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 XIII
        
     "I see no way we can possibly cross the great prairie," Clive said in
frustration.  "We have no provisions.  We have no horses.  We cannot cross
it by foot."

     "There must be a way," Robin replied.  "We must cross the prairie.
How else can we get to Esbereth?"

     "But we are here and it is there.  I see no means," Clive returned.
They were sitting in the low branches of one of the large trees at the
eaves of the great wood.  The expanse of flat, grass covered land stretched
for unbroken miles, the monotony of the landscape relieved only by
occasional islands of wild flowers.  Without transportation and supplies it
was as effective a barrier as any desert wasteland.  The challenge of a
crossing seemed insurmountable.

     As they sat, pondering their next step, they heard the sounds of
horses coming down the woodland trail in the direction of the forest gate.
Silently, the two melted into the green, leafy boughs of the overhanging
trees.  As fate would have it, two blue clad elves were heading toward them
mounted on swift messenger ponies.  This appeared to be the exact answer to
their prayers.  "Follow my lead," Robin wind whispered to his companion.
As the ponies passed under the final limbs of the forest gate, the tall man
dropped from overhead, pouncing directly on the back of one of the two
guards, knocking him from his pony and into the underbrush.

     Clive attempted the same maneuver, but without the same success.  With
his being a moment later than Robin in his jump, the pony of his target had
shied back at the sounds, causing Clive to land in the trail rather than on
the back of his intended victim.  He sprang quickly to his feet only to
face the flashing silver blade of the blue guard's long sword.  With the
fast reflexes born of a life in the trees, Clive ducked under the swinging
metal and grabbed the man's leg, tugging violently and toppling the
swordsman from his mount.  They rolled in the dust of the trail, each
struggling to overcome the other.  The guard managed to draw his dagger and
was trying his best to plunge it into Clive's breast.  Clive, for his part,
was fighting to hold back the other man's arm, but his muscles were not as
strong, and the knife blade was slowly drawing closer to his body.  Just as
Clive was sure he could hold off no longer and knew he was to die, the man
on top of him relaxed his arms, dropped the blade and limply collapsed on
his chest.  Clive struggled to roll out from under the lifeless body.
Robin was standing over them, a long sword in his hand, the dark blue blood
of Clive's attacker dripping from its tip.

     "Thank you for my life," Clive breathed as he rose from the ground.
Robin stood as still as the surrounding tree trunks, looking down at the
body before him.  The ink-like stain was slowly widening on the back of the
blue tunic.  "My lord," Clive said, trying to catch his friend's attention.

     "This is very wrong," Robin said dully.  He knelt beside the lifeless
body and gently rolled it onto its back.  "I have shed Tuathan blood," he
mumbled as he reached out to touch his finger tips to the guard's temples.

     "My friend, he would have killed me were it not for you," Clive tried
to comfort him.  "You had no choice."

     "Of course I had a choice," Robin responded, looking up at his friend.
"I could have stayed in the other world and not returned."

     "It is not your land.  You would have eventually died," Clive said.

     "And what of these men?" Robin asked him, getting to his feet.

     "Where is the other?" Clive asked, suddenly remembering that there
were two guards.

     "He, too, is dead," Robin replied.

     "Let us gather their mounts and be off," Clive suggested, trying to
change the subject.

     "These are the first lives I have taken," Robin said.  "We shall
accord them the services for the dead."

     "We cannot build a pyre here," Clive said in alarm.  "The blue guard
in the village would see the smoke and come."

     "Then we shall bury them as would the humans," Robin replied.  Seeing
that it was no use to argue, Clive took the long sword and walked out under
the forest eaves.  He began to dig in the ground with the silver blade,
using the sword as a shovel.  Robin picked up the long sword of the other
rider and joined him.  In a short time they had managed to dig a large,
shallow grave.  "As they fought together, so shall their bodies rest
together.  May their spirits journey as one to the western islands," Robin
said as he placed the two guards in the excavation.

     "May you soon return," Clive muttered as they began to cover the
bodies with the freshly turned earth.  When the grave was filled Clive
said, "Let us now be off."

     "No," Robin stopped him.  "We must sing their spirits on their
journey."

     "But, lord," Clive urged.  "The others may soon come after them."

     "Then waste not the time," was the reply.  They both dropped to their
knees, quickly made the signs of prayer and softly harmonized in the song
of final voyage.  As they reached the end of the sweet melody, Clive raised
his eyes to look across the low mound at his friend.  Tears were evident on
Robin's cheeks.

