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Wolf 359



The Templar

Rebellion







pdmac






Wolf 359: The Templar Rebellion, is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is purely coincidental.


Copyright © 2017 by pdmac


All rights reserved


Printed in the United States of America


No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express permission of the author or publisher.


Published by Trimble Hollow Press, Acworth, Georgia


ISBN: 978-0-9861523-8-2

eISBN: 978-0-9861523-9-9





Cover design by Trimble Hollow Concepts

Front cover art by Robert Ardy














for Terri Lynn

the love of my life









People should either be caressed or crushed. If you do them minor damage they will get their revenge; but if you cripple them there is nothing they can do. If you need to injure someone, do it in such a way that you do not have to fear their vengeance.

-Machiavelli





More Science Fiction by pdmac


The Sci Fi/Fantasy series Wolf 359:


Wolf 359

Queen to Play

A Once and Future King

The Puppet King

The Templar Rebellion



Steampunk Westerns:

Fool’s Gold

An Ounce of Lead



A Dystopian Novel:

Rebirth of Angels





Dramatis Personae



Alexis: Berserker and Tarrac Master of Gambria

Alric: King Diad’s heir

Athdar: Lord Chamberlain to the King

Brenna: a member of the elite Twelve

Caci: Menec’s wife and now Lady of Radnor

Caitrin: Duncan’s wife now Lady of Aberhond

Cathmor: Lord of Glanon

Cattwg: former Prelate of the Temple, now a Taverner

Cedrych: deposed Lord of Blenlech

Dade: deposed Lord of Glanon

Darroch: Steward to the High Priest and Lord of Aberhond

Deryn: apprentice wizard to Kyran

Diad: former King of Gambria

Drubal: Secretary General to the High Priest

Drysi: taverner in Drunedun

Duncan: Lord of Aberhond and the High Priest of Gambria

Eaman: Slaven’s younger brother and now Lord of Rythyn

Gefnyn: Diad’s cousin and Lord of Brecknot

Glynnis: common-law wife of Raefgot

Guina: former Queen of Gambria, now Konrud’s wife

Harun: Lord of Whiting

Heledd: Lady Heledd rules the Mull Commanaderie

Konrud: Prelate of Aberhond

Kyran: Mage of Cinoc Mar

Llwyd: Level 1 scholar

Lowri: Clan Chief of Cinoc Mar

Mairi: Common-law wife of Cattwg and co-owner of their growing tavern empire

Menec: Lord of Radnor

Ouen: Supreme Commander of Gambria’s military

Morcan: servant to Heledd

Pavia: Queen of Gambria

Raefgot: Diad’s bastard son, he is now the Burgomaster of Emlyn in Rugia

Rastamon: Alexis’ cat

Rhosyn: Pavia’s lady-in-waiting and confidant

Rulf: Chief of the Assassins

Siani: Dade’s oldest daughter

Slaven: Grandmaster of the Templars

Tomos: High Chancellor of the Temple

Tuathal: Chief of the Twelve, the Kingdom’s elite warriors

Vaddon: Leader of a theater troop in Rugia











Contents



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17





Chapter 1

Dressed in thick overcoats and stamping their feet to keep warm, they stood waiting outside the Council Hall while servants feverishly stoked the fires to warm the still frigid room.

“Not a very auspicious beginning,” Daeg remarked, glancing around to see if anyone appreciated his comment.

“Not as cold as Radnor, eh Lord Menec?” Duncan grinned at his friend.

“No,” Menec smiled in reply, “but then we do know how to anticipate important meetings.”

“Important meetings?” Harun frowned. “I thought we all came here to celebrate Duncan on his recent marriage. This was supposed to be a huge party.”

“That’s tomorrow,” Gefnyn deadpanned, “right after we make Menec king.”

“Not on your life,” Menec shot back.

“And I was so looking forward to having you back in Mull,” Harun sighed.

“So you believe Diad should be replaced?” Eaman said, staring at Gefnyn.

“It was a joke,” he reminded him. “And any discussions as to the future of our kingdom would be best left unsaid until we are behind closed doors.”

“Does that include jokes?” Eaman replied.

“The joke is you supporting Dade,” Harun growled.

Eaman stiffened. “I didn’t know that he was going his own way,” he waffled. “I thought he was simply flexing his muscle.”

“Sure you did,” Harun nodded with disbelief.

“I thought I was late,” Heledd said, bustling up. She was fashionably dressed in a thick fur lined cloak that almost reached to the ground, hiding her calf-high black boots. The hood was pulled back revealing a beautiful woman, her long hair pleated and curled at the back of her head. Seeing Duncan, she gave him a coquettish smile.

“We’re waiting for summer to arrive,” Harun joked with a sigh. “Either that or the room gets warm enough, whichever comes first.”

The door opened and Athdar poked his head out. “My Lords and Lady,” he said, nodding at Heledd in deference. “If you can wait just a bit longer, we will have the situation rectified. My sincere apologies for this inconvenience. I take full responsibility for this inconvenience.” The door closed and they could hear his muffled voice urging the servants to quickly get the room warm.

“I’m impressed,” Galyn said. “The Lord Chamberlain actually took accountability for something.”

“He’s a good man,” Cathmor’s low strong voice intoned.

“Oh, I didn’t mean him,” Galyn flipped a hand. “I was referring to his predecessor… well, now that I think about it, it was two Lord Chamberlains ago. Konrud actually was doing a fair job.” He turned to stare at Duncan.

“I think he’s happier where he is now,” Duncan smiled.

“And Guina? Is she happy too?” Galyn raised an eyebrow.

“Very much,” he answered. “Ask Harun and Gefnyn. They saw her not more than three days ago.”

“Really?” Galyn coolly regarded his cousins. “I thought she was living in Aberhond.”

“She is,” Harun replied.

When he offered no further comment, Galyn offered a sly smile. “Interesting.”

The door opened and Athdar emerged. “I believe we are warm enough now to allow the Council to proceed.”

The Council Hall was a large room with a long table in the center. One chair, larger and more ornate than the others, was positioned at the head of the table while the remaining chairs were placed, four on each side. The morning’s sunlight was just beginning to filter through the tall glass windows. Two large fireplaces stood on opposite ends of the room where servants stacked wood and attended the billowing flames.

