Adventure of the Realm of Foundation I
As the White Rose approaches, it passes boats of alien design, manned by a short, swarthy folk. Isaac is excited and Mertyn nervous. It is soon clear that the land is an island, with a steeply mountainous interior. There is a small harbor and a wall-less town, with a river running through it and what appears to be a palace on a height. The beaches are heavily strewn with exotic shells. The dock is not big enough for the White Rose, so the knights, Isaac, and Mertyn row out in the ship's dinghy. People crowd the dock, some with spears, and some of the fishing boats are coming in quickly to find out what's going on. Isaac disembarks and speaks to the people in a strange tongue, has a brief conversation with one of the spearmen before explaining the situation to the knights.
They have reached Malkuth, the Island of the Earth, one of what should be a group of ten islands if Isaac is correct. These people are members of the tribe of Dan and they are, like Isaac, Jews. The new arrivals will be taken to see the island's governor.
Many strange sights meet their eyes as they pass through the town. The buildings are made from some type of clay, and have flat roofs suited for the hot climate. The guardsmen with the spears ride huge birds with sharp, parrot-like beaks. The palace itself is a pleasant place, with a low wall. There they are made welcome by Asahel, who governs the island for King Jehosebet. Isaac is immediately accorded a great deal of respect; the knights are welcomed but looked up as being very strange, for goyim are half-legendary to the island folk. Although these people have no riding horses there are miniature ones that prance through the palace as pets, the astonished knights discover.
Everyone is given new clothes and a chance to bathe, and private rooms on the ground floor of the palace. Isaac explains the history of the Ten Lost Tribes as he has learned it from their hosts. The tribes left Assyria, led by a great prophet, and headed north, to the Scythian plains. For a while, they were nomads, and guided by God they went west, until they reached the delta of a great river (Issac suspects they reached Zealand). There they settled for a while, until the stain of Ba'al worship reappeared among them, especially in the tribe of Reuben. There was a civil war,and the Reubenites were destroyed. The other tribes were directed by God to make ships, and sailed west to these islands. Isaac also begins teaching them Hebrew and some Jewish customs. He is troubled because it appears that the tribe of Dan has conquered some of the other tribes.
That night there is a feast. The food is so alien as to be barely palatable to all but Aeron, who seems to find it satisfactory. There are no women in the room other than the serving wenches, but there are several men dressed as Isaac is. The wealth of the kingdom is very much in evidence as golden plates and jeweled goblets abound. At one point, Isaac and another of the rabbis appear near to quarreling, but Asahil diverts the trouble by making a speech on the glories of their conquest of the three nearby islands, forming the Realm of Foundation. The guardfolk in the room appear enthused by this, the religious less so, with the marked exception of the man Isaac had argued with.
There is a brick under each of their beds, the guests find, to their puzzlement, and some of them remove them. In the night, the others are awakened by the sound of a fight in Elffin's room and find him there, with a badly cut eye and a marked neck as if he had been strangled, the work of a horde of small fey creatures like blue monkeys with catlike ears, the toloshoke. Somewhat belatedly, the newcomers are informed that the brick under the bed keeps these creatures away, and the rest of the night passes without event.
At breakfast, Isaac passes on what he has learned of the local situation; the tribe of Gad is not taking well to subjection; the king of the Realm of Foundation lives on the island of Hod (also known as the Island of Majesty), once the land of the tribe of Benjamin before the conquest, and the group will go on to visit him there soon; and there are dangerous pygmies living in the island interiors.
The knights are anxious to test themselves against the warriors of this strange land, and Isaac helpfully sets up a series of bouts before leaving to supervise while the White Rose's crew makes landfall. Elffin bows out, as one eye is covered with one of Isaac's poultices to help it heal and the other is seeing slightly fuzzily. Richard takes on the guard captain and is rapidly trounced and rather badly hurtarmor appears unknown here, and the swords are of bronze rather than steelbut Aeron soundly defeats the second-in-command.
