Adventure of the Realm of Foundation II
Back in England, high summer beat down upon the land. Under the blazing sun in the Realm of Foundation, the knights guide the marked tree down a river to the shore near a burned out and deserted town, another victim of the tribes' unholy war. The knights sacrifice the greaves of their armor for Isaac to construct the basic tools they need.
Over the course of the next month, they labor long in building a boat from the fallen tree, fend off poisonous wildlife, and acquire tans (except for the red-haired Elffin, who simply freckles). The resulting vessel is something like a cross between the native dhows and a European ship, and just big enough for the four of them. They tell stories, listen to Isaac's tales of distant lands, and endure Elffin's incessant harp-playing.
Despite the long interval since they have seen any of the natives, they continue to keep watch at night and a sharp eye out during the day; there is a war going on in the neighborhood, after all, andthe never-ending parade of deadly animals keeps them on their toes. Once in a while they see a ship in the distance. Summer begins to draw toward its end.
Their task is almost complete; the boat only lacks a sail. That night, there are noises in the undergrowth. Elffin, on watch, checks the village but finds nothing. The soft sounds continue until there can be doubt: they are surrounded on three sounds, the river at their backs. He wakes his comrades with a touch and a murmur, and they arm themselves with care. Then a torch appears in the darkness, approaching their camp, and three silhouettes. One of them is small, and one very large.
The small one is the prophetess Deboret, the other two Samsonite soldiersone, Nahum, is their captain. The knights (who feel for some reason that they really should have expected this) sheathe their swords and bid the three a cautious welcome. The prophetess tells the knights that God has told her, in seven days they must be on the Island of Hod. The king is dead, no one knows how, and the shadow of God's anger lies heavily over the realm. The end is coming, she says. When Richard questions her as to what, exactly, they are to do when they return to Hod, she replies that they can talk to the new goyim that have descended upon the island.
Many strangers, armed as knights, have come in several ships and allied themselves with Elizur. They are led by a man wearing the sign of the black and white eagle. Several days before they had arrived, the announcement had come of Jehosebet's death. There was no funeral, no burial, no body; Elizur simply crowned himself. Construction of the temple continues, with the new knights' aid, for they claim to know the secrets of how the first temple was built, that they are descended spiritually from Solomon's own builder. Deboret doubts this. A rebellion on Malkuth, led by the island's late governor, has been stifled by royal troops. A new, more loyal man has been appointed in his place. The situation is rapidly growing strained to the breaking point, loyalties sharply divided. The Samsonites, who appear sincere in their desire to do God's will, appear allied with Deboret at this point.
She also informs them that their boat is still too big; the European-style castles on the bow and stern will have to go.
The knights confer among themselves and agree that they have no choice; their hearts long for the Realm of Creation and the furtherance of their quest, but they cannot abandon the other islands to the corrupting influence of the Black and White Eagle. Isaac believes that Deboret is a true prophetess, and her words must be believed. They agree to go, though with no clear idea of what they will do when they arrive.
Nahum is suspicious of the knights, since they have been known to aid the rebels, but he obeys Deboret, and his men follow his orders. Since the boat has no sail and they must depart in the morning, a contingent of the soldiers row strongly.
Seven Samsonites, the three knights, Isaac and Deboret make for a very crowded boat. Only the prophetess can lay claim to any degree of privacy, having claimed the rear castle as her own. Some of the Samsonites try to strike up friendly conversation with the travelers, but Nahum's glares tend to silence them after a few sentences. In midafternoon they reach the port of ????, a heavily fortified and populous city. And there is a European ship coming into the harbor, flying a banner with a black and white eagle.
Nahum snaps orders at the Samsonites; the knights prepare for a possible confrontation as the huge ship looms over their tiny craft. Many of those on the new ship are wearing Dannite clothing, but they also see some in European clothing. Two men are standing on the forecastle, a knight and a Dannite speaking to one another, apparently in argument; then the Dannite hails the smaller ship. Nahum identifies himself. More arguing results. They are informed that the ship is that of Sir Maisen des Garrones, the island's new captain under King Elizur. The name is familiar, a mid-level lord from Champagne who had once fought against Arthur (almost everyone has fought against Arthur, though). Nahum says the man is one of the Knight of the Black and White Eagle's lieutenants.
