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Copyright 2015 by billwstories
Chapter 11 – A Heritage Revealed.
As soon as the door to Kieren’s bedchamber was shut and bolted, the boys started talking excitedly about everything they had witnessed in the Great Hall. At first, Garreth and Romaric merely talked between themselves, since Kieren was still lost in his thoughts. Eventually, however, they attempted to get his view about everything as well.
“Kieren, did you know any of this before tonight?” Romaric asked. After a slight hesitation and a few bewildered glances between them, Kieren finally responded.
“No, not really," he admitted. "I guess I suspected something was up after Beraut made a peculiar statement on the way here. I just never fully understood the meaning of what he was hinting about at that time.”
“Why? What did he say?” Romaric wanted to know.
“When I pointed toward this castle on the way here and asked what it was, since I’d never seen anything like it before, Beraut said something about it being the home of my ancestors,” Kieren explained. “That really confused me, but when I tried to get him to tell me what he meant by his comment, he refused to tell me anything more. He said there were too many others around that might overhear, so he would explain it to me later.”
“So that was all he told you before the banquet?” Romaric pressed.
“No. When he said he wanted to talk to me alone, after you took me to see the privy chamber, he started to explain more about it. He didn't say very much though, because one of the elfin guards interrupted our conversation,” Kieren confessed. “The guard had come over to tell Beraut that the spy had come to, as Beraut had requested, so I never found out any more about what he was planning on sharing. Beraut had only told me I was somehow related to the Tarolian kings, but I thought it was only through some distant relative. I never would have suspected I was a direct descendant of those great monarchs.”
“So your parents didn't tell you anything about it either?” Garreth followed
“Not exactly, but I guess I probably should have figured out something wasn’t quite right when I went home to get my things," Kieren added, with a slight scowl. "My parents were acting very strangely when I said goodbye to them, so I knew there was something they weren't telling me.”
“Why? What do you mean they were acting strangely?” Garreth asked, concerned. “What did they say or do?”
“It was just some of the things they mentioned and the way they said it,” Kieren acknowledged. “My father almost slipped and started to say something about my heritage, but then he caught himself before saying more. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it seems they must have known about this already and just didn't share the information with me.”
“Why wouldn’t they want you to know about this?” Garreth followed.
“Probably because they didn’t feel I could handle it. They still think of me as a little child,” Kieren spat back, bitterly. “Damn! Why can’t parents tell when their children are grown up and stop pretending we still need them to protect us? I am unbelievably angry with them right now and wish I was home so I could tell both of them how mad I am.”
Kieren continued to rant as his anger grew. His rage was becoming more and more visible to his friends, since it could be seen in every contour of his face. Kieren really wanted to punch someone or throw something, but he didn’t do that because he was a guest here. He certainly wasn’t about to break anything that didn’t belong to him or his family and he definitely didn’t want to hurt either of his friends. Seeing he didn’t have any other viable options, he tried to block out his anger and focused solely upon the evening’s revelations.
While Kieren’s frustration grew, Garreth and Romaric merely stared at their friend and tried to empathize with what he must be going through. Even though they wanted to make him feel better, neither had the slightest idea about what they could do or how they should react, since they had never seen him this upset before.
* * * *
After he left the boys, Beraut went back to his own room to question the serving man and other interloper they had taken into custody earlier. There were two elfin guards keeping an eye on them, along with two other guards from the castle’s security force, and the two men were bound to chairs and looking less than happy.
As Beraut entered the room, he grabbed a jug of wine off of the small table just inside the door and poured part of the contents into two of the goblets that sat beside it. Once the goblets were half-full, he retrieved a small vial from his robes and added some of its contents to each goblet of wine. Shaking the goblets gently, in order to make sure the contents had fully dissolved in the liquid, he was ready to make his next move.
“Release the prisoners from one of their arm restraints,” the wizard ordered.
After looking at Beraut skeptically, the guards did as they had been commanded and untied one of the prisoners’ arms, although they left their bodies lashed to the chair. The wizard then offered a goblet to each of the prisoners, but neither accepted it. The man they had caught in the hallway earlier continued to stare at the vial Beraut had just used, so when the wizard held the goblet out to him, he didn’t budge.
