The Seekers are fools who search for truth

                        They gather their 'knowledge' and look for proof

                        Then place it under lock and key

                        And hide it away so no-one may see.

 

 

 

                                  Chapter Eighteen

 

 

 

            "I was wondering something."

            Despite herself, Tianna jumped.  She had been standing by the port railing, watching the line of soldiers on the docks.  Tavras was sitting cross-legged in his accustomed place at the stern, a few paces aft of her, but so silent had he been that she had forgotten his presence.  She glared icily at him.  "What?"

            He gave a thin-lipped smile that did not reach his hard measuring eyes.  "I was wondering why you love goblinkin so much."

            "What?" she asked, incredulous.

            He shrugged.  "I've seen you, cavorting with the little monsters.  That little toad that follows you around all the time, he's like a pet, isn't he?  It's disgusting."

            Anger welled up in her at the accusation.  "You're trying to goad me."

            He smiled again, the predatory gleam still in his eyes.  "I'm stating a fact.  I wonder what your Fleet superiors would say if they knew you were a goblin-lover."

            "He may be a goblin," said Tianna angrily, "and an animal.  But I find his company infinitely preferable to yours."  She turned away from him.

            "Perhaps you could have little goblin children," taunted Tavras, "and name them little goblin names."

            Tianna's jaw clenched, but she refused to answer him.  Tavras cared nothing for goblinkin - this was about something else.  He knew her weakness, and was trying to provoke her.  She didn't know what his game was, but she refused to play it.

            From the corner of her eye she caught movement, from out in the starry void.  She whirled, looking upwards.  "What the...?"  She glanced over to Chowat, who was standing lookout for the stern.  The orc had his spyglass out, scanning the heavens lazily.  He didn't seem concerned.

            "Oh yes, it's a ship," volunteered Tavras.  "A small fleet, in fact.  Cartan's reinforcements have arrived.  Trading Company, mostly.  They've got two great bombards with them, and once they've taken position, they'll begin blasting this entire area to pieces."

            Tianna looked at him as if he were speaking another language.  "What?  Cartan... who?  How do you know that?"

            He stared at her.  "I know because I know."

            She looked at Chowat again.  The orc seemed as unconcerned as ever.  "Chowat.  Chowat!"

            "I wouldn't bother," said Tavras.  "He doesn't see them, and he can't hear us."

            She whirled on him.  "Betrayer!  This is your doing!"

            He shrugged.  "Who else?  Now, if you don't mind, please sit down and be still.  And keep that pretty little mouth of yours shut.  Even I can't shield your actions from everyone aboard."

            Tianna's eyes widened in shock as her muscle control was torn from her.  She managed a mewling cry of surprise before her jaw clenched tight, sealing her mouth.  She staggered one step towards Tavras before her leg muscles spasmed.  She fought terribly against it, but found herself turning, walking slow step by step back to the railing.  Abruptly she sat, collapsing down onto the deck, an unwilling prisoner in her own body.  Helpless tears of outrage welled up in her eyes.

            "Now, now, my dear," Tavras chided.  "I can still read your mind.  Such language is unladylike."

            Furious, she fought for some control; any control.  Nothing.  She couldn't even blink.

            "You know you're going to die, don't you?" asked Tavras.  His voice was mild; conversational.  "I'm really truly sorry for that, but it has to be done.  What's that?  You're wondering why I'm doing this?"  He chuckled.  "Perhaps I am a monster, just as you say.  But you must die, and the Wayfarer must be neutralized.  Those are my directives."

            Tianna had not spoken aloud; she could not.  But inwardly she was raging at him.

            Tavras glanced upwards.  "Almost in position now.  One could almost pity the soldiers on the docks - unaware of fate that hangs over their heads."  He smiled.  "No, my dear, you flatter me.  I have not masked the fleet from them.  Even I could not sway so many minds.  Which is why I must arrange for a distraction.  Excuse me for a moment."

            His eyelids fluttered closed.

