Castle Roland

The Translator

by David McLeod


Chapter 16

Published: 19 Mar 15

The Translator

by David McLeod

Landfall at Londinium

A flock of seagulls signaled that land was near. Argon marked his log. "We've sailed for two months, and a tenday," he said. "And likely have covered 4,000 stadia. Xander was much faster than I thought she'd be."

About 3,200 miles, Phillip thought. About the distance across the Atlantic.

Now, the prevailing wind blew Xander due west. The white swallowtail pennon seemed to pull the boat through the sea, straight toward the harbor. The only canvas they carried was the mainsail, and that was nearly furled. The boat moved through the water with only enough speed to make the rudder effective. "Steerageway," Javari had explained to Phillip. Phillip nodded. The voyage had made him a sailor but, mindful of Argon's admonition that Javari and Maranon must feel needed, he left the operation of the boat to the elven boys.

"I hope they understand that the white pennon means we are friendly," Phillip said. On Argon's advice, they did not fly their ensign.

"We don't know what the flag of this country looks like," the boy had said, "so we can't fly a courtesy flag. Best, then, that we fly no flag at all."

It may have been the white pennon. It may have been that the boat was small and moving slowly. In any case, Xander was not seen as a threat, for the boat that put out to meet it was only slightly larger. "Look," Maranon cried, "Their ensign shows an oak tree! That's the symbol of Elvenholt! And they're flying a white courtesy flag!" The boy's elven eyesight saw what neither Phillip nor Argon could yet discern. The relief in his voice was palpable. They were in Elvenholt. . . or likely so. . . and not in the land of the slavers.

"They took the white from our swallow," Phillip said. "At least, I hope so. Should we heave to?"

"Yes, my captain," Javari said briskly.

"Heave to, then," Phillip ordered. Maranon released the line, and Argon helped furl the mainsail. The boat slid to a stop in the placid waters of the bay. The oncoming boat, beating into the wind, also furled its sail. Long oars–sweeps, Javari declared them to be–appeared. The boat drew alongside.

"Hail, Xander," a voice cried. "Welcome to Londinium."

"He speaks Elvish," Argon whispered.

"Xander is written in Elvish on the bow," Phillip said. "He may assume we are all elves." To himself, he thought, Londinium? The Latin name of London–the Anglican capital? I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.

"Ave," Phillip replied, in Elvish. "We would like very much to dock at Londinium."

The boats drew close. Two men tossed grappling hooks across the gap and tied the lines around capstans. Within seconds, the boats were bound fast to one another. I hope I haven't misjudged, Phillip thought. Gesturing for the others to stay behind him, he stepped to the rail to face the speaker on the Arcadian boat.

An elven tween, wearing tights, boots, a tunic, and a tabard (although Phillip did not know the word) emblazoned with a shield, walked a little unsteadily to the railing. The shield on the tabard bore an oak tree–just like the flag–in the upper left corner and what looked like a rook in the lower right corner. If that's supposed to be the tower of London–, Phillip thought before turning his attention to the boy who wore the symbols.

"I, too, will be happy to return to dry land," the boy said. "I am the Pursuivant, Sander–"

"You're not an elf!" Sander said. "Who are you? Where are you from?"

"We sailed from Solimoes," Phillip replied. "Two of us are human; two are elven. I am Phillip Windrider Spartus. What is a Pursuivant? And is Londinium a city of Elvenholt?" Phillip gestured toward shore where tall, crenellated walls of white stone, with barbicans and bastians (although he knew none of those words) and towers resembling the rook on the boy's shield, stood proudly beyond the docks.

"A Pursuivant is a student of heraldry. When I finish my training here, I will enroll in the College of Heraldry in Elvenholt. I shall be a herald and then a diplomat and then an ambassador," Sandar replied. "And, yes, Londinium is a city of Elvenholt. But not all of you are from Solimoes."

He's a sembler, of course, Phillip thought. He would be. "No, I am of the Athabascan Nation, much farther away." Will the half-truth be enough? Phillip wondered. It wouldn't have fooled Japura's father.

