A new beginning (complete)

Post time7-02-2021, 13:08

Chapter 1

A strange new world

I had turned eighteen a few months ago. I was tall for my age at six feet. I had blond hair and green eyes. I moved with what seemed an unnatural grace, (the result of almost twelve years studying the martial arts). I was considered a genius, at the age of twelve I had finished high school. I had started learning martial arts at six, mostly to protect myself from older boys.

My master was unusual in that he did not teach just one of the arts like karate but many in a blend that seemed to work well together. I also thought he differed from others because he often used a form of what he called Zen. Like, “Learn to see the leaves in the forest.”

When I had corrected him by saying, “you mean see the trees.”

He had smiled at me and told me, “anyone can see a tree.”

There were others “Smell the rose while standing in a pile of manure.”

“Hear the sound of a heartbeat in a crowd.”

Or, “Feel the face of an unborn child.”

I had thought they were just Zen sayings but knew better now. I had been given an amulet only that morning, it was a small bronze one with the symbols of yin and yang and it had a serpent around the edge, eating its own tail

The story begins

As I woke up I was a little disorientated. The last thing I remembered was the explosion. My parents and several of my friends, teachers and my martial arts master had been in the house talking. I remembered the car driving past me as I came back from the store.

As it had passed me, two boys had leaned out with guns pointed at my neighbor who had been in the front yard with a couple of his friends. When they had started shooting I remembered the ball of fire that had engulfed the house and reached out for me but everything else was blank.

I slowly sat up and looked around. I was sitting in the burned out remains of a house. I stood and made my way out of the rubble. The street in front was just as confusing, it was not my street but was full of people and it was cobbled and not paved. There were horses and wagons on the street and the people were dressed differently.

While I was trying to orientate myself there was a commotion moving up the street toward me. When I looked I saw six men knocking people out of the way for two riders that were following. I stepped to the side for them to pass but when one of the six got to where I was he tried to knock me to the side.

This was a mistake on his part, I stepped to the side grasped his arm as it came down and let the his momentum do the work. The result was the man ending up on his back in the gutter. It also cleared the street as the other five started for me. They were carrying what looked like clubs and two had spear type weapons that I thought I recognized as pikes from the middle ages.

When the next two reached me they did not even try to speak. The one on the left swung the pike back to strike me as the other held the club back. I stepped forward and with a front kick to the pike welder’s chest, kicking him back. He went flying back across the street, hitting a wall and sliding down the wall to land in a heap.

As soon as I kicked the first man the other man had moved forward to strike me. I turned and grabbed the hand on the club as it was coming down. I twisted the arm and bent the wrist causing the man to drop the club and then I kick him in the stomach. Releasing the hand I brought my right hand down in a hammer fist to the back of his head, knocking him out.

The first man was up and rushing me. I stepped to the side and tossed him into one of the other men coming at me. Stepping up to the two men still standing I grabbed the pike as it was thrust at me and side kicked the other man sending him down vomiting in the street.

I pulled the pike out of the surprised the man’s hands only to return the butt into his stomach making him double over before I pulled it back and brought it down on the back of his head. I stepped up to the two trying to untangle themselves and struck one on the temple and kicking the other in the head.

When I looked around all the people had moved back and the two men on horseback were looking at me. The one on the left turned to the other man, “It seems this peasant might need a lesson from his betters.”

I looked at him, he was dressed in fancy clothing compared to the people on the street with a sword that had a jewel-encrusted hilt. I shook my head, “You are not worth the trouble.”

Turning, I dropped the pike and walked up the street. I turned at the first intersection and ended up in a large square that was packed with people. There were stalls and people everywhere. I knew I had to find out where I was and what had happened to me. I felt someone approach me and reach into my pocket.

I grabbed the hand and looked into the face of a girl of about sixteen, (If it had not been for my senses I would have thought it was a younger boy.) A larger boy about ten feet away said in a loud voice, “What are you doing with my brother?”

As he said this the girl pulled a slim knife from her boot. I had turned but felt her pull the knife. As I looked at the older boy I turned the hand and twisted. Her arm straightened out with the hand bent backwards. She let out a yell and dropped the knife as the boy turned and ran into the crowd. I looked back at the girl, “Well girl, what do I do with you?”

There was a large man in what looked like a uniform heading through the crowd. The girl saw him and turned white, “You can have anything you want mister, only do not turn me in please.”

I nodded, “Do not run.”

I released her as the guard reached us. He looked at me, “Is there a problem?”

I looked back at him, “no.”

The guard looked at the girl but she only shook her head. Turning away with a grunt he waded back into the crowd. Looking around I saw a spot that was clear; it was by a tall wall. Placing my hand on her shoulder I walked her over to it, “First what is your name?”

She looked back at me and I could see her trying to think up something so I shook her. Startled she said, “Sam.”

“Well Sam, I need information. What is this place called? Tell me about it and take your time.”

She looked at me like I was crazy but when all I did was look back she started talking. The name of the city was Westford. It was named for the west most ford of the river ebb. It was also a major city on the trade route, which meant that the large trading companies ran it. Though there were nobles here they did not have a say in the running of the city unless they were part of one of the trading companies.

There were three races in the city, humans, elves and dwarves. Well, four if you counted the wizards. Right now the trading was very good. The Orcs and goblins had started another one of their wars to the east and most of the trade goods came through here.

I had a photographic memory, which was probable why I had graduated collage at the age of sixteen. The names she was telling me seemed to be out of some book, Tolken or one of the others. I was seriously thinking I may have been hit on the head harder then I thought. It was several minutes before I stopped her.

Apparently there was no one I could appeal too. That left how to make money so I could eat. My major had been in medicine, with several minors, one in chemistry, another in engineering and an associates degree in metallurgy. My skill in the martial arts was probable my only quick way to earn a living, perhaps as a mercenary. I looked at Sam, “You can leave.”

She was been remembering my comment when I had caught her, “Well girl, what do I do with you?”

There would be no doubt that it would have been overheard. Those in the guild only sent girls to the cribs (Houses of prostitution) and there was no way she was going there. Sam looked around and then back at me, “What are you going to do?”

I thought about it and kept coming back to the fact that I had no money. When I looked at Sam it came to me, with my skills I would be a very good thief. I smiled, “Become a thief.”

She looked at me in disbelief. I looked around at the common marketplace and then back at Sam, “Where do the wealthy shop?”

She gestured and we set off. When we entered the other marketplace it was like night and day. There were four times the guards and it was not even half as crowded. I had Sam wait by the street leading into the square and calmly walked across. When I got to the other side I stopped at a food vendors stall and bought several rolls.

They were filled with sausage, cheese and cabbage. When I got back I smiled, “Where is a good place to stay?”

She thought about it, “It depends on how much you want to spend.”

I moved into a covered alley and handed her two of the rolls and started bringing out the small purses, twelve in all. Sam was shocked, she had not even seen them. I had her tell me the value of the coins. Copper was the cheapest then Bronze, Silver came next and Gold was last.

Remembering my encounter earlier I described the young noble to Sam. She nodded at my description, “Henry Shaffer. His father is part of a trade consortium.”

I nodded. “Do you know of somewhere close to where he lives that we could stay?”

Sam led the way and we ate the rolls as we walked. I could see the differences in the houses as we walked, there were walls around the houses now and a few guards walking the streets. When Sam stopped, it was in front of a large three-story house. The wall around it was twelve feet tall.

As we walked along the side of the estate I saw that the street along the side was only about fourteen feet wide. Along the side of the house and about half way down was a large tree inside the wall with limbs that reached toward the house. When Sam turned to the right she gestured, “That was the Shaffer house.”

Four houses down was an inn, it had a sign of a lion laying on it side, (The Fallen Lion.) A room and bath for the two of us cost two silvers, which I thought was expensive until Sam reminded me that you pay for where you sleep. Once we had seen the room, (it even had a lock.) I gestured at my clothes, “I needed clothing.”

Sam shrugged and led me back to the street. While we were walking I looked at her, “Nothing too fancy, they only needed to be clean, comfortable and serviceable.”

She nodded and a little later we came to a small shop. It was on a small side street but looked like it saw regular business. I bought three changes of clothing and bought Sam a couple of sets as well. I even bought a pair of good used boots that had been resoled.

We made another stop at a shop that looked to me like it sold miscellaneous items. Sam showed me the eating utensils that I would need. I also bought a rope and large hooks that I would need for later. On our return to the inn I looked at Sam, “Are all the houses around this area of the city occupied?”

Sam looked at me and then led me to a large house on the next street over from the inn. Its walls were maybe seven feet tall. She looked at the walls, “The owners are only here in the winter.”

I looked around and when I saw no one watching I jumped, grabbed the wall and swung over. Once on the other side of the wall I looked around and then crossed to the gate and unbarred it and wedged the bar so it would not lock. Back on the street I closed the gate and then we returned to the inn. I led Sam to the room and sniffed at her rank smell, “We need baths.”

At first Sam was nervous about the bath until I sank down onto the floor with my legs crossed and asked if she would mind taking her bath first. The bath was a luxury for Sam but she did not want to get back into her dirty clothing so she picked up one of the newer sets I had purchased. I looked up at her and told her she might want to wear the darker set.

When she came back into the room I was still sitting on the floor with my legs crossed. After a minute she told me it was my turn for a bath. Saying this seemed to rouse me and I stood up as if I had just sat down. When I came back from the bath I felt refreshed. I looked at Sam, “why are you staying with me?”

She shrugged, “It will be safer.”

When I looked at her she sighed, “Now that they know I am a girl they will try to put me in a Crib.”

I let this sink in, I knew from my history that there were cultures that believed that was all a female was good for. I smiled at Sam, “Tonight we are going to break into the Shaffer house. I will go over the roofs and you will stay in the shadow along the street. I will send anything I find out to you.”

We went down to eat and there was a change in the innkeeper when he saw us wearing better clothing. While we ate I glanced at Sam, “Do you know of a place we could rent? Or better yet, a place that is in disrepair that we could fix up?”

After a few minutes she nodded, “I know of a place. It will need a lot of work though. It burned down two weeks ago.”

After we had eaten we took a walk. The house was above the river on a small estate. There was a short granite cliff before the river reached the ford. It was twenty feet above a small sandy beach. It had been a moderately large house with a stone stable that had not burned. There was also a fairly large blacksmith shop to the side that was not to badly damaged.

The road in front curved so that it ran next to the drop into the river. On the other side of the estate was another granite cliff that reached up sixty feet to a long burned out stone keep. As I looked through the rubble I found a small stream that came out of the rock and poured into what looked like a small pool.

We saw steam rising off the water and when Sam saw that she grinned, “It must have cost a small fortune.”

I looked at the small pool of warm water, “why?”

She smiled, “A mage has to open a fissure for the water. The stones in the column in the center of the small pool have fire elementals trapped in them.”

I was skeptical until I felt the water. The spring water had been cold but this was a warm pool. I could smell no sulfur in the water either. Sam looked around, “You can probably buy it for maybe five hundred gold pieces.”

Back at the inn Sam laid down in the bed with me but seemed to be watching me to see if I was going to try something. I woke at midnight, at first I did not move. I was still in the bed at the inn, so much for a bad dream.

Moving off the bed I woke Sam and collected the things I would need. Taking the rope I opened the window and looked around and then lowered Sam to the ground. Once she was on the ground she untied the rope and faded into the shadows. I pulled it up and coiled it around my waist. I reached out and got a hold on an overhead beam at the edge of the roof. Once I was out I closed the window and then pulled myself up onto the roof.

I slowly made my way up to the crown of the roof. When I reached the edge of the roof there was a gap of about twelve feet to the next house. With three running steps I made a leap. I landed without a sound on the next roof. I knew Sam had been watching and was moving on. I repeated this until I came to the street where Shaffer lived. I bent over the edge of the roof and screwed the eye hook I had bought into the beam. I tied the rope to it and dropped it.

Standing, I looked down on the wall. Here and there was broken glass but the area I wanted was clear. This time when I made my leap I landed on the top of the wall. Sam appeared out of the shadows and grabbed the rope and crossed to the wall. She tossed it up to me in one throw and then disappeared back into shadows.

Leaving slack in the rope I made a small jump onto a large tree limb and then worked my way up to the edge of the house. I was at the level of the second floor, looking up I saw the vent going into the attic. Using the gaps in the stones I easily climbed up to the vent and after a minute I worked the vent open. Once it was open I climbed in and attached the second hook into the center beam of the attic.

After tying the rope to the hook I started looking around. I found several large piles of black velvet curtains and could think of another use for the material. I made a bundle and tied the knot on the rope. I looked out and after a minute heard Sam whisper, “Clear.”

She had been doubtful when I had explained this earlier but had agreed to try my way first. I released the curtains and they started sliding along the rope dropping as they went. I helped this even more after they cleared the wall by putting more slack in the rope. When they were almost touching the street Sam appeared to catch them. At first she just looked back up at me but when I waved her off she untied the bundle then disappeared.

Without waiting I tightened the rope and than moved to the access door leading down into the house. I listened and when I was sure it was clear, opened the door. The hallway was dark but I could faintly hear the sounds of sleeping people in the rooms on both sides of the hall. The rooms here were the servants rooms, what I wanted was on the next floor down.

When I found the hidden stairway for the servants, I went down. There were only a few rooms here and no guards. After three empty rooms I slowly opened the door into the forth room and found the young man from my encounter the day before. He was sleeping in a large bed and I moved to the side of the bed.

I picked up his sword with the gems in the pummel. I put the belt over my shoulder and moved to the table to the side of the room. The young man’s purse was there and it seemed to be very fat indeed. After putting it in my pocket I started to turn away. When I did I saw a small chest in what looked like an armoire.

I opened it and saw another small chest. The first chest I opened held jewelry. I opened the next and found it was half full of coins of all types, mostly gold and silver. Placing one on top of the other I left and made my way back up to the attic and wrapped it all in another curtain. When I looked out Sam whispered right away.

Tying the curtain to the rope I let it go. When Sam caught it this time she had to struggle a little to untie the knot. After she had left I went back downstairs to the last room. This room was larger and there was an older man in the bed with what looked like a young boy and I moved a little slower, (The man was restless.)

I took the purse that was on the table and quietly opened the wardrobe to find two more small chests. I picked them up, one was very heavy. Back upstairs I tied them up in another curtain and I waited until Sam returned. She had a hard time but managed to pick up the bundle and move off with it.

I moved down to the main floor. I decided that there were too many people still moving around on this floor and turned to leave. When I did I saw a set of servant stairs leading down into a basement. Moving quietly I reached the bottom and listened at the door. When it was clear I tried the door only to find it barred from the inside.

Using my senses I felt the door and found the bar, slowly I hardened my sense of touch and lifted the bar and opened the door. This hall was wider and it held mostly storerooms but by the main stairs I found a door heavily barred and locked with a type of paddle lock.

Again I used my abilities to unlock the locks and quietly opened the door. Inside the room was like something out of a pirate movie with two large chests and piles of treasure. Opening the chests I found the first one half full of gold coins. The second only held a small amount of jewelry. There was a small chest next to the larger ones almost hidden. In it were gold bars, probable seventy pounds worth.

Looking around I found several empty canvas bags about the size of medium sized backpacks. When I was finished I had six bags. I took four and went back to the attic. I could only move slowly because of the weight. In the attic I put two over the rope and stepped up so that Sam could see me.

Sam whispered right away and I let the bags slide down the rope. Sam had to struggle this time. When the bags were off the rope I put the next two on and let them go. All the packs were heavy and she would have to make several trips.

I watched as she moved the packs one at a time into hiding and then taking one, she started off down the street. I turned and made my way back to what I called the treasure room. Inside I looked at the pile of treasure and knew I could not take the whole pile but maybe the Gems in them? I saw what looked like a rack of weapons, which was strange for a treasure room.

When I reached it, none of the weapons were gem encrusted but when I checked they seemed to be made of a silver metal that I could feel was stronger then steel. I took three of the swords and several of the knives. When I turned to head back my foot hit the end of a bundle of something. It was a sword, long knife and a very slim dagger (almost a stiletto.)

The leather they were wrapped in was cracked and peeling but when I pulled the sword out it was a gold metal and like nothing I had ever felt before. It was like a katana but not. Putting the blade back in the sheath I put the bundle in my belt like a samurai sword.

Back at the pile I used the slim dagger to pry the gems out and put them into a bag. It took a half hour before I was done. I grabbed my own treasure of bags, swords and knives and then picked up the small chest of gold. I closed and locking the door behind myself. Back in the attic I put the bags over the rope and stepped to the vent. This time it was a minute before Sam whispered and I let the bags slide down the rope.

The next was the small chest wrapped in another curtain. Tying the weapons together with a strip of cloth cut from the curtains I slid them down the rope. Untying the rope I let it fall. When Sam saw the rope go slack like that she looked up and I gestured for her to pull the rope.

When the rope was back over the wall I removed the hook and moved back out onto the wall of the house. After closing the vent I made my way back down to the tree. I was getting ready the jump back onto the wall when I heard Sam whisper, “Wait.”

Listening I heard someone walking down the street, after several minutes I heard them turn the corner and Sam whisper, “It is clear.”

Jumping to the wall I looked around and then jumped to the street. I crossed to where the rope was hanging down in the shadow of the house and climbed up. At the top I climbed onto the roof and then I undid the rope after removing the eye hook. I made a loop in the rope and put my foot in the loop. Making sure the rope was over the beam I swung out and lowered myself to the street. Once there I pulled the rope off the beam and coiled it.

I grabbed the small chest and the bundle of weapons and started off after Sam. When I reached the house we were hiding everything at I opened the gate. Closing it after I was in I crossed to where Sam was waiting. I could see that she was very tired. After hiding everything but two bags of gold and keeping the set of swords in my belt I led her out the gate.

Closing the gate we quietly made our way back to the inn. I found our window and leaving the bags with Sam climbed the wall. Back in the room I lowered the rope and raised the bags and then Sam. I closed the window and then stripped my shirt off to help cool down. When Sam saw me take the shirt off she muttered something to herself.

I looked at her, “Take your shirt off.”

At first she looked at me as if I was crazy but when I did not do anything but look back at her she slowly took it off. She was standing there without a shirt when I gestured to the bed, “Relax and lie on your stomach.”

After she had lain down I moved to her side and slowly started massaging her arms and shoulders. It was only a couple of minutes before she was fast asleep. I lay down beside her and pulled a cover over us and drifted off myself. We were awakened a couple of hours later when a servant started banging on the doors.

After our breakfast I led Sam out. My first goal was the burned out estate. The runner returned to the house an hour after we had sent him with a portly man following behind. It took a half hour of haggling to finely settle on a price but when we did I paid him right then. Next on my list of things to do was to buy a horse and wagon. With the amount of debris we would need something to move the heavy stuff with.

At the stockyards I bought a horse that was only two years old and trained to pull a cart or wagon. The wagon I bought surprised me, it actually had two types of springs, a type of leaf spring and coil springs. I also bought six large bundles of hay that were tied with twine and arraigned for a couple of dozen to be delivered to the house.

We took a different way out of the stockyards so that we could pick up our loot. There was an area just outside the stockyard that drew my attention though. The buildings had high walls but open fronts with nice courtyards. I nodded to one of the buildings, “what do they do here?”

Sam looked at the one we were passing, “they are bond houses.”

When I looked at her with questioning eyes she sighed, “We have a bond system. Usually a child can be sold into bond service but a wage had to be paid to the servant upon the end of its bond. At the age of eighteen the bond becomes void unless both the bondservant and the bond owner petitioned a magistrate. In addition someone can be put into bond by a Liege or a court for payment of a dept or a lesser crime.”

I slowed at the last house, there were what looked like merchants going into and coming out of the building. I gestured, “What is happening here?”

Before Sam could say anything a passing merchant looked up at me, “They have a Mair.”

I looked at Sam to explain and she sighed, “A Mair is a creature that was created by a mage.”

I looked at her as if she where making it up so she gestured, “stop.”

Tying the wagon to a post we went inside. We were directed through an arch into the back. There were several large enclosures with people in them, mostly separated by sex or age. A portly man appeared at our side almost immediately asking what service he could provide. I looked at him, “We have been informed that there is a Mair here?”

The man sighed and muttered, “lookers, always lookers.”

I smiled, “I am also looking for workers and possibly a housekeeper.”

He brightened at this but I reminded him, “I would like to see the Mair.”

He nodded, “I will be right back.”

While he was gone we started looking around. I had not really been planning to buy a bond servant but the more I looked the more I was reminded of the history of slavery in the US. I stopped at the bars of an enclosure that only had one man in it. I looked at him, “why are you here?”

At first it did not look like he was going to answer. He finally looked at me, “I was a blacksmith and was unable to pay the fees for my shop. The merchant that owned the shop tried to take my daughter in payment and I fought for her. I was beaten and my shop taken, my wife (He pointed to a woman that was in another enclosure across from him) and my eight year old daughter were put in bond as well.” (His gesture took in a young girl in the enclosure next to her mother.)

The Bond Master returned with what I thought was a very beautiful girl. She was maybe sixteen with long blond hair and blue eyes. Her eyes were strange, the pupils were slits like a cat’s and her fingernails were retractable. She was probably 5’6” and she wore very little. She seemed to be completely covered with short soft hair like a cat.

The Bond Master gestured to her, “She was trained for pleasure but the mage died before completing the training.”

When I touched her I could feel something that was different in her but she was as human as I was. I looked at the Bond Master, “What will happen to her?”

He smiled oily, “Eventually someone will pay my price or she will be sent to one of the high-class crib houses.”

I did not like the sound of that and when I looked at Sam I could see she did not like that either. I sighed, “How much?”

The Bond Master looked at me and then shook his head. “You would not have enough.”

I only repeated, “How much?”

He told me and I started to bargain. First I brought up her age then the uncompleted training. We finally agreed on a price.”

I reminded him, “I was looking for workers too.”

The Bond Master was surprised, “I thought that had been a ploy to see the Mair.”

I looked around as if searching and then pointed out the man I had been speaking to earlier. “What about him?”

The merchant looked a little skeptical. I looked at him, “Does he have any skills?”

The Bond Master nodded, “He was a blacksmith.”

I gestured around, “I also needed a housekeeper and maybe someone to help with the chores.”

At first he pointed out an older woman that looked to be sixty. I shook my head, “no, she is too old.”

I pointed to the blacksmiths wife, “What about her?”

The Bond Master looked at me and then agreed. The Bond Master actually pointed out the blacksmith’s child and my only comment was, “looks scrawny but fine.”

After another round of bargaining, a price was agreed on. I went to the wagon where what was left of the two bags of gold coins were. (This would almost use it all.) When I returned and counted out the gold the merchant looked at me, “There was a robbery last night.”

I looked up at the merchant, “I only arrived in town yesterday afternoon. How did it happen?”

The Bond Master relaxed, “The thieves will be caught. The thieves guild has been paid to return what was stolen and give the thief up.”

After counting out all the money he looked at the Mair, “Go with him.”

I was told that it might be best if the others were kept in chains until I could be sure of them. I put the blacksmith’s wife and daughter on the seat of the wagon and let him walk beside them. Taking the lead for the horse I started down the street with Sam on the other side of the horse and the Mair beside me.

At the corner I stopped and walked back to the blacksmith. Reaching out I broke the chains holding him with an ease that surprised him. I gestured for the girl and after looking at her mother she moved over to me. Again I broke the chains and let them fall. I repeated this for the chains on the blacksmith’s wife.

I turned to him as he looked at me, “Do you have somewhere to go?”

He shook his head and I nodded, “I own a house that needs a lot of work. There was a smithy there. If you want you can stay with us.”

The blacksmith looked at me and then after looking at his wife, “But you own our bond.”

I looked back at him, “The bond is yours.”

He looked at me and then slowly held out his hand, “I will accept your offer. I am John and this is my wife Ann and our daughter Marie.”

I turned to the Mair, I did not really know what to do with her. Sam saved me, “What is your name?”

She smiled, “Cat and I am not leaving. You bought me and I will stay yours.”

Sam and I looked at one another and my shoulders slumped a little. She laughed, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

We stopped to retrieve our loot which barely fit in the wagon and was covered by the curtains and hay. Sam glanced at me, “The next stop should be for work clothes.”

The shop she took me to was different then the one we had gone to before. It had clothes but also pots and pans and blankets. John watched the wagon while I was in the shop. It was not long before I wished I were watching the wagon and John was in the shop. Finally I gave my purse to Sam and went outside.

I nodded to John, “go in and pick out some clothes.”

When they came out, it was a changed group. We started off again and reached the estate a half hour later. We unloaded the wagon and put the horse in the enclosure. The first thing I wanted to do was to get the bathroom cleaned and then the bathing pool. We would be getting dirty on a regular basis and it would be nice if we could clean up.

I was reassured to learn that there was a system in place for sanitation. Sam had explained that the merchants enforced this law very particularly, (they did not want an epidemic started because of some contamination.) When we finished I helped John shore up the roof in the smithy so they could sleep there. I gave Ann and little Marie several silver pieces to get something for dinner and maybe for breakfast.

With Sam and Cat’s help I started pulling out the large beams that I thought I might be able to salvage. While I was doing this I found a secret room. It took several minutes to realize what I had found and several more to find the entrance. When I finally opened it I found a set of stairs leading down.

At the bottom of the stairs was a large room. The water that drained from the bathing pool dropped down in a waterfall, only to land in the shallows of another heated pool with no outlet. There was a large fireplace in the wall beside the stairs. The room had stores, mostly potables. Roots that looked like a sweet potato, flour that type of thing.

There was also bolts of cloth. That was as far as I got before Sam and Cat started calling me. At the entrance I called them over to show them what I had found. Back in the room we looked around. Sam looked at me, “this was not something that is normal.”

I was checking the wall that was closest to the river when I found the second concealed door. When I opened it I found myself on the small sandy beach next to the river. Closing it quietly I was thinking that this had been a smuggler’s hideout. I looked at Sam and Cat, “This will make a nice room to sleeping in. Unless you want to sleep in the stables instead?”

They looked at each other and grinned. We brought four of the bundles of hay down into the room. It was not easy but we managed. Next was the curtains with our treasure. We had just finished this when we heard a commotion by the gate. It was the rest of the hay being delivered. We put most of it in the stable and I helped John put some in the smithy so they would have something to sleep on.

While I was doing this Sam and Cat dragged a couple more bundles of hay down the stairs. Ann and Marie returned and it looked like they had bought out the store. Sam looked at me, “how much did you give them?”

I replied, “Obviously more than they needed.”

She only shook her head. Cat gave a sudden laugh, which surprised us both because we had been getting used to her reserved way. When we looked at her, she only pointed at me, making Sam laugh. I showed them how to open and close the door into the smuggler’s room. I spent the rest of the day surveying the ruins.

I found Sam, “could you find me some paper and something to write with?”

Half an hour later she returned and handed me what looked like a blank book and a small bottle of ink with a metal pen. I sat and started sketching, when John showed up at my side to look at what I was drawing he looked at me, “that it will not work.”

I looked up at him, “why?”

John shook his head, “you can not build it that way.”

I looked at him and smiled, “John, you watch and I will teach you how to build something that will last.”

Turning I saw Sam and Cat sitting together. I gestured and called Sam. When she reached me I asked if she could put the word out to all the street kids. She smiled, “about what?”

I smiled, “To offer a bounty for building stones of a certain size to use on the building.”

She nodded and led Cat and Marie to the gate that was still standing open. Once in the street she stopped and looked around until she saw a boy about nine playing in the gutter down the street. She called him and he looked at her for a minute and then swaggered over. When he reached them she smiled, “think you could spread the word about something?”

He looked at her speculatively, “how much?”

She smiled and after haggling for a minute agreed to pay him a copper. He grinned, “Who pays for the stones?”

Sam looked at Cat and Marie, “either me, Cat or Marie.”

She gave him a copper to spread the news. That afternoon I relaxed in the open space by the stables and started my stretching exercises. Sam, Cat and even Marie were watching me and finally they prodded Sam to ask what I was doing. I smiled at the three girls, “I was stretching before doing my katas.”

They looked at each other and Sam looked at me again, “What is a kata?”

I relaxed. “A kata is like steps in a dance, like patterns of movements. The dance is a form of self-defense.”

They looked at each other and then rather hesitantly Sam asked, “Would you teach us?”

I looked at them and thought about the way things ran here. I motioned them to stand and started showing them how to stretch. When I was satisfied that they had stretched enough. I started on the basic forms. It was an hour before I stopped them and did a few slow stretches to relax them.

When they finished I looked at all three of them, “Do not to try to use what you have learned. It will only get you into trouble until you learn more.”

John had been dragging out the occasional pieces of lumber but had been watching. When we were finished he approached me, “Why are you teaching Marie?”

I looked into his face, “Don’t you want her to be able to protect herself?”

John nodded and then rather uncertainly, “Can you teach me?”

I looked at him and then remembered the way he looked at the Bond House. I sighed, “Be here tomorrow afternoon when I start.”

The dinner was what I would call a stir-fry, with a lot of greens and what I at first thought was chicken, (I was told later that it was pigeon.) When we turned in for the night I found that Sam and Cat had put all the bundles of hay together. They had covered them with several of the black curtains and put the blankets on top of that.

I got in and when I looked over at Cat she was removing all her clothing. I blushed, “You do not have to get undressed.”

She smiled, “It will be easier when we make love.”

I was not sure what to say, “You do not have to do that.”

Cat moved onto the bed, “It is not a matter of having to but of wanting to.”

When I looked at Sam she was also undressing and climbing into the bed. I cleared my throat, “what are you doing?”

Sam grinned, “how else am I going to learn.”

I muttered back, “I guess that makes two of us.”

It was several hours later that I slipped out of bed. I was tired and wanted to rest but I had plans that did not include sleeping for a while yet. The girls only rolled into each other as I quietly dressed in the dark clothing. I took the slim dagger and the long knife. I had rewrapped the hilts in a piece of black stained leather that I had found here in the basement. When I left I closed the hidden door and scaled the wall.

I made my way through the city almost like a moving shadow. When I stopped it was at the street of the Bond Houses. I stayed in the shadows and listened, when I was sure it was clear I moved. Crossing the street and I climbed up the wall then along the wall to the house itself. Once there I went up the wall of the house. This time I entered through a small window on the second floor.

It only took a few minutes to locate the strong room. I had come prepared, I had made several bags from the cloth found in the basement and now put them to good use. When I was finished I left the way I had come, closing the window behind me. I repeated this for each of the houses, hiding the full bags along the street.

When I was done I again crossed the city as quietly as I had come. Back in the estate I entered the basement undressed and climbed into bed. It was only a moment before I was asleep. Sam woke me before dawn by touching my shoulder, “where did you go?”

I stretched and caressed her face, “I paid a visit to the Bond Houses.”

She was upset, “It is not smart to steal from the Bond Houses, they are protected.”

I saw that Cat was awake and watching me and sighed, “It may not have been smart but they will be hurting for money now.”

We got up, dressed and ate a breakfast of bread and cheese. I told John that I had to go out and if he could to keep clearing the debris out. I took the golden sword in a harness over my shoulder along with the long knife and the small dagger. I harnessed the horse and when I started to leave both Sam and Cat climbed into the wagon.

My stops by the Bond Houses were brief, only long enough to make sure no one watched and to put the bags in. My next stop was for several bags of grain, the grain was put on top of the bags already in the wagon. I finally asked Sam, “Where can I find where the mercenaries gather?”

She smiled, “The practice field.”

When we arrived I saw it was a large open area. It had several rings in the ground, each ring was a practice ring where a fight took place. I watched for almost half an hour before making up my mind. I crossed to where a ring that had what I thought was a tall man. When I got closer I saw that it was not a man.

He had pointed ears and his eyes were on a slant and his sense of feel was different. I thought he looked young but there was a feeling of age about him. Sam whispered, “His name was Samil. He is an elf and the best fighter in the city.”

I grinned, “Wait here.”

I approached the practice ring, when I did I was ignored. After several minutes Samil gestured for a young man to attend to me. The youth attacked with a practice sword, I merely sidestepped, grasp a hand and struck. The young man dropped to the ground as if hit with a club.

I returned to my standing position, waiting. It was several more minutes before Samil again gestured for someone to attend to me. This time it was a competent looking man that stepped forward. He started making a small circle around me and when I did not turn to follow he attacked from the back.

I stepped back and with a back kick to his stomach, folded him neatly to the ground. I noticed that a crowd had started to gather. Again it was several minutes before Samil turned to face me. This time he gestured to two men standing by with staffs. They moved apart and attacked right away.

I grabbed one man’s staff and spun around it in a back kick sent the man flying. The second man struck but he missed when I spun away. When he moved in to attack again he was met suddenly by his partner’s staff. With three quick strikes his staff was falling and before he could move I struck him in the head, knocking him unconscious.

A minute after they started they were lying on the ground, one unconscious, the other with a dazed look on his face. This time there was a murmur from the crowd. Samil had watched and when I returned to my standing position he stepped forward. He looked at me calmly, “you have some skill.”

I nodded, “I was informed that you are the best. I needed someone to practice with.”

Samil look at me and then glanced at the sword on my back, “With the sword?”

I nodded again and Samil gestured to a rack that stood nearby. We stepped over to it to pick practice swords. After picking the swords we walked to the center of the nearest ring and everyone stopped what they were doing to watch. Once at the center of the ring I bowed and opened myself to my senses. Samil returned the bow with a polite nod.

One moment we were standing there and the next we were only a blur. For thirty minutes we danced, the end came as suddenly as the beginning. Samil lunged at what he thought was an opening only to have me grab his sword hand. With a pull and twist I turned my back to him with his arm over my own shoulder.

My sword hand had reversed the sword along the arm and brought it back along the arm in a strike that would end at the junction of Samil’s head and neck. It stopped with the tip almost touching. After a pause I stepped away, releasing him. When he was a couple of steps away I turned and again I bowed.

This time Samil looked at me and then bowed low with his arms crossed. There was a murmur from the crowd which Samil and I ignored. As we walked back to put the practice weapons away Samil asked if I would be there the next day. I nodded, “I planned to be here but with a different weapon.”

Samil smiled, “I will enjoy the experience. It as been a long time since anyone had beaten me with a weapon.”

With that we parted, I had Sam take us to where I would be able to buy a bow and possibly some light armor. When we reached the shops I found a good bow but the armor was too light or too heavy to wear. On the way home I thought of the metal my sword was made from, (Sam had told me it was made by magic and the metal was called admantium.)

I thought that if I combined the metal with the silvery metal, (Which I now knew was mythril. I believed that it was related to Titanium.) If I then combined them with a few others it would be stronger and lighter. I knew I could reproduce the admantium but the mythril was a natural ore and would have to be bought at a high price.

When we got home we unloaded the wagon, hiding the money with the rest. We spent the rest of the afternoon helping to clear the debris. It was late afternoon when four men entered the gate. Three were large men and the fourth had a shifty look to him. As I went to greet them Cat handed me my sword which I swung over my shoulder.

When I started to greet them the shifty one broke in, “We are here to get the girl that is our property.”

I looked at them, “what girl?”

The shifty one belligerently pointed to Sam. I thought quickly, “If she is in fact your bondservant then the bargain I made with her is void.”

I looked towards the gate, “I think we need to call the guard.”

The man looked startled, “why?”

I looked at him, “I caught her stealing from me. If she is your bondservant than she is your responsibility and you are responsible for her actions.”

(I knew this would mean a public punishment for him). The man looked at me and then turned, “get the girl.”

He looked at me, “The guard is out. Just stay out of our way.”

The three men started to pass me, as they did one turned to strike me. I kicked him in the side of the knee and then spun around with a spinning back fist. As he went flying back I stepped towards the other two. The first I took out with a front kick to the groin and a hammer fist to the back of his head. A side kick under the third man’s chin lift him up and dropped him back to the ground unconscious.

I had just put the last one down when I felt the shifty one pull a knife and throw it. As Sam yelled a warning I leaned to the side and turned. I caught the knife as it reached me and just as quickly threw it back. With solid thud it struck him in the stomach. I relaxed and looked around, the three men were lying on the ground and the other had slumped down.

I thought about what I was going to do for a second and then walked to the gate and looked up and down the street. There were a couple of the city guards talking not to far down the street. I stepped out where they could see me, “Guard!”

When they walked up I escorted them in the gate. I nodded to the men on the ground, “I am the new owner and new to the city. I caught a girl stealing but I had made a deal with her. She was to stay bonded to me and learn a craft for five years.”

(Sam had told me that this was a common term for a bond.) I looked at the guards, “The man with the knife wound (they were trying hard to ignore him) showed up claiming she was bonded to him.”

I looked at the man, “the other men had attacked me and I (I pointed at the wounded man) threw a knife back at him.”

The larger of the two guards started to say something but the other one stopped him with a hand on his arm, “You were at the practice yards this morning?”

I admitted I had and the smaller guard turned to the other one, “He is the one I told you about, he is the one that beat Samil.”

The tall one looked back at me, “You fought Samil and won?”

I shrugged, “yes, I fought Samil.”

The three men I had fought were standing now but they were wary with the guards there. The other man had passed out. Sam came closer and the short guard turned to her with no warning, “you were caught stealing?”

Sam admitted it cautiously and then he looked a her closely, “Were you bonded to the wounded man.”

Sam looked at the man still on the ground, “No, I was in the guild…”

Before anything else was said the large guard turned on her quickly, “The Thieves Guild?”

Before she could answer the smaller guard again placed his hand on the other, “You know girls are not allowed in the Thieves Guild.”

The smaller Guard faced her, “You are willing to be bonded and forgo guard justice?”

Sam nodded and the shorter guard looked at the other, “Then these were trying to steal a bondservant and are guilty of theft.”

With those words the three standing started to panic. I stepped in, “They were obeying directions from the other.”

The larger guard turned to face them, “Is that right.”

The center man stepped forward, “We were told the girl was his property and had been stolen.”

The guard jerked his head towards the gate, “leave.”

As they were going out the gate the guards bent over the wounded man. The larger guard shook his head, “he does not look to good.”

I stepped up and examined him, “he is bleeding internally and probable will not last more then maybe three or four hours.”

They nodded and then grabbed his arms. Lifting him they started for the gate. I looked after them, “would you like to use my horse and wagon?”

They paused and then the smaller guard shook his head, “someone should be by in an hour or so.”

After they left I crossed to the gate and closed it. I turned to face Sam, “Are you all right with this?”

It was a moment before she walked to me. “What is the craft you are going to teach me?”

I smiled at her, “How about medicine?”

Sam looked at me with large eyes, “You know healing?”

I nodded and she smiled back at me, “and here I thought I would pay you with my body.”

I shook my head, “I would refuse.”

Sam stepped close to me, “I know. That is why I joined you last night.”

I looked up, John was standing with his wife and daughter. Cat was standing to the side, I saw her slide a knife back into a sheath. “It looks like I have a new family.”

I said it quietly and then louder, “Well that is over with. John when you have time I need a list of the tools you will need for the smithy.”

Turning I walked over to Cat smiling down at her; “We will talk about the knife later but thanks.”

Before we had been interrupted by our visitors I had been about to ask Sam how we could get some of the debris hauled away. The answer was simple, I would not let Sam do it though. I walked out the gate and waited for one of neighbor kids. It was ten minutes before a boy of about eleven or twelve showed up.

When he saw me just standing there he came over, “Is what the guards said true? Did you beat Samil?”

I smiled, “We fought.”

I looked around the street, “Do you know of anyone that could haul stuff away?”

The boy grinned, “I could find out. Can I see Cat?”

I smiled, “why?”

He grinned, “She is pretty.”

I laughed, “What is your name?”

He smiled, “Tom.”

I gestured back into the estate, “Well Tom, we could go watch her I guess.”

Walking back inside the gate I walked over to the horse paddock and we sat on some hay. While Tom was watching Cat, I was watching him. I had noticed the wet stains on his right calf and the smell of a wound gone bad. When a worried looking woman appeared at the gate I saw the way she relaxed when she saw Tom and guessed she was his mother.

I looked at Tom, “I will be right back.”

Signaling Sam I crossed to the gate. Cat had noticed but continued to work, picking up small things near Tom. (I knew from the way she moved that she was keeping an eye on Tom.) At the gate I smiled at the woman, “I am Michael, this is my estate and this is Sam.”

Tom’s mother nodded, “I am Margaret.”

She had been worried about Tom when she had not seen him on the street she had come to look for him. I looked at Tom, “When was he hurt?”

She looked at Tom, “A week ago and it just will not heal right.”

I thought about how to say it and finally just looked at her, “I have some skill with medicines. Would you like me to look at his injury?”

She looked uncomfortable, “I do not have money to pay you.”

I smiled at her, “You are my neighbor. It would be my pleasure to help.”

We walked back to Tom who looked up as we approached. He blushed when he saw his mother who was wringing her hands nervously. I sat down next to Tom, “Can I see your leg?”

Tom gave a quick look to his mother and then slowly started rolling up the pant leg that had been cut at the seam. I was not surprised when I saw the leg, it was red and swollen, there were red streaks going up the leg. There was also a yellow and green seepage from the three inch gash. I knew he did not have much time before it became gangrenous.

I turned to Sam, “Would you get Ann please.”

I took out a silver piece and looked at Margaret, “would you go buy some grain alcohol?”

At first she looked at me with frightened eyes and then she nodded. She took the silver piece and hurried off. When Ann arrived I looked at her, “boil as much water as you can and find me some salt.”

She looked at Tom’s leg then went to the smithy. John had been keeping a small fire going there and she started putting pots on it, filling them from a pitcher. Tom looked at me, “Am I going to be all right?”

I looked at him, “I will not lie to you. Your leg has gone a little septic. If it is not treated now it will become gangrenous. If that happens the leg will have to be cut off, if not it could kill you.”

Tom looked a little scared and I patted him on the shoulder, “Do not worry, I will help you.”

Sam and I walked Tom toward the bathing pool. Cat had disappeared but when we got to the bath she came walking back with several towels in her arms. I took Sam to the side, “Where can I purchase medical supplies?”

She looked at me, “I know of a place.”

I thought up a list of things I would need and told her. I handed her my purse, “Ask John if he would go get what I need.”

She started to argue and I stopped her, “Remember what happened earlier?”

After she had left I called Marie over, “Would you go down the stairs? There are several bolts of what I thought was light linen.”

I told her where to find it, “take it to your mother and have her cut a square piece off and boil it.”

When I came back to Tom, Cat was sitting with him talking. “Alright Tom, here is what we are going to do. First, I will have to clean the leg, which means a bath. I do not want to do that but you are very dirty.”

He looked at Cat as she spoke, “do not worry I will help.”

(I was reminded of what I had been told when we were cleaning the pool. There were no taboos about bathing.) “Next, I will have to drain the wound, that will hurt. After that we will clean around the cut with salt water and bandage it.”

Cat helped me undress Tom and get him into the water, (which immediately darkened as the dirt on him started washing off.) Cat quickly undressed and climbed in. Tom had flinched as he was getting into the water and it looked like he was still in pain. I stripped and joined them and reaching out I applied pressure to one of his pressure points and he relaxed with surprise as the pain disappeared.

Sitting in the shallow end of the pool we gentle washed Tom and then Cat got out and held a towel for him as I helped him out. His mother was there with Marie, Sam was holding a pot of water that had been boiled. Setting the water to the side to cool I took the bottle of clear alcohol from Margaret. She timidly offered up the coins that were my change.

Ann brought the clean linens and I poured a little alcohol over my hands and then carefully took the linens and twisted them to get the water out. I had Ann pour the water out and put the linens back in the empty pot. I glanced at Ann, “I need a small pot of water and the salt.”

She nodded and hurried back to the forge. Now we only had to wait for John to return, which was not that long. When he got back I found that he had most of what I would need, a medicine to fight infection. There was also a small yellow paper packet that had a single dose of pain medicine. When Ann came back I added the salt to the water and started cleaning around the wound.

When I finished Tom was unconscious but his leg looked better. His mother was a little worried but I assured her that he would be fine. I looked at John, “Would you carry him down into our room and lay him on the bed?”

Margaret followed them down the stairs and sat with him. I smiled at Ann, “cook a broth for Tom please.”

She nodded and later Cat took it to him, making sure that his mother ate the beef stir-fry Ann had made as well. When Tom woke up I checked him. Other than being a little shaky he was fine. Sam and I helped him to the bathroom and then back to bed where he immediately fell back to sleep.

My exercises that night had grown to five. I kept reminding myself of what my master had once told me, “One day you will have students to teach. Start with the basics and do not let them get ahead of themselves or you.”

Chapter 2

Guarding a dwarf and winning a wager

It had been two weeks since I had found myself here, besides my morning practice with Samil, I now found myself practicing medicine. (Many of the drugs I had to use, I had to learn to use or make the old ones myself, like penicillin. My evening martial arts classes now numbered around two dozen, mostly women and children, although there were a couple of men that came.

Gentle and Paul were the two guards that I had called when the men from the guild had come for Sam. They were among my students, not all could show up every day so some of the faces changed daily. Margaret and Tom were there everyday. Tom’s cut had healed up nicely. I tried not to turn anyone away if they needed medical help. To tell the truth I had not turned anyone away, whether it was for food, shelter or medical attention.

My evening class was just ending when the six guards came in the gate with a dwarf in the middle of them. I gave the class leave to start the cool down stretching and then to hit the bath and then I headed to the gate to greet the guest. I knew one of the guards was Samil when they had entered the gate and I recognized two others from the practice field.

When I reached them the dwarf stepped forward. He introduced himself, “my name is Garth. I have been informed that you might be for hire.”

I looked at the guards and then the dwarf, “it looks like you have enough guards.”

Garth shook his head, “not for what I have planned.”

I thought about it, “I have several questions.”

Garth looked surprised, “ask.”

I looked at him, “why? Why another guard and why me? When do you need me and for how long? What do you want me to do and where am I going to do it. Last is how much are you paying?”

Garth hesitated and I shook my head, “if you do not answer or lie I will not work for you.”

One of the guards closest to me suddenly lunged at me with a dagger. I was a blur as I stepped to the side, grabbed the wrist, twisted and took the dagger. With another step, the dagger went through the guard’s upper arm before I threw him back and down. I stepped away, slowly and carefully.

Samil had not moved, nor any of the other guards. I waited and Garth stepped forward and bowed low, “my apology, it was a test. I was told you were good but I had to be sure.”

With a wave the guards stepped away. The guard that had attacked me stood and I looked at him, “do not try to pull it out.”

Turning I saw both Sam and Cat standing nearby with the light crossbows I had made at the smithy. The crossbows were made with a skeleton stock, the stock cocked the bow when folded. I looked at Cat, “get the small trauma kit and Sam to get some sterile water and bandages.”

I had started keeping both on hand. I walked up to the guard, the dagger was still through the arm. He had been wearing a type of chain armor and the dagger had gone through both sides of the chain. I was looking at the arm when Sam came back, “this will hurt.”

With a quick pull the dagger was out. What I did next startled them all, reaching up and grasp the chain mail at the shoulder with both hands. Before anyone could ask what I was going to do I ripped the chain mail like it was a light cloth, tearing it around and down the arm. They all looked at me as if I had grown another head, even Samil.

The guard had gone pale, from the feel of him I knew it was shock from the wound. After cleaning and tending to the wound I stitched it up and had Sam bandage it while I watched. I gave the guard directions for taking care of the wound and then as an after thought, “do not ever try that again.”

When I turned back to Garth it was to a much subdued dwarf, even Samil looked more alert. Garth cleared his throat, “I expect serious… challenges and want the best. We will need you in three days, for three or four days. You will be paid one hundred gold pieces to protect the… site we are going to use.”

I knew this was not a standard amount, “I will do the job but I will be bringing Sam and Cat with me.”

He raised his eyebrows and I shrugged, “they are my apprentices.”

Garth nodded and looked at me, “I will not pay for them.”

I had two days before I would start to work for the dwarf and then I would be gone for up to four days. I found John and a willowy blond girl of maybe twenty named Jenny. They were in the baths with the rest of the students. I told them when I would be gone and for how long, I wanted them to go through the basic forms with the others while I was gone.

Taking John aside, “I will get with you before I leave to go over the house.”

We had pretty much cleaned everything up, we had stopped for three days while we built a large kitchen next to the smithy and added bunk beds in the stables. It seemed like I had as much help as I needed. The neighbor’s tended to just stop by and start helping with whatever needed doing. Probable because I made sure everyone was fed.

Before leaving two days later I gave a heavy purse to John and Ann just in case of emergencies. I also gave John what I called the budget purse. It was enough to cover the expenses while I was gone. The weapons that I had taken from the Shaffer’s had not been reported stolen so I had modified two of the swords and two daggers.

I had been right about the metal being stronger than steel. It had taken quite a bit to work them down to what I wanted. I had actually started teaching Sam and Cat about a week ago. They had the basics down, only needing to refine themselves.

We met Samil at the practice field in the late afternoon and he escorted us to an area I had not been to before. The building Samil led me to reminded me of skyscrapers. Only it was just four stories tall, even if it seemed to take up the entire block. When I greeted Garth he looked at Samil, “I want you to remain on my left.”

I remembered that had been where Samil had been when I had met Garth. I asked, “why?”

Garth shrugged, “Samil said you are better so you will replace Samil there.”

I shook my head, “no. Obviously you are expecting something and Samil is used to being there. I will take the right front where the injured guard was.”

It was several hours before we set out, there were another twenty guards, not to mention the dozen or so dwarfs that joined us. As we headed out I had Sam and Cat stay to the outside of the main group with their crossbows ready. The walk was only supposed to take ten minutes, we were halfway there when I heard someone on a roof.

I stopped the party with a simple hand signal, looking in the direction of the sound. I reached out with my sense of touch, I found them quickly. Without warning I stepped forward and to the side. The arrows appeared as if by magic, one I caught in my left hand and the other was struck down by a sword that no one had even seen me draw.

For a stunned moment no one moved and then there was a rush to hurry forward. I yelled, “STOP!”

The assassins on the roof were retreating after missing their shot. I could feel something else in front of us. At first I did not know what it was and then I realized the smell was not right and slowly walked forward reaching out as I did. I was twenty feet in front when the black veil dropped on me and I heard the cries from behind me.

I could feel that they were all right so I waited. I might not be able to see but I could still feel, smell and hear. They came with a rush from the alley that had been twenty feet in front of me and I met them with my sword. The first I took with a slash across his middle that cut through the leather armor as if it was not there and then almost cut the man in half.

The next two came together, blocking the descending sword on my left I lunged, putting the sword through the man’s heart that had been on my right. Then in a spin that ended with me cutting the throat of the man that had been on the left. The fourth man came at me with his sword low. I blocked that and then moved my sword to his right and up.

Then in a downward slash I cut into the man’s neck at the shoulder, the blade splitting him down to the belly as I stepped away to face the next man. With a downward slash I broke the next man’s sword and I kill him by a sudden lunge that ended with my sword in his left eye. In the middle of the fight I felt the other.

It must be the mage from the way he felt. I could feel that he was doing something else. Drawing my long knife I threw it in a tight arc that ended in the mage’s chest. Just as quickly as the veil had come it disappeared, revealing the five remaining fighters I faced. Even as I stepped forward to engage them two bolts raced past me.

They stopped suddenly in the chests of two of the men. With a rush that sent the last three running the other guards charged forward. It was over as quickly as it started, seven fighters lay on the ground around me and a mage lay in the street twenty feet away. I moved forward to check the mage.

I pulled my long knife out and wiped it off. After putting it away I checked the mage for anything that might give me information. I took two pouches off him, one small, the other large and heavy. There was also a very nice mythril dagger and a thin silver ring with a green catseye stone.

When I stood up I signaled for the others to move. When Cat and Sam caught up I handed the ring, dagger and pouches to Cat. It was only a few minutes later that we reached our destination and one of the dwarfs went forward to knock. A tall man answered the door and I immediately recognized him as an elf like Samil.

As we entered I saw that the new elf seemed to look down on Samil. Once in the entranceway the other guards were dismissed. The elf tried to dismiss me but I ignored him as if he were only a servant trying to direct his betters. When he flushed and his eyes squinted up I looked him coldly, “I will be staying with Garth.”

The elf started to say something when Garth spoke up, “Samil and the human will accompany me.”

As an after thought, “the two females also.”

As we were leaving through a large hallway the elf stopped me, “perhaps I should come to the practice field to teach you how your betters can use a blade.”

I looked at him and smiled, (from the time we had arrived the elf had not been centered nor did he move with any skill.) I shook my head, “I do not teach arrogant puppies.”

Turning I walked on to catch up, hearing Samil laugh from just in front of me. When we entered the large courtyard I saw that it held several large forges. I also saw that there were all different types of metals, in both bar and in sand like form. Garth seemed to be upset about something. I was told they would not be starting for another day.

Garth told me they would be staying in the courtyard the whole time. An area to the side had been set aside for pallets and a curtained corner for people to have privacy when they had to use the bathroom. There were only two doors into or out of the courtyard. Setting myself up by the double doors we had entered through, I let Samil take the other smaller door.

Sam and Cat dropped down by the wall and I told them to rest. As I was walking around the courtyard I noticed that there was several dwarf mastersmiths, more than the making of one or two swords. When I asked one of the masters told me that admantium had not been made since the mage wars, five hundred years ago.

I asked what was involved and the dwarf looked at me. When he described how it was made I responded that they made it too complicated. He looked at me and then asked sarcastically, “are you a mastersmith to think that?”

I shrugged, “the making of the admantium is easy. If you want something harder it will take much longer.”

The dwarf looked at me and got a gleam in his eye, “are you offering a wager?”

When I looked at him he gave me a very feral grin. I looked around, “well we have a day to wait. What do you propose for the wager?”

The dwarf stuck his hand out, “I am Garret. How about your fee?”

I laughed and then nodded, “I will need some help though.”

Garret looked around, “what do you need?”

I thought of the metals I would need. Once I had given Garret’s helper the list of metals. I went to the forge closes to my door and got it started. Garret did not watch me very close, I had told him that we did not have enough time for a sword so I would make a light chain instead. Mixing the metals took all day, Sam and Cat helped when they could as well as several of the other dwarfs.

I thought that they were just bored. It was the middle of the night when I was finally ready. The forge was extremely hot, I had used several metals in the fire to keep the temperatures as high as I needed them. When I was ready I had more help than I needed as the metal was poured and pulled.

I had told them everything would have to be done before the metal cooled because we would not be able to reheat it at a high enough temperature. The links they cut and twisted were even smaller than I expected. As each link was finished it was dropped onto a metal slide which dropped it into a large tub of water.

They worked at a speed that I thought was a blur. I had to step back to watch and center myself and then I stepped in, moving as they did. At first they were a little surprised but then they ignored me to continue with the work. When we finished a young dwarf (probable twelve or thirteen) reached into the tub.

Grabbing a large double handful he brought it out and moved to a bench at the side of the courtyard. When I looked around I saw that all the dwarfs were awake and watching what was happening. Two more dwarfs moved to the bench and it was half an hour before they moved aside to show their work.

Garret and I moved to the bench, the chain armor they were weaving was not very large, only a twelve inches squire and a gold color. I knew it was time to see if I was right and pulled my long knife and handed it to Garret.

At first Garret was more interested in the knife. Then suddenly he brought it down across the chain. The dwarfs knew the admantium blade on the knife should cut through the chain so it was a surprise when I stepped forward to pick the chain up. As I held it out to Garret to check there was a murmur around the room, the chain was not damaged.

There was a laugh from across the room, “you lost.”

Garret smiled and handed the knife back to me. I managed a couple of hours of sleep before I felt Samil approach. I looked up as he was squatting down holding out a cup of coffee or what I thought of as coffee here. As I sat up and took a sip he smiled, “the mage they have been waiting for will be here shortly.”

When I got up later I saw that Cat had fished all the metal links out and had started to put them together. I smiled, “use your spare shirt as a pattern.”

When the mage arrived I thought at first that he was young, maybe twenty but as I got closer I had a feeling of age about him. I stayed by the door as the room suddenly came alive. It was as if the dwarves were part of a hive and someone had hit it, the tempo kept up through the next three days. It was the dawn of the fourth day when the attack came.

I had been sitting, meditating when I felt them coming. I stood, drawing my sword as I stepped to the side of the door I guarded, “ATTACK”!”

It was a moment before the door burst open as if it had been exploded. The rush of men through the door was met by me welding my sword. I used the sword and my long knife, the only ones that passed me were the ones that fell and did not rise again. The first rushed right onto the sword, impaling himself.

Pulling the sword free and punched the man in the face. I spun away to block another man’s sword with the long knife while slicing another across the throat. Reversing the sword I blocked a descending blade as I stabbed a man through his mail shirt. I blocked a sword coming in from the side with the sword while catching another with the knife.

With a thrust I put the sword through one man’s throat while spinning and stabbing another in the temple. The next man stumbled as he approached, he never got a chance to stand again. With a lunge I put the sword into his neck and down into the chest. Pulling the sword free I blocked the next man’s sword and then stabbed him in the throat with my knife.

The next two came together, the one on my right I plunged the sword into his chest as he had raised his sword to strike. The other I stabbed in the groin and then with a jerk pulled the knife up into the chest, splitting the heart. Samil’s door had broken open as well and he was hard pressed at times.

Even though Sam and Cat could not get any shots at my opponents they did have shots at his which they took. The pile of bodies in front of me had started to rise rapidly. I twisted to the side and avoided what looked and felt like a bolt of lightning. Putting the sword through one man’s neck I sidestepped and reversing the long knife.

I threw it in a short arc that ended in the throat of a mage standing about fifteen feet away. I took the last two men as they were trying to make their way into the room. One by putting my sword through his heart and the other by a punch that crushed his throat. I vaulted the bodies, coming down by the surprised face of another mage that had slipped and was trying rise.

He never made it as my sword came down through his forehead. As quickly as it had started it was over. I could see Samil stepping back from the door. Looking around the hall I was in I bent and checked both mages. Again I took pouches and another mythril Dagger and several rings.

When I reentered the room the dwarfs did not even look as if they had moved or bothered to prepare for a fight. I handed everything to Sam. It was a couple of hours before anyone showed up. It was an elf with a bandage wrapped around his arm and another around his head. Once he saw everyone was alright he left and brought back others to help remove the bodies.

It was early evening when the dwarfs finished. The swords they had made would be escorted across the city tomorrow. Cat had finished putting the chain together. Rather than carry the chain she put it on as we were leaving. We were almost back to Garth’s when I felt the presence.

Stopping I looked around and with a cry turned and threw the slim dagger with a speed and power that many would not believe was possible. Even as it sped to its target Cat stumbled and fell forward. I passed her in an instant but kept going when I felt she was alive. When I reached the assassin I found that the dagger had struck true.

I was bending down when Samil came up. I took the crossbow and arrows as well as a small pouch. Standing I turned to Samil, “he looks like an elf.”

Samil shook his head, “he is a Drow.”

At my look he sighed, “he is a dark elf.”

When we returned to the group I checked Cat. She would have a large bruise on her back but besides that she was fine. The bolt she had been hit with had a Mythril tip with a greenish paste on it. I caressed her cheek, “I am glad you were wearing the chain mail.”

All the way to Garth’s we moved with care but nothing else happened. Once home Garth gave me a purse, “if I ever needed your services I will call.”

It was a long walk home, I carried Cat the last half of the way. At home I carefully peeled Cat out of her clothes and gave her a mild pain reliever. After a warm bath I put her to bed. I did not say anything but it worried me. The Drow had time to see his target, he had the ability to have gotten off a shot at Garth or one of the other dwarfs. Instead he had picked someone that was plainly female.

Chapter 3

Ruining a merchant, joining the dwarven merchants, Legate’s gift

The next two weeks went by with little to talk about, although I had several jobs only one required me to use my skills. One of the heads of a large consortium had needed to meet with a young rival that he did not trust, as it turned out he was right not to trust him. Samil had been there as well. I stood at Lord Henrys left, Samil on the right.

In the middle of the meeting and without warning the younger merchant Lord Jeffers had lurched forward with a long slender dagger. I had felt him move and stepped up to the table even as he moved. Grabbing his wrist in my left hand I pulled and twisted to his left. Drawing my own sword it arced around only to stop suddenly at young lord Jeffers throat.

Samil had drawn his sword and pulled Lord Henrys back in one motion. Lord Jeffers’s two guards had started to pull their swords but stopped when they saw him with my sword at his throat. While the young merchant cursed and threatened me. I waited for Lord Henrys to decide what he wanted done, he finally told me to let him go.

He looked at Lord Jeffers, “what happened here will be spread around to all the merchants and when it is you will be through.”

As the young merchant started to leave he looked at me, “you are dead.”

I looked at him and came to a quick decision myself. I smiled him, “that was a challenge.”

I looked at Samil who nodded and I looked back at the merchant, “fine, I accept. The weapons will be swords at dawn, middle ring of the practice field.”

Lord Jeffers looked at me and then snorted, “like I would face you in a dual.”

Lord Henrys replied, “you challenged him, if you do not show your life and property will be forfeit.”

I stood at the ring for three hours, the crowd had been incredible. When Jeffers had not shown the crowd had called for the guard. He had been found at home, trying to hide behind his own guards. He had been moaning about someone stealing all his money in the night. He was put in chains and given to one of the bond houses to be sold at a hard labor. His property had been seized and sold, the money to go to several charities.

This morning started as a very good morning, Sam and Cat both had beaten their practice opponents. I had spoken with Samil as they had fought and we both had agreed that they were shaping up. My match was just starting when I felt the presence. It was like the assassin from before. In the middle of my fight I leaped away, reaching out my practice sword falling to the ground with Samil’s.

I grabbed the bolt in mid flight as it sped through the air towards Cat standing at the edge of the ring. Landing I had rolled to my feet with my sword drawn facing this new assassin. Even as I stood, I watched the assassin flee with Samil following. It was a short time later when Samil reappeared.

He shook his head, “I lost him in the alleys.”

I accepted this and decided to call it a day. Without stopping to do any shopping we went home. Once in the gate I stopped the girls, “Cat? You are not to go out without me.”

As I crossed to the kitchens I saw four dwarfs by the stables, one was Garret. When they saw me they had headed towards me. Catching up with me in the kitchen as I was talking to Ann. There were three other women in the kitchen and they were baking bread, one of the women was Margaret.

I smiled at Ann, “how many are we feeding now?”

At first, she was a little evasive but when I insisted she sighed, “the numbers have grown to around one hundred and fifty.”

While the dwarfs stood nervously behind me I shrugged, “do you need to do any shopping?”

She nodded and I handed her my purse, “if you find any sheep skins buy them for me.”

I looked past her, “take Margaret and Tom if he is around. You can take the horse and wagon too.”

When I finished and turned to leave the dwarfs tried to get me to stop. Garret looked up at me, “we wish to talk to you about business.”

I looked at him, “my business or yours?”

Garret looked at me, “ours.”

I looked at the other dwarfs, “my mornings are set aside for me to practice medicine. If you want to talk with me than you will have to come with me and talk as I work.”

As I entered the bathing room I realized how much it had changed. It now had a roof and all the walls had been rebuilt. When I came in the door there was a little man writing something on a makeshift desk. His name was Jeremy and he had a ledger. He smiled and told me who was here to be seen with the worst cases first.

Marie was with him, he had been a find for me. He had been trying to hide behind the kitchen when I found him. I talked him into teaching the neighborhood children how to read and write as well as managing records for my patients. He had the older kids record the information when the patients were seen.

As I started I saw that both Sam and Cat were already checking the easier ones. Jeremy nodded to the two guards, “Gentle and Paul brought in two children to be seen.”

The two children had been orphaned in a fire. They had moderate burns on their hands and arms. The boy looked about five and had a bad cut across his back and the girl was probably three with burns on her feet as well. As I was checking them Paul told me, “the guard will start sweeps through the city for destitute people. They will be turning them over to the bond houses.”

When I looked up at him he shrugged, “you might start getting more people coming here for help.”

The city guard had started bringing me those that needed help and not always just those needing medical help. I nodded and called for Marie, when she got there I smiled at her, “would you tell your mother to double her shopping list?”

I looked at Paul, “there was a drow assassin at the practice field this morning.”

Gentle shifted, “can you take the two children?”

I thought about it, all the ones they had brought to me before had been able to take care of themselves. I knew John and Ann were thinking of more children. Turning I called over one of the neighbor boys named Mathew, “find John, look in the house. He is rebuilding walls in one of the rooms.”

As Mathew hurried off Garret impatiently cleared his throat. I did not even look around, “go ahead and talk, I am listening.”

I did notice that one of the other dwarfs had gone over to Cat and kept trying to look at the chain mail she wore. Garret cleared his throat, “would you give us the list of ingredients and the process for the metal you made?”

As I moved to another patient I thought about it. As I worked at setting a broken wrist I shook my head, “I do not think so.”

I glanced at him, “perhaps we could work something else out.”

Garret countered, “you already made it in front of me. I could just make it without your consent.”

I had been listening and heard the change in his voice. More, I remembered that Garret had not been paying attention when I mixed the metals to make the composite. I smiled to myself, “fine you do that.”

There was a long pause as I moved to yet another patient. The pause was broken by Cat slapping the dwarf as he felt somewhere he should not have. John appeared with Mathew in tow, I looked at him and explained about the children, “can you and Ann take care of them until I can find someplace for them?”

He looked at the children then nodded and called to Marie, “Marie? Keep the children with you until I am finished.”

Sam appeared to tell me about the patient she had been helping and I agreed with her treatment. The patient I was working on had just come in, three of the fingers on his right hand had severe damage. The only thing I could do was to remove them, which would not have helped him.

I turned to the young girl that was taking notes, “would you run an errand to the temple?”

As I reached for my purse I explained to her, “I need one of the healers. You are to tell them that I will pay their price.”

When Sam handed me her purse I smiled at her and then took out a gold piece. I held it up for the girl to see and then handed it to her, “that is an earnest.”

I took a silver piece out and handed the purse back to Sam. I showed the girl the silver, “it is yours when you returned.”

I had Sam stay with me and I moved to the next patient. The next couple of patients went quickly. I was stitching a long gash in the leg of an elderly woman when Cat brought the dwarf back by his ear. After she had released him she looked at me, “I have another family suffering from malnutrition.”

Garret again approached, “I will buy the process.”

I glanced at him, “how much?”

He sighed with a tone of much suffering, “one hundred gold pieces.”

I laughed, “you still owed me that much. I will not sell it that cheap.”

Finally he looked at the other dwarfs and then back at me, “what do you want?”

I thought about it, “I want a percentage of every item made from the process.”

Garret and the other dwarfs exploded, “impossible, out of the question!”

I waited patiently as I gathered the equipment and moved to the next patient. As they calmed down they countered my offer, “one thousand gold pieces.”

I shook my head, “thirty percent of every item made.”

They cried out, “you are trying to impoverish us or drive us out of business!”

I moved from patient to patient as they bargained back and forth. Finally we settled on twenty percent with a couple of exceptions. I wanted two more suits of chain mail and the opportunity to make some swords myself. I sent them to Jeremy to draw up a contract. It took three drafts before they stopped trying to add things into the contract.

Once they finished and it was signed I reminded them to pay Jeremy. They left with my promise to write the process and have it delivered it the next the morning. The Priest had shown up and was working on the patient with the injured hand, as he finished I joined them. I was always amazed by the healings and the workings of magic.

After checking the hand I again borrowed Sam’s purse, the priest smiled at this, “gave your purse away again?”

I looked up with a grin, “shopping this time.”

I gave the priest four more gold pieces and he bowed, “it is always a pleasure.”

I had another visit in the middle of the afternoon. I was in the middle of dealing with an emergency. A building had collapsed injuring over two dozen people. The injured were mostly those with broken bones. As I was setting a broken leg I felt them approach. I knew one of the men approaching was Gentle but the other was a stranger.

When he cleared his throat I glanced at him. He was well dressed and from the way he stood and wore his sword I knew he was probably someone of importance. I went back to setting the leg, “what can I do for you?”

The man again cleared his throat again and when I did not even look up he spoke, “my name is Legate Abrams.”

When I did not respond to his name he continued, “I am the Legate for the city guards.”

I nodded and then directed the woman who was helping me to move the bowl of plaster. “Well Legate Abrams it is my pleasure to meet you. I would introduce myself better but as you can see I am a little busy. How can I help you?”

With a sigh he knelt down taking the injured man’s leg that I was trying to wrap plaster on one handed, “I thought it time that we met since my guards have started using you as a resource to help people.”

I smiled, “I do not mind, it gives me a chance to help and usually it is only a meal or a bed for a few nights.”

The Legate looked around, “and this?”

I finished the wrapping and placed the leg down. Looking around I saw most of my neighbors helping. The large courtyard looked like chaos, “those you help have a tendency to help others.”

Saying this I moved to the next patient in line. It was a woman with a broken arm. Cat had given her the pain medicine already and it seemed to be working. I felt the arm, it was only a fracture. I showed Cat how it was to be set then moved again. The Legate kept up with me, “this does not match up with your reputation as a mercenary.”

I looked up at him as I knelt next to a woman that looked like her pelvis had been crushed. There was a small boy maybe six years old holding Sam’s hand as they sat with her. I started examining her to see the extent of her injuries. She exhaled and stopped breathing, Gentle who had followed calmly said, “she is gone.”

I was not listening, “Sam get the healer.”

I had called for a healer as soon as the inured had started arriving. I started CPR and it was only a few seconds before Sam was back. The voice behind me sighed sadly, “she is beyond my help.”

I showed Sam how to do the breathing and then continued with the chest compressions. “Samuel you should be ashamed to give up without a fight.”

No sooner had I said this than the woman started breathing again. Turning I moved out of the way, “if you would Samuel I believe you may be able to help her more than I now.”

He was looking at me with his mouth open. I reminded him a second time and he moved forward and laid his hand on her. I could feel the magic from the healing in my bones. Before our eyes the injury slowly disappeared. Smiling at the boy I winked and then looked at Sam, “how many beds remain in the stables?”

I had converted it almost two week earlier into a bunkhouse with four tear bunk beds. Sam glanced around, “I will need to check with Ann and get back to you.”

I sighed, “find her a lower bunk.”

I looked at the boy, “the father?”

Sam only shook her head and I nodded, “make sure the bed is wide enough for two.”

As I started to stand and the Legate reached out and helped me up, “that was the most amazing thing I have seen in a long time.”

Samuel agreed, “the healing was free.”

He looked at me, “could you show me how to do it?”

I nodded to him, “it will have to wait until we are done here.”

Turning I moved to the next patient, “in answer to your question Legate. I do that so that I can do this, help people that really need it and I decide who I work for and why.”

As I knelt down the young woman that was attending the young man looked up, “I think the knee cap is broken as well as the arm.”

I nodded and reached out to feel through his body. Sure enough the left knee was broken along with a fracture in the right arm above the elbow. Turning I called Samuel over, “how selective is your healing?”

I did not want to burn him out, he might be needed later. In the end he healed the kneecap and left the arm to be put in a cast. As the woman went to get the plaster and bandages they watched her limping away. The Legate watched her, “she might need attention herself.”

I looked up at the Legate, “her name is Sarah and her injury is old. She has been helping me off and on for the past two weeks. She was homeless, the master she was apprenticed to was an herbalist. While they were gathering herbs a horse kicked her, breaking the pelvic bone. The master refused to pay for a healing and it had healed incorrectly so her master turned her out.”

I looked after Sarah, “it is a shame because she is a natural and could be a great healer.”

The Legate looked at me, “will you teach her?”

I glanced at him, “there are problems. First she has to learn to trust someone again. Second, one of your guards has taken it into his head that she is his property.”

He frowned, “who.”

I shrugged, “she would not say.”

When Sarah returned I told her how I wanted the cast put on. When I was finished and stood up. The Legate spoke up, “young woman I have been told you have the potential to be a great healer.”

She only looked at him with a haunted look and he spoke again, “do you know who I am? I am the Legate for the guard. I have been told that you have no home. This man (he pointed at me) can teach you what you need to know to be a healer. I could put you in bond but I will not, instead I ask you to apprentice yourself. If he will accept you I will pay the apprentice fee.”

Sarah looked at him and then at me, as if asking. I nodded and she looked back to the Legate and then she looked down, “but I am a cripple.”

I smiled at her, “Sarah the damage is not irreversible yet. I could treat you, it would mean several weeks of healing but you would be walking again and without the pain.”

Samuel spoke up, “If you do this I will offer the healing for free.”

With tears in her eyes she looked back to the Legate and nodded. He nodded, “then done.”

I reminded Sarah how I wanted the arm cast and then moved off. When we were out of earshot the Legate remarked, “you are contagious. How much do you want for the apprentice fee?”

I laughed, “it is free.”

The legate insisted, “I should give you something.”

I stopped and looked at him, “I will not take money for helping someone.”

I remembered all the scholarships and gifts that had paid for my own schooling. The Legate looked at me and then smiled, it was not a smile I expected to see. “You seem to be having a problem with your housing, perhaps I can help.”

He nodded toward to cliff on the other side of the corral, “the old Keep up on top, it used to belong to a necromancer. It belongs to the city now and is an eye sore, it is yours.”

I looked up the cliff, “great, just what I need, another project.”

This only made the him laugh. With a look around I realized that the injured had all been cared for. When he realized this as well he smiled, “now that I have your attention. There are a couple of things I wanted to speak to you about. First, was your report this morning of a drow in the city?”

I explained what had happened and who could vouch for the report. The Legate nodded, “keep your… apprentice close. Next thing I wanted to discuss was a report from the dwarf community that you are part of their consortium now. The dwarf community is one of the larger consortiums and as a part of it you will have to attend some of the court dates as a judge.”

I was a little startled but nodded, “do you know which ones?”

He smiled, “I will go over the schedule but right now I see a conflict of interest on your part concerning the poor.”

A lieutenant showed up to stand next to them waiting. The Legate excused himself and after speaking with the lieutenant, “I will send the dates and times for the court.”

He turned to leave and then stopped and turned back, “I will have the deed for the Keep recorded and sent over.”

The rest of the afternoon went quickly, mostly finding room for everyone. The runner from the Legate arrived late in the afternoon and gave me a packet of documents. He told me that the Legate had already filed the papers with the city and the normal transfer fee had been waved. After the runner left I started thinking about the cliff, it had never felt right to me.

As I was standing in the corral examining the cliff Cat came up behind me, “is it true that Sarah is apprenticed to you now?”

I was preoccupied with my exam but answered, “yes it is true.”

I moved along the wall toward the river and she followed me, “where is she going to sleep?”

I felt something in the wall and replied distractedly, “in the stable.”

Again I moved further along the wall, this time looking at the cracks in the wall. In exasperation Cat followed me again, “all the bunks are taken. What are you looking for?”

I replied, “something is bothering me about this wall.”

She looked at the wall for a minute and then, “it reminds me of the wall by the river.”

I looked at her and then back and fourth along the wall. When I saw the split rock I moved to it and pressed the bottom. With an audible click a seven foot square section of the wall opened. I looked at Cat, “call Sam.”

Sam had been talking with John and Ann. When she was called all three came over. I looked at them, “I had found a passage in the cliff.”

Sam looked up with a frown, “the mage that lived there was publicly executed. He was reported to be a necromancer and trafficked with the drow to destroy the city. The Keep was burned when they tried to enter after he was caught. They were attacked by the undead that guarded the Keep as well as drow warriors.”

I thought about it and looked at Cat and Sam, “stay by the door. I will call if I needed you.”

I opened the door wider to reveal a dark hallway. There were white globes spaced down the hall and a crumpled form just a few feet inside the door. Cat stopped me, stepping up to the opening, “Elora!”

The white globes lit up showing the entire hall. I looked at her and raised my eyebrow and she smiled, “it means turn on.”

I nodded, “how do I turn them off?”

She shrugged, “Anon.”

Drawing my sword I spread my senses out and stepped inside. As I approached the corpse it started to come to life. It felt like it was surrounded with electricity. It was almost like a web and I could almost hear a buzzing sound coming from a clay pendent around its neck. Reaching out quickly while it was trying to get to its feet I cut the leather cord holding the pendent with my sword.

As the pendent fell away it crumbled to dust. The corpse sighed and then it too crumbled. Reaching down I picked up the sword it had been carrying. When I pulled it out of the sheath I saw it was made of admantium. Returning to the door I gave the sword to Sam. She nodded, “John went to get some men to help if we needed it.”

I started down the hall, clearing the rooms as I went. As I started to enter the second room I heard the sound of movement and a sword being drawn. As I stepped forward there was a sudden movement. I stepped back as a sword came down from the side of the doorway. Lunging forward I stabbed the dead guard through the neck and cut up, separating the leather holding the pendent.

The guard froze and then dropped to the floor turning to dust. I picked the sword up and put it back in the sheath before I slung it over my shoulder. The next attack came at the end of the hall. A dead guard rushed me from the last room. I blocked his sword and then slashed across its upper chest cutting the leather cord. I retrieved the sword and slung it with the other.

There were six rooms that faced the river. They each had slits that faced out over the river and a large fireplace that burned without anything in them. Each room also had a bath, probable eight feet square. They had wardrobes that lined the wall next to the door and large comfortable beds.

Everything I saw looked new and nothing looked as if it was twenty years old. On the inside wall of the hallway were six smaller rooms but there were supplies in them. There were also two bathrooms (one at each end of the hall) and another set of stairs leading up and down in the middle of the hall.

I returned to the door, giving one of the swords to Cat and the other to John. I noticed that the four men with them looked very nervous. Leaving two of them to guard the door I took the rest to the stairs. I had John and the other man stay there with Sam and Cat. Slowly I made my way up the stairs. At the landing before the next floor I was attacked again.

I blocked and as I cut back at him, the guard stepped back and then thrust his sword. I blocked as I drew my knife and stabbed him at the junction of the neck, cutting the cord. It dropped and turned to dust along with the dead guard. I could feel magic on the landing. It was like an electric web across the wall with a buzzing that seemed just at the edge of my hearing.

I made sure the stairs were clear past the landing and up to the next floor. I collected the sword and called Sam and Cat up to the landing. Next, I went back down to what I considered the main floor and started down the stairs. I had not even reached the landing between floors when I was attacked.

