Briony screamed, grabbing Kelric's arm and hauling him back the way
they'd come. "Daaaadddeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!"
Kelric bolted after his sister, just feeling a
rush of hot wind at his back. From the corner of his eye, he saw the
bright 'thing' descend on its arc and plunge into the waves with a
great plume of grayish steam. He kept running, stumbled and fell to
his knees on the rough rocks only to be hauled to his feet immediately
by Briony's panicked strength. Kelric was far too frightened to look
back over his shoulder again, but the strange men behind them were
definitely in pursuit. Far ahead and looking terribly small in the
distance, he could see Daddy, Mummy, the King and Bishop Duncan all
running frantically toward them over the sand.
Briony jumped down off the rocky spit onto the
beach, pulling him down after her and they kept running. It was all
right on the firmer sand near the water's edge, but in the deeper, dry
sand they couldn't run as fast and their pursuers were definitely
gaining on them now. But Daddy was also charging down the beach with
the other adults at his back, looking ready to kill.
"Down!" Daddy suddenly roared at them.
"Get down _now_!"
Briony flattened herself to the sand, pulling
Kelric down with her. For just an instant, Kelric struggled to get
back up, thinking that lying on the beach and waiting to be caught
couldn't possibly be the right thing to do, then he stopped, as the
shouts from their pursuers were suddenly muffled. He and Briony were
now enclosed beneath a pale, opalescent dome of arcane protection.
Kelric didn't need to be trained to feel the power in it, or know that
the protective bubble had been cast over them by the King.
Nonetheless, he cowered under the dome as he
felt something strike it from the outside and ricochet off without
hurting himself or Briony. He screwed his eyes tightly shut and
pressed close to Briony for comfort. He didn't like being in the
middle of a magical battle at all.
"Up children, quickly!" Bishop
Duncan's voice urged. "Come with me."
Kelric opened his eyes he felt Bishop Duncan
lift him from the sand. Uncle Seandry was there too and he scooped up
Briony and began to run back up toward the pavilion with her. Kelric
flung his own arms around Bishop Duncan and buried his face in his
shoulder as he was quickly carried up the beach and out of harm's way.
Then Bishop Duncan had stopped running and was
gently, but firmly prying Kelric loose.
"Let go, Kelric, you'll be quite safe here
behind the Wards. Stay with Derry and Her Majesty. I must go help the
Kelric let go and opened his eyes as Bishop
Duncan put him down in the sand before running back down to the
battle. Lord Dhugal made a gesture, and Kelric could feel the
protective circle of Wards snap into place. Uncle Seandry stood near
Lord Dhugal, his dagger drawn and ready to protect the Queen in more
ordinary ways should it be needed. What servants they'd brought with
them also stood around the edge of the tent holding some cooking
knives and burning brands and tried to look brave. Uncle Seandry
looked as if he wished he had his sword too, but none of the men had
brought their swords. Who would have thought they'd be needed on a
harmless outing to the beach? Even the puppy was bristling and
growling before his young mistress. The Queen herself was holding
Briony in close comfort. She reached her free arm out to him and
Kelric ran to her for the mere comfort of being near an adult.
"It's all right, you're both quite safe, now," she murmured,
hugging them. "Your Mummy and Daddy won't let anything happen to
Kelric opened his eyes again, and looked down
the beach where the arcane battle was being joined. He saw Lord Dhugal
tense instintively as another bright something flew a little too close
to the pavilion. The silver ball made a little pop in the air and
burst into harmless fragments as it rebounded off the Wards.
"Mummy!" Kelric gasped, realizing that
she was in the thick of the battle. He started to run forward only to
be held back by the Queen who hastily grabbed a handful of his tunic.
"No Kelric! You mustn't go down
"Lemme go!" Kelric wailed.
"Mummy's in trouble!"
"She's not in as much trouble as _you_ will
be if you get in her way, Kelric Alain Morgan," Uncle Seandry
said in a very stern voice. "You're too little to protect her.
And she'd have _my_ ears if I let you try it."
"You can't get through the wards, anyway,
Kelric. I don't think your mummy needs to be protected right
now," Lord Dhugal consoled. The people who need protection are
the men who tried to attack you and your sister."
Kelric watched and saw to his amazement that
Lord Dhugal was right. This was Mummy as he'd never seen her. Not that
he could see her all that well - she looked rather blurry and
indistinct, and it wasn't just because of the distance or because of
the visual distortion of the wards. She was glowing around her edges
in a way that made her look both menacing and mysterious. The Mummy he
knew held him in her lap, played with him and his sister, comforted
them after nightmares, scolded them when they were naughty, told them
bedtime stories and sometimes sang to them in her light, sweet
soprano. The woman fighting on the beach had just launched a shaft of
brilliant blue-white light at one of the attackers with lethal
accuracy. The man staggered to his knees as soon as her light touched
him, clutching at his chest and screaming. Kelric was equally
frightened and impressed. The air was charged with magic, he could
feel it even standing within the protected circle around the pavilion.
He hadn't thought Mummy was remotely capable of
hurting anyone. He'd always known Daddy was a warrior, and had seen
him practicing his swordsmanship many times, sometimes with the King,
sometimes with Bishop Duncan or Uncle Seandry. But grown men were
_supposed_ to be good at fighting. Kelric had never seen ladies fight
with swords or with magic either until now.
Daddy too, was hurling magical attacks at all
comers, as were the King and Bishop Duncan. They flanked Mummy
protectively, but were careful not to get in her way, or in the way of
her magic. But Kelric could see their attackers were also very able
and there were more of them. Lord Dhugal watched too, evidently
longing to run down and join them, with only orders to keep him where
he was. Kelric stuffed his fist in his mouth, suddenly feeling very
much afraid. Even Uncle Seandry looked anxious which didn't reassure
Kelric at all. On the other hand, he knew quite well that Uncle
Seandry didn't much like magic if it went beyond little things like
handfire or mindspeech.
Caradog the puppy didn't much like the magic
either. He had put his slim tail between his legs and now cowered
behind his mistress, whimpering a little. Kelric knelt down by the
puppy and hugged him, with both his short arms around the puppy's
neck, hiding his face against the puppy's fur. He didn't want to keep
watching the arcane battle that seemed to go on and on.
"How long can they keep this up?" the
queen asked Dhugal in a low voice.
"As long as they must, My Lady," Lord
Dhugal replied, but his voice sounded worried. "I just wish I had
more dueling experience-I feel so useless just standing here
The queen and Uncle Seandry turned all at once
and looked up the path leading to where they'd left the carriage and
horses. Kelric looked too and saw three black-clad horsemen come
galloping down the path. The first three men were closely followed by
half a dozen well armed Corwyn Lancers. Kelric glanced quickly toward
Uncle Seandry and saw he looked hugely relieved.
"It's about _time_ they turned up!" he
said to the queen who looked at him in startlement.
"And I think Prince Azim was leading
them," she agreed. "Those men with him must be Anviller
Knights. How did they know-" Her voice trailed off, and she
"I didn't know that Prince Azim was
anywhere near Coroth, but I _did_ know about the Lancers, My
Lady," Derry admitted with a sheepish grin. "My Lord wasn't
entirely easy about this excursion to the beach, so he ordered them to
follow us down. They were to keep out of sight until and unless they
were needed. But he was concerned about your safety and His Majesty's,
this close to Torenth. After all, no one knows for sure where Count
Teymuraz went, do we?"
The Queen looked at Derry in alarm, then down
the beach, where the addition of the Anvillers and the Corwyn men
appeared to have tipped the balance of power in the battle.
