About Me

My photo
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...

Search This Blog

30 June 2012

Chapter 44

Chapter XLVI

The decision pronounced and determined, the party made ready to leave the hall. As he rose, an action which released all the others to do so in turn, Elmbran reminded the group “I was not prepared to take such action. I require time to call on my people. I do, however, have a matter in my keeping which king Railon and lord Richard may like to see.” Thereupon, Elmbran left the hall, as John followed quietly behind.

Left alone in the company of the Princess, who did not offer to speak, but only sat silently watching the men, Richard inquired of the desert lord “What would he have us see?”

“Prisoners. I have seen them already. Evidently the prince John foiled their attempt on his brother’s life, which was a reaction to the failure of their father to hand over the king Valun. So I was told by my brother-daughter herself.”

No sooner had Railon finished, then the doors opened again and two prisoners who resembled the guards Richard had previously seen accompanying the Princess. They were evidently worse for the wear; one was missing his left hand and the other had obvious marks of a beating on his face. Railon was unperturbed, only said “The guards had to deal harshly with them to convince them to talk. Eventually they did. They speak the guards’ tongue, so we will translate.”

Indicating his assent, Richard began putting questions to the mutilated men which he knew Railon had probably already asked himself.

“Who is your master? Who ordered you to assault the king?”

The men spoke in unison. They were evidently agitated and desperate to say everything that might be asked almost at one time. When Richard had endured a full minute of babbling, Railon relayed the statement.

“They repeat several times that they were paid by the man we have already heard of, this emperor Kalveston of Naibern. They wish you to know also that they will hold nothing back. They await the lord’s questions.”

Surprised by the prisoners’ subservient behavior, Richard wasted no time in continuing his questioning. “Why were you ordered to kill my king? And why do you do this so many years after he departed from here?”

The answer he received this time was simple enough: “Emperor Kalveston ordered that it be done. He wished to spread fear and distrust by employing us, men of Gairbairia, to kill the king of Corridane in the house of Ronaiera. We returned because he wished to remind you small men that his arm is so long.”

Disregarding the broken prisoners, Richard remarked to Railon “Small men we are not, in my land, nor, I daresay, in yours, lord Railon. I bring word from the knight Dunstan of your people. He desires to move those men he has with him to a brighter land. I have offered him ours. What say you?”

After snapping a short order to the prisoners, who slunk away toward the edge of the room, Railon replied “I came to lord Elmbran with the same thought in my mind. I do not see why we should cross to your land, when this one here is readily available.”

Seating himself again, Richard asked “What does the lord Elmbran say?”

“He allows the space and the means to build a town of our own, but we must build it ourselves. His people will not aid us. I deem it fair.”

“Fair it is, but what of yourself? If you settle here, do you renounce your crown?”

“I am still the leader of my people. In light of our plight, we are to be allowed a city-state, where we and our descendants shall live.”

“Descendants? Did not your families flee the invaders?”

“Yes. They have been waiting in this city for us to return. The Gairbairns shall not be vanquished so easily. Moreover, I swore an oath to my dying brother that I would reclaim his land for him. It will not be easy, but I will not rest until it is done.”

“I see that I need say no more, lord. Would you not consider joining me in my quest? I return now to my land. Through his agents, this emperor Kalveston slew your brother, displaced your people, burned your cities, slaughtered my family and burned my house, killed the lord Elmbran’s father, and threatened his life and that of my king, Valun, whose demise he may yet achieve if no one is there who knows of the danger. Is that not enough to convince you that all should join in the quest to visit justice upon him?”

“I can not yet leave my people.”

“Your knight Dunstan is leader of them by your word. Let him continue in that and come with me. Send word to the Prince John that we ask him to join us.”

“Your argument is clear. I will come, as, I expect, will the Prince John. He is eager to prove himself before you.”

“Very well. We should ride with all speed. Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow the three lands will ride together again.”

22 June 2012

Chapter 43

Chapter XLV

Valun rose from his position leaning on the shoulder of his father, mopping his face with only his forearm. As he did so, the antique prisoner who was all that remained of Valun II, the architect of the most lasting peace the lands had yet seen, croaked out “Is not Valnor with you? They took him away from me. I know not what has come of him.”

In response to this, the erstwhile prisoner of war whom Valun had taken as his guide across the country stepped forth and cast off his hood. “I am here, father. I was conscripted into the black forces and made to fight our subjects, which I shall everlastingly regret. In the end, my brother had me captured and brought to his tent. After a time, he guessed who I was, and we returned.”

This revelation took Valun completely aback. “Valnor! I had not thought…Surely, I guessed it, but it was beyond reason to think the man might be you! I saw no more than a desperate man, who with his desperation, intrigued me.” Without further words, there was another joyful reunion, now that the two brothers could recognize each other fully once more.

The business of reuniting completed, the rulers of Corridane turned to the business of escaping. Valun, as the recognized king, and the strongest of them, immediately took charge. “Father, have you strength left in your legs to make the journey up the stairs? We can do no more until you reach the landing. Did the guards leave food, and did you eat of it?”

