The Balance of the Rose
Copyright© 2014 by R22CoolGuy
The day of the royal caravan's departure dawned clear and bright. The late summer morning had a slight chill in the air, a harbinger perhaps of an early winter. The caravan consisted of the royal carriage, a full company of guardsmen, a cook's wagon, a supply wagon for the company, and two wagons carrying the personal effects of the cousins.
The castle had turned out in its finest to bid the royal cousins fond farewell and a safe, speedy trip home. Thorn had been groomed and his tack oiled till it gleamed in the early morning light. He danced around the grooms holding his reins, knowing that soon he would be back on the road.
Mann had picked up his purchases the day before and was packed and ready to travel. He had initially intended to ride in the rear with the guard but the royal cousins squashed that idea and made a place for him near the royal carriage. Maria would be riding in a traveling carriage, equipped with bed and privy, with her chaperone, Doña Esmeralda, but Alexander intended to ride a horse alongside the carriage with Mann. Benito, the captain of the guard, called his troops to order and they set out with great fanfare, two guidon bearers leading the way.
Mann was not surprised to find that the city had also turned out to send the royal cousins off. As they crossed the last castle checkpoint he could see the city's inhabitants lining both sides of the thoroughfare throwing flowers in the path of the royal carriage. Alexander waved to the crowd from his horse, while Maria did so from the window of the carriage.
Mann was scanning the crowds looking for threats when his gaze fell across a horse-drawn carriage parked on the side of the road, attended to by a driver and footman. There was not anything special or out of place about the carriage, but Mann had a nagging feeling, like he was being watched. From within the dimly lit carriage he could just make out Don Giovanni leaning forward, and looking out through the window. Mann began drawing power, allowing it to flow from the fingertips of his left hand, when Don Giovanni nodded at Mann and faded back into the confines of the carriage. Mann released the excess stored power but continued to watch for several more moments before returning to scan the crowd.
The royals waved one last time as the entourage crossed the city gates and entered the countryside and turned north-east following one of the old Roman roads. The captain set a leisurely but steady pace as they ate up the miles toward the Eastern Alps and Vienna beyond. The road would take them to Sterzing, Italy, through the Alps across Brenner Pass, and finally into Innsbruck Austria. The road turned more easterly from Innsbruck, finally ending at their destination in Vienna. Mann intended to bypass Vienna and book passage on a Danube River boat down to the Iron Gates, whence he would enter Romania and travel along the Mures River.
It was Maria who, after quizzing him relentlessly the evening before on the purpose of his venture, had informed Mann that his route was the long way around and that the trip through the Iron Gates was completely unnecessary. He would only say that he had business in the small town of Marktstadt, on the Mures River. It was at that point that she informed him that his directions took him out of his way. She knew a better way if he would stay with them all the way to Vienna. At Vienna he could book passage on the Danube River down to Budapest and from there he could take an overland route to Szeged on the Mures River and take a boat from there to Marktstadt. He agreed to ride with them, but made them promise, Maria specifically, that there would be no fanfare upon returning to Vienna and that he could leave on the next boat out. Maria only smiled in reply, causing Alexander to almost fall out of his chair from the look on Mann's face. Maria definitely had her own ideas but Alexander promised to do all that he could to speed Mann on his way.
The first leg of their journey, from Milan to Innsbruck, would take them five days and the second, and last leg, from Innsbruck to Vienna would take them six days. The travel time was based on good weather and no mishaps, but that was probably just wishful thinking.
Maria told Mann that the trip from Vienna to Budapest would take five days by boat. The overland trip from Budapest to Szeged would take him three days and the up-river trip to Marktstadt would take another week, so Mann figured he would be in Marktstadt by late September. He hoped Karith would be all right until he reached her, since he knew of no way to get there faster. He would just have to hope for the best. He did not want to think about the alternative; he would not lose her twice. He held a trump card in that he knew how to summon Deathbringer and command the sword to do his will. Those thoughts were for another day, a day he hoped would never come to pass; right now he needed to concentrate on just getting to her.
