the armies of daylight (darwath #3) Page 5

"It scarcely matters when they return, my lord Chancellor," Bishop Govannin said quietly, looking across the laced fingers of her white, bony hands. "In some ways it might be better if they never did."

Chancellor Alwir did not turn his head; but, from where she sat on the corner of the barracks hearth, Gil could see the white gleam of the glowstones dart across his brocaded shoulders as his muscles stiffened. On the other side of the hearth, the captain of the new-formed firesquad, Melantrys, stopped in the midst of her exposition of flame throwers to a group of her fellow Guards. At the room's long, central table, Minalde, who had been talking with the Keep's other Bishop, the lanky, ragged leader of the Penambran refugees, turned her head sharply. Conversation in the main room of the Guards' barracks was suddenly stilled.

Govannin continued with silky malice. "You cannot pretend that the powers that rule the Empire of Alketch will agree to lend their might to an endeavor led and counseled by wizards."

Slowly and deliberately, Alwir regarded the prelate where she sat in the room's single, carved armchair, with her white hands linked before her and the hearth fires dancing in the purple depths of her episcopal ring. "Ingold Inglorion, my lady," he declared quietly, "neither leads nor counsels in this fortress. I have appointed him chief of the Wizards' Corps, since that is where his talents lie. And I might point out to you that the Church has yet to produce either reconnaissance, protection, or weapons to aid us against the Dark."

Govannin's chin went up. "And of what merit is any wizard's work against the salvation of souls?"

"You know more about the salvation of our souls than I, my lady," Melantrys said in her low, sweet voice. "But these devices are going to be the salvation of our hides, and no mistake." Her small, dainty hand caressed the looping rigs of wire and tubing that festooned the flame thrower's glass bubbles. She shook back her barley-gold hair. Under soot-black, impossibly long lashes, her eyes were as pitiless as a hawk's. Rudy had left two rifle-sized flame throwers with Melantrys, with instructions to organize the firesquad among those born with the lesser magical powers capable of wielding the weapons. The lovely captain had taken him at his word. "The troops of Alketch won't quibble with magic on those terms," she added.

"The ignorant won't," the Bishop replied softly. "The godless won't. But ignorant and godless warriors march in all armies. Sometimes they even command them."

Alwir swung around, bristling, and met only that close-lipped, reptilian smile. With determined cheerfulness, he said, "Surely it would be flying in the face of providence to reject weapons that have come down to us, miraculously preserved, from the Times Before. Exactly how Dare of Renweth's forces defeated the Dark Ones and drove them back underground is a secret regrettably lost to us, for the last scion of his House is an infant, and Tir's father perished in the ruins of Gae. But I am convinced that Dare used weaponry of this kind-and as such, he must have had a trained corps of firebringers to wield them. Their success may be gauged by the centuries of respite humankind had from the Dark."

The Bishop's ivory fingers flicked. "Wizards' work," she snorted disdainfully. "Work that fouls the hands of any who touch it, your precious Dare of Renweth along with the rest." She cast a scornful glance across at Bektis, who sat with the amber colors of the hearth fire gleaming in the white silk of his beard, gravely examining a second flame thrower at the other end of the table. In the middle of the table, the Guards' Commander Janus and the handful of poker players around him were keeping a wary eye on which way the muzzle was pointing.

Alwir's smile remained resolutely pinned to his mouth. "I think we have heard enough of wizards for one evening, my lady Bishop."

"You will hear enough and more than enough when the representatives of the Lord of Alketch arrive." Her bitter eyes were like starlight on oily black water. "The Emperor of Alketch is a man of true faith."

"He's a priest-ridden bigot who had his own first wife burned for a witch," the Penambran Bishop snapped, looking up from the misshapen knot of his crippled hands.

Govannin's lip curled. "The fact remains, Maia of Thran ," she said, rolling the peasant form of his surname from her tongue with all the scorn of a descendant of the most ancient of noble Houses, "that in the South, where the Straight Faith is strong and unpolluted, there are no Dark Ones. Only in the North and in the plains where the heathen Raiders roam have the Dark Ones risen to scourge humankind."

"According to Stiarth of Alketch," Janus said. He spoke the name of the Imperial Ambassador as if it were wormwood in his mouth.

"Do you doubt him?" Govannin purred.

As Commander. Janus could say nothing, but Melantrys opened her mouth, and Alwir's rich voice cut across her possibly unseemly reply.

