Castle Roland


by David McLeod


Chapter 10

Published: 22 Dec 2014


by David McLeod

The Restoration–Search for Allies

Jon sat in the library with James and the Senior. Across the room, Richard read under the stern tutelage of Severus, while the others of Jon's companions sat, watching. They knew something was about to happen.

"James, Jon," the Senior began. "I must once again ask you to leave the protection of the monastery, and face the unknown dangers of the outside world.

"I was wrong to say that the fulcrum was at Algoropolis," he added. Jon nodded. He remembered that the Senior had encouraged him to travel to that city because he believed it to be the center of something. Neither he nor Jon knew what that something was.

"I now believe that the fulcrum is wherever Prince Richard is. I believe that he cannot remain here, because we cannot provide the protection he needs. I believe that he needs a safer place and stronger allies than we can provide."

"Stronger and safer than here?" Jon asked. "I cannot imagine such a place."

"That is perhaps because you do not know the Dwarves," the Senior said. "They have not been conquered, yet they do not fear to travel into towns and cities ruled by the Darkness. They have the strength to protect Richard."

"They serve the Light?" Jon asked.

"Aye," James said. "Even though they live below the surface of World, they do serve the Light."

Jon nodded, as did James. Given that assurance, the Senior left the library. James gestured to Severus; Jon beckoned his companions. The boys crowded around the table, eager to know the news. James explained the Senior's request.

"I'd like to see Dwarves," Tyler said "Besides, I'm getting bored."

The number of people and the constant ebb and flow of their movements, the magical residue held in the ancient stones of the mill and the smithy–all these things combined to block and befuddle the senses. Jon and James were uncomfortable. They had not wanted to enter Albion, but had no choice. Two of the horses had thrown shoes, and could not be ridden farther without being re-shod by a smith.

The ambush had been well planned. A decuria of cavalry approached, pushing their way through the narrow street. The companions were forced to ride single file on the left side of the road. Then, the press of people forced them to stop. The soldiers attacked when the decuria was abreast of the companions. Men grabbed Richard, Gentian, and Lawsonius, the smallest of the party. One grabbed for Tyler, but he evaded the man. Tyler kicked his feet from the stirrups and braced himself against the wall of the building beside him. He stepped onto the back of his horse and leapt toward the man who held Richard.

Tyler's dagger found the man's kidney. Morgan's sword struck the arm of a second soldier who had moved toward Richard. Tyler pulled Richard to the ground and pushed him toward Tyler's own horse, stock-still by the wall. Tyler ducked below a soldier's horse and scraped his dagger along the animal's stomach–and then ducked when the horse reared, throwing the soldier to the pavement.

"Stay between the horse and the wall," Tyler ordered Richard. He thrust his dagger into the boy's hand. "Here, take this." Tyler spun toward the melee.

Gentian was still struggling in the hands of his captor. The soldier lifted his dagger and drove the pommel toward the boy's head. Before he could do so, Jon's sword sliced through the soldier's arm. Aim for the elbow, Jon thought. I may not be able to cut through bone, but I can sever the arm at the joint–or, at least, cripple him. Never thought I'd use what I learned in anatomy class in quite this way.

Tyler turned just in time to parry the sword of another of the soldiers. Their swords rang loudly over the hubbub of the fight. The soldier was still mounted, and had the benefit of height, but Tyler had the benefit of a two-handed grip. He swung his sword in an arc that forced the soldier's sword to slam against the neck of his horse. Before the horse could react, Tyler reversed the arc. His sword crashed into the soldier's side. The man's sword dropped from his fingers. He fell, dying, to the street.

Tyler's sword had wedged in the soldier's body, and was pulled from the boy's grasp. Tyler turned briefly to see yet another soldier moving toward Prince Richard. Tyler, now weaponless, took three quick steps and leapt onto the soldier's horse. Taking the man's head in his arms, Tyler twisted and rolled, pulling them both from the horse. The crack of the man's femur breaking muffled the crunch of the smaller bones in his neck which broke, severing his spinal cord.

Tyler pulled back the dead man's tabard. "Look," he said. "The mercenary cartouche. These men aren't soldiers. They're brigands disguised as soldiers."

"Still," James said. "We cannot remain here."

It was too late. A squad of perhaps 20 soldiers approached, and these looked real.

