DargonZine 5, Issue 1

Pact Part 3

Yuli 15, 1014

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Pact

Ilona had no intentions of showing the note or the gem she received during the night to Kalen. Not knowing if he was still at her apartment, she carefully pushed open the door and stepped inside. The door had the bad tendency to squeak when it was opened or closed slowly and she tried to minimize the sound, but there was still a loud squeak as the door shut.




Ilona jumped at the sound of Kalen’s voice. He sat in a chair by the desk next to the window, looking outside. That desk, a heavy old wooden monster, had been a gift from Captain Koren just a few months before, when new furniture was purchased for his office.


“I thought you were supposed to be at work by now,” Ilona said.


Kalen put his index finger to his lips. “Tara’s sleeping,” he whispered. “We were up half the night talking.”


Ilona took a seat by Kalen. She had spent a big part of the afternoon of the previous day with Tara n’ha Sansela, Captain Koren’s niece, talking about her uncle’s death, trying to comfort her. She turned the young woman over to Kalen when she had to go to her shift and hoped the problem would be solved by the time she returned. Something in Kalen’s manner told her there were still things to do.


“How is she doing?” Ilona asked.


“She cried herself to sleep,” Kalen sighed. “I wish we could tell her, but it would only expose her to unnecessary risks. You know how much she’ll want to see him.”


“Did you get any sleep?”


“A little,” Kalen motioned to a pillow and blanket in one of the corner chairs. “She got me thinking. What if the assassin hadn’t been stopped?”


“He was,” Ilona said, half promising and half hoping. She did not want to think about the alternative.


Kalen nodded, but did not speak.


“You best go. I’ll watch Tara.”


“Alright,” Kalen agreed. He kissed Ilona and left after gathering his equipment.


Ilona removed her own sword and weapon belt and hung the dark blue guard tabard on the back of a chair. It had been a long day and she felt it would last much longer. It was barely noon now. She took out the gem sent to her during the night. It was a clear white crystal, two fingers wide, carefully cut into a flat oval shape. Definitely expensive. In fact, more expensive than she could afford on her lieutenant’s pay. It could be made into a nice piece of jewelry and for a moment she considered keeping it. She knew she could not, simply because of who had given it to her. Besides, it was probably stolen. She would have to check the reports and return it as soon as this case was over, but it was nice to dream.


The note that came with the gem ominously predicted the direction of Ilona’s career for the duration of her tenure as one of Liriss’ people. She understood that, with time, the rewards would become smaller and demands of the job would increase. For now Liriss was simply luring her into his trap, to get her in deep enough so that she would be unable to leave or tell anyone else. She was glad that Kalen and Jerid already knew. They would help keep her from falling into that trap; the same one too many innocent people had been drawn into.


Putting everything in the desk, Ilona took a peek in the other room, where Tara was sleeping. The Captain’s niece was in bed, buried deep under the blankets. At least she was resting. The things that had happened were the worst for her. About a year ago her own father and mother were killed by bandits down in the village of Myridon, in the Duchy of Narragan. She had spent weeks finding her way up to Dargon in hopes of locating Adrunian Koren, her long lost uncle. It was a big, happy reunion when they had finally met and Captain Koren had thrown a two day long celebration. Koren’s own wife, Talei, died in child birth many years ago and the child died not long after. When Tara came into his life, he once again had a family and uncle and niece hit it off immediately.


The injuries the Captain received during the invasion of Dargon threw Tara into a panic. She was helping with the wounded at the castle with Ilona when Adrunian Koren was brought in. It took hours to calm her then, while only the skills of the Duke’s physician, Elizabeth, kept Koren alive. Now it was different. Everyone had to believe Koren was dead. Unfortunately this included Tara. In the girl’s mind she was once again all alone, just like in the fall a year ago when her parents were killed. This did not make the conspirators feel any better.


With a sigh Ilona returned to the main room and made herself comfortable under the blanket in the corner. She had been up for a long time, since the day she went to speak with Liriss, and two sleepless nights finally caught up with her. She fell asleep as soon as she was settled comfortably.




Having knocked twice without receiving an answer, Kesrin opened the door and entered Liriss’ office. The crime lord stood by the window, sipping wine from a goblet, thoughtfully looking at the events taking place in the street below.


“My Lord?” Kesrin said cautiously.


Liriss did not answer, unblinking eyes still focused on the market street below.


Kesrin coughed. “My Lord?” he said louder this time.


Liriss turned his head to look at his lieutenant, a scowl on his face.


