Castle Roland

Sword of Kings: Forged Out of Necessity

by Bill W


Chapter 2

Posted: 12 Oct 15

Sword of Kings: Forged Out of Necessity

by Bill W
Copyright © 2014 by billwstories

Leaving Home

The boys were escorted from the king's quarters and taken directly to the royal stables. Prior to their arrival a coach had been prepared for their use and now stood waiting for them. It was a magnificent carriage, drawn by four mighty steeds, and was apparently one of the king's personal fleet. After inspecting this magnificent vehicle further, the boys decided it must be one of the carriages used for public ceremonies or for when the king and the queen were traveling. This time, however, it would have a less regal use.

The courier, who had been sent along with them to explain the king's request to Garreth and Romaric's parents, opened the door to the carriage. He then lowered the step, which slid under the carriage and out of the way when not in use. The boys used it to climb inside, as one by one the courier helped them enter the traveling compartment. There, they would be comfortably seated for the journey.

Once inside, the trio immediately began to look around and noticed the seats were made of the finest leather. They were also well padded, although none of them were sure what had been used to fill the cushions. There was also a delicate band of gold trim surrounding the doors and windows, as well as a golden representation of the royal crest on both the inner and outer panels of each door. They also saw the initials HRH behind both seats, at just above head level. The initials stood for either 'His or Her Royal Highness' and were proudly displayed in large gold script.

While the boys had been inspecting the interior, the courier raised the step and slid it out of the way again, but he did not join them. Before he shut the door, he advised the boys he wouldn't be riding inside the coach with them. Instead, he would sit up front, beside the driver. Once he climbed into position, the coach jerked forward and the boys began talking excitedly about everything that had happened up to this point.

"Can you believe this," Romaric asked, while gently bouncing up and down on the cushion he was seated on. His head was also jerking from side to side, as he continued to inspect everything around him. "It's almost as if we're part of the king's family. Can you imagine LIVING like this?"

Both of his friends shook their heads, unable to comprehend what it would be like to be pampered and treated so grandly on a daily basis.

"No," Garreth responded. "I almost feel like some visiting member of a royal household or a high ranking official. I can't believe there are people that actually spend their entire lives living this way."

"Yes, this is really something," Kieren added. "I don't think we live badly, but this is more than I could have ever imagined."

The boys continued their conversation and were marveling about everything that had transpired up to this point, when the carriage suddenly came to a stop. Within seconds the courier appeared, opened the door and lowered the step again.

"Young sir," he said looking at Garreth, "we have reached your home."

At this point the elf nodded his understanding and climbed down from his comfy seat. Garreth then followed the courier as he walked to the front of his house and knocked upon the outer surface. A few seconds later, Garreth's father opened the door. As soon as he noticed the royal courier and recognized the king's insignia emblazoned on his tunic, he seemed to go into a panic. After a few awkward moments of silence, he invited the courier inside and that's when he noticed his son standing behind the man. Garreth's father immediately tried to interpret this seemingly conflicting information and his brain frantically attempted to put two and two together. Unfortunately, the answer it reached was five.

"Did he get into some sort of mischief or cause a problem?" Garreth's father blurted out, thinking his son was in trouble.

"Not at all," the courier explained. As he responded, the man also displayed a friendly smile upon his face, in an attempt to reassure the boy's father. "We are here at the behest of King Dylan, who has asked me to request that you permit your son to join him on a journey to Leander."

This news was even more unexpected than finding the courier at his door in the first place, so now Garreth's father looked even more perplexed. He might have understood this visit if his son had done something wrong, but why would the king be making a request to take him to Leander? Garreth's father continued to stand speechless, until his wife walked forward and joined him. She had been standing in the background, but had heard every word that had been said.

"Why would King Dylan want our son to accompany him on such a trip?" Garreth's father finally asked, somewhat tongue-tied. His head was also busily snapping back and forth, as he looked between the courier and his wife.

Understanding his confusion, the courier went on to explain some of the details concerning what had transpired back in King Dylan's quarters. After sharing this account, he concluded by telling them how the king had accepted Garreth and Romaric's offer when they volunteered to accompany their friend on this venture. Even though it took a few seconds for this information to register, eventually Garreth's parents began to comprehend what was being asked.

"But how long will they be gone?" Garreth's mother wanted to know.

