Chapter 18.

30th Day of Early Spring 768 n.c

I was woken, after definitely not enough sleep, by Mother gently shaking me. I sat up groggily and looked over at the other beds in the room. Kara's was empty, but Illith was still asleep in hers. We'd both slept in. Seeing that I was awake, Mother walked over to Illith's bed and gently shook her awake.

"Sit," she commanded Illith, pointing next to me.

Illith did as she was told and, half asleep, collapsed heavily next to me.

Mother was frowning at both of us, she knew!

"Sharein," she said, "if you are going to sneak out at night, make sure to not wake your sisters."

"Yes Mother," I replied contritely, hanging my head.

"Illith," she said to my sister, "you are not yet thirteen. You are still not to be out of my sight and definitely not to be going into that forest."

"Yes Mother," Illith said, equally as contrite as I.

"Sharein," Mother said, looking at me again, "when she gets back, you will bring her to dinner."

"Bring who?" I asked as innocently as I could, how did Mother know about Shard?

"Your… the girl you are… walking out with?" Mother said slowly, hesitantly but then grew more sure, "or are you engaged to be married?"

Illith let out a little gasp that was cut off when Mother shot her a look, "Shard."

"How?" I asked quietly, echoing my shocked thoughts, how did Mother know all this? Did she hear all of our conversations?

Mother pffffft'd and rolled her eyes at me, "you two both made so much noise and were so oblivious to your surroundings that a blind beggar could have strolled right up and stolen the ribbons right out of your hair," her voice hardened a little, "don't evade the question."

"Uhhh…" I stalled, trying to process what Mother had just said and delay any admissions, "I don't think that I'll be able to bring her to dinner. I don't think that she can leave the clearing. I mean; I haven't asked, but we've never left the clearing."

"Sharein," Mother said sharply, cutting off my rambling "are you engaged to be married to her?"

"I… didn't think that we could?" I replied.

"Well, officially with the Mayor of course you can't," Mother replied, "but a marriage is first and foremost acknowledged by the Gods and depending upon which God, there are ceremonies that can be performed between two women."

Processing this news filled me both with excitement, confusion, trepidation and a sudden realisation, "I… think that I might be?'

Mother's voice hardened even more and Illith shifted uncomfortably at her tone, "what do you mean 'you might be'?"

"Well," I said, surprised at the coldness in Mother's voice, "I think I said 'If I could, I would marry you', does that count as a proposal?"

Mother deflated, visibly, and looked askance at Illith, before rallying herself and sitting up a little straighter, "It could. It definitely could. I don't know whether that will affect anything or not."

"Affect what?" I asked.

"You remember that I told you that I prayed at that altar in the forest for you and my mother prayed at an altar for me and so on and so on?" I nodded, "we received a vision, a confirmation that our prayers would be answered. A masked God appeared before us, he wore a hooded cloak and a mask over his emerald green eyes. For each of us it happened right before sunrise, before our mothers came to get us. But, and this is the most important bit, it was not simply a granting of prayer. Whichever god it was, whichever God we prayed to, he demanded a sacrifice. A promise, that he be given the Mother's-right over the child. My mother gave her Mother's-right over me to that God and I gave my Mother's-right over you to him. Sharein, I never chose your Father, I had eyes for… someone else. On my fourteenth name day your Grandmother dreamed about your Father, just as her Mother dreamed about your Grandfather on her fourteenth name day. My Mother demanded that I stop pursuing the other person, she demanded it under Mother's-right. Of course I complied, albeit unhappily. I demanded to know who I could pursue and she told me 'I'll know him when I see him.' It took another two years for her to point out your Father to me. She arranged our marriage and that was that. It wasn't until the morning after the night at the altar that she explained it to me. 'Aloise,' she said, 'Did you have to make the promise too?' It was then that she explained the vision on my fourteenth name day."

If Mother prayed at Shard's altar, was it Shard that answered or did she act on one of Tenebrae's children's behalf? Did Shard know about this? Is Shard the one that holds Mother's-right over me? So many questions that I'd have to ask Shard about. Out of all the things that confused me though, one thing stood out.

"What do you mean Grandmother arranged yours and Father's marriage?" I asked

Mother looked a little guilty for some reason, "Well, arranged marriages are almost completely unheard of in Carn, but where we came from they were very commonplace. Two parents get together and arrange for their children to marry, money or goods are sometimes exchanged. It's a way to elevate a family up Arithna."