Hand written name cards were placed on the table in front of each of the chairs. Gefnyn moved to the position of honor at the head of the table. The remaining cards were arranged by seniority. Harun sat to Gefnyn’s immediate right while Daeg sat on his left. The remaining Lords and Lady assumed their places. Duncan sat at the end, opposite Cathmor.

While other servants brought in hot mulled wine, Gefnyn waited patiently until all appeared to be in order. “Lord Chamberlain,” he said directing his attention to Athdar. “Will you please dismiss the servants? I ask that you remain.”

“Yes, m’Lord,” he nodded in reply. Clapping his hands, he hustled the servants out and closed the door. As he turned, there was a firm knock on the door. Momentarily irritated, he reopened the door to discover Llywd standing there. “Yes?”

“I am here to act as secretary to these proceedings,” Llwyd explained with an air of superiority.

“Of course,” Athdar smiled. “It slipped my mind.” He inwardly grinned at the fleeting shock of indignity on Llwyd’s face that a scholar of the First Rank could be so easily forgotten. “Come in.” Turning to the assembled group, he announced, “My Lords and Lady, Senior Master Scholar of the First Rank Llywd is here to record these proceedings.”

“Excellent,” Gefnyn replied and motioned to the small writing table closer to the fire.

Shivering, Llwyd scurried across the room, thankful his place would be warm.

Waiting for Llwyd to get settled, Gefnyn cast a slow glance at the others. “You all know why we are here. Alric has petitioned this Council, asserting the claim that Diad, present King of Gambria, is no longer fit to rule by reason of mental incapacity. I have asked the Lord Chamberlain to remain in order to enlighten us as to the King’s current state of mind. Lord Chamberlain, your insights please.”

“My Lords and Lady,” he began. “I have been with the King ever since we were stranded on the island a half-day’s sail from Glanon.” Athdar then recounted the adventures of the group from the time on the island to the present. “As I stated, I have been with the King and have seen his state of mind deteriorate to the point to where he is no longer capable of making sound decisions. You all know my duties as his Lord Chamberlain. I have been forced to make decisions that were not my place to make.”

“Like what?” Daeg asked.

“Like the suppression of Dade’s insurrection, which I might add just happened to solve a problem in your own domain. You were fortunate that forces were available to deal with the attack from Cinoc Mar.”

Daeg’s lips tightened and he blinked in awkward silence. He was indeed fortunate. His regiment had been soundly trounced and had it not been for the assembled forces in Glanon, he would still be in exile from his own domain.

Having made his point, Athdar continued. “Presently, his mind is preoccupied with watching the boats in the harbor and playing a sort of game with the various kinds of ships with Ifor, the King’s friend.”

“Are you saying that he is unfit to rule?” Eaman demanded.

Athdar held up his hands in defense. “That is not my place to determine, m’Lord. What I can say is that he is easily distracted –”

“He was like that before,” Galyn quipped. “What makes him any different now?”

“M’Lord,” Athdar quietly answered. “Just yesterday, he asked again when he could go back to the island.”

There was a murmuring of surprise mixed with consternation before Gefnyn asked, “Is it your opinion that he lacks the necessary mental acuity to make sound decisions?”

“Yes, m’Lord, it is.”

“Is there corroboration?”

“I can answer to that,” Cathmor said. “As the former commander of the King’s Own, I was charged with protecting him, even more so when Bradwr sought to dethrone him. I am probably more intimate with him than the rest of you. I too was with him on the island and saw the further decline in his rational abilities. Yet, as you all know, his decline was already happening before we departed for the island.”

“Example?”

“My fellow Lords and Lady,” Cathmor said, looking at the others. “Do you not remember when he made Alric his heir instead of Emer?”

“I would have done the same thing,” Galyn interrupted. “Emer was a pompous uchen’s ass. He knew nothing more about ruling a people than he did about fornicating.”

“That’s enough,” Gefnyn chided. “Emer is not the concern here. The question is Diad’s ability to rule. What was your point, Cathmor?”

“My point is that the change was made in a fit of pique. There was no thought process involved. You all have seen his steady slip into irrational behavior, his penchant for drink and women. I will not mention his treatment of his own wife. And, I believe the Lord Chamberlain can vouch for this, is his continual demand to know why Menec wasn’t here, when Guina had made him Lord of Radnor months ago. And then there’s the fascination with boats.”

“And Guina placed Pavia and Alric under house arrest,” Heledd chimed in.

“There was good reason for that,” Galyn countered.

A general hubbub erupted with most everyone talking over each other. Gefnyn finally established order and looked to where Duncan had been calmly sitting listening to the various conversations and arguments. “Duncan. Do you have anything to say on the matter?”

Pausing as if to ponder his reply, he said, “It seems to me we already know and agree that King Diad is not in his right mind. Between what information the Lord Chamberlain has provided and other personal encounters and experiences, I think we can safely say that King Diad is incapable of performing his role as King and ruler of Gambria. I think perhaps the greatest evidence, for me at least, is the latest revelation that Diad likes me.”

There were a number of snorts and chuckles, which were interrupted by another knock on the door. Scowling, Gefnyn directed his attention to the Lord Chamberlain. “I will tolerate no further interruptions. Find out who or what it is and fix it.”

“Yes, m’Lord.” He opened the door and briefly spoke with the messenger then pressed the door closed. Walking over to Gefnyn, he handed him a sealed envelope. “It’s an urgent message for you.”

His scowl shifting to a frown, Gefnyn broke the nondescript seal and read the contents. The frown morphed to a raised eyebrow. Calmly folding letter, he placed it on the table and looked around at the group. “I believe Duncan’s point is well taken. We can dispense with further discussion. I think we are all in agreement that King Diad no longer has the mental capacity to rule Gambria. Does anyone disagree?” He paused and looked at each one in turn. No one objected.

Looking at Llwyd, he said, “You may write that the Council was unanimous in its decision that Diad, son of Bowyn, is no longer fit to rule.”

“Yes, m’Lord,” Llwyd replied. “I’ve already made the appropriate annotation.”

The room was finally warming to where Council members were beginning to take off their outer cloaks. Llwyd scooted his chair and table a bit farther away from the fire.

“The business now before the Council,” Gefnyn intoned, “is determining the next king. By law of lineage, Alric is the next in line. I also make note that Diad did publicly make him his heir. It is recorded in Buckom, is it not Senior Master Scholar Llwyd?”