"It is uncertain as to the duration of this trip, but it is my understanding they will be gone for a minimum of a fortnight, possibly longer," the courier explained. "The king offers his apologies for making such a sudden and unexpected request, but he also asks for your understanding. He hopes you will also give your son your blessing to join his friend on this venture."

Garreth's mother and father looked at each other and then at their son again, before responding.

"Of course we shall accede to the king's request," his father announced, "but I still do not see why King Dylan needs Kieren, Romaric or my son to accompany him"

"I am not at liberty to divulge that information at this time," the courier replied. "The king, however, has asked me to assure you that he would not request such a favor, if it were not absolutely necessary."

After hearing this, both parents merely nodded their heads in understanding and gave their consent, before turning to face their son.

"Collect what you have been told you will need for this journey," his father stated, as he prodded his son to get started. As Garreth began to move about the room, his father had an afterthought.

"And make certain you remain on your best behavior while you are away," he admonished. "I do not wish to hear any reports that you misbehaved or caused our liege any problems while you were with him. Remember who you are and what you represent."

This was a little phrase Garreth's father often told his children, whenever they were going to be apart. It was meant to remind them of the importance of family honor and individual integrity.

"Yes, father, I understand. I shall be good and not cause any problems," Garreth agreed. He then looked toward his parents, to receive their approval and was happy to see they were both smiling.

"May I help you pack your things, dear?" his mother inquired.

"No, mother, I think I can do this by myself. I was told I would only need to pick up a few things, since everything else will be provided for us."

His mother nodded again, but it was easy to see the pained expression etched upon her face from having her offer of assistance rebuked. She always realized that someday she'd have to cut the apron strings that connected her children to her and allow them to grow up. The time, however, had come so suddenly and unexpected that it was even more difficult for her to do.

Bravely, she put up a good front and did her best to allow her son to exert his newfound independence. She certainly didn't want to embarrass him, especially in front of one of the king's staff. Instead, she quietly accepted the personal heartache, rather than cause her son any anguish. Garreth's mother also silently reminisced about the years she had spent raising him.

Garreth, on the other hand, was oblivious to the personal battle his mother was going through, as he went about gathering the items he was going to take with him. He moved about the room at a fairly brisk pace and selected each item purposely, before unceremoniously stuffing it into a rucksack. When he was done packing, he turned to seek out his family again, so he could bid them a final farewell.

First, he sought out his siblings, who had been standing frozen against one of the walls during the entire time. They had all been intimidated by the presence of the royal courier and even more confused by what they had seen and heard. Now, they took the opportunity to say goodbye to their brother, but they were a little uncertain as to how they should do this. Hesitantly, each child either hugged Garreth or shook his hand, but it was a sufficient response for their sibling. However, when he came to his little brother, the boy motioned Garreth to lean forward, so he could whisper in his ear.

"You've got to tell me all about this when you get back," he advised Garreth, who quickly assured him he would. Now, Garreth turned to locate his parents and quickly read the concerned looks on their faces.

"Please don't worry," he began. "I shall be fine, and as I said, I will do nothing to dishonor you or myself while I am gone. I love both of you and wish to thank you for allowing me to accompany Kieren and King Dylan on this journey."

His mother burst into tears at this point and buried her face into her husband's chest. This sent a wave of sympathy radiating throughout Garreth, so he went up to his mother, threw his arms around her waist and gave her a gentle hug.

"I will be fine, mother," he told her once more, "and there is no need to cry. I will see you again, in due time."

Hurriedly, his mother dried her eyes, before returning his embrace, and then they continued to hold each other for a long time. For her part, it was because she really didn't want to let her son go, while Garreth was merely trying to console the person he loved dearly, before he took her leave. As they released their hold on each other, she gave him a kiss on the cheek and then ran her fingers through his hair and along his face. She looked longingly at him as she did so, and it was almost as if she were saying a final goodbye. Lovingly, she took one last look and tried to burn the image into her memory, just in case she were never to see her son again.

Garreth's father reacted quite differently and merely patted his son on the back, before telling him to be careful and to mind his manners while he was away. After that, Garreth and the courier walked out of the house, with the others following them to the door. Once Garreth was back in the coach and ready to leave, he waved a final farewell to his family through the window, just before they drove away.

