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?”
“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.