Two days later… Six people are riding horses together along the main road from Rand to Alceste, the capital or Lore.
‘Good thing you’re a guildmaster now, Hulferd. The guards didn’t seem mind to see you leaving town with a bunch of strange people,’ says Zigurd a.k.a. Zach, breaking the silence among them along the way as they slow the horses down.
Hulferd responds, ‘Ah, that was a usual thing, a mere routine whenever I go to the guilds in other cities or for a hunt, and they thought you were all hunters. But I admit that was sheer gamble. If the King didn’t refuse to put the “wanted” posters with your pictures on the walls in every city, things would be a little more complicated there. It seems the King believes in you too, Robert.’
Robert doesn’t respond. He just stares forward. His mind is full of plans, calculating his every move carefully all the way. Alceste is a few miles away and now he realizes that something is amiss. He stares at Hulferd, but as his mouth opens, Hulferd abruptly responds,
‘Don’t worry, Robert. I’ve sent a pigeon to Rael just before we left, and he should be waiting for us in the woods somewhere around here. Ah, that’s the signal now.’
Robert sees lights flashing from the trees ahead. One-two-three times in a row. A typical signal made by reflecting sunlight with a mirror. Hulferd reacts to it, saying,
‘C’mon, Robert! He’s here… But proceed quietly. The rest of you,’ indicating Sheena, Baxter, Ellephar and Zachary, ‘Wait and hide here. We will come back for you after we’re done.’
Sheena, Baxter and Ellephar grunt and scowl, muttering curses as they go and find hiding spots behind the bushes and up the trees, hiding their horses as well. Zigurd teams up with Baxter and Sheena with Ellephar.
Meanwhile, Robert follows Hulferd into the woods, taking out his saber Grimlock for safety measures. Hulferd looks back with widened eyes, impressed with that godly weapon, one of the twelve Adair's Arsenal. But he redirects his attention back to the path ahead. Then suddenly, a voice as soft as the wind whispers – a woman's voice.
'Beware of the whispers as deadly as the night.'
Hulferd responds, 'But deadlier still the shouts in the daylight.'
'May the Light guide you to the Right Way. Proceed.'
Robert and Hulferd ride on, and then they hear the whisper again.
'Dismount and tie your horses. My brother will be with you shortly.'
Robert and Hulferd dismount at once and do what they were told. Then, two people approach them as swiftly as the wind and as gracefully as butterflies. They are elves, both of them.
The male elf, clad in white-and-gold long tunic greets the two guests, saying, ‘Sir Hulferd, it’s my greatest pleasure to see you again.’
‘You seem so happy, Rael’charon. I see nothing can disturb you since we first met until now.’
‘That’s because my heart is always in a peaceful place even though we are facing two potential threats.’
‘And what are they?’
‘One is from Arcadia and the other is from the heir. Speaking of which, you seem to bring an old friend. And how are you, Robert Chandler?’
Robert answers the elf politely, ‘I’m just fine, Master Rael, thank you. Ney’varíth, it’s a pleasant surprise to see you here.’
The she-elf with aquamarine hair and dress responds with a smile, ‘Ah, you still recognize me, Robert, since we fought together in Enia’s Sanctum. I’m Rael’charon’s sister and his contact in Thyrine.’
Rael’charon adds, ‘So you see, I know everything about your feats in Enia’s Sanctum and what actually happened there. Lately, I’ve been hearing news about the Pope’s murder and you being the prime suspect and – probably – the heir. I’d like to believe that it’s just all a set-up, but pray tell me, for what reason did you come here?’
‘As you have already guessed,’ Robert answers, ‘I’m here to seek your help to prove that I didn’t kill Pope Xylen and plead for my innocence in the court of Valanis.’
‘Why should I do that?’ The elf shoots another question. ‘I’m really very busy with my duties as Chief Advisor. If I leave them for a man’s sake, I will jeopardize the alliance between Lore and Thyrine.’
Robert answers, ‘You see, the heir has been tricking all people in Aurelia into chasing the wrong man. He also murdered the people I knew in Lore as though I did it to hide my tracks. He aims to create terror and weaken the entire Aurelia while he is still hiding, weak and dormant, to open the path for him. When he fully recovers, he will return to his throne, rally the forces of darkness under his banner and unleash a full-scale war to Aurelia, reinstating his reign of terror.
