- 3rd day of Hanotë -
Part 2 - Bedtime Stories
Elipson entered the Great Hall of the Royal Council walking side by side with Solara who, as always, smiled gently at anyone who crossed his line of sight.
As she took her place at the Council’s large table her gray eyes instantly found Heric’s , and she couldn’t help feel victorious when he cowered nervously, averting his gaze. Dana sat beside him, her back very straight, her head raised proudly, her face an impenetrable mask. Besides the two representatives of Everlyn the table was full, the high back chairs occupied by the Court’s Ministers, some of the most important Nobles and a half-dozen Counselors. Melbar, all dressed in white, returned Solara’s silent greeting as he took the chair beside his, and whispered something in the boy’s ear. Denar sat on the chair next to her and, by his sour expression, she immediately knew he’d rather be anywhere else but there.
As soon as Elian took his place at the right of the King the great doors were closed and the Council was announced as in session.
Several rolls of proposals were placed on the table, as the ones responsible for their elaboration explained them to the rest of the presents. There were proposals concerning matters regarding the entire Kingdom, from solutions to some of the more urgent agricultural problems to the construction of new shelters and the distribution of funds amongst the several sectors of administration. However, and as to be expected, the majority of the plans and suggestions brought up concerned the eminent crises they would all soon come to face, and thus there were several plans of defense and tactics to counterattack the impending invasion.
Elian sighed. It was always like this. Normally no one even bothered with matters concerning the Knights, even though they were the only armed force of the Kingdom. Quite the contrary. Most proposals related with the welfare of the Orders were normally contested and most Nobles thought that the Orders of the Knights mostly represented an unnecessary expense. But now, that war was upon them, everyone had something to say about how the Knights should be better put to use, some of the plans presented completely inexecutable.
It took only one look in Denar’s direction to know that the Knight was about to lose what little patient he had managed to gather in order to be able to sit there, and listen to that lot of richly dressed and adorned useless little men. It had been hard enough convincing him, not only to be in the same room as Heric, but also to sit at the same table as him, without that implying placing Everlyn’s Governor’s life in mortal danger. And now this bunch of nonsense!
Taking a deep breath Elian stood up, silencing the chubby man that currently explained one of the various defense plans, his fat neck squeezed by a silk bow adorned with precious stones. Grabbing his beautiful and colored map he quickly transformed it into a small ball of paper, which he nonchalantly threw away over his shoulder.
“Your Highness!” the man protested, seeing his hard work treated with such disrespect, and Elian faced him with a sever expression.
“I could say it was a good effort, Lord Duke. If only you had at least taken the trouble to learn how many men we have at our disposal, what kind of weapons they wield and, oh yes, at the very least the right number of walls defending our city!” he added and the man sat heavily as if his legs had lost all strength, his round face growing redder by the minute. “And he we are …” Elian went on facing all the presents. “My Lords, I beg your pardon, but we have no time to lose with this kind of nonsense!” he bluntly stated and whispers of outrage filled the room.
“Elian … that is no way to address the Council,” Endio admonished him lightly but Elian faced him, unwavering.
“I only state the truth. Because nonsense is all I’ve heard since this Council started. All I see are plans and schemes made by men that have no idea of what they’re talking about.” A new wave of displeased whispers filled the room and Endio had to raise his hand to restore order.
“My Lords … As much as it pains me to have to disregard your efforts, it is common knowledge that amongst all of us the Prince is the one who is better informed about the matters concerning the Orders of the Knights. Besides, he has just returned from a close encounter with the same enemy we will soon have to face. I ask that we listen to what he has to say.”
The members of the Council grew quiet again and Elian took a deep breath.
