The stable door swung open easily as Merdim followed the man inside; leading both horses. He took in his surrounding in a quick five seconds as the light the man lit grew brighter. It revealed a spacious room with a high loft. Ten stalls lined two sides of the stable while hay filled the upper room. Several large grain bins were at the back of the stable. Six horses turned their head at their entry; ears pricked forward in interest. One nickered slightly causing Merdim's horse to raise its head and answer. Merdim followed the man to the back of the stable where they began unsaddling their three steeds. Water dripped off the backs of the horses, causing small puddles to begin to form at their feet. Merdim pushed back a lock of hair that had fallen forward as he began unsaddling his bay.
"A friend of the kings?" Merdim asked, breaking the silence, as he slid the girth through the loop. Without looking up the man replied,
"You could say that."
Merdim eyed him through the corner of his eye. His hood was down now revealing almost gray hair that probably previously been brown, and a fine straight nose. He couldn't see his eyes.
"What name are you known by?" Merdim lifted the saddle off his bay and set it with the other ten nearby.
"I have many names. I am Evander Reece to the miners in Midhros, and to the people in Anthrad Forest, I am Vishal." The man lifted off his blanket and set it behind him with the others.
"Who are you to the people in Linwood Forest?" Merdim took a handful of hay from the nearby bin and started giving the bay a rubdown.
Merdim looked up.
"Is that your real name?" He questioned, one eyebrow raised. The man also looked up; his brown eyes staring into Merdim's.
"That is the name I give to people who ask." His voice was cold. They stood there; eyes locked for several seconds until Kierce turned away; grabbing a handful of hay.
When he had finished, Merdim tossed his handful of hay aside and led the bay into a stall; still eyeing "Kierce".
He quickly finished with Ethne's horse and led it into the adjoining stall beside the bay. Kierce was already above him forking down hay into each bin.
Merdim gave the palomino nearby a slap on the rump and leaned against his stall. The palomino swished his tail and turned his head to look at Merdim. Merdim smiled slightly and stroked the horses nose gently.
Kierce descended the ladder, laid the fork against the wall and was about to douse the light when Merdim spoke.
"Wait." Merdim commanded. Kierce turned. Merdim walked towards him, stopping when he was close enough.
"If we are going to trust you, you will need to tell me your real name and who you are. Not some imitation that you've made up or been called."
Both men stood almost the same height, Kierce being an inch or two taller. Kierce looked at Merdim for a few seconds and then said,
"Did King Peridan ever talk to you about a certain man named Sirion Enile?" Merdim's eyes were interested.
"As he was dying he told me to search for him."
"He didn't tell you where he was?" Kierce cocked his head to one side.
"I believe he did not know."
"No one does…." Murmured Kierce. Merdim barely caught the words.
"How does he concern you?" Merdim asked intently.
"I once knew him."
Slowly Kierce nodded.
"Where is he now?" Merdim was very interested.
"He traveled away thirty or so years ago."
Merdim's heart fell.
"He was very wise and very experienced. He taught me a great deal." Kierce stared of into space for a few moments as if remembering things of the past. He then turned his head back the Merdim, who was obviously thinking.
"Why did the king tell you to search for him?"
"He said Sirion would help us."
"He did?" Kierce's voice was incredulous.
Merdim nodded "yes" slowly. He was beginning to wonder why Kierce wanted to know so much. Kierce looked away again.
"Sirion Enile had a hard life. He was banished from Serech by Kind Peridan's father. Now why should the king tell you to look for a man who was exiled?"
Merdim's eyes narrowed.
"He was banished? On what charge?"
"Murder. He was indicted with killing three men." Kierce's words were like ice.
"And the accusation was true?" Merdim asked quickly.
"The king believed it was."
"Who accused him?"
"A lady." Merdim could tell Kierce's words were lined with hate.
"And I repeat. The tale was true?"
