“Prince Robert, you cannot be seriously considering accepting! A touch of cynicism might be healthier for all of us. Not only have our own senses warned us that this creature is treacherous, but the old dragon made it clear that mankind is hated by all the species of this land.”
“I agree with Alkion. My senses still warn me it thirsts for our blood.”
Princess Cherine's voice was ice cold, “You are a fine one to talk Thorn. You appear out of nowhere, claiming you are here to help us - even though you vowed to avenge my refusal to consider you as suitor. We have accepted you because your actions spoke louder than our prejudices. I agree that the Shadow has a purpose that it keeps hidden, but have not its actions proved it to be an ally of sorts?”
Prince Robert rebuked her, “That was unkind dear sister, what underhanded purpose could Thorn have for accompanying us on such a dangerous venture? He is after all one of us and you should not throw at him what was said a long time ago at a time of disappointment and perhaps anger.”
“You want a reason? What if he is here to secure the Blue Eyes of Death for his own purposes. Circumstances could be forcing him to be our ally for the time being. Even if the Shadow is acting as our ally for the same reasons, why should we refuse the help it offers at this time?” She stared at Thorn as she spoke the next words and his face tightened with anger. “I agree we should remain alert and prepared for betrayal by such an ally, but we should accept the help it offers.”
“For one who has so many loved ones at risk you make no effort to gain friends!”
Princess Cherine stared him in the eyes as she answered, “Whether we live or die Thorn, what matters is how we did. When we return to the spiritual world, we must look back on our time here as having been worthy of ourselves.”
“You believe in the nonsense the priests teach? There is no life other than this one.”
“When you lose someone you love more than life, then you will understand.”
Thorn gentled his voice and face, “Ahh, it is the crutch you use to keep your heart alive. Why not use your lovely daughter as the reason for living? Is she not precious enough to fill your heart?”
“She does and always will. That is part of the reason I will never need another in my heart.”
“You are foolish. You have this life to live and love. Cherine, to love is never a betrayal of a past love.”
She turned her face from him, her heart heavy. She knew that the love for her man still consumes her, fills her and gave her life as her breath does and yet, how terrible it was, she could not recall his face. She could remember sharply the intoxicating feel of his lips on hers, his warm hands touching her body with tenderness and often with passion, but she could not recall what they looked like. She saw the trick her mind was playing on her as a betrayal of her only love. She often searched the face of her daughter for clues, desperately hoping a feature of his in her dear face would bring back the image of his face.
Prince Robert got carried away and stepped out of their group and called, “Shadow, come speak to me.”
It screamed, “Step back! Step back…”
Its warning came too late. A creature, some beast out of a nightmare, far more terrible than any they had seen before, materialised, its spikes piercing his eyes as it spiky limbs wrapped around him, tearing at his flesh. For a split second they were all paralysed by his scream of pain and terror, but then, even as they rushed to help him, the creature began to feed on him. Swords and spears hacked at the creature, but it did not pay them any attention, unharmed by their weapons, protected as it was by magic. Aqutina called out and Iziko obeyed. A fierce flame shot from him and the creature and all that was left of the body of Prince Robert were consumed.
Chapter Two Hundred Thirty Two
The other Roberts reacted swiftly, but they gave way to Freddie when he appeared in a body. He took Robert in his arms and then entered his mind. Not only was the mind of Robert still reacting to his death, so was his body. Freddie used a method that has been used before. He merged himself with Robert, strengthening the parts that were dark with his pain and terror. Patiently, mind to mind, he sent messages, reminding Robert that it had been a game and that he is back in his own body and safe.
A Dominique entered his mind and took Robert from Freddie and with her mother love cradled him within her while she helped distance his memories. Slowly he quietened and then with a sob he fell asleep. No one was being callous or unfeeling, but while they watched over Robert, they also watched the screens as this was a crucial moment for the others on-planet.
