Chapter 20: Death
“Today you run to Llyanta, today you fight, today you decide the fate of Stargonia and Olandern.”
The king nodded. “Today we fight.” He turned to Peter. “Wake the men. Tell them to get ready as quickly as possible.”
Chapter 20: Death
“Today you run to Llyanta, today you fight, today you decide the fate of Stargonia and Olandern.”
The king nodded. “Today we fight.” He turned to Peter. “Wake the men. Tell them to get ready as quickly as possible.”
Peter left the king’s tent. “To arms!” He shouted. Breacon jumped up from where he was sitting outside of the King’s tent. He had been half awake ever since the messenger came, and now he ran to Peter’s side. “So it’s today, then?”
“Aye. Spread the word.”
Breacon buckled on his sword belt, and then ran to his scouts. “To arms!” He yelled. Soon the camp was filled with shouts of “To arms!” and “Today we fight!” On the way back into the king’s tent, Peter found Breacon praying with the other scouts. He waited quietly until they were done, then spoke.
“Breacon, come get your orders with the rest of the officers.”
He nodded. The scouts looked hopeful, but at the same time they were afraid – what would their duty be this day?
Breacon followed Peter into the King’s tent.
“Breacon, you and your scouts will run ahead to Llyanta. Return as soon as you can with news of what is going on there. We will start marching as soon as you leave.” The king reached across the table and grasped Breacon’s hand. “And if we never meet again, lad, I am glad that I have met you.”
Breacon gulped. He wanted to speak, but he could only nod. “The same to you,” he finally managed to say. Then he bowed, and left the tent. His scouts looked up as he approached. Breacon’s voice broke as he spoke. “We go ahead of the troops to Llyanta.”
“It is as we expected,” One of the scouts said. “But whether this is safer or more dangerous…”
“Only pray the Creator grants us our lives,” Breacon said decidedly.
The men were quiet. Do we die today?
Soon the other officers came out of the king’s tent. The king nodded to Breacon.
“Come,” Breacon told the scouts. “It is time we leave.”
The men stood, and goodbyes – perhaps final farewells – went around their group. Breacon watched with tears in his eyes. “Thank you all for your service,” he said. “It has been an honor for me to lead you.”
“And more the honor for us to serve under you,” they said.
Breacon hugged each of his men, and then they were off running.
The streets of Llyanta were crowded that morning, everyone was trying to get a glimpse at the rebel leader before he was executed. Many rebels were in the crowd, hoping for some way to rescue the prisoners. Ciaran’s men cleared the way as Ciaran entered the city, surrounded by a score of bodyguards. Trumpeters wearing Ciaran’s livery played as he climbed the stairs of the platform. Matthias and Eunan, their hands bound behind their back, came next, followed by more soldiers.
Eunan glanced toward Matthias, whose face was grim.
We have to do something… Eunan thought. I can’t just let Matthias die. He wriggled a little to see how tightly his hands were tied. Matthias saw him out of the corner of his eye and shook his head subtly. As they turned a corner, Eunan noticed that behind the solemnity and even fear in his eyes, Matthias was planning something. Trying not to attract attention, Matthias moved closer to Eunan.
“I have a plan,” he whispered, “I can get free, I’ll try to cut you free, but if it doesn’t work, just run and hide somewhere, then get free. And pray… pray like never before, Eunan.”
Matthias and Eunan were half-led half-dragged up to the platform, where they stood as Ciaran began to speak.
“My dear people of Llyanta,”
Ciaran began again.
“My dear people of Llyanta, as you have all probably heard by now, these two ‘gentlemen’ you see here are rebels, and one is the rebel leader. That means, they must die. But there I go again, stating the obvious.” Ciaran’s voice droned on for a few more minutes, then he motioned for Matthias to be brought forward. Eunan looked at Matthias desperately, thinking it was too late.
God help us! He prayed.
Suddenly, Matthias jerked his hands free, grabbing the sword of a soldier.
Riona knew something was happening. She didn’t know how, but she knew. It was something big, too. Raindrops began to fall, softly at first, then harder. Even when thunder clapped overhead, she did not leave the part of the wall where she was standing. Instead, she began to sing a song Eunan had taught her a long while ago, one that he had written.
“As night is falling on the world,
A small boy is waiting in the street.
He knows not what for, only that he is.
He cries as he tries to sleep,
The cold is biting at his body,
And he fears he will die before morning…”
Outside of Llyanta, Breacon stopped running, and his scouts halted behind him. They had camped deeper in Olandern than he had thought, and for the good of Olandern, much farther in than the rebels had asked them to wait.
The back gate was closed, but they could hear voices from inside.
. “What do you hear?” Breacon asked his men.
“It almost sounds like the fight has started without us.”
Breacon nodded. “Quick, we must run back to the army.” An arrow whizzed by Breacon’s ear. “Run!” He shouted. Breacon waited until all of his men were on the run before he joined them. In front of him, one of the men fell, an arrow in his back. One of the scouts, Collin, stopped and turned, but Breacon pushed him forward.
“Go! Do you want an arrow in your back, too?”
Matthias turned on the soldier behind him, running the sword through him, then turned to Eunan, who was struggling to get free from Ciaran’s soldiers. Rebels climbed up onto the platform as women ran screaming from the square and into their homes, grabbing their young ones as they went.
Fighting to free Eunan, Matthias was joined by rebels of all ages. Ciaran’s men were surrounding him now, too, and there was only one way out – towards the gate.
“Go, and God be with you, we’ll free your friend,” a rebel whispered in Matthias’s ear. Taking a deep breath, Matthias took a last glance over to where Eunan was, then ran for the gate, which, to his surprise was opening. He wondered if it was more of Ciaran’s men… or perhaps… As he ran through the gates, Matthias stopped short.
There, at the head of an army, was Star Rider, with Jed at his side. Gryphons soared overhead, screeching. Jonas, on the back of one, swooped down near Matthias, then as the gryphon took him back up, he shouted a battle cry.
Jed rode by Matthias, leading an empty horse. Matthias swung up on the horse and rode in with Jed. The archers brought up the rear of the army, and they clambered up to the ramparts, falling into line. The gryphons dropped rocks as they flew by, crushing many.. Foot soldiers with pikes guarded the gate, while everyone else rushed inside and the battle began. At first it seemed like the rebels were winning, and the number of Ciaran’s men was diminishing, but then more streamed from the castle, and things began to fall in Ciaran’s favor. The rebels only pressed harder, knowing they were fighting for freedom… and fighting for their king, wherever he might be. Few knew of Matthias’s trip to Madiela, and even fewer knew that Matthias had found him, but everyone still hoped that he would appear and lead them in battle.
Breacon stopped before the king. He bowed, and then spoke. “The battle has started without us. We must hurry.”
“Are all of your men here?”
Breacon shook his head. “No. One fell. We were seen outside the wall.”
The king nodded. “We must press on nonetheless. There will be time to grieve later.”
It seemed like very few rebels were left now, and those still alive were quickly giving way and retreating outside of Llyanta. A sound like rushing wind was heard, getting louder by the second. Then they began emerging from the forest. At first it was the alda, their long, branch-like arms swinging at their sides, their amber eyes reflecting the sun’s rays, their hair falling like thin roots around their faces. There were many of them marching by, some running ahead, others stumbling behind. But they entered the city and began to fight, tearing at Ciaran’s men, snapping them with their strong arms, throwing them across the town square.
Just as the last of them came out from the forest, a Keltoi warrior stepped out, his face painted with blue paint, his unkempt red hair blowing in the wind. He held a claymore in his hands, and he took his cloak off, leaving it behind as he ran out, followed by a stream of more Keltoi warriors, all dressed in a similar fashion, but carrying different weapons.
Now the soldiers of Ciaran were far outnumbered, and were quickly giving up. Even still, many dead leaves lay about (for this is the form of the dead alda, they scatter in the form of dead leaves), and slain Keltoi were draped over railings and lying on top of their foe. Severed bits of gryphon wings and tails were buried under corpses, and a few gryphons lay dead, and the rest had retreated – or so everyone thought.
Suddenly five gryphons flew over the city. Keltoi, alda, rebels, and soldiers looked to the sky, wondering what was happening. Matthias turned from the soldier he was fighting just as the first gryphon landed. On his back was none other than Nathan.
“He came,” Matthias whispered, then plunged back into the fray with renewed strength.
Nathan leapt off of the gryphon and onto the ground, drawing his sword and he began to fight.
The Stargonian force entered the back gate about the same time, and weapons at the ready, they joined the fray.
Finally, it was over. The streets of Llyanta seemed to be paved with corpses, and the smell of blood and death was everywhere. Very few men were still alive, and those that breathed were sorely wounded. The Keltoi had already retreated back into the forest, and the alda with them.
