Quentin stood at the high parapet overlooking the tranquil
forest. His eyes scanned the gently lifting hills clothed in their greens of
early summer, all softened in the golden afternoon light by the gathering
mists of evening. At his hand upon the cool stone balustrade a thin
parchment roll fluttered in the easy breeze. At his feet lay a leather case
from which he had drawn the scroll to read only moments before. The
case bore the royal insignia he knew so well: the terrible, twisting red
dragon of the Dragon King.
The warmth of the late-afternoon sun splashed full on his face, and
yet Quentin felt a chill creeping through him. He sighed a heavy sigh
and hung his head, shaking it slowly from side to side. Hearing a rustle
behind him and the brushing tread of a soft foot on the stone, he turned
to see Toli gliding up.
The tall young man settled himself easily on the edge of the parapet
and crossed his arms over his chest. He regarded Quentin with a
quizzical brown eye and then looked out over the forest, cocking his
head to one side. "Listen," he said, after a moment. "It is the sound of
a world at peace."
Quentin listened and heard the faraway chirp of birds as they fluttered
among the whirtle berries, the breeze nudging the leaves, voices
murmuring in a courtyard somewhere below.
"They told me a rider from Askelon had arrived with a message for
you. I thought to come and see if you needed anything."
Quentin looked at his friend and smiled. "You mean curiosity moved
you from your beloved stables. Yes, a message from the king." He picked
up the parchment and handed it to Toli, who began to read.
Presently Toli's head came up, and his eyes found Quentin's studying
him. "This does not say what the trouble is."
"No, but it is not a request for a friendly visit. There is some need
behind it, and some urgency. If it were but a small thing, Eskevar would
have waited. We're due to travel back to Askelon soon anyway ."
"And this recommends we leave right away. Yes, I see. But there is
something else?" Toli's sharp eyes appraised Quentin, who stiffened and
turned from their piercing gaze.
"What makes you say that?"
Toli laughed softly. "Only that I know my Kenta very well. You
would not look so if you did not have a suspicion of what lay behind this
"Innocent?" He fingered the leather case that he had stooped to
retrieve. "Perhaps, but you are right, Toli; there is something else. I don't
know-it just came over me as I was reading."
Toli watched Quentin closely and waited for him to continue.
"I'm afraid if we go to Askelon now, we will never come back to
"You saw this?"
Quentin only shook his head.
"Well, then it may not be. Your feelings may only be a warning of
what may come if we do not go at once."
Quentin smiled again; this time a flicker of relief shone in his eyes.
"Yes, perhaps you are right. As usual you have rescued me from myself."
"We can leave tonight. It will be good to sleep on the trail again.
We have not done that in a long time, you and I."
"We shall, but not tonight. Have you forgotten that tonight we
dine with Yeseph? If I am not mistaken, we have only enough time to
prepare ourselves and go to his house. He will be waiting.
"We will leave at dawn instead," said Quentin.
"So be it," said Toli, inclining his head in a slight bow. "I will see
to our preparations when we have supped with Yeseph and the elders."
Quentin nodded and took the rolled parchment that Toli offered
him, then slid it back into its case as they turned and walked back into
Quentin dressed quickly, donning a fresh mantle and tunic, and
pulling on fine leather boots. He met Toli at the door, and the two set off
for Yeseph's lodgings.
Yeseph lived in a quarter of the ruined city near the library. As they
walked along together, Quentin looked upon the home he had come to
love. His eyes, long ago accustomed to the tumbled structures that still
met his gaze on every side, seemed not to notice the destruction, but
instead saw it all the way it had been in the time of the mighty Ariga.
In his mind he saw stones lifted back into place one upon another;
arches reconstructed with their colorful tiles, and beautifully carved
doors thrown wide in welcome; courtyards once again abloom with flowering
plants; streets echoing laughter and song. He saw it all as he imagined
it had been. Quentin always experienced the same magical sensation
when he moved about the city. In the ten years he had lived in Dekra, he
never lost the rapture it held for him, or the feeling that he belonged
there, that Dekra was his home as was none other he would ever find.
"It will be once more," said Toli as they moved along the quiet
streets, over stones worn and smooth with time.
"What will be?" asked Quentin absently.
