“I’m cold, Daddy.” The little voice pulled Dylan from his deep, peaceful rest. He blinked his eyes open in the half-light. Asha was shaking in his arms. Yes, it really was cold here. He shifted himself to throw his heavy cloak around her, too. As he did the light fell across her and for the first time he noticed that she was merely wearing a nightgown.
“Asha, where’s your dress?” he asked.
“Don’t know. I’m cold.”
“You ought to be if you aren’t dressed right. But don’t worry, I’ll keep you warm.” She shifted a bit more, snuggling into the warm folds of the brown wool. Dylan settled himself to fall asleep again.
“Ah, Dylan, you’re awake!” Savoy remarked with a grin. “It’s about time that we get moving again. That will get us warm.” It was only then that the lord noticed that the others were already up. Lora had shared some of the meagre fare with Kyle already and now passed a piece of bread to Asha who took it greatfully and began munching on it, heedless of the crumbs that were now peppering the folds of her father’s cloak.
“You’re right, Savoy,” the lord said, carefully extricating his daughter and setting her on her own two feet. “I think we’d better get moving.” He looked down at Asha thoughtfully.
“You’re going to need something a bit warmer there, little girl,” he remarked. Asha nodded.
“But what?” he mumbled. He didn’t have anything he could give her — no, wait a moment... Quickly he shrugged off the brown jacket he was wearing over his tunic. The cloak would have to be enough now. He draped it over her shoulders and buttoned it up.
“How’s that?” The little girl smiled and it seemed that the whole dismal corridor became a whole lot brighter.
“It’s too big!” She was right. The hem brushed along the ground and her little hands barely reached halfway down the sleeves. Dylan smiled to himself as he rolled them up, so that her hands peeked out.
“I’ve got an idea,” Lora said with a smile and opened her bag. “I have some string left over from the wrappings of the food. Maybe we can make a belt from it.” Said and done. The little girl was now warmly packed up, her father’s jacket becoming an oversized dress.
“Good, let’s get moving,” the lord prompted and they slowly wandered off down the halls. Kyle went first, holding a torch hight, followed by Dylan with Asha, then Lora and Swift and Savoy brought up the rear whistling quietly. An uneasy feeling began to settle across Dylan’s shoulders as they walked along the tunnel. Were they ever to get out of here?
Low thunderheads had gathered in the sky above the castle of Carrock. Stev again sat beside the bed of his enchanted wife. Her hair was touseled and she didn’t rest quietly. Twice she’d gotten up and attempted to walk off, but had collapsed under a gentle touch from her husband and he’d then carefully put her back into bed. Now her head rolled back and forth and she mumbled incoherent words, as if in a daze. Sometimes he thought he could make out what she wanted to say, but then it was gone again.
Stev’s thoughts however were out there in the howling wind. He rose, walked to the window, and opened it. The Hun-Halk were coming. The mere name made him shiver. It meant death and destruction to many poor people and here he was tending a sick wife. I ought to be out there helping to find a way to protect the people. Lightening flashed, washing the room in brilliance for seconds. The thunder clapped its hands and the gale screamed in Stev Pulleny’s ears. Was it a protest against his thoughts? He stared out the window for a few minutes, before pushing it shut. He turned around and jumped.
“I’m sorry to startle you, ambassador,” Philip said evenly. “I knocked, but you must not have heard.”
“It’s all right.” He brushed one hand against his moist brow. “I’m just worried...”
“Of course.” The high marshal gestured towards a chair, which the younger man greatfully took.
“Wine?” Philip didn’t wait for an answer but already poured a glass from an iron flagon. He passed it to Stev, poured one for himself, and sat down in a chair across from the other.
“What did the council say?” the blonde man asked after a while.
“Nothing yet. They’re all cowards.” There was a bitter edge in the high marshal’s voice.
“I don’t blame them.” Stev sipped from his glass. “We only know of the Hun-Halk from the stories and those aren’t pretty. Maybe Old Roche...”
“No, he hadn’t even been born at that time. I was thinking of Mother Yost.” The ambassador sat up straight.
“Have you gone crazy?”
“What do you mean?”
“That old woman is almost as dangerous als Lady Roanna!” Philip made a throw-away motion with his free hand.
“Was, my dear ambassador, was.”
“No, was. She has reformed her ways...”
“But is still selling talismans of Black Thor — and worshipping him. Do you think no one knows that?”
“If we get her to help us...”
“Won’t work and the council knows that. I hope you didn’t suggest that.” There was a look of reproach in Stev’s blue-gray eyes. He had put down his glass and leaned forward, brow furrowed.
“No, the council suggested it.”
“Yes, the council suggested it. We wanted you to look her up,” Philip continued lamely, setting his glass aside and then running a finger over his moustache. “You’re the ambassador.”
“Sorry, high marshal, I can’t. My wife is enchanted and I must stay with her.”
“But the Nation...”
“Dylan’s orders go over the Nation, sir.” The answer had a cold tone in it.
“I understand. We’ll find someone else.” He rose and so did Stev.