The larger ship demands to know who the goyim on the small ship are. Elffin speaks for them and identifies them as being "on a mission for King Arthur's court." The Dannite orders them to follow the new ship into the harbor. There is general bemusement at the term "order;" Nahum actually seems more irritated than the knights, and demands proof that the new men come from Elizur. They show the king's seal. Those aboard the small boat decide this is a matter best handled on land, if only because they can see some of the other knights putting on armor and it would be best to meet them fairly. A crowd gathers on the wharf, partly composed of soldiers in parade formation. The knights are fully expecting a battle; Nahum warns them that the situation may be more complicated than they can see. Elffin promises him that the travelers won't attack first.
A man in a Dannite general's uniform oversees the troops in their welcome formation; he does not appear at all pleased, even less so when Nahum corners him and demands to know what is going on and why he wasn't told about this new captain. General Nathaniel retorts that he wasn't told about him, either. He's not happy about the knights with Nahum, either, thanks to their time with the Gaddites, but Nahum informs him that they are there by order of the prophetess and under Samsonite protection, which nearly gives the general an apoplexy on the spot.
The new ship comes alongside the dock, an impressive sight. Sir Maisen disembarks with four other knights. Aeron identifies two of them by their arms, knights of no consequence. The other two are foreign.
Maisen tells the three that his master requests their presence on Hod, then makes a speech (in French) to the crowd, which seems pleased by his appearance, on how he will defeat the rebels on the field of battle through the strength of his knights, and reclaim the island for King Elizur. The three knights manage not to laugh aloud, thinking of their own recent experiences.
Nahum tells Nathaniel that his warriors will be camping on the island. Nathaniels' vocabulary is beginning to seem restricted to "You can't do that!" Nahum reminds him that the Samsonites are held to a higher authority, and tells him that he must speak to the king personally. Nathaniel gives in with a somewhat bitter admission that he himself no longer holds any authority.
The three knights accept Maisen's "escort" to Hod. Deboret announces that she will remain with them. They finally get a sail for the little boat, the Samsonites commandeer a ship for themselves, and after a hasty meal they set off immediately on the four-day journey. Before night falls, they pass another ship flying the black and white banner. After dark, another large ship they cannot identify passes close by.
Deboret spends a lot of time talking to Richard. Or at least, trying to talk to him, about sailing, and England, and his family, and her own life in the islands. He is confused.
A storm chases them into the harbor at Yesod, where they plan to resupply and spend the night. They see no Dannite soldiers on the docks as they approach, and few people in general. The town is shrouded in mist. As they disembark, a small man in the tunic of the tribe of Issacar, who turns out to be the local Customs official, hails them. He asks, "Are you here to get them?"
"Them" refers to the men who had been working at the mine, one of whom turns out to be the one they had nearly come to blows with. He starts screaming at the sight of them. Another wants to know if the knights have returned to torture them. All of them are drinking heavily. Eventually the knights elicit the story: the toloshoke have been to the mines. Several nights ago, the remaining guards had made their way out of the jungle, half-dead and crazed with terror. Of the mine workers, no trace has been seen. No one has been brave enough to visit the mine and discover any clue to their fate. Many of the Dannite guards in the town, too, have disappeared. The townspeople appear unaffected by this plague, other than a few who collaborated with the Dannites. Most of the survivors have returned to Hod.
Though the knights (and Nahum) suspect some sort of rebellion may have been staged under the cover of a rumored toloshoke attack, in truth, the guards were carried off by the little spirits to meet a grisly end.
In any case, they have no time to investigate the situation; time is pressing and they must return to Hod. Deboret tells them that the things that have happened on this island are part of the judgement of God. Their ships have no room to carry the extra men. Nahum sends some of his men to take care of the supplies and prevent any further theft from the guardless warehouses, and they spend the night on board their ships.
In the middle of the night, while Richard is on watch, he sees something moving in the streets of the town, something like a large animal, low to the ground. A moment later he realizes that it is a man, being moved along by several dozen tiny creatures. Then the apparition vanishes around a building's corner. He remains alert for the rest of the night. Perhaps there isn't a rebellion going on....
