The prologue and part one come before this...
Through the cold, pouring September rains, a tall, slender young man journeyed across Olandern. As he reached the gates of Jarel, he rapped on the wooden door of the gatehouse. It opened, revealing a man with a wrinkled face.
“What do ya want?” He snarled.
The prologue and part one come before this...
Through the cold, pouring September rains, a tall, slender young man journeyed across Olandern. As he reached the gates of Jarel, he rapped on the wooden door of the gatehouse. It opened, revealing a man with a wrinkled face.
“What do ya want?” He snarled.
“Can you tell me where the nearest inn is?” The young man asked, raising his eyebrows, which were barely visible beneath the hood of his cloak. Rain poured over the top of the hood and into the man’s eyes and mouth as he spoke.
“Why do you need to be in Jarel, hey?”
“Sir, that is business that concerns me and me alone.”
“Just doing my job. It’s the only way I can let you in,” the man explained roughly.
The stranger sighed, pondering how much of his business to tell. Finally, he spoke. “I’m searching for someone.”
“An old friend, you might say.”
“An old friend, eh?”
“Aye, sir.” The stranger replied. He shifted his weight from foot to foot impatiently. This old man was so inquisitive! If he didn’t stop asking questions, the whole purpose of the stranger’s visit do Jarel would fail.
“May I ask the name of the old friend?”
“I know not her name, only her whereabouts, and perhaps not even that. She disappeared some years ago, and it is of the utmost importance that I find her.”
“Ah. I see. Well, go ahead, I’ve stopped you up enough. I’ll open the gate so you can go in.” The man said, pulling on a rope to turn some gears.
“Sir, where is the closest inn?” The stranger asked again, his voice rising with irritation.
“The closest inn? Right inside. Count three buildings down on the right side and you’ll find the Wayfarer’s Inn. It’s the only inn still running in Jarel, Ciaran’s way of keeping an eye on things.”
“Thank you.” The stranger waited patiently until the gate was open a crack, then slipped through into the town. He followed the gatekeeper’s instructions and quickly located the inn. Cautiously, he pushed the door open and stepped inside, staying hidden in the shadows until he reached the counter, behind which the innkeeper stood, peering over at any travelers who approached him.
The innkeeper was a large man, about six feet in height, with a strong jaw and piercing blue eyes. His short, white hair was combed back and his small beard was neatly trimmed. He and his wife ran the Wayfarer’s Inn, and their names, Der and Marlena, were known throughout Jarel.
“How may I help you, young sir?” Der asked the stranger.
“A room and a meal, please.” The stranger said, brushing excess water off of his cloak, then placing a few silver coins on the counter. He continued to leave his hood up, covering his face with the its shadow.
“Your dinner will be there shortly. Here’s the key to your room – it’s right at the top of the stairs.”
“Thank you.” The man wandered off to find a place to sit in the crowded room. The inn was noisy, and most of the tables were filled with men talking about the latest news. Most of the discussions were held quietly, but a few got out of hand from time to time and resulted in brawls. Foremost on the minds of many were the battle tactics of Ciaran – curiosity and anticipation – fear for some – of what his next move would be. For almost a year now, Ciaran had done nothing but rule the cities of Olandern harshly. The people of Olandern were beginning to despair and were anxiously waiting for someone to come and rescue them. They knew who could, but they did not know where that person, the king’s son, was. He had disappeared the day after Ciaran came to power, and apart from rumors - a possible location, a sighting, or perhaps that he was dead - no one knew for sure what had happened to him.
The stranger located a small table in the corner and took a seat there. As he waited for his food, he noticed a girl serving the others at the inn. Her golden-red hair hung down to her waist, and her blue-grey eyes darted from person to person as she walked across the room. She wasn’t tall, no more than five feet three inches, and yet she carried herself with such grace she looked taller than most of the people in the room. He watched her intently, thinking she looked vaguely familiar. But how could she, when the last time he had visited Jarel was many years ago, and he had not even stayed at the inn? Ach, my mind must be playing with me, he thought.
A boy approached him, carrying his food, and the stranger jumped at his chance to ask about her.
“Who is she?” He asked, taking his plate from the boy. The boy’s hands were calloused and rough, and his skin was tanned from working in the sun. Under his tunic, his arms were strong from carrying buckets of water and harvesting wheat. His eyes were a dark green, and they looked almost lifeless.
He nodded slightly as he spoke. “That’s Riona, the innkeeper’s daughter. She’s a grand cook, and loves hearing the stories the travelers tell. If you don’t mind me saying so sir, you look like you’d have quite a story to tell.” His eyes brightened up at the thought of a good story.
“I would, if the secrecy of my mission were not vital. I have been forbidden to tell of it to anyone but those I deem trustworthy, and plan to follow that command to my death.”
“That’s a pity, sir. I’d love to hear your story if I could.” The boy ran his fingers through his thick black hair, his disappointment showing as he looked down at the table.
The man held the boy’s gaze for a few seconds, then spoke again. “Sit down.”
Confused, the boy took a seat next to the man. The stranger took a piece of bread off of his plate and tore it in two, offering some to the boy, who politely refused it. The stranger eyed him curiously. “You’re not hungry?”
“No sir, I just ate.”
The boy watched in silence as the stranger ate, scrutinizing him. He could not see much, as the stranger had left his hood up, but of what he could see, the stranger had shoulder-length dark brown hair that looked like it had not been combed in a few days. His face was dirty, and his eyes bloodshot with sleeplessness. The boy looked more closely at him, trying to go deeper into the man. But he had to stop, for almost immediately the boy sensed the stranger’s recluseiveness and reticence. He seemed unwilling – for what, though, no one knew.
When the stranger finished eating, he handed the plate back to the boy and thanked him, then quietly climbed the stairs to his room.
The stranger stayed at the inn all through the next day, not coming down to eat. That evening, Eunan, the boy the stranger had spoken to the night before, told Riona about what had happened. She, too, wondered about this strange man staying at their inn.
“Even stranger,” Riona continued, “is the fact that he hasn’t had any meals since dinner last night.”
“Aye. That is very strange indeed.” Eunan replied. “And the way he had me sit with him while he ate. He should be watched. For all we know, he could be one of Ciaran’s spies.”
“He very well might be, and that would mean mam and da would be in grave danger.”
“Keep an eye out for him around the inn and in town. If he’s a threat, we need to get rid of him.”
“Do you think that we should tell mam and da?” Riona asked.
Eunan shook his head. “Not yet. I don’t want to worry them.”
“But do you think that if he’s a threat they’d worry more if they didn’t know?”
Eunan shrugged. “I don’t know. Just don’t tell them yet.” He left to take care of the horses in the stable, but Riona sat at the table, thinking about what they had discussed. Could they really be in that much danger? Or was this man just minding his own business and needed a place that was quiet to work? There were so many questions, with possibly so little time to figure them out. These are dangerous times. We must guard ourselves.
As darkness fell over Jarel, light footsteps were heard on the stairs of the Wayfarer’s Inn. Eunan had returned from the stable a few minutes before, and now he was working on one of his lessons. Riona looked up from the dishes she was washing, but Eunan kept his pencil moving across a piece of parchment. Since they had almost no guests that night, Der and Marlena had left the inn and were out in the town, getting supplies for the following week.
“May I help you?” Riona asked. The man coming down the stairs came into the light of the lanterns and lamps in the room.
“Yes. I was starting to get hungry.”
Eunan looked up from his work, recognizing the voice. “Oh, hello” He said cheerfully, laying down his pencil.
The stranger nodded at Eunan, his face showing no expression. “Hello, again.” He was not wearing his cloak this time, but a jerkin and leggings of coarse homespun. Softly, he moved woard the kitchen.
Like I thought. He’s hardened to the world. Reclusive. Silent. Eunan thought.
“Did you sleep well last night, sir?” Riona asked.
