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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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31 August 2012

Chapter 49

Chapter LIII

            At length, the festival finally came to a close. Valun followed Miran’s advice and withheld his grave announcement until the time came for him to declare the celebration over.
            At that time, he stood on the steps of the temple, for that was the most open space in the city. “My people, we have feasted well. We have drunk well. We have fought and wrestled and run each other unconscious for the sake of happiness. And now, before you return to your homes, it behooves me to say to you: Do not forget the brave ones! Those of your friends and brothers in arms, whose death resulted in your happiness! I honor all the thousands who died, in Brandia or here in the city. Foremost among them, I name the Twenty, living standards of courage and dedication to your freedom! But foremost of them all, in rank, and, I hope, in honor, I name Sir Richard Longfurrow, ignis leon, commander of my forces at the battle here. I give him honor!”
            At a signal from the king, footmen appeared from the wings carrying bundles of the swords Richard had won. They laid the Naibern blades in a pile, which they built up in an interlocking circle through which a standard could be dropped. When it was complete, the sword of Kalveston, which had a hilt of gold, was brought to Valun and given to him. Valun spoke again to the people.
            “Before me you see all the blades sir Richard captured. I have it from men who were there that sir Richard defeated thirty men in single combat, nearly all when there were two or more attacking him. At the last, Sir Richard fought the emperor of Naibern, under whose orders our land was ravaged. He lost, but in defeat he slew our enemy also, and so brought the hope of peace to all the lands. I call now on James, the Survivor, to come before me and all of you!”
            The people knew quite well what was going to happen next, but they reveled in the sight of it all the same. James, who had been standing in the middle of the crowd unknown, began making a path for himself when he heard the king call for him.
            “I am James, called the Survivor, last of the house of Longfurrow.”
            “As such I recognize you. It is a right of mine to do this, since you are the last: I name you the Longfurrow, equal in honor to the head of any house but the king’s, now, before you are of age. And with that honor I bestow upon you the helm and sword of Richard, who received the blade in honor from his father, and with them I offer the lasting glory of your house: the blade of Kalveston of Naibern, the most dangerous man of our time, whom your brother slew before he died. Rise with the title your father received from mine, as James, earl Longfurrow.”
            James, who had knelt, rose humbled by the king’s solemnity. “It is an honor to accept everything you have offered me. The emperor’s sword I will place above my chair when my house is built anew. I still have wealth: that at least was not taken from me. I will pay the best men alive to rebuild my hall, and I ask that those who tended the Longfurrow land when we prospered, return if you still honor my house. I will have no servants; you will all still be free. These are my words as the lord of Longfurrow.”
            Carrying Richard’s helm and the sword, which had been repaired, James left the way he had come, carrying himself with perhaps an overly pompous pride at being named earl at the age of seventeen.
            Robert, who had been standing in the background, moved forward, allowing himself a quiet laugh. “So it is the dead men who gain all the glory?”
            “It would seem that way. Some men do not believe your courage until you have died.”
            “It was a good show” said Robert, watching the crowd disperse. “I will do the same as he did. Pay the best men to rebuild my house, I mean. But I must do it soon; my mother is old and my sister barely remembers what it looks like.”
            “Than don’t do it that way. Build it as you would build a house.”
            “It is another way to honor my father.”
            When the last of the audience had made their way out of the space, Valun turned to Robert and said “Find John. I want to send him to Ronaiera.”
            “John? The last time you sent him anywhere, disgrace came of it.”
            “Ronaiera is his homeland, and I trust him now. He has proved to be a man of great worth. When you have found him, bring him to the castle.”
            Robert knew there was no answer to this thinly disguised command. He saluted and went in search of John.
            Valun, in the interval, made for the castle himself, and was barely seated in his throne again before Robert, with John in tow, had entered his presence. They both acknowledged the king, and John subsequently found himself a seat.
            Valun did not rise from his seat to greet them. “I know you better, now, John, than I should ever have thought to before. I know that I can not command you, but yet I have to say something which you might wish to hear: I ask no longer that you pretend to be under my command, but I do ask that you will do this one thing for me: accompany the lord Miran to the camp of his people in your homeland, and deliver to his sister the message that I will greet her with honor if she agrees to come to my home.”
            “In deference to your command over this house, I can not very well do as you ask, for I know the lady you speak of better than you do, having traveled with her here. She is not likely to do as you wish. The two of you have hardly seen the other and you expect her to come riding straight to the gates if you send word by a messenger. You should come yourself.”
            “I can not depart this land again. I have spent too long away from my people.”
            John rose incensed. “With respect to your honor, I have spent years as a slave in my own homeland because your father could not control the ambitions of his own chancellor. Rather than hiding out in a cottage while other men fight, bond yourself as a servant to one of your own people, and live like that, experiencing abuse from the dregs of the free society you should be commanding, before you sit up there and call on other men to make your calls as you have said.” snatching up the few items he had brought with him, John left the hall. He could soon be heard in the courtyard, shouting for his horse.
            “He will leave now, and Miran with him. Richard has gone before us. It is only you I have left, Robert. What do you say?”
            “I am at your command, but I am not surprised at his reaction.”
            “As my father would have told me; you must deliver your speech before opening your mouth. I have failed again. Saddle my horse! I will overtake the lords!”
            At the king’s words, two attendents came forward to take the king’s ceremonial gear and brought him a heavy riding cloak instead. At the same time, another man departed for the stables, but made it there only moments before the king himself. Valun then took the work of preparing the horse upon himself, talking to the animal and generally waking him up. By the time Valun was in the saddle, provisions had been found for the journey. These were brought to the courtyard by Robert himself.
            “Goodspeed, my lord.”
            “May this be my last great ride in peace or war.” Valun answered. Reaching down to clasp Robert’s hand in farewell, Valun added “I will make it so. I want to feast in my hall again before the moon is out, if I may.”
            The two men grinned as if this were a jest between the two of them. A moment later, Valun prodded his horse and was clattering off down the road which led toward the main gate and out.
            There is little to be said of Valun’s ride, save that he had soon caught up with the other two lords, who were going the same direction at a slower pace. A tacit understanding was forged between the Ronair and the Corridane, so there was little speech until they reached Carribeasa, where again a boat was hired to take them to the far shore and come back at times to watch for them.
            The crossing did not take more than one hour by the clock, for Valun had asked for haste of the rowers, and they would not deny their lord. The moment the craft hit the Ronaieran shore, the lords disembarked, with John taking the lead. At Miran’s request, he turned them in the direction in which he expected to discover Dunstan and the Gairbairian survivors.