“Yes, m’Lord.” Llwyd replied.

“Let’s then proceed to the discussion of why Alric should or should not be King.”

Harun cleared his throat, looked at Heledd then said, “We all know Alric to be a fine warrior and an excellent commander. Given the right guidance and with wise and experienced people in the right positions, he could make a good king.” He paused to look at Gefnyn. “However, there is one, um… problem that gives me great concern as to his suitability.”

“And what problem might that be?” Gefnyn asked. “Before you answer that, let me share with the Council this missive I’ve just received.” He opened the letter and read, “To m’Lord Gefnyn and the other Lords and Lady of the Council of Lords. Be it known that I, Alric, son of Diad, King of Gambria, have on this day divorced Pavia as my wife.”

“O my God,” Heledd burst as the clamor in the room erupted.

Gefnyn continued reading, his voice rising above the noise. “It is so recorded in Buckom. From this day forward, Pavia is no longer part of the house of Diad.” He closed the letter and slid it into the envelope, sitting back to watch the reactions. He waited patiently for the clamor to finally subside.

Looking directly at Harun, he said, “M’Lord Harun, you were saying that you had a problem with Alric’s suitability?”

Grinning, Harun leaned back in his chair. With a flip of his hand, he said, “That problem has been solved.”

“Other concerns?” Gefnyn asked the group.

“But… but,” Heledd muttered. “That means Pavia won’t be queen.”

“True enough,” Galyn chuckled. Thinking of Alric’s actions, he nodded with admiration. “Well played.”

Gefnyn looked over to where Llwyd sat stunned, his mouth slacked open. “You seemed surprised, Master Scholar Llwyd. Surely you knew about this.”

“I… I… didn’t m’Lord.” His face then transformed to impassive acceptance. But I will when I get back home and castrate the bastard who set me up.

“But Pavia’s supposed to be queen. It’s what she’s always wanted,” Heledd whined.

“Looks like she finally lost the game,” Eaman sneered. “God I wish I could be there when she finds out.”

“That’s not fair,” Heledd complained.

“Life’s not fair, m’Lady,” Duncan intoned, staring evenly at her.

“But… but…” She screwed up her face in a childish pout.

While Heledd stewed, Harun said, “My Lords and Lady, I think we have our answer. We would do well to abide by the time honored traditions of lineage and agree that Alric, son of Diad, should be our King.”

“I agree,” Galyn said. “Do we need to take a vote?”

“It would be proper,” Gefnyn said. “All those in favor of Alric as our King, raise your hand.”

Eight hands rose high.

“Opposed?”

Heledd half-heartedly raised her hand.

Gazing at Llwyd, Gefnyn said, “You may record the vote as eight to one with Lady Heledd in opposition.”

“Looks like our work here is done,” Harun gleefully exclaimed, pushing back from the table.

As the Council members stood, Gefnyn reminded them, “We will all go together to inform Alric that he is now King and formally swear our allegiance.”



Standing at the thick wooden table off to the side of the house, Raefgot heard them as they approached the gate, causing him to pause mid-stroke as he sliced away the thick conharra fur. Looking up, he set down his skinning knife and wiped his hands on a rag.

“Good day to you, gentlemen,” he smiled, approaching the stone fence separating the yard from the road. There were five of them, Milenoir the Miller and four other men Raefgot recognized as leading citizens of the village.

“Mornin’ Bleddyn,” the Miller affably touched a finger to his forehead.

“Good morning, Master Miller,” he replied.

“You know these men with me,” he said, pleased with Raefgot’s elevation of his status.

“Yes, I do.” Dipping his head at the rotund baker, he said, “I’m quite partial to Master Arval’s bread.” He then nodded to a well-built middle aged man. “Though I’ve yet to use Tormod’s smithy skills, I’ve admired a number of his blades on display.” Turning to a smaller balding man with eager eyes, he smiled at him and said, “And everyone knows Master Lug and his excellent Tavern.” He then recognized the Ale-master. “Master Cian I know because his ale is in my own home.”

“Good, good,” the Miller replied, happily bobbing his head. He paused, licking his lips, his head still slowly bouncing up and down.

Raefgot realized they were waiting to be invited in. “My apologies. Come in, come in.” He opened the gate and led the way into the house. Glynnis, bending over the crib, looked up as they entered.

“Welcome to our home,” she smiled. As they had the look of business about them, she picked up the child, still wrapped in a blanket, and went over to a chair by the fire to nurse.

“Sorry to be a bother, Glynnis,” Milenoir said, “but we’ve some important business with yer husband.”

“You never intrude, Milenoir. You know you are always welcome here,” she smiled at him, pulling her shirt open to place the baby at a nipple. She then devoted her attention to feeding the child.

Raefgot filled five tankards with ale while his guests sat at the table or pulled up a stool as there were only four chairs and Glynnis and baby occupied one of them. Handing the mug to Cian, Raefgot deadpanned, “I think you’ll like this ale, Master Cian. It’s very good.”

Cian frowned at him just a moment then grinned. “Of course it’s good,” he barked a laugh. “It’s my own.”

“What brings you all here to our little home?”

“We’ve a proposition for you,” Lug said.

“We already talked this over amongst ourselves,” Milenoir hastened to add.

“And we’re all agreed,” Arval joined in.

Raefgot merely smiled, waiting for their proposition.

There was a pause before Tormod blurted, “We want you to be our burgomaster.”

Raefgot’s smile faded. “We already have a burgomaster,” he frowned, turning his attention to Lug. “Aren’t you still the burgomaster?”

“Aye,” he replied, nodding with some awkwardness. “Truth is, the tavern keeps me busy and I was thinkin’ of openin’ up another one north of here.”

“And that would take him away from here,” Cian piped in, “and we need someone who’s gonna be here. I ain’t saying you ain’t a good burgomaster,” he hastened to add, staring intently at Lug.

“I know,” Lug airily waved a hand. “But the man’s gotta point. A town’s leader ought to be here.”

“And you got book learnin’ too,” Milenoir pointed out. “Lug and Cian know how to cipher and can read some, but they got a business to run and you don’t and asides, you can read and cipher easier and faster.” He saw Raefgot’s bemused look then realized what he said. “I ain’t sayin’ you ain’t busy,”

“I understand,” Raefgot chuckled. “But why me? I’m new to this village. I’m sure there are other men and women more qualified than I.”