Matthias ran through the city, searching for Nathan and Eunan. He found Nathan standing aside from everything up on a wall, his sword red with blood.
“Your sword, Nathan,” Matthias reminded him. Nathan snapped out of his thoughts and nodded.
Nathan went out of the city and knelt on the grass, wiping his sword clean before sheathing it.
“I never dreamed it would cost this much for freedom,” Nathan said, leaning against the wall.
“It’s not over yet, Nathan. Ciaran’s men are still in the cities, and there is a lot we need to do here before moving on elsewhere.”
Nathan was quiet. “It’s been so long since I’ve been here last. And I never wished to come back. But here I am.”
Men carrying shovels came out of Llyanta, and after walking for a few minutes, they began to dig a deep pit, deep down into the earth.
Matthias turned away from Nathan. “I have to find Eunan, see if he made it through.”
Darkness fell on the city, and there was still no sign of Eunan. Matthias checked all the carts filled with corpses before they left Itheial to be buried, but they could not find him. Finally, they moved to the platform, which was now broken in many places where rocks had been dropped.
They found him half-buried under a few of Ciaran’s soldiers, breathing heavily and wounded in many places.
“Eunan… oh, Eunan…” Matthias gently picked the boy up, holding him in his arms. He shut his eyes to keep the tears from coming.
“Matthias… this is the price I’ve had to pay. The ring.. it’s under the bed… in the dungeon. Tell Riona… tell Riona that I’m sorry, tell her I wish I could have stayed. And Jed and Star Rider? Did they make it?”
“Jed… Jed was killed in battle, and Star Rider is badly wounded. They led the charge bravely, and Jed died fighting by my side.”
Eunan let out a sob, then coughed.
Nathan knelt next to Matthias and Eunan. “Hello, Eunan.”
Eunan’s eyes filled with tears. “My king…” He said, drawing a shuddering breath. Nathan grabbed Eunan’s extended hand, stopping it from shaking. “I prayed… I prayed I could see what we were fighting for before… before I…” He coughed up blood. “Before I died.”
“God has answered your prayers, Eunan. Thank you… thank you for all you’ve done.
“Thank Der… and Marlena.” Eunan gulped for air. “And give this… to Riona…” He pulled at a chain around his neck. “It was my mother’s…. and I want her to have… Oh, it hurts, Matthias, it really hurts…” Eunan’s face contorted with pain, and Matthias held him closer. After a last shuddering breath, he lay still. Tears streaming down his face and mingled with dried blood, and Matthias ran his hand over Eunan’s eyes, closing them. As Matthias got to his feet with Eunan in his arms, Nathan steadied him. Quietly, Nathan led Matthias to the castle and they found the cemetery. Matthias took the necklace from Eunan’s neck, putting it in his pouch for safekeeping. Nathan dug a hole while Matthias made a grave marker out of a piece of wood, then together they lowered Eunan into the grave and covered it.
Nathan left Matthias there, he himself going back out to the city. There he worked alongside the rebels, clearing away the last of the bodies. As the men retired to their homes to sleep and rest, a pouring rain came down, washing away the blood and grime that stained the city.
Breacon stood atop the ramparts, gazing down at the city below. Free. Olandern, Stargonia, free. But at what price? Breacon and his scouts had stayed together until the last. Every one of them had died. Death. They had paid for their freedom with death. What had won? Had they won, or had death?
He could not find the king or Peter, but somehow he knew that they had survived. Perhaps they were already on their way back to Stargonia. He didn’t want to leave Olandern. He loved it, even though all he had seen of it was pain and brokenness. He was needed more here than he was in Stargonia.
At dawn, the rebuilding began. The remainder of the platform was chopped up and stored to use for firewood. Men moved about the city, going about their tasks silently. Women took care of the wounded, and their daughters and young children helped them. A few people did nothing, staring out at nothing, overwhelmed with grief by the death of a loved one, brother, father, or friend. Matthias tried to keep busy, but it was hard for him to work while the loss of Eunan was fresh on his mind.
Late in the day, a meeting was called in the great hall of the castle, which had been cleared of Ciaran’s things. Matthias stood next to Nathan at the front of the room, the rebels around them. Only the fathers had been invited to the meeting, but there were a few others that had been told to come as well, Calaeda, for example. She stood in the back of the room, trying to keep in the shadows so no one would see her face. Breacon was there, too, hoping to find the king or Peter. Neither they nor any of the Stargonian officers were there.
“Let’s begin with a word of prayer,” Nathan suggested, and everyone bowed their heads. After Nathan prayed, Matthias began to speak.
“First of all, thank you all for coming today… but even bigger thanks goes to yesterday. I am sorry for all the lives we paid for freedom with. I myself lost a good friend. We would not have our freedom, though, if it weren’t for the Stargonians, the Gryphons, the Alda, and the Keltoi, all of whom have already returned to their homes. The Stargonians have much work to do freeing and rebuilding the North of their own kingdom. I wish we could have time to mourn, but we have much to do before then – Ciaran still has soldiers everywhere, and Ciaran himself has seemed to disappear. I’ve heard many say he has gone across the sea… but I believe he is still in Llyanta somewhere, and probably in the castle.” Matthias stopped, and Nathan took over:
“Matthias and I are planning on leaving for the other cities in a week to help get rid of Ciaran’s men there, if there are any left that still call themselves his men. In the meantime, we would like to open up the castle to any who are in need of a place to stay. Some of you have begun to re-furnish the castle already, and there are quite a few rooms that are ready for anyone who would like to stay here, but please come tell me first.”
He whispered something to Matthias, who shook his head.
“I believe that is all… does anyone have anything they would like to say?”
The room was quiet, and a line began to form of people needing a place to stay. Calaeda stepped out of the shadows, drawing her hair over her face, and stepped to the end of the line.
Chapter 21: Ciaran and Caderyn
The next morning, Nathan decided to explore the castle. He began in the towers, running from one to the other, looking out the windows at the different views they provided. Then he moved down to explore the upstairs. He started in the make-shift hospital, visiting the wounded. A young boy caught his attention as he moaned in pain. Nathan sat down on the bed next to him.
“Hey,” He said gently.
The boy stopped moaning for a few seconds to look at Nathan, then began again.
“What’s your name?” Nathan asked.
“Brodi,” the boy said weakly, his lips parched. Looking around, Nathan saw a glass of water sitting nearby, and took it from the table.
Brodi struggled to sit up, but fell back against the pillows. Nathan put his arm under Brodi’s back and helped him sit up, then held the glass to his lips.
“Thanks,” Brodi said after he drank.
“How did you get wounded?”
“Fell off of a gryphon, onto the ground, then one of Ciaran’s men just about sliced my arm off. He would’ve, if… if the gryphon hadn’t…” He stopped talking, eyes filling with tears. “I’m pretty sure the gryphon saved my life.”
Nathan nodded. “We’ve all had something hard to cope with around now. I’ve had some hard decisions, others lost someone.”
“Yeah. Thanks for sitting with me. I don’t want to take too much of your time.”
“I’ll leave you to get some rest now.”
Nathan left the room, continuing to roam the castle. By noon, he had moved down to under the castle, and was wandering around the dungeons, a torch in his hand. He moved through slowly, checking for any prisoners they may have forgotten earlier when they had released them. He noticed nothing until he was about to turn around and go back up. Then something in the last cell caught his eye…
Nathan’s hand flew to his sword, and the sound of the sword being unsheathed echoed in the darkness.
“Someone there?” He asked, his voice shaking.
In the cell, something moved, standing up. Nathan took a step back, the torch slipping out of his hand and quickly extinguishing on the damp floor.
“I’ve been waiting for you.”
Nathan looked puzzled.
“I figured you’d be down here sometime, little prince.”
“Who are you?” His voice was shaking as he spoke.
“You know who I am.”
Nathan heard another sword being drawn, then saw it glint in the small glimmer of light.
Ciaran moved closer, swinging his sword around. Nathan blocked it easily, and Ciaran tried again. But Ciaran was far better at swordplay than Nathan, and soon Nathan was backing up towards one of the cells. He thought he would run into the door, but for some reason it was wide open. Ciaran moved forward one last time, and Nathan took a step back, and then he was falling. He landed one some hay below, his sword a few feet away. Above him, Ciaran looked down and laughed, then moved a grating across the top and locked it. Nathan ran up the ladder, pushing on the grating.
“No! No!” He shouted, then descended and slumped against the wall. “Dear God, why…?” He cried. Suddenly, he remembered something Eunan had said, shortly before he had died. The words rang clearly in his mind, “the ring… it’s under the bed… in the dungeon.” Nathan realized what Eunan had meant, and he got to his feet, excitement rising in him. With all that had been going on in the castle the past few days, they had forgotten about the future coronation… and the ring they would need for him to be the proper king. He dug in the hay for a few minutes, then began searching up higher. He lifted up the blanket. It wasn’t there. Starting to become worried, he looked frantically all around the bed. Finally, his finger hit something cold and he pulled out a thin chain, stained with dried blood and covered in sand and grime. Looped over the chain was the ring. Quietly, Nathan slipped the chain over his head. The ring was safe.