“It’s just a little something to ensure your truthfulness,” Beraut admitted honestly, before extending the goblet to him again.
“I’m not thirsty,” the man responded, defiantly.
Realizing this fellow did not intend to cooperate with his plan, Beraut glared at him, hoping this would make him take a more submissive posture. In other words, the wizard was trying to emulate the actions a dominant wolf might take to get others in the pack to yield to its control. Unfortunately, the prisoner didn’t respond the way the wizard had hoped.
“Did you think I was just going to drink it for you? If that’s what you expected, then you must be going senile, old man,” the spy spat out, brazenly mocking Beraut.
“Well that may be how I hoped you would respond to my offer,” Beraut advised him, “since it would be the wise thing for you to do. However, your cooperation is of little concern to me. I have other means available to gain your compliance, in case you opted not to do this freely.”
“It will take more than you and your tired old magic to scare me,” the man boasted in a derisive and arrogant tone, although Beraut had also detected a fearful tremor in his voice.
“Well you may discover I pose as severe a threat as anyone else,” the wizard countered. “Sadly, I suspect you’re going to have to learn this fact the hard way.”
“There’s no way you’re as bad as they are!” the spy stated boastfully, before unconsciously letting his head tilt toward the floor, so he didn’t have to look the wizard directly in the eyes again.
“Have it your way, but you may come to rue your decision,” Beraut advised him, before turning toward the other man. “What about you, sir? Do you choose to also do this the hard way as well or will you drink my wine voluntarily?”
The serving man looked extremely nervous, so it appeared to Beraut that he didn’t want to have to put up a fight or endure any pain. It was also apparent from his constant glances at the other man that he considered it might be much worse for him to give in and comply. If he were to do that and the other spy was able to inform their employer later that he had freely cooperated with the wizard without having to be tortured, then it could prove hazardous to his well-being. This, unfortunately, seemed to be the deciding factor in helping him to make up his mind.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that either,” the serving man stated meekly.
Beraut looked at him for a moment and then turned toward the other spy again. The wizard grabbed his staff from its place against the wall, lifted it and held it a thumb’s length away from the first man’s temple, before uttering a short spell. The second he finished his incantation, a bolt of energy shot from the tip of the staff and penetrated the man’s skull. The captive screamed out in pain and his body began to jerk spasmodically in his seat. After a few seconds of enduring this form of torture, the wizard uttered another short phrase, which caused the bolt to abruptly dissipate. Once the man’s body stopped jerking and his eyes began to refocus, the wizard spoke to him again.
“Are you ready to taste my wine yet,” Beraut asked, without much emotion in his voice.
He then waited a few seconds, in order to make sure the man had recovered sufficiently enough to respond. When he still did not receive a reply from his prisoner, Beraut became frustrated and ordered two of the guards to force the prisoner to drink the wine. One of the warriors lifted the goblet to the man’s lips, while the other held the prisoner’s head still and attempted to force his jaw open. As soon as his lips parted, the first guard tilted the goblet slightly, so the liquid would run into his mouth. Feeling the wine wetting his lips and tongue, the spy attempted to seal his mouth shut, so the liquid couldn’t enter.
Even though it was difficult for him to continue resisting, since his mouth was twitching slightly from the charge Beraut had sent coursing through his temple, he did his best to prevent any of the wine from entering his throat. Frustrated by the man’s continued attempt to defy him, the wizard shook his head and let the guards know they could discontinue their efforts. Once the soldiers stepped away from the prisoner, Beraut approached the man again.
Beraut quickly repeated his previous effort, but this time he placed his staff against the opposite temple. After giving the man another jolt of energy, he lowered his staff and did the same thing to the man’s chest. Since the prisoner still hadn’t indicated he was ready to cooperate, the wizard dropped the crest of his staff even lower, until it was hovering precariously in front of the spy’s genitals.
Surprising everyone in the room, the wizard gave him another blast of power to that sensitive area, which caused the man’s body to buckle in two, as he groaned loudly. Beraut seemed pleased when he observed this result. Before giving the man another opportunity to change his mind again, the wizard applied a final jolt of energy to each of the spy's legs, near the kneecap.
