The Demon Spirit

CHAPTER 17 Edicts from on High

Elbryan blew a long sigh and looked helplessly to Pony. He knew that Juraviel, too, was watching him, though the elf remained far from the firelight where the leaders of the band had gathered.

"Once Caer Tinella and Landsdown are secured," Tomas Gingerwart said, obviously trying to placate the adamant ranger, "we will follow your lead to the south, those of us who are not fit to remain and defend our homes, at least."

Elbryan wanted to grab the man by the shoulders and shake him hard, wanted to yell into his face that even if the two towns were taken, there would likely be few remaining to stand in defense. He wanted to remind Tomas and all the others that if they went after the towns and failed, and the powries then pursued them, it was likely that all would be lost: all the fighters, all the elderly, and all the children. But the ranger kept silent; he had made the argument over and over, had spoken it in every manner he could think of, and every time, it had fallen on deaf ears. How bitter this impotence was for Elbryan, to think that all of his efforts to ensure that the fate that befell his own home and his own family would not be repeated here, might prove to be in vain because of foolish pride. They wanted to save their homes, they claimed, but if there could be no security in a place, how could it be called home?

His frustration now was not lost on one of the men sitting nearby. "Are ye not to argue with him, then?" Belster O'Comely asked.

The ranger looked at his old friend and merely threw up his hands.

"Then you will join us in our fight," Tomas reasoned, and that notion brought a cheer from the gathering.

"No," Pony said sternly, and unexpectedly. All eyes, even Elbryan's, turned to regard her.

"I'll not go," the woman said firmly.

Surprised gasps turned to angry whispers.

"I've never shied from a fight, you know that," Pony went on, crossing her arms resolutely. "But to agree to go and do battle for the two towns would only bolster your belief that you are following the correct course. And you are not. I know this, and Nightbird knows it. I am not going to now make the same arguments that you have ignored for the last days, but neither will I fall in line for the slaughter. I wish you well in your folly, but I will remain with the infirm, trying somehow to usher them to safety when the powries roll out of Caer Tinella into the forest, hunting, and with no one to stand against their hordes."

It seemed to Elbryan that Pony might be exaggerating just a bit, but her strong words prompted many whispered conversations, some angry but others doubting the course of attack. The ranger had thought to go along for the attack, and thought Pony would surely stand outside the town proper, launching devastating magical attacks. Her resolve not to participate - and he knew this to be no bluff - had caught him by surprise. As he considered it over the next few seconds, though, he came to understand her point.

"Nor will I join you," the ranger said, drawing more comments, angry and astonished. "I cannot condone this course, Master Gingerwart. I will remain with Jilseponie and the infirm, and if the powries come out, I, we, will do what we may to hold them at bay and get the infirm to safety."

Tomas Gingerwart verily trembled as he looked to Belster O'Comely, his expression openly accusatory.

"Reconsider, I beg," Belster said to Elbryan. "I, too, have seen too much of this war, my friend, and would prefer a course around the powries to Palmaris. But the decision is made, fairly and by vote. The warriors will go after their homes, and we, as allies, have a responsibility to aid in that fight."

"Even if it is folly?" Pony asked.

"Who is to say?" Belster replied. "Many thought your own at-tack on the towns to be folly, yet it turned out for the better, by far."

Elbryan and Pony locked stares, the ranger drawing strength from the resolute woman. Pony had made up her mind and it would not be changed, and so Elbryan, too, decided to stay the course.

"I cannot participate in this," he said calmly. "When I went into Caer Tinella, my actions brought no threat to those who could not fight."

Belster looked to Tomas and shrugged, having no practical argu-ment against that simple logic.

Roger Lockless, looking bedraggled, walked into the camp then. He stared at Elbryan for a long while, and all in attendance, the ranger included, thought he would seize the moment to paint Elbryan as the coward, or as the traitor.

"Nightbird is right," the young man said suddenly. He stepped past a stunned Elbryan and Pony to address the whole gathering. "I have just returned from Caer Tinella," he said loudly. "We cannot attack."

"Roger - " Tomas started to protest.

"The powries have reinforced," Roger went on. "They out-number us, perhaps two or three to one, and they are entrenched in strong defensible positions. Also, they have great spear-throwing contraptions hidden among the walls. If we attack, even if Nightbird and Pony join with us, we will be slaughtered."

