Edward stood still, poised for action and closely watching the man standing at the edge of the clearing. Like Edward, the man gave no hint of moving but stood like a statue, his eyes staring straight at Edward. Taking the lack of hostile intent as a sign that the men were not going to attack, Edward raised his hand palm towards the man in gesture of peace. The man did not respond. After a while of this stalemate, Edward turned slowly away from the man and walked back to where Tag and Boric were standing tense and alert. Edward handed them his bow and his sword.
" I am going to approach whoever they are and try to find out what they want," Edward informed Tag bluntly. " Keep alert but don't do anything which might frighten them. They look as nervous as we do."
" I'll try to stay calm even though there are about a dozen of them and only us three," Tag muttered but Boric nodded his approval.
Edward turned back towards the men lining the clearing and especially the man who appeared to be their leader. Keeping his empty hands in plain view of the man's watchful gaze all the time, Edward crossed the clearing until he was a few paces from the man and stopped.
Bowing deeply, Edward said in Parison, as calmly as he could though his heart was beating too fast. " I am Edward Eastland from a small country called Rombuli to the southeast across the mountains. To whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?"
Though he realised as soon as he said this that he sounded rather pompous, Edward smiled. I only hope he understands, was Edward's desperate thought.
The man scowled in return, but raised his hand palm towards Edward in a reciprocal sign of greeting. Never taking his eyes off Edward, the man sheathed his sword and indicated for his men to lower their bows.
" What are you doing in our Forest?" The man demanded in rather halting Parison that Edward had difficulty in understanding. It was as though the language was unfamiliar to the man and he did not speak the words very often.
" We are just passing through," Edward replied calmly with a shrug. " We mean no harm but we did not know this was anybody's forest."
The man considered Edward's response to his demand and then said in a voice that brooked no argument. " You will have to come with us."
" What happens if we refuse?" Edward asked calmly, keeping his voice level.
" We will have to force you," the man said sweeping his arm round the clearing to indicate the men standing at the edges of the clearing, who responded by raising their bows and pointing arrows at Edward and his companions.
" It might be more difficult to force us than you think," Edward replied calmly taking in the number of men facing him, though deep down he was not so confident. " Who are you and by what authority to you demand we surrender to your men?"
The leader was joined in his confrontation with Edward by one of the men who had been felled by Edward's disruption of their illusions. This second man's face, framed by a mass of red hair, looked white and drawn, his eyes still blinking as though to attempt to clear his vision.
" I am Patrol Leader Karlan of the Elvish Border Guards and this is Wiltort, a Loremaster in the King's service. This is our land and we do not let anybody pass through without our permission." The Elf called Karlan replied.
Feeling the probing of his mind by Wiltort, Edward grinned broadly back. “You will not be able to look into our minds, Wiltort. I have the power to shield all of us from your probing."
Wiltort frowned and said something to Karlan in a language Edward did not understand. " He wants to know how you came by your power. He has never come across a human who could resist mind probing by an Elf before."
" Tell him I was born with the power," Edward replied.
Karlan passed this information on to Wiltort using the Elvish language .
Wiltort's expression went blank as though he was concentrating hard on his inner thoughts. Edward felt a faint surge of power and realised that Wiltort was communicating with his mind to some other person. After a while, Wiltort said something to Karlan.
" We are to take you to the Golden City for examination," Karlan said rather ominously in his halting Parison. " The orders come from a higher authority. We have been told to treat you as guests rather than prisoners. If you agree to come voluntarily, we will not have to tie your hands. Do you agree to come with us?"
Edward smiled and waved his hand in the direction of his friends, Tag and Boric standing straining to hear what was being said. " I will have to consult with my friends before giving you an answer, though I still think we do not have much choice. Give me a few minutes while I talk this over with my friends."
" We will give you time to pack up your camp," Karlan said.
" We have not agreed to come with you yet," Edward grunted as he turned and walked back to where Tag and Boric were intently watching his conversation with the two Elves.
" Who are they?" Boric demanded when Edward joined them. "Can we trust them?"
" They tell me they are Elves and this is their land," Edward answered buckling on his sword belt and stowing away his bow. " I have no idea whether we can trust them. As far as I understand what they are saying, they want us to go to a place called the Golden City for examination by higher authority."
" Did you agree to accompany them before consulting us?" Tag demanded belligerently.
Edward sighed deeply. " No Tag I did not. I told them I would have to consult you two before we agreed to any suggestion they made. What do you think we should do?"
Boric looked across at the Elves who had gathered in a group at the edge of the clearing. They had been joined by others leading their horses from further in the woods and were calmly sitting on the ground in a circle having breakfast. Four of the Elves with bows ready, however, where still stationed watchfully at strategic points around the clearing.
" We have to take one of two options," Boric mused more to himself than the others. " We can fight our way out hoping that Edward's power is enough to shield us while we make our escape. The other option is to do as they ask and accompany them to this Golden City. Tag, what are our chances of fighting our way free?"
Tag gazed out at the Elves as though gauging their strength and then shook his head. " From what I see they have two people with the power. Now, Edward will have to hold those two off while we find a way out against the rest. Boric, I know we are good but the odds are stacked against us. Even if we win free of this clearing, we have to remember that they have the knowledge of the forest. We will find it hard to keep away from them dodging in and out of these trees. Speaking as a Ranger, I think they will harry us without things coming to a proper fight until we have to give ourselves up. I hate to say this but the only real option we have is to go along with their request and see what transpires when we get to their Golden City."
" Well Edward, that seems to decide things. Can you tell them that we will pack up our camp and then go with them?" Boric said as he walked towards the horses.
Edward nodded and walked back across the clearing to the Elves. Karlan got to his feet and waited for Edward to speak.
" I have talked to my friends and they have agreed to accompany you to this Golden City you speak of," Edward said bluntly. " They do not like being made to do something they do not want to do but they think we have no option. Before we leave, we would ask that we are allowed to have our breakfast."
Karlan looked relieved at Edward's response to his demands, as though he was uncertain of the outcome of any confrontation between his men and Edward's, and nodded at the suggestion of breakfast. Edward waved to Boric and he and Tag led the horses over to where the Elves were eating their meal.
After breakfast, they rode through the dense forest, Boric, Tag and Edward in single file escorted by the Elves on either side. The trees closed over and around them and, despite Tag trying to note landmarks, they were soon lost. Near noon, they came to a part of the forest where the trees gave way to a meadow and the trail they were following passed through a village nestled in the clearing. There were about ten houses each side of the road, all constructed of wood with thatched roofs. Each house was surrounded by a picket fence, enclosing a well tended garden, each garden ablaze with colourful flowers.
In the centre of the village, Karlan called a halt, dismounted and entered a house only distinguished from the others in the village by its greater size. On coming out, he ordered the riders to dismount and led them into the building. Edward guessed from the long tables and benches occupying the room into which they were shown that this was some kind of guest house used by travellers. Karlan spoke to the waiting attendants and indicated for Edward and the others to take a seat at one of the tables.
" This is a traveller's lodge," Karlan said in his halting Parison. " Every village has one of these where travellers can stay the night or get a meal. The proprietor will serve us. A furrier will look after the horses. When we have eaten, we will continue with our journey."
They were served with a hot meal, the meat was familiar but the taste was different though wholesome. The bread however melted in the mouth and was appetising such that Edward had to stop himself eating too much. The wine tasted of woodlands and was very refreshing. After they had rested and eaten, Karlan ordered them back outside and onto the horses.
