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 IV

     Glorious hardly described the Palace of Esbereth seen in the morning
sun.  The structure appeared to grow out of the side of the mountain, a
number of tall ivory towers rising above the surrounding foothills.  Each
tower seemed to be capped with a precious jewel that sparkled and flashed
as the rising sun glinted off of its faceted sides.  As they drew near,
Robin could see that the crystal tower tops were each a different color,
crowning the entire structure with a shimmering rainbow.  In the center one
tower stood out, taller than the rest and topped with a clear white stone
that looked like a giant diamond set in a band of other precious gems.  An
ivory colored wall surrounded the bases of the towers.

     The beautiful palace sank beneath rock as the caravan moved into a
crevice that wound between two high cliffs.  They threaded a short
maze-like canyon, and then turning again, came into full view of the
palace.  For just an instant, Robin's eyes were dazzled by what appeared to
be focused beams of brightly colored light.  Thomas had explained that the
faceted tower tops reflected the sun into this last corridor to blind
approaching enemies.  It apparently worked on all but elfin eyes.  The
merchants along with their escort had all dismounted and blindfolded their
horses which they led, while Thomas firmly grasped Robin's shoulder as he
walked along, eyes covered with a soft cloth strip tied around his head.

     A deep chasm presented itself at the end of the corridor of light.  It
was covered by a sturdy wooden drawbridge that led directly to a gate in
the surrounding wall.  Slowly the company filed across the wooden bridge
and through the gate into a large outer courtyard.  Once all had entered,
the drawbridge began to creak and clang as it was pulled up, sealing off
the palace from the outside world.

     "Why is the gate being closed?" Thomas demanded as he removed his
blindfold and walked up to Bailor who was barking orders to his men.

     "Merely a precaution, old father," the man sneered in response.

     "That bridge has never been closed save in times of war!" the old man
protested.

     "Times change, old one.  I am in charge now, not you.  If I wish the
bridge closed, so shall it be."

     "But the council . . ." the old man began.

     Bailor quickly mounted his steed.  "The council will confirm me the
new high king in two days time to avoid a war.  I suggest you follow your
friends to the red tower while you still have your freedom, human.  It may
not last long."  With that, the man wheeled his horse and trotted up the
path toward the center of the palace.

     Taking Robin roughly by the arm, Thomas started off with the rest of
the moving crowd toward the nearest structure.  As they entered the base of
the tower, Robin and Thomas were greeted by a thin, young girl in a hooded,
red cape.  The real merchants headed through the tower base into another
courtyard flanked by stables, warehouses, living quarters and such.  They
began unloading their goods and making whatever arrangements they deemed
necessary.  Meanwhile, the girl led Thomas, Robin and the group of palace
elves who had been masquerading to a large meeting room adjacent to the
merchant living quarters.

     Once inside she removed her cape.  Their guide was a beautiful young
woman with a pale cream colored complexion and pale blond hair that fell in
long wavy tresses down her back.  She wore the gold and white robes of the
palace fairies and was obviously a member of the same race as the high
born.  Her eyes, however, were the same intense green as Robin's.  As the
group settled around a large, wooden trestle table, she began filling them
in on what had transpired over the past few months.  Bailor had bullied
just about everyone on the council until they had installed him as
temporary steward to the land.  Rumor said that he had a large army
mustered and waiting to the west, hidden in the foothills.  Apparently it
was the council's orders and not his that kept the drawbridge raised, to
protect against this army.  But Bailor was not worried.  He was sure to be
crowned high king in a few days when next the council sat.  They had all
but given in.

     Of course there were still a few factions that were dead set against
the way things seemed to be heading.  One group was the merchant guild,
another was the greenwood tribe.  The last group holding out was the palace
folk.  They were too few in number to have a seat on the council but they
were all very vocal against Bailor.  But it seemed to do little good.  The
rest of the council wanted a king and this would be an easy way to get one.

     The girl paused in her narration.  She cautioned them to be careful in
returning to the main palace.  While they were gone the lady Melusine had
moved into the blue tower and had managed to have many of her servants
instantly installed to royal positions.  These servants were not to be
trusted, and they most certainly would become suspicious of strangers who
suddenly joined the ranks of the palace folk.  They would have to remain as
merchants until a way could be found to straighten out the whole mess.

