Chapter One

 

“WHY DON’T we send up flares that write my real name and lineage across the sky?” Farrell scanned the room for support. King Markus of Dumbarten, Princess Penelope, and her life partner the Lady Marisa avoided his gaze. He shook his head and turned around. “I don’t like this plan.”

“You haven’t liked any of the suggestions we’ve made.” Markus stared at his cousin, his annoyance barely contained. “Do you have a better idea?”

“Not yet.” He stood up and walked to the window. The king and Marisa didn’t understand how magic worked. They assumed he’d wave his hand and make their impossible plan work.

“That is because you make it look easy.” Nerti’s mental voice reminded him he’d kept their minds linked for these meetings. “Perhaps if you let someone else do the hard things, they’d see the effort needed.”

“Even if I did that, they’d still expect me to find a way.” Seritia’s request that he bring a devotee from each of the Six and arrive like any other pilgrim played havoc with his original plan to sneak in and out without Meglar noticing. How was he supposed to travel to Her city in the middle of Lourdria—a nearly three-week journey on a fast horse—without attracting attention?

“Rothdin and I have a suggestion, if you’d like to hear it.”

The fact she and his adoptive father colluded in secret meant they weren’t sure he’d like the idea. “It can’t be any worse than sending a legion of heavily armored horse soldiers and accompanying support personnel.”

“You have such confidence in us.” Despite her words, he could hear the amusement in her voice. “Perhaps I should keep my thoughts to myself.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply anything other than the utmost confidence in your counsel. Please tell me your idea.”

“That’s better. But promise to hear me out before you object.”

In the past, whenever someone asked him to promise that, he’d struggled to comply. “I’ll do my best.”

“Have Penelope make a pilgrimage to Agloth. You, Miceral, and Peter accompany her as guards. Klissmor and I will find two more unicorns to carry Peter and Penelope. Your Brothers will fly with us as guards. The princess is a formidable wizard whose presence would explain any high magic you perform.”

The idea had merit. A small contingent would not draw undue attention, at least not on the scale of a legion or two. And as Nerti suggested, the use of high magic would be easily attributed to Penelope. That said….

“Your presence and that of Grohl and Takala is going to be hard to miss.”

“Agreed, but since I’m going to accompany you wherever you go, we need to find a plausible reason for Klissmor and myself to accompany you.”

“I think four unicorns and two peregrines are going to raise a few eyebrows, no matter what you say.” Despite his protest, he hadn’t dismissed the idea out of hand.

“This is also true, but after Belsport, Meglar is aware we are active in the affairs of the world. Would not the king of Dumbarten want to make sure the gods still look on him favorably?”

“Yes, but it is still going to stand out.”

“Not if we send out several other groups at the same time.”

Farrell smiled at the image in his mind of Nerti being pleased with her cleverness. “Can you explain that?”

“Klissmor suggested that when we leave for Agloth, we send similar groups to strategic allies around the world. If Meglar is looking for us, he will have to divide his attention.”

Dividing his attention wouldn’t stop Meglar, but it might slow him enough. And with everyone riding a unicorn, the time to Agloth would be less than half the usual journey.

“I like it.”

“Like what?” Markus asked.

Lost in his conversation, he hadn’t heard the king walk up. “Nerti and Rothdin have come up with a suggestion on how to get to Agloth.”

Markus raised an eyebrow. “And you like it?”

“He is a wise human.” Nerti must have projected her thoughts to everyone, as the king reacted to her comment. He twisted, scanning the room before his confused gaze settled on Farrell.

Farrell tapped a finger to his head. “She sees and hears everything I do.”

A flicker of a reaction played across Markus’s face before he reined it in and presented a more neutral expression. “I’m not sure I’ll agree my cousin is wise, but I’m interested to hear what he does like.”

Letting Nerti explain, Farrell watched the reactions of the others in the room. Markus and Marisa disapproved.

“Three guards, and one of the three is a boy?” Marisa stood and stepped behind her chair. She gripped the high back and stared at Farrell. “And you like this plan?”

Markus leaned forward. “I agree. My aunt is far too valuable to Dumbarten to risk sending her across the continent with two guards and a child.”

“First—” Farrell caught himself getting angry. He closed his eyes and breathed in deep. Calmer, he opened them and continued. “First, four unicorns, two peregrines, a Muchari, and two grand master wizards is hardly ‘two guards and a boy.’ Lose the ‘only humans count’ mentality and you might see why this is a good idea.”

“Thank you.” From the way she spoke, Farrell knew Nerti only sent the comment to him.

“Second, and perhaps more to the point, the goal is to get to Agloth as safely and as fast as possible. Anyone not riding a unicorn is going to slow us by at least half.”