"What?" Illith asked and I immediately followed with, "we're not from Carn?"

"Your Father is, his family have always been in Easthaven," Mother said, looking worried, "and he and his family have always been under the impression that we're from Hillwaeholm. But, Hillwaeholm was merely the first town we stopped in on our way to Easthaven from Allarth."

"So we're Allarthian?" Illith asked.

Mother looked towards the door and shushed us quietly, "well, that's complicated. According to Allarthian society you would be Allarthian because our lineage is tracked from Mother to child. It makes sense really, as the Mother is the only person you can be sure the child came from. Carnians however, track lineage down from the Fathers. It's very silly and doesn't make sense at all."

Something didn't make sense and it took a moment for me to put my finger on it, "but Mother?" I asked, "you said that Grandmother prayed at that altar? How did she pray at that altar when you were from Allarth?"

"Oh… well, not that particular altar. But there was one just like it near our village back in Allarth," Mother replied, "when we needed to flee our village, Mother refused to leave until she prayed. She disappeared that night and when she returned the next day, she said that she knew where we needed to go… Here."

"There was another altar," I began and Mother nodded, "exactly the same?" Another nod, "in Allarth?"

"Yes. My Mother prayed at that altar and the masked god appeared and told her to come to Easthaven in Carn." Mother explained, "he showed her exactly where the other altar was, turned her into a bird and flew with her all the way from Allarth to Easthaven and then out here to the forest."

"Mother?" Illith asked and Mother turned to her, "why did you need to flee your village?"

"Oh," Mother said under her breath, she blushed a little and looked even more guilty than earlier, "when I said that I complied with your Grandmother's Mother's-right unhappily, I may have underexaggerated. I ran away from home."

"What?" Illith and I both exclaimed. Mother shushed us both again.

"You have to understand that your Father knows none of this," she said to us both, "nothing at all. Just as I will keep both of your secrets from him until such a time as you want him to know, you must keep this secret for me."

Illith and I looked at each other and then simultaneously looked back to Mother and nodded our agreement.

"I was unhappy, not only that Mother forbade me from pursuing the person that I was attracted to, but also that she could not tell me who I could make eyes at," Mother began, "so… I ran away, to the Capital of Allarth: Milne. I didn't have any money nor know anybody there. I was fourteen and alone. Purely by happenstance I came across another girl about my age and made friends with her. She introduced me to her friends and then, after a few days she introduced me to 'The Family'."

"Her family?" Illith asked.

"No," Mother continued, "'The Family', the Allarthian Thieves Guild. I ran around with them for about two years until I did something stupid that meant that I had to flee. Not just me, they would have come after my entire family. When I confessed to Mother and told her that we all had to run away from Allarth, to go somewhere else she simply told me 'Tomorrow, I'll know where to go tomorrow'."

"What did you do?" I asked, very much surprised at Mother's revelation (In fact, all of Mother's revelations, it would likely take me days to process everything she was telling us).

Mother chuckled wryly, blushed and looked at me with an odd smile, an unusual expression for Mother that made her look ten years younger, "I stole King Brandewyn's crown."

"You stole what?!" Illith exclaimed, marginally beating me to saying exactly the same thing.

"I stole," she said slowly, "the crown of the King of Allarth; King Brandewyn, from his Castle in Milne."

I just blinked at her and she preempted the 'why' I was about to ask, "It seemed like a good idea at the time. In hindsight, though, I probably shouldn't have done it. Because if he ever finds out that I'm here, he will send assassins here to kill me, your Father and all of you kids. Do you understand?"

We both nodded, mutely. Wow. I never expected to wake up that day to discover all of those things about my Mother that I absolutely never had any inkling about.

"Good, because…" Mother began to say, but stopped when we heard the front door bang.

"Sharein!" I heard Father call out from the front of the house, "everybody is here, are you ready?"

"Just a moment Father!" I yelled back to him.

"Oh poo!" Mother said and instructed, "hurry and get dressed."

While I got out of my nightclothes and put on my trousers and tunic Mother got up quickly and disappeared out the door. She returned just as I finished tying my hair up, carrying a belt and a sword in a black leather sheath. She approached me and wrapped the belt around my waist so that the sword rested on my left hip. She drew it from the sheath and handed it to me. It was a short sword, with a blade about two and a half feet long and one and a half inches wide. Made from some sort of black metal, it had a guard that extended out from the blade like two raven's wings one side connecting with a straight guard that came out only on that side. The grip was wrapped with black leather strips. I knew nothing about swords, but this one looked very well made.

