Silence and solitude rested on the small group of wayfarers in the Labyrinth. The children had gone to sleep, using their father’s lap as their pillow. The light flickered across Lora and Savoy’s dark features. The Scholar now thoughtfully held the long silver earrings in his right hand.
“You know what this means for you, Lora, don’t you?” he finally asked.
“Yes, Dad, I know and I knew when I decided to take the clothing and the power.” The Scholar slowly lowered his head.
“Of course there were Watchcarers who married and had children...” he mumbled.
“But I know that I’m not one of them — at least not yet.” She reached out and took her father’s hand. “I love you, Dad, but there are some things that happen that must be my choice alone.” He looked up and brushed his free hand across his face.
“It’s just that the last of my children is growing up,” he remarked and smiled wistfully. “It’s difficult to let go.”
“It is, isn’t it?” Silence rested on them for a while.
“Let’s change the subject,” Dylan finally sighed. Savoy nodded.
“The next is this silver rain,” the lord continued. “But who is Diana’s Child, who is supposed to have the key?”
“What?” Dylan looked towards her, surprised.
“Diana’s Child is the old poetic expression for the Watchcarer,” the Scholar explained. “It has to do with the legend. It is said that once the goddess Diana adopted a girl-child that her brother Apollo had fathered. She gave this child power over the animals of the wood and the field and the charge to watch them. In reality it was an office given to a couple by the Word. Perhaps there is some record what happened to the man, but whatever it was, in the past four or five hundred years nothing was heard of him.”
“But, Lora, you’re not wearing the clothes of the Watchcarer, are you?” the lord asked her. She smiled, just a bit embarrased.
“I am, but they are a bit too — loose for my taste, just a halter and loincloth of wolf skin. I’ve got them on under my clothes.”
“Which is what many Watchcarers did, child,” Savoy added. “It was often a secret shared only by her and her family. There were few who really lived among the animals and even most of those chose to wear more than just the wolf-skin clothing. Some believe that it was never really meant to be that way, but just the necklace, the cloak, and the weapons were to be passed on. But the only one who knows the truth now is the Word.” The girl nodded and stared at the rough ground just between her feet.
“The worst part is that I’m the one who will have to confront and defeat Roanna,” she whispered. “That scares me.” As if she sensed her mistress’ distress, Swift laid her head on Lora’s leg and whined quietly. The girl smiled and stroked the head.
“But you’ll help me, won’t you?” she asked in the wolf-tongue. The wolf just blinked and said nothing.
It might have been the next morning, but here in the darkness they couldn’t be sure. Still they walked on, Asha complaining again, showing that she was rested. After some time Lora seemed to have had enough. She reached into her bag to get a piece of the dried bread for the little girl and suddenly gasped. It should have been the last one, but there were still as many pieces as when they’d fallen in the tunnels and they seemed quite fresh, too. The Watchcarer marveled at this and gladly gave the little girl the food, who munched on it happily, now peppering her father’s hair, since she was riding on his shoulders.
“You know,” Dylan remarked, “now that I’ve gotten used to it again, I feel really good about not eating.” Savoy smiled.
“You also have the strength to stand it without bread, your children fortunately don’t.”
“How much longer until we get out of here?” Kyle asked.
“Maybe one day, maybe two,” the Scholar answered, putting one hand on the boy’s head. “Look at that silver light up there...” Suddenly he went silent.
“The silver rain,” Lora mumbled.
“My Word,” Dylan gasped. Swift and Asha just silently stared ahead.
“I’ve got to go,” the Scholar’s daughter said. “I have the key.”
“The Word go with you, my child,” her father returned, affectionately hugging her. She nodded and slowly walked forward.
The council of Carrock had gathered early this morning and for once both of the executive officers were there. There was some unhappy muttering among the eight members at Stev Pulleny’s appearance. Only Dylan’s closest friends looked elated. Alisande stood by the cracked open door, not allowed to enter, but Philip and her husband wanted her to listen in and maybe give some advice.
“I call to order,” the high marshal’s voice thundered. Within moments the nine others were silent and ready to listen.
“Now that her highness Lady Alisande is disenchanted the grand ambassador can be with us.” He leaned forward on the table. “We have beat around the bush long enough, gentlemen, and wasted four days of precious time.”
