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Corrandion, Corridane
I am JT, Ringer, nutjob, and archer, in that order. I like animated films, epic films, book films, movie music, folk music, and the occasional random other thing. I make friends by accident and like it that way...

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26 August 2011

Chapter VIII

Chapter VIII

It is now necessary to return to the land of Gairbairia and discover how the people of that generally barren land are faring.

Having just received the news, on the morning of august the tenth, from a terrified servant, (who had escaped the massacre by riding off on a spare camel), that his port city had been brutally leveled, with hardly a stone left standing on another, king Torlan of Gairbairia began the preparations for the defense of his capital. He immediately issued a proclamation calling on all able men to put down their tools and rise up to resist this threat to their life and liberty. The next thing he did after this was to order the servant, who had had but little rest, to ride for his life to alert the city of Trepalenmar to send its forces to the aid of the capital. Then Torlan ordered that the walls be manned night and day, to give warning of the approaching force.

Having given these orders, Torlan began to prepare himself for the coming battle, which, everyone assumed, would decide the fate of the land and the people. Torlan personally took his armor to a blacksmith to have it refurbished and reinforced, then rode all about the city looking for weak spots in the defenses, and areas which could be defended with particularly small groups. Promptly, upon finding either of such places, he ordered that they were to be reinforced as well as was practically possible. At a certain point, during his ride along the wall, Torlan found an area where the wall was likely to collapse inside the city if it was not repaired soon. Stopping the nearest worker, Torlan called “Quickly! That wall must be repaired, or there will be no need for our enemies to work at their entrance!”

The worker he had addressed smiled a little to himself and left the vicinity, presumably to fetch more workers to aid him in his repairs.

After this incident, Torlan did one more circuit of the entire wall, and, satisfied for the most part with its stability and defensibility, he returned to his castle to eat his midday meal. When he had finished his meal, he went to the top of the castle where he stood for some time to survey anything he might have missed that morning. He was overwhelmingly satisfied with the defenses, but became apprehensive when he found that even this high position did not afford a reasonable view of the one section of wall which had been found to be in danger. But, assuming that, as he had already alerted someone to that problem, it was already being repaired, Torlan thought no more about it.

King Torlan’s inspection of the defenses next took him to the food storehouses which were scattered about the city. He checked, or attempted to check, the quality, and especially the quantity, of all necessary foodstuffs. A large quantity was extremely important, because, as Torlan had only noted with any serious thought that day, his capital had grown too big to be supported by the river beside it, and it’s accompanying farms, alone; this being the explanation for the trains of food which regularly came from the other cities, but had generally escaped the king’s notice for unexplained reasons. Upon inquiry, Torlan found, with relief, that the train from Trepalenmar for the month was due to arrive at the capital within the week.

“That is added security.” He announced “The army will arrive with it, or soon after it.” So saying, Torlan left his inspection of the storehouses in a somewhat lighter mood than he had begun it. But his thoughts quickly turned to other things which weighed upon his mind. “Was his daughter safe? Was this king Valun she was going to a good man?” And, lastly, the disappointment which had weighted his mind the most over the last score of years, the ineligibility of his own son. Oh, how that burdened him! Torlan spent long hours wishing that his son could take the throne, but was left with nothing but the nearly useless memory that if he continued pretending that he had never had a son, the people would not care that he placed his daughter above the son they were convinced there had never been.

Early the following morning, Torlan rose again, prepared to perform another inspection identical to that on the previous day. His fears lessened when he saw how alert his watchmen were. He was told that they had sent out a precautionary scout to search for the approaching enemy forces, but he was not expected to return until the following day. Meanwhile, the men did their utmost to strengthen the walls and produce counter-siege weapons which would be kept inside the walls, out of sight of the enemy. Also, preparations were underway to have small fires behind the parapets in certain places for the use of the archers stationed along the wall. Using fire-arrows, these archers would generally concentrate on setting fire to any siege machines, such as scaling towers, which were brought to the walls; but, as the opposing forces had such a long stretch of barren desert to cross, requiring the use of long cart trains for supplies, that the consensus among the defenders was that any machines which were brought the whole way would not have a substantial effect on the defense of the city.