At first, everyone was in shock but then grief hit them. Not only the family were affected. Alkion, Sylvestro and Jescus felt they had somehow betrayed their Prince and guilt was tearing at them. Aqutina was concentrating on Iziko whose childish mind was equating the burning of Prince Robert’s body with his death so that he blamed himself. The adults had the sense to realise the children needed their help and Princess Cherine, tears flowing, held her daughter to her and spoke softly, trying to ease her pain.
Nobody really noticed it was Thorn who took Candy in his arms until Wendy grabbed her from him. He sat without moving, his face pale but devoid of emotion, whispering to himself ‘he was not supposed to die in this land’ over and over. Thorn had his own laws of chivalry and he felt he had acted honourably in all he had done. Once he had, within his own mind, allied himself with them, he had done all he could to protect each of them, even while he still toyed with the mind of Candy when she slept, setting keywords and the actions they would induce her to take. In a way, for reasons he could not understand, he had even accepted responsibility for her and once she was not needed, he planned to find a family to watch over her. He was certain that now everyone will be blaming him for the death of their Prince. He’d considered the Prince naïve, foolish and narrow-minded, wanted him dead earlier on as part of his revenge, but had not hated him - how could he, he was the brother of the woman he loves and shared many of the qualities she has.
Jescus kept moving among the group, using gentle spells to ease pain where it seemed unbearable. As he reached Dominique, he softly laid his hand on her. His eyes widened and then narrowed as his mind delved deeply into the magical lore of a lifetime. Cherine’s eyes widened in wonder as he knelt before her daughter.
“Mother of all, it was foretold that you would return to show your people the way to a life where hearts are opened to all. I do not understand why it is I did not recognise you before, but I now declare myself your servant.”
Thorn heard his words and his heart sank with dismay. He too had read the prophecy from olden times and knew that if Jescus was right, he did not dare risk her for his own ends. Mentally he shrugged, changing his plans. The lives of wizards are extended beyond that of Normals so he decided he will wait for Candy to ripen. She will have to be his consolation prize, and since he has the sight, he knew she will bring some comfort and beauty into his life. He reached over and touched Dominique.
“We must return to our land. Jescus, we dare not risk the Sacred Mother on a pointless quest.”
Most agreed with him, so they were surprised to see Princess Cherine stand among them with a face cold and haughty, her eyes betraying her fury. “How dare you! You too Alkion, Sylvestro? You would betray my brother? We shall not return until we have achieved what he set out to do. Once Princess Wendy is whole, then shall we speak of returning.” She turned on Jescus. “Would you condemn her to a twilight world where life has no meaning because my brother died?”
Thorn was the only one free to argue with her. “Be reasonable Princess, we search blindly without clues, there is no hope of success. For how long and to what distance do we pursue the Blue eyes of Death?”
“You started with us Thorn and if you wish the safety of our group so as to return alive, you shall finish with us. We shall travel for as long and to any distance that is needed.”
Princess Wendy, her face pale, pleaded, “No sister, do not waste so many lives for me. Your brother wanted to bring back what was stolen from me so that I could love him again. He is gone, so to what end now?”
Princess Cherine put her arms around Princess Wendy. “You called me sister, I would have you whole so that we become true sisters. You loved my brother deeply and his memory is worth suffering for. We shall continue as he had planned.”
Thorn took a stick and scratched the ground. “This here is the city of Hafen. This line is the route you travelled and this is the barrier. This point is the city we are travelling to. Let us use that as one destination. Unless we are directed otherwise, I suggest we thereafter travel west for thirty days.” He drew a line and poked the tip into the ground, “Here we should turn southeast,” he drew a line that joined at their home city, “a triangle that covers all we can hope to search without further provisions. Princess, we should not undertake a journey without destinations or limits.”
Suspicious, Lady Rosemary asked, “Jescus, does the triangle hold any special significance in magic?”
