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Chapter 6—The gathering of the council.
The sky was a cloudless blanket of blue, and white gulls flew hither in search for food. It was now two weeks past since the departure of Thomas, and he was no more than a mile from his objective. He stood on the top of a grassy knoll overlooking the whole of Luindon. This lay before him, and past that was the bright blue of the western sea, sparkling under the sun.
Thomas smiled through cheeks full of bread. He had indeed run out of the provisions Matthias had provided for him at Wynpen, but being a slave boy had its effects, and Thomas was able to filch a few things from every village he passed. He had not once slept in an inn or town home on his journey to Arndain, following Solomon’s advice, and camped off the side of roads. These actions had paid off, and Thomas arrived in Arndain unhindered.
There was one person, however, that he did correspond with, and that was an old farmer by the name of Harry Spilvens, who had offered to give Thomas a ride on his market wagon. He had run into Thomas along one of the Galaemus roads, and befriended him immediately. “What’s a young lad like yourself doin’ all alone on these here roads, eh?” Spilvens peered at the boy inquiringly.
Thomas was instantly alerted not to speak of his true business and only mentioned he was on his way to Arndain.
“Ah, well in that case ye best come along with me…I’m headin’ in the same direction meself. Got a bit of sellin’ to do at the markets with the bountiful year of crops I’ve recently had….” And that was that. Thomas had climbed up alongside with Harry Spilvens, and the two exchanged stories of all kinds as they traveled down the dusty road. Of course the ones that were about Thomas himself, he spoke falsely of.
They stopped every once in a while to have a meal or give the mules a rest, and that was where Thomas learn to “chew on the stalks of nature”. They were merely stalks of wheat, but Thomas enjoyed the smooth feeling of it under his tongue, and from then on had always kept some handy. This was the way he was able to travel on to Arndain in a matter of two weeks. If he had not come across farmer Spilvens, goodness knows how long it would have taken….
And now, thanks to his cunning, Thomas was walking the last short stretch to his destination. He now pondered on his procedure of delivering the message of Wynpen to the—what was it? O yes, the cultural minister, of course. Thomas munched away, deep in thought, as he approached. It was not long before he came across a small community of village homes, and he smiled politely to person that smiled at him, even the children younger than himself.
Thomas had to receive directions from a man to know which way to head that would take him to the gates of Luindon. He thanked the man after getting the directions, no matter how much the man peered at him in a strange way, wondering why a boy of twelve should want to know the way to Luindon. Thomas had finished his nibbling of food and pulled the sack over his shoulder tighter.
He was ever so close to the gates of the enormous palace, and when he arrived before them he stood still for a few minutes to gaze in wonder at the size of its white walls, and the intricate beauty of the citadels and spires surrounding it. He was suddenly awakened from his mind drift when he heard a voice ahead of him. Thomas looked back down to see a man, most likely a guard, approaching him.
“I say there, lad, is there something you need?” The sentry spoke none too kindly after reaching him and looked sternly down at the boy. “We would have you back in the city where you belong rather than stand here before the gates of Luindon lest you have any business of importance.” He placed the end of his pike firmly in the ground.
Thomas opened his mouth to speak, but the guard cut him off once again. “Speak up, boy, if you have any business. It’s best you let me know and perhaps we can see if we’ll allow you inside. So, what is it you got to say then?”
“U-uh, sir, I do have business. Mm—well—the matter, you see, is not for the hearing of anyone other than who it is going to. I would appreciate it, if I may be so bold to request, that I see the message gets delivered personally….”
“O ho, personally is it?” The guard smiled nastily down at him. “Well then in that matter it is my solemn duty, I’m afraid, to deny your admittance and demand you take leave of this spot at once!” He spoke harshly, and it didn’t help for Thomas whose heart had already sunken. The guard continued speaking, though now it was more of a muttering. “Priests of the council here are sensing a strange might coming from the land of Lameharrow, and there has been many an anxious meeting going on to discuss this,” his face suddenly softened up to the poor boy looking up pleadingly at him.
“You see, lad, the council of Arndain is worried of this sudden presence of evil they feel, and there is an order that we have special restrictions to those who wish to enter Luindon….”
Suddenly Thomas’s face brightened with a new hope. “But, sir my message is for the council…” Thomas now stood with a choice: to choose whether to tell this guard what was in the letter, or follow Solomon’s dire advice—and he chose to speak of what the letter contained. “Um—sir, I fear the message I bring holds news about what you speak of. And I believe the council would be much pleased to hear about this.”
The expression on the guard’s face changed also. He looked to the ground for a moment and thought. “Well, I suppose we may be able to get you in somehow…bah! What can one mere boy do to us? Come along then, I will have to escort you to the council so you may deliver your message. Follow me now, come on!” The guard turned his back on Thomas, after making this hasty decision, and hailed to another sentry posted high on the wall for the gates to be opened.
Thomas walked silently behind the guard as they passed through mazes of large outdoor stairways and courtyards. Thomas was immediately taken by surprise of the size and exquisiteness of the main courtyard on the third level. It was a great circular lawn, beautifully cut, with laid pavements of white leading in different directions. Two trees stood in the middle of the courtyard, their orange leaves scattered on the lawn. Was Thomas noticed, and he rather liked it, was that there were two holes cut in the ground near the trees.
They were like small pools, rectangular in shape, and filled with crystal water. Thomas knew not what the meaning of this was, but he liked the look of the marble interior of the pools anyhow. He had to keep himself on track of following the guard rather than to become any more distracted than he already was.
It was not long before he found himself being led to the face of a large wooden double door, carved with detailed patterns in the wood and gilded handles. The guard approached this door and rapped the stout wood a few times.
Thomas stood behind, anxious for what awaited him through those doors, and knots grew in his stomach. He heard a low voice, yet somehow of a higher pitch, and knew at once that an old voice beckoned them to enter through the doors.
The guard grasped the golden handlebars firmly, and pushed them inward. A squeak came from the large wooden doors as they swung inwardly. The sentinel stepped forwardly, an unafraid stride, and stood before a group of elderly men. He turned his head back and nodded for Thomas to follow.
