by David McLeod
The letter Sandar carried from his father to the Temple at Elvenhold secured them lodging and food. The letter he carried from the duke secured an audience with the king—as soon as he returned. It seemed that King Oberon was making a Progress to Barbicana and Rome to show the people the prince, who had only recently become a boy and been designated heir. "How long until he returns?" Phillip had asked.
"Perhaps two months," the seneschal had replied, "perhaps six." Phillip sighed in frustration.
It was four months before the king and his entourage returned, and a tenday after that before Phillip and his companions were granted audience. "My cousin, the Duke of Londinium, has asked that I meet with you privately and listen to your stories," the king said. He sat in a comfortable chair sipping tea. Two men in robes stood nearby. The companions stood facing him. They'd been required to leave their weapons in an anteroom. "These men are my secretaries," the king concluded.
Secretary, thought Phillip. The original meaning of that word was, "one who is entrusted with secrets." At least he's treating this seriously.
Phillip began. "Your Majesty, a thousand lifetimes ago, one of your ancestors sent a band of his people to settle an island across the eastern sea. He charged them to preserve that which was good and gentle in their culture. He charged them to avoid contact with the elves who remained on this continent and who were to learn the arts of war and to build alliances with humans, alliances against evil. In his wisdom, he instructed clerics among this band to preserve skills of weapon making and weapon using, should the plan fail.
"The plan has failed. The leaders of the elves of this eastern island, called Solimoes, have sent an ambassador, Javari, to tell you more." I hope that gets his attention, Phillip thought. Apparently an ambassador is a pretty high station around here.
Phillip expected the king to ask Javari to speak, but the king addressed Phillip. "Why do you lead these companions and an ambassador? By what right do you command?"
Phillip, who had asked himself the same question, and who had repeatedly examined the coincidences and links that had brought him to this place and time, was prepared.
"I have been named Spartus—dragonrider—by the noblest and most powerful of my people. That title has been affirmed by the elves of Solimoes who still swear allegiance to a king they have never seen, but whom they believe still exists. They gave me command of these boys"—he indicated Javari and Maranon—"although we, as well as Argon who was my first companion, are bound by ties of love and fealty.
"Your cousin the duke affirmed that decision and affirmed my leadership of these boys as well as the boys from his city."
The king glanced at one of the robed men who nodded. A sembler, Phillip thought. Of course.
"The first of your people whom we met, also gave me this," Phillip said. He removed the medallion from around his neck and offered it to the king.
"It is very ancient, Your Majesty," one of the secretaries said after returning the medallion to Phillip. "I have never seen workmanship like it."
"It has an affinity for this boy," the other said. "Although human, he justly and rightly holds an ancient symbol of your kingdom and your family. Other than that? I cannot say."
The king nodded, and then listened while Javari told of slave raids, relating the story much as Phillip had first heard it. He added detail of which Phillip had not been aware. He told of the clerics' training boys and men to use the bow and machete. "Our people have managed to resist two of the three most recent raids. I do not know how," he added. "None of us was told—so that we could not betray that knowledge should we be captured.
"The Council of Solimoes told me to say these words to you. "We pledge fealty to the king who rules Elvenhold in the Light. In our disobedience, we ask forgiveness. In our plight, we seek succor." The boy fell silent.
The next telling of their stories began the following morning. Immediately after breakfast in the refectory, eaten by lamplight, Phillip and his companions were escorted by soldiers through dark and empty streets. Within moments of reaching a large chamber, they saw the king enter, followed by the two robed men from the day before. Behind them came a procession of eight men and three women. Behind them were a hand of soldiers, all wearing tabards liberally decorated with badges and ribbons.
From another door entered a woman in a silken gown, followed by three other women dressed similarly. Another procession of richly dressed women, six in all, followed them. The elves bowed and curtseyed to one another. The king took his seat in the apex of a table shaped like a V. The other elves moved, one by one, to seats on the outer edges of the V. This is choreographed, Phillip thought. Like the Kiva and the Lodge. This is something very formal, and apparently quite important.
