This is it. This is the end of Part One. Now I really need to step on it and write Part Two!!
That being said, I probably won't post as much until, well, I don't know when. So instead of two chapters a month, it may be reduced to one. But I'll see if I can write a few short short stories here and there and post them for you guys. By short, I mean a page or two. ;)
Also, Merry Christmas!!!! Remember that Jesus is the real reason for celebrating Christmas.
Without His birth, we probably would not be here today. And I certainly would not be writing this blog. All the praise and glory goes to Him- my Savior and the Lord of my Life.
Without His birth, we probably would not be here today. And I certainly would not be writing this blog. All the praise and glory goes to Him- my Savior and the Lord of my Life.
And now, I hope you enjoy Chapter Fourteen.
Evening arrived, bringing with it the cheer and chaos that often accompanies an eve of celebration and merrymaking. Skandar, dressed warmly in a crimson jacket, dark brown pants and boots, accompanied Sir Reuben and his family into the Great Hall. Oliver met them at the door. Taking Muriel’s arm, Oliver led the way into the warm hall. Skandar happened to glance down and barely caught sight of the hilts of Oliver’s daggers carefully tucked into his boots.
Skandar’s own hand strayed to the knife at his side, where it rested for nearly the entire evening. He acted as a man in a trance; he ate but did not taste; he spoke but said nothing. He laughed mirthlessly. His eyes darted about the room, whose colors seemed to have faded compared to several nights ago when he had gazed upon the magnificent hall from the room in the ceiling. The hundreds of people moved around him as though they moved through water, their actions slow and deliberate, graceful and smooth.
When someone lightly laid a hand on his shoulder, Skandar’s nerves snapped.
Muriel gasped, but regained her regal composure. “Forgive me, I did not mean to-”
“You did not,” he cut her off.
“Oh,” her face broke into her radiant smile. “Then I was hoping you would join me in a dance.”
“Would Oliver mind?”
“Not at all. In fact, it was he who noticed you sitting here, ‘like a raincloud’ I believe were the words he used.”
“You are not afraid of getting wet, then, Muriel?”
“Though I prefer sun, I do not fear the rain. And be careful, Skandar. You’re beginning to sound like Eoin.”
Skandar made a face of mock horror. “In that case, how do you feel about being trod on?”
The musicians began to play a simple, but lively tune. People from all over the room gathered in the center of the room, forming a large ring. Muriel took Skandar’s arm and tugged him up gently.
“You are almost as bad as Catrain,” Muriel chided him. “This one is not difficult. Come, I shall teach you.”
The circle broke to allow them in. Tentatively, Skandar joined hands with Muriel and the women on his other side.
“Just relax and follow the others,” Muriel whispered.
The music picked up, and Skandar was whisked away. He tripped and stumbled, unsure of himself at first. But slowly, he found his footing and learned the simple flow of the dance. Stepping and kicking in time to the melody as the world revolved around him, Skandar lost himself in the music. His feet flew lightly over the smooth stones when the circle spun faster as the tempo increased. Around and around the circle spun. Skandar became aware of an innate sense of joy that he hadn’t experienced in a long time. He missed a step.
Then suddenly, with a flourish the music ceased and the circle stopped. Skandar swayed momentarily, breathless and elated.
“See?” Muriel stood beside him, her cheeks flushed and her face glowing. “That wasn’t so hard, now was it?” She released his hand.
“No,” he gasped. “Never in my life have I done anything like that.”
“You have not danced before?”
Skandar shook his head and followed her away from the floor and back to their place at the table. “There were some celebrations and festivals in Tiem that included dancing; I never attended any.”
Skandar shrugged. “I never belonged. And the sheriff’s men always watched me, similar to…” he stopped speaking. Where is Flynn?
Sir Reuben and Oliver approached them and by their grim expressions, Skandar guessed something was amiss.
“Excuse us for a moment, would you, Muriel?”
“Of course, Father,” she nodded curtly and wandered away.
Outside the Great Hall, Skandar, Oliver, and Sir Reuben met four other nobles at a corner of two hallways. One was Corrthainian, the other three were Niwl.
“Pair off, each of you; scour the castle. I will return to my chambers in the case that he appears there. Do not abandon your companion for any reason.”
The men dispersed in groups of two, each heading off in separate directions. Oliver beckoned Skandar to follow.
“I’m confused,” Skandar said. “What just happened?”
“Someone is missing, several people, actually. But we are only concerned about one at the moment.”
Once in a vacant corridor, Oliver drew a dagger from his belt and his sword from his side. “I advise you do the same.”