After several hours, Torlan retrieved his armor, put it on, great war-helm and all, and returned to the wall to stand with his men. The appearance of their king in full battle armor awed the troops, and they were newly heartened by his attitude toward the approaching battle. “As the wise have said, when the strong men fall, then only shall be the time to despair and accept defeat! Though we know not the numbers of our foes, even though they may be many thousands upon thousands times our numbers; I say to you; let no man ask quarter from his foe. Rather, it is still more honorable to turn and retreat to a more defensible position. This we know, for right is upon the side of all oppressed peoples, so long as no wanton cruelty can be attributed to them, hiding under the shelter of outlawry! So this I say again! Let no man ask for quarter! Let no man turn and run if he be not overwhelmed by a single man! Stand and fight for your life, your liberty, and all else that is yours by right! Remember my words in the days to come, for then should they be in your thoughts, when the enemy arrives in three days to force his way into our house! Do not forget!”

Having cheered his men beyond his own expectations, Torlan retired into the castle to remove his armor, the burden of which, in the exceptionally hot weather, had begun to make him feel quite light-headed and ill. When he found, after his armor had been removed, that he could barely hold himself up on his own two legs, he immediately crawled into his bed and stayed their for hours, attempting to sleep off the feeling which had come over him.

When he awoke, he found one of the kitchen boys sitting patiently by the side of his bed. “Here, Your Majesty, take this broth. It will help against the effects you are feeling from the heat.” He set it on the little table which was beside the bed and exited the room.

Torlan, turning slowly so as not to set the room spinning more swiftly, took the bowl carefully, holding it to his face as he lay down once more. He was pleasantly surprised at the fact that the broth had a much more agreeable flavor than he had expected to find in a medicinal concoction. When he had finished, he replaced the bowl on the table and lay back, feeling slightly less ill, but far from wholly cured. Torlan lay there in silent suffering for another hour before the scullery-boy returned. “It is still painful. I am not healed.”

“Did you expect to be healed, My Lord? I said that it would help, not that it would cure you instantly. But have faith in the physician’s medicines, and you will be ready to lead your men in battle four days from now.” The lad then left the king alone again, taking the bowl along with him.

A full day had gone by before the word got out that the king was ill in his bed. When this news reached the troops guarding the walls, they became utterly downcast and patrolled the wall with despairing looks, repeating the phrase “The strong have fallen.” When the scout, who had rushed back, found them in that state, he simply said “I have news which will rouse him out of his stupor!” but would not explain what the news was, though the watchmen knew that it would be something about the approaching enemy.

After he had passed through the gate, the rider dismounted swiftly and ran up the stairs all over the castle until he found a door with the king’s own seal engraved upon it. At this door he stopped, rapped the wood twice, and waited politely until the voice told him to enter, finally presuming to open the door at this point. Once he had entered the room, the rider immediately noticed that the king was not in the bed. Then the king’s voice cut in upon his thoughts.

“Well, you are here to give your report, and you are late. Speak now!”

“Making a low bow, and turning to the chair the king was seated in, the rider replied “Yes, Sire, I am late, and the explanation is that I was captured. I was supposed to have been executed today to make sure that I could not warn you of the fact that a force of enemies shall arrive at the gate on the following day. I also hasten to warn Your Majesty that this is only a fraction of the force you will be up against. This advance guard consists of ten thousand men, foot and horse. There are, thankfully, few archers in the

advance force, but they are numerous in the main body. Your only hope is to charge, disposing of this force quickly, and then retreat inside the walls to await the storm of the enemy.”

“You did well. How goes it on the wall?”

“The men are fearful, Lord. They are despairing of all hope, though I have not told anyone else the news which you have heard.”

“The cowards! I am bedridden for one day, and they believe to a man that their doom has been determined before this day! I will show them courage! I will show them strength! Am I not Torlan, the son of Gilberton! Am I not the man whom every loyal subject calls the Magnificent?! This I say before you now! If my men will despair because I am absent for one day, then one is not worthy of the other, and I will go alone out upon the field of battle, and perish knowing that I, at least, have done my duty to my people! Then let them see how long they may hold back the storm that is coming! Let them show if they are true men, as I always believed that they were before this day! Call for my arms! I must prepare myself for the death that is to come, so that when the few survivors are allowed to search among the bodies to lay to rest the body of the last true king of Gairbairia, my soul may rest itself in peace, and not wander over the land like a demon! Go! Do what you deem necessary to keep yourself alive, and then go! You are the last man worthy of my respect, and I will not have you die in vain!”

