Authors: Steven A. Tolle
Jake went out the side door, slowly walking around the side yard and enjoying the sunshine. He worked his way over to the other side of the house and let Maxis out of his enclosure. The dog was enthusiastic, bouncing around Jake as he continued to walk around.
Maxis’ energy seemed to bolster Jake’s. He moved faster, testing the limits of his strength. He played and wrestled with the dog, though Maxis would often knock him off-balance. After a while, though, Jake felt his energy failing, his muscles starting to shake, so he headed for the benches.
down, grateful to be off his feet, then decided to lie down as his strength continued to wane. Maxis stayed with him, lying down next to the bench. With the warm sun overhead, Jake closed his eyes and released his power. With Maxis close by, he felt that now-familiar sensation return. He tried to ignore it and, after a few minutes, he nodded off.
He woke up when Maxis’ bark intruded into that peaceful nothingness. Maxis barked again and Jake could hear the sound of a horse stopping, hooves clomping on the stones of the street. Jake embraced his magic, sitting up and seeing a young man in the palace finery, his horse behind him, standing on the other side of the gate. The young man was looking warily at Maxis, who had moved to stand between him and Jake, teeth bared and growling.
“It’s ok, Maxis.” Jake told the dog as he made his way to the gate. Maxis stopped growling, but stayed close to Jake.
“Jake Thomas?” The man said, still watching Maxis.
“Yes.” Jake replied.
“I have been sent from the palace with this message for you.” The man said, cautiously handing Jake a sealed parchment, then jerking his hand back. Looking relieved that he still had his hand, he stood there waiting. Obviously, he was to return with a message from Jake.
Jake cracked the seal and opened the parchment. He read the message, seeing that it was an invitation to the palace for a dinner and ceremony to take place tomorrow night. Norlan and his family were invited to attend as Jake’s guests.
“I need to check with Norlan and Madalin first.” Jake said. “Can you come back later?”
“I have many duties, so it is unlikely.” The man replied, moving back and swinging up onto his horse. “Simply send a message to the palace. I will inform them to expect a reply from Jake Thomas. Good day.” With that, he turned and rode off.
It was late afternoon when Madalin and Cherise returned, carrying several packages. Jake tried to help them, but Madalin politely waved him off. Jake followed them into the house, chatting with Cherise. After Madalin had finished putting away her goods, Jake told her about the invitation. She brightened at the thought of attending a palace function, but simply said. “I will need to speak with Norlan before we commit to going.”
Jake went back outside, sitting on the benches and enjoying the rest of the day, Maxis staying close by. Shortly before dark, Hailyn appeared. Maxis rushed to the gate, happily greeting Hailyn as she came into the yard. Hailyn petted the dog, who obviously enjoyed the attention.
“How are you, Jake?” Hailyn asked as she walked up to Jake, stopping several feet away. “You seem to be feeling better.”
“I’m the same as before.” Jake replied. “When I have my power, I feel stronger and can move about, but without it, I can barely lift my arms.”
“You shouldn’t expect a sudden change.” Hailyn said, looking closely at Jake’s face. “Likely, any improvement will be gradual. If you look on the bright side, you don’t seem to be getting worse.”
“I guess.” Jake said, shrugging his shoulders. “Can I tell you something? I don’t want you to worry or do anything.”
“Of course, Jake.” Hailyn replied as she took a seat on the bench across from Jake. “You can tell me anything.”
Relieved, Jake told her about the unusual sensation that he felt from others when he was not holding his magic. “It seems to be stronger with clerics for some reason. Only now, with my power, I don’t sense it from you.” Jake finished.
“Release your power and see what happens.” Hailyn told Jake.
He released his power, swaying as his strength failed, barely able to stay upright. The sensation returned, with Jake feeling it coming from both Maxis and Hailyn, but vastly stronger from her. He called up his magic and the sensation faded.
He and Hailyn discussed it for a while, trying to figure out what it was. In the end, they decided it was a byproduct from his injury. Hopefully, when Jonas found a way to help Jake, the sensation would leave as well. They sat in silence for a bit, each lost in their own thoughts.
