The keep at Hareford was not the imposing structure that Kyia’s home was in 
Metamor, but it seemed just as daunting to Alex as he approached its halls.  
Doubtless, it was not the structure itself that intimidated him, but the 
prospect of what awaited him within its halls.  Could he even hope to convince 
Sir Dupré to rescind his earlier orders?  He was nothing but a simple patrol 
commander and that only as an inheritance from the company’s former commander.  
Sir Dupré, though his own accomplishments had mostly been written in the 
Midlands, was still a respected commander with a strong military heritage, not 
to mention a commander to whom the lynx had never reported.

Of course, Alex’s concerns only mattered if he was even offered an audience.

He had briefly considered simply ignoring orders, but that consideration was 
only lasted a few moments.  While he was concerned by Lois’ situation, he was 
not about to risk his command by doing something rash.  He also knew that his 
patrol’s absence could cause weakness in the patrol structure of the Keep, and 
that was even more of a concern with the quarantine in effect.

Alex knew that it couldn’t be true, but he could almost swear that the guards 
at the entrance to the keep were the same ones that had met him on his previous 
visit.  Whether they were or not, they were certainly showing the wear of the 
hours.  One of them was stretching and jogging in place to stay awake, and the 
other was buffing his hooflike nails on a small file he carried in his other 
hand, his partially-lidded eyes betraying the weariness with which he undertook 
his simple efforts.  The two acknowledged him as he arrived, each returning to 
some semblance of attention.

“Halt!  No one is allowed beyond without the express permission of Sir William 
Dupré,” one of them said, clearly reciting the very orders he had been given.  
At points, his voice dipped into a nearly indecipherable drawl, but he managed 
to spit the message out around his tired tongue.

Alex nodded his understanding.  The increased security about the keep was 
expected given the added pressure that Hareford was feeling at present.  With 
Metamor unable to deploy their own troops in their current situation, it now 
fell to the Outpost, Lake Barnhardt, and the Glen Avery to manage the troop 
deployments.  This included the added difficulty of finding out where the 
active patrols were, since even Metamor had little idea now that their 
companies were forced to seek other quarters due to the plague.

“I understand that the commander is busy, but I would like to speak with him if 
it is at all possible.”

One of the guards grimaced.  “I have to be honest, that is highly unlikely.  
Sir Dupré is presently seeing only those to whom he has sent his personal 

Alex nodded.  “Could you at least take him my name?”  When the guards 
hesitated, the lynx pressed forward.  “I am Alex hin’Valius, my patrol was just 
ordered out into the field.”

The ungulate guard perked at the name.  “Wait a moment, that’s the name they 
told us to be listening for,” he insisted.  “Sir Dupré wanted to see him right 

The other nodded.  “I do recall that as well.”  To Alex he continued, “You’re 
in luck.  It seems your coming was anticipated.”

The two of them opened the doors quickly, and Alex stepped through, his soft 
pads making him almost completely silent as he marched along the solid stone of 
the hallway.  He was pointed towards Sir Dupré’s chambers directly, and found 
the way easy to follow despite the sparse, martial decoration of the keep’s 
hallways.  He did his best to quash any fear he felt due to being expected 
without warning.  Someone had certainly mentioned their predicament and piqued 
the interest of Hareford’s new military commander.

The guards at the private chamber’s door bid him wait while they carried his 
request to Sir Dupré.  The ram’s gruff voice was audible through the thick door 
as he told them to allow Alex entrance.

The lynx stepped through the door when the guard returned to find that the 
chambers he had been led to were, indeed, the ram’s private bedchambers.  The 
man himself was standing in the one open area of the room, facing the door 
while a boar worked calmly behind him, taking one piece of armor at a time and 
fastening them securely to his commander’s form.  He worked with a practiced 
diligence that spoke of years of experience.

“I thought you might wish to see me,” the older commander said.  His lieutenant 
fixed a bracer to Dupré’s arm, carefully and deliberately securing each strap 
to be certain that none of them could possibly come loose during combat.

“Yes, sir,” Alex gave a brief bow. He was uncertain of the proper degree of 
deference to show to the man.  Although Nestorius was both the commander of 
Hareford and a powerful mage, the black lion preferred some degree of 
familiarity, so only the most basic formalities were observed.  William Dupré, 
however, had been a lord in his own land, and though his banishment had taken 
that title from him his post as the military commander at the Outpost was 
worthy of some respect at least.

Sir Dupré gave a nod as he was armored.  “I originally heard that one of your 
party had been attacked by a mage, and was unable to join any patrol.  More 
recently I heard that the situation had been resolved.  I did not understand 
the particulars of the situation well then, and I do not believe I can claim to 
understand it now.  If you could perhaps explain it better, I might be able to 
better explain my own decision to deploy your patrol.”

Alex took a deep breath.  Of course Dupré would not understand what had 
happened.  He had been at the Keep for barely a few months, and in that time he 
had been more than a little preoccupied.  Perhaps if he made a good case, the 
lynx could manage to convince him to give them more time.

