Stone and Fire: Chapter 40

He strode into the room and narrowed his eyes at his brother.  Liam’s face took on a resigned expression, and he sighed.  Jurgen just nodded.

Then he punched his brother in the face.  Liam staggered backward, landing on the rug in front of the fire.  “You fucking promised.”  Jurgen stared down at him.  “You son of …”  He pointed.  “You promised.”

“I did.”  Liam wiped at the blood on his face.

“Then why the fuck did Mother say whoever brought a keystone back to Darodelf first?”  He shook his head.  When Liam didn’t respond, Jurgen reached down, caught him by the front of the tunic, and hauled him back to his feet.  “You had me bring it to Diantha…”  He glared.  “In.  Darodelf.”

“Yes.”  Liam looked down, then wiped at his face again.

“You promised.”  Jurgen shook him.

“Yes, Jurgen, I did.”  Liam’s head came up, and his eyes locked onto Jurgen’s.  Jurgen took a startled step back as he felt a chill go down his spine.  “But nothing in that promise stops me from trying everything I can to save you both.”  His eyes seemed to glow.  “You’re my brothers, Jurgen.”

Jurgen let his hands fall to his sides.  He clenched his fists and took a few deep breaths before looking up at his brother again.  “I don’t intend to stand meekly by while someone kills me.  What happens?”

“Phillip waits in ambush.”  Liam picked up a potion that had been sitting on the mantle and took a drink.  “Rutger has no interest in killing Rien, but Phillip would rather not risk Rien complicating things if he can help it.  If you don’t show for the ambush…”

“He goes after Rien instead.”  Jurgen nodded.  Then he squared his shoulders.  “Only Rien won’t be forewarned and prepared.”  He walked over, grabbed a map off the table, and shoved it into Liam’s chest.  “You know where Phillip will be, so…”  He saw pain in his brother’s eyes, and sighed.  “And you thought of that already.”

“I walked the web a thousand times.  I called upon Wendel and his knights, and Solsthriem broke apart into civil war.  I hired mercenaries.  I tried to handle it myself.”  Liam looked away, resting his head on the mantle.  His voice broke on the words.  “I can’t watch you die again, Jurgen.”

“Hey…”  He caught Liam’s arm, then pulled him into a hug.  “What happens next isn’t your choice, Liam.  Whatever Mikaere believes, you are not a god.”  He felt Liam shake, and tightened his arms.  “For almost thirty years, I’ve had faith in you, my brother.  Have faith in me.”

“I do.”  Liam nodded.

“Look out for Rien.”  He patted Liam’s back, then managed a small smile.  “I hate admitting this, but uh…”  He shrugged.  “He needs all the help he can get.”

“I have…”  Liam drew back, then nodded.  “I’ll make sure Jochem gets him some of the help he needs.”

“If we don’t see each other again, I…”  Jurgen smiled, then patted Liam’s cheek.  “I’ll be down at the water’s edge, with drinks, and we will sail upon the storm.”

#

“You are aware that these men intend to kill you.”  Petrus glanced over at him from where they rode side by side.

“Yes, but they won’t try it until you and I part ways…”  Liam shrugged.  “At which point they’ll no longer have the chance.”

“You just going to kill them all?”  Petrus chuckled.

“The thought had crossed my mind.”  Liam nodded.  “But that would just be a waste of time.”  He raised an eyebrow.  “Did you get it?”

Petrus passed over the manticore fang, wrapped in red cloth.  “And it’s real, this time.”  He shrugged.  “Technically, Jonas got it.”  He hesitated a moment, then glanced at Liam again.  “You wouldn’t happen to know how a dozen drunken Jolusth traders happened along at exactly the right moment to distract those knights, would you?”

“I’ve been riding alongside your fathers for almost three decades, Petrus.”  Liam rolled his eyes.  “One need not be a prophet to know whatever you planned was going to go horribly wrong.”

They’d gone several miles before Petrus spoke again.  “Are you coming back, Uncle Liam?”

“One more time.” Liam nodded.  He took a deep breath.  “What I will ask of you then won’t be easy.”

