Part Two

Explosions continued to rock Djaar Bosmer. At first Angrif had taken them for an earthquake, then for cannon fire from Korik’s men, encamped outside the walls. But nothing fell from the sky but murders of crows, sweeping over the city like scavengers. And the damage was far too localized to be something as random as an earthquake.

“Find me Rowb – now!” Angrif ordered, when the messenger brought him word of the collapse of Korik’s prison. 

“Bring me Rowb’s family!” he commanded, no one could find the saddle-chief. “I’ll throttle the truth out of them.”

But they could not be found either. One of the men tasked with guarding Rowb’s woman and her annoying brother admitted he’d left the pair – and Rowb’s infant son – with the saddle-chief himself, just behind the kitchen buildings. The buildings that were now a pile of rubble that had to be cleared by a dozen mules and two dozen slaves. A rubble that had almost, but not quite, filled in a deep chasm in the ground. 

Angrif had killed the guard himself. But it hadn’t blunted the edge to his rage.

Rowb had betrayed him. Somehow, he had found a way to smuggle Korik out of the city, and used troll blast-rock to cover up their escape. But the trolls hadn’t been selling blast-rock to Djunsmen since old Grohmul’s time. 

That meant Rowb was either a smuggler or a Pactkeeper. Either way, the man Angrif had raised up from nothing had betrayed him.

He waited on tenterhooks for Korik to reappear outside the gates, at the head of the troops he had brought with him from the Citadel. It wasn’t enough to besiege the city – not even close. But it was enough to vex Angrif, enough to make him brood on the fragility of his scheme.

He had sent messenger doves and mounted riders out to all the major cities of Djunshold, calling for his supporters to join him at Djaar Bosmer. The plan had been to rally an army and ride back to the Citadel in force. Yet it had been weeks now, and he’d heard no reply. Had his messengers been intercepted? Had no one heard the call to battle?

And why did blast-rock explosions continue to undermine the city even after Korik and Rowb disappeared?

After the kitchens fell, the palace was left relatively unmolested, and the action moved into the poorer districts. The overcrowded tenement buildings were collapsing under the tremors, and sinkholes were opening up in the ground. A particularly old section of the city walls was in danger of crumbling; half of his soldiers had been diverted to the Bosmerian equivalent of Lowtown to shore up the breach with rock fill and timbers. And that left only the city guard to hold back the paupers, as they fled towards the better parts of town. The latest report was a predication: the rabble would be at the gates of the palace before long, demanding shelter and respite – not begging, but demanding! As if they were entitled to it – as if they were owed anything. As if they anything more than fleas to be crushed under the boots of their betters! The thought had sent Angrif into such a rage that the man who’d brought the report hastened to repent his choice of words. 

“You’ll command the guard to slay any wretch who approaches the palace compound,” Angrif raged. “Man, woman, child, dog! Any creature not wearing a soldier’s badge, and any soldier who breaks rank. Do you understand, Stamm?”

The man withdrew in terror. But upon reflection, Angrif called him back for new orders.

“I want a proclamation made. All native Djaarlanders, be they nobleman, merchant or peasant, are to report to the warehouse district. They have under high noon tomorrow to be safely penned like the cattle they are. After that, any Djaarlanders seen in the streets will be executed on sight!”

“All, Dominance?”

“Of course, all! I want the entire city locked down.”

“What about the saddle-men of Djaarland blood?”

“Them too. They’re all the Doma’s dogs at heart. Even the ones we thought we broke.”



Stamm cowered in a bow so deep he could practically lick his own boots. “Most of the city is Djaarish. I doubt we have enough pure-blooded Djunsmen to guard them all.”

“Then you’d best start culling the herd! Start with the peasants. And banish this insolence from your tongue, Stamm, or I’ll cut it out for you!”

“Yes, Dominance. Sire!”

Angrif let him go, though part of him wanted to carry out his threat then and there. But Stamm was the closest he had to a saddle-chief, now that Rowb was gone. 

He thought he’d held the world in his grasp when he’d first ridden into Djaar Bosmer. But everything seemed to be slipping away between his fingers.