“What could I do? It was the only stuff I had to keep myself alive until you came.”

“Then we must hope, and pray to the One that it was not poisoned. Man, run back up and do your utmost to open the passage. We must return to true air as quickly as we may.”

Nodding acknowledgement, the guardsman turned and could be heard pounding up the stairs. As he did so, Valun and the prince turned to lifting the old king off of the slat he lay on. Each taking an arm, they heaved. In one swift jerk, they had brought the old man up, for they were still strong, and he was greatly weakened by his long imprisonment. Immediately, they started up the stairway, taking each step as if it might trigger some hidden response.

When they had at last reached the landing, they found the guardsman leaning against the far wall, breathing heavily. “I am sorry, my lords. I could not shift it.”

Gently breaking his father’s hold on his shoulders and lowering down to rest, Valun replied “Three men came out. Perhaps it would take all three of us to release ourselves. Have you still strength for the task?”

Mopping his brow, the man replied “Enough to push, with my lords’ aid.” So the three men arrayed themselves against the wall, Valun in the center. Then they leaned all their weight against the block of stone, and suddenly felt that it was moving. It slid only a foot farther before it stopped, and then suddenly jerked forward.

As soon as the platform had come to a stop for a second time, leaving it extended several feet out into the room, the guard who had been on it leapt down to aid his comrades, who had evidently been pulling the rope, but now were now sitting awkwardly on the floor. “All is well” he said “But you will want to rise sooner than that.”

Then Valun emerged from behind the wall. “Behold your king.” The king’s guardsmen understood his manner well enough to know that he was probably not referring to himself, but they nevertheless saluted him abruptly. However, when he had helped the frail old man whom he had referred to down to the floor, the men positively abased themselves before the recent prisoner, so grateful were they that he was alive yet.

After a moment, the men rose and one said “My lord, permit me to speak for your whole people in saying that we have never forgotten you and wished always for your return. If we may, my companions and I will arrange what we can for that return.”

“Go as swiftly as you are able.” replied the elder king. “We will follow as swiftly as we may.”

While walking down the corridor at their own sedate pace, Valun took the opportunity to inquire into the truth of the circumstances he had waited so long to understand. “Why were you imprisoned at all? Did they claim even a false charge?”

Their father was still weak, so Valnor answered his brother. “They, meaning those officers who could be bought by the chancellor, claimed they had heard that father was bargaining with king Meltran to get me named the successor to the Brandian throne, for their king is childless. Not two days after we arrived, we were locked into the prison and Meltran and all the true-hearted officers were thrust out. It was not until you demanded our release that they placed us in the secret row.”

Nothing more was said until they reached the doors of the prison. There they found the three guardsmen holding the horses the party had arrived on. Whipping the cape off his back, Valun gave it to the guards to suspend between the spearshafts they had contrived to attach to the saddles of two of the beasts. One of these was Valun’s own steed, Ironheel, while the other had belonged to the dead guardsman and would now be taken by Valnor.

The stretcher having been arranged, the brothers brought their father over to it and let him lay down. When he straightened up again, Valun reminded the men “You must bring your comrade. It would be a violation of our duty to leave him unburied.” Pulling some coins out of his purse, Valun added “Valnor, ask those two men over there to do this for us.” Valnor having stepped aside and the guardsmen having reentered the building to retrieve their comrade and his effects, Valun was left alone with his father. “Father, is there any more that may be done for you now?”

Still sprawled upon the cloak, and with his eyes firmly closed, the old statesman replied “You must bind my eyes. I dare not yet look at the light of the sun.”

Tearing one of his sleeves and tying it over the peacemaker’s eyes, Valun said “But surely they did not leave you in complete darkness? There were torches on the stairway?”

“True daylight, my son, is greater than any torchlight, and so should not be taken lightly.”

“Yes, father.”

“Why have we not started yet?”

“We are retrieving one of the men, who died in the attack.”

“How many came with you?”

“Only Valnor and the four of my sworn guard.”

“At least it was so few.”

“No, father, an army came with me.”

The answer made a child out of the tallest king the west had ever seen. “You should not have done so.” the father pronounced in his sternest tone.

“But father, I gave them leave to go back. They came for you!”

“I do not approve…but, I know, it has been done, and many men died. For me, you say. For them, I hope to see Corrandion again.”

By this time, Valnor had exhausted all words for the Brandians, and had returned to stand over the kings. “Father, I think Valun means to renounce the crown and return you to the throne, since you live.”

The three guardsmen returned from their quest in time to hear the peacemaker pronounce “I refuse. My time has passed, and I name Valun III, my son, true king of the Corridanes until he dies. Will you Valun, wear the Aquilla Rona in honor, justice, and humility, as I strived to do?”

Valun found himself struggling not to weep again as he answered “I accept, and I will strive to do as you have asked. Will you forgive the invasion, father?”

“I forgive it. Never has a son shown such devotion to his father, that I have heard tell of. I name you Valun, invito rex, mac dilis.” With that, Valun II, conditor diu pacem, passed into sleep.

