Chapter 5




he night air was crisp and clear where it was not smothered by the smoke of the fire. It was a typical spring evening, and the fire casted shadows that faded into darkness outside the circle of light. Trees were darker blobs in the midst of black, giving the forest an eerie feel. They were still in the Smallwoods, but Landon didn't recognize the area. This was farther out than he had ever dared to travel before, but from this point on there would be no familiar ground. He shivered despite the heat of the fire. There was no turning back now.

            He vaguely wondered if making a fire was a good idea. If the Blackmasks were following him then it would be like a beacon saying, "I'm right here! Come skin me alive!" But there was nothing to be done about it. They needed to cook their meat and stay warm, so the fire stayed.

            Their plan was simple. Since there was barren wasteland directly between Tiltook and Aroth, they had a choice of going through the mountains along the side—which would probably be even worse than going through the desert—or make an arc  through the forested lands where there were villages along the way. It hadn't taken much to convince him to take the forest route. 

            Next to him, Mark was sharpening Susan—another sword of his that he had named after a girl he had once courted. Running the wet stone down the blade, he spared a glance for Landon. "We should continue practicing the sword. Not tonight—it's too dark—but maybe tomorrow night. I can still teach you stuff. You're going to need all the help you can get if you're going to—" he glanced at Chelsea over the campfire setting up her bedding and smiled slyly, "you know."

            Landon sighed. Mark was right. He was going to need all the help he could get. The problem was he didn't have enough opportunities to get help. "Sure. I would like to get a good feel on Tempest," he said noncommittally, then added, "Better get to bed."

            Mark nodded. "I could sleep for a century or two," he yawned, sheathing his sword. Landon grunted his agreement. A century of sleep would indeed be nice.

            He unpacked his pallet and set up for bed. They had positioned their beds around the fire to keep as close as possible. If they were attacked, whether it be by wild animals or Blackmasks, the others would know. He kept Tempest close, just in case.

            Once he was in his covers, he put his hands behind his head and gazed up at the stars. They were all so far away, but they somehow managed to shed their light all the way down to where he lay. He didn't know a whole lot about stars, but they had always intrigued him. When he was younger, he used to sneak out at night just to lie on his back and admire them. In a way, he was jealous of them. He knew it was foolish to feel that way for something such as stars, but he did. They were so peaceful. Everyone looked up to them—literally—and they didn't have a worry in the world.

           Rolling over, he pulled his covers over him and drifted off to sleep.



Landon woke to someone shaking him. "What do you want?" he moaned, dragging his blanket over his head.

            "Get up!" Chelsea barked, yanking his covers off. "You need to wake up Mark. I've already tried but he won't listen. That man is a dead weight.

                Blinking at the early morning sunlight, he reluctantly sat up and rubbed his eyes. Judging by the poor quality of light, it was about sunrise. They needed to get moving.

            The air smelled of musty pine needles and he felt a little stiff from the thin pallet, but otherwise he was ready to go.

            Landon put his boots on and trudged over to Mark, who was sound asleep. "Mark! Get up you lazy turd." He mumbled something inaudible that faded into snoring. Landon kicked him hard in the side and jumped back as Mark leaped to his feet, drawing his sword.

            "You'll never get me! I'll slice you to ribbons!" he shouted, searching wildly for his foe. Chelsea put a hand over her mouth, trying to hide a giggle. Mark shook his head in confusion as if trying to clear his thoughts. "What—" He froze, staring at them. "Oh." Sheathing his sword, he threw a dirty look at her and began packing up his pallet.

            Breakfast was very interesting. They used up the last of the meat they had packed, so from then on they were going to have to hunt. There was supposed to be a village a little ways off that they could pass through and maybe restock if they needed anything. Mark didn't seem too concerned the food situation.

            "Mark! Slow down! Are you trying to shove it all down in one bite?" Chelsea gasped, watching in disgust as Mark stuffed yet another piece of poultry into his mouth.

            "I will not!" he said through a mouthful of meat.

            "Just do it Mark," Landon sighed.

            "Oh, sure, Landon. Side with the lady."

            "Well she's right! If I fancied you eating like a pig—"

            "Will you two shut it!" Chelsea cut in, giving them both a stern look. "I will not tolerate bickering. If we disagree on something, I expect that we will handle it in a civilized manner." She sounded just like his mother, but as it happens, mothers are always right.

