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Consus waited.  He always had to wait.  He had to remind himself why he put up with this.  First, it was the law of the land, fieldy to one’s liege lord.  Second, and by far the most important, he was a powerful lord.  He possessed power to punish and reward richly.  It was hope for the later that motivated Consus to suffer through the terror of his position.  He was usually not disappointed.

Then he heard the distinct voice of his master in a low crackling noise that fell dead in this tent of thick, sound absorbing cloth.  As the voice warmed up, it grew louder but still more of a hiss than a voice, like the bones of an old man waking up after a long slumber.  “What have you brought me?”

In fear, Consus held out the cloth wrapped small chest with trembling hands.  “Only what you have asked me for, Gray Wolf.”

Still the throne did not turn around.  “And what of its owner?” the voice asked.

“Escaped.”  Consus stood there shaking hoping upon hope that the tone of his voice would not betray his true cowardly actions.  He believed his master could tell truth from a lie by just hearing one word, and since Consus was not telling the whole truth, he hoped his master could not tell in just one word.

The throne swung around to reveal Araknik the Gray Wolf: cold, heartless eyes; tight placid skin pulled tautly over the cheekbones; thin strands of long jet black hair hanging down, uncut for years and draped over his shoulders; curved beak-like nose; and absolutely no smile.  He looked wearier than ever.  His voice cracked again, “Lie.”

Consus stood still, heart almost stopping.

“You lie,” his master continued.  “You took the chest when you saw the other knights kept the drakard occupied in battle, didn’t you?”

Consus’ heart did skip a beat.  The rumors are true, he thought.

“DIDN’T YOU?”

Consus shook and cowered back a step.  His master rose up to his full height with fists clenched, a tall man, as tall as Firesmyth Mancuso, almost a head above the rest even without the couple of steps that ascended to his throne.  He looked more menacing now than weary.   

Consus dropped to his knees and begged, “My lord, he was a real Firesmyth.  I beg you to accept your gift and have mercy on me.  Was it not for this that you sent us?”  With that, Consus fell prostrate before him, hands splayed out in front offering the now revealed chest.

His master showed no emotion but took the chest.  He studied the exterior for a long time.  Consus remained unmoving on the floor before him.  Then Araknik pointed a stylus of some kind at the brass inlayed lock.  A brilliant red beam of light flashed from the tip of the stylus to the lock casing.  Tucking the stylus in the folds of his robe, he lifted the lid up just enough to glimpse its contents.

He smiled.  For a man of 678 years, it was amazing he still had teeth.  Then he spoke.  “You may have redeemed yourself, Consus son of Minar.”

Consus looked up still afraid but in time to see his master withdraw an old scroll from the chest.  He dropped the chest, which tumbled down the stairs and came to rest near Consus’ hands.  The Gray Wolf looked over the scroll.  With every second the half-pleasant expression on his face turned sterner, from incredulity to abject anger.  He hissed a long, slow hiss.  A cold breeze seemed to touch Consus and a chill ran down his spine.  He feared his last moments of life were quickly approaching.

“This is not it!” screamed Araknik.  “This is a love poem!”

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