The rain stops in the night, and the next morning they raise sail and resume the journey. A ship flying the royal banner and going in the opposite direction hails them midmorning. The captain displays the king's seal and attempts to commandeer them to return to Yesod and halt the ongoing rebellion, by order of the king. The knights display their own seal and inform him that they are under a different set of orders. Nahum's ship approaches; Nahum himself demands to know what is going on. The captain allows them to continue on their way, further evidence of the regardor fearthe Samsonites are held in by their countrymen.
Deboret continues to pay attention to Richard, her interest clear to everyone on board except for Richard himself. Eventually his cousin undertakes to apprise him of the situation, and Richard to his overwhelming embarassment finds it the subject of a general conclave among the males of the ship. Isaac suggests that he attempt to dissuade her gently, for there is much that all of themparticularly herwill have to do in the days ahead, and she cannot afford to be distracted. At more than a bit of a loss, Richard is entirely willing to pursue this course, made somewhat uncomfortable in any case by her status as prophetess and his own as transient stranger. No occasion arises (at least, no occasion he deems suitable) for him to discuss such a sensitive issue with her, however, before they arrive at Hod the next evening.
The White Rose is nowhere to be seen, although three other European ships are in dock, meaning at least six total have come to the Realm of Foundation. They bring the small ship over to the military dock, which seems rather deserted now that the Knight of the Black and White Eagle has talked them into sending most of their soldiers to the other islands. The knights disembark; they are no longer immediately identifiable as goyim with their beards, tanned skin, and native clothing. Nahum sends a messenger to the palace, then tells the knights that he intends to confront the new king; they are welcome to accompany him. Deboret seems uncertain of this course, but the knights think it's a good idea.
The social problems they noticed on their last visit seem to have deepened in the interim. People wearing different colors are no longer speaking. They see a single patrol of Dannite soldiers, led by a knight. People in Benjamite blue seem to be clustering in little protective knots. The knights follow the Samsonites toward the palace. Halfway there, Deboret takes her leave, explaining that she must go and preach, raise the city. "In three days this will all end," she prophesies. "Stay close to the shore. And get those castles off the boat." Isaac vanishes along the way as well.
The knights pass through an older, somewhat crowded part of the town. A passing Benjamite spits on Elffin, vanishes into the press before he can be identified. The nobles' quarter near the palace is lively with Dannite soldiers. Approaching the castle walls, they hear sounds of construction from the site of the new temple.
The Samsonite column marches into the palace courtyard singing; everyone stands aside without questioning them. Their procession has drawn quite a sizeable crowd, although the soldiers on the walls don't seem pleased. Most of the Samsonites remain outside. The knights, for their part, show the king's seal and are permitted to pass within, following Nahum and his lieutenants, acting as if they have every right to be where they are.
The court is almost empty, and Elizur is obviously taken by surprise. He immediately begins to argue with Nahum. The knights look around the court; Haggah is not present, but they see several other knights.
Then Elizur wants to know where the rebel knights that were on Gad are. Elffin takes the opportunity to slip out of the room. When Nahum suggests that the rebel attack would have succeeded even without the knights' aid, Elizur throws a pot at him. Nahum catches it. When Elizur suggests the Samsonites should be disbanded, Nahum points out that Elizur has no authority to disband them. They discuss Nathaniel's replacement with Maisen; unfortunately, Nahum has to admit that Elizur does have authority over his own generals.
Elffin finds a servant and tries to determine where Haggah is. He is told that she is cloistered in mourning and not receiving visitors. There are two guards outside. Her brother's apartment is next door; Elffin knocks at his door and attracts the attention of one of the guards, who tells him that the prince is not in the palace, but has been sent to Yesod. Elffin replies that he has a private message for the prince, and asks if he can leave it in the room. Permission is granted.
He enters the brother's room and goes to the window. Haggah's shutters are closed; he decides to try the roof instead, and sends a servant for a rope. The roof is unoccupied (for the moment). He ties the rope to the lid of a cistern and fastens the other end around a brick, which he lowers on the rope so it taps at the shutter. A patrol passes below. The shutters do not open. He taps again. No response. Another tap. An old womannot Haggahlooks up and demands to know who he is! He asks her to fetch Haggah. The shutters slam closed.
