“A magnificent weapon,” Sedwin says. “Encrusted with silver and gold, adorned with ivory, emeralds, and rubies. The gems alone would buy you an estate in the capital of any kingdom.”
“Or rather, one would have to own an estate to be able to afford this dagger,” Garroth adds.
“So what?” Tylvanor says. “I found it by the wayside, in some forest in Baramond.”
“Indeed.” Garroth chuckles grimly. “On a corpse of your making, no doubt.”
“Lies!” Tylvanor jumps to his feet, only to find the older man’s sword pointed at his throat.
“Be seated,” Garroth growls.
“I murdered no one,” Tylvanor cries.
“Perhaps not.” Garroth waits until Tylvanor has sat down again before sheathing the sword. “But no one who owns a treasure such as this would simply cast it into the woods for you to stumble upon. At the very least, you stole it.”
“Believe what you will.” Tylvanor is all defiance now. “You already decided that I am a thief, so what does it matter if you accuse me twice over?”
“It matters greatly,” Sedwin says. “For this weapon is not only worth a fortune. I know the device so masterfully inlaid on its pommel.”
Tylvanor scoffs. “Some noble house’s coat of arms, no doubt. What do I care?”
“Enough to hide it under that filthy leather band,” Sedwin says. “I ask you again, where did you get this?”
“And I tell you again—”
Sedwin cuts him off. “The device this weapon bears is the Golden Owl of the House of Combray. Since you say you are from Baramond, you will know the name.”
Tylvanor looks away and stares into the rain falling outside the cave. “Never heard of them.”
“They were one of the most renowned noble families of Baramond,” Sedwin says. “I say were, because two years ago, Queen Ingharad sent her butchers to extinguish the House of Combray, along with several others. Perhaps that is something you have heard of?”
“Why would I?”
“I can think of one reason,” Garroth says. “Because you were one of her assassins, and kept this weapon as spoils of your treacherous duty!”
“Never!” Again Tylvanor jumps to his feet. “I would die before I shed blood at that witch’s bidding!”
He spits on the floor.
Garroth glares at him, his hand on the hilt of his sword.
This time, Tylvanor does not sit down. “The dagger is mine. But not by theft or murder!”
“Then how else did it come into your filthy hands?”
“In no manner of which I can give proof to you,” Tylvanor says. “Nor should I have to.”
“Sit down, both of you.” Sedwin gestures toward the fire.
For another moment, Garroth and Tylvanor stand, exchanging furious glances, then they do as he asks.
“If you neither stole nor killed to get the dagger, you will have to prove it somehow,” Sedwin says. “Otherwise you shall not have our trust, and while that may mean little to you, be warned that we will not shelter a thief or murderer, be he hired by a queen or acting out of his own personal greed. This weapon once belonged to Ellyan of Combray, Duke of Cadannon and Margrave of Ren Arran in the South of Baramond, as anyone with some knowledge of heraldry could tell you. I ask you one last time, how did you obtain it? Think carefully before you answer me, for the margrave would have parted with it only by his own desire, or by his death. If you were among those who brought about the latter, we will make sure that vengeance finds you.”
“Sedwin,” Garroth murmurs. The trepidation in his voice is all the more palpable in contrast to his earlier blustering. But Sedwin raises a hand in a reassuring gesture, and whatever concern Garroth meant to utter remains unspoken.
“I will say nothing!” Tylvanor’s eyes narrow. “How do I know you are not spies sent by Ingharad?”
“If we were, you would be shackled by now, and headed for Ingharad’s dungeons in Ceriselle,” Sedwin says. “Her torturers would ask you the same question as I, though it would be only to amuse her. No answer you could give would save you from suffering and death.” He holds up the dagger. Silver, gold, and gemstones glint in the light of the flames. “For there is one other way you could have gotten this blade, aside from theft or murder, and the mere suspicion of it would be enough for your queen to order you killed.”
“For Ingharad, suspicion would suffice,” Tylvanor says. “But you demand proof, and while that may mean you are no servant of the queen, I see none that I can give. And why should I? Tell me who you are, and what right you have to question me like this!”
“We are travelers,” Sedwin says. “And like all prudent travelers, we wish to know who our fellow wayfarers are.”
“I could say the same. Especially when my fellow wayfarers have such a keen interest in the affairs of important clergymen.”
“Some travelers find the affairs of important clergymen intriguing,” Sedwin replies. “I’m afraid that must satisfy you.”
“Just tell them what they want to know,” Stellia bursts out. “If it’s the truth, I’m sure there’ll be some way of proving it!”
Sedwin leans closer to Tylvanor, and addresses the youth in a quiet and earnest voice. “I swear by my honor that you are not among enemies, Tylvanor. Speak true now, and you stand to gain our trust, our aid, and our friendship. And while I will not reveal to you all our aims and purposes, I promise that we are allies worth having.”
For a long time, no sound is heard inside the cave but the moaning of the wind, the rain pouring down on the forest, and the crackling of burning branches. When Tylvanor at last speaks, his eyes have reddened, and his words are a near whisper.
“Ellyan of Combray was my father,” he says. “The dagger you hold was his last gift to me, given on the night he commanded me to flee our home.”
NEXT: All The Proof We Require