     "You weep, my lord," he observed.  "Is it for those who would take
your life?"

     "No," Robin answered.  "They are beyond the difficulties of this
world.  I weep for myself.  I have known death before, but I have not been
its instrument.  How many more end journeys shall I cause?"

     "And how many innocents have taken their end journeys because of your
enemies?"  Clive questioned rhetorically.  "You must return to Esbereth to
stop this insanity."

     They stood and walked into the prairie where the messenger ponies were
peacefully grazing.  Robin gracefully swung onto the back of the larger of
the two animals.  Clive, on the other hand, had never ridden a horse in his
life.  He unsuccessfully tried several times to duplicate Robin's move.
Each time he managed to either fall from the pony or frighten it into
shying away.  Finally, Robin had to dismount and help in seating him firmly
on the animal's back.  Robin retrieved the swords and daggers from the
scene of their recent fight.  Arming himself and making sure that the packs
of provisions were securely fastened to the ponies, he again swung onto his
beast.  "These are the swiftest land animals a man can ride," he informed
Clive as he guided his pony next to that of his friend.  "Hold tightly to
the neck so you are not thrown to the ground.  I shall take the lead rope
and guide your animal as well as my own."  With that, he reached over and
picked the lead rope up from where Clive's horse was letting it trail.  He
then urged his pony into a trot and headed north.  He looked back to make
sure Clive was still seated.  His friend clung to the horse's neck for dear
life, but still managed a grin back at him.  With this reassurance, Robin
urged the two ponies into a slow gallop which gradually gained speed until
they seemed to be flying like the wind over the tall prairie grass.

          * * *

     The internment camp was located in the foothills of the Crystal
Mountains a short distance to the west of the Palace of Esbereth.  They
approached the camp at sunset, and Scott could see the flashes of light
reflected in the distance from the crystal topped towers although he could
not make out any other details of the palace.  He might not have noticed
the phenomenon at all had not Maynar pointed it out.  This gave them at
least some indication of where they were geographically.  The camp was
really no more than a natural box canyon which had been used to quarter the
blue army that Bailor had sequestered.  Now that he was in charge of the
palace, the army was able to come and go at will.  The area was now more or
less used as a concentration camp to house the dissident factors of
merchants and wood elves under the watchful eye of a strong band of blue
guards.  Physical conditions were not bad except for the lack of freedom
which was the worst torture that could possibly be imposed on the nomadic
merchant tribes.

     As darkness was falling, the shadows were deep around the base of the
canyon.  Scott had difficulty seeing, but none of the others seemed to
experience any trouble with vision in the darkness at all.  Maynar said he
would stay as close to Scott as possible to try to help him pass for one of
their kind.  Although his lack of dark vision was a hindrance to Scott, the
fact that it was evening seemed to work to his advantage in another way.
The blue guard who was arbitrarily checking them in as they filed by his
post was more interested in his evening supper than his current duty.  As
Scott filed by he merely call for his name the same as he did for the
others, without even looking at him.  "Pregar," Scott replied, using the
more elfin sounding name that Maynar had suggested rather than his own, all
too human sounding one In a short time the company was housed in long
barracks carved directly from the stone face of the surrounding cliffs.
There were few comforts in these deep caves, but in the outer area close to
the entrance a large dining table was spread with various types of fruits
and nuts to provide a scant but sustaining supper for them.  Scott took his
share of the meager provisions and then retired to a dark corner at the
back of their cave.  It was already so gloomy he could barely make out
shapes and shadows, but true to his word, Maynar stayed close by to help
him.

     When they had settled in for the night, Maynar began to question him
about his time with Robin.  Scott knew that his new friend was only trying
to pass the time as well as hold on to some hope for the future, but
memories of Robin tugged at a deeper part of Scott's heart, making him want
to cry.  He had followed this stranger into a strange land, and now was
more or less a prisoner with little likelihood of ever getting home.  And
when he did get home, if ever, there was a good chance it would be to some
future world he might not even recognize, one that would be as strange to
him as this one now was.  The exhaustion of the day was beginning to catch
up with him.  Scott stretched out on the floor and yawned.  "Feel you not
well?" Maynar asked in alarm.

     "Yes, I'm just tired.  I thought I would get some sleep."

     "You need sleep, yet you feel well?" Maynar asked again.

     "Sure, aren't you tired?"

