Chapter the Fifth The Departure of the King
“I am called 'Eradrim' and I started for Carasul five days ago, ere the new moon was old with two others on the swiftest horses in the region. Three days before we were assailed by a great host of the Mountain Jackals, and my two companions were slain and I only barely escaped from them; the wrath of the mountains has been awakened.”
“That is sore news,” said Jaylon, “and I am grieved to hear of the death of your companions, I do not wonder your lord has want of counsel.”
“Elaran has only five days since fought a great battle on the borders of the Forest, and every hour we linger here wastes precious time, we must move.”
“Yes, I will dispatch a courier with the token at once,” said Jaylon, rising and opening the door.
“Nay,” replied Eradrim, “trust nought but yourself or one of my kindred; there is power in that seal.”
“As you say,” replied Jaylon, handing the leaf back to Eradrim, “Take it to the Lord Thargon. And let me accompany thee, I pray.” They walked out into the night air in the direction of the Tower of Carasul where the king waited for the return of his son.
They came to the gate of the Tower and the guards saluted to the prince and let them pass. As they walked into the courtyard and then through a wide gate that led into an inner courtyard Eradrim noticed a large sparkling fountain pouring forth sheets of water from the carven likeness of a swan. Through the court they passed to a large gilded gate with a carving of a white swan done in ivory over the top of it. The edges of the gate were lined with gold and the gate itself was overlaid in silver, pounded into a relief of hundreds of swans, perfect in every feather. Jaylon uttered a password and the doors opened silently. Through a long hall with two rows of pillars, each overlaid with silver and bearing no design, they passed. They arrived at a great double door, with no mark on it, and there they halted. Jaylon opened the doors and revealed a large, long arched room. The walls of it were all of silver, likewise was the ceiling, and all along the hall torches were lit in their brackets, casting shadows about the room and lighting up the smooth walls. At the far end of the room there was a chair, mounted upon a dais, made of gold and silver and the arms were lined with diamonds. Upon it sat a man, with a circlet of gold upon his head. His hair was golden and he had the look of authority and courage. He
looked troubled, as if he bore many years, but his face showed little signs of aging.
When they entered they found him conversing with a young woman dressed in silk gauze who took a place behind the chair at the appearance of the newcomers.
“My Lord,” said Jaylon addressing the king, “A messenger from Elaran, of the Northern Mountains, bears a token from the Lord of the Arakun.” Eradrim advanced and knelt on one knee at the steps of the dais. He held out the cypress leaf. The king's hand trembled as he took it; he brought it up to his face and read the seal with wonder. At last he turned his gaze from it and muttered, “So, the time has come at last. The shadows have enveloped the world, there is little time. Little did I know this would happen in my day.” Turning to Eradrim he raised his voice and said, “I will ride with you tomorrow to the mountains.”
“Sir,” replied Eradrim, much time has been wasted in the passes. Forgive my audacity, but if you see the need, you will ride tonight.”
“I do,” replied the king, “we will ride tonight.”
Jaylon started up from where he had been standing and approached the dais. “I will come with you my father.” The faintest line of a smile broke on the king's face, “I believe, my son,” he began, “that if I were to go to the very interior of the Accursed Land across the Sea, you would beg to come with me. You are young, but I believe the time is indeed ripe to try your skill; you may come with me.”
“Indeed, he would,” the woman behind the chair spoke for the first time, and her voice, like her name, was like the dawn coming over the mountains, bathing the world in its rays. But Jaylon averted his eyes from hers. “And he is not the only subject among your kingdom who would be loathe to leave you. My Lord, let me accompany you. Neither do I wish to part from you.”
The king sighed, “Raora, O Dawn, you lighten my heart with your words, and I do not doubt your loyalty. But a counsel of war is no place for a woman, and the journey across the mountains is indeed perilous.” The woman retreated into the shadows and made no further supplication.
Thargon rose from his seat and stood before the woman, with his hands on her quavering shoulders. “I will be gone for one moon, Raora, expect me on the first of Antril,* with the crescent moon. While I am gone I leave you in charge of handling the matters of my kingdom. I do not expect you will have trouble, but if there are problems that do not befit a maiden to handle, then call upon my nephew, Galimir. He is trustworthy and noble. Now, as Eradrim has bidden us leave this night, we must hasten. Farewell.”
“Come, Eradrim, we must gather what company we may in the time haste allows.” He went out through the door with Eradrim following him, his head held high, and his silver locks draped over his arm.
When they left, Raora came toward Jaylon and began to weep, “You may never return,” she said, “and then what would become of me? I cannot live without you.” Jaylon held her away from himself and looking straight into her eyes replied, “Raora, you must. My father trusts you, I will return.” He let her go and turned, leaving the room. She followed him to the door of the hall and then let him leave and he did not look back until she could not see him. But before he left, he glimpsed her frail figure against the moonlight, her golden hair was swirling in the night wind, her eyes were closed, and she stood with one hand in the fountain and the other on her breast. Turning his eyes away, he ran to catch up with the king and Eradrim.
The chosen company was soon mounted and Raora watched from the window of her chamber the horsemen ride off, with the king at their head, Jaylon on the right and Eradrim on the left. They were soon out of sight, but Raora stared into the distance in the direction they had left for hours after their departure.
When she roused herself out of her grief, she wasted no time. Immediately she took a pair of keys and a candle and descended into the armory in the heart of the tower. She opened a door and went into a long hall, the walls covered with swords, shields, scabbards, helmets, and armor suits. Lifting her candle aloft, her eye fell on the one she was searching for. It was smaller than the rest, made of chain rings, with a swan device on it, and a one-piece helmet. She took off her outer silken gauze and put on the armor. Satisfied, she put on her royal clothes on top of it, and ascended back into her room. She hid the helmet in her chamber and hung the sword in its scabbard on the wall. Thus prepared she took her place as ruler of Carasul.
*Antril, the third month in the calendar of Carasul.