“But...” Fellirion began.
“No,” the ursai rumbled, sitting back in his chair, crossing his bearlike arms over his expansive chest.
“Why?” Fellirion said, exasperated. “Are you afraid?” he asked, hoping to goad an answer out of the other councillors.
“Fellirion,” Belladin spoke softly. “Remember of what you speak. You are asking us to go against dragons. You know we cannot do that.”
“I am not,” Fellirion insisted. “I am asking you to go against Tiernach.”
“Who controls the dragons,” Ralarin said dryly, one eyebrow arched.
“Which cannot number greatly.”
“We don’t know that.”
“We don’t knowthat he actually has anydragons,” Serina forestalled Fellirion’s reply.
“We do know he has fragments of the staff,” Fellirion stated. “And if their simple presence were to set off the detectors then there would be records of such long before these past two months. There are no such records. Logically, there must be something else producing the disturbances that we have detected.”
“Might there be another involved, someone else who controls the fragments?” Belladin asked, her voice as soft as ever.
Fellirion shook his head. “You don’t know Tiernach,” he said sadly. “He does not like to rely on anyone. He certainly would not give away power to somebody else freely, and I do not think there is anyone outside this island capable of forcing him to do so.”
“If we accept the presence of dragons,” Tanarik rumbled. “Then you must understand why we cannot fight against them.”
“There cannotbe many,” Fellirion stated. “He only has two fragments of the Dragon Staff. There is not sufficient power in those to control any great number.”
“In your opinion,” Serina leaned forwards, elbows upon the bench in front of her. “You know that most of the records about it have been lost.”
The old man sighed. “Yes, in my opinion. But you know as well as I that even the complete staff could not control every dragon everywhere, and we don’t even know how many he has encountered. There may only be one.”
“It cannot be...”
“I ask you to realise what is at stake!”
“The majority…” Fellirion snorted. “It could be all, if we do something about it!”
“That is not our policy,” Ralarin said sharply. “We do not allow ourselves to interfere in the affairs of nations. We do not alter the natural balance.”
“How can this be a natural balance,” Fellirion demanded. “Tiernach was a part of our order, for a time. We would not be affecting the balance of power, merely correcting our mistake.”
“Your mistake,” Ralarin narrowed his eyes. Fellirion turned his face away as if struck.
“The blame for Tiernach’s actions does not lie solely with Fellirion,” Tanarik addressed Ralarin, making a calming motion with one massive hand. “I also agreed that he should be taught the art. As, I remember, did you.”
The vulpani looked back at Tanarik, his gaze level and unabashed. “He does have power. He could have been great, had he continued his studies, perhaps learned a little discipline – although that is clearly not Fellirion’s strong point,” he finished acidly.
“He seems to be set on finding his own way to greatness,” Fellirion said, ignoring the vulpani’s tone.
Ralarin shrugged. “Those with power make their own destiny. That is natural law. Valiant!” he turned his head, and a young man hurried up, purple robes rustling. “Tea,” Ralarin indicated the cup on the bench in front of him, and the apprentice swiftly refilled it from a padded teapot he held before hurrying back to the side of the council chamber.
“Must those with such power also shape the destinies of others?” Fellirion asked as Valiant retreated. “Must they always attempt to dominate those weaker than themselves?”
“You have yet to prove that Tiernach’s aims will be to the degradation to the lives of the common people,” Serina countered.
“Oh, you mean apart from the fact he has started a war that will kill hundreds, perhaps thousands of them?”
“Wars come and go,” the lupari said mildly. “We do not take it upon ourselves to judge which side is right and which is wrong. For all you know, Tiernach may create a stable and secure society.”
“Fellirion...” Tanarik rumbled, and the the old man took a deep breath.
“My apologies,” he said quietly. “But do you not understand why I feel so strongly?”
“We understand your concern for the common people,” Belladin ignored an audible sniff from Ralarin’s direction. “But we cannot interfere in this. After the Dragon War the entire Order decided that never again would we act against dragons.”