"I don't know who will be able to teach you to use this around Easthaven, except for me of course. For obvious reasons I can't though." Mother said, "even if there is no danger to you from being attacked by kobolds now; I can't let you go out there unarmed, even if you do have your magic."

"Thank you Mother!" I exclaimed, giving her a tight hug.

"Go on," she said, breaking the hug and giving me a swat on the backside, "and you'd better practice your innocent act because although you might fool your Father and most of the rest of the fools from town, you won't for a second trick your Master."

"Yes Mother," I said with a smile as we headed out to the front of the house.

What greeted me there was an interesting sight: Father and a mob of men from Easthaven all carrying an assortment of farm tools repurposed into weapons. Malkarov stood amongst them and immediately looked at me with suspicion. I hadn't even said anything!

"What is this?" Father exclaimed, gesturing at the sword resting at my side, "where did that come from?"

"My Grandfather's," Mother responded quickly and convincingly, but something told me that it was actually hers, "I had hoped that none of our children would have such a need for it for me to pass onto them, but here we are."

"Well, we'd best be off," Master Jorganshard said gruffly, "we've wasted enough time as is."

The group of twenty three retraced my path from last night, all of us trooping through the forest to the clearing and then out towards the kobold's hill. The grassy area out the front of our farm looked like the farmer's common on a tenday, with carts and horses everywhere. Malkarov and I were at the head of the group, walking about twenty feet forward of the main party.

"Firstly, It's because I've already been out here so I know where I'm going," he explained as we walked to my unvoiced question, "and secondly because we are both able to cast Invisibility in case we come across any kobold guards. We have already planned for the main group to hide should they see me… or not see me as the case may be."

"That makes sense," I agreed, "do you expect there to be kobold guards, during the daytime?"

"Of course," he said, "just as the town has been placing guards of a nighttime since the kobold attack, the kobolds will likely be placing guards during the day," he gestured to my side, "may I see the blade that your Mother gifted you with?"

I drew the sword and started to hand it over to him, but he stopped me, "hilt first, you always hand a sword to someone hilt first to show that you mean them no harm."

"Oh!" I exclaimed, bringing the sword back towards myself and spinning it around, "just like a knife?"

He took the sword and held it appreciatively, "It's very well made."

He ran his hand along the flat of the blade as he spun the sword around to hand it back to me, "did you cast Detect Magic on it?" he asked.

I felt surprised, I hadn't even thought to, "Mother had only just given it to me before I came out of the house. Should I?"

"Give it a shot," he suggested, "try casting while walking."

I held the sword and cast Detect Magic, almost tripping over my own feet in the process. The sword glowed vibrantly and runes all along its length became visible. Malkarov glowed quite brightly next to me with all of his enchanted clothing and jewelry. One more thing surprised me, with the scabbard that held the sword also glowing.

I looked at Malkarov who just smiled at me, "I thought so," he said.

"Not just the sword, but the scabbard also!" I said excitedly.

"Likely a sharpening or cleaning enchantment," Malkarov told me, "both are very common for scabbards. It might prove useful to study the rune schemes used to see if they are similar to the standard ones used. We will finish off the last of the runes this tenday and we can start studying some rune schemes! There are a great many apprentice-work magical items out there, this ring for instance," he said, holding up his left hand and pointing to a plain silver band on his middle finger that was still glowing to my enchanted sight, "was my own apprentice-work. Quite a clever bit of work, even if I do say so myself. It's a more simple variation of a Detect Magic rune scheme, if I touch the ring to an enchantment rune then the ring will vibrate a little. But it only works if it physically touches a rune, it didn't activate when I held the hilt but did when I touched the blade."

"I'll be able to make something like that?" I asked eagerly, I liked the idea of making my own magical items.

"Certainly!" He said, "it's a part of every apprentices education, even apprentices with an affinity for Elementalism would make a basic apprentice-work item. I made this ring during my apprenticeship and I made these shoes when I petitioned to continue my studies with a Master Enchanter."

"What do your shoes do?" I asked.

He grinned at me, a very wide smile and stopped to point behind us, "see? No footprints!"