As Torlan continued thundering, the rider hurriedly left the room, thinking to himself “He is crazed, and he will do as he has said unless I can give him aid. I must disregard his command, and ask his pardon later. Meanwhile, I must rouse the men and warn them of this force. I have only hours, but if fortune is with me, I shall be successful, and Gaimaron will not fall for years to come.”

With this thought, the messenger proceeded to ride all about the city proclaiming “Hold your post! Remember your lord! The enemy shall break upon you with overpowering force, but you must hold your ground! Stand your ground at all costs, and you will have battle before the sun sets on the coming day! Rise! Arm yourselves, Gairbairns! You are threatened! You will vanquish the foe!” As he rode up and down the city with this message, the rider began to notice an abundance of crashing, clattering, and shouting which grew louder and louder as he continued his cry.

When he felt that he had roused the city sufficiently, the messenger rode to the nearest blacksmith and halted by the door, watching the men of the city, in ones, twos, and large bunches, streaming in and out of the building. Some were well-dressed respectable citizens, (the large bunches). More were of the respectably prosperous middle class, (the twos), but the largest number (the ones) was generally made up of muscular (and often bearded) odd-job men and field workers, who, although usually dressed in rags, and obviously not able to afford reliably effective armor, exited to a man hefting strong weapons which they obviously knew how to use to deadly effect. The chasm of difference between all the men who received weapons at the shop was extremely visible, but, as all men anywhere at any time are wont to do, they had risen together as a body, without completely realizing that they had done so, to extinguish this unexpected threat to their life and liberty.

When the flow of humanity had slowed, the rider stepped into the shop himself. At the sight of him, the sweat-drenched blacksmith heaved a sigh and began to say that, unfortunately, his weapon stock was pitiably low.

Hearing this, the rider grew considerably more upset than he had been up to this point, and began to shout. “I can not take excuses! Do not play me for a fool! I am a royal man-at-arms, not a mere hired errand rider! I must be served!” To prove his point, he loosened his cloak to reveal a piece of shining metal plate armor covering his chest.

Laughing nervously, the smith turned and retrieved a long sword and a shield with Torlan’s royal emblem, a rearing horse, upon it. He handed them over, saying “I knew you would return. I kept these for you.”

“Then where was the sense in pretending not to know me? Keep yourself in readiness, and may your shop be filled again tomorrow, after the battle has been fought.”

“You say that battle will arrive after all? Then you must have these with you also.’ The smith answered, producing a close-fitting steel cap and a pair of thick leather gloves. This was followed by the smith putting on another set similar, cap included, to the things he had just given up. “You may find me in the fray, for I will not sit idle while my fellow men fight and wait for them to be overrun and my shop set afire. If I must go, I will take many along for the journey.”

The rider left the shop feeling strangely at ease. There did not seem to be a doubt now. Gaimaron would stand, because every man was preparing for the fight. The often wild beast of justice was tamed. 

19 August 2011

Chapter VII

Due to unavoidable delay, this chapter went up a little late.
Please don't fall behind if you can help it, and react and comment often. (Though it was unintentional, I can tell who's not keeping up...)

Chapter VII

As it happened, Valun was thinking of Sir John, but he was simply wondering when his wandering “Official Advisor” was going to come and fulfill his duties. Valun was sitting in his chair at his desk, staring at a letter sitting on the desk which had just been brought by the fastest overnight courier from Carribeasa. Valun stared blankly at the letter for several minutes before shouting in rapidly escalating tones “Who are these people? What is the meaning of this letter? Why has it been brought to me? WHERE IS THAT MAN?!” At this last exclamation, yelled out at top of the king’s lungs, David burst open the door, skidded to a stop, and said, very fast “Did you want me, Sire? What shall I do? Is there something you want brought?”

Startled, but calmed, by the sudden appearance of his servant, Valun answered in a normal voice, saying “There are only two things I require at this time. I wish to know if there is anyone who knows the meaning of this message, and secondly, how was it known that this was meant for me?” Valun picked up the letter and held it out to David, who took it carefully, as if he was afraid that it would fall apart. Then, he read it.

“It has come to our attention that you seem to believe that something you possess remains in our country, having not been returned to you. Despite your best efforts, if your note had reached it’s destination, it would be ignored there, being deemed an insulting manner of retrieving something you would have.