A tween, who had been last in line behind the king, closed the door through which that procession had entered. The boy wore a tabard Phillip had learned was that of a herald. The other door was closed by a man similarly attired. That man spoke. His voice filled the chamber. "By invitation and command of His Majesty, King Oberon, the Privy Council is assembled."
An usher seated Phillip in the center chair of a row of chairs that closed the top of the V and that faced the king. The usher then seated Javari to Phillip's right. Finally, he gestured the others of Phillip's companions to sit where they wished.
Argon and Maranon reached the chair to Phillip's left at the same instant. They both deferred to the others. They both then grasped the chair again, and then deferred again, releasing the chair. Phillip settled the matter. "Please let Sandar sit here," he said. "I may need his knowledge."
The telling began as before. When Phillip and Javari had completed their stores, questions began.
"Who named you Spartus?"
"A wise man of my people. A great mage," Phillip replied.
"Who are your people? Where are you from?"
Phillip sighed. I knew I'd have to tell. "My people are the Athabasca. We have lived on many worlds. My nation lives on a world far from this one. I do not know if any of my kin live on this world."
Phillip looked into stunned silence. Oh, shit, he thought. The king doesn't look happy.
"I am not pleased," the king said.
"You read my thoughts?" Phillip blurted.
"What? No," the king replied. "Can your people do that?"
"No, sir," Phillip said. "But I've seen so much new on this world."
"The other human boy—he's also from your world?"
"No, sir," Phillip answered. "He's from this world, an island continent east of Solimoes." Phillip sighed. "And you might as well know—he's from a different time—perhaps 40,000 years ago, or 40,000 years from now. Maybe more."
"Phillip," the king said. "I understand your reluctance to offer freely certain parts of your story. We are grateful to you for leading Javari and his message to us. For myself and my people, I swear amity with you. Do you understand what that means?"
"Yes, sir, I do," Phillip said. "And for myself and those who love me, I swear amity with you and your people."
"Then," the king said. "Are there any other secrets we need to know?"
The woman who had seated herself at the king's right chuckled, and then smiled. Turning to the king she said, "He has many secrets, husband, which he is oath-bound to keep." Turning to Phillip she added, "I think we can rely on his wisdom as well as his discretion."
Phillip nodded. Husband? She's the Queen! I don't suppose her name is Titania.
After a break for lunch—the boys ate alone—the Council reassembled and the questioning began anew. At least they're paying attention, Phillip thought. No one's repeated a question.
"Do you know how to open a gate between worlds or times?"
"I believe I have that knowledge. With the help of a cleric of Solimoes, I believe I sent a message—a flower—to my world. I could not have done it, alone, nor am I certain that the flower went where and when we intended," Phillip replied. "Further, it is a secret of my people." The questioner looked disappointed, but did not pursue the matter.
"Having completed your mission, what will you do now?"
"I have sworn to return Argon to his home," Phillip replied. "It is only by his leave that I am here. I will resume that quest as soon as Javari and Maranon release me."
That evening, Javari was pensive and moody. Twice, Phillip thought he'd been crying. Careful orchestration of tasks finally gave Phillip some time alone with Javari. "Javari, what's the matter?" Phillip asked.
"Phillip, I cannot release you!" Javari said. He hugged Phillip tightly and rested his head on Phillip's shoulder. "I am sworn to you. You can, if you will, release me. Only, please do not!" The boy's voice was anguished.
"Oh, Javari," Phillip said. "Please do not cry. I will never let you and Maranon go—unless you wish it. I meant only that I had promised to get you and your message to the king. Only when you—not the king, not anyone else—release me from that obligation can I search for the way to get Argon home."
Javari stopped sobbing. "Oh."
"They said you were a dragonrider." Phillip looked up, and saw a tween in acolyte's robes at the doorway. Phillip frowned. It wasn't a secret, yet it wasn't something he thought was widely known.
