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Excerpt from DEVLIN'S HONOR by Patricia Bray

As Devlin emerged from the Governor's residence, Didrik drew himself to attention and thumped his right fist on his left shoulder in formal salute. From his packs Didrik had unearthed his dress green uniform, with the silver shoulder cords that marked him as the Chosen One's personal aide. Next to Didrik were the half-dozen soldiers who had escorted them into the city, led by a young woman wearing the uniform of an army ensign. As Devlin caught her eye, she placed her hand over her heart and inclined her head. Beside her, the soldiers stood at rigid attention, their eyes fixed in the middle distance.

Devlin inclined his head in acknowledgment. After speaking with Lord Kollinar and accepting his offer of hospitality, Devlin had paused at the Governor's residence only long enough to change into his court uniform. Though normally he hated the stiff garb, today he wore it as a sign of respect to the guild members who had once been his equals. And as a warning, to remind all who saw him just who it was that they dealt with.

As Devlin descended the stone steps to the street below, he glanced up at the sky. It would be dark soon, but there was still time to visit the metalsmiths before the Guild Master sought out his own home and hearth.

"Chosen One," Didrik greeted him, using the formal title as was his custom when they were in the presence of strangers.

"You understand what I need of you?" Devlin asked.

"Yes. The ensign and I will accompany you to your destination. She and her troops will wait outside while we go within. Should assistance be needed, I will summon them," Didrik said. His face was a blank mask, giving no sign if he were offended at being asked to repeat such simple instructions.

"And you, Ensign Annasdatter. You understand that your presence is a precaution only? If you are summoned within, you are to look imposing but that is all. You will not draw your weapons, unless I so order. Understood?"

"I hear and obey," the ensign replied. She looked absurdly young to be an ensign, her wheat colored hair barely long enough to be tied back into a warrior's braid. She was a child, and he briefly considered requesting that someone more senior take charge.

But there was no time. And with luck he would not need her aid. The troops were there as a precaution, nothing more. Should the guild master balk at turning over Devlin's inheritance, the troops would be there to make him see the wisdom of obeying the law.

Not that such a gesture was likely to endear him to his people. On the contrary, it went against custom to involve the Jorskian army in such an affair. By long held agreement, the native Peacekeepers were responsible for civil affairs within Alvaren, and for enforcing Caer laws. But in this case Devlin could hardly turn to the Peacekeepers, for who knew where their loyalties would lie?

"Come, then. Let us be done with this."

Devlin led the way through the narrow twisting streets, Didrik at his side, while the ensign and her soldiers followed behind. At this hour of the day there were few folk on the streets, but those they did see stepped aside and whispered as they passed. The back of his neck felt chill, for their gazes were not friendly. And more than once he heard a muttered curse, or the word fearnym, which in the tongue of his people meant traitor.

It took a scarce quarter hour for them to arrive at the Square of the Artisans, where the metalsmiths had their guild hall, flanked on one side by the glassblower's guild, and across the square from the potter's hall. By Jorskian standards the square was too small to merit such a name, merely being a wide spot where two great streets met. Were he to cross the square and continue down the Street of Egil, a hundred paces would take him to the forge where he had labored from the time he was a boy. First as an apprentice, then a journeyman, and finally as a master in his own right.

The square was empty save for a rushing apprentice carrying a bundle in his arms. It was as he had hoped. Devlin had kept their destination secret from all but Didrik, lest word leak out. Given time to reflect on his plans, no doubt troublemakers could stir up a crowd or even a small riot, and such would lead to senseless bloodshed. Better far to move swiftly and in secret, so the deed would be done before any had a chance to stop him.

"Wait here and remember your orders," Devlin said.

"Yes, sir." Ensign Annasdatter gestured, and four of the soldiers took up positions in the street, while the remaining two flanked the great door that led into the guild hall. She took her own position to the right of the great door.

Devlin swallowed hard, and steeled himself for what was to come. Then he reached forward with his right hand. So perfectly balanced was the massive heartwood door that at his mere touch it swung open on silent hinges.

He stepped through and into the entranceway. Like most buildings in Alvaren, space was at a premium, and the entranceway was small in size. But what it lacked in size it made up for in sheer grandeur, with walls of black marble lit by cunningly fashioned lamps. The left wall was covered by an intricate carving depicting Egil's gift of fire. On the right wall, three hundred years of the guild's greatest smiths were honored, the names of the Grand Masters carved into the stone and then filled in with copper so they glistened in the lamp light. It was considered an honor for an apprentice to be assigned the task of polishing those names, and in his youth Devlin had spent hours carefully burnishing the metal and dreaming of the glory that would one day be his.

Pain lanced through him as he saw that the wall was marred, for the second name from the bottom of the list was gone, the name scraped from the stone until only a blank spot remained. The fingers of his good hand traced the roughened surface, and he felt the faintest of indentations where once his name had been. His heartache swiftly turned to anger. Not for the insult, but for their heedless destruction. What lesson did it teach future apprentices to see the masters so heedless of their heritage and of what it meant to be a craftsman? Whatever Devlin had since done, he had once been acclaimed grand master in all honor. Regardless of what these fools thought, they could not deny his past.

Nor could they deny who he was now, as Didrik's gentle cough recalled him to the present. Turning his back on the ruined wall, he led the way through the archway opposite, into the main hall.

Here all was as he remembered. At the front of the room, a handful of clerks labored at their desks, scribing the records of the guild. The center of the room was open to allow for the guild members to meet in assembly. Around the edges of the room were pedestals and display cases showing off the finest works of the guild. An enameled torc that he had made as a journeyman had once been displayed in the third cabinet on the left, but he knew better than to suppose it still held a place of honor. He felt a brief pang as he wondered what they had done with it. Had it been destroyed? Or had they sold it off or simply hidden it away?

