A young farm girl undertakes a fantastic and perilous journey in a Medieval like world.
|The Lone Traveler – Chapter Two
“Bring him forth!” yelled the King, spittle flying from his mouth.
The chained man was half drug and half carried into the King’s presence by two burley guards wearing surcoats bearing the King’s personal emblem of a black dragon on a field of yellow. He had been severely beaten for his eyes were swollen shut and old and new bruises covered most of his haggard face. He was a burly man, thick set with the wide shoulders and the massive arms of a warrior. He was dressed in filthy rags and the stench coming from him was nearly overpowering.
“I trusted you with my son, with my school, with training my best squires, and how have you repayed me? You tried to assassinate and abducted my son, murdered the son of a respected Lord, and stole one of the kingdom’s few precious dragons.” King George stood from his massive dragon throne and walked slowly down the steps and kicked the man severely in the head. “What say you, Ser Thoragild? Do not try to deceive me; I have three witnesses who have, under unpleasant circumstances, all professed to your guilt.”
“My niece,” Ser Thoragild croaked in a dry rasping voice.
“Your niece,” the King roared, throwing his golden crown and hitting Thoragild in the head. “Your so called niece is a deviant, a liar and a witch. I have a dispatch from His Holiness, the Vicarus at Castle Point, that your niece is a spy from some other heathen kingdom. Do you also accuse His Holiness of lying?” I also have another dispatch from the Regent of the Kingdom of Alataria which states that my young son and only heir is in the filthy hands of King Domides and his band of cutthroats! What say you, Ser Thoragild?” The last was spat with vehemence.
Ser Thoragild lowered his head. He was not the kind of man to beg for his life and he knew that regardless of anything he said the King was in no state of mind to listen. He would abide his time until the situation settled down.
“Remove him from my presence,” the King ordered, returning to his throne. His chief counselor, Lord Noragant, walked over and picked up the King’s crown, placed it back on the king’s head and whispered in his ear.
“Have her so called parents brought in for questioning,” The king ordered. “No! Make that all of the town officials.”
Once they were back in their private chambers, Queen Denize turned to the king and blurted, “These charges make absolutely no sense, George. Ser Thoragild has stood behind you all these years, fought your battles, actually won most of them himself. I might add that he also saved your life on more than one occasion. Why would he commit the crimes he has been accused of? What could he possibly gain? You even offered him a lordship and he turned it down to run that miserable little school of yours.”
King George swirled the chalice of wine around in his meaty hand, glancing sullenly down into the heavy cup to see the reflection of the light as it was caught by the ruby liquid. The weak flickering light cast moving shadows on the walls of their private domain. “The kingdom is being assaulted from three different directions,” he finally replied with a sigh. “Alataria seeks our northern fiefdoms, Vituria has already encroached into our province of Weltsdown, thanks to that traitor, Lord Clemens, and Emperor Licinius demands two of our southern provinces. The battle we recently fought against the knights of Alataria has weakened our military forces and they know the time is ripe to strike against us. You also know that several of our liege lords are practically in open revolt. Any one of the above could have promised Ser Thoragild a small kingdom of his own for his cooperation.”
“I still find that very hard to believe,” the Queen stated. “You and Ryykon grew up together. All three of us grew up together. We know Ryykon; he would die before he betrayed you.”
“How then, dear wife, do you explain the disreputable crimes he has been accused of and which three witnesses have confessed to?”
Queen Denize looked thoughtful. She and King George had grown to accept their partnership and marriage, one which had been arranged when they both very young. Yet, she knew George was also not the brightest of leaders and he had always been somewhat jealous of the battlefield accomplishments that Ryykon Thoragild had amassed. He had even displayed a certain degree of jealousy when she and Ryykon spent too much time in each other’s company. She had to step softly, especially since she had sent personal investigators to the school to get answers to what had precipitated Ryykon’s arrest, without the king’s knowledge or approval.