“I knocked twice, my Lord,” Kesrin explained. “You didn’t answer either time. I thought something was wrong.”


“Sit down, Kesrin,” Liriss said harshly. He had no time or patience to be disturbed and his temper has been running hot all morning, ever since the news from the streets reached his ears. He started pacing as Kesrin sat down, passing behind his lieutenant twice and making him cringe.


“I want to know who killed Adrunian Koren,” he finally said.


“Sir?” Kesrin felt sweat forming on his forehead. “Word on the street is that you sent a man.”


“I did not send a man!” Liriss bellowed. “I would have told you to send a man! I want to know who did!”




“Stop saying that! Get off your ass and find the man who set me up!”


“Yes, my Lord,” Kesrin hurried to his feet. He had never seen the crime boss so furious and even if he could not provide the man responsible, his best option was to get out of Liriss’ office while he still had the chance. He would see immediately to finding a culprit or a fall guy.


Liriss watched his lieutenant retreat, then slammed the goblet down on the table. Red wine slopped onto the rich oak table top, quickly forming into bubbles of liquid. “Damn them all!”




Rish halted at the far end of the corridor, watching Captain Bartol’s office door, where Kalen had disappeared as the chronicler was making his way to see Jerid Taishent. Now he paced back and forth, waiting for his chance to see the castle lieutenant and ask a few questions about the assassin’s methods and the investigation.


Quite some time had passed while Kalen and Jerid talked and Rish once again had the chance to evaluate his research. It seemed strange that he was faced with so many stumbling blocks while trying to make a simple historical record. It was as if information was being withheld from him on purpose. Everyone claimed not to be familiar with the facts. Rish found this to be highly disturbing.


The door down the corridor opened and Kalen stepped out. He was about to close the door behind him, when he stopped to listen. Rish listened, too, but could hear nothing coming from the office.


“Okay, I’ll do that,” Kalen agreed. “And don’t tell Elizabeth anything. I don’t need her on my case again. It’s bad enough Ilona knows. She won’t let me hear the end of it, but at least she’s not threatening me.”


Something more came from the office.


“No, not at all,” Kalen spoke again. “A wound’s a wound, right? You just keep your end up here and give me a yell if there’s a problem.” He closed the door and turned, finally spotting Rish. “Uh, good afternoon…”


Rish forced himself to smile. “Good afternoon, Lieutenant.”


“Stalking the castle again?” Kalen asked carefully.


“No, I’m just waiting for Lieutenant Taishent to become available.” The forced smile remained frozen in place.


“He’s in the office,” Kalen hurried to say. “Have a good day.”


Before Rish had a chance to answer, Kalen was off. Rish watched him go, a bit puzzled and concerned if what he had just overheard was a conspiracy. If it was, his own life could be in danger now. He hesitated at the door, wondering if he should knock or not, when suddenly it was pulled opened from the inside.


Rish stepped back as Jerid Taishent came face to face with him.


“Rish… Is there something I can do for you?” Jerid asked. He was obviously unprepared for this meeting.


“I, uh…” Rish had already decided that he would not do anything to cast suspicion on himself, but had no idea what he should say. “Ah… I came to tell you somebody stole my ink.”


“Your ink?”


“My ink.” The story was still not complete. “I have a box of ink.” Rish paused for a moment, trying to organize his thoughts, then went on. “There were still fourteen full bottles there. This,” he held up the bottle dangling on a rope off his belt, “is almost empty and someone took my box. If it were the quills or the parchment, I wouldn’t mind so much, but ink is so expensive, there will certainly be questions.”


“I have an errand to run now, Rish,” Jerid said. “Can I get back to you later this evening?”


“Of course,” Rish said agreeably. He needed the time to hide his ink.




Ilona woke to the sound of splashing water. She rolled over, realizing she was on the floor. The sounds came from the adjoining room, probably Tara washing up. Ilona sat up with the pillow between her back and the wall. She was still tired and sleepy, but it was late afternoon and there was no reason to lounge around. There was work to be done. She pushed herself up, letting the pillow and blanket fall down around her.


“Tara?” Ilona stepped into the other room.


Tara stood at the basin of water, wiping her face with a towel.


“How did you sleep?” Ilona asked.


“Well, thank you. I hope I’m not imposing on you…”


“No, not at all,” Ilona said. “I’m glad to have you here.”


“I’d like to go back to my uncle’s house,” Tara said. “Boxter and Zed have been alone all day. I need to check on them and feed them.”


“Do you want me to go with you?” Ilona offered.