“The dragons have taken action against us!” Fellirion barked. “That argument is null and void, we are not the aggressor.”
“They do not necessarily act by their own choice,” Ralarin said.
“So instead of helping while we could, we are going to sit and watch as Tiernach uses the dragons power until he eventually controls the world? Is that what we have come to?”
“Our policy is to not interfere except in dire need,” Tanarik said in his deep voice.
“And this isn’t?”
“It is not the end of the world. It is not the end of the magi. It is not dire need.”
“And in time, when Tiernach’s power grows?”
“You have no proof that it will.”
“What else do you think he is doing?” Fellirion almost shouted. “Do you think he will stop at two fragments? Do you think he is not looking for more?”
“Why would he? He has sufficient power for his task.”
Fellirion groaned inwardly. Arguably the smartest people in the world, and yet common sense seemed lacking.
“I think,” Tanarik said slowly. “That you are allowing your past with Tiernach to cloud your judgement.”
“Oh rubbish,” the old man snapped. “If anything I am using it to judge him better.”
“I agree with Tanarik,” Belladin said. “You were not happy when he left, you made no secret of that. It is only natural that your anger at his actions would translate into your current frame of mind. I do not blame you for this, Fellirion,” she said gently. “It is a natural reaction. However, I do ask you to realise that this is what it is. Tiernach does not pose a threat to us, he poses no greater threat to the common people than any other of the would-be-dictators that have come and gone this past age.”
Fellirion looked at her.
“Perhaps a little more threat,” she amended. “But still, he has shown no hostility towards the magi.”
“So we run on a guess about his intentions?”
“We run on probabilities,” Tanarik said. “To fight against the Order would be extremely costly for him, and it is unlikely that he would succeed, even with the dragons at his side. It is extremely unlikely that Tiernach would fail to recognise this. It is unlikely, even, that the fragments that he has of the Dragon Staff came into his possession by intent, more that they were a lucky find, one which he has used to his advantage. We will not interfere, at this time.”
Fellirion’s eyes narrowed. “At this time?” he asked.
Tanarik nodded. “I am not an unreasonable man, Fellirion. Bring proof, bring fact, and I will reconsider. But I do not think you will be able to do so.”
“We shall see about that!” Fellirion declared. “I just hope for all our sakes that it is not too late by the time I do.”
It seemed that Tanarik was about to answer, but he was interrupted by a knock at the door. A nervous looking young sciurel peered around it.
“What is it, boy?” Ralarin growled at him.
“Your p-pardon sirs, but there’s someone asking for Master Forester in viewing room one... a miss Fleetfoot.”
Fellirion slapped himself on the head. “Of course! My word, this is about a week later than I’d expected, what have I been thinking. If you will excuse me?” he looked at Tanarik who waved one bearlike hand and nodded.
“We seem to be done here,” he rumbled.
“Thank you,” Fellirion nodded. “I will be back, with proof,” he added in the doorway, and Ralarin rolled his eyes.
The apprentice scurried out of Fellirion's way as the bearded man marched swiftly from the council chamber, heading down the stone corridor at considerable pace. Along the west wall, the tall windows showed a sunset of brilliant orange.
Not for the first time, Fellirion found himself wishing that the viewing rooms were a little closer to the main part of the complex, and not in the basement level. Of course, it was necessary, he reminded himself. The magics involved in such communications were powerful, and prone to interference from other spells. And Sanctuary was hardly a spell free zone.
The oldest and greatest of the mageforts that had once been commonplace across the continent, Sanctuary had become far more than a centre of learning. Now it could be considered nothing less than a small town, a self enclosed community, the last refuge for those who sought understanding of the world, and power over it.
The town spanned five small islands, none of which appeared on regular maps and whose latitude and longitude were one of the most closely guarded secrets in all the kingdoms. Laid out in a diamond pattern, the larger central island was surrounded on north, south, east and west by its smaller siblings. At the very centre of the main island, a tall, tapering tower that cast its moving shadow across the buildings below like a giant sundial. Within its walls the meeting chambers for the Council of Magi, the political heart of the Order. Around its base, an outer ring, two floors high, connected to the tower by four corridors that lay along the points of the compass. Here were all the administration offices, the viewing rooms, and official records repository containing minutes of every meeting the Council of Magi had ever had. Fellirion’s name had recently been appearing a lot of late.