“How are things at the Temple?” Jake finally said, moving the conversation to something different.
“A bit frantic.” Hailyn stated. “Everyone is concerned for Master Jonas and the clerics that went with him. Some of the clerics are discussing what to do if they do not return. Sister Silvan is acting as Chief Cleric until they come back.”
“I’m sure that Jonas and Dominic are ok.” Jake said reassuringly, though he was also worried about them. “I bet they will be back soon.”
“We can only pray that it will be so.” Hailyn said
, pausing when the front door opened and Norlan came out. Jake had not realized that he had come home.
“Good evening, Hailyn.” Norlan said good-naturedly. “We are about to sit down for the evening meal. Would you like to join us?”
“Thank you, Norlan.” Hailyn said as she stood. “I would love to stay, but I am already late. I have to return to the Temple; I have some duties I must attend to tonight.”
“Another time, then.” Norlan said. “You are always welcome to join us.”
“The blessing of the One on you, Norlan.” Hailyn said, nodding her head. She looked at Jake. “And on you, Jake. I will try to come by tomorrow when I have more time.” She turned and left, Maxis following her to the gate.
“Let’s go inside, Jake.” Norlan said.
After they finished dinner, they discussed attending the ceremony. While she would like a night at the palace, Madalin was concerned whether Jake could make it through the night in his condition. Jake assured her that he would rest most of the day, so he should be fine. Norlan did say that it would be hard to turn down the invitation since there appeared to be an expectation that Jake would attend. Also, looking over at Cherise and seeing her excitement, he said it would be a treat for her to attend a palace function. In the end, they decided that they would all go.
Norlan stood and said. “I will go to the palace to let them know.”
Jake went to back to his room, grabbing a towel and stripping off his clothes. He went out and took a quick shower, then returned and climbed into his bed. Once he released his power, a wave of exhaustion spread over him and he was quickly asleep.
Far to the west, at the edge of the Inland Sea, the figure in dark robes from Creatos’ cave rode up to the cove where his Master’s servants were waiting for him, his horse lathered and trembling under him. The night made things hard to see, but he could hear the sound of the surf as the waves crashed against the rocks that surrounded the cove.
As much as he hated riding horses, he had ridden this one straight from Creatos’ stronghold, pushing the horse. He was forced to slow and rest it at times, since killing the horse would mean finding another and he was avoiding towns and villages. He was not afraid of encountering any one or even two clerics, but if a group confronted him, he may be tested beyond what he could handle. To prevent such a situation, he rode around those settlements in his path.
He could make out the water ahead, with the long shadow of the boat waiting for him, pulled up on the sand. He saw several shadowy figures moving around the boat, the sailors standing ready to shove off at a moment’s notice.
He rode up to the boat, ignoring the sudden baring of steel when the sailors saw him. Once they recognized who he was, they sheathed their weapons and prepared to sail. He had mixed feelings when he gratefully got off his horse, the creature about ready to collapse. As much as he disliked riding, he absolutely loathed sea travel. He could not control his stomach on the voyage here, spending much of his time being sick. Some of the sailors had thought that was amusing until he made an example of one of them.
, he thought with self-satisfaction,
they had been nothing but courteous
As he made his way to the wooden longboat with sailors already manning the oars, he heard the sound of approaching horses. He spun to see a group of four soldiers appear along the ridge that hid the cove from view, carrying torches. Accompanying them was a cleric, glowing in power.
“You in the cove, halt in the name of the king!” One of the soldiers called out as they started down into the cove.
The figure waited until they got close, then unleashed a blast of dark fire, the black flames sweeping over and enveloping the soldiers. He smiled at the sounds of the men and horses screaming.
These fools didn’t know whom they were messing with.
He thought grimly as he turned to go.
He was surprised when the cleric rose from the burning piles, her robes and flesh scorched, but still glowing in power. She released a bolt of clerics’ fire at him. He deflected the blow, sending it into the sky. He returned her fire with his own. She was able to block most of it, though she cried out as some of it reached her. She was able to launch another ineffective attack before he was able to overwhelm her defenses and reduce her to a smoldering heap, her cries dying in the night.
