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.”