Dragon Earl

(c)By The Story Lover


Preface and dedication: This story may seem familiar to you and there are reasons for that. This story is inspired by “Memories” and “A New Day Dawns” as well as the true life story of our favorite nephews THP. I want to personally thank both ACFan and Gunrunner for allowing me to write this story which infringes upon their copyrighted material. I greatly appreciate them for doing this. This story is a Fantasy it will have Dragons and Elves and sundry other Fantasy Races. It is also being written as a tribute to Anne McCaffrey and Mercedes Lackey two of my favorite Fantasy Authors. This story is dedicated to August Christopher as a continuation of his legacy.


Chapter Four - The Continuing Story of Justin (Just')

Portions of this chapter contributed by Dark Star



From Chapter Three: Just' started to relax as Matty started to purr. As Matty's purr rumbled up Just's arm he very carefully changed his position from a kneeling one to a sitting one, as the stone floor was hard on his knees. As soon as he had finished changing his position, Matty surprised everyone by flowing onto Just's lap and making himself at home. Just' was so surprised that he stopped petting Matty. Matty looked up at Just' and then lifted his head up rubbed Just's stomach until Just got the message and began petting Matty again. Just' was lost in a different world just sucking up the love and comfort that was flowing from Matty. Here he was a simple Potter sitting in the Crown Prince's Suite being waited on hand and foot by the Prince and his Family, when just days ago he was being beaten to within inches of death. It seems sometimes dreams do come true.

While Just' was off in dreamland Rebekah and Joth along with Lance were totally amazed by the difference in Just'. For the first time since he was rescued his face was finally at peace.

"As much as I like sitting here with this comfy fur ball in my lap this floor is too cold and hard to sit here for as long as it is going to take to tell my story." Just' then reached down and tried to wake Matty up so he could go and join Joth on the comfortable couch.

Matty lifted his head up slightly opened one eye then partially opened his mouth showing some of his razor sharp teeth and then put his head back down and went back to sleep.

Lance standing next to Just' the whole time broke out laughing and then reached down and quickly plucked Matty off Just' lap before Matty knew what had happened. Lance quickly put Matty on the ground moving out of harms way but apparently not quickly enough. Matty rapidly padded over and swiped at his leg with a large paw, evidencing his displeasure, smacking Lance with enough force to cause him to jump back a bit. Matty then turned towards Rebekah in "their" chair.

Meanwhile Just' had joined Joth on the couch and was wrapping the blanket around him.

"Well as I said the story so far has been leading up to this mug and what it means to me. So on with my life story." As he said that Just' leaned over and laid his head on his Joth's lap, looking up and seeing nothing but caring and warmth along with something he wasn't sure of.

Joth ran his fingers through Just's hair brushing it out of his eyes. "It's okay Just' we are here for you. Don't worry about anything; we just want to get to know you better. No matter what happens, you have a new life here. We don't care who or what you were before, you're our Just' now."

While Joth was comforting Just', Matty decided he wanted to sleep on the couch and without warning quickly made his way majestically towards the couch. Just' was blithely unaware of what was about to befall him. As Just' was basking in the warmth and comfort coming from Joth, Matty made his move. In one extremely graceful bound, especially considering his size Matty leapt upon the couch and flowed into Just's lap.

Joth had no idea what had happened to Just' when all of a sudden Just' went "Oomph" and his eyes went wide with surprise. As Joth was trying to figure out what had happened Lance and Rebekah both shouted "Matty" at the same time. Just turned to where Lance and Rebekah were pointing and saw Matty curled up asleep on Just's lap. At that time Matty raised his head, opened his eyes and looked at Joth with a look that said "WHAT?" and then laid his head back down and commenced purring.

Joth just shook his head in amazement at his Kat, he couldn't believe that his Kat loved everyone more than him. Matty would only let Joth feed him and when ever they went on a trip by horse, Gus or Coach, Matty would only let Joth carry him. But as to cuddling and sleeping he preferred Lance and Rebekah to him. In fact when Jonah was visiting his and Joth's Nana, Matty would sleep curled up around Jonah like a living blanket. Joth seeing the look of concern in Just's eyes leaned over and whispered "Everything is fine my love just relax".

Joth had whispered so quietly Just' almost missed those two little words "my love" Just' heartily wishing they were true he relaxed and then began to speak.

"Before I begin my story again I have something I need to say. This has been forming for a few days now and it is just my way of saying thank you for all you have done for me."

While Just' prepared himself the rest looked at each other in suspense because they had no idea what was coming.

A New Life Begins

The rays of the morning sun peek from below the horizon

The resulting glow chases away the tendrils of clinging fog

A glistening landscape is revealed below

The increasing glow drives the weariness from my soul

A wonderful new day has begun alive with color life and sound

The birds begin to sing the flowers begin to raise their heads opening to herald a new day and a new beginning

The glistening landscape of before is now alive with color and movement

My eyes slowly open a window to my soul the light pours in to bring life anew

A new life begins alive and wondrous with all there is to see and do

I can not wait until the day is done for now I know the glorious sunset is not an end just a prelude to a new beginning

What is past is past the new day brings a new beginning

The future is full of light and joy

Open your eyes and fill your soul for a new day has come again

The light of the sun, its warmth ever spreading brings joy and life to all who open their eyes to see

The birds in the sky the flower in the fields, reflect the power of light for all to see.

Open your eyes and open your soul a new day and a new life have begun.

The three friends sat there totally amazed at the power of the words that had come from their new friend and patient.

Joth was the first one to fully recover. "Just' that was beautiful we didn't realize that we had affected you that much. We are all glad you feel that way. You are a wonderfully talented and beautiful person and we are glad that we are able to help you" Joth then leaned down and gave Just' a kiss on the forehead and a quick hug.

Just' returned the hug and gave Joth a warm and heartfelt kiss on his cheek whispering "Thank you, you mean everything to me" and then letting Joth go, turned to look at Lance and Rebekah who were still slightly stunned. However, the looks they sent Just' were full of care and warmth.

"Now on with my story" and with those words Just took them back into his past.

"As you can imagine the first couple of days after being invaded by what seemed to be the whole Erehwon Court were quite frantic, with my Father and Grandfather having little time to themselves, let alone their families. Kyle and I were both impressed as scribes and gofers; we did have help as the Royal Messenger Squire Witschi was impressed also. She was a great help dealing with all of the court protocols and with whom to speak with about what. It was another facet of life in the Kingdom of Erehwon that I found strange, even though the Court Ministers may be nobles they weren't above digging into work and getting their hands dirty. Yes when it was appropriate everything consisted of bows and hand kissing but when there was work to be done the majority pitched in and got the job done. This was the reason Potters Village had been invaded by the particular court members it had, and even though Duke Campbell wasn't here this time he was a perfect example of this willingness to work. Though he might send his underlings with requests to pick up finished orders, he still personally tested all of his own as well as all of the equipment destined for the Kingdom's Army before releasing it for use. This attitude towards work permeated the Royal Court from top to bottom, endearing them to the common people for it.

When the dust had cleared both my grandfather and father had enough orders for work to keep them busy until years past their retirement. The orders from the Royal CellarMaster for Ewers alone were enough to keep my father busy until he was my grandfather's age.

The Captain of The Royal Guard came with plans to move my grandfather's forge outside of the village, where a large seam of high quality Cobalt Clay along with a seam of anthracite coal for the forge lay. As it was located at the secondary ford for the village there was plenty of water and the main road ran by there as well. There were also veins of bituminous coal and iron ore also nearby so my grandfather had plenty of coal to make coke from and a good supply of ore to work with. My Grandfather was very happy; he was getting a new forge, new house and plenty of work from the court.

My Father was happy because now the Pottery was his and he now had his father’s furnaces in the forge to use to develop more ceramic articles. He was itching to try and fire a ceramic Ewer and couldn't wait to see his pride and joy in vibrant Cobalt Blue.

Things finally settled down about two months later when my grandfather's new forge and furnaces were up and running. It was simply amazing how fast things can get accomplished when dragons are flying material and men in constantly. It also didn't hurt that Duke William Campbell was there at least twice week checking on the progress and drinking plenty of my grandfather's pear cider and stopping in to cadge as many ewers as he shamelessly could from my father.

Once things settled down my father was constantly experimenting, constantly trying to improve his pottery and to perfect my grandfather's invention and incorporate ceramic into his pottery. While he was busy doing that I was going crazy as my father had me busy doing all of the routine pottery work. I can tell you I never knew how many pieces of pottery got broken in a day, before now.

We became so busy with both the regular pottery lines and the new ceramic lines that we had to ask my Uncle David and his family to move into our village and help us keep up with the influx of orders. To top things off my father decided to see what would happen if he fired some of our regular pottery in one of his new furnaces. After several tries and with different times and temperatures he arrived at another new line of pottery, which was a brilliant translucent white. When my father accidentally dropped one of his new plates onto his work bench and it rang out with a beautiful chime. When I jokingly asked if he was going to call his new pottery "Chima", he answered "why not?"And so Chima was born.

Things were going really well although we hardly ever got to see Kyle and my grandfather as they were keeping busy with their own sudden influx of orders. Kyle was now overseeing four Apprentices and two Apprentice Journeymen and was well on his way to being a Master in his own right, and he was dating one of my uncles’ daughters. He would soon change his name to Mikasa-Lennox inheriting the forge and armory from my grandfather. I really missed him as he was the older brother I never had.

Once we had finally gotten a handle on the new productions and orders my father started teaching me some of the tricks he had learned as he had moved from apprentice to Journeyman, Master and soon to be Master Artisan. I was the one who learned the trick of embedding the Cobalt Clay into the regular clay to add color and designs to the pottery without using glazes, allowing us to develop even more new lines of "Chima" and "Ceramic" Pottery for the business.

Things were going very well for our family with both the Forge and Pottery business steadily growing and since my mother was the teacher I only went to school a half day and did the rest of my lessons at night. We now understood why my uncle's old pottery business didn't do so well, he was a Journeyman Potter at best, and while he was extremely good at working with molds (unlike my father) and could copy basic pieces, he had no creativity, meaning free form pottery was beyond him.

Everything was going well until the day I woke up myself which was very strange as my mother usually woke me up. I quickly threw on a tunic and some breeches and going into the kitchen to find the stove cold with no kettle on and my mother not there. Discovering this I went and knocked on my parents door not getting a response at first as I knocked several times and then hearing a weak moan, I knocked again and called "Mother are you all right?" She responded weakly "I will be in just a minute. Go start the kettle for me I will need some tea or cafa."

"Okay mother hot cafa coming right up" I went into the kitchen and quickly relightedthe stove and went outside to the cistern to draw some water for the kettle. By the time the water was ready and I started the cafa brewing my mother came into the kitchen looking very tired. "What's wrong mama?"

"Nothing Jussie I am just really tired, I had trouble sleeping is all, fix some grains and fruit for me and then head to school and start the little ones reciting the alphabet and doing their four times tables. I will be there as soon as I eat and will bring our lunch and you some breakfast."

"Okay mama, you should only work a half day or so since you are tired. Also the troutfish are running this week so the older boy and girls can fish and give their families a treat for dinner."

"Okay Jussie that sounds like a good idea. Run along and give all of the kids the goods news while I eat."

This went on for several months where she didn't get a lot of sleep about once a week or so. She was always fine the next day so no one thought much about it. Duke William happened to be visiting on a week where my mother had two bad days in a row and was in bed sleeping the second day. During dinner that night at "The Boars Hound Tavern" I was surprised when the Lord Mariscal started inquiring as to how long my mother had been experiencing this problem. He asked a whole bunch of questions of me and my father about my mother and how things were going in our village. What amazed me was not only the depth and breadth of his questions but how many he posed to me about the youth in the village; and what I thought about the kingdom and our planet in general. My father finally asked "why all of the questions?"

The Duke's laughing reply was surprising as he said "James I am surprised at you, I never expected you to take so long to question me! The King has a few of us doing a sort of general census type thing; he wants to know and understand how his people and land are doing. He cares for his people more than most would realize, he wants the best for all of them. So that is why all of these questions."

Turning to me he said "Young Justin I have been asked by the King to talk with different youths of all ages across the kingdom to get their views on the kingdom and life in general. The King believes that the views of all of his people are important, not just the adults."

"Duke please convey my thanks and gratitude to the King for his caring concern, I don't have anything more to add, as you have skillfully extracted everything you needed with your probing and wide ranging questions."

At the Duke's stunned looks and with my father trying not to fall off of the bench I continued. "Duke you forget I am the son of the Village School Teacher and she was taught at Castle Highmont as well as Highmont Abbey, so of course I can respond to you as a nobleman or courtier would."

When I finished the Duke who had been sitting next to me put his arm around me, clapping me on the back and said. "Justin with thinking like that you will always have a place in my household, if your father here ever lets you out of his sight."

As I was blushing too much to reply, my father did the honors. "Thank you William for the honor you have bestowed upon our family again"

"Not at all James you and your family honor our kingdom with your hard work, industry, scholarship and fairness, let alone the unsurpassed quality of your work, it is my pleasure to do a little something for your family. I will talk to someone I know about your wife's bouts of tiredness, and see if he can help."

It was shortly after this that Cleric Patoral arrived in the village ostensibly to help our Village Cleric, Tomas, who was fast approaching retirement, and while he was not of the same denomination as Cleric Tomas he did have the Arch Prelate's Seal.1

I had completely forgotten about the Duke's offer of help for my mother until one afternoon when I came home to pick up some dinner for my father and I as we would be working for a few more hours. As I approached our cottage a strange man dressed in Healers Green Robes came out the door, and as he saw, me he said. "Stand there for a second Justin and look me straight in the eyes. Now lift your right arm and touch your nose with your middle finger. Now do the same with your left hand. 'I have absolutely no idea why I let a stranger order me around like that' Okay now stand still for a moment, he then looked deep into my eyes and then reached up and opened my mouth. Now say 'Dragon', okay we are done. Good Day Justin I brought your mother some of The Crown Prince's Energy Bars and some of my Restorative Tea. More bars and tea will arrive weekly. I want you to eat one of the bars a day also, as you need to gain some weight."

With that he was gone and I was standing there with my jaw hitting the ground. When I entered our cottage my mother was eating some kind of bar and drinking some tea. She looked like she was feeling much better. She asked me if I had met Doktor Bazaar, I replied I think so. She laughed and then I explained my encounter with who I now knew was the Doktor.

Cleric Patoral did assist at the services at first and then slowly started serving at service by himself. As he was supposedly trained as a teacher as well, he provided some assistance to my mother, on days she was tired. At first Cleric Patoral preached and taught what we had always been taught; respect your neighbor and yourself and that giving to those less fortunate than yourself, serves two things it helps those in need and makes you feel good about yourself.

As life went on things started to settle down a bit, with my mother appearing to regain a lot of her strength. The tea's and energy bars seemed to be helping, and once a week a new shipment of teas and energy bars appeared. It seems that Duke Campbell and Doktor Bazaar were men of their word.

After a month or so my mother decided to only teach four days a week in order to conserve her strength. She would take over my chores, as I would be teaching the younger children in the morning and working at the Pottery Shoppe in the afternoon. Cleric Patoral would teach the older children and watch the younger ones play time while I was at work.

At first Cleric Patoral taught exactly as Erehwonese children had been taught for years. Then he made subtle changes here and there, but they were so subtle no one really noticed them. He would say simple things like our pottery were the best and Erehwonese soldiers were the best. He never said better or who was not as good just that we were better. Little by little we all began to believe it and things began to change for the worse but we didn't see it happening.

