12

Morning came and I, sleepless and stressed through most of the night, rose to greet it with wariness. The boy who tended the bird/horse, son of the man with the scar, whose name flitted out of my exhausted mind just as I grasped for it, gave me a rock-hard muffin to chew on and bade me to follow him.
He led me through a few maze-like hallways of the underground complex, through a metal door, and up stairs to the bright light of early morning.
The ruined city, which I’d only seen from the air in the dark – so nothing basically – appeared desolate, uninhabited, and uninhabitable which is what the Loyalists wanted I suppose. Dust and rubble filled the streets and tall, hallow-eyed buildings, built with technology long since lost, leaned against each other like drunken men. The boy lead me to one such leaning edifice and over a pile of debris to a courtyard tied together with metal ropes.
His task done, he sat on the ground and took his boots off.
“Dawn’s bright greetings to you, nephew,” a voice echoed from somewhere above. I looked up and spotted The Owl, some twenty meters above me, sitting at his ease on a metal rope no wider than two fingers together. He leaned forward and fell, without panic, catching himself at the last moment on a line about two meters above the ground. He spun as he landed, but did not kick up any dust.
“Dawn’s greetings to you,” I responded, awed despite myself.
He gestured to the boy, who handed me a pair of leather gloves.
“Uri will be your training partner.”
I looked at the boy, nothing that he had on gloves as well. He looked like he couldn’t decide if he wanted to smirk at an adult being partnered with a boy of 10, maybe, or if he wanted to be impressed by being partnered with the future king. I decided not to have an opinion one way or the other. As my life had gone recently, this boy – who stood about a head shorter than I and certainly weighed much less – could probably beat me senseless. I nodded to him and put the gloves on.
“Are you afraid of heights, Angestirian?”
“No,” I answered without thought. He raised an eyebrow at me and I recalled my terror of riding the bird/horse.
“Well, I didn’t think I was until the other night.”
He nodded. “Good, it is good that you admit your fears. Overcoming fear is a part of learning to be skahdi, a hunter in shadow.”
He directed us to a corner where a board, about a half-meter off the ground, lay across two hunks of ash-colored building material. He gestured for Uri to cross the board, and the boy did it without any trouble. I followed easily. He replaced the board with a thinner board and we repeated this process until one of us fell off.
“Balance is the foundation of all life,” The Owl said when we repeated the exercise successfully. “Life in Adnor is currently out of balance, don’t you agree Angestirian?”
I paused in mid-step as I crossed the maybe four centimeter board.
“Don’t stop, just answer. Focus is also needed. Balance and Focus.”
“Yes, I think life in Adnor is out of balance,” I answered once I got safely to the end of the board.
“Yes…” The Owl paused.
“Yes, Ken-sa,” Uri said in his chirpy voice.
The Owl gave him a smug smile.
“Ken-sa?” I asked.
“Teacher, master, me. I am your Ken-sa at this time, not your uncle. I’m your best friend and your worst enemy. I expect you to motivate Uri and for Uri to motivate you. Now, make the boards higher.” He gestured to a pile of square, ash-colored blocks lying to our right. The blocks, much heavier than they looked, stacked precariously atop one another. We put on the wide board and crossed again.
We did this for probably three hours, each successful navigation of the four differing width boards caused a new brick to be put on, raising them ever higher. By the time The Owl – or Ken-sa, called for a break, the board was up to my collar.
I’m not sure what I expected for learning to fight, but this seemed far from it.
“Did Torgood do this process?”
“Did Torgood do this processs…” The Owl repeated.
“Ken-sa. Sorry.”
He handed me a waterskin and answered.
“He was a remarkably apt student. We didn’t have cables,” he gestured to the lines strung above, “or bricks, but the creek that feeds that little meadow you were so fond off, worked well. He hardly got wet on the second day.”
I patted my hand on the ground and dust puffed up. The water in the skin tasted brackish. This ruined city lay in the plains below the Crown City – an area known to be fertile.
“When did drought hit this area?”
The Owl passed the question to Uri, a local I gathered.
“About three years ago. My father’s farm used to be on the banks of the Lybar river. I wish our boards were over the river, I could use a dunking.”
The Owl chuckled. “I’ll see what I can arrange.”
“Ken-sa,” I said, remembering to address The Owl as such, “Do you know the cause of the drought?”
The Owl didn’t answer for a moment and then asked Uri to fetch us some more water. The boy scampered off.
“Adnorians blame it on the weather gods being angry, but as you obviously know, there are Dvergr here in Adnor when there should not be. The Adnorians are uanble to see them for what they are. Filthy rock chewers.”
I thought of the Dvergr chanting and tossing the heart of the man into the pool.
“The drought is caused by Dvergr magic? How can that be? It is so widespread.”
The Owl turned to me, his look pinning me in place.
“We are at war with the Dvergr. This is just one more tactic they use. We suspect Fadreel has made a pact with them – and so he seeks to arrest the Nord in Adnor – to improve his relations with the rock chewers.”
“Do you have proof of this?”
“No, but I will get it.” Uri returned, carrying full waterskins. “Or you will get it.”
He stood. “Break’s over. Let’s see how you fair on an actual wire.”
He had us try the lowest wire.
I ended the day going no higher in the air than a meter, but my bruises told me I’d fallen from a greater height. I guess there was still a chance of dying from falling.