This final assault had a remarkable effect, because the spy’s legs began to twitch uncontrollably. After a few seconds of this impromptu dance, his entire body began to spasm and flop about, as if he were in the throes of a huge seizure. When he eventually lost control of his bodily functions, it caused the serving man to gawk at his co-conspirator in horror, because this had just proved to him that Beraut could indeed be vicious.
After allowing the first captive several minutes to recuperate from what he had just gone through, Beraut ordered the guard to try and make him drink again. This time, the spy allowed his lips to remain parted slightly, so the wine entered his mouth freely and flowed down his throat. After making sure the man had swallowed a sufficient amount of the concoction, the wizard gave him a few minutes more, so the potion would have time to take effect.
“What were you doing outside our chambers earlier?” Beraut demanded forcefully.
“I was told to listen for any information that might be useful,” the man responded, in a hollow, monotone voice.
“And who put you up to this?” the wizard followed.
“Some mercenaries I met outside one of the shops,” the captive responded.
“And what exactly did they tell you to do?” Beraut continued.
“They told me to listen at the door of any important visitor that stayed at the castle,” the spy replied. “They wanted me to gather whatever information I could, so they could determine what the visitor was up to.”
“Were they looking for anything more specific than that?” the wizard pressed.
“They told me to pay particular attention to any wizard that might stay here and advised me to do my best to procure as much information about him and his dealings as I could,” he admitted.
This last statement didn’t surprise Beraut at all. He had always suspected the Dark Lord would conclude he’d be in the middle of any conspiracy to thwart his attempt to gain control of Tarolia. Realizing this, he of course assumed that Madumda would have others spying on his activities as well.
“And what did they promise you for doing this?” Beraut continued.
“They said they would pay me for whatever information I could gather, although they would pay me the most for anything I was able to find out about the wizard,” he answered. “They also threatened to kill me and my family if I told anyone about what they were up to or if I failed to do as I was told.”
The wizard merely nodded in understanding, since this just confirmed Madumda’s henchmen would be as ruthless as their master while conducting their affairs.
“Have you passed any other information to them?” Beraut continued.
“A little, but there have not been many visitors here until recently,” the prisoner stated.
Satisfied with the man’s responses, Beraut turned toward the other prisoner.
“It’s up to you,” he began, while staring at the burly worker. “Do you wish to drink the wine of your own volition or do you need further persuasion first?”
“No, sir,” he responded, visibly shaken. “I will drink on my own.”
Having said this, the man picked up the goblet given to him and began to drink greedily. When he finished swallowing the last drop, Beraut waited a couple more minutes before beginning his interrogation.
“Where did you meet the men who hired you?” Beraut asked.
“Outside of the armorer’s shop,” was his one-dimensional reply. “I heard one of the men with him say something about the man having just dropped off some chainmail to be repaired before he stopped me.”
“And what did he say to you?” the wizard followed.
“After he grabbed me by the arm, he said something about the way I was dressed,” the man admitted cryptically.
“Why would he mention something as unimportant as that?” Beraut muttered, while looking slightly perplexed.
“He said I appeared to be too well dressed for someone of my station, so it must mean I was working for the steward,” the prisoner replied.
“And how did you respond?” Beraut pressed.
“I told him I worked in the kitchens,” the serving man replied, while looking baffled and wondering why Beraut would want to know such trivial information.
“And what happened next?” the wizard continued.
“The man asked me if I wanted to pick up a few extra coins?” the serving man replied.
“And?” Beraut asked, in an effort to prod him into giving more details.
“I asked him how much he was offering and what I would have to do to earn it,” the serving man acknowledged. “When he told me what he wanted, I immediately turned down his offer.”
“And then what happened?” the wizard pressed, because he was getting annoyed that the spy was not volunteering these facts more readily.
“That’s when he told me that if I didn’t do what he wanted then he’d kill me and my entire family,” the captive offered, as his body involuntarily shuddered at the thought. “He said it wouldn’t take much for him to find out where I lived or to come up with the names of my family members, just to let me know he was serious.”
