Castle Roland

The Translator

by David McLeod


Chapter 24

Published: 2 Apr 15

The Translator

by David McLeod

Decision—and Quest

A week had passed during which Phillip and his companions considered what they might do to help their friends against these new threats—from trolls and lizard men. The boys remained at the College of Magic, although it was becoming clear that there was no real help for them, there.

"I feel sadness and worry," Argon whispered. He held Drake close and stroked his back. "Will you share your troubles as you have shared your magic?"

Drake stiffened. Then he sighed. Argon felt the boy relax. "I knew I couldn't hide it from you." He paused, inhaled deeply, and sighed again. "A letter came . . . from the cleric in my home of Farview. The town was attacked by what you call lizard men. One of my brothers was killed."

"I'm sorry," Argon said. He hugged Drake for a moment. "Tell me about him, please?"

"His name is Halé. He is the eldest. He was very stern with me when I was a child. Halé could not read, but he made me go to the temple and learn to read and write. He made me learn the old language, too. There was a woman, very ancient, who spoke it. If the cleric or the old woman told him I was not working hard enough, or had not completed my lessons, he would scold me, and not let me have cobbler for dessert.

"When I became a boy, I asked my second brother, Oriel, to initiate me in the mysteries. He refused, and said that I must ask Halé. I told Oriel I didn't like Halé because he was stern, and scolded me. Oriel got very angry. He told me that Halé went to the old woman's house and worked one day in ten in her garden in order that she would teach me. He told me that Halé worked in the temple glebe one day in ten so that they would teach me.

"I knew he did these things, but no one had ever told me the reason, and I was too stupid and self-centered to discover it for myself. Oriel said, 'He loves you, you little idiot, now show him you love him, too.' He made me swear never to tell Halé what Oriel had told me and never to tell Halé that I'd asked Oriel, first."

Drake paused. His breath caught in his throat as he relived the memory. "When I received Halé's magic for the first time, I felt as if I were floating in the air—and discovered that I was! Halé had known I had innate magic, magic that his boy magic had brought to life. He was preparing me; he was making sure I would be accepted at the College of Magic; he was making sure I would become a mage.

"I've never, ever shared magic with any boy without remembering that first time with Halé."

"Then," Argon said. "Will you share with me again so that we may remember him, together?"

Drake and Ronald accosted Argon in the foyer of the college.

"When you spoke with me of my brother, and shared yourself with me, I learned that you were a very special person," Drake said. "I want to share something else with you, if I may?"

Argon nodded, and the two boys led him from the college, across the square to a public house. "Is tea okay?" Drake asked. "Ronald will pay; his father is a merchant and his stipend is very generous. Of course, I love him only for his money, and not for his heart, which is very great." The looks the boys exchanged gave lie to Drake's statement.

"Yes, thank you," Argon said.

Tea was delivered, sweetened with honey, and tasted. Drake began talking. "The college is ancient and contains books that not even the masters have read in aeons. Ronald and I . . . well, our master is often busy with his own studies, and leaves it to us to train ourselves. This means that we spend a lot of time in the library."

"We found a book," Ronald continued. "It is called The Book of Heroes. It was written a long, long time ago by an elven mage who lived at the College of Magic in the city of Barrone."

Drake resumed the narrative. "Some of his stories tell of gates between worlds and between times, and of a human tween who could open them at will. Others tell of places on World where magic is, as near as we can tell, particularly suited to opening gates."

"Some of the stories are almost certainly fables," Ronald said. "In fact, some of them are the same as the fables we've read in other books. But," he paused for emphasis. "But, some of them are almost certainly true. We think the stories about gates are true."

"Why do you think these stories are true?" Argon asked. "Was it just because you know that Phillip and I had passed through a gate? Or did you believe this, before?"

"It is because of this," Drake said. He took a book from his baldric, and handed it to Argon. "This is another book we found. It has maps of the world, but it's not our world. It is written in a language that does not exist . . . at least as far as any librarian knows. And the letters? They're too perfect to have been written in any hand we've ever seen. It is not a book that was created in this world. How else would it exist but that it came through a gate?"

"Do you know how it came to the library?"

