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 XIX

     "Explain to me how you arrived here," Ellenia said trying to figure a
way out.  Scott told her about finding the little bottle in Robin's room
and the purple cloud that engulfed him when he accidentally dropped it.
"It was a transportation spell.  It brought you to the gate of the dark
world," she explained.  "We cannot use that means to get back."

     "But what is Melusine?" Scott asked as they sat and rested in a dark
corner.

     "She is a powerful sorceress from this land."

     "You mean she isn't a fairy?" he asked.

     "No.  She was only masquerading as Bailor's sister.  She must have
promised him great power in return for his help in ruling our kingdom.
When you won back the land she fled here."

     "So this is the dark world," Scott observed.

     "No.  These are caves in the Eldritch Mountains," she told him.  "They
are one of the gates to the dark world.  It can be reached just beyond that
large cavern."

     "So we are in your land now?" Scott asked.

     "Just barely, but we are so close to the gate that we are far from
safe."

     "Then perhaps we had best move on," he suggested.  The two of them
stood and looked cautiously about to make sure that no one or nothing was
following, and then they proceeded on down the dark tunnels.  "How do we
know we are heading in the right direction?" Scott asked.

     "We know not," Ellenia answered.

     "Great.  We could be wandering around in these caves forever."

     "No," Ellenia said.  "We will die long before that."

     "You're a great comfort," Scott told her.

          * * *


     At the end of three days Robin managed to return to his senses much to
the relief of everyone at the palace.  The healer refused to allow him to
leave his chambers for another day or so, just to be sure of his recovery,
but he was able to see his friends and be briefed by his advisors on what
had taken place.  Thomas cheerfully filled him in on the final clean up of
the castle.

     With Bailor's death, the last bit of fight was taken out of the blue
guard.  They were rounded up and marched out of the palace.  The entire
occupancy of the blue tower left en masse with the guard, heading back to
the western kingdoms.  Since Bailor and his sister were no longer in
charge, they went quite docilely.  A contingent of delegates from the
council had planned to travel to the western kingdoms in the not too
distant future to secure another delegate to the council.  The west was
still a large contingent of Tuatha and deserved to be properly represented.

     Rood was much improved and would soon be able to return to duty.  The
effects of the magic were quite temporary.  He only needed sufficient time
to recover from the stab wound inflicted by Melusine.  He was almost
completely healed, no thanks to his somewhat inept nursemaid, Maynar.

     Melusine was believed to still be alive somewhere, but everyone
thought she must have returned to the dark world.  Now that she had been
unmasked for what she truly was, there was not much fear that she would
return.  There was little chance that her magic would be as effective when
people were properly prepared.

     The last bit of news was that the council wanted to reaffirm Robin's
claim to the throne.  They were currently meeting to decide what must be
done to correct any problems with his succession.  Thomas expected things
to go smoothly, and was certain that as soon as Robin was strong enough,
the council would request an audience and he would at last be able to sit
upon the crystal throne.  As he spoke of this Robin seemed strangely
disquiet, as if he were still on a mind journey, far from the golden land
of his birth.

     "What is troubling you, my lord?" Rowana asked after the others had
gone.  She stayed behind to keep Robin company while the others all hurried
off to attend to various official duties.

     "Why sense you that something troubles me?" he asked her as he tried
to make himself comfortable on the cushions and pillows of the reclining
platform.

     "My lord, I feel it in my heart.  It burns like an old wound that will
not heal.  What is it?"

     "I but grieve for the ones we have lost during this dark time on our
land," he told her.  "I grieve for Feguna and Ellenia, who gave their
innocent lives for me, and I grieve for the lives I have taken.  Tuathan
blood is precious.  It should not be spilled so."

     "And . . ." she said.

     "And what?" he asked, not understanding her.

     "And is that all for whom you grieve?"

     "Who else?"

     She sighed.  "For yourself, I fear," she finally replied.

     "My lady Rowana, you are wise indeed," he said, smiling wanly at her.
"I grieve for a life I might have had."