Garreth was very quiet as they left his house, because his mind was racing over all of the things that had transpired. However, he happened to glance up and noticed his traveling companions staring in his direction. He instinctively knew this meant they were waiting for him to tell them what had happened. Hastily, he explained the information his friends wanted to know, but there wasn't a great deal of time to do it before the coach came to a stop again.

This time the carriage had pulled up in front of Romaric's home. After hearing what Garreth had to say about his experience, Romaric was almost dreading what was to come. After the courier helped him down from the coach, Romaric followed his escort as they walked up to the front door. As the courier raised his arm and began to knock, Romaric quickly wondered how his parents were going to react.

Kieren stayed in the carriage with Garreth and made his friend give him a more detailed account of what had transpired at his home. As he listened to what his friend had to say, he took special notice of how Garreth's parents had reacted to the news. Now, he thought about how his own mother and father might respond, so he would be prepared to deal with them.

Kieren anticipated the situation might be even more difficult for his mother, since she tended to react very emotionally about such things, especially where he was concerned. He expected the same teary outburst from her, as Garreth's mother had shown, so he thought about what he might tell her. He wanted to be prepared, so he could put her at ease concerning what he was about to do.

His father, however, would be an altogether different story. He always encouraged his son to be independent and to accept responsibility for things, which was exactly what Kieren was doing now. Kieren concluded his father would be proud of the fact that not only was his son's help needed, but that Kieren had also agreed to assume this responsibility fully. Kieren was continuing to think about those things when Garreth gently nudged him. When Kieren looked over at his friend, Garreth was pointing toward the window.

Kieren then turned in that direction and was able to see Romaric and his family, emerge from their home, as they began saying their final goodbyes. The boys watched as Romaric bent down and kissed his little brother goodbye, which melted the feelings of jealousy the young boy had been harboring in his heart. The youngster now hugged his brother's waist and told him he'd miss him while he was gone.

Next, Romaric turned toward his father, who reached out and shook his son's hand firmly, as if he were concluding a business deal. This did not bother Romaric, however, because he knew it meant his father was accepting him as a young man and no longer thought of him as a mere child.

In contrast, when Romaric turned his attention to his mother, she gave him a very emotional and prolonged hug. She also kissed him multiple times on the forehead, while shedding more than a few tears in the process. Once his mother released him from her grasp, Romaric grabbed his bag and followed the courier back to the carriage.

The elf paused briefly to look back at his family, before entering the carriage. When he was ready, the royal servant helped him climb the step and go inside. As soon as he was seated again, Romaric gave his family a final wave. After the coach had driven away, he began giving Kieren and Garreth a quick recounting of what had transpired during his time with his parents.

It was only a few minutes later when the carriage rolled to a stop again, but this time they were outside of Kieren's home. He was definitely dreading what he was about to do, since he expected his mother to take the news very poorly. After the courier opened the door and lowered the step, Kieren hesitantly got out and made his way toward the entrance to his house. Instead of the courier leading the way for him, as he had done with the other pair, this time the king's emissary chose to walk behind the young man instead. Not realizing the difference, Kieren strode up to the door and opened it, as he had done countless times before. He then paused and held the door wide, so his escort could enter first.

His parents looked up when they walked in. Although they had been expecting their son's arrival, they were taken aback when they saw the other man with him. Even though they were mildly flustered and surprised, they still reacted appropriately and stood to welcome the guest into their home.

No one asked who this stranger was or what he wanted. Neither did Kieren's parents seem interested in the reason why he was accompanying their son, which seemed very odd to Kieren. While pondering this minor incongruity, Kieren merely set about gathering his things. He placed each item in a fabric bag, and once he had finished packing, he turned toward his parents and spoke.

"It seems obvious that you knew about this. Didn't you?" he demanded.

His parents' faces flushed noticeably and they quickly turned to gauge each other's reaction. Once they had regained their composure, they sought to respond to their son's accusation.

"We were aware that something like this MIGHT be required," his mother advised him, "but we never knew if or when it would actually take place."

"Then why didn't you warn me before now?" Kieren nearly screamed. "Why didn't you tell me something like this might eventually happen?"

His mother was so upset by his outburst that she couldn't respond, so his father answered him instead.