He turned and climbed aboard the boat, the crew moving quickly to launch and head to sea. He wrapped his robes tighter as the spray of the waves carried over the bow. He thought about that stupid cleric with an amused smile. While he still feared his Master, the one thing he relished since coming here was that no one could ever pick on Bruce Talia again.
The light of the torches illuminating the palace courtyard made the shadows seem to dance against palace walls as Jake stepped out of the carriage. His own shining form drew stares from many of the people entering the palace, making him feel somewhat self-conscious. Trying to ignore the looks, he adjusted his swordbelt and ran his hands down his doublet, smoothing the material, then turned to offer his hand to Cherise to assist her as she exited. Cherise had a light blue dress on, the skirt hanging to her ankles, so it was awkward for her to navigate the carriage steps. Once she was out, he did the same for Madalin.
“Thank you, Jake.” Madalin said as she stepped down, dressed in a red satin gown, her hair up in an elaborate style. She had been fussing with her hair all afternoon, much to Norlan’s amusement.
Norlan exited last, dressed in his best brown doublet and pants, with his knee-high boots polished to a high shine. He looked slightly uncomfortable in such finery.
The palace had sent the carriage to bring them to the event, honoring Jake’s position as a Hero of Sanduas. Jake had welcomed it, as he had been unsure on how he would make it to the palace, given his condition. He had envisioned pushing beyond his strength and showing up being carried Norlan’s back.
“Let’s head inside.” Norlan said, gesturing towards the entrance and offering his arm to his wife. Madalin smiled at her husband, a pleased twinkle in her eyes, as she laid her hand on his arm. Jake offered his arm to Cherise and they followed her parents into the palace.
Despite his attempt to disregard the speculative looks and whispers, Jake knew that he and his magic were the topic of much discussion as they made their way to the throne room. Uncomfortable with the attention, he tried to focus on keeping a steady and stable pace, though he began sweating slightly inside his doublet.
When they reached the throne room, a palace official stopped them. He checked for their names on a list and, after finding them, had the herald announce their names to the crowd. Another palace servant came over and led them to a table near the thrones. Other guests were already at the table and Norlan and Madalin engaged them in polite conversation.
Jake looked around the hall, seeing that the tables had been set up on either side of the carpet that lead to the throne dais. A smaller table was sent next to the dais, which Jake assumed was for the king. He found Marcus on the other side of the hall, dressed in a fine dark green doublet, hand resting on his sword, looking somewhat pensive as he waited next to his father, who was speaking with several other nobles. Marcus noticed Jake and nodded in greeting, which Jake retuned. Jake saw that Marcus’ mother was speaking with two other women while his brother was standing apart, a tankard in his hand. Rolas was dressed in a light green doublet, with a gold badge of his family crest pinned on. Jake observed that he was also armed with a sword.
The king’s herald came through the doors near the thrones, rapping his staff on the ground. “King Kirsten the First, Sovereign King of Sanduas and his daughter, Her Royal Highness, Princess Keria comes!” He called out as silence descended in the hall. “They come!”
A flurry of bows and curtsies rippled through the hall as the king and Keria walked in, her hand on her father’s arm. They made their way to the dais, smiling and acknowledging people in the crowd with nods. Keria stopped at the dais steps while her father ascended to his throne. He turned to address the gathered assembly.
“We come tonight to celebrate the safe return of my daughter.” The king said, voice carrying through the hall. “Before we begin the celebrations, I ask that we observe a moment of silence to honor those that fell defending her and those that fell to rescue her.” The crowd went quiet, with only the faint crackle of the torch fires audible in the hall.
After about a minute of silence, the king spoke again. “Marcus, son of Marcelas, approach the throne.” Jake heard the quiet murmuring from the crowd as Marcus, who looked surprised, walked to the dais, then, at the king’s gesture, knelt. As the king came down the stairs, a Royal Guard approached with a bejeweled sword in his hands.
