Castle Roland

Sword of Kings: Forged Out of Necessity

by Bill W


Chapter 9

Posted: 30 Nov 15

Sword of Kings: Forged Out of Necessity

by Bill W
Copyright © 2014 by billwstories

Uneasy Moments

Kieren watched in silence as the conversation continued, but he was still stinging from the wizard's mild rebuke in front of the others. When the discussion eventually ebbed, the steward led the party into the massive main building, where they would be housed. As they started up the elaborate stairway, Nathar informed them they would be staying in quarters set aside for honored dignitaries and other high-ranking officials when they visited Leander.

Kieren wasn't paying a great deal of attention to what Nathar was saying and only halfheartedly followed his host. As always, Garreth and Romaric remained by his side and futilely attempted to distract their mate. They did this by talking about what the steward had said and pointing out the things they observed, but without much success. Even though the two elves felt badly about being ineffective in their efforts, they were eventually forced to part company with Kieren when they were shown to their temporary quarters. Garreth and Romaric were told they would be staying in one room, while Kieren had been assigned to another.

Everyone's rooms were on the third floor and the one Kieren had been given was located between Beraut's chamber and the one shared by Garreth and Romaric. On the other side of Beraut was King Dylan's quarters and farther down the hall was General Daveel's room. The remainder of the party was housed on the other side of the hallway, in less desirable accommodations on the outer wall. Those rooms were considerably smaller and merely overlooked the street that ran around the inside of the castle. For those reasons, they were deemed unsuitable for the more honored guests.

Although he was still sulking over his run in with the wizard, Kieren entered the room he'd been given and began to examine his temporary lodgings. Immediately upon seeing the wondrous accommodations that had been provided for his use they caused him to forget about his previous disappointment, as he focused on the items contained within instead. He felt extremely honored that such a luxurious chamber had been assigned to him, because it was absolutely exquisite. He then began to wonder if his companions' chambers were equally as splendid.

The entire building was a wondrous place and this room was among the finest he had ever seen. It was certainly as nice as King Dylan's sitting room, where he'd first been advised he was required to come on this trip. It was also as wonderful as the bedchamber he'd shared with his friends the evening before they set out on this adventure. In fact, he couldn't even dream of anything being superior to what now lay before him.

In the middle of the room was a huge canopy bed, complete with an extremely thick and comfortable looking mattress. Kieren quickly sat down on it and realized it was as wonderful as he'd assumed. It didn't take long for him to decide that it was as soft and inviting, or maybe even more so, than the mattress he had slept upon when he'd stayed with the elfin king.

As he began to look around, he noticed that on either side of the bed was a set of double windows. These immediately attracted Kieren's attention, so he got up and strode over to the section nearest to where he'd been sitting. When he looked through the opening to examine the view, he quickly discovered his room overlooked the well-manicured inner courtyard. It covered the area between the two impressive buildings and provided a very pleasant and relaxing sight. The courtyard was shaded by recently pruned trees, bounded by well-trimmed hedges and filled with brightly colored flowers that highlighted a freshly groomed lawn. The area was not only well cared for, but it also provided a remarkable contrast with the steely-gray color of the exterior of the two edifices.

As his gaze lifted upward from observing the pastoral wonders below, Kieren beheld the magnificent stained-glass windows that lined the exterior of the Cathedral. Carefully, he studied the colorful panels that covered each large opening and could tell they formed images of the gods worshipped within the structure. The illusion this created helped to magnify the awesome stature of the god depicted and magnified his imposing presence to those worshipping there. It was such a truly mesmerizing sight that Kieren seemed unable to release his gaze from the colorful designs, which stood out even in the fading light.

As he continued to study the opposite structure, he eagerly scrutinized the marvelous sculptures carved along the roofline. Just like the statues he'd seen along the front of the building when he first arrived, these works of art also represented the various gods. As the statues continued toward the rear of the building, they began to represent some of the lesser deities. Even in the dim light and from this distance, Kieren was still able to appreciate the beauty of these artistic marvels, regardless of the status the figure held in the pantheon of the gods.