“I’d like to be alone,” Tara admitted. Ilona could see the red and a faint trace of tears in the teenager’s eyes.




“I’ll be fine,” the girl said with a catch in her voice. “I should be getting used to this now.”


“Oh, sit down,” Ilona said, putting a comforting arm around Tara’s shoulder. “I don’t think we ever finished yesterday and I don’t know what garbage Kalen filled your head with.”


“He was very nice, really. I don’t want the two of you to have problems because of me.”


“We won’t have problems,” Ilona snapped, “Now sit down!”


Tara sat on the edge of the bed. Ilona brought over a chair and sat down across from her.


“Look, I wish I could make you believe that I understand how you feel. I lost my parents many years ago and I know what it’s like to be alone, and I’m sure it doesn’t get easier the second time around…”


“I’m fine, really,” Tara insisted again, wiping tears from her cheeks. “You don’t need to worry.”


“Alright,” Ilona agreed, not really believing the Captain’s niece. “But promise that if you ever need to talk, you’ll come to me.”


“I promise.”


“Alright, then,” Ilona still did not believe Tara was well, but she was not about to force herself on the girl. In due time when Tara would be ready, the truth would be told, but until then she would have to suffer along with the rest of the city. “I’m going to the market now,” Ilona said. “Be sure you’re here for dinner…and I suppose you can bring Boxter over and keep him in the stables. I’m not sure about having a shivaree prowl the house, though.”


Tara remained after Ilona left and looked out the window for a long time. She was once again on her own, having lost her family, but this time there was no one else she could go to. This time she would have to learn to be self sufficient.




A heavy hand fell on Ilona’s shoulder as she made her way through the crowded market and although the touch was gentle, she jumped and grabbed for her sword.


“I’m sorry, Lieutenant,” Cormabis laughed. “I meant no harm.”


Ilona took a deep breath, looking at the smiling elderly man. “It’s alright. I’m just a bit jumpy today. What can I do for you, Sage?”


“Nothing for me, thank you, but I was wondering how you were doing. I heard about the Captain.”


In spite of herself, Ilona followed Corambis down the market street towards his booth.


“It’s my fault, Corambis. You gave me good advice, but I made the wrong decision.”


“Did you?” the Sage asked. “Or did uncontrollable events overcome you?”


Ilona kept silent while they walked past a cloth dealer’s stand where a crowd had assembled. “What uncontrollable events?”


“Did you hire the assassin to do the job? Did you encourage him?” Corambis’ eyes grew bright, almost seeing inside her soul. “Whatever you did, the assassin was not your direct doing.”


“How do you know that?” Ilona challenged him. “How do you know I didn’t hire him to do that?”


“Because I know you, Ilona Milnor,” Corambis laughed, “just like I knew Dane Milnor and you are every bit your father’s daughter.”


“Am I really that predictable?”


“You?” Corambis continued walking in silence, a thoughtful expression on his face. “To an old Sage like me, you are. You wouldn’t trust a crook as far as you could spit a mouse and neither did your father.”


“I can’t spit a mouse all that far,” Ilona smiled.


“Take my advice,” Corambis went on. “Bad things happen, but you have to be strong and prepared. I’m sure your father wouldn’t give up, and neither should you.”


“But my father was a merchant!”


“Even merchants can have strong character,” Corambis insisted, “as do their daughters who want revenge.”


For a long time Ilona could not answer. “He…” She was not sure what she wanted to say. “It’s been over two decades! You don’t really think that’s what I’m after?”


“Only you can answer why you joined the guard, but I know you’ve hated Liriss since the day you learned what really happened to your parents.”


Ilona paused to think about what Corambis had said. She always had a hidden desire to bring Liriss’ empire down, but that was also a part of her duty in the Guard. It was her job and she started to wonder if that was why she chose this line of work in the first place.


“No one doubts the need to rid the city of crime,” Corambis continued before Ilona had a chance to justify herself, “but it will have to be a gradual process. Don’t let your haste interfear with your progress. Adrunian Koren will always live right here,” Corambis touched his finger over her heart, “he knew the risks. Now you must do your job.”


And with those words Corambis shuffled into his booth, which they had now reached, leaving Ilona outside to ponder his wisdom.




Tara brought Boxter, her horse, under the overhang that served as the stables. She secured him to a rail by the wall, making sure there was plenty of hay, and returned to the street where Zed, her pet shivaree sat waiting for her, cleaning out the fur on his side.