     "My lord, feel not the sorrow.  Feel joy for what has been and for
what is yet to be."  The expression she used reminded him of something
Ellenia had told him countless years before.

     "You are right, my lady.  Grieving only produces sorrow.  Instead of
brooding with a long face, I must needs take action to change the
situation.  I pray I may have the courage when the time comes."

     "My lord, I fear you are not telling my something," she worried.
"What actions contemplate you?"

     "All in good time," he comforted her.

          * * *

     "Who lights these torches?" Scott asked his companion as they slowly
threaded their way through the mountain caves.

     "I know not, but as we have seen no living soul, I can only think that
it is part of the magic that bleeds from the dark world," she answered him.

     They had followed the winding path until it reached another cavern,
not nearly so large.  >From it a number of exits could be taken.  They
arbitrarily chose one, having nothing upon which to base that choice.
Ellenia tried to use what intuition she had, but she feared that it was not
working this close to the other world's gateway.

     "Now that you mention it, we haven't seen any other signs of life.
I'm certainly not complaining, but I don't understand why we haven't been
followed," Scott said as they continued their journey.

     "I know not the answer," she replied.  "But I too have wondered at
that.  Perhaps we are being followed and not yet realize it."

     "How did you get to that awful torture chamber?" Scott asked her to
pass the time.

     "Bailor took me prisoner after Robin vanished.  He gave me over to
Melusine who sent me there in much the same way as you arrived," she
answered.

     "But we thought you were dead.  The rumor from the blue tower said
that Bailor used a life transference to take your life and give it to
Melusine.  They said that was the only way she could have survived your
knife."

     "Melusine survived my knife because she was never really alive in our
world," Ellenia explained.  "That is why she could not take me into her
world to torture me, but had to keep me at the gate of mine.  We can only
exist in our own true lands.  In any other land we are without substance,
only shadow."

     "Then the story about the life transference was just that, a story,"
Scott said.

     "It was a clever deception," Ellenia added.  "It caused everyone in
the castle to give me up for dead and it explained how Melusine survived
since everyone thought she was from the land.  But the truth was much
different."

     "Ellenia," Scott said as he thought about what she had just told him.
"You said we are only shadows in worlds other than our own.  Since I'm
human, does that mean I'm only a shadow right now?"

     "There is the exception," she smiled.  "Being human, you are much
closer to the animal kingdom, and I think that must explain how you can
easily adapt to living in many different worlds.  We have had humans in the
land many times, and they are more than just shadows.  But even so," she
said, "they live not the same as you would in your own world.  How old
would you say Thomas is?"

     "Probably about sixty or seventy," Scott guessed.

     "In your world he was of that age when he entered our land.  He has
been here for a very long time.  I would guess it is at least five hundred
of your years.  You see, in our world your lives are very different.  You
could not hope to live so long."

     "And Robin was only a shadow in my world?" Scott asked.

     "That is my term for it.  He could not have lived long there.  He
would have grown weak and died," she said.

     "He told me he would die if he did not return to his own land," Scott
remembered.

     Time passed slowly as they threaded their way through the tunnels,
sometimes climbing upward through the stone, and at other times descending.
"Ellenia," Scott asked to break the monotony.  "Tell me about the plague.
I've often heard it mentioned, but I don't know anything about it."

     "We were once a strong and powerful people," Ellenia began her
explanation.  "In those days, the borders between the lands were open.
Your world and mine were much similar to each other, and being closer, our
two peoples had much interaction.  Then something happened.  Our land and
people grew weak.  Death is not unknown to us, but in those days, it was
much more rare, happening only to the very old.  Younger and younger people
began to die.  It was a wasting away of the spirit.  They would grow
listless and then fade away.  It is what happened to my own parents."

     "Those who died not in this manner, often survived alone.  Fewer and
fewer babies were born, and many died shortly after birth.  They seemed to
take no nourishment from the world and willingly gave up their spirits to
return to the western islands.  Many mothers died in childbirth.  It is
what happened to Robin's own mother.  That was the physical extent of the
plague, and it passed in time, although there are still some vestiges of it
in our world.  But the worse part of it was how the plague changed the
spirit of our land."