            Tianna was left in silence for several moments, locked helplessly in her own body.  She found that she could move her eyes, though little more.  Chowat still stood at the stern railing, only a few paces away, unconcernedly sweeping the heavens with his spyglass.  Farther forward, one of the two guardsmen who had been stationed aboard paced the width of the deck slowly, pike in hand.   She couldn't see the other one from here, but she knew he was stationed in the bow.

            Keryth and Gotam were farther forward, engaged in quiet conversation.  The gnoll glanced at her once, and she tried desperately to catch his gaze, but he turned away as a small group of guardsmen suddenly left their posts on the dock and approached the ship.

            "New orders," said the guard-captain as he approached.  "We're to check each ship in port for contraband.  You're to submit your ship to our search."  He was a young man, probably not more than twenty, with shoulder length blond hair tied back into a ponytail and a thin mustache.  As he spoke, his eyes slowly scanned the ship.  His gaze caught hers, and with a chill, she knew.  Tavras!

            Keryth considered the young man before him for a long moment.  "No other ships," he managed at last in rough common, "being searched like this."  He gestured to the spelljamming ships docked on either side of the Nightwarder.

            "We're doing them one at a time, starting with yours," said the captain.  "A ship filled with goblinkin seemed a likely suspect."  His voice hardened.  "Make no mistake, this is not a request.  Stand aside and grant entry."

            The four soldiers behind him had tightened their grips on their weapons.  They were even younger than he was; hardly more than boys.  They looked frightened, but determined.  On the docks, some of the other soldiers were watching as well.  Beside Tianna, the guardsman with the pike had also tensed, taking a firmer hold on his weapon and watching intently.  Chowat had not moved from his place, but his attention was on the guardsman.

            No-one's watching the sky, realized Tianna with dismay.  His distraction is working perfectly.

            "What do you think?" Keryth asked Gryth, speaking in Wravvish.

            "Trouble," the ogre rumbled quietly.

            "I repeat," said the captain.  "Stand aside and be boarded.  This is your final warning.  Even a goblin should understand that."

            Don't let them aboard!  Tianna silently willed.  Don't let them aboard!

            "Very well," said the gnoll with a nod, speaking again in common and standing aside.  "You may come."

            No!  Tianna watched helplessly as the guard-captain and his men came aboard.

            The captain surveyed the ship for a moment.  His eyes caught Tianna's, and he offered a half-smile.  "Williams, Connor," he barked.  "Get below.  Search everything, you know how tricky goblinkin are."  Two of the soldiers who had followed him aboard headed below.  The other two took up position forward, eyeing the crew.  Each held a crossbow at the ready.

            The captain glanced at Keryth and the other crewmembers.  "If they try anything, kill them."

            He sauntered back towards the stern.

            Surprised, Tianna found herself lurching to her feet.  She staggered slowly forward, moving like a ragdoll, heading straight towards the guard-captain.  What is he doing?

            Her movements were less controlled than before; more ragged, and she realized with a start that his control was less pronounced now.  Maybe when he's controlling two different bodies at once his concentration is too stretched.

            As the thought hit her, she renewed her struggle.  Perhaps his control was not as absolute as he thought.

            Garn emerged from below, glancing around.  "Get up there, you stinking goblin," a voice from beneath him commanded.  The goblin stepped on deck, followed by one of the guardsmen the captain had sent below.

            Tianna abruptly halted as the captain turned his attention to the goblin.

            "Found him below, sir, skulking about."

            Garn looked uncertainly from one of them to the other.  "What is happening?" he asked, speaking in Wravvish.

            The captain gave the soldier a baleful look.  "Don't waste my time, Williams.  Find me some contraband; until then, get below.   As for you," he said to the goblin, "get forward, with the rest of your kind."

            The soldier nodded and ducked below.

            "What is happening?" Garn asked again.

            "It is well," said Keryth.  "A routine search, nothing more."

            Tianna tried to scream.  To her surprise, she was able to draw enough air to manage a faint cough.  His control is slipping!

            Garn slowly backed away from the captain, heading towards Tianna rather than forward.

            Tianna summoned all of her strength, all of her willpower, focusing it.  Warn them, she thought frantically, I must warn them!

