Crystal Throne

                                                                                 By Bert McKenzie 

                                                                                  Copyright 2010

 

Disclaimer: This story is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance to any real
person alive or dead is coincidental and unintentional.

CHAPTER III

     For as long as he could remember, Robin had been a king, although he
had almost never lived as one.  His first memories were of trees, tall,
leafy green canopies covering a twilight maze of brown, grey and olive.
Feguna was the wood elf into whose care the infant prince had been
entrusted.  His mother had died in childbirth and his father, Oberon the
Stalwart, left shortly thereafter to fight against invaders from the dark
world.

     Robin had grown up with the other wood elves, as one of them.  He
played the same childhood games and performed the same chores as any other
youth in the community.  But he always knew he was different.  Feguna told
him tales of the great court in the Palace of Esbereth.  She taught him to
be proud of his heritage, yet she allowed no prideful actions from him
toward his peers.  Robin remembered the times his ears burned with the
taunts of his woodmates because his skin was so much paler than theirs, and
because he couldn't climb quite as quickly.  One day he decided he could
take no more teasing and attacked his young friend, Clive who had been his
worst tormentor.  He could still feel the sting of the hazel switch across
his backside after Feguna had dragged him back to their den.  She probably
would have let him off easy had it not been for the fact that he told her
she had no right to punish her future monarch.

     The years passed slowly, as they often do in the great wood.  Slowly
but surely the playmates of his childhood grew into adult wood elves.  Many
left their arboreal village to seek their fortunes in other parts of the
forest.  A few paired off and stayed to start their own families.
Meanwhile, Robin continued to grow.  He soon stood at least a head taller
than the tallest of his peers.  Feguna knew that the time was soon
approaching when she would have to say goodbye to her ward.

     One crystal clear spring morning the forest rang with news.  Feguna
knew the day had come.  Why else would there be strangers in the great
wood?  The traveling sentries were in the village center telling of sounds
they had heard, the tramping step of many horses and the jingle of harness
bells.  They had quickly returned with their reports before ever actually
sighting the origins of the noise.  But apparently a large company was
moving into the eaves of the wood.  Feguna looked for Robin in their den,
to tell him of this news, but he was gone.

          * * *

     The forest pool, beside which he sat was an enchanted place.  It was
his own hideout, one of which no one else knew.  The small pool of icy
water appeared green, reflecting the shimmering, verdant light that
filtered down through the forest canopy from high above.  Roughly circular
in shape and carved into a hillside, the pool was edged around by large
flat stones, as if purposely designed.  The cold water was circulated by a
small waterfall splashing over old, stone boulders on one side, and a small
brook taking away the run off just opposite.  One particularly smooth stone
formed a natural bridge over the edge of the pool where it spilled into the
brook.

     Robin loved to sit on the bridge and gaze into the dark olive depths.
He often thought it would have made a great home for a water sprite.
Sometimes he would pretend that the reflection of his own face was a sprite
looking back at him.  He would smile and his water friend would return the
cheery expression.  Whenever he felt troubled, he would stretch out on the
flat stone bridge and unburden his heart.  The silent sprite never
interrupted, but always listened with a quiet grace.

     That particular day Robin had risen early to go visit the pool.  He
was bothered by a strange longing.  All of his playmates were forming lives
for themselves, settling together in comfortable male-female partnerships
or going off to explore other parts of the great wood, and Robin was left
alone.  There was, of course, Feguna, but she was old and grumpy.  She had
no time to listen to his heart, or share his dreams.  He felt that he had
no one but the handsome pool reflection.  He longed for someone he could
talk with, who would actually talk back.  "I must leave this wood," he told
his silent confidante.  He felt it was time to seek his own destiny.

     "Yes, you must," a quiet, sad voice replied.  Robin was so startled he
nearly fell from the rock into the water.  He turned to see Feguna standing
behind him.

     "I . . . I did not mean . . ." he stammered.

     She knelt beside him, taking his face in her care worn hands.  "I
know, little one.  But the time has come for you to move on.  A great
company awaits at the forest gate to take you back to your birthright."

     Suddenly, when faced with the reality of leaving everything he had
ever known, it all seemed terribly wrong.  It was one thing to contemplate
such a radical change, and yet quite another thing to actually do it.  He
grabbed the old woman and hugged her tightly, as if he could hold on to
this past and himself.  "I cannot leave," he sobbed.

     "Yes you can," she said firmly, pushing him back.  "I have raised a
king, and a king you shall be!"

     "Then you will come with me?" he asked, drying his eyes on the scrap
of cloth she handed to him.

     "No, my young charge," she replied sadly.  "My time is over.  I have
raised and protected you to adulthood.  Now someone else will take you in
hand."  She stood, taking his hand and together they started down a forest
path.