I blocked a swing and stepped in to stab the guard in the chest, breaking the clay pendent. The guard was turning to dust as it fell. Checking the landing I could feel another web of magic across the face of the wall. I returned to where the dead guard had been and picked up the sword. I handed both swords to John on my way past.

Taking a breath I turned to the wall of the landing by Sam and Cat. I could see nothing so I closed my eyes and listened. At first it sounded like the buzzing of bees and then as I listened close I realized it was voices. After awhile I knew my hearing would not help so I reached out. My master had explained once that my sense of touch away from my body came from my chi or my life force.

Feeling the wall it was almost as if I could see the web of what I now knew to be magic, it felt both slick and sticky. It was a moment before I felt the knot and another before I found what I could only call the lose end. It was almost like a bowknot, a simple pull and the knot would come undone. When I pulled there was a shimmer.

I opened my eyes and was looking at a door. I could hear a rustling sound coming from the room beyond. I pulled my sword and then pushed on the door. Even before it had fully opened a sword was thrust through at me. I blocked with the sword and drew my knife. There were three undead guards trying to get through the door at the same time.

Again I parried, this time with the knife and then I brought the sword down on the center guard’s neck. Its attempt to block the sword was upset by the guard next to him trying to block it as well. The result was neither was able to block and I struck the guard in the neck cutting the cord.

As it fell, turning to dust another was taking its place. The guard on the left lunged and again I blocked with my knife. The guard that had stepped into the center position tried to step forward and bring his sword into the fight. I punched him in the face knocking him back into the ones behind, causing them all to fall.

I blocked the guard on the right with my sword and quickly lunged in to cut the cord with the knife. As it fell I was blocking the guard on the left and then with another lunge stabbed my sword through the next guard that was trying to get through the door. The sword went through the pendent and six inches into its chest.

Again the guard on the left struck. I blocked the blow and countered with an overhand blow that it raised its sword to block. I reached in with the knife to stab him in the chest and breaking the pendent. Countering the two guards that rushed in with swords raised I swept their blades to the side with my sword.

As the one on the left continued forward as if to run into me I cut the cord around its neck in a quick slash. The other guard tried to take advantage by stabbing through the guard but the body pulled the sword down allowing me to cut downward into its neck and shoulder cutting the cord on his pendent.

The other guards had sorted themselves out and were coming at me with a vengeance. Two struck together, the one on the right lunged straight at me and I blocked outwards with my sword. While the guard on the left cut down towards my head and I blocked it to my left with my knife. A cut across the guard’s chest on the left resulted in him stepping back.

The guard that was behind him put his sword through its back and it came out the chest. As the sword was pulled free it cut the cord. With a surprised look the guard turned into dust while it was still standing. The guard on the right struck again, this time overhand. I caught the sword with my knife, deflecting it into the new guard that had rushed forward.

The blow cut through the arm holding its sword. I countered the guard on the right by a thrust through the upper chest and the pendent. The other guard tried to grab me with its only hand and I stabbed the hand and twisted it. As the arm straightened I cut across the chest separating the cord.

The last three came together, one stayed behind the other two. He was not like the others and he wore a chain mail shirt made of what looked like mythril. He was taller and I thought he looked like an elf. The other two came more cautiously, the first lunged and when I blocked the other struck. I blocked again and stepped back.

When I did they tried to come through the door and I attacked. A faint at the guard on the right brought the other guard striking at me. I blocked and then put my sword through its throat and twisted, causing it to stumble into the other guard. I pulled the sword free and cut the cord at its neck. Stepping back I blocked and struck only to have the blow blocked by the dead elf.

As the guard on my left struck I stepped to the side and blocked the blade causing it to swing toward the elf. As the elf was starting to lunge it twisted aside and blocked the sword. I did not wait. I struck in a lunge that pierced, not just the guard on the left but went through its neck and coming out its shoulder and then striking the elf in the chest.

Pulling the sword free, I twisted it and jerked it through muscle, cutting the cord around its neck. The guard on the left turned to dust but the elf only changed its stance. I could see a silver chain at its neck so obviously something was different. The elf started to feel me out in small thrusts and swings.

It was several minutes before I had an opening. Parrying a lunge I lunged in return and followed it up as it was blocked by stabbing my knife through the hand and twisting. As its sword fell I was already striking at its neck. When it raised its hand as if to block I cut through the chain and the arm and then into its neck, separating the chain around its neck.

With a scream it exploded in a shower of dust. As suddenly as it had started it was over. I cautiously entered the room. It was maybe a hundred feet square with twelve stone slabs by the door. The floor in the center of the room was sunken with a pit that burned hotly. I could feel the heat from it when I was twenty feet away.

There were partially dissected bodies and body parts scattered about the room, some on tables, some in intricate diagrams and some were even in jars on shelves. There were three bodies hung up along one wall in chains. This was obviously a workroom for the necromancer. As I moved around the room Cat went with me, finally I stopped by the pit.

I could feel the web of magic around the pit and when I looked in I could imagine why. Curled up at the bottom ten feet down was what looked like a large lizard sleeping. Only this lizard was red and sheathed in flame, it was also semi transparent. Cat whispered, “it is a salamander. The spells around the pit must hold it asleep otherwise the whole room would be in flames.”

I assured myself after a quick check that there were no other doors into the room. Back on the landing I called John up to watch the stairwell leading to the upper floors and then went to the landing below what I thought of as the ground floor. Setting Sam and Cat to watch the stairs leading down I faced the wall of the landing.

Reaching out as I had done before I traced the web of magic until I found what I could only describe as a knot. As the shimmer faded and the door appeared I moved carefully to it. After listen at the door I opened it. It looked like a small empty room. It was ten feet square with blank walls and I thought about it for a minute.

Why would anyone hide an empty room with magic? Walking into the room I extended my senses. The back wall felt different than the other two. I could feel no magic from the wall so I started looking along the wall until I found an irregular bump. When I pushed it there was a click and wall split in two and slid aside.

The opening inside the wall was only a few feet deep and it was lined with rack after rack of swords and not ordinary swords. Back on the landing I moved down to the next floor and called Sam and Cat down to watch the stairwell leading down. As I moved through the rooms everything seemed quiet and peaceful.

While I was at the end of the hall finishing my search Sam and Cat were attacked. The guard had come up the stairs slowly and they gave a yell to warn me. Sam attacked on the left with a downward slice that it blocked and Cat stabbed it through the body. As it turned to attack Cat Sam struck again, cutting deeply into its shoulder.

When it swung at her Cat struck it in the back of the neck. As the cord parted it froze in mid lunge and then dropped to the floor. After hitting the floor it was a moment before it turned to dust and quiet returned. When I got there it was over, Sam and Cat were still a little excited and it was a couple of minutes before they calmed down.

I finished checking the floor but there were no other guards. Moving down the stairs I again stopped at the landing. There was another web of magic on the wall of the landing. Removing the magic came a little easier this time. Again I was looking into what seemed an empty room. Moving into the room I quickly found the switch to open the secret panel and was looking at more racks of admantium swords. Exiting the room I moved down the stairs.

The stairs ended on that floor. With Sam and Cat to watch I went through every room with no sign of guards. Back up the stairs I stopped at the landing with John. There had been no sign of the dead guards. With John and the girls in tow I moved up to the next floor where I had them wait while I checked the landing above.

Calling John up to watch the stairs I started checking the floor. I encountered one guard that did not even try to rise, it only moaned. At the other end of the hall were two more webs of magic. One at the end of the hall and the other along the wall where the last storeroom should have been.

After checking all the rooms I moved to end of the hall where the last storeroom should be. Reaching out I found that the web of magic was different. The knot was different as well, it was a moment before I found the trick of it and with a twist to the knot the wall shimmered. With a suddenness the blank wall was replaced with another door, this one with a lock.

After feeling the door and the door jam I unlocked the door. As I stepped in a dead guard stepped from the shadows, drawing his sword as he moved. Without pause I reached out and cut the cord on the pendent. That causing the guard to turn to dust before it could so much as swing the sword. I stood in a short hallway that ended twenty feet in.

When I opened the other door it was into another large room, maybe one hundred and fifty feet by one hundred. There were more than a dozen beds on the left wall. On the right side were two large fireplaces that burned brightly and in the far corner was a very large bath. What made this room strange were the six young girls kneeling just inside the door.

They were Mair and were five or six years old and they did not move. I felt each one and they were surrounded with that electric feel of magic I had become used to. After checking the room I decided to leave the girls for now and relocked the door. At the end of the hall I felt the web of magic.

This one was different from the others to, it was a lot more intricate. It was several minutes before I was able to remove the illusion. The wall seemed to melt into the floor. The door that now stood in place of the wall also had a feeling of magic about it. This time it only took a minute before the magic was disarmed and the door was opened.

Stepping into the room I got an impression of a large room before two guards struck without warning. It was several moments before I could do more than block. Both guards had been Drow when they were alive. They still moved with a skill that was difficult to counter. The fight was like a dance my old master would put me through. It was ten minutes before the break came.

With a swing that was deflected the guard on my right had a silver chain around his neck and the chain came out of his mail. I blocked left and then right. After blocking the last time I stepped in and grabbed the silver pendent that was on the chain. With a sharp pull I broke it loose from the chain.

Even as I did that I automatically blocked to my left. As a sword struck my long knife the guard on the right screamed and seemed to explode into dust. The guard on my left froze, looking towards the other guard. I did not hesitate, lunging with the knife I stabbed through the chain mail and cut the silver chain above the pendent.

A surprised look crossed the its face and he exploded like the other guard. As the quiet returned I looked into another room that was maybe a hundred by a hundred and fifty feet. From the door I could see different areas. In one corner was a large forge with barrels of metals stacked along the wall.

In another area there were beakers, tubes and burners like in a lab. There was lumber in one corner with what looked like a lathe. On a bench not to far from the door was what looked like gems with equipment to hold them, one was in a clamp ready to be cut. As I moved into the room it was like walking into a room full of webs.

As I stopped in an area where someone had been doing woodwork I heard a voice speak to me, “Master, how may I serve?”

The voice came from the air. This happened every time I stopped in one of the other areas. There was only one other door in the room and when I unlocked and opened it I found myself looking at a treasure. There were a dozen large chests and racks with probably two hundred of the golden admantium swords.

Several of the chests were split open, gold and bright colored gems spilled out. Returning to the stairs where a worried John waited I called the girls up. I moved up the stairs and found that the roof had collapsed blocking half the landing and the stairs leading up. I could still feel the web of magic on the landing wall.

Unraveling it caused some of the rocks to shift but I thought I would be able to squeeze through into the room. Opening the hidden door I found it was one of the storage areas for swords like before. I saw that there was a narrow opening to the side leading up the stairs. As I moved to the opening I heard movement.

Moving to the side of the opening I waited. It was only a minute before the undead guard tried to squeeze through. I reached out with my sword and cut the cord at the back of its neck. Staying where I was I waited. There were four more guards that tried to get through. They all came through the opening knowing the ones before had not made it.

I waited several minutes after last guard had tried to come through and then called the girls into the room. After squeezing through the opening I found myself climbing the stairs through the collapsed stones. At the next floor I found the lights on and the stairs going up were blocked by more debris.

I called the girls up to the landing at that floor. Just inside the doorway to the hall I found three bodies. From the look they were either Elf or Drow. They had all been dressed nicely with jewelry on fingers and necks. I felt a web of magic nearby and noticed what looked like a green lacquered cane.

It had mythril bands and what looked like a brass cap with three silver bands at the bottom of the stick. When I picked it up I knew that it was a straight Katana sword cane or something similar. Pulling it from the sheath I was surprised. The blade was a silver/white and had been folded like a Japanese sword.

The weight of the sword was less than half of what a steel blade would weight. From the feel the density was probably ten times that of steel. It was at least as twice as dense as admantium. It also had tracings up and down the blade in a fluid script with the webs of magic tied to them and going into the metal.

Putting the sword back into the sheath I turned to Cat just inside the doorway. With her green eyes and the green catseye ring she wore this was a perfect match. I almost felt that she was meant for the sword. I smiled and handed my sword to Sam and then placing the sword on my palms and bowed to Cat presenting it to her.

She looked at me wide eyed, all the times before I had just handed her a sword. slowly she reached out and took the blade. Standing up I took my sword back from Sam. Moving down the hall to the right I started checking the floor. The layout for this floor was different. Where there had been smaller rooms on the inside wall I found only four large bedrooms.

Two had remains of what I thought were Mair. Where there had been six bedrooms on the outer wall I only found four bedrooms. Each with its own bathroom in addition to a large fireplace and bathing pool. There was one last one at the end of the hall that was almost twice the size of the others.

In the first large room along the wall I found a Mair. Like the girls I had found she was surrounded by a web of magic and seemed suspended. She looked like she was maybe eighteen and pregnant. The last inside room held another Mair, this one was also pregnant but she looked like she was only sixteen and had been whipped. There were bloody strips on her back.

The last door in the hall was a hallway with a narrow set of stairs. Calling the girls I went up. It came out beside what had once been a stable. The whole area was overgrown with a type of ice plant. The property here was walled and they were still intact and twenty feet tall. The area inside the walls covered an area of maybe twenty acres.

Moving around the stable I saw the gate area. It looked like there had been a gatehouse built over the gate but it had burnt and collapsed, blocking the gate. The main house looked huge, even burnt out. It had probably been four or five stories tall. Moving through the ruins I found no surprises only an occasional burnt skeleton.

It looked like the first two floors were burnt out with the stairs leading up just a pile of ash. It was possible that the top two floors were intact but there was no way up or down without a tall ladder. On the way back down I closed the entrance to the stairs by raising a lever that was near the hall door.

It closed with seemingly no problems, only the squishing of ice plants marked its closing. Down the stairs I collected John and we all went down to what I still thought of as the ground floor. As we came down we met the man that I had left there. He was accompanied by two city guards. One of the guards I had met before with Paul, “it looks like you found company.”

I started shooing them toward the door leading out. At first the two guards tried to tell me that they had to stay but I ignored them as I walked them out. At the door I let everyone precede me and then stepped out. There was a small crowd of guards probable twenty strong crowded into the corral.

I turned and started closing the door and a tall skinny guard spoke up, “leave it.”

I ignored him and finished closing the door. When the guard stepped forward to grab me a quiet voice spoke, “I would not do that.”

With a click the door closed and I turned to see Gentle behind the guard. When I raised my eyebrow he shrugged, “I owed him a favor.”

As I watched the group of guards broke up and Legate Abrams walked towards me with what looked like a lieutenant and sergeant. As I watched Ann came running around them with Marie and the two orphans in tow. When she reached us she ran into John’s arms. When Marie and the two orphans arrived (I had learned their names were David and Mary) they stopped not to far from John and Ann.

When the Legate arrived I turned to him, “Legate, I am very disappointed in you.”

He looked at me, “alright I will bite. Disappointed how?”

I smiled, “well, you do not tell me the property you are giving me had secret passages or that there were still mage traps or that there were still undead guards. Not to mention that they all carried Admantium swords and that some wore armor.”

The Legate blinked and replied, “I thought you could use the challenge.”

With a group of guards all around Marie broke in, “is it true? Is there an army of dead coming to get us?”

I looked down at her and held my smile, “well, lets see. First we fought through an army of undead in the hall, destroying them all. Then there were legions of orcs and goblins. Your dad was throwing them left and right. Then the troll attacked us on the stairs.”

I could see I had her attention as well as several guards, “your dad fought the troll. Finally he got the upper hand and beat it. Next came the dozen drow that came at us from secret rooms. We were fighting left and right until we beat them.”

Sam chimed in, “you forgot the dragon.”

With only a pause I continued, “oh yes the dragon. Well, we entered the wizard’s lair and there it was so we attacked it. It swung its tail at Sam and she cut the end right off. We hacked at the legs and when it fell we jumped on it and took it prisoner.”

Marie looked at me with big eyes, “really?”

I broke and smiled, ruffling her hair, “no. There were only a few dusty old dead guards.”

Out of the corner of my eye I could see several of the guards faces turning red. Turning to Ann, “can I talk you into making something to eat?”

The Legate had the lieutenant send the guards back to their posts. As the various groups were breaking up Sarah appeared beside me, “would you speak to the injured? They are under the impression that they will be killed in their sleep.”

I nodded and looked at the Legate, “would you mind waiting?”

I made a quick set of rounds, reassuring the injured. When I finished I found him in the kitchen. Ann and several helpers were fixing a hasty meal and not just for him but also for the injured. As I sat down at the small corner table the Legate appeared to be enjoying a nice dinner and John was eating at a nearby counter.

I glanced at him, “where did Sam, Cat and the other men go?”

John smiled, “the men went home. Sam and Cat took their dinner out.”

Ann brought me a plate and as I ate I told the Legate what I had found, leaving out the part about treasure. I did say that I would probable have a mage check the one work area with all the bodies. He listened and nodded, “a drow was killed earlier when it walked into a group of guards heading here.”

After the Legate left I found Sam and Cat in our room with Sarah. She seemed nervous as I came in, “Sam, see if you can find someone to help bring more hay down. We will need enough for eight people.”

Turning to Sarah, “I will go over classes with you tomorrow. Unfortunately we are not done for the night.”

I looked at Cat, “There are Mair in there. They are in a suspended state. If I can I am going to wake them.”

She looked at me and nodded. On our way out I sent Sarah to Ann. They would need food, maybe a nice soup and Sam went to find John to get help with the hay. When I reached the entrance I found Gentle sitting on a bale of hay next to the door. I smiled, “what are you doing here?”

He grinned, “the guard sergeant said I could take my break here.”

With a sigh I opened the door, no surprises jumped out and everything was quiet. I looked at Cat, “we will start at the top.”

Sarah and Sam caught up and with Gentle following and we made our way up to the collapsed area. Gentle did not like having to squeeze through the rubble but managed. At the last room I went in. Cat, Sam, Sarah and Gentle looked around. Cat touched my shoulder, “sometimes the mages set spells like this to a spot on the floor.”

Looking at the suspended girl I saw a light colored tile in front of her. When I pointed it out to Cat and she nodded, “that might be the trigger.”

I moved forward and taking a breath stepped onto the tile. With a shimmer the Mair started to breath then it was as if she woke up suddenly. She looked up at me and I could see the fear in her eyes. I knelt down in front of her and with Cat’s help I calmed her, “the mage is dead.”

She kept her eyes down as if afraid of angering me. With her in tow we went to the other room. This time I found the tile quickly and triggered the spell. Once we had reassured her we went down to where the young girls had been. It went quickly as Sam, Cat, Sarah, Gentle and I all triggered the spell.

At first the girls did not seem to understand and Cat sighed in exasperation, “you belong to this man now.”

With big eyes they looked at me. I looked at Cat and she only shrugged. Leading them down the stairs we came out the doorway. The girls all stopped, looking around in fear. Cat touched my arm, “many Mair are not allowed out of their master’s house.”

I nodded and then closed the door. I quietly led them across to the kitchen, while Sam headed for my medical kit. When we entered the kitchen Ann was there with her children, washing hands and faces for bed. Margaret and Tom were there as well, cleaning the pots and pans. I asked Ann quietly if the soup was ready.

She nodded and moved towards a large pot on a stove. There was bread next to the pot and she put a large piece on a small plate and gave each girl a plate and bowl of soup. Marie poured juice for each and brought it to them. Because of the teenager’s unborn child I could not give her the painkiller I wanted.

After searching I found one that would do and mixed the powder in with her juice. Once they were finished eating I helped wash the dishes and then led them down into our room. Together we covered some more hay and made a place for them to sleep next to us. Cat, Sam and I showed them where the bathrooms were.

When they were back and settled I checked the sixteen year old. She shyly said her name was Jen. I smiled and gently worked on her back. The others sat or lay and watched. When I was finished I lightly wrapped a linen cloth around her, “try to sleep on your stomach.”

I handed Sarah the rest of the bandages, “remind me to send for a healer tomorrow.”

When I asked the older Mair her name she told me it was Cassy. The girls were Serene, Krystal, Melody, Rose and Samantha. As everyone settled I could not help thinking that a month ago I had arrived here with nothing and no one. Now not only did I have money but quite a large family.

As I drifted off to sleep I felt Jen climb into the bed with us and snuggle up next to Cat. Then quietly one after another the girls climbed in as well to be held. Last was Cassy, squeezing in to curl up around Sam.

Chapter 4

Day one

A traitor, an injured elf and a visit from the council

It was a busy week, the mages showed up the day after I had opened the secret passages. It was early in the morning and I had climbed out of my crowded bed and started making rounds of the injured from the day before. As I was leaving the bunkhouse slash stables I saw them enter the gate. There were four of them and they walked as if they owned the world.

As they came up to me they were abrupt, “boy, where is this entrance to the Keep passages?”

I looked them up and down slowly which made a young looking one snort and start muttering a spell. Unfortunately for him I could feel the beginnings and reached out from five feet away to grab his throat. When he started to gesture a pinch at a nerve juncture stopped it. The other three were alert now and looking at me.

When the young one had stopped struggling I released him. Quietly I faced them, “lets try this again. My name is Michael and this is my home. How may I help you?”

One of the older mages stepped forward, “that was very interesting. How did you do it?”

When I only looked back another mage, taller and skinny cleared his throat, “we are here to take possession of the necromancer’s property.”

I looked back at him, “I did not know I had put it up for sale.”

The mage flushed and started to reply when the older mage put his hand up, “we were told that there was a situation. That there was left over magic from the necromancer.”

I looked at him carefully, “the work area had magic but it seems to be warded. So no I do not need a mage.”

When the young one started to reply hotly the older one only held his hand up, “what is it that you want?”

I smiled, “that is not the question. The question is, what do you what?”

As I said this I felt the mage that had remained silent start to weave a spell. Quietly I looked at him, “I have already warned you.”

Reaching out I touched him at a point in his brain making a shield with my chi. It was a point that I noticed was most active in a mage and seemed to affect their ability to do magic. As he started to pull something from under his cloak I again reached out, this time to touch him at a point in his spine at his neck.

As the mage froze I stepped up to him. His cloak pin had the same glyph that had been on the silver pendants that the three dead drow guards had around their necks, “tell me mage, how did your glyph end up on a pendent around the neck of a dead drow?”

Saying that I brought out the silver pendent I had pulled from the drow in the workroom. As I held it out on the palm of my hand the glyph seemed to glow. Without warning the older mage stepped forward. With a gesture a web of magic sprang up around the mage, cutting off my touch.

Darkness seemed to envelope the pendent and the old mage looked at my hand that held it and then at the mage, “Pendar, you have questions to answer.”

Holding out his hand out to me, “may I.”

When I put the pendent in his hand he turned to the skinny mage. The other mage stepped forward and looked at the pendent and then at the mage being held by magic. With a nod he stepped back and gestured to the younger mage. The young mage stepped forward, looking long at the pendent before glaring at the mage held in the web of magic.

The old mage looked at me, “we will be taking the mage Pendar. He will face a quorum of his peers. If they determined he was involved with the necromancer he will be put to death and his property sold off.”

After they had left I sent out two runners. One to Garret with the process for admantium, heat shielding for a forge and the suggestion that the first thing he made was the tools for the smithy. The second runner was to see if Samuel was available for a healing. I told the runner to make sure he knew it was not an emergency.

I found John, “could you find some men to work for a few days? I want bunks made for the rooms on the bottom two floors of the passageways. In addition I want the stairwell cleared to the Keep and the whole thing cleaned up, including the gate to the Keep up above.”

With his help and two long ladders hauled up the cliff on a rope I went back to the ruins. Using the ladders together I managed to get to the third floor of the Keep. There was some smoke damage but there was a lot that could be salvaged. The fourth floor was the same with one addition.

I found an elf or drow, (I could never tell them apart) he had been beaten and there were signs of cuts or stabs. He was also in a suspended state. I called down to John, “send a runner to bring Samil!”

I checked the attic while I waited. Although the things I found might be out of date many we would still be able to use. I climbed down the ladder when Samil arrived and explained what I had found. When we went back to look at the elf/drow and Samil nodded, “he is an elf.”

Stepping on a light colored square of flooring the elf seemed to wake. With a look around, “I still will not talk!”

I smiled, “well if you do not talk how will I find out your name?”

The elf looked at us closely and I could see the pain he was holding back. It was the way he clinched his teeth and held his body, “Elvan.”

I knelt down, “we are here to help. I am a doctor.”

After saying that I started checking him. In addition to bruises, (and he had plenty) there were three deep stab wounds and five other deep cuts. On top of that the right arm, left leg and three ribs were broken. We rigged a sling to help us lower him down the ladder. Once we were on the ground John brought a litter so that we could bring him down the stairs.

It was not fun getting him through the collapsed part on the stairs but after that it was easy. Once out of the passages I had them take him in to the large bath so that he could be cleaned up. I found Sarah, Cassy and Jen in the bath. Sarah was trying to get them to relax. Jen was sitting at the edge of the water so she would not get her back wet.

I smiled, “is there any word from Samuel?”

Sarah nodded, “the runner returned to say he would be here at noon.”

I gestured to the elf, “would you help clean him? His name is Elvan.”

Samil had said he would take the news to those that represented the elves here. I told Sarah what to watch out for and went to find Sam. Walking out the door I almost got ran over by a crowd of children following Jeremy for lessons. I found Cat and Sam in the kitchen with Ann. They were talking about the rooms and how to decorate them.

I cleared my throat, “Sam? Would you get the trauma kit? Cat, I need the plaster and bandages for a cast. Also the stronger linens to tape ribs.”

After they had left I looked at Ann, “could you find someone to do a little shopping for clothing for Cassy, Jen and the girls?”

Back at the pool I checked Elvan and then I mixed several drugs. One was a strong narcotic that was extremely addictive. After he was sedated I began. I cleaned the wounds with a saline solution I had mixed up and then carefully stitched his wounds closed. I set the leg and had Sam wrap it.

When she was finished I made sure the arm was set and had Sarah hold the position while Cat wrapped it. The ribs were only fractured and I had Sarah tape them tightly. As they were finishing I could see that the injured or sick were starting to arrive for this mornings rounds. I looked at Cat, “find someone to take him to the first room inside the passage. Have someone stay with him until I can check him again.”

As I started checking what I termed my sick a group of three showed up. They told me that they were representatives from the city council and that the property was being taken back by the city. I looked up at them, one was a dwarf and the other two looked like fat cat merchants, “well gentlemen, if the city is taking back the property I will remove my plunder, reset the traps and of course send you the bill.”

With a start the short, fat one asked, “what bill?”

I looked at all three of them, “since I have not had the property for twenty-four hours I would have to assume that it was a ruse to get me to destroy the undead guards in the tunnels. This means you are libel for any bills by me.”

I glanced at my patients, “I was thinking of charging one hundred gold pieces for every undead guard I had to destroy.”

They started to argue but I stopped them, “you will also undoubtedly be receiving a complaint from the dwarf merchants.”

They looked at me then at the dwarf, “why?”

I looked at them, “I am a partner with a dwarf named Garret. There is a forge in the passages. I was going to use it to make and refine new metals.”

They looked at each other and the dwarf cleared his throat, “what proof do you have of the partnership?”

I shrugged, “The dwarf’s merchant guild has already appointed me to a position as a Judge.”

That seemed to be the magic word, the dwarf immediately started backing me up. They eventually told me that they would ratify my deed. My sick that day was light, I had finished and was sitting with Sarah, Sam and Cat. We were eating a light meal and I was going over the cases with them when three elves walked in the gate.

Two were richly dressed, the other was wearing well fitting comfortable clothes and carrying a small leather case. I met them outside the kitchen, one of the well dressed elves, (he walked with a balance that I recognized from Samil) held out his hand, “I am Teral. Samil told me a wild tell of an elf under a spell and injured.”

The other elf was looking around distractedly but the one in the comfortable clothes held out his hand, “I am Aretha.”

Then he surprised me, “I have heard of you.”

As I was leading the way to the passageway I glanced at him, “what have you heard?”

I heard him chuckle, “I heard you were giving healers a bad name.”

I looked at him again, “oh?”

He grinned, “you seem to be actually helping people.”

As we entered the room I saw that Jen was sitting beside the bed. She was singing a lullaby softly. As we entered the room she stood and backed away quickly. I could see the fear on her face as she looked at the elves. I smiled, “has he awakened?”

She nodded timidly, “I gave him the powder and he drank two glasses of water.”

As I was checking him Aretha asked what I had given him. I told him and he remarked that the drug was addictive. I looked up at him and agreed, “that was why I only used it once and in combination with a drug to reduce the swelling.”

Aretha only nodded, “how bad are the injuries?”

I described the wounds and the broken bones and then said he looked worse than he was. Elvan opened his eyes and whispered, “it feels worse on the inside.”

The other well dressed elf stepped up to the bed, “we thought you were dead. What happened?”

With an effort he tried to sit up only to be stopped by me, “lie still until the healer arrives.”

Lying back he told his story about an ambush at somewhere called Killgore Pass and a sudden blow to his head from magic. He told of the drow trying to get information about someone called the prince and a place called Willow Grove. Finally I called a halt to his talking, “he needs to rest.”

Aretha agreed and they said they would return the next day. Showing them out I saw Samuel talking with Ann, when she saw the elves leaving she sent him over to me. When we entered the room again Jen was back beside the bed giving Elvan sips of water. She started to move away but I stopped her and had her lie on the other side of the bed.

The bed was large, larger than what I remembered a king size bed being. I stripped her shirt off and gently removed the bandages. The lacerations were red and there was a little seepage from one. Elvan turned his head and was watching what I was doing. Samuel stepped up and looked at the wounds while shaking his head, “who did this?”

I looked at his face and saw anger. “I found her under a suspension spell like the elf. From what I know they were both held under the spell for at least twenty years. Would being under a spell like that for so long would harm the unborn child?”

Jen looked back in alarm but Samuel shook his head, “No. It should not affect the child.”

Laying his hand on her shoulder he started the healing without even setting a price. As the healing glow surrounded them I knew that something was different. The glow was brighter and the magic seemed to reach out to me as well as Elvan. When Samuel finished and the glow faded there was a beautiful smile on his face.

When Jen looked up at me I could see a look of wonder on her face. Samuel looked at me, “she is a healer. How could someone do that to a healer?”

I had her stay where she was and we went around to Elvan. As I started unwrapping the bandages I saw that the laceration seemed to be half healed. Samuel only gave a half smile and explained, “she reached out when she felt the healing magic.”

He continued as I helped unwrap the elf, “when a healer first experiences the healing magic they respond in kind with a magnifying effect. The magic reaches out for any and all that might be near.”

Once Elvan was unwrapped Samuel looked at me, “would you mind letting the Mair help me?”

When I looked at her to ask I saw the look of yearning and went to helped her up. Samuel put her hand on top of his and explained what he was going to do. As the glow rose up around them it was almost as if I could hear a soft lullaby. When they finished the look of pain in Elvan’s eyes was gone but it was the sigh from Samuel that drew my attention.

When he saw me looking he smiled, “healers seldom work together. The feeling of working with another healer is something we savor.”

I nodded as I cut the cast off. I looked at Elvan, “a nights rest and I will let you go.”

I smiled at Jen, “have you eaten?”

She nodded but was still a little distracted from the healing magic. As I walked Samuel out he glanced at me, “she needs to be trained.”

I looked at him, “where and how much?”

That was a beginning. I had agreed to let him train Jen on the condition that he takes her condition into account. In addition he was to either come and get her himself or send someone to escort her to and from all teachings.

The afternoon was spent in cleaning the halls and removing the bodies that were found. With the exception of the necromancer’s workroom or you could call it the torture room. I had spent some time in what I called the craft hall, learning what was there and thinking of ways to use it. I sat at a bench and made several detailed sketches of surgical instruments and of weapons that I remembered.

I found a set of short Wakizashi cane swords on a bench with a larger katana sword. All the sheaths were a midnight blue. The blades were all the white/silver color of Cat’s sword and they all had the weaving of magic in and through them. The young girls had spent the day with Marie, David and Mary.

Wherever that had been they all looked like they had rolled in the dirt. That afternoon for my exercises it looked like I had an army training with me. At the end I sat everyone down, “I see a lot of new faces. Let me say this so you will all know, this is not an art for fighting but for defending yourself.”

I looked at each of them, “my sensei told me many things that I did not understand until later. I will give the first lesson and it is a major part of this style. You must learn to see the leaves in the forest.”

I could see several of my students shuffle around, “I think what that means is that you relearn how you see the world around you. You walk down the street but do you see the lamplighter. Do you notice the way people carry themselves. What about when you talk to someone, can you tell if they lie?”

Pointing to a new guard in the front row, “which way do peoples eyes look when they are creating a story? What does their body language tell you?”

Pointing to a young apprentice mage that had shown up for this evening’s class, “which way do people look when remembering an event? How do they hold themselves?”

I gestured towards the gate, “looking out onto the street, who sets a regular pattern? The baker setting out the morning bread? The blacksmith opening his shop? You must teach yourselves to see not just those patterns but those little things that do not normally fit.”

I straightened, “enough, class dismissed.”

I had spoken with Sarah about the things I would be teaching her. I also went over what exactly I would have to do to heal her. It was an interesting evening with everyone splashing in the pool in our room and the quiet exchanges between the girls.

Before bed I called them all together, “I would like all of you to learn to do things for yourselves. You should learn to read and write, to do arithmetic but mostly to find something you liked doing. Like Jen and her healing or Cat who is learning medicine.”

That night was a repeat of the night before, even though it did not seem as urgent. I had moved some of the hay over so there was more room in our bed and all the girls crowded on.

Chapter 5

Day Two

An arrogant puppy, a lesson, a deal for a ghost and the farm

The next morning was overcast as I stretched by one of the practice rings. Sam and Cat had decided to try and sleep in. I thought about some of the things I had done before coming here. One of the things I missed was the weekend trips to the gun range. My dad had started me on them when I was ten.

I shot everything from pistols to hunting rifles. I had even designed modified rifles and pistols last year chambered for caseless ammo I had also designed. I had even competed in a long range rifle match and won.

As I picked two short practice swords I saw Samil talking to an elf I remembered from my first employment with Garth. I could see that Samil was angry and saw Teral step out of the crowd that always seemed to gather for any practice that I did. Samil seemed to hold himself very still.

When Teral stepped up to them the arrogant one said something that he found funny. He waved Samil aside and the arrogant elf turned and walked to me, “I told you I would teach you how your betters fight.”

I only shook my head, “I still do not teach arrogant puppies.”

Turning I started away, the attack came when my back was turned, not that it made any difference. I stepped out of line of attack and then with a spin my right hand sword struck the head of the elf. As the he staggered I walked in, striking left and right in a blur. It only lasted a moment and then the elf was falling.

Both arms broken at the forearms, several broken ribs and a light concussion. I turned away as three elves rushed to the fallen ones side. I stopped in front of Samil and Teral. Teral shook his head, “you know he will try to send someone after you.”

I looked back at the scene in the ring, “if he does I will give him a final lesson, there is always a challenge.”

Teral looked at me and then murmured, “I will speak to his father.”

Samil shook himself, “do you still want to practice?”

I nodded and Teral cleared his throat, “would you consent to a bout with me?”

I nodded and we moved to another ring. The fight was a reminder of my first fight with Samil, it lasted over forty minutes and ended just as quickly as it began. When Teral struck at a faint and then only blocked partially he got caught by a second blow he did not see coming. I had stopped the strike before it hit his neck. There was a pause and then I stepped away and bowed.

When I returned home I was met with a sight, Legate Abrams sat at a small kitchen table that had been moved outside the kitchen door. There was a mug on the table and he was telling a story to what looked like every child in the neighborhood. The guard that stood nearby looked a little red in the face.

As I listened to the end of the story I found out why the guard was red in the face. It was a story about him and a slippery girl. She had apparently beaten him at everything they did and he had ended up marrying her. As the crowd broke up I clapped and the Legate bowed. As Sam and Cat approached I smiled, “were you able to sleep in?”

The only answer was a mutter about children and their unnatural sleep habits. This earned a laugh from all. I laughed, “did anyone show up from the healers to escort Jen?”

Sam shook her head, “no but a message arrived saying Samuel would be here at noon to speak to you.”

I nodded and gestured for the Legate to accompany me, “I have rounds to make.”

I noticed that someone had fenced part of the corral off and built a fence to the Keep’s passageway. As I entered the passageway Jeremy greeted me, “four elves came in a short time ago and are in with your patient, the elf.”

He gave a brief description of the patients waiting to see me and where they were. When I entered Elvan’s room I was greeted with silence. Cheerfully I gave Elvan a greeting, “good morning.”

He looked at me and quietly asked, “is it true? You assaulted an elf noble?”

I stepped to the bed and started checking him as I answered, “no. An elf attacked me from behind after I had refused to practice with him.”

One of the well-dressed elves snorted, “James is a noble. It would have been an honor for anyone to practice with him.”

I looked at him, “I am not anyone.”

The elf replied, “even here you do not show the proper respect.”

Looking down at Elvan, “would excuse me for a moment?”

Walking around the bed I felt more elves at the door but I continued to walk up to the elf, “respect? Why should I respect you? What have you done to deserve my respect? Should I respect you because you are an elf and live forever? I have looked and asked, where are the great learning centers for your people to teach others music or art? Where are the schools of medicine or science?”

I shook my head, “why should I respect you for living if you waste it? Should I respect you because you are a noble? That is an accident of birth. A true noble does not let himself come before his people but instead puts his people before himself. His rule should be one to promote the health and prosperity of his people.”

I glanced back before looking at him, “should I respect you out of fear? Elves once practiced great and terrible magic’s and had vast armies. That is what the one that once ruled these halls did is it not? That is what your cousins the drow do is it not?”

He exclaimed, “but I am an elf!”

I snorted, “like they are not? Respect is something one earns. I have a simple rule, I treat everyone with common courtesy until they prove that they do not deserve it. You act polite to me and I will be polite to you. You act arrogant to me, I will be arrogant to you.”

Turning I walked back to Elvan who had been watching and finished examining him. Without turning I asked Tom, (who had been sitting by the wardrobe next to a standing Legate) “would you hand me the small scissors, gauze and the shallow bowl of water?”

I had asked to have these ready for this morning. As Tom handed the supplies to me a new voice spoke from the door, “what about those that attack another unprovoked?”

Without looking up from cutting and removing the stitches in Elvan I answered, “you would be the father. Well, attacking someone from behind that has refused to practice with you would be provocation.”

The elf responded, “that is not the story my son tells.”

I continued removing stitches, “as to his story I would not be able to help you. As for what happened, there were more than a hundred witness, including Teral standing beside you. Obviously you do not believe him so you would not believe them. That is why you brought the four armored guards in the hall, to teach me a lesson.”

The elf was a little flustered and I continued, “if you will give me a few moments to finish I will be right out.”

I half felt the wave that sent the guards back down the passage. When I finished with Elvan he whispered a warning, “be careful.”

I smiled down at him, “I usually am. Now I do not want you doing too much for the next day, after that you can start exercising more. You will tire quickly at first so go slowly.”

Handing everything back to Tom, “see that everything is burned or sterilized.”

With a wave to the elf lord to proceed me we went down the hallway and out the doorway. The four elves were waiting for me in the corral. As I stepped into the corral I asked the elf lord, “how far do you want to take this?”

His answer was that they would take this as far as it needed to go. Reaching out with all my senses I walked to the center of the four. As they attacked I drew the two short swords that I had across my back. The handles had been by my waist and as they swept up blocking I kicked the one in front of me.

Spinning, I let myself go. It was not a minute later that I yelled for them to stop. There I stood, one of the swords at the throat of an elf. The others hesitated and I stepped back lowering my sword, “I am sorry, you have skill but you should not be facing me. You are not that good.”

All the elves looked at me but the one that had been at my swords point spoke up, “why? What am I doing wrong?”

I looked at him and then turned my head, “would you grant me a moment?”

When they nodded and stepped back and I faced the other, “you fight with skill but you only use your eyes and you let the others distract you. You must learn to use all your senses, hearing, smell, touch as well as sight and move with the flow around you.”

When the elf looked at me uncertain I made a decision. In a smooth motion I replaced the two swords in their sheaths, “Teral, would you assist me?”

To the elf, “would you lend me the black kerchief in your breast pocket?”

I rolled the kerchief up and wrapped it around my eyes. Holding my hand out to the elf, “may I borrow your sword.”

With the sword in hand I spun it around my hand weighting it. Turning to face Teral I reached out with all my senses, “when you are ready.”

Teral’s attack seemed to hold nothing back, the fight lasted only a minute before I stood with my borrowed sword at his chest. Stepping back I removed the kerchief and bowed to Teral, “you were too much in a hurry this time.”

He bowed back and stepped out of the corral. Returning the sword to the elf, “learn to use your other senses and learning to understand what you see will help with the distraction when fighting with others.”

He sheathed his sword and bowed with his head lowered and his arms crossed, “thank you Master.”

As he left the corral I turned to face the three elves, “gentlemen you have my apology, if you are ready to continue?”

The three looked at one another and then bowed to me. The one in the center stepped forward, “Master we yield to your skill and compassion.”

Saying this they put their swords away and left the corral, walking out the gate without looking at the elf lord. I climbed out of the corral and walked up to the noble and waited. It was a minute before he sighed, “you show compassion and honor. The skill you demonstrate is not common. I do not know what to do.”

I sighed too, “teach him. Not just how to fight but how to treat people. Teach him honor and compassion.”

The noble bent his head in thought, “who? Who would teach him?”

I gestured, “Teral could or Samil, both have skill.”

The noble looked up, “what about you?”

I thought about this for a minute, “the problem I see with that is that he does not respect me.”

I thought about it and what I came up with was not something he would like doing. I looked him in the eye, “give him to Samil in bond.”

The noble looked at me, “I can not put him in bond against his will.”

With a clearing of his throat the Legate spoke up, “actually you can. As his liege you can put him in bond.”

The noble looked at the Legate and then back at me, “will Samil accept him?”

I shrugged, “ask Samil for his help. If he agrees I will try to teach him as well.”

As he was leaving two Mages came in the gate. It was the older one and the skinny one. With their arrival the Legate seemed to relax a little. As they walked up to me I greeted them, “good morning gentlemen. To what do I owe the honor of your presence this fine morning?”

The older mage looked at me and then glanced at the Legate, “we would like to look into the necromancer’s workrooms.”

I looked from them to the Legate and back, “you gentlemen seem to have me at a disadvantage. I gave you my name yesterday but I am afraid I did not get your names?”

The older looking mage turned a little pink, “my apologies. I was a little preoccupied yesterday. My name is Artimus and this is Nathen.”

I smiled, “and your other friend?”

Artimus looked at me and then turned to look around before finally looking down at the grey spotted cat that sat at his feet, “Simon, what are you doing here? I asked you to remain at home.”

The cat only stared back at him with unflinching eyes, “no I do not need you to watch my back. Yes I know I get distracted, but what?”

Turning back to me he frowned, “sorry. Simon has reminded me of my manners. This is my familiar Simon.”

I had a little trouble hiding my smile but with an effort I managed. With a slight bow I acknowledged the cat, “now. How can I help you?”

Artimus again looked at the Legate and then repeated that they would like to look at the necromancer’s workrooms. I looked at Legate Abrams, “I take it you are not here by accident to tell stories to the children.”

Legate Abrams smiled, “no. Late last night a drow interrupted the mages quorum. Pendar escaped and two mages were killed, another three were injured. The council representatives asked me to see if I could persuade you to let the mages look through the workrooms. They remembered the last time someone tried to enter a mages domain without his permission.”

I thought for a minute, there were things that bothered me. Turning back to Artimus, “perhaps, if you could do something for me.”

Artimus raised his eyebrow, “such as?”

I thought about it and replied, “I want to speak to my great grandfather. The problem is he died four years ago and on another world.”

Nathen seemed to take an interest, “it might be possible to summon the spirit. I do not know if his dying on another world will make a difference. You only want to speak to him?”

I nodded and Nathen and Artimus put their heads together for several minutes. When they broke up Nathen directed me to a clear area in the corral. After drawing two symbols on the ground he gestured, “stand in one and think of your grandfather.”

He sat outside of the other and when everything was ready began a chant. I could feel the web of magic that slowly reached out to me and then seemed to fade into thin air. I could see that Nathen was straining, as if he were struggling with something. I saw a wavy white form start to appear inside the other symbol but it looked like Nathen was still having trouble.

I called out, “grandfather I need your help!”

Nathen was suddenly rocking back. It was as if he had been pulling against a resistance and suddenly the resistance was gone. Inside the other symbol a form appeared of an Indian in his early twenties with long black hair, “Grandson why have you done this? There is little help I can provide from here.”

I took a breath, “grandfather I need advice. I am on this strange world and am not sure what to do. Should I try to find my way back home or stay and make my way here?”

Nathen sat forward as if he were ready to react to a threat. I was the only one that heard the voice of my grandfather, “grandson the way one travels must be their own choice. You have said you wanted to be a doctor to help people. In which place would you be the most help?”

I bent my head acknowledging what my grandfather had said, “thank you grandfather.”

As the form of my grandfather faded his voice sounded again, “White Hawk, your answers are in your heart, you will be a great warrior. Good hunting and do not do this again.”

That time everyone heard his last words. When he was gone and the magic had faded Nathen stood, “that must have been an amazing person when he was alive.”

I nodded agreement as I helped erase the symbols. I walked the two mages and the Legate into the passageways. I stopped at the door going into what I thought of as the necromancer’s torture room, “one thing. If there are spells that will affect the whole complex please let me know before you do anything. When you are finished have someone find me and I will take you up to his crafting room.”

With that I opened the door. The mages slowly stepped into the room. I could see their fists held tightly at their sides. Simon seemed to be trying to walk as close to Artimus as possible. The Legate looked in and his face turned a little grey. He stepped back, “I do not think they will need me anymore. We will be trying to enter Pendar’s manor tomorrow morning. If you are available to help with any injured I would consider it a favor.”

I nodded, “I will be there.”

I escorted the Legate out and then returned to my sick and injured. I spent the rest of the morning after my sick call in helping John place beams in two of the rooms and in helping to remove rubble from the top landing. I had just sat down outside of the kitchen when a man and woman, (both looked to be in their twenties) came through the gate.

They were followed by a little boy three or four years old and the woman carried another baby maybe a year old. They approached me and asked to speak to Michael. They were surprised when I told them that I was him. I was finally able to convince them that I was probably the one they were looking for.

The man looked at his wife, “my name is Peter and this is my wife Eleanor and the two children are Tomas and Harry.”

He took a breath, “I was told you helped people… my eldest son Adam has been picked up by the guards as a homeless vagrant.”

I looked at him and his wife, “are you homeless?”

Peter looked down at his feet, “Yes. The Saur ate the crops and we were let out.”

I raised my eyebrow, “the Saur?”

Peter looked at me in surprise. The voice of John spoke from the door to the kitchen, “the Saur are lizards. They get pretty large, maybe twenty to twenty five feet.”

I looked back at him, “do they attack people?”

John nodded, “yes, if you get too close. Mostly they eat leafy things but they will attack anything they think is in their territory… except each other.”

I looked at Peter, “how hard is it to kill them?”

Peter shrugged, “it usually takes several men because arrows will not penetrate far enough and by the time you get close enough for anything else it is already attacking you.”

Another voice spoke from the corner of the kitchen wall, (it was Jeremy) “it is believed that the Saur were brought in by Dragons as a source of food. All we know for fact is that they were first seen after the dragon attacked and made the dwarven mines home.”

I looked back at Peter, “So these Saur ate your crops and the landowner let you go rather than try to kill the Saur?”

When Peter nodded I sat there for a minute thinking and then after making up my mind, “John, could you send someone to find out who owns the land on the other side of the river and see if they would be willing to sell? Do you know where Sam is?”

John laughed, “teaching what looked like the whole neighborhood how to swim.”

I smiled, “is there anyone else that knows how to swim there?”

John nodded, “Gentle and Paul, that is what is so funny. They keep dunking each other.”

When I saw Samuel coming through the gate and head for me I turned to Peter, “I will help. Take your family into the kitchen. Ann will fix something for them. When you are done come back and we can talk about a job.”

After John had shown them into the kitchen I turned to Samuel as he approached, “good afternoon Samuel, how are you today?”

He gave me a rueful smile, “tired. I was up most of the night with injured mages.”

As he said this, Cassy and Jen came out of the kitchen, “the reason I needed to talk to you was that I was told by my superiors that the order could not be seen as teachers of a Mair. I was not happy with this. The abbot said that as long as I taught her outside the temple it would be okay. What this means is any teaching will have to be here or whenever I get a call and have time to send for her.”

I thought about this, “that actually sounds better. Will you be doing anything today?”

Samuel gave a tired smile and nodded, “I wanted to go over some of the basics and when to use wards. That type of thing.”

I turned to Jen, “Go with Samuel, he will explain some things to you. Cassy can go with you if she likes and does not get in the way.”

Turning back to Samuel, “you can use one of the lower rooms in the Keep passages. If you need to. I am sure you could find someone for her to practice on.”

As they left I saw one of the neighborhood boys running out the gate and John came back out of the kitchen, “you do realize that there are Saur on the other side of the river?”

I smiled, “we will cross that bridge after it is built. Speaking of building, do we have anyone clearing the rubble on the stairs?”

John nodded, “there are three men up there now and I had Tom and another boy move all the swords to the last room on this level. They said that with luck it would be clear by the end of the day. Also if you plan to fix that Keep up you will need more workers, some skilled and that costs. Speaking of cost…”

He ended with a smile I had come to know and I smiled back, “I will be right back.”

As I was walking back to the bedroom I thought about all the work we were doing and were going to do. In the bedroom the door leading out to the river was open and I could hear squealing and splashing. Moving to the corner that we had set aside and covered with the black curtains I uncovered part of it.

I emptied a small chest then refilled it with gold pieces before filling my purse. Covering everything back up I went to the river door and caught Cat’s attention. She had Paul take over holding a small girl up as she was learning to paddle. When she got to the door I told her that I would be going out and why.

I also told her that it might be time to move into better quarters like maybe one of the upper bedrooms. She nodded and felt her back, “I agree, someone kicks in their sleep.”

I laughed, “We can put them in the next bedroom, just to save your back. You or Sam can take a look at that large bedroom on the top floor. And maybe a room for Sarah on the lower floor?”

I went back up the stairs carrying the small chest. Back in front of the kitchen Peter and his wife were waiting with John. I told them I would be with them in a minute and had John walk with me into the smithy. I set the small chest down on a work bench in back out of sight.

When I opened it John looked stunned, “John, you and Ann have helped me without complaining. This is not all I have but for right now it is your working budget. You can have Jeremy show you or Ann how to keep track of it. If you need money for something use it. It is also time for you to stop being just a worker or blacksmith.”

I smiled, “you have a skill for getting things done, it is time you used it. If you see something that needs a worker than hire one. You can even do that from here in the smithy where you are more comfortable. You will need to check on the work every now and then to be sure it gets done the way it should. We can sit down later and go over things or discuss what should be done about something if you are not sure.”

I took a breath, “I do not need a servant, I need a partner. Would you consider it?”

He sat down on the stool by the bench with a stunned look. Then after a minute he looked me in the eyes, “when you bought our bond I did not know what to think. Then you set us free and gave us a place to stay, even sharing food with us. You never treat anyone bad and always help without being asked. You are always asking our opinion about this or that before making up your mind. I think you have already been treating us as partners so can I do any less? The answer is yes.”

He stood, “now that that is done, what are you planning for the land on the other side of the river?”

I smiled, “a farm of course. With all these mouths to feed it will come in handy.”

John shook his head, “what about the Saur, don’t you think they will be a problem?”

I thought back to my long distance shooting, “no. I do not think that will be the problem. Among other things that I did before I came here was to design weapons that are very powerful.”

He looked doubtful but nodded, “and the farmer? What job? Building the farm across the river?”

I nodded, “I am moving my misfits up into the keep. To the top floor, the two bedrooms on the other end, the large one and the one next to it. Maybe you should do the same and take the two on this end, put the kids in one by themselves and give you and Ann some privacy.”

I turned and went back out to the kitchen. After talking to Peter and his wife for several minutes they agreed to try to build the farm as I asked. I asked if Eleanor would mind helping in the kitchen and had Peter come with me. Before I could go anywhere the two mages came out of the passageway trailed by the cat Simon.

They came up to me looking a little pale and Artimus murmured, “Simon reminded us that it was past time for his lunch.”

I looked down at Simon, “well if he says its time then it must be so. If you would like you might ask in the kitchen. I am sure they would be able to find something. Even someone as knowledgeable a person as Simon might find something.”

Artimus and Nathen nodded their thanks and started into the kitchen, “I will be back shortly, maybe in an hour.”

Artimus stopped and turned before nodding. After they had gone inside Simon was still sitting there looking at me with his head tilted a little and I could feel a tingling in my head. Then it stopped and Simon got up and trotted to the door as Artimus opened it looking out. Shrugging my shoulders I led Peter off and out the gate.

Twenty minutes later we were standing in front of the Guard headquarter for this part of the city. Peter had said they had brought his son here. I nodded to him, “let me do the talking.”

As we entered I recognized several of the guards but went up to the bench where a sergeant sat. When the sergeant acknowledged me I explained, “one of my worker’s children was picked up by mistake and I am here to collect him.”

The sergeant looked at Peter, “we only pick up vagrants.”

I shrugged, “there must be a mistake. The boy’s father is a farmer and the boy is not of age.”

The sergeant looked at me for a long moment, “what is the boy’s name?”

I smiled, “Adam.”

He wrote something down and then folded it, “have a seat against the wall.”

A few minutes later a lieutenant came out leading a boy about six. By the way Peter reacted I knew this was his son. I recognized the lieutenant as the one that had been speaking with the legate the other day. When the lieutenant arrived he looked at me, “is this Adam?”

I nodded, “yes.”

The lieutenant frowned, “I did not know you owned a farm.”

I explained, “I am buying the land across the river.”

With Adam in tow we left and once we were outside Peter swung him up into a hug. Back at home I found the two mages sitting on the stoop of the kitchen, both looked in much better shape. There was a portly looking man with John by the side of the house. When I asked Artimus told me it was some city official.

Ann came out the door and when she saw me she smiled, “the property has been foreclosed and the city owns it.”

I shook my head, I did not understand the people here sometimes. With the mages in tow (Simon had disappeared somewhere) I led them up to the crafting room as I called it. When we entered I could see that something was different. It was a moment before I knew what it was. No longer was there a feeling of waiting, there was activity at several benches which at first worried me until I saw the sketches I had left here.

They were making what I had sketched! Turning to the mages I saw that they had warded themselves. I explained, “I left some sketches up here and apparently they are crafting them.”

They relaxed and I asked something that had worried me, “are these whatever they are… are they ghosts or spirits of someone?”

I could feel the tendril of magic spreading out from Nathen. After a few minutes Nathen spoke, “no, these are animated copies. They are only spells but very complicated ones.”

I watched as they wandered around the craftroom. A voice spoke quietly, “Master, could you explain this.”

When I looked down it was to see the paper with a formula and a sketch of the .45 Magnum ammunition that I had drawn. It was floating waist high beside me, “what needs explaining?”

The section of the paper that held the formula started glowing. So as the mages wandered around I sat and explained the formula and then I was examining work that was brought to me. By the time the mages were finished I had a complete set of the surgical instruments.

As I was closing the door behind me Artimus spoke up, “that is a very valuable workroom. The spells that control it have no taint of the necromancer on them.”

They were quiet all the way out. Back outside they turned to me and Artimus spoke again, “the necromancer’s work room, that ghastly place, the spells there need to be broken. The only spell in the room that was not bad was the one on the salamander. If you want, we could do it for a price.”

I looked at him, “what price?”

He shrugged, “the use occasionally of the craft room.”

I continued to look at him, “and who provides the materials for your work?”

Artimus blushed, “we will provide them.”

A mumbled, “I told you so”, from Nathen confirmed that I would have been stuck providing the materials if I had not asked. After a moment I agreed and we shook on it. After they had left it seemed that things had settled down. John told me that he had purchased the land and it was larger than we thought.

We went over constructing a temporary rope bridge. Then it was time for the afternoon class. Again my class was full and I had to break it in two. Those just starting and those that were practicing. After class I got with Sarah, Cat and Sam. I wanted Sarah to handle the morning sick that came in and Cat and Sam would go with me to help the Guard.

When I went to wash and change for the night I found everything gone. I went outside as Sam was just coming out of the kitchen and I stopped her, “where did everything go?”

She smiled and led me up into the passageways. When we came out onto the fifth floor I could hear the shouting and laughter of the children. Sam led me to the left past the first bedroom, Serene, Rose and Samantha came rushing out right into me. At first there was fear on their faces and then as I released them (ensuring that they would not fall down) they started talking fast.

It seemed that they just had to show me “their” room. Sam told me quietly, “it took us a while to convince them that it is their room and they were not going to be locked up again.”

When I left they were splashing in the bath. Our bedroom was almost across the hall from the exit leading up behind the stables. When I entered I saw Cassy and Jen sitting by the fireplace. It looked like they had already bathed and Jen was brushing Cassy’s hair. Cat was putting chests that I recognized into one of the armoires.

I quietly told her and Sam about the treasure room behind the crafting room. Each of us took a chest or package, Jen and Cassy had come over to help us. Going back out and down to the crafting room I had to reassure Jen and Cassy that it was alright for them to enter. The necromancer had forbidden it on pain of death.

I led them across the room to the other door. When they saw what was inside (especially the gems) it seemed that it was time for them to examine it themselves. While I was waiting a package seemed to float up to me. The package had a slight feel of magic about it, “Master, is this acceptable?”

The package was made of tooled leather about 18 inches long. When I opened it I saw that it was one of the pistols I had sketched. It almost looked like a Desert Eagle with something engraved down the slide. I had designed it with caseless ammunition in mind but chambered for a .45 Magnum.

It was made from mythril and it felt as if it belonged in my hand. The barrel was long at 7 ½ inches. The handle was a wood that had a greenish tint to it. I had labeled it my White Hawk. There was a small box as well and when I opened it there were thirty rounds, each in their own slot and another row of ten that seemed different.

When I pulled one out to see it, I saw that they had made them solid and more pointed. Along the side of the case were ten magazines. When I looked up, (of course there was no one to see) “has the chamber been tested to be sure it will not explode?”

“It will hold Master.”

“And the spell?”

“I am sorry Master, it was very loud. A spell of silence was engraved. A Mage will have to activate it.”

I nodded as the girls came out and I could see several gems in their hands. They told me that they wanted to examine them more closely. The night was more relaxed, though Cat did get up once to go next door and tell the girls to quiet down.

Chapter 6

Day Three - Part 1

Pendar’s Keep

The morning started off cool with just a hint of rain in the air. Jen told me that Samuel would be there soon to pick her and Cassy up (Cassy seemed to have a talent for knowing what Samuel needed or wanted. Jen had told me that Samuel said she would be a good assistant.)

Breakfast in the kitchen was quiet but everyone seemed to be in a good mood. All the kids seemed a little tired, (probably from staying up the night before.) I went over things with John and Ann, including talking about clearing the gateway for the Keep above. Ann said she would keep an eye on the girls while I was gone.

When Jeremy came in I explained that Sarah would be here for the sick and if there was anything to bad to send someone to the healers. While I sat listening to the quiet morning talk I spread a piece of leather out and cut out a pattern. The leather was soft and easy to handle. Sewing it together I made a shoulder holster.

I put it in place and then tied it across my chest. I removed the pistol from its leather package. I loaded half the magazines, one with solid ball ammo and inserted one in the pistol and chambering a round. I put the pistol in the holster and dropped the spare magazines into my vest pockets.

It was several minutes before I had it adjusted the way I wanted but when I was finished I looked up into John’s eyes. He nodded at the pistol, “for the Saur?”

I shook my head, at John’s words the room had quieted. I saw that Ann looked a little worried, “that will be something bigger and will not be ready for at least a day or so.”

I asked John to have Marie take the package back to my room. I gathered up Sam and Cat and we picked up several trauma packs and anything else we would need. By the time we were ready to go Samuel was there for the girls, “I am headed to Pendar’s too.”

I told the girls to be good and after ruffling some hair, left. Cat was wearing the chain shirt and had the green cane sword through her belt. One of the guards that walked the neighborhood gave us directions and it took almost 30 minutes. I realized that we were not that far from the upper entrance to the Keep when we arrived.

When I entered the courtyard it looked like everything was in chaos. There were wounded against a wall to the left and I turned and went that way. It took several minutes to set up. I had Sam find out who was injured the worst while Cat and I set up an area. Either Cat or Sam would be sewing up cuts while I took care of the more serious injuries.

Legate Abrams stopped by once to thank us and tell me that they were having more problems then they expected. He even went so far as to help place a bandage on and say that the healers were already tired out and they were stuck with the ordinary doctors. He told me that they were seriously thinking of using fire and just burning it down.

The tide of wounded had started slowing down and I was operating on one of the guards with Cat assisting when I felt someone come up behind me, “what do we have here?”

A quick glance told me that my feelings were right, it was the elder Shaffer. Turning back I continued operating, (I was sewing a man’s artery closed and could not spare my attention), “I am busy, if you need help that young lady will help you,” and I nodded in the direction of Sam.

The man stepped closer but not to me. He was right behind Cat, “this one can help me.”

Saying that he reached around and grabbed her breast. Without thought Cat swayed one way and my right hand came around in a blow that sent him flying back. The two guards that had been with him started forward but several of the guards that we had been treating stood up.

A very skinny black haired lieutenant with a rag wrapped around his leg spoke up, “that is enough. Leave or go into bondage as a criminal for interfering with the guard.”

That seemed to wake them up and they stepped back and went to collect their employer. One looked over at me, “it is not over” and then they carried him out. After we finished with the last man I told Cat and Sam to rest while I went over by the gate. The Legate was there with several mages and the lieutenant I had recognized from earlier.

The mages were telling them that they could not stop the animation of the dead because it was tied somehow to the Keep and was too strong. The Legate shook his head, “this means fire and I hate that. It always gets out of hand.”

I looked at the Keep then back to Legate Abrams, “mind if I take a look?”

He looked back at me and then smiled, “what will it cost me?”

I smiled back at him, “let me take a look and I will give you my opinion and the price if needed.”

The two mages looked at me as if I were not sane. I nodded to them and turned to the front of the Keep. Spreading my senses I could feel the webs of magic that laced around me. As I got closer to the front door a guard stopped me and warned me that some of the dead were using bows. I moved to the side of the door and peeked around the corner.

I could feel a web of magic that blocked the doorway. I could feel the strands of magic that came from the dead and led deeper into the Keep. I pulled my head back before an arrow went past where it had been. It looked to me like the dead were tied to the inside of the Keep. I wondered what would happen if they were brought out through the magic barrier.

With an image of bow fishing in my head I went back to where the Legate waited, “how much is it worth to you if I help with this little problem?”

The Legate snorted, “well not the Keep. What did you have in mind?”

I had thought about this, “how about any bond servant in there. After you have checked them of course and one half of the valuables.”

He snorted, “ten percent and I will let you use some of my guards.”

I shook my head, “thirty percent, the bond servants and the guards.”

Legate replied with, “twenty-five and the guards.”

I thought about it then replied, “twenty-five but with the bond servants and guards. The bond servants are not negotiable.”

He looked at me for a long time, “always the soft heart. Very well, it is a deal.”

I nodded, “not that I do not trust your word but how about another official signing off on it first.”

The Legate nodded, “it will take a few minutes.”

I looked around, “I will need several strong men, a couple of heavy crossbows and some light but strong rope or cordage.”

I went back to Cat and Sam and told them that I going to be clearing the Keep and the price. Sam shook her head, “where are we going to put anyone we find?”

I smiled, “we put them wherever we can.”

With a sigh they got up, Sam asked one of the guards she had helped if he would watch our things. When we walked up to where the Legate was one of the mages gave a surprised yelp and said something to the other and then stepped forward toward Cat. I felt the magic that he started to call up but before he could finish whatever he was going to do Sam stepped up to him and put her dagger to his throat.

At this he seemed to come to himself and shake his head. The other mage had stepped back and had started to chant something when Cat drew the sword. It was as if there was a physical wave that sprang from the blade to the mage. This froze him as if in a block of ice and there was a waiting feeling in the air.

I looked at them, “do you have a problem?”

The first mage looked back at me, “the Mair is carrying a weapon. That is forbidden!”

I looked at the Legate, “is there some law against people carrying weapons?”

The Legate only shook his head. I turned back to the mage, “it seems you have just attempted to attack my bondservant.”

The mage flushed, “it is the prophesy. No Mair is allowed to carry a weapon. It says one will come that carries a green blade. It says that when she comes she will free all the Mair and bring upset and confusion to the mage community.”

I looked at him and then turned to Cat, “really? Is that your plan?”

She tilted her head and shrugged. I looked back at the mages, “you have a choice. You can try to continue your attack and suffer the consequences. Or you can decide that perhaps this might be better settled peacefully another time.”

The mage squeezed his lips together but nodded. Together they turned and left. Both Cat and Sam put their weapons away. The Legate only watched as the mages left and then gestured to the three men nearby. They had two heavy crossbows and a coil of strong cord. As they stepped forward he quietly handed me a folded piece of parchment.

I put the paper in my shirt and gestured for the men to follow. Approaching the main doors from the side I stopped short and turned to face everyone, “alright, what I am going to do is simple to start with. With the crossbows we will attach the cord and I will shoot one of the undead guards. When I do you will pull the cord, causing it to come out the door where we can better deal with it. Any questions so far?”

When no one answered I took the offered crossbow. Tying the cord to a barb headed bolt I moved to the side of the door. I made sure I had slack in the cord and sent my senses out. I found the first bowman quickly. Nodding to everyone I spun around the doorframe bringing the crossbow down and firing almost in one motion.

Even as they were reacting I spun back. As I spun back I yelled for the men to pull and they did. Grabbing the cord they pulled it tight and then turned and walked away. The undead guard appeared a moment latter, it was being dragged along the ground. As soon as it crossed the threshold it crumbled into dust.

This exercise seemed to get a lot of attention from the other guards that had been trying to get in all morning. After that, I repeated this technique four more times until all the bow welding undead were nothing but dust. Then it was a simple matter to stand in the doorway and shoot an undead guard through the leg and pull it out.

When the entranceway was finally clear I looked around, “could someone find a couple of barbed boar spears?”

The Legate cleared his throat and pointed to several guards standing by with just the thing. I nodded my thanks and then entered the Keep with Sam on one side and Cat on the other. Leaving Cat and Sam with a crossbow and their own set of men to watch the stairs I started clearing that floor.

My technique was simple, when I entered a room and a guard was there I would shoot one. As it was being dragged out I would face any others with the barbed spears and have them pulled out as well. I had almost finished clearing that floor when I entered a library. I shot one guard and was facing another when the drow came into the room.

Stabbing the dead guard I handed the spear off and turned to face the drow. I could feel the difference, this was a live drow. I drew my swords and the drow did the same. As we slowly circled one another I waved off a guard that would have come to my aid. With a flash the swords clashed together and again we circled.

I saw from the way it moved that it was resigned to its fate, “I thought your people believed they were better than the rest of us? Why do you serve a mage?”

Again a clash of swords and we parted, “I serve only my own people!”

I stepped back, “if that is so than why are you here, defending a mage’s Keep?”

The drow stood there looking back at me, “I was sent here to perform a task.”

I noticed the amulet he wore, “if that were all than why do you wear his seal? When you die your body will become his.”

The drow glanced down at the amulet, “my lord gave it as a passage here.”

I relaxed, “that should make one wonder. I will offer a deal.”

The drow glanced at me suspiciously, “what deal?”

I glanced at the door as the Legate entered, “safe passage for your word not to return and to have the amulet checked.”

The Legate’s lips thinned but he nodded. The drow seemed to consider, “I keep my weapons?”

Again the Legate nodded and the drow stood a moment then nodded, “accepted.”

As he was leaving with the Legate he turned, “I will consider your words. Beware the floors below, a worm awaits.”

After he had left I finished clearing that floor. I only encountering two other guards, both at the entrance to the stairs leading down. Leaving guards to watch I returned to the stairs leading up. Making my way to the second floor I went from room to room but no guards showed. I did find six Mair girls caught in a spell, they were fifteen or sixteen.

The next floor was the same, only the Mair were younger, maybe thirteen and there were ten of them. The last floor held the youngest and it tore at my heart to see thirty little girls five or six years old kneeling in the poses they were left in. Back on the ground floor I went to the stairs leading down.

Going down the stairs and clearing each of the first two floors was fairly simple. The third was harder and I encountered something I had not seen before. They stood eight feet tall and had a greenish tint to their skin and carried large iron maces. The guards with me panicked at first but I just ignored the size and stabbed them like the other guards.

The quarters on this floor were more luxurious and better guarded. Going down to the last floor was a lot more difficult. There were a dozen guards on the stairs and it was as bad when we reached the hall. When it was finally cleared we only saw one door. I could feel the magic in the air and had everyone with me wait.

When I opened the door there were no guards. With my senses open I stepped in. I was on the landing of a grand staircase leading down. The room was large, two hundred feet by two hundred. The center of the room was clear except for a pedestal that held a large glowing stone. There were workstations around the edge of the room.

I could see four Mair held by spells in the four corners. I could also feel a web of magic throughout the room. Following it I saw a path to where I thought I would be able to disarm the traps. Cat and Sam came through the door behind me and I glanced at them, “stay here and wait.”

Going down the stairs I made my way to the first corner. The Mair held by the spell looked back at me and I could not tell how old she was. The spell that held her was different, she was aware. I did not think I had a choice and slowly stepped onto the tile that had a pattern, “who are you? Where is master?”

I slowly moved to her and helped her stand. She looked to be four months pregnant, “the mage is gone. Move slowly.”

I led her back to the stairs and Sam came down to take her out. I went back to the corner and then followed the path I saw in my mind. When I reached the next corner I again woke the Mair being held there. This time she was defiant until I explained that the mage was gone. She to was pregnant and I led her back to where Cat waited to lead her out.

The third corner was the same but the last was different. When I released her she only looked at me, “where is mother?”

I looked around for another Mair, “I do not know.”

I could feel the barely contained fury as she looked around the room, “where is Pendar?”

I looked back into her angry face, “he fled.”

She glared, “and Antizel? Where is he?”

I shook my head, “I do not know an Antizel. Follow me and I will get you out.”

As she stepped out of the diagram there was a loud boom as if from thunder. Following it was a bright flash in the center of the room. I pushed the Mair behind me as I turned to face the center of the room. What I saw startled me, it was a huge dragon like in the fairy tales. Before the Mair bumped me I saw and felt something else, the dragon was not really there!

With a loud roar it turned to face us and I felt the pull of magic from behind me. I glanced over my shoulder as a ball of something appeared in the Mair’s hand. With a throwing motion she threw it at the dragon. I watched as it went right through it and exploded against the far wall. Then I saw something else, the dragon wore a pendent!

I pulled my new pistol, “wait!”

I aimed at the amulet and even as I fired the dragon breathed a jet of flame. I was starting to move when the Mair made a casting motion and an invisible shield sprang up in front of us blocking the blast of flame. The bullet hit the amulet with a loud ringing sound and I quickly fired again. This time it was muted as the amulet broke in half.

The dragon seemed to become more visible and the Mair again blocked another jet of flame. I changed aim and fired to hit the dragon but it did not look like it did much damage. The dragon roared and stepped forward towards us. I dropped the magazine and slid the one with the solid bullets back in and chambered a new round.

The dragon was almost on us when I fired, this time under its chin. The dragon roared and seemed to jerk its head back. Again I fired, this time when the dragon jerked back it fell. Even as it hit the floor it was fading away. As the crystal in the center of the room started to glow I aimed and fired. With a deafening crash of thunder and lighting that shot around the room it exploded.

As the sound and light faded I faced the Mair, “you can do magic?”

She looked back at me with a new look of respect, “yes. All my sisters can.”

I glanced around the room but did not feel anything, the web of magic was gone. Quietly I led the way to the stairs. Cat and Sam were just outside the room and from the tears and the way they clung to me I was a little embarrassed. But when I saw the four Mair girls fall into each others arms crying I felt better.

When I looked around though I did not see any of the guards, “what happened to the guards?”

Sam snorted, “as soon as that dragon appeared they turned and ran.”

I shook my head, “and you two stayed?”

Sam smiled up at me, “we were trying to think of something to do and had to keep the girls from rushing back into the room.”

I faced the crying Mair, “it is time to leave.”

The last one I had freed looked up, “what about our mother?”

I looked at her, “the only ones still in the Keep are upstairs but they look to young to be your mother.”

She nodded, “she is still with Antizel then. I am Amanda and this is Theresa, Beth and Ginger.”

I looked at each other them, “when we get out I will try to find out about your mother.”

We were coming out of the stairwell at the ground level when the guards finally came back. Legate Abrams was in the lead and it looked like an army was following him and not too willingly. I stopped, “well better late then never I guess. Legate, the Keep is yours. Can I take the Mair now?”

He looked at me in surprise, “I was told a dragon was in the mage’s workroom?”

I shook my head, “not a real dragon, something else. Speaking of the mage, do you know an Antizel?”

The Legate blinked, “that would be the necromancer whose Keep you now own. Why?”

I gestured to the Mair behind him, “he had their mother.”

He nodded, “you know the only Mair that were found there.”

Before I could say anything Beth spoke up, “I do not know what a Mair is but mother was not like us. She was a mage that Antizel kidnapped.”

The Legate looked at her, “a mage that was kidnapped? What is her name?”

Amanda took a step forward, “Elizabeth Stormcaller.”

He shook his head, “I do not remember a mage with that name.”

A voice from behind him spoke up, “I do. She disappeared almost five hundred years ago. It was believed that she was killed by the drow. They hated her with a passion.”

The speaker stepped out of the crowd and I saw it was Nathen. He looked at me, “you did not find her in the ruins of the Keep?”

I shook my head but before I could speak Ginger spoke up, “mother was never kept in the Keep. Antizel kept her warded below in the grotto.”

Nathen looked at me, “you did not show us a grotto.”

I shrugged, “I did not know there was one.”

We all looked at Ginger. She blushed and looked at Amanda for help. She shook her head, “I never saw the way in. Maybe grandfather would know.”

I looked at Nathen, “do you know her grandfather?”

He nodded with a half smile, “so do you. Artimas is Elizabeth’s father.”

I smiled, “is that why he volunteered to check the Keep? Because of the drow?”

He nodded, “I can send him a message to meet you.”

I thanked him and turned to Legate, “the Mair?”

He nodded, “go ahead and take them. These as well.”

I saw Amanda start to say something and cut her off. Turning to them, “there are young girls upstairs, they might be your children. Will you help me with them?”

Theresa’s eyes widened, “Pendar only let us see them when they were born. He taunted us by saying he would sell them.”

Beth and Ginger put their arms around her while Amanda patted her on the shoulder. Amanda turned to me, “mother told us how to leave a mage tag. It was difficult doing it while giving birth but I managed.”

When I looked at the other girls they all nodded, “good. That means if they are your children you should know. Does that mean you will help?”

Amanda nodded and when I looked at the others they nodded as well. I nodded to Legate Abrams, “are you going to come to the Keep to see if I can find this grotto?”

He nodded, “it will be after I settle things here. I will send some men if you need them.”

I thanked him and led the girls to the other stairs. Before they climbed the stairs I stopped them, “listen to me now, at this time they call anyone that looks like you Mair. Everyone has been told you have been magically created and you have no rights. You are considered less than a bond servant, that is what they say you are.”

I looked at each of them, “because of the deal I made to clear this place you are considered my property. I am not from this place and do not like this system of bonding. What that means is that I will take you in and help you find a place in this new world. The only thing I expect from each of you is common courtesy and perhaps to help out from time to time. Do you have a problem with this?”

They looked at each other and then Amanda spoke up, “what about mother? Will you try to find her?”

I nodded and she looked at the others, “we know nothing of the outside. Antizel only let us stay with mother until he was ready to… get her pregnant again. Since then Pendar has been our master.”

Taking a breath she faced me, “we never expected to be freed so for now we will accept you as our Master.”

I flinched at the word master, “I am not your master. I will act as such but please do not call me that. When it is time for you to leave me than you can and I will not stop you. For now I am taking in those I can so that they will not end up someplace against their will.”

I was thinking of the merchant that had told me Cat could end up in a house of prostitution. We climbed the stairs and entered the room that held the six Mair. Amanda, Beth, Ginger stopped but Theresa started to rush forward and Cat stopped her, “wait. You may think you know them but they do not know you. Mages train us from birth to except what they tell us and to do what they say and when they say it.”

She nodded to me and I moved in front of the first girl and then I looked at Theresa, “is she your daughter?”

Before she could answer Beth stepped forward, “no, she is my daughter.”

I gestured for her to come closer, “these girls, though young have been through the same thing you have but unlike you they might not know who their mothers were. Be calm and gentle with them.”

Stepping onto the glyph in front of the first girl I deactivated the spell that held her. As she woke and looked at me I smiled at her and gestured for Beth to go to her. After that things went smoothly. The only change was with all the little girls, we ended up just waking them all . We would have time when we got home to separate them for their mothers.

Going out the gate with over forty Mair girls following me was a sight. Sam could not help but tell me that Ann was not going to be happy to have all these new mouths to feed. I smiled back at her and laughed, “at least she will have a lot of new helpers and just think of all the new students you have to teach how to swim.”

When we came in the gate there were people going everywhere. Ann had a harried look on her face, “more people?”

I nodded, “what is going on?”

Ann grimaced, “word finally got out that the Guard was doing sweeps.”

I gestured, “do we have enough room for them?”

She nodded, “the first batch helped finish bunks for the bottom two floors.”

I looked back at all the girls and thought of the large room on the fourth floor, “Cat? Can you show all the younger girls to the big room on the fourth floor? Sam? I think maybe the inner storage rooms on the forth and fifth for the rest? What do you think?”

Ann spoke up, “Jeremy is in one of the rooms on this level, is that all right?”

I nodded, “that is fine. Where is John?”