     "And how was that?" Scott asked her.

     "It robbed us of hope and joy," she said.  "Parents feared to conceive
children not wishing to see their offspring wither and die in the cradle.
Husbands feared for their wives lest they should die in childbirth.  There
was little joy.  And then a rumor was spread about that the plague was
caused by humans.  In those days there were many humans in our world, and
some said this is what caused the contagion.  Most of your people were
either sent back to your world or put to death.  Only a very few, like
Thomas remained.  The borders between our worlds grew further apart, and
were eventually closed to keep us separate.  And then there were the child
thieves."

     "What were they?" Scott questioned.

     "Some thought there was no hope for our people, that our blood would
not survive, and that we needed to bring fresh blood to our land.  A small
cult arose that practiced the stealing of human children.  When they found
an infected infant, they would practice the changeling magic to switch the
infant for a human baby.  They thought that by bringing in humans and
breeding with them, we would again grow strong.  But those that thought
humanity the cause of the plague argued that they were only making the
disease worse.  A great war tore our land apart because of this schism."

     "So what finally happened?" Scott asked.

     "The plague slowly went away.  Those who blamed humanity said that the
closing of the borders cured the disease.  Many of us feel that it had just
run its course and the borders had no real effect whatsoever," she
explained.  "But the worst effect of the plague is distrust and fear it
created among my people.  It caused and still causes many of them to
dislike humanity and fear your kind.  This is not right."

     "In my world there is a disease that has had much the same effect on
some people," Scott said.

     "Seeing the damage that was caused to the spirit of my world by this
disease, I feel that it must be a product of the dark world.  That is the
place where comes only darkness and evil.  Perhaps it is the source of the
disease in your world as well."

     "I don't think so.  Our scientists have proved that it's caused by a
'virus,'" he said, using the English word where there was no Tuathan
equivalent.

     "But whence came this 'fyroos?'" she asked, trying to pronounce the
odd word.

     "Well, I'm not sure.  'Africa' I think, but nobody knows for certain,"
he said.

     "Perhaps 'Ayfreecah' is closer to the dark world than you know."

     "I'm sure parts of it are," Scott answered.

     They walked on in silence for a very long time, each lost in their own
thoughts.  As they walked Ellenia began to shiver.  She finally spoke,
"Feel you the cold?"

     "Yes, now that you mention it," Scott said noticing the goose flesh on
his arms and legs.

     "That can only mean that we are approaching the exit to this cave.
For as we are in the mountains, we must feel the cool air of the high
country."  Scott offered her his tunic to warm her, but she refused saying
that her body could stand the temperature much better than his.  If one of
them was to be naked, it had better be the one best suited to the climate.

     The cave began to gradually climb.  It took fewer and fewer turns as
it snaked its way up through the stone.  Finally, they could feel a stiff
breeze blowing down the passage.  About this time, they realized the
torches were spaced further and further apart until they seemed no longer
necessary.  A dim light was leaking into the tunnel from somewhere up
ahead.  The two climbed faster, hoping to soon be outside in the fresh air.

     Turning a final curve, they were dazzled by bright sunlight streaming
into the opening just yards away.  They broke into a run, heading for the
mouth of the cave.  Just as they reached it and headed out into the open
air, the ground seem to quiver below their feet, and the light changed
colors.  It was like waking to find you were still in the center of a
nightmare.  Scott and Ellenia were running in slow motion trapped by some
kind of crazy force that allowed them to continue moving and yet they made
no progress.

     "You will not leave me that easily, Ellenia dear," a voice cackled.
Melusine stood before them, her hair now looking like seaweed clinging to a
dead body left drifting in the ocean.  The face was hideously puffed and
swollen, the blackened tongue flicking in and out of the dry, cracked lips.
She stood in the entrance to the cave, holding out her hand, causing
Ellenia and Scott to suffer the agony of knowing they were only inches from
freedom.