“Come along, Zed,” Tara called and the animal quickly got up. She patted the shivaree as it brushed past her leg on the way to Ilona Milnor’s apartment.


Boxter and Zed have been alone at her uncle Glenn’s house, where she had lived since coming to Dargon a year ago, for an entire day, ever since she went to visit her uncle at the castle. Tara had not been able to speak with her uncle, the Captain of the Guard, for a month now, since the castle doctor had put him to sleep with her medicines, but she would come every day anyhow and sit by his side for an hour or two and talk to him. The physician always said that the Captain could not hear the words in his trance, but Tara believed otherwise and continued her daily visits, until the previous day, when Lieutenants Milnor and Taishent told her that during the night someone had assassinated her uncle. She had cried at the loss, remembering of another loss less than a year ago, when her parents had been killed by bandits and she had to travel to Dargon to meet her uncle, whom she had never seen. Passing through the trading village of Tench, Tara had encountered a young woman by the name of Lana who looked very much like herself and who tried to kill Tara, believing she was being impersonated and her reputation destroyed.


Tara fled Tench with a few cuts and bruises, together with Zed and Boxter. Zed saved her life, coming to her rescue just as her twin was about to deliver the killing blow. Zed lost his right ear in that fight, but mauled her attacker in his frenzy. Lana was left alive and as she staggered off, dripping blood, promised Tara she would come back to kill her. At first those words scared Tara, but after a few weeks in Dargon Tara relaxed in the safety of her uncle’s home and even began to doubt that Lana survived her injuries, let alone that she could find Tara in Dargon, so many leagues away.


It has now been almost ten months since Tara came to Dargon to live with her uncle Adrunian Koren. They both liked each other and lived well as a family. Her uncle taught her to fight and to read, although she was still having many problems with both. Then the war came and he was grievously injured. If not for a young mage trapped in Dargon during the war, her uncle would have died on the battle field.


Tara panicked at first, when her uncle was brought to the castle. She was helping treat the wounded in the Dargon Keep while the Beinison fleet pushed wave after wave of soldiers into the city, but she was never really prepared for what she saw. The castle physician got to him immediately and eased his wounds, although he was still far from being in good shape. Now, just when it seemed everything would be fine, he was killed, without even the chance to defend himself.


Tara wiped the tears that had formed in her eyes and reached down to hug Zed who kept circling her with anticipation. “You’re all I’ve got left,” she sobbed. Zed pressed his wet nose against her cheek and a grumble came from his throat.


“It’ll be alright,” Tara assured him through her sobs, stroking his short light brown fur.


She opened the door and went into Ilona’s apartment. The shivaree followed her in, carefully sniffing the floor and the furniture. Tara watched him look around, knowing full well that he should not stay here for long, but she let him prowl around for the time being. She did not want to stay long here either. No more than another night, until she could prove to herself and the Lieutenant that she could go on alone. Then she would go back to her uncle’s house and live there. She was his only living relative and knew he would want it no other way. Then she would have to find a job. She could possibly get on as a guard or maybe helping in one of the stores at the market or working at the Duke’s castle.


“We’re going to have to go soon, Zed, if I’m to be back by dinner,” Tara said. The shivaree trotted over to her and tried to climb into her lap.


“Oh, Zed, you’re getting so fat,” she complained, gently pushing him down. “City living’s too good for you. I’ll have to start taking you to the forest more often.”


He slipped under the chair Tara was sitting on and reappeared under the table. After a moment she heard him licking something. “What did you find?” Tara looked down. Zed sat with his rear to her, licking at something by the wall. Tara pushed him aside. “What are you doing, you trouble maker?” When he looked over at her, she snatched a feather quill from under his paws. It probably smelled like a bird before. Now it was all wet with shivaree spit. As Tara got back in the chair, drying the wet pen, Zed stuck his head out from under the table and licked his chops.


Having wiped the quill on her tunic, Tara opened the top drawer and put it there, so Zed could not get to it again. She moved aside a narrow strip of paper and put the quill on a small simple wooden box. She was about to put the paper on top of that, when some writing on the strip caught her attention. She looked at it, careful to make out the letters. “You’re well on your way,” the note said and it was signed, “Liriss.”


At first Tara dropped the paper — she knew who Liriss was — but then picked it up and read it again, ignoring Zed’s nuzzling at her. There was no doubt that what she read was right. Quickly Tara started searching through the drawer. The only thing there that obviously did not fit was a large gem stone in the box the note had lain on. Tara heard how expensive these gems were and that lieutenants could not afford them. Even her uncle, with his pay, would probably have to stop and think twice if he could afford to buy something like that.


