The main entrance to the castle:

The audience that had just moments earlier cheered their success, now scattered before the two fugitives as they ran towards the very edge of the gallery.

"Here Jaydee! Quick!" Skidding to a stop right below Josiah and Nathan, the half-Elf laced the fingers of both hands together and made a stirrup for Jaydee's foot. Flexing his knees and pushing with all his might, Vin was able to give Jaydee enough height to reach Josiah's hands. Then it was his turn to find a way to the upper gallery. The guards were closing fast and there was nothing to stand on and no one to give him a boost.

"Vin! Over here! Try this vine!"

Nathan had discovered an old but thick looking vine tightly woven around the last support column. He knew that the tracker did not weigh that much and was a nimble climber as well so there was a good chance he could make it up before the guards arrived. Provided of course the plant held.

Vin leaped for the thickest section of the vine and bit back a cry of pain as needle-sharp thorns stabbed into his palms. Knowing it was his only means of escape, he gritted his teeth and continued to climb. The small, wooden spikes bit deeply into his flesh and the resulting blood made it hard to find a solid grip on the thin branches but still he managed to make his way up the column. Nathan's outstretched hand was just above his head when he suddenly felt a tug on his right boot.

"Halt! In the name of the king!"

The big guard had one hand wrapped tightly around Vin's ankle and looked ready to simply yank his prisoner from the stone column. The half-Elf was about to try kicking free when a flash of silver sped past his shoulder. The soldier jerked back with a startled yell as Nathan's dagger embedded itself in the ground between his feet.

"Now Vin! Reach!"

Nathan grabbed his friend's hands and knew a moment of panic when the blood caused his fingers to slip. "Josiah! Help me!"

"Got'im!" Josiah's longer reach enabled him to grab Vin by one wrist and together, he and Nathan pulled the tracker to safety.

"What now?" Jaydee asked, as he crouched by the wall, watching as more armed guards began pushing their way through the crowd.

Josiah reached up one of his sleeves and pulled out a handful of stones. Tossing them in the direction of the approaching guards, he chanted a quick spell of release. As the stones hit the floor, small explosions erupted causing the spectators to panic even more without actually hurting any of them.

"Now you find somewhere to hide until things calm down. Don't try to leave the castle; they've probably doubled all the guards along the wall." Josiah pulled the young fighter to his feet and pushed him towards the hall leading away from the gallery. He turned to Nathan and saw the healer just finishing with Vin's torn hands.

"There, it's not perfect but I at least got the bleeding stopped."

"Thanks." Vin wiped his palms on his pants legs as he moved to follow Jaydee. His hands continued to burn like there might be splinters of wood still in them but at least it was a tolerable pain. "Tell Chris…tell'im that I…."

"Tell him yourself when this is over. Now run!"

+ + + + + + +

Chris barely noticed the two guards stationed outside the doors leading to the king's private audience chamber. The fact that they only made a half-hearted attempt at stopping him from entering simply increased his anger. At the first sign of trouble, Orrin had allowed himself to be escorted to the chamber for safety but if Chris and his party had been the enemy, the king would have died that very day. Orrin was obviously as shocked as his soldiers when what appeared to be two private guards and their patrons simply forced their way in.

"Who are you? What is the meaning of this?"

The old chamberlain quickly stepped forward. He had recognized Chris at the entrance to the castle and remembered him as being a fiercely loyal captain during the war. "Your majesty, may I present Christopher Arronal of Larabee. He was a captain in your army during the war with Cardimal."

"Larabee…Larabee…" Orrin's eyes narrowed as he placed the name in his memory. "Ah yes, my Swan commander. I left you and that pallet-hopping lieutenant Bucklin in charge of setting up the first patrols of women warriors." The king's frown deepened as he took in the mustached guard at Chris' side. "Still together I see. And dressed in Standish colors? I'll ask you again, what is the meaning of this?"

"Ah, if you will allow me sir? I believe I can bring order to this chaos." Ezra stepped forward and bowed respectfully.


