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 XIV
        
     The cell door clanked open and two blue guards entered.  Between them
they carried a limp body.  Dropping it unceremoniously on a wooden bench,
they left again, slamming the metal door shut behind them.  The only other
inhabitant of the cell rose from the corner where he silently sat to slowly
approach and examine the body.  The new arrival was an unconscious man
dressed in the tunic of the merchant guild, his left shoulder crudely
bandaged.  As the cell's resident examined the wound he pulled back in
shock.  The brownish maroon stains on the rags proved the new prisoner to
be human.  The original inmate felt the unconscious man's forehead.  He was
burning with fever.  The old man hurried to the corner of the room and
picked up the water bucket.  He returned to the bench and bathed the
unconscious man's face.  He then gently removed the rag bandages and bathed
the wound.  The cool water seemed to revive the injured man for a moment.
He began to toss his head and mutter under his breath.

     "'Tis alright," the old prisoner said, trying to still his feverish
cellmate.  "Just rest.  Everything will be fine."

     But the man kept repeating something over and over in his delirium.
It was a phrase, or perhaps a name.  The prisoner leaned his ear close to
the man's lips, trying to understand what he said.  It was a name.
"Robin," he called repeatedly.

          * * *

     "So where will you find this mate?" Robin asked his friend as they
galloped over the countryside.  Two weeks of practice had finally turned
Clive into a passable horseman at least able to pace his partner.

     "I know not, but I shall find her.  And the stories I tell her of our
adventures will win her heart," he shouted back over the steady drum of the
gilded hooves on the packed earth.

     "You are what the humans call a 'chauvinist.'  They have a philosophy
known as 'women's liberation,'" Robin told him.  "The females act as they
please.  They sit not at home waiting to be impressed by stories or won as
prizes."

     "A foolish notion," Clive said.  "How choose the females their mates
if they cannot be impressed or won?"

     The two slowed their ponies down to a cantering trot to rest them for
a bit.  "Mating is a mutual selection with choices made by the heart,"
Robin told his friend.

     "And so it is here," Clive responded.  "But it never hurts to impress
the lady, and she should know her place in the scheme of things."

     Robin shook his head.  "You would not fare well in the land of
humans."

     Clive smiled his wicked grin back at the young king.  "So what would
be different?  I fare not well here."

     "I wonder not," Robin replied with a laugh.

     "And what of you?" Clive asked him.  "How shall you choose a mate?"

     Robin brooded in silence for a bit, then turned whimsical.  He smiled
over at Clive, clutched his chest and said, "My heart will know him when he
comes."  They both broke into laughter.

     After a time Clive spoke again.  "Seriously, Robin, what can you do?
You cannot make him a queen."  He could not understand why this simple
observation evoked further torrents of laughter from his companion.

     "Forgive me, my friend," Robin said, wiping the tears of mirth from
his eyes.  "You remind me of a human expression."  When he had again
managed to control his chuckles he confided to his friend.  "I am beginning
to have an idea.  If we survive this I shall explain it later."

     They continued their ride in silence, eventually urging the ponies
back to a gallop.  Toward the end of the day they spotted the mountains in
the distance.  Another day's journey would bring them into the foothills.

          * * *

     "Where am I" It was a cliche, but it was the only thing that seemed to
echo in his clouded brain.

     "Thou art in the dungeon," a voice spoke back in stilted English.
Scott opened his eyes and looked up into an old face covered with myriad
character lines and partially hidden by a grey beard and long grey locks.

     "Dungeon?" Scott repeated.

     "Yea, verily," the old man replied.  Suddenly a voice called out from
nearby and the old face looked away from Scott.  The voice seemed to be
asking a question but the words were strange and confused.  The old man
replied to it in the same odd tongue.

     "What language is that?" Scott asked.  The words had a familiar sound,
but they did not seem to register a meaning in his mind.

     "We spake Faerie, m'lord," the old man replied to his inquiry.

     "No," Scott said trying to sit up.  "I understand that.  Akuta gave me
something so I could."

