Darigan's Truce: Part Four
It was a clear, high voice that made him snap upright; eyes
wide as the long-dormant memories of his exile flooded back to him with the sound
of his borrowed name...
"Mr. Scary! Wait!" The child's cry came again,
and as he turned around, he saw a little Usul running as fast as she could towards
the castle. He watched as she ducked under the legs of the bystanders and darted
into the thoroughfare, past the astounded guards and over the drawbridge to
where Lord Darigan stood. Before Skarl could give any order to stop her, the
child skidded to a halt at Darigan's feet and held up an armful of sweet-smelling
flowers to him, her face the very picture of happiness.
"I brought some flowers for you, Mr. Scary!"
she cried breathlessly in delight. To Skarl's astonishment, Lord Darigan slowly
knelt before the tiny child and tenderly gathered her gift of meadow-flowers,
his face transfixed with a mixture of gladness and shock; unsure of what to
say to the child to whom he owed his very life.
"Sally," he whispered softly, and put his hand
on her head in the traditional gesture of formal graditude. "Thank you..."
"Sally!!" Two older Usuls had suddenly sprinted
out of the crowd and ran to Sally as though to protect her, but this time two
burly Draiks came forward and crossed their spears, barring the path.
"Just where d'ya think you're going?" one growled.
"Please, you must let us through!" the female
Usul cried, pointing, "That's our child!"
"Ahh, come off it. If that's your child she's
in a lotta trouble, and don't think you won't be punished, either!" the Draik
replied, jabbing a claw at them threateningly. "You'll have a lot ta answer
for even if Skarl decides t'be merciful-"
"Guards!" Skarl boomed angrily, "Bring them before
me." The Draiks parted their spears and seized the two Usuls, but they needed
no coaxing; breaking free they ran straight to their daughter, catching her
up in their arms protectively. Darigan rose to his feet and watched them, still
holding the gift of flowers in his arms.
"Oh, child, what on earth were you doing?" Sally's
mother scolded, yet relieved that her daughter was safe. "How could you run
away from us like that?"
"Enough of this!" King Skarl glared at the Usul
family. "Explain yourselves! How dare you cause such a disruption?" Sally's
parents trembled and cast their eyes to the ground so as not to invite the king's
wrath, but in her innocence little Sally met his frowning gaze.
"But King Skarl," she chimed, her eyes very large
and sorrowful, "I only wanted to say hello to Mr. Scary!"
"Mr..." Sally's parents slowly followed their
daughter's gaze to the dark-robed figure of Lord Darigan towering over them.
The diminutive Usuls were gripped with a sudden chill as they examined his face;
it had changed but they knew too well the frightful vestiges left by the Blight:
the sunken cheeks, the thin pallid flesh, the yellow eyes; the features of a
face that had terrorized their land.
"'How- how d'you know Lord Darigan, child?" Sally's
mother faltered, her breath catching in her throat. "How can you know him?"
"What nonsense is this?!" Skarl thundered, his
face boiling with rage. "And how dare you refer to the Lord of Darigan as 'Mr.
Scary'? Such insolence I have never seen!" The Usuls fairly cowered on the ground
before his shattering voice, and the officials standing round lowered their
eyes to avoid attracting the king's attention. Poor Sally appeared to shrink
under Skarl's withering glare and she glanced only once at Darigan in a helpless
plea. Darigan cleared his throat and said firmly:
"King Skarl! Hear me for a moment." The sound
of his commanding voice had its effect on Skarl; he broke off yelling and stood
looking at Lord Darigan as though he could not move. Sally's father pinned back
his ears in confusion and lifted his head. No one before had ever dared speak
when the king was angry!
"What- what is it, Lord Darigan?" Skarl choked,
a bit short of breath.
"King Skarl, let us not be so angry on a day
like this," Darigan said, with more than a touch of reproof. "You said yourself
this was a time of merriment and joy." Baffled, Skarl was stunned into silence
as Darigan turned to the Usul family once again.
