Authors: Jon Kiln
by Jon Kiln
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in book reviews.
Queen Myriam was saddened. This should be one of the happier moments of her short life with her ascendancy to the throne, yet all she could do was grieve. She was only just coming to terms with the murder of her parents, King Ludwig and Queen Alissia, murdered by the usurper Duke Harald. She had been numbed to the events unfolding around her, but now, she had to face her losses. Her people were relying on her. Not too long ago she had been a happy princess, living out her life at Castle Villeroy, being trained and prepared for the moment when she would rule. Now, she was the Queen of that castle and all its lands. She had to make the decisions and lead the armies.
Luckily, she did not have to face these difficulties alone. She had a close and trusted entourage who would lay down their lives to keep her safe. Friends who had stood by her side in her darkest hour and helped her overcome the evil tyrant, her uncle. Not only had he beheaded her parents, he had proven to be a cruel man. Her people were looking to her to help them move from the darkness of her uncle’s rule, and into a brighter, better future.
The people might be joyous now, while they celebrate his death and their new Queen’s crowning, but soon they would remember the changes he had enforced and the loved ones they had lost while ruled by his cruel hand. Higher taxes needed to be lowered again, and freedoms he had curtailed restored. The deaths of many during the battles needed to be mourned and losses recompensed. Indeed, she had much to undo that her Uncle Harald had inflicted in his short reign on the people who lived in the Kingdom of Palara.
As if the politics of such times were not enough to concern her, she also worried over the disappearance of her grandmother, the Duchess D’Anjue. Were it not for the Duchess’s bravery, these lands may still be ruled by the cruel usurper.
In the short time she had spent with her grandmother, when she had taken her under her wing at Castle Locke, Myriam had learned what a strong and loving woman her mother’s mother truly was. Despite her own loss at the death of her daughter, Myriam’s mother, she still managed to ensure that her granddaughter had escaped the castle when the usurper’s men came for her.
Myriam had already decided that she must find her grandmother. She knew that she was alive, as the magic of the stones of Berghein linked the D’Anjue bloodline, inexorably. Although the Duchess did not hold one of the stones, they would have told Myriam if her grandmother was gone from this world. Yet no path they followed had yet led to any indication of the Duchess’s whereabouts. Also, the strange little monk Ghaffar, who had managed to release her grandmother from the dungeons, had disappeared aswell. There had to be a link.
Queen Myriam went out onto the large balcony of the castle. She had been instructed of her duty to show herself to the gathered people. Myriam knew her responsibilities, what was expected of her, but she did not seek their adulation. She only wanted to rule in their best interests. Her family had much to make up to them.
As she waved and smiled to the cheering crowds, she was not alone. By her side stood Artas, a nobleman who had also lost much. His parents, too, had been beheaded for their loyalty to the King, her father. Artas was her friend and guide and she would need his council over the coming days. His bravery in battle and loyalty to the royal family had earned him a knighthood. He like many brave soldiers and fighting subjects, were to be rewarded for saving their kingdom.
Myriam had asked Ganry, the former mercenary turned bodyguard, to lead her armies, but he had refused the role. Leading armies was too much a reminder of Ganry’s former life, which ultimately led to pain and sorrow. He felt his talents were now best served at her side, as her personal protector.
This she could not refuse for she had come to rely on him and his strength. He wanted no riches, no lands, only to live in Castle Villeroy. Many call him a retired mercenary, but he would argue that his sword was still active, should anyone ever dare to threaten his Queen.
She had provided for him in the castle, giving him his own quarters and manservant to help, and he was now head of the honored Queen’s Bodyguards. This role he was happy to take, knowing that only those who he had personally chosen could get close to her. The arrangement also suited Myriam. With the loss of her parents she was in need of many who could advise her, and Ganry was one of few who she truly trusted.
Looking out over the castle grounds and the village, she enjoyed all the adornments in an array of beautiful colors. The town had been decorated with hanging streamers of colorful banners and ribbons. The people wished to bring brightness and joy back into the Kingdom of Palara, and they hoped that with the crowning of a new Queen would come prosperous and more peaceful times.
Whenever their Queen looked out of her windows, she would feel uplifted and her grief would ease with the love of her people. King Ludwig had kept peace over the lands for many decades and his people had loved him for it. Now, they had the same hopes in his daughter.
Myriam wanted nothing more than to find peace for her people. Yet first she must find her grandmother, her only living relative. Surely the people would not deny her this small favor.
In looking for a solution to find the Duchess, Myriam called a private meeting. She wanted only her most trusted advisors and friends. Being still uncertain of the loyalties of most of the politicians and noblemen, of which many had supported Harald in his reign of terror, she was wary of them.