They searched the eerily silent halls of the castle, both those familiar and unfamiliar to Skandar; from the tops of the walls to the dark dungeons, which brought back the unpleasant memory of Skandar’s first night in the Capitol. The more they searched and came away empty-handed, the more frantic and flustered Oliver became. Skandar, on the other hand, walked aimlessly after Oliver. Passing a closed door, he noticed a pool of red liquid running in the cracks between the floor stones.
He nearly passed by, but something drew him back. “Oliver?” his throat tightened, causing his voice to rise.
Oliver stomped impatiently back and hastily cast a glance at the liquid. “One of the servants probably spilled a pitcher of wine and forgot to clean it up.”
Taking a torch from the wall, Skandar waved it over the pool. Almost immediately he realized the fault in Oliver’s assumption, recalling the times he butchered chickens for Peter in Tiem. “Oliver,” his mouth dried, “this isn’t wine. This is blood.”
Skandar stared at the door, not wishing to know what lay behind, but at the same time itching to help if he could. The latter instinct won, and he kicked the door open. The wood splintered at the lock and the door crashed against the interior wall. Skandar nearly dropped the torch when he saw what lay on the other side of the door.
Hidden in the dark recesses of the chamber, a body sat slumped against the wall. Unseeing eyes stared at the door from below blond matted hair. Bruises covered the left side of the corpse’s face and blood ran from a cut below his eye. Blood seeped from a wound in his chest, just below his heart, and ran from his body through the cracks in the floor stones to just under the door.
Bile rose in Skandar’s throat and his stomach lurched. He dropped the torch, pushed past Oliver, who knelt beside him, and ran to the Keeper’s Chambers. Oliver caught up just as he reached the door. Skandar pounded on it furiously until Sir Reuben opened it wide and stepped out.
The Keeper’s face fell when Oliver shone the light over the dead man’s features in the chamber.
“Is this the man you searched for?” Oliver asked.
“Aye, Sir Rupert.”
From the doorway, Skandar observed Sir Reuben cut open Rupert’s blood-soaked shirt. Inside the hem of the shirt was a pocket. It appeared to be empty. Standing, Sir Reuben rubbed the back of his neck. Then he frowned and knelt again.
“Whoever did this did not escape unscathed.”
Skandar stepped inside the room. “Forgive me, Sir, but how do you know that?”
Sir Reuben lifted Rupert’s oddly-shaped scabbard from where it lay beside his thigh. Oliver held the torch closer, and Skandar saw it was empty.
“Rupert possessed a unique, two-bladed dagger. What kind of man keeps such a recognizable weapon after killing its owner?”
“A foolish one,” Oliver noted.
“Unless Rupert wounded his murderer.”
“What do we do now, Sir?”
“Oliver, find someone to remove the body and bury it. Pay them for their silence it you must. Tell no one else; if word reached the Niwls about what has happened tonight, Rupert’s may not be the only body buried tonight. I myself will inform the king.”
“He will most likely announce it to the rest of the banquet.”
“Aye, he will. Which is why I will tell him that it was an accident in the training field.”
“And the other lords?”
“I cannot do anything for them, except warn them. They are in the hands of the True King,” the Keeper shook his head in dismay. “Skandar, come with me. Do not leave my side.”
Heart heavy and his body weary, Skandar obeyed.
They returned to the Great Hall where Sir Reuben promptly passed through the center of the room and mounted the platform upon which sat King Fendral. Catrain cast Skandar a curious glance, which he acknowledged but did not return. Such familiarity at a ceremonial feast was likely not permitted. But he didn’t care. His mind was in a fog, and his stomach felt ill. He looked down at his hands and immediately folded them, one over the other, and hoped no one noticed the blood stains. They may think it is merely wine, he thought optimistically. Or they may think it was I who murdered the knight. In that case I’ll surely be hanged or beheaded before the night is over. Fool.
The Keeper bowed curtly, and then, leaning over the table, whispered in the king’s ear. Although Skandar and most of the other nobles nearby could not discern what was said, the distressed expression on the king’s skeletal face relayed the message well enough. When Sir Reuben stepped away, King Fendral rose and raised a tremoring hand in the air. Silence fell across the room like a heavy blanket.
“A tragedy has befallen this night,” announced the king weakly. The slight shaking of his hands continued. “A brave young Niwl warrior was killed in a terrible accident.”
Murmurs of alarm swept through the crowd, followed by furious outbursts from the Niwls. All hands flew to weapons as cries of treason erupted all over the room. Ladies screamed and chaos ensued. In the momentary and timely diversion, Catrain excused herself from the table and disappeared behind the wide throne. Skandar leaned back and peered around it, but the princess had vanished. Where did she go? And then he remembered Aidan and Eoin mentioning other passages in the castle.