“Fast isn’t better if you don’t make it alive.” Marisa shook her head. “If they send any force of note—”

“The peregrines in the air will spot them well in advance, giving us time to flee.” Penelope stood as she spoke and locked her eyes on Farrell. “I agree.”

“You agree with him?” Marisa’s face had turned so red, Farrell worried she might faint.

“No, dear, I agree with Nerti and Rothdin.” She raised an eyebrow. “Those two have lived a very long time. I suspect they know a thing or two about only taking appropriate risks.”

“The princess is correct.” Rothdin’s booming voice filled their minds. “Queen Nerti and I would not have suggested this plan if we felt it was unduly dangerous for her, her mate, and my three sons. Everything we do from here on will contain risk. It is just a matter of how much. This task must be undertaken as quickly as possible.”

“Between Farrell and myself, there isn’t much we can’t handle.” Penelope directed her words at the king. “And what we can’t fight our way through, we can outrun.”

“The party we suggest addresses Seritia’s requirements and is fast enough and powerful enough to make it there safely.” Rothdin sounded more confident than Farrell felt.

No one spoke, and Farrell let them mull over the merits of the proposal. Markus broke the silence by drumming his fingers on the table. Nodding at last, he rapped his knuckles on the stone top.

“Explain to me again why this group?” He waved a hand in front of his face dismissively. “I understand the unicorns and peregrines represent Lenore and Honorus respectively. Miceral is the chosen of Khron, and you have to go, but why Penelope and the boy?”

Markus pretending he didn’t understand what they had already discussed and agreed upon irked Farrell. “Prince Peter is a follower of Arritisa.”

“And you are the Chosen of Arritisa. He isn’t necessary.”

Fighting the urge to sigh, Farrell said, “I don’t count. The message said for me to bring a devotee of each of Seritia’s five siblings.” Nothing short of Arritisa showing herself and picking someone else would change his mind that Peter needed to be included. Markus stared at Farrell but said nothing. “He’s necessary. If you don’t believe me, ask Arritisa.”

“Fine.” Markus sounded anything but fine with the decision. “But that doesn’t explain why you’re taking Dumbarten’s chief wizard.”

“Why are we doing this, Markus?” Farrell skirted close to being disrespectful to his cousin, but he alone had the rank to speak plainly. “You know why Penelope is coming. I know you don’t like the plan, but being obstinate isn’t helping.”

“My aunt is a follower of Honorus, cousin.” Markus glared at him. “You already have your brothers. She isn’t needed.”

Farrell turned toward Penelope, and everyone else looked at the princess. Penelope scowled at him and shook her head. “Why couldn’t you just have said it?”

He shrugged. “I wasn’t sure you wanted me to tell him your business.”

“Said what?” Markus shifted his attention between the two wizards. “Tell me what business?”

“Markus, sometimes you can be so clueless.” Penelope rolled her eyes when the king’s eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened. “I’m going because I’m a devotee of Falcron.”

“What?” Whatever the king expected, hearing his aunt felt a primary affinity toward the God of Wisdom obviously wasn’t it. “The house of Hevnor follows Honorus.”

“Yes, outwardly we do, but like many wizards, my primary worship is to Falcron.” They looked at each other for a moment longer until Penelope shook her head. “It doesn’t matter what you want, Markus. The will of Seritia is clear.”

“Clear?” Markus laughed. “Telling Farrell he needs to bring a devotee of all five of Her Siblings is a clear sign you need to go?”

“Yes.” Farrell paused to find the correct balance for his response. His cousin was never going to like the idea, but Markus needed to accept the plan or it would complicate things. He briefly wondered how he’d moved from skeptical of Nerti’s plan to fully endorsing it. “Before we received Seritia’s message, I was planning to go alone, or with just Miceral and maybe Nerti and Klissmor. The goddess didn’t approve of my plans and imposed Her will in a way that made it clear what She wanted.”

“I’m still not following,” Markus said.

This time Farrell detected genuine confusion. When Penelope sighed, he waved her off. “Name someone else who could replace either Peter or Penelope.”

Markus opened his mouth, paused, and then closed it.

“Exactly.” Farrell held back a smile. “Not just someone else, but someone who knows what’s at stake, who I am, and can be counted on in a fight. Seritia made sure I’m bringing the people She wants.”

“So it seems.” Markus walked over to the window and stared out. “My aunt is a powerful wizard, so I can understand why she must go, but the young prince? Has he even reached his age of majority?”

“No, and I can’t tell you why he’s required, either.” Farrell joined the king looking at the ocean off in the distance. “But I’m certain if I try to leave without him, Seritia, Arritisa, or both will make an appearance and make sure he’s included.”

“I don’t like it, but what choice do I have?” The king sighed and turned to face Farrell. “I’m not used to being overruled or told what to do.”

“Now that the Six are taking a more active role in our affairs, I’m afraid you’d better get used to it.”