A week ago she had contacted Hendon, the forest dweller. She would also liked to have Linz here too, but he was now chief of his tribe and had much work to do there after the ravages of battle.
There was a strange and unknown link in their bloodlines, previously undiscovered, between Myriam, Hendon and Linz, which they only became aware of as they all gained a skill from the Berghein stones. Only those of the D’Anjue bloodline were blessed with this. These stones also allowed them to visualize each other’s surroundings, even when they were hundreds of miles away from each other. A basic means of communication, but nonetheless, it had proved a useful one.
Hendon had arrived the day before and now sat with the Queen and Ganry in the garden, enjoying a light meal while they awaited for the arrival of Artas. He could soon be seen arriving with a unit of soldiers who made their way towards the stables. Artas saluted to the Queen and Myriam waved him over, eager to get the meeting started.
Artas joined them at the table, and the discussion began in earnest.
Hendon was telling us about his new staff, Myriam said, for the benefit of the new arrival. Turning to Hendon she continued, “You say it has a spirit of the dead within?”
“Upon my return, I found the staff at my home in the forest, so I began to carve it to make it more personal to my needs. As I was finishing, the staff told me that it was glad I’d finally stopped hacking away at it. At first I did not know who spoke to me, in my mind. It wasn’t until the staff floated in the air and knocked me on the head, that I realized it is alive. I’ve yet to work out who it is, but I suspect it is the soul of Barnarby of Bravewood. I do not think we have seen the last of him,” Hendon told her.
“Oh, I do hope so, Hendon.” The thought of Barnaby brought a tear to her eyes. He had hardly known her, yet had given his life to help her escape those wretched soldiers that her uncle had used to hunt her down. “He was an odd character and I would love to thank him for all the help he gave to my cause.”
Myriam was pleased to learn that Hendon’s special skills were improving. She had been aware that he could communicate with animals, but now he was able to communicate with the trees and the winds and all manner of things.
“You remember Barnaby, whom we thought a wizard?” Myriam said to Ganry, who looked on, skeptical, at Hendon’s tale.
“I still maintain that there is no such thing as magic,” Ganry retorted, knowing full well he had witnessed so many unexplained events during the coup.
“Yes, yes, we know how you feel Ganry, but Hendon believes that Barnaby has put his soul into this staff. Does that not convince you that there is indeed some elements of magic to the world?” Myriam said, determined that she would get Ganry to come to terms with what to her, was so very obvious.
“All it convinces me of, is that the young master Hendon is a little too familiar with the local hooch.”
That brought a smile to everyone’s lips, even Hendon’s.
“Shall we take this meeting inside? It is after all meant to be a secret gathering,” Ganry suggested.
“Only what we are discussing is secret,” Myriam said. “If we hide away then suspicions will arise. I thought if I meet with my friends out in the open, no one will suspect a thing. Clever, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” Ganry said. “I am pleased to see you starting to think like a Queen at last.”
Myriam gave him a look of annoyance, even though she knew his words to be true. It was difficult for her, adapting so quickly, but she knew she had to, and Ganry’s advice was always given out of love and respect.
“Thank you Ganry,” she smiled at him. “It is hard going from a mere princess to bossy Queen. Artas,” she said, attempting to change the course of the subject, “update us on the search for the Duchess.”
“No news, I’m afraid,” Artas informed them. “My men have searched everywhere and questioned many, yet still the Duchess’s whereabouts remain a mystery.”
To any casual onlookers, the group would appear to be nothing more than a group of friends enjoying their reunion. No one could have guessed that they were discussing a quest for the Queen. And a dangerous one at that.
Though Ganry would have her stay at the castle, Myriam insisted that she go and find her grandmother. It was the least she could do for all the Duchess had done for her, including losing her castle and risking her life. Ganry could find no argument with this, even though he tried to convince her otherwise. She was as stubborn as always.
Linz was suffering much the same treatment as Myriam. When his uncle had been killed by the lizard man, he had become Chief of his people, the Lake tribes. No amount of preparation was enough for the huge responsibility and the expectations of this role, even though he had been in training for most of his life.
There seemed to be a never ending amount of disputes amongst the people that he was expected to resolve. The list of tasks for the Chief was endless. He never realized that his uncle had so many responsibilities. The most difficult ones at the moment were the funerals and burials of the brave soldiers they had lost, in the recent battle of the coup at Castle Villeroy.
He had wanted to help Myriam gain back her rightful place on the throne, in the Kingdom of Palara. Historically, his people were always a part of the Kingdom, but his predecessors, including his uncle Chief Clay, had chosen to keep the Lake People hidden from the other races of this land.