In the shadow of Sanctuary Height, as the tower was named, lay libraries and study halls, shops and houses, bound together by tree lined streets. At the south east corner of the island lay a small port. A single pier pointed out into the ocean. Only one ship was currently moored, its sails furled, its deck empty. Like most craft belonging to the order, it was light, rugged, and capable of being crewed by only two people – or one Fellirion, and a horse. Sometimes it was particularly useful to have an affinity for the elemental magics of both air and water.
On the outlying islands, joined to the centre by hundred-yard stone bridges, lay the workshops and laboratories. Here, safely away from the living areas and the stores of knowledge, experimental magics could be worked by those who studied. Here, the boundaries of knowledge, the limits of power were redefined.
“Tallow?” Fellirion leaned over the still water, puffing slightly from the walk, his elbows on the railing that surrounded the pool. Once again he found himself thinking that he really must build a similar railing for the viewing room at home, for it was truly a work of divine inspiration. That, or the inspiration of someone who had been rather older when they built this viewing room than Fellirion had when he built his. The constant reminder of a bad back would work wonders for remembering the simple ergonomics of life.
“Good evening, sir,” the straw blonde woman smiled back from beneath the water. “I thought I should let you know that Cassanya came back, and...” but Fellirion wasn’t really paying attention anymore. Instead, he had focussed upon the young man kneeling at her side. Blue eyes, russet hair, and those unmistakable ears left no question to his identity.
“Hello, Feral,” he smiled, breathing a shaky sigh of relief.
Feral looked down into the water as the image of the old man smiled up at him, then looked up at Tallow, glanced at Cassanya on his other flank. He licked lips that had suddenly gone dry. “Unc-uncle Felli?”
The old man nodded. “I’m glad to see you again,” he said quietly. “You’ve grown a lot. Are you all right?”
“I… uncle Felli…” Feral’s lower lip trembled. “It’s… it’s all gone wrong,” he said unhappily, not even noticing the tears that were suddenly running down his face. He felt Cassanya move to kneel behind him, putting her arms around him gently, and he took a deep breath, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. “Everything’s gone wrong,” he sniffed.
“I know, my boy, I know. I’m really, very sorry. We couldn't have known...”
Sniffing, Feral nodded. “I know. I know you would have if... but against a...” he stopped, suddenly very aware of Cassanya. He knew she didn’t like hearing him speak of it.
“Against a what?” a crease appeared between Fellirion’s eyebrows. “Feral? What did this? What did you see?”
Unhappily, Feral nodded again, his ears sinking. Closing his eyes, he turned his face away.
“It’s all right, my boy, it’s all right,” Fellirion reassured him gently. “You can tell me. What did you see?”
Feral mumbled something inaudible, and Fellirion looked over his head to Cassanya.
“He said he saw a dragon, sir,” she sighed, unable to entirely conceal her disbelief, but hugging Feral supportively nonetheless.
There was a pause.
“I see,” Fellirion said expressionlessly. “Well, then, that does make sense.”
Opening his eyes, Feral looked down to the old man’s image. “Makes sense? You-you believe me?”
“Yes, Feral. Yes, I do.” For a moment, Fellirion seemed to lapse into thought, then roused himself. “Why are you wearing a collar?” he asked suddenly, and Feral wondered if he was intentionally trying to change the subject. “You too, Cassanya?” She nodded, leaning around Feral and lifting her chin a little so that Fellirion could see the iron more clearly. “And what have you got on your arm?” he asked, eyeing the silvery metal wrapped around Feral's wrist.
“It’s, uh, kind of a long story – and listen, there's no time, Shara's in trouble, we have to find her!”
“You have a sister?”
