The Freemen and the Stone

Status: 1st Draft

The Freemen and the Stone

Status: 1st Draft

The Freemen and the Stone

Book by: R. M. Keegan

Details

Genre: Fantasy

Content Summary


This is the third book in the Crystal Scepter series. It finishes the story of Evaughnlynn and sets up another series of three books involving a young boy. It is very rough, having been written
during a series of illnesses from which I have finally, I think, emerged. Please feel free to tear it apart. R.M.

 

 

Content Summary


This is the third book in the Crystal Scepter series. It finishes the story of Evaughnlynn and sets up another series of three books involving a young boy. It is very rough, having been written
during a series of illnesses from which I have finally, I think, emerged. Please feel free to tear it apart. R.M.

Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: April 08, 2018

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Chapter Content - ver.1

Submitted: April 08, 2018

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Chapter Seventeen

 

The following day the royal party boarded a twin-masted ship and set sail upriver, which made for a much easier trip than the one from Hawkland to Bar Krouth.  Captain Tamir was drawn to the bridge, but spent much of his time with Roselyn and Beowyn.  Princess Evaughnlynn and Neima stood nearby and talked.  Bullnose and Artio stood guard on deck, along with Captain Tamir’s sergeant.  The rest of the guard detail remained below decks and out of the way of the royal party.

King Ragnon spent all day in his cabin.  Twilight arrived and he came topside to stand with Evaughnlynn and Neima.  They watched the sailors ascending the rigging and reef the sails.  The torches were already lighted on the dock at Bar Elam when the ship pulled into port.  A small group of dru and a squad of guards stood waiting.

Captain Tamir turned to King Ragnon and saluted.  “Your Majesty, with your permission, I’ll go ashore first and find out why a guard’s been sent.  I was expecting priests, not soldiers.”  Behind him, the captain’s and Beowyn’s men were forming a line along the railing.  Bullnose, Artio, and Tamir’s sergeant were by the gangplank.

Ragnon returned the captain’s salute.  “Certainly, Captain.  I’m sure it’s no more than the false rumors the dark ones spread in Bar Krouth.”

Captain Tamir shook his head.  “We weren’t met with a guard at the gates of Bar Krouth.  I fear the rumors may be more serious here.  The illness here has been untreated until now."  He turned and headed to where his sergeant was explaining to Bullnose and Artio how to lower a gangplank while several of the crew normally assigned the duty tried not to laugh.

“Milady,” Neima said softly.  “We should sing the Song of Doran as we go through the streets.”

Princess Evaughnlynn had felt power flowing—surrounding Neima—just before the child spoke.  Evaughnlynn looked at the others.  Only Roselyn was staring at Neima.  “What song is that?”

Neima smiled.  “The Song of Doran tells how God told him to lead our people out of slavery and how the Wizards of the Light joined us to defeat the Dark Wizards in a great battle.  The priests sing it when they parade from the city gates to the temple each year for the Day of Freedom.”  The power radiating around the girl faded.

Evaughnlynn waved at her father, who walked over.  “Neima thinks we should sing when we leave the ship.  What do you think?”

“Sing?”  Ragnon glanced at Neima.  “Sing what?”

“The Song of Doran.  It’s the—."

“I know what it is.  And it’s a good idea.”

Evaughnlynn felt the power again the moment her father spoke.  Like Neima, the power did not emanate from her father, but surrounded him.  “You know this song?”

Ragnon chuckled.  “In my youth I was privileged to sing it twice in Anglia.”  He looked at his daughter with his head slightly tilted to one side.  “The Freemen have only one temple, the one in Bar Krouth.  But they do have shrines in every town where they live.  In Anglia it was on the estate of a friend of Benami’s, and he invited me to attend the ceremony.  He had been teaching me about Freemen society.”  His lips moved for a moment, then he added, “Why did you look at me so…strangely just now?”

“I didn’t know you were that close to Benami.”  It’s not a lie, just not an answer to his question.  She smiled instinctively.

“When we were children I thought of him as a cousin.  His father sent him to stay with us at Hawk’s Keep and my father sent me to Bar Krouth for months at a time.  I spent two seasons at sea with him on one of his father’s ships when I was a few years younger than you are.  Later, the two of us rented a house together in Anglia for nearly two years, but then my father fell ill.”

Evaughnlynn shook her head.  “I had no idea.”