When Kieren finally returned his attention back to the room, he turned toward the wall that contained the door through which he had entered and led out into the corridor. Not until that moment did he spy the finely woven tapestry that was located to the right side of the entranceway. It depicted an exquisite scene of an archer taking aim at a well-proportioned stag, which was grazing at the edge of the woods. Kieren was sure this finely woven work of art was priceless, so it greatly enhanced his estimation of the status of the room even more.

As he finished his inspection of the opposite wall, he turned his attention back to the bed. He was preparing to sit on it again, when he spotted something else he hadn't noticed previously. It was a pile of neatly folded, freshly laundered garments that lay on a small table that was located on the far side of the bed. Just to the other side of the stand, in the corner of the bedchamber, Kieren spied a tub half-full of water, which now seemed to summon him.

'Soaking in that would probably make me feel much better,' he thought, once he noticed the steam rising from the bath.

Kieren quickly concluded the tub of hot bathwater must have been prepared shortly before he entered the room, which made him regret he hadn't noticed it earlier. Suddenly, he felt compelled to enjoy this simple luxury and slowly began to remove the various garments from his body. As he peeled off the various articles of clothing, he noticed they were coated with an accumulation of dust and debris from his travels, so he tossed them carefully off to one side. He now felt a renewed sense of energy slowly coursing through his frame. After he'd shed the final item he had been wearing, he glided across the cool, stone floor and eased himself into the warm embrace of the freshly filled tub.

The bathwater immediately felt soothing and gently drained the soreness from the various parts of his body, especially the areas that were unaccustomed to bouncing up and down on a horse. The youth continued to indulge himself in this simple delight until the water began to cool and he started to feel chilled. That's when he decided it was time to get out, dry his body and dress in the apparel that had been provided for his use.

Before putting the clothing on, however, he took a few moments to inspect each of these finely tailored articles first. Kieren not only studied the quality and texture of the fabric, but he also took a moment to examine the delicate stitching that connected the various pieces together. When his curiosity had been sated, he began to dress.

This particular outfit consisted of a royal blue pair of breeches with a matching vest, but there was also a pearl colored silk shirt, snow-white stockings and the appropriate undergarments. As he donned the various items, he slowly uncovered a pair of deerskin boots, which had lain hidden beneath the pile of clothing. These boots were even more exquisite than the pair he had examined earlier at the cobbler's booth. This prompted him to realize that all of this had been prepared far in advance of his unfortunate altercation with Beraut. Feeling slightly guilty after this discovery, he finished getting ready and then waited as patiently as he could to be summoned.

Within a few minutes, Kieren started to grow bored and began thinking about some of the wonders that awaited him. First of all, he was looking forward to enjoying a fine meal, but he was also extremely anxious to behold the fabled Great Hall. He was busy thinking about each of these things when the door to his room unexpectedly burst open and Garreth and Romaric came rushing inside. This sudden commotion sent Kieren's heart leaping into his throat and caused it to beat ten-times faster than normal, until he saw who the intruders were. Once they began speaking, he also realized the other pair had obviously bathed and dressed much more quickly than he had.

"Kieren, come quick," Garreth insisted. "You've got to see this. They have a privy inside the building."

"We found it at the end of the hall when we went out to look around," added Romaric. "It's kind of weird though, because I've never even heard about anything like this before."

Now that Kieren realized why they seemed so excited, he slowly regained his composure and his heart rate began to slow back to its normal rhythm.

"The others are going to be coming for us soon, so maybe we should just wait here," Kieren advised his friends. "I don't want to miss out on eating and seeing the Great Hall just because we were out roaming around."

"Oh, don't be silly," Romaric scoffed. "They won't go without us and we're not going that far away. We'll be able to see or hear them if they come looking for us."

"Come on," Garreth urged. "It's something you'll really want to see."

Romaric and Garreth didn't allow Kieren any more time to think about it and forcefully grabbed his arms, as they began to drag him out of his chamber. They certainly weren't being gentle, as they yanked him over the threshold and then pulled him down the corridor, until they reached the end of the hallway. Then, they forced him around the corner, before taking several more steps toward the dead end, where they came to a stop. The two elves then directed their friend to nudge open one the two doors leading into the corner rooms.

