I woke at dawn, crawled out of my nest of wolf fur and stretched. I stopped with my back arched, hands still on my hips, and stared. I must have made a noise, since the pile of pixies erupted and Sirlriend emerged.
“The stones,” I said. “They moved. Not just a little.”
The dwarf king looked at me. “You didn’t know?”
“The stones are giants. The get up at midnight and dance in the moonlight. They settle down at dawn. Every night. Last night. I’m surprised they didn’t wake you.”
“He slept through it, like a cub,” Warph said.
Everyone was up. They were looking at me.
“Well, then, I guess there is that, then,” I said. “Right. Now let’s get breakfast and get a move on. It’s going to be an interesting day.”
“It will be an interesting day,” Merla said. “Just remember to follow my lead, OK?”
I nodded. As we explored the rough outland I had assumed more of a leadership role, but civilization is much more complicated. Merla could out think anyone in the land, from the king’s councilors to the high priests. It was time for her to take the lead.
Traveling through our kingdom was easy. The roads were well maintained and there was little traffic. To be truthful, the only people I saw were running away from us. I asked Merla about this.
“Oh come now, Lorunce,” she said. “You may be slow, but I didn’t think you were stupid.”
“I have some ideas, but I saw six armed guards running as if we were a swarm of hornets. I don’t understand that.”
“The two of us are well armed.”
“No better than the six of them.”
“We have a dwarf king with us. That’s not something people see every day.”
“Exactly. You’d think they’d line the street to look.”
“And then there is your pet, there…”
“I am not a house dog!”
“Uhm, yeah.” Warph’s back was shoulder height, his head higher than mine.
“Even Soe-Ar isn’t invisible and people can see him, a hunter big enough to take the largest bull in the land. Just think what those talons could do to a person.”
“There is that.”
“People are afraid. Even the soldiers are afraid. But don’t worry, there will be a reception for us at the capital. Soe-Ar can see it and can see the preparations. As I said earlier, just follow my lead.”
There was nothing for it but to do just that, continue on know we were walking into a trap.
Walking after lunch I realized that I had seen few wooded areas in hours. I recognized landmarks. We were almost to the capital.
A city had grown up around the king’s palace, but most of it stretched along the river to the south and east. We were approaching from the north and west, a lesser used route. Even if lesser used, the road widened. It was soon flanked by shops and large houses.
Right in front of the castle itself, the buildings came to an end. Just ahead the avenue went through some trees that I didn’t remember. The avenue led to the West Gate of the palace.
Just before we entered the trees, Merla whispered, “Remember, follow my lead.”
The trees erupted around us. We were surrounded by hundreds of soldiers.
Thworn walked towards us, three soldiers on either side.
“Well, well, well, and what have we here?” Thworn asked. “It looks like Merla and her idiot peasant friend. Are you traitors planning on attacking your own land? Just the two of you?”
“Attack? Traitors? No,” Merla said. “You have it all wrong. We went on a quest to find King Brinwald’s sword. Legend has it that the sword will end the rein of Zurlfed. We need to stop the attacks from the north. We have found the sword and wish an audience with the king.”
“With the king, you say? My, aren’t we high and mighty now. And for your information, the attacks have stopped.”
One of the soldiers stepped forward and said, “Yes, we were ordered not to attack disguised as…”
“Shut up!” Thworn turned red. “Prince Branfel the Brave met those nasty Snow Demons and slaughtered the lot single handed. They were vicious and destroyed his honor guard. He was taken prisoner in the end. I think you remember how I rescued him. After that, there have been no attacks.”
“I had suspected that the prince was behind the attacks, and now you verified it,” Merla said. “Now I demand to see the king. If you take me directly to the king, Thworn, you will be rewarded. If you block me, you will be executed as a traitor.”
“Ha! You are just saying that because after you played hard to get and turned down my advances…”
“Thwarted your rape attempts…”
“…I have not been as forward. You still want the power and prestige of being the wife of the prince’s companion. Now you are angry and have all of these false charges. The next time I have you killed, I’ll make sure the job is done correctly.”
“That’s right,” a voice shouted out.
The prince emerged from the middle of the army and walked towards us.
“I ordered that you be killed, didn’t I? You disobeyed my order by staying alive. Now that is what I call being a traitor. Where is the soldier I sent to kill you?”
“That would be Robdert,” Thworn said. “There.”
“Robdert, come before me,” the prince said. “On your knees. Bow your head.”
The soldier, face grim, followed the prices directions. The prince tried to unsheathe his sword, gave up and took the sword that Thoworn offered him.
“Robdert, these peasants are alive. You disobeyed your prince. Now you will pay the price.” He raised the sword high over his head.
Merla nudged me, waking me from my stupor. Without a second thought, my sword, Trowr, came out with a bolt of lightning and shatter the princes sword before it reached the poor soldier’s neck.
The impact of Trowr on the prince’s sword caused anther flash and a boom that reverberated off of the castle walls. The shockwave knocked down all of the soldiers, leaving only Merla and myself standing. For the first time my brain registered that the dwarf king and wolf were not visible and hadn’t been since we entered the capital.
The booms were still echoing off in the distance when I saw door open in the palace and a liter being carried out. The queen emerged just as the prince wobbled his way to his feet. She walked up beside her son.
