Chapter 9

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Third Month of Summer

Third Era, Year 350

Ardan began looking for the best commanders he could find for Caolan soon after the prince's birthday. He traveled to the nearest city of Drolle and spent several nights in taverns simply listening to the conversations of the patrons. It was boring work with very few rewards, until what was to be his last night in the city.

There was a young man, probably just barely in his twenties, sitting at the bar and declaring his hatred for the Berk lord. He appeared to be drunk, but Ardan could tell that it was an act - Ardan barely saw him lift a drink. Some people joined in with him to grumble and complain, but there was no call for arms. Most of the complainers seemed willing to let things go to avoid war. Taxes and the loss of crops to the government weren't so bad, as long as everyone was still alive.

The young man ended the conversation by agreeing with them, maybe because he'd noticed the city guards watching him. He finally finished his drink, then left the tavern.

Ardan followed him a moment later, and caught up with the younger man almost immediately.

The man put a hand under his cloak when he noticed Ardan approaching from behind, but didn't turn.

"Do you fight for Phelin or for yourself?" Ardan asked when he was close enough. He used a spell that masked his words so that anyone not seriously willing to overthrow the king would hear something completely nonsensical.

The young man stopped and turned to Ardan, still with one hand on the hilt of his sword. "And if by fighting for Phelin, I fight for myself?"

Ardan smiled, relieved he hadn't gotten the confused reaction he was used to. "Then I wish to speak with you."

The man looked skeptical. "Who are you?"

"I will tell you when we're in a safer place, just know that we fight for the same thing."

Still hesitant, the man nodded and Ardan led him to another tavern, where Ardan was staying. He immediately locked the door of his room and set spells to keep eavesdroppers from hearing anything of value. Then he turned back to the younger man.

"My name is Ardan and I was the court sorcerer for King Caol."

The stranger stared at him for a moment before asking, "How am I to believe you? You could just be a sorcerer working for the overlord."

Ardan pulled a necklace from beneath his shirt, which held a charm in the shape of a dragon. "This is the symbol of the Phelin court sorcerer. I have no other way to prove this to you, I only ask that you consider what I say."

The other man finally took his hand off his sword hilt. "I'll listen."

Ardan gave an inward sigh of relief. "You've heard the rumors of the prince's return. You mentioned something about it tonight. What were you doing in that tavern?"

"Trying to recruit more followers. There can't be rebellion without rebels."

Ardan smiled. "Then it appears the gods wanted us to meet tonight. I'm also trying to recruit more followers, but not for myself. I am fulfilling King Caol's final request. Prince Caolan lives two days' ride from here, and was only just told who he is. I'm in search of his army. Until he has some supporters, publicly declaring his identity would be unwise. We wish to build a small army as quietly as possible first."

Ardan could see that the stranger was still trying to remain skeptical, but that Ardan had stirred a flame of hope deep inside him.

"What is your name?" Ardan questioned.

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