He tried to sleep for a little while, as there was nothing else to do, but he was too worried – what was going on above him? Was Ciaran taking charge… again? Or had they gotten him?
Matthias was pouring over maps, thinking of a way to free the rest of the cities, when he heard steps behind him. Thinking it was Nathan, he kept studying the map.
Not recognizing the voice, Matthias turned around, only to find Ciaran, well, more Ciaran’s sword than Ciaran. Matthias’s hand flew to his sword hilt, and he took a step back as he drew it. As Ciaran advanced, Matthias edged out to the side, so he would not be run back against the table. Ciaran attacked, and Matthias knocked the blade away, locking their hilts together and trying to maneuver his blade toward Ciaran’s chest. But Ciaran dodged Matthias’s sword, circling around back of him and preparing to attack again. Matthias whirled on him, catching Ciaran off-guard. Ciaran fumbled, but quickly recovered. They fought for a long time, or at least it seemed like that. Neither seemed to tire, yet both were straining to keep up with the other as they dueled. Matthias felt like his arm was on fire, and he wished he could trade arms and use his left. Finally, he was able to switch hands, and Matthias went at Ciaran with a fresh strength. Ciaran, however, could not do this, he fought with a larger sword, and could only wield it with both hands. He began to tire, and his strength was quickly failing him. Matthias’s sword brushed Ciaran’s arm, and a trickle of blood began to flow. Ciaran let his arm fall down to his side, and as Matthias continued his attacks, and Ciaran did his best to block them, but his sword was too heavy, and eventually he had to let it drop. Closing his eyes, he sank back against the wall.
Matthias flicked his sword under Ciaran’s chin, his hand shaking. A struggle was going on inside of him. Now that he had the chance, he didn’t know if he should kill Ciaran. Sure, he’s the bad guy… but it still doesn’t feel right to kill him.
He looked at Ciaran, blood streaming from various places in his body. Ciaran looked as if he were waiting. Is he… is he waiting… to… to die? Does he want me to kill him?
A shadow briefly covered the door, and Matthias glanced up. Calaeda shrank back against the wall outside, then peeked back around the corner, curious as to what Matthias would do.
I have to do it. If I don’t… All we did for Olandern will be lost. For a minute, Matthias drew his sword back, and Calaeda thought he was going to put it away. But then he closed his eyes and plunged the sword into Ciaran, falling down onto his knees.
A flash of light seemed to come up out of the water, spreading across the whole of Olandern. Calaeda put her arms up to shield her face as the light entered the castle. All over Olandern, people had the same reaction, many falling to their knees in awe of the light. Then as quickly as it had come, the light was gone. Matthias opened his eyes, standing up to leave the room. As he was about to walk toward the door, he took one last glance at Ciaran… but it wasn’t Ciaran anymore.
It was Caderyn.
Matthias shook his head, thinking his mind was playing tricks on him.
Calaeda took a step into the room.
Caderyn opened his eyes and looked around. He struggled to get to his feet, and Matthias bent down to help him up, then knelt at his feet.
“My king,” He said.
“Where is my son?” Caderyn asked. His head was spinning, and he was trying hard to remember things.
“He… he was exploring the castle a little while ago. I’ll go try to find him.”
Calaeda walked to Caderyn’s side, steadying the old king.
“I need to sit down,” he told Calaeda as Matthias ran out of the room.
Matthias ran through the halls of the castle, asking anyone he passed if they had seen Nathan. Everyone shook their heads, wondering at Matthias’s haste. A few spread out to help Matthias search.
Before long, all that was left to search was the lowest level… with the dungeons and cells. Lighting a torch, Matthias descended the stairs.
“Nathan?” He shouted. “Nathan! Are you down here?”
“Down here!” Came the faint reply.
Matthias ran to the dungeon, moving the grating. “Nathan, what happened?” He asked as Nathan’s head appeared above the top. Matthias grabbed his arm, pulling him up.
“I had a run-in with Ciaran. He tricked me into falling down there. I don’t think that I broke anything.”
“Nathan, there’s someone I want you to see.”
“You’ll see.” Matthias tried to hide a smile. “He asked for you a while ago, but no one had any idea where had gone.”
Nathan followed Matthias, confused yet curious at the same time. Matthias led him up to the room where Caderyn was waiting.
“Wait here,” he commanded, entering the room. Nathan heard whispers from inside the room, then a chair scooted back a little ways…
“Come in, Nathan!”
Nathan entered the room, not sure of what to expect. Matthias stood to one side, hand resting lightly on his sword hilt, and Calaeda was supporting an old man. Nathan stopped walking. The old man looked oddly familiar.
It can’t be! He thought. Dad died… he died when Ciaran took over. Or wait… they didn’t find his body anywhere… “Dad?”
“Nathan, my son!” Caderyn took a few shaky steps toward Nathan. Nathan ran to his father, and Caderyn opened his arms wide. “You’ve grown so much, my boy…”
Nathan blinked back tears. “It’s so good to see you, it’s been so long.”
“That it has, step back and let me look at you.”
Caderyn put his hands on Nathan’s shoulders and looked him over. His hair had grown longer, and was desperately in need of a hair cut. A small beard was growing on his chin now.
“Where is your sister?” Caderyn asked.
“Riona is at the convent, my King. We knew she would be safe there.” Matthias said from where he stood.
“And my wife, where is she?”
Nathan took a deep breath.
“She…” He paused, not wanting to finish his sentence. “Mam was killed by Ciaran’s men… father.”
Silence covered the room for a few minutes.
“But in a few days, Matthias and I are going to go free the other cities from Ciaran’s rule.” Nathan offered.
Caderyn nodded. “Aye.” His mind was still focused on the death of his wife, and he turned to Calaeda, whom he had been talking with while Matthias had been searching for Nathan. “I need to rest,” he said weakly.
“Where should –” Calaeda began.
“Go ahead and put him in my chambers… I believe I left it unlocked. I’ll move to another room for a while.”
Calaeda looked up in surprise when Nathan cut her off.
Nathan looked down, “I – uh – sorry for interrupting.”
Calaeda’s face softened, and she tried hard to keep from smiling as Nathan’s face turned bright red. She moved to the king’s side, her skirts brushing the floor as she walked. She nodded to Nathan and Matthias as she left the room.
Nathan turned his head slightly to watch her leave. As soon as she was out of ear shot, Matthias laughed.
Nathan’s face turned a deeper shade of red, if that were even possible. He desperately wanted to change the subject.
Matthias laughed again.
“What happened up here? Where’d my dad come from?”
“I don’t know, actually. It seems like it was the reverse of when the king disappeared. I stabbed Ciaran… and there was a flash of light, then there he was…”
“I noticed the flash of light, and wondered what it was. I guess it makes sense… when my father disappeared, there was darkness, and Ciaran took over. Then there was light, and I guess maybe it’s over now.”
“I wonder what that will mean for Ciaran’s men in the cities. With all the men on their way home, they should be able to do it on there own, if there are any of Ciaran’s men left…”
“We should still go around and make sure, I think. I believe that… that Calaeda, er, that my father will be in good hands with Calaeda. He seems to like her a lot.”
“Aye. Now, I’ve been planning our route…”
Nathan spent the following day with his father, telling Caderyn of all that had happened to him in the past few years. Caderyn listened intently, wishing he had been there alongside his son those hard years.
When Nathan finished talking, Caderyn stood and walked to a nearby window. His strength was coming back slowly, but he was still old and frail.
“As to my story… I can’t go into much detail. Ciaran and I fought for a long time, and eventually I seemed to have won… but as I watched him fall and die, the darkness swept over the land, and I felt a strange sensation… I felt like I was being drawn in, and I felt hate enter my body. That’s all I remember until a little while ago – it seems that Matthias stabbed me, and it reversed what had happened before. The hate was taken out, and replaced with our Creator’s love. I feel so free now. I know I did evil things when I ‘was’ Ciaran, but I don’t know what happened, it was like I was replaced with someone else. I guess we’ll never really know, it was a work of the Creator, that’s all I can say.”
“I’m just glad you’re back, dad. And that soon things will be back to normal, with you ruling Olandern, Riona home… and the kingdom restored, for the most part. Matthias and I are going to fix that in a few days, though. Llyanta is ready to accept their king… they’re just waiting. And one thing’s for sure – I’m glad I don’t have to be king yet.”
Caderyn turned to his son and pulled Nathan’s head down a little, kissing the top of it gently. “I’m glad to be back, Nathan.” Nathan hugged his father, then they were silent for a while.
