Darigan's Truce: Part Three
Miles from Meridell Castle at start of the promenade, Captain
Jeran raised his eyes to a passing shadow and a brief smile lit up his features.
Leaning down he placed a paw on the King's shoulder and spoke in his ear:
"It looks as though Lord Darigan has arrived,
Sire." Skarl raised his head and shaded his eyes against the sun to see Darigan's
procession gliding towards them on swift wings.
"By the faeries, you're right, Jeran," Skarl
replied, watching their descent. "I must say, I never thought I'd be glad to
see Lord Darigan again." He turned to a small green Draik guard standing at
attention to his left. "You there!" he barked. "Darigan is coming, make sure
everything is in order. And signal the musicians to begin playing!"
"Yes, Your Highness!" squeaked the Draik, and
flying straight above them, he blew a ringing blast on his trumpet. Soon a glorious
fanfare could be heard in answer from the Meridellian heralds on the castle
ramparts in the distance, and the crowd stirred with anticipation of the spectacle.
By this time they had also caught sight of Darigan, and all stared upward expectantly
with their mouths open in surprise. Some cheered as the shadows of the entourage
flashed over their heads, but others stared hard in apprehension, for they had
not forgotten the former years of ravaging war, and they held no little amount
of bitter sentiment towards Darigan in their hearts. Murmurs of mistrust were
exchanged among the throng: "He still wears those black robes of his. Darigan
hasn't changed a bit." "Redeemed, my eye! I'll believe it when the treaty's
signed, and even then I'll be on my guard." "Who said the evil was only in that
Orb? I don't think it corrupted Skarl when he had it..."
The entourage descended, inscribing a graceful
curve in midair before landing softly in front of the leader of Meridell.
"It's all right, Master Vex!" Jeran heard one
of the Eyrie guards exclaim. "You can open yer eyes now." Master Vex cautiously
opened one eye and exhaled through clenched teeth. Jeran watched as the familiar
scarred Mynci clambered off the Eyrie's back and brushed off his sleeves meticulously.
"Sergeant Falke," Vex said deliberately, glaring,
"I am never doing that again." Falke only chuckled to himself and assumed an
unwonted placid expression as he pretended not to hear. Lord Darigan folded
his wings and stepped before King Skarl, placing his right arm over his chest
"I greet you, King Skarl, in the name of Darigan."
"All Meridell bids you welcome, Lord of Darigan,"
Skarl replied. The two leaders bowed before each other and a hush fell over
the spectators as they realized they were watching the beginning of a new era,
a new, true peace for Meridell at last.
Darigan straightened and gestured to the Skeith
color-bearers. Two came forward bearing a large chest between them and set it
at the feet of King Skarl, who raised an eyebrow curiously.
"As a token of goodwill, we have brought gifts
for the King of Meridell and his court," said Darigan. "Please accept our humble
offering, for at this moment it is all that our realm could afford to give."
Skarl craned his neck forward to look as the two Skeiths undid the lock on the
chest and opened it. Inside was a golden key, a vial of clear liquid, a strange
creeping purple vine, and a small bag of gold. Skarl picked up these objects
one by one, looking at them in slight puzzlement.
"I- I thank you for your generous gifts, Lord
Darigan. Er... I know these things must be dear to you, but- "
"Ah, you wish to know what they are," said Darigan
with a knowing smile. "Tell him, Master Vex." Vex took a step forward and drew
himself a little higher as he began his explanation.
"The gold," he said, "I trust you recognize.
It is ordinary coinage, like any in your realm. But the other gifts here hold
more important meaning. This key, for example." He held it delicately between
his fingers and squinted at it with his good eye. "It grants the owner the power
to open any lock. It has been in my possession for many years, and now I offer
it to you in hopes that all barriers of misunderstanding between us shall be
broken." Skarl took the key from Vex's palm and examined it, a smile spreading
over his face.