Shortly after my mother cut back on her teaching, we received an invitation to Castle Highmont for dinner with the King and Queen, The Seneschal and The Chamberlain as guests of Duke Campbell. We had no idea what was in store for us. We were asked to be there two hours before the Thursday afternoon audience, the message said transportation would be provided.

Since we had no idea of what form the transportation was going to take, my mother had us out of bed at the crack of dawn. She had both tea and cafa brewing, as well as a hearty grain porridge bubbling away, which she had broken a few of the energy bars into. She also had hard cooked eggs and venison sausage ready for my father and me once we had braved the bathing facilities. As it turned out we had a nice morning spent talking and relaxing together under the tree outside of my father's Furnace Shoppe. We were beginning to think something had gone awry when around elevenish we saw a small cloud headed away from Castle Highmont towards our village. My father and I looked at each other and at the same time said, "Dragons". My mother looked at us like we were lunatics or worse. Several minutes later, even my mother could see that it was indeed a flight of dragons. My father and I looked at each other again, silently counting the number of dragons coming towards us. We were genuinely surprised at number of dragons and at the pattern they were flying. There were seven dragons in the larger group flying below five more which were in a "V" pattern above them. That was the pattern when one of the Royal Family was flying or one of The Privy Council such as Duke Campbell.

We headed towards the Village Square where we knew the dragons would land as that was the largest open space near the village. We were joined by several others of the village folk, who wished to see dragons again as well as see us off. Things became even stranger once we got to the square, for off to the North East side of the square near the road to Roxio were the seven dragons from the lower flight group, while the other five dragons were performing aerobatic stunts above the square. They were flying low enough for us to see they were the King's Royal Dragon Guard, in Dress Uniform and their dragons were also in formal bunting. If that wasn't amazing enough, they were commanded by the Captain of the Royal Dragon Guard himself. As my family walked into the square the Royal Dragon Guard flew lower still and each dragon dipped their wing in salute, all at the same time. My father and mother were completely shocked to say the least, here was a commoner family, albeit a Guild Master's Family, receiving a Royal Salute. Little did we know there were many more shocks to come, before we returned home.

As my parents were recovering from their shock at seeing exactly what their transportation actually consisted of. Squire Witschi approached with one of her now famous court bows. The Squire reintroduced herself and had my father reintroduce my mother. She then explained that she had been sent along as a guide, due to the fact that we already knew her, and that we might appreciate a known face while we were at court. It was also hoped that having someone we knew along, would lesson the impact of our form of transportation.

The Squire then turned and introduced us to the young captain wearing the colors and uniform of Duke Campbell's Private Guard.

"Master and Mistress Lennox and son Justin, may I introduce Captain Neal Campbell. He is the Captain of his fathers guard."

Needless to say my family's jaw hit the ground and bounced back up, but luckily for us, the captain began speaking before we were forced to come up with a reply.

"Master and Mistress Lennox ,and of course young Justin, it is my pleasure to finally meet you, and to be your escort and transportation. It is an honor to meet the man who completely astonished my father. He still has the original Ewer you sent him in a place of honor in his suite. He still shakes his head and mutters "Simple??" every time he walks by it. Although you are coming with us as my father's guests, the invitation came from King Rafealo and Queen Angelina personally. Which explains the escort of The Royal Dragon Guard commanded by Lord Mikhal.

The flight to Castle Highmont was simply amazing; it was so smooth you could hardly tell we were flying hundreds of feet above the ground. My family and I were greatly surprised, because instead of a straight line flight to the Castle we were taken on a scenic route. We flew along the river that meandered through Simon's Valley. The different colors of all the plants and fields along the way were incredible. I was amazed at the differences in landscapes as we got closer to Highmont Ridge. Instead of landing at Castle Highmont from the Simon's Valley side, our dragons and escort flew past the castle made a wide sweeping turn then approached the castle; just as the golden rays of the afternoon sun turned the castle into a masterpiece of golden turrets and spires. We landed in the Main Courtyard to a flourish of trumpets as our escort peeled off and flew towards the Royal Weyr. As our dragon riders helped us down to the ground, we saw our greeting party.

Waiting for us on the castle steps were the Royal Family and as we would find out later, several members of the Privy Council. My father led the three of us towards the steps, with Captain Campbell accompanying us. When we reached the base of the steps Captain Campbell bowed to the greeting party and began introducing us.

"Your Royal Majesties and Esteemed Councilors, may I present the Kingdom's Master Potter, James Lennox, his wife Elizabet and their son and Apprentice Potter Justin."

As the captain introduced each of us, we stepped forward and bowed, as we had been instructed.

As King Rafealo began his speech of welcome, he was abruptly cut off by his lovely wife Queen Angelina, who said "Later Rafe' these nice people need to clean up, have a short rest and then a lunch, before you torture them with your boring Court session" Of course, she was smiling and her eyes were twinkling the whole time.

The King, seeing that we were still in a slight state of shock, due to our mode of transportation and the greeting which we had received, told us chuckling. "I see that you folks need to freshen up a bit after your flight, so if you will follow your guides ,Captain Campbell and Squire Witschi, they will take you to your accommodations, we will see you again at the audience session"

My family and I were very glad that the greeting ceremony was over, and we could go to our rooms and recover from the overwhelming surprises we had received today. 'I mean a trumpet flourish for a family of potters, give me a break. I mean we weren't visiting Royalty for dragon's sake!'

Squire Witschi and Neal Campbell escorted us to the guest rooms we would occupy for our visit. We freshened up, and then explored the luxurious suite we had been given. This trip kept getting stranger and stranger. Here we were, just a lowly family of Potters, and we were being treated like visiting royalty! We cleaned up the travel dust and explored our suite; I couldn't believe it, we were staying in a five room suite.

We were stunned when we went into the dressing rooms, as each of us had a brand new set of dress tunics, breeches and leggings; well actually in my mother's case it was a skirt instead of breeches. I was totally amazed at the fit and quality of the clothing. I was all skin and bone in those days, but everything fit perfectly, including the leggings. In fact anyone who knew me back then definitely would not recognize me now. My clothing, and that of my parent's as I would find out were made of the finest material we had every seen. They were a deep Forest Green, like our family's color, and were bordered with intertwined and interlocking boxes of Royal Blue and Burgundy of the Kingdom's Colors. Additionally where the Royal Crest would normally be was another crest I had never seen before....'Well I will just have to ask the Captain about that crest later. I need a nap' I lay down on the bed and was shortly dreaming of dragons dancing in the sky.

Shortly after I had awoken from my brief nap, my father knocked on my door to inform me that the Squire had returned with a light lunch for us. I quickly splashed some water from the ewer on the wash table onto my face and dried off with one of the softest towels I had ever used.

I arrived in the sitting room a few minutes later, and found my parents talking amiably with Squire Witschi and the young Captain, or Neal as he introduced himself. According to Neal, he and the squire were going to be our escorts and companions while we were in the castle. I was amazed at the amount and types of food that were on the table for the supposedly light lunch. There were ten or twelve different types of fruit, many which were unknown to me; as well as there being several different types of sliced meats, cheeses, breads and condiments. If that alone wasn't enough there were several pots of beans and even some of Prince Joth's Energy Bars. I won’t go into detail on the types of beverages that were also available because, I couldn’t begin to describe them all. While trying to follow the conversation between my Mother, Neal and the Squire, whose name I found out was Deanna; I took some slices of this wonderfully rich looking black bread, with lots of nuts and grains in it, slathered the slices with some of my favorite sweet and spicy mustard. I also loaded them with several types of meats and cheeses. Neal suggested I also try some of these little green peppers and a few of the yellow ones as well.

Meanwhile, my mother was getting caught up on all of the doings of the people she had attended school and the Abbey with. For it seems that Deanna and Neal knew of most of the people my mother had attended classes with. It turns out one her closest friends had just been elected Imithian Prelate, one of the highest positions in the Erehwonese Ecclesiastical Community. Her friend Artur was now responsible for ensuring that all of the prelates, priests and clerics followed the policies of The Church and of The Arch Prelate. Artur's Service of Celebration was the following morning. My mother voiced her desire to attend the Service, and at my father's nod Neal, excused himself to make the necessary changes, and send a message to my grandfather and the Mayor.

My mother turned to Deanna and asked "How is he going to get a message to my father-in-law and the Mayor before tomorrow?"

"He will either send a Royal Messenger like me, one of his family’s messengers or one of his personal guards. Whoever is available and can fly a dragonback will be used." Was Deanna's no nonsense reply.

My mother was stunned at the matter of factness of Deanna’s reply.

Seeing the questioning look on my mother's face, Deanna began speaking again. "Don't worry about it, Elizabet you are here as the guests of not only the King and Queen, but the Duke's family as well. If you asked Neal to bring the whole village here, he would respond exactly the same way; probably asking what time do you want them here. All I can tell you is that both of us are have been instructed to ensure that all of your needs are taken care of and that your family wants for nothing. So don't worry about anything Neal and I are very glad to be here, and we will assist you with anything you need, as will all of the household staff. We don't get to assist such nice and hardworking, honest people such as yourselves very often. Most of the people we deal with, are too blown up with their own importance, to realize that we are human beings also."

My parent’s were both totally stunned by the treatment we were receiving.

Before my parent's could frame another question, Deanna turned to me and said, "Justin I have a message for you from The Crown Prince. Joth has asked me to convey his respects as he and his page John will be unable to meet you during this visit. Joth had hoped to meet you, as the two of you are nearly the same age. Unfortunately, Joth has been sent on a mission for his father and his Page John has gone with him to assist him.

"The Crown Prince wanted to meet with me?" was my surprised response.

Before Deanna could respond Neal returned "Everything is setup as you requested, Mrs. Lennox"

"It is Elizabet, Neal, or I will start calling you CAPTAIN Campbell!" Was my mother’s quick reply.

"Yes Elizabet, I won't forget again" replied Neal, with an ear to ear grin. "The Afternoon Court Session will start in approximately a half hour, so it might be a good idea to change into your new clothes"


"Yes Justin?"

"Whose crest is on our new clothes, and how did they know our sizes? Neal looked at me with a strange look on his face and then replied.

"As to the first question I am not at liberty to answer at this time. As to the second question, blame Doktor Bazaar." At my confused look, Neal continued speaking.

"Doktor Bazaar took your measurements when he checked you over the last time he visited your mother. He also checked your jacket as he left, for length and your lovely mother took care of your father’s sizes for him. Doktor Bazaar was going to use the measurements to keep track of your growth, as he noticed you were a little on the small side. However, when he heard what was needed for your visit, he quickly supplied The Royal Housekeeper and Ye Olde Royal Tailor with all of the measurements he had. So, now you know why your new clothes will fit you perfectly. Justin you are running out of time so shake a leg."

1The Kingdom of Erehwon did not have an official religion per se. Rather there were many small religions and several denominations throughout the kingdom. All of the religions were gathered under the mantle of The Arch Prelate and his three supporting Prelates, The Imithian Prelate, The Justiciar Prelate and The Mayan Prelate. The Arch Prelate and Supporting Prelate's jobs were to ensure, that all religions followed the Laws of The Kingdom and all of its Codicils. The Mayan Prelate oversaw the Scholastic Arm of The Churches; The Imithian Prelate's main function was to make sure that Church Policies worked in conjunction with the Laws and Policies of the Kingdom and not in conflict with them. The Justiciar Prelate was the Martial Arm of The Prelates he was responsible for enforcement of the Arch Prelate's Decrees and also served as a leader for the Kingdom's Armed Forces. They accomplished this through schools in the capital and periodic inspections of all town and villages. The Prelate did serve as an advisor and confidant to the King but had no power outside of that.

"Dragon's Fire!!!!" I shouted!

Everyone's head snapped up in alarm, and before Joth could ask me what was wrong, Jonah and John came tearing into the Sitting Room, with Jonah surprisingly, dressed and looking like a prince. By the look on John's face, the transformation hadn't been an easy one.

"Jut member, Jut member he be okay now, huh Jut?" Jonah's question, catching everyone off guard.

With an embarrassed nod I began to reply, "Yes Jonah, I remember more now. I just remembered Doktor Bazaar. He visited our village several times and helped treat my mother." My voice began to catch a little, and Joth quickly put his arms around me whispering.

"It will be alright now, we are all here to help you and protect you, don't worry about anything."

'Just' you will be fine trust Joth, Nana and the rest, they all love and will always help you' Gus's warm and caring thoughts did go a long way towards calming me, once I got over the shock of hearing him talk to me in my head.

"But why now......?"

Before I could continue, Nana interrupted me, "Just', listen to me, everything is okay, Doktor Bazaar explained it all. You had several severe blows to your head, and those blows damaged some of your memory. The good Doktor said all of your memories should return, so don't worry about anything."

"Okay, Nana, I will try"

"Come on John, Jut be fine now. We go play Castle again, I'll be the King and you be Jot" Jonah said as he came over and gave me a quick hug, and then surprising me a little, a kiss on the cheek before giggling and beginning to drag the hapless John out of the room.

"As I watched Jonah pull him from the room, my memories returned, and I began once again to relate my tale to those assembled"

I hurriedly went to my room to don my fine new clothing still shaking my head at all of the crazy goings on.

Meanwhile in a tiny cottage located high in the mountains near Palmetto Crag, a young boy cradled an even younger child in his arms. Andreu kept whispering softly into the baby’s ear, while gently stroking the babies back and sending him as much care and love as he could. 'Why does my father hate me so much? Why is he always beating me? I don't do anything wrong, I just do things that feel right. He even hates my Kat Sammy for no reason; Sammy doesn't like my dad and stays out of his way, of course if Sammy took an active dislike to my dad Sammy would win. Sammy is actually a wild Kat, he only tolerates me cause I feed him, and rescued him from the rockslide that injured him. Just because all of the young children and animals feel safe around me and always want to be near me, is no reason for my dad to call me weird and beat me. I wish my mama was still alive.'

Circling high overhead was a ghostly image of a very large Golden Dragon. The dragon image remained circling endlessly until Andreu was sound asleep for the night and his father was working in the mines.

Deanna and Neal escorted us to the main Audience Chamber, except instead of entering through the main Public Entrance, we entered through the Main Castle Entrance, normally reserved for the nobility and visiting ambassadors. At my father's look of surprise, Neal gave him a slight bow and announced.

"Just following orders Master Lennox," with a quirky smile.

As we approached the guards at the door, Neal stepped forward and announced in a most professional tone. "Master Potter Lennox and Family to see the King."

At those words the guards gave us a ceremonial bow, and while opening the massive doors, replied. "At once Captain, the King is expecting them.

As soon as the doors were fully opened, Neal stepped through them and informed the Majordomo of his guests' identity.

As my father stepped through the doorway, The Majordomo pounded his mace upon the floor twice, and as soon as silence reigned announced is a stentorian voice.

"Master Potter to The Kingdom of Erehwon; James Lennox, his wife Elizabet, teacher to Potter's Village and their son, Apprentice Potter Justin"

My mother almost ran into my father, because he had stopped dead in his tracks at that pronouncement. Luckily, my mother has excellent reflexes, and stopped just in time. My father quickly regained his composure and straightened his back. While holding his head high, he stepped into the Audience Hall, as if he had done it thousands of times.

Needless to say, my whole family was shocked at the pronouncement of the Majordomo. Things continued in that vein for the rest of the weekend. The audience with the King and Queen was surreal, as we were introduced to them and The King started small talk with my father, while the Queen talked with my mother and me, for a few minutes, until the King asked us to resume our position at the bottom of the Dais.