     At last the girl lowered her eyes and addressed Thomas directly.  "And
alas, dear father, from your countenance I fear your venture has failed and
truly our hopes are lost."

     "My countenance reflects my distaste for that princox who would be
king," Thomas replied.  "My lady, let me introduce your cousin, young
master Robin."  Robin, who had been seated some few chairs away from
Thomas, rose as the old man gestured.

     The girl looked in surprise at the young man.  She then quickly ran to
his side, and taking his hand, knelt before him.  "My lord, I am your
cousin Ellenia."

     "Rise, my lady," Robin said, feeling somewhat foolish to have this
attractive young woman at his feet.

     "My lord does me great honor," she replied.  "I offer my most
heartfelt apologies for not recognizing you.  I did not truly look.  But
anyone can see you indeed are the heir to the high king."

     "Perhaps our kind lady will see to the needs of the young lord,"
Thomas said with a knowing smile.

     "Of course," Ellenia replied quickly.  She took Robin by the hand and
led him out of the room as the meeting broke up.  They headed into a dark,
cavernous passage that seemed to be carved out of the stone of the side of
the mountain against which the palace rested.  "This is the back way to the
high chambers, lord," she explained.  It would not be prudent to just walk
in the front gate of the white tower.

     As he followed her through the winding stone corridors, Robin
requested further information from her.  "What actions must I be expected
to take to solve all this?" he asked.

     "You must merely make an appearance before the high council when they
meet in two days, my lord.  They will then recognize who you are and that
will end everything."

     "But how will they recognize that I am the true king?" he asked,
perplexed.  "No one here knows me.  For all you know I might be an imposter
trying to steal the throne."

     She laughed lightly.  "My lord, you have been raised by the
woodlings," she explained.  "They know much about the growing of trees, or
the fall of leaves.  But they have not taught you of the other members of
your Tuathan family.  The high born can tell who is to rule.  All anyone
needs is but to look into your eyes.  It is clearly shown there that you
are a high king."

     "But what of Bailor?" he asked.  "He certainly wants not me to be
king?"

     "Even Bailor cannot withstand the unity of the high council.  They
will see you are the true king and proclaim so.  Bailor will withdraw and
all will be solved."

     Somehow, Robin could not believe it was going to be so simple.  "What
if Bailor brings his army and tries to start a war?"

     "My lord, worry not," she assured him.  "He will relent when the
council demands."

     "Then why," he continued, "are we sneaking around, disguised as
merchants?"

     Her tone turned dark.  "Nothing must prevent you from presenting your
claim to the council.  We must be cautious for but another day."

     "You say we must be cautious, and yet you take me to the high
chambers."  Robin was confused.  "Think you not that this looks a bit odd?"

     "The high chambers have been empty since the high king, your father,
left for the mountains long ago.  No one uses them and no one goes there,"
she explained.  "It is a fitting place for you to reside until your time is
come.  And besides," she added playfully, "you may find attire more suited
to your station than the merchant scarlet you now bear."  He had to agree
that it made sense.

     The corridor ended at the bottom of a narrow, winding stairway.
Ellenia led the way as they began climbing.  Robin took the opportunity to
question her about her place at court.  "I am your mother's sister's
daughter," she explained over her shoulder.  "I am therefore given the
freedom of the palace.  Although I have no authority, I can still act as I
please.  Melusine likes me not, nor I her.  If indeed Bailor were to have
been crowned, I certainly would have been forced to leave or worse.  So you
see, your coming was most opportune."

     "Knew you my father and mother?" Robin asked.

     She laughed again lightly.  "I am not much older than you, my lord,"
she replied.  "They were both gone before I knew them, as were my own
parents.  Only old Thomas has been a parent to me."

     "I am sorry," Robin replied.

     "Feel not the sorrow, my lord," she countered.  "Feel joy for what has
been and for what yet is to be."

     "My name is Robin," he told her.  "You need not be so formal with me,
cousin."

     "I know," she smiled back at him.  "But to name someone is to bind
him," she replied.  "It would not be proper to bind you when we have just
met.  We know not each other that well, yet."