The note had no name or date on it, and David looked at it quite blankly himself for a few seconds, but then the answer dawned on him, and he shouted out “I have it! This unhelpful note is the answer your Majesty has been expecting from the King of Brandia for nearly a month! They obviously do not intend to return your father to Corridane. also, the letter was brought to you because all questionable correspondence is brought to the king anyway. There is your answer.”

At this explanation, Valun raised his voice again, pulling his bell rope and thundering “Insulting, am I? I simply acted politely, as any other true king ought to! But I tell you I have a mind to be insulting now! And there are not many men who will be able to stop me, either!” At the conclusion of these few lines, Sir Richard, the military general, dashed in, just as David had a short time before. At his question, Valun explained. “I have received my answer. It is bad. Send word to the docks. Place notices proclaiming mandatory enlistment in your forces, with vast rewards for all survivors. This is not a time to wait for volunteers. These men shall be fighting to advance their own honor, and to retain the honor of their king and country. Let that be spread about, and send word to Berunthia and Carribeasa to assemble their forces, for war has been declared on the land of Brandia. We shall invade as soon as possible.” Valun resumed his seat, and, for no particular reason at all, reached into an old drawer which had lain open for quite some time. Rustling the papers which lay inside it, Valun latched onto one and immediately drew it out. At the sight of the label which had been placed upon it, Valun drew his breath sharply, but then exclaimed “This must be sent down to Naibern at once! Be sure to lose no time, though it may be too late!”

Snatching the letter, David hurried out, nearly falling down the stairs in his haste to remove himself in order to execute the orders.

Slumping down, Valun cried “Oh, father, why do they do this? Why must you and I be the causes of such dreadful misery as is bound to come?! Why must it come to this? What reason can anyone create for holding you captive, at your age?! It must be fate’s order, for all other methods have failed! Worry no more, for I will go through with this!” Becoming newly resolute in his mind, Valun rose, and being sure to close his desk, marched out of the room.

Stopping in the kitchens to take a small meal, Valun continued on, toward the outside. The first person he met was Sir Robert the Ram, who, seeming to sense what his king was about to ask, announced “The guards have reached the required number. They are all well-trained and loyal.”

“Good. Have them mount a guard upon the walls. I fear disaster, although I can not tell when it shall arrive, or if it will ever come, but I am worried all the same.” With this remark the king of Corridane wandered off, looking for something or someone, though he himself was not entirely sure what it was.

12 August 2011

Chapter VI (John)