The guardsmen balanced the body on the spare horse, along with his blade and shield, and started the horses down the streets as softly as they could go. The two Brandians Valnor had paid followed silently after the royal party. They had no interest in the proceedings which had passed, but they had been paid, and so they followed.

They buried the guardsman under a tree about one hundred yards beyond the walls of Bernola. When this duty had been done, the Corridanes mounted their horses and started off down the road which would lead back to the edge of the great canyon. The Brandian undertakers left without speaking. The royal brothers rode at a walk to avoid jostling their father, who still slept peacefully. The three guardsmen rode on their flanks to warn of surprise attacks by rouge bands of Damerson’s troops. Thus did a whole day pass until the sun set.

In the afternoon of the second day out, they encountered a band of outlaws in the middle of the road, who had Meltran at their head. Halting his own party with a gesture, Meltran greeted the Corridanes. “Hail, Valun, king of the Corridanes.” In this manner he at once acknowledged both the old and the young man. Continuing, he said “Who is this you have got with you? I know you had a prisoner. I did not know prisoners were held in such high regard by their captors. Why, to see this, I might have myself captured!” At this statement the king and his whole band laughed heartily.

“Honorable king of the Brandians” Valun answered “My prisoner proved to be my own brother, and my father is alive, so our house is happily reunited. I am now the true king of the Corridanes in fact as well as name, and because of my hesitation, my father has named me invito rex, the reluctant king. If you make haste, you can replace yourself on your throne before the forces of your enemy return.”

“I thank you for your help, but I know that. I have been keeping close watch on him since he fled. Your own men turned back toward your home the moment you rode off.”

“That, too, is good news. I will not hold you any longer, as I wish to bring my father back to his own people as quickly as I may.”

“Then go, but for one thing. This road leads to the edge of the great canyon, but the path across it is hard to find. Eldarn! See the kings across the canyon, and then hasten back to me at Bernola! I will wish for your presence there when I am crowned again.”

Saluting, Eldarn detached himself from Meltran’s band and took his place at the head of the Corridanes.

At the parting, Meltran informed the Corridanes “The great canyon is at least three days in front of you. Perhaps more if you continue at no more than a walk. In any case, you can not hope to reach your capital in less than two weeks.”

Finally taking their leave of the Brandian, the Corridanes continued on their path, led by Eldarn, for several days, until they reached the edge of the great canyon, where the decisive and only battle had been fought. Here they paused for a time, for the Peacemaker wished to commemorate the deaths of so many fine men who had come for his sake. At each mound, of which there were hundreds, he stopped and said quietly “May the One accept your sacrifice.” as steadily as if he had said it only once. When he had finished visiting every mound, he turned to his sons, who stood beside him on either side, and said “This meeting has replenished my strength, but I still fear that I have lost too much. Let us hasten back so that I may greet my people that still live.”

Accepting the weight his father laid upon him, Valun asked “You do not think the faster speed will tire you overmuch?”

“No, my son. As I am now, I believe I will be allowed to see Corrandion again, at least. Beyond that, however, my time runs short. I am an old man, made older by the Brandian’s barbarous cruelty. May he live to repent, though he will not if Meltran has any say in the matter.” Allowing himself a dry laugh, the old man continued in silence.

They then turned back, and returned to the horses, which Eldarn had been watching for them. As soon as they regained their seats, they started off again, still following Eldarn, who had consented to guide them through the forest before at last taking his leave of the Corridanes. As there were only five horses this time, rather than thousands of men on foot, the journey passed much faster than it had the previous time. At the far edge of the forest, Eldarn parted from them, and before long had disappeared into the trees.

Now the Corridanes set their horses into a trot, determined to reach the foothills of the mountains before night fell. As they rode, the stretcher carrying the old king began to creak under the strain of the swifter motion. A whole hour passed before anything came of it, at the end of which both the staffs broke with loud snaps, leaving its passenger clinging tightly to Valun’s saddle. Checking his speed for one brief moment, Valun pulled his father up behind him. “Hold tightly” he whispered “Now we shall ride.”

Valun then gave his horse its head, and in response it sped off toward the open road ahead of the leading guardsman. The thrill of the speed came as a surprise to both riders, even though they had both been expecting it. Their reaction to the stimulation was to laugh. Long, loud laughter such as had not been heard anywhere since the menace of Kalveston’s hordes had descended upon the land.

It began as a response to the stimulation of the horse’s speed, but it soon changed course, to become a replacement for all the words both men had previously wished to say to each other, in a feeble attempt to reclaim the lost years. All the apprehension, all the questions, all was washed away in this one wave of the uncontrolled mirth of the father and son. They were together, they were both alive, and they were speeding home as fast as the horse could bear them. Crowned heads or no, they would have been perfectly happy as they were.

And so we shall once again leave the Corridanes, three hours ride from the foothills of the mountains, three days ride from home, and yet perfectly satisfied.

