By the time I wake up the next morning, Merlin has gone. I have no idea where he’s gone, but his instructions from last night come back to me. With a groan I sit up and then look around for some dried meat to snack on for breakfast.
I’m still eating when Beaux shows up. She doesn’t bother to announce herself; she just dives right through the door. “Figures you wouldn’t be up and about yet,” she says.
“Care for a bite?” I ask.
“I’ve already eaten.”
“I’m sure you have, but this is better than some berries and nuts.”
“I haven’t time and neither do you. You’re supposed to be in the village.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because he told me before he left. Now get moving. You can finish eating on the way.”
I grumble to myself, but soon enough we’re on our way. I try to make small talk, but she has none of that. She’s more concerned about those sheep of hers. By the time she gets back, they’ll probably all have run off or gotten themselves eaten by wolves.
“I don’t know why you bother with them. They’re just stupid sheep.”
“At least I’m good at something.”
“There you go again. I’m the apprentice to the most powerful conjurer in the whole land. What more do you want from me?”
“You’re his assistant. Or his manservant is more like it.”
“Manservant? I don’t change his bloody robe for him, woman. I am indispensable to him.”
“Is that why he left without you?”
“Bah. There’s no reasoning with you.” I’d like to stomp away from her, but she can easily keep up with me. “Why don’t you just let me handle this?”
“Because you’ll botch the whole thing, is why.”
“And what would you know about finding a warrior?”
“More than you. The only thing you ever fought were Gren’s kittens—and you lost. Just look what happened with Greetha—”
“Bloody witch took me by surprise is all.”
Beaux brandishes her club. “I’m a lot closer to a warrior than you’ll ever be.”
“Fine, you can come along, but I’m the one in charge.”
She gives me a nasty look, but holds her tongue the rest of the way into the village. Though Elgar is still sore about the last time we met, he escorts us to his father’s hut. “Where is the conjurer?” the chief asks.
“He’s attending to other business. He’s asked me to come in his stead.”
“For what? Have you come to claim my title, little man?”
“Not at all. My master has asked me to seek out the village’s bravest warrior for a special mission.”
“What sort of mission?”
“There is a very nasty bloke on his way here. A black demon. He’s going to lay waste to everything unless we find a warrior who can stop him.”
The chief gets to his feet with a groan. He stands beside Elgar and puts a hand on his shoulder. “You need look no further than my son. He is without equal.”
“The master has made it very clear I’m supposed to find someone who is brave, strong, and pure of heart. I’m not sure Elgar meets all those qualifications.”
“What are you saying, old man? My heart is purer than anyone’s in this village!”
Beaux puts a hand on my arm. “What Marlin is saying is that we want to make sure.”
“Yes, exactly.” I clap my hands together. “I suppose the simplest way to make sure would be to have a tournament.”
“What sort of tournament?” the chief asks.
“We’ll have every able-bodied man in the village duel to determine who is the best.”
Elgar grins at us. “That sounds amusing. Then you will see without a doubt that I am the best warrior in this village.”
“What about being pure of heart?” Beaux asks me once we’re outside.
“We’ll worry about that later,” I say. I just hope the master is done by that time, because I have no idea what he means; I only know Elgar can’t be what he has in mind.
The chief makes the announcement to the rest of the village. There are twenty men in total; the chief does not include himself. Only after the announcement does young Artr pull his father aside. “Father, what about me?”
“What about you? He said able-bodied men.”
“I’m sixteen. I’m old enough to go to war.”
The chief stares at his son for a moment and then sighs. “Very well. Add the boy to your list.”
I nod at the chief, though I know the boy has no chance. He’ll be lucky if one of the others doesn’t snap him in half. Well, it’s his funeral.
I turn to Beaux and say, “Now that that’s settled, how about we get some decent food?”
“You and your stomach,” she grumbles, but she follows me to get a joint of mutton. We eat it together beneath a tree. Maybe there’s a good side to this job after all.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Where has Merlin gone? Find out tomorrow!