Castle Roland


by David McLeod


Chapter 12

Published: 5 Jan 2015


by David McLeod

The Battle for Elvenhold

"The Dwarves who live in and under Arcadia will return to their homes, and guard this country during the fight for Elvenhold," Belisarius said. "Darkness still holds pockets of Arcadia. We cannot leave enemies at our backs."

Belisarius turned to Prince Richard. "I and a few of my closest companions will accompany you, both as companions and as ambassadors to the Dwarves of Elvenhold, if you will have us."

Prince Richard readily agreed. "Thank you, my very good friend," he said.

"My father will remain here. He will be named Regent," Prince Lawson said. "The Senior of our monastery will assist him and the new Guild Council. I will lead the Eastern Army of Arcadia. We will advance through the Duchy of Carter, and reclaim it before entering Elvenhold. The Western Army of Arcadia will march into Barbicana, taking that city before meeting us at the City of Elvenhold."

_Ruinis inminentibus musculi praemigrant_ (When collapse is imminent, the rats flee.)—Pliny the Elder, Earth Analogue, 23—79 C.E.

More years passed. The Eastern Army had entered the Duchy of Carter. What they found was somewhat unexpected. The ducal palace was unguarded. The companions entered, unchallenged until they reached the throne room.

There, time stopped; a tableau of six figures stood motionless. Tyler, Jon, Lawsonius, and Morgan faced a man whose eyes devoured the light that fell on them. The man held a dagger. Its envenomed tip, glowing purple in the torchlight, pressed against a boy's neck with a delicacy that belied the man's size and strength. The man's left arm held the boy's head motionless; the boy's legs dangled in the air more than a foot from the floor.

"Leave this place," the man said. "I am duke and I will rule. No force of arms or magic can stop the boy's death should you attack me. His blood will be on your hands for his death will be by your choice."

The silence that fell on the frozen figures lasted but an instant. "Not on their hands, but on mine," the boy said. As he spoke, he had pulled a dagger from his shirt and—knowing he could not harm the man who held him—plunged it into his own breast.

The man felt the boy's body shudder and then collapse; his mouth opened in an O of surprise and horror. He released the boy's body and turned to flee, but Tyler was faster. Three quick steps and a flying tackle brought the man to the ground. He struggled, flailing with the poisoned dagger. Tyler pressed a knee into the small of the man's back and put his arms around the man's head. Throwing his own body backward, Tyler was rewarded by the crunch of breaking vertebrae. A clatter announced that the dagger had come to rest on the stones of the floor.

Tyler turned. Jon knelt on one side of the fallen boy; Lawsonius on the other. What? Tyler thought. Jon bent and kissed the boy's cheek. Oh! Jon turned and spit blood onto the floor. Poison! The dagger struck his cheek and Jon's sucking out the poison.

Jon had stopped sucking poison and blood from the boy's cheek. Lawsonius looked up and nodded. "It's a good thing he wasn't trained to be a healer," Lawsonius said. "He only punctured his stomach." He raised his eyebrows. "Why didn't you use magic to draw out the poison?"

"I tried to," Jon said, "but the poison is a protein—too much like normal proteins to get a handle on it, and just different enough to kill."

"Get a handle on it?" Morgan asked that evening. "You said get a handle on the protein," he added. "I know what a protein is. It's a tiny thing—a chemical you call it—of which we're made. How do you put a handle on it? And why? Why didn't you just pull it out like you pulled the blood out of Alfred's chest?"

Jon, who had been scrubbing Morgan's back, paused for a moment. Where to begin? "Most of what you do with boy magic is at the physical level," he said, "as when you pull dirt away from your skin or someone else's in the bath. Some magic is done at the chemical level. Um…do you know why we use soap as well as boy magic?" Jon flicked some suds from his hands onto the floor.

"Sure," Morgan replied. "Soap binds with the dirt and makes it easier—" He paused. "That's chemistry, isn't it?"

"Exactly," Jon said. "Chemical magic is deeper and smaller than physical magic. When we pulled the blood from Alfred's chest, we were using magic at the physical level. We could see the blood. The protein is so small it cannot be seen. It's made of smaller blocks called amino acids, which are made of smaller blocks called molecules, which are made of smaller blocks called atoms, which are made of smaller blocks that have several different names." I don't think I need to go deeper, Jon thought. I've made the point.