24 August 2012

Chapter 48

Chapter XII
            Again, it seemed that hardly any time had passed before Miran, newly king in exile, returned to John’s side. Now that everything was finished, John finally had the leisure to be astonished by the events.
            “How did you come here? Had the emperor drawn you into his service?”
            Calmly collecting his shafts from the bodies of guards, Miran answered “I would die first. I came here on the boat from Corridane which was ordered to meet you on the coast. They stopped at my island and I requisitioned passage. I got in by claiming I was a healer. The coast is only a day out from here, or less.”
            John, who was now up and about collecting blades from the soldiers, remarked “15…16…17…- He said that” with a gesture toward Richard “Before we left, “If we die, we shall walk to the coast, and so you see we shall not fail to escape.”
            “That we may do for them. King Railon we will bury on my island, but Sir Richard we shall bring home. It is fitting for a great hero.”
            “24…25…26…- How shall we do that? We are weak and he was a tall man, as you see.” John paused as he reached Richard’s own blade. He did his best to clean it and then went to lay it beside its owner. “I have it. We shall need a cart to move all the bodies. Our friends shall have to come out that way too.”
            His quiver filled, Miran hobbled to John’s side, leaning on his bow, now unstrung. “I would say that was easier said than done. But now I have seen you destroy the entire palace garrison.”
            “45.” John announced, dropping the last sword onto the pile he had built up. “And if you counted the guards we fought in the streets, I would not be boasting to say that Sir Richard, King Railon and I defeated 70 men in open combat, between us, if you insist upon discounting your own involvement.”
            “We will pass easily. When they get word that their emperor is dead, for good or ill, no one will care about two men dealing with dead soldiers.”
            “Let them deal with their soldiers. There are only two men here we want.”
            Miran nodded in assent. Their task completed, John went out to acquire a cart. Almost an hour later, after some trouble, he returned. They dealt with their fallen friends as gently as they could, but the dead mens’ size hampered them much, especially since Miran was weak. They requisitioned several cloaks from the Naibern corpses to hide the origin of their burden and set off, John walking and Miran riding the horse which was pulling the cart.
            Miran guided, as he had come that way only a week before. They paused little and moved at a walk to remain steady. It was nearing twilight when they saw the shores of the lake open out before them. They paused there in indecision because John had not been present when Richard had chartered the boat; he had assumed, as Richard himself had, that he would eventually survive what was to come.
            After some wavering, they caught sight of a sail on the horizon, so John drew in his breath and shouted simply “Boat yonder!” hoping it would carry over the water.
            In very little time they became aware that the boat was moving toward them; it seemed to have heard the message. Twenty feet from shore, the boat paused and the rowers began coming in more slowly so as not to ground themselves on the bank. As soon as the situation allowed it, the boarding plank was put out and a man who was presumably the master of the vessel stepped out.
            “We were hired by Sir Richard, lord of Longfurrow. I do not see him. Say where he is or I leave you here.”
            Miran spoke. “He is in the cart, alongside my uncle, Railon of Gairbairia. They were both killed. We were their companions.”
            “Sir Richard is dead? When will it end? It was he who brought us news that the old king we waited for had died. He was a great general. I fought under him.”
            John was becoming impatient. “I admire your sentiments, man, but you know as well as I that we must bring him home as fast as we may.”
            Before the journey, John had removed Richard’s helmet from his head, with a thought toward such an idea. He brought it now to the captain. “Have a man place this on the masthead. Your countrymen will know what it means. And send four men down here to help us.”
            “As you say, sir.” The captain took the helmet almost gingerly and turned away. In a few minutes, Richard’s distinctive black plume was flowing from the masthead. While this was going on, John and Miran had boarded and found quarters for themselves. But when this was done, they returned to watch over the passage of their departed friends, who were brought aboard by four of the strongest men on the boat, still shrouded in the Naibern cloaks. At the last moment, John remembered the blades he had managed to pile up at the far end of the cart. signaling three men to come with him, he went and retrieved them all, laying them down alongside their conquerors.
            “Let it be known to all, that those great men, and I with them, defeated seventy men in open combat. Let it be known that your sir Richard slew the emperor in fair combat, the like of which I have never seen before! And last, let it be known that your champion’s last words were “long live invito rex! long peace to the people of Naibern!” Let him gain glory in memory, and may his wish come to pass. Carry on.”
            The speech finished, the crew took the foreign lord’s advice and returned to their oars. Soon, the boat was speeding along with renewed vigor, straight north. After some time, Miran had words with the captain, and at his command they turned toward the east. In another two hours, they had beached themselves on the island Miran had lived on since he was a young boy.
            Again at the young king’s word they brought the body of his uncle ashore, along with his gear which had been recovered. Miran then brought them a spade he kept and gave it to the crewmen, who had soon dug a hole ready for the departed lord. They laid him in it facing towards the east, where he had walked for so many years, but kept his blade above the ground. This they laid on the grave with a rock supporting the hilt, so that the blade would catch the last light of the sun as it fell and send this ray out toward his home and his land for all time.
            All this hardly took an hour, and then everyone was back aboard the boat and letting the current speed them toward their home harbor. In three days, they were back in the crew’s homeland and had been brought by a former servant of the Longfurrows to the place where their house had stood. Richard they laid down near his front door, facing toward the capital. His helm and sword they kept, to be given to the king. With these, they took also a large part of the swords Richard had won in his final combats, making sure that the gilded sword of the late emperor was prominent among them. Having come on horses, they took horse once more to speed to the capital.
            To their astonishment, they arrived in the midst of a great festival. Music could be heard from all quarters of the city and many contests of strength and skill were evident on the plain outside the city walls. It was some time before they could get anyone to tell them the reason for the merriment, but when they discovered that it was to honor the life of the late king, the Carribeasans dismounted and hurried to join their countrymen, leaving Miran to deal with the sad news himself.
            It was another hour or more before he was able to find the king of Corridane, happily presiding over a great feast from his throne. At his entrance, Miran stopped a passing servant and requested that he be announced quietly to the king simply as a messenger with important news. Two minutes or more passed before he saw the same man draw close to the king and speak to him. They both pointed toward Miran himself, and then the servant returned.
            “Follow me. The king wishes to hear your words.”
            Miran followed the servant into the small room which had previously been occupied by Robert, but was now empty. As he passed, he saw the king rise and come toward him, waving his people down as he did so. When the king had entered the chamber, the servant bowed and left.
            Tired from unusual exertion, Miran asked for a chair and soon received one. Then he spoke. “I hear that you are celebrating the life of your father. Is it tradition to hold such a festival, or was your father the greatest man of your history?”
            “Perhaps he was. Is this what I have been called away to hear?”
            “It is not. I asked you to hear me say that if you value your heroes, you will be soon be holding another, albeit a smaller one.”
            In answer, Miran drew forth a bundle, which he unwrapped to reveal Richard’s helm and blade, freshly polished and sharpened the day before.
            The king was amazed. “That you have these-means that my friend, my loyal general, has died before me. Is it not so?”
            “It is so. With his last breath, he cried “Long live invito rex!” so you know that his loyalty never died. Was he the last of his house, or by some chance did someone survive him?”
            “He had two younger brothers, twins. No one knows where one has gone, but the other lives under my protection in the castle. He shall be called.”
            “Do not do that. Save it till the end of your festival. If he hears of his brother’s death now, he will lose his joy. I ask that you present the boy with his gear at the close of the festival, and at that the same time present the people with his lasting fame; thirty swords captured in single combat in a day, and above the blade of the emperor of Naibern himself, whom he fought for five minutes while injured and weak. I think you should give the Longfurrow the first choice of whether to keep the emperor’s blade in his house, also. It would shower praise upon that house.”
            “It is good advice. I shall do it. Will you come and join my people at feasting?”
            “That I will. Is my sister here?”
            “Your sister?”
            “I am newly king of Gairbairia. I heard from her that she would come to your house.”
            “She is here no longer. She departed with John, a prince of Ronaiera. Come now and eat.”
            “John is here too, though I do not know where he has gone.”
            “Then you should speak with him. Here and now we shall feast and be merry.”
            As the two kings entered the hall once more, a band of entertainers who had come in while they spoke struck up a lively tune and the audience broke into the song as the lords moved to the head of the hall.

