Sword of Kings: Tested by Adversity
by Bill W
Copyright © 2015 by billwstories
Copyright © 2015 by billwstories
"It was my fault Selvaggio died," Kieren finally admitted, sounding somewhat bitter. "If he hadn't volunteered to go on this mission or if he hadn't stayed behind to protect me in the Murky Marshes, then that thing would never have been able to get to him and he'd be alive now. I probably should have also used the medallion you gave me to destroy it and then he would still be with us too, but I forgot I had it until later."
At this point, the young man was unable to hold back his emotions any longer and openly broke down. As he began to weep, the wizard seemed to be somewhat oblivious to the boy's poignant emotional release. Instead, Beraut chose to focus in on what the lad had just told him.
"What thing?" Beraut asked, bewildered. "How did Selvaggio die? What killed him?"
"It was the Serpent Colossus. It rose up out of the marsh and struck quickly," Kieren sobbed in reply. "It wrapped around Selvaggio's body and squeezed the life from him."
This news sent the wizard's mind reeling, as he thought back to the vague vision he had seen of something rearing up near where the party was supposed to be at the time. Suddenly, it all began to make sense. How could he have been so blind as to not recognize this sooner? However, he had to put those thoughts behind him, so he could help Kieren come to grips with his feelings.
"Kieren," Beraut stated, consolingly, "Selvaggio was there to protect you. He felt it an honor to be able to do so, even if it meant he would have to sacrifice himself in order to keep you safe. If he were still here, he would not blame or fault you in any way."
Hearing this, Kieren lifted his head and looked in the wizard's direction, but his inner conflict was still evident and could be seen through his now reddened eyes. Noticing this, Beraut decided to go even farther.
"Kieren, I'm not certain you could have reacted quickly enough to have saved Selvaggio anyway, even if you had tried," he added. "If the Serpent Colossus struck as quickly as you say, it probably had already crushed the life from Selvaggio long before you would have been able to react. Not only that, but the amount of magic that would have been required to destroy such a monstrous being would have alerted Madumda to your presence. I think he would have then been able to figure out who you were, because other than the person controlling the medallion, only he and I can produce such powerful magic. Using the insignia of your bloodline would most likely have placed you in even greater danger."
Beraut empathized with the youth's pain and even to an extent shared his feelings of responsibility for Selvaggio's death. After all, he had been the one to form the group that protected Kieren and he had also selected the route they had taken. On the other hand, the wizard was grateful the lad had not used the medallion at the time, for it would have greatly reduced their chances of being successful in carrying out the overall mission. It could have also had a negative effect on the final outcome of the conflict.
"Do you really think so?" Kieren asked, since those facts would relieve much of his guilt.
The wizard paused again before he answered. He did this because he was beginning to get a little emotional too, as he watched Kieren struggle with his feelings.
"I truly do and I'm so sorry you had such a rough time of it," Beraut offered soothingly, before giving Kieren's shoulder another little squeeze to comfort him. "I was hoping it would go much more smoothly than it did. I hope the entire trip didn't go quite as badly."
Beraut had added this in an effort to move Kieren's thoughts away from the loss of the knight. Unfortunately, it only made Kieren think about some of the other things that had happened.
"Not all of it, but there were a lot of other problems too," the youngster admitted. "Way back when I first found out I was leaving Wildoness, I thought this adventure was going to be fun. I was looking forward to seeing other parts of Tarolia and doing things I had only dreamed about. Instead, most of what has happened since then has been stuff I wished I'd never been part of. There is no way I would have ever suspected the number of times I'd have to run for my life or watch others die!" Kieren exclaimed, before he paused.
"What others die?" the wizard immediately wondered, since he was concerned by this remark.
"The warriors from our group had to kill some other soldiers we encountered along the way," Kieren explained.
Beraut was going to pursue this recent revelation in more detail, but then concluded that doing so might upset Kieren even more. For that reason, he thought it might be best if he waited and discussed what else had happened on the journey with one of Kieren's protectors instead. He felt they would be able to give him a less emotional accounting of what had occurred. Besides, it now appeared to the wizard that Kieren was currently lost in his thoughts, because for the next few minutes the lad sat quietly and didn't say anything more.
Seeing this, Beraut decided to allow Kieren a little more time to deal with his thoughts. But then the situation abruptly changed again. Almost as quickly as Kieren had initially stopped what he was saying, the young man started speaking again.
"We found a strange little creature in Briarwood later," he added, while cracking a slight grin.
Seeing the boy smile again relieved the wizard's deep concerns that possibly his recent experiences had been too much for him to deal with. To make certain Kieren's good mood didn't end too soon, Beraut decided to pursue this subject more fully.