Meanwhile, King Fendral ordered the room to silence. Uneasy tension between the Corrthainians and the Niwls hung in the air like a thundercloud.
“The nature of the incident is unknown to me. But like our fellows from Tir O Niwl, this news has left us stricken. I am assured that he will be buried among the fallen warriors of our country as one of our own beloved brothers and sons. He will be honored.”
King Fendral lowered himself unsteadily back onto his throne. A coldness crept across the room. Although the festive music resumed, no one danced. In all, the Great Hall was eerily still.
“What now, Sir Reuben?”
“Wait,” the Keeper dipped his head in the direction of Lord Joran. On the outside, the lord appeared no sterner and crueler than usual. Skandar imagined what was going through his mind. Anger? No, anger was too light an emotion. Fury. Whatever he felt, Skandar admitted that, as always, he hid it well.
After bidding King Fendral and the other noblemen farewell, Lord Joran skirted the edges of the room and ascended the staircase, disappearing through the door at the top.
As though waiting for this cue, Sir Reuben promptly made for his wife. Skandar quickened his pace to keep up with the tall man. “Help me locate my family. Tell them the night has come to an end and that it is time we return home.”
“You fool!” Lord Joran snarled. His dark eyes flashed, burning dangerously in the dark room, and for a moment Flynn thought he must be hallucinating.
I am seeing things. Things that are not really there.
“You allowed him to see you and then you killed him. Enlighten me, Flynn. What were your orders, and do be specific.”
“Not to kill anyone,” Flynn rasped. Sweat poured into his eyes, stinging them. He arched his back against the stone wall and clenched his jaw to keep himself from crying out. Agony flowed through his veins, beginning in his thigh and spreading throughout his body. Seeping from around the twin blades buried a short way in his thigh, blood soaked the black leather of his pants. I am fortunate the man was half-dead and lacking strength when he stabbed me. Otherwise the wounds would be deeper.
“Precisely.” Lord Joran crouched down, sitting on his heels. He balanced easily on his toes beside Flynn’s outstretched leg. “And not only did you disobey my orders, but you kept his dagger.” His hand shot out and flicked the handle of the unique weapon. Half of the twin blades that were visible above Flynn’s leg quivered. Flynn howled, every muscle in his body tense. Lord Joran clamped a hand over the knight’s mouth, muffling the sound. He waited until Flynn had stopped writhing, and then removed his hand.
“What would you expect me to do?” moaned Flynn. Gray fog formed around the edges of his vision that, no matter how many times he blinked, refused to clear. Instead, it slowly expanded and crept inward.
“Without so much as a moment’s notice, Lord Joran yanked the dagger from Flynn’s thigh. The blades slid free with a sickening squelch, drowned out by another tormented scream from the wounded man. Flynn clutched his thigh as warm blood trickled between his fingers.
“Stop whimpering like some pathetic lady. You failed.”
With one stained hand, Flynn pressed on the wounds. With the other, he unbuttoned and removed his jacket. He fumbled around in a pocket and took from it a folded piece of leather. The leather and his hand shook when he held it out to Lord Joran.
Lord Joran snatched it from him greedily and lay it alongside the bloody dagger on his table beside a large piece of thin leather. He stood at his table and took a quill from the well, dipped it in ink, and studied the smaller fragment before swiftly and accurately copying it onto the surface of the larger.
While Lord Joran was preoccupied, Flynn tore a long strip from the bottom of his shirt and wound it as many times as he could around his leg before tying it snugly. It would have to do for now. I’ll find something to sew it up with later… He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the cold wall.
The young man groaned in response. His own voice sounded muffled to his ears.
“Listen to me, and listen to me well.” Lord Joran seemed to speak to him from far in the distance. “Take this with you.” Something soft was laid near Flynn’s limp hand. “We must move up their time table. Make them act now. Deliver a message to my son. Tell him the boy’s life is in danger. If Sir Reuben believes he can protect the boy forever, he is sadly mistaken. That will prod him into sending the boy away. Go with them. Do whatever you believe necessary, am I clear? Bring back Bródúil and the boy’s head, or it will be your own that I put on display. And Flynn?”
Flynn peeled his eyelids open. The dark room spun as he struggled to remain conscious. He poured forth one final effort into staying awake, knowing deep down it would not last long. How does Lord Joran see so well when the room is barely lit? The thought surprised him. The pain was clouding not only his vision, but his mind.
“Rest a short hour. You will need it. But I want him gone on the morrow.”
