In the days when ships first flew above Amber, Prince Valentine and Prince Xenophal discovered the trilathons and began to explore Near Binah. They rode upon wyverns brought from Chaos by Lord Kiron of Hendrake, who accompanied them. When they returned to Amber, Valentine was loathe to abandon his steed to Shadow, and left it in the charge of the Amber Guard.
He returned seven days later, in which time he had traveled from one end of the universe to the other, been kidnapped and rescued, and exchanged gunfire with Caine's minions in the Valley of Ganesh. He demanded the return of his wyvern, and it was provided for him.
Arthur was the name of the stablehand who brought it out. Even though he was missing his arm, he seemed strangely attached to the creature.
The officer who had been responsible for the wyvern all that time was Corporal Bergerac.
Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake recovered from her stupor with the traditional war cry of her breed, a terrifying cry used during battle and upon waking. She was a mighty servant of the Haron family, and was a creature most magical. She remembered flying to a realm devoid of magic and then... nothing. The next thing she knew she was landing here. A quick sending and she was able to determine that she was not far from where she had been initially summoned, which meant one thing... Amber.
Valentine dismounted, brushed something off his sleeve, and lit a cigarette. "Who's in charge?" he asked coolly. The lookout glanced at the corporal.
"I am, sir," said Bergerac.
"Splendid. I want you to see to this creature. It has served me well and I may need it again."
If she was indeed in Amber, she would have a chance to fulfill her secondary objective in this mission. She would be able to learn about the Stasis Lords and their frozen realm. She glanced at the one her rider addressed. Extending herself through her gaze, she knew him. He was known as Bergerac, had been known as Stumpy in his youth, he enjoyed his position in the Guard perhaps too much, his mind having frozen into one form, that of an obedient soldier. He would not serve her in this matter, although he might serve her more basic needs if food were not provided.
"Of course, sir," he finally said. "But I am not certain that the castle possesses the appropriate facilities to-"
"These are the stables, aren't they?" said Valentine.
"Yes, yes, but-"
"Well, give him a stable. Treat him like a big old horse or something. I'm sure he'll be fine. He only eats meat, though, as far as I've been able to tell."
The rider, a Stasis Lord, stood off to the side and began arcane preparations. This disturbed Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake as his way was not one of the Sorcerous Arts, but rather worked by imposing the Stasis of his kind upon the proper Chaos of Shadow. Her head began to hurt.
"Sir?" he said.
Ah, respite. Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake's headache eased.
Valentine blinked, frowned, and turned toward the corporal. "What?" he snapped.
"When might we expect you back, sir?"
"I don't know! Now leave me alone!"
"My apologies, sir."
Valentine resumed his preparations. As the pain built to a crescendo, it was gone, taking with it the Stasis Lord known as Valentine.
"Well now that's a trick I've never seen," said the lookout. "He didn't use one of them cards or anything."
A quick glance was all Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake needed to see that this one, Hodge Limerick, would be of no use to her. He was a doppleganger, a being sent by the Lords of Faerie no doubt. They were a minor power, and Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake's masters believed them to be confined to but a small subset of Shadow. His mere presence here was worth noting. She owuld have to be careful to present this "Hodge" with naught but her more animal mind. Her sapience would have to lie hidden in the hindbrain around him... Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake began casting a glamour to cause Hodge to underestimate her. It was risky, as it was possible that Hodge would recognize her chanting as a spell, but it would pay off greatly if he didn't notice it.
"Never mind that," said the corporal. "We have to get this thing under control."
Indeed, he didn't have much time. The wyvern had been curious enough about its new surroundings since it landed to poke around a bit, but now it was making a rattling sort of cooing sound and glancing skyward again.
"Keep it occupied," he said to the lookout, "While I get some rope or some sort of harness."
He ran into the stables and grabbed the arm of the first stablehand he saw a boy, 13 years old or thereabouts, who had been feeding sugar to one of the horses while staring intently at the strange beast outside.
"You! Two coils of rope!"
Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake and Hodge circled each other. Hodge was growing suspicious. Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake tried sending thoughts of hunger at him, in the hopes of turning his suspicion away from her nature and to her culinary desires.
"Sir?" said Hodge.
"I think it means to eat me, sir."
"Well, keep it busy. The boy's on the way with rope."
"Yes, sir. Sir?"
"I thought I might draw my sword, sir. Just in case."
"No, don't do that. No telling where this thing came from. It might be trained for battle. It might react badly."
The lookout sighed. "Very well, sir."
The stablehand came running with rope coiled around each shoulder. The corporal grabbed one and walked 'round to one side of the wyvern, gesturing for the boy to stand opposite. The lookout stood between them, his hand on his pommel, while the wyvern now swayed its long neck side to side to keep them all in view. The boy's hands moved quickly, knotting a loop together.