"Are you of the Light?" Sandar asked.

"We are," Phillip said. "Although none of us truly understand all that means." Now why did I say that? he wondered.

Sandar smiled. "You sound like my father. Are you the captain of this ship? Do you swear for yourself and your crew no harm to Elvenholt or her peoples while you visit?"

"Yes, I swear," Phillip replied.

"Captain?" Sandar asked, as he turned to the man who had joined him at the railing.

"Follow me into port and tie up directly behind me. Your ship will be safe, there." He turned and began giving orders to his crew.

Sandar called, "May I come aboard?" When Phillip nodded, the boy stepped over the railing and onto the deck of Xander. It was then that Phillip realized that Sandar was armed with a rather long sword.

"If you are a herald, why are you armed?" he asked.

"Why would I not be?" Sandar replied.

"Um, I didn't think it was customary," Phillip replied. "But I really don't know."

"Hmm," Sandar said. "We must talk more. Now, however, you should, um, raise your sails. The captain has little patience."

The elven ship had tied up and most of her crew had left the ship by the time Xander reached the quay. The boys tied up to the quay as they had been instructed.

"Shouldn't we tell him–" Javari began. He choked off the rest of his words as Sandar walked back to Xander. The herald had debarked the instant they'd bumped against the quay, and then walked unsteadily back and forth for several minutes while the boys stowed the sail and made ready to leave the ship.

"I'm not cut out to be a sailor," Sandar said when he approached the boat. His gait was steady, now.

"Then why were you on that ship?" Maranon asked, gesturing to the craft that had intercepted them in the harbor.

"Chance," Sandar replied. "All the heralds and the ambassador were at the duke's court. When a messenger came that a strange ship had been sighted, I happened to be the first one he saw. He held the Harbor Master's imprimatur, so I could not refuse.

"I'm glad I did not try to do so!" he added. "This promises to be a grand adventure!"

Phillip asked, "What must we do, now? Must we report to a port authority? Immigration? Some government office?"

"Oh, I'm sure there's some office that will want to know you are here–if you stay for a long time or seek citizenship, but there's nothing else you must do. Of course, you will want to find somewhere to lodge. And you certainly don't want to lodge near the docks." Sandar sniffed. "Unless you like the smell of rotting fish.

"Are you here to trade? Then you will want to visit merchants.

"You should meet my father. He would appreciate what you said about the Light–" Sandar stopped talking abruptly. "I'm sorry. I forget myself. You look puzzled?" he turned the statement into a question.

"Sandar, a wise man of my people sent Argon and me to a place where we met a wise man who sent us on a journey where we met Javari and Maranon," Phillip said, gesturing to the other boys, in turn. "At their home, a council of wise men sent us here. None of these men–wise as they were–told us why we must make this journey except that it would put us in harmony with the world. That may not mean anything to you, but it is very important to us."

"Oh," Sandar said. "Then by all means you must meet my father. He is the wisest man I know."

Sandar led the boys through the streets of Londinium. The boys' heads swiveled from side to side, and up and down as they tried to look at everything at once. Argon and the two boys from Solimoes were amazed at the size of the city, so many times bigger and taller than anything they'd seen. Phillip was struck by the similarities with the architecture of Medieval Europe. Of course, all I know comes from children's picture books, he thought. But this all seems to be–Oh! The Hispanglos never built anything like that! It looks Arabian.

"Wait," Phillip called. "Please, wait." He faced a building of pink stone. The roof was a dome of the same material coruscant in the sunlight. Large doors that faced a square were wide open. People walked across the square and entered the building by ones and twos, and occasionally larger groups. They were dressed in a wide variety of styles. Men and older boys wore robes and sandals; tunics, tights, and boots; or shirts and trousers, some covered by smocks. Many of the men and older boys wore swords; nearly all the males wore at least a dagger. Women and older girls wore plain or colorful skirts and blouses; trousers and tunics; or robes. The younger girls and the boy-children wore shorts, sleeveless shirts, and sandals.

