Authors: Lee Duigon
Inside Ellayne’s pack, Wytt jabbed her with something sharp. It startled her back to her senses.
“Your God is in the East, O people of Obann!” the prester continued. “Humble yourselves to the East, before His wrath descends on you!”
“I don’t want to hear any more of this,” Ellayne said.
“Neither do I—let’s go,” Jack said. He jogged Fnaa’s arm. “Let’s go, Cousin Bomble.”
The chieftains wavered and couldn’t bring themselves to announce the disappearance of the king. Instead, they sent for Gallgoid, the Chief Spy, and bade him to see if he could find the king without letting out the secret.
“I don’t like bringing him into it,” Chief Shaffur grumbled.
“I’ll bet he’s already brought himself into it,” Uduqu said.
Gallgoid had been Lord Reesh’s confederate when the First Prester let the Heathen into the Temple by a secret passage and betrayed the city. Gallgoid was to accompany him all the way out to Kara Karram, where Lord Reesh was to be installed as First Prester of the Thunder King’s New Temple. Gallgoid was the only one to escape the avalanche that buried Lord Reesh and the Thunder King at the Golden Pass, Gallgoid having fled secretly after he’d learned that there was no immortal Thunder King, but only a succession of masked pretenders.
“My men are already searching for King Ryons throughout the city,” he told the chiefs, provoking a knowing nod from Uduqu. “I presumed it was to be kept a secret, so my men are being very discreet. Have no fear on that account.”
“Do we say or do anything that you don’t know about before we tell you?” Shaffur said, scowling.
“It’s my business to know, my lords.” Gallgoid rose from his seat and bowed. “I am entirely your servant. If the people of this city ever learned the truth about me, I wouldn’t live another day.”
“Please, gentlemen!” Obst said. “Remember what the Scriptures say. It’s always been God’s will that someday all nations of men will worship Him in a temple not made by human hands. It profits us nothing to bring up the destruction of the Temple in the city, nor Lord Reesh’s treason. Let Gallgoid serve God now, as do we all. He has repented of his service to Lord Reesh.”
To this the chiefs agreed. But Gurun took it upon herself, later, to go down to a corner of an inner courtyard and take the king’s hawk, Angel, out of her cage. Angel rested contentedly on her forearm. Gurun’s father, Bertig, owned a snow-white hunting eagle, and she knew how to handle birds.
“You are a wise hawk,” Gurun said. “That is why I am going to bid you fly and seek your master, King Ryons. Wherever he is on the face of the earth, find him—and bring him back to me.”
Can a hawk understand such a commandment, and do it? Gurun thought so. She raised her arm, and with a single shrill cry, Angel flew up from the courtyard, circled the palace once, and flew away.
The road from Cardigal to Obann was in good repair, with many people traveling on it—too many for any special notice to be taken of three boys hiking along like all the rest. Jack, Ellayne, and Fnaa made good time, and they never went far without seeing a farmer with a cart, usually with produce in it.
Between villages, travelers felt safe enough to camp beside the road for the night. This close to Obann City, Heathen raiders dared not come. The king’s Attakotts patrolled the countryside—little men with wiry hair who could run all day and not get tired, and who were only seen when they let themselves be seen. Every now and then you would spot one of them, or two, squatting on a hill. They carried bows and arrows, and the arrows were poisoned, such as they used in their distant homeland to bring down large game. They didn’t used poisoned arrows in their frequent skirmishes with the Abnaks back home, deeming poison an unsuitable weapon to use against warriors. But against brigands who disturbed the king’s peace and preyed on his people, they used poison that would kill a man if the arrow only scratched him. Evildoers knew this, and kept their distance from the Obann road.
We ought to reach the city tomorrow, if we have good weather,” Ellayne said. She knew her geography better than Jack had learned his, and Fnaa knew no geography at all. “This trip hasn’t been too hard.”
“Will we see the king tomorrow, then?” Fnaa asked.
“I don’t see why not.”
“We might have to see some other people first,” Jack said, “before they let us in to see the king.”
“You’re his friends. Why wouldn’t he want to see you right away?” Fnaa said.
“Try not to be so stubborn!” Ellayne said. “You trust us, or we wouldn’t all be here together. Well, there are other people you can trust just as much. Obst, Queen Gurun, and the chiefs in Ryons’ army—you’ll have to learn to trust them, too.”
“Not until after I’ve seen the king.”
That was where Fnaa stood, and there was no budging him. He still hadn’t told them the name of the family who owned him and his mother. Jack had tried often enough to get more information out of him, but to no avail.
“You want to get your mother out of that house, don’t you?” he would say. “Then King Ryons can protect her. If those people are traitors, the king’s men will have to arrest them.”
“Telling you right now wouldn’t do any good,” Fnaa said.
