continued from here
For a moment, all movement seemed to stop. Marcus could see nothing but the reddish orange tint of a massive fireball, and then, in the midst of this, another light – this one a bright white glow that surrounded them all. There was silence, and peace, and comfort. He thought he could hear a choir of women singing hymns, in the distance, though his rational mind knew this was impossible.
“Magic!” he heard Mordifred exclaim, and though the old man was scarcely a few feet from him, it seemed as though he was speaking through a long tunnel. Looking around, Marcus found Danu, found his eyes. They were rounded in surprise, and yet some pleasure. This magic, this was undoubtedly cast by a powerful ally of theirs, undoubtedly the princess they’d been searching for.
And then, a stallion, a huge black steed, burst through the white light, sending everything back to normal, returning Marcus’ mind to the chaos and fire that he’d temporarily, somehow, left behind. The stallion screamed and reared, and he had no choice but to back away. The rider, dressed in black armor that glinted in the firelight, held a long sword, and he effortlessly brushed aside the Desert Lord who had been standing beside Danu, arguing with him. He similarly disposed of the two guards who rushed forward in an attempt to halt them. The three men fell to the ground, blood spurting from wounds.
The rider switched the sword to his left hand, holding the reins with the same one, and reached his right hand toward Danu. Before anyone could stop or even comprehend what was happening, he’d grabbed the prince by the collar of his night shirt, and then they vanished.
Two guards who had run toward the stallion now stumbled forward to collapse on the sand, looking confused.
Three of the Desert Men lay on the ground, bleeding. One, a young guardsman, was obviously dead, one was unconscious, and the third was crying out his anguish. At these screams, several of the Desert healers rushed forward to tend to the wounds. Chaos seemed to reign.
“I don’t understand,” Ted was saying when Marcus found the ringing in his ears had stopped and he began to be aware of the world once more. “Where the hell did he go?”
“Through a portal, for certain,” Mordifred stated, his voice oddly calm, though confused. “Created in advance, most likely for this purpose, or one similar. The camp has been here for a week, nearly, it would have been enough time to create it, although not an easy task to have done so unnoticed.”
“Portal?” Marcus echoed, confused.
“Where is the other side?” Ted demanded. “Where did they take him?”
Mordifred shook his head. “Without passing through it…I have no idea.”
Before anything further could be discussed, a female voice, shouting, broke through the conversation. Emmaline, one of Marcus and Miriam’s maids, was running toward them. Her dark hair was tied in braids that flew behind her as she ran, and her linen nightgown was dusted with sand. “Master wizard, master wizard!” she was shouting, and came to a halt a short distance away. “Please, you must come quick, my lady needs your help!”
“What’s happened?” Marcus interrupted before Mordifred could speak. “Is she hurt?”
“No, sir, it’s not her,” Emmaline answered, shaking her head. “It’s the girl, the one you brought back – Hareshi. She’s…she’s odd, sir, that’s all I can say.”
“Odd how?” Ted wondered.
“You must see, sir, I can’t explain, please hurry,” Emmaline insisted, and so Mordifred, after glancing briefly at the others and shrugging an apology, went to follow. Marcus went as well, for he was anxious to be certain his wife had not been hurt, despite the maid’s reassurances. Ted, for lack of anything better to do at the moment, followed.
Their answer came soon enough, for no sooner had they come in sight of the tent then they saw a faint light. Miriam and the other servants were circled around Hareshi, who was lying on the sand, glowing faintly.
“Could it be?” Ted asked. The others were speechless.
“It seems unlikely, doesn’t it?” Miriam asked, looking up as they approached. “That she’d be here, after all. It does explain what I sensed, though. The trail didn’t lie. This is her magic, anyway.”
“She said she remembered nothing,” Ted recalled, “didn’t she?” He looked toward Mordifred. “Did your spells take her memory, too?”
“Not intentionally,” Mordifred replied, on the defensive. “Maybe something else was done to her. I certainly didn’t intend to….”
The glow that surrounded the young girl faded, and in the dim light of the moon and stars, she looked like simply an ordinary slave girl once more. Tim held up his lantern so they might see better, and all leaned in as she opened her eyes and sat up, blinking at the crowd that surrounded her.
No one spoke for a long moment.
“I-I’m sorry,” the girl who had been Hareshi and might be Hareah, the princess of Tau, sister of the King, and wife to Danu stammered out. She lowered her head to study the sand. “I-I did-didn’t mean to-to…d-did I faint?”
“You did,” Mireko told her. “You fainted, and then you were glowing.”
“I’m s-sorry,” was the reply, without lifting her head. She scrambled to move her feet under her, and to get to her feet once more. Miriam moved backward, giving her space, and the rest of the crowd also backed up. Once she’d completed this action, she remained standing, peering at the ground, awaiting further orders.
