Chapter Two

Hector Kosta couldn't be bothered to glance away from the missive in his hands. He held up a hand for silence and continued to read. A warm fire crackled in the massive hearth behind the Lord. It's heat licked across the hall to where Tamesis and his prisoner stood.

"There is only one thing needed from you milord," Tamesis spoke slowly, as if speaking to a child he was annoyed with. "All that is needed is for you to spare a moment to validate the identity of this man." He shoved Gabriel forward, his wrists were now tied behind him.

"Hector, a moment is all that I need. If you wouldn't mind assuring Tamesis here that I am indeed Gabriel Sullivan, that would clear much away." Hector Kosta was a large man, and not an exceptionally intelligent man. His eyes darted over a missive that couldn't be longer than a paragraph, but he needed much time to decipher the words. Gabriel didn't complain, he understood something of the difficulties of reading.

"Hold," Hector commanded. Gabriel sighed and shot a companionate look to Tamesis.

"Is he always this dismissive? I hadn't realized he needed me to come visit and take his ego down a notch. Had I known, I assure you I would have come sooner."

"Be silent until I know if you lie," Tamesis snapped.

"Ah Tamesis, you will never know if I lie." The taunt shattered the thin composure the captain had. He pushed Gabriel between the shoulder blades and sent the man stumbling forward.

"Careful boy, you try my patience."

"You will shortly regret abusing a Lord of the Realm. King Osric doesn't appreciate his Lords being battered."

"If you are a Lord, I will apologize on bent knee, milord." The sneer in his voice made Gabriel grit his teeth.

"Gabriel Sullivan? What are you doing so far south?" Hector's voice rang across the hall. Gabriel shot a triumphant look at the captain. "You look at mess. Where are the fine clothes I normally see you impeccably dressed in?"

"My hands, if you please Tamesis." The captain moved woodenly and jerked the ropes tighter before releasing Gabriel. "Thank you good man, now I expect you to apologize. But in a moment." Gabriel approached Hector where he sat. "Hector, there's been a misunderstanding in your village. Something about the villagers thinking I stole the silver for their new mill. When they cornered me, I riled them into a riot, you know how persuasive I can be. When they left, I made my escape from them. They may have frightened your guard though." He took a horn of ale from the table and gulped it down.

"What's this nonsense, Tamesis?" Hector's beady eyes found the captain and missed the smirk on Gabriel's face.

"Nothing that we couldn't handle milord. Your peasants are once again docile and going about their work."

"Good, you are dismissed. Sullivan, I was just reading a missive from our good King Osric. You wouldn't believe the miracle that has occurred. Queen Farica has given birth! Imagine that, the Barren Queen has produced not one, but two heirs for our good King. She has twins, Ariana and Revelin. 'Tis a pity the girl was born first," he mused as he read the words over again. "The king writes that he will present the children next week at a feast for all his Lords. He expects us there to witness his great surprise."

"I received my missive two days hence, Hector. I was passing through on my way to Falhaven when I was met with this trouble."

"I can't imagine what you would be doing stealing thirty silver pieces when you have mountains of wealth. Do you ever find your peasants acting as infantile as mine? I find them such a bore." Hector waved to a seat across from him and took a gulp from his horn of ale. It was a good thing he was focused on his drink, for he missed the dark look that crossed his companion's face.

"I can't stay. I must continue to Falhaven. Now that this mess with the villagers is cleared up, I will return to my horse and see you next week at the palace." Gabriel held out a hand to clasp Hector's.

"Fine, lad. If you must be going then off with you. You never do stay in the same place for long do you? You're unlike your father in that way. He was always good for a nice horn of ale." The voice held no scorn or dislike, just honest truth. Hector wasn't capable of being subtle.

"Sorry milord, but I have another stop to make before I reach Falhaven and it will take me some time." Gabriel nodded his head in farewell and made his way out of the hall.

Evening had fallen by the time Gabriel made it to the inn just over the border into Fief Nadolne. He tossed the reins to the horse he had stashed at a nearby farm for his errand in Kosta to a young boy in the stable yard.

"Give her a good rub down and some hay and there's a nice piece of silver in it for you," he offered. The boy gave a toothy grin and nodded. "There's a good lad." Gabriel ruffled the boy's hair and slipped through the dark doorway into the inn. His eyes adjusted quickly to the dim light and he found the three men he sought sitting in a corner at a rough wooden table. No one would approach their table, the men's forms were as forbidding as the expressions on their faces. The tallest of the three wore a patch over one eye and held a cigar between clenched lips.

"Well, how did it go?" he asked, pulling his cigar away from his mouth.

"How do you think?" Gabriel tossed the bag of silver upon the table. "Only a minor hitch in the plan. I was caught, but you know Hector, he believed me above all else." Gabriel pulled a chair from the table and flipped it around to straddle the seat.