“Very well, thank you.”
“May we get you something to eat?” Eunan wondered, putting his parchment aside and standing.
“Something warm and filling, please,” the stranger replied, sitting down at a table. Riona left the dishes and went to the stove to mix up some porridge. As she worked, the stranger’s eyes followed her every move. He was still confused – she looked so familiar, and yet he knew he had never seen her before.
“I hope this is alright. It’s breakfast food, but it’s warm and filling.” She explained, bringing a bowl to the stranger. Eunan grinned at Riona, and then mouthed ‘please’. She sighed, and shook her head no.
When the stranger finished eating, he stood and stretched. “I thank you.”
“You’re welcome, sir. Is there anything else we can do?”
“No, thank you.” He began walking toward the stairs, then stopped abruptly. “I think I have something that may interest you,” he said.
Eunan and Riona exchanged looks.
“I heard that you like stories. I have one for you, if you’re willing. I shall tell it to you tomorrow morning, if you come to my room.”
Riona raised an eyebrow, and smiled. “We’ll be there.”
Shortly after breakfast the next morning, Riona and Eunan met outside the stranger’s room. Riona knocked a few times on the door, then waited for the man to open it.
“Ah, there you two are. Come in.”
Riona and her friend stepped inside, closing the door behind them. Riona sat down near the fire, and the Eunan next to her. The stranger sat on one of the beds.
“Now, before I start my story, I think some introductions need to be made. Who are you, and what is your story?”
“First of all, how do we know you can be trusted? For all we know, you could be one of Ciaran’s spies.” Eunan asked bitterly.
“Except for one thing, I would be thinking the same about you. Let’s just say I’m a friend of your parents. I’ve known them since Ciaran began to make his way towards the throne.”
Eunan nodded, but still hesitated a little before speaking again. “I’m Eunan. My parents were killed when Ciaran took over. Since then I’ve been working at the inn with Riona and her parents. I’ve lived in Jarel my whole life.”
“What about you, Riona?” The man asked.
“I can’t remember practically anything from when I was younger. I do remember learning how to sew when I was five, but that’s the earliest memory I have. I’ve lived here for as long as I can remember, and I’m fourteen.”
“What about you, sir?” Eunan wondered.
“My name is Matthias. I work for the rebel force, which runs out of Padrea. Before I tell you anymore about me, I need your word of honor. You must not tell anyone what you hear in here. Not even your parents, Riona. It is too dangerous to speak of except in the most private of places.” Matthias’s clear blue eyes bored into Riona as he looked at her.
Riona jumped back slightly at his words, but she nodded. “We will tell no one.” Should I have said that? She wondered. Keeping secrets from mam and da?
“I began work with the rebel force when I was twenty. Since then I’ve mostly been wandering around searching and trying to stay in the shadows.”
“Searching for what?” Riona wondered.
“The king’s lost children. If we find them, Ciaran can no longer say the throne is rightfully his. More recently, however, we stopped concentrating on finding them and started scouring the lands for people to help us fight. That’s why I’m in Jarel right now. We’re hoping to have enough to lead an attack by spring.”
“So you think it’s right to fight? “ Riona asked.
“What makes now different from in Faolan’s time, when they waited on the Creator instead of fighting?”
“There’s a difference, Riona, in todays times than there was then. Faolan was oppressive, but he did not fight and slaughter our people as Ciaran does. Then, to fight would have been to aggrivate and take the offensive.” Matthias sighed. “Now, to stop this terror, we must fight in defense of our families. Do you see the difference?’
“You still have a lot of time, then.” Eunan figured, returning to Matthias’s mission. “And we can help. Jarel’s not that big.”
“Eunan’s right. It’s not that big, and by working at the inn, there are loads of ways we can help.” Riona added. “And when Eunan turns eighteen this December, he’ll be able to leave Jarel and gather an army together,” she said quietly. She didn’t want Eunan to ever leave.
Matthias scratched his head. “You helping will mean we will need to have extreme caution in who we talk to.”
“We have to already.” Riona explained. “Papa has some secret thing going on.”
“You know?” Eunan asked.
Matthias nodded slowly. “It is a very grave matter. Most definitely not one to be spoken about here.”
“Here as in this room, at the inn, or in Jarel?”
“In Jarel – in the whole of Olandern. Ciaran has his spies everywhere. That’s partially why we changed missions, although we are still secretly searching for them.”
“Do you know anything about them?”
“Only what little we’ve been told.. The girl is around thirteen or fourteen, and very fair. She has a brother, a few years older than her. He looks like his father, but younger and without the beard. At least, that is what he looked like the last time we saw him, which was quite a few years ago.”
“Any ideas on where they are?” Eunan continued his interrogation, taking mental notes as Matthias answered his questions.
“We don’t even know if they’re in Stargonia,” Matthias began, pulling a map out from a small pouch at his waist, and then spreading it across the floor. “They may have crossed over the sea to Madiela, which means most likely they’re safe and out of danger. I do not think they would have left Olandern. But we’re not worried about them. Yet, anyway. As far as we know, Ciaran doesn’t have a clue about where they are. Hopefully we’ll keep it that way, at least until we can locate them and hide them somewhere until the time is right.”
“Aye.” Eunan stared at the map, his eyes darting back and forth between the mainland and the islands. “I know a few sailors, from when I worked down at the docks this summer. I don’t know how many would be willing to sail this time of year, but most of the men of Jarel are seafarers to some extent, so it’s possible we could recruit a few to search on Madiela.”
“The sea is untrustworthy this time of year, that’s for sure.” Riona confirmed. “But we wouldn’t have to go by boat. There are the gryphons.”
“Riona, the gryphons have been gone for years. Anyways, before they disappeared, they were attacking humans, not helping us.” Eunan said angrily. He liked to be right, and especially with this rebel leader here with them, he wanted to prove himself worthy of the rebel cause.
“She has hope. Hope is a good thing to have in times like these.” Matthias reminded. Eunan looked up at Matthias, surprised at his words. Why does Riona always have to be right?
“But it’s a vain hope. There’s no way the gryphons will come to our aid.”
Riona looked at her hands. “Not no way, Eunan. There’s still some hope, as long as they still live.” She turned her gaze towards him, her eyes filled with hope.
“We don’t even know if they live, or where they live. It’s absolutely hopeless to count on the gryphons for help. And everyone knows gryphons are long gone, thanks to the hunters.” Eunan ran his fingers through his hair, his eyes flashing with anger.
“Hope will not depart Olandern while there are still those who fight for what is right” Matthias said firmly, looking Eunan straight in the eye. Eunan looked away. Matthias’s stare was fierce, and Eunan did not want Matthias to see the frustration in his eyes. Riona stood, guessing that Matthias wished to be alone with Eunan.
“Eunan and I have some plans to make on our own, concerning matters of war.”
“Send Eunan down if you need anything.” Riona left the room, closing the door behind her and leaving Eunan and Matthias to do their planning.
Eunan squinted at Matthias. Matthias caught Eunan’s stare and cocked his head.
“Why’d you send Riona out?”
“Various reasons. Some practical, some otherwise.”
“English, please.” Eunan closed his eyes in exasperation. He and Matthias were not getting along well.
“One, we have matters to discuss that do not concern her, and two, her parents will need her help shortly, I am sure.”
“What could we have to talk about that does not concern Riona?”
“Hope.” Matthias replied, looking Eunan squarely in the eye.
“Right. Hope. Go ahead.”
“Eunan, I don’t want you discouraging Riona from what little hope she has. We need hope in these times of trouble. Without it, we are all lost.”
“I wasn’t discouraging her She just gets her hopes up too much, and I wanted to stop her from doing that before they were dashed to pieces like mine were” Eunan stopped talking, suddenly realizing he was shouting.
“I’m glad you care about your friend, Eunan. Sometimes people care a little too much, however.” Matthias placed his hand on Eunan’s shoulder. “Let her hope for the best. That’s all that’s keeping some of us alive.”
