In the purpling twilight Thomas Arach, Duke Tom Arach’s oldest son, stood at the top of the stairs that rose from the forecourt to the great doors of the Dragon Tower. He watched as a wagon piled high with firewood rumbled through the gates and into the forecourt. It continued around the west side of the Tower to the receiving area at the rear of the fortress to be unloaded. As it started along the passage between the stables and Tower, his younger brother Owen jumped from the back of the wagon and walked toward him.
Blood splattered Owen’s tunic and trousers on his sword-hand side from shoulder to mid-thigh. Thomas’s arms, folded across his chest, dropped to his sides as his eyes widened in alarm. He hurried down the stairs and across the forecourt toward his brother. “What happened to you? Are you all right?” He grabbed Owen by the shoulders, stopping him in his tracks.
Owen irritably pushed Thomas away. “I’m fine. A wild boar didn’t like our trespassing in his territory. One of the butchers from the village is on his way to get it ready to bring home,” he told his brother belligerently.
“Owen, what’s wrong? You’ve been nasty ever since the Keep battle. What’s going on?” Thomas asked him quietly.
“Nothing,” Owen muttered and stomped past Thomas, taking the stairs two at a time and entering the Tower.
Thomas shook his head in frustration and followed Owen through the doors.
He was nowhere to be seen. Thomas bet himself that his brother had almost run through the great hall to escape talking with him. He shook his head again with irritation and made his way to the high table.
His cousins, Cameron and Evan, were already in their seats, waiting for the Arachs to come to the table. Breanna, his sister, came hurrying down the stairs from the family corridor. She threw a puzzled look at Thomas and hooked a thumb over her shoulder at the stairs. “What’s wrong with Owen?” she asked.
Thomas shrugged his shoulders. “I have no idea.” He stepped up the two stairs to the dais where the high table stood in front of the huge fireplace that heated the room. He automatically looked at the mural painted on the chimney above the fireplace opening, searching for the piece of the Cumhacht ar Draigoini, the talisman that controlled Dragons. Hidden who knew how long ago within the mural, the amulet deceived by appearing to be a part of the rays of sun falling on the ancient King battling a Demon.
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