Authors: Gilbert L. Morris
© 2000 by
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he Royal Council of Madria was gathered around the long table, a table that occupied most of the room. They waited quietly, and Dethenor, Head of the Royal Council, was the quietest of all.
Dethenor was a thin man with long silver hair and gray eyes. The only sign of his high office was the round golden medallion that dangled from a gold chain about his neck. He fingered the medallion now as he glanced around the table, fixing his eyes briefly on each face.
All of the Council members were men of age and experience, and Dethenor trusted most of them. But things were going badly in Madria, and a trace of apprehension shot through him even now as he considered the perils that lay before the kingdom.
At the other end of the table sat Count Ferrod, nephew of King Alquin. Ferrod was a short man, heavy, with close-set brown eyes and thinning brown hair. Dethenor noticed that Count Ferrod’s gaze too was moving from face to face, and Dethenor knew very well what was happening.
He’s thinking of how to influence the Council again. And I must not let him do it
. Once again he found himself thinking,
After Prince Alexander, Ferrod is next in line for the throne—and little could be worse than to have him become king of our land!
The doors at the far end of the council room swung open, and two guards clad in green uniforms trimmed in gold held them back. The first to enter was
Alcindor, the young military aide and right-hand man to the king. Alcindor was almost like a son to the king
—perhaps even more of a son than Prince Alexander himself
, Dethenor thought.
Alcindor’s eyes swept the room quickly, and his hand rested on the sword hilt at his side. He was always careful with the king’s life, even in the apparent safety of the council room. Dethenor knew a moment of relief, because here was one loyal subject at least.
All stood, and every eye turned to the man who entered now. King Alquin had always been a strong, healthy, athletic man, skilled in all the arts of war. Now, however, the muscles of his body were shrunken, and he was bent over in an unnatural slump. His hair was gray, and lines were etched across his face. He painfully crossed the stone floor to the table only with the help of his wife.
Queen Lenore, in contrast, was a beautiful woman, tall and statuesque and strong. She too was older, but her auburn hair was still free from gray, and her eyes were bright and watchful as she too surveyed the Council.
She helped the king make his way to the heavily carved oak chair at the head of the table, and Dethenor, who would sit next to him, said quietly, “Welcome to the Council, Your Majesty.”
King Alquin sat down, holding onto the massive arms of the chair. He moved slowly and carefully as a man who had been terribly wounded and had learned to adapt himself to the pain. He nodded to Dethenor, saying in a strained voice, “I am glad to see you, Chancellor.”
Queen Lenore took a seat on the opposite side of the king, and the aide moved to his accustomed position immediately behind him. The young man’s eyes
still moved restlessly, and not for one moment did he relax his vigilance.
King Alquin drew himself up in the chair, and his gaze traveled from face to face. The king knew these men well, Dethenor thought. He himself had chosen all of them for his counselors. There was only one empty chair at the table, and pain came to Alquin’s expression when he looked at it.
Dethenor knew instantly what was occurring in his mind.
He’s grieving that Prince Alexander is not here
, Dethenor thought,
and so am I. It’s the prince’s place, and again he has not seen fit to attend
“I think we will dispense with the ordinary business today,” King Alquin said in a shaky voice. He shifted uncomfortably, and Queen Lenore leaned forward and put a hand on his arm. He gave her a brief smile, then his face turned very solemn. “What is the word from Zor?”
“It is not good, I’m afraid, Your Majesty,” Ferrod answered. The count’s eyelids drooped, giving him almost a sleepy expression. His garment was encrusted with jewels and gold, and he wore a magnificent stone on the middle finger of his right hand.
“The news from Zor is never good,” King Alquin said wearily. “Then, what is the word from my army?”
“I have just received a message from Captain Asimov.”
Dethenor watched Ferrod take a sheaf of parchment from his inner pocket.
The count began to read it aloud.
“The armies of Zor are pressing us heavily at every position. We must have reinforcements at once, or all will be lost. Numbers of our men have been
killed or wounded, and a detailed report follows. I recommend that we pull back and give up our present position.”
Alcindor snorted. “He always recommends that we pull back!”
“He is the captain of our army!” Count Ferrod said angrily. “We must trust his expertise!”
“I agree with Alcindor.”
Dethenor—indeed everyone—looked at the queen. Queen Lenore seldom spoke in council. But she spoke now, quietly. Her voice was clear and steady, though quite low. “We must hold the lines where they are. Once we begin to retreat—there is only one end to that.”