"Of course not. There is an air about a man whose world has collapsed in ruins about him. You know it; you have all seen it. That, if nothing else, should have spoken to you all." The Chancellor turned to survey them, haughty eyes challenging any of those ragged warriors in their frayed surcoats to deny what they all knew in their hearts. "He was clad richly and fed well-too richly and too well for a man whose world is a ruin. No," Alwir went on, "whether it was by virtue of God's will, or the Emperor's merit, or purest chance and the fate of mankind, there are no Dark Ones in Alketch. We would be fools if we did not mold our policies accordingly."

There was a murmuring, unrestful and wary. Melantrys folded her arms over the clumsy length of the weapon in her lap; Minalde, her mouth set at the memory of her battles with her brother over the preliminary negotiations with the Emperor's Ambassador, looked down at her fingertips. Govannin settled back in her chair and tented her fingers again before her, an unpleasant glitter in her narrow eyes.

Alwir continued. "We have sent word to all the landchiefs of the Realm: to Harl Kinghead in the North and Tomec Tirkenson in Gettlesand; to Degedna Marina and her vassals in the Yellow River Country in the East. From none of them have we received a reply. The hand of the Dark lies heavy over the Realm. It may be that none will stir to fight. I have heard that the greatest of the landchiefs, the Prince of Dele, is dead; the others may have set themselves up as independent kinglets, each ruling from his own pitiful fortress, in spite of the vows he made to the High King of Gae.

"Therefore, we must work with our allies of Alketch and hold in check out prejudices and whatever grudges we may have formed in the past." As if by chance, that chill, jewel-blue gaze touched the gaunt form of the Bishop of Penambra, who raised smoldering eyes in return. "We need that alliance," the Chancellor continued grimly. "We need it, as a wounded limb needs a healthy body for its rejuvenation. The Empire of the South has all those things that we now lack- trade and commerce, education, arts, culture, the wherewithal to forge steel weapons, and the civilization to enforce laws."

"Aye," Janus murmured, leaning his great, red-furred forearms on the table. "But whose laws?"

In the momentary silence, Alwir's face seemed to harden in the cross-grained shadows of the scattered glowstones and the leaping redness of the hearth.

Govannin said, "Written laws, my muscular friend. The son that my lord Alwir has sought from the beginning to purge from the records."

"The useless quibblings of Church legalists whose bones rot in the streets of Gae!" The Church records were a sore point with Alwir. "I swear by the ice in the north, woman, the paper they're written on is of more use!"

"To write your own laws upon?"

"To keep census and records of the Keep!" he shouted, losing his temper. He made a move toward her, goaded past endurance, but then he saw her smile and struggled to master himself.

In the shadows of the guardroom, no one moved or spoke. Only Gnift the swordmaster slapped a greasy card on the table and crooned, "And eight lovely hearts for the charming lady in black."

Alwir took a deep breath, his mouth clamping beneath flared nostrils. "I tell you, my lady Bishop-and I tell all of you-that, of all things, this alliance with Alketch is of the greatest importance to the Keep and to everyone within its walls. Without it, we lose our last hope of civilized existence. We will become degenerate villagers, ignorant and brutal, prey to the stronger and the better-armed. And that I will never permit." His eye touched them all: Melantrys, her delicate nostrils flared as if against the stink of Ambassador Stiarth's perfumes; Aide, still looking down at her hands in angry silence; the Bishop of Penambra in his patched red cloak and scavenged brocades. "I will let nothing interfere with it. Believe me, there is nothing-and no one-that I would not sacrifice to bring about a lasting alliance with the Empire."

"Including yourself, my lord?" a new voice inquired, a flawed, mellow voice that spoke from the dense shadows of the barracks door. Gil looked up at the sound of it, warmth kindling in all her veins.

Alwir swung around, recognizing, as they all did, that shabby form in the darkness. "So you've returned," he said.

The firelight glittered on flecks of sleet that clung to Ingold's stained mantle. As he stepped into the light of the room and pushed back his hood, Gil was shocked at how old he looked. Behind him, Rudy and Kara emerged from the darkness and they, too, were mud-splattered and silent, weary past caring about anything. Gil saw Alde look up and Rudy turn his face away, as if he could not bear to meet the joy that shone in her eyes.

"Did you think I would not return, my lord?" Ingold set down the satchel that he carried. From within it, Gil heard the faint click of wax tablets. Janus was already on his feet, his shadow blotting the light of the hearth as he bent to pour a cup of so-called guardroom wine from the small kettle that was warming beside the fire.