     The winding stone steps eventually ended in a blank wall.  Ellenia
paused to chant an opening charm.  A door of rock opened in the wall to
reveal the backside of a hanging tapestry.  She gently pushed the material
out and stepped through.  Robin followed her.  They stood in a hallway
flanked by several large, oak doors.  She led Robin to the largest and they
opened it and entered the room beyond.

     The chamber was huge, with elegant tapestries hanging from the walls.
The furniture was of heavy wood construction with embroidered cushions.
"This is a chamber fit for a king!"  Robin marveled.

     "It is the king's chamber," Ellenia replied.  Robin felt totally
foolish and turned to look out of the windows.  They were open niches
through the stone wall.  "Beware of the windows," Ellenia cautioned.  "You
must not be seen," she reminded him.


     They opened a door on the wall opposite the one through which they had
entered, and stepped into the private chambers.  On the outside wall was an
opening onto a high terrace, looking down on the palace below.  The room
was furnished with a large reclining platform, covered by a huge feathered
mattress.  A large armoire stood to one side.  Ellenia walked over to it
and opened the double doors.  The inside of the cabinet was filled with
richly fashioned tunics, jerkins, robes and the like.  "These were your
father's," she explained.  "Choose whatever you feel is proper to wear."

     She then led him to a doorway on the interior wall.  Stepping inside,
Robin was amazed to see the royal bath.  A small waterfall cascaded down
from an opening high on the wall, splashing over stone outcroppings to
spray a shower of rain into a large pool.  "The water fall is continually,
fed by mountain streams," she explained.  The pool had steps leading down
into the deeper end, opposite the water fall, and was flanked by stone
ledges holding jars and bottles of soaps and oils.  Ellenia pointed to a
small golden chain near the showering spray.  "Pulling this will warm the
water if you so desire," she explained.  The room also contained a built in
chamber pot, a large mirror, and appeared to be stocked with soft, fluffy
towels.

     They returned to the outer chamber where Ellenia took her leave of
him.  It was getting late and she had to make an appearance at the palace
proper.  She explained that a trusted servant would return shortly to bring
food and to see if he needed anything.  They only had to wait through
tomorrow she explained, and promised to return in the morning.

     After she departed, Robin returned to the bath and stripped off the
red tunic.  He stepped into the water and under the falling shower.  It was
delightfully cold and refreshing, causing his skin to prickle with new
life.  He rinsed his hair, and scrubbed behind his ears as Feguna had
taught him.  That seemed a lifetime ago.  Stepping from under the water,
Robin walked out into the pool.  It dropped off rapidly and in four steps
he was up to his neck in the icy water.  He held his breath and sank down,
completely submerging his head.

     As he came up sputtering and shaking the wet hair from his eyes, he
heard a soft chuckle.  Turning quickly he saw Thomas leaning against the
doorway.  "How can you people stand such ice cold water to bathe in?" the
old man mused as he reached for a towel.  Robin climbed the stairs out of
the pool and accepted the towel from his old companion.

     "You're a bit thinner than your father was," the man commented as he
turned and headed for the armoire.  "But this should do," he said pulling
out a white tunic with gold embroidery.  Robin dropped the damp towel in a
heap and reached for the tunic.

     "I feel strange," he confessed, "wearing someone else's clothing."
Nevertheless he pulled the material over his head.

     "This is your clothing," Thomas explained.

     "My father . . ." Robin began.

     "Is probably dead.  This belongs to you."

     They went out into the antechamber where Thomas had set up a late
supper on the table.  He sat on a stool while Robin ate.  "Are you not
going to have anything?" Robin asked him.

     "It's too dark for me to even see you, let alone food," the old man
replied.  "Besides, I had something earlier."  Darkness.  Robin was aware
that the room was growing dark, but he was amazed that the old man could
not see.  The early evening stars threw bright beams of light across the
room from the window openings.  He thought what poor eyes the old man must
have.