As Cat and Sam led the girls off Ann told me, “checking on the workers that were clearing the gateway in front of the Keep. The stairs are clear now and you did not tell me there were asga plants up there.”

I looked at her, “asga plants? And what are asga plants?”

Ann looked at me in exasperation, “the ones you squished in the stairs. They are a food and considered a delicacy. I asked Margaret and some of the other women to pick some.”

Amanda stopped as the others filed past, “are you going to look for mother?”

I nodded, “when your grandfather gets here.”

Ann raised her eyebrows as Amanda followed after the others, “grandfather?”

I nodded, “it is a long story. Could you let me know when Artimas shows up? I will be in the craftroom.”

As I entered the passageway Jeremy stopped me, “did Ann tell you I moved into one of the rooms?”

I nodded, “that is fine. How did it go this morning?”

Jeremy smiled, “it was slow for a change. Sarah did not have anything she could not take care of.”

I nodded, “good. I will be in the craftroom if anyone comes looking for me.”

He cleared his throat, “well, speaking of anyone looking for you. The elf you helped is back and he wanted to speak to you.”

I sighed, “send him up to the craftroom.”

On the landing of the fourth floor Krystal and Melody crashed into me with the other girls behind them, including Marie and Mary. I caught them and straightened them out, “what is the rush?”

Melody blurted, “Sam said there were some new girls”

I nodded, “they are in the large room at the end of the hall.”

With shrieks they were off. Rose stopped to thank me but then ran to catch up. I shook my head and continued down the hall behind them to the craftroom. John caught up to me as I reached the door along with Sam and then Cat as they came out another door. He smiled, “the gate up above will be clear by nightfall and then we can start clearing the rubble from the Keep.”

As we entered the room I heard and felt Teral and Elvan come into the hallway behind us. Inside the door to the craftroom I stopped to wait for them to reach me. A disembodied voice spoke up, “master the weapon you labeled as “hybrid” is finished. We had to do it twice to do it correctly.”

I nodded, “that is fine. Did you test it?”

“Yes master.”

I looked around the room, “have you had a chance to make more ammunition?”

As several boxes floated up to the table next to me Teral and Elvan entered the room. Both looked around in surprise at the crafting room. I gestured for Elvan to sit, I could see signs of fatigue on his face, “I thought I told you to take it easy. The healing you received repaired the damage but it can not fix the general fatigue of your body or replace the lost blood. That will only repair itself over time.”

Elvan flushed, “I know that now. I felt fine when we started.”

I shook my head, “what can I do for you?”

Elvan looked down and then into my face, “the Mair that stayed with me and helped heal me. I want to buy her.”

I looked at him and could feel something else at work, “why?”

He blushed, “I do not know. There was something I felt when I was with her.”

I watched him and he seemed to be struggling with something, “I do not sell people. If you want to see her than you are free to ask her if she would consent to it.”

He seemed to deflate, “she is afraid of elves.”

I smiled, “are you attracted to her because of what she is or because she helped you?”

Elvan looked up at me, “no. She is different, gentle and caring.”

I nodded, “okay, I will give you a chance. Stay here tonight and sit with her. Talk to her and try to explain to her what you are feeling. She may not understand so go slow and be gentle. The one that kept her here did not show her mercy or gentleness.”

When he nodded I turned to Teral, “did you need something too?”

He shook his head, “no. I was helping Elvan.”

I nodded and turned to the waiting boxes. The first one I opened held the hybrid I had designed. It looked like a short M416 with an eighteen inch barrel. What made it stand out was the magazine well, it was smaller. It also had a buffer system to reduce the recoil even more than usual and it was not gas operated.

The stocks were made from wood and the whole thing had a black shine to it except the part of the barrel that showed. It was the golden color I had come to recognize as Admantium. It was chambered for the same rounds as my White Hawk. It was a thing of beauty to me and I could not wait to fire it.

When I looked up it was to see everyone watching me. I smiled, “it is beautiful and I can not wait to try it out.”

The next box was a surprise, it held a double action .45 APC that fit on the palm of my hand. I called it a Sparrow because of its size. There was a row of five magazines, each magazine only held five rounds. There was a holster that would fit on my belt at the small of my back. The other boxes held ammunition, both for the White Hawk and the Sparrow.

When I looked up again it was for a commotion at the door. Artimas and another mage walked into the room. What made the commotion came with them, walking along by his feet was Simon. Behind Simon was another cat with five half grown kittens following along behind. Behind them was a crowd of small girls calling to them.

I had a hard time not laughing but everybody else burst out laughing at the sight. The little girls stopped and looked at us in fright as if they had done something wrong. I smiled at them, “it is alright but wait for the kittens outside.”

After they had gone I looked at Artimas who was blushing, “who are your friends?”

He looked down at Simon and I got a surprise. In my head I heard, “this is Cynthia and her litter. Her mage died two years ago and she has been alone. I have (tasted) you and you have magic. It is not one I know but it is there. Cynthia can be the one to help you.”

I looked at Simon and then at the other cat. She was a grey stripped tabby and sat as if the world were hers to command, “I am not sure what you are asking.”

I said to Simon as one of the kittens was climbing up my leg and it had very sharp claws. A quiet but feminine voice sounded in my head, “he (I had a clear picture of Simon) wants you to adopt me as your familiar.”

I looked at Simon, “I do not believe in making anyone do something against their will. If Cynthia and her kittens wish to stay than I would be happy to have them. If it is her wish to stay with me as a familiar than I will let her but I am not a mage as you know them.”

Cynthia stood and walked up to me as her kitten seemed to find my hand a suitable place to bite. I felt the tingling in my head and then it was as if something missing clicked into place, “I will stay and you are wrong. You do hold the potential, I choose you.”

I looked up at Artimas who cleared his throat, “sorry they usually do not give us a whole lot of choices.”

I smiled down at Cynthia before prying the young kitten off my scratched hand and another off the table and then glancing back down at my new familiar, “you could not by chance ask the kittens to go out and play with the children?”

I half heard something and the kittens sat up as if listening and then they scampered for the door, “I hope you told them to be careful of their claws.”

I looked back at Artimas, “who is your friend?”

He glanced at the other mage, “this is my son Edward. Nathan sent a message that you needed to speak to me? Something about my daughter?”

I turned to Sam, “could you get Amanda and the other girls?”

As she left I sat on a bench and gestured for the two mages to join me, “if you can wait a few minutes I will explain. I would have thought that you would have been at Pendar’s Keep today.”

As I said this Cynthia jumped up onto my lap and Artimas grumped, “the mage council decided that I should have known about Pendar. They have issued an edict that they be the ones to assign things like that.”

I shook my head, “I met two of the ones they assigned. They started to attack Cat before they were persuaded to stop.”

I turn to the center of the room, “speaking of that. Craftmen?”

Almost immediately a voice spoke up, “yes master?”

I gestured towards Cat’s sword, “do you know anything about this sword?”

Cat reluctantly pulled the sword (sheath and all) out of her belt. When she held it out it seemed to float in the air. The sword was pulled several inches out of the sheath before slowly being returned to the sheath, “yes master. This was the mistress’s sword. It was made here with her help as were the others. The ones you carry and the one on the crafting table.”

I glanced at the sword, “can you tell me anything about the spells on the sword?”

“There are many Master. Most only the Mistress knew but the three we do know give the bearer the skill of a sword master. If a mage is present other then the Mistress, a barrier would protect the bearer against spells cast at them. Last was a spell that called lighting at any mage that cast a spell at or near her. Master, there was a condition to the welding of the sword. The bearer had to be of the Mistress’s blood and they had to carry the second half of the key. The key was a silver ring with a green gem, a catseye.”

I looked at Cat’s hand and ring, “and who was your mistress?”

“Mistress Stormcaller.”

I looked at Artimas, “you knew this?

He shrugged but nodded, “the Keep was sold to Antizel after my daughter was killed.”

I shook my head, “so you knew about the craftroom and the rest before you showed up the other day.”

He shook his head, “after she went missing the council searched what was left of the Keep or said they did. They tried to sell it shortly after that, to pay for the upkeep.”

I nodded and looked at Cat, “pull the blade from the sheath.”

She looked at me, she had already placed it back under her belt. As the blade came free of the sheath I again felt the wave of magic sweep over me. Artimas sat up straight as did his son Edward and I gestured for her to put it away. When it was back in the sheath the wave seemed to fade away.

Artimas gestured to Cat, “I see the green ring. But he said one of my daughter’s blood was the other half of the key. He must have been mistaken?”

I shook my head at the same time as the unseen craftsman spoke up, “no master. That was the other half of the key. Both halves were present.”

He looked at me and gestured at Cat, “but?”

That was when Sam returned with the sisters. I watched them enter and then gravely looked back at Artimas, “your daughter was not killed.”

Edward stood, “we did a scrying! She was no where to be found!”

I gestured for him to calm himself, “did she ever tell you about a grotto here at the Keep?”

Artimas frowned, “I remember something she wrote to me about a grotto where she was crafting a new creature but she did not say where.”

I stood when the girls reached them, “the reason I know she was not killed when you thought is these girls. They were being kept in Pendar’s craftroom and they are your granddaughters.”

When he started to say something I stopped him, “Antizel was the one that held your daughter captive. He apparently used her to create the Mair.”

I gestured to Amanda, “she was kept here with her daughters in a grotto. I was hoping you would know where it was. Now I will have to find it and her the hard way.”

Edward gestured to the girls, “these are my sister’s children?”

I nodded, “Yes, you are a mage. Is there some way for you to tell?”

He looked at me and then his father. Artimas stood and crossed to Theresa who was closest. He smiled at her and held out his hand. When she placed her hand in his I felt the magic spring up and just as quickly die out. The next thing I knew Artimas was hugging her as if for dear life with tears running down his face.

Then all the girls were included in the hugs and tears flowed all around. I sighed, holding Cynthia I stood, “I have a secret to find. The grotto is probable warded if you could not find her with magic before.”

Chapter 7

Day Three - Part 2

The grotto, a challenge and the new pupil

Teral stood, “you need my help?”

Elvan seconded him and I glared at him, “you are to rest. Go down to the room you used before. When you see Jeremy tell him I put you there and asked for Jen to watch you until I return.”

Walking to the door I set Cynthia down as the others watched, “Sam, could you get the sword on the bench there and follow?”

I looked at Cat and saw the longing in her eyes as she looked at Artimas and Edward, “Cat?”

When she looked at me I smiled, “could you stay with your family and protect them?”

She looked at me for a long minute and then smiled at me before nodding. As we left the room I looked up at John, “keep this quiet but get some men ready just in case we need them. Arm them with the Admantium swords. I will start looking on the next floor up.”

As he headed down the stairs with Elvan slowly following I went up with Teral and Sam. On the landing I stopped and breathing out and started the mental exercises I used to center myself and relax my body. Slowly I walked through each room with my senses extended. After checking that floor I went back down the stairs and repeated it.

Slowly I made my way down, I was aware as others joined us. Including Samil and a much bruised noble, (James) I ignored them all. It was not until I was on the bottom floor that I felt anything. I was at the end of the hall and even though I felt a difference in the stone it was a moment before I realized I had found the entrance.

Coming out of my trance I looked around, I could feel the difference but could not tell where the lock was. Slowly I turned from facing the wall and that was when it jumped out at me. The end light had a tiny area that was in darkness beside it. It was a tiny spot but it was out of place. I looked at Samil and then John with the ten men behind him.

They all had a determined look on their face, “Samil, I was not expecting you but since you are here I have an offer for you.”

He looked back at me without smiling, “you already owe me.”

I smiled as he glanced over his shoulder at James, “who better to teach him well enough to stay alive as well as how to treat people? Besides I told his father that if you accepted him I would teach him as well.”

This seemed to mollify him, “what is your offer?”

I grinned, “an admantium sword for protection work.”

Samil raised his eyebrows, “admantium swords are very valuable as you know so this is not a cake walk.”

I nodded, “probably not.”

He looked back at James and then looked at me, “agreed.”

I motioned for everyone to move back except Samil and Teral. I gestured at the end of the hall and crossed to the light. When I depressed the area that was in shadow the wall at the end of the hall moved back several feet. Then with a grinding it slowly turned sideways and slid into a slot in the wall.

When the grinding stopped a silence fell over us. The Samil called for light and we saw the long hall, it ended in a large wooden door. There were niches every few feet down the hall until it reached the door. I moved up between them and could feel the webs of magic that extended down the hall, “before the undead guards wore amulets. If there are any here cut the cord or chain that holds it.”

Slowly we made our way down the hall. The undead guards that were there were slow to respond and very clumsy. Samil picked up a sword from the first guard that fell. By the time we reached the other end we had developed a pattern. At the door I again reached out with my senses to check the door. It was not warded and I could feel no magic from it.

The door opened into a large cavern, there was light as if the sun reached through the stone above. I thought it was probably five hundred feet in diameter with only one wall that was flat and did not have a balcony on it. That was the wall that faced the river. I could see stairs that were carved into the walls leading up to the other balconies.

The whole floor was covered with grass and trees and bushes. I looked at Samil and Teral, “stay here and guard my way out.”

Even as I was telling them Artimas came through the crowd, “I am going with you.”

I shook my head as Cat, Edward and the four mage sisters joined Artimas, “no. Your daughter was a mage. Any ward or traps will be for a mage or magic. Stay here until I can clear it. Sam, stay with Samil and Teral. As far as I know this is my only way out. Cat, come with me.”

I stepped up to Sam who had a worried look on her face, “do not worry. Take a deep breath and center yourself just like in our classes. Stay relaxed and let the sword move where it will. Watch their backs.”

I kissed her and then turned and walked into the grotto with Cat following and a grey stripped shadow slipping into the undergrowth. I followed a path that was surprisingly well kept. When I was two hundred feet in we reached a clearing. Stopping at the edge I could feel the webs of magic that surrounded the clearing.

It was paved with large stones that held designs. In the center of the clearing was a naked woman. She was kneeling with two chains falling from each wrists. I (felt) the webs and when I followed them I found the real threat. They were dead but unlike the other undead guards these had a different feel to them, almost like a Mair.

Slowly I unraveled the webs on the clearing until I reached an inner circle around the woman. After studying the magic that surrounded her I knew I did not have any choice. There were wards that detected mages that were still active. I had not been able to remove them unless the ward around the woman was taken down.

I faced Cat, “breath and center, guard my back.”

I faced the passage out, “Beware! Guard the passage!”

I stepped on the glyph that woke the woman, at the same time I pulled on the strand of magic that detected mages. As the woman woke with a snarl I raised my finger to my lips for silence and faced out. Suddenly a small creature stepped into the clearing. It almost looked like a rabbit but it stood on two feet, “Mother! The bad ones come!”

I felt them approach and did not need to hear Cynthia’s warning as they broke cover and came into the clearing. They were Mair alright and male, which from what I had heard was unprecedented. They were also undead and moved with fluidity as they crossed the clearing towards us.

I felt Cat draw her sword as I drew my own. Letting myself go I slipped into that comfortable place I had not been in except the few times I faced my master. Moving I swept forward and engaged the first, blocking the second before slicing across the first ones throat, cutting the chain.

I felt Cat block a blow aimed for my back and then another aimed at herself. Slipping to the side I cut left and then moved back to the right as an undead Mair stepped forward towards where I had been. With a lunge I broke the chain around the third Mair’s neck as I felt Cat shift and cut the arm from another followed by his chain on his chest.

After that it was like water flowing. As one would go after me Cat would appear to block and then cut the chain. When she was attacked I would do the same. We were down to the last three when there was a change. Suddenly one of the undead on my left turned and started for the woman in chains.

I did not even hesitate, spinning on the balls of my left foot I took a step after him and lunged as hard as I could. The short sword went clear through it and came out the chest cutting the chain. Unfortunately it also pulled the sword from my hand. Spinning back I was barely in time to catch the blade of one undead as the other tried to get past me and get to the mage.

Cat came out of my side long enough to stop him. It was a long moment with both of us exchanging blows with the undead guards. The break came when one tried to get past us and fouled the other. Without thinking we both moved and it was over with all the undead guards down. I was unhurt but Cat had a small cut on her arm.

I reached out feeling for more of the guards but there were none. I relaxed and retrieved my other sword before facing the kneeling mage, “we are here to free you but you will need to be patient, there are still traps.”

She looked at me for a long minute before slowly nodding. I looked at the cut on Cat’s arm before pulling a kerchief out of my pocket and wrapping it, “you did great, stay here and I will be right back.”

I could feel that the few guards that had gone to the passageway were gone so I walked quickly to the door. Samil and Teral were there looking unhurt but Sam was down with a large red wet stain at her shoulder. The Mair Ginger was with her and she looked up as I knelt, “she is fine, a deep cut. I closed it and healed her.”

I nodded to her, “thank you.”

Looking Sam in the face, “I know I told you to stay with Samil and Teral. That did not mean to not watch your own back.”

Teral spoke up, “we were pressed hard and she took a blow that was meant for me.”

Sam smile up at me, “I will be fine. Go, you have work to do.”

I nodded and stood, facing Artimas, “I may need your help. Do you think you can remain calm and not rush into anything?”

He nodded and followed me back to the clearing. When he saw his daughter there was the sound of indrawn breath but that was all. Back at the inner circle his daughter had wide eyes as she saw her father and tears slowly made their way down her face, “father?”

He nodded but remained outside the circle, “Elizabeth we will get you out, be patient.”

Slowly he walked the circle feeling the magic. When he was back in front of his daughter he faced me, “the way through is triggered to someone’s blood. At a guess I would probable say Antizel.”

I thought about it, “what about a relative. A daughter?”

Artimas looked at me then at the circle. It was a moment before he nodded, “yes, that might work.”

I turned to Cat, “could you bring the others? And ask Ginger to look at that cut.”

She nodded and started off but was stopped at the edge of the clearing by Cynthia and Simon. The small creature I had seen before backed into the clearing with the familiars following it. I had been right, it did look like a rabbit except it had hands and feet. The body was in proportion to the head, arms and legs.

It wore a skirt with a rough woven shirt and it had a pouch over its shoulder. Slowly it backed across the clearing with Cynthia and Simon following. Halfway across it stopped and then glanced over its shoulder at Artimas and me. It straightened its shoulders and turned around and walked towards us.

When it reached us it stopped, “are you here to help mother?”

Artimas and I looked at each other and Elizabeth cleared her throat, “father, he would be talking about me.”

We looked at her as she gave a half hearted shrug, “they were what I was working on when all this started.”

I nodded and turned back, (gesturing for Cat to go on) “yes, we are here to help mother.”

The small creature gave a high pitched call and stood there watching us until Cynthia butted him on the shoulder. At first he was started and a little afraid but I felt Cynthia’s mood, “she just wants you to pet her.”

Turning back to the circle as the small creature tentatively reached out to the cat. I made a slow circle around the woman, there were six glyphs just outside the circle. I could feel the webs of magic that spun from one to the other but there were also strands that went up towards the ceiling.

I looked at Artimas, “there are spell strands that go up to the ceiling.”

He came over to look at the glyphs, “this is tied into the blood key. It is a second half of the lock. The strands of magic will pull the ceiling down if both half are not used.”

I looked around the circle at the six glyphs, “now to find which lock to put the key into.”

Together we walked the circle again. It was not until we were behind Elizabeth that I found it. It was barely felt, it was under the glyph and in two places. Pointing it out to Artimas resulted in him getting down on his hands and knees to look at the glyph. When he stood it was to shake his, “I barely feel it and will not be able to help.”

I took a deep breath and let my senses slowly sink down to feel the web of magic. Cat returned with the rest of the crowd. I barely heard Artimas tell Edward and the Mair girls to not go into the circle. Finally I found it, the loose ends I was looking for. Looking up I called Amanda around the circle to where we stood.

When she reached us I had Artimas check to see if her blood would work. He checked and then nodded that it matched. I looked at her, “listen closely. In order to disarm some of the traps around the circle we will need a drop of your blood.”

She just held out her hand. I centered myself and reached down to grasp the loose ends of the spell. I nodded to Artimas and he pulled a tiny knife from his sleeve. Taking her hand he pricked a finger, then he held her hand over the glyph. Slowly he turned her hand until a single drop fell.

Things seemed to move in slow motion for me. As the drop touched the glyph I pulled both strands and then pushed another. With a tingling sensation the wards around the circle went down. Artimas again had to warn everyone not to approach his daughter. He and I and now Edward made a slow circuit around Elizabeth.

We could feel the webs of magic on and going through her. Slowly we examined the chains at her wrists. When we finally stopped it was to look at one another with a haunted look. I broke the spell, “there are no loose ends.”

Artimas and Edward nodded but it was a worried Artimas that spoke up, “that is because it was not meant to be removed.”

I looked at him and then frowned as I looked back at the chains. The webs on the chains came from the center of where Elizabeth did magic. They extended down the chains and back to her heart and the part of her brain that controlled body functions.

I remembered something my master had once said about using my chi to make a shield, “alright this is a long shot. There might be a way but it will be very dangerous, both for you Elizabeth and for me. I am willing to try but you have a say.”

She looked at me a long time and then nodded, “do what you have to. I have already accepted my fate.”

I smiled back at her, “it might just be that I can change that fate.”

Taking a deep breath I looked at the two other mages, “what I intend to do is break the strands of magic and shield her with my chi, that is with myself, my lifeforce.”

Artimas and Edward nodded and I centered myself and reached for that place I went to when meditating. Reaching out I use the force of my chi to grasp the webs of magic. Mustering my strength I shattered the strand I (held) and slammed a shield of force and will on the end that was reacting.

The explosion that followed threw me fifteen feet away and was purely magical. As Cat, Sam and the others rushed to me the chains on one of Elizabeth’s wrist shattered and she half slumped to the ground. Artimas again stopped the Mair girls from going to her. Sitting up I shook my head as Cat and Sam were trying to help me, “I will be fine. That was a little more than I expected.”

Glancing at Elizabeth and then up at Edward standing over me, “that was a little bit of an overkill.”

He nodded as Teral and John helped me stand. Moving back to Elizabeth it looked like energy crackled around and through her. The more I looked the more it looked like she needed to be grounded. The energy going through her needed to be released. I thought of the wave of healing I had felt when Jen was first healed, “could someone go get Jen? I have an idea.”

Both Cat and Sam frowned but it was Jen that spoke up, “as long as it does not involve you blowing yourself up, I am right here.”

I looked as the large crowd of men John had brought moved aside. Sitting behind them was Elvan and Jen. I frowned, “Elvan I thought I told you to rest.”

He smiled back at me, “I am resting and I was not the one that was just thrown through the air.”

I shook my head and held out my hand to Jen. When she reached me we turned to Elizabeth, “remember that first time you were healed and how you reached out?”

She smiled and nodded and I smiled back, “good. What I want you to do is to try to heal me as I pull the energy from Elizabeth. What I think will happen is that you will pull the energy from me and it will multiply in force. I do not want you to stop any of your healing, just let it out like you did that first time. Do you think you can do it?”

She frowned for a minute and then nodded. I turned to Elizabeth as she started. I could feel the magic I knew and recognized so well. Reaching out to Elizabeth I placed my hand on her shoulder. When I made contact it was like a jolt of electricity passed from her to me. Jen seemed to pull the energy as I received it.

A wave of healing spread out through not just the crowd but throughout the grotto. When it faded men sighed and Jen laughed, “Oh, that felt so good.”

I patted her arm and moved around Elizabeth who was a lot more alert. This time I tried to anchor myself. I was partially successful, it only threw me five feet. John and Samil caught me before I could fall. This time it had felt like I had been put in a vice but it had worked. Like before the chains on Elizabeth’s other wrist shattered and she had slumped to the ground.

Like before I used Jen to pull the excess energy from Elizabeth. She stayed on the ground as her father and brother did a slow walk around her. I was feeling fatigued but reached out to her as I slowly sat in front of her. Artimas and Edward returned to stand next to me.

I looked up, “I only feel one that touches her and it has the feel of medicine. Like healing but not? The other spells that permeate her go throughout her body. I think but am not sure that it is tied to her genetically.”

Artimas nodded, “we recognize the spell on her. It is one of regeneration and fertility. The ones that are in her we do not know.”

I thought about it before looking up at them, “could it be the spell that alters her children?”

His eyes widened as he looked at his daughter, “Elizabeth, you do this kind of work. What do you think?”

She looked down at herself before looking back at me, “I think he is right.”

I looked at Artimas, “can you take the other spell off?”

He looked down and I could feel webs of magic gather before the one holding Elizabeth disappeared. I looked at Elizabeth, “I do not know if you can fix the magic in yourself but if you want my help all you have to do is ask. I might even find a way to reverse it in your children if I study it.”

She looked at me and smiled a smile I had not seen before, “I will accept your offer only can we leave this place now?”

That was when the four Mair girls fell on her crying and everyone was hugging her. I looked at John, “we need to have a litter brought down.”

Even though she had been through two healings she had been there a long time and would need to be carried out. As they were lifting her a high voice spoke, “mother?”

Elizabeth looked over the side of the litter, “little one, the passage is open now. I do not think they will take me far. Get your people together and come, it is time you saw the outside world.”

As she lay back he turned and ran into the brush covering the clearing. As the crowd went back through the passageway I stopped John, “lets keep everyone out of here for now. The creatures that live here will be shy about coming out.”

He nodded and moved off. I pushed a staggering Elvan into a room and called Jen. When she showed up, “would you stay with him?”

After a long look at Elvan, “he has something he needs to talk to you about. You have been with me long enough to know me a little. Listen to what he has to say.”

With that I left, catching up with Cat and Sam at the door leading out. There was a small company of guard waiting outside the passage. Over several protests I had Elizabeth put in a room that was finished at the house. I sent the guard off and things started to settle down. Teral had left as Samil and James (who had a new outlook of things since they had shown up) stopped by me.

Samil held up the sword, “thanks for the sword.”

He nodded for James to speak to me. After an awkward silence he stepped up, “you are more than I thought. Samil says I would be able to learn a great deal from you.”

Taking a breath he continued, “I was wrong. Will you teach me?”

I nodded, “you seem to have a new outlook. Why?”

He looked back at the passage, “in there you did not hesitate. You did things that I know would have killed me. All because you thought someone needed you. You faced those undead as if they were not a threat. It was as if you embraced the act but not the deed.”

He looked back at me, “you have a skill and confidence I would do well to learn. Especially if those things… are a hint of things to come.”

I nodded, “very well, I have classes every evening.”

I stretched and sent the girls off for something to eat while I went to see Elizabeth. She was sitting in a bed I knew I had not seen before and a look from Edward was all it took to realize where it had come from. Shooing everyone out except Artimas and Edward I started checking her.

Ann interrupted with food for everyone. While they were eating Elizabeth was telling her father she felt fine and did not see why she could not just come back. I reached out with my senses and twanged the webs that went through her body. With an, “oh!” she stopped talking in mid sentence.

I put my plate down, “Elizabeth, I might not be someone you will be able to talk to in regards to what has happened to you. I am able to do something about what was done in a physical sense. I can help but not if you are not here. One of the things I can say right off is that when you become tense over something the magic that runs through you will grow stronger. Do you want my help?”

She looked down at her lap, “I never thought I would be free again. What was done to me happened while I was held in a trance for the most part. The four girls I remember as little girls not as the women they are now. I see my mark in them as I see myself in all those you call Mair.”

She looked up at me, “I know what Antizel did. I would kill him if he were not already dead. I saw you fight, you have an ability that is not common. As is your other abilities, I would not be able to free myself of these spells and I doubt anyone else would have much luck. Antizel was a perfectionist if nothing else. I will accept your offer to help. What do you want in return?”

I shrugged, “perhaps a favor sometime. I do not really need anything right now. I help people because it is what I do.”

Standing I stepped closer to the side of the bed, “how about a first treatment?”

Reaching out to a loose strand of magic I had become aware of I pulled. An “oh”, escaped her lips again and then she seemed to relax and lay back in bed, “that was strange. I feel kind of light headed and tired but I also feel a lot better.”

I smiled and patted her hand, “good. Rest while you can and do not let the crowd of people overwhelm you. When you get too tired send them out. I will ask another doctor I know to stop by for a talk. I have a feeling he might be the one you will be able to talk to.”

Back out the door I fended several people off but was able to pull the four girls aside, “you four have been through a lot as your mother has. Somehow I do not see Pendar or Antizel teaching you four magic? Your mother is not the same person you remember because you are not the same. You have grown up but you still need her.”

I looked at them, “not the way you think, all of you have children. Many of them have children, it is time you started your lives. Ask your mother or uncle or even your grandfather to help. Learn to master the magic or it will master you.”

As I returned to the courtyard things seemed to have settled down to a quiet calm. A small head poked its head out the passage door. Cynthia directed my attention there as a small body slowly stepped into the doorway but froze with a look of amazement as it looked at the sky. When four more joined it in staring at the sky I cleared my throat.

They all jumped and started to turn around but I could hear some children coming down the stairs and apparently so could they because they suddenly looked around for a place to hide. I cleared my throat again, “excuse me?”

This drew their attention, “no one will hurt you. Are you looking for Elizabeth?”

They only stood eighteen inches tall and wore what looked like woven fiber dresses with pouches over their shoulder. A timid voice spoke up, “we were looking for mother?”

By the sound I realized it was female, “she is resting and recovering. I can have someone show you the way if you like.”

At first she looked hesitant and then she straightened up and nodded, “please.”

I felt Marie at the door to the kitchen with David and Mary hiding behind her, “Marie, could you and your playmates show our guest to the room Elizabeth is in?”

She stepped out fully and slowly walked to me, “they are small. What are they?”

I smiled, “why don’t you sit down and ask them? After you take them to see Elizabeth.”

Marie grinned up at me, “okay.”

She faced the five small creatures, “you can follow me.”

And she walked off solemnly with them following along behind and David and Mary following behind them as if in a trance. Shaking my head I went up to the craftroom. I spent the rest of the afternoon making drawings of various medical instruments that I remembered. I finally had to quiet to start my classes.

The classes though split were very large, due to all the people seeking refuge from bonding and my own additions. At the end of the class I noticed three men enter the gate, two I recognized from earlier in the day. They had been with the elder Shaffer. The other man walked with a balance and confidence that was unmistakably that of someone that used a sword.

Samil stepped up to me with James at his shoulder. His attitude seemed to have changed, though from time to time his old one still surfaced. Like when he made the mistake of overreaching himself with Jenny and ended up on his back and out of breath.

Samil muttered, “he is called William Bladedancer. He is a professional dualist. He is supposed to be very good but I have not seen him myself.”

The dualist stopped in front of me and looked me up and down and then looked over his shoulder at the two men, “he does not look like much. Just some jumped up pissant that thinks he is better than he is.”

I smiled, “do you want something?”

He looked at me, “you have all these Mair. You must be starting a brothel. I was looking for a good time.”

I looked at him and made my decision, “if you want me to challenge you it will not happen. You do not deserve the honor.”

The duelist’s face flushed, “fine, I challenge you.”

I nodded, “okay.”

I slapped him and stepped after him. When he drew his sword I grabbed his wrist and twisted. The sword fell to the ground as I slapped him again. I followed the duelist around the practice yard and ignored or blocked every attempt he made to defend himself. When Shaffer’s two guards started to intervene Samil cleared his throat, “stay out of it.”

When I was finished the duelist was on the ground barely coherent. I bent down, “if I hear you have dueled again I will make this permanent. Do you understand me?”

The man only moaned and I reached out and slapped him again, “do you understand?”

When he nodded and I stood and walked back to the two guards, “tell Shaffer the next time I see him it will be over a sword. Tomorrow at the second hour at the practice field. If he does not show I will hunt him down and cut his manhood from his body. Now take your Duelist and get out!”

There was a small crowd watching, including Aretha and a female elf. They had entered at the tail end of the encounter. Samil looked at me, “that was risky.”

I smiled a big smile back at him, “if he was a duelist I did not think he would be able to defend against that kind of attack. He did not move correctly.”

He looked at me and nodded before turning to James, “did you learn why defense against an unarmed opponent was important?”

He nodded, “yes. Just because you are good with a weapon does not mean you can defend against an unarmed opponent. I understand why you wanted me to learn this.”

Samil nodded, “good. Michael I will see you tomorrow at the second hour.”

With that he turned and walked towards the gate with James in tow. Aretha walked up to me as Samil left, “that was interesting but it did not look like practicing medicine.”

I laughed, “think of it as preventative medicine. If he stops dueling he will live longer.”

Both of the elves laughed at this and then Aretha turned to the female, “I told you he was quick and likeable.”

When he turned back to me he gestured to the female, “this is my wife, Julianna. I received a message asking me to come here to consult in a matter?”

I nodded at the introduction, “I am glad to meet you. Yes, I asked you to come for a patient, a mage.”

I led the way to the house, just inside we had to detour around Marie, one of the small creatures, (a young female by the looks) and several of the other children gathered around them. Aretha and his wife were a little distracted by the small one but followed after. I knocked on Elizabeth’s door and several voices called for me to enter.

In the room I frowned at the people still there, “she does need rest and she will be here later. Go home Artimas, Edward. Get some sleep and come back tomorrow. The rest of you out, go help Ann in the kitchen or do something else, you can come back tomorrow.”

They protested but it fell on deaf ears. I stopped Amanda on her way out, “would you send one of the children for John? Tell him I would like to see him in the kitchen.”

She nodded and with a last look at Elizabeth closed the door. As I turned to Elizabeth I could see she was holding herself in check and was very tense, “this is Aretha and his wife. He is a doctor and might be someone you can talk to about what happened to you. I will have someone stay the night with you in case you need anything. I know you probable do not want to sleep but it will help. In the morning I will look in, if I am right you should be relaxed and I might be able to pull another strand of magic.”

I looked at Aretha, “she was held captive for almost five hundred years and made to have children. I am not trained in all the ways to treat this kind of trauma.”

Julianna spoke up, “I am. You are lucky I decided to join my husband.”

She smiled at Elizabeth and then gestured for us to leave. I looked at Aretha but when he just shrugged I smiled and bowed, “very well. I leave her in your care.”

Outside the door we made our way back to the kitchen where Ann was sitting and directing several girls in the cleaning of the kitchen. I sat and Aretha joined me, I gestured to the girls, “helpers?”

Ann smiled, “most are homeless and are just trying to pay their way.”

Beth appeared with a pot and two cups. She solemnly poured what I was now thinking of as coffee. I smiled at her, “make sure you take it easy.”

I pointed at her stomach, “I do not want to have to delivery her early.”

She put a hand on her stomach and smiled at me. Aretha looked at me across the small table, “it seems you are getting quite a few people. What are you going to do when you run out of things?”

I grinned back at him, “make do. I have more resources than I did when I arrived.”

John walked in at that point and quietly accepted a cup from his wife before joining me, “you wanted to see me?”

I nodded, “today was crazy. Did you find the workers for the Keep?”

He snorted, “I have more workers than jobs right now.”

I smiled, “and the rope bridge?”

John frowned, “we set the foundations on this side but they were nervous about going across the river to set the other side.”

I frowned and thought about it, “what if you put someone up on the cliff by the Keep to watch that side of the river and signal if they see anything approaching. You could have one man with the work crew to just watch for a signal from them?”

He nodded, “that might work. Can I let them use the Admantium swords? It would reassure them.”

I nodded, “sounds like a plan. I also wanted to ask if we had any women that would sit up for a few hours. I wanted someone to start sitting up with the patients and for right now our new guest, Elizabeth. If there are enough they could do it in shifts of two hours each. What do you think?”

He scratched his head, “I am no doctor but it sounds good.”

Ann cleared her throat, “most of the women here are lost with nothing to do. Accepting your generosity makes them feel less. If you give them something to do, even sitting with someone that is hurt would make them feel more like they were earning their way.”

I looked at her, “could you find the women?”

She sighed and nodded and I smiled, “I will have John build a dining hall for you.”

Ann laughed and John grumped. We finished our coffee and went back outside. Aretha turned to me, “you really care for all the ones that come to you?”

I looked to see what he was really asking, “Yes I care. I see many with nothing but they have the ability to do so much but not the means to do it.”

When we again knocked at Elizabeth’s door it was Julianna that called for us to enter. Elizabeth looked like she had been crying but she also looked like she felt better. I smiled, “you look and feel better.”

I looked at Julianna, “what do I owe you?”

Elizabeth looked like she was going to object but Julianna spoke up, “what are you going to charge her?”

I looked Elizabeth, “I told her a favor but truth be told I would never have tried to collect it.”

I looked back at Julianna, “I was not planning on charging her anything.”

Julianna smiled, “Aretha said you were like that. Very well my fee is the same, a favor I will not collect.”

I looked at her for a long minute before nodding, “maybe Legate Abrams was right. It is contagious.”

A light tap on the door interrupted us. When I answered the door it was Jen with a subdued Elvan in tow. I looked back and forth, “yes?”

Jen seemed a lot more confident, “Ann said you wanted someone to sit with Elizabeth?”

I nodded and opened the door for them, “yes but both of you?”

Elvan blushed but it was Jen that answered, “we talked and I like him. I have never been able to do that before. I asked him to tell me about himself.”

She blushed and looked down, “is that alright?”

I smiled at her, “yes, it is fine. Jen you will be making a lot of decision now and sometimes you will be wondering if you can. I will tell you now that it is alright for you to make decisions but like all things you must think of the consequences of those decisions. Now, if you two are going to sit with Elizabeth the only direction I have is to try and keep things quiet so she can sleep and help her if she asks for it. Who is going to take your place?”

Jen told me it was a woman named Silva and I looked at Elizabeth, “good night.”

Following Aretha and Julianna out I closed the door and walked with them to the gate. Julianna stopped before leaving, “she will need a long time to heal. Much of what happened was done while she was under a spell so she does not remember.”

She shook her head, “Antizel was smart enough to keep her under a spell and use magic to make her conceive, otherwise she would have been able to leave her mark on him. Do not let her do anything strenuous that would make it harder on her.”

I agreed, “maybe a few days sitting on the small beach watching the river? I can tell you right now she will not sit still to long. I was thinking of having her teach the Mair girls magic before they get themselves into trouble.”

She grinned, “teaching might do her good. Ask her father if he would be willing to help her.”

I wished them a good night and turned to head for my own room and a warm bath. I made stops along the way. On the fourth floor I said my good night to many of the new girls, checking the few that were pregnant. A stop in the large room with all the Mair children brought instant silence. I could see someone had thrown together a lot of new beds.

Smiling I wished the girls goodnight and for them to have sweet dreams. As I was leaving one of the girls spoke up, “sir?”

I turned back, “yes?”

She took a breath, “some of the older girls said you are the new master but some of the others said you were going to be our dad. What is a Dad?”

I was a little confounded, (Marie was probable the one to tell them that and I guess in a sense she was right.) Kneeling down I called all the girls to come closer, “some of you met the older girls that said they were your mothers. They, like you do not really understand what that is. I am not your father.”

I smiled, “I will take care of you as if I were. If you get hurt I will try to fix it. If you need someone to talk to you can talk to me. I will comfort you when you need it and I will punish you when you need it. When I punish you it will be because you have done something wrong and I will tell you what you did so that you do not do it again.”

Looking around at all the little faces, “I will love you as much as I can. You can trust me to help you if you need it. Do you know where I sleep?”

There were several quiet, “yes.”

I smiled again, “good. If you need me do not be afraid to come to me. Now is there anything else?”

A little girl gestured at the large room, “is this our new home?”

I looked around the room, “yes but I think I will have someone checking on you to make sure you sleep and not play in the bathing pool all night.”

This received several shrieks and laughs, “good night girls.”

With that I stood and left and found Cat outside the door, “they will be a handful.”

I laughed and hugged her as we made our way up the stairs, “it looks like I have plenty of help.”

She grinned up at me, “thanks for this afternoon.”

I sobered and stopped, “Cat, you do have family. There will always be a place for you with me. I had trouble today, I kept worrying about you and Sam. In such a short time you have made yourself home in my heart. I do not know what the mage that owned you did that makes you try to keep your distance from everyone but you have opened up a little to me and Sam.

I looked into her eyes, “I love you for being able to do that. Your family and I mean not just me and Sam but Elizabeth and the others. They deserve the chance to know the real you. They might surprise you and like you for yourself and not just because you are related to them by blood.”

She looked at me a long time before nodding that she understood. Next was my good night on the next floor, the five girls were shrieking when I came in and they instantly froze as if they had been caught. I smiled to reassure them and told them good night and left. As I came into our room Cassy was sitting at the fire singing a lullaby I remembered Jen singing.

Sam made a gesture for me to be quiet and pointed to a wooden box by the fireplace. In it were Cynthia’s five kittens fast asleep. I heard in my head, “it was amazing what that singing did to them.”

When I looked at the bed I saw Cynthia stretched out at the foot. I quietly stripped and slipped into the bath. When I finally thought I was clean I rubbed myself dry and climbed into the large bed. Cassy surprised me by snuggling up next to me, “you have a big heart. Thank you.”

With that she seemed to fall asleep. I woke briefly when Jen came in and got into bed. The night seemed quieter than normal after that.

Chapter 8

Day Four

A merchant spanked, a new Keep, the real Mair and hunting lizards

I woke with a weight on my chest, when I opened my eyes it was to see a kitten sitting there. I whispered, “good morning.”

I heard a quiet, “good morning. Are you getting up now? We are hungry.”

I got an image of the other four kittens sitting on the floor waiting. I looked at the foot of the bed where a sleeping Cynthia lay. Putting my head down I cleared my mind before untangling myself from Cassy and a sleepy eyed Sam, to climb over Cat. Dressing quietly I slipped out the door and made my way down to the kitchen where I held the door for the five kittens.

Margaret was in the kitchen with several women I did not know. When she saw me she crossed the room to see what I needed. When I looked down at the kittens I heard several of them chime in with, “cream.”

I laughed, “Oh I do not think your mother would approve of that.”

Looking back at Margaret, “do you think you could find something for these growing kittens?”

She looked down at the kittens, “well I do have a couple of fish someone brought in.”

At these words the kittens perked up and we both heard, “we like fish.”

Margaret’s eyes widened, “oh my. Okay fish it is.”

As the kittens were eating the fish I sat and sipped a cup of coffee. It was a little while later that Cynthia called me, “Michael?”

I turned my head looking in the direction I had heard her, “Cynthia. Your kittens are down here in the kitchen with me.”

I could feel her moving and it was a short time later that I felt her approaching the door. Standing I opened it for her and she grumped, “they could have waited for their breakfast.”

I smiled down at her, “true but they were polite and patient when they asked. Besides I had to get up anyway.”

Margaret, who had seen me open the door for Cynthia brought another plate with some fish that had been cut up. When she set it down in front of Cynthia she heard a dignified, “thank you.”

I smiled, “I will be with Elizabeth and then I have an appointment to keep. Did you want to come?”

She stopped eating long enough to look up at me, “an appointment with the merchant? Killing him will not solve the problem you know.”

I looked back at her, “I will not kill him unless by accident.”

Cynthia went back to her meal, “I will wait here. You are capable of taking care of yourself, you will be fine. Besides I want to look around the grotto.”

I shook my head, “okay but if you want to look around the grotto I suggest asking one of the small creatures first.”

I seemed to hear her agree as I was leaving. When I knocked quietly on Elizabeth’s door one of the new Mair girls, (Jessie) answered. I smiled when she timidly opened the door, even though Elizabeth was sitting up in bed I saw signs she had been resting. I approached the bed, “not sleeping?”

She smiled at me, “I was, in fits. I was talking to this girl. She has the tags of one of my daughters, Ginger I think. She was saying that she never saw her mother before you came.”

I nodded, “Pendar did not let the children stay with them after they were born. Relax and let me check you.”

Extending my senses I slowly swept her body, in her right calf I found the loose end I was looking for. Reaching out I slowly pulled and felt it unravel and heard Elizabeth sigh. I looked at her as the strand slowly faded away, “better?”

She nodded, “it was like relieving a cramp that you did not know you had.”

I patted her, “today I want you to get some air. Ask someone to help you down to the river and you can sit there. I do not want you exerting too much today, baby steps. Have you thought about teaching your daughters?”

She looked a little unsure and I continued, “they need to be taught. I have a teacher that can teach them to read and write but they and maybe some of the other girls might need other learning. I have one girl already being trained as a healer. Think of it as a way of keeping busy as well as helping you relearn some of your skills. At least think about it?”

When she nodded I smiled and turned to go. Stopping at the door I looked back, “do not let your visitors over stay their welcome and tire you. Your daughters have been through the same thing as you even if they do not seem like it.”

Looking at the girl in the room with us, “so have you, take it easy for a few days. At least until you understand what has happened to you.”

Outside the room I meet Jeremy by the kitchen with John, “good morning Jeremy, John.”

Jeremy turned to me, “just the one I wanted to see. With all these new people here. Did you want me to teach them?”

I could tell by the way he stood that he was not happy, “actually, yes. Before you start about the number I will remind you of all the new people here. Undoubtedly there are others that would be able to help and you could direct them. Also you could break all those that want to learn into smaller groups.”

He looked thoughtful, “it might work. I can find someone else to help me?”

I nodded, “yes, see John when you find them.”

When Jeremy left me I turned to John, “sorry about that. I might as well start a school.”

With a wry face I looked up at the Keep, “I could even put it up there.”

Shaking my head I looked at him, “ready for the day? Have you figured out how to get the other side of the bridge anchored?”

He nodded, “I was thinking of doing as you suggested. Ann had a visit a little while ago from those little people. They wanted to speak to you.”

I frowned, “did they say about what?”

He shook his head and I was thoughtful, “I have to meet someone. If they ask again tell them I will come to see them when I can.”

John scowled, “the business with the merchant? Be careful, most merchants did not get where they are by being careless.”

I hit him on the arm and started for the gate only to be stopped by Cat and Sam. They insisted on accompanying me and would not take no for an answer. The trip across the city was one of dodging busy traffic until we reached the practice field. It was packed and it was not until they saw who I was that they opened a lane for me.

When I reached Samil I found out they were all here to see what happened between me and Shaffer. Since it was still a little early I took a practice sword and offered James a bout. It was interesting because I would stop every now and then to correct something or give him a hard whack in the ribs.

After we had put the swords up and were standing around talking a disturbance went through the crowd as Shaffer made his way through to us. When he broke free of the crowd I saw the six guards that surrounded him. When he stopped in front of me he did not even hesitate, “You have struck me and threatened me. You obviously do not know your place!”

With that he made a gesture and the guards started for me, drawing their weapons as they came. I waved everyone back and stepped into them drawing my swords as I went. I blocked the first man and kicked him back into the three that were following. As they went down in a tangled heap I turned to meet the other two.

I blocked left and right using all my strength. First one man’s sword and then the other’s shattered as it met mine. Then it was two swift blows that followed with hands wrapped around the hilt and both men fell. I turned back as the group of four started regaining their feet. Stepping in I did not give them the chance to find their footing before striking left and right.

I stepped on a sword as one man was picking it up and with a sharp downward blow put another man out of the fight. A simple block and twist of my wrist sent another man stumbling into one of his companions. I used the time to block another man before following the block by striking his sword and knocking it out of his hand.

I let the momentum carry me around into a spinning back fist, striking him in the side of the head. As he crumpled the two remaining guards regained their balance. They looked at me and then at the other guards on the ground. Slowly they stepped back before putting their swords away and turning to walk off.

Shaffer was shouting after them when I cleared my throat, “obviously you did not take me seriously so I will make it plain. Shaffer I challenge you.”

He went stiff, “I am not going to fight you.”

I nodded, “that is fine. I will just let the crowd know so they can help the guard in confiscating all your property and putting you in bond.”

At these words he went pale, “you would not dare! I am an important man!”

I shrugged, “not to me.”

A visibly shaken Shaffer looked around at the crowd but did not see one friendly face, “very well. If someone would loan me a sword?”

James tapped Samil who looked at him before nodding. James walked to Shaffer and handed him his sword. It was made from mythril and had excellent balance. Without saying a word he walked back to stand next to Samil. I watched as he tried the sword, I could see that he had some training from the way he moved with the blade.

Sheathing one of my swords I gestured for Shaffer to join me in a clear spot. He acted clumsily but I ignored that and when he feinted I stepped into the dance I knew so well. Unlike my bout with James I said nothing only slapping his sword aside and striking him with the flat of the blade. After doing this several times he lost his temper and rushed me.

I let him come, at the last moment I stepped to the side and grabbed a wrist giving it a twist and using his momentum. Shaffer landed on his back, the sword lost somewhere in the dirt. I put my other sword back in its sheath and let him get to his feet. When he lunged at me, trying to grab me in a bear hug I simply grabbed a hand and wrist.

I twisted it and brought him around my body as I knelt, landing him across my bent knee. Holding the bent hand and wrist in a manner that kept him from moving without causing himself a great deal of pain I brought my hand down on his butt. Slowly with a lot of laughing from the crowd and screaming from him I proceeded to give him a public spanking.

After twenty swats I stopped, “I can continue this or you can learn from it. Which will it be?”

All he did was cuss and threaten me so I continued for another twenty, “are you ready to give in yet?”

It was a much subdued Shaffer that gave in. I released him and helped him stand before he shook me off, “you won this time but there will be others!”

I stepped towards him before he could turn away, “listen closely. This was your only warning. If you persist the next time will be the last. Do you understand me?”

He only stood there glaring at me until I took another step towards him and then he stepped back and gulped, “yes I understand.”

The crowd let him through, not without hitting him or pushing him. I picked up James’s sword and walked back to him. Wiping the blade I handed it to him hilt first. he took it quietly, “was I that bad?”

I smiled, “yes but you had the excuse of youth. He did not have that excuse.”

I could see the crowd breaking up and turned to Samil, “hopefully it will be a less eventful day and as always I am behind. See you this evening?”

He shook his head, “I have a job, James will be there.”

Samil looked at James thoughtfully before turning back to me, “do you go back to treat the sick?”

I nodded, not sure where Samil was headed with this. He looked back at James, “perhaps you should go with him. See the people he helps and do not just look at them. Learn the stories behind them. Though they do not live as long as us they each have a story. Sometimes those stories teach us valuable lessons about the lives around us.”

James looked at me a little uncertainly. I caught myself before I could say anything. Finally he agreed and we broke up with a smiling Sam on one side and a quiet Cat on the other. This time with only one in tow, I made my way home. Coming around the corner near home I stopped short.

The main house was standing proudly as if it had never been damaged. Looking up to the Keep on top of the cliff I saw that it looked like it was whole again. Together we stared before the neighborhood guard interrupted us, “been like that for the last half hour. Darnedest thing, everything just seemed to leap together. Everything is calm inside though.”

I thanked him and made my way to the gate. Inside everything was calm, (well relatively, there were a lot of children running around yelling and screaming but it was in play) Margaret stopped us at the kitchen, “I have one of your Mair girls. We caught her stealing a loaf of bread.”

I sighed, “Cat, if you and Sam would find Sarah we can start the rounds. James, would you go with them please?”

I followed Margaret into the kitchen. A frightened Mair girl of maybe five sat in a chair. Margaret and I approached her, “do you know why you are in trouble?”

She nodded, “I took the bread.”

I nodded, “what is your name?”

She looked down, “Virginia.”

I knelt so we were even, “why did you take the bread?”

She looked down at her hands, “we were hungry.”

I looked at her and sighed, “remember last night I told you that I would punish you if you do something wrong?”

When she nodded I reached out to lift her head so that she was looking at me, “the only thing you did wrong was not to ask for something to eat. We will try to remember to feed all of you but there are a lot of people here. If you need something to eat come here and ask one of the ladies here, okay?”

When I stood it was to see a Margaret that looked like she was close to crying. Hugging her I asked if she would see that they were all fed. She nodded and bustled off about the kitchen while I looked down at the Virginia, “Margaret will get you something to eat and then I want you to bring the others and make sure they understand what I just told you okay?”

When she again nodded I smiled, “another thing, I want all of you to see the man named Jeremy. He will be in charge of teaching you how to read and write.”

With a gentle caress of her check I turned and left. Only to be stopped by Ann outside the door and she gesture around us, “Cat said you were back, isn’t it wonderful?”

I nodded, “it was a surprise.”

Ann laughed, “the mage Artimas did it. Oh, before I forget, the small people came back. They still want to see you. Also Elizabeth and her visitors are down by the river and John is across it on the other side.” She frowned at this.

I reassured her that he would be fine and started off to see Elizabeth. The route through the main house had changed but not enough that I could not find my way. I found them chatting away next to the river. Amanda, Beth and Ginger seemed more subdued. Besides Artimas and Edward there was Nathen and another mage I did not know.

I waved at the house and Keep above them, “good morning and how much are you charging me for the face lift?”

Artimas smiled, “all thing considered I think I am still in your debt.”

I waved that aside, “you do not owe me. What I did was for your daughter and I do not take repayment for that.”

Edward broke in, “still, you are responsible for returning her. We do feel a debt.”

I shook my head, “if you feel a debt that is fine but it is one of your own making and only you will acknowledge it.”

Turning to the new mage, “I do not believe we have met.”

He took a step to shake my hand, “Janis and I to owe you a debt. Not only was Elizabeth my student but she is also my sister’s only daughter.”

I shook his hand and looked at Elizabeth, “but why?”

And I again gestured above us and Elizabeth laughed, “I guess you can blame yourself. Ann brought me breakfast and she was talking to her husband. He was telling her something you had said as a joke, about starting a school at the Keep? Anyway I was speaking with Father and Uncle Janis and I mentioned it. You see what happened from there.”

I frown at her, “you did not help them.”

She blushed but before she could say anything Nathen spoke up, “no. She is not ready to work magic yet.”

I relaxed, “good and you are right. Thank you.”

I could see that the fresh air was doing her some good, she was looking a lot better. In fact I could feel a thread of the magic that wove its way through her. Taking the few steps to her I placed my hand on her shoulder and I pulled the strand of magic, “I am glad you are feeling better.”

Feeling it unravel and fade away as I spoke her eyes widened, “oh, that tingles.”

I smiled down at her, “one more down.”

She looked up at me, “and how many to go?”

I returned her look, “you work magic that creates or changes creatures. You tell me, how many changes are there between you and your daughters?”

Elizabeth frowned and looked at her daughters. I patted her shoulder, “think about it.”

I turned to the door but stopped short, “Ginger?”

She looked from her mother to me, “yes?”

I smiled, “could you walk with me?”

She stood and crossed to the door before stopping next to me. I looked back at Elizabeth, “Do not over do it.”

I led the way back up through the house. Outside I stopped before crossing to the passageway, “Ginger, you have a gift, not just the magic. The gift of healing is something different as far as I can tell. It and you need to be trained. You have seen Jen, she is learning to control the same gift. If you want I will talk to the one that is teaching her. Perhaps he would be willing to teach both of you. What do you think?”

She frowned, “I do not know, everything is different and new.”

I smiled at her, “you are going through a difficult adjustment I know but this would give you time to decide what you wanted to do.”

She gave me a searching look before answering, “this would help you?”

I shrugged, “perhaps but Samuel sometimes does his training elsewhere. Do not think of this as helping or not helping me. You need to decide if this is something you should do for yourself.”

Ginger looked around and finally up at the Keep, “you think learning is a good thing, mother told us about your thoughts. I will accept your help but there is much I do not know.”

I smiled and turned for the tunnel, “you will find that you will learn new things every day.”

At the entrance to the passageway Jeremy sat at a small make shift desk and looked up when we entered, “good, I found three men and one woman to help teach. Mathew is writing the names of all the children so we can split them into groups. The rest of the neighborhood children are taking notes for the sick. We had to move the sick up here in the first four rooms because of all the new people. Oh and those small people want to see you.”

I smiled and shook my head, “All that in one breath, amazing. As for the groups you are teaching, do not just do them for the children. Let everyone know and if any adults want to learn we can set up a time and group for them. As for the sick, are there any serious ones?”

He nodded, “Samuel was called and just came in. Jen and the other girl Cassy is with him and that elf. They are in the first room on the right.”

I nodded as I turned Ginger towards the room, “fine. As soon as I see the most serious ones I will pay a visit to our little friends. If you see Sarah I need to speak with her.”

When we entered the room Samuel was checking a young woman that looked like the side of her face had been smashed in. He glanced up as Ginger and I came in. He turned to Cassy for something to wipe the woman’s face and she already held a damp cloth. Smiling at her he turned back and started explaining what he was doing to Jen as he carefully cleaned debris from the woman’s face.

I saw Elvan sitting by the fireplace with a small boy who was crying. Moving to the bed with Ginger we watched Samuel finish cleaning the wound. As he turned away with the now dirty cloth, Cassy again was there to take it. After a brief description of what they needed to do he had Jen reach out and start the healing with him just following along.

They were both surprised when Ginger joined her, adding to her strength and giving a hint of a delicate touch to the healing. The woman seemed to almost glow before it faded and she opened her eyes. Samuel looked at Ginger in surprise but Jen only smiled at her shyly. The woman looked around, “where am I. What happened?”

Samuel remembered himself, “you are being cared for at Michael White Hawk’s. There was an accident and a wall fell. You will be fine now.”

Turning he gestured to Elvan and the young boy ran to the bed. As they hugged each other Samuel made his way around the bed, “that was an amazing touch this young lady had. Another of your rescued?”

I turned to Ginger, “Samuel this is Ginger. She also has the gift of magic. I brought her to ask you if you would consider teaching her along with Jen.”

Samuel looked at her, “you have a very delicate touch.”

He looked back at me, “you seem to be collecting those that are gifted. This teaching is getting to be a full time thing.”

I got a flash of an idea, “what would you think of teaching full time? Not just to those with the healing gift but others as well. Although I believe that a lot more young ladies that have the gift will start showing it as they get older.”

Samuel got a thoughtful look, “I do not know what my superiors would say. I do not have a problem with teaching, as a matter of fact I enjoy it. Let me talk to my superiors. Elvan said you found a mage and that is where all the Mair come from and they are really a mages?”

I nodded, “yes. She was held prisoner and it was done without her consent. Will you at least teach Ginger for now until you get your answers?”

Samuel laughed, “Always trying to work it in. Yes, I will teach her as for anyone else I will need to get an answer from my superiors.”

In a different tone, “Jen also described you doing something with her that involved using you as a conduit to drain energy from this mage?”

I admitted it and he scowled, “that was very dangerous, both for you and her. If she were further along she could have drained the mage herself and it would have been a lot safer.”

I shook my head, “hindsight is always better. If I had known a healer could do that I would have called you.”

I continued since we were speaking of Elizabeth, “if you have time could you look in on her and see if there is anything you can do?”

Samuel nodded and I turned to Ginger, “stay with them.”

After checking several patients and verifying what Sam and Cat had already done Sarah finally caught up with me, “you wanted to see me?”

I looked up from a shallow cut on a girl’s leg, “yes. Give me a minute to finish.”

Holding a pressure point I put two more stitches that closed the cut. I gave a small packet of penicillin I had made to her mother with directions on how and when to use it. I stood and walked Sarah into a now busy hall. Moving all the way to the end gave us privacy, “I have room now as well as the instruments I need. I would like to do the operation on your hip tomorrow. Is that okay with you?”

She looked a little apprehensive but nodded yes and I smiled, “Good. Find Samuel and tell him that I would like him to be available. We will not start until he is ready so he will set the time alright?”

Again she nodded, “thank you.”

I patted her on the shoulder, “you are welcome. Take it easy today and we will start anew tomorrow.”

I thought of the time and headed for the stairs, only to jump aside for one of the kittens as it went running past me with a, ‘catch me if you can.’ Sounding in my head and a group of children chasing after it. Shaking my head I started down only to catch Theresa coming up looking a little lost.

I stopped her, “are you alright?”

She looked at me with a lost look, “I did not know where to go or what to do.”

I thought of all the children, “have you looked in on your daughters?”

She gave me a sad smile, “they do not know me.”

I made up my mind, “very well. Perhaps it is time to restore some order. Get with your sisters, as of right now your children and the other children I found are your responsibility. You are to make sure they eat, bathe, dress and go to bed when it is time. I want you to start checking to make sure they go to the classes I have set up and you will make sure they behave themselves. If any needs to be punished they will be brought to my attention. Can you do this?”

She looked a little daunted and I told her, “there are older children that can help you.”

She straightened her shoulders and I saw a determined look in her eyes, “I will do it, we will do it.”

She looked me in the eyes, “thank you.”

As she went up the stairs I continued down. When I reached the entrance to the grotto Cynthia called me, “over here.”

I turned right and made my way through some bushes. I found myself in a well tended wood with the smaller bushes trimmed back. Following a small trail I came out into a small clearing next to the wall by the river. Cynthia lay in the center of the clearing with several of the small people around her and by the feel, hundreds more not to far away.

I made my way to the center and sat next to Cynthia. There were ten in front of us and the rest seemed to stay behind them. Most of the ten looked older with white showing around their face.

Cynthia voice whispered, “this is their council.”

I nodded to those around us, “you asked to see me?”

An older female spoke up, “we have spoken with Mother. She has told us that we are free to do as we please but we have heard that you own this place and all in it. We wanted to know what you intended?”

I thought about it before replying, “Elizabeth is right in that you are free, however I see your people are not as ready to go out into that world. My plans for this place? Before yesterday I did not know it was here so for right now I do not have any plans. I might have a way for you to start getting your people to adjust to that big world you have seen.”

One spoke before the others, “you are not going to make us do things?”

I smiled, “make you? No, that is not my way. As I was saying I may have a way to help your people adjust.”

Making up my mind I looked around that those present, “I will tell you what, come with me and I can show you what I have in mind.”

They looked at one another before an older male spoke up, “where would you take us?”

I gesture up, “to the top of the cliff by the Keep. I will show you a place that you might like.”

After whispering to one another they agreed and I stood. With Cynthia beside me and the council following (along with about fifty others), I led the way to the passage and down the hall. The incident came when we were on the fifth floor. We were almost to the stairs leading up behind the stables when one of the kittens rushed out of a doorway and straight at the group of council members.

I felt it begin and spun around with a shout, “stop!”

I felt the same thing coming from Cynthia. The kitten tried to catch itself and flipped and then slid along the floor coming to rest by the council. I could hear Cynthia scolding the kitten so I stayed out of it. I was surprised when one of the council members stepped out of the group, “do not be too hard on her, she was only following her instincts. She knows us now and will not do it again.”

Cynthia and I both heard this in our heads and I blinked, “you can speak to us in our minds?”

One of the women that was straightening her dress replied out loud, “Yes though only a few.”

The older male walked to the kitten that was cringing on the floor, (I could almost hear something) and the kitten’s ears perked up as he patted her on the head and stroked her cheek. I shook my head and turned to continue. The elder council member ended up with a companion as the kitten decided to accompany him and walked along beside him.

When I came out of the stairwell I slowed down as all the small ones emerged. At first they looked at the sky but then it was to gasp at all the asga Ann had told me about. I cleared my throat to get their attention and led them across the overgrown grounds. I stopped a few feet from the edge.

From here I could see the huge clearing across the river. It extended for what looked like several thousand acres (which it did.) As we stood there staring I sat down. When they finally came to themselves. They stepped closer to me and one spoke, “it is so big.”

I nodded, “yes. I will be building a farm over there. Do you know what that is?”

The older one (that was absently petting the kitten) spoke up, “I think it is where you grow things?”

I again nodded, “exactly. I have one problem to solve. That is a large lizard called a Saur. They eat the plants but if people get too close they attack and they are very hard to kill. When I have cleared that land I will need scouts that can stay around the edge and give warning if more come. I could also use any help or advice at the farm.”

The council whispered to one another before an older female looked back at me, “we could help at the farm but the edge of the forest looks far. I do not know if it would be safe for my people.”

I smile down at her, “I was thinking of the trees. A small house built and raised up into the branches where they would be safe and they would have a better view of anything approaching. Will your people climb the trees?”

A younger male laughed, “it is not climbing we have to worry about, it is getting them out of the tree.”

This seemed to get a laugh from all the small ones present. I felt and saw Legate Abrams and one of his Sergeants come around the side of the Keep. I smiled with them, “another thing, we can not keep calling you small ones. What did Elizabeth name you?”

The older woman stepped up to me, “we are the Mair. The evil one called Antizel named mother’s children that to mock her.”

I sat back in surprise, “that is interesting.”

I looked at the waiting Legate who was plainly entranced by the real Mair. I looked back at the council, “what do you think. All of your people do not need to go there but it would give you someplace to start.”

After a little more whispering they looked back at me, “this would be a payment for those that stay?”

I shook my head no, “I will take no payment for them staying. If they wish to stay then they may. There are other things around here that always need doing, anything from running messages to finding people. If they would be willing.”

The council looked at each other and one at a time they nodded. The older woman spoke, “it is decided. We will accept your offer and your assistance.”

I smiled, “excellent. There is someone I would like you to meet.”

I waved to Legate Abrams. As he drew near the small group spread out so he had a clear path to the council. Once he reached me he looked around his feet and sank to a sitting position. No sooner had he sat down then the kitten stood and walked to him. Climbing into his lap it circled a couple of times before lying down with a loud purr.

He looked up in embarrassment, “sorry. I did not mean to disturb your meeting.”

I smiled, “that is a sight. Aren’t you afraid your sergeant will spread it around that you are soft?”

Legate Abrams grinned at me, “not really and he is your sergeant. At least until after your court date.”

I looked at the sergeant standing there with his arms full of papers. Sighing I turned back to him, “if your going to play dirty. Let me introduce you to the Mair council.”

The Legate looked at me and then around at the small people, “Mair?”

I nodded, “it seems Antizel named Elizabeth’s children that to mock her.”

He nodded, “Well in any case. Welcome, my name is Abrams. Legate Abrams of the city guard. If you have any problems call the guard.”

Turning back to me, “I came on two matters, first was your court date. Unfortunately the first date is going to be tomorrow. The judge that was going to preside, died. So that left you holding the bag. It was going to be next week. Sergeant James has the cases you will sit on and if you have questions he will help you find the answers. The second thing was the magical rebuilding of this Keep. Several city councilmen were afraid that it meant the necromancer had returned despite his being dead and the Mage council saying otherwise.”

I felt my face turn a little red, “yes well, it was the result of a causal remark made in jest and repeated in the wrong place at the wrong time. I made a remark to John that with all these people I should start a school up here when the Keep was rebuilt. Unfortunately he repeated it to his wife in the presence of Elizabeth. She repeated it to several of her family who believe they owe me a debt. The result was both the rebuilding of the Keep and the main house below. Sorry if it caused a stir, it worried me when I first saw it.”

Legate Abrams smiled, “I am glad something can worry you. So, do you want to tell me about the grotto you obviously found?”

I nodded to the Mair around them, “that is where I found them. What have you already heard?”

He shrugged, “only that you found the mage you were looking for and that it involved fighting more of those undead guards.”

I thought about the grotto, “it is rather large and yes there were undead but they were not like before. They were what everyone called Mair only male, they were very fast and agile. There where also mage traps. Elizabeth, the mage we found was in the middle of one great big trap or you could say several traps. She still has spells running through her body as a matter of fact. If you would like to see the grotto ask these Mair to show you.”

He looked at the council, “I have time if it would not be a problem.”

The old male Mair bowed to him, “it would be our pleasure. My name is Jacob.”

I stopped the council as they turned to go, “one more thing. If your people would like they can come out and meet the people that stay and work here. Even attend some of the classes that we are starting.”

The oldest looking Mair looked at me, “you would teach us? Even though we are not like you?”

I smiled, remembering a class I had taken where only two of the students had been the same and they were twins, “I will teach any that wish to learn.”

The female councilwoman nodded, “will you teach this farming you spoke of?”

I thought about this and realized I had a lot of organizing to do for a school, “not right away. First is reading and writing. Maybe, Healing and Medicine. Also the basics of magic, if I can talk Mother into teaching it.”

The old Mair looked at the others before looking back at me, “the young are easiest to teach. We have perhaps fifty or sixty that we would like to send, if that would not be too many?”

I agreed and thought to myself, (Jeremy is going to kill me.) Standing I walked to where I could see John and his work crew. A young man was standing not to far away. He was watching the fields beyond the workers. I turned and went down into the craftroom. The boxes sat where I had left them the day before.

Crossing to them I opened the case that held the 45 semi-auto. Loading the magazines I chambered a round and lowered the hammer before sitting the pistol down. I called for a craftsman and a voice spoke, “Master?”

I looked around, “can you make two more of the White Hawk’s but chambered for the smaller .45 APC rounds?”

“Yes Master.”

I nodded, “how long will it take?”

“Another day Master.”

I thought and then spoke, “make four more of the hybrids as well.”

“That will take three days Master”

I gestured, “go ahead and do it.”

Adjusting everything I put the holster on and put the pistol away. I put four other magazines into a vest pocket. Next I opened the boxes of ammunition and took out several handfuls of the .45 magnum ammo. Absently I accepted the magazine for the hybrid that floated up to me and started loading it.

I loaded six of the twenty magazines before picking up the Hybrid and loading it and chambering a round. Taking the leather strap that showed up at my side I fitted the sling. When I set it down a craftsman spoke, “Master, the big gun is ready. We have the thing you called a scope to go with it.”

I looked around as a large rifle floated up to me. I had designed it after hearing about Dragons. It looked like Remington semi-auto hunting rifle chambered for 300 Magnum with a barrel twenty eight inches long. The stock was beautiful, it had green and blue grain with a hint of red, yellow and purple that shifted colors as you looked at it.

I though it should weight close to seven pounds and was surprised when I accepted it. It felt like it only weighted four. The stubby magazine that floated up to me held five hollow point bullets and it was followed by a two foot square box that held more. Some were hollow point but there was a small group in one corner that was different, they were solid bronze.

I smiled in anticipation as I put the sling of the hybrid over my head and shoulder so that it hung under my right arm. I pulled a pouch out of the ammunition box before dropping the five loaded magazines for the hybrid into it along with a double handful of the 300 Magnum ammo. Standing I made my way out of the room and down the stairs.

Cynthia met me in the passage by the door and stopped me long enough to remind me to speak with Jeremy. Stopping at the entrance I waited for him to come out of a room at the end of the hall, (Cynthia had called him.) “I have bad news.”

He looked at me suspiciously, “what is that?”

I smiled, “you will need a few more people to help you teach.”

He was still suspicious, “why?”

I smiled, “I told the Mair council, that would be the little people by the way, that if they have any that wanted to learn they could attend classes.”

He looked surprised, “the little people?”

I nodded, “they are the real Mair. They said the young are easier to teach and said they would send fifty or sixty.”

Jeremy blinked, “fifty or sixty of the little people. Where am I going to find the stuff they will need?”

I thought a minute before I had the answer, “go up to the craftroom. Sit at one of the tables and call for a craftsman. Tell it what you need made and if necessary draw it for them.”

He blinked again, “the craftroom?”

I smiled when I saw Cassy come in the door, “Cassy? Could you show Jeremy to the craftroom?”

She stopped in surprise, I had noticed that she tended to stay off by herself unless Gentle was around and even then she did not draw attention to herself. She nodded shyly and led Jeremy off to the stairs as I headed out the door with Cynthia at my feet, “that was very nice. Now you can go play with your new toy.”

I glanced down at her, “oh it is more than a toy but I do enjoy shooting.”

When I reached the rope bridge that was stretched across the river I found Elizabeth, Amanda, Beth, Theresa, Ginger and four of the six teenage (Mair girls.) The rope bridge was eight feet wide and it had enough wooden slats to make crossing it possible. I set the rifle down on the top of a short garden wall as I faced the girls, “Elizabeth what are you doing here?”

She frowned at me from the small canvas chair, “I was going to take a walk on the other side of the river but the girls ganged up on me.”

I smiled at the Mair girls, “Good job, do not let her go across yet.”

I turned to Elizabeth, “they were right. You are not in any shape to face what is over there. Where are your father and brother?”

I called a worker to get John. Looking across I saw this side was a little higher so I would not have to cross yet. John crossed the bridge as I was looking through the rifle scope. Elizabeth cleared her throat and I turned around, “they had something to do at the mage council.”

I nodded, “they will miss a good dinner.”

She looked at me, “okay I will bite. What is for dinner?”

John walked up to the group as I answered, “Saur.”

Elizabeth perked up, “Saur? I like Saur. How are you going to cook it?”

I chuckled, “I am not going to cook it. I am just going to kill it. You will have to ask Ann how she will fix it. You could give a suggestion I suppose but that would probable get you kitchen duty.”

John cleared his throat, “you are ready to hunt one?”

I shook my head, “first I need to get the scope zeroed.”

When he only looked at me I continued, “how far out is it clear for you to go?”

He thought about it, “maybe three hundred paces?”

I nodded, “if you follow along the river back towards the gate can you go five hundred and still be visible?”

He thought about it and nodded. I described making a panel to be used as my target. It only took a few minutes to slap together before they were ready. I told him to let everyone know I was firing a weapon and not to panic. I had them start at one hundred yards. When the target was in place and I was sure no one was behind it I loaded the rifle.

Taking a breath and letting it out I leaned into the wall and took aim. A moment later I fired and there was the roaring boom from the rifle. Shaking my head from the noise I waved to the man that had volunteered to check my target and heard Elizabeth, “that was entirely too loud!”

I looked over at her and saw all the girls with their hands over their ears, “Well there is a silencing spell on it but it needs to be activated I think it said.”

She grinned, “you have been using my work room? Good I will just”

I turned quickly as she was standing to cross to me, “no you don’t! No magic for you yet.”

She stopped in exasperation, “Well, I am not going to listen to that thing again.”

I smiled crookedly, “You could tell one of your daughters how to do it?”

She glared back at me before sinking back into her chair and then with a smile she shook her head, “you are a relentless man.”

She turned her head and gestured for Amanda to come to her. I smiled as I saw another strand of magic, this one in the junction of her neck. Setting the rifle down I crossed to her and reached out. When I tried to pull the strand it felt like it was snagged. Thinking fast I bent down and kissed her on the check.

When she put her hand on her check in surprise I gave a sharp tug that pulled the strand free. This time it was different, it almost felt like it was angry. It was red and as it came free of her it turned and struck at me like a snake. I simply twisted the end I still held and turned as it passed me and released it with a snap of my wrist.

When it landed on the stone wall it coiled up like a viper to strike again. It started fading but not without a hiss that was felt more than heard. Elizabeth gasped and put a hand to her chest, a moment later she took a large breath and looked up at me, “that was different.”

I nodded, “Yes, it almost seemed alive and very malignant.”

Her narrowed her eyes but I had turned back to my rifle. Picking it up I glanced through the scope at the target to see my helper pointing out the last shot. Waving him back I made a correction to the scope. Amanda stepped up beside me and I felt the first whispers of magic as it rose up and extended itself to the rifle.

A moment later it glowed briefly before slowly subsiding. Glancing at Elizabeth who was watching intently, “Well?”

She looked back at me before smiling, “she is very smooth and only needs to work on the beginnings of her spell work. To bad you did not have more.”

I smiled back at her, “actually I do.”

I took the Hybrid off and set it to the side on the wall along with my two pistols. When Amanda started to step over to them I stopped her, “maybe the others can have a chance?”

She smiled back as she was shaking her head, waving first to Theresa and then Beth. When they finished, Ginger took their place. Immediately I felt the difference and looked at Elizabeth who was staring at Ginger intently. When she finished she had an almost sleepy look of contentment.

Elizabeth looked at her a moment more before turning to look at me with a sigh as she nodded, “you were right, they need training. I do not know how I will do it, but I will try.”

I smiled at her before turning back to the large hunting rifle. After checking I fired another shot, this one was without the roar. A half hour later I was finished and ready to go hunting. John had been using the time to raise a small tower made of timber on the other side of the bridge. When I got ready to cross Elizabeth and the rest wanted to go with me.

They were stopped by Ann and Margaret, hauling along a dozen of the little girls including Marie and Mary. All the girls were soaking wet as well as covered in mud from head to foot. I had a hard time keeping from laughing as Ann described how they had decided to use one of the buckets at the smithy to carry water into the horse corral and make a mud hole to play in.

Amanda, Beth, Theresa, Ginger and the other girls were at a loss and Elizabeth (after she finished laughing) took pity on them. It seemed as if Theresa had told the others that the children were now their responsibility. They had no experience and did not know what to do, not that Elizabeth did either.

Standing, Elizabeth helped direct the little girls back towards a bath and clean clothes. I watched them until they were out of sight and turned to cross only to be stopped again by Sam and Cat. Calling for them to catch up I crossed the bridge, stepping over the few spots that were missing boards.

After waiting for the girls on the other side I turned and walked to the small tower John had built. There was a group around the tower, they held Admantium swords awkwardly and seemed very nervous. I smiled as I approached, “time to get the show on the road. John has your spotter on the cliff seen any Saur?”

He nodded and gestured, “in that direction about four hundred yards.”

I looked in the direction he was pointing and asked for a rope. After unloading and tying the rifle I climbed the small tower. The top was six feet across with the boards placed on top. Moving carefully I pulled the rifle up and lay down. After reloading it I looked in the direction they had seen the Saur.

They did not stand out as much as I thought they would. They were a light greenish color but they were where I had been told. There were four of them moving around slowly eating the leaves on small bushes. Taking a breath and letting it out I took aim. In rapid secession I fired four times, hitting each in the back part of the skull.

I watched through the scope as they went through their death throes. It was several minutes before their movements slowed and then stopped. I unloaded the rifle and lowered it before climbing down myself. When I was on the ground John looked at me, “Well?”

I smiled, “did anyone bring a wagon and knives to butcher them?”

He blinked, “Peter, would you and one of the men bring the wagon?”

Gesturing for me to led the way we slowly made our way to the dead lizards. I was amazed, they reminded me of the pictures I had seen of crocodiles. The heads were different, they were more rounded and broader across the head. When I looked at the mouths I saw the teeth were those of an herbivore.

The men with me were awed at the four large lizards, the smallest one was twenty feet long. Gradually they seemed to get over it and several pulled large knives to start the messy business of butchering them. I gave the rifle to Sam and lent a hand even though I had never done this before. A few minutes later Peter and another man arrived with the wagon.

