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The Elvenbane Part 37

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"I'll just wait for my father inside, if I may," he replied, just as calmly, as if he strolled across a battlefield every day to see his father.

"Certainly, Master Valyn," the human replied promptly, and held open the tent-flap for him.

Valyn ducked inside; when his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he was somehow not surprised to discover that the tent was furnished as sparsely as the manor was sybaritic.

There was nothing to distract Dyran from his obsession. Out here, he was the Warrior, the Champion of the Clans.

The tent was divided into two sections by a screen; private quarters, and public. In the public area were the portable desk and chair, a map table, stands for arms and armor, and chests for documents. In the private area was a bed, another chair, trunks of clothing, two storage cabinets, and nothing else.



Valyn just had time to take that much in, when footsteps outside the tent heralded the arrival of someone else.

He turned, his hand on the screen, just in time to face his father coming in through the door of the tent.

Dyran froze as the tent-flap fell back into place behind him.

"Hello, Father," Valyn said quietly.

Dyran stared, as if he hardly recognized who it was that had greeted him. Then slowly, he pulled off his gloves, one at a time, and threw them aside. He was dressed in elaborately chased golden armor, over which was a scarlet surcoat bearing his device. He wore a sword, but no helmet, his hair confined in a braid running down his back. After a moment, he took two steps forward, and folded his arms over his chest.

"I know exactly where you've been, Valyn," he said, with no expression whatsoever. "I suppose it's too much to hope that you've come to your senses about these vermin."

"I was hoping that you would say that you have come to some kind of similar decision about my friends, Father," Valyn replied, mimicking his father's posture. "I had hoped you would realize that this vendetta of yours is futile. We didn't begin this-"

Dyran's expression-or lack of it-did not change; only his eyes. There was a dangerous light in them, like smoldering embers- Like the light in the eyes of a one-horn about to charge.

"Is that all you have to say?" Dyran said, very softly, very gently. "Have you chosen to side against your own kind, and with these animals?"

"They aren't animals. There don't have to be sides," Valyn said. "There doesn't have to be a conflict-especially not between us-"

While he was speaking, the light in Dyran's eyes grew brighter, and he took two steps nearer to his son, until he stood within touching distance.

"No," Dyran whispered. "There won't be a conflict between us." The light in his eyes flared. "I bred one son. I can breed another."

Valyn had less than a heartbeat's warning-but it was enough.

As his father tried to blast him where he stood, with the full force of his considerable magic power, Valyn leapt forward.

He seized Dyran by the arms as the blow struck him, the beryl closed tightly in his hand, and clasped him in a deadly embrace, as the power backlashed against both of them...

The fortress rocked down to its foundations with the force of the explosion. Then the Shockwave hit, knocking them all off their feet, despite the fact that most of them were sheltered and protected behind the stone bulwarks on the top of the walls.

Shana climbed back to her feet and stared aghast at the elven camp.

The entire top of the next peak, where Dyran's tent had stood, was gone. A cloud of smoke still rose from where it had been, and there were fires all down the mountainside, started in the dry brush by flaming debris. More debris started to rain down on them, falling into the area between the walls and the inner building, and down on the fighters below the walls.

"Demonspawn-" said Zed in a choked voice. "Valyn-"

Somewhere, something deep inside her cried out in anguish. Something else demanded to know what Valyn Valyn was doing out there. But the rest of her noted that, down on the battlefield below the walls, chaos reigned. The fighters had been knocked off their feet, the attack had come to a standstill, and confusion had struck the elven commanders. was doing out there. But the rest of her noted that, down on the battlefield below the walls, chaos reigned. The fighters had been knocked off their feet, the attack had come to a standstill, and confusion had struck the elven commanders.

"Get the others," she snapped. "And the dragons! It's time to attack them!" them!"

"But-" Zed protested. "Valyn-"

"Later," she barked at him, promising that same "later" to herself. "Go!"

And as he left her alone on the walls, she gave herself one moment of that "later."

Valyn, you stupid- oh, Valyn oh, Valyn-Helpless tears streaked her cheeks as she watched the smoke-cloud rising and dispersing.

But when the others joined her for the final assault, there were no tears visible on her dry cheeks.

Before nightfall, Lord Berenel himself came out with a truce flag. Shana did not go out to meet him; she left the negotiations in the hands of Kalamadea (in his wizard guise), old Parth Agon and Denelor. Instead, she found a quiet, dark corner of the fortress, curled up in a blanket with her face to the wall, and waited for the tears to come.

Nothing. Only a terrible ache, and worse recriminations. It was her fault, she thought numbly, she made him feel so useless, and she didn't even try to find him something he could do. She just shoved him out of the way. It was all her fault...

Footsteps, and a voice out of the dark. "Shana? I could use a friendly shoulder."

