Visit our Bookstore
Home | Fiction | Nonfiction | Novels | |
Innisfree Poetry | Enskyment Journal | International | FACEBOOK | Poetry Scams | Stars & Squadrons | Newsletter



By David Moody

Copyright 2000 by David Moody

Click here to send comments

Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques

                                                Chapter one

                           The dreams were coming more frequently now, unbidden and unwanted, flooding his mind with memories that were best left buried.  They had started spasmodically, forcing him to relive all that he tried so hard to forget, increasing in duration and frequency until daylight became his only sanctuary.  Yet even during the day the columns of smoke rising above distant villages were an ever present reminder of Richwood and all that had been lost there, snuffed out in one fateful and cataclysmic moment.  Then, slowly, insidiously, they began to work their way into his waking consciousness.  He had only to settle for a few moments, to rest his legs from the day’s journey and he would fall instantly asleep.  He was aware it was happening but was powerless to prevent it.  He would see again the Captain laying in the copse, his tunic red with blood, beseeching him to avoid the temptation to return home.

            “Head north Brandon.  That is where your destiny lies.”

            He could hear his empty promise to honor that request. He saw too that the Captain understood the hollowness of his oath - that Brandon would agree to anything to speed his passage into the next world.

            The old witch Carillon was to blame, filling the Captain’s head with promises of an easy victory.  Brandon could visualize her in his minds eye as he had first seen her; an old crone cackling around a boiling cauldron chanting spells to a heathen goddess, the dark hut heavy with the stench of decay.  It was an image he used when he thought of her.  It helped him  put a face to his misery.  The truth was less dramatic.  There was no cauldron.  No spells.  No stench of decay.  She was just an old, cantankerous woman with nothing good to say to or about him.  Yet what she did say filled the Captain with hope.  He came away electrified, convinced that the time of salvation was at hand.  To give her her due (which Brandon did most begrudgingly), she had cautioned that his young ward might not be the one of prophecy; the savior Armorica had waited three hundred years to embrace.  The Captain had chosen to hear only what he had wanted to hear.

            He had died on the fifth day and Brandon buried him in a shallow grave under the sheltering canopy of trees, the buzzards and carrion crows drowning out his few inadequate mumblings.  Ignoring all that the Captain had said he sped like a homing pigeon back to Drummond, Armorica’s capital and his home, hoping the familiar surroundings would help restore a feeling of normalcy to a life turned upside down.  The bodies scattered around the approaches to the city told of others with the same idea.  The enemy had anticipated such a reaction.  Wasting no time celebrating their victory they had reached the city first and set their traps.  Drummond still stood.  It’s crude outer wall had been easily breached, the homes of the masses overrun, pillaged and put to the torch but the impregnable inner wall, built by the Ancients, using techniques that were long since lost to the people of Armorica, had stood firm.  Behind it were the palaces and temples, the homes of the nobles and the university.  While they still stood so too did Armorica.

            He felt again the familiar sensation as he slipped into unconsciousness.  He fought it as he always fought it, knowing the futility of his actions yet unprepared to surrender his mind to the ravages of sleep.  With sleep would come the dreams.  It was the dreams he feared.


            He was back in the copse with the Captain.  It was their fifth day of hiding.  The frenzied activity of the first couple of days had given way to an eerie calm with only the sounds of the carrion crows and buzzards to disturb the peace.  The Mercians had removed their wounded and seen their dead into the nether world on huge funeral pyres that had turned night into day.  Armorican wounded had been dispatched mercilessly just as  had been promised.  It was what kept Brandon in hiding.  They had all heard it as they stood in the shield wall awaiting the terrible onslaught that was to come; the command thrown out and taken up by a thousand voices, “No quarter.  Take no prisoners!”  Had it not been for that he would have surrendered long ago and put the Captain into the hands of the enemy physicians.  His wound was mortal but who knew what magic the Mercians might posses?  The surrounding area had been searched again and again for Armorican warriors in hiding.  Now they had moved on.