"And, all the amino acids in the poison belong in the body, just not arranged in that particular pattern." Jon paused again for thought, but before he could speak, Morgan turned and kissed him.

"Thank you for the lesson," Morgan said, "but I think I shall remain a bard!"

The boy's eyes opened. He sat up and tossed aside the covers. His hands pushed and prodded his tummy. "Did I dream it?" he asked, looking at Lawsonius. "Oh, and who are you? I remember you! Oh—"

The boy furrowed his brow. "It wasn't a dream! But—" He fell silent.

"You did a very brave and noble thing," Lawsonius said. Foolish, perhaps, and unnecessary, he thought, since the greatest healer in World was present. But you didn't know that. So it was both brave and noble. "Who are you?" he continued, aloud.

"I asked first," the boy said.

"Hmm, so you did," Lawsonius said. "I am Lawson, Prince of Arcadia—Lawsonius to my friends. I am also a healer, and helped Jon save your life. He will be here—" Lawsonius paused. "What's the matter?" he asked.

The boy composed his features, which had assumed a mask of surprise. "If you are truly the Prince of Arcadia, the one we heard about who banished Evil, then you are my true liege lord. I am Geoffrey, eldest son of John, Lord Gaunt, the true Duke of Carter."

For more than a thousand years, the Dukes of Carter, their families, and a handful of retainers had lived in the mountains. When they were not harassing the false duke and his barons, they were hiding from them. Geoffrey had been captured only two months before when a camp had been overrun. "I do not know if my father lives," he said. "I believe he does," the boy added.

"Very likely," Lawsonius said. Jon nodded, anticipating the Boy-Prince's logic. "Had he known otherwise, the false duke would have made sure everyone knew." Lawsonius gestured to the body of that false duke, still lying where it had fallen. Carefully preserved by a powerful spell, it provided a suitable backdrop for the trials of his followers.

The true Duke of Carter and Prince Lawson stood side by side in the throne room. Vows of fealty had been exchanged. The duke was to rule Carter and hold it for the Light. Geoffrey, although still a boy, was to accompany Prince Lawson and others of the Seven into Elvenhold.

"He has proven his courage," the duke insisted, "and it is Right that he serve you and the Light. Do not underestimate him. He has survived 22 years with me." The duke paused. "Forgive me, My Lord, I do not mean to lecture you."

Lawson smiled. "My Lord, we can all learn much from the courage and tenacity of the warriors of Carter. It is my very great pleasure to be lectured by you."

Lawson turned to the assembly. "In recognition of his courage—shown not only at the death of the false duke, but in years of battle and privation in service to the Light, I name Geoffrey, son of John, Lord Gaunt, Duke of Carter, to be a Knight of the Realm and Baron of the Marches of the Sea. You, my lord," he continued in a voice pitched for the duke's ears alone, "will be regent for the latter title until Geoffrey returns and comes of age."

The assembly stood silent while people digested this. A boy named Knight and baron. Unheard of, but then—

The people of Carter cheered the new Knight-Baron—a living symbol of their emancipation from the Darkness that had ruled for a thousand years.

The Dwarves of Elvenhold. alerted by their brethren in the south, had begun recruiting both Dwarves and Elves to constitute a fifth column.

In the Gray Mountains, the Army of the Western Marches of Arcadia, commanded by the newly commissioned General Celodis, met the Army of Lankaris. Not one, but three Human princes, identical brothers, led that army. It was not large—scarce a thousand Humans—but it was fierce and, frankly, a bit frightening.

Even in the cold of the mountains, the soldiers of Lankaris wore little save boots and a fundoshi. Their swords were bright, curved, and double-pointed. Their hair, universally black, was bound by leather thongs. Their olive skin gleamed over tight muscles and strong sinews.

"We took the City of Rome and claimed it for the Light," one prince reported. "On the way there, we encountered a handful of Elves living in caves above the city. They had fled the city's college of magic thousands of years ago. We appointed one governor of the city until you can name a duke. That is what you do, is it not?"

The Elven Herald, hastily commissioned ambassador for Prince Richard, nodded. "My prince will do so," he said. "And on his behalf, our thanks."

