ONE: Whispers in the Night
The shock of hearing one’s own name conspiratorially whispered is a great awakener.
I paused in mid-step. The whisper had come from the tent beside me, one of the large, ornate pavilions used by Duke Aramis of Ashbury and his knights. A lantern inside the tent threw two hugely disfigured shadows against the linen wall.
"Yes, Terin, the squire; that’s the one. I’ll make Terin do it."
A chill traversed my spine as I realized that I had not misheard my name seconds earlier. Had I taken another route back from the latrine, I would have missed this conversation completely. Instead, and against my better judgment, I inched closer.
"But the Vansir Reclaim belongs to the barbarians by treaty," said a voice I did not recognize. "You can’t just take it away."
"I don’t plan on taking it away. I plan on … encouraging them to leave." I recognized the voice of Frost Vardik, the newly appointed Baron of Blythedale. His voice invariably held undertones of menace and threat-even when he ordered scrambled eggs for breakfast. Now it also dripped with a wicked smugness.
"This new prophecy nonsense is exactly what I need," Frost continued. "The barbarians foolishly think that Squire Terin is their leader. They have some silly prophecy about him and call him ’Bishortu.’ I’ll order Terin to make them leave our lands."
"I’m not sure that will work, Your Excellency," the timid voice said. "They have lived there for many years. It’s the only land they know."
"That’s not my problem!" Frost said loudly. His shadow pulled back as the snoring that surrounded us dropped off a bit. Apparently catching himself, he continued in a quieter tone, forcing me to move closer to hear.
"The superstitious barbarians won’t leave because of the treasure buried beneath their lands-treasure they haven’t been able to find in a hundred years! That treasure belongs to the barony of Blythedale, not to some ignorant savages. Terin will make them move or he’ll die trying."
I gasped. Frost jerked his head around. His shadow danced wildly against the tent as he grabbed the lantern and headed for the opening.
Backing up, I tripped over a stone hidden in the darkness and stumbled wildly. I quickly whispered a Silence spell around myself and ran from the scene.
Dodging tent ropes, I panted through the maze that was our camp, frantically searching for my own tent. Listening for the sounds of pursuit produced nothing-and then I mentally slapped my head. Of course! The spell that surrounded me removed all noise.
Sheer luck finally brought me to my small tent, and I dived in, breathing heavily. Pulling up my blankets, I pretended to be asleep, keeping my eyes open slightly. Someone with a lantern approached.
Reminding myself to continue breathing, I gulped and tried to think of excuses. I can’t lie, I reminded myself. I’m a squire now. I made an oath!
The light passed by. I sweated in my cot, despite the chill night air. It seemed hours before the chirping of crickets announced the end of the spell, but I remained awake, pondering the conversation I had not been meant to hear.