“So what did these men look like?” Beraut pressed.
“I only really remember the one,” the servant admitted. “He was the only person I actually dealt with after our initial meeting and I was too shaken by that first encounter to remember much about his friends.”
“Then tell me about him,” the wizard pressed, obviously anxious for a description of this man.
“He was a little shorter than you, but much broader and more muscular,” the prisoner explained. “He was also very ugly.” After saying this, the man paused to think for a moment. “He also had bad breath, uh, and rotten teeth and, um, he had a scar on his neck, just under his left ear.”
“What color hair and eyes did he have?” Beraut followed, since he wasn’t totally satisfied with the information he had secured thus far and wanted more details.
“His hair was black and his eyes were a really soft blue. I remember that because I thought his eyes didn’t match the rest of him,” the prisoner mused. “I mean he was ugly, smelly and crude, yet he had these incredibly gentle-looking eyes.”
Beraut merely nodded his understanding. He was grateful and satisfied that he had learned all he could from this pair. He then quickly left the room, but not before he grabbed a couple of items from his bedchamber. Confident, he now strode out the door and moved toward Kieren’s room. When he got there, he lifted his arm and knocked softly upon the outer surface.
“Who’s there?” Romaric challenged from the other side.
“It is I! Beraut,” the wizard announced, pleased the boys had heeded his warnings. A moment later, he heard the bolt slide back and then the elf opened the door to let him enter.
“Thank you for taking care of your friend,” Beraut offered, “but now I want the two of you to go back to you own room and lock yourselves in for the night. I will stay here with Kieren.”
“But what about those two men in your room?” Garreth wanted to know.
“They are still being guarded, but I have already gleaned everything I can from them,” the wizard advised him.
“So what did you find out?” Kieren asked next, while looking eager to hear the answer.
“I discovered they had been coerced into doing what they did,” the wizard explained. “They were told they could pick up a few extra coins for gathering some information, but there would be consequences if they refused.”
Beraut intentionally avoided telling the boys the details of what would happen to the men or their families, since he didn’t want them to get overly panicked and then not be able to sleep.
“Both spies were recruited because of their positions within the castle and they took the threats seriously,” the wizard added. “They also figured they could make a tidy profit selling whatever information they could gather, while merely going about their normal duties.”
“Do you think there are other spies in the castle too?” Romaric wanted to know.
“There may be,” the wizard admitted, “but seeing these two were captured and dealt with this evening, I believe the others will think twice before doing any more spying.”
“Why? What did you do to them?” Kieren asked, as each of the boys looked intently at the wizard, anxious to learn how he had dealt with the spies.
“Rest assured the situation has been adequately handled. Now, Garreth and Romaric, it’s time to return to your own room for the rest of the evening,” Beraut added, as he began to shoo the pair out the door.
The two elves stopped and turned toward him again as they neared the door, because they were prepared to protest their eviction. However, they never uttered a word, once they saw the look Beraut gave them when they began to open their mouths. Seeing his expression was enough to convince them he was in no mood to be challenged.
Dropping their heads in resignation, they left their friend and walked in the direction of their bedchamber. Once the wizard heard the bolt on their door slide into place, he turned back to face Kieren, since he still planned on sharing a few more tidbits of information with him before they went to sleep.
Carefully, Beraut observed the lad’s demeanor and looked for any sign that might indicate he wasn’t holding up as well as he should. The wizard was concerned the amount of information that had been shared with him earlier might have already been too much for him too handle, so he studied his ward closely. Since Kieren had previously asked questions about the spies and wasn’t giving any indication to the contrary, Beraut decided it might be best to ask the youth directly about how he was holding up.
“Kieren, I know I’ve told you a great deal this evening and much of it must have come as a total surprise. Not only that, but I’ve also thrust a great deal of responsibility upon you as well, by assigning you to this mission, although that was done purely out of necessity. Be that as it may, I would really like to know how you are feeling and what you’re thinking at the moment.”
Kieren looked stunned that the wizard had asked him such a question, but finally he regained his wits long enough to respond.
“I’m really confused, angry and kind of scared,” he answered. “I mean I understand what has to be done and the reason it’s so important, but I still keep asking myself, ‘Why me?’ Why can’t someone else do this?”