(ignore the large space above, it's still the same part)            Landon blushed, and Mark  mumbled something that sounded like, "Yes, Your Highness." But Landon noticed he ate a little more carefully after that. 

            As soon as they were in their saddles, everything turned awkward. Nobody knew quite what to say, so an itching silence fell over them as they attempted to keep their eyes straight ahead.

            Occasionally a friendly breeze would rustle through trees and remind him where he was and why, but he pointedly avoided dwelling on it. He would do what he must, and there was no use crying about it. He had other problems to focus on now. Like Chelsea, for example. After spending such a short time with her, he still didn't know where he stood with her. It was apparent that she had unconsciously taken charge of the group, and neither he nor Mark challenged her. It was inconsequential and would only arouse hostilities if they addressed the matter. Besides, they were accompanying her, barging in on her privacy. She had a right to lead them. And then there was always the fact that Mark and him were practically incompetent in leading, since neither knew where to go. She seemed to know what she was doing, and so it remained that Chelsea lead their little party, if in a very subtle manner.

            But it wasn't just her leadership that gave the illusion of shaky ground. Landon had no idea where they stood emotionally. Were they just acquaintances or were they friends? He hoped it was the latter, but even if that was so, he had no clue as to what kind of relationship that friendship would include. Was it a distant one, or close? How would she react if he tried to talk to her? Was she more apt to  jokes and amiable conversation, or to small talk and guarded civility? It seemed to him that she was a little of everything.  

            He certainly knew that he liked her, but he was looking forward to getting to know her better. If they were going to travel together, then he might as well not make this hard on himself. Reining Wildfire next to Misty, he noted how regal she looked. She was wearing a simple blue dress that was neat and modest. Judging by what little he knew of fashion, it was very fine, yet suited for traveling. He wondered if she was from a wealthy family. She acted much more like a lady than a farm girl, yet she didn't complain about rough conditions. What could be the reason that caused her to leave home on a secret mission? It could be that she was simply a refugee and was too ashamed to admit it, but her mannerisms and conditions were far from that of a homeless woman. Judging by the way things were turning out lately, he wouldn't be surprised to find out that she was some kind of crazy Elf who was on her way to challenge the king for war. But the odds of that happening were highly unlikely since the Elves were very peaceful and Chelsea didn't have the fabled pointy ears. Heck, Landon didn't even know if they even existed! Probably.

            Perhaps she was here for the same reason he was. Duty. Some might say differently, but Landon believed that was the sole reason he had left. To protect those he cared about. Who's to say she's not doing the same?

            "Responsibility is a heavy weight to bear." He found himself saying. Chelsea nodded. "Yes, but the reward can be great," she replied. He turned to look at her, and their eyes met. She was regarding him curiously, as if she had never seen him before. Perhaps he had surprised her. She had certainly surprised him.

            "Granted." He paused. "If you wouldn't mind me asking, what is your family like? You don't have to answer," he tested, "I understand." How far was this secrecy going to go? She knew a little about his previous life at the farm, surely she would tell him of hers?

            She considered this for a moment, her fingers fiddling with the reins, then replied, "My parents died recently."

            Landon was taken aback. "I'm sorry. I had no idea."

             "Oh, no. Don't be." She smiled sadly. "I don't mind talking about it. They were good people. Always did the right thing, no matter what. I someday hope to be as good as them."

            "I don't see how you could get much better," he said without thinking, then cursed himself for his stupidity. That sounded downright dumb. But it was the truth.  

            Her smile brightened. "Thank you, Landon. You're not so bad yourself, unlike some people here," she teased, shooting a glance at Mark, who was riding ahead on the trail. They shared a laugh. "But I'm sure Mark has his own reasons for coming. Besides, it could have been worse. We could have been stuck with a whining control freak that can't take a little bit of work." She raised her eyebrows at the prospect. "At least he has enough decency not to lie about his dislike for me."

