A flashback to several weeks ago:
Within the Great Kingdom, a regal girl lay weeping as a handsome youth consoled her, "Do not cry fair Lady. Yes, your brother shall not be coming back, but his name will live on..." 
But the Lady Rowena D'Honaire could not accept his words. Though her elder brother had been gone so long, she refused to accept that he was dead. The following day, she went to consult her father's magician, a member of the Order of the White Hand . "I'm sorry, My Lady," he said. "If we could by magic have determined whether Lord Frederigo was alive or dead, do you not think that we would already have done so?" "But surely there must be something that you can do?" The mage looked all about him, as if someone might be hiding behind the ornate tapestries that decorated the walls of his chamber. Then he asked: "Can I rely upon your discretion? What I am about to tell you could get us both into big trouble." Rowena looked startled, but then she nodded. "Of course, so long as it does not involve a threat to the D'Honaires or to the realm."
"It does not. There is nothing that can be done to find your brother using white magic, but that is not the only sort of magic. Now, we talk about white magic and black magic as if there was a sharp dividing line between them, but in fact it is far less clear-cut than that. There are a number of spells that lie near the borderline. Over time, the Order has - in response to public demand - grown more cautious, so that some of those spells are now classed as black magic and therefore are forbidden, when once they would have been allowed. I am old enough that I learnt them when they were allowed. There is one particular spell, now classed as 'black' because it involves the shedding of human blood, that I think will not only tell us if your brother is alive, but if he is alive will indicate in which direction to go to find him."
The mage produced an ordinary compass an inch or so across. Within it, a magnetised needle floated on a bed of liquid, and always aligned itself north-south. He explained: "If a drop of blood from a blood relation of the person to be found is dropped into the liquid, and the appropriate spell enacted, then if the person is alive the needle will always point in their direction. If they are dead, then the needle will spin aimlessly. Will you let me prick your finger, My Lady?" As he spoke, he levered off the glass lid of the compass. "Off course." The mage pricked Rowena's finger- tip with a pin, squeezed a drop of her blood into the compass liquid, and then replaced the lid.
Rowena looked at the needle, floating in the now slightly red-tinged liquid. "It hasn't worked," she said disappointedly. "It's still pointing in the same direction as before." "I haven't cast the spell yet. You have many blood relatives, and the spell is needed to attune the needle to the correct one. Now, you must realise that it is far more likely that your brother is dead than that he is alive, so fortify yourself against being disappointed."
The mage held the compass in his hand and said a lot of what sounded like gibberish to Rowena, in which she could only recognise at one point "Lord Frederigo D'Honaire". When he had finished, the needle slowly swung to orientate itself in a completely different direction. "He's alive!" they both exclaimed, Rowena in relief and the mage in surprise.
"I must go and gather some supplies, and then saddle my horse" said Rowena. "Let me get well clear of the castle before you tell my parents that I have gone to find Fred." "Oh, no! I'm not telling them. You mustn't go. They have already lost, as they think, their son. If they knew that I was implicated in the departure of their eighteen year-old daughter on such a risky venture, then I would lose my head." "But I can't tell them that I know Fred is alive, and how I know, which I'd need to do to get them to send out a search party. You said yourself that because of the use of black magic this had to be our secret. So don't tell them anything. Instead I will leave them a note, telling them that I have gone to find Fred and that they are not to worry." "But they will worry, dreadfully." "I know, but what else can I do?" He had no good answer to that.
Perhaps it was the set look on Fred's face that deterred the dwarves from stopping him as he went to investigate the cries for help. Or perhaps they decided that they were now close enough to Fred's homeland that they might as well consider their escorting duties at an end. Whatever the reason, they did not try to intervene.
The cries were coming from within a stand of trees some two hundred yards from their camp-site. After his recent experiences in Foxes' Forest, Fred had to force himself to enter the trees. It was dusk outside the grove, and even darker inside, but he was able to make out a slim figure tied to one of the trees. As he approached, he noticed that the figure had long blonde hair. Though dressed in male attire, it must be a woman. As he got closer still, he thought: There's something very familiar about her.
They recognised each other simultaneously, Fred crying "Rowena" and Rowena crying "Fred". "How on Earth did you get here?" Fred asked her as he untied her bonds. "I came looking for you, silly," she said, half laughing and half crying. "My magic compass did its job. Of course, I didn't know how far away you were, but I knew the direction. A couple of hours ago, I got jumped by a couple of bandits, who took my horse, money and pack, and tied me to this tree." "They didn't...?" asked Fred, suddenly fearful. "Rape me? No. I told them that I had the pox, and they weren't prepared to risk that I might be telling the truth."
"So how are mum and dad?" "They were fine when I left. The main news is that there are rumours that the Great Kingdom may invade Aquilaria. The queen was killed in a riding accident a month or so ago and - with the Princess Astra missing - Aquilaria is in a state of confusion over the succession. Some back home see that as offering us an opportunity."
1/28/2000 11:23:42 AM
The Never Ending Quest Home
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