“Denar,” he asked and the Knight unfolded the map of a city surrounded by five concentric walls. “This is our city,” he started, gathering all his patience, going about it as if he were presenting them a foreign country. “North from here stand the Sunny Hills. On this side starts the Silver Forest, which is crossed from north to south by the Silver River. South of the city, in this space here, stand most of our crop fields. Now, following the information received from Mádon and by what we’ve seen in Everlyn, the Northern Armies normally surround the cities from all sides, launching an all out attack as they advance in a ring formation, progressively closing ranks. That being said, the first thing to do is gather everyone inside the city walls where they’ll be protected. We have five walls, and although the highest and strongest are the last two, all five of them have defensive towers, here, here, here and here,” he went on, pointing them in the map. “We have wells inside the city walls and food supplies that can last us for a year or so. We can very well withstand a prolonged siege if we have to …”
Murmurs filled the room once more and one of the Counselors took the word.
“Is Your Highness suggesting that we barricade ourselves inside the city walls with these … monsters at our door? But this is like a gigantic trap!”
“It’s the only way we’ll ever be able to survive,” Denar countered. “They have a huge numeric superiority over us. Lady Elipson, who saw them from up close, made an estimate of fifty thousand men, one third of which are mounted warriors. We will never be able to gather an armed force great enough to stand against a direct attack!”
“And what about the reinforcements that arrived from Everlyn?” someone asked and all attentions went to Heric, who fidgeted on his chair and cleared his throat before answering.
“Regretfully, Everlyn has never possessed an armed force that could be consider as such …” he humbly replied.
Once more murmurs filled the room as comments were whispered here and there. Elian took a deep breath and waited for the Council members to settle down again.
Solara, seated on the other side of the King, bent forward and smiled when Endio looked at him.
“Your Majesty, if I could make a suggestion …”
Endio nodded and once more signaled for silence.
“My Lords, the Emissary of Nar has a proposal the present us,” he announced and the boy stood up, calmly smiling as everyone present gazed up at him.
“Well, I regret having to be this blunt, but it is my believe that there’s something else that the Everlyn’s Governor is neglecting to mention,” he announced and Elian couldn’t help but gape at such a direct accusation. Heric too, looked at the boy in disbelief, and then frowned, annoyed, when Solara directed his smiled at him. “Not of ill faith, of course,” he added. “Simply probably because his mind refuses to believe that which he has been told to be true. But now it is of the utmost importance that everyone should hear it as well. That being said, My Lord, won’t you please share with us the rumors circling amongst those who survived Mádon’s massacre?” he politely requested and Heric’s face grew redder.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m sure you heard the tales. Won’t you recount what you have heard?” the boy insisted and Heric averted his gaze.
“This is ridiculous …!”
“Lord Heric, if you may, please share these … tales with the rest of Council,” Endio also requested and Heirc sighed.
“If you wish to waste time listening to small people’s talk so be it,” he retorted, disgruntled. “When the surviving warriors from Mádon reached Everlyn they were telling fantastic tales about how the sky went completely black in an instant, when the enemy forces invaded their city.”
“We also saw that happen in Everlyn. It seems it happens wherever they go,” Elian added and Heric nodded.
“We also ascertained that. But from their words I believe they were talking about something entirely different. In their words it was as if a moonless night had taken over the sky in the middle of the day. Not like the dimness we saw.”
The room went completely silent and Solara smiled.
“Please … go on.”
“The rest are foolish tales told by scared people!”
“Please …” the boy insisted and Heric shrugged, sounding bored.
“Some men talked about a gigantic winged beast that supposedly came down from the darkness above and washed the earth with burning flames … And they were convinced that that was the reason why the city fell in less than an hour. Surly you can all see how ridiculous this sounds!” he added but his last sentence was lost when Denar jumped to his feet, his green eyes widening in pure terror as he turned to Elian.
“They have a Dragon!”
Elian looked at the Knight unable to understand, but by then chaos had filled the room and numerous voices made themselves heard in exclamations of disbelief.
Solara sat back on his chair looking like a happy child that had fulfilled his duty to perfection, and Elipson couldn’t help but frown, noticing his peaceful, pleased expression, as if he stood above the general confusion that now surrounded them. It was all starting to make sense, she thought. After all, he had warned her and prepared her for that moment, and had now launched that small stone that had immediately created such big waves. Now, all he had to do was wait …
“Silence!!” the King shouted after trying unsuccessfully to restore the order and the room grew quiet again. “Will you please remain calm!”
