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Chapter no 24 – Bachel

Murtagh (The Inheritance Cycle, #5)

Murtagh gripped the edge of Thorn’s saddle, his mind a welter of confusion. The woman before him couldn’t possibly be his mother. Every reasonable part of him knew that. And yet…He

felt as if he’d stepped wrong-footed and the path before him had vanished. “Are you the witch they call Bachel?” he asked, attempting to feign

confidence.

With an elegant motion, the woman inclined her head. “I am, my son.”

A sense of imposition began to clear Murtagh’s head. “Why do you call me such?”

Bachel indicated the courtyard and everyone within it. “Because you are my child, as are all who follow the Great Dream.”

“I follow no one and nothing.”

A faint spark of amusement appeared in Bachel’s hooded eyes. “I very much doubt that, Kingkiller.”

Murtagh tensed even more. “You know of me.”

“Of you and Thorn both. Word of your deeds has traveled far, Kingkiller, even to this, our sacred redoubt.” There was an archaic quality to her speech that reminded Murtagh of how the eldest of the Eldunarí had spoken: a remnant of past eras.

“And what is this?” Murtagh gestured with Zar’roc at the temple and the village.

“A place of many dreams.” Bachel smiled again, seemingly without guile. “You have come to Nal Gorgoth, Kingkiller, as I foretold. Long have we waited for you and Thorn, and your arrival is most propitious.”

Again, Murtagh felt lost. “Waited for us? Why?”

The witch’s smile widened, and she spread her arms as if to embrace the whole of existence. “Because you are to be the saviors of the world.”

 

 

A profound silence reigned in the courtyard.

Thorn’s confusion matched Murtagh’s. But before either of them could demand an explanation, Bachel laughed, a low, throaty sound, and said, “You do not believe me. I see it in your eyes. That is of no matter. Soon you shall come to understand the truth of things. Answers you shall have, both to the questions you yearn to ask and those you have yet to conceive. But not here, and not now. It has been many an age since a Rider and dragon graced our court. We shall have a feast to celebrate your arrival, and you shall be my honored guests, you and brilliant Thorn both!”

She sat then, and snapped her fingers, and the litter-bearers marched to a stone dais on the northern side of the courtyard. The warriors followed and placed themselves on either side of the dais. The bearers continued to stand, the litter resting across their shoulders, while Bachel reclined against her carved, throne-like seat.

“Grieve,” she said, “see to the arrangements. Let us have food and wine and music. Let the Vale of Dreams ring with joyful revelry, on this most fateful of days.”

The goateed man bowed. “Your wish is our command, Speaker.”

He clapped his hands, and the white-robed bell-shakers retreated into the temple while a rush of men and women emerged from the surrounding buildings. They seemed to need no instruction; with hardly a spoken word, the villagers brought out heavy wooden tables, and copper braziers filled with blazing coals, and iron sticks that held tapers of greasy tallow, and deer and goat hides to cover the mossy flagstones. All sorts Murtagh observed

among the folk: they appeared to share no common origin. Nor were they human only. He saw two dwarves, both female, and what he thought might have been an Urgal youngling—though Murtagh only had a brief glimpse of his face. The dwarves gave no sign of hostility, but their presence heightened his wariness.

Nal Gorgoth. His brow furrowed. The name sounded Dwarvish, at least in part. As he had learned during his stay in Farthen Dûr, goroth meant place in the dwarves’ tongue. Was the name of the village related to that word? Or had it another origin entirely? It also reminded him of Du Fells Nángoröth, which was what the elves called the mountains in the center of the Hadarac Desert—where the wild dragons used to live—and which was translated as the Blasted Mountains. Since fells meant mountains, then nángoröth meant blasted.

His thoughts were interrupted by the return of several of the bell-shakers carrying a heavy carved chair that they placed before the dais.

“Come, sit with me, Kingkiller,” said Bachel. “And you as well, Dragon. Join me.” She held out a hand, and a young, white-robed woman with flaxen hair and a devoted expression scurried up, placed a stone chalice in Bachel’s grip, and filled it with wine from an earthenware pitcher. “Thank you, my child,” murmured Bachel.

The young woman curtsied and withdrew.

Murtagh debated with himself for a moment. Then he slung his leg over the ridge of Thorn’s back and slid to the ground, Zar’roc and shield still in hand.

Are you sure? Thorn asked.

No, but I don’t see a choice. Stay closeShe cannot believe what she said.