“I heard that Calaeda was making me something in the kitchen. Why don’t we go see if we can get something to eat, I’m a bit hungry.”
They walked down to the kitchens together, a question nagging Nathan the whole time. He stopped outside the kitchen before they entered.
“Dad, do you know anything about Calaeda? Her past, I mean?”
“I think you should ask her about that. She would tell her story much better than I.”
“Then I’ll ask her about it later.”
Caderyn sniffed the air. “Smells good! I wonder what she’s made for us…”
“There’s only one way to find out!”
Nathan entered the kitchen to find Calaeda standing near the brick oven, just about to pull a loaf of fresh bread out. A pot of stew cooked over the fire, and sliced fruit lay neatly on a platter on the table.
“It smells wonderful,” Nathan commented.
“Thank you,” She replied. “Nathan, would you mind getting some bowls down from the top cupboard? I can’t quite reach them.”
“Of course.” He opened the cupboard, reaching it easily, and pulled out three bowls, setting them in a row on the table.
Calaeda dished up the stew, and Nathan got out a few spoons, then took a bite.
“Ooh, hot!” He said, his mouth still full, then spit the stew back into the bowl. “Sorry,” grinning sheepishly at Calaeda, who was trying hard to keep from laughing, he blew at it gently. “I… uh… forgot it was hot… but it is very good!”
Chapter 22: Not Yet Free
The day Nathan and Matthias left Llyanta with their army, the streets were crowded with people, wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, brothers… young boys who dreamed of battle, young women watching their betrothed ride off, not knowing if they would see them again. Most women wept openly in the streets, their daughters or sons standing at their sides, many crying along with them. Matthias rode in silence as he listened to their wails, wishing this task did not have to be done.
Most of the army was mounted, with a few foot soldiers. A gryphon or two flew overhead, and a score or so wolves ran in front of the troops. They hadn’t been able to gather many men, only those from Llyanta and a handful from other cities that had stayed to help, but would return home when they reached their cities.
Caderyn had organized the army, remembering the old days when he had been at the head, commanding his troops. In a way he missed that, but at the same time he was thankful he could stay back at the castle, away from the horrors of war.
The Jarelites welcomed the army in the streets, thankful that they had finally come. Ciaran’s soldiers had been cruel to the Jarelites after the news of the battle of Llyanta got out. The majority of his soldiers had been stationed in Jarel, keeping the Jarelites from rebelling again. In the past week, many women and children had been sent down into the tunnels to hide; life in the city was too dangerous. Ciaran’s troops hurried to the center of town and prepared for battle when they were notified of the approaching army. The rebels inside Dalentia’s walls got ready as well, meeting in the inn and sharpening their weapons. Der led them all in prayer before they discussed a few plans, then waited patiently until sounds of fighting erupted outside. After giving the signal, Der opened the door, and the rebels entered the fray.
It was a short skirmish, as the rebels outnumbered Ciaran’s soldiers, two to one. Matthias hurried to the inn afterwards, and waited for Der in the kitchens.
“Hello, Matthias,” Der unbuckled his sword belt and tucked it beneath the counter.
“I’m going down to the tunnels right now, if you would like to join me. You look like you have something to tell me.”
Der and Matthias walked side-by-side down to the cellar. Matthias was silent, rehearsing in his head how to tell Der the news. Der, I… uh… Der, Eunan… Ugh! How am I ever going to tell Der? Eunan was like a son to him… I don’t think I’ll be able to tell him without crying. And I don’t want to cry. Not here, not now… I couldn’t bear it.
“Here, help me with this, will you, Matthias?” Der’s request snapped Matthias out of his thoughts.
Matthias took one end of the covering and helped Der move it aside. They descended the ladder, then went into the room where the women and children of Jarel were waiting. A few were talking or singing, but fell silent when they saw Der.
“It’s safe to go back up,” he explained, “the fighting is done and the city has been restored to its original condition.”
A cheer went up from the Jarelites, and they began filing down the tunnel and up the ladder. When the room was finally empty, Der leaned up against the wall and looked at Matthias.
“So, what is it you wanted to tell me?”
Matthias stared at his feet, then took a deep breath. It came out as a sob, and then the tears came. He hadn’t cried when Eunan had died, and not after, either. It was only now that he longed for someone to hold him close, as if he were a small child frightened by a storm. Through his tears, Matthias stumbled to the wall, putting his arm up against it and resting his head on his arm.
“He’s gone, Der, Eunan, he,” Matthias drew in a sharp breath. “he was killed in battle.” The tears continued to fall, faster now, as Matthias spoke. “I… he…”
Der’s arms enveloped Matthias, steadying his shaking shoulders. The large man continued to hold Matthias as the young man wept, shedding tears for his dead friend.
When Matthias’s tears subsided, Der spoke.
“I heard a few days ago, Matthias.” He paused, wiping away a few single tears that rolled down his cheek. “But I wanted to thank you for all you did for Eunan. He never really had any friends before, and you were both a friend and mentor to him – something I tried to be, but Eunan never let me in to help him.”
“I just wish… I wish it had been me instead of him. He never got to chance to live life to the fullest. He never got to see the world like I have. And I was the one Ciaran was planning to kill.” Sobs racked Matthias’s body once more. “I don’t understand why he’s dead and yet I live.”
Der was silent, running his fingers through Matthias’s matted hair.
Matthias gulped, then sniffled. “Things just don’t seem fair right now.”
“Life isn’t always fair. We all need to be told that from time to time, I guess.”
Der rested his chin atop Matthias’s head, closing his eyes, praying. They stood like that for a while, the only sound Matthias’s occasional sobs. After half an hour, Matthias wriggled free of Der’s embrace.
“I’m ready to go back up now.”
The army left the next morning, and Der joined them on their journey. A few other Jarelites did, too, but not many. Six more stops, Matthias thought. Rakya, Padrea, the fort, the convent, Faerloe, and Garalay. Then it’s home for the coronation. And then we can relax, at last.
The army traveled all day, and by nightfall of the sixth day they had reached Rakya. Matthias was pushing them to go as fast as possible; he wanted to get this done as quickly as possible. At first, he hadn’t planned to go through Rakya – being such a small town, Ciaran hadn’t stationed many men there. But as time went on, he realized that the men of Rakya had come to fight in the battle at Llyanta, and it was only right that the army came to help them. As Matthias had expected, Rakya was already rid of Ciaran when they arrived. No sign of him was to be seen anywhere, except for a bonfire in the center of town, burning his banners and the tunics of his soldiers. Many of Ciaran’s soldiers had turned against Ciaran in the end, and helped overthrow those truly loyal to Ciaran, thus doing the job for the rebels.
The innkeeper at the inn offered the army food and drink, as well as a place to stay during the night. Matthias accepted. Bright and early the next morning, after a quick breakfast of hotcakes and sausages, provided by the innkeeper, they set off marching again. The men were in good spirits, and someone started singing. Around the campfire that evening they told stories, laughed, and joked. Matthias and Nathan joined in, and Nathan told a story like the ones he used to tell Anya – a tale similar to that of the long-ago rule of Fàolan, who had taken over almost the whole world of Edaled and would have succeeded if it hadn’t been for the Savior who had been prophesied. The men listened intently as Nathan wound a yarn filled with excitement and suspense. It had been a long time since they had heard a good story, and the way Nathan told it made them hungry for more.
Of course, not all the men were listening to the story – it was hard for all of them to hear, and so a few others retired early or sang or prayed for a while. The camp quieted down a while before midnight, and they were off again at dawn.
Faerloe, like Rakya, welcomed the army joyfully. The few soldiers left in Faerloe had been taken care of, so the army was able to relax again. The first night there, Matthias and Star Rider went to the meeting house, where they found Malcolm.
“Where is Jed?” Malcolm asked.
“Your son…” Matthias began, trailing off into silence.
“He was killed in battle. I am sorry, Malcolm, I shouldn’t have let him come.” Finished Star Rider.
Sighing, Malcolm turned away, then looked back at Matthias.
“Jed was not my son. His parents died long ago, before Ciaran, when Jed was just a child I was his guardian. But he was like a son to me, and I loved him very much.”
“He died bravely, leading the charge against Ciaran’s men.”
“And Eunan? Where is Eunan?”
“Eunan died as well.” Matthias shifted to another foot.
“This is the price we’ve had to pay, isn’t it? The lives of our young, so that the next generation can be free. I wish it did not have to be so.” Malcom’s voice was rising. “We should send out the old who will die soon to fight instead…” Sobs shook Malcolm’s shoulders, and Matthias sat down, putting his hands on the old man’s frail shoulders and steadying him. And then Matthias, too, began to cry.
They sat there, crying for their lost friends, until darkness fell.