Karith's day started like the previous day and the one before that and the one before that. Yesterday's excursion and investigation outside came to naught; she could find no indication of her father's whereabouts and decided to confront Tarn at the earliest possible moment. She had not seen her host, more like jailer, since the evening meal two days ago and except for the outburst yesterday morning had no indication that he was still in the castle. Try as she might, she could sense nothing from her father, but that was not alarming since she had come into her own powers after their separation, and she wondered if she even had the ability. Sure, she could feel Mann and the connection they shared; even now she could feel that he was well and relaxed, almost happy about something, and ready to be about something, leaving, she sensed. He must be on his way again. Since she knew not where she was, she had no idea how long it would take him to reach her but even that thought did not bother her, for she knew he would and that nothing natural or supernatural would stop him. She smiled at the thought of Mann meeting Tarn for the first time and how he would react to her jailer.
The only bright spot during her whole ordeal thus far was meeting Marianne. She was bright and energetic, well, at least around Karith she was. She helped to pass the time when Karith was not out exploring. In the evening she would sit and talk with Karith about different topics and always had a ready smile to lift her spirits. She had already decided that when Mann liberated her from this prison she was going to take Marianne with her.
Deciding that she had spent enough time in bed woolgathering, Karith got up and washed the last remains of sleep from her eyes. Removing her nightshift she began her morning stretching and exercises. After limbering up her muscles and tendons she grabbed her sword and went to work on the forms until she felt confident in her practice. Putting the sword down, she went through her cool down exercises before washing and dressing for the day. She belted on her sword, opened the door of her room, and went in search of breakfast and hopefully a meeting with her host.
Prince Tarn was waiting in the great room when she arrived, waiting as if he knew she wished to speak to him.
"Good Morning, Karith," Tarn greeted her and bowed. "I trust you had a pleasant night's sleep?"
"I did not know that we were on a first-name basis, Your Highness."
"Ah Mademoiselle, you cut me to the quick," Tarn mock complained, while bringing his hands to his chest were his heart would be. "You are my guest; that should count for something."
"Prisoner, more accurately," Karith replied with a frown. "If I am truly your guest then I ask a boon."
"You wish to see your father?" Tarn both asked and stated at the same time.
"Why, yes, yes I do."
"Then that is precisely what we will do, right after breakfast. Please, sit and be comfortable."
Karith nodded and sat in her seat, well, the chair she had claimed as her own, while Tarn sat across from her and clapped his hands, once. The doors opened and several servers came in holding silver platters.
"Why have you decided to allow me to see my father?" Karith asked as she was served breakfast.
"It was never my intention to keep you from your father, long term. I thought it might be better for his concentration if the distractions were kept to a minimum."
"And now?" Karith asked, tilting her head.
"Now, I am rethinking that, perhaps, seeing you will motivate him to do better."
"Do not try to use me as a bargaining chip for my father, I will not like that," Karith stated angrily, crossing her arms and staring Tarn down.
"Now, Mademoiselle, it is not necessary to take that tone. My intentions are for you to see your father and talk with him, nothing more. If he gets inspiration from the visit, all the better."
Karith nodded and they finished breakfast in silence. Tarn clapped again and the servers returned to remove the platters and dishes. He stood and waited for Karith to rise before crossing toward the far door, the one the servants had been using. He held it for Karith and followed behind as she entered the hallway and stopped. He pointed toward the far doorway and the end of the hallway and proceeded to lead the way. They crossed an intersecting hallway and continued on toward the far door. He stopped in front of the door, placed his right palm on it and then opened it with his other hand.
"My private study," he announced as he held the door open for her to enter.
Karith nodded and entered the study, looking around to try and memorize the layout of the room for later recall. She scanned the large bookcases running from wall to wall on her left, as well as a long credenza on the right, and finally the large desk in front of her with twin glass doors behind it, leading out to a balcony she supposed. In front of the desk were two narrow straight back chairs that looked rather uncomfortable to sit in. The only other thing of interest was a small door to her left tucked in between bookcases that otherwise dominated the entire wall.
