Castle Roland


by David McLeod


Chapter 24

Published: 28 May 15


by David McLeod

The Leader

In which the Masterguildmaster of the Thieves Guild of the Valley of Valeus teaches Paul a valuable lesson, and Paul finds one of the boy-thieves to be a most satisfactory and enthusiastic bed partner.

"The rules seldom got broken
because the ruler was too subtle.
Any rebel trying to strike back
at the power structure
would have a hard time figuring out
where to land his punches."
—William Zinsser,
describing the Headmaster
of his boarding school,
in _Writing About Your Life_

I felt that Rudy was about to peak when I sensed through Larry his and Mark's nearly simultaneous orgasms. My link with Rudy was tenuous—this was the first time we'd been together—but it was sufficient to trigger his orgasm. His whimpers turned into a soft cry as he gave himself to me in complete trust.

Larry sensed that I had not cum, and sent a silent message. Mark is anxious to share, again. Here is my goodnight kiss. I will see you tomorrow.

I acknowledged, and kissed Rudy before he raised himself, turned, and began to stroke me.

"You are so strong," he whispered. "You are so beautiful."

"Rudy? There are many who are stronger than I; and many who are more beautiful. I count you in the latter group."

Rudy giggled softly. "I don't mean only physical strength or physical beauty," he said, before my penis muffled his voice. This was not the time or the place to question his meaning; I hoped not to forget what he had said.

The next morning, I woke cuddled with a redheaded boy with porcelain skin. There was time only for a kiss, a kiss laden with promise, before we went to the showers and then back to our own beds to dress. I had not, however, forgotten what Rudy had said, and resolved to find out what he meant. It was at the mid-day meal that I was able to get him alone.

"Rudy, thank you for last night," I said. "It was beautiful. You are beautiful."

The boy blushed. Then, he surprised me. "You want to know why I said what I said."

"I do, indeed."

"Do you ever wonder why none of these boys—riders or auxiliaries—has ever pushed back against their tasks, why no one has ever needed punishment, why no one has ever strayed from the path you have laid out for them?"

Rudy's question reminded me of the shaman of the desert people, standing apart from his followers, and my questioning whether it was right that I be so intimately involved in those who had agreed to follow me. I thought for several minutes before answering.

"No," I said, "although it is something I should have wondered about. Do you have an answer?"

"I remember," he said. "I remember past lives in which I was a storyteller and a mage, sometimes the master of a college. So far, I am neither in this life, but I remember some of the lessons I have learned—and taught."

I nodded to encourage him to continue.

"The Valley of Valeus has no leader. We have not needed one, for there has been no reason to lead us in any direction other than the day-to-day existence to which we have been accustomed. With the change that is upon us, you have become our leader, and you will decide if we remain at peace—until we are attacked—or will throw ourselves into peril untimely."

"I had not thought of this," I said. "I always assumed that Reagan, perhaps his father—"

"You have known better than that," Rudy said. His smile took the criticism from his words.

"You are teaching us something we think of as lightning war: fast and furious, subduing the enemy with a show of force, capturing his cities without having to lay siege; a quick victory with few deaths.

"And all of what you teach us reminds us of the importance of doing the right thing, of balance, and of the importance of constancy."

Rudy sat, silent, long enough for me to think through what he had said.

"Rudy, you said you were yet neither a storyteller nor a mage in this life, yet you have woven a magical story. I hope that you will remember it in another life, when you are, once again, a storyteller and mage."

Today, Reagan had the honor of reading from the Book of Quatrains. Since Larry and I were the only ones who spoke Elvish, although Reagan was an eager student, what he read was a translation one of us had prepared. We seldom were able to translate the quatrains into rhyming poetry. We had also learned that not all were quatrains, although we continued to call them that.

Balance and harmony
Midwives to the birth
Of Heaven and Earth;
From which
Commander and Men
Guided by
Method and Discipline
Go forth.

"That is listed as Quatrain 41; however, it may be the most important thought in the Book. Now that I've said that, what do you think it means?" I asked.

"We know that balance is important," Maudi, Rider of the Dragon Agincourt, blurted, and then blushed. "Um . . . I shouldn't say more."

The boy's face turned white. I felt his fear. He was afraid he had given up a secret, and thought that perhaps he had broken an oath. He kept silence for the remainder of the lesson. I did not understand, and resolved to talk to him afterwards.

"This quatrain, Number 41, we think gives us insight into the most important thoughts of Sun Tzu. In his words, and in his earliest precepts, the art of war is governed by five constant factors. These are The Moral Law, Heaven, Earth, The Commander, Method and Discipline.

"By 'moral law,' Sun Tzu meant a principle of harmony . . . what we think of as balance," Larry explained.

"What do you think he meant about heaven?" I asked. "And remember, Sun Tzu didn't know about dragons."

