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Sword of Kings: Tempered By Fate

 by Bill W
Copyright 2015 by billwstories
Chapter 24
Some Questions Answered.


Each member of the group had been eavesdropping on the wizard’s conversation with Kieren and seemed intrigued by everything they had heard thus far.  They were also mildly shocked by some of the information the wizard had revealed to them, so they began to stare intently at Kieren, because they were anxious to see how he was going to react to this news. 

I'm grateful to you for clearing those things up for us, but it's also really nice of you to say that you think I'm the right person to become king,” Kieren stated, somewhat timidly.  "While I've still got you here though, there is something else I need for you to explain to me.  It has been bothering me for a very long time and I've been unable to figure it out on my own.  I have a feeling it's because I'm still missing some of the facts."

"That's possible, my boy," Beraut quickly agreed.  "So what is it that you would like me to help you with?"

I know you told me before that I'm a direct descendent of King Orthilue, but I just don't see how that is possible," Kieren began, as he carefully studied his mentor's face and watched how he was reacting to this statement.  "I am able to see how I might be indirectly related to him, but I can't find a direct link." 

"What is confusing you?" Beraut asked, very softly. 

"Well didn't you tell us that Madumda's men killed everyone at the castle after they broke into Leander?  If that is true, then how can I have a direct link to him?  I know you tried to explain this to me before, but I still don't see the connection.  I guess I could possibly be related to him through his other niece, because I’m pretty sure you said he had one.  I believe you also told me that she lived in the Woods of Wildoness, so I guess it would make sense if that's how I'm connected to him.  So is that how I am related to King Orthilue?  Is it through his niece?"

"No, you are not related to him through his niece..." Beraut began, but Kieren cut him off before he could finish his statement. 

Dang, I thought that might be it," Kieren whined, while looking mildly dejected and perplexed.  "I guess then it might also be possible that King Orthilue could have had an illegitimate child, maybe before he married the queen, but that’s the only other way it would make any sense to me.  Seeing my father and a few of my other ancestors were elves, I thought the niece was the most likely way, but now it's looking less likely that they could have had anything to do with this.  The only way it might still be possible is if the king had messed around with an elf and had a child.  Otherwise, I just can't see how I am directly related to King Orthilue?”

Listen to me carefully and I will try to explain this in a bit more detail, my bewildered young friend,” the wizard stated reassuringly, without getting upset.  “First of all, King Orthilue didn’t have any illegitimate children and he certainly didn’t have an affair with an elf.  Even though his niece might have been a good prospect, that isn't how you are related to him either.” 

Upon hearing this, Kieren was even more confused than before and it showed in his expression.  The wizard acknowledged his minor frustration and decided to explain this as simply as he could. 

Kieren, do you remember when I told you about how Madumda troops had slaughtered King Orthilue and his family?” Beraut asked next, as he attempted to backtrack slightly so he could clarify this connection.

Yes, I recall you telling me about that as we rode to the capital,” Kieren agreed, as he tried to recollect the specifics of that particular conversation. 

Good, but I think you either missed a very important detail or misinterpreted that part of the story,” the wizard added, while mildly admonishing and shocking the lad.  “When Madumda’s commander counted the corpses to make sure each member of the king's family had been disposed of, he made one fatal miscalculation.  The Dark Lord’s warlord failed to realize that one of the girls he had executed was not one of King Orthilue’s children, but his niece instead.  If you remember, she was there for a visit.”

Yes, I remember you told me that,” Kieren agreed, as he continued to wrack his brain to discover the answer to this conundrum.  He certainly didn't want to lessen Beraut's opinion of him simply because he couldn't figure it out.  “That was the reason I thought I might be related to the other niece you told us about, but now you've assured me that is not how I'm related to him either."

"I think your problem is that you're looking for a connection to your father's side of the family," Beraut stated. 

"So that's not how I'm related?" Kieren asked, looking puzzled. 

"No, it's on your mother's side of the family," Beraut clarified. 

