The adventures of Analia and Elise continue in a far off land.
|THE LONE TRAVELER CHRONICLES
Book Two –Lady Dragon Riders
The trip to Raleigh was uneventful, although the road was rough and washed out in several locations and one time a host of farmers had to pull them from a ditch. As they neared the town, Analia spotted a castle on a slight rise in the distance. It was not a large castle, like that of the King or Arch-Bishop, but it covered at least five acres and was surrounded by a high brick and mortar wall and moat with bastions and a drawbridge.
“My new home,” David smiled. “His grace, Father Ignatio was generous enough to give it to me for my services to the Church, along with the noble title of Earl.”
“I guess they just have these old titles and castles laying around for the picking,” Elise sarcastically muttered. “Just what is it that you do for, the Church?”
David gave her a disapproving stare then finally replied. “I arrange things for the Inquisitorius. He is overloaded with plans and meetings and I assist him in finalizing those plans. He will make a great Prelate when that evil Arch-Bishop is run from office and he will restore the Church to fully follow the holy teachings of iesos.”
“Iesos is your god?” Analia asked, glancing at Friar Huck, “The one whom Father Ignatio recommended you teach me of?”
“He is our God and our Savior,” Friar Huck smiled. “He was crucified by the ancient Roma, arose from the dead on the third day, and then destroyed the decadent Roma Empire with a mighty and holy army. He then appointed his successor, the Pater-Omnia, and ascended into paradise. He will come again one day to judge the faithful and the destroy the wicked.”
“Rose from the dead,” Elise whispered remembering her own death. “He must have been a great necromancer or wizard?”
Friar Huck looked at her as if she was capable of speaking such blasphemy. “He is God, not some heathen wizard!” he exclaimed, “The one and only true God.”
“Did not Father Ignatio state that there was more than one belief in this world?” Analia smiled, “Yours, ours, and perhaps others?”
The conversation inside the carriage died as they entered the main gate of the castle. They exited at the door to the large keep and David escorted them past the guards and inside. The interior of the castle was lavishly decorated with polished marble floors, magnificent draperies, and artistic sculptures and fine paintings. The Majordomo and large staff bowed low to David as they walked down a long line of servants, guards, and other household staff.
“We’ve had a difficult journey over bad roads, I recommend you retire to your chambers and rest until the evening supper,” David recommended glancing inquiringly at the Majordomo.
“Supper will be at the eighth hour,” the Majordomo chimed in. The staff will direct you to your private rooms.” They had discovered that daily time was reckoned from midnight and noon in this realm. Therefore, the eighth hour after noon would correspond to eight in the evening. This was different than the twenty-four hour clock used by all the kingdoms in the west.
They were led down a great hall decorated with more beautiful tapestries and statues and up a flight of white marble stairs to the second landing. Servants scurried to open doors and throw back window curtains to brighten the rooms, while still other servants rushed to bring their belongings from the loaded down carriage. Each was provided with a plush separate chamber; most so large they would accommodate half a dozen guests.
“Lady Elise and I will share one chamber,” Analia remarked eying the stoic head chambermaid with the haughty look of a pampered noble. She had learned that servants, no matter where she went in this kingdom, looked down their petty noses at anyone who treated them with kindness or civility. She longed to see her friend Nania, a head chambermaid she had befriended in Camalund.
“As you wish, me Lady,” the maid curtsied and ordered another chambermaid to have both their belongings brought to the single suite. “Do you wish to have your bath drawn at this time?”
“Later,” Analia stoicaly replied, “We would like to relax in privacy for a spell.”
As the chambermaids finally closed the large doors, Analia walked around the large room looking for spy holes and, finding none, collapsed on a soft divan next to a door leading to a small balcony. She remembered what Father Ignatio said concerning overhearing her and the King’s private conversation. “Do you get the feeling that something is not quite right in this set-up?” she quietly asked Elise who had settled into a plush chair.
Elise nodded. “David doesn’t act like the old David,” she stated. “Something in his eyes is missing; it’s as if part of his spirit has left him. He seems so hollow and distant almost like a marionette, and what’s his sudden and complete devotion to a strange church he never knew existed before?”
Analia agreed. “That cleric, Father Ignatio, is also trying too hard to be our friend. I saw his face when we were taken to the dungeon; it was the face of pure pleasure, not the face of a man unwittingly doing his superior’s bidding. I get a deep feeling of revulsion each time I look into his evil eyes. He is using us somehow; they are both using us to fulfill some hidden agenda.”