15 June 2012

Chapter 42

Chapter XLIV

Two days later, Richard reached the main gates of the capital city of Ronaiera, Varaskel. On the far side of the drawbridge, he dismounted and led his steed forward. When the gatekeepers blocked his path, he said “I come with tidings from Valun of Corridane, and with words for Railon of Gairbairia, who is said to be residing here. My message is urgent. I must pass. I am an emissary.”

“The lord of Gairbairia resides in the castle as a guest of king Elmbran. It is hoped that your tidings are good.” So saying, the guards let Richard pass without further incident.

Word spread swiftly that a tall rider in red from across the great river had come to speak to the king. Many rumors reached the gates of the palace, but none were correct. No one seemed willing to accept that the rider was simply a man who wanted answers to certain questions from the men who could best answer them.

At the guard’s order, Richard dismounted before the gate of the castle, yielding up his steed to a boy who came forward to take it away. As Richard approached them, the guards questioned him in the same manner as those who watched the city wall.

“Who do you say you are, and from whence do you come?”

“I am Richard mac Roland, lord of Longfurrow in the land of Corridane. I come seeking answers to questions that my lord wishes to hear.”

“Were you sent by your king?”

“No. I was sent by myself.”

“Then how do you know what are you required to discover?”

“That is a matter best left within the confidence my king places in me. The questions and the answers concern the seats of the kings, not the misplaced concern of the men who stand outside the walls.”

“You dare to speak so? Those placed before the gates are trusted to know what passes between them, else there is no passage!” Rising from their seats, the watchmen stood before the closed gate. By this time a curious crowd had begun to build up behind Richard, eager to know what the haughty stranger might want from the king himself.

Richard was unmoved. “Know you of the man called Railon the traveler, king of Gairbairia? I also bring word from his servant, the knight Dunstan, who, though he can not come himself, is desirous to know his lord’s mind concerning certain cumbersome decisions. If I may not pass, send a herald to inquire for me whether the kings will receive Richard mac Roland, knight of Corridane and herald of king Valun III of Corridane and the knight Dunstan of Gairbairia!”

“The lord Railon is known to be here. We will request your audience.” replied the humbled and seemingly contrite guards. Straightaway, they sent a page to the throne to deliver Richard’s message.

While standing by the gate, impatiently awaiting the return of the messenger, Richard became aware of the murmuring of the crowd. They seemed convinced that Valun had returned, had sent his champion to accept the redress of some grievance. Richard, knowing that the populace was striking close to the mark, refused to reply to the rumors, though he could not comprehend how people could be so quick to decide there was strife between the thrones. After a space of mere minutes which felt an hour, the boy returned, with the message that his majesty recalled the name of the messenger, and that both the kings now waited to receive him.

Following obediently after the messenger, Richard was soon shown into a long hall which had been cleared of the long tables which usually filled it. Lighted torches illuminated the whole room, for what windows there were were narrow, and most were colored. There was a fireplace set in the center of each wall not containing the door. Directly opposite the doors, over the great fireplace behind the dais, hung the banner of the kingdom, a coasting eagle on a sky-blue field. To the left of this banner, which had been the emblem of the king Ronairera, and so was never removed, hung the banner of the house of the current king, Elmbran. He displayed a dove on a red field, above a wide golden stripe, which was above an armored hand grasping an upright sword on a blue field.

Having taken all these details in, Richard turned his gaze upon the people waiting to speak to him, who were in their turn studying the formidable warrior, who with his long, fiery, hair, imposing stature, and evident air of command, had just come in. Of the parties studying the Corridane general, the kings decided that they had hard questions ahead, the prince became apprehensive, but remained hopeful. And the Princess tried to avoid showing any reaction at all.

One look at the dais told Richard exactly who was who. The two kings sat in solid oak chairs in the center of the space. Railon was on Elmbran’s left, and on the Ronaieran’s right sat prince John, arrayed in royal finery. On Railon’s left sat his brother-daughter, the mysterious princess who had, willingly or not, a hand in the trouble which had brought the Corridane noble to the hall of the Ronaierian monarch. Such a confluence of the nations had not occurred in many a year, perhaps not since the three nephews of the king Indrik had divided the known world between themselves to preclude family quarrels.

Sensing no need to show deference to anyone, Richard simply stopped at the foot of the steps and said “To the present majesties, I would like to say that I rather believed this meeting would be held on level ground, as I come a messenger of a king myself.”

Elmbran replied “It is the duty of a guest, emissary or no, to accept that which his host gives, without complaint.” A snap of the king’s fingers brought a chair for the guest, and he continued “To what must we ascribe your presence in my hall?”

Gesturing at John and the Princess, Richard answered sharply “I am afraid, your lordship, that the matter concerns…them.”

“They are here because they are aware that the matter concerns them. They are perfectly capable of hearing the…complaints which you, or as you say, your king, insists on bringing before me. Where is your king that he is unable to bring the matter himself?”

“In Brandia, retrieving his old father.”