The grim news quieted the gathering for a while, then inspired many more whispered conversations, though these were neither agi-tated nor angry, but rather subdued. Gradually, the looks from every man and woman fell onto the shoulders of Tomas Gingerwart.

"Our scouts said nothing of this," the man explained to Roger.

"Were your scouts, before me, within the town?" Roger replied.

Tomas looked to Belster and to the other leaders of the band for some help, but all of them just shook their heads helplessly.

"If you decide to go to battle, then I, too, will remain with Nightbird and Pony," Roger finished, stepping back to stand at the ranger's side.

That was enough, for Tomas and for all the proud and stub-born folk.

"Get us to Palmaris," Tomas said grudgingly to Elbryan.

"We break camp at first light," the ranger replied, then looked to Roger, nodding his approval as the gathering dispersed. Roger didn't return the look with a smile or a nod; he had done what he had to do, and nothing more. Without meeting the ranger's stare, without a word to either Elbryan or Pony, the young man walked away.

Soon Elbryan and Pony were alone at the fire, and Juraviel came down from the trees behind to join them.

"What did you say to him?" the ranger asked, guessing that the elf had spent some private time with the surprising Roger Lockless.

"The same thing I said to you at the milking trough when you were blinded by pride," Juraviel replied with a sly look.

Elbryan blushed deeply and looked away from Pony and the elf, remembering all too clearly that embarrassing moment. He had just fought with Tuntun - areal fight and not a planned sparring match - accusing the female elf of cheating at a contest that left him with a cold meal. Tuntun had summarily battered him, but the young Elbryan, blinded by anger and pride, had not accepted the defeat well, had spouted foolish words and idle threats.

Belli'mar Juraviel, his mentor, and the closest thing he could then call a friend in all of Andur'Blough Inninness, had promptly thrashed him, putting him into the cold water of the trough several times.

"A painful lesson," Juraviel said at length. "But one that stayed with you all these years."

Elbryan couldn't deny the truth of that.

"This young Roger has promise," the elf went on. "It was no small matter for him to come in here and side with you, even though he knew that you were right."

"He is maturing," Pony agreed.

Juraviel nodded. "I will begin scouting our path this night," he explained.

"A wide berth of the powries," Pony said.

The elf nodded again.

"One last question," Elbryan begged as ever-elusive Juraviel started back to the trees. The elf turned to regard him. "Have the powries really reinforced?"

"Would it make a difference in your choice?" the elf asked.


Juraviel smiled. "To my knowledge - and that knowledge is great concerning this matter, do not doubt - Roger Lockless has been nowhere near Caer Tinella this night."

The ranger had suspected as much, and the confirmation made him admire Roger's choice all the more.

There was no sign of pursuit; as Father Abbot Markwart had figured, Baron Bildeborough, Abbot Dobrinion, and indeed all of Palmaris, were simply glad to be rid of the monks from St.-Mere-Abelle. They set camp that night across the Masur Delaval, the lights of Palmaris clear in the distance.

After conferring with Brother Francis and learning of the man's discoveries from his brief time inside the thoughts of Connor Bildeborough, the Father Abbot spent a lot of time alone, pacing, fighting hard to control his mounting anxiety. Just a score of feet away, inside the ring of wagons, the firelight blazed and the monks talked happily of returning to their home. The Father Abbot blocked it all out, had no time for such petty matters. Connor Bilde-borough knew of the search for the woman, and furthermore, he believed the woman to be operating, with the magical stones, not too far away in the battleground north of Palmaris. Francis had caught the name Caer Tinella in that brief invasion of Connor's thoughts, and a quick look at his maps confirmed that to be a town along the road to the Timberlands, a town Francis and the caravan had passed on their wild run to Palmaris.

The goal was close, so close, the end of the troubles of Avelyn Desbris, the restoration of Father Abbot Dalebert Markwart's good name in the annals of the Abellican Church. Youseff and Dande-lion would complete the task and retrieve the stones, and then all that would be left for Markwart would be the complete denuncia-tion of the heretic Avelyn. He would destroy the legend as the ex-plosion at Aida had destroyed the body.

Then all would be well, would be as it had been before.