            "Help!" she croaked.  The word was hardly more than a whisper, but Garn heard it, and stared at her.

            The captain heard it too.  He frowned.  An explosion of pain suddenly wracked her skull as his will crushed down like a vice.  She saw stars, and the world went blurry.

            "Something is wrong," said Garn, staring at her.  "She... something is wrong."  He caught sight of Tavras, behind her, sitting cross-legged, his eyes closed in a trance-like state.  "The mindbender!"

            He whirled.  "We are betrayed!"

            The captain frowned.  Tavras knew the game was up.  "Kill them all!" he ordered, unsheathing his dagger and striking forward in a thrust meant to disembowel Tianna.

            She was still reeling from his mental assault, so what happened next was a blur.

            There was a thump and a cry, and farther forward, the sound of a crossbow going off.

            Her eyes focused a moment later, and she found herself in the midst of a pitched battle.  Garn had leaped onto the captain, the wiry little goblin wrestling him to the deck.  Momentary surprise had given the advantage to the goblin, but the tide was quickly turning.  The captain was much stronger.

            As she watched, powerless to help, the captain gained the upper hand, pinning the goblin below him and shifting the dagger so that it hovered above the creature's heart.  Garn gasped as the blade came down, slowly impaling him.  His eyes rolled in agony, and blood spurted and pooled on the deck below them.  He went limp a moment later, his breath coming raggedly.

            The captain wrenched the dagger out of the little body, glaring up at Tianna.  "Come here!" he barked.

            While her mind shrieked in rebellion, her legs jerked her forward, carrying her within striking distance of his blade.

            Farther forward, she heard Keryth barking orders.  "Sever the lines!  Repel!  Repel!  We lift immediately!"  He grunted as the guardsman he was wrestling with pummeled him in the abdomen, but maintained his grip on the man's crossbow.  The other crossbowman was lying on the deck, still and bloody.  Nearby lay Macha, a crossbow quarrel lodged in his throat.  Gryth had gotten a pike from somewhere, and was swinging it fiercely, using his long reach to keep back the other soldiers, who had come running down the dock as the battle had begun.

            To her left, she heard Chowat grunting as he struggled with the guardsman who had been posted at the stern.  The guardsman had gained the advantage, and had forced the orc back against the railing, pinning him by the throat with the haft of his pike.  Chowat was gasping for breath, trying to keep from being choked to death, and the guardsman was groaning as he fought to crush the orc's windpipe.

            All these things Tianna saw in the space of a heartbeat.  Time seemed to have slowed - she felt as if she were moving in a dream.

            The captain gave on last sneering grin.  "Goodbye, fair lady.  Give my regards to eternity."

            At that moment, Keryth fired.  Tianna didn't see when he managed to wrest the crossbow from its owner.  It was just suddenly there, in his arms, and it barked as it fired.

            The quarrel flashed as it passed, stirring the wind on her cheek.  The captain's eyes flickered at the unexpected motion in his peripheral vision.

            It struck Tavras's body squarely in the shoulder.  He cried out in agony, his eyes opening in shock as he toppled backwards over the railing and off the ship, into the gravity field.

            Instantly Tianna felt control return to her.  She leaped back from the captain's blade.

            The captain swung once, clumsily, then tumbled to the deck.  His eyes crossed and he went silent, a thin line of drool leaking from the corner of his mouth.

            At that moment there was a thunderous roar.  Tianna went sprawling to the deck, stunned and deafened.  Faintly, she was aware of the taste of blood. 

            Ahead, she saw Keryth's mouth furiously moving as he barked orders, though she was surrounded by silence.  To her right, over the railing, she saw bits of wood and cement hurling through the air.  An enormous section of the docks had simply... disappeared, leaving a ragged and bloody hole.

            The line of soldiers were shouting, though she could not hear them, gesturing frantically to the stars, and the line of ships that had appeared seemingly from nowhere.

            Gods above! she thought.  The great bombards are in place!

            It was the last thought of her conscious mind, as she slipped into cool darkness.

 

                                                *          *          *

 

            If his verse was any indication, the Storyteller had never had much respect for the Seekers, and Reanyn was beginning to understand why.