Thomas entered slowly, taking unhurried, silent steps on the white marble pavement. Pacing farther into the room, Thomas came to the realization of just how large the room really was. The ceiling was a good fifteen feet high or so, and the diameter stretched widely. It was a circular room, holding many tapestries and decorative furnishings.
In the middle of the room was placed a glossy oaken table, wonderfully made, and around it were seated five men in their declining years—the council of Arndain.
The guard bowed submissively to the men before him and spoke. “The lad wishes an audience with the great council of Arndain. May I inform you that his news if tidings of what your commission has been discussing of late.” He bowed once more and retreated, leaving the room without a glance at Thomas, and shutting the doors behind him as he went.
Under the dim light, and deciphering stares of the council, Thomas felt at once meek, a small person within something far greater and mysterious than he had ever known. Thomas couldn’t figure out the look the aged men held on their faces. They had apparently been in deep conversation before he arrived, and now Thomas could not decide if they were irritated at him or only trying to look through him into the past of his life.
“Well, boy, what is it you have gone through to the trouble of disturbing us to warn us of?” One of the men spoke suddenly. He was tall, dressed royally in a blue garment, a white beard falling like a waterfall down his chest. There was yet another moment’s silence as Thomas was at a loss for words amidst these men of well-deserved respect, and stuttered only when he found his wording.
“I-I—I—p-please, sirs, I bring you news of Wynpen,” he stammered, and was surprised at himself for being able to speak at all. At once, everyone seated at the table looked down at the wooden surface in thought; trying to recall something they had heard to refresh their memory of Wynpen. One of them, a short man with no less the long, white beard, smiled lightly and raised his head first.
“Ah, yes, now the name does ring a bell. I see there are towns and villages I must be reminding myself of daily. Now young lad, what is the news you present us?” He stroked the sides of his chin with a thumb and forefinger.
Thomas came to ease, if only a little, and regained his confidence remembering who he was doing this for. “Sir, if I may be so bold to announce, that this message was meant for the cultural minister of Arndain, and he alone.” He stated, repeating what Solomon had told him in Wynpen. Thomas wet his lips and braced himself for their response. No had answered, except the man who had spoken before.
“O, I see! Well then,” he looked at his companions seated next him in the eyes quickly before turning back to Thomas. “I suppose then that of whom you speak would be me!” He said. Lowering his head without taking his eyes off of Thomas, he motioned with a finger for him to approach.
Thomas began to take slow steps once again, now closer to the man. He didn’t know why, but for an odd reason he was rather afraid of the ones he drew near to. But as he cautiously stepped nearer, Thomas reminded himself that there was absolutely nothing for him to fear. This was Arndain, a place he had never been to before and had always wanted to, let alone actually be taken to see the council within Luindon.
Coming to the realization of this, Thomas took one last deep breath and walked bravely forward the last ten feet or so. He then took the pack he had been carrying on his shoulder, and dug around its belongings inside in search of the letter. He had been extra careful nearly all of his way to Arndain to make sure that the letter was kept safe and unspoiled. He brought forth the letter proudly and presented it to the old man in front of him. Thomas was satisfied to see the letter finally leaving his hands into those of his objective. He knew not what was even in the letter.
The cultural minister received the letter gratefully, though eyed it with a look as if it were somehow alive. He brought it near to him carefully and slowly, peering inquisitively at the print of the signet ring that had sealed the letter shut. He did not dismiss Thomas from himself as he intended to open the letter then and there, but Thomas was not a completely foolish person, and paced back a few steps.
The minister carefully slipped a finger under the flap of the message and broke the seal. He then unfolded it completely taking a deep breath and appeared to hold it as he glanced for a brief moment at the handwriting. It had been done neatly in a black ink, and apparently had been thought much over before it being written. It read:
To the honorable Minister of Arndain:
I have no doubt in my mind that you have memory of me, and what my family and I had gone through. We were exiled, we were banished, and we were lost. But now the tide of fate has changed and we now stand before the brink of another destiny. One that holds many chances of risk in the future, no less the ones we hold now. Yes, Lord Gilroc, I am Solomon, former general of Arndain’s army, siege commander, and heir to the throne of Luindon. I look now to you for aid, my old and dear friend, for it is direly needed. We live now in the town of Wynpen, one that is not known to many. Our numbers are few—only seven—and we need more people to survive. We have decided, now, that civilians will do us no good, and that what we need is council for our home. Your honor, what I am requesting now is that you would send us one of your priests of the council of Arndain to come dwell with us in Wynpen that we may reap the benefits of having men with us to aid us in wise decisions. I am more than sure you and the rest of the great council are aware of the presence of the Dark Apparition at move, and Wynpen has been the first to be struck. We fear it may happen again, and need protection from those who know of magic. And in saying this, I believe you as well as the rest of the commission know the magic of getting things through to other councils among the race of men. Please, now, I am begging you, send this to the council of Dunfalar in the north, and of Ereth Londale, east of our home. It is due time we trust in the fact that cannot be cast aside: Time wastes like the lives of those in battle, and the days grow thin before the Dark One shall assail us all.
All the while the minister of Arndain was reading this, silence choked each person within the room, and all anticipated the reactions of the old man. The minister didn’t not deliver his responses immediately, and only thought things through in his head, looking down in a blank fashion at the letter in his hands.
Eventually, he sniffed once or twice and pushed his brittle glasses farther up on the bridge of his nose. He took a long, deep breath. “Well now,” he chuckled weakly. No one else could decide whether it was out of his reaction to a childish letter, or really from sheer disbelief. The minister looked up toward Thomas, who was rather near him, and smiled gratefully.
“Thomas! Well I must say then, Thomas, that I shall give you my respect here and now for delivering this message to me. It was indeed very informative and very crucial at that….” He looked to the floor, sad gray eyes seeming to wish for something. He took another long, deep breath before continuing.
