I’m not sure how many days I was hanging out with those guys, but eventually, Loina tracked me down and dragged me back to her home. She was acting weird! I mean, she’s clutching my arm, looking at me with those big eyes of hers. I thought this might be my chance to make a move. I was expecting her to propose to me, but instead, she tells me that Baruka wants to meet with me! I was thrilled! Unfortunately, we couldn’t just meet out in the open, so Loina tells me to go to the bathhouse, you know that place where they dump the water over your head, in about an hour.
I think I got there way too early. In the mornings, the women are mostly there. That was how it was done- the women and children in the morning and the men in the evening. So me loitering there brought a lot of dirty looks from the women entering the place.
Finally, after what felt like a fully hour, Baruka shows up with a gang of other women. She saw me standing there in that little robe and rolled her eyes. She pulled off her own cloak and threw it over my head. “Do you want to be seen?” she scolded me. The women surrounded me and snuck me into the bathing area.
Baruka took me off to the side, but I could feel the others’ eyes burning into the back of my head. I offered to return Baruka’s cloak to her, but she insisted I keep it on. “I cannot look at you in Loina’s robe!” she insisted. I did not realize until that very moment that the little blue robe belonged to anyone, let alone Loina! That sure explained a lot!
Anyway, I asked Baruka if she was okay and if Captain was taking good care of her. By then, I had heard so many rumors!
“I am fine,” she insisted. “Please, do not worry yourself. Captain explained the situation to me. If I did not agree…”
“What did he tell you?” I interrupted.
Baruka looked surprised. She hesitated, looking over her shoulder at the other women before explaining in a hushed tone, “I know Captain is not Ramoth, but he has explained that if I do not play along, my people will be in great danger. Our land connects to so many others. We survive off of the trade that affords, but those same routes could be used for other things.”
“Like a war?” I offered. Baruka nodded. “That is what he has promised, not to bring Arden’s armies here?” Baruka again nodded, but I knew Arden did not have a large military. We were mostly farmers, but if Pacia joined us, then Dione would be in trouble. I hesitated to say anything, but as I did, Baruka grabbed my arm.
“Could Captain really convince Ramoth to leave us alone? If we promised to remain neutral, would he protect us?” Baruka whispered all at once. Her nails were digging into my arm as her grip tightened.
“Sure?” I blurted out, mostly to get her to let go of my arm. My answer had satisfied her, and she did just that. I was relieved that she seemed to know who Captain really was, but I still had so many questions, but I never got the chance to ask.
Regaining her composure, Baruka continued, “Then do nothing to jeopardize my people! The Elders will arrive in a short time. They will agree to the peace treaty, and then I will likely never see any of you again.”
“You mean you are staying here?” I asked, but Baruka did not reply. She grabbed her cloak off my shoulders and walked back to her friends. I wanted to go after her, but seeing the looks I was getting, I decided I had better leave. I returned to Loina’s house to pack up my things and head for the town’s gate. I was done with all of them. Baruka might have been okay with living a lie, but I was not. Not anymore.
The throne room itself was open to the central courtyard, which allowed billows of starlight to streak the floor. These also found their way into the side chamber, equally unbarred unless heavy doors blocked three separate archways. One of these doors was open, allowing a stream of lamplight to spill across the sections of starlight. Ramoth entered the throne room to find the king standing in his private chamber talking to the general who controlled his army.
“But my lord, I do not understand the urgency in your request. To have a thousand horses by sunrise is impossible. The most I could offer would be fifty,” the general explained.
“Fifty? That is not enough!” the king insisted, slamming his hand onto a table.
“Then bend to my expertise and allow me to know where it is we are to attack,” the general pled. He waited as the king took a drink.
“Faverly!” the king said as he wiped a drop of wine from his lips, his cup landing with a heavy thud.
“Yes, I know, but I have never heard of this town,” the general said impatiently.
“It is not a town!” the king scoffed. “It is a fortress, an old castle built into the southern edge of a craggy mountain. On the east is a field, but on the north side is the steep mountain, which is too sheer to climb down. We will have to guard the door until they starve and let us in.”
“How many people are we talking about?” the general inquired.
“There are about fifteen inhabitants there that must be killed as soon as possible,” the king explained.
The general thought about it for a moment then asked, “Fifty warriors?”
The king rolled his eyes impatiently. “No, fifteen! Fifteen servants,” he carefully enunciated.
Ignoring the insult the general continued, “Then ten horsemen should be more than adequate with five-foot soldiers to be safe. If they are servants, they will open the doors to you.”