            The aide had conducted them down to the lower level of the great library, where the Seeker's personal quarters were located, and ushered them into a circular room.

            Five men had met them there, two of them very-well dressed and fairly aged in years and their three younger companions looked much like dockworkers.  None of them looked anything like the stereotypical robed and hooded Seekers most people expected to see.  The five had politely introduced themselves, and Reanyn had asked about Windhook.

            That had been nearly a half-hour ago.

            The five Seekers were excrutiatingly polite, but absolutely close-mouthed.  the most they would say about Windhook was that he was 'somewhere safe'.

            Reanyn was beginning to become frustrated.  "Look, I'm not after Windhook to get to the Raver.  I don't even believe in the Raver."

            "Your friends do," pointed out one of the older gentlemen, indicating Barundar and Nym.

            "Maybe," conceded Reanyn, "but the point is that neither they nor I have any reason to harm him whatsoever.  I understand that you people take care of your own, but literally everyone in known space is after Windhook, most of whom will be far more brutal in their pursuit than me.  The safest thing to do, for Windhook's sake as well as your own, is to hand him over to me."

            One of the younger men smiled.  "Really?  Hand him over to a bounty hunter?  You have a strange notion of safety, Wayfarer."

            "He'll be more safe with me then he would be anywhere else in the universe.  I can hide him away where no-one will find him.  Can you do that?"

            "I believe," said one of the older gentlemen, "that that is exactly what we have done."

            Reanyn ground his teeth.  This was the same argument the Seekers always came to.

            "Perhaps we might try a different tack," interjected Nym.

            "What do you mean?" asked one of the younger men.

            "What I mean is that maybe we can work out a trade.  Let's not pretend the Seekers are a completely altruistic organization."

            The young man snorted.  "You've got to be kidding.  You want us to betray one of our own?"

            And older man motioned him to silence.  "There's nothing you could offer us," he said.

            "Really?" asked Nym.  "I thought maybe the Seekers sought knowledge to the exclusion of all else."

            The older gentleman nodded sagely.  "That is correct.  Knowledge is the only important commodity in the universe."

            "And you'd do anything to gain more of it," said Nym.

            "Well, I wouldn't put it quite like that," protested the older gentleman.

            "But you have had dealings with groups like the Long Fangs and the Tenth Pit in the past, haven't you?" persisted Nym.

            "When they had something to offer us," conceded the older man.  "Knowledge may come from anywhere.  We do not discriminate against any source, no matter how distasteful."

            "So it would not be unfair to surmise that you might be willing to trade Windhook for some bit of knowledge that otherwise you might not get, would it?"

            "Forget it," muttered the young man contemptuously.

            "Perhaps."  The older man ignored his young companion.  "But that brings us to the question of what you have to offer.  Windhook is very valuable to us, and I cannot think what you might have to offer that would be as valuable."

            Nym laughed.  "Let's not be ridiculous.  Windhook's information is valuable to you.  And you've already gotten that, or I don't know Seekers at all.  You're just protecting him out of duty.  If you were to give him to us, you would know that you were placing him in capable and responsible hands, where he would be kept safe, and you would get something as well."

            The old man considered.  "You still haven't told me what you have to offer yet.  You should know we don't have any great need for gold."

            Nym shook his head.  "I'm not talking about gold; I'm talking about knowledge.  And it isn't my knowledge I'm offering, but Reanyn's."

            "What?"  The old man was intrigued.

            "What?" echoed Reanyn, even more surprised.

            "I'd be willing to bet Reanyn can give you information you don't have," said Nym.

            "Regarding what?" asked the old man.

            "Regarding Armistice."

            "Armistice?  I wasn't aware there were any mysteries about Armistice."

            Nym smilded.  "Of course you weren't.  Ignorance is bliss, and all that.  You've heard that the goblinkin have rebuilt themselves into a civilized and powerful culture?"

            "Legends," said the old man dismissively.  "Unfounded myths."

            "Not so," said Nym.  "And Reanyn here is intimately involved."