“I-I think it may be necessary for me to depart now, for the moment being…” he turned and addressed the rest of the council. They were staring back at him, a look of admiration and questioning. “I must go now to see to it that the proper actions are taken concerning this—this—this.” He held up the letter. The other elderly members of the council nodded their heads knowingly and smiled.
“So is it,” said one of them. “Please…please let us know when you shall return….” He whispered the last sentence. The cultural minister returned his smile, and replied. “That, my brother, I will, though it is uncertain, I believe, that I can predict to you when the specific time of my return will be.”
It was, to an extent, as simple as that; the minister tucked the letter snugly into his robe pocket and fastened the golden rope belt around his waist tighter. He nodded to Thomas, beckoning him to follow, and they proceeded out of the room once again.
Once out in the Arndain air, Thomas and the old man got to know one another; Thomas learned his name to be the “Lord Gilroc” as they called him. And as they strode through the mazes of gardens and pavements on the different levels of Luindon, the Lord Gilroc taught Thomas of the history to each detail of every carving and design not noticed by many.
Thomas soon came to realize that he was not being led back out through the gates into Arndain, but following to another place elsewhere. “S-sir,” Thomas said as he walked slowly with the old man. “Where might we be going now? I don’t ever recall coming through this way….”
“No, no, of course you don’t!” He chuckled taking a deep breath. “And surely you didn’t think that I would be leaving here to follow you back to Wynpen without preparation? No, first I must pack a few things prior to leaving….”
Thomas turned his head away and nodded. “So then you—you are coming back to Wynpen? Why ever would you do that?”
The Lord Gilroc inhaled yet again and looked patiently, kindly down at the small boy walking next to him. “Dear boy, I do believe it is my duty to explain to you the concerns of the letter, wouldn’t you agree?” He smiled warmly and began the tale of the message, coming very nearly to repeating every word correctly.
Thomas took all of it seriously, keeping a slightly somber face, and asked many questions about the matter. The cultural minister listened just as attentively answered all of them accordingly with tolerance for Thomas’s innocence. He was nearly finished to relating the tale of the message when they arrived at a small door.
The wooden door stood alone against the white walls, and had a small awning above it. The Lord Gilroc fastened a hand to the golden knob and held it for a few seconds. Then, without further delay, he pushed the door inward, and it swung smoothly. He gathered a handful of his robe to keep it from getting caught under his feet, and walked inside. Thomas could not decide whether he should come with the minister or remain outside the small home and wait for him to return.
Eventually hey made up his mind to do just that and waited right outside the door. The cultural minister didn’t appear to have a problem with it, and said nothing. Thomas could hear him whistling inside while he sounded as to pack some things. The tune sounded very old, not like a child’s rhyme you would recite, but more like a tale within the melody that had been told for generations.
Thomas had to wait a little less than ten minutes for him to return out of the door, and when the minister did, he had with him a sack over one shoulder, and in the other hand two pastries for them both. Thomas accepted this gratefully and walked cheerfully along with the Lord Gilroc and they talked together with mouths full.
One of the manners Thomas noticed of the Lord Gilroc was his childish disposition; not like the other men of the council—serious, solemn, a singe of arrogance perhaps. No, the cultural minister was much different than the rest. He had a cheerful look on everything, something Thomas noticed and immediately loved about the old man. He was an optimist straightforward, and had the mind of a child at the same time. Not that he thought in a naïve way such as one, but could relate to children as a child could do so to another.
“Will we be walking all the way to back to Wynpen, sir?” Thomas piped up as they left the gates of Luindon behind them, and headed out into the town life of Arndain. Few people turned their heads to look inquisitively at the Lord Gilroc, walking with a common boy out into the dirty streets. Of course for this reason there were few who even recognized him, for he was not seen regularly or at all for that matter.
“Well for the time being, I suppose, yes…why?”
“Mm—perhaps I only shunned the idea of the long walk back, perhaps I just desperately want to see my friends at back there—Jaden, Matthias, Solomon, old Gregory—mother….” Thomas looked to the ground remembering his acquaintances back at Wynpen. To him, they had already sort of become a family for him. The Lord Gilroc seemed to notice this as well and he chuckled lightly.
“Thomas, my dear boy, you will see your friends, your family, again—I promise. And soon! For there is much, I do believe, I could do to speed our—or your—return to Wynpen. Hardly are there the friendless marketers here in Arndain that wouldn’t do his priest an old favor…trust me, Thomas, we shall indeed find one to take us through the Galaemus Roads and on our way….”
Thomas was relieved by the thought, if only a by a little, and was even more jovial when he and the minister had found none other than old Harry Spilvens once again doing his business selling his products.
He stood on the market soil, behind his booth, bellowing out what he had for sale and holding up his finest reaped for everyone to see. Thomas smiled at the way he was able to call out these announcements while at the same time be selling items to others—and, of course, chewing on a stalk of wheat.
“Aha,” the Lord Gilroc suddenly stopped walking upon seeing Harry and stood straight. “Thomas,” he took a deep breath, “I believe we have found our special someone!—and sooner than I anticipated I’ll say that much….” He turned and immediately walked head on to the strident salesman.
Harry saw them and smiled the wry smile a salesperson gives when he has a deal. “Ho there, sir nobly dressed man, and dirty little common—O I say! Is that you, Thomas? Well me dear boy, how it is a surprise and pleasure to see you once again! How fate would choose to bring us together again, I don’t exactly know, but I thank it for this reunion!”
The Lord Gilroc had been eyeing this man closely now, and upon seeing that he knew young Thomas, their chance of a ride to Wynpen became greater. “Yes…” The minister whispered to himself without taking his eyes off of Harry Spilvens. “…How fate does play strange tricks….”
“So now, Thomas, who might ye have here as your companion? I see, Sir, that you are a man of importance and great quality. So in saying that,” Harry looked to his sides to confirm that no one was listening. “I’m going to give you an extra special price on me crops, ‘ow does that sound to ye?” Harry released his enticing entrepreneurship grin. This little offer, however, had no effect on the Lord Gilroc whatsoever.