“He has a magic sword,” the prince said. “Mother, this oaf has a magic sword. Why does this peasant have a magic sword but I don’t have one? I want a magic sword! Tell him to give it to me! Now!” He stomped his foot.
“Your Highness,” Merla said. She did a deep bow. “As we were telling Prince Branfel, we have visited the dragon’s lair and recovered the sword King Brinwald was going to use against Zurlfed and his minions in Slore. We were requesting an audience with the king. Because of the increased activity at the border, we think the sword is needed now more than ever.”
“My son has informed me that the attacks are now over, so we are safe from Slore for the foreseeable future. Isn’t that right, Bran?” She cast a dark eye at the prince.
“Yes, Mother, as you requested. I still don’t know how people will respect me as king if I don’t make a reputation of repulsing attacks. And I don’t see why you were so mad that I generated a few attacks so that I could repulse them. I can’t help my bad luck to be born into a time of peace.”
“Shut up, idiot.” She turned back to Merla. “As I was saying, the attacks have stopped, so there is no pressing need for the sword. That being said, I do want to talk to the two of you. I can tell that no matter what my idiot son thinks, you are true patriots. The king is, uhm, indisposed at the time, but I can handle it.”
The prince muttered, “He’s dead.” Or at least I thought he did. The queen gave him a dirty look, and I wasn’t sure.
“Thank you, Your Highness,” Merla said. “We are trying to work for the good of our country.”
“But what about my magic sword?” the prince asked.
“Drop it, Bran.” The queen did not look happy.
“No. I want a magic sword.”
“Lorunce,” Merla said. “Put your sword in that boulder there.”
I was baffled, but walked over to the large foundation stone she pointed out. I took the sword and pushed it into the stone. To my surprise, the sword entered as if it were butter.
“This is the ancient sword Trowr,” Merla said. “Only one who is noble can yield it.”
“That’s me!” the prince yelled.
“But the nobility is not defined by blood,” Merla continued. She pointed to an officer. “Baron Picknel, what is the old definition of nobility as used in the ancient tales?”
“As you said, nobility is not defined by blood,” the Baron said. “At least not by the ancient code. It is a matter of spirit. A person is noble if they have true bravery. That is defined as being able to perform a needed task even if they are frightened, for a man who knows no fear is a fool and cannot be truly brave. A person who is noble must be truly altruistic. That is defined as one who will put the interests of others before their own, yet at the same time have a sense of self-worth, for if you deem yourself worthless, then self-sacrifice is no sacrifice. The noble man will sacrifice himself to save others. That is nobility.”
“Thank you, Baron,” Merla said. “More than that, the sword Trowr will destroy those unworthy. The more unworthy, the more totally the person’s destruction.”
She looked around at the faces. Some had heard the legends and knew the power. They all stepped back.
“Who thinks they are worthy? If no one speaks up, Lorunce will take the sword back and continue to carry it until proven unworthy.”
Nobody stepped forward.
“Oh, Baron Picknel,” the prince said after a few moments. “Go fetch that sword for me.”
“No sire, I am not worthy. I have done great harm to others.”
The prince grabbed a young man a put a dagger to his throat. “I will kill your son if you don’t do it.”
The Baron walked over to the sword, looked nervously at the prince then grabbed the hilt, eyes closed.
He opened his eyes, then slowly began to pull on the sword.
The sword moved a little but stopped with several inches still embedded in the stone.
“The sword acknowledges that you would sacrifice yourself for your son, but I’m sure dressing up as a snow demon and attacking the out villages, even if under orders from the Prince, lies heavy on your soul,” Merla said.
Tears ran from the Baron’s eyes while he continued to pull on the sword.
“Bran, drop it,” the Queen said. “Put the dagger away. Now!”
The prince lowered the dagger and let the young man go. Baron Picknel dropped his hold of the sword and ran to his son.
With all eyes on the Baron, the prince walked over to the sword. He eyed it suspiciously.
“Bran, don’t even think of touching that sword!” The Queen took a step closer.
The prince reached over, his hand wavering an inch above it.
“Branfel Blarfgold Bringlstone, you listen to your mother and move away from that sword! Now!”
Everyone was shocked that the Queen had used the prince’s middle name. He was in deep trouble!
But he didn’t seem to care. As the Queen made a grab for him, he let his hand drop onto the sword’s hilt.
There was another blast knocking everyone down, excepting, again, Merla and myself. Beyond a scorched mark on the ground, there was no sign on the prince.
The Queen stood up. A page ran over and began to brush the dirt off, but she in turn brushed the page away.
“Damn it, Bran, I told you to stay away.” She stared at the burnt ground for a moment then shrugged her shoulders. “Oh well, no loss. The lowest servant was higher and brighter than he was and the smallest child braver. The mean little guy got what he deserved.”
She turned to me. “Sir Lorunce, take your sword back. Sir Merla, that was a dirty trick you pulled, but you have Royal Forgiveness. You did what was right.” She turned and faced the soldiers. “With the king, uhm, disposed, and the prince dead, I am going to take command until a suitable heir can be found. Baron Picknel, take command of the army and make sure all attacks in the north really are at an end. Oh, and place Thworn under house arrest.”
I took Trowr out of the stone and sheathed the noble sword.
The queen then motioned for Merla and myself to follow her down the avenue to the palace’s West entrance.
As we were going through the gate, I felt a tug from Srilriend and heard a growl, “I am not a house dog.” It was good to know that Merla and I were not alone.
— — —