If this were a Movie...

Sometimes it's handy, when reading a novel, to get an idea of how the author sees the characters he is writing. As I've mentioned to some of you, although I've done lot of game design work, I haven't tried writing a novel since Jimmy Carter was President (I was a teenager then), and back then I went out of my way not to describe any of the characters in the belief that it was best to let the reader create his own vision of the characters, which I thought would help him become more engrossed in the world of the story. Well, no one ever agreed with that notion, so this time I'm going to be more descriptive in the finished work than I was back then. Being as this is only an outline which will be expanded into the final novel, I thought it might be helpful to give a list of actors who I'd want to play the roles if I were able to make this into a movie. All the characters but Doremi date to ideas I had in the 1970s for a series of 4 fantasy novels (of which this is book 3), so they aren't takeoffs on anything done since the 70s! (Like that Drow character in the TSR novels who swings two scimitars as Nightshadowtm does. And we won't even go into the fact that by 1980 I had  an outline for an undead Torrencian Knight of the Order of the Red Rose--sound familiar?) Raven, for instance, was the first character by that name I ever heard of back then, although lots of "Ravens" have come and gone since then. The same with Nightshadow. No one had ever heard of a character named that in 1978 when he was "born"; today, every online role-playing game has a Nightshadow someplace in it. So anyway, the list following might help the reader see how I envision the characters, since there are a few actors/actresses that look and sound like how I have seen them over the years. The most pleasant surprise for me, over the past year, was catching an episode of Dark Angel. To my shock, I was amazed at how close the actress was to my vision of Morgaine, who actually was created before the actress herself was even born! So here is the "dream list" of who I think would best fit the roles if I won the Lotto and made this into a movie.

Raven: Victoria Principal

Doremi: Andie McDowell (when she was younger). Otherwise, that girl, Melissa M. from JOE MILLIONAIRE is hauntingly close to how I see her--I'd say 95%, but for her personality which isn't the same, obviously. Note: there has been some confusion on how to pronounce Doremi's name--it is pronounced door-ih-mee.

Morgaine: Jessica Alba

Sir Giles: Chuck Wagner (a Broadway star)

Fosmo Figgins: Roger Daltrey

Espidreen: Julianna Margulies

Thor: Hulk Hogan

Throckmorton: David Warner (Throckmorton doesn't appear very much in this book, but he's around in the prequils.)

Nostradamus: Jay Robinson

Cyllindrethifl: Lexa Doig

Dreamspinner: Whomever the actress was that played Galadriel in the LOTR movie. I didn't think she was even remotely right for the Galadriel role, but she was Dreamspinner to a Tee!

Nazier: John Rhys Davies

Angelique: Lara Parker. (Believe it or not, the "Angelique" in this story  is not based on the Dark Shadows Witch named that, but she became named that in tribute to a friend's Ultima Online wizard who is named Angelique. However, let's face it--you can't have a Witch named Angelique and not have the actress from the original Dark Shadows play her if a movie's gonna be done with a Witch named that. So--only Lara Parker could do it, and she'd do it to perfection. An evil, scheming Witch who is only kept in her place by force is just plain made for Lara Parker whatever the heck you name the character! I'll probably change her name back to the original Venivica if I try to publish the book. But for Kat, she's named Angelique in this outline.)

.And now, on to the story...

Six months ago...

Lord William Cullen Edgerton Throckmorton-Cornwallis--or, simply, Throckmorton, as the rest of Islay called him--began the tortuous climb up the final set of stairs to his throne.

It was a slow process for the Liche, compared to that of a normal person, for one leg would mount a step, pause and rest there, and then the other would lift up to join it. The process would be repeated, one step at a time, until the creature, leaning on its staff of Power, completed the ascent.

He detested climbing stairs, for the movement was no longer natural since he had neither muscle nor sinew to propel himself. Instead, it took the sheer force of his own conscious willpower to drive the bones of his legs to make the movements that had been natural to them in life.

Even so, it took only a few moments for the 169th Lord of the Second School of Sorcery to mount the last step up the dais to the huge ebony throne where he spent much of his time. Slowly, Throckmorton turned round, his robes of scarlet, stiff as the skeletal limbs of their owner, rustling with the movement. Then the Liche settled down, its upper body vanishing into the shadowed recess within the ebony maze of scrollwork, knobs, fluting, fret work, and glowing runes of power that had taken the form of a great black skull rising up from the elevated floor of the chamber.

Throckmorton concentrated, opening the Channel, and instantly his consciousness left the Throne room and was there.

He was not alone in the darkness, for his enemy, the Lord of the First School of Sorcery, waited across from him. More shadow than substance, this creature, centuries older than Throckmorton himself, dwelt above Serpenalik within his own huge fortress fashioned into the side of the tallest mountain in the region.

“I called this meeting for dusk,” the shade’s irritated voice spoke as a set of glowing red eyes glared at him. “It is an hour past, and the others have already departed.”

Throckmorton unflinchingly returned the gaze of his counterpart, the Liche-Lord, Nostradamus.

“I came when it was convenient for me to do so,” he answered matter-of-factly. “Now--what pressing matter requires this gathering of the Schoolmasters?”

Though furious at the open disregard for his position shown by Throckmorton, Nostradamus forced himself to ignore the insult.

“As you are aware,” he spoke, “a female Bard from Avalon has been doing research here in the Upper School.”

Naturally, Throckmorton knew this through his spies at the First School--and just as naturally, Nostradamus knew that he knew. Throckmorton would never have admitted it, though, and so he simply remained silent and unmoving.

“She has left us, and may call upon you, seeking permission to examine materials in your Libraries dealing with ancient Karnak,” Nostradamus continued. “If she does, I desire she be granted leave to study them, and that she come to no harm.”

“You expect me to allow a stranger, sent by you, unrestricted access to my School and its Libraries?” asked Throckmorton, amazed--yet curious--at such presumption.

The Lord of Hocwrath now exercised supreme control over the rage within him, forcing his demeanor to reflect near disinterest at Throckmorton’s response.

“When you interrogate her, you will quickly note that she is too simple to be a threat to you,” came his reply as Nostradamus stiffened slightly. “She wishes only to learn about the Karnakis, and will seek to research what little you may have that is written in hieroglyphics, which both of us know you have no interest in. The rest of your Libraries mean nothing to her. It is my wish she be assisted in her studies--and that she not know I am watching her.”

The last words were spoken with an emphasis clearly imparting the importance to the Lord of the First School that this woman remain unaware of his interest in her--and that he would take personal note of anyone causing her harm.

“Is that an order, Lord Nostradamus?” queried Throckmorton.

“It is--a request, Lord Throckmorton,” the shade responded.

“What is this girl to you?” Throckmorton now inquired.

The answer was instantaneous: “Merely a pawn I am developing. Nothing more.”

“For use against whom?”

“Not you,” came Nostradamus’ discreet answer.

The Lord of the Second School now leaned back in his throne, pondering his counterpart’s words. In the centuries he had known Nostradamus, his fellow Schoolmaster had never made such an unusual request. Whoever this woman was, she was vitally important to him. That made it just as important to Throckmorton to discover precisely why Nostradamus had an interest in her, what he planned doing with her, and whom the recipient was of those plans.

Nostradamus had been known to send expeditions into Karnak in search of treasure, for there was still much wealth to be unearthed from its drifting sands. But since his fiasco years earlier in actually locating the Mind Sapphire, that Talisman of Power from ancient times, and then--fortunately--losing it to a half-Elf child amongst his group of mercenaries, he’d scaled back on such expeditions. The girl’s services could obviously prove useful the next time his hired treasure hunters quested for him in those accursed lands of sandstorms and death, so perhaps he was arranging a new expedition and planned to use her in it.

But why now? And could it be, perhaps, that this had nothing at all to do with Karnak?

There was indeed a chance, however slight, that Nostradamus had uncovered the plot of that female pirate in Freeport who desired to assault him in his own tower. One of the spies at the Second School may have sent word that her emissary had just secretly visited, and Nostradamus may have put the pieces together, realizing she was seeking an alliance against the Lord of the First School.

But what possible use could an Avalonian Bard be in thwarting the Pirate and her plans?

Throckmorton had a grudging admiration for the so-called Mistress of Freeport. He, himself, had spent a century carefully maneuvering his own operatives into positions of influence in a number of Islayan cities and kingdoms. This was his one great advantage over Nostradamus: His enemy was consumed with retaining an iron grip over Hocwrath, and all his attention was directed to keeping watch through his own spies and informants on its various Schools, lest they become seditious. This had left the Throckmorton, Lord of the Second School and head of the capital of Serpenalik, free to turn his attention to the lands outside of Hocwrath and concentrate on building his power base, unhindered by the First School.

He had moved slowly, with the utmost subterfuge and care, lest Nostradamus suspect his machinations, for this would open up a new front of battle between the two Schools. Thus, decade after decade, the web of Throckmorton’s influence across the world in his native Torrencia slowly took form. Even now, the combined strength of his operatives and allies was still weak, but in another few decades he hoped to control key areas of the nation from behind the scenes. Eventually, he would maneuver a new king into power--one who could be controlled from Serpenalik--thus giving him control over the most powerful nation of Islay. And by so doing, the former 64th Earl of Cornwallis, banished centuries earlier from Torrencia for his sorcerous studies, would have someday returned in the form of his servants to take the throne for himself.

But out of nowhere came this upstart pirate who, in a few short years, managed to accomplish what was taking him centuries to put in place. By opening up trade between the two mightiest nations in Islay, her intrusive Guild had placed itself in a position of controlling nearly the entire continent, for the world’s wealth flowed through that accursed island of hers under protection of the Krellans, Hocwrath’s enemies to the north.