            The Captain did not look good.  He had been getting worse with each day, slipping in and out of consciousness and rambling deliriously.  He would die later that day.  He would have died sooner they both knew but for their unresolved issue.  During his more lucid moments he would argue with Brandon, beseeching him, ordering him, threatening him until the young man came to dread his waking moments.  Through sheer force of will the Captain would clear his mind of the thick blanket of delirium and press on Brandon the importance of his message.  He did so again though the effort involved was obviously immense.

            “Brandon, last night I saw friends I haven’t seen since the old days.  They were just as I remembered them before they passed over the bridge of souls.  They were young again - free of all earthly care.  They  beckoned  me.”  A sadness touched his eyes.  “I would have gone.  This life holds nothing for me now but pain.  I wanted to go.  They held out their arms to me.  They took my hand to guide me across but I held back.  I fought them.  I could see from their expressions that they didn’t understand why.”  He held the younger man in a look so intense that eventually Brandon had to avert his eyes.  You understand why.”

            “I want to be with those men Brandon.  I don’t want to hold onto this life any longer.  The pain is...”  He smiled self deprecatingly.  He had never been one to complain of hardship.  “Well, it ain’t pleasant.”  He coughed.  The violent movement racked his body and contorted his face.  Brandon’s hands fluttered impotently as he attempted to help.  He wasn’t a physician.  What did he know about easing a dyeing man’s pain?  The pain passed.  The Captain took a few shallow breaths then gripped the younger man’s arm with   fierce intensity.  “I want to join those friends.  I want to sit with them at the  banquet table recalling past exploits.  But most of all, I want to be able to tell them that Armorica is safe; that the prophecy we all grew up with - that our forefathers handed down to us - has come to pass.”

            Brandon sighed deeply.  They had been through this so many times before.

            “Don’t tell me you’re not the one,” snapped the Captain with surprising vigor.  “We both know you are.”

            Brandon knew it was pointless contesting that opinion.   He knew that people had a way of seeing only what they wanted to see and were conveniently blind to all else.  The Captain had always been hardheaded  and would close the curtain on his life that way.  What he knew to be the truth and what the Captain chose to believe were worlds apart so instead he tried a less direct approach.

            “Carillon said I probably wasn’t the one.”

            “She said you might not be the one and she only said that to upset you - to make you prove her wrong.”

            “Why would I want to prove her wrong?”

            “Because you don’t like her.”

            Brandon thought that was just plain foolishness but he didn’t want to dispute it with a dyeing man.  Carillon didn’t give a damn about him or his opinions.  What did she care what he thought?  He was schooled in the religion of the Ancients, not the cult of sorcery and witchcraft that she practiced.  Had he shared her beliefs she might have attempted to manipulate him to further her ends but as it was their beliefs were so far apart that any co-operation between them was unimaginable.

            He had always thought Carillon’s religion had been expunged centuries ago when the Ancients first came to Armorica, sweeping away it’s barbaric practices of human sacrifice and infanticide and replacing it with their own, more benevolent gods; gods that had no need of witchcraft or the threat of eternal damnation to keep the people compliant.  Of course he had often heard tales of witches and witchcraft but most were just folklore or the ramblings of frightened people blaming sickness or bad harvests on harmless old women.  He had witnessed the fate of convicted witches, burned alive in Drummond’s main square - but not since he was a child.  He remembered too the ungodly stench that arose from those burnings and after the second vowed never to witness another. 

            Brandon felt he was an open minded individual, tolerant of others beliefs and superstitions.  He knew there were many who did not worship the gods of the Ancients and was quite willing to overlook their shortcomings.  The country folk followed a religion based loosely on the old one but without it’s cruelty or machinations.  Priests conducted highly ritualized services within a stone circle just as they had in years gone by, but the gods they prayed to were less demanding of them, more lenient towards the frailty and transgressions of mortals.

            Even so, the people were careful to keep their religion hidden, for though the king and his nobles might be prepared to turn a blind eye, they were not prepared to openly sanction what was, after all, an illegal activity.  So outwardly the country folk in their little hamlets and villages would demonstrate their devotion to the Ancient’s religion while harboring idols and talismans of a much older one.  It was an arrangement that suited them as much as it did the city and town dwellers who were quite content to believe that the kingdom was united in a common faith.  And to most people in a big city like Drummond who never had need to leave it’s protective walls and see where the grains that made their bread or the grapes that made their wine or the fruits and vegetables that filled their plates came from, a person who lived on and worked the land was as foreign to them as one who lived on the moon.  To these people came the automatic assumption that everyone shared the same beliefs.