"I didn't expect that, because my family has lived in Wildoness since this all happened," Kieren explained.  "That's why I felt I was related through my father's family."

"Did you forget about King Orthilue’s daughter?" Beraut pressed, as he stared at the young man. 

"No, I didn't, but I just figured she went back to Leander so she could attend the funerals for her family and then stayed with one of her other relatives afterward," Kieren admitted.  "Since you said Madumda killed off all of the other heirs except for my family, I assumed he eventually discovered her too and killed her at some other time.  Isn't that what happened?” 

Not exactly.  She definitely survived the massacre and I never hinted that Madumda had killed the king's other daughter too.  Even though I advised you that Madumda had murdered all of the other heirs, she survived his butchery,” Beraut stated, quite emphatically. 

Oh, so is this another one of those times when you only told me part of the truth or did you completely lie about this?” Kieren responded, rather undiplomatically. 

I suppose you might be tempted to look at it that way,” Beraut confessed, “but I did not lie or intentionally deceive you about this.  The truth is, Princess Tayce was staying in the faerie kingdom when her family was slaughtered, as the guest of King Rondelle’s brother.  At the time it was felt that it wouldn't be safe for her to return to Leander to attend the funerals, so her uncle agreed to let her stay with his family.  He and his wife raised her until she reach adulthood. 

"If you remember another conversation we had previously," the wizard continued, "King Rondelle was King Dylan’s father and it just so happened that King Rondelle’s brother had married King Orthilue’s youngest sister.  So you see, the girl who was killed at Leander had been King Rondelle’s niece too, not merely King Orthilue’s.  She had gone to spend time with King Orthilue’s next oldest daughter at the castle, while King Orthilue’s youngest daughter journeyed to the elfin homeland to spend time with her other cousin, since the two girls were nearly the same age.  That's why Princess Tayce escaped the slaughter.”

That’s very nice and all,” Kieren agreed, “but why is this so important?  What does it have to do with me, unless you are trying to tell me that I am related to her?”  Kieren was hesitant to immediately draw this connection on his own, because he didn't want to jump to another hasty conclusion and then be chided by his mentor for doing so.  Therefore, he waited for Beraut to verify this fact instead. 

Yes, Kieren, that's exactly what I'm trying to tell you.  Princess Tayce was raised by her uncle’s family and spent the rest of her life in the Woods of Wildoness.  When she was old enough, she married an elf and through that coupling she eventually became your great-great-great grandmother.  She was also the first of your ancestors that we protected here in the elfin kingdom."  Kieren's mouth dropped open when Beraut revealed this fact, but the wizard didn't stop to give him time to respond. 

"We also tried to protect King Orthilue’s sister’s family," Beraut continued, "and we were actually quite successful in doing so for a period of time.  Unfortunately, that branch of the family tree eventually died out, but their demise had nothing to do with Madumda, nor was it the result of something that I had failed to do.  Instead, it was due to a combination of other factors, which included sickness, infertility and old age.  In the end, the last of her descendents had either failed to produce an heir or all of their heirs died of disease or natural causes before they were able to produce an heir of their own.

I must also explain another reason about why your family went undetected in the Woods of Wildoness,” Beraut continued.  “Before the other wizards placed their essence into the trees, they infused much of their magic into the shield protecting the elfin kingdom to make it stronger.  This helped to prevent Madumda from locating your family, which means it also kept you safe.  In the end, what it all boils down to is this.  You are most definitely the great-great-great-great grandson of King Orthilue.” 

As this point finally struck home, Kieren was even more stunned than he had been when the news of his birthright had initially been revealed to him at Leander.  After putting all of these facts together, Kieren suddenly realized he wasn't merely related to the king through a distant relative, as he'd originally thought.  Instead, he had discovered an unbroken link that led directly back to the great monarch that he had come to hold in such high regard. 