“But what if they do not?” the king speculated. “We will need force!”
Ramoth paused, waiting for the right moment to interrupt the conversation. He stood patiently as the king rolled around in circles confusing his general with his rambling words and roughly drawn sketches. After much time had passed, he could hold back no more and entered the chamber. The king turned to him for but a moment before returning his attention to his general.
“If we fail it could be the end of Arden,” he continued in a foreboding tone. “I will not see one of them escape.”
“But my king,” interrupted Ramoth, “is it necessary to kill all who are at Faverly? Why kill the servants?”
“I would think it would be quite obvious,” the king retorted sharply. “We cannot risk even one of them telling what we did.”
“And what exactly is that?” Ramoth accused. “If you are ashamed we might seek alternatives.”
“Remember yourself Ramoth,” the king warned. “Your tone does not sit well with me. I understood you would be against me going to the fortress to take care of those Sisters as you always have, but the time has now come. I can no longer put my throne in jeopardy over a handful of little girls. We leave tomorrow with or without you. You had your fun and spared them these past years, but the end is now! I can no longer hold my judgment on them. Even you must agree that it is better to kill them than to risk another war with Pacia. Though we would most certainly win, the amount of bloodshed would be great on both sides and for what? A thousand soldiers for seven little brats?”
“My lord, I do not see the threat they present. They are just children! Have you lost your mind that you, the great conqueror of nations, is afraid of a few girls?” Ramoth asked as he paced about the room.
“Silence! I suggest that if you wish to keep your life, you help me find my way to Faverly. Once the girls are disposed of I will decide about the servants, but no promises. Understood?” the king asked. He was glaring at Ramoth with glassy eyes.
Ramoth stopped pacing and looked over to his king. “Your wish is my own, my king. As you command, so shall I obey,” he assured him.
“Good. Then get ready,” the king said as he motioned for both men to go.
Ramoth turned to leave almost running into a male servant with sweat pouring down his ghost white face.
“My king, forgive my intrusion,” the servant begged between heavy breaths, “but there is terrible news from the west quarters!”
“Well speak fool!” the king demanded.
“Your queen: she has been found in a most unpleasant state!” the servant blurted out. Ramoth’s eyes widened in disbelief.
“What are you speaking of?” the king demanded.
“I know not the details, my king. I was only told to summon you to her quarters immediately! Please forgive me!” the servant said as he began to back out of the room.
Before the servant could finish, the king had pushed him to the ground and was storming off to the west wing of the castle where his wife’s bedroom was located.
Ramoth and the king arrived at the queen’s room to find it well lit by the fireplace on the far wall to the doorway. In the corner to the left of this place was a vanity. It had a sizeable silver-backed glass knocked from its brackets and shattered into a thousand pieces across the floor. Each piece sparkled as it caught the light of the fire from the air. On the wall to the right of the fireplace was the queen’s bed. Their attention now turned to it, and they could hear the queen’s maid weeping.
The king stormed towards her, stopping suddenly only a foot from her realizing the queen was laying in the bed with her head resting on the maid’s lap. She seemed sleeping except for many deep scratches on the palms of her hands and feet. The maid was stroking the queen’s hair, the tears running down her face.
“What has happened here?” the king shouted. The maid let out a deep wail. “You dog, tell me what has happened to my wife!” he rumbled.
The maid, now frightened, turned her head to him and said, “My king, she came to my room but a few moments ago in a lowly mood. She said she feared to be alone. I brought her back here, and when I saw the mirror smashed, I asked what had come of it. She said she wished to die and had pulled it down to cut herself with it, but it had smashed into fine pieces. It was then I saw all of the small cuts on her hands and feet.
“And did she say what was troubling her?” Ramoth asked.
“No,” the maid stumbled, “just that she was very sad. I put her to bed and thought she had fallen asleep. So I went back to my room. However, when I arrived I realized a small vile I keep in my pocket was missing. She had taken it. I ran back here, but she had swallowed the whole thing before I arrived.”
“And what was in the vile?” Ramoth asked, now growing more outwardly panicked.
“Te Berry Elixir: I use it to help me sleep. A drop in a pitcher of water is enough for a week, but she drank the entire contents.” Again her tears overcame her. “I know for this I must die. Please do not take me to trial!”
She wept now so great that she hardly could take a breath. Ramoth stood in disbelief, his hands numb and his face cold. The king walked to the bed, lifted his wife from the maid’s arms and shook her. She was limp, and not a sign of life was still with her.
