Authors: Steven A. Tolle
“Jake, please try to be patient.” Hailyn said gently. “I know you want to return to normal, but it may take some time.”
“I know that!” He snapped at her, immediately regretting it. He knew it was not her fault and it wasn’t fair to take out his frustration on her.
“I’m sorry, Hailyn.” Jake said, looking over at her. He felt even guiltier when she gave him a slight smile. “It is just so frustrating to have to sit here and not be able to do anything.”
“You’re not the first patient who has been cross with me, Jake.” She said with a little laugh. She moved closer to Jake, which caused his sensation to manifest, strong like it was with Silvan. “We must have faith that Master Jonas will return and find a solution to your condition.”
Jake nodded and Hailyn stepped away, returning to the wagon bench and the sensation faded. He embraced his power again, allowing him to move around the wagon bed and get comfortable. Once he settled in, he reluctantly released the power, feeling the weakness return. He was not sure what would happen if he tried to continuously hold his magic, remembering Tomaris’ admonishment about the magic eventually tiring his body. In his weakened state, it might be something decidedly unpleasant.
On the bright side
, he thought,
at least I won’t need someone to feed me or help me to the bathroom.
Late in the afternoon, Keria emerged from the commander’s quarters and made her way to the wagon, smiling and acknowledging the soldiers she passed, Marcus at her side. She gave Jake a wide smile when she saw that he was sitting up and looking at her. She hurried over to the wagon, climbing into the back to kneel down next to him.
“Jake.” Keria said, joy and relief in her voice. She took his hand. “I am so happy to see you up and awake. I would have come sooner, but the garrison commander, Captain Grashin, and I have been planning the return trip to the city.”
Jake savored the feel of her hand in his, despite that odd sensation that came with it. “I understand, Keria. I’m just glad to see that you’re safe.” He replied.
“I owe that to you, Jake.” She stated quietly, leaning close, smiling. “You saved my life. When we reach Sanduas, you need only ask and I am sure my father will grant you whatever you wish.” She gave him a meaningful look.
Jake flushed slightly, aware of Marcus and Hailyn standing nearby, the closest soldiers watching their exchange. “Let’s get you back to the city first, Keria. We will have time to discuss everything then.” He said as he glanced at Marcus.
Keria caught his meaning, nodding and releasing his hand. “Of course. Make sure that you rest.” She said.
Rather than leaving, she stood up in the wagon bed and looked out over the courtyard. She nodded to Marcus.
“Attention!” He shouted.
The soldiers in the courtyard instantly reacted to that order, snapping upright and all conversations ceased. Realizing where the order came from, they turned to face the wagon. Keria waited until she had everyone’s attention, then spoke.
“I declare that Jake Thomas is a Hero of Sanduas.” She called out, voice carrying across the courtyard. “He has shown bravery beyond what anyone would demand and through his actions brought me out of bondage. It is my command that all present here will honor him and provide any aid or assistance if he asks.”
The soldiers, almost in unison, drew their weapons, raising them in the sky. “Honor to Jake Thomas!” They shouted while Jake flushed deep red at the attention.
Keria waited until the voices died down. “Further, Lord Marcus is also named a Hero of Sanduas. Without any magical protection, but only a brave heart, he accompanied Jake, Sister Hailyn and Brother Jonas into the demons’ lair. He was their sword, keeping them safe and fighting to rescue me. Honor him as well.”
“Honor to Lord Marcus!” The soldiers cheered again, shaking their weapons. Marcus bowed in acknowledgement.
“While Brother Jonas and Sister Hailyn cannot be so named because of their calling, I asked that you honor them as well.” Keria continued when relative quiet descended over the courtyard. “They faced down a host of Imps and a Demon Lord to free me, with their power and faith in the One bringing the Light into that dark place. I will always be in their debt.” She gestured for Hailyn to stand.
Hailyn stood and raised her hand. “We clerics are but servants of the One.” She stated, gesturing towards the other clerics in the courtyard. “We would do the same for any of His children. Honor Him, for He provided our strength and allowed us to be victorious.”
The soldiers let out another cheer. “Honor to the One and His clerics!”
Taking Marcus’ hand, Keria stepped down from the wagon as the soldiers returned to their duties, the courtyard buzzing with their conversations. She looked at Jake, her eyes shining with joy. “I will leave you in Hailyn’s care. We will be riding without stop to the city at first light, so get some rest.”
After Keria went back inside, Jake decided to inquire about a shower. His saddlebags were in the wagon, so he called up his magic and pulled out a set of clean clothes. He was able to slowly walk to the shower point, accompanied by a soldier at Hailyn’s request.