He explained the situation as briefly as possible.  The ram listened carefully, 
an ear flicking now and then at some phrase or word that Alex misspoke, but he 
nodded with a neutral expression for the duration of the explanation.  Dupré’s 
lieutenant, although clearly well versed in the art of politely ignoring 
conversations that were not his own, was not quite so well versed in 
controlling his new body.  His ears often twitched or swiveled towards the lynx 
whenever he mentioned something interesting.  The lynx chose to ignore this.  
There was nothing to be gained by raising a fuss over something so minor.

While he continued his persuasive attempts, Alex hoped that he was not being 
too technical with his explanation.  Although he had no trouble removing any 
difficult magical terms from his discussion, as he did not know many himself, 
he wondered if discussing the Curse in even some detail might cause some 

As he finished, however, Dupré seemed unfazed.  He waited thoughtfully, eyes 
turned towards the floor, for a few moments as his captain adjusted the last 
few straps of the commander’s armor.  Finally, he turned back to Alex.

“I understand your concern and your desire to help your compatriot.  I consider 
loyalty to be an incredibly important trait in any warrior, so I cannot fault 
you for yours.  Knowing the extent to which the Curse can affect a man’s mind 
is also quite frightening.”  He shook his head slowly.  His captain seemed to 
share his opinion based on his dour expression, but he continued to act as 
ignorant of the conversation as he possibly could.  “Still, my one remaining 
question is whether your friend is in any immediate danger?”

Alex wanted to claim that he was, but as much as he wished he could, he could 
think of no reason to believe it was so.  Lois’ memory might have been 
shattered by the fetish spell, but his ignorance of his past was perhaps even 
safer than the alternative.  According to everything he had heard from the 
mages, he also suspected that any harmful magic had already run its course.  
Lois was handicapped, to be certain, and he could only wonder at the trials 
that the ermine’s recovery would entail, but there was no clear, immediate 

“No, sir, I do not believe that I can claim he is in danger,” the lynx admitted 
with a sigh.

The ram gave a sympathetic smile.  “While I would like to be able to offer you 
more time, the fact is that I am short on men as it is.  I need everyone 
available to man the patrols during the quarantine.”  He waved an arm, 
demonstrating his own armament.  “Even I am no exception.  We cannot reinforce 
from within the Keep, so we are left to our own devices.  I know your men are 
capable, and I need you on the field.”

Alex’s heart sank, but he nodded his understanding.  “Thank you for considering 
my request, at least,” he offered.

“Perhaps there is still a partial solution,” the ram replied.  The boar behind 
him turned to the side, taking another armored plate from where they all sat, 
organized upon the bed.

Alex’s ears perked at the renewed offer.  “Sir?”

“I cannot afford to lose your entire patrol, but perhaps one of your company 
could remain behind to be certain of his safety.”

The lynx felt a swell of relief for a moment, before he realized the 
unfortunate truth.  “I’m sorry, sir, but if one of my fellows remained behind, 
the other would have to do so as well,” he explained.

The ram’s face showed clear confusion.  “What do you mean?” he asked.

“They share a bond with one another for several reasons,” Alex explained.  
“Without going into much detail regarding the exact cause, the result is that 
they must remain close to one another at all times, or risk death.”

Sir Dupré shook his head.  “You surround yourself with quite a variety of 
magical oddities,” he commented.  His lieutenant barely suppressed a chuckle.  
“Whatever the case, I am sorry to say that this severely limits my ability to 
help you in any meaningful way.  I am certain that the healers will gladly look 
after him in your absence, but beyond this I do not see any way I can be of 

“Perhaps there is one thing you might be able to do if you cannot allow us to 
remain here,” Alex proposed.  “I told you of the mage that assisted us in our 
efforts, Balrog.  Would it be possible to see that his patrol is able to remain 
here in our absence?  He is a personal friend of Lois, and he might be able to 
provide the necessary aid if we cannot.”

Dupré considered the proposal in silence for a few moments before nodding 
slowly.  “I think I may be able to allow that request,” he agreed.  “If I 
understand correctly, his patrol company only returned from a mission 
themselves recently.  Giving them a few additional days to rest would be 
profitable for them.”

Alex smiled.  “Thank you, sir.  Unless you require me for any other purpose, I 
believe I should part to prepare my men for the upcoming patrol.”

The ram nodded.  “Indeed.  Fare well on your journey.  I hope our next meeting 
will be under more fortunate circumstances.  Perhaps we could find time to 
share a drink together.  I do want to know the men under my command, brief 
though our interaction may be.”

Alex hesitated.  It always concerned him when anyone of rank showed interest in 
him, but he could see no ill intention of any kind behind the offer.  “Thank 
you,” he said, giving a shallow bow.  “I would be honored to join you if you 
would have me.”

“Of course.”  Dupré smiled, and even the boar spared the lynx a glance and a 
smile.  “Farewell!  May each of us find good success on our journeys.”

As Alex left, he wondered if he had done the right thing.  He barely knew 
Balrog, and the only word that had assured him of the man’s friendship to Lois 
had been the lutin’s own.  If there was any deception in the man’s words, the 
lynx would not learn of it until the results had already been wrought.  Still, 
as he returned to the barracks, Alex could not find it in himself to regret the 
decision.  Lois needed someone to help him through this difficulty.  Despite 
the risks, he truly believed that Balrog was worthy of his trust.  He just 
wished he could still his lingering doubts.

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