"Or will it?" the Father Abbot asked himself aloud. He sighed deeply and considered the potential trail of problems his expedi-tion had set for him. Jojonah was no ally and would likely oppose him, perhaps even going so far as to speak positively and publicly concerning dead Avelyn! And Abbot Dobrinion was no longer even neutral on the matter. The abbot of St. Precious was surely outraged at the abduction of the Chilichunks, and at his own treat-ment by the contingent from St.-Mere-Abelle. Particularly the latter, the Father Abbot mused, thinking that the abbot was more concerned with his wounded pride than his tortured subjects.

And what of Baron Bildeborough, who was already prepared to do battle with the Church for the sake of his nephew?

As he rolled the problems over and over in his thoughts, they each appeared to Markwart as a huddled black creature, and each seemed to grow with every rethinking, mounting powerfully, until they were black walls surrounding him, choking him, burying him!

The old man stamped the ground and issued a stifled cry. Would all the world and all the Church turn against him? Was he alone in his understanding of the truth? What conspiracies had that wicked Jojonah and that fool Dobrinion launched? To say nothing of the rot started by the evil Avelyn Desbris!

Markwart's mind whirled, looking for holes in those black walls, seeking some way to fight down the darkness. He must call Jojonah back from the trail to Ursal, bring him back into St.-Mere-Abelle, where he could watch over the man's every move. Yes, that was necessary.

And he must set Youseff and Dandelion on the trail at once, set-tling the issue of Avelyn's cache, returning the gemstones to their rightful place in St.-Mere-Abelle. Yes, that would be prudent.

And Connor and Dobrinion would prove to be trouble. They had to be persuaded, or...

The Father Abbot stood very still in the small clearing outside the wagon ring, steadying his breathing. The strength was back in his heart now, the will to fight on, to do whatever necessary to gain the desired end. Gradually he was able to open his eyes, and then to unclench his taut fists.

"Father Abbot?"

The call came from behind, a familiar voice and not an enemy. He turned to see a very concerned Brother Francis staring at him.

"Father Abbot?" the man said again.

"Go and tell Brothers Youseff and Dandelion to come to me," the old man instructed. "And then you join in the discussion within the wagon ring. I must know the mood of my brothers."

"Yes, Father Abbot," Francis replied. "But should you be out here alone, with monsters - "

"Now!" Markwart growled.

Brother Francis disappeared behind another wagon, into the more common area within the ring. A moment later two forms, one hulking, the other lithe, appeared, moving silently to bow before their master.

"It is time for you to put your training to use," Markwart said to them. "Brother Justice is your title now, for each of you, the only name that you will know, the only name by which you will refer to each other. You cannot comprehend the urgency of this matter; the fate of all the Church rests on your actions these next few days.

"Brother Francis has come to believe that the stolen gemstones are in the hands of the woman, Jilseponie Ault, who is referred to as Jill or Pony by her friends," the old man went on. "And she, we be-lieve, is in the region about Caer Tinella, north of Palmaris, along the road to the Timberlands."

"We go straightaway," Youseff replied.

"You go in the morning," Father Abbot Markwart corrected. "In disguise, and appearing as no monk. You go by ferry across the river, then into Palmaris. The journey north will wait one day."

"Yes, Father Abbot," the pair said in unison, cuing on the old man's hesitation.

"Or five days," Markwart went on, "if that is what it takes. You see, we have a problem in Palmaris, one which you must eliminate."

Again Markwart hesitated, considering the course. Perhaps he should split the pair, that if one of them failed in this matter, the other might still get to the stones. Perhaps he should bypass Pal-maris and concentrate on the gemstones, and then, when that issue was settled, he could send the pair back out.

No, he realized. By that time the conspiracy against him would be fully entrenched, perhaps even expecting trouble from him, and even worse, Connor knew of the woman and might find her before the monks.

"Connor Bildeborough," he said suddenly. "He has become a problem to me, to all the Church. He seeks the gemstones for his personal gain," he lied.

"The problem is to be eliminated," Brother Youseff reasoned.

"Leave no trail."

After a long silence the two men bowed and turned about, starting away.

Markwart hardly noticed the movement, as he considered his last words.Leave no trail.