By the time he had cleaned up and changed his clothes, the sun was setting. As he made his way back to the wagon, he observed the soldiers lighting the watch torches. Even though he had not walked a great distance, he could feel his legs getting shaky despite his power, so he was grateful to climb back into the wagon bed and lean against the rails. He held onto his power until he finished eating, and then released it. He embraced the weakness that settled over his body and allowed
himself to fall into sleep.
Jake started awake when the first horns sounded, calling the soldiers to rise. The sky was still dark as the courtyard came alive with sound as the soldiers began rolling up their blankets, packing away their supplies and donning their armor and weapons. Jake saw groups of soldiers that were ready heading out the open gate. Hailyn was already up, speaking with a couple of nearby soldiers. She noticed that Jake was awake and came over.
“Once the soldiers clear out of the courtyard, the horses will be brought in and hooked up to the wagons.” She told him. “Once that is done, we will begin the trip back.” She tossed a wrapped packet next to him. “It is cold rations this morning.”
Jake embraced his power, his shining form throwing back the night, and arranged his armor, saddlebags and blankets to form a makeshift seat in the wagon bed, so he could face forward. As he was doing this, the horses were brought in and soldiers hooked them to the wagon. The soldiers saluted Jake when they were finished, which he awkwardly returned.
Hailyn took the reins and started the wagon out of the gates. They were directed to a spot to wait for the rest of the formation to gather, several soldiers on horseback standing guard close by. While they waited, Jake finished his rations and talked quietly with Hailyn.
As the sky began to lighten in the east, the horns sounded again. Captain Grashin rode over to his officers and, after giving them their orders, called for the army to form up. Keria’s carriage was the last to leave the security of the fortress. Marcus, his armor reflecting the light of the torches, was riding next to it. As before, they deployed the bulk of the forces and clerics around the carriage, with Jake and Hailyn placed directly behind the carriage. With a final blast of the horns, the formation began to move.
With Hailyn busy guiding the horses, Jake spent the day bouncing around the wagon, embracing his power when he needed to move, but otherwise with nothing to do. The formation picked up speed when they made it onto the highway, startled travelers hurrying off the road as the army passed.
In the early afternoon, his mind wandering, Jake was sitting there bored when calls began to sound throughout the formation. At Captain Grashin’s shouted order, the army came to a halt. Jake saw Marcus give a start, lean over to say something to Keria, then ride forward. After several minutes, Jake heard the sound of approaching horses and saw a large group of soldiers, covered in chainmail and leather, shields and swords hanging from their horses, ride up to Keria’s carriage behind Marcus and Captain Grashin.
As Jake studied them, he could just make out the epaulets pinned to their armor. They all wore the same insignia of a rearing bear. The insignia seemed familiar, but it took Jake a moment to recognize that it was the same image that was on Marcus’ shield.
Curious about what was happening and tired of just sitting in the wagon, Jake embraced his power, feeling it give him a burst of strength. Ignoring Hailyn’s admonition to remain, he slowly slid from the wagon bed and made his way cautiously towards Keria’s carriage. At Hailyn’s signal, a soldier shadowed him closely in case he faltered. Hailyn quickly climbed down from the wagon and joined him as well. Jake gritted his teeth at Hailyn’s over-protectiveness, but did not say anything.
When they got close, they heard Marcus already explaining the situation to Keria, who had stepped down from her carriage. “Captain Justian is my father’s chief man-at-arms.” Marcus said as he pointed at the large man at the head of the new soldiers’ formation. “His party was sent to aid our rescue attempt.” He nodded at Justian. “Captain, please continue.”
“Your Highness.” Justian said respectfully, his deep voice rumbling, with a nod of his head. “A messenger from the capital came to my lord and lady, telling them of your capture and of the rescue attempt. Lord Marcelas gathered two hundred of his men-at-arms and departed for the capital, to assist your father if needed. Despite the small chance of success, given the time that had passed, he sent my party south in an attempt to join up with the army or, barring that, attempt to locate where you were being held.”
“You and your men have my thanks for making such an effort.” Keria replied. “I am sure that my father appreciates Lord Marcelas’ response.”
“With your permission, we will join your force to escort you back to the capital.” Justian said.
“Your presence will be most welcome, Captain Justian.” Keria stated. She looked at the small crowd around her carriage, smiling when she saw Jake standing at the edge. “We should continue on, don’t you agree, Captain Grashin?”
“At once, Your Highness.” Grashin replied. He looked over to Marcus. “Your father’s men can reinforce the soldiers at the front and rear of the formation.”
Marcus nodded and turned to Justian. “Deploy the men, Captain, then return to ride next to me.”
“Lord Marcus.” Justian said with a salute. He rode over to his men, speaking quietly with his lieutenants.
