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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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11 August 2015

The Price of a Throne: Chapter 26

Chapter 26

When the Longfurrows had left the castle, they rode through the city carefully, avoiding the main streets. For this day and this journey, Richard had none of his usual desire to be visible and recognized. The gravity of the task before them, he felt, was such that the popular recognition he enjoyed so much would suggest that he thought the quest no more important than an ordinary day’s riding exercise.
In fact, his careful avoidance of the public view was motivated by a serious attention to the reputation of his name. The soaking and a few quick swallows of water had not been enough to bring James properly back to his senses, and as a result Richard was forced to keep his brother’s reins in one hand and the boy’s collar in the other, while steering his own horse with his knees alone. When they had finally reached the gate relatively unnoticed and had been let out by the gatekeepers with nothing more than knowing nods, which he returned, Richard stopped the horses on the grassy plain outside the walls.
It was the same spot outside the walls where he and the others had stopped when they had first been exiled by Keltran, but that bit of history and the similarities to his present situation were lost on the Longfurrow as he eased his brother down from the saddle.
James, who had barely reacted throughout their ride through the city, began to mumble in protest at the treatment. “uuuh…aaahh…what are you doing? Haven’t we got far to go…? King’s orders…? Stop it, brother, I can walk…”
Laying James gently on the grass, Richard replied as if his brother had been speaking with perfect clarity. “No, brother, you can’t. We do indeed have a long way to go, and I can’t ride a whole day keeping you in the saddle too. You’re not fit for a while yet. We’ll ride after you’ve slept off the king’s wine, not before. Why they gave any to you…I’ll be sure they don’t in the future.” Removing the long cape which had been a part of his costume since he was James’s own age, Richard spread it over his brother as if he were putting a young child to bed. Having done this, he stepped away, noting just how quickly the boy fell into a deep sleep once he was laid out on the grass.
Richard waited patiently through the hours, resisting the urge to break into the provisions here at the beginning of their journey. He gave each of the horses a rub-down, which neither really needed yet, and walked them each around in a wide circle close to the road for a short time to keep them from restlessness. He did not do all this at once, but alternated it with stretches of silent watching over his slumbering brother and observing the passage of time. A few people entered the city, and some left, while he watched not three hundred yards from the gate, but none of them seemed to be people of any great significance.
He did, however, take note of the lack of nobles on the road. Of those who had arrived to celebrate the king’s installation, none had yet passed out of the gates. Richard accepted this, as he had no doubt that the previous night had seen the greatest celebration in the kingdom since the last true king’s own coronation, and there were sure to be games and jousting which the nobles and their retinues would happily take part in before returning to their homes. At this thought, a piece of the younger Richard of happier days, who had lived for the idea of carrying his family’s arms in such events, resurfaced and he sighed.
“My lord, why must I miss the games? The king’s games were my greatest dream. But no, if my father were alive, he would ask again ‘And what else have you skill in?’ and it is with shame that I can say only songs and stories, which, hard as they are, are not what he would have expected of me now. Duty calls, and I thank you for your trust.”
It was only a short time after Richard had said this, and nearly three hours after he had first set his brother down that James awoke, shrugging off Richard’s cape and standing upright. “Well, my brother, what is to be done today?” James paused and looked around. Confusion was written plainly on his face. “Wait, why are we outside the city? Have I been sleeping on the grass? Under this bedroll you tie to your back?”
Striding over, sweeping up the cape, and deftly putting it back in place, Richard answered “Well that’s a fine way to treat the best material in the country. Yes, yes, and yes you have. You’ve spent nearly the whole day sleeping off the king’s best wine. Do not think poorly of yourself, though. Plenty of men older and stronger than you were still sleeping when I pulled you out. What we are to do today, and what I would have been doing for some time now already if the king had not ordered that I should bring you along, is ride. Long and hard and through days and nights until we find word of the king’s father. We shall not get far today, so let us get as far as we can.”
“We should tell the others we’re going.”
“The others already know. The king himself sent us on this mission.”
James, who had been about to mount, stopped and turned to face Richard. “Our others. I always told mother when l left the house.”
“No, James. I am sorry, but we cannot do that. Our home is a day’s ride out of our way. Peace on their spirits, but nothing can be changed by speaking to a rock with our mother’s name on it. We really must be off.”
Still standing by his horse, James exclaimed in reply “Maybe I won’t go with you!”
Turning his horse around, Richard answered, anxious to be firm yet not overpowering. “Don’t do this, James. It will be a mark on our name. The king suggested that I take you along. I am the lord of Longfurrow, and you are under my orders. The king will be angry with us both if he discovers his words were not followed. This is a chance for us to regain some of what we lost when father sent me away. You need an adventure, and I- need a man to watch my back, and that is something I would not say to another. Ride with me, brother, to honor our parents. This would be following their wishes.”
