"You will bend to my will as you always have!" bellowed Wolfram. Then, moving his hands with effort as if reaching into an invisible puppet and squeezing its insides, he grabbed at the air and moved Noira in doing so. He wrenched her away from her friends, the crown pressing against her head.
Bundle was confused, looking from Noira's neck to the crown and then to Wolfram, who still seemed to be able to control her.
"Wha-what's going on? H-how are you s-st-still controlling me?" Noira managed to speak out. "I hate you, I always ha--"
As if her head were hanging in the air beside him, Wolfram clamped her jaw shut with a stern movement. "It's called Skathain, not Skathia. You're an uneducated mess of a princess. Your subjects will never bow to you!"
Holding both swords together in one hand, Noira's hand quivered.
Williard stepped closer tentatively, holding the Sword of Belendar above his head with both arms in a stance Bundle had been helping him practice. Strength seemed to course through the young man's veins out of the very hilt of the sword itself.
"And you!" Wolfram turned his attention to Williard. "You don't even know what you truly are!" He scoffed. "A powerful bloodline of lost gifts, hidden among the Ungifted. You hold the key to a lost Golden Age, the founding of Ancient Skathain, when it was an empire and not a mere kingdom. The very gift that made your sword stems from your loins, boy."
"You exaggerate the value of a Paladin. Do not try to win him over with delusions of grandeur, Wolfram!" said Bundle.
More derisive laughter echoed from the craggy face and gray mane of the murderer before them. "Hah hah!"
"You're powerless amidst the presence of his Gift," said Bundle. "And young Will can almost wield the Sword of Belendar as well as I can."
Williard frowned, certain that Bundle was bluffing about his swordsmanship.
"This time, he won't walk away 'til every drop o' blood is drained from yer body," seethed Axbrand. "How can you expect to walk away with five of Belendar's weapons?"
"My puppet has the knives, that's one," Wolfram said, as he tilted his head towards Noira, who now stood at his side with her knives, gleaming like knives, ready to parry the sword should Will attack Wolfram. "Though I admit that she has become a little more difficult to control."
Noira sneered at him, but was unable to turn her head in his direction.
"And I have the Sword, ready to cut off your head!" said Will.
Bundle lashed the whip menacingly, "Three, Wolfram. The shield and col-err.. crown, do not count among the Seven Weapons of Belendar. Surely you know that, as a former member of the Order."
"I know far more than you, especially now that your dear scholar has betrayed you," said Wolfram. "There's an arrow notched to Gormund's Bow of Belendar right now. It has the boy's name inscribed upon its shaft."
Bundle's eyes bulged in fear and apprehension.
"Arrows that never miss their target."
Will stepped back, Noira winced and Wolfram raised his arm in a signal to Gormund, which consequently made Noira stand on edge, either from the movement of his hand or from her overwhelming urge to intervene. However, she caught the edge of a restrained smile at the corner of Bundle's lips, and so she remained still.
The arrow whizzed over the wall in an arch, right towards Williard.
Quickly, Axbrand tried to move the Shield of Belendar to block the shot. However, Wolfram's movements caused Noira to strike out against Axbrand so that the shield pulled against his arms to block the shot against him instead.
A snap of leather whirled through the air and tightened in a long spiral around the path of the arrow, pulling it securely to the ground as Bundle tugged at the whip. This sent the arrow sliding along the floor of the drawbridge until it hit Williard in the toe, piercing his boot.
"I played you from the start," said Noira, thrusting the Knives of Belendar into Wolfram's gut with an electric crackle, in the same moment that the Sword of Belendar cleaved his head uncleanly in two, and Gormund's second arrow pierced Wolfram through the heart. The arrowhead protruded two inches out of Wolfram's chestplate, almost hitting Noira as well, who held his body from falling off the edge of the drawbridge.
The sword, however, seemed to absorb faint splashes of multicolored light from Wolfram's body. Like fish, they shimmered up and down the blade of the sword, uncertain of whether to flow back or to rally up the hilt and into the swordsman.
"You did?!" asked Williard, relief on his face as he was given the chance to look away from Wolfram's cracked skull, toward Bundle.
"I figured it out, shortly before the arrow was shot," said Bundle. "Indecision was etched on her face, as if she thought she could do something."