“Perhaps you should tell us why there is any strife at all between the crowns of Ronaiera and Corridane.” Elmbran’s stern expression did not lighten. In fact, it darkened again, while John began to let his apprehension show. The Gairbairians, not being party to the question, were unmoved.

Richard had by this time seated himself in the tall chair brought to him. “The tale is long, and your guest is hungry. May he not eat and drink?”

Elmbran appeared mortified that anyone would enter his court hungry. “Bring food for all.” he snapped at the guards. “And now, sir knight, say your piece quickly or be thrust from the hall. I will stand no more insolence.”

Rising again, Richard cried “John, do you deny that you kept this from us the whole time! Arrayed in finery like you are, and to see you beside the lord Elmbran as you are, one sees that you are no more a Corridane than you are a peasent! My eyes see before them a base deceiver and a traitor!”

Railon leapt up. “Sir knight, calm yourself and say what you have come to say. As yet you have said nothing but that the prince John is a liar, a claim for which has right to draw his blade against you. Speak your piece.” Having said his own piece, Railon resumed his seat.

Overcome with the tension, John stammered out “Richard, I did not remain there of my own will. If your life, or your family’s was at stake over the matter, would you not find a way into my brother’s court, or the lord Railon’s, or anyone else’s? I was threatened. I wished to remain alive.”

“To do what? What were you ordered to do? Will you condescend to answer that?”

“At kinifepoint, they made me swear to do what I could to subvert your king and cast him down, perhaps even to kill him! And I hate it! Even if you refuse to believe me, I will say that regret that oath from the depths of my heart, that if I could find the perpetrators, I would execute them myself! I hate it! For I had become friends with you and the lord Valun. At that age, all those miles away from my oppressors, I hoped I would have peace. But when I came of age, I remembered.”

Surprised by this confession, Richard asked, civilly “Why did they make you say this? Who were these men? You tell me, and so help me we will hunt them together.”

“They were men of Naibern. They wanted your king gone because it was there that the sword of Kalveston would strike hardest.”

“Who is this Kalveston?”

“Evidently the ruler of the hordes which have ravaged both our lands.” interjected Railon.

Richard indicated that he desired to leave, but Elmbran stopped him. “I know you would say that you should rather be back where you came from. But what use is it? By your presence here, you show that either you have beaten off the attack, or else it has yet to come. Whichever is true, it remains that you are too far away to do anything about a second attack, if it is in the air at all.”

“But I have no further purpose here. It is no longer a question of whether your brother stole my lord’s promised queen, a circumstance I still do not understand myself, but a question of how long my lord will live before some fanatic fulfills his oath. For surely they were prepared lest your brother failed?”

“Ask him.”

“I do not remember.” John replied. “I would like to return to my chambers.”

“And what will you do there, stab yourself? And leave us to find you later and wail over the end of our line? You must stay.”

“Ye lords” Richard cut in “Our path is clear. All of us here assembled have dire grievances against the crown to the South. We must, with all speed, march on Naibern.” 

08 June 2012

Chapter XLI

Chapter XLIII

Valun and the men who were with him had been riding for several days when they finally caught a sight of the Brandian capital. There journey had been unusually long and winding, because, although the black Brandians had dispersed at the cliffs, bands of them still roamed the countryside, making their own way back to their homes.

As they paused over the city, their guide spoke to Valun again, saying “I know where the old man is held, but I do not know the path to it. I was led forth blind.”

“Then how are we to go about the rescue? We can not simply ride up to a man and ask him where the old prisoner is held. How can you know where it is if you do not know how to reach it?”

“Are you willing to follow me as you look for him. If you wish, you may have my head at the first sign of a trap.”

“There is a reason why I have men with me. I have no heirs and no other family that I have seen, though you might perhaps answer the riddle.”

“Then we ride, and we search until we find him.”

“I would not speak differently.”

At a signal, the six riders moved off toward the city spread out before them. Just as Gaimaron was, paradoxically, the largest of the capital, so was Bernola the smallest. However, its unimpressive area was made up for by the tall spires which dotted the buildings there were; it seemed that nearly every building there was adorned with a towering iron spike.

As they approached the main gate of the city, they were confronted by two men carrying halberds sitting on opposite sides of the opening. The Corridanes attempted to keep themselves inconspicuous, but, it seemed, the red of their homeland was too unusual to let pass. The guards rose and crossed their staffs, blocking all traffic in and out.

“Who are you? What do you want in the city?”

Wishing that he had some way to cover his face, Valun answered “We are travelers from the south, nothing more. There are many other good men here, whom you are disturbing in their law-abiding peace.” He said this with perfect truth, for already a line of people had formed behind the guards, who could not see them.

“Those who abide by the king’s laws can wait. It is you we are interested in, because you refuse to let us know who you are.”

“On this day, do you know where the king is?”

“Our king marched out days ago with a glorious martial array that would stun your disrespectful eyes, man, and had you seen it you would not deign to lift them for days after.”