            "Nah. He doesn't dislike you, he just has a hard time with people he can't manipulate. I guess that's why he hated me so much at first." He smiled at the memory. He had met Mark was when he was ten, the first time he had been to town since his parents had died. Mark was not happy with the girls infatuation with Landon, so he'd tried to get him in trouble. He told the girls that Landon had dropped Lydia's cat in the river, but just then her cat seemed compelled to stroll by—quite dry—and foil Mark's plans. When the girls whined to their parents about Mark and his "horrible deception", Landon stepped in and said that he had indeed drenched the cat—which was also a lie—but Mark had mistaken a bath as an attempt of murder. Of course, everyone knows that you don't give cats baths, but apparently the parents thought it was adorable and let both of them off the hook. Mark and him had been friends since.

            He toyed with the idea that Mark had come for his own reasons. It was clear that his most obvious motives for tagging along was to get away from adult authority—more specifically his parents—and to seek out adventure. Perhaps Landon was also a factor, being pretty much his only male friend. It seemed that the more you befriended the girls, the more the competing boys tended to dislike you. You became a danger, and that was just the way it worked. Landon didn't care much for pursuing women, so he didn't see Mark as a threat. He saw past the arrogant idiot that everybody passed him off as. There were times when he doubted what he saw in Mark, but as he came to know him better, he realized that Mark was much more smart than people gave him credit for. It was like the self-absorbed part of him was a mask that hid the quick-witted mind of his, almost as if he portrayed the idiot so people would never suspect how dangerous he could be. All the acting stupid, pretending not to listen, jaunting about like a fool could be part of his trick. People never put their guard up when they think there is no threat. It occurred to Landon that one could learn a whole lot more when people thought he wasn't listening. Mark fooled everyone into thinking he wasn't listening, then took in everything they said and did and used it against them. Incredible. Landon was unsure whether Mark knew it himself, but he was a genius without even realizing it. Landon smiled.  Yes, Mark was much more than he appeared to be.

            Landon looked at him in a new light and realized that he was probably unconsciously listening to their conversation at that moment. "But don't be fooled," he told Chelsea. "He's not so bad. You'd be surprised if you knew him better. He's much more than he seems." Mark cocked his head, proof that he was listening, if a little more interestedly. Yes Mark, Landon thought smugly, I know your secret, even if you don't know it yourself.

            Chelsea nodded as if he had just confirmed what she had suspected—which wouldn't surprise him; she was very smart—and studied Mark curiously. He shifted uncomfortably on his saddle as if he knew they were both staring at him. He very well might. You never knew with the likes of Mark.

            Landon felt a faint glimmer of hope for his so-far miserable future. This little expedition just might be more interesting than making slop at the farm. 


Chelsea had been mulling over her situation all morning, and still couldn't decide what she thought about it. It was nice to have protection, but it was also evident that these men were going to be a little more aggravating than bodyguards. Well, Mark, at least. Landon was aggravating in a different way. While Mark made her want to strangle him, Landon made her want to strangle herself. Understanding him proved to be nearly impossible.

            She wondered what Landon had meant about Mark being more than he seemed. Was that good or bad? Hoping his warning meant he really was a pleasant person, she turned her thoughts to Landon. She couldn't seem to figure him out. Trying not to wonder what had forced him here was like trying to ignore an ever-growing itch. The more she avoided the topic the more it itched at her curiosity. One thing she knew was that something had happened on the day he had received his sword. Something he had learned or seen or did that day had affected his life in such a way that it had changed him forever. It seems that almost everyone has a day like his, when he received his sword. When the truth unfolds and your whole world is turned upside-down. You are given a purpose on that day. Your life begins that day. And apparently Landon's receiving of the sword was not exactly what he'd had in mind. She kept on thinking about the short conversation she and Landon had had in the stable. "My whole life I was just Landon Bren, the farm boy. Now I'm not so sure anymore." His words made her speculate on what he could have meant. It sounded as though he had found out something crucial that day, probably about his life. Perhaps he had learned something about himself or his parentage for such a profound change to happen in him. One moment he was a confused farm boy, the next a confused traveling ex-farm boy. There must be more to him than wanting to see the world, since that was obviously not his intention in embarking on this journey. Sightseeing would be nice, but time was running out and she needed to reach Aroth as soon as possible.

            He no doubt was wondering what she was doing traveling all alone. She couldn't blame him. Why she hadn't told him, she was still figuring out. She trusted him, though she still wasn't sure exactly why. It all came to down to stubbornness, she decided. If he was not going to tell her anything, then he was naturally deemed  untrustworthy and so she wouldn't tell him anything in return, despite her approval in him. Precautions were necessary.