"No," Alwir said at last. "No, you have shown yourself proof against most calamities, my lord wizard."

"Or able to avoid them," Govannin remarked acidly.

"It is the secret of my indecently long life," Ingold agreed with a small smile. "Thank you, Janus-this is the other secret of my indecently long life." He sipped the steaming liquid, which was not wine at all, but a horrible compound of hot water and homemade gin.

The Commander of the Guards steered him to a seat on one of the rough benches at the table, and Alde moved her heavy skirts aside so that he might sit. Rudy and Kara took seats on the raised brick hearth beside Melantrys, their thawing garments steaming and dripping unnoticed in the heat. Where Kta had vanished to, none of them could have said, but he was found later, peaceably warming his skinny hands by the kitchen fire in the Wizards' Corps complex, eschewing the councils of the mighty.

"My lord," Ingold said at length, "are you still set upon this invasion?"

The Chancellor's voice was brisk, but there was an edge of wariness in it. "Of course I am still set upon it," he said. "Can it be done?"

The wizard's eyes glinted in their discolored hollows. "Rudy believes that it can."

"Indeed?" Alwir's eyebrows quirked. "And I collect you hold a different opinion, my lord wizard?"

"It is folly," Ingold said simply.

The Chancellor's thin smile broadened, without increasing its warmth by a single degree. "Well," he murmured, "fortunately for us all, you are no longer the sole source of information on the subject, are you? Was it folly that enabled Dare of Renweth to defeat the Dark?"

Ingold made no reply to this baiting. With a sneer, Alwir turned away. "Rudy? Are those magical devices of yours the answer to this riddle, after all?"

Rudy looked up, as if startled out of some private, terrible dream. "I don't know whether they were Dare's solution to the problem or not," he said in a voice thick with fatigue. "But we can damage the Nest badly, maybe so badly they'd have to abandon it completely."

And haltingly, half-numbed with exhaustion, he told them of what he had found in the Nest-the vast complexity of that dark and filthy realm, the ability of the Dark Ones to damp light or fire, and the curiously flammable properties of the dried, leprous brown moss.

"That will be our strength," he concluded. "If we sent a strike force down each of the two main branches of the Nest, to cover the firesquad as far down as the nurseries, the fires would spread in the moss as the army retreated. I think that would do it."

"Especially if the mosses themselves are the nitrogen fixers for the whole ecosystem of the Nests," Gil added unexpectedly. "If that's so-and that's what it sounds like- the whole Nest must be saturated with nitrogen compounds."

Everyone in the guardroom, Rudy included, stared at her with as little comprehension as if she had spoken Etruscan. Tardily reminding herself that she was dealing with a preindustrial worldview, Gil amended, "My studies have shown that this type of moss can be very flammable."

"Indeed," Alwir said thoughtfully. "I had no idea you were a scholar, Gil-Shalos. A curious pastime for a soldier. That is two of your students, my lord Ingold, who disagree with your findings."

He turned back to Rudy. "So you think that, with men to guard the firesquad from the Dark and perhaps the wizards to surround the whole force in an aura of light, it would be feasible to burn out the Nest in the fashion you describe?"

"I think so," Rudy said. "The drawback is that there would be no way of getting the human prisoners of the Dark out of there. Unless they fled in the army's wake…"

"It is regrettable." Alwir sighed. "But indeed, it might be better thus. After so long in the realms of the Dark, they can hardly be said to be sane."

"You're very sure of that for a man who has never seen them," Ingold commented, raising his eyes from the gold-bossed rim of his cup. "For myself, I would not even inflict such a death upon the herds of the Dark, who are likewise innocent."

"T'cha!" The Chancellor wrinkled his lip in disgust.

"Beyond that, you might give a thought to what would befall the Keep, should the invasion fail and the army that you send to destroy the Nest of the Dark perish in it. On our way up the road from the valleys, we found the remains of propitiation-sacrifices offered by the White Raiders, not two miles below the old watchtowers at the Tall Gates. And there are those in the valleys who would lay siege to the Keep if they were assured that its defenders were gone-not only brigands, but families banded together, embattled tribes, who would take shelter by force if they had to."

"That," Alwir returned, with a nasty sideways glance at the Bishop of Penambra, "we already know."