“Rumors have it that there was a plot to assassinate our son, Robert,” she carefully insinuated, reaching for the decanter of wine and refilling the king’s chalice. “Some are implying that bastard son of Lord Smythwaite, little John Smythwaite I think they called him, was behind the plot.”
“Where did you get this information?” King George demanded, his face lighting up with sudden anger. “Lord Smythwaite has always been loyal, a bit arrogant perhaps, but loyal.”
“There were more eyes at the school than those of the three men who confessed to Ser Thoragild’s guilt. Had your inquisitors done their proper duty, as they should have, they would have questioned the other witnesses in more detail. I have it on good advice and from very reliable sources that no other witnesses were questioned other than the three in your dungeons.”
The King narrowed his eyes. “Do your unmentioned sources have more to add to this insidious plot?”
“A number of reliable witnesses have stated that Squire Smythwaite cowardly attacked Robert from behind, wounding him in the shoulder and that the young niece of Ser Thoragild interfered, preventing him from completing the craven act, and that she unintentionally killed Smithwaite and flew off with Robert on the back of a dragon to protect him from the three men in your dungeons. They also implied that the three guards were implicated in Smythwaite’s plot.”
King George searched her face for any slight traces of deceit. He knew his queen very well and was aware of their close but guarded relationship, but he had never known her to deliberately lie to him before. Theirs’s was not a loving relationship, it was a complicated one based solely on mutual benefit and equally mutual trust. Queen Denize was a demure and exceptionally lovely woman. Her long plush hair cascaded down her back like a flowing river of gold. Her eyes were large, like a doe, and blue as the summer sky. She practically invented the word regal and possessed a demeanor and kindness that could easily melt the heart of a troll. Although she was eight and twenty years of age, three years younger than George, she still looked like the young virgin he had taken to his bed years ago.
“You appear to believe this alternative version of events? How could a girl of four and ten years best a fighter like Squire Smythwaite unless she was possessed or a witch as the Vicarius wrote?
Queen Denize coyly smiled. “A more detailed and thorough inquisition of the three being held in your dungeons may produce compelling answers. As for the young girl, you obviously place too much emphasis on young Smythwaite’s martial abilities. It is reported that he picked fights only on those much younger than himself, and then primarily with a retinue of friends and thugs supporting him.”
Twenty minutes later, deep in the expansive dungeon’s interrogation room, the King stood before the three condemned men. Each was rubbing their chafed hands and squinting from the bright torch light. They were surrounded by the King’s Own, selected guardsmen he trusted, not only with his life, but with his personal secrets.
“I will say this one time and one time only,” King George stated, pacing slowly back and forth in front of the ragged and foul smelling prisoners. “Tell me the truth and you shall live. You will be exiled from this kingdom with a price on your head, but you shall live. Even if you were a part of the alleged plot to harm my son, Robert, you shall live. You,” he pointed at the first man to the left of the line, “what is your answer?”
The man licked his swollen lips and glanced to his left at the two other prisoners. His beady black eyes kept moving back and forth, his manacled hands shivering from fear. He resembled a rat awaiting the assault of a mad terrier. He finally lowered his head and shuddered, his putrid breath expelled through his rotting teeth in a ragged torrent. “I cannot your Royal Highness,” he finally stated.
The two remaining prisoners were asked the same question, each refusing to commit to an answer. The King slowly nodded in the direction of his royal headsmen. The three prisoners were grabbed and moved to the vicinity of a large brazier full of glowing red coals. The heat around the brazier was intolerably hot.
The first prisoner was held down by two burly headsmen while a third, garbed in thick wet leather and a thicker glove, grabbed the man’s wrist with a set of cast iron pincers and pushed the man’s right hand into the searing hot coals. The putrid smell of roasting flesh and burning hair soon spread throughout the filthy chamber. The screams of the man were so loud; it irritated the King’s ears, and when the prisoners hand was nothing but a charred lump of flesh and blackened bone, he was pulled back to stand in front of the King. The man fainted from the excruciating pain. At a signal from the King he was doused with rancid water to awaken him.
