Castle Roland

Sword of Kings: Forged Out of Necessity

by Bill W


Chapter 12

Published: 21 Dec 15

Sword of Kings: Forged Out of Necessity

by Bill W
Copyright © 2014 by billwstories

Rash Decisions

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This chapter contains graphic scenes of violence and gore, which some readers may find upsetting.

"Although it may be difficult for you to accept, Kieren, you are the only one who can fulfill the prophecy," the wizard informed him. "You see, for years my evil brother has been doing magical scans of the countryside to detect those who are descended from the royal bloodline, no matter how remotely. During this time, he has slowly ferreted out each of the royal kin, except for you and your mother. The two of you are all that remains of Ethelbert's bloodline."

Kieren listened carefully to what the wizard told him, but he continued to look upset. He was still unable to accept his apparent involvement as the only option.

"But how can my mother and I be all that is left?" Kieren demanded. "Surely there must be others who have been able to avoid being discovered, such as happened for us. Maybe they moved to another kingdom to prevent Madumda from finding them."

"I wish that were true, my boy, but it is not," Beraut offered, as soothingly as he could manage, "You see, Madumda has spent the many years since he ordered Orthilue and his family slain looking for the king's remaining relatives. He has devoted a great deal of his time and magic continually searching Tarolia and neighboring kingdoms to uncover the hiding places of any heirs. Once they were located, Madumda sent out his assassins to eliminate them as a threat. Unfortunately, there were also times when he wasn't required to do even that much.

I remember one particularly foolish group of Ethelbert's relatives that had become so frustrated about having to hide and continually be on the lookout for those aligned with the Dark Lord that they made a disastrous blunder. They had grown tired of waiting around and not knowing what was going to happen next or when something might occur, so they decided to take matters into their own hands. Let me tell you what happened to them, so you will be better able to appreciate what you're up against."

Suddenly, Beraut's mind drifted back eighty years, to the time when this incident took place.

"I'm telling you it would be utter foolishness to do as you propose," the wizard told the assembled group. His silver streaked dark hair gave him an air of wisdom and authority, but this did not seem to impress the group he was advising.

"We can't just sit around and wait, like lambs being led to the slaughter," the man stated defiantly. "Madumda is methodically seeking out and killing all of Ethelbert's kin and WE are on that list. It means he will be coming after each of us at some point, even though YOU are safe from this threat."

He added this final statement to let the wizard know that he and the other heirs thought the wizard had no vested interest in this situation, such as they did. Undeterred, Beraut responded.

"That may be true, but if Madumda is successful, we shall all be affected by his tyrannical rule. Do you really believe he will let my magical threat go unchallenged, any more than he's ignoring your role in the prophecy or potential threat to his ambitions? We are all in this together, so you must avoid provoking him into making moves that might accelerate his timeframe. He is being extremely cautious and working very slowly to reach his goal, because he truly fears the prophecy may be correct. He is mindful of its wording and warning, but he isn't certain if an heir alone might be able to destroy him, even without the talisman, since it was never specifically linked.

"I was extremely concerned when the talisman first came into Madumda's possession," Beraut continued, "because I assumed he would make his move then, but it never happened. Rather than go on the offensive, Madumda did the opposite. He is stubbornly convinced that he must eliminate all of the other threats first, which is working to our advantage. Doing this takes enormous amounts of time and energy, so it has given us the chance to develop strategies to stand against him. More importantly, it has given me the opportunity to continue to increase my magical prowess for when I am called upon to use it against him. It is also one of the reasons we are not ready to move against him yet, because my power still pales in comparison to his.

"Another reason is that due to his inaction," Beraut added, "we have been able to protect your families for far longer than we first thought possible. We will continue to do so for as long as we are able, so to that end it would be best if you didn't do what you are planning. If you do, it will work against what we've been trying to achieve and put you at imminent risk."

"That may be true, but you are not going to change our minds," the leader replied. "We are not going to sit idly by and wait for him to find us. If you're not with us, then you're against us, so if that is the case, then I advise you to leave and stay out of our way."

The man then stared defiantly at Beraut, to let him know he was no longer welcome if he didn't support their plan. It also let the wizard know they weren't afraid of his magical ability, since Beraut could most likely have used it to stop them, if he was so inclined.

