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The Crier’s Sacrifice

Part I: Infiltration

Chapter Fourteen: Monarchs and Mountains

Nathan Black
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In the middle of the afternoon on the fifth of July, a tired and irritable Nilrid entered the capital of Wystarin. The main road, that had taken him out of Tsatira, was intercepted by several local streets, which in turn were probably crossed by a multitude of back-roads and alleys. Sumiton had been designed to be a capital, however, so the boy was sure that everything about its organization made sense.

The first building he saw was the Sumiton Inn. It was a small building, but this was one of the puniest cities on the face of Derenda. His knees nearly collapsing at the sign of shelter, Nilrid went slowly to the wooden door, and walked in. Whatever accommodations were inside, they were almost certainly better than sleeping on the ground.

As he expected, the inn was much more pleasant than most of its counterparts in larger cities. There was a pungent smell of pipe-smoke, but the crowd looked calm, and everyone besides the young innkeeper was seated.

“No room,” the innkeeper called, seeing Nilrid walk in.

The boy laughed grimly. “You must be joking.”

“’Fraid not, sir,” he replied. “I don’t even have a spare corner for you to sleep in. You’ll have to go somewhere else.”

“Can you make a recommendation, then?” Nilrid asked.

“Well, this is the only inn in Sumiton open to the public. There’s the Diplomacy Inn down off Summit Street, but that’s across town, and they only let dignitaries stay there anyway.”

“But they have room?”

“I’m sure they do. Every ambassador in the entire country’s down at Romira for the Western Leaders Conference.”

“I’ll try to convince them. Thank you.” Frustrated and increasingly tired, the boy left.

Walking south along the main road (known as Indimer Road), Nilrid passed a large tailor’s shop, a marble courthouse, and then came to the city center. Here, above the small Romira Creek, New Yansor and Querisia Roads joined Indimer to form one major highway. Another, fourth road led off to the large Palace of Wystarin, situated in the southeastern section of the city. But the boy saw no Summit Street, so he continued southward.

The next building he passed was the Palatial Annex. Here, visitors to the political center of Wystarin left their weapons and received an escort. After numerous assassination attempts, the government was taking no chances with its leader. South of that were the recruiting buildings, for the national and palace armies. Finally, past a very large structure built for international conferences, he came to Summit Street. Turning right, the second building he came to was The Diplomacy Inn.

While the outside was archaic, the interior was one of the nicest Nilrid had ever seen. There was no such thing as a straw mattress in this inn.

Just as the innkeeper from The Sumiton Inn had predicted, the room was nearly empty. There were a few important-looking men and women standing around, drinking wine, but their number couldn’t have exceeded fifteen.

Taking a deep breath, the boy approached the counter where the stiff innkeeper was standing. Suddenly, he felt a tugging on his arm.

“Don’t bother,” a voice said, dragging him to a seat at a nearby table. The man was middle-aged, his brown hair just beginning to show flecks of gray. Still, he was well-built, and his brown eyes flashed with intelligence. “It doesn’t matter if the entire place is empty—no one gets a room except nobles and diplomats. And pardon me for saying so,” he chuckled, “but you hardly look the part.”

“No, I’m a town crier,” Nilrid replied. “But surely they’ll reconsider...”

“I’m afraid not. The security here is very tight—in fact, if I hadn’t pulled you over here, you’d have been kicked out.”

The boy frowned. “Why am I all right now?”

He shrugged. “I have some influence on events around here. They think that anyone I talk to must be important. And somehow, you do look important.” He held out his hand. “Alimond Wystarin the Fourth. Pleased to meet you.”

Nilrid smiled knowingly as he shook the King of Wystarin’s hand. His surprise was only momentary that time. “Why aren’t you in Romira?”

“Oh, I don’t have time for all that ceremony. I sent my son and three of my ambassadors, so that ought to take care of it.”

“Isn’t that considered rude? After all, King Jizir was there, and I’m sure all of the other leaders came.”

“Oh, did Jizir show up?” Alimond asked. “He’s one of my closest friends. Perhaps I should have gone after all. You see, he’s got some sort of espionage project planned, but he’s lost his spy, so I thought he would stay in Yansor and marshal search parties.”

“Ah, but the spy is in Wystarin right now,” Nilrid reminded the King.

“I’m sure he is... wait a moment...” Alimond studied his acquaintance carefully, and then laughed. “Well, this truly is a pleasure. Good afternoon, Nilrid of Fyr’nay. I’ll have to send a letter to Jizir and tell him I found his agent.”

“I spoke with him at Summit Green,” Nilrid replied. “A very helpful man—he told me not to trust anyone.”