What? About us being the saviors of the world? Yes.

Murtagh agreed. Yet the straightforward assurance with which Bachel had spoken left him with a lingering doubt. Lies of all sorts he was accustomed to from his life at court, but he sensed no falsehood in the

witch’s speech or bearing. She seemed utterly convinced of the rightness of her words, and that more than anything made him uncertain.

Murtagh slowly approached the dais. Thorn followed a pace behind, claws tapping against the flagstones. The fourteen warriors attending Bachel shifted slightly. Murtagh ignored them.

With a gracious gesture, Bachel extended a hand toward the carved chair.

Murtagh hated to put himself at a disadvantage, but it would not do to completely break the rules of hospitality. So he sheathed Zar’roc—though he kept one hand on the hilt—before lowering himself to sit upon the chair. His greaves and vambraces clattered, and the point of his shield knocked against the yard’s paved floor. The armor made him feel clumsy and uncouth; he never would have worn it to a high event at court, but there was a limit to how much safety he would sacrifice for manners.

The moment he was seated, two of the village men came to serve him. They set a small table before him and, on it, deposited plates laden with cheeses, sweetmeats, and fresh blueberries, along with a cup of wine and a bowl of water in which to wash his hands. The blueberries puzzled him; they were out of season, which meant magic or some form of preservation he was unfamiliar with.

One of the men bowed and left, while the other remained close at hand, ready to wait upon his needs.

There was a comfort to again having a servant attending him. It was one of the benefits of living in Urû’baen that Murtagh had not fully appreciated until leaving. Doing everything for himself—especially cooking—took far more time than he liked.

A faint smile curved Bachel’s lips, and she sipped from her chalice. “I see you are not entirely at ease in our midst, but you have nothing to fear from us here in Nal Gorgoth, Kingkiller.”

“Is that so?”

She inclined her head. “You may set aside your arms and armor whene’er you wish. No harm shall come to you.”

“My Lady…” Murtagh paused while he searched for the right words. “I wish to believe you, but how can I, when I know so little about you?”

To his annoyance, Bachel answered with a question of her own: “Tell me, my son, how did you find this valley? Few there are who are aware of Nal Gorgoth’s existence or where it lies.”

Murtagh rolled the stem of his cup between his fingers while he considered how best to answer. Then he tasted the wine. To his surprise, he recognized the vintage as having come from the vineyards on one of the Southern Isles. How did it end up here?

He said, “I met several men who wore amulets of protection they claimed were enchanted by you.” He fixed Bachel with a steady gaze. “They tried to kill me, but they failed, and then they told me what they knew.”

A slight line formed between Bachel’s brows. “I see. Then it was you met some of my Eyes. My apologies for their behavior. They would not have attacked had they known who you were. They did not, did they?”

Murtagh shook his head. “No.”

“That is good. However, I must ask: my Eyes. My children. Did you kill them?”

“Those I had to. But no more.” Her dark gaze lingered on him, and Murtagh felt compelled to add: “I give you my word.”

“Then I thank you for your mercy. Were, perchance, the Eyes you encountered in Ceunon?”

“Some. Not all.” For an instant, Murtagh thought he saw a flicker of concern in Bachel’s expression. He decided to press the advantage. “Have you many Eyes?” he asked in an uninterested tone.

Bachel returned her attention to the preparations before them. “More than you would believe, Kingkiller.”

It was exactly the sort of answer Murtagh had feared. “To what end, I wonder?”

“All shall be revealed in the goodness of time, my son. Worry not. But you must be patient. The secrets of the sacred circle are not lightly shared.”

She spoke in such a gracious and yet commanding manner that Murtagh found it hard to dissent. It felt as if he would be in the wrong, despite

everything he knew about the Dreamers and their activities. Yet his disquiet and his desire to know more continued to gnaw at him. Saviors of the world… but how? From what? Or is she merely trying to lead us astray?

Then Bachel turned her hooded gaze to Thorn. “O Exalted Dragon, I would ask a question of you, although perhaps you may think it impertinent. But it is this: you are larger than seems fit for your age. Is your stature born of nature, or has it another origin?”

Thorn was slow to respond, but when he did, he said to both Bachel and Murtagh alike, I grew faster than most hatchlings, for I needed to. So I did.

It was not entirely the truth, but Murtagh knew Thorn hated to speak of what Galbatorix had done to him, and he was not about to share those painful details with a stranger. Especially one as potentially perilous as Bachel.