“Come on, Zed,” Tara got up. She put both the gem and the note in her pocket and hurried for the door. Lieutenant Milnor was working for Liriss, which meant Lieutenant Darklen probably worked for him, too. She knew they were very close.


Tara closed the door after herself and Zed. The only safe place now was the castle where Jerid Taishent stayed. She had to tell him what she learned.


“Come on, Zed,” Tara encouraged the shivaree and he bounced down the street after her.




Corambis shuffled the chips from his casting on the table. “By Kurin’s beard! Twice!” He gathered the chips in their pouch and shook it. “Of all the things to cast!”


He tossed the bag in a box in the corner and went looking for the other, older one he had. “Trissa, my girl, how could you get me an oak casting table?” He found the old leather pouch and checked its contents. Everything was there, all ten chips. Before casting, the old sage walked to the door leading to the waiting room and pushed it open.




His assistant entered the room.


“Has Madam Labin come by?”


“Not yet,” Thuna said. “I’ll let you know as soon as she does.”


“Did you tell her to come for noon?” the Sage did not stop his questioning.


“Yes, I did.”


“Well, rush her in here as soon as she comes!” he shook his head and absentmindedly closed the door on Thuna.


“Now, as for you…” Corambis looked at the casting table. The wheel, appearing as a giant eye, almost seemed to look back at him.


Corambis chanted in incantation, then read another one for the chips in the pouch he held. After a minute he was satisfied that the ceremony was conducted correctly and emptied the bag on the wheel. The chips unceremoniously slid back to the positions he had seen before.


“Saren’s own curse,” Corambis muttered again. “Why does it never change? Koren is dead!”




Jerid Taishent knocked on the door of his father’s house and waited. A few moments passed before the door opened to reveal Dyann, the town mage. The old wizard wore a common blue robe with a silk belt tied tightly around his waist.


“Jerid!” the mage exclaimed, then coughed into his fist. “What brings you here?”


“You do,” Jerid came in.


“I do?” Dyann asked, confused. “I must be getting old, son. Just how did I bring you here?”


“Come on, Dad, you know what I want.”


“I’m just a humble mage. I don’t read minds.”


“Dad, I want you to come stay at the castle with Aimee and me.”


Dyann frowned. “I’m a mage and I still have my work to do,” he snapped. “Just the few days that I lost last month cost me three months of work. I have experiments and enchantments going on. I can’t afford the time!”




“If that’s all you’re here for, go away. I’m busy.”


“Well,” Jerid hesitated, “I’d also like some advice.”


Dyann rubbed his hands together. “Fatherly advice or should I get my cards?”


“Fatherly advice, Dad. I don’t believe in that card nonsense.”


“Now, don’t start that again. You’ve seen what I do.”


“Dad, you’ve spent all my childhood trying to teach me and nothing came of it. I think I’ve earned the right to be skeptical.”


Dyann put his hand on his son’s back and walked him to the kitchen where a meal was set out on the table. “You, my boy, inherited all of your mother’s bad traits…”


“I’m happy with them,” Jerid interrupted.


“Bring Aimee to live here with me and I’ll teach her. She has it in her blood. By the time she’s your age, she’ll be one of the best.”


“I’m thirty-five, Dad. I don’t want you torturing her for the next thirty years.”


“Oh, Jerid, where did I ever go wrong with you?”


“I think it happened when you told me to be who I want to be.”


Dyann started setting another place at the table. “I hope you haven’t been telling this sort of silliness to Aimee, have you?”


“Yes, I have, Dad.”


Dyann shook his head, pouring soup into a bowl. “Do you know that during the war she left a chamber pot in the chimney to the big room?”


“A chamber pot?” Jerid asked.


“A chamber pot and a filled one, at that.” He put the bowl before Jerid and sat down. “She must’ve put it there during the invasion, but since it’s summer, the vent was sealed. I opened it up yesterday to get a big fire going to cook a potion. You should’ve seen the mess.”


Jerid smiled. “Sounds like she’s experimenting.”


“It was all so old and dry and decayed that I almost set the attic on fire,” Dyann drew a deep breath.


“I’ll talk to her about it,” Jerid promised.


Dyann nodded. “Now, what did you want to talk to me about?”