“We should get back to the wagon.” Hailyn said to Jake as the nearby soldiers began to redeploy to their assigned positions. Jake nodded, turning back to the wagon, biting back a curse as his legs buckled a bit. He caught himself, willing his legs to be steady, and made his way back to the wagon, Hailyn and the soldier close by. He was grateful that he was able to climb into the wagon bed without any assistance. He nodded his thanks to the soldier, who gave Jake a salute and went to remount his horse.
As Jake was settling back into his makeshift seat, the order to resume the march was called out. With the creaking of leather and wood, the formation began to move, slowly at first then with more speed.
Once the army had settled into its pace, Jake asked Hailyn if she knew anything about Marcus’ family. She shifted in her seat so that she was sitting in a position to watch the road ahead while not having to turn her head to speak to Jake.
“Master Jonas has taught me about some of the court politics and the noble families.” She said. “Marcus’ father is lord over a large holding of land in the northwestern part of Sanduas, bordering the Inland Sea. Their family crest is the rearing bear, a symbol of the wild animals that live in the forested mountains of their holdings. They have large timber, fishing and farming concerns. His family is one of the richest and most powerful of the noble families. As such, Marcus’ father has a great deal of influence in the capital when he is at court.”
She glanced around, making sure that no one was too close and lowered her voice. “While still very attractive, his mother was considered the great beauty of the kingdom in her youth. Rumor has it that she had hoped to be queen, but was married to Lord Marcelas when his father requested it from King Henold, Keria’s grandfather. Some say that left Lady Arelia bitter and distant from her sons.”
“Sons?” Jake said, surprised. Since he did not really know him, he had assumed Marcus was an only child.
“Marcus has a brother, Rolas.” Hailyn said. “He is four years older, but spends most of his time at their holdings. He is known as a great hunter and fighter.” She sighed sadly. “I have been told that they are not close and only speak to each other when necessary.”
Jake mulled that over, thinking of his own younger brother. He and Russ were also about four years apart. While Russ could annoy the hell out of him at times, they were still pretty close. Jake could not imagine what it would take for him to dislike Russ enough to not speak with him.
“It was partly because of this tension that Marcus was sent to the city four years ago.” Hailyn continued. “The official reason was for him to train with the Royal Guard, but Master Jonas knows otherwise.”
“Thanks, Hailyn.” Jake said, studying Marcus riding ahead, Justian next to him. He was surprised that he felt sorry for Marcus’ situation.
After a rest stop in the late afternoon, word was relayed that the army would not stop for the night, but drive on until they reached Sanduas. The clerics went around healing the horses to make sure they could carry on, and then the army continued. As the sun sank behind the horizon and darkness enveloped the surrounding plains, the outriders lit torches, lighting the way. The pace slowed a bit, but with solid road beneath them, the army rode confidently ahead.
Shortly before dawn, they came upon the Royal Highway and turned east. After riding all night, the sun, shining brilliantly in the clear blue sky before them, gave them renewed energy. Grashin sent some riders ahead to clear the highway, then picked up the pace. Soldiers and clerics ate in the saddle as they rode on. They made a brief stop near mid-day to allow the clerics to check on the condition of the horses, and then started forward again.
Jake recognized the waystation where he and Dominic had stopped when he first arrived as they passed by in the early afternoon. That gave him an idea of the remaining distance to the city. He noticed travelers lining the road near the highway, moved aside to allow the army to pass. As the waystation fell away behind them, he was glad to know that the journey would be over soon.
The sun was close to setting when they made their way through the foothills, cresting the final hill and seeing the city lying before them. A cheer sprang up amongst the soldiers and several began to sound horns. Grashin increased the pace, moving as fast as the wagons would allow. As they drew closer, Jake could hear horns replying from the city. He saw soldiers moving out to line the road as they approached the city gates, which were open and inviting.
The formation slowed as the first riders reached the gate and turned aside to form up along the walls, clearing the way for the Keria’s carriage and the other wagons. Jake heard the cheers and shouts from the assembled soldiers as Keria passed, her curtains pulled back so the men could see her. Echoes from the horses and wagons sounded as they passed through the tunnel and rode into the courtyard. Another set of cries went up from the assembled crowds who filled the courtyard, residents and nobles alike. The street leading to the palace was lined with Royal Guardsmen and regular soldiers. Several Guardsmen on horseback formed up next to the carriage as it continued up the street, their officer speaking with Marcus.
Marcus dropped back next to Hailyn and Jake. “Continue to the palace.” He said. “Our presence has been requested by Keria. She wishes to acknowledge our role in her rescue before the king and assembled court.”
Night was settling over the city as they passed through the royal courtyard and entered the palace grounds. As they came to a stop near the palace entrance, Jake noticed that soldiers bearing Marcus’ family emblem were mixed in with the Royal Guard spread throughout the palace grounds. Several grooms came down the palace steps to take control of the horses, allowing them to dismount.