Perhaps as a reward for this display of prowess, the guards indicate they would like Aeron to take a try on one of the riding birds. The bird, a splendid example of the species, is quite a handful and takes him on a rapid tour of the palace grounds, but eventually submits, impressing the onlookers. The guards bring slightly less wilfull mounts for the other knights, and all ride out into the countryside. Since neither group speaks the other's language yet, there is a lot of pointing to various native sights. The knights note that the women of the town are all dressed very elaborately, unlike the men; they see farms and hamlets, woods of strange trees, a snake of truly gargantuan size, and some refreshingly normal sheep, then pass through a village where they see a group of women dancing with swords. The Women of Dan Dance With Swords in Their Hands to Mark the Time When They Were Warriors. Isaac later explains that today is a festival day, celebrating the warrior past of the women of Dan, and goes out with the knights to watch the dancing.
The men of Dan don't seem very happy about this festival, but the women are obviously pleased with it. As the knights continue their sightseeing, they pass a small crowd gathered about a rooftop where a woman appears to be preaching; she is prophesying doom for the islands and the destruction of the tribe of Dan for its sins. Isaac is very disturbed. A rabbi in the crowd throws a rock at the propetess and is dealt with harshly by the crowd; a troop of guards quickly appears to pacify the situation.
At dinner that night, the governor denounces the woman Deboret as a false prophetess. Despite his earlier doubts, Isaac has decided that Jehosabet appears to be a good king who keeps Mosaic law in the land, although he remains a bit distressed by the fact that, since the ancient split, these folk have been without the guidance of the Talmud. The Dannites claim that their conquests of the other tribes were necessary, because the others were beginning to fall into the old trap of Ba'al worship. Isaac also tells the knights that in the morning they will sail on to Hod to visit the capital; Asahil has given them a travel pass that will allow them to move freely through the kingom. Strict paths must be followed when travelling between the islands, which sometimes means that it is impossible to sail straight from one to another. Those ships that stray are devoured by Leviathan, and sometimes even ships that keep to the path are taken.
In the morning as they walk through the town, the crowd seems somehow angry at the party, and someone mentions the name Deboret. It is an overcast day, and it rains during the two-day sail to Hod. Elffin actually sights Leviathan, and everyone hears it, but they are allowed to pass. The capital is a real city, almost as large as London, with docks big enough to take the White Rose. The knights put on their armor in order to make the best possible impression. Everything looks like it's under construction; men are laying cobblestones on the roads as they pass. Different tribes are identifiable by their clothing; the Dannites wear off-white, and make up the vast majority of the supervisors and guards. Members of two of the conquered tribes, Benjamin and Issachar, wear blue and green, and have small representation among the overseers and soldiers. The green-clothed workers seem to have the worst jobs to do.
The travelers are immediately received by the king in his throne room. He is taller than most of the islanders and of late middle age, with a kingly manner reminiscent of Arthur's. He is flanked by his eldest son (Elizur, who immediately strikes up a mutual dislike with Elffin) and daughter (Haggah, who appears to have the opposite reaction to the handsome knight), the queen having passed away. He welcomes the knights with the gift of colorful shawls that are part of the native dress, and gives Isaac a jeweled belt. There is a ceremonial reading from the Torah. Isaac in turn gives the king a beautiful mechanical bird; it bites him, but he does not mind.
The king shows the visitors around the wonderful palace he's building, and there is another feast. There aren't any bricks under the beds herethe toloshoke are viewed as a foolish superstition. Knowing too well that they aren't, Elffin sends his squire to fetch some bricks. The squires are going to be sleeping on the floor, which is a cause for some concern, but Isaac writes some scripture on their belts so they can tether themselves, another old protection often used for children.
In the night, Richard is wakened by a scratching sound and finds an odd little creature in his room. Taking no chances in a place where half of everything seems to be poisonous, he tosses it out the window (third floor). Casual inquiry in the morning reveals that it was an animal known as a good luck totem. Oh, well.