The gangplank fell in place and Captain Tamir hurried down it to speak to the guard captain.  He quickly returned to the ship and stopped in front of King Ragnon.  “We’ve taken over a large house on the other side of the city.  But there are rumors that the foreign wizard caused the plague and is only pretending to cure it.  The poor fools believe that the only way to lift her curse is to kill her.  The guard expects to fight the mob all the way across the city.”

Neima said, “We should go to the shrine first.”

“Evaughnlynn turned to Captain Tamir.  “Do you know where the shrine is?  Neima wants to go there first singing the song of Doran.”

“Yes.”  Tamir looked at Neima and his eyebrows drew in.  “Do you know the chant well enough to lead it?”

“Yes.”

Tamir looked at the king.

Ragnon’s head tilted side to side.  “I can’t think of anyone better to lead us than this little girl.  She has been a blessing to us ever since we arrived.  And I can’t think of a better place for us to go than the shrine.”

Tamir bowed.  “As you wish.”

 

****

 

Brother Knobu stood in the shadows of the alleyway as darkness slowly turned to night, watching the crowd milling about and mumbling in front of the mansion at the edge of town.  Armed guards had arrived earlier and affixed torches to the mansion’s outer wall at intervals, lighting the area in the roadway.  Then they stood guard on the gates.  Many of the Freeman milling around outside were also carrying torches, causing shadows to flicker over the area.

A slight smile played over Brother Knobu’s face.  The rumors had worked.  The people were badly frightened.  It had not taken him long to find a few easily controlled minds in the crowded streets and he had begun influencing them until they were now in a near rage.

A man Brother Knobu recognized as one of his men ran into the square yelling, “They’ve come by ship!”  He pointed back toward the dock area.  “They tried to sneak into the city!”

A large butcher Brother Knobu had put under control earlier yelled, “Follow me!”  He waved his meat cleaver over his head and ran toward the docks.

Wonderful! Knobu unconsciously rubbed his hands together.  If they had come by carriage they could have used mounted troops to force their way through the estate gates and reached safety.  Now they must cross the whole city fighting the mob.  All I have to do is keep them stirred up and then strike when she isn’t ready for my attack.

Brother Knobu hurried after the yelling crowd, which he thought of as a pack of dogs on the hunt, his spirits soaring with the possibility of being the one who brought down the witch who had vexed the brotherhood’s plans so many times.  The streets were winding and narrow and he had to struggle to keep the back of the crowd in sight.

He was panting for breath when the baying of the crowd changed in pitch and he knew they had reached their quarry.  Visions of the witch’s body lying torn and bloody in the street filled his mind as he rushed toward the roar of the mob.  But as he ran the noise changed—decreasing, sputtering to a murmur that stopped.  Then he heard the singing.

 

****

 

Brother Drogo, in his disguise as a trader from Cymru, had taken rooms in a modest inn and begun his reintroduction of the plague virus while searching for the warrior and his Dwarf companion.  When night fell he sat in a small tavern near the city gates with a mug of the Freemen malt drink, contemplating his failure.  Everyone in the city seemed to have somehow become immune to the virus and none of his efforts to find the Dwarf had meet with the slightest success.  No one he asked had ever heard of a Dwarf in Bar Krouth.  He took a large drink from his mug.  It’s as if the Dwarf has never been seen other than by Brother Knobu.

He knew the Freeman drink was more powerful than the wine he normally drank, but he needed to escape the depression and doubt that plagued him.  Did Knobu lie when he said the warrior was here with a Dwarf?  Has he set me up for failure?

“Another, Master Trader?”

Drogo looked up.  The young barmaid stood next to his table looking down at him.  He looked down at his mug.  It was empty.  I drank it already?  He looked up.  “Yes, another.”  He handed her his mug and looked down at the table again.

“Bad day, huh?”  She poured the malt brew into his mug from the pitcher she carried.

“I can’t find the dwiff—dwarf I’m looking for.”  He scooped up the mug and drained it.  “I don’t think he’s even in the city.”  He slammed the mug down on the wooden table and stared at it, defying it to break.  Then he glared up at her slightly out of focus form above him.

“A dwarf in Bar Krouth?”  She shook her head.  She turned to the Tavern keeper.  “Hay, Joktan, you ever hear of a dwarf in Bar Krouth?”

“Not that I ever heard of—except the one the blacksmith down the road brought back with him the other day.”

“That’s the one.”  Drogo nodded his head while trying to keep his focus on the girl at the same time.  “I can’t find him.”  He tried to take a drink from his mug, but it was empty.  He held the mug up for her to fill.

The barmaid poured malt into the mug.  “Well, why don’t you look down the street?”

