Castle Roland

Sword of Kings: Forged Out of Necessity

by Bill W


Chapter 6

Posted: 9 Nov 15

Sword of Kings: Forged Out of Necessity

by Bill W
Copyright © 2014 by billwstories

Many Lessons

Once again, the three teenagers rode at Beraut's side and hoped the wizard would impart even more enlightening and intriguing information. He didn't disappoint them and explained what he'd done after learning about the foul deed Madumda perpetrated when he ordered King Orthilue's family slaughtered. The images that Beraut painted with his words allowed Kieren to actually visualize the events in his mind, so he could experience how the day had unfolded.

The dark-haired wizard traveled at breakneck speed as he sped through the Woods of Wildoness. He had urgent business with the elfin king and dared not waste even a minute more before seeking him out. Something terrible had happened and he needed the king's advice about how they should respond to the situation.

The wizard was moving as quickly as he could and walking as fast or faster than most men could run. The trees of Wildoness were no more than a blur to him as he passed by, so it didn't take long before he was entering the outer limits of Aurelia, the elfin capital. He was totally focused on getting to the royal apartments as quickly as he could and passed by everyone else as if they didn't exist. As he approached the royal residence, the guards immediately challenged his purpose for being there. In response, he stated his name and business, which caused one of the soldiers to disappear, as he raced off to inform his liege. Shortly thereafter, the wizard was ushered inside, to where the king was seated upon his throne.

"Your Majesty, I apologize for this unannounced visit, but something dreadful has happened and I'm not sure if the news has yet reached your ears," the flustered Beraut stated.

"If you are referring to what happened to Orthilue at Leander, then I have already been advised," King Rondell announced, "but I have information you are probably unaware of. Before I continue, however, I wish to include my son in this discussion, so please allow me to send for him first." The wizard nodded. "Guard, would you go tell Prince Dylan I require his presence immediately."

After bowing to the king, the guard went to fetch the prince. It wasn't long before the king's eldest son joined his father and the wizard. This allowed the elfin king to advise both of them about a few details concerning the demise of King Orthilue and his family.

"No one else knows this, but not all is lost…" King Rondell began.

King Rondell then went on to advise the pair about details that only he and a few of his most loyal and obedient advisers had been aware of, up to this point. Once he had imparted all of the relevant details, the wizard thanked the elfin king for sharing the information with him. Beraut was grateful to learn these very important facts and stored them in the back of his mind, for later use. However, his thoughts were suddenly interrupted when the king spoke again.

"I think I have a fair idea about why Madumda decided to act now, but what is your take on the matter?"

"I believe Madumda chose this time to respond, because Orthilue kept issuing him challenges and trying to draw him out for a personal confrontation," Beraut replied. The wizard's remorse about recent events was clearly evident upon his face. "Even though I had advised him against it, Orthilue thought he could embarrass or humiliate Madumda into taking the bait. The king imagined he could somehow get Madumda to agree to a one-on-one duel and then utilize the talisman against him. He felt it was his best chance to put an end to the threat Madumda posed."

"Didn't he know Madumda was far too bright and cautious to fall for such a ploy?" the elf king followed.

"He did, for I advised him of that fact on numerous occasions," the wizard replied. "Regrettably, King Orthilue felt Madumda's belief that his powers made him omnipotent and invincible would be enough entice him to become reckless. Orthilue was convinced he could eventually goad Madumda into ignoring his cautious approach and provoke him to underestimate the threat such an encounter posed."

"So, Orthilue never actually saw Madumda as the treacherous snake he is?" the faerie leader pressed.

"Unfortunately, no," the wizard responded.

Regardless of what he'd just said, Beraut still felt he was at least partially responsible for this tragedy. If nothing else, he should have been able to prevent it by convincing King Orthilue about Madumda's true nature and how he might respond. If he'd been able to do that, then the king wouldn't have continued to press for a confrontation. The problem was, it was too late to do anything about it now.

"I tried to warn Orthilue that his continued provocation might motivate Madumda to find another solution, rather than accept his challenge," the wizard added. "Orthilue, however, wouldn't accept the notion and argued that Madumda's vanity would never allow it. I tried to explain to him that Madumda had been dubbed 'The Fox' for good reason and his cleverness might prove more formidable than expected. Unfortunately, the king decided to brush my warnings aside."