“Please, Your Majesty, it is well known that Dragons are a thing of myths and legends! They’ve all been extinct for more than a thousand years, if they ever existed at all,” a Noble man declared sarcastically, looking amused by the idea, as if he had just heard a ridiculous joke. “I think I talk for everyone present when I say that we have to agree with Lord Heric. This is ridiculous and we have much graver matters to attend to!”
“Well, I can assure you all that Dragons are very real!” Denar stated, the shadow of raw fear still looming in his green eyes, and the Nobleman laughed loudly.
“Really Sir Knight? Am I to presume you’ve seen one before?” he asked mockingly and Elian saw Denar clench his hands into two tight fists, and immediately knew that he had to act fast or something really bad would happen.
“I believe we are all in need of a brief pause,” he suggested and Endio quickly agreed, also aware of the dangerous tension filling the room. At his command, the doors to the Council Hall were open and the members started getting up and leaving as they laughed amongst themselves, commenting about the ridiculous tale they’d just heard.
Endio was the last to stand and, placing a tired hand on his son’s shoulder, left the room in a slow pace, almost dragging his feet.
Elipson sighed in relief when the room went practically empty and, stretching a leg over the empty chair at her side, leaned her head on one hand. Besides the three of them, only Melbar and the boy had remained.
Elian took a deep breath and placed a gentle hand on the Knight’s back.
“Denar … you have to control yourself …” he pleaded, like he’d done a thousand times before, but the Knight avoided his touch, walking away from the table to look out the window into the huge blue sky above their heads.
“No, Elian … You don’t understand,” he said, sounding calmer, and then averted his gaze. “Really … Why do I even bother! This has nothing to do with me, anyways,” he retorted, as if he were scolding himself, and turned to face his Prince. “But I’ll tell you this much. If they do have a Dragon then … forget it! Mithir is as condemned as Everlyn ever was.”
“You really … believe this is possible?” Elian carefully asked, since he’d never seen such a terrified look on Denar’s face, and his silence and dark expression were all the answer he needed. “We can’t just give up like that! There’s no real confirmation! Besides, we didn’t see anything like that in Everlyn!”
“Maybe they only send it out when it’s needed …” Elipson suggested in a quiet voice. “Everlyn didn’t put up much of a resistance when they invaded.”
Elian took a deep breath and leaned against the table. Contrary to him, Elipson hadn’t even considered the possibility of disregarding Denar’s warning and, taking into account the bitter history the two of them shared, the way she had unquestionably believed the other Knight’s word was enough to make Elian believe it as well.
“Maybe … maybe we can somehow look for a way to defeat it …”
Denar shook his head and a bitter smile crossed his face.
“Forget it! You just have no idea of what a monster like that is capable of … In a split second everything’s gone … and all you can see is fire and ashes …” he described with a haunted expression that made Elipson avert her gaze, certain he wouldn’t want anyone to see him looking like that.
“Well, there’s one solution,” Solara’s clear voice announced capturing everyone’s attention. “Look for aid in the Tower of High Magic.”
“The Tower?! Isn’t that somewhere in the Ice Mountains?” Elian asked and Solara nodded.
“As things stand it is my belief that, at the moment, they’re the only ones able to help Mithir.”
Elian stood silent and Denar crossed his arms.
“I know nothing about that. But one thing I am sure of. If this Dragon appears here nothing will remain of Mithir.”
Elian took a deep breath, his mind quickly considering all options, trying to find a way to solve that problem, and ending up with no other solution than the one presented by the young Emissary of Nar.
“We can try and present this proposal to the Council …”
“You may as well forget it, then,” Denar retorted. “Didn’t you hear? Things like Dragons are a laughing matter, nothing but ridiculous tales!”