"You weren't supposed to be seen," the shortest of the men snapped. He crossed his arms and glared.

"It will only cause more trouble," the third man agreed.

"I took care of it. The only danger to us in Kosta is Tamesis. I worry that he will take control if he dislike's Hector's capitulating to the tension around him."

"I will keep an eye on the tension, sirs." Gabriel turned toward the third man and looked him over again. It had been a surprise and an expectation that someone in the village of Kosta had agreed to help their plot. That it had been the miller was helpful.

"Good man, Borgen. Your job will be the most difficult of all. You must watch Tamesis, but never let on that you spy for us. Hector may be oblivious to the world around him, but the captain will kill you if he thinks he's threatened." The miller from Kosta nodded his bald head. He was a thin man, as most serfs were, with tired eyes and calloused fingers.

"Report to me when next you can," the man with the cigar ordered. He shoved the silver at the miller. "Quietly distribute that among the people. Tell them it is a gift from their silver-eyed man." Nadolne smiled at Gabriel.

"Keep it quiet though," the squat man added.

"Aye milord Merz, I will be quiet." Borgen tipped his hat at the three Lords and made his way out of the inn. The men watched him go in silence.

"What did you learn?" Nadolne asked, leaning back against the wall behind him. A wide-brimmed hat that was six years out of fashion covered his head, hiding the brilliant red hair that identified him as the Lord of this fief. People had walked past him dressed in his dingy clothes all day without recognizing him.

"Hector won't be a challenge. He pays no attention to the wants or needs of his people and they are ripe for change. He will be difficult in that he is so pompous. You should hear him speak of his people with derision. I almost upended my ale on his head when he told me they were a bore."

"Men that do not appreciate their serfs are doomed to fail," Merz shook his head. "This country can't continue as it has been for long. Change is on the wind, and it's for the better."

"I have been thinking," Nadolne began. "The change that needs to happen has to begin somewhere. Last we met, Sullivan, you challenged me to find a way to change our serfs lives for the better. I believe I have discovered the way."

"If this has to do with abdicating our Lordships, you may cease speaking. I am willing to change the world for the better of the people, but they need someone to lead them." Merz slammed his horn down on the table and nodded vigorously.

"Victor, let our host speak before you leap to assumptions," Gabriel advised, turning his piercing silver eyes back on the older man.

"Yes, listen to what I have to say. I propose a division of the fiefdoms. Now Merz, remain quiet until I finish. The land is already worked and lived upon by the people, so we give it to them. Divide your land between you and your people. This gives them independence, however we keep some of the control. No longer do they provide supplies to the castle. Give them the freedom to be farmers, tanners, butchers, seamstresses, and so on. They will of course pay taxes to the Lord of their fiefdom, and in turn the Lord will purchase items from their shops. This allows their confidence to grow and our economy to flourish." The Lords considered his words.

"What are the downsides?" Merz asked.

"You no longer have complete control of the people. You would now have to purchase items that before were provided for free, however this will appease the people and defuse the tension in the fiefs."

"There is little tension in our fiefs," Merz commented. "We treat our people fairly. We encourage them to become educated and allow them to choose what they wish to do as an occupation already. The only difference you propose is giving them our land."

"That is the only difference in our fiefs, Merz. Of the nine fiefs in Themba, only our three and the King's are so advanced. This has to be a countrywide change," Gabriel argued. "We must reach the Lords of every fief, before a war of uneducated serfs swallows this country whole."

"I agree," Madolne added. "We will need to speak to our fellow compatriots about this and what better time than the presentation of King Osric's new children? What a miracle, eh?" He pounded Merz on the back.

"I hear rumors that one of the children is a Star Child."

"Where did you hear that outrageous tale?" Gabriel asked Merz, settling back into his chair and signaling the barmaid over.

"Why from the King himself," Merz laughed.

"It's true then?" Nadolne ordered another ale from the woman as she left to fetch some for Gabriel.

"I will let you figure out which child has the mark, but it's true. We have a healing child in our midst once again."

"Star children are myths, fairy tales serfs tell each other to comfort the dying." Gabriel took his drink and shook his head at his companions. "There is no such thing."

"Just because you have no faith in magic doesn't mean it doesn't exist, boy." Nadolne cracked an amused grin at his younger friend.

"Just wait and see, Merz is yanking our chains."

"I ain't lying I tell you. You will see when we arrive in Falhaven. The child exists."

"We have much to do before we arrive. Perhaps we should cover the plans for Varghese and Maness before we set for the border?" Gabriel raised a thick brow at the men and launched into his plans for inciting rebellion in the largest fief of Themba and its northern neighbor.