“All geometric shapes do, but in this case it is only meant to create a starting and destination point. I agree with Thorn, we were driven by Prince Robert to begin this journey unprepared for what was to come and without a plan of action. It was natural, any groom in his place would have done the same. We must now break this quest into manageable proportions so that we do not lose heart.”
Princess Cherine acted as if she had not heard and going to the perimeter of their group, she called for the Shadow to approach her. The Kiards immediately went to her side.
“I do not like you and neither do I trust you. No doubt, you feel the same way about me. If you are capable of speaking honestly, tell me what you think of the prophecies.”
“I am not as trusting as the dragons, I thought you made it up for their sake to save your lives. If you had, it would not have mattered that it was not true, for it bought you what you wanted - an alliance with the dragons. Since then I have heard you argue between yourselves and I have come to the conclusion it was not staged.”
“What do you think of the prophecies?”
“I don’t believe them. Our myths speak of wizards with powers we cannot imagine today, one such powerful magus, the infamous Melia, imposed the compact with the dragons, yet, none of them had the power to wipe out all life. How could such a one be born today? Who would teach it?”
“Why the interest in us then?”
“You crossed the barrier.”
“I see. Following us will not help you learn, for you will not be with us when we cross it again.”
“You are a seer?”
“No, we will ask the dragons to remove you.”
It wobbled. “Ahh, you have a plan - it is almost as good as being a seer.” The Kiards laughed, so everybody smiled. “I gave you reasons why I do not believe the prophecies. If she had sufficed with the extinction of the dragons, I would have been happy enough to believe, but not all life. Not me!” It wobbled again. “I am only troubled by one thing. What if I am wrong and it is true?”
“We are all hoping it is not true or that we can alter the outcome, but unfortunately the lady does not seem prone to exaggerations. If you will, join us as an ally in the hope that we are stronger with your help and able to destroy the eyes of death - whatever they are.” She raised a finger in a cautionary gesture, “Do not think to use this opportunity to try to divide us. If we feel you are trying to do so, you will be forced to leave us.”
The Shadow has a teardrop shaped body, very thin arms and a head that looks like a teardrop flattened between two large hands. It does not wear any clothing and the sight of its penis, that is disproportionately long and thick, repulsed everyone. When it walked and the penis bobbed and swayed, drops of white goo that covered the head would spray, so everyone kept their distance from it - and the Shadow.
As they travelled, the land rose and the river tumbled fiercely. They often saw water creatures resting or sunning themselves on the banks or rocks, but none of them attempted to attack if they kept their distance. Iziko always went with when they had to refill their flasks.
“Shadow, why do the other creatures fear you?”
“Does being an ally mean I have to disclose my strengths and weaknesses?”
“No, I was only curious.”
A day later Shadow returned to Alkion. As it came close to him it seemed to waver in a heat wave and then Prince Robert was in its place, a Prince Robert who was much larger and stronger. “I am a shapeshifter. Any creature that attacks me will find itself confronting one of its own kind, with all the powers it has, but I will be much larger, stronger and swifter. I can do so more effectively if I have eaten a morsel of the flesh of its kind. As a child my parents fed me pieces of all the species they could find.”
“Your choice of mimicry is unfortunate, seeing the face of our beloved Prince reminds us of our grief.” Shadow, with a false apology, returned to his own shape.
Aqutina asked, “If your species are that powerful, why don’t your kind dominate this land?”
“We are not as prolific in our breeding as your species. In a couple of thousand years we will probably be extinct.”
“How many of the other species are sentient?”
“Most. Some are slow-witted, but they all use magic to understand the languages of the others. Only sentient creatures can use magic and without magic, the fiercest teeth and claws will not ensure survival.”
“Can you elaborate on what you told us about the people of the city?”