"And it turns out your fears were justified," King Rondell agreed. "Too bad Orthilue didn't heed your advice. He was a brilliant and powerful leader, but obviously shortsighted on this one matter."

After a few more minutes of discussion about the various aspects of what had happened, the middle-aged wizard took his leave of the king and his son. Beraut understood he still had to seek out the leaders of the other races in Tarolia, so he could advise them of this new predicament and get their opinions about what steps should be taken next.

Once Beraut finished telling the boys about his role in this horrible tale, he mentally transported them to another place. He wanted the three youths to visualize what happened next, when the talisman reached Treblanc. Beraut had gleaned this information from several independent sources and then pieced it together. Therefore, it was the best and most complete accounting of what transpired when Madumda's general took the prized possession to his master.

General Lundar marched through the open gate at Treblanc, without being challenged. He then strode confidently into the main building, where Madumda's senior advisor met him.

"I am here to present Lord Madumda with his enemy's talisman," the General announced, while looking quite pleased with himself. He expected to be well rewarded for this feat.

"I will advise my master immediately," the advisor quickly noted. "You are to remain here until I return. If he agrees to meet with you, then I will to escort you to his chambers."

The general merely nodded his understanding and watched as the wiry, little man turned and scampered out of sight. A few minutes later, the advisor returned and summoned the military commander to come with him. Without hesitation, the general followed his guide down a long corridor and through a set of massive double-doors. From there, they went up an elaborate staircase and then down another hallway, before coming to a halt in front of a remarkably non-descript portal. The servant then knocked apprehensively, before hearing a very forceful, "Enter!" in response.

Slowly, he swung the wooden barrier inward and stepped inside. He then held the door open and motioned the general to follow him across the threshold. Madumda was standing against the far wall, gazing pensively out of one end of a long row of windows, but he immediately turned toward the two men as they entered.

"You may leave us now," Madumda barked, rudely dismissing his advisor.

Although the expression on the advisor's face showed he wasn't pleased to have been dismissed so quickly, he never said a word. Instead, he scurried into the hallway and closed the door behind him. As soon as the advisor was gone, Madumda turned toward the general and spoke.

"I understand you were successful," he began, without greeting or acknowledging the general specifically.

"That is correct," Lundar concurred, while making a slight bow. "The king and his family have been dealt with and I was able to retrieve the object you desire."

After announcing this tidbit of information, the general reached inside his traveling cloak and withdrew the talisman. Proudly, he held it aloft so Madumda could not only admire the prize, but he would also be able to acknowledge the tremendous effort it took to procure it.

Madumda trembled slightly as he first beheld the magnificence of the object. The general immediately noticed his master's behavior, but assumed this minor malady had been caused by the euphoria Madumda felt about seeing the talisman for the first time. The slight tremor might have also been caused by the knowledge that the magical obstacle that had prevented him from pursuing his goal was no longer a threat. In an effort to make the most of this moment, Lundar held the prize out to Madumda, so he could take it and proclaim himself Supreme Ruler of the land.

"Keep that blasted thing away from me!" Madumda shouted while rapidly backing away.

Lundar had merely tried to present the talisman to Madumda so he could revel in possessing it. However, once it was within an arm's length of his body, the sorcerer hurriedly took a few steps backward. This was not the reaction the general expected, so he stood there with his mouth hanging slightly agape. He couldn't understand why his liege was reticent to claim the item, but he was even more confused by the outburst that followed.

"But my, um, my Lord," Lundar stammered. "Do you not wish to hold it for yourself?"

"I want nothing to do with that magical abomination," Madumda emphatically replied. "Bring it near me again and you shall rue your mistake. Just carry it with you and I'll have you place it in the storage compartment I've prepared for it. It shall remain there forever, under my constant surveillance and where it can cause me no harm."

Confused by Madumda's uncharacteristic and very irrational response, General Lundar followed him into another chamber, which was directly off the one they were in. Carefully, Lundar placed the object where Madumda directed. Nearly as soon as the talisman had been secured in its holder, the general felt a very strange sensation in his temple. Suddenly, everything around him began to blur, before going dark. Unbeknownst to him, as soon as the talisman was secure, Madumda lifted his staff and placed it beside the military leader's head. When he did this, he muttered a short spell and instantly drained Lundar of all memory of the object and its hiding place.