“We already thought about that,” Tormod intervened. “Everyone in the village knows yer honest and won’t cheat a body. They trust you to do what you said. Some of us even know about what ya did for Bofin.”

Raefgot’s eyes bolted wide then shifted to the Miller, giving him a stern gaze.

“Don’t worry,” Tormod assured him. “What ya done only makes us all the more sure in our decision. Ya say yer new here, but ya took it to yerself to help one of us out and without even askin’ for anythin’ in return. Yer a good man, Bleddyn.”

Raefgot cast a glance over to Glynnis who simply smiled agreement then subtly nodded approval. “But I still need to provide for my own household.”

“We ain’t askin’ you to do it fer free,” Milenoir said.

“You get one-tenth of our taxes,” Lug explained.

“One tenth?” Raefgot’s eyes shot wide. “That’s too –“

“No it’s not,” Lug cut him off. “You got responsibilities that no one else does. The vil depends on you.”

Raefgot stared at him for a moment. “Why are you so keen to give up this position?”

“He wants to get rich,” Cian answered for him. “If I was in his shoes, I’d do the same thing. An honest man can’t get rich bein’ a burgomaster. That’s why we want you. Yer honest and ya seem to do well enough on yer own.”

“But it ain’t just that,” the Miller chided the Ale Master. “We need a man who cares about us and is gonna take care of us. Lug did a right fine job of it and now he wants to move on. I fer one ain’t gonna stand in his way. He’s done a good job and now it’s time to find the next man.”

Raefgot frowned in thought. “I’ll ask one more time; are you sure I am the one you want””

All five shook their heads and either said ‘Yes’ or grunted agreement.

Raefgot looked once more to Glynnis who held his gaze and nodded.

“Alright then,” he sighed. “I accept on one condition.”

“Oh?” Lug raised an eyebrow.

“I expect to be obeyed unquestioningly.” He looked at each of them in turn. “I asked Milenoir and the others not to tell anyone because I did not want the town involved. Should someone come asking, ignorance is better than lying.”

“It weren’t his fault,” Tormod sheepishly said. “I overheard Bofin and his Ma talkin’.”

“And then you told some others.” Raefgot pursed his lips. “If we are to protect this town, we must learn to keep secrets.”

“But we’re just about family,” Tormod objected.

“Are you willing to be tortured and die for him?” Raefgot quietly asserted. “Because that’s what might happen if we can’t keep important things to ourselves. I’m not asking you to lie to your neighbors. I’m asking you to keep quiet about things that might affect the whole village.”

Silence settled as they absorbed his message. Then the Miller broke the somber mood by proudly stating, “See what I mean? I told ya he’s the one.”

“We accept your condition,” Lug said, standing, the rest following suit. “I’ll get the papers all done up legal like and bring ‘em over myself.”

“That’s fine,” Raefgot replied, sticking out a hand. “I wish you success in your next endeavor.”

Lug frowned as he sorted out the words. “Yer gonna have to learn to speak like regular folk.”

“I’ll work on it,” he smiled in reply. Once they were out the door, he turned to find Glynnis smiling broadly, staring at him. “What?”

“I’m so proud of you.”

“I haven’t done anything,” he objected.

“You didn’t have to. You were just being you and they saw a righteous man. And now you’re the Burgomaster of Emlyn.” She fairly giggled then slowly scowled. “If only those scum in Fichte could see me now… the wife of the Burgomaster of Emlyn. I’d show them.” The dark mood lasted only a moment longer before she said, “I never dreamed of this in a million years.”

Raefgot blinked and stared at her. It was longer than a million years for him. He wondered what his father would say now. The wastrel Raefgot was now a respected member of the village. Not only that, they wanted him – him – to be the Burgomaster of the town.

He looked over at the small barrel of ale on the counter and wondered if it was time to once again taste the concoction everyone loved so much. He had disciplined himself in the forest to drink only water. It had been hard at first and he had suffered as he battled the demons in his soul. At one point he thought he was going to die. But once the tremors passed and his head cleared, he found himself weirdly in tune with the sounds and smells of the forest. To survive, he then put his warrior training, mixed with a healthy dose of paranoia, to good use.

Yet the demons still remained and he found that he had started talking to himself. Fearing he was going crazy, he let the voices argue in his head. And then the demons began to grow quiet and he settled into the rhythm of the forest. He learned to blend into the trees and undergrowth when danger passed by. In time, he began to embrace the solitude.

Then Duncan showed up, a ghost from his past. But Duncan had changed. Though still touched with arrogance, the High Priest had been knocked off his pedestal and seemed more introspective. Yet something else had happened that Duncan refused to talk about and Raefgot had not pressed him. In fact, he was glad when Duncan left the next morning. Raefgot liked his seclusion.

Then she showed up.

He looked at her smiling at him, watching him as he drifted into memory. She said nothing, patiently waiting for him to come back to the moment. His life had abruptly changed when she had stumbled by in the forest. One moment he was content in solitude, the next he was married with a child who wasn’t his.

Once again his resolve stiffened. Though he wondered about the child’s father, it no longer mattered. The little girl was his now and she would know a love that he had never experienced.

He looked back at the barrel of ale and shook his head. One of these days perhaps, but not today. “I better finish up outside. I’ve still three more conharra to skin.”

Glynnis reached up a hand to touch his arm, her eyes moist. “I’m so proud of you. I’m so proud to be with you.”

He blinked hearing the words, words he had never heard during his past life in Gambria. They sounded strange to him, yet he thrilled to hear them. Bending down, he kissed her forehead. “And I am more than proud to be with you. I will make you the best husband and our little girl the best father. I will protect you with my life.”

Glynnis looked down to see that Nimue had fallen asleep. Rising, she placed the baby back in the crib. “She’ll be hungry when she wakens again,” she said then stood directly in front of him. Her hands by her sides, she stared up at him, searching his eyes. “Do you love me, Bleddyn?”

Raefgot swallowed hard, his throat suddenly dry. “Yes… more than anything.”

Her eyes welled up with happy tears and she began to sob uncontrollably as he wrapped his arms around her.