They were pulling it themselves because it seemed the horse refused to go the last hundred yards. Along with the wagon were several more men and women that immediately jumped in to lend a hand. A few minutes after that a small group of men struggled up to us with the small tower. When they sat it down one man climbed to the top as a look out.

The others made a chain and started handing up the boards for the top. The man on lookout gave a cry and I stood up. He pointed to an area not to far away. I saw the lizards right away and they did not look happy as they moved towards us. Not bothering to get the rifle from Sam I brought the hybrid up, took aim and fired in one motion.

My first shot took the lead lizard in the chest and it stopped cold. I did not even bother waiting to see what else it did I fired twice more before shifting to the next one. This one I hit several times in the head and neck and then I shifted again to the last one. By this time it had started a charge and I could hear many of the people with me moving back.

The last one I hit four times in the head as it skidded to a stop head down in the dirt. As things settled down I changed the magazine and walked forward to check the fallen beasts. One after another I placed a shot in the back of their skull. Just past the last one I found a hidden ditch they had been in. I could still see the impressions in the grass where they had lain.

I returned to the helpers that were just returning to the task at hand. Several started walking out to the new carcasses. I walked to Cat and handed her the hybrid and went to the tower. After climbing to the top I called down for Sam to send the large rifle up. I stayed up there until they had finished butchering the lizards.

John had the workman with him drag the bones and refuse into the ditch and then caved the sides of the ditch in to cover them. When they were finished they finally managed to get the horse to come near and it was hitched to the wagon. When we reached the bridge I pulled Sam and Cat to the side and had the target panel brought back and set out 25 yards away.

I explained how the hybrid worked and showed them how to aim it. I explained the safety switch and how to load and unload it. One at a time I had them shoot the panel one shot at a time using one magazine apiece. When they were done I shouldered it and pulled the Sparrow and repeated it. Last, I had them fire my White Hawk.

I stopped Tom and David as they were trying to sneak across the bridge, “you two are not to be over here until it is safe.”

I thought for a second and emptied the rifle as well as the hybrid, “take these up to my room and don’t get lost along the way.”

Back at the kitchen I saw several large fire pits that had been set up outside and were roasting large chunks of meat. In the kitchen I saw Elizabeth and Ann sitting at a table talking about recipes. We sat with them and I smiled, “what did you do with the rest of the meat?”

Ann grinned, “I sent it to market with a few of the women along with a list for some spices.”

I looked at Elizabeth, “for your recipe?”

She smiled, “Ann was quit helpful and she has not even made me wash the dishes.”

All of the thirteen year old Mair girls came in and froze when they saw me. Cat did not miss a beat as she turned towards them, “did you girls need something?”

One of them stepped forward keeping her eyes down, “mother Amanda said we should come help in the kitchen.”

I stood and crossed to her, lifting her face gently with a finger, “if you always looked down I will not be able to see your lovely eyes.”

I turned and looked at Ann, “it looks like you have some new recruits.”

She smiled as she stood, “come on girls. I will show you where you can wash and then you can start making the desert. We are making some cakes so we will have to sample it before we serve it.”

The girls seemed to perk up when they heard the last. I could only imagine how few times they had even seen a cake. Walking back to the table I could see the shadow of hurt in Elizabeth’s eyes as she watched the girls. I sat and waited for her to look at me, “what happened to you, your daughter’s, your granddaughter’s all the way to Cat here, was not your fault.”

I stopped her from saying anything, “Julianna will tell you the same thing. You are going to see these girls and learn of their suffering. Antizel and Pendar did this, they forced this on you and these girls. Even knowing this you will still feel guilty. Thinking you should have been able to stop them or done something. That is hindsight, the only way you will accept this is for us to keep repeating it to you.”

She looked at me before nodding, “it still hurts.”

I nodded, “you are right but pitying them will not help them. If you want to help them be kind to them when they need it and be fair. Be their grandmother.”

She smiled sadly, “grandmother. I never really had a chance to be even a mother.”

She looked at Cat, “I see these girls and can tell they are mine but then I see you. With my ring and my sword and I do not even recognize you. How many generations of my children have gone by suffering? I can not even tell you how many children I was force to bare or how many they were forced to bare. Where or how it will end I do not know. I do know my children are little better than slaves and what can I do about that?”

I saw that Sam had quietly put her hand on Cat. She looked down and then at her grandmother, “Michael is right. This is not your fault, showing pity or resentment to your granddaughters will not help them or you. Neither will thinking about what they went through. Now we need to give them a new life of caring and show them fairness. As for those that are still slaves…”

She pulled her sword and set it on the table and then she removed the green catseye ring and placed it beside the sword, “we free those we can.”

Elizabeth looked at her and I could see the tears in her eyes, “and your pain and suffering? Do you just forget it?”

Cat smiled at her, “for all of my life that was what I thought it was supposed to be. And then I met a boy who bought me, not to use or for any propose but to free me. The painful training I was brought to know made me stay. All that day I watched him, he treated all as if they were equal and showed them respect.”

She looked at me, “that night, even though he did not ask it and even told me I did not have to I bedded him. Since then I have come to love him very much. I have a sister”

She indicated Sam, “that I love and admire. Her story is as bad as mine in some ways. If my past was painful to look at then look at my future (she gestured to both Sam and me).”

Elizabeth held her arms out to Cat and she went around the table and into her arms. Both had tears in their eyes and held the hug. I saw the end of a piece of the spell. It looked similar to the last in that it was red and seemed to wave angrily. While she was totally distracted I moved around the table.

I pulled the strand free in a quick smooth motion. Like the other it seemed alive and tried to strike me. I flipped it to the floor on the other side of the room. When it landed it coiled, Elizabeth gasped and turned pale. It did not fade away like the others, it started back towards her.

I pulled one of my swords but she grabbed Cat, “get the ring and use your sword.”

When I stepped towards it she cried out, “get away from it! Cat use your sword!”

As it moved closer I saw that it was growing. Cat stepped past me and struck cleanly taking it behind the head, only then did it fade away. I looked at Elizabeth, “how was it able to keep going like that? It had no aura, no life force, only the magic that had bound it to you.”

I could see how white her face was as she looked at me, “damn Antizel. He tied the magic not just to me but in another realm.”

She continued looking at me, “it is a good thing you stopped me from doing any magic, it would have killed me or worse.”

I held up my sword, “why not let me use my sword?”

She held out her hand for my sword. When I placed it in her hands she nodded, “I thought it was one of mine.”

She looked up at me, “I never finished them. The spells are not sealed. If you had used it the spell could have entered the sword and then attacked you.”

I looked around and saw the girls huddled together with Ann and several other women standing in front of them protecting them, “it is over Ann. I think I will take Elizabeth back to her room to rest.”

On the way back to her room I sent Sam to find someone to stay with her. As Cat and I were making her comfortable she commented that it had been a shame we could not keep more of the Saur meat. I smiled, “why? Is it really that good?”

She grinned, I think she was changing the subject to keep from thinking about what had happened, “besides the normal things you find in meat it has a kind of restorative that helps the body regenerate faster.”

I smiled, “in that case you are right. To bad we do not have freezers here.”

Elizabeth looked at me quizzically, “what is a freezer?”

I thought about how to explain it, “where I came from a freezer or refrigerator for that matter is like a large box or walk in room. Using a kind of liquid that stays very cold it keeps the inside of the box or room cool or even freezing. Almost every home had one.”

She smiled in delight but I was thinking of something else that had nagged at the back of my mind until now.

Chapter 9

Treachery reveled, new mothers, a dragon’s passing, my new pets and an appointment with the mage council

I looked at Elizabeth, “something has been at the back of my mind. Your work gives you knowledge of how bodies work correct?”

She had stopped smiling and was watching me. After my question she nodded, things were coming together in my head, “tell me, the changes Antizel made in mage fertility. How many children could each woman have at one time and how often?”

She sat back while thinking. Looking up at me, “Two to four would be normal, as for how often…”

She frowned and Cat interrupted, “when I was growing up we saw new Mair every 5 or 6 years.”

Elizabeth nodded, “a little accelerated but that would be my guess as well. Why? What is bothering you?”

I looked at her, “the girls that we found with your daughters. The numbers are wrong. There were 30 little ones around 5.”

I glanced at Cat, “we did not check them to see who their mothers were.”

Elizabeth looked at me, “you think you missed someone? More of my daughters?”

I nodded and looked at Cat again, “could you send someone to Amanda, Theresa, Ginger and Beth. I want them to check all the little girls.”

I was also thinking that if I had missed a room than I had missed something else. I looked at Elizabeth, “all I found below Pendar’s was a poorly made crafting room. Unlike your crafting room there were no servants.”

She looked at me as if she did not understand. I thought back to the grizzly workroom Antizel had left, “when I cleared the floors below your Keep, I found a workroom Antizel had used for his necromancy. It was not a pleasant sight.”

Her eyes widened, “you did not find anything like it below Pendar’s?”

I shook my head, “did you know Pendar? Was he anything like Antizel?”

She growled, “yes. He was also around Antizel. He was always trying to copy him but he was never as good as Antizel.”

I looked at her, “and Antizel made sure he had a back door out of his Keep.”

Elizabeth kept frowning, “two actually. His second was out of the grotto.”

Sam came in with Cassy and I turned to her, “I need some runners. One for the Legate”

I thought about Antizel’s work room, “another for the mage council, ask for Artimas. Warn them it is about Pendar and that I may have missed something in his Keep.”

I looked at Elizabeth as she cleared her throat, “I would like to see the workroom Antizel left.”

I sent Sam on her way and frowned at Elizabeth who held up her hands with a smile, “I will not try to do any magic.”

I nodded and I helped her stand, she did seem stronger. She kept glancing at Cassy as she walked beside her quietly with her head bowed, “your name is Cassy?”

Cassy looked at her quickly before looking back at the ground, “Yes.”

Elizabeth softly brushed her cheek and Cassy looked at her half afraid. Elizabeth smiled at her, “Antizel only let me be with my first daughters. I was never able to do any magic so I could not even place a mage tag but I know my own daughters. You were born with two sisters.”

Startled Cassy looked at her and Elizabeth slipped her hand into Cassy’s as they walked. A slow shy smile came to Cassy’s face and I saw something else in her eyes. Cat caught up to me as we reached the entrance into the Keep. She had a strange expression, “only eleven of the girls were theirs but something is strange. The rest are not related at all.”

I looked at her and thought of how everyone had thought Elizabeth had been killed, “I had Sam send a runner to the mage council. I need another to find out if any mage women have gone missing in the last few years.”

Thinking about my short swords and Cat, “I need my old sword.”

Cassy looked at me, “I will go get it for you.”

She hurried inside while Cat went to find another runner. As we got closer to the stairwell and the workroom I started becoming tense. Cynthia came running up the stairs until she was walking at my side, “what is it you feel?”

I had not thought about it and stopped at the landing into the workroom. Slipping into a light meditation I extended my senses and felt ‘magic.’ it was necromancy. It was coming from behind the door into the workroom and it was new. Cynthia could feel what I did and she growled.

Tom and David came rushing down the stairs laughing. They were being chased by one of the kittens. I grabbed Tom, “go find John. I need men here with weapons quick and David, I need you to go call the guards.”

I released him and gave him a gentle push, “go, hurry.”

I looked at Elizabeth, “go back outside.”

She looked at me startled, “but…”

I growled, “No buts, Go!”

I moved to the door and put my hand on it extending my senses and listening as hard as I could. I could hear movement all around the room and the room seemed to have magic emanating from it. Cassy came hurrying down the stairs and I took my sword before sending her outside to Elizabeth.

I started opening the door when Cat and Sam showed up. I was going to take them into the room with me but something did not feel right about the room, “stay here and guard the door. Do not come in unless I tell you.”

When they started to argue I stopped them, “something is wrong in the room. I want you to stay here.”

I realized that I was afraid for them and why. I took a breath remembering my grandfather’s words to follow my heart. My grandfather was never one to give meaning to only one thing, “when this is over we will talk and I think plan. I am afraid that if you go into the room with me you will be hurt or worse so please stay here.”

I saw something in their eyes as they looked at each other and then back at me before they nodded. I centered myself and extended my senses, “Cynthia, stay with them.”

Cynthia hissed in protest, “you are my chosen!”

I smiled and caressed her in my mind, “I need to know what is happening here as well as in there.”

She sat with her tail whipping back and forth, “be careful.”

I put my hand on the door and started opening it, “you might want to send the kittens outside.”

Stepping into the room I knew I was not alone but saw no one. As I closed the door behind me I closed my eyes. It was like my sparing with my old master and I turned and blocked a sword. Stepping into the flow I moved through my hidden foes, not pausing to engage any single one of them but just moved through them.

If I cut off an arm or leg it would become visible. I knew those around me were undead. They moved with little or no skill and the smell in the room told me that they had died recently. It was a few minute later that the first sword got through my guard. I felt a slash slide along my left side before my back handed swing took the undead guard’s head.

I tried to stay to the edge of what I felt as a crowd so they would not overwhelm me. It seemed that to kill these undead all I had to do was take their head. I had killed several more and was turning to another presence and thrusting when I took a stabbing thrust into the back of my right leg. I staggered and blocked the pain, continuing my dance.

The next one I killed had not been one of the undead but a mage. I felt the knot of magic that went through the room and continued to make my way towards it, feeling for a loose end. I took another shallow stabbing wound in my right hip and ignored it as I took the head of the undead guard.

I felt only a few undead left as well as another presence. I turned and killed another as I took yet another stab wound. This one in my back, in the left shoulder. I finally reached the knot and found the loose end I was looking for. There was only one undead guard and that other presence left as I pulled on it.

I blocking a wild swing from the undead only to have his sword bounce and slide along my left arm, leaving a four inch gash. Taking his arm and then his head I turned to the last one and found myself facing Pendar himself. He threw a ball of something at me and I pushed out my chi like a shield as I dove to the side.

I did not make it, the magic exploded and tossed me back like a rag doll. I went with it and rolling to a kneeling position and pulling the Sparrow. Taking quick aim I shot him twice in the chest. I stood carefully and crossed to him. Even as I approached I saw the wounds in his chest closing so I shot him point blank in the head.

Even that started to regenerate. Holstering my pistol I grabbed his hair and started cutting off his head. Cynthia called out, “some mages are here! We are coming in.”

They came in the door as I finished removing Pendar’s head. I stood and swayed as the pain from my wounds hit me. John and several men including Gentle and Paul with two other guards followed the mages in. Cynthia rushed to me and rubbed on my leg, “you let some get through! I knew I should have been here.”

I looked down, “you try fighting with your eyes closed against a crowd of invisible zombies.”

I looked up as Artimas and another mage approached. I looked at the head and tossed it to the side, “you do not have to worry about Pendar anymore.”

Cat and Sam moved through the crowed and gasped when they saw the blood. They tried to see all my wounds but I stopped them and faced Artimas, “tell me he is not going to come back from that.”

He and the other mage looked at Pendar’s body and head and then looked around the room. I glanced around the room as well. It looked like a slaughter room with bodies and body parts spread around. Artimas shook his head, “he will not come back. You came in here alone?”

He looked at the other mage who was watching me strangely, “how did they get in?”

I looked at him for a minute before looking at Artimas and raising my eyebrow. He went pink, “sorry Michael I forgot my manners. This is William Starfinder. He is the head of the mage council.”

I looked at William, “I have no idea, yet. This room was searched but I think we missed something.”

James stepped out of the crowd as he crossed to me, “mages fear other mages. Perhaps it is like the entrance to the other hidden place and has no magic.”

William started to say something hotly but I held up my hand, “I would have felt the opening mechanism…”

I was thinking hard, any opening here was leading out, not leading in, “unless there was not one on this side.”

As everyone started talking I leaned on Sam, “Quiet!”

Everyone stopped and looked at me in surprise, “I need it quiet and do not move.”

With Sam helping to support me I moved to the door and started moving slowly along the wall. I was looking for any fresh signs, dirt that had been moved, scuff’s anything. On the far side of the room I found what I was searching for. There were tiny pieces of stone along the base of the wall that had been moved away.

I called them over and showed them. Artimas and William were looking at the wall in a way that told me they were using mage sight. When they stopped and frowned I sighed muttering, “always the hard way.”

Closing my eyes I stepped next to the wall and put my hand on it. I relaxed and started the technique I used to meditate. When I was almost there I reached out and pushed as I slowly moved along the wall until I felt something deep in the rock. Concentrating I felt the edge of the door and moved my senses in deeper.

I found the locking latch attached to the door, it was not the opening switch but maybe it would do. I pushed until it slipped free of the door. I opened my eyes to see everybody watching me, “John? Would you and a couple of other men mind pushing right here?”

He looked at me with his eyebrow raised but moved to the wall and two others joined him. As they put their weight against the wall it moved slightly. They were surprised and he stepped back and looked at the wall for just a second before gesturing for the men to move closer to him. I leaned against Sam and felt Cat applying pressure against the wound along my side and hip.

As the tunnel slowly became visible I looked a Gentle and Paul, “how far is it to Pendar’s from the Keep above?”

Gentle and Paul looked at each other before Paul looked back, “just over half a mile I think.”

I was already very tired, the adrenaline had worn off and the shock of the fight was setting in. Not to mention the pain from my wounds. I sighed and stepped towards the tunnel, Sam and Cat both hissed at me and I felt a resigned sigh from Cynthia as well, “you could at least wait for us to get you a healer.”

I looked down at Cynthia, everyone had heard her, “I suppose I could but somehow I do not think Pendar was acting alone.”

William moved up until he was walking beside us, “you think there are other mages?”

I gestured, “you saw the other one in the workroom and somehow I do not think Pendar could have animated all of those that were here that quickly.”

He looked at me, “how do you know they were not in his Keep and you missed them?”

I glanced at him, keeping my senses extended before us, “because I destroyed the anchor he used in his Keep. It was a large crystal in his crafting room. Besides I could tell by the smell that they had not been dead for very long.”

When we were about halfway there I heard a shout from behind us and stopped. I had kept Artimas and William from creating mage lights and we had no torches. We stopped to wait and I could see several mage lights bobbing along with them. As they got closer I saw Legate Abrams in the led with four mages and about thirty men.

As he got closer he called out, “I got your messages and came over to talk to….”

He cleared the crowd around me and saw me and faltered, “damn, what happened to you?”

I smiled tiredly, “I almost bit off more than I could chew.”

He stopped next to me, “almost?”

In the crowd of mages I saw Janis and Nathen both and nodded to them. I looked at Artimas, “you asked for more mages?”

Artimas turned red and I could feel his anger as William cleared his throat, “we did not get any messages from you. We were on our way to see you on council business.”

I looked at the other mages and saw Nathen and Janis were mad as well. I shook my head, “it does not matter. Is there any women mages missing or presumed dead within the last five to ten years?”

Janis nodded, “there is five.”

William looked at him and then at me, “why did you want to know?”

I looked at him, “because I have reason to believe they are here.”

I looked at the lights, “put the lights out but be ready to bring them back.”

I started down the tunnel again as they whispered to each other and the lights went out. I knew when we got close because I could smell them. I called for light as the undead rushed out of the darkness. Stepping away from Sam and Cat I pushed a shield from my chi forward at an angle.

There were only about a dozen undead and before I could move towards them the mages cast a spell that set them on fire. It was hotter than it should have been and they crumpled within seconds. The first door was only a hundred feet further down the tunnel which had narrowed into a hallway.

Listening I could hear someone inside chanting a spell. Shifting hands I pulled the White Hawk and stepped to the side of the door. I looked in and saw only one mage chanting as he carved something into a body hanging from chains. Not hesitating I aimed and shot him in the back. Stepping into the doorway I took careful aim and shot him again, this time in the head.

William started to push past me and step into the room but I stopped him and pointed at the crystal in the center of the room. He looked surprised and chanted a word and gestured. The crystal shuttered with lightning bouncing off the walls. Most of it seemed to strike the body of the mage, turning it into a charred cinder.

I half bowed and waved for him to enter. Slowly I walked around the room checking for any concealed doors. When I found nothing I stepped back into the hallway. This time Cat was the one to help support me. The hallway seemed to end one hundred feet down with a door on the left and one on the right.

The door on the right had a feeling of someone standing on a height or cliff top. The door on the left had the feeling of a large room. I could feel more webs of magic coming from it. Even as I stepped up to the door I could feel the webs of magic woven through it. I felt Sam stop one of the mages from pushing forward to the door and Nathen saying something to him.

I was trying to concentrate on the web but my own blood loss had made me a little light headed. Shaking my head to clear it I focused again and saw the knot with an end sticking out. It was a very clumsy awkward thing and at first I though it was a trap until I looked at it close. I pulled the loose end of the spell and opened the door.

The room was probably fifty feet on each side. There were five women chained inside as Elizabeth had been. I stopped William again as he tried to push past me. When he looked at me I ignored him and continued to extend my senses. If this was like Antizel’s trap with Elizabeth than there would be undead guards.

As hard as I tried, I felt nothing. I looked at William, “stay here. The last time I went into a room with someone trapped like this there were undead and mage traps.”

I made a protesting Cat stay and stepped into the room. Carefully I made my way around the room, careful to avoid the five women and the pentagrams around them. When I finished I knew why I could find no undead guards. Pendar had tied them to the power of his Keep and when I destroyed it they had died.

At the door I looked past Cat who had blocked William to keep him from entering, “Artimas? I need you to come look at these girls. We need to determine if they are held the same way as your daughter was.”

He made his way to the front with the other mages trying to follow. Cat stopped them at the door and I heard them cry out names. I looked at them and Artimas whispered that two of the women were their daughters. I nodded and made my way to the first woman. Right away I could see that she was not being held the same way as Elizabeth.

Some of the spells were similar but they were not the same. As we walked around the diagram I pointed some of the spells out to Artimas. When we finished we looked at each other and then I called for the rest of the mages to enter with the directions for them to not get too close to the pentagrams.

I looked at Artimas, “to me it looks like the only thing we need would be blood from Pendar?”

Artimas nodded, “it was done very crudely.”

I looked at the door where Legate Abrams was standing with Cat, “Legate, would you be so kind as to send a runner back for the head of Pendar?”

The legate smiled at me as he was signaling for one of his men, “and which head would that be? There were quit a few heads littering the floor back there.”

I smiled back at him, “it would be the fresh one that was still bleeding when I took it. It will have a large hole in it.”

I held my arm out for Cat and she crossed the room to me and I leaned on her. The mages were walking around the diagrams. Two of them stayed at two different diagrams not checking the others. I called them to me and when they were close I looked at them. They were not mages I knew, “Artimas told me that they are your daughters?”

When they nodded I looked at the girls, “I will get them out. You do know they will need help to get over what has been done to them?”

I hesitated, “I know someone, she is helping Elizabeth, Artimas’s daughter. Her name is Julianna, she is an elf doctor.”

They nodded and as if waking, shook their heads. They introduced themselves and one, Zachary said, “it is a good thing my wife is not here.”

When I only looked at him he smiled, “she would have blown this place up. There would have been a smoking crater a mile wide on this spot.”

It was a few minutes later that the guard came running back with the head wrapped in the shirt of one of the dead that had littered the floor. Taking the head I moved to the first girl and handed it to Artimas. He placed it on a diagram on one point of the pentagram. The woman woke glaring but then stopped in confusion as she saw us.

Cynthia had sat at the edge of the pentagram in front of the woman and I heard, “be patient and be quiet, we will get you out.”

I walked around her with the mages. Unlike the spells around Elizabeth I could see the knot that held the spells and a loose end. More, the spells that ran through her were tied to the same knot. I stopped and looked at Artimas, “was Pendar really this sloppy? Not that I mind but I do not see any traps and the spells are not even tied to her.”

William was the one to answer, “Pendar was never considered the brightest of mages. More of a copier than anything.”

I shook my head and reached out and pulled on the end of the spell. We watched it unravel and the chains holding the woman fell away. She slumped to the floor as the spells that ran through her melted away. Nathen stepped forward and wrapped her in his cloak. Moving to each of the women we repeated the process until they were all free.

As I made my way out of the room I felt drained and weak. If both Sam and Cat had not been helping me I would have fallen more than once. In the hallway I faced the other door and then felt Artimas laying his hand on my shoulder. I felt a surge of energy pass into me and felt revived.

He smiled, “it is only temporary. It should hold you for a little while. You need a healer.”

I smiled at him and stepped up to the door. It had layer and layer of mage traps woven into it but the stupid thing was… they were all tied to the same place with a loose end seeming to wave in my face. I looked at Artimas and William as he joined us, both were shaking their heads. I unraveled the spell and pushed the door open.

When we entered it was to stand on a balcony overlooking a room with the floor at least a hundred feet below. In the center of the room was a large pile of treasure, lying on and around part of the treasure was a dragon. The dragon was black, maybe twenty feet high at the shoulder and almost one hundred feet long.

It was also looking right at us. I felt an almost physical push against my mind and instantly put a shield of my chi between us and the dragon. In my head I heard, “Human, I have been expecting you.”

I knew it was directed at me, I also felt a kind of humor and something else, a kind of pain I did not recognize. The dragon turned its head as if looking at the web of spells that surrounded it. It looked back at me, “I would meet you at the bottom of the stairs but I seem to be indisposed.”

I looked at the others who were looking back at me. Cynthia patted my leg, “it is being held prisoner and suffers.”

I nodded, “I know that. Unless I am mistaken it is also the dragon that I fought before.”

The dragon answered, “wrong, human. What you fought was my chained and controlled spirit.”

I looked at the dragon and made up my mind. Starting down the steps I told everyone to wait there. Cynthia ignored me of course and trotted down the stairs with me. At the bottom of the stairs I stopped to check the pattern of magic. Carefully I made my way to the dragon and stopped a few paces away from his head.

Cynthia sat beside my feet and the dragon glanced down, “well met little sister.”

The dragon looked back at me, “if you had faced me the day you freed my spirit I would not have hesitated in killing you. Now I lay here with my spirit taken and only feel the pain of its loss.”

Looking into his eyes I could see the truth of what he said. “I am sorry Dragon. I do not enjoy making others suffer.”

It looked at me for what seemed a long time, “then you owe me a debt. Free me, not from these spells they mean nothing. Finish what you started..

He lifted his head and turned it so that the neck was exposed, “cut the vein. It will be relatively painless.”

I sighed somehow knowing he was right, “I do not take a life easily but I can at least offer a painless death.”

The dragon turned his head back, “how can death be painless?”

I knew the dragon was not talking about the manner of dying and smiled, “I wish I had met you earlier dragon. Your questions are like my masters. Always making you look for more than one answer.”

I slowly drew my sword, “I am more sorry than you know.”

I stepped up beside his head and heard, “Human, the mage you killed was part of something called the dark council. They will come for you. Burn an offering for me from their bones.”

Quietly he lowered his head to the floor. I placed the tip of my sword at the based of his skull and reached with my mind. Holding pressure against the artery going to his brain and he was unconscious in seconds. Blocking the nerves around my entry point I slid the sword into the back of the brain where all his body functions were controlled.

Making a slice I pulled the sword away in one motion. Still keeping pressure on his artery I stepped away to avoid the convulsions of his body. As his convulsions slowed I released his artery and turned to see that the others had made their way to the bottom of the stairs. Sam and Cat both saw the tears in my eyes as I gestured for them to stop.

The web of magic that had crossed the floor was mostly gone except for the ones coming from the treasure. Moving slowly to the wall I started around the room. Like before I found that most of the spells went to where an undead guard had been, there was one exception. There was an alcove with what looked like two small dragons.

They leaped at me only to be stopped by a screen of magic. They were small, no more then 30 pounds and behaved like a dog would. I remembered a lesson my master had shown me and I was sick of killing. I stepped in front of the alcove and they came at me again. I used what my master called a command voice, “DOWN!”

The small dragons froze not sure what to do. Again I gave the command this time gesturing with my hand, “DOWN!”

This time they both dropped to the ground almost whimpering. Cynthia moved to the edge of the alcove, “they are not dragons. They are drakes and very young and afraid.”

I looked at her and broke the spell blocking the alcove. I walked slowly to the young drakes and squatted down with a grimace of pain from my wounds. I petted them on the heads and scratched under their chins which they really liked. Standing I looked at them, “come.”

I started along the wall but they did not follow. I stepped back so they could see me, “Come!”

I gestured to my side and they came out of the alcove and moved to me slowly. When they got to me I gave them each a scratch behind the ear. I started along the wall again telling them, “come.”

This time they walked along behind me, happy as could be. I found the hidden passage out at the next corner. I tripped the switch and saw several undead guards crumpled into dust. When I reached the bottom of the stairs several of the guards had their swords out. They were looking at the drakes.

The drakes were making a hissing, growling sound and moved in front of me as if to protect me. Smiling I knelt and laid my hands on them, “quiet, it is ok.”

I patted them and they quieted down until Cat and Sam started forward. Both drakes faced them hissing. (Man were they quick) I put my hands on them, “No.”

They both dropped to the floor whining. I crouched down wincing and placed my hand on their heads. (Whatever Artimas had done was wearing off) Looking at the girls, “one at a time, come forward slowly.”

Sam slowly made her way to me and knelt. Reaching out slowly as they watched her hand she started petting one. I showed her where to scratch and the drake was hers, acting as if it was in heaven. Cat moved up to me on the other side and started petting and scratching the other drake. When William took a step they turned quickly and hissed at him.

The girls just reassured them and they quieted as the rest of the party made its way past. I stood and almost fell from dizziness. Shaking my head to clear it, “Legate, there is an exit tunnel in the corner. The undead inside the opening looked to have died with the spell the other day. I think I will call it a day before I fall on my face.”

He shook his head as he gestured at the drakes who hissed back at him quietly, “I do not know how you made it this far with all that blood leaking out of you. What are you going to do with these things?”

I smiled and looked down at the drakes, “give them a home I guess.”

The Legate shook his head again and gestured for me to go, “you are a softy, did you know that? I will send your share of this treasure once we have done an accounting.”

John and the men he had gathered were waiting at the top of the stairs. Cat and Sam were on each side of me with a drake on each side of them. John waited for me after sending the men on, “Ann is going to kill me for letting you bring home more mouths to feed.”

I smiled at him, “they are as deserving as any other.”

I heard Artimas and William climbing the stairs behind us as we made our way out of the room. John shook his head, “how big do they get?”

I looked at the drakes and then at Cynthia, “do you know Cynthia?”

With my slow pace she was walking along at my feet, “if I remember what my old chosen said they get about the size of a donkey.”

I eased down to the end of the hallway and pulled a lever sticking out from the side. As the end of the hallway split and slid back I saw that we were on the bottom floor of Pendar’s Keep by the craftroom. I turned the other way, “time to go home.”

William and Artimas fell into step (as slow as that was) with us. William looked over, “now that we are done with that we can get back to our business.”

I glanced at him and went back to watching where I was walking, “and what business is that?”

I could tell Artimas was angry but I keep moving, it was that or fall down. William continued to look at me to get my reaction, “the mage council has reached an accord. The mage born creatures called Mair are and will continue to be servants, less than bond servant in stature. They can not be freed of their bonds and they are not to carry a weapon of any kind on pain of death.”

I looked at him but continued on feeling Cat tense, “really and is there someone that I could appeal to, to get this changed?”

The mage stiffened, “the council has made its decision. Only a mage can appeal before the council and we have already denied one.”

Looking down at Cynthia I was thinking furiously, “you should have told me when you were in session. I would have appealed with whoever was against it.”

William stopped, “I told you. Only a mage can go before the council.”

I kept going, “if I am not a mage than why do I have a familiar?”

He quickened his pace to catch up, “it does not matter. The decision has already been made.”

I looked at him, “without notifying someone it would affect the most? I think not. I want a hearing on this.”

He grumbled something under his breath before glaring at me, “Fine. You have until the moon sets to appear before the council.”

He took off walking very fast and both the drakes hissing at him. He was barely out of sight when Artimas exploded, “that ass! They were worried about having to give up my grandchildren they hold as slaves.”

He quieted as we walked and Cat looked at me, “you said you wanted to talk to us when this is over. Why?”

I thought about how to answer, “when I came here to this world I was alone. First there was Sam trying to pick my pockets and then she stayed with me and helped me. When I saw you I could not let that merchant send you someplace where you would be forced to have sex. I tried to free you but you would not leave.”

I looked at her and she smiled as I continued, “you and Sam both have taught me not just about sex but how to love another. You were right when you spoke to Elizabeth and it takes someone else to say it for me to see it. I do love both of you and I do not want to be without you.”

I had turned a little red as I said this. We were almost back to the workroom when I heard Sam chuckle as she leaned forward to look at Cat, “I told you he would see. We just were not hitting him over the head hard enough.”

I saw Cat’s small smile and felt her give me a light squeeze, “what do you want Michael? From us?”

I looked from her to Sam, “I hate to say it but I want children.”

Sam broke into laughter and I felt Cat grin slightly, “as if we did not have enough children running around underfoot.”

I hugged them and almost fell as we came into the workroom. Several men were there removing bodies and John stopped to help them. Artimas told them to stop and leave the room and he would take care of it. I heard a gasp come from a room as we were making our way down the hallway.

Jeremy came out of the room at a run, “bring him in here! There is an empty bed.”

As they were helping me onto the bed I felt something tear in my hip wound. Jeremy sent Victoria (one of the older “Mair” children) out for Sarah and Jen. Jeremy was fretting about me, “no one said you had been hurt.”

The two drakes had been quiet and unnoticed until they followed us into the room and saw the water. Jeremy and the other two patients became aware of them when they heard the loud splash from the bathing pool. I did not even think about it as it slipped out, “we are never going to get the girls out of their bath now.”

Jeremy and the patients were staring wide eyed at the drakes but both Cat and Sam broke into laughter. The clatter in the hall from running children seemed to come to a screeching halt outside the door. After a moment of whispering a small head looked through the doorway. I saw that it was the same little girl I had talked to about stealing bread.

When she saw me in bed and all bloody her eyes got big with fright. I wiggled my finger for her to come to me. She hesitated and then walked slowly to my bed. When she was beside it I pointed to the drakes, “did you girls see the drakes?”

She looked over the bed at them splashing around in the bathing pool and seemed to be mesmerized. After a moment she looked back at me, “can we play with them?”

I smiled, “I do not know how friendly they will be. They followed me home and I was thinking of keeping them. You could try feeding them, they might make friends with you then.”

She looked at me with pleading eyes, “what do they eat?”

I looked back at the drakes. (That was a good question) I saw that Cynthia had left, probably to find her kittens, “Cynthia? What do the drakes eat?”

I got a picture of her giving one of the kittens a bath, “more than likely meat.”

I looked at Virginia, “Cynthia said she thinks meat and I think she may be right. Ask Ann for some raw meat for two orphan drakes.”

She nodded eagerly and turned to go but stopped before taking more than a step. She turned back to me looking at me with worried eyes, “are you going to be okay daddy?”

The daddy did it as I nodded and sent her on the way. Cat leaned over and whispered in my ear, “how many children?”

Unfortunately I had started feeling more light headed and it seemed to get a little colder. I also felt something wet along my right hip, “Sam? Is my hip bleeding again?”

As a feeling of lethargy came on I heard her curse. Cat shook me several times, “stay with us Michael!”

I could hear them but it was like from a distance. Sam shook me, “Michael! How many children?”

I knew that what I was feeling was blood loss. I concentrated on their words, “children? We already have 40 or 50. Another dozen or two?”

Cat was shaking me again, “you want us to have a dozen children?”

I opened my eyes and saw a worried Cat at my shoulder, “not all at once.”

I heard Sam teasing, “how am I going to keep up with Cat?”

I smiled and closed my eyes again, “if her cycles are every five years, how long will her pregnancy be?”

Cat was shaking me again, “come on Michael stay with us and I am not staying pregnant for five years.”

I heard Artimas from the doorway, “of course not. What is going… Both of you step back!”

I felt a tingling and it only seemed an instant later that I felt someone else near and then Jen was hugging me and crying, “Jen? It is ok, just relax.”

She was still crying though and I knew I had to get her to concentrate, “Jen, where is Elvan?”

She wiped her eyes and looked at me, “I sent him to help teach some of the girls.”

I smiled and weakly opened my eyes, “is he treating you like you will break?”

She nodded and I chuckled, “my daughter, it is because he sees you pregnant. Men are funny that way. Now are you better?”

Jen smiled and nodded as I closed my eyes, “take a breath and just do what Samuel has taught you.”

It was only a moment later that I felt the healing spread through my body. I opened my eyes and looked up at her, “you did that very well.”

She smiled as Cat and Sam started hugging me with tears in their eyes, “you called me your daughter.”

I smiled and held out my arm, “you do not need a lover Jen. I do love you, like I would a daughter and I am very proud of you.”

She came into my arms, hugging me and crying softly. I knew this time it was because she was happy. I looked around and saw several people in the doorway. John and Ann were there as well as most if not all of my adopted Mair girls. Ann was holding a large platter of raw meat absently as if forgotten.

I looked up at Cat, “perhaps you could introduce the drakes to the children and feed them while Sam gets me some clean clothes?”

Sam shook me, “you do not need clean clothes. You are not going anywhere but this bed.”

I smiled at her and caressed her face, “I am sorry sweetheart but I can not do that. You heard William. I have a council to plan for and attend.”

Artimas cleared his throat, he had been standing by the head of the bed, “what are you planning?”

I watched Cat cross to Ann and gently take the platter from her, she called to several of the girls to come into the room. She stopped with half a dozen and moved towards the bathing pool. When they got close to the bathing pool she stopped the girls and told them to be still. She called the drakes out of the water and they came at her call.

As they approached her they did not seem to mind the young girls, it was more like they were curious about them. They stopped in front of Cat but stuck their heads forward towards the girls to smell them. Not surprisingly the little girl Virginia was in the group and did not hesitate to reach out and pet the head of the drake closest to her.

The drake immediately stepped closer to her and started rubbing its head on her. Virginia was startled at first and then her small hands came up and she hugged the drake who started crooning. The other drake had stepped forward and started doing the same thing. It seems they liked the smell of the little girls, not to mention the attention they got.

Cat slowly lowered the platter of meat and the drakes turned to it and started gulping it down. Before Cat could stop her Virginia was scolding the drakes and handing the meat to them one at a time. Telling them to chew the meat and they were doing it and Cynthia remarked, “she has a magic ability with animals.”

I looked at the foot of the bed where Cynthia had jumped to. She was looking at me, “that was a close call. If the mage had not been there you would have died.”

Sam was looking at her as well so I knew she had heard. Cynthia looked back at the drakes as Virginia looked up at Cat, “what are their names?”

She smiled as she absently petted one of the drakes, “we have not given them a name yet. Maybe you girls could name them?”

I looked up at Sam, “my clothes? And you might as well bring down the two rifles so I can clean them. While you are there you might want to wash and change yourself. You are covered in blood.”

She gave me a look, “it is your blood I am covered in and I am still not sure about letting you out of that bed.”

Artimas cleared his throat, “I promise to watch him and make sure he does not do anything physical.”

Sam looked at him for a minute and then nodded, “do not let him get up until I get back.”

She turned and left, Cat was gesturing to another group of girls so I tried to sit up. Artimas and Jen both reached out and stopped me, “you can send runners for what you need.”

I lay back and looked at him as Cynthia chose that minute to walk up my body and lie down on my chest, “since all of you are ganging up on me I do not have any other choice.”

I looked at Ann, “I am fine, break this up and send everyone back to work. I am going to need some things. First where did that sergeant go with my court records for tomorrow?”

Ann blinked as John started shoeing people back to work, “in the kitchen waiting for you.”

I nodded, “I am going to need runners.”

“We can do it for you.”

I glanced over the side of the bed at a group of teenage Mair. I smiled, “one of you go to Elizabeth and ask her if I might share her room and speak with her.”

I looked at the others, “I need someone to find the one called Elvan and ask him to come see me.”

One of the teenagers had already left running for the door while another was just turning to go, “two of you go through the tunnel we found and at the end on the right side is a large room. Legate Abrams should be there, ask him to come see me at his convenience. If he is not there one of the guards should be and you can give the message to him.”

I heard a splash and looked at the bath just in time to see a sputtering Cat come to the surface with the drakes in the water with her. As everyone laughed including the two patients in the room I smiled and turned back to the Mair, “I need one of you to go to your council and ask if they would meet with me again.”

With one left standing there I thought hard, “I need you to find the one called James and ask him to meet me.”

I looked at a soaked Cat as she came up to the bed. The drakes had been coaxed out of the water by Virginia and I smiled to see it, “Virginia sweetie would you mind taking them outside and keeping eye on them? Maybe you could introduce them around to everyone so they know who they are?”

As they were headed out the door I looked at Cat, “go change sweetheart.”

She bent and kissed me and whispered, “tonight we work on our children.”

After she left Sarah came rushing in, “what happened? I went to get more herbs and they told me you were hurt. Where did all this blood come from?”

I smiled at her and squeezed Jen’s hand, “it was a minor injury. Jen healed it fine.”

Sarah frowned, “this is not from a minor injury. You lost a lot of blood.”

I nodded, “I can not even joke with you. Yes it was a lot of blood but the wounds are sealed now. The only thing to worry about is the weakness. I am afraid that with everything else that has happened we will have to put off your operation until at least the afternoon.”

She made a brushing motion and I caught her hand, “no. Do not pretend it does not matter. I will operate and you will have your life back. I have been hurt and we will have to back up the time but it will happen, I promise. Ann, could you ask the sergeant to join me and maybe I could have supper with Elizabeth?”

She smiled and left and I looked around, “Jeremy where did you sneak off to?”

His head poked into the doorway, “yes?”

I smiled, “have you had a chance to go up and look around inside the Keep upstairs?”

He nodded, “briefly, why?”

I looked at him, “you need classrooms. Tomorrow take some of your students up there and make a list of the things you will need.”

He was looking up at the ceiling as if he could see the Keep from where he was, he nodded and disappeared. I looked back at Sarah, “tomorrow morning you will have to do the sick call. Anything you can not handle call Samuel.”

Sam came in with her hair still wet and her arms full of clothing and my rifles. I sent Sarah off to eat and looked at Artimas, “why don’t you see if dinner is ready? You can bring Elizabeth her dinner.”

I looked a Cynthia on my chest, “if you will let me up so I can bathe?”

She stood and stretched, “Sam can help you.”

As she hopped off the bed and started for the door I had a picture of her kittens. I sat up and the room spun around. Sam stopped me and started undressing me. I stepped out of my pants as I leaned on her to get to the bath. In the bath the water turned momentarily red as the blood washed off.

My runners started coming back, Elizabeth said of course I could share her room. Elvan and James were on their way. I still had not heard from Legate Abrams. When I was finished and made my way back to the bed I felt weak as a kitten. The sergeant poked his head in as I was getting dressed.

I left all my weapons off asking Sam if she could carry them, “sergeant if it would not be too much trouble. Could you help me to the mage Stormcaller’s room?”

He stepped in and was juggling his papers when Cat rushed back in. I held my arms out for Sam and Cat to help me. Sam handed some of my gear to Jen and with the sergeant in tow we started what felt like a long journey to Elizabeth’s room. I looked at the sergeant, “what do you know about the laws governing bonds and bonding?”

He cleared his throat, “well quit a bit. Most of the cases that come before the court have something to do with it.”

As we made our way he gave me a brief on the laws and how they were applied. When we got to Elizabeth’s room another narrow bed had been placed across from her. Cassy was still with her as were her other daughters. What surprised me was that Serene, Krystal, Melody, Rose and Samantha were there as well.

I smiled as Cat and Sam helped me to the bed. Elizabeth smiled, “so you saved us from being over run.”

I lay back resting for a minute and then looked at her, “it feels like I was the one that got run over.”

While they laughed I looked around at the girls, “what is going on?”

Elizabeth sighed, “I was coming to grips with myself. When Antizal first forced me… I will be honest he raped me. I resented what was happening, I was humiliated and angry. At first I resented and hated my own children. If I had been able, I would have killed them but something happened as they began to grow in my womb.”

She smiled softly, “I realized they were blameless for the things Antizal had done to me. He made sure I knew that their fate would be the same as my own. Because of this I came to think of all my children as mine and not his. Even though I would have killed him each time he came and raped me I became grateful each time I became pregnant.”

She looked around the room, “from my oldest daughters to the youngest”

She smiled at the young girls, “they were the most difficult. I had never had five at once before and I thought I would die.”

She looked at Jen, “Jen is it? Cassy has told me about you. I think something must have happened for him to put her in stasis. She was born six years before you and your sister.”

Cassy had looked down when she mentioned being put in stasis. I held Cat’s hand and squeezed lightly, “Cassy?”

She looked up at me as I held my hand out. She smiled shyly and crossed to me while Elizabeth watched her, “Cassy, everyone of you girls has stories like your mother’s. Sometimes it helps to tell those stories, your sisters more than anyone else will understand.”

She looked at me, searching inside herself for an answer. She looked down before she looked at her mother, “when he tried to rape me I fought him and I used magic. He beat me, he beat me even worst than Jen. I almost died and he promised I would pay for it. He gave me to the drow. They used me and used me until I thought I would die.”

She held her hand on her tummy, “these children are not his, they are from a drow.”

Elizabeth had tears in her eyes and held her arms out for Cassy who stumbled to her and fell into her arms crying. I looked at her older daughters and saw shadows of similar things in their eyes. I thought about what had happened to Cassy and cleared my throat, “Cassy? Do you want to have these babies?”

She turned from her mother, “do I have I choice?”

I nodded, “it is your choice. But think carefully it is not one you can take back.”

She looked into her mother’s eyes, “we are your daughters and not his?”

Elizabeth smiled and nodded, “yes. You are my daughter.”

Cassy looked back at me, “I will keep my babies.”

I smiled and nodded before shaking my head, “time to get down to business, you little ones go ask Ann for some dinner. Jen, you and Cassy need to eat something too.”

They were going out when Artimas came in at the head of a party girls with trays of food. Theresa got up, “I need to go make sure all the girls eat and get ready for bed.”

James and Elvan showed up with Legate Abrams and the Mair council. As I was going over the court papers for sergeant James I outlined what I had in mind for the council meeting. James agreed to send a runner to Lord Henrys and my partner Garret while Elvan went to the Elvin council.

When John came in with Ann to take the trays I explain what I was going to do. He sighed, “if you succeed they will have to turn all the women they hold free. What then?”

I looked at him, “we offer them shelter and assistance. Just like we do with anyone else. I do not think it will be as hard as you think it will be.”

When Ann and John left Sam and Cat were whispering together and stood up. As they moved to my bed Sam looked around the room, “we are not going to the council meeting until after midnight and Michael and Elizabeth need rest. You can have everyone meet us at the mage council.”

Even as I protested they helped me out of bed and slowly out of the room. Cassy and Jen smiled as I passed and whispered, “we will stay with mother tonight.”

As we made our way across the grounds to the passageway into the Keep it was dark. I made Cat and Sam stop on the fourth floor to say good night to the girls. I was right, the two drakes were splashing around in the bath with half the girls. When they saw me they all stopped as if caught.

I heard Theresa sigh and looked around to find her brushing Virginia’s hair. I opened my arms and slowly knelt, “no kisses good night?”

There was a rush of little girls that almost knocked me over until Cat steadied me. The drakes even got out of the water and came to me. I glanced at Virginia who smiled, “they have to kiss their daddy too.”

Another little girl pulled on my hand and when I looked at her she stammered that they had named the drakes. She pointed to each as she named them, “this is Princess and that is Duchess.”

I gave her a caress and scratched the drakes under their chin before standing, “good night girls, try not to spend all night in the bath.”

They laughed and screamed as they made their way back to the bath. I looked at Theresa, “good night Theresa, if you have trouble getting them out tell them they will not be allowed to play with Princess and Duchess.”

My stops on my floor were brief, the girls were older and were more reserved. They treated me more gently when they kissed me good night. My other girls (Elizabeth’s daughters) were upset with me because the other girls had the drakes to sleep with them. I laughed, “if you feel that way than move downstairs with the other girls.”

After they finished chattering that they would I smiled, “wait until morning to move so that extra beds can be built for you.”

Once we got to our room things were quieter as my weapons were put away and the girls looked at me. Sam cleared her throat, “are you serious about us getting pregnant?”

I held my arms out to them and as they came into my arms I hugged them gently, “yes I was serious. I do want you two to have my children but I do not want it to be only my choice. I love you and this is something we should decide together as a family.”

Cat and Sam were both smiling at me and Sam rubbed my chest, “we were getting a little jealous of all your daughters. We think it is time to have our own.”

I looked a Cat, “Cat? I will not force this on you. Do you want children?”

She smiled and caressed my face before she started undressing me, “as I was growing up I was told over and over that it was my fate to have babies. As I got older I understood that this was not something I would get to decide for myself because I had no choice. My master had plans to make me pregnant. Since I have met you my fate has become my own to decide. I love you very much and Sam is the sister of my heart and my lover. Yes I want to have your children.”

I woke at midnight to Cynthia on my chest kneading me with her claws barely unsheathed, “time to get up.”

I smiled at her and turned my head to a sleeping Cat beside me, “Cat? Time to get up.”

She opened her eyes slowly and smiled as she reached for me. I laughed, feeling a happiness I could not describe, “come on my sweet, we do not have time for that.”

As I felt another set of hands seeking me I looked the other way to see Sam smiling at me, “we can hurry and still be on time.”

I groaned as I heard Cynthia laugh and start walking down me, “I will call you when John has the wagon ready.”

We were almost late as Sam and Cat helped me into the wagon alongside Elizabeth and her daughters. The building the mage council was in had high arched windows of colored glass. Everyone was waiting for me as I was helped out of the wagon. I thanked Lord Henrys for coming and he only shrugged saying it was the least he could do for the poor girls.

Garret was there with Garth and another dwarf I did not know. He was the dwarf representative for the city council. James’s father was there with Elvan and the noble that had visited him. Legate Abrams and Sergeant James were both present. I looked at the Legate, “am I the official Magistrate?”

He nodded, “as of midnight.”

I nodded and stepped away from a protesting Sam and Cat. Centering myself I walked to the door and knocked loudly. It was several moments before I was led into the council room through large double doors. All the mage councilors were standing and one remarked about all the people with me.

I stepped in front of the council, “the people with me are here as witnesses.”

I looked at William, “you know why I am here.”

He gestured and the mages sat down. He cleared his throat, “we have discussed your appeal and it is denied. The accord for the Mair will stand.”

I nodded, “Okay. Can I see the document?”

William smiled and a rolled document that had been in front of him floated to me. I took it and read through it before turning to hand it to Legate Abrams. The mage council watched as it went from hand to hand before returning to Legate Abrams. I looked at Legate Abrams, “well?”

The Legate nodded, “it is as you thought.”

I looked back at the mage council, “I have accepted your judgment of my appeal. Now as the Magistrate for the city I accept your accord. I will give you and the rest of the mage community until noon to surrender to the courts for bonding.”

The council erupted and I let it go for a minute, “enough!”

I looked at them, “your accord specified those born of mages are to be bonded and can never be free of that bond. You are all born of mages so it applies to you.”

A red faced mage leaned forward, “we spoke of the creatures created by magic. The ones called Mair!”

I looked at him, “you and this council have no authority over the Mair people. Their creator freed them and they have their own council and laws.”

I looked behind me, “Jacob?”

As Jacob made his way forward beside Cynthia and another younger Mair I turned back to the council, “this is Jacob and he sits on the Mair council. They were created before Antizel started his slave trade. They are the real Mair. The ones you say were created by magic were born as we all were. By a male and female, in this case the mage Stormcaller and the necromancer Antizel.”

As they started yelling and arguing again I felt one of them start a spell directed at me. Without thinking about it I gathered my chi and reached out. Grabbing him I tossed him back into the wall behind him. He hit with a thud and his head bounced off the wall and then he slid to the floor unconscious.

The room was instantly silent as I looked back at them, “the next one will not be so lucky.”

Another mage leaned forward angrily, “who are you to decide what we do or do not do?”

I reached out again, this time shutting off his ability to do magic as I grabbed him by his throat and dragged him over the table. I stopped him a foot in front of me hanging a foot off the floor, “who am I? I am the one that has faced the dark mages and their magics which you and this council did nothing about. Who am I? I am Michael White Hawk and I am the one who now sits in judgment of you and this council!”

I dropped him unconscious on the floor as I looked at the council, “you have a decision to make, one you should have made before greed got in your way. Do you still want this accord or not. If you want this accord to stand then this council is dissolved. If you wish to overturn the accord then I and these others have matters to attend to.”

William leaned forward, “and if I were to challenge you to dual arcane?”

I looked at him, measuring him and walked forwards towards him. I reached out and blocked the centers in him that let him do magic, “try a spell.”

When he only looked at me I gestured, “create a mage light, anything.”

He made a gesture but nothing happened. Frowning he muttered something and when nothing happen he looked at me with wide eyes. I looked around at the others, “you want to challenge me to a dual arcane? Fine, it will end with me permanently blocking you from your magic and beating you silly.”

I looked at him again, “I am not here to create enemies. I came for justice, justice for a mage and her daughters and their daughters. I came here to put an end to the slavery and torture of mages descended from Elizabeth Stormcaller and Antizel the Necromancer.”

I walked slowly back to where I had started and faced them again, “what is your decision?”

One by one they voted to overturn the accord. I faced the Legate and he handed me the document. I faced the council again, “once a young girl one of Elizabeth’s daughters fought to keep from being raped. Because she used magic she was beaten until she was almost dead. She was healed and given to the drow to be raped repeatedly. All because she used magic to defend herself.”

I focused my chi on my hand as I held the document out, “Cassy my daughter would you mind destroying this for me?”

Her spell seemed to come from nowhere in a white hot ball of flame that encased the document, it disappeared a fast as it started. I still faced the council, “I have been told there is a dark council of mages.”

I felt a start from one of the female mages, “that they will come for me because I have upset their plans. I have adopted all of the girls I have freed. They are as my own daughters. Let it be known that if the hair on any one of them is harmed I will hunt this dark council. When I find them it will not be to judge them, I will be their executioner.”

I turned and gesture for everyone to go. I could feel another spell gathering when I was at the door. Turning I pushed my chi out in a shield across the door and the spell hit it a moment later in a rainbow of color. Not even thinking about it I pulled the White Hawk and shot the female mage twice in the chest.

There was a shocked silence, “I guess she was one of the dark council.”

I turned and left and as soon as the outer doors closed I almost collapsed. John caught me and helped me into the cart. I looked around and thanked those that had supported me. I asked my partner to come to see me in the afternoon so we could talk about the selling of some Admantium swords I had.

John put his hand on my shoulder, “you were right. We can not stand by and let those girls down. I did not understand really until I heard what had happened to Cassy. I will send runners to every mage home to watch for the girls.”

Legate Abrams put his hand on his shoulder, “I have already alerted the guard. They will send anyone turned out to you and Michael.”

I nodded and thanked him and then leaned against the side as Elizabeth was helped into the cart. When her daughters climbed in Cassy sat beside me and leaned against me, “thank you father.”

I smiled, “the rest will be harder.”

She smiled at me, “the rest?”

I nodded, “making everyone else realize you are yourself and not something they can play with.”

She put her head on my shoulder, “Cat said we can all learn your fighting and if anyone wants to try to make me play I will start a fire someplace besides on paper.”

I caressed her as Cat and Sam sat down on the back of the cart and we started home.

Chapter 10

Day Five

Mage in distress, Court, Sarah’s operation and Mair lookouts

By the time we got back home John was discussing where to put anyone turned out. Elizabeth suggested the apartments in the grotto. I had never looked inside them but Cynthia told me they looked very comfortable. I nodded to John, “have someone check them and possibly the top floors of the Keep.”

I looked around before spotting Jacob, “Jacob, do you think there will be a problem with these girls and women staying in the grotto?”

He shook his head, “we have been talking about your idea of tree homes. Many want to try it and only a few want to stay in the home.”

With only a couple of hours before sunrise I was going to just have breakfast and get ready to start the day but Cat and Sam both insisted I needed the rest. The truth was I was tired, mostly I think from the blood loss. We had barely gotten into bed when I heard and saw two young girls poking their heads into the room.

I gestured them in, “what is wrong?”

One of the girls was holding the others hand tightly, “we had a bad dream.”

She hesitated, looking down fearfully, “can we sleep with you?”

I felt Cat and Sam both shift and sigh almost at the same time. I smiled as I felt their hands squeeze me and then let go as Cat lifted the covers, “come on you two.”

With a look of relief they climbed into bed and snuggled up close to both Sam and Cat. It was a few minutes later that I heard two more come in. Sam gave a soft laugh as I groaned about the bed not being big enough and she lifted the covers for them. I woke an hour later with a kitten sitting on me.

When I opened weary eyes to look at it, it laid down, “good morning. Are you feeling better?”

I groaned, “let me guess, you and your litter mates are hungry?”

I looked at Cynthia who had raised her head looking at me, “your litter is not the only ones up early.”

I sighed as the kitten hopped off me and made its way to the edge of the bed. As I was climbing over Sam and the children she whispered, “where are you going?”

I stopped while I held myself over her and kissed her before whispering back, “to feed the children.”

She caressed my face, “get used to it. I am not getting up in the middle of the night to feed the babies.”

I smiled and slipped out of the bed. Getting dressed I started out heading for the kitchen with the kittens in tow. I had to stop on the next floor because I felt weak. I decided to get the drakes while I was here. Opening the door into the nursery earned me a hiss from Virginia’s bed where the drakes had been sleeping.

I saw Beth sleeping in a bed nearby with three little girls piled around her. I held the door and gestured to the drakes. They looked at me for a moment before slipping out of the bed and crossing the room. When they saw the kittens sitting by the stairs they really perked up. I was worried at first but they only gave a kind of whine and tried to wipe their face on the kittens.

The kittens tolerated it, one even tried to put its paw around Princess’s neck in a hug. I shook my head and led the way to the kitchen with several stops to rest. The kitchen was already busy and I saw several new “Mair” girls and women looking lost and confused. Ann appeared suddenly to see what I needed.

I gestured at the kittens and the drakes. She smiled and suddenly kissed me on the cheek, “you are a good man Michael. We will make room for these women. No one deserves to be treated like Cassy or Elizabeth.”

I smiled at her as Eleanor handed me a cup of coffee, “where is John?”

Ann smiled back, “talking to the Mair council and looking at the rooms there.”

Sarah came in rubbing her eyes, “Ann you were right, she is almost ready to have the baby. Good morning Michael, have you seen all the new people coming in?”

I shook my head as a sleepy Helen and Tanya arrived with platters of meat for the kittens and the drakes. They sat down on the floor with them and were petting them while they ate. I looked up into Ann and Sarah’s smiling eyes, “no, I was told to go to bed.”

Sarah smiled, “that was probably best. With your loss of blood you needed it.”

I snorted, “tell that to my daughters and their bad dreams.”

Both women laughed as I moved to sit at the table. The two women there stood in fear as I approached. I smiled as I sat, “ladies please sit. No one will harm you here, you are safe.”

They were still afraid but sat across from me. Ann came to the table with eggs and thinly sliced Saur fried crispy. The door opened and a sleepy eyed Virginia came in, “there you are!”

She was looking at the drakes which had looked around and started wagging their tails as if they were dogs. I smiled as she put her little hands on her hips, “Virginia sweetie let them eat and come have breakfast.”

She looked at me and smiled shyly, “they were gone when I woke up.”

She crossed the floor and to my surprised climbed up into my lap. I could see the two women’s surprise and ignored it to give her a hug, “I brought them down so they could eat.”

She looked at my plate with hungry eyes. I handed her a slice of Saur and told her to help herself. She took small bites of the meat looking at the women who were whispering, “the are new. Who are they?”

I smiled and looked at the women, “we could be polite and ask them?”

Virginia smiled and hopped off my lap to walk around the table until she faced them, “Hi. My name is Virginia. What is your name?”

They hesitantly gave their names looking back and forth between Virginia and me. Virginia was not to be denied her curiosity, “are you going to stay with us? I can show you around, we even get to play in the water.”

She leaned in to whisper to them, “I have to have one of the mothers watch though, in case I fall in the deep water.”

Ann brought another plate for Virginia and I had her sit and eat her breakfast as I looked at Ann, “what was that I heard about a baby?”

Sarah spoke up from another table, “she has not broken her water yet. I had Jennifer stay with her. It will probably be late this morning or this afternoon.”

Thinking about Elizabeth and her descendants tendency to multiple births, “is it one of Elizabeth’s?”

Sarah shook her head, “no. Her husband brought her in last night.”

I nodded as my thirteen year olds came through the door yawning. Ann crossed to them, “come on girls lets get you something to eat and you can get started.”

One of the women leaned across the table, “do we belong to you now, (she paused) Master?”

I smiled back at her as I felt the room go quiet, “no. I have helped your grandmother in seeing that you were freed. You have no master, I and the other people here will help you find your way into a new life.”

From their look I knew they did not understand. I sighed, “I will take care of you until you are ready to leave me.”

Two of the thirteen year olds, (Jessie and Saline) came to the table to eat. They both stopped and shyly gave me a good morning kiss on the check. Saline looked at me, “did we hear some of the little ones in the hall this morning? I though I saw one poke her head in the door.”

I nodded as I stood, “bad dreams. They are probably still sleeping with Sam and Cat.”

They nodded but the look I saw pass between them told me we would probably be getting more girls in our bed from, “bad dreams.”

Cynthia came in as I was letting the kittens and the drakes out, “I am going to have the horse harnessed to the wagon.”

As she made a beeline for Helen and the plate she held I heard, “Sam and Cat finally freed themselves and are on their way.”

I laughed as I made my way towards John who was feeding grain to the horse. While we harnessed it I asked, “we need to find someone to draw up building plans for a large building across the river as well as plans for the farm buildings we were going to need.”

Slowly I made my way to Elizabeth, there was a woman I did not know sitting with her talking about clothes for children. Elizabeth smiled as I came in, “did they let you sleep?”

I smiled back, “until your granddaughter’s climbed into bed wanting comforting from bad dreams.”

She laughed, “that is what you get for being daddy.”

I crossed to her and reaching out I grabbed the strand of magic at the top of her groin. There was a lot of resistance as I pulled it free and Elizabeth froze with her mouth open in a silent scream. This one was a lot longer than the others and acted more violently as it came free. I had been prepared, my long knife struck as it came free and turned to strike at me.

Tossing it away as it started to fade I bent and held Elizabeth until she slowly relaxed, “I am sorry Elizabeth.”

She was crying softly, “how much more?”

I sent my senses into her, feeling. I looked into her eyes, “maybe four or five more.”

She started crying harder and I sat on her bed to comfort her, “look at me.”

She looked up and I continued, “each one will be harder and I do not know if I can block the worst of the pain for you. The last one will be the worst.”

Elizabeth looked at me and I saw her shoulders slump, “damn Antizel.”

I nodded, “I am going to send for Julianna and I want you to talk to her about this. With the pain this will bring it will be worse than any rape that was done to you and you have to accept it and do nothing.”

She nodded with tears in her eyes, “I know.”

I bent and kissed her on the cheek, “I am so sorry Elizabeth.”

She held me as if her life depended on it crying softly. I heard a cough at the door and we both looked to see both Artimas and her brother. Elizabeth held out her arms still crying, “Father!”

I moved so that he could hold her, “I just gave her some bad news.”

Edward looked at me, “what?”

I shook my head, “she can tell you if she wishes.”

I turned to her, “I have to go. I will send for Julianna.”

As I left the room I motioned the woman, “she is not to be left alone. Not for anything, I want at least two of you with her at all times.”

She nodded, “she will have to be raped again?”

I shook my head, “no. She has to give herself to the pain the last spell strand will create willingly. It will be more painful than you can imagine.”

She smiled, “more painful than having a child?”

I nodded and pushed her back into the room, “stay with her.”

Sam and Cat were talking to John while they waited for me at the wagon. I stopped next to him, “I need a runner to go to Julianna. I need her to see Elizabeth as soon as possible. From now until I tell you otherwise she is to have at least two people with her at all times. When Artimas comes out ask if one of them can stay with her. I want a mage with her at least until I return. Tell him I think she may try to take her own life.”

John looked at me, “what happened?”

I shook my head, “lets just say the rest of her treatments are going to be very, very painful.”

As we were leaving Cynthia came running from the smithy and jumped up onto the wagon, “you know she is not going to trust anyone.”

I sighed, “she will have to.”

On the way to the Guard building where the court was being held I explained to Sam and Cat what had happened. Sergeant James was waiting for me when we arrived. He had a stable hand take the wagon and we made a slow entry through a side door. He told me that a couple of names had been added to the docket for today.

Sam and Cat sat in chairs behind me while Cynthia jumped onto the table beside me. Sergeant James went over the new cases with me as everyone stood at the back of the room waiting. I called the first case forward, it was about one merchant providing substandard material for the other and getting substandard merchandise back.

I let them both state their case and then looked at them, “very well, this is my decision. Return the merchandise and the substandard material is to be given back. If you give something that is substandard that is what you will get in return.”

The next case was distasteful and I had made James do some inquiring about it. A merchant had hired a man to do some work and the work was not done. He wanted the workmen put in bond. When they were in front of me I looked at the merchant, “I have made some inquires and this is the third time you have done this.”

He tried to speak but I cut him off, “each time more work is done and you postpone giving the new workman the materials he needs to finish his work. Basically you are cheating the workmen.”

I sat forward, “you are stealing their labor. All your assets will to be turned over to your wife and you will be placed in bond for three years.”

He sputtered as the guards seized him. I looked at the workman, “see his wife about the work and any payment due.”

The next case I had discussed at length with sergeant James. It was a destitute family picked up in the guards sweep and they were facing bonding. When they were before me I looked at the papers in front of me, “it says here that you told the guards that you were new to the city? How long have you been here?”

The husband stepped forward, “we only arrived last week.”

I looked at James, “how long before they are considered as living here?”

James flipped a page (not that he needed to), “the law says one month.”

I looked back and addressed the guard, “what did they have in their belongings?”

The guard dumped several packets of needles and maybe two silvers worth of copper coins. I looked at the couple and gestured the man forward to the table. I took a slip of paper and wrote where I lived, “when you get there ask for John and tell him I sent you.”

I waved him back, “since you do not yet reside here and you have funds I will dismiss the case. However if the guards pick you up again, you and your family will go into bond. Do you understand?”

When they nodded I sent them away. I was not sure about the next case until I saw the thief. It was the boy that had been with Sam the day I had arrived and I felt Sam tense behind me. When he was in front of me the guard explained that he had been caught stealing and the “Guard” was requesting that he be bonded.

I looked at him for a long time before reaching into my pouch and bringing out ten gold pieces. I set them on the table one at a time, “I will give you a choice. Ten pieces of gold, an escort to the city gates and freedom. In exchange for information about the guild and everyone in it.”

The boy looked at me licking his lips, “I do not know anything about the guild.”

I stared at him and shook my head, “we both know that is a lie. This is your chance to get out.”

When he only shook his head I glanced at the guard next to him, “put him in bond. Five years.”

That was the last of the cases that had been scheduled and I looked at James, “who is next?”

James called out the name of the mage I had thrown against the wall this morning for trying to cast a spell at or on me. He stepped forward arrogantly pulling four girls formally known as Mair. Two were pregnant, “I request these be put in bond to me for failure to pay for the food and board they have received.”

I barely looked at him as I stood and slowly made my way to the girls. I stopped in front of one of the pregnant girls and lifted her head with my finger, “has he forced you to have sex with him?”

She looked at the mage in fear and I stepped between them, “do not look to him to find the answer.”

She only looked down shaking. I looked at the other girls and they were all trembling. Cat walked quietly up behind me. Pulling her sword she brought it blade down onto the floor. When she pulled the sword everyone had stepped back and the four girls stared at her with wide eyes, “my sisters, put your hands on mine.”

I noticed that the hand on the sword was the one she wore her ring on. As they one by one placed their trembling hands on top of hers the sword began to glow brighter with each one. The mage started to do a spell and I summoned my chi and blocked his magic.

When the last one had put her hand on the blade Cat looked at them, “this is our grandmother’s sword, she has returned to us. All you have to do is to take courage and tell the truth.”

They looked at Cat like she was crazy before looking at me. They looked down but one of the girls raised her head and looked back at me, “what will happen if we tell you?”

I looked into her eyes, “Justice.”

She took her hand from the sword and stepped close, “on your honor?”

I pulled my long knife and placed her hand on the hilt before putting it against my chest, “upon my honor.”

She looked at the knife and back into my eyes, “he has forced all of us and those that came before.”

I looked at the pregnant girls, “is he the father?”

When they nodded I turned on the mage, “you wish to test me and bring this out in the open? Very well.”

I reached out to him and used his own life force, (his chi) to keep the block on his magic. The block would not move until he died, “for rape and slavery you forfeit your magic and are to be bonded for the rest of your life. All of your assists are to be seized and sold, the proceeds to go to these girls for their support.”

A voice spoke from the crowd, “you have no authority over mages. Only the mage council has that power.”

I turned and watched as William came out of the crowd. I smiled a smile that did not touch my eyes, “your former mage gave his rights up when he came before this court.”

William stared at me, “you have no authority over mages.”

I glanced at James, “sergeant would you be so kind as to read the passage I showed you.”

He stood, “if a citizen of the city comes before the court, be they Merchant, Prince or Mage they will be subject to the laws of the city and the court.”

I nodded, “sergeant, was the law sign by the entire council including the mage representative?”

He looked back at me with out blinking, “yes.”

I looked at William, I could see his fist clinching, “my decision stands. I suggest you not try me further. Free them.”

He turned and thrust his way back into the crowd as two guards grabbed the mage I had sentenced. At first they were hesitant but when nothing happened they used more force. I looked a Cat, “have one of the guards take them to their grandmother.”

Sliding my long knife back in its sheath I heard, “I challenge you. Here and now.”

I turned back to see the duelist break free of the crowd. I shook my head as James stood, “the law states that the judge of the day is exempt from challenge until his duty is passed on.”

The duelist growled and I turned back towards Cat when I felt him draw his sword and move towards me. Drawing my sword as I spun I brought it down in an arc that took his hand, sword and all. The back stroke went through his throat. As he fell to the floor I turned to Cat. Her sword was up in a guard position, “send them to Elizabeth.”

The room was silent as I moved slowly back to the table and placed my bloody sword on it as I sat, “who is next sergeant James?”

He cleared his throat as two guards moved forward to drag the body out of room, “a merchant seeking redress.”

I looked at the crowd, “well?”

A tall skinny man stepped out of the crowd, “I am here on my own behalf seeking redress done to the reputation of a senior member of my consortium.”

I nodded, “tell us the circumstances.”

He looked at me intently, “the senior member of my consortium was involved in a duel with you and during the duel you publicly humiliated him by your actions.”

Before I could say anything sergeant James stood up, “actions during a duel are not subject to court action! Further, bringing the actions into court is a punishable offense subject to one year in bond. Guards!”

Two guards stepped forward and grabbed the protesting merchant and walked him out a side door. I noticed Henry Schaffer in the back of the room turning red. I looked at the sergeant James, “next case?”

He looked down at a paper but a deep voice sounded from the crowd, “that would be me.”

A dwarf pushed his way out of the crowd. Two others followed him and they stopped with their hands on hips, “we seek the seizure of property for nonpayment, both for services and material provided.”

I nodded, “when was the payment due and what was the amount?”

They looked at each other and the one in the front looked back at me, “it was due a month ago and they owe five thousand gold pieces.”

I thought about it, “when was the materials and services given?”

The dwarf instantly replied, “six weeks ago.”

I sat back, “the merchant you want the property seized from?”

The dwarf smiled a nasty smile, “the Schaffer consortium.”

I nodded and looked at Sergeant James, “how do we do a seizure for a specific amount?”

James looked back, “in the case of a consortium it comes from the senior member working down until the amount is paid or no one is left in the consortium.”

I looked back at the dwarfs, “very well, I will order the seizure and selling of property for the amount of 5,000 plus another 2,500 for your trouble. In addition to any cost the guard has for doing this.”

The dwarf nodded and they turned and pushed their way back into the crowd. I looked at sergeant James, “anything else?”

He looked back, “open the court for anyone with a grievance.”

I looked out at the crowd, “does anyone have a grievance they wish to address to the court?”

A richly dressed merchant stepped out of the crowd, “I do not wish to address the court but what will happen when we request the next judge to rule on your standing with regards to those called Mair?”

I smiled, “the mage council ruled that those you call Mair are not a created race. That means they are subject to the normal bonding laws. That means you need court documents showing cause or at least a judge’s signature along with the bond servants.”

He gave me a nasty smile, “and if another judge counters your position?”

I smiled back as I leaned forward and placed my hand on the hilt of my bloody sword lying on the table, “then the next time I sit in judgment I will have every person who still holds one of these girls prisoner arrested and put in bond for life. Their property seized and sold, the proceeds given to the girls in question.”

I looked at all of them, “if anyone wants to argue my decision they can always challenge me tomorrow. I will be more than happy to show them the error of their ways. Would you like to be the first? I will even offer to duel with hands only?”

The merchant turned pale and backed into the crowd. I looked at the crowd, “those you have known as Mair are children of a mage enslaved by the Necromancers Antizel and Pendar. I believe this was done with the help and cooperation of the drow.”

I looked back and forth through the crowd, “by keeping these girls and trying to continue the practice the necromancer started you are just as guilty of those black deeds as he was. The continued slavery, not to mention the rape and abuse of these women needs to stop.”

A voice spoke up from the crowd, “what if they want to stay in bond?”

I looked at the crowd for a long silent minute, “if they come before the magistrate without being coerced and agree to a bond then they will be treated as anyone else. I never said they could not be bonded, I said they should be treated the same as you or anyone else.”

When no one said anything else I stood, “anything else?”

When nothing was said I looked at sergeant James, “am I done?”

He nodded, “I will bring the papers you will need to sign to your home. Anything that comes up today will be brought to you.”

I stood and put the gold pieces in my pouch before taking a rag that was handed to me by Sam. Carefully I wiped my sword and put it away and slowly walked from the room. As I stepped out the side door to have my wagon brought from the stable William stepped from another doorway, “you wish to confront the mage council? Very well, from this day forward no mage will be allowed to assist you in any way. If they do they will be stripped of their power and property. Any contact with you will result in the mage being bonded to the mage council.”

I smiled a dangerous smile, “fine William. You forget, I can still come before the mage council. Tomorrow I will come for you and each of the mages on the council. You will face me in a duel and I will take your magic before I kill you.”

As his face turned white I stepped forward, reaching out and using his life force I blocked his magic, “you want to threaten me again mage?”

He stepped back, “the mage council will not stand for this!”

I looked at him calmly, “what you have to worry about is staying on the council. You have pissed a lot of mages off. I do not think they are going to stand for it much longer. What are you going to do when you no longer have the protection of the council?”

He growled, “no one will appose me!”

I smiled, “just off the top of my head I can think of four mages that would. Undoubtedly there are more.”

William paled as I smiled again, “you do what you have to. Have the council vote on the measures against me and I will see you tomorrow.”

I turned away and walked slowly to join Sam and Cat before walking to the wagon. The four girls from the court were sitting in the back. When I looked from them to Cat she smiled, “they might as well come home with us.”

I climbed onto the seat with both girls. When we came into the gate it was to a large crowd of about one hundred women and girls of different ages around the kitchen. I stopped the wagon and climbed down signaling to one of the neighbor boys, “Nathen, could you take care of the horse and wagon?”

I helped Sam and Cat down and went to the back to help the four girls down, “Cat? Could you and Sam see if you can find a place for them?”

I made my way to the kitchen. The women in the crowd moved away from me quickly as I passed. When I got to the kitchen door I found Jeremy seated with a crate in front of him writing names and giving directions to where they should go. He looked up as I arrived and I saw a look of relief cross his face, “Ann and John are inside with several mages. They may need your help.”

When I entered I saw them around one of the tables. All of the kitchen helpers looked like they were trying to keep their distance. As I approached the table I heard one of the mages, “but they are my children!”

I cleared my throat, “John, Ann? Can I help?”

The crowd parted with the mages looking at me. John stood, “thank goodness, these gentlemen wanted to keep the women they brought, along with the children.”

I made my way to the table, “have we found enough room for everyone?”

John nodded, “I need to go and help with getting them moved in.”

I sat and looked at the mages as he left, “talk to me one at a time please.”

The first mage, a young looking mage told me that he understood what we were doing and agreed with it. The problem was that he loved the two women he had “bought” and the children were as much his. I looked at the others, “is this why you are all here?”

They all agreed except one who explained that he wanted to adopt the three girls that had been bonded to him. I looked at Ann, “is anyone with Elizabeth?”

Ann nodded, “her regular crowd.”

I smiled, “is Nathen one of them?”

She nodded, “I will send someone for him.”

As she left I faced all the mages, “I am going to give you the benefit of doubt. Go find the ones you are talking about and one at a time bring them in for me to talk to.”

When they started to argue I held up my hand, “Gentlemen! It is not up for debate. I will question them and if they wish it then they are more than welcome to go with you. I will force no one.”

The room was silent and then they all moved for the door. Victoria came from the back of the kitchen and quietly set a cup of coffee and a plate of fried Saur down. I smiled, “thank you.”

The first mage was back in only a minute with three women that looked like adults. I asked them all to sit and looked at the mage, “let me talk to them without interruption.”

I looked at the three women, “this mage has asked that you stay with him. How has he treated you?”

They looked at me, not in fear, it was more like they did not understand what was happening. They told me that he had treated them good. They spoke as if they had been educated and seemed to care about the mage. When I asked if they wanted to remain with him they did not even hesitate in nodding.

Nathen came in a minute later and I excused myself to ask if he could tell me about each of the mages. That was what I did for the next hour. With one exception, the last mage came in with four little girls about seven or eight. They were clinging tightly to him in fear and he was very protective of them.

When they sat I could not get them to talk so I looked at the mage. He seemed older, “tell me about them.”

He smiled at the girls, “I bought their mother long ago. At first it was out of pity but she was a very insistent woman. I came to love her a great deal and thought to free her but several of my friends warned me not to. I talked with Lenora and she told me not to bother because she was not going anywhere.”

The mage sighed sadly, “we were together a long time before we agreed to have children. We were going to leave Westford so our children would have a life.”