The discussion identified the aspects of heaven to include height, as in the height of a mountain pass, as well as what on Earth we had once called meteors: everything that occurred in the sky, including night and day, time, seasons, and weather. Which was why the weatherpersons on television had called themselves meteorologists, even though most of them were talking heads, and many were talking airheads. Larry and I had learned to read weather maps—real ones, with isobars, for example—when we were becoming pilots. It was then I realized how shallow most of the TV weather was.

As usual, before the boys became bored, we broke for lunch, which would be followed by flying lessons.

I cornered Maudi, and asked him to sit with Larry and me at lunch. He agreed, but I read some trepidation in him mind.

"Maudi? Something is troubling you," I said once we had found a place at table, and been served. "If you are troubled, Agincourt is troubled. If Agincourt is troubled, the other dragons—and their riders—are troubled. Will you please share with me what troubles you?"

The boy looked at his feet. "I may not. I am under oath," he said.

"You are a Thief," Larry said. He sat beside me at the table that separated us from Maudi. "What you cannot say has something to do with your oath to that guild."

"If you know that, then you know I cannot answer," Maudi said.

"He's right," Larry told me.

"But—" I began.

"Will you let me deal with this?" Larry asked.

I was over my head. I could only answer, "Yes."

Two days later, Larry and I on Dakota, Maudi on Agincourt, and a third dragon and rider landed at a modest farm near the central town. The farmer was waiting for us, and his invitation to tea seemed sincere.

"Paul, this is Bedford," Larry said in introduction. We exchanged greetings and handshakes.

Larry acted like he knew what was going on, although I sensed that he was hiding something—something that caused him a great deal of amusement. I followed him into Bedford's home, with Maudi at my heels. The third rider exchanged glances with Larry, politely declined the farmer's invitation, and remained with the dragons.

After tea was served and tasted, Bedford spoke. "Your friend, Larry, has discovered a secret that Maudi and I share," the man said. "I am the Masterguildmaster of the Thieves Guild of this valley."

I tried not to look startled, but something must have shown. Bedford chuckled.

"I see your consternation," he explained. "Please, do not feel that way.

"Maudi is an Apprentice Thief, sworn to me. I am also sworn to him. It is a bond of fealty, reciprocal and mutual. However, I know that Maudi has a different future as a dragon rider.

"There is, I think, no reason that a dragon rider cannot be a thief, and that a thief cannot be a dragon rider. Still, there may be conflict, or perceived conflict.

"Further, I think you have not done something that your Sun Tzu would expect of you."

I must have looked startled, because Bedford laughed, again. It was not a cruel laugh, so I did not take offense.

"Nearly everyone in this valley is bound to someone—sometimes more than one person—by oaths of fealty," he said. "You have made such an oath with your auxiliaries, but you have not asked such an oath of your dragon riders.

"And, before you do so, you must know that Maudi isn't the only Thief in your dragon corps."

I was stunned. Larry tried to cover for me.

"I think Paul was waiting until we knew one another better before . . ."

Something in Bedford's eyes stopped him.

"Thank you, Larry, and thank you, Bedford. That was a hard lesson. Experience is a hard school, but it has the best teachers," I said. "What else have I overlooked?"

Bedford seemed startled. He took several moments to answer. "I had not thought . . . I do not know."

Then he stood. "I do not know, but I swear that whatever aid and resources my guild and I can supply are yours."

There was a long silence. I stood. "I do not know enough about your guild or about you to answer from knowledge, but know you that I have some gift as a telempath and from that knowledge I accept your offer and swear amity with you and yours."

"Maudi?" Bedford addressed the boy. "If ever there is conflict between your oath to me, and your oath as a dragon rider, your oath as a dragon rider will bind you. Do you understand? Will you tell the others in my name? Will you also tell them to reveal themselves to their Commander?"

Maudi nodded. I felt him relax as he understood not only the meaning of what Bedford had done, but also the degree of trust the Masterguildmaster had placed in Maudi."

"Paul? I trust you and Larry not to take advantage of what you will learn from us."

Larry leapt to the right conclusion. "Does that mean you—or Maudi—can tell us what he couldn't tell us about the Quatrain?"

"Yes," Bedford said. "It is a part of the Guild Arcana, but is perhaps one of the least secret of our rules. As Thieves, we are sworn neither to Light nor Dark, but to Balance. It was Maudi's concern that in a discussion of Balance he would inadvertently reveal that."

That's all? I wondered, but kept that thought to myself.

Bedford was not finished. "It is unusual that a Thief will steal a book," he said. "Most often, we will steal the purse of a careless man, the silken scarf of a flighty woman, or an apple from a pushcart laden with apples. Years ago, a Thief stole a copy of a book. Not knowing what to do with it, he gave it to the woman who was, then, the Masterguildmistress. It has passed from her to me. I have read it. I think you call it The Art of War by Sun Tzu."

Before I could say anything, he held up his hand to still my voice, and continued to speak. "I would be happy for you to receive it, and will give it to you before you leave. If there is anything in it that will help you protect those who are sworn to me, I want you to have access to that.

"There is, in the book, something that captures the essence of the Thieves Guild. It is something that I think you should know."