     They walked on in silence, each thinking of times past.  Normally,
they would have taken the sky trails, bridges and paths through the tree
tops formed by intertwining branches, but now they stayed on the ground.
The winding path around the great tree trunks took much longer.  Robin
looked down at the old elf that walked slowly beside him, picking her path
around the underbrush and the young saplings.  He stared at the greyish
white hair on her head, the color of birch bark.  She turned her face to
look up at him, and gave him a quick, reassuring smile.  He etched her
lined and wrinkled features into a 'poltarin,' a memory picture he would
carry always in his heart.

     All too soon the light changed as the trees began to thin.  Suddenly,
just ahead was a wide break between two tall forest giants.  Beyond was a
grassy meadow bathed in golden sunlight and dotted with clover and
heartsease.  "There is the forest gate."  Feguna pointed to the opening.
"A camp of high born await you just beyond."

     Robin clutched her sleeve as she turned to go.  She stopped and looked
deeply into his green-gold eyes.  He could see the tears beginning to fill
hers.  She reached up to gently brush a lock of his golden hair away from
his face, and then she was gone.  Robin turned to the forest gate and
walked out into the sunlight.

          * * *

     Just as Feguna had said, the camp was set up under the forest eaves
near the gate.  There were a number of high born awaiting him as Robin
stepped out of the wood.  They all bowed low and then rising took him into
a large striped tent.  Inside he was introduced to a man named Thomas, a
human.  This was to be his tutor.

     The camp was dismantled the next day and the caravan moved off across
the prairie, taking Robin on his first journey into Tuatha proper and away
from the great wood.  He was told the journey to the Palace of Esbereth
would normally take one month on horseback, but this troupe carrying tents,
provisions and escorting many high born travelers, would take considerably
longer.  The tutor planned to make good use of the time to teach Robin many
things he would need to know.

     Thomas appeared older than anyone Robin had ever known, but of course
that was because he was human.  The skin on his face was folded and creased
with age and his long hair and full beard were a bluish white in color.
His hands were bony thin, the skin covering them looking as though it were
paper stretched over a skeleton.  Thomas appeared much older than Feguna or
any of the village elders Robin had ever seen, and yet for all that, he
stood erectly tall, a spring still in his quick stride and a vibrant spark
of life in his blue-grey eyes.  He told Robin the tale of how he had fallen
in love with a fairy princess many long years ago and had followed her into
the land of Faerie from his own world.  Longing for his home, Thomas had
left the princess and returned to humankind to dwell with them for several
decades.  When he became an old man he was again permitted to leave his
world.  Humans lived much longer here than in their own land, so he came
back to stay.  Having been highly favored at court because of his talents
as a poet and musician, skills highly prized by all of Tuatha, Thomas was
given the charge of educating and bringing the young prince home.

     As the days of travel stretched on, Robin learned many things.  He was
taught the lay of the land and its history.  He learned many things about
his genealogy and race, the high born fair folk, that he never knew.
Apparently they were quite different from the smaller woodlings he knew
from childhood.  Thomas taught him to read runes and gave him much in the
way of knowledge, while he learned many other physical skills, such as the
use of the bow, staff and sword, from some of the other elves in
attendance.  They worked him hard, but he was a bright and willing pupil.

     At night the fair folk all gathered together in the center of the camp
to sing.  As the stars wheeled overhead, the long nights were filled with
beautiful music of old; songs that told of love and loss, songs that told
of dreams fought for and attained.  But what Robin enjoyed most were the
stories, poems and songs of old Thomas.  His music came from a far away
world and had an eerie quality about it that tugged at the young man's
heart.  The nights blended into the days with the strange songs filling his
soul.

     Robin learned much from his tutor.  But, one subject that had almost
never been mentioned was his immediate family.  Whenever such a subject
came up, everyone lapsed into stony silence, then quickly changed the topic
of conversation.  One day, while discussing Tuathan government Robin
decided it was time to broach the issue.  "Please, Master Thomas, tell me
of my mother."

     No one else was around, the two of them having ridden deep into the
meadow to be undisturbed at lessons.  Old Thomas grew silent and misty eyed
for a time.  Then he spoke.  "Your mother, young sire, was the most
beautiful lady in all of Faerie, with hair of spun gold and skin of
polished alabaster.  She was also the most gracious queen."

     "Did my father love her?" the young man asked.

     "Of course he did!" Thomas replied gruffly.  "Everyone loved the lady
Titania, especially your father, but he was the lucky prince to win her
love in return."

     "She died when I was born?" Robin asked.

     "Yes."

     "Had I no brothers or sisters?"

     "No, young sire," Thomas answered sadly.  "You were to be the first
born and future king of the land.  Your parents ruled many ages before you
were conceived.  In those days your race had grown weak.  A great plague
was upon the land.  Children were rarely born, and those that were all too
often died soon after.  Many mothers died in labor.  The high king, your
father feared this for his lady and so they waited long.  The high council
finally forced the issue and your parents agreed to produce an heir to the
throne.  You know the rest."

     "But I know not," Robin countered.  "What of my father?  Why have I
never seen him?  Why was I given to the woodlings?"

