Ashlyn sat on her knees, facing the Tribunal. Her hands were still bound. Enclosing her was a runed circle that had been etched into the stone floor centuries before. The circle was the elves’ most ingenious invention to keep a Sorceress in check, and now it held Ashlyn with its grip.
Of the three Tribunal lords, Kallus stood closest to her, his face hardened with contempt.
Ashlyn kept her head down as Kallus paced around her, just skirting the edges of the circle.
“I asked you to stay away from him,” he said. “You deliberately broke a command. Do you deny it?”
“No,” Ashlyn answered. “I know full-well what I have done. But...it was not out of malice. Damien came to me for help, he needed my gifts.”
“You’re saying he used you to get what he wanted?”
Ashlyn nodded. “He wanted it as much as I.”
“Ashlyn...” Kallus paused, gathering his thoughts. “...you realize that in your carelessness you made Damien susceptible to your will? You have put his freedom in jeopardy, and you willingly put yourself in danger by keeping your hold on him.”
“I don’t have a hold on him!” Ashlyn whimpered, rocking on her knees. “I have control over my power, I am not careless!”
Kallus stopped in front of her. “You expect me to believe your account? Damien raised a hand to me on your behalf and you think you don't have a hold on him? His strength grows, and it will grow beyond anyone's control if you continue to bond. Let it end here and now while you still have the choice."
Ashlyn looked down, weeping. "I don't understand," she whispered through her tears. "I don't know how to stop it."
"You can end it as it began," he said. "The time will come for you to choose a mate, but it is not now. It is not Damien."
“Kallus,” Milanthius interrupted, “what are you accusing the child of?”
Kallus turned to his equal. “It is difficult to explain. Sorceresses have an ability that tends to go unspoken. They have a way of bonding with mortals, shaping them to be their personal slaves."
“That is preposterous,” Milanthius scoffed. "I have never witnessed such a thing."
“I have. In her time, Ithilie did a number on my father. After she left Gumber, he had nothing. My oldest brother was dead, and my sister ran off to never be heard from again. As you know...my father went mad, while Ithilie went on to become the Queen of Lorianthil. Tell me, is it fair for a Sorceress to use her power in such a way?” Kallus faced Ashlyn again. “I find this one guilty of such.”
“I think this matter is too rooted in personal emotion,” Kyanthus spoke after a moment. “I would move for an informal verdict.”
“Oh, I most certainly agree,” Milanthius said. “Kallus...you will remove yourself.”
Kallus grunted, baring his teeth. “Very well,” he said, moving to his seat atop the platform.
After glancing at Kallus, Milanthius took the room. “Ashlyn, I hope you can forgive Kallus and his rash behavior. I for one have never seen his claim to be true.”
“It is true,” Kallus muttered under his breath. The sound caused the other two lords to look over.
Kyanthus let out a sigh before speaking. “I do not find the Sorceress guilty of abusing her power. What say you?"
“Now hold on,” Milanthius held up his hand. “Perhaps Kallus’ claim is worth investigating. May I?”
“At your leisure,” Kayanthus gestured.
Rising, Milanthius went down to Ashlyn and stepped into the circle where she sat. With his finger he etched a rune onto her forehead. Ashlyn hissed with the pain of its sting. Once the rune took effect, her thoughts were a book with its pages sprawled for Milanthius to read. On the outside, this connection of theirs was still and rather quiet. On the inside, however, their minds were one. Words and memories flowed between them, though it only lasted a few moments.
“Interesting,” Milanthius said out loud once the rune’s power faded. He turned to Kallus. “This boy...the one you brought into your house, he is...gifted.”
“Yes, I know,” Kallus replied. “Damien’s strength is no secret to me, but Ashlyn’s choices have only made it worse. It is best the two of them are separated.”
“Yes, I see that, too,” Milanthius nodded. “If history has taught us anything, it is that no good may come from a Sorceress who abuses her power. Your concerns are indeed valid, but...I do not see any proof of your fears. The boy is acting of his own free will.”
“That’s what it may seem.” Kallus frowned. “But she is manipulating him, I swear it. I know the signs.”
“I’m not,” Ashlyn uttered, thrashing her bound wrists. “I’m not manipulating him. I wouldn’t even know how.”
“Ashlyn,” Kallus turned, "as long as you are here, Damien will bend to your will. I cannot allow another Sorceress to destroy my house. You should remain secure until you are escorted to Tauros.”
