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*****


The voice in Beldar's head was growing stronger. He groaned. His beholder eye was pounding, burning, and his actions were no longer wholly his own. Against his will, he was stumbling through the festhall. He had little doubt who awaited him.

"Our labors being not done," he gasped aloud, dredging up fragments of a warriors' ballad a stern Roaringhorn tutor had forced him to learn years ago. "We fared forth, our swords ready. For perils broad and deep continueth, and we are beset"

The inexorable mind-voice grew firmer, stronger

"And no strength shall deliver us but our own, for the gods but watch, and are amused, and reward those who best entertain by their strivings"

Beldar's memory failed him, and the thunderous pain rolled in.

He was staggering along a ruined, deserted gallery with sword drawn, just one more lost, wounded noble in a feasting hall full of lost, wounded nobles.

A door presented itself to his right, and he hurled himself against it.

It held, bruisingly. With a snarl, clutching his eye now, Beldar staggered on.

A second door also held, and a third.

The fourth burst open, spilling Beldar into a cluttered chamber-a storeroom? It was crowded with wardrobes, heaps of cushions, and several man-tall oval mirrors with suggestively carved frames. Beldar stumbled past them and over a low, padded-top sideboard-padded-top sideboard? Oh, aye, festhall, stonewits-into a little open area by a window.

Beldar Roaringhorn turned around to face the door, and took off his eyepatch.

It wasn't the battleground he might have chosen, but he would make the best final stand he could.



CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT | The City of Splendors | *****