Encounter

After they cleared the manor, Gwyneira prodded Niall, “I wonder, did Lord Cedric send out a search party?”

“Yes, but he didn’t seem as concerned as he should be, considering the odd happenings. Maybe Heddwyn has been shielded from all the troubles the rest of Belanore has encountered.” Niall had tried to get Cedric to send a larger group of men to search for the Elder.

“I noticed that last night as well,” Gwyneira nodded, “that is why I wanted to go into town today, to see what the locals have heard. We’ve found most of the other towns have had encountered.”

“Like the pitch rats,” Roland chimed in.

“Yes,” she looked at her son cock-eyed, “and just how did you know about that?”

“All the house staff are talking about it,” Roland cheeped.

“That means they haven’t seen that many oddities,” Niall interjected.

“I’ve been researching the incidents in Cedric’s library, and it seems like there could be an energy imbalance in the Void that is causing random rifts to open and allowing creatures to move between dimensions.” Roland said bouncing in his saddle.

“What do you mean dimensions?” Niall’s brow wrinkled, “The Void is just energy. Do you mean different types of energy?”

“It’s not just energy. You can think of it as a portal to another realm, if that helps. You know how Lord Aderon can use the Void to move things over a distance?”

Both Niall and Gwyneira nodded. “That always gives me the chills,” Niall shivered.

“Well, he can also travel through the Void. If it was only power, he might lose his mind doing that. But if you think of it as a portal, he bends it to open at another point in Belanore.” Roland continued. “So, it makes sense that it could be a portal to another realm, or dimension.”

Now it was Gwyneira that interjected, “And if Blaidd can do it with his Relic, then why couldn’t the Elves have done it back during the Great War? Maybe left to another Realm, instead of being wiped out.”

“Wow, mom!” Roland’s horse stopped abruptly. “I actually hadn’t taken it that far, but yes. What if the dark creatures aren’t the only creatures that survived the War? What if there still is light magic, and creatures, somewhere beyond the Void.” Roland kicked his horse to catch up, barely sitting in the saddle.

“Ok, wait, hold on. I’m not saying I believe this,” Niall was shaking his head slowly. “But what does this have to do with rifts bringing dark creatures here? If there is an imbalance, why aren’t faeries and elves appearing in the Realm?”

Roland plopped down into the saddle. “I don’t know. Maybe they are, but they aren’t attacking anyone, so no one knows.” Roland crinkled up his nose and frowned.

“Then we need to find out,” the queen declared with an overzealous wave of her hand, imitating Lord Rhys bowing before her. 

The men laughed and she let out the breath she had been holding.

The town stables were very busy when they arrived, however a stable boy appeared immediately. “Your Majesty, may I take your horse?” A tall, slender lad of about twelve, the stable keeper’s eldest son.

“Eldon, isn’t it?” Gwyneira tried to remember as many people as she could. In this case it was easier because she had always wanted to name her second son Eldon.

Eldon smiled and moved about his task with greater speed and excitement. When he took Niall’s horse he straightened up, “Lord Commander, do you need your sword sharpened or your armor polished?” He wanted to be a squire, but there were few Lords in Heddwyn.

As he handed over the reins, the Commander nodded toward Roland. “I think the Prince has a sword that needs some care.”

Roland glared at Niall. When Eldon finished with the other horses and returned for Roland’s, he was nearly jumping out of his skin for a chance to show the prince his additional skills. Roland unstrapped his short sword scabbard and belt and handed it to the young squire-in-training. “I expect this to shine like the moon at peak. I shall return for it before the Harvest Fest begins.”

“Of course, my lord.” Eldon bowed as he took the sword and horse and hurried toward the stable.

“Why did you do that?” Roland fumed at Niall.

“I remember when you wanted to clean my sword.” Niall snickered. Then in rapped Roland on the shoulder, “He is young, although only a few years behind you. Let him feel important.” Niall chucked as he thought about the young prince following him around the castle with his wooden sword.

“Fine, but why didn’t you give him your sword?” Roland was determined to give him a hard time for it.

The Commander just glared at him.

**

Meanwhile, Gwyneira had wandered off to talk to some of the locals, attracting a small crowd. They were used to the royals attending Harvest Fest, and the queen was known for being very social. News of her father’s passing had reached Heddwyn, and many people came out with flowers when they saw her. A young girl came up to her with a few wildflowers and held them out for her.

