The Quest continues for Prince Elkain. Can he navigate the intrigue of court and protect the Kingdom to prove his claim to the throne?
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The quest continues as Elkain and his friends struggle to prove the young Prince's claim to the throne. Political intrigue leads to open war and at every turn Elkain must answer the nagging doubts over his ability to rule. Is his falcon birthmark really a sign that he is destined to be King? Can he fulfill the requirements Royal Law decrees must be met for a Prince to take the throne? Or will the curse that is causing Elkain's nightmares ultimately kill him? Finding the answers to these questions lead the young orphaned Prince down a dangerous path that will eventually lead to his father's throne or to his doom.
For a moment, time seemed to freeze for Elkain. He remembered this life at the monastery, the tedium of learning the craft of copying manuscripts. Then, after years of time creeping by, his life was thrown into full gallop. It was like drifting down a calm river, then suddenly going over the waterfall with no warning. He was no longer an orphan, no longer a monk in service to the One God. He was a Prince, the son of a King. But the King was murdered, along with the Queen and his brothers. It seemed strange to think of such a dark event in one's life but feel no real connection to it what-so-ever.
Then he could see himself on the road with Fairan, in battles, in times of friendship that seemed closer than any he had ever known before. He saw again the smoke on the small hill in the forest before he was clubbed from behind and captured. He saw the farmhouse where he'd been rescued. It seemed like a lifetime ago as they battled their way to the little grove where Vespin Tooles lived. He had imagined that nothing could be harder than their fight to reach Royal City, but in the last few moments he had found simply breathing almost impossible. He was the rightful heir to the throne, that alone would keep a person in limbo. But now he was betrothed. The thought made his heart stutter in his chest. He was a monk, he wasn't allowed to marry. No, he was a Prince, soon to be King, he hoped. He couldn't keep it all straight in his mind. It was like a winter storm in the mountains, when the snow fell so heavy and fast, blowing on the frigid north wind until the whole world turned white. He felt his world and all that he had known blowing away on the wind.
Now he was standing before the Council of Nobles claiming his right to rule all of Belanda. He hadn't even been in Royal City for a full day yet. He had a sister now, but he had no idea how to act around her. He had thought that at some point along his journey to the capital that he and his companions would realize that there had been a mistake. Now, he stood on the cusp of everything he had dreamed of as a boy, only he wasn't sure if he could live up to the expectations.
He saw it all in the space of one breath, all his life up to that point. And with vivid clarity, he saw that things would never be the same.
The room erupted in a cacophony of sound; people talking, chairs scraping along the stone floor, the door opening and closing. Above it all, Derrick of Westfold made himself heard.
“This will never happen Tooles. You will never get away with this,” he said as he stormed out of the room, followed by several other nobles, their knights and servants.
“Come,” said Fairan turning to Kain, “we should get you out of here.”
“But shouldn’t I stay and speak with the Nobles?” Kain asked.
“No, your Chief Councilor has dealt with that, you will begin meeting them this afternoon. Right now, we need to get you settled. There are many things that need to be done.”
Kain stood and followed Fairan back through the secret passage, and up to the third floor. Sarahain stood waiting in the anteroom to the Royal quarters.
“This is where we live,” she said. “This was our father and mother’s rooms, they are yours now. When you are ready, we’ll go through them together if you like.”
Kain nodded his head, he was torn between wanting to know more about his parents and the suffocating reality that he would have to marry someone he had never met. Luckily, Sarahain’s continued dialogue kept him from fixating on the topic.
“I’ve had Evain preparing this first room for your use, until we can go through the rest of the rooms.”
She pushed open the door to a large room. There were high windows casting light into the room in long dusty beams. There was a long wooden table, with ornately carved chairs, and a fireplace that took up most of one wall. There was a sitting area next to the fireplace with five chairs, each unique to the owners. Kain moved instinctively toward them. Above the fireplace was a portrait of the Royal family. Kain stared at the likeness of his mother and father, and at the brothers he had never known. There was a hollowness inside of him as he looked at his lost family. He felt sick and dropped lightly into a large chair with soft but unobtrusive cushions.