He looked down at the table, “Lenora died giving birth.”

I looked at Nathen but I did not need his words, his looked said it for him. I looked back at the mage, “take your girls home. If you want you can bring them here for school and a place they will be able to play with others in safety.”

As they left I stood with Nathen as he looked at me, “not all mages are bad.”

I smiled as I headed for the door, “I know that Nathen but in this case it must be more than blind trust. It is not my life I am putting in their hands.”

Nathen smiled, “I think your grandfather was right, you find your answers in your heart.”

When I came into Elizabeth’s room there were quite a few people crowded into the room including Julianna, “break time. If you would all go find something to do for a while I need to see Elizabeth.”

As they were filing out I stopped Julianna to stay with us. When the door closed I slowly sat in a chair, “I think it is time for your treatment to change.”

She looked at me and I could see a little strain around her eyes, “what do you want to do?”

I smiled, “it is time for you to start getting some of you muscle tone back. That means exercise. Do you know how to swim?”

She gave me a big smile, “yes.”

I nodded, “good, see if someone can keep an eye on you so you do not over do it and no, you can not swim by yourself. I want you to start doing some walking or you can even climb the steps up to the Keep. Starting this evening you will start taking my classes in self defense.”

I stood and turned for the door, stopping as I opened it I looked at her, “by the way, I have been thinking about some of the things you said. Have you noticed how closely your children and grandchildren look to each other? Could Antizel have made your genes dominate over any genes given by the male?”

Elizabeth looked at me strangely, “genes?”

I smiled, “they are the building blocks inside a person that say who they are and how they look.”

A look of understanding crossed her face, “if he wanted his changes to stay throughout the generations then yes, he would make them dominate.”

I smiled bigger, “then you were more right than you knew when you said they were your daughters.”

A surprised look crossed her face as I opened the door wider, “if your family want to join you in your exercise they are more than welcome.”

I let the crowd back into the room as I made my way out of the house. The crowd around the kitchen was down to a few people. When I came into the passageway below the Keep there was a young woman sitting at Jeremy’s desk. She looked at me expectantly, “can I help you?”

I chuckled, “yes, I need to know the priority of the sick or injured and where they are.”

The woman blushed, “you are Michael?”

She started giving me a briefing that Jeremy would have been proud of when Cat came out of the first room. She smiled, “in here. We are dealing with the last ones now.”

Cat looked at the woman, “we need our notes and someone to move these two patients to the room next to Jeremy’s.”

The woman called for Mathew and his head poked out of a doorway two doors down. As she was relaying what Cat wanted I went into the room only to stop in surprise. Samuel was there with Jen, Cassy and Ginger,but I did not know the two older priests with him. Sarah looked up from dressing what looked like a burn on a woman’s arm.

I crossed to her and looked it over, the other patient looked as if he had burns as well, “fire again?”

Sarah nodded, “seven. An inn by the south wall caught on fire.”

I held the end of the bandage so she could tie it off. As two men lifted her I heard Elvan say something and a boy about ten followed them out. Sarah sighed and stretched, “she was the last one.”

I looked up as the priests crossed the room. Samuel looked a little red, “Michael these are my superiors. Father Edmond and Father Adam.”

I smiled and held my hand out. They looked at my hand and back to my face before reaching out to take my hand, “most people are afraid to offer their hand to a priest.”

I shrugged, “you did not look as if you would bite too hard.”

Father Adam laughed, “I think it is more that they are afraid of insulting us.”

Father Edmond was more serious, “we are here because Brother Samuel has told us that you have asked him to teach healing.”

He pointed at Jen and Ginger, “starting with these two and that there may be more?”

I nodded, “yes.”

Father Adam pursed his lips, “the training of such could bring us into conflict with mages.”

I nodded, “some of them probably although I think you would be surprised at how little conflict it will be.”

He was watching me, “why?”

I smiled, “lets just say that what has happened here has made them aware of the true nature of these girls. They are descended from the mage Elizabeth Stormcaller.”

Father Adam jerked, “Elizabeth?”

I looked at him, “you know Elizabeth?”

He nodded, “I thought she had died.”

I looked at Father Edmond who was looking at Father Adam. I cleared my throat, “when we are done I could asked her if she would see you.”

He smiled and nodded before looking at Father Edmond, “perhaps we should wait and speak to her before making our decision.”

Father Edmond nodded, “perhaps.”

He looked back at me, “Brother Samuel said that you wished him present for some operation today?”

I smiled, “Yes.”

I looked at Sarah, “do you have anyone else to see?”

Her face was red as she shook her head. I looked at Sam, “I will need my large surgical kit.”

I looked at Cat, “find Amanda, Beth and Theresa. I would like them here.”

I looked back at the two priests as I placed my hand on Sarah’s shoulder, “this young lady is very gifted in the mundane practice of medicine. She has the ability to be a very good healer even though she may not have the ability to heal as you do.”

Father Edmond held up his hand, “the ability to practice medicine is just as important and sometimes more so.”

I nodded and led them to the bed that had just been changed, “just so. Anyway, she suffered an injury over a year ago. She was kicked by a horse and her pelvis”

I turned Sarah sideways next to the bed as I pointed out an area on her pelvis, “was broken.”

I helped her onto the bed as I continued, “the bones did not heal properly. What I want to do is operate. I will give her a strong pain medicine that will block her pain and I will cut her hip open. I will have to find the break and unfortunately break it again. It will have to be in the same spot. When that is done I will reset the bone properly and then Samuel’s part comes in. I want him to heal the bone first while I hold it set. After that it will just be a matter of closing and another healing.”

Father Edmond nodded, “how close to the artery will you have to go?”

I shook my head, “I am not worried about the artery. What I have to watch out for is the nerves that come around the hip.”

He nodded, “you have to go in through the back and side of the hip?”

I could see Father Adam was lost but Father Edmond was tracking very well on what I was telling him, “yes.”

I looked at Cassy, “could you help Sarah undress and place a sheet over her? Elvan, if you are done hiding I could use someone to run a few errands for me.”

As Cassy pulled the folding screens from the wall and started putting them around the bed I pulled Elvan to the side and gave him directions about what I wanted and who. I stopped him before he left, “I gave Elizabeth directions to start exercising, you need to do the same. See if she will let you join her in her swimming and I think it is time for you to stop watching my classes and join Jen.”

After he left I turned back to Samuel, “any questions?”

He looked at the girls, “I was thinking of letting Ginger heal the bone after you set it. With her touch it should go smoother. Jen can do the healing after you close.”

Sam came back into the room with Mathew following her carrying a tall tray like folding table. She took it behind the screen while calling for Jen and Ginger. She set it up next to the bed and started setting out my instruments. Cat came in a moment later followed by Amanda, Beth and Theresa.

I sent Cat in to help Sam and faced the girls as both Edmond and Adam joined me. I think they were curious about want I wanted the girls to do, “do you know how to create a mage light?”

They nodded but as usual Amanda was to one to speak, “we saw Pendar do it.”

I looked at them, “I am going to operate on Sarah and I need some extra light. Do you think you can help me?”

They nodded and I sent them behind to screen with directions for one to stand at the head of the bed and another at the foot. The last one needed to be on the far side of the bed. I gestured for Samuel to proceed me through the screen and walked to the bed. I looked down at Sarah who looked a little pale, “nothing to worry about. Roll over on your side please.”

Cat was on the other side of the bed and Sam was beside me to hand me the instruments. I had Ginger stand beside Cat and Jen on my other side. Father Edmond and Adam’s had moved to the other side of the bed to see what I was doing. I took the small syringe Sam handed me and injected Sarah.

I held a small strip of linen gauze over it but Jen reached out and laid a gentle finger against it. There was a tingle and she lifted the gauze from Sarah’s arm. I watched Sarah and made small talk for a few minutes until the pain medicine kicked in. I took the second syringe from Sam and gave Sarah a local.

I had Cat watch her breathing and heartbeat. Taking a breath I looked at Amanda, Beth and Theresa, “ok, I need the light now.”

A soft murmur and three lights sprang up, brighter than any mage light I had seen so far. I directed them to where I needed them and then checked on Sarah. The first part of the operation went very smooth. I missed all the nerves I had been worried about and found the break. The hard part came when I found the it.

It was not a single break but three. I took a breath and scraped the scar tissue off the bone. When I made the first break she started slightly but said she had only felt the pressure. The second break was harder still. As soon as I was finished with the third I moved the bone back into its proper position and glanced at Ginger, “ok Ginger. One piece at a time if you can.”

She reached in and put her finger above the break. Everyone could feel her gentle, delicate touch as the bones wove themselves together. When she sighed and lifted her finger I looked up to see both Father Edmond and Adams looking at her in amazement. Smiling I looked down and started closing.

I could hear them whispering to each other the whole time I was closing. When I finished Jen place her hands across the incision and we watched as the flesh healed without even leaving a scar. I nodded to Amanda, Beth and Theresa, “thank you girls that was great.”

Cat and Cassy started washing the blood off Sarah as Sam bent over and wiped her face. Sarah was blinking sleepily and looked at me, “did it work?”

Her words were slurred but I understood them. Before I could answer Father Edmond stepped up and bent over her, “yes. It went perfectly.”

He looked up at me, “we were impressed and not just by you.”

He glanced at Ginger, “after seeing, Ginger was it? Yes Ginger, after seeing her heal there is no way we can not teach her. Her gift is unique, the last time someone had her delicate touch was over three hundred years ago.”

He straightened, “but perhaps we can help one another. We have heard about your reputation. Samuel has told us something about a technique he called CPR and we have seen your skill. We will provide teachers for you if you will teach our young healers your skills.”

I blinked, “you want me to teach medicine to your healers?”

He nodded and I shook my head as Sam laughed. I smiled, “you have a deal Father. Now if you will excuse me I will finish up here.”

I sent Amanda, Beth and Theresa out as well as Cassy and Ginger. I stopped Jen, “I need to speak to you after this.”

She looked a little worried but nodded. I had everyone leave so I could talk to Sarah. I leaned against her bed, “I know you are still a little out of it but try to pay attention. Because it has taken so long to heal you there maybe some lingering pain. It is called phantom pain. You will have to relearn how to walk correctly again. I will do up a brace for you and we will start you on some exercises. It could take awhile for you to walk normally again.”

Sarah looked at me and nodded, “but I will walk normally again?”

I smiled and bent to kiss her check, “you will walk and run as normally as anyone. Believe it or not this was the easy part. The hard part will be up to you. Now lie still until the pain medicine wears off and someone will help you to your bed.”

When I came out from behind the screen Jeremy, Margaret and several of the neighbors were there. Jeremy stepped forward, “can we see her?”

I nodded, “she will need someone to stay with her until the pain medicine wears off and then she needs to be helped to her room. Make sure someone brings her lunch and dinner. I do not want her out of bed until morning.”

In the hallway Cat and Jen were waiting with the priests. I looked at Cat, “the room will need a good cleaning after she is moved to her room.”

I remembered Father Adam wanted to see Elizabeth, “first, could you see if your grandmother”

I smiled, “will see Father Adam?”

She grinned as she led the priests off and I heard Father Adam, “it is hard to believe Elizabeth is your grandmother.”

I smiled at Jen as I held out my hand. We walked slowly down the hall to the stairs, “I want to talk to you about you and Elvan as well as Elizabeth. You are smart enough to know what Elvan may want, not just sex but a shared relationship with you. I see him with you and I think he does care about you. I do not want to see you hurt. Do you like him?”

She smiled as we slowly went down the stairs and I felt her squeeze my hand, “Michael… Father, I have never felt love before you came into my life. When you got here I was frightened but you were patient and kind. You let us come into your bed to be held and comforted. The next day I was told to stay with an elf and as soon as I saw him something happened. Elvan is kind and gentle and sometimes exasperating with his need to help me. I think about him a lot but I do not know if this is love. I do like him being with me though.”

We turned and walked towards the grotto, “I have not asked and you have not told me what happen to you for Antizel to whip you the way he did.”

I felt her tense and I stopped to turn her to face me as I pulled her into a gentle hug, “I will not let that happen again, not ever. Elvan would never let that happen. Sooner or later you will have to face it and someone will ask you about it, Elvan or even one of your sisters. You heard Cassy tell of what happened to her.”

I felt her tenseness leave as she suddenly fell into me crying hysterically. I held her and patted her on the back comforting her. I saw several of the new women and girls watching from the door into the grotto. It was several minutes before she calmed. She stayed in my arms and began her story.

Antizel had chosen her as the first to have a child. He had said her sister was special, as a child she had shown him that she could do magic by making colored lights dance around the room. After he had raped her and she had become pregnant he put her back with her sister and left them alone for a long time.

One night he came into the room with a drow named Ardan. He had pointed to her sister Lisa and the drow had cast a spell at that made her scream and then he had tried to rape her. Jen had attacked him beating on his back trying to help her sister. Antizel and the drow had only laughed until she had pulled his knife and stabbed it into his back.

Antizel had not laughed then, he had her whipped and was going to give her to the other drow to use until she died. The last thing she remembered was the drow Ardan telling her that he was going to take her sister and he would rape her until he tired of her before killing her. I held her for several minutes after she stopped crying, “I am sorry Jen.”

She leaned back and looked at me, “if I find Ardan I will kill him.”

I hugged her again and turned her towards the grotto, “I may just help you.”

I smiled at the women as we entered the grotto. I looked around and headed for a set of stairs, “getting back to you and Elvan. I want you to chase him off for part of each day. Have him come back in the evenings. Instead of working with him following you around trying to save you from your work take him for a walk, go swimming with him. Do something together, have him take you shopping for clothes.”

We stopped on the first balcony and I looked at her, “I want you to move into the room next to mine. If you need to you can still come to bed with us but sooner or later you will need your own room. One where you and Elvan can be alone. Take your time with him if you want. Sooner or later he will want to make love to you and it should be private. When that time comes you need to decide if you are ready and tell him.”

I took her hand as we turned to look into the rooms, “when you can take him to somewhere you feel safe and tell him what Antizel did to you. What you have not told me or anyone else. If Elvan is the one you want to share your life with than he deserves to hear what happened. By sharing it with him some of the pain may lessen and he can help with the pain of the memory.”

I turned and headed back down the stairs with her walking quietly beside me. At the door into the grotto I stopped and looked at her. I could see she was thinking about what I had told her, “go to your mother and get her to show you how to swim.”

Jen looked at me quickly and grinned, “as soon as the little ones see someone in the water we will be overrun.”

I laughed with her, “I think today is Gentle’s day off. Send a runner to ask him if he would mind spending the day helping.”

I looked at her, “Cassy would like that I think.”

Jen smiled, “and Ashley.”

I was startled, Ashley had only been here for a couple of days, “are you sure?”

Her smile widened, “yes. The first time she saw him she said wanted him.”

I frowned, “wanted him?”

Jen put her hand on my arm, “she was not talking about sex… father.”

I smiled as I led her down the hall, “well in that case we will just have to help her won’t we? Does she know about the way Cassy has been watching him?”

Jen laughed suddenly, “last night Cassy told me that Ashley asked if she would help her talk him into coming up to her room.”

I looked at her as we climbed the stairs, “she was not thinking about sex?”

Jen looked at me and for the first time since I had rescued her I saw something in her eyes that looked as if she did not know if she could trust me. I stopped her on the landing for the ward passageway, “what is it Jen?”

She looked down as she had that first day, “Ashley has never been with a man.”

I gently lifted her face until she was looking me in the eye, “you think I may want her now? Do you think so little of me my daughter?”

Jen was searching my eyes and slowly she breathed out. Reaching her hand out she put it on my chest, “I am sorry Michael… father. Trust is not something I am used to.”

I nodded, “no it is not but you can trust me. Now as for Ashley, have her come in with the sick tomorrow. She can tell Jeremy that I want to see her. I will examine her and then have Cat or Sam cut her maidenhead. The least I can do is try to make her first time less painful.”

Jen winced and nodded as I gently pushed her towards the passageway, “go swimming with your mother remember? And do not forget about sending the runner.”

I climbed slowly to my room and picked up the hunting rifle. After placing a magazine in it and chambering a round I slung the hybrid over my shoulder and under my right arm. I thought for a minute and took the pouch with the extra ammo. Slowly I made my way to the craftroom. When I came in I saw Jeremy sitting at a crafting table drawing something and an older Mair standing on the crafting table.

I crossed to them and looked over his shoulder. He had drawn a solid metal pen like the ones used here and he was trying to get the size right for the Mair. I thought about the pens back home but did not know the exact chemical make up of the ink. I did know about pencils though and I reached over his shoulder to take his pen.

I quickly started sketching, “Craftsmen?”

“Yes Master?”

I did not look around, “do you know what lead graphite is?”

There was a hesitation and then, “yes Master.”

My sketch went quickly and I put a notation of size to the side. I looked at the Mair who was staring avidly at the sketch, “could you show me your hand?”

When he held up his hand I looked at it intently and pulled another sheet on top of the first. This one looked a little different and halfway through the Mair surprised me. He stepped closer to the sketch and pointed things out to change or add. When I was done I added the notes for graphite to be ground very fine before compressing it to my design measurements.

I looked at Jeremy, “I do not think we want a lot of open ink containers do you?”

He grinned, “if I had thought of using graphite it would have been as sticks.”

I patted his shoulder and went to the table that held the ammo for the rifles. I refilled the magazines I had used as well as the empties I had left. When I was done they barely fit in the pouch. I took all the loose ammo for the hunting rifle out and was looking around when another pouch floated off a nearby bench and stopped in front of me.

I absently accepted it and started loading it with ammo for the rifle, “thank you.”

When I was done I turned to leave only to stop in thought, “Craftsmen?”

“Yes Master?”

I glanced towards the forge, “I want another of the hunting rifles made and I need a list of all the materials I need to replace.”

“Yes Master.”

I started to walk out again when they stopped me, “Master?”

I looked back to see two long narrow wooden boxes floating towards me, “the two modified White Hawk’s are done.”

I took them with a “thank you” and I finally left. I dropped the boxes off in our bedroom and made my way down to the kitchen. It almost seemed calm until I opened the door. The kitchen was full of people working and it took me a moment to adjust. Stepping into the room I closed the door and it was as if I had magic.

The room went instantly silent and I saw a harried looking Ann turn to look at me. Her lips tightened and she came towards me, “Michael you have to do something. There is just too many people.”

I smiled at her as some of the noise returned, “all you had the do was ask. Can we do this over a cup of coffee and something to eat?”

She shook her head and pointed to a table that was only half covered with things to be cut up. I moved to the table and sat, leaning the rifle against the wall. I was thinking about her problem when she put a bowl of soup down with a cup of coffee.

I pointed at the next chair, “first, I think it is time you like John start managing. We have two kitchens”

I saw her start, “to do all the cooking in. Now, there are several way you can work it. One way would be alternate the kitchens. One does breakfast, another lunch and the first kitchen cooks dinner. I think though that I like another option. Use both kitchens, find three women for each, work them as shift leaders for three shifts.”

Ann looked at me as I ate, “I can not be in both places.”

I stopped and wiped my mouth on a kitchen towel she handed me, “you do not need to be in both kitchens. That is what the shift leaders are for. Make sure they know how to cook and leave them in charge, you can do spot checks. Another thing, you have been working too hard. Ask Margaret if she will work for us and take turns running things. I have not seen you doing any shopping for days.”

She smiled and looked at the back of the kitchen, “Margaret!”

The room quieted and I saw Margaret looking over someone’s shoulder at the back of the room. By the time she reached us Ann was ready, “Margaret, you are always here helping in the kitchen and doing the shopping. Michael wants to know if you will work for him?”

Margaret looked at me, “you want to pay me?”

I could see she was bothered by something, “yes. I know you are a good cook and you seem to know how to make others cook the food the way you want. What I need is someone that can take Ann’s place in the running of this kitchen or the one up at the Keep. She can give you details if you want the job.”

She hesitated, “are you doing this because my husband lost his job?”

I blinked in surprise, “you have never introduced me to your husband. If he has lost his job tell him to see John. I have some things planned and he will need all types of people.”

I looked at Ann in thought, “three gold? And two for the shift leaders?”

Ann blinked, “a month?”

I looked at the crowded room and back at her, “you do not think it is enough?”

She laughed, “it is a good thing we take your purse all the time. Three and two it is.”

I looked up into Margaret’s eyes that had gone wide, “will you do it for three gold a month?”

She asked quietly, “plus meals?”

I nodded, “of course.”

She looked at Ann as if asking what to do and Ann stood, “now that you have solved one of my problems. I will go look at the other kitchen to see what you get to buy me.”

I sighed and undid my purse, “I will save you the time and give it to you now.”

Ann laughed as she led Margaret away, already talking to her about the lunch that was being prepared. I had just stepped out of the kitchen when Garret showed up with another dwarf. I waved and started walking towards the bridge. I was just reaching it when they caught up with me, “you said something about selling admantium swords?”

I nodded as we crossed the bridge, (listening to the other dwarf mutter about shoddy temporary bridges.) I looked at him, “is that an offer to build the permanent one?”

He looked at me and I could see the dollar signs in his eyes, “if you want to talk about cost.”

I laughed, “I think I will let John do the bargaining on that one.”

He smiled, showing his teeth, “in that case we can talk about these swords.”

I laughed harder, “oh no, that you will have to talk to my partner about.”

He raised his eyebrows and I pointed at Garret. His shoulders seemed to slump and Garret cleared his throat, “you want me to sell your swords for you?”

I looked at him as I saw John and waved to him, “you are my partner. Since you did not make them though I will go halves with you.”

Garret looked stunned, “you want to give me half for selling them?”

I turned to face him fully, “you do not want to do it?”

Garret blinked and a smile came to his face, “of course I do. How many are we talking about?”

I looked at John as he walked up, “what do you think of selling a hundred of the swords, John?”

He thought about it and nodded. I turned to find both the dwarves with open mouths. I waited until Garret quit trying to talk and closed his mouth, “can you do it or is it too many?”

They looked at one another and Garret looked at me with respect, “did you want quick sells?”

I shook my head, “not necessarily.”

They looked at one another and Garret looked at me again, “we will need an escort for the wagon across the city.”

I smiled at John, “feel like hunting today?”

He was surprised at the seeming change of subject but nodded. I looked at the dwarfs, “if you enterprising dwarves will visit my kitchen manager. I would do it before she escapes to spend my money. You can negotiate with her for a wagon load of Saur meat that would cover the swords and save you the expense of a lot of guards.”

Their eyes got big, “Saur?”

The other dwarf pulled Garret around and back towards the bridge. I looked at John, “I think he likes Saur meat.”

John laughed and shook his head, “I will have Peter get some men together. I was thinking about where you might want the farm buildings.”

I pointed out where I was thinking of putting the farm buildings as well as barn and storage area. I pointed back the other way explaining about the other buildings I was thinking of but he stopped me, “wait.”

He whistled and I saw Peter turn from the group he was with. I saw an elf in worn looking cloths with him. As they approached John looked at Peter, “we are going to need people to butcher more Saur.”

The elf perked up with interest, “you are going to kill a Saur?”

I looked at him careful, “not exactly. I plan to kill several.”

I looked at John as Peter hurried off and he cleared his throat, “Michael, this is Darren. He is the house planner I found.”

I held out my hand and he smiled as he shook it, “I will offer you a bargain. I will draw and plan the buildings for you but I want something in return.”

I looked at him until he shifted his weight, “I have heard the rumors on the street that you will teach here. That anyone can ask for it and you charge nothing. I have seen all the people here and I want to be part of it.”

He looked down, “I am a half breed, that means I am scorned by humans and ignored by elves. You offer people hope and a new start, perhaps that is what I need, a new start.”

I looked at John, “does Jeremy need more teachers?”

He nodded and I looked at Darren, “you can read, write and do simple math?”

He nodded and I pointed to the Keep with my thumb, “you are hired. Find Jeremy and see where he needs you.”

As he started off I saw Sam, Cat and Elizabeth coming towards me with several Mair walking with them. While I waited for them I asked John to have several of the panels made up. They were just wooden frames with a stiff canvas stretched over it.

Elizabeth looked a little flushed but otherwise she looked good, “Elizabeth, I sent Jen to see if you wanted to go swimming. Not feeling like it?”

She laughed, “she asked a little too loudly and acquired quite a lot of little girls to go with her. I decided to wait until it was quieter.”

I knelt down, “how can I help you?”

A young Mair girl stepped forward, “we have come to help you. Mother says you will hunt the big lizards again. We can watch for you.”

She looked up at Sam who was carrying a small drawing. Sam smiled as she gave it to me. I looked at it and stood to show John. He frowned and pointed to the joints, “if we use metal brackets here and angle the legs more.”

He looked up suddenly as one of the Mair giggled. We looked at her and she pointed at Sam again. Sam smiled and stuck her tongue out at the small girl before handing another drawing to us. Everyone laughed as John and I looked at the second drawing. This one showed a bag upside down with a basket under it, there were lines under that to show ground.

I started laughing as John was turning it around trying to figure it out. I looked down, “it uses hot air?”

The girl looked surprised but nodded. I laughed again and clapped John on the shoulder, “it is a balloon.”

John still did not understand and I sighed, “I will make it later.”

I looked at John, “we could put something together temporary until we can build it.”

The Mair giggled again and we looked down as she was pointing back towards the bridge. Looking at the bridge and we saw several Mair struggling with what I recognized as the balloon and everything for it, “Mother sent us to the craftroom and they built it for us.”

When they reached us they started putting it together. John looked at me, “do you need to (Zero) the rifle again?”

I shook my head and he pulled a drawing out of his shirt. After looking at it he pointed, “the spotters have two Saur, two hundred yards that way.”

I looked but did not see them. Elizabeth cleared her throat and I looked at her, “I actually came to ask you about something you told me last night. You said that where you came from everyone has what you called a freezer?”

I nodded, “and a refrigerator.”

She shook her head, “these are not like the stasis spells?”

I shook my head, “a freezer is cold just like it sounds.”

She looked lost in thought for a moment and then looked at me, “can I have my daughters try something in one of the rooms?”

I smiled, “is it going to blow everything up?”

She laughed and shook her head. I waved her back towards the manor, “do not do any of the magic yourself.”

She waved over her shoulder and I turned back looking for the Saur. Finally I saw them, they blended into the grass so well. I looked a John, “all we need now is someone to help butcher it.”

I looked down and saw that they had placed four cylinders in the corner of the woven basket. Several thick cords ran from the basket to the balloon. John was holding the balloon over the basket as a small jet of flame shot into it. I handed the rifle to Cat and took the hybrid off before handing it to Sam along with the pouch of spare magazines.

Taking the rifle back from Cat I looked at John, “how many others have they spotted?”

He looked up from watching the balloon, “there is a group of six by the tower we left yesterday.”

I looked at the small girl that was waiting impatiently for the balloon to fill up, “if you like the balloon you would love an airplane.”

I grinned, “an airplane is a made birdlike thing that flies up in the sky.”

She looked up at the sky and back at me, “you can make one of these airplanes?”

I nodded, looking up at the cliffs by the Keep, “or a hang glider.”

I sat and we talked about flying and how it was done. The older Mair that was filling the balloon stopped the jets as the balloon lifted slightly. As two others changed two of the cylinders he turned and joined our discussion. Cat cleared her throat and looked towards the bridge, “they are coming.”

I looked at the Mair, “are you ready to try the balloon?”

The girl grinned and climbed in. John held the thick cord as she started the jets and it lifted smoothly. I told her not to hold the jets down the whole time and told John to stop her when she was fifty feet up. When he stopped her she leaned over the side with a big grin and called, “I only see the two close by!”

I told everyone to wait and slowly stalked forward. When I was almost a hundred yards away I stopped and raised the rifle. Sighting on the Saur I took a deep breath and let it out. When the rifle steadied I fired and shifted aim to fire again a second later. The young Mair in the balloon yelled down and everyone started forward.

While Peter was directing the butchering I had a panel put out a hundred yards in a safe direction. Reloading the rifle I had John give the cord for the balloon to another man. I showed him how aim and shoot the rifle. After ten rounds he was rubbing his shoulder and I called a stop. I had him switch with Peter and he got a chance to shoot the rifle.

While they stood together rubbing their shoulders I laughed at them, “you will get used to the kick. I am having another rifle made.”

I reloaded and chambered a round, “you said six Saur?”

John nodded and I dropped the magazine to add a fifth bullet back into the magazine. When they were done butchering the lizards Peter had them drag the remains off a distance. We moved to where I could see the Saur and I killed all six. While they were butchering them I stood with Sam and Cat telling them that we would practice when they were done.

When they finished and started back for the bridge I walked to the panel and moved it closer. John had to pull the balloon down, (they had forgotten to put an air release on it.) When it was down he spilled some of the air and had one of the men carry it back to the Keep for them. I had Cat and Sam fire several magazines apiece out of the hybrid.

I carried the panel back and set it by the bridge. Cat said she was going to see Sarah and then gather some asga plants for Ann. As she headed off I looked at Sam, “what are your plans?”

She laughed and kissed me, “swimming.”

Chapter 11

Justice for Cassy, Cat’s secret and an elf conceives

We crossed the bridge together and found a smiling Elizabeth with Ann and Margaret. Elizabeth explained that she had created a freezer. I gave her a hard looked and she blushed, “Okay, I did not create the freezer. Beth and Theresa did the magic.”

As we were walking to look at the room Ann linked her arm with mine, “I made a deal with your partner for several hundred weight of the Saur meat. The dwarf with him distracted him and I got a really good price out of him.”

I laughed, “serves him right.”

The room was one of the large ones in the manor. As soon as we walked in the room my breath condensed in front of me. Elizabeth explained that they had trapped ice elementals in the stones of the walls. They were bringing the Saur meat into the room and stacking it. I told Ann she would have to ask John to have shelves built in the room.

As we left the room Sam pulled a laughing Elizabeth towards the door down to the river. I turned to go check on Sarah myself when I felt the wave of magic sweep over me. I knew it was from Cat’s sword. I thrust the big rifle at Ann and yelled, “Cat!”

Sam spun towards me but I had already started running for the passageway up to the Keep. People were jumping out of my way as I went through the doorway in a sprint. By the time I reached the top floor I was exhausted. I just ignored it as I dodged several girls in the hall and ran for the stairs up to the stables.

As I came out of the stairs I saw Cat fighting with a drow. I watched as she blocked and spun away, slicing the drow yet again. It looked like she was playing with him. He was bleeding from a dozen deep cuts. As I watched her I began to relax and lowered the hybrid. I bent slightly, catching my breath from my run up the stairs.

Again the drow struck and then lunged. Cat blocked and stepped out of line with him, spinning around the blade came to a sudden stop at the drow’s neck. A thin line of blood forming at the edge of the blade. I walked forward as I heard her, “Ilith tell the Ardan that if he wants me dead he can come himself unless he is afraid to face his own daughter.”

I heard Cassy cry from the front of the keep, “Kill him!”

I glanced back to see James standing with her by the door. She started coming towards us, her face white in fear and anger, “what is it Cassy?”

She looked at me, “He is the one that raped me.”

I looked at the drow who glanced at her and smiled. It only took two steps to reach him and I struck him in the face with my fist. He dropped to the ground as if stunned, his sword spinning out of his hand. I looked around and saw two city guards inside the gates coming towards us. I waved to them, “if you could assist us officers.”

I had to physically hold Cassy away from the drow. She had pulled a knife from somewhere and I carefully took it away from her. Jeremy, Elvan, James and several men arrived and helped the guard restrain the drow. When I finally calmed Cassy and moved her away from the drow I got her to look at me, “Cassy? You said that this is the drow that raped you? Are you sure?”

Her eyes seemed to focus on me finally and she nodded, “yes. I will never forget him.”

I looked at the guards holding the drow as even more people began to arrive, along with more guards. An idea came to me then, one that was both abhorrent and at the same time seemed right. I signaled a new guard that was approaching, “officer I need you to witness.”

The guard looked at me in surprise and approached us as I turned back to Cassy, “Cassy I have stated openly that I have adopted you. Do you accept this?”

She looked at me confused but nodded as Sam appeared beside her, “Yes.”

I smiled, “then Cassy White Hawk I ask you in front of witnesses. Do you accuse this drow of rape?”

She looked at me trying to understand what I wanted but answered angrily, “yes. He raped me.”

I looked at the guard, “you witnessed her accusation?”

The guard nodded and I raised my eyebrow, “verbally please.”

He turned red, “yes I witnessed her accusation.”

I looked back to Cassy, “Cassy White Hawk are you asking for justice from me as City Magistrate?”

Her eyes opened wide, “yes Father.”

I looked at the guard as another joined him. I saw the surprise and understanding cross his face, “I witnessed her request for judgment.”

I motioned to the other guard, “stay here with my daughter.”

The guard I was using as my witness followed me to the struggling drow. He snarled at me as I stepped up to him, spitting in my face. I ignored this as two of the men holding him struck him. I wiped my face and looked at the drow, “you have been accused of rape. What do you say?”

He looked at me with hate in his eyes before looking at Cassy disdainfully, “I took what I was given. If she did not want me she should have tried harder to stop me.”

I looked at the guard who nodded, “I witness his statement of guilt.”

I looked at the drow, “statements have been given by both parties. I find you guilty. If you had property here I would have it seized and you bonded. I do not think that will work so it will be something more drastic. You will be castrated, your hand will be broken with a hammer. You will be branded and stripped to be walked around the city before being taken out one the city gates. If you return to the city your life will be forfeit.”

The drow started struggling harder and I reached out to grasp his throat, “for what you have done to my daughter I should have killed you.”

I stepped back and looked at the guard, “this case and my ruling needs to be given to sergeant James.”

I looked at Sam who was holding Cassy, “I need my small surgical kit and one of John’s hammers.”

I looked at the men holding the drow, “put him on the ground.”

I looked at Cassy and the guard with her, “please come here.”

When she reached me she was still angry, “I am sorry I could not kill him. The city does not have that as a punishment for rape. If you can stand it I want you to witness his punishment.”

I saw several girls crowded around the doors and windows of the Keep. When I saw Ginger I waved for her to come to me. A minute later she was there, “I am going to ask you to do something that is normally against a healer code.”

I gestured at the struggling drow on the ground, “this drow was the one that raped Cassy. He will be castrated and his hand broken. After I break his hand I want just the bones in his hand to be partially healed. Can you do that?”

I could see the anger in her eyes, “you want me to Heal him?”

I looked her in the eye, “I want you to partially heal the bones in his hand yes. Any attempt to heal them after we let him go will have to include cutting his hands open and rebreaking the bones like we did with Sarah.”

A look of understanding came over her face. Glancing at a smiling Cassy, “I will do as you ask…”

She smiled at me, “father.”

I looked at Cat who had moved away to put distance between herself and the drow, “Cat?”

I beckoned to her and when she reached me I pulled her into a tight embrace, “you scared me.”

She held me tightly and murmured in my ear, “I was not going anywhere love.”

When we stepped apart I saw Sam approaching with my kit, “did you want to stay for this Cat?”

I saw something deep in her eyes as she replied quietly, “Yes.”

I accepted the kit from Sam and went to the struggling drow. Kneeling I pulled my slim dagger. With quick cuts I removed his pants. I opened my kit and took out a disinfectant paste I had made. I smeared it around his testicles and using a scalpel I cut him open. As he screamed I cut the testicles off.

I looked at Ginger, “I need a little mage help here.”

She knelt beside me as I pointed to his blood vessels, “I need fire here to seals these blood vessels.”

The drow screamed louder as white hot flames enveloped his groin. As she stood I stopped her and held out my long knife with the back of the blade towards her, “if you can heat the tip of the blade without setting my hand on fire?”

She smiled and murmured something at the blade and the tip started glowing red. I moved around until I was by his head as two of the men held it still. I branded a large R into his forehead. Closing my kit I stood, “stand him up.”

I looked at Sam, “the hammer Sam.”

John broke in, “Michael I will do this.”

When I looked at him his face was grave, “are you sure John?”

He nodded as he took the hammer, “this drow has to pay for what he did. He should know that it is not only you that think this.”

We moved the drow next to the wall. It took three men to put his hand on the wall. John looked at him, “bastard this is for Cassy!”

I could tell the blow that landed shattered the hand. As he screamed and passed out I had Ginger approach and partially heal the hand. Stepping back I gestured to the guard, “strip him and take him through the city before you send him out the east gate.”

They stripped him and slapped him awake before tying his hands and forcing him to walk in front of them. As they went out the gate I thanked the men that had helped and turned to go to Cassy. Elvan and James approached and when they reached us I had stopped in front of her. Elvan cleared his throat, “someone said that drow was sent by the Ardan?”

I looked at Cat, remembering my talk with Jen earlier, “Cat?”

Her look was guarded, “yes the Ardan sent him.”

Elvan looked at her, “why would the Ardan send someone to kill you?”

Cat did not answer, only looking at me with pleading eyes. I nodded and looked at Elvan, “you can ask your questions later. Right now we have some family business to talk about.”

James blurted, “you do not understand. The Ardan is the leader of the drow. If he wants someone dead than it is the business of the elves.”

I smiled at him, “you are slipping James, patience. It does not matter right this second if it is an elf matter. For me my family comes first. Besides, as a bonded you have to bring this through your bond master and he can bring it to me.”

I stopped him from speaking, “go get Samil. If it is as important as you say then ask your father to come see me.”

I looked at Elvan, “before you say anything, you need to come with me. There is something you need to hear.”

James looked at me for a second but I shook my head, “go James. My family comes first for me as yours would for you.”

He looked thoughtful and nodded as he turned and trotted out the gate. I thanked Ginger and sent her back to the children she had been watching. Gathering Sam, Cat and Cassy I turned for the stairs, “come along Elvan. You are almost family.”

I heard a laugh as he fell in behind us. Sam glanced at me, “he is?”

I smiled at her, “Jen?”

Her eyes widened and I heard Cat chuckle, “he chased her and chased her, until she caught him.”

It was from the Legate’s story and Elvan laughed behind her, “I heard that.”

Cassy was quiet as we walked. On the fourth floor of the passageway I surprised them by turning towards the craftroom. When we came into the room I stopped and had everyone but Cassy wait. I led her across the room to the forge. When we reached it I stopped her and reached into a pocket and pulled out a piece of folded gauze.

I unfolded it and showed Cassy the drow’s testicles. Opening her hand I placed them on her palm, “you were too involved for me let you do anything to him, that was why I had Ginger do the magic. This is for you to do, throw them in the forge.”

She looked from her palm to me. I saw a glimmer of satisfaction in her eyes as she turned to the forge and flung them into its heat. Even before they struck I felt her magic as it struck it. There was a blinding flash of heat and light. Cassy turned back and she had a smile on her face as she hugged me, “thank you.”

When she stepped back I tilted my head towards the door, “why don’t you go help Ginger with the children?”

She nodded and I gave her a squeeze and then we went back to the others. As we were walking down the hall I glanced at Elvan, “do you know where Jen is?”

He nodded, “I sent her to Elizabeth when I saw you running for the passageway.”

We made our way slowly down and out of the passageway. When we reached Elizabeth’s room we heard several voices inside. I opened the door and walked in. Elizabeth stood frozen, she had been changing and stood naked. I smiled and told Amanda and Theresa who had been with her that we needed to talk to her alone.

Jen stood but I gestured for her to sit. When Elizabeth came unfrozen and started to cover herself I stopped her, “I do not think so Elizabeth.”

I crossed to a chair and sat as her daughters left. I held out my hand, “come sit on my lap. You do not have to worry, Sam and Cat are here to protect you.”

She stood frozen for a second and then she smiled as she walked to me, “looking for another wife?”

Sam and Cat laughed as I helped her onto my lap, “was that an offer we heard?”

She looked into my eyes and could feel how tense she was, “maybe, and if it was?”

I smiled and hugged her, “then when we are done with this. Sam, Cat and I will sit with you and talk about it.”

She turned a little red, “do I have to give you children too?”

I had a feeling of delight and laughed as I hugged her, “I think you have given me enough children for awhile don’t you?”

She was still blushing but smiled and nodded, “In that case I think we do need to talk.”

By the time she was finished speaking Sam and Cat both had crossed the room and were hugging her. When they broke up I saw Jen smiling with Elvan sitting in a chair next to her holding her hand. I cleared my throat, “I hate to change this subject but we need to talk about something else.”

I looked at Jen, “I am sorry but they need to know what you told me. Do you want me to tell them?”

Her face turned white but she nodded. I looked around the room, “Elizabeth is the only one that did not see Jen when I found her. Her back had been whipped bloody. What she has not told you is why.”

I looked up at Cat holding one of Elizabeth’s hands and looked into her eyes, “Elizabeth has told you Jen had a twin. When they were growing up her twin let Antizel know she could do magic. When they were old enough he took Jen from her sister and raped her. When he knew she was pregnant he put Jen with her sister and they were back together for awhile. Antizel brought a drow into their room, it was Ardan”

Cat started as I continued, “he started raping Jen’s sister and Jen attacked him. She took his knife and stabbed him. The last thing she remembers is the drow Ardan saying that he was taking her sister. He said that he was going to rape her until he got tired of her and then kill her.”

I glanced around the room as Elizabeth slid off my lap and went to help Elvan comfort Jen. I looked at Cat, “love I think you know the rest of this story.”

Sam moved to Cat hugging her. She sighed and I saw a haunted look in her eyes as they met mine. I smiled and held my arms for her, “the past is over. You know I will not let it happen again.”

She came into my arms with a quiet cry, “but it still hurts so much!”

There was silence in the room as I held her crying body. It was a few minutes later that she sat back. She caressed my face as if in wonder and looked at Jen, “Lisa is my mother, your sister. So far the Ardan has kept his word and has not tired of her. On their fifteenth birthday, she was brought to see her first daughters, twins. Ardan gathered a host of his followers and ordered them raped. It continued until they both died.”

She took a breath, “On my tenth birthday the Ardan came to my sister and I. He said it was time to start our training. That was the first time he raped us. His training continued for a year and then he started bringing others.”

Cat looked at me, half in fear, “Ilith was one of them, he took delight in tormenting us as we were used.”

My arms tightened around her when she continued, “Jillian was the first to become fertile. Ardan gave her to Ilith for a month and she became pregnant. The Ardan or one of his host leaders used me until she gave birth.”

Cat looked down, “the Ardan gathered a host again and had mother and I chained next to him. He brought Jillian out with her two baby girls. He had his guards hold them up and he said that Ilith had stained his bloodline. They laughed and he had the guards kill the babies before giving Jillian to the host to be raped.”

She was silent for a long time, “it was a long time before my sister died. The Ardan laughed and told my mother she still had me and her other two sets of brats. She was taken away and the Ardan was going to make me pregnant and then he had an idea. He was going to catch the elf prince and have him get me pregnant. He was going to make him watch as he killed my children in front of his host.”

Cat looked at me, “I was sent to an old mage who was going to summon a demon to catch the prince. He was going to enspell the prince to want me and then put us together. The mage was killed when the demon escaped and his apprentice sold me, not knowing the deal the mage had made with the Ardan.”

Elvan cleared his throat and when Cat looked at him he spoke, “I do not know that much magic but a demon can not just escape.”

She shifted on my lap as she looked at him, “they can if the circle containing them is broken.”

Elizabeth looked at her and I could see a smile behind her eyes, “a mage would not summon anything with the circle broken.”

Cat looked at her and I think she felt Elizabeth’s amusement, “he would if he did not know I had broken it.”

Elvan laughed and the rest of the room joined him. I hugged her tight against me, “oh my clever Cat.”

Jen was smiling at her, “do you know where my sister is?”

Cat nodded, “a day south of here. The Ardan likes to taunt the elves here.”

Jen looked at me with a pleading look, “father?”

I smiled a fey smile as I had Cat get off my lap. I stood and held my arms out to Jen, “it will cost you dear for this favor my daughter.”

As she came slowly into my arms she looked questioningly into my eyes, “what cost father?”

I smiled, “A kiss.”

As she smiled shyly I stopped her and whispered into her ear, “for Elvan. With as much caring as you can.”

She looked at me with another smile that was strangely tender. She laughed and hugged me, kissing me on the cheek. She turned to Elvan, “Elvan? Do you care for me?”

He was surprised and stood, ignoring everyone in the room. He stepped close to her, “I love you with all my heart. Is that enough?”

She smiled softly and held her arms out, “will you kiss me?”

He stepped into her arms and held her gently as they kissed. It was almost a minute before they stopped and when they did it was Jen that sighed. She looked into his eyes and laughed, “oh my Elvan, I did not know. I was afraid you would be like Him.”

Jen pulled him into another long tender kiss. I cleared my throat and they separated with Elvan blushing and Jen turning with laughing eyes. She pulled him to me and kissed me on the cheek again. I caressed her face, “it will take a few days to get some things together to go get your sister. I do not think Cat or Sam will let me run off until I have recovered either.”

I looked around the room, “this story needs to be kept quiet. We will only tell those that need to know. I do not want it spread to everyone.”

I smiled and gestured towards the door, “now Elvan, if you and Jen will excuse us. Elizabeth has something to discuss with us.”

As they left the room Elizabeth became nervous. I smiled as I put four chairs together facing each other. I held my hand out for her and sat her in the chair that would face me. I then sat both Sam and Cat and took my chair. I looked at Elizabeth who had started blushing and tried to cover herself.

I laughed suddenly and looked from Cat to Sam, “my loves, Elizabeth is the only one undressed. Would you mind joining her?”

Sam laughed as she stood with Cat to undress and Elizabeth blushed even more. When they were as naked as she was they sat and Cat poked me, “you to mister.”

I laughed and stood as I undid my weapons. Cat and Sam stood to help me and Elizabeth hesitated for only a minute before laughing. She stood to help me struggle out of my vest. When I was done and we had sat back down and I looked at her, “were you serious about wanting to be my wife?”

She was blushing again but nodded, “I have seen how gentle you are. I see you watching Sam and Cat when they are not looking. I think you would be even more protective if you thought they would let you.”

She glanced back and forth between Cat and Sam, “I enjoy watching Sam and Cat. They have something that attracts me.”

She looked at me and then at the floor, “I am older than you think. When Antizel… when he first raped me I had just had my four hundredth birthday. I do not know if I would be able to even let you…”

I could see tears in her eyes, “I do not know if we would ever be able to consummate our union.”

When she stopped I looked at Sam first, “Sam?”

She leaned forward and lifted Elizabeth’s faced so she could see it clearly, “we can consummate our union when we are all ready. Do you think about Michael or us when we are not there? Can you love all of us and not just one alone?”

Elizabeth looked into her face with tears slowly running from her eyes, “Yes.”

She paused and gave Sam a shy smile, “that was why I told my father about starting a school.”

I watched as she blushed, “I have thought about being with you and Cat both.”

Sam looked at me smiling and nodded. I looked at Cat and Elizabeth looked at her as well and Cat surprised her by standing and pulling her to her feet. Tenderly she embraced Elizabeth and kissed her deeply. Elizabeth groaned and the embrace seemed to tighten and linger as I smiled at her response.

When they stopped kissing Cat held her for a moment before whispering something and holding her hand out to me. I stood and Cat turned her to face me, “kiss my husband and lover.”

Elizabeth seemed flushed and only hesitated a moment before stepping into my arms. I held her loosely and kissed her as softly as I could. I thought it would only be for a moment. I felt something happen when we kissed though. It was as if something missing in me had fallen into place.

When we finally stopped she looked at me in surprise and leaned forward for another kiss. This time she groaned and pulled me tight against her. When we stopped this time she held me as she smiled a bright smile, “you finally came. I have been waiting so long for you.”

I caressed her and turned her gently to Sam, “once more love.”

Elizabeth did not hesitate as she held her arms out to Sam. As they stepped into each others arms Sam looked into her eyes and I saw her grin like an urchin as she kissed Elizabeth. This time it was Sam that groaned as the kiss turned into one of passion. When they stopped it was Elizabeth that held Sam as she tried to regain her senses.

I held my arm out for Cat and as she slipped under it, we joined Elizabeth in holding Sam. Finally they all looked at me, “I think we all know she belongs with us.”

Cat caressed me and looked at Elizabeth, “I need to go. I have to speak to Ann and John. With him poking us like he is it would be a good time for him to try to get Sam pregnant. Will you stay and help them?”

Elizabeth was strangely shy as she nodded and Cat kissed her. Sam was pulling me towards the bed as Cat hurriedly dressed and slipped out the door. It was forty minutes later when the banging on the door started. I was pulling on a boot and glanced at the bed as I hopped to answer it. Elizabeth and Sam lay together asleep with only the sheet I had pulled over them.

I pulled the door open quietly, “quiet.”

As I stepped into the hall still trying to pull my boot on I noticed Artimas, Edward and Janis frowning from the back of the crowd. The crowd in front of me though was made up of elves. It was made up of all the elves I knew, plus a few I did not. When I finished putting the boot on I stood and looked at them, “well?”

James’s father cleared his throat, “my son and master Samil have told us that you may know something about…”

I stopped him, “this hall is not the place to discus this. I do not think you want him hearing about this.”

I saw Elvan at the back of the crowd, “why don’t you have Elvan show you to the grotto. I believe it is warded and we would not disrupt the rest of my household.”

They looked at each other and Teral spoke up from beside a young looking elf, “that sounds like a reasonable idea.”

From the way he and another elf beside the young elf behaved I knew they were protecting him. As Elvan led them off Artimas, Edward and Janis came closer. Artimas was frowning, “Amanda said you asked everyone to leave Elizabeth’s room.”

I grinned, “and I come out putting my boot on.”

He nodded as I opened the door quietly, “some of what you are thinking is true I guess. Come in but be quiet please.”

As I was stepping back into the room I stumbled to keep from stepping on one of the kittens that had walked in front of me with Cynthia and Simon following. I heard Edward and Janis hiss as they saw the bed. I walked quietly to the bed and a peacefully sleeping Elizabeth. As they entered behind me I heard them go quiet.

I kissed her softly and whispered, “love wake up. Your father is here and is ready to defend your honor.”

Elizabeth’s eyes opened sleepily, “Dad?”

I smiled and gave her another kiss, “I know you just got to sleep but perhaps you could rescue me?”

She smiled a lazy smile and reached up to caress my face, “it will cost you.”

I cupped her face, “and what would your price be my love?”

As she stretched the sheet started slipping and I caught it. As she pulled me close she whispered, “a kiss.”

The kiss seemed to stretch out and I slowly pulled back, “if you keep that up I will never get out of here and Sam is worn out.”

She smiled wickedly, “but Cat is not and she is not pregnant yet.”

I smiled and stood up as the kitten jumped onto the bed. I turned to my gear as Elizabeth looked at her Father, brother and uncle. Artimas stepped up to the bed, “Elizabeth, what…?”

She stopped him with her finger across her lips as Sam murmured something in her sleep and tried to snuggle closer to her. Elizabeth looked at her fondly and looked back to her father with laughing eyes, “I did not think he would come. You told me so long ago that I stopped believing. I did not even recognize him. Why didn’t you tell me it was going to be like this?”

Artimas looked at her confused and she wiggled her finger for him to come closer. She whispered in his ear, “remember when you did the scrying for me. You told me that when we kissed it would seal me to him and to others you could not see.”

He stood and looked at her, “after what you have been through…”

She nodded smiling and looked at Edward and Janis, “do not worry father, Michael has not taken advantage of me. He has shown me love does not always mean sex. Yes he had sex, Sam and Cat are both trying to get pregnant after all. Sam did make love to me though and it was wonderful and I feel so much better.”

I saw them looking at each other as I fastened my vest and picked up my weapons, “go back to sleep Elizabeth. Classes will be in a little while and I will send Cat to get you.”

I gestured to the door and was halfway across the room when Cynthia called for me to wait. I looked back as the kitten sat on Elizabeth’s chest. A startled looked crossed her face as she looked at the kitten, “but…”

I laughed softly as Artimas blinked at her and then smiled, “remember Elizabeth? They do not give us much choice.”

Elizabeth frowned at him as the kitten slipped down her side and curled up. I felt Cynthia’s smugness as she walked out of the room ahead of me. When Simon brought Artimas out I could almost hear their polite argument about not telling him. I looked at Edward and Janis and could see their smiles.

I cleared my throat, “excuse me Simon but I still need to speak to him.”

I gestured for them to walk with me as I heard, “he is stubborn but if you tell him enough times it will sink in.”

I could see Janis and Edward hiding smiles and it was a moment before Artimas laughed and smiled. He looked at me, “are you going to explain now?”

I smiled back at him, “you will get some of the story when I talk with the elves. The part you want to know about started when I brought Cat and Sam to see Elizabeth and Jen. She had been changing and we interrupted her. A spur of the moment thought made me tell her not to dress and come sit on my lap. I was thinking it might help her get over her fear of men.”

I looked at him, “did she tell you about this morning?”

He nodded, “she explained it and if Antizel were alive I would have killed him all over again.”

I smiled and put my hand on his arm, “I have thought that many times. Anyway, at first she hesitated and then she crossed to me as if it was her idea. As she sat on my lap she joked that I was looking for another wife.”

I looked at him as we entered the passageway, “I looked at her and it did not look like she was joking. I asked if she was serious and she said, what if I was? It was the way she said it. I told her that if she were serious then Sam, Cat and I would talk with her about it. She asked about children and when I told that she had already had quite a few. She said that we would have to have that talk then.”

At the stairs I paused, looking at all three of them, “I thought she might just be feeling grateful because I had saved her. When we finished our talk with Jen, I sent Jen out and Sam, Cat and I sat her down to talk. Sam and I asked her questions but when it was Cat’s turn she did something that surprised Elizabeth.”

I looked Artimas in the eye, “she embraced her and kissed her. I thought she might panic but something happened. Elizabeth seemed to come alive and responded to her. When they were done Cat turned her and told her to kiss me. I did not think she would be able to do it but she did.”

I took a breath, “when we kissed it was like something missing all my life had suddenly found me. I do not know what it was but after we stopped she held me and then kissed me again. It was like before and all I could do was hold her. After she kissed me I turned her to Sam and from the way they acted it was the same for them.”

I looked down, “what could I do? We accepted her into our lives, into our self-made marriage. She brought Sam to me and was with us as we made love. She kissed us without even thinking, without flinching and then when we were done she made passionate love to Sam.”

I looked at Artimas, “we all know it will be a long time if ever that she will have sex with me as a man and wife do. What we share with her is love and caring.”

Edward stepped forward, “why my sister? What do you get?”

I smiled at him, “what do I get? How can I answer that? What I get is a feeling in here”

I tapped my chest, “that comforts me and make me worry. It makes me happy and frustrated. How can I describe something that only lives in the heart?”

Edward smiled as he looked at Artimas, “remember our talk after I met Selina?”

Artimas laughed and put his hand on my shoulder, “Edward thinks you are the one I should talk philosophy with about love.”

I looked at Janis as he stepped closer to me, “will you care for and love her and treat her with the gentleness she deserves?”

I nodded and he smiled, “then welcome to our family.”

I heard a cough and turned to see Teral with the two elves I did not know, “sorry to interrupt. We came to see if you got lost. I see it was only a matter of the heart though.”

The one they were protecting smiled, “matters of the heart are never Only Teral.”

I turned back to the mages, “did you want to listen to what I found out?”

Artimas shook his head but Edward and Janis said yes. I led them down as Artmas turned and made his way back up the passageway talking to Simon in a distracted voice. As we were walking down the bottom hallway the elf with Teral walked beside me, “Teral tells me you are better than even he is? And you have two women you call your mates and now you add a third? With everything I have seen going on how are you going to keep up?”

I laughed as we went through the door into the grotto. I saw several of the new women that were talking in quiet whispers flinch at the sound. I stopped and looked at him, “I keep up because they are my mates and they walk beside me. You, I think are the prince I have heard several people mention but never name.”

I gestured, “look around. Those you see are here seeking help and comfort as people do in every place. I do not become weaker because I help them, they become stronger.”

I glanced around, “it is not just the ones everyone called Mair that come here. I will start a school here, one that will teach any that wish to learn. I will teach healing, both by magic and medicine. I will also teach magic to any that can learn. The real Mair are here and they want to learn how to grow things and I will find someone to teach them.”

I looked at the prince, “this place is not about a man with several wives. It is about a place all people can come to for help and learning. A place to make a new start, a new beginning.”

He smiled as he gripped my arm, “I meant no insult. This is a good thing you do. Like many of my people I to suffer from a case of ego. Once I was like James and only because of people like Teral did I really learn to see those around me. Perhaps it is time I once more became only a pupil.”

I looked at him as I saw the others come closer slowly, “and what new subject do I get to sell to my teachers?”

The prince laughed again, “humanity? Perhaps I need you as my teacher. James has made a remarkable recovery and I think he is learning more than he thinks he is.”

I smiled, “if you want to follow me around you will have to leave everyone home or I will never get anything done.”

He laughed again and released my arm bowing, “I will be safe enough in your company. I will put myself in your hands.”

Turning we looked at the nobles that had overheard him. I looked around and saw a small girl watching from behind a tree. I knelt and beckoned to her and she came to me shyly with her eyes on the ground, “yes master?”

I gentle lifted her chin, “my name is Michael. What is yours?”

She looked at me and I could see the fear in her eyes as she answered, “Samantha but momma says I am just Sam.”

I smiled, “Sam is a good name. Do you know the little people that live here?”

She nodded and I saw something spark in her eyes, “they are cute.”

I nodded, “do you know where to go to find them?”

She nodded and pointed and I smiled at her, “I will tell you what. I will have some of my daughters bring their pets down here if you will go to the small people and sit down with them and ask them for a runner to help me. Can you do that for me?”

Her eyes had lit up the more I had talked and she nodded before turning and running towards the river wall. I stood and saw most of the nobles looking at me with tolerant smiles. There were only a few that looked impatient. I gesture for the prince to proceed me as I started walking towards the center of the grotto and the place Elizabeth had been held.

As we entered the clearing I stopped, I was surprised at the change that had taken place. I saw several Mair prying up the stones so they could be taken away. A young Mair woman appeared beside me. I saw she was clothed in cloth and smiled to myself. I saw her smile and straighten her dress and knew she had heard what I had thought.

Cynthia came walking out of the brush behind me with a strange cat and I heard, “Yes she can hear your thoughts. She will get Cat.”

The Mair waited though and I knelt down with the prince beside me, “can you find Cat?”

She smiled and looked at the prince, “Cynthia said you are the elf prince, I like you. Will you come back?”

He smiled gently and nodded. I could tell the rest of their conversation was between them and waited until she looked at me, “Harry is on his way back. Cat will be here soon.”

She turned and walked back into the brush heading towards the river wall. The prince stood with me and several nobles asked what had happened and he laughed, “the minx propositioned me and I think I will take her up on it.”

They looked at him not understanding and he looked at me and winked. Cat came through the brush behind us on the path. I held my hand out and when she held it I sank into a cross-legged seat. The prince bowed low to Cat and waited for everyone to be seated around us. After they sat I looked at the prince, “I will tell this from the beginning as I know it.”

I began by describing Jen’s condition when I found her and related her story without giving names. When I was done I looked at the prince, “can you tell me who the Ardan is?”

Several of the nobles started but the prince never took his eyes from me, “the Ardan is my father’s brother.”

I felt Cat start but only squeezed her hand. I thought about it and finally looked at him. Slowly I told Lisa’s and Cat’s story and watched his face as it unfolded. When I was finally done they were quiet until the prince looked up at me with haunted eyes, “the girl who told this story? May I speak with her?”

I looked at him closely, “why?”

He continued to look me in the eye but I saw the tears that were hidden. He looked down, “because she is my cousin. Because I owe her a debt I will never be able to repay. Because she deserves so much for the suffering she has endured.”

He looked back up at me and I saw the tears spilling silently from his face, “because I want to tell her that she is safe and I will never let my uncle near her again.”

I looked at Cat and saw her caring look at the prince. I looked at the nobles, “that is the story up to this moment. If you will excuse me, my wife and I have something to discuss.”

I stood and lifted Cat, looking down at the prince, “come to my room alone. Elvan or James can tell you how to get there.”

I called Cynthia, “when you are done with your flirting could you ask my daughters to bring the drakes down to meet Sam?”

Her laugh echoed in my head and I saw Cat smile as Cynthia finished with, “my chosen, it will be a long time before I am done with this one.”

I grinned, “in that case lover I will find them myself.”

I did not have to go far, as soon as I stepped into the hall on their floor I was almost run over. We had to catch several, just to keep them from falling as they tried to avoid hitting us. When they were all standing quietly, shifting from foot to foot I noticed the numbers had grown again and sighed, “Virginia?”

She waved from the back and I saw the drakes peeking over her shoulder. I looked at all the girls, “have you had your classes for the day?”

When they all said they had I smiled, “there is a little girl down in the grotto. I told her my daughters would come see her and bring their pets. When you girls go down there remember it is the Mair’s home so do not mess it up. If anyone wants to come up and play make sure they know how to find their way back to where they sleep. Will you go down there for me?”

They all agreed and as suddenly as they had ran into us they were off running down the stairs. I put my arm through Cat’s as we climbed the stairs towards our room, “I do not know where they get the energy.”

Cat smiled, “they are so different from before they came here.”

We entered our room and I set the hybrid down while Cat stripped the chain off. I took off the shoulder holster and set it on one of the small tables. I heard the light tread at the door and turned as the prince stopped in the doorway. I smiled and waved for him to sit on the cushions by the pool. As we sat Cat crossed the room and sat right next to him.

The prince looked at her in surprise and I grinned, “you wanted to meet your cousin?”

He looked at me and nodded as Cat put her hand on his. He looked at her in surprise and suddenly a look of understanding crossed his face, “it is you?”

He cupped her face, looking deep into her eyes. His look of amazement grew as the magic he had called faded. Slowly he pulled her into his arms as his tears fell freely from his eyes. Putting her at arms length he smiled, “I was going take you away and protect you but you no longer need that. Will you at least let me tell the others who you are?”

She gently wiped the tears from his face, “Sylvan, when my husband has brought my mother and sisters home you can tell them.”

He looked at her, “you know my name?”

Cat smiled as she stood and pulled him to his feet, “I heard the mage name you in his spell.”

The prince looked at me, “you are going to try to rescue her mother and sisters from Ardan?”

I shook my head, “I am not going to try. I will bring them out, anyone or anything that tries to stop me will die.”

He stopped Cat from leading him towards the door, “you think it will be that easy?”

I stood and walked to stand in front of him, “look into my eyes prince. Do you really think I will let any power on this world stop me? If this Ardan and his host get between me and what I go after they will die. Your uncle’s life is forfeit to me for what he has done to Cat.”

The prince had been looking into my eyes and what he saw made him step back and bow very deep, “will you accept my company in visiting my uncle?”

I smiled, “only if it is without your entourage.”

He stood, “when do we go?”

I laughed, “when my doctor”

I gestured at Cat, “has said I am fit.”

Sylvan looked from her to me, “you are not well?”

I grinned, “I am recovering from a slight blood loss.”

Cat looked at me with her eyebrows raised, “slight?”

I grinned again as Sylvan laughed, “I see she has your true measure.”

I linked my arm with his and turned him towards the door. I stopped in the doorway to look back at Cat, “you might want to wake Sam and Elizabeth for classes and Cat take your sword.”

She stuck her tongue out at me but I had seen her eyes when I mentioned waking Elizabeth. I laughed with Sylvan as we walked down the hall. When we started down the stairs I looked at him, “it will be no longer then a week. Even that long may be too long. This Ardan may start sending groups of drow after Cat.”

He smiled back at me, “I think I can help with that.”

I looked at him and he chuckled, “I do not normally use my authority in the city. I can have both the Keep and the manor watched and protected. They will not be seen and should give any group of my uncle’s quite a surprise. They are my rangers and to be honest they are a little upset with me for not letting them go after our cousins.”

I turned him down the fourth floor hallway heading for Sarah’s room, “what are you going to tell them they are protecting?”

He gave an evil smile, “your story will get out. They do not know Cat is his daughter though. I will tell them the truth, the Ardan’s daughter is here and he wants her dead. Believe me, they will use this as an opportunity to lure any cousin that wants to do his biding.”

We turned into Sarah’s door and saw the crowd around her bed. I smiled at Paul who was sitting beside her bed holding her hand, “have you let her have any rest?”

Paul grinned back at me, “we were just keeping her company.”

I looked around the room. They were mostly neighbors, “I need to interrupt for a minute to check her.”

I stepped up beside the bed as Paul stood and stepped back. I spent a few minutes asking questions as I checked her hip. When I was done I stepped back, “you did not lose that much blood and the healing seems to have worked very well. I want you up in the morning but you are not to over do it. I want you to take more breaks and see if someone”

I looked at Paul, “can accompany you.”

As we were walking down the hall Sylvan grinned at me, “another female?”

I smiled, “Sarah is my apprentice.”

As we were coming out the passageway Sylvan stopped me, “James says you give classes in unarmed fighting?”

I nodded as I looked towards the open space to see people already arriving, “yes. Why?”

He looked at me, “would you mind if I joined your class?”

I nodded towards Teral and the other elf that were making their way towards us, “either have them join you or send them to help in the kitchen.”

Sylvan laughed and walked out to meet them. I saw Aretha and his wife by the manor door and went to talk to them. As I came up I could see Julianna’s face was flush and chuckled to myself thinking she might have walked in on Elizabeth and Sam, “did you get a surprise?”

She looked at me and I could see she was trying to think of something to say. I gave Aretha a wide smile, “did she walk in on Elizabeth and Sam?”

I saw Julianna’s flush fading as Aretha nodded. She looked at me, “you knew about her. I mean about her, Sam and Cat?”

I nodded, “I had wanted to speak to you about that. It was a very surprising turn of things.”

I turned them back towards Elizabeth’s room and told Julianna about what had happened. I even told her about Cat, Sam and I wanting to have children. She kept looking at me, “are you sure it was a bond?”

I looked at her, “a bond?”

Julianna smiled back at me, “I will check.”

We were almost to Elizabeth’s room when Aretha cleared his throat, “we wanted to talk to you about another matter.”

I looked at him but Julianna finished for him, “very few people know this. The elf population is getting smaller with every generation. Aretha and I have thought to have a child but so far we have been unsuccessful. We thought with your different knowledge you might be able to help us.”

I opened Elizabeth’s door when we reached it and found all three of them together on the bed. Julianna blushed but I shook my head, “Cat, I said to wake them so they could come to class.”

She lifted her head from kissing Elizabeth, “they are awake, are they not?”

I smiled as I crossed the room to give each of them a kiss, “Elizabeth needs more exercise than in this bed. You can help her move her things into our room and you will have all night to love one another.”

As they were dressing I looked at Julianna, “much of the testing I know to do require using equipment I do not have here. However, I can try using some of my own abilities. I will need to examine you and Aretha though.”

She turned to Elizabeth as she stood from putting on some slippers. The magic I felt was different and made all of us (Cat, Sam, Elizabeth and I) jerk as if someone had plucked at something inside me that I could not describe. The magic faded as quickly as it had come with Julianna smiling a soft smile as we stumble into one another seeking comfort.

She stepped close, “I am sorry. I should have warned you that I was checking the bond between you.”

It was several moments before we stopped holding each other and were able to step back. Even then I did not want to move too far from them. I looked at Julianna, “that was not a pleasant feeling.”

She smiled, “no. If it is any comfort to you your bonds with each other are the strongest I have seen. Getting back to our problem though, when do you want to do the exam?”

I looked at the bed and pulled the sheet up, “hop up on the bed.”

Julianna blushed and looked at the girls, “right now?”

I patted the bed, “we will not bite.”

Cat muttered, “hard.”

Aretha heard though and laughed as Julianne turned red and moved to the bed. Elizabeth stopped dressing to help her. As the girls left I centered and reached into Julianna. It did not take long to examine both of them and describe to the red faced couple what I could do for them if they wanted my help.

When they agreed I told them what I wanted them to do before leaving them to attend my classes. There was such a large crowd that I called out all the more advanced students and asked them to assist the beginners. I broke everyone into smaller groups and we started with simple stretches before starting to work on basic forms.

While they were practicing I saw James say something to Sylvan as Jenny was trying to correct him. A moment later I saw Jenny partner Sylvan and as he moved she put him on the ground. He lay stunned, looking up at her and James started laughing along with several other students. Sylvan rolled to his feet and faced Jenny.

Suddenly his face broke into a grin and he bowed to her. I moved on to help others and it was several minutes later that I looked back to see a surprised looking James hitting the ground. When I felt the beginners had done enough I called a halt and had them start cool down stretches. The advanced class went smoothly and I ended with a demonstration.

I put a blindfold on and faced four of them. When I finished I gave them some exercises to try by themselves. After the class was finished I saw Cassy and Ashley talking not too far from where Gentle was talking to another man. They did not hear me walk up and I heard them talking about trying to get Gentle alone, “girls?”

They turned and saw me and I could see a look of fear on their faces. I held out my arms, “you do not have to be afraid of me.”

They hesitated before stepping into my arms and I whispered, “I want you to move into the room next to Sarah. I will see what I can do to help you convince Gentle. The only way he will know you are interested in him will be for you to talk to him. I am going to ask him to help me later. Why don’t you come with him?”

As I started towards Gentle I stopped and looked at Ashley, “did Jen tell you that I wanted to see you in the morning?”

When she nodded I went to speak to those I had been thinking about to help me with my plan and then I went back to Elizabeth’s room. I walked in to find Aretha and Julianna in bed with Elizabeth and Cat sitting next to the bed talking about babies and pregnancies. I crossed to the bed, “are you sure you want me to do this?”

A red faced Julianna nodded as Aretha held her. It was a few minutes later that I finished and left them with instructions to spend the night and I would see them in the morning. I escorted Cat and Elizabeth out of the room. As we entered the passageway Elizabeth started getting nervous. On the fourth floor I stopped by Sarah’s room to check on her.

I found her sleeping peacefully with Paul stretched out on top of the covers next her asleep as well. I made stops to say good night to the girls. Elizabeth was surprised when we came into the nursery. For a change none of the girls were in the bath but as soon as they saw me they ran to me. They all gave me good night hugs while telling me about their day.

Elizabeth was more surprised when she saw the drakes following Virginia. When we turned to leave Beth stood and came to us. Kissing her mother on the check and turning to look me in the eye, measuring me. I smiled and stepped close and gave her a hug as I whispering, “I will not hurt her.”

Elizabeth was even more nervous as we got to our floor and said our good nights to the girls there. When we entered the bedroom I saw that Ann must have sent someone up with my rifle because it was on one of the tables. When Sam and Cat started shedding clothes I saw that Elizabeth almost looked panicked.

I cleared my throat, “you might want to put your robes on. We will be having company soon.”

Cat and Sam stopped to look at me as I put my weapons on a table and undressed quickly. Putting on a robe I crossed to where Elizabeth still stood fully dressed. I smiled as I pulled her into an embrace. Stepping back I looked at her, “you have been with all of us today. We will not let you get hurt.”

I slowly undressed her as Cat brought one of her spare robes. We were barely done when Jen and Elvan arrived. I smiled and led Elizabeth to the bath with Elvan and Jen following, “Elizabeth you can call this therapy. Elvan is going to bathe you.”

I saw a sudden look of panic cross her face and I turned her to look at Jen, “you know he cares about Jen and I will be right here. Nothing will hurt you.”

I looked into her eyes, “trust us?”

She stared into my eyes and took a breath before nodding. I helped her take the robe off as a shy Jen helped Elvan undress. Elizabeth seemed to relax as she watched Jen shyly stand and step into an embrace with Elvan. When they broke Jen laughed softly, “after you are done with mother you can help me with my bath.”

Elizabeth laughed and held out her hand to Elvan, “we should not keep her waiting.”

He smiled at her and took her hand, leading her into the bath. I sat slowly with Cat beside me and Sam snuggling up behind Cat. Jen sat on my other side and leaned against me. Elizabeth tensed whenever Elvan reached someplace sensitive but when he only washed her she relaxed. When he was finished he led her out and I gently dried her while Jen dried Elvan.

When Jen was done Elizabeth went to him and gave him a tinder kiss before turning him to Jen. She came back to me a little more relaxed. I kissed her and turned her to face the door as Margaret came in with a red faced Tom following. Elizabeth looked back at me and I grinned, “Tom will be gentle but he might need some direction.”

Cat and Sam both laughed and stood up, they stopped next to Tom. Sam ruffled his hair, “we will give you directions. Think of when you were hurt and we bathed you.”

He grinned at her and they helped him undress. When they were done they walked him to Elizabeth and I removed her robe. She was a little red in the face as she took Tom’s hand and walked into the bath with him. We sat beside the bath again with Cat, Sam and Margaret making suggestions to Tom.

Elizabeth told him to ignore them because he was doing a good job. She was a lot more relaxed and even joked back and forth with Tom. When they came out I dried Elizabeth as Cat and Sam dried Tom, giving him a kiss from each of them for his help. Elizabeth gave him a kiss as well and I thanked him.

When she walked back she looked at me, “any more?”

Cassy coughed in the doorway and Elizabeth turned around to see her as she led Gentle in with Ashley holding his other hand. Gentle seemed a little dazed, like he could not believe they were with him. Elizabeth looked at me in exasperation, “I am not going to take baths all night.”

I smiled, “only once more.”

When Gentle was undressed he walked an unsure Elizabeth into the bath. Ashley and Cassy sat beside me. When Sam started kissing Cat, Ashley leaned forward to look and then looked at Cassy. Cassy smiled and opened her arms to Ashley, giving her a loving embrace. I watched Gentle as Elizabeth laughingly reminded him to wash her.

Cassy and Ashley laughed and Ashley looked at me, “Michael… Father, I know you wanted me to come in so you could examine me.”

She blushed as she looked at Gentle, “I we, do not want to wait.”

Cat and Sam stopped to look at them and I sighed as I heard Elizabeth whispering to Gentle. Quietly I told them what to do and stood, dropping my robe. I walked into the bath and smiled at Gentle, “take care of my daughters Gentle.”

As they left the room I started to gently wash Elizabeth. It was only a moment before Cat and Sam joined me. By the time we finished Elizabeth was not sure if she should laugh or groan in frustration. As we were getting out of the bath I noticed another strand of magic. I thought about all the times I had pulled them from her.

They had always loosened when she was relaxed. I whispered for Sam and Cat to make love to Elizabeth and get her to relax. Sam and Cat moved to the bed with her, holding her and kissing her. I opened my senses and waited, holding my long knife. Slowly I pushed my chi to surround the magic strand like a sock.

By the time Elizabeth tensed and the afterglow started settling in only the end of the strand was left. As she relaxed even more I worked the shield I had formed slowly around the end. When at last it came free it jerked inside the shield but I was already drawing it out and cutting off the end I was coming to call its head.

Setting the knife aside I got on the bed. When I was above Elizabeth I kissed her tenderly. At first she responded but then she got tense. I kissed her and pulled back so she could see me, “only three more to go.”

It took her a moment to understand what I had said. I was nibbling her neck when it came to her. Her body relaxed as she reached up to hold me, “you said four or five…”

I kissed her, “what happened after we made love to you this afternoon?”

She pushed me up a little to look at me, “what?”

I laughed softly and both Cat and Sam joined me, “you fell asleep with Sam remember? Were you relaxed?”

She blushed and smiled in memory as Sam and Cat both started kissing her again. She had forgotten where I was and kissed both of them back before pulling me close, “yes. It felt so nice and I was relaxed.”

I gave her a quick kiss, “what happens to the strands of magic when you relax?”

She pulled me closer and gasped when she felt me. She looked at me for a minute but did not tense up or try to push me back, “the spells start unraveling. But why did it not hurt when you pulled this last one?”

I bent slowly and gave her a long passionate kiss before pulling back with a groan, “because I waited for it to completely release you. I even gentle pried the end free.”

She closed her eyes and groaned deep in her throat. When she opened them she looked into my eyes as she pulled me tight against her. I could feel a slight tenseness in her though. I kissed her and pulled back, “you are not ready to be with me like that yet.”

I eased to her side and caressed her. She rolled onto her side facing me, “will I ever be?”

I smiled as Sam moved close behind her and reached out to caress her, “would you have let me be this close to you two days ago?”

Elizabeth looked into my eyes and a slow smile came to her face, “I did not know who you were two days ago.”

I laughed as Cat suddenly rolled me onto my back and moved on top of me, “you are talking to much Michael. Elizabeth will be ready for you when she accepts her love for you with both heart and mind. You have children to father right now.”

This brought a laugh from both Sam and Elizabeth and I rolled Cat over until she was below me, “I have something to tell you too.”

Cat sighed as we began making love, “it can wait.”

I kissed her passionately and stopped, “no. I tampered with you. I removed the spells around the eggs in your womb. You will be able to have a son as well as a daughter now.”

Cat stopped pulling at me, “a son?”

I smiled and gently kissed her, “I hope you do not mind.”

I saw Elizabeth and Sam both watching as she reached up and held my face, “I can have your son?”

I looked into her eyes, “Yes. I wanted there to be at least a chance. Of course we both know how pushy you females can be. Our son will have to beat them to the egg.”

We all laughed and Cat again rolled me over and this time I let her. It was the middle of the night when the little girls crawled into the bed and I heard Sam groan as they cuddled around her. I woke again when Jessie crawled on top of me and snuggled against my chest and almost instantly fell asleep.

Chapter 12

Day Six

The Hindenburg, mage council rebuked, a new squire, Julie’s love, the start of a new estate

I woke to Cynthia tickling my nose with her tail. Jessie was sleeping soundly on my chest and I knew it was still early. I turned my head to see Elizabeth’s new familiar rubbing his face against hers, “good morning Cynthia. Making sure he wakes his own chosen this morning?”

I heard her laugh as Elizabeth opened her eyes. She smiled and whispered, “morning Thomas.”

I freed a hand to reach up and give Cynthia a caress, “where were you last night?”

She started purring, “I was talking to a friend about William and the Council. Come chosen, time for you to be up.”

As she made her way to the side of the bed and I gently slid Jessie off me. She only moaned in her sleep and turned to drape herself onto Elizabeth. I carefully moved and kissed my sleepy eyed mage. As I was carefully making my way over Cat she opened her eyes. She smiled and pulled me down onto her.