The king took the sword and held it aloft. “Marcus, son of Marcelas.” The king formally intoned. “To honor your bravery and commitment to the safety of the princess, I now declare that you are to be knighted in the presence of these witnesses.”
“Do you swear to the One to obey the will of your sovereign, to always speak the truth, to carry arms to defend this realm, to protect the weak and infirm, and to give your life, if needed, in the service of these causes?” The king asked, looking at Marcus.
“I so swear, my king.” Marcus replied formally, bowing his head.
“Then, by my power and authority, I knight you.” The king said as he laid the flat of his sword blade on Marcus’ head. He pulled it away, handed the sword back to the Guard and laid a hand on Marcus’ shoulder. “Arise, Sir Marcus.”
Marcus stood, shaking hands with the king, as the crowd erupted in cheers. Keria came over from where she was standing and lightly kissed Marcus on the cheek. Jake saw Marcus’ father beaming with pride, shaking hands with the other nobles near him. His mother was politely clapping, but her face betrayed no other emotion. On the other hand, emotions were evident on Rolas’ face as he scowled and, tilting his head back, drained his tankard and signaled for another.
“Let us feast.” The king announced as he and Keria went to the small table next to the dais. Marcus went back over to his family as the crowd began to sit down at their assigned tables. His father embraced him and led him to a seat next to his at the table.
The table near Jake was long, with wooden benches with room for ten on each side, looking like an oversized picnic table. Jake sat down at the end of the bench, next to Norlan, while Madalin and
Cherise took the seats across from them. Jake watched as servants came through the doors, bearing large trays of food. The servants were quick and the table before them was soon covered with various meats, vegetables, pastries and fruit. Other servants came by to offer drinks, carrying pitchers of ale, wine, fruit punch and water. While he was tempted to have some ale, Jake was sure that, in his current condition, he would hear about it from Madalin, so he stuck with water. Norlan and Madalin chose the wine while Cherise had the punch.
Dinner progressed quickly, with the people next to Norlan and Madalin making small talk with them while they ate. Jake continued to eat until he was stuffed, pausing only to chat with Cherise. The hall buzzed with conversations while the servants were seemingly everywhere, replacing food trays, refilling cups and clearing dinnerware.
Once dinner was completed, the servants cleared the tables of the trays, but continued to provide the drinks. Jake, sitting contently as he let his food settle, was surprised to see Keria come over to the table. Everyone at the table began to rise, but Keria gestured for them to remain seated.
“Good evening, Jake.” Keria said with a bright smile. A servant came over with a chair, placing it at the end of the table so she could sit. “I am so glad to see that you could make it.” She placed her hand on Jake’s.
“Thank you, Keria.” Jake said with a smile, enjoying the warmth of her hand.
“Good evening as well, Master Norlan, Mistress Madalin, and Cherise.” Keria said with a nod of her head. “I trust that you are enjoying yourselves.”
“I have never ridden in a carriage before or seen so many beautiful dresses.” Cherise said brightly, her eyes brimming with joy. “This is wonderful, Keria.”
“Cherise!” Norlan said sharply, glancing at the others at the table and sounding slightly scandalized. “You must address the princess as
.” He looked at Keria. “I apologize for her poor manners, Your Highness. No disrespect was meant.”
“No apologies are needed, Master Norlan.” Keria said lightly, smiling at Cherise and touching her cheek, now bright red from embarrassment. “I told Cherise that she
may use my name.”
Jake sat back and watched as Keria engaged Cherise and Madalin in conversation. Cherise soon forgot about her father’s rebuke, talking and laughing with Keria. After some last words, Keria turned back to Jake.
“How are you feeling, Jake?” She asked quietly, his blue aura reflecting in her eyes. “You seem to be able to move around fairly well.”
“I’m ok.” Jake replied. “I still get tired pretty quickly, but other than that, I am doing fine.”
“You mustn’t tax yourself, Jake.” Keria said seriously. “I do not want to see you harm yourself further. Getting plenty of rest seems best course until Brother Jonas returns.”