17 August 2012

Chapter 47

Chapter LI

            The men Valun had left behind at the capital had not been idle. The three avengers met daily before Valnor, determining what they would have to do to reach the enemy and what they would do then.
            On the last day, they had all convened at the hall for the last time before riding off. Richard stood over a map which he had requisitioned from the archives. “His capital lies far off our roads. It will take us two weeks or more to reach him where he is.”
            Railon stood, ready to speak. “What if we do not find him there?”
            “Then we will get out of that place as soon as we are able. We are not risking everything to rid the land of Naibern wall sentries.”
            John raised a hand to point at the island positioned in the middle of the great lake. “We should meet there. If we must, we may enlist the help of the prince Miran.”
            “He is a cripple.” Railon objected. “How could he help us in this?”
            John laughed at Railon’s indignation. “I daresay he would like a chance to prove you mistaken on that score. He lives alone. Surely he must be able to work.”
            They all settled down again as servants brought them hot food. Valnor, seated across the hall in the regent’s chair, dined alone.
            Over the venison, Richard pronounced “We ought to have ridden long before this, ye lords. How shall we go about it? Shall we degrade ourselves or not?”
            The other two nodded in acceptance of the plan. “It is settled, because we will have to fight to the death anyway. But we are some of the great blades of the lands.”
            “It is settled.” Richard agreed. “And when we are dead, we shall walk to the coast, where the Carribeasans will be looking for us. So you see we can not fail to escape.”
            This statement made all three men laugh quietly into their beer. When they were able to speak again, Richard added “Mark my words, I did send for a boat from the city to rescue us when our mission is done.”
            Railon let his tankard fall without minding it. “I mark your words. Shall we ride? Time grows short.”
            Rising to acknowledge Valnor, Richard then hailed another servant. “The lords’ steeds, and mine, quickly! We have business in the south!” Still standing, Richard concluded “We may yet rest awhile. They will inform us when our mounts are at the door.”
            Only a quarter of an hour had passed since this statement that it was announced that the horses were furnished and prepared for the journey. The lords then departed the hall and rejoined their faithful steeds. Richard rode a great red which he had brought from Ronaieria. Railon rode a smaller gray he had found in the wilds to the east, and John was riding a feisty brown he had claimed from his brother’s stables.
            They trotted out toward the remainder of the south wall, where three men stood watch to warn of another attack. Richard hailed them as he went by “Tell the king we have gone to avenge our families. We will hasten back to feast at his side again! Long live the king! Valunaria!”
            The guards saluted and repeated the battle-cry, adding “The One grant you victory and peace, lords! We watch for your return!”
            Richard, John, and Railon then found the road which led toward the south border and settled into a smooth trot that would not be broken for hours. They spoke little, for everything had been said on the previous ride from Ronaiera. They rode long by day and rested by night, for not even Richard knew the road, as his land was many miles to the north and east of it. After a week of nothing more than perfunctory acknowledgement of the others’ presence, they began to relate the legends of their homelands around the campfire, and by day both Richard and Railon would spar often with John, who admitted that he was not possessed of great skill with the sword.
            By the end of the week they were deep in unknown Naibern territory, so that they rode more slowly and were always on the lookout for individuals or pairs that they could capture and pressure into bringing them to the capital safely. They had checked and brought with them old trading maps that marked the location of the Naibern capital as being somewhat nearer Railon’s side of the great lake.
            After some time riding straight through the wild, they came across a road which was obviously heavily used. In the distance behind them it appeared to be an extension of the road they had followed out of Corridane, which they now knew to have been built in their tracks by soldiers Damrod had ordered to his side to “keep order”.
            Another three days passed before they reached the city, but when they did, they knew what they were looking at. They approached the walls cautiously, watching for the sentries they expected to see there out of habit. Throwing their cloaks tightly about them, stood some two hundred yards away from the walls, trying to watch the sentries pass.
            Railon took charge, being the most experienced. “Now, how are we going to do this? We have no bows and no way of scaling those walls.”
            John was studying the gates, trying to decide whether they would be simple to force through or not. “We are not here to follow all the rules. We should move up after dark and break the gate.”
            “And have every man in the city on us in a moment?” scoffed Richard “I say we simply hail the guard and give him the password.”
            His companions turned to him, astonished. “Hail the guard and give him the password? Are you suddenly desperate to die?”
            “Well, I am going to try it. See what happens. Think who we are dealing with; an emperor who clearly thinks the rest of us can not live on our own. Remember Goman and Berunthia.”
            Clapping his helmet firmly on his head and gripping his blade with renewed urgency, Richard moved out into the open, every muscle tensed in preparation to leap out of the way of a missile. When he had walked twenty yards he stopped and shouted “Halloo! Guard yonder!”
            In the distance, a head appeared between two ramparts. “Man down there! Tell the password or I’ll skewer you with this arrow where you stand!”
            “Hail Kalveston! One world, one Naibern!” Richard promptly dove to the side as the others called “He’s gone.”
            Springing to his feet once more, Richard replied “Than we shall have to move swiftly, if we want to reach our goal!” At the same moment, all three knights broke into a run. At the wall, they leaned against it, facing outwards with blades drawn. Then they held their breath until they heard the sound of the doors beginning to open.
            On the instant, they sprang out from the wall and ran straight toward the widening opening. There were six armed men opening the gate, with two standing as lookouts. Richard and Railon charged the lookouts first and knocked them to the ground, slain. Then Railon went to John’s aid while Richard attacked three on his own. Knocking one aside with a shoulder, he caught a blade on his own and released one hand from his hilt to grab the sword wrist of the third, holding the man’s arm in the air while he fought the other. By this time, the third man was up again and was attacking Richard’s free arm. In the cramped quarters, the blows were not strong, so Richard simply released the arm he held and ducked out of the way, point forward into the man in front. While that one died, the others grew tangled with each other. Though they disengaged quickly, Railon arrived then from the other side to finish them off.
            The three invaders reconvened in the center of the space, cleaning their blades with strips from their enemies’ jerkins.
            “We should not have to do that again.”
            “But we shall have to if we are to defeat the emperor. No doubt he has huge numbers at his call.” Railon remarked, pausing to bind a wound he had received in the fight.
            “The one to reach him gains a fine cask of wine and the seat of honor. Do you accept?”
            The three men shook hands and then began jogging off down the nearest street, side by side. The people they met seemed horrified by their appearance, scurrying away as if they hoped they would not be spotted, but the three northmen did not slow their pace to discover the reason. Their whole intent was to reach the castle.
            They could tell that they would soon reach the castle when they began meeting bands of guards with increasing frequency. These patrols were always larger than their own group, so even as the invaders greater skill always won out in the end, the great numbers they faced soon began to draw more northern blood than could be spared. The champions left the corpses behind in the streets, always more lightly dressed than they had been in life.
            They finally rested in a deserted doorway off a side street and refreshed themselves with the provisions which had been issued to their late antagonists. All three had scavenged heavy Naibern shields at some time or another, but only Railon had kept his. Consequently, he was wearing fewer scraps than the others.
            Richard flexed a sore knee that had developed in the course of the brutal street fighting. “How many more of these ghostmen must we push through? They go down so easily, but there are two many of them! We will not live out the day like this!”
            John unwrapped an arm to examine its progress. “That, coming from the man who spent his life carrying a sword, like you did, is much in the way of defeat.”
            From his position astride the doorway, where he was watching the street, Railon said “We are too recognizable now. Every man in the city knows we have each killed twenty of the emperor’s troops. We will not escape. I say we rest right here and push on tomorrow. They know we are headed for the castle. They know we are dangerous. I think they will fall back to defend the gates. When we do not come to meet them, they will doubt.”
