The Lake of Shades: A Fantasy, Part Five
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“We must move swiftly.” Brin perched in the only window of Rothfort’s cottage overlooking a small table. “The mouths of men know nothing about secrecy. Soon the queen will get word that revolution is in the air. Buragon and Rothfort sat beside the table on chairs which Rothfort found uncomfortable. He had built them years before for a much smaller man. Buragon now looked up at him when they stood.
“How many fighting men do we have.” Buragon lit his pipe and Brin flapped a wing at the smoke in his face. “Sorry, my friend," said the wizard.
“So far, we have barely covered Tillerton, but this is the largest of the three towns. We have one thousand men who are willing to join with us.” Rothfort looked carefully at the markings on his slate and made notes with the piece of chalk mined from the downs. Tomorrow, twenty men will travel to Southmark and on to Ebbs Flats the following day. After that, the same men will go to the thirteen villages.”
“What about the time those men are to work in the queen’s fields?” said Brin.
“Other men will take their places. The queen’s overseers know not one peasant from another. We are like cattle to them.” Rothfort continued marking on his slate.
“We could easily have three thousand by the end of the week.”Buragon tapped his pipe on the window sill at Brin’s feet.
“Four thousand with the spirits of the royal guard.” Brin swept the pipe ashes off the sill with a taloned foot.
“We would outnumber the queen’s men,” said Buragon. “Tell me, Rothfort, will our men have the opportunity to practice with their weapons? Most have no experience in war.”
“Every man who volunteers will practice daily,” said Rothfort. “Those from Tillerton will practice in the cavern to avoid being heard or seen by the sheriff.”
Buragon looked up at Brin. The two tilted their heads toward one another in affirmation.
“Might I say,” said the Magus, “though I know you are uncomfortable in the position which you now hold, you are behaving very kingly.”
Suddenly, Eadric was standing in their midst in his spirit body. “My Lord, King.” He bowed to Rothfort. “Possibly it was the centuries of confinement in stone or the excitement for being delivered from such, but my memory has fully returned. I have some interesting and useful news for His Majesty.”
Eadric’s news was enough to change Rothfort’s strategy completely. One hundred generations before, the Dark Council had overthrown King Eadric without a single battle. By the use of dark magic, they had created a tunnel beneath the castle. The soldiers, the queen, and her entourage had walked in and taken control of the kingdom. The royal family and the royal guard filled the dungeon to overflowing. Those not imprisoned due to lack of space were the first to go to the Lake of Shades and drowned.
The day after Eadric’s revelation, Rothfort led the way to the city with Buragon and the spirit-king, now in his human form. Brin kept watch from above.
The spirit-king strode forward with confidence. His memory was clear, and the cause of his people, both living and dead, was his sole concern. The three men crossed the green open space in front of the walled city where children played, beggars begged, merchants sold and peasants spent the few coins they could afford on bread and cheese made from the milk of goats. The royal palace loomed behind and above the city, a sprawling white building five stories high with towers on each corner where mercenary soldiers ensured the safety of the members of the Dark Council.
“We must make our way to the rear of the palace where a ravine dips low, exposing the underground floor and a single door. I swear on the graves of my ancestors that this entrance did not exist the day before the queen and the Dark Council invaded the palace.
The spirit-king stopped at the front of the magnificent structure. It gleamed in the morning sunlight. “Come to me now,” he said.
Rothfort and Buragon stood next to Eadric and sensed the power of the magus-king. Eadric spread his arms wide and embraced the two men.
Rothfort felt the power burning inside his chest. He did not doubt that if he chose at this moment to do so, he could join Brin in the skies above. But the spirit-king led them forward, walking as if nothing had changed.
“Eadric, if we attempt to walk beside the walls to the rear of the city and palace, the guards will surely shoot us with arrows or at the very least, dispatch guards to apprehend us.” Rothfort tried to stop, but Eadric pulled him forward.
“Fear not, my King. When the guards look down, they will see only the green grass.”
So Rothfort and Buragon entrusted their lives to the spirit-king and soon arrived at the rear of the white palace.
The towers loomed above. Dozens of arched windows stared out upon the palace gardens like black, unblinking eyes. The men scanned the foundation of the grand building from the far left to right until the ground fell away and a stairway dropped down to a single, black door.
“The entrance, at least, remains,” said Eadric. He led Rothfort and Buragon down the ancient steps until they stood before the door that had been the downfall of King Eadric’s reign. Then the spirit-king did what was beyond the imagination of either of his companions.
The door offered no resistance, not because it was unlocked, but because Rothfort and Buragon, with Eadric’s arms around them, passed through the closed door. Inside, there were no torches or lanterns, but there was light. They proceeded along a single corridor until they were beneath what Rothfort believed to be the center of the palace.
He turned to face Eadric and Buragon. A subtle glow settled on their faces.
“From where does the light shine? Have we been found out?” He spun around to see darkness except in a small circle around him. HIs companions smiled.
“Dear Rothfort,” said Buragon. “The light emanates from you, or rather, from your royal diadem."
Rothfort lifted the crown from his head and held it out before his face which had developed sharper features to compliment his height and breadth. But the change was not in physique only. The demeanor, the thoughtfulness, the intelligence of Rothfort were those of a king. “We will cease raising an army," he said. "We have enough.”
“But…” Buragon drew up to challenge the King.
“Buragon, Eadric. Listen to my plan.” In a quiet place of his mind, Rothfort heard the familiar and beloved voice of Brin. “I see it already, and I comply.”