King George spoke one word, “Answers?”
The prisoner looked down and shook his ragged head.
“Remove the skin from his bowels to his calves,” the King ordered, glancing coldly at the two other prisoners fearfully awaiting their turn. “Slowly and piece by piece,” he added.
The headsmen dragged the prisoner to a different part of the room, tore off the stinking rags he wore, and tied his hands to the crossbeam of a stout black pole and wrapped leather ropes around his ankles and the base of the pole, leaving him fully exposed. The massive headsman dressed in wet metal studded leather sliced his skin just below his navel with a careful six inch long incision, making a downward cut on each end. He then grabbed the heavy set of cast iron pincers, inserted them into the skin and walked backwards slowly pealing the skin downward.
As the headsman grunted with the effort, a six inch bloody strip of the prisoner’s skin gradually ripped downward from the cut. The headsman continued to pull as the thick piece of skin moved into the man’s crotch pealing the skin from his penis and testicles. As it started to move back up the man’s buttocks, the headsman sliced it off with a sharp knife and held it up dripping with blood, for the prisoner to see. The prisoner continued to scream as the headsman started slicing another piece of skin to be ripped off.
“No more!” the man screamed. “No more! Please, I beg, no more.”
The King displayed no emotion and did not speak but simply looked expectantly at the man.
“Lord Smythwaite,” the prisoner mumbled.
King George walked closer and canted his head to look down into the prisoner’s battered face. “What about Lord Smythwaite?”
“Lord Smythwaite and his necromancer. Said we’d die if told you...” The man could barely talk from the excruciating pain, his face a rictus of pure agony.
“Say no more!” one of the other prisoners screamed. Almost before he had finished the words, a blinding flare begin to form on the filthy skin of his face. Suddenly, all three prisoners slowly burst into bright balls of burning light. Within seconds they were fully consumed until nothing but powdery white ashes and empty chains lay on the marble floor where they once stood.
The King’s Own and the headsmen looked at each other with open fear. One thing they could not fight was the dark magic of an evil wizard.
“Say nothing of this.” King George ordered. He had witnessed the power of dark wizardry before and knew that the men had been prepped for their mission. Wizards could not simply reach out and do what had been done to these men with just anyone at random; they had to be selectively prepared by the necromancer ahead of time. That’s why he kept his own personal mage to ward off any such attempts. He also knew that no word of this would leak out. The King’s Own and the headsmen knew well the penalty for disobedience to his commands.
“Bring Ser Thoragild to me,” he finally muttered.
Within minutes a battered and ragged Ser Thoragild was ushered into the room. King George sauntered over to him and stood looking at his disheveled state. “Release him,” he ordered. “Take him to my personal apothicarius.” The King placed his right hand on Ser Thoragild’s shoulder, looking deeply into his eyes. He finally patted him on his cheek and gave him a warm smile, then quietly left the dungeon. He was not one to ask for forgiveness of any kind. He knew that Ryykon knew that he had misjudged him and that personal amends would be made.
Queen Denize was standing on the royal balcony wrapped in a heavy cloak against the chill and overlooking the vast ocean of fresh water when the King finally returned. She loved the shimmering light reflected off the ocean, and also the roaring might of the Dark River winding its way over the steep falls below the castle. The Scribendi avowed that the great fresh water ocean, which stretched for hundreds of miles, was once five great lakes. They asserted that the gods of old created a great chasm destroying the lands between the lakes and turning them into one. The rugged four hundred foot cliffs reaching down to the rocky ocean shores attested to this stunning change.
He walked up behind her, pulled back the thick fur of her cloak and pressed his lips to her neck, sending a chill down her back. She knew this was his way of making up for his spontaneous bouts of anger. He never admitted he was wrong, as befitted a great king.
