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Part Seven

The Challenge Answered

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That night, the Chosen slipped away from the camp, in answer to a call from Surier and Loviath.

Ornthalus was the last to arrive. He paused in the screening forest around the camp. In a small clearing, the embers of a fire winked. Around that human's comfort were the Chosen. Arikian, Og, Herrel and Duthan were off to one side, where Duthan was proudly showing off the skills of Dr. Rickter. Ornthalus grimaced and shrugged. So the Dwarf was growing a beard. All dwarves had beards, no great concern.

To another side, Shan was speaking with Perigian, Calis, Alyssa and Dukk. By the edge of the clearing, Ornthalus could see the silvery hide of Dawntreader, never too far from Shan, but not comfortable within the confines of a human area. Stupid beast. Ornthalus had thought that unicorns were smarter than to associate with the likes of Shan. He shrugged.

Ornthalus frowned at Alyssa and Dukk. It was unnatural, that union, he thought. The halfling, Feris, trailed after the circulating Chryst. Out looking for more gossip, no doubt, Ornthalus sneered. Kyth, the barbarian, stood off to the side. He was joined by Kiri, not that either human was any value as company, Ornthalus decreed silently.

Above the light chatter of old friends meeting new, Karien's voice rose. "Well, old man, what are you up to now?" The moving knots of people parted, leaving Ornthalus with a clear view of the campfire. Karien stood beside the woman that had walked so angrily earlier on. Next to them, not quite touching each other, were... Surier and Loviath! He watched, hurt, angry and dismayed, as Loviath looked up at Surier. There was a wealth of meaning in her expression, one that Ornthalus has never seen upon Loviath's face before, but he understood all too well. They had become lovers!

He stared, transfixed, at the sight. It wasn't until a hand fell upon his shoulder that he realized he had company in his vigil. He spun, adopting a battle stance, dagger drawn.

A drow elf stood there, not moving. It was the same one who had come into the camp with the woman and Surier.

"Pax, Elf," he said. "I am Storm. You are Ornthalus." It wasn't a question, and Ornthalus didn't bother to ask how the Drow knew.

He stood up to his full height, and deliberately, insultingly, he sheathed his dagger and turned back to watch the clearing.

"They await your arrival, Ornthalus." Storm didn't sound bothered by the insult. "Loviath especially, although with no great anticipation."

"I have no use for that traitorous human and her flotsam of so-called friends."

Storm said nothing for a long while. He had no patience for this arrogant drakerider, but, out of a respect for Loviath, he held his temper. Finally. "She names you friend," he said softly.

Ornthalus spun around, eyes blazing. "She's made her choice. Let her live with it," he snarled, and stalked off, back in the direction of the Alfed camp.

Storm watched the elf until his footsteps could not be heard, not even by Elven ears. He grunted, making a mental note to share this with Morgan. That one would bear watching, he was sure.

With silent tread, Storm slipped back into the clearing. Loviath, looking around for someone, Ornthalus obviously, brightened when she caught sight of Storm. He shook his head, and her face fell. It was but a moment for her to touch Surier's arm and silently relay the information that all that were going to come, were here. Surier glanced up, looking straight at Storm.

The drow shrugged, but Surier, seeing it, was wary.

"Well, old man, are you going to tell us or not?" Karien demanded, clapping his friend heartily on the back.

Surier grinned at Loviath, and whirled, picking Karien up in a huge bear hug. "How many times have I told you...."

Karien, through his laughter, finished the sentence.... "Don't call me 'old man'. Okay. Okay, you've made your point. Now, give. What have you been up to?"

"Not all of the story can be told, for it has not yet ended, young Karien." The voice was Morgan's. "I can, however, give you the same warning that I gave the Council. The threat of arms is not yet done." She looked around the circle of people, different races, different beings, all trusting one another as friends. It amazed and heartened her to see that. "The most that I can tell you is that there are those of the Council who are deeply involved. And others."