Hesitantly, Kieren reached out and pushed on the wooden barrier until it glided slowly backward. As the opening grew wider, it allowed him to see the interior of this new curiosity, which he examined closely. The only fixture that could be found within this miniature compartment was an isolated stone bench. It was not a typical resting area though, because there was definitely something odd about its construction. Right in the middle of the seat, where a person would normally sit, an elliptical opening had been hewn into it. It didn't take much of an imagination to figure out what purpose it served.

"This is amazing," Kieren whispered aloud. "I have never heard of a privy that wasn't a separate little building of its own."

"Well, this sure is more convenient when you need to use it, especially if it's in the middle of the night," Romaric quipped, after overhearing his friend's comment to himself.

"And it doesn't stink up your bedchamber like a chamber pot either," Garreth quickly added.

As the trio stood there inspecting this oddity, they jumped when they heard a familiar voice address them from behind.

"I see you have discovered one of the unique features of the castle," it announced as the boys whirled around, only to be confronted by the wizard's smiling face. "The architects who designed this fine building managed to devise an ingenious way to dispose of bodily wastes. They sketched out their ideas on parchment and then presented them to the king. Ethelbert immediately liked what he saw and commanded them to include this design into the final plans for his castle. It was also King Ethelbert who first called it a 'privy chamber,' to distinguish it from an ordinary privy."

"But how does it work?" Kieren responded. "Do the servants need to go down to the bottom level and remove all of the waste later?"

"No! It's all taken care of in the design," Beraut responded. "Let me explain. There are a pair of privy rooms, placed side-by-side, in the front two corners on each level. Each floor is slightly offset from the one above it, so the wastes can drop freely into the sewage ditch that runs below the dungeons. This ditch then empties into the river that passes by the castle and is carried out to the sea beyond."

"But how do they get rid of the smell?" Kieren wondered. "Why doesn't it drift out into the rest of the building?"

"That is the truly ingenious part," the wizard told him, after he realized Kieren wasn't going to stop until all of his questions had been answered. "The roof of this building is sloped in two directions. Half of it slants toward the corner above this room, while the other half slants toward another room, located at the opposite end of the building. All of the gutters on this side of the building feed into an opening above and behind the upper level privy seat, so when it rains all of the rainwater is directed into this opening. The water then cascades down the hollow gap between the inner and outer privy room walls and this action flushes the wastes to the lowest levels and into the sewage ditch."

"But what do they do when it doesn't rain for a long time?" Garreth wanted to know.

"That is a very good question, my young friend," Beraut answered. "For periods when there is little or no rainfall, they have come up with another unique plan to handle this problem. During those times, as well as others, the staff empties the bathwater that was used in the tubs in the rooms on that level. They scoop it into buckets and then dump the water down the openings of the privy seats, as another way of cleansing the fecal material from the building. It is because of this constant flushing of the system, aided by the perfumes that are used in the bathwater, that keeps the air somewhat sweetened."

After hearing the wizard's explanation, the boys flashed a quick expression of understanding. They were glad that Beraut had been available to explain this to them.

"Not all of the odor is eliminated by this flushing process though," Beraut continued. "That is why there are two small windows high up on the walls of each privy room and a few more chiseled into the outer privy wall. These openings allow fresh air in and the foul odors to drift out. It is only one of the fascinating things you will come to discover about this amazing place. There are many other secrets that are contained within, secrets you will gradually become aware of with the passage of time."

"You said earlier," Kieren stated, "that part of the water goes to another room at the opposite end of the building. Is there another stack of privy rooms there too?"

"No. The water collected on that end of the building goes into a room on each level where it is stored in huge stone basins," Beraut responded. "When bathwater is required, the servants are able to scoop what they need out of this collection area. They then put it in the large metal kettle that is kept in the oversized fireplace located there, so the water can be heated over a roaring fire. This means the servants don't have to lug bath water up the multitude of stairs to the upper floors. The collection rooms on the lower two levels are slightly smaller, but similar, since the most important guests stay on the upper floor."