13

I still breathed, so therefore I wasn’t completely paralyzed. Breathing was instinctive, as was arousal and my resulting erection – so maybe her spell only covered aspects that were not innate? Blinking seemed innate. Could I blink? I discovered that yes, I could blink. I took a deeper breath and yes, I could do that. Maybe the spell only lasted a short while?
I thought at Zat and it’s warmth touched my face.
‘Light, Zat,’ I thought, imagining the candles and fireplace lit. I got the impression that it wanted to but something pushed down upon it.
“You didn’t tell me he was married.” I heard Dreanan’s voice from the hallway.
“You didn’t ask. Why? What did you do?” The Owl’s voice answered.
“He’s going to be king. A king needs a queen.”
The Owl laughed. “Saucy wench. Is that why you came on this mission? I thought it was to keep your sister from getting her hands on me.”
“That too.” She had flirty laughter in her voice, the sound of which made my nads shrink. Ah – another instinctive reaction. I tried to wiggle my toes.
“Well, if you want to be queen, I guess we’ll just have to make sure he’s not married, eh?”
Oh gods no, Jeslynn.
I struggled to get up or speak or anything. I heard Zat sparking and saw a small flash out of the corner of my eye. ‘Go Zat, go!’ I urged it.
I tried to call my power, such as it was, to free my restraints. Nothing happened. How could it? I was underground. But there was a fireplace and the smoke had to go somewhere – presumably out. Zat, shooting sparks, flashed across my vision and disappeared toward the chimney.
‘Bring the wind back,’ I thought to it. ‘Bring something.’
I felt The Owl and Dreanan move off. He was a killer. The both of them, probably, killers. Did that make Rheanan a killer too? Twin killer sisters. I wanted to shudder but couldn’t. Why bother killing people when they could just paralyze them with a snap of their fingers? If the Nord used this kind of magic against their enemies, no wonder the Grand Council wanted them apprehended. They could rule and no one would question. Why hadn’t they ruled before? Did Queen Tiria rule her husband in such a way? Maybe Myrik wasn’t bad and she was?
No. Maybe Gestin had thought Tiria an evil witch but I – Gestin/Angestirian – knew better. Dangerous, certainly. Evil? No, not Tiria.
The Dvergr felt evil to me. Grand Councilor Fadreel’s image had felt evil to me. The Owl felt like thin ice – like he had a layer of normal over a void. I had no doubt he would kill Jeslynn without remorse. He’d probably kill me too, but he needed me to be king. Dreanan felt like an over-ripe strawberry; smells good, looks good, tastes like mold. Her sister didn’t seem that way. Hopefully she’d show up soon with my horse so I could escape.
And go where?
A faint smell of smoke tickled my nose and I sneezed, and in sneezing, sat up. I could move, not easily, but I could move. I would move and in moving I would improve my situation. I needed to defend myself – and The Owl could teach me. I needed to learn about my magic. I shuddered and delighted in the movement. Dreanan – I shuddered again at the thought of her fingers on me – could probably teach me. She could probably break through my memory fog and show me my childhood. Then I would know for certain if I were the son of the King of Adnor.
Then surely the devoted Sentinel Vytar would be seeking the son of the king? I’d find him and find out for myself who was evil and who wasn’t.