The boy saw the frown. "I'm sorry if I've interrupted. . . "
"No, it's not that," Phillip said. "Please, come in." He gestured the boy to a seat. "It's true that I have been called dragonrider," he added. "But I've not seen a dragon except in a. . . a dream. And, I do not know that dragons still exist. That is what I'm trying to find out." He waved his hands at the books and scrolls spread upon the table.
"My name, by the way, is Phillip," he concluded.
The acolyte blushed to be reminded of his breach of manners. "My mother's name for me is Doi. Senior Librarian dropped his cup, and let spill that you were searching for dragons. I have seen one."
Phillip's heart skipped a beat. "You are sure," he said, although the expression on his face turned the statement into a question.
"Oh, yes," Doi said.
"I was born in Wisenaut, a village far to the west, but I never knew that village. My family are Rom. They live in no one place, but travel from town to town. Our Dan. . . our clan. . . traveled between Rome and Allium, sometimes going as far east as Barbican. We traded horses and entertainment for food and drink. I visited many towns and villages, and met many people, but it was west of Allium that I saw a dragon.
"It was spring. We had camped outside a village—I no longer remember its name—so that several of our mares could foal. I was still a child, and had few chores, and those quickly completed. A companion and I decided to climb into the hills to look for strawberries.
"We walked east. I remember, for the sun was in my face. It was a shadow crossing the sun that made me look up. It wasn't a cloud. It moved too fast. It wasn't a bird; its neck was too long. And then I saw the tail." Doi's voice became more animated as he continued.
"My friend and I had been walking through gorse and brush. We ducked down; we were afraid to be seen, but our curiosity drove us to peer through the brush. We watched as the creature swooped and soared, closer and closer to us. I thought my heart would burst.
"It dove toward us, and we thought we would die, but its head dipped down and rose up—with a wild boar in its mouth! But only for an instant. It raised its head and the whole boar slid down its throat. It was then we realized how huge it really was.
"It flew away, toward the west. We ran back to our camp to tell the others what we'd seen."
When the boy paused, Phillip asked, "Did they believe you?"
"Oh, yes!" Doi said. The storyteller asked us to tell him over and over again. Then, he wove our story into his own. He gave us each a silver shilling for our telling."
Phillip knew by now that the clerics of World did not take vows of poverty. . . at least, that only a few of them, styled "mendicants," did so. Nevertheless, he knew that it would not be polite to offer Doi a shilling for his story. He thought for a moment, and then said, "Doi, thank you for your story. Would you tell it to my companions, as well? Perhaps you would join us before Vespers for a bath? Supper?" He's sure to interpret that as an invitation to stay the night, and share with us, Phillip thought. And apparently that's a bigger deal than a silver shilling!
Phillip kept Argon, Javari, and Maranon busy preparing for what? For what do I prepare these boys? Why do I press them to study, to practice with machete, sword, and bow, to learn the taekwondo that I once said I could not teach but which I find that I can, after all? His answer came, somewhat unexpectedly one mid-morning. The four were in a courtyard, sparring with quarterstaffs while Sandar and one of his companions watched. Carson, Sandar's little brother, ran in. "A messenger!" the boy gasped. "The king wants you. . . " He paused and caught his breath. "There's a messenger at the atrium. He's from the king. The king wants to see you—immediately."
"After more than a tenday? Immediately?" Phillip said, wiping sweat from his forehead. "We'll bathe, first." And put on something more than fundoshis, he thought wryly.
The messenger, a herald, was pacing from one side of the atrium to the other. He spun around when he heard the companions sandaled feet enter. His frown belied the calm tenor of his voice. "Phillip Windrider Spartus, my master, King Oberon, requests your company," he said. "Actually, he requested it almost an hour ago."
"We will follow, apace," Phillip said. Impatience? Here? Among the Elves? I wouldn't have thought it.