"Any lock, eh? My, that is a special gift. I
think I shall leave it in the hands of Captain Jeran; I trust him with such
things. But what is this plant?" Skarl asked, fingering one of its tendrils.
To his surprise the tendril instantly coiled about his finger and held it.
"That, Sire, is the purple vine-rose, clipped
from the oldest and largest tree in our gardens," said Lord Darigan. "Don't
worry; you can easily pull your finger out." Skarl extricated his finger from
the vine's grip as Captain Rhyf suppressed a chuckle.
"It's a pity that you couldn't see it in bloom
now," continued Darigan, "for it is from ancient stock that only flowers once
every twenty years. For nineteen years hence it has lain barren, even in the
days before the Blight took hold, but in another year you shall be able to see
it in full flower, for we are certain that its flower remains uncorrupted. We
offer this gift so both our nations might enjoy its beauty in times of peace."
Skarl peered again at the twisted, thorny vine and cleared his throat.
"Er, it's lovely, Lord Darigan.... I promise
this shall be planted in a special place in our gardens. But tell me, what is
in this vial? Is it a potion of some sort?"
"Yes, and a very rare potion it is," Vex answered.
"This is the Faerie's Elixir, and it has saved the life of many a warrior. Keep
it well, for it has even brought the dead back to life - granted the body was
still warm, of course."
"Incredible," said Skarl. "My potion master will
enjoy looking at this, eh, Jeran? But dear Kayla is an amateur in her talents
compared to this."
"Yes, my king. Lord Darigan, we thank you for
your gifts," Jeran said, bowing. "Meridell shall keep these well. Generously
given, they are more precious than anything we could offer you."
"Do not think of it, Captain Jeran," said Darigan.
"Our gift shall be the longstanding peace between our peoples. That is all that
any of us desire."
"Well said, Lord Darigan!" King Skarl exclaimed.
"Nevertheless you shall receive something in return. I will attend to that once
we reach the castle. But for now..." He clapped his hands and the Draik guards
behind him snapped to attention.
"Let the procession begin!" A new fanfare began
to play as the royal carriage was brought into the street; a marvelous open
coach drawn by four prancing white Unis. The Unis tossed their heads proudly
and the sunlight gleamed off their polished coats. The burnished red and blue
of the Meridell crest emblazoned upon the royal coach shone so brightly that
Lord Darigan was obliged to shade his face and turn aside, his eyes unaccustomed
to its brilliance.
Darigan and Vex were ushered into the front seats
of the coach; Skarl and Jeran followed and sat in the two facing seats behind.
Rhyf, Falke, and the Skeith standard-bearers took their places behind the coach,
preparing to follow the lead of the Meridell colors at the head of the parade.
Calmly, Skarl raised his hand, facing the throng. The standards fluttered gently
in the breeze and all was still as the procession awaited the king's command.
He gave it; the silence all round was shattered by his call:
"To the castle!" Skarl bellowed, and the coach
lurched forward to the sound of rousing music and the raucous cheers of the
crowd. The standards of Darigan and Meridell alike were unfurled above the long
procession, dazzling all those assembled, and the tattoo of marching feet stirred
the hearts of every citizen, caught up in the rhythm and the joy of the parade.
King Skarl waved grandly to his subjects, basking
in his peoples' adulation as the carriage sped along the procession route. From
his seat Darigan watched the faces of the crowd blur together, and while he
smiled serenely at the multitudes, his mind slipped quietly into more pressing
thoughts. Would this treaty last? Fragile as it was, it was the only guarantee
for peace they had. A peace signed by treaty and sealed with vows, yet that
had been the failed promise of the last pact with Meridell...
"I say, Darigan!" Skarl's bombastic shout startled
him from his musings and he looked up questioningly.
"Hmm? What is it?"
"Why, Lord Darigan, what is the matter? Why so
serious at a time like this? Everyone is cheering for us, be glad!" He waved
again and a fresh roar went up from the crowd.
"Oh, I am glad, Sire, very glad that we could
be here on such a day," Darigan managed to make himself heard over the shouting.