It was getting dark when they came to another village and they were put up for the night in the traveller's lodge. The rooms were sparsely furnished with a bed, a chair and a shelf for personal belongings. Once again much to Tag's reluctance, the horses were led away by a servant. After he retired for the night, Edward slept soundly, the first time he had been in a bed for a few days.
The next morning they once more set out through the woods though there was more signs of habitation. The trails became more like well trodden roads and there were more people about. When the sun was at its highest in the sky, they came out of the woods into a country of rolling hills and well tended fields around well kept villages. The road led away to their left to where the ground rose steeply in an escarpment. What Edward saw, made him gasp.
Rising up the escarpment was a city cut into the slope in a series of levels. Trees dotted the various levels giving the city the look of buildings rising out of a wood. Over the edge of each level, vines and other trailing plants with vivid flowers made a kaleidoscope of colour. But it was the colour of the stones glowing in the light of the sun that took Edward's breath away and made his eyes widen. Between the green of the trees and the splashes of colour of the flowers, the city glowed golden. Now Edward understood why this City had been called the Golden City by the Elves when Karlan had asked them to accompany him. Crowning the city at the top level of the escarpment was a massive building with a glowing golden roof and a large dome glinting in the sunlight.
For the first time since he had asked them to accompany him, Karlan laughed at the expressions on his guests faces and said rather proudly. " That is the Golden City, home of the Elves. The building at the top is the Royal Palace where our King lives and rules. That is where we are to take you when we get to the city."
Karlan led the way across the plain towards the city through the well tended fields. On either side of the road along which they rode these fields were sprouting green with the coming of Spring and farm buildings could be seen squatting amongst the fields. It was soon clear that at the base of the escarpment on which the city sat was a large lake dotted with lilies floating on the surface and bisected by a long bridge crossing the water on brick archways. As they approached the bridge, Tag was looking round trying to take in the whole the scene.
" I bet the bridge can be collapsed if there is a need to defend the city. Though for all my expertise, I cannot work out how they do it," he whispered to Edward who was riding at his side. " From a distance the lake and the way to the City all looks innocent and open but, if there was a need for a defence, this city would take a lot of effort to conquer by an enemy. Look at the gatehouse at the end of the bridge. It is built into the first tier which goes straight down into the water."
They reached the gatehouse, after crossing the bridge in single file, to find a troop of soldiers waiting. Unlike Karlan and the men who had escorted them through the forest who were dressed in green and brown clothes, these soldiers were dressed in black uniforms with golden trim and golden helmets on their heads. They sat in close ranks on white horses with elaborately finished gear.
" The Kings Guard," Karlan observed as they approached, the tone of his voice implying disapproval at their parade ground appearance. " You must have caused a stir among the Council to be afforded this escort through the city."
Karlan saluted as they halted in front of the gatehouse. " Hail, Dormont. This is Edward Eastland, Boric Borovic and Tag Ormrood." It was said in the language of the Elves and the three friends did not understand what was being said. Boric however understood to some extent what was happening by the gestures of the soldiers.
Dormont saluted back and bowed deeply. " Hail Prince Karlan. We are here to greet your guests and to escort them to the Royal Palace Guest Pavilion. Your men can dismiss now and report to Taber in the barracks. Will you be accompanying us?"
" As far as I can make out, this is an escort to take us through the city," Boric said to Tag.
" You can go now with the Kings Guard. They will be in charge from now on. I will ride with you to the Palace but then leave you alone to settle into the Guest Pavilion. I will see you all later to tell you what our orders are. Have a good rest." Karlan said with a wave of his hand.
Dormont saluted and the soldiers who had escorted them through the forest, formed up and rode through the gatehouse leaving Edward and his friends with the Palace guard, Karlan and the two loremasters.
" From the greeting and the deep bow you are more than an Patrol Leader." Edward observed with a raised eyebrow.
Karlan laughed loudly, relaxed now he was back home and no longer in charge of the prisoners. " You are very astute Edward Eastland. I am the second son of the King but most of the time I am a Border Ranger. It is only when I return home that I have to endure the bowing and scraping of the people."
The Palace Guards formed an escort on either side of the party and led the way into the city through the gatehouse. They climbed up the slope through the houses, each layer revealing parks, ponds and fountains. The people they passed looked at the visitors curiously, smiled but did not approach. All the people were richly dressed in flowing robes of many colours. There were stalls in the squares selling every kind of goods that Edward could think of but the vendors did not shout as in any other city. The whole atmosphere was one of the tranquillity, of a city at peace.
The palace was massive, approached by a golden path through formal gardens but there was no fence. On the steps leading up through the golden columns to the main entrance were two sentries dressed like their escort. The leader of the Palace Guard branched off the road leading to the palace entrance and led them round through the gardens to the back of the palace building where, set back from the palace itself, were a series of low buildings.
" The Guest Pavilions," Karlan remarked. " This is where you will stay until called to meet the Council."
When they stopped in front of one of the buildings, servants and grooms appeared. As soon as they dismounted, the horses were led away and Karlan said something to the servants in the language of his people. The servant replied indicating that they were to follow.
" I am afraid they do not speak your language but they will look after you while it is decided what to do with you, " Karlan said dismounting from his horse. He bowed to the leader of the Palace Guard and spoke in his own language. The leader bowed and indicated two of his men.
Karlan shrugged. " These men have been designated to guard you while you are here. They will not intrude but will stop you going too far from your quarters. I will see you all later at the Council."
The servants led them into the building, along a corridor and indicated some doors, one servant taking up position by each door. It was obvious that each of the servants had been designated to look after one of the guests.
Once inside his room, Edward was able to look around with out having a guard in his vision. The room was furnished with a bed, a chair, table and a cupboard. On the floor was a thick carpet. The servant grinned and indicated for Edward to take off his clothes and put on a robe that was lying on the bed. Beside the bed was a pair of slippers and after Edward had changed into these, the servant indicated that he should follow him. Not having anything else to do, Edward walked behind the servant down a corridor and into another room. In the floor was a steaming bath large enough for an army to soak and deep enough that it had to be entered by steps leading down into the water. Dropping his robe onto a shelf, Edward gratefully lowered himself into the water. Soon after he had started to soak his aching body, Tag and Boric joined him in the bath.
Once back in his room feeling clean and refreshed, Edward found some clothes laid out for him on the bed. When he was dressed in a rather outlandish and colourful shirt, trousers and sleeveless jacket, the servant came into the room and gestured for him to follow once more. Down the corridor from his bedroom, the servant led Edward into what could only be described as a sitting room containing settees, chairs and tables. One table was laden with food and the servant, before he left, made signs that Edward should eat. Tag soon joined him followed a few minutes later by Boric.
As he helped himself to food, Boric asked. " What happens now?"
" We wait and see who will come to talk to us," Edward answered between mouthfuls. " I know it sounds arrogant but I think you should leave all the talking to me."
Tag laughed cynically. " Trying to be the leader now are we?"
" No, I do not want to be leader," Edward answered Tag seriously. " The problem as I see it is that some of these people have power much like me. I have no idea of how much power or what form it takes. Of this I am certain. Whoever they send to talk to us is going to try to read your minds. I can block their attempts at mind reading but only if you leave the talking to me. Can we agree on that?"
Boric frowned. " Can they read my mind without me knowing? I thought only the Covenent could do that."