            The old man looked Reanyn up and down dubiously.  "An elf?"

            Nym nodded sagely.  "Strange as it sounds, it's true.  Interested?"

            Reanyn was not happy with where all of this was going.  "Nym, may I speak with you a moment?"  He didn't wait for a reply, but pulled the dracon aside.  "What do you think you're doing?"

            Nym gave Reanyn an innocent look.  "I'm getting us Windhook," he said.  "What else?"

            "And you're giving out information on the Wravvish," said Reanyn.  "I'm not sure I want that given out."

            "Who better to give it to?" asked Nym.  "The Seekers don't give out information for free."

            "I'm still not certain I want them to have it at all.  What if someone comes along and exchanges something else to find out about it?"

            "Highly unlikely," said Nym.  "Whoever asked to find out about the goblinkin on Armistice would already have to know something was amiss there just to raise the question in the first place.  Look, you weren't worried about me or Barundar spreading word of what you've got going, and I'm guessing you weren't worried about Tianna or Wayland Tavras either.  Why was that?"

            "Because none of you know enough about it, and none of you could find your way to Safehaven."

            Nym smiled.  "Well, there you go.  Why should the Seekers be any different?  Don't worry, we won't tell them everything.  Just enough to get us Windhook."

            Reanyn considered.  "Very well," he said after a long moment, "but I'll do the talking."  The two turned back to the Seekers.

            "Do we have a deal?" asked Reanyn.

            "I believe we do," said the eldest, "assuming your information is correct."

            "Oh, it's corrrect.  And you've already had a taste of it.  So I want you to tell me something about Windhook first, just so I know everything's aboveboard between us."

            The Seeker considered, then smiled.  "I suppose I could tell you that he's not on the Rock."

 

                                                            *          *          *

 

            "Great void!" grumbled Barundar, "I thought we were closing in on him.  I really had my hopes up."

            The three bounty hunters were threading their way through abandoned streets, making their way back to the docks.  Somewhere in the distance, the battle raged on, faint screams and shouts hanging in the air.

            "The Devros belt isn't that far off," reminded Nym.  "And we are closing on him."

            The giff wasn't satisfied.  He whirled suddenly, struck by an idea.  "Wait a minute!  What if we're being deceived here?  How do we know they told us the truth?"

            The other two stared at him.

            "Well, what about the money trail?" the giff persisted.

            Reanyn shook his head.  "Ends here.  I checked."

            "Well, doesn't that tell us anything?'

            "Not really.  Devros is still the best lead."

            Barundar shook his head.  "But we could be being put on a false trail."

            "Not likely," said Nym.  "If so, we'll find out when we reach Devros.  Then we'll turn around and come back."

            The ground trembled beneath their feet, as a great explosion hit somewhere in the distance.

            "What in the abyss was that?" asked Barundar.

            "Bombard," answered Reanyn.

            "Bombard?"  Barundar was disbelieving.  "I've heard bombards before.  That was no ordinary bombard."

            "It was a great bombard," said Reanyn.  "I would say that some of Cartan's reinforcements have arrived."

            "Spelljamming ships?" asked Nym.

            Reanyn nodded.  "They'll pound the Rock apart from orbit.  Bad news for Prince Aric."

            "Maybe not," said Nym.  "If Aric's troops control enough of the ground-based heavy ballista and bombards, they should be able to keep the skies cleared."

            Another explosion rocked the ground, followed by screams in the distance.

            "Either way, we don't want to be here," said Reanyn.

 

                                                            *          *          *

 

            The royal guardsmen who had sealed off the port district were gone when the three bounty hunters returned.  There had obviously been a battle here earlier, as the edges of the docks were strewn with the bodies of guardsmen and mercenaries.  Apparently the guardsmen had held nearly to the end, as there were far more guardsman corpses than mercenaries.

            Most of the docks had been smashed to kindling and set afire, and all of the ships docked there were either destroyed or gone, leaving burning wreckage bobbing and drifting in the gravity plane.  Of the Nightwarder, there was no sign.

            "Well," said Barundar, "this is a mess.  I hope your ship isn't somewhere in it."