“I understand that. But this isn’t something I can just one-sidedly decide, you know that! We have no other choice,” he told the Knight and then sighed. “And please … try and be a bit more patient with them …”
“You won’t hear me utter another word, Elian. I’ve survived this once. I can easily survive it again. It’s these stuck up Nobles that have no idea of what they’re talking about … and that will be screaming for their lives when the time comes,” he replied coldly and Elian sighed again. Denar could be funny and irreverent most of the times, but he had a terrible, difficult personality when discussing serious matters …!
“That being said. Can I call the stuck up, useless bunch of Council members back into the room?” Elipson asked and Elian sighed yet a third time. And this was the worst, he thought as he nodded. For Denar and Elipson could hardly look at each other’s faces, and their arguments always ended up in ugly fights, but when someone came from the outside to hurt one of them they were immediately in tune, and what may have been one single problem rapidly became two.
When all the Council members had returned and settled down on their respective seats, Elian stood up and faced all the presents.
“My Lords, after careful consideration it is my belief that the risk presented by Sir Denar should be taken into consideration. Better that than having to regret at a later date, when we’re all caught by surprise,” he stated and one of the Counselors shook his head in disagreement.
“This is a waste of time. Are we supposed to go on discussing bedtime tales? We all know Your Highness is still young and thus prone to have an imaginative mind. But really! Dragons?!” he asked sarcastically, with an annoying smile on his faces, and some of the presents nodded they’re agreement.
“Am I to take it, then, that the esteemed Counselor is willing to assume all responsibilities for what may happen if these products of my imaginative mind end up attacking our city?” Elian retorted, facing the man, and a heavy silence fell over the entire room. “It’s true I’ve never seen a Dragon!” he spoke to the entire Council. “And thus cannot guarantee that these beasts are a real threat. But I do know that in this world there are many things that escape our understanding. We live our entire lives in a small, peaceful corner of the world, but the world is a much bigger place. Big enough even for mythical creatures like Dragons. We hear that Dragnmor is abandoned and that there are no survivors from the Ancient Race. But which one of you can ascertain to this? I’m only saying that it’s better to be ready for any eventuality, even an improbable, crazy one, than to be sorry afterwords.”
“I agree,” Endio said, surprising him. He had thought the King would keep his silence and let the Council decide, like usual. “What do you suggest we do, then?”
“Your Majesty, I believe we should select a small group of Knights and have them depart as soon as possible towards the High Tower of Magic in search of help.”
Disorder filled the room as a new wave of opposition spread all around.
“I’ve never heard anything more absurd!” blurted one of the Nobleman amidst the general confusion but Elian wasn’t about to let that slide unchecked.
“And why is that?”
“Magic! These so called Magi are mere charlatans!”
“Besides it is said that it is impossible for outsiders to find said Tower!” added another one.
“Nothing but legends!” accused another voice.
Elipson noticed that Solara was watching her, his persistent smile saying more than words, and sighed, condemning her own words before even uttering them.
“My Lords, please!” she asked and, at the sound of that feminine voice the room went silent again. “Why all the protests? Nothing but legends, right? Dragons, Towers of Magic, Magi and so forth. Since these are nothing but, how did you call them? Oh yeah, ‘bedtime tales’,” she said, looking ironically over to Denar. “why not allow those who believe in said tales to leave in search of this Tower?” she added in a mocking tone that made Elian hold his head and Denar look back at her in shocked disbelief, his mouth half gaping. Still none of that stopped Elipson, who smiled and turned to face everyone’s stunned expressions. “This Knight has stated before all of you that Dragons do exist. Therefor I suggest that he may be the one to leave in search of this mythical Tower.”
Elian looked angrily at her, mentally ordering her to shut up, but Elipson simply ignored him, while Denar was still trying to pull himself together.
“We are practically at war! Surly we can’t afford to send our Knights away, in some wild goose chase!” someone contested and Elipson immediately caught sight of the one who had spoken, looking down on him as if he were no more than a child.