"What is this place, and why are people gathering there?" Phillip asked.

"It is the Temple of Londinium," Sandar replied. "They are going to Sext. We will enter the family quarters through the side door." He pointed to a narrow street on the north side of the building.

"Family quarters?" Phillip asked.

"My father is a cleric," Sandar said. "We live at the temple–he, mother, and my little brother Carson.

Phillip shook his head. The cleric at Japura's village was unmarried, as was the one at Javari and Maranon's village. As far as I know, he thought. I may have been assuming that since their organization seems like that of the Hispanglo Catholics, that their customs. . . His thoughts were interrupted when Sandar urged them down the alley and into a side door.

In contrast to the grandeur of the building, the quarters to which Sandar led them were little different from those of Japura's family, and smaller than those of Javari and Maranon's extended family. "Everyone's at Sext," Sandar said. "After which they'll take lunch in the refectory. You may leave your things here–this is my room and Carson's. We'll wash, and then go to lunch."

"Refectory?" Phillip asked. "I don't know that word." Javari and Maranon looked equally puzzled.

"Um, it's just a big room where everyone eats," Sandar said. "Come on–"

That's it, Phillip thought. That's what's been bothering me! The language here is the same as on Solimoes. The pronunciation is the same even though they've been separated for–what? Aeons? The elves of Solimoes don't build this big, and don't need the word refectory. I must remember this and put it in my journal.

The boys had bathed in the sea that morning. A splash of water on their faces and a scrub of their hands. . . That's another thing, Phillip thought. Japura's village, as well as that of Javari and Maranon had running water and sewers, as they do here. That's a lot better than most of the Res. Of course, we were in desert. I wonder. . . Whatever he might have wondered was lost as Sandar urged them to hurry.

The refectory was, as Sandar had said, large. It was also brightly lit by windows high on the southern, eastern, and western walls. Long and short tables with both benches and chairs were strewn haphazardly throughout. Against the north wall, a long table held baskets, tureens, and platters of food, as well as a stack of plates, racks of spoons and forks, and a pile of cloth napkins. Oh, oh, Phillip thought. That's another difference. Neither Argon or the elves of Solimoes use forks. A babble of voices interrupted that thought and announced the end of Sext and the impending arrival of the clerics and their families.

"Come on," Sandar urged. "We'll sit at the boys' table. I'll tell Father that you're here." He led the boys to the buffet table where they fell in line behind several men and two women, all in plain robes and sandals.

"Who are your friends, young Sandar?" one of the women asked.

"Visitors from across–" Sandar began. He caught his breath as Phillip elbowed him in the ribs. "From far away," Sandar concluded. "They're here to speak with Father."

The interplay between Phillip and Sandar had not gone unnoticed, and the woman looked hard at Phillip. It feels as if she were looking right through me! Phillip thought, and then realized that might, indeed, be the case.

The woman smiled, and said, "Happy be your time with us."

Phillip felt the same sense of well-being he'd felt when the cleric in Japura's village had raised his hands and greeted the crowd. She works magic with her words, he thought. "Um, thank you," he replied. "May you walk in harmony."

The woman smiled again and replied, "Why, thank you. That was very pretty. I've not heard that blessing in–oh, many years." She turned and began filling her plate.

Sandar led Phillip and the others to a long table that began to fill with boisterous boys, tweens, and boy-children. Sandar left to speak with his father. "Oh, hello," the tween across the table from Argon said. "My mother's name for me is Darrell; who are you?"

Argon looked at Phillip who shrugged and then nodded. "My name is Argon. Uh," he hesitated. "Where is this food grown?"

"Why, at the glebe, of course," Darrell answered. "Where are you from that you don't know that?"

Phillip stepped into the breach. "Argon's village is small, and the farms are worked by everyone," he said. I'm glad I spent the voyage quizzing Argon, Javari, and Maranon on customs. And that I've stopped taking anything for granted.

"Are you not from the same place?" Darrell asked.