A few moments later the guards appear at the top of the stairs; Elffin crouches behind the cistern, circling as they move around it. Eventually they decide the old woman must be crazy, and leave. Elffin waits a while and leaves by a different stair, then heads back to the throne room.
Meanwhile, Elizur eventually dismisses the angry Nahum. A man steps forward from the crowd, a European wearing a black and white eagle on his surcoat, and has a whispered conversation with the king. Suddenly the knight looks up, straight at the two strangers, and hails them as he approaches. Aeron and Richard, of course, step forward to meet him. The man introduces himself as Sir Corvid Venots, Knight of the Black and White Eagle.
Elizur wants to know why the two goyim should not be killed immediately, but Sir Corvid intercedes for them, claiming that they have been misguided by "the false rabbi." Corman is eager to meet Elffin as well, and the three of them head off to look for him, and quickly find him in the front hall.
The knight is friendly in his manner. His purpose, he says, is twofold: to rescue the three knights, and to prevent Isaac from achieving his real objective, which he doubts the rabbi has revealed to them. He tells them that the final island holds the Urim and the Thummim, the 1two stones which God once used to speak to the Israelites, and that Isaac wishes to take these stones and use them for his own purposes. He himself is leader of an old order, instituted by God to be his sacred architects. They are the keepers of the secret of the Temple, and have always protected the secret of the stones and the knowledge of their location, though they never traveled to the islands. Traitors in their order revealed the stones' existence to Isaac.
He reminds them of the song they heard in Camelot; they are unsurprised to hear that the bard is part of the order. Isaac is the thief who would steal the eggs, and the order intends to defend them. He does not ask that they join, though he hopes that they will.
Elffin wants to know if the knight was there when the king died; he says that he was not, and that no one is actually certain that he died. It is said that he disappeared in the night. More toloshoke, the knights wonder? Sir Corvid sees the hand of God. Richard does not speak, but recalls that the new knight's ship had been sighted just before they left Hod, that the king had been alive then. The timing does seem suspect.
The four return to the throne room. Sir Corvid refers to himself as Elizur's Prime Minister and formally requests a pardon for the three knights. Elizur grants it with poor grace. A feast is called. Elffin relates to his companions what little he learned of Haggah's situation. The Knight wants to know where Isaac is; they don't know. Then he wants to hear all about their adventures. They make wary conversation during the feast, doing all they can to keep from revealing too much information about what they have done since they reached the islands, or reveal where their current interests lie.
The princess Haggah does not attend the feast. No one is surprised. Nor is Isaac anywhere to be seen. The members of the court, who can tell which way the wind is blowing, are quite solicitous of Sir Corvid, and many of those who were not members of Elizur's old clique are absent.
Work on the new temple continues into the night. After the knights have settled into their separate chambers, they hear an argument in the hall. Then Nahum knocks on Aeron's door, and gathers the other two as well. Five Samsonites now gaurd the hall, having sent the Dannites away.
Nahum tells them that the city is on the brink of open rebellion, and that Isaac has been taken prisoner, captured right in the synagogue. The White Rose has taken to the seas and turned pirate, sinking royal vessels. The knights in turn apprise him of the situation in the palace, where it seems they have few remaining allies, and they discuss the war effort on Gad; at the feast Sir Corvid had implied that some sort of treaty or settlement might be achievable there, and Nahum believes that Elizur would be willing to let it go, especially if he needs his forces to combat a rebellion on the more-symbolically-important Hod.
A servant enters, unasked for, with a platter of fruits and wine. The knights, of course, do not touch it.
Tomorrow is the fifth day; two days after that, they all fully expect Deboret's prophecies to come true and a wave to destroy the islands. It seems they have nothing to do but wait for events to play themselves out... or do they? The knights are in favor of getting things moving. Nahum refuses to kill Elizur outright; he is the rightful king, after all, no matter how unskilled he is. However, he does agree to help them try to save Haggah, and leaves two of his men to guard their rooms and give the impression that they're still there.