Now this one was interesting... A young one, who would be easy to manipulate. Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake began sending waves of warmth to this one, this Arthur. He would serve well. She allowed the men to catch her in their ropes, although she had to make it look as though she did not want to be stabled.
"Sir," puffed the lookout. "I don't mean to abandon you, but I've been away from my post for-"
"Yes, yes, go," said the corporal.
She took over the corporal quickly. The fact that his mind was set in its ways made him useless for her larger works, but it actually made it easier for her to guide him, to dictate his decisions...
The corporal glanced at the stablehand. "Your name?"
"Arthur, this beast will be our responsibility. I am going to speak to the Captain of the Guard. He will have an idea or two about what to do."
"Very good, sir. Shall I feed it oats?"
"No. Meat. Speak to the cooks."
"I'll have to free her somewhat if she's going to eat."
Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake was left alone with Arthur. She would have to work slowly, and mold him subtly, lest he or those that know him notice the change. She began by making him sturdier, giving him a heartier constitution and thicker skin. His mind would take longer. Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake coughed up some blood and crafted it into a powerful sword, with all the strength and skill of her own powerful form, she mixed in the deadliness of her acid and just a touch or two of her sense of self-preservation. She would influence Arthur to pick it up, and by carrying it he would come to think of her safety as his own.
Unfortunately, Hodge returned with a crowd just as she finished it. Hodge was ranting, goading a mob on with shouts of some thing or other. Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake met his gaze to shut him up, but he met her gaze as well, and she knew that he knew her, and that he would have to die before he got a chance to report to his superiors. His drawing of his sword, which was suspiciously light and silvery, signified that he had come to a similar conclusion about her. She noticed out of the corner of her eye that Arthur had raised up the sword she had made for him.
Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake circled Hodge. Their battle raged on within their minds. As the battle raged furiously on, Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake suddenly leapt and fell upon Hodge, biting his head and killing him instantly.
There was a crowd of soldiers and servants at the mouth of the stables. The corporal shoved past them and ran inside, where a row of frantic horses were neighing and banging against the walls around them. Arthur, blood-spattered, was standing in the back of the stables, holding a bastard sword that was altogether too big for him. Behind him, two or three stalls had been cleared out, and the walls between them removed, to make room. The wyvern was curled up back there, its wings furled, its head just out of view. It seemed to be eating something, however.
"What happened?" the corporal demanded.
"Sir. They were going to kill her, sir. I told them that that wasn't allowed."
The corporal glanced back at the crowd, then at Arthur, then at the blood on his tunic.
"And you fought them?"
"Oh, no, sir. The blood isn't mine. Or theirs."
"Then whose is it?"
Arthur swallowed. "Hodge's, sir. The lookout."
"He came back after he went off duty, sir. He wanted to see how she was doing."
"Wait a moment. She?"
"Yes, sir. She's female."
"How do you know?"
"I don't know for certain, sir. I just . . . have a feeling."
"Well, never mind your feelings for now. Where is Hodge?"
Arthur sighed and glanced back at the wyvern. "I'm afraid Hodge is dead, sir. He drew his sword in front of her. I told him he shouldn't."
"Damn it!" said the corporal. "The fool. In that case, where . . ." He glanced again at the wyvern, who was pulling at some reluctant meaty shred of its lunch. "Wait. No. It's not . . ."
"Yes, sir, she is," said Arthur. "She had dragged him off to her nest before I could pull him away."
Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake calmed Bergerac. It would do no good to have him upset about Hodges' death. She sent him outside to disperse what was left of the mob. He returned after doing so.
"You can't really tell it's Hodge any more," commented Arthur, who was definitely sympathizing more with the wyvern than with his fellow man.
"Never mind that for now," said the corporal. "First order of business: just how is it that Hodge gets eaten for drawing a sword, but you could stand there with one drawn?"
Arthur shrugged. "I think she likes me," he replied.
Bergerac had further questions, but Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake stilled them. Bergerac need not think too much.
"That's good for now," said the corporal. "Try to keep it her under control. I have watch duty tonight in the Valley. With Master Gerard. I'll try to find out from him whether Prince Valentine will give a thought to this thing ever again."
Arthur frowned. "And if he doesn't? I suppose we'll have to K-I-L-L her?"
"Why the deuce are you spelling it out?"
"Just to be safe, sir."
"Yes, we probably will."
As if. A comment by Arthur brought her out of her reverie...
"My aunt works in the kitchens, sir."
That would certainly help. Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake hummed to herself contentedly as she rested after consuming the annoyance that had been Hodge. She went to work on Arthur's mind as she lay in her stall.