“You don’t think they released us out of pure kindness and consideration?” Elise smirked. “Of course they’re using us. I learned a long time ago, well before your uncle rescued me, that everyone I knew used me in one way or another. That’s why I was so shocked by Ryykon’s genuine honesty and concern and why I would follow him to the depths of Mag Mell and back.”
“Father Ignatio mentioned that my father has landed on the western coast,” Analia mused. “Whiff told me the same thing. Perhaps he also needs me as a liaison with my father. He may even be seeking an alliance in his effort to overthrow the evil Arch-Bishop.”
“Whatever it is, we’d best keep our wits about us,” Elise grinned. “Remember, he isn’t called the Inquisitorius for no reason. Even Friar Huck shudders in fear merely standing in his presence. I thought for a while the poor Friar was going to pee his robe during our last supper.”
“I think its best that you leave for the fleet as soon as possible,” Analia stated. “They need to know exactly where I am and the reason for my staying.”
Elise did not look comfortable at hearing her words. “You still intend to go along with this evil cleric? Why don’t we simply call Whiff and Cali and leave this place tonight.”
“There’s more to what Father Ignatio told us than meets the eye,” Analia replied. “He’s being crafty with us now, perhaps I can wheedle a concession out of him, such as the release of Kenzy’s family for assisting him in his devious plotting.”
“I think he’s a much more dangerous person than you realize,” Elise replied. “Don’t underestimate him.”
For a long time they ask many questions which neither could answer until the chambermaid entered and told them their bath was drawn as supper would be in one hour.
The evening meal was short and bland and clearly planned so. David moodily stared into his cups more than conversing with them and he avoided many of their direct questions but often smiled at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. It was as Elise noted, he was not the old David they knew. After hastily finishing his fruit dessert, and stifling a forced yawn, he recommended they all retire for a decent night’s rest. He ordered a final toast of three cups of the best wine available and smiled as they emptied the contents.
Unknown to Geoffrey, Kevin, and Kenzy, Father Ignatio was fully aware they were following him and knew the reason. Any necromancer with novice abilities could have spotted them, especially when leaving spells behind as he rode, to be triggered by the unwary, and he was one of the most powerful mages in existence. The stop at the stable had been a ploy. He wanted them to follow him, but at his convenience not theirs. He left for Essex later that evening on horseback and arrived at Raleigh Castle around three in the morning. Sleep was more of an annoyance than a need for him and he avoided it as much as possible, instead, taking short catnaps throughout the day was sufficient to keep him vibrant and fully rested.
After entering his private chambers high in the top rooms of the keep, he removed some special items from his saddle bags. He draped the filthy dresses Analia and Elise had worn in the dungeon over a rickety chair and placed the hairbrush with strands of their hair on a small table. He also removed two cups which the King and Queen of Gaul had drunk from, courtesy of Queen Denize, containing their saliva and a napkin with the spotted blood of King Athelfyrd, carefully saved after he had a fortuitous nose bleed. He smiled at the small collection of artifacts knowing they were perfect for his next critical moves. It would have been much more convenient to do his work back at the Arch-Bishop’s Castle rather than take this out of the way journey to Essex, unfortunately, the things he needed he kept in his private laboratory in this castle far away from the Prior’s snooping spies.
Hearing a small rapping on his chamber door, he opened it to see David standing there with the girl named Elise in his arms. She was sound asleep. “They were both sleeping like newborn babes,” David chuckled, laying Elise down on a soft divan.
“The special cup of wine you gave them last evening will keep them both sleeping until the noon hour,” Father Ignatio replied. “I will awaken this young lady and we will have a conversation then put her back to sleep. Return in one hour and carry her back to their room,” he commanded. “Tomorrow night after this one leaves for the west, we will talk with your girlfriend.”
“Not my girlfriend,” David blurted. “She belongs to that upstart Pieter.”
Father Ignatio glanced at David noting the aura of desire on his face. “She will be your girlfriend, even your Lady wife, if you want it so.”
David bowed with a smile and quietly left the room.
It was almost noon before they awoke, very thirsty and in desperate need of the private room. The head chambermaid entered carrying a tray of hot tea, biscuits, and a pitcher of cool apple cider. They drank most of the cider in an effort to quench their thirst but avoided the biscuits.