Another distant boom made him jump. Angrif roared and punched the wall, bruising his knuckles through the finemail gloves. I can’t think like this! I can’t live like this!

He strode to his private chambers, to the study where he kept a map of the conquered province. He spread the vellum out across the great oak table. Djaar Tyndel… Djaar Bosmer… Djaar Mandara… here in the foothills of the Painted Mountains, the only cities were rough-hewn strongholds, held by his enemies or threatened by them. 

He flicked at a little spot on the map he took for a speck of dirt. But it was a true dot of ink, indicating a settlement of some sort, perched near the northern edge of the Plainswaste. 

Intrigued, Angrif consulted another map. There he found a name. Grohmul’s Reach.

Korik’s words from that fateful council meeting returned to him.

“You should be proud of all you have accomplished, Dominance. At your age, your father was only first leading raids into the Djaarland…”

The farthest west his father had ever conquered… nearly fifty leagues behind him. 

Nearly fifty leagues away from his enemies.

He could make it in three days if he took enough horses, and rode them hard. It would get him farther still from the Citadel, being so far north. But there might be Longrider camps nearby, if he took his best men, he could take what he needed from the savages. Food and furs for the cold autumn nights. Fresh horses to take him back to his people. 

And from the Reach, it was only another hundred leagues to Krooshtevwon. General Tammard’s brother-in-law commanded there. He’d prove loyal. Angrif was sure of it. He’d provide enough men and weapons to march back on the Citadel in style.

It’s not over yet, Korik, Angrif thought smugly. Not yet.

* * *

The Regent had courage, Rowb had to admit. Few humans east of the highlands could sit down at a table with trolls, elves and the Doma herself without so much as a flinch. Even Rowb was cringing a little today, although that was due more the black eye Alak had given him. 

He had left his lifemate and their family in a cozy burrow well below the main tunnels. They would be safe from the blasting. When he would be safe when he rejoined them was another question. From the rage in Alak’s eyes, this might be the end of everything.

“The people of Djunshold will never agree to these terms!” Korik protested, when Shuna had laid out her proposal. “To abandon the war now would be to admit defeat.”

“You wouldn’t be abandoning the war,” Shuna countered. “You’d just be switching sides.”

“Turncoats are the lowest of dung-eaters!” Korik turned a glare at Rowb, standing silently at Shuna’s side.

“But revolutionaries? Those brave few who stand up to injustice and overthrow evil? They are heroes. Angrif’s reign is a disaster. Like his father’s before him. Land bought in blood, the countryside emptied of life. What good is conquest if you haven’t the men to work the land you’ve taken?”

“The rabble wanted the war! They cried the loudest for blood.”

“Are they still crying now?” Rowb challenged. “I didn’t hear any in Lowtown.”

“How could you, rubbing shoulders with malcontents and traitors?”

“Our folk are fickle,” Shuna said. “I remember the refugees fleeing Djunshold after Grohmul died on Haunted Mountain. Thousands of men and women turned their backs on his legacy. How many might have followed us, if not for fear of the open road? If you had sued for peace with the elves then, you could have been the savior of Djunshold. But you wanted to preserve your power. You and all your friends in the army. How many trolls did you kill at Port Bane to convince your ‘rabble’ that this was a war you stood any chance of winning?”

“Threk’sht meant this land for men!”

“Enough, Korik. You’re too old to be so devout.”

“Just because you’ve lost your faith, Elftouched–”

Shuna looked offended. “I’ve lost nothing. I’ve simply gained perspective.”

“Oh, stop your gibbering!” Queen Drub erupted at last. “Longlegs! Is he with us or not? Because if he’s not, he’s for the stewpot.”

Korik stared at the troll uncomprehendingly. Drub sighed and switched to Trade talk. “You with us or you in us!” she snapped, slapping her armored belly. Korik’s eyes widened, and he looked to Shuna for salvation.

“What will it be, Korik? Our terms, or a troll’s supper. She will eat you, make no mistake. You’ve given her kind quite a taste for man-flesh.”