The king stood still for a moment, looking at her still face in the fire’s light. She seemed but asleep, but then he looked at her chest and saw it was still and she drew no breath. He continued to watch while waiting for it to rise, but it did not. He then dropped her to the ground with the care given to a discarded shoe.
“She is dead,” he thought to himself before he spoke, “Old woman, you are hardly worth the rope I would need to hang you.”
The servant looked up to him with the faintest of hope at his last words as the king left. Ramoth looked at the servant, but she seemed lost in her own world. He decided to take the risk, his last chance, and walked over to the queen. He laid her out on her back and stroked her hair as the old woman had been doing.
“This is my fault,” he said to her under his breath. Then to himself, he thought, “I killed her because I would not stay. What is so great about me?” He then fell over her, his head resting on her chest as he cried.
Some guards entered, saying nothing as they came to take the dead queen’s body and her maid away. Ramoth did not even hear the maid’s cries as she was carried away to her death. He felt too alone.
Now it was customary in those days of Arden that at the death of a family member one did not travel abroad for the sake of morning and remembrance for a certain length of time. Ramoth was overcome but gathered the strength to convince the king he ought not to go so soon to Faverly as it would sully his reputation.
So one more month passed as Ramoth mourned and the king sought comfort where he had always been able to find it, but the king’s women were only able to soothe him for those few weeks. Soon he was once again compelled to go, and so Ramoth went with him.
Another month passed as Ramoth tried to find his way back to Faverly. He claimed that his memories of the convoluted forest trails that led there had faded, and it was slow moving with the twenty horsemen and ten foot soldiers the king and his general finally decided upon. There were also the three carriages needed for the king: one for him and two as decoys with five personal guards to the king surrounding each one. Carts, food, and blankets had to be carried, and the slowness of the travel compounded by multiple wrong turns and detours to get more supplies.
However, they did finally arrive, and to the general’s relief, the gates were opened to them. They filed into the courtyard and there set up camp inside the fortified walls of Faverly.
None of the guards knew the point of the journey and considered this place just another stop on the way. None could fathom this barely inhabited fortress was their intended target. They remained camped there for the night, resting from the hard journey and leaching off of the fortress’s resources…
● ● ● ● ● ● ●
“And how do you know all that?” Marcus taunted. “It is as if you were there.”
“Well, maybe I was! Goodness, you are cynical for such a young man,” Anny admonished him.
Marcus was about to comment to the fact that had she been there she should be dead right now. Instead, he decided to give her a break. “Come now, do guess my age. You’ll never be able to!” he suddenly quipped.
Taken aback Anny said, “What would be the point?”
“Just do it!” Marcus egged her on.
“Fine, you are,” she paused, trying to think it through, “thirty-eight.”
“Ha! Thirty-three,” Marcus boasted. “No one ever gets it right. And how old did you say you were?”
“Seventeen, I think. Maybe eighteen,” Anny said after thinking it over for a minute.
“A good age to be! I miss those days,” Marcus said gleefully. “Well, actually I do not. I was nineteen when my father finally tracked me down and dragged me back home from my joyous travels.”
“Yes, you never fail an opportunity in bringing it up,” Anny muttered to herself.
“Well it always bothers me most when I am traveling,” Marcus explained. “Take this caravan for example. Ten horsemen are surrounding this one little cart and for what? It just says, ‘please, try and attack me!’ I would have been better off if they let me go by myself, but my poor father is wary of losing yet another son, and so I must go his way. I could have been to Pent yesterday if I had gone myself. You see there are just as many horsemen as would be needed to storm a fortress!”
The young girl did not so much as crack a smile at his last comment. “And why are you in such a rush? None of your companions seem to know,” she said.
“Why should I tell you?” Marcus asked.
“You wish me to trust you? How can you expect that if you are not honest with me?” Anny countered back.
“Please, you could care less what I think of you. You are just curious,” Marcus surmised.
“So what if I am?” Anny said with a grin. “If you did not have something to hide you would just tell me.”
Marcus rolled his eyes and said, “Fine, I have some unfinished business to attend to.”
“Like what?” Anny asked innocently.
Marcus went to say something but stopped himself and said instead, “Oh, border disputes mostly, but now I must be sure to ask him if he has any idea what Te Berry Elixir is. I for one have never heard of it.”
“It is the honey of the lower class. You probably have much too refined a taste for it,” Anny mused as she wondered who the man was that Marcus was referring to.
“But what if the queen was faking her death? What if it had been a clever plot to make the king think she was dead? Then she and your Ramoth could run off together!” Marcus conjectured happily.
“I am afraid that is not what happened though. If that were true that is what I would have said, but the queen is indeed dead,” Anny lamented.