Edward frowned as well. " I may be wrong but they want to know why we are here. The easiest way for them to find out the truth is to read your minds. From what we saw in the clearing when they tried to frighten us away and failed, they have the power to create illusions and one of them was trying to probe our minds. As I said, I have no idea how many of these people have the power to read minds, create illusions or use power in other ways but I feel we have to be careful. We have no idea who they are or whose side they are on. Can I shield your minds if I need to?"
Boric grinned. " Edward, in all the time I have counted you as a friend, you have never tried to use your power to influence my decisions. We are all in this together, and if you say we should be careful, I will go along with whatever you deem necessary to with stand their probing. How about you Tag?"
Tag finished his food and drank deeply of a goblet of wine before wiping his lips with a napkin. " I am in Edward's hands as I have been from the start of this adventure. He can do what he thinks is necessary for our protection as far as I am concerned. You know this is very fine wine Boric. You should try some."
There was a knock on the door and after they had invited whoever was outside to enter, the door opened and three people came into the room. The first through the door was Dormont, still in his uniform. He looked around the room and at the three friends, noting that they were unarmed. He was followed by a lady, taller than Boric and graceful with long corn coloured hair. She is, thought Edward, beautiful. Her face was round with wide apart grey eyes with the Elven slant that Edward had noted from their escort, Prince Karlan, and a figure that most men would hunger for. It was impossible to guess her age but she raised her hand with long slender fingers upward towards them in a sign of peace. She was followed through the door by an old man, bent over and leaning on a stick for support. His face was wrinkled like an old apple, his hair almost white but his grey eyes piercing and watchful.
" I hope you do not mind us interrupting your meal," the lady said in a melodious voice, her grey eyes looking at each one of them in turn. " I am Corlina, advisor to the King. This is Anderon, First Councillor of the King. He does not speak your language so I will have to interpret for him as we go along."
Edward felt the subtle probing of their minds from both Corlina and Anderon, and put up his shields making sure they covered his friend's minds as well. Corlina and Anderon exchanged glances but did not speak. " This is Tag Ormrood, a Ranger in the Imperial Parison Army. Boric Borovic, Imperial Master in the Imperial Parison Army and I am Edward Eastland from Rombuli."
Corlina looked at Edward and then nodded. " Welcome to the Golden City," she said with a faint smile but Edward felt like a fly in a spider's web waiting for the spider to pounce. " We have come to tell you what is planned for this afternoon."
Edward interrupted Corlina with a grin. " You might have come to tell us what is planned for this afternoon but what you really wanted was to probe our minds. I am afraid I cannot let you do that."
Corlina turned to Anderon and spoke at length in their language. Anderon looked at Edward before replying.
" Anderon is surprised that you are able to block our efforts to read your minds. He has never come across this ability in a human," Corlina observed, obviously puzzled. " He suggests we tell you what is going to happen."
" What is happening?" Boric asked Edward.
" They have come to tell us what is to happen to us this afternoon as you can hear but he is surprised to find he cannot read our minds," Edward answered.
" When you are ready," Corlina went on ignoring Boric, " I am to take you all to the Audience Hall to be examined by the King. We want to know what it is that brought you to our land uninvited."
Edward laughed harshly. " All you had to do was to ask. We would be only too glad to tell you why we are here. It does not breed confidence in us, though, if you try to extract the information without our permission."
" I am sorry if we have upset you. It is the quickest way for us to find out the truth," Corlina replied. Anderon said something to her. " He asks if you would be willing to submit to a mind melding at the audience?"
" What does she mean?" Boric asked anxiously.
" I have heard of the technique from Nelvask but I have never seen it done," Edward answered truthfully. " What it entails is one person, in this case me, joining their mind with another so that memories can be shared. That way there is no need for spoken words and the process of questioning somebody can be greatly enhanced."
" Is it dangerous?" Tag asked anxiously.
" Yes," Edward replied bluntly. " If the person you are melding with has evil intentions, they can take over your mind. The person in control of the meld can alter your mind set or even take control of your thoughts and actions. In extreme cases it can leave you mad."
Corlina was looking from one to the other as though trying to follow the thrust of their conversation.
" I will be the one to mind meld with you," she said quickly as though she hoped this would calm Edward's companions. " There will be no danger for you. I will project your thoughts in moving images so that all in the room can look at what has happened to you. It might be painful for you because I might dredge up memories you might want to forget but it is the quickest and most truthful way for you to let us know what has happened."
" As your senior officer, I forbid this," Boric barked in his best military voice, turning to confront Edward.
Edward laughed again. " No Boric, you are not my senior officer and cannot order me not to participate in this matter. It is for me to decide. What I have to weigh up is the benefits to us against the danger to me. Only I can do that Boric so you will have to go along with my decision."
Turning to Corlina, he said. " I will do this with you without conditions. When do we go to the Audience?"
" As soon as you are ready," she replied with obvious relief plain in the expression on her face. "The people are gathering in the Audience Hall right now."
" One thing before we go. Have the servants brought our saddle bags to our rooms?" Corlina looked puzzled at Edward's question. " We are not going to an audience with the King in borrowed clothes. You might think this is petty but I insist. We will get dressed in our own clothes from our own luggage, if you do not mind."
" Anderon and I will wait here while you get dressed," Corlina answered. "Though your friends might look puzzled, I can understand your wishes."
When they were dressed in the best clothes they could muster from their saddlebags, they rejoined Corlina, Anderon and Dormont in the sitting room. Dormont led the way out of the Guest Pavilion, across the garden and into a side door in the Palace.
Outside of the Audience Hall, Dormont halted. He indicated for Tag, Boric and Edward to leave their weapons in the care of one of the guards. Boric looked as though he was about to protest but at a look from Edward, gave his weapons to the guard.
The Hall, when they entered, was crowded with curious people all straining for a view of the outlanders. It was a large room with a very high ceiling culminating in the round inside of the dome. Along the walls were statues of what Edward took to be past Kings with their standards in wall brackets above their heads. To one end was a dais with two large gold thrones that were empty. Around the walls were stationed at intervals armed soldiers dressed in the black and gold of the Palace Guard. High above their heads were galleries with soldiers posted at intervals overlooking the hall. In front of the dais was a curved table with chairs facing the thrones.
Dormont led his party to the table indicating the seats they were to occupy and took up station immediately behind their chairs. Corlina sat next to Edward.
Edward did not have much time to look around because as soon as they were seated, trumpets blared from behind the thrones and a curtain parted to reveal a door. All of the people in the room stood.
The King entered accompanied by a woman, who Edward took to be the Queen, and two men, one of whom was Karlan. From his looks, the other must have been Karlan's brother. The King was a large man, broad shouldered and wearing gold trimmed robes and a golden circlet on his grey hair. He took his place on the throne and the people resumed their seats. Karlan and his brother took seats at the other end of the table from Edward.
Anderon rose and banged the table for silence. He spoke at length in his own language but Corlina whispered a roughly translated summery to the outlanders. " He is greeting everybody on behalf of the King. Now he is outlining what we know of you and how you came to be here. He has given the King your names and where you say you come from. He has suggested to the King that you engage in a mind meld with me so that everybody can know the background of what brings you here. The King has agreed but he wants you to answer the request. You had better stand while I translate to you."
Edward stood and, after he was on his feet, the King addressed him. Corlina translated. "Are you willing to participate in the mind meld so that all here can see what has happened to you?"
" I am willing," Edward answered and Corlina translated for the King.
" The King says for us to commence," Corlina translated. " Sit back Edward and open your mind to mine."