Lord Joran’s voice seemed so far away Flynn barely caught the final fragment of his speech. Giving in to the pain, he closed his eyes. Limply, Flynn’s body slumped to the floor.
In the dark hours of the morning, Oliver walked briskly down a hall on his way to the stables, a large sack thrown over his back. He neared the end of the hall, passing by an open door when a gloved hand darted out from the darkness and clamped his mouth shut. Another yanked him into the small room. He dropped the sack outside the door, struggling against his captor. Oliver struck him in the leg, and the man behind him instantly released him with a muffled cry.
“What was the meaning of that?” In the dim light, Oliver barely made out the features of his captor. At first, he assumed it was Eoin, but this man, even stooped over, was far too tall. “Flynn?” Oliver reached for one of his daggers at his side, but didn’t draw it. Instead he waited to hear what Flynn had to say. “Is it my father?”
Breathing heavily, Flynn straightened. As he did, Oliver noticed Flynn favored his right leg.
“Ah, now what happened there?”
“An accident,” said Flynn, as though it were simply that. “Nothing important. But what I have to tell you is, so listen to me.”
“That is not difficult to do, especially because you have a nasty habit of threatening people beforehand.”
Flynn grimaced, hobbling forward to check the hall and pull Oliver’s sack into the room. “This is serious, so do us all a favor and stop acting like a child.”
Oliver folded his arms and waited.
“At dawn your father will send men to capture Skandar and Sir Reuben’s family. They are to be executed, Skandar for murdering the Niwl knight and Sir Reuben’s family for harboring him. Your father has it all worked out and is at this very moment discussing it with his council of nobles. Not just Skandar and Sir Reuben will be executed; his whole family. Muriel included.”
“This is another one of my father’s schemes, is it not?” Oliver hoisted his sack over his shoulder and made for the door.
“I give you my word; I swear this is the truth.”
Oliver stopped and laughed aloud. “Your word? You have no honor! Your word is worth next to nothing.”
“Are you willing to risk the life of your beloved? I see by that bag that you already had suspicions and plans of your own. Do not deny it. You and I both know you cannot lie. You’re much too good for that,” Flynn retaliated.
“Alright,” Oliver wheeled around. His face burned, scorched by his wounded pride. “But first, why should I trust you?” And then in a moment of anger and vengeance for his pride, Oliver snapped. “I know you killed Sir Rupert.”
“The knight from Tir O Niwl who died tonight. His body was found; his dagger, missing. We have reason to believe he wounded his killer.” Oliver scrutinized Flynn’s face, waiting for the knight to betray himself. Waiting for any sign of anger. Waiting for any opportunity to kill the man who stole his father’s favor. His rightful place. To his disappointment, Flynn remained void of any emotion.
“I heard that a man was murdered. I never caught a name,” Flynn admitted. “I didn’t do it, if that is what you are implying.”
“Oh no, of course you didn’t,” Oliver scoffed. When he did, he almost resembled his father, and Flynn nearly swore it was Lord Joran, and not Oliver whom he faced. The likeness was terrifying. But Oliver was too naïve, too eager to see the good in people, even if none existed.
“How did you receive your injury?”
“As I told you before, an accident,” Flynn replied smoothly and without hesitation. “I was sparring earlier with one of the knights. We were using real swords, not blunted ones. He caught me in the leg.”
“Why,” queried Oliver once more under his breath, “should I trust you? Why should I believe you?”
“Because when your father learns I warned you, and you of all people know he will, my life is forfeit. So ask yourself this- would I risk my neck for something I was not certain of?”
Setting his jaw, Oliver studied him skeptically. Muriel’s life hung in the balance of Flynn’s words, and his own belief in them. Finally, he admitted with extreme reluctance, “I trust you. But just this once.”
The dark knight sighed with relief. “I offer my services in any way I can.”
“State your price. There always is one with you.”
“Take me with you.”
“Then I shall be forced to silence you, and your friend and your beloved will die,” replied Flynn firmly. Already a knife glinted in his hand.
Oliver groaned, frustration wrinkling his brow. “Fine.”
“Right. You do what needs to be done. I have only a few things to gather in my chambers. I shall meet you at the stables.”
Exiting the room, the two men parted in opposite directions. Noting Flynn’s heavy limp and slow gait, Oliver asked, “Will you be alright?”
“I have suffered worse.”
“One more thing.”
Flynn stopped abruptly and turned around, annoyance clearly visible in his face and stance.
“What?” he hissed.
“Where should we go?”
Flynn shuffled nearer and whispered, “I believe we should find Bródúil.”