            But it wasn't Landon's secrets that frustrated her. It was Landon in general. Most all of the men she had met were snobs that only wanted her for her beauty. Landon, however, was far from a snob and didn't openly try to pursue her. It was probably that very thing that made him impossible to manipulate. Not that she liked doing that to people, but with the crowd she ran with, manipulation became necessary in certain situations. She figured that he was either too smart, too stubborn, or too oblivious to fall into her trap. 

            Tightening her grip on the reins, Chelsea forced herself to think about things that wouldn't bring her around in circles. How far until they reached the next town? Another unanswered question. Must she live in uncertainty for the rest of her life? This was all becoming increasingly irritating. Sensing her mood, Misty danced a little nervously, twitching her ears as if to ask if she was all right. She patted her neck intimately. Good horse. Hopefully things would begin to get better from here.

            Mark reigned closer with a big smile that looked more dangerous than friendly. "Guess what?" he said excitedly. "We're almost to the village. I can see it from that little rise." Sure enough, over the next rise they could see a little town peeking above the horizon. Silently hoping that she wouldn't pick up any more hitchhikers, she heeled her horse to pick up its pace. They needed to get there before sundown.

            The town called Middleston was packed with people, but not near as much as she had seen before. "Whoa," breathed Landon who was gawking at the townsfolk. Well, gawking might be too strong of a word, but he had never been outside of Tiltook, after all. That's right, Chelsea recalled, this must look huge to him. Middleston was more than three times the size of Tiltook, and had ten times as many people, too. He had grown up in a village that was so small most mapmakers hadn't even bothered to record it. A place where everyone knew each other and helped each other out. And even then he lived on the outskirts. She wondered what it would have been like to live in such a place. Comparing Tiltook and the city she had been raised in was like comparing a pebble to a boulder. She couldn't decide if she would have preferred his kind of life over hers.

            Trying to tie her horse to a post in front of an inn, she told them the plan. "I'm going to find food and horse feed. You know, supplies and the like," How do they tie these things? "and you two get a room. Then you can stay here or wander around town, I don't care as long as you don't get into any trouble." Landon, seeing that she was having trouble, took the reins from her and showed her how it was properly done. Blushing, she continued on with the instructions, "Meet back here when you're done. Don't pull anything stupid." She raised her eyebrows at Mark, making sure he knew that the comment was directed at him.

            He feigned the image of innocence and whined, "Me, Chels? Stupid? I would never." The wicked smile he flashed her was far from innocent. Maybe not stupid, but deceptively clever, she decided. And Chels? That was new. He was going to be trouble.

            Setting out into the throng, she silently prayed that they wouldn't do anything dimwitted in her absence.


Landon couldn't believe the size of this place. People buzzed about their businesses, buying groceries, selling goods, hurrying home as the day drew to a close. He watched with mild interest as a boy with a dirty face fed a stray cat bits of meat. The little boy's mother—or at least that's who she appeared to be—appeared on the doorstep, calling out his name. "Jadwin[1]!" she screeched, the rags tied in her hair to act as curlers bouncing. She still had on her night robe that looked a little tight on her more-than-a-little-pudgy body. "Jadwin! What are you—" Her beady eyes fell on the cat and a high pitched shriek escaped her lips. Only, she didn't stop until the boy named Jadwin jumped up and took off down the street with the cat under his arm. "JADWIN! You get back here! Pah! Just be back for dinner!" she called after him. Landon laughed and wondered what kind of trouble the poor kid was in. And over a cat! The strangest part was that nobody took notice of this little episode. A few people glanced over when she screamed, but nobody seemed to care. Middleston was so large that it was impossible for everyone to know one another. And for some reason that meant that the townsfolk would feel less compelled to help. Who would want to know a lady like that, anyway?

            "Now what?" he asked Mark absently. He suggested that we rent the room first, so they headed in and did just that. When they got the room over with, they had the horse handlers take their animals to the stables. Afterwards, Mark seemed content on wandering the streets.

            "Where exactly are you leading us?" Landon asked after about a few minutes of aimless meandering. Mark shrugged. That's just great, he thought tiredly. In a few more minutes, though, he stopped. Landon nearly bumped into him and opened his mouth to speak, but then he followed his eyes and his words changed on his tongue. "No, Mark. We are not going into a tavern," he said firmly.

