Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Mark of the King: Chapter Eleven

Two chapter in the course of one month- it's a miracle!! Haha, not really. 
But it is, as this summer testifies, a rare occurrence. I hope you enjoy Chapter Eleven! 
As always, please feel free to let me know what you think, favorite characters, etc. I'd love to hear your input!

Chapter Eleven

“Come along, Skandar! Hurry up!” Aidan flicked the bottom of Skandar’s boots with a finger, urging him forward. “We don’t want to miss anything!”
After searching the castle for the better part of an hour, Skandar had finally found the brothers back in the kitchens trying to bribe the grumpy cook for a morsel of food. They had both received a whack on the heads with the cook’s sturdy stick for their efforts, but neither Aidan nor Eoin seemed too discouraged. When Skandar told them of his predicament, he could tell by the not-too-subtle exchanges between the two that he had either committed a terrible mistake, or that he was about to.
Crawling on his hands and knees behind Eoin in a cramped tunnel running through the ceiling of the Great Hall where the feast was underway, Skandar’s prior uncertainty vanished into guilty glee. The kind only brought about by mischief of some nature.
“Years ago, the King used this tunnel to spy on his nobles in case any plotted against him. Age caught up with him, I suppose. For the most part, the tunnels hidden in this castle remain unused,” Eoin explained from up ahead. He had insisted upon leading their expedition into the ceiling, a request Aidan granted.
Skandar flinched and nearly cried out as the bare flesh of his hand came into contact with a sticky spider web. “I can see that.” Grimacing, he swatted it away.
“Keep it down!” Aidan shushed from the end of the line. “We don’t want to be heard and caught now, do we?”
They crawled along in silence, cold stones beneath their hands and darkness before their eyes.
“Just a little farther,” Eoin’s voice drifted softly to Skandar’s ears.
The tantalizing smell of the food from the Great Hall reached Skandar’s nostrils before they arrived at wherever it was they were going.
Skandar blinked as a faint glow flickered on the walls ahead. “Is that light I see?”
“No,” Eoin replied drolly. “It’s probably a terrible beast waiting for its next meal.”
Skandar halted abruptly and pitched forward as Aidan bumped into him. He squawked and fumbled to regain his balance. Hearing the commotion behind him, Eoin snickered. His laughter, although soft, echoed off the walls long after it ceased.
Aidan shoved Skandar’s boots once more, and regaining his balance, Skandar crept on.
Are we almost there?  Icy knives stabbed into his knees whenever they contacted the hard stones. His back, shoulders, and neck ached. When they finally emerged into the open, Skandar was relieved.
The room was small, just large enough for Skandar to stand in without having to stoop much to avoid knocking his head against the ceiling. Beams of warm candle and torchlight shone in from a circular iron grate cut into the center of the floor. Music and merriment echoed from the people below, beckoning him to look. Skandar hesitated for a split second, and then walked over to the opening.
Four long tables piled high with food lined the Great Hall below in rows. Circular iron chandeliers, each holding two dozen burning candles, suspended from thick rings in the ceiling by long chains. Torches glowed on the walls and more candles positioned strategically on the tables added to the festive warmth and light. Flags, both Corrthaine and Tir O Niwl, hung from the high ceiling, elaborate tapestries from the walls.  Skandar watched the lords and ladies, nobles and knights mill about below, each barely the size of his thumb. Servants carrying trays of food and pitchers of wine shuffled through the crowd on their way to some impatient guest only to shrink back to the edge of the wall once their task was complete.