"There were two reasons for this, my son," he began, almost apologetically. "First of all, your mother and I hoped we could wait until you had reached adulthood before anything such as this came up. Second, both King Dylan and Beraut had asked us not to tell you about your heritage until…"

Kieren's father stopped at this point, because his wife nudged him, quite forcefully, in his side. However, Kieren caught the slip and jumped on it.

"What heritage? What are you keeping from me?" he demanded.

Both of his parents looked extremely concerned when they realized they had nearly let the cat out of the bag. Trying to recover from this blunder, his mother spoke to him next.

"Son, you will find out about all of this shortly," she told him, while trying to avoid direct contact with his eyes. "That is why you have been requested to go with King Dylan and Beraut to Leander."

"But if you knew I'd be involved in this sooner or later, don't you think you should have told me about it before now," he shouted, hysterically. "Why did I have to find out about this from a stranger?"

Kieren was livid, but he was even more upset by the fact that his parents still considered him a child incapable of dealing with the truth.

"We may have been wrong for allowing you to discover the news in this fashion," his father responded, "but we have relied on the advice of those who have protected your mother and her family for many years. I'm sorry if you think we used poor judgment in dealing with this issue, but we were only trying to protect you."

Kieren's mother was weeping openly now, but this was not only due to her son's outburst. It also resulted in part because she understood the dangerous nature of the task he was about to undertake, even if her son didn't.

"Protect me?" Kieren countered. "How could keeping me ignorant possibly protect me? Or was it that you thought I wasn't mature enough to deal with the information?"

Both of his parents sensed his hostility and defiance, but they could also read the betrayal he felt about them withholding this information. They also realized they needed to do something now, in order to offset his misgivings.

"I'm sorry, son," his mother began. "I can only tell you that on the day I first learned about Madumda, I wished my parents had kept the secret from me forever. From that day forward, and even until this very moment, I constantly worry about what will happen if he comes to power. I merely wished to protect you from those same concerns for as long as I could."

"But how could you let me continue to believe that Madumda was a myth or a threat that had ended long ago?" he chastised her.

"We did it so you, and the rest of the children, could enjoy your youth," his mother confessed. "Do you think you would have done the same things or had the fun you did, like camping out with Garreth and Romaric, if you knew there was this black-hearted sorcerer who was threatening our way of life? What purpose would it have served for you to know about any of this before now? Would you have been any better off knowing? It would only have robbed you of the precious memories you now have.

"No, Kieren," she continued, "we did what we thought was best for you, so you could enjoy as many carefree years as possible. We planned to tell you when you were older, or if the situation worsened, but we didn't realize things had changed so quickly. I'm sorry if you think we failed you."

Now, his mother began to weep even harder and this affected Kieren deeply. Slowly, he began to digest her words, as he studied her tear-streaked face. He could feel the pain she was feeling and sensed the sincerity in what she'd just said.

Realizing that his parents had only acted as they had out of concern for him, and not because they thought him immature, he began to calm down and regain his composure. Obviously he had been wrong to assume they didn't think him capable of dealing with this information or were treating him like a child. It seems as if they were merely trying to keep him from getting bogged down with fear and worry. Gradually, Kieren began to release his anger, not only because he had entirely misread the situation, but he also didn't want to part from his family on such a bitter note.

Slowly, he moved over to his mother and hugged her. Seeing his son react in this manner, Kieren's father took a step closer and put his arm around Kieren's shoulders, so he could advise him to be careful while he was away from home. Kieren looked up at his father and nodded, to let him know he appreciated his concern.

After coming to grips with the fact that she would probably not see her son for quite some time, Kieren's mother threw her arms around him too and gave him a tremendous squeeze. When she eventually released him from this mighty hug, she leaned forward to kiss him. Even though she did this on a regular basis, it still momentarily surprised Kieren, but he managed to close his eyes in time to receive her affection.

Delicately, she placed her lips over each of Kieren's eyelids and kissed them tenderly. This was a ritual she had performed on him every night since he was a baby. It was a family tradition, which had been passed down throughout the years and was used at bedtime or when saying farewell to a loved one. It was meant as a symbolic gesture to ease the concerns of the person being kissed and to provide him with pleasant visions or sweet dreams. Knowing the importance of this mission and the dangers her son might face along the way, Kieren's mother was not about to let her only child set out without giving him the appropriate send off.

Eventually, Kieren and his mother both recognized it was time for him to leave, so he bid his parents a final goodbye, before following the courier back to the carriage. Once inside, he sat quietly on one seat, while Garreth and Romaric remained in the seat across from him.

Both elves immediately sensed that Kieren obviously had a tougher time saying goodbye, so they left him alone and gave him an opportunity to digest everything that had happened. Later, Kieren would be thankful that neither of his companions had pestered him for the details about what had taken place at his home. He wasn't sure he would have been able to divulge the information to them at that point. Instead, they rode back to King Dylan's residence in total silence. Garreth and Romaric respected Kieren's need to reflect upon each detail concerning what had transpired so far, without interruption. It wasn't a very long ride, however, and they soon found themselves pulling up in front of the king's abode. Regrettably, this hadn't allowed Kieren sufficient time to fully deal with his emotions, so he was still deep in thought as they exited the carriage.

Almost without thinking, the boys followed the courier as he led them back to the royal chambers, where they would once again meet up with the king and wizard. Beraut took a moment to ask each of them how things went, but he received only very short responses in reply, such as 'fine' or 'as expected.' The wizard even tried to press for more details, but quickly discovered his efforts were of little use. Seeing the king and wizard weren't going to get much more out of Kieren or the other pair, the king told the trio he would have them shown to their rooms. He wanted them to get plenty of rest before they had to set out in the morning. That's when Romaric seized the opportunity to raise an objection.

"Your majesty," he began. "If you don't mind, I think we would rather stay together for the evening. I know I'd prefer not to be alone right now, and I think both Garreth and Kieren feel the same way as I do. Would you mind if we shared a room?"

The king studied them intently, before a grin began to stretch across his lips.

"Not at all, my boy" he replied. "You may share the room I was going to assign to Kieren. The bed is large enough for all of you and I'm sure you will be more than comfortable."

Romaric and Garreth grinned and thanked the king, but Kieren was still in a daze. He had not said much of anything since he left his home and the others understood he had a great deal on his mind. The two elves acknowledged this situation by guiding Kieren as they followed the servant King Dylan had commanded to show them to their quarters.

Each of the elves lovingly grasped one of Kieren's arms, while gently urging him to come with them. They knew their friend was temporarily incapable of thinking straight or going anywhere on his own, so they took charge and led him to their destination. They didn't mind having to do this and would continue to care and watch over him for as long as he seemed incapable of doing things for himself.

As the servant opened the door to the bedchamber they were to use for the evening, they were immediately in awe of their surroundings. Everything was built from oak and was quite splendid. The room was tastefully decorated and filled with many expensive looking items.

There were several paintings strategically hung on the walls and had most likely been placed there to break the monotony of the wood's singular color. Each of these works of art depicted some important event from elfin history and was wonderfully crafted. In between the paintings were placed a number of reflective surfaces, each in a golden frame, which aided in brightening the room. They were arranged to redirect the light supplied by the sun, moon, candles or lanterns and were used to magnify the illumination within the room.

Living in the depths of the forest, this was important during both the daytime and at night. First, only a limited amount of sunlight or moonlight was able to filter through the boughs of the trees and the mirrors amplified the rays that penetrated the canopy. Second, it reduced the amount of artificial illumination needed to brighten the area, so not as much fuel or as many candles were needed to accomplish the task.

Around the room, the boys also discovered a collection of finely sculpted and molded figurines. The vast majority of these items had been strategically placed upon various pieces of furniture or on small stands designed specifically for this purpose. Most of the statuary depicted a former elfin king, one of the local gods or a character from elfin folklore. It was truly a marvelous room and a huge honor to be allowed to stay in it, even for just a single night.

What garnered the most attention from the boys was the huge bed in the middle of the chamber, complete with overstuffed mattress. As they visually inspected the bed, they discovered it was made from the same fine oak as everything else and had figures of unicorns and wood nymphs carved into the frame. The mattress was covered with a collection of fine quilts, which could be used to keep the occupants snug when the weather turned cold.

The boys eyed the bed longingly, because it looked so very comfortable, and were immediately tempted to try it out. The two elves were still protectively watching out for their friend and managed to get Kieren to sit on the edge of the bed, so they could each do the same. Slowly, they sank into its enveloping softness and knew at once they were going to like sleeping on it.