"What do you think you'll possibly be able to achieve by calling him out?" the wizard challenged, unmoved by the man's hollow threat. "To Madumda you are no more than bothersome flies that need to be smashed by a well aimed swat. He will never fear you presence or respect your challenge."

"We will appeal to his honor and challenge him to take us on in personal combat," the man spat out, confident of his stance. Hearing his response, the wizard burst out laughing.

"Madumda HAS no honor," Beraut told him. "He will kill all of you without even batting an eye."

Beraut was doing his best to shock them into listening to his advice, but his words kept falling on deaf ears.

"He shall kill us now or later, unless we kill him first. We have absolutely no doubt about that fact," the leader persisted. "At least this way we'll have a chance to die like men and not as livestock being prepared for a meal."

"This is very similar to the mistake King Orthilue made when he thought he could goad Madumda into personal combat, and you know what happened to him and his family," the wizard warned. "Madumda will not deal with you as you hope and you're merely behaving like idiots!"

Beraut was livid now, since he realized they were hearing his words, but not comprehending their true meaning.

"We have to do this," the leader argued. "We cannot continue to merely sit around and wait, while constantly looking over our shoulders for the next assassin."

"Then I shall mourn your deaths, but I cannot support your intentions," the wizard advised them.

Beraut was totally convinced about the folly of their proposed actions, although he wasn't able to sway the heirs. They were still going ahead with their plan and weren't about to change their minds. However, the wizard still felt obligated to try to reason with them one final time.

"Even I am not ready to face my evil brother, for his magic is much greater than mine, since he infused the power of the other wizards with his own. Therefore, I see no way your plan will succeed," Beraut emphasized. "Don't you realize the longer it takes him to seek out the heirs, the more time you and your families will have to be together? It also provides me with a greater opportunity to increase my powers even more before he's ready to make his move, so I might be better able to offset his supernatural advantage. Please, do not do this. Let him play into our hands, not us into his."

Having said his piece and realizing his latest plea had no effect, the wizard left the meeting disappointed that this group of heirs was just as stubborn as their predecessors. It meant they would do as they'd planned, even though their chances of success were almost nonexistent.

Two weeks later, the group stood in front of Treblanc, boldly announcing their desire to see the Dark Lord. The guard in charge laughed and told them to go away, after harshly rebuking their feeble attempt to gain an audience with his master. Frustrated and not wishing to leave until this matter had been dealt with, the leader shouted out in defiance.

"We are the heirs of Ethelbert and DEMAND that you announce our arrival to Madumda."

Hearing who they were, the guard sent one of his subordinates to inform the Dark Lord of their presence. It wasn't very long after that before the aged sorcerer came striding out to the main gate, followed by a horde of military men.

Seeing none of those calling him out had ever seen Madumda before, they were surprised by his appearance, because he didn't exude the fearsome aura they had imagined he would. He appeared more like a broken down shell of a man, unable to do more than support his own bodyweight, let alone paralyze an entire nation with fear by the mere mention of his name. His hair was greasy and unkempt, and its ugly yellowish tint demeaned the aura of wisdom and experience that a full head of silvery hair would have commanded. However, that was just one of the factors that denied him the respect he so eagerly sought.

Not only was his physical appearance an issue, but the same was also true of his apparel. His robes were wrinkled and soiled, thus depicting a person of lesser rank and power, rather than an individual who wished to assume leadership of the kingdom. In fact, the Dark Lord's outward visage was almost comical, so those seeing him for the first time might have been tempted to laugh in his face. This didn't happen though, because his diabolical reputation and propensity for performing unspeakable acts upon his enemies were well established before this confrontation. Playing it safe, those gathered maintained tight control over their own emotions, so as not to provoke him even more than they already planned.

"What audacity brings you to my home?" Madumda challenged, while glaring at the motley assemblage before him. He was also deeply perturbed about having been disturbed from his previous activities.

"We, the heirs of Ethelbert, challenge you to single combat," the appointed leader of the group responded. He hoped this information alone would satisfy Madumda's irate outburst.

"Single combat? There are at least twenty of you," the sorcerer sneered, while perusing those before him. "It's apparent you planned to attack me as a group. Even a blind man could see that. Did you think I would be foolish enough to approach you without support?" he asked, while motioning toward the warriors who stood around him.