She waited for him to return to his nest and fall asleep. She filled his head with dreams of riding her through myriad Shadows, of adventure and beauty. And of the loyalty that would grow, had grown between them. At the same time, she caused him to sleepwalk up to the Castle Library.
It was surprisingly easy to get him up there. No Library in Chaos was so unprotected. Perhaps this reflected on the quality of the tomes contained within. she directed Arthur through the Library, finding volumes that would enlighten her on Amber; on its history, its defenses, its protectors. The books were informative, but Arthur's sleeping mind began to wake. She influenced him but slightly at this point, convincing him that he had been awake when he came here, and that he had come in search of information on wyverns. She then left him to his studies, knowing that his reading about wyverns would only draw them closer together.
She let her mind wander. The Stasis Lords were few and far between, and thei minds, while powerful, were mostly untrained. With Brand Chaosbringer gone and Fiona Fireapple missing, there was unlikely to be any in Amber that would detect a creature of Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake's subtlety. At least, none of the Stasis Lords known to Chaos ought to detect her. Which is a lengthy way of saying she was confident she would not be detected. A great source of Stasis existed beneath the mountain. Too static for her to examine in detail, although she was able to learn much just from examining its periphary. She sensed another hanging in the sky and turned her attention to it, but it disappeared as her awareness approached.
Casting about to see where it went, she realized that it had hidden itself beneath the sea. Turning her mind to it, she became aware of something distressing. Two minds, trained well in the ways of Magic, were here. One was the female she had met briefly. The one who had refused to ride a wyvern. She retreated from her as quickly as she could, trying to keep herself in thoughts and dreams that this one, this Llewella as she had been called, would not be able to notice. Unfortunately, her haste left her open to discovery by the other.
"Halt! What manner of creature are you that disturbs my wards from so near and yet so far?" asked the man she had been noticed by. She would have to reply. In fact she was bound by many of the rules of her kind and of magic itself. Should she fail to reply, he would hold power over her in any further dealings.
Thus she spoke: "I am a creature of the air, who tarries perhaps too long beneath this sea. Allow me to leave and you will have no trouble of me."
"I will have no toruble of you anyway, unless I mistake you quite. I ask again, by the turning of the Silver Wheel, by the frost of the North Wind, what manner of creature are you, that bears the mark of Chaos yet stands in the fortress of Order?"
"A simple wyvern am I. No more."
The man drew upon the power of the very force of Stasis that Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake had been investigating, to add to his compelling. Unfortunately for him, his move backfired, for he had abrely gotten out his third question, which Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake would have been forced to answer, when the conflicting power of Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake's own nature and that of the sign of Stasis he called upon sent a shock through both of them, forcing her mind back into her body. She erected her shields then, and made herself to seem like any normal animal. Arthur was by her side and reading to her. She allowed herself to drift off to sleep.
First thing the next morning, Corporal Bergerac went to the stables. Arthur was already there, waiting for him.
"Is all well?" said the corporal.
"No one else has been eaten, if that's what you mean," said Arthur with a grin.
"I should hope not."
"And yes, all is well. She seems to be eating an awful lot, and I don't think she likes being cooped up. But she hasn't misbehaved."
The corporal noticed a book in Arthur's hand. "What on earth is that?"
"From the library! I thought one of the bestiaries might be helpful."
"What sort of stablehand uses the library? Now that I think of it what kind of stablehand can get into the library?"
"Please don't ask me that, sir. If you did, I'd have to answer, and then we'd get off on all the wrong foot."
The corporal resolved to ask the boy again, after the wyvern situation was resolved. "Is the book helpful?"
"No, not directly. There are some details of wyverns and similar beasts from the Circle and near Shadow. But ours doesn't correspond to those. I have a theory that it comes from somewhere else."
The corporal guffawed. "Where else is there?"
"The Courts of Chaos," said Arthur proudly.
Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake woke up at this remark. Perhaps Arthur was coming along quicker than she thought. He must have an extremely malleable mind, or else a great reservoir of strength...
"What nonsense," said the corporal. "Why on earth would Valentine be riding a mount from the Courts?" No sooner had the question escaped his lips than all sorts of unsavory possible answers occurred to him.
"It's just a theory," said Arthur. "Anyway, I've been reading to her from the bestiary and she seems to enjoy it. No idea if she understands a word. Oh, and, food-wise, she likes chickens. Loves it especially when they scurry around and try to avoid her teeth."
"So I thought of a great idea for her name."
"Arthur, I sincerely hope that we will not be minding this beast long enough for any name you give it to accrue any significance whatsoever."
"I know. So I thought I'd make it a fun name."
"I daren't ask."
"Hendrake." Arthur beamed.
"Hendrake? Isn't that one of the Houses of Chaos?"
"Yes! Which is where she's from. By my theory. Plus, there's 'hen,' and as I said she likes chickens. And then there's 'drake,' which, according to the bestiary, is the zoological class she belongs to. Hendrake. It functions on all sorts of levels."