There was a silence broken only by distant sounds of livestock and city life. Then James mounted and pulled up alongside his brother. “Alright. I’ll ride with you. Where are we going?”
“North, to Brandia.” With this answer, Richard kicked his horse to a trot, grinning when he heard James start up a moment later.
They rode till twilight fell, and only then stopped to make camp. Richard built the fire while James dealt with the horses. Unloading the packs and placing them under the shelter of a nearby tree, he took both animals, rubbed them down and then took the reins and drew them alongside the stream that was running mere yards from the camp.
“You can leave them,” Richard called from the far side of the fire. “They won’t go far after what we put them through. That was not wise at all, bounding over logs and streams and scared rabbits. These horses have much too far to go yet.”
Coming over, James seated himself on a rock alongside the log Richard had chosen.
“Have you ever cooked a thing in your life, brother?”
“The Trondale was our cook during my adventure with the king. Why do you wonder?”
“Take one suggestion from me and let me do the cooking after you eat whatever that was before you killed it again.”
Following James’s gesture, Richard withdrew the point of the short throwing spear he had been holding in the flames. On it he found two blackened pieces of what had been good salted meat, which clearly did not fit that description anymore. Richard took one and James the other, both looking askance at the results of Richard’s first, and likely last, attempt at camp cooking. And then, abandoning all sense of decorum, they ate the burnt meat, as well as some of the other rations, as hungrily as if it was from the height of the king’s feast.
After they had satisfied themselves, and had been sitting quietly for some minutes, James suggested “Tell me about your adventures, brother. Surely you had adventures, for I doubt that you would have missed a chance for excitement, orders or no orders.”
“Had I any adventures to speak of, I assure you I would have spoken of them. But I do not believe that I have had what you would call adventures.”
James lay down, resting his head on his head on his hands and looking up at the stars. “You were not here to watch your house burn and your family murdered. Anything you might have done is better than that experience.”
Richard, who was still seated on the log, sighed and said “I know, brother, and I will rue forever that I could not stay to help.”
“You could not have done anything. There were too many of them. Father sent you away to ensure that you survived to carry our banner. I see that now.”
“That is true. In fact, father told me the very day I left that he felt it was his duty to fight for the king. He intended from the start to lead a rebellion, but his actions toward me show that he was also prepared for failure.”
“Did you not tell me you have become a great bard? Give me a story the Ronairs tell-but remember to speak in our own tongue.”
“Very well, as you wish, brother.”
Without further preamble, Richard began a recitation of the Lay of Lensharral, an epic poem which was one of the first that his old mentor had taught him, as it was a very popular story which was believed by the Ronairs to have been handed down from the earliest days of the four kingdoms. He had, however, only reached the third of the 28 stanzas when he noticed that James was already asleep once more.
“Very well” He said to himself “We’ll take it up again tomorrow. There are many days ahead before our quest is completed.”
They continued their journey at dawn the next morning, riding at a walk and passing the time in exchanging the stories they were each willing to share. In the early afternoon, they caught sight of a stag grazing near the path. Richard took hold of the throwing spear he had ordered provided just for this purpose, and with a nod to James, began to draw closer to the animal.
The stag caught wind of him and began to bound away, but Richard urged his horse to a burst of speed, and, standing upright in the stirrups with the reins in his left hand, threw the spear with a tremendous heave which struck and killed the stag mid-leap from a full thirty yards away. The brothers rode up alongside the carcass at a walk so as not to waste any more of their steed’s energy. When they had reached it, Richard drew the knife he had received ten years ago from Duke Tyrone and passed it to James. While Richard remained on his horse, James dismounted, first removing the spear from the carcass and returning to his brother and then proceeding to use some rope they had brought along to tie the animal to the back of his own horse.
“That was quite a cast, brother. When did you become so skilled at the hunt? Surely the Ronairs do not take their bards out on the chase.”
“Were you not trained in the hunt by the lord who housed you? In my father’s house you would have been training in the hunting cast already.”
“Do not remind me again of what I have lost, brother. The Aldaricks fed me and clothed me, but they gave me no training in the skills you would think I have learned. Hunting and trapping I taught myself, but I never hunted with a spear.”
“I will see that you learn the skill before you are much older.”
“That is enough for me.” James replied as he remounted and they continued their journey.
They continued to ride at an easy pace for the rest of the day. Twice they passed through villages, where the sight of them caused the townsfolk to stop and wonder what business an unfamiliar noble and his squire could have this far away from any great city. However, their passage caused no great commotion, for they rode through without stopping and had no speech with the people present. When they had passed through the second of the villages, Richard stopped his horse and remarked “I believe we have drawn near the Trondale’s land, if we have not already passed through. Tell me, if you can, why were they attacked? They suffered much the same fate as we did, and yet no one save you has spoken of it.”