            "Ah, come on. I've never been in one before. We'll just pop in, see what it's like, and get out, okay?" he pleaded. Landon was about to object, but something caught his eye. A black haired man with an elaborate cloak was entering the tavern. He looked as if he had aged in the last few days and his red coat looked as if he'd slept in it. But Landon recognized him. It was the Storyteller from the circus. What was he doing here? The circus was long gone, so why did he stay behind? Landon knew it was none of his business, but curiosity overcame all reasoning and he wanted to know more. He claimed that he once knew his parents. Was it worth the risk? People used to tell him he looked like them. If this man was telling truth, would he recognize him? He remembered thinking that his gaze had lingered on him at the circus. Well, there was only one way to find out.

            "Fine, but make it quick." Mark looked a little bewildered at his compliance, but was smart enough not to address it.

            The King's Crown, as it was called, was decently occupied. A few men gathered around a table where dice was being thrown, others sat and chatted over a cup of wine. Some were quite drunk, but It didn't look too hostile—aside from everyone looking like thugs. The Storyteller sat at a table in the corner, watching darkly as the other men sloshed their drinks around and laughed. His eyes found him and widened briefly with surprise. Before Landon could make a move, though, Mark plopped down at a table and ordered a drink, winking at the barmaid. She ignored him, but he did see her peeking at him when she thought no one was looking.

            A merchant swaggered in, looking as if he owned the place, and two guards followed him in, glaring at everyone they saw. Landon was a little dismayed when the merchant looked around and saw that all the seats were taken except the ones across from their table. Sitting down, the merchant openly displayed his displeasure at having to sit with what appeared to be farm boys. He had fine clothing that suggested wealth and an earring in one ear. "So, what brings you two pot-lickers in here?" he said doubtfully. Mark clenched his fist and answered, "None of your business skunk-breath." Oh, no. He can't lose his temper here. His sword wouldn't simply scare off these men like the boys at Tiltook. These people probably wouldn't even bother to draw their swords here. Fists would come first, then swords if the fight got too serious. This was definitely no place to make enemies.

            "Oh, a hotshot are you, now?" the merchant smirked. "I'm a major trader from Chartsport! Do you honestly want to mess with me?" This guy was looking for trouble, and he had come to just the right person. Mark was obviously trying to contain his anger. Well, that's a start. The guards next to the merchant glanced at each other, noting silently that their quarry had swords. These men were not fooled by the farm boy appearance. They knew better than to underestimate an armed opponent.

            "Mark!" Landon whispered urgently. He ignored him.

            "Oh, yeah?" Mark retorted. "At least I don't have to lug around men to protect me. I bet you've  never lifted a finger in your own defense. You've got your pretty little pets to take of that." Now you could see the anger showing in the merchant's eyes. He was not used to being insulted, much less by one of the lesser class.

            "And you have? I'll wager you haven't even had a taste of what real fighting is!"

            That was it.

            Mark jumped on the table—fuming—and shouted at the top of his lungs, "Oh, yeah? TASTE MY BOOT!" And landed a full swing kick at the merchant's face. Blood spewed from his nose and onto the table and floor as the fool fell back in his chair. The two guards simultaneously took a plunge at Mark and they all three crashed onto the ground. Landon had no choice but to join in the fight. It was defend or be whooped, now. Leaping into the pile, he grabbed one's collar and punched him in the face. He staggered back, regained himself, and swung a fist into his stomach. Pain shot up from his midriff and he dodged another swipe at his head. To his surprise, the Storytel­ler instantly jumped into the fight and pulled the other thug off of Mark, who imme­diately went for the merchant. This triggered utter chaos. Someone yelled, "BAR FIGHT!" and almost all the men—specifically the drunkards—dropped what they were doing and joined in. Some went as far as picking up chairs and smashing them on the heads of their neighbors. A random drunkard took a swing that missed him by inches, laughing all the while. The room was in absolute mayhem. The barmaids watched with wide eyes while the owner tried unsuccessfully to break it up. With that many men beating each other up, nobody would have been able to stop it. A crazed gambler threw his dice in the face of his friend and dived onto him, tackling the poor guy to the ground. Another man was repeatedly smashing a guard's head on a table. It was a full out tavern brawl, and Landon was in no mood to stick around to see what happens. "Mark!" he called, searching the maniac crowd for his friend. He spotted him just as he kicked the merchant below the belt, and as he doubled over Mark seized his arm and twisted it behind him in what looked like a very painful position. Shoving his face into the table, he growled, "Don't you ever let me see your hideous face ever again." The man groaned his agreement, and Mark let him slump on the table. Suddenly, the Storyteller was there in front of him.