Indeed, trailing behind us I could only see my own footprints in the dirt track.

"That's incredible!" I exclaimed.

I looked over to Malkarov as we got closer to the kobold's hill, wondering when he was going to halt the group. He did moments later, stopping and holding up his hand with his fingers together to indicate 'stop'. The group of townsfolk slowly made their way up to us. They spread out in a semi circle around us. It was a wide assortment of ages, ranging from fourteen year old apprentice clayworker Wil Craddock to his fifty-five year old farmer grandfather Tarvid Dorrigan.

"We are almost at the clearing," Malkarov explained, "ahead is the hill with a cave entrance on this side. I'll make myself invisible and go to investigate then I'll return here and let everyone know what I've seen."

I felt Malkarov cast his Invisibility spell and he disappeared from in front of us. Some of the townsfolk (Wil especially) reacted with shock, one of them even made a warding sign that was definitely not taught by Father Mattias. I waited patiently, unconcerned by the forest denizens and comfortable in my knowledge that there wouldn't be any kobolds nearby to ambush us. Many of the townsfolk turned around to look out into the forest, weapons ready as they were nervous and jumped at every sound. Eventually I heard an out of place noise, the click of a twig snapping or a branch rubbed against. I looked straight at the path ahead where the noise came from but could not determine it's source. I frowned and cast See Invisibility and Malkarov suddenly appeared right where I was looking, he was studying me thoughtfully and I immediately knew his suspicions. I cocked my head, looked at him in the eyes and he realised that I knew he was there.

I didn't dispel See Invisibility, but I could tell when he dispelled his Invisibility from the gasps of surprise behind me. Shuffling behind indicated that everybody had moved back into a huddle again but I watched Malkarov as he strode towards us, his eyes boring into mine.

"It looks like the kobolds might have rebelled against their leader," he said once he came up next to me and I turned around to face everyone, "a large kobold with more intricate markings than the usual ones is lying dead in front of the cave. The entire tribe of kobolds appear to have gone."

Most of the townsfolk were elated at the noise, but one or two of them seemed a little disappointed. Perhaps they were looking forward to revenge against those who had attacked them? We all strode out into the clearing that contained the kobold's hill, the townsfolk a lot less jumpy knowing that there were no kobolds nearby.

I was surprised that there was only one body and I wondered what happened to the other kobold. As much as it made me suspicious, I discounted it as good luck that a bear or some such must have come across an easy meal.

Malkarov and I stood out the front of the cave (coincidentally right at the spot I was standing last night when confronting the kobolds), some of the townspeople entered the cave to explore but it didn't interest me.

"If the kobolds have moved closer towards some of our towns, I shall have to notify the Baroness," Malkarov said to me.

"I think I saw some tracks leading southwards," I replied helpfully, "I daresay they will be way up in the mountains by now."

"Hmmmm," he mused, "tracks you say?"

"Yes," I answered, "it looks like the whole tribe packed up and walked that way," I said, pointing towards the path they used to flee.

"Well, that is good news," Malkarov said woodenly and I got the distinct impression that if a third person were nearby, they would see us both as extremely untalented actors in a badly written play. I actually giggled a little out loud and Malkarov rolled his eyes at me.

"I would be very interested to know what happened here last night," he said, "perhaps we could puzzle out possibilities when we get back to the tower?"

"They went this way!" Came a shout from our right and we both turned to see Master Jorganshard pointing excitedly off towards the south, down the path the kobolds had fled.

People came out of the hill cave, Wil Craddock especially looked a bit dirty with mussed hair as if he had been crawling into a tight dirty space.

"Come on, let's follow them!" Master Jorganshard shouted, "Let's chase them down!"

Some looked to take him up on his encouragement, moving forward to join him.

"No!" Commanded Malkarov loudly, "they have fled! Late last night, mostly likely, and it is doubtful they will be back. Easthaven is safe, they will not bother us again. We should head back to town and inform the Mayor."

Master Jorganshard strode up angrily, shaking his mattock, "but we know which way they went! We can get them! We can make them pay!"

"You can go," Malkarov said, "I cannot stop you. But as for me; I am under command to make the town safe and safe it is... From this threat at least. I will do no more without command by the Mayor."

Master Jorganshard let out a frustrated roar, his face screwed up in fury and swung around to stomp back the way we came. Those townsfolk who had stepped forward to follow him nervously looked around and shuffled back to join the others who had stepped out of the cave.