The King then stood up and instantly the large room went silent. "Today is a very happy day in the Kingdom of Erehwon, for today we get to recognize an individual and his family, for extraordinary service to the kingdom. James Lennox has created pottery and yes ceramics, unlike anything seen either here in Erehwon or elsewhere on Draconis. In addition, he reserved some of his finest creations for the kingdom's use. You may not know it but the wonderful ewers which our fine vintage Erehwonese Sangiovese, Shiraz and more are now stored in were created by Master Lennox. This masterpiece alone would have won him this honor; but he went further; he took his father's creation 'Ceramic', and created wonderfully artistic and beautiful pottery out of it. But he wasn't done yet, he took the same fine clay that had been used for years, and created a brand new product called 'Chima', which has caused quite a stir in the kingdom as well as outside of it. Master Lennox has always supplied the Kingdom with the best and the most artistic of his works without fail; and therefore we are proud to feature his dinnerware at all of our state functions. So now I would like to present this token of our appreciation to Master Lennox, the new "Master Potter of The Kingdom of Erehwon ".

As soon as the King had finished speaking a page in Royal Livery appeared, carrying a burgundy velvet pillow. Draped across the pillow was a token sized object of Dragon's Gold, attached to a beautifully crafted necklace of the same lustrous metal.

The King approached my family, and began to speak. "Master Lennox please kneel."

As my father knelt, the King continued speaking, "It is with great pleasure, that I award you Master James Lennox, the title of Master Potter of The Kingdom of Erehwon, and present you with this seal of The Kingdom of Erehwon and the seal of Master Potter." As the King was speaking, he lifted the necklace from the pillow, and held it up to view. There was a sudden gasp from the audience, as they realized that the King truly meant his words. In the history of the kingdom, very few individuals had received awards with a Dragon's Gold Necklace! The King placed the necklace over my father's neck, and whispered to him, "You deserve it, so just say Thank You when I stand up."

The King stood up, and took a step back.

My father bowed to the King from his kneeling position and announced strongly, "Thank you, your majesty."

My father then started to stand when he was interrupted by the king.

"One moment Master Potter I have one more piece of business to transact with you." The King nodded his head, and another page appeared, this time carrying a blue velvet pillow, weighted down with a fairly heavy object. The page walked up to the King and bowing, presented the pillow to the King as he did. The King removed the object from the pillow and faced my father.

"Master Potter, with this engraving seal ,you will now be able to affix your imprimatur on all of your products. In addition to this seal, you will also receive a fancy gilded display version to impress any visitors from outside our kingdom."

"Your Majesty, your generosity towards my family and me is simply overwhelming. I can only humbly offer our deepest gratitude for the honors you have bestowed upon us." My father replied to the King, in a most sincere tone of voice.

"You may rise Master Potter, and your thanks is accepted. Please remain for a few minutes," the King intoned.

At my father and mother's nod, the King started speaking to the audience again. "Thank you all for attending, this audience is now ended, good day to you."

The audience rose as one, bowed to the dais and responded. "Good Day to your Majesties."

As the audience exited the Main Audience Hall, the King motioned to us to follow him through a side door at the rear of the hall. We looked at each other, baffled, shrugged our shoulders and followed the King and Queen through the door.

As we entered the new room, we received another shock, for this was their majesties private audience room. While it was plushly furnished, it still had a warm cozy feel to it. The ambiance in the room made you feel right at home. Once we were all comfortably seated the Queen began speaking to us.

"Thank you all for accepting our invitation. We are truly honored to have your family here. We decided to explain why you are here in a slightly less formal atmosphere. Hopefully you will enjoy the rest of your stay here. Now my husband has some more pompous words to say to you," she ended with a fond smile directed towards her husband, and chuckling slightly.

"As my wife so eloquently put it, I do have a few POMPOUS Words to say to you. James, you and your son are the best potters in this kingdom, or in any kingdom on Draconis! Before you say anything James, it is the truth! Angelina and I have had samples of dinnerware sent to us from every established potter in the neighboring kingdoms; and nothing comes close in quality or beauty to your lesser pieces. And nothing of theirs comes even close to your first ewer. Now do you believe me?"

At my father's embarrassed nod the king continued. "The main reason you are here is the fact we have a major request to ask of you."

My father turned and looked at me and then my mother, before asking the king, "How may we help you, your majesty?"

"James, in private it is Rafealo or Rafe if you feel comfortable."

"Elizabet and Justin, that applies to the two of you also; and my name is Angelina or Angie, which ever you prefer."

"Angelina and Rafaelo, you honor our family beyond our wildest dreams. We are deeply honored by all that you have done for us, and we would be honored to help in anyway we can. Our welcome here has been wonderful, we have been treated like royalty and you continue to honor our family by asking us for help. We will do our utmost to help you in any way we can, just how may we help you?"

At my mother's words my father turned and gave her a very curious look. I guess he was curious as to why she would ask that when he and I would be doing the work.

"Thank you very much for your kind words Elizabet, we are glad that things are going well for you, here at Castle Highmont. The major request we have for you can wait until after dinner is served, as believe it or not that will be a perfect place and time for the request." A page entered the private audience chamber, as the king paused.

The page bowed to their majesties, and to us, which surprised us immensely. "Dinner is served, your majesties"

"James, Elizabet, and Justin, please come and enjoy dinner with us, we can continue getting to know one another over dinner, and your friend Duke Campbell will be joining us. We will be dining in our private family dining room, as this will make our conversations easier, and I am sure you will be more comfortable. We will show you the way and Captain Campbell and Squire Witschi will also be joining us." The Queen then rose ,and along with the King, followed the page out of the audience room.

We followed them out of the room, and were continually amazed at the way they greeted their staff and the way the staff greeted them. There was no bowing or stiff formalities, just a polite head bow or semi-curtsy. Everyone we met was smiling and enjoying themselves, as they went about their business and the King and Queen seemed to know all the names of everyone they encountered in the hallways.

When we finally arrived at the Royal Family's Private Dining room, I was surprised because there were no guards outside its entrance. The only people there were Neal, Deanna and Duke William and they were dressed similar to us, with The Duke even forgoing his prized sword for this dinner. My father's eyebrows did rise slightly, at what Duke William was carrying in his arms. Neal and Deanna gave us a smile, and a head nod in greeting and then stepped aside as we entered and a young page escorted us to our seats. The Duke stopped at a butlers table and placed a ewer on it, and then took his seat along with the rest of us.

The King and Queen were seated at opposite ends of the table, so they could interact with their dinner guests more easily. My father was seated next to the king, and my mother near the queen. Duke Campbell or William as he asked to be called, sat next to the king, across from my father, on my side of the table. I sat next to William, with Neal on my left, while Deanna sat next to my mother, and looked absolutely at home. As soon as we were seated, I had a sinking feeling as to why we had been invited. I glanced over at my father, and he winked at me and nodded his head slightly, it seemed we were both thinking the same thing. Our suspicions were confirmed, when the appetizers were served; for while the plates they were being served on were nice looking, they were only of plebeian quality. Before we had a chance to bring our suspicions to voice, we were interrupted by the Queen speaking.

"William, it looks like Rafe and I owe you a forfeit. You were quite right, they have figured out exactly why they are here. If I had any doubts about their skill and capability before, I have none now." The Queen paused, and the Duke bowed his head to her with an ear to ear grin.

"Angie, since they know why they are here, or at least have a pretty good idea, we might as well explain exactly what we would like" At his wife's nod the king continued.

"James and Justin and no disrespect Elizabet, we did invite you here specifically for one reason. As you can see, we do have a pretty good reason. We would like the two of you to design and create for us, a complete set of Royal Dinnerware, to be used at all Royal and State functions. The reason we are including you, Justin, is we have heard how much you have been assisting your father, and the wonderful skill you have developed with glazes."

My father and I looked at each other, as this was far more than we had expected or imagined.

"I can see by the looks on your faces, that you have realized exactly what we are asking. We do realize that this is a very large undertaking for such a small shoppe as yours. However, William has an answer to that problem also. William?"

"Thanks Rafe, throw me to the wolves why don't you?" He said chuckling softly.

The King responded by toasting the Duke with his wine glass.

"James, I know you are overwhelmed by the magnitude of what we are asking, and I assure you that you and Justin, with the right help, can handle this job. As to the proper help, I do have a solution, as you have mentioned to me several times that your biggest problem is handling the day to day pottery jobs, for yours and other outlying villages. You have also mentioned that your sister's brother in Roxio is looking for better conditions. As he is one of the potters whose wares we did sample; we do know that although he can't do the quality of work needed to accomplish this job, he can take over the day to day jobs with your brother David. This will leave you and Justin to accomplish this very daunting task. The kingdom will supply all necessary drayage to move your sister's family to Potter's Village, should you so agree." The Duke looked over at Rafe and Angie, and at their nods began to continue.

"One moment Duke."

"Of course Elizabet."

"James, don't be an idiot! Say Yes! This is the answer to all of your dreams, and it solves your sister's problems at the same time." My mother was looking at my father the whole time she was speaking.

"Your majesties, the BOSS has spoken, we accept. I do have two questions?"

"Yes James, and what are your questions? Was the Queens response.

By complete line of dinnerware, do you mean serving and preparation pieces also, and how large of a service do you need?"

"I told you Rafe and Angie, James is no fool; he gets right to the heart of the matter, and doesn't mess around with small talk. Now if you really want a conversation, try Justin, Elizabet has done a wonderful job teaching him. He would give Joth a run for his money. I see dinner is ready, so I think we should shelve the rest of the details until after we eat I know Justin is starving. I can hear his stomach growling from here."

I turned bright red, as the Duke reached over and lightly smacked my shoulder whispering to me. "We are even now young Justin,"

I had no other recourse than to laugh along with him, as my parents realized the Duke was just having a good time among friends.

Dinner was absolutely wonderful, there were so many dishes I have no idea what we ate, other than I loved everything that was put in front of me. There were several meat courses and several different varieties of wine, each served out of one of my father's ewers. If I thought the wine we had at the celebration dinner was good, these wines were much better. When the Duke saw my expression while drinking one of the white wines served, he told me all of the wines were from the Royal Vineyards and were only served to very special guests.

After the wonderful dinner was over, we were served a delightful dessert of glazed fruits over frozen custard. While we were finishing our dessert, Queen Angelina answered my father's questions.

"James and Justin, the answer to your first question is yes. We are asking for a complete service from preparation platters and bowls to serving platters. As to the number of servings we need service for twenty-four of your finest works, with eight pieces per service. However, we also need a service of ninety-six, consisting of six pieces per service. The service for ninety-six should be of the same quality Chima or ceramic, your choice, but it doesn't need to have the same detail in finishing. Now before we go any further do you have any questions or ideas for us to go over?"

"Angie why don't I take Elizabet, Neal and Deanna out to the balcony and show them a view of the valley Elizabet has never seen. After that, I will take her to my quarters to visit with my mother. She has been pestering me about that wonderful family she met when she was acting on your behalf on her trip to Potter's Village?"

"That is a wonderful idea, William; I will send a page for our guests, when we are finished here." Was Angie's delighted response.

While my mother was off visiting with the Duke and his family, my father and I retired with the King and Queen to a small sitting room adjacent to their dining room. We discussed several ideas for colors and what crests or anything needed to be added to the dinnerware. We eventually decided on plates and platters made of as transparent a chima as my father could fire, with a bold ceramic blue border overlaid with a deep rich burgundy pattern of interlocking boxes around the edge. The center of the service for twenty-four would have the Royal Crest. The service for ninety-six would be similar in design, although in place of the Royal Crest, there would be an emblem of Castle Highmont. The service of twenty-four would be finished off with my finest translucent blue glaze. The glaze was supposed to let the brilliant white of the Chima shine through, while adding just the slightest hint of a blue sheen, while the service for ninety-six would have, just a translucent glaze. We had just finished our discussions, when Duke William and my mother arrived followed by Neal and Deanna. Neal was carrying a ewer of a silverish colored metal and several wedges of cheese, while Deanna was carrying a tray of several small wine glasses, or so I thought, along with some small plates.

After the new arrivals had seated themselves, and Neal and Deanna had served each of us plates with several different kinds of cheeses on them, The Duke arose and addressed us all.

"Since a page didn't arrive immediately, I concluded that the negotiations had been successful. Therefore I have brought a ewer of the finest twenty year old Porto in the kingdom. And Justin, those aren't wine glasses they are Port or more correctly Porto Glasses." The Duke winked at me, and then looked at his son Neal who was blushing as red as I was at dinner.

"I can see by the look on your faces, that I surmised correctly and you have accepted the Kingdom's offer. Now Elizabet, if you will just jot a quick personal note on the official parchment scroll, that Neal is handing you, the page waiting outside the door will take it to the Royal Messenger awaiting it, with the Quartermaster's Squadron that will pack up and transport your relatives,when they are ready to move."

Angie arose from her seat, and walked over to Elizabet, and very calmly said. "Don't

worry Elizabet, I am sending along an Assistant Housekeeper, and a personal message. We are also sending transportation for your sister, so she can help her brother's family adjust to any cultural differences. Please do not worry about why we are doing this for your family. Unlike some royalty, we do know the amount of hard work it is going to take to accomplish all we have asked of your husband and son. What the Duke and my husband so casually forgot to mention is that I worked in the Royal Vineyards as a teenager, alongside my Uncle the Royal Wine Maker. The Duke also forgot to mention that the Porto he is sharing came from the vines, he tended as a teenager also and are almost as old as this castle. So please accept our assistance, and know that we offer it because we understand the loyalty and hard work that your family has given us personally, as well as to the kingdom in general for years."

My mothers only response was "Yes Angie," she then reached over and scribbled a quick note to her sister, saying how great an opportunity this was for all of the families involved.

When she had finished, Neal took the scroll over to the King, who then stamped the Royal Seal on it, and signed the scroll, making it official. My father raised his eyebrow inquisitively, and Rafe just chuckled.

"Don't worry James, we just covered any eventuality, we wanted you to have as few worries as possible, in taking this job for us. Angie also forgot to tell you that our son's page John, will be joining your relatives on their trip here. He has plenty of experience keeping young children happy and occupied. He will help make the trip pleasant for everyone."

The King then raised his glass, "To the Royal Potter, and his Family, and to the wonderful creations to come!"

We all raised our glasses, and sipped the wonderful tawny liquid they contained. I was completely amazed and caught totally unaware by the velvety smooth richness of the Porto as it slid down my throat. As a young man of nearly fifteen turns, I had never experienced anything like this Porto. I resolved then and there to start studying the history of wine making and viticulture, when my days as a potter were over. I guess I should explain how I, at my tender young age was able to drink all of the wine that I had, and not to be consigned to snoring under the table. Well, I have a secret to tell, the Duke explained to me that although my wine glass was exactly the same size as everyone else's from the outside; it only held half the amount of a normal wine glass due to the offices of the Master Artisan Glassblower. So I didn't really have as much to drink as it may have seemed. I was feeling pretty good what with the wine, the wonderful food, and the excitement of the new job, creating something awesome for the kingdom. Just as I was taking a bite of a beautifully sharp white cheddar, the king started speaking.

"There is one more thing I need to mention, I understand that you were asking about the crests on your clothing Justin?"

I nodded slightly, and the King went on.

"The crest on your new clothing is the Lennox Family Crest; we did some research on your family name, and this is the family crest from several hundreds of years ago. We thought you might enjoy resurrecting a little bit of your family's history. We hope you will use them for occasions that merit displaying a Family Crest."