At the back of the room there was an alcove where the Guild Master and his friends were most often found. Master Jarlath had his own office on the second story, but in his declining years he seldom bothered to climb the stairs. And he was even less likely to be found in his forge. Devlin could not remember the last time he had seen Master Jarlath at his craft. Nor had he taken an apprentice for at least a dozen years. And yet despite this, Master Jarlath ruled the guild with an iron fist.

He heard the sound of laughter, and then all fell silent as Devlin's boots rang out on the stone floor. Not since his days as a new apprentice had he been as conscious of the size of the hall, or of the feeling that all eyes were focused on him.

Devlin drew to a halt a half-dozen paces away where Master Jarlath sat.

"Grand Master Jarlath," he said, greeting him in their own tongue, and giving the short bow due to an equal in craft or degree. As Chosen One, it was a great courtesy for him to greet a mere craftmaster in such a fashion. But as one who had once been a guild member, such a bow might be seen as an insult.

From the narrowing of Jarlath's eyes, he knew it had been taken as an insult.

"What brings you to my hall?" Jarlath asked in the tradespeech, as if Devlin were a foreigner. In a pointed lack of courtesy he did not rise, nor did he offer Devlin any of his titles.

"I have come for my inheritance, given into your keeping by Master Roric, to hold until my return," Devlin said. Following Jarlath's lead, he, too, spoke in the trade tongue.

A woman laughed, and Devlin recognized Amalia the weapons maker. On her right hand she wore the silver ring that indicated she had finally made master-- though the rank of Grand Master was far beyond her talent.

"You gave up all claim on the guild years ago, when you forsook your craft. There is nothing here for you now," she declared. The venom in her words surprised him, for to his knowledge he had never wronged her. Still perhaps it was enough that he had once had what she never could, and that he had turned his back on the honors that she had long sought.

"Is Amalia now Guild Master? Should I treat with her instead?" Devlin asked mildly.

"I am Guild Master," Jarlath said.

"Then act the part. Send one of your lackeys here to fetch that which is mine, and I will take my leave and trouble you no longer."

"You were always trouble," Jarlath said. "And what need has our most famous traitor for whatever trinket Roric left behind?"

Didrik hissed as the word traitor was uttered. There was a faint rasp, and Devlin did not have to turn around to know that Didrik had loosened his sword within its scabbard, making sure it could be drawn in an instant.

"Enough." He had no patience for Jarlath's baiting, nor for reigning in Didrik's anger at the slight to his commander. It was time to put an end to these foolish theatrics.

Devlin braced his feet apart, and hooked both hands in his own sword belt. "Jarlath, Grand Master, Leader of the Metalsmiths' guild, husband of the much-mourned Leila of Bright Waters, in the name of Egil and in the presence of these witness I call upon you to honor your sworn word. Give over to me what is rightfully mine or bear the name of oathbreaker to the end of your days."

There was a moment of silence, and Devlin feared that he would be forced to summon the soldiers after all. But then Jarlath crooked one finger, and an apprentice stepped from his post by the fire. "Cathan, the box I want is in the storage room, where we keep the copper bars. It is a long, narrow case, with Roric's name inscribed on the top. Fetch that to me."

The apprentice scurried off, out the back of the hall and down the steep stairs that led to the basement storerooms. Devlin stood there, his gaze carefully fixed on the wall above Jarlath's head. He schooled his features to blankness, but inside him he felt a churning excitement mixed with dread. He had spent two months and traveled over two hundred leagues to come to this place. In a few moments he would once again behold the Sword of Light, the object he both craved and feared.

The fingers of his right hand began to tremble, and he gripped the sword belt tightly to hide their shaking. It took far too long, but finally the apprentice returned, bearing a box that was nearly as long as he was tall. After a glance at Master Jarlath for confirmation, the apprentice approached Devlin and handed him the box.

It was a plain box, made out of smoothed oaken boards, with brass hinges and a bright red wax seal on the hasp. On the top of the box was inscribed Roric's name and underneath Devlin's had been added in a second hand. The box had been well stored for there was not a trace of dust to be found on it.

"Satisfied?" Master Jarlath asked.

"Almost," Devlin replied. He turned to Didrik, who held out his arms, and Devlin laid the box level on them. Then, taking his dagger from his belt, Devlin sliced through the wax seal. It broke easily, revealing traces of a different colored wax underneath. He replaced the dagger in its sheath, then drew a deep breath. He looked into Didrik's face and saw his own anticipation mirrored within his friend's eyes.

Stephen was going to be angry that he had missed this moment, Devlin realized, and he felt a smile forming on his lips. Then he turned the hasp and lifted the lid of the sword case.

He blinked for a moment, unable to believe what he was seeing. Dark laughter echoed in his mind, as the demon within him chose to make his presence felt.

"My Lord? Devlin?" Didrik's voice was strained, and Devlin realized that the partly raised lid prevented Didrik from seeing what lay inside the box.

Devlin withdrew the scroll, and closed the lid of the sword case. It took him two tries to untie the ribbon with fingers that seemed suddenly stiff and clumsy.

"The Children of Ynnis send their greetings," he whispered to Didrik. Then he turned to Jarlath. "You have failed at your duty. The sword entrusted to you has been stolen."

 

Copyright by Patricia Bray. All rights reserved.

© 2005 Patricia Bray. All rights reserved.