            The younger two were not in a condition to argue the point, so they all went off to find spots in the house to sleep across the doorways.
            They rose early the following morning and met before venturing out to reassess their prospects. Not one had lost any sleep to the hard wood floors, as their previous exertion had rendered them incapable of remaining conscious long enough to notice anything.
            Their blades sharpened, they left the shelter, Railon and his heavy shield taking the lead. With a glance, they were able to determine their path by spotting the towers of the castle. In marked contrast to the hard fighting of the previous day, they met no one on the streets.
            “Perhaps their emperor has ordered them not to face us.”
            “Perhaps he has laid some trap. I do not like this silence. They say it is always most quiet before the storm.”
            “A mass of men like those we have left in our wake, a storm?”
            “You must be silent. A loose tongue can get you slain faster than an arrow.”
            John, sufficiently chided, fell silent. They had now passed through three streets and expected to come under attack at any moment. However, nothing happened until they had come up right upon the palace steps. There they were met by at least a score of heavily armed Naiberns.
            The northmen were not at all surprised by the positioning of so many enemies. What astonished them was that, upon the sight of them, every one of the defenders hurried inside. The door closed behind them.
            At that, the self-styled avengers huddled together on the steps which had just been vacated.
            “It is a trap. Most certainly it is a trap. So many together ought to have attacked us.”
            “But we are beholden to the memories to go on. Would you fail your brother? Your father? I myself have a whole family to avenge. I must go in.”
            “I must go with you. Our honor would be stained if we did not go in. If we die, we die in honor. If we live, we are the greatest heroes of the age. Does Gairbairia stand with us?”
            “I never dreamed my days would end in such a fashion, but I will stand with you, for if we fail now, this emperor will besiege us and sack our cities until none our left who can claim to be free of him. Gairbairia stands with you.”
            As the three knights locked blades in solidarity, Richard remarked “To the death be it. You know he will shut the doors behind us. Our people will never find our remains. May they live in peace till the end.”
            Swords drawn, they put their shoulders to the door and shoved. They were met by a solitary man in ceremonial gear. He wore no armor, but held a drawn blade in his right hand. His scar stood out vibrantly as he said “Yes. I know. You’ve come to kill me. Which of you is man enough to try me first, or are you deciding to break all the rules and go as one? You should. You might actually succeed that way. Be quick. I do not wait for lower men like you to make up your own minds. I do that for you.”
            Shocked by the man’s coolness, the companions stood rooted in place, wavering.
            “You have not chosen. I, Kalveston, master of men, victor of a score of battles before you were grown. I who choose my destiny and choose to command the world, declare you dead men.”
            As if on cue, all the doors sprang open, emitting numbers of soldiers greater than that which had retreated inside. There was no time for another word. The wounded northern warriors were hard pressed for their lives the moment the soldiers appeared.
            While the battle went on, Kalveston stood as a spectator for a few minutes, but then, seeing that the “dead men” were not falling under the great odds, disappeared through a side door.
            The three men went on hacking at and skewering at the Naiberns for such a time that it felt like the whole world had been consolidated into a wall of malevolent animated statues. In very little time, moments had stretched into the proverbial hours. On a whim, Richard shouted his battlecry, just to prove that he was alive. The calls of Ronaiera and Gairbairia soon followed, telling Richard that his companions had understood his meaning. In the small room, the warcries reverberated off the walls, pounding in their ears.
            Richard decided to push his way toward John, knowing that the younger man could not match the skill of himself and the desert king, and could have already received a mortal wound. The Corridane pushed his way to the prince’s side by strength alone, and was relieved to find that the Ronair had managed to place his back to the wall, though he was already bleeding.
            “How much longer can you fight?”
            “Are you jesting? Until I die! Until you die! Until Kalveston dies! No more speech until we are drinking his wine!”
            Placing himself alongside John, Richard replied “Agreed!”
            Not long afterwards, the world began to change. John and Richard both, much to their dismay, were using captured Naibern blades, those of their fathers having snapped on the attack of some Naibern plate. Suddenly, a new sound came into the fray; that of arrows in flight. The knights glanced at each other but did not speak. At once, they swept up heavy shields which lay nearby alongside their dead owners, even though they had given up on the cumbersome gear when they had far more strength to spare.
            But to their astonishment, the arrows they heard did not fall anywhere nearby. They came but infrequently and then seemed to land in the backs of the attacking Naiberns. Several more minutes passed and the darts persisted in downing their enemies. Finally, there were so few of the Naiberns left that Richard and John were able to push forward and eliminate all but three of the defenders. When this was done, they sagged to the floor, watching in astonishment as three arrows appeared from nowhere in quick succession to slay their would-be killers.
            With the last of the Naiberns dead, Richard and John were finally able to catch sight once more of Railon the traveler, king of Gairbairia, who lay dying in the field.
            The two survivors dragged themselves to his side when he called their names. Tired as they were, they spoke loudly to him.
            “It is over. We have won.”
            “If you must go, rest in peace, brother lord. You have done a great deed here. We can not count how many we have sent before you.”
            “Than I have done it. I have avenged my brother, my people. What of the emperor?”
            “We did not see him.”
            “I must go. I must go to the island, see my brother-son, and call him king. It is right.”
            At these words, a cloaked figure carrying a bow and an empty quiver, who appeared to be hunched forward and wore boots of soft skin, hobbled forward. The hood was thrown back to reveal a young man already scarred with years of endurance.
            “Uncle! Do not pass on yet! I am here! I have done what I could but it seems I came too late. For that I grieve. Speak, uncle!”
            Railon was too weak by now to care how his nephew the prince came to be there at his side. He simply lifted his hand and said with his last breath “Rise Miran the long-suffering.” His arm fell and he died. Miran closed the eyes and then rose to go.
            “I am sorry I can not help you further, but I am defenceless and must return to hiding. May the One keep you.”
            Almost as soon as Miran had disappeared, Kalveston returned through his own door. He still was not wearing armor.
            “Young fools. So you managed to kill them all? But you lost one. The “Traveler”, I see. He gave me months of trouble in the East. If he wasn’t so determined to kill me I would have gotten him to join me. He has gotten his pay.” While he spoke, Richard had risen again, calling on stores of strength he had not known existed. “Are you ready to die too?” Kalveston scoffed. “Well then, on guard.”
            John sat and watched as a duel between two masters began.
            After a two minutes, Kalveston began talking again. “I saw your father die.”
            “He probably spat in your face.”
            “Come now, do you think I would parade myself before a dead man? There is no glory in a death, except my own.”
“I knew it was you who ordered my house burnt.”
            “Your father did not have the sense of a mule. He could not see that all resistance is futile. Kalveston rules all. Kalveston outlasts all. All returns to him.”
            Richard did not answer this and the duel continued. After some minutes of furious  blows, Richard’s weak leg buckled, causing to fall to one knee. In response, Kalveston dropped his own weapon and grabbed Richard’s wrists, slowly turning the blade until the Corridane was forced to stab himself.
            When Richard was beyond hope, Kalveston released his grip and remarked “Your father died the same way. Everyone who angers Kalveston does.”
            Though he felt his life failing, Richard saw a last chance to finish his task. Snatching up Kalveston’s blade, which the emperor had neglected to kick aside, he dug the point in his enemy and cried “John! Help me!” John immediately leapt up and hurried over, snatching the wrists of the shocked emperor and wrapped them around the hilt. Thus the two knights finished Kalveston, who commanded his own destiny.
            “Die I will, but you shall go with me. I take pride in dying as my father did. Long live invito rex! Long peace to the people of Naibern!” With these words, Richard collapsed and died. John finished the grisly task and then found himself waiting in room of death for Miran to return.

