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?