Trina walked in just as Coilin raised his eyes to the ceiling and uttered a frustrated groan.

“What?”

Instead of answering, he extended the hand holding the parchment.

Plucking the missive from his hand, she read the contents. “Dade wants you to represent him at his trial?” She shook her head and frowned. “The man’s got nerve.”

“First my own daughter deserts me,” he moaned, not listening, “and now this. The gods are conspiring against me.”

“Get ahold of yourself,” she retorted. “There’s no law that says you have to do this.”

He stopped glaring at the ceiling to stare at his wife. “Why me?”

“Because you’re far enough away for him to drag the trial on forever,” she answered, rereading the letter. “The man’s no fool. The longer the trial takes, the greater chance he can escape justice.”

“And I do have to do this,” he replied. “He has a right to choose anyone he wants to represent him.”

“And you have a right to refuse,” she snapped.

“Since when did you become a legal expert?” he huffed.

Rolling her eyes, she said, “Suppose he had chosen the King? Would the King drop everything to act as his counsel? Of course not.”

“The King is exempt,” he answered with a sigh.

“And so are you.” She shook her head in disdain. “Look at you. For you the glass is always half-empty. Your daughter, thank the gods, has married the most powerful man in the kingdom and you’re upset. Why? Because she isn’t here under your thumb reacting to your beck and call. Perhaps you’ve forgotten that you have another daughter.”

“She’s not the same as Caitrin,” he dismissively replied.

“That’s because you’ve rejected her as having any value to your plans.” She folded her arms and glared at him. “Maybe you ought to think about her future for once. And while you’re thinking about it, you might want to think about this. Since her sister is now married to Duncan, it puts her in a very strong position for suitors.”

“What’s your point?”

She shook her head before answering. “For someone who is so business smart, you are so clueless. Anwen can have anyone she wants.”

“That is until they find out who the father is,” he shot back.

Trina stiffened. “So we’re back to your shortcomings,” she sneered.

“Did you come in here for a reason?” Coilin tartly asked, pursing his lips.

“Actually no. I was passing by when I heard the muffled cry of a man whose head was stuck up his ass.”

Coilin stared coldly at her. “That’s what I thought.” He stalked around to the other side of the desk and yanked open a drawer. Reaching in, he pulled out a single page of embossed parchment. “I was saving this for a special occasion, but now is a good a time as any.” He walked around the desk and handed it to her.

“Now what?” Her face morphed from disdain to shock as she read the contents. “You’re divorcing me?”

Coilin turned his back to her and sat down behind the desk, sorting papers and ledger sheets as if to resume working. “Effective immediately, and take that dimwitted daughter of yours with you.”

Trina’s smug assurance evaporated as she abruptly realized she had nowhere to go. Kylar and Bradach were dead and Dade was under arrest. Her father’s domain now belonged to Cathmor. “What am I to do?” she said, in shock. “Where am I to go?”

“Don’t know,” he answered without looking up. “Don’t care. You might try the father of your daughter. Go see if he can put up with all your bitching.”

Trina stood staring at him, wanting to say something that would put him in his place, but it was too late for that. Silently spinning on her heels, she stalked out.

Coilin waited until she was gone then lay down his feathered pen and sighed. Caitrin’s extended absence reinforced his loneliness. He had put up with Trina’s acid tongue in the past, knowing Caitrin would return. It mattered little to him that she was Bradwr’s daughter or that he had to pay for the man’s silence. Caitrin was worth it. She was his daughter in everything but birth.

But now she was gone, never to return. That made Trina’s constant badgering all the more unbearable. His mood soured as he dwelt on all the years spent with Trina. Certainly there were good times, but those always involved Caitrin.

Gazing out the window, he stared at the thick clouds, wondering what his life would be like now. Ticking his head to the right, his mood abruptly lightened as he realized he was now the master of his own time. He would find another to replace Trina. He was still young enough and wealthy to be considered a good catch. Who knows, maybe he would produce offspring with another wife. In the meantime, he would sow his seed with some younger wench and take care of business here.

Liking the idea, he lifted his pen with renewed enthusiasm. He may have lost a family, but he got his freedom in return.



Her arms folded as she paced, Pavia thought about her future and how she was going to wreak havoc on all those who thought they could thwart her ambitions. She would win this game and they would never know what hit them. She spun around when the door opened and Rhosyn came in, followed by Alric.

Alric glowed with overflowing joy.

“So they did it,” she said.

“Yes,” he exclaimed. “I am King.”

“And I queen?”

“Well… of course.”

“Then what’s this?” She held up an embossed parchment with both hands. “Here, let me read it to you. I, Alric, son of Diad, son of Bowyn, of the lineage of Mannis, do hereby divorce as my wife, Pavia, daughter of Bradwr, son of Bowyn of the lineage of Mannis, and so on and so on.”

“I can explain,” he said holding up both hands. “There was talk of bypassing me because they were not… uh, enthusiastic about you. Telling them I was divorcing you removed their objections.”

“So you didn’t really mean for this to go through,” she said, smiling with only her lips.

“Of course not,” he grinned.

“Then why is it recorded in Buckom?” Her smile vanished.

“It is?” He blinked in feigned shock. “It was never meant to get that far.”

“Of course not,” she said, ripping up the parchment and handing the pieces to Rhosyn who then crossed the room and tossed them into the fire. “I’m surprised at you. Do you mistrust me that much to keep this secret from me? I could have played my part.” Her lower lip stuck out in a pout.

“I’m sorry,” he contritely said. “You’re right. I should have trusted you.”

“Then you have no problem with me sending Rhosyn to retrieve the document from Buckom?”

“Of course not. Better send her right away before it gets recorded.”

Rhosyn was out the door before Pavia had a chance to tell her to go. Yet once beyond the door, her pace slowed considerably until she stopped midway down the hall. There was no need to rush, for the offending document had been retrieved by the time the Council had chosen Alric as King. Counting to ten, she spun around and marched back in time to hear Pavia say,

“What do you intend to tell them when they discover that we are not divorced?” Pavia moved to a chair by the fire.

“I’ll tell them it’s none of their damn business. I’m the King now and it’s my word that goes.” He scooted a chair next to her.

“They’re not going to be happy.”

“That’s their problem,” he shrugged. Seeing Rhosyn by the door, he said, “Well?”