“Are you mad?”
“Use your simple mind for once and think. We have Skandar to aid us, and when we have the sword in our possession, we can put things right in Corrthaine. The tyrant king will be overthrown, and your father reduced to naught but a prisoner sentenced to live out his days rotting in a dungeon cell. Tell me you would like nothing better.”
“And by doing so,” Oliver added slowly, “we held Skandar find his father.”
“Indeed,” Flynn agreed. “Alert your friends. We depart as soon as we are ready.”
“Muriel!” Catrain pounded on her friend’s chamber door inside Sir Reuben’s house, where the Keeper and his wife scrambled about, gathering food, supplies, anything they needed for the journey ahead. Catrain subconsciously patted the coin purse hanging from her belt. It had been quick work to bribe the guards into letting her, Aidan, and Eoin to pass through the gatehouses, and even quicker for the brothers to slip a sedative into the guards’ ale to allow Oliver and Flynn through later with the horses and remaining supplies. The guards drank the ale before the three had left, and dropped to the ground, deep in sleep. They would wake up after a couple hours, refreshed and in no small amount of trouble for their dereliction of duty.
“Muriel!” she knocked again.
The door swung inward and a bleary-eyed Muriel stepped out into the hallway. “Cat, what on earth?”
“Gather your things. Quickly. Your father and mother are doing the same.”
“Why, what has happened?”
“Plans have changed. We are no longer as safe as we believed.”
Muriel snapped awake as if Catrain had suddenly thrown a bucket of cold water over her head. “Give me a moment.”
Muriel closed her door and immediately began to gather a few sacks, which she had already filled with a few of her belongings. That chore finished, she paused and looked around her room. This was her home. And although she had been preparing herself for the time when she must leave it, the sudden reality shook her. She crossed to the window and gazed out over the dark streets. Though cold and cruel, this city was everything she had known. I don’t want to leave, she thought sadly. I don’t. But I must.
“Skandar wake up!”
Skandar groaned and rolled over. Someone shook him urgently. He ignored it for as long as he could, but eventually peeled open his heavy, sleep-laden eyelids.
“Get up!” commanded Sir Reuben. “Right now, lad! Do not delay any more!”
Skandar sat up groggily and swung his lean legs over the side of the bed. Lady Morgaine rushed into the room, a clean shirt in her arms. Both the Keeper and his wife had replaced their usual elegant attire with simple traveling clothes.
“Put this on,” she handed Skandar the shirt.
He had barely thrown the shirt on over his head and grabbed the satchel beside his bed before Sir Reuben took him by the arm and half-dragged him from his room. At the outer door of the servants’ quarters, Lady Morgaine fastened Skandar’s cloak around his neck and pulled the hood over his head. John and Eliza stood by, watching with wide, fearful eyes.
“They have everything else you will need,” she assured him and opened the door.
Before she answered, Sir Reuben shoved a long, slender object into Skandar’s hands.
“Take it. It was only just finished.”
The sound of horses’ hooves echoed through the street outside. Seven horses, led by two men, stopped before the door. Four more cloaked figures appeared from the shadows and began strapping bags to the horses’ saddles. Then they mounted, all six of them, leaving a riderless horse Skandar assumed was intended for him.
“Flee,” instructed Sir Reuben. “Follow and trust your instincts. Know your friends and more importantly know your enemies. The word of a man means nothing if his actions do not act upon them. May the True King protect you, lad, until we meet again.”
Sir Reuben and Lady Morgaine both hugged Skandar hastily and shoved him into the dark street.
“Come on, man! Don’t stand there gawking like a fool!” The voice unmistakably belonged to Oliver.
Still clutching the oblong object in his cold hands, Skandar awkwardly clambered into the saddle of the remaining horse. The second his foot slipped into the stirrup, the riders spurred their mounts and they were off; galloping through the streets, and walking through each of the guardhouses to the other sides of the walls where they took off again. When passing through one such tunnel through the thick wall, Skandar saw about five guards asleep on the floor and in their chairs. Cat, Aidan, and Eoin no doubt, he chuckled in spite of himself.
They flew through the city and before long, Skandar found himself outside the Capitol for the first time in six months. They urged their horses across the field and over a stone bridge. On the other side of the icy river, Skandar stopped his horse. Looking back, the Capitol was merely a black spot before the rising scarlet sun.
In his heart, Skandar knew he would not see the harsh city for a long time.
That's all for now! I shall continue to type up and edit The Mark of the King and post chapters when they are ready, As always, feel free to let me know what you think!
I wish you all a wonderful weekend, and if I don't post before, a wonderful new year.
"Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"