“That was father’s chair,” said Sarahain. “We all had a chair here, by the fireplace, that we picked out ourselves. These were our brother’s and this is mine.”
She sat in a small chair with a low back and with brilliantly colored fabric on the cushions, which were much thicker than those of the others. It was to the left of the one Kain occupied.
“The chair on your right was mother’s,” said Sarahain, the chair was also small, with a woven seat rather than a cushion.
“You all looked very happy,” Kain said, looking back at the portrait.
“I wish you could have known them,” Sarahain said, there was a sadness in her voice. “ I miss them all so much, but at least I had as much time with them as I did. I can’t imagine growing up not knowing your family.”
“It was difficult, but I was loved, in a fashion. I did not know the closeness of family, but the One God is love, and I was loved by the men of Aquista who are dedicated to the One God.”
“Well, as you might of guessed, this was the family room. Let me show you to where you’ll be staying.”
Sarahain stood and took Kain’s hand. Devlyn was standing by the door to the anteroom and did not follow them. Kain wasn’t sure what to expect, if his quarters were anything like where he had stayed last night, he would have a lot to get used to. Sarahain led him through a doorway and into another room, this one was plain. There was a fireplace, but no mantle, no artwork on the walls. There was a table, but this one was round and much smaller, the chairs were low backed and very simply constructed. A bed had been moved underneath the window, and there were more chairs like those around the table, lining the walls. There was also a large desk, more of a rectangular table really, with candle arbors on two corners, the candles were completely unadorned. There was a small pot of ink, a large peacock quill and some parchment in the center of the desk. And on a small velvet pillow, was the royal seal of Belanda.
“This is where Father did most of his business,” said Sarahain. “The desk is the only real personal item in the room. I admit it is plain and in time I’m sure you’ll add much to it. But our father was a simple man, he didn’t set as much store in luxury as in simplicity.”
“I like that,” Kain managed to say.
“I had the bed brought up while the Council met, or Evain did. She moved the desk from father’s study. This is where father met with his advisors and made plans. I hope it is comfortable enough. I’ll be having a wardrobe brought in, and a place to change so that you can have privacy.”
“This is more than I ever hoped of having,” said Kain. “You could fit four or five of the cells I had at the Monastery in this one room.”
“It will be functional, and I hope that we might share some personal time in the family room. I would very much like to get to know you.”
“And I would you, sister,” Kain said, looking into Sarahain’s eyes to show her how sincere he was.
There was a knock at the door, Devlyn waited until Kain opened the door.
“Lunch is ready,” Devlyn said.
“Oh, okay, lets go down and have some,” said Kain.
“No, lunch was brought up,” Sarahain said, “unless you have other arrangements.”
“No, that sounds great.”
In the family room, Evain was setting out a lunch on the table. Devlyn moved back to the door and took up his position again.
“Devlyn, get over here,” Kain said, “no one is going to attack us here.”
“Are you sure, my Lord?” asked the Archer.
Kain grabbed him by the arm and set him down at the table.
“You too, Evain, we shall all eat together,” said Kain.
“Oh no, my Lord, I wouldn’t dare-”
“Nonsense, and my name is Kain, I mean Elkain. I need your help, I’ve got to keep my mind off all that has happened this morning.”
“I have been meaning to thank you,” said Sarahain. “It was such a relief when you stopped Priest Hypok from forcing me to marry Derrick.”
“Well…” Kain paused as the thought of his own marriage arraignments filled his stomach with butterflies again, “lets not talk about marriage.”
They all sat down together and ate. It was a very happy time for Kain, who could hardly bring himself to eat anything. He listened to the light talk between the others and rested from the burden of his responsibility in ruling.
They were just finishing their meal when Tooles arrived, he knocked and then entered, followed by Gorton, Lophan and Farian. Kain stood, “Have you eaten?” he asked them.
“There will be time for food later,” said Tooles. “Right now, we must prepare you to meet the nobles. You have three meetings this afternoon, and you must be ready.”