“How would know about hope? You probably haven’t even met with disaster.” Eunan jerked away from Matthias’s gentle touch. “Your parents weren’t killed by Ciaran You weren’t left to die on the streets, only living because some family pitied you and took you in”
“Pity? I do not think it was pity that bade them bring you in.”
“What else could have been?” Eunan scoffed. “I was dirty, lonely, and awkward.”
“Riona’s parents are not the sort of people who would take someone in from pity. They do it from love.”
“And what do you know about Riona’s parents?”
“Perhaps more than even you know. She has a long history at least I think she does.”
“Can you tell me? Or is this something to do with your secret mission?”
“If I’m right, Riona could be in grave danger this very moment. I don’t know what all Ciaran has or hasn’t found out about anything going on in Jarel. Eunan, whatever the case, I need you to protect Riona. Be her bodyguard.”
Eunan nodded, not wanting to argue any longer also sensing the urgency in Matthias’s voice. “Why, though?” His voice became calm, and his breathing slowed to its normal rate.
“I don’t have the time to explain right now. I need to leave soon. Keep a close eye on Riona. Oh, I almost forgot. Keep this with you at all times. Guard it with your life. Without it, Ciaran cannot be ruling with full power.”
Matthias handed Eunan a small object, picked up his sword, which lay in its sheath on the bed, strapped it onto his waist, and headed out of the room.
Matthias turned and looked back towards Eunan.
“I will fight for Olandern. And when I am eighteen, I will leave Jarel to recruit troops. We can’t win Olandern without help.”
“Thank you, Eunan. I appreciate your help and support. Farewell.”
Eunan heard Matthias going down the stairs and leaving the inn, but he turned his mind to the thing Matthias had handed him.
The Rom had journeyed on long ago, but Breacon had stayed in the castle with the king and Peter for a while longer – that “longer” was until Ciaran attacked Anat six months after Breacon arrived in Itheial. As soon as news of the attack reached Itheial, the king sent an army to aid those in Anat, and Breacon went with them. The people of Anat were strong, and withstood Ciaran’s attacks, but now were besieged. However, a fortnight after Ciaran’s first attack, aid came, and Ciaran was pushed back into Olandern. Breacon journeyed back to Itheial with the army, where he gave a detailed report of what had happened.
That was eight months ago. Now, Breacon spent his time training with the king’s sons and the sons of those who lived within the castle walls. His mornings were dedicated to physical exercise, and in the afternoon they studied the Creator’s Law. He spent his evenings walking in the gardens with the other boys or strategizing with the king and the army commanders in the throne room. It was a time of much learning and growth for him, and he was pleased. Almost every day, he thought of Ezra and his family, especially of Ezra’s reminder of the perfect plan of the Creator. Truly, Breacon thought, The Creator’s plan is perfect. If I were still in Bywyn with my family, I would have had none of this time of growth.
It was a happy time.
But then Ciaran struck again. And again, he struck Anat. The King placed Breacon in charge of a small body of scouts. They left for Anat a day before the rest of the army. It was too late by the time they reached Anat. Weakened by Ciaran’s previous attack, they had given in quickly, and Ciaran had them firmly in his grasp.
“We can try,” Breacon told the commander of the army. “But we must have a strong retreat plan; it would be slaughter not to. Many in Anat hate Ciaran, but at least right now he is not a bad ruler, more of a monarch than the tyrant that he is. They have been brainwashed, and most will not help us.”
The commander nodded grimly. “Is there no hope, then?”
“We can weaken Ciaran, but I doubt that we can do more than that.”
“Then we fight in the morning. Thank you for your help, Breacon.” Breacon left the commander’s tent and rejoined his band of scouts.
“We fight tomorrow,” He told them. “I know not whether that is for good or ill. It could go either way. Pray for aid, and pray for safety.”
It was a ring.
Eunan turned it over in his hands. It looked vaguely familiar, like something he had seen in before, or at least heard about, maybe from Der, or maybe in a book. Suddenly he snapped his fingers and hurried down the stairs and into the library. He searched the shelves, knowing what he was looking for but not finding it. Sighing, he sank down into a soft cushioned chair and put his head in his hands.
Just as Eunan was about to stand up and search again, he heard the door creak open.
“Eunan, are you in here, son?” It was Der.
“Aye.” Eunan replied, standing up.
“Can I help you with anything? Riona said you’ve been in here a while.”
“I can’t find a book.”
“What book would that be?”
“The one about the symbols and other things important to Olandern, but Jarel in particular.”
“I’m afraid someone has borrowed it,” Der explained, “however, I may be able to answer your question.”
Eunan hesitated for a moment, remembering that Matthias had warned him to keep the ring with him at all times. Then he remembered that Der and Marlena had something to do with the underground of rebels, and he held his hand out to Der.
“This. Where have I seen something like it before?”
“Eunan – where did you get that?”
“Matthias told me to guard it with my life.”
Der took Eunan’s hand in his hands and closed Eunan’s fingers around the ring. “Don’t show this to anyone – ever. Here, follow me.”
Puzzled, Eunan followed Der into the cellar of the inn. Der lifted a plank of wood off the floor, moving it to one side. Eunan noticed a small handle sticking out of the ground. Using this handle, Der lifted up a trapdoor.
“Follow me down. We’ll be safe to talk here.”
Eunan followed him down a ladder, then a little ways down a tunnel. They emerged into what looked like a large, open room. There was no furniture, only a series of tunnels in all directions.
“That ring,” Der began, “is the signet ring of the king. No one knows how the king lost it, and why Ciaran doesn’t have possession of it. But it’s probably better that way. The people of Jarel, Llyanta, and all of Olandern, know that without this ring, Ciaran can’t have full reign over any of the land. That is why it is vital you don’t let this out of your sight. Understand?”
Eunan nodded. “What’s this place?” He wondered, glancing around him, noting the tunnels and rooms around him.
“This is a hideout for the rebels. It’s a place we can meet in secret, and where we can hide those running from Ciaran and his men. As the bearer of the ring, you may need to use this place to hide from time to time – that is why I showed you this place. The different tunnels lead to other hideouts in different places. This one leads to Llyanta, this one to Padrea, these to other cities, and these to both of the forts. From any of these places, you can get safe conduct to any of the others. You can get safely across the border into Anat, and one of the tunnels even leads all the way to the first fort across the border – in case there is no way to get over the border safely, you go under it.”
“And this has all been done in the nine years of Ciaran’s reign?”
“Some of it we already had – you know how we knew he was up to something, and so we began to prepare.”
“Have any of these tunnels saved anyone’s lives yet?”
“Most of them have already. And hopefully they will not have to be used anymore, but they will be a safe place for the women and children of any town if there ever be a need for that to be done.”
“Whoever thought of this was brilliant.” Eunan commented. “I think I’m starting to see why Matthias said there was still hope – we can get all over underground, and not be caught by Ciaran’s men before reaching the gryphons. However, I still don’t understand it all.”
“Wisdom doesn’t come in one day, Eunan. I think that Marlena and Riona will need our help soon, though, so let’s head back up to the inn.”
Eunan and Der headed upstairs, both deep in thought. Although Eunan hoped that Riona and the other women and children of the town would not have to use the tunnels, he secretly wished he might have a chance to. As they came out of the cellar, Der turned and placed a hand on Eunan’s shoulder.
“I’m proud of you, Eunan. You’re a smart young man – a great asset to the rebellion. Your name means protector of the people, and a protector of the people you are and will be. I only wish that there would be no real need for you to protect our people. These times are hard, but if we unite as one to protect our families, we will triumph, of that I am sure.”
“I don’t see how everyone can have all this hope. Ciaran’s men are everywhere. We’re going to have to have the whole of Olandern, Stargonia, and Agranthea – what little there is on Agranthea – on our side to overthrow Ciaran.”
