I nodded to the Margrave and he left us to act on our strategy. I had assured him what I intended was the business of Wizards, and he and the men were charged with ensuring Omar’s men at arms did not interrupt us. I did not want to humiliate my former apprentice. It was a grave mistake on my part, I will admit. But I never did suspect there would be no cost to my quest. Within moments I could hear the sounds of battle outside the hall.
“I wish to know, Omar.” I started, gripping my staff tighter, “What you think you are doing? What you think you could accomplish and why you would do something that so acts against everything we all have worked for. Did Gwynhafer glamour you? Or did you come to this willingly?”
“You are mistaken,” he insisted. But he too was readying himself. What we were left with was polite acceptance our battle was inevitable. “I am only acting in the best interest of the kingdoms and the collegiate.
“Those stones are crucial to the health of the kingdoms and were promised in perpetuity by the collegiate to the badlands.” I reminded him. “Give them back and it will be noted in my report to council. I am even willing to overlook the elemental fire you summoned to stop my search.”
He looked genuinely surprised at my final statement. Gwynhafer again? Her own glade? Her own forest? To convince me? It had worked.
“That is generous of you, my old master, but unnecessary,” he told me. “For you will not be reporting.”
“You clearly do not understand the purpose of those stones,” I insisted.
“Yes, I do. They are crucial, venerable on,” he said evenly, glowering at me, taking a step back, holding out his hand as though gripping one of them. “The power that exists in those stone’s, Arcory’s power, is crucial to all our survival in the coming conjunction. Their power must be unlocked before it is too late. Before the dragons and the demons come and we are as unprepared, and as lost as you, and yours were at the beginning of the last war of the realms. Even though I was not there, you were, you have to understand that power needs to be controlled, that what he knew we will need. We need to prepare it before the lords of the underworld devastate our lands as they did then.”
“It is not your decision to make,” I told him. “The stones were created for a reason. They were dispersed for to protect the lands blighted by The Riven War. You have broken edicts council and collegiate have held since they were formed.”
“Do you think I would not have taken the stones without sanction?” he grinned at me. “Your archival work far from the world at large has blinded you to the true state of kingdom and council. I am not alone in my beliefs. I am not without allies.”
“Who then sanctioned your theft?” I demanded stepping towards him. “Tell me. Who agreed to work with you as well as Gwynhafer.”
He shook his head.
“I thought not,” I told him. “The only sanction was your own lust for power, stoked by her words, and perhaps Vaeranshi approval. And those in council you think your serve will not allow themselves to be implicated in your breaking of edict. I give you one last chance. She glamoured me as well, Omar. But we cannot allow her victory. Not here. Not in this.
Omar smiled at me, but there was nothing mirthful in his expression. He changed his grip on his blackwood staff from light to tight, glanced past me. Beyone the hall’s great double doors there were shouts and the sounds of clashing swords.
“So the retinue you brought with you is here to ensure I do not escape, eh?” he sneered at the thought. “I saw it, it is pathetic. Blacklanders? What were you thinking? They do not stand a chance against those trained by Duke of Stormguard’s best. Did you think they could can best my men-at-arms?
“Yes,” I told him. “Because they are here to protect their lands, their peoples. This is your last chance. Give the stones to me. They must be returned to where they belong, so the Bardelaisch can return to their homes.”
“That march is bemired with corruption,” he told me. “Its people are scattered, they have nothing to return to. It is but a few thousand acres. A pinprick amongst the kingdoms. It is worth nothing. Breaking the runes and unraveling the secrets of Arcory is vastly more important than the protection of such a wasteland or the few peasants and goatherds who lived there.”
“It will recover,” I replied. “In a year or two and the badlanders will be able to return. It is their land! I promise you if you give me the stones, It will mitigate your punishment at council. I will do my best to convince them to allow you to retain your staff.”
He looked at me, the shock of surprise on his face.
“Your age must have addled your brains,” he replied, still adopting a casual tone. “My men will deal with your motley band. And even I can easily deal with you. Your foolish quest will end here. But be assured, I will do my best to be kind in my words to council regarding your madness and your sad passing at my hands.”
“I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this,” I told him, brandishing my staff as he brandished his. “Do I have to resort to convincing you in this manner? You were one of my best.”
I could already hear the shouts from beyond the hall. I turned back to Omar.
“And I am by far your better now,” he told me. “I still train as I did during my apprenticeship. How long has it been since you fought staff to staff old man?”
He took his staff in hand, walked slowly across his marble floor towards me. I gripped my own. Did I really think I could defeat the younger Omar? Was my recent sparring practice enough? Had I deceived myself into thinking I could best him?