“I will ask Ser Thoragild to attend to us in privacy as soon as the apothicarius has finished with him and he has rested,” The King stated. His words told her that she had been correct concerning Ser Thoragild’s innocence. No need for her to press the issue or seek morbid details. “One of the prisoners mentioned the name of Smythwaite, but they were all destroyed by black magic before we could garner additional information,” the King continued. “I cannot bring Lord Smythwaite in on such flimsy charges; he is the most powerful Lord in the kingdom. Besides, we have more important threats to the realm.”
She knew that the King was right about the threat to Camalund. Her own sources told her that war was imminent on at least two borders. Their capitol city, Lorainne, located hundreds of miles from the major borders, was in no direct threat, but if Alitaria and Vituria united, the danger could spread quickly. They certainly had no love for each other, but, if they could slice off pieces of Camalund both their treasuries and their power would grow exponentially.
King George was not an old man. At one and thirty years, he was at the prime of his vigor and physical prowess. He was her height but massive across the shoulders with arms the size of small trees and his head slid down into his bull neck as if an afterthought, giving him the appearance of a tortoise. King George was not a handsome man in the manner which poets and minstrels would describe. His curly brown hair and tiny nose gave him a more cherubic look. His greatest fault resided in his inability to control his sudden temper, either on the battlefield or in the throne room.
“What of the Khelti?” Queen Denize finally spoke. “We have used their archers in the past in our border skirmishes with Lugdunum. Although they fight like savages to maintain their independence, King MacAngis is on relatively good terms with us.”
“I have already dispatched a diplomat to them,” King George smiled. “They’re very shrewd negotiators, always demanding too much for their services, but I believe Lord Fienghol can make a good deal. I swear that man can squeeze blood from an iron penny. I’ve seen him…”
The king’s musings were cut short by a loud knock on their massive chamber doors. As they rushed from the cold balcony, the doors slowly swung open to reveal the King’s chief counselor, Lord Noragant. He quickly rushed into the room waving a dispatch above his scrawny head and squawking like a frightened chicken.
“Beg your pardon, beg your pardon, your Royal Highness,” he stuttered, bowing deeply. “But this cannot wait.”
“Out with it man!” The King demanded.
“The lower part of the city is being firebombed from the air by those dreadful Alatarian vultures. We have no ballistae in that area with which to bring them down and the fires are spreading. I fear the entire lower region southwest of the Dark River may be lost.”
The chief counselor was referring to the giant war birds raised and used by the Alatarians. They were as large as the great dragons, and like the dragons, they accepted only female riders. They were good on the battlefield but rarely bombed any city of decent size due to the torsion power of the large ballistae and scorpions used to bring them down. Other than the ballistae, the only other means to counter them was with Camalund’s dragon riders. King George had forbidden his riders to fly until the mess with Ser Thoragild had been cleared up.
“Have there been any messages from King Domides,” Queen Denize asked, other than the one about the kidnapping of our son?”
“Nary a one, Your Majesty.”
“Send me the keeper of the rookery,” the King ordered. “Best have him prepare a large number of messenger birds.”
“As you command, Royal Highness,” the counselor replied. “What of the spreading fires? Should I have the levies and housecarls attend to them?”
King George looked thoughtful for a moment then replied. “We do not have the ability to quench a firestorm of that magnitude and I will not risk the lives of my soldiers trying to douse it. We have needed to cleanse that area for years, nothing there but disgusting little hovels, disease ridden whore houses, and pigsties. Let it burn, we will rebuild and make it a better place.”
As the chief counselor left, Queen Denize glanced at the King and grinned. “You would let your subjects burn, mighty king?”
“They are the worst of the worst,” the King replied, throwing his hand up in surrender. “That hovel is teaming with thousands of vagabonds, thieves, whores, cutthroats and the worst that humanity can produce. They consume half the royal treasury each year in handouts and arrogantly demand more. Even the army would not accept them. They are not my subjects, and if they continue to reproduce like rats, they will be my downfall.”
King George held his hand out to his lovely queen. “Come my dear queen, we have a war to plan.”
If you would like to read more of Analia's continuing adventures, all chapters have now been posted. Chapter three at: