Then I will also depart,’ Sephrenia replied simply.

A stifled sob escaped the young Cyrinic. ‘Not while I have breath,’ he said in a choked voice.

‘Someone, however, is trying to speed things up,’ Sparhawk went on. This is the third attempt on Sephrenia’s life since we left Cimmura.’

‘But I have survived them,’ she said as if they were of no moment. ‘Were you able in any way to identify the people behind this attack?’

‘Martel and some Styric,’ Kalten told her. The Styric had put a spell on the mercenaries to keep them from talking, but Ulath broke it somehow. He spoke with a prisoner in a language I didn’t understand. The man answered in the same tongue.’

She looked inquiringly at the Thalesian knight.

‘We spoke in the language of the Trolls,’ Ulath shrugged. ‘It’s a nonhuman tongue, so it circumvented the spell.’

She stared at him in horror. ‘You called upon the Troll-Gods?’ she gasped.

‘Sometimes it’s necessary, Lady,’ he replied. ‘It’s not too dangerous, if you’re careful.’

Bevier’s face was tear-streaked. ‘An it please you, my Lord Sparhawk,’ he said, ‘I shall personally undertake the protection of the Lady Sephrenia. I shall remain constantly at this valiant lady’s side, and should there be further encounters, I pledge you my life that she shall not be harmed.’

A brief expression of consternation crossed Sephrenia’s face, and she looked appealingly at Sparhawk.

‘Probably not a bad idea,’ he said, ignoring her unspoken objection. ‘All right then, Bevier. Stay with her.’

Sephrenia gave him a withering look.

‘Are we going to get the dead under the ground?’ Tynian asked.

Sparhawk shook his head. ‘We don’t have time to be gravediggers. My brothers are dying one by one, and Sephrenia’s at the end of the list. If we see some peasants, we’ll tell them where the bodies are. The loot they’ll get will more than pay for the digging. Let’s move along.’

Borrata was a university town that had grown up around the stately buildings of the oldest centre of higher learning in Eosia. On occasion in the past, the Church had strongly urged that the institution be moved to Chyrellos, but the faculty had always resisted that notion, obviously desiring to maintain their independence and the absence of Church supervision.

Sparhawk and his companions took rooms in one of the local inns late in the afternoon on the day they arrived. The inn was more comfortable and certainly cleaner than the roadside ones in which they had stayed in Elenia and here in Cammoria.

The following morning, Sparhawk put on his mail coat and his heavy woollen cloak.

‘Do you want us to go with you?’ Kalten asked as his friend came down into the common room on the main floor of the inn.

‘No,’ Sparhawk replied. ‘Let’s not turn it into a parade. The university isn’t very far from here, and I can protect Sephrenia along the way.’

Sir Bevier looked as if he were about to protest. He had taken his self-appointed role as Sephrenia’s protector very seriously, seldom moving more than a few feet from her side during the journey to Borrata. Sparhawk looked at the earnest young Cyrinic. ‘I know you’ve been keeping watch outside her door every night, Bevier,’ he said. ‘Why don’t you get some sleep? You won’t be much good to her – or the rest of us – if you fall out of your saddle.’

Bevier’s face stiffened.

‘He didn’t mean it personally, Bevier,’ Kalten said. ‘Sparhawk just hasn’t quite figured out the meaning of the word “diplomatic” yet. We’re all hoping that someday it might come to him.’

Bevier smiled faintly, then he laughed. ‘I think it might take me some time to adjust to you Pandions,’ he said.

‘Look upon it as educational,’ Kalten suggested.

‘You know that if you and the Lady are successful in finding that cure, we’re likely to encounter all kinds of trouble on the way back to Cimmura,’ Tynian said to Sparhawk. ‘We’ll probably run into whole armies trying to stop us.’

‘Madel,’ Ulath suggested cryptically, ‘or Sarrinium.’

‘I don’t quite follow,’ Tynian admitted.

‘Those armies you mentioned will try to block the road to Chyrellos to keep us from getting there – and then on into Elenia. If we ride south to either of those seaports, we can hire a ship and sail around to Vardenais on the west coast of Elenia. It’s faster to travel by sea anyway.’

‘Let’s decide that after we find the cure,’ Sparhawk said.

Sephrenia came down the stairs with Flute. ‘Are you ready then?’ she asked.

Sparhawk nodded.

She spoke briefly to Flute. The little girl nodded and crossed the room to where Talen sat. ‘You’ve been selected, Talen,’ Sephrenia told the boy. ‘Watch over her while I’m gone.’

‘But–’ he started to object.

‘Just do as she says, Talen,’ Kurik told him wearily.

‘I was going to go out and have a look around.’

‘No,’ his father said, ‘as a matter of fact, you weren’t.’

Talen’s expression grew sulky. ‘All right,’ he said as Flute climbed up into his lap.

Since the university grounds were so close, Sparhawk decided against taking their horses, and he and Sephrenia walked through the narrow streets of Borrata. The small woman looked around. ‘I haven’t been here in a long time,’ she murmured.

‘I can’t imagine what interest a university could hold for you,’ Sparhawk smiled, ‘considering your views on reading.’

‘I wasn’t studying, Sparhawk. I was teaching.’

‘I should have guessed, I suppose. How are you getting on with Bevier?’

‘Fine – except that he won’t let me do anything for myself – and that he keeps trying to convert me to the Elene faith.’ Her tone was slightly tart.

‘He’s just trying to protect you – your soul as well as your person.’

‘Are you trying to be funny?’

He decided not to answer that.

The grounds of the University of Borrata were park-like, and students and members of the faculty strolled contemplatively across the well-kept lawns.

Sparhawk stopped a young man in a lime-green doublet. ‘Excuse me, neighbour,’ he said, ‘but could you direct me to the medical college?’

Tags: David Eddings The Elenium Science Fiction