"No, that was not our plan," the spokesman assured him. "We will challenge you one at a time, to fight with swords until the death."

His response seemed sincere enough, although Madumda saw it as an opportunity to exploit.

"You are bigger fools than I could have ever hoped for," the sorcerer spat out.

Madumda then lifted his staff and muttered a few words, which no one except those closest to him were able to hear. Suddenly, his challengers found their bodies totally paralyzed. They felt as if they had just been turned to stone, although they remained in full control of their senses. Even though they wanted to fight or flee, they had absolutely no command over their own muscles and stood frozen in place. Belatedly, they understood Beraut had been correct in his assessment of the situation.

Madumda now moved closer to the group and inspected each one carefully. In fact, he got so close while doing this that his foul breath filled their nostrils and made them want to retch.

"I see nothing that makes any of you so special or fearsome," he stated derisively. He understood they could still hear him, although they could not respond or resist.

"You shall now pay for your effrontery," he continued, "and for thinking your lineage would intimidate me or grant you special consideration."

Madumda more or less growled this last comment out, before sneering at them once again, to reinforce the fact that he held nothing but contempt for any of them. Then, he whirled around and spoke to one of the warriors.

"Take them to the dungeons," he commanded, "and I will deal with them in due time."

A couple of the guards raced off to fetch a wagon, while those remaining waited with the prisoners, not that they needed to. When the others returned with the wagon, Madumda's warriors began placing the immobilized bodies of the heirs upon its bed. They were stacking their captives ignominiously on top of one another, like firewood. Those who found themselves at the bottom of the pile felt as if they would suffocate before they got to where they were being taken, which turned out to be a very real possibility.

Even though only one of the heirs actually died during this procedure, it later proved that he was, in fact, the fortunate one among them. If the others had known what awaited them inside the citadel, they most likely would have preferred to leave this world in the same fashion. The reason for that being, once they were removed from their uncomfortable and degrading mode of transportation, the real horrors began.

Each of them was carried to the dungeon, where they were put in the same large cell, except for their leader. Once they had been placed inside, the door was locked to keep them safely out of the way. During this same time, their spokesman had been strapped to a heavy wooden table, because Madumda felt he should be the first to be 'questioned,' for having the gall to insult him by calling him out. This man happened to be an heir of King Orthilue's brother, who had been killed a week or so after his sibling, and this poor fellow now lay bound and waiting for what was to come next. He was also definitely regretting not having heeded the wizard's warning that doing this would be a huge mistake.

Why had he been so obstinate and arrogant? Why did he ignore the sage advice of one older and wiser than himself? As he watched the other heirs being locked away, thoughts of his wife and children flashed through his mind. Acknowledging his fate, it saddened him to admit he would probably never see them again. Therefore, he tried to capture their images from his memory, so he could hold on to those fleeting visions for as long as possible. During this same time, he also attempted to say a personal goodbye to each of them, although they would never know what he wished for them during his final moments.

When all of the heirs were where he wanted them, Madumda countered the immobility spell that had previously been used to restrain them. Once the captives had control of their bodies again, Madumda ordered his soldiers to make certain the other heirs watched everything he was about to do, even if they had to cause the heirs pain to force them to comply. Once he felt certain his command would be followed, Madumda moved over to the table where their bound leader lay.

"How did you plan to defeat me?" he screamed, in an effort to scare a confession out of his captive and learn the details of their ill conceived plan. "What aids or devices have you been given to gain power over me?"

When the prisoner did not share the information he was seeking, Madumda went a step further. Without hesitation, he placed the tip of his staff against the man's temple and uttered a few words. This spell caused a tremendous collection of tiny bolts of energy to course from the rod and shoot into his victim's body. This sudden burst of power not only caused the leader unbearable pain and mental anguish, but it also made his entire body begin to shudder and spasm. It was the result of his nervous system reacting to the unnatural surge of energy. After several such treatments, the leader should have betrayed the Gods themselves, if he'd had any details to share. However, he could not give Madumda what he did not possess.