The corporal sighed. "Call her what you will. If all is well then I will see to my other duties, and check again tomorrow."
Arthur was indeed progressing quickly. Triallon N'gar Alhazra ne Haron sep Hendrake began reinforcing her influence on him. She imparted upon him much of her own vitality and prowess, as well as subtly changing his mind to make it more receptive to sendings, and even the thoughts of others. She decided that she did indeed like him, and would allow him to call her "Hendrake" without punishment.
Hendrake spent the next few days manipulating Arthur and sending him on errands. She sent him again to the library, and also to the city itself. Unfortunately, he could not travel far in the short amount of free time he had, so he could not scout out the area properly. He was further hindered in that he was unable to go certain places due to his lack of tender with which to bribe or barter. Also, he was stopped before he could head down the stairs that lead to the great Stasis she had noticed. Perhaps she could get him imprisoned in one of the dungeon cells near the Stasis thing? She decided that that would be the easiest way to get him near the thing and came up with a plan.
After a few days of absence, Corporal Bergerac swung by the stables, only to find several dozen off-duty soldiers and servingfolk lining the perimeter of the courtyard outside the stables. They were cheering loudly, all looking inward, and, if the corporal was not mistaken, waving money about.
He elbowed past them to see what was going on.
The wyvern was there, with a long rope tied around one of its ankles, but otherwise unbound. Scattered around it were the bodies of several dead chickens, and perhaps ten more still alive, squawking and running wildly around. The wyvern pranced around, nearly on the tips of its toes, watching them run to and fro. Occasionally she would heft into the air with a couple strong beats of its wings, and then pounce down onto or among the terrified poultry. Sometimes it would scoop one up into its mouth and down it in a couple of bites, but on the whole it seemed to be toying with them more than devouring them.
Then the corporal noticed that the chickens had scarves tied around their necks, in four different colors. Then he noticed Arthur, on one side, keeping track of chicken deaths on a chalkboard. One side of the chalkboard had a complex set of numbers in rows and columns. The last column was labelled "PAYOFF."
The wyvern popped a yellow-scarved chicken into its mouth, and scattered onlookers cheered wildly, while another one cursed loudly, tore a piece of paper in his hands in two, and stormed out.
Hopefully, this would get Arthur put in the cells for a day or two. It had already done much to get around the problem of Arthur's lack of money. Hendrake simply made sure to eat the chickens in the order which would result in a maximum of money going to Arthur.
The corporal walked around the courtyard to stand behind the boy, who was busy writing something along the bottom of the chalkboard.
"Arthur," he said.
Arthur dropped the chalk in surprise and stood up. "Ah! So good of you to stop by, sir."
"I hope I do not need to actually voice my next order . . ."
Seeing the corporal's intentions in his mind, Hendrake was disappointed. Arthur would not be going to the dungeon. She influenced Bergerac then, figuring that if her primary objective could not be met, she could at least make sure that none of the bets had to be payed out, so that Arthur could keep all of the money.
Arthur nodded grimly, then turned out to the crowd. "Sorry, folks! Game's over!"
Then he whistled through his teeth, high-pitched, and the wyvern stopped chasing a chicken to turn and look at him. "Hendrake!" he said. "Ac thael. Terita!"
Hendrake pretended to be obedient, and headed into her stable at the "order."
Arthur was a good kid, but he was too limited in his movements. Hendrake would have to do a bit of scouting on her own. She came up with a plan and implemented it...
The wyvern refused to eat, but sat curled in her corner. Her eyes roamed aimlessly along the opposite wall, ignoring the dozen chickens, goat, and even cow that had been brought for her. Her forked tongue hung limply out the left side of her mouth.
"We can't have the damn beast starving to death," said the corporal. "Can we force her to eat?"
"How exactly do you think we could do that?" said Arthur.
"Not we. You. She likes you, remember. She follows your commands. Ask her nicely."
Arthur frowned and stared at Hendrake. She was paying no attention to the chickens pecking around for food just inches from her forehead.
"I think she's just bored," he said. "She loved it when she got to chase her food."
"You're not opening the games again," said the corporal.
"No, no, I know. But we could at least take her back out to the courtyard and let her chase chickens for a bit. See if that works."
The corporal shrugged in assent. They herded the chickens out into the courtyard, and sent to the kitchens for half a dozen more. They closed the doors leading to the corridors. Then they went back into the stable, and caught Hendrake peering curiously outside. When she realized she had been seen, she quickly curled back up again, sullen. Arthur walked up to her and fastened the rope tightly around her right ankle.
"Nice try, drakey-wakey," he said. "But you know you want to chase 'em."