Phillip and his companions rose when the king entered the closet. He was alone, and frowning. "I had expected you somewhat earlier," he said as he sat, and gestured for the others to take their seats.
"Your majesty, we came immediately when your herald delivered your message," Sandar said. "It is not his fault that we did not hear him sooner."
The king smiled. "Nicely said, young Sandar. Where were you? At breakfast?"
"No, Your Majesty," Sandar said. "In an inner courtyard, sparring, and wearing little but dirt and sweat."
The king nodded. Sandar thought a smile touched his lips. "Shortly, we will go into the Privy Council chamber, where I will announce my decision. You all have risked much. I will ask you all to risk more. It is meet that you know what I will say.
"I have determined to reopen contact with our kin on Solimoes.
"Javari, Maranon, I know that you have a special relationship with Phillip, one that is perhaps more important than the oaths you took to an absent monarch. However, on that oath, I charge you to follow Phillip as long as your oaths bind you to him. Do you understand what I have done and what this means?"
The boys nodded. The king had released them from the older obligation in favor of the newer one. It was unheard of, but it was the king's right. They were afraid to speak.
"Phillip, I cannot command you," The king did smile. "My cousin's letter was very complete, and I have written commending him on his wisdom in assigning you command of the expedition. Although I cannot command you, I do commend you to the College of Magic, in the city of Rome. The most learned of our mages are there. If there is an answer to your quest to return Argon to his time, it will be found in Rome.
The river is navigable a little farther upstream; however, you would soon have to take to the roads. If you agree, you will continue your journey by road from here. You will be given maps, horses, and other material assistance. Master Olmon will see to that. I do this not as payment for the service you have done to my people, for neither I nor the people of Elvenhold can adequately repay our debt to you. Rather, I do it as a gesture of goodwill to the ambassador of a people we do not know, but whom we would like to know. Perhaps, someday, in the fullness of time, we shall."
Before Phillip had a chance to thank the king, he continued. "Sandar, you will be named Ambassador to Solimoes. Your companions, and others, will accompany you on a voyage to that island.
"Argon, you are not our subject, nor are your people allied to us, since they do not live in our time. I can only ask you to share with my people your knowledge of the voyage, so that Sandar and his companions will have a fair chance of surviving the voyage." The king stopped speaking. There was silence for several very long moments.
Argon gasped when he realized that the king was waiting for him to speak. "Yes. . . yes Your Majesty. They will have to swear to keep certain things secret, of course."
"Of course," the king said, as he rose. "If you. . . "
"Your Majesty, there is one more matter," Phillip interrupted.
The king raised his eyebrow, again. "The medallion that Javari and Maranon's people gave me. I think it must be returned to them."
"Their clerics said you rightfully possessed it; Senior Cleric Rachael said the same. I don't understand," the king said.
"I think my right to possess it ended when you said you would re-establish contact with Solimoes," Phillip said. "And, I want it to go back, because if it does, I will never be separated from the friends I made among those people. Further, it will serve as a symbol, a reminder, of that friendship."
The king nodded. "You have the right of it, Phillip Windrider Spartus."
The meeting of the Privy Council was over. Sandar and his companions had been taken in hand by Senior Cleric Lohan, one of the king's two secretaries. Planning for their return trip to Londinium, and thence to Solimoes, had already begun. Master Olmon, the king's other secretary and a High Master Mage, had taken Phillip, Argon, Maranon, and Javari to a workroom, and left them there, promising to return momentarily with others.
"Javari, Maranon," Phillip said as soon as the door closed behind the cleric. "You must return to Solimoes with Sandar and the others. You can sail the boat. . . the Xander down the river. The second Xander is probably still in Londinium, and you can sail her back home. If you do not go with Sandar, you may never get home. . . at least, not for years."