His voice lost much of its strength. “E-even if I wanted to, I’m no sorcerer! Djunshold isn’t the west. Even if I say all I’ve done, no one will believe a word of it. No one will bow their heads to a girl-child! By the Doom-pit, why do you think I had to resort to this sham? If I had ever thought Gifa would live one day as Djun–”

Gifa spoke up at last from her place at the table. “As a newborn, no. I wouldn’t have seen my first sunset. But I’m not an infant now. And I have the strength of the Pact behind me. It’s simple, Korik. I mean to claim my birthright, with or without you. And I’m not fool enough to think it will be a bloodless quest. You can join me now, and help me cut my way back to the Citadel – fight for the right to die an old man in your own bed. You might just succeed. Or you can tell me its hopeless, and you can die tonight.”

“Not tonight,” Shuna piped up. “Drub’s not that much of a glutton. She’ll want to stretch out her feasting. Who knows, if she chooses to save you for special occasions, it might take her years to finish you off.”

“Seems I might live longer in a troll’s pantry than at your side,” Korik told Gifa.

“And then Angrif wins. At least for now. He’ll fall soon enough. Since he slipped your leash, he’s been burning through whatever’s left of his good name. Some saddle-scout will slit his throat before long. Or he’ll hide like a mole under the Citadel until a serving wench poisons him to lift the siege I’ll bring.”

“It will take years to besiege the Citadel.”

“So Angrif will outlive you. Do you really want that? After all he’s done to you? Do you really want his last thoughts to be ‘At least I outwitted that fool Korik?’” 

“I don’t care what he thinks of me. I’ve never cared what he’s thought, so long as he served my purpose.”

“But he doesn’t anymore. And I can. As long as I live – as long as I reign – you and your family are safe. I’m the only thing standing between you and death. How many times must I keep saying that?”

“A flimsy shield, girl.”

“It’s better than nothing.”

“Aye. I suppose it is. All right. I’ll accept your terms. But only if you’d accept mine.”

“You’re in position to haggle, old man,” Rowb warned.

Korik ignored him. “The truth of Angrif’s blood can come out when I am safely dead. When he is safely dead. We will never overthrow him by that truth alone, and speaking it now will only sow confusion and suspicion.”

“Then how do we turn the people against him, if not with the truth?”

“Not with that truth. We have many others that speak to his incompetence to rule.”

A blur of movement caught Rowb’s eye. The elf-woman Ember had been slouching in her seat at the table, bored by the Djunish chatter she could only half-follow. Now a strange light came to her eyes as she sat bolt upright, as if listening to something on the air.

“Kaldan?” Rowb guessed.

Ember nodded. “His birds have spotted a war party fleeing Djaar Bosmer by the broken gate.”

“Hah!” Drub clapped her hands. “He’s taken our bait.”

“Is it Angrif?” Rowb pressed.

Ember held up a hand for silence and closed her eyes. Rowb imagined she was sharing a vision with her grandson, seeing through the eyes of his many crows, watching from the air as a column of riders fled the besieged city…

Ember opened her eyes. “Ten riders, heavily armed. No banners. But two are riding scout, and the others are riding in formation, protecting one rider. Scrawny thing, compared to his horse. He can’t ride well at a gallop, and he looks like he’s flogging his horse for the sport of it.”

“Angrif,” Rowb confirmed. “Where are they headed?”


“Can Kaldan stay with them?”

Ember gave Rowb a withering look. “He’s Wild Hunt. Drub, you got a steam road leading north?”

“All the way to Solstice.”

“I don’t think we’ll have to go that far,” Rowb said.

“You know where he’s heading?” Ember asked.

“I have an idea.” He saw Gifa was utterly lost, despite Shuna’s whispered translations in her ear. “My father sold his sword all over Djaarsland, my lady,” he addressed her in Djunish. “Sometimes working for your father. Sometimes for the people he raided. And I remember he used to tell me all about this little fort town the old Djun founded…”

* * *

A lamp of glowing fungus cast the small rock burrow in a sickly green light. Liesel sat on the edge of the bed, nursing little Urdinak. When Alak saw the door open he stood in front of his sister to protect her, fists balled. 