“And even if his lordship could escape Damrok this morning, he wouldn’t be here in time to lead the armies,” Duchamps said, shaking his gray head. “Your diplomatic efforts have come to naught, the emmissaries should have been here this morning. I still suggest...”
“That suggestion is categorically denied,” Stev snapped, which brought about some muttering.
“We should have been mustering from the moment we heard they were marching towards us,” Galbin interjected. “We could have several thousand here by now and within two days the rest of the army.”
“But what are some fifty thousand against over a million Hun-Halk?” returned Duchamps. “It would be a massacre.”
“The lord of Carrock can’t protect us any more,” Lucius, the general warned. “We should choose a new leader.”
“And that would be you, I suppose,” Galbin remarked icily. The general smiled back with the same warmth and said nothing
“That is enough, gentlemen.” The high marshal was glaring down at the members. “I think one thing is clear,” he continued. “No one thinks that diplomacy will work and everyone is in favor of war.”
“That’s not quite right,” said Livio, a thin man with nearly feminine features. “I think we should not resort to violence at all.”
“The last time we sent them ambassadors they sent one of them back blinded, missing his hands, and with the heads of the other three in a sack,” Duchamps fired back.
“This time I don’t even think they’ll bother with one,” said Conell, old Roche’s eldest son. “I stand where my father would, on the lord’s side. I say to battle, but not without his leadership.”
“You know the border is two weeks away at top speed,” the general intejected. “No army can get there and still fight.”
“They’re coming in from the east,” rumbled Balbus, a fat old man who lived near the border. “There’s nothing there that they could take anyway, the closest city being Wiston.”
“Yes and no,” Galbin reminded him. “There are many farms and small fortresses there. Those people would be in danger. If we start today and muster them at the border, we’ll make it in plenty of time. His lordship will come out when he arrives.”
“That sounds plausible,” Duchamps muttered, for once having the same opinion as the “wolflings,” as he called the three who were left over from the Resisters.
“Don’t you have anything to say?” Lucius accusingly looked at Poul and Enfer, the only two who hadn’t said anything yet. They glanced at each other.
“Our men are already mustered and on the way to the border,” Poul finally confessed. “We don’t need hours to decide like you do.”
“You are acting without approval of the council?” Balbus asked incredulously.
“Yes, they are, and so are Galbin and Conell,” the high marshal answered for them. “My own bodyguard has already left. They were sent away last night after I spoke with the royal ambassador.”
“This is mutiny!” Duchamps roared.
“It’s just acting when you don’t have the guts to,” Stev returned quietly.
“That is an insult, ambassador. I demand an apology,” the old man growled back.
“I will not apologize, Sir Duchamps. You need a thorn in your side to act. Now let’s vote and get this over with. Then I finally can get on my horse and join the soldiers.”
“This is forcing a vote,” Livio moaned.
“It was a necessity,” Philip answered. “All in favor of mustering the troops along the border say ‘aye.’” He looked over the nine others. “Ambassador?”
“Poul and Conell?”
“Aye,” they said together.
“Duchamps?” The old man ground his teeth.
“Aye,” he finally growled.
“Lucius?” The general thought for a moment.
“I have no other choice,” he finally said. “Aye.”
“Aye, but only under protest.” He stroked his large paunch. “This all went much too fast for my tastes.”
“I withhold my vote,” he snapped. “I have not had time to think about it.”
“But we can count on your men?” Conell asked, his brown eye sparkling like his father’s once had.
“Perhaps, when I decide,” came the cold answer.
“Very well, we might have to do without,” Philip surmized quietly. “I am also for it. Secretary?” The young man at the desk nodded. “Mark down the decision that the armies of Carrock will assemble at the eastern border of Carrock as quickly as possible. Also mark down that Livio à Westwyn has withheld his vote. The council is adjourned.” With that Livio leaped up and left the chambers, Duchamps and Balbus right behind him.
“That was very dangerous what you did there,” Balbus whispered in his ear.
“It is very dangerous what we are to do now,” Livio growled. “The Northkin have been on the throne of Carrock much too long, where my family should be reigning.”
“You ought to be thankful that Ryan à Carrock at least let your forefather live, otherwise you wouldn’t be around now,” Duchamps interjected
“Pfh!” made the scolded man and waved one fine hand in the older man’s face.
