The Lake of Shades: A Fantasy, Part Seven
Thousands of peasants from the city, three towns and thirteen villages of the Queen's realm showed up on the prescribed day. The men from the outer towns remained with their families rather than preparing for battle. Everyone met in the green field outside the city gate and walls. It was the only place large enough to hold the population of the entire realm.
They waited patiently. The boys played tag while the girls watched, and each wished the boy of her dreams would notice her flowing red or blonde or brown hair and fair features. Parents ate bites of bread and cheese. Dogs chased the boys as they ran. It was a day of great danger, but all present said to his neighbor that it felt like a holiday.
The column of Rothfort’s peasant soldiers moved forward along the outside of the western city wall. It was not the four or five thousand he could have raised, but a mere thousand. They bore swords forged by blacksmiths whose ancestors had learned the craft during the age of wars between powerful nations in which Andar had crumbled into a myriad of small kingdoms, long before the Dark Council had existed. The queen and the Dark Council intended Dinas Gwyn to be the first new city-state to rise from the rubble.
Rothfort and his men marched silently, unhindered by the guards in the towers. At the rear of the city, where the wall rose high, and the stairway descended, the soldiers waited in a long line that followed green pathways between the garden plots of the palace. Rothfort was the first to enter the tunnel, then Buragon and others of rank, each one in the company of a spirit escort who rendered them invisible and able to pass through the wooden door.
In this manner, the invaders entered the palace in the late afternoon. By evening, Rothfort’s men occupied the entire building. Some lurked in the rooms of guards' off duty, sleeping. Others were in the chambers of the Dark Council members. By morning, the invisible host had stolen all the weapons of the enemy save their magic.
At the sound of a ram’s horn, the invaders revealed themselves with swords drawn. The enemy soldiers scrambled for their weapons but found only empty scabbards.
In the chambers of the Dark Council, the spirits and Rothfort’s men remained hidden to allow confusion and chaos, the twin demons which often topple the mighty, to work their magic in the hearts of wicked souls.
The spirit soldiers and Rothfort’s men led their captives out through the gate of Dinas Gwyn, fully visible to the multitude which had gathered to watch the spectacle.
The palace towered over the streets, shops, and homes of the peasants whom the Dark Council charged unscrupulous rent, taxed mercilessly, and forced to labor in the royal fields, to the point where these simple men and their families could barely survive.
When the mists above the city glowed the brightest orange, Rothfort strode to the Green’s center and faced the towers and parapets of the palace far back in and above the great city. With a voice that matched his noble frame, Rothfort spoke.
“Iyana, I call you not queen, not now or ever again, for a queen you are not, royalty you are not, but a wicked witch of dark magic you are.”
The crowds reacted with grumbling and murmurs. Many had not yet heard the truth that for centuries the Dark Council had inhabited the palace and not the royal family.
“For one hundred generations you have oppressed the people of Dinas Gwyn, of Tillerton, Ebbs Flats, Southmark and the outer villages. You pretended to be our queen. You convinced every generation that you were the queen. At what time during those centuries did we begin to accept that the queen was immortal?” Rothfort motioned to Buragon who approached with a heavy bag.
“Iyana, you sent me on a mission into the wilderness several months ago. I may not appear to be the same man, and in many ways, I am not. But I am the peasant whom you sent to bring back these stones from the Lake of Shadows. Rothfort held up the bag of stones which the spirits had kept for such a time as this. “I learned that the spirits of the dead royal family did not swim freely in their private heaven, but were prisoners in these stones for three thousand years.
The crowds reacted again. A chant started among a few and spread. Fake queen, wicked witch. Rothfort held his hands high, and silence returned. I have the stones, Iyana. Would you like to come get them?” The crowd cheered and laughed. “Or would you like those who once inhabited the stones as prisoners to bring them to you?”
The spirits rose as one above the green, a cloud of witnesses to the atrocities committed by the Dark Council. From the slaughter of the royal family and the royal guard to the devastation of the wilderness hunting grounds and the daily stifling of the joy and prosperity of the people, the spirits bore witness and would hold the Council accountable.
The small frame of a woman wearing a black cloak and hood appeared behind a parapet on the roof of the palace. Iyana did not respond to Rothfort's words but pointed her finger at the spirits in the sky and released a bolt of yellow lightning that leaped across the expanse with intense heat that cracked and flashed in the cool evening air.