I laughed softly into her ear and whispered that she had to give me time to recover from last night. She nipped my ear but let me go to turn towards Elizabeth. When she saw Jessie I heard a soft growl and Cynthia chuckled in the back of my head. I slipped on a robe and followed Cynthia out, “did you want something to eat Cynthia?”

She looked back at me, “no and the kittens have already had their breakfast. I wanted to talk to you about the mage council.”

By the time we had reached the stairs I had decided to go to the craftroom, “what about them?”

“You heard William yesterday. They have become more authoritive over the last few years. They will try to sanction you or even worse.”

I thought about what she had said. When we reached the craftroom I looked down, “than I will have to make good on what I told William.”

I heard her sigh as we entered the room, “you can not just challenge them. It would not change the sanctions of their rulings. It has to be done in a certain way. You have to challenge the ruling itself.”

I saw one of the Mair standing on one of the tables and walked over to her as I continued talking to Cynthia in my head, “so I will challenge the ruling and then what?”

The Mair on the table turned as I approached and I saw it was the young girl from yesterday, “trying to design an airplane?”

She smiled, “yes but they do not know what it is.”

I laughed, “we would have to build a landing strip for one anyway. I thought about something else though.”

I sat down and pulled a piece of parchment closer before dipping a pen in an inkwell. Cynthia jumped onto the table, startling the girl until she said something to her and lay down next to the drawing, “you have to state that the challenge is to amend or reverse the ruling.”

Slowly the frame of a dirigible took shape on the sketch, “and if they refuse to amend or reverse the ruling?”

I heard Cynthia’s growl in my head, “then you have to challenge them one at a time. After each, if you win, you have to again challenge the ruling until either there are no more councilors or the ruling is changed. Another thing, if any refuse, their position on the council is forfeit. The exception is if they voted in your favor.”

I had almost finished the sketch with the young Mair standing at the edge. When she did not see any burners she asked what kept it up and I explained about hydrogen and how it was extracted from water. I called for a craftsman and a second later I was answered. I told them what I wanted and how they could get the hydrogen.

I told the young Mair that if she was really interested in airplanes she could find me before I had classes in the evening. I would sit down and sketch one for her. I picked Cynthia up and carried her as I went back to the room. As I got close Cynthia started purring again, “your mates are at it again. You might as well put me down.”

I caressed her face and set her down. She was joined by Thomas as she turned and walked back towards the stairs and I heard, “enjoy your mates chosen.”

When I came into the room I saw that all the little girls were out of the bed and the covers thrown back. Sam, Cat and Elizabeth were entangled in the center of the bed. I smiled and dropped my robe to join them. An hour later I had finally chased them out of bed and into the bath.

Sam complained that one of the little girls had grabbed her breast and she thought she was going to have a bruise. Elizabeth and Cat just had to see and it turned into a splashing match. I picked up the hybrid and the rifle. When I left Cat and Sam were still fussing over dressing Elizabeth and had said they would stay with her instead of coming to the practice fields.

I found Amanda and Theresa looking lost as I came down the stairs. They were looking for Elizabeth, I sent them up to see her in our bedroom. I knocked on Elizabeth’s old door and Aretha called for me to enter. I stepped into the room and saw that he was up and dressed. I closed the door and walked to the bed.

I reached out feeling Julianna and even before I reached the bed I knew she had conceived. I smiled as I told her and Aretha. I also told them she would have to take things easy or risk having a miscarriage. In the kitchen it was a little hectic but not to bad. Ann and John were sitting together eating breakfast.

I joined them and before I could even ask one of the girls that had been freed shyly set a plate in front of me while another put down a coffee cup. Ann said the other kitchen was a lot bigger and Margaret was setting it up this morning. I cleaned the rifles while I ate and then extended the hunting rifle to John along with the pouch of ammo, “if Darren is done you may need this when you have the workers start marking the area.”

He took it gingerly and as I had shown him, checked to see if it was loaded. I stood and slung the hybrid. I was just reaching the gate when Nathen came hurrying in. He stopped me, “the Mage Council is going to order that you be bonded and your property seized!”

I told him to tell John and left jogging towards the building that housed the Mage council. I stopped a block short and walked the rest of the way catching my breath. When I reached the doors I did not stop to knock. Centering myself I reached out and ripped them off the hinges. Without pausing I walked in and grabbed the second set of door and did it again.

As I walked in there were two mages facing the council and William pointed at me, “there he is. Take him!”

I did not even slow down as I reached out and slammed the two mages together. Then I was standing over their unconscious bodies as I looked at the council remembering Cynthia’s advice, “I challenge this councils ruling over me!”

William’s face was livid, “we have put you in bond! You no longer have any rights.”

I smiled a cold smile, “as a mage I have the right to challenge any ruling over me, to have it amended or reversed.”

William sat with a smirk, “fine. The bond stands.”

My smile turned even colder as I stepped closer, “that is fine. Since you want it to stand then as it is my right I challenge you to duel Arcane.”

He smiled and leaned back, “the council is immune to challenge while it sits.”

I took another step closer, “not when they have been challenged over amending or reversing a ruling. What will it be William?”

He flushed and another spoke up, “he has the right William.”

William sat forward suddenly, “fine. I refuse to dirty my hands on you.”

I reached out and grabbed him. Hauling him over the table until I was in his face. “Since you have refused my challenge over your ruling then your position on this council is forfeit according to the mage law.”

I turned and tossed him through the doors. I looked around the council room, “I challenge this council’s ruling over me.”

They were looking at each other and one that was heavily bearded stood up, “this council refuses to let you intimidate it. The ruling stands.”

I nodded, “I challenge you to a dual arcane.”

The mage did not even wait for me to finish. A bolt of lightning struck the shield I had placed around myself using my chi. Before he could do it again I reached out and slammed his head into the table before tossing his unconscious body against the wall behind him. Again I looked at the council, “I challenge this council’s ruling over me.”

As I finished I felt Cat, Sam and Elizabeth running in the outer door and a mage behind me threw a ball of fire at me. It engulfed my shield as I turned and drew the White Hawk and shot him three times in the chest. I looked around at the stunned council, “well?”

Another mage stood licking his lips, “what if we amend it to sanctions against you?”

I looked at him, “you want to sanction me for standing up to you? For defending helpless women and children? I do not think so.”

The mage licked his lips, “then we are at an impasse. Your challenge’s will mean nothing if you dual all of us and no one is left.”

The girls stopped at the inner door and I stepped closer to the mage, “not exactly. If I have to go through the entire council I will. When the last one falls the ruling will automatically be voided.”

He nervously licked his lips again and I felt even more mages coming through the outer doors. He looked at the door with hope in his eyes and when I glanced that way I saw Artimas in front of the other mages. I smiled and turned back as the mage seemed to flinch, “your answer mage?”

He looked at the others and I saw two sitting together at the end of the table shake their heads, “you know we are out of this. You voted for it, you handle it.”

The mage looked back at me, “I can not.”

I nodded, “Very well. I challenge you to a Dual Arcane.”

The mage stammered and nodded at the same time as he brought up a shield around himself. I used a projection of force and punched him before slamming him into the wall that was behind him. I looked at the two remaining mages that had voted for the ruling as he slid to the floor, “I challenge this council’s ruling over me.”

They looked at one another and the female mage stood, “we yield to your challenge and reverse our ruling.”

I looked at them and nodded, “before I go you should know this council’s days of arbitrary rulings is over. This council is here to represent mages not rule them.”

I turned to the door and was surprised at the size of the crowd of mages. I made my way to the girls and smiled as Elizabeth was the first to run into my arms. After she hugged and kissed me she moved so Sam could take her turn. When Cat stepped in though she nipped my ear and whispered, “next time you wait for us.”

I laughed and turned to the crowd. Zachary and Markus both stood beside Artimas. The five girls that had been below Pendar’s Keep were behind them. I saw what I could only guess were their mothers holding them. The crowd parted and as I was going through I heard a groan. Looking down I saw William stilling on the floor and heard Artimas speaking to the council.

Outside Cynthia was sitting on the ground washing. I smiled, “what happened to you?”

She looked up, “do you have any idea how dirty a cat gets just crossing this city?”

I laughed and turned towards the Practice Fields. Cat asked where I was going and I smiled at her and held my hand out, “to work out my frustrations.”

Elizabeth laughed as she took my other hand, “did you not just do that?”

I grinned, “Well I do feel a little better.”

Sam took Elizabeth’s other hand, “So you are going to take out your frustrations on poor Samil?”

Cat and I laughed but Elizabeth only looked at us until Cat told her Samil was my friend. When we reached the field I was surprised to see Sylvan waiting with Samil, James and Teral. I ask Sam to send a runner to let John and Ann know what had happened. I smiled as I approached Samil, “feel like a bout today? I need to work off some steam.”

I was surprised when Sylvan spoke up, “I would not mind practicing with you.”

I looked at Samil’s smile, “he might surprise you Michael. Although I did hear that your young human Jenny tossed him on the ground more than once.”

James bristled but Sylvan laughed, “served me right for taking it for granted that I knew what I was doing.”

I waved my hand to the practice rack, “pick your poison.”

Sylvan looked at me as we walked to the rack, “poison?”

I laughed, “the weapon you want me to beat you with.”

He smiled as he choose two short swords, “be gentle with me. I do not know that much about swords.”

I laughed again as I choose mine, “and I can fly.”

He laughed with me as we moved to an empty circle. We faced each other and I bowed. I was surprised when he returned it and we both seemed to embrace the moment. I had not enjoyed a match like this since I had faced my master or Samil. Strike, block, lunge, parry and the dance went on.

It ended when I took one of his swords and then only a moment later the other. I stepped away and bowed feeling myself flush and sweating. Sylvan returned the bow and that was when we realized the size of the crowd around us as they applauded. Putting the practice swords away I noticed that there seemed to be quite a few elves in the crowd.

As we walked back towards Samil I looked at Sylvan, “am I going to have elves visiting me to make me pay for beating you?”

He looked at the crowd and laughed, “more then likely they will seek you out to ask for lessons. They are my rangers and I practice with them often.”

I could see Elizabeth’s eyes shining as I walked up. Samil’s smile looked like it was one that said I told you so and Sylvan chuckled. Turning to James, “did you learn anything?”

James gave a brief bow, “yes. I must make sure the two of you are on my side in a fight.”

We all laughed and I turned to the girls but Sylvan stopped me, “yesterday I said you should teach me and today only proves it. I offer myself as apprentice to you.”

James gasped but Teral and Samil ignored it as I turned to face Sylvan, “I have three apprentices already. Unless you wanted to learn medicine as well?”

Sylvan was still smiling, “if not an apprentice than how about as your squire? I will spend the time with you learning your martial skills.”

I detected something in his tone and knew if I was going to let him come with me to get Cat’s mother and sisters, he would need to learn about my weapons, “very well. But for a trial period only, no crowds following us around inside my home.”

He bowed and held his arm out to Cat who had been closest to him, “it would be my pleasure if you would accept my escort lovely lady.”

I laughed as she gave him a big grin and took his arm. I took Elizabeth and Sam’s arms in mine and we headed home. When we reached the estate and its quiet turmoil Ann was watching the gate when we came in. She opened the door to say something to someone inside. When John came out I understood.

I stopped long enough to explain that the mages had changed their minds and everything was fine. He looked at me suspiciously, “changed their minds? How many were still standing when you left?”

I looked innocently at Elizabeth, “well two were still in their chairs and two were standing, so two.”

Sam laughed as she pulled Elizabeth away, “come on Cat. Michael can do the clinic today.”

I saw a smug look pass amongst them as they headed towards the passageway down to the river. I looked at John, “you have not found any traps in the clinic today have you?”

He shook his head, “I am not about to give away their secrets. They might start planning something for me.”

Turning I headed towards the passageway as I looked at Sylvan. I took the hybrid off and removed the magazine and cleared the chamber. I gave him a brief class on how it worked and had him sling it over his shoulder and under his right arm. When I came into the passageway the same girl was there from the day before.

This time she knew who I was and gave me a brief. When I finally found Sarah she was checking a pregnant woman. I saw that Paul was still with her. She looked up as I came in and smiled, I reminded myself to have her brace made. She gave me a brief and said Cassy and Ashley were in the last room on the left with several other girls and they wanted to see me.

The way she said it I knew it was whatever the girls had planned for me. I gave her a long looked and she suddenly giggled. I sighed and looked at Sylvan, “you might as well go to the kitchen and ask if they will feed you. I have a feeling the girls plans may take awhile. You can probably find them by the river gloating.”

He laughed as he left and I turned for the last room. For a change there was a curtain across the doorway. I stepped into the room and blinked. There were fifteen naked girls in the room, the only ones I recognized were Cassy and Ashley.

Cassy walked up to me shyly, “father … mother Cat said to have you examine us. She said to tell you that you are to remove anything that will be painful to the girls. Like their maidenhead?”

I closed my eyes, (I would have to find a way to thank her. Like with a spanking) I opened them and gestured for Cassy to climb up on the bed. Actually it was a good idea for me to examine her. It gave me a chance to check on her pregnancy. It was a long morning, as soon as I finished with one group another would come in.

Most were fearful until they were reassured and when I did not attack the first girls they even relaxed. There were some though that I did not even try to touch. They had just been treated to badly. Julie was the last girl left and she was very brave. She suffered the indignities of my exam and as the other girls left she waited with her head down.

By the way she was standing I could tell something was bothering her, “Julie? Did you need something?”

She nodded and gave me a frightened glance before looking back at the floor. I smiled, “did you want to talk about it?”

She nodded and looked up at me, this time the fear was plain to see. I crossed to her and held her, “it is ok. You do not have to be afraid. What is wrong?”

She bit her lip, “Ashley said not to be afraid of you, that I should talk to you but…”

I could see she was still afraid and hugged her. I turned for the door, keeping her against my side we walked out, “we will take a walk and when you feel like it you can tell me.”

We took the stairs and I felt her tense even more at my floor but I continued up and she seemed to relax. As we came out into the Keep I looked around. Jeremy had a class going not to far away but I turned towards the door. As we went out she looked up at me, “Ashley said you helped her with Gentle?”

I smiled at her as we started walking around the Keep, “have you seen someone you would like to be with?”

As she continued to look at me I could see the fear again but she nodded. I squeezed her, “one of the men working around here?”

I could see her hesitate as if she wanted to say yes but, “no.”

We stopped and looking out over the grass and trees across the river, “someone else you have seen?”

There was a pause and I felt her tremble as she looked at me with fear in her eyes, “the woman that runs the kitchen, Ann.”

I smiled and gave her another squeeze, “you know she is married to John and loves him. Was that why you hesitated when I asked if it was a worker?”

She nodded still looking at me but her fear seemed to be retreating, “how do you feel about John?”

She whispered, “he is big.”

I laughed, “are you afraid of him?”

I saw an unconscious smile come to her face, “no.”

I squeezed her, “why don’t we go ask them if we can talk to them?”

She looked at me and I could still feel her trembling, “you do not think it is wrong?”

I turned her and we started walking back, “wrong? To be attracted to someone?”

She did not answer until we were going down the stairs, “to want to be with another woman.”

I laughed, “Julie, let me ask you this. If John were to ask you to come to their room and make love to him would you do it?”

She was silent until we were leaving the passageway when she looked at me, “yes.”

I smiled at her gently, “why?”

Before she could answer I stopped one of the women that had come out of the kitchen and asked for Ann and she directed us to the river. As we were going down the stairs Julie stopped and I faced her, “I thought about it and at first I thought because he is Ann’s husband. But the more I think about it I know that is not it.”

She looked into my eyes, “I do not know why.”

As we came out the door I saw more than a dozen children splashing in the river with Gentle and Paul, a wet Sam sat beside Ann and Julianna. We crossed to them and I felt Julie go tense again when we stopped. I bent and kissed Sam, “trickster, where is your evil twin?”

Julianna laughed, “she said something about taking Elizabeth to her therapy?”

It was a moment before Sam whispered, “in the bedroom?”

I started laughing and Julianna looked at me curiously, “what therapy could they do in the bedroom?”

I grinned at her, “the magic strands loosen when she relaxes, right?”

She frowned and nodded and I grinned and bent to kiss Sam before looking back at her, “what happens after you and Aretha make love?”

Ann started laughing and I saw understanding cross Julianna’s face. I looked at Ann, “actually I… we, came to find you. I was wondering if we could talk to you and John.”

Sam looked up and then at Julie who was trying to get even closer to me. I had a sudden thought about all the people suddenly falling in love around here and looked at Julianna, “Julianna? How do you check for the bonds you were talking about?”

She was surprised and looked from me to Julie and before I could explain I felt her magic sweep Julie and saw both Ann and her stumbling together. Thinking of the effect it had on me I turned and ran for the stairs. It was only moments before I reached the bridge and started across. As I reached the other side I saw Peter and another man half carrying John towards the bridge.

When they reached me I took John from them and told Peter, “you are in charge.”

As fast as I could I half carried him across the bridge and made for the stairs. As we came out the door by the river I saw Ann and Julie huddled together crying. John stumbled blindly to them and fell into their arms. Sam was holding Marie, David and Mary as they cried for their mother.

The other children were standing around looking lost and holding each other. I looked at the children, “go back to playing kids. They are fine.”

I knelt next to Ann, John and a shaking Julie, “I am sorry. I did not mean for her to do that. Julie came to me and told me of her attraction for you, Ann. She was also attracted to John. With everyone falling in love I wanted to find out how Julianna had checked my own bond. Instead she checked Julie. I know how it feels and I am so sorry.”

John looked up from holding Ann and Julie, “it was like something was pulling on my soul.”

I nodded, “I know. That was why I came to find you.”

Ann looked at me with eyes red from tears, “Julie is part of us now?”

I smiled, “it probably would have happened anyway. This was more dramatic and painful though.”

Julie was watching Ann when she looked at her, “you wanted to be with me, with us?”

I could see the fear had left her, leaving behind a longing that showed as she shyly nodded. Ann smiled and looked at her husband with just as much longing, “John?”

He smiled and squeezed them before standing and lifting them to their feet. He looked at his children in Sam’s arms, “we are fine, go play.”

Taking Ann and Julie’s hands he led them back inside. The children were still in Sam’s arms. They did not understand what was happening so I knelt and explained about the bond between their parents and Julie. Marie asked if everyone had bonds like that and I looked at Julianna who looked close to tears herself.

While she explained that bonds were special I could see them relax (and like all children) and lose interest. I sent them to play with the other children and helped Sam up before going to Julianna. I hugged her and she whispered to us, “I should have known better. What if it had been your link… with Cat and Elizabeth gone?”

We held her as she cried softly. When she was done and I wiped her eyes. I looked at her again, “it was a lesson learned. These bonds though, are they real? I mean could something here be causing them?”

Sam looked at me sharply but Julianna frowned, “I do not know. Bonds are normally rare. People have tried to create them before but it never worked. Those of us who have studied them all agree that the bonds have to be present in a person first before they can become active.”

I hugged her and sat her back in the chair, “on another matter.”

I handed her a list of names, “since my loves saw fit to make all the new women and older girls come to me for an exam”

I saw her smile and knew they had told her, “this is a list of those that are in need of you the most. They were terrified of me and what I might do.”

Julianna smiled as she looked at the list, “with all these names I might as well move in here.”

I grinned back, “now that you mention it. I think that would be a good idea.”

I pointed to her tummy when she looked at me, “I would like to do daily exams until I am satisfied about the baby.”

She put her hand on her tummy, “satisfied?”

I smiled at her, “I told you how thin the walls of your womb were. I want to make sure you do not over do it.”

She blinked, “where would I stay?”

I laughed as I turned to sweep a startled Sam off her feet and walk towards the water, “in the room you were in last night.”

Sam was laughing and struggling as I wadded in knee deep and dropped her with a splash. The next thing I knew I had a dozen laughing children helping me get her wet. I laughed as I wadded out and Sam was surrounded by the children splashing her, “that is what you get for playing tricks.”

Julianna sat in the chair with a big grin on her face, “ok you convinced me.”

I laughed and I went in search of my other loves. I heard Cynthia’s quiet voice telling me they were still in the bedroom. I found them asleep in our bedroom. I smiled as I came into the room. The smile faded as I saw the long strand of magic that had come loose from Elizabeth. It waved around almost as if it were alive.

Several times it seemed to dip towards a sleeping Cat as if looking for a new host. Drawing my sword I moved closer and reached out to incase the strand as I gently sought inside Elizabeth. The strand was barely holding onto her womb and I gently worked it free and pulled it from her body.

This strand was larger and thicker. I had to toss it and used my sword before it dissolved. Putting the sword away I lay down next to Elizabeth and reached across her to tickle Cat. She muttered in her sleep and tried to pull Elizabeth closer. She opened sleepy eyes and smiled dreamily, “are you going to join us so you can punish us?”

I kissed her and reached down to gentle caress her thigh. Elizabeth groaned and tried to move my hand. I moved until I was above her and kissed her, “I will punish you later.”

She smiled and tried to pull me closer, “you could at least get undressed.”

I laughed softly as I slide out of bed, “I could but I want you and Cat out of bed. Not falling back to sleep.”

Together we got a sleepy Cat out of bed and I heard two voice’s Cynthia and her kitten Thomas, “it is about time. They are going to wear Elizabeth out at this pace.”

I laughed and Cat snickered as Elizabeth turned red and faced them lying on the table next to each other. I stepped close and put my arms around her, “we love her as much as we do because she needs it right now and I think so do we.”

I heard Thomas, “but when do we get to go out?”

I laughed as Cat joined me in holding Elizabeth, “that is why I wanted to get them out of bed. I thought a nice walk to the other side of the river would be refreshing.”

The kitten stood and jumped into Elizabeth’s arms, “why didn’t you say so.”

Cynthia stood and stretched, “chosen?”

From the tone I knew she wanted to be carried. As we were leaving I had them wait while I pulled out a change of clothing for Sam. As we were headed down the hall Cat leaned against me and rubbed Cynthia’s ears, “what is the change of clothing for?”

I grinned at her as Elizabeth linked her arm with mine, “just in case Sam fell in the river.”

They laughed and Cat squeezed my other arm, “I can not believe you would push Sam into the river.”

I gave her a wicked smile, “I did not push her. I dropped her.”

This made them laugh even harder. As we made our way down the stairs I told them what had happened with Ann, John and Julie. Cat smiled, “good for them.”

When we came out of the passageway, Thomas and Cynthia said they would like to be put down. We came out by the river to see Sam still there, she had stripped and wrapped a towel around herself. Cat and Elizabeth both laughed and she stuck her tongue out at us. I held out her change of clothes, “I brought a peace offering.”

She stood and dropped the towel as she took the clothes, “Oh no, I still owe you.”

She was just finishing getting dressed when Sarah and Paul led a new batch of children out the door with Cassy, Ashley and Gentle following behind. The last one out the door was the two drakes. They took one look at the river and headed straight for it before stopping suddenly as if listening.

They gave a whine and crouched, a moment later Virginia came running out of the crowd of children yelling, “ok let’s go.”

Both the drakes took off and barely hit the water before her. I looked at Cat, “do we know who her mother was?”

Cat shook her head, “no.”

I muttered, “another thing to do.”

Sam laughed and hit me while Cat and Elizabeth only grinned. I took Sam’s wet clothes and rolled them up. I placed them by the door as we came out of the manor. I saw Sylvan standing in front of the kitchen and waved as we headed for the bridge. He caught up as we were crossing, “did you find their trap?”

I laughed, “yes.”

Elizabeth called out to Thomas as he ran into the tall grass, “watch out for the Saur!”

She smiled at his reply but I did not hear what it was. As she wandered ahead of us I slowed with Cat and Sam. I told them what had happened with the strand. Although it was private Sylvan was listening, “if the spell that is unraveling from her is anchored in another realm as she believes and it is losing its second anchor in her it will seek another body. Not that it will be able to anchor itself but it will be unpleasant for whoever it finds.”

I looked at Cat and Sam, “until the last one is gone there must be two of us with her at all times.”

Elizabeth came back laughing, “are you three conspiring against me?”

I laughed with her and held one of my arms out, “as a matter of fact we were.”

As she snuggled against me she looked into my face, “and what evil deed are you planning?”

Sam press up against her other side and I looked into her face, “two strands left.”

She started and looked around me at Cat, “when I was sleeping?”

I gave her a little squeeze, “yes but that was not all. The spell was looking for another host.”

Her eyes got bigger as she pulled away and reached for Cat, “are you alright?”

Cat smiled and pulled her into an embraced, “yes my heart. I do not think it liked my flavor.”

Elizabeth stood looking into her eyes, “I do not know what to say. I do not…”

Cat raised her finger to her lips, “hush, nothing happened, Michael saved us… again. But we have been talking and from now on two of us will be with you at all times.”

Elizabeth started to speak again but Cat still held her finger to her lips, “it is not just for you or us. If one of these strands is loose and finds its way into one of the little ones what than?”

Elizabeth looked down in distress and both Sam and I joined Cat in holding her. I tilted her head, “there are only two left. It will only be another day or two at most.”

She looked at us, “but you will be in danger.”

Sam turned her until she was looking into her eyes, “if those spells were in one of us would you stay with us?”

Elizabeth looked into her eyes a long time before hugging her, “yes.”

Sylvan cleared his throat and we all looked at him to see him facing back towards the bridge. Looking over my shoulder I saw Artimas, Edward, Janis, Nathen and five women I did not know. Cynthia appeared out of the grass dropping what looked like a vole at her feet. Thomas appeared right behind her looking unhappy and I heard Elizabeth’s soft laugh.

She looked at our questioning faces, “Thomas said it tried to bite him and his mother stole it.”

We smiled and turned back as the mages came to a stop. Artimas cleared his throat, “Michael, we are here representing the mages of Westford. The mage council… what you left of it has been dissolved. A new council will be selected, we came to ask you if you would sit on it?”

I smiled, “I do not think so. I have more than I can handle here. Besides it will keep the new council honest to know I will be watching.”

Artimas looked at Nathen, “I told you he would not do it.”

Nathen sighed and shook his head, “you always have to be right. Very well, I will do it but on the condition we keep it to only three.”

He looked at me, “since you have refused it has fallen to me. I know how you are uncomfortable about people giving you things but it was decided unanimously by the mage community that we owned you a debt. I also know you do not like acknowledging those debts. In this case we all feel it must be paid and after much discussion the solution came to us. With all the people you are helping you are running out of room for them, correct?”

I nodded, “Yes but…”

Elizabeth put her finger to my lips, “hush my husband.”

I looked at her as she smiled proudly, “accept a gift given in the spirit it was meant.”

I thought about it and nodded before turning to Nathen, “yes, we are running out of room.”

Janis stepped forward and looked around, “the council has bought the abandoned farms next to your land and we have decided to build a housing area for you. Where would you like it?”

I blinked stunned, after a minute I pointed to the area by the bridge. I was thinking about what Ann had gone through in the kitchens, “Um, does this housing area have a large kitchen by any chance?”

Edward and Artimas laughed as Janis flushed, “yes. It was brought to my attention as well as a dinning area. Also given the number of women present that are pregnant there is a birthing room. If you will excuse us?”

He looked at Elizabeth, “you are looking so much better. I will come back to talk to you later if you do not mind?”

She smiled and nodded to him before looking at me, “Janis might be the one to teach Virginia. He has a similar gift.”

Artimas, Edward, Janis and Nathen started walking back to the bridge and I saw several other mages crossing towards them. The five women had remained behind and I remembered them from the mage council this morning, “good afternoon ladies, how may I help you?”

They looked at each other and one stepped forward, “the children our daughters bore. What will happen to them?”

I was surprised at the question, “before I knew they were not descended from Elizabeth I adopted them. If your daughters would like to raise them I would of course turn the girls over to them.”

She shook her head, “right now they are still trying to forget what happen. Later they may wish to meet them. We come to ask because we”

She pointed to the other women with her, “wanted to make sure they would be cared for and perhaps meet them ourselves.”

Another stepped forward, “whether our daughters want the children or not they are our grandchildren”

She blushed, “we do not want to cause our daughter more distress but…”

She looked at the ground and Elizabeth stepped forward, “you know who I am. I felt the same way and still do at times. When or if your daughters ever want to meet or take part in the girls lives they can come here. We will take care of them until or unless you or they decide otherwise.”

I felt the magic from the mages by the bridge. It was almost as if the vibrations shook my very bones. The women looked at me as I gasped and held my chest. Sylvan stepped up close behind me, “relax Michael, let it flow through you. What you feel is the magic pulling at the earth around us. You seem to have developed an affinity for the land.”

I looked at him and saw something similar in his eyes. I relaxed and tried a meditation technique and slowly the feeling passed. When I opened my eyes Elizabeth was standing very close staring into my eyes, “you felt what they were doing to the earth?”

I nodded and I could feel her reaching for her magic. I reached up to cup her face, “No! You can not use your magic yet.”

Slowly it faded and she nodded, whispering, “soon though.”

I looked back at the women who were staring at us. The first one spoke up, “you should have told them of your affinity for the land.”

I looked at her but before I could say anything Cat beat me to it, “Michael is not a mage like you or them. What magic he uses comes from inside him.”

I saw them looking at me in interest but before they could start asking their one thousand questions Elizabeth laughed, “we can take him apart later to find out what makes him tick. Since you wanted to meet you grandchildren you can help us. You see, we do not know exactly who each girls mother is. In fact we were talking about that earlier. One of the girls has already demonstrated her ability communicate with and possible control animals.”

One of the women that had remained quiet gasped, “that is my mother’s gift.”

Elizabeth smiled, “Virginia is a beautiful little girl. Why don’t we all go find them and see who belongs to who?”

The women nodded and we started to walk back towards the bridge with them. I cleared my throat and Sam gave my arm a tug as Cat whispered, “you can keep an eye on her too.”

When we came back out onto the beach by the river Cassy and Ashley were playing in the shallow water with three of the girls. Gentle was in deeper water tossing the girls into the air to land with a splash beside him. I was worried at first until I saw all the girls around him were dog paddling around him and they were fine.

Virginia was playing in deeper water than even them. As I started forward the drakes popped up next to her. With a squeal she wrapped her arms around the one I thought was Princess. I heard the women gasp and Elizabeth say something to reassure them. Princess with Virginia hanging onto her neck started swimming faster with Duchess swimming along side.

Paul called out for her to come back and she looked back at him and with a laugh and waved. It was only a second later when they turned and then came flying back towards shore. I looked at Paul standing waist deep in the water with Sarah, “she is going to give me grey hair.”

Paul looked back at us and smiled, “you and me both.”

When Virginia reached shallower water I called for her to come to me. She came splashing out of the water with both the drakes following. She came laughing up to me, “father did you see me?”

I laughed as I swept her into a hug, “yes I did. You scared me. I have someone for you to meet.”

She suddenly looked frightened and I heard the drakes whine, “do I have to?”

I rubbed her back, “who did I have you meet last time?”

She shook her head shyly, “I do not remember.”

I nodded to the drakes, “it would not have been Princess and Duchess would it?”

She relaxed and brightened, “yes.”

I set her down and took her hand before turning to face the mages. I could see that the one that had said Virginia had her mother’s gift was kneeling with her hand covering her mouth. The drakes followed us with soft whines of anxiety. I stopped in front of her and knelt down beside Virginia, “Virginia this lady is a mage.”

She started shaking as I continued, “she is like Elizabeth. She is a good mage, she will not hurt you. She wants to know if you are her granddaughter.”

Virginia looked at me with pleading eyes as the drakes nuzzled her crooning, “like grandmother Elizabeth?”

I nodded, “you know she is the grandmother of a lot of the girls. Well this lady”

The mage whispered “Catherine.”

I nodded, “she may be your grandmother.”

Virginia looked at me, “how can she tell?”

I smiled, “she will have to do a spell.”

She pulled back sharply in fear, “she wants to put a spell on me!”

I reached out and held her, “look at me Virginia. I will not let anyone hurt you. Catherine has told me her mother had the same magic as you. She wanted to see if you were her daughter’s child.”

Virginia looked at me with an arrested look, “I have magic?”

I nodded as she looked at me, her fear forgotten, “like mother Amanda?”

I smiled, “perhaps not exactly like her but you do have magic.”

All of a sudden her face fell, “do I have to take more classes?”

I could not help it, I started laughing along with everyone around us. When I got myself under control I looked at her, “maybe one or two. I will have to find someone to teach you first.”

Virginia sighed with both drake leaning on her shoulders, “alright, you can let the lady put a spell on me but do not let her spell Princess and Duchess.”

Catherine held her hand out to Virginia and she hesitantly put her small hand into it. The magic that swept Virginia made her giggle and when it was done Catherine slowly pulled her close as she hugged her with tears running down her face. Virginia withstood the hug with the patients of every child.

When Catherine released her I heard the sand shift behind me. Two of the girls stood there looking at Virginia, “Virginia? Who is the lady?”

Virginia looked over her shoulder, “she is our grandmother I think.”

Their eyes got big, “for real? Like grandmother Elizabeth?”

Virginia nodded, “but she has to put a spell on you first.”

The girls stepped back in fear, “she put a spell on you?”

Virginia nodded again, “it tickled through.”

Catherine had put her hand in front of her mouth but I could see her laughter, “Virginia, where are your manners? You did not introduce your sisters to your grandmother Catherine.”

She looked back at Catherine as one of the drakes whined. This time it was Virginia’s sister Talia that spoke to them, “it is ok Duchess you can go back into the water.”

I looked at her, “you can understand them too?”

Talia nodded, “Sure. Rosie can to but she thinks they sound funny.”

We turned back to find Virginia, her hands on her hips like Ann did sometimes, “excuse Me!”

Talia looked at her, “Michael was talking to us.”

The big smile on Catherine’s face said all that needed saying as she held out her arms. The meetings between the rest of the mages went pretty much like that for the next hour. I lost Sylvan somewhere between classrooms and the grotto. The end result was that the grandmothers would be taking a more active role in their lives even though their mothers could not yet.

Chapter 13

Drakes to the rescue, Sam’s story, family’s bath time

I was headed towards the craftroom when I heard the commotion. I had just walked the grandparents out the gate. Cat and Sam had laughed and insisted that it was time Elizabeth had her therapy. They pulled her mock protesting form towards our room. The scream and shouting came from the bridge and before I knew it I was running.

When I got there I found the thirteen year olds looking over the side. One glance showed one of them flailing in the deep water below. I started striping my gear off and was knocked aside as Princess and Duchess bolted past. Not even slowing they disappeared over the side. Looking over the side I saw Princes come up underneath Jessie as Duchess swam along side, holding her up with her head.

When I saw they were headed for the beach I grabbed everything and ran. Sylvan was right behind me as I came out the door onto the beach. Dropping everything I continued to run into the water as the two drakes brought a coughing and shivering Jessie into the shallow water. I lifted her off Princess and carried her to shore in my arms.

Once on the shore I was surprised yet again as Sylvan took his shirt off to wrap her with it. We got as much water out of her lungs as we could. I nodded to my things as I started to lift her but Sylvan had a strange look on his face, “let me carry her.”

I handed her to him, “take her to the first room on the right inside the passageway.”

Gathering my things I followed after with the drakes following behind me. We were met by a hysterical Beth at the door, I calmed her and pulled her along. All the girls were outside the manor looking frightened. I saw one of John’s workers standing with them, “close the bridge. I want sides put up.”

He nodded and left heading for the bridge. I was going to send the other girls to Ann but remembered in time, “girls go find Margaret and help her.”

When I got to the room with Beth, Sylvan had already laid Jessie on the bed. I pushed Beth towards the bed and yelled for some help. One of the little Mair came running, “can I help?”

I looked down as I started pulling Jessie’s wet cloths off, “is Jen or Ginger here?”

The Mair nodded, “they are practicing with Samuel next door.”

I nodded, “go get Samuel.”

I looked up at Sylvan who was standing there staring in shock at Jessie, “Sylvan!”

He looked up and turned red before shaking himself, “what can I do?”

I nodded towards the bathing pool, “grab some towels.”

Jessie was crying quietly and coughing as Beth held her head and rocked back and forth with tears spilling from her eyes. Samuel, Jen and Ginger came in the door behind me, “what happened?”

I took some of the towels from Sylvan and started drying Jessie as I told him what had happened. Samuel moved to the bed and had me stand back as he held his hand over Jessie’s chest. He looked at me and then looked at Ginger, “Ginger come here.”

He talked quietly with her for only a moment and then placed Ginger’s hand under his. He looked at me, “there will be water coming out of her mouth and nose. Try to keep her airway open or she will choke.”

When their magic sprang up I felt Jessie answering with her own. Samuel cursed lightly and murmured something to Ginger. Water started pouring out of Jessie’s mouth and I quickly turned her head and tilted it as Sylvan started using the towel again. She coughed and gagged and the water slowly stopped.

Samuel looked back at Jen with a smile, “Jen come and join us.”

I raised my eyebrow and Samuel smiled, “my next student.”

I was not sure what he meant until I felt the healing magic again. This time Samuel did not try to stop Jessie’s magic and like the first time with Jen it spread through the room. When it faded Samuel sighed and he was not the only one. Jessie looked up at a tearful Beth, “mother?”

When I heard a faint stirring at the door I turned and found Princess and Duchess sitting just inside. I held my hand out and they came to me as I knelt, “I do not know if you understand me but thank you.”

The voice that spoke from the doorway was Rosie’s, “they understand. They want to see Jessie for themselves though.”

I smiled and moved forward. Putting my arms around Princess, I picked her up and moved to the bed. As we reached the bed she put her head on Jessie’s chest and we could hear a soothing croon coming from her. Jessie hugged her, “thank you Princess.”

I slowly set Princess down and picked up Duchess. This time instead of putting her head on Jessie chest she looked into her eyes as the crooning began. Rosie tittered from the doorway and when we looked she grinned, “Duchess told her no more jumping off the bridge.”

I smiled as I set Duchess down, giving each drake a loving caress. Rosie fidgeted, “can I take them with me? Virginia and Talia have a class so they can play with me.”

I grinned, “No more water for the day. Okay?”

Rosie grinned and nodded, she did not say anything only turned and ran off. The Drakes heard her though and turned quickly before they ran out after her. I looked at Samuel, “what do I owe you?”

He grinned, “this one is free but I think from now on I will start checking your… daughters to see if they have the healing gift.”

I smiled and gave both Ginger and Jen a light kiss. After they left I looked at Beth and Jessie, “alright Jessie tell me what happened?”

Beth heard something in my voice and straightened. Jessie started trembling, “I did not mean to fall off.”

I sighed and held her hand, “if I have to punish any of you girls it will not be with a beating. I think the most severe punishment would be a swat on your butt. Punishment can be anything from extra classes with Jeremy to working in one of the kitchens as a helper.”

I felt her relaxing and I glanced at Beth before continuing, “what just happened was that you scared me and your mother. I think you just convinced me to start mandatory swimming classes for you girls. Now go with your mother and put some dry cloths on.”

As she was getting off the table Beth stepped close to me looking into my eyes as if searching. Quietly she whispered, “I do not think you could even swat her on her butt.”

She kissed me softly and turned to take Jessie’s hand. After they had left I turned to Sylvan with a frown only to see him staring at the empty doorway. I cleared my throat, “come with me Sylvan.”

I grabbed my gear and headed for my room with Sylvan trailing along behind me. I had forgotten that Sam and Cat had brought Elizabeth up to the room. When I came in Cat was sitting beside them sharpening a knife and Sam was curled half on top of Elizabeth. I crossed to the bed and gently pulled the sheet over Sam and Elizabeth.

I set my gear on one of the tables as Cat whispered, “you are wet.”

I nodded as I took my shirt off and turned to Sylvan who had stayed in the doorway, “what happened?”

I did not raise my voice but I did not whisper either. Sylvan hesitated and then walked in until he stood in front of Cat, looking her in the eyes, “I do not know. When I saw her I knew I had to help her. When we undressed her it was like I was in a dream.”

He looked at the floor, “I knew she was only a child but something in me made me desire her as if she were a woman grown.”

He looked back into Cat’s face, a face that had hardened, “it was not a desire of the flesh though. It was more…”

He turned to look at me, “I am not one to prey on children!”

Thinking of all the bonds that had formed here I walked closer. I saw Elizabeth’s and Sam’s sleepy eyes open and watching as I came to a halt in front of him, “can you tell me how one checks for a life bond?”

His eyes went wide and I saw Cat start. Sylvan stuttered, “but it can not be. She is only a child.”

I looked at Elizabeth who looked back intently, “you could stroke the bond as Julianna did to us?”

I shook my head, “that would make the bond more active, wouldn’t it?”

She nodded, “who is he bonded to?”

I looked at Sylvan, “Jessie.”

In a low voice I heard Sam, “Elizabeth’s granddaughter, Jessie?”

He answered softly, “yes.”

Sam sat up causing the sheet slip off of them, “Jessie is only thirteen.”

Sylvan slowly sank to Cat’s feet, “I know.”

I could see a haunted look in Cat’s eyes as she sank to face him, “Sylvan you will not harm this girl.”

She reached out and lifted his head and I heard the sheet rustle. Sam climbed out of bed to walk across to Sylvan and kneel beside him. I could see a slight tremor as she turned his head so that he was looking into her eyes, “Sylvan you are a good man. You must not harm Jessie.”

She took a breath and looked at me with pleading eyes as if asking for understanding. She looked back at Sylvan, “if it gets too bad and you do not think you can take any more come to me.”

Sylvan looked at her and started to speak when Cat reached out and made him look at her, “come to us!”

The sheet rustled again as a visibly shaking Elizabeth made her way to Sylvan and knelt beside Sam, “Sylvan, I come to any of us.”

He looked into their faces and nodded, “I need to think.”

Standing he made his way to the door. I heard him stop just outside as all three of my loves knelt on the floor with their heads down waiting. I sighed and knelt between Cat and Elizabeth, they still did not look at me. I looked at Sam, “we know and have heard Elizabeth’s story. We have heard Cat’s story. Are you ready to trust us and tell yours?”

Cat and Elizabeth looked up at me and then at Sam. She kept her head down as she spoke, “I lied to you. That first time when I said I needed to learn. I already knew about sex.”

She took a breath and started as tears fell from her eyes. That made both Elizabeth and Cat start to go to her but for some reason I stopped them. I did not think the time was rightyet. Sam almost whispered, “when I was about six I woke to men in the house yelling and smoke was everywhere. I was carried out and left in the street in front of the house. A man came while everyone was running around in the house and he took me.”

Her voice broke, “He said to make me safe. He brought me to his house and as soon as we were there he…he raped me.”

Her voice lowered, “again and again and again.”

I stopped the girls from going to her again and they looked at me angrily but froze as they saw the tears spilling down my face as Sam continued, “the next day he took me to a house that specialized in sex with little girls… I was there for four years until another fire started.”

The way she had said that made my heart wrench in my chest and I knew it was almost time to go to her, “Sam how did the fire start?”

She was a long time in answering, “I could not take it anymore and broke a lamp. I just wanted it to end.”

She broke into heart rending sobs and I released the girls and moved to her, pulling her into my arms to cry against my chest, “hush my Sam. It is over and you are with us now.”

Cat and Elizabeth were both hugging her and crying and it was several minutes before her tears slowed, “I was carried out by some men that had been passing by the house. I ran then, I was raped twice more before I got the idea to cut my hair so that I would look like a boy. I begged on the streets and ate out of the trash for several months before I ever stole anything. I joined the guild and they trained me. Then there was a day a strangely dressed young man came.”

Sam looked up at me and hit me lightly in the chest, “he caught me and to make it worse he knew who and what I was and said it out loud. He asked the strangest questions and seemed to not know the simplest of things. To make my shame worse he had me take him to the rich quarter market and I watched him walk across the square and back.”

She looked at Elizabeth and Cat, “he stole a dozen purses and I did not even see him do it! Then he had me take him to an inn. I thought he was going to rape me after that but he did not. He took me shopping and had me show him an empty estate. That evening when we returned to the inn I again thought he would take me but he just sat and told me to go bathe.”

She smiled, “when I came back into the room I was still worried but he only stood and left the room to have his own bath. After dinner we returned to the room and he said that we needed to rest and again I thought but he only slept.”

Sam again looked at Cat and Elizabeth, “that night we robbed a merchant and I had never seen anything like the amount of loot we got away with.”

I saw Elizabeth eyeing me and Sam continued, “when we returned to the inn it was early morning. Michael pulled me back into the room, my muscles were so sore I could not have done it by myself. Then he scared me, he told me to take off my shirt and I just knew he was going to… but he did not. Instead he laid me on the bed and started rubbing my sore muscles.”

Sam smiled gently, “I fell asleep and he covered me with a blanket before going to sleep beside me. The next morning we bought a burned out house and went to get our loot. After buying a horse and wagon we headed for the rest of our loot and our new home. Along the way we had to go through the bond district and heard of a merchant selling a Mair.”

She grinned and looked at Cat, “Michael did not know what a Mair was and did not believe me so I made him stop. We went in and he asked to see her and while we waited he spoke to one of the bonded that was in a cage near us. When the merchant brought the Mair out I could tell Michael was intrigued but I do not think it was in a sexual way.”

She shook her head, “it was as if he was curious about her. When he asked the merchant what would happen to her and the merchant told him she would more than likely be sent to a house of prostitution. He looked at me and I could see not desire but something like distaste for what he had heard. He even sighed as if resigning himself to a burden. He bought her and the bonded family.”

Sam looked back at me with a smile, “a block away from the merchant he shocked me with something he did as casually as if it were nothing. I saw something in his eyes that made me think he was holding back his anger.”

She looked Elizabeth, “he snapped the chains on John and his family as if they were made of clay and not iron. He gave their bond back to them and offered to share with them what we had. I asked Cat’s name and she told us.”

She looked lovingly at Cat, “you told me you would not leave.”

She laughed as she looked at me, “the look on your face was so resigned as if you were accepting a punishment. You took us shopping and all day you worked beside us, you always seemed to know when one of us needed help.”

Sam looked at Cat, “that night when you said you were going to make love with him because you wanted to and refused to hear his protests I realized that I wanted to be with you and him.”

She looked at Elizabeth, “by the time you came into my life they had taught me that sex is not the same as love. I was attracted to you from the first time I saw you, that first kiss… it was like you came into me and I went into you but it was more. It is like I can not get enough and each time is different and the same.”

She looked back at me and put her head down against my chest, “I am sorry Michael. When I heard Sylvan talking about Jessie…”

I gave her a squeeze before looking at the doorway, “did you hear Sylvan?”

I do not know if the girls heard it but a quiet yes came from the hall. I nodded as the girls looked at the doorway, “do you understand why they want to protect Jessie?”

Sylvan stepped into the doorway, “I understand. I will not dishonor their offer.”

As he turned and walked quietly down the hall I stood and held my hand out to help my wives stand. I kissed Sam deeply and felt her womb. I smiled as I felt my child growing inside her. She pushed me back, “what are you smiling like that for?”

I laughed and pulled her into a tighter embrace as I kissed her again, “because love, you are pregnant.”

Sam gasped, “pregnant!”

Cat and Elizabeth laughed and started hugging her. I turned and kissed Cat and as I started moving towards the bed I removed the light dressing gown she wore. As we reached the bed and I laid her down she laughed at me, “you are being sneaky again. If you want check to see if I am pregnant to just say so.”

I laughed and kissed her, “may I?”

She pulled my hand to just above her womb and I felt within. I grinned as Elizabeth and Sam joined us. Elizabeth kissed Cat and looked at me, “well?”

I nodded, “Cat is pregnant too.”

Elizabeth and Sam kissed her and she laughed before pushing them gently away, “how many?”

I bent and gave her a deep and passionate kiss before whispering, “three.”

I felt her arms tighten and when she spoke to me I could hear the laughter in her voice, “a son?”

I laughed as I stood, “even I have to wait to find out that.”

As I picked up my gear and a dry shirt Elizabeth called from the bed, “come to bed with us?”

I smiled happily, “tonight.”

Sam sat up, “but…”

I laughed, “I can not get you anymore pregnant and I think you need their love right now to soothe you and to comfort you. Do not spend too much time though. I will be waiting for you in the craftroom.”

Elizabeth laughed as she was pulled from one side by Sam and then from the other by Cat. I picked up the cases holding the modified White Hawks. Slipping my shirt on I went into the hall. I stopped to put my things back on. On the fourth floor landing I found Sylvan standing as if listening.

I watched him for a moment before touching him on the shoulder, “come along squire,”

At the hallway into the little girl’s room I heard Amanda and Theresa and they did not sound happy. I went down the short hallway and into the nursery with Sylvan following. In the nursery I found not only Amanda and Theresa but Beth and Ginger too and they had a lost look. I sat next to them, “you girls have not seen your mother today?”

Amanda looked at me and it almost seemed as if she were angry, “mother is with you now.”

I looked at her, “and you are angry and feeling a little lost, not sure what to do.”

They nodded and I thought for a minute, “I think perhaps putting you in charge of all the children was a bit premature. Even though you are much older than I you have not had a chance to have your own childhood. In many ways your growth has been held in check. It is time you started learning what love is and family.”

I glanced at Sylvan, “tonight, one hour after class finishes have one of the older girls come and watch the little ones except your sisters. You will bring them and Jen and Cassy to our room with robes and a towel.”

I stood and started to turn but stopped, “maybe a hair brush too.”

As Sylvan and I left I could hear them whispering and Sylvan looked at me, “what is it you are going to do?”

I looked at him and smiled, “teach them about family and sharing their love.”

I saw his look and smiled, “so you have brothers and sisters Sylvan?”

He shook his head, “no. My parents have tried but I have no siblings.”

As we entered the craftroom I nodded, “that seems to be a common problem with elves. The next time you see your parents tell them to come see me.”

He looked at me as if I were crazy. I smiled as I crossed to an area of the room that looked like it did leather work, “I have helped another elf couple conceive and they told me that your birth rate was down. I did not specialize in that type of medicine but I did learn some.”

He stood beside me as I set the case down and pulled a sheet of parchment to me, “you think you could help my people?”

I looked up into his serious face, “Yes. Well maybe. It depends on what I find as the overall problem.”

As I sketched a brace for Sarah he was silent. One of the craftsmen spoke as I was finishing, giving Sylvan a start as the voice came out of the air behind him, “Master? Two of the hybrids are ready.”

I turned to see the two cases floated up to me, “Craftsman? Do you have the list I asked for?”

A piece of parchment floated up to me, “Yes Master.”

I looked at it and absently told them, “thank you. Oh, this sketch needs to be done please.”

I looked up at an amused Sylvan, “courteous to spells?”

I smiled, “it did not cost me anything and they are courteous to me.”

I took the cases and set them on the table, “you can give me back my rifle now.”

I opened the case to show the new hybrid to him, “I was going to give these to someone else but I think they can wait.”

Sylvan handed me the one he had been carrying and picked the new one up. He handled it like I had shown him and in only moments had its sling on. He slung it under his arm I turned back and started drawing. I drew a swat style holster for the modified White Hawk as well as a combat vest to hold the magazines for the hybrid.

I finished quickly and gave it to the craftsmen and told them I needed two of the holsters and four of the vests. One sized to fit Sylvan and the other three to fit their mistress. They surprised me with the brace for Sarah, “you finished quickly thank you.”

I heard Cat and Sam as they brought a laughing Elizabeth into the room. Sylvan reached for his sword but I put my hand on his arm, “she can not see it.”

Elizabeth had another strand coming from below her breast. Cat gave me a warning look as she brought Elizabeth towards me. As they got closer Sylvan stepped back and I wrapped myself in a shield. She came into my arms laughing, “they wore me out.”

I laughed with her and wrapped the strand in a shield. I moved and sat her on the stool and started kissing and nuzzling her as I reached into her body. I glanced up at Sam and reached up to touch my sword and she nodded as she eased her own out. I went back to kissing Elizabeth gently, I had to be careful to not get her aroused only relaxed.

The head of the strand was very large and did not want to release her but gently and with patience I worked it loose. As the last bit came free I pulled it from her. It screamed and I tossed it away from us. As I spun away from Elizabeth I call out, “Sam protect her.”

Cat and Sylvan both stepped in front of me as the spell coiled and screamed again. I heard Elizabeth gasp as she saw the size of the spell. It had grown even larger since I had removed it and was easily eight feet long and as big around as my thigh. Cat and Sylvan split and it started making mock strikes at them.

I had enough and became angry, “step away!”

Cat looked at me and then stepped back quickly. Sylvan’s glance brought the same response as I wrapped my shield around myself and walked towards the spell. When I was still four or five feet away it struck, when it hit my shield it stuck fast. I reached out in a quick strike of my own and held it by what I thought of as its throat.

I growled as my sword came out of its sheath and around in an arc that took the end off. Tossing the rest down as I heard, “what the…”

As the spell faded away I was already turning to Elizabeth, “Elizabeth?”

Sam stood in front of her with her sword drawn. She had just started to lower it as I passed her and reached Elizabeth side. Her face was dead white as she looked at me, “that thing could have…”

I stopped her by kissing her passionately and then pulling back, “no. That was why Cat and Sam were with you.”

I felt Cat and Sylvan close with Sam as Elizabeth tried to continue, “but they could have…”

I stopped her again, “Elizabeth unlike you they can see the spell strands. They brought you here to me.”

She looked at me and I could see she was calming, “but I saw…”

I shook her gently, “Yes you saw it after it was out of your body.”

I felt it when Artimas stopped behind Sylvan and Cat, “Elizabeth?”

She looked over my shoulder, “father?”

I looked back as Artimas squeezed through Cat and Sylvan, “Elizabeth what was that? That was not one of the spell strands was it?”

I could see tears in her eyes as I moved aside and she went into his surprised arms, “yes.”

He looked at me and I realized there were more mages at the door. I looked and Edward and Nathen were in the front of the crowd that had been working on the new building. Nathen shook himself, “we felt the magic here. It was very powerful and one we did not know.”

Artimas turned to face me, “I thought when I saw that other realm creature that it came from there.”

Cat shook her head, “it was Michael.”

Sylvan nodded, “I have never seen such or heard of such before.”

I looked at them as Sam stepped close and held my arm, “love you glowed red like anger itself.”

I nodded, “Yes I was a little upset.”

Sylvan laughed and it seemed to break the tension, “if that was only upset I do not want to be around when you get angry.”

When the mages finished laughing they started breaking up and leaving. I turned back to Elizabeth as she was stepping away from her father, “I feel better now father.”

He looked at her and stepped back with a resigned sigh. It was at that time that I thought of her daughters, “Artimas what are you and Edward doing tonight?”

He looked at me and then at Edward, “me? Nothing why?”

I looked at Edward and he cleared his throat, “spending the evening with my wife and son.”

I looked at them and then back to Elizabeth, “I would like to invite you to something we will be starting to help both Elizabeth and her daughters.”

Artimas looked at Elizabeth and then at me, “dinner?”

I laughed as I took a smiling Elizabeth into my arms and held the other one for Cat and Sam, “if you stay or get here before my classes.”

I looked at Edward, “how old is your son?”

He smiled, “grown and out on his own. If it is to help Elizabeth they will understand.”

I shook my head, “no Edward, you do not understand. This is to help her daughters understand about family and the love they share. For Elizabeth it is to help her become a mother. I know she has had many children but she has not had the chance to have a family and to raise them. To share with them and to listen to them as they share with her. It is also a time for her to be with you and share with you.”

Edward looked at me for a long minute before nodding almost to himself, “I will bring Selina and send for Elliot.”

Artimas held his arm out for Cat, “come granddaughter, you can walk me to the kitchen. I think your lovers would like talk to each other about this and you can help me find out if we will have some more of that nice Saur.”

She looked at him and then at Sam. She nodded to Sam before taking his arm, “well grandfather actually it is great granddaughter which is a mouth full. Why not call me by my name. Cat.”

Artimas laughed, “Cat it is.”

As they left the room I looked at Elizabeth and Sam and Sylvan cleared his throat, “I will just…”

I laughed, “not this time oh fearful prince and I want you to come also.”

Sam hit me on the shoulder, “you could have asked us first.”

I looked at her, “this was not just for Elizabeth.”

I looked to the side and sat pulling both girls next to me, “I wish Artimas had not left with Cat.”

Elizabeth and Sam both looked at me but it was Sylvan that asked, “you wanted to tell them about your world?”

I looked at him, “about my world no, about my life yes.”

“What is it Michael?”

I looked at the door and Cat was standing there. I smiled and held my hand out for her. Artimas stepped back into the doorway and I laughed, “you to old mage.”

Cat stopped in front of me and I pulled her into a kiss before looking around, “I was born into a middle income family. My father was a half breed and an outcast so he became a doctor. My mother had problems during my birth so I was an only child.”

I looked at Sylvan, “I was smart, very, very smart. Because of that the other kids picked on me…”

I snorted, “they used any chance to pick fights. My parent started me on martial arts by the time I was six. They spent most of what they made on my education. The neighborhood I lived in was probably more dangerous than anywhere in this whole city. Because I was so smart and refused to join any gangs I had no friends accept my grandfather and when he could my father.”

I smiled as I remembered, “they taught me that what mattered was family. At my grandfather’s urging my father tried to get me involved by teaching me to shoot. I became very good and not many people want to make friends with a child that can out do them. That was the way it was growing up, always alone.”

I looked at Sam, “my life was not as full of horror as yours. I was only alone and not abused.”

I looked at Cat, “I was not tortured”

I looked at Elizabeth’s, “but to be always alone and understood by no one, not even those that loved you is not easy. The one thing I had no matter what happened was the love and sharing my parents gave me. Then one day I was walking home from the store and I heard a car driving by me. I saw the people in the car pointing guns… weapons at my neighbor’s house and when they fired the world around me seemed to explode in a ball of fire.”

I looked at all of them, “I woke here in Westford. The first ones I met were guards hired by young Shaffer. They made the mistake of trying to bully me. Then while I was trying to get myself together”

I grinned at Sam, “a pretty girl tried to pick my pocket. I caught her of course and yes I did know you were a girl. It is your center of gravity that gave you away. I did see that you were afraid of me and I understand that.”

I looked at Cat, “the next day when I saw you I knew you were as human as I was and not some creature. When he said you would probably go to a house to be used… I could not allow that. No one should be made to do that against their will. Yes I bought John and his family, to me it was like slavery. I asked them come with us because I felt responsible for them and I can not stand to see anyone chained.”

I felt myself turning red and looked down before looking at Cat and Sam, “I had never been with a woman before you… I had thought about it but even when you kept pulling me back and forth between you after I spent myself. It was as if you were teasing and you made me feel as if I were someone. It was something I cherished more than I can say.”

I smiled at Sam, “I did not even mind you getting mad at me for visiting the bond houses that night.”

I looked at Elizabeth, “you were a surprise. Love, I have to say I was attracted to you from the first time I saw you. I pushed it away because I thought it was just because you were not clothed. My world has many taboos about nudity that are not present here. After we had brought you out and I got to know you it was still there.”

I smiled, “you were always a good sport about what had happened even when I knew you wanted to scream and shout at the whole world. I liked you even more when you started opening up to the strangers that were your own daughters. Even though I am sure there were times you hated them. When you made the joke about become another wife I felt something stir in my chest and no Sam that was not what was stirring.”

I grinned at Sam who stuck her tongue out, “anyway when we talked and then Cat embraced you and kissed you I knew. I was afraid you would not be able to stand kissing a man and held you as gently as I could, the kiss was only going to be soft and gentle.”

I squeezed Elizabeth as I looked into her eyes, “I thought it would be a long time before you would be able to tolerate a man holding you. When you kissed me it felt like something missing had fallen into place, like you were a part of me that was missing. The second time was the same and now that I have had time to think about it, it is like Cat and Sam but different, like a different spice.

I smiled to myself, “anyway I wanted you so bad, almost as much as Sam did that day I think and you were so brave. When I watch you with Cat and Sam I am so proud and sometimes even jealous. You seem to know when that is though and stop to pull me in to share in your love.”

I looked at the three of them, “I love the three of you more than I can express but there is something missing in you. It is because of the things you have had to live through. Sam and Cat, neither of you have really experienced the love and sharing of a family. It is not easy to open up to someone you do not know and do not trust.”

I looked at Elizabeth, “you have but it was so long ago and because no one came for you, you have stopped trusting. Your daughters are not your responsibility because Antizel raped you and gave you no choice. They can only become your responsibility if you choose to let them, as your daughters and maybe as your friends.”

I looked at all of them, “you know I have accepted them into our home and even adopted them publicly. It does not matter if they are your oldest or youngest, they are still children. Antizel or Pendar or any of those that kept them for Antizel’s purpose did not give them the chance to grow up as normal children do. All they know is abuse and disdain. I can not let that go and not try to show them that they do matter, that someone does care.”

Sam bent and kissed me, “you are such a softy.”

Cat bent and I could see a twinkle in her eyes as she kissed me, “we will do as you ask my husband.”

When she stood up something passed in the look she gave Elizabeth as Elizabeth bent to kissed me, “we will obey your wishes my husband.”

I looked at them, “why does it feel like you are already plotting another evil deed?”

Sylvan and Artimas were laughing as Cat turned to Artimas, “come grandfather lets find you some dinner.”

He laughed and looked at her, “when are you going to start using your magic?”

She smiled as she took his arm, “when do you think?”

When Artimas looked at her she laughed, “when it is time.”

Artimas smiled, “you sound like Simon.”

Cat laughed again, “that is because he is a Cat.”

He laughed with her as they went out the door. I looked up at Elizabeth, “I think that I will keep you at my side for the rest of the day.”

She smiled and looked down at her body. I smiled, “no I do not think the last strand will put in an appearance.”

I looked at Sam, “will you do some errands?”

Sam bent and kissed me, “what is it?”

I picked up the new brace and handed it and the list I had been given, “Sarah needs the brace. Tell her to wear it as much as she can without causing herself too much pain.”

I grinned at her even more, “the list goes to John and you will probably find him in their room with Ann and our daughter.”

Sam laughed, “John will have tired poor Julie out by now.”

I laughed at her retreating back, “it is not John she wanted to tire out.”

I looked at Sylvan, “where was I? Oh yes.”

I picked up a case with the Modified White Hawk, “I was going to give this to Sam and another like it to Cat but I think after looking at them that they are too large.”

Sylvan took the case and set it down. Opening it he stared, “it is beautiful. What is it?”

I laughed and Elizabeth squeezed me, “that is what I call a modified White Hawk. It is like the one I carry only less powerful.”

He gently picked it up and looked at me, “a weapon than?”

I nodded, “I think tomorrow we will start your training with both weapons. You do not have much time to learn.”

Elizabeth looked at me, “why does he not have time?”

I looked at her, “I will be taking him with me when I go for Cat’s mother.”

She was startled, “why did you not tell me?”

I looked at her, “you were in the room when I promised to go after her.”

Elizabeth blushed, “I forgot.”

She looked at me with narrow eyes, “when do we go?”

I looked at her as Sylvan started edging back, “we? Elizabeth you are in no shape to…”

She cut me off as she bent close and held my face, “I have just found you. I am not going to sit here and wait and I do not think Sam or Cat will either.”

I stood putting my arms around her, “you would follow me I think. Very well… but if you come there is a rule you must follow. If you can not I will tie you up until I get back.”

She looked in my eyes searchingly, “what rule?”

I looked into her eyes, “there can only be one leader. If you come you will follow any order I give you and you will train with these weapons like we will. I know you are a mage but that is my conditions.”

Elizabeth nodded, “I will do as you say my husband.”

I nodded as I heard, “master we have the holsters and vests.”

I looked around and saw Sylvan by the forge, “Sylvan?”

He turned and crossed the floor as I took the two holsters out of the air and directed the vests to the table. I held out one to him and showed him how it went on before handing him his vest and repeating the process. I turned to Elizabeth again and frowned in thought as she laughed, “why do I get the feeling you are measuring me?”

I smiled and glanced at Sylvan, “why don’t you go down and get something to eat?”

He smiled and bowed, picking up his cases he turned and left. I looked at Elizabeth again and drew the Sparrow. I dropped the magazine and removed the round from the chamber. I looked at her, “may I have your hand?”

She smiled and I could see her curiosity had been peeked, “this is another of your weapons?”

I nodded as I fitted it in her hand, “I think a longer barrel and slide and maybe extend the magazine. No need to extend the well.”

Elizabeth smiled and caressed my faced, “do you always talk to yourself?”

I smiled at her, “actually yes. It helps me think sometimes.”

I took the Sparrow back and reloaded it before putting it away, “through the door there is your loot. Could you find several of the smaller gems to give to the girls?”

She looked interested, “I could force myself.”

As she went towards the door I turned to the table reaching for parchment. It did not take long to draw the new magazines and change the parts that needed to be lengthened. When I finished I gave it to the craftsmen. I told them I wanted three of the Sparrows made with those changes as well as three more of the swat holsters made to fit the new Sparrows.

I was told it would only take a day as I opened the case with the modified White Hawk and put it in the holster. I loaded seven magazines, six went into the ammo carriers on the belt and the last into the pistol. I went to collect Elizabeth and found her sitting on the floor with a small pile of gems in her lap.

When she saw me she smiled, “I always loved playing with things that sparkled. I wonder what Antizel did with the rest of it though.”

I smiled and we made our way back to our room to drop the gems off. I set the holstered pistol on a table and laughed as she tried to pull me into bed. When we came outside I saw the classes had grown (again.) I called Jenny, Cat, Sam, Gentle, Paul and a tired looking John. I explained the classes were getting to big to be held all at once.

They were to tell everyone that starting the next day. I would have an early class at noon and a late class. I asked if they would mind asking the more advanced ones if they could come first thing in the morning. I started breaking people down by experience first and then age. It was a long class and I saw quite a few elves.

At one point I was by Samil who had advanced rapidly. I saw two elves talking and looking at Sylvan and Jenny as she went through some moves. I could not understand them and asked Samil. He had laughed, “they were wondering if she was the one that had put him on his ass.”

He had not been very quiet and I saw Sylvan turn red and look around. When he saw the two in back he laughed and said something to Jenny. It was only a few minutes later when she ended up (helping) them learn the proper way to move. All through the class I kept moving, helping here or there.

Almost at the end I was correcting a young mage that had just start that week when an elf stood up a few feet away. He looked right at me, “this is for women.”

Everything went quiet and I turned to him, “if you do not like the class leave.”

He smiled, “and if I do not human?”

I smiled and started walking towards him. Everyone scattered out of the way. When I stood in front of him I looked him up and down, “you think you know how to fight?”

His grin grew larger, “I could teach you human.”

I nodded, “Ok I will give you a chance. Hit me fool.”

I slide into a stance as his face went flush. He lashed out in a kick and I swept it up and let him fall, “come fool, you can not hit me from down there.”

He came to his feet quickly and rushed me. I side stepped and grabbed his wrist and twisted and pulled lightly. As he hit the ground I moved back into my stance, “come elf, have you forgotten how to stand?”

He came to his feet quickly and shuffled closer fainting with one fist and then following it with the other. I used a simple block for the faint. Grabbing the other hand I twisted out and pulled and he again landed in the dirt. I stepped back, “enough.”

The elf came to his feet and with a rush came at me. I stepped in and hit him with a flat punch to his solar plexus. He stopped in his tracks and slowly went to his knees trying to get breath that would not come. I stepped forward and started rubbing his sternum until he was getting more than little sips of air.

I stood and held out my hand, he looked at me as if he was not sure he should take it, “my master said you should learn to walk before trying to run. Because you do not know the steps does not mean you can not walk.”

He took my hand and I helped him stand and he looked at me, “you will teach me this?”

I smiled, “should you punish a child that is burned because he did not know what the fire was?”

He nodded and bowed, pulling his sheathed knife and reversing it he held it to me, “my knife is yours, to serve or protect.”

I smiled and placed my hand around his, “you already have a duty. When you are free then I will take your oath, for your duty is my own.”

I saw several elves start and the one in front of me stood, “on your honor?”

I smiled as I stepped back, “upon my honor and the honor of my ancestors.”

The elf looked at me for a long time and nodded. I looked around, “all right everyone gather around.”

When the entire class was finally around me and kneeling down I looked out over them, “how was he beaten?”

I got several answers that were all wrong until Jenny spoke up, “you used his own actions against him.”

I nodded, “yes. I used his own momentum against him. If you are running can you stop in a single step?”

I looked around, “this is called a passive defense and relies on your opponent’s actions. That was why I taunted him, to make him lose control. If you lose control, you lose the fight.”

I smiled, “much of what you will be taught comes from several different arts. It will be up to you to decide what to use and how to use it.”

I bowed to them, “class dismissed.”

As they scattered I saw Sylvan talking to another elf and handing him a sealed parchment. He also stopped to speak to the elf I had fought. I called to Cat and asked if she could find some extra robes and towels if we had them. I stepped into the kitchen to see Artimas freezing a glass of juice for one of the older girls with a quiet, “this is for you granddaughter.”

I laughed and closed the door. Several of the girls had glasses and were standing in line. When they saw me they blushed and started to leave until I stopped them and told them firmly to stay. A fresh looking Ann came from the back of the kitchen, “Michael did you want something to eat?”

I nodded, “and coffee if we have any.”

She smiled and left only to return a minute later with a plate that had a nice size Saur steak on it, Julie was with her. Ann set the plate down and sat across from me. Julie hesitated before setting the coffee down and then giving me a quick kiss before blushing and sitting next to Ann. I tasted the steak and it was very good.

Ann shifted in her chair and I looked at her, “I… we want to thank you.”

I looked at Julie, “is it what you expected?”

She smiled as she looked at Ann, “yes and so much more.”

I looked at Ann, “love her and protect her.”

Ann smiled at Julie, “we do and we will.”

I smiled, “if you and John are not careful her first pregnancy will be triplets. When the three of you have time come see me. We can talk about both of your birth cycles and other things you may have questions about.”

I looked at Ann, “when you get a chance you need to check the new building, kitchen, dining room and all the bedrooms so we can buy or build what we need.”

She grinned, “that will mean a lot of shopping. I will take Julie with me.”

I stopped and gave Ann a kiss on the check, “see me in the morning and I will get you more money if you need it.”

I went into the manor and knocked softly on Julianna and Aretha’s door. Aretha opened it a minute later, “come to check your patient?”

I smiled as he let me in, “Julianna told you what I said?”

He nodded and I continued, “I would like to keep an eye on her for at least a week.”

I smiled at Julianna who was sitting at a small table eating dinner that had been brought in. She started to stand but I waved her back and sat down beside her, “this should not take long.”

I relaxed and reached into her, feeling her womb gently. I looked at her and smiled, “you are doing fine. Remember, easy gentle exercise and nothing rigorous.”

I left and stopped on the fourth floor to check on Sarah and then all the girls. In the nursery I sat and called some of the girls out of the bath and dried them and brushed their hair. Cassy stopped me at the stairs, “father you wanted me to come to your room tonight?”

I nodded and as she hesitated I saw Ashley in their doorway and gave Cassy a caress, “bring your loves sweetheart, they are family.”

I thought about Sylvan and went back into Jessie and Saline’s room. They were just getting ready to go bathe, “girls put your robes on and come to my room and bring a towel.”

I stopped at Jen’s room and found her talking to Elvan, “Jen bring Elvan with you.”

When I got to my bedroom I found one of the black curtains hanging as a door. At the moment it was tied open. When I went into the room the girls were sitting with Sylvan as he was examining his new weapons, “playing with your new toys?”

He looked up and gave me a grin as I stopped at the bedside table and started placing my weapons on it, “this small one just feels so right in my hand I can not wait to try it out.”

I grinned back at him as I started removing my clothes as I walked to the wardrobe, “I think you will like it. You will have to activate the spells.”

When I turned back after putting on a robe he was looking at the White Hawk again. I looked at the girls and gestured to them. One at a time I undressed them and put their robes on. Sylvan finally looked up at me smiling, “activate the spell… Oh that. I already did that.”

I nodded, “do you need a bathrobe?”

He looked back at me with his eyebrow raised, “bathrobe?”

Cat laughed as she made her way back to him and ruffled his hair, “we usually wear them before or after baths.”

He started to protest but I stopped him, “Sylvan, correct me if I am wrong. I have been told that bathing is something that is shared here? What better way to spend time with your family then spending that time with them?”

He smiled, “you are right and yes, if you have a robe I could borrow I would be grateful.”

I looked into the wardrobe, “it looks like someone has stolen several for me so it is not a problem.”

Sam had just sat down next to Elizabeth and Cat. She stuck her tongue out at me, “I did not steal them. I bought them with the money I stole out of your purse.”

We laughed and as I was walking to sit with them. Amanda, Theresa, Beth and Ginger showed up with their little sisters. I beckoned them in and saw that the little girls seemed nervous as they followed their big sisters in. They were already in their bathrobes, “why don’t you girls go sit by your mother.”

I could see Elizabeth was a little nervous. Before I could say anything Cassy showed up with a nervous Gentle and Ashley clinging to his arm. Then it was Jen and Elvan, I stopped Elvan from reacting to Sylvan by saying, “this is just family.”

As they were sitting Artimas stuck his head around the corner, “I found them.”

He came in with Edward following him. Edward had a woman with him that had bright red hair. The other mage that followed them in I recognized from the time I had protected the dwarves. I went towards them and glanced back at Elizabeth, Cat and Sam, “Elizabeth, Cat, Sam?”

As they stood and crossed to me I continued on to meet Artimas and Edward. As Edward was introducing his wife and son Jessie and Saline arrived. I saw Sylvan’s eyes go wide but otherwise he did not react, “Jessie, Saline why don’t you girls go sit with Sylvan.”

They looked at me and then around the room. Before I could say anything Sylvan gestured to them. I turned back and saw all three girls looking at me, “Jessie needs him as much as he needs her. This way we are here to watch them.”

I gestured for Artimas, Edward and his family to have a seat. When I saw everyone sitting I cleared my throat, “I asked everyone here because it is time we were a family. I realize we will not be able to do this every night. With the exception of the little ones”

I pointed at the five little girls, “I would like to invite any of you to come and visit any night that you can. The reason for this is simple and complex. Because of what Elizabeth has been through she has lost some of her trust. Mostly it is because no one came for her. I know you did not realize she was still alive.

I looked at Artimas and Edward, “but this is emotion not logic. Also, even though she has had children she has never really been a mother and helped her children grow up.”

I looked at Elizabeth and her daughters, “a family shares with each other, the good and the bad. That is what we will be doing, bath time will be our time to share. We will help each other bathe and relax before bed time. Sharing yourself by helping others in the family. Telling about your day and listening to others share their day with you. You girls, from five to”

I looked at her oldest daughters, “five hundred are still children. Antizel and Pendar as well as others have kept you that way by the abuse and neglect they treated you with. This will help you understand what it truly means to have someone care for you.”

I looked at Cat and Sam, “Cat and Sam have never had the chance to be part of a family in this way. I am an only child and only had my mother, father and for a while my grandfather but they taught me that family share with one another. Tomorrow night I will be doing this in the nursery with all of the children and any grandchildren that want to join are welcome. If you would like to be there I would be grateful.”

I looked at everyone and pointed to Artimas, “this is Artimas, he is Elizabeth father and for some of you, your grandfather. Edward is her brother, your uncle. Selina is his wife and Elliot his son.”

I started around the room naming each of the girls stopping at Jen, “the elf with Jen is Elvan. The large young man sitting next to him is Gentle, he is Cassy and Ashley’s bonded. Artimas, Ashley is one of your great granddaughters, Ginger’s daughter. These two young ladies are two more of your granddaughters, Jessie and Saline. The elf hiding next to them is Sylvan, Cat’s cousin. Does anyone need a robe or towel?”

I looked at the girls who were unsure of what they should do, “Sylvan? Would you help Jessie and Saline with their bath? Krystal come on I will help you. Artimas would you help one of your granddaughters (I pointed to Elizabeth’s older daughters).”

After that everyone slowly started to move into the bath and I thanked the stars that the bath was twice as large in our bedroom. At first the girls were shy and a little nervous but after only a few minutes I saw and heard them start to relax and talk. When I finished bathing Krystal, she and a strangely shy Amanda helped me bathe.

When we were done we helped each other dry off. I sat them by the fire and started brushing Amanda’s hair while she did Krystal’s. Soon everyone was sitting around the fire talking. I heard Serene telling Selina about Jessie falling into the river and Princess and Duchess saving her.

Selina gasped and turned to Jessie who was helping Sylvan brush her sister’s long hair. “Jessie you fell in the river? Are you alright?”

She blushed, “yes. Princess and Duchess saved me.”

Selina smiled at her, “who are Princess and Duchess?”

Serene turned around in her lap, “Princess and Duchess are drakes.”

Serene giggled, “Talia says they like the way we smell.”

Selina sat very still, “you have drakes for pets?”

Rosa turned in her mother’s lap, “Princess and Duchess are not pets! They are family, father adopted them.”

Selina and Elliot looked at me but Artimas spoke before them as he was calmly brushing Theresa’s hair, “I always knew they were getting a bad reputation. Next time I see Princess and Duchess I will have to thank them.”

I looked around and saw that all the little girls were done and Melody was yawning, “time for you little girls to go to bed.”

They protested but I just shoed them out with Jessie and Serene to make sure they got to the nursery ok. I saw Sylvan staring blankly at the door and nudged Sam. She crossed to him and sat next to him. I looked at Artimas as Elizabeth sat in my lap and pulled Beth closer, “Elizabeth has not said and I have not heard her ask for her, is your wife dead?”

Artimas visibly started and Simon spoken in my head, “no. Summer is in mage sleep.”

Artimas was shaking his head as if I had punched him. Elizabeth leaned back against me, “before I was taken mother came down with a mage disease. It gets worse over time and with use of magic, causing more and more pain until it eventually drives the mage insane.”

I saw Selina holding Edward’s hand tightly. I looked at Artimas, “I am sorry. Perhaps I can help though?”

He started at the same time as his son but Selina looked at me with a frown, “how can you help?”

Edward interrupted before I could answer, “he practices medicine.”

Selina looked at him not understanding as he stared at me, “and he is from another world.”

She looked back at me quickly but this time it was Artimas that spoke with a broken voice, “can you?”