He spoke as if of something memorized. "Sun Tzu writes that the commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness. The five cardinal virtues of the Guild are humanity or benevolence; uprightness of mind; self-respect and self-control; wisdom; and sincerity or good faith.

"I see," he said, "a great deal in common with your Sun Tzu, and I hope that this will ensure that my people are welcomed into yours."

I heard and felt his sincerity, and assured him that there was nothing I had heard about the tenets and principles of the Thieves Guild that would put any of the members at odds with the Dragon Corps—or the Auxiliaries. "I assume that there may also be members of your guild who are Auxiliaries," I said.

Bedford smiled before he answered. "Maudi will ensure that they, too, reveal themselves. Oh, and you might wish to discuss with both Riders and Auxiliaries the special skills and training they have received. Picking locks and pockets is not the only thing my boys learn!"

We took our leave of Bedford and flew to the school. After we landed, and had removed riding harnesses, the dragons leapt into flight, scattering to three compass points in search of goats. I walked to the dormitory with Maudi.

"Maudi? I learned today that you are not only a Dragon Rider, but also that you have a depth, a wisdom, and an ethos that is great, perhaps as great as any as I have ever known. I know that despite what your Masterguildmaster said, there are secrets that you and your fellows in the Guild cannot reveal to me.

"Nevertheless, I would like to know you better. Will you share with me, tonight—after evening class?"

I had seen something in Maudi. Apparently, he had seen something in me. He was not reluctant to accept his commander's invitation.

Maudi lay on his back, his legs wide in invitation, his arms wrapped around me. I entered him slowly, watching his eyes, sensing his feelings, ensuring that he was enjoying this. When my pubis pressed against him, I saw his eyes widen and felt his ankles lock behind the small of my back, and knew that he was happy.

The next morning, after discussion with Reagan, I addressed the classroom.

"I was reminded by a man wiser than I, whose name I cannot share with you, that I had overlooked something very important. You know that Larry and I are here from another world, one in which oaths are not as important as they are here. I offer that as a poor excuse for my failure.

"We asked the Auxiliaries to swear an oath; the same has not been asked of the Riders. I was reminded that oaths of fealty are an important part of this society, and that without such an oath you may feel disconnected.

"Because of my ignorance and lack of experience, I do not feel qualified to create an oath, but there must be an oath—an oath of mutual respect, fealty, and love—among us all, not just between you and me.

"Would you undertake to create such an oath? I know that only a few of you can write, and would ask Maudi to lead your discussion and Reagan to write the oath on which you agree. Would you do this? Please"

The consent was unanimous. I drew Larry to follow me out of the classroom, and closed the door behind us.

The oath was simple and straightforward, and my reading of Maudi when he presented it, on behalf of the others, told me that it was endorsed wholeheartedly by them all.

"We swear this day obedience, loyalty, and love to the commander of the Dragon Corps of the Valley of Valeus and to our companions, all—riders and auxiliaries; this upon our lives."

They had written words for me, too.

"I swear this day leadership, loyalty, and love to all members of the Dragon Corps of the Valley of Valeus—riders and auxiliaries; this upon my life."

The oaths were easy to understand, and powerful in their simplicity. My oath was perhaps the more demanding, but I knew I would have help in carrying out my duties. In the days that followed, seven boys revealed themselves to me as members of the Thieves Guild, and surprised me with the extent of their tactical knowledge. Apparently, their Masterguildmaster was quite a fan of Sun Tzu.

That night, several riders seemed restless. The boy in the next bed wakened me twice by sharp cries, but he fell asleep before I could ask what might have troubled him. We all learned the next morning.

"I dreamed," one boy said. "I dreamed of a Dragon who was about to kill a boy before another dragon arrived to protect the boy."

"I dreamed," another boy said. "I dreamed of a Dragon flying close to the earth and blowing flames upon a column of evil creatures."

"I dreamed," a third boy said. "I dreamed of a Dragon and her rider flying so high ice formed on the boy's eyebrows."

"I dreamed," another boy said. "I dreamed that a Dragon landed on the top of a castle and revealed herself to a child—but it was a child who was to be commander of an army."

"I dreamed," the last boy said. "I dreamed of a prince who wished with all his heart to be a Dragon Rider, but whose wish was not to come true."

"Does anyone know where these events took place?" Larry asked.

The consensus was not very helpful: "To the east."

Chapter End Note: Although listed as Precept 1-3 and 4, we have come to the conclusion that the Five Constant Factors are the First Precept, and the basis for all that follows.

Rudy's discussion with Paul is based on several maxims, including:

"The leader shall decide whether the nation is in peace or peril." Sun Tzu Maxim 2-20

"The skillful leader subdues the enemy without fighting; he captures their cities without having to lay siege; he conquers the enemy quickly, and with minimal cost." Sun Tzu Maxim 3-6

"The best leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to method and discipline. Thus, it is in his powers to control success." Sun Tzu Maxim 4-16

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