"Well now everyone," Malkarov said a bit more calmly, "perhaps it's a good time to get back to our horses and back to Easthaven. We should be able to make it in time for Father Mattias' sermon, which I do not doubt will be a very apt one indeed."

As we slowly made our way back to the path to Shard's clearing we heard a scream of anger and fear from ahead. I ran towards it, heedless of Malkarov's presence or ensuring that the townspeople followed. The scene that greeted me when I burst through a copse into a grassy glade was a bit of a surprise. Master Jorganshard was on his knees, clutching a bleeding arm close to his chest, mattock forgotten on the grass nearby. Next to the weapon was the body of a giant warg, it's head caved in. Four other wargs were spread out in front of him, all growling and one with bloodied teeth. Those creatures, distant cousins of a dire wolf, were the size of horses. Great beasts, they were, with mangy matted fur and great strings of slobber dripping down from their yellow dagger like tooth filled maws. Their growls ended simultaneously with my arrival in front of them and their terrifying sounds turned into terrified sounds. With pained yowls and widened eyes they turned tail and fled as fast as they could into the forest.

I ran up to Master Jorganshard even as Malkarov burst through behind me.

He took a look at the sight before him and ran up to Master Jorganshard, withdrawing a strip of cloth from a pocket of his robe. He quickly and efficiently wrapped it around the wound. From another pocket, he withdrew a potion bottle which he held to Master Jorganshard's lips.

"Drink," he ordered, and Master Jorganshard drank. Instantly he relaxed and the pained look disappeared from his face to be replaced by one of wonderment.

"What was that?" he asked.

"Sister Tera gave me a potion of healing before we left," Malkarov told him, "she didn't wish to come herself, but could not in good conscience leave everyone without assistance."

"What happened here?" he asked me.

Before I could come up with a reasonable explanation, Master Jorganshard spoke up, "I came in here to let out my frustrations, but I surprised a group of five wargs. I managed to kill one of them but one of the others bit me on the arm. I punched it in the head and it let go, but they were ready to close in for the kill. Just then, Sharein burst through behind me and used her magic to scare them all off!"

The townsfolk that had followed Malkarov heard Master Jorganshard's story and all murmured appreciatively.

"Well now!" Malkarov said, "Good work Apprentice Sharein! It's good to hear you using the magic that I'm teaching you for the benefit of the community!" The exaggeration he placed on the words left no doubt in my mind that he, unlike the townspeople, did not entirely believe the farmer's story. With no wonder! What sort of spell had Malkarov taught me that could possibly have made four wargs run away from me in fear with their tails between their legs?

We left Master Jorganshard's arm bandaged, in case there was damage to his bone that the potion didn't heal. Malkarov, Master Jorganshard and I went over to look at the warg. It's fur was pitch black and it's eye would have been bright red, if the farmer's blow with the mattock hadn't caught it right in the side of it's skull. Master Jorganshard took up a knife to skin the warg there and then as the horse sized wolf-like creature was too heavy to carry anywhere.

"Normally I'd tell you to be careful of those claws," Malkarov said, "but you are going to have to suffer through Sister Tera's cure for disease anyway."

He turned to me, "why do you think the wargs attacked Master Jorganshard so close to so many of us?"

"What do you mean?" I asked, "he was by himself, away from the group. Wouldn't he have made a good target for a group of predators?"

"Wargs are more intelligent than normal animals and very cunning," he explained, "if they killed Master Jorganshard silently, they would still have had to drag his body away lest they be discovered by us. Judging by the size of that one, they are not so starving that they are risking confrontation with so many of us to survive."

"Why then, would they attack?" I asked.

Malkarov held up one finger and then crooked it in a 'follow me' gesture. He turned to the mob of men and told them, "stay here, we will be back shortly."

I followed him down the trail that the wargs had fled. It was only a short distance before we came across another clearing, but the worn path continued along the edge of it and down into a drop.

"Invisibility," he whispered and we both cast the Invisibility and See Invisibility spells.

We continued quietly along the path, which curved down along a cliff side and into a large cave protected by a rocky overhang. The cave did not go back very far, but was dark.

"Dancing lights?" I whispered to Malkarov, but we both stopped suddenly at a noise from inside the cave. A rustling sound was followed by a high pitched animal noise.