Prince Elizur is the group's official host. The king's other four children, including Haggah, are also there. She flirts with Elffin, who is a model of restraint. The prince, annoyed, starts a conversation on hunting, which eventually swerves onto horses. Everyone is deeply impressed that the party has some, and the whole group troups down the to docks to see them. The animals are desperately happy to be back on land; their condition has suffered somewhat from the long sea voyage, and they are not fit for hunting, so the party goes on birdback when it sets out later that day. Richard falls off twice trying to get onto his mount.*
It's a mixed day. Elffin hits his head on a tree branch when his mount acts up. Aeron and one of the king's younger sons kill a yale, a rare heraldic beast. Richard's bird gets stuck in a swamp and attacked by a 12-foot alligator, which Richard kills single-handed, making him the toast of the day.**
Two weeks pass, and the palace denizens quickly divide into pro- and anti-goyim factions. News of the war against the rebellious Gaddites is relentlessly good. The knights' Hebrew improves rapidly, and they grow aware of a deepening religious split among the islanders. One side believes that it is all right to offer sacrifices even though there is no temple, while the other says that there should be no sacrifices. There are no priests in the islands, and they rely on prophets for guidance. The king and the more powerful of the prophets are pro-sacrifice. Both sides hate Deboret. Isaac feels deeply torn, because he personally likes the king a great deal, but has some strong differences of opinion on his policies.
In addition, and much to the knights' alarm, Isaac himself is becoming the center of a workers' movement. He is teaching them some of his building skills, and apparently warning them that a black and white eagle brings danger.
In the midst of this, Aeron has a strange dream. In it, he "realized that he needed another boat, because you can't ride to the crown of perfection on a horse." He sees the crown flying through the air; it lands on an island. A white bird pecks at very shiny grain around his feet, then turns into a riding bird and bites him, so he wakes up. This reminds Richard of a dream he had a few nights before, of which he remembers nothing but waking with the thought "of course the boat wouldn't fit." It seems that more signs and portents are at hand, particularly with Isaac's activities. They well remember the bard's song in Camelot, and how the rabbi informed them that the eagle meant nothing; they have begun to grow suspicious of their comrade's reticence.
A couple more weeks pass. The knights grow more restless the more they learn of the local political situation; a civil war appears to be brewing. The king himself is the only thing holding it at bay, for he is well-beloved, but should anything happen to him... Elizur does not have the regard of the people the way his father does. Isaac's behavior is questionable. The knights decide to petition the king for permission to continue on with their mission and learn about the other islands beyond the Realm of Foundation. The island farthest to the west, interestingly enough, is known as the Island of Perfection.
Before they can make their request, however, Jehosabet summons them to meet with him and Isaac and asks them to escort the rabbi to the island of Yesod, where there are problems with the marble supply for the palace; he hopes the wise man's skills will resolve the problem of an intractable shelf of granite that has put a halt to the mining. The knights mention their intended petition, which appears to trouble the king. The islands to the west of the Realm of Foundation can only be reached if God wishes the traveller to pass. The knights agree to go with Isaac.
Later that night they meet with Isaac alone. He reassures them that there is nothing hidden in the king's request, but admits that there is trouble coming to the islands. He continually insists that "more will be revealed in the fullness of time," which the knights are growing quite tired of hearing. Nevertheless, they decide to go on the mission as agreed, if only because it will break what seems to be their current stasis. They and their squires set out in a small, fast ship for Yesod, leaving the White Rose docked at Hod (Mertyn and his men have grown quite comfortable there, despite the captain's early qualms).
The journey takes a day and a half, and the boat docks at a poor town. The group stays with the governor for the night, an unpleasant man called Morsah, and climb into the mountains the next day with two guides and a porter to carry Isaac's chest of equipment. It is a long, nearly vertical trail, very hard on Isaac, and the group is forced to camp on a ledge, taking precautions against pygmy attack. The next day they reach the mine. The mine workers are nearly all wearing green, and are occupied with building a protective palisade, since the mining cannot go on. One of the workers falls from a height and draws the wrath of an overseer. Having seen more than enough abusive behavior out of the Dannites against the tribes they have conquered to outrage their sense of justice, the knights intervene.
That night, Elffin is unable to sleep. Eventually, quite late, he leaves the cramped guest quarters and goes outside, where he sees a brilliant comet. It appears to land on Naser. In the morning he tells the others about it, and the group tells Isaac about Aeron's dream. Isaac is annoyed that they kept it from him; Elffin mentions "the fullness of time." Isaac takes the point. He thinks the group should go to Naser immediately, following the comet. The group takes counsel in the jungle, away from prying eyes and ears, and Isaac at last reveals something of his many secrets, namely that there is a secret organization working against King Arthur. The organization does not even have a name, but its leader is known as the Knight of the Black and White Eagle; no one knows his identity. This secret organization has been following the same path of knowledge that led Isaac to the islands, and he fears that they may have followed and be attempting to wreak some mischief of corruption there, for their way is to attack from within.