"I will not argue with you, Alwir, for you will believe what you choose and act as you will," the wizard said. As he raised his head, the firelight showed his face hollowed with exhaustion and his blue eyes glittering with anger. "I am tired, tired to death-we have fought the Dark for two nights running and I am all but perished with cold. If it is your will to invade the Nest of the Dark, the wizards will aid you, up to and including our lives, so that we may save what survivors we can from the wreck. But I feel in my bones that your plan is death-death for most, and worse than that for some."

With an impatient gesture, he threw what remained of the Blue Ruin in his cup into the fire, and the alcohol exploded in a swift thunderclap of flame as it hit the hearth.

Then he was gone, his footsteps fading down the hall toward the Wizards' Corps common room almost before anyone was aware that he had risen.

Alwir said softly, "The old fool."

There was an uncomfortable silence. Everyone, from the card players to Bishop Govannin, looked uneasily at one another and then at the Chancellor, who stood with his arms folded beside the hearth.

Rudy sighed and rose to go. "He's not a fool, though," he said tiredly. He picked up his pronged staff from where he had rested it against the doorpost and turned back, all his movements stiff and weary. "Yeah, I think you can retake Gae. But what the hell are you going to do with it when you've got it? Most of the town's under a couple of feet of water, and what isn't is crawling with rats, ghouls, and the dooic slaves that got left behind and turned wild. With the Raiders in the valley and the Dark Ones by night, you'd never be able to keep up lines of communication with the Keep, let alone the rest of the Realm."

Alwir's eyes turned suddenly ugly, though his voice remained suave. "Let that be my affair," he remonstrated. "Since you will, after all, be leaving to return to your own world after the initial invasion of the Nest, the matter hardly concerns you, does it?"

Rudy saw Aide's sudden movement in the shadows; her face had gone white within its frame of crow-black hair. Sour, weary anger filled him as he realized that the blow had been deliberate, to punish him for speaking against the Chancellor's plans.

In a toneless voice, he said, "No, it doesn't." Turning on his heel, he strode away into darkness.

"Rudy!" The desperation in Aide's voice stopped him as he crossed the common room. Looking back, he saw that she had run after him, down shortcuts that only she and Gil could have found. Tears gleamed on her face, and the sight of them broke and drained the anger in him, leaving only grief and pity for her sake. He held out his arms to her without a word.

For a moment they could only hold each other in silence, her face buried in the damp, rough wool of his coatcollar. her scented hair tickling against his lips. Then they kissed, feverishly, as if trying to deny what they both knew to be true. The hot saltiness of her tears burned where they touched his chin.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "Aide, I'm sorry."

He felt her arms lock tighter about his body, felt through his grip the shuddering draw of her breath. He had not known her long, but already it seemed strange to him that he had ever known the feel of any other woman's body in his arms.

She shook her head. "No," she murmured. "Don't be sorry, Rudy-not for this." Her words were muffled against his chest.

In the hearth a log broke, and the sudden spurt of gold threw their shadows leaping on the opposite wall.

"It was always going to be temporary, wasn't it? And then it seemed as if we both forgot it. But I wanted to forget. It seemed that you'd been here forever- and would be-" She stopped, and against his chest he felt the determined tightening of her jaw and the stifled trembling of her ribs. Then she shook her head again, the red flickering of the ember light tipping her hair with carnelian. She swallowed hard. "This world was never your own. You have no choice, have you?"

"No," Rudy whispered bitterly. "No, I have no choice."

She let out her breath in a long, thick sigh and rested her forehead against his shoulder. "Then there's not much we can say, is there?" she murmured. "Sometimes. I think we never have the choice. That no one has the choice. How long do we have?"

His voice was almost inaudible against the fragrance of her hair. "Until the Winter Feast. After the Feast, the army will leave for Gae. And after…"

She shook her head, the soft skin of her temple gritting on his unshaven jaw. "There won't be any after," she said. "It was all fate, wasn't it? Fate that you came here, so you could discover how to make the flame throwers to use against the Dark. And after fate is done with you, you must return to your own world. Isn't that how the universe works?"

His arms tightened around her body, feeling the smallness of her bones through gauze and velvet and soft flesh. "Ingold's always saying there's no such thing as chance. But for Chrissake, why did fate decide it had to work out this way?"

