Defender for Gorm, lady. I swore by Noman that I would not return here. To me this is a doubly haunted place. I think that Estcarp has had no reason to complain of her Captain; also I do not believe this war already won.”

“He is right, you know,” Simon cut in. “The Kolder may be few, most of them may be trapped in those ships below. But we must trace them back to their gate and make sure that they do not consolidate shattered forces to launch a second bid for rulership. What about Yle? And do they have a garrison in Sulcarkeep? How deeply are they involved in Karsten and Alizon? We may be at the beginning of a long war instead of grasping victory.”

“Very well,” she stroked the jewel she held. “Since you have such definite ideas, become governor here, Simon.”

Koris spoke swiftly before Tregarth could answer.

“To me that is a plan to which I agree. Hold Gorm with my blessing, Simon, and do not think that I shall ever rise in the name of my heritage to take it from you.”

But Simon was shaking his head. “I am a soldier. And I am from another world. Let dog eat dog as the saying goes — the Kolder trail is mine.” He touched his head; if he closed his eyes now he knew he would see not darkness but a narrow valley through which angry men fought a rearguard action.

“Do you venture into Yle and Sulcarkeep and no farther?” Briant broke silence for the first time.

“Where would you have us go?” Koris asked.

“Karsten!” If Simon had ever thought the youth colorless and lacking in personality he was to doubt his appraisal at that moment.

“And what lies in Karsten which is of such moment to us?” Koris’ voice held an almost bantering note. Yet there was something else beneath the surface of that tone which Simon heard but could not identify. There was a game here afoot, but he did not know its purpose or rules.

“Yvian!” The name was flung at the Captain like a battle challenge and Briant eyed Koris as if waiting to see him pick it up. Simon glanced from one young man to the other. As it had been earlier when he and the witch had talked across the board, so was it now: these two fenced without thought of their audience.

For the second time red tinged Koris’ cheeks, then ebbed, leaving his face white and set, that of a man committed to some struggle he hated but dared not shirk. For the first time he left the Ax of Volt lying forgotten on the table as he came swiftly about the end of the board, moving with that lithe grace which always contrasted with his ill-formed body.

Briant, a queer expression of mingled defiance and hope giving life to his features, waited for his coming, stood still as the Captain’s hands fell on his shoulders in a grip which could not have been anything but bruising.

“This is what you want?” the words came from Koris as if jerked one by one by torture.

At the last moment perhaps Briant tried to evade. “I want my freedom,” he replied in a low voice.

Those punishing hands fell away. Koris laughed with such raking bitterness that Simon protested inwardly against the hurt that sound betrayed.

“Be sure, in time, it shall be yours!” The Captain would have stepped away if Briant had not seized in turn upon Koris’ upper arms with the same urgency of hold the other had shown earlier.

“I want my freedom only that I may make a choice elsewhere. And I have decided upon that choice — do you doubt that? Or is it again that there is an Aldis who has the power I cannot reach for?”

Aldis? A glimmering of what might be the truth struck Simon.

Koris’ fingers were under Briant’s chin, turning the thin young face up to his. This once was the Captain able to look down and not up at a companion.

“You believe in sword thrust for sword thrust, do you not?” he commented. “So Yvian has his Aldis; let them have the good of each other while they may. But I think that Yvian has made a very ill choice of it. And since one ax made a marriage, another may undo it!”

“Marriage in the gabble gabble of Siric only,” flashed Briant, still a little defiant, but not struggling in the Captain’s new hold.

“Need you have told me that,” Koris was smiling. “Lady of Verlaine?”

“Loyse of Verlaine is dead!” Briant repeated. “You get no such heritage with me, Captain.”

A tiny frown line appeared between Koris’ brows. “That you need not have said either. Rather is it that such as I am must buy a wife with gauds and lands. And never afterwards be sure of the bargain.”

Her hand whipped from his arm to his mouth, silencing him. And there was red anger in both her eyes and her voice when she replied:

“Koris, Captain of Estcarp need never speak so of himself, least of all to a woman such as I, without inheritance of lands or beauty!”

Simon moved, knowing that neither were aware of the other two in that room. He touched the witch of Estcarp gently on the shoulder and smiled down at her.

“Let us leave them to fight their own battle,” he whispered.

She was laughing silently after her fashion. “This talk of mutual unworthiness will speedily be a step to no talking at all and so to a firm settlement of two futures.”

“I take it that she is the missing heiress of Verlaine, wedded by proxy to Duke Yvian?”

“She is. By her aid alone I came scatheless out of Verlaine, I being captive there for a space. Fulk is not a pleasant enemy.”

Afire to every shade of her voice, Simon’s smile became grim.

“I think that Fulk and his wreckers shall be taught a lesson in the near future; it will curb their high spirits,” he commented, knowing well her way of understatement. It was enough for him that she admitted she owed her escape from Verlaine to the girl across the room. For a woman of the Power such an admission hinted of danger indeed. He had a sudden overwhelming desire to take one of the Sulcar ships, man it with his mountain fighters, and sail southward.

“Doubtless he shall,” she agreed to his statement concerning Fulk with her usual tranquillity. “As you have said, we are still in the midst of a war, and not victors at the end of one. Verlaine and Karsten, too, shall be attended to in their proper seasons. Simon, my name is Jaelithe.”

It came so abruptly, that for a full moment he did not understand her meaning. And then, knowing the Estcarpian custom, of the rules which had bound her so long, he drew a deep breath of wonder at that complete surrender: her name, that most personal possession in the realm of the Power, which must never be yielded lest one yield with it one’s own identity to another!

As Koris’ ax lay on the table, so she had left her jewel behind her when she had moved apart with Simon. For the first time he realized that fact also. She had deliberately disarmed herself, put aside all her weapons and defenses, given into his hands what she believed was the ordering of her life. What such a surrender had meant to her he could guess, but only dimly — and that he knew also, awed. He felt as stripped of all talents and ability, as misshapen, as Koris deemed himself.

Yet he moved forward and his arms went out to draw her to him. As he bent his head to hers, searching for waiting lips, Simon sensed that for the first time the pattern had changed indeed. Now he was a part of a growing design, his life to be woven fast with hers, into the way of this world’s. And there would be no breaking it for the remainder of his days. Nor would he ever wish to.

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