10 August 2012

Chapter 48

Chapter L

Valun rode for some time toward the north coast, where he knew Robert’s land was situated. Since he had ordered no one to come with him, he was in perfect solitude until he saw the smoke arising from the cottage the Trondales had lived in since the aftermath of the second rebellion against Damrod.
As soon as he caught sight of the smoke, Valun dismounted and began walking toward the house in no great hurry. He knew the owners could not have arrived very much sooner than he would himself, and he wanted to allow them time of their own. Several yards from the house, while he thought he was still obscured from the vision of the occupants, he removed the crown which had become a fixture on his head and stowed it in the pack he had brought with him. He also removed the saddle and the bridle from his steed and threw them to the ground. Then he patted the charger on the back, saying “Go rest yourself, but come when I call.” The horse immediately trotted off.
Valun then continued toward the house, but as the door opened, it became apparent that someone in the house had become aware of his arrival. He saw that Robert’s mother had come to the door and was waiting there for him to approach.
“You are welcome, my lord, but why do you come out to our house alone?”
“In truth, honorable lady, I was asked by your son himself, and I have come to find myself. May I enter?”
When he had voiced this question, the lady and the whole entourage of children behind her moved aside to allow him passage. But they were not silent. He was beset on all sides by questions of their own.
“Will Robert return soon?”
“Have you really come to stay with us?”
“What will happen now?”
Simply to allow himself more space, Valun moved past them all toward the back wall of the building, ducking his head as he did so, for he was of a height to touch the rafters with his crown. “I am afraid I can not answer you well. I wish to say only this now; tell me what is to be done and I will see it done.”
“But is it not your place to act thus for us?”
“I will do it. I have come to learn something. I know not what yet, but before I return to my seat I will know. Is this enough?”
“It seems you really intend to be at our call, my lord. Perhaps you will explain yourself later. For the time, there is an ax leaning on the back wall.”
On his way outside, Valun replied “I understand.”
Alone in their house, the Trondale’s children asked their mother “What is to be done?”
            “Nothing is to be done, my children. Act as if your brother has come home again. That is what he wishes from us.”
            “But we can not just do that! We can not forget who he is!”
            The lady moved to sit at the table while her family gathered around. The muffled sound of a wood-cutter’s work could be heard in the pause. “It is true, children. I saw it in his eyes while he was here in the house. The king feels a great pain within himself. He wants us to help him move past it. That I see. Do not trouble him overmuch and do what he asks of you, even if he wants you to go back to the city for something. Now, boys, go see to his horse. Anne and I must prepare the food.”
            The children acquiesced quietly and went about the appointed tasks. The youngest followed the boys outside to visit the great beast.
            Only a few minutes more had passed before Valun returned carrying a large armload of stout logs. “Will this be enough?” The women did not answer him. They only waved toward a pile in the corner which was considerably diminished from its usual size. Valun deposited his load and stepped away slowly, savoring the enticing smell of the concoction in the stewpot. All at once, they suddenly jumped in surprise at the sound of the younger children laughing excitedly. The three grown people hurried to the door just in time to see the two boys fly past on the back of the horse, with their sister sprinting behind them.
            The mother reasserted herself at once. “Boys! You must get down and come in now! I told to see to that beast, not dash around like madmen on its back!”
            Valun, when he was able to relax the grin on his face, called to the horse “Come to!” This order caused the animal to slow itself gradually and walk toward Valun, its head lowered. The king stroked the horse softly on its snout as he chuckled “Good man, Iron, we can not resist the colts, though, can we? Are you tired?” The horse nickered appreciatively into its master’s arm as he continued rubbing it while the boys slid down. “Well then, if you boys won’t do it for me, I’ll settle my horse down myself, but I want you to come and watch. Someday, you will have your own chargers, and we can not have you running them ragged without knowing how to deal with the consequences.”
            The boys glanced at their mother for approval, and, receiving it, hurried off after the horse.
            After some time, the horse had been put away, the harvest had begun, and the two boys had been sent out again to bring the cows home. Valun, enjoying the liberty he was working under, joined them simply for the walk.
            The cows were finally discovered about two hundred yards east from the cottage, on the opposite side of a rise which hid the house from the location of the manor. When Valun strayed too far to one side, one of the boys called out “Be careful, sir. Mother wouldn’t like it if you trod on the house.”
            Valun stepped lightly in the opposite direction, back toward the track the boys were following. “That is your house?”
            The one who had spoken to him slowed his pace to answer more easily. “Yes, sir. When we were young mother would remind us where the walls stood and told us never to walk there to honor our father.”
            “Why? What became of your father?”
            In the nonchalant way of a child several years his junior, the boy replied “He died.”
            Valun resolved not to bring the subject before the family before it was thrust upon him again.
            Two weeks passed, while Valun labored alongside his hosts, before anything had occurred that sparked his curiousity. One night, as they sat around the table eating in contented silence, Valun turned his gaze toward the fire that was the sole source of light in the room. As he watched the flames eat through the logs, and listened to its crackling, his eye was drawn to something he had failed to notice in all the days before. Leaping from the table so quickly he knocked his head against the rafters, Valun stepped over to examine the object. As he reached out to grasp it, he heard Anne cry out to stop him. “Please, leave it be. That is my father’s sword, and we would have it remain there until my brother comes to claim it himself.”
            Valun let his hand fall and stepped back, moving aside so that he did not obstruct the fire. “Tell me the story.”
            Robert’s mother seemed to sit straighter at this request. “Very well, but I can not speak to you back there.” Valun therefore returned to his seat as the lady continued “The boys have not heard the true story. It is too much, which has been waiting too long for the light.”
            “I could not speak of it before, my children. But now, you shall hear the truth: Your father was murdered. Soldiers of the usurper came to take him away from us, why I don’t know. He slew some of them at the doors, but finally his sword broke and they beat him down until he knelt on his own doorstep while they chained him like a slave. Then, they left. One of our men followed to see what they would do, and told me later that he was executed in the square and his body later thrown into the sea. That is the truth.”
            “Why did they do this?” Valun found as he said this that he was gripping the table as hard as he had ever held anything in his life. As he released his grip, the lady replied.
            “Because your father knighted him and gave him this land. He called on his followers to destroy the enemy with him, but they were no match for the professional soldiers the usurper had brought up from the south. The Trondale’s rebellion, as the Longfurrow’s before, was crushed utterly and every man who had taken up arms was killed. It was, of course, the sons of these men whom you took north to fight your own battles. They may have followed you then, to complete what their fathers failed in, but what they want in their hearts is proof that the usurper and those who commanded him, if they live, are dead.”
            Valun leapt up from his seat, shocking the others, ducking his head, he was out into the darkness in four long strides. “None of you is to follow him, children. We must allow him time. The pain I spoke of has returned to the fore. When next you see the king, he will be a changed man, I know it.”
            When Valun had left the house behind him, he immediately turned toward the path which led down to the shore, which he had retreated to several times in the course of his time there. Digging his feet firmly into the damp sand at the edge of the tide, he yelled “Is this the meaning? Is this the answer I have been searching for? To leave, to step down, even to die? I am the king! Who is to do this if I do not?” Lowering his arms and his voice, the king fell on one knee, speaking to the surf. “It is so. As the people are my arm, so it falls to me to be their voice. When I am called to be the arm, so must they be the voice. To wield both is to be a tyrant. It is the price of a throne, and to cleanse the debt I must ride again.” This time, when he rose to his full height once more, his step was lighter than he had felt it to be in many a year. Finally he was free to dream, to laugh, to trust. Thus he rose toward the house and turned straight for the shed where his horse had been stabled. Speaking to the animal in soothing tones, he replaced the gear upon its back, led it out from the shed, pulled himself aboard, and with a cry, bounded off on the path to the capital.
            Lady Evelyn and Anne, who had been sitting near the door awaiting the king’s return, smiled broadly at each other and stifled laughter at the shouting they heard as he rode away. Finally, the mother was able to say “We have all succeeded. He knows himself, is at peace. May the One help him spread it over the land.”