"Indeed. You must tell me more about your discovery," the wizard urged.
"He's quite small and looks like a walking garbage heap," Kieren explained, "but since he lived in Briarwood, we were able to talk him into showing us the way out. He was willing to do it, as long as we promised to give him some food in return. It seems he'll do almost anything for something to eat."
Although Beraut was confused why Kieren and the others had entered Briarwood, he merely smiled at Kieren's comment. This diversion had worked to the wizard's advantage. The teen had now managed to find a way to distract himself from dwelling on the more traumatic events of the trip.
"We probably would still be in that awful place if we hadn't accidentally found him," Kieren added. "What was it that made Briarwood so difficult to get through?"
"Kieren, I'm not sure what you were doing in there, but let me try to explain," Beraut began. "As you know from growing up in Wildoness, and now from the time you've spent in Briarwood, the forests in this kingdom each have their own interesting qualities. However, no two are exactly alike. Some of them are enchanted, while others are bewitched. The latter is the case when it comes to Briarwood."
Kieren now looked at the wizard with a puzzled expression on his face, but he continued to listen carefully as Beraut finished his explanation.
"A very, very long time ago, the area that includes the Murky Marshes and Briarwood was put under a spell by a sorcerer from a rival kingdom."
"But why would he do that?" Kieren asked, cutting the wizard off. Beraut seemed not to mind though, or at least he didn't react to the interruption. Instead, Beraut calmly answered Kieren's question.
"He did it as a final act of revenge, after his attempts to seize control of Tarolia had been unsuccessful," Beraut explained. "Out of frustration over his failure, he attempted to bewitch all of Tarolia and make it uninhabitable. He felt that if he couldn't have it, then he didn't want anyone else to have it either. To achieve that goal, the sorcerer attempted to cast a spell over the entire kingdom that would make it unfit for any of the races to live in. Before it took effect, however, the Council of Wizards became aware of what he was up to and managed to limit his spell's effect. They were able to confine it to the Murky Marshes, and to a lesser degree in Briarwood."
"Is that where the Serpent Colossus came from then?" the teen blurted out, after suddenly putting the pieces of the puzzle together.
"Yes, it was created as the result of the same magic and is, therefore, confined to that miserable tract of land."
"Was confined you mean," Kieren corrected his mentor, and this statement caused the wizard to momentarily pause, before he continued. "What do you mean by that?" Beraut asked, perplexed. The wizard couldn't fathom how the miserable abomination could have somehow escaped to another region of the kingdom.
"After a long, hard battle," Kieren explained, "the warriors finally killed it, but only after it had crushed Selvaggio."
Kieren looked as if he was about to slip back into his previous despair when another thought distracted him, so he asked Beraut about it.
"Beraut why is Wildoness so different from Briarwood?" Kieren pressed. "Wildoness is lovely and wondrous, while Briarwood is dark and unsettling."
"It's because the Council of Wizards enchanted the Woods of Wildoness as a way of thanking the elves for their continued support and service to the kingdom," Beraut explained. "The Council also did something similar to some of the other wooded areas, but they gave each forest its own unique traits, which were suited to accomplish very specific purposes."
Kieren started to speak again, because he wanted to investigate the topic further. Before he could though, the wizard cut him off and didn't give him the chance to utter even one more syllable.
"I'm sorry, Kieren, but we do not have time to go into this in more depth," Beraut advised him. "There is something else I need to speak with you about instead."
Beraut had determined it would be best to stop the discussion about the woodlands here, because they'd reached the point where he was going to have to break even more bad news to the teen. Although Beraut would have preferred not to broach this topic in the first place, he knew he had to inform his ward about the circumstances surrounding the next phase of his mission. After moistening his lips and swallowing hard, he finally began to speak again.
"Kieren, although I understand this is a bad time to spring this on you, especially after the rough trip you just endured in order to reach this place, but I have little choice in this matter. My purpose in coming here to see you alone was so I could inform you about another matter. It's something that troubles me even more greatly now than it did before, especially after you told me about your arduous journey to Thorold."
Beraut paused again, so he could study his ward's face. He wanted to see if he could use Kieren's expression to judge how the lad was going to respond. He was hoping that by judging the teen's reaction it would give him an indication about how he should proceed with his explanation. When Beraut saw that Kieren merely looked uncertain, but not angry, he thought he'd prod the youngster a little more.
"I have done everything I could think of to avoid this situation," the wizard admitted, "but since I can find no other solution, I feel you have the right to know about what is going to happen next. I wanted to inform you first, since you had very clearly informed me previously that you were old enough to know this type of information and we shouldn't withhold it from you."