As Gwyneira bent down to take the flowers, there was a loud crash from across the road, drawing the attention of the crowd. Niall and Roland turned in time to see their queen, and an enormous wild boar barreling straight toward her.

Niall drew his sword and leaped half the distance to the raging animal in one fluid motion. He quickly covered the rest of the ground while Roland caught up to his mother. If not for the crowd, the Commander would have sent out a blast from his Relic that would have knocked that beast into the Void. Instead, he maneuvered himself alongside the boar and struck it into a wall.

The wall crumbled under the weight of the charging animal. Slightly dazed, the boar shook off the debris and turned toward his attacker, but that was all the time Niall needed slash it with his sword multiple times. Injured and bleeding, the animal lashed out frantically, grazing Niall with a tusk. One more thrust into the creatures back put it to the ground, grunting and twitching. Niall stilled the creature swiftly and returned to the queen.

Roland, weaponless, ran to his mother, and pulled her out of the way. At the first sight of the beast the crowd had dispersed and Gwyneira grabbed the little girl into her arms to protect her. The queen was still holding her fast when Roland pulled her to her feet. The little girl was staring, but unhurt, the flowers crushed against her chest. The queen cradled the girl as she surveyed the crowd for a sign of the girl’s mother. No one seemed to be looking for a missing child.

“Where is your mother, sweetheart?” she whispered to the child who stared blankly.

The little girl only shook her head. By now, Niall was at Gwyneira’s side, eyes darting to every alley and entry. He pulled the flower stems and pedals from the girl’s dress and inspected them. Daisies. Harmless. He inspected the rest of the girl, her clothes, hair, anything. All clear.

“Where did that thing come from?” He nodded to Roland to retrieve the horses, then went to inspect the origin of the beast. Based on the path of destruction, he guessed it probably broke through the small cart across the road, behind which was an alley leading from a barn. Once Roland returned to the queen’s side, Niall took off to investigate the barn. Scuff marks and broken barrels in the alley confirmed his suspicions. The door of the barn was smashed out, and there were broken beams within the structure, revealing the animal was not normally housed here. There were no lingering signs of a rift, but the Commander suspected that it was no accident another wild creature appeared near the queen. He slammed his fist into the barn door.

“What do you think?” Gwyneira’s voice brought him out of his thoughts.

“I guess there’s no point in telling you to go back to the manor?” Niall grunted.

“Not a chance,” she commanded. “Besides, I don’t know whose child this is,” the little girl looked up at Niall.

Niall sighed, “I’m sure she knows her way home. Why don’t you have her show you.”

Why didn’t I think of that, Gwyneira thought? Maybe I am a bit shaken up.

She looked down at the quiet girl resting in her arms. Her golden hair, green eyes, and fair skin seemed unusual in Heddwyn, a farming town, where children either played or worked outside most of the day. There was not one freckle on her thin face and her features were very delicate, not round and plump. She might be with a visiting family, but something tugged at Gwyneira, telling her to look deeper. She was missing something. She couldn’t quite place it, but something was odd about her.

“What’s your name?” she asked the little one.

The girl cocked her head to one side and looked up at her as if contemplating something of significance but said nothing. After a moment, her focus shifted, as if she was looking past Gwyneira, through her, and that made the queen shudder. A wave of recognition gripped Gwyneira. For a moment that stretched out seemingly for hours, yet was only the space between a heartbeat, the future flashed subconsciously through her mind. But she couldn’t hold it and it passed leaving a feeling of dread and familiarity that made her whole body start to shake.

Niall noticed his queen go pale and rushed over to her. He eased her to a hay bail and quietly whispered, “What is it?” The look I her eyes set his senses on high alert and turned up his adrenaline.

When she finally looked up, her eyes held a glint of light in them that he had not seen before. “We must cover her,” she began, “and take her somewhere safe.”

“Lord Cedric can…” he started.

 “No!” she cut him off harshly. Then added gently, “We can trust no one outside the three of us. Roland is known to disappear for hours. He can watch over her until after Harvest Fest, then we will depart at daybreak.”

“As you wish,” he nodded in obedience. After a moment’s hesitation, “Can you tell me why?”

