Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
Their luck had held. In the wee hours of the morning, Caleb had finally drifted off to sleep. Wesley could tell not only by his even breathing, but by his peaceful emotions. Of course, Allend had gone to sleep also, but Wesley was able to wake him with a quick shake.
Then Wesley knocked Caleb unconscious with the pommel of his sword.
They tied him up, blindfolded him, and gagged him. When he came around, none-too-happy about his situation, they dragged him up, gathered all their gear and his, and made their way out of the inn before first light and anyone else stirred.
Snow continued to fall in miserable wet flakes, but Wesley decided to be grateful for it since it hid their quick leave-taking from the inn and would cover their tracks in case anyone did see them and thought to follow.
Once they’d gotten out of the village and far enough into the woods that Wesley sensed no one close to them anywhere, they’d taken a few minutes of refuge beneath a particularly thick stand of pines that filtered some of the snow.
He removed Caleb’s gag, and the man’s first words had been demanding to know who they worked for and where they were taking him.
Wesley had merely told him they were being well paid to deliver him.
That had seemed to shock Caleb into silence. At least temporarily.
Wesley wasn’t sure why he’d told him that exactly, except he’d felt the need to say something without giving away to Caleb they were taking him to the draegans. If Caleb was under the sorcerer’s control and had some way of communicating with the sorcerer, the last thing they could afford would be for him to let Byram know he was in the rebellion’s hands. So, Wesley had kept their true intentions and destination a secret, and had cautioned Allend to do the same.
But as quickly as Caleb had been shocked into silence, he was just as quickly asking questions again. Most of which they ignored, but he hadn’t given up as the first day slipped into the next, then the next. And when he’d started asking to be freed from his bonds, saying he’d go with them without a fight, Wesley got the distinct impression Caleb had somehow deduced for whom they might be working. Still, though, he and Allend kept their silence about it.
And kept Caleb blindfolded. Even though, as Wesley dragged Caleb upright again this evening, after about the tenth time he’d tripped on branches hidden beneath the snow, he wished they dared to take it off. But Allend had told him the night before, in a whispered conversation out of earshot of Caleb, that they were getting close and should arrive at Kellesborne within a couple of days, which was all the more reason to be sure Caleb didn’t see where they were. Wesley didn’t want to make it easy for Caleb to be able to retrace his steps at any point, or to share that information with anyone else.
The damned snowstorm had continued to rage during their first few days of travel before finally tapering off early this morning, giving them some relief at last. But they were fully into the winter season at this point, which meant more snow was inevitable. Wesley just hoped they’d make it to Kellesborne before the next storm hit.
Since the deep grey of evening had begun creeping into the woods all around them, Wesley was grateful they could now count another day officially over. Which meant—please gods—by tomorrow night they’d be at Kellesborne.
He’d already been trying to reach out and sense Wen, even though he knew he was still much too far away. But he’d been practicing during his and Allend’s journey, and he knew he was improving on picking people up at a distance. So, he’d keep trying to find Wen, and hopefully, sometime tomorrow, he’d be able to feel their link.
That moment couldn’t come soon enough.
When it grew so dark he was struggling to see where he was going, he told Allend it was time to make camp for the night. Allend probably could have kept on walking because of his draegan night vision. But that didn’t help Wesley, and since he was seeing for himself and Caleb at the moment, the dark was an impediment.
They set up camp, built a small fire, and ate leftover meat from the previous evening’s meal, along with some dried fruit. Wesley took first watch, and woke Allend around midnight for the second shift.
Morning dawned grey, damp, and bitterly cold, and, before noon, the wind had picked up, tearing at their cloaks, eating through their clothing, and stinging their cheeks. Even bundled up as much as he was, with gloves on his hands, and the hood of his cloak pulled tightly around his face, Wesley thought he might never be warm again. Sort of like how he thought this trek through frozen hel might never be over.
He tried all day to make a connection with Wen, but found nothing. As the afternoon wore on and slid into yet another night, he grew concerned because he still couldn’t sense Wen anywhere. According to Allend, they were getting close to the perimeter guard camp down the mountain from Kellesborne, so Wesley should be able to feel Wen by now. Yet he couldn’t.
What did that mean? He tried to ignore the twinge of fear within him that kept rearing its ugly head. Maybe it was as simple as Wen not being at Kellesborne right now. They might still be moving people from the old camp. Or maybe Wen’d had to go on a mission of his own somewhere. There were numerous reasons he could be away from Kellesborne. Wesley not being able to feel him didn’t mean something bad had happened to him.
But you don’t know. You’ve been gone three long weeks. Anything could have happened during that time.
No, damn it all. He wouldn’t allow himself to believe something bad had happened.
Still…it was hard. Especially since the closer they drew to their destination, the worse everything seemed to get. Snow had begun, yet again, to fall. Although “fall” was something of a misnomer since, thanks to the wind, it was mostly blowing sideways, making every step forward a battle. Especially when they were all tired.
