By Alicia Steen
“Look! It’s Aedn’s turn,” Gail says, then groans. “He’s fighting Dnovan. Knighthood must not be in Aedn’s future.”
“It’s not over just yet,” Delia counters halfheartedly. Dnovan had been farther away in the opening ceremony. Now that she sees him up close, she can’t remove her eyes. Her twin brother has grown into quite the knight. She hadn’t quite believed all the stories of him being a knight until now. It was hard to detect the gentleness she remembered from the intensity in his eyes.
Dnovan and Aedn clash, and right from the start the difference in skill is obvious. Not to mention the size difference. Aedn had yet to really fill out, after all. Dnovan towered over him in every way.
Delia’s hand reaches for her hood, then hesitates.
Does she really…?
Delia clenches her hand, filling her fist with soft fabric. As if there were any doubt.
She lets the hood fall behind her, just as the fight turns her way. Dnovan begins to execute a finishing move, but the motion attracts his attention. His eyes meet hers. His motion freezes.
Allowing Aedn to pull off a trick of his own which causes Dnovan’s sword to fly from his hand. The match is called in Aedn’s favor, but Dnovan and Delia hardly notice.
Gail grabs Delia’s hand. “Come, this way. The match is over; I’ll take you to meet him.”
Delia follows, but keeps her eyes on Dnovan until the crowd blocks her view. Her last glimpse of him is of his back as he rushes to leave the field.
That was her. That was her. Delia is here. Not in some far off unknown land but here. In Camlon.
His brothers wisely give him space as he races through their tent, not bothering to pick up his sword or cast off his armor. There she is, coming here to meet him. He grabs her shoulders, assuring himself that she is real.
But she is real. This is truly her, no imposter, and certainly no ghost. “Delia.”
She gives him a lopsided smile and places her right hand on his. “Dnovan.”
Dnovan relaxes. “Welcome home.”
Delia breaks into the large, shining smile that he always remembered. “Your voice has gotten lower.”
Brother and sister laugh, prompting the rest of the family to join in the reunion. Their sister has come home. For better or worse, their sister is home with family.
But not all may be happy about her coming. Later, as Aedn is confirmed as a knight of Camlon, Dnovan’s gaze is fixed on King Certan.
“What’s got you worried?” Delia asks from beside him, though not with her voice. Being twins, they enjoy a natural telepathy.
“King Certan is more lax about mages in his kingdom than the old king was, but he still holds to his father’s law that all magic is evil. Any mage caught practicing it is sentenced to death.”
“I had not expected any of that to change.”
“Your life is in danger if you stay here. There may still be those alive who know of your power.”
“Dnovan, I have been in danger from someone wherever I have gone; yet I am still here, alive. Fear of danger is no longer motivation for me to change my mind.”
Both stay silent as Aedn stands up, a knight of Camlon. Many cheers and some friendly jeers fill the hall. As the celebration begins, Delia speaks. “Dnovan, come with me.”
“Where are we going?”
“A place in Camlon I’m sure you have never been.” Delia leads Dnovan through the streets of Camlon, every one familiar to him until Delia takes an unseen turn. Before he knows quite what she did they are walking underground. “All the oldest cities have these,” Delia explains. “Vast tunnels, streets, shops, even houses and stables underneath what’s above. There are openings everywhere if one knows how to look.”
They travel in darkness, but not for long. Shafts from the city above carry the light below, lighting their way in soft twilight. As the light grows dimmer various crystals embedded in the hewn rock begin to glow. It is an intermittent light, as some crystals have gone out, but still enough to travel by. “Shadow fears to go very far underground. Even dark wizards harbor a horror of entering so much as a cellar, making these undercities perfect for persecuted mages.”
“And we can be sure that any mage we find under here is most certainly not a dark one,” Dnovan finishes. He stops walking. “They don’t seem to be as sure about us.”
Out of the dark corners come several mages with weapons drawn to surround Delia and Dnovan. Delia betrays no fear, unlike them.
“Has the king finally discovered us even here?”
“Not yet and not ever,” Delia says calmly. “I am Delia Laine, with my brother Sir Dnovan Laine. I am also known as Vytria, Queen of Chaos.”
This sparks much shock and debate. Even Dnovan looks at Delia twice, never having heard her other name. The mages all back away. All except one teen, who does not take the cue from the elders.
“That’s a fancy name. Why don’t you prove it?”
Dnovan’s first instinct is to move to intercept the teen, but it is obvious to him that she is in full control. The air around them stirs into quick motion, then stills.
The lights go out.