Chapter VI

            Following the incident on the first day, all was well until the boat reached the island known as Miran on the third day. For no recognizable reason, Sir John argued with nearly everyone, nearly turning the Captain off from his offer to extend the voyage to the opposite side of the lake. It was found upon inquiry that the mood arose from a private conversation Sir John had had with the Princess, but she refused to divulge exactly what she had said.
Shortly after midday, the Princess and her guards disembarked to visit the island. The crew was slightly upset when Sir John decided not to leave with the rest of the passengers. Instead, he stayed shut up in his cabin, refusing to come out for anything.
After some time in his cabin, Sir John emerged and requested a boat to take him to the island. There was no end of willing rowers to get him off the ship, and so he soon reached the stairway carved out of the stone which had been cut for the Princess’s use in her visits.
Reaching the top of the steps, Sir John looked out upon the lake, impressed at how far he could see. Then, he turned inland to explore the island. The island itself was a slice of paradise after the drab and uninteresting landscape of Gairbairia. It was even far preferable to the landscape of Corridane.  There were tall elms and pines nearly everywhere, shading brightly colored flowers at Sir John’s feet. Here and there he could hear a bird twitter as he wandered slowly through the glades. The hours flew by as Sir John spent what he considered to be the best time of his life leisurely strolling around the bountiful trees. In fact, half of the island was covered with its own small forest. Tired out by his walk, Sir John lay down and let the peace of the island carry him off to sleep.
When he awoke some time later, he rose again and resumed his walk. After he had gone nearly all the way across the island, which was nearly five miles long, Sir John spotted, in the middle of a spacious glade, several of the Princess’s guards surrounding a small house. Ducking behind a tree so as not to be seen, Sir John continued watching the house. After a short time, the Princess emerged, carrying a small basket. She bent to pick some plants which grew near the house, and then vanished inside again. Sir John went away wondering what could be happening.
The question rolled in his mind for quite a while before he hit upon the idea that that the occupant of the hut was some person whom the king of Gairbairia had ordered exiled, unaware that they had simply moved offshore to the island of Miran. The guards were apparently stationed to assure that no one but the Princess found out who the person was. Satisfied for the moment with this explanation, Sir John returned the ship to wait for the Princess, so that she would not know that her secret had almost been spoiled.
But the Princess did not return to the boat that day, so, still wondering what could be so secret about the hermit that the Princess apparently saw quite frequently, and wonder why they deserved such regular visits, Sir John fell into troubled sleep, hoping to get an explanation for everything from the Princess the next day.
The following day, Sir John disembarked early, taking his rations with him so he would not have to return that day. He walked steadily in the direction that he had found the unknown’s hut, stopping short when he realized that, once again, the place was carefully guarded. Coming as close as he dared, Sir John found a stone at his feet and threw it, with all the force he could gather, of in the opposite direction. It made a satisfying crashing sound as it landed.
As the guards rushed to investigate the noise, Sir John made a mad dash to the thickest cover behind them. This time he was close enough to see clearly into the house, as there was a window directly in front of him. But that was no help at all, because there was a curtain placed across the window.
By this time, the guards had returned, and so Sir John had to be especially careful that he was not discovered. After a short time in his new hideout, Sir John saw the curtains on the window in front of him open just enough to show the face of the person looking out. The Princess stared long and hard, straight at the spot Sir John was hiding in.
A short time afterwards, Sir John was surprised by the guards, who tied his hands and led him far away from the hut to a spot on the other side of the island where the Princess was awaiting him. Untying his hands, the guards pushed Sir John down so that he was sitting in front of the Princess, who was obviously extremely upset.
How do you dare to encroach on my secret?! If I did not wish this to remain secret, I might have explained before this time! I- “
“Please, listen and understand, I beg you, that I never had any knowledge of any secret there could be about this island!” Sir John cried, nearly terrified out of his wits by the vengeful wrath of the Gairbairian lady.
“Even so,” she answered growing calmer “I had placed you upon your honor to honor my wishes. I am very disappointed. My guards will return you to the ship and watch to be sure you do not escape. I will not come aboard tonight.”
Suddenly feeling ashamed of himself, Sir John hung his head as he was taken away by the guards. He offered no resistance at the rough way they handled him, to ashamed to care. When he had been returned to the ship, he remained sullen and quiet, shutting himself in his cabin and throwing himself upon the cot. After a short time, he had calmed enough to retrieve a small sack of his things from underneath the bed. Pulling out a little book in which he daily recorded the thoughts and actions of the day, He began writing.
August the fifth-“
“Today I nearly satisfied my curiosity about an inexplicably hidden personage who resides on the Isle of Miran. It seems that the Queen visits this person quite regularly, but wishes that it remain secret for reasons I have not yet ascertained. My attempt to learn the secret was found out by the Queen. To myself, I do not mind admitting that I was terrified that I was about be murdered and done away with on her orders, when I was brought in front of her. But I have gotten off surprisingly lightly, considering her mood. In front of Valun, the king of Corridane, I would have been exiled at the least, I am sure. All the same, I am afraid that I have fallen deeply out of the Queen’s favor, and only the fates know whether I shall resume the standing I held, soon or ever.”
