He shook his head.
“I thought not,” I told him. “The only sanction was your own lust for power, and perhaps Vaeranshi approval. Do not think I have not seen what you have become . And even if any member of Council would dare support your theft not allow themselves to be implicated in your breaking of edict. I give you one last chance, Omar. Hand over the stone and submit. Without magic, you cannot hope to overcome both me and the marchmen.
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. Beyond the hall’s great double doors the shouts had increased in volume, as had the sounds of clashing swords. How many guards did he have at his tower? Doubt crept into my thoughts. It sounded like many.
“So the retinue you brought with you is here to ensure I do not escape, eh?” he sneered at the thought. “I saw them, and they are pathetic. Buerlanders? What were you thinking? Men barely capable of only battling sheep and marshland catfish? 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, gritting my teeth, tightening my grip on my own staff and stepped towards him. “Because they are here for their lands, their families, their people. They aren’t just here to fight for Imperial gold. This is your last chance. Return the stones to me. They must be returned to where they belong, so the Bardelaisch can return to their farms and their lives.”
Omar held his ground, adopted a defensive stance before the flames flickering behind him in the great hearth at his back.
“That March is now 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 minor wasteland or the few peasants and goatherds who lived there.”
“It will recover,” I replied. “In a year or two and the marchlanders will be able to return. It is their land! I promise you if you give me the stones, It will mitigate your punishment. I will do my best to convince Council to allow you to retain your staff. This is the last time I will make this offer, Omar.”
He looked at me, amusement written on his black and silver bearded face.
“Your age must have addled your brains,” he replied, still maintaining his casual tone. “My men will deal with your motley band. And 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 but necessary 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.”
A scream from beyond the chamber echoed around us. I turned to glance back. Was his assumption correct? Had I lead the margraves to their doom. I turned back to Omar.
“I was the best! And I am by far your better now,” Omar asserted. “Unlike other, who rely on their magic, I still train as I did during my apprenticeship and can easily defeat an accomplished swordsman. How long has it been since you fought staff to staff venerable one?”
He abandoned his defensive stance and walked slowly across his marble floor towards me, flicking his staff to the left and right. I gripped my own. Did I really think I could defeat the younger and clearly more skilled Omar? Could my recent sparring practice with Reidsweither enough? Had I fooled myself into thinking I could best him?