“Pfh yourself, Livio à Nordwyn,” Duchamps said quietly. “You’d better watch out, because even though I may not feel too much sympathy with many of Dylan à Carrock’s plans, I am still loyal to him. If you attempt to take his life, I will take yours.” With that he turned and walked away.
“Do you think we can still trust him?” Balbus asked.
“We must remove him soon,” Livio answered, brushing a hand through his golden hair. “We will see if the Northkin dynasty will make it past Dylan à Carrock. Seventeen of their number were too many already.”
From her niche near the door Alisande’s eyes narrowed. This sounded very much like high treason. Her husband must know.
Silver rain truly was a good description for what now sparkled in front of Lora. Shining lights danced in front of her like — well, like little pieces of silver. It closed off the passage before her. She knew that they must pass by it. Slowly she walked forward and then a strange thing happened: The spots suddenly pulled themselves together and and in the play of light and darkess they formed a face.
“Who are you?” came a deep, rumbling voice. “And what do you wish?” She swallowed her fear and stood up straight, the torch in her left, the spear in her right.
“I am Lora the Watchcarer and my friends and I demand passage.”
“No one demands passage from me, Watchcarer.” The voice sounded bitter. “The only one who holds the key to my disenchantment is Diana’s Child.”
“I am Diana’s Child,” the girl returned through clenched teeth.
“You just said you are the Watchcarer,” the silver rain returned, amusement in his voice.
“Diana’s Child is the Watchcarer and the other way around.” She tapped her foot, slowly becoming impatient. “Look, we have no time...”
“Not even for my disenchantment?” the voice asked sadly.
“I don’t know what it takes to break your enchantment.”
“Then you aren’t Diana’s Child.” Lora sighed through her teeth.
“What do you want?”
“I demand one of your number as payment for passage,” came the voice, now demanding. “With the life of each traitor that I take my time here becomes less and my disenchantment draws nearer.”
“We have no traitors among us,” she answered resolutely.
“Then I will chose one. Bring your friends forward.” Lora had no choice but to obey and she led her friends out into the open.
“Look, it’s pretty!” Asha said with a smile and tried to walk forward to touch it. Dylan pulled her back.
“Don’t touch it, dear. It will hurt you.”
“I think I’ve already found my traitor,” boomed the voice.
“Not my daughter,” the lord snapped standing up and holding her to his chest.
“No, not Asha,” Lora repeated. “Listen to me, enchanted one, we demand passage. Diana’s Child holds the key, says the poem. I am Diana’s Child and I demand passage for all of us, unharmed.”
“You can’t do that,” the voice answered, becoming impatient. “I must have my traitor. There is only one missing.”
“Tell us of the last ones who passed by you,” Savoy finally interjected.
“Ah, yes, that little man with his wife and his friend. She was sick from the venom of the beast, but the little man kept me from taking her. No, he offered his friend, claiming he was the traitor.”
“Till ya List Hayn,” the Scholar groaned. “What was the man’s name, whom you took.”
“That was one of my forefathers!” Dylan gasped. “Whatever was said of him, he stood against the power of the evil kings in justice. He was innocent.”
“He was a traitor!” the voice snapped.
“Perhaps to Tillus — no, not even to Tillus. The Northkin, from whom came the Lords of Carrock, have always been loyal to their friends. Arystobul was no traitor.”
“Does that mean my life’s work has been made useless?” asked the voice very sadly.
“Yes, enchanted one,” Lora said, now stepping up to the giant silver face. “Even so, I have a deal for you. Let us all pass, unharmed, and the enchantment will break.”
“Can I trust you?” the voice and face were suddenly very sceptical.
“I am Diana’s Child. You can trust me.” The face looked thoughtful.
“Very well, Diana’s Child. Upon your word.” Suddenly the curtain lifted.
“Let’s go quickly,” Lora urged them and they rushed forward. After five steps beyond the curtain, the Watchcarer turned.
“The enchantment had been broken. Go in peace.” Suddenly the silver light was gone and Dylan thought he could hear a quiet, happy laughter.
“Who was that?” Kyle wanted to know.
“I don’t know, Kyle,” Lora answered, “but whoever it was and whatever the enchantment, he is free now.” With that they turned and walked down the tunnel.