            "Diadan's reinforcements must have hit here first," reasoned Reanyn.  "It makes sense.  He wouldn't want to leave the port open."  He snatched a piece of burning timber out of the gravity plane, and, holding it by its unlighted side, began to swing it back and forth in a slow sweep.

            "What are you doing?" asked Nym.

            "Signaling," answered Reanyn.  "I would  have thought it was obvious."

            Minutes passed.

            Then, far off in the distance, a speck of light appeared.  Rapidly it grew until it had resolved itself into the forward lantern of the Nightwarder.

            Moments later the ship had manuevered its way through the floating wreckage, and hovered immediately over the bounty hunters' heads.  A rope ladder was flung down over the side.

            Quickly Reanyn scrambled aboard, Barundar and Nym at his heels.  "Lift ship," he immediately ordered, noting that it was Chowat who manned the helm and not Gryth.  "What happened?" he asked Keryth.

            "Things got rough.  I lifted."

            "How rough?"

            "The mindbender betrayed us," said the gnoll flatly.  "We were boarded by city guardsmen and forced to engage."

            Reanyn cursed.  "Where is he?" he asked.

            "Dead, I hope."  The gnoll gestured at the whirling wreckage shrinking below them.  "I feathered him with a crossbow bolt, and he went tumbling over the side.  I can't be certain, though; it wasn't a clean shot."

            Reanyn nodded towards the helm, where Chowat sat.  "Where's Gryth?"

            "He is below, with the... elf girl, tending the wounded."

            Reanyn was taken back by the respect in the gnoll's voice.  It was the first time he had referred to Tianna as anything other than 'jalhadi'.  "The wounded?"

            The gnoll nodded grimly.  "Macha was killed in battle.  He took a crossbow bolt in the throat - it was quick, at least.  Gotam was stabbed in the side - he will live, thinks Gryth, but Garn is not expected to last the night."

            "Garn?" asked Reanyn, surprised.  "He fought?"

            The gnoll nodded.  "With honor.  It is because of him that the elf girl lives, for Tavras tried to slay her.  He was stabbed in the chest," - the gnoll indicated a spot on his breast - "here.  His wound is very grave.  It is unusual that he has managed to live so long."

            Reanyn started for the hatch.  "I must check on them."

            "What course shall we set, kitchva-lanrac?" asked Keryth, as he turned.

            Reanyn looked back at him.  "Is the ship worthy?"

            The gnoll gave a somber nod.  "A few scratches, nothing more.  But we are now seriously undermanned."

            Reanyn glanced at Barundar and Nym.  "Then put them to work.  We make for the Devros belt.  Windhook is on Syrrus B."

           

                                                *          *          *

 

            Garn cried out in pain as Gryth applied the poultice.  Already his breath came in ragged pants, his lips stained red by the blood which was expelled each time he gasped.

            "Shhh," said Gryth tenderly, gently wrapping the goblin's wound.  "It will ease your pain, old friend."

            The ogre rarely spent time belowdecks.  When he wasn't manning the helm, he usually kept to the bow.  He took most of his meals there, and had a makeshift bedroll for sleeping.

            Yet despite his bulk and obvious unease when below, his movements when dressing and bandaging were deft and sure.  And he was gentle.  He had closed the gaping wound in Gotam's side, using fingers that looked too large and ungainly for such a delicate task.  Yet when he was finished sewing the wound up, the stitches were small, neat and even, and the stone-faced kobold, though in obvious pain, had not offered a word of complaint.

            He finished wrapping Garn's poultice and stood, quietly stepping back, regarding the little goblin with melancholy eyes.

            Tianna had watched in silence, afraid to speak.  "Is... is there any chance?"

            The ogre shook his head sadly.  "The poultice will ease his suffering.  It is all that can be done."

            Tianna felt a hot tear spilling onto her cheek.  Quickly she wiped it away.  She swallowed at the sudden lump that had formed in her throat.  "He did it to save me.  Why?  I am only 'jalhadi' to him."