     "I feel fatigue, yes," Maynar agreed.  "But I am not so ill as to need
sleep.  That only comes to the very old or very sick."

     "In my world we all sleep," Scott said, realizing just how different
these people were.

     "Very well, if it is your way," his friend said quietly.  "I shall
stay by your side so none of the guards learn of this.  But can you awaken
again if someone comes?"

     "Yes, just wake me up," Scott mumbled, already getting extremely
drowsy.  He drifted off into a sound sleep.

     "Just wake him," thought Maynar to himself.  "I wonder how I
accomplish that."

          * * *

     With the close of the day Robin and Clive slowed to a trot and then
finally halted to make camp for the night.  Their packs contained an
adequate although not abundant supply of food and water.  Tying the lead
ropes of the ponies to a small stake, Robin fastened them for the night and
stretched out on the soft grass to look at the stars.  Clive prepared a
meager but nutritious meal for the two of them and then brought the food
over and joined him.  As they ate, Clive asked about their plans.  "When we
arrive at the palace what are your plans for us?"

     "We must find a way to enter and then see what has happened in my
absence.  I fear the council will have named Bailor the king, and I can
only imagine what may have become of my friends.  We must find a way to put
everything back to right."

     "Then our first goal must be to find out information so that we may
know what action to take," Clive decided.  "They know me not.  I could get
into the palace as a traveler and return with information."

     "Let us wait until we arrive before we decide what next," Robin
suggested.

     They ate in silence for a time.  "Robin," Clive finally asked, "Who
was Scott Quartermain?"

     The question burned into his heart.  "How know you that name?" Robin
asked him flinching at the thought.

     "You called it several times in your mind journey back in my den,"
Clive explained.

     "He was a human who helped me to return here," Robin said without
emotion.

     "He was more, was he not?" Clive persisted.

     Robin stood and walked over to the ponies as if to check on them.  He
then turned back to his friend.  "Why ask you this?"

     "In your raving you pleaded with him to join you," Clive said,
focusing on the ground in front of him.  "It sounded as though he meant
much to you."

     "Yes," Robin admitted quietly.  "He meant much.  He was different from
any I had met in his world.  I feel an ache inside at the parting.  He
would make a good friend."

     "He might make more," Clive said quietly.

     "What mean you by that?" Robin asked him, coming back to sit beside
his friend in the grass.

     "Robin, are you a natural reversal?" Clive asked.

     The question hit hard.  Robin had always pushed the thought of
relationships out of his mind.  He had seen others pair off in male-female
partnerships, but he had never felt the desire to be with anyone in that
sense.  Having spent many years in the strange world of humans, he had met
many people, but he had always kept a distance, until recently.  This was
the first time he had ever allowed himself to get physical with another
being, and it had to be a human male.  He did not want to be a reversal for
that meant being different from his other friends.  But inside, he knew
that he felt something for the man he left in the other world that he could
not feel for anyone else.  "I guess. . . I guess perhaps I am," he finally
answered.

     "Then why was he not brought with you?" Clive asked.

     "Be you blind?  This is my world, not his.  How could I bring a human
here when you know how most people feel about them?"  Robin looked up at
the stars.  "Besides," he said, "I am supposed to be the king.  I cannot be
that different from my people.  You know how rare reversals are."

     Clive only shook his head.  "I know what the old ones say about them,
but I know in my heart that it is not true.  It is nature, Robin.  You are
what you must be.  If you need to be with a male instead of a female, then
so be it.  You cannot change nature."

     "But to be different . . ."

     "You are different," Clive stated firmly.  "You are a king.  That sets
you apart from others.  You have a responsibility.  That sets you apart.
Why fear you your inner self.  It cannot make you any less than what you
already are."

     "But the council wants an heir to the throne," Robin lamented.  "A
natural reversal is not going to produce an heir.  Think you that my
coupling with another man will result in a conception?  Of what?"

     "You gave good advice but a moment ago," Clive told him.  "Now you
must learn to follow it yourself.  You said we must wait to see what must
be.  We cannot plan for things we cannot yet know.  When you are again on
the throne, then you must decide what actions to take.  But you know as
well as I that a coupling with a female just out of duty to the council
will not produce an heir.  It could only produce corruption for there would
be no love."

     Robin marveled at the sensitivity of his old friend.  "You should be
the king for all your wisdom," he said.

     Clive laughed heartily at that thought.  "Grant me a favor when this
is finished," he requested.  "Of all the beautiful women at Esbereth who
want to join with you, please give me one or two.  Now that I know the
truth about you, I can see you will not be needing them."