"Ah, yes. That is correct, your majesty." Ezra was momentarily thrown off by having the king use his first name but quickly recovered. "And you may recall my mother, the Lady ..."

"Maude. It's been a long time." Orrin nodded his head in greeting and did not seem surprised or offended when he got the same in response. "I've missed our dinners together."

Ezra's mouth dropped open in shock.

"After Alric's death I was too mad to even be in the same room with you." Maude Standish carefully arranged her skirts as she took a seat near the door. "Then I was too busy to waste the time."

"Maude, I did all I could."

"It wasn't enough. I did more."

"And what do you have to show for it? Four dead partners?"

Maude hissed and snapped open her fan. "I've discovered more than you know, Orrin and while you may sit on your royal ass and do nothing I am not going to stop searching until I find the man responsible for his murder."

Both Maude and Orrin turned at the sound of a choking gasp from Ezra.

"Ah, yes, well as fascinating as this is, I feel I must interrupt." Ezra had known that there were many nights when his father and mother had gone for dinner at the castle but he had always assumed they were attending large, formal gatherings. The way his mother was speaking to the king made him realize that his parents had been much closer to Orrin. Perhaps even… friends? Ezra pushed that thought aside for later consideration. At the moment there was something much more important that needed taking care of.

"Your majesty, your guards are currently pursuing the two entertainers from this afternoon's performance in the courtyard. I assure you they are not criminals and mean neither you or the ambassador harm."

"Let me guess, they’re friends of yours." Orrin's frown deepened as he glanced from Alric's heir to his former Swan Captain. "First, tell me why you are here, then we'll decide on whether or not I call off my guards."

"Fair enough." With a small flourish, Ezra produced the Scroll of Eventy and held it up where Orrin could plainly see it. Judging by the king's expression, he instantly recognized the magical item and the significance of it being in Standish's hands.

Gingerly accepting the scroll, he turned to his chamberlain. "Mika, find Captain Harris, tell him to stand down his soldiers. The two fugitives are to be left alone. If a guard spots them attempting to leave the castle they are not to be stopped. Once he has given the order, he is to report to me here."

"At once, your majesty."

Orrin tucked the scroll into his belt as he turned back to Ezra and with a wave of his hand indicated that he should continue with his explanation. But as Standish opened his mouth to comply, a sudden commotion outside the room drew everyone's attention to the doors. Once more the guards found themselves thrust aside, this time by the ambassador and his very determined aid. And even more shocking than Lytan's angry scowl was his heavily accented but very understandable command.

"You will stand down your soldiers immediately!"

While those gathered around the king stared at the ambassador in shock, Orrin simply smiled as he eased himself back into his chair.

"Well, Ambassador, I'm glad to hear that your language lessons have progressed so well. I should perhaps increase the Lady Terressa's salary."

Terressa quickly stepped forward and gave a low curtsey. "Your majesty, I swear I had no idea …"

"It's all right. You cannot be held accountable for the ambassador's hidden linguistic skills. Please return to your room. I don't think he will be needing your services at the moment."

Curtseying again, Teresa gratefully made her escape. Court intrigue was the one thing she had always hated about her job and she was just as glad to be left out of this newest confrontation.

Lytan waited until the doors closed behind the translator then confronted Orrin. "I know as many of your words as you know of mine. We have played each other well these last few seasons." The ambassador stalked forward to stand directly in front of the king who stood to meet his challenge. "There will be time for discussions later. Right now you must stop your guards before it is too late."

"Too late for what?" Orrin narrowed his eyes, deliberately misleading the ambassador in attempt to gain more information. "They have orders to capture the men that attacked your aid and bring them here. Alive if possible but dead if necessary."

"He did not attack me!" Kyle stepped forward, a look of near panic on his face. "The Human was protecting the Ferrilis Child! I am to blame! Please, your soldiers must not hurt him."

