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Prologue
Chapter 1
Interlude 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

 

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“Would be willing to give up anything for him?”

“Yes.”

“Want only the best for him?”

“Of course.”

“And what exactly is the best for him,” asked Firesmyth. 

“The best education, best training ... every advantage I can give him.”

“Would you prefer military or court training.”

“Well, I would prefer him to be a ambassador like me and not a warrior like his father.”

“Be careful not to project your own life’s ambitions onto your grandson.”  Firesmyth hesitated. 

Talon’s legs began cramping up.  To remain out of eyesight he had to haunch down with his back along the wall and knees bent.  His thighs were telling him they had enough of this position.

Finally Firesmyth answered, “He is to be both.  Do not steer him away from the sword ... no, no, I am aware of your concerns.  The blood he shall shed will be the true enemy’s blood, not blood shed in vain glory.”

“You ask a hard task, old one.”

“I am not done,” continued Firesmyth.  “You also have one more great task ahead of you.  You are to save Selma.”

“From what?”

“I can not say.”

“You’re no help, Mancuso.”

Firesmyth Mancuso sighed.  “My task is to hold the doors open for both you and the boy, no more, no less, though I would dearly love to do more.”  Talon heard them stand up.  “Come, I wish to see how the tent maiden is fairing.”

Talon heard footsteps leaving the room, the shed door open and lock close.  He sat alone again behind the bush with the frog looking up at him with large, lonely eyes.  “I get to be a warrior,” he told the frog.  “I get a sword, a real sword ... don’t worry.  I still won’t hurt you.”

*            *            *            *

After dinner, Talon went out to the front porch and sat down to watched the setting Epi sun, called Berea, which sets to their east.  After a few minutes, his papa joined him and brought a board and a small sack under one arm and his cane in the other hand. 

“What’s that, Papa?” asked Talon.

“A baraka set.  Do you know how to play?”

“Sure, you try to get the other guy’s pieces, right?”

“Well, yes, but it’s a lot more complicated than that.”  The old man set the board down and poured the pieces out of the bag.  Each piece was either white or red and each was uniquely shaped.  Some bore the images of a wolf, others of a bear, an eagle, hunters, archers, ambassadors, and the like.  Papa must have paid a lot for this set, Talon thought.  Most of the sets he had seen were basic geometric shapes representing their piece name in only the most abstract of ways. 

“It’s not that hard, Papa.  All you have to do is know how each piece can capture another.”  He picked out a red wolf.  “See this one, it’s my favorite.  It can go in any direction and capture all but the prince.  I can win the whole game with this piece alone.”

Endvar frowned.  “If you really think that is enough, you are only thinking one move ahead at a time.”  He continued setting up his white pieces and Talon started setting up his own.

“Thinking one move ahead at a time might help you now, but when you start playing against an experienced opponent, you better think farther ahead than that.”  He fixed his gaze on Talon and squinted his eyes.  “You need a plan.”  He said this last word with such a hush and so intently that it made Talon shiver.

Talon whispered back just as intently, “What plan?”

Endvar sat up straight.  The secretive mood had been broken, “What plan?  Why, your plan, of course.  The one you’ll make up in that wonderfully smart, little brain of yours.”  He tapped Talon lightly on the temple with his forefinger.  He must have sensed Talon’s confusion and added, “Here, I’ll show you a plan.  You think your red wolf is the greatest?”

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