            "Come. You don't want to be here when the fighting dies down," he warned. "Let's get you two out of here." Landon didn't argue. They fought their way out, steering clear of the most drunk of the lot. As soon as they got out, they stood there, panting. Mark had a black eye and a bleeding cheek, while Landon had a split lip and a bruised stomach along with bloody knuckles. But otherwise, they were intact. The Storyteller ran a hand through his hair and slumped against the wall, muttering about crazy adolescents.

            "Why did you help us?" Landon demanded, rubbing his middle. Man, that hurt.

            "I save your sorry behinds and I don't even get a thank you!" he huffed. Mark began to protest that they could take care of themselves, but cut off when Landon shot him a look.

            "Okay, then. Thanks. Now will you tell us why?" he replied curtly. He didn't mean to be rude, but there were questions to be asked that couldn't wait. The man scanned him with interest, then asked a very strange question. "Tell me, lad, was your father left-handed?" Landon froze. He had claimed to have known his parents. Did he suspect who he was? Was that good or bad? When he'd spoken of them, it had been almost fondly. Was this man to be trusted? There was only one way to find out.


            An excited gleam appeared in his blue eyes. "Do you know who your parents are?" It was a question of hidden meaning. He was asking if he knew that his parents were the Evers. Mark's eyes narrowed and his hand found his sword, but thankfully he didn't draw it. Landon nodded. "My name is James Griffith. I knew them, but you probably already know that from my performance." Mark made a choking noise. "Do you by any chance know a place where we can talk? In private, preferably."

            "We could talk at the inn. There's not many people there," Landon suggested, patting Mark on the back and feeling hopeful. "Oh, and I'm Landon. This is my friend, Mark Velder." James nodded and motioned for them to lead the way. As Landon made his way through the crowd, he could barely suppress his excitement. This man had known his parents when they were legends! Part of him wanted to burst with questions, but he forced himself to appear composed. He needed to look calm and collected so as to gain a measure of respect. That was one of the first things he'd learned from his parents when he was young: always present yourself with dignity. Hide your emotions and fears until the time became necessary. Now that he thought about it, they must have learned that from personal experience in leading. How many other times had they hinted on their past? 

            Suddenly, he felt angry at his parents for not telling him. He was their son! But as he thought about it he let it go. They might have been planning to tell him when he was older, when he was able to handle it and not babble the truth to all the other kids in town. They had done the right thing in not telling him. It had probably saved his life.

            Entering the inn where they were going to stay, he sought out a secluded table in the corner and sat down. The others did the same. James ordered wine.

            He cocked his head as if to study him. "So. You're him." Landon nodded and he laughed in disbelief. "You're their kid." He nodded again and James glanced around, as if worried someone might overhear. "You're Landon Evers, the son of the legends. You're the reason they went into hiding."

            "I think we've established that already," Mark scorned irritably.

            "I wouldn't believe it if you didn't look just like them. You have your father's eyes, you know. It seems your mother claimed the rest of you." Landon breathed out a sigh. It was as if he had been expecting him to have been lying, though he hadn't thought about that much in his excitement, and hearing him say those words was like a confirmation that his parents really were the Evers. Deep down some part of him had suspected that this whole thing was a ploy. Now that was demolished, and he wasn't sure if that was good or bad.

            "Where are they? I must see them!" James insisted. "Surely David will remember me. I was his best friend, back in the day." Landon's heart sank. He didn't know. How could he have? It occurred to him that as far as he knew, the only people who knew about the death of Prince Carlon was him and Mark.

            "They're gone," Landon replied. "They died when I was seven. King Carlon killed them."

            James' face fell. "Oh. I'm sorry. They were good friends of mine up at the palace." His brows furrowed. "You say they were murdered by King Carlon? When you were seven? And you're, what, nineteen?" Landon nodded once again and watched as he counted the years on his fingers. "Wasn't that about when he went missing? Do you know what happened to him?" This was the part where Landon put all his trust into a stranger. He didn't know why, but he trusted this man with his life.