All freeze in the darkness. After stiff silence, an aged voice calls out.
“Effective display, but was it necessary? There is one shadow who fears not the caves.”
The crystals begin to glow once more, showing the owner of the voice, a grey-haired elder. Delia makes no obvious moves, but Dnovan detects a twitch in her facial features.
“Come,” the elder says. “The both of you are welcome in our haven.”
The elder leads them into a wide street, not separating tired tents and frightened faces, but a true city street with shops and markets and bustling crowds hurrying in a few last purchases. The stone structures were of the same architecture as those above. This was not a city under Camlon, this was Camlon. Camlon’s undercity.
Delia smiles at Dnovan’s expression. “Amazing, isn’t it?”
“How did you know this was here?”
“Didn’t I tell you? It’s the same with every city of old.” Delia claps her hands. “Come, gather round,” she calls to the crowd. “See what wonders I bring from distant memory.” Delia-no, Vytria- tosses a large bag in the air. Out of it come relics, weapons, armor, and even some household tools. Magical cloaks, gems, and jewelry are spread out as if on an invisible display. The crowd quickly forms a knot around her, examining the items with awed faces. “Don’t push, there’s room for all,” Vytria calls. She spreads out her wares to include more of the street.
“Where did all this come from?” Dnovan asks, no less wowed by the display than any in the crowd.
“I’m something of treasure hunter, I guess you’d say. Or a danger hunter. I found it difficult to stay in one place too long, so I make my living by seeking and selling out treasures from caves and ancient places,” Vytria explains.
“You seem to be doing a brisk business,” Dnovan observes.
“Why thank you. The best is yet to come.”
When the bustle dies down, Vytria collects her wares into her bag. “There is one more, and this will crown all. This piece I found in Jeshrun Below, alongside the same mage’s weaponry you have already seen.” The bag moves higher into the air, revealing from inside it a full suit of armor. And such a suit of armor. With workmanship fit for a prince, and blades fit for a master, it indeed is magnificent to behold. Nonetheless, sight of it silences the crown for a far different reason. For the blade is magical, and the shield proudly bears the silver gryphon. Camlon’s standard.
“Is this real?”
“As real as you are,” Vytria answers. “This bears witness that Camlon’s knights once fought beside mages as brothers in arms. They even traded the clans of Jeshrun, if the workmanship of the blades is any indication.”
“Pretty baubles, but what good do they do us now?” a harsh voice speaks. All eyes turn to a man leaning against a post.
Dnovan detects anger in Vytria’s gaze. Vytria responds, “So it was and so it may be again.”
“Hah!” the man laughs. “The brightest hope any of us will ever have is right here. You go putting ideas in people’s heads and you’ll destroy what they do have.”
A rising controlled anger causes the air around Vytria to stir. “Every man is entitled to an opinion, I suppose. Do you feel strongly enough about yours to wager it against mine?”
The man looks surprised, then narrows his eyes. Then he smiles. “Challenge accepted.” The crowd quickly backs away to give the fight room. The man rushes at Vytria with a blade. Dnovan stays right next to Vytria, unmoving.
And the man misses Vytria entirely. Confusion enters his features, but he sneers and tries again.
And misses by an even wider margin.
“You! Why can’t I hit you!!”
“Perhaps you are not quite determined enough?”
“Ach.” The man activates his full magic. “No weird barriers can protect you from this one, missy.”
As the man charges for a third time, Vytria waves her hand, and all the lights go out. Only the distant moonlight enables silhouettes to meet the eyes.
“Things far off are seen by hope,” Vytria chants. As if by a flash of lightning, a single crystal illuminates for a split second the man charging by her.
“Our conviction is the proof.” The man spins around. “This hope does not disappoint.” Another flash reveals a frightened look on the man’s face. He seems unable to move.
“For he who was still is and shall be. Hope is not for the future, but for the present!” The crystals again come on just in time to reveal Vytria’s final attack. The man is flung unconscious so far away that he fades from sight.
A young boy breaks the silence. “Can I have the gauntlet? It looks really cool!”
Vytria smiles. “You most certainly may.”
The boy grins as he places the too-large gauntlet on his tiny fist. “Awesome!”
A wife comes forward. “May I have the other gauntlet?”
With that the crowd surges forward again, claiming pieces of the armor. Vytria gives them all away, save for the sword and the shield. Those pieces are claimed by Dnovan, who swings them around to the delight of the crowd. Not until well into the night does the excitement die away.
“Let’s go home. Druce will want to analyze this to death.”
Delia laughs. “Sure thing.”
Whatever happens from here, it most certainly will not be boring.