Closing his book, Sir John replaced it in its sack and, stowing the sack back under the bed, left the room. As he was walking around the deck, he noticed a sail that had appeared on the horizon off the stern. Turning and rushing to confront the Captain, he pointed out the sail and exclaimed “We must leave, quickly! That ship is chasing us! They must be after the Princess!”
The Captain was too surprised to do anything at that point except shout “She is safe on the island!”, but Sir John noticed with relief that several of the Princess’s guards, who had evidently understood what he had meant, regardless of whether they understood the language, had leapt into the small boat and sped off.
Barely five minutes had passed before they were back, assisting their charge onto the ship. She immediately disappeared into her cabin and did not reappear for several hours. In the meantime, the captain seemed to become animated once more, and soon had his small ship running at full speed to avoid a confrontation with the unknown one.
It was late in the evening before Sir John saw the Princess again. She immediately came toward him, asking that they move to another part of the boat where they would not be seen. Then she spoke again.
“I will explain all to you now,” she announced in a low tone “so you may understand my actions. My reason for wanting total secrecy in my visits to the island is this. My father did have a son, but I, being younger, did not find out for several years, until my mother told me in secret that he did not live at the castle because he is afflicted with a terrible malady he has had since birth, and my father, ashamed of letting my brother become his heir, caused him to be sent away in secret to live in another place, and never let anyone know that he was the prince. My father does not know that I found my brother, and moved him to Miran, where I visit him every month. My father believes that I go for the peacefulness of the island itself, and not for any other reason. Indeed, it was my father who first discovered that island, and I named it Miran after my brother, as my father never gave it a name. 
“And now, to the second question; why is the ship pursuing us? I can give you the answer in three words: Goman has fallen. The armies of the enemy must be even now marching across the desert to besiege our capital, after having found that I myself left on a boat only a few days before. I can only add that my father will be glad I had removed myself before the attack came. Do not wonder at this. My father knew an invasion would come in the future. That is the explanation for the bands of soldiers from the South which have been terrorizing our desert dwellers.” 
In response to this, Sir John only said “You will be safe, though. Two days from now we will land in Corridane. You will live in the capital there and be out of the reach of your enemies.”  Then, the two separated, noticing that they had gained ground on the other ship since the first sighting.
Sir John and the Princess remained separate for the remainder of the day, only nodding slightly at each other in passing, in complete understanding of the situation, although the truth weighed heavily on their minds.
            During the night, Sir John went to his cabin and brought out his little book. Beginning a new paragraph, he added “The Queen has revealed her secret, but it is very sorrowful to know. Evidently, I have regained her favor by avoiding her. I may need to remember that.”
            It was not until they landed at Berunthia two days later that anything more which was worthy of notice happened. As soon as they had landed, at about midday, Sir John, rather nervously, had leapt overboard and dashed off to hire horses. When he had brought them, however, he found the Princess and her party mounted on the camels they had ridden in her homeland. The Princess explained that she had given special orders for this particular voyage that the camels be accommodated. Out of courtesy to his attempt at helpfulness, though, she mounted a horse instead.
            Immediately, the whole party, including all of the useless horses, which were returned along the way, set out to cross Corridane. A few hours out of Berunthia, however, they met a royal courier going the other way.
The messenger halted and asked “Are you Sir John of the Rock?”
“I am” replied Sir John.
The messenger handed him a note. “That is a relief to know. This is the second time I have been sent to find you. The King requires your presence at the castle as soon as possible.”
Instead of giving an answer, Sir John said hurriedly “Lead these people back.” and rode off as fast as he could. He rode hard (during the course of which exercise he passed a large encampment of soldiers) until dusk, when he dismounted and found some shelter. Lying down, he attempted to get to sleep, but some stray thoughts nagged at his mind. “What was he going to do? What was so urgent that the king had sent messengers looking for him twice? , and lastly, what was it that made him try so hard to play such a dangerous game?” There were other questions in his thoughts, but they were not so important, being, in fact, rather trivial compared to the questions at hand.
He rose early the next morning, goaded his camel to a start, and rode off, not quite as hard as before. As he rode, he continued trying to sort out the thoughts that had troubled him the night before. Finally, he hit upon the self-centered idea that Valun was not as intelligent as he had always believed, and desperately needed his advice on important matters. This idea was entirely wrong, but Sir John would have no way of knowing how wrong he really was until he finally arrived in the city of Corrandion three days later.
But at this time, he was entirely absorbed in the idea that he was a mastermind who had to be consulted on everything, unaware that at some time or other, this ridiculous attitude would most likely land him in hot water he would not be able to climb out of.
As the day wore on, Sir John became increasingly uncomfortable and worried. What if Valun became suspicious? What if he actually discovered what Sir John had been attempting all these years? Most of all, he hoped, as his whole plan hinged upon it, that Valun never discovered who he truly was. That would ruin him forever.