03 August 2012

Chapter 46

Chapter XLIX

The attacker, who was dressed in the livery of Naibern, turned on his heel to hurry away. The horrified crowd was too shocked to obstruct him as he shoved past them, and so nearly allowed him to escape. However, the rear ranks, having some idea of what had occurred, held firm and resisted his attempts to force his passage. Whilst he struggled against them like a wild beast, Valun, his sword raised and a fearsome scowl in his voice and tone, cried “Let me pass! I will see this thing that dares to be called a man!”

The crowd, of course, stepped out of his path as quickly as they were able even as he sprinted past, his cape swirling behind and catching on the legs of bystanders. The terrified attacker finally turned at bay, desperate to complete the last part of his mission if he could. But there was no time. In a moment, the sword flashed and the renegade head had fallen to the ground. Glaring out at the whole assembly, the irate king snapped “The Naiberns are to be surrounded. Disarm them and kill any who attempt to resist or escape.”

Sheathing his sword with a slamming crash, Valun stalked back through the ranks and bounded up the steps toward his father, who was lying on the stone floor, the knife sheathed in his chest, supported by two guards who had changed course when they saw what had happened and were now each on one knee, holding the king’s head up until he was lost.

Valun came up to him and dropped to one knee before his father’s face so that the old man could see him better. “He is dead, father. I had to do it.”

“I know. It was necessary. But do not kill any more. They have done no harm. I am passing already, so move aside now so that I may be able to see my people and speak to them again before I go.”
Valun hastily stepped aside, shouted “Your king is dying! Salute and fall!”

In response, the crowd started a chant. “Hail, Valun, king of Corridane! Hail, king of Corridanes! Hail, conditor du pacem, victor in all battles! Pass into the place appointed you among those honorable to the One! Be at peace!” Their last duty to the old man done, the whole host dropped to one knee, to remain thus until their king released them.

By this time, Valnor had arrived and joined Valun and the people in their tribute. Two interminable minutes passed during which not a sound could be heard but low breathing. At the end of this time, the dying man they were all watching spoke for the last time. “Stand. The greatest time is yet to come, and I go now, a servant to the last.” Then, at last, Valun II, conditor du pacem, beloved of his people, died.

Valun, who had been standing in obedience to his orders, did not move for a further mniute to avoid breaking the peace.But following this, he judged that the time was ripe to begin the new era. “My people! So much has been said already, I will not keep you longer. The king shall be buried with honor, but the festival is for a time of peace. There is not yet peace in the land, but I will do what I must to bring it about. Now, go forth and do as you were. Set men to watch for the return of the Longfurrow and send him to me at that time. I am with my people again. Those who do my people no harm are my people also. Be at peace.” Waving the crowd away, he turned away and descended the stairs at a place where a path was open. Valnor and the Valkyries followed him, ashamed that they had failed when called on. There was no sound while Valun was within sight of the people, but when he had disappeared, the royal party heard a great clamor arise from behind. The guards were apprehensive, but Valun reassured them. “The people must release themselves at some time. Those who remain silent are dangerous.”