It didn’t take long for Skandar to locate King Fendral, who sat at the head of the room on an elevated stage. To the left of the king’s high-backed throne sat Princess Catrain. Her head was bent over something in her lap; she paid no attention to the party at all except on a rare occasion when she glanced up to observe a guest. On the King’s right sat the ambassador from Tir O Niwl, who smiled half-heartedly at the richly dressed nobles enjoying themselves at the feast.
Skandar’s eyes left the royals and roamed the crowds once more. They rested on Oliver and Muriel, who sat together at one of the long tables. Oliver whispered something in Muriel’s ear. She threw back her head and laughed. Sitting a few places down from Oliver and Muriel, Lady Morgaine, at least, appeared to enjoy herself greatly. Her countenance shone with the brightness of her radiant smiles, which her eldest daughter inherited. Sir Reuben, in contrast, watched the various guests from beneath a furrowed brow. His cause for such seriousness in a time of merriment Skandar questioned with some curiosity.
Tearing his eyes away from the scene, Skandar glanced up at the brothers who crouched on the opposite side of the grate. Their faces glowed and mesmerized, they gazed at the festivities below.
“How did you discover this place?” Skandar asked the obvious question, recalling the secreted lever hidden within a false stone in the wall that opened up the entrance to the passage. Happening upon a tunnel and chamber such as this would be nigh impossible if you didn’t know exactly where to look.
Aidan waved a finger between Eoin and himself.  “We didn’t. Cat did.”
“She read about hidden passages like this one in a manuscript when she was young. So all over the castle she searched for anything… irregular,” elaborated Eoin excitedly.
“That’s when she came across this tunnel,” Aidan cut in.
“When did she show you two?”
Eoin sighed and looked at his brother. Briefly they made eye contact, as though they silently exchanged information, and Eoin began, “When we arrived from Talahm Glas-”
“And Eoin and I began to further our training as pages- ow!” Aidan yelped and rubbed his arm where Eoin punched it.
Eoin, however, took no notice and continued, “Anyway, there was an older boy whom I hated. And who hated me. He taunted and teased me, laughing at me in front of everyone because I was small and a foreigner. He seized every opportunity possible to humiliate me.”
That sounds familiar.
“One day. After enduring the usual torment, I decided I’d had enough so I did the only thing a little boy could do. I yelled at my brother to go away, sat in a corner alone, and cried. That’s when she found me and showed me this place,” he waved his arm in the air, gesturing to the room. “‘You can come here whenever you like,’ she said, and I often did. Sometimes by myself. Sometimes with her and Aidan.”
Skandar set his jaw in a grim line. He never liked bullies. “What happened to the boy?”
Eoin surprised him by smiling. “Time passed and he changed. He grew up.”
Curious, Skandar followed with another question. “Who was he?”
The name Aidan spoke was the last name Skandar expected to hear.
“What?” Skandar nearly shouted, shocked and confused. Both the boys shushed him as his outcry bounced off the walls. No one below seemed to hear, though, and Skandar breathed a sigh of relief. I shouldn’t be surprised, considering who his father is, Skandar thought. Even still… Oliver?
“A menace he was,” Eoin continued softly. “Always terrorizing children younger or weaker than he. Like Flynn, come to think of it. Except Oliver grew out of it. Flynn, it appears, has not.”
“What changed?”
“We’d tell you,” Aidan’s eyes shifted down toward the feast. “But you wouldn’t listen.”
Skandar rolled his eyes and then gazed at the merriment being held below. His mouth watered as the aroma of warm stew, hot bread, and tender meat accosted his senses. So entranced was he by the warmth in the Great Hall that it took him a moment to realize Aidan was speaking.
“The five of us- me, Eoin, Cat, Muriel, and Oliver –spent hours up here listening in on various conversations, and other times simply enjoying the escape from chores about the castle.”