He said this sternly and Harry could almost tell that it would be useless to try and persuade the old man. He opened his lips as to speak and raised a finger, but sighed and lowered them. “Very well, very well,” he shook his head and rolled a few mini tomatoes through his fingers. “Perhaps this wonderful chance will be taken by someone really in search for me good victuals….”
“Yes, yes, that’s wonderful yet there is something you could do to aid us both and make yourself useful at the same time. O come now, what more could you do for a old council member of Luindon?” The Lord Gilroc asked, cocking his head back a little. Harry Spilvens was taken by much surprise to abruptly hear of this, and he immediately was at a loss for words for an apology while trying to bow at the same time.
“M-m—my king,” He lowered his eyes to the ground. “F-forgive me for I knew not who you were…if I had only known I would not have offered you a bargain for crops, but twice the amount of what you ask of me now.” Harry spoke these words rather fast.
“Foolish man, do not be remorseful for there is nothing we can do about that now (and I don’t take it personally), but keep in mind that Ilgorn, king of Arndain, is the only one you should really be giving the title ‘king’; despite the fact that he has done nothing for practically all his years of reigning, only sitting on his thrown hoping to never lose the moments, but each moments passes by no less quickly than the first and soon his reigning days shall be over when he could have made himself useful to Arndain’s well being….”
Harry was sort of wide-eyed at this sudden speech by the Lord Gilroc, though he soon found his wording once again. “O, u-uh of course, my ki—lord—sir. I-I couldn’t agree more. Umm…now what was it you desired for me to do for you? Anything you ask of me and it shall be an honor to do for you….”
* * *
It was not much longer after that, on the very same day, that Harry Spilvens sat atop his market wagon holding loosely onto the reigns through his fingers, chin in palms. His expression was lethargic and he was rather disappointed in the fact that he had to desert his marketing to deliver young Thomas, and this counselor of Luindon to some godforsaken town he didn’t even know of.
His promise of a cheerful heart was not kept, as his face sagged in a glum expression. His body appeared to be made of jelly as he let it sway and bump this way and that over the rugged dirt road. Fortunately he was really the only disheartened one among the three, for the Lord Gilroc seated next to him sat with his chin high, a stern face, though his eyes glimmered with a new light for his future in Wynpen and looked forward to his many events he knew to happen despite his old age.
And young Thomas in the back of the cart bumped along merrily with a large grin on his face. He scratched his blond hair while taking a bite of a ripe pear he had managed to pinch off of Harry’s produce. Thomas looked up to the sky, now a hue of orange, and welcomed the evening. He had had a rather busy day, full of exciting activities, one that required a good night’s sleep.
They traveled somewhat merrily for a few days on end, and spending nights asleep on the wagon itself. All had good meals along the way, and Wynpen was on the mind of each. Of course this wasn’t as strong with Harry Spilvens for he only wanted to return to Arndain to continue his marketing.
It was the fourth day in the evening, after heading out from Ardain, that the Lord Gilroc himself had taken the initiative to point out when they would stop and make camp along the road. Harry Spilvens was rather glad of it and obeyed without hesitation. He brought the wagon to a slower pace and pulled off the side of the path. From there they continued for about another fifty yards or so deeper into the tall grass before finally coming to a stop.
They all removed themselves from the wagon and took a minute to survey their surroundings. They seemed far enough from other travelers perhaps coming and going along the road. Nodding with satisfaction, the minister beckoned for Harry’s tent. It didn’t take long for the green tent to be set up, and they expanded its size by using the logs for Harry’s market booths to lengthen it. He himself was not at all pleased with it but gave in no matter.
And to push things further, the Lord Gilroc insisted they use the remainder of wood for a fire. Harry was appalled by the very idea and nearly insisted on having his way against this leader of Arndain. But in thinking over the consequences he might receive, allowed this, too, to pass and soon Thomas and he were hacking on the wooden poles with rather blunt axes while Gilroc search for his tinderbox in the back of the wagon.
It was not long before the sky had been losing its light altogether, and the only light the three had was from the grand fire before them. It illuminated their faces, the flames playing friskily for the reflection in their eyes. Harry and Thomas stared hypnotically into the fire, the tricky light draining all thoughts from their mind. They remained frozen to the spot, idle like statues.
The Lord Gilroc was the only who maintained his focus, staring back into the flames, challenging them to test his mentality. He was cunning in these ways, using the fire to help calm himself and allow him to even focus better on what he reflected on. And there was much on his mind, for he had to organize all that needed getting done—the things only a priest could accomplish. He took a deep breath, and squinted.
“Thomas, I believe it would be wise for you to retreat now to the tent and get yourself a good night’s rest. It will be needed in the morning….” Gilroc said without even looking at him. He had to say this twice again, to get Thomas’s attention, and soon it was only he and Harry remaining out in the cold air. The cultural minister turned his head to look at Harry, who by now, had already fallen asleep his head sunk heavily on his chest.
Lord Gilroc did nothing of this and allowed the man to sleep where he was. He stayed seated on the grass until the serene breathing of Thomas could be heard. Only then did he know he was able to execute the tasks needed to get done. The priest rose silently, keeping a wary eye on Harry Spilvens, and quietly made his way around the wagon and past the tent some ways away.
He found the appropriate spot, and drew a small knife from his belt. Cutting the tall stalks of grass down to the ground, he made himself a small yet neat circle before him. Gilroc then wasted no time in removing from his cloak a few small leather pouches and setting them in the circle. He then sat down in front of the circle and went straight to business.
Removing from the pouch a few odd looking objects and even smaller pouches containing some sort of dust. The Lord Gilroc opened these miniaturized sacks and emptied them on the soil beneath him. In doing this, it formed small mounds of multicolored sand. Someone other than Gilroc himself would have no idea whatsoever of what these piles of dust were. But he alone knew they were magic and he wasted no time in making sure they were used properly.
With the arcane items in his other hand, the minister laid them out before himself. They were made of wood, a deep oak, and carved into many different things. Some were in their regular form of a sphere or cube though many strange engravings and symbols were carved into them. The Lord Gilroc set them in their appropriate spots like a perfectionist who insists on having everything perfect. But in this matter—they had to be set a certain way.