“At this moment, your king is fleeing back to this city with what little remnant of your “glorious array” that he can gather. He was met in battle and soundly defeated by the forces of Valun, king of Corridane, come to right the wrongs done to his house, and that of Meltran, true and rightful king of Brandia!” Valun, who had had enough of waiting on the guards, dismounted while speaking and drew his sword, severing the blades of the halberds and walking through the gates. “Come, Ironheel, we go to find our master.” At the word, Valun’s steed followed him into the city, without showing any apprehension.

The two justifiably outraged guardsmen turned back to deal with Valun by force, but were brushed back by the four Valkyries, who immediately surrounded their king as he was remounting. The man whom Valun had taken as his guide followed after the Corridanes without incident.

The crowd of citizens seemed less inclined to pass through the gate than to gawk at the party that had just come through. For the most part, they were silent, but after a moment one called out “You never did answer the question! What right have you to come breaking and entering on the gates of our city?”

“As much right as a man has to get answers he has wanted for nearly a year. Perhaps if I give you my name, you can answer mine. I am Valun of Corridane. I have come seeking my father and my brother; both are held captive somewhere in your country. Know you of them?”

“If you are who you claim to be, why did you not come with great fanfare of trumpets to make yourself and your designs known?” inquired a second man, who stood closer to the Corridanes.

“Because I did not wish to be attacked more than I already have. I would have come in peace if I could, but your false king brought battle against me. Does any here remember Meltran, lord of Brandia? For he is alive and coming to reclaim his people.”

This solemn announcement was met with blank stares. It was apparent that none of these men remembered the old king. Deciding that it could do no harm to ask, Valun added “Is there a man here who remembers the arrival of king Valun the Peacemaker and his son?”

The same confused looks. The disarmed gatekeepers struggled against those holding them back and cried “Take him! He’s no more than a low traitor who ran!”

Secure in his circle of guards, Valun rose in his saddle and cried out in desperation “Does any man know where the prisoners are kept?!”

A small man who had to this point been supporting a cart full of harvesting implements then ran in front of the Corridanes, waved his arms over his head and said “If you’ll follow me, your lordship, I just came past the evil place; if you’re here to do something about it, I’ll gladly lead you back there this once.” He turned and started off down the street that lay open before them.

As the red-coated warriors rode down the street, keeping their steeds in step to retain their formation, the curious citizens began to follow them, hoping to discover how the strange incident of the foreign king and the capital prison would resolve itself.

The path toward the prison was fairly straightforward, as the king who had built it, a particularly harsh man, had placed it there as a warning to those who might stray outside the bounds of his laws.

At the entrance to the prison, Valun and his guards arranged themselves in a line before the building, while the one on Valun’s immediate left, acting as herald, called out “All servants of the usurper are to yield themselves up to the authority of king Meltran of Brandia and Valun III of Corridane, his ally. Those who make themselves known now will be shown mercy.”

A hidden sentry then replied “No man here answers to dead kings, or foreign ones either. All those kept in here are just prisoners of the king, and anyone who says otherwise shall be attacked!”

Valun produced his own shield as his guards raised theirs and surrounded him in response to the threat. “I shall not say this again!” I come in the name of the king of Brandia, and in the name of Valun II, and I demand that you open your gates and release the prisoners forthwith! If you do not answer, we shall force our way in and put every man to the sword.”

There was no answer from the insolent sentry. Noting this, Valun pronounced “Remove the gates.” At the word, the Valkyries drew their swords and began to strike at the hinges of the gates. Several minutes passed before they withdrew the blades, having failed as yet to break through. They then attempted the easier but more uncertain path, sticking their blades through the crack in the gates and levering against the bar they found on the opposite side. While one man worked, the others held the shields above him to deter surprise attacks by hidden sentries.

Finally, when the third man was working the bar, it came loose and fell to the ground. The party outside clearly heard the thud of wood striking stone as this happened. A moment passed as the successful guard retrieved his shield, then the four guards spread out in an abbreviated wedge formation as he pushed the gates open.

Before the doors were completely open, there came from within the sound of a weapon being thrown. Suddenly, a long spear came into view, its point buried in the shield of the lead guardsman. The guard pulled the weapon free, hurled it back down the corridor, but then fell back, tending to his arm.

“Are you badly hurt?” Valun asked him.

“No, my lord. It is but a shock. My arm is singing right now.”

“If you can fight, rejoin your comrades. You know why we have come.”

“Yes, my lord.” Raising his sword, the man moved back into line, moving ahead more cautiously than the others. 

Once the gates had been pushed wide, the four guardsmen charged down the corridor at the handful of men who had assembled to oppose them. In the fight that ensued, one of the Valkyries was slain, but the others were able to defeat the rest of the prison guards after some minutes. When the guards retreated to announce formally that the way was clear, Valun dismounted, indicated that their captive guide should come along, and started off. “Search every crack. Test every floor. We will not return to the outside without my father and my brother or their bones. I have endured much to see this done.”