Throckmorton knew precisely how much power she wielded, and the envy he had toward her knew no bounds.

If this Bard was meant for use against the Pirate, that could prove troublesome since Throckmorton himself had designs upon her, and already was plotting to seize her Guild for his own use. Even now, his own pawn was awaiting use in the Gambit he was devising against her. Between her Guild and his network of spies and operatives, complete control over Islay and its wealth, outside of Hocwrath, could be his overnight if he could but seize the Guild. Then the First School would fall of its own accord with time, and the powers he would have in place outside it would give him the necessary strength to retain control over the rest of Hocwrath as he rebuilt the Second School after defeating Nostradamus--assuming, of course, that the Pirate's assault against him failed in the first place.

Yes, the possibility that Nostradamus might harbor his own designs on Freeport was a real one. If this girl in any way were part of some opening defensive or offensive Gambit against the Pirate, not only did Throckmorton desire to meet her, but she would bear keeping a very close eye on.

Of course, the girl could be nothing more than a feint to distract him while the real threat moved into position elsewhere. Even if she wasn’t, that Nostradamus had an interest in her at all was sufficient to make her of interest to Throckmorton as well. He would welcome her into the School, keep careful watch on her, then see what became of her after she left.

The Liche’s eyes quickly glanced to a huge ball of crystal set into the left side of its throne.

Yes--he would watch this Bard and put the pieces together down the line, either thwarting Nostradamus’ plans for her altogether, or at least profiting equally by them--for the balance of power must always be kept until the right time.

All these musings had taken but a moment of time in the Liche’s mind, and just as quickly as Nostradamus had spoken to him, Throckmorton was answering.

“How can I do other than accede to the wishes of my old friend? Certainly she is welcome here. Perhaps you can return the favor to me sometime.”

“Thank you--old friend,” Nostradamus hissed in response as the eyes of both Liches locked upon one another, each instinctively knowing that a new game was about to begin....

Prologue: the octave of April, six months later


Just off the northeast beach of Freeport lies a small rocky shoal. You can almost walk to it when the tide is out, but only the fishermen venture out to trap the crab that spawn there, and there is little to notice but for some old black timbers lodged against the base of the huge granite rock that crowns it. Of the great ships that sail past every day, and the people who trod along the shore, few do more than take passing notice of the monolith’s rugged beauty.

Some still call it Vulcan’s Anvil, the name given the rock thousands of years ago after one of the Krellan gods. But most people call it Gypsy Rock, and if you ask where that name comes from, few are left who remember the great ship that died there many summers ago to give it its name.

The Mistress of Freeport would sometimes ride along the beach there early in the morning to watch the sun rise beyond the rock and the mahogany bones that rested upon the shoal. She would halt her black Elven mare and face the dawn, staring for a long time in silence, listening and remembering as the surf rolled ashore.

Before her, night would join with day, and the east would brighten until sea and sky merged together in a great curtain of purple and gold.

That was what Raven liked most about the sunrise, but it would end all too soon as the horizon exploded in a band of gold that swallowed up the night to give birth to the next blue day.

“Weep for me,” she would whisper to the sea as night ended. Then she would turn about and ride back up to the city to oversee the daily activities of the Guild.

Now Raven was the Guild, and the Guild was Raven.

The Guild was born the night the first Freeport died. As the flames embraced the darkness of the midnight sky, Raven looked down upon the ashes from which she would build her empire and the vision formed in her mind. First, she would build a city. Next, a nation. And in the end, an empire...but an empire like none Islay had seen before. Where others had used steel--she would use wheat. Where others had used might--she would use guile. Where others had used blood--she would use gold. Those she could not outfight--she would out-think. And so, month-by-month, year-by-year, and decade-by-decade, the Guild grew, its tentacles reaching across the Continent of Islay.

The Guild brought prosperity. The Guild brought order. The Guild brought markets. Each year, the tradesman, the farmer, and the vintner made a little more profit. Each year, they surrendered a little more freedom. And so, one by one, the most powerful nations of Islay began to fall--not to the sword, but to the plow. Not to the warship, but to the grain ship. Not to the warrior, but to the merchant.

The Guild brought wealth to many, and the wealthiest was Raven herself. And where there was wealth, there was power: Power to lift the burdens of others as well as to inflict them.

But the pain of remembering would be one burden Raven would carry alone, for there are some things that gold cannot buy.

Though she wore no crown, she wielded the might of a sovereign. Yet for all her power, there was one power greater, for death holds sway over all--and Raven was mortal. The day finally came when she realized that while she was still beautiful, and still powerful, and still brilliant, she was no longer young--and if she did not do something, she would grow gray, and grow weak, and grow old, and then die.

But how to cheat death?

The answer came in the ancient legend of a fountain from which Isis restored the dead Osiris to life. Lost for millennia in the Desert wastes, the bones of all who sought it littered the shifting sands of Arwin. But where they failed, the Mistress of Freeport was determined to succeed.

Four enchanted circlets were the key to finding the fountain, and Raven had one. A second was held as a sacred relic by the Desert people. The third rested in the treasury of the Liche-lord Nostradamus--Raven’s undead enemy who himself sought immortality as his life force waned with the centuries he had seen. The last--thought beyond retrieval--lay in an enchanted tower reachable, like the fountain, by the assembly of thirteen lost, enchanted plaques.

Thus, most thought the fountain and its wondrous power beyond reach.

But what no one knew was that Raven had the thirteen plaques, and to bring her plans to fulfillment she needed only to find someone who could read the language of the Pharaohs--a language dead for nearly ten thousand years.

And so it was, she turned her attention to me.

CHAPTER ONE--A proposal


Lady Doremi Bender--

Greetings! It is a pleasure to pen this letter to you, for a task I have long dreamed of undertaking is at hand and needs only the talents of a woman such as you to come to fulfillment. It is my hope that I may secure your counsel regarding an institute of Music I plan on building. If you would consider sharing with us the benefit of your knowledge and opinions, I can assure you the rewards will meet with your highest expectations. Please come to Freeport at your earliest opportunity by spell or reliable and safe transportation. If necessary, seek out any Guild officer or headquarters of the Guild of Business & Commerce, and display to them this letter, which they will take as command to convey you safely to me at the earliest opportunity using all available resources. If my proposal is of interest, I hope to see you no later than the Calends of April. I may be found at my Inn in Freeport.

Yours very truly,

Lady-Lord Raven TenTolliver, Mistress of Freeport


This was an important occasion, and Doremi Bender was dressed in the best clothing she owned: a bright hoop skirt of red silk and velvet with matching vest over a white, Elven-weave blouse. Last of all, a hat of scarlet, sprouting a pheasant’s feather, capped the curly dark hair that flowed down the length of her back until it halted at a belt of golden threads.

Someone once said that a brush tells a story better than any pen, and the painting that had caught the Bard’s attention was the quintessence of that proverb. She’d seen many portraits of Nobles in the lands of Islay, but never anything to compare with the sheer majesty of what was displayed before her now.

Hmm--so she’s the most important woman in Islay, Doremi thought to herself as she drew across the parquet floor to the huge painting that dominated the enchanting room of molded white plaster, potted ferns, glass doors, and crystal chandeliers in which she had been asked to wait. Nearly ten feet tall and five feet wide in its enormous frame of mahogany and golden gilt, the painting dwarfed a marble fireplace below it as it presented a full size likeness of a young woman at the helm of a ship.

She looks so young, the Bard noted. More human than Elven, too--and she’s chesty for an Elf. But you can see it in her eyes.

Her gloved left hand reached up to grasp a spoke of the ship’s huge double wheel, while her right was hidden. And in this glimpse of a time long past, the young woman portrayed was dressed simply, in brown pants and tall black boots. Most of her white blouse was hidden by a flowing black cloak that wrapped round her in the wind like a shroud. Straight reddish brown hair, sporting an appropriately pirate-like scarlet bandanna emblazoned with a golden X, flowed ethereally in the direction the wind blew.

She didn’t look forward, but her head was turned as she gazed to her left. Her lips were parted slightly, conveying something between a pout and a smile.

All right, so what was the artist trying to convey?

Doremi pondered that as she stood before the painting, trying to guess the maker’s perception of the subject. The ship scene made sense for Raven had begun her life as a pirate, supposedly, before turning against her fellow rogues and forming the Guild.

Though the background of the portrait was dark, the sea behind the ship was whipped into a phosphorescent green foam stretching back to a spit of land where a city--presumably Freeport--was seen in the distance. The subject herself was surrounded by the common aura of light to silhouette her against the stern of the ship and the shades of darkness astern.

One could only hazard a guess at what she might have been looking at, and Doremi supposed the point may have been to show her looking to the future of Freeport from the days when she was a young girl more than woman. Certainly, no one could deny that Freeport had done an unparalleled turnaround since she had taken over and used her brilliant sense of business to form the Guild and make the city a jewel of trade, crafts, art--and the hub that controlled most of the world’s commerce.

Even so, there was something about her eyes. That, and her expression, were conveying something the Bard couldn’t quite grasp.

No…she wasn’t looking to the future of Freeport. It was something else.

A look of--whimsy, perhaps?

No sooner than the thought crossed her mind, then it was as if a voice within her head answered back: Do I look whimsical to you?

The Bard chuckled slightly and smiled. “Well, perhaps not,” she spoke to herself. “Maybe it’s something you’re thinking. Now if I were you, what would I be thinking?”

She considered that for a moment.