"Beraut, what's wrong?" Kieren pleaded. "I don't understand."
It was becoming evident that the lad was starting to panic after hearing what the wizard had said. It was also fairly obvious that he was becoming impatient to know exactly what the wizard was referring to. The expression on Kieren's face and the sound of his voice clearly indicated this fact. Noting these things, Beraut concluded it was imperative that he continued this discussion now, except he just wasn't sure as to HOW he should break the news to him. Finally, the wizard decided there was no good way to do it and no reason to put it off any longer, so he merely told the boy straight out.
"Kieren," he began tentatively, "something has come up, so I am not going to be able to accompany you the entire time it will take to locate the sword and confront Madumda, as I had originally planned to do. Due to other circumstances, I will only be able to take you as far as the rear entrance to Treblanc, but I will make sure you are safely inside before I leave. Once we have reached that point, it will be up to you and your protectors to do the rest."
Kieren instantly flushed upon hearing this news and then began to stutter out a response.
"B-b-but why can't you stay with me? W-w-why are you going to leave me alone?"
The teen looked completely stupefied now, just as he had been on the day they were confronted by the Serpent Colossus. He couldn't imagine how he could carry out the various tasks they had been talking about, especially if the wizard wasn't going to be there to protect him. Beraut immediately noted the fright in Kieren's eyes, so felt he would now have to explain his reasons.
"You see, my boy, due to circumstances beyond my control, I am expected to be in two places at the same time. In addition to accompanying you, I am also required to lead the army into battle and I can't do both things at the same time. Therefore, I am forced to decide which duty requires my talents more."
Beraut thought this information might help Kieren understand his predicament. He was hoping that once the lad realized he had been put in the position where he had to make a choice, he would understand why this was necessary. Unfortunately, it didn't work out as Beraut had anticipated.
"Why can't someone else lead the army?" Kieren snapped back, obviously upset. "Isn't helping me defeat Madumda more important than going into battle? I thought you said that what I'm doing is the most important task of all, so how can you leave me to do it alone?"
Kieren had rattled this off so quickly that it was difficult for the wizard to understand everything he had said. However, his ward's confusion and panic were clearly evident by both his actions and the apparent anger etched upon his face.
"Yes, my boy, your mission is of supreme importance," Beraut assured him. "If you didn't notice, I said I had to decide which duty required my talents more, not which was most important. Don't worry though, you will not be alone. The warriors will be there to protect you. I wish I could stay with you, but that won't be possible, for various reasons."
"What reasons could be that important?" Kieren challenged, as his face twisted up in rage and he glared at Beraut.
"Unfortunately, this will not be a typical battle and the war will not merely be a clash between two armies," Beraut explained. "If it were, I wouldn't be needed. However, since Madumda will be there, along with his magic, he could wreak havoc on our forces. For that reason, I need to be there to keep him in check. Only I can counter, and hopefully effectively negate his supernatural ability."
"So you are going to sacrifice me instead?" Kieren challenged, looking horrified.
It was very obvious the lad was perplexed and upset by this news. He just couldn't understand why Beraut would even consider leaving him at this crucial juncture. Wouldn't the wizard's departure also take with him any chance the mission had of being successful? Kieren's blood was quickly coming to a boil and he was nearly on the verge of totally losing his temper.
"Kieren, you must understand," Beraut countered. "By being with the army, I am forcing Madumda to do the same thing. I would pose nearly as dangerous a threat to his troops if he wasn't there, as he poses to our army. My being at the battle will ensure that Madumda won't be able to hang back in Treblanc and be there when you arrive. It should also give you the time you need to find the talisman while Madumda is preoccupied with these other matters. I am doing this to make certain he shows up on the battlefield and isn't at Treblanc to hinder your efforts."
"Then will you join me again once I have it?" Kieren pressed, suddenly looking hopeful. "You will be there when I have to face Madumda with the sword later?"
"I will do my very best to be with you when that happens," the wizard replied. "It will depend upon how the battle is going and if I'm still needed to keep our army from being destroyed, but I should be able to break away to join you."
"Should be? That's not good enough!" Kieren screamed, as his face turned a bright shade of red. "I want you to promise that you'll be there when I have to face Madumda or I'm not going! I won't agree to go alone, just so I can be killed!"
The wizard had expected a reaction from the boy, just not one that was so emotional and forceful. He was prepared for Kieren to whine, complain and possibly even throw a temper tantrum, but he did not anticipate the teen would refuse to continue the mission. Worse yet, Beraut could not believe his ward would think that he'd purposely let any harm come to him. Beraut had to explain his reasoning and get the teen to understand.