Malkarov put his finger over his mouth in a 'quiet' gesture then touched his eyes and pointed into the cave. It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, but once they did I was able to make out movement and then discern exactly what it was: a litter of warg pups.

Each of the pups was as big as a full grown dog, but rolling over each other with the awkwardness of a new-born.

They looked so cute! I looked up at Malkarov pleadingly, but he just smiled and shook his head.

He touched me lightly on the shoulder and gestured back the way we came. Silently we made our way through the clearing.

"Best to dispel our Invisibility," he said and we both did, "as cute as they look now, very soon warg puppies will grow into fully grown wargs and those creatures are not easy to tame and prone to attack anything at any time, even their masters. Now we know why they attacked at least, I'm a little surprised that they did not come back to the cave to protect the pups but you must have scared them enough to keep them running. Which spell did you use?"

"Master Jorganshard was mistaken," I confessed, "I didn't use a spell at all. They just ran away. The animals in this forest won't attack me."

"What do you mean they won't attack you?" he asked.

"I can't tell you exactly why," I said carefully, "but you could call it a divine blessing, maybe?"

"From Mithras?" he asked and I shook my head 'no.'

"What do you know of the other gods Sharein?" he queried and continued quickly, "I only ask because I know the usual upbringing in Easthaven and it doesn't include anything other than praising Celestine and venerating Mithras."

"I've spoken to Luna twice," I told him evasively, "and to one or two of the other gods."

"That's interesting," he mused, "Alladrial venerates Kalaa'alarana, the Elvish Goddess of the Moon above all others," then continued to explain slipping into his lecturing manner, "the Elves are different from us in that they venerate all of their gods and goddess' to a degree but always have one above all others. Of course, the Allarthians also venerate a variety of deities as do most other races. Carn is unique in it's praise for a single deity, even if it's a combination of Mithras and Celestine."

We reached the other clearing then and discovered that Master Jorganshard had completed his task and was waiting with the bloody fur all rolled and tied up ready for processing by Master Hilval the local leatherworker, or possibly by Missus Jorganshard who was a deft hand at dressing a fur.

"Ready to go?" Malkarov asked and everybody answered in the affirmative.

We trouped back through the forest a slightly less angry mob, the emotional heat extinguished but the trepidation and wariness of being in the forest still remained. Most of the Easthavians remained on guard, jumping at any noise, no longer worried about kobold ambushes but instead now worried that the horse sized wolves would come back. Malkarov walked confidently in his own powers however and as for me; I almost felt like skipping. The threat of the kobolds was gone, none of the townsfolk were aware that I was their saviour and Malkarov didn't seem too unhappy with me.

We walked through Shard's clearing, but I didn't stop to speak with her even though I very much wanted to, I couldn't think of a way of doing so without arousing suspicion. When we got back to the farm everyone came out to greet us.

"How did it go?" Father asked straight away, Mother followed carrying two jugs and my siblings were carrying mugs stacked up.

"It looks like the kobolds had rebelled against their leader and fled away to the south," Malkarov said, "I don't think that they will be bothering us again."

"Oh, what good news!" Mother exclaimed and I was hard pressed to notice any sign that this wasn't the first she knew of it, "Praise the Light!"

"Praise the Light!" Repeated the various townsfolk around us.

The jugs that Mother carried contained barley water that she had made and every member of the group eagerly took a mug and drank it eagerly and with much thanks. Illith handed me my pack that I had left in my room.

"They rebelled against their leader then?" Mother asked fairly quietly when she handed me a mug of barley water. Everybody else was distracted by Master Jorganshard, who had rolled out the warg skin and was happily showing it off and telling the story of how he came by it.

"Yes," I told her, "it looks like they killed him, then packed up and left."

"Just the leader?" Mother asked.

"Yes," I told her, "Malkarov went to investigate while using the invisibility spell and returned to tell us what he had seen."

"Everything is okay?" Mother asked and I nodded.

"Yes," I told her, "I think everything is okay now."

Father and Jocam had already brought out Aloise-horse and the cart out and the Meadowbroeks were in sight.

"Wizard Malkarov?" Mother asked, "would you and Sharein like to ride with us back to Easthaven?"

"That's very kind of you Missus Askilain," Malkarov replied, "but I think it best if Sharein and I take a quicker path so that I may inform Mayor Crownever of what we discovered before the church service begins."

Malkarov cast a Teleport spell and we stepped straight out of the rune circle on the wall of his quarters.