I was right, Jon thought. A good Sembler can also be a good dissembler. James had convinced the centurion who commanded Albion's city guard that the companions were the victims of an attempt to kidnap children–well, young boys in any case–and that by killing the brigands, they'd done the city a service.

"How could they have found us?" Morgan asked later. "None of us carries anything like Richard's dagger, do we?" Morgan recalled the dagger with which Dark Mages had tracked Richard's movements.

"No," James replied. "With that possibility in mind, every item we have was carefully examined before we left the monastery. That's why, too, we all have new clothes and weapons. And, I don't think they got to any of the horses. But, just in case, they were all shod with new iron before we left.

"No, I think the answer lies in an old proverb: As Good attracts Evil, so Exceptional Good attracts Exceptional Evil. I do not think our enemies need spelled items to find us."

That evening, Tyler sought out Morgan. "Do you have a minute?" Tyler asked. The two horses had been re-shod, and the party had left Albion. They were camped in a mountain glade.

Morgan knotted the ends of the bridle he was braiding from strips of leather, and nodded. "Sure."

"When we were attacked in Albion, I gave Richard my dagger so he'd have something to protect himself with. Now, he's wearing it like it was his. I don't want to ask for it back. He seems, well, proud of it."

"Oh," Morgan said. "Oh. Did we never talk about daggers? In all these years, did we never talk about daggers?"

Tyler shook his head. "What about them?"

"What did you say when you gave him the dagger?" Morgan asked.

"What did I say? I don't know!" Tyler said. "Something like, here, take this, I guess."

"Tyler, no boy gives another a dagger without it meaning something–something very significant. It's not as important as an oath of fealty, but it is nearly as important. Giving a boy a dagger means you are offering lifelong companionship and brotherhood. I believe Prince Richard thinks you have made that offer," Morgan said. He paused, reflected, and then added, "Or, he wants for you to have made that offer."

Tyler put his blankets a little way from the others knowing that Richard would put his own bedroll beside Tyler's. When they lay down, Tyler whispered to the boy, "Richard, when I gave you my dagger it was so that you could defend yourself. It would not be right for me to offer companionship or brotherhood to a prince. I don't want you to think I'm presumptive."

Richard was silent for so long that Tyler thought perhaps he hadn't heard, or that the boy had fallen sleep.

"Did you not mean it, then?" the prince said. "Do you not like me?"

"Richard, that is not a fair question," Tyler said. "And you know it. Of course I like you. You have become very precious to me. I am sworn to Jon and James, and we are sworn to your defense and protection. But, I would protect you for yourself, and not just because of my oaths. I didn't realize that you might take the dagger thinking I was offering companionship or brotherhood. Things were happening too fast–and, I'm so different from you. I shouldn't offer, in any case."

"Because I'm a prince?" Richard asked.

"Partly, and because I'm older than you," Tyler replied. "And because of the oaths that bind me. Jon wouldn't let us be close friends when he was my teacher; he said it was improper. I think the same thing applies, here."

"You are a strange boy," Richard said. "But I love you. You must know that I'm much, much older than you are. Although I should ask Severus, since he's the only adult of my race here, I can consent to an oath of brotherhood. So, if you will not ask, I will.

"Tyler, will you be my brother? Will you share yourself and your magic with me?"

Eight figures stood before the Dwarven king. They had been captured in the hidden mountain valley above the Dwarves' underground home, the valley in which the Dwarves raised sheep and goats, and grew wheat and flax and apples. The Dwarves had not seen Elves in many, many years, and the presence of two of that race was a surprise. It was enough of a surprise that the Dwarves did not kill the Elves and their companions, but brought them to their king.

The Dwarves were surprised again when the Elven boy spoke. They were surprised because he spoke their language, and by what he said. "I am Prince Richard, grandson of the Duke of Londinium and great nephew of Oberon, King of the Elves. I am the last living member of the Royal family, and therefore am the rightful ruler of Elvenhold."

The king's counselor, a Sembler, whispered to the king, who then spoke in the common tongue. "You believe what you say to be true. Further, it is known that the warlords who rule Arcadia, and the false king who rules Elvenhold have offered a great reward for one Richard, Prince of Londinium and heir to Elvenhold.

"Do not worry," the king continued, seeing the consternation that flickered across the faces of their captives. "We have no love for those who offer the reward, nor do we need their adulterated gold. We will offer you sanctuary."

The boy spoke. His voice was firm. "I do not want sanctuary. I want my birthright and my destiny: to restore the Light to Elvenhold," he declared.