The wizard placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder, as a way of showing his concern and possibly even in an attempt to comfort the lad. Unfortunately, he could tell this wasn’t going to be enough and he would need to answer Kieren’s query.
“I understand your confusion,” he responded. “You probably feel this doesn’t seem fair, because we are asking more of you than possibly we have any right to. When you say you are angry, are you angry with me because I’m the one telling you this, or is it something else?”
“Well, I am upset with you too, but mostly I’m angry with my parents,” Kieren stated, forcefully. “It seems each of you knew about this all along, but no one ever bothered to tell me anything concerning this until now.”
“We each thought it would be in your best interest--” the wizard began, but he never got a chance to finish his thought.
“I think I’m old enough to decide what’s in my best interest,” Kieren shot back, vehemently. “I’m not a little kid any more, even though you all keep treating me that way,”
“Yes, you most certainly are old enough to decide now,” Beraut conceded, “but at the time we were merely trying to give you the opportunity to enjoy your youth…”
“By treating me like a baby,” Kieren nearly screamed, while cutting the wizard off again. “I’m really mad at all of you, but I’m even more scared. How can I possibly do the things you’ve said I need to accomplish?”
“I’m certain the tasks ahead seem impossible to you now, but I have faith that you’ll succeed,” Beraut admitted, in a very soothing tone. “However, hold on to your anger and fear, but focus it on Madumda, not your parents or me, because it will help to keep you safe.”
Kieren thought this comment odd, but decided to consider it for a few more seconds before responding. Eventually, he nodded his head, to show the wizard he would trust his judgment. After he received this small acknowledgement, Beraut placed his arm around the teen’s shoulder, so he could guide him over to the bed to sit down. Once they were comfortable, Beraut was ready to tell him the additional information.
“Kieren there are other things you still need to be made aware of,” he began.
This pronouncement, however, caused Kieren to look at Beraut, totally amazed and concerned that there might be even more he was going to be asked to do. Kieren looked dumbfounded and remained frozen in disbelief, as the wizard continued speaking.
“First, there is the information concerning the talisman I’ve been referring to,” Beraut explained, while the teen continued to stare at him in silence. “What you do not know is that this talisman is a sword that is known as the Sword of Kings.”
“You mean all of this is about some silly old sword?” Kieren finally managed to blurt out.
“Kieren, pay close attention to what I’m saying, because it’s not just any old sword, but a very special sword that is capable of destroying the Dark Lord,” Beraut advised him. “This particular sword was created by the dwarf smiths and then infused with magical power by the Council of Wizards. If used by an heir of Ethelbert, it is the best hope we have of destroying Madumda.”
“What? You mean I’m expected to do that too?” Kieren gasped, as he sat thunderstruck by the revelation the wizard had just shared. “I just thought I had to go find it, not fight him with it!”
Realizing how overwhelmed his ward must be feeling, Beraut looked compassionately at Kieren, while empathizing with what he was obviously going through. Kieren clearly understood what was being asked of him, but at the same time he was troubled by the implications. For this reason, the wizard granted him a little more time to mull the situation over. For the next few minutes, Kieren struggled with the impossible nature of the task he was being charged with, because it was much more than he was prepared to deal with. His mind was reeling, as he attempted to comprehend how he could possibly do what the wizard was requesting.
How could he, not yet grown and without any special abilities, do battle with someone as powerful and evil as Madumda? It was true that he had trained with the elfin soldiers and was familiar with certain weapons and their use, but nothing more. He’d never had his training put to the test with any true foe, let alone one with the strength and supernatural ability of the Dark Lord. How could Beraut and these other people put their faith in him, since he was untested and unproven in battle? How was he supposed to carry out such a gigantic undertaking?
The wizard continued to watch the young man and studied how he was responding to this additional information. Once he felt Kieren had sufficient time to digest the latest news, Beraut continued.
“Kieren, I know this is a lot to cope with right now and I imagine you are thinking this task is impossible, but please bear with me,” he added.
Beraut then took this opportunity to place his arm around the boy’s shoulder, while hoping the physical contact would have a calming effect on him.