Javari looked surprised and hurt. Maranon spoke for them both. "Phillip, our home is with you. There are sailors among the people of Elvenholt. We learned that on the dock of Londinium. They have deep-water sailors, and ships larger than Xander. We learned that, also. They will not hurry. . . the king and Senior Lohan, that is. Nor will Master Olmon. We and Argon will have time to tell Sandar and his friends all they need to know to make the journey safely."
I am beginning to understand why there seems to be no indolence or idleness among the boys of this world, even though life is considerably easier than it was on the reservation. That is, I have some notions that I still need to explore. First, there is a clearly defined value system. (I hate that phrase; the Hispanglo schoolteachers and politicians used it so often it became nearly meaningless, but it's all I have.)
However, there is a clear understanding of what is good and what is evil. They know at a visceral and intellectual level that there are evil people in the world, and that these people will cheat, steal, and kill. I've not heard anyone suggest that people who are evil are "just different," nor that we should "value them for their diversity." They also have a visceral and intellectual understanding of what is "good," and seem quite willing to fight and die to protect it.
Second, there is no belief in a supernatural creator, nor any belief in sin and redemption; therefore, there are no conflicting beliefs, as there were on Earth among the warring religions. These people do not waste lives killing one another over superstition because they have no superstitions. They can, therefore, concentrate on the danger that is real: people who would kill from greed or lust for power.
Third, everyone lives in a small community. Even in the capital city, which has a large population, everyone lived in a community. People live with families; boys live in cohorts; craftspersons live in guilds; clerics in temples; mages in schools; and so on. Many people live in more than one such community: boys live in families and cohorts; tweens may live in cohorts and guilds; and so on. These communities are small enough that everyone knows everyone else and peer pressure and shame are powerful motivators.
They also have a clear understanding of what is not evil, and do not waste time arguing about trivia such as on what day or during what hours a public house may be open and sell ale! There are no laws governing this, not even a law against serving alcohol to children. I asked about this, and learned while there are no laws, no respectable person would allow a child, one whose body and mind were still developing and growing, to consume more than a very moderate amount of ale. (I asked what "moderate" was, and Sandar suggested "a thimbleful.") This is another example of peer pressure and shame being a stronger motivator than the law.
One afternoon, we walked past a public house, and I smelled what I was certain was marijuana. I asked Sandar, and learned that this—and other drugs—are not illegal. In fact, Sandar didn't understand what I meant, and it took most of the afternoon to make it clear.
I remember from my world that those of my people who served in the last of the Asian conflicts, the one in Viet Nam, brought honor to our people; but that some brought back heroin. The nation faced a crisis, but the chief and council acted quickly. After twenty drug dealers had been hanged publically, the Hispanglo drug dealers shunned the reservation.
Those of our people who persisted in traveling to Gallup and other Hispanglo enclaves to buy drugs were not prevented from doing so. They were, however, not allowed to bring the drugs onto the reservation. It only took a few more hangings to make that clear. The law, such as it is, here, seems to be similar. There are no laws (or none that I can determine) forbidding anything; there are, however, laws or edicts describing consequences. For example, giving a child marijuana or other dangerous drugs is a capital offense. And, with semblers standing beside the judge to determine truth or falsehood, there is no laborious appeal process.
Javari and Maranon dictated their thoughts; Phillip put their words on parchment to be carried to Solimoes. By this time he had learned the few differences between the Elvish language and the Latin in his English-Latin dictionary.
Javari and Maranon to their parents, family, and friends on Solimoes. Our friend and companion, Sandar, now ambassador for the King of Elvenhold (our king! He is real!), promised to deliver this if he were able.
We are well, and hope that you are also.
We have met the king and given him the message with which we were charged. The king, in turn, has charged us to do that which our hearts command us: to accompany Phillip and Argon to fulfill their destinies. We know that we may never return home. That thought makes us sad. However, we follow the Light, and we believe that we are fulfilling our own destinies, as well. We love you and will remember you forever.
Phillip held his head away from the desk as he sealed the letter so that his tears would not smudge the writing.