The Valkyries moved quickly, snatching torches of the wall and beginning to jog down the passage, looking into every cell. Some were empty, but most were occupied by prisoners who had obviously been confined in the space for some time. The Valkyries forced open every occupied cell, gently ushering the shocked prisoners in the direction of the gate and guarding them in case of unmet guards.

As the guards worked thus, Valun followed close behind them, struggling to keep his impatience in check. At his command, the men pounded with spears on the floor of every cell, and in many places in the main passage, hunting for the signs of a cell hidden underneath the floor. However, all their efforts were fruitless; the cold stone still did not yield up the king.

The Corridanes had nearly reached the end of the passage, and were resting in one of the cells they had lately opened, when they were surprised by a grating sound which came from the wall they now faced, across the corridor within the opposite cell. As the Corridanes rose, still watching the origin of the sound, a large section of wall began to bulge outward, until it suddenly stopped of its own accord, suspended out over the floor of the empty cell.

“Not a sound.” Valun ordered, and then signaled that they should cross the hall into the other cell. Following his lead, the guards and the guide shuffled across with all speed they could muster and, not a moment too soon, flattened themselves against the sidewalls; Valun and the guide on one side, and the three Valkyries on the other.

In the next moment, three Brandians stepped out of the opening formed by the removed wall section, which was supported by an inconspicuous platform of oak wood, which was nevertheless extremely thick to support the very real stones which had been pushed out from the wall.

“That ought to do for the old man.”

“I don’t see that we’ll be coming back here.”

“I would never. Getting rid of an old man is so demoralizing.”

Without preliminaries, the Brandians began to push the wall section back into place, taking care to conceal a rope which was evidently used to open the secret passage to men on the outside.

The Corridanes had heard enough. Shouting his battle-cry, Valun set upon the three shocked guards. However, the Valkyries had jumped faster, so that Valun nearly crossed blades with his own guards before coming to his senses. Sheathing his swords he cried “The passage!” and leapt toward the secret opening, which was slowly but steadily closing once more. In a moment, Valun, the guide, and one of the guards had leapt upon the platform and were being carried toward the opposite wall of the hidden landing. As if the sudden shock had upset a delicate balance, the platform began to slide even faster, as the five men watched helplessly.

With a jerk, the platform stopped sliding. Valun and his companions felt their knees buckle under them and they fell on their faces on the platform. After recovering his breath, Valun discovered first that the passage had been lit with fresh torches and second that the wall behind them was closed. It seemed they were sealed within the wall.

Trusting that the men outside would search for the way to open the platform from there, Valun turned to the stairway which opened up beneath him. Without preamble, he started down the steps while his men snatched torches with which to light the way. The three men continued down the long, winding, stairway for several minutes, hearing no sound but their own feet thumping on each new step. At long last, they reached the bottom only to see another long passage open before them. More agitated than ever before now that he was so close to his goal, Valun began to run down the corridor, his companions struggling to keep pace.

“No! Bring not the light so close! Have you no respect for an old man? But then, there is no respect in this stinking hole. Only bring me Valun and I will be content.”

Abruptly stopping his sprint, Valun cried with all the excitement of a ten-year old child on Christmas Day, “Father, it is I! Your son Valun has come for you! I will bring you home, so that you may rule our people for all the long years that were taken from you!” Turning sharply, he drew his sword and dashed straight toward the cell wherefrom the ancient voice had come. In one blow, he severed the chain restraining the door, after which he wrenched the same wide open and hurried to kneel by the side of the old man, openly weeping with joy at having found the king alive. And it is there that we shall, for the moment, leave the past and future king of Corridane.

01 June 2012

Chapter XL

Chapter XL

One week later, Richard was riding through the city of Taronga, looking for the man who had employed him in his exile. After a long search, he found the man outside the largest theater in the city, just returning to the world. Calling his name, Richard stopped him. “Have you heard, sir, of a Sir John of the Rock, who is said to have come here in the company of a Princess?”

“My boy, I know nothing of any John of the Rock, unless that is the name the prince calls himself by.”

“The prince? Who is the prince?”

“Why, John Elmbranson, brother to the king, Elmbran II. It has been made known that he has returned from Corridane to stay at last. Whatever was he doing in Corridane?”

“I can not tell you that. I know only that, whoever he is, he has angered my king, Valun, who does not know that this John is a prince. I come on my lord’s behalf to settle the differences that exist between them.”

“You will find the prince at the palace in Varaskel, I am sure. You need only claim the title of emissary and our king will see you. He is already entertaining the king of Gairbairia, who, it is said, has come to ask leave to move his people here.”

“Thank you for your news. I take my leave of you, sir. Live long and prosper!”

It was not long after Richard had left the city that the storm which had been gathering all that day finally broke. At that time, he was riding across the lake in an open ferry, and so was soon drenched to the bone. Throwing his ever-present cape around his shoulders, he asked the boatman “Have you ever crossed the lake like this?”

“No, but I expect we will cross if your horse does not tip us in.”

Nodding, Richard made his way to the side of his agitated steed, which had been securely tied down before they embarked and was now beginning to rock the boat with his objection to the weather. Retrieving it from his gear, Richard threw a blanket over the animal’s back.