“It is possible they were originally of my species. They breed as your species does and with the powers they have they could become the dominant species here.” He wobbled with amusement, “It would be almost worth allowing the eyes of death to fulfil the prophecy so as to see them wiped out. We are not fond of them, for their sport is finding and killing those of my species. They hope to forget their origins by wiping us out. They also hate the dragons, because the dragons are far more human than they are.”
Aqutina said, “I am surprised, that was profound of you. What do they call themselves?”
“Humans. They wish to imply the rest of us are but beasts. They call their city Eratosa and themselves Eratosans.”
A couple of days later they had another exhibition of his abilities. Dominique was on the other side of the group from him and she strayed to pick a flower. Almost instantly, he was by her side, preventing her and gesturing for her to return to safety.
It was almost comical to see him bend over to look at the flower. “You find this attractive? If you had touched it, you would have died.” Sylvestro touched it with the tip of his spear and a black gas jetted out. Shadow leapt for safety, volubly angry with him and Sylvestro apologised, hiding a grin.
There was nothing edible to hunt in the area so they had to depend on Thorn and Aqutina to bring food. They returned from their last hunt barehanded and everyone drank the last of their coffee to still the grumbling in their bellies.
Lady Rosemary did not take part in the conversation, her eyes fixed on the three children who were playing a game. “Has anyone noticed that Candy has not had a compulsion to lead us into danger since we crossed the barrier?”
Jescus said, “Perhaps magic cannot cross from the one land to the other.” Thorn thanked providence that he had not, as it probably would have betrayed him.
She scowled fiercely. “I wish I could get my hands on the fiend who did that to her. He must have killed her parents.”
From the darkness, Shadow gave a startled grunt. “You did not hear the dragon? Did she not call her a ‘half-hatchling’? You cannot see it?”
They all turned on him, some of them, in their eagerness to know what he meant and due to some arrogance, sounding angry, so he clammed up. With a short-tempered ‘ I need to eat’ he left.
Within minutes of awakening the next morning they walked over the top of a rising and saw the city in the distance. In their excitement, they forgot to ask Shadow what he had meant.
“I’ve never seen a city with so many spires!”
“It is beautiful.”
Shadow grunted, “The higher they build the more ‘human’ they think it makes them. I will not come closer. I will circle the city and wait for you on the other side. What will you do with the baby dragon?”
Thorn made a valid point. “They might also not be friendly towards the Kiards. They should go with Iziko.”
“I will go with them.”
“If you do lady Aqutina you leave us without a dragon and the other creatures might attack us.”
“I won’t leave Candy.” Iziko stated.
Shadow looked around. “None other will dare appear this close to the city, for there are bound to be hunters searching for us around here.”
“Iziko, we need to buy new clothes for Candy, she must come with us.”
“Then I’ll come with.” Iziko has a disconcerting way of stating what he is and is not willing to do without getting aggressive, which makes it sound final. They agreed to split as follows. With Shadow and Iziko would go: Candy, the Kiards, Jade (she was lent a sword of her own) and Bitsy.
Princess Cherine, Dominique, Princess Wendy, Lady Rosemary, Jescus, Aqutina, Cass and Thorn a group of ten now, continued walking directly for the city while the others turned left. Those not going to the city were given all the water flasks as they would not be close to water for a while.
Thorn was certain they had been seen, but they walked for a long time and came close to the city before a group of men in uniform came out to meet them. “Why are you masquerading as humans? What is your kind?”
“We are humans from the other side of the barrier. We are on a quest and will be leaving within a day or two.”
“None can pass through the barrier, speak the truth before we kill you.”
Thorn tossed his head with arrogant disdain for their weapons, his face and voice cold, “Is this the way you welcome humans, like the beasts out there, hungry for our deaths? Have you already forgotten the way true humans greet each other?”
His choice of words was noticed. “You will come with us, our leaders will decide your fate.” They had no argument worth making, so they allowed the Eratosans to surround and hurry them as they walked to the city.