"I feel like a naÔve
child, Derry," the queen said, softly. "Kelson and I would
make very useful bargaining chips for Teymuraz or anyone else if we
had been taken hostage by those men, but today has been so wonderful
that it never even occurred to me that we might be in danger at the
"You've been the
Queen of Gwynedd for less than two months, My Lady, while His Grace
has been the King's Champion for almost eight years. It's his duty to
think about the King's safety and your own, isn't it?" Derry
consoled her. "He thinks about it so you don't have to. And if
you're feeling foolish about having been caught by surprise by those
men, I assure you, His Grace feels far worse."
Kelric sat up in the
sand, still stroking the frightened puppy as he watched the end of the
battle. Then he stood up all at once as he saw the mast top of the
strange sailboat come into view as it began to sail out of the
adjoining cove. He further saw that two of the attackers had managed
to break away from the Lancers and were running desperately toward the
rocky spit where he and Briony had been climbing earlier
"Look Lord Dhugal,
the boat's sailing away!" Kelric shouted, pointing to the mast
Lord Dhugal looked
where he pointed, then swiftly cut a opening in the Wards, and dashed
through it to run down toward the others, shouting and waving his
hands. Two Lancers immediately wheeled and galloped after the two
escapees to cut them off before they gained the rocks. But one of the
black clad newcomers thrust his hands toward the boat. Kelric was too
far away to hear what he said, but he felt a shiver up his spine at
the exact moment that the boat's mast splintered and the sail burst
into flames. All at once it was over. The Lancers were taking the
attackers into custody, binding their hands behind them with ropes
from their saddlebags. Daddy and the King stayed down the beach with
the prisoners, but Mummy and Bishop Duncan came back to the pavilion
to dismiss the wards. Kelric watched Mummy shyly from where he stood
still stroking the puppy. She and Bishop Duncan looked windblown and
very tired, but otherwise Mummy looked very much as she always did.
She must have felt him
watching her, for she turned to him and smiled, holding her arms out
Kelric hesitated even
so. He could still sense the residue of magic hanging around her, and
it made her a bit more dangerous than the Mummy he knew and adored.
Mummy asked, her arms still extended to him, her face now wistful and
Kelric ran to her and
flung his arms around her neck as she bent down to pick him up and
clutch him tightly to her.
"Baby, how could I
have borne it if those men had caught you? Whatever were you doing on
the point?" Mummy scolded, even as she rocked him and kissed the
top of his head.
Kelric held on tight to
Mummy, not minding that her hold actually hurt his back. It was good
just to be near her, again.
"Oh darling, I'm
sorry if I hurt - Kelric! What's the matter with your poor little
Mummy put him down and
turned him with his back to her to take a look.
Kelric yelped when she tried to peel his tunic away from his skin and
it stuck painfully.
sweetheart!" Mummy gasped. "You've got a great big burn
along the back of your shoulders!" She straightened at once,
beckoning urgently to Duncan.
Bishop Duncan murmured when he had knelt down behind Kelric and had
seen his back. "Kelric, didn't you feel _anything_?"
Kelric shook his head
guiltily wondering if he'd failed, somehow. He let Bishop Duncan tilt
his head forward so he could get a better look at his back. His knees
stung too now, and Kelric was surprised to see they were both crusted
with sand and dried blood. He must have skinned them while he and
Briony were running away, but he had no memory of doing it.
"I'll heal him of
course, but we'd best get him out of the direct sunlight," Bishop
Duncan told Mummy who was hovering anxiously at his elbow. Kelric
snuggled closer to Bishop Duncan for comfort as he was gathered up and
carried lovingly into the shade of the pavilion. He wondered why he
hadn 't noticed earlier that his back hurt for he could definitely
feel the burning now - the pain almost made him sick to his stomach.
Bishop Duncan gently
laid him down on one of the abandoned palettes and turned him onto his
"Just relax now,
Kel," he said softly, stroking Kelric's hair out of his eyes.
"Have a nice sleep, and when you wake up, your back won't hurt
Kelric closed his eyes
and surrendered to Bishop Duncan's deft but insistent mental command
to sleep. He closed his eyes and relaxed, knowing he was safe in the