            As it had been with Brandon.  Until he met the Captain he was quite unaware of the dual religions existing side by side.  Men in his regiment, many hastily recruited from the surrounding area had been at great pains to present an appearance of religious unity with the men from Drummond.  They built alters to the same Gods and lay the same offerings down before them yet at times simple gestures would illuminate the differences dramatically.  Signs to ward off evil were universal; touching a sword hilt or a piece of wood or metal, but often he would catch men spitting, then hastily and somewhat bashfully touching their sword hilt.  He had put it down to regional differences - until the Captain began providing him with more details than he cared to know.

            Revealing the existence of the old religion was one thing.  After all, it was hardly a secret to anyone with experience of the wider world but to expose him to the darker side of that religion in the form of Carillon, was unforgivable.  It was partly the reason he found it so easy to refuse a dyeing man his last request.  That and an innate fear of what awaited him if he did.

            “We both know you’re the one,” the Captain said.  “We both felt it that day back in camp.  Don’t deny it Brandon,” he added harshly.  “You have the gift.  Do you know how rare that is?  I have it.  Carillon has it - stronger than any other living being in Armorica - in the six kingdoms even.  But what you have goes beyond anything she possesses.  I have made it my life’s work to find the chosen one of prophecy.  In twenty years I haven’t even come close until I saw you.  I knew in an instant that you were the one.  Carillon knows it too and will move heaven and earth to get you to fulfill your destiny.  She will help you.  You must listen to her.  She knows things that will stagger your mind ”  His strength began to ebb and he released Brandon’s arm, slowly sinking back to the ground, his eyes gazing vacantly towards the sky.  His labored breathing settled into a shallow rhythm that became almost unnoticeable. His days of fighting, of battling for every lung full of breath were over.Whether he swayed the young man or not, the old soldier knew it was time to give up the ghost.

            But he had been a fighter all his life and was unused to failure.  He had to try one last time - just as Brandon knew he would.

            “You must head North Brandon.  It is where your destiny lies.  There is nothing left for you down south.  Drummond has fallen, the king gone.  Soon most of Armorica will be in Mercian hands.  In the North is where the resistance will build.  That is where you will find your army.  That is where Carillon will be waiting.  You must promise me this.” 

              Brandon put his hand in the Captain’s.  It felt old and feeble, a shell of the tough soldier he knew him to be.

            “I promise.”  He put all the conviction he could muster into the lie, holding the Captains eyes with his own, willing them to convey a sincerity he did not feel.

            The Captain sensed the insincerity.  Perhaps he had been in too many battles to know that they were never won this easily.  “Your’e the finest man I ever fought with Brandon.  The truest warrior in Armorica.  I feel proud to have known you.  Do this one last thing for me.  For you.  For Armorica.”  He realized he had laid it on a bit thick.  The lad wasn’t going to do it for himself so why would he do it for his country.  There were plenty of others more than willing to fill that role.  He realized, belatedly that he should never have introduced him to Carillon.  She took a bit of getting used to.  Her and her religion.  But he had to know what he was up against.  She would make her presence felt sooner or later and the fact that he had been able to soften the blow for the boy would make their later encounters less traumatic.

            “Head North Brandon; it is your destiny.”


            He awoke instantly, the way he always did after one of his dreams and knew in that same instant he was not alone.  He was beside a small stream.  He remembered quenching his thirst, easing back on his haunches, then being overtaken by sleep.  He was still in the same position.  He had no idea how long he had been asleep.  He never knew.  Although it seemed as if he dreamed for hours the sun was always in the same position when he awoke and the songbirds were still warbling the same song. 

            A sudden panic gripped him as he realized his weapons were not in front of him where he had left them, then in the same thought remembered that they were beside him, a couple of feet to his right.  In one fluid movement he leaped to his feet, snatched up his sword and whirled around to find two men, about ten feet away, standing slightly bent as if in the act of examining him, puzzled expressions on their faces.They jumped in alarm, scurrying backwards a couple of feet, nervously eying the fierce looking blade before them.