When this realization had finally dawned on him, Kieren started to become a little unsteady on his feet and swayed slightly from side-to-side.  When Garreth noticed what was happening, he rushed to assist Kieren and helped to support him.  The wizard merely smiled when he observed how devoted the young elf still was to his friend, as Garreth lovingly looked after his mate and made certain he didn't fall.  As soon as Kieren had recovered from the shock of this latest discovery, Beraut continued. 

Let me fill you in on the remaining details of your true lineage.  Princess Tayce married an elf she had become acquainted with and they had two children, your great-great grandmother and a son.  Their son died of a fever when he was just nine-years-old, which left only his sister to carry on the family line.  She eventually met a man that had traveled to Wildoness from Cassander while conducting some business with the elves.  After he made several additional trips to the faerie homeland, they fell in love and eventually married.  In the end, your great-great grandmother wound up giving birth to three daughters.  The eldest girl died several months after her birth, while the middle daughter died barren of child at a ripe old age.  Their youngest offspring was your great-grandmother and she ended up marrying another elf.  They had several children together, however all but one of their progeny died when a plague ravaged the faerie kingdom and killed a large segment of the elfin population. 

This plague spread quickly and was especially devastating to the elderly and the very young, most of whom died almost as soon as they were exposed to the disease.  Unfortunately, once they contracted the illness there was nothing any of us could do to save your great-grandmother’s other children.  In the end, her only child to survive was her eldest son, who turned out to be your grandfather.  There was a time when my older brothers and I had considered that he might be the one the prophecy was referring to, but as it turned out that wasn't the case. 

"Anyway, he later married a maiden from Leander, whom I had brought with me on one of my many visits to the elfin kingdom.  So you see, my curious young friend, I am therefore at least partially responsible for your eventual birth, since I was the one who introduced your grandparents to each other.”  After the wizard added this last statement, he gave Kieren a mischievous wink. 

After your grandmother had suffered through the loss of three stillborn babies,” Beraut continued, “your grandfather finally sired his only child.  It was your mother, Cenobia, and there’s not a great deal more to tell about your lineage.  I’m certain you must be aware that your mother was quite old when you were conceived, but you may not know the reason why she had so much trouble having children.  For some unknown reason, your mother had a great deal of difficulty carrying a fetus to term after she became pregnant and this resulted in her having several miscarriages before she eventually gave birth to you."

This last bit of news revealed something to Kieren that he had wondered about previously.  After learning about his mother's difficulty with having children, he felt it helped to explain why she had been so protective of him while he was growing up.  The only reason he'd had any freedom at all was due to his father's insistence.  Kieren didn't have long to think about this in more depth, however, because the wizard continued his explanation and broke his ward's reverie.

As you already know, your father, Kier, is also of elfin blood, but having so much of the faerie blood in your veins does not prevent you from being a direct descendent of both King Orthilue and King Ethelbert, as well as every other king that ever ruled Tarolia.  More importantly, you also turned out to be the one that fulfilled the prophecy, saved the kingdom and will be the next to rule this great kingdom.  Now, you know the rest of the story and have all of the relevant information concerning your true background.” 

After the wizard finished his explanation, each of the others continued to gawk at him, which was something they had been doing throughout his entire dialogue, including Kieren.  Each of them had listened intently to everything Beraut had just shared and there was no doubt they were all even more impressed about Kieren's claim to the throne after the wizard concluded his comments.  Once they'd had a chance to fully absorb this additional information, they began to look at Kieren with even more admiration and respect than they'd had before.  Not only had he proved himself throughout the various ordeals they had experienced together and then topped it off by defeating the Dark Lord, but now they also knew he shared an unquestionable flesh and blood link to the entire line of Tarolian rulers. 

While all of this was still being digested by Kieren’s brain, he began to wrestle with a myriad of other questions.  Suddenly, an entire new set of concerns began to race through his mind and this temporarily caused him to withdraw even further away from the others, as he slowly pulled back into himself.  His thoughts were now consumed with what this might mean for him in the long term and what he might be expected to do next.  