“I am the captain of the Pin-a-fore,” the Bard began to sing to herself.

And a right good captain, too--but not of that ship, the portrait seemed to whisper back.

“Well, if it’s not what you’re thinking...perhaps it’s something the artist thought he perceived about you. So what would that be?”

Doremi snapped her fingers. “This is the face I let you see. That’s it!

Proud that she had deciphered the theme of the painting, the humble Bard settled down upon an ivory bench before the painting and the Baroque fireplace beneath, accented in gold and silver leaf with inlays depicting scallops and peacocks whose tail feathers ran up each side of the fireplace to entwine above its mouth. Atop the mantle, interestingly enough, lay a large model of a sailing ship with a triangular sail of red and white

The ship in the portrait, Doremi supposed.

She was drawn back to the portrait, and again examined it. The attention to detail was incredible, for even the grain of the deck wood was visible without making the portrait seem too busy. Every nuance, in fact, was so realistic that she could almost smell the water…almost hear the shriek of the wind whistling through the rigging of the ship…almost feel the tilt and sway of the deck as the ship tacked toward its destination…almost smell the tar of the rigging…almost feel the strength of the mahogany spoke of the wheels firm, smooth and cool in her hand....

Wheels, a voice then seemed to speak into her mind.

“Yes, wheels,” she realized.

It was then that the portrait seemed to cast a spell upon the Bard. It began with her head feeling heavy, as if she wanted to lie down for a nap. Then the noise of the Inn from beyond the doorway she had entered through were gone, and somehow the Bard began losing sense of where she was as she drifted away, becoming one with a voice that seemed to whisper into her soul.

“Wheels within wheels,” she found herself repeating with it. “Deceptions within deceptions. It’s a chess game. Give them the first move. Project their strategy. Always think ten moves ahead.”

Doremi now began slipping deeper into the fog that seemed to engulf her, and part of her knew--though she could do nothing to stop it--that she was somehow becoming lost in the painting as she felt herself being drawn into it.

“This is the face I let you see,” she whispered. “Trap them in their own defenses. Send out the Queen and attack from behind. Destroy them and move on to the next player until all the players are gone.”

Then something happened, and she felt as if she were becoming someone else, for an anger seemed to rise within her. Then it was as if she were staring out from the painting, looking down at her own body as it sat there looking back.

“I be Lord Captain Raven to thee, Wench!” she found herself saying.

Then she was back inside of herself again.

“This is the face I let you see, Raven,” she whispered back to the voice.

“Doremi, don’t you die on me!” it seemed to scream back.

The thoughts then began racing through her head so fast she could barely keep up with them.

“If the person you love most in the world comes at you with a sword, believe they mean to kill you. The sea sheds many tears. Tell Morgaine the worst thing is--”


It was a female voice that brought her out of it, and the Bard seemed to jump back into her body.

Then, for an moment, she was frozen until she managed to respond.

“Yes?” she answered unconsciously, turning slowly, then rising.

At first, she thought that Raven had entered the room, for the young woman across from her looked, at first glance, very similar to the person in the portrait. She was taller, though, and obviously heavier, yet her long straight hair resembled Raven’s and, like the portrait’s subject, was accented by the same bandanna of red and gold. Standing there glaring, dressed in similar pirate-like attire, the muscles of an athletic body showed clearly through her clothing. She had a scarlet sash for a belt with some sort of scimitar hanging from a set of braids.

But while she was attractive, no one would confuse her with the Raven in the portrait.

The newcomer’s irritated expression left it clear that she’d called out the Bard’s name at least once before Doremi had responded. About the same time, Doremi also realized that she probably looked liked a complete idiot standing there with her mouth open.

“You hard of hearing, or something?” the woman asked as her hands went to her hips.

Still looking confused, Doremi wanted to respond, but somehow the words just wouldn’t come. It was like being drunk.

The woman seemed not to notice, though, and continued to speak.

“Anyway, I’m Morgaine, Raven’s assistant,” she spoke, introducing herself. “Raven is out riding, but she’ll be back soon. I know she’ll want to speak to you as soon as she gets in; she’s really been anxious to meet you.”

“And...I’ve been anxious to meet her,” Doremi now spoke, the fog finally vanishing.

The Bard then gestured to the painting behind her. “I’m, uh, sorry I didn’t hear you at first--I was admiring the portrait here.”

Morgaine fixed her gaze at the painting and then looked back at Doremi. “Nice, huh? Dreamspinner did a great job on it.”

“Dreamspinner!” Doremi exclaimed, her energy back. “I’ve heard of her. She’s an Elf who does enchanted paintings, right?”

“Uh huh,” the woman said with a nod. “She lives here in Freeport.”

Doremi’s eyebrows rose, and she lifted her head. “Really? I’d love to meet her! I’m more a musician, of course, than an artist, but I do dabble with water colors and drawing, and maybe we’d have some things in common.”

Morgaine shrugged and stepped forward to join her.

“You wouldn’t find her too friendly; nobody likes her,” she noted. “She’s uppity--even for an Elf--and rarely answers her door. Too busy doing artist stuff, I suppose. You should have Raven tell you the story about when she did a self-portrait of herself as a girl, and her child-self stepped out of the picture, and ran off.”

Morgaine chuckled. “Kid ran around the city for two days before Dreamspinner finally caught the little brat down by the docks and painted her back in the portrait.”

“Raven’s portrait here…it’s enchanted too, then?” Doremi asked.

Morgaine shook her head. “No, not that I’ve ever noticed. Of course, it was twenty-something seasons ago Dreamspinner painted it. Maybe she wasn’t too big into magic paintings back then. That portrait, by the way, shows Raven at the helm of her first ship, the Sea Gypsy, back before it wrecked off the coast.”

Doremi turned back to the portrait.

“No,” she said quietly. “Not Sea Gypsy...it was the Ocean Gypsy.”

“Oh, yeah, Ocean Gypsy, that’s right. Same difference.”

Morgaine’s eyes narrowed and she looked to the Bard, clearly surprised.

“How’d you know that?” she inquired. “I don’t think the name’s carved on the model there.”

Doremi was at a loss to answer, and finally mouthed out, “I...don’t know. Maybe it sounds more poetic.”

Her hostess responded with a shrug, and returned her stare to the painting.

“Surprising how young Raven was then, isn’t it? She was only nineteen when she conquered Freeport, you know. In fact, I think she was only seventeen or eighteen when Dreamspinner painted that, back when Raven first took a seat on the old Council.”

Doremi’s face revealed her amazement. “She was only nineteen?”

Morgaine nodded, a look of obvious admiration on her face. “Nineteen and she destroyed them all. Took this city from the ashes and, like the phoenix, rebuilt it and made the Guild into the most powerful force in Islay. Nineteen--and a woman to boot. I was only a baby then; I don’t remember it. My mother was one of the slaves Raven freed, you know. In fact, it was the slaves like my mother who fought for Raven against the Council the night the city burned. I wish I could remember her stories about that night, but she died when I was six seasons.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

Morgaine shrugged. “It worked out okay. I was one of the first kids in the orphanage Raven established. She took me under her wing and trained me when I was a teenager myself, not so long ago. Now I’m her chief aid. I help run everything from the Inn to the Guild. Not bad for twenty-six.”

“Well,” the Bard spoke, “I don’t know too much about business, and I’ve heard good and bad about your Guild. But I guess Raven has done a lot for Freeport and for the women of Islay.”

A thin smile spread across Morgaine’s lips as her eyes squinted slightly. “More than you could know.”

“I’m a little puzzled at her title: ‘Lady-Lord Raven’,” the Bard observed. “Shouldn’t it just be ‘Lady’?”

“Oh, she’s got a whole bunch of titles!” Morgaine boasted. “That particular one, though, goes back to her seat on the Council. In fact, if you look at the plate there on the bottom of the frame--”

She pointed to a small golden plaque that was engraved: Lord Captain Raven, 10th Lord of the Captaincy.

--You’ll see she was Tenth Lord of the Captaincy. That was the title she held after she forced the Council to give her a seat. There were only nine Lords before that. Actually, she and a pirate named Maeve were the only two women on it. Raven says she kept the title of ‘Lord’ after the city burned only because it was her original title. But between you and me, I think a part of it was that in the world Lords are always reckoned superior to Ladies in rank, and Raven wanted to make the point that she wouldn’t be limited to second place just because she was a woman.”

Doremi grinned and chuckled. “Good for her!”

“Her favorite title, though, is the Mistress of Freeport. Oh, and by the way, that’s a nice feather in your hat,” Morgaine observed. “Almost as pretty as a peacock’s.”

“Thank you. It’s from a Torrencian bird called a pheasant.”

“Oh, I think I once ate one of those in Torrence.”

They briefly made some more small talk until the quiet sound of a door creaking open came from behind them. The Bard heard it, and immediately turned toward the sound.

As she did, the figure leaning in flashed a smile.

“You would be Doremi Bender?”

The soft, pleasant voice came from the doorway. This time, there was no mistaking who it was. All 5’ 4” of Raven stood there every bit as beautiful, if not more, than she was when the portrait was painted--despite the fact that she would now be over forty seasons in age. Still favoring the same sort of clothing, with the substitution of a hooded blue cloak, she released her grip on the door and slipped inside, keeping her eyes locked with those of her guest.

What a nice smile; she’s got good teeth, Doremi thought. The woman’s hair, she also noted, was shorter, darker and curlier now--and no longer sported the bandanna which apparently had passed to Morgaine.

Oh, she has a round face like me, Doremi realized after a moment, so she wears bangs--smart.