“Ciaran’s men are weak and faint of heart – they live in the terror that one day Ciaran will decide to kill them. They will be easy to turn to our side.”
Eunan turned to go, but Der stopped him by grabbing Eunan’s shoulder with his large hand. “A despairing people cannot prevail against evil – but perhaps a hoping army can.”
Eunan shrugged Der’s hand off and walked away. He ran upstairs quickly to get a chain for the ring, then put it around his neck and returned to the main floor.
Riona sighed as Eunan stomped into the kitchen. She knew his short temper would get him into trouble someday. When she was younger, Riona had struggled with the same problem, but Marlena had helped her work through it.
“Eunan, what’s the matter?” Riona asked, pulling a loaf of bread out of the oven.
“Your father.” Eunan replied shortly.
“I got the ‘we need hope to save Olandern’ talk from him, too.”
“Guess you didn’t hear all of it – after you left, Matthias lectured me about hope. I’m tired of hearing about it – there’s nothing we can do to save Olandern – we’ve let Ciaran take over too much to get it back. If we’d stopped him sooner, there’d be hope left, but he’s taken over too much for that.”
“Da showed you the tunnels, didn’t he?”
“The tunnels and the underground are a source of hope for the people. I’ve had to hide in there a few times – and I feel safe there.”
“You’ve had to hide in there?”
“Aye, it’s one of my earliest memories… but I thought you knew, you were here then.”
“How come nobody ever tells me anything? It’s like you don’t trust me or something” Eunan slammed his hand down onto the table where Riona was slicing the bread. She jumped looked up in astonishment.
“What do you mean?”
“See You don’t even care Nobody does” Eunan turned and ran up the stairs. Riona sat down and put her head in her hands. She didn’t know how long she stayed like that, but Riona didn’t look up until Marlena entered the kitchen and came over to the table, sitting down beside her.
“Riona? What’s the matter?”
“It’s Eunan. He doesn’t have hope, and with that and his temper together, he’s going to get himself killed.”
Marlena put an arm around Riona’s shoulder. “Your father and I are trying to help him through this. We’re all going through hard times right now, but Eunan is blind to see that we’re on his side and trying to help him – he needs our prayers.”
“Yes mam. I’ve almost finished making our dinner – but I’m not really hungry anymore.”
“That’s alright, we’ll save it for dinner tomorrow. With what’s happened today, I don’t think any of us are very hungry, and the inn is almost empty tonight.”
Riona smiled at her mother. “Thanks. Is there anything I can do until then?”
Marlena kissed her daughter’s forehead. “Go for a ride on Eldrian. Your father hasn’t had time to take her out yet today.”
“May I take her outside of Jarel?”
“Stay near the walls, don’t go across the river, and don’t get to close to the sea.”
“Yes mam.” Riona stood up, brushing flour from her dress. “I’ll be back in time to finish making supper.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it, just be back in time to eat and help serve our guests.”
“Thanks.” Riona ran out of the inn, and made her way down the worn path to the stables. Eldrian nickered when she entered, tossing her reddish-brown mane. Riona smiled and went over to him, petting the blaze that ran down her forehead.
“Hey girl, how are you?” She asked. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen you, hasn’t it?”
Eldrian whinnied, and Riona unlatched the stall door. Clipping a lead rope onto Eldrian’s halter, she led her out into the open air exercise ring. Smoothly, Riona swung onto Eldrian and broke into a gentle lope. As she rode toward the gate, Riona felt the wind on her face and grinned. It had been so long since she had ridden a horse. The past year her parents had needed her help in the inn more than ever, especially with more and more rebels coming through and hiding in the inn.
The gatekeeper recognized Rioa and Eldrian and before Riona had time to reign the horse in to a full stop, the gate was open enough for them to go through. Outside the walls of Jarel, Riona nudged Eldrian into a gallop. The wind tossed her hair about wildly, and Eldrian tossed her head. Riona rode back and forth along the wall for a few hours, until it suddenly grew dark. Riona looked up into the sky. Dark storm clouds had covered the sun. She wheeled Eldrian around and rode furiously back towards Jarel. As she reached the gate, the sky opened and rain began pouring down. In a flash of lightning, Riona turned to look behind her. Far out in the distance, a man stood atop a hill, cloaked in black. Riona shuddered in horror, and silently wondered if this man was Ciaran. People said he wandered about sometimes, and could be recognized because of his height and black cloak. Riona’s hands began to tremble and she held the reigns unsteadily. There was something about that man – whether he was Ciaran or not – that scared Riona more than anything else.
Riona prayed the gate would open before the man noticed anyone. As soon as the gate was open enough for her to pass through, she nudged Eldrian onwards. Eldrian reared. Riona grabbed for her mane, just barely grabbing hold of it. The horse neighed loudly, and the man on the hill turned to look at them. As Riona turned Eldrian in a circle to calm her, she noticed the man had his gaze fixed directly upon her. His eyes glinted in the almost-darkness, and Riona now knew for sure that it was Ciaran.
"Eldrian, go! Come on, girl. Please ... " Riona urged Eldrian to move, but Eldrian refused to go through the gate, she had never liked storms, and being put under pressure did not help. Riona's coaxing did nothing; Eldrian stood rooted firmly in place. Riona glanced behind her and noticed Ciaran coming closer.
“Eldrian, please” Riona slipped off of the horse and landed lightly on the soft ground below. She grabbed onto Eldrian’s bridle and slowly began to pull her inside. Finally, Eldrian followed Riona’s lead. Once inside, Riona swung back up onto Eldrian. Ciaran was fast approaching the gates of Jarel. What does he want with me? Riona thought, trying to think straight through her terror. She dug her heels into Eldrian’s sides, and galloped through the wide streets of Jarel to the inn, where she led Eldrian into the stable and dismounted, then cleaned Eldrian up before heading inside. Once inside, she sat by the fire, drying off and watching the flames as they danced in the fire place. Her thoughts went all over the place, not focusing on any one thing, yet all of them centered around Ciaran. Marlena noticed Riona and walked over to her.
“Riona, is everything alright?”
Riona turned to her mother, standing up and falling into her arms. “I don’t know I saw Ciaran, mam. He was outside of Jarel. And Eldrian wouldn’t go in through the gates I thought it was going to be the end. I was so scared, mam”
“Oh Riona I’m not going to question whether or not it was Ciaran. I have a feeling you are correct. O Creator, protect my girl. Keep her safe from harm and fill her with your courage.” But so soon, God?
Riona wiped away a few tears. She knew her mother would continue to pray for her.
“Get some dry clothes on. I’m not going to need you tonight, so you may do whatever for the rest of the evening. I love you.”
“Love you too, Mam.” Riona turned and made her way up to her room. Eunan passer her on the stairs, and noticed that Riona was not herself. A little later, he found Der and Marlena talking in hushed tones, and he caught Riona’s name a few times. When they finished, Eunan went up to Der.
“Der? How do you think Riona’s doing?”
“I don’t know, son. She’s a strong girl. I wouldn’t worry yourself about it, alright?”
Eunan nodded. “I’ll try not to. I guess we just have to have hope.”
“Yes, Eunan. Hope.”
“I think I’ve started to understand about hope, Der. Even just a little bit.”
They were silent for a little while, but then Eunan’s curiosity got the better of him. “What happened out there, Der? What’s the matter with Riona?”
“Eunan, Riona saw Ciaran.”
Eunan’s voice dropped to a whisper. “What?”
“She saw Ciaran. Standing on a hill, and then he began to chase her. He knows who she is, Eunan.”
“What’s wrong with him knowing who she is?”
“Look, that’s not something I can tell you here. Just be on your guard and protect Riona.”
“Yes, Der. I’ll try.”
“Good. Now, I think we have some travelers coming in. I’m going to need your help.”
The next morning dawned with a red sky.