Both elven boys shook their heads. "No," Ronald said. "There is no record of that. However, the book itself, is a record that someone, somewhere, somewhen, crossed from one world to another. We thought so for a long time; now we know."

"Why do you show me, and not Phillip," Argon asked.

Drake and Ronald looked at one another. Ronald spoke. "We know that Phillip wants to take you home, but that you want Phillip to be a dragon rider. Both things cannot happen. If we gave the book to Phillip . . . well, it is too great a burden for us."

"We are cowards," Drake said. He spoke softly. Ronald put his hand over Drake's.

"No," Argon said. "You are not cowards. The decision is not yours; it is mine. You knew that, and you made sure that the decision remained mine. You have wisdom beyond your years." He pushed the book across the table toward Drake. "Here, please return it to the library."

"No," Drake said. His voice was firm, assured. "No, take the book. When the time is right, show it to Phillip." He waved off Argon's attempt to protest.

"The book is of no use to us or anyone here," Drake said. "I will, when the time is right, tell my master that we gave it to you. He will agree that we did the right thing. Of that, I am sure."

"Phillip, you have sworn amity with the king. You swore for all of us. The king and the Duke of Londinium aided us. The Duke of Barbican did, too. Well, his sons did. The mages in Rome, our friends in the caravans, in the towns, Vance, Drake and Ronald, others . . . Phillip, our friends are in danger, and we cannot run away from them." Argon's voice was quiet but firm. He stared at Phillip, his eyes nearly on a level with those of the boy from Earth. He did not blink when Phillip stared at him.

Phillip read determination in Argon's eyes, and sighed. "We are indeed between a volcano and a dragon's breath, as Drake said when his master almost caught us out after curfew." He smiled at the memory. It's fun to be a boy in a world where boyhood lasts for centuries and where I am expected to play and, sometimes, escape the responsibilities I have taken on. It's fun . . . how did Sandar put it? It's fun to be lacking in gravitas! But not today.

"We will offer to take a message from the young duke to our friends in Barbican and to the king. That, at least, we can do, and we can likely do it more safely and reliably than anyone else."

"You could fly there much faster if we stayed here," Javari offered.

"That, however, I will not do," Phillip said. "We have come together for a purpose, I think, and I will not try to thwart that purpose."

Phillip continued. "Master Sorgatz said that we were on a quest. He's not the only one to suggest that we are being led or guided somewhere.

"My people believed that powerful men could force people onto quests—journeys of seeking. Sometimes, these people would not know they were on a quest. They would not know what they sought or where they were going. Some of these powerful men who directed others were good; some were evil. I don't know if we are being directed. If we are being directed, I don't know if someone is directing us, or if it is simply the magic of all the people of good and of goodwill that has brought us together and that makes things happen to us. I don't even know if we are on a quest for evil or for good—"

"For good!" Maranon insisted. Argon nodded.

Javari took Phillip's hand. "If we are on a quest, it is a quest for the Light," he said. There was no question in his voice.

"Are we resolved, then? Will we travel to Barbican and Elvenholt with messages?" Phillip asked. The others nodded. Phillip looked at Javari, former captain of three Swallows and leader-after-Phillip.

"Tomorrow, we will prepare. We will gather supplies. The day after, we will leave," Javari said.

"Kyle!" Javari exclaimed the next morning. "Brendan!"

The two elven tweens, dressed in mufti without the uniform tabards they'd worn on the caravan, sat on the rim of a fountain in one of Rome's many plazas.

"We thought your caravan would be long gone," Phillip said.

"It is—has, rather," Brendan said.

"With two guild members in our places," Kyle added. "The caravan that followed us reported brigand attacks, and our caravan master wanted more experienced soldiers. We now have no position."

"The army garrison? The city guard?" Javari asked.

"Neither the army nor the guard needs nor wants green recruits," Kyle said.

Javari, who had often sparred with the two during their journey to Rome, was astonished. "You're far from green," he said.

"Thank you, Javari," Kyle said. "But you should know, we've been tweens and soldiers for only a decade. That's not very long compared to boys and men who've been soldiers for centuries."

"What will you do?" Maranon asked.