“It’s being taken care of, Sire,” she replied.

Alric gave her a half-smile, liking the way she said ‘Sire.’ The awareness that he was King flooded within and he grinned at the realization that it was he who ruled in Gambria, not his father or his pain-in-the-ass brother. He no longer had to put up with the old man’s paranoia or cloddish behavior.

“Now that I am King,” he mused aloud, “what should I do with the old man?”

“I’ve given that some thought and decided, why do anything?” Pavia said. “You are King by choice of the Council of Lords. Even if your father were to somehow regain his mental capacity, you are now the rightful King.”

“I’m surprised at your charity. I would have bet you’d have him eliminated the first chance you got,” Alric said with a sardonic smile.

“I’m not saying we should leave him alone,” she aloofly answered. “Keep him where he is, in the Berserker’s old house. He’s got that young warrior with him. Let him stay there until he finally dies of old age, which hopefully will be sometime soon.”

Peering intently at her, he cocked an eyebrow. “With a little help?”

“If necessary,” she said, returning his stare. “We don’t need any distractions. If he proves to be in the way, we need to get rid of him. Do you have a problem with that?”

Alric thought a moment. “Not really. He’s finally lost it. He doesn’t even recognize me anymore.”

Pavia placed a hand on his arm, “I’m glad we’re in agreement. We now rule this nation. We can’t afford to be charitable. We need to enforce our will, make sure that nothing like what happened to your father ever happens to us.”

“Like what?”

“What I mean is that we need to make sure no one is in a position to challenge our authority.”

“You have someone in mind?” he said then looked back to Rhosyn. “How about finding something to drink for your King?”

“With pleasure, Sire,” she smiled. “Something cold?”

“An ale, a strong one.”

“Yes, Sire.” She popped out the door to issue instructions to a waiting servant.

Pavia waited until she was back in the room. “We need to do something about Duncan. He has too much power.”

Alric rubbed his chin. “I know. Though to his credit, once he gives his word, he is completely loyal, no matter what.”

“He’s loyal to your mother,” she reminded him. “Remember when she came here the last time?”

“That’s in the past,” he said, shaking his head. “She’s gone and living in Aberhond, married to Konrud. She has no claim, especially since the Council formally recognized me as King.”

“I know, but think about this. Duncan’s up in Aberhond with two regiments. Your mother also is there. To the east of Aberhond, is Menec, a close friend of both your mother and Duncan. To the west are Harun and Gefnyn, both loyal to your mother and Duncan. Are you beginning to get my point?”

Alric’s mouth gaped as he recognized the implications.

“He needs to make a choice,” she asserted. “He can either be High Priest or a commanderie lord. He can’t be both. He doesn’t need the Templars. They can go back to their original regiments.”

“Suppose he refuses? He’s refused before.”

“Then we must compel him to obey,” she firmly replied. “Use the other lords if necessary to bring him to heel. Issue an edict disbanding the Templars. Force him to choose.” She folded her arms.

“Yes… I know you’re right,” he replied.

A servant walked in bearing a tray with a tall stein filled with frosty ale, a bottle of sweet wine, and a wine glass.

At first, Alric was too engrossed in his thoughts to pay attention. It was when the servant placed the ale next to him that his attention was immediately redirected to the servant.

She was an attractive young woman with long auburn hair curled in a bun on the back of her head. Instead of the usual servant’s smock, she wore a buttoned blouse and leggings. Yet her most noticeable attributes were her rather large breasts accentuated by a small waist.

Pavia noticed the double-take and smiled to herself. She would use this woman to her advantage.

“Thank you,” Pavia said with a smile.

Waiting for the woman to curtsey and depart, Pavia said, “What about the berserker? What do we do with her? Not only did she refuse to obey our summons the last time, she up and took all our tarrac and fled to parts formerly unknown.”

“What do you think we should do?” he shrugged. “She’s a damned fine warrior.”

“That may be, but she still defied us. We cannot allow her to flagrantly challenge our authority. She must be punished.”

“How?”

“Declare her an outcast. Unless she submits to us, exile her as an outcast.” She studied him, waiting for a reaction, watching him ponder the dilemma.

“Actually, she needs to go get our tarrac back,” he said with conviction.

“Yes,” she agreed with a slow nod. “And while she’s gone, we can find another berserker.”

“That’s not as easy as you think.” He took a long draught of ale, licking his lips after the swallow.

She stared at him with a distracted smile, appraising him. It was good they were free from their former house arrest for Alric had gained weight from lack of training and an overindulgence of wine and good food. Though he had now returned to his training regimen, it was much too soon to improve his present state. Watching him as he slouched in the chair, she was struck with how much he looked like his father. The image of Diad’s present state of dotage emerged and she felt a flash of horror and disgust that Alric would end up the same.

But then she calmed herself with the affirmation that Alric wasn’t going to be around that long.

“What’s the problem?” she said, returning to the conversation. “We simply declare her no longer our berserker and put the word out that we want a new one.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” he huffed, rolling his eyes. “A new berserker can only be replaced by being defeated by a challenger. Alexis would have to be back here in Mull to defend her position.”

“Then send out word that we’re looking for challengers.” She frowned at him as though the answer was far too simple.

Alric paused, studying the raised design on the stein. “You haven’t seen her fight. She’s fearless, incredibly fast and powerful. Even I wouldn’t want to fight her.”

“What?” she replied in feigned shock. “The great Alric is afraid of a woman?”

Alric raised his eyes to stare at her. “You really have no clue, do you? She is more than a berserker. She is a supreme fighter. She could be one of the Twelve any time she wanted. In fact, I bet even Tuathal is thankful she decided to be the berserker instead of challenging him.”

“Stop being so melodramatic,” she chastised. “She’s a woman, a strong one, but still only human. Everyone has a weakness. We just need to know what hers is.”

“How about we just use her to get our tarrac back first,” he answered, taking another swallow of ale. “But first things first. We do need to get rid of the Templars.” He looked over his shoulder at Rhosyn. “You seem to have made yourself indispensable. Get me a scribe to write up an edict.”

“At once, Sire,” she bowed.

She passed Athdar in the hallway.

“They busy?” he asked, smiling.

“Not really, m’Lord.”