Orrin stared for a moment at the distraught aid and then gave his head a small shake of exasperation. Turning back to the Elvin ambassador, he told him the truth. "My chamberlain is passing on the order to stop the search even as we speak." Returning to his seat, Orrin gestured for Lytan to take the place nearest his own. "Now, who's story shall we hear first? Decisions…. decisions…."

Ezra quickly stepped back, indicating that he was more than happy to allow the Elves to have center stage. Knowing that the search for his partner had been called off, Chris was able to calm down enough to become curious himself about the Elves' obvious distress and what it had to do with Vin.

The ambassador of Morrand was still very agitated and spared only a brief glance for the odd assortment of Humans before beginning his explanation. "Our two races have existed separate but together for many hundreds of turns. We each have our own god and our own types of magic. Your god is Bysha, a female. Our god is Norel, a male. It is our belief that when the gods bless a union between our two people, a child is born that shares the magic of both Human and Elves."

"A Ferrilis Child?"

The ambassador nodded. "Yes. Such births are very rare and we believe the children to be a gift from the gods. In my lifetime I have met only five others of mixed parentage. All of them had very strong magical abilities." Lytan stood and began pacing the room. "To find one here and in such a way, I thought that you had arranged it as a test of some kind. When he asked for the answers to three questions as his prize for winning the contest, I felt certain of it."

Orrin slowly shook his head. "No, this was planned by my Commander. I had not set eyes on the lad until this afternoon." The king turned to Chris and his companions. "But now I think we should find out exactly how he did come to be here today."

Ezra cleared his throat and as if on cue, the doors to the chamber flew open and a very annoyed looking Commander Haris stormed in followed closely by four armed guards with two prisoners. Those already gathered in the room shifted position to accommodate the new arrivals.

Haris stood as tall as Buck but was at least an inch wider in the shoulders. He was also a few inches larger in the waist and didn’t look at all capable of holding his own in a sword fight. His round, red face was clean-shaven and beads of sweat lined his upper lip. Black, greasy hair lay flat on his head except for one stray lock that fell across his forehead. His dark eyes were focused entirely on the king as he led his party into the room. "Your Majesty! These two men aided the fugitives to escape. The one masquerading as a Healer had knives concealed under his cloak. The other man really is a stone wizard and used magic to attack my men."

"I attacked no one." Josiah's deep voice filled the room as he declared his innocence.

"And I really am a healer," Nathan chimed in right behind his friend.

"Silence!" Haris turned as if to strike the chained man but Chris stepped in front of him.

"Did you call off the search for the archer and his friend?"

"What?" The commander took a quick step back in surprise, his hand dropping to the hilt of his sword. "Who are you?" He took in Chris' livery and reclaimed his position with an angry growl. "What right do you have to question me?"

"Answer the question Haris." Orrin's voice held just a hint of annoyance as he spoke sharply to the soldier. "And have your men remove the chains from those two." The king arched an eyebrow at Ezra. "Assuming of course that they are with you?" Ezra simply nodded.

Haris' mouth hung open as he stared at the king in shock. Chris and Buck took it upon themselves to remove the shackles from their friends' wrists while they waited for the captain's answer.

"You…your majesty, those men are dangerous. They attacked the ambassador!"

Lytan stepped forward as if he were about to show the stammering man the true meaning of the word 'attacked' but Orrin blocked his way.

"I gave you an order Commander. As king, I expect my orders to be obeyed. Do you know what it's called when a soldier questions the orders of his king?"


"The word is treason. Do you know what the punishment is?"


"Wasn't it you that arranged for the archery exhibition? Didn't you bring those two men into my castle? Doesn't that make the attack on the ambassador your responsibility?"

Haris was dripping with sweat as he stammered out his defense. "The…they were found by Parel. At the fair. It was really his idea! He let them in!"

Orrin moved back to give the panicking man some room. "And where is Captain Parel now?"

"He's leading the uh…search…for the two that atta…ah that is…"

"Soooo, what are you going to do now Commander Haris?"

"I…I…I'm going to find Parel and tell him to stop looking for the archer?"