“Really, My Lord … haven’t you heard a single word of what has been said? There won’t be any battles on open ground. We only need enough men to guard our walls and keep the enemy out. This will be a war of endurance. We can very well dispense half-dozen Knights to go in search of our only hope of salvation, wouldn’t you agree?”
The man didn’t answer and Elian knew without a doubt that there was nothing else anyone could say or do to avoid the course of action she had just set in motion.
As no one presented any more qualms or questions Endio took the word, facing her.
“My Lady … I’m sure you are aware of the consequences of what you suggest. The Knights chosen to leave will, most likely, be leaving for exile …”
“Unless they find the help we need,” she retorted immediately and a Nobleman laughed sarcastically.
“Bravo! I couldn’t agree more! Let those who believe in this pile of nonsense leave in search of their dreams!” he said, mockingly, and other voices agreed, laughing.
“Silence! This is no joke! We’re trying to decide the fate of our Kingdom!” Endio admonished and everyone grew quiet again. “I’ll ponder on this subject and we shall return to it after lunch. Session is adjourned,” he declared and, just like before, the Council members stood up and started to leave.
Some of the Nobles smiled at Elipson as they passed by her, others bowed as if complimenting her for the way she had solved the problem. Heric stopped at her side and smiled mockingly.
“And I’m the traitor. With friends like you who needs enemies?” he whispered and, without a thought, she turned and punched him straight in the face.
Heric stepped back, holding his right cheek, too stunned to react, as Dana screamed and ran to his side. However it didn’t take long for the Lord Governor to recover, pain shooting through his maxilla and anger distorting his face.
“Heric! Please, let’s leave!” Dana asked in a surprisingly strong voice, pulling him by an arm towards the door, and he followed her, still looking back with a dark threat in his eyes.
Solara left after him, at Melbar’s side, always smiling, and Endio stopped at her side and sighed.
“My dear, I’d really appreciate if you could leave such matters to be taken care of outside the palace,” he simply told her, although she could swear she’d seen a shadow of amusement flicker across the King’s tired face, and then he too left, two guards accompanying his slow steps.
“Ah! That felt good!” she confessed, shaking her aching hand when there were just the three of them left, and then took a deep breath, reading herself to face what awaited her. “Well … about what I’ve just suggested …”
“Have you gone completely insane?!” Elian exploded angrily, jumping to his feet, which of course was to be expected.
“Is there any other solution?” she asked and saw him chew his lower lip in frustration. “We shall form a small group, one that won’t attract too much unwanted attention. People we trust …”-
“This is crazy!” he still accused in open opposition and Denar stood up, taking a deep breath.
“She’s right, Elian. Besides, who else could you send in such a mission? I’ve lived on the road longer than any of the other Knights. I know what it’s like. And the Ice Mountains aren’t completely unknown to me. Of course I’ve never been to the Tower, haven’t even seen it from afar … But taking everything else into consideration, I’m obviously the best choice.”
“You can’t be serious …” Elian whispered, his chest tightening as the inevitable became clearer. “You probably won’t be able to return …”
“What?! You’re not going to tell me that you can’t live without me or some other cheesy line like that, right?” he asked, joking, and Elian clenched his teeth to keep himself together. “Besides, you won’t be able to get rid of me that easily.”
“Everything’s going to be all right,” Elipson added, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “We’ll be back before you notice.” He looked up at her in alarm when he finally understood what she’d been telling him from the start and Elipson smiled. “You didn’t really think I’d let this idiot leave on his own, did you?” she retorted and immediately turned towards Denar, who had already started to protest. “We’ll discuss that afterwords!” she told him dryly and the Knight crossed his arms, averting his gaze.
“This isn’t right …” Elian was saying and Elipson turned back to him.
“But of course it is. We’re Knights, Elian. It is our duty to defend our Kingdom. We’ll find the help we need, even if we have to level those mountains to the ground. Now, come on … let’s not brood over this any longer! Let’s get something to eat!” she decided, pulling him towards the door, and Denar followed them in silent agreement.