Elizabeth had turned in my lap and in a whispered voice, “can you help mother?”

I looked at her and then at Artimas, “is she here in Westford?”

He nodded, “I brought her here after Elizabeth… yes she is here.”

I smiled gently, “tomorrow morning bring her here and I will see what I can do.”

It was only a short time later that they got dressed and started to leave. Selina stopped Edward at the door and looked back, “I would like to do this again. We did not really spend enough time with Elliot doing things like this.”

Elizabeth crossed the floor and hugged her and whispered something to her that made Selina laugh as she left. Cassy and Ashley pulled a tolerant Gentle after them as they were the next to leave. They both stopping to kiss us good night. Jen and Elvan got up to leave and when Jen kissed me good night I told her that I wanted to see her in the morning for an exam so I could check on her and the babies.

Amanda, Theresa, Beth, and Ginger all stood up together and I stopped them, “I know you are not little girls but if you ever need comforting. You are more than welcome to come to our bed and sleep with your mother. You know by now that some of the young girls have done this. I will not turn anyone away if they need to be comforted by their mother or myself.”

Amanda, Theresa and Ginger left but Beth hesitated by Elizabeth and quietly asked if she could stay. Elizabeth seemed startled and looked at me blushing before she nodded to Beth. Sylvan stood and slowly made his way to the door, he paused and then left. Once we were in bed it felt good to relax.

It was only a moment later though that Beth started crying quietly as Elizabeth held her shaking body. Cat moved onto her other side and held her. It was a while before she stopped crying and then she just lay there holding Elizabeth as if her world depended upon it. She fell asleep that way as did the rest of us.

I woke around midnight, someone was at the door and by reaching out I knew it was Sylvan. I whispered, “Sylvan?”

When he stepped in I saw him shaking but not from cold, “Sylvan get in bed before you do something you will regret.”

Slowly he moved to the bed and undressed. I held the covers up and he slipped in next to a sleeping Sam or I thought she was asleep. As he moved next to her I heard him whisper softly to her, “Sam? I am sorry.”

There was just a quiet, “shush” as she turned and pulled his shaking form against her.

Chapter 14

Day Seven

A mage unleashed, our stories told, curing a mage sickness

I woke early as Elizabeth slipped onto me whispering, “Michael?”

I put my arms around her and sighed as I felt her moving on me. I woke quickly and realized what was happening as she squeezed me. I closed my eyes and reached into her. The spell strand was almost completely loose! I centered myself trying to ignore what she was doing and reached out my hand to gently wake Sam.

Elizabeth’s eyes were closed in concentration as she laid her head on my chest and her breathing was coming faster. Sam woke sleepily and looked at me. As soon as she saw what Elizabeth was doing her eyes snapped open. I gestured to Sylvan and then the other side of the bed and made a pulling motion.

Sam looked at me for only a moment before nodding in understanding. She shook Sylvan gently but urgently. When his eyes snapped open I saw that he was wide awake. I formed a shield completely around myself and another around the spell strand that was loose inside Elizabeth.

I found that it was difficult keeping my concentration on the shield as I felt Sam waking the others in the bed and pulling them out. When I spent myself inside Elizabeth her eyes snapped open wide and she stared unseeing into my eyes before they rolled up. She started moaning and her body shuddered before she went totally limp.

I felt the strand squeeze tightly onto us as it started to emerge. It was totally different than the others, as it emerged it began to swell. I was afraid I would not be able to remove something this large as it suddenly struck at me. This was different, the end that was exposed was acting as if it were the head of the spell strand!

My shield held and when it turned and started to reenter Elizabeth I quickly threw a shield around her and all but the area where it had emerged. As she relaxed even more into a deeper sleep I gently rolled with her until she was on the bed. I started gently forcing the other end of the spell strand loose.

The only part of the strand left was where Elizabeth and I were joined. I knew that I could not move from her or it would be like I was ripping her insides out. By the time I had slowly worked the last bit of the strand loose it was over twelve feet long and striking at Sam, Cat, Beth or Sylvan. As it came completely loose I threw it as far as I could from the bed and rolled away from Elizabeth, “Cat, Sam? Get Elizabeth out of here!”

Sweeping up my sword from the bedside table I faced the spell strand as it roared and continued to grow. I could feel a thread of something going to it and reaching away and down through the stone. It seemed to be giving the spell strand energy and power. I realized the thread was coming from the grotto! I reached out and severed the thread, pulling its end to me. The strand roared again. It was over twenty feet long now and bigger around than a person.

Suddenly it struck at Cat and Sylvan standing in the doorway, they were protecting Sam and Elizabeth’s way out. I slammed my shield into it and moved to put myself between it and my loves. Fear was making me angry and I wrapped myself with the rage and pushed it into my shield. My master had always told me, (never let anger or passion rule you in a fight.)

I had never had a problem with that until now. Holding the anger away in my shields I felt a calm settle over me as I stepped forward and faced the spell strand. Sam pulled a white faced Elizabeth towards Cat and out of the room as I blocked another strike directed at them. I threw my rage at the strand and moved towards it.

It made a mock strike at me and I struck it with my shield. Without warning its tail came around in a strike like the head had been doing. I stepped aside and slicing down hard, I cut the tail end of the strand off and when I did it roared. As the end piece started fading the head whipped around and struck flat against the shield, knocking me back into the bed.

This time it stuck to the shield as if trying to worm its way through. Sylvan took several quick steps and struck, cutting deeply into the area that would be its neck. As it jerked back Cat was there and swung down finishing the cut. The end fell onto the floor as the body pulled back. I threw a shield around Cat as the body struck at her again knocking her back and into the wall.

I came off the bed, moving forward towards what was left of the strand. It was attracted to my movements and struck at me. By now the strand was only about twelve feet long. I side stepped and cut through the neck and then grabbed the body as it tried to pull back. It immediately brought its other end around to strike.

I swung back handed cutting that end off and then cut the end I was holding off. As the body of the strand hit the ground it coiled but only swayed back and forth emitting a keening sound. I moved into it and cut another section off. That seemed to do it as the pieces hit the ground they started fading.

I relaxed and looked at Cat, “are you ok?”

She stood away from the wall and nodded and I looked at Sylvan and he nodded. Suddenly I felt the thread pulling at me, “Damn. I forgot the energy thread!”

I turned and started running for the door. In the hall Sam yelled at me to find out where I was going but I only yelled back, “the grotto!”

It seemed that everyone had been awaked and as I made my way down the stairs people were starting to move around. On the bottom floor everyone was in the hall and I had to shout and shove people to get them out of the way. When I hit the grotto I saw groups of Mair and the women and little girls huddling in fright.

In the center of the grotto where Elizabeth had been held stood a glowing oval. As I approached it I felt the thread getting stronger and saw strands of something coming out of it. It looked like they were reaching for something or someone. I hit them with a shield and they quickly withdrew.

I was not sure what to do about this whatever it was. It was not something I could fight and as I stood there I felt Cat, Sam, Elizabeth and Sylvan arrive. Elizabeth stepped up beside me, “it is a Realm gate. How…?”

I looked at her, “Realm gate? As in another world or reality?”

She nodded as she looked at the gate. I looked back at the gate and thought another world, maybe home? I was thinking about my house and my parents sitting in the dining area in the mornings as our day would begin. The gate turned white and then brightened. Suddenly it was clear and I was looking into the dining room of my home and there was my mom and dad.

They had a startled look and my dad was holding my mom as they stared at me. I could not help myself I held out my hand, “mom?”

I could see her staring at me and it looked like she was talking but I could not hear anything. I remembered three years ago when she had started volunteering at the hospital. She had needed to learn sign language and I had been her study partner. It had driven dad crazy when we signed back and forth in front of him.

I slapped my hands together in front of me like we used to do to draw attention to our hands. I started signing and talking as I saw her eyes widen and look to my hands, “mom? Can you see me?”

Suddenly she released my father to sign back, “Michael? Where are you? What is this?”

I laughed feeling tears sliding down my face, “this is a gate or doorway. I am not sure which. This is another world or maybe another reality.”

I could see my mother talking as I signed and knew she was telling my father what I was saying. When I finished she looked at my father and back to me, “come home!”

I felt everyone around me shift as I spoke out loud what she had said. I glanced down as Elizabeth put her hand on my arm, “Michael? I do not know if you would be able to go through. I do not know how it is anchored here or there.”

I felt the thread and suddenly knew that I was its anchor. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my mom slap her hands to get my attention, “Michael! Come home!”

I smiled, “I can not. I am the anchor for this gate.”

I heard Elizabeth gasp and continued, “my wife does not know if it would be possible.”

I saw mom freeze as she was talking to dad, “wife!”

Trust my mom to catch any slips. I laughed as I saw dad’s face, “yes. She is one of my wives.”

My father had an arrested look and my mother realized what she and I had just said, “one of your wives! Michael you come home right now!”

I smiled as I felt Cat shift closer to me, drawing mom’s attention, “mom I am home. I am not alone here. There are people here who depend on me and love me.”

I saw my dad say something to my mother that they were arguing over. Suddenly I felt the gate start trying to shift. I centered myself and reached out to grab more of what looked like threads in the ground that were coming loose. I felt the gate pulling on me even more and I starting straining to hold it.

My mother looked back at me signing, “can we come to you?”

I looked at Elizabeth and she looked into my eyes, “it will draw more energy from you. Do you think you can hold it?”

I looked at my parents, (I wanted them so bad) “I can only hold it a little more. You would have to come now.”

My mother looked at my father as I slowly sank to the ground trying to harden my chi around me. Suddenly I saw them take a step and disappear. I cried out but Elizabeth put her hand on my shoulder, “hold the gate!”

I held and held, feeling as if the gate were pulling my life force into it. I was so tired but continued to hold. I thought of the day before when I had gotten angry or just minutes ago in the bedroom. The memory sparked something inside me and I felt it growing and I was suddenly surrounded by a glowing sphere.

It was not as hard to hold the gate and suddenly my parents were stepping out. I sighed and severed all the threads to the gate and watched as it seemed to implode on itself. I slumped back onto my heels feeling drained as my mother rushed to me. When she reached me I opened my arms and suddenly everything that had happened to me came rushing back.

I cried like a baby as she held me and I felt my father put his steady hand on my shoulder and squeeze. It was a few moments before I was able to bring myself back under control. As I slowly stood Cat reached out to steady me. I looked around, Sylvan was just behind us and there was a crowd at the entrance to the grotto.

My father cleared his throat, “Michael? Why are you naked?”

I looked down at myself and then at my wives. I looked back as my father’s face turned red, “it is a long story.”

I turned to Sylvan, “it is over. Go get dressed. Your rangers will have felt the magic. Somehow I think it will be another long day.”

I grinned at my mother, “not the way I wanted you to meet my loves but…”

I turned to each of the girls as I introduced them, “this is Cat and Sam and Elizabeth, my wives and my loves and so much more”

I took Cat’s hand as I felt Sam squeeze next to me with Elizabeth, “I know it is a shock and there is so much I have to explain.”

My mom smiled as she looked at them but looked back at me, “you are gone only months and already married?”

I laughed and gestured around us, “you have no idea how big my family is. Do you see all these women and girls? They and others like them are my adopted children. Almost all of them are descended from Elizabeth. But we will have time for that later. Right now I would like to get them and myself back into some clothes.”

My mother had never been bothered by seeing me naked and she laughed, “I do not know it reminds me of when you were young. I had a hard time making you understand that you had to keep your clothes on. For such a smart boy you were amazingly stubborn about that.”

I grinned and started walking towards the entrance where the crowd was. As we got closer the young Mair girl I remember from my meeting with the elves appeared and I heard, “is it over?”

I stopped, “yes the gate is closed.”

She looked at Elizabeth and her eyes opened wider, “you are free at last!”

Elizabeth knelt, “yes.”

The small Mair stepped forward reaching out to Elizabeth as if she did not believe and Elizabeth extended a finger. When they touched the Mair nodded, “you are free! I will tell the people.”

And as suddenly as she had come she was gone. I looked over to see my parents standing there with their mouths open. I smiled and waved my hand in front of their faces, “that was a Mair. Come on.”

I stopped by the crowd of women and children crowded together in fright, “it is gone, nothing to worry about. Tonight I would like to see some of you in the nursery one hour after my class. If I did not examine you yesterday I want you to come see me this morning. It will not hurt, I would just like to make sure each of you are healthy. Remember, come to the nursery tonight.”

I saw little Sam at the edge of the crowd. She was being held by a young woman along with another girl that looked just like her. I knelt down and wiggled my finger to her. Her mother tightened her grip for just a second in fright but released her. She came to me hesitantly, “yes master?”

I felt my parents stiffen, “Sam didn’t I tell you what my name was?”

She nodded shyly, “Michael.”

I smiled, “I want you to meet someone.”

I turned to my Sam, “Love?”

When she knelt next to me I turned back to the little girl, “Sam I would like you to meet one of my loves. This is Sam.”

Her eyes got a little bigger, “really? Just like me?”

Sam grinned at her, “another Sam? We will have to get together and find some trouble to get into.”

Little Sam looked at her doubtfully and Sam winked at her and she gigged, “did my daughters find you ok?”

She nodded and pointed to her sister who was trying to get away from her mother, “Amelia said they are not really your daughters.”

I grinned, “well not really but I adopted them so they are now.”

I pointed to Elizabeth, “they are my wife’s grandchildren though. And guess what?”

Sam looked at me, “what?”

I slowly and gently poked her in the chest, “so is your mother and so are you and your sister.”

Her eyes got big and she leaned forward and whispered, “what is a grandmother?”

I smiled, “when you have children your mother will be their grandmother. Would you like to meet her?”

I saw her curiosity but she whispered half in fear, “is she a mage?”

I nodded, “yes just like you. But she is helpless now because she forgot to put on clothes.”

Sam smothered a laugh and little Sam looked at her before giggling. I stood, pulling my Sam to her feet, “will you bring your mother and sister to the nursery tonight?”

Little Sam nodded as she turned and ran back to her mother. Sam hugged me, “plotting another conquest?”

Elizabeth squeezed into my side and whispered, “helpless am I?”

I laughed as I gestured to my parents, “no more stops. I had to stop, she did a favor for me.”

When we reached the crowd John was in the front along with quite a few Mages, “John, everything is under control now. You can send everyone back to bed.”

I looked at Nathen, “Nathen you are here an awful lot lately. Everything is over now and if you and these others do not mind I am going to take my wives back to our room and put some clothes on them before someone catches cold.”

As I broke through the crowd I found Artimas, Edward and Selina standing at the back with another woman. Elizabeth gasped and stumbled forward blindly into her arms crying almost uncontrollably. Selina wordlessly wrapped her light cloak around Elizabeth. I looked at Cat and Sam, “would you two mind taking my parents up to the room?”

Cat smiled and held her arm for my father, “father?”

My father looked at her quickly and I saw him blush as Sam reached out to take my mother’s hand, “mother?”

My mother looked at her for just a second and smiled softly, “lead on daughter.”

When they were gone I looked at Artimas, “you came back a little earlier then I expected.”

He grinned, “I broke the spell last night and we talked all night. When I felt the burst of magic I knew it was here from your unmistakable signature.”

I looked at him, “my signature?”

Edward grinned as he handed me his cloak, “it is very unique and in this case very spectacular.”

I just looked at him wondering what he was talking about. Selina laughed, “Michael, the whole city lit up. The shock waves from the magic will probable travel a thousand leagues, drawing every mage that feels it.”

I looked at her, still not understanding as Elizabeth broke away from her mother and looked at me with a grin, “they are talking about your magic love.”

I looked at her suspiciously, “what magic?”

Summer laughed, “Elizabeth he does not know.”

Elizabeth smiled as she came back into my arms, “you are a Mage love. Not like me but a Mage. A very, very powerful mage.”

I kissed her and the magic of our bond was there just as fresh as the first time. When I broke the kiss we both moaned. Summer laughed, “I see what Artimas meant when he said you had bonded. Come Elizabeth, you can molest him later.”

She laughed but I remembered how this morning started and pulled her back, “Elizabeth? Do you remember what happened this morning?”

She looked into my eyes frowning, “the thread?”

I shook my head, “before.”

She kept looking at me and shook her head. I sighed, “I need to examine you. Lets go to our room.”

I took her hand and looked at her family, “come on we can talk there.”

It was a long walk back to the room. I had to send people back to their beds and when I got further up it was my frightened daughters. When we came into the room Sam and Cat sat by the fireplace with my parents and Beth was by the bed unsure what to do. I gestured to the fire and stopped by Beth whispering, “Sweetie why are you standing over here by yourself?”

She stuttered, “I do not…”

I pulled her into a hug and then took her hand. I led her to the fireplace where everyone sat and told her to sit by Artimas, “mom, dad”

Looking at Elizabeth’s mom, “mom? This is Beth, one of Elizabeth’s oldest daughters and my adopted daughter. She is very shy and still a little frightened from what happened to her.”

I looked at Elizabeth as she held her hand out to Beth, “not yet Elizabeth I need to examine you. Cat, Sam you too.”

They looked at each other and stood up. I walked them to the bed and had Sam hop onto the bed, “lay back Sam.”

She laid back as my father stood and crossed to us, “Michael? What is going on?”

I glanced at him as I reached into Sam, “it has to do with what was done to Elizabeth.”

I felt no spell strands inside Sam and bent to kiss her as my father frowned, “I do not understand.”

I helped Sam up and turned to Cat, “Elizabeth had somethings inside her that could have… I guess you would say infect us.”

As Cat lay back without prompting Elizabeth whispered, “no.”

I glanced at her as I reached into Cat, “I do not really believe it but I want to check them and the babies.”

I saw my father start and Sam put her hand over her pelvis, “my baby?”

I smiled at her, “still growing nicely.”

Dad cleared her throat, “Michael? You said babies?”

I grinned at dad and bent to kiss Cat and helped her up, “your fine and the babies are fine.”

I heard my mother from the fireplace, “Michael! You answer your father. What did you mean babies!”

I looked at my mother and then at Elizabeth as I helped her onto the bed, “I am curious, did your hearing get better after you had children or is it just that you hear them better?”

Elizabeth, Cat and Sam laughed and Elizabeth held her hand up to my lips, “that is a mother’s secret.”

My father was half smiling and half frowning, “Michael you have not answered the question.”

I held my hand up in a wait gesture as I reached into Elizabeth moving slowly through her body. When I finished I looked at her before looking at my father, “dad? Could you give us a minute alone?”

He saw how serious I was and nodded, stepping back. I pulled Cat and Sam close as we bent over Elizabeth, “Elizabeth? The strands are gone.”

She continued to look at me and I took a breath, “this morning before the spell strand, do you remember anything at all?”

I felt Sam squeeze my hand as Elizabeth frowned, “I remember waking up when you pushed me.”

I sighed, “Elizabeth you climbed onto me and made love to me.”

Her eyes widened, “I made…”

I nodded, “you seemed to be enjoying it.”

I teased, before sobering, “I am sorry. I was having trouble concentrating on the shields I had put up. My body reacted to our love making and I spent myself inside you.”

Elizabeth kept looking at me, “I made love to you?”

Sam kissed her tummy through the open cloak, “Love it was beautiful. You were alive.”

She smiled and then frowned, “what do you mean sorry?”

I looked her in the eyes, “the spell strand held us both. I spent myself in you.”

She kept looking at me and then her eyes widened, “No! I am pregnant again?”

I nodded, “I do not understand how it happened that fast and I do not know how the egg could be this far along but it looks like several days.”

She frowned and looked from Cat to Sam who were looking stunned. She looked back at me, “could it be from Antizel?”

I shook my head, “no. I have examined you several times and you were not pregnant. These are mine.”

I took a breath, “you have to choose whether you want them.”

Her looked into my eyes, “choose whether I want them?”

I sighed and looked down, “Elizabeth I told you… I promised you, you did not have to have my children.”

She continued to look at me and then reached out to lift my face to meet her eyes, “you could get rid of them? What do you want?”

I bent further and kissed her lightly, “I will be honest. Thinking of all three of you pregnant, makes me happy but you have been through so much that it is something I will not ask of you. I do not really like the idea of taking the life of an unborn. Especially my own child but if I have to I will.”

Elizabeth shuddered and whispered, “pregnant again. I do not know if I can do it.”

Sam whispered, “If I could I would have them for you.”

I saw Cat nod in agreement but it felt like something had slapped me. I looked at Sam, “Sam, do you really mean that?”

Elizabeth looked at me sharply as Sam looked back at me, “yes. She is my love too.”

I looked into Elizabeth’s eyes, “I do not have the equipment here but on my world it was possible to remove the embryo from one woman and implant it in another.”

Her eyes widen and she looked at a startled Sam. I thought deeply about what Elizabeth and her mother had said about me being a Mage. I looked at Sam, “would you if I could?”

Sam looked at me and then Cat, “Cat?”

Cat smiled at her, “I already have three or I would do it myself.”

Sam nodded and got a look I called her naughty look, “how many more children are you going to give me love.”

I laughed, “two.”

Before I could kiss her Elizabeth was pulling her into a kiss, “you will have my children for me?”

Sam smiled and softly caressed her, “I let Michael give me a child. Why should I not let you give me yours as well? You are my love too.”

I heard my father behind us as he cleared his throat. I looked back and held my hand up for him to wait. I looked at Elizabeth, “Elizabeth? What do you want me to do?”

She smiled softly, “can you do it without hurting your children in either of us?”

I thought about it and nodded, “I think so.”

She nodded and looked at Sam, “Sam would you hold me while he does it?”

Sam smiled and climbed slowly on top of her before looking at me, “do it Michael.”

She embraced Elizabeth and kissed her passionately. I thought of the last moments at the gate and the glowing sphere sprang up around us as I felt inside two of the women I loved. I could see my children growing in both, separated by only inches. I thought of the procedure I remembered and held the two growing eggs in Elizabeth.

I thought of them going into Sam as if through an invisible syringe going from Elizabeth’s womb into Sam’s. I settled them against the walls of her womb and thought of the way they should be connected. I sighed as I withdrew and let my magic go. I looked at Cat and bent to kiss Sam’s neck, whispering, “it is done.”

They broke the kiss and looked at me and I realized everyone was around us. I laughed, “I am sorry. We were resolving a problem with our children.”

Summer stepped closer as Sam slowly moved off Elizabeth only to be stopped by me, “take it easy for awhile my love and rest.”

Summer reached out to touch her daughter, “Elizabeth?”

I sighed, “in order to remove the last spell strand in her she had to be connected to someone physically. I could not concentrate on my body and keep the shield up around us at the same time.”

Elizabeth blushed, “he means he got me pregnant.”

Summer looked at me sharply, “again?”

And then what I had said about resolving a problem with our children came back to her, “what did you just do?”

I looked at her calmly, “Elizabeth gave her babies to Sam.”

Everyone looked at Sam snuggled against Elizabeth as Elizabeth held her protectively. She looked at her mother, “my bond sister will have my children with her own.”

I heard my mother whisper something to my father and turned to them, “you know it is strange. I can hear what people whisper to each other across the room but when you whisper to each other I can never hear what you are saying.”

My mother smiled at me, “that is because subconsciously you know you are not meant to hear what we are saying.”

I frowned at them and gestured back to the fire, “if you would all return to the fire?”

As they moved back I kissed Cat, “go sit with them.”

I looked at Elizabeth, “you will start your bleeding within a few days. Lets get you up and you can go sit with your mother.”

I could see she wanted to and that she did not want to leave Sam. I smiled, “I will bring Sam to sit with you.”

Elizabeth slid out of bed and hesitated, she dropped the cloak on the bed to be replaced by her robe. I pulled Sam closer to the edge and bent to kiss her and whisper, “how does it feel to know that we both have gotten you pregnant?”

Sam laughed and hugged me. While she was still hugging me I lifted her. I carried her to Elizabeth and as she sat I slowly knelt putting her down between Elizabeth and her father. I moved and sat between my parents. I took a breath and as silence descended I began, “where should I start?”

My mom grinned, “you start at the beginning…”

My father laughed, “and continue to the end.”

I smiled, “if it were only that easy. Okay, the beginning starts with Elizabeth about five hundred years ago. She settled here and began to study a new type of magic for her.”

I looked at my parents, “you do realize that it is real here?”

When they nodded I went on, “there was a necromancer named Antizel. Elizabeth had made many enemies while she fought against the drow.”

I saw Sylvan walk in and freeze and I waved for him to join us. I looked at my parents, “drow are elves that have broken with their cousins because they believe elves should rule everyone.”

Sylvan sat beside Cat and held his hand out to her. I looked at him, “did you speak to your people so they would know we were not being attacked?”

He nodded, “they were just inside your boundaries waiting for our cousins.”

I nodded back and looked at my parents, “in case you were wondering Sylvan is an elf. Where was I? Oh yes the drow. I believe they may have helped Antizel in what he did. That was to kidnap Elizabeth. He bound her with spells that not only held her but changed her DNA and the way her body works.”

I looked at Elizabeth’s parents and brother, “DNA is our building blocks. It is the blueprints of our bodies. Elizabeth was raped repeatedly, she was only allowed to be conscious at these times and when she went into labor. This went on every ten or fifteen years almost the whole time. Eventually she had a set of twins. One was named Lisa and the other Jen.”

I saw Artimas start and I smiled, “yes it was our Jen and she is a healer. Her sister showed a skill towards magic and Antizel saw it. When they were old enough, about fifteen he separated them and raped Jen and she became pregnant. At about her seventh month he put her back with her sister. I do not know if he left Lisa alone during that time.

I took a breath, “I do know that shortly after they were reunited he returned with a drow. He was the Ardan, the leader of the drow. Antizel gave Lisa to him to be raped. When he tried Jen attacked him, taking one of his knives and stabbing him. The last Jen saw of her sister was when the drow was being taken out. He told her he was taking her sister with him and that he would rape her until he tired of her and then he would kill her.”

I saw everyone’s face frozen in anger, “she was whipped until her back was bloody and put in stasis. Here is where things get a little sticky, Antizel was discovered to be a necromancer and he was put to death. When the authorities entered this Keep they were attacked by drow and undead guards. Yes father, undead. That was about twenty years ago.”

I looked at my parents, “I will be jumping around a bit but I will say the Ardan did follow through on his threat. He still continues to rape Lisa and as far as I know he has not stopped. Now about ten years ago a young girl six years old woke in the night to smoke and men running around in her house.”

I glanced at Sam, “she was brought outside where a man found her and kidnaped her. He took her home and raped her repeatedly. He sold her to a house of prostitution that specialized in young children. She was there four years before it became too much and she tried to kill herself.”

I saw Sam trembling as Elizabeth held her, “she broke a lamp and started the house on fire. Some men on the street saw and rushed into the house saving those they could. She was one of them. When she found herself outside she ran. She was raped twice more before she cut her hair and became to all appearances a boy and joined the thieves guide. I will stop there with her story for now.”

I looked around at the set faces around me, “not a very pleasant story is it? It gets worse, the Ardan took Lisa to his stronghold where she had her first set of twins and then about five years later another set. When the first set of twins, his own daughters became fertile he brought them before his host of warriors and gave them to the host to be raped to death.”

I growled, “he went to his ten year old daughters and told then he would train them. For the next year he raped them repeatedly. After that he brought his host leaders and anyone he thought deserved it to them and let them rape the young girls.”

I saw Sylvan move closer to Cat hugging her, “the first twin to become fertile was give to a host leader and became pregnant by him. The other twin was continuously raped by the Ardan and anyone else while her sister was pregnant.”

I looked down to settle my own feelings. I could feel the tears rolling down my face and my voice had started to crack. I felt my mother put her hand in mine. I looked up as I squeezed her hand, “the pregnant twin had twins herself and the Ardan brought Lisa and the other twin before the host and chained them to watch.”

I closed my eyes, “he brought the new mother out with her babies and had the babies shown to the host. He told the host that his blood line had been corrupted and ordered the two babies killed. Then he gave their mother to the host to be raped to death.”

I had to stop and clear my throat and saw Sylvan holding an openly crying Cat now and I so wanted to go to her. I was only a little surprised when my father stood and crossed to her. He sat next to her and pulled her onto his lap and against his chest. I looked away, “when the twin was released from the chains she was told that was her fate. But then the Ardan had an idea, he gave the twin to a mage.”

I smiled grimly, “the mage was to summon a demon and capture the elven prince, the Ardan’s nephew. He was to enspell the prince to fall in love with her and get her pregnant. When their babies were born the prince would be brought before the host and chained. The twin and her babies would be brought forward and the children killed before she was given to the host.”

I looked at my crying wife, “she tricked the mage and broke the protective circle. When he summoned the demon it killed him. The Mage’s apprentices were greedy and sold all of his belongings including the twin.”

I could not take it anymore, I stood and crossed to Cat. I pulled her up from my father’s lap and into my arms. I held her tight and rocked back and forth. It was only a moment before Elizabeth and Sam both were holding us. All I could do was keep telling her I was sorry. It was several minutes before we were able to get the crying under control.

When it finally stopped Summer was the one to break the silence, “Cat were you that twin?”

She nodded mutely and Summer looked at Sam, “and the other girl, the one that was kidnaped and raped as a child. That was you?”

Sam nodded and only whispered, “Yes.”

I glanced around and could see tears in every eye. I moved the girls back and sat with them around me, hugging me as I cleared my throat, “that was the past, before I arrived.”

I looked at my mother, “my story is far from tragic, aside from being alone nothing really bad happened to me. I was walking home from the store and was near my house when my neighbor was attacked in a drive by shooting.”

I looked at Elizabeth’s parents, “people firing weapons from a horseless carriage. There was an explosion and a ball of fire that reached out for me. The next thing I knew I was waking up in a burned out building here. I stood on the street a short time later trying to understand what had happened when some bully guards for a young merchant came along.”

I heard my mother mutter, “he got in a fight.”

I smiled at her, “yes I never did like bullies. Anyway after it was over I left and ended up walking into a marketplace.”

I looked down at Sam’s smile, “a young girl dressed like a boy tried to pick my pocket.”

My mother looked at Sam and giggled, “you didn’t!”

Sam smiled back and nodded, “I did.”

I laughed, “I caught her and instead of turning her over to the authorities I decided to use her to get some of my answers. It only confused me more but I did realize that regardless of where or when I was I was here now and needed to get on with living. The next day…”

Sam stopped me while laughing with Cat and Elizabeth, “Oh no love, you do not get out of it that easy. You tell them about picking pockets and the night burglary.”

My mom looked at me, “Michael!”

I blushed and saw Artimas and Summer hiding big smiles behind their hands, “as my love has just bluntly remind me I picked several pockets and robbed a merchant later that night. The same one that had turned his guards loose on me in fact. The next day I found out about the bond system here and met Cat.”

I smiled at her, “the merchant was going to send her to a house of prostitution. I could not allow that and bought her myself, intending to free her. Cat is rather stubborn and told us she would not leave. I had bought a burned out estate and with the help of a family I had freed from bond we started cleaning it up.”

I grinned wickedly at Sam, “that night both Cat and Sam had their way with me even though I protested.”

Cat and Sam both laughed and I saw my mother smile gently. I grinned, “seriously I had never been with a woman and did not want them to do this because they thought they had to. I was surprised when Cat told me that it was not because she had to but because she wanted to. No one had ever told me they wanted to be with me.”

She pulled my head down and stared into my eyes before nodding and then kissed me. It was a minute before I could remember where I was and when I looked up it was to see everyone smiling. I cleared my throat, “Cat made me feel like she wanted me and then Sam was undressing and climbing into the bed. It was a special night, they taught me about loving another person. I never doubted that I loved them and when I met Elizabeth…”

Sam laughed again, “no love tell them the rest.”

I looked at her and stuck out my tongue, “you just want to see me in trouble.”

Sam grinned, “I will let you work it off later.”

I laughed, “it is not enough that you got pregnant by two of us, you want more?”

Elizabeth and Cat laughed and Sam’s grin widened, “of course love.”

I looked around, “Elizabeth? Right, when we saved her there were spell strands that went throughout her body. I was attracted to her right away but thought it was from just seeing her like she was”

I looked at my parents, “naked. I started treating her and removing the strands, each harder than the last. That was four days ago, only four. She was easy to like and I was still attracted to her. Two days ago she was in a crisis, removing the strands had become very painful and I learned both Jen’s story and Cat’s. It was just after we heard Cat’s story that Cat, Sam and I sat down with Elizabeth.”

I smiled at her, “she had said she had thought of becoming my wife. I knew I liked her but thought she might just be infatuated. My Cat sees better than me I think and pulled her into a kiss. It was like watching a person come alive. When Cat turned her to me I was afraid that because of what she had been through she would not be able to touch me. I was wrong and when we kissed…”

Elizabeth pulled me down into a long, slow, passionate kiss and when we were done I had trouble remembering where I was. My mother actually giggled, “Michael dear if they do this to you all the time you are in trouble.”

I grinned, “they usually shove me out of the nest early and let me do some work.”

I looked down and gave them each a quick kiss before looking up, “where was I?”

Elizabeth, Cat and Sam laughed delightedly and my mother grinned and I shook my head as Sylvan cleared his throat and I looked at him for only a moment, “I bonded to Elizabeth. Cat, Sam and I thought we knew that it would be a long time before Elizabeth would be able to actually make love to me. We also knew that the last spell strand would require something physical.”

I looked down and grinned at Elizabeth, “early this morning she proved us wrong. The spell strand was stronger than I expected and after I removed it, it opened the realm gate. The rest you know.”

Sylvan cleared his throat again and I looked at him, “do you want me to tell them who you really are?”

He nodded, “if I can not trust my family than who can I trust?”

I smiled as I turned back, “I did not introduce Sylvan properly. Not many outside his people even know his name. He is Cat’s cousin, he is also prince of the elven nation.”

My father looked at him, “you are the one she was going to have to…”

Sylvan looked at him for a long moment and sighed, “yes and for what she did I am in her debt as well as for other things. For what my uncle has done to her I own her safety and protection. She is a princess of my people.”

My father looked at me, “Your story told of her mother?”

I looked at him for a long time before answering, “Ardan still holds her. When Sam and Cat give me leave I will go after her.”

My mother gasped and I saw Artimas’s eyes narrow, “by yourself?”

I looked at him, “no, Sylvan will go with me. Elizabeth will not be left behind without me tying her up so I will let her come on the conditions she promised to follow. Sam and Cat are also going. I do not think I could keep them from it.”

I think Artimas was going to protest or even say he was coming too but my father spoke up, “just the five of you are going up against what, an army? Two of your wives and if I believe what I have seen and heard your bonded whatever that means, are pregnant with your children. You are going to risk them?”

I looked at my father and saw that he was angry and a little afraid for me. I smiled and reached across the room for my hybrid and brought up what I thought of now as my mage shield. My shield flashed into being around my wives and myself. It was tinted a light orange color. The hybrid floated across the room and settled into my father’s lap.

I shook my head, “I did not say I was happy about Elizabeth, Sam or Cat going with me. I said they were coming because I do not think I can stop them. If I have to use the hybrid you are holding along with my pistol, sword or just my hands they will not be harmed. All five of us will carry one of the hybrids and a pistol, they will be safe and I will bring Cat’s mother out.”

My father looked at me and spoke quietly, “Michael I know you. What happens after you find them? What about the Ardan?”

My face hardened and the shield around us flashed a bright angry red. I saw Sylvan start, “the Ardan’s life is mine father!”

My father nodded, his face showing no emotion. I knew he was angry, “so you will go after him and put your wives and unborn children at further risk.”

I looked at my father for a long time, “I am not going to seek vengeance father. If I face him it will be because I want justice for what he has done. To my love and her family and if I do not he will continue to send his warriors after Cat. I am not the same shy boy you knew, afraid of bullies. If I have to I will rip the building apart to bring him to me and no force here or there will stop me.”

My father looked at me a little longer and a slow smile spread across his face, “I thought my father was wrong. When you were born he came to us from the reservation. He said that one day you would know your full potential and be both a great warrior and a great healer. I just wish he was here to see.”

I smiled, “I have seen grandfather and he knows.”

I looked at Artimas and before he could speak, “no. You are not coming. By keeping our party small we will be able get close without letting them know we are coming.”

I dropped my shield and looked at Sam, “you need to avoid exertions today. Take it slow and easy. You can spend the day with me in the clinic but no classes and no exercises.”

She smiled and laid her hand on mine and replied meekly, “yes my husband.”

I saw my mother raise her eyebrows and laughed, “do not be fooled mother. They do that to make me feel like they are going to do what I say. I like it though so I go along with their charade. Just so you know Sam is the imp.”

My mother, Summer and Selina laughed and Summer shifted next to Artimas, “we would never have known.”

I laughed, “do not let Cat or Elizabeth fool you either, they will go along with her pranks. In a few cases Cat has pulled a few herself. As a matter of fact I still owe her for the one she pulled yesterday.”

I stood as they laughed and pulled them to their feet, “bathe and then we need to get dressed. It will be a long day, the advance class is first thing this morning.”

I looked at Artimas, “could you show my parents to the kitchen? After you eat bring Summer to the first room on the right inside the passageway.”

Elizabeth looked from her mother to me and I saw the worry on her face, “Michael? I want to be there.”

I smiled, “you can come but I want you to spend time with Sylvan this afternoon.”

I saw her tremble and pulled her close, “there is another hybrid down in the craft room. It is for you. Sylvan and you will practice using them together. They will also need to be activated. Both of you know what you can do magic wise, that is why I want you with him. After I see your mother you can see if she will join you in getting your daughters together and giving them a lesson. See if you can include Virginia, Talia and Rosie, try to make it something simple.”

I looked at Sylvan and he nodded. I turned to Cat, “you do not go out without your chain shirt and your sword. In fact I would like it if you would stay with my parents and show them around. You are not to leave the Keep without me.”

I saw my parents frowning, “if something does come up and you have to go out take Sylvan. I will not risk you anymore. The next time the Ardan sends someone it will more than likely be a group.”

I looked at Elizabeth and raised my eyebrows. She smiled and caressed my face, “yes my husband.”

I looked at Cat and she grinned and stepped close to give me a long kiss. As I was trying to remember where I was I heard her soft, “yes my husband,” and then Sam pinched me.

As everyone stood to leave I turned to Beth, “Sweetheart last night did not work out so well. If you still need it come to bed with us tonight. I promise you will be safe. I will not let anything harm you.”

I crossed the room as my parents and Elizabeth’s family left the room. I set my hybrid on the table and dropped my robe as I turned to join my wives in the bath. Sylvan was still sitting where he had been holding Cat’s hand. When I looked at him I could see something he was trying to workout hidden in his eyes.

I slipped into the bath, caressing Cat and giving Sam a kiss. I looked back to Sylvan, “Sylvan? Come join us in a bath. We were not the only ones running around this morning. You can work your problem out here just as well as sitting there.”

He smiled and undressed before slipping into the bath. He stopped next to Sam and kissed her gently, “I have not thanked you for holding me last night.”

Sam smiled up at him, “I did not expect it to end so quickly this morning. You can sleep with us any time but I should warn you it has consequences.”

Sylvan pulled back and looked at her, “they are?”

Cat slipped up behind him and started to help him wash, “all the children.”

I finished helping Elizabeth and started myself as Sam came to help me. Sylvan looked at Cat, “what about the children?”

Elizabeth laughed as she started helping Cat wash him, “Beth is not the only one to come to our bed so they can be comforted. If you are going to sleep in our bed do not be surprised if you wake up and have a pile of little girls all around you.”

Sylvan’s smile softened, “I think I would like that.”

I laughed and caressed Sam, “at least until one of them kicks you in their sleep.”

Sam laughed as I pulled her into an embrace and sat down. Sylvan smiled and looked at Elizabeth and then sat, pulling her onto his lap. Cat sat down beside them and I saw Elizabeth look down towards their lap and tremble. She looked up at Sylvan and taking a breath to calm herself, “I promised you.”

Sylvan smiled at her gently, “I will not harm you. I just wanted to hold you and perhaps be comforted myself.”

She looked into his eyes, “you are still troubled?”

He looked at her and nodded pulling her against his chest, “yes. Jessie is always in the back of my mind. I know now that Michael was right, it is a bond. It troubles me because even when she is older and we do join there are going to be problems.”

He looked at me, “I envy you your freedom. One day I will have to marry and produce an heir to my father’s throne. Any child that comes from my union with Jessie would be excluded from that. They would be shunned by many because they are not pure of elven blood. Jessie will be held in contempt by many of my people.”

I smiled savagely, “then you need to make sure she knows how to slap them down when they do. I will make sure she starts taking my classes and I will teach her how to use a weapon. You need to teach her to stand up for herself and reinforce her confidence.”

I smiled wider, “you can start by teaching her how to swim.”

The girls laughed and Sylvan grinned. I smiled and kissed Sam before standing and pulling her up with me, “that is one way to enjoy her and help her get past any fear of you.”

Elizabeth looked at me and smiled almost sleepily. She looked at Sylvan and then leaned back into him more. I made my way out of the bath as Cat joined Sylvan in holding Elizabeth. I seemed to feel Elizabeth and Cat’s emotions. I smiled at them as Sam and I dressed, if I tried I could even feel Sam.

It was strange and I could not help thinking that what I had done at the gate had somehow opened our bond wider and let me feel what they felt. Suddenly I felt Elizabeth freeze and I could feel a fear start to settle in. I looked at them and crossed to the side of the bath and knelt. “Elizabeth? Look at me.”

Sylvan stopped moving as they all looked and I reached over his head to caress Elizabeth as she looked up. Her fear plain to see on her face, “love you are here with us. You could let us both love you all day and you would still not get pregnant.”

She looked into my eyes and what I said slowing sank in and she seemed to relax and then smile, “having you to take me all day would make me awful sore.”

Cat smiled and hugged her. I grinned and caressed her again, “help Sylvan finish. I will be in the clinic.”

I stood and pulled Sam after me as we left and stopped on the next floor. When we walked quietly into Jessie and Saline’s room I got a shock. They were both on one bed and Saline was holding Jessie while she caressed herself. I shook myself and cleared my throat. They both jumped and scrambled under a blanket.

I crossed the room and sat next to them as they held each other trembling in fear. I looked at Sam, “would you go see if Sylvan is finished with his bath and have him come here?”

Her eyes widened as she nodded and when she turned I could feel her and knew she would run, “Sam?”

She looked back and I shook my head, “I told you, No exertions.”

She looked at me for a minute and seemed to relax before sticking out her tongue at me. When she left I turned to the two frightened girls, “I will not hurt you. I do need to ask Jessie some questions though and I want her to think about her answers before telling me. Can you do that?”

They were still afraid but nodded. I thought about what I knew of bonds. Was it possible that one half of a bonded couple could feel the other half and not know? I looked at Jessie, “before yesterday have you ever touched yourself or felt anything from there?”

They both still looked frightened but I did not move closer only let them think about the question. Finally Jessie stirred and looked at her sister before sitting up and looking at me, “No.”

I nodded and felt Sylvan step into the room behind me. Saline started trembling, I thought they had probable heard what had happened to Cassy. Jessie seemed to calm even more as I looked at her, “last night after you came to bed did you start to feel a need to caresses yourself really bad?”

Sylvan stirred and I felt Sam and Cat behind him. Jessie opened her mouth and I held up a hand, “think about it.”

She sat for a moment more and then nodded, “I had just gone to sleep and it woke me up. I just had to so bad.”

Sylvan groaned and both of my loves stepped to him and held him. I glanced to Saline, “have you felt anything?”

She shook her head and I sighed as I glanced to Sylvan and back to Jessie, “this morning, when did you start feeling it again?”

I could see Jessie thinking about it as she kept looking at Sylvan. Finally she looked at me, “it was just a little while ago and it was strange because it felt so good for awhile and then it stopped and then a minute later it got really better. It just started again when you came in.”

I looked back at Sylvan, “let me guess, Cat?”

He nodded and I turned back to Jessie as I waved for him to come closer, “Jessie, you are feeling the way you do because that is what the person you are bonded to feels.”

She looked at me and I could see Saline tightening her hold on her sister, “what does bonded mean?”

Sylvan sat on the bed and I looked at his face. It looked like he was trying to hold everything in. I sighed, “Sylvan, it will not help if you try to suppress it.”

I stood and took a step away from the bed before turning back, “Sylvan tell her what she needs to know.”

He looked at me with a haunted expression and turned to Jessie, “a bond is two or more people that are connected together. Some say at their souls and others at a person’s emotional heart.”

Jessie looked at me, “like you and Cat?”

I smiled, all the girls looked up to Cat, “yes and Sam and Elizabeth.”

Her eyes glanced to Sam and back to me as she wet her lips, “am I bonded to you too?”

I shook my head and Sylvan looked down as her eyes strayed to him. I saw her eyes widen and she freed herself from Saline’s hold. She scrambled to Sylvan and held him, “it is you!”

Sylvan nodded and she looked up at me, “why did you not tell me?”

I knelt next to the bed and my naked thirteen year old adopted daughter as she held Sylvan as if to protect him, “one of the things that happens between a man and a woman is sex. I know Pendar made sure you knew what that was. Sylvan is grown and because he is bonded to you, he desires you. That means he wants to make love to you but he also knows that if he did it might hurt you. We did not think the bond between the two of you was as strong as it is.”

I looked back at Cat and Sam as Elizabeth stepped in behind them. I looked back to Jessie, “my bonded have had bad experiences when they were young and did not want Sylvan to hurt you. He was told to come to them if his desire for you became too bad.”

I looked down a moment to gather my thoughts and then looked at her holding Sylvan, “from now on he will come to you first and bring you with him. When the two of you are together you will make sure someone else is there. At least until you are old enough to have sex with him. This is not because I do not trust him or you but I know what could happen if either of you suddenly want the other.”

I saw Saline looking blank and holding herself as if lost and hurting, “Saline?”

She focused on me, “I know this is hard on you and I am sorry. I want to make you Jessie’s chaperone. A chaperone is someone that will stay with her and when Sylvan is with her you will make sure nothing happens.”

I could see Sylvan and Jessie both turning red, “if they want to have sex you bring them to Sam, Cat or Elizabeth. And Saline? You need to stay with her when you do bring her to them. I am sorry, it will mean you have to see what she will go through and learn about sex but she will need you.”

Saline straightened and gave me a small smile, “I will watch them and protect her.”

I laughed as I stood, “do not be fooled. Jessie may be the one that tries to bed Sylvan.”

Jessie blushed and Sylvan turned slightly to hold her. When I crossed to my mates they pulled me into a group hug. Elizabeth looked into my face, “this is getting a bit much.”

I smiled, “wait until she starts getting just a little older. I think she and Sylvan are going to wear you three out.”

They laughed and I started to leave as I heard Saline asked Sylvan if he needed one of my loves. I looked back and I almost laughed at their expression. I held my hand back for Elizabeth, “come love, Sam and Cat can stay. Your mother is probably waiting.”

When I entered the clinic room I could still feel Cat and Sam as they made love to Sylvan and allowed him to show Jessie how to pleasure herself. Summer was standing with her family by the fireplace. When they saw us they turned and I gesture to the bed, “I hate to sound like a lecher but… Summer would you mind lying on the bed?”

They laughed and Summer climbed up onto the tall bed, “if you can take this pain away I will let you paw me all you want.”

I laughed as Elizabeth took her hand, “I think you and your daughter are an awful lot alike.”

I reached out to feel her and stopped in surprise. I looked down into her face before looking at Elizabeth and Artimas, “would both of you let her hands go and step back.”

They were surprised and Elizabeth looked worried by my tone and I think our shared bond. Again I reached out, this time the shield I had come to know as my mage shield sprang up around us. It was bright white and I muttered, “it will take getting used to having that thing pop up whenever I am working.”

Summer laughed, “you need to learn to control it.”

I smiled back as I slowly felt my way up her body, stopping at her head. I looked into her worried eyes, “what makes you think I do not?”

Her eyes widened slightly, “because it is so powerful?”

I laughed as I looked at Elizabeth and answered her, “that is because I do not want anyone to interrupt me. Elizabeth? I need Jen and Ginger.”

I felt through my bond, “you can bring Jessie too. They seem to be done for the moment.”

She looked at me and then giggled, “for the moment.”

I looked down at Summer and she looked into my eyes, “can you do anything?”

I nodded, “probably. I need to see something first though and right now I can not.”

I looked up in thought, remembering the technology I had left behind. I thought about my magic and looked back down, “let me show you what I have found so far.”

I put my hands just above her body, palms down and thought of a holographic display of her body. I turned my hands up and lifted them slightly. The display slowly moved out of her body and stopped a foot above her. I heard gasps from her family and glanced at them, “it is only a display of what I see inside her.”

I looked at Summer, “do you see all the silver tracing through your body?”

She nodded, “it reminds me of something.”

I nodded back to her, “for the most part it is the nerves that run through your body. But the reason it looks silvery is because that is magical energy which has been absorbed into the nerves themselves.”

I pointed to her brain in the display, “do you see all the magical energy that has absorbed into the brain here.”

Summer nodded and I continued, “inside that silvery area is the part of the brain that lets a mage do magic. I need to see inside that area.”

She looked up at me and I felt several people crowd the door. I looked up and saw several Mages standing there including Nathen, “my patient does not need an audience, please leave.”

They shifted around and started to leave but Nathen came in to stand beside Artimas, “you did not tell me you were going to wake Summer.”

Artimas looked away from his wife and at him, “Michael asked me to bring her last night.”

Nathen nodded, “what is the image?”

I looked back down at Summer as they started discussing what they thought it really was. She smiled at me, “he always thinks he knows more than you.”

I smiled and looked up as Elizabeth herded Jen, Ginger and a hastily dressed Jessie into the room. I gestured to them and opened my shield to let them get closer. Elizabeth though bumped into the shield and I sighed, “sorry love, you can not come any closer. It is bad enough I have these three in here.”

Summer looked at me sharply, “you think they can contract it!”

I looked at her, “I will know when I see inside that area I told you about.”

She started to get up, “you put them at risk!”

I held her down, “your granddaughters are safe. Unlike you they are healers and from what Samuel has told me, their healing magic will protect them.”

She lay back and I looked at the girls standing before me, “this display you see is Summer’s body. All the silvery stuff is magical energy that has absorbed into her nerves. What I want to do is clean her out. Ginger, I want you to withdraw the magical energy from her starting at her hands and feet. The last bit we do will be her brain and I will tell you what to do when we get that far.”

I heard Artimas protest that she would not be able to hold all the magic. I looked over at him, “what I am going to do is going to be hard enough without anyone interrupting. If you can not control yourself than you need to wait outside.”

He looked at me for a moment and I guess he saw something that made him quiet, “I will stay and be quiet.”

Elizabeth stepped closer to him and held his hand. I looked back at Ginger, “when you start I want you to link with Jen and Jessie, like Samuel did when you worked on Jessie. You will feed the magical energy to me and I will deal with it. Can you do it?”

Ginger thought for a moment and looked quickly at Jen as she squeezed her hand. She looked back at me and nodded. As they held each others hands I pulled my admantium sword and let my senses take it. As it floated above Summer I thought of what its atomic structure and density should be.

I let my senses loose as I centered until I was almost in a trance, “go ahead and start Ginger.”

Almost right away Summer groaned in pain and I did not wait for her to say anything. I reached into her and applied pressure and four seconds later she was asleep. I took the magical energy from Ginger as they withdrew it and sent it into my sword changing its density. I watched as the magical energy slowly drained from her body.

When the only thing left was the brain I started pointing to areas for Ginger to work on. When we got to the part that dealt with magic it suddenly got harder as magical energy leaked out almost as fast as Ginger removed it. I frowned and concentrated harder, the magical energy only seemed to be coming out fast.

I realized that it was less dense and almost smiled. I heard Artimas groan and Nathen speak softly to him. Slowly the area became visibly and because I was using my senses I saw the problem. The magic was not leaking from her physical brain. It was leaking from her body’s life force. I thought for a second and reached in to hold the leak closed.

Ginger stopped pulling and only waited. I used Summer’s own life force to fashion a needle and thread and sutured the leak closed, I released the area and watched. It held and I relaxed as I reached out and woke her before I released my senses. Her eyes fluttered open as she woke and looked up at me, “what happened?”

I smiled as I dropped my shield, “I put you to sleep so you would not feel the pain. The problem was not a sickness as you thought.”

I gestured to Artimas, “it was a rupture in your life force. In the area of your brain where you do magic. You must have over reached yourself at some point. I sealed it and you should be fine. Just give magic a rest for a little while.”

Everyone gathered around her, hugging her and crying as I reached out to pull my sword back to me. I looked to Ginger, Jen and Jessie, “you girls did great. Thank you.”

I looked back at my sword, it almost glowed white and I knew its strength and density had more than tripled. As Ginger, Jen and Jessie left I saw Saline fall in beside Jessie and smiled. Nathen stepped up beside me, “did you really cure her?”

I looked at him and raised an eyebrow. He shifted around turning a little red, “I have been a friend of the family for a long time.”

I nodded, “okay yes, she is cured. Well, healed as long as she does not over do the magic again.”

He looked at me, “you could do this again with someone else that has the same thing?”

I nodded, “possibly. I would have to examine them though.”

Nathen smiled, “I think this will salve a lot of unhappy mages.”

He turned and left and the next thing I knew Elizabeth was throwing herself into my arms, “if I knew you would do this I would have kept your children.”

I laughed and hugged her tighter, “this way we both got to have our way with Sam though.”

She laughed and sobered a bit as she caressed my face, “when I am fertile again I will let you get me pregnant.”

I grinned as I felt Summer being helped off the bed, “it might take me years to do that. Are you going to ravish me every night?”

Elizabeth laughed and kissed me, “yes every night.”

I turned as Artimas and Summer came closer. Summer stepped away from Artimas and stepped into our shared embrace. The deep kiss she gave me was very passionate and when she pulled back I looked at Elizabeth, “that makes me feel like taking you back to bed right now.”

Summer laughed and Elizabeth grinned, “you have a class.”

I smiled as I looked at Artimas, Edward and Selina, “she is a spoil sport but she is right. If you would like to stay and spend the day I think you might persuade her to spend some of it with you.”

Artimas smiled as Summer left my arms and went into his. Selina sighed, “I wish I could but there are things that need to be done. Edward and I would like to join you again this evening. You said you would be in the nursery?”

I nodded, “the next floor up at the end of the hall by the craftroom on the left.”

As they left I looked at Artimas as he stepped away from Summer, “I need to go also.”

Summer held her arm out to Elizabeth and I watched as the three of them left the room. I sighed and went outside to see several of my students arriving. The class was just ending when I felt Elizabeth’s spell. I could tell she was back in the grotto and that the spell was a type of summoning.

I looked at Cat as she suddenly stood and looked towards the grotto, “what is it?”

Cat looked at me, “Elizabeth is calling.”

I laughed as I saw other children or grandchildren of Elizabeth start and just start walking towards the passageway, “well go see what she needs.”

She grinned, “yes my husband.”

Chapter 15

Healing mom, Sam’s justice, Sylvan gets a surprise, my bond daughters

As she turned and walked away my parents started laughing. I had not even heard them approach when the class ended. I grinned and looked at them, “getting used to the place?”

My dad nodded looking around, “it takes getting used to but I think I like it. I am going to miss my practice though. I had a lot of people that worked with me that were friends.”

I looked at them, “sorry you came?”

My mother stepped close, “no Michael. This place is different and we will make new friends. You were and still are our life.”

I smiled at her and my father, “I love you both. I am not sure how to ask what I want to ask though.”

My dad looked at me and gestured towards the passageway, “someone named Jeremy said you had sick and injured you tended to around this time?”

I laughed, “Jeremy is the one that I am using to bring literacy to this place. Now I think he is the head of my teachers. But you are dodging the question like you always do.”

I looked at them as I stopped before reaching the young woman that had apparently replaced Jeremy, “this place is different. I am different. Tell me why mom could not have another child. I am not asking now because I want a brother or sister. I am asking because I want to know that it was not because of me.”

Mom step closer, “Michael it does not matter.”

I looked at her, “it does now mother. I have hundreds of girls and women here, over fifty of them are my adopted daughters. I find that I like that feeling very much. I need to know why you could not have more children. Do not tell me it does not matter, I remember hearing you crying because of it.”

Dad sighed as he looked at my mother, finally he looked into my face, “when you were conceived you started growing inside one of her tubes and it tore, badly. As you developed you were still high in the womb and something happened that tore the other tube. Normal the damage could be repaired but we did not catch the damage in time and there was scaring, bad scaring. The doctors ended up tying her tubes.”

I looked at my mother and was thinking so fast that she hugged me tight, “it is okay Michael I have you.”

I looked at my father, “do you trust me?”

He was surprised but nodded and I looked down at my mother, “Mom? Will you trust me as a doctor and not just your son?”

She smiled up at me, “Michael the doctors that I had were very good.”

I smiled, “perhaps they were but I have something they do not. Magic and daughters that have a gift of magical healing.”

My mother patted my arm, “that is true but Michael I am getting to old to have more children.”

I laughed, “Mom? Remember how old Elizabeth is?”

She frowned, “you should not remind me.”

I laughed again as I saw my dad cover his mouth, “that one of my bonded is an older woman?”

She suddenly laughed, “yes but that does not mean I can…”

I grinned, “Mom, whatever gate or whatever it was that brought me here, it changed me. I can do magic and not just use what master Haung taught me. It changed things in my body and in my brain. I will live as long as Elizabeth does.”

My mother and father looked at me and I smiled, “the two of you just came through a magical gate. One I think that spanned not only distance but possibly realities. You were inside the gate a long time. What changes could it have made?”

She looked at my frowning father and back at me, “what did you want to do?”

I grinned, “I want to examine the two of you. If what I think happened did happen than I want to repair your injury. You would then have the choice of more children or not.”

She smiled at my father and back at me and teased, “you just want a little brother.”

I looked at my father and he nodded, “I think the exam sounds good but do not get your hopes up.”

I stepped up to the desk and the young lady smiled, “well you did have quite a few ladies that were here to see you for exams but they left suddenly.”

I remembered Cat saying Elizabeth was calling and sighed, “no sick came in?”

She shook her head and turned to look as Sarah came down. I cleared my throat remembering my manners, “I owe you an apology. I did not introduce myself properly the other day. I am Michael and since I see you still sitting at Jeremy’s desk it must be his devious way of telling me that I hired you to replace him here.”

She grinned at me and held out her hand, “Jeremy said to wait until you figured it out. I am Mary. I was one of the homeless that came here seeking sanctuary.”

I smiled back as Sarah stopped by us, “was one of the homeless?”

She nodded, “I think I have found a home here. I may not have the patience to teach but I can keep your, clinic? Running.”

I looked at her, thinking about the new building a cross the river, “are you still in one of the rooms downstairs?”

She nodded and shrugged, “they are warm and we do not bother each other too much.”

I nodded, “but it is crowded I know. Send a runner to Ann, tell her I said you are to be given a room in the new building.”

She blushed, “I, eh…”

I raised my eyebrows and she laughed, “there is a man I am seeing. Can he live with me?”

I blinked, “if you want him to live with you why are you asking me?”

She laughed, “everyone says you are our dad.”

I shook my finger as my parents laughed, “in that case I should make you bring him to meet your parents and demand his intentions.”

She laughed harder, “right now his intentions are being foiled by all the neighbors.”

I laughed with her and turned to Sarah, “did anyone come in last night?”

Sarah smiled, “No but I am starting to worry about all the pregnant women. There are quite a few and I am not the best when it comes to delivering babies.”

My dad cleared his throat, “perhaps I should start earning my way?”

I smiled as I remembering what dad specialized in. I looked at Sarah, “Sarah? Meet my father the doctor and he is the best when it comes to delivery babies. Hiding behind him is my mother. She is not a doctor but I think Ann and Margaret are going to love some of her recipes.”

Sarah grinned and I looked down at her waist and frowned, “Sarah? Why are you not wearing your brace?”

She blushed, “Paul and I were… I was in a hurry and forgot.”

I laughed and took her hand and gave it a squeeze, “than it is ok between the two of you? Not like before with…”

She blushed but leaned closer and kissed me as Gentle came down, “careful Michael or I will have to tell Cat.”

I laughed, “I was making sure your partner was treating my apprentice okay.”

Gentle smiled at Sarah, “he better or I will give him to her in bond and she can beat him.”

Sarah laughed as she stretched up to give him a kiss too, “Paul is treating me just fine.”

She looked at Mary, “did I hear you say we had nobody?”

Mary nodded and Sarah looked at me, “any classes?”

I looked at my father and mother, “is now ok to do the exam?”

They looked at each other and nodded and I looked at Sarah, “you can help set up for an exam and later you can go over your notes with my father for the pregnant women.”

Sarah nodded and we moved down the hall. I stopped as they entered a room to look back at Mary, “is there anyone to take notes or run messages?”

Mathew stuck his head out of the next room, “me and Ginny are here.”

I smiled, “Ginny?”

Mathew grinned as he came out holding a girl’s hand, “she lives a couple of streets over.”

I tilted my head into the exam room and grinned, “no smooching while taking notes though.”

Ginny blushed and then laughed, “I will restrain myself.”

Then it was Mathew’s turn to blush. I pointed them to some chairs, “alright everyone this is my parents and we are going to start with an exam. Dad you first, I will not prod you to much.”

I felt Elizabeth start another spell, this time a shield. I frowned but then felt the wave of magic that struck me as many of her children and grandchildren put up shields. Before I could panic I felt Cat through our bond reassuring me. I shook my head as Sarah put her hand on my arm, “are you ok?”

I nodded and turned to Ginny, “would you walk down to Mary and tell her that when all the mages start running in she should tell them everything is fine. That Elizabeth is just giving her children and grandchildren lessons.”

Ginny nodded and left. Dad looked up at me, “is that what I felt?”

I frowned, “you felt it?”

I looked at my mom, “mom?”

She nodded and I smiled to myself, “then yes. What you felt was Elizabeth giving a lesson.”

Mom shivered, “it felt all tingly.”

I looked at my father, “remember all the neat gadgets?”

My dad nodded and I laughed, “we do not have them here but what we do have is this.”

I put my hands over his body and reached in feeling everything. I turned my hands over and lifted them. A spectral body of my father rose out of him and I moved it to the side, “this is a teaching clinic in case you have not guessed.”

I moved the display until it was beside the bed and then I looked at dad, “you can sit up.”

I looked at Sarah, “I have not had the chance to do this with you.”

I moved my hands apart and suddenly the display was clear except for the skeleton, “this is the bones. The structure of the body and by the way I will be getting with Elizabeth and try to make something that will allow you to do this.”

We went over all the systems of the body together with my father putting in a comment here and there. The brain was last and I saw the active part I was looking for and pointed it out to both Sarah and my father. My father was very interested moved closer to see better and I laughed, “dad it is a display.”

I spread my hands apart and the image grew larger and my father absently thanked me as both he and Sarah still bent closer. Ginny cleared her throat and I turned to see Nathen and two other mages in the doorway, “Nathen how can I help you?”

He cleared his throat, “I know how you feel about us interrupting you when you are with a patient but Elizabeth’s lessons. They are very distracting. Perhaps you can ask her to ward her practice area?”

I looked from him to the other mages, “did you go down and ask her to do that?”

Nathen turned pink, “there were shields up and…”

I smiled, “strong isn’t it. Just so you know the grotto is warded as you already know.”

The faces of the other two mages turned white and Nathen nodded, “maybe she can teach them all how to put up a stronger one?”

I smiled, “that is a good suggestion.”

I concentrated on my link and pictured a physical sphere around Elizabeth and pushed it out to cover the entire grotto. It was like I saw Cat suddenly. She smiled and nodded and I felt the shield stop. I looked at Nathen, “Cat will tell her. They took the shield down.”

One of the mages frowned, “you talked to her?”

I shrugged, “I pictured what I thought the ward should be and I guess you could say I pushed it through our bond.”

The other mage pushed into Nathen, “how do you know your bondmate understood you?”

I smiled, “because I saw Cat and she indicated that she understood and would tell Elizabeth. Why?”

He grinned at Nathen, “I knew it.”

He looked at me, “you said you saw, Cat was it? How?”

I looked at him and frowned, “in my mind but it is like I felt it in my heart and all around me.”

His grin got bigger, “do you see your other bonded or just feel them?”

I thought about his question and realized that I had only seen Cat but felt all of them, “I feel all of my bonded why?”

He nodded, “you did not answer my question. You did not have to. Your Cat is the Alpha or what you would call stronger bond partner, your bond leader.”

I shook my head, “whatever. Nathen, I am sorry we have caused problems again. Elizabeth should have the ward up soon and hopefully your next visits will be because you want to visit a friend.”

He nodded, “before I go I see you are using your magic like you did with Summer. May we watch?”

I looked at dad, “I do not mind. I was finished with my father and was going to examine my mother. You can ask her if she would mind if you stayed.”

Nathen bowed to my mother, “dear lady, would you do us the honor of letting us observe. You son is performing magic in a new and interesting way and we would be in your debt.”

Mom blushed and curtsied back to him. I was amazed, I had never seen my mother curtsy before, “of course sir. My son has said this is a teaching clinic. I do not see why he can not teach something besides medicine.”

He looked at me and I waved them in. I turned to dad, “are you done looking?”

He smiled, “I am the patient. The question is are you done?”

I grinned, “yes and there were changes made when you came through the gate.”

Nathen cleared his throat, “Michael what are we seeing and what changes?”

I looked at him and grinned, “sorry. You were not here when I showed it to my father.”

I turned my hand like turning a knob and the area I was talking about glowed a little brighter, “really the only visual thing we can see that changed is this part of the brain. This is the part of the brain that I have found to deal with magic. It becomes more active in a mage when they do magic. The other changes I do not think my father even saw. It has to do with a body’s ability to regenerate or repair itself. Probably over time it will look like he is getting younger until he reaches his age of maturity.”

Dad looked at me in shock, “younger?”

I grinned, “yes. It means you will probably start dragging mom off more often. Like when I was small.”

He laughed and mom blushed. I waved the display away and gestured to mom, “your turn mom. Lets see if you will have to beat him off with a club.”

Mom laughed as I helped her onto the bed, “I never beat him off with a club.”

I grinned, “that was because you were to busy pulling him into the bedroom.”

She laughed and lay back, “I think you understand why now.”

I grinned and put my hands over her. I reached down into her, “alright Nathen, mom said to teach you. Unfortunately I use my hands to illustrate what I do so you do not have to pay attention to them. First I use my chi or life force to reach inside and “look/feel/hear” everything in the body. Then I capture the image in my mind and project that image into the body. I make sure everything matches and then I pull the image out.”

I lifted my hands and the image of mom came out of her body. She sighed and looked at me, “that felt like you were tickling me all over.”

I stopped, “you should not have felt anything.”

She looked at me and raised her eyebrow, reminding me of where I picked that habit up. Sarah giggled and I had to grin, “was it like the feeling of magic Elizabeth did?”

Mom thought for a minute and nodded, “sort of.”

I grinned and moved the display to the side, “you can sit up but stay on the bed.”

I did the same thing as before but also telling the three mages how I was changing the display. When I got to her womb I stopped and looked carefully, even to expanding it to several times the normal size. I looked at my father as he sighed in resignation, “it is like I told you.”

I looked at them both and turn to everyone in the room, “would all of you mind waiting outside for a minute. Ginny? Would you see if Samuel is here?”

As they were filing out I reached for Elizabeth. Cat was there smiling at me until I pulled on our bond and she looked startled before disappearing. It was only a minute before Elizabeth ran into the room, “what is wrong Michael!”

I looked at her and held out my arms. When she came into my arms she whispered, “what is it love?”

I turned and showed her the display. She smiled, “I meant to tell you that seeing you do this made me so proud. What is it you want me to see?”

I held my breath, “you deal with the body and its functions. Antizel put some kind of spell on you that made your body regenerate. Do you see here where the tubes leave the womb? See how they are scared and blocked by the scare tissue. If I were to surgically remove it back to the womb could a spell cause the tube to regenerate?”

She looked at me and then at my mother sitting on the bed, “this is you?”

Mom nodded as my dad stepped close to her. Elizabeth looked at the womb again and sighed. My hope fell through the floor as she turned to me, “the damage has been there so long it would be a long shot. It would be better to remove the womb entire and regenerate it and the tubes together.”

I looked at her stunned, “removed the entire womb?”

Elizabeth nodded, “I am not a healer though.”

I looked at the womb thinking of the procedure and Elizabeth put her hand on my arm, “would you be able to remain calm doing this love?”

I sighed knowing what she meant, “maybe not.”

I walked to the door, “Nathen I am sorry but my little class is over. Mathew see if Aretha is still here. If he is I would like to see him for a consult. If he is not I will pay your fee for running to find him.”

Summer, Cat and Sam came out of the stairs and started down the hall. Sylvan poked his head out and started to follow them but was called by one of his rangers by the door. I went to my parents, dad put his arm around my shoulder, “remember do not get your hopes up.”

Elizabeth explained what was going on and came to be with me, followed by Cat and Sam. I grinned and kissed them. Sam went to my mother and held her hand, “if it can be done we will find a way.”

Mom hugged her, “sweetheart we have given up hope so this is for Michael.”

Elizabeth moved closer and took her hand, “I gave up hope and Michael still came for me. Cat and Sam have both despaired and are still here. I think those of us around Michael overlook his determination until he succeeds as he will again. I think I can regenerate your womb but I know a true healer can.”

She looked at me, “Michael thinks he could do the operation and a thing he only thinks he can do he always does. If Michael believes your womb can be repaired so you can have another child then I would tell you to have your husband start looking for a cradle.”

Mom smiled and looked at dad, “she does have a point. When Michael sets his mind he can be awful stubborn. He must get that from you.”

Dad grinned, “I will ask…who was it? John, if he knows where I can find a cradle.”

She laughed and I smiled until I saw Samuel standing in the doorway. I crossed to him and brought him to meet my parents. I explained to him what I wanted and he sighed, “Michael I do not have that strong a gift.”

I looked at him and remembered my daughters linking to heal Summer this morning. I told Samuel and his eyes widened, “are you crazy? That much power could have killed you!”

I smiled, “you should know me by now. That was not anywhere near being that strong. But you are getting away from my question. Could you do it if they linked with you?”

He grinned wryly, “actually for something like this I would let Ginger lead and link with her. She has the more delicate touch as well as the power. So yes, I would do it.”

I looked at the door planning to send someone when Sam stopped me, “I will get them.”

She had just left when Aretha came in. It looked like he had just gotten dressed. I smiled, “I do hope you are letting Julianna rest.”

He grinned, “ever since she got pregnant we can not seem to get enough of holding each other.”

Mom laughed, “that happens to everyone.”

Aretha smiled and I introduced him to my parents and he bowed, “I am charmed to meet you. Everyone thinks he sprang out of the forge full grown.”

Dad and mom both laughed and I pulled Aretha to the display and showed him the problem. He frowned as he looked at the display and asked about the stomach muscles. I shrank the display and pulled up the muscles. He looked at it carefully and then asked mom if she would mind if he touched her.

Mom laid back and he moved to her side feeling her pelvis. He looked at the display and surprised me by taking control of the display and moved it through the layers of her body until he was back to the womb. He looked at me and smiled, “I like the way you made the display by the way. I assume you would like me to do it since it is your mother?”

I nodded and he looked at me, “can you afford my price?”

I smiled, “I can probably find enough to meet even your high prices.”

Aretha smiled, “that is good, but I do not want money. Julianna and I have been talking and we want a large family. We would like to come back after our child is born and have you help us conceive again.”

I smiled, “I would do that anyway.”

He smiled, “but we would feel in your debt.”

I shook my head, “I will help the two of you anytime. You can even ask my father about some of the fertility drugs that might help you.”

Aretha smiled, “then it is a deal. When do I start?”

I looked at the door as Sam led Ginger, Jen, Jessie and Cassie into the room, “how about now? Sarah can assist you with Cassie and Samuel will be with my daughters.”

He looked at me and frowned, “do not take this wrong Michael but you need to leave. This is something you do not need to see.”

I looked at him and dad touched my shoulder, “he is right. Go find something to work off your frustrations.”

I looked at mom and saw that she was a little scared, “mom, Aretha is the best. Samuel and my daughters will make sure nothing happens to you.”

Elizabeth and Cat pulled me gently from the room and Sam pulled the curtain over the door. I was standing in the hall and looked at Sylvan. Dad wanted me to work off some frustrations? “Okay, time for you to practice shooting. Sam, there is another case in the craft room with another hybrid. Would you get it please. Have someone help you and meet us on the other side of the bridge.”

I started off as she went up the stairs. I stopped at the desk with Mary, “Aretha is operating on my mother. When they are done send someone for me.”

I met John and Ann on the Bridge, looking at the sides. I stopped and John looked up with a smile, “what do you think? It is only wicker but it feels strong enough.”

I looked at it and pushed against it, “it should keep the kids from falling in. Do you know anyone that would not mind teaching them to swim?”

Ann smiled, “we talked to some of the homeless and as you can see (she pointed to the beach where several people were) they volunteered to help out.”

I nodded, “my mom is with Aretha and Samuel. Would you mind making sure a runner can find me?”

She looked at Cat and Elizabeth and then back to me, “of course.”

I looked at the rifle on John’s back, “may I borrow the rifle?”

He looked at it and then leaned in close to look into my eyes. He stood up straight and took the rifle off and handed it and the ammo pouch to me, “there are six more Saur just past the tower. I will get some people.”

As I stepped onto the other side Cynthia and Thomas came out of the grass. Cynthia looked up at me, “chosen? It will not help to kill the beasts in anger.”

I nodded, “I know that Cynthia but it will keep me from hurting someone.”

I heard her sigh, “when you are calmer I have something to tell you. I will wait by the small corral.”

I walked to the wood frame panels and took off my hybrid, “Cat you can start. Sylvan stand watch. Elizabeth watch what Cat does. One magazine Cat.”

I handed the hybrid to Cat who stopped for only a second. She checked it quickly like I had shown her, explaining what she was doing to Elizabeth. I do not know if our bond was helping her but she did really well. When she finished the magazine she put it on safe and handed it to Elizabeth.

I nodded for Sylvan, “like I showed you. Cat watch please, Elizabeth watch Sylvan.”

The next time around I had Elizabeth fire and she did as well as Sylvan. I turned as Sam came up with two men following her. I looked at her, she was wearing a vest and she was grinning, “the other hybrids were ready and these pistols too.”

I looked down to see her wearing one of the swat holsters with a long barreled Sparrow. I smiled, “do you remember how to shoot it?”

Sam grinned and nodded. I looked at Elizabeth, “these new weapons will need to be activated. I am going to the tower. One of you needs to keep watch while the others shoot. You can rotate keeping watch.”

I turned and walked quietly to the tower as I heard them talking. I breathed slow and looked out for the Saur. A shadow drifted over me and I looked up to see the Mair girl. She was leaning over from the under basket and waved at me from the long shadow of a blimp. I found the Saur and they looked restless as if something was behind them.

I could not see anything so I chambered a round and dropped the magazine to add another round. I looked at the big lizards and the rifle came up swiftly and I fired six times in a row. I doubt if it had taken me more than three seconds and six lives were gone as well as my anxiety. I felt a sense of loss for what I had done though.

Cynthia tickled my mind, “then come here and I will give you a target you will not regret killing. And chosen? Bring Sam.”

I blinked and turned to find John and two dozen men standing behind me. I quietly handed the rifle to John along with the pouch and he put his hand on my shoulder, “I could have told you but sometimes you have to find out for yourself.”

I nodded, “I am sorry John.”

He shrugged, “we can use the meat and Ann wants another try at your partner.”

I smiled and made my way back to my wives. I stopped when I reached them and Cat quietly handed my hybrid to me. I slipped it on and took a breath, “we need to go see Cynthia. She said she has something to tell me.”

Elizabeth looked down at Thomas sitting at her feet, “I do not know. Why don’t you ask your mother?”

I looked at Elizabeth and she reminded me of Simon and now that I thought about it, me. We crossed the bridge and found Cynthia sitting by the corral. I stopped and knelt down, “what is it my little lover?”

Cynthia purred but then stopped as she looked at the gate and I saw a wild looking stray standing there. She looked back at me, “chosen I seek justice for my kind and yours. There is a house where my kind are killed for sport. It is the same house your bondmate escaped from. Will you grant us your justice?”

I looked at the gate as I heard Sam growl. Gentle stood there with Paul and they had a curious expression on their faces. They crossed to us as I looked at Sam, “Sam?”

Cat and Elizabeth both stood with her and she looked at me and I saw fear and hate. I stood and went to her, “Sam? Ask me?”

She looked at me and nodded while whispering, “please?”

I turned to the cat by the gate, “you lead and I will follow.”

Gentle fell in with me as we started walking, “what is it? Someone called.”

I looked down at Cynthia trotting at my feet and then I looked at Gentle, “I have been asked for justice against people who have killed familiars.”

He shifted while in stride, “Michael there is nothing I can do about that.”

I looked at him and he stepped away, “how about the bastards that raped Sam as a child and still run a house of prostitution with children!”

Gentle lost a step, “that is a death sentence for anyone.”

I continued following the stray cat in front of me. Sylvan, Cat and Elizabeth stayed around Sam as we walked but I noticed more elves slipping through the crowd and more and more guards appearing to join us. Halfway across the city the stray stopped and seemed to point to a house standing by itself on a street that was quickly emptying.

I pointed to the building and let my anger have sway. The mage shield that sprang up around the building was red. No one would leave this building unless I let them. A guard lieutenant was hurrying towards us as I approached the door. He called out for us to wait but I raised my fist and brought it down with force.

The door splintered and the city guards began to enter. Sylvan was the last to enter behind me. I looked to the left and saw a group of young girls huddling together, the oldest no more then ten years old. A man appeared out of a door and charged at us suddenly. The bolt of lightning that hit him shocked me back to a calm state.

It had come from Sam and he had lit up for several seconds. When another man came out several guards got between us. It was plain to me that the guard did not intend to let anyone live to even stand trial. I knelt in front of the girls, “is there any more girls here?”

One girl pointed up and I turned to catch Sam before she could go there without us. I looked at Sylvan, “I am sorry to do this but stay here and protect these girls.”

