The Lance of Belendar

Jeremi lay on her side, staring into the fire's warm, crackly depths. She had shed her heavy caribou-skin coat and boots, and the feel of warm air on her bare forearms and dirt between her toes was both strange and lovely to her. She had never been outside of Winterealm, and everything felt fresh and exotic to her. She decided that she liked it.

On a twig by the fire, an ant was crawling along, heaving a crumb left over from their dinner on its back. Jeremi had never seen an ant before, only heard of them, and the little insect looked funny to her. She watched the ant making its slow progress for a while, then her eyelids began to droop with tiredness brought on by a day of travel and the warm, comforting glow of the campfire.

From across the camp, Arianwen stirred. Jeremi had just about nodded off, when she saw her friend get to her feet and begin rummaging around in her pack. She watched through hooded lids as Arianwen straightened up, grabbed her pack, and after glancing around the camp, disappeared into the surrounding darkness. This was not the first time Arianwen had left them for a time, but always she had claimed to be getting water, or else "scouting out the area." Now, however, it was quite late, and Jeremi wondered what her friend could be doing this time. And why did she need her pack? Surely she wasn't leaving them?

Jeremi raised herself up onto one elbow. Raef and Brine both appeared to be fast asleep, though it was difficult to tell with Brine, for he never seemed to close his eyes. She hesitated for a moment, but then her curiosity got the better of her and she stood up, then crept out of camp.

Invoking her Gift, Jeremi faded into the darkness like a shadow, becoming almost completely invisible. She moved silently and gracefully as a spider, her bare feet padding noiselessly against the needle-strewn ground. She could see Arianwen ahead, her hair softly illuminated by the pale moonlight. She was walking at a swift pace, and she was holding her pack tightly in her arms rather than on her back.

After a few minutes, Arianwen halted by the bank of the stream, settled herself on a rock, and began to undo the buckles of her pack. Jeremi wanted to watch, wanted to see what was in the pack and what Arianwen was doing up at this hour. But it felt sneaky to her. And Arianwen was her friend. Jeremi didn't want to break her trust.

"Ari?" she said softly, so as not to startle her, but of course it did anyway. Jeremi materialized out of the gloom.

"Jeremi!" gasped Arianwen. "What -- what are you doing here?"

"What are you doing here?" Jeremi asked back. "I was following you because I thought something might be wrong."

"No," said Arianwen, calming herself. "I just couldn't sleep. And I fancied a cup of water."

Jeremi stared at Arianwen, feeling a bit hurt. "I can tell when you're lying, you know. I can always tell. But I'd hardly need to use my Gift to know you're lying now. Really, Ari, what's the matter?"

"I know you can tell," said Arianwen, looking ashamed. "And I shouldn't have been lying to you anyway. I'm sorry. It's just -- oh, forget it. Look here. I'll show you what I came out here for."

She opened her pack, and as soon as she did so, Jeremi glimpsed a silver-white light emanating from within. Then Arianwen drew a long weapon out and placed it across her knees for Jeremi to see it. It looked like some sort of spear, but it was breathtakingly beautiful. The haft was adorned with silver and gold, in threads and tendrils that danced up the shaft of the weapon, and it was from these that the light was coming from. The sharp tip was both lethal and stunning, and it glittered magnificently in the silver light, as though a hundred fireflies lived inside the steel.

"It only glows at night," said Arianwen, running a finger along the haft. She looked up at Jeremi. "I just found it in my pack after we came here, I don't know how it got there. Jeremi, I think -- I think it's the Lance of Belendar!"

"What's that?"

"Well, it's another of Belendar's weapons, obviously, but it's rumored to always grant light to its wielder." Arianwen's breath seemed to catch in her throat for a moment. "And to kill whoever it strikes."

"I don't like it," said Jeremi at once. "It's dangerous, Ari. What if you accidentally -- I don't know. . ."

They both gazed at the wondrous lance.

"You should get rid of it," Jeremi continued, tearing her eyes from the lance. "You don't know how it got in your pack. Maybe someone planted it. Maybe it's a trap."

"Why would someone give me something useful if it was a trap?" said Arianwen.

"Something useful!" Jeremi cried. "It kills whoever it strikes! You think that's useful?"

"It has other abilities, too."

"What, glowing in the dark? Even I don't have trouble conjuring a simple Wizard's Lamp."

"I'd use it if I had to," said Arianwen coolly. "Look, I got it for a reason, can't you see that?"

Jeremi shook her head, biting back a retort. She didn't want to argue, they couldn't afford it, but something about the lance seemed wrong. She needed to think. The presence of Belendar's Lance was disturbing her.

"Goodnight," she mumbled to Arianwen. "I'm going back to camp. You should, too. We'll need the rest."

Then she vanished among the trees, disappearing into the night. The air seemed colder now, Jeremi thought. She missed the fire. Ahead, she saw it through the trees, and she made for it eagerly. But when she reached the clearing, she noticed instantly that something was wrong. Raef and Brine were gone.

The End

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