“Curse Boy. That’s what they used to call me.” Marshal looked over the map of Antises inside his tent. How far he had come from those days.
“Who did?” Tich sat on the floor, peeling an apple.
Marshal snorted. “The people I grew up with,” he answered. “In a little town called Drusa’s Crossing, right about here.” He pointed to the map.
Tich got to her feet and looked. “Well, that’s a stupid name for a town. You should go back there sometime. Let them see what you are now.”
“What good would that do?”
Tich shrugged. “I just like to see bullies get what they deserve.” She took a bite of her apple. “You want some, Talinir?”
The Eldani warden, who stood behind Marshal, shook his head.
Marshal thought for a moment. Of course, part of him would love to parade through Drusa’s Crossing and show everyone his power. His tormentors, like Titus, would be shamed. Would they get what they deserved? Maybe.
“Maybe people shouldn’t always get what they deserve,” he said aloud.
Neither Tich nor Talinir responded. Marshal didn’t expect them to. He knew his philosophy was difficult for some to grasp, though Talinir at least should agree, since the Eldanim were no fans of the Laws of Cursings and Bindings. In fact, he had been thinking about that very fact for quite some time.
“Talinir, I know you promised to stay by my side…” he began.
“And I will continue to do so,” he said quickly.
Marshal turned to him. “But I need you. I need you to do something for us. It’s not directly protecting me, but it will protect my people, which is sort of the same thing.”
“No. It isn’t.” Talinir folded his long arms and stood resolute.
Marshal fought with the usual perception problems of looking directly at one of the Eldanim. He needed to look Talinir in the eyes for this. “Yes, it is. I’ve accepted my role as King of Antises. It’s my job now to defend the six lands and their people.”
“And even a King needs someone to protect him.”
Marshal spread his arms. “I’m surrounded by people wanting to protect me. After we left him behind last time, I don’t think Victor will leave me again. I’m going with Seri and Dravid to Zes Sivas. And for now, we have half the army of Kuktarma surrounding me. If all of that, plus my own power, can’t protect me, what does it take?”
“I made a promise.”
Marshal pointed to the map. “The ancient gods have brought an army of Durunim through the portal. They’re not far even now.”
“All the more reason that you need protection.”
“And,” Marshal went on, “they’re bringing more troops through in Varioch and Rasna, since that portal is still open. I may have to deal with that myself sometime soon. But in the meantime, these armies are here, and human armies can’t stop them.”
“Are you trying to terrify us?” Tich asked. “Because you’re heading in that direction.”
“The point is: we can’t stop them!” Marshal insisted. “We need help. More help than we can find here. Even if I assemble all the remaining Lords and mages and we stand together… maybe we could halt the gods and their armies. Maybe. But we can’t count on that happening. And I need them all at Zes Sivas to make things right, to end the system that created all of this problem.”
“You want the Eldanim,” Talinir said without emotion.
“I want the Eldanim.” Marshal nodded and pointed to the map again, this time on the west side of Varioch. “I want you to go back to Intal Eldanir and persuade the Eldanim to join our fight.”
“They will not come. You saw the Council. They would not stoop to help you, even when your mother made an impassioned plea. Why would they risk their lives to help the rest of humanity?”
“Because it’s in their best interest! You admitted—they admitted—that the Durunim are their enemy. They’ve been fighting them. And the Durunim are Eldanim, aren’t they? Twisted by the gods?”
Talinir did not reply. Marshal gritted his teeth. The Eldanim had some sort of pride thing which wouldn’t let them admit that simple fact to outsiders.
“Well, now your enemy is here, in our world. We need your help to stop them. We can fight together and defeat them, once and for all.”
Talinir’s demeanor shifted from unyielding to dubious. That was progress, at least.
“And my ultimate goal is good for them too!” Marshal pressed. “If I can undo the Laws of Cursings and Bindings, magic will return to the way it used to be. More of it will flow back into the Otherworld, right? And maybe heal the land on that side as well.”
“It could use some kind of healing, that’s for sure,” Tich observed.
Talinir shook his head. “Your arguments are good, and make sense to me. You know I agree with your quest. But the High Council is adamant. You remember. No interference with humans. No exceptions.”
Marshal reached out and grasped Talinir’s arm. “When we stood before them last time, my mother made the case. It was a human making the argument, on behalf of another human. You… you are not human. You’re one of them. They’ll listen to you.”
“I wish that were true, Marshal.” Talinir sighed. “I am young. I am one of the least of the wardens. And by aiding you, I have left behind my usual duties. They will not look on that with approval.”
“You are uniquely suited for this job. You are Eldani. Yet you have walked with humans for the past year or so. You have a job, a title from the Eldani. And I am giving you a job and title from the humans.” Marshal straightened. “As King of Antises, I hereby appoint you, Talinir, as my personal ambassador to the Eldani people. When you speak to them, you speak in my voice. You have my authority to tell them whatever they need to know, and persuade them to join us against the Durunim.”
“I…” Talinir hesitated. “Your words move me, Marshal. I will not deny it. And I am honored by your faith in me. I do not think it is as well placed as you do.”
“You’ve proven yourself to me time and time again. I will never forget what you have done for me, Talinir.”
Talinir bowed his head. “Then… I will travel to Intal Eldanir and speak your words. Perhaps… perhaps there is a chance. We have a few allies. I will consult with them before I speak to the Council. Maybe they will listen.”
“That’s all I ask.” Marshal turned back to the map. “Along the way, you can check on the status of the other portal. If you can, find a way to get word back to me at Zes Sivas.”
Talinir laughed. “Do you have any other impossible tasks for me?”
Marshal grinned. “No, I’ve saved those for Seri and Dravid. They have to figure out how to end the Laws of Cursings and Bindings.”
“And what impossible task do you assign yourself?”
“Besides actually doing whatever they come up with? I’ve also got to figure out how to persuade the other Lords to join us.” He lost his grin. “And maybe persuade them to give up their power. Maybe forever.”
Talinir considered for a moment. “It is hard to decide who has the more impossible task, then.” He gave a short bow. “I’ll prepare to leave immediately.” He exited the tent.
Tich yawned. “You two are so grim sometimes. You’ve been doing impossible things for months, from what I’ve seen. How else can you explain a scar-faced ‘Curse Boy’ becoming King of all Antises?”
“How about a cynical sailor diving through a portal to the Otherworld because she was bored?” Marshal asked, smiling again.
“Nah, that’s completely normal.” Tich took another bite of her apple. “You’ve seen how boring it can get out on the water. Besides, that turned out all right, didn’t it? Maybe Theon is watching out for us, making all these impossible things happen.”
“Let’s hope so,” Marshal answered, looking back down at the map. “Because right now, I don’t see how we can win. I’m just trying to do what I can. Every move I make is a complete gamble. I’m keeping Volraag around and sending Talinir away.”
“I take it back,” Tich said. “You’re crazy.”
Talinir considered his mission. Despite his positive words to Marshal at the end of their conversation, he did not see much hope for success. The High Council of the Eldanim were set in their ways. It would take a monumental shift in thought for them to change their minds.
He would be crossing almost all the way across Antises, and speed was of the essence. As a warden, alone, he could move much faster than any of his recent travels with humans. Even so, he would need to alternate between the primary world and the Otherworld for different parts of the trip.
Marshal wanted speed, and he would have speed. But first, as he left, Talinir needed a quick stop in the Simbala marketplace. He could certainly find some sugar there. Tea just hadn’t been the same since he ran out.