“At the Aldaricks’ table I heard that it was spies. The Trondale also prepared for war, as you can guess by the fact that his son rode with you; it seems he had the same thought as our father did, though why he did not act until father had tried and failed, you must ask Conan. What I can tell you is that he never got a chance to avenge us. One of the barons the Trondale went to for help, the Rensel, I heard, had sold himself to the invaders and informed them of the Trondale’s intent. Everyone the Rensel named was killed.”
“Is the line of Rensel still intact?” Richard asked, stunned at this piece of information.
        “I do not know, but if it is, they have surely fled or joined the Faldons in rebellion. Did you not see the lords when the king called for the Rensel at the feast? They acted as if he were dead, and the king followed their lead. I have heard a rumor that Conan’s uncle had the lord of Rensel murdered, and no one holds it against him, not even the Rensel’s own relations.”
“Neither would I if I had the slightest suspicion that was true. To sell the lives of those who would ask you for aid…”
That evening, many miles farther north, James finally skinned and served up the deer Richard had killed, cooking far more of it than they were inclined to eat that night in preparation for future nights. Richard took up the story he had left off the previous night and got significantly farther into it before James finally announced that he heard enough for that night.
They again rose at dawn and rode for many hours without having any experiences of particular note. The north part of the country was sparsely populated, the land rough and uninviting. It looked as if it had burned, which in fact it had not too long ago. They passed through another village and stopped long enough to eat and rest themselves at the local inn, however they again avoided making conversation with anyone, and the local people gave them ample space.
During a pause in their ride after they had left the village, Richard remarked to James “We must be careful in the mountains. The road should lead us to the pass, but I have heard that the pass itself is a full day’s ride from end to end.”
“Well then we will not ride it in the dark” answered James “Come, brother. We still have far to go.”
With the exception of this break, they spent most of the day passing through land covered by vineyards and fields of grain. When they stopped that night it seemed to them that the mountains between them and Brandia were no more than a day’s ride away.
The following afternoon they arrived at the edge of a massive forest which had not appeared on the horizon until they had already been riding for some time. The road continued on right into it, and so they did not think of turning away. As they followed the path into the heart of the forest, they found that it was a much more open and inviting place than it appeared from the outside. Although much of the path was closely bordered by tall trees, equally long stretches ran through grassy clearings, in one of which they saw a herd of deer grazing. This time, they resisted the urge to take one, as they still had plenty in their packs from the first one they had taken, and instead stood and watched in appreciation as the animals stayed and departed freely.
After some time they came to a spot where the path was blocked by a lord among trees which had lived out its life. As they began to lead their horses around it, they heard a voice call out in warning.
“Stop where you stand!”
Knowing it would be useless to draw his sword, Richard answered “Brave men show themselves! Who dares to waylay the duke of Longfurrow riding on the king’s business?”
Without warning a figure swung down from a nearby tree to land on the log they were attempting to pass. “And I would ask: who dares to call himself the duke of Longfurrow on the king’s business? The king is no king and the duke of Longfurrow died honorably fighting him.”
Richard stopped and glared at the speaker. “No man knows that better than I, except my squire here, my brother and the only survivor of the massacre of the Longfurrows and their household. If you have heard of sir Roland’s death, surely word has spread that Richard, his heir, was not in Corridane to be slain? I am that man and I have ridden at the side of the king, Valun III Hightower, driving out the invaders this month past. Word has not reached you of the king’s return?”
“Perhaps it did. Perhaps we ignored it as a ploy to draw us out and retreated deeper into this our home.”
Richard noticed that several young men had emerged from the trees during the exchange. The delay was wearing at his patience, and so he answered harshly. “And perhaps you are all fools. Most, perhaps all of you, have families outside this forest who would die happily at your return, and you are keeping them in misery. Have you buried your hearts in this forest?”
At this point, James, who had watched the whole episode in silence, pointed at one of the new arrivals and called out “Antony Aldarick! You cannot deny us. I lived under your father’s roof for too long.”
At this exclamation, everyone turned and looked at the young man in question, who seemed to have frozen on the spot. After a lengthy pause he spoke.
“Yes, my friends, that boy there is James Longfurrow. As he says, he lived in our house after his whole family was slain by the Naiberns, all that is, except Richard the eldest, who had not been seen by anyone for years before the attack. The Longfurrows’ land is days south of here, so if they are riding this far north, it is surely on the king’s business.”
“Very well” the leader of the band said to the Longfurrows “Antony has vouched for you, so I will take your word and let you pass.”
“You could do much more for us by leaving this outlaw life and returning to your homes. Go to the king at Corrandion and inform him that his servant the duke of Longfurrow rides in Brandia as he ordered.”