In a way, the city was reminiscent of their own older walled cities. There were no outskirts or suburbs, everyone crowded into buildings of four to nine floors. Only the tallest of the spires stretched up to the equivalent of a twenty-storey building. The decorations were overdone and dazzling to the group, who were used to more sophisticated and elegant art. People quickly made way, but stared at them belligerently, so they could not dawdle to gawk at the sights. As they approached the portals of a large building, the leader of their guards spoke abruptly, “You owe us eight gold coins.”
“For finding and escorting you here.”
“We owe you nothing, we could have made our own way here - you imposed yourselves on us.”
“Your refusal will be reported.”
The floor they walked on was meant to give the appearance of walking on water with faint forms of underwater beasts below, but the illusion had long since been destroyed by scuff marks and scratches. What the entire group found more interesting were the murals on either side. They depicted scenes of the Eratosans victoriously fighting and slaying all manner of beasts. Included in these were pictures of slain or dying dragons. Wendy walked with a bemused air as she stared at the paintings, for she felt that something about them spoke directly to her.
As one, they stopped before a mural that showed a spire that stood alone. If the artist had painted it truly, it would have been at least twice as tall as any spire of this city. Before the spire, floating in the air, was a woman with long dark hair. She seemed to be watching the carnage before her with approval.
“Lady Melia, mother of us all. You will see her throughout our city, we have not forgotten her.”
“Was she not the one who forced a pact between the dragons and all other creatures?”
“That is her, though the pact did not apply to us, her children.”
“Magi do not have children, ever!”
“She created us, we are her children and she is no magus, she is our Mother and goddess.”
They were taken to a hall that was not very large, but it was lavishly decorated. “If you have lied about being humans, your punishment will be all the more severe.” Since the atmosphere of the room was more intimate than a public hall, it was obviously meant to be an honour to have been brought here, so they understood what he was referring to. Two men and a younger woman filed in, their faces arrogant and cold.
“Captain, these are the ones who claim to be human from across the barrier?”
“Yes my lord.”
“Who is the leader among you?”
Alkion bowed to Princess Cherine. “Princess Cherine, daughter of our King and sole heir.”
“We are pleased to find there are still some humans on this side of the barrier and bring you…”
“Quiet! Speak when you are spoken to. We do not deal with beasts. You must first prove you are what you claim.”
“And how are we expected to do that?”
“Choose the most expendable one among you. We will kill it and if it remains unaltered in death, we will welcome you as humans.”
The group drew closer to each other, more tightly knit as they waited for their Princess to reply.
“We do not offer any of us in sacrifice. We are all friends or family, but even if we were not, we would refuse you. Find another test.”
“Captain, kill that female.” He pointed at Wendy. Instantly Alkion drew his sword and the others made to follow him. They froze, paralysed by magic. “You dare draw a weapon again us! For that you too shall die.”
By chance, Thorn and Jescus were facing each other and their eyes locked. The paralysis did not mask their fierce concentration. With a triumphant cry, Thorn broke free. As the Eratosan leaders staggered, as if struck, the rest were free to move again. All drew their weapons and the soldiers who had hesitated in shock, found themselves facing a group prepared for battle. As swords clashed, a voice called out, “Stop!”
The female Eratosan leader stepped forward. “They are humans, descendants of those who left our lands a long time ago. They have proven themselves, do not kill them.”
“How have they proven themselves daughter of Melia?”
“What beasts of this land would be unwilling to sacrifice one and risk death for all?”
“If they are beasts, they would have feared exposure by the one death.”
She shook her head. “They are of Man. I can sense it.”
“There is one other test.”
She smiled. “You find one of the females attractive? I doubt they will be willing to leave her behind to bear your child.” She spoke to Princess Cherine, “You must be weary. Be our guests while you stay in our city.”
“I beg your pardon my lady, there is still the matter of the eight gold coins they refuse to pay. What do I tell my men?”
“Why do you refuse to pay him? Surely it is the same among your people, you were provided a service and only beasts accept services without recompense.”
