What’s wrong?” he immediately asked.

“It’s Jaella,” Trainor hesitated. “She’s gone.”

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The sun was just over the deser horizon when they began congregating in the council chamber. Everyone had gone his own way the previous evening. Christien had gratefully escorted Josef and Duncan back to his quarters where Elaina was waiting. Stefan had told Christien he was going with Macedin. Christien had studied Stefan for a few seconds but saw nothing that Stefan didn’t want him to see. Eldrin and Simon had retreated to the council chamber. Eldrin had briefly smiled when Hector announced that he was going to find little Benami. Careen had regained consciousness soon after being brought upstairs. Despite her protests, Evan and Odan took her to her quarters to rest. It was a measure of her weariness that she only argued for half the journey to her quarters.

Careen was still pale when she and Evan finally joined the others the next morning. She accepted a hug from Eldrin with a dry smile.

“We are grateful to both you and Josef.” Eldrin looked over his shoulder to where Josef sat between Christien and Duncan.

Careen shrugged. “Josef was the one taking the risk,” she pointed out. Then she smiled a weak ghost of her usual grin. “Although I think Evan is piqued because I was chosen as the Orb’s speaker and he wasn’t.”

"You are obviously delusional,” Evan coolly denied.

Eldrin smiled as Careen made a face at her brother.

“Dear Careen!” Hector beamed as he enveloped her in a big hug. “How wonderful you can join us!” He lowered his voice. “We’re going to try to decipher the Prophecy, you know.”

“I thought you might.” Careen grinned as much at Evan’s expression as at Hector’s attitude.

Stefan silently watched Careen as Evan steered her away from Hector. He felt his brother watching him and turned to give him a silent warning look.

“Do we really need to decipher anything?” Macedin demanded. “I realize it’s an intellectual challenge for the sorcerers, but...does it gain us anything positive?”

“Personally, I didn’t like the part about someone dying,” Duncan drily pointed out.

“Azure stone will lead to strife
Truth a cold hard path of life
Expose to all the hidden lie
To bring it forth one will die.”

Hector paused after his dramatic recitation. He suddenly frowned. “That is rather ominous, isn’t it?” he admitted.

Macedin snorted. “We’re in a war,” he pointed out. “I’d be very surprised if somebody doesn’t die.”

“Anxious for a little blood-letting, Macedin?” Careen acidly asked.

“There’s a lot about the Prophecies that might help us if we can decipher them,” Simon smoothly interrupted. “However, I don’t think we can delay because we don’t fully understand them.”

“Which leads us back to where we started,” Macedin stubbornly pointed out. “We don’t know how or where to proceed because we have no real information about the enemy.”

“But we have something more than we did before,” Josef quietly pointed out. “The Sword of Maxen.”

“Able to withstand the heaviest blows,” Stefan mused. “Able to cut through any armor.”

“Admirable if true,” Macedin shrugged. “But it will hardly turn the tide of a battle.”

“It might,” Stefan argued. He exchanged a look with Macedin and the other warriors. “A really good fighter with the Sword of Maxen could be the deciding factor in a battle.”

Macedin eyed the Sword at Josef’s side. “May I?” he politely inquired.

Josef hesitated then pulled the Sword from its scabbard. Reversing his grip, he held it towards Macedin.

Macedin grasped the Sword by its hilt. A sudden surge of blue energy shot into Macedin knocking him backwards against the wall. Stunned, he slumped to the floor.

As Eldrin and Simon hurried to Macedin’s side, Josef carefully replaced the Sword in the scabbard. He saw Macedin being helped to his feet. “I had no idea...” he began.

“The Sword is yours,” Macedin wryly acknowledged. “As long as you live.”

“Really?” Hector studied Josef. “He’s a very young man. He should have it for a long time.”

“Thank you, Hector,” Josef blinked then smiled.

“But I never heard any such thing about the Sword,” Hector continued turning to Macedin with an aggrieved look.

“Any warrior who knows about the Sword of Maxen knows that,” Macedin retorted taking a large gulp of wine. He silently challenged Stefan’s grin at him.

“Congratulations,” Duncan said half-seriously.

“I think Odan’s original idea is the best we have,” Christien spoke up. “A two-pronged attack on Shi’ar and Rhyane. They can’t reach the Woodlands without going through Rhyane and at least part of Shi’ar. And it’s not feasible right now to attack the Wasteland without first defeating Rhyane and Shi’ar.”

Eldrin saw the other warriors nodding in agreement. “Then that’s how we’ll proceed,” he decided. The others were suddenly silent in acknowledgment of the finality of his pronouncement. “I think you should return to your Realms and begin preparations,” he advised. “The magicians will keep everyone in touch.” He saw Careen and Stefan’s eyes briefly meet. Stefan’s mouth tightened as Careen looked away.

A quiet tap on the door brought Odan to his feet. He opened the door and listened to the servant. He quickly nodded and went to whisper in Eldrin’s ear. Eldrin gave him a worried look then whispered something back. Odan silently nodded and left the room.

As the others were preparing to leave, Eldrin beckoned Stefan and Christien to join him. They noticed his worried look as they approached.

“I’ve told Odan to bring Elaina to the gateway,” Eldrin explained. “You need to return to Shi’ar immediately.”

“Rik?” Stefan’s dark eyes snapped.

“No,” Eldrin hesitated. “It’s Artur’s daughter, Jaella. She’s missing.”



GO TO CHAPTER EIGHTEEN



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