“I will,” he replied, trying to remember why.  His stomach was rolling like he was back aboard ship and he suddenly felt very tired.  He lifted the cup and drank half the golden liquid before setting it down on the table.  “But first I need to gep some sleet.”  He took two silver coins out of his purse and set them on the table one at a time.  He nodded and walked out into the night.  He could feel the barmaid’s eyes on him and tried not to stumble.

 

 

* * **

 

Brother Knobu came to a stop behind the crowd.  The mob filled the square and backed up into the side street.  The voice of a girl singing in the Freeman’s language grew louder.  Each statement she sang was follow by a refrain chanted by a number of adults.  Brother Knobu pushed through the crowd until he reached the edge of the square, which had now opened as a line of torches approached from the area of the docks.  In front were six armed guards carrying torches.  Then a young girl, no more than eleven or twelve, dressed as a dru and carrying a lighted candle in front of her.  Her voice was clear and strong as she sang.

What is this foolishness?  The crowd stood as if in a trance, letting him push his way to the front.  Some of them even began chanting the refrain.  The mob moved to the side as the procession approached.  The soldiers passed.  He could almost reach out and touch the girl.

The song pulled him in, like a spell.  He fought to keep from repeating the chant the crowd had taken up.  He was frozen in place.  Calm touched him.

There is power here.  Brother Knobu managed to stumble back through the crowd and down a side street.  His mind at war with itself, half wanting to follow this beautiful child and half wanting to run and hide.

Safely alone, he clutched the red crystal that hung around his neck.  After a minute he dared look back at the crowd, now following the out-of-sight girl and her procession.  Then he hurried back to his room.  He had to report this latest failure to the Master.  Maybe he would know what to do.

Back in his room, he tried to get his thoughts in order, tried to examine the plan he had set in motion, and what had actually happened.  It had gone horribly wrong, and yet it had been perfect.  I need to know who the child is.  In a land without wizards she has wielded power to rival my ownI must learn how to kill her.  That at least will reduce my failure.

 

****

 

Brother Drogo opened his eyes.  He was in his room.  He rolled over and looked at the window behind him.  Daylight streamed in.  His mind was full of vague impressions of dark streets and cold, wet air.  His head ached and his tongue felt like it was wrapped in cotton.  He sat up and swung his legs off the bed  He was still wearing his boots and was completely dressed, including his hat, which was lying on the bed next to him.

He slammed his eyes shut as a hammer struck the inside of his skull.  What—what happened to me?  He stood up, and wished he hadn’t as his head spun and his stomach rolled.  The hammering increased and he felt himself swaying.  He stumbled to the wall by the head of his bed and leaned against it while gripping the wooden headboard.  Images of wandering the streets flooded his mind.  After that.  Where was I?  The vague image of a young woman holding a pewter pitcher flashed through his mind.  I was in a tavern.  I drank too much?  No.  He shook his head.  Ridiculous.  I never drink to excess.  Drugged?  This time he kept his head still.  Shaking it had increased the throbbing pain in his temples.  NoThe drink must have been stronger than I thought.

Shame washed over him for not watching how much he had drunk.  He would have to start trying to infect people with the plague again.  News that the sickness had reemerged once the witch left the city would help prevent her success in other cities.  He stood looking out the window.  His failure to infect more people and his inability to find the dwarf had caused him to start drinking.  Perhaps I’ve gone about it all wrong.  Maybe I should infect new arrivals.  The witch couldn’t possibly make people she’s never seen resistant to the sickness.  I’ll go to the docks and see what ships have come in since the quarantine was lifted.  If I can’t restart the plague my claim that Brother Knobu lied about the warrior being here will not save me.

When he reached the street Brother Drogo looked around to get orientated.  The city gates were to his right and the temple to his left.  Something tickled the back of his mind.  Something about the warrior, but nothing surfaced.  He dismissed it and walked toward the docks.  There were two new ships in port when he got there, and he headed for the taverns along the waterfront.

The sign over the door to the White Dove needed paint, and a new hinge from the screech it made in the slight breeze.  The tables and bar along the back wall of the dark room were filled with sailors in various stages of intoxication.  From the accent of the men their ship was from Anglia.  The lanterns hung from the ceiling cast shadows over the men’s faces.  Brother Drogo moved through the crowded room using the spray bottle in his hand.  It was empty by the time he reached the bar and slipped it back into his pocket.

He stopped at the bar and was surprised when the barmaid straightened up from behind it to look directly at him.  “What’ll-ya-have?”

