Chapter XVIII

Mordock And Beyond

Tri-Nova was so weary she was not paying attention to the comings and goings in the dining room and so was surprised when the handsome neighbor asked permission to join her at her table.

Nodding her ascent she offered, "Please excuse my bad manners. I didn't notice you standing there."

"No apologies necessary," he replied. "Actually I only just now walked up to this table. I noticed there are four chairs and thought you might enjoy company."

"I'm not certain you will enjoy my company this night, to be sure, but you are welcome to join me."

"I always enjoy the company of a beautiful maid," he replied with a smile.

"Thank you for the compliment. It does lighten my heart on this dismal eve," she replied demurely.

"Ah, you are worried about the news of Mordock I take it."

"Yes. As you know my farm is only a mountain ridge away from Mordock and I tremble to think Karnak's spawn are on the move again. Tonight's encounter leads me to believe the truth of the rumors," she sighed.

"Encounter?" he replied with raised brows.

"Aye, and ugly it was, indeed. I was attacked by large vicious animals this very night on the way to this meet," she explained her anger beginning to emerge. "Had it not been for the strength and heart of my mount, I might not be sitting here."

"This is disturbing news! I too would hate to think the atrocities of yore will be visited upon the Talos Valley yet again!" he replied with genuine concern.

"Speaking of Majesty, please excuse me. I must check on him to be certain he is properly bedded down," Tri-Nova explained as she got up from her seat. " I will return in short order," she added smiling.

As Tri-Nova exited the dining room through kitchen, she entered just in time to hear Karl and Dora talking about Master Peter's new title.

"Now, word has been brought to me that you found something that I should see, Master Peter." Karl turned the conversation away from the party and back to the matters at hand.

Peter sat up straight on his stool and replied in the most adult voice he could muster, "Yes, sir!" He then unrolled the leather piece that he had stuffed into his pocket.

"Tri-Nova! 'Tis surely a treat to see you twice in one day!" enthused Dora.

Hugging Dora she explained to the group, "I am on my way to bid goodnight to Majesty."

Peter sat up straight on his stool and replied in the most adult voice he could muster, "Yes, sir!" He then unrolled the leather piece that he had stuffed into his pocket.

"Yes!" Karl said as he sucked in his breath in disgust and shock. "So, they have regrouped and are once again inside the valley." Karl carefully examined the fang, noting the poison sac still attached to the end where Majesty had stomped it out of the beast head just as Tri-Nova had told him.

"See, Master Peter, this is from one of the Night Stalkers and it is as deadly now as it was inside that foul creature's mouth. You again have shown very good judgment in this matter and reaffirmed my opinion of your capabilities. Yes, making you Master of the stables is one of my better decisions this year."

Karl ruffled the thatch of blond hair on Peter's head and left the kitchen area to return to those guests that had gathered for the meeting in the Great Hall of the Inn.

As Karl passed her, Tri-Nova noted the grim determination on his face and with a worried frown of her own she left the kitchen to see to Majesty.

Entering the stable again the horse in the first stall stomped and neighed piteously. "I thought I helped you earlier today you silly horse," she said to it in passing as it eyed her suspiciously.

As she approached Majesty, she was pleased to see he had been expertly groomed and cleaned before being bedded in the freshly cleaned stall. "How fare you great Ornicule?" she inquired.

"Very well mistress," was the equine reply, "and you?"

"I too am unscathed but I am greatly distressed to have learned of the terrible danger we were in. Those horrid animals were night stalkers and they are as deadly dead as they are alive!"

"Yes, I was aware of their origins but could not avoid the encounter. They are the spawn of Karnak of old and dreadful beasts."

"How are you familiar with them?" she asked curiously.

"I sensed their cold thoughts as we approached their hiding place. The only clear thought in their minds is death and violence. The rest is a muddle but I could feel the one under my hoof call out to Father Karnak for help and though the Talos Valley has been clear of them for hundreds of years, we all know the history of Karnak and his atrocities."