"If our money runs out before we find a post or a caravan, we'll likely go to the Temple," Brendan said. "We can find food and shelter there, and work in the glebe."

"I don't want to be a farmer again!" Kyle said.

Brendan took his companion's hand. "Nor do I," he said. "But, needs must."

"Perhaps not," Phillip said. Turning to his own companions he asked, "Do you remember what Javari said last night?

Javari nodded. Argon smiled. Maranon grinned and then asked, "These two?"

"Yes," Phillip said, "if you all agree."

"We do," Argon said. Phillip knew he'd felt assent from the others.

"Kyle and Brendan, will you join us on an adventure?" Phillip asked. "We do not offer pay, only to share what we have and to provide for you as we provide for ourselves. We offer and ask mutual respect, support, and protection. We would risk together. We would succeed or fail together. We would share equally in both success and failure."

"Whenever a group acts together, there must be one voice of command," Javari added. "You would have to swear fealty and obedience to Phillip."

"It won't pay like the Army, and it won't be as comfortable as a caravan," Phillip said.

Kyle and Brendan looked at one another and grinned. "You don't know much about the Army," Kyle said.

"Or caravans," Brendan said.

"The Army, when in barracks, anyway, farms and fixes roads and builds bridges. It's not easy work, either," Kyle said.

"On a caravan?" Brendan added. "You guys paid your way, and got to sleep at night. We were up half the night on watch, and spent the next day trying not to fall asleep on our horses."

"We would not always travel with caravans," Phillip said. "We might have to stand watches. It will be dangerous. And, it's likely to be uncomfortable. You see, we've decided to help fight the war."

"But," Kyle said, "would there be a dragon?"

Phillip smiled and nodded.

That afternoon, at the temple, the companions, now six, swore adventurers' oath. The following day, they prepared for their journey. One of the aluminum—or mithral—canteens brought an impossibly large number of gold coins. "How can they be so valuable?" Phillip asked.

"Because of the purity of the metal," Drake answered. "The metal is rare in its ore; tons must be processed to refine even an ounce. And then, once it is alloyed with other metals, it cannot be removed—unalloyed—from them. It is in great demand."

"Um, we were given mithral chain mail," Phillip said. "We've been wearing a fortune—an even greater fortune—of this stuff."

"Oh, no," Drake said. "Your mithral mail is an alloy. There's less than, oh, a quarter ounce of mithral in a mail shirt. The shirts are, nevertheless, valuable. Do not let them be seen."

The boys were in their quarters in the college, packing to leave, when Phillip asked Argon, "What is that book?"

Argon had been intent on packing, and hadn't heard Phillip enter the room. He snapped the book shut, and stuffed it into his saddlebag. There was a moment of stillness, then Argon cried, "Oh, Phillip ! Please! I feel your hurt. Please don't ask me about the book—"

"I cannot help having feelings any more than you can help hearing them," Phillip said. "On my world, I learned hate and fear and embarrassment and jealousy. But I also learned love and trust. I've learned that I can, with thought, control my feelings, but it takes a moment or two. I do not feel hurt, I feel only love and trust. Can you see? I trust you."

Argon looked at Phillip from the corner of his eyes. "And, therefore, I should trust you?"

"Trust is a great gift, not to be given lightly. You have given me that gift over and over again. I do not have to know what the book is in order to be certain of your love and your trust."

Argon thought for a moment before he opened the saddlebag and removed the book. "You would see it, one day. It might as well be now."

Phillip looked at the cover of the book. A Child's Geography of the World, he read. And then gasped. This is written in English! It's a printed and bound book from Earth! Carefully, he opened the book and read. Copyright date: more than 60 years before he and Argon had left Earth; published in New York.

Phillip flipped through the book until he came to a map. "It shows my people's nation, surrounded by the Hispanglos." His voice showed his excitement.

He closed the book and returned it to Argon. "This is an artifact from my world. We did not bring it, therefore, someone else must have. Therefore, the door through which we passed is not unique. Therefore, there is a greater chance that we can get you home. Therefore—" He paused, and then asked, "Why did you not tell me, before?"