Jake embraced his power, lighting the area, then climbed off the wagon and retrieved his armor and sword. If Marcus were wearing his armor, Jake would do the same. He tried to hurry, but even with his power, he was having difficulties with the straps. Marcus saw him struggling and came over to assist him.
“Thanks, Marcus.” Jake said as Marcus helped him get his armor in place. Marcus simply gave him a nod and, once Jake’s armor was secured, moved over to stand next to Keria, who was waiting by her carriage, watching them. Jake belted on his sword and went over to join her.
Hailyn came over and they moved into the palace, following Keria as two Royal Guard in ceremonial armor escorted her. When they reached the throne room, the doors were already open and Jake could see the king on his throne. The guards stopped at the door, but Keria continued past into the crowded hall. The king rose when he caught sight of Keria walking down the center carpet and came down the dais steps. Keria continued to move towards her father at a controlled pace, ignoring the sudden murmuring of voices that spread through the hall. Jake followed Marcus’s lead when he stopped several yards from the dais, allowing Keria to walk the final distance alone.
“Father.” Keria said formally as she stopped and curtsied to the king, her voice carrying across the hall. “I have been rescued from our enemies and have returned to you.”
The king, eyes filled with tears of joy, replied formally as well. “I am pleased to see you in good health and praise those who rescued you.” With that, he stepped forward and embraced Keria, his arms folding around her and holding tight. Jake heard him say “My dearest daughter…” before the words were drowned out from the cheers that erupted from the assembled nobles.
The king held Keria for a long moment, then reluctantly stepped back, Keria turning to stand at his side, his hand still on her arm. He raised a hand and the cheers died, the hall going quiet. “I declare that there will be three days of celebration to honor the return of the princess. The planning will start tomorrow, but for tonight, I wish to be alone with my daughter.” The crowd responded with bows and curtsies and began to move to the exits when Keria spoke up.
“Wait.” She said loudly, the crowd stopping and turning back towards the dais. “Forgive me, Father, but I would like to acknowledge those that rescued me before we depart.” At the king’s nod, she gestured for Jake, Marcus and Hailyn to step forward.
“I would not be here tonight but for the efforts of these three, along with Brother Jonas and Lord Dominic.” Keria stated. “Lord Marcus, Jake Thomas and Sister Hailyn braved the fortress of the demons who captured me and fought to free me. Jake Thomas challenged the demon lord while Lord Marcus and Sister Hailyn battled the other demons and their followers. Through Jake’s sacrifice, they destroyed the demon lord and drove off the other demons. To recognize their heroics, I have declared that Lord Marcus and Jake Thomas are Heroes of Sanduas, worthy of all honor.”
When she paused, the hall erupted in another round of cheers. Keria raised her hand and the cheering quieted.
“I cannot overstate the courage of Brother Jonas and Sister Hailyn.” She continued. “They were outnumbered by the demon hordes, but through their power and faith in the One, they stood against them, wielders of the Light against the Dark.”
“Lastly, I would be remiss if I do not note the crucial role Lord Dominic had in our victory. He fought to protect Jake Thomas and ensure the success of their mission, severely wounding the
demon lord in the battle and nearly losing his life for the deed.” She looked towards her father. “I know that you have your differences with him, Father, but I ask that you honor him in this.”
“I would gladly honor him, if he would accept it.” The king said. “Where are Dominic and Brother Jonas? For that matter, where is Sir Alleon, whom I entrusted this mission? I was informed that they were not with your party.”
“On my command, they went back to the demons’ fortress with a force of clerics and soldiers to free the other captives being held, as well as destroy any remaining demons and half-men.” Keria said proudly. “They will return once that is accomplished.”
“When they return, I will speak with them about what honors I can bestow.” The king said. He looked over at Jake, waving at his glowing power. “Why do you need your magic, Jake Thomas? There are none here that will harm you.”
“Jake weakened himself when he saved me, Father.” Keria interjected as Jake struggled to figure out a way to explain it. “He needs his power for strength until Brother Jonas returns and find a way to help him.”
The king looked closer and saw the damage done to Jake. When he spoke again, his voice was grateful. “I will not forget what you have done for Sanduas and for me. I am in your debt for saving my daughter’s life. If you need anything, come to me and it will be provided.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.” Jake said, bowing slightly. “I am simply happy that Keria is safe.” He glanced over at Marcus and Hailyn. “Also, I can’t take all of the credit. Keria would not be free if I did not have Dominic, Jonas, Marcus and Hailyn with me.”
“Such modesty does you credit, Jake.” The king replied. “Nevertheless, the offer stands.”
He straightened and looked out across the hall. “This audience is at an end.” He pronounced. “My council will meet mid-morning to discuss the celebrations. Good night to you all.” With that, he turned and led Keria off towards his private chamber. Keria looked back at the group and gave them a small wave before disappearing through the doors.