Edward sat back in his chair and opened his mind to Corlina while keeping the part of his mind that dealt with perception closed to her probing. In this way, although she was able to dredge up his memories, he was able to observe what was happening and keep her mind away from what he was thinking. As though sitting outside his body, Edward watched as his life unfolded before him. To Edward's surprise, Corlina somehow projected the images from his memories as a moving tableau onto the space in front of the throne in an even more sophisticated way than the images of Latask.
It started with his earliest memories, scenes passing quickly as he played in front of his home and then onto his early training as a blacksmith under his father's tuition. The memories slowed whenever there was a hint of magic, like examples of his moving objects with the power of his mind. He felt again the thrill of his passage into adulthood at the Gathering but they were soon onto other scenes.
He had to relive in detail his confrontation with the Covenenter in the square at Alskar but, once this was over, passed quickly to Nimmar. They again dwelt at length on the service in the Temple and his confrontation with the Covenenter. Then they passed quickly on to his meeting with Latask in his bedroom, dwelling on how he had held off the attempt to make him confess.
Then with a jerk he was riding up the road to his house and seeing the fire reflected in the night sky. Grief washed over him in waves as he walked among the dead and found his friends and his family. With the detached part of his mind he heard the outpourings of sympathy from those watching. They dwelt again on the funeral and made him slowly relive that day. With the detached part of his mind he fought down the grief which was trying to overwhelm his senses. Then he was in the fort and once again confronting the Covenenter.
Quickly the memories passed and then he was back in Nimmar at the conference with the Governor. They once more slowed to observe his calling of Nelvask and how he helped transport Nelvask to his room. Corlina skipped his wedding and his honeymoon, he noted with a smile, and once more concentrated on the conference when he had returned from his honeymoon. They then traced his collection of the other people who could transmit their thoughts dwelling on his thought transfer with Margaret.
They were with him when the troops set out to deliver the communications people to the army. There were gasps from the assembled elves at the sight of the black figures. He heard the cries of Magumbwe and the surge in fear that went through the audience. Somewhere from the audience he distinctly heard the cry of they have found a way to return after all this time.
Corlina stopped what she was doing on the orders of the King. Show that bit again! Edward suddenly realised that he could understand what was being said. The Kings face was grey and drawn while his hands shook.
Corlina once more took charge of his mind and repeated the scenes of the attack of the Magumbwe. There were more gasps as Edward took hold of the Covenenter and translocate him back to Nimmar. The was silence as the Magumbwe appeared on the lawn in front of the Meeting House following Edward but a roar went up when Nelvask ripped aside the veil of time and space and sent the Magumbwe back to their own place. Corlina kept the image of the red stair in place for a long while.
Then she broke the spell and they were off to the City of Dead Spirits. Once again Edward heard talk of Velanopa and he realised the elves knew the origins of the City. Now in the thought projection, they were away again off to the Rock and the other places.
The Elves rose with Edward as he prepared to leave the army and go in search of Nomal. He watched with the detached part of his mind as they saw the creature rise above the enemy. The fear was now almost touchable to Edward as many in the room rose to their feet and cried out. It is the Sea Elves, he heard many whisper to each other. What will we do? The King's face, Edward observed, was even more grey and drawn than it had been when they had seen the Magumbwe.
They followed him away from a confrontation through the mountain slopes and on to the army at Bryents Ridge. Then they arose once more with Edward, observing through his eyes, the way the army was deployed and watching the battle.
Edward shuddered with them as the creatures rose above the enemy and flapped lazily towards the defenders. They watched as he rode out from the ranks to confront the nearest creature. Edward could feel the concern as they watched him send his silver shaft of light into the air. There was a gasp as the creature attacked and it was as though the whole room was lit by the hot light which shafted from the person on the creatures back. Then Edward realised for the first time that he was seeing what it must have been like for him. At the time it had happened, he had been concentrating so much on his actions that he had not been aware of what it had been like enclosed in his silver shield. Then the silver light was smashing into the creature and he lived once more the lift of the victory as the creature and its rider fell from the air. The room was in turmoil as Elves were on their feet cheering.
The King motioned for silence with a slash of his hand and everybody who had stood, resumed their seats. They watched as Edward and his friends raced away from the battlefield, as the battle appeared lost. Then they were watching in the evening as Edward and the other archers waited in ambush. There was silence as the small trackers came out of the forest but there were gasps once more when the tall man appeared on his horse. A Sea Elf! some in the room cried. They held their breath as the arrow speed across the valley and everybody clasped their ears at the scream as the arrow hit home and the elf tumbled from his horse.
There was not much more. They followed quickly as the friends crossed Walloonia, through the bog and the forest. The way Edward dismantled the illusion of the monsters stirred some interest but it was obvious that the shock of seeing the Sea Elves had made the audience lose their concentration.
Corlina withdrew from Edward's mind and smiled. " Are you well?" she asked.
Edward did not answer but sat lost in his own thoughts with his head bowed. Vaguely, he heard the clamour of the elves who had been watching and listening to his history. He heard as though at a great distance the shout from Anderon for silence. Looking up, he saw the King rise from the throne and start to address the audience and once more felt the tension in the room. Edward pulled his mind back to the present, concentrating on the King's words in the hope of uncovering what it was that they had seen or heard from his memories that had so shocked the Elves.
" We have learnt much from Edward Eastland," he said his face still grey with a worried expression. " We have much to consider though there is no need for anybody to tell the outlanders what it is we have seen. Those are my orders. We will start again in the morning and then decide what we will do with these guests."
With anger boiling up in his mind, Edward did not hear any more. Suddenly, despite the anger at his treatment by the Elves, he was overcome with an overwhelming sense of loss. The reliving of his memories had left him feeling exhausted and wrung out. In his mind he could still see the bodies of his family and friends and was still reliving the sadness of the funeral. He remembered vividly saying goodbye to Morag and riding away from the fort never to see her again.
Without looking at his friends, at the King or any of the other Elves, Edward rose from his seat and walked quickly through the hall to the door. He did remember to put a mental block on his friends minds before he left the Hall. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Dormont start towards him but was relieved when the King signalled for him to be let out of the room. Pushing aside the doors, Edward went out into the evening air.
He wandered through the gardens by the Palace, not conscious of where he was going, until he found a spot sheltered by trees and shrubs close to the wall, from where he could look out over the valley to the south west of the Golden City. In the distance over the trees, he saw a lake with the sails of boats presumably fishing but it did not really register. He was sunk into himself, screwed up by a deep feeling of loss like a hedgehog confronted by an enemy. All he could see was an image of the line of bodies in front of the fire where his house had been. That's it, he thought. I have never had time to really grieve for my parents and my friends. I have had to travel, to keep away from the Covenent and to finally be drawn back into their fight. It was then that great sobs wracked his body and his shoulders shook. It was some time before the sobs subsided and he was able to focus once more on the view. As a breeze ruffled his hair, he felt better.
Corlina found him there sometime later, looking out at the lights now visible through the trees and still thinking of his lost sister somewhere held captive by the Covenent. One day, he vowed to himself, I will find her and set her free. May my Maker help those who have imprisoned her when I find them.
" Ha, here you are," she said placing a wicker basket on the bench at his side. " I was worried when you rushed from the Audience Hall and have been looking for you ever since the audience with the King closed. You must be hungry so I brought some food for you. You must eat something. This is my daughter Megouna." She finished speaking, indicating the girl standing at her side.
