The adventures of Analia and Elise continue in a far off land.
|THE LONE TRAVELER CHRONICLES
Book Two –Lady Dragon Riders
The Royal Council, under the command and leadership of Duke Athelfyrd, officially convened one week later. Father Ignatio also called for an Ecumenical Council to decide the fate of Arch-Bishop Julian, and in collusion with the Duke, both council meetings were combined and held in the Royal Judiciary Chambers. A personal and private visit to Duke Athelfyrd’s royal chambers on the evening after Father Ignatio’s astonishing indictments was all it took to bring the Duke under his complete control, thus assuring the aid and approval of the Royal Family for his subsequent actions.
Since there was insufficient time to assemble the bishops from Britanica and Gaul, those few who could attend constituted the signatory members of the great Council. A small army of messenger birds were brought into the side chambers to dispatch messages, receive votes, and send official decrees out to both kingdoms. It mattered little, as Father Ignatio had spent many months traveling around each realm insuring that important clerics under his direct control were in the right places to cast the right votes when he made this move. His selection as the new Arch-Bishop of Britanica, the second most powerful cleric, was thus a forgone conclusion.
By the time Arch-Bishop Julian and Queen Ann were brought before the combined councils, Father Ignatio had also paid early morning visits to their chambers and they were effectively under his subliminal domination. Both formally admitted to their guilt with just the right amount of regret and despair. Duke Athelfyrd ordered Julian held for execution after the new Prelate’s official confirmation, and Queen Anne was committed to life in a convent near the Picti border in the far north
The Royal Council demanded that Analia to be executed immediately but Father Ignatio slyly intervened. “I know you are deeply shocked by the horrid and evil actions of this young sorceress,” he calmly stated, watching the unrest unfolding within the chambers. “However, she may be of further use to our cause. There has been no word from the invasion fleet since that bloody day a week ago, so we may need her as a bargaining tool against the Western Invaders.”
“What if she escapes again?” Bishop Bynum of Readingum yelled. “She is, after all, a sorceress and witch with strong powers.”
“And she has those flying monsters to aid her!” added Bishop Gregorius of Chippen. “They ride the skies like beasts from hell and terrify our parishioners.”
Father Ignatio smiled at the overly dramatic bishops and turned his attention to the Royal Council members. “I recommend we imprison her in a stout iron cage and put her on public display in the large outdoor courtyard near the south castle wall. We will offer the public viewing access for several hours per day, and she will be allotted two hours each day for personal privacy to perform her toilet.”
“What of her dragon riding friends?” A noble inquired.
“Should her dragon riders be audacious enough to attempt her rescue, the cage will be anchored to stout iron pegs and a brace of scorpions will set up around it,” Father Ignatio continued with a smile. “A message will be sent to the invaders that any attempt to liberate her will result in her immediate execution. Also, unless and until the invaders leave our shores, she will be given five public lashes by the cat each day, so the longer they remain on our sacred soil, the more damaged she will become.”
The entire assembly stood and enthusiastically applauded his recommendation. As he glanced up into the observation balcony he saw a wide grin on the beautiful face of Queen Denize amid her fawning retinue of ladies in waiting. She also raised her delicate hand and made a quick furtive motion of a throat being cut. This was the signal that David had accomplished his pre-assigned mission; the Pater-Omnia had been taken care of. Word should be arriving soon by messenger bird from Aur’leon, the capitol of Gaul, of his sudden demise.
A few moments later, Bishop Bynum stood and held up his cubby hand. “In the matter of replacing Arch-Bishop Julian, the Ecumenical Council has unanimously selected Father Ignatio,” he read from a scribbled piece of parchment. The full chamber once again stood and rendered a massive applause.
“As the new Arch-Bishop of Britanica in unity with the Pater-Omnia, I submit to the Royal Council that they send a decree to the Royal Council of Gaul recommending the interim appointment of Queen Denize as Interrex for young Philip. At nine tender years of age, I do not believe he yet possesses the ability to guide such a great nation without help. As a Queen Mother accustomed to taking care of court affairs, though cast out by outlaws, she is well qualified to assume the duties of interim regent. This will also allow the Royal Family of Gaul, who will be in mourning for a lengthy time, to decide who will be the permanent regent.” Although it was not their affair to meddle in the politics of Gaul, the Royal Council knew that it was the Church who made the final decision on royal succession and not the lords and nobles. They nodded in firm agreement with Ignatio’s statement and recommendation.