Rowb stepped into the light. Alak’s hands remained tightly clenched. 

“I’m sorry,” Rowb said again, knowing how worthless it sounded.

“How long?” Alak demanded. “How long were you working for Shuna?”

“I’ve been working with her–”

“Since when? Before you came to Lowtown?”

Rowb hung his head. “Since before she was the Doma.”

Alak took a step towards him. Rowb shifted slightly. “If you’re going to hit me again, can you do the right side? I’d like a matching set.”

“Was anything you told us true?” Alak accused.

“Yes. Threk’sht, all of it. I was born in Djaarsland. My father was a sellsword and he raised me to follow him. We tramped all over the west – Longrider lands, Pact lands. I came to the Citadel looking for work. I… just left out the ‘why’ of it.” He heard how feeble that sounded, and went on. “I wanted to tell you. Believe me.”

Alak snorted. “How can I?”

“It was never meant to go this far. I was supposed to infiltrate the city watch… go on some patrols, get the feel of the city. Shuna said she could convince the trolls to join us on a full-scale war if she could only prove enough of the people would rise up against Angrif. You’ve seen how the trolls can tunnel – if we could show old Drub it was worth the cost, we could cripple the Citadel in a moon’s turn! But the Regent liked the look of me, and soon I’m saddle-chief for the little monster’s private guard. How could I turn that down?” 

“Easily!” Liesel spoke up. 

“I hadn’t met you and Alak yet. I was only risking my own life. What’s that against bringing down a creature like Angrif Djun?” He dropped his gaze to the ground. “I wasn’t… I wasn’t worth much to myself back then. What I am… what I feel… what I wanted – well, I never thought I’d find it.”

“And you did find it!” Alak pressed.

“I did. I was only going to that taphouse to meet my contact. A man who knew a troll who knew an elf, who’d send my reports all the way to High Hope. I’d report in every moon. But the contact didn’t show that night. And you were there instead.” He risked a sad smile. “And I thought we’d flirt and drink, and maybe have a quick tussle against a wall before we pretended we’d never met. That’s all I’d learned to expect. But you gave me so much more… you and Liesel. And I… how could I tell you? How could I put you in the danger of knowing what I did? And how could I...” he swallowed his shame. “How could I take the chance you’d leave me… if you knew.”

“Leave you? You stupid gwit! We hate the Djun as much as anyone!”

“I should have asked my contacts to get you out of Lowtown when Urdi was born. We could have gone to High Hope then. We would have been safe. But Shuna said she needed me – said she had no one better placed in the Citadel. And I just kept thinking… just a little longer. I’ve risked so much… just a little more. And then Angrif got that mission to Djaar Tyndel in his head, and before I knew it, everything was all tangled up. But I never thought he’d go out and find you. I never thought you’d be dragged into all this.”

“You’re a bloody fool, Rowb.”

“I know.”

Alak heaved a frustrated sigh and pulled him close for a hug. “And I’ll forgive you. Not yet! But I will. Now wipe that beaten-dog look off your face. It makes you look old.” He stepped back and studied his expression carefully. “But it’s over now. We’ll relocate to High Hope or wherever. Somewhere safe. Because you’re done with this war. Right?”

“Almost.” Rowb’s voice was pained. “There’s one more thing I have to do.”

* * *

They rode hard for three days. They lost four horses and three men. Angrif left the horses to rot and told the riderless men to shift for themselves. They would survive on the Plainswaste; or they would not. Either way, it was no concern of his. He only needed an escort until he reached sanctuary. Stamm assured him he would find fresh guardsmen at Grohmul’s Reach. 

“It’s a small garrison town, Dominance. A hundred fighting men, and all their followers and hangers-on. Servants, wenches, a healer or two. Fresh horses and messenger doves.”

“You’ve been there yourself?”

