She made her way to Camus and dropped her pack at his side. Lifting his coat she immediately saw that the blood from the wound no longer flowed freely. To his good fortune, it was only superficial. Quickly pulling the night dress she’d been given by the villagers from the pack, she tore a wide strip from the hem and bound up the wound while she and Camus warily watched the two swordsmen.
The young man was obviously a novice, but his stance and his chain mail coat said clearly he was ready to take on this challenge. His breeches, covered in the spirals that were symbolic of new ideas, ended just above his knee-high boots. His long black hair flowed around his face, his gaze intent and focused as if he were reasoning through what he must do, his intense expression made all the more strange by the kaleidoscope of a swarm of butterflies that surrounded him.
Theodor dropped into a half crouch, one sword raised over his head. “Akio! I see you have finally left your nursery!” he taunted.
Akio did not rise to his ridicule. Instead he dropped into an open position seemingly unguarded. “It is not your prowess that is in question, warrior, it is your sanity. You are cruel-minded, self-indulgent, and unwilling to take orders. You would be a liability to any court that would have you!”
Theodor seethed at the young man’s words. He grew more and more agitated. Blinded by rage he did not notice that Akio moved closer and closer, still in an unthreatening manner. For his part, Aiko had taken no notice of the pair huddling by the red flag. His fierce gaze was all for Theodor.
The Seeker nearly cried out a warning as the misty-haired warrior raised his sword above Akio with the intention of bringing it down on his unprotected head. But Akio was smarter than the Seeker had judged him. With only one step forward his sword swung up from his side and impaled Theodor below his ribs, much as the warrior had done to Camus.
Theodor roared, though more from anger than pain. And with a last look at the two on the ground, he turned and fled in the direction of the forest. Akio took pursuit, pausing only long enough to ask after the wounds of Camus.
“I am very sorry for this injustice. I pray thee well, wand bearer.” Then with a swiftness the likes of which the Seeker had never seen, he was off into the forest.
“Who were those men, Camus?” the Seeker asked.
“By his dress, Akio seems to be the Page of a neighboring lord. I can only guess he was undertaking to bring the warrior to some kind of justice. I had hoped when the swordsman saw my King’s flag he would leave in peace.” Camus looked at the bemused expression on the Seeker’s face. He judged rightly that she was not used to seeing such violence. “Not all who live in the Greater World are peaceful as the folk in the Realms of Faith, Seeker. You had best be wary of such as these.”
The Seeker was helping Camus to his feet when suddenly the foreboding on her face changed as she remembered the box. “Camus! The box is gone. I tried to retrieve it during the attack, but it was not where we left it.” To her surprise Camus looked unconcerned. He pulled the flag from the ground and slid it back into the bundle of wands.
“Follow me,” he said, and set off into the meadow.
The Seeker heard her counting aloud before she saw her on the other side of some tall shrubbery. The young girl was wore a green cloak and was hovering possessively over the chest, now open. So that’s where it had gone. She had crept in during the battle and taken it. The chest was full of gold coins. Beside it lay a gem-studded key. Looking up as they came she cried, “Uncle! We have them both now. The coins and the key! Now we can buy mother’s freedom from the King!”
“Hush, child,” he said kneeling with some difficulty at her side and gathering her into a hug. “That man is not the King.” Camus turned to the Seeker. “This is my niece, Megge. Her mother, my sister Edwena, has been taken captive by an imposter to the throne. They have been under my protection as Wand Bearer of the King since the death of her husband.”
The Seeker was puzzled. “I don’t understand. You just said the King was an imposter.”
“As he is. The one rightwise born King of this realm had gone off to battle half a year ago. In his absence his brother returned from exile claiming the King had been killed. He usurped the throne and has been wreaking terror among all the villages of the realm. I was with the King when the imposter took a fancy to Edwena and dragged her prisoner to the castle where she has been kept under lock and key for refusing his advances.”
“But where is the rightful King, then?”
“As soon as he heard, he left the wars to return. But soldiers move slowly. He sent me ahead to determine the truth of the rumors. I found Megge in the village living on her own. She told me she had spoken with the King who had allowed her to see her mother. He had told Megge she might ransom Edwena for the price of a chest of gold her husband had saved and hidden. And so she has been looking for it all these months. It is fortunate that before his death he confided to me its whereabouts.” Camus turned to the child and took the key from her lap. He held it up to the Seeker. “This key to the garden gate was kept in the chest. It will allow us entrance to the castle grounds without my being seen.”
“You plan to ransom your sister then?”
Camus stood up and walked a ways from the girl. The Seeker followed.
“I have no doubt the imposter will take the coins and recant his offer. But at least I will have gained access to the castle. What happens then is in the hands of the Creator.”
The Seeker raised her head and looked upon the castle on the bluff. The anger she had felt at the attack of the swordsman had drained away and fear had taken its place. Her logic said she should not get involved with such a foolhardy scheme, but her heart was saying something much different. “Then I shall go with you,” she said to Camus. “You stand a better chance with three rescuers than two.”
“You are young, Seeker. This is not your battle. Do not feel you needs be a part of this plan.”
The Seeker thought for a moment. Her temper had failed her in the past. She had made wrong choices rushing to conclusions and allowing that anger to prescribe her actions. But she was beginning to understand the difference between anger and justice. And this was a crime that demanded justice.
“I understand what is at stake,” she said, “and I will come with you.” She looked again upon the castle and set her heart to lead her with clarity. She took the key from Camus’s hand. “Let’s go find this garden gate, shall we?”
© Cheryl D. Carter
Picture Credit — personal (see also www.aeclectic.net)