Then the real mysteries and wonders followed, for he then placed an aged hand above the mounds of dust sparkling in the moonlight and whispered an enchantment only heard by the wind. No matter, an enchantment is an enchantment, and Gilroc removed his hand to reveal a flame that had caught on one of the mounds. It sputtered a few times and released sparks of its color, a strange smell renting the night air.
The Lord Gilroc immediately began muttering even more words, spells that operated his project, and played oddly with his wooden trinkets, knowing each turn and toss of a talisman meant something to the process. This had gone on for a good ten minutes before he had become a little bit too loud.
A ways back, Thomas’s eyes slowly opened, expecting the morning light and only receiving the black cage of night again. Sleepily he rolled over and groped in the darkness for a candle—the candle—that he had left by his bedside. When he found it, he reluctantly climbed out of the tent, brushing the tent flaps aside and nearly tripping of Harry Spilvens who was lying before him hunched on the cold grass asleep.
Lighting the candle, Thomas held it ahead of him moving it side to side in attempt to find what had awaken him. And in seeing a small column of smoke ahead, he furrowed his eyebrows in questioning and slowly strode over to these slow wisps of thick mist rising slowly to the night sky. It did not take Thomas long to realize the Lord Gilroc was the main cause of these smoke columns.
He saw him sitting on the soil, back turned to towards him, fiddling with the strange wooden amulets with tired arms barely hanging onto shoulders hunched exasperatedly. Thomas stood a mere ten feet away from Gilroc watching him in fascination at his doings, and was just about to question him about what it was hoping not to frighten the old man.
But he needn’t have worried about that
“Thomas. Thomas why are you awake? You ought to be getting yourself rest, you know. We may have a long day ahead of us. There is no reason for you to be out here….”
“And as for you—is there then? What are you doing there?” Thomas nodded his head in the direction of Lord Gilroc’s procedure. The minister never turned his head at all to look at Thomas but knew his every move.
“I see now that there is truly no way to hinder the curiosity of a child, and I must say, Thomas, that you are one of them. Come, I will show you now what I am doing….” Gilroc spoke, never losing concentration of his matter at hand. Thomas hesitantly approached the old man and his mysterious art. The Lord Gilroc placed a hand on the icy dirt in which gesturing as to where Thomas should sit.
He took a seat next to the old man, slowly easing down to the earth, the candle grasped firmly in his hand. Many things went through his mind at once, and he shifted his gaze from the kind yet inexplicable twinkle in Gilroc’s eyes to the swift jumbling of amulets enveloped in the firelight of red, blue, and green.
There was a long silence after this, and the minister did not speak immediately. It took a short while before the aged man appeared to slowly ease from his task, his shoulders seeming to relax and the kindled luster in his eyes dying.
“First off, perhaps I ought to explain to you why I am doing this. I, Thomas, am a priest, a minister of Arndain—the cultural minister. Of course, I’m sure you already have known this, but there are things that you do not know. This being one of them, magic is something that is not known by many, yet the one thing most everyone desires to control.
And as I can see that you wish to know what magic I wield at the moment, it is a communication to the Northern region of Dunfalar on matters in which I had read in the very message you delivered to me. I, too, am now beckoning the help of a councilor in that nation to accompany us all in Wynpen…” The Lord Gilroc saw the continuing appearance of confusion on the young boy’s face and chuckled lightly.
“Yes, Thomas, magic has a strange way of getting things done, but no matter, the task is completed nonetheless and look! The hardest part is over. The letter is burned! The message is sent! It carries now on the wind to the allied realms in the entire Western World.”
“And sir,” Thomas eventually spoke from a head cocked to one side. “What exactly are these—these allied realms you speak of?” He slowly turned his attention to the piles of colorful dust that were formerly burning throughout the night; they were now grey, dull heaps of ash, lying spent on the soil, the last surviving glow of magic pulsing its last efforts like dying embers, the remains of a once comforting fire.
“…There are few, Thomas, few of these dominions that presently stand united with us, or have awareness of the alliance we once held in ancient days of the Dark Apparition’s besieging of the world. After these ended, the world was thrown into apathy for what he may do once again—the very thing I fear he is doing now. The Dark One may begin his assaults on us for a second time when he knows we are least aware and unprepared.”
A long and great hush came over them at that point and no once spoke a word for what seemed like eternity. What the Lord Gilroc had just been speaking of did not have a good effect on Thomas or himself either. Thomas didn’t know what it was, but the mere presence of the night darkness had emphasized Gilroc’s words and struck him hard. He stared to the ground, eyes wide with the future on his mind.
It suddenly seemed so far away, so unclear to him. All he had desired to be when he was older seemed like a dream that he had conceived long ago, and none of it was to come through. Everything Gilroc spoke stuck him like a leech to suck on his pleasant thoughts, and not even knowing what fate the future held for him, his eyes grew round and wide, showing the sheer innocence of the child he really was; a small boy who had never known his true family, yet now feeling as if he had been stripped of them after having known and loved them unimaginably for half of his life.
“I—I think I had better get some sleep for tomorrow,” Thomas whispered strangely his eyes still round and glazed over with a glassy wall of fear. “I g-guess I’ll see you in the morning, when we’ll continue our journey back to Wynpen….”
Thomas rose slowly, his body stiff and numb with dread; he seemed like one possessed who no longer had control of his body nor mind and strode rigid back to the tent. Back where he formerly was, the Lord Gilroc had watched him depart in silence, his eyes following Thomas’s steps with a faraway look and nodding his head ever so slightly in comprehension for what the young boy felt at the moment. He too had felt the company of evil amidst them on a lower scale and could not contain his thoughts from dwelling on the future no matter how hard he tried to shift them to what was at hand.
* * *
Neither of the three awakened soon that morning, for the weather was overcast and the grey skies that shielded the reassuring warmth and light of the sun had kept them in their slumber till late in the dawn. Gilroc himself had taken the obligation to bring Harry into the tent along that night, and he now still remained comfortably asleep on the scarce blankets they had brought with them.