Sure enough, the wyvern stood up, shook out her wings a couple times, and strutted out of the stables. The chickens heard her coming and scattered, their frantic clucks rising in crescendo. Arthur tightened the other end of the rope, fastening it to the post.
A few minutes later, the wyvern had devoured five chickens and was prancing around amid the rest of them. The lack of an audience, this time, didn't seem to bother her a bit.
"I told you," said Arthur, smiling. "Now if we could only get that cow to run frantically around, we'd have a real show."
The corporal nodded. "We may just make our way out of this yet," he said. "Good thinking. I'm going to go report to the captain."
As soon as Bergerac was gone, Hendrake cut her bonds and flew off, slowing down just long enough to send the final elements of her bond with Arthur. Now, Arthur would be unable to avoid following her, helping her, and acting in her best interests in all things. He would see her safety as vital to his own, and thanks to the enhancements she had given him, he would be capable of serving her well, especially among the weak beings that lived in this place, devoid as it is of proper chaos forms and beasts. He would be unable to fight one of the Stasis Lords, but he should be able to avoid that.
Hendrake headed up into the mountains. Representing high ground, this would be the optimal avenue of entrance into Amber, but only if there was a sufficently large, flat area to stage troops. Unfortunately, she was unable to find any. She next turned her attention to finding a Shadow Path in the mountains, one which might lead to a proper staging area. Again, she was having little luck. She did, however, spot some men digging out oddly shaped areas. Before she could investigate properly, she was contacted.
"I thought I'd be able to find you again if I just looked hard enough. You are hardly the 'mere wyvern' you claim to be. Where are you from and why are you here?"
"I am known as Triallon, and I am from Katan."
"I did not know that Katan bred wyverns."
"I am long gone from Katan. My master took a rather long route to get here, and we arrived in Amber some five centuries after his companions, although only a month had passed for us."
"I see. And how is it that you are masterless now, and that you are so atypical of the wyvern stock in terms of mental capacity?"
"My master has fallen. We were ill-done by a baby dragon which lives in the sky here, mere moments since we arrived. My mind is but the result of a spell which my master placed upon me before he died, as had been his habit when he wished to fly without directing me. He referred to it as his 'Otto Pilot' I believe." Astoundingly, the mage at the other end of this conversation seemed to be believing her!
"Very well, I shall od you a favor then." The contact seemed to be gone. Hendrake would have pursued it, but just then she noticed that she was flying directly toward one of the baby dragons she had just know used as an excuse. Hoping to avoid the ill effects of Instant Karma, she banked quickly and headed south. Just then, she was struck by a spell, hearing the fading words "this should restore your blissful ignorance..."
Hendrake was stumbling through the wood. Her wing was hurting badly and she was unable to fly. Something had happened to her. Something had taken away her mind, if only temporarily. At least the mage should no longer be looking for her. Now she needed to figure out what had happened in the intervening time. She stopped and rested beneath a large maple.
A man dropped on her with a short sword drawn and a bag of herbs in his other hand. He must have meant to capture her. It would be his last mistake. In a blur, Hendrake took the form of an Ogre and rent the man asunder and then resumed her natural form. It was a relief to take on another form after spending so long in this one. She felt as if she were just now stretching after sitting for weeks. Unfortunately, the man was not alone. His companions loosed arrows at her, and she realized why she had been fleeing through the woods in the first place. She sent a quick burst of energy and inspiration to Arthur, wherever he was, and fled again.
Soon she heard the sound of hounds chasing her. It couldn't be, here in this bastion of Order, but it sounded almost as if they were the Hellhounds of Barimen, famed warriors of Chaos who have terrorized the enemies of House Hendrake since time began. But this was impossible, and she reassured herself that these were mere Shadows of those fine, noble warriors.
She realized she was in serious trouble when she sensed a Lord of Stasis behind her. She wondered if she had perhaps been driven insane by the spell of the mysterious wizard, for it seemed to her as if the Lord of Stasis rode upon the back of a Lord of Chaos. It was all so confusing, and without being able to fly, she feared she would die long before she ever figured it out.
"Little one, your flight is useless. None may escape me in Arden, and you could not even escape me were we elsewhwere. I know you and your breed, and I have eaten the souls of your brethren." The voice came to her with power. She stumbled, and would have given up had not she heard Arthur's call. It was a call she had taught him, and one she had prepared in him. It was what was known in Chaos as a "lynchpin," and now that she had heard it, she would be summoned to him much faster than even the Lord of Chaos could follow.
Arthur clambered up into one of the leaning pines, and let out a sort of bird-call in an ululating staccato. He stayed up there and repeated it every five minutes or so.
After a time, the corporal called up to him. "The Rangers won't mistake that call for anything other than a human, you realize."
"I know," Arthur called down. "It's a calculated risk."