"No," Phillip replied. "My home is even farther. . . " He was interrupted by Sandar's return.

"I have told father what needs to be said; nothing more." He grinned as he fingered his ribs where Phillip had poked him.

"Did I hurt you?" Phillip asked in alarm. He'd long ago realized he was stronger and sturdier than most of the elven boys.

"No!" Sandar laughed. "It's just that a herald may not be touched when on duty, and–"

Whatever else Sandar was going to say was lost in giggles and laughter as two tweens who had crept up behind him grabbed him and began tickling him.

"But you're not a herald," one said. "You are Siderius Oculus Nuncius!" The boys at the table erupted in laughter.

Starry-eyed messenger, Phillip translated to himself. But why–

Sandar gasped and tried to catch his breath when the boys released him. He clutched his ribs with one hand, and hugged the first of his tormentors with the other. "Darrell, Garness, I'm so happy to see you," he gasped. "Come, meet my new friends."

Carson led the boys back to family quarters after lunch. Phillip lingered so that he could speak privately with Sandar. "I don't understand," Phillip said. "Those two–Darrell and Garness–they embarrassed you in front of your friends."

"What is embarrassed?" Sandar asked.

Whoa! That word isn't in Elvish, Phillip thought. "Um, made you seem weak, small, and lacking in gravitas, I guess," he said.

"But we are boys!" Sandar said. "Even tweens, who are adults for most purposes, are silly and lacking in gravitas! Darrell and Garness and I have been friends for centuries! They are my companions and are of my cohort." He looked at Phillip.

"You seem sad," Sandar said. "How have I hurt you?"

"Nothing," Phillip said hastily. "Nothing you have done. I was. . . I was just feeling sorry for myself. You see, I had few friends, and. . . " He stopped, took a breath, and then smiled. "That's in the past, Sandar. Now I have three friends. . . three boys that I love and who love me. That makes up for a lot."

The meeting with Sandar's father, who was the Senior Healer at the Temple, began immediately after lunch, and lasted most of the afternoon. Phillip related that he had met Argon, who had been taken from his home, and had promised to help the boy find his way back.

"Our journey was interrupted when we were cast away on an island where we met Javari and Maranon. We stayed with them for a while and–well, we've sworn fealty with one another. It was shortly after that that their people asked us to travel here with a message."

Javari continued the story, including the rescue of Maranon and himself, the rebuilding of their swallow, and the journey to their village. He stressed the ancient link between Phillip and Maranon.

I still do not remember him, Phillip thought. But when we share boy magic there is something there that is different from sharing with any other, even Argon. What's most surprising to me is that Argon isn't jealous. In fact, he encourages my relationship with Maranon. Yet, Argon and I still share a special bond. I do not understand. . .

"We are from an island far to the east," Javari said, surprising the Senior Healer. "We are the descendants of elves who left this place aeons ago."

Javari described the slave raids and the belief that the raiders came from the west. He told of the council's decision to contact Elvenhold. He said nothing, however, of their history and of the ancient king's injunction.

When Javari had finished, Phillip removed the medallion from his neck. "I was given this–to establish credibility, I guess." He handed the medallion to Sandar's father.

Sandar, his father, and the senior cleric of the temple conducted them to the duke's palace. The senior was sufficiently . . . well, senior . . . that his request for a private audience was granted. The duke listened intently to Phillip and Javari's stories. When Javari finished speaking, the duke looked not at him, but at Sandar. Sandar stood nervously, unsure what the duke wanted. "Are their stories truthful, boy?" the duke asked.

"Uh, oh, yes, my lord," Sandar said.

The duke nodded. "I will think on this, and present it to my privy council."

Phillip was concerned about the delay this would cause, and started to speak, but the duke continued. "The council will meet tomorrow. I will expect to see you again on the following day." His words were a clear dismissal. Phillip and the others followed a butler out of the room.

Sandar led the boys back to the temple; his father and the senior followed, more slowly. "Is there a library?" Phillip asked. "And might I use it?"