Thomas surprisingly was the first to awaken, and he came out of the tent eyeing his surroundings suspiciously as if the conditions were not meant to be this way. He had not forgotten a thing he and the Lord Gilroc spoke of the night before but had come a long ways away from the trepidation he felt.
Retrieving the brown leather sack that had accompanied him his whole way to Arndain and now back this way, he walked of silently a little ways away through the tall grass that blanketed the field they had camped on. There were still a few provisions inside; hardened bread from Wynpen and the items he had taken off of Harry’s cart.
Standing still against the lifeless sky, he was a small figure, so brittle and meek yet far from useless. Thomas bit into his food without a thought as to what he might have been eating. Other than this he was perfectly still, his hair blowing lazily in the morning breeze, his eyes squinted as if trying to decipher something or someone on the horizon.
Remaining unmoving like this for more than a while, the Lord Gilroc was the first to see him, emerging from the tent in his robe and giving the air the same curious sniff for wonder of why the weather could have altered so drastically overnight. Lowering his gaze, the minister came in sight of the boy and drew in a long sigh. There was something he couldn’t quite sense about the boy but knew only that Thomas had the maturity in his mind like that of a full grown man and even surpassing some.
Gilroc thought to stride over to Thomas and speak with him, but finally resolved against it; he would need to round everyone up anyway—it was time to depart the rest of the way for Wynpen.
It was not much longer after that that Thomas was once again in the back of Harry Spilvens market cart bumping along the frozen road. Harry had taken a while to rouse and he now rocked about in the front of the cart, his head still slumped on his chest. The Lord Gilroc had taken the responsibility of driving the cart himself, and he held his head high, not proud but with determination, his hands operating the reigns expertly.
The cultural minister still kept his qualms about the climate so suddenly changing, and kept a wary eye on his surroundings as if they were to swallow him at any moment. The trip was no more than uneventful none of the three spoke much as they traveled.
Harry Spilvens had woken not long after they had started and he seemed rather refreshed for he was the only one that rattled off random phrases to break the silence. But even that came to an end for reason that he was getting now answer in reply, and silence engulfed them once again.
Thomas never imagined that traveling could be as banal is this, and he seemed to suffocate on the fog they rode ungracefully through. And indeed the fog had been gathering at a tremendous rate no one even noticed until they could not see the horizon any longer. Harry shuddered and wrapped his torn coat round his shoulders tighter.
There were strange things going through his mind at the point, and he wondered if possible that he should perhaps request a payment from this Lord Gilroc for all the inconvenience he put him through. Trying to shake the idea out of his mind, he hunched his shoulders and stared miserably out the side of the cart, not even desiring to maneuver his own market wagon himself—he’d let that job to the minister.
The Lord Gilroc himself, meanwhile, made an effort to retain a customary appearance, wanting to look as if he didn’t give this climate much of thought. But he had a hard time doing so, and for once he was vulnerable to the silence. He always had positive view on silence before, thinking it as serenity for one to clear their mind and think things over. But now he blinked hard and tried to stand against this new muteness consuming him. It was a silence that he had known before though never encountered it regularly, the type that most certainly did not clear one’s mind; rather it filled them with a fear out of no reason, and made one want to panic and hide from someone or something possibly absent to their presence anyhow.
It was strange and he direly needed to hear a voice that reassured him all was well, but none came.
“There is rain on the air….” Gilroc suddenly took a deep breath of fog and remarked, ending his comment in a tone as if he were to continue but did not do so. He exhaled, somehow laboriously and with misery, feeling as if he had just made himself a fool for stating such a thing.
This despondency sustained for hours until it was Thomas who began to brighten at last.
The reason for this was that as they proceeded through the veiling mist, he came to remember his surroundings. He had recalled certain objects and areas as landmarks that were near to the town of Wynpen, and he slowly familiarized with all that passed him. His heart leapt for joy, though not knowing why he concealed this to himself. His mood was suddenly lightened, and he nearly began to enjoy his journey.
It was probable that the Lord Gilroc would have noted this; however he was in front whereas Thomas was seated in the back, and the minister and Harry still kept their glum features. More and more, Thomas knew he was approaching Wynpen, and he began picturing in his mind what it would be like.
He saw himself shaking hands with Solomon, a noble man yet proud of a twelve year old boy for the task he accomplished. Jaden and Matthias congratulating him and ruffling his hair…and Bree—mother—who he’d longed to see again almost immediately after he had started out for Arndain. Thomas was enjoying himself, daydreaming of his return to Wynpen and slowly slipped from reality.
Though this did not last for very long, as a spearing drop of rain came plunge down on him, striking him on his head. Supposing it was meant to wash the daydreams from his mind, Thomas jolted upright suddenly and stared around the back of the wagon in which he sat as if he had only come to realize he was even there.
Harry turned back to face him, feeling the shaking of the cart, and stared at him with a strange look. “You alright there, Thomas? Been sleeping haven’t you? S’pose that’s alright since it’ll do ye the better in weather like this. If you ask me in a condition as such, sleepin’s the best option you’ve got….”
Harry appeared to continue, though abruptly stopped as another one of the icy raindrops caught him on the bridge of his nose. He jerked back nearly as violently as Thomas and swore rubbing his nose vigorously. The Lord Gilroc chuckled at the sight, however stopped when he, too, was pelted with raindrops. The three all scrambled for their cloaks, hoods, and whatnot to cover them from the ghastly rain.
And indeed it came pouring down at a decent rate. The trio and cart were all beaten heavily, and they suddenly seemed very distant from everything, and they tried to hide as best they could from the rain that emptied on their heads.
Gilroc faced a new challenge as he tried to steer the wagon amidst this downpour, and soon had to trade with Harry Spilvens who claimed that he was indeed an expert driver when it came to these situations. Somehow the Lord Gilroc was rather grateful for this, and without hesitance, traded positions with the marketer.