     This brought hysterics to Robin as well.  He fell onto his back and
rolled from side to side, laughing at the stars.  Clive joined him,
guffawing at the outrageous request.  As they again caught their breaths,
Robin rolled onto his side and looked at his friend while wiping the tears
from his face.  "I promise you," he said, "you can have your choice of the
most beautiful women at court.  I will not be needing them."

     Their chuckles gradually subsided, and they sat for a time watching
the night sky.  Then Clive softly began a song of forgotten love.  He sang
quietly, the melody bathing the two men in serenity.  As he reached the
second verse, Robin joined him.  They each thought of their own heart's
desire as the silent stars listened above.

          * * *

     Dawn came early, too early for Scott.  He had not had a comfortable
night sleeping on the rough stone floor.  He awoke to the sounds of
movement all around him, although in the darkness he could not see
anything.  "Maynar, what's going on?" he asked quietly.

     "You awaken?" his friend sighed with relief.  "I feared you would not
return to us until too late."

     "What is it?" Scott asked again.

     "We are called to attendance in the courtyard of this place.  We are
to form lines so that we may be counted and examined.  You and I will try
to stay in the back so you may again be overlooked."  He stood and began to
move away.

     "Maynar," Scott called.  "I can't see a thing.  Where are you?"

     "I forget your poor sight," the merchant said, reaching out and taking
Scott's arm.  "It is brighter outside the cave.  Come with me and stray
not."  The entire company filed into the flat area in front of the cave.
There were several of the blue guards barking orders as they came out.
They gradually formed two straight lines and stood waiting.  Scott was
almost able to see in the early morning gloom, but the thick shadows of the
canyon were still a problem for him.  Maynar guided them to a place in the
back row where he hoped they might be missed.

     A short, little, dark skinned man in the standard blue tunic came
forward and began walking down the front row.  It was obvious from looking
at him that he was not naturally one of the western fairies.  He appeared
to be more closely related to the southern wood elves, and looked comically
out of place in the blue tunic.  As he walked by carrying a small tablet he
checked off each person.  When he finished, the guards ordered the first
row to march off to a larger cave where there would be food waiting for
them.  They would then be put on a work detail so that they could keep
busy.  As the merchants filed off it became obvious to Maynar and Scott
that they were now uncovered and lined up in full view.  Scott tried to
slump so as not to appear quite so tall.  The short elf slowly walked down
the line, checking off each person as he passed.  As he walked by Scott he
glanced up and checked the tablet and passed on.  A welcome feeling of
relief passed through him as Scott realized they had been passed by.  The
company was about to turn and head off to breakfast when the short man
stopped and turned around.  He slowly walked back to where Scott stood.

     "What is your name?" he questioned.

     "Pregar," Scott answered him.

     "You are not of the guild," the man observed as he looked at Scott.

     Looking down at the out of place little man, Scott was tempted to
reply with a similar comment.  But thinking better of it and remembering
the answer Akuta had given the horseman the preceding morning, he replied,
"Can't a person accept what role in life he chooses?"

     "What strange ways you have of speaking, Pregar," the man remarked.
"You must be from a far distant land to have such an unusual accent."  He
reached up and grabbed Scott firmly by the chin, turning his head to the
right.  "And what peculiar ears you have," he said looking at Scott's
all-too-human shaped ears.

     "The better to hear you with," Scott shouted swinging around rapidly,
his fist connecting firmly with the dark man's jaw.  The little guard fell
like a ton of bricks from Scott's right cross.  Taking advantage of the
surprise, Scott grabbed the staff from the nearest blue guard and swung it
viciously into his gut.  "Come on," he yelled to Maynar, as he made a break
for the passage between the cliffs.

     "Scott, no!" Maynar shouted to no avail.  The archer standing on the
rise a short distance down the canyon had observed the whole interchange
and quickly drew a bead on the fleeing target.  Scott had almost made it to
the cleft in the walls surrounding the canyon when the felt a sharp stab in
his left shoulder and was thrown forward by the impact.  He lay in a
crumpled heap, the arrow protruding from his shoulder blade.  As the blue
guards quickly surrounded him and jerked him to his feet they all marveled
at the sight.

     "Red!" one of the men holding him said to the group as he gazed at the
wound.  "It looks as if he is indeed from a distant land, my friends.  He
have caught ourselves a red-blooded human."

 

 

 

 

 

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