     "Lie still, m'lord," the old man cautioned.  "Th' art ill."

     "Who are you?" Scott asked the man.

     "I be Thomas of Rhymer.  'Tis long since last I spake thy language.
Hope I thou can'st divine mine meaning," the old man said.

     "You're Thomas.  You're Robin's friend," Scott said excitedly, his
head clearing a little more.

     "Aye, m'lord.  Thou spake of him in thy fever.  How knowest thou
m'lord Robin?"  Thomas asked.

     Again the strange voice called out in the oddly foreign tongue.  Again
Thomas called back a response in the same language.

     "Why can't I understand you?" Scott asked.  "Akuta said he gave me the
magic of communication."

     "Akuta.  Knewest thou he?"  Thomas asked.  He then thought a minute.
"The chrism!" he realized.  "'Tis strong magic.  Thy fever must have burned
it off."

     "How will I ever communicate in your world now?" Scott asked, falling
back on the bench.

     Thomas smiled down at him.  "Be thee an apt pupil?  We will teach
thee," he said.  "We have naught but time here."

     "Who are 'we?'" Scott questioned, tilting his head and trying to see
the author of the second voice.

     "Mine friend Rood be in the next cell."

          * * *

     "And now what?" Clive asked.

     "I know not," Robin replied.  They were camped in the foothills
overlooking the canyon maze leading into Esbereth.  "We must find entrance,
but we cannot just announce ourselves at the drawbridge."

     "Yet perhaps I can," Clive suggested.  "I can enter as a wandering
traveler."

     "And what of me?" Robin asked him.  "I am the one who must get
inside."

     "Well, what of this?  I could . . ."

     "Quiet," Robin ordered.  They both ducked down behind concealing
boulders and watched as an approaching party entered the canyon.  It was a
small band of merchants under heavy guard.  They were apparently bringing
wagons of supplies.

     "This may be our chance," Robin whispered.  "Distract them and I will
hide in one of the wagons."  He rose and headed down the backside of the
hill so as to approach the party from behind.  Meanwhile, Clive taking the
two ponies, started down a steeply dropping trail to intersect them from in
front.

     "Halt!" a member of the guard called as Clive approached.  The
merchant caravan had been stopped and was waiting for him.  The guards had
apparently heard horses coming down the trail long before they spotted him.
One of the men in blue rode his horse a short distance away from the wagons
and sat, awaiting Clive with bow readied.

     "My lord, shoot me not," Clive interceded with his most disarming
smile.  "I am only a lone traveler armed but with sword and dagger for my
protection, not for battle."

     "What is your business?" the guard asked, never moving his bow or
relaxing his hold on the arrow.

     "I have traveled from the eastern forests seeking adventure.  I
thought to see the great palace before moving on."

     "What of this, woodman?  How came you to possess messenger ponies, and
why have you two of them?" the guard inquired.

     "I found them wandering on the prairie with no master anywhere.
Desiring not to walk for the rest of the distance I borrowed them.  The one
is my mount while the other carries my packs."

     "Throw down your arms," the guard ordered.  "We shall take you to the
palace where the tribunal can decide on this most unlikely story.  If we
find you have stolen these animals you may get a taste of adventure you had
not sought."

     Clive tossed down his dagger and long sword, still smiling as
innocently as he could manage.  Some of the guard's men came forward,
picking up the weapons, then pulled him from the saddle.  They led the
ponies back and fixed the lead ropes to the first wagon, then roughly
turned Clive around.  "You with the thirst for adventure shall precede us
to the palace," the lead guard said riding close and shoving Clive with his
foot.  The wood elf fell to his knees in the dirt which evoked considerable
laughter from the other guards.

     He swallowed his anger and slowly rose to his feet, hoping Robin had
enough time and distraction to hide in one of the rear wagons.  Forcing
another smile, he said, "With pleasure, my lord," and began walking down
the canyon toward the entrance to the castle.