Thomas meanwhile in the back of the cart glanced upwards cheerfully, despite the chilling rain, and watched the droplets bounce from the branches of the pine trees they made contact with—the pine trees surrounding Wynpen of course.
* * *
At the identical moment, when all was dry within the protection of the castle in Wynpen, Solomon and Bree’s father had just entered the great hall, after having fetched a midday meal from the storage. They chose a spot on one of the tables, where they might eat in solitude.
They took pleasure in the fine meal they had prepared and ate in silence for quite some time. It was not until about ten minutes or so after that Bree’s father had most surprisingly taken the time to discontinue his consuming had speak of what was on his mind. It appeared he did have something that did not necessarily disturb him, but kept his mind thinking.
“Solomon,” he said softly. “If you’d mind to come with me to the time a month or so ago, when we had sent the young boy, Thomas, on his way to Arndain to deliver our message; do you recall the occurrence when we stood alongside one another facing the brave lad? You had said something, a poem, perhaps a-a sort of speech. It was magnificent, I must say, and it has stayed with me all this time. Of course until now I haven’t confronted you about it…but now that I am…what was it? O-or rather, where had you heard it from?”
Gregory leaned closer to Solomon, putting and elbow on the table and placing his chin in hand.
Solomon was quiet for a minute without answering his companion’s question, and swallowed his bit of food. Even then, he did not say a word for a few seconds, until Gregory suddenly became confused and sat back in his chair.
“It—it was a prophecy, Gregory…one that I had been told when I was younger, and first made general of Arndain. It was the time when I was being prepared to make a stand against yet another attack from Edelon—my first. I was told by one of the ministers of the council there of this riddle, this prophecy.”
Bree’s father said nothing in reply, and only sat staring at Solomon, as if anticipating more from the man. And it was so that Solomon did continue; leaning on his arms to the table and scooting himself back, he prepared to give a tale of his poem he had recited.
“—It was told me by the minister,” Solomon broke the silence again. “That I should remember this poem, keep it with me for wherever I was and whatever I may have been doing, for I would be required to be able to recite it to myself whenever a situation as it says should arise….”
Gregory nodded his head slowly, piecing the story together, and stared dreamily down at the table, understanding now why Solomon had rehearsed the prophecy on the day of Thomas’s departure when he did. “But now, Solomon,” Gregory still held a question on his mind. “Why did this minister of Arndain name it as a prophecy? For what does that riddle prophesize?”
“That, Gregory, my friend, was the one detail I had not caught immediately. He simply stated to me afterwards that it should rightfully be named a prophecy, for the situations as it speaks of shall always take place no matter where we are. We risk lives, we face danger, and we have no clear vision of the future….” Solomon took a long breath in saying this, and slumped slightly on the bench where he sat.
Silence was all that was heard for a while, and both men thought on the conversation that had just taken place. “Rainin’ pretty hard out there,” Gregory changed the topic, somehow desiring to neglect the thoughts of peril and hardship. Solomon was in no mood to discuss these things either and he engaged Bree’s father in his statement.
“Yes, indeed, I should say it is! Strange weather it was, this morning, for it to so abruptly change and turn to a downcast day like this….” He turned around to look out through the windows to the heavy rain battering the glass.
The two men sat in silence for a moment watching the large water droplets smacking against the window panes, hardly daring to make a noise of their breathing. It was Bree who had broken the silence as her footsteps were heard along the wooden floor. She had just come in from under the arch in the doorway to the great hall, and she walked casually towards the two men seated at the table, obviously having nothing of importance to speak about.
Approaching her father, she took a seat next to him and said nothing. Solomon turned back around from facing the windows and smiled at her. “Come to join us, have you, Bree?” He nodded his head in her direction.
“No. Well not necessarily I suppose. Everything just becomes so banal on such a dreary day like this. Makes me wonder where Thomas is at this moment….” Bree put and elbow on the table and leaned on her hand with a drawn out sigh.
Her father put a hand on her shoulder and smiled. “Yes, I feel the exact same way you do on these sorts of days. Why, even a hearty meal can’t do me much good with it….” He stared down to the table with a faraway look in his eyes and grinned weakly.
“Where are Jaden and Matthias, Bree?” Solomon piped up. “Haven’t seen much of the two boys all day; wonder now if they’re up to no good….” He peeked out the door pass the entrance to the great hall, and raised an eyebrow. And it was true. No one had seen much of the two boys that day at all. Of course, it was only still in the early afternoon, yet they had only shown up for breakfast that morning.
“No, I can’t say that I have,” she replied, somewhat occupied with something else on her mind. She bit her cheek and raised her eyebrows slightly. Yes, there was no doubt something or someone on her mind that had to do with anything but Jaden and Matthias at the minute.
“Are any of you two expecting Thomas to show anytime soon?” Bree spoke again, suddenly bringing up anew topic. Gregory smiled. “Yes, Bree, I know what you’re thinking,” he chuckled lightly. “And it has indeed been very well near to a month since he had left here…honestly, I wouldn’t be much surprised to see him appearing round the forest bordering Wynpen at any time!”
Bree grinned with a joy and hope inside wishing only that it could be true. And what came next startled her like nothing else, an her heart leapt with excitement, as did her father’s and Solomon as well.
For at that moment, Matthias, whom all had been wondering where he and Jaden had got to, peeked his head into the great hall and looked at them with a thrill in his eyes. He had a slightly hard time speaking, and stuttered out of ecstasy.
“U-Uh, s-sirs—and Bree—I-I—I believe….”
“I believe there’s someone present at the door to this castle!” Jaden abruptly came striding in and spoke confidently with delight. He approached the three who were seated at the table, though now rising hastily, knocking their legs on the table in their rush to see who it could possibly be.
Bree was the first to reach Jaden, asking him immediately who it was. And in receiving an answer of “I don’t know”, she could only think of Thomas standing at the door in this dreadful rain, awaiting them to open it for him so he might be able to once again return to the castle of Wynpen.