A murmur ran around the group, and Surier picked up the story. "One of the Councillors decided that we were lying to protect ourselves and our inability to discover the truth. He protested and I made sure he sat silent for a while." The cleric's eyes narrowed as he remembered.

"That would have been your shout, young Surier," Arikian observed.

Surier nodded. "They also got an earful about how they treated people." He nodded at Morgan, Storm and Herrel. "The Council hired them to find out more about the arms smuggling, and then, when it was learned that they had discovered what they shouldn't, someone tried to kill them."

Karien started. He'd heard most of this before, at the Council meeting, but this part was new to him. "Who?"

Storm shook his head. "I only know that those who waylaid us were not of Sossal. The only other people left....."

Shan spoke up. "It's not the first time that it's been tried. Elven?"

Storm shook his head. "Mostly human. Elves would have been too noticeable. Besides, what argument do the Elvenkind have with us? What reason do they have to want us dead?"

Dukk reached for Alyssa's hand. "They don't need a reason," he said bitterly.

"So what about tomorrow?" Calis asked.

Those who had shared the Magik, looked at each other. Loviath answered for them. "Tomorrow..." She paused. "Tomorrow, the Council will have full payment for Morgan, Storm and Herrel, full provisioning for the six of us, and... " she faltered and blushed. "And Bride Price," she finally admittted, not looking at the rest of the circle. Surier's hand covered hers.

Karien choked. "Bride Price? For whom? You?!" He stared at the ranger in astonishment. And then he burst out laughing.

Surier glared at Karien. "Yes, for Loviath. They almost succeeded in killing both Storm and Morgan. It meant that - " He stopped, reddening. "Things that normally wouldn't have happened, did. And the Council's actions were partly to blame." His voice was hard.

Karien gaped like a fish. "You? And Loviath? But, I thought. But..."

Morgan couldn't hold her amusement any longer. "So tonight, gentle people, you attend the wedding and feast of Surier and Loviath. And my best wishes for them both."

Loviath peeked up at Karien. The expression on his face sent her off into gales of laughter. Surier was grinning hugely, enjoying his friend's discomfort.

"But you didn't mention.... I mean, you didn't.... Surier!!!" Karien groaned.

"You will stand with me, won't you?" Surier asked, quietly.

Karien's eyes lit up. "I wouldn't miss this for the world."

Loviath gazed at Alyssa. "We haven't shared much in the past. Would you....?" she asked shyly.

Alyssa smiled. "I would be most honoured."

It was but the work of moments to arrange the clearing for the ceremony. Morgan said the words that united Surier and Loviath. It was a simple ceremony, lasting only a few minutes, but the words were heartfelt.

"So, old man," Karien said, one arm draped over the shoulders of both Surier and Loviath. "Where are you and your blushing bride going to spend the next week or so?"

Surier tensed. "Sossal. We would have left a few days ago, once Storm and Morgan were up to travelling, but we put it off until we could catch up to you."

The others stared at the quartet. "Sossal?"

Storm nodded. "There is much yet to be discovered about the arms traffic. For all that we told the Council, we still have no names, no proof. We'll need that before the Dales are truly safe again."

Karien nodded, not liking the fact, but admitting it. "You'll take your amulets and be in touch?" he asked Surier and Loviath, after a moment's thought.

The two nodded. "And we'll report to you just as soon as we have proof. As a matter of fact,...." Loviath's voice trailed off, deep in thought. "Karien," she continued after a few seconds, "Karien, perhaps you could do us a favour, all things considered."

Karien grinned and bowed deeply. "Tonight, your wish is my command, m'lady."

Surier growled, only partly in jest.

It made Karien raise an eyebrow in amused question.

"Will you two stop that?" Loviath complained. "I'm serious. Karien, we don't want the Council to know where we've gone. Or when we'll be returning. It might give us a better chance of returning," she added.

Karien nodded. "You're leaving first thing?"

Surier shook his head. "What you don't know, you won't have to lie about," he observed.

"Fair enough."

"And now," Kyth's voice rose, startling some. He grinned hugely, "And now, we have a wedding to celebrate."

And celebrate they did.

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