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.”