The witch nodded as if she understood. “Of course. Such is the nature of dragons.”

And what do you know of them? Murtagh wondered. He motioned at the ranks of scaled statues along the temple exterior. “Do you worship dragons?”

A thread of smoke came from Thorn. What an excellent idea. All should worship our kind.

Murtagh nearly smiled, despite himself.

A thin, cold note sounded as Bachel tapped the rim of her stone chalice. “Not as such. But we revere them, for we remember what so many have forgotten. And we count it a sacred thing to be bonded so closely with a dragon, even as you are, Kingkiller.”

Before Murtagh could inquire further, the witch looked away, making it clear that, for the moment, the topic was closed.

To Thorn and Thorn alone, Murtagh asked, What is her mind like? He did not want to risk touching Bachel’s consciousness as well. Not until they were sure of her intentions.

The dragon twitched the blunt end of his tail. Like none I have ever feltHow so?

Her thoughts are as iron, and yet there is a strangeness to them. It is hard to describe. Here. And an impression came to Murtagh from Thorn, an

impression of distance and desolation and distortion, as if the world were seen through a piece of polished crystal that changed the shape of every angle.

Puzzled, Murtagh looked back at Bachel and tried to reconcile her appearance with the oddness of her inner life. She is not as she seems, he said.

No, Thorn agreed.

Throughout the square, the villagers continued to assemble the feast. Goats and sheep were butchered, and rich cuts of meat were laid out over fires built on the flagstones. As the villagers labored, Murtagh noticed how they kept sneaking glances at Thorn. It was as if the dragon were a bloodied lodestone drawing them closer, and their bodies traced lines of force, like iron filings. Some were brave enough to reach out with tremulous hands, though none dared to actually touch him. In Murtagh’s judgment, their behavior bespoke not so much reverence, as Bachel had said, but something closer to idolatry.

Bachel watched him watching, and she seemed to guess his thoughts, for she said, “They are enamored with the beauty of your dragon. Few there are in Nal Gorgoth who remember such a sight.”

Thorn hummed, pleased by what she had said. “But there are some?” Murtagh asked.

“There are.”

“Would you count yourself among their number?”

Again, slight amusement colored Bachel’s angular features. “You have questions without end, my son. But it is better to eat and then talk than to talk and then eat.”

“Of course. Forgive me. The wisdom of the ages flows from your tongue.” Murtagh meant his response as sarcasm, but despite himself, it came out sounding sincere.

Several men began to play lyres among the columns of the temple. The music was in a minor key and had a fierce, savage sensibility that heightened the strangeness of the setting.

Bachel raised a finger. “Alín, attend me.”

The same young, white-robed woman who had served the witch earlier hurried over and bowed deeply. “Yes, Speaker?” Her voice was high and sweet.

“What think you of our guest, the great dragon Thorn?” asked Bachel. Alín’s eyes grew round, and she bowed again. “He is very splendid,

Speaker. We are fortunate you have allowed him to visit among us.” Allowed? Thorn said to Murtagh, somewhat bemused.

I’ll say this, Bachel does not seem concerned by our presenceVery little seems to concern her.

Bachel looked satisfied with Alín’s answer. “Yes, he is. Enjoy his presence whilst you may, my child. Such moments are rare over the long reach of years. You are blessed to live in these most momentous of times.”

“Yes, Speaker.”

The lyres struck louder.

“Dance for us now, my child,” said Bachel. And she tapped one of the litter-bearers on the shoulder. “You as well. Put me down and join with Alín. Share with us your joy.”

The armor-clad men lowered the litter to the dais and descended with Alín to stand among the tables set up before them. Then the five of them began to move in time with the music, their bodies turning and swaying with sinuous grace.

The bearers’ armor, Murtagh noted, made no noise, as if it were made of felted wool rather than wood or metal or whatever was the lacquered material.

Somewhere among the columns, a drum took up the beat, and then a horn, and though Bachel’s face remained impassive, a fire seemed to light her eyes, and she tapped the middle finger of her right hand against her chair, keeping time with perfect, unyielding precision.

Murtagh watched from the corner of his eye. He couldn’t decide what to make of her. Even sitting there, Bachel struck an imposing figure, tall and statuesque, like a warrior facing a gathered army, and none there were in the courtyard who could match her presence. In that, she reminded him with unexpected strength of Nasuada.

Thorn nudged his elbow, and Murtagh blinked and tightened his hand about Zar’roc’s hilt.