"Is that a question Commander Haris?"

"No sir! I'll find him at once your majesty!" Haris bowed as deeply as his gut would allow then practically bolted from the room with his soldiers close on his heels.

"Imbecile." Orrin huffed as he resumed his seat.

Chris was outraged. "Why the Pits did you make him the Commander of your soldiers?"

"A better question would be why did Sorel recommend him." Orrin growled as his fist struck the arm of his chair.

"You don't know? You didn't ask?"

"I never had the chance. He stood in front of my entire court, announced he was retiring and put forth Haris as his replacement. When I sought him out for a private meeting he had vanished."

Buck shook his head in puzzlement. "That didn't make you suspicious?"

It was Chris that answered instead of the king. "Of course it did. That's why he went along with it, so that he could keep an eye on Haris and find out what was going on."

Orrin nodded in agreement but Chris wasn't finished.

"You've been asking all the questions so far but maybe it's you that should be talking instead of us. You obviously know a lot more about all this than you've been letting on."

Orrin's studied his accuser in silence. He had forgotten just how blunt Chris could be; especially when he felt the lives of his men were being risked needlessly.

"Yes, perhaps you are right." Orrin looked over at the Elvin Ambassador and nodded his head. "Yes, I think it is time to share my concerns."

Settling back into his chair, the king closed his eyes briefly as he gathered his thoughts, unaware that he was displaying the great fatigue that weighted down not only his body but his spirit as well. He opened his eyes as he began speaking but his gaze seemed focus on scenes from the past.

"It began last turn, when my Swans reported seeing the traces of ogre activity in the mountains. Not ogres themselves you understand just abandoned campsites and random trails. Lord Rilshar knows this part as I sent word alerting him to the situation." The ambassador gave a small nod of his head acknowledging the truth of this statement.

"Information finally reached me that Wartolin and Cardimal were possibly working together. This was confirmed when an Elvin patrol was attacked by a small band of ogres just inside their border."

Chris interrupted, reaching into his pouch and pulling out a small metal disk. "Let me guess, they found these around the ogres necks?"

Taking the medallion, Orrin slowly turned it over in his hand. "Yes and it was bad news on top of ill. It became obvious that not only were they all working together, the ogres were also being used to search out the three objects of power that confine Wartolin's power. The Elves feel certain that they can protect the Band of Rial while I've managed to keep the Tarin Stone securely locked away here. The Scroll…" Orrin paused as his hand fell to the roll of parchment at his waist. "I was hopeful it would remain safely hidden in Four Winds along with my heir."

"Lucky for you, my son and his friends took it upon themselves to deliver it back to you." The Lady Standish brandished her fan as she admonished the king. "The ogres would have stopped at nothing to get that scroll and your family may well have paid the price."

"I was aware of the danger."

"Of course you were. I'm sure your spies kept you as well informed as mine."

Another startled gasp drew Maude's attention to her son who was staring at her in shock. "Well honestly Ezra, you don't think I was really going to let my only child wander all about the countryside without some idea of his health and well being?"

"Mother! I am scarcely a child! How long …?"

"Since the very first of course when you took that ridiculous job as an actor with that traveling band of misfits. Really Ezra, your taste in friends has improved dramatically."

Josiah caught the brief glance that Maude cast in his direction and felt a small spark of hope ignite within his heart. A smile pulled at his lips, which he tried his best to hide while admonishing himself that this was not the time for romantic fantasies. Especially not with Ezra's baleful glare practically burning holes in his flesh.

Chris paced slowly across the room as he began fitting the pieces together. "So, you knew that there was a chance that ogres would come for the Scroll, but you did nothing." Chris paused to glare at his king. "Because your spies told you that there was a group of men protecting the town? You would trust strangers over your own guards with the lives of your family? Or did your spies tell you that Buck and I fought during the war?"