Would that be possible with a suspicious Abbot Dobrinion in Palmaris? Dobrinion was no fool, nor was he weak with the few stones he possessed, one of which was a soul stone. The man might even find Connor's spirit before it flew far from the world, and from it learn the truth.

But Dobrinion was alone, isolated. There wasn't another monk at St. Precious of any consequence, not another who could use hematite for so difficult a task.

"Brothers Justice," Markwart said.

The two men spun about, running back to stand before their superior.

"The trouble is deeper than Connor Bildeborough, for he is in league with another who might put the stones to devastating use," Markwart explained. "If this man gets the gemstones, he will claim leadership of the Church, and will assume his place in St.-Mere-Abelle."

It was all preposterous, of course, but the two men, their minds bent by the expert work of Master De'Unnero, hung intent on every word.

"It pains me greatly," the Father Abbot lied. "Yet, I have no choice in the matter. You must kill two men in Palmaris, the other being Dobrinion Calislas, abbot of St. Precious."

Just a hint of surprise showed on the alert face of Brother Youseff, while Brother Dandelion accepted the order as easily as if Markwart had just told him to throw away the dinner scraps.

"It must appear to be an accident," Markwart went on. "Or an act of our monster enemies, perhaps. There can be no mistakes. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Father Abbot," Brother Dandelion replied at once.

Markwart studied Youseff, who wore a wicked smile. The man nodded, and it seemed to Markwart that he was enjoying the prospect of this immensely.

"Your reward awaits you at St.-Mere-Abelle," Markwart finished.

"Our reward, Father Abbot, is in the service, in the act itself," Brother Youseff declared.

Now Father Abbot Markwart, too, was smiling wickedly. And feeling much better. Suddenly, as with his earlier reflections, everything seemed to come clear to him, as though he had found a deeper level of concentration where all the worries could be put aside, all distractions ignored, and problems could be resolved logi-cally and with foresight. He reconsidered his course about re-calling Master Jojonah. Let the man be gone to Ursal until he died, for all he cared, for without Dobrinion's backing, Master Jojonah seemed no real threat.

Yes, if all went well with the Brothers Justice, the elimination of two potential problems and the retrieval of the stones, the issue would be settled, as would his own place in the history of the Abel-lican Order. Now the Father Abbot was agitated again, excited. He knew that he could not sleep this night and had to find some dis-traction, something to allow him to believe he was working toward that most coveted goal. He went to Brother Francis then, bidding the man to collect Grady Chilichunk and meet him outside the wagon ring. When Francis arrived, verily dragging the protesting Grady, Markwart motioned for him to follow and then led the pair far away from the ring.

"Is this safe?" Brother Francis dared to ask.

"Brothers Youseff and Dandelion are shadowing our every move," Markwart lied, for he was little concerned about any mon-sters, sensing somehow that few were about. Like the revelations that had come to him, he just somehow knew there was no danger out here.

Not for him, anyway. Poor Grady Chilichunk could not claim the same.

"You were her brother, for years," Markwart said to him.

"Not by choice, nor by blood," Grady replied, spitting every word with contempt.

"But by circumstance, and that is equally damning," Markwart came back.

Grady chuckled and turned away, but Francis was there in an instant, forcing the man's head back so he looked Markwart in the eye.

"You are not repentant," Markwart remarked.

Grady tried to look away again, and this time Francis not only forced his head back, but kicked him hard in the back of the knees, dropping him to a kneeling position before the Father Abbot. The young monk stayed right beside Grady, keeping him in that posi-tion, grabbing him by the hair and turning up his head so he could not look away from his superior.

"I have committed no crime!" Grady protested. "Nor, cer-tainly, have my parents. You are the unholy one!" Grady Chilichunk had never been a brave man. He always followed the course of luxury, willingly serving as lackey to men of higher po-sition, particularly Connor Bildeborough, that his own life be easier. Nor had he ever been a dutiful son, turning his back on his parents and their business - except for the monies it provided him -??for many years. But now, helpless and hopeless on the road with the brutal and powerful monks, something changed within Grady, some sense of responsibility. He cared little for his own comfort at that time, focusing rather on the fact that his parents, his mother, were being so ill-treated. All the world had gone crazy, it seemed, and Grady somehow understood that all the whining and pleading and cooperating he could muster would not get him, and certainly not his parents, out of this trouble. With hopelessness came anger, and that anger in Grady sparked action - a rare thing for the cowardly man. He spat up at Markwart, hitting the Father Abbot in the face.