After a little more small talk, as well as some more of those great cheeses, not to mention that glorious Porto, we all headed to bed to prepare for what would be a busy morning, for at least some of us.

The next morning began with a surprise for us, as Deanna and Neal knocked on our door shortly after we had awakened, and invited us to join the King and Queen for a family breakfast. Neal and Deanna informed us that it was a very informal breakfast, and would be on the balcony outside of the private dining room. They explained that we would be able to see some wonderful views of Highmont Valley as the sun illuminated the valley.

After a very nice and friendly breakfast, we headed into town to attend the Celebration Service of my mother's friend the new Imithian Prelate Artur. We found the 'Cathedral' a misnomer, since it was only a large chapel. The ceremony itself was a study in contrasts, as the service was very low key, but the celebrants were dressed in their finest raiment's. The ceremony consisted of the Arch Prelate asking the new Imithian Prelate to repeat his vows, and answer the question as to whether he understood the depth and seriousness of his vows. Artur answered simply and strongly, "I will do my duty to my flock, and to my Kingdom. I will ensure that all edicts from the Prelates' and their Council, adhere to all of the Kingdom's Laws and Traditions. Furthermore I will also ensure that all Ecclesiastical Policies are for the benefit of our flock, and not for the sole benefit of the Clerics or Prelates."

When Artur had finished speaking, he leaned forward and kissed the Arch Prelates Ring. As soon as he had kissed the ring, the Arch Prelate motioned him to rise and turn to face the audience. "Brothers and Sisters, I present to you our new Imithian Prelate, Artur; Go in Peace and Love." The Arch Prelate finished his blessing and left through a side exit. Artur and The Arch Prelate, were waiting for us outside 'The Cathedral', and asked us in for a brief snack and discussion. We agreed, and as we entered The Rectory, we surprised to see the walls of the entranceway were a mini museum of Clerical and Prelate Regalia. We were amazed to see a suit of armor and a sword, among the robes and stoles of a Prelate. There was a small hand lettered sign with the words "Justiciar Prelate". I asked what a Justiciar Prelate was as I had never heard of one.

Artur answered my question, "The Justiciar Prelate is the Military and Enforcement Prelate. We don't have one now, and haven't had one for quite a few years. We usually only have one when there is a large amount of discord and rancor among the clerics and religious groups. The Justiciar Prelate also serves as our representative with the Kingdom's Military. The Arch Prelate and the Prelate Council have always believed that they have failed in their jobs, if they need a Justiciar Prelate. In most cases, they have been correct, although there have been cases where the discord was caused by outside influences. We hope not to ever need a Justiciar Prelate again, as I hope to insure that my teaching and training will avoid the need for one."

My mother thanked her friend for the mini history lesson, and then we headed towards the rectory's dining area. After a nice light snack and some stories from my mother's and Artur's early school days together, we headed back to the castle and then home.

Upon arriving back at the castle, we found our things already packed and ready for us to leave. In addition to our clothing, we found the Castle's cooks had packed a nice lunch for us, and also a dinner that we could heat in our oven at home while unpacking. The trip back home was also by dragonback without the escort of The King's Royal Dragon Guard, not to mention a lot faster as we didn't go sightseeing this time. I have to tell you eating lunch while flying on a dragon is a very interesting situation. If it wasn't for the very unique leather bags with pottery nozzles that closed with a cork, drinking would have been impossible.

Neal and the rest of his men were very considerate of us, as were their dragons, the flight was extremely smooth, and the only bad part was that the flight seemed to be over much too soon, as we landed at our village just short of an hour before dinner. Neal and his men quickly refreshed themselves at 'The Boar's Hound Tavern', while their dragons headed toward the river to catch some fish, and do a little swimming before their flight back. Several of the village children all rushed to help with their cleaning and fishing in an effort to get closer to the magnificent creatures.

When we started to carry our bags towards our cottage, we discovered something strange, in that we seemed to now have a few more bags than we remembered having to begin with. Neal also asked a few of his soldiers to help us carry those extra bags for us, as we couldn't manage them now. We were surprised at the number of volunteers, as one of the younger soldiers whispered to me by way of explanation, that we had treated them politely and as equals, so they just wanted to return the favor.

Once we had arrived at our cottage, the soldiers brought our bags in, and left them in the kitchen, then excused themselves and headed towards the Tavern and their friends. While my father and I carried our bags to our rooms, my mother lit a fire in the oven to begin heating our dinner. After my second trip to my room with my bags, I started unpacking and received another shock. In addition to the clothing we had brought with us, and the clothing we had worn to the audience there were several other new outfits and a package of crests to be sewn onto other clothes. There was one of the bags that was slightly smaller than the other ones, and for some reason I opened it last. When I opened the bag I was shocked beyond belief, my gasp was so loud that my parents came running into my room, asking what was wrong. I reached into the bag and drew out a cloak, unlike anything I had ever seen before. The cloak was reversible, one side was made of the finest wool dyed a deep forest green but it was the other side that was the most amazing. The other side was made of Dragon Hide, something very few commoners ever saw, let alone owned. There was a brief note scribbled in Duke William's handwriting; 'Enjoy this cloak Justin, it is the same all weather cloak my son and his men use, and your parents have their own also. This is just my way of saying thank you for everything you and your family have done for me, and the kingdom. I am personally thanking you for the way you treated my son, while he was your escort. He learned many things including the fact that being an escort and guide is not always boring and may even be informative.

I showed the note to my parents, and they were speechless. All that I or my parents had done this weekend was just be ourselves, and treat everyone the way we wanted to be treated. After the wonderful dinner from the castle, we all headed to bed for an early night.

The next day things were back to normal, except for a messenger arriving with the information regarding the arrival of my mother's relatives. My mother and I made breakfast, and then headed to school. My father headed to his shoppe, after reminding me that he needed my help in the afternoon.

My father and I spent the next several days working out some rough samples, and trying some new ideas. When we finally had some quality samples to send to the castle, we went and visited my grandfather for the afternoon. He had heard of our new opportunity from the Duke, and was very happy for us. When we showed him what we had created he immediately bellowed "Kyle, Captain get out here now!"

My good friend and my grandfather's Journeyman Kyle, came running out of my grandfather's shoppe, followed by a Captain of The Royal Dragon Guard.

"What do you want old man? We were....... Ohhhhhhhhhh..! Dragon's Fire these pieces are amazing, I have never seen anything like them in my life."

"And you never have understand! Kyle, these are samples of the new Royal Dinnerware. Keep this information quiet. Captain, we accept your terms, your order will filled, now, I need you to take these samples to the Royal Chamberlain immediately! You are to deliver them to him, Duke Campbell or the King or Queen, and no one else. Do you understand me?" My grandfather barked out.

"Yes sir" the Captain replied coming to attention as he spoke.

The very next morning, Deanna arrived at our Shoppe and handed my father a parchment scroll, with the first payment and authorization to proceed. In a private note Angelina had written, 'These are exactly what I had hoped, for and far better than I could ever have imagined. We expected several weeks of samples not just a few day. Rafe and I are in your debt.'

Things continued at a very busy pace for my father and me, as I went to school in the morning, and worked with my father in the afternoon and early evening. My father and I had decided to do the large serving and preparation pieces first, and fire them in our shoppe. We would then start working on the smaller pieces doing the preliminary firings in our shoppe, and the final firings in our shoppe, as well as my grandfather's.

We had just started working on the dinner plates, when my world fell apart.

The day started like any other day, my mother had breakfast ready for me, and then went and finished dressing, while I ate.

We then headed to school and out of character, my mother took a mug of tea, and an energy bar with her.

I asked her why she brought her mug with us.

She mumbled an answer to my question and headed off to school leaving me standing there.

By the time I had woken up, and caught up with her she was smiling and walking quite briskly.

Later that afternoon, I came to pick up dinner for my father and me, only to be surprised that there was no smoke coming from the chimney.

I hurriedly entered the cottage calling for my mother, but didn't receive any response, which only increased my concern, as I ran into the kitchen of our home only to find her slumped onto the table with her mug of tea spilled out in front of her, and dripping onto the floor.

I called her name repeatedly, as tears came to my eyes, and the world became a blurry mess as I went forward and shook her shoulder, trying to elicit a response, but receiving nothing. Finally I lifted her head up carefully, and could see that her eyes were completely devoid of any life, as I screamed and the world went black around me.

That was the last thing I remembered until Cleric Tomas waved some foul smelling smoke under my nose, and I began to regain a blurry semblance of consciousness, at least enough to remember, as I began to scream


As Just' began to speak again after regaining control of himself, there arose a commotion outside of Joth's suite. The sounds of several people running and shouts were heard echoing through the hallways. Before even Lance could react, a half naked Jonah burst into the sitting room, shouting "Jus need me Jut needs me" and then threw himself onto Just and coincidentally Joth wrapping his little arms around Just' and hugging and kissing him nearly to death.

John, Sergeant Ramero and Private Logi came running into the sitting room puffing as if they had ran all the way from the Weyr, which, it turned out, they had, with John carrying Jonah's tunic, breeches, and leggings in his hands. Jonah was clad only in his breech clout, as he was attacking Just' with love and concern.

"Jonah Timoty Medici, what do you think you are doing running half naked through the castle and making John and these fine soldiers chase after you? Now let Just' go and stand still and start explaining yourself now!!" barked Jonah's Nana.

Jonah carefully untangled himself from Just', and slid to the floor. He then turned around and faced his grandmother, with a look on his face that surprised those who could see it. This was no cowed six year old, this was more like a lioness prepared to defend her cubs. "But Nana….."

"No but Nana me! Now answer me!"

Surprisingly, instead of lowering his head and drooping his shoulders Jonah stood up even straighter and in as strong a voice as he could muster bravely announced, "Just' needed me 'Goos' said so! Just' he be hurtin inside and he be tinking dark thou—thots. So I came fast, wan fastest." Turning to Just' he asked "you needed me dint yu Jut?"

Just' sat up and then reached out, and pulled Jonah into a big hug. "Jonah I did need you, I didn't know I did but I did. Your hugs and caring have made me feel much better now, and all of the pain is gone. As to those dark thoughts, 'Goos' heard, those were old ones, and they are gone and buried. Thanks to you 'Goos' and Jonah, most of all... Just' then gave Jonah another hug, and kissed his forehead and then whispered, "Now go and give your Nana a big hug and kiss, while I try and get you out of trouble my little friend, and then let John dress you okay?"

Jonah gave Just' a hug, and then ran over to Rebekah, to give her a hug and a kiss saying "Wuv you Nana, wuv you".

"Well I guess I'd better explain what just happened" Just began catching everyone off guard, as they were still in shock and staring at Jonah amazed at his open defiance of his grandmother. "When I was reliving my mother's death, and those days after it, I was very depressed and wandered aimlessly as you will find out. I was broken out of my depression by my father never giving up on me, and giving me a very important piece of work to do for the Duke. That my father trusted me with such an important piece finally chased the dark clouds away, but not fully. Those clouds were partially chased away again, by another friend later. But they are completely gone away now for good, thanks to all of the love and care, you all have shown me, especially this softy here" Just then winks at Joth, who blushed a pretty shade of red.

"Sergeant Ramero and Private Logi, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?" Inquired a smirking Prince.

"Well your highness..."

"Sergeant! This is the prince's private quarters remember?" Hissed Lance.

"Sorry Joth, I was just finishing up some work at the Weyr with Alejandro and Dragoneer Jeffords, when I heard Gustavo's playmate go running by my office, with your page and Private Logi in hot pursuit. I heard young Jonah screaming Just', and I knew who he was, and how much he meant to your family, so I followed to make sure everything was okay, and to help if I could. I feel responsible a bit for him, because I saw what shape he was in when he arrived, and I am still itching to have a word or two with the person or persons who did that to him. Private Logi is assigned to your page John, whenever he needs to leave the castle for any reason. It seems that those two bonded on the trip to pick up Mistress Rebekah..."

"Sergeant it is Nana! Remember?"

"Yes Mist... I mean Nana. As I was saying Private Logi is only a few years older than your page and treats him like a younger brother and you page, trusts him as an older brother. When Private Logi is on duty with John, I know he is safe. Since Private Logi was flying with John and Jonah, he was with them when Jonah went flying in here. I am glad to see that you are okay Just', Jonah had us all worried." Was the Sergeant's heartfelt reply.

Joth started to reply but Just' beat him to the punch with a laugh "Sergeant, I can see you and I are going to be good friends. I can tell you are new here also, as you are having the same problems adjusting as I am. I think together we can figure our way through this mess of "Royalty" and "Not Royalty"

With those words, the last of the tension was dispelled from the room, as everyone broke out laughing except for poor Jonah who looked lost.

"It is okay little one, I will explain it to you later, now come here and give me and Joth a hug, then go with John, so he can get you dressed. Then if you will show John your room and toys for awhile, that would be very good because I need to talk to Joth, Nana and Lance for a while"

Jonah quickly turned and ran over and gave both Joth and Just a hug and kiss on the cheek, saying, "wuv you" and before anyone knew what happened, had grabbed John's hand and dragged him out of the room.

"Roberto and Paul, thank you very much for your concern and care, it is greatly appreciated. Please stop by our kitchen, and tell our cook that I would like you to have a snack before you return to your duties. Thank you both from my family and myself." Joth told the two members of his private guards, with a warm and caring tone.

"My thanks also gentleman, it is nice to know that people care about me, and my well-being. Have a great day, and I look forward to getting to know both of you better." Just' gratefully told the two guards.

As Roberto and Paul left, Joth turned to Just' with a look of concern in his eyes "Are you really okay Just? You had us scared you had a look of severe pain, and then panic on your face, you didn't relax until Jonah came flying in here."

"Joth, Nana and Lance, for once I can truly say I am really alright. Believe it or not, but that panic attack was probably the best thing that ever happened to me" Was Just's surprising reply. Just' continued before anyone could respond. "Believe me, what just happened buried all of my ghosts, and all of the pain from my past. I can now talk about anything that happened to me, before I came here, without it hurting. I now feel completely comfortable warm and safe. I feel truly loved for the first time in a long time. It really helped when someone who only knows of me, and has never met me is worried about me. I now believe I have a new life here and I am really looking forward to it."

Joth leaned over and wrapped his arms around his friend, and gave him a very warm and loving hug. "We are all glad you are feeling comfortable here and we love having you here. We hope you stay here for a long time."

"I am truly glad to be here, and I really do appreciate all of the help and care everyone here has given me. If we are going to get any sleep tonight, I better get on with my story"

Shortly after my mother's death, things started to change for the worse. My father stopped speaking to almost everyone, and started taking long walks in the fields and woods. I was working harder and harder trying to teach the younglings, keep our cottage clean and my father and I fed. Additionally I found that I was firing and finishing more and more of our Pottery Shoppe's orders.

As time went by my father began to recover slightly, he had begun talking with Cleric Tomas and was starting to act a little like his old self. He even began working more in the Pottery Shoppe and helping me to get the orders finished. Not only that ,but he even started spending more time teaching me the little tricks he had learned throughout the years. He taught me how to judge the temperature in the kilns and blast furnaces, by the color of the coals and flames.