"The king believed one lady's words without looking into the matter?" His voice was incredulous. Merdim's high regard for Peridan's father was falling fast.
"He did." Kierce replied.
It was Merdim's turn to look away.
"How do I know if what you are telling me is true? For all I know, you could be holding him captive or have killed him."
"And why do you favor him so much?" Kierce asked, ignoring Merdim's question.
"I base my faith in him on the kings words. If Peridan told us to seek for him, then he is worth seeking and honorable. If this man taught you a great deal, then you yourself already know this well. Or have you lied to me?"
"I have not lied to you. I am merely trying to gain the truth from you."
Merdim's dark eyes flashed.
"I also have told you the truth."
They stood there; almost as if they were trying to stare down each other with their unblinking eyes. Then Kierce did the strangest thing.
Merdim's jaw was clenched tight when he saw the Kierce's mouth spread into a small smile.
"And so you have, Merdim. Forgive me for being so rude, but I had to be sure."
Merdim's eyes held questions.
"Sure of what?"
"That you hadn't lied to me. I see in your eyes that all what you have said is the truth. For eyes never lie." Kierce smiled again.
"You are confused. And well you may be. I am Sirion Enile."
Silence filled the air. Merdim spoke a few seconds later.
"You are." Merdim's voice was unbelieving.
"I am also called Kierce Imre. I have taken that name, to not be known by the other. Since I was banished, people have hated me. Peridan the second was well liked by the people and everyone followed his lead."
Merdim was thinking this was too easy.
"How can I believe you? All this could be a lie to trick us."
"Yes, it could. But why would I want to trick you? I could have already killed you by now, or have taken Ethne captive. But I do assure you with all honesty, that I am who I say I am." With those words he pulled off the ring he was wearing and held it out for Merdim's inspection. Merdim took it rather hesitantly. The inscription was the same as the kings.
"You showed this to us at the clearing. How did you come by it?" Merdim asked.
"It was gift."
"From whom?" Merdim held the ring up to catch all the light possible.
"King Peridan the second."
Merdim's eyes shot from the ring over to Sirion's, as he brought his arm down.
"Enough of the riddles! Who are you?!" He burst out.
"Did the king ever tell you about his two brothers?" Sirion kept his calm features locked in place.
Merdim turned his head away in exasperation, thinking, did this man ever answer anything without first asking his own question?
He looked back at Sirion.
"Yes, he did."
"Their names were….?" Sirion prompted.
"I never knew. He did not talk about them much."
"I am the youngest."
Merdim started. What next?! He thought to himself, and then asked,
"And the king would banish his own son?"
"Yes." Sirion's words held sorrow.
"He was persuaded by "a lady"?" Merdim asked.
"He was. That lady was Monique, his brother Shea's wife. She was a very cunning and deceiving woman."
"Why did she hate you?" Merdim asked.
"Because I did not fall for her traps like everyone else. Peridan and I were against her."
"And your other brother?" Merdim queried.
"Vladimar?" Sirion raised his eyebrows. "He did not posses a single ounce of wit. She murdered him later, as I assume she also did to my father."
"And you've been gone these thirty years? Where?"
"The lands to the north. Just these last five or six years have I returned to Serech."
"If Peridan and you were such good brothers, what prohibited you from returning when your father died and your brother took the throne?"
"I was held captive. When Monique saw me banished, she then captured me and kept me hidden in Dolme. Monique knew what a problem I would be for her if I returned when my brother was king."
"What have you been doing these past five or six years since your return? Surely with that amount of time you could find a way to gain entrance into the castle."
"It took two years to figure out where Peridan stood, and finally I entered the castle; dressed as a peasant."
"You talked to him?"
"Of course I talked with him. What do you take me for? I would not enter and then leave without accomplishing anything."
Merdim had a difficult time keeping a straight face at Sirion's scowl.
"No one knew I had seen him, except Thalos. Peridan, not knowing the danger in having him present, called for him."