“Among us services must be offered freely, the price must be advised in advance and the person seeking the service must voluntarily agree to both before a contract is in force.”
Thorn winked at lady Rosemary and then spoke up, his voice courteous, “My lady, among all civilised people, if a person is wrongfully arrested or taken into custody, upon it being proved unlawful, the party that is responsible for the illegal act must compensate the party wronged. According to your customs, should we demand compensation of the captain and his men?”
“The acts of the captain were according to our laws. You had to first prove yourselves humans. I regret the misunderstanding, but you do owe the captain and his men compensation for their time and effort. If you had walked into our city unannounced you would have been slaughtered before you could have proven your humanity. Captain, since they are strangers and did not know of our customs, would you agree to halve your fee?”
“Six coins my lady?”
“Be generous, make it five.”
She counted out five coins, looking over her shoulder at Princess Cherine as she did so. “We can include this with the rest of your debt later.”
“Your luxurious accommodation, food and drink. I presume you will also require a bath and fresh clothing?”
Weakly she replied, her face betraying her confusion, “I thought we are your guests?”
“But you are my dear, we would not dream of charging you the full rate! Not for the first day or two.”
Princess Cherine knew that they had lost most of their coins when her brother died, as none had thought or wished to search through his charred remains for them. She knew they would have difficulty in paying the five coins if they wished to also buy some clothing, especially shoes, never mind also paying for boarding. She could guess it would be a much higher amount. Her mind was numb from shock, even as a corner of her mind giggled as she tried to imagine her father charging his guests for his hospitality, like, like an innkeeper! She retained enough sense and etiquette to wait for the captain to leave.
“We regret we will not be able to accept your generous offer as we are leaving your beautiful city tonight.”
The dark haired woman put her arm through Princess Cherine’s as she led her to a door. “Come with me, we have prepared refreshments for you at no charge. You do know that you cannot leave yet. It would be heartless of you to leave us with so many questions unanswered. We have so much we wish to learn about your people, how you fared when you left our lands, what cities you have built, the ways of your people, which I am certain must have changed greatly over time. Tell me, what of magic, do all creatures use it?”
Princess Cherine was about to answer out of courtesy, at least part of her questions, but lady Rosemary cut in. “You wish a service of us then? How much will it earn us, enough to cover our expenses for our stay?”
The woman laughed and for the first time she almost seemed as young as she looked. “You learn quickly child. It reminds me of when I was fresh, newly formed by our Mother Melia, young and beautiful like you, with a thick halo of shiny dark hair. I could not be like the others, my mind was restless. I was the one who would interrupt the play of others with a scowl to ask question after question. Because of my scowl and my pressing for serious answers all the time, our Mother said that I was like a dark cloud cutting off the warm light of happiness in all around me. That became my name, Dark Cloud.”
Lady Rosemary gave an impudent grin. “I see you have learnt to smile since then.”
“Oh, I am still very much of a dark cloud. Why do you think the others still fear me? It is just as well for you, is it not?”
“How did you determine we are of mankind, I heard no logical reason given to your own people.”
“It was a secret between our mother Melia and I. She warned me of your coming and spoke of the blue eyes of death that you search for. She told me that when you find them, it will be the end of all sentient life in both our lands. I do not understand why then you wish to find them.”
They were excited and dismayed by this further proof that the prophecy was true and explained about Princess Wendy. They then discussed the theory that if no one destroyed the Blue Eyes of Death, they could be allowing them to grow stronger and attack when they are at their most powerful.
“Whatever our chances of succeeding, we have to try. Both for the sake of recovering the stolen part of our sister Wendy and to try and stop them from destroying all life.”
Dark Cloud took the hands of Princess Wendy in hers and stared into her eyes. “Fear not child, I intend you no harm.” She closed her eyes, but the look of concentration on her face was so intense that none dared make a sound. She opened her eyes and smiled, a smile that captivated them, for it was a real smile, but also tender.