He is only a boy, the Dwarven king thought, yet he is both strong and resolute. Perhaps he can reclaim Elvenhold. Perhaps he is what we Dwarves need to stir us to action. The Dwarven king made up his mind in a flash. Rising from his throne, he bowed to the boy, using the bow reserved for equals. "Be welcome, Prince Richard, to be King of Elvenhold."

A gasp rose from the Dwarves who had crowded around, but it was quickly stilled. Following the king's lead, they bowed.

"Who are your companions?" the king asked.

"Severus is my tutor," the prince answered. "Jon is a healer and warrior; Morgan is bard and warrior; Gentian is a mage and warrior; and Lawsonius is scholar and warrior. James leads us. Tyler," the prince said, "Tyler is my champion."

 The Dwarven king looked at Tyler. "I see that he is. It has been aeons since a paladin stood in these halls."

The king stood again, and bowed to Tyler. "Be especially welcome, Tyler."

The room spun, and Tyler might have fainted, except that he felt Jon's hand squeeze his. Tyler drew on his friend's strength and found the energy to return the king's bow. The king continued to speak, sparing Tyler the need to reply.

"You will wish to refresh yourselves. My son, Belisarius, who is Atheling, will host the boys. We will meet in council after breakfast. Severus? James? Will you remain?" The king's words were a clear dismissal of the others and of his own people.

Belisarius, a Dwarven tween with straight black hair and sharp blue eyes, welcomed each of the boys, bowing to both Prince Richard and to Tyler. "I live in barracks with my companions, who are now your companions and who will welcome you." He gestured to a hand of Dwarven tweens and boys who stood a bit apart from the others. "We have bathed, but," he grinned, "we would not mind at all bathing again with you."

Tyler declined the invitations of the Dwarven boys, and sought out Jon. "Please, Jon, please share with me, tonight?" Jon, who didn't need empathy to feel Tyler's puzzlement–even fear–readily agreed. Belisarius, who was an empath, understood, and ensured that the two had a place alone to themselves.

"Jon, he said I was a paladin. But you're the paladin. I can't be." Tyler said.

"In spite of all Morgan's stories, I don't know exactly what a paladin is," Jon said. "Except that he's good, and Good. He's a warrior. He has a dedication and commitment to the Light. And, I think, he's pure.

"Tyler, you fit the definition far better than I ever could," Jon concluded.

"No way!" Tyler said.

"Yes, way," Jon said, and grinned. "I'm not pure. I prostituted myself to the government in order to finish medical school. I killed in order to learn to heal. You never took anything that you'd not earned.

"No, you are the paladin. I never was" Jon said.

Belisarius, Tyler, and Richard sat apart from the others of the Atheling's cohort. "There is a secret that only my father and I know," Belisarius said. "He has said I can–no, that I must–tell you.

"There is a vein of a mineral that sparkles. It sparkles by itself, without magic. It is a powerful mineral, and a powerful metal. My father has decreed that three swords will be made with this mineral and iron. One will be for Richard, one for Tyler, and one for me. He believes that these swords will draw magic to themselves for as long as the mineral sparkles. He believes that with these swords, we shall conquer the Darkness that has ruled the land for so very long."

Richard nodded. "Again you place us in your debt."

Belisarius shook his head. "No, Richard, my father has said that we are in your debt, for he believes it will be you around whom the light rallies. And Tyler, of course. You are the first of many paladins who will be needed if we are to restore the Light to World."

Forging the swords required months. The Dwarves allowed no one, not even Richard and Tyler, to see the magic that was involved in extracting and processing the mineral.

"It is dangerous; it is a poison in its native form," Belisarius told them. "Only when it is melded with iron and carbon–as well as other metals more secret–is it safe." Richard fretted, but bowed to the Dwarven Prince's words. No one was idle, however. James and the Dwarven King held many convocations among the companions, planning and–for the boys–educating.

"You cannot march directly into Elvenhold," Jon said. "You cannot leave enemies at your back. The land over which you would march cannot support the army you would need, it would require more army than you have to defend supply lines through hostile territory."

"You need more allies than the Dwarves," Belisarius, the king's son and Atheling, said.

"We are strong, but we are few," he countered the scowls of his fellows. The other Dwarves nodded and the scowls faded.

"Emissaries must be sent across the mountains to the west," Jon said. "We may find that those peoples will be allies."