Well past the hour they normally would have stopped for the night, they continued walking, and between the constant frozen blast and the darkness, Wesley had long ago lost all sense of direction. At this point, he could take the damn blindfold off Caleb and it wouldn’t matter because even he could barely see his hand in front of his face. Thank the gods for Al and his night vision and the fact he actually did seem to know where he was going.
Caleb had remained surprisingly quiet all day, and grew even more so now that night had fallen. Wesley sensed tension radiating off of him, as if Caleb knew, even without them having to say anything to him, that they were getting close to their destination and his fate would soon be in unknown hands. He wasn’t even complaining anymore. He trudged ahead of Wesley, as he had been for the past several days, breathing hard and grunting, the same as Wesley and Allend, in the constant struggle to find footing and keep moving in the storm. But otherwise he had stayed silent.
Which was why it surprised Wesley to hear Caleb’s voice coming out of the storm ahead. “Wesley…” he called.
Caleb slowed, and Wesley drew up even with him. “What is it?”
“I know you’re taking me to the draegans.”
“If you’re trying to get information out of me, you should realize by now I’m not going to tell you where we’re going.”
“You don’t have to. I suspect it was the draegan lord who burned the forest around our little settlement, probably when he and his companions arrived to help fight the sorcerer’s soldiers. I found the scorched remains of two of the soldiers in the incinerated area of the woods. I also saw where the remaining soldiers’ bodies had been disposed of, and noticed all of their weapons were missing. If you had all separated and run as you said, there would have been no one left to do such meticulous clean-up. And Byram’s men aren’t exactly known for cleaning up their messes either. What I don’t know is how the draegan lord and his people became aware of our settlement in the first place. Or how the sorcerer found out about it to send his troops to attack. Even more confusing, how would the draegans have known the soldiers were going to be there? I’ve been trying to sort it out ever since I found the huts destroyed and everyone gone.”
Wesley was taken aback at just how much Caleb had figured out, but still he kept his silence and said nothing about the fact it was one of Lord Rizik’s visions that had led the draegans to them that fateful day, and even they didn’t know how the sorcerer had found out they were there.
“I suspect you and your friend are working for the rebellion,” Caleb continued, “and that you joined when the draegans showed up and helped fight off Byram’s troops. It makes sense that if the draegans are as open to taking people in as the rumors say, they would have welcomed you into their fold. But what I need to know is…can I trust the draegans?”
He said it so earnestly, Wesley tended to want to believe his sincerity. But why did Caleb need to trust the draegans?
“I know you may not believe me, and I can’t blame you for that,” Caleb said. “I’ve had to tread cautiously for a long time, even back in the days when I would come and go from the settlement. There’s a lot at stake. I have information I can share with the draegans, that’s why I didn’t put up a fight about coming with you once I put the pieces together. I need to know, though, if I can trust them. Are they going to listen to me and be reasonable, or do I have to worry they’ll treat me as a spy for Byram. Because isn’t that why you were sent to track me down? Because the draegans, for whatever reason, think I’m an agent for the high sorcerer?”
Once again Wesley was astonished, and more than a little concerned, at just how accurate Caleb’s assessment was. How in hel did Caleb know so much? Wesley was certain he and Al hadn’t given up any information they hadn’t intended. Clearly Caleb had already known what happened at the Zekklesian before they’d ever found him, and rather than telling them the truth, he’d played along with Wesley’s story. Which begged the question…why? And what else had he been lying about?
“I’m just the delivery person,” Wesley said, keeping his outward calm. Though he was damned curious now what Caleb meant by a lot being at stake, and wondered what information Caleb had to share with the draegans. Was it possible Caleb wasn’t a spy and was also working against the high sorcerer?
Or, he could just be saying all these things to get Wesley on his side before Wesley turned him over. To manipulate Wesley into trusting him. Wesley couldn’t stop thinking about those shadowy areas he couldn’t read within Caleb. And Caleb himself had just admitted he’d had to tread carefully—nice words that meant “I’ve had to lie”—for a long time.
“Wesley, I’m not your enemy. I’m on your side.”
“You don’t know what my side is. And I have no reason to trust you about anything. Now, move.” Wesley gave him a nudge in the back.
He heard Caleb mutter softly under his breath, and read his frustration, along with a twinge of…was it fear? Okay, that was new. And it felt genuine. If Caleb wanted to intrigue him, he just had, though Wesley would never let him know it. He had no idea what Iann would discover about Caleb once they turned Caleb over to him, but Wesley would love to find out. He knew, of course, Iann probably wouldn’t share the information with him because he was too far down the chain of command. But Wen would no doubt be party to whatever happened.
A new stab of worry hit him straight in the heart.
Damn it. Where was Wen? Wesley still felt nothing from him, and was having a harder time now pushing away his fears.
From up ahead he suddenly heard Allend’s voice shouting back to him. “We’re here!” A few moments later, he heard Allend speaking, obviously to someone else, and he couldn’t make out the words.
Wesley still couldn’t see much of anything except Caleb’s back in front of him as they continued to walk toward Allend’s voice. But then, slowly, a light came into view. And Wesley realized it was a torch.