After a minute, Bachel said, “Do you dance, Kingkiller?” He gave her a courtly nod. “Quite well, I’m told.”

“Then dance for me, if you would. Let my children see the high styles of the land.”

“You make a fair request, Lady, but my armor is ill suited for such sport, and I’ll not remove it.”

He thought his refusal would displease her. But instead, she merely picked up her chalice again. “No matter. You will dance for me another time, Kingkiller.”

“Will I?”

“It is foreseen, foretold, and thus fated.” And she returned to watching Alín and the bearers.

More grey-robed servants came with platters of food: bread and milk and butter and salted meats. Grieve joined them on the dais and, after a deep bow to Bachel, said, “Dragon Thorn, we have goats and sheep and cows for you. Which would you like?”

I ate before we set off north. At the moment, I am not hungry, but I thank you for your offer.

Grieve bowed again. “Of course. As you so desire. If you change your mind, you have but to ask, and our herds shall be yours to choose from as you please.”

Thorn’s eyes glittered in response. That is most kind of you.

The dancers continued without letup, and before long, the villagers brought cooked meats to the dais and the feast began in earnest.

Murtagh was hungry, but he took only a few bites from each course, just enough to be polite, and he drank sparingly. The witch, by comparison, was immoderate in her consumption; she ate a constant stream of dishes, displaying the sort of appetite common to soldiers after days of forced marching. Her manners were fastidious, although—also to his surprise—she forwent fork and knife and devoured her food using nothing but fingers and teeth. It made for an odd mix of refinement and barbarity. Along with her

food, she drank chalice after chalice of wine. And yet she remained alert and bright-eyed throughout, and Murtagh could detect no slurring of her speech.

Either she has the constitution of a Kull or she has spells protecting her, he said to Thorn.

Or some combination of both.

When Bachel held out her chalice for the seventh time, Murtagh gave an incredulous chuckle and shook his head. “You are amused, my son?” Bachel asked.

“It’s only that…well, I’ve never seen man or dwarf who could hold their own with you when it comes to drink. Perhaps an Urgal might, or an elf, but I’ve never had chance to match cups with either of their races.”

Bachel nodded, unperturbed. “It is because my mother was indeed an elf. That is why my blood runs hot and I have the strength and quickness I do. There is no one like me in all the world.”

Murtagh’s mind raced. Growing up, he’d heard stories of half elves, but they were always spoken of as something out of myth and legend. It had never occurred to him that such a thing might be possible…though considering it now, he supposed it wasn’t that surprising. Elves and humans were more closely related than, say, humans and dwarves—dwarves, like Urgals, had seven toes on each foot—and given enough time living in the same land, it was inevitable that some intermingling would occur.

She could be lying, said Thorn. But then how to explain…her? The dragon had no answer.

Murtagh looked back at Bachel. “Is your mother still—”

“She died long ago,” the witch said in a bland tone. “She came here when she was heavy with me, and she died. Is that what you wanted to know, my son?”

He wet his lips. “And your father? He was human, I take it?”

Bachel gave a languorous wave. “A woodcutter, I’m told. He too is long since dead.”

“I see…. My condolences.”

Bachel looked at him with a glittering gaze, as if he’d grown a horn from his forehead. “Why your condolences? They are in no pain. They sleep the long slumber, and were they here, they would be honored to know that of all people was anointed Speaker. That was chosen by fate to read and interpret and share the truth of ages. Do not mourn for me, Murtagh son of Morzan. I have no sorrows here, only triumph, glorious and inevitable.”

Then she lifted her chalice and again returned to watching those moving to the music.

In the distance, a crow uttered its harsh cry.

 

 

The feast dragged on, course after course, and the players continued to weave their savage melody throughout. It was a strange celebration. None of the villagers spoke to Murtagh or Thorn, not even when they waited upon Murtagh. Only Bachel conversed with them, and she seemed more interested in indulging in food and drink than talk.

Murtagh didn’t mind. The many months he’d spent traveling alone with Thorn had accustomed him to sitting and watching and thinking. And there was a certain pleasure in being served, as he had been at Galbatorix’s court; he heard the careless clip of authority harden his voice when he spoke to the man attending him.

It fit with his armor.

Nevertheless, Murtagh recognized his own feelings, and he knew them for a trap that could lull him into complacency. So while he welcomed the treatment due his rank, he also made an effort to observe the villagers and attempt to deduce something of their nature.