"Kieren, I would never send you on this mission if I thought you were definitely going to be killed or maimed," Beraut offered, in his most soothing tone. "I would also not send you on this task if I didn't truly think you could be successful and would be able to complete the task, even without my assistance. You will still have the warriors to guide, assist and protect you along the way, so you will not be totally alone."
"But they don't have any magic!" Kieren spat back. "What good will they do if Madumda is still there? They won't be able to protect me from him," he continued, in an attempt to make his concerns known.
"Don't worry about that. I'm convinced you won't have to deal with Madumda while you are searching for the talisman either," his mentor assured him. "As I mentioned earlier, he will have to be with his army until you are ready to confront him, because he will be afraid I'll use my magic to destroy them if he's not there to protect them. Don't forget, however, that you also possess some magic. You have the Golden Medallion of Ethelbert to protect you and I'll do my best to be there when it is time for you to confront him."
Beraut thought Kieren might perk up after hearing this news, but he didn't. Hoping to change his ward's mind, the wizard decided to give him a little more information.
"Kieren, there is another reason that it might be best if I'm not with you," the wizard added. "I'm convinced that Madumda will be monitoring my movements during the period just prior to when the battle begins. He will be doing this to see if I'm going to be on the battlefield or somewhere else, so his scans would indicate what we are trying to do, if I were with you at the time. If that happened, he would find out that I'm either trying to get into his stronghold or that I'm already there. Then, he would know he should stay at Treblanc to thwart our efforts, which would greatly reduce our chances of being successful."
"But won't that mean he'll also detect us being there as well?" Kieren followed, referring to him and the warriors.
"No, I suspect he will only be concerned about my presence and worried about what I'm up to," Beraut responded. "Therefore, once he sees that I am with our army, Madumda won't suspect that anyone else might be attempting to slip into his fortress using the back way. Instead, he will be forced to come out to meet me on the battlefield, because we are the only ones who can possibly counter the other's supernatural advantage. Otherwise, the one who was there could destroy most, if not all, of the opposing army just by using magic. He will have no more choice about being there for this encounter than I do, so it will leave you time to find the sword without him being around. This would mean that you should only have to deal with the handful of warriors he leaves behind to guard his fortress and that's why the others will be there to protect you."
"But won't he still leave magical devices to stop us?" Kieren challenged, since he was still unconvinced by his mentor's argument. "How will I be able to get past those?"
"Let me think about that for a little while, but I promise you that I'll figure something out concerning this matter before we leave here," Beraut assured him, in his softest and most gentle voice. "Kieren, you will do just fine and you won't be alone. The others will be by your side for companionship and to help defend you. Trust in them, just as you would trust in me. We all have faith in your abilities and know you WILL succeed. Remember, it is foretold in the prophecy and even Madumda believes it to be true."
Again, the wizard thought this reminder would ease the boy's troubled mind, but once again he miscalculated.
"If the prophecy is so darn accurate, then why didn't it give my name too? It makes me wonder if it isn't just a bunch of dumb old words that don't really mean a thing," he concluded, while glaring at the wizard.
"You're wrong about that and there's a reason a name was never given. If the prophecy had also stated a particular name, then Madumda would have known who to watch for and exactly whom to kill," Beraut countered, while still hoping to reassure the boy. "Seeing the prophecy was intentionally vague on who would destroy Madumda, he had to watch out for anyone who was an heir of Ethelbert. Please try not to worry about any of this though, because sometimes a solution will turn up when and where you least expect it."
"So you still think I can kill Madumda without you being there to help me?" Kieren asked, while eyeing the wizard skeptically.
"Kieren, I am only expecting you to be able to find the talisman without me, although I believe you would also be successful facing Madumda on your own as well," Beraut assured him, as comfortingly as he knew how. "The magic is in the sword and it should be enough to protect and assist you when it comes time for this confrontation. However, once you have found the sword, I want you to carry it with you when you come to find me and then we'll face Madumda together. If you are unable to get to me, then I'll try to reach you, so I can stand by your side when it is time to do battle. There are many other factors that might come into play before then, which could also help to ensure your success."
The wizard hoped this statement would finally eliminate Kieren's concerns or at least placate them enough so he didn't give up completely. Beraut felt it was imperative that Kieren continued to maintain a positive attitude about completing this mission. If he didn't, the chances of him succeeding would be significantly reduced.