The corporal frowned. He occupied himself by taking stock of the clearing from a tacitical perspective. The stream banks and the trees were key, in case they had to defend themselves against archers. He moved the horses down under the leaning pines and leaned his spare short sword against one of the pines. He paced the clearing back and forth a couple times, noting the deepest places in the stream and the spots where it could be easily hopped across.
Half an hour later, one of Arthur's calls was returned by Hendrake's unmistakable cry. Arthur scampered out of the tree and ran to the edge of the clearing, calling again. The corporal peered through the trees, looking more for any sign of Rangers than of the beast.
Hendrake came into view, and she wasn't in the air. She was running through the trees, occasionally rising for a dozen yards to pass a particular gnarled bit of undergrowth. When she did so she used her right wing but not her left. Soon, she burst through some thorny bushes and emerged into the clearing. She crouched and nuzzled her snout up to Arthur, but only for a moment
That one moment was enough to bring Arthur up to speed on what had happened. Arthur had brought the "veterinary bag" she had inspired him to bring, and she actually thought she might escape the dual threat of the Lords of Stasis and Chaos. She instructed Arthur on how to heal her wing with the poulstice he had brought. As it turned out, Arthur had brought with him some Holy Water as a precaution. It had been blessed at the Temple of the Unicorn and might possess some Static energy of its own. It was a frail thing to lay their only hope on, but it was something.
she then turned and, like the corporal, peered into the trees for any sign of pursuit.
For the moment, there was none. Arthur led Hendrake into the widest part of the clearing and then raced to his saddlebag. "We have to fix her wing," he said. "The forest only gets thicker between here and the castle. She'll need to fly." He approached her with a veterinary bag full of salves and ointments, some horse-bandages, and other assorted medical items he had thrown in just in case.
The corporal did not care for the next hour of his life at all. He would have much preferred a direct confrontation to the interminable waiting. Hendrake obediently stretched out her wounded wing for Arthur, who immediately set to work. The corporal wasn't clear whether he knew at all what he was doing, but he chalked it up to the bestiaries he'd been reading and whatever sort of preternatural intuition he had or claimed to have. Strange boy.
Arthur had treated the punctured wing and was bandaging another wound at the shoulder when the corporal heard the first wolflike howls. They had to be some ways off, he guessed, but their call could only mean they had picked up the scent. In a flood, the corporal suddenly remembered everything he had heard about Julian's hellhounds. He had been thinking of Rangers, of strategic positioning, of diplomacy all of which fell to pieces before the prospect of a charging wall of ravenous canines.
"Can she fly?" he asked Arthur tensely.
"Soon," said Arthur, ripping off a length of bandage with his teeth.
The next hound-howl was closer, but still not too close. It also seemed to be a little off to the side perhaps they were on the wrong trail? But the corporal's thoughts along this line were smothered by another sound a relentless p-pound, p-pound, accompanied by the cracking of wood. Was it just him, or was the ground actually shaking?
Then he caught the silhouette through the trees. A man, riding upon the biggest horse Bergerac had ever seen or ever would see. The infamous Morganstern.
Julian was coming.
Bergerac leaped across the stream and grabbed his sword from its saddle-scabbard. "She had better fly now, Arthur!" he called.
"Done!" said Arthur, stepping back from Hendrake. "Now fly! Ac tamat! Quickly! Back to Amber! Ac tamat!"
The wyvern rose up on its two legs and craned her neck skyward. She unfurled her wings, but her left one, constricted somewhat by the bandages, couldn't open all the way. Reaching some point of pain, she made a harsh clucking noise and folded the wing back in.
She then realized that as much as she had tied Arthur to herself, she had become tied to Arthur.
"No! Go! Now!" called Arthur.
Hendrake looked at him, blinked, and then glanced at the corporal, thinking "perhaps I can use this 'Bergerac' to get me and Arthur out of this." In any event, the Lord of Chaos was close enough that they would be unable to escape without distracting it in some way.
"We'll be fine, you idiot! Just go."
But Hendrake didn't move, and then it was too late.
Morganstern came crashing into the clearing at the same point the wyvern had entered, rending the same thorn bush into a hundred tiny scattering shards with its momentum. Julian, resplendent in his shell of white armor, was holding a tremendous silvery spear over his shoulder, ready to strike. Without missing a beat, Morganstern continued to bear down on the wyvern, who crouched, eyes flaring.
As their eyes met, Morgenstern sent to her "You are a fool. you could have escaped me with that trick of yours, but I shall eat your soul now, and all that is you will be known to me."
"All that is me is only half the story, milord," replied Hendrake.
Arthur ran from Hendrake's side and stood before Morganstern. The corporal was running back across the stream to push him out of the way, but he wasn't going to make it in time.