Athdar put a gentle hand on her arm. “I would consider it a sign of friendship if, when we are alone in circumstances like this, that you would call me by my given name. I know you to be a wise and trusted advisor to the Queen. I ask that I be allowed to call upon you from time to time to give me advice. May I do that?”

Rhosyn was flattered and caught off guard by his charm. “Of course, m’Lord.”

“Athdar,” he corrected with a smile.

“Athdar,” she replied.

“And where are you off to in such a hurry?”

“To fetch a scribe. The King wishes to compel Duncan to disband the Templars.”

“Ah,” he nodded in understanding. “Then I won’t keep you.”

“Thank you, m’Lor – I mean, Athdar.”

Standing in the hallway, Athdar watched her scurry away, yet his mind had already shifted to Alric’s impetuous action. He shook his head knowing that Alric was merely Pavia’s pawn.

He brushed past the doorwards, knocked and pushed the door open. Alric and Pavia were seated before the fire. They looked up as he entered.

“M’Lord Chamberlain,” Pavia greeted him. “I see you’ve found us. Come pull up a chair and sit.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty.” He grabbed a chair by the balcony doors and carried it over to sit next to Alric.

“We were just discussing what to do with Duncan,” she said. “What are your thoughts?”

“Do what with Lord Duncan?” he said, feigning ignorance.

“He is too powerful, don’t you think?” She narrowed her gaze at him.

“Ah,” he nodded. “He does command an inordinate number of warriors. I might point out that he was also instrumental in solving the Dade problem.”

“Speaking of Dade,” Alric spoke up. “What are we to do with him?”

Athdar spoke first. “Sire, Dade was a real threat and it is to our good fortune that Rugia did not attack while we were diverted crushing his insurrection. He must be made an example.”

“So what do you suggest?” Alric asked, peering down to the bottom of his empty ale mug.

“Publicly execute him, Sire. Let everyone know that rebellion against the King and kingdom come at a price.”

“Is wanting to go his own way enough to condemn him?”

Screwing her face into a tight frown, Pavia huffed, “Isn’t that reason enough? He wanted to form his own kingdom, using part of Gambria to do it.”

“He is also responsible for his brother’s death,” Athdar quietly added.

“There,” she exclaimed. “What more do you need?”

“He is?” Alric startled.

“Yes, Sire. I thought it too coincidental that Bradach died so soon after returning to Glanon with his father’s edict affirming that Bradach was declared Lord of Glanon upon Kylar’s death. Lord Cathmor has further proof of Dade’s guilt.”

Rhosyn entered the room, followed by a scribe, a middle aged man, prematurely bald. Pavia held up a hand indicating he should wait outside. Rhosyn escorted him back out and closed the door behind him.

“Fine,” Alric sighed. “We’ll have a trial then find him guilty and condemn him.”

“All very proper,” Pavia smirked then redirected her gaze to Athdar. “You still haven’t said what we should do with Duncan.”

“I would counsel patience, m’Lady. He is presently preoccupied with his new wife. Likewise, I believe he has yet to balance the affairs of the Church and his own commanderie.”

“Then what happens after he gets his affairs in order?” she said. “We can’t afford to wait while he continues to gather the best of our warriors into his personal army.”

“She’s right,” Alric nodded. “The man needs to choose.”

“Would it not be more advantageous to earn his loyalty and trust, Sire?” Athdar said. “His reputation for unwavering loyalty is well known. Why not make him a faithful and dependable servant, executing your wishes when necessary?”

“An interesting idea,” Pavia dismissively said, “but not one we can count on. You forget his past behavior when we had to send armed warriors to compel him to obey us.”

“And the very man who led the forces against him now commands his Templars,” Alric pointed out. Abruptly, the memory of his time evading the forces of Bradwr emerged. Slaven had finally captured him and disobeyed the edict signed by his present wife to kill him.

He turned his gaze to where Pavia sat, sipping her wine, staring back at him. She had blamed the former Lord Chamberlain for the directive. Of course, he was conveniently dead by the time Alric showed up.

His mind then turned to the time of house arrest. Living with Pavia became more of a chore than a joy. The passion between them that had simmered when she was Emer’s wife had dissipated in the ensuing time together. The house arrest only reinforced the reality that Pavia was a pain to live with.

So why keep her here as his wife now?

He knew he needed her, at least until he got this political crap figured out. He was a warrior and that’s all he was trained to do. His father never bothered teaching him the intricacies of political wrangling. That education went to Emer. A lot of good it did him, he smiled to himself.

Yes, he needed her… but the need was temporary. Once he consolidated power, she would go. Besides, he also needed children and Pavia was far too vain to allow her body to be subjected to a pregnancy.

“Well?” Pavia said, interrupting his thoughts.

“Well what?” he replied, struggling to remember the topic.

“Duncan, remember?” she shook her head at him. “He needs to make a choice. Write the edict and send it.”

Alric nodded at Rhosyn to fetch the scribe.

Athdar was about to reiterate his warning when he shifted a glance at Pavia and recognized that not only would his advice be ignored, it would be wiser for him to remain silent for the time being. He simply nodded his acquiescence receiving a smug smile in return.



Arms folded across her chest, Alexis slouched in a chair in Duncan’s study, her feet stretched out towards the fire. Twisting her head, she gazed at Brenna who likewise slouched in a chair next to her. “I’m bored.”

“I know,” Brenna replied. “It’s hard to be cooped up like this, especially when you’re used to going where you want.”

“How long do you think I’m going to be stuck up here? I mean, I like Duncan and Caitrin and the folks here, but I feel like I’m a prisoner.”

“You are, in a sense,” she said. “Duncan was right to keep you here where he can protect you.”

“I don’t like having to be protected,” she scowled.

Brenna grinned at her. “It’s only temporary. We all need someone to have our back from time to time. Look at us. We protect each other.”

“That’s different. We’re battle sisters.”

“With benefits,” Brenna smiled slyly at her.

Alexis grinned. “Yes, with very nice benefits. But that still doesn’t change the fact that I’m bored.”

“I can change that.” Brenna blinked innocently at her.

Alexis snorted a laugh. “But that would last maybe a couple of hours? What happens after that? I’m not saying ‘No’ mind you; I’m just looking beyond the next couple of hours.”

“I’ve given that some thought,” she said. “I was thinking we might want to explore Grimnost for a few days. See what’s out there.”