Feral looked at the old man blankly for a moment. “You don't know?”
Fellirion slapped a hand to his forehead. “Your mother said you'd soon have a sibling the last time I saw you. Of course, I'm sorry, we haven't been in touch since. What do you mean find her?”
“The leonin woman took her!”
It was Fellirion's turn to look blank. “Perhaps you should tell me the whole story. I have time.”
“When was she taken?”
“The night it all started, six – seven – eight weeks ago? I'm not really sure, I'm sorry it's been...”
“Then I think it won't hurt to take the time to tell me the whole story,” Fellirion interrupted gently. Apparently out of nowhere, he pulled a tall stool up from behind him and sat on it, leaning on the rail around his side of the pool. “Take your time, my boy,” he said gently. “I'll help you, and your sister, but I have to understand everything that's happened.”
Taking a deep breath, Feral agreed. “All right. I guess it started... two days before Summersend festival...”
By now, the story of his travels had indeed become a long one, and it wasn’t easy for Feral to tell. Finding himself unable to sit still through it, he paced around the edge of the pool restlessly as he talked. Fellirion listened, and nodded sadly at the parts he apparently already suspected, seeming particularly attentive through Feral’s description of the dragon he had witnessed. The time of imprisonment under the mountains was definitely new to Fellirion however, his features darkening as Feral spoke, until – “It did what?” Fellirion asked, rather sharply.
Looking down at the metal wrapped around his forearm, Feral repeated. “It changed shape. I don't know how, it was like... like it wasn't solid, but it broke the arrow all the same.” He knelt as Fellirion beckoned him closer, leaning over the water, his arm close to the surface as the old man peered up at him.
“How genuinely fascinating...” Fellirion murmured. “And you got it from...”
“Um, a statue...” Feral sounded apologetic. “Really, I did. I didn't steal it,” he added, realising it was an unconvincing explanation.
“No, I don't imagine for one moment you did,” Fellirion said quietly. “I'm not entirely sure you could have. Tallow?” he looked across the pool and the young woman sat up alertly. “We're going to need a little investigation here. Would you fetch a powder of calamus draco and lungyan lei please?”
“Yes, sir,” Tallow nodded, standing and hurrying out of the room.
“Uh?” Feral eyed the door behind her.
“I'm quite sure you've figured out what you have is a powerful magical artefact,” Fellirion said, bluntly. Feral nodded his agreement. It didn't take a genius to realise that metal really didn't act like this under normal circumstances. “I would like to find out more about it. You said it was originally shaped like a sword?”
“Yes,” Feral nodded again.
“When did it change to...” Fellirion gestured at Feral's forearm.
Feeling slightly awkward, Feral rubbed the back of his head. “It sort of did this after I... tried to throw it away... I can't figure out how to make it let go.”
“I see,” Fellirion mused. “It's done nothing else since?”
“Why did you want to throw it away?”
Feral winced, and Cassanya placed a hand on his shoulder. “There was an accident,” she said. “The man who tried to shoot him. It wasn't Feral's fault, it was this,” she gestured to the shining metal. “Maybe it did something to him, I don't think he could throw a punch that hard on his own.”
“Sure I could!” Feral said before he could stop himself, then went quiet as both of them looked at him sternly. “Well, no,” he admitted.
“So an act of defence on your behalf?”
“It was meant to be,” Feral mumbled, looking away. “It didn't work out like that. I think I got some sort of control over it afterwards, kind of blunted it, kept it from doing too much damage, but... it was still pretty much taking the lead, you know?” Fellirion looked thoughtful. “I really didn't mean it to happen...” Feral added.
“No, of course not, my boy,” the old man reassured him. “I don't blame you for anything, and you shouldn't be hard on yourself. The enchantment on that object that must have been quite overwhelming. I'm not at all surprised that it got ahead of you, I imagine there are seasoned magi who wouldn't be able to reign it in, at least not on the first encounter.” He glanced across the pool as Tallow hurried in through the door again, carrying a small bag.
