Race for the Lance

Wolfram was crouched in the snow outside Gwydion's tower. The secret to the Lance's location was surely in there, waiting to be discovered ...

... and unbeknown to Wolfram, the Raven circled above his head, waiting for his adversary to make a mistake.

Wolfram stole out of cover and ran across the frigid square. Most of the Elders were abroad searching for him but a few remained. He used a simple Cloak to conceal his presence, but had to tread carefully so as not to make a sound. And Gwydion's door was easy to unlock - he was as powerful a Thief as any of his other Gifts - many of which he had stolen from his fellow Skathainian knights. A smirk caught his face as he remembered the slow encapsulation of his soul in layers of protection, so that he might become the most powerful Gifted man in all of the Five Realms.

But he needed to concentrate - not dwell on his scuppered plans. Now was the time to thwart Gwydion for good.

The reception room was quiet and cold. The fire had been extinguished. Long shadows draped the walls in mystery. A single candle, nearly spent, stood guttering in a bracket.

He was looking for Gwydion's desk. Possibly a diary, or such like ...

... and there was a desk, in Gwydion's study. Wolfram ignored the delicate works of art on the walls, and the beautiful icy sculptures carved by Gwydion himself, enchanted with his Gift to remain frozen for evermore. Wolfram had no liking for beauty - only power.

... and there was a diary, in the top draw, completely unprotected. Wolfram flicked through ... Lance ... Belendar ... Wolfram ... yes! He'd found his first entry.

Vollomeer has left Winterealm. I know not what for but his selfish goals and motivations have been aware to me for some time. I believe he seeks to acquire the rest of the Seven, believing he possesses the true Lance. His move is foolish, as it has finally convinced the other Elders of his corruption. He will never be welcome to join our circle again, not now he has shown his real motives ...

... and strange that Wolfram should have the Sword wrested from his grasp by a mere boy. Vollomeer must have assisted his escape, for he is the only one who knows the exit ... Vollomeer's motives I can only guess, but it seems he seeks another powerful ally to assist him ...

... unfortunate that Vollomeer's tower was destroyed. I assume he has ordered the Whitecloaks or Blackcloaks to do it, now he knows the true Lance does not rest inside - they have destroyed all incriminating documentation that may have been inside ... he'd managed to place an unusually good Seal upon the door, and even our combined efforts and a number of Thieves had been unable to open it. Nevertheless, everyone now believes the two Trainees are dead, which will be advantageous, especially as there may still be spies left in Winterealm ...

Wolfram cursed angrily. He had been reading for ten minutes, and there was not a hint of Gwydion's present plans. He turned to the final pages of the diary, hoping to find some recent notes, but there were only blank pages.

Unless ...

Gwydion was not daft. Three or four hours had passed since their confrontation on the shore. That had given him plenty of time to erase any vital information. If only Wolfram knew the counter.

He knit his brow in concentration and held his hand over the empty pages.

The diary burst into flames.

Wolfram howled in fury and agony as the unusually powerful fire ripped into his flesh. He dropped the book on the desk. It went out at once, completely undamaged.

Wolfram was not getting any information out of the diary. Damn Gwydion and his wisdom ... he had used a spell which detected and destroyed any counters to magical concealment ... Wolfram couldn't help but respect him ... he never ceased to amaze.

But Wolfram needed to escape ... maybe the Lance was still hidden in the ruins of Vollomeer's house ... if so, it would probably be guarded.

Within minutes he had found his old accomplice's dwelling, charred and skeletal in the gathering snow. The shell was full of half burned clothes, books and other sooty debris. But the Lance was nowhere to be found ...

... but there it was! Resting like a prize for the taking, in a bed of ash, half concealed by a cracked chest of drawers. Wolfram waved a lazy hand and the drawers moved away from the Lance resting proudly on the ground ...

Gwydion had told Wolfram that this wasn't the true Lance, however ... had he double-bluffed? Gwydion was wise but he wasn't a good liar ... maybe there was some truth in the matter ...

Yet before Wolfram could make his mind up a black shape had obscured his vision. The Raven's claws gashed his cheek - he instinctively retreated - and in a flurry of feathers the Raven was off, the Lance clutched gleefully in his talons.

Wolfram roared with frustration. As he stood to shake his fist at the retreating bird, he saw the true nature of the trap he had been lured into.

There were Elders on all sides.

*        *        *

"We have him, sir," said a young Trainee, approaching Gwydion. He had been standing amongst a group of Elders, darkly discussing the situation - but at the Trainee's summons he immediately took his leave.

"You have imprisoned Wolfram once again?" said Gwydion sharply.

"We have him, sir. Under silver lock and key."

"Excellent. No Thievery will save him now!" Gwydion's eyes sparkled triumphantly. Naturally, his plan had worked magnificently. "Did anything unexpected transpire at the house?"

"Yes, sir, a large black bird was seen flying away carrying a large quarterstaff. We tried to attack it but it was strongly protected."

"Good." Gwydion hadn't dared to hope this part of his plan would take place, but it had gone smooth as ice.

Then worry returned to him. Would it go to Arianwen's head when she found the Lance of Belendar in the pack she had made for the journey? It had been Gwydion's last hope, planting the Lance on an unsuspecting, unknowing vector, to get it out of Winterealm unspotted. But Arianwen knew about the sceptre Vollomeer had kept from her. Gwydion knew not if she could be trusted to handle such a burden.

The End

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