“You have not sensed that you are becoming whole again? Something strange has come into your life and it has helped heal you. Do you know what it is?”
Wendy shook her head in denial and then she whispered, for the first time since her wounding, her voice alive with wonder, “Candy!”
Dark Cloud looked shocked, as if all her centuries of accumulated knowledge of magic were being betrayed. “Some kind of sweet helped you? What magic has it got?”
They first laughed and then became wary. They did not dare tell her of those who waited outside the city, but they felt it would not be right to keep their hostess in total ignorance. If they did keep quiet, their spontaneous reaction to her misunderstanding could be misconstrued and be taken as an insult. Thorn saw the others had a problem in speaking as they found it difficult to lie.
“My lady, may I speak on their behalf? There is much we could tell you, but there are some truths we are not comfortable with disclosing at this moment. Candy is the name given to a girl child. We have all noticed that something seemed to draw Princess Wendy and Candy to each other, but had not realised the effect of the child on the Princess.”
“Where is this child?”
“I beg for your indulgence. We mean no disrespect, but there is information we should not disclose as it might imperil us. We formed strange alliances, in our land and yours that could cause friction between us. For example, the lady Aqutina did not speak her prophecy for us. When we entered your land all manner of creatures gathered to attack us. The dragons also came. An elderly female dragon spoke to us and she was given the prophecy. The dragons ordered the other creatures not to harm us and offered to join us in any battle we have to wage with the Blue Eyes of Death.”
Suddenly Dark Cloud wore the same cold and aloof expression she’d originally met them with. Her eyes though were two dark pools of ancient power that bore into theirs as if she could see right into their minds.
Her tone betrayed her anger. “What you speak of is not possible. The dragons bear such a deep hatred of our kind that they would not have paused to discuss with you the advisability of killing you. What hold do you have over them? Which other enemies of ours have you formed alliances with?”
Princess Cherine’s tone of voice matched that of Dark Cloud. “All creatures have the right to fight to save their own kind and we will not turn any away. If the prophecy is true, we face an enemy none of us can conquer on our own, and only by joining forces in temporary truce can we hope to survive. When we succeed, then you are welcome to resume slaughtering each other as we return home.”
“I do not trust the prophecies of mortals. They are always couched in ways that lead to differences of opinion as to their true meaning. Melia spoke clearly, she did not hint of any possibility of saving ourselves. When you find the Blue Eyes of Death we will all die.”
“Did she say so, did she say we would die?”
“Who are you?”
“Jescus, philosopher and dabbler in magic.”
She turned on Princess Cherine. “This is what you bring with to save all of us?”
Princess Cherine smiled, hoping to turn aside the sting of her words. “He has been most useful and I do not doubt we would have all long since been dead if not for him. He must have had good reason to ask you his question.”
“Her exact words were that there would no longer be any sentient life on our world.”
“Thank you. Could she have meant we will no longer be sentient, that our enemy will steal our minds, as our own enemy stole part of the spirit of the bride to be of our Prince?”
Dark Cloud turned white. “Our Mother would not allow that!”
“But she would allow all of you to die?”
“There can be a reason for death, never for what you suggest!”
They had touched upon the deepest fear of her species and Dark Cloud was no longer in a condition to think calmly, she needed to be alone. She made to get up and Princess Cherine stood up quickly.
“We apologise if we have offended you. My lady, we must also leave now, as we do not have enough funds to cover our costs. Will we be allowed to leave the city in safety?”
The humour of their situation got through to her. “You neither have coins enough to stay nor leave?” Princess Cherine stood stiffly, her stance making it obvious she was not amused. Dark Cloud sighed. “Has not that young lady negotiated the matter already? You need no funds, you have paid in kind. I need to be alone, we shall speak again in the morning. Servants will show you your rooms and all your needs will be provided for.”