"This city. It will be again what it once was: the way you see it in
"Do you think so?"
"I believe that it will. I want to believe it. Though it seems sometimes
that the work goes so slowly. There is so much to be done. We could use
"But look how much has been accomplished since we came here.
And every year our numbers grow. Whist Orren blesses our efforts with
It was true. The work of restoring the ancient city and populating it
with people who shared the dream of rebuilding it to its former glory, of
studying the ways of the Ariga and their god-that was going on at a fine
pace. Much had been done in ten years. The work of a lifetime, however,
still remained. And that was what pricked Quentin's impatience.
They met Quentin's stooped old teacher where he stood waiting for
them at the gate of his courtyard. His face beamed when he saw the two
young men striding up. "Hello! Hello, my friends!" cried Yeseph, running
out to meet them. "I have been waiting for you. You are the first to
arrive. I was hoping that would be the case. I wanted to talk to you both."
He drew them into the shady courtyard and led them to stone
benches under a spreading tree. The yard was spotless and furnished as
nicely as any garden could be whose owner loved plants and flowering
"Sit down, please. Sit. Omani!" Yeseph clapped his hands when his
guests had seated themselves beneath the tree. A slim young girl appeared
with a tray of wooden goblets and a stone carafe. She floated forward with
an easy grace and laid the tray at Yeseph's elbow where he sat. "You may
pour, bright one," he said gently.
The girl poured and served the beverages around. She turned to
leave, and Yeseph called after her. "See that the meal is prepared when
the others arrive. It will not be long now, I think." She bowed and
retreated into the house, smiling all the while.
The Curatak did not have servants. But often young girls or boys
would attach themselves to the households of older Curatak leaders or
craftsmen to serve and learn at their hand, until they decided what they
wished to do with their lives. In that way those who needed the assistance
of a servant did not lack, and young people found useful occupation
until they could enter the adult world.
Yeseph watched the girl disappear into his darkened doorway a little
wistfully. Quentin noticed his look and commented, "She's a very able
helper, Yeseph. You are blessed."
"Yes, and I am sorry to lose her."
"Why would you lose her?"
"Why not? She is nearly eighteen. She wishes to be married soon.
Next summer perhaps. She and Rulan, a former pupil of mine. He is a
good man, very intelligent. It will be a good match. But I will lose a wonderful
cook and companion. I feel she is my own daughter."
"Why don't you get married again?" asked Toli.
Yeseph suddenly looked flustered. "Who has been talking to you?"
"No one. I merely wondered."
"Well, it is true nonetheless. That is what I wanted to tell you. I am
to be married. I am announcing the banns tonight."
"Congratulations!" shouted Quentin, jumping to his feet. He crossed
the distance between himself and his former teacher in one bound and
embraced him, kissing both cheeks.
"Who is the lucky bride?"
"It is Karyll, the cloth-maker."
"The widow of Lendoe, who was killed in action at the forge some
"Yes, the same. A fine woman. She has been lonely for so long ."
Quentin laughed. "You need not explain to us; you have our permission
already. I am sure you will both be very happy together."
"Yes, we shall. I am very happy now-sharing this news with my
friends. You know I have come to regard you both as my own sons."
"And you have been a father to us more often than we can remember."
"I wanted you to be the first to know."
"Will we see the esteemed lady tonight? I would like to congratulate
her as well."
"She will be here-if that is not her voice I hear even now."
The sound of light voices lifted in laughter came to the courtyard
from the street beyond. Yeseph dashed to the gate once more and welcomed
his bride and her two companions. Blushing and smiling, he led
her toward Quentin and Toli, who stood grinning.
"My friends, this is my betrothed, Karyll."
The short, round-faced woman smiled warmly back at them. Her
hair was bound demurely at her neck in an ornamented netting, and
among the brown Quentin could see streaks of silver. She was dressed in
a plain, white, loose-fitting gown with a bright blue shawl over her shoulders.
She was a handsome woman.
As Yeseph drew her close to him with his arm, he gave his future
wife a look of such endearment that Quentin felt a pang of longing for
his own beloved.
"Hello, Karyll, and congratulations. Yeseph has been telling us that
you two are to be married. I am very pleased."