" I am sorry I rushed away like I did but having to relive my memories brought back the overwhelming sense of loss I suffered when I found my family and friends dead that night," Edward answered truthfully. " I suppose, I have not really had time to grieve for the loss of my friends and my family. Since they died, I have been travelling and then involved in the plight of the Empire. I needed to be alone for a while so that I could sort out my feelings and thoughts. That is all I could think of at the time I rushed from the Hall."
" Dormont and I are sorry we caused you such distress but there was a need to do what we did," Corlina remarked gently. " My daughter has the power to help people calm their minds and bodies which is why I brought her here to try to help you."
" I cannot get into his mind, mother. It is closed to me," Megouna said in her language to her mother. Edward hid the fact that he could now understand what they were saying.
" No I did not expect you to be able to get into his mind," Corlina said to her daughter in their language. " When I was in his mind, he had the strength to keep a part of his mind separate from my power and he could use this to observe what was going on around him. That is why he is so upset. Usually one of my patients sleeps through the experience of a mind meld and only wakes when I tell them to."
" Megouna can help you to calm by relaxing your muscles with her mind," she said to Edward in Parison. " Unfortunately she cannot get into your mind."
" Tell her that I will be all right and thank her for wanting to help me," Edward said and smiled at Megouna. " She is even more beautiful than you but even I am not that stupid to let her loose in my mind, thank you. What happens now?"
Corlina smiled sadly. " You win Edward. There is to be a meeting of the Kings Council in the Council Chamber in the morning when our response to the news will be discussed. You have been invited and I have promised to translate for you."
Edward rose to his feet and collected the basket from the bench. " Thank you for the food but I think I will go back to my room and eat this with my friends. Good night both of you."
Corlina looked startled at his response and Megouna eyes were very wide. "Don't let us part like this, Edward Eastland. I am trying to be your friend. You might need friends tomorrow at the meeting of the Council."
Edward bowed deeply. " Trying to look into the mind of another person without asking them for permission is not the act of a friend. I will go and eat this with my true friends."
Turning on his heel, Edward strode away through the gardens in the direction of the Guest Pavilions, his sense of loss now under control. It was not long before he noticed that, even though it was dark, the paths were lit by a soft glow coming from globes suspended from the trees or in amongst the flowers in the borders. The globes glowed with a light which did not flicker or give off smoke but provided a steady even light. It gave the whole garden a magical feel.
When Edward entered the sitting room of their lodgings, Tag and Boric faced him from across the room with drawn swords.
Lowering his sword, Tag burst out. " Where have you been? We were frantic with worry about you. When the meeting finished, they hustled us out of the room and back here. When you did not come, I tried to leave to search for you but the soldiers prevented us leaving. Why did you leave in such a hurry leaving us to face the Elves without your help? Goodness knows what they got from our minds after you left."
Edward smiled sadly. " Sorry I left in such a hurry, Tag. The memories Corlina had dredged up from the inner parts of my mind brought back my sense of loss and my grief. I think part of the trouble was I had not really had time to grieve for my family ever since they were killed that night and I discovered their bodies lying by my burning home. Oh there was no danger of them reading your minds. Before I left I put a block on any probing they might attempt."
Edward walked over to Tag and touched his head, doing the same to Boric. "There I have freed your minds now. While I am here with you, they will not be able to look into either of your minds."
Boric frowned. " What happens now?"
" Corlina came to find me with her daughter and tried to get her daughter to probe my mind," Edward replied smiling now at the memory of the frustration he had caused Corlina. " Yes I know I spent all afternoon and into the evening letting them see my memories but I fenced off the part of my mind which could tell them what I was thinking. Anyway, Corlina told me that there was to be a meeting of the King's Council in the morning and we will be asked to attend. I expect we have no choice but to go. As far as I am concerned, we will then be leaving, with their blessing or without it. That is what I will tell the King and his Council."
" How do you intend to get out of here?" Boric asked politely but his tone showed his doubts. " They are a nation with thousands of soldiers. We are only three. The odds are not good."
Edward looked grim. " We do have a number of advantages which I will try to exploit. They are not trained in modern fighting techniques and Tag is a master. They do not know what it is like to have a lot of people killed and injured which will make them hesitate to attack us. Last they are afraid of my power and are not sure what I can do. I think they will let us go when the time comes."
Tag laughed. " Here we go again. Letting him get us into all sorts of dangerous situations. Why did I agree to come with you when Nelvask asked me? All right, Edward what do you want me to do?"
" Make sure all our gear is ready to load onto the horses. If we could leave here without being stopped, I would ask you to make sure the horses were ready for the morning but we will have to let them get the horses to us. Now we must get some sleep before we have to face them in the morning."
They were having breakfast in the sitting room the next morning when they heard footsteps approaching along the corridor. Tag instinctively reached for his sword while Boric placed his dagger on the table by his food. When the knock on the door came, Edward motioned for the other two to remain seated before rising from his chair and opening the door. Corlina stood in the corridor accompanied by two soldiers.
At Edward's gesture for her to enter, she stepped into the room, a look of shock crossing her face at the sight of the drawn weapons. She held up her hand and indicated for the soldiers to remain outside.
" I come in peace," she almost gasped in her halting Parison. " I am sorry if you feel threatened but none of the Elves intend to threaten you."
Edward smiled slightly. " We live in a violent age and where we come from there is a war going on. Anybody who is not open with us is looked on with suspicion. Are we so violent that you need a military escort to accompany you?"
Corlina sighed. " I have no desire to upset you but it is the orders of Dormont that we should be escorted when we come to take you anywhere in the city. Edward, you must understand. We have had no contact with the outside world for generations except the few who go every so often on fact finding missions. We were all shocked to find somebody passing through our land with as much, if not more power, than our loremasters. Therefore try to be a little patient with us."
Edward shook his head. " Corlina, I have been patient with your people. I submitted voluntarily to a mind meld so that you could get all the information you needed in as quick a time as possible. How more trusting do you want me to be?"
Corlina looked close to tears. " I am sorry for the way you feel. Nobody has ever treated me like this before and I am only trying to do what is best for my people."
Edward shrugged. " So am I, Corlina, so am I. My nation is being attacked by an unknown force and all I am trying to do is get back and help the fight. Now tell me what the King has in mind for us today."
Corlina looked startled at his bluntness. " There is to be a Council Meeting in the Council Chamber off the Audience Hall. Not all the Councillors will be there because the word has only gone out this morning to call a gathering. The King wishes you to attend. I have come to show you the way."
Edward turned to the others who had been listening to his exchange with Corlina. " What do you say? Shall we accompany Corlina to the Council meeting?"
Boric looked at Tag as though to judge from his expression what his thoughts were. " As I see things we do not have any choice." Boric answered bluntly.
Tag shrugged. " Let's go and see what they want. All our gear is in order and ready for us to leave once you give the word. I haven't found the stable for the horses yet because the soldiers would not let me leave but that is a mere detail."
Edward smiled and said with a mock bow. " Lead on Corlina and let us hear what the King has in mind for our future.”
The sun was shining from an almost cloudless sky and it was turning warm as they left the guest pavilion led by Corlina. The flowers in the garden gave off a sweet scent and the sound of insects accompanied the footsteps of the soldiers. Entering the Audience Hall by a side entrance, they walked through the silent, deserted ranks of chairs, their footsteps echoing up into the reaches of the dome. Other people were passing through the room, hurrying towards a set of double doors directly opposite the entrance to the Audience Hall through which Corlina had guided them.