“I wanted you to know what’s going on with me, Dad. And what work I’m involved in and what you can expect…”




Sitting in the great hall of Dargon Keep waiting for the sergeant to return, Tara was beginning to have second thoughts about coming to see Jerid Taishent. He did, after all, live in the castle where the murder took place and it would be next to impossible for him not to be involved in some capacity if outsiders had gained access to her uncle. She wanted to get up and leave and pretend that nothing had happened, but she did not have that luxury. If she left for no reason, that could make the Lieutenant suspicious.


Tara did not know Jerid very well. She had only met him a few times at official functions. She could not begin to guess at what kind of a person he was, although he did seem like a nice man.


She did know Kalen Darklen and Ilona Milnor, or at least she thought she did, before she found clues of Ilona’s association with Liriss. Both the gem and the note now lay in Tara’s pocket, waiting to be shown to the castle guard lieutenant. But now that she developed new doubts about his honesty, Tara did not know what to do. `Maybe if I ask him about the funeral,’ Tara thought to herself. `Certainly they can’t have the body just lying around for days doing nothing.’


But for the longest time neither the sergeant, nor Lieutenant Taishent came down the stairs. Just when Tara got up to leave, the sergeant who met her at the door returned.


“Lady, I can’t seem to find the Lieutenant anywhere. Perhaps if you left him a message, or maybe I can help you with something…”


Tara shook her head with relief. “Thank you, no. I’ll come back tomorrow.”


“Very well,” the sergeant bowed and escorted her to the Keep doors.


Tara left the building, heading for a post in the yard where she left had Zed tied on a leash. Seeing her, the shivaree got up and started pulling on the rope.


“Missed me, did you?” Tara played with her furry friend. She bent down to untie the rope and heard an elderly voice behind her.


“Miss, you’re the niece of Captain Koren, are you not?” Rish Vogel asked, looking more at the shivaree than at the young woman.


Tara turned to look at the old chronicler, still holding onto the rope. She knew who he was, but little about him and it surprised her that he had come to talk to her. The chronicaler’s eccentricities were widely known and she really did not want to spend the time talking to him now about what has happened to her uncle. She was still having a lot of problems dealing with it herself and did not need others to spoil her mood for her.


“Yes, I am,” she answered politely as Rish came closer.


“And you’re staying with Lieutenant Milnor?” the old chronicler went on.




He was now so close that she could hear him whisper, which is what he did. “Have you noticed anything strange?”




“About the Lieutenant, I mean.”




“I think your uncle was killed by his own guards,” Rish rumbled on.


“Why?” Tara interrupted him.


“I don’t know why!”


“No, I mean what makes you think it was the guards?”


“I saw his room after the murder. Everything looked wrong.” Rish stopped and looked around to make sure they were alone and no one was trying to listen in. “And the lieutenants are hiding things. It’s been a day and a half and no one has seen the body yet and they’re not talking about what they’re doing about it. No one even knows where it is. And…” he looked around again, “the guard who killed the assassin is missing. The room was cleaned, but I don’t think they searched for clues.”


That was enough to convince Tara that Rish was on her side. She looked around as well, then took the note and the gem from her pocket and handed them to Rish. “I found these in Lieutenant Milnor’s desk.”


Rish read the note, then examined the gem. His hands shook. “This is it…this is the proof,” he muttered.


Tara took a step back, backing into the post the shivaree had been tied to. She was not sure where Zed himself had gone.


Rish suddenly grabbed Tara’s hands and put the evidence in them. “Thank you, thank you,” he rushed off.


“Wait!” Tara hurried after him, returning the gem and the note to her pocket before anyone else had seen them.


“What?” Rish looked back at her impatiently.


“What am I supposed to do? I can’t stay with Lieutenant Milnor!”


“You can and you must!” Rish insisted. “Go back and put those things where you found them and don’t tell anyone. I’ll take care of everything.”

“But I can’t stay with Ilona Milnor!” Tara went on. “If she killed my uncle, I can’t stay with her!”


Rish looked around, hoping no one heard the young woman’s outburst. “If she hasn’t killed you yet and doesn’t suspect you know, she’ll have no reason to harm you. Now go back and do what I say!”


Tara watched Rish hurry back to the castle, his long brown robe tangling at his feet. Zed was back, rubbing against Tara’s legs and she bent down and hugged him.


“You’ll protect me, right?”


The shivaree nuzzled her cheek and ear and snorted.




Rish hurried into his small cubicle of a room and locked the door behind him. He had his mystery, his clues and now his proof. Now he just needed a miracle to get it all resolved.


Taking a pen and a sheet of parchment out of his desk, Rish started writing furiously. If it was the last thing he did, he would bring order back to the town of Dargon.

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