It did not take long for the members of the captain’s royal guard, and the elite officers to find their way into the House of Lords sub-basement. With powerful magicks, they helped Zy’an and the others subdue the yuan-ti. Although, these zealots wouldn’t talk, others did. And before long the full story came to fruition to the investigators. Apparently, Tabraxon had been part of a growing unrest in the major cities, calling themselves the Brotherhood of Light.
“It’s a shame,” said Frank later that evening. They had been invited to attend a royal feast with the king himself. He stood, as a tailor outfitted him for a Cillandrial suit made of the finest wool. “The Flame may be misguided at times, but the good it does is undeniable is it not? People like Tabraxon give a bad name for what the Order does do for the good of the land.”
“I suppose that depends on the way one views, good,” answered Iricah. “I suppose it’s up to us all to keep in mind that good sometimes needs a new definition. Clearly, building a perfect city here on Silvershore, wasn’t going to work. But how about a decent city?” She too was ill-prepared to be treated like a pin-cushion, but Celn customs were Celn customs.
They looked over at Thrak. For the last half an hour, three servants were staring at him, their hands under their chins, trying desperately to sort out what they should do.
In the end, a fine brush was used along with oil of a fine smelling island flower and his scales were polished to a bright sheen. Zy’an of course, insisted that he be left to his meditations. And Areia had needed some time for the stone to flesh spell to take full effect, her joints still a bit numb and she didn’t like the others knowing. Besides, Squeaks had also been turned to stone, and his after effects were a lot worse than hers. Nevertheless, she has relieved to see he was coming around to his old self.
She walked out into the communal suite, the King’s assistant, a man named Q had arranged for them. “Hey guys, think the prince will be there?” she asked with a wicked grin. “Fairly certain he has the hots for me.”
Hojo walked out from one of the antechambers. He was wearing his finest outfit yet. A large poofy red and gold number that made him look as though he had muscles they all knew he didn’t. “Of course he has the hots for you, Lady Areia,” he beamed. “But sadly, he won’t be here tonight. I do hope to see him soon though. I am sure we all do.”
Dinner for the saviors of Silver Shore was to be a treat beyond comparison. For the King had invited them to eat privately with him, in his discussion room. It was an event reserved for the finest dignitaries in the land. Even Areia was impressed.
Led into the chamber, strewn with gold and green banners, lit by radiant magical light, they saw before them a feast like no other. And standing to greet them, the King himself. “Welcome my friends! Welcome!” called the king. And then to the guards and assembled servants. “Thank you to our royal staff! Thank you, thank you, and now, if you will please leave us friends. I wish to make acquaintance with our regal heroes here, and to get to know them personally.”
The hall emptied. And the last remaining member of the King’s entourage, the grey bearded man known as Q, pat Hojo on the back, and walked out, closed the doors behind him. They heard a click.
Iricah could hear her breath in and out. Here she was once more, faced with the man who she knew, had killed her brother. Would he even remember her?
All eyes turned to the king. But the King was looking at Hojo.
“You’ve done well, Lord Borindin,” said Hojo. “Very well. It was a close call. We nearly lost you.”
“My Lord, we would have assisted you had we but gotten word!”
“My son could not spare another ship. Even now, I do not know the results of his contest.” All humor was gone from Hojo’s face.
What do you mean, your son thought Zy’an. And then, suddenly, he knew!
“But we trust to the light, and we have trusted rightly so to these fine people here.” The jester, the man with whom they had shared so many drinks and jokes with, placed a card upon the table. Known as the joker card, it showed one view of a man dressed in a jester’s suit, while on the other, a man wearing a crown. In the middle, betwixt the two a light. A single flame.
“Your grace,” said the king, and he took a knee bending forward, head bowed before the jester.
“Wait, what?” said Areia.
“Hojo?” asked Iricah.
The man whom they knew as Hojo, stood proudly before them and clapped heartily. “We all play the fool sometimes, do we not my friends?!”
Thrak, who couldn’t help himself and was well into his third helping of roasted venison, tilted his head sideways, his lizard eyes squinted in the light. “I do not wisssh to be playing any foolssss gamessss tonight humanssss,” he hissed. “The last time we did that, all thissss began in the firssst placccee..”, And he went back to a leg bone he had been chewing on.