She looked up, and caught Mero's hand by guess, pulling him down beside her. There he held her, and she held him against her shoulder, while he sobbed out his own recriminations.

Then, finally, her own tears came, and they wept together.

When the tears were gone, they talked, sharing memories of Valyn. Mero had more of those, of course, and finally he just talked, while Shana listened. He spoke about how deeply Valyn felt-and how little he could show of that. And how useless he must have felt these past days, as she and Shadow did everything, while Valyn was unable to do anything productive.

I never knew him never knew him , she thought, as the stories revealed things that left her surprised, and sometimes chagrined. I , she thought, as the stories revealed things that left her surprised, and sometimes chagrined. I thought I did, but all I saw was thought I did, but all I saw was - - what I wanted to see, I guess what I wanted to see, I guess. Then she wept again, without knowing why.

Then came a long moment of shared silence. It was broken, not by either of them, but by the "noise" of a transportation-spell somewhere nearby.

Shana immediately jumped to her feet, fearing treachery, and with Mero right beside her, ran for the stairs, making a light as she ran. The fortress seemed mostly deserted, and their footsteps echoed hollowly in the circular stairway. She was met halfway down the stairs by Zed.

"It's all right," he told them, and then paused, panting for breath. "Lord Berenel sent for a Council representative. They're going to sign a treaty. Everybody's out there-"

:We didn't want to disturb you,: he said silently. :I figured hearing Lord Asrevil's arrival would bring you if you wanted to come :I figured hearing Lord Asrevil's arrival would bring you if you wanted to come .: .: He looked diffidently from her face to Mero's and back, and she smiled weakly. "It's all right," she said. "We're coming."

"Good," he replied, with evident relief. "We really need you now."

She nodded, and started back down the stairs, conscious of the fact that both Mero and Zed followed behind her, and feeling as if that gap between them was a distance of more than a couple of steps...

We really need you now...

How much did they need her, she wondered. And how much did they need the visible Elvenbane?

Where was there a place in all this for just Shana?

"So, how long do we have before we have to leave?" Shana asked Denelor, as the elven lord vanished again, his relief all too evident.

Denelor consulted the treaty. "Technically, six months. Personally, though, I would just as soon be so deep into the wilderness that the elves won't know where to start looking for me long before that six months is over. You You , however, had better disappear in the next couple of days. They really do , however, had better disappear in the next couple of days. They really do hate hate you, you know." you, you know."

Shana shrugged tiredly. "They have to have somebody to blame, and I'm the obvious target."

"I never thought our Prophecy would hit so near to home, Shana," Alara said regretfully. She and the other dragons were in their halfblood forms, so as not to tip their hands to the elven negotiators.

Zed cocked his head to one side. "Did it ever occur to you that it might have been a true true prophecy you were spreading?" he asked. "I mean, look at it-Shana matches it to the letter." prophecy you were spreading?" he asked. "I mean, look at it-Shana matches it to the letter."

Shana's blood ran cold for a moment. "Pure coincidence," she said hastily. "Any of us could have matched it. I just happened to be the most conspicuous."

But the others looked at her oddly, and she felt the distance widening between them.

So, I'm being exiled again. "I'll just go act as a scout," she offered quickly, "since I have to be out of here. I'll go north for a bit, then head west and see what I can find." She forced a smile. "Good thing we can speak in thoughts. That will make it easier for me to report to you. And of all of us, I'm the best suited to scouting things out."

"I'll go with you," Keman volunteered quickly.

"And I," said Alara and Father Dragon simultaneously.

When she looked at them askance, Father Dragon laughed. "We, too, are exiles, little daughter," he told her lightly, as if he found it all very amusing. "Some of the Kin objected quite strenuously to our helping you. So, for the second time in my life, I lead a band of rebels into a new home."

"But-" she began. He shushed her.

"We will enjoy it," he said. "The Kin do not thrive on a life with no challenges."

:I'd like to go too, if you'll have me.: That thought-voice was unexpected, and she turned to stare at Mero, who shrugged. :If I go with you. I won't have time to brood. I think I can be useful. Besides :If I go with you. I won't have time to brood. I think I can be useful. Besides - - it would be awfully lonely without you it would be awfully lonely without you.: She nodded acceptance, slowly. "I'd like to have you, Mero," she replied. "Thank you." : It would be awfully lonely not to have you along It would be awfully lonely not to have you along.

He smiled shyly, and she was surprised at how good that smile made her feel.

"Well, we'll start in the morning then, shall we?" Father Dragon said.

She looked from one to another of them-and suddenly, no longer felt as if she were being exiled a second time.

Not an outcast; a forerunner. That's not so bad a thing to be. And my friends and family will be with me.

"And we'll be behind you, counting on you," Denelor said softly, as if he had read her thoughts. Perhaps he had.

"In the morning," she agreed, as Mero nodded. "In the morning we open up a whole new world."

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