"Amazing," commented Romaric. "I just find it hard to believe that someone could think up such marvelous ideas."

At this point, Beraut was busy eyeing Kieren and wondering if he should address another topic with him. Finally, he decided he was running out of time and needed to do this quickly, so he looked directly at his ward he spoke.

"Kieren, if you would be kind enough to join me for a few minutes, there is some other information I need to share with you before we go down to dine."

"I don't have a problem with that," Kieren replied, without hesitation.

Now that he had Kieren's consent, the wizard glanced over at Garreth and Romaric next. They appeared uncertain about what was going on and what they were supposed to do, so they stood transfixed, as they gazed at the wizard and their friend.

"I think it would be best if you followed me back to your room to do this," Beraut told Kieren. "Garreth and Romaric, I know you are very close with your friend, but I would appreciate it if you didn't join us for this particular discussion. I feel it is something I need to talk to Kieren about privately."

The two elves gave a weak nod of agreement, although none of the boys had any idea what this might be about. Seeing their response, Beraut then turned around and began walking back toward the hallway where their rooms were located. As he passed by his two friends, Kieren merely shrugged his shoulders to let them know he wasn't sure why this was necessary either. He then followed the wizard and left Garreth and Romaric behind.

As they watched Kieren and Beraut walk away, the two elves glanced at each other and exchanged expressions of total bewilderment. They had no way of knowing why they weren't being allowed to listen in on whatever this was concerning. They had previously been told nearly everything else, at least as far as they knew, so they didn't understand why this was any different. However, they didn't have long to consider this further, because they had to catch up with the other pair.

Just as Beraut was about to turn the corner and move into the main corridor, he came to an abrupt halt. He silently reached his arm out to stop Kieren as well and then signaled him to stay back. At the same time, he motioned all three boys to remain quiet and stay where they were. Slowly, Beraut peered around the corner again, as he focused on something farther down the hallway. He continued doing this for a couple more minutes before he suddenly lifted his staff and pointed the crest down the passageway. He then uttered a few words, which caused a beam of light burst from the tip and streak down the corridor. The boys were momentarily shocked and amazed when this happened, but as soon as they saw Beraut start to race down the hallway, they hurriedly followed after him.

"What did you just do?" Kieren asked the rapidly moving wizard.

"Just a second. I need to take care of this matter first and then I'll explain," Beraut answered, before he began shouting for the elfin guard.

Within seconds, a couple of armed warriors burst out into the corridor, quickly followed by several other people, including General Daveel and King Dylan. They surrounded Beraut as he stood over a prone figure.

"Who is this and what happened?" General Daveel asked, as he eyed the man sprawled out in the hallway.

"I'm not sure, but as I was heading back this way I spotted him lurking about," Beraut replied. "I observed him for a short time first and noticed that he seemed to be moving from door to door. It was as if he was attempting to listen in on what was going on in each chamber. That's when I stunned him."

"But that doesn't sound very serious," Kieren told the wizard.

"Maybe not, but I want to discover what he was expecting to learn from his effort," Beraut informed the lad. "It may be nothing, but then again it could be very serious."

"So you're really not sure what he was up to?" the teen wondered.

"No, but that's what I intend to find out, just as soon as he recovers from the stunning spell," the wizard explained, before turning to one of the elfin troopers.

"Please take him to my chambers and let me know when he comes to. I wish to question him immediately, once he regains consciousness," Beraut informed the warrior, and then he turned to face the others.

"General Daveel, will you please see to it that a guard is posted on each end of this hallway at all times, from now until we leave," Beraut told the elfin military leader. "I do not wish to chance another incident like this while we're here."

General Daveel instantly agreed to do this, so Beraut turned around to locate Kieren next. Before he could, however, one of the two elves spoke first.

"Do you think the man you just stunned works for Madumda?" Garreth wanted to know.

"I don't wish to speculate and I'm not trying to be rude, but there is nothing more I can tell you at this time," Beraut advised him. "I think it would be best if you and Romaric go back to your room now and wait until you are summoned for dinner. I still need some time to speak with Kieren first, before we join you."

Beraut then gently nudged each of the elves in the appropriate direction, before he turned toward his ward.