“But, Queen Lenore, we
hold the lines!” Ferrod protested. “Every day we are losing men, while the enemy grows stronger.”
The debate went on for some time. The king listened for a while, saying nothing. Finally he looked over at the chancellor. “Lord Dethenor, what say you?”
“I agree with the queen.” He fixed his gaze on Count Ferrod and waited for him to object, but the count was silent. “We must hold our lines. We must protect our kingdom!” He looked up at the aide. “Alcindor, what would you advise?”
Alcindor had grown up as a soldier. Though he was young, he and the king had been in many battles together, and now that the king was too feeble to go out to fight, he still knew the king’s heart. Dethenor was sure of that.
Alcindor stepped over to a map that was pinned to the wall and said, “Here is our kingdom of Madria.” His fingers swept in a circle. “Here are the Madrian Mountains that encircle us. They are a natural protection. As
long as we hold the mountain passes, we can keep the Zorians out. But once they break through, there is nothing to stop them from sweeping in on us. I say we send every available man and hold the mountain passes at all cost.”
Ferrod shouted, “It’s impossible! We only have a limited number of men. We are already heavily outnumbered.”
Dethenor listened for a time as Ferrod argued on. Finally he glanced at the king and interrupted. “Enough, Count! So what do you say, Your Majesty? What are your commands?”
King Alquin replied immediately, “Alcindor is correct. We must hold the mountain passes.”
“But, Your Majesty,” Count Ferrod protested, “be reasonable. Valor is one thing, but throwing away our lives for nothing—that is something else.”
“Would you have us to just give up our country?” the king demanded. His eyes flashed, and he sat up straighter in the carved oak chair. There was a hint of kingliness and power in him still as he said, “We will
surrender to Zor!”
“It’s not a matter of surrender, sire,” Count Ferrod kept on. Now he lowered his voice like a conspirator and leaned forward. “All that the Zorians ask is that we pay tribute to them once a year.”
“And we all know where that will end,” Dethenor said grimly. “The Zorians are not to be trusted. If we give them one inch, they’ll take another—and then another—until finally they will rule over us entirely.”
“You are correct, Dethenor. They would make slaves of us,” the king said. “Send orders to Captain Asimov to hold the lines. We will send him what reinforcements we can. This Council is dismissed.”
All except the king, the queen, Alcindor, and Dethenor rose and left the council chamber.
Dethenor waited until the door was closed. Then he said, “Your Majesty, I must say it again. Prince Alexander must cease his ways and join us. The people must have a prince to look to in times such as these.”
“I know. I know. You are right, Dethenor. I am too frail to go out and fight, and the people need to see a prince fighting for them. Otherwise
will not fight.”
The room grew quiet, as everyone was probably thinking the same thing.
Finally Alcindor spoke his thoughts aloud. “The prince must be urged to assume his rightful role, Your Majesty. There is no other way.”
“Alcindor is right,” Dethenor agreed quickly.
The king looked at his wife, and a silent message seemed to pass between them. “We have spoiled him, Lenore,” he said quietly. “We gave him everything—and now he has become a wastrel.”
“Perhaps it is not too late, my husband,” Queen Lenore said. “I know he has taken a wrong path, but there is good in him. He is of your bloodline. We must do whatever is necessary to bring him to what he should be.”
King Alquin’s gaze met that of Alcindor then. “Go,” he said. “Summon the prince.”
“What if he refuses to come?”
“Bring him here in chains if you must!” And a steely note had crept into the king’s voice.
Alcindor’s eyes glinted. “Yes, sire. It shall be as you say.”
Grenda, Ferrod’s wife, was waiting at the council chamber door. They spoke in whispers as they started down the hall.
Briefly he told her what had happened. “He is set on continuing the war.”
“Foolishness! Insanity!” Grenda spat. She was an attractive woman with black hair and black eyes, but the eyes were angry. Abruptly, she murmured, “You are the next in line for the throne.”
“Be quiet, Grenda! It is treason to even speak aloud of that.”
“It is only wisdom. The king may die soon. Indeed, everyone thinks he will. His wounds will not heal. That leaves only Prince Alexander, and he is a worthless young scoundrel.”
“He is still the prince.”
Grenda’s eyes glittered. “Many things may happen to a young man—sickness, accidents. Perhaps he will even go to fight in the war. If he dies, and Alquin is gone, you will be the king.”