"You need maps of the surface, and you need an intelligence corps," Lawsonius added. "The only viable strategy would be to free Arcadia, and then march into Elvenhold."

All supported the recommendations made by Jon and Lawsonius–all but Prince Richard. The boy was not convinced until Tyler spoke.

"Richard, my prince," Tyler began, "you call me your champion. But I am, at best, a strong right arm. Jon is–well, like the brain of this army you want to assemble. He was a soldier, a very special soldier, who dealt with international war. He was trained at the best school for soldiers in our world, a school that trained generals and commanders.

"Richard, you must listen to Jon. You must take his advice." Tyler concluded.

"This isn't going to happen quickly, is it?" Richard said. "Not even before the spring equinox."

"I'm afraid it's going to take some time," Lawsonius said. "Years, perhaps. It may take us several years just to create a safe base of operations in Arcadia, and more years to win that country before we can enter Elvenhold.

Prince Richard looked so disappointed, so forlorn, Jon thought.

"The Occupation–it's lasted for a thousand years, has it not?" Jon asked the prince.

"Yes," Richard said.

"And the battles that led to Evil taking hold of Elvenhold and Arcadia," Jon continued. "Did they not occur over years?"

"Decades, centuries, rather," the prince replied. He sighed. "Thank you, Jon. You always know what must be said."

That evening, Tyler, Jon, and Morgan were alone with Prince Richard. James had taken the others of his order to Vespers; Severus was napping in another room.

"You said Jon had been trained at the best school for soldiers in your world," Richard said. "You said, in your world. What world is that?"

Tyler looked to Jon, who said, "You tell him, Tyler."

"My prince," Tyler began, "you know that Jon and I love you, and will do anything we can, including forfeit our lives, to protect you?" the inflection in his voice turned the statement into a question.

Richard was clearly puzzled. "Yes," he said, hesitantly.

"Do you, or do you not?" Tyler insisted.

"Yes," Richard said, firmly. "And I love both of you for it."

Never thought I'd be having sex with a prince, Jon thought. It's still a little weird. He looks like a teenager, even though I know he's at least 500 years older than Tyler and me put together! Of course, as Tyler pointed out years ago, I look like a teenager too. Still do. I wonder for how long? Tyler continued to speak, breaking Jon's concentration.

"On that love, I ask you to hear me out, and not question or challenge until I've finished," Tyler said.

Richard looked startled? Pensive? Tyler wondered. Nevertheless, the boy nodded.

"Look at any star in the sky," Tyler began, "and know that it is a sun, like the one which warms and nourishes this world. Know that around many of these suns, worlds like this one orbit. Know that at least one of those worlds harbors life–human life. Know," he continued, taking Richard's hand and looking into the boy's eyes, "know that Jon and I were brought here by a force we do not know, and–I believe–were brought here to help you regain your throne."

Jon was no more startled at this statement than was the prince. Which is to say, both were nonplussed.

Richard spoke first. "Morgan told me a story from his Book of Heroes about a boy who came to this world from another, and whose destiny was to fight for the Light. You know, don't you, that Morgan believes the stories in his book?"

Jon and Tyler nodded.

"That boy, and his Best Friend, felt they were tools, perhaps even dupes, in the forever fight between Light and Dark. Do you feel that way?"

Don't ever again forget that he's more than 500 years old, Jon thought. Don't ever forget that he's a prince, and that his family has ruled for aeons. Don't ever forget that he was born to rule.

Tyler nodded for Jon to speak first. "No," Jon said. "I do not feel I am a dupe or a tool. I know that I can make choices, and I know that I chose to--I don't quite know–follow? Protect? Whatever, I am bound to you. And, if I understand how things work around here, that means Tyler and Morgan also are bound to you. However–"

Jon paused and looked at the two Human boys. "However, this goes well beyond your oaths to me. I release you, unless this is what you truly want, for yourself, and not because of your oath."

Tyler and Morgan looked at one another. By unspoken consent, Tyler spoke first. "Jon, I never, never, will forfeit my oath to you. And," he looked at Richard, "I am so glad that you chose to follow and protect Richard who," Tyler blushed, "who is so very precious to me."

Morgan's voice instantly filled the silence. "Jon, I never, never, will abrogate my oath to you. Richard was born to rule; I was born to follow you. Please, do not ever again offer to release me. Please?"

Jon gathered Morgan and Tyler in his arms.

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