Shaking his head, Orrin answered honestly. "You only went by the name of Chris and all my spies could tell me was that you were a mercenary, accepting payment to protect the town. But they also told me how many times you and your men put your lives in danger to protect the townspeople without hesitation. And yes, with the sudden loss of Commander Sorel, I was certain that Mary and her son were safer in Four Winds as long as you were there."

"But when we left," Buck frowned in confusion as he interrupted. "You knew that we were coming here with the Scroll, right? So you've been expecting us?"

"Not at first. One of my spies grew concerned when he saw you leave after meeting with Mary so I gave him permission to make his identity known and he gave her a crystal so that we could talk. She was certain you would deliver the Scroll and I believed her. However," Orrin glared at the men gathered before him. "I was expecting you to simply request a private audience, not infiltrate my castle in disguise."

"We might have had we not discovered that there is also a plot to assassinate you."

Orrin waved his hand in dismissal of the idea. "I still have enough loyal guards and staff around me to make that difficult."

"Difficult maybe, but not impossible." Chris pointed back to the door that he and the others had so easily forced their way through. "Had any one of us been armed and intent on killing you, I don't think those two would have lasted three breaths."

"Look at the floor."

Chris blinked, caught off guard by the quiet suggestion. Glancing down he noticed for the first time the bright, decorative tile at his feet. "What…?"

"The red stones are not glass, they're Fire Rubies. Your stone wizard there probably noticed them as soon as he walked in."

Josiah smiled and nodded his head. "Recently powered as well. Triggered with a single word?"

"Yes, and one I almost spoke when you two came charging in like enraged dragons." Orrin gave Chris and Buck a pointed stare. "Lucky for you I recognized those Standish uniforms. Really Maude, I'm surprised at you agreeing to be a part of this ridiculous scheme."

"Speaking of schemes," Nathan spoke up for the first time and waited until he had everyone's attention before finishing his thought, "What are we going to do about Vin and Jaydee? If they've gone into hiding somewhere in the castle, how are we going to let them know it's safe to come out?"

"Haris should have managed to call off the search by now. Perhaps if you split up and make your way about the grounds you can lure them out into the open." Orrin stood and pulled his tunic into order. "In the meantime, Ambassador Lytan and I have a city to tour. We can discuss this further when we return."

Chris frowned. "Are you sure that's wise?"

"I've been very careful to keep my suspicions to myself. To suddenly change plans now might drive all the rats back into the sewers when the traps are baited and waiting. I've selected the guards for this ride myself and I've a few extra men and women in plain attire scattered along the route. Unless Ambassador, you object to this arrangement?"

Lytan shook his head. "I agree, to alter your strategy now would be foolish but soon I must speak in private with the Ferrilis Child."

Buck noticed the confused looks on the faces of Josiah and Nathan and quickly explained. "He means Vin. Seems half-Elves are pretty rare and considered special."

"Special?" Josiah frowned as a sudden thought struck him. "I wonder… is it his mixed heritage that allows him to…?"

"Josiah." Chris stopped his friend's musings but it was too late. The ambassador and his aid were studying Josiah intently.

Lytan stepped closer to the stone wizard. "You have seen something. You must tell me what you know."

"Ambassador, could this not wait until after the tour?" Orrin stood waiting near the doors, clearly impatient to leave.

"I am sorry your majesty but no, this cannot wait. I must know if the one called Vin has begun using his Gift."


Ambassador Lytan glanced at each of the men gathered in the room before answering. "You have obviously spent sometime with the Child and appear to be loyal supporters of the king. What I am about to reveal must not be repeated outside this room. If enemies were to learn of your friend's abilities, he would become a most sought after prize in the struggle for power."

Orrin rejoined the others as they drew into a close circle about the ambassador. All eyes were riveted on the Elven lord as he began his explanation.

"As I said before, a child from the union of a Human and Elf is considered a blessing from the gods and as such, is given a Gift from each. It is my understanding that Humans who can work magic have a core of energy inside them that they can tap and place into objects using spells of binding. Some Elves have a power as well but it is not so isolated. It is…" Lytan struggled to find the right words to make his listeners understand. "A part of their very being."