They camped beside the road that night, not far from a family of farmers who were roasting sausages over a fire. They bought a few, and when it was dark enough, Ellayne let Wytt out of her sack. He chattered impatiently until she appeased him with a chunk of sausage.
“He doesn’t much like riding in the bag all day,” Jack said.
“Cheer up, Wytt—we’re almost there,” Ellayne said. “King Ryons will be happy to see you again.”
Wytt chirped a brusque reply, then ran off to hunt for moths.
Just a little after noon the next day, they came before the East Gate of the city. It was open, and people and carts were flowing in and out of it. Soldiers stood on the walls, watching, but they were mostly for show because Obann was at peace. Jack, Ellayne, and Fnaa walked right in. “If we’d come with my father on horseback,” Ellayne thought, “we might have had a greeting.”
Fnaa kept darting glances left and right, as if he expected his former master to pounce on him at any moment. “Relax!” Ellayne told him. “No one will recognize you with red hair. Besides, they think you’re a helpless fool.”
“I’m not used to being around so many people,” he said. “I wasn’t allowed out of the house very often.”
From the East Gate to the palace was a straight run along Parade Street. The children had to hold hands to avoid being separated by the crowds. You might think it would be hard for Ellayne and Jack to walk on any street in Obann without being recognized and mobbed as the heroes of Bell Mountain, but although many people knew their names, very few knew their faces. Ellayne’s mother and father had insisted on their daughter (and Jack) not becoming famous.
“But we ought to have a parade!” Ellayne protested to her father, the first time they visited the city.
“It wouldn’t be good for you,” said Roshay Bault, and that was that.
It took them almost an hour to make their way to the royal palace. It had a dozen doors facing on the street. Jack and Ellayne went up to the biggest door, the one in the middle, and spoke to the two mail-clad soldiers on guard there.
“We wish to see King Ryons,” said Ellayne. “We’re friends of his.”
“He knows us,” Jack added.
The guards exchanged a look, and one of them couldn’t repress a smile. “Friends of the king, eh?” he said. “Come to see if he can come out and play?”
“It’s the truth!” Jack said. “Tell him Jack and Ellayne are here.”
“That’s two names for three kids,” said the other guard.
“This is just a friend of ours, from Ninneburky—King Ryons doesn’t know him,” Ellayne answered. “But he does know us! We’re the ones who rang the bell on Bell Mountain.”
The guards thought that was funny, too; but Fnaa looked like he was about to jump out of his skin. Jack put a hand on his shoulder to steady him.
“Obst knows us, too,” Jack said, “and so does Queen Gurun. We’ve walked all the way, and we’re hot and tired.”
“Well, then, come in and sit down, and we’ll see what can be done,” a guard said.
They were made to wait inside the entryway while one of the men went off to consult with an officer. Jack and Ellayne sat on either side of Fnaa, knee to knee and close enough to grab him if he tried to bolt.
“This is outrageous,” Ellayne said. “Nobody here knows who we are.”
“Obst will take care of us,” Jack said. Ellayne was always going on about being famous. Jack wished she’d drop it; he didn’t see the use of being famous.
The other guard was gone for quite some time. “Probably having his lunch!” Ellayne muttered. But Fnaa hadn’t spoken a word since they’d been let inside. Jack watched him closely. It’d be terrible if he fainted.
Finally the guard returned. He was in a hurry, and not chuckling anymore.
“Your pardon!” he said. “Queen Gurun wants to see you right away.” He looked at the other guard. “And you and I are in the pot for making these kids wait! Come, children, come with me. I’ll take you to the queen.”
“We did come here to see King Ryons,” Ellayne said. “We have an important message for him.”
The man shrugged. “My orders are to take you to the queen, and to be right quick about it. I daren’t disobey. Please come!”
And so they found themselves in a private audience with Gurun, in a little room looking out on the jumbled ruins of the Temple. Gurun kissed Ellayne first, then Jack. “But why didn’t you send word that you were coming?” she cried. “You should not have been kept waiting. And who is your friend?”
“Please, Gurun, we have to speak to you alone,” Ellayne said. “And it’s very important that we see King Ryons.”
Gurun dismissed the one handmaid in attendance and made her shut the door after her.
“I’m afraid you cannot see the king today,” she said. “He is not here.”
“Where is he?” Jack asked.
“Before I can tell you that, you must tell me why you’ve come.”
They never would have expected such an answer from her. Jack shook Fnaa a little. “This is Queen Gurun herself,” he told him. “Ellayne and I trust her, and you should, too.”
“I must speak only to the king,” Fnaa said. You could barely hear him.
“There is matter in this!” said Gurun. “Very well—I will tell you something that you must never tell anybody else. Promise me.”