"First things first," he said once we both had our feet, "I'm going to go and tell the Mayor about what has transpired, or at least what I told everybody," he added with a grin, "would you be so kind as to let Father Mattias know that that everybody is on their way for his service at the usual time?"

"Of course," I told him, then ventured, "you're not angry with me then?"

"I don't know if there is anything that I should be angry about," he laughed, "yet."

We both headed out and parted ways at the crossroad with Malkarov going across the river into the town while I continued straight on to the church.

When I got there, I went straight in and called out "Father?"

Sister Tera popped her head out of her quarters, "you're all back Sharein?"

"Just Malkarov and I for the moment, but everybody is on their way," I told her.

"Is everybody all right?" she asked.

"The kobolds had already left by the time we got there," I told her, "but Master Jorganshard was bitten on the arm by a warg. Malkarov bandaged him up and fed him a healing potion but he said you will probably need to c…"

"Cure disease," she finished for me, more to herself, "warg bites and claws are notoriously nasty for a disease that infects the blood," she popped her head back behind her door but then popped out again a moment later only to say, "just knock loudly on the Father's door, dear."

"Thank you, Sister," I said, but she had already closed the door.

I did as instructed and Father Mattias opened the door momentarily.

"Sharein my dear, I've missed you at the past few services!" He said, not seeming at all unhappy, "did everything go alright today?"

"I'm so sorry Father," I apologised, "I…" he held up his hand to stop me and waved me in to sit in a comfortable arm chair opposite his in a sitting room.

"No need to apologise my dear," he said to me, "you've spoken to Malkarov about it?" He asked and I nodded, then he continued, "and it's for a similar reason that he no longer attends?"

"Partly Father," I responded.

He nodded sadly, "is there anything you want to ask?"

I nodded and then asked him "Father, how come people like… us, aren't accepted?"

He sighed loudly, "long ago, a particular High Priest of Mithras declared that we weren't natural, because we could not produce offspring. The creation of life is an important tenet to the faith."

"But… how?" I asked, "if Mithras didn't approve of you as you are, then how can you be a priest?"

"Well, that's a very good question isn't it? It's a question I've long struggled with," he explained, "Mithras must approve, but it's written in The Book and declared by the High Priest. You recall that the first part of The Book contains the instructions granted by Mithras to her clergy, but the rest of The Book are the instructions by the High Priests since the very first?"

I nodded, "but, if the High Priest went against the will of Mithras, wouldn't he be severed?"

Father Mattias stood stock still, looking at me through shrewd eyes, "have you been speaking with Malkarov about this?"

"No Father," I replied, shaking my head.

"Have you read about it in one of his books?" He demanded.

"No Father," I answered truthfully.

"Then where, child, did you learn about severing?" He asked, not quite angrily but not in his usual friendly tone.

"I… I can't tell you," I stammered and looked away from him, feeling a little guilty that I couldn't tell him.

He hummed in thought, then spoke in his usual friendly manner, "the High Priest of Mithras is not like a regular priest, he is specially chosen by the Goddess to do her will. As such, they are not severed if they stray. There are others that are specially chosen, but the High Priest is always one such."

That made sense, but was obviously not a fool proof method for ensuring that the Church continues to abide by the will of Mithras forever.

"Why have no other High Priests removed those sections from The Book?" I asked.

"Ah," he exclaimed, "once it is written in The Book it is the will of Mithras and as such can never be removed. Not even by a High Priest."

That seemed very… silly.

"It seems we've been distracted," Father Mattias said, bringing me out of my thoughts, "how did it go today?"

"Yes, Father, sorry Father," I apologised, "Malkarov sent me here to tell you that the townsfolk who went after the kobolds are on their way back from my family's farm as we speak and should arrive in time for your usual service."

"Good, good," the Father said, "but how did it go?"

I recounted to him the "official" story and he seemed very happy at the news that the kobolds had just 'decided' to leave.

"I know just the sermon to help them manage their feeling of anger and their desire for revenge!" he exclaimed, "if you don't mind my child, I'll have to prepare," he added as he escorted me out.

Once out I walked back to Malkarov's tower and cast Knock to let myself back in, climbed the stairs and decided to wait in one of the comfy chairs on the ground floor for Malkarov's return.

I had not long sat there before I decided to rest my eyes and didn't know any more until much later.