Tarn entered the room and closed the door behind him. Walking over to his desk, he picked up a plain looking dull grey metal ring and handed it to Karith.
"Please put this on, it is a key of sorts."
Karith took the ring and fingered it while inspecting it.
"Is it a requirement that I actually wear it, or can I simply hold it?"
"Holding it should be sufficient," Tarn chuckled and then walked over to the small door between the bookcases.
Opening the door he stepped through the doorway into the darkness and disappeared! Karith cautiously approached the opening and looked inside. All she could see was a small closet size room. Tarn was nowhere to be seen. Some type of gateway she thought to herself. The ring must activate it, probably a point-to-point Gate. Shrugging her shoulders she stepped into the room and vanished!
Karith appeared in a small room, similar in size to the one she had just walked through a moment ago. She exited the room through an open door and found Tarn standing in a room slightly smaller than his private study, yet furnished and decorated similarly.
"Where are we?"
"In my secret underground facilities," Tarn replied with a smile and pointed toward a door. "Come, your father is just through that door."
Karith nodded and went over to the door and opened it, revealing a vast workshop. Karith could see her father on the far side hunched over a drawing table. Servants scurried around, and a large, well maintained forge provided the source of the room's stifling heat. She turned back to see Tarn standing in the middle of the room, nodding.
"Papa!" She called out as she hurried over to where he was working.
"Karith!" He replied in greeting leaning back from the table and arching his back with his hands on his hips. "I am so glad to see you."
Father and daughter met in a hug and murmurs of 'missed you' and 'love you' and then broke apart and surveyed each other.
"You look different Karith," Galt stated with certainty. "You look, older I guess, is the best description."
"I feel older but how are you? Have you been treated well?"
"Yes, very well," Galt nodded and pointed down at a piece of parchment. "The prince has commissioned a sword and wants it created here instead of at our forge in Savoy. Look, here is my design."
"Papa, he kidnapped us and raided our village in the process," Karith's eyes flashed in anger. "Lord knows how many died! That is a bit more than just wanting to commission a sword, do you not think?"
"Well, yes," Galt replied, nodded, and pointed toward the table. "But, it is a fabulous design, look."
Karith looked down at the drafting table were Galt had been working and began to exam his sword design. He had drawn a rather nice looking broadsword with an intricate basket hilt. She noticed a black box next to the drawing.
"What is this?" Karith asked, picking up the black lacquered rectangular box.
"It holds the metal that the prince wants me to use," Galt replied absently. "Although, I have been unable to heat or even mar it at all. The metal has resisted all attempts to work it. I am at a loss as to what to do."
Karith slid the lid back and almost gasped at the contents. Laying in a bed of silk was a dull silver bar of unknown type. The metal almost shimmered in the light, as if it was fluid under the surface. The most unusual and completely unexpected thing was the small symbol stamped or engraved into the surface of the bar. The symbol resembled a cursive 'L' laid over on its side with a line connecting the tails. The symbol seemed very familiar to her.
"What does it mean?" She asked, while trying to remember; delving deep into Tanith's memories.
"I have no idea," Galt shook his head. "The prince has no idea what the symbol means either. He only knows that the metal is unique and is reported to have certain properties, magical properties of great power."
"The metal is silver star of archanite," Karith said absently, in an odd sounding monotone, latching onto a memory of Tanith's. "It is highly magical and is used in the forging of swords and other things of great power. Normal fire has no effect on it."
She lightly ran her fingertip over the surface of the metal causing the symbol to begin to glow a faint silvery hue, as the metal began absorbing her power. She felt almost compelled to trace the rune with her finger, but managed to overcome the feeling and moved her finger away.
"It is the rune of making," she stated with that same monotone voice. "I do not know how to pronounce it though."
"What?" Galt asked in surprise. "How do you know that and more importantly, how did you do that?"