14

The Owl smiled at my request, like a beam of sunshine coming out from behind a cloud.
“You want to learn the Way of The Owl? What a king you will make!” He got up and shook my hand. “We will start in the morning.”
He left me there.
I sat and called Zat to me. The fire elemental curled between my fingers and batted at the hair hanging in my eyes. I wanted to learn to protect myself, but I didn’t want to be king. Did I? I knew nothing about ruling or politics. I knew a little about economics as the subject related to running a tavern, but nothing on a grand scale. I certainly didn’t know about war, but I knew that rule by council versus rule by king usually meant civil war.
Is that what Vytar saw in me? A king? But he worked for Grand Councilor Fadreel, who had a bounty out on Nords for some unknown reason. Could The Owl and his Loyalists be behind the bounty? If I had a group of assassins – as certainly my uncle was – out causing trouble, I’d put a bounty out on them. Not all of the Loyalists were Nords, and presumably not all Nords were Loyalists. Why would they care what happened to Adnor anyway? Sure, there’d been a treaty when my mother – Lady of Springtime, my mother Tiria the witch, had been Queen of Adnor.
Did I believe that?
I checked my memories and still got mostly gray fog when it came to my childhood. I tried imagining growing up in Crown City, possibly in a castle, but I couldn’t get past the recent view I’d had of the city covered by the glowing purple/pink lightening orb. What in the snowy nether regions was that?
Draenan came in, carrying a pile of bedding.
“My liege,” she curtsied but had a smirk on her face.
“Please don’t call me that.”
She dropped the bedding on a nearby pallet and said, “Okay.”
She stood behind me and started to rub my shoulders. I tensed for a moment and then relaxed. It felt great and I told her so.
“You don’t really have a plan, do you?” Her fingers strayed into my hair and started to massage my scalp.
I snorted. “How could I have a plan when I just learned who I’m supposed to be?”
The tingle where her fingers rubbed ran down my spine and pooled at my private parts. My eyes drifted shut and I leaned back against her as she moved her smooth hands down my chest.
Some small part of my brain gave a chirp of alarm, but her touch felt so good I hardly noted it.
“How could you not know who you are? Were you injured?” One hand continued to run circles, under my tunic, through my chest hair while the other felt my scalp again gently.
“Accident. House fell on my head. Before that, my mother…” I didn’t finish the sentence, ‘stole my memory’ aloud but she seemed to hear it anyway.
“Why don’t you come lie down and tell me about it?”
I nodded. She spread out the blankets on the pallet and I sat, as directed, on the edge. She removed my tunic, vest, belt, and boots. She tugged my pants down and I slumped back, quite at ease and comfortable to be naked before this stranger.
She started to massage my feet and I groaned in pleasure.
If she asked more questions after that I don’t remember. When she started to move up my legs to my private parts, I closed my eyes. I heard soft singing but also kisses along my inner thigh, so I couldn’t tell if the singing happened outside of my head or not. She tickled my hip. I flinched and said, laughing, “Jeslynn, no.”
Everything stopped.
“Who’s Jeslynn?”
“My wife,” I answered, unthinking. I looked down at her, noting that she’d somehow changed her clothing from the ubiquitous charcoal colored uniform of the followers of The Owl to a flowing, see-through, white chemise.
“You’re married?”
“Yes.”
She sniffed and snapped her fingers. I lay stiff as a plank and completely unable to move.
“Anything else you want to tell me?” She asked, straddling my chest and looking down into my petrified face.
I couldn’t blink or speak, so wondered how I could answer her.
“Just think it, half-breed.”
I didn’t know what to think. What in the storm god’s underthings did she want?
With a hiss of annoyance, she placed both hands on my temples and my mind swirled with visions. I watched the past month run backward, and then the month before that, and the month before that. The images moved faster until they settled on my handfasting ceremony to Jeslynn some six years past. The ceremony had been presided over by Elder Ponmay, my adopted mother Kotia – Landt had gone to the elements a month earlier that winter from an illness – and Jeslynn’s brother Som, as their parents had both gone to the elements a year or so earlier. I noted Tiria in the crowd, which is something I hadn’t consciously remembered before.
“You are married,” Draenan said, taking her hands from my face and clinching them in hair. She tugged a little.
“What else?”
I tried to move my head away, but couldn’t. Her hands squeezed my face again, wringing out my history. She speed forward from the handfasting, following my memories of Jeslynn and her growing pregnancy. At the birth of my son, she slapped my cheek.
The memories, for me, became painful after that. Five precious years of Rand growing and learning and being the amazing being he had been. Five lovely years until the fire. She made me live through that again, in agonizing detail.
I cried out, as I had in my past, when the building fell on me and my child burned. Zat appeared over Draenan’s shoulder and spat sparks at her. She batted it away and sat back on my stomach. I could feel her naked heat against my unwilling erection.
“Draenan?” a voice said from the hallway.
She clamored off of me. Zat took her place on my chest, hissing and spitting sparks at her. She looked between me and the doorway. Some decision reached, she pulled a blanket over my frozen form and then snapped her fingers.
The room went dark and Zat and I were alone.