05 August 2011

Chapter V (John)

Chapter V

As all of this other activity was occurring back in his homeland, Sir John of the Rock, emissary of, and a head adviser to, Valun III, was reclining on a luxurious couch in the royal castle of  Ronaiera. As he lay stretched out on the couch, the king of Ronaiera, Elmbran II, sat across from him, discussing old times. “Do you remember all the enjoyable times we had when you were here last?” asked Elmbran, leaning back in his chair.
“You may be sure that I do.” replied Sir John. “But I am indebted to Valun, besides being included in his inner circle. He has knighted me and given the position of emissary. You recognize his kingship?”
“Well then, formalities having been dispensed with,” Sir John said, rising from the couch “I may continue on my way. I thank you for your hospitality, my lord.”
Four days later, Sir John found himself in the land of Trepacia, which he had not visited before. Fortunately, they met a party of Arabs who willingly led him to their capital. Once there, Sir John went through the same formalities, though not quite as openly as he had in Varaskel. Having secured the Trepacian ruler’s recognition for his lord, Sir John was off again a week after he had arrived.
Arriving in Gairbairia four days later, on July twenty-fourth, Sir John was struck by the brilliance of the capital, Gaimaron. The city was nearly twice as large as any other capital he had seen. Advancing alone through the streets, Sir John had to ask often to find out which way to turn next to find the castle, which should have obvious, but was not in a city of this size.
After spending three hours wandering the streets, Sir John finally came to the front entrance of the castle. Answering the guard’s challenge, he shouted “I request entrance in the name of king Valun of Corridane!” The gates were immediately opened, and Sir John rode through into a spacious courtyard. Dismounting, he strode up to the inner door, knocking twice. When he had announced himself, he was freely granted entrance.
Once through the second door, he was flanked by two warriors as black as unused charcoal, who, by signs, requested that he give up his sword. As they were threatening to harm him otherwise, Sir John complied. The guards than led him into an inner chamber, forcing him to his knees in front of a regal-looking man seated on a high throne.
Aware that he was probably in the presence of the king of the land, Sir John stayed where he was. He heard the king bark an order in another language, and soon found himself being raised and his sword being restored to him. The King explained “I received these men as a present from a sultan many years ago. The explanation for their conduct lies in the fact that, as I defeated their Sultan in combat, they insist on treating me the same way that they had to treat him. My own title is King Torlan the fourth, the magnificent. You may rise.” 
Sir John rose, dusting himself off. “My own ruler, King Valun III of Corridane, does not lay claim to any such title yet, but he has years to earn one.” he replied.
“May I ask how old your king is?”
“He is in his twenty-fifth year.”
“That is a happy surprise. I am nearing my fiftieth year, and what is more, my eldest daughter is of the same age as your king. Further, according to the laws here, I may alter things so that she would be the ruler here if I had no sons, which I do not.” Pausing to give his turbaned guards an order in their own language, king Torlan continued. “Whether or not my daughter consents to go, I will gladly help you on your way back to your homeland.”
“If she consents to go? Would you not prefer that she remain here?’
“I prefer what I have said. A king needs a wife if he is to have heirs. What is more, if my adventurous younger brother does not return, they will rule this land also after I am gone.”
The guards had reentered as he was speaking, one carrying parchment and quills, the other a tray of food. “You must pardon me, but this is all which could be found.”
Sir John was surprised at this statement, for he found the food delicious. As he was eating, the king handed him a note which read “The bearer of this note is under the protection of King Torlan the Magnificent. Any insult to him shall be severely punished. Signed by the hand of the king,
Torlan, son of Gilberton, Ruler of Gairbairia.