“Ought we to go back to sleep now?” Anna said after a moment of further silence. “My lord…my lady? It’s many hours until morning….”
Marcus cleared his throat loudly in the silence, and even Hareshi/Hareah lifted her head to peer at him for a moment. They were all staring at him blankly. Again, Marcus cleared his throat.
“His highness has been taken from us. The bandits who attacked, they pulled him through a portal, to some other location.”
Miriam gasped aloud, covering her mouth with one hand. “No,” she whispered. “No, don’t tell me this means what I think it means.”
Marcus lowered his head to look at the sand for a moment. “It would be best if I went,” he answered. He took a deep breath, then raised his head to look toward Hareshi. “You’re coming with me. Go and find something to wear that’s suitable for travelling. Emmaline, Anna, help her with that.”
Eyes wide, Hareshi blinked at him a few times, but did not protest, only nodded meekly and went to do as he said. The other girls moved to help.
Miriam had no such reluctance. “You can’t be serious,” she stated. “Marcus….”
He stared back at her, attempting to convey his thoughts and feelings in his eyes alone. “You know there is no other choice,” he said, and then turned toward Tim. He removed his sword belt, handing both it and the weapon to the boy. “Make sure this is sharp,” he ordered, “and bring my bow as well.”
Tim nodded his understanding and vanished at once. Marcus turned to enter his tent and dress more fully than his pajamas. Exchanging glances briefly, Ted and Mordifred began to converse privately, avoiding Miriam’s gaze. Frowning toward them, she followed her husband into the tent.
“Surely there must be another way,” she protested. Inside, the tent was dim, for they had lit neither candles nor lanterns before leaving it, and daylight was still several hours away. Marcus had lit a single candle, and was now rummaging in his trunk of clothing for appropriate dress. The task was more difficult than expected, given the lack of light.
Sighing heavily, Miriam shut her eyes and performed some complex maneuver with her fingertips that he had never mastered himself, almost instantly igniting every one of the dozen lanterns and candles in the tent. “Don’t ignore me.”
“I am not ignoring you, my lady,” Marcus replied, lifting his head. “I am rather in a hurry to find my friend…my prince, I might remind you.”
“Oh heavens, it’s gone to your head more than his, hasn’t it?” she exclaimed, and, turning aside, pulled off her nightgown in one swift action, and lifted from the ground the dress she had worn the day before. “You’re not the only one capable of opening closed portals and passing through dimensions, you know. There’s no reason whatsoever why Mordifred or I couldn’t go in your place.”
“There is a perfectly good reason,” Marcus answered calmly, removing his night clothes at last and tugging on a pair of leather riding breeches – made for riding horses and not birds. As he fastened the laces, he continued, “Mordifred is not a fighter. Once he passes through the portal, if Danu is being guarded, he’ll have little course of action. Someone who is capable fighting will need to go.” He paused, gestured toward himself.
Miriam had pulled the dress over her head and was now deftly tightening the bodice’s laces behind her back – a skill she had mastered while traveling alone. “An argument against Mordifred,” she admitted, “but not myself. I know more offensive and defensive spells than you do, you know.”
“I do not dispute that, my lady,” he replied, still calm. Stepping forward, he placed both hands on her waist, gently urging her to turn around. With gentle and skilled hands, he untangled the laces that had become twisted in her haste, and pulled them tight again, securing the dress better than she had. The touch of his hands calmed her, converting her anger back into fear and worry.
“You ought to rest,” he said at last, when he’d completed the task and she turned once more to face him. “Already you’ve traveled a great distance, and taken on so much. Let me have a chance to earn my keep.”
“Earn your keep?” she echoed, and shook her head. “I think you’ve more than done that, keeping him sane. You don’t need to go off and rescue him alone. At least let me come with you.”
He shook his head. “No, you stay here,” he insisted. “You stay here, Miriam. I won’t have it.”
“You won’t…,” she echoed. “Now you listen here. I didn’t promise to obey you. You have no right to tell me to stay behind. Maybe under the Desert laws, but I am a free woman of Tau, and I do not blindly follow your orders.”
Marcus shook his head. “I did promise,” he replied, at last raising his voice slightly. “I promised to keep you safe. I cannot do that if you come along with me.”
Miriam did not reply to this. Instead she bit her lip and turned away from him. She said nothing for several moments and then turned back to face him. “You’re stupid,” she said, and he could see her eyes were damp. “You’d go off and leave me alone, wouldn’t you?”
“I’ll be back,” he answered, and now grabbed both her shoulders with his own two hands, pulling her closer. She resisted momentarily, then gave in, resting her head against his chest. “I promise you, Miriam, I’ll be back.”