It took almost a week for the army to cross the mountains and reach the fort. When they finally arrived, the troops were tired and were not prepared to fight the troops stationed at the fort.
Ciaran had built the fort to train and house many of his soldiers in the early years of his reign. Over the years it had grown larger and the soldiers had become better trained. The rebel leaders had been worried about the fort, many feared it would cause problems when the time came to attack – they believed Ciaran would bring out all his troops to fight against the rebels. But he had not. Now Matthias was concerned that the soldiers would all still be at the fort… Der, however, was not so sure. There were so many soldiers in other parts of Olandern that it may not have left much at the fort.
Matthias stopped a quarter of a mile away from the fort in a clump of trees where they would not be seen by lookouts at the fort.
“Get some rest,” he commanded. “We’ll attack at nightfall.”
Crickets chirped as the sun set, and the rebels moved under the shadow of the trees as they approached the walls of the fort. The moon was half-hidden by a cloud, and it was full that night. Matthias signaled to one of the men. The man and three others approached the gate, and tested it.
“It’s solid,” they reported to Matthias. “We’re going to need to make a battering ram, have the gatekeeper open the gate, or take it off at the hinges.”
“Can you open the gate by sticking your sword in, maybe unlatching it or moving a bar?”
“We can try.”
And they did try. At first, it seemed like the sword wasn’t doing anything, but then something moved a little bit.
“We need more leverage,” one said, and another drew his sword, which was a large broadsword.
The bar moved a little more, and a second man joined the first at pushing at it. Then it was up, and over the hooks. The man nodded to Matthias, then began to push open the gate. The army began to advance into the fort, and Matthias grouped them into groups of twenty men as they passed by, sent to different barracks and different parts of the fort. Matthias joined the last group, and they marched into battle. The majority of the fighting took place in the barracks, but some was in the streets. The battle was long and hard, the rebels and soldiers were about equal in number, making both sides fight all the harder. The only light was that of the moon and stars glinting off of the swords as they circled and slashed. Somewhere a wolf howled. A small smile flitted across Matthias’s face, as the wolf was joined by the howls of many other wolves. The wolves began streaming in through the gates. But to the rebels’ dismay, the wolves were black, black as night – and black wolves were the enemy. Matthias turned on his opponent with more force than before, letting out a small shout. Everything seemed to go in slow motion as the battle continued. Matthias prayed for strength to continue as the battle raged on through the night.
The sun rose over the wall as the fighting began to die down, and the few surviving wolves ran off with their tails between their legs. Der and Matthias met in the center of the fort, and surveyed the damage they had done. As the men began to restore the fort, someone started a well-known folk song, and soon almost everyone was singing.
“In the beginning there was a ball of light.
The creator spoke words of life and wonder.
His loving fingers shaped the ball into the world.
Rolling seas and green valleys full of life.
He sang a song, and mountains were formed.
He made animals, each after their own kind.
The creator looked down upon it, and it was good.
Yet something was missing, and the creator knew.
From dirt came man, shaped by the creator’s hand.
The breath of life was breathed into him,
And the creator set him to dwell on the earth.
Woman was made from the man,
And she was brought to life and set next to the man.
And the creator declared it good.
He divided the earth into kingdoms, each with its own name.
He was the king of the nine kingdoms of Edaled.
And Edaled was the world, and it was very good.
In the beginning there was a ball of light.
The creator spoke words of life and wonder.
His loving fingers shaped the ball into the world.
And Edaled was made, and the creator was pleased.”
A knock sounded on Riona’s door. Wiping away a few tears, she went to answer it expectantly. She knew that every day brought the day she and Eunan would be reunited closer. And every day she hoped that that day would be the one she could return home, and everything would be better than she could remember, like the days before Ciaran.
Riona’s heart sank when it was a nun that stood in the doorway, but her hopes rose again when the nun beckoned for her to follow.
Can it be? Has Eunan returned to take me home? Or is it just me hoping so much that I imagine things?
As she descended the stairs behind the nun, Riona craned her neck to see farther. Suddenly a smile spread across her face, and she ran to Der, who swept her up in a big hug. Then Der set her down, and she turned to where she thought Eunan might be… then looked all around her. She nodded to Matthias, who looked down at the ground. She lowered her eyes as she swallowed hard. Tears began filling her eyes. She understood. Eunan was gone. How could life go on now? My best friend is dead. The thought rang in her head. Riona turned to run to the gardens, a place where she could hide away, but ran into someone she didn’t know… or… was it? A small memory stirred, but quickly vanished. A man gave her a big, brotherly hug, just like the ones Eunan used to give her… like the one he’d given her the last time he saw her. The tears continued to fall, and her shoulders shook as she cried. Eunan was gone, dead, never to return. She’d never see him again. That was all that mattered right now, that Eunan was gone and she was left alone. And yet… not alone. This stranger who held her right now, he seemed so familiar, like from another time, a story book or something.
Who was he?
And then she remembered. She remembered a night in a barn, hiding in the hay. She heard her name… R’ina. Climb on my back. Something in the man’s face reminded her of something. Of a good man she knew long ago, someone like Der. It can’t be. When Matthias said they knew where the princess was, he didn’t mean… me?
She stopped crying to look up into the strangers eyes. The memory had a name now. “Nathan?”
Nathan nodded, blinking back tears. He wasn’t really sure why he was crying, whether he was happy he had been reunited with his sister or sad because of his sister’s pain at Eunan’s death. He knew healing would take a long time.
Riona rode on a horse behind Nathan on the way to Anat. She was quiet most of the time, thinking of Eunan and wishing he could have been there to see her reunited with her brother. And then she wondered.
“Nathan, how did Eunan die?”
Nathan was quiet for a few seconds. “I think that it might be better to ask Matthias that one this evening. He knows a little better.”
Chapter 23: Memories
By Nathan’s request, they stopped at Kalnam the next day. He walked through the ruins with Riona by his side, telling her about what had happened when he had been in a similar place with Anya. Of course, Kalnam was not Bywyn, but these ruins brought back pictures of the ashes of Bywyn. She listened, wanting to find out as much as she could about her brother. Nathan stopped outside of a house, that in Bywyn would have been near the place he had lived with Anya. It was in total ruins, just a big pile of rubble with part of a wall standing at one side.
“In Bywyn, this is near where we lived,” he said, stopping in front of the stones. “It was the first place I lived where I wasn’t working for a farmer or someone else.”
“What did you do for a living, then?”
“I did odd-jobs for anyone who needed help. It paid enough to keep me alive, and it ended up being how I found Anya.”
“How did you find Anya?”
“I didn’t exactly find her, a fever swept the city, the same type of fever that took her. Her family all died during it, and she was left alone, no relatives anywhere nearby, and nobody wanted to take her in for fear of catching the fever. So I offered her a place to stay, and I decided after a few years that I wanted her to stay with me, and she was happy to be with me.”
“I’m sorry she died, Nathan.”
“Death hits all of us sometime or another, and at a time like this it’s almost unavoidable.” Nathan sighed. “I know what it was like for you to loose Eunan.”
Blinking back tears, Riona nodded.
Suddenly memories of Anya filled Nathan’s mind, and he turned away from the house. It still hurt a lot to think of Anya. So many things Riona did or said reminded him of Anya, and it was hard to keep her out of his mind, and whenever he thought of Anya pain stabbed at his heart. And then there was Calaeda. The thought of her made him smile, and whenever Riona would smile faintly, he would think of Calaeda and his father back in Llyanta.
Breacon stood just outside of Kalnam, arms crossed over his chest. He, too, likened Kalnam to Bywyn, but the memories of Bywyn were too sad. He could not enter through the broken down gate of Kalnam, but stood outside it, daring himself to look in.
Will I ever be able to be happy again? Will I ever learn to be truly joyful after what I’ve been through? I don’t want to forget, but it’s such a fine balance between forgetting completely and forgetting just enough that it doesn’t plague you all day and all night and leave no room for the Creator’s joy. Again, I ask – how does one go on living after so many die?
Riona filled a small wooden cup with water and took a seat near Matthias, who was staring at the fire, a makeshift poker in his hand.
“Nathan tells me you want to know about Eunan’s death.”
Riona nodded slightly.
“It was unexpected, I never thought that he would be the one to die. The day before the battle, Ciaran had sentenced me to die. I managed to get my hands free, and the army was out there waiting. How they got the news, I don’t know, it was a work of the Creator. I guess Eunan held out for a while, because it wasn’t until after the battle we found him, half-buried under a pile of Ciaran’s soldiers. He was already dying, and he died in my arms.” Matthias put his hand on Riona’s shoulder. “He was brave, Riona. More brave than I ever thought someone of his age could be. I didn’t have that courage then.” Matthias stopped talking to add more wood to the fire. “He said he didn’t want to go, that he was sorry.” Matthias dropped the necklace onto Riona’s lap, then stood up and left, leaving Riona alone with her thoughts.