Confidently, Raven strode forward and, though she wore gloves, warmly reached out to grasp Doremi’s hand.

“Doremi, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” she said as she cocked her head to one side. “I’ve been looking forward to this for months.”

The Bard curtsied.

“The pleasure is mine, Lady-Lord Raven. I came as soon as your I found your note waiting for me at the Bardic institute in Avalon City.”

Raven let out a small chuckle. “Well, first,” she said, “drop the ‘Lady-Lord’ thing; I’m just plain Raven. And don't curtsy, for goodness' sake--I loathe people bowing and scraping to me!”

“Yeah,” Morgaine spoke up, “her head’s big enough already!"

Raven squinted at Morgaine and playfully elbowed her in the ribs.

“I’m glad one of those letters reached you,” the Mistress of Freeport continued to Doremi. “I sent out several to everywhere from Torrencia to Avalon hoping one of them would find its way to you. I’ve wanted to meet you for a long time.”

These comments came as a surprise to the Bard.

“I’m really flattered,” she responded. “But how did I ever come to your attention? We’ve never met. And I’m a good Bard, but there’re better than me--a few better than me anyway.”

“Ah, but you’re a member of the Adventurers’ Guild, which, you may not know, I founded and whose records are kept here,” came the reply. “I make it a point to keep my eye on talented young women because we ladies need to stick together in this world where the men run most things.”

Doremi grinned. “Can’t argue that.”

Raven thought for a moment, and said, “Well, I’m sure you’ve seen how nice my Inn is, but I think I have something you’ll find even more interesting.”

The Mistress of Freeport now glanced over to Morgaine.

“Morgaine, thank you for keeping Lady Doremi entertained. Please see if they’re ready for us, and let me know.”

Morgaine nodded. “Nice to have met you,” she said, obligatorily, to the Bard as she turned to depart.

“My pleasure, Morgaine,” Doremi called out after her.

“This way,” Raven spoke with another smile, sweeping her left hand toward the southwest side of the room.

She crossed the floor, the Bard following, to a set of double doors, and then grasped the golden handles, swinging open the twin portals.

“This is my office--and my Music room,” she noted.

Beyond the doors awaited a long gallery of sculpted white plaster walls and ceilings. Just within stood a grand mahogany desk with a plush chair, but of greater interest were the many shelves and stands which held nearly every sort of instrument Doremi had ever heard of--bagpipes, flutes, bandores, ouds, sitars, zithers, mandolins, cellos, horns--instruments of every sort and size from every nation in Islay. Some, she’d seen; a few, she’d only heard of, from the smallest flute to large pianos and harpsichords that sat upon a thick, plush maroon carpet that ran the length of the room.

One oversized piano in particular caught Doremi’s attention.

“A pianochord!” she exclaimed. “You have a pianochord!”

Unable to resist, Doremi rushed forward and excitedly ran her hand along the polished cherry wood body of the large, piano-like instrument at the center of the room. “You know, this was only invented within the past year.”

“My newest acquisition,” Raven answered. “You’ve played one before?”

Doremi sat down upon the bench and looked down at the twin ivory keyboards. “No, but I understand the theory. The top keys are a harpsichord and are used for rhythm chords; and the bottom row is a normal piano keyboard for notes. Together, it gives a richer sound. A little like an organ in function.”

She pressed a few of the keys, testing the sound.

“I always loved the piano. My mama had one and I taught myself how to play it. I’m more of a flautist than a pianist, but I still love to play when I get the chance. In fact, wrote my very first song for the piano. It was a song about my brother Jeremy.”

The Bard began to play. “The words weren’t that great but the tune was cute. I got a lot of satisfaction out of that song--the lyrics were a hodgepodge of nonsensical rhyme and my brother was smart enough to know I was making fun of him, but wasn’t smart enough to figure out how. I knew what I was saying, though, and I loved irritating him. I’d sing it or whistle it every time he came into the room and he’d go run to papa, and papa would box his ears for bothering him. I loved it because brothers are such a bother. Do you have any brothers?”



“I had a sister; she’s dead now. But tell me more about your family.”

“I’m sorry about your sister,” Doremi noted. “But, well, my brother is all the family I have now. My mama died when I was born and my papa died a few years ago. My brother inherited the family business. He’s a vintner and brewer.”

Raven looked interested. “Really? What is the name of his vineyard?”

“He makes ale and wine, but I don’t think he belongs to your Guild because it’s a small vineyard. He makes an ale in Avalon called Bender Ale that some people like.”

Raven thought for a moment. “No, I haven’t heard of it,” she concluded. “A lot of small businesses don’t belong to the Guild but just sell regionally. My bartender, Billy, would have heard of it, though. There isn’t an alcoholic libation made that he hasn’t tried.”

“My brother and I aren’t that close; I only see him every so often,” Doremi continued. “Papa sent me off to an Ecclesiastical School in Torrencia when I was nine or ten, so really I didn’t grow up with my family, such as it was.”

“I’ve heard those schools are rather unpleasant,” her hostess observed.

“It wasn’t fun. Very strict. But I became friends with an old monk who headed the school, named Monsignor Singleton.”

Doremi smiled. “He was a gentle old soul. He played the fiddle--albeit badly--and he taught me how to play it. In only a couple of weeks I was better at it than he was, and he encouraged me to develop my talents in music. I learned how to play the harp there as well. The book-learning parts I hated--except for history. He had once been a teacher in the great monastery in Queenstown, and had some very old books about ancient Karnak. The Monsignor used to read legends to me about the Pharaohs because he had an interest in the Karnakis, and even knew how to read a few hieroglyphs. That’s where I first developed an interest in them.”

“Yes,” Raven noted, her tone changing slightly, “your registry in the Adventurers Guild mentioned that you read hieroglyphs. That’s a rare talent.”

“Well, I started learning that from Monsignor Singleton. But then the dear old soul died when I was thirteen, and it was like losing my father.”

Raven nodded in understanding. “I know how hard that is. My own father died when I was fourteen--that changed my life forever,” she remarked as her face tightened.

“I lasted for a couple of years after he died,” Doremi continued, “and I hated it every minute of it because they replaced him with an old witch of a Rectoress named Sister Lavinia, whose face was so sour she could curdle milk just by looking at it.”

Raven found the remark funny, and chuckled at it.

“Eventually, a Bard happened to come through town and I played the fiddle for him. He told me I had talent, so I wound up running away from the school with him before my father could marry me off to someone I didn’t even know, and he taught me how to be a Bard. From there, I adventured in Torrencia some, and Avalon some, and wound up in Hocwrath as a Librarian, and I became quite the little scholar over the years.”

“You’re being too humble, Doremi,” the Mistress of Freeport noted. “You were in the group that found Dellenthar’s Mandolin a few summers ago. In fact, as I recall, you’re a hero in Avalon.”

Doremi smiled and turned red. “I hate to brag, but yeah, I was there. In fact,”--she nodded toward a diamond-studded wooden brooch in the shape of a mandolin upon her red velvet vest, “--that’s the pin Queen Anne gave me. Do you know her?"

“We've met,” Raven replied with a forced smile.

“Are you two friends?”

“No,” she answered, the smile remaining unchanged.


Doremi felt she had hit upon a touchy subject, and so she politely moved on.

“It was a great quest. I didn’t do that much, though; the rest of the group were the real heroes. But we were quite the celebrities. Of course, now the various Institutes of Music are all still fighting over who should take charge of the Mandolin, so Queen Anne keeps it in the palace. But I’m proud to have helped to find Avalon’s most priceless treasures.”

Having finished playing, Doremi shut the lid of the pianochord.

“Um, I might suggest you build a fireplace in this room and keep it warm at all times. Ocean air is real bad for pianos, and you’ll constantly be tuning this because the moisture in the air will warp the wood. If you keep the air dry, you’ll have to tune it a lot less often. Same holds true for your harps.”

“Now you see?” Raven spoke. “I would never have known that. That’s why I need your talents.”

Her hostess eased down onto the bench next to the Bard.

“In fact, I think you’re just what Freeport needs. So let me tell you of my plans. As you know, I’ve gone to great lengths to make Freeport a jewel in Islay. In addition to the Guild, I’ve striven to make this a city of the arts. That’s because I want Freeport to be known as the most cultured, artistic city on Jewel. We have theaters; we have a games arena; we have an institute of Art--but what we don’t have is a Music institute. That’s where you come in. I want to build the ultimate institute of Music. Doremi, I plan on building an institute that makes the finest music academies in Avalon look like second-rate trash--and I want you to run it.”

Doremi’s jaw dropped and she was silent for several moments, taking it in. Then she finally spoke.

“That’s been my dream--to have my own Bardic Institute,” she whispered. “But it costs so much, and it’s hard to get approval from the Council of Arts to start an official one. But I’ve always wanted my own Institute. Not like the ones in Avalon--they’re great, but the way they run them...they’re always competing against each other and fighting over whose teachers are more skilled or over whose master was greater. They don’t like to accept common people into their ranks either; they like to teach the children of Nobles or those from wealthy families. I just want to teach people to appreciate music--period. Rich, poor--I don’t care. I’ll teach anyone. I don’t even care if they can’t afford to pay for it--I’ll teach people for free if they’ll promise to teach someone else someday. Oh, I have so many ideas--you couldn’t imagine, Raven! I’ve dreamed about this for years and years!”

“Well,” Raven said, grasping Doremi’s hand, “I’m delighted to be able to make your own dream come true, Doremi--and while I’m making your dream come true, I’m sure you can make some other people’s come true as well!”