“You ladies must ‘ave been exhausted,” the maid tsked, “eu slept like babes, eu did.”
“Is Lord David about yet?” Analia asked still trying to wake up.
“Lord David and His Grace ave been up for a long while, they asked that you join them in the private dining room to break your fast as soon as you are ready.”
Elise glanced at Analia. “His Grace, Father Ignatio, is here already? I thought he was not due until this evening, it’s a long ride from Londinium.”
“I do not set His Grace’s schedule,” the chambermaid crisply replied. “Shall I tell ‘em eu will be down shortly?”
Father Ignatio and David were enjoying tea when they were ushered into the small dining room off the main ballroom. They both looked refreshed and were dressed in casual, but very expensive attire.
“Our sleeping beauties awaken,” Father Ignatio smiled. “I trust you both slept well?”
“Never have I slept so long, or so late,” Analia smiled in return. “It must be the fresh country air.”
“Most invigorating,” Father Ignatio replied. “I seldom leave the capitol but I do so look forward to the country charm. You may be surprised at my arrival here so soon, however, events have brought me thus. I understand that the King and Queen will arrive a day early in Londinium and we must be there on the morrow to pay our respects. I hoped you would have at least several days of rest, but it is not to be. I also assume you wish to dispatch Lady Elise to the West to meet with your father and friends as soon as possible?”
Analia appeared uncomfortable before replying. “A carriage or horse would take many days to reach the coast and time is, as you say, of the essence.”
“Not to worry, Lady Audrey. Don’t forget I am well aware of how you arrived in this kingdom so you have nothing much to hide from me. I believe Lady Elise will make good time on her flying mount, that is, if you have a means of contacting them.”
“You will allow her to depart on her dragon?” Analia stated. “Wouldn’t that frighten the local populace and create panic?”
“Your Dragon Riders and Valkyri are already doing a good job of that,” Father Ignatio chuckled. “One more Dragon Rider will make little difference.”
“I will leave as soon as possible,” Elise stated. “The longer we wait the more complicated things may become. Will you have an official dispatch for Emperor John, your Grace?”
“No need, Lady Elise, the King undertakes such diplomacy, or the Arch-Bishop, I am but the lowly Inquisitorius.”
“We must also leave early in the morning,” David stated, “If we are to be back in Londinium in time to attend the royal ceremony for King Favreaux and Queen Lisette.”
After breaking their fast, Analia assisted Elise in selecting suitable attire to wear while flying. Luck would have it that several of the staff had son’s old enough to wear britches and tunics which fit Elise. She had also found her throwing knives among the few possessions that had been returned to them and she boldly strapped them on over her Lincoln green jersey.
“Let my father know I am well and still have a duty to perform for the Inquisitorius,” Analia stated, as she and Elise walked out to the main bailey to the side of the castle keep. You may be right in your assessment and I should probably be leaving with you, however, I will risk the chance to make things better for all.” She looked up into the sky and saw the silhouettes of Whiff and Cali in the distance and watched as they glided down into the bailey.
“About time you called me, Little Lady,” Whiff mind-spoke. “I was beginning to think you had forgotten about us, although your friends have been rather busy and needed our help.”
“Sorry Whiff, I missed you. I need you to fly Elise back to the fleet on the western shores. She is taking a message to my father.”
“And you are not flying back with us?” Whiff appeared to be disappointed and upset.
“I still have things to do here,” Analia mind-spoke. “I will be calling you in a few more days and we will quickly rejoin our friends and loved ones.”
“Cali can take Elise,” Whiff stated. “Perhaps I should hang around for a few days so when you’re ready to go, we can quickly leave this strange place.”
Analia hugged the disappointed dragon around the neck in affection. “I need you to fly east and make a reconnaissance of the land of the Gauls, Whiff. I have learned that they are seeking an alliance with Britanica and the information could prove valuable in the future.”
“You mean for me to check out their towns and castles and villages and such?”
“And their military and northern and southern border and agriculture,” Analia added. “Just snoop around,”
“I’m definitely a good snooper,” Whiff replied with more enthusiasm now that he knew she needed his help. “I’ll even count the cattle and sheep and those nasty ugly pigs.”