At first, Madumda had contemplated killing his commander, but eventually concluded he was far too valuable to be destroyed. Therefore, rather than bringing him to an ignominious end, Madumda merely robbed him of a few precious memories. This included every morsel of his recollection from the time he had entered Treblanc and continued until Madumda had him guided out of the fortress.

Madumda then cast another spell over Lundar, so the military leader would follow him back to the reception hall. Once there, Madumda left Lundar with his shriveled advisor, but only after warning his assistant that the military man might seem dazed and bewildered. In that case, the advisor was to assure Lundar that everything was fine and urge him to return to his troops.

Once Lundar exited through the main gate, he suddenly regained his senses. Turning around, he realized he was at Treblanc, but had no idea what he was doing there. Perplexed, he passed through the main gate of the fortress again and was quickly met by the advisor. The man hastily assured Lundar that all relevant matters had already been dealt with and that he was to return to his troops. The advisor then went on to suggest that the general's sudden memory loss was most likely due to the enormous amount of stress he had been under while carrying out his latest assignment. Although he was still uncertain as to what was happening, the general reluctantly agreed that must be the case. He then bid Madumda's closest confidant adieu and headed down the roadway that led out of the Devil's Horseshoe.

After hearing these stories, all three teens were expanding their appreciation about how unscrupulous and vile Madumda truly was. It was very easy to see why most of the other races were joining forces to defeat him, since they didn't wish to live in the cruel and unjust world where he ruled.

Once more, Beraut's stories had made the morning pass by quickly, so the entourage was now ready to pause for their midday meal. Before they dismounted, however, Kieren made Beraut promise he would tell them about the Tarolian kings next, just as soon as they renewed their journey. Having secured the wizard's pledge, Kieren went off with his friends to eat.

The boys eagerly gobbled down their food and then hurried back to stand beside their mounts. Impatiently, they paced back and forth, in an unconscious attempt to encourage the others into a greater haste, but their effort had no effect. This, in turn, caused them to become even more anxious with each passing second, as they waited to get underway again.

After the rest of the retinue finished their meal and packed up the remaining supplies, the group started out again. Now that they were resuming their journey, Beraut kept his promise and began a monologue about the history of the royal line of Tarolia. He started with the reign of King Ethelbert and then continued on with his successors. The wizard meticulously filled the lads in about many of the facts and much of the folklore surrounding these rulers, while also pointing out the highs and lows of each successive reign.

Kieren was immediately impressed by King Ethelbert's many feats, which included his diplomatic accomplishments and victories in battle. He was especially intrigued by Ethelbert's wisdom and foresight as he ruled the land and this caused him to instantly idolize the ancient ruler. This hero worship probably added to his great disappointment later, when he heard the accounts about some of the lesser kings that followed Ethelbert to the throne. Kieren quickly realized that not every king was equally suited for the task of ruling the kingdom and, therefore, didn't perform as well. Over time, Kieren began to acknowledge their accomplishments, or lack thereof, seemed to undo much of the greatness the mighty Ethelbert had worked so hard to attain.

Beraut then informed the youths about the reign of the three kings that immediately preceded King Orthilue to the throne. Kieren quickly realized this trio seemed to regain some of the momentum Tarolia had lost under some of its earlier monarchs. He was also enormously impressed by the tale of King Orthilue and the immense promise he had shown during his reign. This, in turn, made Kieren begin to compare King Orthilue to King Ethelbert. For that reason, it bothered Kieren tremendously that the murder of the king and his family had prevented Orthilue from restoring Tarolia to its former greatness, as it appeared he was about to do.

"Why were Ethelbert and Orthilue so much better than those other kings?" Garreth asked, once he thought Beraut had finished.

"It's hard to say," Beraut told him, "but everyone learns to analyze situations and solve problems in different ways. What this means is that not everyone is as gifted at seeing how the decisions they make will affect the future. Those blessed with this ability, however, tend to make better leaders and enjoy greater accomplishments."

Beraut quickly studied the elf, to see if there was some spark of understanding, but he wasn't sure if he saw one. Rather than attempt to word his answer another way, the wizard decided to address the question Romaric was straining to ask instead.

"But doesn't someone have to teach the king how to do that?" the elf wanted to know.

"To some extent his predecessor and advisors try to aid them in this quest while he is maturing," Beraut responded. "Part of the ability, though, is due to an inborn talent the person has, which is something that cannot be taught."

This answer left Romaric slightly perplexed and confused, since he wasn't sure what the wizard meant. Unfortunately, Romaric and Garreth began to wonder if Beraut was being intentionally obscure when answering their questions. They didn't, however, have very long to consider this thought further, because Kieren was already posing another query.

"Beraut, do you remember telling us how King Orthilue settled the dispute between the dwarfs and Akiktites?" The wizard nodded, but at the same time began to smirk, since he was anticipating where the lad was going with this line of thought. "Do you think it might be possible for something like that to work, so the Merropites and gnomes will be able to patch things up with the rest of Tarolia once this situation has ended? I have a hunch it might be a good way to get those groups to feel as if they were part of the kingdom again, once Madumda is defeated."

"What a splendid idea," Beraut beamed, since he appreciated the higher level of reasoning this young man was exhibiting. "I pray some day we might be able to try your suggestion and see if it works."

Garreth and Romaric just stared at their friend, because they weren't certain what he was referring to. Even though they vaguely remembered Beraut mentioning something about that matter, they couldn't recall precisely what King Orthilue had done. However, they didn't have long to consider it further, because their thoughts were disturbed when Kieren began to speak again.

"And there's something else I was thinking. Do you remember how the kings, especially Ethelbert and Orthilue, seemed to gain greater respect and support from their subjects? It seemed to happen whenever they encouraged and allowed the different groups to get more involved in what was happening at the time." Beraut nodded again, since he could see where Kieren was going with this idea. Garreth and Romaric, however, appeared to be totally lost.

"Well I was thinking," Kieren continued, "that if the king were to form a council where each group within Tarolia had a specific number of representatives, it might serve the same purpose. I think it could even make the different races and groups feel as though they had a part in making the laws, not just the king. The council would be able to advise the king about any potential advantages and disadvantages they foresaw concerning the actions he was considering or the laws he wanted to implement. With this input, the king would be able to prevent his decisions from producing any unintended consequences. Do you think that might help?"

Beraut was nearly bursting now, as he tried to contain his excitement over the young man's unique insights. He was truly impressed with how Kieren had taken the information he'd provided and then used it to draw these conclusions.

"You know," the wizard began, "I think you might have hit upon something with this particular idea. I believe by securing each group's participation in how things are done, even the northern city-states might forgo their isolationist practices and begin to project an even greater feeling of being part of the kingdom."

The rest of the journey and conversation went much the same way, with Kieren continuing to ask much more meaningful and in depth questions than the other pair. This eventually caused his two friends to remain silent, while at the same time doing their best to understand the discussion going on between Kieren and Beraut. This wasn't a result of Garreth and Romaric being stupid, because they were actually quite intelligent, but they only seemed to grasp the obvious issues. Kieren, on the other hand, was able to dig down and find the underlying causes that were hidden below the surface. Even though the two elves had known Kieren for several years and had always admired him, the longer this discussion continued, the more impressed they became of his abilities.

During the time they traveled together, the trio of youths were so engrossed in the wizard's tales and ensuing discussions that they nearly failed to notice they had journeyed out of the Woods of Wildoness. Kieren was the first to recognize this fact though, and after pointing out the change to his companions, the three of them became completely fascinated with the new sights that now engulfed them.

Here, stretching endlessly before them in every direction, lay a multitude of wonders they had never beheld before. During the fifteen summers since his birth, Kieren had never seen anything beyond the borders of the forest, and neither had Garreth nor Romaric. They had spent their entire lives in the confines of the woodlands, with its own green heaven and sparsely scattered patches of blue sky, so they were not ready to appreciate the immense openness that lay before them. For here was a vast blue ocean of sky, dotted artistically with billowy, white clouds that drifted lazily across the never-ending horizon.

Slowly, Kieren lowered his gaze, only to discover he had been set adrift in a sea of flaxen grains and emerald grasses. As the sun's brilliance danced merrily off of these shimmering reeds, it painted the land in a vision of pastoral beauty. All of this was tenderly caressed and cradled by the azure-hued firmament and gave him a sense of amazement, such as he had never had to deal with previously.

The loveliness of this moment dazzled Kieren into a pseudo-hypnotic trance and he was unable to think about anything other than the dazzling wonders that surrounded him. As he rode through the expansive grasslands, Kieren's senses were now overwhelmed by the colors and fragrances of the foliage, which consumed his every thought for the remainder of the day. As the sun began its final descent from the sky, but before it became too dark to see, the small group stopped to prepare their evening camp.

This campsite was very different from the one the previous evening, since they were now far away from the protection of Wildoness. The openness meant they were subject to possible observation by anyone lurking in the grasslands around them, so no fire would be lit this evening. This particular order had been issued to prevent them from divulging their presence to any of the more unscrupulous sojourners that might be out and about, since light carries great distances at night. This also meant the group would be forced to consume a very simple, cold dinner this evening, which turned out to be not nearly as satisfying as any of their previous fares. For this reason, Kieren and the two elves went to bed down totally disillusioned by the prospect of similar future meals.

As the trio undid their bedrolls and prepared to lie down, Beraut walked over to their location. He quickly advised them to stay fully clothed this evening, in case they had to leave quickly or were forced to defend themselves. Once the wizard moved away, the boys took a minute to get over the unsettling thought that Beraut might have seen them naked the previous evening. Once that had been dealt with, the trio began to look about for potential dangers.

The boys were peering into the darkness and trying to see if they could spot any movement in the immediate area. Even after finding nothing of concern, the three of them continued their impromptu surveillance. It almost appeared as if their heads were on swivels, as their necks frantically rotated from side to side, because they were totally consumed with the idea of threats lurking in the darkness. This went on until Kieren finally spoke up.

"I bet King Ethelbert and King Orthilue wouldn't be scared if they were here with us now," he thought aloud, as he attempted to find a way to bolster his waning self-confidence.

Somewhat confused by this sudden and unexpected comment, his two friends tried to figure out what he meant by it. They also wondered what had prompted him to utter such a statement in the first place. Why wouldn't those ancient kings have been at least slightly frightened if they were with them, since this was a dangerous time and they had minimal protection? However, Garreth decided it might be best to just agree with Kieren, so he could discover what his friend might say next.

"Yeah, they were really brave, weren't they?" the elf commented.

"Much braver than me," Kieren agreed. "Even when they were our age, neither one would have let something like this scare him. That's why I want to be more like them, rather than some of the other weaklings that reigned in between. I don't want to embarrass my family the way those other kings disappointed and embarrassed the kingdom. I know I can do better than that, so I'm going to try to be brave and act more like King Ethelbert and King Orthilue."

"But you are brave, Kieren," Garreth assured him.

"I agree," Romaric added. "You have never been one to shy away from a fight or back down from a conflict, no matter what the consequences might be."

Kieren quickly decided this probably wasn't the best time to argue the point, so he didn't respond. He did, however, start to consider the things his friends had just told him. Now that their conversation had ended, the three boys got into their bedrolls and prepared to rest. Kieren, unfortunately, did not fall asleep as quickly as his friends and spent the time thinking about the situation.

Eventually, Kieren became distracted and then totally absorbed in the beauty and newness of the nighttime sky above him. The first thing he noticed was the size of the moon that hovered over the landscape on this nearly cloudless night. He had seen the moon before, from his home in Aurelia, but he had never been able to observe it in its entirety. He had only been able to catch glimpses of it as it shone through the trees, but never imagined it was this large. Although it was merely a quarter moon this evening, he could still discern its true size, as it bathed the ground in a soft, silvery light.

'Hopefully,' Kieren thought, as he lay flat on his back gazing at the heavens, 'the moon will provide enough light for the guards to keep us safe, without giving off sufficient brilliance to reveal our presence to outsiders.'

Kieren also took note of the vast array of stars, which were far more numerous than he had ever imagined. In the woods he'd only been able to observe a few stars at a time, but here in the open the firmament was awash in glowing dots of light. Some of the various objects seemed to twinkle, as they produced their own illumination, while others merely reflected the light from the bodies that glowed nearby.

For the first time, Kieren was not only aware of the vast quantity of objects that appeared in the nighttime sky, but he also began to notice that certain combinations seemed to form patterns. Before long, he even started to recognize the outline of various shapes being formed against the dark hue of the heavens. He continued to distinguish as many of these patterns as he could, which ranged from very simple shapes to far more complicated combinations. Kieren even thought some of the patterns formed the outline of animals or members of one of the races living in Tarolia. He was completely consumed by these intriguing phenomena and continued to study the sky, until his weary body finally gave out and he lost consciousness.

The following morning, Kieren awakened shortly after the first rays of sunlight began to dance off of his eyelids. This time, however, the disturbance seemed to be even brighter than when it had happened the previous morning. Seeing his friends were still asleep, he gave them a few more minutes before gently waking them. He wanted to make sure they all had sufficient time to down a hasty breakfast first, before resuming their journey.

As the boys chatted and stretched, they also continued to glance around at their surroundings. They were totally fascinated by this unique landscape and their curiosity enticed them to want to investigate it further. The problem was, they were also slightly worried about what else they might find lurking there. Kieren was the first to tackle this dilemma by summoning the resolve he had mentioned the previous evening. He was determined to emulate the courage of the great kings he had grown to admire and quietly announced his intentions to his friends.

"I'm not going to pass up this opportunity and sit around like a frightened child," he told the others. "I'm going to ask Beraut for permission to look around."

"You're crazy," Romaric quickly chided him. "Who knows what might be out there. There could be vicious animals hiding just out of sight or even people that might wish to do us harm."

"Yes," Garreth agreed, "there could be spies out there that have been watching us all night long and waiting for a chance to kill us, a few at a time."

"Just listen to yourselves!" Kieren scolded. "You sound like scared babies. If Beraut and these warriors can't protect us, then what difference would it make? You don't have to join me if you don't want to, but I'm going to do this."

The two elves looked as if they had been backed into a corner and wondered if they should follow Kieren's lead. Hurriedly, they whispered between themselves, before turning back to face their friend.

"If you are going to do this, then we are too," Romaric announced, with Garreth nodding at his side. "We made an oath, remember? No matter what we do, we'll do it together."

"Yes, and we'll defend each other to the death," Garreth added, with more bravado than he thought he had in him.

Kieren now eyed his two friends, while thinking about their words. Finally, his lips began to curl into a smile, as their offer sank in.

"Agreed," he stated.

Kieren then reached out and grasped each friend's hand in his. He then placed his palm against the palm of one of their hands and intertwined their fingers. This was the elfin sign that a promise had been made and agreed to.

"Brothers to the end, together in everything we do," Kieren added.

Once he had done this, the trio went to find the wizard. They still needed to get his permission first, before they could go off and investigate.

"Please, Beraut, just let us check out some of the area," Kieren pleaded. "We've never seen anything like this before and there is probably even more to discover."

"No, I'm afraid it is absolutely out of the question," the wizard stated, firmly.

When the boys started to protest, the wizard held up his hand, palm forward, to indicate this matter had been decided and he was not about to change his mind. The elves, however, were not deterred by this gesture.

"Please, Beraut," Garreth whined anyway. "We need to have SOME fun."

The wizard scowled and gave the elf a look that made the breath catch in his throat. This immediately caused Garreth to shy away from Beraut, because he had never experienced anything so intimidating before.

"I don't remember promising any of you this journey would be fun," Beraut chided, even after noting Garreth's reaction.

After Beraut finished speaking, Garreth was too terrified to argue further. He calculated that doing so might summon the wizard's ire, which might possibly include the use of his magical powers. Therefore, Garreth merely hung his head and gave up the fight, but Romaric wasn't so easily dissuaded.

"But would it hurt for us to have a little fun?" the brazen elf followed.

"Actually, it just might," the wizard confirmed. "We are no longer in the Woods of Wildoness and there are many dangers in this part of the world that could inflict a great deal of harm on you."

"But couldn't you just use your magic to protect us?" Romaric countered, thinking he had hit upon an idea that might allow this to work.

"I could, but I won't," Beraut replied, dryly, while glaring at the persistent elf.

"Why not?" Romaric pressed, undeterred by the wizard's scowl.

"There are two reasons," the wizard explained. "First, I wish to conserve every ounce of my magical strength to use against Madumda when the time comes. Since he is more powerful than I am, this is essential, especially if I hope to keep him in check."

"All right, but what's the other reason?" Romaric asked, even though he realized the first reason was more than enough to prevent Beraut from giving in.

"The other reason is that if I use my magical power to protect you now, then it might be enough to alert Madumda that I'm up to something," Beraut pointed out. "If he senses I'm using my magic, then he just might decide to investigate. If he performs a magical scan of this area, he would become curious about the reason we are here, what made me use my magic and why I have three young elves in my company. This would probably provoke him to explore the situation further and that could lead him to discover what we're up to. If that happens, then its possible he would be able to thwart our plan before we are able to enact it."