We were just starting to get back into a routine when tragedy struck our village again. My father had gone as usual to take some of the tea that my mother used, along with some of her energy bars, to Cleric Tomas, as he had been doing several times a week. He became concerned when he saw no wisps of smoke emanating from the cleric's chimney. This was a very brisk morning, with icicles still hanging from the eaves of most cottages. When my father knocked on the door, there was no response from inside the Cleric's Cottage. He knocked again and again, but hearing no response, he quickly pulled on the rope to lift the latch holding the door closed. He quickly went inside calling, "Tomas, Tomas, Cleric Tomas, where are you?" Searching the small cottage as he called. Cleric Tomas lived frugally and simply as did his villagers. As it was a small cottage, it didn't take my father long to end up in the Cleric's sleeping quarters. Upon knocking on the door, and hearing no answer, my father carefully pushed it open and entered. My father let out a sigh of relief, as he found his friend lying peacefully on his bed with a warm smile on his face. That relief quickly turned into something far different, for he noticed that his friend's chest was not moving, and the eyes never wavered from their fixed stare at the ceiling. My father hoped that whatever Cleric Tomas saw or was seeing was something wonderful. My father moved over and gave his dear old friend a kiss of peace on his forehead; he then reached over and gently closed Cleric Tomas's eyes while whispering "go in peace my friend". With a backward glance at his friend my father left the sleeping, chamber and headed towards the Village Hall, to notify the Mayor, The Cooper and Cleric Patoral.

After my father had informed the Mayor of what he had found, the Mayor said he would meet my father back at Cleric Tomas's cottage as soon as my father had brought the Master Cooper and his measuring ropes. When my father mentioned telling Cleric Patoral, the Mayor's expression darkened briefly. "I will have my wife go with me to the school and then I will inform the Cleric Patoral of what has occurred, while my wife watches the younglings ,until school is out for the day. Once the Master Cooper has the measurements he needs, you and I along with Cleric Patoral can discuss the remembrance service, and mark my words it will be what we want, not what Cleric Patoral wants. Cleric Tomas was the only cleric most of us have ever known, he was there when most of the village was born and he grew up with the rest of them. If he gives us any problems we will just perform the service ourselves!" With that the Mayor was on his way to get his wife and my father was headed towards the cooper's.

While I was heading towards the ford where my grandfather's new Smithy/Armory was located, a messenger from the commander of The King's Royal Dragon Guard had just arrived. As I arrived, I could see all of the apprentices running around, trying to look busy and sneak peeks at the messenger. What made this messenger unusual, wasn't the fact that he had flown in on a dragon; it was the fact that he arrived a dragonback alone, without a rider or other escort. Unknown to all who looked on this was, that this was not a normal messenger at all! It seems that due to a lot of Ambassadorial visits and the scheduled War Games with Roxio and Caligari as well as the Elvin Kingdom, messengers were few and far between; anyone who could fit into a messenger's uniform, and ride a horse or a dragon was conscripted. It seems John had made the mistake of walking by the armory while running an errand for Joth and before he knew, it some military official with all kinds of tassels and braid, handed John a satchel of documents, told him he was now a Royal Messenger and told him to grab a dragon and start delivering the messages, ASAP. Before John could even form a reply the official had turned around and strode off, yelling commands at everyone in sight. As John was standing there dumbstruck, a page came out of the Armory and handed John a uniform and then returned inside. So here is this young teenage page, standing outside of the Kingdom's Main Armory, trying to figure out what he was supposed to do. John was almost in tears because he hadn't finished his errand for Joth, and now he had this new job to do, he was in such a quandary he didn't now which way to turn. A second later John received such a fright that he actually threw the satchel and uniform into the air with a screech, then started laughing hysterically, once he realized what had spooked him.

'John it will be okay you can ride me and I have told Joth what has happened to you. He says don't worry, he will have Lance finish the errand for you. It seems that the person who shanghaied you is a Vice Marshal, on loan from Caligari and didn't recognize Joth's colors on your clothing. He was.........'

"Gustavo!!!!! Don't scare me like that, I didn't know you could talk to me unless I was riding you' John shouted both verbally and mentally at his friend.

Gus continued as if he had never been interrupted. 'explaining to Duke Campbell that he had found the last messenger needed. The Duke and Joth were discussing Joth's duties in the upcoming War Games. When the Vice Marshal had described the latest messenger, the Duke turned bright red and started to sputter, Joth realizing what had happened started laughing. Joth answered The Vice Marshal smiling the whole time, "Marshal the reason Duke Campbell's face is turning such a brilliant shade of red, is the page you conscripted as a messenger, is my page John, and don't worry, it will be a good thing for him." So you see everything is fine, I told Joth, I will fly you wherever you need to go, and he agreed with only one condition.'

'What is the condition?' John sent.

'That I wear my formal panoply all of it.......'

John burst out laughing, at the tone of 'Goos's' mental voice, for 'Goos' totally detested wearing as Joth used to quote 'Goos' "all the vainglorious frippery to impress you humans when I am already impressive". 'Okay 'Goos' I will help you with your panoply, and we can fly as high as you want so no-one will see you all prettied up." John said affectionately to the dragon still laughing.

I realized that the messenger was someone from The Crown Prince's Household; because the dragon he flew in on, if I wasn't mistaken was Gustavo the Prince's own dragon. The messenger must be someone pretty close to the prince to fly his dragon, or things were really crazy at Highmont. Before I had a chance to see if I recognized him from my visits to Highmont, my grandfather caught sight of me and called to an apprentice, to take care of my horse. I quickly relayed my father's message to my grandfather, who quickly told the apprentice to leave my horse and fetch his horse and be quick about it. "No dawdling!" snapped my grandfather when the apprentice stood dumbfounded at the rapid change in orders. As the apprentice hurried off to do my grandfather's bidding, I turned and looked over to where the dragon had been resting. As I turned and looked, I noticed the messenger getting ready to get upon the dragon and leave. My grandfather finished his instructions, and turned to join me, and as he did, the messenger waved to my grandfather and said something to the dragon and before I could blink, the dragon had grabbed the messenger and tossed him into the saddle and in almost the same motion, leapt into the air. I stood there in utter amazement at what I had just seen; it was so incredible I was at a loss for words. All around the courtyard, everything had come to a complete standstill at what had just occurred. The only thing you could hear was all sorts of things hitting the ground, dropped by the apprentices and journeymen in awe of what they had just seen.

"Those two show offs, if I didn't know better I would have said that was Joth and Gustavo, not Joth's page, John and Gustavo." My grandfather replied to my questioning look.

"You know them?" I asked him.

"I thought you would recognize them, since you had been to Castle Highmont?"

"No I never met either John or Gustavo during my visits, I have Only heard descriptions of Gustavo.” I replied.

"I have seen Prince Joth and Gustavo do stunts like that several times, they are an amazing pair. Well I see my horse has finally arrived, lets head to the village.” My grandfather announced with a sad look on his face.

When we arrived back at the village, I left my grandfather at Cleric Tomas’s Cottage and headed towards the school to take care of the younglings who would be missing me by now. When I arrived at the school, the Mayor's Wife had everything under control. She had the older children doing their math tables on their slates and she was reading a story to the younglings, as they were curled up on their nap mats. When I came in the Mayor's Wife signaled me to silence, while she checked and made sure all of the younglings were napping. She read a few more sentences, lowering her voice with each sentence, until she was whispering with the last one. As soon as she had finished making sure that all of her charges were in the land of nod, she motioned me to join her outside.

The Mayor's Wife told me everything was under control and that I should go check with my father and then come back and wake the younglings from their nap. I agreed as the younglings would be very cranky if I weren't there to give them their hugs and cuddles. I gave her a quick hug, and said thanks for watching the kids.

As I expected, I found my father and everyone else is the Mayor's Office. I think everyone in the whole village, and the closer farms could hear the 'discussion' going on in there. As I entered the Village Hall, I heard the Mayor finish, "He was our friend and Cleric for longer than you have been alive and we are going to do the Remembrance Service the way he wanted it done. It will be simple and from the heart, none of your frippery and High Church Mumbo Jumbo! Do you understand?"

There was a muffled response which I took to be an affirmative. I then knocked on the doorway before entering the Mayor's Office. At the Mayor's "Come in" I entered the office, to find seated around the Mayor's desk ,my father, the Cooper, Cleric Patoral who had a decidedly dejected look on his face and my grandfather. My father was seated next to the Mayor on the mayor's side of the desk. The Mayor greeted me warmly and my father gave me a half smile. "Welcome back Justin. How are the kids holding up?"

"Your wife sends her regards the older kids are busy copying some work they hadn't finished, and are a little upset. The younglings don't know what has happened yet, and are napping. Your wife will stay with me until the kids go home and help me walk some of the younglings' home. She sent me here to let you all know that she and I can handle things at the school and that we should have a quiet dinner at 'The Boar's Hound Tavern' to discuss how we will proceed after the service"

"Thanks Justin tell my wife that is a marvelous idea; we should have some things worked out by then." The mayor replied.

"Justin, I will be okay now that your grandfather is here, go ahead and go back to your charges. We will see you at dinner, thanks for your help."

When I arrived back at the school the younglings were just starting to move around prior to waking up. I quickly went and sat in my normal place in the center of the room, and prepared myself for what was to come. The Mayor's Wife and I had decided that I was the one who should tell the younglings what had happened, since they trusted me the most of the 'adults' since my mother had died.

I looked around at the peaceful faces, and hoped I could make them understand what had happened today, and not upset them too much. I really was not looking forward to wiping the angelic look from their faces. We had decided to tell them that Cleric Tomas had gone to sleep and was now living with Draconis and would be watching over them in their sleep, we hoped that would lesson the trauma for them.

As the first of the younglings awoke, they looked around and then as soon as they saw me, they threw off their blankets and crawled over to me, and crawled into my lap. I soon had my arms and lap filled with three slightly awake younglings and several more draped over my legs and leaning against my back. I was surrounded by total innocence and trust. It tore at me deeply, knowing what I had to do. As gently as I could, I helped shake them awake, while whispering their names in their ears, raising the volume slightly until I heard "Jutin, we wake now". I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye, and before I could turn to see who it was; the Mayor's Wife moved to where I could see her without turning my head. She placed a finger against her lips, and then mouthed "I will help if you need me" and then she sat down where she was standing, with a slightly sad look on her face.

"Good afternoon munchkins"

"Silly Jutin we younglings, not munchkins" was the giggled response from most of them. And then almost immediately.

"Aftanoon teacha Jutin" and then seconds later, a burst of giggles and laughter from them as they teased me about being a teacher.

"Okay younglings, I need you all to gather around, and sit in front of me. I also want you to hold the hand of the person on each side of you and we are going to sing a song and then I am going to tell you a story"

The younglings quickly moved as I had asked, as this was our way of showing friendship and caring, during storytelling and sad news times. I began singing the words to the only song I knew, to help prepare them for what was to come. As I started singing the second verse I felt the younglings shock as they joined in the song, for they had realized that this was the sad version of the song.

Kum ba yah, my Lord, Kum ba yah!

Kum ba yah, my Lord, Kum ba yah!

Kum ba yah, my Lord, Kum ba yah!

Oh Lord! Kum ba yah!

Hear me crying, Lord, Kum ba yah!

Hear me crying, Lord, Kum ba yah!

Hear me crying, Lord, Kum ba yah!

Oh Lord! Kum ba yah!

Hear me singing, Lord, Kum ba yah!

Hear me singing, Lord, Kum ba yah!

Hear me singing, Lord, Kum ba yah!

Oh Lord! Kum ba yah!

Hear me praying, Lord, Kum ba yah!

Hear me praying, Lord, Kum ba yah!

Hear me praying, Lord, Kum ba yah!

Oh Lord! Kum ba yah!

Oh I need you, Lord, Kum ba yah!

Oh I need you, Lord, Kum ba yah!

Oh I need you, Lord, Kum ba yah!

Oh Lord! Kum ba yah!1

As the last word of the song slowly faded away, I looked into the younglings eyes, and they were attentively waiting for me to tell them the bad news.

I took a deep breath and began, "We all know that when we go to sleep and don't wake up and, that as long as we have been true to ourselves and Draconis, we go to her arms to dwell and help her look over those who are still here?" I paused and looked around at their intent faces; I saw a glimmer of understanding and only a little fear. "Well, last night my father's good friend Cleric Tomas went to sleep, and this morning woke up in the arms of Draconis, and is keeping an eye on us"

We sang the song one more time, and added at the end "On the wings of Draconis, go in peace Tomas." As I started to rise and hug each of the younglings, I was extremely surprised to see the Mayor's Wife motioning me to remain seated. I did and sat there in complete astonishment as each of the younglings came over to me, and hugged me and gave me a kiss on the forehead. While I sat there trying to understand what had just happened; the younglings went into the room where their older brothers and sisters were and started singing the same song we had just finished. When they reached the end of the song they repeated the same ending we had used and then the shyest youngling of them all Brion calmly announced, "Cleric Tomas is riding on Draconis Wings." The Mayor's Wife and I looked at each other in total disbelief.

I then announced to all "School is over for the day and tomorrow is a day, off for all of you to spend with your families. Those who walked home left, and the Mayor's Wife and I walked our young charges home, with them chattering all the way.

Dinner that night, rather than being the somber affair one would expect, was rather light hearted and fun. Those in attendance, with Cleric Patoral conspicuously absent were regaling each other with light hearted tales of how Cleric Tomas had helped them, or the jokes he told. The Tavern cooks and barkeep outdid themselves, and in honor of Cleric Tomas, the meals and drinks were on the house. Everyone had a good time, and went easy on the drinks as they were loath to dishonor the Tavern Keepers generosity, or that of Tomas. After the sumptuous meal the adults got down to brass tacks. Essentially what was decided was to give Cleric Patoral enough rope to hang himself, if he didn't toe the line, we would send a message to Highmont. It was decided to hold the Remembrance Service two days later. My father and I were delegated to clean Cleric Tomas's Cottage, and prepare his personal effects for shipment to the Arch Prelate in Highmont. [Little did we realize how important that decision would be]

The Remembrance Ceremony went off exactly as planned; of course the fact that the Mayor and the barrel chested Master Cooper were standing directly behind Cleric Patoral might have had something to do with that. As the service was coming to a close something startling happened; Brion, totally out of character, began singing in as an angelic voice as ever had been heard on the planet Draconis. He began singing the common verse of the song we had sang two days earlier, as he started the second verse, the rest of the children joined in. All of us were amazed, as the children's voices blended in perfect harmony. The children continued singing the version we had sung together. I swore that the rays of light streaming into the chapel brightened and turned golden. Circling overhead glistening brightly was a large ghostly dragon shape, and if anyone had been watching they would have seen the ghostly image dip its wings at the songs end. As the song ended, all of us joined in with "On the wings of Draconis, go in peace Tomas" with those words we all bowed our heads and then slowly filed out of the chapel in silence and reverence. As we headed towards the Village Green, I headed over to Brion and his family. As I came near them, Brion caught sight of me and nearly knocked me over when he jumped in my arms, asking, "Jutin did he hear me, do you think Clerc Tomas heard me"

I was overcome with emotion, and as soon as I could speak, I answered him, "Yes Brion, I am sure he and Draconis heard you. You have a very beautiful voice why don't you sing more?"

"Cause I am shy, and I like to hear your voice when you sing, Jutin, it makes me tingle inside"

As I tried to digest what this previously shy boy had said, I asked him, "Brion whose idea was it to sing today, and who helped you get everyone to do it?

"You did"

"I did?" I asked him, completely and totally shocked at his answer.