Analia hugged Elise who quickly ran and climbed onto Cali’s saddle which had been replaced during their recent visit to the fleet. “If you’re not back with the fleet in three days, I will come for you,” Elise smiled, “with every Dragon Rider and Valkyri we have. Unless you send a message that you are safe and need more time.” She pulled on the reins and Cali burst into the air, followed closely by Whiff who flew east instead of west.
Analia watched until Elise was out of sight and slowly returned to the keep. She noticed the faces of the guards who were gawking in awe at what they had just seen. She spent the afternoon with David and Father Ignatio going over the plans for the royal ceremony to be held at King Athelfyrd’s castle late the following day.
After an exhausting time going over details and proper court etiquette and what she was to say to King Favreaux, she retired to her chambers to rest. Instead of dining with David and Father Ignatio in the evening, she took her modest supper in her chambers. The chief chambermaid brought her another cup of the excellent wine they had toasted with the night before, insisting that she needed it for its beneficial vintage. That night she had strange dreams of being carried around by David and talking with Father Ignatio, but they soon disappeared and she then had warm dreams of her protector, Merlin.
“I could do nothing with her,” Father Ignatio blurted, glancing at David with anger. “She is being protected and her mind does not respond to me.” He threw a biscuit that hit David in the chest and burst into pieces.
David winced from the blow and cringed at Father Ignatio’s loud bellowing. “She has strange powers, your Grace. I saw this in Camalund when a powerful sorcerer answered her request and sent the War Birds and Dragons against the Tyberians. I was also told that she brought Lady Elise back from death. She must be in league with this powerful mage.”
Father Ignatio smiled and took a sip of his watered wine. “No problem, I will simply revert to my alternate plan. She will still perform her duties without her knowledge. Unfortunately, I cannot make her love you as you wanted, but, that is no big loss there are plenty of comely wenches for you to dawdle with.”
The massive ceremony at King Athelfyrd’s Castle the next day was one of the greatest the capitol had ever witnessed. King Favreaux and Queen Lisette were the center of attention and due to the importance of the alliance; every Lord and Lady in the kingdom was in attendance.
Before they left for Londinium, Father Ignatio advised his guards that three people, two men and a girl, would be snooping around the castle. They were to apprehend them and place them under maximum security in the castle dungeons. The Captain of the Guard was warned if they escaped, he would lose both his job and his head, and he would personally attend to them upon his return to the castle.
At the height of the festivities, King Athelfyrd announced that the treaty between Britnica and Gaul was ready to be signed in the presence of the assembled Lords and Knights and invited the King and Queen of Gaul to step forward to join him in a toast. “Is there anyone among you who would speak before the document is signed” He asked the Lords and Ladies in attendance. Although no one could or would possibly object, protocol demanded he ask the question.
“Now is the time,” Father Ignatio whispered to Analia. They were at the second high table just beneath the King and Queen Anne. “The Arch-Bishop is standing next to the king and Queen Denize is next to him. If they are to do something, this is their best opportunity.”
Analia stood and turned around. She had assumed that she would be granted a private audience with the Royal Family of Gaul, since she was to inform them of the deadly plot by Queen Denize and the Arch-Bishop to assassinate them, so she was frightened and uncomfortable to have to do it in such a public manner. Analia raised her hand to get their attention. The great hall suddenly quieted down, astonished that some fool would deign to interrupt this important ceremonial moment.
At that very second, King Favreaux and Queen Lisette simultaneously grabbed their throats as if they were being choked by some unknown power. The observers stood and watched in horror as they fell to their knees, their faces turning blue and tongues protruding from their mouths. Kiing Athelfyrd was shocked and bent down on one knee to check them, motioning for his royal physician to assist him. The physician looked over both bodies and shook his head. “Dead,” he muttered to the King. “Witchcraft or something, I see no signs and smell no poison.”
King Athelfyrd stood and grabbed his chalice of wine and quickly downed the contents then motioned for a refill. “The King and Queen of Gaul are dead,” he told the assembly in a chilled tone of voice. “They were killed by sorcery, there is a….” Before he could continue, he looked puzzled, and then fell on top of the feasting table. The royal physician yelled and rushed to bend over the King. A few moments later, he shook his head in fear, his eyes wide and cubby face white. “Not dead, but dying,” he whispered. “Sorcery!”
“In the name of iesos, what is going on here!” Duke Athelfyrd yelled. He was Duke Byron Athelfyrd, cousin to the King and next in line to the royal throne.