"But I was only thinking of the treaty-"
"Eh?" Skarl questioned, holding a hand to one
"The treaty!" Darigan yelled over the din. "I
was worried about it." King Skarl fell back in his seat and gave a hearty laugh
as he looked his former adversary up and down.
"You need not worry about that!" he chuckled.
"We shan't make the same mistakes as last time, and anyway, the treaty won't
be signed until tomorrow morning!" He shook his head knowingly and laughed again.
"Ah well, I always knew your people were a gloomy lot, anyhow. Not only do you
think of politics during our parade, but you wear those black robes on such
a happy day! Why, you look as though you're ready for a funeral!" Master Vex
suddenly stiffened in his seat in unwonted emotion at these words.
"Funeral, indeed," he scoffed, "Do you believe
that we enjoy death, as though our people had not suffered enough in war?" Darigan
set his ears back and held up a hand in warning.
"No, Master Vex," he said, "King Skarl is right."
"But my lord-"
"No." Darigan said nothing for a few moments,
thinking of the ceremonial robes he had left lying in his chamber. Finally he
sighed heavily as if what he had to say bore the weight of many ages past and
leaned forward for Skarl to better hear his words.
"It is true, Sire, that I had planned on wearing
something more suited to the occasion. Many years ago, I did wear white, as
was our custom in times of fortune. But I have decided now that I cannot wear
the garb of peace, not because I do not desire it, but in good conscience I
know I could never wear the robes of white after so many have shed their blood
for peace. Let it be known that from now on, in tribute to all those who have
given their lives, I shall wear only the robes of mourning, since I deserve
to wear none other." He indicated his long black robes and placed his fingers
together in utter gravity and seriousness. King Skarl's smile faded at these
words and sat back, abashed.
"A noble reason," he mumbled, turning away thoughtfully.
"Come now, King Skarl, I didn't mean it as anything
against you," Darigan said, smiling graciously. "As you said, this is a happy
day." A grin returned to Skarl's wide face and he leaned forward, full of energy
"Yes, you're right! Forget these dark thoughts,
and do not think of politics now," he said, waving a hand dismissively. "The
treaty will be signed tomorrow, but now is the time for merriment and celebration!"
And he laughed, his fat belly shaking with mirth.
The parade clattered over the cobblestone street
until Meridell Castle rose into view. The majestic stone palace that had withstood
both time and war stood fair and radiant in the Meridellian fields, the red
and golden spires soaring above them and gleaming in the sun. Vex and Darigan
regarded the castle with a sort of wonder as the carriage approached, for such
had been their Citadel long ago, and their hearts ached to recall Darigan's
once-beautiful days of glory.
"I hope that you'll be pleased with your accommodations,
Lord Darigan," Jeran said, sensing his wonderment at the sight of their castle.
"We have made arrangements for the delegation to stay for the night."
"You are gracious," Darigan replied. "We would
be honored to stay." He glanced at Vex out of the corner of his eye and saw
the dungeon-master frown and nod his head slightly, perhaps remembering more
prosperous times when the Citadel could entertain their guests as lavishly as
they pleased. It would indeed be a long time before the realm could return to
such prosperity again.
The parade had reached the end of the thoroughfare
and was now approaching the castle moat. At a second announcing trumpet-blast
the drawbridge was sent down to allow the parade to cross. Without missing a
beat, the carriage-Unis galloped over the drawbridge and came to a halt at the
castle gates, their hooves pawing at the ground. Music from the band continued
to play for the crowd's enjoyment as the rest of the long procession passed
over the drawbridge and filed into the courtyard. The castle guards immediately
lined up and stood on either side of the portcullis, waiting to attend their
king as he approached.
"Ah, here we are!" said Skarl, and motioned for
the occupants of the carriage to alight. "We shall now feast and be merry. Come!"
Darigan alighted and was about to follow Skarl to the castle when he thought
he heard something, something very familiar...
To be continued...