They head for Haggah's room. Nahum successfully bluffs the guards into leaving and replaces them with his own men while the goyim enter the room. It's very dark, and the air is noisome with rotting food. Shards of broken pottery crunch beneath their feet. Richard gets a light from the hall.
The princess is there, looking ravaged, apparently driven mad by all that has happened. She wants them to leave, everything is over, will end soon. She says her father has been taken by the toloshoke and is being tortured somewhere, her brothers are dead. And their ship is still too big. While Elffin speaks to her gently, Richard finds her something fit to wear; it's immediately clear that they can't leave her like this, and they don't have much time. Eventually she falls back into her fugue for a moment, then begins raving again. Richard, as the strongest, heaves her over her shoulder, trying not to think about how this is going to look if anyone sees them. Fortunately, she's not resisting.
They plan on the move. They need to get the princess to safety, rescue Isaac, and get away from this island before everything goes. And they need to fix the boat. For the first part, they can take her to the woods, where some of Nahum's men have dispersed to be ready for whatever is to come. Nahum takes his leave to coordinate with his men. Elffin takes the lamp from Haggah's room and sets fire to the warbird stables, creating a considerable diversion, and is almost run over by the stampeding birds. An alarm sounds from the walls.
The knights cut down the two Dannite soldiers attempting to close the gates and flee through the town, toward the woods. Arrows flit past them; one strikes Aeron. They pass the deserted site of the new palace. Fire glows behind the walls. Aeron takes another arrow before they find cover behind a building, and Elffin spends a moment tending to the wound before they continue, avoiding a Dannite patrol.
It doesn't take them long at all to become hopelessly lost, and eventually they hunker down in a thicket and wait for dawn. Nahum's men find them there as the sun appears over the horizon, and guide the knights to their camp. The day seems warmer than usual. The Samsonites tell them that the new goyim and the Dannites had rampaged in the city last night, seeking "Benjamite terrorists." Several citizens had been imprisoned. Their next step, the knights agree, is to free the prisoners, who will undoubtedly include Isaac.
But first, they're going to take care of the boat. They'll need to get their armor from it, anyway. The Samsonites provide them with fresh clothes and hoods to help them elude the Dannite patrols, and promise to care for the princess. The three slip back into town; the city is deathly quiet. A Dannite patrol hails them and approaches, tells them that all Samsonites have been ordered to report to the palace immediately.
Richard explains that they have already reported to the palace and are under orders from His Majesty, and have a mission to complete. Elffin chimes in and explains that they're about to disassemble the goyim ship and prevent their escape. The patrol leader wavers, and eventually sends a couple of his men with them to make sure they report back. The two don't look all that happy about their assignment, and make it clear they are just following orders. They also mention that the "terrorists" are due to be executed at sunset.
The five of them reach the small ship, and the knights begin the labor of removing the ungainly castles, enlisting the two Dannites in their task. It takes a few hours; the sky is now overcast. After noon, Elffin sends the two men to bring some food. A strange, growling sound rings over the harbor, and everything seems to shiver. The Dannites return, and they all eat. At twilight, heralds go through the city calling everyone to witness the execution. The knights grab their bundled armor and shields, and head toward the place of execution.
On the way they slip into a warehouse and arm themselves beneath their loose-fitting robes, then continue on their way. Dannite soldiers are going house to house, making sure everyone attends. The knights find themselves at the edge of a crowd, surrounding a platform just inside the palace gates. On the platform are a bunch of Benjamite prisoners. A knight in armor is forcing his way through the crowd toward the three knights, followed by five soldiers. The three back out of the crowd a bit; the new knight increases his speed. The knights request their shields from the two Dannites who are still with them, then suggest that they should run.
"By order of the king you are under arrest!" the knight shouts. "Do you surrendur, Samsonites?"
The battle is quickly joined and fiercely fought. Three of them attack Aeron, and two Elffin. Aeron beheads a spearman with one stroke; the other two who were facing him run away. But more soldiers are headed their way. Deboret's voice rings out from a nearby rooftop, urging the crowd to rise up and do battle against their oppressors. Their courage weakening, the Dannites find they have less appetite for battle than they thought, especially with the crowd now attacking some of them barehanded.