Seeing his ward was busy absorbing this new information, the wizard began to answer some of the questions the others were currently posing to him.  This gave Kieren the time he needed to come to grips with this new reality, while his friends fired their queries at Beraut.  It seemed the others felt they also needed to clarify some of the details the wizard had just revealed before they were separated from him again. 

Beraut had already answered a few of these issues when he abruptly cut them off.  This happened when he finally noticed Jana’s presence with the group.  He had been so focused on Kieren that he had totally failed to recognize her presence before this moment.  It also hadn't helped that she had stayed back the entire time and remained behind the others, since at first she had been totally taken aback by the similarity between Beraut's appearance and how her former master had looked.  At first it had terrified her and she wasn't sure what to expect from him, but eventually she began to loosen up, once she saw how easily the others had been interacting with him.  It was during this process that she had come to his attention. 

Hmmm, I see you made another unexpected addition to your ranks that I had been remiss in taking notice of until now,” he chortled, while motioning in her direction. 

Yes, that's Jana,” Garreth advised him when none of the others responded to the wizard's comment.  It was possible they had been waiting for Kieren to do the honor, but when he failed to say anything Garreth spoke up.  “We found her at Treblanc.  She was a servant there and helped us find the sword.”  The mere mention of her name, however, seemed to snap Kieren out of his temporary stupor. 

Oh, you mean Jana,” he unexpectedly blurted out, almost as if he hadn’t heard Garreth’s comment.  “We discovered her in the tunnels on the way into Treblanc.  She worked in the kitchens there and proved to be very helpful in showing us the way to Madumda’s private chambers.  That's where we found the Sword of Kings.  We probably would never have been able to discover it without her help.” 

The others stared at Kieren oddly now.  Even though he had expanded on some of the information Garreth had offered, the rest of them wondered why he had repeated many of the same details that had already been shared with Beraut.  Even though they were mildly befuddled by his actions, they minded their manners and made no mention of his minor faux pas. 

It seems you have provided a great service to the kingdom, as well as to our future king,” Beraut told Jana while extending his hand politely.  Reluctantly Jana took it, but only because she knew better than to be disrespectful to a powerful wizard. 

Maybe, but he was the brave one who kept his promise and got rid of that evil monster,” she gushed, while looking adoringly at Kieren.  After a momentary pause, she addressed Kieren directly.  “I just want to thank you for doing that for me.” 

You’re welcome, but I didn’t do it just for you,” he replied, while looking mildly surprised.  “I did it mostly for my family.  Before Madumda and I started fighting, you must have heard how he was bragging about killing a whole bunch of my ancestors, so I wanted to do it for them too.  Besides, I didn’t do it alone.  I had all these others there to help me.” 

That may be,” she agreed, “but you did the most difficult and dangerous part on your own.” 

Kieren was beginning to look exasperated and Beraut noticed this fact, so he quickly decided to direct the conversation elsewhere.  Over the next few minutes the wizard asked Jana several questions about her family and how she came to be at Treblanc.  It wasn’t that he was particularly interested in her situation, but he thought it would be best to distract her and keep the unwanted attention away from Kieren. 

While Jana was conversing with Beraut, Kieren regained his composure, but then he had to wait for his chance to speak with his mentor again.  When the other discussion finally began to die down, Kieren jumped in and told the wizard about how Jana had led them to Madumda’s quarters.  Then, he described the details of what had happened as they conducted their search.  Kieren was quite animated as he told Beraut about the strange orb they had found there and Qaim's reaction to it. 

Kieren also mentioned the various things the aignx had done to get away from it, while stating that Qaim had only done this because he was fearful of the orb's potential and thought it was evil.  Kieren then went on to point out how the orb's presence finally bothered Qaim so much that he moved to the opposite corner of the room, where he eventually discovered the sword’s hiding place.  Kieren even added a very detailed account about how he had used the sword to destroy the orb before they left the Dark Lord's quarters.

Ah, that explains another slight mystery for me,” the wizard absentmindedly uttered.  “I was wondering what had caused the Soulless Ones to collapse so suddenly.” 