She looked up at him, shaking back her hair; the front part was braided, the back fell in a loose cascade over his hands where they rested upon her waist. "It worked out this way because I would have begged it to," she whispered. "Rudy- better this little than nothing at all. I've been happier with you than I have ever been in my life. Do you know, you have spent more time with me between your journeyings with Ingold than Eldor ever did in the thirty months we were husband and wife? And I have never feared you, never felt helpless or stupid or like some gauche, stammering child in your presence. You've never expected me to be other than what I am…"

"What did Eldor expect you to be?"

"I don't know!" she cried. The words broke from her like long-pent floodwaters. "But it was in his eyes when he'd look at me and then look away. I gave him all that I was, but since it wasn't what he wanted, it was as if he didn't know, or didn't care, that it was everything. I was sixteen. I loved him. I worshipped him. If I had known you then…" She stumbled to a halt, her lashes beaded with tears like diamonds in the firelight.

Rudy bent his lips, kissing the glittering droplets. "Nah," he said softly, "they wouldn't have let you marry some old wizard's apprentice anyway. And besides, when you were sixteen, I bet you were flat-chested and pimply."

"I never had pimples," she argued, choking on tears and unexpected laughter. "Stop it! You make me laugh."

"That's not all I'll make you," he murmured through her lips.

"You all right?"

Ingold nodded without opening his eyes. Against the black fur of the very grubby bearskins on which he lay-the only blankets his narrow cot boasted- his face looked suddenly white under the weatherburning. Gil paused, irresolute, a cupful of smoking tea in her hands. Then she stooped to set it on the floor where he could reach it and turned to go. "You'll have a helluva time falling asleep," she remarked over her shoulder at him, "unless you take off your sword belt and your boots."

Still the wizard did not open his eyes. He merely murmured, "You're wrong about that."

But a flicker of witchlight glimmered into existence over his head and slowly spread and strengthened through the room. It picked out the delicate marquetry of the desk that she and Alde had scrounged for him from a distant storeroom on the fifth level, its pearl and pearwood surface invisible under piles of old parchment scrolls, dingy with smudged ink and greasy with lanolin. Jewel-clasped books salvaged from the ruin of Quo lay with their open pages a counterpane of red and blue and shimmering gold leaf. Among and between everything lay wax note tablets, like the tiles of a Brobdingagian Scrabble game. The mess overflowed the desk to litter the floor; the heaped books, scattered tablets, and twinkling gray glass of those enigmatic crystal polyhedrons surrounded the desk like a pool that spread itself along the wall almost to the foot of the hard, narrow cot. Gil paused, then came back and began to pull off the wizard's boots.

"The other mages will be in for dinner soon," she told him as she did so. "If I wanted to risk an amphibian future, I'd try to talk Kara's mother out of something for you now."

Outside in the common room, the harsh, screechy voice of the little witchwife Dame Nan could be heard, accusing someone-probably Dakis the Minstrel-of being a pestilent food thief, deserving of every ailment from cold sores to piles, and threatening to inflict him with the same if he dared to violate her kitchen again. Kara's reproving "Mother!" sounded faintly from another room.

Ingold smiled and shook his head. "Thank you, child," he said softly as Gil dumped the sodden boots beside the door. Then she thought he had fallen asleep, for he lay unmoving, his eyes closed and his hands resting limply at his sides. But oddly enough, Gil did not leave. She stood in the doorway looking down at him, her wide, chill gray eyes curiously blue in the fading glow of the witchlight.

"Ingold?" Her voice was barely audible against the rising chatter in the common room behind her.

"Yes, child?"

"Did you mean what you said? About its being hopeless?"

His eyes opened. For a moment, he considered her, thin and gawky, like a teenage boy in her outsize surcoat. "Hopeless or not," he murmured, "you at least will have returned to the safety of your own world by the time the army marches. But no," he added, seeing the look of grief that crossed her face, "there is always hope."

"But you don't think that in this case it lies with Rudy's flame throwers," Gil finished for him. "But, dammit, Ingold, the Dark were defeated once and driven back underground. The forces that did it can't have been much more numerous than we are here. And the Dark seem to think that you know the answer."

His eyelids drooped closed again, and he gave a faint, tired chuckle. "The answer to what question?" He sighed. "If the memory of how the Dark Ones were defeated has come down to Tir, it may very well be useless by the time he gets old enough to understand it. The Dark Ones' fear is that I will remember sooner, or that I already know."

He laughed again, a dry, weary sound. "The irony of it all is that I haven't the slightest idea what it is that they believe I know.