Father Ignatio glanced around the assembly and noticed an aura of ardent zeal and enthusiasm. His plans were bearing more fruit than he had hoped for, so he decided to spice things up under the circumstances. “As my last recommendation, I am directing the Ecumenical Council to the draw up an edict of holy war against the kingdoms of the west and north who defy Mother Church, and I urge the Royal Council to follow suite,” he smiled. “They will either submit to the rule of the Church and of iesos, or they will be destroyed.”
Geoffrey glanced beyond the small fire at the snoozing form of DarDar. He had returned to the barn six days before after narrowly escaping the patrol that Father Ignatio had sent to ambush them. Kenzy and Kevin had been captured while the horses were being watered and he would have also been caught had he not strolled down stream to perform his toilet. He knew the barn was the rendezvous point and his only chance of contacting Audrey’s friends. As there had been no word and no messengers had shown up, something must have gone wrong with their plans to communicate on a daily basis.
He was nodding off to sleep when he felt a presence in the barn with him other than DarDar. A voice standing in the shadows by the barn door startled him. “Hoped to find the four of you here?” a female voice asked.
Geoffrey recognized the voice of Talina, Sean’s fiancé and slowly stood. “Kevin and Kenzy were captured before we even made it to the castle in Essex,” he replied. “As for Audrey, I don’t know what her fate is.”
“She’s imprisoned in bondage in Londinium,” Talina replied in a low voice. “We received a message yesterday that she is being held against further invasion of Britanica. We have no knowledge of the fate of Kevin and Kenzy.
“What took you so long to return here and check on us?” Geoffrey asked with a slight hint of anger. “DarDar and I were preparing to head west tomorrow to seek you out.”
“Events have happened back at the fleet that threw all of our plans into turmoil. An assassin has murdered young King Robert and severely injured Emperor John, we still don’t know if he will live or die. Ser Thoragild and Pieter were also attacked but survived, Pieter with a wound to the hand and Ryykon because of a lucky talisman he wore around his neck.”
Geoffrey looked dismayed. “How did an assassin get close enough to do such a terrible deed?”
Talina glanced down at the smoldering fire and noticed that DarDar had awakened and was quietly listening to their conversation. “The assassin was one we all trusted with our lives,” she finally replied. “It was Elise.”
Geoffrey’s eyes opened wide in shock. “Elise?”
“She is innocent of the crime. An evil spell has been placed on her and she is unaware of her actions. Even today she sits on a chair staring off into nowhere, her mind a total blank. Our most powerful necromancer has tried to destroy the spell, but without success. We even have to force broth and water into her mouth just to keep her alive.”
“Father Ignatio!” Geoffrey blurted. “He is the evil one, only he has the power and will to commit such an ugly crime. You must take me to her, Talina, and we have got to free Audrey for I know she has the power to help Elise.”
“We brought extra mounts for that purpose,” Talina smiled. “Ser Thoragild is anxious to find out what he can about Father Ignatio and of your latest discoveries.
“Come, DarDar,” Geoffrey stated. “We must leave here and go help Elise.”
DarDar stood and slowly shook his head, his massive body appearing like a mountain in the dim light of the small fire. “DarDar go Audi,” he stated in a slurred tone of voice pointing at himself. “DarDar go Audi, hep.”
“You can’t go help Audrey,” Geoffrey replied. “You will be caught and imprisoned. Come with us and help Elise and we will then go with many knights and help Audrey.”
DarDar shook his head again. “DarDar go Audi, hep.” He then went around them and pushed through the large barn door. They rushed to the opening and watched as he headed across the field of overgrown grass and thick bushes and made his way to the passing road in the distance.
“I will not even try to stop him,” Talina stated. “His mind, what little there is of it, is made up. I just hope he isn’t killed trying to barge into the castle and save Analia by brute force.”