“Malt” came out of his mouth before he could think of anything else to say.  He pulled out a silver coin and slapped it on the bar.

She set a mug in front of him and poured the golden liquid into it from the pewter pitcher in her hand.  “Bad day, huh?”

The words caused a shock as the image of another barmaid flashed through his mind.  He jerked, and blurted out, “What?”

“You look like you had a bad day.”  She smiled.  “Didn’t mean no offense.”

Over her words the memory of saying, “I can’t find the dwiff—dwarf I’m looking for,” flashed through his mind.  He turned and walked toward the door.

“Wait!  Your drink!”

He ignored her and walked outside.  There was something else.  He remembered saying, “I will.”  Why?  He began walking down the street.  She said something.  What?  He stopped walking.  He remembered.  “Well, why don’t you look down the street?”

That was why I said, “I will.”  But why should I look down the street?  Something about the dwarf.  I have to go back to that tavern.  Maybe then I’ll remember what she said about him.  He started walking again.  Where was it?  He looked around.  He tried to recall his path of the day before.  He had left his room and walked in an outward spiraling search pattern, stopping at businesses and asking for information about a dwarf friend who was coming to Bar Krouth while using his spray bottle on the unsuspecting people.  I was at the end of my spiral when I went into the tavern.  He started walking toward the city wall.

Sometime later he passed the door of a tavern he recognized and stopped.  This is the place.  He looked up the road and then down.  He shook his head.  Nothing stood out.  Then he realized the tavern was on a corner.  Of course, it isWhy should I be lucky?

He stepped out into the intersection and looked both ways.  The city gates were two blocks away.  He turned around and looked the other way.  The river was two blocks the other way.  Then a tingling in the back of his mind made him turn around again.  A blacksmith shop.  Dwarves are famous as blacksmiths.  Where better in this pest hole would a miserable dwarf live but at a blacksmith’s shop?  Then he remembered the bartender had said something about a blacksmith.

He started walking toward the building.  As he passed the open stable-like doors he glanced in.  His heart raced.  Be there, be there, reverberated in his mind.

The forge had been fired but the shop was empty.  Just as he reached the far door a stocky, beardless youth walked through an interior door into the forge.  A dwarf!  He nearly stumbled as he continued walking.  He took several more steps, so that he was out of sight of anyone inside the shop, and stopped.  Now what?  Make sure he’s actually with the warrior, of course.  How?

He turned and walked back to the doorway.  The dwarf was busy pumping the billows attached to the forge.  Brother Drogo walked inside.  “Are you the blacksmith?”

The dwarf turned.  “No.  He’s out making some deliveries.  He’ll be back within the hour.”

Brother Drogo’s heart was pounding in his chest.  On the wall behind the dwarf hung a broadsword with a ruby pommel.  Exactly such a broadsword had been used by the warrior at Tower Farm.  They had said the man who wielded it had not been human.  The blacksmith must be the warrior.  “That’s quite a sword on your wall, Master Dwarf.  Is that the blacksmith’s?”

“It is, Master Trader.  Were you looking for an arms maker?  Master Faolan rarely makes weapons.  He only makes decorative knives as special orders.  His main trade is kitchen ware and farm implements.  But as it happens, Baron Loegaire, the famous weapons maker, will be in Bar Krouth in a few days.”

It’s him!  Baron Loegaire was at Tower Farm and the battle near the Great Forest.  It can’t be a coincidence.  Brother Drogo stared at the dwarf.  Good.  He has a dagger on his belt.  Drogo walked slowly into the barn.  “Listen to me, dwarf.  Master Faolan is not your friend.  He is your enemy.  Do you understand?”

The dwarf’s eyes went large and round.  “Yes.  I understand you.”

“Good.”  Drogo smiled.  This might take more power.  He stopped directly in front of the dwarf and pulled his red stone of power from inside his shirt..  He let the stone swing back and forth in front of him.  “When the smith returns you will wait until he turns his back and stab him with the dagger on your belt.”

“Pox you.”  The dwarf reached up and jerked the stone of power hanging from the chain in Drogo’s hand.  The golden chain snapped.

Drogo froze in shock as the dwarf strode several steps to an anvil and smashed the stone with a large hammer.  The pain was intense, as if someone had reached into his skull and jerked his brain out.  He fell to the floor.  A moment later the dwarf was on him, binding his hands and feet, while yelling, “Guard!  Guard!  Call the guard!”


© Copyright 2019 R. M. Keegan. All rights reserved.

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