Solomon, on the other hand, was prone to think first of safety, prioritizing madly in his mind what precautions may needed to be taken to assure that there was no enemy standing in wait at the entrance. And as for Bree’s father—he really did not think of anything; he only jumped with both excitement and confusion, thinking it wise if he was to act like how everyone else around him was.
Solomon strode with great speed past all of them, not even giving it any thought as to ask his son and Matthias where they had been half the day, and took the initiative to see to it that whoever was outside was admitted into the castle by him only.
Of course everyone else followed, wearing anxious faces. Gregory faltered back to keep the women “safe behind him” as he claimed it. Jaden and Matthias, though not speaking a word to one another, communicated in some way to where they both went for their swords hanging next to each other along one of the hallways.
Avenfern, Matthias’s trusted blade, glimmered magnificently under the torchlight, and Jaden couldn’t help but notice as he brought down his own sword that it couldn’t do any harm for him to have a new one perhaps soon….These thoughts were soon cast aside, as they turn right around again and trotted down the hallway back to the rest of their families (Matthias had grown accustomed to having called the people around him his ‘family’).
It seemed to take rather drawn out period of time for them all to reach the gate, for the anxiety appeared to lengthen the seconds that passed, and all could only guess who awaited them outside. All rounded the corner of one of the passageways to face the large wooden gate, knowing that they were ever so near, and their guest was only just outside.
The situation at had was more of a delight for Bree, for she could only think of it being Thomas at the gate. But in obeying Solomon, she lingered behind waiting for him to open it. Solomon did so, as he reached the cold wood, and began to undo the bolts that locked the gate shut. He seemed rather hasty as he did, fumbling with the steel clasps.
Though when he had finished in doing so, he stood there for a few hesitant moments. All was silent, and the pattering of rain outside appeared to become amplified as no one spoke a word. Solomon took a large breath and cracked the gate open a few inches. His eyes grew wide in seeing that there was, in fact, someone hooded and standing frightfully still under the downpour.
But what really caught him by surprise was that there was more than only one person standing alone. Set behind this first man, there were indeed three others standing abreast, just as concealed under clothing as the first. Even despite the fact that Solomon could not see their faces, he did invite them in.
Solomon stood back, opening the door further, and beckoning the four men to come inside. The outside cam into view, everyone else inside of the castle suddenly came to see how ghostlike the rain was. It was almost silent, just a steady yet stifled patter.
The four men said nothing in reply and walked gracefully like specters into the castle. They all wore heavy robes, gray but with a slight dark blue in them. By now, the torchlight from the burning maces along the wall gave warmth and light to them, though they remained unmoving as if they were not cold at all. The flickering flames played on them trying to unveil what was concealed behind their sagging hoods. All they could reach, however, was the tips of the strange men’s noses. Somehow satisfied with only that, the light danced cheerfully on them, reflecting strangely off of the rainwater.
It was deathly quiet at that point, as no one said anything, and only the thudding of their boots could be heard on the stone floor under their robes. Jaden felt choked under this silence as if pressure was pushing him to be something smaller and inferior than what he really was amidst these peculiar beings.
Solomon then was the first to speak after some time. “Welcome to Wynpen, travelers. Who might you be, and what did you need with us?” He wet his lips, and for the first time, Jaden really felt his own father speak with an uncertainty in his voice.
Niether of the five spoke immediately in response, but waited for a few seconds before removing the hoods that hid their faces. Each of them stood side by side, and when they did so, everyone facing them tried to see them all at once. The first man on the left, or the one that Solomon had appeared to see first in the doorway, was an old man. He had a wrinkled face, and a beautiful beard of straight brown hair flowing to his chest. His eyes were kind, and it reassured everyone in Wynpen by a little. He had a small smile, curving out of the side of his mouth, though hardly anyone noticed it.
The second man had somewhat similar features from the former man. His eyes were gentle, and he seemed to be a very well mannered man. Despite his age, he kept a clean cut head of grey hair, though it was plastered now to his face from the rain. He also had a small pair of brittle glasses fixed toward the lower end of his nose. This man did not seem to worry anyone from Wynpen, either.
On the other hand, the third man present gave them all a second thought. He was rather tall. His face was solemn, one that appeared to have never seen joy before. Almost dull, the features of this man stuck out surprisingly. His face did not have the age whatsoever that the other three held. He appeared to be perhaps as old as Solomon if not younger. His face was cleanly shaven, save the thin black eyebrows that snaked above his dark blue eyes. His hair was long. The sleek and dark like the night sky, reflecting the torchlight as it fell far behind his back.
The last man standing at the end of the line seemed to be the most cheerful. His smile was the largest of all, even if was not that big, and he was short and stubby. He was bald, his round head gleaming in the light. His face sagged, slightly, and he grinned through a goatee of brown hair that led to a rather long pointed beard.
Back to the first elderly man on the left, he finally replied Solomon, giving his name.
“I, sir, am the Lord Cindain,” he bowed slightly, and gave a larger grin. “I am a member of the council of Dunfalar, north of your abode….” The gentle man left off, and turned his head to face the man next to him, as if expecting him to introduce himself as well.
In seeing this, the man next to the Lord Cindain stood a little more erect, clearing his throat, and did indeed introduce himself. “And I,” he spoke with a sort of crack in his voice, “Am the Lord Ragnar Hramm, member of the council of Ereth Londale.” He did not bow, but gave them a reassuring smile, nodding his head once.
From then forth, the last two men introduced themselves as the Lords Amondil, the man with sleek, black hair, and Barlamus, the short, rather chubby man. All seemed extremely friendly, save the Lord Amondil, who all had their eyes on. He was stiff, and did not speak as sociably as the others.
No matter, the Lord Amondil’s appearance could not diminish the cheeriness of the others, and Lord Barlamus looked ready to burst his fat stomach with the exciting news he held.
“Sir….” The minister faltered.
“Very good. Sir Solomon, it is my great pleasure in informing you why we are here. Some of you may have already figured this out, and some may have not…but to sum it up on a shorter scale—we are your council members! We are the new council of Wynpen!”
Nathan D. Gage