June 30-July 4 journal

Just wanted to note here, so I can look back later, what happened last weekend. For 100 plus days now I’ve been writing about “the big change” happening to me. Yep, it happened. I’m excited.
So I arrived at my new home on June 30th and found a lovely and completely unexpected sign with streamers, balloons, and tinsel that said “Welcome Home.” CWB said the colors were significant for our future home (the “gilded verdant doublewide”) and the two of us. Very sweet and something that had never happened to me before. I took pictures of course.
Saturday we drove to San Diego – an uneventful trip other than horrible one-lane merge situation in Yuma AZ that added an hour to our trip.
Saturday evening we went to a going away party for the Stickies, who are moving back to Florida. CWB learned how to play Kubb.
Sunday we rose early and went to Ocean Beach to look at the waves. CWB and I are both big fans of the ocean. We agreed to marry each other – which is super, cause you know, I hate it when one partner says “I do” and the other says “um…”
Then caught up with the rest of the group (Eoin, the Davesleys) at Small Bar – my favorite SD bar, which CWB had never been to. Had a lovely breakfast then went to the Air and Space Museum and played on the astronaut exhibit they had. That night we had Russian food. An excellent day.
Monday we went to the Silver Strand beach on Coronado Island and spent the day in the water. Waves. Monday night we had an enormous pizza that Kens had ordered from the internet. SD has amazing internet delivery services.
Tuesday we rose early early and drove home, missing all of the single lane nastiness we’d run across on the way out.
(Wednesday I worked from home – my official work from home start date – and got a visual migraine. Bleck.)
So – getting married, getting a new home, working from home. Big changes. Totally going to finish the Gestin story. Just you watch me.