"I thought that, like Minalde, I might recognize what I could not remember independently. The memories that she inherited through the House of Bes could only be triggered by something she had seen before, but they were no less true. I have meditated on it; I have cudgeled my brains and combed the records of all things touching upon my research and Lohiro's that I could bring from the library at Quo…" His scarred fingers moved toward the heaped books that strewed the desk at Gil's elbow. "And there is nothing. No reason at all for the Dark Ones to fear me."

"If they don't fear you," Gil asked, "why do they want you?"

He lay silent for a long time, and again Gil wondered if he might have fallen asleep. But in the dark, heavy fur of the blankets, his hand clenched suddenly, and for an instant his brow furrowed, as if with pain. Then, just as suddenly, his expression smoothed again, and he said, "I haven't the foggiest idea. Tell me why that one party of mages returned prematurely from exploring the Nest in the Vale of the Dark."

Gil did a mild double take at the swift change of subject. "How did you know about that?"

His mouth moved a little under his beard-he might have been smiling. "I should be a poor mage indeed if I couldn't follow the doings of my colleagues in my crystal," he said. "Shadow of the Moon-the Raider shaman-was in charge of that party. I expected they should be the first to return to the Keep, since the Vale of the Dark is only a day's journey away, but they returned so quickly that I think they never went down that Nest at all."

"They didn't," Gil said, leaning her bony shoulders against the doorframe. "But then, I expected they wouldn't be able to. When you look down on the Vale from above, you can see how the outlines of the old city of the Dark there have been changed by the gradual movement of the earth. The pavement in which the stairway is located is so badly displaced that I'm not surprised the stairs themselves will no longer admit humans."

"Indeed?" The blue eyes opened, suddenly sharp and alert. "You guessed that?"

Gil nodded and folded her arms. "It would stand to reason, if these mountains are geologically active enough to have displaced the pavement. Those ruins are old- older than our conceptions of time. The Dark formed and shaped that Vale among the older rocks of the foothills, but they couldn't stop the subsequent lift of the earth enough to keep their stair open."

The wizard considered this for a moment, looking intently into the shadows of the ceiling over his head. Then he rolled painfully up onto one elbow and reached for his cup of tea.

"Interesting," he said quietly. In the half-darkness of the alcove, the witchlight falling on his white hair was like strong moonlight on mountain snow; his face, below it, was plunged in shadow. "You once asked me, child, why you were here -why it had been you, and not someone else, whom circumstances had thrust into exile from all you knew and wanted."

Gil looked down at her knobbed and bony hands, lying on the frayed black homespun of her sleeves, and said nothing, but her lips tightened.

"What do you know about the moss in the Nests?"

She jerked her head up, thoroughly startled by what seemed like a whole new topic of conversation, to meet the old man's intent, curious gaze. "Nothing," she said.

"But you guess something about it," Ingold pursued. "You said as much back in the guardroom."

Ruefully, she chuckled. "Oh, that. It isn't important. It's just that I flashed onto something from my college biology course which would explain why the moss is flammable, that's all. It's nothing that has anything to do with the Dark."

"Isn't it?" the wizard murmured. "I wonder. Do you remember, Gil, when you and I visited the Vale of the Dark, how you looked back from the mountain above and saw by the slant of the evening light the pattern of the ancient walls that told you there had once been a city there? I would never have taken those changes in the colors and thickness of vegetation for anything but a rather curious pattern in the valley floor."

"Well, of course." Gill shrugged. "You didn't sit through three Historiography 10-B lectures on the subject of aerial photography, either."

Ingold smiled. "No. Instead, I devoted a considerable portion of my brilliantly misspent life learning how to cast horoscopes-an interesting pastime, but not much to the point. What I am getting at is this: The answer to the question of how the Dark were defeated-how they might be defeated again-may require, not a wizard, but a scholar. And that could be why you are here."

"Maybe," she agreed wryly. "But the fact remains that no record I've seen- either Govannin's chronicles, the old books you salvaged from Quo, or what Alde and I found here in the storerooms-goes back to the Time of the Dark. Nothing gets within a thousand years of it."

Ingold set his tea down and leaned gingerly back against his blankets. His white brows pulled together in a frown. "Why not?" he asked.

Gil started to reply, then left the words unsaid. The dog did nothing in the nighttime… and that, as Sherlock Holmes had once remarked, was the curious incident .

She returned to the barracks in a meditative mood.