“Sir, would you mind holding out your arm please?” It took a moment for Feral to realise she was talking to him. Dipping her fingers into the bag, Tallow withdrew a small portion of a deep orange powder, sprinkling it lightly over the shining metal. A ripple ran down its surface and Tallow's eyes widened.
“Ah, yes, I see,” Fellirion nodded, an odd expression crossing his features. “Right... Feral, my boy?”
“I think you should keep it.”
“Keep it. That's really quite a useful thing for you to have.”
“Are you sure? Is it safe?”
“For you, absolutely,” Fellirion looked slightly evasive. Feral narrowed his eyes. “You don't haveto fight with it,” the old man pointed out hastily. “But I think it would be a very useful thing to keep hold of, just in case.”
Feral sighed shakily. “I'm really glad you said that. I thought so too, but after...”
“It knows better now, I think. It's not uncommon for a magically imbued artefact to attune itself to its owner. Now it knows how you feel, it will act with restraint.”
“Uh-huh... Is it ever going to come off?” Feral asked, tugging at the metal and completely missing the glance that passed between Tallow and Fellirion, a flash in the old man's eyes causing her to straighten her posture and smooth out the frown that had been marring her features.
“Oh I should think so. Once it knows you don't want to be rid of it anymore. Imagine it like a pet – the more it believes you are coming back, the happier it will be when left alone for a while.”
“Funny looking pet...” Feral gave up trying to pry it loose, concluding that violence was probably not at all reassuring of an intent to keep it. “But I'll try. I guess it could be useful.”
“That's the spirit. Now, might I suggest that you go find yourself some food, and rest. You look worn out.”
“I will see what I can find out,” Fellirion assured him. “Please, my boy, leave this with me. There's really nothing you can do right now. Give yourself time to recover from your ordeals.”
Looking at the floor for a moment, Feral eventually nodded. “Ok.”
“Good boy. Cassanya, would you please?” Fellirion glanced at the leonin, and she smiled.
“Come on,” she said, placing a hand on the half-race's back and guiding him towards the doorway. “Let's get you something to eat, and maybe a bath.”
“Good night, uncle Felli...”
“Good night, my boy,” the old man smiled, waving. “Tallow?” he called softly, just as the young woman seemed about to follow. She winced, but stopped, looking back down into the water.
“You understand what that is, of course?”
“We really could do with that artefact at Sanctuary.”
“I was afraid you would say that, sir,” she sighed. “You don't want him involved, I take it?”
“Absolutely not!” Fellirion said firmly. “That young man has been through far too much already, I cannot ask more of him. That artefact is better in the hands of the Order...” he paused, a thought occurring to him, remembering the words of that strange woman near Seabreeze... No, he concluded. That was just silly. “When it separates from him, you know what you have to do.”
Tallow hung her head.
“I amsorry,” Fellirion said. “I don't like to ask you to do something dishonest, but it is for the best. You do know that?”
“Yes, sir,” she nodded sadly. “But don't you think, if its chosen him, that maybe...”
“That decision is mine to make, not some thousand year old relic,” the old man told her firmly. “I will not have it draw Feral into a fight that is not his. Please do as I ask.”
Tallow was silent for a moment. “Yes, Master Forester.”
“Thank you. And there is one more thing I need you to bring. The pointer charm, or Feral’s part of it, at least.”
“The attractor? Why?”
“I believe I have made a rather grievous error,” the old man admitted, lowering his voice and glancing around as if afraid to be overheard. “It was a decade ago when I created that charm, and I had no inkling that the events of recent times would ever come to pass. I... found a fragment of the Dragon Staff. Some innkeeper in the eastern kingdoms had it framed on his wall, but it didn’t take a lot to convince him to part with it. To him it was only a curiosity, a little gold was quite sufficient compensation. Once I had it in my possession however, I began to realise its power, and suddenly it seemed as if it might have been better to have let it remain anonymous…”
“So you gave it to Feral?” Tallow’s eyebrows went up.
