By the time the Seeker had guided the mother and daughter to the gate and returned to the castle, Dwennon, the impostor, had been take away to the dungeons. Aelfraed had removed his golden, fire-feathered helmet and, with the help of his squire, was shedding his armor by the blazing fire in the hearth. Camus, sitting in a chair by the hearth, was speaking in low voice to the King. Both men turned and looked up as she entered the room.
“Edwena and Megge?” asked Camus rising somewhat unsteadily to his feet.
The Seeker took his arm. “They are well and on their way back to the village.”
Camus breathed in a sigh of relief. He turned to the King and bowed slightly. “Your majesty, this is the Seeker of whom I spoke. Though only a young woman herself and having never seen battle, she was crucial in protecting me from the swordsman and in helping to free Edwena.”
The Seeker had never seen the measure of such a man. That he was handsome mattered very little. It was his demeanor, the way he carried himself that struck her. Here was a man who was wholly alive and in control. Even without his armor his regal stature would have commanded attention. The Seeker bowed respectfully trying not to stare at him. She was caught of guard when he held out his hand to her. She thought perhaps she was supposed to kiss his ring, but he wore none. Instead he took her elbow and raised her up.
“There is no need for you to bow to me, young Seeker. Your courage and wisdom have served me well this day and I thank you for helping me to regain my throne. But more importantly for standing by my faithful Camus when he needed you.”
“Anyone would have done the same,” she said, raising herself to her full height.
“I think not, my dear. You underestimate yourself.” The King smiled a genuine smile and motioned for Camus, who was clearly in some pain, to be seated. “And what can I do for you in return?”
The Seeker thought for a moment. There was nothing she wished for herself from the King. But one boon would make her heart glad. “I want nothing for myself, your majesty, but I would that the chest of coins be returned to Edwena and Megge. It is rightwise theirs, and would go a long way in provisioning a home for them once again.”
“Done!” roared the King in delight. “I can see why Camus thinks so highly of you.”
Embolden from the granting of her request, she asked, “But what will happen to your brother now?”
“My brother,” said the King, stroking the stubble on his chin, and pacing back and forth in front of the hearth. “This is not the first time Dwennon has committed treason. In the past, however, he has harmed no one but myself. This time he has had many of my bondsmen’s families stripped of their land and killed. He has brought devastation to my kingdom through his thievery and abuse of the land itself. Though of royal blood he may be, he must suffer the lawful consequences of his actions. He will be beheaded on the next full moon. And may the Creator be ever merciful to his soul.”
The Seeker knew she should be glad the impostor would no longer be able to hurt others. But inside she was sad. He was, after all, a Creation of the Creator as well. Still, it was with the Creator’s guidance and blessing that the laws to protect the land had been decided upon and set. She also knew the King himself was showing mercy by having his brother beheaded rather than drawn and quartered as she knew some rulers would have done. Despite her sadness, she knew it was a just decision…
The Seeker stayed with Camus, Edwena, and Megge in the village of St. Stephen for several days. She was not surprised to find the people rejoicing with their new-found freedom. In an effort to make reparation for his brother’s foul dealings, the King sent out his court jester with gold coin for all to help those who had become destitute. The money, the King knew, would be spent wisely to replant, repair, and replenish what the land and its people had lost. Before the week was even gone, boats began appearing with the necessary supplies to began healing the countryside. It would be hard work, as even the Seeker could see, but in the end it would be worth the effort.
In the grand hall of the castle, the King continued to redress his brother’s wrongs. Each tenant farmer received an equal share of coin to start their new crops and money to purchase farm equipment and herds. They had lived through a very dark time, now they would help each other heal and restore what had been taken from them. And once again the surrounding country would bloom bountifully and beautifully, committed to the worship of the Creator.
On the fifth night of her stay, the Seeker had wandered out to the marshes where she fancied seeing the Angel. There, half asleep, half awake, another vision grew before her. Seven cups floated in the air, upheld by the special magick of the King, and the voice of the Angel addressed her.
“You have learned your lesson well, Seeker. Now it is time for you to continue on your journey. Where will you go, I wonder? Which cup holds what is your true desire?”
The Seeker considered carefully each cup. The first held a white dove much like her old friend. Wherever it came from she knew it would be a land of peace and renewal. She sighed thinking how lovely it would be to belong in such a place. A small black dragon rose from the second cup, it’s cry sharp and high and warning. Dragons, she knew, were employed to guard great treasures. But what use had she for great treasure?
The third cup held a bouquet of wildflowers and the promise of youthfulness. But not HER youthfulness, she surmised. She smiled rather timidly as she thought of what the cup might mean. A partner? A home? Children? She could feel her face flush at the thought. The fourth cup next to it was full of greenery and made her think of the lushness of life. That, too, sounded pleasant.
The fifth cup held a miniature structure of some kind. A tower. It reminded her of the stone library near the temple. The promise of knowledge and perhaps stature teased her thoughts. Reading and learning were of great joy and value to her. Then, coiled in the sixth cup, and just beginning to rise, was a hooded, coppery scaled snake. The Seeker shrank back from the cup. Legend had it that a snake symbolized wisdom and knowledge, but also temptation and death. The cup mesmerized her, yet it also made her fearful.
Finally she studied the cup just above her head. In it stood the figure of a cloaked man. She wondered briefly if this cup could hold the secret to immortality, but it could just as easily be a reminder that she, as well as all Creation lived their lives in cycles.
As she sat there pondering the offerings before her, the Angel bid her farewell. “The choice is yours, Seeker,” she said. “Choose wisely.”
© Cheryl D. Carter
Picture Credit — personal (see also www.aeclectic.net)