Although Romaric realized he'd lost the argument, he remained undeterred and merely switched tactics.

"But there must be some way we can do this. We made a pact…" the elf whined, before Beraut unceremoniously cut him off.

"There will be no further discussion on this topic, because it is time for us to move on," Beraut bellowed, in a very commanding tone. "Follow me to your mounts and we shall be on our way."

The three teens were sorely disappointed that they hadn't gotten their way, but did as they were told. Some of the elfin soldiers had already saddled up their horses for them, so the boys had nothing to do but climb onto the saddle and prepare to ride off.

The company had been riding for a little over an hour before Kieren spied another electrifying sight. Up until that moment, he and his friends had been so absorbed in their own conversation and disappointment that they had become totally oblivious to everything else. During this period, the trio hadn't heard any of the discussions being conducted around them. They had also been too busy complaining to each other about their missed opportunity that they also failed to notice the new areas they were passing through. Their inattentiveness, however, ended abruptly when Kieren caught a glimpse of a mighty river in the distance, as it cut through the gently rolling plains over which they were traveling.

It wasn't as if Kieren had never seen a river before, for his home in Aurelia was very near the banks of the Sparkling River, but this was different. In the elfin homeland, his house was so close to the river's source that it was not nearly as broad or as swift as the river now before him. Once he spied this magnificent torrent of water, Kieren immediately sought out Beraut, so the wizard could disclose its name. When Kieren asked his question, he was quickly informed this was the Shadow River, which flowed past Leander before empting into the Great Western Sea.

Purposefully, the party continued to move toward the impressive waterway, until they came to a point just past where it turned slightly to the northwest. This change in direction caused the current to slow slightly, so it was where the small band would ferry across it. Once they were on the other side, the group would continue their journey to the capital, but before this happened, they would first dismount and take a quick bite to eat.

The meal was not elaborate, just some elfin bread and cheese, which they chased down with a draught of the ale they carried in their pouches. Even before they had time to finish their meal, the ferry approached the shore on which they waited. The boys noticed this and hurriedly gulped down the rest of their food, because they wanted to be the first to get on the ferry. As soon as they finished, they hopped onto their steeds and raced to line up in front of the others. They were eager to board the craft just as soon as it touched the shoreline, so the others wouldn't be able to obscure their view of what was happening. It took about five minutes for everyone to load onto the ferry and then it took another twenty minutes to cross over to the other shore.

Kieren spent his time observing how the ferry operators labored to crank in the rope that guided them over to the opposite bank. He was enthralled with both the procedure and powerfully built men that operated the machinery with such amazing ease. A short time later, General Daveel snapped him out of his trance-like fascination with a quick comment. He had done this to inform the boys that they should be ready to disembark as soon as the ferry was anchored against the opposite shore. Now that they were on this side of the river, they only had a short distance to travel before they would reach their final destination.

Shortly after they resumed their journey, Kieren noticed a gray mound looming in the distance. This instantly roused his curiosity, so he spurred his horse forward and attempted to catch up with the wizard, so he could discover what it was.

"Beraut, what is it that I see in the distance?" he asked, while pointing at the sight before them.

"That," Beraut informed him, in a hushed voice, "is the home of your ancestors, the Castle of Leander."

It took a few seconds for this information to sink in, but when it did, Kieren's mouth fell open and his eyes bulged from their sockets.

"What did you just say?" he gasped, which caused the wizard to give him a wry smile in response.

"This is not the time nor the place to explain it, for there are too many other ears that might overhear our conversation," Beraut answered. "You will, however, learn more about it this evening, but for now we'll leave it at that."

Kieren didn't know what else to do, so he merely nodded. Even though he didn't pursue the comment further, his mind began to run rampant as it went over the countless possibilities Beraut's words might mean for him. After several minutes of this activity, Kieren felt as if his brain was going to explode, so he chose to merely focus on the structure ahead.

As his eyes zeroed in on the fortress, he tried to assess what it would look like when they finally reached it. His gaze remained fixed on the area throughout the remainder of the journey and he couldn't help but become more impressed with it, the closer they came to this formidable structure.

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