Doremi clasped her hands and brought them up to her face, shaking them in excitement.

“All my life I’ve waited for this! Yes, I’ll run your institute! And I’m sure we’ll be great friends!”

The Bard was beaming now.

“And I’m sure we’ll accomplish great things together, Doremi,” Raven said softly as her eyes met the Bard’s and, it seemed to her, reached down into her soul. “You’ll have to work with our local builders to come up with a design that meets with your requirements, but whatever you need, just let the correct people know. I want the finest musicians on Islay teaching music here--you pick them, and offer whatever you need to in order to get them to come to Freeport. If they won’t come, then teach some promising students and make them into what the Institute needs. In the meantime, just to get you started, I’ll give you access at the bank for, say, one hundred thousand ounces of gold. Let me know if you need more.”

Doremi lost her breath. “One hundred thousand ounces of gold? Do you know how much gold that is?!”

Raven laughed. “I run Islay’s economy, Doremi--a hundred thousand ounces of gold is nothing to the Guild. What’s important is that our Institute be the finest Islay has ever seen, and I’ll pay or do whatever it takes to make it so.”

Doremi shook her head, obviously overwhelmed by all of this. “You must really love music, Raven. Do you, um, play any of these?” she asked, pointing to the line of instruments along the wall.

The Mistress of Freeport looked up and down at her prized collection.

“No,” she finally spoke, “I love music, and I love art, but I have no talent whatever. My talents lie...elsewhere.”

Doremi threw her hands up. “Oh, I'm sure you're more musical than you think. It’s easy--I can teach you to play anything. Would you like to learn how to play the pianochord?”

“Frankly, I don’t have the time to make the commitment one should make for that, Doremi.” She then leaned back against the pianochord and kicked her legs out. “I wish I could, though. Actually....”

Raven arose and stepped over to a shelf of lutes and mandolins to remove a strange instrument. It was vaguely shaped like a long dulcimer with many strings.

“This is the one thing I can pretend I can play. It was my father’s. His--village--made some simple tunes up on this instrument. I don’t know any of them, really, but I suppose in my head I can remember how they sounded, and I can mimic them.”

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Doremi noted. “Is it Elven? What’s it called?”

“It’s called a koto,” Raven replied. “You play it with these things here.”

She removed a small sack tucked under the strings and removed three ivory caps that looked like fingers with sharp fingernails. Three were placed over her gloves, upon her thumb and two other fingers, and then she sat down upon the floor with the koto before her.

“Now keep in mind these are just sounds--sounds in my head sometimes--but my father played things like this. He did say this was really a woman’s instrument, though.”

Raven began slowly plucking strings. The tune--if it could be called that--was like nothing Doremi had ever heard. Clearly, it was some odd--probably ancient Elven--sort of music.

“Interesting--it’s adagissimo,” she observed.

Raven stopped. “You’ve heard music like this before?!” she asked, apparently shocked.

“No, no--adagissimo means that you play it very slowly. It’s unusual. No spell-songs are ever played adagissimo, for instance.


Raven began to pluck the strings once again.

Doremi listened intently for a while. “I’ve never heard anything like that before,” she noted. “It’s definitely music, but it sounds--very old...and very far away.”

“Yes, exactly,” Raven agreed. “Well, anyway--that’s it for my Bardic abilities.”

She stood up and returned the picks to their sack, then carefully--almost reverently, the Bard noted--replaced the koto on the shelf.

“There is, uh, another issue--another proposal--I would like to bring up, “she spoke, turning back to Doremi. “Before I mention it, I want to make clear this has nothing to do with the Institute. We’re settled on that regardless--you’re running it, period! Now if you’re unaware,” she added with a chuckle, “I’m famous for efficiency--killing two birds with one arrow, so to speak. It’s been a long time since I was a treasure hunter like yourself, but I am currently planning an expedition dealing with some treasures of ancient Karnak--”

Doremi was instantly attentive.

“--And someone with your qualifications could actually be quite valuable to me. You read hieroglyphs. I presume you also speak ancient Karnaki as well?”

“Uh...well....yes. I mean, it’s hard to say yes to that question. The Karnakis had three forms of hieroglyphs, and how they spoke them is a matter of speculation.”

“Three?” Raven suddenly looked very nervous. “I thought there were only two,” she continued in a concerned tone.

“Most people think there’s only one--the classic picture writing. Well, that was the priestly and royal form of writing. There was a second form of hieroglyph called hieratic. It was a much-simplified version of the picture writing; nowhere near as artistic, but it was quicker to write. The last form was called demotic--or running script by some. It was only used for a brief time between the period of the end of Karnak and the rise of Arwin. I don’t read Arwinian, but the pretty calligraphy of the Arwinic language of today is somewhat descended from the running script of the last Karnakis.”

“That’s the one I’m interested in--can you speak that correctly if you have a text to read from?”

“Well, that’s the problem,” Doremi continued. “Like just about every other language on Jewel, the Karnakis had no vowel symbols--only the Krellans were smart enough to have a written language with vowels in the First Age. Even Hocwrath didn’t have one until the last century when Nostradamus rewrote the Hocwrathian alphabet. That’s the one useful thing that Liche ever did, you know. He--”

“Back to the hieroglyphs, Doremi?” Raven interrupted.

Doremi flashed red in embarrassment--she did have a habit of rambling.

“Sorry. Anyway, since the Karnakis had no vowels--they used symbols called determinatives to indicate where a word might end, or if there should be a vowel there--and no one today is certain exactly how the language was spoken. We can read and understand it, but speaking it is a different matter. We can speculate on the vowels but on some words we can’t be fully certain on how they should be pronounced. However, I spent years studying everything I could find in Hocwrath about Karnak, and I think I can come pretty close.”

“Let me ask you plainly--could you read off an enchanted scroll written in running script?”

Doremi thought for a moment.

“If you give me time--probably. If I couldn’t, I don’t think anyone else on Jewel could either.”

“Then I guess that will be good enough. And you can also read off the picture-sort of hieroglyphs as well?”

“Yes, pretty much. Again, not perfectly, but I can do pretty well at it. May I ask just what is it you need me to read?”

Raven hesitated.

“I can’t go into all the details right now,” she finally spoke. “But in a nutshell, have you heard of the Puzzle of Abu Salaar?” she asked.

Doremi thought for a moment. “Yes. It was a series of enchanted puzzle pieces that supposedly opened a gate to a pocket dimension or another plane or something. The sorcerer, Abu Salaar--the most powerful wizard who ever lived in Arwin--found or built some kind of tower there into which....”

Her voice trailed off and she looked up at Raven. “…He supposedly placed an entire library of Sorcery from First Age Karnak!”

Her voice became a whisper. “Are you saying you’ve got the puzzle?”

“Most of it,” Raven answered. “A piece remains that we would have to--remove from its present owner.”

Doremi sat back, obviously uncomfortable.

“Um, Raven, I’m not into taking other people’s property. If you’ve already got the pieces, that would be fine, but I don’t like the idea of ‘relieving’ things from people and using their things for yourself. Killing monsters or ‘relieving’ an undead of its treasure is fine, but robbing someone isn’t something I would be a part of.”

Raven patted her knee. “Then you should have no problems,” she said with that disarming smile of hers. “It’s being guarded by undead.”

It would have gone unnoticed by anything other than a Master Bard whose ears possessed perfect pitch, but Doremi detected the nearly imperceptible change in Raven’s tone revealing that the woman was irritated with her response. Be that as it may, it did indeed change things.

“What sort?” the Bard now asked. “Mummies?”

“Liche,” came the answer, “--and probably some human and monstrous servants of his.”

A grimace formed upon the Bard’s face.

“Liche,” she repeated in a whisper, “--an undead wizard of at least the fifteenth-circle of power.”

Doremi shook her head. “They’re incredibly powerful, Raven. I worked some for Nostradamus for a while, though I hated every minute of it. Liches are not something to take lightly. You’d need a pretty tough group to kill a Liche.”

“You worked as a Librarian for Nostradamus?!” Raven asked, apparently shocked. “In the First School?!”

“Well, for a little while. I translated some Karnaki manuscripts for the School, and then left,” the Bard explained. “I never did meet Nostradamus, fortunately. But I know enough about Liches, in general, not to take them lightly.”

“I never take anything lightly, Doremi,” Raven assured her. “And I do have a group strong enough, and versatile enough, to tackle one. But I won’t kid you--this is an extremely dangerous quest. We’ll have the advantage of surprise, strategy, and some of the most powerful champions of Islay with us. Still, it will be risky. Don't worry, though, just--keep it in the back of your mind; I’m still in the planning stages. For right now, I have a meeting I need to attend, but perhaps we’ll speak more of this later. Do not repeat what I’ve told you to anyone. You have a room?”

“Yes,” Doremi responded, “they gave me a nice one, in fact--in the Elven section.”

“Good. For today, if you haven’t had breakfast yet, go to one of the refectories and ask for some starfish-on-toast. It’s quite good.”

Doremi grinned. “Starfish on toast--okay. Sounds interesting.”

There was a knock in the doorway, and both looked over to see Morgaine standing there.

“I’m glad to have you with us, Doremi,” Raven quickly said. “I’ll fetch you for dinner this afternoon. ‘Til then, Freeport is at your disposal. And feel free to use my Music room--or anything here at the Inn--whenever you like.”

Doremi rose. “Thank you, Raven. I’ll just, uh, go have a look at the town then.”

Raven nodded, and Doremi walked past Morgaine, smiling in greeting. Morgaine herself smiled and nodded back.

The smile drained away when Doremi was safely out of earshot.