"I was tapping into the signals, but it was my choice whether to obey them," Noira explained.
Axbrand was still examining the shield, which hadn't been marked at all by Noira's blow. He hadn't taken it out of his pocket since the catacombs, and was surprised to notice an emblem of two crossed axes on it.
"And I shot no lightning at Axbrand," said Noira, kicking Wolfram's body with her knee as she spoke. "Jubbly bubbly here didn't know I could do that with the knives, since I use my feelings for Will to do that."
Williard picked a short lock of Noira's hair from the drawbridge's wooden surface, "Cut it a bit too close."
She shrugged, "Bundle, we're not being fired on anymore. Has your friend really betrayed us?"
Bundle looked gravely at Wolfram's corpse, "It would seem that Gormund has betrayed Wolfram as much as he has betrayed us. Come, let us cremate this monster, so that Will can walk away from the body."
Will pulled the arrow out of his own boot, "How did Gormund know my name?"
Bundle frowned. "Good question. I reckon because the Oracle has been watching you. She's not terribly fond of Gormund, but there are so few of us in this fortress... news travels fast."
Axbrand looked at Bundle, "Is there anyone I can give the shield to? I think I've had enough of an adventure. I wouldn't mind returning to the missus and my kids. I promised them I'd be gone no more than a year, and I know it's only been a month and a bit on the road, but if you wouldn't mind..."
Bundle looked thoughtfully up at the gate and then began walking towards it. "The shield, because it is not one of the Seven, can be safely kept in a vault in the tower. However, we may need a carrier for the bow if we must relieve Gormund of duty."
Noira frowned as she helped Williard drag Wolfram's body inside the walls of the fortress. "Wolfram said we had five here. Of the weapons, I only count four: sword, whip, knives and bow."
"We'll have to check Wolfram's body then, before we burn him," Bundle planned. "If another of the seven is present, it will whisper to us one way or another." Yet as he said this, the young vagabond looked up at the peak of Mount Stonegard and narrowed his eyes in a disapproving manner.
"Will, the uhh... sword," said Axbrand, stopping in his tracks.
Williard stopped too and looked down at it.
"Great gryphon feathers!" exclaimed Bundle after turning around. "Over a dozen gifts, you must've pulled right out of him."
Even through the scabbard, which Will quickly pulled it out of, the silver blade of the sword could be seen swimming with patches of colour like oil in sunlight. As if each were a tiny ghost, they circled the blade and passed through each other.
"Duplicates," said Bundle, as he pointed out two that were the exact same shade of blue. "Incredible!"
"What do we do with them?" asked Will, sheathing the sword and waiting for Bundle to continue leading them through the fortified city.
"Consult the Oracle!" Bundle reasoned, as he led them on at a faster pace. "She can identify them. Then, we take no more than two a piece, three in Axbrand's case, so we don't risk going mad. Well, even one will make you crazy if you ignore it. Usually just a little depressed though. Still, nobody should hold as many as Wolfram did."
Axbrand raised his eyebrows, "Hmm... what would they think of me if I returned with three gifts?"
"I'd let you guard the Shield at home in Highland," said Bundle. "And I can put you in touch with some Gifted up there. There are plenty who keep it a secret, and avoid the discrimination you're worried about."
"Tempting," said Axbrand. "It's mighty tempting..."
"I already have two Gifts," said Noira. "I wouldn't mind a third."
"It means you two can't be giving each other a fourth anytime soon," Bundle put in, looking from Noira to Williard.
Noira's face reddened and she sneered glaringly at Bundle, anger tangible in her footsteps.
"I can wait," said Will modestly.
"Your sanity may depend upon your abstinence," Bundle admonished. "Both of you."
Axbrand wasn't following the conversation, "Quit usin' big words, lad! What'cha lecturin' them about?"
Bundle chuckled, "Remind me not to introduce you to Gormund."
Axbrand shook his head dismissively.
"Gifted lovemaking," whispered Noira, answering his question.
Axbrand's face contorted in surprise and confusion.
"There," Bundle pointed, walking no more. "There's a furnace in that building. The old blacksmith's shop. It will suffice. But the smell won't be pleasant, especially the hair. Remember, death has consequences - which is something this man did not understand well enough."