The defenses of Barbican were as weak as its government was corrupt. Mercenaries, lured with dreams of Dwarven riches, abandoned their posts. The raising of the Army's battle flag—the Lion of Arcadia and the Tree of Elvenhold side by side—over the southern barbicans was the signal for the fifth column within the city to rise and strike Evil where they found it. The duke—an appointee of the false King Oberon—was dead within minutes. His two sons were offered a choice: an oath to the Light and Prince Richard, or death. The eldest elected to die, and was executed on the spot.

"What can we do?" General Celodis asked. The question was rhetorical, since he was in command and the decision rested on his head. "The younger son is but a child. He is too young to face that choice."

"Bring him with us," one of the desert princes said. "And, if he cannot decide when the war is won, he may return to Lankaris with us to be reared as a warrior."

That the city fell on a sunny day was taken as a sign by the simpler people. The few Elven clerics who had survived quickly disabused them. "This victory is that of men—Dwarves, Humans, and Elves—men who serve the Light. We are happy that the sun has lit their way, but our gratitude is to men, for only men can create; only men can build; only men can defeat other men who would serve that which is Dark."

From the west marched an army of Elves, Dwarves, and Humans. The Human General Celodis had relinquished command to an Elven Centurion, and gifted him with the General's own insignia. The Centurion had protested, but the Human would not hear it. "Although we fight together," General Celodis said, "this is your country."

One Prince of Sarand, who of his brothers continued with the army while the others held the western marches, nodded agreement. "It is not Humans, but the Light which invades Elvenhold. It is fitting that the Army of the Light be led by the Lucernae." The Elven Centurion, now General, nodded, his understanding, solidified by the prince's use of that old name for the Elves.

From the east marched a second army. In the vaward rode Prince Richard. He wore no crown, but on his breast were the Firespear of his sept and the oak tree of his kingdom. On his left rode his Champion, the Paladin from another world, the Human tween named Tyler. On his right, rode Prince Lawson of Arcadia, and Belisarius, Dwarven Atheling. On Tyler's left rode the boy Geoffrey, son of the Duke of Carter and the youngest knight in living memory.

Behind this panoply of power rode others of The Seven, followed by an army of Humans, Elves, and Dwarves.

The armies of Light and Darkness met on a field outside the City of Elvenhold. Perhaps it was desperation. Perhaps it was a real desire not to see the city of mithral gates and crystal spires destroyed. Perhaps it was a belated respect for the lives of his people. Whatever the reason, King Oberon sent a herald to Prince Richard.

The herald spoke, "My king commands me to say, 'Let a champion from each side decide the battle.' "

Tyler sought out Jon. "Jon," he asked. "Should I do this? Our army is stronger than theirs. We have siege machines. We can count on a fifth column within the city. Our victory is assured. I am not the champion Richard thinks I am. Yet he wants this. He commands this! What should I do?"

"What I told you, and you told me," Jon said. "To thy own self be true. You are the paladin that Morgan was waiting for. You are the champion Richard was waiting for. Whether you are more, only you can decide.

"I'm sorry, Tyler. I'm sorry that I cannot help you—"

Tyler brushed aside Jon's protests with a kiss. "Jon, you are still my liege and my love. You have been teaching me, cherishing me, and pushing me—yes, pushing. I know, I feel anyway, everything you've done for nearly 60 years has led to this day. If I am strong, it is because you challenged me. If I am truly a paladin, it is because you taught me. If I am to win . . . No. I will win, and the victory will be yours, too."

Tyler kissed Jon lightly on the cheek, and turned to don his armor. He wore armor of mithral and steel, forged in secret by Elven and Dwarven smiths who had shared the secrets of their craft. His squires were three princes: one Elf, one Human, and one Dwarf. Brassarts, greaves, cuisses, vambraces, and more: each piece of armor was accompanied by a hug or a kiss, and a word of encouragement. These tweens had been companions for decades. They knew the strength of their champion, and the Rightness of their cause. Right makes might, Tyler thought, remembering Wart, and Merlin, and Arthur. Right makes might.