One point in particular struck him: when Bachel issued an order, the villagers scurried about like mice before a cat, almost desperate to please her. And yet they didn’t seem afraid. Or if they were, it was an odd sort of fear. Mostly, he saw deference and respect in their actions. If he could understand the reasons why, he felt he would understand the mystery at the heart of Nal Gorgoth.

Shadow filled the valley, and the stars were cold sparks in the night sky when Bachel finally pushed away her plate, dabbed her lips, and leaned back in her throne. Her skin glowed from the rubbed-in grease, and her whole being, face and body together, seemed swollen from the vast amount of food she had ingested.

“A most bounteous feast,” said Murtagh. “Your cooks are to be commended.”

Bachel nodded in a satisfied manner. “I thank you for your kind words. Such a feast as this, and more besides, are your rightful reward. Yours and Thorn’s. Were it within my power, I would set a thousand days of celebration in your honor. It is only what you deserve.”

Murtagh eyed her, wondering at the praise. Was it possible that the rumors about the Dreamers, and Bachel herself, were falsities? Or else misleading? Perhaps Bachel was not as he had thought. After all, were someone to judge him on hearsay, they would deem him a villain fit to frighten even the stoutest of hearts.

Then: “My Lady, we have eaten and eaten well. Might we now talk?” “Of course, my son. What would you speak of?”

So many questions had Murtagh, he was almost at a loss to begin. “I have heard your people called the Dreamers. Would that be correct?”

A stillness took Bachel’s face, and with a single draft, she emptied her chalice and placed it beside her litter. “It is.”

“And what is it you dream of?”

“Of remaking the very face of the land.” Bachel turned her dark-rimmed eyes upon him. “As has been fated since the beginning of time. And as you and Thorn are destined to help bring to pass.”

The certainty with which she spoke chilled him. Partly because it reminded him all too much of Galbatorix’s ironclad conviction—a conviction born of the king’s own delusions and untrammeled power. And partly because he wondered if she spoke the truth.

“You speak with great confidence about our future actions.”

“Of course. Because I am a seer. A soothsayer. A prophet, if you will. The gift of foretelling what shall be is mine, and before me, all paths are laid

bare.”

Ice poured down Murtagh’s spine. Prophecy was a real thing, but rare, very rare, and—to his knowledge—limited to the near future. If the witch could see further than that, then she might very well be the most powerful being in Alagaësia.

I do not believe in fate, Thorn said to him. We make our own way through the world.

Yes, but if she can predict what we choose to do next, how could we possibly counter that? And what exactly has she foreseen as our future? A fierce desire to know burned within Murtagh.

“Is that why your people call you Speaker?” he asked. “Because you speak to them of the future?”

Bachel smiled slightly. “No, not quite. I am the chosen voice of the Dreamer of Dreams, from whom all wisdom flows. For the Dreamer I speak, and thus the Speaker I am.”

When she failed to elaborate, he said, “And who is—”

“Some secrets are not to be shared with outsiders.” She gave him a long look, her gaze hard and evaluating. “Although perhaps you shall be a rare exception, my son.”

Murtagh frowned. Just because court intrigues had accustomed him to evasion didn’t mean he liked it. “My Lady…if an oracle you are, might you provide us with a demonstration of your powers, that we may marvel at your gift?”

For the first time, Bachel did appear offended. She said, “What visions I have are granted to me for sacred purpose, and I would risk the wrath of the Dreamer were I so presumptuous as to demand them merely to satisfy my own selfish desires. It would be a desecration of my role as Speaker.”

How convenient, Murtagh thought, but before he could voice his doubt, the witch continued:

“However, I will tell you this much, Rider, and I speak the truth, for I have seen what is to come. Ere long, you and Thorn shall fly forth, and you shall redden blade and claw in service of this cause. This I promise you.”

Thorn growled slightly, and Murtagh felt his skin prickle and crawl. “And what else have you seen of our future? Why do you call us the saviors of the land?”

Bachel’s mouth twisted further askew with an enigmatic smile. “We shall speak of that anon and more besides. This also I promise. But it is late, and you must be tired from your travels. For now, you should rest. My people will see to it that you are well cared for. If there is anything you need, you have but to ask. Grieve!”

The goateed man shambled over. “Speaker?”

“Escort our guest to the chambers overlooking the Tower of Flint. Sleep well, Kingkiller, and may your dreams bring you understanding. Tomorrow we shall talk of the new age that is dawning.”