Father Ignatio stood and moved towards the head table. “If I may, I can explain all, your Grace.”
Duke Athelfyrd curiously nodded his head. “We would certainly appreciate it, Inquisitorius,” he stated. “If any man knows the answers it would be you. I understand you have a vast network of retainers and investigators.” He had always been frightened of Father Ignatio, and avoided the cleric like the plague; he almost said spies but thankfully caught himself in time.
“There stands your culprit,” Father Ignatio pointed directly at Analia.
Analia was shocked and could not speak.
“You have seen this evil sorceress before,” he continued. “Even Arch-Bishop Julian proclaimed her such in public. She came to this land on the back of a dragon to spy, she helped a condemned witch to escape, and she brought her assassin friend back to life using dark sorcery. What you did not know is that she was secretly released by Arch-Bishop Julian from the safety of his dungeons and bribed into doing this murderous deed.”
The assembly went wild, everyone yelling and screaming, especially Arch Bishop Julian. Analia started to speak to defend herself and reveal the evil lie he was spreading, but as soon as she opened her mouth, Father Ignatio ordered the guards to bind and gag her and escort her to the back of the room. As soon as the clamor died down, Arch-Bishop Julian stood and demanded to be heard.
“He is a liar!” he screamed. “I did no such thing. I demand he be arrested immediately.”
Duke Athelfyrd cocked an eye and nodded towards Father Ignatio.
“I have scores of witnesses that I can bring forth to verify what I have charged,” he smirked. “However, I do not think we need their likes among you Lords and Ladies, you all know how I work and what I do for the Church. After the Arch-Bishop released and coerced the sorceress into doing his bidding, he made an alliance with her father, the barbarian Emperor John of Angalund to assist him in taking over the throne.” He presented a rolled document as evidence, then continued.
“He then conspired with Queen Anne to assassinate King Athelfyrd, and I can bring fotrth those witnesses also.” A great murmur spread throughout the grand ballroom.
“Why would our beloved Queen join him in such a conspiracy?” Duke Athelfyrd asked.
Father Ignatio gave him a sly smile and turned to the Queen. “Your beloved queen is a lesbian, and once again I can provide a bevy of her lovers as witnesses. She made a pact with Arch-Bishop Julian that he would give her full regency on the throne, and with the death of the King and Queen of Gaul, she would support him in overthrowing the Pater-Omnia, making him the most powerful person in Britanica and Gaul. If you check the King’s cup, I am certain you will find the poison residue that she gave to him. You may be curious as to why I did not ally my suspicions with action before this; I did not think they would perform their treachery in so public an atmosphere.”
“This ceremony is closed,” Duke Athelfyrd announced. “Captain of the guard, you will take the Queen to her royal chambers and place her under guard. You will take Arch-Bishop Julian to the tower room as our guest, under guard. The sorceress will be taken to the dungeons and a guard of ten men posted at all times. Father Ignatio, we will convene an official hearing in the royal judiciary chambers in one hour.”
Father Ignatio grinned inwardly. Everything was going exactly as planned. He knew that the Duke and other Lords were terrified of him; he knew far too many of their secrets, secrets that would have many of them exiled or beheaded. Very soon, the Arch-Bishop would be executed, the Queen sent to a convent, and he would assume the role of Pater-Omnia, once David had completed his mission and eliminated the present one. He would, in effect, rule everything. Of course, he would see to it that Queen Denize became the new regent of Gaul that would suit his plans.
* * * * *
As soon as Elise landed on the grassy slopes outside the large encampment, she was hailed as a hero and escorted by a mob of her yelling peers to the command tent. King Robert, Lord Pieter, Emperor John, and Ser Ryykon Thoragild met her with broad smiles and beaming faces. She was so happy to be back with her friends.
She slowly walked into the command tent and joined them around a large table strewn with newly made maps of the area. Suddenly, something snapped in her mind and she stood with panic on her face. She withdrew all the throwing knives from her belt and started casting them. With her incredible skill, she could not possibly miss at such a close distance. One struck King Robert in the throat, tearing his jugular and sending a fountain of blood flowing. Another struck Emperor John solidly in the chest, and another hit Pieter in the hand and would have killed him had he not batted it away. A solid thud sounded when she struck Sir Thoragild in his massive chest. As soon as she saw that her targets were hit, she lowered her head and stared blankly and unmoving at the grassy ground.