15

A plan. Storm god’s nether regions, if I had a plan I wouldn’t be in that predicament. The Owl gripped my shoulder, urging me to speak.
“There is a plan,” I said. Everyone cheered. “It is being refined,” I added in an attempt to find a way out of this mess. I doubted my voice could influence them all, especially the Nord. Zat was in the other room and there didn’t appear to be anything he could burn – other than the lantern oil from the hanging lanterns. The room seemed otherwise empty of furniture or fire.
I looked out at the 50 or so expectant faces and bit my lower lip.
“You have questions? There’s a room full of answers,” my mother’s voice came to me. She’d been referring to the library, at the time, but…
“Before I can give you any more details,” I said, taking a deep breath, “I would like to review, for everyone present, the ‘why’ behind the plan. Who can tell me why we want to attack the Grand Council?”
The Owl gave a soft laugh, but one of the group – the young boy who had taken care of the bird/horse – stepped forward.
“The Grand Council does nothing to help the people.” Several adults grunted in approval. The boy continued, “When my father’s farm dried up, they sent us a rude sentinel who didn’t help.”
The man with the scar on his face put his arm around the boy, adding, “My son is right. Our Council of Elders prayed to the weather gods and nothing happened. We send to the Grand Council hoping to get an answer, but their sentinel only asked about missing people. He didn’t bring us ideas on how to get water to our crops or our cattle. When we demanded answers, he rode away on his strange horse. So I say bugger the Grand Council. We want our King back.”
This generated a greater cheer.
“And Grand Councilor Fadreel?” I asked when they’d quieted down.
“A council is made up of equals,” Dreanan said in a calm voice. “Fadreel is the ‘head’ of the council. How can a circle have a head? He wants to rule the country and ignores the treaties made with Elidyr.” More grunts of agreement.
“Fadreel is a monster,” someone shouted.
“What about the Dvergr?” A sudden silence met my question. The Owl cleared his throat and changed the subject.
“Fadreel is a monster,” he said, “And he will be put down like a rabid skunk. Take heart, friends, our King has been found.”
Everyone cheered and The Owl lead me away with a strong arm around my shoulders.
Once we arrived at a mostly private spot – a room with pallets and a makeshift fireplace that served as a source of heat and a place to cook – I turned to him.
“I know you believe that I’m the son of King Myrik, but I don’t remember that. I barely remember my mother – and what I remember of her is in bits and pieces. She was the village witch – in middle-of-no-where Oakvale. She was married to Dorn the Miller. She died,” as I said it, a sense of loss and guilt covered me. “And I did her no honor.”
Zat appeared in the fireplace and zoomed over to hover around my head. The Owl held up a hand and Zat permitted him to stroke it. He let it free and sat down next to me.
“Angestirian, your mother took the memory of your childhood from you in an attempt to save you from Fadreel.”
“Why? The Grand Council happened after the king died, right?”
“Fadreel was your father’s closest councilor.”
Perhaps Sentinel Vytar was incorrect and The Owl wasn’t a murderer.
“Did he kill the king?”
“No. I did.” The way he said it, so cold, so matter of fact, made my skin crawl. I leaned away from him and crossed my arms. Zat settled on my shoulder and purred in my ear.
“Understand, Myrik was not a nice person. What I did, I did to protect your mother and you. Fadreel encouraged Myrik in certain,” he paused and looked at the ceiling. “pursuits.”
“Such as?” I asked after he didn’t go on.
He shook his head.
“So you killed him? Why not kill Fadreel too – if he encouraged whatever it is that made Myrik bad?”
“Would that I had – then we wouldn’t be in this predicament, would we?” He flashed a grin at me that made me get up and walk to the other side of the table.
“So the other things that I’ve heard about you are true too?”
He puffed out his chest and nodded. “I am The Owl, I swoop in silently, take my prey, and swoop out. No one knows when I will strike.”
I considered this.
“And these ‘followers,’ what are they?”
“Loyalists. I’ve taught them to fight.”
I thought of Torgood’s uncanny fighting ability.
“Were you ever in Oakvale?”
“Of course. I came to help your mother when you had your terrible accident and lost your son. I am so sorry, Angestirian. So sorry.” He shook his head.
I didn’t want his sorrow or his pity. Anger, the need for vengeance, or some combination made me start to pace.
“Did you teach my friend how to fight?”
The Owl raised a snowy eyebrow. “That tall fellow who should have been a bard?”
I nodded.
“Yes.”
“Why?”
He shrugged. “It amused me.”
“Teach me.”

