Mara sat at the window of her reception chamber, the gemstone dangling before her eyes. A pretty bauble: Though it appeared unimpressive in normal circumstances, it shone bright red when held up to the sunlight. The flaw, she saw now, was a single v-shaped streak of dark matter at its center. Held at a certain angle, it looked like a pair of outstretched wings.
She didn’t call this gem the Black Ruby any longer. This was Dragonseye, the talisman of her herald beast. Who knew it had once belonged to Denys? Miguel, who had given it to her, but he was in Spain. Her companions, but Bel alone was in Pendaunzel. Even so, all three of her friends had expressed disbelief when she’d first told them of Miguel’s gift. Bel and Alyx, cynical Storm-Porters, had scoffed as if the young nobleman were a suspect merchant plying worthless trinkets at the bazaar. They wouldn’t carry tales. Since she’d returned from her campaigns, she had confided only in Peter.
She had asked Bard Delphyn about the legendary sword of great Spanish kings. That was safe: Delphyn had been with her at Dennefort and had seen her negotiate for possession of Denys’s sword. The minstrel wouldn’t think it odd if she continued to express an interest in its history.
“If there were such a sword, My Prince, it was lost long ago,” Delphyn had answered her questions. “Spanish tales tell of a magical sword which the great warrior-kings of Castile bore into battle in days of old. It had many names: the Sword of the Valiant, Sword of the Blood—that’s a reference to the royal Castillian line, not to bloodletting, by the way. There is a ballad which tells how the hero El Cid received his sword from the wizard Ystrafael. For generations, Spanish princes claimed that they carried this same sword, but whether there was one sword or many, I cannot say. No, it was never known as Dragonsfang or anything like it. Denys named his sword. The Spanish wouldn’t use such a name, you know. To them, the dragon is a sign of the diabolical. Could Dragonsfang be this sword of legend? Prince Denys did recover it from the treasury of a Spanish monastery, but I doubt the Spanish would cast aside so valuable an object. Magical or otherwise, a sword of kings must be an enormous historical treasure. No, Prince Mara, I can’t believe the two swords to be the same.”
But Mara needed to hear no more to convince her. She was certain now that Dragonsfang was the Spanish sword of legend. Denys had found it.
Last night, she had dreamt of Denys on the hot, white desert sand. Winds blasted his honey-colored hair across his face. He stood in the green-tinted shadow of the dragon’s outstretched wings.
Be thou unafraid, Bright Prince.
If he were frightened, he betrayed no sign of it, but drew his sword as if he meant to fend off this glittering monster with the ancient steel.
Thy victory here hast been granted so that thou receivest thy rightful prize. The sword, O Prince, is so sharp as the dragon’s fang. No steel may hold against its might. Kingdoms are thine while this gift is in thy hand.
Dragonsfang. Denys had named it for his talisman beast. The Sonnedragon had appeared to him as well.
It is no thing of evil. It is only the instrument.
There was a knock at the door and Ren, who’d been sitting quietly in attendance, rose to admit Magician Peter.
“May I have a moment’s audience with you, Prince Mara?”
“Yes, of course.” She turned from the window, slipping the gemstone’s tether quickly about her neck, and waved to dismiss the little maidservant. Ren exited, shutting the door behind her. “What is it?”
“I have the translation of the script you left with me, My Prince. It tells the tale of how the stone came to be in Spanish possession.”
“Don Miguel, the Spaniard who gave it me, said as much.”
“But he didn’t read it for you? Prince Mara, I inferred when we first spoke of this that you believed the stone had fallen into Spanish hands immediately after the murder of Denys.”
Peter shook his head. “The Black Ruby wasn’t kept at Spainfort nearly so long as that, My Prince. It wasn’t taken from Denys at his death, but brought to the chapel in 1895—seventy years later.”
Miguel had not translated that part. “Damn that Spanish puppy.”
“In 1895, Spainfort was Norman,” Peter continued. “The Treaty of Naufarre had been signed two years before, but the exchange of lands wasn’t yet fully accomplished.”
“Yes, I know. We kept a garrison there.”
“This records the arrival of the stone. It was written by a Par Maryz, who was chaplain of the fortress in its last days as a Norman stronghold. He was a native of the Eduardesmarch, and spoke Spanish as well as our own tongue. The fort was to be surrendered according to the terms of the Treaty, when the stone was given into his keeping. Maryz wrote this account of the event for his Spanish successor.”
“Well, what does it say?” Mara’s patience could bear no more. “Who brought the stone to Spainfort?”
“The stone was brought to Par Maryz by two couriers in the livery of the Prince of France.”
Mara sat upright in surprise. “France?”
“According to Par Maryz, the Prince’s agents presented him with a box bearing a wax seal upon the lock, which they then broke away to reveal the stone within. They told him it was the missing stone from the sword of Denys, but didn’t explain how it came to be in their possession. The Prince’s agents then conjured him to swear in Christ’s name that the item be kept in a secret place and left to the care of the chaplains thereafter. Maryz adds that he doesn’t understand this mysterious tribute, but he prays that the chaplain who comes after him will likewise place his honor in Christ above loyalty to any worldly emperor. He doesn’t describe its hiding place, but he must’ve shown his successor where he placed the stone. The secret was kept `til the gemstone came to you, My Prince. I don’t believe the Spanish ever knew the importance of what they held.”