“Before you leave here,” Beraut continued, “I have some special gifts for you, items that will help to protect you along the way.”
This announcement snapped Kieren out of his stupor, as he wondered what sort of gifts the wizard might have that would help to keep him safe.
“Kieren, first I want to give you a very special robe to wear on your journey. This will help to shield your movements in times of greatest danger,” the wizard informed him, before holding a small bundle out in the teen’s direction. It was a folded piece of cloth and Beraut winked at Kieren as he stared at the garment.
“Kieren, this robe is similar to my own and possesses the same qualities I demonstrated to you and the others in King Dylan’s sitting room. This exquisite garment has been in my keeping for quite some time, while I have waited for the one who would fulfill the prophecy. As you remember from the exhibition in Aurelia, the robe can make you virtually invisible and protect you when nothing else can. Wear it wisely and in good health.”
Shyly, Kieren took the garment from him, while finding it difficult to believe he had just been given something so fantastic.
“In addition to this,” Beraut continued, “I would also like to present you with the ancestral symbol of authority for the Tarolian Royal Family. It is the Golden Medallion of Ethelbert.”
After saying this, Beraut held up a rather splendid bauble made of gold. One side was set with some sort of translucent stone and the other surface bore an insignia. As Kieren gawked at the relic, the wizard told him more about it.
“On the front side is engraved the Golden Seal of Ethelbert, an upraised dragon encircled by a kingly crown. It is the crest of the rulers of Tarolia, your forebearers.”
Having said this, Beraut lifted the chain adorning the medallion and raised it over Kieren’s head, so he could place it around the young man’s neck. The wizard then said some sort of spell, as if bonding Kieren to the medallion, although the teen barely realized Beraut had done anything at all.
“There is much you should know about this emblem of your rank, as there are only a handful of people still living who know the history and purpose behind it. The dwarf smiths of old created this symbol for King Ethelbert very early in his reign, and then the Council of Wizards endowed it with certain powers. This talisman helped him rule the land and protected him from many of the things he encountered. There is much more you should know about this symbol, so if you listen closely, I shall disclose some important details about this splendid device.”
Beraut then went on to share the secrets of the royal emblem with the lad. Even though Kieren now had these two magical devices to aid him in his endeavor, he still had several questions that needed to be answered. First and foremost, he decided to question his role in all of this.
“Beraut, why me?” he began, meekly. "Aren’t there others who are stronger and more capable of doing these things?”
“I can understand why you might think this,” Beraut responded, sympathetically, “but unfortunately the task must fall to you.”
“But why am I the only one who can do this?” he challenged, mildly flustered.
“It’s because of the prophecy,” the wizard explained, simply.
“What is that supposed to mean?” the teen wondered.
“It is the prophecy that states who will be the one to destroy Madumda,” Beraut offered.
“And it says I’m supposed to do it?” Kieren asked, still unable to accept what he’d just been told.
“Not specifically, but you are the heir of Ethelbert,” the wizard replied.
“So that means I’m it and there’s no one else to help?” the young man pressed, while hoping there still might be another option.
“I’m afraid so,” Beraut explained. “You see, Kieren, it's as I told you before. Shortly after Madumda rose to power, a seer advised him about a vision he’d had. The mystic announced it would be an heir of Ethelbert who would some day destroy him, so that’s why it must be you and only you.”
“But there must be other heirs!” Kieren nearly screamed.
“No, Madumda killed the last of the heirs, other than your family, a couple of months ago,” the wizard explained.
“What about my father then?” Kieren wondered, hopefully. “Doesn’t he count?”
“No, he doesn't! He is not an heir of Ethelbert,” Beraut countered. “He is merely married to and the spouse of an heir, but he is not part of the bloodline himself.”
After hearing this response, Kieren looked totally dejected. He had been hoping there might be someone else that could take his place.
“Are you certain there is no one else?” he asked, unable to accept this as definitive.
“I am positive, but if you wish I’ll explain this to you in more detail, so you’ll understand why you are the only one that can do this,” Beraut replied. Kieren merely nodded, in resignation.
* * * * * * * *
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