Kyen lay unconscious on Ewin’s cot. The workbench stood back in place, and Ewin crawled about on his knees, collecting fallen ore and throwing them into a bucket. Each ore hit the bottom with a tinny clank.
Kyen groaned and opened his eyes. He tried to sit up, but putting a hand to his head, laid back on the pillow with a grimace.
“Ow… What happened?”
“You’re an obtuse blockhead, Kyen of Avanna. That’s what happened,” said Ewin. “By the Arc heights, I don’t know why I didn’t just leave you on that deck.” Ewin threw the last ore into the bucket with a clank that made Kyen wince.
“I’m sorry,” said Kyen.
“Keep your apologies. I’ve smelting to finish, and I’m not sharing my cot tonight. Clear out before you bring down more trouble.”
Kyen began to sit up again. He swung his feet over the bed where his boots waited below him. He pulled them on with sluggish hands. Once booted, Kyen stared at the far wall with a faraway look in his eyes.
Ewin stood, bucket in hand, and glared at Kyen. He slammed his bucket on the table, marched over, and slapped Kyen upside the head.
“I told you to leave!”
Kyen gripped his head in his hands and whimpered. “Ow…”
Ewin’s expression softened. He turned away to his work table. “You said you needed me to look at something? If it’s a fuzzy animal or another cheap trinket, I’m going to finish bashing your head in.”
Kyen, blinking back tears of pain, lifted his face. He dug into his pocket, pulled out a wad of cloth, and unwrapped it.
“Is this what I think it is?” Kyen held up the black dart.
Ewin shot the dart a brief glance only to give it a double take. He pushed aside his bucket to come frown into Kyen’s hand.
“Where did you get it?”
“It’s a black weapon, isn’t it,” said Kyen.
“Tell me something I don’t know.” Ewin snatched up the dart and eyed it. He wandered to his work table, pushed his cap out of his eyes, and took out a large magnifying glass on a stand. Ewin examined the dart under the lens.
“This isn’t from the vaults,” he said under his breath as he tweaked the knobs of the glass.
“I inventoried the Vaults of Varkest, Kyen. I know every black weapon locked away there,” said Ewin. “This is not one of them.”
“Then someone in Ellunon is making black weapons again,” said Kyen.
Ewin’s face fell grim. Shaking his head, he leaned against the table, propping himself up on his good arm.
“We swore the strictest oaths,” Ewin said to the tabletop. “After the Black War, all the Guilds of Denmont swore it! We burned our books. We dismissed our apprentices. We took what we could not forget to die in exile with us.” Ewin looked over to meet Kyen’s eyes. “You fought in the Black War. You remember, don’t you?”
Kyen held Ewin’s gaze.
“Whoever is making them, stop them,” said Ewin. “What you saw in the Black War, what these weapons can do to their victims, that’s the least of your troubles.” He touched his arm, bandaged uselessly to his side.
“What do you mean?” said Kyen.
“Every black weapon has its own mind, Kyen.” Ewin shook his head again. “A type of sentience. Faint. Unnoticeable. But it seeks entrance and influence over its wielder constantly. It can turn the flow of their thoughts, cultivating, suppressing, until the wielder becomes the wielded. Left under the influence of a black weapon long enough, and a man will become consumed.” Ewin held Kyen’s gaze steadily. “Whether it’s a child toying around or a remnant of Varkest still plotting. Stop them. Stop them before they fall in the black weapon’s grip. Because whoever is wielding it will not be his own master for long.”
Ewin held the black dart out to Kyen, but Kyen hesitated to take it back.
“You can hold onto this,” said Ewin. “But don’t let anyone else touch it much.”
Kyen took the dart, re-wrapped it, and put it back into his pocket. When he looked up, he smiled. “Thank you for your help, Ewin. You are a good friend.”
“And you, a wretched one,” Ewin glowered at him. “Be a good friend and leave before your problems swoop down on us both. I have to move again because of you.”
“I’m sorry,” said Kyen, ruefully. “I’ll go now.” Getting to his feet, Kyen made his way to the door while using a hand on the wall to steady himself.
Ewin’s voice stopped him on the threshold.
Kyen looked back.
“If anyone is struck by that black dart, whatever effect it may have, it will be irreversible,” said Ewin. “Have a care with it.”
“I will,” said Kyen. “It’s probably a child playing around without realizing it.”
“That’s not comforting.”
“Good riddance.” A look of concern rose on Ewin’s face as he watched Kyen tread out the open door and down the footpath. As the prairie grasses began to swallow the swordsman up, Ewin turned away, muttering under his breath: “Arc’s mercy on us. All of us.”
* * *
The Arc blazed down from high noon as Kyen stepped out from footpath and onto the highway. He started down it, paying no heed to the horseman galloping up, until he reined to a hard stop next to him.
“Kyen of Avanna?” asked the horseman, breathless. He bore the Veleda coat of arms on his surcoat.
“A message for you, sir.” The horseman handed Kyen a folded paper sealed with wax. The stamped insignia bore a rearing griffin.
Popping off the seal, Kyen unfolded the letter. He smiled. The unwieldy scrawl of a child filled the page. Kyen skipped to the bottom of the sheet where the letter had been signed: Prinsezz Adelaide of Veleda
He chuckled to himself and narrowed in on the rest of the letter. His smile faded as he read.
Deer Sir Kyen of Avanna,
Plees cum back to Veleda Castle. Sumthing iz wrong with Finn. He iz grumpee all the tiem. Finn and daddy fiet all the tiem. Finn duzzant talk too me. He duzzant play with me aneemor. I’m afrayd. Pleese cum back and help uz.
Prinsezz Adelaide of Veleda.
(Continue to Chapter 5 here!)