“Red sky in morning, sailors take warning,” one scout murmurred. “Do you think that applies to soldiers?” He asked his fellow scouts.
“Let us pray that it does not.” Breacon replied. He stood up and buckled on his sword belt, then rolled up his bedroll.
“Will we be able to take Anat today?” The scout wondered aloud.
“Hope and pray that we do, but be ready to retreat. Let us pray that we weaken Ciaran more than he weakens us. Now, come, breakfast awaits.”
The camp was quiet as they ate breakfast. Everyone was deep in thought, whether thinking of death, their loved ones back home, or praying for victory. The commander came out of his tent, and behind him came the officers of the army.
“Today we fight,” the commander said. “Not for our own victory, but for the victory of the Creator over Daron! Fight that your wives and children may be free, that your brothers and sisters will not have to live in bondage.” The commander lowered his eyes. “Many will fall today, but let us not lose hope, because we have someone much stronger than Ciaran on our side!”
The men cheered.
“Now, prepare for battle!” Suddenly the camp came alive, with men buckling on sword belts, twanging bow strings, checking the sharpness of their pikes and spears, and men mounting their horses.
Then all grew quiet as they fell into ranks and the Commander rode through. “For our families, and for the Creator!” He shouted, and the men cheered once more.
They charged. But into what? Did they charge into death? What lay ahead for each man? Every man feared for his life, but they feared for the lives of their loved ones even more, and so they rode on. As they neared the city walls, the gates opened, and Ciaran’s men poured out.
There’s so many of them, Breacon thought, glancing around at their own army. But they know not who we have on our side!
Arrows flew overhead. Ciaran’s men rushed forward, and Itheialian pikemen lowered their pikes. Many of the enemy fell away, but even more seemed to be in their place. Chaos erupted. Every man fought to stay within his ranks, but before long the enemy separated compatriot from compatriot, and it became every man for himself.
The men on both sides were tiring quickly. Swords moved more slowly, the archers aim wavered, the pikemen dropped their pikes, and spearsmen’s throws fell short. It seemed like days had passed before the horn blew for retreat. It was a mad rush to get free from the enemy, but the enemy let them go, laughing as they watched their enemies run.
Ciaran cannot win forever, Breacon thought as they marched back to Itheial. The Commander had considered attacking again, but after tallying the losses, he decided against it.
We have been defeated once, but the Creator will have the final victory, even if I do not live to see it.
Over the next few days, Riona remained quiet and tried to stay away from contact with anyone outside of the family. Eunan kept a close eye on her, remembering Matthias’s words. He made sure she stayed in the kitchen when people were in public rooms he took the serving jobs he ran the errands outside of the inn, and he even did her chores for her. Riona was thankful for this, and although she didn’t say anything, her actions showed it.
Almost a week later, she began to be her normal self again, taking charge of her own chores and even singing some as she worked. Marlena and Der both knew that although Riona seemed fine, a rising fear would continue to grow in her heart unless she went somewhere else, somewhere she could be hidden away and yet free. And they knew that this would have to be done soon, and as subtly as possible.
Matthias returned three months later. It was a day much like that day in September, however now it was snowing and not raining, and as the gate was already open, Matthias slipped inside the city without any trouble. He entered the inn quietly, and when he noticed Eunan working in the kitchen, he walked over to him.
Eunan turned, a bit startled, but Matthias put a finger to his lips. “Shhh It’s just me. No one else is to know I’m here. I’m going to go into the library and wait for you there. It’s just down the hall and to the left, right?”
Eunan nodded. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Matthias turned and quietly made his way down the hallway of the inn, keeping a close eye on the people in the inn making sure no one was watching him. Eunan watched as Matthias entered the library, then quickly turned back to the bread he was slicing. Marlena entered the kitchen, and Eunan turned to her.
“Marlena, I’m done cutting up the bread. May I go into the library for a little while?”
Marlena looked at Eunan curiously. He had never been much of a reader. But when she saw how impatient he was to go, she smiled. “Of course, Eunan.”
Eunan grinned and slipped off to the library. He knocked softly on the door before entering. “It’s me, Eunan.” He said in a hushed tone. The door opened a crack, and Eunan saw part of Matthias’s face. Eunan squeezed inside and Matthias closed the door and bolted it.
“How have you been, Eunan?” Matthias asked, looking the boy in the eye.
“As well as one can be during these hard times,” Eunan replied. “I think I understand hope now, though. We’ve had to have a lot of it recently.”
“Oh? What do you mean?”
“Shortly after you left Riona saw Ciaran outside of Jarel while she was exercising our horse. It took her a while to recover. And we were really worried about her for a while. I made sure she stayed in the kitchen, and for a time I even thought we were going to have to send her down into the tunnels for a few days.”
“So Der has told you about them, then?”
“Yes, Matthias. He did, a little while after you left.”
“I’m glad to hear that. And I’m proud of you for doing your best to protect Riona. You’ve shown yourself trustworthy. What else has been going on here?”
“Now that you’re here, I think Der and Marlena will let me help you.” Eunan straightened eagerly. “I’m eighteen now, and by law I no longer need a guardian.” Eunan looked down at his hands. “I’d really like to help you.”
“Are you prepared to fight, even die?”
“I am. I know this means war, and I know war is a terrible thing.”
“Aye. You speak wisely, Eunan. War truly is a terrible thing, calling for the lives of both young and old for a small victory. I fear that by the time Ciaran is overthrown the land of Stargonia will be devastated and that it will take many men before a single victory is won.”
Glancing around the room, Matthias then turned to Eunan. “Is there a map in here we can use?”
“I believe there is somewhere.” Eunan searched the shelves and before long, he found an atlas of Edaled and turned it to the map of Olandern, setting the book down on the table in the middle of the room. “Here.”
Matthias leaned over the table and studied the map, tracing his finger along a path. “Alright, look.” Matthias drew a line with his finger on the border. “We have people near the border, and in various cities. However, we haven’t heard from them at all recently, so we don’t know how they are faring. I’m going to head off to Madiela. We haven’t found the prince anywhere else yet. We think he may be on Madiela.”
“And what about the princess?” Eunan wondered.
“We know where she is. She’ll be safe.”
“But where is she? And who?”
“That I cannot tell you. The less you know, the better. Anyone who rebels against Ciaran is in danger of being captured – and then anything you know will be worked out of you in one way or another. It is best that only a few people know.”
“So where do I fit in to all of this?”
“You, Eunan, will be our messenger. It’s a simple task – I’ll give you the directions to the places where the rebels meet in each city, and descriptions of the people you are to give this message to – ‘It’s time for the gryphons to take wing.’ It’s a code, you should be able to figure out what for. Just ride from city to city – make a loop, like this.” Matthias traced a line from Jarel over the mountains, through Panatea, , and in and out of each of the cities, then back downin and out of Llyanta, across the desert, finally though the forest and back into Jarel. “It’s as simple as that.”
“So we’re not going to bring in any of the other kingdoms into this? Not even Stargonia?”
“Stargonia is already fighting against Ciaran, but only inside Stargonia. They are weakening his forces, though. As for other kingdoms, we will only bring them in if we absolutely have to, only if all else fails. But I believe that we can do it without the help of other kingdoms. Don’t take me wrong, we’re not being proud – but we fear if other kingdoms are brought into this… then Ciaran will rule them as well. And that would not be good, he could get the whole of Edaled in his grasp, and then things would be out of our hands again, like in the times when Fàolan ruled. Any other questions?”
“The gryphons in the code, it doesn’t mean anything about the actual gryphons, does it?”
Matthias smiled. “No. However, we do have people elsewhere working on finding them. Near the Stargonian cliffs there are some huge caves, perhaps large enough for gryphons. That’s where the majority of the searchers are headed. Or at least were, unless they have found traces of them.”
Eunan nodded. “When should I leave?”