     Soon Thomas excused himself and asked Robin to show him to the door.
His eyesight was apparently so poor at night that he could not even find
the exit without help.  He told Robin to rest.  He planned to go to his own
chambers and sleep.  As he stumbled off down the hall, Robin thought how
odd he was.  Robin had not actually slept in years.  He knew that children
and the very old or sick would sleep, but he had not realized that Thomas
needed to.  But then he was very old for a human.

     Robin returned to the inner chamber.  He pulled off the tunic and
stood in the center of the room, feeling the cool, evening breeze blowing
across his naked body.  He then stretched out on the feather mattress and
relaxed, turning over the events of the day in his mind.  He could hear the
sounds of voices drifting in on the breeze from the courtyard far below.
He wondered what the next day would bring.

                               * * *

     The dawn rose, bringing muted flashes of color through the terrace
windows.  Robin was careful to stand well back so as not to be seen.  Yet
he afforded himself the best view he could get of the world below.  The
entire palace was flooded with color and light, and people seemed to be
going everywhere.  He heard the door to his outer chambers open, so he
stepped back further from the windows.

     "My lord, I have brought your breakfast," Ellenia called from the next
room.

     "I shall be there in a moment," Robin called back, and headed into the
bath to perform his morning rituals.  He quickly relieved himself, washed
the night from his face and brushed his hair.  Having finished, he returned
to his inner chambers to choose an appropriate tunic.

     In the center of the room, between the door to the bath and the closet
stood a small company of armed men.  They wore bright blue tunics, marking
them as belonging to the band from the western kingdoms.  One held a bow at
readiness, aimed directly at Robin's chest.

     The leader of the group drew a short sword and walked over to him.  He
touched the cold silver to Robin's side, sharply pricking him below the
ribs.  "Move," he indicated toward the door.  To add emphasis he gave Robin
another sharp jab with his weapon.

     They entered the antechamber.  Food was spilled on the floor.  A
similar company of armed men stood to one side holding Ellenia prisoner.
Standing back and surveying their discomfort was a short woman with raven
black hair and an extremely voluptuous figure, to the point of being stout
for one of elfin blood.  She would have had an attractive face, but her
small, dark eyes were set too close together, giving her an odd, almost
malevolent appearance.

     "A naked man," she observed, looking at Robin.  He kept his eyes
downcast.  "So this is why you were sneaking to the high chambers," she
said looking back at Ellenia.

     "My lady . . ." Ellenia began, only to be silenced by her guards.

     "Try not to flatter me with your high phrases, Ellenia," the woman
taunted as she began to slowly circle the room.  "You who pretend to be so
pure, hide your lover in the king's own chambers.  You know this area is
forbidden, yet you come here for your coupling."

     The woman was now standing directly in front of Robin.  "I never gave
you this much credit, Ellenia, but he is very attractive."  She reached out
and ran her hand across his chest, then slowly reached down for his
genitals.

     Robin tugged away from the woman which only brought laughter from the
guards.  "My, but he is spirited," the woman replied.  "Take them both to
the blue tower and throw them in the dungeon."  She turned and entered the
inner chamber.


     The guards pushed Robin and Ellenia out into the hall and started
toward the large staircase leading down.  Just as they reached it Thomas
came up the stairs followed by a number of armed palace guards.  "What's
going on here?" he demanded.

     "We caught these two lovers in the king's chambers," one of the blue
guards answered.

     "This is the Lady Ellenia.  Release her at once," Thomas ordered.

     "This is a traitor who was hiding her paramour in the king's own
rooms," the dark haired woman answered.  She had apparently slipped from
the room and now stood close to Thomas.  "But in the interest of palace
unity we will release her to the custody of your guards," she continued.
"However, as sister to the steward, I will take care of this one."  She
again reached out and ran her hand across Robin's chest.

     Thomas was nearly shaking with rage.  "My lady Melusine," he began
quietly.  "This is a matter for the palace guards."

     "This is a matter for the steward," she replied.  "Tomorrow he will be
king and he can settle this.  Bring him," she ordered her men as she
started down the stairs.  The palace guards started forward, but fell back
at a signal from Thomas.  The men in blue followed Melusine, dragging Robin
with them.  Ellenia, Thomas and the palace contingent stood helplessly by
and watched as their ruler was taken away.

 

 

 

 

 

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