“Not yet, but I will, later.” She touched his arm tenderly. “For now, I need you on high alert. Something is happening with the Void, and I fear it will only get worse.” She passed the child to Niall, who wrapped her in a cloak.

“Go to Eldred’s place. No one is there and I suspect it is now safe. I will send a few men there, discretely.” Niall said as he handed the girl to Roland, already mounted and ready to head out.

Once Roland was out of sight Gwyneira started to formulate a plan, “We don’t know who’s involved. Cedric’s lack of concern over Eldred going missing, or even the mention of the Void has me concerned. He may have foreseen something.”

“That would be unlike him to withhold that from you,” Niall trusted Cedric.

“Normally, I would agree. But he is much older than all of us, older than you may even realize, and I fear he knows things that even the king is not privy to.” Gwyneira thought for a moment. “Roland was doing research in Cedric’s library. Maybe he found something in the books,” Gwyneira thought of the trunk full of books she was transporting home from her father’s collection, maybe they had something about this. There would not be time to find out, Harvest Fest was only a few hours away.

“By now, Lord Cedric has heard about the attack, we must make sure he doesn’t find out about the girl. We must return ready for the festivities tonight.”

Niall nodded at his queen. He made one more sweep around the barn for clues, anything unusual, then they mounted his horse to return to the manor.

Both of them rode in silence, but constantly looking over their shoulders.

Niall was trying to ascertain why the queen was a target, any more so than usual. Even with random energy from the Void, twice in as many days she was in danger, directly in danger. He was sure the incident at Eldred’s was not about the Elder, he had not been there for days; Cedric’s lack of concern told him so.

He could accept that the pitch rat might have been incidental, but the wild boar was no accident. He was certain someone was targeting Her Majesty, but who? He was determined to find out. Malachi didn’t have that power, his Relic only performed pallor games in Niall’s opinion, playing with people’s emotions. Only a few Relics could directly affect the Void, let alone open a rift or move things within or through it. But none of them were here.

Unless. He shook his head. They are all part of the Council of Lords.  They wouldn’t sneak around.

Gwyneira noticed Niall’s expression, “What is it?”

“I’m just wondering if there are other Lords in attendance that might not want you to know they are here. This is the second time the Void has ‘spontaneously’ opened. Right where you are. I’m not sure it’s a coincidence.”

“I agree. But there are only a few capable. Who are you suggesting?” the queen said, fearing one of the answers.

“Of course, I would not suspect him, but the king can manipulate the Void. Then there is Lord Aderon, as you already said, with his Relic, he can move things through the Void. Maybe Lord Glaw, he can control living things, right?”

“Yes. We are only speculating here, though, and I’m not sure that covers bringing creatures from the Void. But what do any of us really know about the Relics? Because they draw their power from the Void, maybe they can all manipulate the energy, and if someone really wanted, maybe they could open a rift. Roland is always in those books, and he is learning so much more than I was ever taught.”

They were almost back to the Drystan Manor, so Gwyneira cut off the conversation. She was surprised to see Malachi out in the courtyard. “Are you alright, Your Majesty?” he sounded genuinely concerned.

“Yes, thank you Lord Rhys. I have the best protector there is. Fortunately, no villagers were hurt, but there was some damage to a barn and a shop.” She dismounted and allowed her horse to be taken to the stables as Cedric came out a bit distressed.

“This is not good. We must call off the Harvest Fest.” Cedric was ringing his hands.

Niall noticed Cedric was more anxious that usual. He looked to Queen Gwyneira for approval before he spoke, “With your permission, Lord Cedric, I can set up extra guards and personally provide security for the gathering.”

“I would feel much better,” Cedric bowed slightly to Gwyneira, “I am so sorry that this is happening in my humble [town], Your Majesty.”

“My Lord Cedric, I am sure this is nothing to worry about. Please continue the preparations. The Commander will see to security and I’m sure Lord Malachi can see to my protection.”

Niall, not very discretely, shot a look at the queen. Although she knew exactly what that look meant, instead she smiled.

 “Do not worry, Commander, I am sure Lord Malachi is a proficient swordsman and can protect me, however, I doubt there should be any issues inside the Manor.”

With that, the group dispersed.

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