Kain led them to his room, and they all sat at the round table.
“We have not properly met, my Lord,” said Lophan, “I am Lophan, son of Raphan, Knight of Gregorton.”
“Yes,” said Kain, “that brings up a subject I think we should deal with immediately. I am not marrying the princess of Zandaris.”
Tooles sighed, “I am sorry, Elkain. I had hoped that we could discuss this in time, rather than dumping it on you all at once.”
“There is no discussion. I’m not opposed to marriage, but someone I don’t even know? I can’t... I won’t do it.”
“You have to,” said Tooles, patiently.
“And why is that?” Kain asked.
“By law, the King must either be married or betrothed,” explained Tooles, “That is why Derrick was conniving to marry your sister. He had to be married, and who better to ensure the validity of his rule than the former King’s daughter.”
“This is insane,” said Kain, “I can’t get married. I know practically nothing about women, in case you forgot, I was raised in a monastery.”
“You’ll catch on fast,” roared Gorton. “You don’t have to know anything about women, they are beyond the understanding of man.” The others laughed with him.
“This is not funny,” muttered Kain.
“She is beautiful, if that helps,” said Lophan, the only one not laughing.
“It doesn’t, in fact the only thing that would help would be to revoke such a stupid law,” Kain shouted.
“Please,” said Tooles, raising his hand in a soothing gesture, “sit down. Do not take your frustration out on Lophan, he has gone against his father’s wishes to help you in this matter, and only at my recommendation.”
Kain felt his face grow hot in embarrassment and shame. He hadn’t meant to get angry, and certainly hadn’t meant to take out his frustrations on anyone. But the marriage issue was proving difficult to deal with. Just thinking about it filled him with fear and resentment. He would be the high King of Belanda, but others were making his decisions for him. He felt as trapped by his future as he had in his past.
“I’m sorry,” Kain said to Lophan. “Please forgive me. I thank you so much for your support. And I am sorry about your family.”
“They are wrong in this matter,” said Lophan. “They are nominally supporting Derrick, only because he is strong militarily and they fear you will not be able to protect the borderlands from the Oddolans.”
“You family is from Gregerton?” Kain asked.
“Yes, my father is the Chieftain at Gregerton, and many of our people have homes and farms on the east side of the river.”
“I see,” said Kain.
“You will meet his father this afternoon, I spoke with him after the Council,” said Tooles. “But first let me ease your mind about the wedding. Lophan has assured me that Sena is as bright as her reputation. She will be an invaluable asset, having worked with her father in the court at Zanderis. She knows how to rule, and will give you wise council, but you do not have to marry her immediately. She is coming to visit you-”
“She is coming here?” Kain asked, cutting Tooles off.
“Yes, she is coming with her guard and a royal entourage,” said Lophan. “They should be here in about a week.”
Kain groaned, he could think of nothing that would have frightened him more. And there was only a week to get ready. He would die before then, he thought, with all there was to do, to remember, to overcome, he would surely die.
“All will be well,” said Tooles. “Now, lets talk about the Nobles you will meet today. The gray haired man who spoke today will be your first visit. He is Grantar, Duke of Wellsey. His family has been ruling in Wellsey for a long time. He has much power to influence the council. In fact, if he supports us, I believe we can count on the support of Dameris, Sulhain, Philhain, Teller and Festil. That will give us six votes in the council, and is therefore extremely important. There are five territories solidly in Derrick’s camp. Hollis and Merris are in league with him and have been for years. Rollis, Fandell and the sea port Sirris have all rejected meeting with you. That will leave only two Nobles who we must convince, Raphan of Gregerton and Julair of Walkerland Bay. You will meet them both today, after you meet with Grantar.”
“This is so confusing,” said Kain. “What am I suppose to say to these men? What reason can I give them as to why I should rule. I have no experience, no reason other than my father was king. But I never even knew him, I only remember meeting him a handful of times.”
“Your mark will be enough for most of them,” Devlyn said. “Most will believe as I do, that you are destined to rule our land.”