Once through the doors, they came to what looked like a lobby with lines of pegs on the walls from which were hanging a variety of cloaks and weapons. One of the soldiers accompanying them indicated for them to hang their weapons on hooks and another soldier guarding the doors to another room patted their clothes to make sure all the weapons had been left on the hooks. When the soldiers were satisfied that Edward, Boric and Tag were unarmed, the doors were opened and Corlina escorted them into the Council Chamber.
The room was like nothing Edward had ever seen before. It was a perfect circle with a large round highly polished table in the centre. Several Elves were sitting round the table consulting a number of what looked like really old leather bound books. On the table was a sword that to Edward looked too large for any man to carry let alone with which to fight. The hilt was obviously designed to be held in two hands and the blade was intricately carved with intertwining oak leaves and acorns that made Edward think of the rod of office of the Rombuli Chairman of the Council. Beside the sword was a mace, again large and carved with the same oak pattern. Around the edges of the room were a number of seats, over fifty was Edward's estimate, wooden and carved with figures, plants and fruits. Above each seat a crest was attached and under each crest a name. Several people were already seated and they looked questioningly at Corlina and the three people who accompanied her. Each of the people present had a sash over their right shoulder joined at the waist by a tassel. Edward noticed that the sashes were of different colours. To the left of the door were some plain benches to which Corlina led them.
" This is the Council Chamber of the Elves in the Golden City," Corlina told them. " The King presides from his seat over there. Each of the other places is held by Elves representing various aspects of our lives. Taber the head of the Border Rangers has a seat for example. That is he over there four seats from the throne. I have a seat as one of the leading loremasters."
" Do all members of the Council wear a sash?" Edward asked curiously.
" Yes and each colour denotes a particular representation. My blue is for the loremasters. The gold are the members of the Kings inner circle of advisors. Those are examples," Corlina answered. " My seat is over there, half way between the throne and the door on the left hand of the king but today I have permission to sit here and translate for you. The people in the centre at the table are the clerks who are learned in the law of procedure, precedent and keep records of each session."
There was the sound of a strident trumpet call and all the Elves stood by their seats. Into the room walked the King, his formal robes set aside, dressed in a white tunic with gold trim and a gold sash across his shoulder. One of the clerks banged a gavel and ordered silence for the King. The King rounded the table and took his seat. Once the King was seated, everybody sat in their places.
The clerk banged the gavel once more. " The meeting is called to order by the presence of our King. Long live the King! This is an extra ordinary meeting and the King will outline its purpose." Corlina translated and Edward had great difficulty in keeping hidden that he understood every word.
The King rose to his feet. " I beg the floor."
There were concerted cries of agreement from the floor.
The King began. " I have called this meeting so that we can discuss the news which our guests have unexpectedly brought us from outside. I have called for a study of the mind meld which Edward Eastland agreed to yesterday. Until all the facts are revealed from that study, I propose we put on hold our decisions about future actions."
Taber stood forward from his chair. " I beg the floor."
To Edward's surprise the King resumed his seat. " It is obvious from Edward Eastland's memories that we face a grave danger sometime in the future but I do not think this is the time for hurried action. We have to consider all options before we act."
Taber sat down and the King stood. " I agree." The King looked directly at Corlina and said, " Do not translate this exactly. As I see things the enemy have returned to haunt us. I think we are secure in our borders and must hesitate before venturing forth. Until we are sure of the enemy there is no need for us to risk any of our people."
Corlina was explaining some made up story about the search for the truth but Edward was not listening.
An old elf who had seen better days stood away from his chair and demanded the floor. " What will we do with these?" he said with what sounded like contempt, pointing at Edward and his friends.
" They might be able to help us by instructing our men in the arts of modern warfare," the King answered. " We cannot let them go or they will reveal our existence."
Edward jump to his feet, standing upright and said in a loud voice in the Elvish language. " I beg the floor."
There was a stunned silence followed by a babble of voices. Tag was demanding to know what was going on while Boric smiled and shook his head.
Corlina was on her feet, a look of horror on her face. " You understand all that has been said?"
Edward looked at her. " Yes. I think when you entered my mind and showed my thoughts to all the Elves in the Audience Hall, there was a connection between us and your language was transferred to my mind."
Looking round the Council Chamber, Edward again said in a loud strong voice, " I beg the floor."
The King stood in front of the throne, his face livid with suppressed anger but he kept his voice calm as he asked the clerk, "Can he demand the floor?"
The clerks were frantically turning the pages of the books on the table and there was silence from the Council while they consulted. " There is a precedent my lord. When Holgram the Elder came here not as a member of the Council, he demanded the right to speak and this was granted."
The King sat and said, suppressing his anger well, " Edward Eastland you have the floor."
Edward stood away from his chair and looked around the room to the complete silence of the Council. He could feel the outrage of some of the Elves, the concern of others and the curiosity of a few.
Pulling back his shoulders, he began. " Thank you for letting me address this body. If I have insulted anybody by the way I interrupted your deliberations, I must apologise but time is precious to me. Your deliberations will take a long time as far as I can work out. All the members of the Council are not present at the moment so you must wait for them to get here before anything can be decided. You will have to explain to them what has caused you to call a Council meeting and outline what has taken place over the last few days. I understand what is happening. One of the things the Empire held my people in contempt for was our need to discuss things before we took action."
Edward paused and there were murmurs of agreement. " But as I said time is pressing. My people are being killed and my homeland is under attack. All I want is to get back to Rombuli and try to help. Indeed all we were doing in passing through what you regard as your Forest was to hurry the journey home. Like cowards you are trying to keep us here against our will though you do not have to courage to tell us that to our faces. Leaving aside the question of how you intend to keep us here, even if you do not want to get involved in the outside world and our troubles, it is a betrayal of all civilised behaviour to keep an innocent man in prison against his will without a trial or an explanation."
Anderon stepped forward. " I beg the floor!"
Edward bowed ironically and resumed his seat.
" It is not as simple as the young man makes out," Anderon began tentatively. " If we let these humans back out into the outside world, they will tell everybody where we are and then we will have to have dealings with the humans again. Look what happened last time."
Edward stepped forward. " I beg the floor!"
Anderon did not give way but Edward spoke before Anderon could speak. "That is the trouble. Nobody tells us what caused the Elves to hide away from the rest of the world when it is quite plain they could be the major force in the world. What is it out there that you are so scared of?"
Anderon looked at the King for an permission and at the King's nod, he replied. " Back in ancient history, the Elves were in control of the world. Men paid homage to us as their masters, though we tried to live in harmony with men. Then there was a schism in the Elvish world. The Sea Elves living near the coast by what is now Parison saw humans as slaves to be used as they saw fit and discarded when there was no more use for them. They used their power to enslave whole nations and when the Golden Ones living in the Golden City protested, they laughed and called us weak. The upshot was a war between the Elves. The war lasted for fifty years laying waste to vast areas of the land. It culminated in the battle of the Sacred Plain. Man flocked to both sides, on our side voluntarily, to the Sea Elves by compulsion. Half the populations of the land were wiped out in that battle. Men fought with weapons but many of the elves fought with magic turning the battle field into a slaughter house. After three weeks of constant fighting, the Golden Elves won."
Anderon paused to gather his thoughts and then continued, his voice sad. "The Elves from the Golden City resolved to banish the Wicked Ones but did not know where to send them. An Enlightened One from The Sacred Mountain who had fought on our side came up with the idea of banishing them to another place and time. It took all the combined power of all the loremasters left from the battle to conjure the technique of how this was to be accomplished. It was soon apparent that, once they had opened the a breach into another place and time, somebody would have to go through so that contact could be maintained. All the loremasters drew lots and the one chosen went into the breach to maintain contact. He was promised that the loremasters would do all they could to get him back when the task had been completed. All the Sea Elves were given one last chance to give up their evil ways and those that did not were sent through the rent and it was closed."
