‘I’m terribly disappointed in you, Sephrenia,’ Kalten said.
‘You almost had to have been there to understand,’ she replied.
‘Why didn’t you just get whatever it was the physician used to cure those other people?’ Tynian asked Sparhawk.
‘Because he ground it to a powder, mixed it with wine, and had them drink it.’
‘Is that the way it’s supposed to be done?’
‘No, as a matter of fact, it’s not. Sephrenia spoke to him rather sharply about that.’
‘I think you’d better start at the beginning,’ Vanion said.
‘Right,’ Sparhawk agreed, taking a chair. Briefly he told them about Arasham’s ‘holy talisman’ and about the ploy that had got them into the old man’s tent.
‘You were being awfully free with the name of my king, Sparhawk,’ Tynian objected.
‘We don’t necessarily need to tell him about it, do we?’ Sparhawk replied. ‘I needed to use the name of a kingdom a long way from Rendor. Arasham probably has only the vaguest idea of where Deira is.’
‘Why didn’t you say you were from Thalesia, then?’
‘I doubt if Arasham’s ever heard of Thalesia. Anyway, the “holy talisman” turned out to be a fake. Martel was there and he was trying to persuade the old lunatic to postpone his uprising until the time of the election of the new Archprelate.’ He went on to describe the means by which he had overturned the white-haired man’s scheme.
‘My friend,’ Kalten said admiringly, ‘I’m proud of you.’
‘Thank you, Kalten,’ Sparhawk said modestly ‘It did turn out rather well, I thought.’
‘He’s been patting himself on the back ever since we came out of Arasham’s tent,’ Sephrenia said. She looked at Vanion. ‘Kerris died,’ she told him sadly.
Vanion nodded, his face sombre. ‘I know,’ he said. ‘How did you find out?’
‘His ghost came to us to deliver his sword to Sephrenia,’ Sparhawk told him. ‘Vanion, we’re going to have to do something about that. She can’t go on carrying all those swords and everything they symbolize. She gets weaker every time somebody gives her another one.’
‘I’m all right, Sparhawk,’ she insisted.
‘I hate to contradict you, little mother, but you’re definitely not all right. It’s all you can do right now to hold up your head. About two more of those swords is all it’s going to take to put you on your knees.’
‘Where are the swords now?’ Vanion asked.
‘We brought a mule with us,’ Kurik replied. ‘They’re in a box in his pack.’
‘Would you get them for me, please?’
‘Right away,’ Kurik said, going to the door.
‘What have you got in mind, Vanion?’ Sephrenia asked suspiciously.
‘I’m going to take the swords.’ He shrugged. ‘And everything that goes with them.’
‘Oh, yes, I can, Sephrenia. I was in the throne room, too, and I know which spell to use. You don’t have to be the one who has to carry them. Any one of us who were there can do it.’
‘You’re not strong enough, Vanion.’
‘When you get down to it, I could carry you and everything you’ve got in your arms, my teacher, and right now you’re more important than I am.’
‘But’ she started.
He held up his hand. ‘The discussion is ended, Sephrenia. I am the preceptor. With or without your permission, I’m taking those swords away from you.’
‘You don’t know what it means, my dearest one. I won’t let you.’ Her face was suddenly wet with tears, and she wrung her hands in an uncharacteristic display of human emotion. ‘I won’t let you.’
‘You can’t stop me,’ he said in a gentle voice. ‘I can cast the spell without your help, if I have to. If you want to keep your spells a secret, little mother, you shouldn’t chant them out loud, you know. You should know by now that I’ve got a very retentive memory.’
She stared at him. ‘I’m shocked at you, Vanion,’ she declared. ‘You were not so unkind when you were young.’
‘Life is filled with these little disappointments, isn’t it?’ he said urbanely.
‘I can stop you,’ she cried, still wringing her hands. ‘You forget just how much stronger I am than you are.’ There was a shrill triumph in her voice.
‘Of course you are. That’s why I’d have to call in help. Could you deal with ten knights all chanting in unison? – or fifty? – or half a thousand?’
‘That’s unfair!’ she exclaimed. ‘I did not know that you would go this far, Vanion and I trusted you.’
‘And well you should, dear one,’ he said, assuming suddenly the superior role, ‘for I will not permit you to make this sacrifice. I’ll force you to submit to me, because you know I’m right. You’ll release the burden to me, because you know that what you have to do is more important than anything else right now, and you’ll sacrifice anything to do what we both know must be done.’
‘Dear one,’ she began in an agonized voice ‘My dearest one –’
‘As I said,’ he cut her off, ‘the discussion is ended.’
There was a long and awkward silence as Sephrenia and Vanion stood with their eyes locked on each other’s face.
‘Did the physician in Dabour give you any hints about which objects might cure the Queen?’ Bevier asked Sparhawk a bit uneasily
‘He mentioned a spear in Daresia, several rings in Zemoch, a bracelet somewhere in Pelosia, and a jewel on the royal crown of Thalesia.’
Ulath grunted. ‘The Bhelliom.’
‘That solves it, then,’ Kalten said. ‘We go to Thalesia, borrow Wargun’s crown, and come back here with it.’
‘Wargun doesn’t have it,’ Ulath told him.
‘What do you mean, Wargun doesn’t have it? He’s the King of Thalesia, isn’t he?’
‘That crown was lost five hundred years ago.’
‘Could we possibly find it?’
‘Almost anything is possible, I suppose,’ the big Thalesian replied, ‘but people have been looking for it for five hundred years without much success. Do we have that kind of time?’
‘What is this Bhelliom?’ Tynian asked him.