"What?" She replied absently, shaking her head, and then slowly removed her hand and shut the lid. "Where did he get this? It is not of this world. It should not be in this world."
"He did not say," Galt replied, gently removing the box from her grasp. He slid the top open exposing the bar which had returned to its dormant state.
"Karith, how did you do that?" Galt asked again, pointing at the box.
"I do not know. Probably the same way I can do this."
Karith looked around for prying eyes and positioned herself to block the prince's view. She invoked a shield and then turned back to her father and opened her hand, palm up. Galt gasped in amazement as a small silver ball appeared in her hand floating just above her palm. The ball slowly rotated around as its surface flowed and coalesced and then broke apart before repeating. It looked like a mini maelstrom of energy with little sparks shooting out from the surface.
Galt slowly reached out to touch the ball when Karith's command of "do not", brought him up short. He slowly removed his hand as she closed hers around the ball of energy, dismissing it.
"What was that?" He whispered, part in awe and part in fear.
"Tell me about my mother," Karith asked suddenly looking up at him, her eyes a piercing, icy blue.
"What? Why are you asking?" Galt replied nervously.
"Papa, who was my mother?" Karith reiterated, more firmly this time.
"What do you mean?" Galt was still trying to stall her, hoping for a change in conversation. But none was forthcoming.
"How did you meet her?" Karith asked, changing tack.
"The first time I met your mother she came to the shop where I was a journeyman, looking for a sword. The shop and particularly my master was well renowned. When our eyes met there was a connection, it is hard to explain, like I found my other self."
"I think I understand completely, go on," Karith replied with a knowing smile.
"Yes, I am sure you do," he nodded and smiled. "I designed that sword that you are wearing for her; in fact it was my master's project. It was judged worthy of a Toledo master swordsmith. Your mother was pleased, very pleased. The second time I saw her was some weeks later. I found her half dead on my doorstep and took care of her. We were together from that moment on."
"Why was she hurt?"
"She was a sellsword. Do you know what that is?"
"Vaguely. A mercenary?"
"Similar, but much more honorable, well, at least at that time they were. Apparently her assignment went bad and she was hurt, and for some reason she searched me out. I guess I felt safe to her."
"There is actually more to it than that, but all right, that explains some but my initial question was never answered; what was she?" Karith asked forcibly. "I want the truth, Papa."
"I do not understand the question," Galt replied, shaking his head.
"I think you do. Let me rephrase it. My mother was not human. Therefore, what was she?"
"Oh," Galt sighed and looked around to see if anyone was paying their conversation any attention.
"Oh?" Karith repeated him, with a drawn out question.
"She was of an ancient race that fled their home world and some found themselves here. They took human form and lived among us, in hiding."
"Yes, I thought that might be the case," Karith replied, nodding in understanding. "They were called Wyrns, did you know that?"
"Be careful, Karith," Galt cautioned, while studying Prince Tarn, who was still standing in the doorway watching. "I do believe the prince is one as well. Too many similarities."
"Oh, he is most definitely a Wyrm," Karith chuckled while nodding. "But then again, so am I, Papa."
"I have been watching you for some time and I began to see some signs," Galt stated. "When did you notice the change occur?"
"You know the answer to that. Mann triggered it. He is looking for me now. I think he is interfering with the prince's plans as well."
"Mann? What does he have to do with it? Wait, we need to move this conversation to a more private location," Galt stated, while looking around to where the prince was still standing. "Come, I will show you my private quarters."
"That is fine," Karith replied. "There are other questions I wish to ask. Foremost is the story of my birth."
Karith followed Galt across the shop and toward a closed door on the far wall. He opened the door leading to a hallway and after allowing her to enter closed it behind. He took the lead again and walked down the hall and followed it to the left, passing several doors on both sides. He finally stopped at a door on the outside wall and pushed it open.
"Welcome to my humble abode," he smiled as he swept his hand out.
"Thank you, kind sir," Karith curtseyed and giggled as she entered the room.