“To one who has no idea what it is, it’s quite safe. He is no challenge to it, no threat. And its natural power made it ideal for conversion to another use. Those charms do take quite a lot of magic to make, you know. With the fragment as a starting point, it was remarkably simple, the spell paths almost re-wove themselves with just a hint of what I wanted from them – indeed, I wonder if it did not choose to cooperate with me in order to remain anonymous and unknown.”
“But to give it to a child…”
“Seemed an ideal way to hide it,” Fellirion finished. “Nobody would question it, nobody would think of it. It would effectively vanish, more so than if I had buried it – except that, with the pointer, I knew I could always find it if needs be.”
Tallow found herself grudgingly respecting the idea. “Very well, sir. I'll do my best.”
“Thank you, Tallow,” Fellirion's expression lightened. “Now, why don't you go join the others. I'm sure Feral will have a lot of questions – please be careful what you say, but do see that he'll be all right before you have to leave.”
“Of course,” the young woman bowed her head. “Good night, Master Forester.”
“So apparently I should keep it,” Feral finished, as Archer and Balthor regarded him across the table. The lupari looked pensive, but said nothing. Archer on the other hand, grinned.
“Good call, I say, guv. Nice bit o' kit that. Sell for a load on the free market, but I tell you, if I 'ad one, I woudn't be parted from 'er easy. Something like that could pull your tail out the fire when you'd be cooked without it.”
“Mmm,” Feral agreed, looking down at the silvery metal. “If only it could help me find Shara, it'd be the best thing ever.” For a second, a shimmer seemed to pass over the surface, as if a a raindrop had splashed into it and Feral watched it excitedly, but it did nothing more.
Favouring him with a lopsided smile, Archer raised his eyebrows. “Won't be surprised if that means it wants to, but can't.”
Sighing, Feral nodded. “Uncle Felli said to think of it like a pet...”
The sciurel smirked. “Pet rock more like!”
As if in response to the slur, the metal rippled again, then ran like liquid down Feral's arm as he held his hand on the table, gathering itself into at first an amorphous lump, but slowly taking shape.
Everyone eyed it for a while in silence until Feral leaned forward. “That's just awesome,” he said quietly, nose to nose with the silver cat sitting on the table. The surface of the metallic statue shimmered, and it blinked. “I'm definitely keeping it.” As he spoke, the glimmering silver liquefied and re-formed with the cat now lying down, curled up as if asleep.
“That's just a little creepy...” Cassanya suggested, and Feral laughed, reaching out to rest his hand on the metal statue. It was surprisingly warm, and light enough to slide around on the table. Probably hollow, he thought, would explain the volume difference. “No really,” the leonin insisted, eyeing it with minor suspicion.
Archer chuckled. “Only cos it looks like you.”
Balthor tried to stifle a laugh and nearly choked on a mouthful of bread. Cassanya eyed him icily. “Hey, Tee,” she said, ignoring the cat and looking up as Tallow entered. In her hand, she held a small crystal sphere, glowing about as brightly as a candle. One of the more practical inventions to have come out of Sanctuary in recent years, the glowball stored sunlight during the day, allowing it to be released overnight, lighting the room without flame or heat.
“Hey, Cass,” she waved absently as she set the little sphere down in an empty hollow on the wooden table.
“What’d the boss want?”
“Oh, he just, wanted me to look up something in the library. Um, is that...” she indicated the motionless silver cat on the table.
“It is,” Cassanya nodded.
“Good, I guess,” Tallow suggested as she sat down, glancing at Balthor as he sat near her end of the table, and inconspicuously nudging her chair a few inches the other way. It wasn’t that she disliked the lupari... just that he was rather tall, and left her feeling somewhat overshadowed. She smiled at Feral – who was incidentally nearer her own height, possibly even an inch shorter.
“Everything ok, sir?”
“Um, fine,” Feral mumbled, more or less around a mouthful of cheese and wondering why she was calling him sir. He asked.
“It’s only proper,” she answered, sounding surprised at the question.
“Well, you are the only heir of Master Forester. That puts this house, and anyone who works for him, at your disposal.”