Since he was unable to fathom the idea that this information did not exist, the Dark Lord became infuriated. His inability to gain the prisoner's cooperation had enraged him so completely that he repeated this process several more times. He hoped the man would finally accept the futility of his stubbornness and reveal the desired knowledge, but it didn't happen. No matter what was done to him, the man would not tell Madumda what he wanted to hear. Perplexed by his lack of success, Madumda now decided to switch tactics and use a more traditional form of torture, instead of the magical means. He suspected his prisoner might respond better to more conventional methods of extracting information than the supernatural forms he'd been using to elicit the truth.

Immediately, the sorcerer commanded one of his soldiers to grasp his prisoner's fist and force him to extend his index finger. Once this had been done, the leader's hand was pinned to the table in the same fashion and then Madumda grabbed a clever off of another table and chopped the finger off. The recipient screamed out in pain, as the blood gushed from the end of what remained of the digit, but the misguided sorcerer refused to show him any mercy. Instead, he attempted to interrogate him again.

"Tell me what I want to know and I shall seal your wound and cause you no more harm."

"But I do not know the answers to your questions," the man whined.

He was praying the sorcerer would believe him this time, but that was not about to happen. Madumda continued to chop off finger after finger, until there were no digits remaining on his bloodied stub. Before Madumda could resume his assault on his other hand, the heir passed out from the loss of his life juices. When this happened, Madumda sneered derisively at him. The heir no longer bore any resemblance to the arrogant challenger that had arrived at Treblanc to throw down the gauntlet before him. Since the sorcerer was also unable to find a way to revive him, he determined any further attempt on this prisoner was now hopeless. Therefore, he had his guards remove the heir's body from the table so he could focus on the next victim.

This time the target of his abuse was selected solely at random and then brought out and secured on the same table where the earlier detainee had been interrogated. However, the sorcerer decided to utilize a slightly different approach to get what he wanted from this prisoner. To begin with, the diabolical sorcerer forced a truth serum down the throat of the heir, since he expected the potent potion would gain him the knowledge he desired. When that failed, he forced a second dose of this previously reliable concoction down the man's gullet, but it still did not produce the information the sorcerer was looking for. This should have been enough to convince Madumda that the information he was seeking did not exist, but it was not what happened.

Frustrated and losing his temper, the Dark Lord began to scream at the bound heir, as he demanded the man relinquish the secrets he continued to guard. Madumda could not accept the idea that Beraut would have allowed these men to provoke his ire by initiating this confrontation without giving them some means to eliminate him. Even though the prisoner continued to insist he didn't know of such things, Madumda did not relent. In fact, this inability pushed the sorcerer past his limits of self-control and caused him to scream at his fettered victim.

"You have ears, but you do not hear or understand my requests. If you are not going to use them, then you no longer deserve to have them!"

The words had barely passed from his lips, before the vile sorcerer took a blade and sliced the fleshy appendages from the side of the man's head. As the heir howled in agony, Madumda grabbed a fiery iron poker and held it, first against one bloody wound and then the other, cauterizing both large lacerations and stopping the flow of blood. The chamber was now not only filled with pathetic wails of the abused victim, but the air was also thick with the pungent, sickening smell of seared flesh. This caused a few of the other prisoners to vomit in the cell.

Madumda hadn't done this to get the man to change his mind and respond, but instead used him as an example to the others. He thought it would be the best way to reinforce the notion that their noncompliance would cost them dearly. Acknowledging there was nothing more to be gained from this prisoner, the sorcerer recited a spell and pointed his staff at the heir's body, which caused it to immediately burst into flames. Within seconds, there was nothing left to show the man had ever been there, except for a few ashes. This had been done for dramatic effect, since Madumda hoped it would prove to the others how powerful he was and how futile it would be to continue to resist him. Unfortunately, all he managed to accomplish was to make room for the next unfortunate victim to be brought to him.

Having seen what had happened to the other two, the next captive did not come willingly or easily. He struggled with all his might against his jailers and battled them every inch of the way. He concluded he would rather die outright while resisting, rather than be slowly tortured to death. However, the guards were easily able to restrain him, and once he was fastened down with the leather straps, Madumda went into action.

The Dark Lord's first move was to cast a spell over the man, one that was designed to cause his victim to lower his defenses. The sorcerer hoped this would allow him to order the heir to divulge the specifics of their scheme, but try as he might, this did not work either. The current captive was as unaffected by the irate sorcerer's attempts as the previous heirs had been. Madumda was now beside himself. He was furious and totally confused as to how these individuals could continue to resist his efforts.