"Kieren, will you please come with me into your chamber?" he politely requested.

Even though the boys were still baffled about nearly everything that had just happened and what it meant, they reluctantly did as the wizard suggested. As Garreth and Romaric disappeared into their room, Beraut followed Kieren into his chamber.

"Kieren there is much I need to tell you before tonight's meeting, but I wanted to wait to do this until after we'd reached Leander," the wizard began, just as soon as the door had closed. Kieren merely looked at Beraut, with a blank expression on his face.

"I felt it would be much less traumatic if you learned about this information while you were here," Beraut confessed. "I figured once you saw this magnificent place and didn't have numerous other emotional conflicts to distract you at the time, it might be easier for you to accept what I am about to say."

When he looked at Kieren again, Beraut still saw the same confused expression on his ward's face. Once he realized this was due to the fact that he hadn't really told the lad anything substantial yet, he continued.

"I know you don't understand what I'm trying to say, so if you will listen carefully I will try to explain it in a way you can grasp," the wizard continued. "This is probably going to be a lot for you to comprehend in a short period of time, but there is much you need to learn about your heritage. As I mentioned briefly on the way here, the Castle of Leander is your ancestral home."

"But I don't understand," Kieren muttered.

"Kieren, you, your mother and those that came before her are the product of a very special bloodline. It is important that you understand this and are made fully aware of the significance it holds for you," Beraut continued. "You are not just an ordinary person, because you have royal blood flowing through your veins."

"Wait! What is that supposed to mean?" Kieren interrupted. "Am I somehow related to King Dylan? Is that why you both knew my name and wanted me to come here with you?"

"That's not quite what I'm suggesting," Beraut responded. "You are of royal blood, but it is not a link to King Dylan that I am referring to. You are related to the kings I was telling you about as we rode here."

Kieren mouth suddenly dropped open and he looked at the wizard quite strangely, but he was too impatient to wait for more details.

"You mean I'm somehow related to the kings who ruled Tarolia?" Kieren asked, dumfounded. "But how can that be?"

Even though he believed this was what Beraut was attempting to tell him, he was having trouble understanding how it could be possible. For this reason, he had absolutely no idea about the significance of this revelation.

"Yes, you are indeed related to the former rulers of Tarolia and have their royal blood flowing through your veins, Kieren," the wizard answered. "In time, I will explain how that is possible."

Beraut then gave Kieren a few moments to fully grasp what he'd just told him, but prior to being able to continue there was a knock on the door. Since Kieren's mind was occupied with other thoughts, the wizard moved over to see who was interrupting his discussion.

"I'm sorry for the disturbance, Master Beraut," one of the elfin warriors began, "but the prisoner has regained consciousness. Since you'd stated earlier that you wished to interrogate him as soon as he came too, I thought I should notify you of this fact immediately."

"Yes, and I'm very glad you did," Beraut answered. "Just give me a minute or two and I'll come over to join you."

The wizard then turned to look at Kieren again, as he mentally weighed his options and tried to determine what he should do next. Eventually, he reached a conclusion.

"Kieren, if you will excuse me for a few minutes," he began, "I will give you some time to be alone with your thoughts, so you can mull over what I have already told you. I will, however, return shortly to continue explaining this matter to you in more depth. There are several other details I wish to share, but first I need to determine how severe this recent breach in security has been."

After Kieren gave him a slight nod in response, the wizard turned and went back to his own room. As soon as the door closed, Kieren's mind began to spin. He spent the next several minutes alone, as he considered the information he'd just been told and attempted to make some sense of it. Yes, it was true that he had already suspected his parents, Beraut and King Dylan had been withholding important information from him, but certainly not this. He suspected they might tell him he had a magical gift or was somehow important to the elves, but he never thought he would be told he was related to the Tarolian kings of old. He was more than half elf, so how could this be possible? Wouldn't he have to be completely human to be a Tarolian king?