There was a chuckle from the other end of the table. “I’d stick with it, Red. I think it suits you.”
Feral frowned as the sciurel as he leaned back in his chair, digging between his teeth with a splinter of wood from the table. He looked back at Tallow.
“Tee, please, sir!” Tallow’s expression was polite, but her voice held a hint of steel that told Feral it wasn’t a request.
“Yeah, I’d been meaning to ask about that...” Archer interrupted again.
Sighing, Tallow looked at the table. “My parents are from the Eastern Kingdoms, Verdenford.”
“The capital of Verdignon?”
“About the only city of Verdignon,” Tallow nodded. “They let my grandparents name me, and, well they did it in the old local language. Not really their fault it didn’t translate.”
Archer shrugged his eyebrows. “Take away the meaning, the sound’s nice enough. Mean anything special?”
“Moon-rose,” Tallow felt her cheeks go pink.
“There y’are,” Archer smiled at her. “That’s more like it. A very pretty name. So it does suit you. Tee.”
Pink became red.
Feral coughed quietly. “On the subject,” he said, and Tallow looked up at him. “My name is Feral. I’m the son of a fisherman’s daughter, and a...” he hesitated, then laughed, a little bitterly. “See, I don’t even know what my father was. I never expected anything from uncle Felli, especially not to be declared his heir, and I don’t lay claim to any of his property, or the services of those in his employ. But I wouldn't mind a new friend,” he finished gently, smiling.
Tallow nodded. “Thank you, Feral. Would you like me to prepare your room?” she added, noticing that he had almost finished eating.
Feral gave a weary laugh, realising how tired he was. “Just this once. Tomorrow I'll sort it out, ok?”
“Deal,” Tallow smiled.
Despite the fact that the bed was clean and comfortable, and the room warm and tidy, Feral failed to sleep. Instead, he lay and stared at the dark ceiling until what felt like somewhere past midnight. Finally, sighing, he got up again, and went downstairs to see if he could find something in the pantry to make him sleep. Finding little but bread, cheese, jam, flour and an egg, he settled for a jam sandwich. At least it was strawberry.
Pulling back the large iron bolt, he opened the door and stepped outside, breathing in the cool night air as he stepped off the path that crossed the courtyard.
The surrounding walls stood dark and silent in moonlight, the grass underfoot short and peppered lightly with chicken droppings. Off to one side, a soft clucking sound emanated from a small henhouse.
Several buildings crouched within the walls’ protective embrace, one a stable, empty and dark, all the straw piled haphazardly into the end stall. Another building just one floor high, with evenly spaced windows every three paces, and a doorway at each end. A third with but a few small windows and a large door at each end, perhaps just for storage.
A fraction of the river’s flow had been diverted so that a stream ran in through a grate at the base of one of the walls. A small hut leaned against the wall where the artificial stream left the courtyard, just downstream of a stone trough that had been sunk into the ground where it received a portion of the water from the main flow. Overall, Feral thought, it was a very well thought out plumbing arrangement, and one which did not require a trip to the river to collect water every morning.
Behind him, the main building towered above the others, its large windows looking darkly into the night.
Off to one side, four small fruit trees at the corners of a patch of cultivated soil, in which a variety of herbs were laid out in neat rows. At one end, a small wheelbarrow, a spade, and a bucket hid in the shadows.
“Couldn't sleep either?”
Feral jumped at the deep voice behind him.
Feral nodded his understanding.
“We’ll find your sister, Feral,” Balthor said suddenly, looking at him, and Feral caught his gaze. “We haven’t forgotten.”
“Thank you,” the half-race answered quietly.
“Sorry, kitty,” she found herself saying in a gentle, reassuring tone. “You and me need to take a bit of a wander. Nowhere bad, I promise, but you can’t latch on to Feral. There’s other people need you, and I’m supposed to keep him out of trouble.” Reaching down, her fingers grazed the silvery surface.
Out in the courtyard, Feral and Balthor stopped talking as they heard the scream from inside the house.