'Why would they be willing to endure so much, just to keep from sharing the details of their plan with me? ' Madumda wondered. 'Was this somehow a direct result of something Beraut had done to them, to ensure his secrets would be kept? Has that young upstart grown powerful enough to challenge me in this fashion? If so, how did he infuse them with the ability to resist my efforts? He should not have sufficient power nor the magical knowledge I possess, so how was he able to protect them from the various forms of persuasion I have attempted to use to elicit this information?'

The Dark Lord was unable to comprehend any of this, which only provoked him further. Pushed by his frustration, Madumda switched back to the more physical means of torture. He grabbed a pair of heavy iron tongs and used them to clamp down on various areas of the man's anatomy, in particular his genitals, which caused his victim unbearable pain. The heir wailed pathetically, as more pressure was applied. The sorcerer kept telling him that all he had to do was share the information he desired and all of this would cease, but the man wouldn't comply.

In one final act of irritation, Madumda had two of his warriors force the heir's mouth open. Then, he used the same iron tongs to clamp down on the man's tongue, so he could stretch it out of his mouth. As Madumda's one hand struggled to grasp and pull the muscle as far out of the man's orifice as he could, his other hand grasped the hilt of a sharp blade. He then used it to sever the tongue from the man's mouth.

"For not using your tongue to answer my questions, you shall no longer have it!" Madumda exclaimed, as he held the bloody organ into the air for the others to see.

After Madumda finished with this captive, he approached him once again, but this time it was not to interrogate him further or cause him any more pain. Instead, he held his staff against the heir's forehead and muttered a few words of another spell. This act immediately caused the man's demeanor to totally change, from being resistant to totally compliant, but this time it was accomplished very subtly. There were no bolts of energy or any visual clues as to what was happening. When the Dark Lord had finished with him, the heir was not the same person who had struggled so violently against his jailers less than an hour before.

As the sorcerer walked away from the table, the guards saw only a blank expression and emotionless stare on the captive's face. This made it extremely obvious that the man not only lacked the will to resist any longer, but he had also lost the capacity to control his own actions. In this current catatonic state, his jailers easily led him away and placed him in a different cell. After that heir had been removed, Madumda turned to his head guard and snarled.

"Watch them all very closely," he barked. "I will be in my chambers if you should need me, but I WILL find a way to make them talk."

Before he exited the room, Madumda tuned toward the cell where the remaining heirs were being held. Seeing the Dark Lord paying attention to them again, they all began to slink against the rear of the cell, since they were afraid of what he was going to do next.

"Even though you have not revealed any further information, you have certainly proven what fools you are," he hissed. "You have saved me valuable time and effort to locate you, so I thank you for your cooperation in doing that."

Madumda then released an evil chuckle, before he eventually stopped to consider the situation further. When he spoke next, his demeanor had changed significantly.

"You may continue to try to resist me, but you have seen what that will get you," he warned the others. "I will make your end less painful if you cooperate willingly, but no matter which way you decide, I will find a way to make you tell me what I wish to know. I will get the information from you, even if I have cut open the top of your skulls and siphon the information directly from your miniscule brains."

As the last of his words reverberated through the dank chamber, Madumda turned to leave, but not before stopping in front of the guard closest to him. He looked the soldier squarely in the eye and spoke.

"If all of Ethelbert's kin were such brainless dolts, I could become the supreme ruler of Tarolia in a fortnight."

This thought caused Madumda to burst out in another maniacal fit of laughter. Although there was no way it could have actually happened, the temperature in the chamber seemed to drop several degrees when this occurred.

Once the Dark Lord left the chamber, memories of his heartless words and cynical laugh caused the guards to shudder, as if it had chilled the marrow in their bones. This only reinforced their grudging respect for their master. It also reminded them that they should never consider defying him, no matter how trivial or inconsequential the provocation might seem at the time.

In the end, each of the heirs were tortured and then executed. This fulfilled their worst fears, since each one of them ended up being slaughtered. Their end came more like a farm animal bred for that purpose, rather than allowing them to die fighting and go out like men, as they originally intended.