“We will, sir, but we would be honored if you would join us at our last feast under the trees. I would wager that you will never forget it, either.”
Relaxing, Richard remounted and replied “Nor do I think the king would grudge me one day of rest to feast with good men.”
As the whole party began to make their way to another part of the forest, James called to no one in particular “Keep the wine away from him or he’ll start singing songs you’ve never heard in a language you don’t speak.” This warning brought general chuckling at Richard’s expense while he could do nothing but grin and shake his head with embarrassment.
The woodland feast was indeed the stuff memories are made of, and despite the clear advantages the king’s kitchen held over a line of woodsmen’s spits, both Richard and James enjoyed themselves fully as much as they had enjoyed the king’s feast, which had been the first great feast the land had seen in many a year, and by consequence had been both in fact and perception one of the most elaborate to have ever been given, even in the king’s hall.
However, this feast was not only a great quantity of good food made and served among friends, but at the same time it was a good-natured competition of all sorts that could be managed without actually halting the consumption of food among those competing.
Eventually, someone recalled James’s words of warning and called for Richard to sing “a song we haven’t heard in a language we don’t speak”. Rising from his seat, Richard agreed to give them a song, but declined to sing in a different language, as those who had never been taught any language but their own would be unable to enjoy the tale properly. With this qualification, he began a recitation of a second Ronair tale which was not told in Corridane. The telling of the tale lasted deep into the night, and he noted as he spoke that despite the late hour, his audience, including James, remained engrossed in the story until the last word had been said.
At the completion of the tale the feast was declared ended and all present spread themselves throughout the clearing, paying no heed to any pattern or organization as they lay down save the courtesy of granting one’s nearest neighbors ample room.
In the morning the whole band of forest-dwellers was up and about by dawn, and all stood by to see the Longfurrows off in the continuation of their quest. As they said their farewells, Richard reminded the whole party that they were bound by their word to depart from there and undertake the journey to return to the capital and the places where they belonged before the day was out. All present acknowledged this, and with a final farewell, the Longfurrows continued their ride on the forest trail, prepared for the long ride ahead. Their provisions had been replenished from the stores the forester-nobles had accumulated in their years living there, and both horses and men were well rested and satisfied.
They had not been riding more than an hour when they found themselves leaving the forest and riding once more in open plains. They heard cocks crowing in the distance as they rode, the sound carrying on the west wind which brought with it a faint hint of the sea, though they were now many miles farther from the coast than they had been when Richard had asked James to explain the attack on the Trondales.
All at once as they grew closer to the base of the mountains and the head of the pass, the fertile farmland gave way to bustling quarries and slow-moving teams of oxen or mules pulling great cartloads of stone to trade centers farther south and east. The Longfurrows exchanged polite greetings with some of the drivers, but others were content to keep their heads down and their animals in motion rather than take any notice of a noble and his squire riding in what amounted to the edge of the country. They were well aware of who held claim over the land they lived and worked on, and knew equally well that a day’s ride with but one servant would be out of character for any of those men.
Savoring their remaining time in their homeland, for they could not guess how long their quest would last before they had fulfilled the king’s orders, the Longfurrows had been riding at a strolling pace slower still than that which they had begun using after that first exciting afternoon. In consequence, by the time evening fell, they had just managed to come into the last village on their own side of the mountain pass. Just as every other village in the nation, this one had an inn, populated by the good, hard-working men who labored in the nearest fields and quarries.
Hardly expecting a response, Richard decided to ask the room if anyone had ever been over the mountain pass and if they knew how long it was. However, having asked a roomful of country laborers who had probably never travelled beyond this their home village, he received nothing that could be considered a positive response.
Feeling no disappointment at this failure, Richard chose for that night, as the last night he could expect to spend among his own people for some time, to involve himself in the life of the village people. And so he seated himself in the midst of them, drank, ate, and sang their songs rather than seizing an opportunity to perform any of those he had learned. In short, he made himself agreeable to everyone there, and this fact was made known to him several times throughout the night by different appreciative local men. In the midst of the cheer, one man paid him a compliment which stuck in his mind through the night not because he counted it false or mistaken, but because of what exactly the man had said.
“You’re a grand fellow, m’lord. We don’t have nobles come through our little town often, especially one as good as you are. In fact, the last one as nice as yourself also had a boy with him, even younger than yours.”
Recognizing the possible clue, Richard asked the man without a hint of levity in his voice “How long ago did this lord pass through? Was he much older than me?”
“Aye, m’lord. That he was. It was ten years ago this past month if my memory serves me right.”
Disinclined to cause a disturbance by leaving the group suddenly, Richard inconspicuously withdrew a gold piece from his wallet and passed it to the man. “Take this as a sign of my gratitude. Your memory could be of good service to your country.”
“Thank you, m’lord. I certainly hope ‘tis.”

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