“There,” Torlan said “That note will grant you safe passage anywhere, provided that you keep it with you. Now, as I was saying, these men were given up to me by their Sultan after I defeated him in battle about ten years ago. There are about twenty of them, but most are in other parts of the castle at this time. Half of them serve as my daughter’s bodyguards during travel, and the others serve their turn guarding the entrances and attending to my wants. Come; I want you to see what they ride when I send them across the desert with messages to Goman.”
Sir John’s host then rose from his throne and left through a slightly smaller door which led to an inner courtyard. The emissary and the king strode down a wide path in between two long rows of stables. Turning a corner to enter a smaller, relatively private area, they came face to face with a pair of strange creatures which Sir John would never have believed, had he not seen them himself. As he backed away, startled, king Torlan burst out laughing.
“This is a surprise to me also. I did not expect them to be brought out, as I have not ordered it. My guards call these things ‘camels’, and they will ride them only, never horses. These creatures have the ability to go several days without drinking at all, my guards tell me, which is a great help, as it takes that long to cross the desert.”
He turned and inquired of the man holding the animal’s bridle precisely what he was planning to do. The man answered, and Torlan turned back to his guest. “This is good news. The princess wishes to leave the capital for a time. She has expressed a desire to visit an island in the Deerunthin Lake which she enjoys. Getting there requires reaching Goman, which requires crossing the desert. You may travel with her, and then continue to your homeland.”
As the king was speaking, Sir John continued staring at the animal the guard had mounted. He could not get over it, in part because he was afraid that it was faster than a horse. And horses had to drink.
The next day, Sir John, riding a camel that the king had ordered to be lent to him, left the city in the company of the Princess’s caravan. For the most part, the trip was silent, as he could not communicate with the guards nor did they allow him a conversation with their charge.
Two days out from the capital, a strong wind blew up which caused the sand to fly up and obscure the camels’ sight. All of the guards immediately covered their eyes with pieces of silk they kept for the purpose. As none of them had a spare one, Sir John could only hold his arm up over his face, leaving his eyes uncovered only enough to see the camel in front of him.
After about an hour of this tortuous exercise, the wind died as suddenly as it had come. Sir John promptly removed his arm, reached for his water, and spilled some into his eyes. Wiping his face, he returned his flagon to its pack. Thankfully, there was no need of that remedy for the rest of the day.
As the midday hour drew near, the guards in front abruptly halted their steeds. The camels sank to the ground. Sir John followed their example. His camel promptly collapsed under him. When he had dismounted, he noticed that everyone was laying their heads on their camels and preparing to sleep. Going through the motions, Sir John imitated them. Shaded by the animal’s bulk, he soon dozed off.
When he opened his eyes again, he found himself astride his camel once more. Startled, he turned and rode toward the Princess. As her guards formed a ring around her steed, she called out “My men were impatient. They refused to wait for you to rise, so I commanded them to set you upon your camel and make it follow. We have been traveling for two hours since that time.”
Holding his silence, Sir John rode back to his position.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully, and the guards pitched a camp at dusk, reluctantly allowing Sir John, by an order of their mistress, to crawl inside and sleep in one of their tents.
Once, in the dead of night, Sir John, as he was sleeping, felt an unknown weight descend upon his stomach. Unconsciously flailing his arms to get it off, Sir John soundly thumped something, which caused the weight to disappear instantly. At this sudden movement, Sir John was awake instantly, just in time to see a dark shape crawl off to the other end of the tent. Frightened, Sir John did not go to sleep for the rest of the night.
The following morning, Sir John looked closely at all of the guards as they dismantled the camp. Finally, he found the one he was looking for. Dashing up to the Princess, he exclaimed “Punish that man!” pointing out the one who had tried to attack him the night before. “His eye is injured because I hit him. I hit him because he tried to murder me!”
The Princess was startled by this news, and shouted at the man to come at once. As he approached, he launched into a long explanation. He was answered in a few words. Then Sir John saw the man mount his camel and ride off in the direction they had come. The Princess than explained “He was doing it for my good, he claims. He said he was afraid you would try to leave and take me away with you. I answered that anything I do shall be what I desire, and he must get himself back to my father’s castle. Then, he left.”
Satisfied with this explanation, Sir John walked off to reassure the other guards by remaining apart from them.
Later that day, the caravan encountered a tribe of nomads. The leader ran up to the Princess and began shouting. He was occasionally interrupted by what sounded like the same remark, repeatedly, by the Princess. After a few minutes, the Nomad calmed, and he and his tribe continued on their way. The Princess than interpreted this fresh episode.
“The man told me that his tribe has been attacked by a large group of soldiers. These soldiers destroyed nearly everything and decimated the tribe. This man, the leader, was upset at me because he was convinced that the troops were my father’s. I simply said that ‘They are not, my father would never attack you.’, and after he had said what he wanted, the man left.” 
Soon after the Princess said this, her guards tightened their security of her so much that none of them were more than two feet away from her at any time. Then, later, as they pitched a camp for the night, they chose two sentries from among themselves. These men did not enter the tents with the others.
The camp was broken at dawn the next day. Before noon, the group had reached a small lake enclosed by a few coconut palms. Here, they immediately made camp, refilling their water, which was almost gone. They stayed by the lake until after midday, and then packed up again. The day was spent in uneventful plodding after they had left the lake behind them, but the rest had done much god to the camels, and so they had gone farther by dusk than on any of the previous days.
Two days afterwards, they entered the city of Goman, which bordered the Deerunthin Lake, as did Berunthia in Corridane. Not to proud to accept respectable when she could not get elaborate and rich lodgings, the Princess had soon found a good boarding-house which promised to keep her secret. She got three rooms; one for herself, one for her guards, and one for Sir John.
Sir John went to bed thinking that his position was getting quite awkward, and how soon was he going to be able to reach Valun again and possibly formulate a plan to reach the goal he desired?