In silence, the party returned to the castle, and there settled themselves down to rest. Valun ordered that something should be done to deal with his father’s body, and further that a man should be sent to help him prepare himself. Last, he ordered that Robert should be warned of a visit.

When the attendant arrived, Valun, who had been wearing full battle armor since he left the castle, began with his help to remove himself from the shell and exchange it for less cumbersome ceremonial garb. This done, the attendant removed the armor for the purpose of restoring it to its former glorious shine. When he had replaced his armor with more easily wearable ceremonial garb, Valun left his chamber and proceeded down toward that of Robert. As he passed through, he noted that several kitchen attendants had appeared as if from the floor of the building. James approached him then and explained “The guard, my lord. Some of sir Robert’s survivors. They wish to do honor to their captain.”

“Very well, they shall carry on. Is he awake?”

“Yes. He has been told you would come.”

“Very well. You may go.” Leaving James, Valun turned toward the door that opened into Robert’s room. Knocking once on the door, which was standing open, he entered.

“Good day, my captain. Are we well today or not?”

This time Robert did not even attempt to rise. “I’m afraid, my lord, that I am not well. It is pain today for me.”

“Well, sir Trondale, I have grave news that all but you have heard, so be strong for my sake and do not fail me and die. My father has been killed.”

“The old king has been killed? Who could have laid a hand on him?!” cried Robert, surging upward like a great wave.

“Calm yourself. I slew the man myself. He was dressed as a Naibern. The other Naiberns gave no trouble. I know not where he came from.”

“Then assume he is as he seemed. Destroy the rest of them and you will have no trouble.”

“They are my people now! I will not kill my people!”

“Then you would live in a den of snakes! Would you?”

At that moment they were interrupted by James, who came hurrying in more agitated than they had seen him in some time. “My lords! There is a man outside crying to see you! He says his business is most urgent! He is desperate, my lords!”

Valun leapt to his feet as Robert bellowed “Then bring him to us and do not fall to pieces on the doorstep! Are you a Longfurrow or not?!”

Meanwhile, Valun had nearly knocked James to the floor as he dashed to the door and shouted for his servant. “Where is the man David? Call out the veterans! Every man on the lines!”

While all this fruitless noise was being made, another man had had the presence of mind to admit the messenger who was causing all the fuss. This man, who was clearly a Corridane, crossed the hall in a moment and fell at the king’s feet. “My lord, have mercy! Spare your people in their shame!”

“Their shame? What is this? What has happened?”

Raising himself only slightly, the man drew a breath and moaned “Corridanes are hunting the Naiberns! Some have been killed already!”

            Valun raised the distraught man to his feet. “Thank you for bringing word to me now. Had you been later, I would have had no mercy. I can not let my people do this. Go, work in the kitchens until the work is done. I will require most of the men.”

Falling to and rising again from one knee, the man said “Thank you, my lord. They swept me along, but, knowing your words, I turned away as soon as I was able.” He then hurried away toward the kitchen.

Valun stepped out into the hall and cried “Your countrymen are deep in a great crime, men. I require you to come out with me and stop them. You may have to slay your countrymen today, but remember; those who repent before us will not be slain. I will have none of that before me. Come!”

            About fifty of Robert’s guards, who, as it happened, had not yet removed their blades, fell into line behind the king, who also was armed. The gates were opened in succession before them, as they marched out to quell this defiance of the king’s decree.

            Almost as soon as they passed the gates, Valun and the men could hear the cries of the rioting citizens and their victims. Their clamor, however, was deceptively loud, so that the men had to march through several streets before they encountered the perpetrators.

            Finally, the king’s party happened suddenly upon a party of men who had just meted out their own justice to several men dressed in the garb of Naibern. As the guardsmen surrounded them, Valun stepped forward to face the killers. Indicating the corpses, he said “These men did you no harm. Had they wished to, they would have been slain before this. You have slain innocent men, and moreover, you have done this against my strict order. Therefore, you must be punished. I give you leave to speak before your sentence is pronounced. Unhand them.”

            The men, who had been forced to their knees, were allowed to rise then, and one began to speak. “My lord, we did this because we were overcome with grief that these men and their countrymen, have brought upon us. You know of what we speak: you yourself slew the man who killed the king, and we loved the king. Will you not allow us that? We could not contain ourselves, worrying that perhaps more of those men were waiting for a chance to strike. We could not, my lord, we simply could not do as you ordered of us.”

            “I do not ask you to repent of defying me. Do you repent of the slaying of innocent men, defying the last words of the great king whom you say you so loved?”

            His men held twenty prisoners. One by one, they spoke their minds to their judge. Twelve of them saw the great wrong they had done and wept at it, repenting. The rest did not, believing in their supposed right to wreak revenge on those who had lately taken part in such great harm to them.

            Moved by their reactions, Valun prepared to pass the awful sentence on his people. “Defying the orders of your king is a lesser evil by far than slaying innocent men. However, I must let it be known that I will not allow anyone to do such a thing without great pressing reason. Therefore, I say that you who did repent of the slaying, you must go forth from this city and never return through its gates or settle within sight of them. Henceforth, you are forgotten here. You are exiled from my city, not my country. To those of you who did not repent, I may not give you another chance. You will teach the people that they can not sit and debate, and so determine whether there is anything to repent of. Men must repent and forgive once, for all time, and not think to revenge themselves on those who no longer think of harming them. Therefore, in payment to the One and the innocents you slew, you must die, here and now.” At a gesture, the unrepentant men were slain without a second look by some of the guards. “Then Valun concluded. “Some of you shall have to deal with the bodies. Wherever you meet more such as these, ask them why they do this, and then ask them if they repent. Do not reveal the sentence until they have made their choice. Then, carry it out. Those who swear that they have done nothing may go free. As you see, you will know them by their blades.” As he said this, Valun gestured toward the blades which had been taken from the prisoners, all of which were stained. “Do as I have said. I will return to the castle to await your reports.”

            The dispirited king waited for several hours in the great hall before anyone came to him with the news he had ordered. While he sat thus, David finally reappeared at his side. Valun did not care to hear explanations at that time, and David did not offer him any, simply standing by his chair prepared to run for the next thing which was wanted.

            When Valun could stand the peace no longer, he spoke without shifting his gaze from the front door of the hall. “I have slain my people. May I still wear the crown, or am I a monster?”

            “My lord, this is not at all what you should think. I heard your orders from the men. The ones you slew were murderers, who did not care that it was so. You must set barriers before the people if there is to be peace. You must not berate yourself so harshly for deigning to serve justice in such a way. Those who live know that they were punished. Those who did no harm had no harm come to them. It was as it should be. The king can not let defiance go unpunished, but he must have a soft hand in dealing it out. By giving them the chance to repent, you gave them leave to offer their loyalty back to you. They will live in peace, for there is no shame on them beyond the walls of the city, which they will never enter again. In short, my lord, you have done as a king might do. Put this behind you and rule the remainder of your people with the same fair hand.”