     As this altercation ensued Robin had managed to quietly sneak up on
the back side of the small caravan.  He saw that the attention of the
guards was all focused on his friend.  Running as silently as a cat on the
hunt, he ducked into the shadow of the rearmost wagon.  It appeared to be
filled with straw for feeding the livestock of the castle.  He looked up to
see an older man and a young girl in merchant scarlet sitting on the bench
at the front end of the wagon, waiting for the command to move on.  He
slipped stealthily into the wagon bed and wormed his way under the loosely
piled fodder.  Taking a last chance to see what was happening, Robin pulled
the straw back from his eyes to peer out.  The young merchant girl had
turned and was looking directly at him.  He could clearly see her deep
brown eyes and golden bronze complexion framed by thick red tresses of
hair, loosely tied back away from her face.  Their eyes met, sharing but a
moment's contact.  She smiled sweetly and turned back to the distraction
Clive was providing without saying a word.  A moment later Robin felt the
wagon begin to move.

          * * *

     "How feel thee?" the old man asked.

     "My shoulder aches, and I can't move my arm," Scott complained as he
struggled into a sitting position.

     "Let me bathe thy wounds," the old man said, bringing the water bucket
closer to the bench and sitting beside him.  As the man touched the
moistened cloth to his shoulder, Scott stifled a cry of pain.  "'Tis bad.
The fever still burns within thy flesh.  'Tis now residing in thy shoulder.
A healer is required, but none will be called.  Thou must fight the
sickness thyself."

     The voice from the next cell called out in the strange language.
"Rood is correct.  Come we must to thy lessons."

     "Can't I just wait until we get more of that magic oil?" Scott asked,
fighting back the sharp pain in his arm and the gnawing hunger in his
stomach.

     "Magic is strong, but 'tis no substitute for knowledge," the old man
chided.  He then spoke slowly in Tuathan naming the various items around
the room.  Scott repeated the strange words, finding it difficult to form
his mouth in the right way.

     Hours dragged slowly by, and the two prisoners worked at the difficult
task.  Slowly but surely, Scott was beginning to get the hang of the
cadence.  The Tuathan was much more musical than the guttural sounds of
English.  It seemed to be distantly related to the romance languages of
middle Europe with a basis something akin to Latin.  They worked on
repeating vocabulary and then trying to build small phrases.

     "Quiet.  They come," the voice from the next cell called.  Scott was
pleased that he understood what was being said.  Both he and Thomas lapsed
into silence.

     A minute later the cell door was opened and an older man dressed in
the same blue entered.  He carried a wooden bowl with him.  He kept a wary
eye on the inmates as he dropped the bowl on the floor and backed out of
the room, again locking the door.  Silence descended once more on the
dungeon.  "At least we are to be fed today," Thomas remarked in Tuathan.
He brought the bowl back to the bench.  It appeared to contain pieces of
fruit and vegetables that were almost unrecognizable from being left out in
the sun too long.

     "I cannot eat," Scott managed to say in the strange tongue.

     "You must," Thomas told him.  "We may not be fed again for some time."
Unfortunately the words were not all understandable to the new student.
Thomas then turned to the cell door.  "Rood, how fare you?" he asked.

     The voice responded slowly.  "I live."

     "At least they mean to keep us alive a bit longer.  After all, they
feed us," Thomas called to him.

     "They feed you," Rood replied.

     "Have they given you nothing?" Thomas asked.

     "Not for several days," the response came back.

     Thomas went to the cell door and tried to peer out between the bars.
Rood was being kept in another cell on the same wall and could not be seen
from their door.  "I shall toss a bit of our fruit into your cell," Thomas
called as he tried to reach his arms through the bars.

     "Save it for yourselves," Rood replied.  "I am still chained to the
wall.  Even if you could get it into my cell I could not reach it.  I fear
the sight of food would only torment me."

     Scott did not understand the exchange between the two.  He could only
catch a few words here and there, but he knew there was a problem.  He
could easily spot the concern in his cellmate's face, and he could hear the
weakness in the voice next door.  After forcing themselves to eat what they
could salvage from the bowl, the two of them returned to their lessons.