16

The boy came forward, nodded to The Owl, and took the bird/horse away. The rest of the group faded away as silently as they had shown up, some climbing directly up the old walls and other crouching and blending into the dark shadows. The Owl set off down the ancient street, sticking to the shadows also, so I followed his actions the best I could. Zat crackled in my ear and I silently promised it a fire to play in soon. At least, I hoped there would be a fire at the end of this trip. And something dry to put on, maybe a warm meal or a beer. The thought of a beer made me step a little faster.
He lead me into a mostly intact building, down a dark flight of stairs, through a metal door that seemed original to the building, and into an empty candle-lit room. Zat didn’t hesitate to become visible and head straight into the flame of the nearest candle.
The Owl took off his hood, revealing that he had long white hair tied back in a complex braid. A vision of my mother’s face superimposed itself over his and I could see a resemblance, although I didn’t have any memory of him. Sentinel Vytar’s warning that The Owl had killed my father echoed through my thoughts.
Rheanan came in, carrying a tray of steaming food. I stood to help her, and realized she couldn’t possibly be here if she still had my horse. She put the food on the table as I looked at The Owl for explanation.
“Dreanan, Rheanan’s twin.”
The woman laughed, saying “She’s my twin, not I hers, silly bird.”
She thumped The Owl in the arm and he pulled her close, giving her an enthusiastic kiss, which she returned. Things started to be uncomfortable and I turned to study the smooth wall of the ancient chamber.
“I think your friend is shy,” she said, sauntering over to me and eyeing me in a too familiar way.
“Nephew. I think he’s just trying to be polite. Unlike you, saucy wench.” The Owl smacked her on her bottom and she blew him a kiss and went away.
He looked at me and grinned, showing very white teeth. “Twins.”
He laughed at my lack of response to whatever implied lewdness he imagined I’d be interested in.
“Eat, be comfortable. You are safe here.”
I sat and looked the food over. Grilled fowl of some sort, some carrots, and a hunk of brown bread. I sniffed the bread.
“You are safe, I promise.” He bit into my bread, sampled my fowl, but didn’t touch my carrots. At my look, he shrugged, “I don’t eat vegetables.”
Safe or not, I tried the carrots first.
After eating and changing out of my muddy clothes into, surprise, charcoal gray close fitting shirt, vest, and trousers, he took me to another room, also underground, where he presented me to a group of people – made up of mostly Adnorians, and a few Nord, like The Owl and Dreanan.
“Angestirian, son of Myrik of Adnor and Lyntrillienne of Elidyr, meet your loyal followers.”
Everyone cheered and I raised my eyebrows at The Owl.
“Rebels against the Grand Council and specifically against the council leader, Fadreel,” he said in an undertone.
People came up and shook my hand, slapped me on the shoulder, and Dreanan kissed me on the cheek and whispered a suggestion in my ear. I felt my face grow hot. If it’d been her sister, my darker self suggested… I put that thought out of my mind and tried to attend to the names of people being thrown at me.
“Now that you’re here, my liege, when will we be attacking the Council?” A man about my age, with a scar on his chin and dark eyes, asked.
I blinked. “Attacking?”
“Yeah,” someone else said, “Tell us the plan. We’re ready.” Many waived weapons in the air.
I looked at The Owl. He gestured for me to answer.

17 (digression)

I’m a little stressed today – the day before the big change. The “what ifs” are spinning like a shrapnel whirlwind in my head. Is it excitement or fear? both? Probably both. I want to be there all ready; settled and happy.

Enough of that.
I’ve been reading Chuck Wendig’s The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience. I find him to be very funny and have laughed aloud many times. The suggestions he offers are not new to me – although I am guilty of ignoring or not applying the good advice offered about several things in my writing having to do with characters and plots and general “penmonkey”-ness. First Draft – the zero draft – the vomit draft. That’s me, that’s this blog. Just write it Pongo. Come on…
The book has a great section on writer’s block, which ends with “if it is depression and not writer’s block – don’t treat it like writer’s block.” I find that to be good advice. I’m not depressed, but I know writers who get that way. I’m stressed – that’s my excuse for not writing at this moment. In the next few moments, my excuse will be that my coworkers have arrived and I have to pretend to be working.

Gestin will have something to say soon, I’m sure. (I hope).

Go forth and conquer, y’all.