Armigers had barded Tyler's horse. Tyler mounted easily, and drew the sword that the Dwarves had forged for him. He glanced at Geoffrey of Carter, who had claimed the role of herald. Geoffrey lifted the banner that was the army's battle flag. Across the field, the false king's herald raised a flag. Both flags bore the oak tree and crown of the Elven kingdom; the one Geoffrey raised also bore the flaming spear of Prince Richard's sept and the Lucerna, the lamp that symbolized a commitment to the Light. Light makes might, Geoffrey thought, Light makes might.

Whatever the false king's champion thought was irrelevant. The instant the second flag was raised, Tyler spurred his horse. The king's champion hesitated for an instant before beginning his charge. Time halted; both armies held their collective breaths. The two champions rode toward one another, swords held at shoulder level. They were both right-handed, and would pass right side-to-right side.

At the last instant, Tyler swerved, putting the king's champion on his left. He reached across the horse's neck with his sword, now held in both hands. The king's champion was too slow to react; his older body was not as supple as Tyler's. The speed of the impact and Tyler's magical sword, held by hands strengthened by his belief in the rightness of his cause and by the unspoken but heartfelt good will of the Army of the Light, proved his cause, and won the battle. Bright blood sprayed a dozen feet in the air and the king's champion, cut nearly in half, dead in an instant, fell from his horse. Tyler's sword wedged in the man's breastplate and was wrenched from his hands. None of the onlookers could have doubted the outcome, however. The false king dismounted and started to walk toward Prince Richard, waving off those of his supporters who would have accompanied him. Tyler dismounted, and walked toward his fallen foe to retrieve his sword.

Not all of the false King Oberon's forces accepted the defeat of their champion with grace. A skirmish broke out when a troop of cavalry broke ranks and attacked Prince Richard's party. The fighting was brief but furious. Geoffrey used the flagstaff as a lance, planting it in the ground, bracing it with his foot, and skewering one of the soldiers. As had Tyler's magical sword, those of Prince Richard and the Prince Belisarius cut through armor as easily as through flesh and bone. David, Morgan, and others spurred their horses, and moved in to protect Richard. Tyler ran across the field, brandishing his bloody sword, but did not reach his companions before they had subdued or killed the renegades. The battle was over; the renegade soldiers were dead; and Morgan was mortally wounded.

Jon held the boy in his arms, and felt him dying. Morgan's injuries were too severe to be healed, and no amount of power could save him. Jon bent his ear to Morgan's lips. "I should like to see," the boy whispered, "once more the starlings return to the farm. Thank you, Jon, I have loved you, and I will see you . . ."

Leaving Severus to deal with the false king, Prince Richard supervised the erection of a catafalque upon which Morgan's body was laid. Tyler and Prince Lawsonius held tightly to Jon as mages set the bier afire. Jon stared at the flames but did not see them. His mind filled with memories of Morgan: Tyler and I stood with Morgan beside the road while his family drove away, leaving him to be our protector and guide, even though we didn't know that.

Only a few days later, Morgan announced that I was a hero and a paladin, and then kissed me after I told him how uncertain I was. How wrong he was about that! I'm so glad he found his real paladin in Tyler! Morgan swore unquestioning fealty to me; and startled the monks. Morgan was so shy when he proposed Lawsonius to be Prince of Arcadia. I wonder how long it will be before that story can be told. Morgan often asked me questions about healing and chemistry, and then laughed and said he would remain a bard, but then he wove my answers into his stories. Morgan told us stories from The Book of Heroes and from his own imagination, stirring our spirits and helping us forget all the deaths of the campaign.

The thought of all those deaths, and now of the death of one closest to him, overwhelmed Jon, and he would have fallen save for the support of his friends. He took a deep breath, blinked away the tears, and watched the flames. Still, pictures filled his mind. Pictures of Morgan, but also pictures of Tyler, Richard, Belisarius, Lawsonius, Geoffrey, and all the boys and tweens, some now on the verge of adulthood, who had sustained the war, and who would lead its completion, and the restoration of the Light to Arcadia and Elvenhold. And Jon was comforted and content.

Nearly an hour passed before the flames died, and a light breeze blew away the last of the ash.