Anderon paused once more, took a drink of water from the table and then continued. " The weary Elves who were left had a Council to approve the succession to the throne that had become rather tenuous with so many of the royal family being killed in the wars. A new King was enthroned and the Council considered what to do. With your limited knowledge of us you might be surprised but our forbears took a heroic decision. They decided to retreat to this forest and cut themselves off from the world in case our power led to the madness breaking out once more. We have had no contact with the outside world since. Oh that is not strictly true. Every so often one of our number does venture outside to observe what is going on, to learn the predominate languages and observe military tactics. So you see Edward Eastland there are reasons why we are shut away here."
Edward resumed his stance and said. " Thank you for that explanation but though it helps explain your reluctance to become involved again, it does not help me to understand. As I comprehend things from what you have just told me, the whole problem we are facing stems from a mistake you made in the first place."
There were shouts of anger from the Council members mixed with cries for him to sit down. Edward stood his ground and refused to give up the floor.
" Be careful what you say, Edward," Corlina whispered.
Edward looked grim and Tag feared the worst. Tag had followed the proceedings through the translation of Corlina when she remembered to keep it going but he now feared for their safety. He could sense the hostility coming from many members of the Council even though he could not understand what Edward was saying. He fervently wished that he had not had to leave his sword outside.
Edward was continuing and all Tag could do was listen to Corlina's translation. " You might all resent what I am saying but there is no doubt that it was you who sent the other Elves through the time and place portal. You assumed that then you could isolate yourselves from the rest of the world. You could live your peaceful and rich lives deep in your forest and not care about what was happening outside. The rest of the world could go hang as far as you were concerned. Anybody from that world who wandered into, what you arrogantly claimed as your own, was either scared away or enslaved on your land. Now, however, the problem which you thought you had solved so long ago has come back to haunt you. But wait, it is only those ignorant, peasant humans who are being affected. We will stay fast in our forest and hope that the trouble will go away."
Edward looked around the room but nobody challenged him in the silence that had descended amongst the Elves. " Your King, who should be giving you leadership sits on his throne wringing his hands like a feeble old man. Well, let me tell you all. The problem is yours. It was created by you all those centuries ago and eventually it will catch you. While you are led by a dithering old man surrounded by sycophantic advisors there is no hope for you."
There was a cry to Edward of look out from Tag but it was too late. A dagger thrown by Karlan just missed Edward's head and stuck quivering in the wood pillar holding the canopy of the chair on which he had been sitting before standing to make his speech. There was uproar in the room with some voices lifted in outrage while others seemed to approve.
The room fell silent when Edward looked round. He turned his back on the room and raised his hand. The dagger came away from the pillar and nestled in his hand. Turning, Edward signalled for Tag and Boric to remain and then started to walk round the table towards the Prince. The two soldiers by the door had pulled their swords and were moving to cut Edward off from his path to the Prince. Edward punched twice with his fist in their direction and they both slammed back against the door and lay in a heap not moving. Dormont stepped forward from his place by the King but one look on Edward's face made him resume his position.
Holding the knife near his waist, pointed all the time at the Prince, Edward stalked round the table to complete silence from the council members. There was a collective in take of breath as he approached the Prince but nobody moved to stop Edward. The Prince crouched and waited. When he was almost within touching distance of the Prince, Edward threw the knife twisting into the air and caught it neatly by the blade as it came back to his hand.
Bowing deeply, he handed the knife hilt forward to the Prince who took it with a surprised expression. " You seem to have mislaid your dagger."
Turning to the King close by, Edward said. " Is that the way you treat unarmed men when they come by request into your councils? You are so weak you will not send any help for my people even though it is your problem as well as ours. Then you try to imprison us when all we want is to get back to our homes and help. Now you have your son try to kill me. No, don't say anything. This has gone far enough. We will be leaving here now, to go back to the Guest Pavilion and get our gear ready. I will expect our horses outside the Guest Pavilion in an hour from now. You can designate a guide to help us out of the forest if you wish, but we can find our own way if you would rather not."
The King scowled at Edward. " What if I refuse you permission to leave?"
" That is up to you," Edward answered. " I would ask Anderon first though. He might be able to estimate how many Elves will get hurt if it comes to a fight. I do not know the limits to my power having never had to test those limits and never wanting to."
Edward turned away from the King and walked back to where Tag and Boric were watching anxiously. " Come on you two we are leaving. I have no idea what Corlina translated to you but I told the King to order our horses by our quarters in an hour. That should give us time to get ready to leave. "
The two soldiers were still propped up against the wall trying to recover their breath. Edward knelt by their side. " I am sorry I had to do that. Ask Corlina if her daughter can have a look at you. Don't get up. I can open the door."
Edward gestured towards the door, the bolts slammed back and the massive doors swung open. Soldiers lounging on benches in the lobby jumped to their feet drawing their swords but fell back lowering their swords at the shouted order from Dormont. Picking his sword belt from the hook, Edward ordered Tag and Boric to do like wise and led the way out into the Audience Hall. Their boots sent the rat tat of footsteps echoing through the vast hall as they hurried to the door through which they had entered. Edward looked neither to left nor right but Tag and Boric held their swords in their hands and glanced nervously about especially to make sure they were not followed. There were a few people in the hall but they were servants cleaning the floors or workmen maintaining the fabric not soldiers. The workers stopped what they were doing and stood in the shadows trying to make themselves invisible as the three men strode by with such obvious readiness for a fight. If Edward had stopped to think he would have realised that such behaviour was completely foreign to most of the Elves and those watching were plain scared.
They came out into the sunlight bathing the gardens in a golden glow and wafting the scent of the flowers across their path. Tag and Boric closed on Edward and side by side they crossed the gardens by the Palace to the Guest Pavilion. It was only when they were in the sitting room that Edward stopped.
" Get our gear in here, Tag, so that we are ready to leave as soon as we can," Edward ordered and was surprised when Tag obeyed without sarcastic comment. " Boric, try to think of a way we can leave without having to fight our way through the town. There must be another way than over that bridge. If not, it is going to be difficult. How good are you at swimming?"
Boric grimaced. " That is no joke Edward. I expect there is a secret way under the mountain behind the town but that will take ages to find unless we can coerce somebody to tell us the way. Lets face things. We do not even know where they keep the horses."
" That's easy," Edward replied. " We find one of the soldiers and I persuade him to tell me where the stables are. I have the means without using force."
" What do we do now?" Boric asked nervously.
" We wait," Edward answered with a slight smile. " I am hoping that my request for our horses and a guide will be answered. I gave them an hour to deliver them and there is a while to go yet. We will soon know what their intentions towards us are."
Tag spent a while collecting their gear and piling it in the sitting room. When he had done this, a servant appeared and asked them if they would like a drink. Then they sat in the chairs and waited, sipping their drinks.
Over an hour had passed since they had returned to the Guest Pavilion when there came the sound of boots marching down the corridor towards the door of the sitting room. Tag and Boric jumped to their feet, drew their swords and took up defensive positions behind a settee. Edward sat looking at the door.
The footsteps halted and there was a knock on the door. Edward rose to his feet, signalled to Tag and Boric to remain vigilant and walked over to the door. When he opened the door, Edward found Dormont and a troop of soldiers standing in the corridor outside the sitting room.