Although hearing what the wizard had just told him made Kieren feel slightly better, he was still worried about possibly having to face the Dark Lord without Beraut's assistance. Since the lad still had some doubts, he turned and flopped down on the bed. He was thinking about everything he had just been told and deep in thought, so Beraut merely watched as his ward did this. He wanted to give Kieren enough time to sort it out for himself. Kieren had legitimate questions and concerns, so the wizard hoped he had answered them to the teen's satisfaction. For that reason, he left Kieren undisturbed and merely waited to see what happened next.
After several long minutes, Kieren sat up and looked over at Beraut. Even though his mentor had addressed some of the issues he was worried about, he still had some doubts about whether they would be able to meet up again before he had to confront Madumda.
"Do you feel better now and realize that I will do my very best to keep you safe?" Beraut wondered. "I will also do everything within my power to prevent you from having to do this alone."
"I kind of see what you are saying, but just like what happened on the trip here, I'm really afraid things won't go exactly as we plan," Kieren replied, still looking concerned. "I'm still not convinced I can defeat Madumda without your help, but I will go anyway and do my best."
"Kieren, that's all I ask of you," Beraut responded. "Once you have the sword, then I'll do my best to keep Madumda occupied long enough for you to get out of Treblanc and journey to a place where we can meet up again. If you need to and it will make you feel better, you can always use the medallion to make contact and let me know where you are. Even though Madumda might be able to listen in on what we are saying, we should be close enough to each other that he won't be able to get to you any sooner than I can. That way, I will be there with you when you face him."
"I hope you mean that and aren't just saying it to make me feel better," Kieren countered, looking doubtful.
"I sincerely mean every word I've told you," Beraut assured him. "I'm sorry that we will have to temporarily be separated, but I will do my very best to continue to protect and assist you."
Kieren seemed somewhat relieved by the wizard's comments. Even though this might be the case, they both understood there was probably no way Beraut would be able to totally convince Kieren that everything would be all right. For that reason, the wizard concluded it was time to move on to something else.
"Why don't you finish getting dressed," Beraut advised him, "so you can go with the others to eat. Hopefully, that will lift your spirits even more and I'll see what else I can work out to ease your other concerns before we come together again."
Kieren readily agreed to this suggestion before the wizard left, since he once again remembered how hungry he was. His discussion with Beraut had distracted him from that fact for a little while, but that was before his stomach growled again. He knew that finally being able to stop that from happening would certainly improve his mood, and possibly even his outlook on the situation. For that reason, he hurriedly did what Beraut had suggested.
Kieren hopped off the bed, grabbed his shirt and slipped it on. After also attaching his belt, he stood in front of the looking glass and analyzed his altered appearance. No matter how concerned he still was about the next part of this mission, he still wanted to look presentable when he met up with the dwarf king and the others.
As he looked at his reflection, Kieren first turned one way and then the other, as he examined his image. He carefully studied these new garments and then judged how he thought the attire looked on him. After this brief inspection, he concluded his raiment was acceptable and eagerly stepped out into the hallway.
As Kieren moved through the doorway, he nearly tripped over his dwarf guide, who had been patiently waiting for him. The young dwarf had been sent there to show Kieren to the dining area and was just approaching Kieren's door when Beraut intercepted him earlier. After telling the guide that he needed to speak with Kieren first, the youngster bowed to his authority and waited. Once their private conversation had concluded and Beraut left, the wizard had informed the guide that Kieren would be right out. The dwarf now encouraged Kieren to follow him.
The youngster then led Kieren to a large reception area, which was located at the end of the hallway they were in. It was filled with a collection of overstuffed chairs, most of which were already occupied by his friends. Qaim was the first to notice his young protector's arrival and bolted across the waiting room to stand beside him. Kieren quickly did a double take, because he nearly didn't recognize his former guide. Qaim looked totally different now. The dirt, twigs and leaves had been removed and his coat had been brushed, which made him appear as if he was a cross between a baby bear and a child. He was a child's height and build, yet covered with a soft, brown fur coat like a bear.
"Young master come back for Qaim?" his furry companion asked. "Qaim go get munchies now?"
Kieren couldn't help but smile at Qaim's questions and antics. No matter what else was going on, Qaim's biggest concern seemed to always be about filling his belly. He wasn't very large, so maybe this meant he had to eat more often than the rest of them. Whatever the reason, his preoccupation with eating still amused the young man.
"Yes, Qaim. We're going to go get some food now," Kieren assured him.
Once the others became aware that Kieren had finally arrived, they rose from their comfortable seats, so they could follow their guide to the dining area. Qaim immediately grabbed Kieren's hand and started pulling him forward, since he was eager to be the first to get to the treats he had been promised.