18

The world dropped out from under me with the bird/horse’s first strong down flap of its long wings and my stomach went with it. My first thought was “Here’s my chance to die from falling.” I laughed, which The Owl must have taken to be bravery, because he chuckled also. I made the mistake of looking down past my feet – which stuck out over the beast’s shoulders – at the moonlit rocky slope below. It wasn’t bravery, it was terror. I grasped the pommel of the saddle, closed my eyes, and hung on. Closing my eyes had been a mistake. I could still see the soul spark of the creature, glowing in its rainbow brilliance between my legs. At least it wasn’t a machine.
We tilted, turning direction from east to north east and my eyes flew open of their own accord.
The Owl crouched behind me, gripping the cantle with his knees. His left arm snaked under mine and held the reins and the other gripped a hold next to my hand on the pommel. How he stayed on amazed me, for the movements of the beast were not smooth. Each down flap made my teeth snap together and then my stomach churned on the pre-flap.
After a bit, the beast caught a stream of wind and the ride evened out. The Owl tapped my shoulder and pointed below. I glanced down quickly, felt dizzy, and just as quickly looked back up.
“The trader’s road is below us,” he said in my ear. I kept my eyes on the horizon.
A rosey glow off to the right made me look. The split moon, in its full glory, cast a yellow-white light on the land and mountains in the distance. It hung to the north of us. To the east and north, a red and purple swirling globe with yellow and blue flashes took up most of a mountain. The sky above it had dark storm clouds that flashed lightning between them.
“What is that?” I yelled over the wind to The Owl.
“Crown City,” he replied.
“What? How? Crown City?” There were obviously things about the capital of Adnor that I did not know.
He chuckled again.
The beast banked and I clung for my life as we spiraled down into the ruins of an ancient city.
We landed in a courtyard between roofless buildings.
The Owl hopped off and held the beast’s head while I climbed down. Solid ground never felt so good.
The beast bumped me with its head and I touched its fine iridescent black feathers.
“It likes you,” The Owl said.
I had mixed feelings about it. Just as I was about to ask, “What now?” the question died on my lips.
The courtyard had filled with people, standing silent and holding weapons.

19

He knew my name.
I grasped The Owl’s hand and he drew me up on the horse, which spun on its haunches and galloped away from the Sentinel’s outpost.
Zat caught up, streaming fire behind it, and settled on my shoulder.
“Tell it to disappear. We’re moving targets,” The Owl yelled over his shoulder and leaned forward, urging Rand the horse on. Zat went invisible, its heat comforting, and the area around us dropped into darkness. The only light came from the outpost at our backs and the distant stars. The split moon had not yet climbed over the horizon.
The Owl stayed on the road for a short while, until the downward slope made galloping dangerous.
He turned us off at the second switchback, and Rand scrambled up a rocky trail I wouldn’t have been able to find. Pointy branches and wet pine boughs whipped my face as we crossed a steep incline. The rocks turned to boulders.
We slowed and The Owl asked me to keep an watch behind us. I tried but couldn’t see much, which I hoped meant that our pursuers couldn’t see us. He pulled Rand to a stop finally and told me to dismount just as the split moon appeared. He climbed down and patted Rand on his sweaty neck. He took the reins and lead the horse and I up a small rock slide and behind an enormous boulder.
“We can pause here,” he whispered, handing me a waterskin.
I sipped with caution, but it appeared to be just water. I cupped my hands and poured some out for Rand, who slurped gratefully.
The Owl gestured for me to stay and climbed up the outcropping.
He returned a moment later, silent as his namesake.
“They’ve continued down the road, so we’re safe for the moment. Angestirian, you breed trouble.” He poked me gently and took a swig from the waterskin.
His teasing reminded me of someone and I answered, automatically, “It’s not like I planned it.”
I couldn’t see him laughing until he moved into a ray of moonlight. I laughed too. It turned a little hysterical and his strong grip on my shoulder made me stop.
“Hold firm with me for a short while longer,” he said and climbed back up the outcropping.
I couldn’t do much else. Vytar had been injured and the Sentinels chasing after The Owl, and therefore me, probably had orders to kill first ask later. Rand, my dear horse, seemed as exhausted as I. I feed him some more water.
I heard a sharp whistle, like a bird’s cry, and The Owl returned.
“As soon as the moon goes under a cloud, we’ll leave.”
The whooshing sound caused me to peek around the edge of an outcropping. A large, black, winged creature with a bird’s head and horse’s body with clawed feet landed on the outcropping. It had a saddle and a rider, who climbed down and joined us behind the bolder.
The rider, a female dressed in the same charcoal color as The Owl, clasped arms with The Owl and smiled at me. She was shorter than I, thin, and had pale skin and amazing silver almond shaped eyes, tilted at the corners and fringed with long dark lashes. Parts of my body, tired though I was, perked up. I gave her a shy smile in return, suddenly aware that of my muddy clothes and possible stench.
She took Rand’s reins from my limp fingers and moved away. She cooed to the horse and fed it a carrot pulled from a hidden pocket.
“Come,” The Owl whispered and gestured to me to climb.
“But my horse?”
“Rheanan will bring your horse along after the search has quieted.”
He helped me climb the rock to the bird/horse thing. It’s curved beak looked dangerous and it watched me like a hawk watching a mouse scurry across the field.
The Owl held out his hand and I half expected it to be snapped off, but the bird/horse bumped its head against his palm.
He gestured for me to mount first.
“No use in being partially wet, might as well jump in” went through my mind. A Kotia saying. I mounted the saddle, which seemed like any other saddle except it had extra places to hold on to, and The Owl mounted behind me and reaching around me to take the reins.
He clicked at the creature and it leapt up into the night sky just as the moon reappeared from behind a cloud.