Markwart only laughed, unconcerned, but Francis, horrified that this common peasant would do such a thing to the Father Abbot, drove his elbow into the side of Grady's head. The man groaned and tumbled, and Francis was on him, kicking him hard, again in the head, then falling atop him, rolling him over onto his belly and yanking his arms painfully behind his back.

Grady said nothing, was too dazed to even offer a protest.

"Enough, Brother Francis," Markwart said calmly, patting his hand in the air. "His actions only verify that this one has turned his back on the Abellican Church and all the goodliness in the world."

Still Grady only lay limply beneath Brother Francis, groaning softly.

"Well, it seems as though we'll get nothing important from this one this night," Markwart remarked.

"I am sorry, Father Abbot," Francis said with alarm, but again Markwart was making no complaints. Given the events he had set into motion, the Father Abbot was simply in too fine a mood to let anything upset him.

"Take him back and put him in his bed," Markwart said.

Brother Francis hauled Grady to his feet and started away, but then stopped, realizing that Markwart wasn't following.

"I will enjoy the peace of the night," the Father Abbot explained.

"Alone?" Francis asked. "Out here?"

"Be gone," Markwart bade him. "There is no danger out here."

Francis found that he had little choice but to follow the com-mand. He left slowly, looking back often, and every time seeing his Father Abbot standing calmly, unafraid.

For indeed Father Abbot Markwart was absolutely certain of his safety, for though he didn't know it, he was not alone.

The spirit of Bestesbulzibar was with him, relishing in his choices this dark night, guiding those decisions.

Much later on, Markwart slept contentedly, so much so that when Francis came to rouse him at the dawn, he instructed the brother to go away, and to let the others sleep in, as well. Several hours later Markwart did rise, to find most of the camp astir and a very nervous Brother Francis pacing back and forth near the three wagons that each held one of the Chilichunks.

"He'll not awaken," the brother explained to Markwart when he came over to see what was the matter.


"The son, Grady," Francis explained, shaking his head, then nodding toward the wagon that held the man. Markwart went in, and came back out grim-faced.

"Bury him by the side of the road," the Father Abbot said. "A shallow grave, unconsecrated ground." And he walked by Francis as though nothing out of sorts was going on, as though this had just been another routine order. He stopped just a few steps away and turned back on Francis. "And make certain that the other prisoners, particularly the dangerous centaur, know nothing of this," he ex-plained. "And Brother Francis, you bury him yourself, after, the caravan has departed."

A panicked look came over Francis, to which Markwart only chuckled and walked away, leaving the brother alone with his guilt.

Francis' thoughts whirled. He had killed a man! The night be-fore, he must have hit Grady too hard, or kicked him too hard. He replayed the events over and over, wondering how he had done such a thing, or what he might have done differently, all the while fighting hard not to scream out aloud.

He was trembling, eyes darting all about. He felt the sweat on his forehead as he saw the Father Abbot coming back toward him.

"Be at peace, brother," Markwart said. "It was an unfortunate accident."

"I killed him," Francis gasped in reply.

"You defended your Father Abbot," Markwart answered. "I will perform a ceremony of absolution back at St.-Mere-Abelle, but I assure you that your penitential prayers will be light."

Trying to hide his grin, Markwart left the man.

Brother Francis was not so easily calmed. He could understand the logic of Markwart's argument - the man had, after all, spat in the face of the Father Abbot of the Abellican Church. But while Francis could logically argue that this had indeed been an unfortu-nate accident, his own actions justified, the rationalization could not take root in his heart. The pedestal had been knocked out from under him, that pervasive self-belief that he was above all other men. Francis had made mistakes before, of course, and he knew it, but not to this extreme. He remembered all the times of his life when he had imagined that he was the only real person, and that everyone else, and everything else, was merely a part of his dream of consciousness.

Now, suddenly, he felt as if he was just another man, a very small player in a very large script.

Later that morning, as the caravan moved far away, Brother Francis pushed the dirt on the pale face of Grady Chilichunk. In one blackened corner of his heart, Francis knew then that he was a damned thing.