“I’ll myself will be leaving soon. I need to talk to Der and Marlena about a few things, but then I’ll slip away. It’s probably best you don’t know when. You should leave as soon as possible. Now, I have something for you.” Matthias ducked down under the table and pulled out a large bundle. “This,” he began, handing it to Eunan, “is for you.”
Eunan almost dropped the object when Matthias handed it to him he was surprised at its weight. It was hard, and it was wrapped in thick layers of leather, and tied with string.
Eunan set it on the table and fumbled with the knots in the string. After a few minutes, he had untied them and unrolled the leather. Inside was a sword. Its scabbard was made from stiff leather, held together by rivets and strips of thinner leather. A few designs were engraved on the sheath, and Eunan could make out the crest of the king. The hilt had similar engravings, and was made out of iron. Eunan turned the sword over in his hands, and then carefully unsheathed it. The blade glittered in the sunlight streaming in from the window. Placing the scabbard on the table, Eunan grasped the hilt of the sword and held it in front of him. His mouth parted slightly, and he stared at the sword in wonder. Eunan ran his finger down the middle of the blade, feeling the cool metal against his skin. Matthias’s eyes followed Eunan’s every move, wondering how much the boy had been around swords before.
“Matthias, I I’ve never used a sword before.”
Matthias nodded. “That,” he paused, “is why we’re going down into the tunnels for a while.” Matthias pulled a second bundle out from under the table. “Let’s go.”
Eunan sheathed the sword and followed Matthias down to the tunnels, and then together they removed the board and opened the trapdoor.
“Careful,” Matthias warned as Eunan began to descend the ladder, his sword in hand.
Eunan jumped down the last three rungs of the ladder, and Matthias followed Eunan down, closing the trapdoor behind them. “Do you remember your way into tunnel room?”
“The one with all the tunnels leading out from it?”
Eunan nodded. “I think so.” He began to walk straight, but when the fork in the tunnel came, he began to turn. Matthias touched Eunan’s shoulder gently.
Eunan drew his breath in. “Oh. Right.”
They arrived in the room, and Matthias showed Eunan how to slip the scabbard onto his belt, and then he had Eunan draw his sword. Matthias took his own sword in his hand, and began to teach Eunan the basics.
“No, not that way, Eunan. If you’re in a fight, and you just go in with the sword, you’ll get killed. Your opponent’s sword is your only threat. Get it out of the way, and you’re free to go. Try again.”
Eunan sighed and moved back a few paces, then went at it again, this time knocking Matthias’s sword out of the way before attacking. Matthias parried and lunged at Eunan. Eunan jumped out of the way.
The next few hours went on like this, and by the end of them Eunan knew the basics of sword fighting and could handle his sword well. He knew though, that in battle it would be hard to keep the tactics Matthias had taught him, as he knew that it would be hard to concentrate when his life was on the line. After all, in war, your opponent would be out to kill you and not give you advice and tell you what to fix or do differently. Yet Eunan left the tunnels with Matthias that evening with a strong sense of hope and preparation.
“You learn quickly, Eunan. If we had more time, I would train you more, but the journey that lies ahead of you will most likely help complete your training – I hope you will not meet with any trouble, but the journey will be hard and long, and you will gain strength you never knew was possible to gain. Your sword work is good, the basics are often enough, and your mind works quickly, which will be a great asset to you.”
They walked down the tunnels for a few more minutes, both thinking deeply about various matters.
“Matthias,” Eunan stopped at the foot of the ladder, turning to face his friend and trainer.
“Why don’t we just use the tunnels for getting messages to the other cities?”
“That’s a good question. I think that part of it is the fact that we cannot fit a horse down here very easily. We’re willing to take the risk of being seen rather than have it take three times as long.”
“I see. It does make sense, in a way. In some cases, though, wouldn’t it be better to use the tunnels instead?”
“In some cases, yes. If we needed to get someone somewhere completely secretly, we’ll use them.”
Eunan nodded. “Matthias thanks so much for your help.”
“Eunan, it’s my job to train up people for our cause. But I’m glad I was able to meet you. I hope this will not be the last time we meet.”
“Take care, Eunan.”
“You too, Matthias.”
Matthias climbed up the ladder and out of the tunnels. Eunan leaned up against the ladder and rested, putting his head down on a rung. He ran his hand along the hilt of his sword, pondering the day’s events. It was then he realized his sword needed a name. Eunan first thought about what it should mean. He ran a few names over his tongue, speaking them in the Ancient tongue instead of his own. Before long, he decided on Paleidan, meaning ‘hope found.’ He thought the name fitting, as he had found hope at last.
Breacon looked at Peter, then back at the King. All three of them were silent, but each one of them could tell they were thinking the same thoughts. What is Ciaran up to?
He’s been silent too long, Breacon thought. Ciaran had not made another move since he had gained control of Anat. It’s the calm before the storm everyone talks about. Breacon lowered his eyes. Then it all came out at once. “We’ve got to do something!” He said angrily.
“But what can we do?” The King asked.
“Nothing. We’re not strong enough,” Peter admitted. “The way Ciaran butchered our troops at Anat leaves us no choice but to sit back and watch. We’re too weak to defend ourselves.”
“So that’s his plan is it? Let us sit by uselessly, while he takes over. There’s got to be something.” Breacon stared at the map. “Anat’s gone, Bywyn’s gone… But there’s Itheial, Dalentia, Tharia, Mytymnia, the forts…”
“The forts are gone. Not taken by Ciaran, per se, but he’s taken the men that occupied them.”
Breacon stared at Peter in disbelief.
“That was our whole force fighting at Anat.”
“No, no, it can’t have been. There are men every where, in every city, who would be willing to take up arms against Ciaran. And in this time of waiting around, we can recruit men and train them!”
“We can try. But against Ciaran, whose army is made up completely of trained soldiers, we don’t stand much chance.”
The cliffs suddenly caught Breacon’s eye. “What are these?” He asked, pointing to black half circles with the middles hollowed out.
“Caves,” the king said. “Where people think the gryphons may have retreated to.”
“I knew there was a way,” Breacon said.
“Last time people approached the caves, the gryphons killed them, Breacon.”
“So send a few people – a lot to go in case the gryphons are going to help us, but only a few that will actually approach the caves. People are going to get killed even more if Ciaran takes over.”
Peter and the king exchanged glances. “It is worth a try.” the King admitted.
Peter nodded. “Then try we will.”
Matthias hurried to the kitchen of the inn, where he knew Der and Marlena would be busy working, preparing for the evening meal. Riona looked up from the bread she was making, and gave Matthias a slight nod. He smiled at her, and then turned to Der, who had just noticed Matthias.
“Der, may I speak to you in private for a few minutes?” Matthias asked.
Der wiped his floury hands on his apron, and glanced around the kitchen. “I think I can be spared for a little while. Marlena, I’ll be back soon.”
Matthias and Der exited the kitchen, and Der led Matthias into one of the back rooms, reserved for him and his family.
“Well, Matthias?” Der seated himself in a large arm chair motioned for Matthias to take a seat near him.
“Eunan told me about the incident with Ciaran. I think it’s time.”
“You think it’s that dangerous for her to stay here?”
Matthias nodded grimly. “Unless he’s completely daft, Ciaran probably has some idea of who Riona is. We need to get her out of Jarel and to safety as quickly as possible.”
“I trust your judgment, Matthias. But I don’t know how she’ll get there. I can’t leave here. And there’s another problem as well – how will we explain her disappearance?”
“That brings up a second thing. Eunan is wanting to help gather troops.”
Der sighed. “Well, he’s eighteen now. According to the law, he can go off on his own now. I can’t hold him back from that.”
They were silent for a few minutes, and then Der spoke up. “I don’t know what your plans are at the moment, however, what do you think about Eunan taking Riona?”