As though the weight on its back had some untapped power for healing, the horse immediately reduced its thrashing and allowed Richard to lower himself down beside it.

His position in the center of the boat afforded Richard scant additional protection from the rain, but the wind which was blowing it was now passing over him without so much as a ruffle in his long hair. Well protected from the rain by his helm and his cape, he laid his head down upon his horse’s sturdy foreleg and allowed his eyes to close.
            Richard was awoken by a hard kick from the horse.. Shocked to alertness, he grimaced from the pain and began the task of untying his horse. Staggering, he led it off the barge and leaned on it while retrieving the boatman’s fare. When the man looked quizzically at the Corridane coins he had been given, Richard said “I am a man of Corridane and an emissary. Thank you for the passage. I must be getting on.”
            Leaving the ferry sitting on the bank, Richard rode all that day until his horse could go no farther. Limping still, he made camp under a tree nearby. As he slept, he dreamt that he was standing in the midst of a great forest while a strong wind passed through, shaking many leaves off the trees. As he turned to leave the glade, suddenly there appeared beside him a brown horse carrying a withered old man. It led him out of the forest. Then the scene changed, to show a crown, Valun’s crown, sitting atop a pedestal. A different, stronger, old man, soon arrived and cast the crown to the floor, laughing as he did so and saying “All, but Kalveston, shall pass. He…endures.” Then the scene changed for a second time, to an island, where stood a man leaning on a crutch, who intoned solemnly “It is not for the strong, but for the weak. Help may come from quarters least expected.”
          At the conclusion of the second speech, Richard awoke to blazing sunlight. Shielding his eyes, he lay sill for but a moment, while he pondered the strange dream. Then, crying “It may come to pass, but may not the house of Longfurrow be remiss in striving to avert it! We ride, my sturdy Longshanks!” Snatching up his helm, which he had laid aside, he climbed aboard his horse once more.
            On this day, he noticed much more activity than he had up to that time. His spirits rose, as he took this as a sign that he was approaching the capital city. The reader may imagine his surprise when, having crossed the rise he had been traversing, he came within site of an army camped in the plain beneath him!
            As the rider made his way down toward the camp he had ordered, Dunstan signaled to the sentries that he was to pass; what harm could one man do to them here? At the same time, he called a man to his side and said “Make sure the traveler has a place to rest. Make space in my tent. I will have speech with one who is clearly interested in doing so with me.”
By this time Richard had crossed the limits of the Gairbairn camp and had nearly reached Dunstan. Dunstan greeted him, raising his right hand toward him as he did so. “Hail, Rider. I guess that you come not from my liege Railon the Traveler, for he travels alone. Do you then come with counsel or with orders from the lord of this land we stand in?”
Dismounting, Richard took Dunstan’s proffered hand, while clutching his throbbing leg with the other. “You will forgive me. My horse kicked me during a storm on the lake, and one does not forget a pain like that one easily.” He thrust out a chuckle as he released the leg and stood at his full height once more; as many others did, he towered over Dunstan, who was a small but powerful man. As Dunstan led the way toward his tent, Richard continued. “I am not, as you guessed, an emissary of any king but my own, and I myself am not a native of this fair land. I come seeking answers on behalf of my king, Valun the third, the unnamed.”
Inside Dunstan’s tent, over the food he had provided, Richard asked his host “Would it be churlish of me to inquire what brings you and your company here? I am curious, for you say that you are not subjects of the king who rules here. Are you then bent on attacking him, for I deem your force too small for that.”
Pausing in the act of lifting his goblet, Dunstan replied. “As you have already as good as told me your mission, I will tell you mine. I am acting under the word of my lord, Railon the traveler, and as such, I intend to move his people to a better place before I hear his word, and seek his pardon after all is done. When he left us he went to this place, to beseech space for our settlement here. Our homeland, an inhospitable desert, has nevertheless been overrun by a hostile army many times the size of ours. Every man who escaped from the sack of our capital, and a more glorious city you will never see, is now within the bounds of our camp.”
Richard, who had eaten his fill, moved to rise from the table. “If you will excuse me, I would like to visit my horse. Before I go, however, I would say that perhaps you should come settle in my homeland.” Bowing to his host, he left the tent.
A short time later, Dunstan joined him. “Are you speaking for your king in this? I recollect that you said that you were.”
With one hand on his steed’s back, Richard replied “I said that I am seeking answers on his behalf. I can not in truth say that I am speaking for him. He did not send me.”
“Then how can you say that we should remove to your homeland without your king’s consent?”
“Our land too has been ravaged by war. Perhaps by the same foe. I believe I am in my lord’s confidence enough that he would consent to this.”
Clasping Richard’s hand in his strong grip, Dunstan turned away, saying “I wish still to know the Traveler’s mind on this, but I can not leave my men.”
Hefting his saddle, which he had found close by his horse’s side, Richard said “Then I will go, and bring back word to you after also discovering my own answers.”