“I’ll fight any battle you give me.”  Petrus lifted his chin.

“That’s why I say it won’t be easy.”  He smiled at him.  “I’m going to need you to stand aside and let what happens next happen.  Stay out of things until Zuri sends you a message.”

“I…”  Petrus swallowed.  “I don’t know if I can do that.”

“And whatever happens…”  Liam reached over to put his hand on Petrus’s shoulder.  “You and Jonas are not to get drunk in Lethiun.”

“We —”

“No matter what, Petrus.”  He patted Petrus’s shoulder.  “Under absolutely no circumstances.”

“Are you going to tell me —”

“No.”  Liam shook his head.  “No, I am not.”

#

Jurgen glanced down at the map Liam had given him.  They weren’t far now.  He took a drink from the mug of ale and examined the map again.  Phillip would have a clear view from three directions, and if he tried to bring his men in the fourth, they’d get bogged down in the swamp.  The man had chosen his position well.

His men though…  He looked up at where they were enjoying the small tavern.  Some of the best the Wild had to offer.  Petrus had wanted to join him, but that was a risk he’d been unwilling to take.  Fortunately, Liam had given Petrus a task that took him in another direction.  His children and his brothers, at least, would be safe.  He set the empty mug down, then glanced up when it was refilled.  Jurgen went still.  “You shouldn’t be here.”

Liam sat down across from him.  If he hadn’t seen his brother in the garb of a noble before, he wouldn’t have known him.  Considering none of the others reacted to his presence, the disguise worked well enough.  “I didn’t come alone.”  He shook his head.

“You said you tried this already, riding in with me.”  He grabbed the mug and took another drink.  Then he took another look around the bar.  At least his men were having a good time.  The innkeeper was making the rounds, refilling their mugs as well.  “You said it didn’t work.”

“It won’t.”  Liam nodded.  “If I ride in with you, you take a sword for me.  I can’t…”  He exhaled.

“Did you bring anyone who would make a difference?”  He knew the answer already.  No one Liam sent with him could change the outcome.  Jurgen looked down at the map again.

“Yes.”  The quiet word brought his head up, and he stared at Liam.  Liam didn’t meet his eyes.  “Yes, I did.”

He drained the mug, then set it back on the table.  “Who?”

“Ama.”  Liam set his hands on the table.  “I’m sorry, Jurgen.”

“Sorry for…”  He started to shake his head, then blinked when the gesture made him dizzy.  Then he went still for a moment before glancing at the room.  Several of his men were already starting to slump over the tables.  “Liam.”

“Phillip is waiting.”  Liam seemed to split into two separate images.  Then he looked past Jurgen at where others had entered.  “Talis non sa larai.  Domeni valis tren.”

“Besa tren.”  An unfamiliar voice answered, and then hands took hold of his arms.  Jurgen tried to pull away, but his body wouldn’t obey the command.

The world went dark around him.

#

She was waiting for him, exactly where he’d told her to be.  Liam glanced to her left and saw Mikaere emerge from the trees.  “It’s done?”

“They chase you even now.”  Mikaere nodded.

Liam’s eyes met Ama’s, and she smiled fiercely.  “It’s up to me now, then.”

He nodded, then dismounted before walking up to her.  Then he dropped to his knees in front of her.  “Three days.”

Ama nodded before kneeling and putting her hands on his head.  He shuddered as he felt her magic take hold of him, gripping tight as she drew deeply.  Even had he wanted, he could not have pulled away now.  She directed his power, using it to find the wind, casting her net across the entire valley and then beyond.  Her magic began twining around the threads, using them to pull the winds to her.

Thunder rumbled in the distance as the storm answered her call.

#

He woke to a dry mouth, the smell of brine, and a swaying sensation.  Jurgen made a soft growling sound.  “I’m going to kill him.”  Then he opened his eyes and sat up.

A few of his men were also stirring, their faces confused and angry.  “Warchief…”  Niek rubbed at his temples.  “My lord, we appear to be on a ship.”