“It might work. The convent is a ways away, but I think that Eunan will be able to make it in enough time for Riona to still be safe, as well as getting messages to the cities along the way. It may become a bit risky but I think it’s a chance we’ll have to take.”
“Aye. They can take the tunnel to Faerloe and Eunan can deliver his message there, then head onwards to the convent, and from there continue his journey.”
Matthias chewed on his lip. “No, Riona needs to be at the convent as soon as possible. Eunan will have to backtrack to Faerloe. It will take about a week longer, but it’s safer. He’ll also be able to get a horse in Faerloe, that will help a lot. I would love to stay longer,” he stood up, stretching. “However, I have a mission to accomplish, so I should be leaving.”
“Thank you for all you’ve done for Olandern, Matthias. And for all you continue to do in days to come. The Creator has blessed us with a young man like you to lead our people until we find the true prince. If he is anything like you, he will be a strong, wise ruler.”
Matthias looked at his hands. “Thank you, Der.” Matthias opened the door to the room and exited. Der looked up at the ceiling.
“Bless the young man, Lord God,” he whispered, then he, too, left the room.
When Der entered the kitchen, Eunan and Riona were out serving the wayfarers already at the inn, and Marlena was busy putting together plates of food. Der called her name, and hurried to her side.
“What was that about?” She wondered, arranging some bread and chicken on a plate.
“It’s time for Riona to leave.”
Marlena’s face turned pale. “It’s come to that already?”
“I’m afraid so. Eunan will take her to the convent, then leave to gather troops. The only question is how to explain her disappearance. Eunan’s will be easy enough, he’s turned eighteen and is off to see the world but Riona”
“Aye. I’ll talk to Riona about it first thing tomorrow.”
“Alright. The sooner they leave, the better. Riona won’t be safe for much longer.” Marlena turned back to putting the food on the plates, and then handed a tray of them to Eunan as he entered the kitchen. He exited, and Marlena looked back at Der. “And Eunan? You will talk to him, won’t you?”
“Aye, I will. Hopefully even tonight.”
“This will put a lot of stress on running the inn.”
“I think we can handle it. We handled it before Riona came along.”
“But that was also before Ciaran’s soldiers started coming through every day”
“Marlena, we can do it. It may put a bit of strain on running the inn and underground both, but we’ll make it through, don’t worry about that.”
Marlena sucked in her bottom lip and nodded. “As soon as the inn calms down for the night, we’ll go into the library and tell them. Like you said, the sooner they know, the better.”
Matthias had not been able to find a ship headed for Madiela. Everywhere he received the same answer.
“Madiela? Don’t sail there, mate. Even if we did, it’s too late in the year now. It’s dangerous. And they say there are strange creatures out there - sorry, I don’t fancy going there.”
And so, Matthias found himself at the same Port Management Office Nathan and Anya had visited only a little over a year ago. The same man still worked there, and he looked up from studying maps when Matthias entered.
“How may I help you?” He asked, beginning to fold up his map.
“I need passage to Madiela.”
“What’s this sudden interest in Madiela?” He asked.
“Why? Has someone else been here going to Madiela?”
“It was around a year ago, a boy and a young girl.”
So not the prince? Matthias wondered. “But are there ships going there?”
“This time of year, I don’t know...” The man began. But then Matthias looked the man squarely in the eye and whispered. “Freedom from evil.”
The man nodded quickly. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Over the years the phrase ‘freedom from evil’ had become widely used in the rebellion - it helped to figure out whose side someone was on.
“There may not be much possible this time of year, but I know this is a matter of great urgency,” the man explained. “Why don’t you have a seat right over there while I look?”
“Thank you.” Matthias seated himself by the window and watched the activity going on outside. After an hour or so, Matthias stood. “Is there anyway I can help?” He asked, placing his hands on the desk and leaning on them.
“Not yet, no.” The man kept turning pages in the booklet he was holding. “but I think I’m onto something. Sit back down again, and in a few minutes I may have found you a way to Madiela. Back may be a bit of a problem, though.” The room was quiet, Then the man stood. “I’m sorry, I can’t find anything headed for Madiela.”
“Any suggestions?” Matthias’s heart sank. They knew the prince was on Madiela. They just had to reach him.
“Unless you want to leave through Faerloe, Rakya is your only option. You’ll have to buy a boat there.”
Matthias sighed. “Then to Rakya it is.”
Ciaran sat at his usual spot in the great hall, in his arm chair in the middle of the room, tables all around him. “Something’s up,” he whispered. “I can feel it.”
Donal rushed to Ciaran’s side. “What, highness?”
“Something with the rebels.” Ciaran glanced at the window. “I will find out tonight.”
Moonlight streamed into the room, and Ciaran stood, nodding to Donal. Donal left the room, and Ciaran stood in the rays of the moon, his shape changing and shrinking until he became his secondary form – a black wolf. Snarling, foam began to drip down his fangs and he growled, then ran out of the castle and into Llyanta. He knew where the rebels met, and although he could suppress them easily right now, he was biding his time.
Ciaran ran through the town, the wind ruffling his short fur. Hiding in the shadows, Ciaran made his way to the town square, where a few people were speaking in hushed tones.
“Aye, there’s a rumor that Matthias has found an apprentice in Jarel. They’ve also said Matthias has left for Madiela. The boy is going to gather troops.” The man lowered his voice even more, so it could barely be heard. “They say he’ll even be taking her to safety. Where, we don’t know and shouldn’t say if we do. Ciaran and his men are everywhere.”
Ciaran slunk away to another part of the town, a small alleyway. A few boys there dressed in ratty clothing leaned up against the walls of the houses and were arguing none too quietly.
“No, the rebels ain’t gonna be able to get enough men,” the tallest and most likely the oldest stated.
“You think what you want, but I’m pretty sure that everyone wants to be free from Ciaran. Hah – my parents say it was better before ‘e came along. Now the city is mostly rich people, and us few poor people left to beg in the streets. They say it was easier to live back when Caderyn was rulin’. Oh, how I wish I could’ve been there.” A second boy, his nose very prominent, retorted.
“Ya know what?” The last boy, a rough-looking red head, almost shouted. “We ain’t never gonna know until it happens. We can only go by what people say until then. Ya say, Conrad, that yer parents say it was better with Caderyn – well, we dunno that – only those around then do. And you, Mitchell – you say that nobody’s gonna join the rebel cause. I say, yer wrong there. I know that soon’s I’m old enough, I’m gonna go and fight.” The boy lifted his arm up into the air.
“As am I” Conrad agreed, stepping forward and punching the air as well. “The rebels will win, and Ciaran will fall”
Ciaran turned to go, inwardly laughing. Little did these boys know what he had in store for the rebels. Oh, it would be terrible. Almost as terrible as Ciaran himself. He had a plan full of torture and revenge. Yes, he would torture them alright. Make them feel his pain and hate while he sat idly by. He was just waiting, waiting until the time was right.- which could be shortly, all he needed to do was capture the ringleaders - Matthias and his apprentice. Ciaran laughed. The fools, did they really believe they could overhtrow him? He laughed at them. “They may think they know what they are doing, but they have underestimated me and what I am able to do. They will learn to fear me, they will learn to tremble when they hear my name.” Ciaran muttered to himself as he started back to the castle. There he climbed the stairs to the East tower, and there he waited in silence for the sun to rise.
Riona turned to stare at the fire. “Leave Jarel?” She questioned, “but why?
Why am I no longer safe here?”
Der placed a reassuring hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “You will know when the time is right. Some things from the past are not meant to be known right now. In time, Riona, in time, you will know all you need to know.”
The room was silent for a moment the only sound was the constant crackling of the fire. “Eunan will keep you safe until you reach the convent, but then he will need to go on. Matthias has given him a mission to accomplish, a mission that could save Olandern.”
“Go pack what you need. And on your journey, remember, God is always with you,” Marlena said.
“Even to the end of the age,” Riona finished, then hugged her mother.