“That’s good advice,” the King remarked.

“Yes, especially since one of his guards tried to kill me the next day.”

Alimond sighed. “Tanaveri is becoming much more versatile in their infiltrations. It used to be that every agent they turned out was either a minstrel or a stableboy, but now it can be anyone; royal guards, tailors, even nobles! That’s why I move around the city as much as possible. Believe me, you wouldn’t see Jizir or the Grand Duchess of Mallsey talking to a foreign spy in a local inn.”

“Perhaps I should leave, before one of your own bodyguards recognizes me and turns out to be a devout Malthanian.”

“Well, you’re welcome to a night in the Palace, but if you feel you’re in danger...” the King began.

“Never mind,” Nilrid interrupted. “You have no idea how grateful I am for your hospitality.”

“I thought so,” Alimond laughed. “Guards, we’re leaving!” he called above the numerous conversations.

Every person in the room besides the innkeeper got up and escorted the King and his companion out. The boy couldn’t help gasping slightly. What would have happened if someone had walked in there and tried to kill Alimond? They wouldn’t even get the knife out of its sheath before they were struck down by supposed bystanders. As far as its leader was concerned, Wystarin was in very good hands.

The day after the next, Nilrid reluctantly left his comfortable guest room in the Palace of Wystarin and continued on his way. The weather was poor, with thunderstorms raging above Nilrid’s head as he walked, cold and miserable from the driving rain. He considered stopping and resting under a tree until the storm let up, but the spectacular flashes of lightning changed his mind.

As evening approached, the boy was in the high, barren foothills that preceded the Finsyn Mountains. He camped that night on a slope, that was so treeless he could see for hundreds of miles around him.

He entered the mountain range on the eighth of July. The weather was pleasant, at first, but that afternoon, the air turned cold and a vicious thunderstorm hit in the space of five minutes. Nilrid had a feeling he wasn’t going to enjoy this part of his journey very much.

The views were beautiful, though. Whenever he came above the tree-line on a mountain, he could see the other, green-coated mountains on one side, and the plains and fields of western Wystarin on another. On the second mountain he climbed, his vision stretched all the way to the tall towers of Ulist. But he had little time to stand and admire the scenery; he wanted to be in civilization by dusk.

In reality, it was already a dark and frigid night when the boy reached the village of Finsyn. Shivering with the cold, Nilrid scurried back and forth through the empty streets before he finally found the town’s only inn.

The instant he opened the door, a blanket of warm air rushed over him. Sighing with relief, the boy stumbled in and took at seat at an empty table.

“Good evening,” the innkeeper chuckled. He was a burly man, with arms as broad as Nilrid’s head, but he had a friendly-looking face. “You must be from the lowlands.”

The boy nodded. “I’m originally from Fyr’nay. I was expecting to get here before nightfall, but...”

“You didn’t. But you might as well get used to it; the next village after this is a hundred miles eastward. Try to make that in a day, and you’ll die of exhaustion, not cold.”

He fumbled under his counter for a key, and then tossed it to Nilrid, who caught it with one pale hand. “The room’s on me for tonight, since you’re in no condition to quibble over a bill. Tomorrow, perhaps, you should see the tailor and buy yourself a nice, fur coat.”

Thanking the innkeeper for his generosity and advice, the boy trudged up to his room, admitted himself, and immediately fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Admittedly, the fur coat Nilrid bought in Finsyn did make the cold much more bearable, but the price he’d had to pay had depleted most of the money he’d gotten from Tamaya in Tsatira. It was made of mink fur, or some such nonsense, and was soft as the snow the boy was walking through, but he felt like he should be wearing a crown along with it. Formality was ridiculous when he was still thirty miles away from the nearest town.

It was the eleventh of July. Nilrid hoped to arrive in Mountown, the next village, in two or three days, but traveling this high was slow going. Between the deep, wet snow, the early nightfalls and occasional, merciless storms, the boy was unable to average more than fifteen or twenty miles a day, and sometimes he had to halt his journey altogether.

Around four in the afternoon, as the sky was beginning to darken, he reached the summit of an especially high mountain. Feeling extremely tired and a bit short of breath, he sat down on a pile of snow to rest.

Suddenly, the snowdrift dropped out from under him, and he fell seven or eight feet into a dark pit. Before he could react, he felt huge hands on him, twisting his neck around as if the creature was trying to break it.

Nilrid summoned and shrunk his power without thinking. Perhaps ten seconds after the ordeal began, it was over, and the boy was sitting alone in a puddle of water, at the bottom of a crater of melted snow. Only the sickly sweet smell of a vaporized animal was there to remind him that anything had happened.