“Yeah.”  Jurgen spoke through gritted teeth.  “We are definitely on a ship.”

“So, what’s the plan?”  Niek looked up at him.  “Beat the captain until they take us back to shore?”

“Thought…”  He stood.  A few of his men did the same.  They weren’t chained or anything.  That part probably wasn’t Liam’s best idea.  The Ilael knew the sea, but they weren’t a people of war.  Against thirty Wilders, even a full crew wouldn’t stand much of a chance.  “Definitely crossed my mind.”

“You’ll be wanting a word with the captain then?”  A woman’s voice came from over by the staircase, and he turned.  “I’m listening.”

Niek started to launch himself at the woman, and Jurgen caught him by the arm before throwing him back into the midst of the others.  He sent a glare at the captain, then turned back to the men.  “Any man lays a hand on her, I’ll kill them personally.”  Then he took two deep breaths before turning to face the young woman.  “Your father…”  He growled.  “Cheats.”

Zuri grinned at him.  “I’ll not argue that point, uncle mine.”  She laughed, then opened her arms.

Jurgen stood there, glaring at her.  Then he shook his head before stepping forward and hugging her tightly.  “I’m going to beat him until he can’t see straight.”  He kissed Zuri’s forehead, then stepped back.  “Then I’m going to beat him some more.”  He took a deep breath and tried not to think about Rien.  He swallowed, and his voice was quiet when he spoke again.  “He promised.”

“Aye.”  She nodded.  “He did.”  She put her hand on his arm.  “Papa sometimes focuses too hard on too many things, and then misses what is right in front of him.”  She shrugged.  “That’s why he has me.”

“You?”  Jurgen blinked.

“I asked him a question.”  She leaned forward, then whispered into his ear.  “I asked him how Phillip knows what you look like.”

“He knows we are Wilders.  That’s pretty much all he needed to…”  He trailed off, staring at her.

“In a storm, one group of Wilders looks much like any other.  Happened there was a group on hand sent with orders to kill Papa.”  Zuri waved a hand at the group of bedraggled men in the ship’s hold.  “And in a big enough storm, nobody is going to take the time to closely examine corpses.  They are going to assume their little rockslide trap killed the right people and go riding for shelter.”

“You know, he could have just told me that.”  Jurgen rubbed the back of his neck.  “Alright.  Put us ashore, and we will —”  He cut off when she shook her head.  “Zuri.”

“My king has given me an order, uncle mine.”  She smiled.  “And we both know you won’t raise a hand against me.”

“You…”

“My lord…”  Niek came up behind him.  “Who…”

“Niek, this is Captain Zuri Idowu of The Copper Dragon.”  He put his arm around her shoulders.  “Princess of the Ilael, and at the moment…”  He sent a glare at her.  “My absolute least favorite niece.”

#

He waited until the light-haired man and his entourage had left.  Then he walked over and sat down at the table.  Rutger looked up at him, then blinked before looking again.  “Lammert.”  He gave a small shake of his head.  “Got to admit, Manisar is the past place I expected to run into you.”

“You’ll not find a keystone here, Rutger.”  Liam leaned back in the chair.  “But then, that’s not why you are here.”

“Lammert —”

“Come to Jolusth with me, brother.”  He reached a hand across the table.  “Let me show you the city of clouds.”

Rutger stared down at his hand, then looked up at him.  “You’re a dozen years too late for that to work.”  His eyes went cold, but his voice betrayed a hint of injury.  “Why did you have to tell Jurgen?”

“I didn’t tell Jurgen, Rutger.”  Liam shook his head.

“Liar.”  Rutger glared.

Liam drew his hand back, then sighed.  Then he exhaled.  “Lord Netera is decieving to you.  He knows who you really are, and if you take passage on his ship he will take you prisoner.”

“I…”  Rutger blinked.  Then he sighed and nodded.  “Yeah.  His offer did seem a little too good to be true.”  He hesitated a moment, then frowned.  “Why warn me?”

“Because you’re my brother, Rutger.”  He stood.  “That hasn’t changed.”  He tossed a coin down on the table.  “It never will.”

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