“I don’t like her.”

“You don’t like anyone I hire,” Raven responded.

“Yeah, but she knows too much.”

Instantly, the Mistress of Freeport stiffened. “What do you mean?” she asked in a concerned tone.

“She knew the name of your old ship was the Ocean Gypsy.”

Hearing that, Raven seemed to relax slightly. “So? All sorts of people in town remember the Gypsy.”

“Yeah, but she’s not from the town, and when I called it the Sea Gypsy, she corrected me. I asked her how she knew its name, and she would only say that Ocean Gypsy sounded more poetic than Sea Gypsy.”

The Mistress of Freeport shrugged. “She’s a Bard--her job to be poetic, and also to know history. Could be she heard the name from someone at the Inn, and it stuck in the back of her mind. In fact, she probably heard Billy mention it down in the tavern.”

“She could always be a spy,” Morgaine noted with a squint.

“There is always that possibility,” Raven admitted, “which is why you always keep at least half an eye on your people. However, her spirit seems too--innocent--for her to be in the employ of any of our enemies.”

“Yeah, but a good assassin would be exactly that way: Non-threatening.”

Raven’s tone immediately became serious again. “That’s exactly right, Morgaine--and never forget that!”

She then relaxed. “In her case, however, I’ve investigated who she is, and she seems to be exactly what she appears to be. She’s a treasure hunter who doesn’t have any specific group she adventures with, and she only adventures with people of good character. It’s highly unlikely that she would spy for the sort of people we deal with.”

“Either way, she’s still a pampered sort of a girl from the looks of her,” Morgaine observed.

“Don’t underestimate her abilities,” Raven answered, looking out toward the direction that her guest had departed. “She may be a Bard, but she’s still a highly skilled Adventurer. She’ll be a valuable addition to us. And, innocent soul that she may be, I suspect she packs a decent punch or she wouldn’t have survived this long as a treasure hunter.”

“Her? Come on, Raven--she doesn’t look to me like she could fight her way past a hungry orc with a club.”

Raven froze at the statement, and then slowly fixed her gaze upon Morgaine. “There you go again,” she sighed.

Morgaine’s face tightened; she knew a lecture was coming.

“You were doing good, and then you slipped right back into your habit of judging a person by how they look. Just because she dressed in a nice, feminine outfit, you presumed she must be helpless. For all you know, she could be a deadly adversary--stop rolling your eyes at me--who could be the death of either one of us.”

“She’s a Bard, Raven! Bards aren’t tough enough to be a threat to anyone. I’ve never seen a Bard yet worth giving the time of day to who wasn’t also a Witch--or at least an Assassin!”

Her eyes looking up and away in irritation, Raven nodded her head.

“Right, Morgaine--she’s only a Bard. You can probably kill her with one hand, and I can kill her with one finger. But she’s smart, and brains always make up for lack of power--you know that! Even a humble Bard like her could kill Nostradamus under the right circumstances if she managed to outthink him. I keep telling you, if you don’t lose this tendency you have to judge people’s threat potential by how tough they look like they’d be in a fight, sooner or later you’ll find yourself dead because someone like her will hire an assassin who is tough in a fight, and he’ll stick a shiv in your back that you weren’t expecting. Judge your enemies by their brains, not their brawn! Anyway, it’s her knowledge we need--not her fighting abilities. She’ll be very valuable. In fact, more valuable than I had even anticipated. Trust me.”

“Yes, mother,” Morgaine answered sarcastically. “Anyway, Cyl just sent Throckmorton’s answer through the message box.”

Morgaine offered Raven a sealed parchment letter, but the Mistress of Freeport shook her head.

“Go ahead, read it--and stop calling me mother! No Yamatan who refused to listen to their mother as much as you turn a deaf ear to me would have lived to twenty-six!”

Ignoring the comment, Morgaine broke the wax seal and unfolded the parchment.

Keep your Guild out of Hocwrath, or we will destroy Freeport. Know that I will be watching you.

She looked up. “I take it that’s a no,” Morgaine concluded, apparently unconcerned.

Raven snorted. “Hah! I’d like to see that stupid Liche destroy Freeport! Nothing could give me greater pleasure than to watch him deal with a couple hundred angry Witches and Druids eager to kill undead! Hocwrath would have destroyed us by now if they could have anyway. In any event, our Liche seems uninterested in a formal alliance against Nostradamus. Pity, but I anticipated this would be his move. It still fits into my plans.”

“Yeah, you called it. So do we now approach the Lord of the Third School of Sorcery then? At least he’s human--he may be interested in advancing his position against the two Liches. I would, anyway, if I were him.”

Choosing to forget her frustration, Raven placed her hands on Morgaine’s shoulders and looked into her eyes with a smile.

“Wrong move. We can’t risk using Lord Draconerius. As a general rule,” she continued, emphasizing the point by releasing Morgaine’s right shoulder to shake her finger, “seek alliance with the second-most powerful faction. Don’t seek alliance with the third.”

“Okay, why not?” asked Morgaine. “I would think the lower down you go, the more eager they are to advance.”

“That’s true. But the problem is, faction Three--if you ally with it to overcome faction One--will usually be too weak to then hold off the threat of the second-most-powerful faction. Faction Three, unless they’re stupid, will realize that. They’ll still use you to advance their position, but they’ll use you by betraying you to faction One, seeking to curry favor with One to advance against faction Two.”

“Ohhhhh. So if we approach Lord Draconerius--”

“He’ll tell Nostradamus, and try to gain Nostradamus’ overall favor; or else Nostradamus’ help against Throckmorton’s School. That’s why we can’t use Draconerius--he’s only the third-most-powerful faction.

“I stress, though, that I’ve only illustrated an overall general principle. A person might, if she’s thought it out fully, do a finesse move using faction Three. An example would be going ahead and aid faction Three in overcoming faction One. The weakened faction Three then needs your help to hold off faction Two, and thus you bring him under your indirect control because he can’t exist without you. Another move would be to aid faction Three to overcome faction One, then step back and let faction Two move in. Once faction Two has eliminated faction Three, you come in and destroy faction Two and take it all once the various factions have weakened each other. It’s just like moving and sacrificing pieces in a chess game to maneuver your opponent to where you want him to be--then you send in the Queen and destroy him.”

Morgaine nodded as she licked her lips, trying to process all Raven had told her.

The Mistress of Freeport, meanwhile, now gazed intently at her protégé.

“One time,” Raven spoke as she began a story, “I saw a cat stalking a bird that was pecking at the ground across the road from it. The cat had done a marvelous job creeping toward the bird, inch by inch, with the bird never realizing it was there. It had made its way up to the side of the road, unseen, and was ready to pounce! Then it sprang across the road--well--like a cat. That poor bird would have been dead meat except for one...small...detail.”

Morgaine’s brow furrowed. “What?” she wished to know.

Raven leaned forward slightly. “The cat,” she answered quietly, “was so focused on catching the bird that it failed to notice the carriage coming down the road, and was crushed beneath its wheels. The moral of the story is: Always watch your back when you’re planning an Operation against someone. One of your own enemies, if he becomes aware of you directing your resources and attention at someone else, may come at you before you realize he’s there. Lest you end up like the cat, that’s why you need good people to be your eyes and ears when your attention is being focused at a single direction.”

“Oo--I’ll remember that!”

Raven sighed. “Yes, I know you will. You’ll remember because I happened to say something that you found interesting, so you focused on it. I just wish you’d believe the whole counsel of what I tell you instead of letting it in one ear and out the other when you don’t agree with it! But in so far as playing factions against each other goes, I did that a lot in Torrencia with the different Cutpurse and Assassins guilds in my early days, “she said matter-of-factly. “They just fell like trees to the ax. So no, our move in this case was to approach Throckmorton. He’ll say nothing to Nostradamus, but since I’ve alerted him to my plans, he’ll simply wait to see what we do, and if we kill Nostradamus he’ll move in with minimal losses to sweep up the crumbs. If we’re lucky--and this is what I’m hoping for--he’ll launch an attack on the School when we launch ours on Nostradamus himself. That would be absolutely perfect for us, and the best move for him.”

“Yeah, but he just threatened us if we show our faces in Hocwrath.”

“No--that’s not what he said. You need to read between the lines.”

Morgaine looked down to the note again--there was nothing written between the lines!

Raven reached out to pull down the note, and Morgaine looked up at her.

“By that, I mean you need to learn when someone is trying to convey a message to you in a subtle, non-obvious way,” Raven continued. “We made no mention of the Guild, but his note said to keep the Guild out. By analyzing his language, and by being aware of his cunning nature, we deduce that he’s really sending us the message--kill Nostradamus if you want to, but keep the Guild itself out. You see, if by some fluke Nostradamus came to be aware of our approach to Throckmorton, Throckmorton could then make the claim he was supporting his fellow Council member in the event Nostradamus were to defeat us and call him to account. He’s quite predictable.”

“You sure about that?”

“Absolutely. I’ve projected his most logical strategy, and not opposing us is the move he’ll make. His only other option would be to warn Nostradamus--which would gain him nothing--or else try to attack us here, which again does little, if anything, for him. A possibility would be he attacks us there, after we finish off Nostradamus. But I predict he’ll leave us alone, especially when he discovers Nightshadow will be with us. He'll be watching us, just as he said in his letter--you can count on that. When he sees us go in, I predict he’ll attack as well. He’d be a fool not to--he has to! But even if he doesn’t, we will still win.”

Morgaine shook her head. “I wish I could play chess like you, Raven!”

“I keep telling you--all you need to do is think ten moves ahead, Morgaine.”

