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.