“You won’t find someone else, high marshal.” He stared at the ground. “I hope you remember what Dylan told us before he left.” He now looked Philip square in the eye. “Any action for the wellfare of the state has to be approved by the council and by both parties of the executive office — that’s you and me. I don’t approve it. I will trust in the Word. He’s taken us this far and will the rest.” The high marshal was clearly impressed.
“I wish I had your faith, Stev Pulleny,” he said with a half-smile.
“You can. Just try believing.”
“I’ll think about it. I’ll take your veto to the council. They won’t be very happy to hear it.” He leaned forward. “I must warn you of something, royal ambassador: There are those in the council who are quite angry with Dylan for appointing you to this office, since you aren’t of the Gentry. They will want to get you out of the way.”
“I know that, marshal, but thank you for warning me.” Philip nodded and turned to the door.
“Oh, marshal!” The dark-haired man turned back just slightly. Stev was grinning at the thought.
“Remind those angry people of two things: first, they are only of the Gentry because the lower folk chose them for that place and second, the Lady herself is not of ‘noble’ blood either. They didn’t have anything against her.”
“She doesn’t have the power you do ambassador.”
“Correct, high marshal. She has more.” Philip smiled to himself.
“Good evening, ambassador.”
“Good evening, marshal.” With that the high marshal left the chambers of the royal ambassador, who sat back down next to his wife. How long would it be until Dylan returned?
The singing had stopped quite some time ago and Dylan had taken turns with Savoy to carry his daughter. She was quite grouchy by now, hungry and tired, her little feet hurting from the rough path. Kyle was being a brave boy, but had been limping for some time. The lord had finally decided to take a break and Lora took Asha back down the hall to go potty. Savoy carefully examined the boy’s feet.
“And you’re sure they don’t hurt?” he asked.
“No.” It sounded resolute. Dylan grinned at that.
“Okay, but I’m still going to put something on them. It’ll help you walk better.” With that the Scholar reached into his once white robes and pulled out a little tin with salve. He smeared some of it on the boy’s feet.
“Now, you have to keep your feet out of the dirt until I tell you, all right?” Kyle nodded.
“Good.” Savoy straightened and came over to Dylan, who thoughtfully stared into the dark.
“He’s a brave boy. Much like his father,” the dark man remarked.
“I think more than his father,” the lord answered, brushing one hand against his beard.
“Yes, I’m starting to get scared of this place.”
“Then you’re better than I am, Dylan. I’ve been scared of it since we’ve been here.” The lord turned and glanced at the dark face. It was dead serious.
“Well, you could have fooled me.”
“You don’t always have to show everything you feel.” Heavy silence rested between the two men. They could hear the little girl whining somewhere down the tunnel.
“Swift should be back soon,” the lord remarked after a while and turned away from the dark to sit beside his son.
“How’re you doing, boy?” he asked putting one arm around his shoulders.
“Okay, I guess.” He was silent for a moment. “I just wish we hadn’t brought Asha.”
“Oh?” A little smile rested on Dylan’s lips.
“Yeah, all she does is whine and you’ve got to carry her.”
“I kind of wish we didn’t have to bring her either, son, but not for that reason.” Kyle looked up at his father.
“Because she’d be safer if she weren’t here.”
“Don’t scare me, Dad.” It sounded serious.
“I meant what I said, Kyle. It’s not going to be easy, but I want you to do something for me, hm?”
“What is it?”
“You like Lora, right?” The green eyes of the boy took on a sparkly effect and he gave a shy nod.
“I want you to look after her for us, okay? I’ve got to look after Asha and Savoy has to look after the map. So that makes it your job to watch Lora and Swift. Will you do that?”
“Sure, Dad.” The was something joyful about his smile. “At least she’s not like Asha or the girls at the castle.”
“Oh?” Dylan raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah, she’s real pretty and real nice. I think I’ll marry her when I grow up.” His father chuckled at that. At least there was one bright thing in this whole dark time. Children were just so wonderful.
“Maybe, Kyle, maybe,” was all he answered. In the same moment both Swift and Lora and Asha came back to where the men were. The she-wolf was clearly very excited, dancing around slightly, her tail swinging in circles so hard that Dylan was afraid it would come off.
“What did you find, Swift?” Dylan asked in the wolf-tongue.
“There is a great room a short ways up there that looks very much like it would in your stone walls,” she yipped in return. “And there’s food!” He quickly translated for the others.
“The halls of the kings, Dylan,” Savoy said quietly. The lord just nodded and they decided to go on. The ointment had dried enough that Kyle could walk and he solemnly now went alongside Lora, while Swift led the way.
“I’m hungry,” Asha grouched from her position on Dylan’s shoulders.
“I already gave her some bread,” Lora called from behind.
“But I’m still hungry,” the little girl snapped.
“I’m sorry, Asha dear, we don’t have any more food,” her father sighed. “Let’s sing a song.” And half-heartedly they began to sing the melody to an old drinking song that everyone knew, which had to do with a clumsy barmaid who was too generous for her father’s liking and all of the accidents that happened because of that. It lifted their spirits just slightly and Dylan found himself grinning as they walked into the vast halls.