“Please, don’t do this,” she begged. “It’s only a matter of time before your family turns against you. Your house will break by your own hands, not mine.”
Kallus averted his eyes, brushing her prophecy away. "And what does a young Sorceress know? Unlike Damien, I am not bound to your so-called destiny."
"Hmm..." Kyanthus stroked the beard on his chin. "As head of your house, Kallus, you have every right to keep her away. One that I willingly support." Then he rose. "I will hold Ashlyn until she takes her leave from Gumber. As for the accusation...the only thing I find her guilty of is defying a lord's command."
“Thank you,” Kallus nodded, feeling justified. The two of them looked over to Milanthius, awaiting his verdict.
“Ashlyn is not guilty of manipulating the boy," Milanthius decided. "Her intentions were fair and honest, but she has broken the law thinking her status somehow justifies her. This is not to be encouraged, and for that reason alone I favor you, Kallus. I will place a rune on Ashlyn to keep her power bound for a time, that she might learn to respect her Tribunal lords and not defy them."
Kallus closed his eyes, dipping his head. In a way, he felt sorry for Ashlyn. He felt responsible in part. Perhaps if he had disciplined Damien instead of warning him, it would not have come to this.
He watched from his seat as Milanthius placed his hand on Ashlyn again and drew a rune on the side of her neck.
The girl screamed as it glowed upon her skin, sealing itself. Without any mana to help temper it, the rune overwhelmed her body, causing her to sink further onto the floor. By the time it was done, Ashlyn laid there panting in harsh breaths. Then Milanthius stepped out of the circle and left her wrung there.
"Do not dismay, child. Your powers will return when all is right."
With a gesture, Kyanthus appointed two guards to stand and watch Ashlyn, still bound by the circle. "Let us be done with this," Kyanthus said before making his exit from the building. Kallus and Milanthius followed, closing the stone doors behind them.
When Kallus returned home, he found Lanara and Naelen sitting together near the hearth. After taking off his shoes, Kallus went over and kissed the top of Lanara’s head. She seemed tired with worry, and Naelen did not fare much better. It was late; a sign that Kallus had been gone for several hours.
“Well?” Lanara asked as Kallus sat down beside her. “What did you do?”
“I solved it,” Kallus said plainly. “Ashlyn will be escorted to Tauros and Damien will continue working for me.”
“There’s just one problem,” Naelen said quietly. “Damien isn’t here.”
Kallus let out a breath. “Perhaps he needs time to cool down.”
Lanara shifted uncomfortably. “Do we know where he is?”
“He fell unconscious near the northern fork,” Kallus said. “And I cannot imagine him coming home anytime soon.”
He saw Lanara cupping her mouth. “Kal...you left him there?”
“There were more pressing matters,” he argued, "and Damien would have followed had I not left him.”
“By the Fates,” she cursed, rising from her seat. “I’m going to look for him.”
“Lanara, it’s late. The boy is capable on his own. He will return when he is ready.”
“Oh...” she huffed, shaking her head. “I knew you shouldn’t have gotten involved. Don’t wait for me.”
“Lanara.” Kallus stood, turning stiff. “This is not your concern!”
Lanara turned on him, scowling. “You left your son out there! In the cold. All alone. It does not matter that you are a lord, not if it allows you to be a careless father.“
“Careless? I have done nothing but care for Damien. You don’t know what happened, you did not see what I saw. He raised a hand to me, Lanara. He...let his emotions get the best of him. Of course I left him there. To learn his lesson.”
“His lesson?” she repeated, wincing at her husband. “Is it really so awful that Damien cares for the girl? What lesson is there other than to hate you for what you have done?“
“I did it for his own good,” Kallus whispered, sitting back down on his sofa. The last thing he wanted was to meet Naelen's eyes, but they were staring at him so harshly, so full of concern that Kallus could not ignore it. His son’s eyes were so like his own: gleaming and pale.
“And what will happen when I meet a girl?” Naelen asked.
Kallus sighed, rubbing his temple. “When you meet a girl, it will be the one your mother and I pick out for you.”
“That’ll be grand,” Naelen chuckled. “Shards, I can just see it already. How horrified she’ll be having you as a father-in-law.”
Without thinking, Kallus reached over and smacked the boy’s mouth.
“Agh...” Naelen rubbed his jaw.
When Kallus looked up again, he saw Lanara staring at him with wide eyes and straight lips. She turned, saying nothing, and went out the front door.