Soulless Ones!” Garreth screeched out, as a shocked and mildly concerned expression crossed his face.  “What are they and could they have hurt us?”  

"Let me answer your questions one at a time," Beraut replied, while eyeing the elf and inwardly chuckling at his reaction to this news.

Beraut then patiently went on to fill everyone in about this new oddity and patiently explained how the Soulless Ones were mindless beings temporarily trapped between the world of the living and the spirit world of the dead.  He also informed them that these pitiful creatures had been created as mere tools for the Dark Lord to command while they were in this state.  When the companions combined this information with the tidbits Jana had previously provided them about things she had heard about what had happened in the Dark Lord’s quarters, everything began to fit together. 

The wizard then went on to tell them how these beings showed up to fight in the battle, interspersed amongst Madumda's regular troops.  He carefully described their unusual fighting style and the weapons they used, while also pointing out that the Soulless Ones were proving to be fairly effective foes.  They were not only distracting the Tarolian warriors, but they were also able to slay some of them and were quickly becoming an asset to the Dark Lord's cohorts.  Beraut then began to relate in detail about how the battle had been going when the Soulless Ones simply and inexplicably fell lifeless at a crucial point in the battle.  He admitted that this particular event turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since it not only disheartened their other opponents, but it also resulted in the immediate and rapid retreat of the rest of the enemy army as well. 

Beraut acknowledged that up until he had finally heard Kieren’s account of what he'd done to the orb, he had been mildly baffled about how and why Madumda had unexpectedly lost control of those beings.  The wizard knew this had taken place quite a while before the Dark Lord had been destroyed, so he reasoned that could not have been the explanation for what had happened to the Soulless Ones.  Even though he knew it wasn't the answer he was looking for, Beraut still couldn’t understand what had severed the Dark Lord’s link to this unusual fighting force.  Now that he understood how this had taken place, Beraut once again mentioned how very fortuitous Kieren’s actions had turned out to be. 

I think I and every soldier who survived the warfare are grateful that you heeded Qaim’s warning,” the wizard announced.  “We applaud the fact you had the wisdom to destroy another of the Dark Lord’s evil tools, even though you had no idea which part of his magic you were affecting at the time.  You took a huge gamble by doing it though, because there was always a chance you might have been injured or killed in the process.  You had no way of knowing if you were placing yourself in any danger by smashing the orb, but it paid off in the long run and we thank you for your bravery and foresight.” 

Garreth had taken particular interest in the wizard's most recent comments, because it helped to confirm his earlier protests that destroying the orb could be dangerous and might even prove fatal.  At the same time, it also proved to him that Kieren had been correct in not backing away from taking that risk.  This caused Garreth to look at Kieren with an even greater sense of awe and admiration than before, due to both his bravery and the wisdom he had demonstrated by performing that act. 

In an effort to draw attention away from himself and what he had done, Kieren quickly backtracked to an earlier event and began telling his mentor about what had happened to them once they had split up after crossing the Valley of the Dead.  Kieren went into great detail about how the warriors suspected something else was in the valley with them and how they eventually ran into the snow apes.  He also explained how they had been forced into the mountains when the snow apes attacked and this led him to share the painful story about how they had lost Romaric.  Kieren broke down as he was telling the wizard this part of the tale, but everyone else remained silent when this happened and were thoughtful enough to give him a few minutes to deal with his emotions in private.  

After calming down again, Kieren then went on to describe their adventures in the tunnels leading into the fortress, including the encounters with Bilgy and Srejan, which meant telling Beraut about how they had also lost Hadwin.  Thinking of the Nardinian, Kieren made his mentor promise that he would see to it that Hadwin’s body was retrieved and returned to his homeland for proper burial.  Once his mentor agreed, Kieren told Beraut more about running into Jana in the tunnels. 

After he finished relaying that part of the story, Kieren began a complete retelling of his confrontation with Madumda.  This included rehashing many of the details the wizard had observed through his link with the other wizards, so Kieren ended up repeating many of the facts that his mentor was already aware of.  Beraut patiently allowed the lad to continue, but then his interest perked up again when Kieren began to explain how he had made his way out of the fortress and described the things he had encountered on his way to find his mentor.