"Wellll......uhh...uuuhhh I did but cause of you. You have always told us to do our best and to do what our heart tells us. We loved Tomas and he told us to call him Tomas, he said you 'Adults' get too stuffy with titles. To us he was just plain ole Tomas. He was always nice to us, and would always talk to us and answer our questions. When we had questions and you were helping your father, we would just go sit in the chapel, and Tomas would see us and come answer our questions." The young boy said in a rush.

I was stunned at what I was hearing, but I shouldn't have been, Cleric Tomas had always answered my questions, but I had thought it was because my father was his friend.

"Brion, I understand now why you felt so strongly, but why did you decide to sing in public?"

Before Brion answered me, he laid his head on my shoulder and hugged me even tighter. He began speaking with his head on my shoulder, "It was in a dream, I was singing the song in a dream to Tomas. When I woke up, I still membered the dream, I began singing the song and I felt all warm and fuzzy inside."

For some unknown reason, what Brion had said made perfect sense to me. "It is okay Brion I understand and I am sure Tomas would say thank you also. Now, I think it is time you got back to your family; they are missing you."

Brion gave me another hug and a quick kiss on my cheek and then jumped out of my arms and ran back over to his family. His family couldn't believe the change in their shy youngling. His dad gave me a wave and mouthed, "thank you."

I just nodded back and headed over to where my father and grandfather had a table along with Kyle and his fiancée. I was still in shock over the change in Brion and could not get over the fact that he credited me for it all.

Things slowly got back to normal; we were still working hard at our Pottery Shoppe. We had finally finished The Royal Dinnerware, all six hundred and sixty four odd pieces. The King and Queen were ecstatic in their appreciation, as the set turned out better than even we had expected. My father was now busy with a special order of Ceramic and Chima Ewers for the Royal Cellar Master. He was also working on some special pieces for the Duke and my Grandfather. Needless to say, I was completely shocked when my father handed me a Royal Parchment Scroll and said, "Here, this is your masterwork, when you have completed it, I will have you certified as a Master Potter." I stood there catching flies, and my father started laughing at my expression. I recovered enough to read the scroll: it was a very politely worded request for a very special set of dinnerware, similar to The Royal Dinnerware in quality, but with a different scheme. The dinnerware was for the Crown Princes' Sixteenth Birthday. I never gave certification another thought as I was too busy trying to create something outstanding for the Prince.

"Yes Joth, that was you, and I was the one who designed and created the set of dinnerware you received as your Birthday Present. That was why this mug brought back memories"

I started working on the Prince's Birthday Present, and became totally involved in the creation of his dinnerware. I was totally unaware that my father was having problems, as we didn't really see much of each other, between working with the younglings, fixing meals for my father and me, and creating the unique dinnerware I had designed.

I was unaware that when my father wasn't working, he was taking long walks along the river and through some of the farmer's fields and the neighboring forest. I had noticed that my father wasn't his usual talkative self, but I didn't connect that to the loss of my mother, and his friend Tomas so close together. My father was usually gone when I woke up in the morning and usually meeting with my grandfather regarding firing times when I was working in the shoppe. I was usually asleep when he arrived home.

I never realized that although I didn't see my father very often; I found out later he was keeping very close tabs on me. He was constantly telling the Mayor and my grandfather how much better my work was getting. I wish he had found the time to tell me, the only way I knew he approved was by the little odd jobs he left me.

I decided to do something a little different with the prince's mugs and serving dishes. The Prince's Birthday present was turning out to be very unique. The regular dinnerware was a blue on blue, with a red and gold dragon in flight in the center. The dragon was looking at the Royal Seal above him and to the left, as if it was the moon. The mugs and serving bowls were a combination of Chima and Ceramics, with my secret blue on blue glazes. The interior would be the brilliant white of the Chima, while the outside would be the Cobalt Blue of the Ceramic, with the blue on blue glazes causing a constant shifting of blue tones. The mugs will be adorned with the same dragon layout as the dinner plates.

Meanwhile Cleric Patoral was slowly getting his feet wet as the village's only cleric. We didn't notice any changes in the Sunday Services at first. Everything stayed pretty much as they had been when Cleric Tomas was still alive. The only thing we noticed at first was that his sermons were a trifle longer. Then slowly the whole service became longer. Several months passed before the first major changes began appearing.

The changes started very simply, a word changed here and there, and then soon Cleric Patoral began taking very close note of who was attending services and who wasn't. This was completely the opposite from Cleric Tomas. Cleric Patoral started stopping people in the village and questioning them as to why they had missed the service or services. He didn't seem to care that the villagers had a sick child, or farm animal, or that their prize mares gave birth at three in the morning. Most of the villagers just paid him no mind, and went about their daily lives.

Cleric Patoral stepped up his changes about three months after Cleric Tomas's passing. At first no one really noticed, but he had changed the tenor of his homilies and sermons. Gone were the positive and reinforcing sermons, in their place were subtly worded harangues and condemnations. He also stressed, over and over, that it was imperative that everyone attend service every Sunday. He paid no mind to the fact that the chapel would not hold everyone in the village at one time. In Cleric Tomas's day, if you couldn't make the services for several times, he would come and visit you and offer what help he could. He would simply say a prayer for you, or your family and take over the kitchen and just listen to those who needed his counsel.

My father and I were constantly falling afoul of Cleric Patoral, as we were extremely busy with all of the orders for the new Ceramic and Chima Pottery. We had even received orders from the Kingdom of Roxio, and The High King of Draconis. The most amazing order came from the Elven Kingdom, they wanted a hundred each of Ceramic and Chima Ewers of a very small size and they wanted Wine Goblets of Ceramic also. The amazing part, is they paid in Dragon Gold Ingots in full, sight unseen. My father tried to visit Cleric Patoral several evenings during the week, to talk to him, as he used to with Cleric Tomas. Cleric Patoral was either not home or too busy to talk to my father.

One time when my grandfather came to visit us, he also paid a visit to Cleric Patoral as it had been several months since he had been to services. Cleric Patoral told him very bluntly to remove his apostate self from his presence. He had no time to deal with such sinful and godless people like my grandfather. My grandfather was stunned and was ready to explode, after a long animated conversation with my father and Uncles decided to just forget about the whole thing, and ask for a Military Chaplain to stop by the Armory Village Garrison more often. My Uncles' did think the whole thing a little strange, due to the Erehwonese overall religious philosophy.

The overall attitude of the villagers towards Sunday Services was one of a get together of friendship, rather than a religious experience. Cleric Tomas complimented that philosophy with his sermons, dedicated to getting along with each other, Tolerance for those who were different and the wonderfulness of the Diversity of Life. He preached getting together to help your neighbor in need and sharing a bounty with those who had less. Cleric Tomas wasn't always available for Sunday Service, as he would be visiting someone in his flock who could not get into the village very often. He would even visit the garrison located at my grandfather's armory, to spread his word of friendship. Most of the villagers listened to Cleric Patoral's changed words, with one ear and let them go out the other ear. They went on with their lives as if nothing had changed. Surviving and feeding their family was more important to them. They believed that Draconis could hear them in the fields, just as well as the chapel.

Unfortunately, some of the children paid more attention to Cleric Patoral's rhetoric than did the adults, and that was the bane of my trouble. It seems Cleric Patoral had started a whispering campaign against any and all who didn't attend service regularly, no matter what the reason. He had also started speaking out against outsiders and strangers. Again it started subtly by him saying that Erehwonese products are far superior and eventually he ended up saying that our villages' products were superior to everything else.

When summer finally arrived, and all of the children were helping their families; I had a little more free time since I wasn't teaching the younglings. I was almost finished with the Prince's Birthday Present and I was actually very pleased with the way everything had turned out. I had actually tried something I hadn't originally planned on doing. To the final coat of the nearly clear glaze, I lightly sprinkled some of the very finely ground cobalt salt crystals. I test fired several pieces and was amazed at the results; they were even better than I had hoped. The blue was bold and translucent and had the same color shifting sheen that my father's original ewer had. I was so happy that I had been able to copy that. I left a sample and a note on my father's bench, and went home to tell him my good news.

Since I had some free time, I started taking walks along the river and exploring the river bank and some of the surrounding forests. I ran into some of the children from school fishing and playing in the water. I hadn't been fishing in a long time and decided to do that the next day. As I walked along the river, I came to a bend in it that I had not seen before; there was a small meadow on my side of the river with a nice sandy beach. At the back of the small meadow was a good sized rock with a slightly slanted face. I decided to stop here and eat my lunch, I leaned back against the rock and proceeded to enjoy the lunch I had packed. As I finished eating I laid my knapsack down and looked around and saw a War Eagle Feather lying on the ground. I picked the feather up carefully smoothed it out and placed it in my knapsack. I leaned back against the rock and soon was sound asleep.

I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle whatever was ahead of me. I took one more look around at the simplistic beauty, and headed back to the village with a lift in my step.

The next Sunday's Service was the first time in several weeks that my father and I were able to attend. We were met with a rather icy reception by Cleric Patoral, who basically totally ignored us in the public arena. That day's sermon was a thinly veiled diatribe against outsiders and those people who visited other towns and villages. He alluded to our village as being a better choice for governing everyday things, rather than some distant governor. He didn't mention anything or anyone specifically, so no one really paid much attention. My father and I were a little concerned, because we had a feeling that this sermon was directed at us and our trip to Castle Highmont; as well as our trips to my grandfather's forge and the Army Garrison.

As I walked through the village the next morning, on my way to the General Store for some flour and other dry goods, I hadn't seen Lucaso and his companion Tayledro in quite some time. For some reason, they hadn't been to Sunday Services for some time. I also wanted to ask them when they wanted the next delivery of my Uncles cooking pottery. They were both in the store and greeted me warmly and asked about my father and grandfather. They definitely wanted more pottery and wanted also to showcase some of my father and my new wares. They also wanted some of my grandfather's new knives and other ceramically enhanced items. I casually asked why we hadn't seen much of either of them, and their answer shocked me to the core of my being.

"Well Justin it is like this; Cleric Patoral has been making us uncomfortable with his comments. He has made comments along the line of why didn't we get wives, raise kids and live like regular people. People like us weren't going to be welcome in the village much longer. We didn't bother telling him our nephew, who is like us, was joining us soon."

I was stunned at what Lucaso had just told me. I had never heard anything like that before. Tayledro picked up the story.

"Justin he never says anything when other villagers are around. He only says it to the two of us, and he never comes in the store. We have no idea where he is buying his supplies; we have stopped going to his services because of his attitude. So far, we haven't experienced any problems with any of the villagers, other than some of the younger families who don't send their children in by themselves any more. Also a few families won't send their male children in alone, but those families have always been a little standoffish anyway. The change in attitude from Cleric Tomas is alarming but he never says anything directly, so it is hard to complain. Overall we really enjoy living here the Mayor and your family are always really nice to us and you also pay your bills promptly. And we really appreciate the honor your family has given us by allowing us to sell your wonderful products. In all of our travels, we have never seen anything rivaling the creativity and quality. Your family's work is without compare there is nothing that even comes close."

"I am sorry that Cleric Patoral is making the two of you feel uncomfortable, you both have been a major part of our village far longer than him. I will mention what you have told me to my father and grandfather and see if they can help. Thanks for your help and our supplies, I will let my Uncle's know that you are ready for their portion of our wares. And don't worry our family will always stand with you, no matter what happens." I shook their hands and hugged each one of them as I left. I was dismayed at what I had just heard and the rest of my day was clouded. I stopped back at the shoppe and delivered my messages, leaving the supplies until I went home for the night.

Since I needed to clear my head of all of the disturbing thoughts that were running around, I left everyone a note and headed towards my favorite resting spot. It was a hidden site known only to a select few and it had been a favorite of my parents when they were young. I had to stifle a sob, but was able to. I headed out the door knowing I would feel much better once I reached our spot. I would also feel much closer to my mother and could deal with the grief I still had.

As I started out of the village towards the river, I passed some of the older boys who I never really got along with. As I walked by them, they were muttering things that I could only partially catch. The things I did catch were along the lines of, "Flies on dragons think he is better than us, I bet he's one of THEM" and some things I couldn't hear clearly. I kept on walking as I wanted to reach my spot and I wasn't going to let them ruin my day any further.

As the warm afternoon sun slowly sank its golden warmth into my tired and aching body and I began to drift away from the world around me, I slowly relaxed and sank deep into repose, not even feeling the rough bark of the firpine against my back. The last sounds I heard before my conscious thoughts ceased were the breezes rustling through the trees and the river below, splashing against the rocks as my cares and woes began drifting away and I slipped deeper and deeper into slumber.

While I was in dreamland the world continued moving along, farmers out weeding their fields, the dairymen began bringing in their flocks and the bakers began removing the evening breads from their ovens.

As the sun began to sink below the horizon, the temperature began to drop and I began to awaken, but before I could awaken completely I was overcome with a feeling of warmth and caring, as if a living blanket were laid over me, and I slipped back into slumber. When I finally woke up completely, it was moon dark and I was slightly chilled. Once I was awake I remembered the song I was singing in my sleep:

Where is love? Does it fall from skies above? Is it underneath the willow tree That I've been dreaming of? Where is he Who I close my eyes to see? Will I ever know the sweet "hello" That's meant for only me? Who can say where he may hide? Must I travel far and wide? 'Til I am beside the someone who I can mean something to. Where, Where is love? Who can say where he may hide? Must I travel far and wide? 'Til I am beside the someone who I can mean something to. Where, Where is love?2

Although I had missed dinner and had quite a walk back to the village in the moonlit night, for the first time in a long while, I felt refreshed and at peace with myself. Before I started walking home, I took a quick look around to see if anything was different or if anyone else was around. Not seeing anything or anyone, I carefully headed down the path to the village. Luckily the path down the hillside was far enough away from the river that it didn't get moist from the evening mists. If it wasn't for the bright moon I would have been concerned about walking down the hillside path in the dark. With the moon shining brightly, the hardest part of the trip home was exiting the hidden trail onto the main river pathway, back to the village. The problem occurred because the entrance was hidden behind a rock formation and could be difficult if you couldn't see your way clearly.

When I got home, there was a note from my father on the kitchen table. He had finished all of his large projects and he had also noticed that I had finished the Prince's Birthday Present. He said we were having dinner at the tavern to celebrate the next evening. He had also said that my grandfather and Kyle would be joining us. I went to bed feeling a lot better than I had earlier that day. If I had only known what the next few days would bring, I would not have been so happy. I did remember to look out for my bed, ever since my mother had died, I needed to get up earlier and since I didn't want to deal with a rooster; I had moved my bed so the sun hit me in the eyes early in the morning.

I got up early the next morning and fixed breakfast for my father and myself. As my father stumbled into the kitchen looking for his cup of hot cafa, he gave me a big hug and said, "Great job on the Prince's Present. I couldn't have done a better job myself. I am looking forward to dinner tonight; we haven't had anything to celebrate in quite awhile. Don't plan on working tomorrow, we are taking a day off; your Uncles can handle the shoppe for a day. Kyle is bringing his fiancée so we can finalize the wedding plans and congratulate Kyle on joining our family. I am going to clean up a few things at the shoppe and then go visit your grandfather for the afternoon. So go fishing and take it easy for the rest of the day"

I returned my father's hug and then went back to cooking breakfast, while my father went and cleaned up. 'I am glad my father seems to be back to his old self. I hope we can get back to where we were in our relationship as I missed the closeness.' Breakfast was ready by the time by my father was cleaned up.