"Of course," Sandar said. "The temple houses the largest school in Londinium; and our library is more extensive even than the one at the College of Magic."

"College of Magic?" Phillip asked. "Might I visit there, first?" They might know how to get Argon back to his home time, he thought, excited at the prospect.

After lunch at the temple, Sandar took Phillip to the College of Magic.

Sandar had spoken to both his father and the senior, and his status as a herald–well, as a pursuivant–bearing a request from the senior, opened the doors to the college and to a meeting with the most senior of the mages. Phillip provided a bare bones story: Argon's unwilling transport to another world; his return with Phillip to Argon's own world, but to a different time; and Phillip's determination to help the boy find his way back to his own time. The mages were impressed; they were fascinated; but, they were singularly unhelpful.

"We know that these doors between worlds open from time to time," one said. "But a door from one time to another?" He looked around the room. Unanimously, the mages shook their heads. "I'm afraid. . . "

"We will be in Londinium for at least a few days," Phillip said. "I can read your language. May I search the library?"

It was agreed that he might; and several of the mages offered themselves and their apprentices to help him.

It was nearly vespers when Phillip, and Sandar who had been pressed into service to deliver books and scrolls to the task force that had assembled in the library, returned to the temple. Phillip tried to mask his disappointment.

Their work had been fruitless, and the Master Librarian, an elf so old he actually looked old, was certain they had exhausted every avenue. "A mage will create a grimoire," he said, "and will either bequeath it to his apprentice or destroy it upon his death. Rarely will one find its way into a library. You apparently understand that the ability to work magic is often predicated upon an understanding of the natural sciences. Most of our library consists of books of natural science, physics, chemistry, meteorology, for example. I hope that you will find more in the temple library."

Phillip's steps were slow as Sandar led him back to the temple.

The others of their companions were waiting when they reached the temple. "Nothing?" Argon said, reading Phillip's disappointment.

"Nothing," Phillip said. "Why do you smile?"

"I found something. . . not what you were looking for, but more evidence that dragons exist!" Argon was clearly excited. "After bath and supper," he said. "You two are filthy!"

After supper, the boys retired to their room, and Argon opened a book. He sat by an oil lamp, and read this story.

Dragon's Rider

A thousand lifetimes ago, seventeen boys stood upon a mountain, clinging to windswept crags. They were the best of their cohort: strong; trained in sword, bow, and wrestling; and schooled in music, dance, philosophy, and history. They were the best, yet only one could be chosen. It might be that the dragon would choose no one. Yet the boys stood and waited. The risk they faced on the crags was great; but the reward was greater.

I will be chosen, thought one. I am the best in every art of war: in sword and bow and wrestling. A dragonrider is a warrior, and I am the greatest warrior.

I will be chosen, thought another. I am the purest of all. A dragonrider is a paladin; and a paladin is pure.

I will be chosen, thought another. My father is a duke, and I am a prince. A dragonrider is noble, and I am the most noble of my cohort.

I will not be chosen, thought another. I am the smallest and weakest in my cohort; the others always best me at sword and bow and wrestling. I hope it will be Petrus. He's the only one who doesn't mock me. . . This boy's thoughts were interrupted when someone called, "Dragon!"

The dragon swooped and soared. Its massive head twisted from side to side and up and down on a long, sinewy neck as it examined the boys. What it was looking for, no one knew. Even seasoned dragonriders did not know why they had been selected. When they asked their dragons, the only answer they received was, You are a dragonrider.

The dragon quickly made its choice: a boy who was not noble, nor especially pure, nor the most able, nor full of doubt. The dragon landed beside the boy, lowered its wing, and invited the boy to climb upon its neck. Without fear–but with a little apprehension–the boy did so, and clung with joy and elation to the dragon as it climbed back into the sun, and then dove deep into the valley. The other boys slowly made their way back to the castle, and awaited the return of their friend.