"I must confess," Beraut advised Kieren, "that I only learned about this last part of this story by using magic to reconstruct the victims' final memories. You see, in order to strike fear into the rest of us, Madumda magically transported some of the severed heads of his victims to Leander, where I happened to be at the time. Since the deed had been done just a short time before the heads arrived, I was able to cast a magical spell over them and retrieve their fleeting recollections. The images were indeed gruesome, but it's how I discovered the fate that befell them.

"One of the most unfortunate results of their actions, other than their deaths, was that it cost us valuable time. If they had not offered themselves up to Madumda so conveniently, it may have taken him months, or even years, before he could have located and assassinated them too. What it did was to cost you the opportunity of being able to grow and mature before this task was thrust upon you, but regretfully there is nothing that can be done about it now. I am sorry, Kieren, that you were not allowed that extra time to develop first, before this huge burden was placed squarely upon your shoulders."

The wizard then stopped speaking momentarily, so he could allow Kieren time to digest this news. Slowly, the future king assimilated all of the information he had been told and realized he had been prematurely placed in this situation by the actions and unfortunate decisions some of his distant relatives had made. He was also slowly beginning to resign himself to the inevitability of the task that lay ahead, although he still wasn't totally convinced that he had to be the one to do it. Beraut, however, continued his story.

"Once I was able to relay this information to the remaining heirs," the wizard continued, "I tried to shield as many of them as I could. Unfortunately, I still hadn't developed my magical powers sufficiently to do the job very well though. Due to my inexperience and inability to protect them, most of the heirs I tried to shield were discovered in due time. I was able to protect a few longer than some of the others, but eventually Madumda found a way past my shields and located them too."

"But my family escaped his detection, so maybe someone else did too. It's possible, isn't it?" Kieren asked, as he grasped at straws. He hoped to latch on to any possibility that there might be others that could still be recruited in his place, so this duty wouldn't fall solely to him.

"No, Kieren, I'm afraid that is not possible," Beraut confirmed, as gently as he could. "The main factor that protected your ancestral line in Wildoness was elfin magic. Even though I had also infused some of my power with the magic the elves use to shield their homeland, it was primarily their magic that kept your bloodline hidden. We chose your family, because your great-great grandmother was already in Wildoness when the massacre occurred and she was also a direct descendant of the last king. We immediately speculated it would most likely be one of her descendants that would eventually be recruited as our best and final hope of destroying Madumda.

"Our biggest asset was that the Dark Lord knew other heirs of Ethelbert still existed," the wizard continued. "That knowledge was sufficient to keep him from making any sudden move to take over. He was too cautious to do anything before he had eliminated the threat entirely, so he kept searching for heirs. Since the elfin homeland has always been magically protected and they weren't known for reaching out to assist the other races, Madumda found no reason to investigate their homeland further. That is why we were able to protect your ancestors and keep this knowledge hidden.

"Since your existence is still unknown to him, the Dark Lord now thinks he has destroyed all of Ethelbert's descendants, so he is finally ready to seize power. It is therefore imperative that we keep this knowledge from him, to ensure you have the greatest chance of being successful."

Kieren merely gawked at the wizard, as he tried to fathom the extent of what Beraut was trying to tell him. Why had the elves only protected his family? Had his immediate ancestors always been part elf and was that the reason they had been selected? If not, had the mixture of these bloodlines only resulted after his mother's family began living in Wildoness?

"Kieren, because Madumda could not penetrate the shield that protected your family in Wildoness, he has no idea that any heirs still survive," the wizard added, interrupting Kieren's thoughts. "That's why he is moving ahead with his plans now, because he believes the prophecy is no longer relevant. Hopefully, this might mean he has also let down his guard concerning the talisman as well. Since I am convinced he is no longer searching for heirs, it is only logical that guarding the sword is no longer a priority for him. I'm hoping this oversight will aid us and lead to his downfall."

"But if you protected my family by keeping us in Wildoness, then why didn't you hide more of the heirs there too?" Kieren challenged.

"It was because we feared too many heirs in one place would generate such a strong marker that it would make it impossible for us to protect them all," the wizard offered. "I'll give you an analogy of how this works. It's a very simple comparison, but I think you will get the idea." Beraut then took a deep breath, before beginning his explanation.