“All the more to give credence to your words should they follow some fact I suppose, but you are wrong about her death for it is just as the king said it was. She died from vanity!” Marcus said as he smiled broadly.
Anny shook her head from side to side as she rolled her eyes. Marcus only laughed, though inside one half of him scolded the other half for being so heartless.
● ● ● ● ● ● ●
Just ten or so miles away from Marcus’s carriage in the sprawling city of Pent the king of Arden rolled over for the last time in his burdened sleep. The king, like most of the inhabitants of Pent, had a light tan complexion. His eyes were small and brown, topped by bushy, thick eyebrows. After so many years of decadence, his belly had grown large and round. Unlike others in his court, he liked to have an unkempt beard which was perhaps why he looked much older than he truly was. He rubbed his face, scratching at the hairs as his door opened and Cailar, his chief advisor, arrived with news of the day.
Cailar was, by comparison, much thinner and somewhat gangly in appearance. Though his complexion was like that of the King’s his small, squinty eyes were bright blue. He kept a clean-shaven face and was in every other way neatly coiffed with his short hair beginning to grey.
The king tended to sleep very late into the day as matters needing his attention did not usually come to light until noon had shone its course. This was convenient, however, as the king tended to stay up very late. Once asleep, he was known to awaken many times from nightmares and remembrances.
He was presently neither awake nor asleep, but rather somewhere between wandering through dreams as he came to realize Cailar’s looming arrival. He groaned inside at the thought and lay for another moment desperately trying to remember what had occupied his mind just the moment before. He heard his door creak open and familiar footsteps made their way into the room. With the window curtains drawn, the footsteps approached the bed.
“Arise, dearest king! The day has come,” Cailar said. He seemed uncharacteristically cheerful. Behind him, as there always seemed to be a procession of servants following his command, marched several men ready to prepare the king for his day.
“Another day, how I loathe it,” the king replied. “Again I am right back to where I started. What some find comfort in I find only despair. The sun will rise only to set. The stars shine only to fade again. The trees bud and bloom only to return to their frail skeletons once more, devoid of life and color. Again I rise. Again I dress. Again shall I eat, yet again shall I hunger. Again I lie down. Again I rest. Again I tire. What is the point if life is just a constant cycle of birth and death? A play, a dance that is continuous in length, yet seems to double back on itself. If there is a word for life, then it is ‘again’.”
“We speak of this every morning my king. Have you found no answer that pleases you?” Cailar said as the servants began to ready the room for the king.
“None. What have you to offer today as a possibility?” Ramoth said as he began to pull at his blankets.
“The court jester has said, ‘the meaning of life is to laugh,'” Cailar offered.
“And I should take his advice?” Ramoth chuckled half-heartedly.
“Do cheer yourself, my lord,” Cailar said. “Marcus shall be here soon.”
For the first time, Ramoth’s eyes lit up as he said, “My dear friend! How I have awaited his return.” The king finally sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes. The servants descended upon him hoping to finish their work before he was fully awake.
“A messenger appeared just a short while ago announcing his imminent arrival,” Cailar assured him.
“Good, good,” Ramoth said as a servant struggled to comb Ramoth’s hair, “and what other news of the country have you brought me?
“None else sir. Nothing new has developed in the last night that concerns the country,” Cailar said. Then after hesitating a moment, he continued, “There is one of personal concern that has presented itself.”
“And what might that be?” Ramoth asked disinterestedly.
“There is a particular maid who works in the kitchen much as her mother did. She is young and somewhat fair,” Cailar began.
“Fair?” Ramoth interrupted.
“Well, she is not as fair as your ladies, but as she belongs to you I would like your blessing to marry her,” Cailar said. “You know I am growing in years and she is young.”
King Ramoth smirked to himself. “Growing in years indeed!” he thought. The fact that the two were close in age never crossed his mind. Aloud he merely commented, “Tell me, what is her name?”
“Sonia, my lord,” Cailar quickly replied.
Ramoth made a face and said, “Sonia? I have never heard of her, but I am sure you two will be happy anyway.”
“Thank you, my king!” Cailar said with a bow. “May this gracious act bring many blessings upon your kingdom.”
“Now be gone with you. I need to be alone, and you need to be ready for Marcus’s arrival,” Ramoth gruffly said as he shooed the servants away.
Cailar bowed again and exited. The king by now was dressed and his servants gone. The king left for his breakfast and to handle the affairs of the evening, his mood slightly cheered by the thought that his friend would soon arrive.
You can find the rest of The Myth of Arden on Amazon!