"Aye, 'tis the truth then," murmured his mistress. Rubbing Majesty's flank absently, she shivered with revulsion at the near scrape with disaster they had that night.

"I would see you safe at all cost mistress," nickered the beautiful ornicule sensing her fear.

"This I know well Majesty but..." her reply was interrupted by the terrible din coming from the first stall. "I know I helped that poor beast this morning. What has gotten into him now?"

"It's a wizard."

"The horse?" she asked with surprise.


"The horse is a wizard," she repeated and was rewarded with a nodding of her mount's head.

"There was a badger in here earlier. Not really a badger but the mother," explained Majesty.

"The mother of the horse?" she asked wrinkling her brow in confusion.

"No. The mother of the wizard was here in the form of a badger," he explained.

"Oh. The wizard's mother is a badger. Is the wizard a badger also?" she asked confusedly.

"No, Tri-Nova. You are not concentrating. The wizard has had a spell put on him by Aulofu and that was what his mother was here to tell him," answered Majesty patiently.

"All of who?" she asked.

Majesty snorted and pawed with his large hoof at the straw on the floor of the stall. Looking at her out of the corner of his eye, he tried again. "Not all-of-you but Aulofu, the crone, the seeress. Aulofu the keeper of eternity...."

"Ahhh, I understand," she exclaimed with enlightenment dawning on her face and turning she walked slowly back to the first stall.

There she peered over the top rail to see the poor horse with its head hung so low its muzzle nearly brushed the straw at his feet. The horse sensed a presence and turned awkwardly to see who had approached the stall. Seeing the beautiful enchantress, he began again, to bob his head and whinny pitifully.

"There now. Settle," she spoke softly while reaching through the wooden slats to pat the horse's neck. "Quiet boy. Take it easy now. I won't hurt you. Easy now," she crooned and the horse settled nicely. She rubbed its velvety soft muzzle then reached into the oats and offered a handful to the animal, which it carefully nibbled from her open palm.

Darvon had never seen this beautiful woman before and wondered where she had been all his life. He tried to inch into her mind but found the equine brain that currently housed him would not allow it. He would have to be satisfied with the touch of her soft hand on his coat.

Tri-Nova closed her eyes as she stroked the animal's coat and felt the presence of a human within. Puzzled she opened her eyes and looked at the now calmed horse. "Who are you?" she asked. "More importantly, how do you come to be in this horse?"

The dark brown eyes stared back at her with intensity and she saw a man. A handsome fellow but he was sleeping in a bed.

Searching her mind for memory of Aulofu, she wandered in a small circle.

The name was familiar but...yes, she came to those she wished to meet in dreams. Yes, that was it. She was not a witch but she could certainly cast spells! She could see the past and knew the future but told what she knew to only a few.

"Yes now I remember," she exclaimed. "She's an ugly old crone by all accounts but she seldom causes harm to those she visits. Or so the legend says...but it looks as if you have brought her wrath down on your head," she observed aloud as she approached the horse again.

The horse nodded it head up and down again and whinnied.

"Tri-Nova, the wizard says he did nothing to cause his predicament," interpreted Majesty.

"Hmm...strange indeed then that you find yourself in the body of a horse," she noted.

She ran her hands over the head and felt the spell of illusion that had been cast on the wizard. Whether it was cast with intent she could not tell.

"I don't know why I should chance angering Aulofu by helping you but I hate to leave you in such a pitiful state."

Putting her hands on the horse's head so its eyes were covered she whispered:

"Poor, poor wizard 'tis but a delusion,
Your residence within is a spell of illusion,
Cast by the seeress in great haste
To stop your mind being laid to waste
To save you from an eternity
One not written for you to see."

In Ricoré's hut Darvon turned and tossed in his sleep as he dreamt of a beautiful maid with hair so light, it looked like the moon on a stygian night. He reached for her hand only to have her disappear as his eyes opened to the familiarity of his sleeping room within his mother's hut.