“Ehh… no,” the young lieutenant admitted. “But my first saddle-chief, Grenik, he did two tours of duty at the Reach. Said it was the dullest tour he’d ever done. Even the wenches had no spirit. General Mikken, he ordered the soldiers rotated out twice a year, so they wouldn’t lose their edge. Grenik said they should have done the same with the whores.”

“Enough with the whores,” Angrif sneered. 

They stopped only when Angrif couldn’t bear another moment in the saddle. He stole a fitful sleep under the watchful eyes of Stamm and the others. His guards could sleep in the saddle whenever they could. Their mounts were lathered and sickly by the time Stamm pointed out the silhouette of Grohmul’s Reach on the eastern horizon. The sun was setting on their third day since leaving Djaar Bosmer.

By now Korik’s men were surely storming the city and slaying the sycophants he had left behind. Or were they Shuna’s men, in league with the trolls and the other demonic filth? It hardly mattered. He’d clean them all out once he could return in force.

He sent his fastest rider ahead to announce him. The horse could barely manage a canter, but that was still more than Angrif’s own mount could muster. The stablemaster at the Reach would probably turn them all into stew, and good riddance. 

When they reached the wooden palisade that bordered the town, the Daystar was kissing the horizon behind them, and the gates were still barred. “What is this?” Angrif demanded. “Did you not tell them who was coming, fool?”

“Forgive me, sor. Sire!” the young rider hastily corrected. “They would not believe me.”

“You there!” Angrif raged up at the helmeted heads he could just see peeking out above the gatehouse wall. “Do you not see your Djun’s colors? My crest? I am your Dominance! Angrif, son of Grohmul.”

A face appeared at one of the arrow slits. “Angrif? Find better lies, pup! Angrif’s dead. Fell at Djaar Bosmer.”

“Do I look like a corpse to you?”

“Don’t look like a Djun either.”

Derisive laughter floated down to greet him. Angrif suddenly felt very aware of his sweat- and mud-stained clothes, his feeble days-old whiskers, the stench of travel wrapped around him. When this is over, I’ll not ride a horse outside a parade ground again! he vowed. 

Angrif drew his sword. “Open the gates now, you fools, if you value your heads on your shoulder! Look! The Djun’s sword. And the Djun’s signet ring on my right hand. If you trust your own eyes so little, I’ll do you a favor and remove them!”

“I’ll fetch the garrison chief…” the lookout said dubiously.

Finally. Angrif sat back in the saddle, waiting impatiently. Presently another head appeared at the arrow slit. With a helmet sitting low on his head, Angrif could not quite make out the man’s face.

“You there! Admit your Djun!”

The garrison-chief sniffed. “Don’t know what you’re about, boy. But you’re no Djun of mine.”

Angrif felt a spasm of rage twist his entrails. He knew that voice.

“Rowb? Rowb, you wretched pig-spawn-”

“Aye, he’s the one I warned you about,” Rowb told the other men at the gatehouse wall. “He’s a nobody. Some stable-wench’s get. Barely fit to be a pageboy, but given him a stolen sword and he thinks he’s Grohmul’s heir.”

“Rowb, I swear, I will see you stewed and simmered in your own blood!” He raised his voice to address the guards directly. “I say to you I am Angrif Djun!”

“Only Djun we know is Gifa,” an unseen voice called back.

The words were so bizarre to Angrif’s ears, the fool might have been speaking elfin. “What? What did you say?!”

“See, he don’t even know her name!” Rowb laughed. “Angrif Djun, he says. And he can’t even name his own twin!”

“Rowb, you traitor!”

“Enough of this.” Rowb gestured to the men beside him. “You know your Djun’s orders.”

Arrows appeared at each of the slits between the wooden posts. Angrif saw what was coming before his escorts. He was already wheeling his horse around when the archers let fly. He heard the screams of the men and their mounts; he felt the heavy thuds as the horses went down. Rowb’s mocking laughter chased him as he flogged his horse down the path, out of range of the arrows.

What could he do now? Where could he go? He didn’t know. What did Rowb mean about Gifa? What could this latest betrayal mean? The setting sun burned in his eyes, making them water. His thoughts chased each other, round and round; rage followed by anguish, followed by desperate - unreasoned - hope.