"And what do they do with this power?" Orrin had long suspected that Humans were not the only ones to wield magic but the Elves were very good at keeping secrets.

Lytan smiled reassuringly at the king. "Some heal the injured while others can encourage the growth of plants. A few can bond with animals of the forest and share their thoughts and emotions. Our magic centers on the living and cannot be used to manipulate objects such as stone or metal or wood that no longer carries the sap of life."

Orrin frowned as he considered this information. "We have healers as well but I have been led to believe that they also have a core of energy which they tap."

"True and like your wizards, they place this energy into the bodies of those they heal, forcing torn flesh and broken bones to mend. Our healers join their spirit with the injured, giving them the power to live and heal themselves."

"And a Ferrilis child?"

Lytan glanced from Orrin to the stone wizard. "Tell me what you have seen."

Josiah looked to Chris for permission and received a quick nod. "I first noticed something when Vin used a light stone which I had created long ago. It should have died from lack of energy but when Vin held it up it shone as bright as when I had first spelled it."

"Yes, your spell fed off of his energy. That is the danger you see. A pure Elf cannot effect the power in a Human's magical item but one that is half Human can either add to the energy or drain it completely."

Chris understood immediately what Lytan meant by 'danger'. "He could increase a wizard's power or destroy it."

"Exactly. And if such a one as Wartolin were to discover this knowledge…."

"He would stop at nothing to gain control of every half-Elf he could find."

"I suppose that also explains how Nathan was able to heal Jaydee." Josiah continued to explain for the Ambassador's benefit. "When Jaydee was near death from a sword thrust to the heart, Nathan didn't have enough energy to heal him. Vin placed his hand on Nathan's arm and suddenly the power was there for him to use."

The Ambassador's eyes widened in surprise and his aid made an incredulous sound.

"He shared his power directly with the healer? You are sure about this?"

Nathan spoke for himself. "It was an incredible feeling. It was like being hit by a wave of energy. I could barely control it."

The two Elves were obviously deeply shocked by this revelation.

"I take it that has never happened before?"

Lytan shook his head. "Admittedly, I cannot think of a time when such a union might have occurred before now since our races do not closely interact and there are so few that have the Gift." The Elf's expression became one of concern as he stepped closer to Nathan.

"How was he, after the healing?"

"He fell into a deep sleep that we almost couldn't bring him out of. It resembled what happens when a Human uses up all of their magical or healing energy."

Josiah startled everyone by suddenly snapping his fingers. "That's it! That's why Vin couldn't seem to connect with his power. I had him looking for something separate that he could tap into but for Elves…."

"Our power is a part of our entire being." Lytan stared deeply into Nathan's dark eyes. "That was not just energy he gave you, that was his very spirit that you held in your hands."

"Bysha's Tears." Nathan barely felt the support of Buck's arm around his shoulder as his knees threatened to buckle from the shock. No wonder the wave of energy had felt so wild and alive! So pure… "Bysha!" Nathan swore again as he was helped to a chair. "I…I could have killed him."

Lytan took pity on the shocked healer. "But you did not and even if you had, the sacrifice was made by his own choice. Do not hold yourself to blame for something that was forced upon you."

Nathan was not the only one shaken by this newest revelation but Chris forced himself to focus on the needs of the moment. Orrin was about to ride on a tour of the city with possible assassins waiting to strike; somewhere on the castles grounds Jaydee and Vin were doing their best to avoid soldiers that supposedly were not longer hunting for them; the disappearance of Sorel and his fool of a replacement; the Orcs hunting the three magical objects that bound Wartolin's power and behind it all, lurking like a spectral shadow, the disposed Duke Cardimal waiting for the perfect moment to strike. It was enough to make any sane man run screaming for the hills. Chris wondered what that made him, since he was still standing in place and trying to come up with the next logical step. Unfortunately Ezra's next statement was almost enough to start him looking for the nearest exit.

"And of course there is Vin's dragon pendant. His gift would explain its remarkable qualities."