The dragon landed on top of one of the bastians and the boy, now a dragonrider, dismounted and ran down the stairs to greet his cohort. . . and to be greeted by the older dragonriders who had assembled to witness the day. After receiving warm greetings from the dragonriders, and congratulations from his cohort, he summoned two of the latter group. "Petrus?" he called. "Brian?" he gestured to the boy with the self-doubt. "Herlinda would speak with you.

"Herlinda is her name," the new dragonrider laughed. Petrus and Brian walked up the stairs of the bastian with the new dragon rider, and somewhat nervously approached the dragon.

"Herlinda, these are the two boys you asked to see. Their names are Petrus and Brian," the dragonrider said.

The dragon looked from one boy to the other, and then in a way unknown to them, opened their minds, one to the other. Petrus saw Brian's earlier wish that Petrus would be selected; Brian saw the reason Petrus never mocked him. The boys saw each one's love for the other. After a moment that lasted for aeons, the dragon withdrew her mind. Although Petrus and Brian no longer saw into each other's minds, they saw each other in a new and different light. "Thank you, Herlinda," they both said. "Thank you, dragonrider."

"That's a beautiful story," Sandar sighed.

"Where were these boys?" Phillip asked.

"It doesn't say," Argon said. "But the stories in this book. . . they're true. Senior Librarian said they were true. . . " His voice faltered when he sensed Phillip's disappointment.

Phillip reached out to Argon, and took the hand the boy offered. "I'm sorry, Argon. You see my disappointment, don't you? I don't doubt the story, but how long ago might it have happened? I don't doubt that there were dragons, once.

"Thank you. . . thank you for finding the story, and for telling it to us. It was a beautiful story."

On the third day, the duke summoned Phillip and his companions. They were both surprised and gratified to find several of the clerics seated among the duke's privy council. The woman with whom Phillip had exchanged greetings, or blessings, the first day at lunch was among them, and smiled–and then winked–at Phillip.

Phillip and Javari repeated their stories; Phillip showed the medallion to the council. He and Javari were closely questioned. The council offered their thoughts to the duke. The woman who had spoken to Phillip at the buffet table had the final voice. She saw more deeply than the others, and they bowed to her talent and wisdom. "The boys are Good," she said. "We are agreed upon that. The story is true," she added. "We are agreed upon that. The medallion is ancient. We are agreed upon that. The human boy rightfully possesses it. We are agreed upon that.

"Therefore," she concluded, "they and the medallion and their story must travel to the king. Sandar, who knows the story, should accompany them." She looked around the table. One by one, the councilors nodded. Then, they all looked to the duke.

"Your wisdom serves us well," the duke said, nodding to the woman. "They shall travel to Elvenhold. Sandar shall command–"

"No," Phillip interrupted.

The councilors sat astonished. A few gasped at the human boy's audacity.

"These boys," Phillip indicated Argon, Javari, and Maranon, "are sworn to me. I alone am responsible for them, and I alone lead them. We are commissioned by those who are as noble as any here. We seek your help, and we seek your good will, but we are not your subjects."

The babble that began ceased abruptly as the duke raised his hand. Silence ruled for an eternity while emotions rolled across the duke's face. "You have the right of it, Spartus," he said. "I ask your pardon."

Phillip was nearly as astonished as was the court. "I ask your pardon," he said. "What I see on the faces of these others says that I have committed a grave error."

The duke chuckled. "Our plates hold enough error for each to have a taste. However, we have more important things to deal with. May the matter be forgotten?" He raised his eyebrows as he looked at Phillip. Phillip nodded.

"It is agreed, then," the duke said. "Sandar shall bear my message to the king–as herald. Javari shall carry the message of his people as their ambassador. Phillip–who is Spartus–shall lead."

The duke turned to Sandar's father. "Senior Healer, you will please ensure they have what they need, and will inform me of their plans."

"A lifetime or two ago," the Senior Healer began, "it was said that a child could walk from Londinium to Rome carrying a purse of gold, and not be molested. Things have changed. The roads to Elvenhold can be dangerous. I gather that none of you are swordsmen or bowmen?"

"Javari and I have some skill with the short sword of his people," Phillip said. "We all have some skill with the simple bow. I am skilled in unarmed combat. Otherwise? No."