"Drake gave it to me; he and Ronald and I puzzled out in an afternoon what you just said. And I knew that if you knew about the book you would be distracted. Yes, you would be distracted and even torn from your destiny, and I will not let that happen." Argon looked at Phillip. He did not blink nor turn away his eyes. "I will not let that happen."

Phillip laid the book on the bed, and then embraced Argon. "I do love you so much," he said. And I hope, for all our sakes, that this path is one that will lead us in harmony—with each other, and with this world and its peoples.

"There is one more thing I must do before we leave," Phillip said.

"Yes?" Argon asked.

"Zosa and I have a mission," Phillip said. "The six of us will ride out, this evening before the city gates close. We will camp in the mountains east of the city. It will be an opportunity to test our supplies and equipment, to make sure we are prepared for a long trek overland.

"The moon will not rise until matins. A few hours before that, I will call Zosa, and we will make a visit to the city. There's a young duke who desperately wants to see a dragon."

"Is that a good idea?" Maranon said. Argon echoed his concern.

"Not really," Phillip said. "But I have spoken with his tutor and regent, who agrees that the risk is small. Besides, we know neither where this war will take us nor who our allies will be. It won't hurt to leave behind us a friend."

Zosa's eyes, more sensitive even than those of elves, picked out the spot on the castle roof that Phillip had described. It was well above the battlements on which the guards paced, watching only outward. Zosa glided slowly to a perch. Phillip wished for a wristwatch, and wondered if they were too late—or much too early.

A door, stiff from disuse, squealed briefly. A tall figure holding a lantern above his head looked out.

"Cassius," Phillip whispered. "It is I, Phillip, and Zosa."

A small boy pushed past the man and ran toward Phillip, who caught him up in his arms.

The boy looked over Phillip's shoulder where Zosa's eyes scintillated in light that came more from within them than from Cassius's lantern.

"Oh, Phillip," the boy said. "You did it! You brought your dragon—"

"Not my dragon, My Lord," Phillip said. "Zosa is a person in her own right. We are bound more closely than best friends, but it is just a binding. She is not mine except through love and trust."

"She's beautiful!" the boy said, and Phillip remembered that the duke could see much more than he, himself, in the darkness.

"Someday, you may see her in all her radiance, when she dances in the sunlight," Phillip said. I am afraid that that day will come only if Elvenholt goes to war, he thought, and was afraid for the life of the boy he held in his arms.

"May I touch her?" the duke asked.

Phillip put the boy down. "Approach her slowly, and touch her nose, gently," he said.

The boy did as Phillip had instructed, then, "She spoke to me!" he said.

"What did she say?" Phillip asked, although he had heard her voice.

"She said that she and her kind would stand with the Light, and that she was happy that I would, too. What did she mean?"

Phillip looked at Cassius, who was still standing by the door, holding the lantern. Cassius nodded. Phillip took that as permission to say what needed to be said.

"Elvenholt and the Light will go to war with Evil. Dragons will come to the aid of the elves and your allies. As Duke of Rome, you may be drawn into the war, despite your youth. Zosa sees you as an ally, as someone who will fight for the Light. Since she and I will be on that side of the war, I am glad to know that."

The boy stood, stock still for a moment while he digested that. Then he ran back to Phillip, and hugged him. "Phillip, I too am glad. Will you be my brother?"

Phillip looked over the young duke's head to Cassius. Again, the man nodded.

"Antonius, I will be your brother and your friend, although I must leave Rome and you for places and dangers of which I know not."

Phillip remembered something he'd learned only recently, and pledged to the young duke: "If I do not see you again in this life, I will look for you in another."

Antonius didn't need to look to Cassius for approval. What he had offered and what Phillip had accepted was beyond the power of a regent to yeasay or naysay. "Phillip, I take you as my brother. If I do not see you again in this life, I will look for you in another."

Chapter Note: A Child's Geography of the World was copyrighted in 1951 in Earth Analogue III (the translators' home). It is still one of the best children's books ever printed and is available in EA III from We know that a different version was published in Earth Analogue VIII, the home of Phillip Windrider, since the description of the map is different from the map in the translators' copy. The existence of this book provided the clues necessary to confirm that Phillip and Argon had moved not only in space, but also in time.

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