So, we better face the truth and chase the real heir. Just prove to them that I’m innocent and it will save not only Lore and Thyrine, but the world as well.’
Rael’charon rubs his chin. He still smiles on hearing Robert’s answer, saying,
‘I would like to believe in you, but the proofs point the other way. Your father’s sword on Xylen’s body, and many witnessed you as the last person entered the Pope’s chamber. Do you, actually, have the proof of your innocence?’
‘Honestly, Lord Rael, I don’t. I was distracted and careless that time. I must’ve dropped my sword there and the killer used it to kill the Pope. Maybe there are more proofs in the crime scene, but as I can’t go there myself due to magical detectors there, you, as a highly respected person in Lore, Thyrine and Valanis can investigate in there with their consent.’
‘How could you be so careless and distracted, knowing that you’re such a careful man? Tell me, what really happened during your meeting with the Pope?’
Robert sighed, knowing that this is the hardest part to tell, ‘You may not believe this...’ He tells the elf about the meeting, the Pope’s appearance and attitude at that time, and how Xylen has tried to seduce him. For the first time in that meeting, Rael’charon’s eyes widen.
‘That’s about the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard happening in Valanis. But, judging the Pope’s beauty treatment and such, the probability was not absolutely zero,’ says Rael’charon in response after Robert finished his explanation. ‘One last question. You know Vordac’s power is immense beyond any measure. With it, you can be the ruler of Aurelia Continent, even the whole world. You will marry the woman you love and live abundantly. What will you do if Vordac chooses you as his heir?’
Robert pauses for a while, then answers firmly, ‘The power to rule the world doesn’t interest me. I will resist it and purge it out of my body – it’s an abomination of my well-being. I once lived for vengeance, then someone changed me and now my mission is to make the world a better place to live in without ruling it. A world of love and peace we used to know. You once told me to follow my destiny, and here I am. I never followed any shortcut, and although my love is still far away from reach, at least I’ll be happy just to see her again one more time.’
Now Rael’charon looks more serious. Smile vanishes from his face, and he stares straight at Robert. Then he says, ‘You have answered all my questions, and here’s my conclusion... We have to put you under arrest.’
Robert becomes alert, but he doesn’t do anything. He just tightens his grip on Grimlock and fire flickers on its blade.
Then, the fire goes off and Robert lifts his sword up to Rael’charon with both hands. ‘Here, just arrest me. I have nothing to hide.’
Ney’varíth immediately casts a water bubble and binds Robert’s sword in it, retracting it until she can safely hold it. The red blade is dim now, and the fire aura in it is completely suppressed.
Rael’charon’s face remains serious as Robert offers his both hands to be bound. Hulferd shakes his head, thinking that Robert’s answers might not be enough to satisfy Rael’s intellect. Ney conjures an elven-made rope with her magic (An Kyraffia’me Aschi!) and immediately ties Robert’s hands with it, whispering,
‘Sorry, Robert. That’s my brother’s decision.’
Robert replies coolly, ‘That’s okay. I’m ready for this consequence. Let it be as Vadis’ will.’
Elven-made ropes are five times tougher than man-made ones, yet Robert makes no effort to break or cut this one.
Without a word, Rael’charon turns around and walks away very swiftly. Ney moves real close to Robert and whispers into his ear, ‘You ride with me, Robert. Oh, just a reminder. Don’t make any sudden move or try to escape, or Rael’s flying dagger will find home in your throat the next second.’
‘I’ll keep that in mind,’ says Robert. He never saw Rael shoot his flying daggers before, but as another elf, Iris have beaten him in speed-shooting, the speed of Rael the elf’s daggers will not be much different than Iris’ arrows. Hulferd follows behind them with his horse.
Quietly, they sneak out of the woods.
SNEAK PEEK: Excerpt of Chapter 2 (Merit) from Soleri by Michael Johnston (Excerpt Intro by Michael Johnston) - Fantasy Book Critic is excited to welcome Michael Johnston to our blog. Michael Johnston is the author of *Soleri*, which will be published June 13, 20...
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