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with a thud, and lay there glowing faintly.
Dazed and half-blinded by the power which had escaped her, Alexeika belatedly
realized that her hair was no longer being pulled. She twisted free, barely
aware of the men s stunned faces and the white-eyed panic of their horses. She
dismounted, ran to the sword, and picked it up.
The hilt felt hot enough to burn her, but she didn t care. She held it up in a
mocking salute, and said,  Get gone from here.
The chieftain s expression grew stony. Without a word, he pulled her dagger
from his shoulder and held up the bloody weapon in a silent salute of his own.
She relaxed slightly, thinking she d won.  Leave our camp, she ordered them,
her voice gruff and powerful.  Get out!
The chieftain threw her dagger. It came at her so fast it was a blur. She
couldn t duck in time. Her fear rushed back, filling her with such intensity
she thought she would be sick. This, she realized, was death.
She was not ready for it. Her whole life still stretched before her. She had
dreams and ambitions and plans that should not be cut down by this dirty
savage in his furs and braids. She realized she must lay her heart before the
gods, but there wasn t time even for that.
No
! she thought.
Pain exploded in her temple, and she knew nothing else.
Part Two
South of the Charva River, the land of Mandria grew soft and tame. Rolling
meadows held fat, sleek livestock. Crops grew tall and straight in their rows,
showing the plentiful harvests to come. Villages were sometimes small, but
seldom were they as grubby or as poor as those in upper Mandria. More often,
Dain and his companions came to towns with public squares and houses built of
stone or brick.
Sometimes, even the streets were paved with cobblestones, and there was not a
pig to be seen rooting at doorsteps.
The roads between towns became smoother and wider as Dain traveled south.
Tall, lush grass grew on either side of the road, filled with fluttering
red-winged birds, bustling rodents, and humming insects.
Nonkind had never come to this land. To feel free of the constant need to
watch and fear... It was marvelous to find no taint anywhere in this land of
plenty where occasional road bandits caused the only problems. Twice bandits
started to ambush them on the road, and both times they galloped away as soon
as they saw who they were attacking.
 Guess we got nothing they want, eh? Sir Terent asked.
 Naught but a sword down their gullet, Sir Polquin growled. The master of
arms was still pained by the wound in his leg, and grouchier than usual as a
result. Sweat running down his round face, he glanced over at Dain.  Your
pardon, m lord. Have you a waterskin to spare?
Dain handed over his waterskin without hesitation.
Sir Polquin looked embarrassed, but thanked him.  It s this fever in my leg.
I m sorry.
 Apology is not needed, Dain told him kindly.  There is water enough for
all.
Sulein edged closer on his donkey.  If you would allow me to lance the wound
tonight, it would ease you greatly.
 Nay, Sir Polquin said hastily, handing the waterskin back to Dain.  I m well
enough. There ll be no hot knives stuck in my leg, thank you, no.
He wheeled his horse over to the other side of the creaking, swaying wagon.
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One of the kine pulling it lowed at him.
Sulein, wearing his strange flat hat and sweating in the heat, tilted his head
to peer up at Dain.  The man s leg is infected. It needs attending.
 He fears you, Dain said, keeping his gaze on the dusty horizon. A town lay
ahead. Dain could see its spires, their banners fluttering brightly in the
sunshine.  He will heal well enough, in time.
 Time, Sulein muttered.  I could save him time. I could save him pain, and
that limp he is likely to keep. He is a stubborn fool.
 He does not believe in your methods, Dain said sharply.  Leave him be.
 You could order him to accept my treatment, Sulein said.
Dain swung his gray eyes around to lock with Sulein s dark ones.  But I will
not.
Silence hung between them a moment. Frustration narrowed Sulein s eyes, but he
dropped the argument.
The physician had given way to Dain most of the time since they d resumed
their grim journey. Dain could tell him-self it was because of his new rank,
but he did not believe it. Sulein would never be someone he could entirely
trust. An ulterior purpose lay always behind the physician s actions. For now,
he clearly wanted to remain close to Dain. Therefore, he acquiesced to Dain s
decisions, but Dain wondered how long such compliance would last. He knew that
the physician still believed him the lost heir to Nether s throne. There was
no way to prove such a claim, even if Dain intended to try which he did not.
Perhaps eventually Sulein would realize how futile restoration would be.
Perhaps then he would go to someone else s court, and leave Dain in peace.
In the meantime, the physician remained with them. And despite Dain s dislike
of the man, he had many uses and talents to offer.
Now, as Sulein started to rein his donkey aside, Dain frowned.  When we are
past this town, physician, perhaps you would give me another lesson.
Sulein s face brightened as though he d been handed a gift. He bowed low over
the neck of his donkey.  I would be honored.
Only a few days ago, Dain had been busy avoiding lessons whenever he could. It
seemed strange now to be the one insisting that he keep up his studies. But
Dain s life had changed with the death of Lord
Odfrey. He knew he had much to learn, and that he had only a short amount of
time in which to learn it in order to avoid acting like a totally ignorant
bumpkin if and when he gained an audience with the king.
That night, they camped on the bank of a clear, rushing stream, beneath the
swaying fronds of graceful water trees. A crimson flower grew on the bank near
the water s edge, and its fragrance was heady in the long hours of dusk.
Dain lay near the water, his long body sprawled on the grass, while he
listened to the song of insects and the swaying rustle of the trees. The night
air was sultry. He d re-moved his tunic to be cooler, and intended to wash
himself in the stream later to ease his aching muscles.
Sir Terent had put him through a rigorous weapons drill shortly before supper.
Sir Polquin, perched on a fallen log with his wounded leg stuck out stiffly in
front of him, had rapped out corrections and
instructions until Dain was dripping with sweat and reeling with fatigue.
 Getting better, m lord, Sir Terent said with an encouraging slap on Dain s
shoulder.  That last exchange was worthy of any knight.
Dain grinned at the praise, but in truth he was too tired to much care. As
soon as he choked down his ration of cold meat and dry bread, he forced
himself to stay awake through another reading lesson with
Sulein. The physician also praised him for his improvement, but Dain did not
want to admit that he was peering through the physician s mind for some of the
words and their meanings. It was cheating, in a way, but Dain was desperate to
acquire knowledge as fast as he could.
Now, reclining on his elbow in the grass, he toyed idly with a scroll of
mathematics. He intended to study the figures by firelight, after he d rested
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