20

Mention of the Great Drought made me remember Oakvale’s drought and the Dvergr dropping a bloody heart into the water hole outside of Southallow and all of the moisture disappearing.
“What caused the Great Drought?”
“I don’t know. Myrik, fearful for his son and wife, sent them to a sanctuary. The queen visited Crown City often, but frequently left her son at the sanctuary.”
He paused his tale to point out the faint light ahead.
“The outpost. The popular opinion of the queen changed – I’m not sure why – but people started to believe that she had the king bespelled and had the heir hidden away or killed. They believed that she caused the drought. They believed all sorts of untruths.” He shook his head. “Then The Owl killed Myrik, and the people turned against the queen completely. She and the heir disappeared and Grand Councilor Fadreel has been searching for them ever since.”
It started to sprinkle.
“And what has this to do with me?”
We crested a short slope and I saw the Sentinel’s outpost – a permanent camp of sorts consisting of a watchtower, a medium-sized log building, and a stable. The watchtower had torches giving light to the area. A line ran from the watchtower to the building and the strange humming that I’d heard in the communications center filled me again.
No one appeared to be out – the watchtower seemed empty of sentries.
A pebble bounced of my shoulder and I turned.
The man in the charcoal hood crouched near a bushy tree. Zat hovered over his shoulder and Rand stood behind him. I realized with a start that he was the man they claimed to be the Owl.
He gestured for me to come.
“Owl.” Vytar’s sword scraped from its sheath.
The Owl stood up and saluted him. “Give him to me.”
Vytar stepped in front of me and The Owl moved out to meet him, a gleaming curved sword in his hand.
Vytar took a swing and said, “Did you kill everyone in Trommel in your escape?”
The Owl parried without changing his intent expression. “You need better jailers.”
Vytar swung again, this time with more force. “I’ll put you in your grave. Escape from that!”
The Owl answered with his sword and they began a deadly dance.
From my uneducated view, The Owl had more grace and speed but Vytar had a longer reach and a heavier sword. They seemed evenly matched for a moment, until Vytar slipped and The Owl sliced his leg, cutting through the gray and black tabard.
I heard a shout and three of men ran from the building, waving swords. One had a crossbow.
The Owl checked his next swing, which surely would have ended Vytar’s life, and turned to me instead.
“Come with me,” He pulled my horse to him. I moved forward to stop him.
“No, Gestin, he’s a killer,” Vytar said.
The Owl mounted and held down a hand for me to join him.
“Come with me. Quickly.”
Zat buzzed around my head. I paused, uncertain.
“My lord, you’re the king’s son – he killed your father.”
A crossbow bolt whizzed past my head.
“Angestirian, I’m your uncle.”