Seeing Kieren was still dazed from the overload of information he had received earlier, the elves decided it best to put their friend to bed. They found the dressing gowns that had been placed there for their use and carefully helped Kieren out of his other garments. After that, they pulled the quilts back out of the way, since it was a fairly warm evening, and then they guided Kieren into the center of the bed. The two elves knew their friend probably wouldn't be able to fall asleep unless he was able to relax a bit, so they decided to help him in that regard. This was something the boys had been doing for a while now, but it seemed the appropriate time to do it again.

After disrobing themselves, Garreth went around to the far side of the bed, while Romaric stayed on the near side, before they climbed on top of the mattress, next to their friend. They had silently agreed on what they would do next, so Garreth went immediately to Kieren's chest and began to lick around his tiny aureole, until his nubs became hard and stood out from his body. Once both nipples were erect, Garreth began to suckle on his friend's sensitive breasts and unconsciously made Kieren moan and squirm from the attention.

While Garreth was tending to the upper half of Kieren's body, Romaric headed toward his friend's waist and spread Kieren's legs apart. He then crawled into the space between them and began to lick around Kieren's scrotum, completely lathing the area with his tongue. Then, he gently took the delicate orbs contained within the fleshy sac into his mouth, but added only the slightest bit of suction. Kieren was now erect and his penis stood out from his body like one of the monuments to the local gods, just waiting to be worshipped. Eagerly, Romaric did that by slowly running his tongue up the exterior of his shaft, until he came to the head.

Kieren was already starting to leak by this point, with the early drops of love nectar coating the surface and making the head glisten. Seeing this, Romaric began to run his tongue over the tip and lapped up the sweet droplets. This caused Kieren to sigh very loudly, as his body enjoyed what his mind couldn't quite comprehend. It was still busy going over everything that had happened over the past several hours. Instinctively, Kieren arched his body, as Romaric began to slide his mouth over the crown and down the velvety shaft.

Not wasting any effort, Romaric began to bob up and down on his friend's rigid member, as he ran his lips and tongue along the surface, while teasing the opening at the end. Kieren's hips began to buck up and down now, as nature took over and he sought relief. Kieren's movements were almost too much for Romaric to deal with, but he didn't release his grip and stayed in control as much as he could. Soon, Romaric began to sense Kieren's penis swell slightly, indicating he was nearing his release. Romaric immediately increased his suction, as one of his hands slipped under his chin, so he could massage his friend's testicles. He hoped this would help bring Kieren over the edge.

Within seconds, Kieren's penis exploded and let loose several long threads of creamy liquid that slid down Romaric's throat. Romaric never blinked or slowed down and continued to suck until he had drained his friend of all the love juices his body could produce. Spent, Kieren collapsed onto the bed, as Romaric teased the final droplets from his slit. The elf then moved away from his friend's body, so Kieren could enjoy the afterglow that followed such a powerful release.

At this point, Garreth and Romaric slipped a nightshirt onto their friend's body and dragged one of the covers up and over top of him. Even though they could have used some relief themselves, they opted to neglect their own needs at this time and merely focused on their friend. Slipping on their own nightshirts, they crawled into bed and moved into place on either side of their friend. As the two elves settled in, they snuggled against Kieren to reassure him that everything was all right. Effortlessly, the elves began to drift off to sleep.

Although he was more relaxed now, due to his friends' efforts, Kieren also felt better knowing Garreth and Romaric were close by. His mind was still consumed with all that had happened, but he eventually drifted off to sleep. His dreams, however, quickly became overwhelmed by a variety of different feelings. These emotions definitely affected his slumber throughout the remainder of the evening, so it wasn't exactly a restful sleep.

Even though Garreth and Romaric seemed to be sleeping peacefully, not all was as it appeared on the surface. Internally, all three boys were trying to simmer their own boiling cauldron of emotions. Unconsciously, they were looking forward to the adventures that awaited them, yet wary of the dangers they might encounter along the way. They were invigorated by the novelty this journey offered, yet uncertain as to what they should expect. They were extremely excited about the prospect of venturing beyond the boundaries of the faerie kingdom, something none of them had previously done, yet scared to be leaving the protection of their homeland. They wanted to see more of Tarolia, but it was an unsettling prospect as well.

Being youthful and eager, the boys were also oblivious to most of the relevant details. Over time, the teens began to slip into dreams about the big day that awaited them, each with their own take on the situation.

Previous ChapterNext Chapter