Subconsciously that heart and soul ran to the Father Abbot then, for in that man's eyes, there had been no crime, no sin. In that man's view of the world, Brother Francis could hold his illusions.



I cried for the death of Brother Justice.

That was not his real name, of course. His real name was Quintall; I know not if that was his surname or his birth-given name, or if he even had another name. Just Quintall.

I do not think that I killed him, Uncle Mather - not when he was human, at least. I think that his human body died as a consequence of the strange broach he carried, a magical link, so Avelyn discovered, to that most evil demon.

Still, I cried for the man, for his death, in which I played a great part. My actions were taken in defense of Avelyn and Pony, and of myself, and given the same situation, I have no doubt that I would react similarly, would battle Brother Justice without hearing any cries of protest from my conscience.

Still, I cried for the man, for his death, for all the potential lost, wasted, perverted to an evil way. When I consider it now, that is the true sadness, the real loss, for in each of us there burns a candle of hope, a light of sacrifice and community, the potential to do great things for the betterment of all the world. In each of us, in every man and every woman, there lies the possibility of greatness.

What a terrible thing the leaders of Avelyn's abbey did to the man Quintall, to pervert him so into this monster that they called Brother Justice.

After Quintall's death, I felt, for the first time, as though I had blood on my hands. My only other fight with humans was with the three trappers, and to them I showed mercy - and mercy wellrepaid! But for Quintall there was no mercy; there could not have been even if he had survived my arrow and his fall, even if the demon dactyl and the magical broach had not stolen his spirit from his corporeal form. In no way short of his death could we have deterred Brother Justice from his mission to slay Avelyn. His purpose was all-consuming, burned into his every thought by a long and arduous process that had bent the man's free will until it had broken altogether, that had eliminated Quintall's own conscience and turned his heart to blackness.

Perhaps that is why the demon dactyl found him and embraced him.

What a pity, Uncle Mather. What a waste of potential.

In my years as a ranger, and even before that in the battle for Dundalis, I have killed many creatures - goblins, powries, giants - yet I shed no tears for them. I considered this fact long and hard in light of my feelings toward the death of Quintall. Were my tears for him nothing more than an elevation of my own race above all others, and if so, is that not the worst kind of pride?

No, and I say that with some confidence, for surely I would cry if cruel fate ever drove my sword against one of the Touel'alfar. Surely I would consider the death of a fallen elf as piteous and tragic as the death of a fallen man.

What then is the difference?

It comes down to a matter of conscience, I believe, for as in humans, perhaps even more so, the Touel'alfar possess the ability, indeed the inclination, to choose a goodly path. Not so with goblins, and certainly not with the vile powries. I am not so sure about the giants - it may be that they are simply too stupid to even understand the suffering their warlike actions bring. In either case, I'll shed no tears and feel no remorse for any of these monsters that falls prey to Tempest's cut or to Hawkwing's bite. By their own evilness do they bring their deaths. They are the creatures of the dactyl, evil incarnate, slaughtering humans - and often each other - for no better reason than the pleasure of the act.

I have had this discussion with Pony, and she posed an interesting scenario. She wondered whether a goblin babe, raised among humans, or among the Touel'alfar in the beauty of Andur'Blough Inninness, would be as vile as its wild kin. Is the evil of such beings a blackness within, ingrained and everlasting, or is it a matter of nurturing?

My friend, your friend, Belli'mar Juraviel, had the answer for her, for indeed his people had long ago taken a goblin child into their enchanted land and raised the creature as if it were kin. As it matured, the goblin was no less vicious and hateful, and no less dangerous than its kin raised in the dark holes of distant mountains. The elves, ever curious, tried the same thing with a powrie child, and the results were even more disastrous.

So I'll cry not for goblins and powries and giants, Uncle Mather. I shed no tears for creatures of the dactyl. But I do cry for Quintall, who fell into evil ways. I cry for the potential that was lost, for the one terrible choice that pushed him to blackness.

And I think, Uncle Mather, that in crying for Quintall, or for any other human or elf that cruel fate may force me to slay, I am preserving my own humanity.

This is the scar of battle, I fear, that will prove to be the most everlasting.

- elbryan the nightbird

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