     "Let us go," Ellenia cried out.  "You have no power in this world to
keep us here."

     "On the contrary, my dear," she cackled.  "I have just enough power to
keep you here.  And I shall make use of what is left to me."  She waved her
hands and chanted words in a language strange even to Ellenia's ear.  "I
give you the present of freedom," the old hag laughed.  "You may have it
and keep it, on one condition."

     "Name it," Scott said with a look of determination.

     "It is nothing you can do," the ugly woman said.  "It is totally up to
your great king."

     "Leave him out of this," Ellenia said angrily.

     "Oh, no.  I leave him in it.  For, your see, he will be the one to
decide your fate," the crone laughed again.  "Your lives hang in the
balance.  When he accepts the duties of the kingdom and sits upon the
crystal throne, you shall die.  But do not think that will end your
suffering.  For when your bodies release their spirits, I will take them
with me to my world, where I will see that you both spend the next thousand
years or so in hideous pain and suffering."  She doubled over with
laughter.

     "Wait," Scott called to her.  "You said there was a condition.  What
must we do to win our freedom?"

     "You must not do anything.  But if your great king would decide to
give up his birthright and renounce his claim to the throne in front of the
assembled council, I would let you go free."

     "But he cannot.  He would not act in such a way," Ellenia cried.

     "He would do it to save you," Scott told her.

     "Oh, but he will not know about the two of you.  That would be
cheating.  He would have to make a choice like that totally on his own,
without knowing what hangs in the balance," the crone explained the extent
of her curse.  She laughed again and clapped her hands.  Blue flashes of
lightning jumped from between her palms as she pressed them together, and
Ellenia and Scott found themselves back in the gloomy cavern under the
mountain.  Each one seemed to be chained to one of the stone monoliths
surrounding the rock altar.  "Here we will await your king's ascension to
the throne.  When he sits in the crystal chair, you die at that same
instant, and we journey together through the gate and into my world,"
Melusine told them.

          * * *

     "Would that you were happy, lord," Rowana said, helping him to dress
for his meeting with the council.

     "I am happy," Robin told her.

     "I know better," she countered.  "I can feel your heart.  But I have
enough joy for both of us."

     "I can feel your heart as well," Robin said smiling.  "What is it that
makes you so glad?"

     "I have to break our engagement," she said in mock sadness.

     "What mean you," Robin asked her.

     "Remember you not when we first met?" she asked him.  "You were to
bind with me."

     "So your father said," Robin agreed.

     "Now I must beg you to release me, for I have found another."

     Robin leaned down and kissed her gently on the cheek.  "I release you
gladly as long as this other promises to make you always this happy."

     "I know he shall," she said smiling.

     "And know I this lad?" Robin asked her as she lashed his mail in the
back.

     "Yes, lord," she said.  "It is your knight Melcot."

     Robin felt a great surge of envy for her happiness.  "I willingly give
you your freedom, lady.  I can think of no more deserving personage.  When
is the binding?" he asked.

     "If you would consent, my lord.  We would like your blessing and your
presence.  May we not hold the ceremony before the throne after you
ascend?"

     A pain shot through Robin's heart.  Rowana detected his reticence.
"Are you alright?"  she asked.

     "Yes," he said covering up.  "It is but a stiffness in my side from
the wound.  Before we set your ceremony thusly, let us hear what the
council may say to me this day."

     With that the two of them left his chambers and the young king walked
out into the corridor for the first time since he had fought with Bailor.
Thomas met him in the hall and fell in step behind his left shoulder, as
was the proper place for his chief advisor.  A row of palace guards,
resplendent in white and gold with jewel hilted short swords and floor
length capes fell in on either side of Robin, to escort him to the council
chambers.  He smiled a welcome to Rood who now took his stance as captain
of the guard.  Robin took a moment to smile acknowledgment to Melcot as he
also fell in line.  They slowly proceeded down the stairs, through the
great hall and outside on their way to the adjacent council building.

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                    Back      Main     Next

                                                                       Discussion Forum