When they reached Padrea, Nathan waited outside the walls with Riona until Matthias came out and told them it was safe for Riona to come into the city. Grateful families offered their houses for the troops, Riona, Nathan, Matthias, and Der to stay the night. The next morning they started toward Garalay. Riona talked with Nathan most of the fourteen-day journey, about various things, from their life before Ciaran to what would happen later. Riona listened carefully to everything Nathan told her, wanting to know her brother as well as she could. Sometimes he would say something that would make her laugh, and then laugh along with her. When they ran out of things to talk about, Nathan would tell Riona a story, and sometimes she would repeat a tale a visitor to the inn had told her a long time ago.
Their time in Garalay was much like their stop in Padrea, and went without any trouble. The troops were met inside the gates with music and dancing, welcoming home the soldiers who lived there and rejoicing at the rebel’s victory. Young children swarmed around Riona, grabbing onto her hands and pulling her along with them. She picked a toddler up and carried him as the children led her to a small arbor where she sat with them until nightfall. Nathan watched her from a distance, keeping a close eye on her while talking with others.
Riona and Nathan remained in Garalay for two weeks while the rest of the army went across the desert to the lone cities. Nathan and Riona had accompanied them partway across the desert. It was tiring, but Riona found the desert was now one of her favorite places to be, and loved sliding down the golden-red dunes only to climb back up another one.
When the troops arrived back in Garalay, they stayed the night and then left early the next morning – left for home, when they could finally be home to stay. As they entered Llyanta, Nathan pointed out places Riona might remember, and Matthias stood behind them, adding something to Nathan’s comments every now and then. Caderyn greeted them just inside the portcullis of the castle. At first Riona was hesitant, but then Nathan whispered something in her ear, and she started slowly toward Caderyn, who looked her over with tears in his eyes.
“You look just like your mother,” he said, hugging her tightly.
Riona smiled as Caderyn took her hand and began to show her around the castle, finally taking her up to the room he and Calaeda had prepared for her high in a tower. The windows looked out in all four directions, and she could see the sea not far away from where the castle was. Before long, Nathan joined them in the room, and they spent a long time together as a family again.
The coronation took place the next week.
Matthias had designed a new crown for Caderyn, and it was ready the day of the coronation. Nathan and Riona stood on either side of their father’s throne, excited to see what Stargonia had worked at for so long finally being accomplished. Trumpets blared as Caderyn entered the great hall, and everyone knelt as he made his way to the front of the room, turning to face the townspeople, who stood once more. Everyone watched as Matthias stepped up next to Caderyn with the crown and murmured the traditional blessing as he placed the crown on his head, then slipped the ring onto his finger. The people cheered, and suddenly the room was filled with music as musicians began to play. Nathan bowed to Riona, and they began to dance together, and soon the room was filled with people dancing, some doing the traditional dances to the music, others making up the steps as they went along. The first dance ended, and Nathan passed Riona off to Caderyn, then watched the dancing from a distance. Riona smiled as she danced with her father, and he laughed at her clumsy mistakes, then made his own.
A feast was served, a feast that all of the kitchens of Itheial had contributed to. Men had brought in fish from the sea, and women had prepared a variety of fish dishes. There were also many platters of chicken, turkey, beef, and even some lamb. Green salads loaded with fresh vegetables waited to be eaten, and fruit displays held all sorts of fruits from all over Edaled, apples and oranges to passion fruit, mangosteen, and star fruit. Barrels of ale and cordials stood at one wall, and people swarmed around them, getting something to drink. And then there were the desserts. Chocolates, cakes, puddings … almost any dessert imaginable was on the table. After eating, tea and coffee was brought out as people talked and laughed. Then came more dancing, and a troupe all the way from another kingdom performed an allegorical tale of the creation of Edaled. It was early the next morning when the festivities quieted down and the people went home to sleep. Riona walked up to her tower room full and happy, humming softly to herself, then yawning and climbing into bed for a good night’s sleep.
After the coronation, many of the guests at the castle were able to find a place to stay, whether a house of their own or with someone else. The castle was quiet now, with only Riona, Nathan, Caderyn, Matthias, Breacon, and Calaeda inhabiting it. Der and Marlena came to visit right after the coronation, and Riona was glad of their company for a month before they went back to Dalentia and the inn. She missed Dalentia, but somehow knew that her new home was in Itheial with Nathan and Caderyn.
Her favorite place in the castle was the library, and she was reading there when she met Calaeda.
The door opened a little, and Riona looked up from her book, wondering if it were Nathan coming to play chess with her.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know anyone was in here,” Calaeda started to close the door again, but Riona stood up.
“No, it’s alright. I’m only in here because I don’t really have anything better to do.”
“Funny, I was coming here for the same reason.”
Riona smiled, and Calaeda came into the library. “I’m Riona.” She set her book down, “but I guess most people know that. Everyone knows who I am now, sometimes I miss the quiet life of Jarel.”
“My name is Calaeda.”
Riona nodded, and there was an awkward silence for a little while.
“I see you like to read,” Calaeda offered, trying to start a conversation.
“I always have. We didn’t have a very big library at the inn in Jarel, that’s one thing I love about the castle. This library is massive, I never thought there could be so many books in one place.”
“I love to read, too… but even more than reading, I like to listen to stories other people tell, especially when the story teller makes them come alive.”
“Nathan can do that, sometime maybe I can get him to tell you a story.”
Calaeda nodded. “What else do you like to do?”
“I like to draw, but I’m not very good. Dancing is also fun.”
“I never learned how to dance.” Calaeda said wistfully, looking up at the ceiling and twirling around briefly. “I grew up with gryphons, and they weren’t much for dancing.”
They laughed together.
“I could teach you, I’m not much good at dancing, either, but I’m getting better.” Riona offered. Eunan and I used to dance together, she added to herself.
Calaeda agreed for Riona to teach her, and so there in the library Riona taught Calaeda the proper positions and steps for different dances. They whirled around the room together, laughing and stepping on each other’s feet. After a while of dancing, they both fell back into large arm chairs, exhausted.
“That was fun,” Riona said as she caught her breath. “We should do it more often.”
Calaeda nodded. “And we’ll both get better at dancing while we’re having fun!”
The door opened, and Nathan stepped inside. “There you are, R’ina, I was looking to see if you wanted to play chess now.”
“Calaeda and I were just dancing… have you met Calaeda?”
“Uh, yes, we’ve met before. She could watch us play, and help you if you need any help.”
“We’ll see who needs help,” Riona started setting up a large wooden chess set near a window and Nathan joined her. Calaeda pulled a third chair up next to the table the chess set was on, and the game began. Riona was white and she moved first, pushing a pawn out into open territory on the board. Nathan made his first move, and Riona watched, thinking. She had played chess with Eunan before, it was a favorite pastime of theirs, and she was a fairly good chess player because of help from both Der and Eunan. The game continued, and the first few captures were made. Both Nathan and Riona leaned forward in their seats, finding the other a better opponent than they thought. Calaeda whispered something in Riona’s ear, and she nodded, then whispered back, and both laughed quietly. Nathan looked suspiciously up at them, then returned to the game.
Half an hour later, only a few pieces were left on the chess board. Nathan moved a piece, then Riona captured a different one.
“Stalemate,” Nathan said. “Good game. When you said you and Eunan played chess, I didn’t think you’d be this good.”
“You should have seen Eunan play. He was incredible.”
Nathan turned to Calaeda. “Do you play chess?”
“No, I don’t. I grew up with gryphons, and they’re not much for chess…”
“Or dancing!” Riona added.
“If you’d like to learn, I’ll teach you chess, though Riona might be a better teacher than me.”
Riona stood up, and she and Calaeda traded seats. “You teach, I’ll watch.” Riona decided.
And so, in one day, Calaeda learned how to dance and play chess. Riona and Nathan talked with her in the evening, and then they went up into Riona’s room to stargaze that night.
Riona sighed as she went to bed. It had been a good day, and Calaeda didn’t treat her like a princess as almost everyone else did.
Before too long, it became an almost daily event to do something with Calaeda, and often she would talk with Nathan in the evenings when Riona spent some time reading. Caderyn would sometimes join in their discussions, and helped Calaeda with her dancing once a week or so. One evening Nathan and Calaeda were sitting with their feet in a small pond in the courtyard when a gryphon-shaped cloud was pushed across the sky with a strong gust of wind.
“You mentioned you grew up with gryphons, Calaeda.”
“I did. They were very kind to me, I was very young when they took me in, not even ten years old.”