“And?” Skandar’s eyebrow shot up. With the careful watch of everyone in the castle, he imagined their disappearances didn’t last long.
“One day Sir Reuben caught us and delivered quite a scolding, lecturing us about the dangers of hearing things forbidden to us,” Eoin grinned. “Though he acted angry, I really think he was rather amused.”
“Aye, but we’re fortunate it wasn’t Lord Joran, else we would’ve lost our tongues.”
At the thought, Skandar gagged and stuck his tongue out repeatedly. That’s disgusting.
“For a while we headed his warning, but of course,” both brothers shook with silent laughter before Aidan went on, “that didn’t last long. We waited a couple days and then scampered right back up here.”
Skandar chuckled, “And Sir Reuben never found out?”
Their laughter ceased almost instantly. “Oh no! Knowing Sir Reuben, he knew the moment we disobeyed him,” Eoin stated bluntly and the brothers resumed their silent amusement.
“Speaking of Sir Reuben,” Skandar said, redirecting his attention to survey the people milling about the floor far below, “where did he disappear to?”
The brothers leaned over the opening and squinted as they searched for the Keeper. “No idea,” one of them mumbled.
Their casual dismissal told Skandar the most probably explanation that Sir Reuben had gone to stretch his legs.
The Great Hall suddenly fell into silence. Skandar and his companions peered down through the grate, anxious to hear what next would occur.  King Fendral stood and raised a golden, jewel-encrusted chalice high in his right hand. His expressionless face never changed as he opened his mouth to speak. Strong and clear, his voice rang out to his attentive audience.
“My Lords, Ladies, nobles, and knights, tonight we celebrate the signing of a treaty with our new friend and ally Tir O Niwl,” King Fendral paused. Murmurs of agreement rippled through the crowd; some nodded their heads. Satisfied with their response, he continued. “Not only will our countries benefit from the establishment of peace between us, but also from the safe passage it will allow. In battle, we shall fight side by side. The people of Corrthaine and Tir O Niwl shall be as brothers.
“I ask you now to join me as we mark this momentous occasion.”
The colorful congregation rose as one to their feet, raising their goblets aloft in suit of the king. Their voices awoke again in a loud cheer.
From behind a secret panel in the lower wall of the Great Hall, Flynn peeked through the crack made by the slightly adjacent door, the fingers of his right hand curled around the hilt of his ebony sword. A whisper of a breeze touched the back of his neck from the dark passage behind him. Good, he thought. That means the outside entrance remains open. His attention was drawn back to the King, who resumed his speech once the commotion among his guests died down.
“It is with no small sorrow I relate to you the news of King Caddock’s illness,” the King lifted his goblet in the direction of the Niwl ambassador and his men. “I wish him a swift and sound recovery, and if fortune be against that, I wish Prince Morfael success in his father’s stead.”
At the mention of the name, Flynn bristled and the ever-present rage, like a fire within him surged. Instead of dousing the flames, he redirected them as he had done for years. The fires fueled the hatred required to accomplish his goals; the ice afterward froze over the flames, numbing him inside. He hated it and appreciated it at the same time.
Inside the hall, Lord Joran tilted his head ever so slightly in Flynn’s direction. Flynn caught this, and like a wolf to its den, slunk back into the shadows. The order had been given.
When King Fendral completed his speech, he sat, and the merriment of his guests resumed. Blinded by the festivities, most did not miss the absence of five of their number. All save one.
It began with the disappearance of the meddlesome Keeper. Then Lord Joran had seen them, one by one, slip out of the hall while the king held everyone’s attention. Once he had alerted Flynn, a ghost of a smile appeared on Lord Joran’s face, but almost as quickly, it vanished.