"Will you then accept some of Sandar's friends and comrades, tweens who are skilled soldiers, to accompany you? Oh, and Sandar asks if Carson might go with you. He is very skilled with the bow."

Phillip thought, this is getting complicated. Nevertheless, he agreed.

"Is the river navigable?" Javari asked.

"Yes," the Senior Healer replied. "I know you sailed across the ocean to reach us, but have you ever sailed a river?"

"I've sailed streams," Javari boasted. "But we could not do so in Xander. She's too deep draft."

It was resolved: it would be safer, and perhaps faster, to sail to Elvenholt. With the help of both Sandar and his father, Xander was traded for a river vessel and a purse full of gold coins. Javari and Maranon were uncertain about the value of the coins. Another difference, Phillip thought. Solimoes' economy was cooperative and barter. They don't understand the use of gold as money. Another bit of innocence has been lost.

The new boat was larger than the boy's swallow. Like the swallow and the ship in which they'd crossed the ocean, it had a triangular mainsail and a jib. Like the first Xander, it had a centerboard. Aft of the centerboard housing was a small cabin. "That's mostly for storage," Javari said as he showed Phillip the boat. "Stuff we need to keep dry–food, bedding, stuff like that. We'll sleep on the deck, and use the sail for shelter in bad weather. See? We'll stretch it over the boom, and tie it down to the gunwales."

Phillip smiled, both at his understanding of Javari's words and at the boy's obvious delight with this new boat.

"This boat must be named Xander," Phillip said. "But, can there be two boats with the same name?"

Maranon grinned. He showed Phillip the board bearing the name and runes from the Xander in which they'd crossed the ocean. "I took this off before we traded her," he said. "I hoped you'd want that."

"Father let me copy this map," Sandar said. "It shows towns and villages along the way."

"Will it be safe to stop?" Phillip asked.

"Oh, yes," Sandar's father said. "The danger will be not in the towns and villages, but between them.

After consultation with his father, Sandar brought six of his friends to meet Phillip. Darrell and Garness, the two boys who had not, after all, embarrassed Sandar, were among them. All were skilled warriors; Garness was also a journeyman healer. Phillip explained the proposition. "The journey will be dangerous," he concluded, "although we believe travel by river to be considerably safer than travel by road."

"You would have to swear obedience and loyalty to Phillip for the duration of the adventure," Sandar stressed.

The boys' eyes, wide with excitement, gave their answer.

The new Xander was laden with supplies: food, tools, blankets, warm cloaks, soap, and loofas. Phillip had lost track of it all, but Javari and Maranon seemed comfortable. The companions, now twelve, were to leave at dawn–rather, as soon after curfew was lifted as they could reach the river quay. They were surprised to see soldiers standing near the boat. When they got closer, they were more surprised to see the duke. The elves bowed. Phillip nodded, acknowledging the man's station but not his sovereignty. The duke returned this silent greeting, and then, acknowledging Phillip's status as Dragonrider and leader of the expedition, clasped his hand. "Spartus. . . Phillip. . . these boys," he indicated the elves from Londinium, "these boys are my subjects as I am subject and servant to my liege, the king. I commend them to you, and ask that you lead them in the Light."

Phillip nodded. "I'm sorry we didn't have time to talk about this, but I am sworn to the Light. I will do as you ask, and right gladly."

The duke gestured and soldiers approached. They carried quivers of arrows, swords, and shirts of chain mail. "Spartus," the duke said, "until you find your dragon, you must rely on mundane weapons and on the skills of your companions and yourself. Accept these gifts and my good will. Carry the latter as well to my sovereign and cousin, the king." He held a sword to Phillip.

Phillip, although no swordsman, took the sword–a symbol representing all the gifts, and his acknowledgement of the duke's request. "Thank you, sir, for your hospitality, your good will, and these gifts. Walk in harmony," he concluded.

"Walk in harmony, Spartus," the duke whispered as Xander, propelled by sweeps, left the quay.

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