She looked around the sparsely decorated room and thought that humble was an understatement. It had a bed, a small wardrobe, and a washbasin. She did not see a door to a privy so she assumed correctly that he had to go somewhere else to take care of his bodily functions.
"It looks more like a cell than a room," Karith remarked disgustedly. "Compared to my room this is a hovel. I intend to talk to Tarn about this"
After Galt entered the room she closed the door and drew the rune of warding on the door. She walked over and sat on the bed and studied her father while preparing the questions she wanted answers to. It was Galt that started the next round of questions.
"So, your ball of energy, is it a similar ability to Mann's lighting of his pipe?" Galt asked as he leaned against the wall doing some studying of his own. "I originally thought that he was human but that little incident changed my thinking. Then I was afraid that he might be a Moravian Sorcerer. Having met one I now dismiss that notion and am at a loss as to who or what he is."
"Yes, the way he lit that pipe was similar to what I just showed you. It comes from the same source. However, it is also as different as comparing the way he lit the pipe to how you light yours. His abilities and power are unlike anything known, and he is most definitely not a Moravian Sorcerer."
"Known? What do you mean, known?" Galt asked with a shake of his head. "How do you even know that he is different?"
"I have previous memories that tell me so," she answered with a shrug. "Previous memories that include Mann."
"So, Mann came here looking for you?"
"No, nothing like that," Karith replied, shaking her head. "It is true that he has no memories. As to why he is here now, honestly, I do not know. I only know that I am the reincarnated love of a being who has no earthly reason for being here, but then, neither should I."
"So, I guess you no longer have an aversion to magic?"
"My aversion, as you so aptly called it, was based on ignorance, an ignorance I no longer have," Karith replied and then stood. "Papa, how was I born?"
"We have gone over how men and women procreate," Galt replied with a smile.
"Very funny, Papa," Karith chuckled and then turned serious. "I meant, what were the circumstances surrounding my birth?"
"Honestly, I do not know," Galt replied with a shake of his head and shrug of his shoulders. "She never showed and then went away and returned with you. She explained to me that birthing was different for her people. You were so small and so beautiful I never even questioned it."
"Good, that coincides with my information," Karith nodded in reply. "We have to decide on our next course of action."
Any further discussion would have to wait, because they were interrupted by a knock at the door. Karith crossed over to the door, removed the ward, and opened it, revealing Tarn standing there with a smile on his face.
"Most impressive, Mademoiselle, most impressive," Tarn stated with a bow and flourish. "May I enter?"
"Papa?" Karith turned her head to enquire of her father.
"Yes, Prince Tarn, you may enter."
Karith stepped aside to allow the prince to enter. He smiled as he entered the room. As he looked around at the small, sparsely decorated room, his smile turned into a frown.
"Hmm, it looked larger when it was first designed," Tarn remarked and then turned toward Karith. "Strong talent for one so young."
"Not as young as some might think," Karith responded. "What is it that you wanted?"
"I may have been a tad inhospitable toward you and your father and for that I apologize. I expected one thing and was surprised to find another."
"My father requires better accommodations," Karith stated with a glare. "This is unacceptable."
"You are absolutely correct," Tarn nodded. "I will see to it personally. Perhaps you both would care to dine with me tonight?"
"See to a change of accommodations first and then we may revisit your dinner invitation," Karith replied firmly.
"Yes, Your Highness," Prince Tarn bowed, turned and left the room.
"Your Highness?" Galt asked, cocking his head.
"Apparently, amongst Wyrms I am considered royalty," Karith shrugged. "A royal princess."
"Really, I do not understand?"
"Papa, I am not sure I could explain it adequately," Karith replied with a shake of her head. "I am still understanding it myself."
"Prince Tarn seems to like you. You could do worse than an alliance with him."
"Papa, I already have a bond-mate." Karith replied. "Besides, the prince is indirectly responsible for the death of my mother. Come, show me your forge."
Galt escorted her back out to the large shop and over to where the forge was located. Karith stared at the flame for some time before turning back to her father.