“Isn’t Grimnost off limits?”

“Not really,” she shrugged. “It’s off limits to armies going through it. Most folks are afraid of it because many have gone in and very few returned. Those who have returned tell a story of fear and death, so everyone leaves Grimnost to itself. It’s been a secure buffer between us and Rugia for over a thousand years.”

Alexis pondered for a bit. “So you want to go explore and see what we can find?”

“Actually,” she said, lowering her voice. “I’ve always wanted to try to get across and step foot in Rugia.”

Alexis perked up. “I like that. That sounds like fun. How long do you think it would take us?”

“Duncan said it took him three days to get across.”

“That man has more lives than a King’s Companion,” she said, shaking her head. Waving her hands and wriggling her fingers, she said, “I still can’t figure out where this came from. Pity he didn’t have that when we were on the ship.”

“Ship?” Brenna frowned.

“Uh…” Alexis realized she had given voice to her thoughts.

Silence settled as Brenna studied her friend then said, “Isn’t it time you told me everything?”

“Like what?” she evasively answered.

“Do you trust me?”

“Of course.”

“Then why do you still hide things from me? You know everything there is to know about me. Why can’t you return the favor?” Brenna said without animosity.

“Because if I told you the truth you would think I’m crazy,” she blurted.

Brenna sat back and folded her arms. “Try me.”

Feeling cornered, Alexis thought through possible explanations, but each one sounded just as absurd as the truth. Taking a deep breath, she said, “You’re going to think I’ve lost it, but you do deserve the truth, with one stipulation.”

“What?”

“You have to promise that you will never tell anyone else what I tell you.”

“It can’t be that bad,” Brenna frowned.

“Promise,” Alexis demanded.

Brenna saw her determined look. “I promise.”

“OK,” she said, her shoulders relaxing. “Duncan and I are not from Gambria or Rugia.”

“I know that.”

“We’re not even from the other side of the mountains.” Alexis waited for a reaction.

“So where are you from?”

Alexis sighed in frustration, shaking her head. “When I say what I’m going to say, it even sounds crazy to me.” She looked at Brenna expectantly waiting the tale. “Duncan and I were on board a spaceship.”

“Space ship?”

“Yes. It’s like a… a sealed boat that can fly between planets.”

Brenna frowned and blinked simultaneously. “You’re telling me that you were on a boat that flies like a bird?”

“Yes.”

“And you traveled in it until you came to Gambria?”

“Yes.”

Brenna rubbed her cheek. “How did you get down to Gambria?”

“A space pod.”

“A space pod… what’s that?”

“It’s a smaller space ship that allows one to travel down to the planet. We landed in the sea –”

“It floats?” Brenna interrupted.

“Yes. We then inflated a raft and paddled to shore not far from Mull. That’s where Menec and his group found us.”

Brenna stood and gazed down at Alexis. “I think you need to start from the beginning. I’m going to tell someone to get us something to eat because I have a feeling this is going to take a while.”

Crossing the room, she popped her head out the door, telling a passing servant their request. She then resumed her seat by the fire.

“Let’s wait until after they bring the food so we won’t be disturbed.”

“I told you it sounded crazy,” Alexis sighed.

“Yes it does,” Brenna replied, “but then I’ve always thought we were not alone in this universe.”

“Really?” Alexis said, surprised.

“It’s a big universe out there,” she said with a shrug. “It would be foolish to think that we were the only living things in the entire universe.”

“That’s rather radical thinking, isn’t it?”

“That’s why I don’t share it with a lot of people. Had Vix ever heard me, he would have denounced me as a heretic. Thank God Duncan came along and took care of that problem.”

“So you believe in God?” Alexis gave her a mischievous grin.

“Don’t even go there,” Brenna said with a smile. “It’s bad enough I have to put up with all the Safti silliness. You and I think the same. We trust what we can see.”

“So what happens after you die?”

“Who knows? No one’s ever come back to tell me about it.”

Alexis smiled in thought. “It’s funny. I’ve never given much thought to whether God exists or not. Don’t really have the time for it. I figure, if he does exist, I’ll find out soon enough. If he doesn’t then it really doesn’t matter what I do. Either way, I don’t see how he or she plays a role in my life.”

“You sound like Duncan,” Brenna teased.

The door opened and two servants entered carrying trays with cold meats, warm bread, cheese, and two large steins of cold ale. Brenna directed them to place the food and drink on the low table near Alexis then waited for them to leave before closing and locking the door.

“I don’t want to be disturbed,” she said, walking over to slice several pieces of cheese, handing one to Alexis. “Let’s start from the beginning, like where you were born, your family, where you grew up, and things like that.”

It was almost two hours and several ales later before Alexis finished her tale, mostly due to Brenna’s many questions.

“The raft is still there?” Brenna asked.

“As far as I know,” Alexis replied. “We hid it in the thick underbrush close to the water. If you want, whenever we can get back to Mull, I can show it to you... if I can find it. It’s not that far from the tarrac fields.”

“I’d like that.”

“Any other questions?” Alexis asked, feeling a great burden lifted.

“Yes,” she slowly nodded. “If I understand right, in your culture you don’t need a naming stone if a woman wants to get pregnant.”

“That’s right.”

“That’s why Tene got pregnant.”

“Yes.”

“So Duncan’s not the promised one of Safti,” she said with a bit of disappointment.

“I don’t think even he believes that,” Alexis said. “I personally like the naming stone part. Sort of lets one do what one wants without the additional problem of kids.”

“Unless one has Duncan as a partner,” she pointed out.

“True.” Alexis tilted her head to gaze at Brenna. “That brings up a question. You two had sex more than a few times. How come you haven’t gotten pregnant?”

“I’ve taken measures to ensure that never happens.”

“You never want children?”

“Never,” she answered with finality. “I’m not the mother type.”

“Neither am I,” Alexis readily agreed.

“I have another question,” Brenna said. “How was Duncan able to talk our language right from the start? If you’re from another world, how is it possible that he could understand us?”

“That one’s a puzzle to me too,” she answered. “All I know is that the man is a genius. He has a gift for languages. He was serious when he said he speaks twenty or more languages. All I can figure is that Gambri is something like some of the languages back home. He said something about the similarity, but I really wasn’t paying attention.”


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