“But why? Why would a birth mark set me apart?”
“I do not know the ways of the gods,” said Gorton. “But is seems to me, if they have marked you in such an undeniable way, then there must be events coming that only you can lead us through.”
“Thanks for easing the pressure, Gorton,” said Kain and they all laughed.
Finally, Tooles said, “He is right. Your One God has set you apart as special, to rule us, and odds are that there are times coming when you alone can make the right choices. You must believe this, Elkain. You must embrace your destiny to rule this realm, to lead us as no one else can.”
“And you all believe this?” asked Kain. He looked around the table at each one of them sitting there. Tooles the Councilor, Fairan the General, Devlyn the Archer, Gorton leader of the Baldor Horsemen, all of them nodded at Kain.
“And what about you, Lophan, son of Raphan, knight of Gregerton? Do you believe in this destiny the others speak of?”
“I went to Zanderis, because Tooles asked me too. I disagree with my father because I do not believe the ends justify the means. Derrick is a greedy, self absorbed man. I saw your mark for the first time today, and only fleetingly. I am convinced you should be king. But not because of your skin, but because of your honesty, because of your trust. I am just a lowly knight, youngest of my family, but I will follow you.”
Kain sighed again. He had halfway hoped that Lophan would doubt him and give him a chance to escape the madness of this endeavor. Now, he knew he must face this future, despite what his emotions told him. He must put his mind to this task, and embrace it wholeheartedly, along with the hardships and travesties it would cost him. Not for himself, but for the people who depended on him.
“Tell me about Grantor,” Kain said.
They spent the next half hour going over the history of Wellsey, and Grantor’s work on the Council. Then they traveled downstairs, to a small room just outside the great hall. Tooles informed Kain that they were planning a feast for the night of the next Council of Nobles.
“I want you to send for Leiah, the woman who was my nurse, ” Kain said. “Have her moved into the castle.”
Tooles nodded. They entered a small room where two chairs sat facing each other. One chair was slightly larger than the other, and more ornately carved. There was a small table to the side of the chairs, and on the table was an exotic looking bottle, and a large, shallow bowl made of gold.
“What is this for?” Kain asked, pointing to the bottle and bowl.
“When Grantor” explained Tooles, “or any of the Nobles agree to support you, pour some of the wine into the bowl and offer it to them. After they drink, you will drink, and this symbolically binds the two of you.”
“Where will all of you be?” asked Kain to the others.
“Fairan and I will be outside,” said Tooles. “Fairan’s presence will give you authority.”
“And the others?” Kain asked.
“I’ll be nosing around the stables, check on the horses and see how the common folk are saying about you,” said Gorton.
“I’m headed out to the market,” said Devlyn, “I need to get some supplies and I’ll see what people are saying in the city.”
“I was planning on getting some rest before I have to go on watch tonight.” said Lophan.
“Why don’t you visit the royal bath?” suggested Kain.
“Oh, no, my Lord, I couldn’t-”
“Nonsense. Tooles, see that the bath is ready for Lophan,”
“Yes, my Lord,” rasped the old man, slipping quietly from the room.
The others left, Fairan taking up a post right outside the door, leaving Kain and Lophan alone in the room.
“Tooles said that your family is angry with you,” Kain said, “why?”
“Because ' went to Zanderis. They didn't know what my errand was, but they have never paid much attention to me anyway.” He shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, I’m still very uneasy about this marriage arrangement, but I want to say thank you for going. Your family should be proud of what you have accomplished. I’m assuming that convincing the King of Zanderis to allow his daughter to marry me wasn’t very easy.”
“Well,” Lophan hesitated, obviously unsure if he should be sharing this fact, “the truth is, he is very doubtful that you will become King.”
“So am I,” Kain said, smiling.
“I have known King Relaris all my life. My father has kept close relations with him in their efforts to keep the Oddolans at bay. He was willing to take a chance on you, to support you.”