            “We didn’t mean no harm,” said the older one urgently.  “Honest Lord, we thought you was dead or something, just sitting still for so long like that.”  He was bald and paunchy and looked a deal older than his forty years.  The other was younger, tall and gangly, no more than a youth.  From their much mended wool tunics and tattered leggings Brandon surmised they were farm laborers.

            Brandon flicked his sword tip at the older one.  “What are you doing here?”

            “Nothing Lord.  We saw you from up there on the ridge and wondered what you was doing sitting here so still and all alone.”  He looked to the youth for confirmation but the boy refused to meet his eye, glaring at Brandon with a malevolence that seemed totally out of place under the circumstances.  It was obvious they were not trained warriors.  In all probability neither one had ever held a weapon in his life.  They were not a threat to him and yet in these turbulent times even the most innocuous folk were turning to robbery and murder to survive.  The youth certainly looked as if he wanted to inflict harm, yet lacked both the physique and the weaponry to do it.

            “We didn’t mean no harm,” the older one said again, hoping his more conciliatory approach would counter balance the overtly hostile looks the other one was giving.  “We just saw you and thought...”

            “That you might find some easy pickings.”

            “Well, a dead man don’t need a fancy sword,” the younger man leered.

                        The older man jabbed him in the stomach with his elbow.  “Don’t mind Isaak my Lord, he don’t mean no harm.  We just didn’t know if you was alive or not.  We was only checking.  After all it did look peculiar from up there, you just sitting so still, like.”  The young warrior said nothing and the old  man kept talking to cover his unease.  “My name’s Jeff and this here is my son Isaak.  We worked on the land for our Lord Justin until the Mercians came.  They took everything.  They had no use for it, weren’t  no use to them but they took it anyway.  So we left.  We had no choice.  We had no food or belongings.  Our Lord had left to fight with the king...  There was nothing to hold us there.”  He nodded at the sword.  “You was at the battle of Richwood?”  Brandon nodded.  “Nasty business that I hear.  You boys never had a chance.”

            The young warriors silence disturbed Jeff.  He wanted to take his leave but was unable to find an appropriate way of doing it so he kept talking.  “I fought for my Lord Justin once.  It was about twenty years ago.  Not against the Mercians though.  Lord Vallera I think it was.  Some sort of falling out between them but I can’t remember what.  ’Course I didn’t have a fancy sword like that.  No one did except a few of my Lords professional soldiers.  I was a spear man.  Didn’t see a lot of action.  It was all over pretty quickly.  I stayed on a hill while the professionals took care of Vallera’s men.  My Lord had most of the professionals you see.  Vallera, he had mostly farm hands like me.  My Lord Justin didn’t butcher them the way the Mercians did with you.  He set them free.  Only the Baron and his Captains had their heads cut off.  Right there on the bloody battlefield.  My Lord wasn’t going to take any chances of them getting a pardon from the king.  ‘I am a man of swift retribution.’  That’s what he said.  I remember it as if it were yesterday.  ‘I am a man of swift retribution.’  He was too.  We all made sure not to upset his Lordship.”

            The old man lapsed into an uncomfortable silence.  With head bowed he surreptitiously studied the young warrior.  His looks were unremarkable; slightly taller than average, brown eyed with wavy light brown hair, a handsome but not particularly strong face and a wiry body made thinner through lack of nourishment.  His clothes, though evidently well tailored, were scuffed and frayed and in great need of a cleaning.  Were it not for the sword he could have been dismissed as ordinary.

            Yet it was his ordinariness that impressed him.  Twenty years ago he had seen that same look in Lord Justin’s champion, a young, assuming man who waited with a bemused expression on his face while Vallera’s hefty, battle scarred champion, a veteran of many such contests, paraded around the ring, extolling his virtues and boasting loudly in vulgar terms all the things he was going to do to the young man before him.  Yet when the fighting started he effortlessly avoided the lumbering attacks and wildly sweeping blade, each time drawing blood with a flick of his sword, wearing his opponent down and weakening him to the point where finally he could do little more than accept the inevitable.  Vallera had contested the outcome and had insisted another, younger man fight the champion only for it to end the same way.  Still Vallera was not satisfied and the matter was settled - permanently - on the battlefield the following day.