"What your name, sir?" Darigan addressed Sally's
father, calmly folding his arms into the sleeves of his robe, looking for all
the world like a judge presiding over a trial.
"Yes, both of you, tell us your names!" Skarl
barked irritably, finding his voice again, and wishing to regain his authority.
The father Usul began quaking in his shoes, fearful that he had incurred both
"It's Aldrek, y-yer Lordship, and my wife's name
is Esaa... don' be angry with us, sir, we was only trying to protect Sally!"
Though feigning courage, his voice shook in a betrayal of his fear. Darigan
regarded him solemnly. This Usul was a humble farmer desiring only security
for his loved ones after years of war, wishing for peace and nothing else. It
pained Darigan's heart to see any such family, poor as they were yet dignified
in their poverty, with wishes only for their child to have more than they themselves
could ever dream for. Great sympathy for them filled his heart as he spoke.
"I'm not angry with you, Aldrek," Darigan said
in a kinder tone. "On the contrary, I want to thank you."
"Thank me?" poor Aldrek stammered. "But- but
"King Skarl," Darigan said, turning to him, "I
know this is very irregular, but I wonder if you could grant me a special favor."
Skarl turned to him with an annoyed sneer.
"Well, what is it? It's bad enough that this
child has caused such a disturbance. I don't like to be kept waiting like this!"
"I apologize, Sire, but this is important to
me. With your permission, I would like for this child and her family to accompany
us to the castle." Sally's mother let out a muffled cry.
"But we've done nothing!" she blurted, terrified.
"Please don' lock us away-"
"SILENCE!" cried Skarl, and the mother quieted,
trembling like a leaf. She looked as though she might die of fright any minute,
and Darigan did his best to be kind and assuring.
"You misunderstand me, my lady," Darigan continued,
addressing Sally's mother, "but in my realm, it is a tradition on high festive
days for the lord of the realm to eat with the poorest of his subjects, for
it is, as we say, 'the lowliest farmer who feeds the lord.' Therefore, King
Skarl, I would be honored if you allowed me invite this family to the royal
table with the rest of the court guests." At these words, Skarl's eyes widened
in a kind of horrified disbelief.
"What?" he sputtered, his voice rising. "I -
why, this has never been done! After all, how can I allow these- these peasants
at the royal table? It would be an embarrassment to my court!" Beside him, Darigan
overheard Master Vex mutter an unflattering comment concerning Skarl's intelligence
under his breath, which, fortunately, Skarl did not hear. At that moment Captain
Jeran stepped forward and placed his paw on the king's shoulder as though to
"Just a moment, Your Highness," Darigan heard
Jeran say, and he and Skarl turned aside to hold short conference, speaking
in low murmurs that even Darigan could not make out properly. The Usul family
watched their king intently in the tense moments that followed and Esaa hugged
her daughter protectively. Skarl finally turned to them and cleared his throat
"Very well, Lord Darigan," he declared grudgingly.
"Captain Jeran has advised me to allow the young Usul and her family to attend,
and- though I do not approve! - so it shall be." Sally's face lit up and she
clapped her hands together in excitement at these words. Darigan smiled.
"Many thanks, King Skarl," he replied in gratitude.
"You are most kind. And thank you as well, Captain Jeran." Skarl made a dismissive
motion with his hand.
"Yes, yes, but we have no time for such thanks.
We shall talk more of these things at the great banquet we have prepared in
your honor!" he said jubilantly. Darigan rustled his wings and inclined his
head slightly, still fixing Skarl with his inimitable stare.
"Indeed. Then we must away," he said in a low
tone. "Aldrek, Esaa? Will you join us?" The Usuls looked at each other in bewilderment
at what had happened. Finally Aldrek spoke:
"Aye, it looks like we haven't got a choice,
yer Lordship, sir. We'll come."
Darigan smiled benevolently and turned to follow
the King's procession to the castle doors. As they passed through, he could
hear Aldrek saying to his child:
"Sally? You've got a lot of explainin' ta do,
I can tell you that..."
To be continued...