“Audrey, or Analia as you call her, is his heroine and savior,” Geoffrey replied. “She is the only one who has ever treated him like a person and not a beast. He may have the mind of a child but he also has a very well developed sense of cunning and the agility of an acrobat. The only thing he has going against him is his enormous size.”
The trip west took the remainder of the night and they arrived just as daylight was breaking over the eastern hills. Though tired and weary from the long flight, Geoffrey was bursting with eagerness to reach Elise. After they dismounted and turned their dragons over to several young dragon squires, they hurried to the command tent. As they neared, their way was barred by two huge guards who would not allow them entrance to the large tent.
“No one is allowed inside until they are inspected and approved by Lord Thrower,” one of the guards growled nodding for the other one to inform the occupants of their arrival. Moments later, Ser Thoragild himself exited the tent.
“Welcome back Talina,” he stated, clasping her gently on her shoulders. He nodded in the direction of her companion. “I assume this is the young knight, Sir Geoffrey?”
“Ser Thoragild, meet Sir Geoffrey,” she smiled. “The others have been captured by the enemy and the giant called DarDar went off on his own to help Analia. Why won’t they allow us entry into the headquarters?”
Ryykon smiled and reached to clasp the wrist of Sir Geoffrey. “Welcome young knight, I have heard good things about you. As for not allowing you entry, Lord Thrower, our chief necromancer asked that he check each person before entry so he can determine if they are under the spell of another sorcerer. After what happened, we all agreed with him. Go find Lord Thrower, “he ordered one of the guards.
A few minutes later, Lord Thrower inspected them and nodded his approval for them to enter the tent. As they entered the gloomy interior, Geoffrey immediately spotted the unmoving form of Elise sitting in a high backed chair near the right side of the tent. Near the back three men stood over a large table strewn with maps and small figures. Pieter, Sean, and Lord Ruolf walked over to welcome him.
“I heard the news of the death of King Robert,” Geoffrey stated. “I am sorry for your loss. What of the Emperor, Audrey’s father?”
“No change,” Pieter replied. “According to our apothicarius, the blade nicked a vital artery near his heart and he is still bleeding internally even with a suture in place. We can only hope for the best.”
“And Elise?” Geoffrey nodded at the silent figure that stared fixedly down at the grassy floor.
Pieter shook head. “No change. Lord Thrower has tried everything within his power to break the spell, to no avail. The dark magic that was used is more powerful than his ability to counter it. Even Ser Thoragild, who loves her like a daughter, was unable to break the spell even though he shed tears when she did not respond.”
Geoffrey walked over to where Elise was sitting and went down on one knee. He reached for her hand and she did not resist as he held it up and gently cupped it in his callus scared hands. He glanced into her unmoving face and fixed eyes that did not blink. Geoffrey suddenly realized that she was the one he was actually wooing all the time he was fixated on Audrey, that Audrey was just a whim, someone to keep him from falling in love with this wonderful, sweet, generous, and incredible young maiden, someone to prevent him from committing himself to another.
He held her soft warm hand against his cheek and bitter tears started flowing down his face. “I’m sorry,” he gently whispered. “Please forgive me my love, you are the one I need, the one I truly cherish, please forgive me?”
As Sir Geoffrey broke into choking sobs, the others standing around quickly found things to discuss and quietly strolled back to the map table. After a respectful few minutes, Ser Thoragild returned and placed his huge hand on Geoffrey’s shoulder. “It’s been a long night for you and a rough trip, son, let me show you to our sleeping tent so you can eat and rest.”
Geoffrey started to rise but felt a slight twinge in Elise’s fingers. Suddenly, her eyes blinked and she grasped his hand in a tight grip then started coughing. “Bring me water!” Geoffrey yelled, “She’s awake.” He quickly held the cup of cool water to her lips and watched in eagerness as she took a few sips, then quickly downed the remainder of the cup.
“More?” Elise asked in a coarse whisper, suddenly noticing that Geoffrey held her hand tightly in his. She also remembered seeing him weeping and hearing such words as love, and my darling, and please return to me. This was the man she fell in love with but could not pursue because she assumed that he loved her best friend, Analia. He loved her! Her heart leaped with joy.