"Thalos is a scoundrel." Merdim muttered to himself.
"He has a part to play in these events."
"What have you been doing these past three years?" Merdim asked.
"Running?" Merdim queried.
"When Brithon found out that I had returned, he sent his men after me. I have been eluding them ever since." Sirion sighed. "Do you trust me now?"
"I suppose I don't have any choice now, do I?" Merdim voice held humor.
"But what became of Monique? We have not heard of her for over ten years in Serech."
Sirion's face grew dark.
"She disappeared. Some say she has taken the role of a witch. Wandering and setting spells where she wills. I prefer to call her a hag."
"Spells?" Merdim asked sarcastically.
"For the faint at heart, they fear anything. Even rubbish."
Merdim nodded knowingly and glanced toward the ceiling as the rain continued to pelt the roof.
"What went on in the castle?" Sirion asked.
Merdim related the whole story. When the army attacked, to the encounter with Sirion. When he had finished Sirion sighed deeply.
"What of the queen?" He asked.
"She was taken out to be executed. We heard the scream later." Merdim said quietly.
"How is Ethne?"
"Shocked. Although she is strong. Peridan and Aeluin did not raise weak children." Merdim said.
"We should return. I will introduce you to the lady of the house." Sirion smiled as he reached to snuff out the light with his fingers and Merdim opened the stable door. Both men wrapped their capes around them as they stepped into the wind and rain's fury.
They reached the house after a few minutes of walking and Sirion opened the door. Merdim had begun to dry while in the comfort of the stable, but he was now soaked again. When they had entered the house, both men pushed back their hoods and Merdim beheld a spacious room with a high ceiling. Two fireplaces held the flame and the room was warm from the heat.
A lady appeared at a door to the right and hurried over at the sight of Sirion and Merdim. She assisted Sirion off with his cloak and reached out her hand to take Merdim's. She moved to the fireplace and laid them beside what Merdim assumed to be Alastar's cape on a wood contraption specially made for drying clothing. When she turned back around, Peridan motioned her over.
"Eryl, may I present Merdim Valar. The captain of the guard at Elmoth Castle." He gestured with his hand at Merdim. "Merdim this Eryl Jayde. Keeper of the House of Refuge."
Merdim bowed and Eryl nodded.
"I am pleased to meet you, Merdim Valar." Eryl answered, her voice soft and low. "Welcome to the House of Refuge. And may it always be a house of refuge to you."
"Thank you, my lady. I would be pleased to count it as such."
"Ethne is asleep?" Sirion queried.
Eryl nodded and replied,
"Yes. Although I will wake her soon to have some food. Meanwhile, Sirion, you know where the door is. Go change out of that wet clothing immediately." Her voice had a commanding tone to it. Sirion smiled slightly and nodded in reply.
Merdim followed him down the hallway, taking a left and entering the doorway Sirion motioned to.
When he reappeared at the front room, Alastar was sitting in one of the chairs in front of the fire. Eryl was nowhere to be seen.
Merdim sat down in a chair across from his friend.
"What do you think?" Alastar asked, running a hand through his light brown hair.
"Of what? The man? This house? Or the army?"
"All of it. What did you learn from the man?"
"That he is Sirion Enile."
Merdim then informed Alastar of his conversation with Sirion in the stable. Alastar was silent for a few minutes after hearing the tale.
"What is our task now? We have brought Ethne to safety."
Merdim pondered the question.
"Soon the land will be overrun with soldiers and madmen. How do we know she will be safe here? Yes, we did not see the house in the rain and darkness, but how soon will it take for a group of guards to discover it?"
"Where is a safe location then?"
"Right here." Both Merdim and Alastar looked up at Sirion's words.
"This dwelling has stood since my great grandfather and has not been discovered. She will be safe for a time. Your task of protecting her is for now, completed. You have a new one appointed to you."
Author's Note: Thanks to Fantasyland and Arya Darcy for the reviews! They're really appreciated!