The King’s fire crackled and blazed. Their bellies full of a fine meal, and good drink, they all stared into the flickering flames. The true king, the man they knew for so long as Hojo Mandrake looked into the fire. “When my wife was murdered, I knew that the power of this position, was more than a mere man. I had become a symbol. Something powerful, something people walking out from the darkened filth of this world needed. I also knew as such I’d be a target, and when it become clear that the Kasillian’s fate was ours to face once more, I knew I could no longer allow myself to be a risk to the people of this goodly Realm. I was too important to be me.” He let the moment sink in, the words had perhaps the greatest power of any words they had ever known. “You know the greatest secret in the realm. And I know yours as well.”
Zy’an looked at the King. And the King looked around. “I don’t care who you are, or where you are from. I care, my friends, upon what you do. If your cause is not mine, than speak it now, or leave in peace. Madame Iricah, I am sorry for what transpired with your brother. You have my word, I will investigate the matter more thoroughly with the man in the role at that time, so to speak.”
“I know you have begun the path. As others have done as well. The path will call you back. Just as it has Taryn and Mesilla and their company. Just as it has for Mustakrakish and Laetis and for theirs.”
“My Lord, we don’t understand any of that, or what the path is,” said Frank.
The King chuckled, “Nor do I. And yet here we are, halfway through the deck!” He put his hand upon the deck of pockens cards. The simple game.
“There were markers. Do you have them?”
“Aye, m’Lord,” said Frank.
“Good, keep them,” said the King. “No do not tell me. As I cannot benefit by your lanthorn, nor can I benefit by the knowledge. It is now for you to decide. To act. Or not to act. Such is the path.”
No one spoke. The king was too vague, almost as if he were being so on purpose. But Iricah doubted it. He really doesn’t know, she reasoned. The most powerful person on this earth, and he doesn’t have a clue. She felt her mood darken.
“Nights like this, I think back to when I was but a young man. Time passes in the swish of a sword, and the blink of an eye, does it not?”
Frank considered mentioning some of the lore he had heard told of the King. I am here! At a fire side chat, with His Majesty, listening to him talk about that which is legend. He could have pinched himself, but thought better of it. Everywhere hurt after all the battles and beatings they had taken.
“My people,” said Thrak who never sat, and was standing still near to the table, “We say that time is like blood. We are so very full of it, until we have none.”
“I think His Majesty was thinking about something a little less…gross, Master Thrak,” quipped Areia. Her mouth was full of crackers. She hadn’t eaten this good ever!
“My friends, you have earned my deepest gratitude. I know you have other things to do, so I will not ask you to aid me again.”
You can say that again, thought Areia.
“All I ask is that Mistress Areia puts the silverware back and Master Thrak leaves me a few pieces of the roast venison.” Thrak stopped, and Areia looked around as if caught in the act. Lord Borindin smiled heartily, and finally everyone laughed and for a moment, it was like sitting with their old friend, Hojo Mandrake out on the sea in a moon filled night.
Seriously, he’s not going to make me put away these spoons is he? These things will sell for a bundle back in Far Realm!
“I would ask though that if you are interested, you accept my commission I am about to propose.” The King paused, and reached down to place a scroll upon the table before them. “I would humbly ask you to take the vacancies at Three Harbors, for which I have recently been made aware I need to fill. My scribes will prepare for you letters of writ, stating your claim under my authority, and giving you each the rank of nobility. Should you ever venture to Cillandar, you are most cordially invited to join me for festivities. I will send a fleet to guard your lands, and I ask only that you take it in name only and report to me that which I need to know to protect our goodly people. You need not answer me until you depart. It’s become….difficult to get good people into important decisions as of late. I could use you out there, my friends.”
No one spoke just then. They stood, staring at the map of the island they would come to preside over, should they accept. The three harbors clearly delineated as well as other notes that seemed fantastical.
“You carry a light, Mistress Areia. You do realize the significance of that artifact, do you not? ”
“I do,” said Areia. “I mean I don’t.”