As at the Kiards tavern, they found that they each had a room with one bed only. Thorn cautioned them that every word spoken was probably being noted so they moved out onto a balcony in the hopes of some privacy. Thorn again warned them, reminding them that in this land magic would be used to spy on them. They had no choice though, so Alkion spoke.
“I will not sleep apart from you my Princess. It would be better we all sleep in one room. The three men and I will take turns staying alert.”
Thorn yawned. “Not me.” He enjoyed the looks of shock on their faces. “I’ve mentioned this before and Alkion is thinking like a soldier of our land. These people, that woman Dark Cloud, she alone could kill us all without straining herself. Didn’t any of you, apart from Jescus, feel the power she has? If she can stop our hearts with one thought, what is the point of losing a good nights’ sleep? I’d rather be thinking clearly tomorrow.”
All Alkion could reply was, “I don’t trust these people.” They all agreed with his sentiments, but saw no alternative. Asking for beds to be moved and keeping guard would be reported and seen as an insult. It took some of them a long time to fall asleep.
As they finished breakfast Dark Cloud walked in with a servant carrying a small box. He placed it on the table and departed.
As she opened the box she explained, “Two hundred gold coins for your needs. I will send my lady Claudine with you to negotiate on your behalf. It would be polite of you to offer her five coins per day for her services.”
They thanked her and then Sylvestro asked, “Are horses available to be purchased?”
“I better send one of our guards with you, I doubt Claudine has ever bought a horse. Whatever you pay, about ten per cent should be fair for his services.”
“A bit steep, but it is the same in our city.”
“Advise Claudine of your requirements and the merchants will bring their goods here, unless you wish to pay for a troop of soldiers to guard you all day? I will see you at sundown, Claudine will bring you to my rooms for supper. We have a lot to talk about and decide.” As Claudine entered she nodded at her and walked out.
They all found Dark Cloud quite intimidating and had hoped they could relax around Claudine. She introduced herself, asked each of them for their names and then, with a ‘no-nonsense’ air about her began to compile a shopping list. Jescus and Thorn asked for certain herbs and though she had never heard the names of some of them, she noted their needs. She made a few suggestions, such as menstrual pads for the ladies. They turned down her suggestions with regard to cosmetics and then gave in, ordering scents for when they cannot bathe. This prompted Alkion to suggest they buy two extra horses as pack animals.
A soldier came in and Alkion and Sylvestro discussed their needs with regard to horses.
“All our horses are trained for hunting and warfare, our females do not usually ride. The horses are expensive, are you certain you need so many?”
“Yes.” He estimated the horses at about twenty five coins each which meant they needed about five hundred coins just for the horses. Hearing what it would cost they re-discussed their needs.
“We must have two horses for carrying our goods so we can only buy another three. Claudine, will sixty coins be enough for our shopping list?”
The soldier cut in. “My lady told me she is paying for the horses, I apologise for not advising you in advance.”
“As a guess, your list will cost about one hundred and eighty coins.”
“Too much, we must cut back, we only have one hundred and forty to spend.”
“Princess Cherine, I suggest we limit our shopping to one hundred coins so that we have coins for unexpected needs on our journey.”
Claudine left without a word and they waited for the merchants. An hour later Claudine returned. “I have spoken to our mother’s first daughter and she apologised for underestimating your needs. She has confirmed she is paying for the horses, plus saddles and reins and has asked me to give you another two hundred coins.” She put the box she was carrying on the table and opening it, showed them. “She suggests you keep a hundred for needs during your journey once you have left our city.” Her lips twisted into a smile, “Our Lady seems intrigued by you.”
“She is extremely generous, thank you.”
I hope you enjoy reading this story of fantasy, adventure and love - and should some of it be true for our reality, I hope you will love our Cherine.
Αλέξανδρος Ζήνον Ευσταθίου(Alexander Zenon Eustace)
14th February, 2020
- posted: 14th February, 2020
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