Prince Richard turned to Jon. "He was not the first to die in our cause; nor, even though we have won here, will he be the last. He was, however, the first of the Seven, the first of those who were so very, very close. He was full of love, and full of Light, and full of life. We will see him again." Richard wiped away his own tears, and then reached out to wipe those from Jon's cheeks.

Richard sat in the Elven King's Privy Council Chamber. He would not sit on the throne until the next day, when his coronation was scheduled. With him were those who were closest to him: Severus, Tyler, Jon, Belisarius, Lawsonius, Geoffrey, Gentian, and a handful of others. Prince Richard turned to Tyler. "Tyler, will you remain with me and be my Champion until I become a tween and can fight my own battles?"

"That will not be for a thousand years or more," Tyler said. "I'll not live that long."

"You will live forever in my heart," the Boy-Prince replied. "And besides, it will be less than a century. The healers tell me the stress of battle and the challenge of ruling have accelerated my growth."

Tyler looked at Jon. He did not need to ask. He saw Jon's assent in his smile.

"I cannot stay here," Jon said that evening when he and Tyler were alone. "This is your place, and not mine. You will have friends. Gentian and others from the monastery will stay with you; several of Belisarius' cohort will likewise remain, as will a dozen of the soldiers who have become close to us."

Tyler nodded. "I understand," he said. "But where will you go? Oh. Of course. Morgan's home. You'll go to Morgan's home. I remember. More than half the boys leave home. All that is heard from them is news of their death. Oh, Jon!" Tyler sobbed and held his friend tightly. "Take my love for Morgan with you, and give it to his family. I will see you again, if not in this life, then in another."


"I seek Mistress Alice," Jon said to the man who met him at the gate to the farm. "My name is Jon, and we met many years ago on the Road to Bow."

"Mistress," Jon said.

"Morgan is dead, is he not? Dead these seven months," she said, lightly touching Jon's cheek.

"Yes, Mistress," Jon acknowledged, "but he died a hero, in a battle for the Light, and at the side of a Paladin and four princes."

"He was with The Seven?" the woman asked.

"Mistress, he was one of those called The Seven," Jon replied.

Alice paused for what seemed to be an eternity. Then she spoke. "Jon, you are welcome in our home. Please come. Alfred and Robbie, and other boys you've not met would like to hear Morgan's story."

All the boys save Robbie had been summoned to chores. Robbie had managed to become Jon's unofficial host. "I'll stay with Jon," he said. "In case he needs anything."

Within seconds of the last of his brothers' leaving the room, Robbie whispered, "Jon?"

Jon turned toward the boy—now a tween and nearly as tall as Jon. "Hmm?"

"Do you remember when we first met, I sat in your lap?"

"I do," Jon said. "I remember it well."

"And when the wheel broke, and you protected me from the fall? And then made sure I wasn't hurt?"

Jon nodded. Robbie continued, "I think I fell in love with you then," he said. "Oh, don't worry," he added. "I've had a chance to think about it—a lot—since then. I realized that you were in love with Tyler, and that you'd probably fall in love with Morgan." Robbie's voice trailed off.

"Robbie," Jon said, reaching to touch the boy's cheek. "I've learned that love is not diminished but enlarged when it is shared with others. Will you share boy magic with me? When you do, you will be sharing with Morgan, who you never knew that way; and with Tyler, who would love you; and with all the boys I've shared with these sixty years. And you and they will be richer for it, if not in this life, then in the next."

Jon became healer in Bow, the market town between the river and an oxbow lake where once the river had flowed. Ten decades had passed since he told Mistress Alice about Morgan's death. He often visited the farm, exchanging stories of the War of the Restoration, as it was now called, for Robbie's reading from The Book of Heroes. The family continued to attend First Market, and Robbie always visited Jon, then. The other boys shared with Jon, too, but they understood and supported the special relationship he and Robbie had.

On this morning, Jon rose before dawn. Why this day was different, he did not know. Without breaking his fast, he began his daily walk, a walk that would take him to the mill at the north end of the village, around the lake, and to the smithy at the south end of the village before he returned to his home, a large stone building on the square. Along the way, he would gather herbs for his apothecary.

He was walking up the hill toward the mill when he heard hoof beats on the road. The rising sun was over the figure's left shoulder. Jon squinted, but he could not see the face. Yet, there's something about him—the way he rides, perhaps, Jon thought.