Dinner was a wonderfully relaxing affair; it started out as a family affair. As dinner progressed, my father invited the Mayor and his Wife, Lucaso and Tayledro and we soon had a lively fun time. The Cooper brought a mini-cask of his favorite Port. As he put the cask on the table, I noticed the seal burnt into the cask. I asked the Cooper how he had acquired the cask. "Justin it was a gift for some very special barrels I made a customer"

"Well Master Cooper, you have a very special prize in that cask. That cask came from The Lord Mariscal's Private Vineyard. That is a very special Porto; there are only a few casks of that available outside of Castle Highmont"

"Justin are you saying what I think you are saying, that it is the Duke's Porto?"

At my nod of agreement my father continued. "Master Cooper you would be doing all of us a great honor if you shared that cask. It is a wonderful Porto, the likes of which you have never tasted and probably never will again. That Porto is the Duke's own private stock and has been crafted by his own hands. If you would like to share the Porto with us, we would be honored and would drink a toast to you and your generosity."

"James, I will gladly share this gift with you and the rest of my friends here. That is what friends do. If someone will get some glasses I will gladly pour."

I was up and out of my seat like a shot. as I definitely wanted to taste more of that tawny colored delight. "I will be right back with some glasses so we can all have some of this wonderful fruit of the earth." I was very surprised when I got to the bar and asked for wine glasses and the bartender gave me Porto Glasses.

The look on my father's face when I appeared carrying a tray of Porto Glasses was priceless, as he didn't know the bar had any either. I quickly passed the glasses out with my mouth watering in anticipation of the joy it was about to experience. I was getting some interesting looks from some of the people as I was smiling from ear to ear.

The looks on people's faces as they tasted the rich goodness of the tawny delight from the fruits of earth were incredulous. Their expressions covered the range of emotions from shock to total amazement, with lots of lip smacking and it was clear they enjoyed it tremendously.

The rest of the evening was passed in small talk and reminiscing about our craft and all of the things we had gone through. I was stunned when my father excused himself and then came back carrying something wrapped in a leather pouch. My father stopped at the head of the table and asked for everyone's attention. When he had all of our attention my father began speaking.

"This is a wonderful day for our family; we have finished two very large impressive orders and I also have a final bit of news that not even my son Justin knows about, I just received word today, that our Royal Dinnerware has just been given the final seal of approval. Additionally, I would love to share with all of you my son's awesome work."

My father then pulled out one of the Prince's Mugs and one of the Dinner Plates. As he did that, I tried to duck under the table, but my grandfather pulled me back up. I was turning a bright shade of red, as my father continued extolling the various aspects of my creations. When he started passing my creations around, there were exclamations of shock and surprise from our friends, who hadn't seen my work before. Everyone was amazed at the colors and detail of my work and was very lavish with their praise. My father then raised his glass and announced,

"Justin please stand." As I stood with a questioning look on my face, my father continued. "I would like to present to you the youngest Master Potter on the planet Draconis. Master Potter Justin Lennox!"

Bedlam erupted and I almost fell over with the shock of it making my grandfather quickly reach out and catch me, just as I was ready to faint.


"Yes you Justin! I was surprised that you didn't miss several of your mugs and plates. I "borrowed" several of them and sent them to Master Porcel and Duke Campbell. They agreed with me and Master Cooper and the Mayor here agreed also. So welcome to the ranks of Master Potters, Justin and if I say so myself it is a well deserved honor."

"Speech!" "Speech!"

My grandfather gave me a slight nudge to stand up a little straighter and whispered "Say thank you"

"I don't really know what to say at this time. I am overwhelmed and completely speechless. I never in my wildest dreams expected anything like this! All I can say is thank you all very much and I love you father, for without your training and help I couldn't have done anything." My grandfather gave me a big hug and said "Congratulations you deserve it"

My Father came over and gave me a big hug and said "I love you too son." As soon as my father let go of me, Kyle came over and grabbed me in a hug and spun me around saying, "Way to go Justin I knew you could do it."

When Kyle let me go, I quickly shook hands and said thank you to the rest of the well wishers and sat back down and had another sip of the Porto and tried to make sense of what had just happened. My father, whom I thought wasn't paying attention to me, had gone out of his way to honor me and his teaching. This was the best day in my young life and little did I know at the time it would be my best day in quite awhile.

The next several days were spent packing both sets of the dinnerware for transportation; the King and Queen were taking no chances with this shipment. As soon as my father had sent word that we were ready to ship the projects, several wagons filled with wooden crates and a soft spongy material to wrap things in appeared on our doorstep, along with several of the Duke's guard and Royal Dragon Guards also. The Royal Guards were there to protect the shipment, while the Duke's men came along to help and make sure that the Royal Guards behaved themselves towards us. They were several of the guards who had flown with us on our trip to Highmont. I was very confused about the wagons themselves, because as soon as they had been emptied the wagon drivers quickly pulled a few pins out, and folded the wagon sides into the bed of the wagon. The drivers and guards then took the sides and bottom off of the wagon and set it down on the ground. Before I could ask why, they quickly reassembled each wagon on the ground and left the rear gate down. Two of the guards then attached webbing to two of the sides. While I was watching this, one of the younger of the Duke's Guards walked over to me and simply said, "dragons". All of a sudden it clicked. The wagon drivers then mounted their wagon beds and drove off to their next job.

It took several days to wrap and pack everything, even with the guards doing all of the heavy work. They had brought their own supplies with them and were no burden on us at all. They spent the night at the garrison at my Grandfather's Armory and showed up early each morning ready to work. When the villagers came by, curious as to the hustle and bustle at our Shoppe and started to get in our way, The Duke's Guards took it upon themselves to offer assistance to the villagers, while at the same time subtly keeping them out of the way. The morning of the shipment came upon us very quickly, but we had finished packing everything early in the afternoon yesterday and one of the guards had ridden over to the garrison to send a message to the castle to arrange transport for us this morning, so we were all set. We had just finished enjoying a warm cup of cafa and some wonderful pastries one of my aunts had baked, when suddenly the day was thrust into shadows. The guards quickly leaped to their feet and went to their assigned stations. I had never seen anything like what happened next, as the next few minutes were filled with some of the most precise dragon flying I had ever seen. Two dragons carefully hovered over each wagon, while the guards assigned to that wagon grabbed the webbing on each side and let the dragon grab the webbing. Each guard then tossed what I assumed was some kind of guide or safety rope to the dragon rider. When the webbing and rope was secure the dragon pairs simultaneously started lifting each wagon straight into the air. As the laden dragons acquired the proper height, another pair of dragons took up positions directly below them. When all of the wagons were in the air, on their way to Castle Highmont, several other dragons landed and picked up the guards to return them to their own garrisons. My father and I waved to all of them and shouted "Thank You!" Before heading to clean up the shop, and lock up for the day. The apprentices were gone before the locking bar had dropped into its place. My father headed into the village for some errands and I headed towards the river, to find my friend and some fishing.

I had met my friend Misha one afternoon several months ago, when I awoke from a nap at my special place and found him standing next to me. He had been shading me from the sun, as the afternoon clouds had drifted away. Misha wasn't from my village and although we didn't speak the same language, he was able to teach me to see things through his eyes and learn to talk to him. Misha taught me many things about fishing, hunting and tracking and he also introduced me to several of his woodland friends.

As I was walking along the river, I came around a bend and onto an area where several of the older village boys were swimming and messing around in one of the deeper swimming areas. They of course were skinny dipping and chasing each other around in and out of the water. I stopped and stared out of pure shock because I had noticed that the head of one of the larger boys was peaking out of his skin. I guess I stared a mite too long though, as they caught me doing it and started calling me names. The boy whose head was peaking out grabbed himself and started swinging it around asking me if I wanted a closer look, as I shouted back that I was only looking because I had never seen one so small before in an attempt to deflect being caught. The other two boys started razzing him and giving him a bad time, I decided to leave while they were occupied with teasing each other. I guess I wasn't as quiet as I thought though, or quick enough in leaving as they started taunting me again saying I "must be one of THEM" and as I got near the next bend in the river, which would take me out of their sight several stones and sticks went flying by me. None of them came close to hitting me though and it was as if they were afraid of antagonizing me too much and just wanted to shake me up a little bit. I wasn't worried, as I could see Misha up ahead waiting for me and I had heard several of his woodland friends keeping up with me in the bushes, just out of sight.

When I caught up with Misha I explained what had happened and he said the boys sounded like younglings not teens. Misha and I had several conversations about my growing up and my changing body. Although I loved him and he loved me, I was not in love with him nor he with me. Due to Misha being different, I had never brought him to the village or spoken of him to anyone. With Cleric Patoral's constant condemnations against anyone different we had decided that silence was golden.

While Misha was teaching me wood lore, I was teaching him what I could, of our Village History and the History of Erehwon. I was also trying to teach him all of the little Military Lore I had been able to learn. I was quite amazed myself at the amount of Military knowledge I had acquired by listening to my grandfather, The Duke and regular solders at my grandfather's armory. Misha couldn't explain to me why he needed the knowledge, just that it would come in handy some day. 'Which left me curious but I didn't think much of it at the time.'

We spent the rest of the afternoon fishing and finding edible mushrooms for me to stuff my fish with and bake for my father and I to have with our dinner. Just before I headed back to the village, Misha gave me some very bad news. He had to leave our village area and go off to some mountain for some more training. He told me that we would definitely see each other again and that his woodland friends would still be around to keep me company and they would continue my woodland lore training. It was with a sad heart that I gave Misha one last hug and watched as he disappeared towards the mountain range that Highmont was located on. I sadly turned towards the village and headed back home to fix dinner; suddenly baked fish wasn't as appetizing as it had been.

As I entered the village, I happened to notice the same three idiots talking to Cleric Patoral and as I turned down the lane to our cottage my neck started to itch I turned back and saw Cleric Patoral shooting daggers at me from his eyes. As by now, I could care less what he thought I just shook my head settled my bag of fish on my shoulder and walked on home.

That night over dinner, which was surprisingly good, considering my sad news, I explained to my father what had happened at the river. He told me not to worry those boys were just being overly sensitive, or idiotic. He did laugh quite a bit when I told him what I had said about it being so small. I asked him again what was wrong with me, as I still didn't have a girlfriend and didn't want one. He asked me if I liked boys better than girls and before I could answer, told me as he hugged me.

"It doesn't matter to me whether you like boys or girls, you may just be too young, still, for that to happen. And if it turns out you like boys and not girls, if you model your life after Lucaso and Tayledro I will be very happy. All I want is for you is to be happy with whomever you choose to live your life with. I mean after all, how upset can I be when the Crown Prince has lived with one of his soldiers and they were seen everywhere and you know what? The King and Queen still love both of them. You are my son and I still love you and always will!"

My father gave me a kiss on the cheek, and then uncharacteristically picked me up and carried me out to the washroom, where he dumped me on the floor, pulling the cord and drenching me in water and said, laughingly as he ran back into the kitchen.

"Clean up you smell like fish!"

I threw a sponge at him and of course missed and sat there laughing as my father had erased a lot of the doubts and misgivings that I had as only loving parents can.

After I finished cleaning myself up, I changed into the clean robe my father had left out for me. When I entered the kitchen, I found that my father had built a small fire in our hearth and the cottage was nice and toasty. Although we were in the beginning of summer our evenings were still a bit nippy. I fixed a pot of tea for the two of us, and we had a few of the fruity biscuits for dessert and we sat staring at the fire as we relaxed and unwound. My father gave me a big hug and headed off to bed. I was very tired also, so I began to tidy things and close up the cottage. I added a few coals to the oven and banked them for the morning and then headed off to bed myself.

When I woke up the next morning, my father was still asleep, or so I thought, as I stirred up the banked coals and added a few more, soon having the stove and oven warming up. I started the kettle for cafa and began fixing something for breakfast, as I had decided to serve fish omelets with some hollandaise sauce that needed to be used up.

When breakfast was almost ready, I went to knock on my father's bedroom door and said, "Breakfast is ready" I was surprised when I didn't hear any response not even a growl. I knocked and announced breakfast one more time, and still nothing. I banged on the door loudly several times, shouting "Father, Father!" Still hearing nothing, I opened the door and barged in and found my father lying there staring at me, with a wonderful smile on face, as if he was remembering the fun we had last night; I started to make a smart remark when I noticed his eyes were staring straight ahead and unmoving. I rushed over to his bed and tried shaking him awake, he was rigid as a board I screamed "Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo......."

Several hours later, I awoke to a banging on the cottage door, and smoke in the air. I groggily arose, making my way to the door, throwing it open, not really caring who might be there. Without even saying anything, I headed to the kitchen to stop the smoke that was pouring out of it. In the background, I could hear someone asking me where my father was and without thinking I automatically responded in a flat voice, devoid of emotion "dead." I staggered into the kitchen and without even thinking, grabbed the frying pans and threw the charred omelets out the window.

I sat down at the table and began crying heavily I ached in every bone in my body. I was totally alone, no mother, no father, no Cleric and no best friend. I wanted to die myself and leave this world when suddenly I felt a chilling sensation in both hands. I snapped awake and saw my grandfather looking down at me, and then I looked down and saw my burned hands in two pots of cold water.

"Justin, please don't leave me, Please, Justin I need you! If you leave, who will teach me to sing?"

I turned my head towards the angelic voice and saw Brion standing next to me, with teary eyes and an anguished look on his face. As I looked down at him, he snuggled in even closer and wrapped his arms around me, hugging me as hard as he could. I leaned over and kissed his head whispering,

"Don't worry little one, cause I don't want to leave you I don't want to miss your angelic voice either. Now I need you to loosen your hug just a little, so I can breathe"

With that, Brion loosened his arms slightly and whispered into my ear, "I love you, cause you're so nice to me"

I kissed his hair again and said, "thank you." As I looked around the room, seeing all of my father's friends as well as some of my adult friends, standing by me. The only young one in the room was Brion and as I tried to figure that out, the Mayor's Wife spoke up.

"Justin dear, Brion was the one who found you and saved your hands; he saw the smoke and came to help. He ran and got my husband and then came back here and found you, somehow he was able to fill those pots with water and get your hands into them. He had changed the water in them several times, before I was able to get here. I have added several herbs to the water, which was what woke you up. He hasn't left your side since he found you" Before she could continue there was a loud commotion coming from our cottage door.

I could hear some mumbled words, but couldn't make them out when all of a sudden, I heard the Mayor roar!

"You will not step one foot into this house! You have made your feelings regarding James and his son perfectly clear and if you are not out of my sight in ten seconds, you will find my boot helping you along!"

Before whoever it was could reply, I heard my grandfather's voice in a tone I had never heard before and I hope to never hear again. "You have no business here CLERIC!!! Now go away and do it quickly" And then speaking to someone else he continued, "Sergeant if that person even steps in this lane, I want him arrested for trespassing and anything else you can think of; this is my grandson's home and was my son's. It is the home of The Master Potter to the King, so there is your authority and reason."

"At once sir, we fully understand. Corporal escort that individual to the end of the lane and I don't care how you do it!"

"Yes sir"

I could hear mutterings fading away, but that was it; then before I could ask anyone what had happened, my grandfather came back into the kitchen. I started to ask something, but my grandfather started speaking first.