She felt the blood trickle down the side of her face. Taking the sash from her dress, she tied it around the open cut, hoping to stop the bleeding a little. Then she ran, not knowing where to. She ran until she could run no more, then stumbled into darkness. When she woke, a great shape hovered above her. Her first reaction was to scream, but then she realized if they wanted to hurt her they would have already done it. Then she wondered where her family was. What had happened to her parents? Where were they? Why was her sash tied around her face? Then the memories came flooding back – memories of her parents being cut down by Ciaran’s men, her running, falling, the sword falling across her face… then running again.
“Do you mind telling me your history? I have to admit, I’ve been interested in your history for some time now, but haven’t asked yet…”
Calaeda jerked out of her thoughts, happy to be free from the bad memories. “Parts of it I’d rather not tell yet, but I’ll tell you a little. I was orphaned shortly after Ciaran took over, and fled to the caves near the cliffs, hoping to find shelter there. At first I was terrified of the gryphons, not sure of what they would do to me, eat me, kill me, I don’t know what I was thinking. But there was no need for me to be afraid, they took me in and got me what I needed in one way or another, and I grew up happily there, even though I was cooped up in a cave most of the day and sometimes all night as well. I felt so sorry for the gryphons, that they had to hide there. Then Jonas came with the gryphon-searchers and found me there with them. It had been so long since I saw a human I hid at first, but when I found he meant no harm to the gryphons, I stepped out and asked him what he wanted. The rest of it is pretty obvious, I guess.”
“Living with the gryphons sounds exciting.” Nathan stared up at the stars for a few minutes, picking out constellations. “I lived like a nomad, almost. Traveling around, seeing if there was a farmer somewhere who could use my help. I finally settled in Bywyn, doing odd jobs for whoever needed help. I met Anya there, a young girl who became a companion to me for a while. She was only five, and died on our way to Madiela.”
“We were running from Ciaran’s men. They knew I was in Bywyn, I don’t know how, and they came after me. Anya woke me up in the middle of the night, and we made it safely into the foothills.”
“How did she die?”
Lying on the ground, she shivered from the fever. He held her close, and her hand grabbed at his. A few tears began to roll down his cheeks as she looked at him, then…
“That’s something I’d rather not tell. It still hurts a lot to think about it, even though it’s been well over a year since it happened.” Nathan took his sketch out of his leather pouch. “That’s what she looked like.”
Nathan stared at Anya’s picture, and memories came flooding back again. He hadn’t looked at her smiling face for a while, and now seeing her again made him want to look away. He saw her smile as she ran to meet him when he returned from doing odd jobs in Bywyn, he saw her crying and screaming as the raiders attacked… Quickly, he tucked the picture away and looked back up at the sky.
“It looks like it’s going to rain. Let’s head back inside.”
Chapter 24: Waiting
Things in Olandern seemed calm now, what they had worked for for so long was now finished, and so they were able to return to how life had been before Ciaran. It took a while for the transition, though; very few people remembered what life was like ten years ago. There was more time for leisurely activities now, and music and dance was much more common in the streets of the cities. The tunnels under the Wayfarer’s Inn were closed off for the time being, but they were ready to be re-opened if there ever was a need for it again. Der and Marlena adjusted to life without Riona and Eunan fairly quickly, and the inn became a place for relaxation after a hard day’s work rather than a place to gather news.
Bywyn was rebuilt by the joint effort of Caderyn and the King of Olandern, and other cities expanded and more were built. Olandern flourished in the few months after Ciaran’s defeat. Nathan helped start a few orphanages for children whose parents had been killed during Ciaran’s reign. One of the orphanages was inside the castle, and Nathan and Breacon spent a lot of his time playing with the children there. It was outside the orphanage Calaeda came to him one day.
“Nathan?” Calaeda poked her head around the stone wall of one of the orphanage buildings inside the castle.
“Can I talk to you outside for a minute?”
“Sure.” Nathan put a young boy down. “Can you watch them alright on your own Breacon?” He asked.
Breacon nodded, and Nathan went outside
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Nothing comes to mind. You can always come play with the children in here, though.”
“That’s not what you meant, is it?”
“I feel like I’m being a burden, Nathan,” Calaeda admitted. “I’m not helping out in any way, and…”
“Look, Calaeda, sometimes I feel like that too. A lot, actually. But please don’t leave. You’ve got nowhere else to go, and even with Ciaran and his men gone, the world’s not a safe place for you to be out alone.” Nathan said. “Besides – you are doing something – you’re a friend to Riona and I, and you’re keeping us company… life around here would be so dull if you left.” If she left… I’ve known her only a few months… but she’s already become more than a friend.
“I want to help in anyway I can… please.”
“For now just come play with the kids with me.”
Calaeda half-smiled and followed Nathan into the orphanage, then began a game of hide-and-go-seek with the younger children. She still wasn’t fully content living in the castle, but helping in the orphanage gave her a way to help.
Riona looked out her window down at the courtyard below. Nathan and Calaeda were running around with the orphans. She smiled as she watched them, then turned from the window sadly. Lately she’d been feeling out of place at the castle, as well as missing Jarel. Every morning she woke up wishing she were back at the inn, up to see a sunrise before helping with breakfast. Every evening she missed the lively inn, traveler’s tales, and then falling into bed exhausted long after dark. She traced a pattern in the thin layer of dust gathered on the window sill. Nathan was busy with Calaeda or the orphans, and the boy Breacon she’d never really met, although he lived in the castle and often spent time with Nathan or Matthias.
The castle was all too quiet these days, sometimes they would hear music from out in the city, but when they did it would be almost too quiet to hear. The castle felt empty, like a house, but not a home. Riona missed home.
Sighing, Riona left her room, going down the stairs to the middle floor of the castle, where King Caderyn spent most of his time. He turned from a window as Riona came down the stairs, and walked over to her.
“How are you doing, Riona? I wish that as your father I could spend more time with you and Nathan, especially to make up for all the time we lost during those long years apart… but more often than not there are matters at hand, many things still need restoring, and other kingdoms have their troubles as well.”
“I know, father.” It felt strange to call a man other than Der father, for so many years Riona had known Der as her only father and now that she had found out he was not, it was taking some getting used to with who to call father.
“I have time now, if you would like to talk.”
Taking her father’s hand, Riona replied, “I’d like that very much.”
Caderyn led Riona through a hallway to a place she had never been before, a room off to the side, warm and cozy with a few books on the wall. A fire place ran along part of one wall, and the mantle was covered with knickknacks and other things.
“This was your mother’s favorite room in the castle. It was the place she spent most of her time, with all her favorite books and things from her childhood.” He knelt by a trunk, dusting it off and prying open the lid. “I was afraid it would have been destroyed during the time of Ciaran, but thankfully it was untouched.”
Riona stared at a painting of a small boy standing next to a toddler-aged girl. Behind them a man and a woman sat, smiling at the onlooker as if they didn’t have a care in the world. Riona looked at it more closely, then realized it was a painting of their family before Ciaran took over.
She continued to walk slowly around the room, reading the titles of the books and looking at the knickknacks on the mantle before sitting down in a large red armchair. Caderyn turned around and smiled at her, then pulled a stool over next to the chair and sat down.
“I love you, Riona. I wish I could have been around to see you grow up, and I wish I could live long enough to see you marry and have children.”
“You will live that –”
“No, Riona, I am dying. Those years as Ciaran took many years of my life from me, and I don’t believe I have much longer to live. But during that time I want to be the best father you can have.”
Riona knelt down next to her father and hugged him. “I love you, daddy. I always will.”
Something just changed. I’m content here now. This room will be special to me, and like my mother I will spend my time here… with my father. Dear Lord, keep him here for a while longer… please.
Early one afternoon, Nathan set out in search of Calaeda, finding her inside her chambers. Quiet music flowed out of the half-opened door, and Nathan knocked. The music inside stopped, and Calaeda said, “Come in.”
Nathan entered to find her tracing the flowery pattern on top of a music box. He took it gently, opening it to hear the music.
“It was my mother’s. That and what’s inside is all I have left of my parents. After I –” She started to cry, not quite sobbing, but somewhere near there. “After I found out they’d died, I wanted to chase after Ciaran’s men, get them back for what they did. But I knew I’d get more than a slash across the face if I did. Instead I looked through our ruined house, and found a few things of theirs, putting them in here. It plays the lullaby my mother used to sing to me every night before bed.” She took the box from his hands, snapping it shut and setting it back down.
Nathan stood there awkwardly, not really sure what to do. “Yeah… I saw my mom die. I almost died that night myself. Got a nasty scar, across my neck and upper back. Guess we’re both scarred, huh?” He looked down at Calaeda. “I was going to ask you to take a walk in the courtyard with me, but I don’t know if you’re up for it.”
“No, no, not at all… it’ll help, I think.”
She followed him out to the courtyard, and they started to walk under the ramparts. Both were consumed by their thoughts for a while, until Nathan stopped under a weeping willow.