The figure's voice told Jon who it was. "Jon!"

"Tyler!" Jon called. "Why are you here? Is Prince Richard . . .?"

Tyler leapt from his horse, dropping the reins to the ground. "Prince Richard is fine," he said. "However, he no longer needs a champion. He has become a tween."

Tyler paused. "And I no longer have a place," he said. "Will you have me back?"

"Of course, Tyler," Jon said. "I've been expecting you. Well, I've been expecting something, and I'm so very glad it was you."

"Jon," Tyler said, "I'll never leave you again."

"Is this what you really want, Tyler? To be a healer in a small village in the middle of nowhere?"

"You told me to be true to myself; I have been—with a lot of help from you—and I will continue to be. I started to be a healer, but a Quest intervened. Now, the Quest is over. Besides, I love you, Jon."

Translators' Notes

This story was submitted for publication on the Castle Roland site on/about October 3, 2014. It is one of many from The Book of Heroes that will be submitted.

In this universe and in all universes it touches, a boy is a young male of the age of consent. In this particular universe, a young male (boy-child) becomes a boy when his testicles descend, usually at about age nineteen.

Quotations from The Prince by Machiavelli, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, Hamlet by Wm. Shakespeare, and Pliny the Elder are in the public domain.

This story begins on Earth in the early 21st Century, C.E. It contains references to two Bush presidential administrations, but also to a third Gulf War. Whether the story begins on our Earth in the near future or on a different Earth-analogue, is not apparent. As with other stories, we have redacted the names and hometowns of people from Earth (or Earth-analogues) in consideration of the sensibilities and emotions of relatives they left behind.

Tyler and Jon arrived on World some 45—50,000 years before the coronation of Auric of Arcadia.

The story of the boy and the bear (East of the Sun and West of the Moon) has more than a passing resemblance to Bullfinch's telling of the classic Greek fable, Cupid and Psyche.

The story of Marty and Chandler, from California, is Master of Fire which will be posted soon. It is a sequel to another story that will have to be posted, first.

Prester Isle is almost certainly the fortress in the swamp, inhabited by a troll-mage in "In His Majesty's Secret Service," to be posted soon.

Who were "The Seven"? They are mentioned several times in this story, but the composition is never clear. When the text refers to "the companions," it seems to include Dr. Jon McLauren, Tyler Sampson, Morgan of Starling Farm, Senior Cleric James, Lawsonius son of James, Acolyte Camphire, Acolyte Gentian, Prince Richard, and Severus the Tutor. Were "The Seven" some subset of these? Jon tells Mistress Alice that Morgan was one of "those they call the seven." Elsewhere, it is stated clearly that Lawson/Lawsonius is one of the seven. At one point, the Dwarven Atheling Belisarius joined this group. Is he one of The Seven? Is it possible that "The Seven" is an historical reference to heroes of an earlier era and that the number, itself, is unimportant? These questions remain unanswered.

This story contains references to "forbidden technology." Those references were inserted by the translators based on our understanding (and, admittedly, in some cases, assumptions) about what Jon and Tyler were thinking and trying to say.

Morgan's assumption that The Book of Heroes was written by an Elf may be based on the language in which his copy was written. The author is known to have been a Human mage.

The notion that a delusional man is considered to be insane, but if others share his delusions they are considered "religious" is most often attributed on this Earth-analogue to Richard Dawkins, an eminent philosopher and scientist.

In Erewhon, Samuel Butler wrote, "…their only religion was self-respect and consideration for other people." This thought is echoed in one of the several discussions of religion.

Atheling is a title given to a prince who is heir apparent. The "sparkling mineral" of which the three swords were made is almost certainly the same mineral described elsewhere in the "Book of Heroes."

Lankaris is an anagram of Sri Lanka, which is also known, on our Earth-analogue, as "Serendip," as in the three prince of Serendip, whose adventures serendipitously brought them great fortune. Again, we wonder at the coincidences that draw World and our Earth-analogue together.

Wart, Merlin, and Arthur are perhaps best known from The Once and Future King, written in 1958 by T. H. White (on our Earth-analogue).

All trademarks used herein are the property of their owners.

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