"Justin my lad I am truly sorry you had to hear that and for all that has happened to you. I had a sad feeling something like this was going to happen, I tried talking to your father, but he would never open up. He has been working very hard, the last few weeks, making sure everything was set up to take care of you in the future. Losing your mother hurt your father very badly, much more than any of us realized, and then loosing Cleric Tomas, his best friend and confidant, was just too much for him. He had lost his zest for life and his will to live. You and his love for you, have been the only thing keeping him going, your father giving you the contract for the Crown Prince's Present was more of a test then you realized. Your father believed that if you could even begin to handle that project, then you would be able to take over the shoppe when he passed. I don't know if he ever told you, but the job you did on the Prince's Contract amazed even him! Your father expected to have to help you along the way and even show you how to do some things, but not only did you not need his help you did a better job then even he could have done. Until you did that magnificent job on the Prince's Present, the best pottery on the planet was the new Royal Dinnerware that you and your father created. You may not believe this but your creations outshine anything even I have done. You have continued the legacy of Lennox and Son for generations to come, making me very proud and you made your father even prouder. I never said anything before this, because I thought I had more time, unfortunately I guessed wrong; it seems your elevation to Master Potter was what your father was waiting for. He must have decided last night, after your dinner, that it was time. He just went to sleep and didn't wake up, and apparently Draconis thought so also, as your father died in peace."

My grandfather paused for a moment, taking a sip of water ,before walking over to the table, where he knelt down next to me, looking me in the eyes, as he began to speak,

"Justin, I love you and I will always love you, we will get through this together. As soon as the Mayor's Wife finishes working on your hands, she is going to give you something to drink that is going to make you very sleepy. While you are sleeping with Brion attached to you to watch over you...."

"But grandfather I ........."

"No buts, Justin, nothing you can say is going to change our minds! And before you say anything, I will gist of what Brion told me when I mentioned what you might say. "Justin is my friend and even if he does like boys, he would never hurt me, or force me to do anything. And if you think so you don't know Justin!" So as you see, you will be going to sleep, your body needs it to recover from the shock it has received and your protector is going to make sure you do sleep, and get you anything you need. The Mayor and I will take care of all the paper work and the remembrance service will be held in the meadow where your parents first met by my Armory, and one of the Army Chaplains will be performing the service. That idiot will not be anywhere near, so don't worry. We will talk about this more tomorrow. Now drink your tea and go to bed!"

Before I could respond, a mug of tea laced with honey was placed in front of me. As I started to ask a question Brion tugged at my sleeve and said, "DRINK IT!!!" Since the Mayor's Wife was wrapping my hands in a loose linen cloth, slathered with unguent, I had no choice but to drink the tea my grandfather held to my lips.

When I awoke several hours later, my hands were itching like crazy, which was probably what had woken me up. I started to get up, when something pushed me back onto the bed. "Justin ,lay back down, you aren't getting out of bed yet"

"Brion, what are you doing here?"

"Justin, just relax what woke you up?"

"My hands are itching and I don't know why and they are all wrapped in bandages."

"Justin, your hands were burned and I have some medicine as well as some more bandages for you. You still need to sleep some more, lie back down and I will re-bandage your hands and then we will go back to sleep"

"Brion, why are you doing this?"

"Because you are my friend and you need a friend, now lie back down so I can fix your hands"

Brion quickly slathered my hands with more of the numbing unguent, and then carefully slipped an old pair of my mittens over my hands, he then grabbed a mug I hadn't seen, while helping me into a sitting position. He held the mug up to my lips and said drink! 'What ever happened to the shy youngling?'


"Shssh Justin, just rest your grandfather will explain everything when you wake up next time."

When I woke up several hours later, my grandfather was sitting in a chair watching me as I slept.

"How do you feel Justin?" Asked my grandfather, in a very quiet voice.

"Better, but there is a huge hole in my heart. Why grandpa, why? I still need him, why did he have to leave me? As I asked those questions, I felt a pair of arms wrap themselves around me and a sweet voice whisper into my ear.

"I am still here Justin, I won't leave you."

"Thank you Brion, but I still miss my father."

"Justin, your father didn't want to leave you either, but his heart was not into living anymore. He missed your mother and Cleric Tomas too much. There was an aching void in his heart, that as much as he loved us and we loved him, we could never fill. Your father did make sure that you had the means to take care of yourself when this day happened. The Pottery Shoppe is entirely in your name and your uncles will keep things going until you return. We are going to spend the night here and then you will come stay with me for a few days, until you are back on your feet." My grandfather said as he took a sip from his mug.

"Thank you grandfather and Brion, for everything, I don't know what I would have done without you two being here for me."

The next several days were a blur; I don't remember much of anything that happened during that time. Brion, my grandfather, or Kyle, never let me out of their sight. They didn't smother me they just made sure that they were nearby if I needed anything. The Remembrance Service was simple and very beautiful, but then Brion started singing and a warm feeling came over me, and my voiced soared to join his. The crowd was stunned and later my grandfather told me no one had ever heard singing like that before. The Cleric performing the service just said "Go in Peace" after the song had ended.

It took my hands several weeks to heal enough where I could work the clay again, and I thought if only my heart were able to heal in such a rapid manner, in the meantime I spent a lot of that time with either Lucaso or Tayledro learning how to keep the books. I did not realize how much work there was, keeping a shop like ours running properly. Luckily for me, both of my uncles were experienced in that aspect of the business also. It seems Lucaso and Tayledro were well aware of my father's bookkeeping system, as they acted as purchasing agents for my father at times.

I hadn't realized how much I had missed working with the clay, until I started to turn my first practice vase. It took me several attempts to get anything remotely resembling a vase; my uncles were trying very hard not to laugh. I finally broke down and told them to laugh all they wanted to and to get it out of their systems. After several days I was finally back into the swing of things, and my mugs and vases actually looked like mugs and vases; my hands weren't healed enough to do any firing yet, so Kyle came and did what firing I needed. I was still taking long walks when I could and visiting my favorite spot.

When I was at my spot, I talked to both my mother, as well as my father and told them how much I loved them, and missed them. I also told them I hoped that they were together now, in the 'Arms of Draconis', I missed Misha also, but his friends still kept me company. Although I wasn't in the mood for learning, they still came and told me of the crazy things that occurred in the woodlands.

Several weeks had passed, and I had moved back into what was now my house, with my aunt's and several of my female cousins helping me with the housekeeping, as well as some of the cooking. Brion and his family stopped by many times, as did the Mayor and his family, and I began to realize that I was finally starting to recover from my latest loss.

Things weren't exactly rosy though as the three village idiots continued to harass me whenever they could. They were really pissed at the fact that the village elders, including their parents treated me as an adult. It meant absolutely nothing to them, that I had lost almost all of my family, to receive that 'honor'! Most of the hassling was verbal, but occasionally they would bump into me to try and knock me off of my feet, and occasionally the odd stone or stick would sail by my head. As long as I stayed in the village, or with my uncles or grandfather, things were good as the idiots were smart enough not to mess with them. Cleric Patoral gave me very little notice, other than to shake his head and mutter to himself whenever our paths crossed, luckily that was few and far between.

On the last Thursday of the month, I was closing up the shoppe, as we had given all of the employees a three day holiday; when Kyle came riding up on a lathered and belabored horse. I started to ask what was wrong, when he pulled up to an abrupt stop and almost flew out of the saddle, coming to a stop directly in front of me.

"Justin....... it's… it's your grandfather...."

"What happened? Is he alright, I have to go see him now!"

Kyle reached over and enveloped me in a hug, saying sadly, "Justin, he died an hour ago, he tried to move his anvil without waiting for help; he gave a grunt of pain, and collapsed. We rushed over to help him and could do nothing; one of the army healers was there, and tried for a long time to help him. I am truly sorry, Justin but he's gone!"

I never heard most of what Kyle had said, all I heard was that my grandfather had died! Everything turned red and I screamed something, pushing out of Kyle's arms and went running out of the village. I had no idea where I was going, I just ran, I could vaguely hear some shouting from behind me, but it didn't matter, nothing mattered anymore. I don't know how long I ran, as I just kept running just as I was about to stop because I couldn't breathe, I turned a corner of the path and ran right into the three idiots. They had been out knocking wild fruits out of the trees, and had clubs and bags full of fruit. Since I was running fairly fast, I knocked two of them over and fell myself, as I tripped over their legs; the last thing I remember until I saw the face of my angel, was a club swing down at my head and a boot coming towards my ribs. I blacked out in pain until you found me Joth.

High in the small village above Palmetto Crag there was a strange scene occurring as a mother cat was carrying a kitten in its mouth, with a strangely bent leg. The mother cat was headed towards Andreu's home and as it came close to the house, a large brutish man came out of the door and stumbled towards the local tavern. He saw the mother cat and tried to kick the cat off the mountain, but missed; Andreu was following right behind him and quickly scooped up both cats, before his dad could try again. Sammy the Kat couldn't understand what Andreu needed with a cat when he had him.

When I finished speaking, Joth pulled me up into a hug, kissing me on the forehead, while brushing the hair out of my eyes, adding, "Relax Just', you are safe here and all that is behind you! You have a place here with us, for as long as you want one, and when you are recovered a little more, we will go check on Kyle and Brion for you."

Before I could respond, Lance and Nana came over, giving Joth and I a big hug at the same time. I couldn't believe all of the love that was flowing into and over me. I felt much better and finally I began to feel at home. They had heard all of my life, and they still loved me I felt better than I had in quite awhile. Just as Lance and Nana stood up, and headed back towards their seats Jonah came running in closely followed by a very curious John.

"Jut, 'Goos' says you fine now, he say you stay here now. Jut, I be happy for you and I have a present for you from 'Goos.'" With that Jonah launched himself into my arms, giving me the present, which was a big hug and kiss and it was one of the best I have ever had. 'I thought smiling at the youngling in my arms.' Luckily for Joth he had seen what was coming and had moved out of the way.

'Just', I told you they would understand, we want you to stay and be happy' I was surprised that 'Goos' was talking to me without Joth saying anything.

I started yawning and suddenly realized that the room was lit by lamps and candles. Nana looked at me, then at Jonah and John, and began speaking to her grandson.

"Jonah, you need to take John with you, and give both of you a bath and then head to bed. And if you give me any guff, I won't ask cook to fix your favorites for breakfast tomorrow." She said with a smile on her face and more importantly in her voice as she cajoled the obviously displeased eight year old.

"C'mon John, we gotta go get clean and go to sleep, so we can have goodies for breakfast" Jonah said, as he then grabbed John and dragged him out of the room before John could reply.

Lance quietly left the room right behind the two imps, and returned several minutes later with four Porto Glasses, and a beautiful Cobalt Blue Ewer on a tray. Lance filled the four glasses with the wonderful liquid, passing them out to each of us ,as they were filled before placing the tray on the side table and raising his glass in salute, "To Just', welcome home, we are glad to have you here now and safe."

As I raised my glass and took a sip, my eyes opened wide as I recognized the taste, I was now sure that I belonged here and I never wanted to leave. I leaned back against Joth and let a satisfied sigh escape my lips. I could stay here and sip this wonderful Porto for ever. I gave Lance a questioning look and he burst out laughing.

"Just', I can't pull anything by you can I?" Lance asked, with a grin, he then walked over the ewer and turned it around so I could see the seal attached to it.

"Yes Just', it is from the Duke's Private Vineyard and your favorite. I just wanted to share my favorite with you. Now we have something in common besides liking the big lug you are leaning on."

I started laughing so hard I almost splashed the Porto on the floor, I quickly grabbed the glass with both hands. As I finished my glass, I started to feel really tired, as the stress of retelling my story and all the anguish I had been through, caught up with me. Nana noticed that I was starting to fall asleep and stood up and looked right into my eyes and said,

"Joth and Just', to bed now! We will talk about this more in the morning I will leave a note for the cook that we will be having a celebratory breakfast to welcome Just' to our home." Nana then walked over and gave each of us a hug and a kiss, before leaving the room.

Lance followed suit and gave me a kiss on the cheek and whispered into my ear, "Welcome home Just' you will love it here." Lance then left for his own rooms, and Ranulf, smiling as he went.

Joth looked at me and asked "Do you want to sleep in your own room tonight? Or do you still need company?

I didn't answer with words, but instead with a smile on my face, I just grabbed him by his ear and led him to "OUR" bedroom. 'Hmmm "OUR" bedroom I am really starting to believe that'

For a change, I was the one who was on the outside and I was the one doing the cuddling. And I found that I rather liked it.

[Authors Aside I was listening to the song "Perhaps Love" by Placido Domingo and John Denver when I envisioned this scene.]

While Joth and Just' were still sleeping the sleep of the contented, Jonah dragged the groggy John into Joth's bedroom; as he opened the door, he stopped abruptly at the sight in front of him, but poor John, he almost ran the munchkin in front of him over as he didn't expect Jonah to stop like that.

Jonah turned around tugging John's sleeve to bring John's head down to his level.

"John why does Just' have his arm around Joth instead of like usual? And why are they smiling?"

"Jonah, it just means that Just' is finally feeling better and is almost healed. It means he now feels safe and comfortable with Joth. Now let's go get some juice, until they wake up and maybe we can sneak some of your "Cinmon Crumbles" from cook." John told the boy, in a conspiratory tone which got Jonah giggling.

They left Joth's bedroom and then headed out of the suite towards the kitchen and just before they were out of hearing, Jonah spoke up, "John, are Jut and Jot going to get all mushy face, like Jot and Lance?"

Everyone on the planet could hear John screaming "Jonaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!" As he chased the giggling munchkin through the halls.


I owe a deep debt of gratitude to my acquaintance Lynne for the inspiration to include my poem "A New Life Begins" in this chapter. I had been looking for a way for Just' to express his thanks and the poem was perfection. The majority of the authors at what we lovingly call "The Fort" appreciate and respond to all suggestions and critiques we receive from our readers. As ACFan says "You may never know when your suggestions may appear in a story". So please keep the comments and suggestions coming.

I apologize for the long time between chapters, life and having my laptop stolen caused some delays. I want to thank several of my friends and authors for all of their help. Without their comments and suggestions this chapter would never had been finished, or have the content it has now. Thanks to The Radio Rancher, Str8mayb, Akeentia and Dark Star. I greatly appreciate all of the help they have given me. I hope you enjoy this chapter and as always feedback is always welcome by email or posting in the forum.

Hopefully I have tied up a few loose ends and didn't leave you to many more.


Till next time,



Assistant Authors Notes: Well folks we finally tied TSL down long enough to finish this chapter. It was wonderful getting to fly again. I hope you all enjoyed my flight of fantasy.

Til we fly again,


'Goos's' Email

TSL, I absolutely LOVED this chapter, even if you did manage to kill off three wonderful characters, whom I loved very much. I am amazed that I don't hate you for that, but I fully understand that, by their deaths, Just' can become what he is meant to be. You brought tears to my eyes several times in this chapter, and not all of the tears were because of sadness. For instance when Just' sees the mug and remembers making it for Joth. It was heartwarming. I don't want to sit here and rehash the whole chapter or I would be here all night, and we don't want that, now do we?

I am almost out of commas again, 'Goos' so please see if you can find me some more, and thank you so much for the last batch. They are the very finest commas I have ever used, and I found out by accident, that they are delicious. I had some in my mouth to hold them and I noticed the wonderfully nutty flavor, like Macadamia, ooooooooooooooooooooo!

Thanks, I have eaten half a pound of them now and I have to stop.

Till we fly again 'Goos' I love you.


The Radio Rancher.

1This is an alternate version of Kumbaya (also spelled Kum Ba Yah) and is a song composed by Reverend Marvin V. Frey (1918 – 1992)

2Original words from the Musical Oliver, Lyrics by Lionel Bart – Altered to fit this story.

Comments greatly appreciated at The Story Lover

Jonah and I would also like to hear from you also 'Goos'

More of this story is available at The Story Lovers Home

Dragon Earl Reader's Discussion Forum

Stories at Gay Authors