I crossed to the stairs where the guard was waiting, “watch for little girls up there.”

I looked at Sam, “stay with me.”

I followed the guards as they rushed up the stairs and started kicking in doors. Sam stopped me at one door and I looked at her. From her look I knew this had been her room. I kicked it in and stepped through the door. I caught the lunge that came out of the shadows by bringing my hands together on the sword.

It stopped an inch from my chest. I did not get a chance to do anything because Sam stepped up beside me holding her new Sparrow. Two rounds in his chest and I was stepping over the body of Schaffer the younger. The little girl on the bed was only six. I turned and kicked the body as Sam stepped up to the bed where the girl was crying, “please do not hurt me any more. I want to go home.”

Sam soothed her and I saw something pass though her, like a ghost. I turned and saw Cat standing there, “something was here Michael!”

I nodded, “you and Elizabeth watch Sam’s back.”

The guards seemed to be ignoring one door in a seemingly blank wall. As I approached the door the guard lieutenant stepped in front of the door, “stay out of this room.”

I looked at him and could almost smell his fear, “move lieutenant.”

He continued facing me but drew a dagger, “stay out.”

The hand that reached past me was not small and not as gentle as the guard’s name. Gentle took the hand holding the dagger and crushed it. The lieutenant dropped to the floor screaming and I stepped to the door. I could feel something blocking the door and centered before pulling in my chi.

When I hit the door it was like I had use an explosive. I stepped over the ruin that had been the door. A shallow faced man stood holding a small girl in front of him, “get out or I kill her!”

I smiled an evil smile that had never touched my face before. I looked at the table and saw three plates set out. I held out a hand and two of the dull knives floated to me. I looked at the man as he licked his lips, “I will kill her! I swear!”

I reached out and the hand holding the knife opened as the fingers bent backwards and broke. He dropped the girl and she lay whimpering. I felt Gentle and another guard step into the room as I reached out again and grabbed the man. I tossed him into the wall and walked calmly across the room.

I gestured and his hand rose, my hand flashed and he screamed as his hand was pinned to the wall by a table knife. He started yelling that he had protection. I gestured again and his other hand rose to the wall, again I pinned it there. After he stopped screaming he started naming names.

When he ran down I leaned forward, “I only want one name. Six years ago a girl ran away. You had her for four years. I want the name of the man who brought her.”

He said he did not know what I was talking about. I turned to the table as more guards came in, two of them were holding the lieutenant. I turned back with the last knife and he started screaming as I stepped up to him, “I want the name.”

He looked at me and finally nodded, “Edward North. He is the one that brings the girls to me.”

I dropped the knife and turned, “Gentle get everyone out. This house will not be standing in ten minutes.”

He looked at the man on the wall, “what about him?”

I looked him in the eye, “I do not see anyone here.”

Gentle looked at me and nodded before he turned, “you heard the man. You have ten minutes before he destroys this house, lets go.”

One of the guards grabbed the small girl and followed the other out. I waited and Sam stepped into the room as the last man stepped out. She looked at me and the man on the wall, “husband?”

I nodded to her and faced him, “you raped and tortured my love.”

I opened his robe and a dagger came out of my sleeve. I grabbed him and cut his manhood from him while he screamed. I stepped to Sam and pulled a kerchief out of my pocket, “there is one other.”

She turned but stopped as a cloudy specter stepped in front of her. For some reason I knew who or what it was. I stepped next to Sam, “grandfather?”

His voice only echoed in our minds, “grandson. This is only the first of three steps to your peace. I am glad my son came to you daughter, it is time he grew.”

I smiled, “I thought you did not want me to call you back.”

We heard his laugh, “you did not call. Another asked and I came. The mother of the little girl (we had an image of the six year old Sam had been with) is with me. I have to go now grandson. Oh do not forget the little one hiding in the cabinet. She will make a strong daughter for you.”

I looked at Sam as he faded away. She sighed and looked at me, “I think I like him.”

I grinned as I turned to the cabinet and pulled it open. The little girl that looked back was maybe seven and she held a table knife. I smiled, “little one, what are you going to do with that?”

She moved as if she were ready to strike and I pulled out my long knife, “little daughter, I offer a bargain. This knife for that one but you must come with us so we can protect you.”

She looked at Sam and me, “give me the knife first.”

I smiled and reversed the knife, handing it to her. She reached out and took the knife, all the time watching me. When she had it she gave me her knife and crawled out of the cabinet. Sam smiled at her and held out her hand, “come with me daughter.”

The girl looked at her and smiled and I watched as they left. I looked at the thing hanging on the wall and left the room after her. When we walked out the front door there was a crowd gathered and the Legate was there. Sylvan, Cat and Elizabeth stood inside a ring of elfin rangers with a dozen young girls.

I watched as Sam crossed to them and then turned to face the building. The Legate stepped up beside me, “what are you doing Michael?”

I glanced at him, “seeing justice done for my wife and chosen.”

The Legate sighed, “that is for the guard to do.”

I nodded, “the guard did its job when I asked for justice. You might want to ask your lieutenant of the guard why he and others have protected this place.”

The Legate looked at me, “do you know the names?”

I nodded, “so do Gentle and half a dozen other guards. You might want to speak to them before something happens to the guards that were corrupted.”

The Legate growled, “they better leave one for me.”

He turned to one of the guards, “bring a torch.”

He looked at me, asking formally, “who do you seek justice for?”

I looked at the small crowd of girls, “I seek it for them, for my bonded and for my chosen.”

A guard brought a torch and the Legate looked at me, “can you contain the fire?”

I nodded and he turned to the girls, “girls, for the wrongs done to you I give you justice,” and he turned and threw the torch into the building.

I looked at it for a minute and looked at Elizabeth, Cat and Sam. I did something I had not done before. I pulled in power and released it in a stream of white hot burning magic. The building exploded and I felt Elizabeth’s magic join mine. A second later the soft touch of molten magic from Cat slipped in. Sam was the last to join and it was like a wave of searing fire.

The flames roared two hundred feet in the air but my shield held. The fire lasted less then five minutes and by then it was down to smoldering ash. The Legate looked at me, “is your justice met?”

I shook my head, “the man that kidnaped Sam was not there.”

He sighed, “do you ask our help?”

I looked down at Cynthia, “chosen? Have I given you your justice?”

The Legate and I both heard, “we are served. I can lead you to the one you seek.”

I looked at the Legate, “I will finish this with my honor.”

He bowed, “I will let the guard know you seek a death duel.”

I turned, “we have one more stop.”

I was surprised when Cynthia led me toward home. We stopped only two streets away. Cynthia sat on the door sill, “I will leave you to your fight chosen.”

She turned and I called Sam to me, “tell me if you recognize him?”

I knocked and heard stumbling and then a girl cried out as she was struck. I did not wait for Sam, when the door swung open I hit him. I hit him so hard he flew a cross the room and into the wall. I walked into the room to see a little girl battered and bloody on a rumpled bed. As he came off the ground it was with a sword in his hand.

I stepped aside as he lunged and threw him out the door. As I walked out the door behind him I looked at Sam’s ashen face. I saw the neighbors gathering and looked at the kidnaper, “Edward North, on my honor I challenge you here and now. You are a child rapist and kidnapper.”

I walked towards him without drawing my sword and I saw Sylvan reach for his to be stopped by one of the rangers. As I closed he snarled, “you have no proof.”

I pointed to Sam and all the little girls, “there is my proof rapist.”

He licked his lips and looked for the guard. Suddenly he lunged and I sidestepped grabbing his hand. This time I did not throw him, my hand turned in and twisted and he screamed as I broke his wrist. Three minutes later he lay on the ground with both arms and legs broken. His hands were shattered and all his ribs were busted, several into his lungs.

As I stepped away the little girl no more the seven, walked from his house. She looked down and we could see hate in her eyes. She spit on him and kicked him in the throat. I held out my hand and she walked to me. I looked at his body convulsing in the street as I started home, Ann was going to kill me.

When we came in the gate she was standing by the kitchen with Margaret and Julie. Ann shook her head but Margaret grinned. Gentle stopped me, “Michael… father, I will have the guard ask around about anyone missing children.”

I grinned up at him, “father?”

He grinned, “I decided that if we were home I would call you that. It is only fair.”

I laughed and patted him on the shoulder, “thanks Gentle and it would be nice to find these little girls parents.”

I crossed to the kitchen where Ann was already directing things. She stopped and put her hand on my shoulder, “your mother wants to see you.”

Suddenly I was in a panic, I did not know if anything had gone wrong. Cat was suddenly there, “come love, lets go see your mother.”

I nodded as she led me into the clinic and down to the room mom was in. When I came in she was sitting up in bed talking to dad and Aretha. Aretha was the first to see me, “we have been waiting for you.”

I walk to my mother as if I were in a daze, “mom?”

She held out her hand to me, “it went fine Michael. Dr Aretha said my cycles would probably start in a day or two.”

I looked at Aretha and he nodded, “I think your idea of working with healers is a good one. It will speed up recovery of patients quite a bit. I may even offer your daughters a contract to assist me sometime.”

Dad was smiling, “it was amazing what they can do.”

I grinned at my mother as I heard quiet steps behind me. I turned to see the little girl holding my long knife. I smiled and held out my hand, “come meet my parent’s daughter.”

She hesitated and then came in. My mother looked around me to see her and then looked at me, “Michael? Why is that child carrying that knife?”

I knelt and looked into my new daughter’s eyes, “because I offered it to her in a bargain.”

Sam stepped into the room carrying the six year old she had saved, “Love? We are putting all the girls in the nursery for the day. I will stay with them until they are settled.”

I looked at my new daughter, “you know carrying that knife around is dangerous. I could hold it and have the sheath made to fit you. You would not want to hurt any of the other children would you?”

She shook her head, “no.”

I smiled, “what do we call you?”

She looked at me, “Melissa.”

I grinned and looked at my mother, “Melissa, that is a nice name. My mother is named Melissa. I think I will have to call you little Melissa or she will think I am talking to her.”

I gently took the offered long knife and turned her to Sam, “go with my bonded Melissa.”

I watched as they left and then stood to face my parents, “I just came from dealing with the people that took Sam and… kept her in that house.”

I looked at Aretha, “do you have any other calls today?”

He smiled and shook his head, “not unless someone sends for me. I was planning to spend the day with Julianna.”

I nodded, “perhaps you and her could look in on the girls I just saved. We may find some of their parents and return them but either way I think Julianna should talk to them.”

He nodded as he turned to leave, “most of the ones you save usually do.”

I looked at Cat, “before I forget. We need to have Ann find my parents a room in the new building. Also as many of those in the grotto and the lower levels as we can.”

The rest of the morning flew by with the parents of all but two of the little girls arriving to find their daughters. The two little girls that were left were Melissa and the little girl that Sam had picked up, Tammy. I was able to use a belt that went over Melissa’s head and shoulders so that the long knife hung at her left waist. I replaced my long knife with one of mythril.

The afternoon class had just finished and I was talking to Samil and Sylvan when James came in the gates with another elf, a female. I turned to him as he got closer, “you missed the afternoon class.”

He smiled, “I was visiting my family. My cousin said she would like to learn so I brought her with me. Her name is Alonia and…”

He turned and froze, she was standing there as if frozen and she was staring at Jessie who was standing quietly beside Sylvan with Saline. I looked at Sylvan to see him frozen as well. I extended my senses and could almost see the bond link between all of them and heard from Cynthia, “they are in bond shock chosen.”

I looked at Samil, “help Sylvan kneel.”

As I turned to Jessie I called to James, “gently help your cousin to Sylvan.”

I moved Jessie forward and had her kneel as I took her hand and put it in Sylvan’s. I reached to James’s cousin Alonia and put one of her hands in Jessie’s and the other in Sylvan’s. They were still frozen though. I looked at Samil, “do you know anything about lifebonds?”

He shrugged, “not much. They act as though one of them is to far away.”

I could feel Cynthia’s thoughts, “you have to find the missing bonded or they could die.”

I sat next to them as a crowd started forming. I looked at James and Samil, “they will need protecting. Do not let anyone touch them.”

I took a breath and closed my eyes as I felt Cat settling beside me. What I was going to do was something master Haung had only told me about. I centered and pulled myself into a light meditation, slowly I let my awareness lift out of my body. I could clearly see the bonds running from me to my three loves and another set running down into the Keep.

That would have to wait, I could also see Sylvan’s and Jessie’s bonds. One of which reached out across the river. As I started following it I saw Cat in my head, “Love? What is it you do?”

I continued on, “they have another bonded that I seek. Use Elizabeth as a base for our strength, have Sam rely any messages I may have.”

I crossed the river and then the field as I felt the bond link strengthen. I was a little ways inside the woods when I found her. She held a bow and was in mid step and like Sylvan she was unmoving. I was surprised as I looked at her closely because she was a drow, “Cat? I found her. Sam needs to warn the rangers that a drow will be coming across the fields and over the bridge. They are not to harm her or try to stop her.”

Cat’s image was a little indistinct as if stretched thin but she nodded. I moved close to the woman and pushed with my senses. She took a step and then another as I did it again. I stayed behind her and continually pushed her, guiding her as she walked out of the woods and then across the large field.

I was glad I could see the Saur easily this way and guided her around them. She was almost to the bridge when a dozen rangers rose out of the grass and surrounded her. Before they could do anything Sam was there, “do not touch her! She is linked to the prince!”

They looked at each other and let her pass and then started walking along side. Sam walked in front of her and we crossed the bridge. As we entered the clear area around the gate I saw the crowd, “Cat? She needs a clear path to Jessie.”

When the drow reached the crowd I moved away and returned my awareness to my body and opened my eyes. I groaned as I stood, it felt like I was exhausted. I stood and walked slowly to the drow and gently took her hand. Carefully I led her to Jessie and knelt and removed Jessie’s hand from Alonia’s.

I pulled the drow down and put one of her hands in Alonia’s. She shivered as did Alonia and Sylvan. I took a deep breath and placed her other hand in Jessie’s. The world started again for them as they fell into each other crying. I slowly sat back and then fell onto my back, “I hope I do not have to do that again.”

As my wives knelt around me Samil knelt next to my shoulder, “you know this is going to cause problems.”

I opened tired eyes and looked at him, “tell anyone brave enough to object to speak to Jessie. She is the bond leader and the safest one for them to approach.”

Samil grinned as James knelt next to him, “what am I going to tell Alonia’s parents?”

I looked at James and then laughed, “tell them to expect a wedding?”

He looked at me and Samil and then the small group next to us. He started grinning, “who gives the brides away?”

Samil laughed and I saw the drow stand and turn to us frowning, “I own myself!”

I rose and looked at her, “really? And if the young one asks you to do something?”

She looked at a frightened Jessie and seemed to melt, “I… I will do what she asks.”

I continued to watch her, “why?”

She frowned and knelt to reach out shaking hands to Jessie, “because I love her.”

A disturbance at the gate made me look to see an elf dressed for court. He was trying to get through rangers that seemed uninterested in letting him pass. Cynthia rubbed against my leg, “they need time alone chosen.”

I looked at Sylvan holding Alonia and touching Jessie, “Sylvan? Take your bonded to our bedroom.”

I looked at Saline, “go with them Saline, make sure your sister does not… get too involved. You or one of the girls can help her if it gets to be too much for her.”

I stood shakily with Cat and Sam’s help. I looked at Sam, “you know as soon as I tell you to take it easy today things get… complicated, why is that?”

She laughed, “you are the one that led me across the city and this time I was just responding to your… need.”

I smiled as I gave Elizabeth a hand up and turned to the elf approaching, “can I help you?”

He came to a stop in front of me looking angry, “no. I need to see the prince.”

I shrugged, “he is busy right now. You can leave a message or come back.”

I turned as if to leave and he sputtered, “do you know who I am! I am the king’s voice!”

I glanced back at him, “that is nice but it does not change anything. What the prince is doing right now is important to his health. Now you can either leave a message or come back later.”

I watched as his mind seemed to whirl and he finally grunted, “where can I wait?”

I waved towards the kitchen, “over by the kitchen.”

As he walked away I sent James to Alonia’s parents to let them know what had happened. I also asked one of the rangers to send word to Sylvan’s parents as well. I spent most of the afternoon helping Ann and John move people into the building across the river and setting up the kitchen. After an early dinner Elizabeth wanted to go down to the grotto to practice shielding.

Most of her children and grandchildren went with her. Cat, Sam and I joined her to see how a mage shield was made. I pointed out that it was not fool proof because energy could still enter the shield. She explained that was so a mage could gather magical energy. She explained that spells were blocked from entering.

When her practice ended we sat talking and something that had been bothering me surfaced, “I was remembering our talk before I found the tunnel going to Pendar’s and something is tickling me in the back of my mind. Something about the age of your children.”

Elizabeth’s eyes went wide as they went to the five youngest sitting in front of her, “where are the triplets?”

I looked at her as she turned and looked around before looking back at me, “they are not here and you searched everywhere already.”

I looked around the grotto, “not everywhere. I have not searched in here.”

Elizabeth stared for a minute and then turned to look out over the grotto, “Mair?”

Her voice was quiet but at the same time it seemed to echo through the grotto. Moments later they came running. The first to reach us was a trio of young men who called out, “Mother!”

Elizabeth knelt facing them, “is there a hidden room or passage in here. One the necromancer put in and used?”

An older Mair woman answered as she made her way through the crowd that was slowly forming around Elizabeth, “yes mother.”

Elizabeth looked at me and back to the gathered Mair, “did he take any of my children in there?”

The Mair woman nodded, “yes. The last time he had three of your daughters with him. They did not come out.”

Again Elizabeth looked at me and I knelt down facing the Mair, “do you know what was in the room or if there were any of the undead there?”

She shrugged but a very old Mair male made his way through the small crowd. He was being helped by two young Mair men, “it is like your craftroom but bigger and no we did not see any of the undead.”

Again I looked around and asked, “can you show me where it is?”

The Mair led us to a section of wall that was secluded and directly away from the river. They pointed to a lever made of mythril. I pulled my sword and then the lever. Nothing jumped out but the door swung easily when pushed. I stepped into the room and was not prepared for it. It was twice as large as Elizabeth craftroom and everything was neat and orderly.

Elizabeth stepped in behind me with Cat and Sam following. I could see a large stone pit in the center of the room. Just by reaching out I knew it held another salamander. I walked slowly into the room and finally saw the three girls. They were kneeling in front of a large slate that was covered with drawings and illustrations.

I stopped Elizabeth from moving forward and quietly moved to the girls. As I looked at the drawing I became angry. Antizel had been planning to make more changes to the girls bodies. I turned to them and reached out to feel them through the stasis magic. I felt relief when I found none of his changes in them.

I looked at Elizabeth and nodded for her, Cat and Sam to come closer. I explain what I thought and that I had found nothing in the girls. Elizabeth nodded, “Antizel would not have done anything until he thought it was perfect.”

I nodded and moved in front of the first little girl, she looked about ten. There was something about her that drew me to her and for some reason I looked to Cat. Cat was staring intently at her and then she looked at me, “there is a bond between you and her but not like ours. It is like the bond my twin shared with me but still not the same.”

Elizabeth looked from her daughter to me and did something that seemed to yank at my very soul. I reached for the little girl in front of me as if to protect her. Elizabeth sighed, “Michael, I do not know how this can be happening. The bond is like an imprinting between you and my daughters. As if you were her mother. Wake her up but be careful.”

Before I moved Sylvan stepped into the room with my parents. I held my hand up for him to wait and knelt on the activation spot. It was not like any other time I had deactivated a stasis spell. All hell broke loose in the form of that one little girl. She went from being totally unmoving to lunging at me kicking, screaming, scratching and trying to bite.

I was able to wrap her in my arms with Cat and Sam’s help. Nothing I did seemed to slow her down. Finally I wrapped her with my shield and pulled her tight against me. I was openly crying, “little one you are safe. Please calm down.”

She looked at me with eyes that seemed only half there as she slowly bent forward and bit my arm. I did not resist even though I felt my blood leaking from the bite, “little one? Look at me. I will not hurt you, please look at me.”

She was still biting me but she glanced up. When our eyes meet I saw reason come to her eyes. I released my hold to bring my other hand up and caress her face gently, “please little one, I will not hurt you, please stop.”

As suddenly as it had started it was over. She released my arm and grabbed me, holding on tight as she cried. I pulled her close and with tears still running down my face. I looked into Elizabeth’s frightened eyes, “what did that bastard do to her?”

She shook her head as I started rocking back and forth. I did not even notice Jessie until she laid her hand on my shoulder and I felt her healing magic spread through me. I could feel my arm as it mended itself and the little girl looked up into my face, “what took you so long?”

I glanced at Elizabeth remembering her remark when we first kissed, “I was a long way from here. What is your name little one?”

She snuggled back into me, “Amber.”

I hugged her as I glanced around, Sylvan and my parents were there. I held her a little away, “Amber? I need to wake your sisters.”

She squeeze me tighter as if afraid to lose me, “do not let go!”

I gave her a squeeze, “Amber, if your sisters react like you did I will need to calm them. Look at me.”

When she looked up I could see the fear behind her eyes. I gently wiped her tears and pointed to Elizabeth, “that is your mother.”

I turned with her in my arms so she could see my parents, “they are my mom and dad.”

I turned again to Cat and Sam with Jessie, Sylvan and Elexia behind them, “these two are my bonded. The other girl is my daughter and with her is her bonded. Will you stay with my parents while I help your sisters?”

She looked at me for a long time before looking over my shoulder at my parents. She looked into my eyes, “promise you will not leave?”

I smiled, “I will be right here where you can see me.”

She nodded and I stood with her in my arms. I put her into my mother’s arms and mom held her tightly, whispering, “I will not let anything happen to you.”

As I turned back toward her sisters she stopped me, “Ruby is not like me. She is calmer.”

I looked at her, “and your other sister?”

She grinned, “you might need help.”

It was a moment before I grinned back, “I will call you if I need it.”

She snuggled back into my mother’s arms and I move in front of the middle girl. Bracing myself I slowly knelt. I felt the stasis spell drop and as it did I felt the little girl reach out as I would with my senses and she began to draw in magical energy. I reached out and shielded her ability and the drawing in of power stopped.

She opened her angry eyes but I know she did not see me, “little one? Ruby? Look at me little one.”

Her expression was getting angrier and I felt her trying to break through the shield I had put around her ability. I reached out and put my hand on her shoulder, “Ruby, look at me please. I have been searching for you.”

Her eyes slowly focused on me and widened and then she threw herself into my arms sobbing. I held her tight and picked her up. Turning to a wide eyed Elizabeth who whispered, “my god Michael she was pulling in more magical energy than most full grown mages.”

I looked her in the eye, “she was also using her life force to extend her senses.”

Elizabeth stepped closer, “I can hold her while you wake my other daughter.”

Ruby clung tighter, “no! Do not let go!”

I laughed softly and reached out my hand to my hurt wife, “Elizabeth she does not know you yet.”

I tilted Ruby’s head until she was looking at me, “that was your mother you just hurt. Words have power on the ones that care.”

I turned so she could see Amber, “see Amber is safe, my mother has her and will protect her. I know you can feel me without touching. I have to wake your other sister. Can you tell me her name?”

She looked from Amber to me and I felt her reaching out again. This time gradually as if waiting for me to block her. She looked into my face and smiled, “I do feel you. You are like a bright light.”

I grinned at her, “that is because I use my senses like you. Will you let your mother hold you?”

She looked at Elizabeth and whispered to me, “I saw her, he did bad things to her. Sometimes I would reach out to her but I could not wake her. I liked holding her though.”

She looked at me, “when I held her I could feel you better.”

I smiled and held her out to Elizabeth who took her and held her tightly, “I could not feel you my daughter, I am so sorry.”

Ruby caressed her face, “it is alright. You gave me our bond. Not while you were awake but you seemed to say, share this and we did.”

Elizabeth laughed and I turned to her last daughter and Ruby called to me, “Jade was real mad when he put her away.”

I looked at her and smiled, “Jade? I will be careful.”

This time when I knelt I was nervous and extend my senses. As soon as I made contact and the spell dissolved she lunged. Not like a little girl but with force and she was reaching out with her senses. I did not have time to catch and hold her. I turned my body and let the force of her lunge carry us around until I dropped to the floor with her under me.

As she started to struggle she was cursing. Not just a few words either but like a sailor and they were all directed at Antizel. I could not help myself, I started laughing as I held her struggling body under mine. I was not the only one laughing though, Sam, Cat, Elizabeth and her sisters were laughing too.

Her body stopped moving and her head turned slowly, “who are you?”

Her voice was quiet but I heard her controlled anger anyway, “if I let you up will you talk to me before trying to hurt me?”

I could see her face as she thought about it and then she nodded but said, “maybe.”

I laughed again and rolled off her and back into a kneeling position facing her. She was crouching in a flash and looking at me. Before I knew it she was lunging again but I knew she would not hurt me. She clung to me tightly, not crying, only shivering a little. I picked her up and walked back to Elizabeth.

She whispered, “I thought you were never going to come.”

I gently caressed down her back, “I am sorry it took so long.”

I looked around the large room and then back at Sylvan, “we need to close this back up until it can be checked. Ask the Mair to keep an eye on the door.”

I looked at each of my bondmates, “somehow I think we just got roommates for the night at least.”

They laughed and Elizabeth surprised me, “I think I would like that. I could hold them like they held me.”

I started moving everyone out of the room and closed the door, “I think it is about bath time.”

The nursery was crowded with people, most were Elizabeth’s children and grandchildren. We were joined by Artimas and Summer by the bathing pool. They were laughing at Edward and Selina as they tried to wash several of the little girls. They kept getting splashed by Princess and Duchess as they tried to help.

Sylvan came in with Alonia and Elexia but Jessie and Saline were not too far behind them. Amber, Ruby and Jade seemed to come alive with all the other children there. Sylvan stopped near me as I was washing young Sam and her sister, “I received a message from my father. He and my mother will be coming here in the morning.”

I glanced at him, “why?”

He shrugged and grinned, “they may want to meet you or just see Cat.”

I was surprised when John and Gentle escorted my mother in with my father following along behind with a grin on his face. Cat, Sam and Elizabeth helped her into the bath and laughed as a dozen of my adopted daughters swarmed her to help. At first my father was a little embarrassed.

He seemed to get over it quickly as he was laughingly pulled to the side and told by several of the five and six year olds that he had to help them. After the bath we were pulled to the side to brush hair. Finally it was bed time and after a lot of hugs, mom was helped back to her room. Amber, Ruby and Jade would not stay of course and clung to me as we made our way to bed.

Elizabeth had surprised me, she had left a little early and I had felt her using magic. What I found when I came into our room was a much wider bed. I laughed with Cat and Sam as Elizabeth said it was for Sam so she would not get kicked in the night. When I fell asleep it was with my bond daughters piled around and on me.

Both Melissa and Tammy had come in at the last moment and climbed into bed to snuggle up to Sam. I woke a couple of hours later when Beth and Theresa slipped into bed and snuggled up to Elizabeth. I woke at dawn when Cynthia woke me. Jade was asleep on top of me and I had to gently put her on the bed before carefully climbing over everyone to get out of bed.

I quietly dressed and made my way down to the kitchen where Ann and several of the older girls and women were preparing breakfast. I had told the girls they could sleep in while I had my morning class. I had a cup of coffee and waited for Sylvan and at least Jessie to join me. When they came in Alonia and Elexia were with him.

Jessie and Saline looked a little sleepy eyed but both perked up when Jenny slipped in to have coffee with us. I smiled as Jenny closed her eyes and groaned as she held the cup with both hands, “rough night Jenny?”

She did not even open her eyes as she nodded slightly. I cleared my throat, “I know this first class is supposed to be advanced but I want you to watch Sylvan and his bonded.”

She opened her eyes and looked from me to Sylvan, “I will try not to hurt him.”

Sylvan laughed as both Alonia and Elexia frowned. Jenny grinned at Jessie and Saline, “we will keep him in line won’t we girls.”

Jessie and Saline both giggled and I nodded to Alonia and Elexia, “as of yesterday Alonia and Elexia became his bonded too.”

Jenny smiled and nodded to them, “I will not hurt him too much. It is his pride that seems to get him in trouble.”

Elexia nodded while Alonia grinned, “we know.”

Chapter 16

Under attack, story time, the ending

My advanced class had gone smoothly but I had started noticing things. The streets were… thinner, with fewer people. They were quieter as if waiting for something to happen. When I extended my senses as far as I could I could feel the rangers. At the very edge there was something… it was making me uncomfortable.

I walked to John, “something does not feel right. Have Peter keep everyone in the other building this morning, they can help fix up the rooms. Make sure they have a few swords at the doors. Get everyone out of the manor and block the doorway to the river. I want you to stay by the kitchen with the rifle I gave you. If something happens get inside and shoot out the doorway.”

I looked at a distracted Sylvan standing with his bonded as Elizabeth slipped under my arm. I glanced down at her smiling, “did the girls chase you out of bed?”

She grinned, “Cat started a tickling fight and I had to retreat.”

I laughed as I glanced around again. I looked at her, “where are your weapons?”

She looked at me sharply, “in the room.”

I nodded to the entrance, “go put them on. I want you wearing them anytime you leave the room. I do not have a good feeling about today so be careful. Oh, and send my bond daughters to mom.”

As she headed back to the room I crossed to Sylvan, “I see you managed to hold your own with Jenny today.”

He laughed as he turned, “I think she was feeling sorry for me.”

I smiled as I looked at Jessie and Saline, “I want you two to stay close to the entrance into the Keep. If anything happens go into the first room. Go warn the children to stay in the nursery.”

I looked at Alonia for a minute and paused, “Alonia get with John. I want you and Elexia to have one of the admantium swords. Stay close to Sylvan.”

I looked at Elexia who looked back expressionlessly. I smiled and stepped closer, for some reason I liked this elf/drow, “Elexia find the woman named Ann. Ask her if she has any grey or brown clothing. I want you blending into the surroundings here and not standing out. Keep your bow and have Sylvan find you some more arrows.”

I hesitated and then gently cupped her face, “I want you with Sylvan unless something happens. If it does go to my daughter and protect her. She can not protect herself yet, you must be her protector. Will you do that for me?”

Slowly her face relaxed and she smiled, “you trust me?”

I nodded, “with my life and the lives of those I hold close.”

She nodded smiling as Alonia’s hand slipped into hers, “I will do as you ask.”

I looked at Sylvan, “your parents should be here shortly, get moving. If anything does happen guard the entrance.”

He grinned and bowed, “yes master.”

I swatted him on the shoulder as I turned and went towards the entrance into the Keep. I met Beth and Amanda coming out. I stopped them as an idea came to mind, “Amanda? Could you do me a favor?”

She grinned mischievously, “yes father.”

I blinked and then grinned, “smarty. I want you to get your mother’s children and grandchildren that learned how to shield together. Put half in the building across the river and the other half in the grotto. If something happens this morning I want a shield around the building and the grotto. I do not know if your grandmother will be here this morning or not so talk to your mother if you need help. Can you do it?”

She looked at Beth and nodded, “yes father.”

When I came into the hallway I saw my father sitting at the desk with Mary. I smiled when I reached him, “you look tired.”

He grinned, “Sarah had two women come in ready to give birth.”

I looked at Mary and back at him, “any problems?”

He shook his head, “no, everything went as it should.”

I smiled, “mom should be able to be moved to the room Ann set aside for you.”

I glanced back down the hall and frowned, “dad? You and mom stay in the clinic this morning please. I… I think there is going to be trouble and I want the two of you safe.”

He looked at me no longer smiling as I undid the shoulder holster and handed my pistol to him and then pulled the spare magazines out and set them on the table, “just in case.”

My father frowned, “what are you going to use?”

I smiled, “I am headed to my room for the girls. I have another there.”

He nodded and stood, “I will be in with your mother.”

I looked at Mary, “any sick or injured?”

She shook her head, “No. Do you really think there will be trouble?”

I nodded, “Yes. Try to get the Mair for runners and any helpers you can for any injured we may have. Send anyone else to the lower floors. Have Sarah, Casey and Jen somewhere close.”

I left her and went quickly to my room. The girls were sitting by the fire fully dressed and armed. I crossed to the table and picked up the holster and pistol. I put it on and settled everything before turning to the girls and holding out my arms.

I hugged them and sighed, “you girls be careful today. Elizabeth I know you are not going to like this but if anything happens I want you in the grotto. Your daughters will be putting up a shield there. I want you there to watch the exit out of the grotto in case anyone or anything tries to come in that way.”

I looked at Cat, “I want you up here by the door leading to the stables. Be careful and do not take chances.”

I looked at Sam, “the clinic landing, stay back from the doorway into Antizel’s work room. If they come through from Pendar’s stop them at the door in the stairwell.”

Sam rubbed my chest, “where will you be?”

I jerked my head up, “in the Keep. They will have to come past me to get to the stairs. I will have Sylvan guard the lower entrance.”

Cat looked into my eyes, “and our people?”

I smiled at her before giving her a kiss, “our people are being told to stay inside. Half of girls are going to the new building so if something does start they will shield it. Peter also is having swords handed out for men by the doors. John will get everyone out of the manor and block the river door and then protect the kitchen with the hunting rifle.”

I looked at them and gave them another squeeze before letting them go. I looked back at Cat, “shall we go wait for your aunt and uncle?”

We were quiet as we walked back downstairs and I looked at Cat, “who won the tickle fight?”

Sam burst out laughing as Cat grinned, “they all ganged up on me, so they did.”

Sarah was beside Mary when we came out of the stairwell. She grinned, “good news?”

We laughed and Elizabeth pointed to Cat, “not for Cat. She lost a tickle fight to our daughters.”

Sarah and Mary laughed as we walked out. Sylvan, Jessie, Alonia and Elexia turned to us as we emerged. I glanced around but did not see Saline, “Jessie? Where is your shadow?”

She grinned as she held Elexia’s hand, “Saline is in your exam room. She was knocked down by a bunch of little girls running and screaming down the stairs. They were yelling that Cat was after them so she is taking a bath.”

I smiled and turned to Sylvan as several elves entered the gate and looked around, nodding to us. A moment later a large party of elves entered. I saw all the nobles from before with a dozen guards spreading out. I relaxed and extended my senses as they approached. When they reached us the group split apart and two stepped forward.

I noticed the resemblance to Sylvan right away, what struck me though was his mother. She was beautiful and carried herself as if she were a dancer or a well trained fighter. She seemed to be trying to ignore everyone around them as she embraced her son. His father was smiling but I got the impression he was evaluated everything around him.

His glance at me swept past as if I was not there. He focused on Sylvan’s bonded and he frowned slightly at the sight of Jessie, “a Mair Sylvan?”

Sylvan stepped back from his mother, frowning but Jessie beat him, “I am not a Mair… father.”

He blinked in surprise and Sylvan’s mother laughed, “Aurtha, how many times do I have to tell you. If you speak first and listen second it will end with you putting your foot in your mouth.”

He looked at her grinning, “I do have that habit.”

He bowed to Jessie, “my pardon daughter. I have many bad habits.”

She grinned as she shifted closer to Elexia, “that is okay. I am still training Sylvan too.”

He blinked and Sylvan’s mother started laughing again as she stepped up to Jessie, “I think I am going to enjoy having you for a daughter.”

Jessie smiled sadly, “Sylvan says I… I can only be his bonded.”

Sylvan’s mother looked at her thoughtfully, “perhaps but I do not really think that matters now. My name is Karianna, call me Kari.”

She looked at Elexia and Alonia, “you girls are the ones that were unlucky enough to bond with Sylvan yesterday?”

Elexia stirred but calmed as Jessie squeezed her hand. Alonia tilted her head, “unlucky?”

Kari smiled as she looked Sylvan, “knowing my son he is already planning to hide you away.”

Elexia looked at Sylvan and back at Kari, “he would have to get Jessie’s permission.”

Kari blinked in surprise as she looked at Sylvan, “something you have not told us son?”

He turned red and then suddenly laughed as he bowed to Jessie, “my pardon love. Mother, father my bonded are Alonia”

He gestured to her and turned, “Elexia”

Again he gestured and turned, “and our bond leader Jessie. Mother, Jessie is also a healer so her schedule is very full. I was hoping you would consent to helping her learn about… court.”

Kari laughed, “you mean how to ignore the insults.”

Jessie shifted uncomfortably, “I do not intend to ignore them. When father is done training me they will not be that…”

She looked at Alonia, “unmannerly?”

Alonia smiled while Kari and Aurtha laughed. Aurtha looked at Sylvan, “her father?”

Sylvan was grinning as he turned to me, “father, Mother, this is my master, Michael White Hawk. I asked to be his squire. So far his young trainers have kept me in my place. While I still can not keep my weapons when I face him. Next to him is the mage Elizabeth Stormcaller. Michael’s apprentice’s and other bonded Sam and… Cat. I owe them more than I can ever repay.”

Kari looked surprised but Aurtha stepped forward extending his hand, “I have heard quit a bit about you.”

I smiled as I took his hand and shook it. He turned to Cat and knelt, “niece, I owe you more then I can ever repay as well.”

The nobles that had accompanied him had gasped and quickly knelt, “my brother will never…”

I felt them coming and jerked Cat away, “Shit! Sylvan warn the rangers! The drow are here in strength. Your majesty please go into the hallway.”

I looked at John standing by the kitchen as I spun towards the entrance to the Keep, “inside John, we have company!”

At the entrance I pushed through a crowd, “break this up! We have trouble coming, get away from the entrance. Sarah! Get ready for wounded!”

I turned to the girls, “Elizabeth the grotto, Cat the stairway to the stables, Sam the door into the work room. I love you so be careful.”

I glanced back as Sylvan was shoving elven nobles into the entranceway, “good luck Sylvan!”

I turned and ran, hitting the stairs at a sprint. When I got to the top I was surprised to find I was not winded. Darren and Jeremy were talking in the first room about classes, “you two, go upstairs and make sure everyone stays away from the windows!”

I did not wait for a reply, I stepped to the door and opened it. Sylvan’s rangers were slipping through the gateway. As I took a knee, my hybrid slipping into my hands and Cat appeared to me in my mind. From the way she gestured I knew Elizabeth was ready and a shield was in place in the grotto.

I felt the shield in the building across the river go up and prayed the drow would pass them by. It was only a moment later when they hit. They rushed through the gate and I shot the first and arrows started taking others. I shot two more, feeling Cat’s surprise as she killed one before she was even aware she had fired.

I felt Elizabeth’s anger as she faced something and knew she was using magic and not her hybrid. There seemed to be a pause before another wave struck. It did not even manage to get completely through the gate before they were killed. I felt Sam’s surprise and then anger as she started shooting.

Another wave came over the wall, surprising the rangers. Several were injured but I managed to keep the drow off them until they could get through the door, “go down the stairs and someone will help you.”

I shot a drow that suddenly appeared next to the door and scanned the area around the gate. An elf ranger appeared next to me, “the king’s rangers come.”

I glanced at him, he had the stub of an arrow sticking out of his shoulder as he held a sword in his other hand, “you need to get below and have that removed. See one my daughters to get the wound healed.”

He looked at me for a minute and grinned, “you do not happen to have one not bonded do you?”

I smiled as I continued to scan the area, “as a matter of fact I do. She happens to also be a mage though so you would probable have to go all the way down to the grotto.”

He laughed, “so when the king’s rangers get here maybe I will.”

I shook my head laughing as the hybrid came up. The drow just seemed to appear in the yard. I shot four of them before the rangers reacted and they slipped away. This was beginning to irritate me. I stood, changing the magazine and then I calmly walked out the door as I put up my shield and started pulling magical energy to me.

The dozen drow that appeared around me probably thought I was an easy mark. Three in front of me were smashed back by the hybrid. The rest did not even have time to scream as I released the anger on my shield and it went from white to an angry red before exploding and killing the drow as they were engulfed in globes of fiery plasma.

My magic reached out and out until it hit the wall where it seemed to climb to the top and glowed sullenly. Elves came pouring out of the Keep moving towards the gate where they hesitated and glanced back, “can we go through?”

I was already releasing my magic, my senses told me the drow were leaving. I nodded and turned back to the Keep. As I came in the wounded elf stood up, “well that was interesting.”

I smiled as I walked past him and started down the stairs calling up to Jeremy, “Jeremy! It is safe!”

Cat met me on the landing of the next floor. I embraced her and gave her a kiss before heading down again, “did you leave someone at the stairs?”

She nodded as she fell in beside me, glancing at the elf following me, “pick up a stray?”

He laughed, “he said you have a daughter that was a healer and that she is not spoken for yet.”

Cat looked at him and suddenly laughed, “Ginger? This I have to see.”

We found Sam looking over the shoulder of Aurtha as he watched his guards in the work room. I kissed Sam, “little thief. Not picking his pocket are you?”

She grinned, “no. Although I had to be very strict with him when the drow came through the door.”

Aurtha looked at me grinning, “I think she said something about paddling my butt if I did not get out of her way.”

Cat and I laughed as I pulled her into my arms and kissed her again and then gave her to Cat. I looked at Aurtha, “where did Sylvan put your wife?”

He smiled, “I believe she is in that first room with your parents and several of your daughters. They were helping the wounded and seemed to be having a good time talking.”

I shook my head, “are you needed here?”

He shook his head, “I sent a company of guards down the tunnel. I was just having my personal guards checking these to see if Sam left anything for them to do.”

I smiled as I turned, “Sam? Why don’t you and Cat take him up to the nursery and I will be there as soon as I get everyone else.”

In the hall I stopped at Mary’s table, “anyone I need to see?”

Mary looked up and suddenly grinned, “no. The few that were serious your father looked at and the girls healed. We are looking good right now.”

I nodded, “send runners and let everyone know it is over and lets try to get things back to normal.”

I saw Sylvan, Elexia and Alonia at the entrance with several rangers standing around outside, “Sylvan? It is over, let your rangers handle it. I sent your father to the nursery. Send someone to John and then across the river to let them know. I need to know if they had any problems across the river.”

I poked my head into the first room. Ruby was standing on a chair next to a bed with a laughing ranger lying down. My father was beside her, “no grandpa! Just relax and extend your feeling… you know, feel how his body is and then raise the display.”

Everyone else in the room laughed as a colored mass rose out of the ranger. Ruby sighed, “grandpa, you are hopeless.”

I could not think how she knew how to do it except through the bond and laughed, “that is not fair sweetie, old people take longer to learn.”

Amber, Jade and Ruby all squealed and ran to me, “Daddy!”

As they crashed into me I glanced around the room. Mom was sitting with lady Kari, Jen, Cassy, Sarah and Saline. In the bath sat Jessie with her arms crossed. I hugged the girls, “I need you angels to take your grandparents to the nursery with the lady Kari.”

Jade looked up at me, worry in her eyes, “is there going to be more bad people?”

I shook my head, “they ran away.”

She grinned as she looked back at the bed with the ranger just getting off it, “I told you daddy would scare them off.”

The ranger laughed, “that must have been it.”

Amber shifted as mom and dad came up with the other girls, “Father? We had strange feelings when… our sister… when Jen and Jessie did their healing.”

I looked up at Jen, “did you feel them Jen?”

She shook her head, “we had Cassy shield us just in case. Samuel has not gone over how to… bring a new healer into the healing with us.”

I nodded, “ask him to check my pets will you?”

Amber and Ruby put their hands on their hips, “we are not pets!”

I laughed and ran my fingers through Jade’s hair, “go on girls. Take them up to the nursery. I will be up as soon as I get your mother.”

I looked at Saline, “Saline, why is Jessie in the bath?”

Saline smiled at me, “well after I stopped her from going out to Sylvan the third time. Kari suggested taking her clothes and making her go into the bath. She has not tried to leave since.”

I laughed and gestured to Jessie, “it is over now. You can let her out and give her clothes back.”

I started to turn and stopped, “Sarah? Why don’t you come up as well?”

She smiled and nodded. At the stairs I found my wounded ranger, “did not want to go down by yourself?”

He grinned, “I thought I would be safer with you present.”

I found all the elf nobles on the bottom floor milling around, “its over. Why don’t all of you take this outside.”

We watched as they hurried to the stairs talking about speaking with the king. I looked at the ranger as we continued down the hall, “how does Aurtha put up with them?”

He laughed, “they know that when he has had enough he starts sending messengers. Meaning them, to far away places for strange things like a simple writing feather.”

I laughed as we walked into the grotto. The ranger had quieted when we came in. There were only a few people living here since Ann had started moving them to the other building. There were Mair walking calmly that only waved and continued to walk. When we reached the clearing in the center of the grotto he stopped me, “master?”

I looked at him as he looked at the ground and then back at my face, “I knew Elvan before he went missing. I have been with my prince for a long time. Both have changed much since you have entered their lives. They are more concerned in helping others and they are calmer.”

He laughed, “especially Elvan. Although since he bonded the prince is more relaxed as well. Now that Alonia and… and Elexia are with him he is even more caring. This place… and you are special, we elves take much for granted but now you are changing that. I will ask the prince to release my oath. I wish to help, to be a part of this. I would like to learn and to teach.”

He grinned, “I was only half serous about your… daughter.”

I smiled as I waved him on, “what is your name?”


We were walking up on Elizabeth and her daughters and granddaughters sitting in a group. Elvan, James, his father, Teral and another Elf were sitting with them but were talking to several Mair. I smiled at my wife and held out my arms, “Love?”

She looked up and grinned as she stood, “what took you so long?”

I laughed and kissed her, “I kept getting delayed.”

I looked down at Cynthia and Thomas, “Lover? Thank you for keeping her safe.”

I could feel her caress and smiled as I looked at Ginger, “daughter I brought a ranger that only wanted to be healed by my unattached daughter. He was quite insistent that he meet you.”

She looked from me to Garith and with a straight face, “is he house broken? You know how hard Jen has been working to train Elvan.”

The elves sitting with them fell over laughing as Elvan laughed and protested. Garith grinned but I noticed he was looking more at Amanda than Ginger. Ginger stood and stepped closer and placed her hand on his other shoulder and looked close at his shoulder, “could you remove the arrow father?”

I reached into Garith and pressed on the nerves and then taking the stub of arrow sticking out I pulled. He grunted but said nothing as it came free and the wound started spurting blood. Ginger’s healing magic swept over us and it stopped bleeding. I watched the wound close and smiled as Garith sighed.

Ginger looked into his face, “better?”

He nodded, “yes, thank you.”

She grinned, “still think you want to meet me?”

He grinned back but shook his head and leaned forward, “I think you are beautiful but could you tell me who the girl that was sitting next to you is?”

Ginger laughed as she turned to Amanda, “Amanda? I scared him off. He wants to meet you instead.”

Amanda smiled wickedly as she looked up, “has he asked mother and father’s permission yet? That is what Elvan did, although Jen did say he tried to buy her first.”

Everyone was laughing again but Garith bowed to Amanda and turned to Elizabeth and me, “Master? Mistress? I ask your permission to court your daughter Amanda.”

Elizabeth looked at me smiling. I turned to Amanda and held out my hand. She stood and walked to us wearing a grin, “yes father?”

I looked into her eyes, “seriously Amanda. Do you think you are ready?”

She smiled as she gently touched my cheek, “perhaps not for… not to be intimate. I have watched mother with you and I have watched Jen and Cassy. If he would like get to know me then I will listen to what he has to say and make up my mind like you told us.”

I nodded and looked at Garith, “you heard her. Pay attention to what she says but more importantly listen to what she does not.”

I turned to Elizabeth, “family meeting in the nursery. I think it is time I told my story to all the girls.”

She smiled as she took my arm and turned towards the Keep entrance, “I will try to keep you from exaggerating too much.”

I laughed as she looked back, “Elvan? Girls? Family time in the nursery.”

Cynthia was walking along side us, “chosen? The Mair ask if they can come too.”

I nodded, “of course. Are you staying or disappearing to find some available tom to sooth you?”

I heard her laugh as Elizabeth squeezed my arm, “sometimes a lady just needs attention.”

At the hallway leading to the door into the nursery there were a dozen guards standing around and I stopped, “this is not going to do. Either you go into the nursery or wait outside.”

They looked at each other and then shrugged. Opening the door into the nursery they went in. Elizabeth and I followed them in and as soon as I came through the door all the girls shrieked and ran for me. Elizabeth started laughing as they knocked me over trying to hug me. I was laughing so hard that I could not pull them off.

Cat and Sam came to my rescue and we finally got them settled. I looked around to realize that there were a lot more people here than normal. Little Melissa took my hand and started pulling me towards the girls play area as I laughed and sat pulling her onto my lap, “listen up!”

I waited until it quieted, “I am going to tell a story I want you to hear. For me it is a special story.”

I had decided to try something with my magic and gathered my thoughts before calling out, “Anon.”

All the lights died and the children screamed and cried. I projected my illusion into the air in the center of the room. It looked like I stood in a sunny meadow, “quiet!”

The sound echoed from the walls even though that too was illusion. The room went silent and the figure of myself slowly turned in a circle until everyone had seen him, “daughters and guests, this is a story of beginning. Of my beginning, it is full of many things, horror, shock, anger. It has adventure and excitement but most of all it tells of love. Will you listen to my story?”

The figure stood waiting and there was a murmur before Krystal spoke up, “I want to hear it father.”

That was all it took and all the other girls chimed in with the same thing. The figure bowed, “sometimes it will get dark but do not fear, there are many here to protect you.”

The scene faded and slowly another took its place. It showed a burned out building and a figure lying in a room. I looked away and around the room as my story here began. Even as my story started more people were coming into the room. Most were my adopted daughters but there were others, neighbors and people I had come to know.

Sam drew my attention back to the story, “Michael? That is a little exaggerated don’t you think?”

I looked up and smiled. The story had stopped, it was me in the Marketplace. It showed Sam as she was trying to pick my pocket. She was dancing around with her hand stuck in my pocket, her figure was greatly exaggerated and she had long hair down past her waist. The children were all laughing as the figure put his hands on his hips and stuck out his tongue.

He waved his hands and the scene started over again, this time like it was supposed to. I glanced at the door when the mages entered and froze, looking at the illusion. They shifted around and broke up into groups. I saw Artimas and Summer, Edward and Selina and then there was Nathen with Virginia’s grandmother and grandfather.

All the children started laughing and again Sam called out, “Michael?”

I glanced up to see myself swimming in the air. The figure sighed and waved and he was again moving across a roof top heading for Schaffer’s. When the door opened again and a woman came in I was surprised to recognize Virginia, Talia, and Rosie’s mother. She looked around and moved to a clear space before sitting and looking around.

I glanced around to find her mother sitting not to far away holding Talia’s hand. When the girls started laughing again a few minutes later I looked up to see a smaller Cat dancing around the bond merchant hitting him with a broom. I laughed but Cat cleared her throat smiling, “Michael?”

The scene stopped with my figure standing with his hands on his hips looking at Cat, “but you could have.”

Cat shook her head smiling, “do it right.”

He sighed and waved his hand and the scene went back to what really happened. I glanced back to the wall behind me. John, Ann and Julie were holding hands with their children in their laps. I had not even seen them come in. I squeezed Melissa and lifted her off my lap, whispering, “keep watching sweetie, someone needs my help.”

I carefully moved until I was behind the triplet’s mother and reached out to lightly touch Virginia. She turned to see who was there and I waved at her. She smiled and stood up, walking towards me. When she reached me I pulled her head down and whispered that I wanted her to sit in this woman’s lap.

She looked at me curiously but did as I asked, even leaning back against her as she accepted her in her lap without complaint. Everyone started laughing and I looked up to see dwarfs in a courtyard. They were hammering away on tiny dolls and Cat was doing a dance around them wearing a bright red and yellow outfit.

Cat laughed, “Michael?”

The scene stopped and my figure laughed as he waved his hand. I looked back down to see Virginia’s mom unconsciously stroking her hair. I reached out again to Rosie and when she looked I gestured. She slipped over to me and I whispered for her to sit next to the woman and hold her hand.

Rosie looked at me and nodded and I watched as her mother almost unconsciously put her arm around her. When the room roared with laughter again I glanced up to see myself dancing with Sam, Cat and John. There were comic ogres and trolls who seemed to fall over all the time and a dragon with its tail cut off staggered and stumbled across the scene.

I heard the Legate laugh and call out, “I thought you said that was not real.”

The scene froze and my figure stood up. He looked at Sam and Cat, “Loves? I can try to temper it slightly.”

Sam and Cat looked at each other and then Cat nodded. Sam turned to my figure, “try not to scare the girls to bad but they should know.”

The figure bowed and waved, the room darkened and I stepped into the hallway, my sword in hand. The room stayed quiet as the scene played out. I reached out to Talia and when she looked I gestured and she scooted over to me. I whispered for her to sit with the woman and her sisters.

As she moved forward sitting next to her she leaned over whispering, “I am scared.”

I reached out to the triplet’s grandparents who turned to look my way. I quietly slipped up next to them whispering quietly, “Catherine, you and your husband go sit behind your daughter. I do not think she knows that the girls she is holding are her daughters.”

Catherine looked at me and then looked over to see her daughter and granddaughters. She smiled as she saw them and pulled gently on her husband’s hand before quietly doing as I asked. I smiled to myself as they settled quietly behind her and her mother hugged her. I slipped across the room and sat beside Sam and Cat.

Cat leaned over with Samantha in her lap and whispered, “we saw that.”

Sam leaned against my other arm just as the room again broke out laughing. A dragon was flying around in a large room, bumping into walls and hiccupping fire down its throat. Amanda stood behind my figure with her tongue out and her fingers in her ears jeering and making raspberries at the clumsy dragon.

I looked down to see Amanda lying on her back laughing so hard she could not talk. I cleared my throat and the scene stopped as I faced myself, my figure looked at me, “well they would not know and Amanda is laughing to hard to complain.”

I shook my head and my figured grumbled and waved the scene back to what was supposed to be. I glanced at Sylvan and his bonded to see them sitting comfortably with his mother and father. The room was getting crowded but people made room for new arrivals. The scene paused a little later as my figure opened the passageway into the grotto.

He solemnly looked at Elizabeth, “Elizabeth?”

I moved over and held her in my arms as she thought and then nodded, “my children and grandchildren need to see and understand.”

My figure bowed and looked around, “children what you are about to see is very painful for Elizabeth, your grandmother. It is something that haunts her and many of you have lived through similar things. Remember this and look around this room, those here will not allow it to ever happen again.”

The figure continued to turn, “this will never happen to her or you ever again. It does not matter if you are young or older. It does not matter if you are not really my daughter because I have opened my heart to you and made myself your father. Now sit quiet and hold hands.”

The scene began again and the room remained in silence as it played out. The only time anyone said anything was when my figure was thrown back from Elizabeth as I freed her from her chains. When it was done and had gone on to another scene Elizabeth leaned against me whispering, “thank you for coming love.”

I squeezed her and just held her but in only moments she was pulling away and laughing along with everyone else. Aurtha cleared his throat, “excuse me but since no one has said anything was that what really happened?”

Many of the people in the room broke out laughing as James leaned around his father, “I was there and that is exactly what happened.”

Aurtha looked at me, “you spanked him in front of the whole city?”

I grinned and nodded and he laughed as he looked at his son, “Sylvan, I suggest you pay attention to his classes and avoid large public areas.”

Everyone laughed as he bowed to the figure in the illusion and the next scene began. As the scene continued I sat back and relaxed letting Sam, Cat or Elizabeth catch the illusion when it strayed. Sam and Cat suddenly moved over against me and I looked up to see myself at the door into the work room.

The scene had stopped as my figure again looked out this time at me, “you are not invincible but this is very scary for the children.”

I nodded and he turned to look around, “children hold each others hands, this will not be pleasant.”

I watched as I again entered the workroom and fought invisible undead and was wounded. The room was not silent as they watched my struggle. My daughters cried quietly and were held by anyone close to them. When it was over the room remained quiet as we made our way down a seemingly endless tunnel toward Pendar’s Keep.

The dragon brought them back to life and then we laughed as Princess and Duchess appeared as big as horses, wagging their tails and fetching sticks. The room was quiet again as I lay in bed bleeding and close to dying. Amber, Jade and Ruby all appeared with tears in their eyes, wanting to be held.

That was the way it went, scene after scene. The older girls all liked the love parts, many cried when Elizabeth bonded to us, although they found it very funny that Sam or Cat were the ones that always pulled her away to be loved. The scene with her last strand startled many because they finally found out what had happened.

They laughed at the way my parents treated me and at Sylvan when they heard Jessie was his bond leader. They gasped when we found my bond daughters and woke them and finally they stayed silent as I fought the drow again. I stood as the illusion went dark, “Elora!”

The room was full of light as I looked out calmly, “my daughters, this is my story. Do you know why it starts when I arrived here in this city? It is because that is when you girls started coming into my life. It is when I found that someone could care for me and that I cared for them. This is when I truly started living.”

I looked around the room, “everyone has a story. My daughters, I ask you this. Where does your story begin? In the past with horror and abuse or here with people that care about and love you. Today there are no classes but I do not want you wandering to far, enjoy the day.”

I looked down and pulled my bonded up to me as Sylvan and his parents approached. I glanced across the room to see Catherine holding Talia, while her daughter knelt and held Virginia and Rosie. Cat touched me, “she may not be ready yet.”

I smiled sadly, “I doubt that she is. What she has just learned will help with her healing though. She knows her daughters now and they know her. She also knows that they are my daughters now and not Pendar’s and that will help bring her back to them.”

I looked at Aurtha and Kari, “did you enjoy the story?”

Kari grinned, “as a matter of fact we did.”

Aurtha smiled and then glanced back as Jessie touched his back and slid between him and his wife. Sylvan grinned as Elexia and Alonia stopped on each side of him, “Elexia wanted to know if you will teach her that move you did on Schaffer.”

I laughed as Elizabeth slipped under my other arm, “thinking of spanking someone?”

Her laugh was almost musical, “it had crossed my mind.”

Jessie took Kari’s hand, “father? Kari wants another baby. I know you helped Julianna.”

They were all silent as I looked at Jessie and then a cloudy specter appeared and drew Aurtha’s guards but I only turned slightly, “again, grandfather?”

There was a chuckle, “this is one of your tasks. You must find a way to help, not just your friend’s father but his people as well.”

His focus shifted to Cat, “guardian, your justice will come soon.”

And then it was Elizabeth’s turn as he turned to faced her, “granddaughter, you will face a great fear. You must not act, let my grandson stand for you and let your sisters protect you.”

Again he faced me, “you do not have long Michael.”

I nodded and watched as he faded away. I glanced at my father as he walked closer. I thought fast about what grandfather had said and hinted at. I nodded to myself and looked around the room, most of the people were gone but John, Ann and Julie were still there. I think they knew I wanted to talk to them and I waved them over.

I looked from Sylvan to my three bond mates, “three days and then we go, ready or not. Until then we do everything together, from the time we get up until we go to bed.”

I looked at Jessie, Elexia and Alonia, “no, you are not going. Jessie is not trained and would put us at risk. Elexia, you and Alonia need to stay with her and protect her. From herself or anyone else that would harm her.”

I looked at Sylvan’s parents, “if you want my help you will need to send all the nobles away or I will have John put them to work with Peter, butchering Saur.”

I glanced at lady Kari, “I do not know if I can help but I will try.”

I looked at dad, “will you do the exam with me? This is more your area than mine.”

He nodded and I looked at Jessie, “well my daughter, since you stuck your nose in you can escort them down to one of the exam rooms at the end of the hall where they will have more privacy. Send someone for Aretha and Juianna, ask them if they would join me in the exam room with lady Kari.”

I watched as Jessie nodded and led them towards the door. I looked at John, “first I will need a large wagon with good springs. Get with one of the rangers and ask about horses to pull the wagon. Tell them it is for the prince and they need to have endurance.”

I looked at Ann, “you know where my money and treasure is. If I do not come back I want you and John to try to keep this place going…”

I patted her on the shoulder and finally turned away from everyone and knelt facing my three bond daughters. I knew they would not be happy and held my arms out, “come here girls.”

As they came into my arms I hugged them. “I know you were listening. This is something I have to do, your sister needs my help. We have three days until I leave and unlike my other daughters you will be able to tell if I am alright. I want you girls to stay with your grandmother and grandfather.”

I grinned at them, “you need to teach dad how to do the displays.”

Ruby groaned, “but dad, he…”

I laughed and squeezed them, “all three of you need to start practicing. Not just using your senses but your magic. If you do not learn to use the magic it may use you. Your grandfather Artimas and grandmother Summer can help. Now I have a lot to do. Why don’t you three go find someone to teach you to swim.”

They hesitated and finally Jade nodded, “okay but then we are coming back to find you.”

They reluctantly pulled away and quietly walked out of the room. I stood and turned to face my bond mates, “I think someone will probably have to sit on them to keep them here.”

Elizabeth laughed, “it is your own fault momma duck.”

I grinned and gestured to John, Ann and Julie, “you three take off. Try to enjoy some of the day.”

Once they had left I looked at my bonded and Sylvan, “we stay together, if even one of us has to go to the bathroom, we all go. When we move I will lead and then Cat, followed by Sam, Elizabeth after her and Sylvan last.”

I looked at Elizabeth, “I will need your help crafting a special gun for the servants.”

She nodded and I turned towards the door. Downstairs we walked past several guards standing around the exam room lady Kari was in. I stopped listening to someone arguing with Sylvan’s father. I shook my head and looked at one of the guards, “follow me.”

When I came into the room it was to see a noble standing in front of the king arguing. I stepped closer, “either leave now or I will have you removed and I do not think you will enjoy that experience.”

He turned his head towards me as if I were beneath his notice, “stay out of this.”

I nodded to the guard, “take this… person to the human called Peter. He will be across the river. Tell him I would like it if we had a few more Saur in the cold room and he can help butcher them.”

The noble opened his mouth to argue and squawked when the guard grabbed him by the back of his neck and started dragging him out the door. I looked at Elizabeth, “tell the guards to move down the hall to the stairs. They do not need to listen to lady Kari’s exam.”

I saw that Sarah was there and patted the exam table, “lady Kari?”

We spent an hour with them and between Aretha, my father, me and surprisingly Elizabeth. We came up with a way to help not just lady Kari and Aurtha but all the elves. I put Aurtha and lady Kari in one of the large rooms in the grotto and Sylvan and his bonded in another. In the craftroom we came up with a low powered gun.

It shot a dart like bullet that put whoever it hit to sleep. We spent the rest of the day going over plans on how to move. Cat drew a map of the Keep and the route she thought was the best way in. We spent the evenings with the girls, giving baths and listening to them tell us about their day.

Amber, Ruby and Jade would end up crawling into our bed every night. Melissa and Tammy seemed to have adopted Sam as their mother and sought her out for comfort. The rest of the little girls divided themselves between Cat and Elizabeth. The days were spent practicing, shooting, sword work or magic as well as just moving together as a team.

John bought a large wagon that was strangely light. It was like our first wagon, it had the two different types of springs and the ride was very smooth. The ranger that was seeing Amanda appeared with six horses that he said were both strong and had endurance. The last night I sent Sylvan off early to be with his bonded.

I asked my mother, father, Artimas, Summer, John, Ann and Julia to join us in our room at bath time. We spent a quiet evening talking and comforting not just them but my bond daughters as well as Tammy and Melissa. I woke to my father slipping into the room the next morning. I knew why he was here, to keep my bond daughters from following.

I woke Cat with a kiss and slipped over Jade to Sam, she was awake and smiled up at me. Amanda had slipped into bed late in the night and was next to Elizabeth. As I woke Elizabeth I saw Amanda’s eyes open and watching, unshed tears in her eyes. I stopped next to her before getting out of bed and leaned close, “do not worry. I will bring her back safe.”

We met Sylvan at the bridge. His rangers were waiting on the other side of the bridge and he spent several minutes with them before joining us by the wagon. We made sure we had everything and the girls climbed into the wagon. We took one last look at the small group that stood watching us and walked quietly into the morning fog.

I ran quietly ahead of the wagon, my body relaxed with my senses stretched out ahead, searching. Only three days had past since the Drow had attacked my Keep. I still was not convinced they had been after the elven king. We had been moving all day, switching the horses that pulled the wagon constantly to save them.

Now it was just getting dark and we were moving slower. We had only encountered drow twice, I raised my hand as I felt them again. This time I moved to the side of the track and looked up at Cat as the wagon slowed and came alongside me. I whispered, “are we close?”

She nodded, “not far but there are guards.”

Sylvan stopped beside me, “all clear behind us.”

I looked around and pointed to a small clearing a little behind us, “put the wagon and all the horses there. Make sure you picket the horses with long leads. I will go take care of the two guards ahead of us and wait for you.”

Turning, I moved off the track and silently slipped through the woods. When I got close to the drow guards they were alert as if they had heard something. I was only a dozen yards away when I stopped. Slowly I brought the silenced hybrid up and aimed. Two quick shots took the guards out and I was again moving, this time to pull the bodies under cover.

It was another ten minutes before Sylvan and my wives arrived. They were moving in the pattern Sylvan and I had taught them. I stepped out of cover and took the lead keeping a longer gap between us. The glasses I had made and enchanted seemed to be working perfectly. We had only gone a little way when I again felt drow, this time they were moving towards us.

I signaled and we faded off the track and the night was still as we waited. The four drow walking down the track walked past me and when the last one went past I shot him and moved to the next. By the time he was down Cat and Sam had taken the other two out. We moved out of the cover and while the girls covered us Sylvan and I dragged the bodies off the track and under the brush.

Again we continued down the track until we reached the clearing. I knelt as the girls and Sylvan moved closer. I looked at Cat to see her pointing to a door along the right side of a huge building. We waited and shortly two guards came into sight walking around the building. I looked at Cat and made a hand sign for her to take the one on the right.

I brought the hybrid up and aimed as I slowly started squeezing the trigger. Cat’s guard stumbled and then my hybrid was bucking as it fired and the second guard fell forward. I signaled for the girls to guard and again Sylvan and I moved forward to pull the bodies under cover. When we were done I gesture and they joined us as we moved quietly to the door.

When we reached the door I paused and let the hybrid go so that it was held under my right arm by its sling. I removed the night glasses and pulled my modified White Hawk and the mage gun Elizabeth had helped create. I moved to the other side of the doorway and nodded to Cat. She shifted and pulled the door open and I swiftly stepped in, moving to the side of the doorway.

The three servants turned as I appeared and the mage gun coughed three times. I watched the servants fall to the floor asleep as first Cat and then Sam came through the door behind me. Cat moved along one wall and Sam the other as Elizabeth and then Sylvan appeared through the door.

While Sylvan and Elizabeth moved to join Cat and Sam in covering the other door I quietly moved the servants into the pantry. When I came out I crossed to the door and looked at Cat and whispered, “first your sisters and then your mother, just like we planned.”

She nodded and opened the door for me and I slipped into the hallway beyond. It was clear and I gestured for them to follow. We started moving down the hall staggered, Cat and Elizabeth on the other side of the hall. When we came to the first intersection I nodded to Cat and she moved up and stepped around the corner.

I crossed the hall and followed her around the corner and moved forward to the single door that was in front of us. She moved to one side and I took the other. Sam moved up behind me and glanced back before tapping me on the shoulder. That let me know Sylvan and Elizabeth were watching the hallway behind us.

I nodded to Cat and she opened the door as I started moving. Inside the room I moved along the wall. I had brought the mage gun up but held my fire as the two servants that turned with infants in their arms. They stared, eyes wide in fright as Cat broke the pattern and crossed to the closest.

As she got close she whispered, “Nanna I have come for my sisters and mother. Come with us.”

The woman stood for a minute as Sam, Elizabeth and then Sylvan entered the room. She finally nodded and turned to another cradle whispering, “we must be quiet, the Ardan has summoned the host.”

I glanced at Sylvan as Elizabeth and Sam moved forward to the three small beds with sleeping girls. I moved to one side of the door and waited as the girls and the two servants got three infants and three six year old girls ready to go. When they were ready Cat whispered instructions to the servants and placed her younger sisters between them after a quick hug.

When she was ready she crossed to me, stopping only to squeeze my shoulder before slipping out the door and taking a position to the side. I slipped out and to the other side of the hall and continued moving down to the corner. At the corner I glanced back to see Cat’s sisters and their nannys following behind Cat.

My senses were extended as I slipped around the corner and slowly moved down the next hall. I knew the hallway we were in was a servant’s hall but it also crossed the main halls where we were heading. As we got close to the main hallway I felt the two drow approaching and signaled.

They were talking as they walked down the hall and glanced down our hall causally, not expecting anything. Two pistols fired almost at the same time and they fell before they even knew they were dead. Again the girls covered while Sylvan and I moved the bodies, this time into a closet.

We moved down the main hall to a set of doors not to far from the intersection. I signaled Cat closer and whispered, “whatever we find stay calm and do it like we planned.”

Her lips tightened but she nodded. Sam moved up behind her and she opened the door. In a blink I was through the door and moving. There were two drow inside and they were raping Cat’s eleven year old sisters. I did not even slow as my pistol came up and fired twice. Reaching the first bed I grabbed the body that was still twitching and yanked.

I let it drop to the floor as I continued on to the second bed. Cat was behind me and she stopped at her sister and pulled her into an embrace whispering to her. I reached the other bed and shoved the dead drow over the other side of the bed. I gently touched the young girl whispering, “little one it is over. Your sister Cat is here to get you.”

I waited until one of the nanniess got there and moved back to the door. I could see Sam and Elizabeth both smoldering and whispered, “it is not my time yet, stay calm.”

I slipped out the door and Sylvan followed. I moved down the hall and waited as he stayed by the door. A couple of minutes later the girls came out followed by Cat’s sisters and I started drifting slowly down the hall. At the next intersection I felt several drow down the hall and signaled Cat.

She quietly moved closer and we went around the corner together. Two seconds later it was over and the five drow lay in a spreading pool of blood. We left them and continued down the hall to the next door. It was locked and had a wooden cross bar holding it closed. I wordlessly reached out and snapped the lock and lifted the cross bar.

Cat quietly opened the door and I stepped in. There was only a single bed in the room, the woman that sat up looked so much like Cat that I was having trouble calming myself. She was covered in bruises and did not even try to hide herself. Cat slipped past me, “mother?”

Her mother blinked and half opened her arms as Cat reached her. Cat held her and started crying as Sam slipped past me and touched Cat, “lets get her dressed. Michael is angry and you know what is coming.”

Cat nodded and slipped the small pack off her back and removed the clothes that she had brought while I turned and walked quietly to the door. I stepped out into the hall and looked at Elizabeth, “stay with Sylvan and cover our rear.”

I walked several feet the other way and looked at Sylvan with my jaw clenching, “follow the best you can and protect them.”

I reached out and started walking, letting my senses feel ahead of me. My pistols slipped back into their holsters. By the time I reached the first occupied hallway there was a red glow surrounding me. The first drow to meet me died as they slammed into the wall behind them so hard it shattered every bone and turned their insides into paste.

At the corner to the doors into the main hall I paused to glance back at my bonded to see them moving towards me at a fast walk. I stepped around the corner as my mage shield came up and I reached out to the four guards at the door. I slammed them into the doors so hard that they exploded into the other room.

Walking forwards into the room I moved into my master’s dance. Everyone that came near I killed. I reached out to the necromancers that threw spells at me and broke their necks before ripping their hearts out. Then my bonded reached the door and the drow started dying faster as they started killing them with their hybrids.

I reached out to the drow that had been sitting in a throne and slammed him against a wall and then crushing the two necromancers that had been sitting beside him. Silence came to the hall as I finished killing the last drow standing and turned to the Ardan as he lay stunned against a wall.

When I reached him I bent and pulled him to his feet and then backed to the center of the floor. I slapped him as he started pulling in magical energy, “you do that again and I will kill you without giving you a chance to fight.”

He froze and glared at me while snarling, “you have no idea who I am!”

I smiled a smile that caused him to step back, “you are the Ardan and I am your judgment. For what you did to my wife and her mother your life is mine.”

I hit him, knocking several teeth out and sending him sprawling. As I moved forward he came to his feet with a dagger in his hand. I shifted sideways as he lunged and grabbing his hand and twisting up and back, snapping the wrist. I continued moving around him, hitting him and breaking bones as he screamed.

When I broke one of his legs and he fell I continued with my feet until he was a whimpering thing on the floor. I knelt beside him and cut his pants away with his own dagger before looking up at my wife, “Cat?”

She walked across the room and stopped beside me as I stood and held the dagger out to her. She looked down and then looked into my face, “my mother needs this more than I do.”

I nodded and turned to the door, “Lisa?”

She hesitated and then slowly walked across the room. When she reached us I held the dagger out to her, “his fate is yours.”

She slowly took the dagger and looked down, after a minute she knelt. She looked at his face for a long time and then suddenly reached out with the dagger and stabbed into his stomach and yanked up. She spit on him as he screamed and rose to be held by Cat. I knelt and pulled the dagger free and quickly cut his throat.

I cut out his heart and tossed it into the fire at the side of the room. I cleaned the dagger and looked at Sylvan as I put it away, “time to go.”

As I stepped out of the room I noticed the dozen drow sprawled on the floor of the hallway. Sylvan had done a good job keeping them off our backs. I slowly started to make my back out, stopping to check each cross hallway. In the servant’s kitchen the three servants were awake. They moved back against the wall and let us pass.

When I stepped out the door it was quiet but I knew that was a lie. When we started across the clearing a single drow stepped out. Only the fact that he had raised his hands, his palms empty kept me from shooting him. He moved towards us slowly and I recognized him as the drow that had been in Pendar’s Keep.

He nodded to me but his attention was on Cat. Slowly he knelt and bowed his head, “highness, the Ardan is dead. I ask your judgment.”

She looked at me and I moved closer, “why do you call my wife so?”

He kept his head down, “because the Ardan is dead and I have killed his only son.”

I looked at Cat and then at Sylvan as he moved closer, “is that why you seek judgment?”

He nodded, “when I returned and started asking questions the Ardan’s son had me confined. When you came I escaped and found him as he sought to escape your wrath.”

Cat frowned, “you seek judgment from me? Even though I am not full blood like you?”

Again he nodded, “you are the Ardan’s oldest daughter.”

She looked at Sylvan and then at me and I watched as something crossed her face. She stepped closer to the drow, “were you one of those that used me or my sisters?”

The drow shook his head, “no highness. I have never taken a woman unwilling.”

Cat looked at me and then sighed, “what is your name?”

The drow looked up, “I am Zachary highness.”

She slowly pulled her sword, letting the magic roll out and away. I could feel something else coming from her, almost as if she was not alone in her body, “the killing of my half brother is serious even though I would have done the same without a second thought. Zachary I bind you in my service, you will set your weapons aside. From this day forth you will be my childrens teacher and mentor until such a time as peace finds you.”

Her sword slowly descended until it rested on his shoulder, “do you accept my judgment?”

Zachary bowed his head as he undid his weapons belt and let it fall, “mistress I accept.”

I looked around, getting a strange feeling of magic around us, “we need to go Cat.”

She nodded and her sword slipped back into its sheath. The night came alive in mage light and I spun around to see a single mage standing before the track leading out. He laughed as I moved forward, “very touching. I will be sure to remind her when I take her as my plaything.”

I heard Elizabeth’s choked whisper, “Antizel!”

The lightening that flashed past me was not hers though, it was Cat’s. I stepped to the side and threw up a shield as I watched it shatter on Antizel’s shield. He laughed, “oh, that was pitiful young princess. Elizabeth? Not going to welcome me back? We are going to have so much fun getting to know each other again.”

I had extended my senses and suddenly laughed as I started walking towards him slowly, “Antizel you have made a big mistake. Actually you made several.”

The ball of fire that struck my shield was huge and white hot but it only faded away. He made another gesture and an army of undead walked from the surrounding darkness, “and what mistakes are those young mage?”

The ripple of magic I sent out hit the undead and seemed to have no effect. I smiled as I stepped even closer, “first you did not protect your army well enough.”

Suddenly a bright light appeared on the chest of every undead and quickly grew brighter until it exploded and they turned to ash. Antizel paled and again a ball of fire struck my shield and faded away. I took another step, “your second mistake was to let me find out you were still alive.”

I took still another step and held out my right hand and a sphere appeared above it. Antizel laughed, “are you going to kill me with your pitiful magic?”

I smiled as I stepped closer and my shield absorbed a massive lightening strike. The sphere had little lightening bolts filling it, “no. Your third mistake was to let me get close to you.”

I tossed the sphere across the few feet between us and it stuck to his shield and seemed to just sink in. Antizel laughed, “well that was scary. Any more mistakes?”

My smile widened, “yes. You put up the wrong type of shield.”

His smile faded as he glanced at the spot my sphere had struck. That was the last thing he ever did on his own as a bolt of lightening flashed from the inside of his shield, striking his hand. Where it hit bones shattered, a second bolt followed the first with the same results. After that it was like a lightening storm, everywhere the lightening struck bones shattered.

The end came when the last bolt hit him and the shield vanished. I stepped next to his whimpering body and looked back, “Elizabeth?”

My wife slowly stepped away from Cat and Sam who had been holding her with shields that surrounded her. She walked to me as if in a daze. When she stopped next to me I pulled my dagger and handed it to her, “end it.”

She looked at the dagger and shook her head, “that would be to easy.”

She held her hand over Antizel and murmured something before turning her hand over. It looked like a black speck dropped from her hand to land on his body. Antizel started screaming as his body began to smoke and turn black. I moved Elizabeth back a step as it started making a keening noise.

Suddenly a tendril appeared in the air over him and wrapped around him. His body slowly faded and then was gone leaving us in silent darkness. Elizabeth touched my arm, “can we go home now?”

I smiled and nodded as we started walking down the track. When we reached the wagon we helped the children and Lisa into the back. I gesture to Zachary and he quietly climbed onto the wagon while Sylvan and I harnessed the horses. It was a long walk home and ended in the late afternoon of the next day as we came to a stop by our bridge.

There was a large crowd that met us, my parents and all my daughters where there and just about every neighbor I knew. As Jen helped her sister down and started across the bridge with her family, I stood and watched. Yes, this was home and this was my family. This was my new beginning, my fresh start.

The end

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