I wonder what that was, he thought to himself. He was standing up as he heard a hideous cry, and another beast jumped into the pit with him. This one carried a long, heavy-looking sword.

Maintaining his calm, the boy prepared another spell of extreme heat, almost as potent as the Whitefire that older wizards casted. But before he could release the power, he felt a staggering pain on his chest, and fell to the ground. He had been too slow, and the giant troll had slashed him right across the ribs.

Ignoring the pain, Nilrid managed to finish the spell, and dealt his enemy a considerably worse return blow. Then, looking with concern at his wound, he began the complicated healing process that Iquen had explained to him. But he had lost a great deal of blood in a short period of time, and he was only able to finish the job halfway before he fainted.

It was the next morning when he awoke. He finished the healing job then, but his wounds had bled during the night and he was still too exhausted to move. He had just enough magical energy left to teleport somewhere, but he remembered the warnings he’d received, and reconsidered. In a day or so, he would probably be fine, but how would he eat? And what about the cold? A magical blanket of warmth for 24 hours or three conjured meals a day would certainly add up to something detectable by a passing Malthanian.

Miserable, he lay back and tried to relax. If he wasn’t better by noon, he told himself, he’d take a chance and teleport to Indimer. But how was he supposed to know what the city looked like, beyond a few rough ideas? He remembered that warning, as well.

Seeing that his options had run out, he closed his eyes and tried to escape from the frigid, painful reality.

Just then, his bright-red ears picked up the sound of hooves pounding on the road above him. As they drew closer, Nilrid felt a surge of hope, and mustered enough strength to groan, “Help!”

“I hear you,” a smooth voice replied, and the horse stopped. The boy dimly saw a man of about thirty jump into the ditch with him. He was dressed after the fashion of an Esantan noble, wearing gold-lined clothes that were meant to blend with his well-kept, blond hair. “By Gelz, every wizard this side of the Salaver River noticed you. You’re very proficient at heat spells, but if you’re trying to be discreet, I might recommend you not cast two in the space of a few moments.”

“I was attacked twice,” Nilrid said lamely, struggling to keep his voice audible. Every time he spoke—or breathed, for that matter—his cut and bruised ribs swelled outward, making him gasp with pain. “I suppose I could have thought of something creative for the second troll, but...”

“You weren’t thinking,” the man finished, picking the boy up beginning the climb out of the ditch.


“The entire Council of the Arcane can’t teach you common sense, boy. Most of them don’t have all that much themselves, come to think of it. You’ll just have to live and learn.” He gently lay Nilrid across his horse, an obedient brown mare. “By the way, you are Nilrid of Fyr’nay, are you not?”

“Ah... well...” the boy debated whether or not this man was worth trusting. He seemed friendly enough, and had probably saved his life, but since his encounter with Jizir’s guard he’d learned not to assume.

“Yes,” the man nodded, chuckling as he mounted his horse and turned her towards the rising sun. “I don’t expect you to lie very well in your present condition, but perhaps there will be time for me to work with you on your technique.” He started the horse at a trot, and gradually increased her speed. “Well, I’m Asinai, as I’m sure you’re relieved to hear.”

“I am,” Nilrid replied.

“We’ll reach Mountown before nightfall, and then I can get you some real help. After that, we’ll teleport to my house in Indimer.”

The boy frowned. “I don’t mean to be rude, Wizard Asinai, but do you realize I was just attacked by Malthanians? Don’t you think teleporting is a good way to be detected and attacked again?”

“That’s what Malthan’s commanders want you to think,” Asinai replied. “If you’re too worried about being noticed to teleport anywhere, then why not station a thousand minions along the road? By jumping to Indimer, we’ll have thrown off their scheme by a fortnight’s travel. And by the time they reorganize, you’ll be well on your way to the Tanaverian border.”

“But there are spies in Indimer, are there not?”

“Of course. Teleportation or no, there’s not any way to avoid that. They already know where I live, and they discovered I would be housing you through that leak in Jizir’s council of advisors.”

“He’s been plugged,” the boy replied simply.

“All the same, I’m sure there are fifteen or twenty spies by my home every day. But human Malthanians won’t be a problem; they know what we can do to them. We should be perfectly safe, so long as we don’t let our guard down.”

“Well, I don’t think Wekain would approve, but you’ve been a wizard much longer than I have.”

“Oh, only by about ten years,” Asinai said modestly. “And you’re by far the senior in ability. Already, you’re powerful enough to make a Necromancer shake in his boots.”

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Copyright ©Nathan Black, 1998
By the same author RSSThere are no more works at
Date of publicationFebruary 2000
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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