            In  gratitude the champion was presented with a sword much like the one the young warrior carried.  It was longer than the short stabbing swords of the Ancients that the king’s army used, shorter than the long, hacking swords that many of the provincial warriors favored, it’s blade made thinner to compensate for any extra weight.  Completely unadorned save for some runes along the blade, it’s beauty came from it’s simplicity.  Made up North where the people knew the secret of steel making, It’s blade had been shaped by skilled craftsmen and infused with magic that gave it a dark, unearthly look. One knew without understanding how that the sword was perfectly balanced.

            Jeff was struck by a sudden thought.

            “We’re traveling North.  To the foothills.  They say there is good land up there and the Duke of Berger is more lenient than our old Lord”  He paused self consciously.  “The roads are very dangerous these days for unarmed travelers.  Even for a warrior like yourself it can’t be too easy getting around.”

            Brandon shrugged, knowing where Jeff was heading and refusing to allow himself to be drawn there.

            “Look, we aren’t the kind to impose on nobody but - begging your pardon that is - you don’t look like you’ve done too well getting food an’ all and we've had a hard time with thieves and scoundrels.  What I thought is...”  He trailed off, hoping the young man would help complete the offer but was rewarded only with an outraged look from his son.  He tried one last time even though he sensed the futility of it.  He wasn’t even sure why he wanted the stranger with them.  They had been managing just fine.  It was the young warrior who looked more in need of assistance.  “Well I just thought...  We’re making camp just over that rise.  The cooking pot is probably on by now.  It’s pheasant stew.”

            “Pheasant stew?”  Brandon involuntarily licked his lips.  It had been a long time since he had tasted anything as exotic as pheasant stew.

            Jeff nodded encouragingly.  “And we’re just over the rise.”  He saw the indecision.  “Why don’t you come over, meet the others and share a meal with us.  You don’t have to stay .  Just eat and leave if that’s what you want.”

            “Father!,” Isaak hissed.  He was less impressed with the warrior than his father.

            Brandon nodded.  “Yes I could do that.  It has been a while since I ate pheasant stew.  I can’t promise to go with you tomorrow though.  You see, I’m not really heading North.”


            “We should be down there,” the Captain growled as off in the distance two lines of warriors clashed with a sound like thunder.

            Brandon declined to comment, refusing even to acknowledge that he had spoken.  They were arrayed in tight formation, a thousand soldiers of the Royal army, watching with envy as five thousand of their comrades stabbed and poked at the enemy, trying to find a weak spot in their defense.  The noise of the battle carried clearly to their ears, thrilling and enticing them, stirring the blood and feeding the resentment that they were not among the many chosen. 

            The standard fighting formation of the Armorican army was called the bull;  the horns comprising a double line of soldiers, anchored in the middle by a solid block of men. This was regarded as the head, and in as much as any reserves might be termed the body, then the Captain and his men considered themselves the tail, positioned far to the rear, hanging uselessly, catching shit.

            “We should be down there,” the Captain said again for the tenth time in as many minutes.  “You and me Brandon, fighting side by side.  We could show these recruits a thing or two eh?  They’ve never seen you fight the way I have.  Together we could clear this lot away in no time and proclaim you king of Armorica.  Imagine that.”  His eyes were afire at the prospect.

            Brandon ignored him.  He was still smarting from the way he had fed him to Carillon.  It was underhanded the way the Captain had tricked him into meeting with her.  Didn’t he realize that just talking to a witch was a capital offense, punishable by death.  He should never have done it.  He seethed with self righteous indignation, watching as the men in the distance, so far off that they looked like insects, went about their grim business.  The bodies piled up behind them as the fallen men in the front ranks were dragged to the rear to make room for their replacements.  The idea of the basic formation was to draw the enemy to combat, encircle them with the horns, then finish them off but because both sides were evenly matched neither one was in a position to flank the other.