“Because he also knows Derrick. My father thinks that Derrick will be strong against the Oddolans, that he will protect the borderlands. But that isn’t true. Derrick will squander his power, ignore everyone but his friends, and eventually get himself killed by some other power hungry tyrant.”
“Yes, Tooles has given me that lecture already. And I’ve seen the man who is planning to do it.”
“The dreams? Gorton told me about that. He also said you held your own in the fighting.”
“Except for getting shot off my horse?” Kain joked.
“Yes,” Lophan said smiling, “he mentioned that, too. He was very disappointed in his student.”
“I’m just glad that's over.”
“What do you mean?”
“The fighting,” Kain said, “I didn’t think we would make it here alive to be honest.”
“You have three of the most accomplished warriors supporting you, did you know that?” Lophan asked.
“Yes, I-” but Kain was interrupted by a knock at the door.
The door swung open and in stepped Grantor, his gray hair combed to a silky shine. He wore a handsome red shirt with an animal skin vest that covered his ample belly. His dark eyes twinkled as he took in the room.
“You have humble taste,” said Grantor, “but good friends. How are you Lophan, you look exhausted.”
“I am fine, Lord Grantor. I was just leaving.”
“Please, don’t go just yet, I want to ask you about Zanderis.”
Lophan looked unsure, but Kain placed his arm around him and led him to the larger, ornate chair.
“Is it really true that Relaris has pledged his daughter to Elkain?” asked the gray haired Noble.
“Yes, Princess Sena was very pleased with the choice.”
“I’m sure she is,” said Grantor. “This will definitely strengthen the alliance between Belanda and Zanderis. And, her choices were limited in her own country.”
Lophan merely nodded.
“So,” Grantor said, turning his attention to Kain, who was standing beside the chair Lophan occupied, “you were raised by the monks at Aquista. Did you know you were Belhain’s son?”
“No, not until recently,” Kain admitted. “I was a scribe, and met the King and Queen, they even commissioned me to copy some works, but no one told me I was their son.”
“That is unfortunate,” said Grantor, “but I can’t say I disagree. Would you be offended if I asked you to show me the mark?”
“No, Lophan has not had a chance to see it for himself either, but I would caution you not to put too much faith in a birthmark,” said Kain, once more untying the sash and opening the front of his shirt.
Grantor leaned forward in his chair, Lophan twisted around to see Kain’s chest. Once again he fought to keep the blush from his face over his less than fit physic. Lophan’s mouth dropped open as he looked at the falcon shaped mark over Kain’s heart.
“That’s amazing,” said the knight.
“May I touch it?” asked Grantor.
Kain nodded his assent. The gray haired Noble reached a strong hand out and rubbed the skin lightly. He stood, peering closely at the mark. He rubbed more briskly, then used both hands to stretch the skin. Finally, he seemed satisfied and sat back in his chair.
“Do you believe that the gods have placed this mark on you?” Grantor asked.
“I don’t believe in the old gods, only the One True God,” Kain said.
“Yes, I assumed you would. Do you believe that your God has placed this mark on you. Do you believe that you are destined to rule Belanda?”
“I believe,” Kain said slowly, trying to form his thoughts into some semblance of order, “that the One True God prepares us for the works He wants us to accomplish. We believe that He knows the number of our days and the works of our hands, so I can’t believe that He would not have been aware of my birthmark and the way it would be received. My only question about it is in the interpretation that this mark means I am destined to rule.”
“So you don’t believe that you are to rule?” asked the aging Noble.
“I believe that I am destined to try,” said Kain. “I don’t pretend that I have the knowledge sufficient to rule a country. I would not even say that I have the temperament. And to be honest, I do not crave this job. But there is a part of me that knows if I don’t do it, if I walk away, that others will suffer. I don’t know what I can do to stop that suffering, or why the One God that would choose me to rule, but if I can make a difference, then I will do all I can.”
“You say you don’t have the experience to rule, how then do you plan to carry out the King’s duties?”
“Well, that is a good question. I plan to surround myself with talented people who can give me the expertise I need. As I have traveled here, Vespin was instructing me on the role of the Council of Nobles. I would allow you to do what the Council was created to do.”