“I’m not hurting for sleep or rest, I can assure you.” Jake said, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice. He did not want to upset Keria, but he was getting a little tired of being surrounded by women who want to mother him. He did not need any more reminders of his condition.
“That is good.” Keria stated. She glanced back over at her father, who motioned for her to return. She stood, smiling at Jake. “I will try to come back in a little while.” With a nod to the rest of the table, she left, walking back to her table.
Jake stared after her, admiring her form, then sighed wistfully.
What am I going to do about her? How do I make things right with him?
He thought as he glanced across the room at Marcus. Shaking his head, he saw a sympathetic look in Madalin’s eyes when he gazed in her direction. He gave her a slight smile and a shrug of his shoulders. He shifted on the bench, trying to get comfortable, then sat there lost in thought, staring at the torches on the far wall, until the king stood and spoke again.
“Let the music and dancing begin.” The king said, signaling at the musicians in the corner of the hall. Servants came and moved some tables to open up a large space in the middle of the hall. Once the area was cleared, the musicians began to play.
Jake watched as the king and Keria went out and danced, an intricate and formal type of dance. As the dance ended and Keria kissed her father on the cheek, the hall erupted in applause. Smiling, the king gestured for others of join them. Couples began to move to the dance area as the musician began another melody. Jake saw Marcus approach Keria, clearly asking for a dance. She smiled and nodded and Marcus led her out to the dance area.
Jake watched it with some mixed feelings. While he would love to dance with Keria, he did not know the steps and his strength might not last long enough. So, he consigned himself to simply watch, his gaze on Keria as she danced and laughed with Marcus.
His attention was suddenly drawn away when he saw Rolas approaching his table, a tankard in his hand. Jake could tell that he had been drinking heavily, his step slightly unsteady.
“Why they let you in I will never know.” Rolas said harshly as he stopped next to the table. Jake could see anger on his face. “It is bad enough that they are fawning over my dear brother.” He spat. He looked Jake up and down, a cruel smile on his lips, and sneered. “You are no better than a jumped-up peasant.”
“There is no need for this, my lord.” Norlan began, rising slightly. “Jake is here at the invitation of the king. Perhaps you should return to-“
“Was I speaking to you, smith?” Rolas snarled, staring at Norlan. “You and your family are not much better.”
Jake felt anger course through him as he saw Norlan bite back a reply and sit down, fists clenched, the others at the table looking uncomfortable, with Madalin concerned and Cherise looking scared and hurt. Before he knew what he was doing, Jake surged to his feet.
“Back away, asshole.” Jake said through gritted teeth.
“Are you going to make me?” Rolas said ominously as he set his tankard on the table and his other hand drifted towards his sword. “Perhaps you think you are my equal.”
Jake stared back, deliberately crossing his arms across his chest, anger keeping him from backing down, but a trickle of fear wormed its way into his thoughts. He was in no condition to fight and Rolas had years of experience on him.
“Rolas!” Jake heard Marcus’ voice cut through the music, low but direct. Jake saw him coming over from the dance area. “What do you think you are doing?” Marcus asked, face tight, as he confronted his brother.
“None of your concern,
Marcus.” Rolas snapped, contemptuous. He stepped back and turned to face Marcus. “Does your little friend need you to protect him?” He barked a short, sharp laugh. “You always have had a soft spot for those beneath us.”
Marcus’ face went flat, but before he could reply, Lady Arelia unexpectedly
appeared, with Captain Justian at her side. “Rolas, you will remove yourself to our quarters. You have had too much ale for your own good.” She said, voice cool.
“I am a grown man, Mother.” Rolas said, a look of defiance on his face. “I will go when I please.”
“You will leave now or I will have Captain Justian drag you from this hall like a common criminal.” She replied, her voice now ice, eyes hard.
Jake watched as Rolas glared at his mother, jaw muscles clenching and unclenching, weighing defiance. Lady Arelia simply retuned that stare, eyes like dark stones.
“As you wish, Mother.” Rolas finally said. He pushed past Marcus, who let him go. At Lady Arelia’s whispered instruction, Justian followed Rolas out of the hall.