" Yes?" Edward asked bluntly.
Dormont bowed slightly. " King Orlano wishes to have a word with you. Can we come in and check the room?"
Edward smiled and stood aside. " Come on in. There is nothing to fear from us."
The soldiers entered and took up positions around the walls of the room, their swords drawn in response to Tag and Boric.
" Dormont, I am going to ask Tag and Boric to sheath their swords," Edward said. " In response I expect your soldiers to do like wise."
Dormont looked from Edward to Tag and Boric. " All right, I will order my soldiers to put away their swords as soon as those two put theirs away."
" Tag and Boric, I have agreed that we will put away our weapons. The King is coming to see us, " Edward told his friends. Looking warily at the soldiers, Tag and Boric sheathed their swords and sat down on one of the settees. With relief, Edward watched as the soldiers sheathed their swords in return.
Dormont returned to the door of the room and said something to one of the soldiers waiting in the corridor. The man disappeared and soon Edward heard footsteps approaching the room again. Corlina and Anderon stepped through the door, Anderon frowning at the sight of the soldiers. They were followed closely by Karlan, his brother Maraud and another young man Edward did not recognise. Before Edward had chance to say anything, the King swept into the room.
" We wish to talk to you, Edward Eastland," King Orlano demanded, his voice harsh.
" Tell your bodyguard Dormont to send the soldiers away," Edward answered. " We can then talk like civilised people not like a prisoner and his jailer."
At the tone of Edward's voice and the reaction of the soldiers to what he said, Tag and Boric stood up ready for trouble their swords in their hands. Corlina stepped forward, placing herself between the King and Edward.
" Sorry Your Majesty but this is madness," she said bowing deeply. Edward noticed that her hands shook as she held them in front of her. Corlina was obviously nervous. " You are here to talk to Edward Eastland not to threaten him. What would you think if somebody burst into your room saying they want to talk but surrounding the room with soldiers? Edward will you give your word that no harm will come to the King?"
Edward smiled but remained watchful. " I have never threatened the King or anybody else since I came to your land. If the King orders his soldiers to leave, no harm will come to him or anybody else unless they threaten us with violence. Put away your swords, Tag and Boric. The King wants to talk to us." Edward pushed his sword into its scabbard and took a seat.
At a nod from the King, Dormont ordered his soldiers from the room. Servants rushed forward and pulled up a chair for the King before arranging chairs for the other people in the Kings party. The King sat in his chair opposite Edward and waited for the others to be seated.
" Sit down gentlemen," the King said indicating chairs placed ready for Boric and Tag who took their places by Edward's side. " I have come here to do a number of things. First you are free to go. Your horses and supplies are outside the Guest Pavilion waiting for you."
Edward bowed slightly in acknowledgement. " Thank you Your Majesty."
The King ignored him. " Second, you will take two of my people with you on your journey."
Edward smiled slightly. " Is that an order or a request?"
The King raised his eyebrow but Karlan intervened. " My father did not mean to sound so dictatorial to you. He is really making a request that we send help for your journey. If you turn the help down, so be it."
Edward sat back in his chair and contemplated the suspicion which was growing in his mind. " Are you telling me that your father wants me to ride through places I have never been to before while at the same time keeping an eye out for somebody likely to throw a knife in my back?"
Karlan laughed, "Yes that is what my father is proposing."
The King raised his hand and said angrily, his voice full of authority and his eyes hard. " Be quiet you two or I will order you both to be put in chains. This matter is far too serious for you two to be allowed to trade insults."
Edward was about to speak but was interrupted by Boric." We will gratefully accept your help, Your Majesty."
Corlina translated Boric's words as she had the King's for Boric and the King smiled slightly. " The other person I have ordered to come with you is Prince Megor, Corlina's son. They will, I have no doubt, be of immense help. Despite Edward's reservations, I have worked out from what you say that none of you have ever travelled in the lands between here and the first available pass through the mountains?"
Boric shrugged. " You are correct."
The King continued. " Prince Karlan is one of the few Elves who ventures out of our Forest and has travelled as far as the Great Lake. He will at least be able to act as a guide as far as there. Megor has some talent which might be of help. He has a sixth sense for danger and can warn you of what lies unseen ahead. He is also very skilled in healing."
The King now looked troubled. " I have another request but do not know how to phrase the words. We need your help."
Edward was about to respond but was stopped by Tag. " Edward stay silent for once. Can't you see the King is trying to be gracious and is really concerned about the future of his people. Tell us how we can help."
The King sat silent as Corlina translated and then answered Tag. " You are right about one thing, Tag. Until now all the problems brought to me by my people have been solvable with a little thought and effort. Not for generations have we had to make decisions like we have to now. None of my advisors has any experience of what confronts us and find it difficult to give me council. Therefore I have to make decisions on the future of my people without any knowledge or practical advice. We did have a plan whereby we kept you here so that you could help us and I still think this might be the best option. However, you have all made it quite clear to me and my council that you will leave here no matter the cost to you or my people. Therefore I have to find another way to harness your experience to help us. What would you do in our circumstances?"
Tag looked at Boric and at his nod, replied. " It is difficult what you ask. Your nation is in danger and the least you have to do is to train an army ready to defend your forest home. How you do this is a matter for you but you will have to utilise those men like Karlan who have a little knowledge of the outside world. I don't think that will be enough. With that strategy you will wait here until the danger comes with little knowledge of what you face. If I was in charge, I would be inclined to take the fight to the enemy."
The King frowned. " I can see how we can train an army and plan a defence but I fail to see how we can take the fight, as you put it, to the enemy."
Tag smiled grimly. " The enemy are going to find you here in the end," he said bluntly. " The enemy know all about modern warfare and it will only be time before they win any battle no matter what your strength in numbers is or how much magic you can bring to bear. What I would do is go out and help those already fighting the enemy."
The King sighed. " How would you advise us to do that?"
Tag got up and paced the room thinking, all eyes watching him and waiting in silence for him to continue. " As I see things there is only one way. You must have more leaders like Karlan in the ranks of the border patrols. What you need to do is put together three groups of about twenty men with as many loremasters, as you call your people with power, as you can spare. Each group can then join up with those who are out there fighting the enemy. What that would do is to give these soldiers a bit of power to counter the enemy. It will also surprise the enemy and make them think. The rest of the leaders can then spend the time training your army ready for the day when it will be needed."
At a nod from the King, Dormont interrupted Tag. " Why three groups?"
Boric took up the advice. " We know of three areas of resistance to the enemy. One is Gortan Pass between Walloonia and the mountains. There is a garrison in a fort there trying to stop the enemy breaking through to this side of the moors. Second, there is Dunsfold Manor where we stopped on our way here. If the Duke has held out, your soldiers could use that as a base to harass the enemy. Third there are the soldiers in the north at Mayno Castle. They would be grateful for any help they can get. If each group of Elves finds the defenders and offers their help, you will be enhancing the chances of the enemy being held up on their way here. It might not be enough to stop them but it will buy you some time. Also it will provide you with some soldiers who have seen how modern fighting is carried out. I will write letters of introduction under my seal to help your people make contact with the Imperial Army Units defending these places."
The King rose from his chair. " Thank you. I will arrange paper to be brought to you. I hope you find your way back to your people. Edward Eastland, may you travel with your Maker, as your people seemed to say when saying goodbye."
Edward bowed and smiled. " Goodbye King Orlano. May we meet in better circumstances next time."