“God go with you both.” Der clapped Eunan across the back, then swept Riona off of her feet to hug her. “I love you,” he whispered in her ear.
“Love you too, Daddy.” She replied, then she and Eunan left for the upstairs of the inn to pack a few things.
Ten minutes later a knock sounded on Riona’s door. It was Eunan.
“Ready?” His voice was eager, as if this was the day he’d been waiting for his whole life.
“Ready as I’ll ever be.”
“C’mon, let’s go.” Eunan took Riona’s bag from her hand and they went down to the tunnels. “It’s going to be a long walk.”
They set off to walking, foot after foot, step after step. At first they walked in silence, but then Eunan broke it.
“I never thought I’d say this, Riona, but I’m really going to be missing you.”
Riona was quiet. Then, “You too.”
“I’m going to miss you a lot, Eunan. Nine long years you’ve been like my brother, and now that we’ll be apart so much will be different. I’ll miss you, Eunan. And with you around, I’ve always known I’d have someone to protect me, where ever I went - my big brother protector would always be there for me. And I’ll miss that.”
Eunan turned to face Riona, his thumb stuck under the strap of his pack. He took it out and placed his hand gently on Riona’s shoulder.
“Thank you, Riona. It’s good to know someone has faith in me.”
“We all do, Eunan. All of the rebels do. You’re a fine young man, Eunan, and ever since you decided to hope and not despair we’ve all been able to see that.”
Eunan turned to keep walking, and Riona fell into step beside him.
“And you, Riona. You’ve started becoming a beautiful young lady. Whoever ends up as your husband someday will be a blessed man.”
“Stop it, Eunan...” Her voice trailed off when she saw he was being perfectly serious. She lowered her voice to a soft whisper and replied. “Thank you.”
They trudged on in silence for a long time, each engrossed in their own thoughts.
“Let’s sing.” Riona suggested, wanting to break the awkward silence and not be left in the quiet with her thoughts. She and Eunan had always loved singing together. As Eunan had no objection, Riona broke into song and Eunan soon joined in. The song they sang was an old Stargonian folk song, used to teach young children the alphabet. Riona enjoyed singing it, though the tune was simple, she and Eunan had added things to make it a bit more complex. As they sang, Riona felt her heart soar. Singing always made her feel like a bird, a bird who was flying free across the plains without the fear of being hunted.
They flitted from song to song, singing hymns, lullabies, folk songs, and even one that included dancing, to which they attempted to dance to, while still walking in the right direction.
Riona knew that by now the sun would have risen outside, and yet still they journeyed onwards. About mid day, they found an open space and made camp to eat and rest.
The low walls were barely taller than he was, and the gate was falling off its hinges. Three days had passed since he left Padrea. Now that he thought about it, Matthias realized that leaving from Rakya was actually a better place to leave from than a place like Padrea he could come and go as normally as if he were just a local fisherman, going out for a fish through sea serpent infested waters. Matthias grimaced. Ciaran’s eyes seemed to be everywhere; nowhere was safe anymore. The journey had delayed him a few days, but now that Matthias was in Rakya, he could get started. Heaving a sigh, he made his way through the empty dirt roads to the trade center of the town the docks.
The docks were the only place in Rakya that was always busy, day and night. Fishing boats came in throughout the day, and at night ships from all over Olandern docked there. Most of the late night ships were rebel ships, bringing news or supplies. A few even brought troops in every now and then.
Matthias stopped by a fisherman repairing his boat.
“Excuse me, sir.”
The fisherman looked up and grunted.
Real sociable, Matthias thought. “Do you know any place I could borrow a fishing boat for a week or so?”
“Eh? You don’t look like a fisherman to me, laddie.”
“I’m not, sir. I just need a boat, and I figured a fishing boat would work perfectly.”
“Where ya headed?”
“There is such a thing as asking too much,” Matthias answered simply. The fisherman nodded, but his eyes said that he wanted to know more.
The fisherman pounded a small nail into the boat. “Ye could check down that ways a bit. There’s usually a destitute fisherman or two down there, ones who couldn’t catch any fish and haven’t managed to sell their boats yet.”
“Thank you, sir,” Matthias left the fisherman to work on his boat, heading down where the fisherman had told him to go. Sure enough, a young fisherman sat atop an overturned boat, his head in his hands. Matthias approached him and gently laid a hand on his shoulder. The man looked up, and Matthias noticed his face was dirty and tearstained. Seeing Matthias, he stood and extended his hand.
Matthias shook the man’s hand, then nodded to the boat. “That yours?”
“The elderly fisherman down that way,” Matthias tipped his head toward the fisherman, “said there might be a few fishermen down here who would want help.”
The young fisherman stuck his hands between his belt and tunic. “I do need a bit of help. See, I bought this boat new without thinking about the future much... what I mean is that I haven’t been able to pay the boat off because I haven’t been catching many fish.”
Matthias looked the fishing boat over. “How much do you want for it?”
“I’d like 900 londqua, but I know that’s a lot.”
Matthias pulled a wad of money out of his bag and after counting out the londqua, Matthias handed it to the man.
“She’s yours now.”
“Thank you. I hope you find a way to start over.”
Pocketing the money, the man smiled weakly at Matthias. “Thanks.”
Matthias already had everything he needed, so he set off for Madiela immediately. Pushing the boat into the water, Matthias hopped inside. After checking the wind, he unfurled the sail, then sat near the rudder. A lot of things were troubling him, and he used this time to think about them and work a few things out.
It would take Eunan a while to spread the word. If the prince was on the island, Matthias could spend a while there. But if he was not, where else would they search for him? With the gryphons? This brought him to another question. Had the gryphons been found? What if they weren’t anywhere? What then?
And Riona? Was she safely at the convent? Matthias assumed some questions would not be answered until after his return.
Then came the question of a strategy. Hopefully they would have armies from all over Olandern. But how would they organize them, especially when speed was so important?
Matthias sighed. So many questions, so few answers, and so little time. How would it all work out?
“Who will go?” Peter asked. Days had passed since their last time together, and now Peter, the King, and Breacon were working out the fine details of searching for the gryphons.
“Not many would be willing.” the King said.
“I’ll go,” Breacon offered.
“No, you’re needed here in case Ciaran does anything. You and your band of scouts will prove to be invaluable before this war is over.”
“War?” Breacon asked.
“It’s becoming full out war,” the advisor confessed. “And if it does not deserve that term now, it will soon, though let us pray it does not.”
Breacon gulped. War. The first inter-kingdom war in the history of Edaled. What is our world coming to? He wondered.
“Who are the captains that we have?”
“Patrick, James, Donovan, John, Aaron, Mark, Jonas, and Ian.”
“Is that all we have left after Anat?”
“We’ll have to promote some of the others in the army… but who was the second to last person you mentioned? For some reason his name stood out to me.”
“He’s young, isn’t he?”
“Aye. But brave.”
The King nodded. “I think we’ve found our man.”
It was a total of five days before they emerged from the tunnels a mile or so away from the convent. As they hiked the last mile, snow began to fall. After catching a few snowflakes on her tongue, Riona stopped to put her cloak on, and Eunan did the same. The stone walls of the convent towered above them as they walked the final few feet.
Riona stopped in front of the door, and took the large brass knocker in both hands. But she did not knock. Behind her, Eunan shifted from foot to foot.
“Knock, Riona. Nothing’s going to jump out and bite you. It’s a convent, not a menajerie.”
Riona turned to face him, and he saw the tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Riona, what’s the matter?”
She turned away from him. “I’m afraid, Eunan. I’m afraid I’ll never see you again, afraid Ciaran will...”
“It’s only for a short time, Riona. I know you don’t want to leave, I know this is hard for you. It’s hard for me, too. It’s times like these where we find out how much courage we really have.”
Riona took a deep breath, and then turning to the door, took the knocker in both hands again.
This time she let it fall.