Mara’s mind was a riot of confusion. Uncle Kharles had once possessed the Black Ruby. But how? Until this time, she’d assumed that the stone had fallen from its setting during Denys’s final battle and been stolen by the Spanish assassins. Had it lain on the battlefield at the Shieldwall for those seventy years? Had Kharles discovered it there? So far as she knew, the late Emperor had never visited Dennefort. Even if he’d done so, what reason could he have to return the gem to Spanish hands?
“Uncle Kharles had it,” she said thoughtfully. “And he deliberately abandoned it. He hid it. Where could he have gotten it? From his father?”
Had Eduarde’s theft been successful after all?
The Redlyon had had Dentelyon made as a replica of Dragonsfang; Mara had the opportunity to examine both closely in this past year: one was made after the style of the other. Eduarde couldn’t duplicate the lost arts of the Moorish swordscrafters who had forged Dragonsfang, but the length of the sword, the breadth, the configuration of the hilt and pommel, the minute, spidery intricacies of the spells inscribed on the flat of the blade were all the same. But where the famed red stone had been set on Denys’s sword, Eduarde’s featured a snarling lion’s head. The opposite side of the grip was unadorned.
If Eduarde had possessed the Black Ruby, would he not place it there? It wasn’t unreasonable that the stone would come to him after Denys’s death. If he had claimed it lost, then why not announce it found?
Perhaps, Mara conceded, if the gem had come to light in Norman hands, courtesy would demand that Eduarde offer it to the first Marchion Khrystophania just as he’d given her the sword. If the Redlyon knew what he held, he couldn’t have contemplated that.
She gripped the edge of the window seat and sat forward suddenly. “Peter, did you sense my grandfather Redlyon’s influence upon the stone when you handled it?”
“The Redlyon’s touch is deep upon the stone, My Prince,” the magician answered, “But I received no clear impression beyond– ah–” Peter paused, not wishing to allude to the disgraceful event that must tarnish the name of one of the most honored Norman heroes.
“And the late Emperor Kharles?”
“No, Prince Mara. You must understand that my talents are not so reliable as the magics of a full wizard. A wizard’s spellcraft will produce the same effects again and again each time it is performed so long as it is properly cast. A magician of mental powers cannot cast spells. I depend solely upon my own ability to perceive. I’ve tried to explain—all I see is true, but my perceptions do not always provide me with the full truth. So it is here. I can try again, if you wish.”
“No, Peter. Not now. I have another task for you. I need to verify what we’ve discovered.”
“What I’ve seen of the Black Ruby’s history is accurate,” the magician replied.
“I do not question your ability,” Mara assured him. “I pray you, don’t take offense. But what can we know of that Spanish monk’s honesty? His story of Dragonsfang’s history may be no more reliable than the Spaniard who gave the stone to me. What truth is there in the words of a prisoner who will say whatever he can to please to his conquerors? And what of Par Maryz? Can we trust his tale?”
“What reason would he have to lie?”
“I don’t know! There is much here that I don’t understand…” Her fingers went to the gemstone on its tether.
She had first turned to the storyteller, but Delphyn wasn’t in her confidence; she must reveal a great deal to learn a little. Besides, the bard only knew stories of centuries past, while Mara needed certain facts. Peter knew the old tales as well as Delphyn, but he also had studied wizard-lore.
Mara imposed upon the magician, but Peter was a scholar at heart. He might welcome the prospect of research on a worthwhile subject. “Peter, do you know the name Ystrafael?” she asked.
The young man didn’t understand the purpose of this question, but he answered: “The magician? I’ve heard of him. He’s a sort of Spanish Merlin, My Prince.”
“There is a tale that he bestowed an enchanted sword upon the hero El Cid.”
Peter smiled. “My Prince, one might as easily say that Richard Lionheart received Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake. That sort of thing cannot be taken as true history. Ystrafael appears in hundreds of tales.”
“Was there such a true wizard?”
“If there was such a living person, he lived in the Dark Days before the ranks of wizardry were established.”
“Could he have enchanted this stone?”
Peter didn’t believe so. “I’ve read some texts on the subject of magical gems and crystals since we last spoke. There were quite a few stones of power in the Dark Days—or so ’tis said. The notions of some early wizards are entirely erroneous on matters of basic science. A perfect gemstone was believed to possess the ability to focus and amplify a wizard’s powers. Such gems were popular. Wizards wore them on rings and pendants or fixed them at the ends of rods. The crystal globes and crystal bowls that the carnival seers sometimes use are the remnants of that craft, but the opinion of professional magicians today is that there’s nothing in it. If a modern wizard wears a gemstone, it is as a curiosity.”
His eyes dropped briefly to her breast, where the red stone spotted her white tunic like a dried bloodstain.
“That stone of yours wouldn’t do, Prince Mara. According to the books I’ve read, the focal stone ought to be a precious gem—a diamond or true ruby, or at least a quartz of perfect cast. Yours is flawed. Even if it were perfect, and if it truly worked, such a stone could only amplify an existing power. A wizard might employ it, but not you nor I. That little stone simply cannot perform the marvels which have been attributed to it. I promise you, My Prince, that it can’t do what you claim it can—not by the natural laws of magic as I understand them.” Then he added, almost as an apology, “Have you shown that gemstone to My Lady Laurel?”
“I haven’t shown it to anyone.”
“Magicians of great power have astonishing perception of things beyond the normal senses. If there is any spell upon that stone which I’m unable to detect, she may be able to perceive it.”
“Perhaps…” Mara caressed the stone again. “Peter, will you look into the stone’s history for me? I am especially interested in those years between the death of Prince Denys and the day it was brought to Spainfort. I want to know where it was for all that time.”
“Yes, My Prince.”
“And speak to no one of this, will you?”