Chris' head snapped up and he stared at Ezra in shocked realization. No wonder the wooden carving had seemed almost alive; it wasn't just a magic spell. It was moved by Vin's spirit!

The Elven ambassador looked as if he was about to question Ezra's statement but Chris quickly interrupted. It was definitely time to end the discussion. Talk of the wooden carving would invariably lead to a disclosure of its true meaning which would then lead to who had given the gift to the 'Ferrilis Child' and that was information that Chris really didn't want the Elves to have just yet.

"Nathan, Buck, I want you two to ride with Orrin and the ambassador. Don't get in the way of Orrin's people but make sure you’re in a good spot to keep an eye on things." Chris snapped out his orders like the captain he once was and the men gathered around him were quick to respond. "Josiah, Ezra, we three will split up and move through the castle. Hopefully we can get Vin and Jaydee out of hiding. Lady Standish, I need you to return to your home and wait there in case they somehow manage to get out. If they show up, you have my permission to do what ever is necessary to make sure they stay put."

"I will accompany you on your search." Kyle stepped forward stared defiantly into Chris' eyes. "I must see for myself that no harm comes to the Ferrilis Child."

Chris frowned in annoyance at the Elf but Orrin spoke up before he could refuse.

"I agree but he had better team up with one of you otherwise I don't think your two friends will show themselves." Turning to the ambassador, Orrin gestured to the open door. "Shall we?"

Lytan nodded and spoke a few, stern sounding words in Elvish to his aid before leaving. Kyle blushed and ducked his head, obviously embarrassed at being publicly chastised even if no one else in the room had understood.

Buck and Nathan moved to follow the king and ambassador from the room. Buck paused long enough to give Chris a friendly slap on the shoulder and a little bit of advice. "Good luck finding the boys. I gave Jaydee a pretty good description of the castle's layout so you might want to check in some the places I used back in my 'pallet hopping' days."

"Thanks, that should narrow it down to only about forty or fifty spots."

Maude Standish followed the men out and Ezra was about to leave as well when Chris called him back.

"Take Kyle with you. No arguments." Following the example just set by his king, Chris stopped his friend's protests before they could start. "He's probably more familiar with the grounds than you are and with the way your dressed, he won't draw as much attention as he would with me or Josiah."

"Fine." Not wanting to waste anymore time, Ezra quickly agreed though his face clearly showed his displeasure with the arrangement. As far as he was concerned it was Kyle's fault that Vin's life had been put in danger by overzealous guards and whatever Lytan had said to his aid went double for him. Ezra stepped aside and motioned the Elf to preceed him. "But I feel that should either Vin or Jaydee see him, even my presence won't draw them out."

"We'll just have to take that chance. Josiah, you take the upper levels and check the rooflines. Ezra, you and Kyle concentrate on the area surrounding the castle; Vin might try to hide in the gardens." Chris led the last of his men through the door as he spoke. "I'll take the lower levels. I want to find Captain Parel and make sure he's called off the guards."

The coridor outside the King's private chamber:

"Mika! Take these two and find them something more suitable to wear; preferably something in the crown's colors. They will be joining us on the tour. Make sure Lieutenant Degan is made aware of the addition."

"At once your majesty."

The entrance to the royal gardens:

"I fear greatly for the safety of the Ferrilis Child."

"Yes well, if Vin hears you call him a child it won't be his life in danger."

In the shadows behind the royal smithy:

"Look! There's the stable. Buck said the loose board is the third one from the end. Kitchen maids used it to sneak in and meet with lovers."

"What makes you think we'll be safe there?"

"See the guards posted outside the doors? They wouldn't bother putting guards on the door unless they've already searched inside. And with guards outside, they won't bother searching again."

In the prison cells beneath the castle:

"Well? Speak up man! What news?"

"Captain Parel said to rest assured, he has laid a trap and will soon have the archer and his friend."

"Excellent. This day will see Orrin dead and two of the power seals will be mine."