At the last moment, finally noticing Arthur, Julian pulled back on Morganstern's reigns. The great horse reared up, steam pouring from its nostrils, dwarfing Arthur and even the wyvern before crashing back down. The ground shook.
"Do you really think this one will stop me? Not even the rider I bear will care long for his safety if he is fool enough to stand between me and my prey!"
Arthur was holding a stopped up vial of blue liquid from the veterinary pack behind his back.
"What are you doing here?" demanded Julian. Arthur stared up at him unflinchingly.
The corporal ran up and bowed on one knee. "Your pardon, m'lord. I am Corporal Bergerac of the Amber Guard. This matter is my responsibility."
"You are responsible for this beast being in my forest?" said Julian.
Julian tossed his spear aside and drew his sword. He looked ready to run the corporal down right there. "Do you know what it is?"
"It is a wyvern, sir."
"It stinks of Chaos, you dolt. It is a cretin of the Courts." He narrowed his eyes. "What spell does it have you under?"
Hendrake struggled to keep from influencing him. Certainly any such action would set the Lord of Stasis loose. This one would be a powerful enemy, and was being held in check solely by his conflicted loyalties.
"Sir, please," said the corporal. "I am responsible for this creature by the specific orders of Prince Valentine of Amber."
"Valentine?" said Julian, then spat on the ground. "A bastard Pattern-brat. Not a proper prince."
"You know him?"
"No. And that is just the point. You are sworn to follow his orders, perhaps, but I am not. When you report back to him you may explain who felled the creature."
Morganstern and Hendrake, in the meantime, had not looked away from each other. Julian urged his mount forward, and as the distance between them closed, the corporal realized that the wyvern was somehow caught in the horse's thrall frozen in place.
Hendrake's mind flowed like water. She was unable to hold back Morgenstern's assualt, in fact it was all she could do to keep him from learning of Arthur's role in this...
Arthur had not moved. "Out of my way, boy," said Julian, without even looking at him. Morganstern showed no inclination to stop.
Arthur only stepped out of the way when Morganstern was about to trample him. Julian paid no attention to him, or to the corporal, or to the baying of his hellhounds, which even now were crashing through the trees, on the cusp of entering the clearing at last.
Arthur vaulted into the air, and with his left hand caught hold of the strap holding Morganstern's bit in its mouth. He swung his right hand up, holding the unstoppered vial he had been hiding, and poured its contents into Morganstern's left ear.
"Noooo! How dare you!" cried Morgenstern, feeling the touch of Stasis upon his mind. He slowed and grew clumsy in his mind, letting Hendrake slip from his grip as he raged at the indignity of it all. This was the most dangerous part of Arthur and Hendrake's plan, as Morgenstern raged at being struck with this Stasis weapon but before Morgenstern realized exactly how weak that weapon was. For the Holy Water possessed little more Stasis than did the regular water here...
The horse led out a hideous cry of pain and reared up again. Arthur went tumbling backward, head over heels. Julian, caught unawares, was thrown off. He landed on his back was a thud, his armor making a seamless imprint into the dirt.
Morganstern reared so high and thrashed so much that it lost its own balance and collapsed to the ground, legs scissoring wildly.
Then the first of the hellhounds entered the clearing, teeth bared, tongue lolling out to one side as it ran. It was making for Arthur.
No! They WERE the Hellhounds of Barimen! But how? and why?
The corporal ran to intercept it. He reached it even as it was in mid-pounce, and ran it through with his sword, following through with his own momentum to knock it aside. Arthur stood up, somewhat wobbly.
And then Hendrake realized that although they were the Hellhounds of Barimen, they were sorely weakened. Many creatures of Chaos find it difficult to live in Stasis for any length of time, and these had obviously been here for quite a while.
Both Julian and Morganstern were already getting to their feet. The corporal waited for Julian to charge, but saw that he was confused more than anything else. He realized that he had not noticed Arthur, or perhaps just hadn't put it together yet, and was still wondering why his horse had pitched him.
But that was only a matter of time. Fortunately the horse was still experiencing some sort of ugly pain, and, even though it was on its feet, still thrashed its head back and forth, trying to shake the feeling away.
Two more hellhounds burst into the clearing, this time making for the wyvern. Hendrake lowered her head and her tongue snicked out as if to greet them. As the first one pounced, her long neck shifted to the side and she caught its flank in her own teeth before it hit. With a twitch she tossed its bleeding body out of the way. The other, in the meantime, had landed on her back and was making a little headway against her gnarled hide. She leapt into the air with two beats of her wings and then did a mid-air flip, dropping the hound to the ground. Then she landed again, right on top of it, rending in two with her claws.
"You flew!" cried Arthur. "See!"
