Princess Leinla of Qeudonil watched the approaching rider charge through the city gates from the tower rampart. Just like the reports from the communication mages had said, it was a single black cloaked person riding an impossibly lean charcoal gray horse at twice the speed of a heavy charger and flying the royal banner of Ryluin. Two days ago, barely an hour after the nearly successful attempt on her life, King Aryl had sent word through his own communication mages that his best wizard had already been dispatched to protect his son's betrothed. The fastest couriers, the most common line of correspondence for those without access to the expensive services of wizards, required nearly six days to make such a trip with regular remounts and hand-offs at relay posts. The dust trail behind the hooded rider stretched to the horizon.

Just what kind of wizard is this protector sent to me so that I may live to wed a man that I have never met? Leinla's musings were interrupted as the rider passed through the front gate and came to a sudden stop in the middle of the front courtyard.

Prince Geljon, her younger brother, wearing full traditional dueling armor made from supple but surprisingly tough leather custom fitted to his body with his rapier and dagger at his sides as he stood in front of the grand front doors of Castle Quedonil. Master Orungil, the court wizard, stood at his left side, just a half step behind the Prince in his flowing robes of the colors of Quedonil with yellow arcane symbols stitched all over the bright orange fabric. The wizard suddenly stiffened as the rider stopped and dismounted a good forty paces away.

Something seemed wrong about the way the hooded rider dismounted, the way he leaned forward against his mount's neck and kicked his right leg up nearly vertical to avoid striking the flag attached to the back of his saddle to roll off of the horse. His cloak clung to his form like a living shadow as he planted his feet with his back to the horse and his right hand still clasping the pommel of his saddle, which appeared to the Princess' keen elven eyes to look as if it were made out of bones.

The rider's left arm reached back to grasp the staff holding the red and black banner of the Ryluin royal house and then the horse suddenly disintegrated into a scattering cloud of fine ash. His cloak dissipating like the shadow that Leinla suddenly realized it to be, the dark clad, white hared figure was suddenly revealed, holding the flag in one hand and what looked to be a black cane of some sort with a dimly pulsing blue light seeping out from between his fingers wrapped around its top.

"Necromancer filth!" Master Orungil's outburst from just behind him convinced Prince Geljon of his suspicion about this supposed Ryluin rider. Still, as outrageous as it sounded for a King of Aryl's good reputation to employ a necromancer, this one was on time and they had no hint of any other messengers that could have been sent.

"Hear him out," Geljon ordered the wizard, holding up a hand in warning.

"Thank you, sire," the thin man said in a gravelly voice as he turned to face the Prince and the Court Wizard, planting the tip of his cane next to his right foot with his hand resting atop it at his waist. He wore strange garments for a wizard, a black suit in a style that strongly resembled that favored by human aristocracy, complete with the hat with a short brim that curved up on both sides and the back but slightly down in the front. His long, straight hair, as white as fresh snow, fell down his back to his waist and his sharp features were complimented by a similarly pale, sharply pointed, goatee on his chin.

"I am Horace Varl, master entropomancer. I served as the personal protector of King Aryl for two hundred and three years until the birth of Prince Krilyon, at which time my King charged me with protecting his heir. My lord takes this union very seriously and, to show his commitment, he has commanded me to protect Princess Leinla with my life since her protection is obviously in need of reinforcement."

"A necromancer as a guardian?" Orungil's voice was incredulous. "No ruler as successful as King Aryl would be foolish enough to trust one of your ilk! What have you do-"

"I have been commanded by my lord to protect the future wife of his son and heir," Varl interrupted as the courtyard began to noticeably dim, "and I will carry out that command at the expense of my life if necessary!"

"What does a necromancer know of life?" The air around Orungil seemed to glow in the suddenly lowered light.

"An elven archmage that can't notice a three hundred year old human when he sees one?" Everything suddenly turned to night except for Varl, who seemed to become a glowing white beacon as he dropped his right hand to grip his cane just below the pulsing blue orb at its head, flick the dark shaft up against his forearm, and pace forward while holding the Ryluin royal banner high on his left.

"Those who call themselves necromancers can only manipulate the forces of entropy in one direction!" the approaching wizard snarled. "They do things to gain power by the limited means they commit themselves to and usually meet early demises at the hands of other wizards, usually elven ones! Would an elven king, one as wise as you profess my Lord Aryl to be, send a human wizard to protect his son's betrothed, the girl who's continued survival is required to strengthen and enrich his realm, if that wizard were not the best he had?"

"I do not require the likes of a necromancer to protect Princess Leinla!" Orungil shouted.

"The only reason that she's still alive is that the archer missed," Varl snarled as he pointed the orb at the head of his cane at the elven wizard. "You only disarmed the spell on that arrow! If the archer had aimed two hands to the left she would be dead right now! I could have not only stopped that arrow but dissipated the explosion spell at the same time." The human wizard came to a stop before the two elves and held the bone shaft supporting the royal Ryluin flag to Geljon.

"I am here by the direct command of King Aryl," Varl spoke he looked the prince in the eye. "As, by your own customs, you are your sister's chief protector, I give you this as a pledge that, on the honor of the King I serve, I will not let any harm come to her. I make no guarantees other than this one.

"Any would be assassin must step over my dead body to get to her, but I expect that any such bodies you encounter in her presence will come to such a state by my own hand. Show me to my charge."