The knights fetch a couple ladders from the temple construction site and climb the palace wall, facing down a couple of bird riders on the way. Nine armored knights are hacking at the crowd; a full-fledged riot has erupted. There are no guards atop the wall; the knights pull the ladders up behind them, momentarily delaying a few of the enemy knights, who have distentangled themselves from the crowd and are pursuing them. The three head for the prison, a high, windowless circular building about fifty feet from the ashes of the stables. It is unguarded, but the heavy door is locked.
Using a ladder as a battering ram, they break down the door. They find an empty, circular room. There is a hole in the roof above them; Richard guards the door as the others climb the ladder to the next floor, where Isaac and the other prisoners are. They get everyone down to the ground floor just as Richard has to slam the door closed against the Dannite soldiers besieging them.
Richard and Aeron hold the door closed, barely. Elffin climbs back up the ladder, examining the tile roof above. He uses the ladder to knock a few tiles away, opening a hole big enough to climb through. The two jam the door shut with their daggers and join the others on the second floor; it's a close call as the Dannites break through while Richard is still on the ladder. Elffin chucks some pieces of tile at the men attacking his cousin, distracting them a bit, and then he and Aeron sieze the ladder and heave it and their comrade up through the hole.
The three knights climb onto the roof. Archers send flights of arrows at them, people on the ground are throwing things, there doesn't seem to be any place they can go, and the roof itself is none too strong. They attempt to use the ladder as a bridge to the wall, but it's not strong enough to bear their weight. Dannites have found ladders of their own and are coming up to the roof behind them. Aeron and Elffin attempt to sieze the ladder, and a tug of war ensues.
Just as it seems they are lost, Nahum's Samsonites arrive in strength. Beyond the walls, they can see that parts of the town are on fire. The Samsonite attack breaks the Dannite formations. Nahum appears to be foaming at the mouth, and his men constantly chant "For the glory of God!" By the time the knights reach the ground, the Dannites have surrendured.
The knights enter the palace in search of Elizur, assuming that Corvid will be with him, but the king and the other goyim are nowhere to be found. From the palace's height, they can see one of the goyim ships is heading out to sea. By the time they reach the harbor, the ship is too far for any pursuit. The Dannites are fleeing in their own boats as fast as they can. The three knights stand guard over their own ship for the remainder of the night.
When the city at last falls under an exhausted quiet, the three explore the two goyim ships that remain in harbor. On both they find a strange room with a sort of altar in it, where the Masons carried out their rites. They resupply and rearm themselves, and find a considerable amount of money, which they have no real use for at the moment.
Deboret comes to see them. The wrath of the Lord has been averted, she says. Elizur and his household, with some of the goyim, ran off into the forest. They will see the Knight of the Black and White Eagle again; it is time for them to go on. The knights return to the palace and search for any further prisoners and for any sign of Jehosabet, but literally no one knows his fate. Nahum finds them there. His people will live in the woods henceforth.
As the knights say their farewells to the island, they see the price of arrogance laid out all around them. Isaac takes them aside and tells them that what Corvid told them is partially true; they are in quest of the sacred stones. Arthur needs guidance, and there is none greater. Elffin assures the rabbi that he still has their trust, but does ask Isaac to make sure they know all that they should of these Masons. Isaac tells him that it was they who spoke to Elffin that night in the woods; their reference to him as an "unworthy craftsman" is part of their cant, and they speak of themselves as having their names "erased from the high places" because their names were removed from the high places of the Temple to hide their identities. They are many, and some of them are highly placed. The Knight of the Black and White Eagle himself is a most powerful knight in Toulouse. Isaac believes that they want the stones for themselves, that they are following the party because they could not find the islands themselves.
They spend the night on their ship. At some point they wake up and see that one of the goyim ships is burning. As they prepare to cast off, Deboret appears at the dock. She informs them that they must acquire ink, a quill, and a parchment, and she hopes to see them all again on their return. She's trying not to look at Richard the whole time, and her voice has an odd tone. Then she turns and leaves.
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© 1999 David Twiddy