I’ll meet up with the men I left back in the barrows. We’ll make for Djaar Mandala. We’ll find a way… we’ll find a way back… I’ll make Rowb pay for this! I’ll -

The ground fell away in front of him, exposing a jagged cliff and a precipice. Cursing, Angrif hauled on the reins. His horse reared up and tried to turn, but Angrif heard the whinny as it skidded on the dusty ground, then the crack as its ankle bone snapped under the pressure.

The horse went down with a wild scream. Angrif leapt from the saddle, by Threk’sht’s mercy - for the beast promptly rolled on its side, trashing helplessly. The blasted thing lay on the edge of the cliff, panting and shrieking, eyes wild, mouth frothing.

“Worthless!” Angrif raged. He brought his sword down on the horse;s neck, hacking repeatedly as the beast continued to wail. “Curse you! Curse my luck! Curse Korik! Curse my useless stupid sister - SHUT UP!”

At last the horse was still and the sound of Angrif’s laboured breathing was all that echoed over the chasm. Slowly, Angrif came to feel as if he were being watched. He looked up at the rocky outcrop over his shoulder, but he saw only a collection of squat boulders, lumpen and oddly symmetrical, arrayed like gargoyles at the top of the outcrop.

As he began to slow his pulse, he realized he heard breathing beyond his own.

He looked again at the boulders.

They weren’t boulders.

“Having difficulties, Angrif?” asked a familiar voice, in a taunting giggle.

Gifa stepped out from behind the rocks. The trolls lifted their crossbows, but Gifa stilled them with a wave. 

“You two-faced slut!” Angrif raged. “I should have known you’d sell your soul to the demons! I should have had you killed long ago!”

Gifa drew her short throwing knife. “You could try.”

Angrif raised his blood-stained sword. One of the trolls got an itchy trigger finger, and a quarrel whizzed by Angrif’s hip. “No!” Gifa ordered. “Ez, ez!” Reluctantly the trolls lowered their crossbows. “He’s mine!”

Angrif charged her. Gifa let fly with her knife. Angrif ducked, and the shot aimed for his heart took him in the shoulder. Roaring with rage and pain, he slashed at her. Gifa rolled aside and drew a long dagger from her belt.

“You think to rule in my place?” Angrif panted, rounding on her as she danced out of rage of his sword. “My little hen of a sister?” He lowered his shoulder and charged into her, throwing her back against the rocks. He tried to bring his sword up, but she threw herself back at him, one hand pinning his sword arm against his side, the other slashing out with the dagger. Angrif twisted out of the way, and her blade only caught the edge of his tunic.

“I’m not your sister!” Gifa hissed back as they broke apart, both panting for breath. “And you’re no Djun.”

“When I reassemble my army-”

“You’d still be a fraud! A lowtown rat shoved into the royal cradle. But Grohmul Djun sired only one heir!”

“You lie!” But Angrif felt a chill run down his spine, as he thought of his mother’s last words. 

You were never mine… 

“Korik would never - ”

“It was his idea. Mother told me, before she died. Grohmul needed a son, and Korik needed a puppet. That’s all you’ve been, Angrif: his puppet; my shield. And now neither of us has any use for you.”

Tears of grief and rage filled his eyes. “You lying whore!”

“Thank you, for being who you are. If was fond of you, this might be harder.”

Angrif had always been strong, and swift. And his anger gave him a boldness that could have passed for bravery. He threw himself at Gifa, slashing again and again with his blade. But the quarrel in his shoulder stole most of his agility. And he found against one who would have her victory at any cost. Soon Angrif was not battling for vengeance but his life. 

But Gifa fought for more. She fought to win.

An elbow to the chin knocked his head back. A boot in the stomach sent him staggering back towards the cliff’s edge. His foot slipped on the long tail of his butchered horse, and it brought to one knee. 

He saw Gifa’s face contorted with fury and exertion. Then he saw the heavy heel of her riding boot. 