"Thank you, Quentin. We are very happy." She turned and gazed
into Yeseph's eyes and added, "Yeseph is full of your praises. It pleases
me that he has chosen you to hear of our plans first."
"When will the wedding take place?" asked Toli.
"Yeseph and I thought that a midsummer wedding would be nice."
"Yes," agreed the groom. "There is nothing to prevent us from
being married at once. We are both of age." He laughed, and Karyll
laughed with him. But the laughter faded when neither Quentin nor
Toli shared their mirth. Both had become strangely silent; the light of
happiness was extinguished in their eyes.
"What is the matter? Does our plan not meet with your approval?"
"Yes, and more than you know. But I fear that we will not be among
the happy wedding guests."
"Why not, may I ask?"
"We were going to tell you this evening. We have received a summons
from the king, and we must leave for Askelon."
"Yes? But I thought you would stay until midsummer at least."
"No-at once. A rider came today. We must leave at once."
"Then we will wait until your return," offered Yeseph. Karyll nodded
Quentin smiled sadly. "No, I could not ask that. I do not know
when we may return. Please, do not wait on our account."
Toli attempted to set the mood in a lighter tone. "Kenta means that
if he were in your place, Yeseph, he would not let so lovely a creature escape
into the arms of another. You must marry as you have planned. We will
return to greet the happy couple before they have been wed a fortnight."
Yeseph sought Quentin's eyes. He, as usual, could read more than
his friend intended. "Is it trouble, then?"
"I fear that it is." Quentin sighed. "The message did not say it
directly, and the courier did not say more. But he left immediately without
awaiting an answer."
Yeseph regarded Quentin as he stood before him. From an awkward,
impetuous youth had grown a square-shouldered, sensitive man-tall,
lean in the way young men are, yet without the careless air they often have.
Quentin had a regal bearing, and yet utterly lacked any self-consciousness
of it, or the arrogance that often accompanied such a noble spirit.
A pang of longing ached in the old man's heart when he saw his
young pupil and protégé wavering, as if on the brink of a great abyss.
He wanted to reach out and pull him back, but he knew he could not.
Quentin belonged to Dekra, yes, but he also belonged to Askelon, and
neither loyalty could be denied.
"You must go, of course." Yeseph offered a strained smile. "When
will you leave?"
"Tomorrow at dawn. I think it is best."
"Of course. Of course. Do not delay. Besides, the sooner you are
off, the sooner you may return, and perhaps you will bring Bria with you
At the mention of the name, Quentin started. He smiled warmly
again. The cold shadow that had fallen upon the happy group moved
away, and in the glimmering of a softly falling twilight, they began to
talk excitedly once more of all they would do when next they met.
Despite their desire for an early start the next morning, Quentin and
Toli were the last to leave Yeseph's house. There had been much singing
and eating and talking. The elders had blessed the young men's journey,
and all had listened to stories and songs of the lost Ariga, sung by one
of the young Curatak musicians. Then all had made their good-byes, but
none more ardently than Quentin.
"Look, Kenta," said Toli as they found their way along the dark and
empty streets. The moon shone full upon the city, pouring out a liquid
silver light upon all it touched.
Quentin followed Toli's gaze upward to the sky. "What do you see?"
"Oh, it is gone now. A star fell; that is all."
"Hmmm." Quentin retreated again into his reverie.
He listened to their footsteps echo along the streets and felt Dekra's
quiet peacefulness enfold him. Then, unaccountably, he shivered, as if
they had just walked through a hanging pool of cooler air. Toli noticed
the quiver of Quentin's shoulders and looked at his friend.
"Did you feel it too?"
Quentin ignored the question, and they continued on a few more
paces. "Do you think we will ever return to this place?" he asked finally.
"The night is not a time to dwell on such things."
The two walked silently back to the governor's palace and made
their way to their rooms. "It will be good to see Askelon again," said
Quentin as they parted. "And all our friends. Good night."
"Good night. I will wake you in the morning."
For a long time Quentin lay on his bed and did not close his eyes.
He heard Toli quietly packing their things in the next room, and the
Jher's soft footfall as he left to see to the horses before he, too, slept. At
last he rolled over on his side and fell at once to sleep as the moon shone
brightly through his balcony doors, peering in like a kindly face.