            “It is not that I might have done wrong, but that I might lose the people themselves because of it. They lived in secrets and fear for so many years…”

            David stopped a passing servant and requested that food and drink be brought to the table. Stepping forward so that he was now facing the king, he asked “What must I say to make you believe this is true? You have done as you must, and you alone are the only man in the kingdom who does not believe it! If you can not bring yourself to accept this, there is one path open to you; renounce the crown and declare prince Valnor king in your stead.”

            Valun, who had to this point been sullen throughout the meeting, suddenly became animated, loudly protesting “That I can not do! My father named me king and not him!”

            “Then, from your love for the One and your father, believe what I say: You are a good man, you will be a great king, and you must, after you bury him, forget your father, for it is he who is driving you to madness over your treatment of the people he gave you to tend, even though he is now dead! If you can not loose your grasp on the desire to achieve your father’s pinnacle, you will go mad and fail miserably. Each son is a new man, and has no duty to anyone to be greater than his father, even though he be the king. How you see fit is not how your father saw fit; your time is different. It is incumbent upon you to force the people to fulfill your father’s words, but you must do this without forcing them to do anything. Therefore, you fear to punish them. Hear this, the people know you must do this; you explained yourself well enough when it began. They know that it is the right of the king to levy such penalties upon them, even if the king does not. Have faith; your people remain true to your house. When you slew those murderers, did the people cry out, or riot still more? They did not. There is peace in the city now because you acted, not despite it. I would suggest at least that you leave us all for some time, and learn that you are beholden to no shadows anymore, be they your father or hundreds you did not know.”

            Valun pounded his fist on the oaken table. “It is not your place to teach me! Return to your past duties, and I will see to myself!”

            Ever respectful, David stepped away, bowed, and said “As you wish, my lord.” Then he disappeared into the kitchen, where he had before been a minder of the great fire.

            Valun sat in silence for some minutes, thinking over the servant’s words as he chewed the venison which had been served whilst the man was speaking. Watching the sunlight disappear from a high window, he did not notice the man enter the room.

            “Everything he said was true.” remarked Robert, who was entirely alone and standing with the aid of a strong ash staff. Moving over and sitting when the king started at the sight of him, Robert added “If you will not hear him, than hear me, who has followed you and suffered with you through just what seems to be ailing you; the loss of your father, the man you vowed you would strive to be. Your trouble is, you are trying too hard. If you do not release it now, you, of all people, will begin to hate your father because you believe you must do everything as he did, even though you can not. You do not. Your father knew it, your brother knows it, I know it, the people know it. You do not. This, then, is what you must learn before you will come into your own as king: It is for the man himself to make himself great in the eyes of the people; great men do not spring from the minds of others. Learn this, and you will be happy. Leave your brother as your regent, and go forth with my people, be their son for a time, and learn that your father does not guide your destiny because you wear a crown and are called king. Will you do this, for me, and Richard, and all your people?”

            Valun sighed heavily, suddenly feeling that at last he had been told what he needed to do. “I will do it for the people. My father’s festival shall be held when I deem myself ready to return.”

            “Thank you, my lord.”

            Valun then sent a nearby attendant in search of the prince, who was most likely in seclusion to mark the loss of his father. It was precisely at that opportune moment that a doorwarden announced that a messenger had come from the king’s guards, with sir Richard in tow.

            Sir Richard opened the door for himself a moment later, already voicing his astonishment at the news. Even as he paid homage to the presence of the king, he was demanding an explanation from the man.

            “What is this, my lord? You have put your own people to death? Have you gone mad? On our return here, we passed many men who said they had been exiled from the city. Do you care?”

            His mind settled, Valun was able to drop into the stern tone he needed at the time. “I will take no more of that from you, though I know you are a loyal servant to me. I will, however, give you an answer. Did you not ask any men why they said these things?”

            “No, my lord. It seems that I have failed. May I be seated?”

            “Where you wish. I condemned some to death and exiled others because they murdered, though I particularly said that the prisoners were to be accepted. Did no one tell you that one dressed as a Naibern prisoner killed my father in front of all the people?”

            Richard was visibly taken aback. “I did not hear. I grieve at it, my lord, but I might also admire the man’s determination and boldness.”

            “I give you that. Now, because this happened, my people revenged themselves on innocent men who had been disarmed. I could not allow this to be so without punishment. Those who repented were exiled, and those who did not were slain. Those who did nothing were let free.”

            “I believe you did right, my lord. They will know you as a stern but merciful king.”

            At that time, Railon and John, who had been riding together some way behind Richard, entered the room. Both were dressed in battle armor and carrying their helmets under their arms. “I believe your man told you we would be coming?” inquired Railon, handing his helmet off to a man who had come forward to take it. Moving to sit at the long table close by Richard, he added “We have great business to speak of with you.”

            John followed the desert lord, saying nothing as he placed himself some way apart from the others.
            Turning his gaze on Railon, Valun said “Your companion I know, and I would have words with him. You, however, I know not, and you have not said who you are, nor why you dare to sit in my presence without acknowledgement?”

            “I am Railon, tenth king of Gairbairia. My house claims descent from Tyrone of Gaimairon. As a king, I claim the right to rest myself before others.”

            “And you, John, am I not your king?”

            John rose to his feet and replied in a clear voice “I am John of Ronaieria, brother of Elmbran, our king. We claim descent from Dalton of Taronga. I have never been your subject. In fact, I was under threat of death to capture or to kill you. But I renounce that order, for you befriended me, knowing not who I was. Let them kill me; they will find it hard.” His speech concluded, he resumed his seat.

            Noting Valun’s surprise, Railon and Richard spoke in unison. “It is all so. We have all three sworn to hunt the men responsible until they are dead. We also know who we must find: Kalveston, calling himself emperor of Naibern. Will you join us?”

            “Gladly would I do so, but I think that I must not. I have other matters to attend to. Also, I think that Richard would be an able representative for me in such a matter. Attend me, brother.”
            Valnor, who had just arrived, moved close by the king at his command. “What do you require that you call me away from my grief?”

            “I require you to take my seat. I wish to go forth for a time. I am not at peace, as I should be if I am to be a true king. You shall act for me, as if you were king, until I return. Do you swear to return my power to me when I do that?”

            “Yes. That I promise, on the faith our father had in us.”

            “Then I go. I will know if you keep your word, for I do not go so far. I will know myself better when I return.” With that, Valun rose from his seat and moved toward the door. At a signal, Robert rose and retrieved a chair which had been in his room. This he passed to an attendant, who set it down at the foot of the steps to the king’s seat.

            “Take your seat, brother. This will show the people that you do not claim the crown from me yet. Good day.” Valun then offered his brother a warrior’s salute, which was returned. Formalities complete, Valun opened the door for himself, calling to an attendant “I shall require my horse. Bring it to the city walls, the rear. I stay with the Trondale.”