With the excuse that they must return to Hod to retrieve some supplies for Isaac, they depart the camp and return to the harbor town. There they immediately find a sailor willing to take them to Naser in exchange for Aeron's shirt. The boat is too small for everyone; the squires are left behind to wait for the next ship back to Hod (in exchange for Elffin's shirt), along with Isaac's mysterious chest. They do bring their armor along with them, however.
Leviathan makes a brief appearance in the distance, then vanishes. They reach Naser after dark, are hastily dropped off by their fisherman, and climb the cliff from the beach. There is a small village nearby; they send Richard (who still has a shirt) to seek news of the comet. He finds a lighted house and knocks at the door, shows the king's pass, and finds that the building is actually a small barracks for the town's complement of soldiers. The captain assumes that Richard is a soldier as well, a "Samsonite" specifically, and that he is there on an inspection mission. Richard, although confused, is happy to take advantage of this mistake. The captain tells him that the comet is supposed to have landed in the mountains.
Richard goes to fetch the others and they return to the village; by the time they get there, the captain has his men ready for inspection (their discipline is quite strict). Elffin questions one of the local Gaddites, who has nothing useful to say about the comet because there is a curfew the Gaddites are forced to obey (this does nothing to further endear the knights to their hosts, but they hide the fact well). The captain gives them bunks for the night. In the morning they ask for a guide to take them into the mountains. Two very unhappy men from a returning patrol are selected to lead them into the dangerous, rebel-infested terrain.
The men are deeply respectful, continuing to assume that the knights are in fact "Samsonites," whatever those are; they have no chance to find out about this. They travel for a day toward a trail that leads in the proper direction. Richard loses his footing and nearly his armor fording a river. On their guides' advice, they stain their tunics in the muddy water, hiding their off-white shade. Elffin spots two men in the woods; they disappear immediately, raising the tension level considerably. The guides often assume the knights are more knowledgeable about the local situation than they of course are, and there are some awkward moments as the travelers try to smooth over their ignorance. After discussing among themselves, the knights decide that they will send their guides back in the morning, and hope that the rebels will approach them and hold off killing them long enough for them to explain their mission.
They reach the trail into the mountains before sunset and camp near it. They release their guides, who elect to spend the night with them. These guys don't believe in toloshoke either, and they give the knights odd looks as Isaac writes protective scriptures on their clothing. One of the guides takes first watch. The knights are watchful, which is for the best as their guides desert themwhether their suspicions were aroused, or they simply feared rebel attack, is impossible to tell, and soon moot. Two screams sound in the darkness as rebel arrows find their mark. The knights build a fire and wait. Shortly thereafter rebels surround them, bows drawn.
Isaac informs them that the party travels in peace and wishes to speak with them. The rebel leader demands that they put down their swords, so they do. The knights' claims of neutrality and tribelessness create some confusion, but they are eventually taken sort-of prisoner and brought to an underground rebel camp. After initial incredulity at their story, the leader, Jophthah, seems inclined to believe them. He knows the approximate place the comet landed (pygmy territory) and is willing to send a men to guide them, but says they must wait a week. This is not acceptable. He decides that he might be able to spare a man before then, but demands a test of their loyalty: they must go out and return with the scalps and shirts of two Dannites.
This is a direly distasteful idea, to say the least, but the knights see no choice; they must have a guide and safe passage through rebel territory if they are to go on with their quest. Isaac remains with the rebels, and the knights go out with two men in search of Dannites to kill, although they flatly refuse to use bows (even if they had any idea how to use them). Their guides are somewhat dismayed by how much noise the knights make as they travel, and give them a briefing on rebel tactics, which generally revolve around ambushing people and/or shooting them from hiding. Needless to say, these are not tactics the knights are willing to use. Fortunately, it is not long before they sight four large Samsonite warriors moving through the junglea fair fight.