“You’ve broken the spell,” Lord Thrower exclaimed. “Love, I see, triumphs over sorcery.”
Elise glanced around the room and noticed her protector, Ser Thoragild and her friends Pieter, Ruolf, and Talina. “What happened?” she asked. “I remember entering the tent a few moments ago and now I wake up sitting in a chair with Sir Geoffrey kneeling before me holding my hand with tears in his eyes.”
“I have come to the realization that I truly love you,” Geoffrey stated. “Everyone in this tent loves you and regardless of what you are about to hear, you have done absolutely nothing wrong. You have been under the spell of a powerful and evil sorcerer, Father Ignatio most likely.”
Elise glanced expectantly around the room seeing smiles and encouragement on the faces of her friends. Her curiosity was overwhelming. “Well, isn’t someone going to say something?” she grinned.
“What Sir Geoffrey said is true,” Ser Thoragild replied. “You are loved by each of us and the damage done was not of your making.” He glanced nervously around the tent not wanting to say the words that he knew would hurt and probably haunt her the rest of her days. “King Robert is dead and Emperor John is near death. Under a vicious and ugly spell, it was your hand that done the work. The fact that you do not remember it is evidence of your innocence along with the mind spell you have been under for nearly a week. Lord Thrower has tried all these days to remove that spell, but, only the pure love of Sir Geoffrey brought you out of it. Please, Elise, do not take the blame on your shoulders, there was nothing you could do but to obey.”
Elise’s eyes swelled in understanding and she appeared ready to burst into tears, however, she composed herself and spoke in a calm voice. “What of Analia, is she safe?”
“She is a prisoner of the sorcerer who made you do his bidding,” Ser Thoragild replied. “They have demanded that we leave their kingdom or she will suffer the results.”
“Then we must concede to their demands,” Elise stated.
Ser Thoragild shook his head. “It’s not as simple as that. We had an informer at the meeting who gave us a detailed list of what transpired. Father Ignatio is now the new Prelate, soon to be their Pater-Omnia, the most powerful man in both kingdoms. King Athelfyrd is in a coma, Queen Anne exiled to a convent and Queen Denize soon to be regent of Gaul. They have also declared a holy war on all kingdoms to their west and north and vow to convert us or destroy us.”
“What are we to do?” Elise whispered. “I want to go help Analia a soon as possible.”
“We cannot, in view of their holy proclamation, give up our beach foothold,” Pieter chimed in. “I must return to Camalund to meet with the Council and return Emperor John to Angalund and advise them of what has transpired. Ser Thoragild will remain here to direct operations and hopefully keep a presence on their shores until reinforcements can be sent. I will also send delegates to the Nordlanders and the Scoti and Picti seeking a mutual alliance.”
“That does not answer my question,” Elise smartly returned. “What of rescuing Analia?”
“According to our scouts, Analia is being held in one of the castle baileys in a specially built iron cage,” Talina stated. “It is surrounded by deadly scorpions to prevent dragons from flying near and it is firmly attached to the courtyard with heavy iron spikes.” She quickly glanced away as if there was something else she should mention.
Elise glanced at her downcast expression. “What are you not telling me, Talina? I know you well enough to see that you are hiding something.”
“The message recently delivered stated that Analia would be given five brutal lashes per day from the cat-of-nine-tails until we left their shores,” Sean dolefully added. “Every day we remain here, she is being whipped.”
“And you have not sent a rescue party yet?” Elise yelled. “I will take one myself.”
“You will not,” Ser Thorgild chided her. “You have had almost no nourishment for days and you are still recovering from an evil spell. All you will accomplish is to place yourself and others into their hands for us to also rescue. We will devise a plan, and quickly, but we will not send people we need and love into an ill-conceived rescue attempt. I want you to promise me, Elise, that you will not try such a feat of contretemps.”
Elise shook her head knowing what her savior and mentor said was the best thing to do.
“Take her to a private tent and give her food and plenty of water,” Ser Thoragild requested of Sir Geoffrey. “See to it that she rests, we will need her skills in the very near future if we are to do as she stated and rescue my niece.”