            “You should have worn the armor Brandon.  I know it looks like we won’t have need of it today but the effect it would have on the men...  At least the sword and shield.  That’s how everyone will know you are the chosen one.  The prophecy says -”

            “I don’t give a damn what the prophecy says,” Brandon snapped.  For a moment he forgot his customary respect for rank and spoke as if to an equal.  The Captain didn’t mind.  He had been trying for days to no avail to get him to call him by his first name.

            The Captain grinned.  He was in a good mood despite the fact that, in all probability his men wouldn’t see any action this day.  He had hoped to be in the thick of it with Brandon by his side, two of Armorica’s finest warriors forging a great victory, presaging a turning point in history.

            However, every cloud had a silver lining.  “At least I won’t die today,” he said cheerfully.

            Brandon shuddered and glared at him incredulously.  How he could joke after what they had seen...  What they had experienced.  He shuddered again, this time with the realization that he was tainted with the stench of witchcraft.  He had never experienced a vision - didn’t believe in them until that day in camp when he and the Captain had accidentally touched.  In a heartbeat they were transported to another place.  They were in a copse.  Beyond, were the mutilated remains of hundreds of Armorican warriors who had perished in a mighty battle.  The Captain lay dyeing.  He grasped Brandon by the arm, muttered something unintelligible, then died.  It was over in the blink of an eye, yet so real was the illusion that he could even smell the dew on the grass.

            It had excited the Captain as much as it had unnerved Brandon.  From that moment on he had become his shadow, telling him of the prophecy, the old religion and enticing him to that apartment in Drummond where he had presented him with a sword and shield.  The  sword and shield of prophecy; the ones by which he would be recognized as the chosen one.  On the day of battle the Captain had pressured Brandon to don the bronze helmet and breastplate and take up the sword and shield so all would know he was the chosen one.  He had resisted - fiercely - and the Captain had felt slighted as a result, but as they watched the two thousand men in the ‘body’ of the bull move to their left and begin an encircling movement  outflanking and overpowering their enemy, they both knew that perhaps this was not after all the most opportune moment to announce his arrival.

            As the defeated enemy broke ranks and scattered in disarray, Brandon reflected on what Carillon had said; that fate was not immutable that even a simple thing like staying in bed later (or refusing to take up the sword and shield) could dramatically alter events.  The Captain was right: he would not die this day.


            Brandon awoke, momentarily confused as to his whereabouts.  He thought for a moment he was still dreaming.  It was dark.  He could smell the acrid smell of a dozen dyeing campfires and hear the rhythmic snoring of a score of men.  Off in the distance an owl hooted - a bad omen - and he could image half a dozen warriors silently spitting into the night to avert the evil.  His mind cleared and he realized that he was not in an army camp.  He had accepted Jeff’s offer and joined him and his fellow travelers for dinner.  There were but two fires and the snoring came from half a dozen men and youths.

            Rain was falling, light and misty like a heavy dew and he involuntarily shuddered.  It had been on such a night that the Captain had taken him to see Carillon.  He had been coy and mysterious about the trip, behaving like an exited child with a secret so that Brandon had become caught up in the excitement, relaxing his guard, giggling and wheedling, trying to coerce an explanation out of the older man.  For a brief time as they rode through the darkness, drawing their cloaks about them to keep out the clinging mist, Brandon forgot his usual deference to rank and actually spoke to him as an equal.  Another mile and he might even have called the Captain by his first name as he had repeatedly insisted but then they reached a hut in the middle of nowhere and came face to face with Carillon. 


            The rude dwelling might once have been a farmhouse but from it’s appearance had been abandoned long ago.  The wattle walls were crumbling and decaying, providing nesting spots for countless birds and animals and what was left of the thatched roof fared no better at keeping the elements at bay than their sodden cloaks.

            Brandon felt a deep sense of foreboding, yet against his every instinct he followed the Captain into the house, his hand on his sword.

            “You won’t be needing that.”  The voice came from inside, sharp and sinister.

            He peered into the darkness.  The small room was lit by a solitary candle that cast it’s light begrudgingly, like a miser dispensing his wealth, so that at first he couldn’t see who had spoken, then as his eyes became accustomed to the dark, he was able to make out the form of an old woman seated behind a small table.  As he drew nearer he saw that her long robes were pitch black. Around her shoulders was a thick shawl which she deliberately arranged upon her head, covering her matted gray locks.

            Brandon touched his sword hilt again to avert evil and looked wildly at the Captain.  “A witch.  You never said anything about a witch.”

            He turned to leave but the Captain held his arm in an iron grip.  “Listen to what she has to say Brandon.”

            He tore his arm free.  “You know that even talking to a witch is a burning offense.  That’s not the way I want to die.”

            “How do you want to die Brandon?”  It was the voice of the witch, low and gravely, chilling in it’s disinterest.  “In a copse like the Captain here, far from his loved ones,  left as fodder for the wolves and raccoons.  Is that the death you want Brandon?”

            He stopped, his hand on the door.  Slowly he turned to face her.  “How do you know about that?”

            She laughed, a dry, hollow sound that made his skin crawl.

            “He has the gift Carillon,” said the Captain earnestly.  “I felt it in him.  I think he could be the one.”

            She laughed again, mocking the Captain’s intensity.  “Ah Chartres, you think you felt it in him did you?  Come here Brandon, let me feel what the Captain felt.”

            Brandon came reluctantly around the table to stand beside her, drawn there against his will, unable to control his actions.

            “Oh stop looking like I’m going to turn you into a toad, boy,” she said in exasperation.  “I only do that to disobedient children.”  She held his hand in hers, the unexpectedness of it making him jump.  Moving it closer to the flame she made a great pretense of examining it.

            “He is the one isn’t he?” the Captain eagerly demanded.

            She shrugged nonchalantly.  “Only if he wants to be.  Tell me Brandon, do you want to be the one to fulfill a three hundred year old prophecy?  Or do you want to go off and play at war like all your little friends?”  Her tone was mocking and contemptuous.  When he said nothing she dropped his hand as if she found it  distasteful.  “The poor boy doesn’t know what he wants.  Great leaders should be more decisive.”

            “Tell him of the prophecy.

            Carillon shook her head.  “He hasn’t finished playing soldiers yet.  When he has grown up he can travel North to find me and I will reveal all but till then he is of no use to me - or his country.”  She flicked her hand impatiently, dismissing him.  “Go off and play now Brandon.”

            The indignation he had been keeping at bay suddenly erupted.  “You know, I’m not even supposed to be talking to you.  It is a capital offense.”

            “In Drummond.”  She sounded bored.

            “In the six kingdoms!”

            “Your king’s laws don’t hold any power outside of Drummond.  Do you think you are the first to seek me out tonight?  I’ve had a steady stream of visitors all night long and not all have been Armorican.”

            “You cohort with the enemy?”  Brandon could scarcely control his outrage.

            “Their money is as good as yours and they are a great deal more respectful than some I have met tonight.  Chartres, take this young man outside, I’m getting very tired of his conversation.”

            Brandon was already squeezing past him, opening the door, anxious to breath air that was not tainted by witchcraft.

            “Tell him of the prophecy,” the Captain urged again but again she shook her head.  “Then tell us what we can expect when we face the enemy.”

            “Why Chartres,” she said in mock surprise.  “You want your fortune told.”

            “Will we win?”

            “Don’t you always?”

            “I mean it Carillon.  I must know.”

            She smiled warmly, softening the contours of her face.  “You want to know about your vision.  I cannot tell you Chartres.  Visions are not immutable.  They are not set in stone.  It is always within your power to change the course of your life.  The smallest change in your routine could alter the whole course of the battle.  A moment longer in bed, a different position in the shield wall - all could bring about a different ending.  Such is the worth of a vision.”  She saw that he still was not satisfied.  With an exaggerated sigh she said, “You will enjoy a great victory.”

            From outside the hut Brandon could almost hear the Captain’s breath being released as if he had been unconsciously holding it until he received his answer. 

            As he turned to leave Carillon said in a voice just loud enough for Brandon to hear, “Don’t get your hopes up Chartres, he might not be the one.”