Now they were discovered, but with the Queen’s help, they could at long last have rights to the land they had chosen to settle in. They lived deep in the forest of Cefinon, where few from the kingdom ever ventured.
The city of Halawa, with its wooden houses on stilts, was now officially on the map. It was the new Chief’s hopes that trade would bring a little more wealth to his people. Though Chief Linz is young for such responsibilities, he has good advisors, including hand picked ones sent by the Queen from Castle Villeroy.
He knew his friends were meeting with the Queen, but he had decided not to become involved in the search for the Duchess as he needed to be here for his people. Many had suffered losses in a battle that he had supported. Now, he believed, it would be wrong for him to desert them in this, no matter how much he wanted to go.
He had discussed this at length with his mother Lisl, who was his most valued and closest advisor. She argued that now would not be a good time to be absent, and he reluctantly agreed with her. His uncle had relied on his mother’s wisdom in difficult and challenging times, and so would he.
He had moved into the Chief’s hut, and his mother had moved in with him. He felt better being surrounded by those who he trusted and could rely upon. Good advisors would help and guide him as he tried to improve the lives of his subjects. They were a simple people, not needing the comforts of luxury, but he wanted to bring education to them and access to travel so they could better understand the world around them. A world, that, for most of them until recently, was a mystery.
Myriam had given him books to read and although his reading skills were basic, he was improving every day. Blowing out the candle as he finished reading of the Holy War, which had involved his ancestors in the D’Anjue bloodline, he sighed at the coming night.
Sleep had been hard to obtain with all his new worries, and many a night he would toss and turn while his mind was filled with the responsibilities of leadership. At fourteen years old he did not feel ready to take a wife, but he looked forward to the day when he could share his worries with someone he loved.
Before he could sleep, he thought of the monk, Ghaffar, who had lived in the temple on the lake. He wondered at his whereabouts, because he was the last one to be seen with the Duchess D’Anjue. His people watched the temple but and there were no signs of Ghaffar’s return.
Setting his thoughts aside, he closed his eyes to invite sleep, and soon his world was relaxed and he slipped into a light slumber. But not for long. One of the reasons for his restless nights were the dreams, vivid and real.
Tonight he was stood on a battlefield, surrounded by the dead. Before him was a lizard man, readying his spear to strike him down. He noticed the beast held a human head in its claws. Its scaly fingers entwined with long brown hair. Was it one of his own tribe, as the males all have long hair? It was hard to tell as the hair fell in such a way to obscure the face. The lizard man raised his macabre trophy and the hair fell from the visage, revealing the features of the Duchess, eyes open and staring right at him, accusingly.
“No!” Chief Linz yelled out, suddenly sitting upright. He felt disoriented, but in a few moments he realized he had been dreaming again. Yet it did not feel like a dream. It felt so real that his body was soaked in sweat and the adrenaline coursed through his veins.
Getting up to take some air, he went out onto the wooden porch that surrounded his hut, beneath which was the lake. The water was rippling even though there was no breeze. Curious as to what was causing the water’s movement, he went to the rail and peered into the murky depths. It took a while before his eyes adjusted but when they did, he saw that there were at least a hundred water lizards gathered around his hut.
Linz felt a cold shudder run through him. The water lizards had never behaved this way before. This could only be a foretelling of things to come. Desperate for an answer to this puzzle he ran straight to his mother’s room, shaking her awake and telling her of his dream and the phenomenon in the lake.
“It is a message from the lizard people,” she said, feeling an urgency. “They are calling you, Linz, they want to guide you to their home, but I know not why. My son, I do not think it will be safe. It is trickery, please don’t go,” his mother pleaded with him.
“I have to go see Myriam, mother, it is something to do with the Duchess and I must tell her. Do not forget, our ancestors are one and the same and we share their bloodline. We cannot turn our heads to our own.”
“What will you do, my son? We have lost so many of our people to the Queen’s cause, do we really want to go to battle so soon?”
His mother spoke wise words, but he could not turn his back on the Duchess. She had helped Myriam’s cause and she was clearly in danger.
“Tomorrow, I will travel to see the forest dweller, Hendon. Together we can contact the Queen and I will tell her of my fears. Go to your bed, mother, you will stand in my stead whilst I am gone. I can’t help but feel that our people are involved in the Duchess’s life. I bid you a good night’s sleep for what is remaining of the darkness. Soon I will pack and will be gone before you awaken.”
She hugged her son. Always, she trusted his judgment, just as he trusted her wise words. He had been trained all his life by her brother, Chief Clay. He would make the right choices for his people.