“Chess gives me a headache! I could never think that far ahead. Maybe three or four moves at most.”

“Well...not everyone can think ten moves ahead. That’s why I always win. But the overall plan never changes: Analyze their strategy, think ten moves ahead, destroy the opponent and move on to the next player until all the players are gone. Simple.”

Morgaine nodded. “Well, all that aside, I still don’t hold out much hope that girl will ever be much of a threat to anyone. I saw her listing in the Adventurers’ Guild registry down in the Cellars--Loves children and animals. Just what we need--a Bard that loves children and animals!”

Raven locked eyes with her. “I like children and animals--am I a threat?”

“You couldn’t care less about animals, Raven!” Morgaine retorted, her hands on her hips.

“I like my horse!”

“That’s the only animal you care about!”

Raven shrugged. “Well...I keep the sharks well fed,” she added.

Morgaine burst into laughter. “That’s a good one!” she finally choked out. “I’m gonna tell that one down in the Cellars. Anyway, they’re waiting for our procession to start. Shall we get to our meeting?”

“Yes, let’s get it over with, and let them all think their opinions matter,” Raven responded, taking a quick glance at her hair in a handy mirror that hung upon the wall.


It was said that no thought had ever been given as to how much was too much in the construction of the Inn, and the extravagance of its furnishings was legend throughout Islay. Not even the castle of the King of Torrencia nor the palace of the Sultan of Tyre could boast more opulence and spacious excess than that of the Raven’s Inn. Its founder, though not a true Queen, had made this marvel of architecture her palace, and there was nothing on the continent of Islay that compared to it.

But this was actually the second inn Raven had named after herself. The first had been constructed closer to the sea back when Freeport was a much smaller city than it now is. Ant-like in comparison, it actually started out with the hull of an old ship before it grew into its final form of a charming conglomeration of stone, plaster, wood, ironwork and stained-glass all crafted in a manner befitting its owner’s devotion to beauty and function. The first Raven’s Inn, even back then, was renowned for its ambiance and the finest meals to be had in Islay. But no sooner had it been completed, then the new inn was under construction. When it was done, the first passed to some of Raven’s crew who renamed it the Inn of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Such a name could not do other than affect the flavor of the establishment, and with the name-change things were never quite the same. In time, the inn became no better than average in quality, and a meeting-place for the local thieves guild to boot! And so the first inn, like an old pair of boots, was cast aside in favor of the new. But in its day, it was a delight to many an Islayan, and there are still some who miss its quaint, original charm and those famed drinks of coconut, banana and orange juice they called tropical tea, which was served up in coconuts brought up from Barataria, far to the south of Islay.


The great Inn that replaced it stood above the city near the slopes of Vulcan’s Forge, the dead volcano rising above the eastern side of the island. It was crowned by a huge tower that looked down upon the rest of the structure spreading forth in three directions from this central point. The Inn’s base extended out in two great wings to the north and south, each decorated in a different theme. The finest stonemasons from Naz-Al had been given free reign to make the north wing into the foremost example of Dwarven architecture outside of Orlon. Every pillar, every floor tile, every shelf, every table was fashioned from the most beautiful stone that could be found in Naz-Al. Marble, quartz, rhiolyte, lapis and other minerals of every possible color were shipped from there to Freeport, where they were meticulously sculpted by a small army of master Dwarven and Gnomish craftsmen, each striving to out-do his fellow in leaving behind a work not only of art, but of practicality--which would be seen by everyone from the richest merchants to even sovereigns from other nations who came to view the marvel of the Inn.

Yet amongst the chaos of so many different artisans, the north wing had a harmony of design somehow born from a natural Dwarven knack to fashion a cohesive whole out of so many different parts that complimented, not clashed, with each other. Thus, two different Dwarven artisans may have sculpted two different sides of a large stone door weighing several tons, while a Gnome saw to it that the door was balanced so perfectly on his ornate hinges that even a child could push it open with ease; and the finished product bore no visible trace of its triple ancestry.

If the theme of the northern wing was stone and the marvels found beneath the surface of Jewel, the south wing’s theme was wood and Nature. This wing was as close to the Elflands as most Humans would ever come, and its beauty was unparalleled. A stream from a slope of Vulcan’s Forge was channeled through parts of it, and the wing boasted some of the most magnificent plants and trees outside of Ashvryl.

Graceful stairways of silver, ivory, wood and crystal wound their way up to galleries filled with hundreds of different fragrant flowers whose delicate aroma mated with the delightful redolence of countless scented trees and vines. Here, a charming foot bridge might cross the stream to reach a refectory set upon its own little island, while there a swan boat might punt past, taking a guest to the rooms at the west of the wing if one chose not to stroll there by foot. The wing itself was lit by the soft glow of lanterns, fireflies, and the phosphorescent glow of sun spider webs that canopied the arched roof of glass and iron overhead. A feeling of peace pervaded the wing, and it was widely believed that no man could enter therein and remain angry, for the entire nature of the place just seemed to banish that which was Dark, and enhance that which was Light.

The heart of the Inn, its tower, was ostensibly devoted to the merchants who made Freeport what it was, and an arched marble bridge allowed convenient passage back and forth to the Guild offices across the way. The great tower reflected the various human cultures of Islay, and its many floors might each be decorated in the rustic wooden charm and stained-glass of Torrencia, the plush comfort of Arwin, or the regal marble decor of Krella. And if cultural flavors weren’t enough, one might feast upon other themes as well: Just a few steps to the left of the Registration counter, for instance, lay an inviting seaside tavern called the Pig & Whistle, whose oaken walls and beams above were tastefully decorated with fishing nets, floats, harpoons--many of which had exciting stories behind them--unique stuffed fish, shells of every size and color, and paintings reflecting the life and character of the sea and the men who made their trade by her.

Sailors felt particularly at home here as they trod the tavern’s teakwood floor, which resembled the deck of a ship. What was everywhere else the bottom floor of the Inn with a spacious high ceiling had here been turned into a lower floor and a mezzanine in order to feature two artificially low ceilings calling to mind the claustrophobia aboard ship and the low, roughhewn teak or oaken planks making up its decks. The mezzanine hosted a variety of tables for everything from card-playing to skittles, while on the ground floor below was the tap-room, where wine and rum flowed side-by-side with tall tales that, by comparison, would make tame the most outlandish claims of a boastful Knight.

The bartender, an old sailor named Billy--he had no other name that anyone knew--had sailed with Raven in the early days. An expert on anything by which one might become drunk, he was the last of her old crew who still worked near her on a daily basis. Now, having long since left behind the toil of the sea, he hefted flasks of whiskey instead of halyards, ladled grog instead of tar, or polished glass instead of brass.

One would have been hard pressed to find a bartender who more typified Freeport’s Pirate past than Billy. A blue scarf capped his half-bald cranium from which a ring of gray hair flowed down to a set of hunched broad shoulders. A patch covered his hazel-colored left eye--which actually had good sight--and a long steely beard reached halfway down his chest, which was clothed with a loose white shirt tucked into the waist of his brown canvas trousers, the legs of which were stuffed down into his tarred leather thigh boots where a brace of daggers were tucked in. One could always tell Billy was at his watch post behind the bar from the frequent “Argh”s that would sound from him as he bantered with other sailors or threw daggers on a wager over drinks.

It was actually here, over two years past, that Raven’s quest had begun. One fateful night, a pair of Torrencian sailors were drinking in the tavern, and one of them, in a bad mood, had complained about the rum Billy served up. Billy knew it was griping for the sake of griping, but he held his peace. Yet the more the Torrencian complained, the more Billy eyed a belaying pin he kept hanging from a thong on a nail behind the bar, debating whether to use it.

It was at that fateful moment that Raven happened to walk through the tavern on the way to her apartments beyond the Music room. The sailor was getting louder and more heated, and this caught her attention, bringing her to a halt.

“What’s the problem?” she wanted to know, looking over to Billy.

“Argh--this Torrencian bilge-rat--” he began.

“I’ll tell y’ the problem, Wench,” the bearded, burly Torrencian sailor broke in, turning to her. “It’s this bilge water you people try to pass off fer rum! I’ve been in every port in Islay, I have, and I’ve never seen a more crooked outfit as this place--chargin’ five silver for a tankard o’ grog passed off as rum!”

He hacked up and spit at Raven’s feet, then back-handed his pewter tanker off the bar, nearly hitting Billy. “This swill ain’t even fit to wash me ‘ands in, and I’ll be 'anged if I’ll let One-Eye, 'ere, cheat me ‘n me mate o’ our 'ard-earned coin fer a tankard o’ grog when rum be what we ordered! I’ll make sure ever’one knows just how yer doin’ folk 'ere, I will!”

Raven slowly glanced down to the spittle at her feet, a few flecks of which had splashed onto the toe of her right boot, then she looked back up into the eyes of the Torrencian, a swarthy man with a crooked nose, broad shouldered, nearly six feet in height with a scraggly brown beard whose breath, she noted, reeked with the smell of liquor.

Finally, she cocked her head, smiled and blinked.

“Well, we can’t have that, now can we?” she asked softly. “Rum is what you ordered, and you should expect nothing less than the finest rum in Islay. Please accept my apologies for the manner in which you’ve been treated. Our policy has been, and always will be, that we will make sure our guests are absolutely satisfied with the services, no matter what we have to do.”

She looked over to Billy.

“Billy,” she nodded to the doorway a few feet from the bar and stepped over to it. Scowling at the Torrencian, Billy threw down a towel and left his bar, following her.

“Go back and apologize,” Raven whispered to him in the doorway.