Thank you for reading!!
This blog cannot be what it is without you all, and I just wanted to say thank you, thank you, thank you for reading. You are amazing. Never stop being the wonderful, unique person you were created specially to be.
Another exciting announcement (exciting for me, at least), but most of what I have written right now of The Mark of the King has only 11,088 words to go before it is classified as a novel!! Yeah, yeah, I know. That just goes to show how few priorities in life I have. Anyway, there's my little rant for the day.
Also, I have my first government exam this afternoon. Can you please pray that God helps me to stay calm and not become overly nervous, and that I can recall everything I need to? Thank you so much!!
Have a fantastic week, everyone!! And God bless you!!

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Mark of the King: Chapter Ten

At last, the long-promised chapter. And it's very short. Sorry about that!

Chapter Ten

The nobles, knights, and ambassadors from Tir O Niwl arrived the next morning in a grand procession complete with cheering and fanfares from the citizens of the Capitol. A gentle snow blanketed the city overnight, and the walls and dirty streets now appeared clean and pristine. Though the weather was bitter cold, the peasants didn’t seem to mind and lined the streets and alleyways to catch even the slightest glimpse of their foreign neighbors. They waved banners, pieces of cloth, anything they could find, in the air and shouted appraisingly as the large host rode past on their magnificent horses.
Skandar stood in the courtyard of the castle among the other hundreds of Corrthainian nobles, knights, and workers when the final gate was raised and the procession filed into the bailey.
From his viewpoint on one of the open passages on the second story of the castle, Skandar saw King Fendral seated far below for the first time. The crown, a tall circlet of gold, encased the king’s white hair and stern brow. He was dressed in gold armor and draped across his shoulders, a scarlet cloak flapped gently. Skandar’s hand drifted unconsciously to his dagger and his vision grayed. When his fingers enclosed the smooth wooden pommel, Skandar exhaled and drew his hand away. As he did so, his vision returned to normal.
The courtyard was crammed full of men and beasts when the last Niwl passed under the gate. At a command from one of the Niwls, every man in company dismounted, turning their horses over to the stable hands. With the horses gone, the courtyard suddenly became less cramped and Skandar now had a clear view at the men below.
“Strange,” one of the young men beside Skandar remarked aloud.
“What do you see?” Skandar asked the man, but kept his eyes on the crowd below. There’s nothing odd or out of place that I can determine. I wonder what he means.
“It’s what or who rather, that I do not see that’s odd,” the man answered in way of reply.
  Skandar rolled his eyes, agitated at the youth and sighed, “Tell me.”
The youth shielded his brow with a hand and scanned the heads of the people. “I do not see King Caddock, his son, or anyone that appears to be of Niwl royalty.”
And that means… what? 
One final fanfare sounded from the trumpeters on the walls and, aside from the occasional whinny of a horse, the courtyard fell into silence.
King Fendral, followed by Princess Catrain, descended the stone steps and greeted a man Skandar assumed to be the Niwl ambassador. He was a long, thin man with short dark hair and a neatly trimmed, pointed beard.
The King and ambassador exchanged a few words before the two important men and the princess climbed the steps and entered the large doors of the castle. Although not a word passed in the moments following their departure, everyone lingering about exited the courtyard in an orderly manner, retreating indoors from the biting air.
“Well, that was certainly exciting,” Skandar muttered under his breath.
The interior of the castle was a beehive with preparations for the feast that would take place in the Great Hall that evening. Wondrous aromas, among them cinnamon, the warm smell of roasted nuts, fresh bread, and tender meat wafted throughout the crowded castle from the kitchens. Servants scurried about like ants carrying dishes, candles, and decorations to the Great Hall, and clothes, food, and drink to the guests’ chambers.
Skandar witnessed the excitement from the safety of a corner in a secluded corridor watching the chaotic events unfold when he sensed a presence nearby. He turned his head and there, making her way toward him, was Muriel.
“Skandar! I’ve been searching everywhere for you!” she exclaimed.
He shrugged, “I’ve been here.”
Muriel’s face broke into a brilliant smile and her bright eyes crinkled slightly. “I can see that.
“Since you aren’t able to attend the feast tonight-”
“I’m not?” he interrupted.
“No,” she shook her head slowly. “This feast is strictly for members of nobility and,” she hesitated, “the court.”
“I understand,” said Skandar, though he really didn’t.
Muriel, in an attempt to reassure him, added quickly, “My siblings aren’t even allowed to attend; I, myself, barely managed to gain an invitation. There will be more feasts, I guarantee, that you will be able to attend. For some reason, just not this one.”
Skandar sniffed the air, breathing in the warm smells of the food he had watched the entire morning and would not be able to eat. His stomach growled both from hunger and disappointment.
Upon hearing the rumbling protest, Muriel giggled, and playfully, Skandar scowled at her. Though her laughter ceased, an impish light still shone in her porcelain features. “Find Aidan and Eoin.”
“Just find them,” she winked. “I must go.” Turning, she disappeared in the throng of people.
Perplexed, Skandar shook his head. I guess there’s nothing to do now but find Aidan and Eoin. Then surveying the frenzied action around him he sighed deeply. Where do I even begin?

That's all, folks! (In the style of Looney Tunes)
I'll upload Chapter Eleven A.S.A.P Which really means I don't know when I'll get around to it, but hopefully soon. 
Have a fantastic week, and as always, God bless!