The warriors flee, assuming that they have been discovered by a far larger rebel force, and the knights pursue them. Battle is joined in the middle of a small stream. The knights weather a volley of arroys from the Dannite bows and charge the enemy. They emerge not only victorious but unwounded (their guides did not take part). They are promptly shocked all over again when the rebels urge them to loot the bodies, and do it themselves when the goyim steadfastly refuse to so much as entertain the idea. The rebels obviously find their views incomprehensible; for their part the knights are becoming ever-more-dismayed by the things with which they are surrounded. "What have we fallen in with?" a shaken Elffin wonders aloud as they leave the site where they have buried the Samsonites.
Talking further with their rebel guides, the knights finally discover who the mysterious Samsonites are, an elite force of warriors led by Nahum the Shaker, a prophet who suffers ecstatic visions. Odd rumors about their behavior are common. At their camp that night Aeron is attacked by a constrictor as he sleeps; Elffin hacks it apart with his sword.
The knights are definitely feeling a bit homesick for the familiar environment of Englandis even the crown of perfection worth all of this?
Having returned with their grisly trophies, the knights are taken into Jophthah's confidence. The rebels are planning a major attack on a fort in the lowlands in a couple of days. Once that has been accomplished, he will furnish them with a guide to take them on their way. They reluctantly agree to take part in storming the fortressas long as it's going to be a proper battle and none of this ambushing people. They can be most tactically useful by donning their armor and attacking the main gate, which is where the fort's bird cavalry is most likely to make an appearance. The fact that their position is one of considerable danger brightens the knights' outlook somewhat.
Several hundred rebels have gathered for the attack, although they are as usual invisible to the knights. The attack will come just as night is falling. The fort doesn't have proper walls, more of a berm about eight feet high, which the rebels will storm under cover of their archers.
The rebels advance at a crawl through the burned fields around the fort, working their way into position in the evening gloom. Then a horn sounds, and the archers loose their first volley. The armored knights begin moving into position. The front lines attain the top of the wall. An arrow from their own side narrowly misses the knights. As they approach the gate, it opens, and the bird cavalry rides out, twenty strong and armed with light spears. The knights raise their swords and charge into the meelee with a war cry.
Aeron casually dispatches the first rider to come upon him, nearly cutting the man in two. Elffin knocks one from his mount. Richard downs a third. The cavalry charge is in confusion, some of the riders attacking the archers, others remaining to deal with the knights. Spears glance harmless from their armor and shields. As their enemy appears invulnerable, one of the bird-riders runs away. Some are fleeing down the road, away from the archers. Aeron slays another with a single blow, a sight to further sap the valor of the remaining riders.
The fight is quickly over. The knights enter the fort. Among one of the clusters of resistors, they spy a familiar face from Hod, one of the prince's friends. He accuses them of treason and spits at them, then attempts to surrender to the rebels. They kill him, and everyone else in the keep.
The knights are unhappy. Though they owe no allegiance to the Dannite king and have their own mission to perform, the king had welcomed them and treated them well. As the scalping begins, Elffin leaves the fortress to pray, watched by his somewhat worried cousin. Aeron is rapidly coming to the conclusion that none of these folk deserve to live, and they are in general feeling the lack of any priests of their own religion. The nearest Christian is several weeks sea travel away, alas.
Their work complete, the rebels gather to return to their mountainous bases before the Dannite reinforcements can arrive. Everyone is quite impressed with the goyim, except for the goyim themselves. The knights are reunited with Isaac, and Jophthah gives them their promised guides; they leave as soon as they possibly can, anxious to complete their mission and leave their memories of the battle behind.
After a week of travel, they reach the site without incident, somewhat surprisingly. At the site of the comet's impact there is a long scar in the jungle growth. As they examine the site, they come upon a huge old tree, perfectly straight, with all of its limbs knocked cleanly off but otherwise undamaged. Burned into the trunk is the word "path" in Hebrew. As the knights study it, it seems clear that the tree would make a perfect mast, with enough lumber left to build a boat.
Are they expected to build a boat?
That seems to be the case. After all, "the other boat is too big." There is a river nearby that they can use to move the tree down to the shore....
* My dice hate me. - Ed.
** OK, just that once they didn't hate me. Darn good time for a critical. - Ed.
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© 1999 David Twiddy