Hearing that, Billy’s face turned beet red, and he gnashed his teeth.

“Argh--you can gut me fer shark bait, or swing me from a yard arm, but I’ll not apologize to that--”

She held up a finger, silencing the furious bartender.

“Then you feed he and his friend the strongest liquor we have. They drink free, and they drink until they can’t stand. Then you haul them into the back to sleep it off, and you leave them to choke to death on their own puke.”

Still smiling, Raven leaned closer, her eyebrows narrowing.

“I want him dead,” she continued softly. “I want him dead, and I want his carcass fed to the sharks. If he doesn’t die on his own--toss him to the sharks while he’s still alive. The same goes for his friend. If they leave before they pass out, have a couple of our people follow them, and finish them off before they reach their ship. No one comes into my inn and spits at my feet--no one!”

Billy’s anger melted away as a grin spread across his features. “Argh--dead they’ll be,” he answered with a quiet chuckle.

His mood much improved, he turned about and stepped back to the bar, picked up his towel and then bowed to the Torrencian.

“A thousand pardons, Sir,” he addressed him. “Lady Raven says you ‘n yer chum’ll drink free the rest o’ the night, and I’m to stand ye to as many rounds ye want o’ the finest we have t’ offer fer a gentleman like yerself with such a discriminatin’ palate. We gots bourbon from Torrencia, the finest Krellan wine from the Vin Glebalis, date wine from Arwin, vodka from Sarvia, Wighead mead from the Torrencian Baronies, Elven spider’s sherry--but may I suggest ye start off with some good Dwarven ale. Just arrived from Orlon--a taste soft as the mornin’ dew, but it kicks like a mule, it does.”

“Now that’s more like it,” the Torrencian grunted. “Set ‘em up.”

Still grinning, Billy reached down beneath the bar for the first of many bottles that would flow that night.

Over in the doorway, Raven nodded to Billy and then moved to continue on her way. But it was at that fateful moment she overheard something that would change the rest of her life and set her on a course she would follow to the end.

“That Raven’s a Looker, eh?” the sailor’s mate muttered as he downed his first tankard of ale.

“Fer an older woman, maybe,” the mouthy one grunted as he took his first swig of ale.

Raven had just turned the corner, a few steps from the doors to the waiting room, when her ears picked up the comment and she halted in her tracks like she’d been punched in the face.

‘Older woman,?’ she mouthed to herself. ‘Older woman’, am I?!

Stunned at the comment, she stepped to the entry of the waiting room and slowly opened one of its doors.

What do you mean, ‘Older woman’?!

“Hey, Raven,” called out Stiletta, her chief Desk Clerk from her post a few feet away, “Venivica wanted me to ask if--

Completely oblivious to her, Raven stepped through the doorway and slowly closed the door behind her.

How old am I, anyway?, she asked herself. I stopped counting at thirty-five, and I must be close to ten seasons older than that by now.

Unconsciously, she slowly moved toward the other end of the room where her portrait towered above her.

I was nineteen when I killed Lightfoot and took the city--how many seasons ago was that?

For some reason her mind was a complete blank, and for the life of her, she could not do the math in her head to calculate her age.

Why can’t I figure it out?, she wondered. I guess I must be...forty-two or forty-three seasons. Am I really that old?

Raven had now reached her portrait and slowly she looked upward to her own face--the face of someone she had once been and now no longer was. How well she remembered the day she posed and all the history behind the portrait.

But now her own face was the face of a stranger.

I’m not you anymore, am I?, she finally said to herself as she stared up at her face. If I didn’t use a spell every morning when I wake up to make my hair look like I want--would I be all gray? What’s happened to me? Why didn't I realize this before? That sailor is right; I'm growing old! I'm not young anymore! I--I think I’ll hold off on using a spell on my hair for a day or two, and see what happens.


The first gray hairs appeared two days later and, as she stood before the mirror in the Music room, tears formed in her eyes as she was confronted with a truth she could not deny. It was plain to see: her hair was graying, and there were lines in her face she had never noticed before.

“Morgaaaaaaaaaaaine!” Raven screamed at the top of her lungs.

Her shriek was heard throughout half the Inn, and it took only a moment for Morgaine to bolt in from the lobby, katana drawn, ready to fight whatever enemies were there.

“What?! What?!” the younger woman exclaimed, looking around. But no enemy met her glance, and she paused in the doorway as several other of Raven’s people rushed up to join her against whatever problem that had arisen.

“Look at me…I’ve become an older woman,” Raven whimpered, still entranced by the visage in the mirror. “What’s happened to me?”

Morgaine was taken aback, and froze for a moment. Then she lowered the katana, brought it around and slipped it back into its sheath as she silently mouthed an order for the others to leave.

“You mean you just realized that?” she asked after the two were alone.

The feeling of helplessness vanished with the comment, and Raven’s head slowly swiveled back to glare at her.

“Been aware of this for some time, have you?” she asked in a low tone. “And just how old, may I ask, must one be to qualify for being an ‘older woman’?”

Morgaine shrugged. “I don’t know; I guess forty, maybe?”

Raven felt as if a dagger had been plunged in her back.

Teeth ground together, Raven now asked, “And what age must one be to be an old woman?”

“That’s easy,” Morgaine answered, “--fifty.”

Now the dagger was being twisted, and Raven’s expression left no doubt as to her mood over the whole thing.

Morgaine now saw this was a serious issue, and she wasn’t helping matters.

“Raven,” she finally added, “I don’t know what to say...nobody likes getting old, but what can you do? Other than finding a youth elixir, which no one has, getting old is a fact of life, right?”

Raven turned back to her mirror, and the face she now saw no longer caused grief--now it filled her with resolve.

“Not for me,” she muttered. “I refuse to be old! I will simply deal with the problem, and find a way to overcome it. I will not grow old!"

And it was at that moment Raven determined to put a stop to that.


Past the world of Billy’s tavern, one emerged in the first great refectory of the Inn, which offered a glimpse into the food and fellowship of Torrence, the largest city in Islay. With the sea left behind, here was a place where fire pits blazed with a good roast of pork or rack of ribs, ale flowed like rivers, and Phillips--the Inn’s chief Bard--serenaded the patrons with voice and lute, offering his repertoire of songs from the east to the west of Islay as he sat before a fireplace so big one could walk into it without stooping to fill his bowl from a great bronze caldron of constant stew that had been cooking for as long as anyone could remember.

Beyond the refectory, one came to the Elven wing and crossed a footbridge over the stream to a dock of swan boats. From there, punters would shuttle the guests to their destination, be it an Elven refectory or one of the many spacious rooms that mirrored the style of the enchanted Elflands.

Such was the magnificence of the Inn that no one section could satisfy a person’s taste to the exclusion of the others, and the very nature of the place made it so that one enjoyed a different experience each time he stayed there, regardless of just where he wound up.

In many ways the Inn was its own separate city, and Raven had assured that each of its many taverns and refectories offered something special, or featured some unique charm, that none of its other counterparts had. One thus never truly become overly familiar with the Raven’s Inn, and a stay there always offered something that the previous stay had not.

But the price was not cheap: a hundred ounces of gold for a night’s stay in a chamber probably finer than the guest had ever slept in before--and one could pay much more depending on how much comfort he desired, and how many whims he wished indulged.

Only one thing, found elsewhere, was denied to all guests not just here, but everywhere in the city: Any man who came to Freeport seeking female companionship found that, regardless of his importance, he faced ten lashes, while his consort was tossed aboard the first ship leaving the city, left to whatever fate, good or bad, that she found with its Captain and crew.

Few and far between were those who escaped Raven’s intense dislike of the trade. In the case of the women, only those somehow forced into it through the most dire of circumstances might be granted the Right of Appeal to Raven herself to avoid quick expulsion from the city, while in the case of the men, a lashing was all but unavoidable. Even some who rumor claimed had avoided a lashing because of their rank (which might have had undesirable political repercussions) went home to ultimately suffer the misfortune of meeting an accidental, but unpreventable death, the point being that no one comes to Freeport, confident that their station in life was such that Raven would subordinate, even in a small way, her authority to theirs.

She would, you see, always have the last word in her own city.

Now if the penalties for something so common as being a Gentleman’s Friend were harsh, they were mild in comparison to the penalty for other crimes. In Freeport, things were very simple, and just outside the two gigantic carved oaken doors at the Inn's entrance in their frame of ornate silver lattice work that spelled out, Through These Doors Pass the Finest People In Islay, was a sign that, in a variety of languages, let everyone know:






Raven meant it, too. Yet this was ironic in light of the fact that Freeport was renowned as a place of training for burglars! Long ago, Raven had established a thieves guild as an extension of the city’s Adventurers’ Guild, who took as their lair the ancient underground sewers and warren of buried city blocks that had been covered over by the past eruptions of Vulcan’s Forge. There, training of every sort took place, from that of the humble Cutpurse to specialist thieves who employed magic to enhance their talents at burglary.

The elite of the guild, who had their own private section of the Underground, as the world beneath Freeport was called, were thought to be assassins, skilled in the arts of spying, infiltration, warfare--and murder. Among those who plied the thief’s trade, rumor had it that the most talented graduates, with the support of their Masters, wound up establishing or taking over Cutpurse or Assassins guilds in many of the large cities of Islay. So, one way or another, Freeport was truly the hub of the world, be it the world of Commerce that affected the life of the average Islayan, or the hidden shadow world, whose true scope few people realized.

But most never saw the “secret” part of Freeport; what they did see was what Raven had told Doremi was a “Jewel”.

And a jewel Freeport was.