“It is slightly too important to be left in the company of a drunk halfling at the Dragon’s Fall Inn, madame.” He took a moment and looked around, letting the thought settle in. First with a small laugh, and then with a serious and firmly set jaw. The point was not lost on any of them. “It is not the first we have found, and we are still determining the true nature of these artifacts. No, no I will not ask for you to relinquish it to me. You are not the first to carry one. There are…others.”
“But what does it do? What is it’s purpose?”
“We are still working that out, but at a great risk, we have determined that those who carry them, you are meant to have them. And that is why, and although I know I put you in great harm this day, I knew, I could depend on you, to save the king.”
“Lord Borindin, I don’t understand,” asked Frank. “If the king is nothing more than a decoy, why was it so essential that we save him? I mean why did you put yourself at such great risk, to save the imposter?”
“There are secrets the Order has kept from me, and secrets I must keep from the order, Master Frank. You now are privy to one of the greatest. As are all of you, and thereby sworn to the strictest secrecy for the protection of our great realm.” He took a sip of his grapery and let out a satisfied aw. Again, it was hard to tell sometimes where Hojo ended and the King began! “I do not travel this great realm by wagon, or by ship. Nor did the Kasillians.”
Iricah and Zy’an exchanged glances. But Borindin looked as though he would answer no questions on the subject, quickly getting up to add a log to the fire. He returned. “What questions do you have for me my friends, that I can answer for you?”
“And how did you put out the fuse to the black rock? That was some trick, your majesty!” asked Frank.
“Ah! Thank you. Indeed, I learned about that from Q, who is working on a number of contraptions at the moment. Apparently, according to Q, pressure can reduce the amount of air a fire needs, thereby extinguishing it completely!” The king looked as pleased as he did as Hojo playing a Trebian tune. “You’d like Q, I’ll be sure to introduce you. In fact, the others are with him. I believe you’ve heard of Taryn, Mesilla, Jasper the Monk. The lords of Alpha as they are called? They will be my royal escorts on my next voyage. If you wouldn’t mind, I’ve invited them to join us for dinner. They have much to share with you, and if I am not greatly mistaken you have much to share with them.”
“Sir, what is this light Areia carries, the other’s as you say carry as well? Abraxas told us there are others too.”
“Legend holds there are seven. Each representing one of the seven virtues of mankind. At least the Trebians believe that.”
“The Order,” said Frank, coming to stand before the king, “The order believes these lights do not exist. The order does not believe in talking shape changing dragons either, or moons that block out the light, your majesty.”
“No, no, the order does not,” sighed the King.
“You do not have control of the order, do you, M’Lord?” asked Zy’an. He grew suddenly curious. The thought had never occurred to him. “You need the order, and they need you, or perhaps one is more the other.”
“Governing takes balance Master Monk,” said the King, “Surely you can appreciate that.” And he would say no more. Except that he urged Areia to be mindful of her lanthorn. “Something tells me we will have much to discuss again, and perhaps soon. These lands need people strong of will and if that isn’t you, then I guess I’m the king’s jester. Will you accept? Will you become the Lords of Three Harbors? Will you join me in the delicate art of balance, to keep the light well within the darkness of these goodly lands?”
“I for one say yes,” said Frank. He was looking at the others, and thinking about the many days he had watched each of them give their all for treasure, or for battle. He figured, he might as well start doing it for something nobler. What it meant to be noble, he suspected he’d have to figure out. “Under one condition.”
“Yes, Vigilant of Silver, and what might that be?”
“My friend Thrak here and I would like to talk to you about certain laws. Certain laws we think might need to be taken a looksy at.”
“That is reasonable. I will send my legal assistant Master Billingsweed to meet with you before departure and arrange for a full conference on the topic on your next visit to Cillandar. Is that amicable to you?” The two nodded, relunctantly agreeing to wait longer than they wished, which had been not at all. “Celn laws are not changed over night, my friends, but please have heart. You are not the first half so to speak, to show me what it means to be a whole man.”
“Is there anyone else who would like a kingly favor tonight?”
The other’s hands all shot up.
Areia raised her glass. “If I ask for more ale, does that use up one of my wishes, or no?”
End Act I