Considering his parentage, Kieren knew his father was a full-blooded elf, and although his mother was part human, she also had elfin ancestry as well. This meant only a small part of him was human, although it had been enough to cause the other children to use it against him when he was younger. If anything, he felt there would have been a far greater chance that he was related to King Dylan, not the Tarolian royal line. Once he'd considered these questions for a few more minutes, he could only assume that one of his mother's ancestors had been related to some distant relative of one of the kings further back in history. He couldn't be certain though, since Beraut hadn't given him sufficient information to comprehend how this worked.

Since he was still slightly confused about this matter, Kieren decided to focus on the more recent events instead. Gradually, he began to think about what had taken place just a few minutes ago in the hallway and almost immediately began to wonder if it had anything to do with what happened to him earlier. Was this incident somehow connected to the mercenary who had been following him after he left Garreth and Romaric?

Kieren continued to pursue this line of thought further and began to question if he had done the right thing by not telling Beraut about what had happened. Did that guy somehow know about Kieren's ancestry and was that the reason the man was watching him? Kieren, however, couldn't imagine how the man could have possibly known this fact, since he didn't even know about the information at the time. He was definitely beginning to think he should have mentioned what happened to the wizard, but it was obviously too late to do anything about it now. Or was it?

Kieren was now internally debating whether he should still confide in Beraut about the earlier incident. Just to be on the safe side, he could tell the wizard once he returned from talking to the intruder. After a little more consideration on the topic though, Kieren continued to have his doubts that it would be the wise thing to do. He concluded Beraut would be furious with him for not mentioning it in the first place, instead of going on about those stupid boots. Even though Beraut hadn't gone totally ballistic at the time, he had reacted in a way that let Kieren know he wasn't pleased by his actions. Considering how Beraut had reacted then, he would probably be even more upset after finding out that Kieren had withheld such important information in the first place. The last thing Kieren wanted to do at this point was to endure another confrontation with his mentor, so he decided to keep the information to himself.

As the young man paced around the room, while still trying to decide what his best course of action would be, there was a knock at the door. Kieren instantly thought it was Beraut returning, although he couldn't understand why the wizard would knock and not just enter. Perhaps he thought Kieren had bolted the door, and maybe he should have, so when Kieren finally opened it he was surprised to find a young page standing there instead. The boy looked slightly nervous, but finally summoned the courage to speak.

"My name is Seth," he announced, "and I have been sent to lead you to the hall where you will dine."

Intrigued by the boy, Kieren studied him closely. Seth was probably a little more than half Kieren's age and had sandy hair, cut straight across his forehead. The rest of his locks fell limply toward his billowy shirt, where it was trimmed evenly above his large, ruffled collar. He also wore knee-high pants and white stockings, which covered the rest of his legs.

After concluding his visual examination of the lad, Kieren realized he was grateful to see him. This wasn't because he liked the boy or hoped they might become friends, but it was due to the fact that Kieren was beginning to feel some acute hunger pangs. He assumed the appearance of the page meant they would be eating soon.

"Great! I'm starving," Kieren announced, reflexively.

Although belatedly, Kieren realized his comment might have been inappropriate. However, as he looked around, he discovered the others were already standing in the hallway, except for Beraut. His other companions were also nodding their heads and readily agreeing with his vocal observation.

After another short wait, Beraut came out of his room and joined them. He appeared troubled about something, so Kieren decided to see if he could discover what was bothering his mentor.

"Beraut," Kieren began, "who was that man you knocked unconscious? Did you find out anything when you questioned him?"

Beraut studied his young ward and tried to gauge the extent of the lad's concern. After quickly evaluating the situation, he determined how he was going to respond.

"We can discuss this later," he told him, "but there is nothing for you to worry about. I have gleaned some information from the intruder already, but for now he is only a minor concern. I'm afraid, however, that I won't be able to finish what I was telling you in your room, but you will learn the rest of the information in due time."

Kieren looked stunned after hearing this, so Beraut tried to reassure him there was nothing to worry about, as they turned to follow Seth and the others to the Great Hall. After making their way to the ground level again, they found themselves standing beneath a mammoth archway that framed the double doors leading into the Great Hall. The teens stared expectantly at the large wooden barriers, as they waited for them to be opened. They were not only anxious to eat, but the boys were also eager to witness the splendor of this fabled room in person.

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