After Kieren finished telling all of this information, he paused to catch his breath and think about what to say next.  By the time he looked up at the wizard again, the teen had a very pained expression on his face.  It was quite obvious that something was troubling him.  After a few seconds of awkward silence, Kieren finally found his tongue again and asked Beraut one additional question. 

Beraut, when will we be able to go and search for Romaric’s body?” he wanted to know.  “I really want to find his remains so we can honor his sacrifice.  He was my friend and I feel I owe him that much, maybe more.”  Beraut looked deeply into Kieren’s eyes and could see the extreme sadness there. 

I promise that very soon you will be able to honor Romaric in any way you see fit,” Beraut agreed.  Kieren looked satisfied once he heard his mentor's response and slowly came back out of his funk. 

I am glad you brought that up though, because it reminds me of something else,” the wizard announced rather jovially, which confused the rest of the companions.  Although they had just been talking about Romaric's death and retrieving his body, Beraut seemed to nonchalantly brush all of that aside, as if it didn't really matter.  “There is one other surprise that will be arriving here shortly and I believe it's something you will all enjoy.”

This comment bewildered everyone even more, although some of the others had begun to suspect the wizard might be referring to something that had to do with Kieren’s future title.  Since he had defeated Madumda, Kieren was now in a position to become the king, so maybe Beraut was planning on presenting Kieren with his crown or another insignia of his new rank.  The thought of this possibility prompted a few of the companions to consider pursuing the idea further and possibly even asking Beraut if this was what he meant, but by the time they were ready to do this the wizard had already turned away and left them. 

They had no idea what Beraut was up to, since he was currently just walking around the rooms and no longer appeared to be paying them any heed.  No one was brave enough to interrupt his thoughts so they could question his actions or previous statement, so they merely watched as he moved from one room to another.  In the end, they finally concluded that he seemed to be preoccupied with inspecting Madumda’s former quarters.  

During their observation of his actions, it soon became apparent that Beraut was reminiscing about other occasions when he had been in these same chambers.  It was possible he was recalling a few precious memories from his youth and remembering when he had visited Thialfi at this same location.  The wizard's reverie was soon interrupted, however, when a small detachment of Tarolian soldiers showed up and knocked on the main door to the suite. 

Ah, the others have finally arrived,” Beraut acknowledged, as he moved toward the door.  “Now, we can proceed with the next item on my agenda.”

You give Qaim munchies now?” a little voice piped up from the background. 

This question not only made everyone realize Qaim was still with them, but they also had to chuckle at how the aignx continued to remain focused on his stomach and the desire to fill it.  At the same time, his innocuous query had also reminded them about their own empty bellies and definitely reinforced the grim reality that it had been quite some time since any of them had eaten their last meal. 

My apologies for not thinking about this sooner,” Beraut told them, while looking slightly embarrassed about this minor, yet significant, oversight. 

In order to correct his error, the wizard summoned one of the soldiers that had just arrived and ordered him to go down to the kitchens.  Beraut instructed him to tell the servants that they were to whip up enough food to feed everyone and then have it brought up to Madumda's former chambers.  After giving the trooper directions on how to get to the kitchens, the man ran off to carry out his orders.  As soon as that had been taken care of, Beraut advised Kieren and his companions that they should get comfortable and rest for a bit while they waited for their meal to arrive. 

They then broke up into smaller groups so they could discuss some of the information they had just recently learned.  Of course, Garreth, Qaim and Jana all went over to be with Kieren, but he wasn’t very talkative at the moment.  Noting this, they merely stayed by his side and kept an eye on him while they chatted with each other.  They also continued to make certain he was doing all right, both emotionally and physically, until the food was delivered. 



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I wish to extend my thanks to Scott, Emoe57, Andy, John and Donny for editing or their suggestions with this story. 


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