          * * *

     The wagons rolled to a stop in the courtyard behind the red tower.
The guards rode off leaving only a few men behind to supervise the
unloading of the provisions into the merchant storehouses.  As the wagon in
which Robin was hidden was brought to a halt, he wondered how he would
manage to escape detection this time.  He was about to try slipping out
when he heard the sound of footsteps coming toward the wagon's side.
Suddenly he was shocked to feel a body on top of him.  The straw was pulled
and tossed by clawing hands and the merchant girl quickly pulled him into
an embrace, kissing him roughly on the mouth and pressing her curvaceous
body against him.  He was taken by such surprise that he couldn't think of
a fast response as she firmly held him to her, trying to subdue his
struggling to break free.

     "What is this?" a harsh voice questioned, and Robin felt firm hands
grabbing him from behind and disengaging him from the girl.  In a matter of
minutes he was standing in the courtyard, flanked by two guards, the girl
and the older merchant standing close by.  The girl kept her eyes demurely
downcast.

     "I told you to stay away from my daughter," the old merchant ranted at
him.  The short, ruddy complected, old man was obviously furious, his
entire little body trembling with anger.  "She shall not bind with the
likes of you.  She shall join within her clan, not with a woodman."

     The two guards watched with considerable amusement.  "But, old father
. . ." Robin began in protest.

     The girl jumped to his side, grabbing his arm and placing her finger
to his lips.  "Say it not, my love.  I must tell my father the truth.  I am
to have his child, lord."  The girl looked down at the ground in shame.

     "My child?!" Robin shouted in astonishment, looking at the girl, guilt
written all over her face.

     "His child?!" the older man echoed in equal astonishment.  The two
guards burst into laughter.  This seemed to further inflame the anger of
the older merchant.  He raised the walking staff he had used because of a
weak leg and began striking at the men in blue.  "How dare you make mirth
at my daughter's expense!" he cried.  The two guards attempted to shield
themselves from the blows.

     The old merchant suddenly wheeled around on the young man.  "You shall
bind with her this very day!" he yelled at Robin.  "I shall not have a
daughter with child and no mate."  The old man grabbed the girl by one ear,
and reaching up, grabbed Robin by his.  He proceeded to drag the two of
them across the courtyard toward the merchant lodgings, the laughter of the
blue guards ringing out behind them.

     Once inside, the old man released the two.  "Venerable sir," Robin
began, "I assure you that I know not your daughter."

     The old man smiled up at him.  "I am aware of that," he said.

     "If she is with child it is not because of me," Robin stammered.

     The girl gently brushed the loose straw from her tunic and hair and
then turned to clean off Robin as well.  "I be not with child, my lord,"
she said as she picked the shafts from his blond curls.

     "But you said . . ."

     "I knew not how else to get you away from the guards without their
suspicion.  I recognized you from your last visit to our tower, my king."
She knelt before him.

     Robin began to laugh with delight as he took her hands and drew her to
her feet.  She and her father both joined in his mirth.  "You fooled even
me, my lady.  I feared for a moment I indeed might have to bind with you
this day," he managed as he collapsed into a nearby chair.

     "My daughter, bring our guest refreshment," the old man suggested as
he sat at the table next to Robin.  The girl smiled and quickly turned to
leave the room in search of food and drink.

     "Well, I wondered how I would get into the palace, and this certainly
was a way I had never imagined," Robin said smiling.  He suddenly thought
of his friend.  "What has become of my companion?"

     The old man frowned.  "If you mean the one who provided such a
marvelous distraction, the blue guard took him away.  They will no doubt
accuse him of stealing the horses he had and either put him to death or
lock him in the dungeon."

     "We must make haste," Robin said, quickly jumping to his feet.  "We
must rescue him."

     "All in good time, lord.  You must rest and eat.  He will not be
harmed until tomorrow," the old man assured him.

 

 

 

 

 

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