"The spell Madumda utilized to locate the heirs worked similar to how a magnet functions. He would use his magnet to seek out the heirs, whose presence acted like tiny metal rods. When the magnet located one of the rods, it would then point toward the heir's location and let the Dark Lord know where the person was. Our combined magic could deflect that ability to a limited extent, but if we put too many metal rods in one place, then we'd put a strain on our ability to be effective. The more metal rods in one location, the more difficult it would be to prevent his magnet from pointing in this direction. Does this make any sense to you?"

"I guess so," the teen replied, while thinking about what he'd just been told. "You had to limit the number of heirs you could hide or Madumda's magic would point to Wildoness. If it did, then Madumda would try to penetrate the elfin shields, so he could find those of us that were hiding there."

"Exactly!" Beraut agreed, while being inwardly pleased that his ward was finally beginning to understand. "We did what we could, but in the end we could only protect one family of heirs to do this job."

Beraut thought this would end the discussion, but Kieren had more questions he needed answered first.

"Wait, this still doesn't make sense," Kieren challenged. "From what you've told me previously, it's the sword that has the true power to destroy Madumda, and since he already had the sword, then why did he wait until now to act. He did have the real sword, didn't he?"

"Yes, but there have always been two things that have kept Madumda's ambition in check," Beraut acknowledged. "The first was the Sword of Kings, which he knew could destroy him, but once he'd captured our talisman and had it in his possession, the only thing he feared was the prophecy."

"You mean what the seer said about an heir of Ethelbert killing him?" Kieren wondered. Although he hadn't worded this exactly as it should have been, it was close enough.

"Precisely," the wizard agreed. "As I've tried to explain before, Madumda always had his doubts that the prophecy specifically linked the heir with the sword, because the two were never formally linked. Let me remind you of the exact wording the seer used when relaying the prophecy. He said, 'An heir of Ethelbert shall destroy you. He will bring a power against you that will be able to overcome all of the magic you possess.' Since the prophecy never specifically mentioned the sword, for all Madumda knew this heir could still destroy him by some other means.

"Since the Dark Lord didn't know exactly how this would be accomplished," Beraut continued, "he felt it would be prudent to bide his time. He wanted to wait until he had finally removed the obstacle of the heirs from his path as well. Now that he believes this problem has been eliminated and he still has possession of the sword, he sees nothing else standing in his way. What he doesn't realize is that he's missing some important facts, such as knowing an heir has survived."

After hearing this, Kieren gave the wizard a dubious look.

"You mean me, don't you?" the youth acknowledged, so Beraut gave him a slight nod to confirm this point. "But I don't think I can do everything you claim I need to do. If I'm lucky, I might be able to find the sword, as long as I have the help of the others, but how am I going to defeat Madumda in battle? I don't think I'll be able to do it, unless they can help me with that too?"

"Kieren, you have to do this and I know you will find a way to make it happen," Beraut told him. "All that's left of Ethelbert's noble line is your mother and you. I believe you realize she wouldn't be capable of doing what needs to be done, so the task is left to you."

"But I'm just a boy! How can you expect me to defeat someone even you can't?" Kieren followed, both scared and exasperated. "Will the others be able to help me do this or not?"

"That I cannot answer for certain, Kieren, but one way or another you have to be the main cog in pulling this off. There is no other option," Beraut stated, emphatically.

This response wasn't exactly what Kieren wanted to hear, but it was enough to make him think about what the wizard had just said. After careful consideration, he finally agreed with Beraut's logic and hesitantly conceded there was no one else who could relieve him of this burden. He hoped, however, that the warriors going with him would be able to assist in this effort. While coming to terms with this reality, Kieren continued to sit in stunned silence.

Since Beraut saw the lad wasn't about to move on his own, he gently eased Kieren into bed and tucked him in. After making certain the door was secure, Beraut propped himself up in a well-cushioned armchair beside the bed and got comfortable. He felt it would be best if he spent the night in Kieren's room, just in case the young man awoke and had more questions he wanted answered. Not only that, but more importantly Beraut thought he needed to be with his ward, in order to ensure his safety. Kieren and his companions would be beginning their journey in a few hours, so the wizard wanted to make certain nothing happened in the interim. This was especially important after considering the other unnerving events that had happened over the past few hours.

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