“Anya… was washed overboard during a storm on the way to Madiela. She caught a fever, and I couldn’t do anything to make her better. It was too late when we got to land, and she died a little while after we got there. I was heartbroken when she died, and spent a long time doing nothing. I built a shelter for me to stay in, and the animals there became my only friends. But even still, I missed people, especially Anya. Matthias came a year or so later, and I enjoyed his company but hated the thought of being king and coming back to rule. Even leading an army was something I didn’t want to do, so I avoided it until the last minute, when I sailed back over here and started on my way to Llyanta. A gryphon picked me up on the way over, and you know the rest of it from there.”
They heard hurried footsteps up on the porch above them. “Nathan?”
It was Riona’s voice, and there was urgency in it. Worried, Nathan looked up to the porch, then touched Calaeda’s arm in a quick farewell before running off to find Riona. She was waiting near the porch, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“What is it?”
She started walking, and Nathan followed. Riona pushed the door to her mother’s room and stepped inside, closing the door behind Nathan. Immediately, Nathan knelt next to a still figure in the armchair. Caderyn’s skin was hot, and his eyes were closed. He shook as if he were cold. Nathan looked back at Riona, who nodded.
Nathan carefully lifted his father’s fragile frame and carried him up to the castle infirmary, where the physician immediately began to look him over.
Riona waited outside the room until Nathan came out. They stood next to each other for a few minutes, and then Riona spoke.
“Nathan, do you think he’s going to die?”
“I don’t know, I really don’t. I don’t want him to die… he can’t die, I’m not ready to be king.” Riona fell into Nathan’s arms, and they stood there together, afraid, worried… and wishing that the world could be free from the sorrows of death.
Caderyn died a fortnight later. Riona and Nathan were with him in his chambers. At first they just sat there, unsure of what to do. Riona began to cry, gently at first but then the tears began to fall harder, and soon her eyes were blurred so she couldn’t see. Awkwardly, Nathan hugged her, and then he too began to cry, his tears wetting the top of her head. After a while, Nathan wiped his eyes and stepped back.
“I guess we should go tell Matthias. He’ll know what to do.”
“I’ll go,” Riona said.
“No, you stay here. I think you need a little more time alone still.”
Thankfully, Riona nodded. Trying to hold back tears a little longer, she ran down to her mother’s room, going in and crying on her own. The door opened, but Riona didn’t notice until a slender arm wrapped around her shoulders.
“I heard the news.” It was Calaeda, her voice soft and filled with sadness.
Riona could only nod. Calaeda began to talk about Caderyn, and how he had been like her father in the past few months.
“I loved him too, Riona. His death is a blow to everyone, but I think we knew it would come more than others.”
Riona leaned her head against Calaeda’s shoulder. “I wish I could have gotten to know him better, to love him more. For a while I forgot about him… and then he and I began to talk more often, and I wished for the years we had lost… I wished the same thing he did, that he could see me grow up more and get married and have children.”
Calaeda was quiet, and soon the only noise heard were both of their sobs.
Only those in the castle attended the funeral, but outside in the city and in other cities as well the news was out and the whole of Olandern was mourning for their king. His reign had been long and good before Ciaran had taken over, and he had restored Olandern to how it had been before Ciaran. At the funeral, Nathan hung back from the small crowd. His coronation was to come next, and although he did not dread it as much as he had less than a year earlier, he was not ready to be king, not ready to rule a kingdom he had not really cared for until recently. He would have Matthias’s help, but Matthias had his own duties to attend to as well. After everyone filed out of the graveyard, Nathan stayed behind, talking aloud, to himself and to God.
“Oh, God, I’m not ready for this. I wasn’t ready for dad to die yet. I didn’t know him like I wanted to, I barely knew him at all. Right now is a time I really want someone to be a father to me, teach me how to do what I need to do, and help me know if I should do it. And I know you’re my heavenly father, God, but it’s hard to remember that sometimes, and often it helps to have an easier answer… but I guess that’s what trust is, isn’t it?
“And then there’s Riona. Help me to love her like I did when I was young, help me to be the friend that she needs right now. I’ve seen how she’s changed in the time she’s been here, how she’s gone from happy to sad from happy again… and God, I don’t want her to be sad again. I want her to know I love her and I want her to know I’m there for her. I know I haven’t been very good about spending time with her, and now it’ll get even harder, but I pray you’d help me spend time with her.
“And for Calaeda. Lead me in a decision about her… I love her, lord, I just don’t know what your plan for us is.”
Finished praying, Nathan turned and went up to the ramparts to stand and look out over the city. He heard soft footsteps behind him. He turned and saw Calaeda standing there.
“Are you alright? You’ve been out here a while, and Riona was starting to get worried.”
Nathan nodded. “I think I’ll be alright.”
He turned back to look out at the city. “I’m not ready to be king, Calaeda. I can’t rule a kingdom, I’m not ready to lead a people. I don’t know why Matthias ever told me to come back here.”
“I have faith that you can do it, Nathan. And you’re not alone – Matthias will help you, Riona and I will be willing to give you any help you need. The Creator is on our side.”
The coronation was quieter and more sober than Caderyn’s. Only a few people were there to witness it, and afterwards Nathan retired to his room. Riona and Calaeda stayed behind with the guests. Everyone left late at night, and the next morning Nathan was seen walking with Matthias. They were deep in conversation, and every now and then Matthias would stop and put a reassuring hand on Nathan’s shoulder. No one knew what they were saying, but by evening, Nathan was back to his old self. He took a walk with Calaeda in the evening, and then went to say goodnight to Riona. She gave him a big hug before he left her chambers, and whispered “I’m praying for you,” into his ear. As she walked off, there was a slight spring in her step.
The days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. The Winter Festivals came and left, with many festivities both in the castle and the city. Calaeda and Nathan took walks together more frequently, and Nathan spent time with Riona whenever he could. Before long things fell into a routine, and everyone was settled and happy. Yet Riona could sense impatience in her brother, as if he were being held back from something he really wanted to do. When she mentioned this to him, he only smiled slightly and nodded.
“All in good time,” he would say, then walk off and talk with Matthias. Riona would sigh, shake her head, and watch him leave, wondering what it was he wanted.
Finally the day came. It was raining, but he asked Calaeda to go for a walk anyway. As they reached the willow tree, Nathan took her hand and led her under it. He took a deep breath.
“Calaeda, ever since the day I first asked you to walk with me, no, before then, I knew… I knew you were – are – the girl I want to spend the rest of my life with. I talked with my father about this before he died, and we had a long talk about it. Since then, Matthias has been my guide, and…” Kneeling down, he took her hand in his. “I. Love. You, Calaeda. Will…” Nathan smiled, “will you marry me?”
Stifling a squeal, Calaeda put her other hand on top of Nathan’s. “How could I ever say no, Nathan? Yes, yes, of course yes!”
Nathan wasn’t sure whether she was crying, laughing, both, or neither. But it didn’t really matter; what mattered was that she loved him as he loved her. Half-laughing and half-crying himself, Nathan picked Calaeda up and spun her around and around and around…
Nathan and Calaeda were married the next year, and soon the castle was filled with their children playing games with the orphans. In total, they had eight children, all of whom grew up to be well-known in Olandern.
Riona and Breacon eventually met each other after living for so long in the same place, and were married just after Riona’s eighteenth birthday, and they lived with Nathan and Calaeda in the castle until Der died in 1007 and they moved to Jarel and ran the inn.
Boaz died defending Tristan in what came to be known as the Battle of Llyanta. Tristan spent the rest of his life living in the castle as one of Nathan’s advisors.
Matthias lived far into his nineties, staying at the castle and counseling Nathan in decisions. He never married, but was like an uncle to Nathan’s children.
Olandern was peaceful under the rule of King Nathan and Queen Calaeda, and there was very little unrest in the next five generations of the line of Derek II. Trade thrived and the wisdom of Nathan became known throughout the lands of Edaled.
Yet a final battle was yet to be won for Edaled, for Daron’s power still reigned in the hearts of many…
Name Pronunciation and Terms I may use in a different way than most people.
Aiden (AY-den) – the man Riona eventually marries.
Agranthea (uh-GRAN-thee-uh) – a small island across the coast of Stargonia, around two square miles.
Anya (awn-YUH) -
Dungeon – In my stories, the dungeon is in the deepest part of the castle, and is dug down into the ground. They use it for holding more important prisoners.
Edaled – (ee-DAL-ed)
Eunan - (YEW-nan)
Florentine – a fighting style using two swords.
Jonas – (jo-NAS)
Londqa - (lond-KA) – Stargonian currency, each equal to about a dollar.
Riona - (REE-uh-na)
Matthias – (ma-THI-as)
Marlena – (MAR-le-na)
Nathan – (nay-THAN)
Stargonia – (star-GO-neeuh)
Tristan – (tris-TAN)