Then only air, whirling overhead, falling behind…

Then the ground raced upwards to meet him.

* * *

Gifa watched with a cold triumph as the boy who’d called himself her Djun crashed down to the base of the cliff. She waited until she was certain the broken and splayed body would not move. Then she turned to the trolls and barked in heavily accented Trade “One of you, get the body.”

“Good food,” one of the trolls agreed.

“No,” Gifa said, then added, in Djunish, “Eat the others if you want. He’ll serve my purpose another way.”

* * *

Bathed and dressed in his best armor, Angrif lay in state in the ruined courtyard of Djaar Bosmer. “My brother is dead,” Gifa cried, loud enough to be heard at the back of the legions. “The latest victim of his senseless war. But he will be last, I swear to you! This is the last harm my people will have inflicted upon them."

She wore a scalloped war helmet over her curled hair, and the Djun's sword at her waist. But she paired her martial accessories with a modest maiden's gown in white and gold. 

“From this moment, with the blessing of the Regent, I am declaring a cease-fire between the forces of Djunshold and the Pactkeepers! Peace talks will commence immediately."

The surviving loyalists of Angrif stirred uncertainly, but Korik's men cheered at her news.

"We have seen what horrors men have made of ruling. Now we will see what a woman may do. For I mean to rule. As a child of Grohmul, I was born to rule. As a daughter of Djunshold, I am bounden to care for its people. 

“I was conceived in war.. I was born into it. But unlike my brother, I do not mean to die in it. We have been fighting those whose ways are beyond our understanding. I say ‘LET US UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER!’ We have been sharpening our weapons - I say ‘Let us sharpen our wits instead!’ Let us find a way to work together, to keep the Pact as our ancestors did. Mothers, no longer need you say farewell to your sons! No longer do we ride out into unknown lands, never to return. Now… WE RIDE HOME!

The crowd, solemn at first, then hesitant, began to nod in time with Gifa’s words. When she raised her fist high to punctate her final pledge, they followed her. A great cheer rose up in waves from the legions until everyone was shouting her name, pledging their loyalty.

“You didn’t tell them the truth about Angrif,” Korik whispered, as Gifa stepped back. 

“You were right. It only complicates matters.”

“Gi-fa Djun!” the legions were now beating their spear-butts on the ground in rhythm. “Gi-fa Djun! Gi-fa Djun!”

“We will make a good team, my Djun,” Korik murmured.

“I think so too. So long as you remember… I will listen to all your words, but my actions will be mine alone.”

“As long as those actions see me die in my bed, another ten… twenty years from now…”

“Don’t worry, Korik. Unlike Angrif, I can admit I still have much to learn.”

"What now?" Alek asked Rowb, as they watched Gifa's speech from a place of honor on one of the keep's balconies. Little Urdinak didn't seem phased by the crowds or the noises at all; instead he burbled happily in Liesel's arms, 

"We could go back to the Citadel," Rowb suggested. "Gifa will give us that house in Midtown. Maybe even Hightown-"

"I should say so!" Liesel interjected sharply. 

But Alak shook his head. "And give you another mission that takes you far away from home - and puts you in Threk'sht knows what sort of danger!" 

"And don't you dare think of going back to the Doma!" Liesel added. "I've seen enough of what she expects from her followers."

Rowb nodded. "No more active duty. I've done my share." He risked a smile. "Guess there's only one place for us. It's time to show you High Hope." He chucked Urdinak under the chin, making him giggle. "Maybe we'll meet your namesake, hmm, Baby Blue?"

Alak looked vaguely queasy. "He's not a troll, is he?"

On to Part Three

Elfquest copyright 2020 Warp Graphics, Inc. Elfquest, its logos, characters, situations, all related indicia, and their distinctive likenesses are trademarks of Warp Graphics, Inc. All rights reserved. Some dialogue taken from Elfquest comics. All such dialogue copyright 2020 Warp Graphics, Inc. All rights reserved. Alternaverse characters and insanity copyright 2020 Jane Senese and Erin Roberts.