Then Bachel gave word to her armor-clad servants, who lifted her litter and carried her from the courtyard back into the temple. Once she had left, the players ceased plucking the lyres, and the drums fell silent too. Soon the crackling of the fires was the loudest sound in the square.

Grieve approached Murtagh and bowed. In a condescending tone, he said, “This way, Rider.”

His mind full of thoughts, Murtagh stood, stiff and unsteady. He didn’t want to sleep indoors, alone and isolated from Thorn, but he feared it would be unwise to refuse Bachel’s offer of hospitality.

Go, said Thorn, sensing his deliberation.

Murtagh put a hand on the dragon’s neck. I’ll sneak back out once they’ve left me. And then maybe we can look around a bit and see what we can discover.

Thorn hummed with agreement, but Murtagh could tell the dragon wasn’t entirely happy with the plan. They’d talk more later, when there was less of a chance their thoughts might be overheard.

“After you,” said Murtagh, gesturing at Grieve.

The goateed man turned and, with his heavy, flat-footed tread, led Murtagh beneath the arcade of faceted columns and through a small side door along the northern wing of the temple. The hallway inside was cool and dark; no torches or lanterns were lit, but Grieve moved with surety, and

Murtagh followed the sound of his steps while probing for the minds of any who might be lying in wait to attack.

Up a flight of stairs they went, to a landing where the temple’s narrow windows let through enough moonlight to see along the wall flat carvings of…of what, Murtagh did not know. His eyes refused to settle on the confusion of figures that adorned the stone. Bodies, human or beast, distorted structures, strange honeycomb patterns that melted one into the next…It felt as if the sculpture were an attempt to physically depict madness. The frenzied, half-formed shapes reminded him of the twisted mindscapes of the Eldunarí whom Galbatorix had enslaved, as well as the disjointed logic of nightmares. Malevolence emanated in great waves from the wall. The sensation was so tangible, it made him recoil. The sculpture was a grotesquerie—a mockery of grace and art and all things beautiful. He felt a strong urge to break it. If he were to look at the carvings for too long, Murtagh feared they would infect him with whatever insanity had inspired such a malformed creation.

“Who made this thing?” he asked. In the night air, his voice sounded as an unlovely croak.

Grieve did not pause as he lurched down the landing. “The First Ones made it when they discovered the sacred well.”

“You mean the Grey Folk?” asked Murtagh. The long-dead race had been the ones to bind the ancient language and magic in the first place. He could easily imagine them building Nal Gorgoth, although he had never heard of their kind having set foot in Alagaësia. But then, there was much he did not know, and much that was hidden by the passage of years.

Grieve snorted. “I mean the First Ones. The first of the Dreamers to find this place. Many races they were, but all of them of a single mind.”

“I see. And the well you mentioned? What makes it sacred?” “That is not for me to say, Rider.”

“What is for you to say?”

With a stiff-legged step, Grieve stopped, his shoulders and neck hunched like those of a bear readying himself to charge. “Do not expect me to

provide you with aid, Rider. You are an outsider, an unbeliever, and your kind are neither needed nor wanted in Nal Gorgoth.”

He turned on Murtagh. His moonlit eyes were silvered chips of ice, hard and full of hate, and Murtagh—despite all his wards and skill at arms—felt threatened enough that he put a hand on Zar’roc’s hilt.

“But,” Grieve continued, “in her wisdom, Bachel has chosen to tolerate your presence. That is her right.”

“She tolerates my presence, does she?” said Murtagh, his voice deadly calm. “What other choice does she have, servant?”

Grieve’s mouth split apart to show the yellow stakes of his teeth. “That you shall learn, Rider, and you will wish you hadn’t. Your power holds no sway here. If Bachel wishes, she will use the Breath on you, and then we will see who is servant and who is master.”

“I don’t think I like you, Grieve.”

“The words of unbelievers are as dirt beneath my feet.”

“I’m glad we have an understanding. Lead on. I grow weary and would rest in my chambers.”

The malice in Grieve’s eyes intensified, but he turned and continued along the landing. Murtagh let the man put several steps between them before he followed. He kept his hand on Zar’roc and made sure the blade was loose in the sheath. Jealousy or overprotectiveness? he wondered. Or was it zealotry that fueled the hostility of Bachel’s right-hand man?

At the end of a hall, they arrived at a set of closed wooden doors. “Here,” said Grieve, and, without another word, departed.

Murtagh waited until he was sure he was alone and then pushed open the doors.

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