Julian, at this point, was striding toward Hendrake, sword drawn. More hounds were fast on their way, and worse, the sounds of other horses and people running afoot. From the other side of the clearing, in fact, a trio of rangers burst in. Two stopped to notch arrows while the third ran toward Julian.
He cried to Julian: "Master! They are traitors! Beware!"
Julian's face went white as ice. He adjusted his course, now heading straight for the corporal, who raised his sword and stood in a defensive posture even while he recognized the ultimate futility of the gesture.
But Arthur leapt in the way of Julian's overhand swing. The fool his arms were extended as if to block it. And block it they did the boy's left arm came off neatly at the shoulder even as the corporal stumbled back in surprise. Julian's follow-through embedded his sword, for a moment, into the ground.
Hendrake let out a piercing screech and flew into a rage at Julian. Bergerac barely ducked in time to get out of the way. The Lord of Stasis, who had been for a moment intent on pulling his sword back out, was caught in his chest by the force of her charge. He was knocked onto his back yet again, but managed to roll out from her pin a moment after. She then regained her composure and realized that she would do well to get as far from here as possible before Morgenstern recovered. She commanded Bergerac to bring Arthur and kept one eye on the Lord of Stasis as she prepared their retreat.
The corporal dropped his sword and scooped Arthur up into his arms. In his mind he was counting the minutes that Arthur would have before the bloodloss became fatal.
"Ac tamat!" he called to Hendrake. "We have to go. Now!"
Hendrake allowed him to place Arthur on her back. She prepared to take off, but Arthur managed a groan, and she understood his meaning. She waited and let Bergerac climb on before she took off, leaving the mysterious melee behind.
She flew back to the stables and laid low. and waited for Arthur to recover. She knew he would, after all she HAD strengthened his recuperative abilities. Arthur appeared at the stables on the second day of his recuperation. Hendrake was happy to see him, and a bit tired as she had spent the intervening time casting spell after spell, both to hide herself from the mysterious mage she had run afoul of and to keep Morgenstern and his rider from noticing her, or even thinking of her. she decided that Arthur needed some quiet time to rest and manipulated Bergerac's mind, to get him to order Arthur imprisoned in one of the cells near the sign of Stasis.
Arthur turned to the corporal. "The dungeons for me, now?" he said.
Before the corporal could answer, one of the other stablehands came running in. "Sir!" he exclaimed. "Prince Valentine has returned!"
The corporal jogged out to see if it was true. Of course it was Valentine stood there in the courtyard, and judging from the expressions on the faces of the others present, his arrival had been as sudden as his departure one week before. His clothing was still impeccably cut, but he had the scuffle and sweat of battle about him, and he was holding one of the special gunpowder weapons.
"The wyvern? Is it still here?" he said.
"Yes, m'lord," said the corporal.
"I need it. Very quickly."
"Oh well," thought Hendrake, "At least I'll get some space between me and Morgenstern." Then Hendrake realized that Valentine might take her back to the place of no magic. If he were to do that, it would be the third time she had lost her senses in a short time. She realized what would happen then, that the spells that enforced her oath of loyalty would disappear, that she would be free of any geas that Hendrake and Haron might have over her. She also realized that her connection to Arthur would be broken.
She decided to fix that. She allowed Arthur to see all of her mind, and she empowered him further. She gave him the ability to seek her and to find her, no matter where she might go, and also the power to reestablish the bond as it exists now, so that even if Valentine were to take her to the place of no magic, Arthur would be able to find her and to reestablish their bond. A tear appeared in Arthur's eye, but Hendrake didn't notice. She was having a little trouble seeing at the moment.
Arthur was already leading Hendrake out of the stables. Valentine smiled upon seeing her, and the wyvern stretched its wings in response, as if aware of the trials that were to come. He hopped on her back and looked down at Arthur.
"What happened to your arm, boy?"
Arthur scratched Hendrake's head and whispered something in her ear. "I'll come for you." Only then did he look up at Valentine. "Take good care of her, please," he replied.
The corporal braced himself for the snap of royal pride coming down on Arthur's impudent head, but either the prince was too laid back or too preoccupied to mind. He led Hendrake a couple steps away, and promptly forgot about the corporal and the stablehand. The wyvern crouched and then launched upward on her powerful legs, spiralling up and up. Arthur and Bergerac dwindled until they were like little ants standing on their hill. Valentine turned Hendrake toward the East.
Prince Valentine rode the wyvern back into Near Binah, accompanied by many others. They rode for days and, in time, came to the Pyramid. Valentine left his steed there to explore it, and from there went to many new places unseen by methods unknown. He never went back to retrieve her.
Three months later, an Amber Guard on routine skywatch in the mountains spotted a lone wyvern flying toward Garnath. Its rider appeared to be only a boy.
Corporal Bergerac received the report, but did not send it on to his superiors.