            The little goblin coughed painfully, a pitiful grating sound that spattered more flecks of blood on the sheets surrounding him.  His eyes fluttered open, but they stared sightlessly upwards.  "I cannot see," he rasped, "Where... where is the elf girl?  I must... speak to her.  Bring her to me, please.  For honor... bring her to me."

            Tianna exchanged glances with the ogre, then knelt beside the little goblin.  "I'm here," she said, taking his hand.  "I'm sorry... I'm so sorry."

            His expression softened at her touch, and the faintest of smiles played on his lips.  "You are here," he said.  "Good.  For I cannot die.  Not yet."

            Tianna tried to think of words, something to reassure him, but nothing would come.

            "Do not be sad," said the goblin, feeling the tears on her face.  "It is a little pain; it will soon pass."  He was wracked by another series of coughs.  "It is soon now," he managed, once they had passed.  "I must ask your forgiveness, Tianna Snowmantle."

            "Forgiveness?" she asked.  "My forgiveness?  For what?"

            "I have named you 'jalhadi', but it is not so.  You are not honorless.  I beg forgiveness.  I would not die without it."

            Her vision blurred with tears, and for a moment she could not speak.  "Of course," she said at last.  Her heart was sickened as she recalled what she had said to Tavras earlier.  I called him an animal, she thought sorrowfully.  What right had I?

            He smiled.  "It is good."  His eyes fluttered closed again.

            His breathing was slowing; each breath was drawn more painfully.  "Garn," she said, "please don't die yet."

            Her words brought him back momentarily.  "I... must go."

            "I need your forgiveness as well."  Her words came out in a rush.  "I misjudged you - all of you.  I thought you were goblinkin.  I know now I was wrong.  I... I would be proud to name you friend.  Please, please don't die."

            "Friend," he said gently.  The word was quiet, almost unfinished.  Then his hand relaxed in hers.  His breathing had stopped.  And he was gone; a peaceful expression on his face.

            For a moment she knelt by his side, grief-stricken.  Then she stood, looking down at the frail little body.

            She turned to find Reanyn standing at the door, watching her quietly.

            Her hands instinctively flew to her eyes, wiping away the tears.  But just as quickly she forced them down, knowing it for a futile gesture.  Her eyes were red-rimmed and swollen anyway; he would know.  She would preserve her dignity.

            "If you'll excuse me," she said, not meeting his eyes.

            He stood aside to let her pass.  "Tianna-" he said, his voice surprisingly gentle.

            "I must go," she said, pushing past.

            He watched her hurry down the hatchway, disappearing into her quarters.  He looked at Gryth.  "Strange..."

            The ogre was bent over, re-inspecting Gotam's wound, careful to appear absorbed in his work.  "Garn is with his ancestors," he said, not looking up.  "He just passed.  You have heard that Macha was struck down?"

            Reanyn nodded.  "And Gotam?"

            The kobold was laying prostrate on the bunk next to Garn's body.  At the sound of his name, his head snapped up.  "I am well, Kitchva-lanrac, fit to attend my duties, should this badger cease his nursemaiding."

            The ogre scowled.  "Hardly that.  It is a serious wound, middling-deep, though no vitals were scored.  You will stay in bed for the next two weeks, even should I have to tie you, hand and foot."  He looked up at Reanyn.  "He should recover, though."

            The crotchety kobold frowned, but kept his silence.

            Reanyn touched the ogre's arm.  "This blood is yours," he said, touching the ruby-damp cloth.

            The ogre shrugged.  "A scratch, hardly more.  Vimal received a similar wound on his left leg.  I bound it and sent him away.  He will walk stiffly for a few days, but it will heal."

            "See that you bind your own wound," said Reanyn.  "your dressing is leaking through."

            Gryth glanced at it, and chuckled.  "So it is.  I will re-bind it in a moment."

            Reanyn shook his head.  "Now.  I need you healthy."

            The ogre gave a massive shrug, stood, and crossed the room to retrieve a clean bandage.  As he unwrapped the first dressing, he looked over to find Reanyn looking blankly down the hall.

            "She is no jalhadi," Gryth said gravely, echoing Reanyn's thoughts.