Solanis, one of the draegans who’d come with the draegan lords to save Wesley and the rest of the people at the settlement months before, was the member of the draeganjhere who’d spotted them coming through the woods.
When Wesley told him they needed to see Iann immediately, Solanis didn’t question it. He sent the other guard who accompanied him for Iann, with the message he was urgently required. Then Solanis called over a slight young man Wesley had never seen before and introduced him as Phee. Phee looked and acted painfully shy, ducking his head with a faint smile. Solanis had to stay at his post, so Phee led Wesley, Al, and Caleb into the guard camp.
The “camp” turned out to be a connected series of hidden caves with sleeping and living quarters for the guards, and huge fireplaces with polished grates. Wesley could see, as they passed open doorways, that the rooms were furnished and surprisingly cozy. This had not been set up in only three weeks—the caves must have been in use by the draegans for a long time. Probably since the stronghold of Kellesborne had been built.
Phee took them into a small room with a table and chairs and one of the magnificent fireplaces and left them there to wait for Iann. The heat emanating from the fire was glorious. Wesley and Allend wasted no time stripping off their wet cloaks and gloves and moving closer to the flame. Caleb also seemed grateful for it, though Wesley felt his continued uneasiness.
Iann must have been nearby because he arrived only a few minutes later. Wesley experienced a pang of disappointment that Wen wasn’t with him. A part of him had been hoping Wen would come meet them, even though he still hadn’t been able to connect with Wen through their emotional link. He wanted to ask Iann where Wen was, but knew his duty had to take priority right now. Maybe he’d get a chance to ask later. He hated not knowing why he couldn’t sense Wen.
Iann greeted them with a smile, and even before he’d expressed his appreciation at their return with Caleb, Wesley felt pleasure and respect radiating from the old draegan. But he was surprised to realize the respect was directed at him specifically. Wesley had sensed something similar from Caleb, but coming from Iann, it meant far more.
After Iann had sent a protesting and still-blindfolded Caleb off with a couple of other members of the draeganjhere, with orders to lock him up until he could be questioned, he told Allend to find a bed and get some sleep. “You look like a half-frozen mugtussle, boy. It’s snowing too hard to go up to the castle right now, so get something to eat and take some rest here before you fall over. Wesley can fill me on how you two found Caleb.”
Allend looked only slightly offended that Iann was sending him to bed. Mostly, Wesley read relief radiating from him, along with a strong sense of “thank the gods that’s over.” He had to fight back a chuckle. Allend had been an excellent companion during the whole journey, but Wesley had sensed Al’s underlying free spirit chafing beneath his determination to be responsible.
“If you need me…” Allend said, looking not at Iann, but at Wesley, which surprised Wesley. “I’ll be down the hall.”
Wesley nodded. “Okay. And, Al? Thanks.” For doing all the hunting and cooking, for leading them through the frozen wilderness to get here, and for having Wesley’s back for three weeks.
He obviously didn’t have to explain what he meant because Al flashed him a pleased and slightly embarrassed smile and nodded. He started to leave, but turned back in the doorway. “Iann, do you happen to know where my brothers are? Not that I expected any of them to come running to welcome me home, but, you know…”
Thank you again, Al. For asking the question Wesley had been dying to. He turned his gaze to Iann to hear the answer, trying not to look too eager, even though he was.
“Your brothers do have jobs, you know?” Iann said sternly, but then he relented and his eyes twinkled with humor. “Edric is up at the castle. And Jarrad and Wen are with Lord Rizik. They’ve gone to rescue Jax.”
Allend made a sour face. “Jax? After what he did? Why are they bothering?”
“Because Lord Rizik, good man that he is, refuses to leave anyone, even Jax, in the sorcerer’s dungeon. He knows better than most the kind of torture Byram inflicts.”
The words “sorcerer’s dungeon” and “torture” sent a new ripple of fear through Wesley. Had they actually gone to Thrythgar with the intent of infiltrating it? Bloody hel, were they crazy? And from what little he knew of Jax—that he’d been one of Lord Hareldson’s best friends, until he tried to kill Lord Hareldson, causing the rest of the draegans to banish him—he agreed with Al.
Al didn’t look happy. “But they’re risking their lives for him, trying to get into and out of that fortress without getting captured themselves. I just don’t see how Jax is worth it.”
“It’s not your call,” Iann gently reminded him. “And they’ll be all right. Remember, Lord Rizik knows his way around Thrythgar—he used to live there. He’ll find a way.”
He sounded confident as he said the words, and Wesley read only mild to moderate concern from Iann, which put his own worry at ease a little. But only a little. Though, at least now he knew why he hadn’t been able to feel Wen—Thrythgar was many long leagues away.
“They should be back by tomorrow, if everything goes well,” Iann said. “Get some sleep, Allend. I’m sure Jarrad will be eager to tell you the tale when he returns.”
With a shrug and a sigh, Al shuffled out the door.
“Now,” Iann said, pulling a chair out at the table and pouring two mugs of wine, one of which he handed to Wesley. “Sit. Drink. I’ll have someone bring us some food. And then I want you to tell me every detail about your journey and everything that Caleb said to you.”