“That sounds good, but how do I know I can trust you?” Grantor asked.
Kain saw Lophan’s mouth drop open in surprise. He suppressed a grin. He assumed Lophan was used to Princes being shown more respect, but Kain understood why Grantor was being so direct. This was his one chance to ask the questions that he needed to know without offense. Once the Nobles had made their decision, they would have to stand by that decision with the appropriate customs and respect.
“The only way you will ever be able to trust anyone, is by giving them a chance. You will have to make up your mind from the information you have, so question me, question those who know me. And then do what you think is best for Belanda.”
Grantor nodded his head in acceptance of Kain’s answer. Then paused as he thought of his next question. Kain waited quietly and patiently, but it was Lophan that broke the silence.
“My Lord,” he said to Kain, “I beg your leave. And yours, Duke Grantor.”
The Noble smiled at Lophan. And Kain nodded. Lophan rose from his chair and slipped quietly from the room.
“He trusts you, and that says a lot,” said Grantor.
“He hardly knows me.”
“Yes, but he has good instincts. Not like is father, or his brothers for that matter. He can see beyond Gregerton and the borderlands. He is willing to serve Belanda and strives for the good of all, even those who do not deserve it, such as Derrick of Westfold. It is no secret that I do not support him. But he is too powerful for me to resist. Still, I must not judge you too hastily, it would be a travesty to start a war to keep one tyrant off the throne, only to find that I have placed another one on it.”
“Do you really believe there will be a war?”
“I cannot see things working out otherwise. Derrick has the support of several Nobles, which means he has a sizeable fighting force at his disposal. And his disregard for life will either make him sloppy in battle or deadly.”
“I will do everything in my power to prevent a war,” Kain said emphatically.
“Yes, well, your opponent will only see that as weakness or fear. Are you willing to fight?”
“I see you carry a strange sword.”
“Yes,” Kain said, drawing his weapon from its scabbard and handing it to Grantor. “This was the Sword of Onnasus. The High Prefect left it in my trust when I left the Monastery.”
“You don’t say?” said Grantor, testing the sword for balance and feel. “I have never seen a sword like it before. It looks like it would be fragile, but it feels strong. In fact it makes me feel like I have the strength of youth in my arm again.”
“It is an amazing weapon,” Kain agreed.
“Gorton of Baldor told one of my knights that he saw you cut clean through a knight’s helmet and skull, with one swipe. He used the words ‘with ease.’ Is there any truth to that story?”
“Well, I am sure that Gorton was exaggerating. I was trying to stop two knights from attacking Devlyn and it was sort of a fluke.”
“You attacked two, armored knights, on horseback?” Grantor asked, the surprise on his face evident.
“Yes, like I said, they were attacking Devlyn. He had no way of escaping them.”
“And you were trained in swordsmanship at Aquista?”
“Oh, no. The monks are peace loving people. The closest I ever came to a weapon before I met Fairan was a knife and fork at the dinner table.”
“I see,” Grantor said, looking at Kain with a piercing gaze. “And the General has been teaching you to use weapons?”
“I see. Well,” he said, standing abruptly, “I have made up my mind.”
He took hold of Kain’s shoulder’s with both his hands, standing at arms length, looking steadily into the young prince’s eyes. There was a long moment of silence, the older man’s look held a confidence and pride that made a strange emotion rise up from the depths of Kain’s being. He felt more like a son at that moment than he had in his entire life. The emotion formed a lump in his throat, and his eyes began to sting with tears.
“I have met very few men like you, Elkain, son of Belhain, Prince of Belanda. I believe that you should be King, and will make a good one. I pledge the strength of Wellsey to you, and further, my family will stand with you against any who would stand between you and your rightful place on the throne of our land. I too, believe in the One God, and I see His hand on your life. And I must also say, that I have prayed for someone like you to rise up and lead us.”
The elder man let go of Kain’s shoulders and slowly, knelt before him. He spoke with great conviction, “I will follow you.”