     Thomas paused before answering, weighing what to tell the young
prince.  "Your father greatly loved your mother," he began slowly.  "When
he lost her, the life went out of his eyes.  He sent you away because
. . ." he paused, searching for the right words.

     "Because he blamed me for her death," Robin finished.

     "Because you reminded him of his lost love," the old man corrected.
"Your eyes are very like hers."

     "So why now am I suddenly wanted?" Robin asked, somewhat bitterly.

     "Your father threw himself into combat to forget his pain.  He left
court to do battle in the Eldritch Mountains.  He has not returned.  While
he was gone the council ruled in his stead, each member delegate serving a
time as steward to the land.  Of late there has been much bickering and
threatening of hostilities as the last steward was ill-suited for command.
The high council now feels it is time to find a new king.  Many of the
delegates have fallen into battle to choose who should rule, none thinking
of the rightful king, nor the rightful heir.  The palace knows that.  That
is why we are here to return you."

     "Then this company is from the palace?" Robin slowly caught on.

     "Yes and the high council is unaware that we are here.  Once you are
back at Esbereth they will have to recognize your claim to the throne and
all will return to normal."

     "Except for my missing father," Robin added.

     A dark cloud crossed the old man's face.  "We need a coronation, young
master.  When you sit on the crystal throne you can decide what to do about
your missing father.  Many of your knights will gladly go in search of him
then.  But they need a king now, someone to rule here!"  Telling his story
seemed to drain the old man of energy.  He lapsed into silence.  Robin,
too, was silent, mentally digesting all he had heard.

          * * *

     The days stretched into weeks.  Robin made good use of the time to
assimilate many things about life at court, as well as to improve his
combat skills in mock battles with his peers.  As the caravan neared the
Plains of Morinar, leading up to the foothills of the Crystal Mountains,
the troupe slowed to a crawl.  The elves donned the red garb of traveling
merchants and the advanced guard redoubled their vigilance.  This would not
be a good time to be attacked by a contingent from one of the feuding
council members.

     Early one morning, Thomas came to Robin's tent.  "Quickly, put this
on," he ordered, tossing a scarlet tunic at the young man.  Robin asked
what was going on.  "A large party is riding out to meet us.  There may be
nothing to it, but to be safe we will play the role of merchants.  If
asked, do not mention the wood elves.  We have been nowhere near the great
wood."  Stooping to pick up Robin's green jerkin, the standard clothing of
the woodlings, the old man quickly left.

     Robin quickly performed his morning ablutions and then pulled the red
tunic over his head.  He cinched the belt and bolted from the tent, only to
run headlong into the back of a tall guard standing directly in front of
the tent opening.  "Get back," the guard growled.  "There may be trouble."

     "I will not be protected like a child or old man," Robin shot back,
and strode out into the center of the gathering.  By now he could clearly
see the brightly colored plumes dancing from the helmets of about thirty
mounted men heading directly for the camp.  As they drew near the riders
split, one column heading left and another to the right.  The armored
horsemen formed a ring completely encircling the camp.  As they drew to a
halt, one rider slightly more colorful than the rest, wearing a flowing
blue cape over his golden chain mail, slowly urged his horse forward.

     Old Thomas walked out to meet the mounted man.  "Father Thomas.  What
business have you in the company of a merchant caravan?" the horseman
asked.  "I was told you had died."

     "It seems you're mistaken, Bailor," the old man replied.

     "It seems I am.  But you have not answered my question."

     "These kind merchants volunteered to take me on a journey to see more
of your world than just Esbereth walls."

     "And had you leave to go on such a journey?"

     "I was not aware that I was a prisoner," the old man answered a bit
gruffly.

     The caped horseman turned abruptly from him and shouted at the group
that had gathered around.  "Who is the leader of this troupe?"  A tall,
young man stepped forward from the crowd.  Robin had often seen him in
conference with old Thomas, but was never aware that he had any sort of
authority in the group.  The horseman dismounted and together with the
merchant leader, walked toward the tents.  The others quickly dispersed and
found things to keep them busy.  Robin returned to his tent.

     An hour later they broke camp.  The soldiers were apparently going to
escort them to the palace.  As soon as he was able, Robin made his way to
Thomas' side.  The old man told him that Bailor, the leader of this group,
was a ranking lord in the western kingdom.  He was staying at the palace
with Melusine, his sister.  They were apparently vying for a chance at the
throne, and Bailor was currently serving as steward.  Thomas felt that
Bailor did not believe the merchant cover story and suspected something was
afoot.  They would all have to watch their steps.

     As the prairie gradually rose to merge into the foothills, Robin
noticed flashes of light shooting into the sky.  They appeared to be
centered directly ahead at the base of the nearest mountain.  "Those
flashes come from reflections off the tower tops at the palace," Thomas
explained.  "Tomorrow you will be able to see Esbereth in all its glory."

 

 

 

 

 

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