            He could have lied, or told him it was none of his business, but instead he said, "I killed him."

            The reaction was immediate. He stood up, choked on his wine, and shouted, "WHAT?" all at the same time. Heads turned in their direction as James coughed up wine and tried to recompose himself. Sitting back down, he waited until everyone went back to their business before  going on a whispered tirade about how impossible that was. "You killed him? You must be joking. That's impossible! How could a seven year old even lay a finger on a King, let alone King Carlon, the man who killed thousands!"

            "Believe me," Mark muttered, "I've been asking myself the same question."

            "Well, technically I didn't lay a finger on him," Landon corrected. "You see, I'm a Windsinger. I used my power. I didn't even know what I was until a few days ago. My parents never told me, or at least never had the chance to. I've lived my whole life in the dark. When you first saw me in the crowd, I had no idea. Now that I know, I'm off to train at the palace." He added a little too sweetly, "Mark was so gracious as to accompany me."

            "It's true," Mark supplied, smirking at Landon's sarcasm. That was probably the most useful thing he had said all night.

            James was still having a hard time digesting this. "You. Killed. Him? When you were seven? And you're a...a..." he trailed off, putting the pieces together in his head. Suddenly, he smiled somewhat excitedly. "Do you know what this means for you? I mean, sure your parents led a rebellion against the King of Saldi, but killed him! At age seven! You're a legend in the making, boy. They don't know it yet, but you are a legend already."

            "Hey, wait," Landon protested. "Who doesn't know? Never mind, this is supposed to be a secret. If I'm going to be a legend like you say then I'd better not get assassinated because someone couldn't keep their mouth shut. There are Blackmasks after me and I'm sure there are plenty of people that would like to see me dead."

            "I'm no fool, boy. But," He lifted his hands in the air in surrender, "you have my word that I will not tell a living soul—"

            "Or a dead one," Mark pitched in.

            "—about anything you have just told me. Your secret's safe with me." Landon nodded his head in thanks. He hoped he hadn't just made a huge mistake.

            "Tell me, if King Carlon is dead, then who sent the Blackmasks after me?"

            "Good question. There were several leaders of the Blackmasks during the Song War, but most of them were wiped out. My best guess would probably be King Carlon's son, Blaze. He has control of the throne at this very moment. Rumor has it that he has a very bad temper and doesn't much care for anyone but himself. Sounds just like his father. Though, I don't think he has it in him to be as cruel. I've seen him once." Mark looked at him skeptically. "I've done a bit of traveling lately," he added defensively.

            Landon didn't feel any better hearing this news. "Well, that's just lovely," he growled, thinking about the abrupt turn in his life that suggested a slow and painful death.

            "Hey! Landon!" Mark hissed. "Wake up! I'm getting blown over here!"

            Landon realized that the wind was going out of control and stopped it. He really needed to learn how to control his power. "Oh, sorry."

            James gaped at him until he started to feel uncomfortable. "You did that? Do it again."

            "Not on purpose," Landon mumbled, but did it again anyway. This time he directed it upward through his own shirt and laughed. It tickled.

            "Amazing," The Storyteller whispered.

            "Yeah," Mark said. He was being unusually quiet today.

            Landon decided they had better get a move on before Chelsea came back and scolded them for singlehandedly starting a tavern brawl. "Well, what are you going to do now, James? You could come with us, though that'll be hard explaining to Chelsea."

            He considered his proposal for a minute. "Nah, I'm getting too old for travel. That's why I stayed behind," he said. "That and wondering who you were. I don't know where I'll go now."

            Landon pondered this for a moment. "You could go back to Tiltook and live with my....godfather." It felt weird not calling him uncle. "Look for Uncle Ben. That's what everyone calls him. I'm sure he'll let you stay with him. Don't worry, he knows everything."

            James nodded. "Thank you, I think I just might."

            He was to go back to the inn he was staying at for the night, then set off in the morning. There was little chance of them seeing each other again since they were also leaving in the morning, heading in the opposite direction. They said their goodbyes and braced themselves for when Chelsea came back.

[1] Yes, I am well aware that this is a street name. It is somewhat of an inside joke (see my blog post: Story Names).

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